Three Perfect Days: Charleston - United Hub

Three Perfect Days: Charleston

By The Hub team

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."

Search flights

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 TheatreOpener: The Historic District's colorful Elliott Street. Here: the backside of the Dock Street Theatre

Day 1:

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

Day 2:

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

Day 3:

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.

Sullivan's Island

Search flights

Going greener at airports across the country

By The Hub team

We're lightening our footprint at airports across the U.S. These efforts make your travels more environmentally friendly, as well as lessen the impact we're having on all our local communities. Check out the different ways we're doing this.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Biofuels program at LAX is at the heart of our sustainability pledge

We're committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 so we've invested a lot in biofuels. Biofuels are made with renewable resources like agricultural waste or trash instead of petroleum. We're proud to be the leading airline in biofuels – operating the first U.S. commercial flight powered by renewable biofuel in 2011 and being the first airline to continuously use biofuel for regularly scheduled flights from Los Angeles since 2016.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

At SFO, you're flying from one of the nation's greenest airports

Boarding area E in Terminal 3 is our home at San Francisco. The LEED Gold-certified terminal features solar panels on the roof and terrazzo tile made from recycled glass. Sustainably designed with natural light and sweeping views, you can enjoy an open and airy feel throughout as you wait for your flight — a drastic change from the cramped, fluorescently lit terminal of the past.

O'Hare International Airport (ORD)

A new sustainable biofuels plant is coming to the Chicago area

One of our biofuel partners, Fulcrom BioEnergy, has announced that construction will begin in 2020 on a new biofuels plant in the Chicago area. This plant will produce approximately 33 million gallons of fuel annually, nearly half of which will be jet fuel. Our partnership with Fulcrum BioEnergy will reduce our carbon footprint as well as divert waste from landfills and create 160 full-time permanent jobs and 900 construction jobs at the local Fulcrum facilities.

Denver International Airport (DEN)

Our United Club locations at DEN are both comfortable and energy efficient

Through our partnership with Certifiably Green Denver, we've made improvements to both our United ClubSM locations at Denver. The East and West locations have each earned the Certificate of Environmental Excellence. You'll enjoy the same comfort and amenities you know and love at all our United Club locations, and you can rest easy knowing that behind the scenes we're being more energy efficient. We've also introduced recycled products and composting.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

Electric ride: Houston leads the pack in electric ground equipment

While across our network, 39% of our ground equipment systemwide is electric, that number jumps to 74% in Houston. Using electric equipment lowers our emissions and reduces our carbon footprint. This means we use less fuel, as well as keep the air around the airport cleaner for both our employees and our customers.

How to take care of the world as you travel around it

By The Hub team

We all want to explore the world and to do so in a way that limits any harm to the earth. We committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emission by 50% by 2050, and our award-winning Eco-Skies program has us flying toward a more sustainable future. You can do your part to help reduce the impact of your travels with these simple tips.

Pack lighter

Jet fuel is a major factor in the environmental impact we have when we fly, and the amount of jet fuel used on each flight is determined by factors including the weight of the aircraft. Ridding your suitcase of those two extra pairs of shoes you probably won't need really does make a difference — for every extra pound on the plane, we load and use more fuel on the aircraft. So if we all pack a few pounds lighter, we can use less fuel per flight.

Bring a reusable water bottle

Frequent flyers are well aware that liquids are not allowed through security, but empty bottles are another story. You can bring an empty reusable water bottle and fill it up at the many water fountains and filling stations throughout the airport. You'll save money and plastic if you don't need to buy a bottle of water in the terminal.

Don't stuff garbage into your cans, cups and bottles onboard

While you may do this to look out for your flight crew, it makes it harder to recycle those items. Since 2010, we've recycled over 30 million pounds of waste — help us separate trash from recycling to keep that going.

Pull down shades and open air vents

Once you've landed, pull down your window shades and open the air vents before you leave the plane. This helps keep the aircraft cool and uses less power for air conditioning on the ground.

Use public transportation

Most major cities have public transportation options to get you to and from the airport. Besides being both quick and economical, you'll also reduce the use of gas from a taxi or rideshare. Public transportation is also a great way to get around and get to know a new city.

Rent bicycles

Biking around a new city is a fun and great way to explore. Additionally, many major cities have introduced bike share programs which make it simple to rent a bike in one neighborhood and return it in another.

Reduce your carbon footprint

You can reduce your travel footprint by purchasing carbon offsets which support projects that reduce greenhouse gases. Calculate the footprint of your travel plans and donate money or miles to carbon reduction projects. Learn more.

Now you can go globetrotting and feel better about treading lightly. Do you have more green travel tips? Share them with us on social media!

Featured

DAV Winter Sports Clinic empowers disabled veterans

By Ryan Hood

Heath Calhoun was severely wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee while serving in Iraq, resulting in the amputation of both of his legs above the knee.

Jon Lujan was also injured while serving in Iraq, and the subsequent surgery damaged his spinal cord, causing permanent nerve damage and paralysis in his lower legs that restricts his movement and left him with no feeling below his knees.

Both Calhoun and Lujan overcame their disabilities to become Team USA Paralympic skiers. Their post-injury athletic careers began at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen, Colorado. The clinic, which began in 1987, hosts veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological conditions and other disabilities for a week of training and rehabilitation. The clinic empowers these American heroes to defy the perceived limitations by participating in adaptive sports that improve their overall health and outlook.

Every year, United flies hundreds of veterans, along with their family members and coaches, to Aspen for the week-long clinic. This year, Calhoun and Lujan returned to Aspen for the first time in years, back to where the rest of their lives originally began.

Featured

A captain's dream comes true

By Gladys Roman

SFO Boeing 787 Captain Al Langelaar was only 5 years old when his parents, survivors of WWII, decided to emigrate to the United States from the Netherlands in search of a better life.

"My parents grew up during the Nazi occupation. They were about 10 years old when the war broke out, and when they met later in life and had me, they didn't have a lot of money," recalled Al. "I remember my aunt dropping us off, us getting on a boat, and going inside a cabin to go on this journey across the Atlantic. We had really bad weather, and I got sick inside the cabin. That's basically all I remember."

It was Jan. 31, 1962, when Al and his parents arrived in New Jersey and then took a train to Pasadena, California, where they settled to start their new life.

"My parents didn't speak English, I didn't speak English, they were starting a new life and they worked hard," Al said.

The value of hard work is a lesson that he never forgot, and he knew he would have to work even harder the day he fell in love with airplanes.

"I was 18 years old, and one day a friend from school told me his dad had a small airplane and invited me to go up with him," Al recalled. "Once we were up in the air, he told me he knew some airline pilots. I asked him, 'How do you become an airline pilot?' And the next day I took my first flight lesson. I worked nights stocking shelves at a grocery store to pay for my flying lessons."

After working for several small commuter airlines, Al's career led him to United, and after 34 years of flying the friendly skies, he realized almost all of his dreams had come true. Just one thing was missing.

"I always dreamed of flying to my home country," he said.

Then, finally, the opportunity came. In August 2018, we announced new service between SFO and AMS (Amsterdam). When he heard the news, Al was enrolled in training to fly a Boeing 787 aircraft and wrote to Oscar asking him for the opportunity to be the captain for our inaugural flight.

"It would be an honor for me to fly this inaugural flight and represent United Airlines. My ties to the Netherlands are still strong, I speak fluent Dutch. I am proof positive that hard work and perseverance pay off, no matter how humble your beginnings," Al wrote. To his surprise, his request was granted, and on March 30, his dream came true.

"I actually teared up when my chief pilot notified me that I would have the chance to fly this route," said Al. "I wasn't expecting it. I know it's a very big deal. I know it takes a lot of coordination and trust, and It was just an honor to learn that they were going to put me on the flight and give me the opportunity to represent United on our very first flight from San Francisco to Holland."

After arriving at AMS, he returned to the neighborhood where he grew up, reuniting with the same aunt who drove him and his parents to the boat that took them to the United States 57 years ago.

"As we crossed the Dutch coastline and descended over the tulip fields just starting to bloom, the landscape looked familiar, but from a vantage point I never thought I would see," added Al. "The whole experience exceeded my wildest dreams."

Women & Whisky: An exclusive tasting with MileagePlus

By The Hub team

On March 26, a select group of female United MileagePlus® program members and our corporate travelers used their miles to attend a MileagePlus Exclusives whisky tasting event in Chicago. This event offered customers a chance to learn more about whisky, specifically, The Last Drop Distillers (TLD), network with like-minded women and break the stereotype that whisky is a "boys club" spirit.

The night began with a cocktail hour where customers enjoyed a specially crafted Old Fashioned cocktail using TLD's not-for-sale 18 year old Blended Scotch Whisky. Rebecca Jago, Managing Director of The Last Drop, led the tasting with three of their exquisite reserves. As Rebecca guided the women through the flavors they were experiencing, she stood next to a "perfect-pour" decanter, Phoebe, "Our wonderful pouring decanter was originally developed for our 10th anniversary in 2018. She [Penelope] got her name when we joked that my mother had not poured my father a glass of whisky in 66 years of marriage, so we had to invent a machine to do it for him," shares Rebecca. "The latest, refined version is smaller, and therefore named after my daughter, Phoebe." The tasting weaved through stories of her childhood growing up with the inventor of Bailey's Irish Cream as a father, her travels searching for the perfect batch of Scotch, and the history behind each of TLD current releases that customers got to taste.

Rebecca paired each release with a canapé to complement the whiskies' complex notes, "These aren't spirits you drink every day. But you should certain drink them with pleasure and enthusiasm – cheers!" The first whisky, a 1971 Blended Scotch Whisky has spent over 45 years maturing in different woods and was paired with a Hamachi crudo, plum, umeboshi and scallion skewer to bring out the notes of stone fruits from the sherry and toasty vanilla notes from the time spent in bourbon barrels. Customers were fortunate enough to taste a very old single malt from the renowned Glenrothes distillery, a TLD Glenrothes 1968 Single Malt Scotch Whisky, a tribute to a perfect marriage of spirit and wood, matured for nearly half a century. Customers ended the tasting with a TLD Tawny Port from 1870.

United Vice President of Community Affairs, Sharon Grant, closed the event by commenting on the easiness of the night's conversation, noting how welcoming of an environment Rebecca created through her presentation of the whiskies. "I'll leave you with this," Sharon said, "As they say, a fine whisky, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation." The group applauded, exchanged business cards and said their goodbyes—it was clear that everyone left the experience reenergized to head into the next day with the support of 30 new women.

MileagePlus Exclusives

A different way to use your miles

United MileagePlus program offers many other ways for members to use their miles that go beyond air awards. One of these options is through MileagePlus Exclusives where members can access VIP experiences across travel, food and wine, arts and entertainment and sports, including access to Uniquely United opportunities such as experiencing our flight simulators, touring airport maintenance bases and being part of historic inaugural flights.

For more MileagePlus Exclusives experiences visit here.

The day off: Tampa

By The Hub team

Story by Nicolas DeRenzo | Hemispheres April 2019

Tampa has long been a pop-culture punchline (see Magic Mike), but it's on the brink of a rebirth, thanks to a $3 billion investment by Bill Gates and Jeff Vinik, the owner of the NHL's Lightning. The resulting 53-acre Water Street development aims to be one of America's top medical-tech hubs and the world's first WELL Certified community. Here, a sweet one-day tour of the Big Guava's present that'll leave you hungry for its future.

Search flights

9 a.m.

No trip to Tampa is complete without a taste of its greatest culinary export: the Cuban sandwich. Start your day with chef Felicia Lacalle's A.M. version (topped with fried eggs and guava-glazed pork belly) at Hemingway's, in the Heights Public Market, a new food hall inside Armature Works, a cavernous 1910 streetcar warehouse.

10 a.m.

Work off the pork belly on the Tampa Riverwalk, a pedestrian and bike path along the Hillsborough River. Cross the Kennedy Boulevard bridge to the University of Tampa campus, which is known for its iconic Moorish Revival minarets (pictured), and then duck into The Shop at Oxford Exchange, a chic lifestyle boutique in 19th-century stables.

12 p.m.

The first phase of the Water Street development is the new Sparkman Wharf, where the city's top chefs serve quick bites out of rainbow shipping containers. After a brisk game of shuffleboard— Florida's official sport?—order piri piri Key West pink shrimp at Edison's Swigamajig and raw Cedar Key oysters, from just up the Gulf coast, at Boat Run Oyster Company.

2 p.m.

Spend an afternoon on the water with eBoats Tampa, which rents out eco-friendly, electric boats that drive as easy as golf carts. They're so quiet that bottlenose dolphins and manatees will often swim up to investigate.

4 p.m.

Back on dry land, hop the free streetcar to Ybor City, which once ranked as the world cigar-making capital and is still home to a slew of storefront tobacco shops. Stop into Coppertail Brewing Co. for a distinctly South Florida brew, such as the Guava Pastelitos Berliner Weisse or Captain Jack's Stone Crab Stout, infused with real crab.

8 p.m.

Dinner is a 10-minute drive away, in up-and-coming Seminole Heights, where strip malls hide inventive bars and restaurants like Rooster & the Till. The kitchen here works magic with local seafood— especially unexpected cuts such as Vietnamese-style cobia collar (pictured), swordfish belly crudo, and chicken-fried grouper cheeks and throats.

10 p.m.

Head back downtown to the Le Méridien Tampa, a hotel in the 1905 former federal courthouse and post office, and follow the glow of the uplit Corinthian columns to your room. Drift off content that you knew this future rock- star of a city before it got big.

Photo Credits: Michael Oster (Heights Public Market facade); courtesy of eBoats Tampa (boat); Images-USA/Alamy (minarets); courtesy of Tabanero Cigars (cigar rollers); courtesy of Rooster & the Till (cobia collar)
Search flights
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Porto

By The Hub team

Story by Chris Wright | Photography by Natalia Horinkova | Hemispheres April 2019

To the extent that Porto has an established global profile, it's as the gateway to the Douro Valley wine region, the home of port. But in recent years, travelers have begun to discover that Portugal's second city has so much more to offer. Sure, there's the exquisite architecture, the stunning views, the winding alleys, the Michelin-starred meals. More than all that, though, there's the communal feeling that befits a city with a population of just over 235,000. Porto has been named the top city in Europe by the European Best Destinations organization three times since 2012 and now draws 1.6 million visitors each year, but as you walk through the UNESCO-designated neighborhood of Ribeira, you can still go into a mom-and-pop café and help yourself to a cheap beer from the fridge—proving that, here at least, you can be the best while still being yourself.

The Ribeira neighborhood, a UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Douro

Search flights

Day 1

Sampling seafood, sipping port, and enjoying the views

I'm eating eggs on the deck of the Torel Avantgarde hotel, looking down on the lazy boat traffic on the Douro River and beyond to the tumbling orange rooftops of Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto's sister city across the water. Or I would be if a seagull hadn't plonked itself two inches from my face. The bird is regarding my omelet with a severe expression—whether out of envy or avian solidarity, I'm not sure. I toss a bit of granary bread over the rail, narrowly missing a nun picking cabbages in the garden next door, and the gull follows.

A boat carrying port barrels on the Douro

This won't be the only time I find myself occupying a scenic lookout. Porto and Gaia rise sharply on either side of the Douro, creating a kind of amphitheater, with each opposing district the star of the show. If you go 10 minutes here without encountering a commanding view of bell towers, palaces, and blue- tiled row houses—all tilting toward the shimmering River of Gold—then you're not paying attention.

The Douro doesn't only serve as a centerpiece for sightseers, however. Dotting the Gaia waterfront are a dozen or so rustic buildings bearing names that will be familiar to anyone who ever raided his granny's drink cabinet: Sandeman, Cockburn's, Taylor's. Snaking east into the Douro Valley wine region, the river is the source of Porto's main con- tribution to humankind: port. It also played a role in the Voyages of Discovery in the 15th century and the acquisition of wealth that followed.

“If you go 10 minutes here without encountering a view, then you're not paying attention."

My plan today is to explore Porto's seats of power— commerce, religion, wine— starting with a tour of the nearby Palácio da Bolsa, a Neoclassical edifice whose interior is a succession of lavish halls, culminating in the Arab Room, a huge, mosque- like chamber embellished with a riot of gold and blue detailing. While the design had less to do with Islam than with the projection of power, it did not go down well with church leaders. “It was meant to be a provocation," my guide tells me. “They were saying, 'We are rich, and we do what we want.'"

The opulent Arab room at the Palacio de Bolsa

Compared to the Igreja de São Francisco next door, the Arab Room is a paragon of moderation. The gothic exterior of the building, which dates to the 14th century, does not prepare you for what's inside. The Voyagers brought a great deal of gold home with them, and it seems the bulk of it was applied to the inte- rior of this church. It's like the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin, with a few suffering saints thrown in. I head into the gloomy crypt, where I encounter eerily lifelike effigies, artworks with titles like Our Lady of the Good Death, and, in the darkest recesses, a window in the floor, beyond which is a mass of human bones and skulls. Lunch time!

I cross the iron-arched Dom Luís I bridge and enter Gaia, climbing up-up-up to The Blini, which was opened in 2016 by Michelin-starred chef José Cordeiro. The eatery's wraparound windows offer me my first glimpse of Porto from afar. Directly across the river are the houses lining Praça Ribeira, no two alike in color, size, or shape. This is a signature feature of Porto—the city is a captivating shamble of mismatched elements, with its crown the Baroque Clérigos Tower, which still dominates the skyline 250-odd years after it was built.

The emphasis at Blini is on seafood, with a few contemporary flourishes like “lime air" foam. The waiter asks if I'd like to do the chef's choice, and I say sure. It's a great lunch, a big lunch, a parade of courses that includes oysters with lemon butter, tuna tartare with popadam, butterfish soup topped by a huge puff pastry, and baked seabass with pumpkin puree. Between the soup and the seabass I ask my waiter if I can take a quick breather. He smiles and looks at his watch: “You have two minutes!"

“You never know whether your ascent will lead to a point of interest or someone's front door, but that's half the fun."

From here, I waddle down to the Porto Cálem port house for a tour and a tasting. Along with the musty-smelling cellars and the rows of oak barrels are a number of modern doodads, including a 5-D cinema and a guess-the-aroma sniffing station (I get one out of 12: vanilla). In the sipping room, my guide grows contemplative. “A good wine speaks to you," he says. “This is not a fairy tale. You need to close your eyes to understand the message." I'm a bit concerned about closing my eyes and not opening them again, so I sip up and head out.

A highlight of any trip to Porto is Ribeira, a squiggle of alleys lined with gorgeous old buildings, some dating to the Middle Ages. This neighborhood is not glammed-up—you're more likely to come across a physiotherapist's office than you are a fridge-magnet emporium. Look up on Rua da Reboleira and you'll see medieval battlements, but also laundry flapping in the breeze. Riverside Praça Ribeira is the most picturesque spot, with its colorful jumble of houses, but I get more joy out of roaming the alleys behind, which are so narrow at times you can touch both sides. This walk is not for the faint of knee, and it's a bit of a crapshoot; you never know whether a grueling ascent will lead you to a point of historical interest or someone's front door, but that's half the fun.

The Mercado Municipal in Matosinhos

I have time for one more religious edifice before dinner, so I march upward to the granddaddy of them all: the 12th century cathedral, the Sé do Porto, a hulking mish-mash of Gothic, Baroque, and Romanesque designs whose defining feature is a brood- ing, muscular solidity, as if it were built to withstand attack. The square outside, which affords (you guessed it) wonderful views, is also overlooked by the magnificent Paço Episcopal, home to the men who wore the gold-thread vestments and bejeweled miters displayed in the church next door.

From here, I head west, pausing to look at a bunch of straight-back chairs stuck to the wall outside Armazém, a funky indoor market with a clutter of stalls selling everything from patterned tiles to a vintage Vespa. There is also a bar, where I chat with the friendly bartender, who warns me not to drink too much: “We've had a few people who bought things they didn't want."

The dining room an Antiqvvm

After another precipitous trudge, I arrive at the Michelin-starred restaurant Antiqvvm, which occupies a lovely old villa near the cultivated Crystal Palace gardens. The views up here are exquisite, but you forget about that when the food arrives. My tasting menu involves a flurry of artfully presented dishes whose ingredients include scallops, shrimp, brill, pike, squid, oyster leaves, plankton, parsnip, caviar, fennel, roasted celery, and Iberian pork, all washed down with a succession of wonderful wines. Hic.

Seafood fish at Antiqvvm

I make my way back to the Torel Avantgarde, intent on collapsing onto my bed, but cannot resist having a quick nightcap on the balcony. It's a moonless night, and I have trouble distinguishing the river from the hillside from the sky.I try to focus on a cluster of lights dancing on the water, but before long these too are gone.

The view from Alves de Sousa Vineyard

Modern Love
Porto is renowned for its Baroque landmarks, but if your architectural tastes run more toward the modern, don't miss Serralves, a cultural institution set in lush, landscaped gardens in the city's western suburbs. Among the highlights are the Museu de Serralves, a contemporary art museum that was designed by Pritzker Prize–winner Álvaro Siza and opened in 1999, and the bubblegum-pink Casa de Serralves (pictured at right), a former count's villa that was completed in 1944 and is one of the few Streamline Moderne– style buildings in Portugal.

Day 2

Driving through Douro Valley and listening to fado

If there's anything that can shake the piety of Porto residents, it's pride in their beloved Douro Valley. “God created Earth," they say, “but man made the Douro." I'll be driving out to the UNESCO World Heritage region this morning, but first I have to pack up and head over to Gaia, home to the second hotel of my stay.

A luxurious, resort-like property, The Yeatman occupies a hillside overlooking the port houses, its terraced design echoing the sculpted hillsides of the Douro. I sit outside for a while, nibbling on pastries and looking down at the muddled rooftops, then head out to meet Miguel, the Tours By Locals guide who will be driving me today. “Get ready," he says with a smile. “You're about to see one of the most beautiful things in your life."

Fishing in the Douro Pinhao

We make our way along a series of ever-narrowing roads, emerging into a landscape that doesn't quite seem real. First, the perspectives are all off, the lines of the terraced slopes meeting at odd angles, creating a geometric jumble that would do Escher proud. The vines, lit by the morning sun, appear as a Pointillist fluorescence of red, gold, and green. Now and then, the terraces dip into a misty valley, their muted colors somehow lovelier than before. Even Miguel, who up until now has been delivering a running commentary on historical treaties and grape varieties, falls silent.

A Dionysian repose at the Yeatman

A half hour later we arrive at Amarante, a pretty town on the banks of the Tâmega River. The centerpiece is the 16th-century Igreja de São Gonçalo, named after the town's patron saint. As a miracle worker, Gonçalo is said to have had a knack for fertility and virility. (The hands and feet of an effigy in the church have been worn smooth by centuries of hopeful rub- bing.) Outside, an old lady presides over a stall selling the town's signature confection: doces fálicos, anatomical cakes that, according to Miguel, “are given by young men to young women to signal their intent." Indeed.

Another scenic drive brings us to our second stop, the Alves de Sousa vineyard. We are greeted in the main building by a young man named Tiago, a fifth-generation winemaker who leads us to a window overlooking a dappled valley. Below, wisps of bonfire smoke rise through the mist (as if the place needed any more atmosphere). “You can see why we don't need paintings on the walls," Tiago says.

From here, we climb into a 4x4 and head along a narrow, rutted path. To our right is a steep, probably lethal drop, but Tiago seems unconcerned, pointing this way and that while discussing soil acidity, sun variation, and olive trees. “They were planted to mark the boundaries between vineyards," he says. “But it's been so long that people now argue over who owns the olives." It's a good line, but I'm too concerned with staying alive to laugh.

Finally, we stop at a high rocky patch they call Abandonado because the family long ago gave up trying to grow anything on it. In 2004, Tiago badgered his dad into letting him give the disused plot one last try and planted a variety of grapes that has produced some of the winery's best bottles. “It has so much character, full of love," the young man says, sip- ping a glass back at home base. “The wine from Abandonado is very special."

“The terraced slopes create a geometric jumble that would do Escher proud"

Lunch is at DOC, Michelin-starred chef Rui Paula's restaurant in nearby Folgosa. On a riverside dock, we eat crab, confit of duck leg, and Abade de Priscos, a traditional crème caramel pudding served with bacon. While much of Paula's food derives from his grandmother's recipes, he likes to throw in the odd subversive element, which he puts down to the vagaries of memory rather than new-fangled theory. “Memory is the basis for everything I do," he says. “A meal, a journey, a book—if something is beauti- ful, I put it in my head."

Our last activity of the day is a boat ride along the Douro, an hour-long trip that takes us past a patchwork of fiery red terraces and small wine houses, interspersed with the green puffs of olive trees. It's a glorious spectacle. I wonder what it would taste like.

We arrive back at the Yeatman an hour or so before dinner, leaving me with just enough time for the wine-bath spa treatment I've booked. The wine extract is supposed to relax the muscles and hydrate the skin, but, given that there's a stranger behind me massaging my head and I'm clad in nothing but a flimsy pouch, I'm just happy for its water-clouding qualities.

I'm dining tonight at the hotel's Michelin-starred The Restaurant, a gastronomic experience that starts with my napkin being deposited onto my lap with tongs and ends with a glass of prized 1955 Croft port. In between, seated before yet another panoramic window, I am served a multicourse menu that includes oysters with jalapeño foam, cockles in xarém (corn-flour mash), veal with Jerusalem artichoke, and suckling pig. The highlight for me is the chicken oysters served with crispy skin. “I'll never look at a chicken the same way," I tell the waiter, who smiles politely at the sentiment.

I end the night in the hotel lounge, serenaded by a young woman singing fado, the mournful Portuguese folk music whose dominant themes are love and loss. She clutches her hands before her chest, crooning about souls who sailed away, the golden leaves of home, stuff like that—but otherwise she seems perfectly happy. I suppose you'd have to be: As Miguel put it on our boat ride earlier, “This is where we live."

Day 3

Browsing a beautiful bookstore and witnessing the power of the sea

I check out of the Yeatman and head into town for one last bout of sightseeing, which begins in the exquisite lobby of the Infante Sagres, the grande dame of Porto's hotels. From here, I go in search of breakfast, passing the broad Avenida dos Aliados, which is dominated by the 230-foot clock tower of the Câmara Municipal. This area is littered with majestic buildings—the Teatro São João, the Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, the São Bento railway station—but I'm most interested in the Majestic Café, which promises to feed my body as well as my soul.

Which is not to say that the soul goes hungry. The Majestic opened in 1921, and beyond its Art Nouveau doorway you enter a beguiling world of carved wood, burnished mirrors, white-coated waiters, and smiling cherubs. I sit at a marble-topped table and orderrabanadas, a rich and creamy spin on French toast, and a super-sweet bombón coffee.

The Hogwarts-esque Livraria Lello

Buzzing with sugar, I could probably sprint to my next destination, but instead I hop on a rickety old tram, which judders toward the Livraria Lello, yet another local institution that routinely makes “most beautiful" lists. Dating back to 1906, the Lello is still the heart of the city's cultural scene, despite the hordes of Instagrammers who descend on the place today, bent on snapping the stained-glass roof, elaborate carvings, and swirling double-sided stairway. (It's so popular that there's now a €5 entry fee.) A young J.K. Rowling used to spend a lot of time here, and it's impossible not to see Hogwarts at every turn.

From here, it's a short walk to Rua de Cedofeita, a funky shopping street full of dining options such as Dream Pills (a pharmacy-themed candy store) and the Pop Cereal Café. Just up from here is Rua de Miguel Bombarda, a buzzy strip where the walls are adorned with graffiti and every other shopfront is an independent gallery. Also nearby is the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, with a collection ranging from 17th-century ceramics to 20th-century portraits to, um, a life-size sculpture of a horse with a wooden leg and a pair of silvery underpants hanging off its rear end.

A stairway from the ultra-hip Mini Bar

My next stop is Restaurante Tripeiro, for a bowl of tripas à moda do Porto, the city's sig- nature dish. The tradition is said to date back to the Age of Discovery, when intrepid explorers sailed away with the choice cuts of meat and those who stayed behind got everything else. Ever since, locals have been known throughout Portugal as tripeiros, or “tripe eaters"—although the name doesn't begin to cap- ture the meal I receive at my small alfresco table. At one point, the chef comes out and I ask him what's in the bowl. “White beans, chorizo, chicken, tripe, and the end of the cow." I ask him which end and he looks at me: “Both." As I chew, an old guy walking by looks at my bowl, smiles, and says, “Bon appetit!"

The Mini Bar's shrimp ceviche

I decide to burn off the offal with a stroll along the Atlantic coast, so I take a cab to Matosinhos, a fishing town a few miles north of the city, then walk south, dodging the massive waves battering the sea wall. At the end of one broad beach I find Lais de Guia, a small bar with a sea- front patio, where I stand and watch the churning water. My walk ends at Foz do Douro, a colorful district dotted with bars and restaurants. Here, next to a squat fort, I join a crowd of locals watching as the waves engulf a nearby lighthouse. “Nature has put on a show for you," one of them says.

Chef Jose Avillez

Damp, I catch another cab back into town for a pre-prandial Negroni at the Royal Cocktail Club, a hip, low-lit bar just around the corner from my hotel. Dinner tonight is at the equally fashionable Mini Bar, the latest venture from José Avillez, who is best-known for his Michelin-starred Belcanto, in Lisbon. Seated in the corner of the red-hued dining area, chill-out music ringing in my ears, I inspect the menu, which lists a starter called Ferrero Rocher (like the chocolate). I ask the waiter about it, and he says, “We try to play with the senses. Nothing is as it seems." Out of curiosity, I order it, along with a tuna tartare temaki cone, roasted chicken with avocado cream, fish and chips with kimchi yogurt, and shrimp ceviche. After the onslaught of food I've received during my time here, I'm relieved that these are all small plates. I'm also happy to find that the playfulness of the menu doesn't come at the expense of taste. Everything—even the chocolate starter, which is actually made of foie gras—is delicious.

I end the night at Bonaparte Downtown, a lively, quirky bar filled to the rafters with bric-a-brac: tennis rackets, cowbells, creepy dolls, vintage walkie-talkies, a black-and-white photo of a chimp eating soup with a spoon. It's a fantastic place, but it's also late, and there's a large, comfortable bed waiting for me nearby. But then, just as I stand to leave, I hear the opening beats of The Clash's punk anthem, “Should I Stay or Should I Go."

The rest is a bit of a blur.

Where to stay
Torel Avantgarde
Located just west of the city center, this new boutique hotel places a premium on spectacle. Just off the bar is the Flower Room, which contains a profusion of dangling artificial blossoms, and each of the 47 guest rooms is decorated in the style of a famous artist (Poppy portraits for Andy Warhol, muted classicism for Leonardo da Vinci). If that's not enough visual stimulation for you, book a room with a balcony overlooking the Douro.From $215, torelavantgarde.com
The Yeatman
This Gaia hotel has 109 river-facing rooms, each with its own terrace or balcony. Named after a local port-producing family, The Yeatman boasts a formidable cellar, and its rooms contain subtle wine-related details. (Or not so subtle: The bed in the Presidential Suite is fashioned from a huge barrel.) Despite the luxurious spa, Michelin- starred restaurant, and elegant public spaces, the hotel's biggest selling point is its refreshingly unstuffy approach to service.From $290, the-yeatman-hotel.com
Infante Sagres
Situated in the center of Porto, this 85-room hotel opened in 1951 and immediately set the standard for luxury in the city. A recent renovation introduced a few mod flourishes—most visibly in the adjoining Vogue Café, with its “fashion fusion" food and super-stylish décor— but the old grace and glamour remain in the elaborate ironwork, stained-glass windows, gold-hued dining room, and marvelously rickety vintage elevator.From $220, infantesagres.com
Search flights

Earth Day weekend getaways

By Bob Cooper

Earth Day falls on April 22, so head to one of these five easy-to-reach destinations to celebrate. Each has abundant outdoor opportunities to celebrate Earth's elements — earth, wind, fire, air and water — in their most natural states.

Muir Woods National Monument

Earth: San Francisco, California

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the most visited park in the National Park Service and not only because it's in the heart of a major metro area. The parklands extend 40 miles along the coast, both north and south from San Francisco and right into the city, with hundreds of miles of trails that show off the Bay Area's redwood forests, ocean beaches, historic buildings and other wonders. Exploring the Marin Headlands, discovering the dunes of San Francisco's Fort Funston or hiking on Sweeney Ridge near San Francisco International Airport are all worthy Earth Day experiences. Stopping by Earth Day San Francisco on April 21, is another great way to celebrate with a full day of music, kids' activities and Climate Rally speakers scheduled.

Wind: Boston, Massachusetts

Surprisingly, Boston, not Chicago, is America's windiest city year-round and spring is when it's windiest, making it the perfect place to worship the wind. You can let it power you on a Tall Ship sailing cruise from Boston Harbor. You can walk or ride a rented or bike-share bike along the Charles River Esplanade to watch windsurfers and sailboat captains carve the wind. Or you can head to Franklin Park, Boston's largest and most kite-friendly park, to teach your kids how to fly one and then visit the park's zoo where the roars of lions Dinari and Kamaia are carried through the wind all the way to the zebra exhibits.

Flowing lava in Hilo, Hawaii

Fire: Hilo, Hawaii

From Hilo, the largest town on “The Big Island" of Hawaii, it's only a 45-minute drive to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, where Halema'uma'u Crater has been continuously erupting since 2008. You can drive close enough to witness the steaming vents as the crater is visible from the park's volcanology museum. Visitors in good hiking shape may even witness lava gushing in dramatic fashion from Kilauea Volcano into the ocean. As a bonus, admission to the national park will be free on Earth Day and a free Earth Day Fair will be held for the 30th year at Hilo's University of Hawaii campus on April 20. Once you're worn out, you can explore and enjoy a white, black or even green sand beach — all found near Hilo.

Air: Fort Myers, Florida

Fort Myers is one of the top cities in the U.S. with the cleanest air (and lower pollution rates) based on the most recent two-year period studied by the American Lung Association for its “State of the Air" report. Visitors to the Gulf Coast city can breathe in the clean, fresh air — warmed to an average late-April high of 83 degrees — while raking their toes through beach sand or strolling the boardwalks of Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve on a free 90-minute guided walk. You can also rent bikes or a kayak at Lakes Regional Park or enjoy the family-oriented Earth Day celebration on April 22 at Fort Myers' Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium. If you're feeling bold, you can catch even more air by parasailing while at Fort Myers Beach.

Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Water: Minneapolis, Minnesota

“City of Lakes" is more than a nickname, and Minneapolis lives up to it with 13 lakes within its boundaries, including the popular Chain of Lakes connected by recreational paths through city and regional parks. These lakes can be circled on foot, bike or watercraft; bikes, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards can be rented at Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. There are more “water features" too. The Mississippi River flows through Minneapolis and St. Paul and has its own recreational path on both banks. There's even a 53-foot waterfall — Minnehaha Falls in Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis. Twin Cities-area Earth Day events include the Earth Day Run from April 20-21, in St. Cloud, which drew more than 3,000 runners last year for a 5K, half-marathon and half-marathon relay — plus there's a health expo and two post-race parties.

If you go

United Airlines offers flights from U.S. cities to all of these destinations. Visit united.com or use the United app to make plans to reach your Earth Day destination.

Scroll to top