Coastal Cali Drive


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

SanDiego

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.

NEWPORT BEACH
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

LAGUNA BEACH
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.

NORTH COUNTY, SAN DIEGO
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.

OFF-SEASON FUN

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. 

Big Bear LakeHIT THE SLOPES

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.

GOOD EATS

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.

SEE A TRAVEL DOC

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 (istm.org).

BUY FROM BUSY STANDS

“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.

GET FOOD COOKED THROUGH

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.

LOOK FOR INSPECTION STICKERS

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.

DON’T DRINK THE WATER

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.

PACK A PROBIOTIC

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.

START WITH THE LIGHT

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.

BACKGROUND CHECK

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.)

GESTURE AND MOMENT

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.

THE EYES HAVE IT

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.

SHOOT AWAY

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.

PLAYTIME AND PIONEERS

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.

FOR COWBOYS AND COWGIRLS

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.

DANCING AND DRESS-UP

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.

OUTDOOR PURSUITS

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.

GALLERIES AND GIRAFFES

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.

GOOD PICKINGS

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.

HEAD INTO TOWN

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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TEXAS’S CULTURE CAPITAL


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.

WICKED SPOON BUFFET AT THE COSMOPOLITAN

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 BUFFET AT ARIA

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.

THE BUFFET AT THE BELLAGIO

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.”

THE BUFFET AT THE WYNN

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.

CARNIVAL WORLD BUFFET AT THE RIO

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.

PLAYING THE ODDS

• 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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Vegas for Guys, Vegas for Gals: Part 3


GALS  

Be One of the Guys

Women who play poker are like women who drink scotch—instantly intriguing. Find out how to be one of them at Mandalay Bay, where poker lessons are free several days a week. Not only will you learn several versions of the game; you’ll also be schooled in terminology and table etiquette. Afterward head over to the Old Homestead, a classic New York steak house with a Vegas outpost in Caesar’s. It serves Pat LaFrieda dry-aged meats and truffled gnocchi to die for; both can be paired with wine flights that may include selections from Opus and Justin.

GUYS  

Revisit Old Vegas

Start by touring the Neon Museum, whose collection of oldie-but-goodie signs will make you nostalgic for the Rat Pack days. Next stop: the new Mob Museum, located in (wink, wink) the old courthouse. It offers a comprehensive journey through the history of organized crime, from the early beginnings to today. The extensive display of mobster memorabilia includes John Gotti’s white suit; interactive exhibits allow visitors to listen to wiretaps.

View two feats of engineering at once when you visit the Hoover Dam with Pink Jeep tours. The dam, revolutionary when it debuted, is now spanned by the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, a beautiful 1,900-foot-long concrete arch that opened to the public about three years ago.

GALS  

Bliss Out

The not-very-Zen Strip is home to some of the best spas in the country, and most offer day passes for around $40. At Aria, try the heated Japanese gaban’yoku stone beds, said to increase circulation. It’s worth paying for entry to the Spa at Encore, at the Wynn, if only to see its over-the-top design. The spa also has several “experience” showers: One mimics a waterfall; another shoots water all over your body.

The prize for best Jacuzzi goes to the The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, whose soothing Vitality Pool has unrivaled views of the Strip. The star at Sahra Spa at the Cosmopolitan is the hammam, a $3 million bathhouse that can be experienced only by booking a treatment but is worth every penny.

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Vegas for Guys, Vegas for Gals: Part 2


GALS  

Commune with Nature

Even if you think you’ve had your fill of red rocks in Colorado or Sedona, you’ll want to see Red Rock Canyon, a national conservation area about a half-hour from the Strip. Pink Jeep offers a four-hour tour of the 13-mile loop, where you’ll see fossilized sand dunes and Native American pictographs. If you prefer exercise with your nature, take a weekend yoga class in the underwater-viewing area at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. Watch the animals frolic while you’re led through an hour’s worth of poses, and enjoy complimentary use of the spa facilities afterward.

GUYS  

Eat (and Drink) with Gusto 

Ever hear of yellowtail collar (aka hamachi kama)? This Japanese delicacy is a favorite of Anthony Bourdain; at Bar Masa it’s showcased at its fatty best, especially when accompanied by a beer chosen by expert sommelier T.J. Buraszeski, Jr. Speaking of beer, check out Sage, where chef Shawn McClain’s tasting menu—four generous portions including dessert—is available with beer pairings. Beer is also the star at the Venetian’s Public House, a gastropub with more than 200 kinds of suds on tap. Nevada’s first certified beer cicerone will help you choose (but he won’t turn down the music, played at levels that kill the otherwise awesome ambience). The menu here is meat heavy; the marrow dish is a must.

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Vegas for Guys, Vegas for Gals


A couples' guide to Sin City

Today’s Vegas can be anything you want it to be: It’s a veritable playground for grownups, from gamblers to gourmets. The challenge is to fit in all you want to do in the (usually) short time you’ve got to do it. That’s why couples often adopt a “divide and conquer” strategy, in which the women and men go their separate ways during the day, then reconvene in the evening for various adventures. Here, the girl’s-versus-guy’s guide to a city that really never sleeps. Keep checking back to the RCI blog for more tips to ensure your Vegas vacation isn't a gamble!

GALS

Channel Your Inner Showgirl

Start with a snakeskin pedicure at Vdara Spa: It’s a gel pedicure in which real (naturally shed) snakeskin is applied to your toes, on top of your choice of color. Then strap on your highest heels and head to X Burlesque University at the Flamingo. During a 75-minute class, you’ll learn the all-important techniques of applying false eyelashes and stage lipstick and working a feather boa, then get schooled in a burlesque routine. After picking up some new skills, have a special cocktail at the Chandelier Bar, set on three floors of the Cosmopolitan Hotel and swagged in crystals. Try the Campfire Delight; it’s like a s’more in a glass, made up of a rum-cream liqueur, two types of chocolate, a graham-cracker-coated rim and toasted marshmallows. Next head to Minus5, a bar carved entirely from ice—the structure, the furniture, even the glasses in which your drinks are served

GUYS 

Be a Kid Again

Around the age of five, boys often develop an obsessive interest in toy cars and heavy construction equipment. In Vegas, an adult male can drive a real Lamborghini and operate a real bulldozer.

At Exotics Racing, you’ll start by getting some driver’s ed on the exotic paddle-shift cars meant for racing. The hardest part will be choosing your ride from a stable that includes a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, a Mercedes SLS AMG and an Audi R8.

For those who prefer their machines a little larger, Dig This offers a chance to operate an excavator or bulldozer, just like the ones you see on construction sites, on the company’s “heavy-equipment playground.” Fuel these adrenaline-laced activities at the Burger Bar in Mandalay Place, where you can customize every part of your meaty creation, from protein to bun to garnishes. (The truffled potato chips are a must.) Or, for lunch on the fly, grab a slice at the Pizzeria at the Cosmopolitan.

 

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Brazil


Brazil

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Dining In: Brazilian Beans Hit the Spot


It's easy to make tutu a Mineira in your timeshare kitchen

BY REGINA SCHRAMBLING

The national dish of Brazil, feijoada, involves many hours and many steps as well as black beans, several meats, rice and side dishes. But cook local in the state of Goiás (home to the Brazilian capital, Brasília, and several hot-springs resort towns) and you’ll get that pork-and-black-beans satisfaction much faster. The region’s signature dish, tutu à Mineira, is the ultimate refried beans with bacon. Black beans are thickened with flour made from cassava (aka manioc) and topped with sliced sausage and hard-cooked eggs. You can eat the dish with a grilled pork chop, but it’s always matched up with bitter greens, like collards or kale. 


Tutu sounds like dance wear, but it just means mashed beans (canned are fine) with cassava. Though you can use regular flour, cassava is worth the hunt: It adds a hint of sweetness and makes the texture closer to that of polenta.

Tutu à Mineira         
Serves 4
        5 thick strips fatty bacon, diced  
        2 medium onions, diced
        4 cloves garlic, chopped 
        Salt
        6 cups cooked black beans (4 15.5-oz cans)
        ½ cup cassava (tapioca) flour 
        Hot sauce to taste 
        1 cup precooked linguica or chorizo sausage, cut in ½-inch slices
        2 large eggs, hard cooked, shelled and cut in ½-inch slices   
        2 scallions (green onions), green part only, thinly sliced

PLACE bacon in a heavy pot over medium heat and cook, stirring, until fat is rendered and the bits start to crisp. ADD onion and garlic; sprinkle with about 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. DRAIN beans, reserving liquid, and add to the pot. Continue cooking while mashing with a potato masher until beans are fairly smooth. LOWER heat, stir in reserved bean liquid and slowly add cassava flour. Cook, stirring, until beans thicken. Add more salt and hot sauce to taste. Meanwhile, heat chorizo slices in a small skillet over medium heat. Spread beans onto a platter, top with sausage and egg slices, then sprinkle with scallions. SERVE hot with cooked kale, collard greens or broccoli rabe.

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Branson Leaf Peeping


Admiring the distinct color palette of the Ozarks by foot, car and rail.

Fall in the Missouri Ozarks is nothing like the fireworks of a New England autumn. Instead of showy sugar maples exploding in garish reds, you get something that local folklorist Marideth Sisco calls “a glorious tweed.” Hickory, dogwood, oak and walnut trees color the hills in shades of crimson, amber, buttery gold and the muted bronze of old pennies. Another difference? No busloads of leaf peepers. The crowd is in town, distracted by Branson’s popular stage shows. But as the days turn mild and mosquitos start to disappear, fall is the best time to discover this entertainment mecca’s original attraction: the great outdoors.

DRIVE WAYS

The hills around Branson have been densely settled for more than a century, and a dizzying network of back roads connects the far-flung outposts. Warning: In the Ozarks, the term back road doesn’t mean a two-lane blacktop. The Glade Top Trail, one of the area’s loveliest drives, is a 24-mile serpentine stretch of gravel. It’s smooth-ish; don’t expect lane markers, service stations or much of anything besides stellar scenery.

But you needn’t go to such extremes to explore the countryside. Head west from Branson’s Country Mile (Highway 76), descending Route 13 toward Table Rock Lake. After you clear the Kimberling City Bridge, you’ll find a smokehouse heaven called Jill’s Bar-B-Que. As you leave the lake behind, the road gets twistier. Fields are so steep you’ll wonder how they were ever cleared of the dense hardwoods. For a 2-hour trip, drive east on Route 86, a curvy stretch with a sudden blast of lake views as you approach Highway 65, which will take you back to Branson. Just off the highway in Hollister, stop at Vintage Paris for a glass of wine or an espresso.

OUTDOOR EASY

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park is a manicured 2,200-acre preserve that can be explored on foot, by bike, on an ATV, on horseback or in an open-air tram. The tram ride includes a guided wildlife tour during which you roll through pastures where longhorn cattle, elk and bison graze. A paved 6-mile trail leads deep into the canyon, past scenery where every boulder and tree seems perfectly placed, and every blade of grass perfectly groomed. Halfway down the canyon, stop at Thunder Falls, a thin but mighty waterfall.

LOCO-FOLIAGE

For the lazy leaf peeper, there’s no better option than the Branson Scenic Railway. You can sit back for the 2-hour round-trip through some of the region’s most majestic and rugged terrain. The train itself is an ad hoc collection of semi-refurbished passenger cars, tugged by an Eisenhower-era locomotive. After pulling away from Branson’s historic depot, it chugs over Lake Taneycomo through the town of Hollister.

Gradually the ravines get steeper and begin rushing by, one after the other after the other. The views change swiftly, making it feel as if the train is moving much faster than its top speed of 30 mph. While a guide doles out historical tidbits, the real show rushes by your window—walls of color from the red-leafed dogwoods and purple sweetgums. Close to the end of the tour, the train slows to a stop on a curving trestle above Walnut Creek, allowing an overview of the wild country you’ve just traversed.

THE STRIP RUNS TO IT

One of the best outings is right in town, or almost. The Ruth & Paul Henning Conservation Area sits at the western end of Branson and covers 1,534 forested acres. A half-mile-long paved trail meanders through the russet-colored forest and up to a clearing, or “bald” as it’s called in the Ozarks.

You descend quickly from the parking lot next to Roark Creek, and after a half-mile the land seems to swallow you up. Once on the valley floor, you hike a half-mile stretch along the Roark, one of hundreds of headwater Ozark streams. You’ll soon feel far removed from the manmade entertainment of Branson, mesmerized instead by the song and dance of Mother Nature.

 

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Branson


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Acapulco


Acapulco

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Acapulco's Second Act


Mexico's original beach town has reclaimed its old-school allure.

Long before Cancún or Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya were even specks on the tourist map, Acapulco reigned as Mexico’s coastal queen. Acapulqueños have recently worked hard to restore Old Acapulco and the Costera, and posh resorts and malls have risen in the newest neighborhood, Acapulco Diamante. The result is a thoroughly modern vacation destination rich in culture and history. Now is the time to visit—or revisit—the place where Mexico’s tourism fame was born.

OLD ACAPULCO

In the early Hollywood days, Playa Caleta and Playa Caletilla, on the western shores of Acapulco Bay, saw the most action. Today, the ’50s have returned with the restoration of the beachfront Hotel Boca Chica. The designers faithfully retained the mid-century architecture and the tiny Coco Wash disco, which has become the hippest hangout in town. Chef Keisuke Harada creates platters of sushi and Kobe burgers for happy hordes at the hotel’s restaurants; on weekends, locals pull their yachts up to the dock and linger for hours over mescal martinis.

With Boca Chica grabbing attention, travelers are also being lured to the palapa-shaded fish shacks on Playa Caletilla. Here families gather beneath blue umbrellas, and water taxis take swimmers to the clear waters off Isla Roqueta, just 10 minutes away. At the nearby Plaza Alvarez (also called the zócalo), elderly gents study their newspapers at sidewalk cafés as kids scamper around the filigreed bandstand. Across the street, fishermen lay out their nets beside docks where party boats collect passengers for sunset sailings.

In the winding streets high above Old Acapulco, sightseers gather at La Quebrada to witness the famed clavadistas, or cliff divers. During the show, a lone diver poses atop a jagged, precipitous cliff. Below, waves crash against rocks before settling into a small swirling pool. In the blink of an eye, the diver swoops toward the sea. Onlookers applaud as he emerges from the water, and another duplicates his feat.

THE COSTERA

Most visitors to the Costera devote the sunlight hours to lounging poolside, browsing in arcades and malls and playing in the bay. Pint-sized fun-seekers enjoy the rides at Papagayo Park and the waterslides at CICI waterpark.

As evening sets in, families head to the Hard Rock Cafe for burgers and ribs. Partygoers seek out tables at Paradise or Beto’s, among the best of the clubs on the sand, or retire to high-end restaurants and discos in the hills. Horse-drawn calesas (carriages) clomp along the Costera, delivering dancers to Baby ’O, one of the best-known discos. And fireworks and laser beams shoot over the bay from the hilltop clubs until dawn.

ACAPULCO DIAMANTE

Perhaps the best evidence of Acapulco’s resurgence lies in the burgeoning Diamante neighborhood. Stretching from the Costera up the steep, winding Scenic Highway, Diamante has legendary discos, championship golf courses, lavish resorts, a concert hall and a shiny new mall.

Several large timeshare resorts are also found on the beaches of Acapulco Diamante, close to attractions like the La Isla shopping center at Punta Diamante, which has lured some of the Costera’s well-known establishments (including the family-friendly yet rowdy Carlos’n Charlie’s). Kids can head to the mall’s Aqua Planet, with bumper boats and mini-golf, as well as displays that teach about water conservation. And at Mundo Imperial, an enormous development with a convention center and hotel, the stars of today appear at the Forum, a state-of-the-art concert hall. With the three sides of Acapulco all in a state of transformation, Mexico’s coastal queen is once again the biggest star on the map.

 

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Vancouver


Vancouver

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Landmarks: Canada's Natural Wonders


Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta
If you use an Android* smartphone, you’re probably already familiar with Moraine Lake, in Banff National Park: It’s one of the operating system’s main background images. Of all the scenic lakes on Earth, there’s no question why Google chose this one. Set at 6,100 feet in the Canadian Rockies, it has brilliant blue water and the stunning Valley of the Ten Peaks for a backdrop. Visitors tempted to try a refreshing swim should dip a finger in first. The lake’s almost tropical hue comes from sediment carried in glacial runoff. Even on the warmest summer day, it’s frigid!  pc.gc.ca

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
Wherever there’s a museum dinosaur exhibit, chances are good that it contains some of the extraordinary fossils found in central Alberta’s wildly eroded badlands. Today the region’s arid landscape is speckled with cottonwoods and sagebrush, but 75 million years ago it was a subtropical jungle teeming with an exceptional diversity of dinosaur life. More than 35 species have been discovered in the park, and hundreds of specimens unearthed here are on display at major museums around the world. Visitors can even participate in a paleontological dig. albertaparks.ca

Prince Edward Island National Park
Streams run red when it rains in Prince Edward Island, and the fragile crimson cliffs crumble slowly into the North Atlantic. After an especially heavy downpour, the island can appear to be bleeding its iron-rich sandstone away. That steady erosion gives visitors broad pink sand beaches and undulating dunes to explore. The waters off this island province are known to be relatively warm for swimming, but the sand is the real charm of PEI National Park. Take a stroll on one of its beaches at twilight and watch the setting sun paint sky, soil and sand in innumerable hues of red.  pc.gc.ca

The Polar Bears of Churchill, Manitoba
They may look adorable, but polar bears are fierce predators, and safely getting near them in the wild is almost impossible. But tiny Churchill, Manitoba, which is close to one of the world’s largest polar bear populations, offers a unique opportunity to see the charismatic critters in their natural environment. To do that, it uses a little local ingenuity. Back in the late 1970s, Len Smith cobbled together a prototype of the first tundra buggy (there are now 16) in a Churchill workshop. Part jacked-up lunar rover, part customized school bus, this Churchill original has been bringing people and polar bears together ever since. tundrabuggy.com

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Dining In: What Tortilla Means in Spain


It’s a tasty egg-and-potato cake—and so easy to make

BY REGINA SCHRAMBLING

The tortilla is ubiquitous on Spain’s Costa del Sol—you can’t have a glass of Solera at a tapas bar without being offered a slice of this omelet-like dish. It’s also good for lunch or dinner, at sherry hour, or as the filling in a bocadillo, the Spanish translation of sandwich.


The classic tortilla comprises potatoes and eggs, but the concept is adaptable—and the dish is fairly easy to prepare. You can add thinly sliced chorizo, or green olives, or strips of piquillo pepper, and even shave in some Manchego cheese. 

Traditionally, a tortilla is flipped partway through cooking. Our recipe requires less dexterity: Just slide the skillet into the oven for the final half. Invert the tortilla onto a plate to serve it the way they do in tapas bars, with the lightly browned side on top. (This recipe is adapted from one by the late, great chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi.)

Spanish Tortilla
½    cup plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Arbequina
3    lb russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
1    Tbsp coarse sea salt
1    large onion, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
2    cloves garlic, minced
4    oz very thinly sliced Spanish chorizo (optional)
8    large eggs

Heat ½ cup oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Add potatoes, stir to coat with oil, then cover the pan and cook, turning often with a spatula, until they are half done (10 to 15 min.). Add salt, onion, garlic and chorizo; continue cooking and turning until potatoes are tender but not falling apart, 10 to 15 min. longer. Remove from heat; scrape mixture into a large bowl.

Beat eggs in a second bowl and fold into the potato mixture.

Heat a 10-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium flame, add remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil, and heat until pan is almost smoking. Swirl pan to coat bottom and sides with oil. Pour in egg-potato mixture and cook about 1 min. Lower heat to very low and cook 15 min.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Slide pan into oven and cook until eggs are completely set (15 to 20 min.). Serve warm or at room temperature, cut in wedges for a meal or in cubes for tapas (shown).

Serves at least 8.

STAY
RCI affiliated resorts on the Costa del Sol include:


Crown Resorts at Club Calahonda 1878 
A lovely resort in a quiet community near the sea. Urbanización Sitio de Calahonda, Pueblo Jarales, Mijas-Costa

Crown Resorts at Club Caronte 2965
Situated on a large property with lush gardens.
Urbanización Riviera del Sol, Calle Libra, Mijas-Costa

Crown Resorts at Club Marbella 2404
In the heart of the Costa del Sol. Urbanización Sitio de Calahonda, Calle Monte Paraíso, Mijas-Costa

Heritage Resorts at Matchroom 1867
Adjacent to the beautiful Mijas golf courses.
Urbanización Mijas Golf, Mijas-Costa

For member reviews and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

Non-RCI affiliated resorts:

Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro 
Camino de Gibralfaro, Málaga; 34-952-221-902; parador.es; doubles from $200* per night

Vincci Selección Posada del Patio 5 
7 Pasillo Santa Isabel, Málaga; 34-951-001-020; vinccihoteles.com; doubles from $138 per night

Room Mate Larios 
2 Calle de Marqués de Larios, Málaga; 34-952-222-200; room-matehotels.com; doubles from $131 per night

*Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.

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

Published: Fall 2013 

 

                                   

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