Our favorite things to go do, see, eat, drink, wear, buy, ride, read, hear, and explore.
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Tamarack Resort might be the best ski spot you've never heard of. Central Idaho's Payette River Mountains are now sporting some swanky slopes complete with a boutique ski village, spa, and state-of-the-art lifts that provide access to 2,800 vertical feet of trails. Après ski, meet up for a soak in your patio hot tub while the dazzling nighttime sky reminds you that, yes, you're in your own private Idaho. (877) 826-7376.
Nature's Finest Light Show
Some claim they've heard the northern lights making a sound like fresh-from-the-dryer laundry static. Maybe, may-be not. Scientists talk about silent solar winds hitting the silent magneto-sphere. But all agree: The best place to see the spectacle is near Fairbanks, Alaska, on a moonless night. Forget the summer midnight sun. This—a tendriled curtain of greens, blues, and reds rippling across the horizon—is the real show. For a forecast of aurora activity, visit www.gi.alaska.edu/predict.php3 .
A microcosm of the entire Oregon coast unfolds in the 40 magnificent miles of the Charleston to Bandon Tour Route. In among six state parks, two national wildlife refuges, and a national estuarine research reserve, you'll discover sheltered bays, winking lighthouses, and wave-splashed rocks echoing with the raucous ork! ork! of sprawling sea lions. At the tour's south end, Bandon's picturesque galleries, shops, and seafood spots come framed in crimson: Three thousand acres of cranberry bogs surround the town.
Alive in the Desert
The sun that beats so relentlessly in the summer greets Death Valley in the cooler months with a gentle kiss, its rays slanting lightly on a multicolored moonscape of red and green rocks still vivid after a thousand season shifts. When a faint rain falls, you can hear a heat-deadened world springing back to life.
Best in Snow: Yellowstone
Winter is truly the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park. Animals are easier to spot against a backdrop of snow and some 10,000 thermal features. Elk, bison, and bighorn sheep migrate to the warmth of the geyser basins, and you have a good chance of seeing wolves. On an evening stroll from the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, you could be the only person watching the famous geyser erupt—and listening to the coyote sing-along. Join one of the Yellowstone Association Institute's naturalist-led Lodging and Learning programs. (307) 344-2293.
The Coast with the Most
Seldom do places complement neighboring city charms as well as California's Marin County coast (see cover photo). Highway 1 heads north from San Francisco to pristine beaches, windswept bluffs, and foggy coves. Hikers and mountain bikers can tackle rolling hills before bedding down at comfy inns in the hamlets of Bolinas and Stinson Beach. For a maritime perspective, visit the lighthouses at Point Bonita and Point Reyes National Seashore, where you may spot sea lions and, in winter, migrating gray whales.
Best Reason to Fly South for the Winter
Need a little sun, a poolside lounge, and a view of the inside of your eyelids? Downtown Scottsdale, Ariz., can provide that, plus all kinds of fun. You can poke around 125 art galleries, try on pink cowboy boots at Saba's, order a gosh-awful-gooey banana split at the Sugar Bowl, sample Japanese tapas at Sea Saw or meat loaf at Star Spangled Tavern, and enjoy a spa treatment or a tropical drink at the hip Hotel Valley Ho (pictured), a midcentury Hollywood hideaway that recently underwent an $80 million renovation. And baseball fans can make plans now to see Cactus League play, which starts in March.
Best Island Hangout
A hammock whispers your name as it sways between palms beside a black-sand beach. A dream? Yes, and it awaits at the Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai (starting at $150 a night). (808) 338-1625.
Meet the Beagles
The Egyptians built pyramids. Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin of Cottonwood, Idaho, built a giant beagle named Sweet Willy that serves as the Dog Bark Park Inn. And while sleeping in a pyramid at Giza is likely to get you arrested, a stay in Willy will get you a continental breakfast with homemade granola. (208) 962-3647.
On a freezing night, the steam from the outdoor pool at Chico Hot Springs in Montana's Paradise Valley rolls past couples holding daiquiris and kids splashing with water wings. Daylight reveals snow on the Absaroka Range and thick frost on the pines. Lodging options range from rustic rooms to multifamily cabins. (800) 468-9232.
Urban Bed and Breakfasts
The term bed-and-breakfast conjures up countryside, winetasting, Bob Newhart. But there's no reason to overlook urban B&Bs, which typically offer more for your money than comparably priced city hotels. Here are a few of our favorites.
Oscar Gill House Bed&Breakfast $105–$135. Three comfortably appointed guest rooms in a 1913 home within walking distance of restaurants, shops, and the coastal trail. Call well ahead for reservations. (907) 279-1344, www.oscargill.com .
DENVER Capitol Hill Mansion Bed and Breakfast Inn $99–$179. An 1891 Victorian of Colorado ruby sandstone with eight rooms on a quiet, leafy street close to the LoDo district, museums, shops, and theaters. (800) 839-9329, www.capitolhillmansion.com .
PORTLAND Lion and the Rose $119–$179. A century-old, turreted Queen Anne Victorian mansion with six rooms near Lloyd Center Mall and public transit. (800) 955-1647, www.lionrose.com .
SAN FRANCISCO Golden Gate Hotel $85–$150. An affordable European-style inn with 25 rooms (some with shared baths) in the popular Union Square district. Parking is available across the street at a discount for guests. (800) 835-1118, www.goldengatehotel.com .
SEATTLE Pensione Nichols (pictured) $95–$210. Ten rooms with shared baths and two suites with bath and kitchen. Guests awake to press-pot coffee and pastries served in an airy sitting room overlooking Pike Place Market. (206) 441-7125, www.pensionenichols.com .
Favorite Travel Accessory: Good Karma
When I arrived at a four-star hotel, I overheard the desk clerk informing a besuited business beauty that rooms weren't ready yet. She gave the clerk what for and stomped off to the bar. I stepped up and told him it was OK, just let me know when to return. He went quiet and studied his computer screen. It just so happened, he said, that he had discovered a room for me. Governor's suite, top floor, with a view of the beach. It pays to be polite.
By Leslie Endicott
Dashing Through the Snow
There's really only one way to travel over the river and through the woods: in a horse-drawn sleigh. These tours might not take you to Grandmother's house, but they'll carry you through the white and drifted snow and might even serve you some hot cocoa. Dress warmly!
BAGLEY'S TETON MOUNTAIN RANCH Victor, Idaho. Rides of approximately one hour through an elk herd and around the ranch. (208) 787-9005. BAR-T-FIVE Jackson, Wyo. Leave from the Jackson Hole Visitor Center for trips of up to an hour through the National Elk Refuge. (307) 733-5386.
BORGES SLEIGH RIDES Stateline, Nev. A 35-minute ride with Lake Tahoe views; the last trip of the day includes dinner. (800) 726-7433.
BOULDER MOUNTAIN Ranch Park City, Utah. Traverse the slopes of Deer Valley Ski Resort and get dropped off at a resort restaurant. (866) 783-5819.
HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGE CO. Chugiak, Alaska. Half-hour or hour excursions on country roads, with an optional bonfire. (907) 688-6005.
RED ROCK RANCH AND OUTFITTERS Huntsville, Utah. Follow ranch trails to an all-you-can-eat Dutch oven meal. (801) 745-6393.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN SLEIGH Company Park City, Utah. Ride through the woods to a log cabin, buffet dinner, and entertainment. (800) 303-7256. There's really only one way to travel over the river and through the woods: in a horse-drawn sleigh. These tours might not take you to Grandmother's house, but most do end in a tasty meal.
SOLITUDE CABIN DINNER SLEIGH RIDES Teton Village, Wyo. Ride through Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to a prime rib dinner. (307) 739-2603. 320 Guest Ranch Big Sky, Mont. Singing cowboys escort you along the Gallatin River to chili at a mountain man camp. (406) 995-4283.
SUN VALLEY RESORT Sun Valley, Idaho. Depart from Sun Valley Inn for a half-hour ride to Trail Creek Cabin, where dinner awaits. (208) 622-2135.
WESTERN PLEASURE GUEST RANCH SandPoint, Idaho. A two-mile loop through woods to mountain views winds up back at the lodge for coffee, hot chocolate, and popcorn. (208) 263-9066.
Some childhood experiences drill themselves permanently into your soul. For Proust, it was the taste of madeleines. For me, it was a ride on a monorail. Here was the future, and it was marvelous. The train glided as if on a ribbon of silk, and when the doors whispered open I stood right in a hotel—at Disneyland! You can still ride Disney's 1959 monorail—as well as the 1962 version in Seattle, though funding cuts loom there. Las Vegas added its own (pictured) in 2004. Go. It delivers you straight into yesterday's tomorrow.
By Wayne Curtis
Author of And a Bottle of Rum:
A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
Sarong? So Right
A Swiss Army knife is a handy gadget, but good luck using it as an emergency sling. The most practical item in your travel bag might be a simple rectangle of lightweight cloth. Sarongs (also known as pareos or pareus) serve as towels, beach mats, curtains, sun shelters, tote bags, headscarves, tablecloths, shawls, shorts, dresses, skirts, child harnesses, sheets, and anything else you might be able to fold, wrap, twist, and tie them into. They're the most helpful textile since Superman's cape.
Steady as a Rock
In places where traditional tripods topple, a bendy-legged Gorillapod holds your camera steady. And it's small enough to stick in a purse, making it the shutterbug's perfect travel companion. www.joby.com .
Four Reasons to Pack your iPod
Photo storage Newer models allow you to both store and view photos, freeing up your camera's memory card.
PODCASTS Check out the travel section at www.podcastalley.com  to find tips for destinations including Edinburgh, Scotland, and Savannah, Ga.
FITNESS BACK EXTENSIONS, SQUATS, CIRCUIT TRAINING, a killer ab routine—do it all with iWorkout, a program that comes with text instructions, visuals, and, of course, a mellifluous audio accompaniment. $19.99 at www.helmesinnovations.com .
A Tilley hat blocks sun, repels rain, floats, stows stuff in its crown, packs flat, springs back—and looks dashing. If it ever shrinks or wears out, the Canadian makers will give you a new one, along with a fresh copy of its four-page owner's manual. www.tilley.com .
Wee Travel Items
If you like to travel light—and fastidiously—you'll love the selection of petite products at www.minimus.biz . You'll find travel-size toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, lotion, and over-the-counter medicines, as well as miniature lint rollers, boxes of laundry detergent, and a copious assortment of bite-size snacks.
Most Artful Collaboration
Five years ago a delegation of 12 community and tribal leaders from Oregon and Washington journeyed to New York City to see renowned artist and architect Maya Lin of Vietnam Memorial fame. Their mission? To set the context for a project initially inspired by the Lewis and Clark bicentennial. "We talked of the tribes along the trail, the environment, the dams, the fish," recalls Cliff Snider, honorary chief of the Chinook tribe. When completed in 2008, Lin's seven-installation Confluence Project promises to be a profound reflection on the complex history of the Pacific Northwest. www.confluenceproject.org .
Originally a collection of vintage Fords and still displaying a nearly complete set of Henry's earliest models, Sacramento's Towe (rhymes with cow) Auto Museum now boasts some 150 vehicles of many makes, illustrating auto development from the 1880s to the 1990s. Enthusiastic car-buff docents eager to answer questions cruise the aisles. (916) 442-6802.
Brains and Bronze
Granted, Auguste Rodin's most famous work is called The Thinker. But you don't need to be a scholar to be enraptured by the French artist's soulful sculpture. And the best place in the United States to see Rodin's luminous work is at Stanford University. The Burghers of Calais stride across the quad, 20 bronzes reside in the garden of the Cantor Arts Center, and inside the museum sits The Thinker, perpetually pensive. (650) 723-4177.
Two Great Spots to Bird
Located in the southeast corner of Oregon, the nearly 200,000-acre Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is known for the vast numbers of waterbirds it attracts. Each season brings its own special birds. As the ice and snow begin to melt, migrating ducks, geese, and swans stop here to feed and rest before continuing the journey to their northern nesting grounds. On California's southern coast, the San Diego River is a wonderful place to learn to identify birds. It's perfectly situated to draw rare birds that other locales might never attract. It's not uncommon to come up with a list of more than a hundred species in a single day.
By Sandy Komito
"Big Year" record holder for having seen the most
bird species in North America in one year (745 in 1998).
He enjoys hearing from other birders at email@example.com .
Ocean of Fun
At Newport's Oregon Coast Aquarium, you can sleep with sharks—on overnight campouts, that is. There are wolf eels, the scariest things you ever saw. You can actually touch octopuses and get kissed by sea lions, which gives kids shivers of delight. There are thousands of animals to enjoy and celebrate, it's open 364 days a year, and it's mighty reasonably priced considering you will be astonished and edified. A word of caution: Do not touch the wolf eels. (541) 867-3474.
Best Place to Eat Popcorn
Entering the lobby of the Washoe Theatre in Anaconda, Mont., is like stumbling across buried treasure. The bland exterior of the 978-seat palace set in this former copper-smelting town offers no hint of the breathtaking art deco swirl of plush red carpet, brass light fixtures, and salmon pink walls rich with gold leaf inside. Designed by Seattle architect B. Marcus Priteca and completed in 1936, the Washoe also features a silk curtain hand painted with two golden stags and a ceiling mural depicting modern civilization's dependence on copper. (406) 563-6161.
Not up for a wine country outing? Head to Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco. In the genial 65-seat tasting bar, you can choose among 15 to 20 wines by the glass, taste special flights—world pinot noirs, say—or enjoy any of the shop's 750 wines off the shelf. General Manager Bo Thompson is happy when people bring in Acme breads, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, or cooked dishes from the surrounding stores. (866) 991-9400.
Balsamic-soaked figs, hearth-roasted squab, a bowl of mussels in a fragrant garlic-and-fennel broth. A meal for the gods? No, just some dishes at Clarklewis, one of the restaurants that have helped establish a newfound food heaven in Portland. Where else should you eat? Try Carlyle, where chef Daniel Mondok wraps Columbia River sturgeon in honeyed apple slices; Saucebox for a party scene and Korean ribs slathered in sweet-and-sour sauce; Nuestra Cocina for pork steamed in banana leaves; and Noble Rot for fine Willamette Valley wines and the best onion tart this side of Paris.
Mermaids of Montana
Sure, bears and wolves and elk are thrilling, but Montana's most unusual creatures might reside at the O'Haire Motor Inn's Sip-n-Dip Lounge in Great Falls. There you can watch mermaids—well, women in mermaid costumes—swim in the hotel pool. (406) 454-2141.
Buffalo meat is high in both iron and irony. One of the main reasons bison, the once endangered icons of the West, are again roaming the prairies is so that we can eat them. Terry Bison Ranch, just south of Cheyenne, Wyo., offers the chance to admire a herd up close on a tour by bus or train depending on the season, and provides a range of lodging options. During the winter, call ahead for tour times. (307) 634-4171.
Winetasting? Been there, swirled, sipped, and spat that. But jerky tasting? Now there's something to sink your teeth into. At the Gary West Meats Jerky Factory and Tasting Room in Jacksonville, Ore., you can try strips of free-range elk and bison as well as Angus beef in Cajun, teriyaki, and cracked pepper flavors. Warning: You might get some funny looks if you start to talk about the jerky's "bouquet." (800) 833-1820.
It may be the cheese you want from those California cows on television, but at Harris Ranch near Coalinga, Calif., it would be the beef. Anyone who has traveled along Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin Valley has seen (and perhaps smelled) the thousands of steers Harris Ranch raises. For a taste, stop in at the Ranch Kitchen or the Steak House. (800) 942-2333.
Wheat's the Big Idea
The Folkvord clan of Three Forks, Mont., grows great wheat, turns it into great bread, cinnamon rolls, and wheat berry chili, and serves it to you in the right setting: the nine locations of their Wheat Montana Bakery&Deli. (800) 535-2798.
The Restaurant Designer We Want at Our Table
Pat Kuleto, who has designed more than 150 restaurants nationwide, knows how to put you at ease. He lights the table and the food, and he also lights you. You feel great, you look 10 years younger, and you're gazing out at handmade fixtures, ironwork, and mosaics. One of his first projects, San Francisco's Fog City Diner, is a shiny pearl, the ultimate diner. Like Boulevard, it has aged really well. Pat is generous and gregarious, and those traits come out in his designs.
By Nancy Oakes
Chef and co-owner (with Kuleto) of San Francisco's Boulevard
Kuleto's works in progress include San Francisco's WaterBar and
Epic (both slated to open in 2007) and Nick's Cove & Cottages,
scheduled to open this year on Tomales Bay in Marshall, Calif.
The Kindness of Rangers
The ranger picked up a stick, spit on it, stuck it in a small hole, then pulled it gently out of the ground. Crouched on the end of the stick was a tarantula the size of my palm. Rangers know amazing things. If you want to learn about any national park, anywhere, go out on a scheduled walk with an interpretive ranger. You will learn more than just natural history. You'll learn about the kindness and knowledge of rangers.
By Tim Cahill
A founding editor of Outside magazine
Finest Creature Comfort
I've always found Mickey Mouse a bit too squeaky. But Tigger is my kind of cat—bouncy and unassailably logical. Who could argue with the line “The wonderful thing about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things”? So I was thrilled when I got to meet my favorite Disney character. I was also three feet taller than most of my fellow fans. They ranged in age from 3 to 6; I was 16. But gazing at our mutual friend, we were all equally life-size, dwarfed by this creature large enough to fill all our imaginations. That's the wonderful thing about Tiggers.
By Jeremy Saum
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
People like to see dead people perform. Elvis and Frank Sinatra are a little harder to book now than they once were. At first you're aware you're watching these Vegas impersonators do a show. But after a while you forget. You're transported to that era of Las Vegas. To me, that's the appeal. It's like time travel.
By Lance Burton
A Perk that Percolates
You wake up in an unfamiliar hotel room: strange sun glare, strange paintings on strange walls, strange street sounds. Everything conspires to disorient you. Until you spot the appliance equivalent of comfort food: the in-room coffeemaker! You open the packet, gently pat the grounds into the plastic nest, pour in water, and meditate to the Zen-ish gurgle. The first sip is bliss. So simple and steadfast, compass and companion in one. Oh, how many days has the hotel coffeemaker saved?
By Don George
Global Travel Editor for
Lonely Planet books/guides/quotes
A Book that Flies off the Shelf
Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts. A stylish trip through flight attendant nostalgia is prepared for takeoff. You'll find a copy of Stewardess: Come Fly with Me! (Chronicle Books, 112 pages, $14.95) by Elissa Stein in the seat pocket in front of you. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the read.
Quickest Route to Tofu
For travelers intent on tracking down some tempeh, Veg Out guides rate and provide maps to vegetarian-friendly restaurants, cafés, and markets in destinations such as Seattle and Portland, Denver and Salt Lake City, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
From December to April, Wanderlust Tours of Bend, Ore., leads two-hour snowshoeing trips on full moon nights. As you waddle and tumble, you'll learn fun moon facts and maybe make a snow angel. A heavenly experience. (800) 962-2862.
The Filbert Steps surpassed my fantasy of what San Francisco must look like: old cottages on a wooden staircase surrounded by lush gardens. To me, the cottages look like the homes of poets and painters. You can feel history, that this is a place where people have been living and dying for many years. You forget you're in a city. But it's not the country either. It's more like Shangri-La, a magical kingdom where the trees conceal bright green parrots.
By Mark Bittner
Author of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill:
A Love Story . . . with Wings
Photography by John De Mello
This article was first published in November 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.