Three Perfect Days: The California Coast
Story by Rachel Levin | Photography by Marianna Jamadi | Hemispheres, February 2016
From whale watching to wine tasting, a road trip down Highway 1 offers the best of California
California's famously picturesque Highway 1 doesn't disappoint. The route is a grand procession of soaring cliffs, ragged promontories, and vast sloping hills, the road bending beside an ocean of brilliant blue, passing lovely little towns along the way. Inland, you have the wild beauty of wine country, cultivated by some of the best vintners in the state. Continue south and you hit Santa Barbara, home to upscale restaurants and magnificent taco shacks. There is so much to see and do on this journey, you feel you could make it time and again—and make it new. In any event, it would be fun to try.
Monterey to Big Sur: In which Rachel encounters a grandstanding whale, a grumpy albatross, and a perfectly grilled octopus.
“What are we thinking?!" blurts my husband, Josh, as we cruise south on Highway 1, windows down, the sparkling Pacific on our right, golden-green hillsides on our left. As native East Coasters turned longtime San Franciscans contemplating a move back to Boston during blizzard season, a California road trip might be just what we need.
Before starting our rambling, 250-mile journey from Monterey to Santa Barbara, we pull into Moss Landing, an old fishing village about 20 minutes north of Monterey's downtown. We have just enough time for eggs over easy and boilerplate coffee at the Moss Landing Cafe, a wooden shack where cops knock back pancakes and white-haired men discuss local affairs. We scarf down our eggs, watch an old-timer pour himself a Negra Modelo (before 9 a.m.), then clop down the bird poop–covered dock.
Waiting for us by the water's edge is Kate Spencer, of Fast Raft Ocean Safaris. She ushers Josh and me—along with just three other would-be whale watchers—onto a military-style boat: a 33-foot, rigid-hull inflatable. According to Spencer, the humpback whales have been going off in Monterey Bay lately, as warmer waters have pushed anchovies closer to shore.
Frisky dolphins in Monterey Bay
The November air is warm and still. We zip across the water, eye-level with the lolling sea lions and pelicans skimming the surface. “Look, one o'clock!" yells Spencer, as excited as if it's her first-ever humpback sighting (it is mine). About 100 yards away, a spurt of water. As the whale performs its slow-motion pirouettes, we're close enough to see the nicks on its underside.
Over and over, the 40-ton mammal throws its tail in the air, showing off like a kid doing handstands in the pool. There's something especially magical about seeing the spectacle from such a small boat, with so few people—though there are limits to this approach. A lone kayaker gets a little too close, watching warily as the whale breaches circles around him for half an hour. Eventually we tear away and head back to shore, with scores of leaping long-beaked dolphins leading the way.
Invigorated, we go for lunch at Monterey's new Wharf Marketplace: Cuban paninis and a grilled Castroville artichoke, which we eat on the deck, raving about our morning adventure. On Cannery Row, where rubber-booted workers would clean, cut, and can the sardines that once drove Monterey's economy, we wander past penny candy stores and marine-themed shops, then pop into the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we gawk at trippy jelly-fish and cuddly sea otters feasting on clams, as kids clutching stuffed dolphins listen to a docent describe the dangers of plastic bags to albatrosses—like the one standing next to her, which looks on with a stern expression.
We say goodbye to the grumpy albatross and make our way south, past Carmel, to Point Lobos State Reserve. It's the kind of idyllic coastal spot that people come from all over to see (and that we have in our backyard, I remind Josh, just in case he's still considering that Boston job). We hike the trails and coves and watch the sea otters bask. Two tourists in white floppy hats bust out their binoculars and offer them to me. I take a quick peek, only because I don't want to make them feel bad. I mean, only a couple of hours ago I was chilling next to a whole pod of otters in the Fast Raft.
Traveling in style on 17-Mile Drive, in a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster
Two birders have set up in Whalers Cove. “I just saw a heron eating an eel!" says Chuck Bancroft, who, it turns out, was a Point Lobos ranger for 31 years. “One of the coolest things I've ever seen," he says, flipping the screen of his camera to show us footage of the kill. We hike out of the park and keep driving, observing more animal life along the way: cows, horses, zebras. (Descendants of animals from William Randolph Hearst's now-shuttered private zoo, perhaps?) About an hour later we arrive: Big Sur. The edge of the world, as they say—and hands down one of the most beautiful places in it.
Soon I'm swaddled in a fluffy white robe, sipping a glass of local Sauvignon Blanc beside a fire pit. It's wine hour at the Ventana Inn, where we'll be spending the night, and folks mill about assembling cheese plates as the sun starts its descent. Beside me is local artist Chelsea Belle Davey, whose grandmother moved to Big Sur in the '60s to work as a tai chi teacher at Esalen, the hippie utopia revered for its hot springs and spiritual scene. “I carry this place with me wherever I go," says Davey, who now lives in Monterey but as artist-in-residence paints here. “Everyone has their Big Sur heroes: Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller. But, for me, it's the amazing local women artists I grew up watching paint. They're my inspiration."
After I get kneaded with an aromatic poultice, it's dinnertime. The inn's rustic-luxe restaurant is located maybe a half-mile down a gravel path. The concierge offers us a ride, but we decline. It's not every day you get to hike through the dark to a multicourse seafood supper: yellowfin tuna, grilled Spanish octopus with fava beans, smoked sturgeon in red cabbage puree. You couldn't hope for a more fitting meal for the time and place—except possibly that eel, if the heron hadn't gotten to it first.
Primed by local Pinot and a little brandy, we finish our meal and toddle off along the dark trail back to our room, stopping for a dip in the Japanese soaking tubs. After all, when in Big Sur…
At the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Big Sur to Paso Robles: In which Rachel begins her Tale of Two Bobcats, plays Frisbee golf, and has a glass of wine—or five.
Who needs coffee? I start the day with a morning run, joined by Michelle Rizzolo, chef and co-owner of Big Sur Bakery, who is training for the “crazy hard" Big Sur Marathon in April and wants to show me one of her favorite spots—Bluff Trail, overlooking Andrew Molera beach. After splashing through a shallow stream and swooning over the ocean view, I notice a kittycat blocking the way. Or, actually, a bobcat. Or, um, is that a mountain lion? Help?
Rizzolo keeps her cool, and, to my surprise, we make it past the predator in one piece. Five or six miles later, we are back at her bakery, a popular little spot with an applesauce spice muffin that alone is worth the winding drive. “You have to be a certain type of person to live in Big Sur," she says. “Fearless. This place makes you realize how insignificant we are, how vulnerable we are to nature every day."
Rizzolo encourages me to join her sometime on one of her 12-mile midnight runs to Esalen, which end with a starry soak in a cliffside mineral spring. I'd love to, provided we won't encounter a rhinoceros or Bengal tiger along the way.
Sea lions take a buoy break in Monterey
I say goodbye to Rizzolo and grab a few pastries for the road. They don't make it out of the lot. Josh and I are heading three hours southeast to Paso Robles, a wine country that offers a refreshing alternative to Napa: top wines without the pretension.
Exhibit A: a Frisbee golf course that runs through the vineyards at Castoro Cellars. The nice lady presiding over the tasting counter pours us some crisp Pinot Grigio and tells us with a wink that we can borrow their discs (since we failed to bring our own) to play the course, which features baskets set up between oak barrels. Eye-hand coordination and wine aren't an obvious match, and whatever competitive spirit we had at the start of the round devolves into slapstick by its end.
We order a couple of basil, avocado, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches from the nearby Red Scooter Deli, then poke around Paso Robles' tiny downtown, stopping for a quick park picnic followed by a tipple at Fish Gaucho. “Do you guys like tequila?" asks the maître d', who with his gleaming braces doesn't look old enough to talk about tequila, let alone drink it. I try a few sips of the bar's “private stash" tasting flight (Josh has gallantly volunteered to be our designated driver), then we hit Adelaida Road, a winding (and traffic-free) counterpoint to Napa's Silverado Trail.
Michelle Rizzolo, chef and co-owner, Big Sur Bakery
Paso Robles is known for its Rhône varietals, but lately it's been getting into spirits, too: handcrafted vodka and gin from prefermented grape juice, plus bourbon distilled from barley and wheat obtained from local breweries. “Juice we'd otherwise have to toss is now going into making our spirits," says the staffer pouring at Re:Find Distillery, the county's first since Prohibition. I try a vodka infused with cucumber. Kumquat is coming next, I'm told.
At nearby Halter Ranch, Josh and I pile into a dusty Land Rover with rising star winemaker Kevin Sass. This is the vehicle the vineyard uses to take guests on the “Excursion Tour," a fun, affordable way to explore the area's abundance of natural beauty. Sass oversees Halter's new gravity-flow winery and 280 acres of Cabernet, Syrah, and Grenache grapes, as well as walnuts and olives, on the rolling 2,100-acre property.
We bounce along below a covered bridge, past a 19th-century barn, to a catfish-stocked swimmable pond. Not far from here is Ancestor, a coast live oak that has stood on a hilltop for maybe half a millennium. We pause for a while beneath the tree's broad canopy, taking in views that stretch all the way to the Santa Lucia Highlands. “Paso Robles is like Santa Barbara 20 years ago," says Sass. “We've got Avila Beach, wineries, great food. What's not to love?
"No one owns Big Sur. Whether you run Twitter or are a tourist from Texas—or a 24-year-old from New Jersey, like I was when I first moved here—everyone comes to Big Sur for similar reasons." —Michelle Rizzolo
We end our tour with a tasting in the Halter Ranch members lounge, sinking into cowskin-covered chairs. Kicking back with Halter's spicy Syrah, I'm forever ruined for the typical crowded tasting room.
Josh gets to navigate the winding road back to Paso Robles, while I get to gaze out the window at the beautiful blur of vineyards passing by. About 20 minutes later, we're at our second hotel, Inn Paradiso, a quirky four-suite property (they'll also soon offer a newly renovated home for rent down the road) whose Great Room has a wood fire, John Robshaw decor, and flea-market finds from around the world—including a stuffed bobcat depicted mid-leap. (Why are they following me?) The owner is a former movie poster designer with a flipbook on the coffee table of his work, including American Beauty and Almost Famous.
After a dip in the Paradiso pool, it's time for a pre-dinner drink. We sit beneath another giant oak at Hotel Cheval's Pony Club wine bar, where retirees, glad to have found an affordable slice of paradise, gather for Friday evening happy hour. From here, we go to Studios on the Park, a local artist collective that lures us in with paintings of cute puppies in the window. Rosey Rosenthal, in a knit tie and denim apron, is eating his supper while overseeing sales of his etchings. “There was one winery here when I moved here in 1981 from New York," he says. Today: 200.
The vineyard at Halter Ranch
We had asked a few people where to eat tonight, and they'd mostly pointed us to the same place: Artisan, a town square mainstay with deep booths, goat cheese fondue, a “must try" mushroom brioche, and a rich wild boar risotto.
A block away, the Pine Street Saloon is a real-deal cowboy bar where a motley crew gathers on karaoke nights to sing their hearts out. We sip beer beside a small wooden stage as a white-haired Tony Bennett wannabe belts out the Billy Paul classic “Me and Mrs Jones":
“We got a thiiiiiing going ooooon!" Maybe it's the fatigue, or the effects of wine country, but it's an oddly romantic way to end the day.
Paso Roles to Santa Barbara: In which Rachel paddles the Pacific, skims surf shops, and tastes some terrific tacos.
We wake to the sound of roosters crowing outside. After a glass of fresh grapefruit juice, we drive a few miles south to Kitchenette, chef Chris Kobayashi's new upscale diner in Templeton. Beer-braised corned beef hash to start the day? Sure. Kitchenette stands out in these parts, where cattle country is becoming condoland. Just up the road there used to be a big livestock auction house, manager Rick tells us, but now it's being developed for housing, along with the now-shuttered Beef Palace, “where cowboys used to go for pancakes the size of manholes."
A couple of hours later, we're skirting the coast again, heading for Goleta, a laid-back beach town just north of Santa Barbara. Sparkling, sunny, and virtually empty, Haskell's Beach is irresistible. The ocean is calm, perfect for paddleboarding. A freckly, shirtless kid greets us on the sand with rental boards. We skim the surface, rolling over gentle waves, until I realize I'd rather swim. And Josh realizes he has lost his sunglasses.
Steven Tiller, CEO, Seavees
Sticky with saltwater, we head up a path to Bacara Resort & Spa, a grand beachfront inn. To offset the morning's beery corned beef, we opt for the resort's Spa Café, a terrace restaurant run by French chef Vincent Lesage. The meal is fresh and healthy and delicious: edamame dumplings, quinoa spicy yogurt rolls, ahi tuna lettuce wraps with kimchi aioli. Even the addition of a Santa Ynez Sauvignon Blanc can't dampen our healthier-than-thou post-prandial glow.
Seven miles east, we pull into the year-old Goodland hotel, a 1969 Holiday Inn renovated and revived for the hipster crowd: beaded doorways; black-and-white shots of Cheryl Tiegs; surfboards hanging on the ceiling of one of its two bars, which are popular with locals and Santa Barbara's less wealthy (that is, younger) tourists; a silver bullet Airstream parked outside, just because. A pool party is underway when we arrive, with a local DJ spinning covers of Fleetwood Mac.
It would be easy to sit by the pool sipping build-your-own gimlets, but we have a date with a local man who has sparked a revival of his own: Steven Tiller, CEO and chief designer of Santa Barbara–based SeaVees, the quintessential “casual sneaker" from the '60s, which is on the rise again under Tiller's watch. We meet up with him at SeaVees' indoor-outdoor studio, then hop on Linus cruiser bikes to pedal around town.
"Santa Barbara isn't LA. It's not always on people's radar. You've got to work a little harder to make your mark. But, in its own uniquely understated way, it still captures the Golden State in its golden era." —Steven Tiller
"There are only a handful of days here that are not perfect," Tiller says, gesturing at the flawless sky. "This place has a lot of seventh homeowners, but also people like me, who have tried to find a way here, and now that we have, we just want to hold on to it."
Tiller grew up in Oklahoma, skateboarding and dreaming of the Left Coast. Now, sockless and tanned, pants rolled above the ankle, you'd mistake him for a native. We grab a cappuccino at French Press and pop into Warbler Records, an old-school shop owned by a couple of Oregon transplants and crammed floor-to-ceiling with what used to be their private album collection. “Back East, I was always the creative guy in the group," Tiller says, laughing. “Out here, I'm the conservative."
A pit stop at Pebble Beach
Later, Josh and I wander along State Street, ducking into well-curated shops like Diani Living, where for some reason we're moved to buy an antique ice-cream scoop. Toward the end of State, we turn down a side street and are drawn into a new surf shop called Trim, where Ryan Lovelace, a dirty-blond dude in board shorts, is reclining on a couch with his dog. All around are colorful handmade boards and old surf DVDs. “I just wanted to open a shop with all my favorite things," he says.
We'll be dining later at The Lark—the town's hottest restaurant—but we're ready for a snack. We spot a line of locals at Lilly's Taqueria. The line moves far more quickly than the one I saw snaking outside La Super Rica (the taco joint Julia Child once famously raved about), so we decide to join this one, thereby discovering my favorite Santa Barbara taco: a superb tortilla topped with carne asada, onions, and cilantro that sells for a whopping $1.70.
From here, we head for the Santa Barbara Wine Collective, in the hopping Funk Zone, to buy a bottle of Babcock Pinot, and pull into Butterfly Beach to partake in the locals' nightly ritual: watching the sun dip behind the ocean. Then it's on to The Lark, where we bypass the extralong communal table for a quieter spot outside. The menu ranges from pancetta-stuffed deviled eggs to a black garlic–glazed, Flintstones-size lamb shank. It's all quite good, but I want to bottle the crispy Brussels sprouts and take them home.
We end the evening, reluctantly, with drinks on the wide terrace at Belmond El Encanto, a renovated 1920s resort overlooking the lights of the American Riviera. Back at our hotel room, we rummage through the Goodland's album collection and pull out California Nights, by indie rockers Best Coast, and fall asleep to the scratchy tunes on our vintage record player, vaguely recalling some silly idea we once had about moving back East.
Rachel Levin, a San Francisco–based writer, has one regret about her three-day coastal excursion: that she's not getting paid by the bobcat sighting.
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Discover Kansas City: The City of Fountains
To those unfamiliar with the Missouri metropolis, Kansas City might call to mind a few associations: Barbecue. Jazz. The fact that there's another, smaller Kansas City in Kansas (it's all part of the same metro area…yeah, we were confused, too). And while it absolutely has all those things, it also boasts wide boulevards, world-class art and really good tacos. Here's everything you need to add to your agenda on a visit to the vibrant Midwestern hot spot.
Make a wish at one of the many, many fountains
If you notice an abundance of water features around town, that's because K.C. has, oh, 200 of them. (Its official nickname is The City of Fountains.) Among the most notable are the equestrian-themed J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain (built by a French sculptor in 1910) and the Henry Wollman Bloch Fountain in front of Union Station, whose 232 concentric water jets put on an ever-changing display.
Don Ipock/Courtesy of Visit KC
Spend an afternoon wandering the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, notable for, among other things, distinctive architecture, an extensive Asian art collection and a sculpture garden that includes four giant badminton shuttlecocks. The nearby Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art houses more than 700 works from artists like Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler and Frank Stella. You'll find an extra dose of culture throughout the city through October 28, thanks to Open Spaces, the city's newly inaugurated biennial arts festival.
Courtesy of Boulevard Brewing
Drink like a local
Fun fact: Kansas City famously said “nah, we're good" to Prohibition, so drinking is effectively part of the city's cultural fabric. Take a tour at Boulevard Brewing; beer geeks should be sure to sample the complex, extra-boozy pours from the Smokestack Series. If spirits are your jam, head to J. Rieger & Co., a legendary pre-Prohibition distillery that was resurrected in 2010 (with help from a descendant of J. Rieger himself), for whiskey, gin, vodka and Caffe Amaro (a bittersweet coffee liqueur).
Brian Paulette/Courtesy of Visit KC
Soak up the city's jazz past (and present)
Thanks in part to its unique, nightclub-friendly status in the '20s and '30s (see above), and heavyweights like K.C. native Charlie Parker, the city boasts a rich musical history, much of it centered around the 18th and Vine neighborhood. Pay homage at the Charlie Parker memorial and the American Jazz Museum, then catch a live show at the Blue Room (inside the museum) or the Green Lady Lounge.
Courtesy of Visit KC
Check out City Market
There are farmers' markets, and then there's this massive institution, which has been operating as a hub for local vendors since 1857. Along with a bounty of produce and flowers from nearby farms, you'll find dozens of eateries ranging from Ethiopian to Brazilian. It also shares the space with a surprising tenant: the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which showcases 200 tons of artifacts salvaged from an 1856 shipwreck in the Missouri River.
DAVID D. MORRIS/COURTESY OF VISIT KC
Anthony Bourdain called Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que one of the 13 places you need to eat before you die. The legendary spot—located in a gas station—is famous for its burnt ends and Z-man sandwich (brisket, Provolone and onion rings). For a new-school take on smoked meat, check out Q39, where the chef taps both his classical culinary training and years on the barbecue competition circuit to perfect dishes like a burnt-end burger and house-made chipotle sausage.
Zach Bauman/Courtesy of Visit KC
…And not barbecue
Feast on globally influenced small plates (think gochujang-dressed cauliflower and duck confit with za'atar) at The Antler Room, opened by a husband-and-wife team who brought their far-flung restaurant training back to their hometown. If the weather's nice, grab a seat on the patio at Gram & Dun for creative cocktails and comfort food with a twist like Asian pig “wings" with sake-soy glaze or loaded baked potato gnocchi. Also of note? The town's serious Mexican food scene. Order a whole wood-fired chicken at El Pollo Rey or walk into any of the great taquerias clustered around Southwest Boulevard.
Courtesy of Visit KC
Take a stroll in Swope Park
At 1,805 acres, the city's largest green space is more than twice the size of NYC's Central Park, and houses the Kansas City Zoo, a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater that presents Broadway shows and concerts, a zip-line adventure course, soccer pitches (where both the men's and women's pro teams train), a wildlife rehabilitation center and miles of hiking trails and picnicking spots.
Courtesy of Visit KC
Explore the Crossroads Arts District
Creatives flock to this historic neighborhood, filled with galleries, design shops and buzzy restaurants. If you can, time your visit for the first Friday of the month, when you'll find pop-up parties at galleries and shops, live performers on every corner and food trucks galore. Also in the area is the gorgeous Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts, should you wish to cap your evening off with some ballet, symphony or opera.
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United and Special Olympics
Taking inclusion to new heights
Our shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world — and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics.Learn more
Where to eat and drink in Salem
While Salem, Massachusetts will be forever famous for its 1692 witch trials—and the associated spooky attractions that always make the streets quite crowded this time of year—its culinary scene is starting to become an attraction unto itself. Here are the beverage spots, bakeries, and restaurants to check out next time you're in town.
The Roof at Hotel Salem
Today is the day. We will be open 2-11! #wayup \Roof Salem
When the mid-century modern Hotel Salem opened recently, it had a draw for locals, too: Salem's first-ever roof deck, with views of the harbor, church steeples, and historic rooftops for miles around. Open at least through the end of October (request a blanket from a host if you get chilly), the open-air lounge keeps the warm weather vibes going with a mostly Mexican-inspired food and drink menu, including margaritas and tacos. In colder months, retreat downstairs for a double burger from the open-concept lunch and dinner bar, Counter.
With its flashy atmosphere (graffiti-lined walls, more than a dozen colorful paper umbrellas hanging from the rafters) and bold Asian street food menu, Kokeshi is nothing if not vibrant. Head here for surprising starters like an octopus hot dog sprinkled with daikon slaw and comforting bowls of rice noodles and ramen, including the Colonel Sanders, topped with fried chicken. If you're more in the mood for pizza, take note that the owners also serve perfectly crispy-chewy Neapolitan pies at their other spot, Bambolina.
Ledger Restaurant & Bar
A circa-1818 former savings bank found new life recently when chef-owner Matt O'Neil oversaw its thoughtful renovation into a gleaming restaurant space. Rustic touches like exposed original brick, a wall of repurposed deposit boxes, and a long, wooden communal table sit alongside more polished elements, including a sweeping open kitchen with a custom wood-fire grill and a dramatic, oversized chandelier over the bar. The menu has a new-New England vibe, with seasonal, locally sourced sides like cornbread and succotash, and hearty mains like a Berkshire pork chop with marinated peaches.
Long before “plant-based" was a buzz-phrase and juice bars were popping up by the minute in downtowns everywhere, Life Alive was spreading its version of veggie love in the Boston area in the form of nutrient-packed smoothies, salads, and grain bowls (try the Goddess, with ginger shoyu sauce and sprouted legumes). Now four shops strong, including an outpost in Salem, this casual, organic cafe serves up the type of clean eats you'd expect to find at pricey yoga retreat.
Far from The Tree Hard Cider
When you need a break from the witch museums and haunted graveyard tours, retreat to Far from the Tree's decidedly more mellow taproom. Pull up a stool in the rustic indoor space or perch on a picnic table on the patio outside, and sample hard ciders that run the gamut from off-dry heritage blends and Citra-hopped versions to out-there creations such as the limited edition Ecotoplasm, a bright green sipper spiked with jalapeno and green pepper out just in time for Halloween.
Not that we're recommending it, but if you insist on drinking by the bootfull, these are the kind of beers you want to reach for. This ahead-of-the-curve session brewer specializes in low-abv German and Czech-style lagers and ales, like the signature “session IPA" Left of the Dial and even more quaffable pale ale Zwickel. In between rounds of Skee-Ball in the taproom, also check out Notch's Voll Projekt, the a new foray into full-strength brews.
A&J King Artisan Bakers
Master makers of all things crusty and buttery, artisan bakers Jackie and Andy King have earned themselves cult culinary status in this city—one croissant at a time. Stop by their original location or recently opened second bakery for a flaky apple tart or cinnamon bun, then fill your arms with as many rustic loaves of sourdough and baguettes as you can possibly tote home.
French-born and clasically-trained pastry chef Dimitri Vallier makes some of the best treats in town—apparent by one glance at his picture-perfect pastry case. His elegant sweets, including Paris-brest eclairs and triangles of caramel mousse with poached pears are simply transportive. The only sign you're still in Salem? Alongside more traditional almond and rose macarons, you'll also find orange and black ones, too.
Introducing travel experiences with PlacePass
Now that you've booked your flight, it's time to start planning out your trip itinerary. With so many options and endless websites to research, it can be a taxing task to take on. And if you're planning activities for everyone involved, it can be even more difficult to balance out the right amount of fun with the right number of touristy sites to visit.
With so many things to experience, research shows that travelers are seeking bespoke, local recommendations when it comes to planning their vacation itinerary. From activities like skip-the-line passes to museums, walking tours, water activities and more, our partnership with PlacePass provides top-rated recommendations when it comes to planning out your next trip. With over 100,000 travel experiences, you're sure to find something to do whether you're planning a family vacation, a trip with friends or tacking on a few extra days to your business trip.
To start, enter in your destination to browse categories of activities specific to that location. Activities are categorized by "most popular," "food and drinks," "family fun," "wine country" and more for nearly every destination we fly to, making it easy to find what you're looking for or discover new things to do.
`qOur partnership with PlacePass is one of the ways we're bring more personalized experiences to our customers. As a leading technology solutions provider, PlacePass leads the way in bringing travelers in-destination experiences. Look out for more enhancements to our partnership early next year.
9 things to do in Maui for families
With 120 miles of shoreline and 80 beaches in hues ranging from eggshell to ebony, there would be plenty for families to love about Maui, even if you didn't factor in the fascinating volcanic crater at Haleakala National Park. Here are nine fun-filled ways for your family to say Aloha to Maui.
Gaze into a volcano
Haleakala National Park is a literal high point of a visit to Maui: rising 10,000 feet above sea level, it's the world's largest dormant volcano. (If you plan to go before 7 a.m. to watch the sunrise, be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.) Once you've gazed into the crater and taken in the views over the entire island, there's plenty to explore in the otherworldly park filled with fascinating rock formations. Bring a jacket (it can be chilly up there) and stop at the ranger station as soon as you arrive for a free Junior Ranger Activity Booklet. Kids can complete the fun games based on sights around the park. Return to the ranger station when they're done and they'll be sworn in as Junior Rangers, complete with a plastic badge, the ultimate souvenir of a day up spent up in the clouds.
Take a flowery scavenger hunt
While you're Up Country, amid the lush green slopes of Haleakala, visit the lovely and fragrant Alii Kula Lavender Farm. A free scavenger hunt will keep keikei (kids) busy wandering through the flowers and fruit trees — the reward for finishing is complimentary lavender cookies. Parents will love the gorgeous views and a relaxing stroll through the colorful grounds.
Pet a goat
Near the lavender garden is another Up Country family highlight: Surfing Goat Dairy. The goats don't actually surf unfortunately, but you can feed and pet them, and even sign up for a late afternoon milking tour to really get hands on.
Enjoy an authentic luau
You'll want to arrive early for the popular Old Lahaina Luau, when traditional artisans demonstrate crafts such as palm weaving and wood carving, and your family can learn how to hula and play traditional instruments. The luau kicks off with the unveiling of the kalua pig that roasts all day in an underground pit, then the night unfolds as the sun sets, with live musicians and dozens of costumed dancers. Expect a massive, all-inclusive buffet where you can sample local tastes such as poi, pork, and poke, plus kid-palate friendly items including fried rice and barbecued “Moa" chicken.
Go on a whale watching tour
Hit the seas with the marine biologists at Pacific Whale Foundation during humpback whale season, November through April, when nearly 10,000 of the mammoth mammals travel from Alaska to mate and give birth in the warm Hawaiian waters. Spotting a car-size tail shooting out of the water or witnessing an acrobatic out-of-water breach is the kind of spectacle your kids will remember for a long while, and PWF even offers a Jr. Naturalist Program for kids on their sailings.
See sharks at the aquarium
Are your kids not ready for a boat adventure but still want to see amazing sea life? The Maui Ocean Center has a colorful Living Reef exhibit where you can spot unique swimmers like Hawaii's state fish, the humuhumu nukunuku apuaa. You can also see sea turtles, visit touch tanks, and walk through a 750,000 gallon tank filled with sharks.
Soak up the sun at Kaanapali Beach
There's a beach for every mood on Maui, and of them Kaanapali is a top spot for families, especially the section just south of Black Rock — a landmark where a torch is lit and a diver plunges into the sea at sunset every night. Rent snorkel equipment and within seconds you'll spot tropical fish. Grab a bite to eat at the open-air Whaler's Village shopping center that has access right from the beach walkway. Plan to stay in the quieter area of North Kaanapali, north of Black Rock, where the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas offers multi-bedroom suites with full kitchens and washer dryers, a fabulous lagoon pool, cultural activities, a kids club, and communal grills where you can make an easy stay-in dinner for the family.
Explore the largest Banyan Tree
The historic town of Lahaina is filled with original buildings from the 1800s when it was a bustling whaling town. The biggest attention grabber for kids is the massive, 60-foot high banyan tree (the largest in the United States), which has branches that extend across an entire block. There's always shade under the tree, making it the perfect spot to savor a tropical syrup-infused shave ice from one of the shops nearby.
Take a road trip
The Road to Hana is legendary: 50 miles of hairpin turns and one lane bridges that test a driver's mettle, even without a car full of kids who might succumb to motion sickness. Instead of plunging down the entire drive, turn it into a road trip exploration that suits your family. Going just a third of the drive (less than an hour without stops), you can have lunch in the funky beach town of Paia (kids love the pizza at Flatbreads), watch the windsurfers at Hookipa Beach, feel the cooling spray at Twin Falls, take a mini hike at Waikamoi Ridge Trail, and stop to see the colorful painted eucalyptus and enjoy some fresh fruit at Garden of Eden. Then turn around and head back to the beach.
Fun and spooky travel destinations for Halloween
For many people, Halloween travel typically involves a stroll around the neighborhood with the kids as they go trick-or-treating, or perhaps a drive across the city to a costume party. But for adventurous travelers who are searching for genuine thrills and chills on October 31st, a trip to one of these seven destinations is the perfect way to celebrate the spookiest day of the year.
Washington Irving's classic story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" tells the eerie tale of an unlucky schoolteacher who encounters a pumpkin-headed phantom while walking through the woods at night. In actuality, the fictional town of Sleepy Hollow is based on the real-life village of Tarrytown, New York. Every October, the residents of Tarrytown pay tribute to Irving's fable with a series of family-friendly events that attract visitors from far and wide. This year's celebration includes a spooky cemetery tour, an elaborate haunted hayride, vintage horror movies at the historic Tarrytown Music Hall and a possible visit from the Headless Horseman himself.
New Orleans Haunted History Tour
New Orleans is widely considered the ghost capital of the United States, and for very good reason. Founded as a French colony in 1718, the city has a rich history of attracting immigrants from Spain, Africa and Haiti, each of whom brought with them a unique set of superstitions and religious practices. Today, voodoo rituals, vampire legends and zombie tales abound in The Big Easy, and the best way to experience them is by taking one of the popular Haunted History Tours. Choose between the classic ghost tour, the haunted pub crawl, the creepy cemetery stroll and the authentic voodoo tour.
The Stanley Hotel
Nestled amid the glorious Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the beautiful Stanley Hotel is the real-life inspiration for Stephen King's terrifying bestseller “The Shining." In 1974, King and his wife Tabitha spent a night at The Stanley and quickly discovered that they were the only guests in the entire hotel. This sparked the author's fiendish imagination, and he began outlining the novel's chilling plot that same evening. Though he changed its name to The Overlook Hotel for the book, The Stanley remains the true setting. Today, fans of “The Shining" can celebrate Halloween at the hotel with a series of horror-themed events, including a murder mystery dinner, a lavish masquerade party and an official Shining Ball.
The Paris Catacombs
Throughout much of its history, Paris has been known as the City of Lights. Yet beneath its lovely streets, a more accurate description would be the City of Bones. That's because the skeletal remains of more than 6 million bodies are buried in the network of underground tunnels and narrow passages that wind their way below Paris. Since it was first opened to the public in 1874, this macabre labyrinth has become one of the most popular attractions in all of Europe. Catering to demand, a variety of catacomb tours are available for travelers who want to explore the hidden world of the dead.
Perched high on a cliff in the Arefu village of Romania, this atmospheric castle is considered by many to be the original home of Count Dracula himself. In reality, it was an imposing stone fortress belonging to the infamous warlord Vlad the Impaler, who was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's legendary vampire character. Built at the beginning of the 13th century, Poenari Castle is in a state of perpetual ruin, yet tours are still available to brave souls who are willing to climb the 1400 steps to reach its crumbling citadel.
The first people to celebrate Halloween (then known as the Festival of Samhain) were the ancient Druids of Ireland, so a trip to this 5,200-year old Druid tomb in Ireland's Boyne Valley is the perfect place to spend the holiday. Constructed during the Neolithic period by Stone Age farmers, Newgrange consists of a massive circular mound divided by a long stone passageway and filled with multiple burial chambers. According to Irish folklore, it was believed to be the dwelling of a god called Dagda, who wielded a massive club that was capable of raising the dead. Tours of the prehistoric monument are available to the public.
If you've ever dreamed of coming face to face with a genuine monster, why not spend this Halloween searching for aquatic sea creatures in Scotland? The legendary beast, affectionately nicknamed Nessie, was first spotted in the freshwater Loch as far back as the 6th century AD. Since then, there have been countless sightings, but aside from a handful of grainy photos, no actual proof has been captured. So grab a camera and reserve a seat on the Jacobite Loch Ness Tour. You just might be the one to prove its existence, once and for all!
If you go
Celebrating Girls in Aviation Day
We are proud to work with Women in Aviation so that together we can help break down barriers and promote inclusion while also inspiring a future generation of aviation leaders that includes women.
We kicked off Girls in Aviation Day by bringing in young women from Girls Inc. to meet a group of our female pilots and to try the flight simulators at our new flight training center in Denver.
We are continuously working to build a workforce as diverse as the communities we serve, which is why we are excited to hold Girls in Aviation Day events in a record number of 12 locations around the world. Through this event in Denver and the other events held across the globe, we are working to engage girls as they begin to think about their own futures so we can ensure a strong future of women in the industry.
Cuba: A city filled with culture and heart
Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.
By Remote Reservations Sales and Service Representative Susie Grisley
My favorite travel experience was visiting the beautiful city of Havana, Cuba. My strong curiosity persisted when the U.S. and Cuban governments finally agreed to cooperate on U.S. citizens traveling to this previously forbidden place. Reviewing the documents, I learned we could go in under the "Humanitarian" category, as the borders had not been opened to come and go as any American pleased. A group of us gathered, including some of my Boston-based colleagues and my three sons. We purchased a ton of toys and goodies for the children of Cuba.
Upon arriving in this fortress of deteriorating concrete, old buildings and damaged structures, we found an amazing city full of culture and heart. The Cuban people were glowing with an unmatched happiness and welcomed us with open arms. They were friendly, hospitable and very excited to see us, the Americans. They are extremely proud of their city, which despite the broken sidewalks and crumbling walls, was insanely beautiful. The colorful buildings and the colorful working vintage Chevys are among the amazing things to see. They are so proud of their old cars. Out of necessity, they have learned to work on their own cars with very simple tools. If the car breaks down while driving, they simply get out, open the hood, twist and bang and get it running as they know how to do. No one honks at them if they are in the road. This is just their way. The insides of the cars are simple, yet they maintain them as their prized possessions. They all, however, have music! They love driving proudly through the streets in their shiny old cars with music pouring out the open windows. Riding in many of them, each "taxi" was a new experience of its own.
Despite the gorgeous architecture and the classic cars, it truly was heart-warming getting to mingle with the Cuban people and learning their way of life. They are a beautiful people with beautiful, happy hearts ready to greet every American.
When it came time to hand out toys and gifts, we carried our toy bag through the streets, and it was apparent to us the children did not live with much. The delight and smiles on their faces were unimaginable. Their gratitude was evident, and my only regret was that we did not have enough for every child we saw. I thought my heart would explode at their excitement and appreciation.
Havana, Cuba is a travel must. It is an unbelievable place with an unbelievable story.
I left Cuba with a new realization of what it is like to live in a closed nation. I found a vibrant society of happy people full of fun, music and culture. I came home with a love of Havana and its people forever in my heart.
It was a trip of a life time and an experience we will never forget.
7 family-friendly activities to celebrate fall
Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.
Go apple picking
Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages.. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.
Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years. If you're considering a visit, you might want to plan to be there on November 23, since that's when they're hosting their famous Apple Butter Festival this year.
Visit a pumpkin patch
If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.
If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want for only $3 each. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.
Enjoy a harvest festival
An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.
For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.
Hit the trails
Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.
On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.
Roll in the hay
Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.
In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!
Up, up and away
Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.
If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.
Pitch a tent
Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.
For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.
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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Five magnificent stops between Honolulu and Guam filled with spectacular scenery along the way, and then back again. Join Big Metal Bird host, Phil Torres, as he explores our unique Island Hopper route, and discovers what the route means to the people of Micronesia.
It was an unusual sight: a flame on a plane -- but that's exactly what passengers on a flight from Boston to Chicago witnessed as we transported the very special cargo on July 18. The flame was enclosed in a secure lantern and accompanied by a Special Olympic athlete and two Guardians of the Flame – members of a group of more than 100,000 law enforcement officers whose role is to protect and ensure the delivery of the Special Olympics Flame wherever it travels.
This wasn't just any flame, however; it was the Special Olympics' Flame of Hope, the flame which lit the Eternal Flame of Hope to kick off Special Olympics' 50th anniversary celebration Friday morning.
CEO Oscar Munoz, General Counsel and EVP Brett Hart; and Community Affairs VP Sharon Grant, along with many employees and customers, greeted the Flame upon arrival to O'Hare International Airport, where it was presented to local Guardians of the Flame.
We didn't just transport the Flame of Hope on board one of our flights, said Oscar. "That flight symbolized how we are taking the values of inclusion and respect, which that Flame represents, fully on board as a company."
From O'Hare, the Flame traveled to Soldier Field, the site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games 50 years ago, and where the Law Enforcement Torch Run® took place the morning of Friday, July 20. More than 100 employees participated in the event, a four-mile course along the lakefront in downtown Chicago, along with hundreds of law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes from throughout Illinois and the world.
I saw people from all over the world come together for a great cause, said Global Catering Operations Projects and Performance Manager Yana Strutz, who participated in the Torch Run, "It is wonderful to see my colleagues take time out of their busy schedules to ensure that Special Olympics athletes get the time and attention they deserve."
The run concluded with the lighting of the Eternal Flame of Hope monument, a flame that symbolizes the eternal hope that Special Olympics provides to athletes and their families. The flame will stay forever ignited inside the permanent, 30-foot monument outside of Soldier Field.
United will go beyond just flying the Flame of Hope on one flight, we will 'carry the torch' everywhere we fly and spread the light of this inclusion revolution. We intend to be ambassadors for this movement everywhere we operate, said Oscar.
Our partnership with Special Olympics represents our continuing effort to break down barriers and further build on Special Olympics' remarkable legacy of inclusion by engaging our employees around the world.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.