No translation necessary
The white and yellow dots spread out farther than the eye can see, seemingly even beyond imagination. These lights, millions of them comprising Tokyo at night, helped make the Park Hyatt's New York Bar famous. After all, the bar and its view, 52 stories up, were an instrumental part of Sofia Coppola's 2003 paean to love and jet lag, Lost in Translation.
That movie turned this bar into a mecca for film fans, and in a way it provided the reason for my maiden voyage to the Land of the Rising Sun, as well. Only I'm not here as a cinephile. I've crossed 13 time zones to drink Japanese whiskey—a phenomenon I was awoken to by Bill Murray's Oscar-nominated performance. You know the one: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time."
"My love for brown spirits and my lifelong fascination with Japan were inevitable bedfellows."
When I first saw Lost in Translation, 15 years ago, my reaction to that line was probably exactly what Coppola intended: Japanese whiskey? Bill's really selling out… As a recent college graduate whose budget couldn't handle much beyond the occasional bottle of Maker's Mark, I had no idea how wrong I was. In fact, Suntory, the maker of the now famed Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Hibiki whiskeys, was just launching itself into the global consciousness. In 2003, the Yamazaki 12-year won a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge, and from 2010 on, Suntory whiskeys raked in golds, with the company winning Distiller of the Year four times. In 2014, Whisky Bible author Jim Murray called the 2013 Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask the best whiskey in the world. Bottles from Suntory and its main competitor, Nikka, became nigh unavailable in the U.S. (The cheapest bottle of that 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask I can find online is $3,500.)
A vintage Nikka Whiskey logo
During the years that Japan's distillers were rising like the sun over the Pacific, I was busy fostering a determinedly American predilection for bourbon. While I systematically worked through the ever-shifting catalog at my excellent neighborhood bar—The Page in San Francisco—Pappy Van Winkle was going from a $15 pour I'd order when I was feeling mildly indulgent to a symbol of the cruelty of supply and demand. I visited Kentucky on several occasions, tasting my way down the Bourbon Trail, from Clermont (the home of Jim Beam, which Suntory bought in 2014) to Loretto (my beloved red wax–topped Maker's) to Lawrenceburg (Four Roses, William Faulkner's favorite, which another Japanese company, Kirin, bought in 2001) to Frankfort (Buffalo Trace, where Pappy is made, along with another of my regulars, Eagle Rare). And when I crossed the pond to Ireland, my two must-visits were James Joyce's house (as a thank-you for “The Dead") and the Jameson distillery (as a thank-you for the many, many shots I've taken after Giants playoff victories).
My love for brown spirits and my lifelong fascination with Japan—which I owe to my Kurosawa-worshipping father—were inevitable bedfellows. So, finally, this spring, I decided to make my way across hemispheres to learn exactly what makes Japanese whiskey so good—and to drink as much of it as possible.
A jazz band at the New York Bar in Tokyo
Naturally, I've started at the New York Bar. I'm seated at a long communal table, listening to a jazz singer do the Eagles' “Desperado" (it was Simon & Garfunkel's “Scarborough Fair" in Lost in Translation) as the manager, Moritz Kam, sets four single malts in front of me: a Yamazaki and a Hakushu from Suntory, a Yoichi and a Miyagikyo from Nikka. “What is notable about Japanese craftsmanship is the aim for perfection," he tells me, before offering a lament I'll hear often this week: “Even in Japan, you are not able to find some of the vintage whiskeys."
My first glass contains one of the most coveted whiskeys in the world: the Yamazaki 18. It's smooth, oaky, a little sweet, with a profile somewhat reminiscent of a Macallan. The Yoichi and Miyagikyo are peatier, smokier, while the Hakushu pushes those characteristics even further, leaving a lush layer of oil on my tongue. While each stands out from the others in subtle ways, I can't help but think they're siblings who started in the same home but took different paths to success.
Scotland is, of course, where all of the world's whiskeys can trace their roots. But the fathers of Japanese whiskey, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, hewed closer to the original than anyone else (even spelling the word à la the Scots, without the “e"). The story begins in 1899, when Torii opened an imported-wine shop in Osaka. A few years later, he produced a popular sweet port wine and funneled the profits into building a distillery just outside Kyoto.
High-quality water feeds a pond at the Yamazaki Distillery
I learn all this from plaques inside that very distillery. I've taken the Shinkansen bullet train two and a half hours from Tokyo to the ancient imperial capital to visit Yamazaki, the birthplace of Japanese whiskey. At the entryway, I'm greeted by a tour guide, who explains that Torii built the distillery here in 1923 to take advantage of the local water and climate. “Yamazaki water has been famous for its pristine quality since ancient history," she says, “and the damp and misty and humid environment is very suitable for aging whiskey in casks."
We continue inside, past the mash tuns and fermentation tanks, where malt, much of it imported from Scotland, is turned into the spirit's base, wort. We follow the pipeline of fermented liquid to a long hall where two rows of copper pot stills of varying shapes and sizes (each of which imparts a different flavor) distill the wort down to new-made whiskey—what we in the States call moonshine. As we walk, my guide breaks down Suntory's history. “Shinjiro's dream was to make a whiskey that would suit the taste of the Japanese," she says, “because when he started the business, he imitated Scotch whiskey, and Japanese were like, Oh, this is too peaty—we don't like this."
Copper pot stills at the Yamazaki Distillery
That first whiskey, 1929's Suntory Shirofuda (“white label"), may not have been a world-beater, but in 1937 the company put out a second one, Kakubin, which sold well throughout Japan. In the 1960s, highball bars began popping up, specializing in what has become Japan's signature cocktail—a diluted, highly carbonated whiskey soda. Highballs continued to grow in popularity into the 1980s, and in 1984 Keizo Saji, Torii's son and successor as Suntory president, put out the first Yamazaki single malt. The high-end Hibiki blended whiskeys (which contain both malt and corn liquor) followed in 1989. In 1994 came the Hakushu single malts, which are made at a gorgeous distillery in the Japanese Alps and are now nearly as prized as Yamazakis.
Our next stop on the tour is the aging warehouse. Yamazaki uses several types of cask: American white oak, Spanish sherry casks, French wine casks, and mizunara, an oak that grows on the northern island of Hokkaido. Whiskeys are aged in the different casks for years—sometimes as much as three decades—and then the blenders combine them. A common misconception is that single-malt whiskey comes from single casks; actually, expressions from various casks are blended to make a more complex final product.
At the end of the tour, I meet Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory's chief blender and the creator of the gold medal–winning Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Fukuyo got into the business while in college because one of his professors noted that he “seemed to like whiskey"; he worked at Hakushu and then at Morrison Bowmore in Scotland before coming to Yamazaki. As we stand next to a floor-to-ceiling window, looking out on a hillside bamboo grove, the bespectacled 57-year-old takes me through the tasting process for his brainchild.
Suntory Chief blender Shinji Fukuyo
He lines up 10 slim bottles ranging in color from pale flax to deep amber. Two are grain whiskeys, two are Hakushu malts, six are Yamazaki malts. (Two of the latter are aged in sherry casks.) He offers notes as we sip and spit in the same fashion as Suntory's blenders. The sherry cask whiskeys taste “like dried fruits." The grain whiskeys are “similar to bourbon—calm, sweet, easy to drink." A heavily peated Yamazaki is medicinal, “like you were in a hospital." A mizunara-aged Yamazaki has a “very elegant, spicy top note, an important aftertaste for Japanese Harmony." Finally, a whiskey aged in French oak wine casks is “the best sweet—mild, like a strawberry." I'm jealous when I discover that Suntory's blenders taste 200 to 300 whiskeys a day in search of the ideal combination of these flavors. The proportions are always changing, because each vintage—indeed, each cask—can taste different from the last.
As the country's whiskey has grown more popular overseas, Fukuyo says Japanese people have increasingly come to treasure it. “We have drunk whiskey for a long time, but now we've got a lot of awards, and foreigners can come to Yamazaki, so Japanese people ourselves are starting to get proud of Japanese whiskey.
The Yamazaki Whiskey Museum
After profusely thanking Fukuyo, I head downstairs to the Yamazaki Whisky Museum, where hundreds of bottles from across the whiskey color spectrum are lined up on backlit shelves. There's also a tasting counter, where I order a Yamazaki 18, a Hibiki 21, and a special Yamazaki aged in a type of cask called a puncheon. As I bring them over to an empty barrel-top table, an elderly Japanese man in a rather Scottish getup—argyle sweater vest and newsboy hat—comes over. He speaks a bit of English, and he tells me his name is Genji and he used to work as a tour guide here. (He's retired but still carries his old business card.) “I come here every day," he tells me, to have a drink and chat with tourists. He points out his favorite whiskey on the menu, the puncheon cask, and when I motion toward that very dram in my flight, he smiles broadly. I have one of the bartenders snap a photo of us, and I promise Genji I'll come back to Yamazaki soon.
I've flown halfway around the world to drink Japanese whiskey, and now I'm going a little farther. After a night perusing the eight-page whiskey menu at Bar Cordon Noir—a smoky, jazzy place just around the corner from Kyoto's bar-lined Pontocho Alley—I find myself touching down in Sapporo, Hokkaido's largest city. Here, I meet Emiko Kaji, who's giving me a tour of the Yoichi Distillery, the original home of Japan's other major whiskey maker, Nikka.
The Yoichi Distillery
It's the last week of April, and while Kyoto was warm and humid, here the skies are gray, with daytime temperatures dipping into the 40s. (While cherry blossom season has come and gone in Kyoto and Tokyo, the sakura have yet to bloom in Sapporo.) That's not to say it isn't beautiful; the train ride from Sapporo to Yoichi—broken up by a phenomenal sushi lunch at Masazushi in the small city of Otaru—skirts the rocky coast of the Sea of Japan, with snow-blanketed mountains rising all around.
There's a reason Masataka Taketsuru chose to open his distillery here. The Nikka founder, who was born into a Hiroshima sake-brewing family, had moved to Scotland in 1918 to study chemistry (i.e., distilling). There, he met a Scottish woman, Rita Cowan, who he married and brought back to Japan—an international romance that was the basis for Massan, a hit TV series that aired on NHK, Japan's national broadcaster, in 2014 and 2015. Taketsuru began working at the Yamazaki Distillery in 1923, but he had a fundamental difference in philosophy from Shinjiro Torii. While the Suntory founder wanted to produce a whiskey for the Japanese palate, his counterpart was determined to make authentic Scotch whiskey.
So, in 1934, Taketsuru decamped for Hokkaido, where the cold climate, rocky seashore, oak forests, natural reserves of grain, and peat bogs all reminded him of his wife's homeland. As I walk two blocks through a biting rain from the Yoichi train station to the distillery, I feel as if I'm at a crossroads where Japan and Scotland meet. The facility's exterior looks like a stone-walled Scottish castle—but with Eastern-style pitched red roofs.
Charring a barrels in the cooperage at the Yoichi Distillery
At Yoichi, I get to see some of the more industrial aspects of production. This is the last distillery in the world that heats its stills with coal, and in the stillhouse I watch as a safety-suited employee shovels coal into the furnace below one of
the six two-story-tall copper pots. “It's like a kettle on a direct fire, so it's very difficult to control the flame," Kaji says. “Our craftsmen have to look after the flame every seven or eight minutes from morning through evening. It's a tough job, but we stick to the coal fire because it makes a distinct flavor."
From here, we walk across the campus to the cooperage. In a space the size of a racquetball court, I watch as a cooper, Hiroaki Nishizawa, hammers the steel rings off a freshly charred cask. He sprays water into it, motions me close, and waves his hands over the top of the barrel, wafting a heavenly vanilla, banana-ester smell into my face. I'm woozy. Then he rolls another barrel onto a steel rack in front of an industrial torch. When he flips the switch, the barrel begins to slowly rotate, and when the torch turns on, a firestorm ensues, bursting into and out of and around the barrel in a hypnotic hail of sparks. After about five minutes, he flips the switch off. I ask Nishizawa, who has been a cooper for eight years (he shoveled coal prior to that), how he knows when to stop.
"When the torch turns on, a firestorm ensues, bursting into and out of and around the barrel in a hypnotic hail of sparks."
“There's no clear written manual," he replies. “I learned from my senior. Now we use a machine, but before that everything was done manually, so it was very difficult to do it right."
While the demonstration is spellbinding, I'm beginning to wonder when I can get a drink. As if in anticipation of that question, Kaji waves me toward the tasting bar, which is lined with tartan-patterned place mats. I want something I won't be able to get in the States, and the bartender brings three limited-edition single malts, each named after its flavor profile: Sherry & Sweet, Woody & Vanillic, and Peaty & Salty. The first is dark amber in color, and as I'm about to say that it reminds me of Macallan (which is also aged in sherry casks), bagpipe music comes on the stereo. The second has a strong bourbon character, thanks to American oak casks. The third is very peaty and salty (truth in advertising!), heavily influenced by the sea, surely the closest to what Taketsuru was going for. I posit that it's like three different musicians playing the same piece of music, and Kaji nods
A worker shovels coal into a fire to heat a still at the Yoichi Distillery
For my last sample, I try a limited-edition Nikka Coffey Grain, a higher-proof variation on the distillery's best-seller in the U.S. This one has an even stronger bourbon characteristic than the Woody & Vanillic, as it's made from corn. It's interesting, I say to Kaji, that one of the best-selling products from the Japanese distillery most closely associated with traditional Scotch-style whiskey isn't really a Scotch-style whiskey. I wonder, is it an advantage for Japanese distillers that they don't have as long a history as the Scots and the Kentuckians? That there's more freedom, less of a demand that they adhere to tradition?
“Yes, we have a lot of freedom to be more flexible and to experiment," she replies. “We don't need to stick to tradition. [But] we firmly believe that innovation starts from tradition."
Visiting Japan's most hallowed distilleries is a great way to learn about what makes the liquor here so good, but there's only one way to really get at the heart of a place's drinking culture: visit its bars. So, upon my return to Tokyo, I head for Shot Bar Zoetrope. Hidden on the third floor of an unassuming building on a quiet side street in the otherwise neon-blasted neighborhood of Shinjuku, this might be the single best place in the world to drink Japanese whiskey.
Atsushi Horigami pours a dram at Tokyo's Zoetrope Shot Bar
The bar is tiny—about the size of a New York City studio apartment, with a half-dozen or so stools at the bar, plus a couple of tables. When I walk in early in the evening, an old black-and-white Hollywood film is playing silently on the far wall, and there are only two people inside. One of them is Atsushi Horigami, who opened Zoetrope 12 years ago. He looks a bit like a middle-aged Pat Morita in a Hawaiian shirt, and he's standing in front of an astonishing wall of whiskeys that contains difficult-to-find bottles from all over Japan. Why, I ask him, did he fashion this tiny portal to heaven on earth?
“I like whiskey," he says. “Basically, I am a geek. Before I opened this bar, I visited so many other whiskey bars, but always the bartenders didn't know about Japanese whiskey."
Horigami estimates about 70 percent of his customers are foreigners, and right on cue three more Americans walk in. As he's seating them, I start chatting with the other guy at the bar, who's named Steel. He's in his mid-20s, with long hair and a blackout arm tattoo, and it turns out he's a bartender at Minneapolis's acclaimed Esker Grove restaurant. Much like me, he's come to do a drinking tour of Japan. So, what does he think of the whiskey?
“Hopefully, it'll be the next big thing in America," he says. “It's some of the best whiskey I've ever had, especially for cocktails. Once people try it, they're not too deterred by how expensive it is—they usually want to stay on it. People come in and ask about it all the time. They're like, 'Ah, Japanese whiskey,' and I'm like, 'Man, I only have Toki'"—an export-only Suntory whiskey made largely for highballs.
It's not a problem that's going away anytime soon. While Japanese companies are working on newer products, like Toki, Hibiki Japanese Harmony, and Nikka Whisky From the Barrel (which Nikka began exporting to the U.S. this spring), the aging process required for vintage whiskeys makes it impossible to ramp up supply in a timely fashion. For that exact reason, earlier this year Suntory discontinued the very bottle Murray is shilling for in Lost in Translation: Hibiki 17.
But, as I sit at the bar at Zoetrope, talking with my new friends and sipping whiskeys from Fuji Gotemba and Mars Shinshu—two smaller distilleries whose products are also (surprise!) exceedingly difficult to find abroad—I try not to focus on the privations that my fellow Japanese whiskey lovers and I will face in the years to come. Instead, I take heart in the good news: that a shared love of whiskey has helped connect me and these two bartenders from opposite ends of the planet. We don't need a translator. As Murray tells Scarlett Johansson: “The whiskey works."
New year, new United: Inside our latest enhancements
It's said that the key to sticking to your New Year's resolutions is making a series of small changes. A couple of months into 2019, we've rolled out several enhancements (some small, some not-so-small) that will add up to make our service more caring, dependable and efficient. It's a new year, and a new United.
United® Premium Plus
Different people have different needs when they travel, so for us, 2019 is all about providing more options and making it a little easier for you to customize your flight experience. Now, for travel starting March 30, you can book a United® Premium Plus seat for trans-Pacific or trans-Atlantic flights as well as flights from the U.S. to select destinations in South America.
United® Premium Plus seats are located closer to the front of the aircraft and offer a little more space to stretch your legs and arms, as well as more recline. There's also upgraded dining, free alcoholic beverages, larger entertainment screens, in-seat power and extra amenities to keep you comfortable and refreshed.
We've all been that person trying to schedule a flight around the big game or the season premiere of our favorite TV show. Now, on all aircraft with seatback TVs (a little over 200 of the jets in our fleet), you'll be able to watch live television for free. More than 100 channels will be available to customers through DIRECTV®.
One of the most important aspects of being an airline is simply flying quality aircraft. This year, customers will see new additions to our fleet that are setting an even higher bar for reliability and fuel efficiency, meaning they'll help decrease our carbon emissions. And it's not just about operations — we're also working on ways to make flying more comfortable.
We're proud to have the most-downloaded app in the airline industry. And since so many people are looking at it, we decided to spruce it up a bit. If you haven't checked it out since we released the latest version, give the updated design and new content a spin.
More space to lounge
The latest addition to our club and lounge network is the new United Polaris® lounge at Los Angeles (LAX). It offers daybeds with Saks Fifth Avenue amenities, shower suites and even a valet to steam your clothes upon request. Upscale food and beverage selections change seasonally with inspiration from local California cuisine.
On the opposite coast, the United Polaris lounge at New York/Newark (EWR) caught the eye of CNN Travel, which listed it among "super-luxe airport lounges that may make you miss your flight."
7 facts about the newest Dreamliner: The Boeing 787-10
The Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner, which officially launched at the 2013 Paris Air Show, is a long-range jet that features one of the most comfortable cabins on the market. From mood lighting to a state-of-the-art air filtration system, the new Dreamliner provides an improved experience allowing passengers to arrive at their destination feeling refreshed. As the first U.S.-based carrier to add the 787-10 to its fleet, United is also the first in the world to fly the entire 787 Dreamliner family — including the 787-8 and 787-9. The aircraft officially went into service on January 7, departing from Los Angeles to New York/Newark.
Read on for seven facts about United's newest Dreamliner.
1. Going the distance
18 feet longer than the 787-9, the 787-10 can carry more passengers and more cargo than its predecessors. Flying up to 6,430 nautical miles, the 787-10 uses 20 percent less fuel than older generation airplanes, making it superior when it comes to fuel efficiency.
2. More seating options
Featuring more premium seating options, including 44 United Polaris® business class seats, 21 new United® Premium Plus seats, 54 Economy Plus® seats and 199 United Economy® seats. The 787-10 offers seating options to meet all preferences.
3. Improved cabin air
Thanks to a new air filtration system, the 787-10 boasts better air pressure and humidity, helping passengers fight dryness and fatigue on long flights.
4. Mood lighting
The 787-10's cabin features lighting patterns that mimic sunrise and sunset, designed to help passengers fall asleep and wake up more adjusted after arriving in a new time zone.
5. A better ride
Smoother ride technology on the 787-10 helps to offset turbulence, resulting in less motion sickness and a more comfortable flight.
6. State-of-the-art windows
With 19-inch windows, the 787-10 has the largest of any aircraft in the market. The large windows allow views of the horizon, plus there's no need to shut the window shade as the Dreamliner's windows dim electronically with smart glass.
7. Entertainment at hand
Featuring a new seatback entertainment system with a split-screen function, passengers are now able view the flight map while watching a movie. They can also customize a list of soothing videos and relaxing audio playlists. Also, it makes movie and television recommendations based on your remaining flight time and previously-watched content.
The new system accommodates any level of vision and provides support for customers with hearing and mobility issues.
The 787-10 Dreamliner is now flying from Los Angeles to New York/Newark and it will begin service between San Francisco and New York/Newark this month, with international service starting in March.
Weekend inspiration: West side of Los Angeles
If you spend enough time in Los Angeles, you'll hear about the rivalry between East and West L.A. West L.A. residents will claim "west is best" due to the proximity to the beach, hip bars and restaurants. East Side residents claim their neighborhoods have more of a "small town" feel with more reasonable real estate prices and parking. Whether you're an East Side or West Side supporter, it's hard to argue that both sides of L.A. don't have wonderful things to offer. If you find yourself in the city for a weekend, here are our favorite things to do in the West Side of L.A., specifically Venice, Santa Monica and Malibu.
You won't have trouble finding a hotel on the West Side, but if you're looking for suggestions, our favorites include the funky Hotel Erwin and the contemporary and cute The Kinney in Venice. If you're looking for something a little higher-end we also love the Loews in Santa Monica.
Don't expect to get a table at a hot restaurant in L.A. without a reservation, so be sure to make a few dinner reservations before you get into town. Whether you're staying at Hotel Erwin or not, we recommend heading up to their rooftop before dinner for a couple of cocktails and snacks so you can watch the brilliant Venice Beach sunset your first night in L.A.
Wake up early, bring your swimsuit along for the day and hit the road for a fast-casual breakfast at Eggslut in Venice – get a delicious egg sandwich to go. Take the Pacific Coast highway up the coast, stopping along the way to take a dip in the ocean and buy fresh produce from street-side vendors.
When you're ready for lunch, pay the $10 parking fee at The Paradise Cove Beach Café and grab a table. The food is good and the portions are large enough to share, leaving you satisfied and ready to explore their tide pools. Walk up and down the gorgeous, quiet Malibu getaway, taking in the views. When you've had enough walking, grab a beach chair (and a bottle of wine) to catch some southern California sun while taking a moment to relax.
After you've made your way back to your hotel and have freshened up, we recommend heading to Abbot Kinney Blvd for a bit of late afternoon shopping. This commercial street is tucked away in a Venice neighborhood and full of stylish shops, healthy juice bars, vibrant bars and trendy restaurants. While you wander, be sure to pose for a photo with our wing mural on the side of the funky' Principessa boutique. If you've brought your dog, we also created a dog wings mural, ready to transport your pooch to Instagram stardom.
Have a pre-dinner glass of wine at Salt Air and then cross the street for arguably some of the best Italian we've ever had at The Tasting Kitchen. The pasta is hand-made on site, but the portions are small so get a few plates to share.
After dinner head over to The Brig, a bar next door, for a night cap and conversation with some of L.A.'s most beautiful people.
For breakfast, check out a local skater and surfer favorite in Santa Monica: Dogtown Café. Grab a stellar coffee and a California breakfast burrito – it's a must.
Sunday mornings are a great time to get up and get some exercise in. Santa Monica Beach has a plethora of options, from surfing lessons (Go Surf LA is a great option) and bike tours (book online at Joy Ride) to simple strolling along the beach. Try your hand at the high bar, the rings or rope climbing at Muscle Beach.
Following your morning workout, if you enjoy street art, check out our brand-new hidden dragon mural (the first of its kind) and our massive wings on Lincoln – both in Venice. If you're interested in a "Kelsey Montague Art" mural marathon during your time in L.A., be sure to check out our map of murals in L.A. and the surrounding areas. Kelsey has over 10 murals hidden around L.A. and its suburbs.
Spend the rest of your afternoon on the Santa Monica Pier. Grab some cotton candy, ride a roller coaster and then watch the sea lions frolic in the waves as trapeze trainees swing through the air.
Walk down the beach for a pre-dinner drink at the lounge bar in the fancy Hotel Casa Del Mar to watch the sunset. If you pay attention to those around you, it's likely you'll see a celebrity or watch as a major movie deal goes down.
Walk up the street to the ocean facing Meat restaurant for dinner, where you'll find tremendous cuts of beef, yeast bread rolls and creamy mashed potatoes. Comfort food at its finest.
As you fall asleep on your last night in California, be prepared to dream of Ferris wheels, palm trees and celebrity sightings during your West Side weekend getaway.
Weekend inspiration: Scottsdale
There's something intoxicating about the desert to us. The heat and the austere landscape feel so foreign to two women from Colorado, and we think that might be why it feels so exotic. We fell in love with Scottsdale and had the opportunity to spend six weeks there for a series of art murals around the Phoenix area.
If you're in town for a few days, here are some of our favorite weekend adventures.
Upon arriving in Scottsdale, famished from traveling, head over to Rehab Burger Therapy – a wonderful local burger joint that sells high quality burgers with creative additions on tasty pretzel buns (the mac and cheese burger is absolutely decadent). If you have room for dessert after dinner, we recommend walking down the street to UnBaked for some edible cookie dough. The brownie and birthday cake flavors are our favorites.
If you're looking for turntables, then stop by Hash Kitchen for brunch. They boast the largest bloody mary bar in Arizona and cater towards those who consider themselves foodies.
After breakfast, we recommend booking a tour at Taliesin West, where you'll explore Frank Lloyd Wright's stunning home. Wright was an architect and designer who believed architecture and nature could, and should, seamlessly co-exist. Walking through his home allows you to step into the world of one of America's most gifted artists and architects.
Continue enjoying the art scene here and stop by Cattle Track Arts Compound, where you can meet brilliant artists who are doing awesome and unique work that celebrates Scottsdale's authentic cultural heritage. This artist's colony is home to many accomplished artists (literally many artists live on-site) doing spectacular things. This is one of the few spaces in the country dedicated to supporting artists by providing them with a home and space to work on their creations. Mark McDowell's circus illustrations on birch are breathtaking, as are Mary Van Dusen's earthy ceramics.
Depending on what you're in the mood for dinner, we love the Mexican/Asian fusion food at the hip SumoMaya or, if you're looking for something a bit healthier, the meals at True Foods are tasty and guilt-free.
Every local in Scottsdale, it seems, heads to The Breakfast Club on Sunday morning, so try to get there early. Choose from signature dishes or create your own masterpiece. Either way, the challah French toast is a must for the table.
If you have a car or feel like renting one, and are up for a quick adventure, we have six art murals in and around the Phoenix area. Each mural is wildly different and unique to the area. Here's a list of their locations, if you have time to check them out:
- Phoenix Wings: Near the Apple Store, 7014 E. Camelback Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
- Arrow Cloud: 7700 W. Arrowhead Towne Center, Glendale, AZ 85308
- Balloons: Near Nordstrom, 3111 W. Chandler Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226
- Bubbles: 2180 E. Williams Field Rd, Gilbert, AZ 85296
- Cactus Swing: 2502 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016
- Wings: 6800 N. 95th Ave Glendale, AZ 85305
Once you're back from your brief road trip, we recommend stepping back in time and heading to the 1950's Sugar Bowl for a bite to eat. This old-fashioned soda shop was made popular by Bil Keane, the cartoonist who created the Family Circle cartoons, where they serve the similar '50s inspired food - quality milk shakes, egg salad sandwiches and burgers. After lunch, check out some of the cute boutiques and shops in Old Town Scottsdale – Bischoffs is by far the best if you're looking for unique Southwestern gifts (and moccasins).
We also love a good spa-filled afternoon, and have found Andaz Hotel's Spa, Palo Verde, to be one of the best we've visited. This carefully curated spa is on the pricier end, but worth every penny. Be sure to go before your appointment because you'll have access to the amenities all day and there's a special pool in the back of the spa with views of Camelback Mountain you won't get anywhere else. All of the services we received were absolutely top-notch.
After you've relaxed and are rejuvenated, take a quick ride over to Blanco Tacos + Tequila and order their award winning BBQ Pork Tacos and guacamole. This restaurant consistently serves quality food, with a caring staff and is the perfect way to end a trip to the artistic desert of Scottsdale.
More comfort for more customers: 1,600 new premium seats added
Today, we announced the next step in our commitment to making more customers more comfortable by adding more than 1,600 United Polaris® business class and United First® seats to nearly 250 international and domestic aircraft. Additionally, we will revolutionize the regional flying experience by becoming the first airline in the world to welcome the two-cabin, 50-seat Bombardier CRJ 550 aircraft to our fleet, offering customers on key regional routes more legroom, storage and amenities than any other 50-seat regional aircraft operating today.
Bombardier CRJ 550
delivery begins later this year
Offering a premium cabin experience at every step of your journey.
Aircraft will eventually feature:
18 feet longer than current 50-seat aircraft in our fleet
This one-of-a-kind aircraft will operate routes to and from Chicago O'Hare this summer, followed by New York / Newark.
But that's not all.
We'll be further investing in the premium cabin experience by enhancing three additional aircraft types with more United First and United Polaris® business class seating.
with more routes to come
Our first 767-300ERs will be delivered 02/2019,
with all joining our fleet by the end of 2020.
With these enhancements, we will add 50 percent more premium cabin seats to more than 100 aircraft.
Explore Asia's most magical temples
Similar to European cathedrals, Asian temples are impressive and intriguing. The history and religious traditions are as robust and complex as the architecture; some are taller than 20-story buildings and have stood for more than 1,000 years. These cities are the most accessible for explorations of many of Asia's most awe-inspiring houses of worship.
The 33-temple pilgrimage route in Japan's Kansai region is dominated by Kyoto's 12 Buddhist temples, but also includes five or six each in Shiga, Hyogo, Nara, and Osaka—all easily reached from Osaka International Airport. Kyoto's leading temples include the aesthetically beautiful Temple of the Golden Pavilion, the hillside Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and the 13th-century Chion-In Temple. In nearby Nara are the Seven Great Temples, notably the ancient imperial temple, Yakushi-ji, which like most of Kyoto's temples are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Many of Asia's most noteworthy temples are in India—mostly centuries-old Hindu temples. But Delhi's architecturally stunning Lotus Temple is the locus of the Baha'i faith and was completed in 1986. Twenty-seven massive marble “petals" envelop a 2,500-capacity hall that's open to visitors of any faith. It's been called the world's most visited building. Two of the country's other most renowned temples are also in northern India: the lakeside Golden Temple in Amritsar, the world's most revered Sikh temple, and the castle-like Jain Temple in Ranakpur, which is sacred to the Jains.
Three special temples are found in Singapore, East Asia's wealthiest and smallest country — the country is smaller than New York City. The Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is a visually dazzling building in Chinatown with a giant prayer wheel in the rooftop garden and what believers regard as the tooth of Buddha inside. The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple in Little India is as lavishly colorful as its name is long. And Sri Mariamman is an exquisite white-and-gold temple that honors the goddess of rain.
Seoul is a densely populated city of 10 million, yet tucked right downtown is an island of tranquility — the Jogyesa Temple, which has preserved Korean Zen Buddhism over the years. In the southern mountains of South Korea, meanwhile, travelers can visit the Three Jewels Temples — the most revered Buddhist temples in the country. Tongdosa Temple includes one building that was built 2,600 years ago, the Haeinsa Temple houses all of the Buddhist Scriptures on 81,350 wooden blocks and the Songgwansa Temple is an active monastery in a coastal provincial park.
The same 15th-Century emperor who had the Forbidden City built — about 1,000 buildings which include his palace (now the Palace Museum) — also built the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. The central Beijing Taoist temple complex can only be described as mind-boggling. The park-like grounds include numerous ornate palaces, halls, pavilions, turrets, gates, gardens and ponds. Also in Beijing is the Lama (or Yonghe) Temple, a former imperial palace and now a temple and monastery for Tibetan Buddhists.
Bangkok's three most popular attractions are conveniently all side by side in the city's historic district. One is the Grand Palace and the other two are grand temples. On one side of the palace is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, named after the 150-foot-long golden Buddha that's housed in its own mural-decorated chapel. Also in the temple complex is Thailand's largest collection of Buddhas. On the other side of the palace is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, named after a treasured Buddha carved from a single jade stone.
If you go
Three Perfect Days: Charleston
Story by Ellen Carpenter | Photography by Peter Frank/Edwards | Hemispheres, February 2019
Back in 1874, The Atlanta Daily Herald's Henry W. Grady coined the term “the New South" to encourage people to move beyond the fraught antebellum period and see the region in a fresh light, “thrilling with the consciousness of growing power and prosperity."
That tag has been bandied about in recent years—Nashville is the capital of the New South one day, Atlanta the next—but nowhere are that growing power and prosperity more evident than in South Carolina's largest city, where it seems as if 10 new (and great) restaurants open each month, where Volvo just set up shop with a $1.1 billion plant and Boeing is building its 787 Dreamliners, where 28 people move in each day. The Holy City is a mecca for tourists—6.9 million came in 2017, probably half of them for a wedding—who are just as hungry for rice grits and selfies in front of Georgian row houses as they are for a history lesson. What they'll find will fill them up and still leave them asking for seconds, albeit very politely.
Opener: The Historic District's colorful Elliott Street. Here: the backside of the Dock Street Theatre
Playing pirate, "firing" cannons, and plowing through pimento cheese
Eric Lavender of Charleston Pirate Tours
Let's go ahead and get the kid questions out of the way: Yes, I'm a real pirate. No, I'm not firing my gun. Yes, my parrot is real. No, we're not gonna take any ships. No, pirates did not make enemies walk the plank—that was Peter Pan."
Eric Lavender, swashbuckling chic in full pirate regalia—tricornered hat, knee-high suede boots, black breeches, regal gray captain's coat with pewter buttons, pistol at one hip, saber at the other—is standing in front of the Powder Magazine, the oldest government building in Charleston (built in 1713). He's about to lead me, my husband, Chris, our 6-year-old son, Calder, and five other history-hungry out-of-towners on one of his daily Charleston Pirate Tours, and to spin yarns about “the who's who of pirates that came through."
"What better way to get a first grader excited about history than having a guy with a parrot on his shoulder tell him about beheadings and pillaging?"
Charleston's history is intrinsically linked to piracy (did you know pirates introduced the rice that's so integral to Lowcountry grits, bringing it from Madagascar?), which is why we want to start our trip with Captain Eric. What better way to get a first-grader excited about history than handing him a foam sword and bandanna and having a guy with a parrot on his shoulder tell him about beheadings and pillaging? As we amble through the Historic District, down Unity Alley, where George Washington kept his mules when he was in town (“If it's good enough for Washington's ass, it's good enough for us," Eric jokes), and past the multicolored houses on Instagram-friendly Rainbow Row and the country's oldest liquor store (“Charleston is a drinking city with a history problem"), Eric tells us about famous pirates of yore—Mrs. Chang, Stede Bonnet, Anne Bonny, and, of course, Blackbeard, who marauded the port of Charleston before meeting his bitter end off of North Carolina's Outer Banks. “You know how he knows all that stuff?" Calder whispers, after Captain Eric lets each of us hold one of his weapons for a final group photo. “Because he's a real pirate." Success.
Rainbow Row, a series of pastel Georgian houses on East Bay Street dating back to 1740
After two hours of walking, we're ready to eat. Luckily, Husk is just four blocks from the Old Exchange Building, where our tour ends. Just as piracy put Charleston on the map back in the late 1600s, Husk ushered in the city's foodie era when it opened in 2010. Founding chef Sean Brock recently departed for Nashville, but the restaurant—located in a beautiful, late-19th-century Queen Anne–style home—and executive chef Travis Grimes still celebrate Lowcountry cooking with highfalutin technique. We start with addictively sharp pimento cheese toasts that are way better than pimento cheese has any business being. The fried chicken has the kind of crackly crust you only see on TV, and the Bibb lettuce salad is a lesson in simplicity. The only negative is that we're too full to eat dessert.
"We amble through the Historic District, past the multicolored houses on Instagram-friendly Rainbow Row and country's oldest liquor store."
Chris and I figure we should keep the history lesson going, so we take a cab to the waterfront and catch the ferry to Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861. I grew up spending my spring breaks touring Civil War battlefields and forts with my American historian mother, but I'd forgotten how fascinating they are for kids. As soon as we reach the fort, Calder is off: hiding in the shadows of the munitions room, looking for enemy ships through peepholes, loading the cannons with imaginary gunpowder. When he sticks his head inside the barrel of a columbiad cannon, I explain how that's not proper protocol—but only after I snap a photo.
Before heading back on the ferry, everyone convenes for the lowering of the flag. A park ranger, James Drass, invites 20 volunteers to come help. “Don't ever take your freedom for granted," Drass says, as the group folds the flag, south to north, north to south, then in triangles. “I submit to you that America is an amazing country," he continues. “We are a diverse country. It's inherent we're going to have differences. But despite all of our differences, we have one common denominator: We are all Americans." The crowd is silent, and more than a few people wipe away tears, me included, and then everyone breaks into applause.
The meticulous garden at the Pineapple Gates House
The sun is already setting when we make it back to the mainland, but we decide to walk the 15 minutes back to the Historic District (it's easy to get around on foot downtown) and meander through the Charleston City Market before dinner. It seems as if every tourist in town has the same idea. The market, a series of sheds that stretches four city blocks, opened in 1804—statesman Charles Cotesworthy Pinckney gave the land to the city, stipulating that it had to be used as a market “in perpetuity." I doubt they had a Christmas shop open year-round in 1804, but they do now, along with 300 other spots, including a toy store, a haberdashery, and a handful of places selling traditional sweetgrass baskets. We stop to watch an artisan weave one, her nimble fingers methodically alternating strands of dried native sweetgrass. I want to buy one, but Calder is waning and I realize we better get him fed before a meltdown ensues. Traveling with kids!
"The addictively sharp pimento cheese toasts are way better than pimento cheese has any business being."
Fortunately, our hotel, the grand Belmond Charleston Place, is a block away, and dinner is just downstairs, at the Charleston Grill. We do a quick costume change—thank goodness for our spacious suite's two bathrooms—and make it to the restaurant only five minutes late for our reservation. Five minutes after that, I'm sipping a glass of Bone Dry rosé (Calder goes pink too, with a Shirley Temple) and we're enjoying the jazz trio's rendition of “Billie's Bounce."
I devour my crab cake, bathed in a lemony butter sauce, while Calder co-opts Chris's charred octopus. “Next time, you're getting your own appetizer," Chris tells him as he concedes the plate. We all trade bites of our mains—sea bass in a creamy curry sauce for me, scallops with salsa verde for Chris, kid's menu spaghetti for Calder—and then take turns choosing from the assortment of chocolates and gelées that our waiter brings us as a parting gift. We leave humming the strains of “The Very Thought of You," take the elevator upstairs, and promptly pass out.
The Charleston Grill, where a jazz trio plays every night
Making BBQ, rescuing sea turtles, and rocking out
I promised myself biscuits for breakfast every morning in Charleston, and by golly I'm starting out right at Hominy Grill, a beloved 23-year-old spot in the residential Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood, just north of downtown, that serves breakfast all day. I go savory with biscuits and gravy while Chris and Calder both go for pancakes, fluffy and stacked high. The coffee refills keep coming, and in no time we're ready to tackle the day.
An 1857 Italinte home in the Historic District
We hop a cab back to the Historic District and climb into a different set of wheels: a carriage pulled by two brown and white horses, Sally and Deedee. Horse-drawn carriages seem to outnumber cars downtown—a trend Palmetto Carriage Works launched in 1972 when it became the first company to offer tours. And the horses, I've made sure, are well cared-for: They work only five hours a day and get to spend about five months a year relaxing on a farm on Johns Island. Our guide, Gay Spear, is brash and witty and an endless font of information. As we mosey along, past landmarks like the Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street and dozens of perfectly preserved historic homes, she offers up funny one-liners (“If you dig here, you're gonna find one of two things: a cannonball or a body") and interesting design notes, like the origin of the pineapple as welcome sign. Turns out back in the 1700s women used to put pineapples out on the gate port to let people know their husbands were home from their sailing voyages—or “to let their lovers know not to come that night!"
Rodney Scott at his namesake BBQ spot
We bid farewell to Sally and Deedee, and then I bid farewell to Calder and Chris—they have a date with the rooftop pool at the Belmond, while I'm due to meet Mr. Rodney Scott BBQ himself for a lesson in whole hog cooking. Scott won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in May, just a year after opening his restaurant in the North Central neighborhood. “Now I can't go anywhere without someone recognizing me," Scott says with an easy smile as he leads me from the bright restaurant to the pit out back. “People at the airport will be like, 'Are you that guy?'"
"When he opens the door to the pit, the smell of oak and hickory practically knocks me over."
When he opens the door to the pit, the smell of oak and hickory practically knocks me over—in the best way possible. He heads over to the fire and shovels a pile of wood coals into one of the five pits, something staffers do every 15 to 20 minutes. “It's more procedure than secret," he says, as one of his employees mops “Rodney Sauce" over the hogs.
I somehow refrain from ripping off a piece of meat to eat right then and there, and head back into the restaurant for a proper lunch: a big pile of pork, potato salad, and coleslaw with a sweet iced tea that is sweeter than any iced tea I've ever had (and I grew up in Kentucky). The vinegar tang of the Rodney Sauce cuts through the fat of the meat perfectly, and I'm in hog heaven.
The Great Ocean Tank at the South Carolina Aquarium
Now it's time to feed something else: We've arranged for Calder to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the South Carolina Aquarium, where he is literally able to feed the sharks. But first we check out the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery, which the aquarium opened in 2017. Sea turtles are Calder's favorite animal, so he couldn't be more excited to play vet at the interactive stations where he can “diagnose" a sick turtle and also meet the rehabilitating patients currently swimming in individual tanks. Many of them are named for Harry Potter characters; Voldemort and Hagrid are dead ringers.
After a trip to the gift shop to buy a snap-bracelet sea turtle stuffie (yes, it's a thing), we meet our behind-the-scenes guide, Lea Caswell, who leads us to the top of the 42-foot Great Ocean Tank (the tallest in North America), where another aquarium worker has a bucket of fish ready to feed the blacktip, sand tiger, and nurse sharks. Calder asks why the sharks don't eat the other fish in the tank, and Caswell responds, “Would you rather take a free meal or cook your own?" “I'd rather have Mommy cook me a meal," Calder says. That's my boy.
"The turtles are named for Harry Potter characters; Voldemort and Hagrid are dead ringers."
A patient at the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery
Tonight, however, Mommy's leaving the cooking to the pros. From the aquarium, we hop a ride up King Street—a 300-year-old thoroughfare that's now restaurant row, basically—for dinner at The Grocery, a farm-to-table spot that's a fixture on Eater Charleston's “essential" list. We start with the charcuterie plate, which features duck-liver mousse topped with watermelon-rind mostarda, sopressata, coppa, and an array of pickled vegetables, including okra, which Calder inhales. The manager notices his fondness for pickles and brings us another helping.
My glass of gamay pairs perfectly with my duck confit, cooked with shatteringly crisp skin. Chris is so into his snapper that he forgets to give me a bite, and Calder attacks his pizza as if he hasn't eaten all day. (Note for parents: There's a “verbal" kids menu.) We cap it off with a shared banana pudding topped with gorgeous peaks of toasted meringue.
The charcuterie spread at The Grocery
Calder's ready to pass out, but I have a big night ahead of me. While the boys roll back to the Belmond, I head down King Street for a night out on the town with the Grammy-nominated rock group Band of Horses. Shaggy-haired lead singer Ben Bridwell grew up in South Carolina, and he and mustachioed drummer Creighton Barrett relocated to Charleston in 2006 after a decade in Seattle. I meet them and James Hynes, the CEO of local recording studio and record label Rialto Row, at The Rarebit, which they tell me has “the best Moscow mules anywhere."
The band is in the thick of recording a new album, their first time doing so in Charleston. Bridwell actually rented a plantation—on Airbnb!—for a personal writer's retreat. “A real-a** plantation!" he says, eyes wide. “For $150 a night!" The music scene in Charleston, he says, has changed dramatically in the past few years—from “residual Dead hippie college stuff" to “indie rock, Americana, melodic punk…" So, basically, it's cool now.
To show me just how cool, they take me to the center of the scene: The Royal American, a former ironworks on the train tracks that's now a music club. A rock band is playing on a stage behind the bar, smoke machines in full effect, and the place is packed shoulder to shoulder with 20-somethings sipping beers. We grab a round and take a seat on the patio, where we compete with passing trains to be heard. It's approaching 11 now, bedtime for me—but the guys' night is just getting started. They're raring to head into Rialto Row to record. “We'll work until 3 or 4, go home and sleep a couple hours, and be up with our kids at 6," says Barrett. “It's great." Amazed at their stamina, I say g'night and leave them to it.
A band performs behind the bar at The Royal American
Catching waves, slurping oysters, and looking through an artist's lens
A brick walkway at Waterfront Park
A brick walkway at Waterfront ParkOh, biscuits, how I love you. This morning we feast at Callie's Hot Little Biscuit on King Street, where the line is already out the door by 8:30 a.m. We dig into a variety of fluffy buttermilk creations: plain, cheddar-chive, blackberry jam–topped. I pop the mini cinnamon ones like Cheetos. I want to get some to go, but I know we have a full day of eating ahead.
But first, a beach excursion to Sullivan's Island. We rent a car for the day and cruise over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, with its two diamond-shaped cable towers, through Mount Pleasant, and on to the sand-lined streets of Sullivan's in just 25 minutes. On the agenda: roll up our pants and splash in the waves, hunt for seashells, and admire the gorgeous three-story cottages lining the wide beach. Calder keeps his eyes peeled for sea turtles to rescue and is amazed to learn that this ocean is the same one we have in New York.
All this oceanside action has us hungry for some seafood, so we drive back into town for lunch at Leon's Oyster Shop, a fun spot on the upper reaches of King Street famous for oysters, yes, but also fried chicken. The space, a former auto body shop, is kitted out in fairy lights and maritime paintings. Chris and I fight over the last of the chargrilled oysters, which taste like ocean and fire bathed in butter, while Calder happily munches his fried shrimp. I move on to the fried chicken sandwich, moist and crunchy and served with a cooling cucumber and sesame seed salad, and Chris opts for the seafood fry-up. Calder declares his rainbow sprinkle–topped soft-serve better than Mister Softee in New York.
Leon's Oyster Shop
We check into our new digs, The Dewberry, a hip Mid-Century Modern–style hotel that opened in 2016 in a former 1960s federal building, and while all we want to do is take a nap, we rally and cross Marion Square to The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston. I'm eager to see the current exhibit, Southbound: Photographs of and About the New South, which runs through March and features images taken by 56 21st-century artists exploring their perceptions of the American South. The variety is astounding. There are shots of Civil War reenactors, Black Lives Matter marches, empty storefronts, migrant workers, and high school homecoming queens. Seeing all these snippets of life makes me think that there's not just one South—it's impossible to generalize about or judge such a wide swath of our country.
The pecan-smoked fish spread at Parcel 32
Calder's beat and not up for a restaurant meal; Chris gamely offers to take him back to the hotel for some takeout so I can keep my res at Parcel 32, a new Lowcountry-Caribbean restaurant with an airy, outside-in design. I take a seat at the bar and get the pirate-inspired Anne Bonny rum cocktail (and somehow refrain from making an “arrrr" joke). Serendipitously, Band of Horses' “The Funeral" plays over the stereo. Even though I'm dining alone, I order as if I'm with the fam: I start with a pecan-smoked fish spread served with Ritz crackers and pecan-meal hush puppies topped with pimento cheese and Benton's bacon powder. (I need a jar of that in my life.) Next are short ribs, fragrant with clove, allspice, and nutmeg atop a bed of creamy coconut-milk Carolina Gold rice grits.
The Panic Button cocktail at The Living Room, in Dewberry
Chef Shaun Brian, wearing a white apron and a bicycle cap, swings by to say hello. He grew up on St. John—he moved to Charleston after losing his restaurant there to hurricanes Irma and Maria—so he comes by the island influence in his cooking naturally. “It makes a lot more sense than I ever thought it would‚" he says, giving me a thorough history of the spice trade and the Caribbean's influence on Charleston, going back to the 1600s. “At the end of the day, I still think of myself as an ambassador for my home islands, but I'm in a place where I have much more ability to make an impact."
I get a slice of sweet potato pie to go for Chris and walk back to The Dewberry. There's a wedding party going hard in the ballroom, but The Living Room, with its beautiful bronze bar, is calm and inviting, so I get a couple of drinks to take upstairs for us to enjoy with the pie. I tiptoe into our room, past Calder asleep on the velvet couch, turtle stuffie tucked under his arm, and join Chris in the four-post bed. We pass the pie back and forth—it goes great with my Dewberry Daiquiri—and share photos from the trip, laughing at the videos Calder took without our knowledge on the carriage tour. One starts on a perfectly preserved Federal-style home and then goes slo-mo (Calder's favorite video function), weaving down the street and stopping at a dump truck outside a derelict home ready to be remade. The significance—the city's constant push and pull to preserve and reinvent itself—doesn't hit me until we turn off the lights and say good night.
An insider's guide to Hong Kong
A bustling, neon-soaked metropolis that floats effortlessly between the Old World and the future, Hong Kong is the most visited city on the planet – and for good reason.
What to know before you go
Visitors are usually drawn to two areas: the northern side of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon – the neighborhood attached to mainland China. The two areas are separated by Victoria Harbour, linked by the Star Ferry and the MTR.
As a general rule, Hong Kong Island is the heart of Hong Kong's financial district and packed full of vast hotels and many of its best restaurants. Kowloon is more authentically Chinese, its streets narrower, its buildings less sleek and its prices generally lower.
Make time to visit Wong Tai Sin, a temple dedicated to Great Immortal Wong and home to three leading Chinese religions: Buddhism, Taosim and Confucianism. It's instragrammable, no question, but Wong Tai Sin's enduring popularity may be explained by the temple's claim that it can “make every wish come true upon request."
The area of Tsim Sha Tsui is home to many of Hong Kong's best museums, including the Museum of Art, the Space Museum, the Science Museum and the Museum of History, the latter managing to squeeze some 400 million years' worth of history into a 7,000 square meter space.
The markets of Kowloon are unmissable in both senses, particularly the Ladies' Market on Tung Choi Street. With more than 100 stalls stretching out for a kilometer, head here and haggle for that new watch, bag or pretty much anything else you didn't know you needed. If you still have space in your luggage, the streets around Sham Shui Po are lined with a bewildering array of markets and traditional Chinese pawn shops. If you're around when night falls, the Temple Street Night Market is Hong Kong's liveliest, awash with stalls selling everything from trinkets to antiques.
After exploring Kowloon, hop on the Star Ferry to get across Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island. If you time it right (around 8 p.m.), you'll be able to witness the Symphony of Lights up close, a nightly performance that includes lasers light up the skyscrapers on both sides of the harbor.
On Hong Kong Island…
Hong Kong's single-most essential experience involves taking the Peak Tram up Victoria Peak to get spectacular views looking down on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Harbour. At 1,811 feet, it's the highest hill on the island. But the gravity-defying tram does most of the hard work for you, carrying you up towards the heavens and past some of the most expensive real estate on the planet.
The Mid-Levels Escalator is a vast, interconnected system designed to ferry commuters up and down Hong Kong's steep hills. Wait for rush hour to pass, then hop on at the Central stop and off at any of the markets, bars or restaurants that catch your eye along the 25-minute route.
Another temple worth visiting is the Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan. Honoring the gods of literature ('Man') and of war ('Mo'), it's one of Hong Kong's oldest temples, dating back to 1847 and somewhat incongruous among the super-structures of the island's financial district. Pause for thought under its giant hanging incense coils as the world moves all around you.
Take a short walk southeast of the temple, past the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, and you'll come to the "lungs of the city" in Hong Kong Park. An unexpected oasis of calm and tranquility, the park features museums, playgrounds and a "rainforest" aviary with more than 80 species of birds.
Where to eat
Wherever you roam, from the food stalls of Mongkok and Jordan to the uber fine-dining of Central, eating well and finding food to suit all budgets and tastes in Hong Kong is no problem at all.
For high-end, consider any of the city's seven three-starred Michelin restaurants (one in Kowloon, six on the island), the top pick of which is the permanently fully-booked Lung King Heen. For some of the world's cheapest Michelin-starred dim sum, grab a seat at Tim Ho Wan and expect the best dim sum you've ever tasted for less than $10. Elsewhere, The Chairman and Spring Deer are both notable – the former for its signature dish of pigeon with loonjing tea and chrysanthemum, the latter for its sublime roast Peking duck.
As impressive as they are, however, don't leave Hong Kong without sampling at least a few local street stall delicacies. Curry fish balls, siumai dumplings and stinky tofu are entry-level staples; the deep-fried pig intestine is a more acquired taste.
Where to stay
To be within walking distance of many of Hong Kong's main attractions, plus its best bars and restaurants, aim to stay around Central on the north shore of the island.
When to go
October through December is Hong Kong's dry season, with more comfortable temperatures and favorable room rates, but it's also when pollution can be at its highest. For better visibility (and more impressive scenery), come in July or August but be prepared for high humidity and summer showers. Unless you like higher prices and longer lines, avoid the Chinese national holidays (“golden weeks") in January, February and October.
Getting there & getting around
Fly into Hong Kong International Airport (Chek Lap Kok) from multiple cities in the U.S. From there, you're a quick 25-minute drive to Hong Kong's city center. The quickest way is by taxi or by hopping onto the Airport Express trains that depart every 10 minutes and drop you off at Kowloon and Central stations.
While much of Hong Kong's center is walkable, download the Mass Transit Railway app before you leave home. The MTR is the fastest way of getting around the city, its 90 stations covering all the areas you'll want to reach. Another good option is what the locals refer to as “the ding-ding" – Hong Kong's tram system that zig-zags throughout the city.
Visit united.com or download the convenient United app to book your flight.
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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