Via magazine
Via magazine - Your AAA Magazine

The Go List 2010

Find your ideal destination in our annual roundup of travel fun.

Via Staff
Surfer riding wave toward Honolulu skyline, image
Photo caption
A surfer aims his board toward Honolulu's skyline along Waikiki.

Go Oahu
Even as frost gathers on the mainland, tropical breezes caress the island of Oahu and sunbathers bask on fabled Waikiki Beach. Kick off your getaway by establishing a base at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach (from $189 for AAA members); its backyard is the ocean. Then sign up for a lesson at Hans Hedemann Surf School, where the namesake surf legend teaches newbies to hang ten.

After your workout in the waves, you’ll want to unwind with a hot-stone massage at the Moana Lani Spa. Then light out for a luau at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Held under the stars, it begins with a banquet and closes with a Samoan fire knife dance. If you’re wearing more than shorts and a T-shirt, you’re overdressed.

Warm Up

  • You don’t go to Sayulita, Mexico, for the heat—you go for the ice pops. A treat from Wa Kika heladería feels like cool luxury in this laid-back beach town 24 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, where winter highs average 80 degrees and a plunge pool beckons at Villas Vista Sayulita or Casa Club Sayulita (both from $64).
  • For Southern California’s coastal balm without the bustle, try Marina del Rey. Just a few miles north of LAX and blocks from Venice Beach, you’ll find bike paths, gondola rides, and gourmet cuisine with fabulous water views. Stay at the Marriott (from $179 for AAA members) and sip a grapefruit-jalapeño martini at its outdoor Glow Lounge.
  • In a quiet pocket of western Sonoma County, Calif., the aromatic cedar enzyme bath at Osmosis Spa in Freestone is a superwarming Japanese treatment. Ten minutes south, comfy rooms and Egyptian cotton robes await at the Valley Ford Hotel (from $89; ask about the weekday AAA discount).
  • The weather may be crisp, but Santa Fe, N.M., boasts toasty accommodations: Fireplaces are standard in rooms and casitas at Las Palomas (from $89 for AAA members), and a dry sauna melts away winter chill. Downtown, steps from the plaza, the Eldorado Lounge keeps things caliente most weekends with live music and Latin dancing.
  • Fleeing winter’s chill? Families can fly into Palm Springs, Calif., and warm up together at the elegant Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in the nearby town of Indian Wells (from $152 for AAA members). The Nickelodeon Getaway package features breakfast with SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer.
  • Spend 70-degree days and clear, starry nights in Scottsdale, Ariz., on the Hotel Indigo’s outdoor terrace—coffee in the morning, a bonfire in the evening (from $153 for AAA members). Beginning in November, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West residence and studio offers guided walks through the surrounding desert.
  • For a taste of Mexico without crossing the border, book an ocean-view room at La Jolla Inn (from $149), just a block from the beach in La Jolla, Calif. Fuel up on fresh fish tacos at Wahoo’s, bike along the Pacific, and pop over to Old Town San Diego to shop for handicrafts at the warren of cute stores called Bazaar del Mundo.
  • In Boulder, Mont., geothermal water warms everything at the Boulder Hot Springs Inn: the rooms, the pools, and above all, the guests. The 110-year-old mission-style lodge tucked in a quiet river valley 30 miles south of Helena promotes healthy escapism: no television, no smoking, and no alcohol. Just two muscle-melting, gender-segregated, swimsuit-optional indoor pools and an outdoor family pool, where at night stars shine through the steam. From $65.

Peak Experiences
First the ears pop, and that’s good. You’re gaining altitude. Everything you want to see and experience, the widest vistas, the freshest powder, the purest air: It’s all up there. In the West, we’re famous for our up there: hundreds of mountains, whole ranges with momentous names—Cascade, Olympic, Rocky, Ruby, Sawtooth, Sierra Nevada, Siskiyou—stretch from Alaska to southern Mexico, the result of a tectonic game of Tetris that has been in progress for some 500 million years. Go on, conquer a trail, a ski run, or a cup of cocoa atop your favorite summit. Here are a few good reasons to keep climbing.

  • An estimated 85 percent of Utah residents live within 15 miles of the majestic Wasatch Range, and the volunteer-run Wasatch Mountain Club hosts up to 10 events a day, from potluck sing-alongs to bike rides, hikes, ski trips, and climbs.
  • You needn’t travel to Washington to savor the highest peak of the Cascade Range. On the clearest days, 14,410-foot Mount Rainier can be seen from as far away as Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C.
  • On California’s Mount Tamalpais, the Plank Trail takes just a third of a mile to reach the apex of the East Peak and its 360-degree vista stretching from the San Francisco skyline to Tomales Bay.
  • The Peak 2 Peak Gondola at Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia is the world’s longest and highest lift system, offering views of venues from the 2010 Winter Olympics.
  • The steep, 2.5-mile hike up Oregon’s Saddle Mountain, near Seaside, rewards with a panorama of the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River, and the snowcapped peaks of the Cascade Range.
  • Early risers can join tour groups that travel by van to Maui’s Haleakala Crater for a breathtaking sunrise followed by a breezy bike ride down 21 switchbacks en route to the sea.
  • Ever been inside a mountain? The Lehman Caves in Great Basin National Park reveal the ornate underbelly of Nevada’s Snake Range; you’ll see stalactites, stalagmites, and other rare formations.
  • Ski touring abounds on California’s Mount Shasta. Try the route from Bunny Flat to the Sierra Club Foundation’s 1923 Shasta Alpine Lodge at Horse Camp.
  • Take the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, Idaho’s highest pass (elevation 8,701 feet at Galena Summit), from Sun Valley to Shoshone and admire the alpine ridges and glacier-carved valleys of the Boulder, White Cloud, and Smoky mountains, as well as the Sawtooth Range.
  • For fine dining at Montana’s Big Sky Resort, book a table at the Dinner Yurt, where acoustic guitar accompanies candlelit courses in a heated hut. Step outside to stargaze until it’s time for chocolate fondue.
  • Nothing says Alaska like dogsledding, and at Alyeska Resort, you can learn from nine-time Iditarod musher Dario Martinez and his squad of hearty huskies as you ride through the spruce-lined landscape of the Chugach Mountains.

Winter Fun
My husband and I love to travel up to the Shaver Lake area northeast of Fresno, Calif., and stay at a cute bed-and-breakfast called Elliott House. It’s run by a married couple who make delicious breakfasts, such as omelets and baked apple pancakes. From there we’ll head out for a day of skiing or snowboarding at China Peak. —Elisabeth Lee, Santa Clarita, Calif.

Gone Fishing
Our favorite spot for winter fun is just across the street from our house: Duck Lake is renowned for its ice fishing, and the Babb volunteer fire department’s fishing derby (info at draws enthusiasts from all over the West and Canada. We catch five- to eight-pound trout—tasty when fried up with a breading of crushed saltine crackers. —Greg and Courtney Fullerton, Babb, Mont.

Go Hope Valley
Just 30 miles from South Lake Tahoe, this pristine pocket of California embraces 2,400 acres of public forest and meadow wide-open for winter fun. Strap on snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore 60 miles of marked trails maintained by Hope Valley Outdoors or swoosh down the slopes at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which gets annual snowfall of more than 500 inches. At Sorensen’s Resort, curl up with a book in a pine-paneled cabin, relax in the wood-fired sauna, or dine on hearty beef burgundy stew and five-berry cobbler. At nearby Grover Hot Springs State Park, the steamy outdoor soaking pool comes with a bonus: a view of 10,000-foot peaks.

Go Sandpoint
Location, location, location, you say? This Idaho burg of 7,800 has three reasons to brag about its prime neighborhood: To the west are the Selkirk Mountains, to the east lie the snowcapped Cabinets, and twisting southward is 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille. Skiers skim the cross-country trails at Priest Lake State Park or swoosh down the slopes at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, with its 92 runs and sweeping views. In town, visitors can shop for locally produced baskets, jewelry, or huckleberry treats at Cedar Street Bridge Public Market or savor homemade biscuits at the Blue Moon Cafe. And don’t miss the 1927 Panida Theater, a 550-seat Spanish mission jewel.

Go snow king
Snow King Resort is easy to overlook. Not literally, of course—its 400 acres loom large over downtown Jackson, Wyo., especially Tuesdays through Saturdays, when the lower half of the mountain is lit for skiing and tubing at dusk. But statistically the King’s 16 runs and four lifts can’t compete with Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, 12 miles away. All the better for Snow King’s loyal subjects, who come for the wide-open, crowd-free runs and reasonably priced lift tickets (adults $41—or $25 if you stay in the resort’s hotel or condos). Snow King also trumpets the area’s only indoor ice arena, and its summit has the best view of the Tetons around.

Get Out
Robert Frost’s little horse didn’t stop for roasting chestnuts. Cold weather is best greeted under an open sky with snow-muffled landscapes, air you can taste, and great adventures for those who strap things to their feet. For nature’s rebuttal to computer special effects, ski the Spiral Stairs run into the magical town of Telluride, Colo.

Stay In
As days shorten and the sun hangs thin in a darkening sky, the pleasures of the hearth sound sweeter than the call of the wild. Where best to hibernate? Oregon’s Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood seduces with roaring fires and the Cascade Dining Room’s sumptuous cuisine; its wine list features some 300 Oregon pinot noirs alone. The Snug Bar at Montana’s Whitefish Mountain Resort also proves the perfect spot to hibernate: Ten stools in a tiny wood-paneled room and elegant comfort food, from oyster gratin to roast quail.

Cool Down

  • Visitors flock to Oregon’s Mount Bachelor for tubing, dogsled rides, and 71 ski runs, and to SunRiver Resort (from $135 for AAA members) for holiday amusements on the snowy banks of the Deschutes River: horse-drawn sleigh rides, weekend Teddy Bear Teas, and breakfasts with Santa. For a wee fee, elves will perform a bedtime tuck-in service—complete with a stuffed stocking and a story.
  • Leave the Strip for a skiing side trip: An hour’s drive climbs to Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort on Mount Charleston. At 8,500 feet, the resort touts 300 days of sunshine a year and 11 beginner-friendly runs, plus a terrain park and backcountry access. Recuperate at the Mount Charleston Lodge with buffalo or elk burgers, then retire to a fireplace suite at the Resort on Mount Charleston (from $124 for AAA members).
  • Two miles south of the Soda Springs exit off California’s I-80 sits North America’s largest cross-country ski resort. Royal Gorge reigns over 9,000 acres on Donner Summit, and its Ice Lakes Lodge (from $159) offers ski-in, ski-out access to some 65 trails and has upstairs rooms that overlook Serene Lakes. Rent snowshoes for a morning trek before brunching on whole wheat pancakes or quiche lorraine at the Rainbow Lodge, a 15-minute drive east.
  • A nonprofit ski area with big-mountain appeal, Bridger Bowl, near Bozeman, Mont., boasts powder so fine the locals call it “cold smoke.” Two thousand acres, 79 runs, 2,600 vertical feet, and hikable backcountry terrain satisfy a spectrum of skiers and boarders. Twenty minutes from the slopes, the C’mon Inn (from $90 for AAA members) looks onto the Bridger Mountains and Gallatin Range.
  • What might be bad for skiing in Wyoming’s Sublette County—no fresh snow—makes for the best backcountry ice-skating conditions. About 15 minutes from Pinedale, in the Wind River Range, the glacier-carved, pine-ringed Half Moon and Fremont lakes present acres of ebony ice. Recharge at Lakeside Lodge on Fremont Lake in one of 12 log cabins (from $75 for AAA members).

Get a Rush!
The tiny organs just north of your kidneys—those are your adrenal glands. Put them to work by enjoying a pinch of speed and adventure with your travel. Adding a little juice to a jaunt can make a great trip out of a merely good one. After all, getting away can mean getting away from mundane thoughts and asking deep, philosophical questions such as “Why walk from one tree to the next when I can zip through the canopy like Indiana Jones?”

  • Still haunted by Jaws? You may want to avoid the pool at Las Vegas’s Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino and its three-story waterslide, which sends riders rocketing through a tank full of sharks. Don’t worry; the clear tube should keep you unchomped.
  • Learn the ropes as you cross narrow bridges, scale net ladders, and tiptoe across the tightropes of the midair obstacle course at Tree to Tree Aerial Adventure Park in Gaston, Ore.
  • Idaho may not be known for its gnarly waves, but the FlowRider surf machine at Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg gives visitors a chance to ride the swells. Coast atop a 35 mph surge of water as FlowRider releases 60,000 gallons per minute.
  • Want to play pirate? Mastermind Treasure Hunts creates clever quests, allowing you to track down clues and find secret destinations in San Francisco and nearby counties. Its monthly pub hunt sends you in search of booty—er, grub and grog.
  • Take a hike into Kilauea Iki, a steaming crater on the Big Island’s most active volcano, or play it safer and walk along its jagged rim.
  • Nothing gives such a visceral thrill as zipping down a snowy hill on an overinflated inner tube—except doing it under the stars. Go night tubing at Utah’s Soldier Hollow Cross-Country Ski Resort to a rockin’ sound track courtesy of outdoor speakers.
  • Get a squid’s-eye view of sea life from on board the SS Nautilus, operating off Catalina Island in Southern California. The yellow submarine-shaped watercraft lets passengers interact with ocean critters by firing fish food “torpedoes.”
  • Cougars, rhinoceroses, and grizzlies wander Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore. You can drive through the habitats of more than 500 other wild animals—or, for a closer look, help a ranger feed lions, tigers, bears, and cheetahs. But resist the urge to pet them: You look more delicious than you might imagine.
  • Ever climbed a frozen waterfall? Even first timers can learn how with Kennicott Wilderness Guides, an outfit that leads day trips (gear provided) in the Eklutna and other valleys around Anchorage.
  • Visiting Yellowstone National Park is an adventure in itself, but doing so on a guided snowmobile tour adds a bracing edge. Bundle up in the cozy suit provided, activate the hand warmers, and glide past steaming geysers and wintering wildlife.

Do More
Squeeze the most out of even a short trip:

  • Scout your destination before leaving by using visitors bureau Web sites, travelers’ blogs, AAA TourBook guides, and friends’ suggestions.
  • Try to visit popular sights when they’re least crowded. Call ahead to ask for recommendations and, if possible, buy tickets before you arrive.
  • When you fly, don’t check luggage. Why waste time—an average of 16 minutes each way—waiting at a baggage carousel?
  • Stay close to the action. Booking a remote hotel to save a few bucks may be a false economy.
  • Consider a tour. An organized excursion can be a time-efficient way to cover a lot of ground.
  • Build in room for spontaneity. Unplanned experiences may be the most memorable.

Do Less
You can find endless ways to lounge, linger, and lollygag:

  • Stare at a fire
    At the Albatross Pub in Berkeley, Calif., a toasty hearth warms guests playing darts and board games. Readers enjoy the visually stunning stacked fireplaces at the Salt Lake City Public Library. A corner blaze inside the Yummy Wine Bar & Bistro in Seaside, Ore., offers snug comfort. Après-ski, gather around the circular fire pit in the center of Highlands Hollow Brewhouse in Boise, Idaho. At Poor Boys Steakhouse in Casper, Wyo., pull a chair up to the fireplace (shipped from a Virginia plantation) in the Pump Room bar.
  • Explore a Bookstore
    Wander sections on surrealism, true crime, travel, and European lit at San Francisco’s City Lights, a venerable warren three floors deep. Relocated in 2010 to Seattle’s Capitol Hill, the Elliott Bay Book Company has floor-to-ceiling windows that illuminate more than 150,000 volumes. Grass Roots Books and Music in Corvallis, Ore., dispenses local wisdom from a riverfront store. Finish your blueberry bran muffin before laying hands on a first-edition Hemingway at Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, Idaho. A rocking chair beckons at Montana Book & Toy Co., a spacious literary haven in Helena. Hearthside Books & Toys in Juneau, Alaska, has two locations—one in a mall, one in a petite but bursting space—that host events year-round.
  • Catch a Double Feature
    Open since 1950, the Sunset Drive-In in San Luis Obispo, Calif., also hosts a swap meet on Sundays. The Bijou Theatre in Lincoln City, Ore., offers popcorn toppings such as curry powder and Parmesan and draws crowds with Saturday morning screenings of classic, silent, and cult films. Poufs of cotton candy sweeten back-to-back showings of current Hollywood megahits at the El Rancho Drive-In in Sparks, Nev. In picturesque Homer, Alaska, reindeer sausage and spiced popcorn season the double bill every Thursday at the Homer Theatre, built in 1956 to look like an Old West storefront.

Go Santa Cruz
The UC students are gearing up for finals, but everybody else in California’s funky Shangri-La seems to be taking a lesson from the sea lions lolling under the wharf: They’re unhurried. Pull on a wool beanie to blend in with the townies and enjoy a gentle bike ride on a rented beach cruiser up West Cliff Drive, past Steamer Lane’s surfers. Continue to Natural Bridges State Beach to watch monarch butterflies clustering—or, if the timing is right, sipping nectar from winter-blooming eucalyptus. Back in town, settle into a beach-facing chaise on the Dream Inn’s pool deck and contemplate a sinking sun, then join locals at the Crêpe Place for cheese-centered comfort food. Santa Cruz benefits from a late summer, so in the daytime you might not even need a sweater.

Slow Down
At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon my 6-year-old granddaughter, Ally, worked on a Junior Ranger activity book, staying quiet for 15 minutes while writing down what she saw and heard: “I see birds, ants, orange rocks. I hear pinecones falling and lizards running.” The book asked her to answer the question, “How do you feel?” Ally wrote, “HAPPY!” I felt “HAPPY!” too. —Laurie Wu McClain, Berkeley, Calif.

Silver Falls
When the weather turns gray, Silver Falls State Park—the largest state park in Oregon—seems even greener. Dense moss blankets tree trunks and stately firs rise dramatically from tangles of ferns, the whole show fed by an abundance of water, the main attraction on the site’s Trail of Ten Falls. For a leisurely day of basking in extraordinary natural beauty, walk the mostly flat seven-plus-mile loop to visit all 10 cascades, ranging from the rushing, 93-foot-high Lower South Falls to the soft cliffside spray of Winter Falls; or take shorter cutoffs to see just a few. For a more immersive encounter, you can meander behind four of the falls (South, Lower South, Middle North, and North) to feel the mist from the pounding flows and hear a quiet roar like no other.

With all departures come chances to indulge in something special and make your break from routine more memorable. Whether you’re forking over dough for a regional flavor or for an unparalleled view, a well-placed splurge can make a ho-hum trip sparkle.

  • Eat dessert—for breakfast. A slice of Mission Pie’s pumpkin ($3.50), made from locally grown gourds roasted fresh rather than canned, brings warmth even to foggy San Francisco mornings. The list of viennoiserie changes daily at Deux Chats Bakery in Ashland, Ore., but the popular chocolate-dipped macaroon ($1) remains on the menu year-round. Keoki’s Paradise in Koloa, Kauai, earns its heavenly name with its macadamia-centric hula pie ($6.95), available from 11 a.m. on.

  • Shell out for an iconic hotel.
    At Stein Eriksen Lodge (from $420 for AAA members) in Park City, Utah, guests soak up alpine splendor; enjoy mulled wine, leather couches, and steam showers; and coast 150 yards from the lodge’s on-site locker room to the nearest lift. Snow falls in Berkeley, Calif., every December—or at least it’s simulated in the elegant lobby of the 279-room, 95-year-old Claremont Hotel, Club & Spa (from $167 for AAA members).
  • Relish a luxury spa treatment.
    A garden spreads out before an airy space divided by sliding doors at the Spa Hotel Healdsburg in this Northern California town. Try a spicy Thai warm-up treatment ($130). In a Japanese cottage in Sisters, Ore., the Shibui Spa’s Dance of the Desert treatment ($175) begins with a salt scrub, continues with a blanket wrap, and finishes with a massage—delivered fireside. Set amid 1,500-foot cliffs, the Red Mountain Resort & Spa in St. George, Utah, uses local mineral-rich mud in its Adobe lavender hydrating cocoon ($115).
  • Take a helicopter tour. Enjoy amazing aerial views of Maui’s Wall of Tears waterfall, Hana rain forest canyons and canopies, and cinder cones in the Haleakala crater on Alexair’s Deluxe Circle Island Tour ($300). View Oregon’s vine-covered hills, hazelnut trees, farmland, and coniferous forest with Mount Hood as a backdrop as you tour the Chehalem Valley appellation’s spread in the Willamette Valley. (One-stop winery trips from $145.) From Oxnard, Calif., a Channel Islands Helicopter tour ($200) whisks you over a marine sanctuary—where gray whales are on the move in December—en route to the sea stacks and rock arches of Santa Cruz and Anacapa Islands.

Go Seattle—Two Ways
In this cosmopolitan town, you can go either upscale or economical, depending on your mood.

If you want swank, stay at the renovated Alexis Hotel (from $140 for AAA members) near Pike Place Market and dine on a $75 seven-course French tasting menu with Northwest ingredients at Chez Shea. Savor a bit of liquid elegance—maybe the Vessel 75, a $12 blend of Woodford Reserve bourbon and Peychaud’s Bitters topped with maple syrup foam and orange zest—at the chic bar Vessel.

To enjoy the city just as much while spending a little less, pinch pennies pleasantly in the Capitol Hill neighborhood at the sweet, friendly 11th Avenue Inn (from $69), a bed-and-breakfast with each room named after a gemstone. From there, stroll to In the Bowl, a casual vegetarian noodle bistro, where every dish costs less than $11. Nearby, take a $10 salsa lesson at Century Ballroom.

Affordable Fun
Lake Berryessa, in Napa County, is one of California’s low-cost delights. Try the affordable Cucina Italiana (and play bocce!) at Spanish Flat. —Shelley Simmons, Cotati, Calif.

Soak It Up
I slow down at Chico Hot Springs in Pray, Mont., where I can sip a frozen margarita in a thermal pool, splurge on a meal in the award-winning Dining Room at Chico, and still afford an excellent bottle of wine. Rooms vary from inexpensive antique digs with shared bath to high-end cabins. To fully relax, I make advance dinner reservations and request a quieter room away from the pool. —Rebecca Huntington, Jackson, Wyo.

Art, food, beer, and views—the high points of Bigfork, Mont., are always in season. Crowds, however, remain a summer thing. In winter, this small town where the Swan River spills into Flathead Lake shifts into quiet mode. Icy mountain water flows past shuttered vacation homes, and the boats are under wraps. Snow may be scarce, but ice crystals on the pebble beach at Wayfarers State Park are almost guaranteed. Downtown, it’s a short walk from risotto with shrimp and saffron at La Provence to warm brie salad and roasted duck breast at Showthyme. The bear sculptures and oil landscapes at Eric Thorsen Art Studio—just one corner of the eclectic art scene—break expectations for Western style. The crowds will return, but no rush: you have Bigfork to yourself for now.

Photography by Tony Novak Clifford

This article was first published in November 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.