How to Tackle Hilton Head

Hilton Head

Experience a destination with a funky mix of history, abundant outdoor activities and unique cuisine.

Hilton Head is a 45-mile drive north from Savannah, GA, and 110 miles south of Charleston, SC. In the early 16th century, the French and Spanish attempted to settle this fertile land. Its live-oak forests and rich soil made it an agrarian paradise; the many waterways facilitated shipping; and the proximity to the Eastern seaboard made it a prime outpost. But local tribes didn't entirely welcome those early visitors. Finally, in 1663 British sea captain William Hilton successfully claimed the island for England, giving plantation life its start.

Today, Hilton Head Island is a funky mix. Historical sites are scattered among the resort-community-and-golf-course descendants of Sea Pines; hotels butt up against huge swaths of preserved land, while shopping and dining strips flood the interior. A four-lane road encircles the island, with hideaway developments shooting off it like spokes. And here and there, humble vegetable plots thrive next to multimillion-dollar digs and modest, slouchy cottages alike.

"This is the most relaxing vacation I've had with my family—ever," says a woman making her way across Broad Creek by kayak. "It's the first time we've ever just chilled out, relaxing on the beach, me reading and the kids shelling, and all of us trying new things."

To score that same experience, you'll need a strategy. Hilton Head has 250-plus restaurants and two dozen golf courses, so it's crucial to narrow your field of vacation vision. For a family-flavored getaway (the island's specialty), first pick a place to stay. If you're flying in, look for flights to the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. And on your way to the island, stock up at the Publix in neighboring Bluffton to avoid the weekend crowds at island grocery stores.

Next, come up with your dream menu of outdoor activities. Hotels and resorts offer daily tours; ask for schedules when you check in. Or try Outside Hilton Head for kayaking, boating, fishing and dolphin-cruising options. If you’re not staying at a resort with beach access, you can hit the sand at several public access points. The most popular one is Coligny Beach Park, with ample parking and a brand-new area with restrooms, showers and more.

As for getting around, either bring your own bicycles or rent from Hilton Head Bicycle Co. And for the ultimate Lowcountry experience, don't miss exploring the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. This 605-acre wilderness oasis combines jungle-like expanses of native evergreen palms, live oaks and wax myrtles with lagoons populated by cranes and alligators. Powdery dirt roads traverse the gently sculpted site. Pick up a map at the info center hutch and head off by foot, bike or car—or on horseback. For a trail ride, sign up with Lawton Stables.

Hilton Head

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Heritage of Hilton Head

Hilton Head

Learn the history of this barrier island—including the best time and spots to visit—so you can experience the Low Country like a local.

Hilton Head Island in a nutshell: Vacationing families connecting—via scents, scenery and seafood—with the second-largest barrier island on the East Coast. And while most of the 2.5 million annual visitors tend to come during warmer months, they miss out on what might be the island's best time of year. After Labor Day and before spring break, the humidity drops, traffic trickles off, crowds thin and temperatures average in the 60s. Folks toss on fleece pullovers to walk the 12 miles of beaches; ride fat-tired, single-speed cruisers along epic bike paths; and hunker down at cozy oyster roasts. Sound good? Grab the Lowcountry winter uniform—flip-flops, khakis and light sweater—and come on out to Hilton Head.

To play Indiana Jones, check out the Indian Shell Ring in Sea Pines. More than 4,000 years ago, Native American settlers are believed to have piled discarded oyster shells in a circle to form low walls around their village, now in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. And on the island's northern tip you'll find the remains of Fort Mitchel. This moat-lined earthen mound relic of the Civil War was uncovered in the 1970s when construction crews were clearing land for a new restaurant. Today the Old Fort Pub serves up high-end Lowcountry staples like crab cakes with green tomato, sweet pepper relish and stone ground grits. Patrons waiting for a table can head next door for a self-guided tour of the fort remains.

One of the most vibrant local groups is the Gullah, a distinct African-American community that has retained much of its African heritage. To learn more about the Gullah's role in Hilton Head history, head to the Coastal Discovery Museum, then polish off your schooling at Harbour Town with a walk to the top of the Harbour Town Lighthouse. Its walls display historic photos and illustrations detailing Hilton Head's path to the present.

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The Slopes of Utah

Park City Utah

Ski areas abound, making Utah a true winter wonderland—whether you’re a beginner or a former Olympian.

It seems that your plane has barely touched down at the Salt Lake City airport and you’re already riding a lift into the winter-white wilderness. Of Utah’s 14 ski resorts, 11 are less than an hour’s drive from the airport. Several are clustered together, offering a combination of activities and terrain for a wide range of abilities. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find.

Just 29 miles from the airport is Snowbird, which has a range of slopes for skiers and riders. It’s connected to skiers-only Alta, right next door. The two combined have 4,700 acres of powdery paradise. For chilling out après-ski at Snowbird, the place to be is the Cliff Spa, which has a view-filled rooftop pool and hot tub.

The drive from the airport to Solitude takes about 45 minutes. You’ll find a cute European-style village at the mountain’s base, and 1,500 acres of skiable terrain. Drive 5 minutes more and you’re at Brighton, one of the state’s most popular resorts for families both for its affordability and for its terrain.

Resorts in the Park City area include Park City Mountain Resort, Canyons and Deer Valley. All are less than 36 miles from the airport and have state-of-the-art lifts—including Canyons’ Orange Bubble chair, which has heated seats—and terrain to please a wide range of abilities. What’s more, Park City itself is within 15 minutes’ drive. Its Main Street is lined with shops selling one-of-a-kind fashions and jewelry as well as bars and restaurants of all sorts. A plus: Many buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, since Park City was founded during the silver boom. A short drive away is Sundance Resort, with 6,000 acres at the base of Mount Timpanogos.


Thirty minutes north of Salt Lake City is Odgen, a former railroad town that’s a hub for outdoor enthusiasts. Three ski resorts are within a half-hour’s drive: Snowbasin, Wolf Mountain and Powder Mountain. The latter, known as Pow Mow, is North America’s largest ski area, offering 7,000 acres of skiable terrain. Even on the busiest days, you can find yourself skiing alone on untouched corduroy. In Ogden itself, consider a visit to iFly, an indoor sky-diving simulator that’s so effective, sky divers use it to train. Farther north but still only 90 minutes from Salt Lake City is family-owned Beaver Mountain.

Utah’s southern resorts, Eagle Point and Brian Head, are a bit farther afield. Three hours south of Salt Lake City, they deliver reliably good conditions all season long, with plenty of fresh powder.


NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.


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Park City's Winter Wonderland


This old mining town has sure built itself up into an incredible getaway.

At first light you were schlepping a plastic bin through an airport security line. Now, the only line you’re worried about is which of the pitched white curves of Deer Valley’s Ontario Bowl to ski down—still untracked, it should be noted, at two in the afternoon. Visiting Park City is like slipping through a rabbit hole: It’s a quick, convenient and a true getaway. This historic mining town, just 40 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport, beguiles you with its downtown full of top-notch restaurants and galleries, and then tempts you with a trio of world-class ski resorts. Welcome to wonderland, Alice.

While many ski towns try to manufacture charm, old Park City’s nearly abandoned boxy Wild West storefronts and frilly Victorians were waiting in mothballs, courtesy of the miners who chiseled more than $400 million worth of silver out of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains in the 1800s. Today, Park City’s fairy-tale Main Street twinkles with lights and brims with activity. Since the skiing here is considered less challenging than at neighboring resorts like Snowbird and Alta, the clientele tends to be of intermediate skill—couples and families looking for a well-rounded experience that includes shopping, dining and relaxing.

Pack snow-proof footwear, because this is a town for strolling. On foot, you’ll discover a warren of diversions tucked above, below and along Main Street and Park Avenue. Browse Bahnhof Sport for skiwear, Chloe Lane for designer jeans and Mary Jane’s for funky women’s clothing and accessories. A free trolley travels Main Street if you find yourself loaded down with packages.

Two dozen art galleries showcase everything from local watercolor landscapes to western bronze statues. Start with Phoenix Gallery, an airy, three-story space that provides a perfect backdrop for the contemporary mixed-media sculpture on display.

Shops and galleries seem to be outnumbered only by restaurants. It’s not easy to find a bargain, but the financial hit is worth it for some memorable meals. Rustic chophouses serve chile-rubbed prime cuts; trattorias could hold their own in Tuscany. The name on locals’ lips is Shabu, where you can cook your food in sizzling broth at the table. The atmosphere is fun and informal, and the “freestyle Asian cuisine” playfully pairs flavors, like sake-steamed sea bass with black bean and garlic paste.

Despite what you may have heard about Utah’s bewildering liquor laws, nightspots abound as well. Those wishing to close out a day on the slopes with a cocktail need only pay a nominal “membership fee” to get in to most clubs. Whether your tastes lean toward meeting for martinis and appetizers (Jean Louis) or drinking beer and dancing until dawn (Harry O’s), you can find it in spades in Park City. In Utah terms, Park City is “Sin City,” and the town takes pride in that nickname.

Above all, Park City is a ski town. Its fortunes were transformed from silver to snow in 1963, when a local mining company opened Treasure Mountain to skiing. Photos at the Park City Museum show zealous skiers traveling through old mine shafts and surfacing in soot-covered parkas on mid-mountain slopes.

Today Park City has 3 ski resorts, all regularly deluged with the dry-as-dust Utah snows that drift down the east side of the Great Salt Lake. Few ski hills are as centrally located as Park City Mountain Resort. To hit the slopes, all you need to do is hop on a chairlift downtown and soar over the city up the mountain. On the way down, skiers and snowboarders still schuss past the occasional mining relic. This 3,300-acre resort is especially well suited for families, thanks to its great location, abundance of ski-in/ski-out lodging, diversity of runs and teen-pleasing terrain parks (even lighted for night-riding) that routinely win kudos from snowboarding magazines. Near the base is the Alpine Coaster, a 2-person roller coaster that blazes downhill.

Four miles north, The Canyons has quietly become one of the largest ski areas in the country, with 3,700 acres of terrific bowls, gullies and ridiculously long, mellow cruisers. It's still expanding: 300 acres of aspen glades were added in 2008 around the new Dreamcatcher chairlift. And there's a growing village at the resort's base, though guests staying there might feel a bit isolated from Park City's other attractions.

The area's toniest accommodations can be found sidled up to Deer Valley Resort, a mile south of downtown Park City. This exclusive mountain prides itself on elite customer service and amenities. To prevent lift lines and give skiers plenty of elbow room, ticket sales are limited. Trail grooming approaches high art, and snowboarding is prohibited. Mid-mountain restaurants cater to the upscale clientele with dishes like grilled Atlantic salmon with orange hollandaise; the resort even markets its own line of signature foods (cilantro-lime glaze, anyone?). On sunny afternoons, after their 2-hour lunches, guests contentedly sip blueberry mojitos on The Beach, where Adirondack chairs are lined up in the snow.

The 1,825 acres of ski terrain at Deer Valley gets better every year. Guests tend to gravitate to those delightful corduroy groomers, leaving the wide-open steeps and glades for accomplished skiers off the Empire and new Lady Morgan chairlifts.

Not that you need more variety, but the scissor-sawed peaks ringing the horizon are home to more than a half-dozen additional ski resorts. These include Alta and Snowbird at the south end of Salt Lake City in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Robert Redford's Sundance near Provo, and the virtually undiscovered expanses of Snowbasin and Powder Mountain north near Ogden.

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Waitsfield & Warren: Little Neighborly Vermont Ski Towns

Ski in Waitsfield; eat in Warren—or do both in one day. You can’t go wrong.

Fair warning: The Very Small Donuts sold at Waitsfield’s Big Picture Theater & Café are addictive. Luckily, you can bag a dozen for $6.50 while watching, say, Cheaper by the Dozen in one of the two screening rooms. Throw in a microbrew: This retro-themed spot, which has sea-foam-green decor, leather couches and killer brunches and burgers, is one of the state’s only movie theaters that allow dinner and a show.

Waitsfield anchors one end of the Mad River Valley, where you’ll find the ski areas Mad River Glen and Sugarbush. The other marquee town around here is Warren, home of the Pitcher Inn and the Warren Store. The latter is famous for its No. 6 (turkey on a baguette with a secret-recipe cranberry mayo) and other overstuffed sandwiches, but the toys, women’s clothing and housewares at the top of the rainbow-colored stairs are just as tempting. The Tracks lounge, across the street at the Pitcher Inn, is a fine place to snack on duck rillettes by the fire.

But there’s more poking around to be done in Waitsfield. Park near the covered bridge to check out works by more than 200 Vermonters at the Artisans’ Gallery. Then head for a meal at Mint, a vegetarian restaurant that should convert even the most devoted carnivore, at least temporarily. If you must have meat, try the New Vermont Sausage pizza at the perennially popular American Flatbread, made with maple-fennel sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions.

Once you’re ready to click into your skis, you’ll find natural snow, zero snowboarders and a time-capsule vibe at Mad River Glen, a laid-back ski area that has barely changed since its founder decided in 1948 that it wouldn’t be a “mountain amusement park” but a “winter community.” Over at 578-acre Sugarbush, more-modern upgrades let you score first tracks in the fresh snow of Lincoln Peak in a heated snowcat dubbed the Lincoln Limo. It’s very—well, sweet.

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Stowe: A Little Vermont Ski Town

Challenging skiing leads way to posh accommodations. Add in some creature comforts and this Vermont ski town has something for everyone.

As you sit with your skis dangling over the slopes on your way up Stowe’s Spruce Peak, you may find yourself contemplating which you’d have a better chance at: winning the annual Sugar Slalom happening over to your left, or securing one of the posh homes beneath your feet, whose hot tubs are big enough for scuba gear.

It’s OK. This is Stowe, a fertile place for fantasies ever since the Civilian Conservation Corps cut the first trails on Mount Mansfield, in 1933. And thanks to a recent, $400 million overhaul, most of those fantasies can be indulged at the upscale Spruce Peak base area—including piles of chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows for making s’mores around a fire after skiing. While Stowe Mountain Lodge anchors this side of the resort, you don’t have to be a guest there to catch a show at the new Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center or to have a drink at the lodge’s bar.

Granted, not everything around Stowe is cushy: The fabled Front Four trails still send plenty of bruised knees and egos away from this area, which has a 4,395-foot summit elevation and 116 trails. But it’s the combination of hard-core terrain, layers of tradition and mountain-inspired creativity that makes it such a winning ski town. An exploration actually begins about 7 miles from the resort, in the heart of the historic village. Housed in the 1818 Old Town Hall, the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum showcases some 10,000 cold-weather curiosities, from gondolas to 10th Mountain Division uniforms. Stowe Mercantile, just up the road, may have nearly as much stuff, but it’s all for sale: penny candy, sleigh bells, stoneware mugs. Chocoholics will want to head to Laughing Moon Chocolates for handmade treats.

Fuel up on either wood-fired pizzas at Piecasso or tacos at Frida’s Taqueria before venturing up the 5-mile Stowe Recreation Path. The multi-use trail begins at the white-steepled Community Church, winds past the Topnotch and Stoweflake resorts and is ideal for hikers and cross-country skiers. Every February, it’s also part of the Stowe Derby, a race that takes daring skiers from the top of Mount Mansfield to Stowe Village.

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Jeffersonville: A Little Vermont Ski Town

Schussing down the Green Mountains is sublime, but so is strolling the snow-covered streets filled with galleries, bakeries, brewpubs and more in this quaint ski town.

"It’s very sweet,” the no-nonsense waitress at Jeffersonville's Mix Café warns a mother and two preteens about their menu choice. They've taken a break from Facebooking on their iPad to debate ordering the crème brulée French toast with "drunken" blueberries. The trio nod and order it anyway—why not? The Mix's particular twist on French toast is said to be the best in Vermont, and almost everyone who gathers here, from Carhartt-clad farmers to snow bunnies in Bogner, has probably earned the calories.

Sweet but also surprising: sort of like many Green Mountain ski towns themselves. Jeffersonville is the home of Smugglers' Notch. At one point, there really were smugglers in Smugglers’ Notch. Early-19th-century outlaws ferried embargoed British goods and later, during Prohibition, booze from Canada through this narrow pass in the Green Mountains. Today Smuggs is best known as a family-friendly ski resort with 3 interconnected mountains and 1,000 acres of terrain, a 2,610-foot vertical drop and an average annual snowfall of 322 inches.

You won’t find high-speed quads or gondolas at Smuggs—and that’s just the way locals like it. Slower chairlift rides means fewer people on the hill at one time. The toughest trails, such as Black Hole (the only triple black diamond in the Northeast), Liftline and F.I.S. wriggle down from Madonna Mountain, while Morse Mountain is a gigantic playground dusted with snow. Smuggs even has its own mascot, Mogul Mouse, and Burton Riglet Park for very young snowboarders.

For a non-ski option, visit ArborTrek for a zip-line canopy tour. The 2-hour Wild Winter Ride takes thrill seekers on a high-flying adventure through snow-covered treetops.

Après-ski, it’s hard to beat a slope-side Long Trail Ale at Morse Mountain Grille or the moules frites at the Hearth & Candle; both are right in the resort’s village. Feel like a drop of vodka or rum? Duck into Smugglers’ Notch Distillery. The rest of Main Street, and pretty much the whole town, stretches east from there: At 158 Main Restaurant & Bakery, you’ll find such kid-friendly fare as grilled cheese and chicken fingers, while the Jeffersonville Country Store (sells Betty Boop lamps, wooden trains, Bove’s pasta sauce and Lake Champlain Chocolates.

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Atlantic City Revival

Nearly a century after its Prohibition-era heyday, the boardwalk is back.

There’s more to Atlantic City’s old nickname, “America’s Playground,” than raucous speakeasies and glittering nightclubs. This New Jersey beach retreat was also once known for a more wholesome brand of fun—namely, great food and spectacular shows. Now, after decades of decline followed by casino-focused development and a post-Hurricane Sandy revitalization, a new playground has emerged that mixes some of the old, Prohibition-era delights with more modern pleasures.

In his book Boardwalk Empire, on which the HBO series is based, historian Nelson Johnson writes that Atlantic City blossomed in the 1920s because of its accessibility. Ninety-nine trains, including 11 of the 16 fastest in the world, cruised in and out of A.C. each summer day. The city eventually evolved into a car-centric town, but rail travel returned in 2009 with the launch of the double-decker ACES train, which runs from New York City on weekends and is a far cry from the dreary casino buses (think leather seats and drink specials).

If you arrive in time for lunch, pop over to the White House Sub Shop, a favorite for its overstuffed sandwiches. The walls of this workingman’s deli, which opened in 1946, are plastered with photographs and memorabilia from A.C.’s past, including glossies signed by a zillion Miss Americas and a towel used by Frank Sinatra during his last show at the Sands. Dozens of friendly cooks whip up cheesesteaks and hoagies, using fresh bread supplied by the folks at Formica Bros. Bakery across the street.

When you’ve reached your caloric capacity, take a stroll down the boardwalk to Garden Pier, just north of the Trump Taj Mahal. Here the Atlantic City Museum awaits, with exhibits about the Steel Pier’s diving horses and the very first Ferris wheel. The boardwalk itself has few of the legendary hotels from Prohibition days, but near the Tropicana you can peek into the old Ritz-Carlton (now the Ritz Condominiums). It was from the Ritz’s ninth floor that crooked political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson ran the city in the 1920s. “Nucky had leased the entire floor from where he reigned as the ‘Czar,’” writes Nelson Johnson. With his silk robes and hedonistic lifestyle, Nucky turned the Ritz into a “lavish temple of pleasure.”

To get a real taste of old Atlantic City, leave the boardwalk and hit the traditional eateries. Several celebrity-chef restaurants have opened in town—including the Borgata’s Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck establishments—but locals will still point you to Dock’s Oyster House. Dock’s has been run by the same Dougherty family since it first opened in 1897, and they often greet you at the door. The dining room retains its old-world feel, with a pianist playing standards from behind the bar and a menu that still lists the same century-old hits: fried oysters and crab cakes.

Farther down Atlantic Avenue, you’ll find an even greater culinary landmark: The Knife & Fork, founded in 1912. It’s housed in an idiosyncratic, Flemish-style building that was first a private club and then a speakeasy until federal authorities raided it. In 2005 the Knife & Fork was purchased by the Dougherty family, of Dock’s fame, and given a makeover. It still serves traditional beef and reef fare, but the revamped menu also offers modern twists like Kobe sliders and Asian slaw.

Not all of the “vintage” establishments in the city are old. The Chelsea, a 1950s-style boutique hotel, opened in 2008 as the first non-gaming resort on the boardwalk in the casino area. Retro lamps and art deco mirrors accent the rooms; the two restaurants were developed in part by Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr. Teplitzky’s is a chic diner and bar straight out of The Jetsons, while Chelsea Prime resembles an old-school steak house with its leather booths and black-and-white photos of 1940s A.C. The tall windows with sweeping ocean views make a perfect backdrop for a succulent T-bone.

Old-school revelry is also making a comeback. Check out the free parade put on three times a day Wednesday through Sunday by the Showboat casino, with dancers, acrobats and singers wearing feather boas and colorful costumes. Showboat may not be the spiffiest casino on the boardwalk, but you won’t find a more entertaining tribute to the glory days of the Steel Pier.

Had enough history? Head to the Pier Shops at Caesars, where you can browse the latest fashions at high-end boutiques (Gucci, Ferragamo) and marvel at the Water Show, a dramatic display of fountains, lights and music. Take a break in the Adirondack chairs on the mall’s third floor (which has great sunset views, by the way), then wander over to the outlet stores on The Walk.

As with shopping, Atlantic City’s entertainment scene has also gotten a serious update. With new casinos popping up across the country, the gaming industry is growing more competitive, and Atlantic City is trying to keep up with the changes by improving its other attractions. So far, the work has paid off. The city has now drawn big-name performers like Bruce Springsteen, Shakira and Lady Gaga, with more consistently on the horizon.

If you don’t have tickets to a show, you’ll find plenty of action at one of the many nightclubs and lounges. Exhibit A: Harrah’s Pool. By day, it’s a huge, watery oasis of hot tubs and palm trees. Come evening, DJs are unleashed and it transforms into an aquatic dance club with mini-cabanas and an MTV Jersey Shore vibe. The nearby Borgata also has several popular clubs and lounges with nightly DJs and live bands.

And to help you recover from your big night out, Atlantic City has tons of spas. Opt for the seashell massage ($125) at Showboat’s Vive Day Spa, which is like a hot stone treatment, but with a shore twist. The South Jersey shore, that is.

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Putting the “Atlantic” back in Atlantic City

This historic New Jersey town isn’t just about slot machines and craps tables.

First-time visitors to Atlantic City are often surprised to find that it has a beach at all—much less a broad, 4-mile stretch of sand where seagulls soar, waves roll in, surfers glide and children toddle through the shallows. But back in the 1850s, long before the casinos arrived, Atlantic City got its start as a retreat for saltwater bathing, then believed to cure a multitude of ailments. The first boardwalk ever was built here in 1870, as a favor to beachside hotel owners irked by the sand tracked in on their Oriental carpets by careless guests. What started as an 8-foot-wide wooden promenade is now 60 feet wide and 4 miles long—and still a place to see and be seen.

Atlantic City’s beaches are handicap accessible, via ramps from the Boardwalk, and have public restrooms and showers at frequent intervals. You can surf off three designated beaches and fish (for free) from the jetties. Several locations rent lounge chairs, and a number of the casino hotels operate summer beach bars for those who prefer to do their relaxing with a frosty beer (and maybe some live music). With all this, why spend your summer days indoors?

The Atlantic City Boardwalk loaned its name to Boardwalk Empire, the HBO series based on real-life tales of the city’s Prohibition days. The show has inspired a new interest in Atlantic City history, and the Roaring Twenties Trolley Tour is the best way to explore it. Over the years many of the city’s historic buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball, but this tour searches out the spots that still remain.

Passengers board the vehicle—a varnished-wood replica of a Victorian trolley—for a 4-hour excursion that takes in such sights as the Ritz, a former hotel (now condos) where notorious crime boss Nucky Johnson once sprawled over the entire ninth floor. You’ll also pass by the still operational Absecon Light, which your guide will tell you is the country’s third-largest lighthouse, having withstood every storm since 1857. And you’ll see two of the original boathouses used by Prohibition-era rumrunners—your guide might describe the “alcohol abuse” that took place when federal agents poured out confiscated hooch onto the beach.

Atlantic City’s modest but sweet aquarium scores points with kids who like to get up close with marine creatures. It’s located in a stand-alone building on Gardner’s Basin. Much of the display space is devoted to touch tanks, home to creatures such as white spotted bamboo sharks, epaulette sharks and chocolate chip sea stars. In other tanks, look for beady-eyed piranhas, diamondback terrapins, a massive red-tail boa and some good-size red and green iguanas. The star resident is a giant loggerhead sea turtle named Groman, who weighed in at 180 pounds at his last checkup. After your aquarium tour, consider a cruise on one of the sightseeing and whale-watching boats that tie up in Gardner’s Basin, or stop by the roadhouse-style Back Bay Ale House for lunch.

The last few decades have handed Atlantic City some economic challenges, and there are plenty of empty lots to prove it. But development has picked up. Revel  casino hotel opened up just about two years ago, with 1,100 rooms, 12 restaurants, a spa and a 5,500-seat arena—making it AC’s biggest hotel to date. And unlike most of the properties in town, it’s making the most of its oceanfront location: A 2-acre sixth-floor deck will have cabanas, fire pits and gardens with 30,000 trees and plants. Even the lobby, also on sixth floor, will offer water views. It could be that “Atlantic” will once again be the operative word in the “Atlantic City” name.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.

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Clamoring for Seaside Fun

Outer BanksOnce a summer-only destination, Massachusetts’ Cape Cod now has a season that easily extends through mid-December; almost all restaurants and hotels, as well as many shops, are open year-round. The area is divided into four parts: Upper, Mid, Lower, and Outer.

Closest to the mainland, the Upper Cape is located along Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal. The Chart Room Restaurant, on Red Brook Harbor in Cataumet, is a perennial favorite for seaside seafood or drinks at sunset. Special occasions call for a trip to Osteria La Civetta, in Falmouth, for authentic northern Italian fare. The Sandwich Antiques Center offers 6,000 square feet of art and collectibles to satisfy shopping urges. It’s worth the drive to Spohr Gardens, in Falmouth, to take in the seasonal blooms in this six-acre woodland garden, open to the public for free.

The Mid Cape is known for its beaches, windsurfing and Hyannis, a town made famous by the Kennedys. Fans of oysters should check out the Naked Oyster, in Hyannis, known for its impressive raw bar. Sit at picnic tables to enjoy your meal at the Sesuit Harbor Café, right on the beach in Dennis. For legendary ice cream, head to Centerville’s Four Seas Ice Cream. If you’re planning to throw your own clambake or lobster boil, find everything you need at All Cape Cook’s Supply, in Hyannis. Design Works, in Yarmouthport, sells fashions and home furnishings from around the world, while the artisanal items at Scargo Pottery & Art Gallery, in Dennis, are all made by hand on-site.

These two areas encompass the base of the curve, and the curve itself, of Cape Cod. Much of the Outer Cape is part of Cape Cod National Seashore. The Cape Cod Rail Trail—a paved 22.mile path that follows a former railroad track—is used by cyclists, runners and horseback riders. It starts (or ends, depending on your point of view) in Wellfleet. The Brewster Store sells Cape Cod books, souvenirs, locally made fudge and jams, and all manner of dime-store knickknacks. For fashions (women’s and children’s), jewelry and home accessories, check out Cape Weekend in East Orleans. And for all things nautical, both practical and decorative, go to Marine Specialties, a classic army-navy store in in Provincetown. The Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre, which dates from 1957, shows double features every summer night.

There's no shortage of eating establishments on the Lower and Outer capes. The Impudent Oyster is an upscale seafood restaurant in an old church in Chatham. Celebrities are often spotted at The Mews, a longtime favorite in Provincetown. And no trip to the Cape would be complete without a visit to a clam shack. The fried clams at Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar, in Eastham, were rated the best on the Outer Cape in Cape Cod Life magazine’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards. A bonus: Arnold’s has its own miniature golf course on-site.

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Seaside Fun Without the Crowds

Known for its beautiful beaches and enormous dunes, North Carolina’s Outer Banks have plenty to offer no matter the time of year.

Winter is a remarkable season on the Outer Banks. Without the buzz of summer crowds, the 130-mile strand of sandy islands off the North Carolina coast feels like even more of a frontier. Visitors in this quieter time often have long stretches of beach all to themselves. Most arrive by taking the 3-mile-long Wright Memorial Bridge across Currituck Sound. Two other bridges link the Outer Banks to the mainland through Manteo. Travelers can also take a North Carolina state ferry from points south. Whatever the route, visitors and residents say they breathe easier as soon as they hit the coast-hugging, two-lane N.C. Highway 12—aka “the beach road”.

The landscapes of the Outer Banks inspire artists who paint, sculpt and photograph the birds, fish and lighthouses. Carvings of ducks and shore birds are featured at the Bird Store in Kill Devil Hills. Other galleries that show and sell the work of local artisans include Wanchese Pottery in Manteo and the colorful Pea Island Art Gallery on the surfers’ haven, Hatteras Island.

Believe it or not, in winter you can go sledding and sandboarding (similar to snowboarding) at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Its 426 acres of sand dunes are the tallest in the eastern United States. Sandboarding is only permitted from October through March when the sand is cooler; participants glide down dunes that look like small ski mountains. Jockey’s Ridge is also known to have great conditions for hang gliding: consistent winds and deep sand that makes for softer landings. Outfitter Kitty Hawk Kites offers hang-gliding lessons year-round.

Wild horses live on the northern beaches of the Outer Banks, and winter is a terrific time to see them. You’ll start to notice plenty of four-wheel-drive vehicles as you head north of Duck and Corolla. Eventually, the paved portion of Highway 12 disappears in the sand. From that point on, only outfitters and others in off-road trucks and Jeeps can drive on the 7,500 acres of beaches that are home to the wild descendants of colonial-era Spanish mustangs. (Note: The horses are protected by law; you’ll face a stiff fine if you get closer than 50 feet.) Locals know that the holidays are a good time to take family and friends on excursions with outfitters like Corolla Outback Adventures and Wild Horse Adventure Tours.

South of Nags Head, incredible seaside scenery is the star attraction on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Along this windswept, mostly undeveloped stretch of coast, blowing sand from tall dunes must be scraped regularly from the highway by bulldozers so that traffic may pass. The shore is known for its seashells; one of the best shelling spots is Coquina Beach, near the Bodie Island Lighthouse. And some 400 species of birds frequent the Outer Banks, including wintertime warblers, finches and orioles. Birders bring binoculars to the Charles Kuralt Trail and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

At Roanoke Island Festival Park, learn about the “lost colony” of English settlers who mysteriously vanished from Roanoke Island in the late 1500s. Boat-building workshops are offered at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum. Meanwhile, displays and stories of shipwrecks, sea battles and pirates can be found at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras—some 2,000 ships have sunk along the Outer Banks over the centuries.

Perhaps the greatest visitor activity in the Outer Banks, though, is a flight of imagination. Thousands of people from around the world make their way to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills each year to see the place where Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight happened in 1903. Full-scale reproductions of their practice glider and their first “flying machine” are among the displays at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The historic grounds are marked by a towering marble obelisk on a mound that can be seen from miles away—a reminder of the feat the brothers accomplished on these wild barrier islands little more than a century ago. Thanks to them, travel has never been the same since.

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Past Meets Present in Colonial Williamsburg

Virginia's famous living museum shines in springtime.

It’s 1774 here, in Virginia’s first colonial capital. The dirt road winds past the Governor’s Palace, where a cook is stirring Brunswick stew over an open fire, and the courthouse, where Grace Sherwood’s witch trial is underway. But despite the anachronistic spectacle, Virginia’s famous living museum is far from hokey. The entire area is fascinating, fun and in top-notch condition, thanks to renovations brought on by the 400th birthday of Jamestown in 2007. Spring is the best time to visit, for gorgeous blooms and mild weather. And when you’ve had enough of the 18th century, there are plenty of modern-day amusements.

Beginning in the 1930s, Colonial Williamsburg’s 301-acre historic area was transformed into a mock colonial town, thanks to a gift from John D. Rockefeller. Eighty-eight of the buildings are set on the original foundations, and more than 500 were meticulously reconstructed. The Governor’s Palace, for example, was recreated in part using the obsessive notes that Thomas Jefferson left behind (including such details as the exact distance between windows). On a guided tour, you’ll see rooms full of elaborate period furniture; inside the kitchen house, cooks might be preparing mutton or pies. Down the road, you’ll find the wigmaker, apothecary and basket weaver. At the 240-year-old courthouse, visitors can volunteer to be a defendant or a juror in a mock trial.

Things do get a little intentionally silly during Revolutionary City, a daily roaming outdoor theater piece that launches with fife and drums. Events of 1774–1781 are enacted several times a day on the same streets where they actually occurred. The crowds follow the interpreters as they read the Declaration of Independence or protest the Stamp Act of 1765.

Evening reenactments take place at some of the colonial taverns, which serve beer in pewter mugs, surprisingly tasty peanut soup and syllabub, a frothy citrus dessert. Even the dinnerware is authentic, with many pieces modeled after 18th-century squirrel patterns excavated nearby. While you’re eating, fiddle players meander through the large colonial rooms.

All over the grounds you’ll find animals that are rare today, like Ossabaw Island pigs and Red Devon cattle. Spring is lambing time, when you might witness the birth of a Leicester Longwool, one of the oldest breeds of sheep and nearly unknown in the U.S. (The adults are comically cute, with lustrous coats that fall in loops.) And the 90 acres of gardens showcase native plants like purple broccoli, as well as stunning flowers. In spring, red buckeye, azaleas, lavender, daylilies and dogwood trees are all in bloom, and workers at the Colonial Nursery are starting to plant using 18th-century tools and techniques, like hotbeds, cold frames and bell jars.

Williamsburg is renowned for its golf courses, such as the 45-hole Golden Horseshoe (a Golf Magazine Top 100) and Colonial Heritage, a 175-acre championship course designed by Arthur Hills. At the top of Duke of Gloucester Street, Merchants Square has more than 40 stores, from Williams-Sonoma and Talbots to Bella Lingerie and the Cheese Shop (a great place for a quick sandwich). In May, this courtyard hosts a Saturday farmers market, selling just-picked local produce and meats.

This is also where you’ll find many of the city’s best restaurants. At Berret’s, sit on the lovely patio and order fresh oysters straight from the nearby York River and a shrimp-garnished Bloody Mary. The Fat Canary, also on Merchants Square, uses native ingredients in innovative dishes like lobster and chive salad with lemon-infused olive oil, and tuna wrapped in nori and tempura-fried. And although the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg sounds historic (it’s “inspired by five centuries of wellness practices”), the three-floor facility has 12 light-filled treatment rooms. The Williamsburg Massage begins with a traditional herbal foot bath, but it’s a long way from provincial.

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Coastal Cali Drive

Cruising down the California coast may well inspire a lifestyle change.


When people talk about Southern California, they’re usually referring to the idyllic, 130-mile strip of coast between Los Angeles and San Diego. The “California Riviera,” as it’s often called, is as much a lifestyle as a location. People here live outdoors—even, it seems, when they’re indoors. To see California beach culture at its best, start your drive 40 miles south of L.A., among the surfers and volleyball gods of Orange County’s Newport Beach. Then cruise down toward San Diego, about 90 miles farther.

Stop in Newport Beach for a bike ride along the 3-mile-long Balboa Peninsula. The flat cycling path cuts between the sand and a row of whimsical beach houses—a simple sea cottage is next to a palazzo, which is next to a tiki hut. Rent beach cruisers for $10 an hour from Easy Ride Bicycle Rentals. The beach is improbably wide and full of dunes; at its south end is the Wedge, a scenic inlet where sailboats and Duffy electric touring boats glide by.

Move slightly inland to sample Newport’s upscale diversions. Key among them is the nearly 400-acre Pelican Hill Golf Club. The Tom Fazio-designed 36-hole course is open to the public. A longtime Newport Coast institution, the club is now surrounded by the palatial, Mediterranean-style Resort at Pelican Hill. Soak up the ambience over an early dinner at Andrea, one of Pelican Hill’s dining rooms. It’s easily one of the state’s finest Northern Italian restaurants.

Leaving Newport Beach, Highway 1 dips and winds along cliffs and past sandy coves. Rather than blasting by all this beauty, set aside an afternoon for Crystal Cove State Park, a protected 3-mile sandy strand backed by 2,400 acres of seaside cliffs and forests of eucalyptus, pine and Canary Island palms. Before you head out on the 17 miles of hiking trails, fuel up at the 3-year-old Beachcomber Café, reportedly the first restaurant in 40 years to open right on the SoCal sand.

Orange County

The affluent and arty city of Laguna Beach is home to fewer than 25,000 people. With its curving bay and bungalow- and mansion-dotted hillside, it’s like an American version of Italy’s Positano—but with surfers. At Laguna’s center is Main Beach, with its tidal pools and boardwalk; across from the beach are the galleries of Forest Avenue—Laguna Beach has lured artists for more than a century. The town’s Heisler Park has walking paths that drop down to golden sands where you can swim, surf, dive or just explore the tide pools. It’s a great vantage point for views of the rugged coast, human-scaled town and palm-silhouetted sunsets.

Treasure Island Park also has Pacific views to spare. Here, locals work their way through morning yoga routines on the lawns while bunnies can be heard hopping about in the underbrush. After your visit, stop at the adjacent Montage, a Craftsman-style resort that has been wowing travelers and celeb weekenders from L.A. since it opened in 2003. If you book a treatment you can spend some time at the spa, with its open-air relaxation areas, pool deck and oceanfront gym. Or just relax over drinks by the fire in the plush lobby. Views of the Pacific included, naturally.

The next stop is North San Diego County—known as North County. An easy coastal drive south on Interstate 5 leads to the pretty community of Del Mar, anchored by the Auberge Del Mar resort. The lobby lounge and the tiered decks that hold the Waterfall Terrace and Bleu Bar are social magnets, and the restaurant, Kitchen 1540, is well worth a visit.

End your SoCal road trip in La Jolla, a walkable, Mediterranean-style village with a strong sense of community. The town’s ocean swimmers like to drop their towels on the emerald green lawn above La Jolla Cove and swim out—beyond snorkelers ogling Garibaldi fish—to the half-mile buoy in the bay. Paddlers can rent kayaks and tour the coast’s seven sea caves, while the more daring might sign up at Torrey Pines Gliderport for a 20-minute tandem flight above the sands of Black’s Beach.

When you’re in La Jolla’s oceanfront park, wander south along the coastal path to a tiny cove populated by sea lions basking in the sun. Humans must stay behind the rope: There’s no touching allowed. But from here you can admire (and photograph) the sea lions enjoying their version of the SoCal lifestyle.

Southern California Coast

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The Great Outdoors in the San Bernardino Mountains

From waterskiing to snowboarding, the twin towns of Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead offer a wealth of high-altitude fun and some off-season entertainment to boot.

Pine-swathed peaks, glinting lakes, idyllic mountain villages—the sister alpine towns of Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead seem a world away from the glamorous beaches of Los Angeles, a drive of less than 2 hours west. Located in the San Bernardino National Forest off the Rim of the World Highway (Route 18), these small burgs offer a bounty of outdoor activities for every season, including some charming festivals.


Nature takes center stage here, but there are a few surprises, too. Big Bear Lake showcases indie flicks each September at its International Film Festival. The town embraces Oktoberfest with gusto, so bring your stein to the highest beer garden in the country (6,750 feet) and watch live Bavarian musical acts clad in lederhosen. Adrenaline seekers should check out the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain—the twisting quarter-mile bobsled course is open year-round. When the weather is warm, it’s all about trout fishing, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Not to be outdone, the storybook Lake Arrowhead Village puts on a worthy Oktoberfest as well, having the largest German-brew selection of any celebration south of Santa Barbara and a typical smorgasbord of bratwursts and supersized laugenbrezel (traditional pretzels). In June, the Annual Antique and Classic Wooden Boat Show pays homage to skiffs that date from the 1930s. If you’re clamoring to get out on the water, McKenzie Water Ski School has been the go-to stop for lessons since 1946. 


Southern California doesn’t evoke images of powdery slopes, but Snow Valley, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain harbor an abundance of ski runs that span all skill levels. Snowboarders camp out at the latter, doing their best Shaun White imitations on the 580-foot superpipe, the only one of its kind in the area. Those who prefer to keep their tips on the ground head to Rim Nordic, which has 10 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.


While every resort has its own culinary offerings, those preferring to eat in the villages should fuel up for a day on the mountain at Belgian Waffle Works, situated on the banks of Lake Arrowhead. Its doughy golden staple comes in 17 versions made with different ingredients, from sliced peaches to Oreo cookie crumbs, and the biscuits and gravy is genuine down-home comfort food. For an early dinner, Madlon’s, in Big Bear Lake, serves a sophisticated menu in a replica of a gingerbread house. Don’t miss the garlic escargot and dry-aged porterhouse steak.


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Travel Health: Surviving Street Food

Food from street vendors can be delicious—but don’t let them make you sick.

Whether you’re visiting Bangkok or Austin, the best food often comes from street vendors. Yet some carts and vendors are safer than others. In Portland, Oregon—often called the food-cart capital of the U.S.—food-borne illnesses are rare: The city health department inspects mobile restaurants twice a year. But Daniel Caplivski, M.D., director of the travel medicine clinic at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, warns that adventurous eaters need to exercise more caution when traveling abroad.


Before your trip, Dr. Caplivski recommends that you see a travel medicine specialist for the necessary vaccines and drugs* for the country you’re visiting. A physician will know if you need the typhoid vaccine, and might prescribe antibiotics to take with you, such as Cipro. To find a travel clinic, consult the International Society of Travel Medicine (


“If locals are eating there and the food looks fresh, it’s probably safe for you to eat there,” says Andy Ricker, a chef who travels regularly to Southeast Asia on research trips for his Portland restaurant, Pok Pok. And, of course, the stands with the longest lines tend to have the yummiest food.


Well-done food is less likely to make you sick. In developing countries, avoid salads and raw vegetables, which might have been washed in contaminated water. And peel fruit yourself, in case the vendor hasn’t washed his or her hands.


Thailand’s health department gives out “Clean Food, Good Taste” signs to vendors who meet hygiene levels. Only a third of the awardees get inspected twice a year, but these vendors (and restaurants) are a safer bet.


Obviously, tap water and ice cubes aren’t safe in developing countries. Be sure bottled water is sealed; vendors have been known to refill plastic bottles with tap water.


Dr. Caplivski recommends you carry something like FloraStor* (sold at most drugstores) to help repopulate your gastro-intestinal tract with good bacteria. It can also be taken preventively before a trip. Ricker eats the local yogurt when in a new place, to expose himself to local bacteria—of the good variety.

*Consult your physician before taking any medication or probiotic, and use all medications and probiotics as directed.

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Photo Tips: Portrait Pointers

How to capture your travel companions in their best light.

A good portrait is more than a snapshot—it’s a picture that captures the personality of the subject in a special way. Even better is a portrait of a loved one on vacation, when the subject is relaxed and the setting reminds you of happy times. Here are some techniques to make sure you come home with at least one frameworthy (or Facebook-worthy) shot.


People just don’t look good in harsh light, such as you find outside on a sunny day. So get your subject into some flattering shade before you shoot. Or, if there’s no cover to be had, have him or her face away from the sun. This will eliminate squinting and heavy shadows.


Look for plain backgrounds that let your subject stand out. If the busy background is necessary to the composition (say, to show off a resort’s jungle setting), find a place in the frame where the subject fits without objects like trees that seem to be growing out from behind his or her head. Pros sometimes soften a distracting background by opening up the lens to its widest setting (i.e., the lowest number f/stop) to limit the depth of focus and direct attention to the subject. (This technique works better with digital SLRs than with point-and-shoots.)


Keep talking once you start to shoot, offering posing instructions and encouraging words that will make your sitter feel comfortable. And try to keep the camera at your eye level, so when you tell your killer joke and your subject responds with a great smile, you’re ready to shoot. Or set the camera on a tripod and use a remote to trip the shutter. That lets you maintain eye contact with the subject, allowing for easier interaction. The whole point is to be ready for that split second when the subject lets down his or her guard and the personality shines through.


A lot of things can be soft and out of focus in a portrait, but not the eyes. If your camera has a moveable autofocus target, make sure it falls right at the subject’s eye level. Try not to compose your portrait with the subject’s eyes in the middle of the frame (where your autofocus target usually rests), as it makes for a very static composition. And remember to fill the frame, even with a headshot.


Finally, don’t be stingy with the shutter. In the digital age, shooting more costs nothing extra. The sound of shutter clicks will reassure your subject, helping you both to arrive at that one magic moment—and the perfect portrait.

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Texas Hill Country Adventures

Deep in the heart of Texas, families can unplug for some old-fashioned fun.

Hold on to your cowboy hats and hit the gas: In the Texas Hill Country, just west of San Antonio and Austin, roads flanked by bluebonnet-filled pastures link charming towns that deliver on food, fun and “Yee-haw!”-worthy adventures.


The town of Fredericksburg has long been a getaway for couples drawn to its 19th-century streets, romantic B&Bs and haute boutiques. It also has plenty of pit stops for families.

Kids can play historic house at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, in the 732-acre Lyndon B. Johnson State Park. Pretend pioneers can dress up and make toys just as they would have in the early 1900s, when youngsters fashioned dolls from cornhusks and balls from pigskin.

See real airplanes in flight at the Hangar Hotel’s Airport Diner, where Flying Flapjacks and Bomber Burgers are served in a 1940s-inspired space overlooking the local airport’s runways. Save room for ice cream—Mexican vanilla, pecan and amaretto are three favorites—at Clear River Pecan Co.


Even tykes wear starched white button-downs and wide-brimmed hats in Bandera, the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World. Get ranch-ready at Bunkhouse Leather, where owner Michael Hancock tools just about anything out of leather: reins, saddles and, for city slickers, cell-phone holsters. Around the corner, the Bandera General Store sells vintage embroidered boots.

Bandera is surrounded by guest ranches—working farms with overnight accommodations. Many of these offer trail rides to nonguests. Dixie Dude Ranch has 24 horses for wannabe cowboys to ride on the property’s 725 bluebonnet-filled acres.

In the evening, take your half-pints out to chow down on grilled steaks at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar and two-step to live country music.


New Braunfels, known for its German roots, is located off Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin. A few blocks from the highway, historic neighborhoods unfold. Gruene (pronounced “green”) is the most famous, thanks to Gruene, an 1878 saloon that’s the oldest in Texas. Children are welcome as long as they can tap their feet to the likes of Willie Nelson and Pat Green. Around the corner, families dress up in bonnets, bandanas and chaps at Smiling Eyes Photo Gallery to pose for Old West–style sepia portraits.


Climbing roads cut across pecan tree-covered slopes in Wimberley, a great springtime stop for adventure. Kids line up for rope swings at the Blue Hole, a natural swimming hole surrounded by picnic tables. Older daredevils can soar over central Texas’s limestone cliffs with Wimberley Zipline Adventures. Animal fans will love Old Oaks Ranch, an alpaca farm and yarn store where kids can pet the soft-footed animals and learn about carding wool, knitting and weaving.


The area around the small city of Kerrville is armed and ready with fun and educational activities for youngsters. At the Museum of Western Art, follow the fictional life story of a pioneer boy headed west. Everyone will enjoy the exotic animals at Y.O. Ranch. The terrain at this 40,000-acre park is similar to that of southern Africa, and 55 animal species—wildebeests, rheas, even giraffes—thrive here. The two-hour tour ends with a chuckwagon lunch.

Relax by Ingram Dam, a favorite swimming hole that’s a great spot to people-watch on weekends. On weekend nights from May through September, head to Crider’s Rodeo. Before the main event—a rodeo and live country music—youngsters can try their hand at mutton bustin’ (riding sheep).

Traveling with kids isn’t always easy, but enjoy these moments while they last. Soon enough your “babies” will grow up to be cowboys and cowgirls.


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Treasure Hunting in Canton, Texas

Every month, this town explodes in size when it hosts the world’s largest flea market.

For 317 days a year, the tiny East Texas town of Canton (pop. 5,147) is a sleepy country crossroads, anchored by a stately limestone courthouse and historic square. The streets are lined with mom-and-pop stores, homey B&Bs and cafés that still close on Sundays. But 4 days a month, Canton is invaded: Traffic jams threaten the single four-way stop, and the population swells to more than 400,000. All of these rummage-sale pilgrims come for a crack at the best bargains the 150-year-old flea market has to offer.

First Monday Trade Days Flea Market, once a modest row of merchants set up outside the courthouse on the first Monday of every month, is now the world’s largest flea market (in continuous operation). Despite its name, the fair moved to weekends to attract more visitors, and today has more than 5,000 stalls on 500 acres of ranchland.

Trying to catalog the wares is impossible. As one vendor put it, “if you can’t find it in Canton, it ain’t been made yet.” Here’s a loose guide to some of our favorite old-time, out-of-the-ordinary and just plain interesting stalls, stands and vendors.


Travelers eager for a taste of cowboy culture should start their day at B Saddlery, where John “the Saddleman” exhibits his hand-tooled chaps, canteens and custom saddles, “guaranteed to fit your horse & you” (as his business card notes). Over the past 22 years, he has built some 1,000 Western saddles for ranchers, rodeo champs and Texas celebrities like George Strait. Hunting enthusiasts flock to Harry White, “the Cowboy,” a 6-foot-4-inch man sporting a handsome mustache, beard and cowboy hat. He has more than 1,000 hunting rifles and antique knives, mostly locked in glass cases.

Two jewelry vendors stand out for their well-curated collections. Saikou of SK USA Import Export Inc. sells beads from all over, including rustic necklaces made from colorful sea glass carefully selected in Nigeria. For estate jewelry, visit Donna Bookout of Bookout Antiques, who’s only missed two trade days in 40 years. Ask to see her 1810 Georgian ring with an oval ruby, or a swath of mine-cut diamonds set in white gold.

Joyce Nicoletti of Ole Yeller Barn Antiques carries a vast selection of “hard times glass” from the Depression era. Shabby chic decor continues at the Gypsy Pearl, where Fort Worth native Pam Burnett has French country furnishings and rare pieces of antique lace.

If metal works are more your speed, David Lowry at String Bean’s Blacksmith Shop sells striking iron candleholders, pot racks, headboards and tables, forging some on site. Next door, Phil and Tina Rice make furnishings out of discarded metals, such as barstools built from tractor parts. For antler chandeliers and cowhide rugs, visit Wild Bill, who also sells wooden swans he makes out of driftwood from Louisiana’s Ouachita River.


The Atrium, or food hall, on the market grounds sells delicious roasted corn, sausage dogs, turkey legs and funnel cakes. But a walk into Canton proper makes for a pleasant escape from the crowds. The first place to open every day is Donut Corner, where the counter is laden with donuts fresh from the oven. For cappuccinos, head over to Come Together Trading Co. on the main square. It also sells toys, clothes and souvenirs through Ten Thousand Villages, a Fair Trade retailer. If you can excuse the frilly interiors, the Tea Room on the Square is worth a visit for sweet almond tea and a slice of chess pie—a traditional Deep South dessert.

Happy hour fans were thrilled when the Texas Roads Winery opened last summer, pouring only Lone Star State wine. The Winery’s own Sweet Freedom is a refreshing white for a hot afternoon. Two doors down is the Soda Jerk, a 1950s-style jukebox diner serving thick chocolate malts made with Texas Blue Bell ice cream. For 40 years, Ochoa’s  has been known for its salsa, grilled skirt steak and tamales. And the best barbecue is only a short drive from town: Backwoods Bar-B-Que, for smoky brisket and spicy pork sausage.


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Proud of its world-class arts scene, Houston invites everyone to come check it out

For decades, this sprawling city of 6 million was considered a necessary pit stop for business travelers. Lately, though, thanks to its booming (and global) economy, Houston’s population has become incredibly diverse, drawing new residents from the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and both U.S. coasts. Some 200,000 newcomers have arrived in the past three years alone, among them entrepreneurs, artists, chefs and designers. Most important, the city’s old guard is constantly reinvesting in its beloved community, with the result that institutions such as the Houston Ballet Center for Dance and the Asia Society Texas Center are opening state-of-the-art facilities and bringing in stellar shows and exhibits. Here are some highlights of the Lone Star State’s growing cultural landscape.

Visual Arts

Move over, oil and gas—art is becoming one of Houston’s prime attributes, thanks mostly to private investors and philanthropists (many of whom made their millions in, well, oil and gas). Best of all, a number of the 100-plus museums are free to the public.

The privately owned Menil Collection, housed in the first U.S. building by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano, displays pieces ranging from Byzantine antiquities to paintings by Picasso and Warhol. Next door, the Cy Twombly Gallery has more than 50 works by the namesake American artist, known for his large-scale paintings and drawings. (As proof of Twombly’s influence on contemporary art, note that he is the only U.S. artist with a permanent installation—a 3,767- square-foot canvas of planets and orbs—in the Louvre.)

Also on the 30-acre Menil campus is the Mark Rothko Chapel. The octagonal brick building houses 14 of the artist’s abstract works. Just outside, don’t overlook artist Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk sculpture, created in 1963 and dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Located in the city’s Museum District, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is an inviting spot for art novices (depending on the exhibit, you’re even allowed to take pictures). CAMH is celebrating its 65th season with the cutting-edge “Outside the Lines” show, which explores the future of art across different mediums.

The Asia Society Texas recently moved to new digs close by—a striking building by Yoshio Taniguchi. You can tell that the Japanese architect was a perfectionist: Only the finest materials were used throughout the $48.4 million structure—Jura limestone from Germany, American cherry wood, Italian Basaltina stone—and the building runs on underground geothermal power.

After viewing the artworks on display, go into the center’s Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater and settle into one of the 273 plush seats—they’re made by the same guys that outfit Ferraris and Maseratis.


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Sin City Sampler

At these top-of-the-line Vegas buffets, everyone’s a winner.

When in Las Vegas, there are good reasons aside from financial ruin to hit a buffet. For about $25 you can eat for hours, like a horse at the longest trough on earth, as long as you stay in the dining room. We tested five of the best, four along the Strip and one slightly off-Strip. The past decade’s star chef invasion has raised the bar on food and service all over Vegas, and the transformation has trickled down even to the buffets. This style of dining is perfect for families and the sleep-deprived, because you don’t have to decide what kind of food to eat till you get there.


There’s something about Vegas that shows us how fickle we are. Remember when the Bellagio was the pinnacle of luxury on the Strip? Its thousands of handblown glass flowers now seem very ’90s next to new guys like the Cosmopolitan and the Aria, which rely more on digital effects to achieve the Vegas ideal of busy beauty.

The buffet at the Cosmo is positively tasteful, decorated in a hipster, mid-century-modern palette of browns and oranges. Overall, it’s the most appealing buffet on our list, offering small, composed plates of smartly conceived dishes. Most ethnic foods are under-seasoned at Vegas buffets, which is the case with the Korean beef salad here, though it’s still satisfying and dense. One standout: “fries with eyes”—crisp, piping-hot smelt, the size of French fries, served in a long-handled silver fryer lined with paper. You’ll feel as if you’re strolling the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Pad thai and edamame with ginger and chiles both come in small Chinese takeout containers, another whimsical touch. The slow-cooked lamb rib with five-spice powder is excellent. Roast chicken, mashed potatoes and braised Brussels sprouts make a brilliant combo.


The room has a pleasant, open feel, with subtle gradations in the wood on the tables and in the pastel tones of the expensive glass wall tiles. The fried chicken here is stellar. As at most of the buffets, the eggs Benedict suffers from an underdone muffin (such are the problems of even the most carefully tended buffet). All the fresh fruit is vibrant and bright. The Aria is the only Vegas buffet with a tandoor oven, and its garlic naan is among the best bread in town. You’d be wise to avoid the tilapia. The desserts are nicely cooked and presented—try the oatmeal raisin cookies, the custardy cinnamon bread pudding or the ubiquitous crème brûlée.


This well-run operation is one of the largest on the Strip. You won’t feel rushed by the efficient staff, who serve almost 4,000 people a day. And you won’t be confused at the 12 food stations, since every item is labeled (even “lemons”). The crab legs here are better than anywhere else in town. Come for breakfast: The hollandaise on the eggs Benedict is fresh and very lemony, and there’s excellent congee with shredded pork and green onion (you can choose your toppings). The lovely croissants are much better than the “home-made rolls.”


With its pale-pink-and-silver-striped wallpaper and twinkly chandeliers, this is one of the prettiest buffet rooms; it looks like a supersized French café. At breakfast, pile some of the creamy smoked salmon rillette on a bagel with capers and spicy cucumber salad. The chilled seafood station, one of the best on the Strip, even has sweet white anchovies. The thin-crust pizza is fresh from the oven, and the Asian station offers delicious shrimp shumai and pork dumplings. End with the crisp-topped crème brûlée rather than the bread pudding (though it’s said to be Steve Wynn’s mother’s recipe). As the tourists have moved south to the Cosmo and the Aria, the Wynn is quieter, which is relaxing—though Steve himself probably wouldn’t agree.


The Rio looks like what it is: a roomy, linoleum-floored cafeteria with lots of choices. At all the buffets, you pay and tip before you eat, and here you can settle up at a convenient machine. The spare ribs are served in a tangy but subtle sauce; they’re chewy in exactly the right way. Fried clams with tartar sauce are delectable, and you can help yourself to plain noodles and add whatever sauce you like; the alfredo is especially good. Don’t miss the tiny squares of layer cakes with special toppings, like an S-shaped cookie made of marshmallow. Any cab driver will confirm that this buffet is the favorite among Las Vegas residents. It’s no surprise: The locals know a good deal when they see one.


• You can’t make reservations at a buffet. To avoid lines, arrive when service starts. Or, if you play poker for an hour at the hotel’s casino, ask the pit boss if you qualify for a buffet pass, which allows you to get in a shorter VIP line.

• While Vegas is all about indulgence, resist the urge to overeat. Scope out the entire spread, then fill a plate with moderate portions. Go back for a fresh plate if you want to try other dishes.

• Eat slowly and save room for dessert.

• Leave at least a 15% tip—the staffs at these places keep your table clean and your drinks coming.


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