A couple waits for an F line streetcar along San Francisco's Embarcadero.
- THE BIG ISLAND
When Keoki Kahumoku picks up his guitar, he's continuing a family tradition that spans six generations. Kahumoku has appeared on four Grammy-winning collections of Hawaiian music. Here are his recommendations for savoring the rhythms of island life.
- Lychees, mangoes, rambutans, and papayas tempt shoppers at the Hilo Farmers Market. (808) 933-1000.
- Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park preserves ancient temple structures and dramatic carved wooden sculptures of native gods (above) next to a peaceful cove. (808) 328-2326.
- You might catch Kahumoku playing the CanoeHouse, a beachfront restaurant at the Mauna Lani Resort. (808) 885-6622.
- A guided hike or horseback ride in the Waipio Valley takes you past waterfalls, a black-sand beach, and lush vegetation. Big Island Visitors Bureau: (800) 648-2441.
- Hilo's museums explore truly Hawaiian topics: The Pacific Tsunami Museum educates visitors about the huge ocean waves that have repeatedly devastated the city (808-935-0926). The Lyman Museum and Mission House presents natural and cultural history exhibits (808-935-5021). And the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, ideally situated under some of Earth's clearest skies, tells stories of the stars and their role in island tradition (808-969-9700). For Big Island vacation packages, contact AAA Travel at (888) 586-4222.
- ENCHANTING FOREST
You don't always need to trek into the wild to lose yourself in nature. Just 12 miles north of San Francisco you'll find one of the most extraordinary natural spots on the planet: Muir Woods, which became a national monument 100 years ago. Amid its 560 acres of ancient coast redwoods you might see coho salmon running up Redwood Creek, some 200 varieties of mushrooms emerging after the first rains, or ladybugs clustered on the fronds of a horsetail fern. You can thank philanthropist William Kent for buying and donating the land, and President Teddy Roosevelt for knowing what to do with the gift. (415) 388-2595.
- GREAT DANISH
You bet it's kitschy. And what's wrong with that? The faux-Danish village of Solvang, Calif., located 35 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, is a blast to visit, especially at Christmas. The town makes merry with pageants, parades, caroling, and the construction of an 8-by-11-foot gingerbread house—using 250 pounds of cookie dough—which is displayed at the Royal Scandinavian Inn. Don't leave town without breakfasting on aebleskiver, the spherical Nordic answer to pancakes. You can start your diet in January. (800) 468-6765.
- PALM SPRINGS
Want to ogle and be ogled at swanky hotels and shops? Or maybe you're the sporty type who enjoys a dusty ramble on spectacular desert trails? In Palm Springs, Calif., you can do both, says Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who serves the state's 45th District in the seat left vacant by her late husband, Sonny Bono. Her picks for fun indoors and out:
- Gene Autry's original Melody Ranch has been reinvented as Parker Palm Springs, a hotel on 13 landscaped acres surrounded by desert and mountains. (760) 770-5000.
- Designer Trina Turk sells clothing and home decor (above) in a 1960s building designed by Albert Frey. (760) 416-2856
- Smoke Tree Stables offers guided horseback rides through the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons. (760) 327-1372.
- Shields Date Garden in nearby Indio serves up cool date shakes. (800) 414-2555.
- The McCallum Theatre hosts Al Jarreau (Nov. 9), Kathy Griffin (Dec. 6–7), and other marquee performers. (760) 340-2787. For Palm Springs vacation packages, contact AAA Travel at (888) 586-4222.
- SNOW WONDER
Winter in California's Yosemite National Park brings stillness, the crowds dispersed and stone-faced monuments capped in snow. Amid that cool beauty lies the warmth of the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, where fireplaces flicker just off the lobby and plush trappings wrap fresh arrivals in the comforts of another time. Skaters at nearby Curry Village carve the ice, etching figure eights under Half Dome's frosty stare.
- WALNUT CREEK
Nestled beneath 3,849-foot Mount Diablo some 20 miles east of San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Calif., offers stylish eateries, boutiques, and open spaces—the last thanks in part to Seth Adams, director of land programs for Save Mount Diablo. Here are some of his favorite ways to enjoy the city and its gorgeous backdrop.
- On a clear day at the Mount Diablo Summit Museum you can see for 200 miles. (925) 837-6119.
- The Italian-Californian cuisine at Prima Ristorante goes well with the largest wine selection in town. (925) 935-7780.
- The Bedford Gallery (925-295-1417) at the Lesher Center for the Arts hosts touring exhibitions, and the Valley Art Gallery (925-935-4311) showcases regional artists.
- Borges Ranch, a preserved homestead, recalls what life was like before Tiffany & Co. hit Main Street. (925) 942-0225.
- A new map titled Mount Diablo, Los Vaqueros, and Surrounding Parks, Featuring the Diablo Trail ($10) depicts the region's 90,000 acres of open space. Available from Save Mount Diablo: (925) 947-3535.
- BEAK EXPERIENCE
Feathered friends abound at Salt Lake City's Tracy Aviary, where some 400 beauties compete in a spectacular pageant of plumage. Check out the king vulture's ornate schnoz (above), the guira cuckoo's cockamamy crest, and the fruity, loopy keel-billed toucan. They're talented, too, as you'll see at the daily Superheroes of the Sky bird show. (801) 596-8500.
- LIFT OFF
When your inner daredevil isn't quite up to jumping from an airplane, why not try indoor skydiving? Step into a vertical wind tunnel where a powerful fan whooshes air at 160 mph, lifting you off your feet. An instructor hovers (literally) nearby throughout your first flight. Beginner packages range from $40 to $75.
IFLY SF Bay UNION CITY, CALIF. (510) 489-4359.
IFLY UTAH OGDEN, UTAH (801) 528-5348.
VEGAS INDOOR SKYDIVING LAS VEGAS (877) 545-8093.
- PLANE TALK
Docents at the Aerospace Museum of California in McClellan (near Sacramento) spin thrilling tales about some 40 aircraft, including a hang glider and an F-14 Tomcat. Inspired to take wing? Try the flight simulator. Even a virtual landing requires considerable finesse. (916) 643-3192.
- STREETCARS WE DESIRE
San Francisco's classic cable cars climb steep hills for an equally tall fare ($5 a ride). But the city's vintage F line streetcars—65 streamlined darlings dating from 1912 to 1952—scoot along Market Street and the Embarcadero with plenty of panache for a mere $1.50. Hop off across from the Ferry Building to take in more transit history at the San Francisco Railway Museum: (415) 974-1948.
- UNSUNG TRAILBLAZERS
The cowboy drifts across the high plains of our imagination, part frontier icon, part Hollywood cliché. At the Black American West Museum in Denver, his portrait emerges more clearly through exhibits that document the wide-ranging contributions of African Americans to our region's dusty past. Often overlooked by popular culture, these homesteaders and buffalo soldiers, singing cowboys and bronco-riding rodeo stars all sharpen our picture of how the West was really won. (303) 482-2242.
GEAR & GADGETS
- BRAKE FOR SOLAR POWER
With a sun-powered carousel, electricity-generating bikes, an organic farm, and solar panels that save 1,600 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, the Real Goods Solar Living Center in Hopland, Calif., is a little fantasyland for kids, gardeners, and anyone who wants to be kind to the earth. Even shopping is ecochic at a store full of environmentally gentle toys, gadgets, and books. (707) 744-2017.
- BRIGHTER IDEA
Say farewell to fussing with that annoying overhead light on the airplane. The Periscope Book Light in a Bookcover delivers illumination right where you need it. In paperback and hardcover versions, the leatherette sleeves fit almost any book. And when you're ready to rest? The superbright LED light slides back into the sleeve's spine for compact storage. Starting at $35. periscopelight.com.
- EASY LISTENING
Do you listen to more books than you read? Rent-by-mail service Jiggerbug delivers audiobooks in CD, cassette, or digital download form. Finish a title and you get the next one on your list. Monthly plans start at $11. jiggerbug.com.
- PICK POCKETS
Triumphs of both form and function, welldesigned pockets grant you the organizational superpowers long known to anglers and photojournalists. Witness the compartments— all 10 of them—in the Vezzeo Mobile Vest ($120, vezzeo.com), a sleeveless jacket with padded front pockets for your MP3 player and a large back pouch to accommodate your laptop. Or Zip It socks ($15, zipitgear.com), with zippered slots that tuck discreetly under a pant leg. You will, of course, find prettier pockets; Vezzeo and Zip It weren't designed for Paris runways. Then again, practicality never goes out of style.
- PUTTING YOU IN THE PICTURE
Can't stretch your arms far enough to snap a shot of the whole family and the monument behind you? Well, picture this: Extendable handheld camera stands such as the XShot ($30, xshotpix.com) and the Quik Pod ($25, quikpod.com) allow you to capture everyone, including you. No more handing off your camera to a stranger or "Wasn't Mom there too?" photos. The rods stretch (to 37 inches for the XShot) and shrink down for easy carrying.
FOOD & DRINK
- A PRINCE AMONG PRAWNS
Love shrimp? Prepare to adore the spot prawn, the largest, most succulent variety of West Coast shrimp. Caught at depths up to 900 feet with traps that minimize harm to other species, they're a prized rarity when fresh. Monterey's Fish House grills the seven-inch crustaceans over an oak fire during Northern California's August-through-April season.
- DIM SUM AND THEN SOME
Fabulous dim sum in New York, San Francisco, or Vancouver, B.C.? Oh please, that's just too easy. For a real challenge, try to find these tasty morsels in cities not known for them. In Cantonese, dim sum means "touch the heart." Here are some out-of-the-way eateries that titillate the tongue.
CAFE ANH HONG, SALT LAKE CITY
Get your fill of shrimp—in har gow (dumplings) or with rice noodles—at bargain prices. (801) 486-1912.
CHARLIE'S BAKERY AND CHINESE CUISINE, ANCHORAGE
Try scallion pancakes or juicy lion's head meatballs. (907) 677-7777.
PING PANG PONG, LAS VEGAS
At this amusingly named restaurant in the Gold Coast casino and hotel, choose soft tofu in sweet ginger syrup or try porridge with thousand-year egg (preserved in salt, clay, and straw). (702) 247-8136.
WONG'S KING SEAFOOD, PORTLAND
Enjoy inventive deep-fried seaweed rolls. A cart pulls up to make cooked-to-order gai lan (Chinese broccoli) at your table. (503) 788-8883.
- MUG SPOT
Prefer your java with a splash of retro? Then head to the World Famous Coffee Cup Cafe in Boulder City, Nev.Thirty minutes off the buffet-ridden Las Vegas Strip, owners Big Al and Carri Stevens treat regulars and travelers alike to hearty comfort food such as pork–chili verde omelets and meat loaf sandwiches in a surf-shop-meets-'60s-diner atmosphere. Bring your personal morning mug and add it to the collection on the walls.
- PARADISE IN A GLASS
When you're in Hawaii, it's a treat just to inhale the sweet, Pacific-kissed air. But it gets even better when you're served a chilled, dewy glass of POG, a mix of passion fruit, orange, and guava juice that might as well be the official beverage of paradise. Producer Meadow Gold Dairies is now working to bring its island recipe to the mainland—juicy news indeed.
- ROLLS THAT ROCK
The world's best popovers are served to every lunch customer at Neiman Marcus fine dining restaurants across the West. Chicken consommé and strawberry butter (poha berry butter in Hawaii) accompany the crunchy, airy rolls. neimanmarcus.com.
- SWEET POTATOES
Sandee Tuck of Sandee's Candee's in Salmon, Idaho, replaces a third of the sugar in her fudge recipe with potatoes to create Spud Fudge, giving her state's farmers a new use for their most famous crop and chocoholics a new temptation. (877) 756-4994.
Photography by Mitch Tobias
This article was first published in November 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.