Our favorite hot spots, cool gear, tasty eats, and fun stuff to do.
- GIANT STEPS
To feel dinosaurs come to life, try following in their footsteps. More than 160 million years ago, herds of bipedal Jurassic dinos left their three-toed tracks in the mudflats of Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, southwest of Shell, Wyo. You can follow a boardwalk, step onto the fossilized bed, and match strides with the region's former residents. (307) 347-5100.
- BERKELEY'S BACKYARD
To someone who grew up in suburban New Jersey, it is quite nearly mind-boggling to step out of the house and find oneself deep in the woods. In Tilden Regional Park, which occupies 2,079 acres in the Berkeley Hills, I can take a toddler by the hand, walk a few hundred yards, and feel as though we have escaped into the wilderness. Then on our way home, we can chug through the redwoods on the steam train, ride the merry-go-round, or feed goats at the Little Farm.
By Ayelet Waldman, Author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
- SAVING SPACES
Land trusts are quietly leading a conservation revolution. "You'd be surprised how much land is protected," says Jim Wyerman of the Land Trust Alliance, which represents 1,700 nonprofits that have defended more than 5 million acres in the West against development. One group, the Trust for Public Land, has secured public access to more than 220 miles of rivers and streams in Montana, including last year opening four miles of prime fly-fishing waters of the Madison River. They also helped secure more than 2,600 acres along the popular Bonneville Shoreline Trail outside Salt Lake City. Bravo!
- bonnie dunes
When I need a fix of California wilderness, I point my car and Ernie, my dog, to the west, and within minutes of leaving our San Francisco home, we're at Fort Funston. With a healthy dose of surf and wildflower-covered dunes—and sometimes hang gliders or hawks on the hunt—this historic piece of coastline always satisfies.
By Melissa Houtte,Coauthor of Alligators, Old Mink, and New Money
- WINE MEETS WHIMSY
You didn't have one glass of cabernet too many: The Quixote Winery is cloaked in native grasses instead of vines, the brick roofline echoes the jagged Stags Leap Palisades behind it, and a tree sprouts alongside a golden dome. Quixote owner Carl Doumani didn't want another pompous Napa winery, so he hired Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The result—Hundertwasser's only U.S. building—is a whimsical blast. (707) 944-2659.
- MR. HEARST'S NEIGHBORHOOD
A visit to California's central coast isn't complete without touring William Randolph Hearst's pleasure dome, with its 41 fireplaces, 61 bathrooms, and the world's most glamorous swimming pool. But linger in Hearst's neighborhood and you can see 3,000-pound male elephant seals hitting the beach in December at nearby Piedras Blancas to battle for mates. Or try olallieberry pie at Linn's Fruit Bin in Cambria, a town with Victorian inns and cottage shops. A half-hour north at Treebones Resort (877-424-4787), 16 heated yurts perch on a bluff with breathtaking ocean views, and—what could be better?—there's a waffle bar at breakfast.
- NOW YOU'RE COOKIN'
Getting a taste of a place has never been more delicious. Through demonstrations, hands-on classes, and multiday culinary vacations, these cooking schools serve up courses rich in local flavor, with wine and fresh seasonal produce and meats.
CHEZ ALASKA COOKING SCHOOL Juneau Learn to make salmon crostini with freshly caught fish, blend sourdough pancakes using a starter that dates from the 19th century, and bake heavenly chocolate cake. (907) 957-0327.
EVOO Cannon Beach, Ore. Visitors can come straight from the beach to sample their way through four courses and three wines at small-plate demonstrations or strap on aprons to make pasta by hand. As for the name, EVOO stands for "extra virgin olive oil." (503) 436-8555.
IN GOOD TASTE COOKING SCHOOL Portland
Students flavor, grind, and stuff their own artisan sausages or make ricotta, mozzarella, and mascarpone cheeses by hand as they learn to cook by Oregon's seasons. (503) 248-2015.
NOTHING TO IT CULINARY CENTER Reno Kids and adults can decorate gingerbread houses for the holidays or sign up for one of dozens of cooking classes. (775) 826-2628.
RELISH CULINARY SCHOOL Healdsburg, Calif. Groups meet at Sonoma County homes, vineyards, and farms—and soon a facility in Healdsburg—to learn to prepare such dishes as Umbrian flatbread stuffed with sausage and greens. (877) 759-1004.
THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA AT GREYSTONE St. Helena, Calif. Want to take your mushroom risotto up a notch? Spend an hour at a CIA cooking demo. You'll watch an expert prepare a seasonal dish, then sample it and take home the recipe, all for $15. (The CIA's secret to great risotto? Carnaroli rice.) (707) 967-2320.
WINTERLAKE LODGE MILE 198 ON THE IDITAROD TRAIL Alaska Guests take an hour-long flight from Anchorage to spend the weekend preparing savory gougères and world-class cuisine with an Alaskan twist in chef Kirsten Dixon's kitchen. (907) 274-2710.
- A SLOUGH YOU OTTER SEE
What's a long-billed curlew got on you? How about an 8-inch curved beak to nab food from marshes and mudflats like the ones at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve north of Monterey Bay. Borrow some binocs from the visitor center and hit the 5.5 miles of trails to spot one feeding at low tide. For views of sea otters, join a guided kayak tour or a pontoon boat cruise out of Moss Landing. (831) 728-2822.
- BEST PLACE TO FIGURE 8
Release your inner Michelle Kwan at an outdoor ice rink. You might not land a lutz, but hot chocolate eases bumps and bruises.
town square Anchorage During January's "Crystal Gallery of Ice," six-foot-tall ice sculptures circle the downtown rink, and the surrounding trees glow blue. (907) 279-5650.
Downtown Ice San Jose Circle 'round 32 palm trees twinkling with lights, then warm up with a walk through the San Jose Museum of Art, right next door. (408) 279-1775.
Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center San Francisco Go skatin' by the dock of the bay at this venue in sight of the Ferry Building clock tower. The rink opens for 10 weeks. (415) 837-1931.
Olympic Ice Pavilion Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe, Calif. Access the mountaintop slick via aerial cable car and glide past views of the lake far below. (530) 583-6985.
Westfield Downtown Plaza Holiday Ice Rink Sacramento Only 150 skaters are allowed on the ice at once, so it's never too crowded to watch the train go by. (916) 442-8575.
Winter Lodge Palo Alto, Calif. T-shirts welcome. This 52-year-old Bay Area rink opens even in 80-degree weather. (650) 493-4566.
Yosemite outdoor ice rink Yosemite National Park, Calif. Skate in the shadow of Half Dome and Glacier Point at this Curry Village Attraction. (209) 372-8319.
Skate Salmon Ice Park Salmon, Idaho Open Every day in the shadow of the Continental Divide. Free. Bring your own skates. (208) 940-0067.
Skate World Rigby, Idaho This 40,000-square-foot rink is twice the size of an Olympic hockey rink. (208) 745-5115.
Sun Valley Outdoor Ice Rink Sun Valley, Idaho Rub laces with world-class skaters at the historic resort.
GLACIER ICE RINK Missoula, Mont. When hockey players aren't sweeping pucks across the ice, skaters glide under a protective canopy. Adult admission is $5, youth $3. (406) 728-0316.
winninghoff parkPhilipsburg, Mont. 50,000 gallons of frozen water are meticulously groomed by the community Zamboni in this historic mining town. (406) 859-3821.
MONTELAGO VILLAGE AT LAKE LAS VEGAS RESORT Henderson, Nev. Just 17 miles from the Strip, this rink will have you literally floating on ice—it sits on a dock on top of Lake Las Vegas. (702) 564-4766.
BILL COLLIER COMMUNITY ICE ARENA Klamath Falls, Ore. The canopy on this rink at Running Y Ranch Resort keeps out the elements and lets in the views. (541) 850-5758.
SEVENTH MOUNTAIN RESORT Bend, Ore. Take lessons from an Olympic figure skater, then huddle by the fire pit. (541) 693-9124.
homesteader parkPowell, Wyo. Figure-eight the night away at this free rink, located in a 50-acre park. Lights come on at dusk. (307) 754-5711.
sheridan iceSheridan, Wyo. Skates and admission are paid for by local businesses. Lights and music enliven night skating. (307) 674-9423.
GALLIVAN CENTER ICE RINK Salt Lake City Open Nov. 16–Feb. 24 in the downtown plaza, which is also home to concerts and a giant outdoor chessboard. (801) 535-6117.
- PLEASURE PEDALERS
BEND CYCLE CAB Bend, Ore. From Drake Park to the Old Mill district, John Flannery passes historic mansions, notable gardens, and anything else you care to see. (541) 408-6363.
MINNIE MOOSE PEDICABS Fairbanks, Alaska Lyn Gilbert-Gard recounts the booms and busts of the Golden Heart city. (907) 347-9719.
PARTYCABS Vancouver, B.C. These cabbies will lead you to choice restaurants and help you jump the line at the best nightclubs. (604) 999-8294.
PDX PEDICAB Portland Just like motorized taxis, these bright orange pedicabs are dispatched all over town. (503) 733-4222.
SAN FRANCISCO PEDI-CABS Cruise to Fisherman's Wharf along the Embarcadero or scoot past the building where television was invented on your way to Chinatown. (415)
SHUTTLEBUGZ Fresno, Calif. Roll past the Tower Theatre or see Renoir's Washer Woman on the Fulton Mall sculpture tour. (559) 266-9394.
- BEST BUZZKILL
Still waiting for scientists to permanently vanquish the mosquito? Until they do, clothing treated with Buzz Off Insect Shield offers an odorless alternative to bug spray. The company works with clothing manufacturers (including L.L.Bean and Orvis) to produce garments treated with permethrin—a man-made version of a natural pesticide found in chrysanthemums—that lasts through 70 washings.
- THE CURE FOR THE FANNY PACK
Nothing screams "tourist" like yanking an accordion-fold map from your fanny pack. Moleskine City Notebooks can save you. The sleek travel diaries have maps that unfold discreetly, a tiny folder for stashing business cards, and plenty of blank pages for jotting on-the-spot impressions. Available for 16 world cities. (888) 822-1036.
- TREASURE ISLAND
On the hunt for a set of turquoise ceramic fish? Or some Japanese lacquerware? Perhaps a 1970s lunch box or a vintage mannequin head? Even if it's just a weekend diversion you're after, you'll find it at the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire, held the first Sunday of each month at a decommissioned naval station right across the bay from San Francisco. (510) 522-7500.
- KEEP YOUR COOL
When Packard introduced the first automobile air-conditioning, in 1939, it had no off switch and the cooling coil filled the trunk. Today, unnoticed and largely unappreciated, the AC keeps you refreshed when you are driving from Biggs to Bend and both the highway sign and the thermometer say 97. AC and its offspring, climate control, are so quiet, so effective, so cool that even most convertibles have them as standard equipment.
- SOLE STASH
Nowadays, sandals do more than flip and flop. Some open bottles, others come with a built-in flask, in case, you know, you need to make like a Saint Bernard and rescue a team of stranded skiers. Our toes-down favorite: the ArchPort Sandal, with secret storage compartments tucked into each sole to hold keys and cash. (866) 436-9927.
- SPRAY MISTY FOR ME
Living in foggy San Francisco, I love places where the sun shines brightly. Continuous-spray sunscreens, particularly the newer ones with improved UV-blocking power, allow me to protect my hair-challenged noggin and make covering my kids possible, even easy. This is the one tool I need so I can be the person who always has my back.
By Bruce Anderson
- SHIRT TALES
Stars like Nicolas Cage and Matt Dillon have plunked down serious cash for vintage duds at Bailey's Antiques and Aloha Shirts in Honolulu. Prices can hurriedly hula into the thousands of dollars, but many of the 15,000 shirts in stock are within reach for mortals: Threads by Pacific Legend Apparel cost less than $35. (808) 734-7628.
- WHY THOMAS KELLER LOVES IN-N-OUT BURGER
I really respect a company that holds its ground when there is so much pressure to follow the "what's next, what's new" trend. In-N-Out's quality lies in the simplicity of what it promises and delivers. To be able to do something over and over with integrity and excellence, even if it is fast food, is something to be truly admired.
By Thomas Keller, Owner and chef, the French Laundry
- TASTES WORTH THE TRIP
Some places are so distinctive that they lure us on food pilgrimages far from home. Here are some we'll gladly go out of our way to visit.
ERNA'S ELDERBERRY HOUSE Oakhurst, Calif. A super luxe, six-course, prix-fixe dinner in this elegant manor house might include sliced pork tenderloin with achiote and cumin, quinoa, boudin noir, mirepoix, and fennel seed–pork jus. 48688 Victoria Ln., (559) 683-6800.
HELL'S BACKBONE GRILL Boulder, Utah On the edge of nowhere, near the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, this restaurant serves local red trout with blue corn and pecans, homegrown veggies, and Western wines. Eureka! 20 N. Highway 12, (435) 335-7464.
HUDSON'S HAMBURGERS Coeur d'Alene, Idaho How does a restaurant keep patrons coming back for a hundred years? By making the best burgers and pie and refusing to waver. Ham and cheese? Coleslaw? French fries? Nope, nope, and nope, since 1907. 207 E. Sherman Ave., (208) 664-5444.
JOEL PALMER HOUSE Dayton, Ore. Consider the mushroom. That's what chef Jack Czarnecki does five nights a week in this trim 1850s mansion—and many days, too, out in Oregon's woods, where he scavenges for native fungi with a passion that wins him national acclaim. Wild mushroom soup, three-mushroom tart, elk with black chanterelles, filet mignon with porcini sauce. Pricey? Naturally. Priceless? That, too. 600 Ferry St., (503) 864-2995.
LA CHATELAINE CHOCOLAT CO. Bozeman, Mont. An air of French culinary exactitude permeates this shop—but don't we want perfection in our confections? You'll find chocolates with burnt caramel, with wild huckleberry pâté, with chipotle chile, with jasmine tea and black sesame seeds. A standout: dark milk chocolate with Guérande fleur de sel. 1516 W. Main St., (406) 522-5440.
LA REINA DE MICHOACÁN Fresno, Calif. This Mexican ice cream shop offers flavors such as guava, mamey (a mild tropical fruit), and nanche (Central American yellow cherry), plus mango-and-chile popsicles—sweet, sour, salty, and spicy all at once. 720 E. Belmont Ave., (559) 485-3013.
MARX BROS. CAFÉ ANCHORAGE Duck soup? Best not to ask—Groucho gags fall flat—but in this 14-table haven of haute cuisine you may find a rich Thai lemongrass soup with chunks of Bristol Bay king crab and local halibut. Or Kodiak scallops with king crab butter and white truffle oil. Or Kachemak Bay oysters with ginger-vodka sorbet. Or grilled Copper River salmon with three-onion chutney. You'll chuckle as you leave. 627 W. Third Ave., (907) 278-2133.
red lodge café Red Lodge, Mont. Sure, a stack of flapjacks can be glorious, especially if the pancakes are blueberry, steaming hot, and oozing maple syrup and butter. But what brings back diners—locals and travelers alike—is the classic homemade apple and berry pie. You just have to try it. 16–18 S. Broadway, (406) 446-1619.
wild west bakery & expresso Eagle, Idaho Yup, the peach scones are tasty. Likewise, the flaky palmiers. But oh, the giant sticky buns, laced with butter and cinnamon, aglow with browned sugar, riddled with walnuts, wound like spiral galaxies. Could there be a finer way to start the day? 83 E. State St., (208) 939-5677.
- WEST OF THE IMAGINATION Monument Valley, a 91,000-acre Navajo tribal park on the Utah-Arizona border, epitomizes the West to moviegoers worldwide, thanks to film directors who have been shooting there for decades. A $5 per person entry fee lets you drive a 17-mile dirt road through part of the park on your own; Navajo-guided tours cost more but are definitely worth it. Take a hike or horseback ride at sunrise or sunset to catch the light that makes cinematographers swoon. (435) 727-5874.
- BAR AND GILL When I lived in Japan, sitting at a sushi bar was an adventure—you never knew what you'd eat or whom you'd meet. There were no menus, just a conversation with the chef followed by a string of surprises and much banter along the bar. So next time you're traveling solo, find a sushi joint. Sit at the bar. Talk the chef into making you something that's not on the menu. Buy your neighbors a drink. You won't just get fed—you'll get fellowship.
By Trevor Corson, Author of The Zen of Fish
- A SALT ON THE SENSES
Chef Mario Batali says you'll find the country's best pizza at Pizzeria Picco in Larkspur, Calif. A bite of a thin-crust beauty tells you why. But wait! There's more! Owner Bruce Hill has devised a dessert to dazzle the taste buds. Soft vanilla-bean ice cream, green-gold puddles of olive oil, and coarse sea salt marry flavors you never thought would even meet. "Go ahead," the menu urges, "you can do this." Then you'll want to do it again. (415) 945-8900.
- TO EACH HIS SCONE
San Francisco's best break-fast isn't for the harried. At Tartine Bakery, customers dawdle in a queue that often snakes along the sidewalk; then once inside they ask the employees for help choosing between currant scones, sparkling with sugar crystals, and pillowy gougères, fragrant with thyme and Gruyère. Sinful sandwiches are pressed on their signature "country loaves" starting at noon. (415) 487-2600.
- PUREST GUILTY PLEASURE
As fast-food conglomerates scramble onto the trans-fat-free, salads-are-good, local-and-sustainable-are-even-better bandwagon, we imagine the folks at Burgerville looking on and smiling. The Northwest chain has served fresh, locally produced food since it opened in 1961. Burgers come from hormone-free beef, and the hazelnuts in the salmon salad are grown in Oregon. And yes, all of this makes your milk shakes and fries taste even better.
- FOOD COLUMNISTS
Clubfoot Sandwiches are truly the greatest thing since sliced bread. Why slice it when you can bake cylinders to stuff with, say, four meats, four cheeses, veggies, and sunflower seeds (a Three Mile Island), as the folks at the Staggering Ox do? Grab plenty of napkins, because whichever homemade sauce you pick (try the dill-and-cucumber Camel Spit), it'll end up on your nose. Locations in Missoula, Helena, and Spokane.
- A BITE OF BUTTE
To avoid the biggest faux pas in Butte, Mont., know this: Pasty is pronounced PASS-tee. This meat, potato, and onion pie—the recipe goes back to southern England and Wales—fortified miners in Butte's early days. Not as many locals work the mines today, but the savory pasty is still a popular lunch treat and city icon. Try one smothered in gravy at Joe's Pasty Shop, 1641 Grand Ave., (406) 723-9071.
- GO RITZING
What is ritzing? It's slumming reversed. Midway through your modest Maui getaway, for example, you stroll into the Grand Wailea Hotel's airy Botero Bar, lean back under the frescoed canopy, and order a $10 mai tai. In San Francisco, splurge on high tea at the Ritz-Carlton. Anywhere, leave an extravagant tip. In Victoria, B.C., splurge on afternoon tea at the Empress. Anywhere, leave an extravagant tip.
- OLD-SCHOOL CHOCOLATE
Seattle's Rose Gustafson turns out truffles, bonbons, and chocolate bark the way her grandmother taught her, hand-mixing ingredients and testing for temperature by pressing the chocolate to her lips. Her luscious dark chocolate with rock salt, sold at Rose's Chocolate Treasures in Pike Place Market, contains the kind of subtle flavors that can't be produced on a conveyor belt. (866) 315-7673.
- BEST WAY TO DO DUTCH
Lots of cafés make cookies. But this cookie actually made a café. The authentic Dutch "stroopwafel"—thin, crispy, vanilla-and-cinnamon wafers with a gooey caramel filling—caused such a sensation at fairs and festivals that brothers Han and Jan Boogman decided to launch the Caramel Cookie Waffles Bakery and Café in Billings, Mont. Stop by at 1707 17th St. West for fresh-from-the-irons cookies. You can also order them in bulk by visiting www.caramelcookiewaffles.com.
- SIP ALONG THE SNAKE
A wine industry thrives amidst the potato and alfalfa fields in southwest Idaho's Snake River Valley. From Boise, you can visit a half-dozen wineries in a weekend afternoon. Start with a sweet ice wine as you take in the views at Ste. Chapelle, Idaho's largest and oldest vineyard. The nearby Koenig Distillery & Winery doesn't offer samples of the pear brandy and potato vodka fashioned in its copper stills. Guess you'll just have to buy yourself a bottle.
- SHELL GAINS
Packing a wallop of briny-nutty-coppery flavor, the Olympia is the West Coast's only native oyster. This small bivalve had almost disappeared by the 1970s, but it's now staging a comeback in Washington's Puget Sound. Winter is prime season to slurp them at the Oyster House (360-753-7000) in Olympia or order from the Olympia Oyster Company (360-426-3354).
- TERMINAL WELLNESS
Long lines, lost luggage, layovers, holiday crowds? It's enough to get anyone's shoulders in a bunch. Fortunately, airport spas around the West are offering an antidote: a quick head rub, back rub, or foot rub right in the terminal to coax out those knots and allay any pre-boarding jitters. You might even find yourself wishing for a flight delay.
relax station Portland International Airport In Oregon Market, before the security checkpoint. (503) 284-0394.
xpresspa San Francisco International Airport Two locations set to open by year's end. www.xpresspa.com.
massage bar Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Concourse C and North Satellite. (206) 985-7177.
massage bar Sacramento International Airport Terminal A (916) 920-0480, www.massagebar.com.
a massage inc. Denver International Airport Locations in concourses A and B. (303) 342-6821.
xpresspa Las Vegas McCarran International Airport Opening in December. www.xpresspa.com.
right touch rest center Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport In the South Terminal, C concourse. (907) 243-3443.
Photography by Peter Menzel
This article was first published in November 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.