Noodles, Santa Monica, Segways, shopping districts, travel lists, Kauai, Zion National Park, and a cornucopia of travel ideas.
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.
THINGS TO HUG
Go ahead, wrap your arms around …
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:
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:
"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.
Photography by Catherine Karnow
This article was first published in November 2009. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.