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Three Sides of Chicago
America’s third-largest city is really a cluster of small towns—dozens of neighborhoods, each with its own vibe and history: Eastern European, Asian, Latino, hipster. This is the real Chicago, and it’s easy to master—just take the transit authority’s L and Metra systems. Base yourself downtown, where the train lines converge (and the good hotels are), and use the L to explore. Stay at the newly refurbished Chicago Athletic Association ($289 a night), a 250-foot Gothic tower that once housed the city’s most exclusive gentleman’s club, or The Freehand ($159 a night), which has one of the city’s hottest bars, the Broken Shaker, and the best coffee in town, at Café Integral.
The Red Line to Uptown
In the early 20th century, Uptown was Chicago’s most fashionable enclave, home to jewelers, furriers, and swinging ballrooms. It’s in the midst of a renaissance now, a product of its classic architecture and proximity to Lake Michigan. Start in Uptown’s Little Saigon, along Argyle Street. Line up for the pho at Tank Noodle; or call ahead to Sun Wah BBQ to order its famous Peking duck, which is carved tableside. Next, walk down Broadway to Bar on Buena and navigate through 100-plus beers from around the world and a deep list of whiskeys. Check ahead for rock shows at the historic Aragon Ballroom or Riviera Theatre. Then late night, relive the days when mobsters, screen stars, and big bands mingled at the Green Mill, the jazz club that Al Capone once called home.<!-- -->
The Green Line to Fulton Market
Many people have heard of the thriving West Loop restaurant and nightlife scene. But for locals, the real excitement has moved north to the Fulton Market District, where meatpacking trucks, street art, and ethnic eats come together. The craft-beer behemoth Goose Island Beer Co. recently opened a taproom that offers pints off a rotating list as well as tours of the facility. (Tours often sell out, so book in advance.) South America meets the Midwest at La Sirena Clandestina, whose chef, John Manion, serves up flaky empanadas, superfresh ceviches, and other Brazilian specialties. End the day at The Aviary, a swank lounge whose mad scientist bartenders take cocktails to the outer limits.
The Blue Line to Logan Square
Scandinavians, Germans, Jews, and Poles have called Logan Square home over the years, as many Latinos, artists, and hipsters do today. Grab brunch at Longman & Eagle, a Michelin-starred, no-reservations spot (try the wild boar sloppy joe). Rent a ride-share Divvy bike from the docking station at Kedzie and Milwaukee avenues, and pedal down to The 606—a 2.7-mile paved trail through Bucktown and Humboldt Park—to catch great cityscapes as well as peeks into private homes and yards. Head back to Logan Square for dinner at Fat Rice, where chef Abraham Conlon cooks Macau-inspired fare—think Portuguese country sausage and braised sweet-and-sour pork belly. Afterward, it’s off to Rosa’s Lounge for live blues in a nontouristy setting, or East Room, a hipster hang with $3 whiskey shots and a soundtrack of old-school hip-hop and indie rock.
Before you book a flight to O’Hare, see if you can fly to Midway Airport instead. It’s closer to downtown and quicker and easier to navigate.
Scaling Rock Walls in Phoenix's Backyard
Phoenix may be known for bland suburban sprawl, but with 3 million acres of rugged wilderness in its backyard, it’s an ideal hub for climbers, with hundreds of different routes and trails. A local outfitter like Just Roughin’ It or the Climbing School can set you up with gear, guides, and lessons.
Day 1: Start at Camelback Mountain, a slab of rock right in the city’s center. Hike to the summit, do some fun bouldering around the base, or tackle a climb up the face.
Day 2: In the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, 30 miles east of the city, hikers can wander through ancient stands of saguaro cactus, which soar to heights of 60 feet, while the more vertically inclined can tackle Tom’s Thumb. “It’s a gorgeous granite tower with some of the best climbing in Phoenix,” says Just Roughin’ It’s Ray Hendricks.
Day 3: Venture into Tonto National Forest. You’ll find local climbers scaling the volcanic towers at Queen Creek Canyon. Hikers, meanwhile, can ascend from the desert floor to pine forests and mountain lakes.
And here’s the best part: Phoenix is full of five-star golf resorts like the Arizona Biltmore, where you can get seriously pampered for as little as $110 a night.
Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport gets direct flights from 80 U.S. cities.
Off-Road in North Carolina
About 30 miles south of Asheville, North Carolina, the Pisgah National Forest is an East Coast mountain-biking wonderland—300 miles of rugged trails to suit any kind of rider: steep singletrack, challenging drops and log jumps, high-speed hairpin turns, and gentle forest roads that wind past waterfalls. “It’s pretty breathtaking what we have here,” says Wes Dickson, a former racer who now runs Sycamore Cycles.
The closest town is Brevard, about five miles from the 500,000-acre forest. Oskar Blues REEB Ranch offers rooms (from $250 a night), or visit The Bike Farm, where you can glamp out in a tent with a comfy bed ($100 a night). Both places cater to cyclists, with rentals and miles of trails right off the property. Sycamore Cycles and The Hub sit outside the park’s entrance and can provide maps, local intel, rentals, and guided rides. Dickson often suggests a 12-and-half-mile route called Clawhammer—2,000 feet of climbing before a screaming four-mile descent where riders hit speeds of 35 miles per hour. After the ride, Oskar Blues brewery in Brevard has an impressive selection of local brews. Asheville is just 35 minutes away. (If you don’t want to drive—and why would you?—Uber operates in the area.) Get tapas at Cúrate. Or take advantage of Asheville’s craft-beer boom and grab a burger and sour ale at Wicked Weed, one of the town’s 22 breweries. —Darren Dahl
Fly into Asheville Regional Airport (direct flights from Chicago, New York, and Atlanta). Or fly to Greenville-Spartanburg or Charlotte and drive one to two scenic hours to Brevard.
By now, you’ve heard about the thriving food-and-nightlife scene in this once-sleepy colonial city. What you may not know is that Cartagena—less than three hours from Miami—can be fully enjoyed in as few as four days. Base yourself in the old city, at the palatial Casa San Agustín (from $266 a night) or the funky Delirio (from $111 a night) and do what the locals do: Take a long lunch of ceviche and grilled octopus at a small restaurant like El Boliche Cebichería. Then watch the sunset with a limonada de coco on the old city walls at Café del Mar.
In the evening, Cartagena’s Getsemaní neighborhood is full of packed cafes, small galleries, and nightclubs blasting raucous Afro-Colombian house music. For a beach day, take a 45-minute boat ride to Playa Blanca on Isla Barú, lined with small huts stocked with cold beer and grilled fish. If you get too chilled out, no problem: You can stay the night at Hotel Playa Scondida Baru ($225 a night).
Houseboat in the Keys
The surest way to enjoy the clear turquoise waters around the Florida Keys is to rent the maritime equivalent of a mobile home. A houseboat provides a floating bed, shower, and kitchen that can be anchored off a deserted island. And piloting one is not as difficult as many people think. “The waters here are very clear and calm,” says John Martinez, owner of KeySea Houseboats in Key Largo. “You can always see land, so you will never get lost.” It’s pretty empty around here, so make sure your galley is well stocked before setting out. And don’t rent a stationary houseboat, which never leaves the docks—because where’s the fun in that?
There are two houseboat outfitters in the Keys. A 35-footer from KeySea Houseboats—which includes snorkeling and fishing gear and a kayak—costs $1,125 for three nights. Use the boat as a base to explore the protected northern side of the Keys, and to kayak through canopied mangrove forests, with cormorants and herons above and rays and sharks below. Farther south, Florida Bay Adventures has four houseboats; a three-night rental ranges from $1,350 to $1,850. At night, anchor off a tiny island, like Cotton Key, where roosting frigate birds may be the only creatures interrupting your solitude.
From Miami, head 65 miles south to Key Largo for KeySea Houseboats; continue another 16 miles to Islamorada for Florida Bay Adventures.
Hike the Washington Cascades
A two-hour drive east of Seattle (or a scenic three-and-a-half-hour trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder) gets you to one of America’s strangest mountain towns: Leavenworth, Washington. In the 1960s, city fathers refashioned their former logging town into a Bavarian village, complete with alpine chalets and polka bands. Somehow, it works, in no small part due to its Alps-like setting on the Wenatchee River.
Check in to the Bavarian Lodge (from $150 a night) and head to one of the town’s many outfitters for kayaks, climbing gear, fishing poles, and whatever else you need. Local trails are well marked, so mountain biking and hiking are largely DIY. A local favorite: the eight-mile day hike to Colchuck Lake. “It’s insanely beautiful,” says John Race of Northwest Mountain School. “Once you get to the lake and pick your jaw up off the ground, you’ll never want to leave.”
Catalina Under Sail
On the trip from Los Angeles to Catalina Island, the only traffic you’re likely to see is a pod of dolphins, sometimes more than a hundred strong, romping in the boat’s wake. Marine life avoids motorized boats, which is one more reason to forgo the ferry and charter a sailboat for a long, custom-tailored weekend on the water. The captain steers, but passengers control the itinerary, the menu, and the playlist blasting from the speakers on deck.
Fall is the best time to make the five-hour voyage, because of the season’s reliable winds and fewer boats on the water. “October through mid-November has some of the most spectacular sailing you can have in Southern California,” says Tom Collins, base manager at Newport Beach Sailing Charters (three-day charters from $2,550). The first stop, generally, is Avalon, the island’s only “city.” A dinghy delivers you to the dock, from which a short walk along the promenade leads to the Avalon Grille for a rib eye, followed by karaoke amid the kitschy-cool decor of El Galleon. As for sleeping arrangements, the two-cabin craft has space for two couples plus the captain.<!-- -->
The next day, anchor at White’s Landing, a secluded cove where you can snorkel through a kelp forest; afterward, fire up an on-deck barbecue. If you can spare an extra day, explore the island’s remote west side, says Chas Howell, who captains for Bluewater Sailing in Marina Del Rey (three-day charters from $3,800). “If you want to go ashore by yourself and do your own thing,” he says, “I’m more than willing to become invisible, let you have a good time, then meet up later with the boat.”
For Bluewater Sailing, fly to LAX. For Newport Beach Sailing Charters, use Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.
Easy in the Ozarks
Most people know Fayetteville as the home of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. But often forgotten amid the cries of “Woooooooo, pig, sooie!” is the town’s perch on the edge of the Ozarks. “It’s a bit of a secret,” says Chally Sims, manager of Pack Rat Outdoor Center, a local outfitter. Just outside town, there’s kayaking on the Buffalo River, hiking through the Ozark National Forest, trout fishing on the Illinois River, and cycling on an extensive network of trails that connects many of the towns in Northwest Arkansas.<!-- -->
Then, when you’ve had enough of the outdoors, drive a half-hour up Highway 49 to Bentonville and Crystal Bridges, the Walton family’s $1 billion art museum whose permanent collection includes works by Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keefe, and an actual Frank Lloyd Wright house, painstakingly moved piece-by-piece from New Jersey. Back in town, stay at the Dickson Street Inn, a 10-room bed-and-breakfast in an old Victorian on Fayetteville’s main drag. Try the cucumber jalapeño martini at Theo’s or grab a burger and beer at Hugo’s. Chances are the game is on; if it is, be sure to root for the Razorbacks.
Fly nonstop to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport from Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis, and 10 more domestic airports.
River-Riding in West Virginia
By fall, most rafting outfitters have closed up shop. Not so in West Virginia’s Appalachia, where the season extends into early November. In fact, it’s one of the few places with actual whitewater this time of year, when dam releases in October (2–5, 9–12, and 17–18) turn the Gauley River into a liquid roller coaster. Or opt for a peaceful float on the New River, with the autumn leaves of the maples, oaks, and hickories blazing around you.
Fly into Yeager Airport, 40 miles away in Charleston, West Virginia (nonstop flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia), and stay at ACE Adventure Resort in Minden ($39 per night for a basic tent cabin; $329 for the two-bedroom Dogwood Cabin, which has a hot tub on its deck). A single day of rafting runs $119 to $219. There are plenty of off-river activities as well, including climbing, mountain biking, and zip-line tours. For a special thrill, be on the water on October 17, Bridge Day, when hundreds of BASE jumpers leap from the 876-foot New River Gorge Bridge.
The West's Greatest Hits. In Just Four Days.
No American landscape is as iconic as the red-rock canyons, cliffs, and mesas of the Southwest. You could spend a lifetime exploring the region’s eight national parks. But you could also tick off the highlights on a four-day road trip that starts and ends in that other American icon, Las Vegas. “This is a breakneck tour of the Southwest,” says Will James, owner of Dreamland Safari Tours. “But if you’ve got only a few days, you can make it work.”
Zion National Park
Zion’s soaring sandstone formations can reduce you to tears, even if you never get out of the car. But you should, and the place to do it is Yankee Doodle Canyon, a mile-long, shoulder-width slot canyon just outside the park’s border. It requires a 90-foot rappel, but Caleb Padgett, co-owner of Zion Mountain School, swears the half-day adventure is as easy as it gets. “The 12-year-olds do as well as their parents,” he says. Stay east of the park, in Kanab, a Mormon outpost on the Colorado Plateau that served as the setting for old westerns, including Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger.
The Wire Pass lies an hour east of Kanab, in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The walkable slot canyon has impossibly shaped walls and Anasazi rock at two miles in; it’s so narrow that even in the blanched white of high noon you’ll be enveloped in cool shadows. Afterward, drive 40 miles southeast, over the Glen Canyon Dam, and crash in any of the cheap and plentiful chain motels in Page, Arizona.<!-- -->
“The more the water level drops, the more Glen Canyon returns to pre-dam conditions,” says Clint Spahn, co-owner of Hidden Canyon Kayak. In other words, the West’s ongoing drought is actually good news for kayaking on Lake Powell, where the long-flooded cliffs and side canyons are now visible for the first time in a generation. Hidden Canyon’s full-day tour motors you on a pontoon boat loaded with kayaks six miles upriver to Labyrinth Canyon, one of the most dramatic rock amphitheaters left drowned behind the dam. From there you’ll explore the lake from the peace and quiet of your own kayak.
The Grand Canyon
The canyon’s South Rim, about two hours from Lake Powell, is a veritable zoo, so stop well before you reach the national park village at Desert View, just inside the eastern park boundary. In the 30 miles of empty road between Desert View and the village are 15 lookouts and picnic areas—some marked, some not—that offer views as stunning as South Rim’s. “Park, walk 10 yards, and drop your jaw in private,” says James. From there, it’s an eight-hour haul back to Vegas. Fortunately it’s a spectacular drive that takes you through Flagstaff, Arizona, a new foodie mecca; across the eastern edges of the Mojave Desert; and past the engineering marvel that is Hoover Dam.
Salt Lake City
For skiers, SLC is a required stop en route to Alta, Snowbird, or Park City. But the city is well worth a few days in its own right. It’s full of innovative restaurants, trendy hotels, and lively bars (yes, bars—the city relaxed its liquor laws in 2009), without the high prices or the hassles. Stay downtown at Hotel Monaco (from $159 a night), an upscale boutique in a former bank building. After a breakfast burrito at the Oasis Cafe, play a round of Frisbee golf at one of the city’s world-class courses, such as Creekside Park, or rent a mountain bike; local trails are an easy 15-minute ride away. For dinner, hit the Red Iguana for margaritas and mole or enjoy fresh seafood at Current Fish & Oyster. There’s almost always a touring band playing at the Urban Lounge or Kilby Court. Or embrace the Mormon vibe and visit the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which offers free organ recitals Monday through Saturday at noon and 2 pm.
Living the Baja Dream
Beach, beer, tacos—the lure of Baja has always been simple. These days, the best place to experience it is in the sleepy farming-and-fishing town of El Pescadero. Set below the green mountain peaks of the Sierra de la Laguna, where organic basil and chili farms line a palm-shaded beach, it’s an easy, hour-long drive from the chaos of Cabo San Lucas. There are a handful of modest hotels and surf camps, a few restaurants and cafes, and not much more. “It still really feels like authentic Mexico, where folks are laid-back almost to a fault,” says Don Morris, a former contractor and fisherman who has lived here for 22 years.
The uber-tasteful Rancho Pescadero (from $250 a night) is a secluded inn where the breezy rooms have ocean views, nearby gardens supply the restaurants, and the pool sits so close to the beach you can pass entire days without putting on shoes. The spiritual center of town is Baja Beans Roasting Company, a cafe that offers single-origin Mexican coffees, first-rate berry scones, and a Sunday farmers market. The best beach for swimming is 10 minutes south in Playa los Cerritos, a many-miles-long sweep of soft white sand with gentle breakers for easy bodysurfing.
The mountains are just as alluring. Rent a bike at Tres Santos’ The Hub in nearby Todos Santos ($30 a day), grab a trail map, and ride the eight-mile loop of groomed singletrack that crosses boulder-lined rivers. Come dinnertime, the upscale cafe at Rancho Pescadero offers local farm-to-table fare. Or grab some simple but tasty tacos at Carnitas y Gorditas. And if you’re itching for adventure, show up on the beach at Punta Lobos, five miles north of El Pescadero, before dawn. For a couple hundred bucks, the local fishermen will gladly take you out all day to chase game fish such as marlin and tuna. “Just don’t be surprised when you speed back to shore like the goddamn Navy SEALs,” says Morris, “right through the waves up onto the beach.”
Fly nonstop to Los Cabos International Airport from 10 U.S. cities. (It’s about 4.5 hours from Chicago.) El Pescadero is an hour’s drive away.
Doing It All in Telluride
It’s not a breeze to get to—the airport currently takes no commercial traffic in—but once you arrive in Telluride, its outdoor adventures are shockingly easy to pursue. One moment you’re polishing off a breakfast burrito at the Butcher & Baker Cafe; the next you’re dropping an SUP into the San Miguel River, biking epic singletrack or hiking a trail with more scenic waterfalls than a rack of postcards.
A long-weekender will be eager to get into the mountains, but at 10,000 feet it’s best to take it slow. (Your first night in Telluride is not the night to go big.) Devote day one to the Via Ferrata (Italian for “iron road”), a ridgeline rock face where you scramble along high narrow paths while clipped into a system of cables, aided by iron rungs sunk into the cliffs. “A high-stakes walk,” is how guide Andrew Temple describes it, and while it is thrilling, it isn’t strenuous or terribly time-consuming. You can be back in town in time for lunch, and a Bloody Mary, at the New Sheridan Hotel, right on the main drag.
This leaves the afternoon free for a gentle hike—the Jud Wiebe or Bear Creek Trail, which wind through ferns and stands of aspens above town. Or ride the gondola to Mountain Village, just over the peak, where slope-side restaurants and lodges like the Madeline Hotel are mixed among gear outfitters like BootDoctors, which will rent you a full-suspension bike to bomb down the mining roads and ski trails all around town, most of which will deposit you back on the valley floor, headed to town for the next adventure. Or you could just ease into the evening at the Telluride Brewery. You’re well acclimated by now. Telluride would want you to go big.
Montrose Regional Airport is an hour’s ride from town, with enough evening flights from Denver to make travel less than a whole-day affair. Or fly into Durango, 2.5 scenic hours away.
El Yunque, Puerto Rico
In about the time you’d spend watching a long baseball game, you could fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a direct flight from Chicago, Newark, Atlanta, or Dallas; rent a car; and drive 20 miles east to El Yunque National Forest. Here is the rain forest next-door: a dense jungle with giant tree ferns, parrots, and boa constrictors.<!-- -->
There are no lodgings in the park, but camping is allowed with a permit. Or stay at the Rainforest Inn, where a two-bedroom villa runs $170 a night. The property has private trails in the forest and guides to lead you to remote waterfalls and swimming holes. After a couple of days exploring the jungle, drive 15 minutes to Luquillo Beach and surf in the warm Caribbean waters.
Go Euro in Quebec City
Think of a weekend jaunt to Quebec City as a Euro-trip—with killer food, culture, and easy-to-access nature—minus the jet lag or the sticker shock.
Leave your car with the valets at the Wes Anderson–worthy Fairmont le Château Frontenac, a grand late-19th-century-railroad hotel that’s fresh off a $75 million renovation (from approximately $209 a night). Le Château sits high on the city’s promontory, and the best rooms offer epic views of the Saint Lawrence River. Tourists swarm its base, in the middle of Old Town, the only walled city that remains in the Americas north of Mexico. Take in the district’s churches and cobblestoned backstreets in an afternoon, then cap off your tour with a low-high locavore take on the Québécois classic, poutine (french fries, gravy, and cheese curds) at Le Chic Shack.
Many visitors barely make it past the city walls, but the best stuff lies beyond. Walk 20 minutes toward the neighborhood of Saint-Roch and Old Town’s tourists disappear, replaced by bistros, breweries, and galleries. The tiny kitchen staff at L’Affaire Est Ketchup on Rue Saint-Joseph turns out adventurous fare made from fowl, venison, and vegetables sourced from nearby forests and farms. Wander down the street to see what’s going on at Le Cercle, a popular bar-restaurant-music venue, or grab a local pint at Macfly, a retro bar-arcade.<!-- -->
The next morning, explore where all this amazing local food comes from: Drive 15 minutes from Old Town across the Pont de l’Île to Île d’Orléans, a bucolic island almost three times the size of Manhattan in the Saint Lawrence River. Once called Quebec’s breadbasket, the island is filled with farms, cideries, creameries, and breweries, which flank its single route, the Chemin Royal, a 42-mile loop road. Stop at the Microbrasserie de l’Île d’Orléans and down an amber ale tinged with local maple syrup.
And bring your hiking boots, because just a half-hour outside the city is Jacques-Cartier National Park, a stunning glacial valley, home to foxes, moose, and bears. In warmer months you can kayak or canoe its watershed; in colder ones you can hike or snowshoe along more than 60 miles of trails, surveying the nearly untouched valley as Cartier, a French explorer, did more than 500 years ago. Except afterward you can hop in your car and make your dinner reservations back in Saint-Roch.
Daily nonstop flights from five U.S. cities, including New York (1.5 hours), Chicago (two hours, 20 minutes), and Philadelphia (one hour, 45 minutes).
Iceland seems remote, but from the East Coast, it’s a five-and-a-half-hour flight—less time than it takes to get to L.A. Spend a day partying in Reykjavík, then get out of town into a seriously otherworldly mindset.
Day 1: Most flights to Reykjavík from the U.S. are red-eyes, so you’ll be landing as the city awakens. Pick up a rental car, drop your bags at the sleek Kvosin Downtown Hotel (from $275 a night) or at Kex, a hotel-hostel in a former biscuit factory with a great gastropub (from $124 a night). Devote a day to exploring the city’s thermal pools and waterfront. At night, keep the name Gunnar Karl Gíslason in mind. Iceland’s greatest chef has created a mini-empire downtown, starting with Dill, which serves elegant multicourse tasting menus based on the island’s native ingredients, such as wind-dried catfish and whipped lamb fat. For lighter fare, an anonymous pizza-and-cocktail spot is one floor up, and a branch of cult Copenhagen beer bar Mikkeller & Friends is on the top floor.
Day 2: After a long night out, head an hour east to Nesjavellir and unwind at the Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel, a spaceship-looking structure in a remote lava field (from $275 a night). Sip a scotch at the bar, which stands on stilts over the rocky terrain. The place was designed specifically to showcase the northern lights; check out the show through the bar’s oversize glass windows—or while soaking in the natural hot tub just outside.
Day 3: Head about 80 miles north to the chambers of the world’s largest man-made ice cave, carved more than 2,500 feet into Langjökull glacier; an eight-wheel-drive vehicle (a former NATO cruise missile launcher) ferries you to the ice cap. Your mind blown, retreat back to Reykjavík, a two-hour drive south.
Day 4: Before your afternoon flight home, tour the Reykjanes peninsula, stopping at Valahnúkur to peek over the jagged ocean cliffs. Make a final stop at an unlikely attraction: the Icelandic Museum of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and learn why this tiny island has produced so many innovative artists, like Björk and Sigur Rós. It’s on the way to the airport, and well worth an hour of your time.
Direct flights to Reykjavík depart from 10 U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C. (5.5 hours), and Portland, Oregon (7.5 hours). The airport is a 45-minute drive from downtown Reykjavík.
Rough and Luxe in the Dominican Republic
Plenty of sun-seeking Americans drop down to the D.R. for a few days of luxurious oceanfront inertia. We get it. We really do. And when you’re sprawled out on a terry-cloth-covered daybed by the infinity pool overlooking a bay of screaming kiteboards at a chicly indulgent place like the new Gansevoort in Puerto Plata (from $625 a night), it seems wise simply to sit still until the short drive back to the airport.
That would be a mistake on a number of levels. First, as windsurfers discovered 30 years ago, the breezes off nearby Cabarete are among the Caribbean’s most reliable, making it ideal for any wind or water pursuit. And then there are the subtropical mountains in the island’s north that are carved with 27 waterfalls, exotic natural pools, and miles of mountain biking trails. One of the area’s oldest outfitters, Iguana Mama, will spring you from your resort and take you canyoning—stomping through the rivers, rappelling down waterfalls, and jumping 60 feet into turquoise pools. And fear not: You’ll be back on your chaise longue by sunset.
Cabarete is just 12 miles from Gregorio Luperon International Airport in Puerto Plata. From Santiago’s Cibao International, it’s a 90-minute drive.
Florida's Quiet Corner
Looking for Florida wildlife—and not the kind you’d find in the bottle-service clubs of South Beach? Fly to Fort Myers and drive a half-hour over the causeway to Sanibel Island, a 12-mile-long barrier island (population: 7,000). Two-thirds of the island—more than 5,000 acres—are dedicated to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, home to the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the U.S. Rent a kayak at Tarpon Bay Explorers ($25 for two hours) and set out for Commodore Creek Trail; look out for manatees, dolphins, and nearly 250 species of birds. Get your paddling done early to beat the heat, then hit the beach, a world-renowned receptacle for shells imported via the gulf current from the Caribbean. On the island’s other third, stay at Casa Ybel, a lush, low-key, 114-suite gulf-front resort (from $299 a night). And bring a book, because Sanibel is seriously chill. If you’re doing it right, your ears should be ringing from the silence, not the pool-deck DJ.
Go Fast in Alabama
At 2.66 miles, Talledega Superspeedway is the longest and fastest NASCAR track in the U.S. Justifiably, it’s a kind of mecca for civilian speed freaks who want to get behind the wheel of a retired 500-horsepower race car and muscle through steep turns with 33-degree banking. Newbies won’t hit pro speeds of 210 miles per hour, but 180 is within reach—”the equivalent of a football field every second,” says Ronda Robertson of Racing Adventure, an outfitter that offers classes at the speedway (from $395 for a six-lap teaser to $3,295 for a 60-lap package, which can be done in a day).
The track is in Lincoln, Alabama, about 50 miles east of Birmingham, and lodging is limited to chain hotels. But 35 miles southeast is Cheaha State Park — at 2,400 feet, the highest spot in Alabama — which offers a great alternative: four rustic cabins with wood-burning fireplaces and panoramic views ($142 a night).
A Cultural Tour of Minneapolis
Don’t let the prairie locale and friendly attitude fool you—Minneapolis is a happening town where you can indulge in urban culture both high and low. The dive bars are legendary. Join the barflies at Tony Jaros’ River Garden Bar, or check out some loud and local rock & roll at the 80-year-old Hexagon. Clean up at W Minneapolis – The Foshay, a 1920s Art Deco gem (from $349); enjoy a quiet cocktail and 360-degree city views at Prohibition, a lounge on the 27th floor.<!-- -->
Dig in to Midwest-French cuisine at Spoon and Stable and walk the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail, which winds 1.8 miles past city landmarks along the Mississippi. Then satisfy your high-culture jones with the abstract paintings on view at the Walker Art Center, one of the country’s leading contemporary art museums.
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