It’s hard to believe, but the end of August is nigh and, with it, the de facto end of summer. For many folks summer has already effectively ended since kids in some parts of the country have gone back to school. The calendar says otherwise though, and it’s still a great time to plan one last summer getaway, even if it’s just a weekend away. To help plan that last minute trip, I’ve put together some of my favorite spots around the country to enjoy a few days of downtime and to revel in the spirit of summer one final time.
Even though I’m originally from Virginia and I live about 10 minutes from the state border, it’s not a place I often explore – until this year. Over the course of two different trips I became reacquainted with the Commonwealth and found myself falling back in love. There’s a lot, I mean a lot, to see and do all around the state from the beaches to the mountains and everything in between. On my first trip I traveled down to Virginia Beach where I found, yes, a great beach community but also a city that is about so much more than its shoreline. From art to amazing food, there’s a lot to see and do in Virginia’s largest city and I immediately wished I had spent more time exploring it. Richmond, the capital of Virginia, also makes for the perfect weekend getaway. Thanks to a lot of changes in recent years, the downtown is as vibrant and lively as ever and there’s a lot to love, from its restaurants and museums to waterside walking trails. For a more adventurous getaway, then Virginia’s Blue Ridge is for you. Using Roanoke as a home base, this is the state’s de facto outdoor adventure capital from biking and hiking to kayaking and tubing. There’s also a vibrant foodie scene, making it a delicious place to spend the weekend as well.
A few months ago I found myself back in Boston after an absence of more than a decade. Since it had been so long, I tackled the city as a first time tourist and I’m so glad that I did. What I discovered was a fun city but I especially loved experiencing it by walking the entirety of the Freedom Trail. Sixteen different locations dot the Freedom Trail, all of which are integral to the history of the United States. Organized in the 1950s, the Trail is a very easy to follow and manage pedestrian trail that not only shares the history of the country, but offers a look into modern Boston as well. My hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, Boston, couldn’t have been better situated to take advantage of the Freedom Trail. Located next to Boston Common, as soon as I walked out the front door I had already and unwittingly began my exploration of the Trail. If you take advantage of the many museums and other spots of interest along the way, tackling the entirety of the Freedom Trail should ideally take the full day, giving visitors the opportunity to not be hurried and to appreciate the stories at each stop.
If you’ve never been to Denver before, absolutely spend some time visiting the well-known spots in and around the city. It’s a gorgeous place that’s popular for a reason. But then, try to delver a little deeper and get to know its neighborhoods as well. Denver has seen incredible population growth in recent years, thanks to the famously sunny weather, great natural escapes and a whole host of other factors. This means that the city I visited just a few years ago looks nothing like the Denver of today. Entirely new neighborhoods have popped up out of nowhere, reclaiming areas of town long neglected and forgotten. One of these in particular was a highlight of my visit, the River North Art District or RiNo. Driving around, the shops and cafes were quirky and eclectic; artisanal everything, record stores and taco trucks. It was hipster heaven, and the center of this reclamation is the market known simply as The Source. Housed in an iconic 1880s ironworks building, the goal of The Source was to create for residents of Denver what folks in Seattle or San Francisco enjoy; namely a world class food hall. One stop shopping for the best meats, cheeses, breads, coffees, beers and more was the idea, but the industrial RiNo location at first drew a lot of skepticism. No one knew if the concept would work, but visiting on a busy weekend afternoon I could tell immediately that not only was The Source succeeding, it was flourishing.
I’d long heard about San Antonio’s River Walk, but nothing quite prepared me for the actual experience of strolling alongside it. Created over time in what can only be called a brilliant act of urban planning, today it’s a 15-mile stretch of parks and walkways following the San Antonio River. Set a story below the rest of the city, as soon you as you climb the steps down to the River Walk, the change is immediate. Surrounded by blooming flowers, cooler temperatures and almost irrationally happy people, I soon found myself one of those oddly ebullient visitors, all mesmerized by the city almost instantly. It’s a great treasure for San Antonio, and I best enjoyed it while on a 35-minute cruise along it with the company Go Rio. With equally happy guides – I soon learned there’s no reason not to be happy in San Antonio – the cruise was informative but also relaxing, and a fun and easy way to see the best stretches of the River Walk. The city though is so much more than the river, and throughout my time in San Antonio I was constantly surprised by how laid back and easy everything was. It’s a large city, but downtown isn’t chaotic and thanks to a culture of preservation, the city has a lot more character than most. Art deco facades blend in seamlessly with newer buildings, creating a rich architectural tapestry that frankly is hard to find.
In recent years, Detroit has become famous around the world as the city that went bankrupt. The city where entire neighborhoods were left in ruin, neglected and teeming with blight. That’s honestly all I knew about the Motor City before my first visit, and that’s part of the problem. Almost everything we see on the news, in magazines or even on travel blogs is obsessed with Detroit’s so-called ruin porn. Sharing the photos of these houses and city blocks that have been left to rot has been all the rage. Because of that, not many people know the real story of Detroit. That no, the city is not a burning pile of rubble. That Detroit is actually a great place to visit and I imagine to live, and that fact more than anything else surprised me the most. Great museums, delicious food and other fun diversions all come together to make Detroit a fun and, I think, an important city to visit.
Sandwiched between lakes and mountains, Seattle’s climate is famously temperate. With a moderate temperature and a vibrant atmosphere, Seattle is one of the best places in the country to escape the summer heat. The city is full of fun things to do like visiting the iconic Space Needle, towering over the city, and exploring the massive Pike Place Market where visitors and locals alike indulge their taste buds with delicious foods and shop for odd gifts. For those who would rather take advantage of the cooler temperatures of Seattle to venture into the great outdoors, the city is a good home base. Washington State has some of the most gorgeous and untouched forests in the country and are perfect for some light day hikes.
Spending extra time in the idyllic community of Santa Fe was one of the best decisions I made long Route 66, and my time there was just as incredible as I had hoped. Staying at the incomparable La Posada de Santa Fe, the luxury hotel’s service and location in the city made exploration easy and fun. With a history that goes back more than 400 years, Santa Fe is totally unlike any other city I’ve visited. Every building seems to be made out of adobe and there’s a certain international flair that shines just out of sight. It’s a famously artistic and liberal enclave in the state, most of which is rural and somewhat disconnected. Santa Fe though felt more like an expat community in Mexico or elsewhere, its Spanish heritage also embraced and on full display. Walking through the center of town, the weather was perfect and the crowds of people out and about reflected that. A small stage was set up in the town square, and scores of people were camped out with picnic baskets enjoying the afternoon. This ease of living is what I remember most about Santa Fe, and I immediately saw it as a place where I could spend a lot more time and even live.
This is another beach destination that is about much more than the water. I was surprised by almost everything I discovered about the city, but nothing more so than its food scene. There are few things I enjoy more than great Southern soul food, which is one reason why it was my first stop in Myrtle Beach. Pulling up a chair at the locally famous institution Big Mike’s Soul Food, it was just the kind of low-key restaurant I love. I was quickly overwhelmed by choice though, finally deciding on a new-to-me plate of chicken bog. Made with rice, sausage, chicken and special seasonings, it was the perfect foodie introduction to the Low-Country. As I alluded to though, there are plenty of chefs flexing their culinary muscles whether it’s with a unique cocktail at The Chemist, or a meal you’ll never forget at Hook & Barrel, I haven’t eaten so well in a very long time.
Any National Park
America’s best idea, I don’t think anyone would disagree that our National Parks are perhaps our greatest societal asset. I’m also proud to say that America started the modern conservation movement in the 19th century when it created the first National Park. Since then we have added 60 more and many other national monuments and sites forming a vast web of areas so important, that we have deemed they must be forever protected. The so-called North American model of conservation is now the norm around the world, but to really appreciate its importance a visit to a few American parks is in order. From Yellowstone to Yosemite and Volcanoes National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains, we have a lot of options and no one should ever miss the opportunity to visit a few.
What else would you add to this list?