A Segway tour cruises along the shoreline in Oakland, Calif.
Segways | Drinks to Slurp | Things to Hug | Santa Monica
Zion National Park | Santa Barbara View | Off-beat Detours
Travel Fiction | Portland | Hanalei Bay
Compact Tableset | Town Squares | Best Elevators
Maybe this isn't the year for a world cruise, but don't sit home and mope. Take a rollicking tour on a Segway personal transporter in cities around the West, including Portland, San Francisco, and Oakland (pictured). segwayguidedtours.com.
DRINKS TO SLURP
Sure, slurping is rude. But where's the joy in a silent sip? These delights all but demand to be gulped noisily, with great gusto.
- Suck up some Japanese noodles at Suzu Noodle House in San Francisco's Japantown. (415) 346-5083.
- Pray for squab soup on the winter menu at Le Pigeon in Portland. lepigeon.com.
- The huckleberry shake at the Pickle Barrel in Bozeman, Mont., features summer's best berries frozen for the winter. picklebarrelmt.com.
- Locals favor big bowls of smoked salmon chowder at Cafe Stephanie in the Nye Beach district of Newport, Ore. (541) 265-8082.
- People line up out the front door for the white chili, served only on Wednesday and Saturday, at the Bread Basket Bakery in Cheyenne, Wyo. breadbasketbakery.com.
- Pick up a patriotic bag of Alaska Statehood Blend at Heritage Coffee in Juneau. heritagecoffee.com.
- Pair a spicy Bloody Mary with your shawarma at Mazza in Salt Lake City. Mazzacafe.com.
THINGS TO HUG
Go ahead, wrap your arms around …
- your sweetie at Oregon's Hug Point State Recreation Site near Cannon Beach. oregonstateparks.org/park_191.php.
- the tree-mendous giants in California's Redwood National Park. nps.gov/redw.
- Elvis and your betrothed at Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. gracelandchapel.com.
- your kids at Giggles N' Hugs, a Los Angeles restaurant featuring toys, face paints, and a healthful menu. gigglesnhugs.com.
- Santa at Salt Lake City's Hogle Zoo. (Mr. Claus comes for breakfast December 12, 13, 19, and 20.) hoglezoo.org.
- your wine with a WineHug inflatable pouch. winehug.com.
Like most 100-year-olds, this one has outlived many contemporaries, but California's Santa Monica Pier is hardly nearing retirement. The last of the West Coast pleasure piers still draws year-round crowds with its 1922 carousel, dizzying carnival rides, and iconic scenes of surfers and anglers. Ride a solar-powered Ferris wheel, learn trapeze, or sit back for a spectacle—through December 20, Cirque du Soleil performs Kooza under a big top in the pier's parking lot. Cyclists and skaters roll south toward Venice Beach and north to the stunningly remodeled Annenberg Community Beach House. And some find a grassy perch in Palisades Park for a cliff-top picnic assembled at the twice-weekly farmers' market. santamonicapier.org.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
When visitors thin out, serenity prevails at Utah's first national park. In the cooler months, you can explore Zion Canyon by car, stopping to see waterfalls plunging over cliff walls, autumn color framing the Court of the Patriarchs, and rock faces shining with frost. Up for a short hike? A mere half mile in, the Lower Emerald Pools Trail reveals a new perspective—the world behind the falls. Tucked into a rocky alcove, you can gaze out at the misty curtain spilling from pools above and experience a rush of peace. nps.gov/zion.
SANTA BARBARA VIEW
Take the Santa Barbara County Courthouse elevator–its doors match the Spanish Moorish revival style of the building–to the fourth floor, then climb 12 steps to a clock tower 85 feet above street level for a spectacular view of this Southern California city all the way out to the Paciffic. www.santabarbaracourthouse.org.
Folks veer off the beaten path for all sorts of reasons–the chance for romance, a quest for quietude, or maybe a photo op with a giant potato. A few detours worth your time on the routes less traveled:
- In Lovelock, Nev. (on Highway 80 between Winnemucca and Reno), sweethearts buy padlocks to personalize and then "lock their love" on a chain in Lovers Lock Plaza. loverslock.com.
- Tired of all the noise? A threemile hike on the Hoh River Trail in Washington's Olympic National Park leads to One Square Inch of Silence, proclaimed the quietest place in the United States. It's marked by a simple red stone atop a moss-covered log. onesquareinch.org.
- Pedal your way to the new U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in Davis, Calif. Opening November 7, the 8,000-square-foot space displays trophies, memorabilia, and lots of bikes, from state-of-the-art rides to 1800s models. californiabicyclemuseum.org.
- Spud Drive-In Theatre in Driggs, Idaho, has been showing movies since 1953. If that's not enough to pull you off the highway, throw in a burger and a photo op with the resident two-ton, artificial potato. In winter, check weather conditions on the Webcam. spuddrivein.com.
An effective story can create an intense feeling of Platzgeist (spirit of a place) about the region where it's set. When you pair one of these tales with a trip, you'll appreciate the book and the site much more than you'd enjoy either alone.
Alaska's vastness inspired Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey explores the logging communities of the Oregon coast. In California, John Steinbeck's classic The Grapes of Wrath depicts the San Joaquin Valley, and Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius portrays the San Francisco Bay Area.
Inland, the contrast between Salt Lake City and rural Utah informs Jana Richman's The Last Cowgirl. Similar themes pervade Judy Blunt's memoir of the Montana plains, Breaking Clean. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson makes the perfect read for Idaho, and in Wyoming, bring one of Annie Proulx's gritty short story collections, such as Close Range.
Portland is a mashup: part Manhattan, part Mayberry RFD. It blends a relaxed urban sophistication with such small-town virtues as friendliness, walkability, and affordability—it's not "spendy," as locals say. Start a perfect day in the City of Roses by checking into the Benson (pictured), a gracious downtown landmark. Then set out on foot. You can head east to Tom McCall Waterfront Park or south to Pioneer Courthouse Square. But—since you're shooting for perfection—stroll three blocks west to Powell's, the most intoxicating bookstore anywhere. Hours later, word-worn and hungry, amble to Higgins Restaurant. Order risotto with hazelnut-smoked sockeye salmon, leeks, and chèvre, or anything else that sings of Northwest flavors. Finally, toast the city with Oregon pinot. Noir or grigio, it will be perfect. www.travelportland.com.
You've essentially hit the end of the road when you reach the remote North Shore of Hawaii's already remote Kauai. But the effort to get there is amply rewarded. Hanalei's white sand—a two-mile crescentshaped beach—shifts softly underfoot, and the air blows warm all year. Leave civilization even farther behind on the 11-mile Kalalau Trail: Hike just a couple of miles in for superb Na Pali Coast views. kauai-hawaii.com.
When space is scarce, stash the Infinity 4 Person Deluxe Tableset ($50) for a compact yet complete collection of plates, bowls, mugs, and cups. gsioutdoors.com.
In the best town squares, citizens and subcultures converge for music, art, history, the outdoors, and simple, joyful lollygagging. "These are the places we remember most vividly," declares the Project for Public Spaces, "the places where serendipitous things happen, the places we tell stories about." May we suggest:
- California's San Juan Bautista Plaza for trips back in time on tours of the state historic park and Old Mission.
- Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square for a constant stream of cultural events, plus bronze chessboards, the Waterfall Fountain, and a musical weather machine.
- Salt Lake City's Temple Square for its holiday spirit, with lights glittering and musical groups performing each night.
- San Francisco's Portsmouth Square for Chinese chess, tai chi, and a spot of green in bustling Chinatown.
- Nevada's Genoa Square for a taste of Silver State history and sweets from Genoa Candy & Coffee Co.
- Wyoming's Jackson Town Square for its elk antler archways and Western dancing at the adjacent Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.
"Who can resist the seductions of elevators … those stepping stones to Heaven, which make relentless verticality so alluring?" So writes Colson Whitehead in his novel The Intuitionist, and we must agree. These three lift our spirits.
- The Oregon City Municipal Elevator links the central business district along the Willamette River to neighborhoods at the top of the 130-foot bluff, a decidedly easier route than the early American Indian trails and a later climb involving 722 steps. A broad view from on high includes two bridges and Willamette Falls. orcity.org.
- Although you can't ride in the century-old Otis on display in Idaho's State Capitol in Boise, you can step inside and be transported. The brass birdcage-style lift–long hidden behind a bookcase–is in mint condition, with all its original interior workings. It was revealed by workers renovating the grand historic building, which reopens to the public on January 9, 2010. capitolcommission.idaho.gov.
- Take the Santa Barbara County Courthouse elevator to the fourth floor, then climb 12 steps to a clock tower 85 feet above street level for a stunning view of this California city out to the Pacific. www.santabarbaracourthouse.org.
Photography by Catherine Karnow
This article was first published in November 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.