One fine day: San Diego
By Nick DeRenzo | Rhapsody, July 2017
You're in town for business, but you have the day off. Go.
9 a.m. Forgot to pack a wet suit? Skip the coast's famous waves and instead begin your morning somewhere a bit more relaxing: Liberty Public Market, an artisanal food hall that opened last spring inside the former Naval Training Center, built in 1923. Stop by The WestBean Coffee Roasters for a Kryptonite (mint-infused coldbrew) and head to Pi Bar for chef Tim Kolanko's clever updates on the breakfast sandwich, like the Whiskey Tango, made with fried mortadella, hash browns, scrambled eggs, mozzarella, and ketchup. It's a far cry from mess-hall grub.
10:30 a.m. Now that you're fully fueled, take off for the San Diego Zoo (no, it's not just for kids). Channel a cheetah and sprint straight to the ultra-popular giant pandas, who hold the same pride of place (and crowd-gathering ability) as the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. The 100-acre zoo is hardly resting on its well-earned laurels: The $68 million Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks exhibit opened last month, replacing 1930s-era cages with a sweeping display of six habitats, including the Ethiopian highlands (featuring hamadryas baboons), the Madagascar forest (with honey badgers and lemurs), and the South African coastline (with beach-loving African penguins).
Elephants in the San Diego Zoo
1 p.m. For lunch, look toward the beaconlike 9-foot-tall rooster statue at Little Italy's The Crack Shack, an outdoor chicken-and-egg spot from Top Chef: All-Stars winner and James Beard Award nominee Richard Blais, who runs the city's most lauded fine-dining spot, Juniper & Ivy, just next door. Order schmaltz- fried fries and a Coop Deville, a fried chicken sandwich with pickled Fresno chilies, lime mayo, and napa cabbage on a brioche bun—and then overorder with the deviled eggs topped with French toast crumbles and candied bacon.
2:30 p.m. Grab a beer around the corner at the Little Italy outpost of Ballast Point Brewing Company, which serves as the brewery's research and development arm. While Ballast Point is rightfully lauded for its award-winning Sculpin IPA—which comes in pineapple, grapefruit, and habanero varieties—use this visit to sample some of the more out-there offerings, such as the Cinnamon Raisin Commodore American stout and the Red Velvet, a golden oatmeal stout flavored with chocolate and beets.
The entrance to Balboa Park
4 p.m. Head back to massive Balboa Park— home of the zoo—which, at 1,200 acres, ranks as North America's largest urban cultural park. Established in 1868, the park hosted both the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition and the 1935–36 California Pacific International Exposition, which left behind so many ornate, Spanish Colonial Revival–style architectural landmarks that the park has been dubbed the Smithsonian of the West. Stroll the wide El Prado promenade and stop into the San Diego Museum of Man, housed in the blue and gold domed California Building and Tower.
7 p.m. Time to eat. Cab back over to Little Italy—Kettner Boulevard is San Diego's undisputed restaurant row for dinner at Herb & Wood, a sprawling, loftlike new restaurant by Top Chef finalist Brian Malarkey. The unfussy California-Mediterranean spot wears its two namesake ingredients on its stylish sleeve. Herbs crop up throughout Willem Van Leuven's produce-forward cocktail menu (try the dill-infused Gin and Cucumber), while wood-burning grills and ovens are the heart of the kitchen, adding char to dishes like Ibérico pork with apple mostarda and a decadent pizza topped with caramelized onions, Gruyère, escargot, and bone marrow. The unexpected showstopper, though, is the roasted baby carrots with cashew-sesame dukkah, Aleppo yogurt, and carrot-top pesto.
False Idol's tiki interior
9 p.m. Just down the street, duck inside False Idol, a new Polynesian-themed bar hidden through the walk-in freezer at Craft & Commerce cocktail bar—call it a tik-easy? Here, Martin Cate of San Francisco's Smuggler's Cove (currently number 29 on the World's 50 Best Bars list) brings his artfully curated South Seas kitsch to Southern California, in a space dripping with skulls, pufferfish, ropes, and colorful glass buoys. But despite the theme-park aesthetic—thunder claps and the bar rumbles when you order the shareable Alkala the Fierce—the cocktails are serious business, featuring a slew of rare and vintage rums and unique housemade cordials and orgeats.
10:30 p.m. Return to your hip crash pad at the Pendry Hotel, which opened in February as the first in a new urban chain by Montage Hotels & Resorts. While the surrounding Gaslamp Quarter historic district is a hub of Victorian-era architecture, the interiors here are all Mid-Century masculine, with blue plaid chaise lounges, leather headboards, and whimsical wall-paper that subtly pairs bunnies and surfers. You can count the former if you're having trouble sleeping or imagine that the latter are judging you for choosing a big breakfast sandwich over a big wave this morning. There's always tomorrow…
Eric Rubens (@erubes1) is a MileagePlus member based in Southern California. He is a photographer/videographer who loves meeting new people and traveling the world.
When planning a vacation, one of the first steps is picking a theme. If you're in search of mountains, many look to the Rockies, Swiss Alps, or Dolomites. If a tropical vacation is desired, Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean may be calling your name. There are so many beautiful destinations in this world, but is it possible for one of them to be blessed with incredible mountains, picturesque beaches, and some of the best wildlife viewing in the world?
Cape Town is one of the few places I've found that seems to have it all. With the iconic Table Mountain and Lion's Head rising out of the city, there are hikes leading up to majestic views down the African coastline. The beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay are some of the most incredible beaches on this planet. If wildlife peaks your interest, there's Boulder's Beach, home to one of the only land-based penguin colonies in the world. Did I mention the safari is a short trip away? Add in an exchange rate that is very favorable and you have all the makings of a trip you'll never forget.
Camps Bay Beach
Planning a trip to Africa for the first time can be both intimidating and a bit challenging. I found very few of my friends or family had been, which made my voyage to South Africa even more exciting. Cape Town is home to a hip urban scene, a vibrant melting pot of culture, and jaw dropping landscapes that'll make you wonder why you didn't visit sooner. There's no city quite like it, and this list of top things to do will make sure you maximize your time in the Mother City. Several theories exist regarding the origin of Cape Town's nickname as "The Mother City." Some say it can be traced back to the beginning of the city's history as a trading hub in the 17th century, or its status as South Africa's first metropolis. But many locals have their own theories – one running joke is that it takes nine months to get anything done in the very laid back city.
View from the top of Table Mountain
#1: Take a hike or tram up to the top of Table Mountain
This iconic mountain rising from the city is arguably home to Cape Town's best views. The 2 to 3-hour hike to the top makes for a fun activity if you're up for it. Otherwise, take in the view from the aerial cableway, complete with 360-degree rotating floor and running every 5 minutes from the base. Once up top, there's plenty of walking trails, souvenir shopping, and food and drinks. Table Mountain is known for the blanket of fog that rolls over the peak, so weather at the top can change quickly. Make sure to check the weather before heading up and bring a jacket, since the wind can be intense!
Penguins at Boulder Beach
#2: Visit the penguin colony at Boulder's Beach
Even though it's an hour or so drive from the city, visiting Boulder's Beach and its nearly 2,000 penguins is an unforgettable experience. Watching the penguins lounge on the beach and come in and out of the waves makes for some incredible pictures and a unique encounter. You can also swim in the nearby waters and will often come face to face with members of the colony.
#3: Wake up for a sunrise hike up Lion's Head
One of the most bucket list-worthy activities on a visit to Cape Town is catching sunrise atop Lion's Head. It's a challenging hike and not for those with a fear of heights, but you won't soon forget the view from the summit. If you're willing to scramble and make your way up the final ladders, 360-degree views of the city await, and the sunrise over the city is one for the ages.
#4: Explore the Cape Winelands and the beauty of Constantia
South Africa has some of the best vineyards in the world. Even though the towns of Franschooek and Stellenbosch get the majority of the press, nearby Constantia is home to the oldest wine estate in the country, Groot Constantia. Its proximity (just 15 minutes from the city center) makes it perfect for a day trip. The city sightseeing "Hop-On Hop-Off" bus tour has a purple line that connects through this region, so getting here is easy! If wine tasting isn't your thing, the Alphen Trail is a beautiful trek through the countryside and sure to put you in a relaxing mood.
Chapman's Peak Drive
#5: Take a road trip down Chapman's Peak Drive
One of the most beautiful drives awaits just south of Cape Town. Carved into the cliffs and winding along the ocean, this road between Hout Bay and Noordhoek offers majestic views of the coastline. Just make sure to keep your eyes on the road since the sheer beauty can be distracting!
#6: View the diversity of flora throughout Kirstenbosch Gardens
The flora and fauna of South Africa is some of the most diverse in the world, and no place showcases it better than Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Tucked along the slopes of Table Mountain and widely recognized as one of the most impressive gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch is home to over 7,000 species of plants. The newly completed Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway allows you to walk above the tree line. If you visit in summer, try to make one of the Sunday concerts in the gardens, which are a hit with locals and visitors.
V & A Waterfront
#7: Shop your heart out along the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Known as one of the biggest tourism hubs of the city, the always bustling V&A Waterfront is home to many of Cape Town's finest restaurants, shopping, and the launching point of many tours. There are countless ways to spend your time here, but make sure to stop by the V&A food market, where over 40 vendors sell gourmet street food from around the world.
#8: Make your way to the Southern tip of Africa
If you're up for an adventure, take a trip to The Cape of Good Hope. You'll most likely encounter penguins, baboons, and who knows what else along the 1.5-hour drive. The weather can be very unpredictable, so make sure to check it before making the trip south. While there, visit the lighthouse and if you're hungry grab a bite at the appropriately named Two Oceans Restaurant.
#9 Take a tour of historical Robben Island
Even though the prison has been shut down since 1996, a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Cape Town's most popular tours. Tours take around 4 hours including a ferry ride to the island famous for housing Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.
-Use the "hop on hop off" bus for an easy guided tour of the city. The route takes you to many of the best spots throughout Cape Town and allows you to explore at your own pace. Buy tickets ahead of time to save on fare!
-Cape Town has some incredible boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts. My favorites are: Tintswalo Atlantic, 52 De Wet Luxury Boutique Hotel, and Derwent House Boutique Hotel.
-Make sure you don't carry too many valuables on you if you're walking around at night. Although beautiful and mostly safe, there is still a good amount of opportunistic crime throughout the city. Always pay attention to your surroundings.
Opinions expressed by the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of United.
Planning a Caribbean vacation around hurricane season isn't necessary if you head to Dutch-affiliated Curaçao. The southernmost of all Caribbean islands — just off Venezuela's coast — is rarely even grazed by hurricanes. It also has an ideal tropical climate with average winter highs in the 80s (and water temperatures to match) and only about one inch of rain a month.
Curaçao will be more accessible beginning December 7, 2019, when weekly nonstops begin from New York/Newark on United Airlines. The new seasonal service on 737-700 aircraft makes Curaçao the 21st Caribbean island destination for United, which already flies to the other two nearby "ABC islands" — Aruba and Bonaire. Why choose Curaçao? Because like the island's famous blue liqueur, it's colorful, exotic and appealing.
Jet lag won't be an issue for Americans flying to Curaçao because it's in the same time zone as New York. Nor is it a long flight — about five hours nonstop from New York/Newark. Upon arrival you can take a taxi, rental car or hotel shuttle from Curaçao International Airport to your accommodations — a resort (reserve early), boutique inn, vacation house or B&B. Most are in Willemstad, a coastal city only five miles from the airport.
Forts above the port
Straat Curaçao Getty Images/iStockphoto
The historic city center and harbor areas of Curaçao's only city of Willemstad are designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site, mostly for the 17th to 19th century Dutch colonial architecture of the houses and forts. The houses are painted a rainbow of bright colors in the Caribbean tradition, and the city is packed with forts — Fort Amsterdam (built in 1636), Fort Beekenburg (1703), Fort Nassau (1797) and Fort Waakzaamheid (1803). All four offer stellar views and are free to visitors.
On the waterfront
Curacao colorful houses Getty Images/iStockphoto
Along with forts, the harbor area is home to the oldest continuously operating synagogue (and museum) in the Western Hemisphere, an African art museum that tells the story of the slave trade through West African art and artifacts, and a maritime museum. These visits can be followed by a tour and tasting at the Curaçao Distillery, where you'll see how the peels of the native Laraha bitter oranges are turned into curaçao liqueur.
Snorkel from the sand
Two people snorkeling off coast of tropical island Getty Images
The chief allure of this 38-mile-long island is, of course, the ocean. Besides sunbathing at any of the dozens of powder-sand cove beaches, you can wade right in and snorkel in the turquoise, bathlike sea, usually around 80 degrees. Visibility is up to 100 feet, a snorkeler's dream. More adventurous types can snorkel or dive from day boats that head to prime diving sites like the Mushroom Forest (mushroom-shaped coral), Blue Cave and several shipwreck spots. There's also a nice aquarium on the shoreline where marine life is seen up close in their natural habitat —from land or aboard a minisub that dives 1,000 feet.
Curaçao is a convenient tropical destination for Americans because U.S. dollars and credit cards are commonly accepted, English is widely spoken and no visa is required. But the local culture and cuisine are still exotic enough to be intriguing with local specialties like stewed iguana and cactus soup served in restaurants and from food carts in Willemstad.
If you go
One of our most treasured events of the year is here – Fantasy Flights! Our Fantasy Flights bring holiday cheer to children in need by taking them on a special trip to the "North Pole." Each station creates a North Pole with care, in preparation for all the children who will soon be there…
Our participating stations this year are HNL (Honolulu), FRA (Frankfurt), CLE (Cleveland), DEN (Denver), IAD (Washington Dulles), LAX (Los Angeles), SFO (San Francisco), MCO (Orlando), ORD (Chicago O'Hare), GUM (Guam), EWR (New York/New Jersey), NRT (Tokyo-Narita), PHX (Phoenix), IAH (Houston), MCI (Kansas City) and SAT (San Antonio).
Please stay tuned for stories, photos and more from these magical events. #UAFantasyFlights