Sunday, June 2, 2013

Visit Key West

As the city that wanted to secede from Florida, Key West has been able to maintain its unique personality. Key West, Florida is the Southernmost City in the Continental United States. The city is at the end of U.S. Highway 1 and A-1-A, which travels along the eastern coast of Florida. The city is about 150 miles south of Miami and less than 90 miles north of Havana, Cuba. Even though the driving distance between Miami and Key West is about 150 miles, the drive between the cities can take between four and five hours because of the two lane road that traverse the Florida Keys.

Key West is a unique city because it seems like it is at the end of the world. Once visitors get to the island, the only way off is by turning around and driving back, or finding a boat that will take you elsewhere. Over the years, many artists have made Key West their home because of the continually pleasant weather, the hospitable attitude, and the inspirational attitudes of the city.

Many popular writers and musicians have lived in Key West. One of the most famous residents was the writer Ernest Hemingway. His home on Whitehead Street has become a tourist attraction where visitors line up each day to catch a glimpse of the lifestyle that lead Hemingway to write masterpieces like A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls. His six-toed cats have become legends around the island and his favorite drinking spot, Sloppy Joe’s, is still one of the top attractions in the city. Visitors to the Hemingway House get to hear the story of Papa Hemingway complain about his then wife, Pauline, spending his last dime when she decided to install an extremely rare and expensive pool on the island made of rock-hard coral. To make fun of the story, Hemingway poured his ‘last penny’ into the concrete that surrounds the pool. Another special attraction in the home is the small Picasso sculpture that has inconspicuously sat on a little side table for hundreds of thousands of visitors to see.

Along the western side of Florida, sunsets are special occasions and the sunsets in Key West are no exception. Each night, hundreds of locals and residents find a spot in Mallory Square to watch the sunset. The locals often include street performers who dance on stilts, paint themselves gold, or make balloon animals for children. As the sunsets, everyone pauses to watch it set into the Gulf of Mexico and then everyone claps once the last ray sets into the Gulf.

Another popular celebrity resident of Key West is crooner, Jimmy Buffett. His popular song from the 1970’s, Margaritaville was inspired by the laidback lifestyle in Key West. Visitors and locals can enjoy the Key West vibe by visiting his restaurant and bar that he named after his song. Margaritaville is a place where guests can enjoy a big Cheeseburger in Paradise while listening to songs performed by local bands trying to make it big in the city.

Many of the visitors to Key West arrive on cruise ships. The cruise port brings in just under one million tourists each year as the town becomes more and more popular on the cruising scene.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Visit Arkansas

Arkansas might not be your first choice for places to visit when you are planning a vacation, but there are plenty of great outdoor activities to do in this southern state. Arkansas is home to mountain ranges, rivers, and hot springs. The state might still have the reputation of being “backwoods,” but the state has been home to many successful people and it continues to be a place full of culture and enterprise.

Hot Springs: America’s First Resort

One of the most beautiful parts of the state is the area near Hot Springs. This area is named for the hot springs that make this city unique. This part of Arkansas is home to Hot Springs Mountain which feeds the hot water springs. This area has been a popular with tourists because of the hot baths that were built over the springs, where tourists would rest in the healing water of the hot baths. The baths are now closed and have become a part of the Hot Springs National Park where the buildings along Bathhouse Row from the 1800s and early 1900s have been preserved for history.

If you are interested in more than history, the Hot Springs area is also home to beautiful lakes that provide opportunity for water sports and activities. Lakes Hamilton, Catherine, and Ouachita have plenty of room for boating, waterskiing, fishing, and swimming. There are many relaxing resorts with lush green golf courses, horseback riding, and more. Along the lakes there are also plenty of areas with hiking trails that allow you to get safely lost in the woods for the day.

Dig for Diamonds

One of the most unique features of Arkansas is that it contains one of the largest diamond mines in the world. Crater of Diamonds State Park is in the middle of an extinct volcanic crater. Visitors can literally dig for diamonds in the huge plowed field. What sets this park apart from other diamond excavation sites is that visitors get to keep whatever they find. You are not guaranteed to find any diamonds, but people do find them every day. There is a small fee to begin digging and the park does rent a full digging kit for a low price.

Visiting Little Rock

If you prefer spending time in the city, Little Rock is a nice city with plenty of things to do. Those who love shopping for antiques have plenty of great shops to visit. There are also plenty of historic sites to visit, especially since Little Rock had a prominent role in  the Civil War and in the Civil Rights movement. The city is home to the Clinton Presidential Center which holds the library, foundation, and school of public service. The Clinton Presidential Center has regular daily activities and many special events for visitors of all ages and political inclinations.

The state also has other areas that provide opportunities to explore. Fayetteville is home to two theaters that tourists and locals enjoy visiting: TheaterSquared and the Walton Arts Center. Blanchard Springs Caverns provides a unique place to visit underground caves and the nearby Blanchard Springs Recreational Area has several outdoor activities available for visitors, too.

Who knew Arkansas would be a top vacation destination?

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Most Beautiful Place in the United States: Northern Michigan

In 2011, Good Morning, America took a poll from their viewers. The television program wanted to know what part of the country their viewers thought was the most beautiful place in the United States. The place that won was Sleeping Bear Dunes on the western side of Northern Michigan. 

Along the shores of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes is an amazing gem filled with natural beauty. The area was shaped by glaciers thousands of years of ago and now the area is protected by the National Parks Department so that visitors and locals can enjoy this truly unique area. The National Park is in both Leelanau and Benzie Counties stretching over 35 miles along the eastern coast of the lake. The National Park includes the huge dunes on the Lower Peninsula as well as two islands, called North and South Manitou.

There are other features that make this national shoreline even more amazing. There are small towns that dot the area called the Leelanau Peninsula including Glen Arbor, Glen Haven, Empire, and Suttons Bay. These small towns are home to outstanding restaurants, wineries, and unique stories. Empire is home to the dunes and the national park that is home to one of the cleanest campgrounds in the country. Suttons Bay was once the summer home town to Ernest Hemingway and his family; many writers visit Suttons Bay for inspiration and writing festivals each summer. Glen Arbor and Glen Haven are quaint towns full of personality and hospitality.

The Leelanau Peninsula is on the western coast of the Grand Traverse Bay. Traverse City rests at the southern end of the bay. Traverse City is not the largest town in Michigan, but it is one of the largest towns in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. One of the claims to fame for Traverse City is the Cherry Festival in early July where nearly a half-million visitors and locals enjoy festivities centered around the tart cherry crop. Traverse City is also a popular destination for shoppers who stroll the downtown area that is full of locally owned shops and restaurants. There are plenty hotels, bed and breakfasts, and resorts for visitors.

The best way to get to the Sleeping Bear Dunes and Leelanau area is to drive. Anyone who drives into the area must find time to drive on one particular road. The must-drive highway is M-22, which is one of the most beautiful, scenic drives in the state. The two-lane road begins near Manistee and ends in Traverse City, but not before winding its way past beautiful views of lakes, near dunes and historical markers, and through small towns. The road is so popular with Michigan residents that many of them have M-22 stickers on their cars to show their love of this gorgeous drive.

The Traverse City, Leelanau, and Sleeping Bear Dunes area draws people who love to play outside in the sand and surf. There are several rivers that are populated with paddlers looking for a swift ride or a slow float. Hikers and bicyclists also have plenty of areas to travel. One of the most challenging hikes is up the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Bicyclists enjoy the ride along the Pierce-Stocking Scenic Drive, which is about seven and one-half miles.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

See Your Favorite Television Shows in Your Favorite Cities

With the growth of reality television, vacationers love to visit the settings of their favorite television shows. Many of the reality television shows take place in home or businesses that are easily accessible to the general public. In what seems like a pilgrimage, many tourists love to make plans to see the settings of the favorite shows. They also hope that they will be able to see the actors that they have come to recognize through their dedication to the show.

American Pickers

One enjoyable location to visit is either of the stores that belong to the American Pickers on the History Channel. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz have two stores with one in Nashville and the other in LeClaire, Iowa. These stores are easy to find, with the Nashville store being right off of I-40 near downtown. The Nashville store is home to many of the special finds that duo discovered while picking the small towns of America. If you are lucky, you might catch them or Danielle arranging the antiques.

Duck Dynasty

Another popular destination for reality television fans is in Louisiana. The Robertson Family of West Monroe have become one of the most famous red neck families in existence today as Duck Dynasty is one of the top reality shows on television today. Many of the scenes were shot at their Duck Commander headquarters in West Monroe, Louisiana. Because of this, many tourists make it a point to stop at the Duck Commander warehouse in hopes to meet at least one of the Robertsons.

Celebrity Chefs

Fortunately for foodies, most of the restaurants that are owned by celebrity chefs are easy to find for dining experiences. Many of the top chefs from television make their homes in Chicago, Illinois. You might have to wait in line to enjoy their food, but chefs like Rick Bayless, Fabio Viviani, and Graham Eliot. Other foodies travel to Las Vegas for restaurants from Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio, Emeril Lagasse, and Hubert Kelley.

Jersey Shore

Many other fans of reality television have made the Jersey Shore their vacation destination of choice. These tourists visit the shore to try to catch a glimpse of the celebrities like Snooki and JWow. Other tourists have come to towns to catch glimpses of the celebrity wives, whether they live in Los Angeles, Orange County, or Atlanta.

Reality TV and Cold Weather

Shows like Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch have sent tourists to some of the coldest places of the world. Believe it or not, tourists who do not mind vacationing in the cold travel to Alaska to check out the sights and sounds revolving around the fishing industry or to the Canadian tundra to experience the ice roads that have been so prominently displayed on television.

Storage Wars

In California and Texas, reality show fans and potential auction fans have been flocking to the storage facilities to try to see the stars from Storage Wars. Many bidders even try to outbid their favorite characters from the show. It can be challenging for fans to find exactly where the shoppers are trying to find goodies to fill their shops and eclectic personalities.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Famous Buildings: Architecture that Draws Attention

When you are looking for something fun to do while on vacation, visiting buildings with unique architectural details is a fun way to spend a few hours. It is inspirational to see what architects can design and what engineers can build. If you want to see a few of the most awe-inspiring buildings, these are a few of the best cities to visit:

Oak Park, Illinois: Most people think of the City of Chicago as one of the best places to see unique architecture. If you are planning on visiting Chicago, the suburb of Oak Park is a treat for the eyes. Architect-extraordinaire, Frank Lloyd Wright designed many homes in the area, including his own that included a large studio. The Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oak Park is home of the museum and it is the starting point for tours of the area. Many of the homes are privately owned and have been restored with precision. 

Seattle, Washington: It might be better known for bringing grunge and coffee to the forefront of pop culture,
but Seattle also has buildings that are worth visiting. A few notable stops include the Experience Music Project designed by famous architect Frank Gehry along with the Olympic Sculpture Park designed by Weiss Manfredi. If you prefer to see homes, there are several to view, including the Mount Baker House, Lake Union Floating House, and the Queen Anne Mid-Modern.

Las Vegas, Nevada: Checking out the hotels and resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard is one way to see the architecture in Las Vegas, but there are several other places to go to see unique buildings. In Las Vegas, the Golden Gate Casino is the oldest hotel in the city and worth visiting. The historic area between Clark and Garces, Second and Fourth is the home of the railroad cottages that were built around 1910. Another unique stop is the Hammagren House which is full of historical artifacts from the city in the desert.

Columbus, Indiana: This town that you have probably never heard of is one of the cities in the United States with the best architecture. Some experts have called Columbus a Mecca of architecture. There are pieces
designed by I.M. Pei, Eero Saarinen, and Gunnar Birkets. The town may be a bit out of the way, the architecture is worth the trip.

Buffalo, New York: New York City is known for its tall buildings and its smaller buildings, but there was a time when Buffalo was a rather wealthy city – especially during the Industrial Revolution. This meant that there were fine architects building memorable homes and buildings. Frank Lloyd Wright has a few pieces in the city, including Graycliff and the Martin House Complex. Saarinen also designed a few homes and buildings that have remained important pieces today.

Miami, Florida: The Art Deco period was alive and well in Miami. While these older buildings are beginning to show their age, they are still worth seeing in person. The city is also home to several Mid-Century Modern pieces that can be seen on Biscayne Boulevard in the MiMO district. The city is also home to many celebrity homes that are uniquely designed.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Great Bookstores in Great Cities

Some people go on vacation to the beach, some go to ski resorts. Some people same beers from cities all over the United States and some will go to taste the wine. If you love books and book stores, your ideal vacation might include visiting bookstores all over the country. Fortunately, there are phenomenal bookstores in big cities and little towns all over the country and each book store has its own personality. You will not be disappointed visiting some of the best bookstores in the United States.

The best bookstores in the United States do not include the big corporate book stores. While those large stores are great places to shop for books, they do not include the local flavor of the independently-owned, or “indie” book stores. These are a few of the “can’t miss” shops around the country:

Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon: This bookstore specializes in finding whatever book you need, whether it is out-of-print, rare, or autographed. There are six stores in the Portland area and the bookstore does a fair amount of business online, but it is the flagship store that is in an old car dealership that draws the most attention.

Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado: This tiny space has been the home of great books for sale for over forty years. The Tattered Cover has three locations in Metro Denver and an online home. The shop is unique because of its size, but the small 950-square-foot store is chock full of the best books on the market today. The store owners make wise choices when filling the shelves because there is no room for bad literature among the stars.

Schuler Books and Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan: This indie store is one big bookstore. Schuler’s can be found not just in Grand Rapids, but in East Lansing and a few other places in between. Their stores sell new and used books as well as online titles. Even though the bookseller is so busy managing the books and the plethora of stores, the owners are still able to offer great events to the communities that the stores serve. The shops are known in the area for also offering fun and unique gifts for children and adults. The Grand Rapids flagship store has an amazing collection of cookbooks as well as a tasty café that serves desserts, small sandwiches, and vegetarian fare.

The Faulkner House Books in New Orleans, LA: While there are plenty of other reasons to visit New Orleans, bibliophiles should stop by the Faulkner House Books while visiting. This store is located in Pirate’s Ally along the French Quarter. The home includes several artifacts from the prominent American author, including some first editions and signed pieces for the true book collector.

Politics and Prose in Washington, DC: Some of the smartest and busiest people in the country live in Washington, DC, so it is only appropriate that a top notch book store makes its home here. Politics and prose is in such a busy town, that the owners are able to host some of the best author events of any bookstore in the country. They have hosted controversial authors in order to keep literature relevant.

Best Pools in the United States

Whether you live in the perpetually warm southern states or you live in the four seasons of the northern state, you can appreciate a great pool all year long. There is no reason to take a dip in a plain old rectangular pool because there are so many pools that are just as wonderful to look at as they are for swimming. Here a few of the best pools in the United States:

The Joule in Dallas, Texas: The Joule Hotel in Dallas, Texas does not have the biggest pool in the state, but it certainly has the most memorable pool. This hotel that is designed with a mix of historic and modern design features a cantilevered pool that sticks out of the side of the building. You may not burn many calories swimming laps in this small pool; the pool is designed for style rather than function.

Sheraton in Waikiki, Hawaii: The Pacific Ocean is a great place to swim, but the salt water is not always a popular choice. When you need a great pool on Waikiki Beach, look no further than the Sheraton. It has an infinity pool that looks like it stops just before the water falls into the ocean.

Hilton Waikaloa Village in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii: This is another Mecca of pools in the Hawaiian Islands. This resort is so focused on water that guests are driven to their home for their vacation via boat. There are three pools, some with water slides and lazy rivers. Some of the pools have swim-up bars and some are stocked with tropical fish for those who want to snorkel in a controlled environment.

The Viceroy in Miami, Florida: The Atlantic Ocean beckons, but the pools at the Viceroy call more loudly. This resort with both a hotel and residences has Florida’s longest infinity pool that overlooks Biscayne Bay. It also has a pool on the 15th floor so visitors can check out the views of downtown Miami.

Las Vegas, Nevada: Even though this city is set in the middle of the desert, there are plenty of pools to help people cool off from the temperatures that typically climb over 100 degrees. Some of these memorable pools are designed for parties and some are designed for relaxation. The Hard Rock Café’s pool is known for parties that take up the full three acres of outdoor space. For more partying, the pools at the Palms are also legendary. If you want a more relaxing experience in Vegas, the memorable pools include the Mandarin Oriental Pools, which only require a quick reservation, and the Bellagio Cypress Lounge Pools. The Golden Nugget has a completely redesigned water complex with a shark-filled aquarium at the pool called The Tank that includes a water slide that goes through the shark tank; guests also enjoy the peace and quiet at the The Hideout.

Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona: The desert is a popular place for amazing pools. In the middle of Arizona, the Enchantment Resort has a simple, geometric pool with the inspirational views of the surround Red Rocks. You will not be disappointed with the sites from this resort pool.