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.

 

Comments (0) »

The Snows of Summit County: Keystone


Keystone

Veer south off the interstate at Dillon, and the first ski town you reach is Keystone. Its River Run base area looks as if it had been custom-made for an easy, low-stress vacation—which, in fact, it was. In its car-free village, condos and restaurants are clustered around pavilions and cobbled walkways. Families clomp around in ski boots, sprawl beside fire pits and soak up the brilliant Rocky Mountain sunshine at the Kickapoo Tavern.

Across the Snake River, the River Run gondola quietly whisks skiers and snowboarders to the summit of 11,640-foot Dercum Mountain. While its Area 51 terrain park is fairly challenging, the signature front slopes will please beginners and intermediates with their mellow groomed runs.

But first impressions can be misleading. Keystone encompasses 3 peaks; the challenge increases as you work your way south from Dercum. North Peak offers some steeper cruising and long thigh-burning mogul runs. The Outback hides stashes of powder and nice lines threading through spruce forest.

Enticing snowy bowls gape above North Peak and the Outback like hanging glaciers. Follow the locals trudging to the 12,000-foot ridge above, or hop on the Outback Shuttle, where five bucks gets you a snowcat ride to the top.

When you’re spent, it’s easy to skip the end-of-the-day crowds skiing back to the base. Keystone thoughtfully has strung a second gondola from Dercum Mountain to North Peak, so you’re just two relaxing gondola rides away from après ski.

Comments (0) »

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.

Comments (0) »

Australia's Gold Coast


Gold Coast

All that glitters is gold in this city of sunshine, sand, sea life and rainforests of yore.

The Aussie zest for life is infectious—and when you think ‘vacation,’ there are few places on the planet that offer travelers as many treasures. From jet-boating and windsurfing to 100-million-year-old rainforests and glitzy concrete jungles, the spirit is always high. The choice is yours, really: boogie by the beach or tango in the technicolor ecstasy of the sea.

RIDING THE WAVE
The birthplace of the bikini, Australia’s golden sands are never quiet. For beach bums, water sport enthusiasts and surfers of all skills, Surfers’ Paradise is exactly what it promises. Catch the high waves by the beach or scuba dive into the exciting world of coral gardens and shipwrecks and dodge around turtles, sharks and manta rays. And if you think you are astride a rainbow, maybe you are! Purple sea urchins, green clams, crimson starfish, pink sponges, curious fish in bright blue and shocking yellow … every conceivable color of the spectrum darts right around you. And once you’ve stumbled on the theme parks, get yourself a koala cuddle with hopping kangaroos for company, at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

GOURMET GOODNESS
With so much going on, you will be hungry--often. And studded with world-class restaurants and classy bars, the Gold Coast is just the place to chow down.

Sign up for a cooking course and relish the flavors of fresh produce from the farmers’ market. And for a gastronomic delight, we strongly recommend Room 81’s goat cheese with beetroot chips. You will be blown away.

NATURE’S CORNUCOPIA
“Timeless” comes close to describing this miracle of creation that is the Gondwana forests of the Gold Coast Hinterland. As inspiring as their aboriginal heritage of stone art is, they are a pre-historic legend full of native surprises that have retained their primitive charms. Ancient, magnificent and blessed with Earth’s abundance, the rainforest’s towering canopy overhead and the busyness of the reef barrier below abound in fantastic stories longing to be told. Take a dreamy walk in Heritage National Park within and enjoy the spectacular sights of deep gorges, crystalline waterfalls and glittering waterholes.

Cut to an entirely different scene en route to Mount Tambourine with its quaint highland trails and end the day in the comfort of a wine boutique, with a soothing Australian classic.

SUNNY SIDE UP
The good life knows no bounds on these shores that transform into the Sunshine Coast further north. Glamorous in its blend of swank city culture and subtropical natural bliss are the laid-back and relaxing luxuries of Noosa, where sophisticated spas, boutiques and fine dining strike a happy contrast with tropical rainforests, indigenous flora and fauna and a surprising reef system just beyond Noosa Heads.

Or you can whale watch at Moreton Bay and feed the dolphins on your way through the ship wrecks of Tangalooma.

BRIMMING BRIZZY
Make the most of it with a stop-over in Brisbane, distinct in its ‘Queenslanders’--cottages on stumps--that add a peculiar charm to an otherwise high-gloss setting. Bubbling with nightlife and cultural fervor side-by-side, Queensland’s capital city nestles between Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast. Leisurely, stroll through Brizzy’s markets, theaters and art galleries or hop onto a river cruise and meander through its many twists. And climb! The skyline view from Story Bridge is a dream and so is the rush of abseiling (rappelling) off Kangaroo Point cliffs. If you’d rather ogle from above, hitch a helicopter ride or tandem skydive into the fabulous cityscape.

 

Comments (0) »

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.

 

Comments (0) »

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.

Comments (0) »

Low Country Lowdown


Fried Green Tomatoes

Get a taste of the South at these spots in Charleston, Hilton Head and Savannah.

Southern culture is amazingly diverse, and nowhere more so than in the Low Country kitchens of South Carolina and Georgia, where food lovers gather for shrimp and grits, fried chicken, pork ribs, Gullah rice and fried green tomatoes—dishes that have evolved over more than two centuries. Here’s a triangle of culinary pit stops—in South Carolina’s Charleston and Hilton Head, and in Savannah, Georgia—where dining traditions are infused with regional ingredients, eccentric chefs and a whole lot of soul.

CHARLESTON
Travelers staying in Charleston’s historic district, where 18th-century houses line cobblestone streets, can taste-test Low Country staples at the Saturday farmers market in Marion Square. Here, stalls overflow with okra, butter beans, rutabagas, whole pigs and chickens—as well as sandwiches and pies. Foodies scope out the scene at 8 a.m.; before you join them, get a café con leche at Hope & Union Coffee Co., six blocks away.

For lunch, venture out of the downtown area to Martha Lou’s Kitchen, a Charleston institution in a bright pink cottage on a nondescript four-lane thoroughfare. After over 30 years in the biz, Martha Lou herself still runs the kitchen, a spotless corner with well-loved pots and pans visible from the dining room. Tables fill up for her famous fried chicken, well seasoned with just salt and pepper, as well as sides like buttery cornbread and cabbage simmered with hunks of ham. A glass of sweet tea, in this case extra sugary, is a must.

Five o’clock cocktails are a serious tradition here, and Charlestonians happily celebrate it at F.I.G., or Food Is Good. At the restaurant’s bar, expert mixologists craft cocktails such as the Marfa Daisy, made with Espolón tequila and elderflower, and the Green Thumb, a blend of Mississippi Cathead vodka, chartreuse, mint, cucumber, celery bitters, aloe and lime—both chart-toppers on the winter drinks menu.

Over the years, many of the city’s chefs—Ken Vedrinski of Trattoria Lucca, Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill, Sean Brock of McCrady’s—have been singled out for prestigious James Beard Awards. The latest is chef Brock’s Husk, set in a historic house with wide porches, antique-glass windows and a 10-foot chalkboard menu that details ingredients and their provenance. His dishes are daring: chicken skins poached in buttermilk and hot sauce, then fried till they’re crisp; sliders made with pig ears—pressure-cooked, sliced and fried—and pickled heirloom squash, tucked inside warm buns.

At Cypress, Craig Deihl mixes Low Country foods with Asian ingredients: oysters, for example, are topped with tuna sashimi and pineapple wasabi. End your evening with a Lady Baltimore cupcake, a Southern specialty made with sherry-soaked raisins and figs, at Sugar Bakeshop, owned by New York transplants Bill Bowick and David Bouffard.

HILTON HEAD
This South Carolina island is one of the most visited vacation destinations in the country. Luckily, it’s blessed with wide stretches of sand and a low-rise oceanfront, so beachgoers never feel packed in like sardines. In town, bikes rule the streets, which are lined with shops, art galleries and more than 150 restaurants.

Seafood, of course, is the thing to order. Devoted customers of the unassuming Sea Shack insist that no one does fresh fish, oysters and clams better. The question “Fried, grilled or blackened?” applies to everything from shrimp po’boys and crab cakes to locally caught wahoo and triggerfish. Meals are served on plastic blue-checked tablecloths in a kitschy dining space dominated by a mural of a jaunty shrimp relaxing with a cocktail in a hammock—seemingly unaware of its fried, grilled or blackened fate.

While restaurants in Hilton Head cater to varied taste buds—sushi bars and pizza joints stand side by side—travelers committed to a Low Country food pilgrimage should book one of the front-room tables at Red Fish (8 Archer Rd.; 843-686-3388; dinner for two, $130). The menu isn’t strictly South Carolina–inspired, but some of the best dishes on it are. Try the seared scallops with lobster mac-and-cheese, the Low Country shrimp and grits, or the Berkshire pork chop served over grits and kale. The space also doubles as a wine store, so you can buy a bottle, open it to drink with your dinner and cork the rest for later.

SAVANNAH
Savannah is known for being quirky and mysterious—and for its 22 lovely park squares, framed by Federal-style and 19th-century Greek Revival houses and shaded by trees hung with Spanish moss.

Crowds line up early to snag a family-style table at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, which has been serving many of the same dishes since 1943. Servers bring out bowls piled high with Deep South fare: sweet stewed rutabaga, fried chicken and peppery red rice and sausage. Marcia Thompson, Mrs. Wilkes’s granddaughter, circles the room, encouraging conversation between diners.

In-the-know locals stop by Emerald City, a handful of 6-foot-long pits next to a car wash, for tender pork, beef ribs and rack of lamb. The smoky meat is pulled off the barbecue and slathered in tangy tomato-based sauce. Down the street at Back in the Day Bakery, the cheerful staff turns out old-fashioned cupcakes and banana pudding with house-made vanilla wafers.

Most of Savannah’s cafés and restaurants are on the redeveloped waterfront, a grid of redbrick streets lined with boutiques, a few blocks from the Savannah River. A discreet sign marks Alligator Soul, a cavernous downstairs space that feels like an elegant wine cellar, with its stone walls and arches. Dive into Christopher DiNello’s reinvented Low Country classics: Squash blossoms are sautéed with lobster and crawfish; shrimp and grits are livened up with cheddar and lemon butter; and green tomatoes are tossed in Parmesan before being fried.

A Hendricks gin martini at Circa 1875, expertly made and garnished with a cucumber slice, might sound like a dangerous conclusion to the night. But in this bistro, where artists and designers sit deep in conversation in the dark wood booths under pressed-tin ceilings, it feels just right.

Fried Chicken

Comments (0) »

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

Comments (0) »

Heritage of Hilton Head


Hilton Head

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

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

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

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

Comments (0) »

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.

Comments (0) »

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.

 

Comments (0) »

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.

 

Comments (0) »

Slope Smarts


The safety rules every winter sports enthusiast should know.

The good news is that more American skiers and snowboarders are wearing helmets than ever before (67 percent, according to the National Ski Areas Association – up 10% from just 3 years ago). The bad news? A helmet can’t save you from everything. Witness pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered severe brain trauma in late 2009 even while wearing the proper gear. Play it safe by following these measures recommended by Jonathan Finnoff, co-chair of the Sports Concussion Program at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic.

KEEP A CLEAR HEAD

“A lot of people start out at sea level, go on vacation at a high altitude and drink a bunch of beer at lunch,” cautions Finnoff. This can result in dehydration, disinhibition and slow reaction times.

STAY TUNED

Finnoff recommends having your bindings checked at a ski shop once a season. “If they’re too loose, they could pop off and hit someone or cause you to crash, and if they’re too tight, you might tear a knee ligament.”

EXERCISE CONTROL

Skiing or snowboarding out of control at high speeds often leads to multiple traumas, according to Finnoff. “Those are the people who get injured,” he says—even when they’re wearing a helmet.

LEARN THE CODE

The National Ski Areas Association’s 7-point “responsibility code” (nsaa.org) lists the important rules of the slopes, such as where (and where not) to stop, and who gets the right-of-way (everyone in front of you).

Helmet Stats

Comments (0) »

Mama and Baby


Mama and Baby

While staying at Vacation Village at Weston, we visited Monkey Jungle outside of Miami. This cute mama and baby came up and ate right out of our hands!

-Penelope W. from Guyton, GA

Comments (0) »

Cozumel – Island of Swallows


Josef W.Walking down the stone streets of Playa del Carmen, past the numerous vendors and quaint shops, the ferry to Cozumel slowly comes into view. It looks sleek, fast and modern sitting atop the crystal clear blue water of the ocean. As we wait in line with mild trepidation to board, we watch the families play along the pristine white sand beach, bathed in the warm sunlight. Boarding the ship is quite a breeze once the gate opens and we are soon under way heading to Cozumel. As Cozumel slowly comes into focus, small droplets of ocean water cool us off during our complimentary sun tan on the 30 minute ferry ride. Arriving in Cozumel proves to be as easy as boarding was and we are soon on our way to the resort.

One of the first things that we noticed about Cozumel was that it feels like mainland Mexico, yet feels very different as well. There were numerous places to rent scooters on the side of the road, offering adventurous travelers the opportunity to explore the island on their own. They seem to be quite the popular mode of transportation to get around for the tourists and locals alike. We quickly leave the town limits of San Miguel de Cozumel, the capital, and drive along the highway towards our vacation destination. The resort staff is quickly at our service with towels and fresh drinks upon our arrival. We are quickly checked in and on our way to explore the resort. Having the ocean right outside our door along with a convenient ocean-side bar made this stay quite the treat.

The island seems to move at a slower pace than the mainland which makes everything more relaxing. We managed to spend some time exploring the local shops and dining at a quaint restaurant in the heart of San Miguel. The locals are eager to show you their items for sale and are quite friendly.  The food was amazing in both taste and presentation. We truly enjoyed spending a nice evening exploring this charming city. Don’t forget to also spend some time snorkeling at the largest reef in the Western Hemisphere, located off the coast of Cozumel. Make Cozumel your next vacation destination and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of Mexico!

We hope you enjoyed all of the great photos shared by RCI subscribing members. Be sure to check back with us next week!

Comments (0) »

Cozumel – Adventure and Relaxation in One


Kristina W.Walking through the small streets of Playa Del Carmen, the excitement was building. We were heading towards the ferry terminal that would lead to our Cozumel journey. The process of using the ferry as transportation was quite simple and enjoyable. It was a beautiful sight to see the island coming into view as we felt the calm waves of the ocean rocking the ferry. Upon arrival on Cozumel, transportation to the resort was easy. The island of Cozumel is not an overwhelming size as it is roughly 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. There is one main road that circles the island, so if you choose to rent a car it is pretty easy to navigate.

Once you get settled in, be sure to check out the amazing water sport activities, like snorkeling. The largest reef in the Western Hemisphere, the Mesoamerica Reef, can be explored while staying in Cozumel. The ocean is crystal clear which makes for some fantastic sightings such as tropical fish and turtles.

Back on the island, the town of San Miguel offers many unique shopping prospects. While we were visiting, we enjoyed a night out in Cozumel with a phenomenal dinner at a local restaurant. Additionally, Cozumel provides many choices for spa treatments. Whether you are looking for a relaxing vacation, or an exciting getaway full of adventure, Cozumel offers the perfect trip for any family.

We’re continuing to share RCI subscribing members’ Cozumel photos. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Comments (0) »

Cozumel – Easy to Get There; Easy to Enjoy


Melissa V.The combination of great diving, snorkeling and fishing, lovely isolated beaches and a thriving city full of shops, markets and restaurants make Cozumel an excellent vacation destination for people who like some adventure in their lives.

It's very easy to arrive in Cozumel either by plane or a 30 minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen. I recommend the ferry; it’s cheaper to fly to Cancun, than Cozumel. The ferry is about 20 minutes from the Cancun airport. Once you arrive in Playa del Carmen there is a ticket station where you can purchase tickets for about $25 (USD). Once you purchase your ticket you will hand the concierges your bags, and board the ferry to enjoy the sun on the top deck or take a seat downstairs and enjoy the air conditioning. It's a worry free ride filled with pure enjoyment, and is very relaxing. Sometimes they even have people playing music for you or you can just take a quick power nap.

Once you arrive in Cozumel there is a lot of shopping right where the cruises port with excellent souvenirs that are true to the island. One piece of advice, never pay the full price – always negotiate, they will go down. Once you are finished shopping, check out some of the beautiful beaches.

I really enjoyed my time in Cozumel. Even though it was short and I didn't get to do everything I wanted to, I now have great memories.  I now have to start planning for my trip back there with my husband next Fall!

This week on the RCI Blog we will be featuring RCI subscribing members’ photos from their trips to Cozumel. Be sure to check back soon!

Comments (0) »

Winter Getaway


We took a four day weekend to Door County, WI in February and stayed at The Rushes on Kangaroo Lake. We expected to hike around in some of the county and state parks while we were there. What we didn't expect were all of the extra accommodations The Rushes had to offer. They had a separate room with every size ice skate, snow shoe, cross country ski and poles for our family, as well as our 4-year-old. These activities were complimentary. We tried snowshoeing, but got hooked on cross country skiing! My husband and I wondered why we had never tried it before. Our 12-year-old son had a good time too. We could pick between three different trails varying in length and difficulty. The priceless moment was watching our 4-year-old son and the triumph on his face when he could ski too. New experiences as a family, now that's what vacation time is all about!

-Linda A. from Fond du Lac, WI

Comments (0) »

Winter is Right Around the Corner!


Dave TWith temperatures beginning to fall and the holiday season right around the corner, it is time to break out the heavy coats and embrace the season. As winter is knocking at the door and Jack Frost is nipping and your nose, I can’t help but think of all the things I love about this time of year. The first snowfall, sipping hot chocolate by the fire, freshly baked cookies, there are too many to name.

While it can be hard to step away from all the distractions and running around that are associated with the season, I find winter to be the perfect time to escape and explore my adventurous side. A snow filled vacation is an awesome opportunity to take part in these activities or even try new ones! Some of my favorite activities include skiing, ice-skating and snow tubing. And after I’m done with the day’s activities there is nothing better than relaxing at a beautiful snow covered resort in a warm outdoor hot tub or in front of a roaring fire.

Some may beg to differ, but winter is my favorite time of year. Whether it’s cruising down the slopes or curling up by the fire with a good book, it doesn’t get much better in my opinion. Check back to the RCI Blog for great stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who also share my love for this time of year!

 

Comments (0) »

Destination: A Shopper’s Guide to Chicago


Heading to the Windy City this fall? Check out this article from Endless Vacation® magazine. You’ll find a detailed outline of the city and its top three destinations to get your shop on! From glitz and glamour to hipster-chic, Chicago has it all. Happy travels!

Comments (0) »