San Francisco views

Eat, Drink and Check Out Scenic Spots In San Francisco, CA

The San Francisco Bay Area offers unlimited charms —        from beaches and bays to restaurants, museums and street murals. Among its most beautiful attributes are the many perches from which you can take in amazing views. Here, we highlight four camera-friendly locales and nearby restaurants where you can grab a bite after snapping a few frameworthy shots:

Twin Peaks:
twin peaks san francisco

  • Sandwiches in the middle of San Francisco’s Noe Valley, Castro Valley and Cole Valley neighbourhoods sit Twin Peaks, two adjacent peaks 992 feet above sea level. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the East Bay.
  • Saddle Up to a table less tan a mile away at Zazie, a quaint French Bistro with a leafy back patio. Don’t leave without trying the mussels and cheesecake.

Marin Headlands:

Golden Gate bridge

Golden Gate bridge

  • The Marin Headlands, the 2,100-acre gem of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservan­cy, offers perhaps the most breathtaking views of San Francisco. Just north of the city, you can drive, bike or hike a day away, all with vistas you’ll never forget.
  • Snag a table on the back patio at Bar Bocce, a casual pizza spot in Sausalito. Sit next to the outdoor fire pit and take breaks between drinks to play bocce ball while watching the sun set on the San Francisco Bay.

Mount Tamalpais:

San Francisco from Mount Tamalpais

San Francisco from Mount Tamalpais

  • Drive north over the Golden Gate Bridge and the 2,571 -foot- high Mount Tamalpais („Mt. Tam” to locals) will be among one of the first things you see. Hike or drive to the top for wrap-around views of the region.
  • El Paseo, a cozy restaurant owned by Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar (a local), serves rave-worthy pork chops, red snapper crudo and shortbread cookies.

Grizzly Peak:

chez panisse san francisco

Inside Chez Panisse Cafe – San Francisco

  • The overlooks peppered along the 5.7 nukes if Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley are ideal for travelers wanting panoramic views from the comfort of their vehicles. Get there early for sunset viewing.
  • Opt for a high-end meal at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ flagship restaurant, a local institution and one of the best places to taste California cuisine.

A Fascinating Journey Up To Great River Road

Lifeblood to the Native Americans, battleground for the Civil War and Civil Rights movement, birthplace of the blues and inspiration to Mark Twain — a journey up the Mississippi from sea to source tells a multitude of stories.

Why is it that men are so concerned with the beginning and end of everything – when it’s the middle that really matters? Terry Larson’s question hung in the still, humid Minnesota air waiting for an answer. But aside from the odd splash from our oars, and the audible hiss from the underside of our canoe as we skimmed over the long grass, all was silent.

In truth, my canoe guide’s question wasn’t directed at me. It was a query first posed to an explorer called Henry Schoolcraft by an elder of the indigenous Ojibwe tribe back in 1832. Then, after centuries of searching, the headwaters of the fourth longest river in the world – the Mississippi – were about to be revealed. But the question still felt pertinent even today, given my arrival here was the culmination of a two-week journey along the river from sea to source.

Rolling on the river

If I thought it was warm in Minnesota, it was positively own-like where I had begun, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Famous for its annual Mardi Gras celebrations, the waterway continues the party theme and I arrived to see renovated steam paddleboats cruising the banks below the French Quarter, music blaring from their decks.

I opted to start my exploration by bicycle, meandering the city’s many neighbourhoods, from Frenchmen Street, where soft jazz riffs oozed from half-open doors, to the tree-lined Garden District, and on to Lakeview’s flower – festooned houses and the buzzy-vibed Treme by Armstrong Park. But no matter where I pedalled, it seemed water was never far from people’s minds, and no more so than on the edge of the Lower Ninth Ward where the devastation from the rising levels caused by Hurricane Katrina more than ten years ago was still being repaired.

I left the city heading south and determined to reach the outlet of the mighty Mississippi, to begin my journey proper. Along the way I stopped to take a tour of Honey Island Swamp. The community here is made up of ramshackle over-water homes that, just three months before my visit, suffered metre-high floods.

“It’s just a fact of life,” said our skipper as he pointed out the bald cypress trees that rose out of the water, their peculiar roots piercing the swamp in spiked dusters all around them. ‘These trees grow 90ft [27m] tall, won’t rot, survive most hurricanes and actually thrive in the water – that’s why we use them to build a lot of the houses. Things adapt here, they survive.”

He wasn’t just talking about the people. The bayous and swamps in Louisiana are home to a hardy range of turtles, wild boar, deer and alligators, perfectly adapted to the conditions. The latter watched us as we floated, some following slowly in our wake, others basking in the sun on upturned logs. “They were once on the endangered species list,” our captain explained, “now they’re thriving.”

Spurred on, I continued to Venice, the official end of the Great River Road and the Mississippi, which splays out here into the Gulf of Mexico in wide channels. Unlike its Italian namesake, this is no picturesque, canal-threaded honeypot; instead it’s a collection of boatyards (this is the jumping- off point for many commercial fishing companies) and staging areas for the oil rigs offshore.

Made up of a mix of backroads, federal routes and state highways, the Great River Road is not a single stretch of tarmac, but actually runs on both sides of the Mississippi for most of the way. From Venice, I decided to stick to the west bank, heading towards Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge

At this point, the river is over a muddy kilometre in width and 45m deep. Years of flooding and receding has made the surrounding soil rich in minerals and fertile land for farmers. Back in the early 18th century, though, sugar was king and this far south plantations stretching thousands of acres lined the banks. Nowadays, while sugar is still a big industry here, plantation tours are arguably just as vital.

I visited Laura Plantation first, a brightly painted Creole home once owned by descendants of French colonists from Louisiana. Here the guides told of the equally colourful goings-on behind dosed doors, where masters fathered children by their slaves, who were then brought up alongside the owner’s families.

Next up was Whitney, which focused on the slaves’ story instead. Bronze statues of children were poignantly positioned around the estate, as we learned of the tragic methods by which their owners would ‘break’ and punish them.

I ended at Oak Alley Plantation, where a line of trees funnelled the cool air from the water down to the imposing white house at its centre. It was a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, but it made me think about how the river offered not only an easy way to bring the slaves in, but was also an obstacle preventing escape.

“When I first came here, I cried fora full 55 minutes,” said Kathe Hambrick-Jackson, owner of the River Road African American Museum further north in Donaldsonville, where the plantations morphed from sugarcane to cotton production. “I stood on the riverbanks watching tourist boats come in, and realised this was the same spot where the slaves would have been offloaded.”

Kathe later turned her reaction into something positive, setting up a museum to remember the lives of the slaves and to help their descendents trace their roots. What’s more, she told time the story of one slave who managed to escape by using the river, stowing away on a boat headed for the gulf, finally ending up in Liverpool, England, a free man. Maybe the water wasn’t a prison after all.

In the past, the Mississippi itself has even been known to make a break for it, and to this day is prone to changing course. To try and stop this, several measures have been put in place, most notably the levees (man-made banks) that funnel the water in different directions and were a constant companion on my journey.

At the pretty town of St Francisville, where the tourist steamboats were docked for the day, I spotted rows of concrete stabilisation mats, designed to stop erosion. In geology, when a river changes course, as they often do, it leaves visible marks called meander scars. But not all scars are so easily seen with the naked eye.

Crossing the state line into Mississippi, I visited Natchez, the oldest town on the river, complete with a hearty helping of antebellum homes. But it was only when I dug deeper that I discovered this had once been the territory of a Native American tribe of the same name. The Natchez people were displaced in the early 1700s, after trading relations with the French settlers soured. Nowadays, there is no trace of them to be seen – no visible scars of the past.

The river has often found itself at the centre of major events in the history of America, right from the moment a retreating glacier formed the Mississippi, long before the Natchez lived here. Later, around the time of the 1811 earthquakes, a rift pulled apart the land to form a valley that nearly split the continent in two.

Natchez

And fifty years on from that, the divide was realised politically, as the American Civil War (1861-65) saw a nation turn on itself: north versus south, Yankee against Confederate. At its heart was the debate over the abolition of slavery, but when it came to the river, it was all about trade and control.

“Controlling the river meant controlling the power,” explained David Maggio, my guide at the Civil War battlefield site in Vicksburg. “This town was the last plug in the river stopping trade.” The Yankees besieged it, forcing the Confederates on top of the bluff, and after around 10,000 deaths on both sides, they effectively starved them out. Once it fell, the Mississippi’s waters re- opened and the giant gunboats – designed upriver in Cairo to patrol them – became obsolete.

With so much toil, heartache and fighting, it seems not entirely coincidental that this is the delta where the blues was born, and still thrives. From Clarksville, where the former cotton worker McKinley Morganfield (aka Muddy Waters) lived, to Elvis’s Graceland in Memphis, you can’t stop for a plate of grits and biscuits in the Deep South without hearing a thick baseline and a two-step beat.

The further north I headed, the more the focus switched from people and power to nature and the outdoors. I stopped fora boat ride at Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee, a pocket of water formed by the 1811 quakes now coated in verdant duckweed and topped with butter-yellow lotus flowers. As I drifted across its surface and the ranger pointed out egrets, red wing blackbirds and ospreys nesting in the trees, I mused how this was one of nature’s prettiest accidents.

Life on the Mississippi

For a short while I cut through Kentucky, just long enough to spy some evidence of Native American influence on the river. Resembling an easily missed cluster of small grassy lumps, Wickliffe Mounds was actually one of the earliest settlements of people living along the Mississippi. Predating colonisation, they were already gone by the time the French arrived in the 18th century, but a 1930s excavation revealed a treasure trove of tools made from the very day that makes up the riverbank.

Crossing into Illinois, I drove through what looked like a ghost town. Formerly palatial hotels stood crumbling, school buses lay abandoned and overgrown, but the name was familiar. It turned out this was Cairo, the namesake town of one of the vessels I saw at Vicksburg that used to control the Mississippi in the early 1800s. A faded mural nodded to it, but a decline in the steamboat industry meant that this town’s glory days were well and truly in the past.

But not all river towns met the same fate. Both Sainte Genevieve in Missouri and Galena in Illinois were communities I visited where someone had recognised that their respective wooden long houses and red-brick main streets were worth preserving. With the former offering wine tours of its seyval grape vineyards and the latter boasting riverside watersports and good food, both were thriving.

Further north, the unmistakable Gateway Arch signalled that I’d reached St Louis. It was from here that the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition to push west began, the river acting as a gateway to the new frontier, new opportunities and new hope. Fitting, then, that it was here, on the opposite bank in East Alton, that I learned just how important the Mississippi remains to the current US economy.

Gateway Arch, St. Louis

“It’s still very much used as a trade route,” said Andrea Gregory, a ranger at the Great Rivers Museum, where the second and largest of the 29 locks and dams that line the river going north is located. ”

A hopper barge three barges wide and five in length can carry more than a thousand trucks can. They also use less fuel, so they are better for the environment.” We walked up to peer over the lock, which was now helping a group of three kayakers (and some stowaway pelicans) drop down into St Louis. ”

In spring, fertiliser and coal head north to help farmers begin their harvest. In the fall we get those harvested grains back, and in summer, as you can see, it’s mainly recreational traffic,” she explained.

I became one of the latter at my next stop – Hannibal. If the name sounds familiar, the white picket fence will certainly jog your memory, for this town was the basis for the fictional St Petersburg, home to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn characters.

It was here that ‘jumped on the paddle steamer – named after the author – to see the islands, the port and the water from his books come to life.

Shallow Pleasures

From literary creations I moved onto something more tangible – and unusual – crossing the border into Iowa and Effigy Mounds National Monument.

Here, created by the native peoples of the Mississippi, are a number of huge earthworks shaped like giant animals. “No-one really knows why they are here, and as they were designed to be seen from somewhere high up in the sky, you can’t always tell that you’re walking past one,” explained ranger Michael Douglas, “but you will know it. I don’t know how, but you will.”

I pulled on my hiking boots and started my hunt. Hummingbirds flitted in front of me as I strolled through the woods to emerge at a viewpoint where the river seemed to seep uncontrollably out through tightly knitted pockets of green below.

I continued and found myself stopping for no particular reason. I looked to my left and slowly realised the raised grassy mound was in the shape of a giant bear. Michael was right.

For the last leg of the River Road, I criss-crossed between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Every year, 10,000 migratory birds also follow the waterway here, heading for warmer temperatures. The most recognisable of these is the bald eagle, and I watched in awe as they majestically circled above the outskirts of Minneapolis-St Paul.

Saint Paul

It was here that I made what would be my penultimate stop and, as time was tight, I chose to swap four wheels for two with a Segway tour of the city. At the river’s only waterfall, a hydroelectric plant has been set up to harness the power of the water. But, as my guide informed me, there is a force that they are finding much harder to control: Asian carp. As such, all locks north of this one have temporarily been dosed off to the southern parts of the river.

When I finally took to the water again – with my canoe guide Terry – it was much further up the liver, and it was hard to believe the same waterway that had taken several minutes to cross on a Segway was now a shallow and easily navigable sliver.

On my final day, I began the short walk to the headwaters. Noticing some steps descending into the water, I took off my shoes to tread the final kilometre in the river itself. As I rounded the final bend I thought back to the question Terry had posed.

Here, at the source, as I was about to reach the end of my journey, I think I understood what he meant. For centuries man has lived off the river, battled over it, attempted to control, guide and contain it, but the Mississippi has kept churning and meandering regardless.

For the river, this was neither the beginning nor the end, it would always be the middle of a journey – one that is truly never-ending.

Great River Road, USA Details

Vital Statistics

Headwaters: Itasca State Park, Minnesota
End of the road: Venice, Louisiana
River Length: 2,350miles/3,734km (approx)
Road Length: 2,159miles/3,474km
States: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana

When to go

  • September-October
    Best for a road trip— cooler in the Deep South, with milder climes up north. Note: hurricane season is Aug—Sep.
  • June-August
    Summer — the bottom four states will be hot and humid, but expect long sunny days perfect for walks as you head north.
  • January-March – November-December
    Winter— south is cooler, Mardi Gras Feb-Mar, but it can be cold up north and road and attraction closures are a risk.
  • April-May
    Spring —The south is mild and the north warming up. Attractions start to open.

Health & safety

No specific jabs are required. Be alligator aware in the waters of the Deep South. The real risk is from the heat; drink plenty of water and use sun protection.

The Trip

Getting there

The author flew with Delta (www. delta. corn), which, along with its partner airline Virgin Atlantic (virginatlantic.com), offers daily flights to both New Orleans (via Atlanta) and Minneapolis-St Paul (direct)from London Heathrow. Prices from around £700(multi city) return, including taxes and charges.

Getting around

To drive the Great River Road requires a good vehicle. All the big brands can be found in the airports at New Orleans and Minneapolis-St Paul. The author hired a mid-sized SUV from Alamo (a lamo.co.uk). Expect to pay £800for a 14-day hire, which includes a one-way drop-off charge, unlimited mileage, all taxes and charges.

Cost of travel

Petrol is much cheaper in the US than in the UK. Expect to pay a round $2.20/0.74 per gallon. To do this entire road trip cost $226 (£178) in fuel.

 

The 12-Day Itinerary

Louisiana

Stay: Sonia House, located in the French Quarter, is replete with wrought-iron balconiesfor people-watching. Doubles from $295pn (£233).

Many plantations offer the chance to stay the night. Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie is recommended, with one- and two-bedroom cottages set in its grounds.

Do: Take a boat out onto the bayous. Cajun Encounters Swamp offer guided trips with knowledgable guides from $29 (£23).

Visit: Tours of the plantations offer different perspectives on the lives of their former residents. Laura Plantation tells the story of a Creole family and their relationship with their slave workers.

For a look at the other side of the story, the unmissable Whitney Plantation $22 offers a truly insightful and honest tour that doesn’t glaze over a difficult past.

River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville offers an insight into the fight for equal rights along the river.

Eat: In New Orleans, Commander’s Palace is unmissable. Try the ubiquitous Sazerac cocktail at the weekend jazz brunch. Two courses from $16 (£12.50) with a side of local tunes.

Mississippi

Stay: Anchuca Historic Mansion and Inn, Vicksburg (anchuca.com) is in the perfect location to explore the local battlefields.

Eat: The Castle Restaurant at Natchez’s Dunleith Historic Inn offers Southern-style food served in converted stables from the 1790s. Two courses from around $30 (£23.50).

Visit: The Civil War Battlefield Memorial in Vicksburg is best seen from a car due to its size; $12 (£9.50) per car, $5 (£4) for pedestrians or bicycles.

Take a trip to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale (delta bluesmuseum.org; $10 [£8) to see how the river shaped the music scene here in the south.

Drink: Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale is co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman and is good f or snacks, meals and tunes.

Arkansas

Stay: The Edwardian Inn, Helena is a turn-of-the-century manor complete with wood panels and rooms named after Civil War generals. Doubles from $109pn (£86).

Explore: Drive through St Francis National Forest and the heights of Crowley Ridge, stepping out for a short hike along the Mississippi shoreline.

Eat: Bailee Mae’s in Helena offers a good selection of wraps and heartier fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Two courses from around $15.

Visit: The Historic Dyess Colony and Johnny Cash Boyhood Home aren’t just for music fans, they also offer a fine glimpse into Depression-era America.

Tennessee

Stay: Memphis’ River Inn at Harbor Town offers views of the river and a handy base from which to explore the city. From $205pn (£162).

Visit: Elvis’ old home of Graceland is a Mecca for many a music lover. Elsewhere, there’s a triple crown of soul music must-sees, including the Memphis Rock’n’ Soul Museum, Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Sun Studio, where all the greats recorded.

Explore: Flock to Reelfoot Lake State Park for bald eagles nesting by the shore near the visitor centre. Nature walks and boat hire are also available.

Kentucky

Visit: Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site offers an insight into the lives of the Native Americans who once lived along the Mississippi through a nature walk and the earthworks of its archaeological site, excavated in 1932.

Missouri

Stay: Inn St. Gem me Beauvais in Sainte Genevieve is well-positioned for those wanting to explore the town. From $99 [£78] per room.

In Hannibal, The Dubach Inn offers comfortable rooms and a wonderful homemade breakfast. Doubles from $109 (£85).

Visit: You can’t go to St Louis without visiting its famous Gateway Arch.

And when in Hannibal, it’s practically mandatory to check out all things Mark Twain. Recommended is The Mark Twain Boyhood Home; a nearby cave that he wrote about; and the classic river paddleboat tour.

Drink: Sainte Genevieve is wine country. Try mid-west varieties at Chaumette’s Bequette Ribault House.

Eat: The Anvil Restaurant in Sainte Genevieve does home-cooked local fare at good prices— save room for pie.

Illinois

Stay: DeSoto House Hotel, Galena is a legendary stay and the oldest hotel in the state. It was once requented by Abe Lincoln. Doubles from $300pn (£236.50).

Visit: The National Great Rivers Museum offers guided tours of the lock and has an interpretation centre all about the Old Miss. Recommended.

Take a Trolley Tour in Galena for an overview of the town’s famous residents and the role the river played in shaping the community.

Eat: Galena has a host of quality choices. Try 111Main for dinner, and Ottos for breakfast or a snack. And don’t leave Illinois without trying the freshly made pies at My Just Desserts in West Alton, where the recipes change daily.

Iowa

Visit: See Effigy Mounts National Monument for the excellent visitor centre/museum about the Native American mounds, then take one of the many hikes either there or at nearby Pike’s Peak State Park for fine views across the Mississippi.

Eat: Be sure to stop at Breitbach for lunch — the oldest restaurant in the state and an institution.

Wisconsin

Stay: The Charmant Hotel in La Crosse is a recently renovated former sweet factory offering incredible views of the river and a great restaurant.

Do: La Crosse’s downtown tour is a free-to-download walking tour with an informative audio narrative.

Visit: Perrot State Park is an idyllic riverside green space with great hiking, ranger-interpreted walks and plenty of campsites.

Eat: Fayze’s in La Crosse offers fine breakfasts and Bloody Marys.

Minnesota

Stay: The Hotel 340 in St Paul’s offers decent rooms close to the old centre of the city. Choice is limited in Grand Rapids and Bemidji, but the respective Country Inn By Carlson and Country Inn and Suites offer comfortable, well-located options on the Great River Road.

Do: The Minneapolis Magical History Tour on Segway is the best way to cover the most ground and seethe local sights in the Twin Cities.

Visit: Head to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha to learn all about the birds that annually migrate along the river.

Explore: Taking to the water at least once should be mandatory on the Great River Road. Terry’s Fish and Canoe River Tours offer expert guided canoe trips to suit all levels and experience. Itasca State Park is home to the headwaters and the end of the road. Visit to walk the last few steps to the river’s source.

Eat: In Wabasha, head to Slippery’s, home of the Grumpy Old Men — try the sampler of onion rings, Wisconsin cheese curds and poppers (jalapenos).

Also try JJ’s Dockside in Bemidji for some tasty pub grub slap-bang on the waterside.


canadian rockies train

Riding Through the Rockies on Canadian Rail Lines

Canada’s magnificent Rockies unfold in a blur of grays, whites and deep greens through the panoramic windows of the train car on a 19-hour rail ride from Vancouver, British Columbia, on the Pacific Coast to picturesque Jasper, near the Alberta/British Columbia border.

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The Spell of Books in The Last Bookstore, L. A.

The sign in front of the building in downtown Los Angeles was intriguing. On the glass window was written: “We buy and sell books and records”. Peeping through the window, we could see an array of books in shelves in a big hall. Naturally, we had to enter.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter The Last Bookstore is the size of this place-22,000 sq ft spread over two floors. Located in a heritage building—in what once housed the Citizens National Bank and is now known as the Spring Arts Tower—we are in a place where books are a passion.

The white columns inside rise 25ft to the vaulted ceilings. Original marble tile floors feature the sort of uneven wear that makes the place more charming. The cashier’s desk catches our eye. The base is supported by books.

This is the third avatar of The Last Bookstore, which was started in 2005 by Josh Spencer, who used to sell books, CDs and other stuff on eBay from a building in the Old Bank District When he moved the store to its current location, two bookshops in Los Angeles had announced closures that same month, and down-town’s Metropolis Books went up for sale.

Spencer didn’t go into this business with any strategy and he’s aware of the risks. “People look at all this,” he told Los Angeles Downtown News, “and think we’re rolling in the dough. They don’t realise I’ve used all the debt I can, from everywhere, to open this. We’re doing okay, but not great”.

He added: “Whether we last will depend on if the community supports us. Right now, they’re supporting us.”

We walk into the Arts & Rare Books Annex, anew addition. Specially created for books on arts, architecture, photography, design or about anything related to arts, there is a gold mine waiting for you here. The coffee table books on arts are sold at throwaway prices. Thrillingly, we see a first edition of Lolita and one of The Jungle Book! Collectors’ items such as these come with a hefty price tag.

One of the great things about the place is the way the books are arranged. It is beautifully done, like any good library in America, and finding a title is not difficult. At many places we see the sign: “If you could not find it, ask us for it”. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable.

We come to the central hall. Stray beams of light come streaming through the tall glass windows. Chairs and couches are placed in the centre of the store, though a sign warns: ” Please note: we are not a library. I hour time limit for chairs & couches. No sleeping. You damage the books, you buy them.”

This message, however, doesn’t detract from the store’s warmth and larger message: that all are welcome.

We continue our browsing. We pick up the 1935 edition of the classic The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections by A. Edward Newton for $3! (It sells at $33 on Amazon.) We had to resist the temptation to buy more than once as we were mindful of the flight back to Bengaluru after two days.

Walking and browsing inside the store is a treat We look up to see an astonishing installation, ‘A Wave’, made of books. Hung from the ceiling, it is fabulous.

We take the stairs to the first floor which has books on history, politics, sports and other subjects. Even as we climb up, we notice another fascinating installation: a printed paper roll hung from the ceiling in an uneven pattern.

But the best is yet to come. As we enter the floor, we see a hole with books neatly arranged around it — here’s your photo opportunity! There is a book kept for you to read when your picture can be clicked from the other side of the hole. Then we pass through a ‘Tunnel of Books’. Yes, it is indeed a tunnel created by books arranged overhead!

We walk down and head straight to the records section. Stacks of vintage LPs of all the famous musicians you can name! We hearken to the sight of the beautiful Self Portrait by Bob Dylan. We also notice old LPs of a few Bollywood movies.

As the name suggests, The Last Bookstore maybe one of the last of its kind. With books being sold online, many bookshops have closed their shutters. As Spencer says, it is the love of the people which is sustaining his passion. A passion for books. By a book lover for other book lovers of the world.


Isla-Mujeres

Escape Stress at Mexico’s Isla Mujeres

In this year of massive rallies and protests, daily calls to your congressional representatives and feeling tethered to your Twitter feed or cable news, there’s got to be a way to recharge.

For women who want to reconnect to an ancient, calmer energy, let us throw this name in the ring: Isla Mujeres, aka the “Island of Women.” Located in the Caribbean Sea about 8 miles off the coast of Cancun, this wisp of an island {just 5 miles long and 0.3 miles wide) offers an easy-going ambience.

With its powdery beaches and undulating palms, Isla Mujeres feels far away from the tequila-fueled party scene on the Mexican mainland — and very distant from the non-stop news cycle at home. A girlfriends’ getaway on the beach is some­thing that deserves a bipartisan endorsement, right?

On Punta Sur, at the south­ernmost tip of the island, there’s a temple ruin devoted to the Mayan goddess Ixchel. “Ixchel was the goddess of the moon, and she was associated with healing and fertility,” says Gus­tavo Rodriguez Orozco, director of tourism for Isla Mujeres. “For centuries, Mayan women came to this island to seek her help.” Local people still tend to believe that Ixchel will help them resolve fertility issues, he adds.

the lighthouse punta sur

The lighthouse at Punta Sur

Of course, men are welcome. Isla Mujeres promotes itself as a romantic destination, the perfect locale for idyllic weddings on a beach lit by Tiki torches. But you won’t feel like the odd woman out if you don’t come with a guy on your arm. And some say there’s a definite feminine vibe in the salt-tinged air.

“You can sense a different energy here (among women),” says Marcia Collado, a yoga instructor at the Zoetiy Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun resort. “Since the island is sacred to the Mayan moon goddess, I think (its) history empowers us, allowing us to keep in touch with our femininity.”

Zoetry Villa Rolandi

Outdoor poolside at Zoetry Villa Rolandi

To help guests get in touch with their inner goddesses, the resort’s spa offers a Mayan massage that incorporates Mayan healing practices, and they use Mayan herbs and mineral salts in a body treatment called Villa Rolandi’s Secret.

Whether it’s mystical Mayan power or simply the power of suggestion, few would deny that this sleepy island has restorative qualities, especially if you slow down to its leisurely rhythms.

Let the unwinding begin as you ride the ferry from Cancun across the stunningly aqua waters of the Bahia de Mujeres. There’s no real rush to get anywhere once you arrive; in fact, most guests get around via golf cart at slow-motion pace.

You’ll likely be tempted by Playa Norte, considered to be one of the best beaches in Mexico. It’s also easy to spend hours (and days) swimming and snorkeling in the calm waters of the western side of the island, where the coral reef sits offshore. Add some art to your undersea journey with a visit to the MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum, a dreamlike installation of 500-plus permanent life-size sculptures, such as Benidiciones, designed to provide habitat for marine life.

musa underwater museum fingers

MUSA Underwater Museum

If you like your indolence spiked with adven­ture, swim with whale sharks! Few things are as empowering — and humbling — as sharing the sea with a creature that can measure up to 65 feet long and weigh more than 12 tons. The sharks arrive in these waters in July and August to feed and mate. To swim with whale sharks, you need to go out with an outfitter (try Solo Buceo, which offers two-hour, early-morning trips from mid-May to mid-September). It’s OK to be a beginner, but it’s not OK to touch the whale sharks. Snorkeling alongside these polka-dotted giants is truly exhilarating. The largest congrega­tion of whale sharks in the world happens off the coast of Cancun, scientists say.

And we can all appreciate how powerful a large gathering can be.

Where to Eat

MANGO CAFE

mango cafe isla mujeres
Colorful, lively Mango Cafe draws a mix of locals and tourists for dishes like coconut French toast, fish tacos and stuffed poblano peppers. If it’s not totally authentic Mexican, it sure is playful and fun. And it wouldn’t be vacation if someone in your party didn’t order a mango mi­mosa. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

SUNSET GRILL
Every island should have at least one place where you can eat lovely food and watch a sherbet-hued sunset over the water. On Isla Mujeres, this place fills the bill. Think lobster quesadillas, ceviche, grilled shrimp and paella — tasty, sure, but you’ll remember the setting much longer.

LOLO LORENA
Born in Belgium, chef Lolo Lorena serves a multi-course gourmet meal at communal tables in a courtyard setting. It’s a bit like being a dinner guest at a private party with a wonderful hostess. Her somewhat pricey 5- to 10-course meals are a fusion of flavors, based on what’s available and what Lolo is inspired to cook, but count on a memorable evening.


mexico city food

The Capital of Mexican Taste – Mexico City

Tienes hambre? Then make sure to pack your appetite (and some stretchy pants) for a trip to Mexico City. The vivacious metropolis combines Old World charm with a red-hot culinary scene that’s currently taking the food world by storm.

“Mexico City is a hot spot because of its diversity and quality. You can get any kind of food you’re looking for, from excellent tacos to amazing fine dining experiences,” says Elizabeth Chichino, who handles public relations for the restaurant Lorea. “And many Mexican chefs have traveled the world and learned from great restaurants that no matter the concept, quality is the cornerstone for growth.”

Whether your taste in dining runs haute cuisine or hole-in-the-wall, there’s a multitude of mouthwatering meals to discover. Here’s where to dig in:

Begin your day with a hearty breakfast at Fonda Mayora. The latest venture from renowned chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo is a go-to for a great morning.

Fonda Mayora Restaurant

Fonda Mayora Restaurant

Land a table outdoors, order the fresh bread basket with local honey and soak up the scene. Don’t leave without trying the hueuos encamisados, eggs baked inside fresh tortillas. If this seems slightly excessive, just remember you’ll need the energy to explore the city’s top food haunts on foot.

Start burning off those calories by wandering La Merced, one of Mexico’s largest food markets, located about a mile southeast of the city’s famed central plaza, the zocalo. Vendors of all stripes — spice merchants, torta slingers, even insect sellers — cram the narrow passageways with intriguing snacks and edible souvenirs you can take home.

Take a breather from the bus­tling market with a wine-fueled lunch at Amaya.

Owned by restaurateur Jair Tellez, the eatery pours natural, organic and biodynamic wines from Mexican and Latin American producers alongside delicious wood-fired dishes such as roasted cauliflower with tahini guacamole.

amaya restaurant mexico

Amaya Restaurant and its unique interior design

For dinner, try to score a seat at the buzzed-about Fonda Fina the restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Opt for the rotisserie chicken with mole or the tender grilled octopus, but don’t leave without requesting the teporocho (slang for someone so drunk that he can’t get off the sidewalk). The potent, Long Island iced-tealike concoction is playfully served in a paper bag.

If you’d rather sample the city’s molecular gas­tronomy scene, try Lorea, which presents guests with just two tasting menus for an exquisite, haute cuisine experience. No matter which one you choose, all meals here look like plated works of art.

Launch day two with Mexican coffee and a cinnamon-sugar-laced churro as you stroll Mercado Roma, a two-story, modern-day food hall packed with gourmet eats and drinks.

mercado roma

Mercado Roma food hall

Upstairs at Sereni, the creative culinary abilities of chef Fernando Martinez — known for spotlighting the top ingredients from his home state of Michoacan — are on full display in thoughtful dishes like marinated trout from the city of Zitacuaro with smoky chile mayo and caviar.

To prove Mexico City is a global hub for gourmands, make stops at Merkava for Jerusalem-inspired hummus with pillowy pita bread, and then try the pintxos bar at Sagardi for tiny snack bites straight out of Spain’s Basque Country.

Feeling full yet? Don’t leave without a mouthwatering six- or seven-course meal at world-renowned Pujol. Reimagined in 2017, Enrique Olvera’s much-celebrated restaurant moved to a new location complete with a backyard garden and an updated menu. Luckily, crowd favorites like the baby corn and famous mole madre, which mellows for an unbelievable 700 days, still made the menu. It’s a tasty bookend to a toothsome tour of Mexico City.

Where to Stay

hotel w mexico city

W Mexico City Hotel

Even if you’re stuffed, save room for a night-cap (say, a gin and tonic sorbet) at J by Jose Andres in the fashion-forward  W Hotel, before hitting the sheets. Located in the stylish Polanco neighborhood, it’s an ideal place to call home base during your south-of-the-border binge fest.


palm springs

Modernism Is Always in Style in Palm Springs – California

The sun rises over California’s Little San Bernardino Mountains, casting its dazzling light across the city of Palm Springs. This desert gem is awash in color: vibrant reds and pinks of bougainvillea and oleander, deep green palm fronds, the brilliant blue of a cloudless sky.

But the regional landscape isn’t the only thing prompting visitors to reach for their oversized Jackie O-style Francois Pinton sunglasses. The city’s showy homes and buildings — with incandescent white or desert sand facades, sparkling plate glass windows and pops of silver, metal, teal and orange on trim and doorways — are just as blindingly beautiful.

In fact, it is the architecture of this place — the largest concentration of midcentury modern buildings in the U.S. — that is behind Palm Springs’ revival as a Hollywood hideaway and top tourist destination.

“It’s an extraordinary and surprising paradise,” says Robert Imber, a 25-year resident and owner of Palm Springs Modern Tours. “It’s a desert… that is surrounded by these mountains. We have oases; we have a 60-foot waterfall, and then we have this historic architecture. It is beautiful, and it’s unique.”

A community of roughly 45,000 people, Palm Springs basks in 350 days of sunshine a year, winter highs in the low 70s and a year- round outdoor lifestyle that has beckoned celebrities since the 1920s, when silent-screen legend Gloria Swanson owned a home here.

Many celebrities followed — Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and the entire Rat Pack, including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. The confluence of these moneyed vacationers wanting getaways that reflected their discriminating taste and the postwar building boom created a setting for some of the era’s top architects — Albert Frey, John Lautner, Richard Neutra and Donald Wexler, to name a few — to build remarkable works.

palm springs bob hope house

Bob Hope’s Palm Springs estate

“The architects were responding to the environment. With air conditioning, there was a lot more they could do. They were experimenting with this new indoor-outdoor lifestyle, with homes opening to the swimming pools and glass walls to showcase the mountains,” says Chris Menrad, president of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, also known as

When midcentury modern fell out of favor in the late 1970s and 1980s, newcomers built larger, newer homes elsewhere in the Coachella Valley, leaving many of the city’s iconic homes and buildings untouched by time, but also neglected.
ModCom.

The late 1990s brought renewed interest, according to Menrad. Fashion photographers began scouting unusual spaces for photo shoots, and hipsters with an eye for architecture snatched up vintage 1940s, ’50s and ’60s homes at reasonable prices.

A Vanity Fair article on Palm Springs in 1999 simply fanned the flames, Menrad adds. “That huge spread followed by a renewed Zeitgeist for the style, with Mad Men and all, lit a fuse. Summer used to be a dead time, but now, weekends are always full.”

Today, visitors can enjoy the retro vibe in boutique hotels, resorts and restaurants, as well as public buildings and thousands of homes. For a small taste, they can pick up a map of iconic buildings at the Palm Springs Visitors Center, a brilliant Albert Frey-designed gas station saved from the wrecking ball in the 1990s.

Or they can download the self-guided ModCom Mid-Century Modern Tour app and design their experience around it. Narrated by architectural historians, the app highlights more than the exteriors of the midcentury buildings and includes videos of site interiors — an advantage over a map, since many buildings are privately owned and not tourable.

Private tours also can be arranged through Palm Springs Modern Tours, three-hour immersions into form and design from the comfort of a minivan. Imber, one of the city’s best-known architecture aficianados, serves as driver and guide, sharing his extensive knowledge of the area’s buildings and quirky insider tidbits on topics ranging from Hollywood-heyday gossip to California architects, designers and builders.

dinah shore palm springs estate

Dinah Shore Estate – Palm Springs

For those wanting more, ModCom hosts Modernism Week, which took place over 11 days in February this year and included more than 250 events, from specialty tours and lectures to panel discussions, education courses and, because this is Palm Springs, parties. A fall preview is set for Oct. 20-22.

American pop-culture comedian and connoisseur Charles Phoenix served as a bus tour guide during Modernism Week. When he drives from Los Angeles to Palm Springs and sees the visitor center’s distinctive sweeping canopy, any stress melts away.

“I feel like the world, the rest of the world somehow, doesn’t even exist anymore,” he says. Imber agrees: “Even those of us, we who live here, are really awed by this place every day.”

Make a Trip of It

Reservoir: Diners at Reservoir in the Arrive Hotel sit in Scandinavian-style chairs, underneath a butterfly roof, dipping into ceviche or shared tacos while overlooking the hotel pool, bar and toasty fire pits.

Mr. Lyons:

mr. lyons palm springs

Mr. Lyons Restaurant – Palm Springs

Sink into the deep green velvet banquettes of this clubby steak-house, order a classic dry martini, Manhattan or sidecar, and you’ll feel Rat-Pack cool in a restaurant that’s been around  since the late 1940s when Frank Sinatra built his weekend getaway in Palm Springs.

L’Horizon: This William Cody-designed Hollywood retreat built in 1952 has been reimagined as 25-room luxury celebration of modernism, from the George Mulhauser chairs and cooper fireplaces in some rooms to a center court infinity-edge pool where guests enjoy complimentary foot and back massages.

Orbit In and Hideaway: These authentic midcentury modern properties have the same ownership. The Orbit In’s nine rooms boasts themes from top designers, including Eero Saarinen; the Hideaway’s 10 rooms have stunning mountain views.


washington lavender fields

Lavender Fields Thrive in Washington

The exclamations are audible as visitors arrive at Washington Lavender Farm, scrambling out of their cars to photograph the lipstick-pink poppies and scalloped rows of lavender that march along its white-fenced driveway. Here and across the acreage anchored by the coastal George Washington Inn, lavender explodes into bloom like deep purple fireworks.

Thousands of bees stir the heady fragrance in Washington’s Sequim-Dungeness Valley, dubbed the Lavender Capital of North America.

More than 30,000 visitors from across the country and beyond gather here the third weekend in July for the region’s Lavender Festival and the chance to photograph or paint the colorful fields, stock up on sachets and soaps, collect new culinary recipes, feast on crab cakes with lavender mayonnaise, savor lavender lemon sorbet and lavender white chocolate ice cream and sip lavender margaritas and lavender-infused wines.

“You just get intoxicated with lavender in all its various forms in one visit,” says Paul Jendrucko, who calls himself “Dr. Lavender,” and whose wife, Mary, leads the Sequim Lavender Growers Association.

The valley nestles between the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which moderates the temperature, and the Olympic Mountains, which shelter it from heavy rains that keep the peninsula’s moss-draped Hoh Rain Forest and towns like Forks (where the Twilight books and movies are set) famously cloudy and damp.

Lavender fields across Sequim’s dry, sunny farms bloom for about three weeks in July, grabbing the attention of passing travelers such as Talie Lamolinara of Jacksonville, Fla.

purple haze lavender farm

Purple Haze Lavender Farm

She happily snipped stems of lavender into a pick-your-own basket at Purple Haze Lavender Farm.

“I like lavender-flavored anything,” she says, with a smile on her face and an armful of fragrance that will follow home.

Lavender Weekend

Picture taken at Sequim Lavender Festival

Picture taken at Sequim Lavender Festival – Washington

The Sequim Lavender Festival, scheduled this year from July 21-23, includes a downtown street fair full of art and lavender vendors, concerts by area musicians and regional foods including crab cakes, chowder and salmon, fresh berries, lavender-glazed walnuts and lavender lemon curd crepes.

A handful of farms, such as Purple Haze and Washington Lavender, charge fees and host their own Lavender Weekend festivities with music, demonstrations and vendors. More than a dozen farms are free to visit.

Make a Trip of It

George Washington Inn

George Washington Inn

Blondie’s Plate: Share elegant small plates of local salmon, oysters and clams.
Alder Wood Bistro: Dine in the courtyard or indoors on wood-fired pizzas, fish and chips and local produce.
Dungeness Bay Cottages: Six units with full kitchens include views of Dungeness Bay in one direction and mountains in the other.
Sunset Marine Resort: Eight cabins with kick-back balconies overlook. Sequim Bay.
George Washington Inn: This B&B, a replica of Mont Vernon, features views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.


Big Bend National Park

The Lone Star State’s Revered National Park Is a World Unto Its Own

Terlingua is one of Texas’ most famous ghost towns — or perhaps I should say it used to be.

The southwest town perched on a hillside a few miles west of Big Bend National Park is home to crumbling adobe homes that once housed workers who mined cinnabar ore for mercury. More than 2,500 called Terlingua home in 1918, in its heyday, but the mines petered out in the 1940s, and residents dwindled to 25 by 1970.

Today, the eccentric town (population 58 at last count) boasts Saturday farmers markets, a coffee shop, rustic art galleries, craft shops and boutique lodging options. But the community’s beating heart, as I learned one balmy February afternoon, is the Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon when, during happy hour, everybody who’s anybody gets together to, well, party. I’m talking banjos, fiddles, singing, clapping, hootin’, hollerin’, foot stompin’ good fun.

The tourists far outnumber the locals, as this is probably the only watering hole in a hundred miles where you’ll find a good selection of craft beers and gourmet fare like pork medallions in a chipotle reduction or tequila-marinated quail.

The Starlight was a welcome bookend to a three-day venture my dad, brother and I took down the Rio Grande in a sparsely populated expanse of the state, 300 miles from the nearest urban center and where coyotes and antelope vastly outnumber humans.

There are a handful of popular float trips on the river, which cuts a serpentine line through the desert canyons along the Mexican border. Based on your preference and experience, choose from a couple of lazy hours of inner-tubing, a week of wilderness canoeing or Class IV whitewater rafting (advanced skill level).

Numerous outfitters are clustered along Lone Star Ranch Road between Terlingua and the park entrance, where you can either book a guided trip (it’s a good idea to schedule at least two months in advance) or, for those comfortable boating and camping in the wilderness, rent a canoe or kayak and any camping gear that you don’t want to lug from your comer of the world. Jeep tours, horseback riding, guided hikes and mountain biking excursions are also avail­able.

(For those whose idea of the great outdoors is a putting green, the upscale Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa is just a half hour outside Big Bend National Park.)

big bend national park-1

Big Bend National Park

If you just want to take a driving tour through the jagged peaks and canyon- lands of the park, stop off for a few scenic vistas and a short hike to explore the mins of early 20th century outposts and otherworldly desert flora that character­ize the region. For a map and some rangerly advice, start at one of the three visitor centers within the park; this is also where you can pick up camping, fishing and boating permits, which in most cases you must do in person.

The privately run Chisos Mountains Lodge, located in the park’s high-elevation interior where summer temperatures are a bit more manageable (highs in the 80s, on aver­age), is the only lodging within Big Bend. Weather-wise, spring and fall are the best times to visit, though winter temperatures in the lowlands are quite amiable, with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s.

Our group opted to canoe the postcard- perfect Santa Elena Canyon, where cliffs plunge 1,500 feet into churning blue-green water. This stretch is known for serious whitewater when water levels are high, but much of the time it’s a leisurely float, with one Class III rapid (intermediate skill level) that we chose to skirt in the calm water close to shore.

mariscal canyon canoeing

Mariscal Canyon canoeing

The river, despite its location in extremely rugged and remote terrain, can get crowded with boaters during spring break season, though in late February we didn’t see a soul in three days.

As a friend said before I left for Texas, “Marfa is the only place 1 know of where you might see a cowboy riding the street on horseback one minute, and spot Johnny Depp seated in a cafe the next.”
after mile of purple lupine in full bloom and the undulating turns of the canyon, sculpted into breathtaking art by the passage of time.

The rugged Ernst Tinaja campsite

The rugged Ernst Tinaja campsite

If you’re coming to Big Bend from El Paso, it’s a five-hour drive down some very lonely, tumbleweed-strewn highways (six hours from San Antonio), but there are a few cultural oases along the way, including a small Prada store with high heels and luxury handbags on Highway 90 in what appears to be the middle of nowhere. In reality, this is not a functioning store, but an art installation, and a sign that you are nearing the town of Marfa — a global arts outpost made famous by the late minimalist Donald Judd and now frequented by Hollywood types and throngs of tourists.

Marfa is roughly midway between Big Bend and El Paso, so it’s a natural place to break up the trek. Consider a room at the ultra-chic Hotel Saint George if you feel like rubbing elbows with the artsy crowd; the El Paisano Hotel is the spot if you’re in the mood for Old West flavor. Beyonce opted for rustic on her trip to Marfa, holing up in one of the Airstream trailers at the El Cosmico campground on the edge of town, where one can also rent a Mongolian yurt or Sioux-style tepee.

Whether you spot any celebrities or not, southwest Texas has an uncanny knack for making you feel as though you are traveling from one movie set to another.

 


utah red rock

Utah’s Majestic Scenery Will Make You Say WOW!

Most travelers visiting Utah’s remote and beautiful red-rock country consider a tent and a sleeping bag a suitable place to spend the night. Sure, camping has its time and place – but it’s not for everyone. That’s why we dig these surprisingly cushy accommodations that still provide easy access to the glories of nature.

Offbeat Retro

RV Resort - Utah

RV Resort – Utah

At the Shooting Star RV Resort, you can stay in a fully decked-out Airstream (think 1950’s Hollywood glam) nestled near the Escalante Mountains and along Utah State Route 12, also known as Scenic Byway 12. Cook s’mores around a community fire pit or catch a flick at the onsite drive-in theater with 1960s convertibles serving as the seats.

During the day, scramble down Spooky Gulch in the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, one of the narrowest slot canyons known — only 18 inches wide in spots — and snap pics of its twisted, sandstone walls.

Bluffside Cottages

There are only two rooms at Kiva Kottage, but they’re in a building perched on the slope of a high-desert hill dotted with scrub junipers. In the morning, the smell of espresso and chicken chilaquiles from the nearby Kiva Koffeehouse is incentive to leave your canyon digs.

Calf Creek Falls

Calf Creek Falls

Luckily, the trailhead to Calf Creek Falls, also part of the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, is only a 10-minute car ride away. The four-hour hike along the creek and across boulders has a huge payoff: a 126-foot-high waterfall. Want to know a hiker’s secret? The 6.2-mile lower trail is easier than the upper 2-mile trail.

Desert Oasis

Desert Rose Inn & Cabins

Desert Rose Inn & Cabins

The rustic luxe suites of the Desert Rose Inn are a surprise find in the two- pony town of Bluff. Ask to stay in the new, chichi courtyard wing and enjoy a private patio that looks out at a soaring red-rock mesa. The indoor pool is built around the same stunning view. After a long day of outdoorsy pursuits, the Anasazi burger at Duke’s hits the spot.

A great way to see the surrounding canyon country is from the seat of a RZR — a dune buggy-like off-roading vehicle. On a guided tour from Four Comers Adventures, you’ll stop and explore ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings.

Fancy Cabins

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Red cliffs are just outside the door of your 400-square-foot cabin at Capitol Reef Resort. Minutes from Capitol Reef National Park, the cabins offer more than rustic convenience — they have vaulted ceilings, sky-high windows with spectacular views and pillow-top mattresses. Touches like faux-fur blankets and antler chandeliers make the place feel Wild-West modern.

During daylight hours, set out on a 2-mile hike to Hickman Natural Bridge — an impressive natural arch that’s part of the 244,000-acre Capitol Reef National Park. The bridge is closed to climbers but makes for excellent photos. Scope out roadside petroglyphs left more than 2,000 years ago by the Fremont tribe near what is now the park’s visitor center. When night falls, look up: Capitol Reef is known for its super-dark, starry skies.

Just Like Home

Goulding’s Lodge

Goulding’s Lodge

It’s simplest to cook your own food in remote Monument Valley, and the new suites at Goulding’s Lodge have kitchens stocked with cookery. The homey digs, where Hollywood film crews have stayed since the 1930s, are perfect for a family of four, and there’s a grocer nearby. The real payoff is sipping coffee on the front porch while soaking in the iconic rock silhouettes on the horizon.

The best way to see Monument Valley, part of the Navajo Nation reservation, is on horseback with a local guide. Seen in countless cowboy movies (not to mention Transformers: Age of Extinction and some Doctor Who episodes), this land of gorgeous red-rock formations and deep- blue sky wows everyone. Want to take that beauty home? Local shops have amazing Navajo jewelry.