Three Perfect Days: The Florida Keys
Story by Jacqueline Detwiler | Photography by Tristan Wheelock | Hemispheres December 2016
The moment you set foot in the Florida Keys, you see them: Conch Republic flags, a seashell on a yellow sun in a blue field of stars. The flags stem from a quixotic secession campaign the islanders hatched in 1982, after the U.S. Border Patrol set up a checkpoint near Homestead, Florida, about 45 minutes south of Miami, that effectively cut the Keys off from the mainland. The U.S. government, unsurprisingly, rejected the proposal, and the Keys did not secede. But, in a way, they never really had to. This pleasing, sun-bleached archipelago has been its own thing from the very beginning. Just 45 of the 1,000 or so tropical islands are connected to Florida by a single road; the rest are accessible only by boat. (Everyone has a boat.) In many places, chickens walk the streets. The lobsters are striped, and people eat meat out of conch shells. The Keys are still a little wild in all the best ways. They're the kind of place where you can still legitimately get lost — which is when things get really interesting.
In which Jacqueline catches mutton snapper, meets some turtles, and spends time at the preferred resorts of two former U.S. presidents.
The gentleman at the other end of the bar at Mangrove Mike's is wearing an eye-popping Hawaiian shirt that is completely unbuttoned. It is blearily early, and it's all I can do to focus on my Mangrove Oscar — an English muffin topped with poached eggs, béarnaise sauce, spinach, and blue crab. The man is absorbed in the TV on the wall, which is playing sport fishing's equivalent of a big-wave-surfing highlight reel.
“Have a nice day, Pete," the waitress says as the man pays his bill.
“You too, sweetie."
Pete must be going fishing. There is no other reason to be awake at 6:30 a.m. in Islamorada, a sandy village that spans six islands about a third of the way down the Florida Keys. Snapper, bonefish, tarpon, marlin, mahi-mahi, wahoo, amberjack, goliath grouper — the waters here teem so heartily with marine life it doesn't seem fair to try to catch it. But people do: More saltwater sport fishing records have been established here than anywhere else in the world.
Smathers Beach in Key West
With about 6,500 residents, Islamorada is one of the larger communities in the Keys, the homes set back from the road along the water, most with a boat docked at a slip. Alongside the electric-blue sea, the buildings look blanched and bony, a row of pastel shells. Shops sell their mementos — sea sponges, wind chimes — along either side of U.S. 1, which evolved from the “railroad into the sea," built by oil tycoon Henry Flagler in 1912, into a highway that now connects the archipelago to the mainland.
I've dragged my boyfriend, Alex, along on this trip because we're both keen sport fishers. Actually, that isn't true. I've brought Alex along because I'm from Orlando, which makes the Keys a sort of idyllic backyard to the Disney- and alligator-filled jungle of my youth, and I feel he should see it. Also: I've brought him because my parents fell in love here, and I figure I should too. But let's not get ahead of ourselves — maybe we'll just start with some fishing.
Down the road from Mangrove Mike's, Captain Randy Towe's boat is docked in a small marina behind Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar. When we find him, he's already hopping on and off the boat, tying knots and placing important doodads in necessary locations. Captain Randy has lived in the Keys for 35 years, since an injury ended his minor-league pitching career, at which point he started a rod-making business. (He counts former President George H.W. Bush among his clients.)
Randy Towe, fishing guide
We step aboard Captain Randy's boat, a 34-foot Pursuit Center Console with twin 300 Yamaha engines — which in English means midsize and fast. About 20 minutes later, we reach a spot where he's had luck catching mutton snapper. The current tugs us slowly over the Crocker Reef as Captain Randy baits the lines and casts for us. Almost immediately, the lines zing with bites, and soon I've reeled in three flapping fish. Nothing to it.
Having tossed our haul into chilled seawater, the captain steers us back to dry land. “These'll be the best fish you ever tasted," he says, deftly stripping the fillets from the bones. “Because I don't put them in fresh water. If you rinse them in saltwater, like I do, they'll last a week. If you freeze these, they'll last a year." Captain Randy is not a man of many words, but the words he does say are awfully useful.
Like most restaurants in the Keys, the Lorelei does “catch and cook." I hand over our fillets and the chef pan-fries them in blackening spices and serves them with fries. While we wait on the deck, we order a round of key lime coladas, which taste as if someone dropped a slice of key lime pie into a blender full of rum. The snapper is indeed some of the best fish I've ever tasted. The key lime colada, however, is the best thing I have ever tasted.
“The best time to see the bars and restaurants in Islamorada is at sunset. The Lorelei goes crazy every night. Another good place is the Tiki Bar at Holiday Isle, which they're famous for. And the Postcard Inn is kind of a landmark." –Randy Towe
Fed and buzzed, we return to our previous night's hotel, Cheeca Lodge & Spa, an oceanfront resort that opened in 1946. A siesta is probably in order, but instead we head to the nearby beach to borrow paddleboards from the activities desk. We paddle out to a submerged log. I make the first complete circumnavigation, and Alex claims it in the name of room 403.
Back ashore, we wander past photos of the Lodge's notable visitors, who have included Bing Crosby, Paul Newman, and Jack Nicklaus. (It was also a favorite of the senior President Bush.) Our room has an open-air terrace and a soaker tub that fills from a faucet in the ceiling. I lie on the bed under an old wicker fan until the tub is full, then take a bath in the fresh air to wash off what's left of the ocean salt.
On our way down to Marathon Key, we stop at Robbie's Marina, where they'll let you look at tarpon for a buck and feed them for three and change. At first I think this is a scam. Then I hear the screams. I walk to the end of a dock and hold a limp fish over the water. One second. Two seconds. Three. A tarpon appears and opens its weird bony mouth under my hand. Its jaw looks like the prongs on a Trapper Keeper. Alex gets a slow-motion video of my face contorting as I recoil in horror. It's definitely worth $4.
Colonial architecture on Key West's Duval Street
Back on the elevated highway, I get the sense we're following the perspective line in a painting of the sea. We are surrounded by water, and the view is so beautiful that, over the next half-hour, we see three people driving convertibles while holding GoPros on selfie sticks.
We stop at Marathon because I am determined to see the Turtle Hospital, a former motel where vets rehabilitate ailing rescued turtles before releasing them back into the sea. One tank is full of turtle hatchlings the size of key limes. These guys aren't sick; they just got lost and need a ride back out to the ocean. They are unreasonably cute.
Back on U.S. 1, we drive 20 minutes to the check-in desk of Little Palm Island Resort and Spa, on Little Torch Key, to board a boat to the resort's private island. The boat is named the Truman, largely because the former president and his wife were regulars on the island. Our room is a thatch-roofed cabin with a private deck and hot tub. There's a four-poster bed trailing mosquito netting, and a standalone bath fitted with a candleholder. A path down to the water leads to a secret nook with a firepit and two chairs. Other paths lead to small clearings with white hammocks. If I can't fall in love at a place like this, I'm a lost cause.
The Key West lighthouse
Dinner is at The Dining Room at Little Palm, which won Zagat's Best Hotel Dining award in Florida in 2010, achieving “extraordinary to perfection" ratings in every category. At a table by the sea, we completely overorder: raw oysters, wahoo in coconut milk, butter-poached lobster, steak, corn biscuits, wine. More wine.
After dinner, we head down to our little cove, where we find a crackling fire, lit by some secret handyman while we were away. We lie back, listening to lapping waves and flip-flopping fish trying to escape tiny sharks, looking up at the stars and thinking about nothing at all. A storm rumbles off in the distance, but it, like everything else, is too far away to worry about.
In which Jacqueline stumbles on a shark, staples a dollar to a bar wall for all eternity, and goes to a bar that's unsuitable for children — or anyone, really.
Breakfast this morning shows up at a more reasonable hour, and we eat it in bed because it's a bed that's exceedingly difficult to leave. Eventually, we head off to meet Ray Scarborough, an adventure guide at the resort who also leads spearfishing, sunset sailing, and fishing charters.
Scarborough is the first person I've met in the Keys who didn't come on vacation and just decide to stay. He was born in Miami but grew up here and has been a boat captain since he was 20. “I've had a boat since before I had a car," he says. “I used to drive it to high school. At Key West High School, the beach is about a block away." I imagine the kind of grades I would have gotten at a school like that and shudder.
The old Hemingway haunt Sloppy Joe's, on Duval Street
Scarborough is taking us to Looe Key, which is not a Key in the shops-and-sandy-beaches sense but rather a part of one of the largest coral reefs in the world, which skirts the Keys along the Atlantic Ocean side like an eyebrow. When we arrive, there's a sense of utter isolation. We are in the middle of the sea. Underwater, though, it's like an aquatic rainforest. Purple fan corals wave. Iridescent parrotfish make audible crunching noises as they chip bits of algae off the coral with their beaks. Eventually, a four-foot reef shark appears out of the murk and heads straight for us, which we take as our cue to head back to the boat. Reef sharks usually aren't dangerous if you leave them alone, Scarborough tells us, but swimming mere feet from one is about as much adrenaline as I can handle before lunch.
Back on dry land, we check out of Little Palm, taking a boat back to Little Torch Key and our car, which waits, A/C on, in front of the check-in office. On the dash is a small bottle of the mango-coconut scent used in the hotel's shampoo and conditioner. Was it all a dream? It already seems like it.
Before following U.S. 1 to its terminus, at Key West, we double back to Big Pine Key, to eat lunch at a strange little bar called No Name Pub. Once a bait and tackle shop, it's spent several decades as a popular and quirky watering hole, completely papered in signed dollar bills. “About $250,000 worth," says the bartender when I ask. “It's 20 layers deep in places." We eat spicy Caribbean-style wings and sweet, vinegary smoked fish dip, washing it all down with the house ale, No Name Amber. All the while, we doodle on a dollar bill with markers supplied by the friendly bartender. On the way out, we staple the bill below the TV stand. “Jacqui + Alex," it says. May we last as long as this bar.
Ray Scarborough, adventure guide
Also on Big Pine, we find the National Key Deer Refuge, which is home to about a thousand of the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer in North America. We take a short walk to Blue Hole, a small freshwater-surfaced lake in an abandoned rock quarry, and, lo, a Key deer comes rustling through the leaves for something to nibble on.
Adorable deer photo secured, we drive to Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island for even more food. Hogfish is a sprawling tiki-roofed garage bar in the back of a working marina covered in out-of-state license plates. Because it serves only fresh-caught seafood (and because the species, sadly, is overfished), Hogfish doesn't always offer its namesake. If it is available, order it — the flesh is uniquely flaky and tasty. We try it fried in taco form, and it's even better than the snapper we caught yesterday.
Next, it's on to Key West, which has an architectural style similar to New Orleans' French Quarter, as well as the same laissez les bon temps rouler spirit. We drop our bags at the Cypress House Hotel, which consists of three traditional 19th-century Conch houses — the homes of the descendants of Bahamian settlers known as Conchs. The hotel's main building is a frothy double-porched thing with a green pool grotto made mostly out of palm fronds.
“There are about a thousand islands in the Keys, and a lot of them are secluded and uninhabited. It's beautiful, and you can just get in the water and swim. When I'm off work I do pretty much the same thing. I can't say I hate my job at all." –Ray Scarborough
After stopping in at the Ibis Bay Resort and renting a couple of bikes, which we take cruising along the waterfront to soak in the salty air, we decide that we're ready for another drink. So we stroll down to Duval Street, Key West's equivalent of Bourbon Street, to see what's what. Live music issues from dozens of open bars and porches. Cover bands play Led Zeppelin, Sublime, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Most people look at least slightly soused.
Two bars, Sloppy Joe's and Captain Tony's Saloon, claim to have been the preferred watering hole of the notoriously booze-soaked writer Ernest Hemingway, who once lived down the street. As far as I can tell, Papa drank at both. Alex and I end up in a mint green Victorian mansion with white trim, where the cocktail bar Caroline's Other Side is hopping. I order a Hemingway daiquiri — a concoction of rum, lime and grapefruit juices, simple syrup, and maraschino liqueur that its eponymous author was rumored to double fist during his time in Cuba.
Hemingway daiquiris are quite strong, which is the best excuse I have for our next stop: Garden of Eden, a clothing-optional bar up a wrought-iron staircase from Bull & Whistle Bar. Inside, the scene feels a lot like a middle school dance—most of the patrons line the walls, nervously sipping well drinks, while an uninhibited middle-aged gentleman dances, well, uninhibitedly, in the center. We take this as our cue that it's bedtime.
In which Jacqueline goes exploring with a photographer, visits the home of a great American author, and chows down on some ribs.
I awake bleary-eyed and demand a heavy breakfast before I'll set foot on another boat. We walk three blocks to 2¢ Restaurant and Pub, a brunch spot with a large garden and a polished wood interior that looks like the inside of an expensive yacht. I order the Thai chicken wings and waffles. Alex orders something healthy and then steals some of my wings.
After breakfast, we walk to the Key West Yacht Club to meet Jeffrey Cardenas, a gallery owner and photographer who once wrote a Walden-esque memoir about living alone on a boat. Right now, he's working on a project about the Keys and Cuba called Twins of Nature. He has graciously offered to take us on a trip to nearby Woman Key, where he's shooting some landscapes.
Feeding a tarpon at Robbie's Marina
Cardenas drops anchor about 50 feet offshore, near a feeding frenzy. “It's like the Serengeti out here, only wet," he says, watching brown pelicans dive into a school of glass minnows so large it darkens the water to a deep gray. He hops out of the boat and wades up to a small island. On shore there's an impromptu art project created by the island's sporadic visitors — a towering heap of driftwood, netting, buoys, and found objects that looks a bit like a parade float created by a magpie. “Anyone can add to it," Cardenas says. “If you see something you like, pick it up and put it here."
We walk the beach in search of goodies. Camera in hand, Cardenas sits in the sand to get an angle on a piece of driftwood that looks like a cow skull.
“It's hard to believe we're still in America," I say.
“Not for long," Cardenas says. “America ends 20 miles from here."
Before we leave, we add an old milk crate and some sea glass to the construction. Cardenas hangs a piece of string from a stick so that it looks as if the parade float is going fishing. Artists are so creative.
Jeffrey Cardenas, photographer
On the way back, Cardenas drops us off at his gallery/shop, Salt, a couple of blocks from Key West Cemetery, where we pick up salt scrubs and locally crafted jewelry for friends back home. Most of the houses around here are candy-colored Victorians bestrewn with wind chimes and flying Conch Republic flags. A person could walk here all day, imagining buying a house with a hammock and starting, say, a combination yoga studio and laundromat.
The heat down here can be exhausting, which is one reason (along with proximity to Cuba) the coffee's so strong. We stop at Cuban Coffee Queen, a cheery roadside stand in a tin-roofed hut, for a pair of buccis — thick and sugary espresso shots — along with Cuban bread topped with cream cheese and guava jam. It's sweet and rich and pairs beautifully with the taste of coffee and salt.
“There's a guy who makes honey from the mangrove trees here, and another couple has the Earth and Sea Farm — they evaporate the Gulf Stream water and make sea salt out of it for eating. You can buy both at Salt Gallery in Key West." –Jeffrey Cardenas
Now it's time to see the home of the man himself, Hemingway, who lived, boated, and drank in Key West from 1928 to 1939. The house is a bit touristy, but its mystique is powerful enough that it doesn't matter. It's an old place, creaky, with rambling porches and a pool and the writer's peaceful studio up a flight of steps in a separate building. He wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls here, surrounded by a rabble of six-toed cats, the descendants of whom still roam the grounds, hoping for snacks.
The fish in the Keys is so fresh it seems like sacrilege to cry uncle, but we do anyway and head to Firefly, a Key West soul-food-fusion restaurant in a two-story Southern-style house that's run by Tricia Coyne, who went to culinary school in Atlanta. We order fluffy bacon-and-crab beignets, deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, bison short ribs that are falling off the bone, and a pair of beers we've never heard of from an eclectic booze list. Everything is rich and fatty and wonderful and, yes, not fish.
Fishing off the dock at Cheeca Lodge
We are starting to get into the idea of spending the rest of the evening doing nothing, and there's a fine porch waiting for us back at the Cypress House, so we stop at a gas station to pick up a pair of Landshark Lagers, the house beer from local hero Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. The foliage beyond the porch is thick and glossy, and we peer through it at people riding by on bikes on their way down to Duval.
“What's so interesting about the Keys is how seriously people take relaxation," Alex says. He mentions the “no public cell phone use" signs staked all over Little Palm Island, and the man we saw at a bar on Duval who'd brought his own beer koozie. He has a point. We've met so many people who came here on vacation and decided to stay. It's such a common story that there's a look people give you when they tell it, a twitch of a smile and a raised brow that says, “Are you next?"
A decision like that might come easily, but it's a decision nonetheless: Leave the malls and entertainment centers and office buildings to move to a place that is exceptionally beautiful and full of life, but faraway and slower-paced. Risk the hurricanes for a shot at real happiness. Live more, by doing less.Popular Mechanics articles editor Jacqueline Detwiler wonders if her boss would notice if she installed a hammock behind her desk.
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The latest updates for New York/New Jersey
Hard to believe spring is around the corner, and if you're like me that means starting to think about our family travel plans. Highlighted below are a few ways we are working hard to help make your journeys faster, easier and better in the months ahead.
Improving your experience at our airports
We're excited to move into the new Terminal B at LaGuardia later this year. This is a world-class state-of-the-art facility with fabulous local dining and shopping options such as District Market, Kingside, Shake Shack and FAO Schwarz. Our United Club℠ location will also now be located after security to help you comfortably settle in before your flight.
At Newark Airport, United and our partner, the Port Authority, are working together to improve your experience by adding more pods for nursing mothers; new, larger restrooms; and this summer, an expanded TSA checkpoint that shows expected wait times.
Growing our network and fleet
This summer, we are introducing new seasonal nonstop flights to Naples and Prague and offering the return of great destinations such as Nantucket, Massachusetts, and Rapid City, South Dakota, for an easy trip to the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore.
Additionally, through April, we'll continue to fly nonstop from Newark to Palm Springs. And on March 30, we'll begin flying our brand-new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner to Dublin, Frankfurt and Tel Aviv, with Barcelona, Brussels and Paris routes to follow this summer.
Investing in our community
United has been serving the New York/New Jersey area for almost 100 years and giving back to our community continues to be a steadfast commitment from the United family. We are proud to announce new partnerships including the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, the Trevor Project, and the Aviation High School in Queens. This year we'll also continue cheer on runners as the official sponsor of the New York Half Marathon on Sunday, March 17, and are proud to have representatives from Special Olympics running alongside of United employees.
Newark is also featured as the Three Perfect Days destination in the latest issue of Hemispheres, so you can learn about great restaurants and cultural institutions that don't even require a flight to visit.
Thank you for choosing United
In Greater New York, we know you have many choices of carriers to fly, so from our family to yours — thank you. We appreciate your loyalty and welcome your feedback. Hearing from you is important to us, so please continue to send your thoughts and ideas to me at JillKaplan@united.com.
Arizona's outdoors in the spring
This may be the best time of year to visit Arizona — and not just for relaxing by the pool. Smart travelers flock to the state in May, June and July for hotel rates that are often lower than the peak-season rates paid by winter “snowbirds" from northern states. But resort bargains and swimming-pool temperatures aren't the only reasons to visit Arizona at this time. There are also plenty of outdoor opportunities to enjoy, as long as you choose the right activities, locations and time of day to get out.
Desert Dawn peak climbs
Residents of Phoenix and Tucson who like to get outdoors in late spring and early summer know they can best enjoy short hikes by rising early. The busiest time on the trails is before 8 a.m. The most popular hiking paths in Phoenix and Scottsdale climb iconic mid-city peaks, which span from the desert floor up to panoramic views at the top. The hikes up Camelback, Piestewa and Pinnacle Peaks are all wonderful, well-marked and popular — each taking less than two hours roundtrip. In Tucson, the best short hikes are in Sabino Canyon and Saguaro National Park on the outer rim of the city.
Hikes in the mountains
Phoenix and Tucson visitors who aren't early risers or who don't want to settle for short hikes can drive to spots where the temperatures and mountain vistas are similar to those in Colorado. Only a two-hour drive from Phoenix, you can head to Sedona, with an altitude of about 4,300 feet, or Flagstaff, with an altitude of about 6,900 feet, where the higher elevations mean much lower temperatures. Sedona has some of the world's most dramatic day hikes among its stunning red-rock formations, while Flagstaff offers mountain hikes that soar up to 12,600 feet, such as Humphries Peak Summit Trail. From Tucson, the usual triple-digit temps drop to the 60s during the twisting, 90-minute drive up 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon. Trails through the sub-alpine forest await hikers at the summit.
Paddle the Verde River
Another good way to beat the Arizona heat is to get splashed by cool water — but not just in your resort pool. You can also take a dip in the Verde River in an inflatable kayak. Verde Adventures hosts guided trips down the river through the end of summer. You'll paddle through narrow limestone canyons and float past hardwood forests on the shallow river, which has plenty of tame rapids that are just adventurous enough to please both the thrill-seekers and the mild-adventurers. You can choose between a kid-friendly two-hour tubing trip or half-day inflatable kayak trip, or enjoy the Water to Wine Tour with an adult companion, which ends with a tasting at Alcantara Vineyards. You'll be driven the short distance to the river from Cottonwood or Clarkdale, both less than a two-hour drive from Phoenix.
Jump in a Jeep
Following along the dusty dirt roads that rim the edges of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and Sedona, the Jeep tour is a classic option for visitors to Arizona. The 4x4 Jeep probably won't be air-conditioned, but the wind and Arizona's rich red earth will be in your hair. Less adventurous options include tours in enclosed Hummers or vans. After bumping along scenic back roads for miles, many Jeep tours offer a “cowboy cookout" at a pretty spot in the desert or mountains before you return to civilization. From Phoenix, Scottsdale or Tucson, most Jeep tours venture into the Sonoran Desert, while Sedona Jeep tours bring you up close to its renowned red-rock formations.
Up, up & away
Arizona's dry air makes it one of America's prime locations for hot air balloon rides. Colorful balloons lift off in the cool temperatures and low winds of sunrise from all over greater Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and Sedona, often providing a champagne breakfast afterward. Some also offer sunset flights; one Phoenix company serves hors d'oeuvres from a gourmet restaurant after evening landings. Prevailing winds dictate whether you'll fly up to a mile high or close enough to the ground to spot desert wildlife, but regardless, it's a memorable bucket-list thrill.
If you go
We follow the FAA's order to ground all Boeing 737 Max aircraft
Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and employees. As we have said since Sunday, we have been in close contact with investigators as well as Boeing to share data and fully cooperate with regulatory authorities. We will comply with the FAA's order and will ground our 14 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. We will remain in close contact with authorities as their investigation continues.
Since Sunday, we have been working diligently on contingency plans to prepare our fleet to minimize the impact to customers. Our Boeing 737 MAX aircraft account for roughly 40 flights a day and through a combination of spare aircraft and rebooking customers, we do not anticipate a significant operational impact as a result of this order. We will continue to work with our customers to help minimize any disruption to their travel plans.
We extend lease agreement at iconic Willis Tower in Chicago
Today, we announced that we will keep our current headquarters at the iconic Willis Tower in our hometown of Chicago while making investments to transform our current workspace and experience. Our new agreement extends our existing lease by five additional years to March 31, 2033.
Remaining at Willis Tower will allow us to completely reimagine the workspace from the bottom up. Over the coming months and years, we will redesign our workspace to allow employees to better collaborate, use the latest technology and interact with each other — all with the end goal of providing unmatched service to our front-line employees and customers. And today's announcement is part of our overall effort to improve workspaces and facilities across the system.As we begin the work to reimagine Willis Tower for our employees, a majority of the funding to transform the building is being made by the building's owner, The Blackstone Group. In addition, they are investing more than $500 million in the building for all tenants, which will transform it from the inside out that will deliver exciting new dining, fitness and retail options.
"As one of the city's largest private employers and its hometown airline, we are excited to deepen our roots here in Chicago while making the investments needed to reimagine the headquarters for our employees," said United Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz. "The investments we are making will help our employees provide unparalleled service to their front-line colleagues and to our customers as we continue to improve and realize our airline's full potential."
And as one of the most ideally situated buildings in the city, with easy access to all Chicago Transit Authority train lines and Union and Ogilvie Stations, as well as nearby bus stops, Willis Tower already provides distinct advantages and will remain attractive to future job seekers throughout the metropolitan region.
Weekend inspiration: Palm Springs
After a combined 60-plus years of living in cities with snowstorms and cold weather, this winter we decided it was time to pack away the parkas in exchange for a month of sun in Palm Springs.
And it was heaven. 70-degree days filled with morning swims, long walks without a jacket and joyful dogs running around the backyard. Working on murals throughout the valley in perfect drawing conditions was paradise for us, considering we were typically working in freezing weather with pale skin, chapped lips and cracking knuckles. We found our new January normal.
Our month in paradise consisted of many highlights, so if you're in town for a few days, here are some of our favorite spots.
If you're looking to rent a place in Palm Springs, we recommend Relax Palm Spring on Airbnb. They have more than 60 rentals in the Coachella Valley area, and we loved the house we stayed in. Every single thing we needed was available on-site or just a phone call away with this professional vacation rental group.
If you're looking to go the hotel route, we highly recommend The Colony Palms Hotel. This Spanish Colonial-style hotel features high-end casitas and a sweet hotel pool with stunning mountain views. La Serena Villas has a similar small-town feel with a wonderful restaurant attached. Further outside of the downtown area, Parker Palm Springs is a stylish and creatively fulfilling place to stay and play.
No matter where you stay, we recommend Azúcar for dinner (at La Serena Hotel). Make sure you get the watermelon appetizer, refreshing with bursts of sweet balsamic beads trickled over the top. You'll feel like a kid at the pool in summer all over again.
Get up early and head to Palm Desert. Make your way over to Wilma & Frieda at The Gardens on El Paseo for one of the best breakfasts you'll find in the valley. The pastries are all excellent and homemade. The dishes are creative with items like "churro waffles" and "banana caramel French toast."
After breakfast, stop by Kelsey's giraffe mural at the Gardens on El Paseo (directions found here) to give her giraffe a kiss. Then drive up the highway to The Living Desert.
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens is an incredibly well-designed zoo that takes advantage of the stunning desert scenery with every animal exhibit.
On your way back, stop for a sweet treat at the café at Shields Date Gardens for one of their legendary date shakes. Wander through the 1950's feeling diner and gift shop and into the 17-acre date garden. These shakes are a Palm Springs staple and worth every delicious calorie.
For lunch, wander around the hotel lobby at Parker Palm Springs to admire their excellent interior design decisions before heading into Norma's restaurant for an al fresco lunch.
If you have time, spend the afternoon at Joshua Tree National Park. The blend of Mojave and Colorado deserts results in a unique and stunning landscape. Begin your tour/hike at one of the visitor centers. From here, you can go on a relaxed half-day tour with a guide or head out on one of the 12 self-guiding nature trails.
Spend sunset here or head back downtown to enjoy the sunset at The Colony Palms Hotel's Restaurant, The Purple Palm, with a quality craft cocktail. After sunset, make your way to the popular Italian restaurant Birba for dinner. Birba boasts excellent pizzas with a wide variety of interesting toppings. Be sure to make reservations beforehand.
Spend the day exploring Palm Springs. Go to Cheeky's for breakfast, but make sure to get there early, as a line forms before the doors even open. Their world-famous bacon flight is a must – it's unique and so tasty.
Palm Springs boasts an unbelievable amount of art experiences. Experiential art, art museums and mid-century Modern Design galore. If you can, try to visit Palm Springs during their Modernism week in February. Be sure to get tickets to their house events and tour some of the most breathtakingly beautifully designed houses. And if you're lucky, Desert X might be around during the same time and hunting for art installations throughout the valley, which would be quite the sight.
If a large art fair isn't happening while you're in Palm Springs, we highly recommend heading to the City of Coachella. Their downtown boasts some incredible murals and Kelsey was honored to join the ranks recently. Kelsey completed a pair of "What Lifts You" wings that are colorful and an ode to the Hispanic roots of the community on the side of City Hall.
A trip to Palm Springs isn't complete without a picture with the Cabazon Dinosaurs. Made famous through their feature in movies like National Lampoon's Vacation and The Wizard – it's an Instagram-worthy stop.
For lunch, head back to downtown Palm Springs and enjoy a healthy meal at the charming restaurant Farm. Tucked into an interior courtyard, this restaurant feels like you've stepped into the French countryside. It's healthy, clean food even tastes like the South of France with their traditionally French dishes.
Walk off your lunch by exploring the boutiques in Downtown Palm Springs. These mid-century modern shops are not to be missed: A La Mod, Modernway, Vintage Oasis and The Frippery.
Complete your weekend with dinner at the chic Workshop Kitchen + Bar. Their wine cellar is massive and their waiters expertly trained. Trust them to find a new and different flavor for you – something you'll remember long after your weekend in Palm Springs.
Ode to a flight pioneer
With all she's seen and done over a century on this earth, some of Betty Stockard's fondest memories are of the years she spent slipping its surly bonds.
Seventy-seven birthdays have passed since she took to the skies for United as one of the first non-nurse flight attendants in our history, but you wouldn't know it talking with her today as she prepares to celebrate her 100th birthday. Betty's recollections of that time, when she was a 23-year-old searching for excitement and a life to call her own, are crystal clear, her stories conjuring a vivid, gorgeous image of the golden era of aviation.
Born near Kalispell, Montana, on May 16, 1919 as Elizabeth Jean Riley, becoming an aviation pioneer was the furthest thing from Betty's mind growing up. As she recalled, her only brushes with flight back then occurred when the occasional small airplane would appear in the sky above the family homestead. But following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Betty, like most Americans, wanted to contribute to the war effort. She packed her bags, moved to Seattle and took an administrative job at the Boeing plant where thousands of bombers would soon roll off the assembly lines.
She had been there for about two months when she saw an item in the Seattle Times announcing United was looking for a new crop of flight attendants. For years, airlines had only hired nurses into those roles, but with more and more of them now needed in combat zones, that was no longer the case. Despite having never stepped foot on an airplane, Betty applied.
What followed was a whirlwind. After meeting with United personnel managers in Seattle, she took her first-ever flight for a second round of interviews in San Francisco. Two weeks later she received a telegram instructing her to report to Chicago, where she joined 24 other women from across the country for six weeks of intense training, heavy on first aid and safety.
"The instructors told us not to smile much because it was a serious job," remembered Betty. "They wanted us to maintain a professional attitude.
"But the stuff about not smiling didn't last long once I was on an airplane myself."
As Betty put it, being a stewardess in those days was nearly on par with being a movie star, and she often rubbed shoulders with celebrities and dignitaries, like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and silver screen idol Clark Gable, on her trips up and down the West Coast. But it wasn't all glitz and glamour and grins.
Flight attendants in the mid-1940s were just as busy serving their country as they were serving their customers. United flew many military men during World War II, and flight crews were responsible for looking after them. And, at least in Betty's case, those wartime duties included a little intrigue as well.
In the summer of 1945, after checking in for a flight from San Francisco to Seattle, her dispatcher told her that two men from the U.S. Army were waiting for her in the next room. They handed Betty a small, brown package and instructed her to pin it inside her jacket until she arrived in Seattle, where another Army representative would meet her. In the meantime, they warned, she was not to open the parcel or tell anyone she had it.
The aircraft landed in Seattle just after 2 a.m. and taxied to a dark corner of the airfield. There, a military man came on board, took the package, and promptly departed, leaving Betty to wonder what she had just been part of.
Secret missions aside, Betty was smitten with life in the air. She'll still tell you it was the best job in the world. Soon, though, she found herself equally smitten with a handsome former fighter pilot by the name of Ray Stockard, whom she met during a flight in 1946.
Ray was traversing the country interviewing for jobs with commercial airlines, and the two hit it off immediately, beginning a courtship shortly after. Betty adored Ray, but it was a bittersweet romance, for she knew if she got married she'd be trading one love for another since, at that time, stewardesses had to be single.
Alas, the heart wants what it wants, and Betty and Ray, who by that time was flying for Pan American, set a wedding date. Originally, they were to wed in May of 1947, but that spring, United announced it would begin service to Honolulu that summer. Betty talked Ray into briefly postponing the nuptials so that she could enjoy her last months as a flight attendant on the Hawaiian route.
"I hated giving up flying, but I knew I was making the right move," she said. "I was looking forward to the next chapter."
Fortunately, marrying a pilot meant she didn't have to walk away from the industry altogether. In the years that followed, she, Ray and their four children – Joe, Denise, Ed and Dick – traveled the world together. And while they did most of that flying on Pan Am, Betty never lost her soft spot for United, the airline where it all started. She still flies United, in fact, and still enjoys meeting flight attendants on her journeys, though she rarely, if ever, tells them about her past, preferring instead to ask them questions about themselves.
When you are lucky enough to get her talking about herself, though, she doesn't disappoint. Betty's stories are riveting, and she's been known to dispense a kernel of wisdom or two if pressed. So, what's the best advice she gives after 100 years of a rich, full life? Value education and relationships above all else, travel as much as possible, and be fearless in your pursuits.
"It's been such a good life," she said. "I couldn't have asked for a more interesting career. I still carry with me the memories of the people I met on airplanes and the places I went. If there's a lesson there, it's that you should get out and do things and not be afraid to try. By doing that, I've had one of the best lives ever."
Après 3 ways
Story by Nicholas DeRenzo | Hemispheres, November 2018
There's only one way to take the ski slopes: fast. But there are all sorts of approaches to post-powder R&R. Here, Hemispheres looks at a trio of America's favorite winter resorts and offers three methods to après-ski—glitzy, old-school, and family-style—at each. There's something for everyone in the “after"-life.
Tucked in a box canyon far from the hustle of Colorado's other ski resorts, highbrow yet rustic Telluride is two destinations in one. America's only free public-transportation gondola connects the Victorian mining town where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank to the Alpine-style Mountain Village and its 2,000 acres of skiable terrain. You might bump into one of the many celebrities with vacation homes here (Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld), but play it cool: It's the Telluride way.
At 11,966 feet, the Dolomite hütte–inspired Alpino Vino is North America's highest restaurant. By day, the tiny wooden cottage is reachable on skis (it's a short glide downhill from the top of Lift 14); at night, heated snow-coaches whisk diners to a five-course Italian tasting menu experience, complete with the region's most impressive wine list. Go for a Brunello di Montalcino—the cellar contains bottles from nearly two dozen producers. Tasting menu $150, with $75 and $125 wine pairing options, tellurideskiresort.com
Down in town, belly up to the original 1897 mahogany and cherrywood bar at the New Sheridan Hotel saloon, one of the oldest watering holes in the West. The setting may inspire you to order a whiskey, but there's no better place to try the city's unofficial beverage, the Flatliner, made with vanilla vodka, Baileys, Kahlúa, and espresso. newsheridan.com
A little red cabin near the base of the free gondola houses Taco Del Gnar, a delightfully grungy spot selling creative tacos like tempura avocado, housemade lamb sausage, smoked pork belly, and seared ahi tuna. Kids will love the queso blanco–topped tater tots, while parents can work their way through the list of local beers. gnarlytacos.com
Sun Valley, Idaho
Built on the edge of the mining town of Ketchum in 1936, Sun Valley was the world's first destination ski resort and the home of the first chairlift, which was derived from a device that had been used to load bananas onto rail cars. The mountain instantly began attracting the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, and Ernest Hemingway—a favorite adopted citizen who helped popularize the image of this valley as one of the West's great outdoorsy getaways.
Papa Hemingway ate his last supper in 1961 at Michel's Christiania, a fine-dining (but verycomfortable) French restaurant in the heart of Ketchum where you can order classics like trout meunière and escargots bourguignonne. Chef-owner Michel Rudigoz is a former U.S. women's ski team coach, which explains all the memorabilia in the attached Olympic Bar. michelschristiania.com
There's nothing fancy about Grumpy's, a dive bar that turned 40 this year. Known for its 32-ounce beer schooners and hodge-podge decor (vintage beer can–lined walls, a prop dog from There's Something About Mary), the bar is a favorite among paparazzi-dodging stars like Bruce Springsteen, who has been known to sing a few tunes when he stops in. grumpyssunvalley.com
Après-ski often means getting out of the cold ASAP, but for one of the valley's most memorable off-slope activities, you'll need to brave the chill a bit longer. The kids will love a Clydesdale-drawn sleigh ride to Trail Creek Cabin for hearty mountain staples such as buffalo tenderloin and ruby trout, plus German chocolate cake for dessert. sunvalley.com
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Perched on the edge of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole has always felt wild. Trappers used the term “hole" to describe the valley's vertigo-inducing sides, and the resort has used that geological feature to maximum effect. Dubbed “The Big One," the area boasts America's biggest vertical drop in ski terrain (more than 4,100 feet), as well as Corbet's Couloir, a legendarily deranged run that tops many ski-bum bucket lists.
When skiers talk about a good powder day, some may be referring to the powdered sugar on the waffles at Corbet's Cabin. (Remember, après starts early when you're skiing with kids.) Located at 10,450 feet, atop Rendezvous Peak, this refueling station is reachable by the Aerial Tram and dishes out hot waffles in flavors like the Nutella-topped Italian, the lemon-glazed Englishman, and the peanut butter and smoked bacon–stacked Gateway. Parents can warm up faster by spiking their hot cocoa or coffee with Irish cream, whiskey, or schnapps. jacksonhole.com
Opened in 1967, the Mangy Moose saloon has attracted performers like Jason Aldean and Brandi Carlile. Grab a table under the antlered taxidermy for a buffalo fillet or trout and chips, paired with locally inspired cocktails (like the Huckleberry Cosmo) or the Tourist Trap, a “shot ski" with four shots of Fireball or Rumple Minze. mangymoose.com
The newest member of chef Gavin Fine's aptly named Fine Dining Restaurant Group (which includes an ice cream parlor and craft butcher) is Hotel Terra's Bar Enoteca, a Mediterranean wine and cocktail bar that opened last fall. Small plates such as the wild game sausage and goat cassoulet are perfect for post-slope grazing. hotelterrajacksonhole.com
The day off: Silicon Beach
Story by Justin Goldman | Hemispheres, March 2019
Los Angeles's ongoing tech boom—which in the last few years has seen the building of Google and Yahoo! campuses on a parcel of Playa Vista that was once Howard Hughes's private airfield—has earned the Westside the nickname Silicon Beach. Got a day off in La La Land? Here's how to spend it on the beach.
Opener: Courtesy of Shutters on the Beach; Above: Jakob Layman
Beat the line at Huckleberry Bakery and Cafe by getting to the Santa Monica institution right when it opens. You'll feel very West Coast if you order the organic quinoa and market vegetables bowl (made with ingredients from the renowned Santa Monica Farmers Market, just down the street), but if you want to treat yourself on your day off, opt for a stack of the café's signature pancakes.
Duffy Archives, Courtesy of the Peter Fetterman Gallery
The Westside has long drawn an artsy crowd. Take in that vibe at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station, a former trolley stop and industrial warehouse that's now a complex of more than 20 galleries. Don't miss the photography at the Peter Fetterman Gallery (pictured above) or the modern and contemporary works at Latin American Masters.
Courtesy of the Stronghold
Venice is SoCal's boho capital, and the ever-trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard is its main commercial artery. Splurge on a Lewis Leathers motorcycle jacket at The Stronghold (pictured above) or a flower-print dress at Stone Cold Fox. Congratulations: Your credit card statement now rivals your student loans.
Courtesy of Gjusta
Take a number at the über-hip deli and bakery Gjusta. Be prepared to wait a while before you order, and you'll need sharp elbows to fight for a seat on the patio, but the hassle is worth it for the tuna conserva sandwich.
Head back to your hotel, Shutters on the Beach. Change into some sneakers and jog down to Muscle Beach to see some bodies that have clearly not been enjoying the food at Huckleberry or Gjusta, then beat a retreat to your balcony. Open your shutters (truth in advertising!) and watch the sun sink behind the Santa Monica Pier and into the Pacific.
2016 Wonho Lee
Dinner is at one of the toughest tables in LA, Felix Trattoria, Esquire's best new restaurant in America for 2017. Chef Evan Funke cut his teeth at Spago, and now he cuts handmade pastas in a glass-enclosed kitchen at the north end of Abbot Kinney. Don't miss the perfectly al dente orecchiette with sausage sugo.
Wonho Frank Lee
For a nightcap, take a seat on the patio at Makani, a new Korean-influenced spot on Venice's up-and-coming Rose Avenue. Try a Doctor Bird's Sour (rum, orgeat, bitters, and lemon) from the rum-centric cocktail list, plus—why not?—Manila clams with chile de árbol and wood-fired ciabatta slices. The only thing prettier than the fare on your table is the oh-so-SoCal crowd tippling around you.
The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".
Better Boarding consists of three key improvements
Less time in line:
By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.
Simplified gate layout
Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today
Group 1 will board through the blue lane.
Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.
Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.
Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.
We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.
Be in the know about boarding
Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).
Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.
Balanced groups and better recognition:
United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx
Improved premier customer recognition
We're happy to make them happy
Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.
The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience
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Neighbors, coworkers, parents, protectors, heroes. All of these labels and more encompass the men and women whose devotion to our country serves as the truest embodiment of the American spirit. We're talking about Veterans. Join host Phil Torres as he heads to our nation's capital to learn more about these heroes and to explore just how many United employees are veterans on this Big Metal Bird.