Three Perfect Days: San Francisco
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: San Francisco

By The Hub team , October 05, 2017

Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Amy Harrity | Hemispheres, October 2017

San Francisco is a city of booms. The first came in the mid-19th century, when prospectors were drawn by rumors of gold in California's mountains. Fifty years ago, hippies streamed to Haight-Ashbury in search of love-ins and electric Kool-Aid. And in the last decade, the tech boom has seen a flood of young entrepreneurs who are using Silicon Valley cash to change how we communicate with each other—and to imagine the city of the future. This latest influx has sparked controversy, as skyrocketing rents have priced out many of the people who gave the city its bohemian, devil-may-care spirit—an exoticism that inspired journalist Herb Caen's 1949 book, Baghdad by the Bay. So how is the old San Francisco (per Caen's instructions, don't call it “Frisco") blending with the new? Hemispheres sent this former SF resident home to find out.

Day 1 Graphic

In which Justin squeezes through Chinatown's alleys, channels the Beats, and gets rained on inside a bar

I open my visit the way it seems all San Franciscans begin their days: Standing in line for breakfast. I'm on Polk Street, the main thoroughfare of Nob Hill, waiting for the morning fog to burn off and for Swan Oyster Depot to open. This storied seafood market has been in business for more than 100 years, and if you want to get a spot at its 18-seat counter, you'd better get here well before the 10:30 a.m. opening. The front window teases me with a display of freshly caught fare on ice, and once inside I do my best to consume all of it: briny, creamy West Coast oysters; a beautiful sashimi plate with salmon, tuna, hamachi, and scallops; sourdough dipped in crab fat; and perfect smoked salmon. I wash it down with the city's favorite brew, an Anchor Steam. Hey, it's almost noon.

A short cab ride takes me to the tech industry haven of South of Market (SOMA), where I'll be walking off my meal in the galleries of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. SFMOMA reopened last year after a three-year renovation that made it one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in America. The permanent collection features Diego Rivera's Flower Carrier, Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe, and Marcel Duchamp's urinal, but my favorite part of the new building is the sculpture garden's lush Living Wall, which, at almost 30 feet tall and holding nearly 20,000 plants, is the largest of its kind in the U.S.

Coit Tower rises from the top of Telegraph HillCoit Tower rises from the top of Telegraph Hill

It's a short walk across Market Street and through the towers of the Financial District to reach the oldest, largest Chinatown in the Americas. In Portsmouth Square, surrounded by huddles of elderly Asian men playing cards, I meet Sharon Traeger, a Tours by Locals guide who has agreed to tell me a bit about the neighborhood's history. The city—then known as Yerba Buena—established its first public square here in the early 19th century, and the Chinese, Traeger notes, moved in at the beginning of the gold rush. After the 1906 earthquake destroyed much of San Francisco, officials tried to push the Chinese community farther from downtown, but after protests, Traeger says, “the city eventually allowed them to stay here, on the condition they rebuilt it to look Chinese."

We exit the square and zigzag through crowded alleys, below colored balconies and alongside shops carrying everything from sea cucumbers to giant mushrooms. After tasting samples at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, we climb three flights of stairs to the 1852 Tin How Temple, a tiny space decorated with lanterns, embroidered fabrics, and bowls of fruit left as offerings to the goddess who controls the wind and the waves.

Our next stop is China Live, a food hall that's aiming to bring this historic neighborhood into the future. Founder and executive chef George Chen meets us at the entrance. “China's changing, yet Chinatown's the same as it was 50 years ago," he says. “And Chinese food hasn't changed in this country that much. I wanted to do a marketplace to show that Chinese food can be ingredient-driven, just like any other cuisine. When I saw the success of Eataly"—Mario Batali's palatial Italian food emporia—“I said, 'If they can do it with Italian, why not here with Chinese?'"

Hanging Peking ducks at China LiveHanging Peking ducks at China Live

Chen shows us around the tea bar, decorated with hand-painted blue and white tiles, and the retail shop, where we sniff Eight Treasures tea and Sichuan peppercorns, then offers us a seat at the Marketplace Restaurant. He sends over a slew of small plates: xiao long bao soup dumplings, black tree ear mushrooms, roasted Peking duck served in sesame pockets, and richly spiced mapo tofu. We cool off with sesame soft-serve ice cream topped with mango shaved ice, which Traeger keeps inching closer to her. I can't say I blame her.

From here, it's only a block downhill to North Beach, SF's Little Italy. This city has a rich literary history—everyone from Mark Twain to Jack London to Alice Walker has called it home—and the center of it all is Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore. The poet published Allen Ginsberg's Howl in 1956 and then was put on trial for obscenity (he was acquitted), and City Lights has continued to distinguish itself by selling and publishing experimental works. I find a novel by a grad school classmate of mine, Marc Anthony Richardson, which I take across Jack Kerouac Alley to Vesuvio Cafe, the bar that the Beats favored back in the '50s. I wind up the stairs, past old fliers for readings by Kerouac and Bukowski and photos of Ginsberg and Dylan, and sit at a window table, sipping an Anchor Steam and flipping through my book. It's a perfect San Francisco happy hour.

“Chinese food can be ingredient-driven, just like any other cuisine. If they can do it with Italian, why not here with Chinese?"

Dinner is right across the street at Tosca Cafe. This nearly century-old neighborhood bar and restaurant was bought and updated in 2013 by the owners of New York's famed The Spotted Pig. Bon Appétit named Tosca one of the 10 best new restaurants in America in 2014, but it retains a homey feel. The bar in front has the air of an old dive, while the dining space looks like a classic red-sauce joint, with wine bottles lining the walls and a mural of Venice's Grand Canal. I meet my monthly calorie requirement with orders of tender meatballs, lumaconi pasta shells in beurre blanc, and a delicious roasted chicken. There's only one legitimate drink order: the House Cappuccino, a Tosca original that blends armagnac, bourbon, chocolate ganache, and milk. They were so busy putting all that good stuff in the “cappuccino," they forgot one thing: the coffee.

It's a five-minute cab ride up to my hotel, the Fairmont San Francisco. At the peak of Nob Hill, this old palace is a part of Bay Area lore. It was here, in 1961, that Tony Bennett first performed “I Left My Heart in San Francisco." The lobby, with its grand staircase and expanses of marble, is impressive, but I'm looking for a kitschy kick, so I take the elevator down to the Tonga Room, the beloved tiki bar that dates to 1945, when an MGM set director converted an indoor pool into a lagoon with a thatch-roofed bandstand in the middle, surrounded by ship's rigging and Polynesian artifacts. I sit at the railing and sip a mai tai—a tropical drink that was actually invented across the Bay at Trader Vic's—until lights begin to flash overhead, thunder rolls over the house speakers, and finally rain streams down from the ceiling onto the lagoon. Uh, did someone put some of that electric Kool-Aid in my drink? Either way, it's time for bed.

Day 2 Graphic

In which Justin takes a mural tour in the Mission, ponders where to put a taxidermied giraffe, and drinks a really, really old whiskey

I'm not sure if it's the clanging of the cable cars or the sun pouring into the 10th-floor Funston Suite that wakes me, but I open my eyes to a panoramic view of the Bay Bridge, Transamerica Pyramid, Coit Tower, Alcatraz, and Golden Gate Bridge—you know, all the landmarks that make this America's most beautiful city.

Even with the early start, I'm not down the hill and into the Mission District quick enough to beat the line at Tartine Manufactory, the new industrial outpost from the owners of America's most famous bakery. I make my way to the counter, where I order smørrebrød—a Danish open-face sandwich, made here with multi-grain bread, avocado, poblano peppers, and sunflower seeds—and cold-brew coffee, which gets me ready for my next stop.

I stroll down to 24th Street, the taqueria-lined heart of the Mission, the Latino quarter and hipster redoubt that has been the biggest flashpoint in the city's fight over gentrification (if you want to see a scowl, say the words “Google bus" here). One of the oldest arts organizations in the neighborhood, Precita Eyes, is here, in a bright blue storefront above which hangs a portrait of Frida Kahlo. The center has spent the last 40 years preserving and producing street art, and this morning I'm taking a neighborhood tour with Henry Sultan, a 79-year-old former muralist and occasional tour guide.

Streets of the Mission District in San Francisco

As we head around the corner to Balmy Alley, Sultan explains how San Francisco's street art scene started with Mexico's great muralists—including Diego Rivera, who came here in the '30s—and picked up during the '70s, thanks in part to the Mujeres Muralistas, a collective of female artists. We inch down the alley, where nearly every sliver of wall and fence and garage door bears an artwork. Some address the AIDS crisis, which hit this city hard; some, including one by Precita Eyes founder Susan Kelk Cervantes, show migrants fleeing the civil wars of Central America; some comment on gentrification. “The Mission has always had a strong political group of activists," Sultan tells me, “and I just don't think people are going to be pushed away." He points to a mural. “Like that says: 'We're not going anywhere.'"

Aside from these murals and the guitar licks of Carlos Santana, the greatest contribution this neighborhood has made to world culture has to be the Mission burrito. Locals fiercely debate which one is the best, but my favorite is Taqueria Cancún's burrito mojado al pastor, which comes not foil-wrapped, like most Mission burritos, but on a plate, slathered with red and green salsas and sour cream, à la the Mexican flag. It is fiery hot and the size of a football, and after eating it you will need to douse your tastebuds with a Pacifico, which I do at a picnic table in the bright yellow restaurant while listening to a mariachi band play for tips.

Rarely in my life have I needed a walk as much as I do after that gut bomb. The sun's shining on me as I pass the fruit stands and thrift stores on Mission and head over to hip Valencia Street. My first stop is the City Art Cooperative Gallery, which is showing paintings of classic SF dive bars, including the dearly departed Lexington Club. Next I wander into Paxton Gate, a store that's bursting with taxidermied animals. When I wonder aloud where someone would put an $8,000 giraffe's head, the clerk, polishing a vase, says, “I'd put it in a circular stairwell, with a mirror at the top." I raise an eyebrow. “I have a lot of time to think about that sort of thing," he explains.

"We zigzag through crowded alleys, below colored balconies, and alongside shops carrying everything from sea cucumbers to giant mushrooms."

I continue on across palm tree–lined Dolores Street to Mission Dolores Park. On a warm Saturday afternoon, this green space, which reopened last year after a $20 million renovation, resembles a hipster fashion show. I climb past skinny jeans and rompers and bangs to the top of the grassy hill, which yields a jaw-dropping view of the city skyline and the underrated Bay Bridge. I think I'll stay a while.

I continue on across palm tree–lined Dolores Street to Mission Dolores Park. On a warm Saturday afternoon, this green space, which reopened last year after a $20 million renovation, resembles a hipster fashion show. I climb past skinny jeans and rompers and bangs to the top of the grassy hill, which yields a jaw-dropping view of the city skyline and the underrated Bay Bridge. I think I'll stay a while.

When I find myself dozing, I pop to my feet, because I've got a ticket to San Francisco's most exclusive dinner party. An unadorned doorway on 19th Street leads to Lazy Bear. Chef-owner David Barzelay (the restaurant's name is an anagram of his surname) began throwing dinner parties after he was laid off from his job as a lawyer in 2009. He opened this space in 2014, and the hype and Michelin stars followed.

The city and Land's End seen from the Marin Headlands, across the foggy Golden GateThe city and Land's End seen from the Marin Headlands, across the foggy Golden Gate

Upon entering, I'm shown upstairs, where I'm served Marc Hébrart Special Club Champagne and Morro Bay oysters topped with elderflowers. Downstairs are two long communal tables, next to an open kitchen where an army of chefs prepares each course. Each dish is served with an introduction from one of the chefs, often in amusing fashion. (“These eggs were raised by a lady named Kitty.") The food is inventive—grilled halibut with artichoke and blood orange, morel mushrooms with egg-yolk fudge—and the restaurant provides a small plaid notebook for each diner to take notes. I neglect to use mine (some journalist I am) due to the wine pairings, which run the gamut from Bordeaux to Rioja to Napa. Dessert? An Old Overholt rye that was distilled in nineteen-thirty-six. I am now as dead as the guy who made that whiskey.

I don't really need another drink, but right up the block is the hot new cocktail spot Wildhawk. The latest bar in former mayor Gavin Newsom's PlumpJack empire opened last year to some neighborhood displeasure, as it replaced the aforementioned Lexington Club, a longtime lesbian bar. (A plaque on the sidewalk out front commemorates the old institution.) I take a seat beneath the floral Victorian wallpaper and order a cocktail from Jacques Bezuidenhout, a South African expat who has lived here for almost 20 years and has been voted the city's best bartender. He brings me a Breakfast Negroni—Cocoa Puffs–infused Beefeater gin, Campari, Cinzano, and chocolate salt bitters—and stays to tell me about the changing of the guard at the bar. “We have some old regulars now that come back, and they're like, 'We really want to hate you, but we just can't,'" he says. I agree: That would be impossible.

Day 3 Graphic

In which Justin crosses the Golden Gate, gets a crick in his neck looking at trees, and rocks out at a legendary concert hall

My rented Hyundai may not be the Mustang from Bullitt, but I still feel like Steve McQueen as I zip up and down SF's famous hills, past the painted ladies of Alamo Square—the colorful Victorians from Full House—and along Golden Gate Park to the fog-blanketed Outer Sunset district.

I've lucked out and caught a rare morning when there's no line at Outerlands. The dining room, which horseshoes around an open kitchen beneath an undulating, driftwood-inspired ceiling, is about half full, mostly young people in surf hoodies. I get an egg sandwich with zucchini, asparagus, broccolini, and rich onion jam, served open-face on a thick slice of fresh house-baked bread, followed by the doughnut of the day: salted caramel with chocolate crumble. Yum.

Fueled up, I'm back in the car and cruising north on the Great Highway, with gusty Ocean Beach and the choppy Pacific on my left. By the time I reach the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog has burned off, and it's all I can do to stay on the road as I sneak peeks over my shoulder at the city. A few miles up U.S. 101, I steer through the town of Mill Valley and descend into a canyon, through a series of buttonhook curves—now feeling more student driver than McQueen—to Muir Woods National Monument.

The communal dining room and bustling open kitchen at Lazy BearThe communal dining room and bustling open kitchen at Lazy Bear

The park, which Teddy Roosevelt consecrated in 1908, includes 240 acres of old-growth coast redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. A wooden walkway guides me through these titans, some of which sprouted more than 700 years ago. In Cathedral Grove, signs urge visitors to keep their voices down, so I can hear creaking branches, burbling Redwood Creek, and a woodpecker somewhere hammering away for his lunch. By the end of the two-mile loop trail, I've spent so much time with my head craned back toward the canopy that my neck's as sore as that woodpecker's.

After that breath of fresh forest air, I'm ready to get back to the urban grit. I head across the bridge and over to the east side of the city, past red-brick AT&T Park, the Giants' home stadium since it opened in 2000 and a harbinger of the building boom in SoMa over the last 15 years. I continue on through condos, past the site where the NBA champion Golden State Warriors are building a new arena, and into Dogpatch, the once rundown industrial 'hood near where America's most famous Heisman Trophy winner/double-murder acquittee grew up.

I park in front of the Minnesota Street Project, a three-warehouse space that's home to around a dozen galleries and 40 artist studios. I'm feeling peckish now, so I hang a quick right into Alta, the compound's restaurant from star Bay Area chef Daniel Patterson. As I dig into a wonderfully spicy fried chicken sandwich and a tangy housemade ginger beer, I'm joined by Deborah Rappaport, who opened the MSP along with her tech entrepreneur husband, Andy, last year.

“In February of '14, the real estate crisis in San Francisco was getting to its peak," she tells me. “It was having a really deleterious effect on galleries and artists and nonprofits. It just felt like nobody cared—all of these big tech companies were gobbling everything up and leaving the arts community, among others, in their wake." Don't think Rappaport is the gloom-and-doom type, though. The MSP is her bet that the city's creative spirit will endure. “If I didn't believe that San Francisco was going to remain an international center of exciting art, my husband and I would have stayed retired," she says with a laugh. “Things have to evolve. What I hope we are doing is helping to keep a vibrant arts scene happening."

Duly inspired, I go on a gallery crawl around the warehouse. The works at the MSP range from famed photographer Larry Sultan's celebrity shoots to Tabitha Soren's modified stills of adult film stars to Manny Prieres' recreations of banned books to student paintings in the SF Arts Education Project space. The diverse works on hand give me hope that Rappaport is right, and that the city's art scene will indeed survive.

In need of a breather, I valet the car at the Palace Hotel, smack in the heart of the Financial District at Market and New Montgomery. I stop for a moment to gawk at the ceiling of the landmark Garden Court restaurant, which is made of 72,000 pieces of glass. Originally built in 1875, the Palace was destroyed in the fires that followed the 1906 earthquake; it reopened in 1909, and despite a huge renovation in 2015, it has maintained many fixtures, from that ceiling to the doorknob I turn to enter my seventh-floor suite. My corner window looks straight up Montgomery to the Transamerica Pyramid, but I'm more concerned with my bed. As the Bay Area's own Metallica would say: exit light, enter night.

Historic concert posters at The FillmoreHistoric concert posters at The Fillmore

I wake up refreshed and ready to rock—literally. I hop the N-Judah Muni train, and a few minutes later I'm in the Haight, the neighborhood that teemed with musicians, flower children, and burnouts 50 years ago during the Summer of Love. I wander into Amoeba Music, a cavernous record shop dedicated to the analog in a city now dominated by all things digital. I pick up a live album recorded by former Haight resident Janis Joplin and her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, in 1968 at the now-demolished Winterland Ballroom.

I'm humming “Piece of My Heart" as I strut back down Haight Street, past head shops and vintage stores and panhandlers. I stop at Held Over, where I find a pair of worn cowboy boots that fit just right, and I can hear Janis singing, “You know you got it, if it makes you feel good," so I toss out the old Chuck Taylors that I've walked holes in this weekend.

Even used, a new pair of boots takes a toll on the feet, so I get a Lyft over to the Fillmore District. I reach State Bird Provisions just in time to encounter—you guessed it—a line. The wait is no surprise, given that Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski's place has been one of the toughest tables in town since Bon Appétit named it the best new restaurant in America in 2012. Fortunately, its sister restaurant next door, The Progress, has a seat open at the bar, so after I get my name in at State Bird, I'm able to kill some time with a plate of perfect local anchovies and fried butter beans and a silky Manhattan made with brown butter bourbon.

Ancient redwood trees at Muir WoodsAncient redwood trees at Muir Woods

When my seat opens up next door, it's in an extremely dangerous locale: at the kitchen counter, right next to the server's station. Much of the menu at State Bird is offered dim sum–style, and I get right of first refusal on every one of the small plates being carted out of the kitchen: guinea hen dumplings, smoked avocado with charred allium, Hog Island oysters topped with kohlrabi kraut.

“We didn't want to be held back by tradition," Brioza stops by to tell me. “We wanted there to be a lot of freedom in our food. It's high energy, it's frenetic, it's got so much passion from the staff." Take the anchovies: “Those are a religious experience for me. We have anchovy protocol. Twelve man-hours get put into that dish."

Brioza's menu knows no bounds, and by the end of the meal, neither do I, as I find myself hugging the cart-pushing waitress goodbye. Perhaps I'm hoping she'll clear off the cart and roll me out of here on it?

Luckily, I'm not going far. Right around the corner is The Fillmore, the concert hall that once hosted legends including Janis, the Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix. I climb the red-carpeted stairs to the second-floor bar, which is hung from floor to ceiling with trippy concert posters for these artists and many, many others.

When I hear a roar from the ballroom, I join the crowd on the packed floor. The acclaimed rock group the Mountain Goats takes the stage, and between songs, singer John Darnielle pauses to look out across the dark, smoky room. “You get these moments at The Fillmore when you say, 'This is the best room to play in the U.S.,'" he says, and we scream, because yes, a gold rush is on, and all the new money may be changing Baghdad by the Bay, but at the end of the day, San Francisco still rocks.

Hemispheres deputy editor Justin Goldman yells at his coworkers anytime one of them calls it “Frisco."


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

The day off: Washington D.C.

By The Hub team

Story by Ellen Carpenter | Hemispheres, December 2018

Politics, finance, tech, no matter: Deals happen in D.C. at every hour. But if you find yourself on a business trip with a rare free day, consider yourself lucky: The city has never been cooler.

9 a.m.

Wake up in your spacious room at the InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf, with floor-to-ceiling views of sailboats gliding down the Washington Channel, and forget for a moment that the craziness of Capitol Hill is just five miles away. Snap a photo of the waterfall chandelier in the lobby before popping next door for a delicious egg and bacon biscuit sandwich at Dolcezza, the first outpost of the D.C. mini-chain to offer a full breakfast menu.

Photo by Mark DeLong

10 a.m.

Hop a cab to the National Portrait Gallery, where you can take a selfie with Barack Obama (well, Kehinde Wiley's depiction of the 44th president) before viewing an entire exhibit on the art of the selfie, Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today, which features works by James Amos Porter, Elaine de Kooning, and more. Afterward, muse on the concept of identity under the undulating glass ceiling in the gallery's stunning Kogod Courtyard.

Photo provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/gift of Dorothy Porter Wesley

1 p.m.

Take the Metro's Green Line up to U Street for a taste of Little Havana at Colada Shop. The small counter spot dispenses flaky empanadas, decadent Cubanos, and the café's namesake—four shots of espresso commingling with sweet Cuban crema. You know you want one.

3 p.m.

Time to hit the National Mall and work off that caffeine injection. Every winter, the fountain at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden becomes an ice rink, where you can take in Alexander Calder's Cheval Rouge and Louise Bourgeois's Spider while practicing your triple lutz.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

5 p.m.

Cab over to the Kennedy Center for the free 6 p.m. show at Millennium Stage, offered every single night as part of the cultural hub's Performing Arts for Everyone initiative. Whether it's modern dance, West African blues, or experimental theater, it'll broaden your horizons.

Photo by Teresa Wood

7:30 p.m.

Give in to your carb cravings at the Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat, a relaxed yet polished restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Toss back the complimentary shrub (tart!) and then dive into the red fife brioche (topped with chicken liver mousse, blueberry marmalade, and wood sorrel) and goat lasagna with tomato, anchovy, and salsa verde.

9:30 p.m.

Catch a ride to Blagden Alley—a historic area that used to house the stables and workshops behind stately row houses—for a cocktail at Columbia Room, a lounge that has topped every best-of list imaginable. Score a seat in the leather- and mahogany-lined Spirits Library and order a Maryland, made with rye, applejack, and chartreuse. Then get another.

Photo by Karlin Villondo Photography

3 under the radar places to visit in December

By Betsy Mikel

With the end of the year approaching, it's time to utilize those unused vacation days. If you're not traveling for the holidays, take an excursion to one of these under-the-radar destinations. Treat your family to fun in the sun in Florida, kick back on an island in Mexico that takes relaxation seriously, or take advantage of the slow season at a popular Arizona national park.

Isla Holbox, Mexico

For a leisurely vacation to relax on uncrowded beaches

Seeking a destination where you can unplug and sink your toes into the sand while surrounded by natural beauty? Isla Holbox is the spot. This laid-back island sits on the northwest tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It boasts spectacular beaches with endless turquoise ocean views.

What to do

Pack your flip-flops and beach reads for a seriously laid-back trip to Isla Holbox. Come here to sit on the beach (or in a hammock) while you kick back and relax as you've never relaxed before. Enjoy spectacular beaches without crowds.

Isla Holbox is small — just 26 miles long and one mile wide, with only 2,000 full-time residents. Bright colors and painted murals throughout the area evoke a bohemian vibe. Instead of cars, most people get around by golf cart or bike. (In fact, its taxi cabs are actually golf carts.) Isla Holbox won't give you the lively nightlife of popular tourist destinations like nearby Cancun, but there are plenty of beachside bars serving cocktails, food vendors and restaurants serving fresh Mexican fare.

Go on a wildlife excursion to spot whale sharks, crocodiles or flamingos. Head to the Yum-Balam Nature Reserve to see other exotic animals.

Getting there

The closest airport is Cancun (CUN). From Cancun, head to Chiquila, where you can take the ferry to Isla Holbox.

St. Petersburg, Florida

A family-friendly beach destination for fun in the sun

With award-winning beaches offering 35 miles of sand along Tampa Bay, calm waters and plenty of sun, St. Petersburg is quickly gaining momentum as a warm-weather destination for families. Downtown is home to many shops, restaurants, bars and unique attractions, such as an impressive Salvador Dali museum.

What to do

St. Pete beaches are known for their calm, warm and shallow waters. Add 360 days of sunshine per year and an average temperature of 73 degrees, and it's surprising that this sunny beach city still flies under the radar. Keep it laid back by relaxing on the shore, or bump up the action by parasailing, windsurfing or kiteboarding.

After a day of R&R, head downtown to enjoy the lively St. Petersburg culture and nightlife. There are 35 local craft breweries to choose from and many seafood restaurants ranging from casual fare to upscale. The most extensive collection of Salvador Dali's artwork outside of Europe resides in The Dalí Museum. You can even meet a local celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium — Winter the dolphin starred in the Dolphin Tale movies and is famous for her prosthetic tail.

Getting there

United offers direct service to Tampa / St. Petersburg (TPA) from many U.S. cities.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

To have one of the most magnificent national parks (almost) to yourself

Though the weather is crisp and the temperature a few degrees chillier, the sun shines all month long at Grand Canyon National Park. Traveling here during the low season means fewer visitors will crowd your panoramic views of one of the world's largest canyons and most magnificent natural wonders.

What to do

From scenic drives to backcountry hiking, visiting in the winter makes for a more tranquil and peaceful adventure. The South Rim remains open all year round. The national park offers many trails to view the Colorado River snaking through snow-dusted temples and buttes. Try to catch at least one sunset or sunrise, and be sure to arrive with enough time to stake out a good vantage point. The visitors center and park website have recommendations for the best spots.

Ride the Grand Canyon Railway and travel back in time. A 64-mile stretch of railroad has been transporting passengers from the South Rim to the small town of Williams, Arizona, since 1901. The historic train has an observation dome car to catch the spectacular scenery and even has Wild West-themed entertainment aboard. Every evening in December, the Grand Canyon Railway transforms into the Polar Express and makes a stop at the North Pole where Santa boards the train to greet everyone.

Getting there

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is the closest major international airport to the South Rim. United offers service to Phoenix (PHX) from multiple U.S. cities.

For details and to book your trip, visit united.com or use the United app. Don't forget to share your story on social media with the #MyUnitedJourney hashtag once you arrive.

Evolving our brand design

By The Hub team , December 05, 2018

The United brand is heading in a new direction as we evolve the colors and patterns we use. Where did these new colors come from, exactly? Check out the video below to learn about the research, logic and thoughtfulness that went into this evolution as we took inspiration from the spaces around us, the environments we work in, our heritage, the United globe and much more.

Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Riviera Maya

By The Hub team

Story by Jordan Heller | Photography by Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock | Hemispheres, December 2018

There is some dispute as to how Playa del Carmen, the metropolitan heart of the Riviera Maya just 40 miles south of Cancún, got its name. Some say it's after Our Lady of Carmel, the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelites. But the more compelling story is the one told by locals.

Search flights

As legend has it, in the 1970s and '80s, when the area first became a destination, tourists traveling by boat from neighboring Cozumel would disembark in Playa—then known as Xaman-Ha—on their way to the ruins of Tulum. A local Maya woman named Carmen would happily invite these travelers into her modest home for a traditional meal of fresh-caught seafood. She may not have had any experience with immaculate conception, but when it comes to Playa, this Carmen is definitely a matron saint. Today, her spirit can be felt throughout the Riviera Maya, which also includes the village of Tulum, the ruins of Cobá, and a number of small Maya communities on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán Peninsula where, if you're lucky, a woman not unlike Carmen will happily invite you into her home for a meal.

Day 1

Exploring a Maya temple, befriending a butler and feasting on cochinita pibil

I eat grasshoppers for breakfast. No, this is not my way of saying I know how to handle a subordinate. I'm literally eating toasted grasshoppers sprinkled onto a dish of huevos rancheros with green tomatillo salsa, hoja santa, and goat cheese. I've just woken up at Playa del Carmen's Rosewood Mayakoba, which is perhaps the most luxurious resort I've ever stayed in (and I'm a travel writer). There's a private heated plunge pool outside my back door looking over a secluded lagoon, a spa Forbes rated one of the best in the world, and Tavo, my personal butler, who is at my beck and call through a Rosewood messaging app.

The sikil-p'aak tomato salad at La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen

A bottle of tequila and some toothpaste?

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Despite all this luxury, I'm eating bugs—albeit with a Bloody Mary at a beachside restaurant overlooking the Caribbean. The toasted grasshoppers are crunchy (like perfectly burnt popcorn), incredibly delicious, and an appropriately indigenous start to a morning in which I'll be exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization.

After traveling inland to the village of Cobá, I trade my rental car for a “Maya taxi." It's the Yucatán version of a rickshaw—a padded bench fashioned atop the front wheel of a bicycle with a beach umbrella protecting me from the rain. My driver, Gustino, is transporting me through a mile of jungle and more than a millennium back in time, to the Late Classic (AD 550–830) Maya ruin of the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. The dirt path bustles with all manner of tourists riding Maya taxis, pedaling rented beach cruisers, or walking, excitedly talking about the sites of this ancient city in English, Spanish, German, Russian, and who knows what else.

As Gustino struggles to pedal through a particularly rough patch of mud, I ask him what nationality of tourist is the hardest to transport.

The Ixmoja pyramid at Cobá

“The Germans," he says. “It's not that they're overweight. They're just a very sturdy people. Americans are preferred: very easygoing and friendly people. Everybody wants an American fare."

When we arrive at Nohoch Mul, the panoply of tourists is suddenly speaking the same language: speechless. At 138 feet tall, the sheer scale of this temple is rivaled only by the gleaming hotels going up on the coast. But out here in the Cobá jungle, after I break the canopy and reach Nohoch Mul's summit, it's nothing but green as far as the eye can see, under which is apparently some 30 square miles of ancient city, most of it still obscured by the jungle. I'm told that just 5 percent of Cobá has been excavated since the project started in the 1970s.

"Today, if you come early in the morning, you find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."

“And what did they do with this little platform?" I ask Diego Viadero, my knowledgeable Tours by Locals guide, who's been schooling me on all manner of Maya history.

“Ah, yes," he says. “That's where the rulers would offer sacrifices to the gods, in hopes that they could avoid a collapse of the city."

“You mean like in the movie Apocalypto, where they chopped off the heads?" I ask.

“Just like in Apocalypto," says Viadero, doing his best to hold back an eye-roll. “Today, if you come early in the morning, you'll find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."

“Do you think it's enough?" I ask, making the comparison to the more (ahem) substantial offerings of yore. Let the eye-rolling commence.

The Rosewood Mayakoba's Sense Spa

Next, Viadero takes me to Nojoch Keej, which is Mayan for El Venado Grande, which is Spanish for “The Big Deer." It's a sanctuary for endangered animals run by a Maya man named Manuel Poot Dzib out of his back yard in the village of Nuevo Durango. Poot Dzib started the sanctuary in 2005, after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the habitats of many local animals. He now looks after bees (which produce honey that's said to have healing qualities), white-tail deer, paca, curassow, and ocellated turkeys, which he aims to repopulate in areas that are protected from hunters. From the looks of these turkeys, I think ocellated must be Mayan for peacock. They're vibrant, multicolored, and beautiful to look at.

"Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my cocktail to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon."

Poot Dzib asks us to stay for lunch, which is great, because I'm starving. “We're having cochinita pibiles muy delicioso," he adds, giving off some of that Carmen spirit.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that cochinita pibil is not Spanish for ocellated turkey. It's achiote-marinated pork that's been cooking with banana leaf in a hole in the ground in Poot Dzib's front yard since 8 this morning.

“They normally only do this for the Day of the Dead or other special occasions," Viadero says as we watch Poot Dzib remove the dirt and corrugated metal covering his subterranean oven.

A home-cooked meal, Maya-style

“We used to cover it with banana leaf instead of metal, but that's a much harder and longer process," says Poot Dzib. “This is more modern."

Modern? I'm not so sure, but I grant Poot Dzib that it's certainly an update. In any event, when put on a handmade tortilla with pickled onions and habanero, this cochinita pibil is definitely mouthwatering.

I say “Taakulak k'iin" (“See ya later" in Mayan) to Poot Dzib and his ocellated turkeys and head back to the Rosewood, where Tavo the butler awaits with that bottle of tequila, plus some fresh lime juice and agave nectar for mixers.

Gracias, Tavo!

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my drink to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon. Just one cocktail, however, as I'm hopping onto my complimentary beach cruiser (every guest gets one) to take a spin around the property, where geckos, iguanas, and even a tarantula skitter into the mangroves as I come rolling down the jungle path.

Appetite sufficiently worked up, I'm off to the Rosewood's La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen, where executive chef Juan Pablo Loza serves a communal dinner of Maya-inspired dishes with a contemporary touch. Seated at a long wooden table with 17 other guests, I ask the chef what he's learned from the local Maya villages, which he visits often to pick up cooking techniques.

“My top lesson from the Maya is less about food than it is about perspective," he says, before recounting a delicious meal he had with one family. “The woman who cooked for me had referred to her neighbor as poor. I found it an odd comment, because the assumption in a Maya village is that nobody is exactly rich. 'Why do you say your neighbor is poor?' I asked. She said because she has no family and no garden. If you don't have a garden, you can't get food from it, and if you don't have a family you have nobody to share it with. For them, having a family and a connection to nature is what it means to be rich."

“And now you have this beautiful garden," I say, pointing to his planters of lemongrass.

“And a family, too," he replies. “Including a daughter named Maya."

And then we feast. There's grilled octopus with black recado and burnt lime vinaigrette, zarandeado-style lobster, roasted plantains, and a k'úum salad of squash, arugula, orange, oregano, and ocosingo cheese, finished off with fresh fruits in guava honey and lemongrass.

Tavo, I'm stuffed! Turn out the light and have a pot of coffee waiting for me in the morning, please.

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Day 2

Scaling ruins, swimming in cenotes, and taking a turn on the karaoke mic

Gran Cenote

In the small village square outside Tulum National Park, the Voladores de Papantla are performing their ancient fertility ritual, or rain ceremony—named an “intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO. Five men in traditional bright red pants and flowing white blouses with multicolored adornments sit atop a 90-foot pole. The man in the center taps an adagio beat on a simple drum and blows a gentle bird-like tune on a wooden flute while the other four men tie ropes around their waists. When the musician ups the tempo to allegretto, the other two men fall backward, like scuba divers dropping into water, and slowly descend upside down in a merry-go-round fashion, the spinning top ceding rope like a reel feeding line to a fish. It's absolutely beautiful.

On a path cutting through the mangroves and almond trees on the way to the park entrance, a guide shares a mnemonic device that will be helpful should I run into any venomous coral snakes: “red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack." I assume I'm a Jack.

"The water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly out of the cave floor."

Thankfully, there are no snakes to be seen in the ancient Maya city of Tulum, an open patch of manicured lawns and stone ruins protected by walls to the north, west, and south, and an ocean reef to the east. Or so it was protected until around 1500, when the Spanish came ashore. This beachside community, established circa 1200, was populated by a few hundred of Tulum's elite (and the sea turtles that still come ashore to lay their eggs), with thousands of people living outside the walls. It wasn't until the 20th century, when archaeologists began studying the region's various Maya sites, that we began to understand how advanced their civilization was—especially in the area of astronomy. As I walk the city's white gravel paths, I can imagine a well-heeled society covered in jade and obsidian jewelry enjoying the same ocean breeze and studying the same night sky. One glance at the view, and it's clear the Maya knew something about real estate. This plot right here, with a lighthouse perched on the cliff, would go for a boatload of jade and obsidian.

Maya ruins at Tulum

After fortifying my stomach with a few al pastor tacos (don't forget the guacamole) at Tropi Tacos in Tulum Pueblo, I meet back up with Diego Viadero for a drive out to Sistema Sac Actun (White Cave System), one of the world's largest underground cave systems, a 164-mile maze of freshwater flowing through subterranean limestone. This afternoon, we're exploring just one mile of the system. The rain-conjuring Voladores de Papantla must be in top form lately; the water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly (less than 10 centimeters every 1,000 years) out of the cave floor and reaching up toward stalactites hanging like icicles from the cave ceiling. It's like the setting of a science fiction movie, so otherworldly I try to prolong my stay by floating as slowly as the calcium deposits are forming in front of me.

“Be careful," says Viadero, as I get a little too close to a stalagmite that's been a million years in the making. “You wouldn't want to break it."

IK Lab

“I certainly wouldn't want that on my conscience," I agree.

After emerging from a cenote (a natural sinkhole where groundwater is exposed to the sky), I offer an adiós to Viadero and make my way to Tulum's Route 15—the narrow street that cuts through the jungle, parallel to the shore, and is lined with trendy restaurants, bars, and “eco-chic" (their word, not mine) hotels. Twenty years ago, this strip wasn't much, but now there's not a speck of beachfront that isn't occupied by an Instagram-ready boutique property. (The number of rope swings is astounding.) In recent years, Route 15 has played host to Demi Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Gina Rodriguez, Reese Witherspoon, and, after today, me. I'm staying at Sanará, a stylish wellness hotel that attracts young and hip sunworshippers from around the world who like partying and yoga in equal measure.

A shop on Tulum's Route 15

I check into my beachside room (furnished with my very own yoga mat and dream catcher), flop down on the bed, and open up the “Wellness Menu." On offer are a Pudzyah Mayan Healing that “transforms pain to love at the cellular level … It harmonizes your DNA by applying fractal geometry energy"; a Multivibrational Massage and Chakra Balancing; and a Solar Plexus Healer. I opt for the complimentary “Sound Bath" of light yoga and didgeridoo before balancing out my chakras with a burger, a beer, and some fresh ceviche at Clan Destino.

This laid-back spot is all about the ambience: a wooden deck with chandeliers hanging from the jungle canopy and a cenote smack dab in the middle of the club, should you need refreshing after one too many cervezas. The bar offers a free shot of mezcal for those who take a turn on the karaoke mic (“Suspicious Minds" for me, thank you very much); after accepting my applause and draining my shot, I turn the glass over on the bar and take the plunge.

Day 3

Floating down a canal, swimming in the Caribbean, and eating gelato on the beach

A cabana at Mía

At The Real Coconut, Sanará's beachside restaurant, I dig into a light breakfast of coffee and avocado toast (piled high like Nohoch Mul with a squirt of lime and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes). It's a deliciously healthy start to a morning that's going to include traipsing through the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve and swimming in Laguna Chunyaxché.

At Sian Ka'an—a protected area of tropical forest, marshes, and lagoons about a 40-minute drive from my hotel—I follow my guide, Joaquin Balam of Community Tours, down the narrow boardwalk of Sendero Muyil, which cuts through a forest of zapote and ficus trees. I'm told there are jaguars, pumas, and howler monkeys about, as well as some 330 species of birds.

“Are those the howler monkeys?" I ask of a muted rumbling in the distance.

"We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling."

“Oh no," says Balam. “When you hear them, you'll know it."

The closest we get to this array of wildlife, however, is some jaguar claw marks on a ficus tree. By the looks of the marks, I'm happy that we're strolling alone.

Baby back ribs at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club

At the end of the path, we reach the sandy shoreline of Laguna Chunyaxché, a bright body of water that reflects both the green wetlands and the blue sky above. We cross the lagoon by boat, to a shoreline of mangroves and seagrass, and step onto a dock at the entrance to a canal.

“Take your life vest off and wear it like this," Balam says, putting his legs through the arm holes of the vest, as if it were a diaper.

“If you say so."

Balam jumps into the canal and I follow, and I immediately understand the Baby Huey getup. We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling as our seemingly weightless bodies travel down the canal. Cue the opening horns of the score to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Back on Route 15, I stop in at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club for baby back ribs rubbed with chili and tamarind, washed down with a glass of Château Gloria St Julien Bordeaux from the restaurant's wine cave—the biggest collection of fine wines in Tulum. It's as decadent as the beachgoers lazing in the sun not far from my table.

Head still swimming in that lovely Château Gloria, I decide to take the rest of my body for a little dip. The Caribbean is bathwater warm and crystal clear—in other words, perfect. I walk out for what seems like half a mile, and the water still only comes up to my waist.

Gelato at Origami

Refreshed and sun-dried, I'm ready to trade in the historical and ecological sights of the last few days for the fashion runway of Route 15. The women wear bikinis and sarongs, the men wear linen shorts and loafers, and everybody wears designer shades, brimmed hats made of straw, and suntans of golden bronze. Origami, a beautifully designed gelato shop, is the perfect place to have a seat and watch the catwalk. I have a Ferrero Rocher and crunch on the hazelnuts drenched in icy chocolate and cream while the fashion models play street chicken with Vespas and the delivery trucks distributing tanks of fresh water to the five-star eateries

If Route 15 is for the well-heeled, then Calle Centauro Sur is for the flip-flop set. It's a strip in the center of town, about two miles inland from the beach, where the more casual tourists and locals congregate. Call it the Brooklyn to Route 15's Manhattan. At Batey—a hip, open-air bar and music venue decorated with paintings of Miles Davis and the Beatles—I take a sidewalk seat and listen to a Mexican Elvis impersonator singing Simple Minds' “Don't You (Forget About Me)." As I sip on a Don Julio Reposado, a patchouli-scented parade of 5 o'clock shadows and hot pink hair dye ambles by.

“Are you going dancing tonight?" a young man in a tank top, cut-off jean shorts, and tattered Chuck Taylors asks a friend sitting at the table next to me.

The bar at Mur Mur, in Tulum

“Are you?"

“I'm dressed and ready to go."

Back on Route 15, the revelers are stepping out as if their outfits are going to be scrutinized by bouncers holding clipboards and manning red velvet ropes. Thankfully, no such velvet ropes exist as I enter Rosa Negra for an indulgent meal of burrata, besugo sashimi with black salt and citrus, soft-shell crab tacos, and Pescadores—a fine craft beer made right here in Riviera Maya.

The food is as comely as the patrons, who are bopping their well-coiffed heads to a drum-and-bass DJ. But before I have a chance to pass judgment on an ambience that may appear a touch too buttoned-up, a live conga player steps in front of the DJ.

A rat-a-tat tat, bop ba-da ba-bop, dup du-duh dup du-dup!

The congas add a touch of that Carmen spirit—their organic vibrations reminding me that despite all the Manolo Blahniks and slinky black dresses, my T-shirt and flip-flops are welcome at the party. I shimmy my shoulders, take a swig of my Pescadores, and nod to the beat as I dig into my tacos.

A rat-a-tat tat, ba dop ba-da ba-dop, dup du-buh dup bu-dup!

Search flights

For Oscar, United's turnaround is a journey

By The Hub team , November 30, 2018

Our CEO, Oscar Munoz, sat down with Texas Inc. to discuss our turnaround strategy, stating it's a journey. Read the full interview here featured on the Houston Chronicle.

Ankit Gupta honored with Crain's 40 under 40 recognition

By Matt Adams , November 29, 2018

Network Planning and Scheduling VP Ankit Gupta can talk airline business for hours without losing steam. Just don't ask him to talk about himself; that's when he clams up. You'd think after being named to this year's prestigious Crain's Chicago Business "40 Under 40" list he'd be a little more inclined to wax poetic about his life and career, but no such luck.

Read more about why editors selected Ankit by visiting the Crain's website here. The full list of this year's honorees can be found here. The 40 Under 40 issue hits newsstands on December 3.

Security and technology in the air

By United Airlines

Podcast produced in partnership with CSIS

This week on the Smart Women, Smart Power Podcast, Beverly Kirk is joined by Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer at United Airlines for a conversation on the transformation of technology in the airline industry and more on security in the digital age.

The best National Parks to visit all year round

By Bob Cooper

National parks can be a refuge from the noise and hectic pace of everyday urban and suburban life — America's special places in nature. But during the summer peak season, they can be as busy as cities. Smart travelers visit between November and March when most parks are less crowded and accommodation choices are discounted. These national parks are especially worthwhile to visit and they're all close enough to major airports to make a three-day weekend getaway possible.

Yosemite, California

Fall and winter visitors to Yosemite National Park are treated to autumn leaves in the fall, snow-capped granite landmarks in the winter and replenished waterfalls in the spring. Tent camping can be cold, but hotel rooms in and around Yosemite Valley are widely available and Yosemite's historic lodge, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee), hosts two big events in November and December: the Grand Grape Celebration and the Bracebridge Dinner (a recreation of Christmas in Olde England). Airport: Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Everglades, Florida

Many summer vacationers are among the one million annual visitors to Everglades National Park, but the best time to come is in late-autumn or winter. Southern Florida's temperatures are milder, it's far less humid, hurricane season is over and summer flooding of the prairies has receded — letting you see more fish and reptiles. You can also see more birds in the winter via airboat tours through the Everglades, America's largest tropical wilderness. Not to mention this “river of grass" is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and a wetland of International Importance. Airport: Miami International Airport.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Another world lives beneath Kentucky in the world's largest network of caves known as Mammoth Cave National Park. You will walk beneath massive crystallized formations inside the caverns and may spot one of the eight species of bats that thrive in this environment. The caves are about 54 degrees inside year-round, as if regulated by a thermostat, so they are protected from the hot humid summers and freezing winter nights above them, making them a perfect place to visit any time of the year. Visitors to this southern Kentucky park will also benefit from this climatic predictability while taking any of eight cave tours. While cave tours should be at the top of your list of things to do here, this park also offers hiking, camping, horseback riding, kayaking and more. Airport: Louisville International Airport.

Haleakala, Hawaii

Your visit to Haleakala National Park may include a number of experiences, but witnessing the sunrise or sunsets are a must. Many visitors wake up early to drive to the Summit Visitor Center to view one of the best sunrises. But make sure to plan accordingly because the National Park Service now requires a reservation for vehicles to view the sunrise from the Summit District. Other activities on the 10,023-foot mountain include hiking one of the nine trails, guided horseback rides and bike rentals post-hike to coast most of the way down. An added bonus: Humpback whale watching season stretches from December to March in Maui. Airport: Kahului Airport.

Saguaro, Arizona

Saguaro, a type of giant cacti, serve many functions for desert wildlife — but they don't cast much shade. That's why winter is the best time to hike among them where they populate hillsides by the thousands in Saguaro National Park. The park is split in two, straddling the western and eastern boundaries of Tucson, with 165 miles of hiking trails. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a museum, zoo and botanical garden, is a must-see attraction on the edge of Saguaro NP West. Airport: Tucson International Airport.

Joshua Tree, California

The namesake of Joshua Tree National Park is an odd-looking tree that fits in well with the weirdly wonderful rock formations adored by photographers in this high desert park. Located between Palm Springs and the L.A. area, the park encompasses two major deserts and a mountain range, offering a profoundly contrasting appearance due to the two varying ecosystems. This park can be explored by car or by foot on one of the 27 hiking trails. A bonus to visiting in the winter is the desert wildflower blooms between February and April. Airport: Palm Springs International Airport.

Biscayne, Florida

Famous lighthouse at Key Biscayne, Miami

Most of Biscayne National Park is on water, not land, so the best way to see its coral reefs (among the world's largest) and the abundance of marine life (highlighted by manatees and sea turtles) is by renting a boat or taking a boat tour. Several marinas are found at the park's edges where you can do just that, as well as rent snorkeling or diving equipment for a closer look underwater, where you'll discover diverse and colorful aquatic life and multiple shipwrecks. Kayaking and fishing in Miami-Dade County are also popular. Airport: Miami International Airport.

If you go

United Airlines flies to airports within a two-hour drive of all of these national parks. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your accommodations. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your national park getaway.

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