Sea Safaris


Tenerife

Discover a whole new side to Tenerife with a voyage beneath the ocean. Dive into a vibrant underwater world of colour, creatures and caverns.

The more energetic visitors to Tenerife venture from the resort towns to climb the slopes of Mount Teide, Spain’s highest mountain. But in recent years increasing numbers of tourists have discovered another attraction—the colorful marine life inhabiting the subtropical waters surrounding the island. Basalt rocks form intriguing underwater caverns and piles of boulders where stingrays, moray eels and nudibranchs (sea slugs) make their homes. There are numerous dive sites around the island, with the greatest number on the northeast and southwest coastlines.

At Las Galletas on the south coast the stingrays come to feed. Cow-nosed rays and eagle rays swoop in from the darker deeper water to cover the sandy bottom. As you kneel on the sandy seabed the rays soar over your head.

With the North African coastline just 70 miles away, Tenerife is reliably warm, and even in the winter the temperature of the water rarely drops below 61°F, even reaching 78°F at the height of summer. One of the other attractions for divers is that the sea around Tenerife offers good visibility, sometimes as much as 30 meters.

Given Tenerife’s rocky landscape and volcanic origins, the underwater topography is varied. It is full of nooks and crannies, caves and caverns for scorpion fish to hide in while waiting for their prey. Small zebra bream form shoals around the rocks and bright scarlet bullseye lobsters peer out from their lairs. Divers will not expect to see vibrant coral reefs this far north of the equator, but there are black corals, and bright tubular anemones with pink tips where striped cleaner shrimp hide.

In the darkest recesses of the basalt crannies are tiger morays. Poking their snouts from their lairs they seem to threaten anything that ventures too near, though like most sea creatures they never bother divers who treat them with respect.

Close to Los Cristianos is the wreck of the Condesito, a former cement barge that ran on to the rocks in 1972. Now colonized by marine life, it sits in 20 meters of water and the hull is home to barracuda and visiting amberjacks.

In winter, as the waters cool down, Tenerife offers divers a good chance of spotting angel sharks, curiously flattened fish that cover themselves in sand and wait for their prey to swim overhead. Suddenly, with lightning speed they open their mouths and suck in their unsuspecting victims, though they are harmless to people. Like stingrays the angel sharks have flat wing-like fins and are delicately camouflaged, which allows them to stay motionless on the sea bed.

For many divers the favorite sightings are the smaller fish that offer bright shoals of color: ornate wrasses, parrotfish and red mullet. Tenerife’s underwater rock formations also mean you have a good chance of spotting an octopus, its beautiful mottled skin flashing against the basalt. Its cousin, the cuttlefish, with their torpedo-shaped bodies, are also commonly seen.

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Family-Friendly Tarragona


Tarragona

Theme parks, Roman remains and tranquil beaches make the Costa Daurada one of Spain's most appealing getaways.

When you’re perched at the top of Europe’s tallest roller coaster, with the Roman city of Tarragona, the Catalonian coastline and the blue Mediterranean spread out below, you may wonder how the kids talked you into this one. Then gravity and adrenaline take over and you realize that you (and your kids) are having the time of your life.

ROME AWAY FROM ROME
Founded in the 3rd century B.C., Tarraco became an important Roman city. Today its World Heritage remains lie under modern Tarragona’s center. Kids will thrill to stories of the Roman circus, whose chariot races drew 30,000 spectators, and the seaside amphitheater where gladiators fought. Roman walls and a section of aqueduct just outside town are still visible. In May, the Tarraco Viva festival celebrates the town’s Roman heritage with recreated battles, Roman taverns and more.

ROLL WITH IT
Spain’s star theme park, PortAventura, lies just southwest of Tarragona in the resort town of Salou. The park recently added a gigantic Himalayan-themed roller coaster that includes a breathtaking 256-foot plunge. The park is divided into zones—the Mediterranean, Polynesia, China, Mexico, the Far West and Sesame Street—and appeals to all ages. Rides are gentle in SésamoAventura; the Chinese and Mexican villages have shriek-inducing roller coasters and the Hurakan Condor free fall. Thrill seekers head for the Furius Baco ride near the main entrance: It accelerates from zero to a terrifying 84 miles per hour in just three seconds. There’s also a water park, golf courses and a beach club.

WATER EVERYWHERE
Also near Tarragona is Aquópolis, a no-holds-barred water park with some steep slides, mega-splashes, softer thrills for younger kids and dolphin shows. AquaLeón, 10 miles inland, combines a water park with a safari zoo.

HIT THE BEACHES
The biggest water feature around here is the Mediterranean itself. The Costa Daurada (also called the Costa Dorada, or golden coast; Daurada is the Catalan spelling) is a family-friendly coastline with small sheltered calas (coves) separating wide, long stretches of sand. You’ll find your own favorite, but some nearby ones to try are La Pineda, a mile and a half of clean sand with a “subaquatic park” for divers and snorkelers, and La Móra, a short strand with gentle water. The next beach along, Tamarit, is equally tranquil and overlooked by the spectacular 11th-century castle of the same name. Most beaches have kiosks offering shade, seafood and pedalo and kayak rentals.

BOAT RIDES
Tarragona Blau runs jaunts around the harbor and along the coast from June to September, and child-focused fishing trips in April and May. The cheerfully painted tall ship Cyrano runs scheduled excursions and charters from Tarragona’s harbor. Leaving from nearby Salou and Cambrils, Creuers Costa Daurada offers short and daylong catamaran cruises with time for lunch and swims. One boat has a glass hull for exploring the submarine world.

BARCELONA SIDE TRIP
One of the most seductive cities on the Mediterranean is only an hour from Tarragona. Gaudí’s Sagrada Família basilica has a magic that kids will appreciate. The rambling Parc Güell invites exploration, as does one of Europe’s largest aquariums. Fútbol lovers should visit FC Barcelona’s stadium. The entrance fee includes an interactive soccer museum and the chance to walk out of the tunnel onto the field, just like the pros do before a game.

PORTAVENTURA TIPS
This theme park offers special packages, such as a money-saving 2-day pass. There are more live shows on weekends, but lines can be long; you’ll pack more in on weekdays. Express passes give easy access to only the most popular rides, and only once each per day. Bring snacks and water to beat the park’s high prices.

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Artful Lanzarote


Lanzarote

On this remote hideaway, one of Spain's Canary Islands, dramatic large-scale artworks rival the spectacular volcanic landscape.

Had artist César Manrique never lived, the island of Lanzarote would be a very different place. The easternmost of the Canary archipelago, hugging the African coast but very much a part of Spain, the 37-mile-by-13-mile volcanic isle would still have its extraordinary topography: charred in the west by the violent 1730s eruption of Mount Timanfaya, arid in the south, hilly and green in the northeast. But without the artistic genius and tireless activism of this one man, born here in 1919, the island’s pristine beaches would probably be ringed with high-rise resorts, like those of its neighbors, Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Instead, directly as a result of Manrique’s lifelong fight to save his beloved island from unchecked development, Lanzarote retains its low-rise, low-key vibe.

The island’s unspoiled quality draws nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. Cyclists train on its peaks and in its valleys; surfers congregate at Famara, one of Europe’s best spots to catch a wave; hikers tramp the lunar landscape of Timanfaya National Park. And, again thanks to Manrique, Lanzarote has an added dimension. A pioneer of Spanish abstract painting, Manrique spent two seminal years in New York at the height of the Pop Art movement. Returning home in 1966, he embarked on twin campaigns that continued until his death in 1992: one for regulations to limit the size and styles of new buildings; the other to artfully package Lanzarote’s natural wonders for the delight of visitors.

MAN WITH A MISSION
To this day, Manrique’s artistic vision dominates the island. Look almost anywhere and you may see a monumental sculpture, a sign, a gate, a mural or one of a dozen Manrique-designed sites fascinating to both children and adults. To judge by visitor numbers—more than 1.5 million a year, compared with the year-round population of 140,000—his approach is working. “Manrique reinvented Lanzarote,” says Alfredo Díaz, spokesman for the Fundación César Manrique (fcmanrique.org), which carries on his work of promoting architecture and development in harmony with the natural landscape. “It was a poor island, dependent on agriculture and fishing,” Díaz continues. “Manrique knew that the future would be tourism, and he left Lanzarote with a special cultural heritage.”

You can see Manrique’s work merely by driving around, since many traffic circles are centered on his gargantuan sculptures. It’s great fun to suddenly come upon these kinetic pieces based on geometric abstraction. The perfect place to kick off a Manrique itinerary is just a few miles from the airport at El Taro de Tahiche, the home Manrique started to build for himself in 1968 atop five underground lava “bubbles.” The house, a flat-roofed modernist structure of white stucco, serves as an art museum, displaying works by Picasso and Miró alongside Manrique’s own. Expansive windows overlook gardens of flowering succulents and a vast plain stretching toward a distant crown of extinct volcanoes. On the lower level but with openings to the sky are five chambers carved out of the lava rock and furnished with built-in seating in groovy Sixties style.

Manrique also had a major hand in designing the Gran Meliá Salinas hotel in Costa Teguise. Visitors stop by this ziggurat-shaped 1970s period piece just to gawk at his lava-rock murals in the reception area, his lagoon-like pool and an indoor garden of towering palms (gran-melia-salinas.com).

All of Manrique’s achievements possess a sculptural, sensuous quality and combine art and nature on a majestic scale. (Centrosturisticos.com is the best site at which to learn more about his projects.) Working with blackened lava rock, Lanzarote’s most plentiful commodity, he created sweeping curves, arches and rondelles punctuated by the uncut jagged masses that are nature’s own sculpture. And at every site, appealing amenities—an entry gate, a ticket office, a gift shop, a colorful café—are subtly, often whimsically, integrated into the design. (The best shop is at El Taro de Tahiche and sells a tasteful, well-priced selection of artisanal leather goods and modernist jewelry.)

UNDER THE VOLCANO
The Jameos del Agua, on the northeastern coast, is both a geological phenomenon—skylighted grottoes formed by an ancient eruption—and a massive feat of engineering. To make the site navigable, Manrique created landings and staircases, then added cafés, bars, a museum of volcanic geology and a subterranean auditorium. A few miles away, at the island’s northernmost tip, the Mirador del Río (1973) is both a cliff-side lookout with outdoor telescopes and a cave-like architectural structure that ensconces visitors within a mountain of rock. From a glassed-in restaurant hung with Manrique’s modernist mobiles, you can view colossal banks of lava, frozen in place as it flowed to the sea, and nearby Graciosa Island.

The enchanting bowl-shaped Jardín de Cactus near Guatiza, in an area of prickly-pear plantations, was carved out of a volcanic-ash quarry. It’s both a botanical garden and a masterpiece of landscape design. Wander among 10,000 exotic cacti, marveling at the surreal shapes and textures and enjoying one of the most compelling photo ops you’ll ever find.

Despite its flair, Manrique’s art didn’t enjoy instant popularity among the conservative inhabitants of rural Lanzarote. The Monumento al Campesino (Monument to the Farm Worker), an all-white, 50-foot-tall assemblage of fishing-boat parts, aroused a furor when it appeared at a key intersection near the island’s center in 1968. The discord was silenced by an influential critic’s remark that the sculpture “advanced the cause of modern art by 50 years.” Nearby is the Manrique-designed La Casa Museo del Campesino, displaying vintage farm gear, pottery and textiles. The museum may be a bit sleepy, but its lively outdoor café is reason enough to stop.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
The only major Manrique project in Arrecife, the island’s capital, is the Castillo de San José, an 18th-century fortress. Manrique masterminded its rebirth as the Museo Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo, a showcase for works by Spanish and Canary Island artists. Twisting lava-rock stairs lead down to a stylish restaurant with views of the port.

With Lanzarote’s chief aesthetic defender long gone and the number of visitors growing, the pressure to expand is on again. Some fear that a recent spate of illegal building will threaten the island’s quiet and jeopardize its 1993 designation as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. But so far, most new construction follows the native low-rise, whitewashed architecture, with doors and shutters painted deep green.

Among locals, Manrique enjoys almost mythical status. “César Manrique is still very loved,” says Daniel Espino, who helps run not-for-sissies walking tours of the volcanoes (canarytrekking.com) and knew Manrique in the 1980s. “He was a complex man and didn’t have an easy temperament. But he is like a god here.”

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The Art of Progress


Lanzarote

The history of the island of Lanzarote is filled with tumultuous changes — from volcanic eruptions to tourist invasions, but Joe Cawley believes that the island has benefitted from the drama.

Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.’ He could also have added progress. Very little on this planet remains the same over a long period of time – including holiday destinations. Take Lanzarote for example …

Around 35 million years ago, give or take a fortnight, the island surged from the seabed 100 kilometers from the African Coast in a powerful volcanic awakening. For years it remained nothing more than a barren rock until populated by the Guanches from North Africa and subsequently by the Spanish, who built villages, small towns and trading harbors. Then in 1730, a violent eruption spewed fire and ash for six whole years, refurbishing the landscape with rivers of lava and swathes of black volcanic rock, giving parts of the island a lunar-like look.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that the progression of the island leapt forward again. In 1970 international flights were permitted for the first time and word soon spread about this sub-tropical island with its broad swathes of golden sand. With average temperatures loitering around the 75°F mark, 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and less rainfall than parts of the Sahara, it wasn’t long before the 2,000 tourist beds available at the time became woefully inadequate. Eight years later, the resort of Puerto del Carmen was created and the capacity to accommodate visitors began to swell.

It was during this eruption of tourism that one man stepped up and vowed to save Lanzarote’s landscape from being overwhelmed by the tidal wave of tourism. That man was César Manrique, a local painter, sculptor and architect. This environmental warrior ensured that the progress of tourism developed in harmony with the island’s dramatic beauty and has been, without doubt, the single most dominant figure in influencing the progression of Lanzarote. It was Manrique who persuaded the authorities not to build any house higher than 2 stories, to only allow homes to be painted white and to limit the color of those archetypal olive green or powder blue shutters that keep rooms cool enough for a midsummer siesta.

It’s hard to explore any part of the island now without coming across Manrique’s trademark styling of Lanzarote’s natural assets. He created a feature from the underground caves and tunnels of Cueva de los Verdes and Los Jameos del Agua which now incorporates tropical gardens, a swimming pool and a 600-seat auditorium where musical concerts are held. He also worked with the volcanic landscape to create the Mirador del Rio viewpoint with its head-spinning heights and views across the Strait of El Rio to the archaic island of La Graciosa. His influence can also be seen in the wind toys dotted around the island. These large-scale sculptures are designed to work with the elements, their moving parts coming alive when the wind blows.

There’s no doubt that both tourism and Manrique have benefitted the island significantly. Lanzarote stands out for its harmonious blending of nature and man. Between the volcanic cones, the fertile plains are peppered with sugar-cube houses, the compact villages studded with palm trees. Visitors flock to marvel at the natural wonders such as the ruddy red slopes of Fire Mountain. It’s here that visitors are reminded of the island’s fiery origins with volcano-fuelled barbecues and flaming examples of the incredible heat still bubbling away inches below their sandals.

But they also come for the modern, man-made attractions: the daring cowboy antics at Rancho Texas Park; the quayside shopping and dining at the Marina Rubicon; and the lush green fairways at the golf courses of Tias and Costa Teguise. Progress doesn’t stand still. Lanzarote will see more change. You can’t halt the path of progression, either natural or man-made. Like death and taxes, that is a certain.

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Fall for Steamboat Springs


Steamboat Springs

As the snow melts, an outdoorsman’s paradise awakens. So grab your bike, kayak or fishing gear and set out into nature. You won’t be disappointed.

Steamboat Springs is best known as a winter sports town, home to the Steamboat Ski Resort and dozens of winter Olympians. Yet at an elevation of 6,700 feet, Steamboat is equally lively in summer and fall, when its dry-as-ranch-dust snow is replaced with a sunny, cool mountain climate that’s idyllic for an outdoorsy getaway. In a single weekend, you can fly-fish mountain streams, horseback-ride across rolling ranchlands, hike through wildflower meadows and aspen glades, mountain bike on a growing network of single-track, browse a downtown lined with boxy Western storefronts, and finish it off with a soothing soak in one of the town’s steaming natural hot springs.

COWBOY CULTURE
Long before it was a sports town, Steamboat Springs was a ranch town. Along with multimillion-dollar vacation homes, working ranches occupy much of the Yampa Valley—thousands of acres dotted with beef cattle and bus-sized hay bales. The cattle dogs you’ll see in the back of muddy pickups really do herd, and the cowboy hats worn in town—some of them, anyway—are the real deal, too.

The 10-block-long downtown still reflects Steamboat’s cowboy roots. Ranch supply stores sit alongside bike shops, boutiques and wine bars on the main artery, Lincoln Avenue. Foremost among them is F.M. Light and Sons, a century-old dry goods store where shoppers can browse the 2,000 pairs of cowboy boots, stop by the Hat Services counter and pick up a handbag with a built-in gun holster.

To sample cowboy culture yourself, take a horseback ride at Del’s Triangle Three Ranch, in the Elk River Valley a half hour north of Steamboat Springs. Guides lead half- and full-day rides over sage-covered slopes and through the hills, keeping an eye out for the elk herds that often gather on the property. Come fall, blooming fields of yarrow and mule’s ear daisy give way to blazing yellow aspens. At this time of year, the elk put on their own show, as the males bugle loudly for female attention.

TAKE TO THE TRAILS
For those who want to hoof it in hiking boots, trails abound. Four miles from town, an easy quarter-mile route leads to Fish Creek Falls, descending 283 feet into a deep rocky seam. Paths continue to Upper Fish Creek Falls and 5 miles south to Lost Lake. Also near town, the Spring Creek Trail climbs gently for 5 miles through a broad canyon glowing gold with ferns and aspens. The surrounding Medicine Bow–Routt National Forest offers a dizzying array of options for long day hikes.

On a mountain bike you can cover even more terrain. Locals flock to the trails on Emerald Mountain, which rises up from the southwest side of downtown, and the 50 miles of trails at the Steamboat ski area, accessible with leg power or by gondola. Explore the ski area’s trail network or leave its boundary to connect with a web of national forest trails.

STEAMING SPRINGS
A cloud of fog and the tang of sulfur hang over Lincoln Park at the edge of downtown, where several of the region’s natural hot springs gurgle out of rock fissures and ponds. When early trappers came upon a nearby spring on the Yampa River’s western bank, they thought that the funny chugging sound it made resembled a steamboat whistle—which is how this landlocked town got its unlikely name. (Alas, construction of the railroad silenced the spring years ago.)

After a day on the trails, a visit to one of Steamboat’s hot springs provides the perfect remedy for weary muscles. You’ll find two decidedly different options for a public soak. The Old Town Hot Springs right downtown and open year-round offers 8 man-made swimming pools fed by hot mineral springs. Also part of the facility: waterslides and a fitness center with a range of exercise classes.

On the more rustic end of the scale, Strawberry Park Hot Springs lies in the woods, 8 miles from town (including 3 miles on a rutted dirt road). Steamy 147-degree water trickles down a hillside into a series of stone masonry pools, where it’s cooled with creek water to about 105 degrees. For the complete experience, take at least one plunge into the cold-water creek. Though it’s not the freewheeling flower-child scene found at many hot springs, Strawberry Park is clothing optional and adults only after dark.

CAST AWAY
Hot springs may be Steamboat’s identity, but the Yampa River feels like its lifeblood. Starting from modest streams high in the Flat Tops Wilderness, the Yampa grows into a broad river that flows right through town, just a block south of Lincoln Avenue. The 7-mile Yampa River Core Trail weaves along its banks, busy with runners, bicycling kids and stroller-pushing moms. Kayakers play in its waves, while inner tubers float past waterfront restaurants. Anglers enjoy several miles of public access, casting for rainbow and brown trout.

Outfitters like Steamboat Flyfisher can offer even more, accompanying you to private stretches of river that run through ranchland south of town. Here the Yampa instantly feels wild, framed by red dogwoods and golden willows, flowing cold and clear the color of single-malt scotch.

Casting a fly rod here is an utterly peaceful way to spend a morning. You’re serenaded by the sounds of the water, the trill of blackbirds and the distant mutters and moos of ranch animals. You mend your line just so and watch it unfurl downstream, mesmerized, as you wait for the almost imperceptible tug of a rainbow.

 

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The Snows of Summit County: Copper Mountain


Copper Mountain

Wedged between behemoths Vail and Breckenridge, Copper Mountain is favored by Denverites but is still a sleeper to much of North America. Once you ski or ride there, you’ll hope it stays that way. Lovely fall-line cruisers go on forever, fringed with glades and powder stashes. High-alpine bowls crown the peaks like rough-cut diamonds.

Like the old ad slogan, Copper Mountain just tries harder. A well-designed network of high-speed lifts makes it easy to move around the mountain. Beginner and intermediate runs are impeccably groomed, as is the 22-foot half-pipe, the new Olympic standard. On weekends, a snowcat offers rides—free with a valid lift ticket!—up double-diamond Tucker Mountain.

At the end of the day, skiers and riders glide seamlessly onto sundecks that skirt the entire base. Copper Mountain doesn’t really qualify as a town—it has Frisco for that, 6 miles down the road—but it exudes a happy vibe, with live music, bonfires, festivals and torchlight parades. It quickly feels like a friendly community, where you wave and smile at newly familiar faces.

That makes Copper great for families. Along with its tubing hill and terrain parks, the resort offers loads of programs for kids—all within walking distance—including pizza-making night at a pizzeria, Bricks 4 Kidz (LEGO activities) and the Cage, a teen lounge with table tennis and video games. Frisco’s Peninsula Recreation Area offers dinner sleigh rides, an acclaimed Nordic ski center and the Frisco Adventure Park, with tubing, a terrain park and a day lodge.

But good luck dragging your kids away from the indoor ski and snowboard training facility, Woodward at Copper. “The Barn” has trampolines, rails and synthetic-snow ramps that launch riders into giant pits filled with foam blocks—a good testing ground before trying tricks on snow. One-day camps and shorter sessions let participants learn at their own pace.

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The Snows of Summit County: Breckenridge


Breckenridge

As soon as you head west of Denver on Interstate 70, the scenery transforms. Steel and concrete morph into pine and granite, and the front range of the Rockies fills the windshield. WATCH FOR WILDLIFE, cautions a yellow sign; bighorn sheep, pushed from the peaks by heavy snows, casually gaze through a curlicue of horn at the cars streaming by.

By the time you reach Dillon 60 miles later, you’ve nearly climbed to the roof of the Rockies. Summit County sidles up against the Continental Divide, spiked with peaks and elevations that range from 8,000 to 14,000 feet. Its ample dry snows, top-notch ski areas and picturesque resort towns—all linked by the free Summit Stage bus system—make this region a no-brainer for winter sports fans.

Fifteen miles southwest of Keystone, Breckenridge seems to have been plucked from a snow globe. Flakes drift down on a Main Street lined with brightly painted cabins and steep-pitched Victorians, now filled with restaurants, shops and galleries. The Blue River gurgles under pedestrian bridges and a snowy massif, etched with ski runs, rises right from town.

Prospectors flowed into this 9,600-foot-high outpost in the mid-1800s, bushwhacking their way up river drainages as they panned for gold. They hit pay dirt, including the largest gold nugget ever found in Colorado. “Tom’s Baby” weighed more than 13 pounds; the miner swaddled it in blankets like an infant on the way into town.

Of course, it was snow, not gold, that turned out to be this town’s greatest fortune. Today Breckenridge anchors the nation’s second most-visited ski resort (after Vail). The resort stretches across 4 peaks and seems to expand every year. Its south end, Peak 10, skirts the town; the north end, Peaks 7 and 8, sits higher, linked to town by the free BreckConnect gondola.

Some call Breckenridge “the gentle giant” for its gradual slopes; indeed, many will find the intermediate runs here quite tame. But advanced skiers and riders will find plenty of pitch in the bowls accessed from the nation’s highest chairlift on Peak 8, which tops out at 12,998 feet. Breck’s renowned terrain parks and pipes—considered some of the best in the country—ramp up the challenge, with an array of boxes, rails, kickers and other features that seem to go on forever. And everyone can enjoy Breck’s stunning serrated scenery, looking across to the Continental Divide scraping at the sky.

Even if you never intend to get on a chairlift, Breckenridge dishes up plenty of entertainment, which makes it the best base for a Summit County vacation. Take a thrill ride on the Gold Runner Coaster, where two-person sleds on rails twist wildly downhill. At the Breckenridge Nordic Center below Peak 8, some 30 kilometers of trails wind through old-growth pines, across meadows and to overlooks with postcard views of the Ten Mile Range.

In town, there’s great dining at every turn, from reliable stalwarts like the South Ridge Seafood Grill to newcomers like Ember and Twist. The Arts District is home to a growing number of galleries and art classes. Sign on with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance for a walking tour—the town has more than 250 historic structures—or a snowshoe tour of gold-mining sites.

And be sure to check out the Breckenridge Welcome Center. Its great little history museum reveals Breckenridge “firsts,” including the nation’s first half-pipe and the first ski resort in the world to allow snowboarding. Clearly, Breckenridge recognizes a gold mine.

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Enjoyments in Myrtle Beach


Myrtle Beach

There's so much happening at once in this popular Southern vacation spot, you'll feel like you're tackling yet another of its popular humongous buffets.

From toddler to tween to retiree, there’s a fun park or miniature golf haven in Myrtle Beach to suit everyone. Rollercoaster fans hit Freestyle Music Park while aquatic types tackle the slides at Wild Water & Wheels. Engine hounds race carts at Nascar Speedpark and miniature golfers take swings at Mutiny Bay. For old-school versions of all the above, try the nearly half-century-old Family Kingdom.

At the southernmost end of the new boardwalk, rent fishing poles and tackle from the 2nd Avenue Pier, a family-owned joint. The best biking is around the Market Common or Myrtle Beach State Park. Joggers, walkers and beachcombers avoid the summertime crowds when they hit the shore between sunrise and breakfast.

Serious golfers do well at any of the area’s courses, but the ones that regularly snag accolades are Barefoot Resort’s Dye, Love and Fazio courses, Dunes, Tidewater, and TPC of Myrtle Beach. While those courses can cost $100-plus a round, the well-loved Heritage Club, 40 minutes south on Pawleys Island, can run half as much.

Spa goers rave about the getaway in the North Beach Plantation community—Cinzia, The Spa at North Beach Plantation. With a saltwater whirlpool and internationally themed massages, it’s the region’s crown jewel.

And for a blast from the (distant) past, visit Medieval Times’ Myrtle Beach Castle to watch swordplay, falconry and a jousting tournament over a roast-chicken feast.

SHOP
Find the best of the worst cheap T-shirts and snow globes at Wings or Eagles, or visit the grandfather of them all—the gargantuan, 6-decade-old Gay Dolphin Gift Cove on the boardwalk. The area’s bounty of outlet malls keeps bargain hunters busy. The 2 Tanger Outlet malls alone include the likes of Banana Republic, Coach, Nine West and more. And the Coastal Grand Mall, with more than 170 shops, is one of the state’s largest.

Anglers revel in the Bass Pro Shop. For a traditional Southern souvenir, check out the hand-tied hammocks at the Original Pawleys Island Rope Hammock.

EAT (LOTS!)
Myrtle Beach has a crazy number of huge buffets, most offering more than 150 different dishes. These massive dining rooms can easily handle the busloads of hungry visitors who descend on them before heading off to nearby attractions. Places like The Original Benjamin’s  and the Great American Steak & Buffet Co. offer local flavors like Calabash-style fried seafood and “chicken bog,” a Low Country dish of rice, chicken and sausage. The buffets are good value, but you might miss out on the nuances of Southern hospitality and home cooking.

DOWNHOME SOUTHERN
Barbecue joints like Big D’s Bar-B-Que Barn or Little Pigs Bar-B-Q lack frills but serve up perfect pork platters, hushpuppies and barbecue and slaw sandwiches. For a more traditional Southern supper, dine on crab casserole at one of the few waterfront dining spots on the beach: the more than 80-year-old Sea Captain’s House.

Just south of Myrtle Beach is Murrells Inlet, lined with restaurants, bars and a marina. Visitors stroll the marshwalk, carrying their drinks as they move from one spot to another to catch live music and enjoy straight-from-the-water appetizers. Sports lovers head to the Market Common’s upscale King Street Grille, while club goers check out the evening scene at Broadway at the Beach.

Epicureans no longer get short shrift on the Grand Strand. The best options are the mod SeaBlue for small plates that start at $10; Greg Norman’s Australian Grille for surf and turf; and Pawleys Island’s High Hammock for nouveau renditions of Southern seaside favorites like shrimp and grits and crab cakes. The Cypress Room at the Island Vista serves upscale versions of downhome food and fresh catches; Divine Prime is the place for dressy steaks.

MUST-TRIES
If you have access to a kitchen, visit the Mr. Fish seafood market for fresh-off-the-boat shrimp. The Crab Cake Lady sells handpicked, hand-shaped crab cakes. Go to a Piggly Wiggly to stock up on grits, ham hocks and peanuts for boiling. The farmers market sells fresh produce on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Finally, don’t miss the Sunday gospel brunch at perhaps the coolest joint in town—the House of Blues.

 

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Myrtle Beach Bounty


Myrtle Beach

Tame Myrtle Beach’s array of enjoyments with a game plan.

As you cruise down Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, you’ll pass buffet barn after barn, each with a sign shouting “170 items!”, “150 items!” or “200 items!” The owners hope that diners will rush in from nearby beaches to load up on barbecue, fried seafood, “chicken bog” and piping hot hushpuppies. These Southern-flavored all-you-can-eats are kitschily entertaining, rather tasty and a pretty good deal.

The same can be said of this coastal portion of the Palmetto State. There are so many different things to sample in the Myrtle Beach area—miniature golf, spas, musical revues, shag dancing, outlet shopping, amusement parks, beachcombing—that you might feel as if you’re tackling a monster buffet. So pick up a plate, decide what you’re craving and see how much you can pile on, given your limits. Here’s the best of all Myrtle Beach has to offer.

WELCOME TO THE GRAND STRAND
Myrtle Beach is the main hub of what’s known as the Grand Strand, some 60 miles of shoreline, small towns and strip malls, running from Little River at the North Carolina border southward to Georgetown. Towards the southern end is Pawleys Island, which became a warm-weather getaway back in the 1700s for plantation owners seeking cool beach breezes. In the same century, pirates (like Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard) hid out in the coves, barrier islands and marshes around Little River. One hundred years later, Civil War blockade runners did the same thing. All along this stretch of coast, miles of fine sand, dunes fringed in sea oats, and ragged maritime forests rife with wax myrtles and live oaks are set off by the ever-changing blues of the Atlantic Ocean. At the turn of the last century, developer F.G. Burroughs and his sons capitalized on the area’s appeal by building a railroad that barreled into Myrtle Beach.

Decade by decade, Myrtle Beach blossomed. The first golf resort and the waterfront Pavilion opened in the 1920s. By 1950, the rebuilt Pavilion had its own lavish carousel. Soon an 11-acre, Coney Island-flavored park had sprung up, with sweets shops, hot dog joints, soda fountains, ice creameries and attractions (miniature golf, Ferris wheels and bumper cars) that stretched along Ocean Boulevard. Flat-roofed motels sprouting giant cement pelicans, shells and the like were joined by high-rise resorts. And beachfront bars were crowded with people doing the “shag,” a Low Country dance in which partners hold one hand, then slip-slide across the floor. And that free hand? Well, you’ve got to hold your drink, now, don’t you?

PAST MEETS PRESENT
Today, Myrtle Beach is transitioning into a carnival of a different sort. Yes, the beaches are still beautiful, but now the buildings stand 20-plus stories high and are squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder along Ocean Boulevard. Resorts have indoor water parks and spas. The old Pavilion is gone, but there’s a new, mile-long boardwalk in its place. Many of the mid-century motels have been refreshed, and their old-time cement accessories now hold vintage appeal.

Inland, a former Air Force Base has recently been refashioned as a shopping hub/neighborhood called the Market Common, where you can get a superb steak at Divine Prime, walk or bike Valor Park or check out the sales in stores like Anthropologie and Pottery Barn. At the entertainment complex Broadway at the Beach, Ripley’s Aquarium draws crowds to its walk-through tank tunnel and baby animal exhibit, and MagiQuest fulfills kids’ Harry Potter dreams with interactive wand play. The Carolina Opry, the first of the revue-style shows in the area, won the Governor’s Cup for the state’s most outstanding tourism attraction a while back. And there are now more than 100 highly ranked golf courses.

In the old days, things were a little wilder here. In recent years, however, reinforced helmet laws and noise ordinances have tamped down “Bike Week,” and stricter decorum and rental policies inhibit the former spring break rowdiness. These days, Myrtle Beach is showing its mainstream persona year-round, and adding affordable luxuries to the picture. Maybe that explains the 14 million-plus visitors who appear annually.

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Myrtle Beach Bliss


Myrtle Beach

Have fun in the sun, chow down in full Southern style, or even get abducted by aliens in this primo resort town.

The crews who dug the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1930s probably didn’t have a clue about what would spring up in their wake. But when they connected inland rivers at the northeastern tip of South Carolina and continued some 60 miles southward, they birthed one crown jewel of an island.

The area that eventually became Myrtle Beach—at the time known by only a few, for its pristine white beaches—was sparsely dotted with vacation homes and a few resorts. But by the 1940s, thanks to its new Air Force base, dance clubs that gave rise to the Carolina Shag and a motel-lined strip, it had been duly discovered. Nearly 80 years later, Myrtle Beach (named for the wax myrtles that sprout in maritime forests and edge up onto the dunes) welcomes almost 14 million visitors annually. Here’s what’s fresh in this long-beloved destination.

PLAY HARD
Myrtle Beach’s famed Ocean Boulevard has always been the place to cruise in the Palmetto State. But since 2010, when the city’s Boardwalk opened, the attention has been shifting from the automobile to the pedestrian. The 1.2-mile walk stretches from 2nd to 14th Avenues and includes countless benches, canopies, parks, souvenir shops and arcades.

You won’t run out of amusements on the Grand Strand, but two must-sees sit within a few blocks of each other on Ocean Boulevard. First, the beachfront SkyWheel, a nearly 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel sporting 42 glass-enclosed air gondolas and a million LEDs that dance in a stunning light show. A ride on this marvel, which opened in 2011, offers views of as far as 20 miles in every direction; try it at dusk to take in the sunset and the strip’s neon artistry.

Just south of the wheel, Family Kingdom has reigned as Ocean Boulevard’s amusement park for decades. While it’s known for its old-school wooden roller coaster, 2013 brought the Twist ’n’ Shout steel roller coaster and a 2-person flying-gondola ride. You can stroll the amusement park grounds free of charge; you pay only to ride.

Farther afield in nearby Murrells Inlet, Pirate Adventures awaits pint-size landlubbers looking for seafaring action. After donning swashbuckling clothes and dabbing on pirate makeup, kids (and their chaperones) climb aboard an old wooden ship to sail in search of treasure. Spoiler alert: Rogue sailors attack along the way.

Myrtle Beach

GEEK OUT
How long would you have lasted in the cold waters that claimed the victims of the Titanic disaster? Stick your hand in an icy tank and find out. Think you can use your mind to move objects? Strap on a sensor-laden headband and give it a go at WonderWorks, where you’ll find hands-on experiments galore. Until Labor Day, Encounters: U.F.O. Experience displays 200-plus artifacts centered on purported run-ins with aliens.

TEE UP
Golf Digest has ranked the Grand Strand, with its 102 greenways, among its top 10 best buddy golfing destinations for years. And now, the area’s pick-of-the-litter course is easier to access. Instead of booking through your resort to score a reservation at the semiprivate Dunes Golf & Beach Club, you can book at myrtlebeachgolf.com.

SHOPPING BREAK
Myrtle Beach’s onetime Air Force base is now home to Market Common, a walkable live/work-shop complex with A-list stores. Noteworthy recent additions include City Mac, a chic Apple shop where you can get the latest phone or troubleshoot laptop snafus; the Kangaroo Pouch, which has the hippest baby gear and wear; Devo Olive Oil Co., selling some 60 types of pressed oil; and the Coastal Wine Boutique, where you can taste and buy

EAT YOUR HEART OUT
Find the Crab Cake Lady’s hand-made crab cakes at Harrelson’s Seafood Market, in Murrells Inlet. And hunt down Mr. Fish at its newly opened location, north of the old (closed) spot; the lines for fried platters and chocolate pie still run out the door.

For down-home food, head to Lulu’s Café (their eggs Benedict is a take on biscuits and gravy, and cheese fries come with pimento cheese). Kudzu Bakery offers cakes, while Coccadotts gets wacky with cupcakes (try the maple and bacon).

A casual lunch of Nacho Hippo’s tacos stuffed to the limits can’t be beat. And a great date night destination is tiny Sobaya Japanese Bistro, where Korean and Japanese dishes are made to order. On the other end of the evening-out spectrum, drive to North Myrtle Beach for 21 Main at North Beach’s country-club-meets-steak-house fare. Chef Lou Petrozzi’s steaks are perfectly rendered; his seafood dishes, like seared scallops, are impeccable.

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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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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.

AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
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.

PARK CITY RETREATS
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.

Utah

NORTHERN DELIGHTS
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.

SOUTHERN GEMS
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


Utah

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.

THE SERENDIPITY OF SILVER
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.

UP ON THE SLOPES
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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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.

FRESH TRACKS
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).

HISTORY SAMPLER
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.

MODERN THROWBACKS
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.

NEW TOUCHES
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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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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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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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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