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The Best Honeymoon Escapes in the US

29 Apr

Ahh, the honeymoon…. This splendid tradition has origins in the old days when bridal tours were the way young couples got to know each other, both physically and on an experiential level. Though initially not terribly popular – many frowned upon honeymoons as a spendthrift extravagance and a dangerous subjection of what doctors then called woman’s “frail health” – it didn’t take long for the honeymoon to become forever entrenched in our collective longing. During the late 1800s the honeymoon tradition caught fire and the flames of passion have since been continually stoked.

Today, most everyone jumps at the chance to run away with their love, and many see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore some far-flung corner of the world they’ve only dreamed about. They long for sleepy bungalows, abandoned beaches, rest and relaxation with a loved one, and who knows – maybe even the odd adventure or two. But making your honeymoon a great experience doesn’t mean you have to break out the passport. The United States of America has some wide borders – a continent’s width or more – and there are plenty of great honeymoon escapes in the US. If you’re looking to get out and explore the wild unknown with the love of your life, here are some great options.

Kauai and Maui Island Hop

Beach in Maui

Wakikki Beach in Maui

Hawaii has long been atop the list of best honeymoon escapes the world over. The easy-breezy lifestyle, glistening rainforests, rugged coastlines, and, of course, spectacular beaches mean that Hawaii has got it all. Ingratiate yourself in ultra-luxury or camp in sleepy bungalows or enjoy a Bed and Breakfasts in-between – whatever kind of island escape you’re looking for, you can find it in these magical islands.

Don’t like being stuck indoors? Not a problem – Kauai is the eco-lover’s paradise. Huge banyan trees and king palms lead the way down to the Wailuku and Wailua rivers where you can find lovers kayaking through the jungle’s birds of paradise. The flat roads and small hills make a sun-drenched bike for the local Hawaiian Shave Ice all the more enjoyable, and hiking the Na Pali coastline is both free and spectacular. If you want to make it an adventure, you can backpack through the Na Pali coastline, and see where they buried the bravest of the Hawaiian kings.

Maui, on the other hand, is often considered a mix of modern amenities and rugged nature. On Maui you can explore the wandering mountainside and bamboo forests of the Hana Highway, while returning to home base in, say, to go paddle-boarding and bar hopping in Lahaina at your leisure. Maui is all the aspects of Kauai with a distinctly Maui twist. And from Maui, it’s easy to hop over to the even-even-more-untouched island of Lana’i.

Stay: While in Maui, stay in the Ho’oilo House outside of fun and festive Lahaina, and wake up with rainbow mountains at your back. This wooden bungalow has personality, privacy, and an outdoor shower – a great to start the day before going to paddleboard or snorkel the cove.

Eat: Dinner is at Aloha Mixed Plate with traditional Hawaiian fare and feet-in-the-grass coastal views, and then on to Fleetwood’s for some rooftop live music. For a truly unique and romantic experience, eat and watch the Old Lahaina Luau right on Front Street. Tiki torches blaze against the open Pacific sky and you and your loved one will feast on traditional Hawaiian fare while watching one of the highest-rated luaus in all of Hawaii.

Do: Dawn at the Haleakala Crater is worth the trip alone, and probably one of the most romantic places on earth to propose (but I suppose that portion of the trip is behind you). Bike from the top of the crater down through Eucalyptus groves and take a road-trip out to Hana where you can ride horsebacks and explore old pineapple plantations and ancient horse ranches. Be sure to sample some of the Kona-grown coffee, as well as some delicious pineapple and the famous 7D dried Mangoes.

Napa, Wine Country and Spa

Napa and Sonoma

Napa Vineyard

Napa and Sonoma honeymoon escapes are not just for the wine and food lover, though the name might ring synonymous. There are so many romantic things to do in Napa and Sonoma. You’ll find quaint country charm, a small but lively nightlife, some great spa packages and, of course, the world class wine and food you’ve come to expect. But beyond just tasting wine, there’s plenty more ways for a culinary enthusiast experience the area. You can check out cooking classes, ride horses through the vineyards, take a hot air balloon to see the valley from above, and even custom-blend your own wine.

Stay at the Vintner’s Inn, an intimate, four-diamond luxury inn located on the hills of Sonoma. With a view of the 92-acre plantation from your window, as well as some excellent eats from the signature restaurant (John Ash & Co) in-house, a relaxing spa, and some of the area’s best Pinot Noirs on hand, this is an excellent wine and foodie escape for honeymooners. In Napa Valley, St. Helena’s Wine Country Inn is a bed and breakfast with large private cottages and plenty of spaces to relax (including a picture-perfect porch swing overlooking the vineyards); Younvtille’s luxe and modern Hotel Yountville offers free bikes to explore the town’s tasting rooms and gourmet restaurants, like the famed French Laundry.

Do: From here, consider spending a day on a biking tour of the area’s vineyards, or heading to Oxbow Market in Napa where you’ll see Napa living at its finest. Wine bars, beer stalls, oyster shucking, arts, crafts, and sustainable yields – all in this one market that’s a social meeting place as much as a market. Open from 9am -7pm daily, bring your wine to the oyster bar, grab a cupcake, and rub elbows with locals – Oxbow market is a great way get a bit of the local feel while indulging in your inner tourist. Afterward, catch some live music further down the road in the western-styled Opera House (built in 1880), or go kayaking in one of the nearby watersheds.

Eat at Tra Vigne. Cozy and candlelit, this beautiful Napa escape is a staple for its Italian cuisine redolent of Tuscany. Either dinner or Sunday brunch are great options, and be sure to take a peek at their wine selections – enough here to do Napa proud. Farmstead in St. Helena is the place to go for farm-to-table food with an upscale twist, and when you tired of all the wine, check out the creative cocktails at Goose and Gander.

Experience Southern Charm in Charleston

There’s no denying the charms of Charleston. A warm, hospitable people, a slower pace of life, and that easy way people seem to approach the notion of having a good time – the southern US sometimes feels like it’s a different country entirely. If you decide to take your honeymoon in the South, both New Orleans and Charleston should be on your radar. You’ll find love in every hundred-year-old oak tree, plantation house, sprawling lawn, and marshy waterway you come across. Shrouded in both history and mystique, the culture and sights and smells you’ll find here truly are in a class of their own.
South Carolina’s Charleston takes the cake as a historic town with a lively young feel. Long the bastion of powerful plantations, winding waterways, and beautiful boardwalks, today’s Charleston is undergoing a foodie-craze, and a bit of a cultural renaissance.

Stay: at Kiawah Island. Noted by both National Geographic and Frommer’s as one of the best honeymoon destinations around, this little island is a sanctuary far from the reaching hands of developers yet located only 30 minutes outside of downtown Charleston. Here you and your loved one will discover all that makes the Carolinas grand. You can walk secluded beaches, take sandy bike paths through forests that lead to marshy lagoons, and wile away the evenings watching the sunset from your wooden-planked porch waiting for fireflies to appear.

Do: See the Old City Market in historic Charleston. The neighborhood here is steeped in history, yet new in appearance and feel. Check out the local basket-weavers, eat some delicious local food, and stroll the downtown area looking for a place to grab some signature sweet tea and soak up some of the area’s fine atmosphere.

Eat at Slightly North of Broad. This eclectic bistro is rapidly gaining popularity for its locally sourced food, fun energy, and healthy alternative to the traditional Julia Child method of southern cooking traditional to the area. Drink some sweet tea – it’s a southern favorite.

Or New Orleans

New Orleans food

New Orleans Cajun Jambalaya

New Orleans is probably best known for its Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest celebrations, but the true meat of the city lies in its culture – which wafts from every corner Po-Boy deli and blues-filled bar. Honeymooners that escape to New Orleans find themselves in a long-parade of French Quarter mansions, Creole-cuisine themed restaurants, and soft, moonlit cicada serenades.

Stay: At the Hotel St. Helene, just next door to the iconic Napolean House (great for romantic cocktails and the ever-popular muffaletta). This historic and newly renovated luxury hotel is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and known for its gorgeous courtyard, the ferns that sprout out of the rustic patina on the walls, and for being right in the middle of everything worth seeing in the French Quarter.

Do: Stroll Woldenberg Park at sunrise or sunset and listen to the saxophone wail alongside the wide Mississippi, or ride a gondola in City Park. Be sure to catch a plantation tour or two, or take an always fascinating exploration into the bayou on a fan-boat tour.

Eat to your heart’s content at one of New Orleans excellent restaurants. Café Degas is iconic New Orleans with hearty French Cuisine and a lovely lighted patio, while the Columns Hotel is as an Uptown mainstay.

Partying in the Florida Keys

Key West

Sunset in Key West.

Key West in widely known as a party destination, but its white sand beaches, pastel sunsets, and the warm waters of the Gulf make also make it an ideal honeymoon destination for those who prefer a more lively scene. With great views of the Caribbean to your south, an Afro-Caribbean take on seafood, and an active music scene, everything in Key West seems brighter, more upbeat.
Key West itself is a great honeymoon escape because it’s close to so much. Whether it’s underwater diving, relaxing on the beach, or seeing the various communities that comprise the Keys, Key West is your jumping off point.

Stay at the Southernmost House historic inn. A Key West icon, staying here is like journeying back in time. Carved wooden beds, brightly colored walls, and a sleepy Bed and Breakfast feel make the Southernmost House Historic Inn a place for lovers. In the morning you can sip your coffee while watching the sun rise over the rippling Gulf, take a dip in the zero-entry pool, or walk down to Duval Street, where the avenue awaits your window shopping desires.

Do: see Hemmingway’s House, dive with the sea turtles on a shipwreck dive, or watch the sunset in Mallory Square, the center of Key West’s historic district. Grab a glass of wine at one of Duval Street’s many restaurants, then walk the quiet beach at Fort Zachary Taylor to watch the moon rise in its large southern glory.

Eat at Louie’s Backyard – this Caribbean-American restaurant has one of the best views of any restaurant anywhere. For sunset and a glass of wine? Heavenly. With some signature Key-Lime Pie for dessert? Other-worldly.

Getting active in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park lake

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. Photo courtesy of Andrew Kalat via Flickr.

This honeymoon escape destination is for those who love the outdoors and the great big expanse of North American sky. If your idea of a honeymoon retreat involves plenty of mountain air, horseback riding through forests, river trips, fly-fishing, or just hiking the great outdoors, Glacier National Park should be just the ticket.
Glacier National Park is more than the usual National Park, though. Taste a whiskey distillery tour, explore old logging towns, Stand-up Paddleboard, kayak, or just float down a lazy river – Glacier National Park has the all-star lineup you’re looking for.

Stay: You have some options on where to stay when you visit Glacier National Park. A great base of operations would be Glacier Park Lodge. Located in East Glacier Park, the glacier lake setting, available golfing, swimming, horseback riding and day spa are great for those who love to mix a little relaxation with their rugged outdoors.
For those that appreciate more seclusion and privacy will likely fall in love with the Swiss-styled Great Northern Chalets. Located just 1 mile from West Glacier, these garden lined chalets boast stunning views, seclusion, and a prime location for all outdoor activities stemming from Glacier National Park.

Do: Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road – this roadway and engineering marvel spans 50 miles of the parks interior and is best driven in the morning, with a camera planted firmly in the backseat. Take a private boatride on one of the park’s many lakes, or consider a guided horseback trail ride to learn about the areas abundant flora and fauna.

Eat: at the Belton Chalet. Located in West Glacier, Montana, this is the intimate fine dining experience you’ve been looking for. Dine among historic walls and candlelight with the wild outdoors just beyond the window.

Go over-the-top in Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Nevada

Welcome sign to Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is not only the shotgun wedding capital of the world – it’s also one of the preeminent honeymoon escapes in the US. Everything is bigger, grander, and more audacious here, including the area’s wonderful abundance of romantic activities, outdoorsy fun, relaxing spas, and unbeatable amenities that make Las Vegas a honeymoon escape destination of choice.

Stay at the Bellagio. This is top of the line when it comes to honeymoon suites, and definitely comes with the price tag to match. If you can stomach it, the Bellagio’s comfortable elegance can’t be matched. Floor-to-ceiling marble, the finest linens, king-sized beds, and fireplace suites overlooking the world-famous fountain show in the hotel’s entrance make the Bellagio the hot-spot for honeymooners.

Do get a couple’s massage at one of the many fine spas in the area. For the ultimate in luxury, head over to the Dragon Couples’ Suite at the Mandarin Oriental. Private steam showers, adjacent treatment tables, a view of the strip, personal soak tubs, and private vanities make this the best couple’s spa treatment in Vegas.

Eat at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas. Without a doubt the best view at dinnertime, the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Las Vegas positions you directly across the fountain show at the Bellagio. With a fine wine list, excellent French cuisine, and superb service, all you need is your spouse, and your honeymoon retreat is complete.

The Best Honeymoon Escapes in the US

The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World

3 Apr

While it might seem like a strange thing to add to your vacation to-do list, visiting cemeteries when you travel can be an interesting way to learn about a place’s history – not to mention see some of its most beautiful landscapes.

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Of course, what constitutes a “beautiful” cemetery will depend on the viewer’s opinion. Some will be painstakingly landscaped, some will be historically meaningful, some will be haunting, and some will have stunning views. But in this selection of final resting places around the world we think everyone will be able to find one that deserves “beautiful” as a descriptor.

Père Lachaise – Paris

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père Lachaise is one of the world’s most famous cemeteries, largely thanks to its long list of famous residents. Fans of the late singer Jim Morrison have made pilgrimages to his grave for decades, painting other graves en route to his with Doors-inspired graffiti. Other famous names on Père Lachaise headstones include Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Eugene Delacroix, Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, Isadora Duncan, Moliere, and Marcel Proust. There are also many graves and tombs of people you won’t know that are even more beautiful than the famous ones. Take the Paris Metro to the Philippe Auguste stop, near the main entrance, and buy a cemetery map before you enter.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – New Orleans

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

You almost can’t go wrong with the cemeteries in New Orleans. They’re above-ground cities of the dead, thanks to the city’s low elevation, and every bit as hauntingly beautiful as you’d expect from a place steeped in Voodoo and vampire lore. St. Louis No. 1 is home to the tomb of Marie Laveau, the 19th century Voodoo priestess. There are other famous names from New Orleans’ history buried here, but its appeal is far greater than just local history. The cemetery is just outside the French Quarter, and guided tours (of this and any cemetery in New Orleans) are highly recommended.

American Cemetery – Normandy, France

American Cemetery - Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

American Cemetery – Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

Just up from Omaha Beach, where so many young soldiers fought and died during the Normandy Invasion in 1944, there’s a plot of land that’s US soil even though it’s well inside French borders. Across the pristine lawns of the 172-acre American Cemetery and War Memorial there are more than 9,300 simple white crosses and Stars of David, most of which mark the graves of men who died during the Normandy Invasion. Also in the area there are cemeteries for the fallen soldiers of Canada and Great Britain, as well as the largest (and most haunting) cemetery in the area – for more than 21,000 of the German soldiers who died in World War II.

La Recoleta Cemetery – Buenos Aires

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

The cemetery in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires is entirely composed of above-ground tombs, giving La Recoleta the same “city of the dead” feel of Pere Lachaise and the cemeteries in New Orleans. 94 of the tombs have even been added to the list of National Historical Monuments. Among the famous graves at La Recoleta you’ll find Eva Peron – known popularly as Evita – and many presidents of Argentina. You can take the bus to Avenue del Libertador and walk up the hill. Buy a cemetery map before you enter.

Primosten Cemetery – Primosten, Croatia

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

There are no famous names on the headstones in the tiny cemetery next to the church in Primosten, but should you end up in this tiny hill of a town on the Croatian coast it’s well worth a visit anyway. The small church and adjacent cemetery sit on top of the hill, affording all of those graves with a stunning view over the Adriatic Sea toward the islands just offshore. And because Primosten is so small and not a popular tourist stop (unlike nearby Split or Trogir), you’re likely to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the hilltop cemetery and its sparkling view.

Kokai Mausoleum and Okunoin Cemetery – Mount Koya , Japan

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Japan’s largest cemetery is located at the mausoleum of Kokai, a 9th century Japanese monk, scholar, and artist who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism on Mount Koya. The Okunoin Cemetery contains more than 200,000 gravestones and 120 Buddhist temples, and Mount Koya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the things you can see in the Okunoin Cemetery are tombs with statues of UFOs, coffee mugs, and hundreds of statues of a Japanese deity who is supposed to protect children who have died – he is represented in the cemetery by small statues wearing articles of children’s clothing. You can reach the Okunoin Cemetery via the Nankai Electric Railway from Osaka’s Namba Station, followed by a cable car up the mountain.

Highgate Cemetery – London

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

You could be forgiven for mistaking London’s Highgate Cemetery for a park that happened to have a few graves in it rather than a cemetery that looks like a park. In fact, this Victorian cemetery is a nature reserve and is registered as a park. The fact that it’s also the city’s most famous cemetery is almost beside the point. Highgate is separated into two sections – the East Cemetery and West Cemetery – and you can only visit the latter with a guided tour. People buried in the West Cemetery include the wife and parents of Charles Dickens, but most of the famous graves are in the East Cemetery – including Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaren, George Eliot, and Karl Marx. Highgate is near Waterlow Park, and the closest London Underground station is Archway.

Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

The city of Savannah is widely known for its beauty, and that extends to the Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure used to simply be an historic cemetery in an historic city, but after the success of John Berendt’s novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” the cemetery became a major tourist attraction. The book’s cover was a photograph of a statue called “Bird Girl” that had been in the cemetery for more than a half-century. When the book became a best-seller and the statue increased tourist traffic into the cemetery, it was moved to Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art. Bonaventure Cemetery is still worth a visit for its historic significance, its huge live oaks dripping with moss, and the grave of Johnny Mercer.

Panteón de Dolores – Mexico City

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mexico’s largest cemetery, Panteón de Dolores, is crowded with more than one million interments and 700,000 tombs covering 590 acres. This is where you’ll find the graves of muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, opera singer Ángela Peralta, and many other notable Mexicans in the “Rotunda de las Personas Illustres.” The Panteón de Dolores cemetery itself is park-like in many respects, but it’s also sandwiched between two sections of the enormous Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. Especially in a city as big and busy as Mexico City, having a park as large as Chapultepec is a welcome respite – and almost as an added bonus, there’s an historic cemetery in there, too.

Capuchin Crypt – Rome

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

While not exactly a “cemetery” in the truest sense, Rome’s Capuchin Crypt can be considered beautiful – as long as you’ve got a strong constitution and enjoy a little whimsy with your macabre. The row of small chapels underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is decorated with the bones of the more than 4,000 Capuchin monks who had been buried in the crypt in the early 17th century. When newly deceased monks were buried, old skeletons had to be removed – and as those bones were removed, many of them were used in designs on the walls and ceilings of the chapels. The patterns are quite elaborate, and any student of the human body will likely enjoy identifying which bones are which. The faint of heart may want to skip this, but if your interest is piqued the Capuchin Crypt is on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Donations are strongly encouraged.

The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World Buenos Aires , croatia , France , Georgia , japan , London , Mexico City , new orleans , Normandy , Paris , Primosten , rome , Savannah

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in April

29 Mar

On Queen's Day, Amsterdam residents are allowed to sell wares on the street without a permit, transforming the city into a vrijmarkt (free market). (Photograph by Ferry Peys, My Shot)

There are some amazing events on tap all over the world, all the time. Here’s a taste of what you can see and do in April:

  • If you still haven’t been to the Big Easy, spring is the time to go. Come for the French Quarter Festival (April 11-14), the “largest free music festival in the South,” but stay for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (April 26-May 5), a bucket-list worthy celebration of Louisiana music and culture that’s been going strong since 1970.
  • Calling all foodies! Report to Singapore for the World Gourmet Summit (April 16-26). Described as a “gastronomic extravaganza,” the upscale event promises 10 days of eating, drinking, chef demonstrations, and classes. The experience will require some dough though, and we don’t mean the edible kind.
  • With a name like Queen’s Day (April 30), you might expect something regal and refined. Instead the Dutch holiday transforms Amsterdam into a citywide party and a sea of orange, with revelers sporting the national color flooding the streets and forming flotillas in the canals.  This year’s spectacle is also the official day of Queen Beatrix’s abdication (next year the holiday will be called Koningsdag – King’s Day — and held in honor of soon-to-be-King Willem-Alexander).
    The Golden Comanche Mardi Gras Indians take center stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  (Photograph by Derek Bridges, Flickr)

    The Golden Comanche Mardi Gras Indians take center stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Photograph by Derek Bridges, Flickr)

  • Woombye, Australia’s Big Pineapple Music Festival may celebrate homegrown artists from Oz and neighboring New Zealand, but the concert, which takes place on a plantation that practices fair trade and organic growing, is an occasion worthy of an international crowd. Join the fun on April 20.
  • Best known for its aquarium, Monterey, California will soon turn its attention to terra firma for the Sea Otter Classic (April 18-21). What has been billed as the world’s biggest bike festival boasts races, expositions, beer, barbecue, and excursions – enough to satisfy the most fanatical cyclers.
  • Preeminent tea makes a brief bow to its caffeinated counterpart during The London Coffee Festival (April 25-28). Hosted by the hip Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, the four-day fete celebrates all that is coffee and more, with tastings, barista demonstrations, gourmet food stalls, and live music.
    Tea makes way for its caffeinated counterpart at the London Coffee Festival. (Photograph by David Clare, Flickr)

    Tea makes way for its caffeinated counterpart at the London Coffee Festival. (Photograph by David Clare, Flickr)

  • Bangkok may be Thailand’s superstar city, but Chiang Mai still has it beat when it comes to celebrating the traditional Thai New Year. In addition to a massive parade, street performers and street food pervade the nation’s northernmost city during its Songkran festival (April 12-15). But the festival’s final day makes a real splash, with locals and tourists taking to the streets for a massive water fight. Though the tradition stems from a cleansing ritual, it has a practical purpose: April is Thailand’s hottest time of year.
  • Grenada may have been marred by political conflict in the past, but the island nation is moving forward fast. See for yourself at the Carriacou Maroon and String Band Music Festival (April 26-28), a triumphant display of authentic Caribbean food, music, and dance.
  • No wicked witches here, just modern-day Hansels and Gretels looking to celebrate. Two centuries after the Brothers Grimm published their first volume, Kassel, Germany honors the hometown heroes at Expedition Grimm (starting April 27). In addition to seeing the storytellers’ manuscripts and personal effects on display, visitors can take in walking tours, festivals, and special performances.
    Celebrants splash water on each other to mark the traditional Thai new year.  (Photograph by Charlie Tray, My Shot)

    Celebrants splash water on each other to mark the traditional Thai new year. (Photograph by Charlie Tray, My Shot)

  • It’s that time again in Hampyeong, South Korea when the canola flowers start to bloom and boatloads of butterflies flock to the meadows in a glorious display. Celebrate the arrival of spring and an ecological spectacle at the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival (April 26-May 8) with countless exhibits and experiences dedicated to these delicate insects.
  • Get a head start on your summer reading…in good company. The 39th annual Buenos Aires International Book Fair (April 25-May 13) expects to draw more than a million attendees from all over the world this year, and features 400 exhibitors, a comprehensive series of conferences, readings, and workshops.
  • If you’re looking to put some pep in your step, head to Memphis, Tennessee (one of Traveler‘s Best Trips for 2013). Today, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music occupies the space where the “Soulsville U.S.A.” recording studio once sat, but the beat goes on at Stax to the Max (April 27), a free and family-friendly festival that celebrates soul legends like Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes — as well as the modern-day musicians that are keeping their legacies alive.

What would you add to the list? Let us know what we’re missing by leaving a comment.

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in April amsterdam , Argentina , Australia , Big Pineapple Music Festival , Brothers Grimm , Buenos Aires International Book Fair , California , Caribbean , Carriacou Festival , Chiang Mai , French Quarter Festival , germany , Grenada , Hampyeong , Kassel , Kirani James , louisiana , Memphis , Monterrey , netherlands , new orleans , Queen Beatrix , queens day , Sea Otter Classic , Singapore , Songkran , South Korea , Stax to the Max , thailand , The London Coffee Festival , Woombye , World Gourmet Summit , World’s Largest Jazz Brunch

10 Best Girls’ Getaways in the US

12 Mar

For those looking to plan the perfect girlfriend getaway without going too far, there are plenty of cities around the United States with much to offer. Whether you’re looking for the ultimate wine escape, a music-inspired jaunt or something more adventurous, you can find it nearby. To help you plan your girls only itinerary, here are some suggestions.

1. Park City, Utah

Park City; Best Cities for Girls' Trips

Skiing in Park City. Photo credit: Marvin Kuo via Flickr.

Park City, Utah is renowned for its rich ski culture, featuring three world-class resorts with distinct personalities. For girlfriends who want an exclusive experience, Deer Valley mixes skiing with pure luxury. Expect ski valets carrying your gear, staff handing you tissues on the ski lifts and 5-star service every moment. If you’re looking for a true adrenaline rush, Park City Mountain Resort features an array of ski trails for all levels as well as four terrain parks — Little Kings, Neffland, Three Kings and King’s Crown — where skiers can perform jumps, tricks, jibs, rail runs and more.

And at the decadent Canyons Resort there is something for everyone, with routes being 10% beginner, 45% intermediate and 45% advanced and a resort village featuring restaurants, spas, accommodations, retail outlets, nightlife and even a “Ski Beach.” After ski season there are still an array of adventurous activities for girl groups to take part in, like trekking, mountain biking, horseback riding and hot air ballooning.

Best for: Hardcore ski addicts and those with an adventurous streak

2. Hocking Hills, Ohio

The Spa at Cedar Falls; Best Girls' Trips

The Spa at Cedar Falls. Photo credit: Abi Skipp via Flickr.

Although only an hour from Columbus, Ohio, Hocking Hills transports visitors to a completely different world. A true getaway, visitors are drawn to the area by its outdoor recreation, rustic lodges and quirky offerings. Stay at The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, a cottage and cabin-style accommodation surrounded by Hocking Hills State Park. Spend your days hiking to caves, waterfalls and cliffs, or kayaking up the Hocking River. There is also a canopy and zip-line course that allows you to experience nature from above.

To prove just how charming this remote destination is, you and your girls will have the opportunity to enjoy traditional Shawnee storytelling at Saltpetre Caves Nature Preserve, tour the Columbus Washboard Company, the country’s only washboard factory, browse thousands of oddities at the Pencil Sharpener Museum and make your own scented candle at the local Wind Chime Shop.  Back at The Inn, enjoy locally sourced cuisine, a treatment at their onsite spa or a glass of wine by the fire in their gathering room. Your group can also take a cooking class with Chef Anthony and help him prepare the evening’s dinner.

Best for: Nature-lovers and those looking for rustic charm and quirky fare

3. Durango, Colorado

San Juan National Forest

San Juan National Forest. Photo credit: Craig Mirkin via Flickr.

Durango, Colorado is one of the most adventurous cities in the country, if not the world. Because of the city’s 6,512 elevation and diverse terrains, there are many thrills offered, like hiking, ice climbing, canyoning, canoeing, rafting, rocking climbing, off-roading, skiing, snowboarding, zip-ling, horseback riding, gliding and more. Grab your girls and head to the San Juan National Forest, where you can experience many of these activities while admiring 14,000-foot mountain peaks, unique geological formations and scenic trails littered with towering Aspens.

Groups also enjoy visiting Rapp Coral for some horseback riding or sleigh riding, or the Durango Soaring Club for a glider ride over Animas Valley. Once you’re done with the day’s adventures, you and your girls can head to historic Downtown Durango for shopping and dinner or to the Bar D Chuckwaggon Supper Show for live western music, comedy and delicious barbecue.

Best for: Girls looking for an adrenaline rush

4. Nashville, Tennessee

Known as the Music City, Nashville is home to over 200 musical venues featuring talented musicians. Head to Grand Ole Opry House, home to the longest running radio program in history as well as the launch pad for well-known country artists like Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. There’s also the Country Music Hall of Fame, a museum offering exhibits, video and music clips, and live performances. At night, throw on your cowboy boots and head to The District where your group can dance all night at the local honky-tonks.

Along with performing and musical arts, Nashville is also home to a rich visual arts scene. While you can find art galleries all over the city, your best bet is to walk along Fifth Avenue of the Arts in downtown between Church and Union Streets. If you’re visiting on the first Saturday of the month don’t miss the First Saturday Art Crawl from 6pm to 9pm, where you and your girls can uncork and admire local art.

Best for: Girls looking to explore the arts

5. Portland, Oregon

Pittock Mansion

Pittock Mansion. Photo credit: mike krzeszak via Flickr.

Remember being a kid and pulling out the Ouija Board with your girlfriends? While known for its quirky community, Portland can also make for a fun getaway for girls looking to explore one of the country’s most haunted cities. Built in 1914, Pittock Mansion is one of the most haunted sites, with visitors claiming to not only hear phantom footsteps, but also see apparitions. Some have even said Mr. Pittock’s portrait moves from room to room without any human help. Additionally, the Shanghai Tunnels were said to be once used to transport kidnapped victims to Portland’s harbor, where they were shipped to the Orient and forced into slave labor or prostitution. The ghosts of these victims are said to still be wandering around th tunnels.

The Merchant Hotel, Bagdad theater and Willamette River are some of the other haunted sites in the city, which you can explore on your own or by taking a local ghost hunting tour. Once you’re done being spooked, explore some of Portland’s other unusual offerings by perusing the 1,000 hats at the Hat Museum, sampling monk-made fudge at Brigittine Monastery anding visit Mill Ends Park, the world’s tiniest park at 452 square inches. Don’t worry, there is normal fare too, including heritage museums, performance spaces, art galleries and expansive parks.

Best for: Girls interested in paranormal activity and unusual offerings

6. Bardstown, Kentucky

While girls getaways are often thought to include copious amounts of wine, an alternative idea is to focus on something harder: whiskey. Bardstown in Kentucky is known as the Bourbon Capital of the World, home to distilleries like the Barton 1792 Distillery & Visitor Center, Willett Distillery and Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center. The city is also home to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, which features rare whiskey artifacts, advertising art and whiskey novelties. If you’d like to lengthen the trip, Bardstown is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a scenic tour that takes you to seven high-quality distilleries.

And for those who would like to add a bit of wine tasting into the jaunt, the city is home to several world-class wineries, like McIntyre’s Winery and Berries, Chuckleberry Farm & Winery and Springhill Winery. At dinner time, gather your girls and ride the My Old Kentucky Dinner Trail. You’ll see the countryside while enjoying a 3-course southern meal.

Best for: Ladies who like their bourbon straight

7. Long Island, New York

Long Island wine tasting

Go wine tasting in Long Island. Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr.

Located about 75 miles east of Manhattan, Long Island is home to 3,000 acres of vineyards and more than 50 wine producers, most of them being on the North Fork. Along the parallel roads of Sound Avenue and Route 25 you’ll find one after the other offering tastings, tours and events, especially in the warmer months when wine, music and harvest festivals take place every weekend. Littered between the wineries you’ll also find farm stands, pie shops and antique stores, as well as nearby parks, beaches and seafood restaurants.

While there are many worthwhile wineries to choose from, there are a few that standout from the rest, especially for a girl’s getaway. For example, Pindar is Long Island’s most popular winery with excellent customer service, an expansive wine list and some of the cutest bartenders in town. Additionally, Vineyard 48 focuses less on having a tranquil picnic vibe and brings in live DJs on Saturdays and Sundays.

Best for: Groups who want to uncork

8. New Orleans, Louisiana

There are many reason why New Orleans makes such an excellent destination for a girl’s getaway; rich history, energetic nightlife, rejuvenating spas, vibrant art and, best of all, one of the country’s best food scenes. Charming cafes litter the streets, and you and your girls will never have to worry about not being able to find an interesting ethnic eatery or local Creole restaurant — although you may argue about which venue to choose.

Coquette is an intimate bistro and wine bar that is perfect for great conversation and American-inspired meals incorporating locally sourced ingredients. Herbsaint is another good choice, featuring a mix of French, Italian and southern-style fare as well as an expansive wine list. Right off Bourbon Street you’ll also find Arnaud’s, which serves up classic Creole cuisine and features live Dixieland Jazz. Make sure to fill up, as New Orleans is also home to some fabulous clubs and bars. Simply stroll down the iconic Bourbon Street or the local favorite Frenchman Street, where you’re more likely to find live music with less neon lights.

Best for: Foodies and those with an appetite for partying

9. Big Island, Hawaii

Just mentioning the Big Island of Hawaii brings thoughts of white sand beaches, azure waters, tropical rain forests, crystal waterfalls, unworldly volcanoes and exotic birdlife. The destination is also home to some of the country’s best spas, perfect for having a healthy and relaxing girlfriend getaway. The Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows Spa offers treatments based on the island’s mythology. Get a traditional treatment like a “Lomi Lomi Hula Massage” which uses Lomi Lomi strokes choreographed to Hawaiian music, or a “Signature Fire & Ice Facial” using locally sourced ingredients.

For a group experience opt to visit the Lava Sauna, where you will lay in the sun with your skin covered in black volcanic clay before rinsing off under an outdoor rain shower and re-moisturizing with the spa’s signature body oil. Other ways for you and your girls to unwind is to take a leisurely hike through Hawaiian Paradise Park, snorkel in Keauhou Bay, sunbathe on Kaunaoa Beach or take a stroll through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

Best for: Ladies who want a relaxing, tropical vacation as well as pure pampering

10. Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas; Best Girls Getaways

Las Vegas is great for girls getaways

While Las Vegas has a reputation for being over-the-top, for groups of girls the destination can be extremely cheap. No matter when you’re traveling, you can always find great deals on flights and hotels in Sin City if you do a bit of Googling. Once there, walk up The Strip where you’ll see tons of club promoters trying to get groups of girls to come to their venues. For the privilege of your attendance, expect free drinks, no cover charge and the ability to skip the line. A plethora of budget-friendly all-you-can-eat buffets serving up high-quality meals adds to the savings, as well as the experience since you can sample a wide range of dishes.

Additionally, each hotel offers their own free attractions, shows and experiences. Explore the botanical gardens at the Bellagio, take in high-wire acts at Circus Circus Casino and view beautiful white tigers and a 20,000-gallon aquarium at The Mirage, all free of charge.

Best for: Ladies on a budget who still want a jam-packed itinerary

10 Best Girls’ Getaways in the US Big Island of Hawaii , colorado , Kentucky , las vegas , Nashville , new orleans , portland , Utah

Lundi Gras: Riding on a Super Krewe

7 Mar

Two seasoned Orpheus float riders taking in the scene. (Photograph by Emily Slack)

For New Orleans natives, it’s a hard-won honor to ride in a Carnival parade. Many people pay annual dues to be a member of a krewe, or parade group, and some krewe clubs are exclusive and difficult to infiltrate.

So when I was offered the chance to ride with the Krewe of Orpheus this year, it was kind of like a childhood dream coming true. Especially because Orpheus is a super krewe.

Carnival is a multi-week celebration that starts on Epiphany (the 12th Day of Christmas) and culminates on Mardi Gras (the day before Lent officially begins), so the momentum builds in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday. Fittingly, the groups that roll in the final days of Carnival are known as super krewes. Orpheus rolls on Lundi Gras, or Fat Monday, when the excitement has reached fever pitch.

The float we rode on.  (Photograph by Emily Slack)

The float we rode on. (Photograph by Emily Slack)

New Orleanian crooner Harry Connick, Jr., his father, and a friend named Sonny Borey founded Orpheus in 1993 because they wanted to see a parade that had music as its focus. The super krewe, still going strong 20 years later, is one of the most popular parades of the season.

When I arrived with my friend and photographer, Emily Slack, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where all the floats were parked, we may as well have been entering Oz. Multi-colored floats the size of 18-wheelers were lined up row after row, creating a papier-mâché-and-spangle forest.

As we stood there gawking, we spotted “Mr. Mardi Gras” himself. Master float builder Blaine Kern, Sr. has been applying his genius to these gigantic, roving masterpieces for decades.

Kern was every bit the gregarious New Orleanian I imagined he’d be, cracking jokes and telling me he knew “a little bit about this stuff.”

He pointed out some of his favorite floats, including a 140-foot sea monster dubbed the Leviathan that debuted in 1998 and has since become a parade staple and a multi-unit float called ”Smokey Mary,” which pays homage to the Pontchartrain Railroad, a pioneering track west of the Alleghenies that eventually transported people to New Orleans as the city gained acclaim as an entertainment district.

“It’s a year-round operation,” Kern said, adding that he and his crew were already working on Mardi Gras 2014.

It was time to receive our costumes: black silk pants, a red-and-white silk top adorned with sequins and an Orpheus sash, and, of course, a mask to be worn under a red hood. According to city ordinances, all riders must stay masked to preserve the history and integrity of Carnival.

While riders don what we playfully refer to as silk pajamas, krewe royalty wear the plumed, sequined gowns and king and jester-esque garb that’s come to be associated with Mardi Gras parades.

We boarded our float and began planning our bead-throwing strategy before our float rolled out of the warehouse and onto the streets. We quickly realized that we were well out of our league.

“Mr. Mardi Gras,” Blaine Kern, Sr., has been a master float maker for decades. (Photograph by Emily Slack)

The riders around us had serious loot. In addition to an array of “light-up” accessories — beads, rings, headbands, and roses — one of our krewe compatriots, Joel, was a veritable Mardi Gras Santa Claus, with bags of stuffed animals, footballs, and toys.

It was go time. We could hear the not-too-far-off crowd begin to roar as the first floats passed. I aped the veterans around me, slinging beads over my left arm and preparing to throw them with my right as we rounded the corner and encountered our first parade goers cheering wildly just inches from the float.

Orpheus began in Uptown, a residential area where families stake out parade perches in front of their homes — which makes bead-throwing easy. But the neighborhood kids were more interested in the goodies Joel had to offer. When I threw beads to one little girl, she asked “That’s it?”

I had to laugh.

Anyone below the age of 10 is a prime target for “throws,” and can get a bit spoiled. After that, if you’re a woman, don’t expect to get much attention again until well after puberty. For guys, childhood is about as good as it gets — unless, that is, you happen to be holding a baby.

(That being said, I couldn’t resist throwing to the adorable, elderly gentlemen that lined the sidewalks.)

As the parade snaked down Canal Street into the French Quarter, the crowds inched toward colossal. Police barricades meant that people couldn’t get close to the floats anymore, and the shoulder-to-shoulder bystanders were grateful to catch anything.

Now in the final stretch, we headed back to the Convention Center, where the Orpheuscapade was being held. The ball was a black tie affair — with Mardi Gras flair. We saw people in tuxedos and glittering gowns stride in wearing beads or masks, and toting coolers filled with beer.

The mustachioed 610 Stompers perform at the Orpheuscapade.  (Photograph by Emily Slack)

The mustachioed 610 Stompers perform at the Orpheuscapade. (Photograph by Emily Slack)

Everyone who rode in Orpheus was invited to the Orpheuscapade, so I got to see some of the sights myself (you can only see so much when you’re on a float). Celebrity riders “Tillman the Skateboarding Dog” and “Norman the Scooter Dog” kicked off the party with their impressive pet tricks, followed by New Orleans’ favorite walking krewe, the 610 Stompers, who showed off their “extraordinary” mustached moves.

Then it was time for the music. Harry Connick, Jr. led off, creating a concert-like atmosphere. Later performances in the evening included Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, Trombone Shorty, and more.

I closed the night with a plate of andouille jambalaya and a slice of king cake at the ball. I had to giggle when I chose my piece because there were only two pieces left — one with the baby and one without. (Read this post if you don’t get the joke.)

I decided taking the baby without intending to buy another king cake in the next 24 hours, before Mardi Gras ended, would be bad mojo. And it had been too good a Lundi Gras to take the risk.

Lundi Gras: Riding on a Super Krewe carnival , Caroline Gerdes , louisiana , Lundi Gras , mardi gras , new orleans , Orpheus Krewe , Orpheuscapade , super krewe

Best US Cities for Foodies

5 Mar

Ask any farmer, ask any city-slicker, ask really anybody – they’ll all tell you the same: it’s the small things in life that matter. From appreciating place settings in your friend’s home, to spending time with the family, there is little else that seems worthwhile when we take time to signify the small stuff. And from these appreciations the hallowed culture class that is the ‘Foodie’ is born.

The Foodie, with an insatiable appetite for the finer things, knows what the finer things are all about. The nuance of flavor in a generations-old mole sauce, the unbearable lightness of crème fraiche, the pacifying subtleties of a well-made brick roux – these are the things worth living for, am I right? They can take a trip from being sort of “meh” to “remember that time when?” If you’re in the market to see some of the best cities in the US and prefer to eat and drink your way through town, then this is the article for you.

So enough with the amuse bouche – let’s dive in, shall we?

New Orleans

Acme Oyster House

Acme Oyster House. Photo credit: Kimberly Vardeman via Flickr.

A long time runner in most people’s repertoire’s of cities “I would love to visit if I had time,” the truth of the matter is that visit you must, especially if you’re a food lover. New Orleans is a vibrant and perpetually fun city that has an astoundingly rich history and a diverse culinary tradition. Regis Philbin, famously understated this well-known fact by saying, “You get a taste here in New Orleans that you don’t get anywhere else in the country.”

From gumbo to po-boys to crawfish etouffee to jambalaya to boiled crawfish and blackened catfish, the list of interesting and unique tastes goes on for miles and is truly unlike any other in the world, let alone the country. Add to this a history of Spanish, French, and Afro-Caribbean culture and historical influence, the architecture and ambiance of New Orleans are enough to create an entirely different experience for those who come. Chefs like Emril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, John Besh, and Susan Spicer all call the area home, and have gone into the workforce spreading the word of New Orleans’ great cuisine.

If you go, head down to the French Quarter to check out some local favorites like Café du Monde (800 Decatur Street) for a beignet breakfast alongside chicory coffee, Acme Oyster House for some oysters and seafood gumbo, or Galatoire’s for some signature southern soul and French cuisine. Uptown has its own selection of fabulous restaurants (Jacques-Imo’s, Ninja, and the Columns Hotel come to mind), easily accessible via the famous Street Car. Also consider taking some time to learn how to cook like a New Orleanian yourself in a cooking class.

San Francisco

Chorizo burrito from La Taqueria

Chorizo burrito from La Taqueria. Photo credit: rick via Flickr.

You’ve heard it: “Oh, I left my heart in San Francisco!” Check again – you left your stomach there too. The Huffington Post recently reported that, according to real estate giant Trulia, San Francisco, moreso than any other city in the nation, has the highest number of restaurants per capita. While New Orleans had the most bars per capita (God bless ‘em), San Francisco takes the cake when it comes to eating. Not that eating and drinking are separate – far from it – but in this instance we’re looking at the best places to appreciate the delicacies that make a place great – and San Francisco has plenty of them.

So San Francisco has plenty of restaurants, but does it have good restaurants? Yep. You guessed it. But San Francisco makes the list not because it has numerous restaurants that are also good restaurants, but because of the absolute fascination bred into seemingly every San Franciscan to actively hunt some of these delicious edibles. The resident food-truck craze being a perfect example. From burrito joints down in the Mission, to Michelin-rated fine dining at places like Kokkari, to the food-truck Mecca of sorts (Off the Grid), San Francisco has got to be on any food-lovers Greats list.

Stock Island, Florida

Hogfish Bar and Grill

Hogfish Bar and Grill. Photo credit: Cayobo via Flickr.

Florida? Yep. Though often regarded as something of a culinary enigma, Florida’s proximity to the sea and Cuban influence makes for a tantalizing mix of ethnic foods and more traditional seafood fare. Head South to the Keys for some sleepy beach-town ambiance, beautiful sunsets, and always electric Key Lime Pie.

And while Key West has the majority of good eats in the Keys, Stock Island is just next-door and can be seen as Key West’s less rowdy neighbor, also boasting some doggone-good hogfish and pinks (pink shrimp, that is). Add to this a mix of southern soul food and beachside living and you’ve got dining, relaxation, and dreamy delectability all rolled into one southern shore. For seafood, head to the Hogfish Bar & Grill and try the Killer – fresh hogfish, a pastry crust, melted Swiss cheese, and Lord, I think there are mushrooms in there.

Next door there’s the iconic Key West itself, and for the best view in this entire tiny island, head to Louie’s Backyard where this Zagat-rated restaurant boasts arguably the best hand-picked locally sourced food on the island. For a Cuban treat, head to Havana 1 on 1101 Truman Ave in Key West, where portraits hang on pastel walls and the air is filled with a fun and lively ambiance.

Portland, Oregon

Le Pigeon

Le Pigeon’s beet salad. Photo credit: Enobytes Wine Online via Flickr.

Portland, for all it downplays it, is really a refined city. A young, funky, nature-loving and hip town tucked away in the rainy Northwest, Portland is the diamond in the glistening, mossy rough you’ve been looking for. Given just one visit to this town and armed with adequate know-how, you’ll see a foodie paradise – really, there is no praise high enough for this wonderful gourmand gush of a town. While Chicago and San Francisco are pumping out chefs with verve and fervor, the list of available real-estate in big cities with a penchant for good food was dwindling – until, that is, that chefs turned their hungry eyes on Portland.

While the word spreads, population densities remain relatively low and potential real-estate readily available, and some of the best chefs in the nation are heading to Portland. And some of the best deals can also be found here as well. A walk downtown will garner all sorts of tucked-away treasures touting true deals wrought from hand crafted excellence at amazing prices, like, for example, $4 happy hour martinis and hand-shaved ice in your Manhattans.

While here consider heading down to Le Pigeon where chef Gabriel Rucker was recently awarded a James Beard award, Brasserie Montmartre for some French cuisine, and the Veritable Quandary is a great brunch spot full of history. Also, Bamboo is a great sushi spot and certified sustainable.

Charleston, SC

Hominy Grill

Hominy Grill. Photo credit: Dennis Yang via Flickr.

This southern city of plantations, charm, hospitality and soul makes for some good ambiance and darn fine eatin’. Charleston residents are particular about their food, and like any good southerner, demand only the best when it comes down to chow-time. Head down to East Bay Street to find a promenade of fun shops and a bevy of nice restaurants, but be on the lookout for Slightly North of Broad (aka SNOB) on 192 East Bay Street, rapidly gaining fame for local organic ingredients and cozy intimate ambiance. The Hominy Grill is another great spot, and for dessert and maybe a drink, head to City Lights coffee shop (141 Market St) where wine is offered alongside carrot-cake.


Chicago pizza

Chicago pizza. Photo credit: Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via Flickr.

What makes Chicago a food-lover’s paradise? Plenty. Aside from the famous Chicago-style pizza we have all loved from birth, there’s a plethora of great restaurants, world-class chefs, original ideas, and the fast-becoming-famous hash phenomenon that makes this city appetizing. That’s what a city of three-million (the third largest city in the U.S.) food-lovers will do for you.

Any Best-Of list can offer you a selection of restaurants that do something special and that make the city a nice stop to visit, but what continually makes Chicago a great city for food lovers is the innovation and the creative use of traditional ingredients which lend themselves to something truly unique. Though the aforementioned hash might be a traditional staple, you’ll find creative applications all over town, like, for instance, the Duck-Heart Hash at Au Cheval, or some of the area’s barrel-made beers.


Mamoun's Falafel

Mamoun’s Falafel. Photo credit: MattHurst via Flickr.

This is sort-of a “no-duh,” if I can put that into print, because it’s the financial center of the world, as well as the hub of, well, a lot. Manhattan is where the big cats come out to play and, of course, this world-class city has some world-class dining. You needn’t bother wondering. If you’ve got a hankering, check this town out for its eclectic variety of five-star foods – just don’t expect the servers to be, y’know, polite.

For rocking Chinese, head to Prosperity Dumpling where the dumplings and Dim Sum will make you a believer. On 119 MacDougal you’ve got Mamoun’s Falafel, which, let’s be honest, anyone who knows what a great falafel tastes like, knows the trip is well worth it. Then there’s the Gastro Bar which is famous for its Mediterranean twist on Tapas, and makes for a fun city atmosphere.


Houston food truck

One of Houston’s food trucks. Photo credit: femme run via Flickr.

Everything’s bigger in Texas. Or so they say anyway. What they really mean is that despite the Texas heat, these tenacious Texans have, through will power and business prowess, made mountains out of cattle ranches and oilfields. And lo, the culinary tradition comes to Houston. From food trucks to celebrity chefs, Houston has made a name for itself as a foodie town, particularly if you love BBQ (and who doesn’t). If you’re headed to Houston, consider taking part in the local food-truck craze and find your favorite eats at RoamingHunger.com, where you can spot your food truck on a map any time of the day. Popular favorites are Bernie’s Burger Bus and Oh My Gogi! BBQ.

More traditional sit-down and dine establishments to rave about are Reef for Vietnamese, and Lankford Grocery for old-fashioned Americana and tasty burgers. Be sure to bring an appetite… and a napkin.

Santa Fe, NM

Coyote Cafe, Santa Fe

Coyote Cafe. Photo credit: Richard Swearinger via Flickr.

Santa Fe’s been on the map for quite a while as something of a cool escape town, but Santa Fe gets the respect it deserves for being a foodie haven for basically redefining Tex-Mex. If it’s iron skillet fried, peppered, spicy and served with a side of maize or tortillas, chances are you’re in Santa Fe enjoying some of the region’s local flavors. Listen for the “red or green?” question often – it’s a popular way to inquire as to your desired choice of chili relleno sauce. Also worthy of note is the blossoming tequila scene here. Long gone are the days of Jose Cuervo Gold being the be all and end all of this agave gold. If you get the chance, try some specialty tequilas while you’re in the area – many places even offer tastings.

Try the Coyote Café with its cool adobe architecture and its repeatedly celebrated menu and wine pairing options for a fun night out. Restaurant Martin is also quite worthy of a meal, where the Progressive American Cuisine is as award-winning and the eponymous chef (semi-finalist for the 2011 James Beard Award).

Denver, CO

This mile-high city is also a young city dedicated to dining well. Though some may claim that all a place really needs to be a foodie town is good restaurants, this isn’t so. What makes a city a great foodie city is a dedicated following of those that appreciate the chefs’ efforts. You’ll find that here in Denver. Known for its lack of pretension and an easy, friendly ambiance, Denver is fast becoming a hotbed of great restaurants. Try, for example, Fruition Restaurant where the new American cuisine is matched only by the small and cozy ambiance. It’s a bit pricey, but the potato-wrapped oysters are worth it. ChoLon Asian Bistro puts a new spin on classically tasty food with a great reputation for excellent service. What could be better?

Chapel Hill, NC

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen. Photo credit: Ivy Dawned via Flickr.

Wrapping up the Best US Cities for Foodies list is North Carolina’s Chapel Hill. This city has developed quite a following as a foodie hotspot. Known for its locally sourced food and a near-fanatical “locavore” population, Chapel Hill has foodies who know not just what they’re eating, but what chef made it and what farmer grew it – now that’s loving your food. To see what this charming southern town has to offer your taste buds, head to Front Street, where all the activity is happening, then head over to The Lantern, which is a popular local spot. Talullas offers tantalizing Mediterranean, and Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen (1305 E Franklin Street) is doing their bit to keep biscuits and gravy firmly on the repertoire as a southern breakfast favorite.

Best US Cities for Foodies Chicago , denver , florida , Food and Drink , new orleans , new york city , portland , San Francisco , Texas , USA

Six Things You Don’t Expect at Mardi Gras

12 Feb

A woman dressed as a cupcake at a Mardi Gras parade. (Photograph by Derek Bridges, Flickr)

When it comes to Mardis Gras, tourists are usually surprised to find that traditions dictate when to party, what to wear, and how to behave. From crowded parties to wild costumes, the revelry may appear chaotic, but locals know there’s a method to the madness.

1. Costumes

Many visitors expect to see parade kings and queens in ornate costume. Donning these plumed garments as part of a krewe court (parade group) is a badge of honor for New Orleans natives.

That being said, whether you’re from near or afar, everyone is invited to wear a costume on Fat Tuesday. Revelers often wear official Mardi Gras colors — purple, green, and gold — and throw on a mask or another Carnival-themed accessory at the parade.

2. Greased Poles

New Orleans started greasing poles to keep revelers from climbing up into balconies along the parade route.  (Photograph by Philippe Leroyer, Flickr)

New Orleans started greasing poles to keep revelers from climbing up into balconies along the parade route.
(Photograph by Philippe Leroyer, Flickr)

This year marked the 43rd annual greasing of the poles. No, it’s not what you think.

Before Mardi Gras weekend festivities commence, French Quarter businesses must prepare for the crowds in one surprising way — greasing street level poles so people cannot climb up to private balconies.

The tradition started at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street, where costumed women and celebrity pole greasers lather petroleum jelly on the hotel’s pillars to prevent outside interloping.

3. Ladders

Mardi Gras has earned a reputation as a raucous event, but it’s actually quite family friendly. If you have kids in tow, head Uptown, or to any number of residential neighborhoods in the city to experience an atmosphere not unlike a state fair, complete with cotton-candy vendors and face painters.

Tourists are often surprised by the funny-looking homemade stands for children. Picture a ladder with a bench attached to the top that children sit in — kind of like a big high chair with wheels on either side.

4. Scandalous Floats

Mardi Gras floats often satirize political events: this one is a comment on a recent Chick-fil-A flap.  (Photograph by Emily Slack)

Mardi Gras floats often satirize political events: this one is a comment on a recent Chick-fil-A flap. (Photograph by Emily Slack)

Floats often mock pop culture. And while many of them are outlandish and outrageous, most toe the family-friendly line. This year, for example, there is a float mocking the British Royals’ recent scandals (like nude pool games).

But be warned: There is one parade that is meant for adult eyes only. The Krewe Du Vieux is more risqué, so it runs earlier in the Carnival season — at night, and in the French Quarter. Its satirical themes and bohemian expression make it a Carnival staple…for grown ups.

5. Walking Krewes  

Not every one in a krewe rides on a float. Groups costume together and walk (or dance) in several parades. They also enjoy meandering through the city at will during Carnival. While some walking krewes are decades old, new local favorites like the 610 Stompers play on the silly spirit of Mardi Gras.

6. Endless Fun

Though Carnival spans several weeks, it comes but once a year.

Carnival starts on Epiphany (January 6 this year) and ends on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday. The dates surrounding Mardi Gras change every year, just like Easter, according to the vernal equinox.

Carnival gets increasingly more exciting in the days leading up to Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. But the party eventually does end: at midnight, when Lent begins. So while you can always have a good time in New Orleans, don’t expect Mardi Gras if you show up late to the party.

Six Things You Don’t Expect at Mardi Gras 610 Stompers , bourbon street , Caroline Gerdes , Krewe , louisiana , mardi gras , new orleans , Royal Sonesta Hotel