Three Perfect Days: São Paulo
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: São Paulo

By The Hub team , September 06, 2017

Story by Nicholas Derenzo | Photography by Lianne Milton | Hemispheres, September 2017

Some cities are like puppies—friendly and eager to please. Others carry themselves more like cats: cool, with an air of cultured mystery. Rio de Janeiro might fall into the former category, but São Paulo is decidedly feline. With a population of 12 million, the Western Hemisphere's largest metropolis seems impenetrable at first glance, a sea of skyscrapers and commuters in helicopters. But down at street level you'll encounter the real Sampa (as locals call it), a town built by and for immigrants, with a surprising amount of warmth behind those designer duds and business suits. Brimming with internationally ranked restaurants and striking Modernist buildings, São Paulo is buzzing with energy and barreling into the future. What else would you expect from a city that rose from the coffee trade?

Day 1 Graphic

In which Nicholas awakes in an architectural landmark, strolls through a modernist park, and sips cachaça at a sumo bar

It's my first morning in São Paulo, and I've woken up inside the seed of a watermelon. Sort of. I'm at Hotel Unique, which is shaped like a giant slice of the fruit, clad in oxidized copper and peppered with porthole windows. The building is the work of architect Ruy Ohtake, whose mother was the great sculptor Tomie Ohtake. The wall of my suite is curved like a half-pipe. Maybe I should have packed a skateboard—and learned how to skate.

It's a short stroll from here to Parque Ibirapuera, opened in 1954 to mark the city's 400th anniversary. Brazil's most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, envisioned it as a Modernist take on Central Park, dotted with his stark but sinuous concrete museums and pavilions. Pathways zip with more in-line skaters than I've ever seen in one place, many of them slurping water out of drilled coconuts, as if they'd received a memo to look more Brazilian. I buy one too.

Fernanda Yamamoto, fashion designerFernanda Yamamoto, fashion designer

Niemeyer, who died in 2012 at the age of 104, is 20th-century Brazil. I duck into the lobby of his wedge-shaped Auditório Ibirapuera, which contains a red Tomie Ohtake sculpture that tornadoes around the room. Outside, another piece by Niemeyer bursts out the front door like a big red tongue blowing a raspberry at the neighboring Oca pavilion, also by Niemeyer, which is shaped like a partly buried Wiffle Ball, with organically curvilinear ramps and stairways cutting through its cavernous interiors. There's something vaguely alien about the landscape here, a feeling that is heightened by the sound of little kids flinging pebbles at a metal wall in the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo sculpture garden—a pew pew pew straight out of Star Wars.

São Paulo is home to the biggest Japanese community outside Japan—about 665,000 people at last count. Their forebears streamed in at the start of the 20th century to fill coffee plantation jobs left empty after the abolition of slavery. To learn more about Japanese-Brazilian culture, I'm off to meet fashion designer Fernanda Yamamoto at the sushi bar Kinoshita in quiet Vila Nova Conceição.

Yamamoto runs her tiny namesake atelier in hip Vila Madalena, selling only items she and her staff make onsite. “The Brazilian stereotype is very sexy with lots of prints, but I don't think Brazilian identity has to be like that," she says. “São Paulo is a city created by immigrants, so I think our fashion should reflect that." She draws on folk elements—such as Renaissance lace from the northeastern state of Paraíba—and blends them with the minimalism of her favorite Japanese designers. Her upcoming collection is inspired by Yuba, a self-sustaining utopia near São Paulo founded by a Japanese socialist in 1935, where residents split time between farming and learning an artform, such as ballet or classical music.

“São Paulo is a world metropolis; it's not an easy city. You have to understand how it works—all these different ways of doing things—and then it's great." —Fernanda Yamamoto

Our lavish omakase tasting menu starts to arrive. “Japanese cuisine is very delicate, but that's not the taste of Brazilians," Yamamoto says, “so everything gets spicier, bolder, more flavorful." Courses here include octopus in a vibrant shiso pesto, salmon sashimi with truffles, and seared Wagyu with spicy Japanese mustard.

We cab across town to Japan House, a cultural center opened this spring. Renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma's airy pavilion combines hinoki (cypress) slats with hollow cobogó bricks, a hallmark of Brazilian Modernism. Niemeyer—one of the designers of the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan—would have appreciated the cross-cultural inventiveness here. Appropriately, his image looks on from the side of a neighboring high-rise, in the form of a stories-tall portrait by São Paulo street artist Eduardo Kobra.

Oscar Niemeyer's Oca pavilion in Parque IbirapueraOscar Niemeyer's Oca pavilion in Parque Ibirapuera

From here, we're off to Liberdade, the city's historic Japanese heart, its tight alleys lined withnoodle houses and parks with koi ponds. Yamamoto points out Casa Bueno, a traditional market where her grandparents pick up hard-to-find ingredients, and Livraria Sol, a Japanese bookshop opened in 1949. “Some things got stuck in time; some things didn't survive," she says as we stroll under the lantern-like street lamps. “There is a lot that is still authentic, but it may not be here in a few years."

I say goodbye to Yamamoto and duck into Bar Kintaro, an unfussy izakaya (Japanese pub) run by two sumo wrestlers, for an ice-cold Weber Haus cachaça. It's a spirit that often gets hidden behind other flavors in drinks like caipirinhas, but here I can taste the crisp sweetness of the sugarcane. I offer my credit card to pay, and the sumo clan matriarch behind the counter points silently, with a smirk, to a handwritten sign behind the bar that lists various house rules in Portuguese: “We don't take cards" … “We don't have sushi" … “We don't have wi-fi" … “Don't cry!" Cash it is.

Dinner is across town in the posh Jardim Paulistano district. I'm eating at Maní, where the kitchen is helmed by Helena Rizzo, a former model who was named the 2014 Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef. As I sit, a waitress brings out a comically enormous sack of bread, which includes hubcap-size biscoitos de polvilho (tapioca-starch biscuits), and a glass of Cave Geisse sparkling wine from southern Brazil. I go for the tasting menu: ceviche made with caju, the fruit of the cashew nut tree; crayfish with cacao nibs; mullet wrapped in a taioba (elephant ear) leaf with jackfruit, yogurt, and shaved Brazil nuts; and charcoal-grilled banana with manioc flour and edamame in a fish and tomato stock. Rizzo comes out of the kitchen, and I ask her what she calls this type of cooking—Modern Brazilian? “Things that I like," she says with a smile. “No—things that I love."

Day 2 Graphic

In which Nicholas picks through the central market, hunts for the city's famed street art, and eats some of the world's best beef

In this progress-obsessed city, it's rewarding to find a few spots where you can still commune with the past. Though it only opened in 2003, the Hotel Fasano—which occupies a brick tower in the fashionable Jardins district—calls to mind a 1930s gentleman's club, complete with rich mahogany details and low-slung, warm brown leather chairs. A flame crackles in the lobby fireplace, and its scent permeates the property. That retro sophistication isn't entirely coincidental: The Fasano family of restaurateurs has dominated the city's hospitality scene for four generations, since patriarch Vittorio immigrated here from Milan in 1902 and opened his first brasserie.

For breakfast, I'm heading somewhere with a similarly long backstory. I take a taxi into the city's historic heart, Centro, to the 1933 Mercado Municipal de São Paulo, or Mercadão (“Big Market"), which is filled with stacks of bacalhau (dried cod) and heaps of tropical fruit. The vaulted hall is bookended by stained-glass windows depicting idyllic agricultural scenes; the artist also did the windows at the nearby neo-Gothic cathedral. The market's star attraction is a jaw-unhinging mortadella sandwich—as much a symbol of São Paulo as the cheesesteak is of Philadelphia—which I order with an açaí smoothie and a coxinha de frango, or drumstick-shaped chicken croquette.

Thiago, ritual street artistThiago, ritual street artist

From the moment I arrive, it's clear that São Paulo is one of the world's great street art capitals, with murals covering surfaces in districts rich and poor. To learn about the scene, I've arranged to meet street artist and gallerist Thiago Ritual, who offers walking tours through his company, Streets of São Paulo.

“There are three generations of art on this one corner, but a lot of people don't see it that way," he says, standing on the steps of Centro's Theatro Municipal. In addition to a mid-century mural by Italian-born painter Bramante Buffoni and a minimalist contemporary work by São Paulo artist Herbert Baglione, there's a building covered with words in a chicken-scratchy font. To be honest, I tell him, I probably would have ignored these seemingly dashed-off runes.

“These are pixos," Ritual says, referring to a Brazilian tagging style that emerged in the late '70s, “and our graffiti is born from them. Before there was graffiti, there were political pixos. People took this pointy typography from the covers of Dead Kennedys and other punk and heavy metal albums. Similar to the buildings here, the letters go high." Nowadays, teenagers risk their lives using ropes and pulleys to tag entire buildings.

As we walk, Ritual points out works by international artists and local legends like Os Gêmeos, twin brothers whose monumental cartoon figures can now be seen around the globe. But these works, and others like them, are under threat. As part of an urban beautification drive, Mayor João Doria—the former host of the Brazilian version of The Apprentice—is covering murals with gray paint. “People call São Paulo 'the gray city' or 'the concrete jungle,'" says Ritual, “but murals have always broken up the gray. Now they have actually started painting the city gray."

“I like how chaotic São Paulo is. It can be stressful, happy, slow, creative. When I'm abroad, I miss the disorganization." —Thiago

We head north on the (impeccably clean) subway to the Carandiru stop, the site of an old jail that was shuttered after a 1992 riot and demolished a decade later. Today, the elevated train tracks here run above an open-air street art museum containing works from some of the city's biggest names. I'm drawn to a piece by the artist Cranio: Amazonian tribesmen with red face paint operating a spacecraft and talking on smartphones. “My brother went to the Amazon," says Ritual, “and said, 'Yes, they're painted, but they're also driving Land Rovers!'"

He asks me where I'm planning to eat while in town, and I rattle off a few fine-dining spots. Ritual frowns, then leads me back into Centro, to the 24-hour Estadão Bar e Lanches, which opened in 1968 and took its name from the newspaper that used to have its offices next door. He orders me a frothy pineapple-mint juice and a roast pork sandwich on crusty bread. “You see the richest people and the poorest people all eating together at this bar," he says. “It's democratic."

An obelisk in Parque IbirapueraAn obelisk in Parque Ibirapuera

From here, I head down thrumming Avenida Paulista, which was once lined with the grand mansions of coffee barons. These days, most have been razed, replaced by sleek Modernist high-rises. My destination is the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi's 1968 masterwork—instantly recognizable for the crimson beams that prop it up like a boxy armadillo on squat legs. The museum recently reintroduced Bo Bardi's radical original curatorial concept: Instead of hanging on walls, paintings are placed on glass easels anchored by concrete blocks, which stand at attention in a meandering chronological path. Works by Brazilian artists include one of Antonio Henrique Amaral's subversive “banana" paintings, which depict the fruit bruised and entangled in ropes to symbolize life under a military dictatorship.

Next I walk through downtown, gawking up at Modernist landmarks like Niemeyer's undulating Edifício Copan. I stop at Galeria Metrópole, an open-air 1960 mall that has reemerged as something of a creative hub thanks to tenants like the club Mandíbula and the Tapera Taperá bookshop. The new kid on the block is the Metropol bar, where co-owner Pedro Mozart offers me a local Tito Bier Marx IPA. “It's a red beer," he deadpans. Bars like this one are part of an ongoing revitalization project. “People didn't used to come downtown, because they thought it was dangerous," he says. “But a lot is happening here. Downtown is the pulsing heart of the city."

If you know anything about Brazilian cuisine, you know that beef is king, served in criminally massive portions at churrascarias. Tonight, I'm skipping the classic spots in favor of Açougue Central, a steakhouse opened last year by Alex Atala, whose nearby D.O.M. has reached as high as No. 4 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list.

A\u00e7ougue Central's sete de paleta steakAçougue Central's sete de paleta steak

In a way, this place is an anti-churrascaria, with Argentine chef Alejandro Peyrou downplaying the “noble" cuts in favor of humbler ones, such as brisket and sete de paleta, named for its 7-shaped bone. Each week, the restaurant orders a half-carcass, and Peyrou works his magic: frying croquettes in rendered fat, grinding meat into garlicky linguiça, and halving bones for marrow-slicked tartare.

“This is the best meat in the world," Peyrou says of his beef (which he gets from Beef Passion, the country's most sustainable cattle farm), “and I'm from Argentina." I have to agree, but surprisingly, some of the real standout dishes are vegetarian, including roasted pupunha (a type of heart of palm) and a mushroom carpaccio.

Happy and full, I make my way back toward my bed at the Hotel Fasano. Before heading upstairs, I stop in for a nightcap caipirinha at the hotel's cozy Baretto lounge, lulled closer to sleep by the bar band's lilting bossa nova.

Day 3 Graphic

In which Nicholas meets some monkeys by a hotel pool, hikes through the jungle, and digs into an epic tasting-menu dinner inspired by the city

Morning begins early, with an up-close look at one of the city's most famous features: rush-hour traffic. Unlike many of the city's wealthier residents, I don't have a helicopter to whisk me over the ruckus.

I'm dropping my bags off at the Oetker Collection's new Palácio Tangará, which opened this spring in the ritzy Morumbi district, tucked among the trees of Parque Burle Marx. Inside, the designers have turned the “gray city" idea on its head with a chic charcoal palette accentuated with moody black-and-white photographs. As it happens, the tufted sagui monkeys that hang out by the pool fit the color scheme. Before heading out, I visit the breakfast buffet for sweet guava paste and highly addictive pão de queijo, the country's beloved cheesy bread puffs—plus, of course, a cup of the famously strong Brazilian coffee.

Ivan Ralston, chefIvan Ralston, chef

If you drive beyond the reaches of São Paulo's urban sprawl in any direction, you'll eventually hit the Atlantic rainforest ecosystem. Accordingly, I've planned a hike with Tours by Locals guide Denis Gonçalves. He picks me up at the hotel and drives us about an hour north to Parque Estadual da Cantareira, the world's biggest metropolitan forest at 20,000 acres, home to jaguars and howler monkeys and toucans—all within the city limits.

As we get out of the car, I notice how surprisingly crisp it feels in the shade of the trees. I had expected a sauna. “It's always fresher out here," Gonçalves says. “It's the lungs of the city." We wander past bromeliads and tiny orchids, anaconda-thick vines clinging to trunks, and varieties of fern that have been around since the dinosaur days. “This is a little bit different from Avenida Paulista," he jokes, “but it's still São Paulo."

“I can't tell you another city that has this many cultures mixing. In New York, you go to a different neighborhood and it still feels like the same place. In São Paulo, you go to a different neighborhood and it's a different city."—Ivan Ralston

Further in, Gonçalves points out guavas and bananas, açai berries and fat avocados, coffee trees and white ginger root. This is the guy, I think, you'd want with you on a desert island. Easier to spot are the area's many waterfalls. “Brazilians love to shower in these," says Gonçalves. “They think they wash away bad energy. And I think it's true. You feel different." We skitter across some slippery rocks and dunk our faces in a cascade. I don't know about bad energy, but it certainly feels refreshing.

“Now," my guide says, “back to the concrete jungle."

Hungry from the hike, I ask Gonçalves to drop me off at the Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros food hall, in the revitalized Pinheiros neighborhood. I grab lunch at Café Mocotó, the downtown outpost of a no-frills restaurant on the outskirts of the city. The original spot earned a cult following for its dadinhos de tapioca—fried cubes of tapioca flour and cheese, served with sweet chili sauce—which I order alongside a completo platter brimming with rice, black-eyed peas, linguiça, air-dried beef, and cheese curds. It's simple but exceptionally tasty.

Gon\u00e7alves in the Parque Estadual da CantareiraGonçalves in the Parque Estadual da Cantareira

What sets this food hall apart is that D.O.M. chef Alex Atala has opened a market within a market, with kiosks dedicated to five

Brazilian biomes, including the Cerrado (tropical savanna) and Pampas (fertile grasslands). His team has personally stocked the Amazonian section, where I pick up jelly made from jambu, a leaf that leaves your mouth buzzing as if it's been electrically charged. At the Caatinga (a semiarid scrub forest in northeast Brazil) stand, I munch on licuri, tiny coconutlike palm kernels that crunch in your mouth like roasted hazelnuts.

Inspired by these obscure ingredients, I'm off to Vila Madalena, a hilly landscape of artisanal shops and vibrant street art, to meet one of the city's most inventive chefs, Ivan Ralston. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied electric bass, the Vila Madalena native (who looks as though he could be a member of the Strokes) opened Tuju three years ago and quickly earned a Michelin star.

Ralston has agreed to show me around his neighborhood, which still has a village feel despite its trendy reputation. We pass a few of his suppliers: A Queijaria, the shop where he buys pungent Brazilian raw milk cheeses; Kimi Nii, a Japanese ceramics studio that provides Tuju with its colorful flatware; and Coffee Lab, which stocks beans from Brazilian micro-lot planters. Next, we stroll along Beco do Batman, a narrow alley with perhaps the city's highest concentration of street art—all of which started with a sketch of the Caped Crusader in the 1980s.

The rooftop of Tuju

“When I was a kid, it was just houses here," Ralston says. “But São Paulo needed a Brooklyn. And now, like Brooklyn, it's getting expensive. It's a little bit my fault, because I brought in high gastronomy!"

With that, we head to his restaurant for a meal that's as bold and freewheeling as the surroundings. The 12-course tasting menu is a lesson in obscure Brazilian ingredients. Honey from the native, non-stinging Plebeia emerina bee tops a turnip salad. Vinegar made from jabuticaba fruit adds zip to a wild porcini mushroom soup. One course is built around Montau pork—from a variety of free-range pig with red meat—served with cowpea hummus and horseradish.

Over the course of the meal, the Van Dyke–sporting sommelier, Adiu Bastos, walks me through the drink list: the Rabo de Galo, a cocktail made with cachaça and artichoke-infused vermouth; sour beer brewed with cupuaçu fruit; a pinot noir grown in Brazil's deep south at Vinhedo Serena, one of the continent's first biodynamic wineries. The meal ends with a selection of addiction-themed truffles, featuring tobacco, cachaça, coca leaves, and poppy seeds.

After dinner, I stroll through Vila Madalena's streets, a jumble of new and old, classic and hypermodern—a perfect representation of the city at large. I think back to something Ralston said earlier, as we stood at a high point in the neighborhood overlooking the city's hodgepodge skyline: “It's kind of a mess, but I like the mess. I like the lack of style. It's free, like jazz. Somehow the architecture here reminds me of Miles Davis's late recordings. When you try to define them, it's hard, and São Paulo is like that. It doesn't have any particular style—just this philosophy of freedom."

Hemispheres executive editor Nicholas DeRenzo is actively spreading the gospel of Brazilian wine back home.


This article was written by Nicholas Derenzo from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Teaming up with the Chicago Urban League to bring students to China

By The Hub team , July 20, 2018

For many, a visit to China is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that often falls on one's bucket list of destinations. But through a partnership with the Chicago Urban League, some Chicago high school students are checking this dream destination off their lists early.

The Chicago Urban League's annual Student Mission to China brought a group of high school students from Chicago-area schools, including Lindblom Math and Science, Urban Prep and Kenwood academies, to Beijing and Shanghai for an immersive, two-week trip. An extensive application and interview process helped the organization choose the students who would benefit most from the trip. While the trip is not directly tied to the students' school curriculum, the Chicago Urban League teaches prep courses leading up to the trip, and some of the students are independently studying Asian languages.

"Many of the students are hoping to share their experience with family and friends from their communities that aren't able to participate in opportunities such as this one," said corporate and community affairs associate Marissa Warren. "Students are also excited about the chance to be submerged in a different culture for an extensive amount of time."

With one look at the students' itinerary, it's clear that the program truly does offer a complete immersion in Chinese culture. The itinerary includes a mix of landmarks, seminars and cultural activities. Students attend a tea art performance, learn how to make dumplings, practice Chinese calligraphy, painting, paper-cutting, and even play ping pong with local students. Seminar topics range from Chinese language to China's international policy. And no visit to China would be complete without trips to the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Warren said that sponsoring the annual trip is a huge part of United's relationship with the Chicago Urban League. One of the pillars of the company's shared purpose is breaking down barriers and promoting inclusion, and through this trip, students are able to step out of their comfort zones and engage with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

United and Special Olympics

Taking inclusion to new heights

Our shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world — and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics.

Learn more
Featured

Watch the new Big Metal Bird: Island Hopper

By The Hub team , July 20, 2018

Five magnificent stops between Honolulu and Guam filled with spectacular scenery along the way, and then back again. Join Big Metal Bird host, Phil Torres, as he explores our unique Island Hopper route, and discovers what the route means to the people of Micronesia.

Hemispheres

The Hemispheres guide to family vacations

By The Hub team

Illustrations by Stacey Lamb | Hemispheres June 2018

Whether your kids dream of being superheroes, star athletes, or, yes, wizards, we've got the perfect family vacation — for them and for you.

If your kid wants to be Iron Man

Have a kid who thinks he can fly? Who shoots repulsor rays from his hands and jumps off the couch into pits of lava to save strangers (i.e., his stuffed animals) from danger? The new Marvel Day at Sea Cruise was designed for him.

Launched in late 2017, this five-day trip offers everything that's normally on a Disney Magic cruise—incredible stage shows, interactive dinners, a stop on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay—with a special all-Marvel day that will leave your kiddo shouting “Avengers assemble!" before passing out on his sleeper-sofa.

Aside from superhero meet-and-greets (smartly, tickets for the most popular characters are timed to avoid lines wrapping around the ship; also, moms, know this: Thor is very attractive), Marvel activities abound. Kids can head to the Oceaneer Club for tutorials with Thor, who teaches them how to wield their own Mjolnir for good, and Spider-Man, who shows how quick reflexes are the key to capturing bad guys. Artists offer budding comic-book illustrators Bob Ross–style lessons in how to draw Iron Man and his pals, and afterward, families can head to one of the movie theaters (plural) to catch a screening of the latest Marvel Studios flick (this year it was Black Panther; next year, maybe Captain Marvel?)

It all culminates in a grand live spectacular on the top deck that sees basically all the Avengers—yes, even Black Widow and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy—battling Loki, Red Skull, and the Hydra agents to secure Stark Industries' new (and dangerous) power source. It's a clever, high-action show with acrobatics, choreographed fight scenes, and fireworks that will have you cheering louder than your kid. —Ellen Carpenter

The Digs:
Book a deluxe oceanview stateroom with a verandah—because verandah. Being able to sit outside and watch the whitecaps crash while recapping the day with a glass of wine (each adult is allowed to bring two bottles aboard—money saver!) is key once your little ones conk out.

The Feast:
In general, the food is great—crab legs and shrimp at the lunch buffet; beef Wellington at the Animator's Palate; even Hulk green bread on the Marvel day—but definitely do an adults-only dinner at Palo, a northern Italian restaurant offering superb antipasti, lobster pappardelle, Dover sole, and more. And be sure to get the Palo cocktail, made with pear vodka, limoncello, grappa, and prosecco.

Illustration of platform 9 3/4 from the beloved Harry Potter movie

If your kid wants to be Harry Potter

Have a kid who keeps a wand in his bookbag so he can keep trying the Accio spell? Who introduces himself by saying which house he's in? (Gryffindor, obviously.) Fly to London—preferably on Hagrid's motorcycle—where a surfeit of Harry Potter–themed activities await.

Your first task is to visit Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden (20 miles outside London), where all eight of the Harry Potter films were made. Reservations are required, but once you're there, a docent leads you into the Great Hall, where you'll have hours to roam two sound stages and a back lot full of sets (Diagon Alley!), costumes (Hermione's Yule Ball gown!), props (the intricate 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts castle used for wide shots!), and interactive exhibits that reveal the films' secrets. You can also get your picture taken while riding a broomstick and sample the infamous butterbeer.

Back in the city, visit Platform 9 ¾ at King's Cross Station and other locations depicted in the films with Tours for Muggles, a two-and-a-half-hour walk that starts near London Bridge tube station. By night, head to the West End to take in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part stage play based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. Finally, book a visit to Enigma Quests' School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, where adults and kids work in teams to solve puzzles and riddles to escape their rooms. “Graduates" don Hogwarts-style robes and receive calligraphy diplomas. —Kathryn Jessup

The Digs:
You'll want to book a Wizard Chamber at the Georgian House Hotel to form the foundation of your experience. These cozy suites are hidden behind bookcases and replicate Hogwarts dormitories in detail (cauldrons in the fireplaces, four-poster beds). Also magical: the full English breakfast, which will keep you fueled for hours.

The Feast:
You'll think you've walked into the Leaky Cauldron itself when you descend to Fleet Street's Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a family-friendly pub dating to 1667 that played host to Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens. Kids will love the fish and chips—with mushy peas, of course—and you'll love having a proper pint.

Illustration of skier going down a mountain slope

If your kid wants to be Mikaela Shiffrin

Have a kid who collects trail maps and sleeps in her speed suit the night before every trip to the slopes? Who watches the weather incessantly for storm advisories and sets up gates in your backyard, planning her fastest lines?

Wax those skis and head to Colorado, home of Olympic gold medalist and World Cup Champion Mikaela Shiffrin. Earlier this year, the Centennial State native became an investor in Denver-based Alterra Mountain Company, which owns 12 year-round mountain destinations, including one of the best places for kids to learn and race: Steamboat.

Besides having terrain perfectly suited to kids—and the Steamboat Snowsports School to help them master it—the resort operates one of the largest recreational race facilities in the world. The Bashor Race Arena offers daily NASTAR (National Standard Race) events, which give kids of any age an opportunity to compete and compare scores. Top competitors are invited to the annual NASTAR National Championships, where winners earn medals like real Olympians. If that's not enough, racers here also have access to historic Howelsen Hill, the home of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which has been helping Steamboat Springs produce the most Olympians of any town in the U.S. for more than 100 years. Better clear some shelf space for all those future medals… —Amiee White Beazley

The Digs:
One Steamboat Place, at the base of the Steamboat gondola, is made for families. A heated outdoor pool, three hot tubs, and a game room equipped with flatscreen TVs, pool tables, and shuffleboard courts ensure that the kids will be able to work off any energy left over from the slopes. Book your stay at the private residence club through Moving Mountains, which offers a hand-picked collection of spacious places.

The Feast:
Before hitting the slopes, fuel up at the Creekside Café in historic downtown Steamboat Springs. Try the Barn Burner—bacon, cheddar cheese, and scrambled eggs on a homemade biscuit smothered in sausage gravy—and pair it with a freshly pressed organic juice. Après-ski, head to Rex's American Bar & Grill, which serves “2 Handed" sand-wiches, brick oven pizzas, and some of the best fish tacos north of the border.

Illustration of surfer hitting the waves

If your kid wants to be Kelly Slater

Have a kid who watches The Endless Summer weekly? Who practices popping up on the coffee table? Take your aspiring surfer where the mountains meet the sea, along the American Riviera.

In spite of recent wildfires and mudslides, the surf scene in Santa Barbara is thriving, and this city with a small-town feel is the perfect place to travel with a teen in search of waves.

“Surf schools and camps are the norm here, just like soccer and baseball," says Heather Hudson, a local surfer and director of the documentary series The Women and the Waves. The best is the Santa Barbara Surf School, which will outfit your kid with a wetsuit and board and select a beach tailored to his level of ability (Leadbetter Beach and Mondos are great for beginners). The school's guides could not be more prudent or more devoted to getting your youngster up on his board and having fun in the Pacific. One-on-one classes are $85, and though they last just an hour and a half, they will leave the kid exhausted. Afterward, let him catch his breath at Rincon Point, “the queen of the coast," and watch the pros catch waves that seem to never end.

Picking out his dream board is next. Head to the Funk Zone, a neighborhood packed with surf shops like Channel Islands, J7, and Beach House, to ogle boards crafted locally by some of the world's most famed shapers and, maybe best of all, share wipeout stories with the righteously tanned store clerks. —KJ

The Digs:
Check in to the new Hotel Californian, where a classic Santa Barbara Spanish exterior gives way to a modern Moorish interior with just a touch of youthful edge. Borrow the complimentary bicycles to explore the Waterfront district and then cool off in the rooftop pool.

The Feast:
Refuel after the lesson with salmon, ahi, or yellowtail poke bowls at Big Eye Raw Bar downtown, and have dinner at the hotel's fine-dining spot, Blackbird. End your meal with a dessert of goat cheese, blood orange sorbet, crispy quinoa, basil, and fennel pollen. It's gnarly—in the best way possible.

Illustration of storybook character, Robin Hood

If your kid wants to be Robin Hood

Have a kid who's slick with a plastic sword? Who hits the bull's-eye on her Nerf archery set 9 out of 10 shots? Who's always surrounded by merry compatriots? Time to pay a visit to the home of “the world's first superhero."

Nottingham, a midsize city 110 miles north of London, is known for being the former haunt—possibly, maybe—of the world's most famous outlaw (who may or may not have existed). What is undeniably real is the moral at the heart of the mythology: It's OK to steal, as long as you take from the rich and give to the poor. Kids who challenge this premise are quickly corrected: “The laws he was fighting were unjust!" the men in tights will tell you.

At Nottingham Castle, see where the evil Sheriff once—possibly, maybe—imprisoned Robin. Just across the way is The Robin Hood Experience, a quirky attraction run by a faux Robin named Adam Greenwood. Wander a labyrinth of tiny rooms inhabited by various characters who tell tales of yore. On the way out, buy a mini longbow and a green outfit.

Next, take Ade Andrews's Robin Hood Town Tour—as much a theatrical performance as a historical overview. While tracing the line from bloodthirsty medieval ballads to the sanitized Hollywood version, Andrews is apt to twirl his sword in the air or toot his cow-horn trumpet.

Finally, take up bows and arrows—Robin's weapon of choice—at a lesson with the archery club Wilford Bowmen, where seasoned archers will show your tiny outlaw how to hit a (not very distant) target. Be sure to take a turn yourself, so she can laugh at your failure. —Chris Wright

The Digs:
Not only is the boutique Hart's Hotel within arrow's range of Nottingham Castle, part of it is built on the ramparts. Book one of the two suites so you have room to spread out and don your finest for a meal at the hotel's restaurant, one of the best spots in town.

The Feast:
If fine dining doesn't grab you, head to The Alchemist, which recently opened an outpost in a glorious Victorian building in downtown Nottingham. The food ranges from beet risotto to Moroccan lamb rump, neither of which was likely on the menu in Sherwood Forest.

Illustration of child and mother walking through the National Mall in D.C.

If your kid wants to be Michelle Obama

Have a kid who spends her weekends volunteering at the Salvation Army? Who follows notable figures instead of her friends on Instagram? For a dose of history and hope, head to Washington, D.C.

Make your first stop the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016 and has been the hottest ticket in town ever since. The lower three floors are dedicated to History, from the slave trade to #BlackLivesMatter. It's a painful but necessary exhibit that displays slave shackles so small they must have been for a child, as well as murdered teen Emmett Till's coffin. Before heading upstairs to the more celebratory exhibitions in the Culture gallery, stop in the Contemplative Court, where a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. adorns the wall behind a waterfall fountain: “We are determined … to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream."

The Washington Monument stands mere yards from the museum, so afterward saunter over to the National Mall and think about how 200,000 people gathered there in 1963 to hear MLK speak about a new future. Next, catch a glimpse of that imagined future at the National Portrait Gallery, which unveiled the Obamas in February. The power of Kehinde Wiley's floral-encased depiction of Barack is impossible to deny. Finally, cab to another depiction of the Obamas that's a must-see for any aspiring Civil Rights leader: the mural at Ben's Chili Bowl, which also features Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, and even Taraji P. Henson. Anyone, after all, can make a difference.—EC

The Digs:
The Hay-Adams is the stay for a kid who wants to be right in the action. (Sasha and Malia Obama slept here before calling the White House home.) From free cookies at check-in to loaner wellies on rainy days, the hotel puts its youngest guests first.

The Feast:
NMAAHC's Sweet Home Café
invokes the African diaspora in foods like black-eyed-pea-and-corn empanadas. Later, head to the InterContintental at The Wharf's Kith/Kin, where chef Kwame Onwuachi mixes flavors from Nigeria, Jamaica, and New Orleans.

Illustration of baseball park

If your kid wants to be Willie Mays

Have a kid who asked for a subscription to MLB.TV as a birthday present? Who cracked every fence slat in your yard pitching imaginary games? Get your little seamhead close to the action without breaking the bank by heading to the Cactus League.

Each year, from late February through late March, 15 MLB teams prepare for the season at facilities located within a 47-mile radius of Phoenix. Here, there's no such thing as nosebleed seats, and a box of Cracker Jack won't set you back $10. The outfield lawn seats at Scottsdale Stadium offer a perfect vantage point for the game while also allowing younger kids to run around. Starting at only $10 a ticket, you'll pay a fraction of the admission at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Games often sell out, so get tickets in advance, and look for family packages. There are also kid-themed days, such as at Peoria Sports Complex where on Sundays, kids 12 and under can stand with a player during the national anthem or announce who's stepping up to bat. At Sloan Park kids get “First-Timer Certificates" to memorialize their first Cactus League.

The Digs:
The Phoenician, a five-star resort in Scottsdale, offers six swimming pools, I.Fly trapeze lessons, and s'mores and stargazing at night. The Funicians Club gives parents a chance to hit the spa while kids explore the on-site cactus garden and play video games.

The Feast:
For great Mexican food, head to La Hacienda by Richard Sandoval, at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The kids' menu will keep your little ones happy, while a custom tequila flight (there's a Tequila Goddess on staff) and guacamole made tableside will do the trick for you.

United Journey

How traveling changed the course of our future

By Kelsey + Courtney Montague
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…Mark Twain knew this, and anyone who travels and gets out of their comfort zone understands this same concept.

This is one of the reasons we love to travel — our perceptions and stereotypes are constantly being challenged. This is also probably why we've built a business that requires us to travel regularly — we create street art pieces in cities around the world.

Search flights

But we weren't always like this. Our love of travel first began when our Mom took us backpacking through Europe for a month. At the time, we were both young teenagers who had never been out of the country. We carefully planned our outfits and fit them into one backpack each. Mom carried our Rick Steve's travel guide and off we went. We stayed in shabby hotels across the United Kingdom, France and Spain, visiting every museum we could find, eating every baguette, croissant and paella dish we could get our hands on, and loving every second of it.

We've been addicted to travel ever since.

Kelsey sketches at a street cafe in Paris Kelsey sketches at a street cafe in Paris

I (Kelsey) fell so in love with London on that trip that I grew determined to study there. Fast forward to years later when I graduated from Richmond University in London. That trip changed the course of my life because I learned about and experienced street art during my studies in London. Courtney fell so in love with Paris that she learned French and graduated with a degree in comparative literature from the American University of Paris. That first trip changed the course of our lives forever and opened our eyes to how massive the world was. I don't think our Mom could have given us a better gift than that first trip abroad.

As adults who travel constantly we feel like a MileagePlus® membership is another important piece of the equation and something we've benefitted from tremendously over the years. The various United Club℠ locations are little refuges we escape to in busy and overwhelming airports. Being able to board early, getting upgraded and having nice flight attendants on long haul flights really can mean the difference between arriving well rested and having a good trip, or arriving tired and having a rough trip.

At the end of the day a company is all about the people in it and the kindness we have experienced on United flights has been wonderful. I remember once on a flight, one of our captains wrote a personal note thanking each passenger flying in United First® class for traveling on United. On another, a flight the attendant saw I was not feeling well and hunted down an Airborne (vitamin pack) for me. Still another flight attendant asked about my art (I was sketching on the plane) and when I explained what I do they committed to buying my coloring book. It's these connections that really make flying United so memorable for myself and my sister.

So if you're looking to give your child a gift, take them traveling. And if you're looking for a present for yourself, sign up to enjoy the benefits of a MileagePlus Membership. You won't regret either.

Join MileagePlus to start earning miles from the world's most rewarding loyalty program℠ and share your story with #UnitedJourney.

Search flights

Welcome day brings employees and Special Olympics athletes together

By Matt Adams , July 13, 2018

As part of the weekend's festivities, our CEO, Oscar Munoz, joined a group of employees and retirees in greeting nearly 700 arriving athletes, coaches and volunteers at Seattle's Sea-Tac International Airport (SEA), as well as hundreds more at local light rail stations, all of which were decorated with our Special Olympics superhero campaign banners.

Oscar also had the honor of giving Special Olympics athlete Nikki Jones her first in person look at her superhero alter ego Lane Lightning, a moment that was captured on the video below.

Introducing a more personalized experience on united.com

By Gladys Roman , July 13, 2018

Our united.com homepage is getting some big enhancements. Yesterday, we announced the launch of the new site, which will offer a more modern, user-friendly design, allowing users a more personalized digital experience.

Each one of our customers is unique and has different needs for his or her travel, and personalizing our digital offerings is just another step toward giving our customers the experience and the products that they ask for, said Digital Products and Analytics VP Praveen Sharma. "Our goal with this new homepage is to provide customers with a more seamless experience."

The new website will provide personalized content based on a customer's MileagePlus® status as well as upcoming, current or prior trips. It will also include a new display that will be fully responsive for optimal viewing on desktop and mobile devices. Later this year, the site will include a travel section that will provide customers with curated content from destinations United serves.

We began rolling out the new homepage in April and continued expanding it to more users while we added more functionality throughout the phased rollout. The site will be live to all customers in early August.

These efforts are part of our commitment to improve our customers' travel experience through every step of their journey. Earlier this year, we updated our mobile website, adding a more optimized display, additional flexibility to adjust flights throughout the site, Japanese language translations and more.

Our new homepage will also appear on our mobile website, creating a more seamless experience when customers are managing travel and bookings across multiple devices.

United Journey

Transcending borders and languages in Tanzania

By The Hub team

Story and photos by Davis Paul

I have been very fortunate to travel the world telling stories with a camera for the last decade. Being a United MileagePlus® member for many of those years has absolutely opened the world and eased my ability to get around. And, it enabled me to authentically document the way in which different people and cultures do life, which has now become an obsession. How can you make someone feel what you witnessed despite not being there?

Dirt road in Tanzania

The world is full of amazing stories and incredible lessons that can transcend borders and languages. I believe every location is uniquely beautiful on it's own, we just need to see it for what it is and not in comparison to others. Bangladesh can be just as beautiful as Tahiti if we remove expectation and appreciate the uniqueness each location has to offer.

However, of all the trips I have ever taken, out of every project I have embarked on, from X Games to Real Madrid, there is one that hit me in a very different way. That was my trip to Tanzania to work on the border of Burundi out of two Refugee Camps. I was contracted to help train and build soccer programs within the camp as well as create content that would provide impactful insight into the circumstances taking place throughout the region as well as to connect the outside world with these amazing people fighting for their lives. I had zero preparation for the trip, having only booked my flight a week in advance. I had never traveled to Africa, let alone a refugee camp that couldn't be more difficult to get to. In fact, it was roughly 38 hours of travel by myself including having an 8 hour drive on something that barely resembled a road. Because it was so last minute, I actually wasn't able to secure a driver to take me to the town of Kibondo which meant once I landed, I had to find any local with a car who would be willing to take me the distance. Luckily, I found a man named Frankie who had a Toyota Corolla which consequently broke down within the first hour of our journey.

Group of kids in Burundi, Tanzania

Once I arrived, I had never witnessed life in this manner. Hundreds of thousands of refugees all piled together within 2 square miles. Mud huts, tarps, tents, anything and everything to sustain life was being used. Almost everyone in this camp had lost a loved one to violence yet I had never seen so much hope and joy. It completely changed my perspective on life to live amongst these people for 3 weeks. I ate with them everyday in the camp, eating the local food with my hands. To hear their stories, to see how they live and to dream with them on the brighter future they all hope exists was truly humbling. I'll never forget the lessons I learned within this camp and from these people — their love and optimism despite having experienced unimaginable tragedy was uplifting. When I asked if there was one message I could bring back to the United States, they simply would say, "we just want people to know we exist". I hope that my time and efforts there at least provided that. Although I tried to make the biggest impact I could while there, it is safe to say I was the one impacted the most and I will be forever grateful for that. I just hope I can help in half of the way they helped me.

Davis Paul pictured in Tanzania

I'm never sure where the next story will exist, but I can guarantee you'll find me on the ground, always laughing with a camera in hand. Traveling is a gift that allows us insight into both our differences and similarities, and the more you travel, the more you realize we all share in the same struggles, same hopes and same dreams. I believe that despite bad things happening, the world is full of good — we just need to seek it in every situation.

Join MileagePlus to start earning miles from the world's most rewarding loyalty program℠ and share your story with #UnitedJourney.

How to experience the best of Prague in 3 days

By Nick Harper

Every bit as historic, as beautiful and as culturally enriching as the European heavyweights of Paris, London or Rome, Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic has emerged over recent decades to be a jewel in the continent's crown.

The city escaped significant bomb damage during World War II and its historic center remains magnificently intact, with a maze of cobbled lanes, quiet courtyards, chic cafés and ancient chapels just waiting to be discovered. To see enough of the city, we suggest visiting for at least three days.

Search flights

Getting into the city

Upon arrival, regular and reliable buses and trains will get you into the center of the city within 20 minutes. Unless you're heading outside of Prague, you shouldn't need to rent a car. The center of Prague is compact and easily to explore on foot, with excellent and cheap trams, buses and the subway if you don't want to walk.

Where to stay

Central Prague is broken down into 10 districts, with most visitors staying in Prague 1, the heart of the city. Here you have two good options: The Old Town or the Lesser Town – linked by Prague's most celebrated landmark, the Charles Bridge. The Old Town is at the heart of everything, full of historical sites, bars and restaurants but can be overpriced and often considered 'touristy' as a result. The Lesser Town is still close to the heart of everything but with a more tranquil atmosphere that's particularly good for families.

Old Town in Prague

What to see

There's too much to see in a single visit, however, one of the absolute essentials has to be Prague Castle, which is literally unmissable. The largest castle complex in the world, it dates back to the 9th century and is also home to the presidential palace, the vast St. Vitus Cathedral and Golden Lane — an original 16th-century street of tiny cottages that was home to Franz Kafka. The lookout tower of St. Vitus Cathedral gives you a bird's eye view of the city, as does Petrin Lookout Tower at the top of Petrin Hill, which climbs 206 feet to look down on the city.

From there head to the Old Town Square, which is the medieval center of Prague, surrounded by cobbled streets awash with cafes and restaurants. It's home to the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock, the Rococo Kinsky Palace and the stunning Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn. If you visit in December, it also hosts the city's largest Christmas market.

Also close by, Klementinum is a series of historic buildings worth visiting just to see what is arguably the most beautiful library in the world. If you're looking for a world-class collection of historical artifacts, minerals and zoological specimens, the National Museum ticks all of the boxes. It's located at the top of Wenceslas Square, which is not actually a square but a boulevard – and one of Prague's most popular shopping streets.

Kampa Island is a great alternative to the National Museum. Literally an island located beneath Charles Bridge, you'll find the museum of modern art, The John Lennon Wall and giant, slightly unnerving sculptures of crawling babies. Speaking of Charles Bridge, it is one of Prague's most popular and photographed sites for good reason. You'll no doubt use it to cross the Vltava River, but for the best photographs, visit at dawn, before the crowds arrive.

And if all this walking gets to be too much, see the city from a different perspective, floating gently down the Vltava on a river cruise.

River Vltava in Prague

Where to eat

Restaurants to suit every taste and budget dot the center of Prague. Great breakfast options include Coffee Room, Mezi Srnky and the always-popular Café Savoy, which is also great for lunch or dinner.

In a city full of carnivores, the Real Meat Society's porchetta sandwich is a lunchtime highlight, Dish is a stylish little burger joint full of fashionable people, while Lokál Dlouhááá offers a beer hall feel and Czech classics of pork, sauerkraut and dumplings washed down with beer.

The city's only two Michelin-starred restaurants are Field and La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, the latter creating modern takes on old Czech recipes using the highest quality local produce. Both restaurants require a reservation. Highly recommended 'Bib Gourmand' restaurants within easy reach of Charles Bridge include Sansho, Divinis and Maso A Kobliha, where the salty caramel pie may elicit happy tears.

Prague skyline at sunrise

Where to drink

In the number one beer-drinking nation on the planet, the locals refer to it as 'Liquid bread.' Prague is home to many of the nation's finest bars and ale houses, many of which brew their own beers. Two of the most historic are U Zlateho Tygra, which President Clinton visited in 1994, and U Cerneho Vola, which stands in the shadow of the castle. Letná Beer Garden offers an outdoor setting where you can enjoy a beer and views of the Old Town below.

And keep an eye out for 'tankovna' – tank pubs – where the beer is not pasteurized, as most beers have to be to be transported around the globe. In tank pubs such as U Pinkasu, the beer is probably the freshest you'll ever taste. But if pilsner is not your preference, head to Hemingway Bar, one of the world's finest cocktail bars. You may have to wait in line as it is a popular with both locals and tourists alike, but it's well worth the wait.

When to go

Prague is the warmest and busiest during the summer months, from April until October and peak season starts in July through August. The longer nights of spring and summer will give you more time to explore, while the celebrated Beer Festival fills the city's Letná Park in May. Spring and autumn are generally quieter and can be less costly than the summer months. If you can cope with the colder temperatures and darker days, winter is a magical time to be in the city.

Getting there

United, together with many of its Star Alliance partner airlines, offers service from multiple cities in the U.S. to Prague. To explore all that Prague has to offer and to book your trip, visit united.com or use the United app.

Search flights
Scroll to top