New Year Hikes Statewide
We know, we know: After the Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s diet blowout, you will endeavor to get in shape. What better way to kick off 2017 than with a “first-day hike” offered by Arizona State Parks? Some are easy, some strenuous, some guided by volunteer rangers – and if you don’t do one on January 1, they’re nice the rest of the month, too. Visit azstateparks.com/fdh for details.
Catalina State Park, Tucson
Not for the faint of heart, Finger Rock Canyon is one of the most strenuous hikes (more than four miles one-way) in the Pusch Ridge mountain range on the north side of Tucson. The rocky terrain and an elevation gain of more than 4,000 feet is strictly self-guided for experienced hikers, and it’ll get your ticker cranking, for sure. But the views are spectacular, as are the bragging rights.
Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area, Show Low
Led by a local photographer and wildlife enthusiast, the 1.3-mile first-day hike skirts the water and is suitable for all ages, though you may be walking through snow.
Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction
This ranger-led first-day hike on the moderate Treasure Loop Trail lasts about two hours, covers 2.5 miles and includes history of the Superstition Mountains and the Lost Dutchman Mine.
Fees: Entrance fees vary by park, though Fool Hollow waives its fee
Kids: Depending on selected hike, take ’em
Did You Know? With its digit-like, 100-foot-high shape, Tucson’s Finger Rock is recognizable for miles.
Of Beds and Burros
Slept in on New Year’s Day? No worries. On January 28, thousands of spectators belatedly ring in the New Year by cheering on costumed teams (four pushers, one rider) who speed down historic Route 66 in Oatman, near the Nevada border, on wheeled beds at the annual Great Oatman Bed Race. The brainchild of a local professional fisherman, this kooky event has evolved over its 18 seasons (the course used to include potentially injurious obstacles like nets and barrels). Arrive early for parking and catch the 1:30 p.m. gunfight that begins the festivities. Afterward, feed the famously friendly burros that wander the town’s streets. oatmangoldroad.org
Kids: Take ’em
Did You Know? “Donkey” and “burro” are often used interchangeably, but a donkey is domesticated, whereas a burro is a wild resident of the West.
Do the Tucson 23
They say it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. So it seems Tucson, a recently crowned UNESCO City of Gastronomy, isn’t full of it when it claims it has the best Mexican restaurants north of the border. A 23-mile stretch of mom-and-pop eateries – many concentrated in south Tucson – serves up mouth-watering Sonoran hot dogs, raspados (Mexican sno cones), salsas, fresh tortillas and street tacos. Chris DeSimone, director of tour line development for Gray Line Tours, which runs a culinary tour of the area, offers his perfect breakfast/lunch/dinner stops:
Breakfast at La Estrella Bakery: “The pan dulce, an eggy, brioche-y doughnut that’s pure mágico.” Multiple locations. laestrellabakeryincaz.com
Lunch at El Güero Canelo: “A Sonoran dog. More than any other dish, the bacon-and-pinto-bean-topped creation is emblematic of Tucson’s Mexican food scene. Order one at the original 12th Avenue location. You’ll see a cross-section of Tucson here: airmen from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Raytheon nerds, cops and tourists.” Multiple locations. elguerocanelo.com
Dinner at El Merendero: “There’s a really good vibe here and the service is amazing. They do all the classics right: the red chile Colorado with tender beef is the best in Pima County, and the shrimp enchiladas, with a velvety, béchamel-like sauce that packs a little kick from adobo chiles, are arguably the best in Tucson.” 5443 S. 12th Ave., 520-294-1522
Fees: Depends on what you order and where, but prices range from $-$$
Kids: If they aren’t finicky eaters, take ’em
Did You Know? The bread in which a Sonoran dog is nestled is called a bolillo and, unlike a traditional bun, its closed ends keep all those deliciously messy ingredients inside.
Do the drive yourself or join a Gray Line “Best of the Barrio” guided tour. If you can wait until April, there’s a festival that celebrates the south-of-the-border bounty. visittucson.org/things-to-do/restaurants/23-miles-mexican-food
Saddle Up in Cowboy Land
Pack your boots. In the heart of historic Apache country, ride horses, tuck into hearty, home-cooked meals and sleep in turn-of-the-century rooms at Tombstone Monument Ranch. Situated in Southern Arizona with dreamy, wide-open views of the Dragoon Mountains, this Westworld-esque dude ranch offers cowboy hospitality and features dirt streets and boardwalks that bring out the Wyatt Earp in all of us. You can also try your hand at archery, lassoing or shooting, and enjoy live entertainment or poker at the saloon. In winter, you might get lucky with snow-dusted scenery. 895 W. Monument Rd., 520-457-7299, tombstonemonumentranch.com
Fees: Call for rates
Kids: If they like riding, take ’em
Did You Know? The most famous gunfight in the West actually didn’t take place at Tombstone’s OK Corral, but in a vacant lot on Fremont Street down the road.
Arizona’s Most Remote Ghost Town
Off the beaten path and set smack in the middle of the windswept Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Yuma is this privately owned “town.” A passion project of Allen and Stephanie Armstrong, Castle Dome re-creates a 19th century silver mining town of more than 50 restored buildings at the foot of the rugged Castle Dome Mountains. These hobbyists have gone wild collecting Old West artifacts including mining tools, a stamp mill, primitive furniture and mercantile objects. In season, they host staged shootouts. Castle Dome Mine Rd., 928-920-3062, castledomemuseum.org
Fees: Adults, $10; children 7-11, $5; children under 6, free
Kids: Take ’em
Pro Tip: A cluster of what may be the state’s only native California fan palms are clustered in the easily reached Palm Canyon Trail.
Go Cowboy... Or Cowgirl
From 1857 to 1861, the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail was a stagecoach service that carried passengers and U.S. mail from Memphis and St. Louis to San Francisco, passing through central Arizona. The Butterfield Stage Days Rodeo & Parade (February 13 and 14) pays homage to this frontier history with a charming small-town parade with the famous Wells Fargo red coach, along with a sanctioned rodeo featuring calf roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing. You can also pay tribute to the fallen at the 9/11 Memorial Park, where a 4,000-pound steel beam – once part of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center – is displayed. gilabendazchamber.com/butterfield-stage-days-rodeo
Kids: Take ’em
Pro Tip: Eat at the Space Age Restaurant, which boasts a bunch of Star Trek memorabilia and out-of-this-world onion rings.
Mining Gems in Bisbee
Bisbee reveals itself in layers, with each visit yielding new discoveries. The results of a recent excavation:
A Karen Schumacher, founder of the Bisbee Craft School, had a specific goal in mind when she launched the school in November 2015: to attract burgeoning artists to Bisbee. “I’m promoting endangered crafts,” she says of the classes, which have included buckskin tanning, pine bark weaving and making sculpture from salvaged materials. Classes are held at Central School, a beautiful old architectural gem not normally open to the public. 43 Howell Ave., bisbeecraftschool.org
A Our new favorite place to stay overnight is Letson Loft, with its luxury linens, exposed brick walls (ask them to show you the passageway with century-old silk wall coverings they found during renovations) and deep tubs. After climbing the many stairs, a soak in the mineral-rich waters (no Epsom salts needed) will soothe blown-out knees. 26 Main St., 520-432-3210, letsonlofthotel.com
A Seek out Thuy’s Noodle Shop, a Vietnamese eatery where the chef/owner calls out a friendly greeting from behind the grill. We adore the caramelized catfish served with rice and vegetables. 9 Naco Rd., 520-432-9169
Fees: Workshop prices vary; call for hotel rates; catfish costs $10
Kids: Leave ’em
pro Tip: For the best views of B Mountain and the architectural flourishes on the red brick buildings, head to the Copper Queen Library, which also has an excellent collection of Southwestern history books on the third floor.
Bottle Your Own Whiskey
In its short tenure, Hamilton Distillers has racked up some impressive accolades for its hooch. Inspiration first struck owner Stephen Paul when the longtime custom furniture maker was drinking scotch whiskey and barbecuing with mesquite scraps. Mesquite. Smoke. Whiskey. Mesquite-smoked whiskey! Every three weeks or so, Paul and his crew invite the public to work a shift at the distillery – filling, corking, sealing, labeling and boxing its Del Bac line of artisanal Arizona spirits, which is great fun and will score you a bottle of your choice. Sign up for email notification and respond swiftly to secure your slot. Or just visit the tasting room if you’d rather skip the assembly line. 2106 N. Forbes Blvd., Ste. 103, 520-628-9244, hamiltondistillers.com
Kids: Leave ’em (it’s illegal)
Did You Know? Whiskey is packed with antioxidants, and a small amount a day reputedly helps prevent cholesterol from clogging your arteries. Cheers!
The Great Soup Judgment
A chilly early spring visit to the high desert is ideal for soup sippin’ – nothing beats the warmth of a comforting concoction to ward off wind and cold. Two Northern Arizona soups rule the conversation: the signature black bean and corn soup topped with chile cream at the Turquoise Room (305 E. 2nd St., 928-289-2888, theturquoiseroom.net) at the historic La Posada Hotel in Winslow; and the vaunted vegetarian pumpkin soup ladled up at local bistro Manzanita in Cornville (11425 E. Cornville Rd., 928-634-8851, themanzanitarestaurant.com), which was featured in the popular Arizona Centennial cookbook 100 Years, 100 Chefs, 100 Recipes. The former is a one-two punch of brooding bean and buoyant corn flavors, pure and clean as the Native soil from whence it came; the latter is silky and sweet, lifted with notes of caramelized onion and cumin. Why choose? We’ll call it a draw.
Fees: A bowl of black bean soup at the Turquoise Room runs $7; $5 gets you a bowl of Manzanita’s pumpkin soup.
Kids: Leave ’em
Did You Know? American architect and designer Mary Colter’s hacienda design of the 1930s La Posada is considered her masterpiece.
Put on your best boots and spiffiest hat and head up to Wickenburg. The talented women of the West take over the Desert Caballeros Western Museum for one weekend every year during Cowgirl Up! More than 200 juried artists showcase contemporary and traditional drawings, paintings and sculpture, enticing collectors from across the country. Highlights include a chuck wagon breakfast, live auction, miniatures sale and a quick draw. 21 N. Frontier St., 928-684-2272, westernmuseum.org
Fees: All-inclusive patrons’ tickets run $275 a pop; otherwise, $12 museum admission applies
Kids: If they are artistic, take ’em
Pro Tip: While in Wickenburg, check out the Hassayampa River Preserve, a shady riparian desert oasis managed by The Nature Conservancy.
Organ Pipe National Monument, Ajo
The border between the U.S. and Sonora, Mexico, is but a plant-studded seam at this under-visited park. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is an International Biosphere Reserve and the world’s largest and most northerly strand of these unusual, multi-stalked cacti. Along the 37-mile Puerto Blanco Drive you may pass few cars, which makes for splendid solitude in the great, lonesome scenery of the Puerto Blanco Mountains. Along the loop are numerous hiking trails, including some where you will encounter tinajas (holes), mines or old wells. Camping conditions are near perfect under clear, dark, starry skies this month.
10 Organ Pipe Dr., 520-387-6849, nps.gov/orpi.
Fees: $12 vehicle admission for seven days
Kids: Take ’em only if they are desert rats
Pro Tip: Call to find out when the wildflowers are in bloom.
L’Auberge de sedona
While these properties offer very different aesthetics and locations, they have at least two things in common: a pleasant intimacy and accomplished practitioners.
• The Moroccan-inspired rooms at Sedona Rouge are unexpectedly exotic, yet completely complementary to the area’s red rock grandeur. (Insider tip: Book a fireplace room in the new building to amp up the glam.) You may very well nod off during the supremely relaxing Wildflower West facial, which addresses your dehydrated skin with custom-made desert botanicals; the indulgent Land of Milk & Honey treatment starts with a lotus milk bath, moves to a gentle sugar exfoliation and concludes with an application of body butter expertly massaged into drive-tired muscles. And if you’re hungry, onsite restaurant REDS dishes up mussels and chorizo in white wine and garlic served with grilled bread for sopping up every bite. 2250 SR-89A, 928-203-4111, sedonarouge.com
• At L’Apothecary Spa at L’Auberge de Sedona, you surrender to the sensory healing of guided Forest Bathing, mindfully communing with nature as a form of meditation amid the oaks. It’s followed by a blending session, in which you make your own take-away body scrub using juniper, lavender and rosemary. The afternoon concludes with the Feet in Creek session: ankle-deep immersion in the bracing waters of Oak Creek, followed by a creekside foot reflexology session. Dinner at the resort’s fine dining restaurant, Cress on Oak Creak – under a toasty heat lamp with moonlight rippling silvery on the water – includes creamy white onion soup with clams and golden beets and rich smoked veal cheeks with sunflower risotto. 301 Little Ln., 800-905-5745, lauberge.com
Fees: Treatments vary, call for rates and specials Kids: Leave ’em Did You Know? Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a practice that originated in Japan.
Outdoor Fun in Pima County
• Northern suburb of Tucson, Marana (Spanish for “thicket”) was primarily an agricultural center through most of the 20th century, producing cotton, wheat, barley, alfalfa and pecans. Now the still-bucolic town produces grand outdoor entertainment.
• Check in to The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, a family-friendly resort nestled against the Tortolita Mountains. On-property excursions include a slick-rock trek amidst towering yucca and sotol on the Wild Mustang Trail. Everyone will enjoy the pool and the nightly sunset celebration featuring a Native American flutist in the canyon amphitheater as fire pits keep you toasty. Adults can tuck into gourmet cuisine at CORE Kitchen & Wine Bar, while the kids scarf burgers and slurp milkshakes at Cayton’s Burger Bistro. 15000 N. Secret Springs Dr., 520-572-3000, ritzcarlton.com/dovemountain
• At nearby Saguaro National Park, guided Twilight Glow to Moon Shadows hikes run through mid-April under dark desert skies glittering with stars.
• The Great Paper Airplane Fly-Off on the grounds of the Pima Air & Space Museum (April 8) is a competition that tests the paper-folding skills of kids ages 6 to 14 to win prizes, but it’s fun for the whole family with “pilot” training and a NASCAR race car simulator. greatpaperairplane.org
Fees: Museum rates apply for the Fly-Off; rates vary for the Ritz
Kids: Take ’em
Did You Know? The “Boneyard” has more than 300 historical aircraft, including a Wright Flyer and a 787 Dreamliner.
Coffee and a Hike
Some places have a cool vibe without trying. The Raven Café is such a place. Even though it’s in the heart of the Old West’s Whiskey Row, it has a European ambiance and just the right amount of buzziness. Brunch is especially fine; ask for a shot of honey in your excellent espresso and opt for the so-weird-it-works Ultimate French Toast, green chile bread pudding topped with Mayan chocolate and cajeta (Mexican goat’s milk caramel). Then hike off the calories at the Granite Dells (thedellsprescott.com/trails). The four-mile long Iron King Trail is our favorite, as it winds through varied landscapes, including boulder-strewn desert, grasslands and sandstone rock formations. 142 N. Cortez St., 928-717-0009, ravencafe.com
Fees: 11 bones for the French toast; nothin’ for the hike
Kids: Leave ’em
Did You Know? In terms of intelligence, ravens rank with chimpanzees and dolphins.
See a Music Festival... on a Porch
You might call Porch Fest the ultimate pop-up event. Co-founder Janet Miller brought the movement – a series of mini concerts held on, yep, front porches – to Tucson in 2014; now she has both “hosts” and musicians clamoring to get in on the act, which fosters community. “We’ve wiggled the definition of a porch to include a carport or a driveway,” Miller says of Southwestern architecture adaptations. Neighborhoods, too, are queuing to be showcased: So far Armory Park, Dunbar Springs and, most recently, Mountain & First have been venues. Expect food trucks, but also egalitarian micro-enterprises like lemonade stands, open art studios and a kids’ science porch. “It’s never the same experience twice,” Miller says. Like PF’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date. facebook.com/tucsonporchfest/
Kids: If they’re musically inclined, take ’em
Pro Tip: Ride the SunLink streetcar to the ‘hood.
Hike the “Other” Horseshoe Bend
Salt River Wilderness
The Grand Canyon lays claim to the most famous Horseshoe Bend in the state, but the Salt River has one, too. It’s a great spot for fishing, kayaking and swimming as temperatures rise. You’ll need a good topo map and a 4x4 to access it, but like all hard-to-find places, the payoff is high – lush riverbanks, burbling water and towering mounts. It’s like a sedative in river form.
Directions: Traveling north on Highway 188 out of Globe-Miami, you’ll turn right on North Wheatfields Road after about four miles. Go another couple of miles until you see an abandoned slump-block building and turn right onto Hicks Road, crossing Pinal Creek over a bridge. Travel northwest on Hicks Road another 2.3 miles to FR219, where you’ll find a gate with a sign-in book. Turn right and travel northeast along FR219 (Horseshoe Bend Road) from the gate for approximately 11 miles to the designated Salt River parking area. From there, it’s a short hike to a gate and access to the water.
Kids: Leave ’em
Did You Know? There are no services once you exit Highway 188, so be prepared with a shovel, sunscreen and plenty of water.
Ever admire the supple footwear of a Hopi dancer? There’s a good chance Jesse Aguiar of San Agustin Trading Company made it. With nearly 50 years of experience in the art of moccasin-craft, Aguiar has a client list that stretches from Sonora to the Navajo Nation and the trading posts of the Four Corners. He keeps a fair amount of stock on hand at his shop, located in central Tucson at the Mercado San Augustín, but he’ll make a custom-measured and fitted pair on request, crafted of soft suede or buttery leather. Styles range from mid-calf boots to ballerina flats and even sandals, and can include buttons or fringe. Colors span the gamut from classic brown or crimson to flashy fuchsia and turquoise. 20 S. Avenida del Convento, 520-628-1800, sanagustintradingcompany.com
Fees: Prices start at $50
Kids: Take ’em: Aguiar makes children’s sizes
Did You Know? Using a 400-year-old technique known as blind stitching, Aguiar crafts Southwestern moccasins that are extremely durable.
High-Country Wine Festival
The communities of Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Jerome and Sedona have emerged over the past decade as fine places to grow grapes. The rocky soil and warm summers force vines to struggle, producing grapes with highly concentrated flavor. But it’s no hardship to drink the award-winning vino of such homegrown wineries as Caduceus Cellars, Callaghan Vineyards, Chateau Tumbleweed and Rune Wines during the two-day Verde Valley Wine Festival held at Clarkdale Park on May 13-14. There’s also food and live music to add to your sipping pleasure. 1001 Main St., Clarkdale. 928-649-2007, verdevalleywinefestival.com
Fees: $35 (one-day admission)
Kids: Leave ’em
Did You Know? With a similar elevation, the Verde Valley is often compared to the regions in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria where wine was first made.
Arizona’s Most Remote Ice Cream
Visitors sign up for the Rainbow Bridge Boat Tour on Lake Powell to access one of the world’s great visual delights: hundreds of miles of breathtaking sandstone shoreline sculpted by wind and water. And the treats don’t stop there. The tour also includes a visit to the mid-lake Dangling Rope Marina, accessible only by boat, where arguably Arizona’s most remote ice cream shop helps cool down visitors made flush by Powell’s intense summer temps. On a hot summer day, the soft-serve cones surely hit the spot – and considering you’ve embarked on a 50-mile boat ride to obtain them, are well-earned. 100 Lakeshore Dr., Page, 888-896-3829, lakepowell.com
Fees: Boat ride: Adults, $125; children up to age 12, $90; ice cream treats are under $5
Kids: Take ’em
pro Tip: Rent a powerboat and you can stay as long as you like at the marina.
Cochise Stronghold Retreat
Once the winter home of Chief Cochise and the Chiricahua Apaches, the Sulphur Springs Valley of far Southeastern Arizona is today best known as a peaceful escape from urban overload. At an elevation of more than 4,200 feet, Cochise Stronghold Retreat is perched amid a verdant landscape of juniper, madrone, Manzanita and oak. Wildlife is plentiful here, including the often-elusive badger and coatimundi, plus deer, fox and javelina, making for great spotting opps. A variety of accommodations will suit any vacationer, including the romantic Agave Suite with its cast-iron tub, and the 700-square-foot Woodlands Yurt, a circular tent that sleeps up to eight and has a retractable Plexiglas dome. Gourmet breakfasts are delivered to your door, and there’s also a hot tub for soaking and star-watching. Off-site, you have three great, nearby adventure options. 2126 W. Windancer Trail, 520-826-4141, cochisestrongholdretreat.com
• 10 minutes away: Specializing in Rhône-style varietals such as Syrah and Mourvèdre, the burgeoning Willcox wine region now comprises 13 bonded wineries. Most are located in the Willcox valley about 20 minutes north of Cochise, but a handful are just down the road, including upstart Golden Rule Vineyards (3525 N. Golden Rule Rd., Cochise, 520-507-3310, goldenrulevineyards.com). Visit the tasting room for a flight (Th-Su, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.).
• 15 minutes away: At Chiricahua National Monument, gnarled rock pinnacles rise from the woodlands to pierce impossibly blue skies where turkey vultures circle. There are 17 miles of day-use trails and a paved eight-mile driving loop.
• 30 minutes away: The Amerind Foundation is a private museum housed in a historic adobe in Dragoon and features American Indian artifacts. amerind.org
Fees: Call for rates
Kids: Leave ’em
Did You Know? You can rent the entire ranch for a family reunion.
Watch Purple Reign
The Lavender Festival is a spicy, floral, fragrant heaven. Though not native to Arizona, the plant grows like crazy in the cool White Mountains. For two consecutive weekends, roam the colorful, high-altitude fields on the privately owned Red Rock Lavender Ranch and Farms, sampling lavender-infused lemonade and brownies and watching cooking demos. You can pick your own lavender and take home candles and lotions, too. About 5,000 folks get their purple groove on annually, from June 22-July 2. House 38, County Rd. 5309, 928-337-2289, redrockfarms.com
Fees: $5 for adults; children under three are free
Kids: Take ’em
Did You Know? Lavender is an age-old relaxation and sleep aid.
Sleep on Ancestral Ground
Guests at the off-the-grid (read: no running water or electricity) Shash Dine’ Eco-Retreat in the Navajo Nation get to commune with Navajo churro sheep, Nubian goats, horses, chickens and peacocks. That’s because this is a working sheep ranch. “We offer total immersion in nature,” says owner Paul Meehan, who runs the place with his wife Baya. Star gazing and the nightly fire pit are highlights. Accommodations include fully equipped tents, restored sheep wagons, a cabin and two traditional hogans. Hwy. 89, Navajo Rte. 6211, 928-640-3701, shashdine.com
Fees: Call for rates
Kids: Take ’em if they are interested in Native culture
Pro Tip: Be sure to visit Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, both less than 20 minutes away.
Gallery Hopping Among the Hopi
First, Second and Third Mesas
Tracing Arizona Highway 264 across the far-ranging vistas of the three mesas in Northwestern Arizona that compose Hopiland, time is sleepily suspended. Cell service is spotty and that’s a plus, because you’ll want to devote your full attention to the Hopi Arts Trail. Far from being a slick, pre-produced “experience,” this is more of a loose collection of scattered studios where excellent, if shy, basket weavers, carvers, jewelers, kachina doll makers, potters and silversmiths working in generations-old traditions meet with visitors. This is as much a cultural immersion as an arts excursion; following suggested etiquette will make the experience more rewarding for everyone. hopiartstrail.com
Fees: Free if you DIY (there’s a map online); call the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites at 928-283-4500 to arrange for a local guide
Kids: Take ’em only if they are good at riding long distances
Did You Know? The Hopi reside in 12 villages on more than 2,400 square miles at an elevation of about 6,000 feet.
In high summer, the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum hosts its hands-on Saguaro Fruit Harvest, in which regular folks learn how to extract the bitter, pulpy fruit from Arizona’s most iconic native plant. Aided by a long stick comprised of two saguaro ribs lashed together – the traditional Native method – participants thwack at the ruby red saguaro fruit clustered in the upper reaches of a saguaro. After a few fruitless swipes, you’ll connect and the prized “tunas” will fall into the waiting bucket below. It takes a while to fill, but the bucket will eventually be piled high with the fruits of your labor. A Tohono O’odham tribe member shares the tale of the harvest and its meaning to desert people. Then participants process the pulp into syrup by cooking it over coals, and enjoy a lunch featuring other desert edibles. The dates of the festival vary from year to year based on seasonal heat and rain conditions. 2021 N. Kinney Rd.
Fees: $72 for non-members
Kids: Take ’em only if they are budding botanists
pro Tip: Even though it’s sweltering, you’ll be cooler in loose, long-sleeved pants and shirt to keep harsh rays off your skin.
Saguaro harvest step by step
1. A group harvests ripe saguaro fruit with a picking pole made out of saguaro ribs.
2. The pulp and seeds are pushed from the husk and put into a pot with water. Water helps break up the seed and fruit pulp.
3. Participants use their fingers to tease the seed mass apart.
4. Seed sorters smile over their sticky work.
5. The slurry begins to boil. Traditionally, it boils for about an hour before the cooks strain out the seeds and return the liquid to the fire, reducing it to a thick syrup. This process takes about a day.
Stalk a “Queen”
It only happens for a single evening during the summer. No one can predict with utter certainty when the night-blooming peniocereus greggii cactus – or as she is commonly known to those who don’t speak Latin, the “Queen” – will unfurl her highly fragrant, extravagantly beautiful petals, but Tohono Chul Park comes dang close. Once a year, the park holds a dusk-to-midnight celebration dubbed Bloom Night where you can ogle the ephemeral white blooms that crown the Queen’s spindly stalks before they close and die in the morning sun. Park official Lee Mason tracks all 388 specimens of the rare Sonoran cactus and dispatches emails to alert fans of their progress. Sign up for email updates which begin in April (more than 16,000 fans have excitedly awaited the annual event since its inauguration in 1992) then hop in your car and head south. 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte. 520-742-6455, tohonochulpark.org
Fees: $5 for adults; kids under 12 are free
Kids: If they are plant lovers, take ’em
Pro Tip: Don’t shower after witnessing the bloom to preserve the bewitching fragrance that clings to your hair and skin.
Cruise the PinaleÑo Mountains
Arizona has many epic drives, all with knockout scenery. What makes this Southern Arizona sojourn notable is its remote location – you might not see any other cars for stretches – and its especially rugged landscape. Running for just 20 miles and linking Safford and Willcox, State Route 266 packs a lot of dramatic, photo-worthy stops into a short distance. The Pinaleños jut up abruptly from the desertscape to top out at 7,000 feet; you’ll feel their immediacy in this stark setting. Yet the road that climbs to Stockton Pass is devoid of more familiar switchbacks some ranges across the state require. And during the monsoon months, clouds may hang overhead for perfect photos of endless grasslands and expansive sky. Keep your eyes peeled for antelope and golden eagles. fs.usda.gov/recarea/coronado
Kids: Leave ’em
Pro Tip: If you keep driving east, you’ll hit Aravaipa Canyon in the Galiuro Mountains.
Explore a Lava Cave
Even though it’s summer, you’ll want to bring a jacket for your underground descent into Lava River Cave near Flagstaff – it’s only about 40 degrees down there. Sturdy closed-toe shoes and flashlights will also come in handy. Discovered in 1915 by lumber workers, this 3/4-mile long lava “tube” in the Coconino National Forest was formed 700,000 years ago by volcanic material that hardened on the outside but remained molten on the inside, creating the hollow space. Unlike other caves you’ve been in, this one is unsupervised, so you can touch the walls or even turn off your lights. Forest Road 171, 928-526-0866, fs.usda.gov/recarea/coconino/recreation
Kids: Take ’em
pro Tip: The dirt road to the entrance is rugged and after rain may be impassable, so check conditions with the Forest Service.
Do the GC in a Day
Grand Canyon West
It’s a hyper-condensed day to be sure, but with the Hualapai River Runners Tour/Grand Canyon, you get to see this state treasure both by air and boat. “Every view along the West Rim is amazing, but to be inside it, shooting whitewater rapids along the Colorado River? That’s like starring in the movie versus watching the movie,” says Earlene Havatone, HRR’s general manager. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” In addition to rafting some of the most beautiful scenery on earth, you’ll hike to the falls for a picnic lunch, and complete your adventure with a helicopter ride to the top of Grand Canyon West, where you can see the canyon from the Hualapai tribe’s famed Skywalk. 900 AZ-66, Peach Springs, 928-769-2636, grandcanyonwest.com/white-water-rafting
Fees: $423 per person
Kids: Bring ’em if they’re 8 or older
Did You Know? At its widest point, the canyon is 18 miles across.
Cocktailing in a Crypt
In the dog days of summer, when you want to escape the searing heat of the Sonoran Desert, Tucson’s Tough Luck Club is a dark, cool place to sip incredibly creative cocktails using unusual ingredients from the desert and beyond. Housed in the basement of Reilly Craft Pizza, which was once a mortuary, the bartenders (yes, many of them are bearded hipsters, but they have no pretension) will hand you a “bar book” from which to pick your poison. The names are inventive (“Militant Optimism” and “Mexican Firing Squad” among them), and the ingredient mash-ups can be puzzling, but just go with it. We’ve never had a bad one. 101 E. Pennington St., 520-882-5550, reillypizza.com
Fees: Varies by cocktail
Kids: Leave ’em
Did You Know? In 2016, Playboy named TLC one of its favorite bars.
Bighorn Rafting Trip
It’s an eye-popping experience: watching emaciated-looking bighorn sheep step down from their rocky ridge to the waiting water, dip their heads, then drink… and drink… and drink some more, until even through binoculars at a great distance, you can see their chests inflate with life-sustaining hydration. On just two consecutive weekends each summer – typically in early August – Arizona Game & Fish offers a Bighorn Workshop that includes an all-day cruise up the Colorado River to glimpse this seasonal phenomenon. Seating is limited; there’s a lottery. Call 928-692-7700 or visit azgfd.com for details.
Fees: $20 refundable fee per person; let them keep the donation, this is a spanking deal
Kids: Leave ’em unless they’re 8 or older
Did You Know? Horns from male sheep can weigh up to 30 pounds.
Glamping in the Grand Canyon
Lone Peak Hospitality gets it: You want the grandeur of the great outdoors, but not the discomfort. So they’ve created Under Canvas in spectacular places – Glacier, Moab, Yellowstone and, most recently, the Grand Canyon. These seasonal luxury tents, secluded in a ponderosa pine forest off Route 66 about 40 minutes from the South Rim, feature safari-inspired interiors: rawhide rugs, hand-hewn beds, wood-burning stoves and en-suite facilities. No excuses about creepy crawlies anymore. This is Mother Nature, tamed. 888-496-1148,
Fees: Call for current rates
Kids: Take ’em
Pro Tip: The Family Adventure Package includes an adjacent teepee for kids.
Summer B&B Special
Strolling the erstwhile Mormon settlement of Snowflake is like walking back through time. In addition to poking around the Stinson Pioneer Museum and touring historical homes, you can stay at The Heritage Inn, dating back to territorial times. The rooms are tastefully furnished and the breakfasts are scrumptious, including Heritage’s house specialty, the German baby, a cross between a popover and a pancake. Still, the highlight of your stay will be meeting the courtly Sank Flake – whose elders were the town’s co-founders, and antecedents to current U.S. Senator Jeff Flake – and touring his “barn.” It’s actually his home, and what a collection of memorabilia it contains, festooned from floor to ceiling with bear rugs, cowboy art, a boot collection and a taxidermied steer. You’re also within striking distance of a number of natural attractions, including Casa Malpais Archaeological Park and Petrified Forest National Park. 161 N. Main St., 928-536-3322, heritage-inn.net
Fees: Call for best rates
Kids: Leave ʼ’em
Did You Know? The cedar-ringed Snowflake Mormon temple is the second-oldest LDS temple in the state.
Banjos and Beers
In typical Flag fashion, the Pickin’ in the Pines festival has grown without much fanfare to become one of the country’s premier bluegrass gatherings. So much so, that headliners like banjo-playing Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers have performed, along with homegrown talent like The Sonoran Dogs. And of course, the weather is reliably splendid – all crisp air and golden aspens by day and bright stars by night. Campsites at the Fort Tuthill County Park venue get snapped up early. And you’ll wanna stick around, because the impromptu jam sessions by multiple blazing fires – often with a communal bottle passed – go into the wee hours. Pick up gourmet picnic provisions at Tourist Home Urban Market. pickininthepines.org
Fees: Three-day festival pass, $115 plus ticketing fees; daily passes are also available
Kids: If they are musically inclined,
Pro Tip: Bring s’mores fixings as an appreciation to the musicians and you’ll be warmly welcomed.
A Cool Escape for You and Fido
Are you and your pooch both panting in triple-digit heat? Time to head north to cooler climes and the most pet-friendly property in the state, El Portal. Located adjacent to the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village and walking distance to uptown Sedona, this is a great late summer getaway for both pet and parent. Your four-legged friend will get deluxe treatment at this AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel, including welcome blanket, treats and even, ahem, doggy bags. Best of all? There’s no charge for Fido. 95 Portal Ln., 928-203-9405, elportalsedona.com
Fees: Call for current rates
Kids: Leave ’em
pro Tip: Request a room with an outdoor fenced pet patio.
One of the finest walls of Anasazi petroglyphs in the world sits in the proverbial middle of nowhere – the nearest neighbor is 17 miles away – on a private Old West ranch property in the high desert. Brantley Baird, proprietor of Rock Art Canyon Ranch, has welcomed researchers from the Smithsonian Institute and the Heard Museum to study and help excavate the 5,000-acre property, which has been in his family since 1945. He’ll guide you on part of your discovery of cowboy, Indian and pioneer artifacts, then turn you loose to explore on your own. Reservations are required; allot about four hours for your visit. Contact Baird at 928-386-5047.
Fees: $35 per person; kids younger than 12 are free; discounts for groups; return visits are free
Kids: Take ’em – they’ll dig swimming and wading in the perennial creek
Pro Tip: Pick up a picnic lunch in Winslow.
Out-of-Way Gear Up with a Cosmic Artist
The objects are fantastical: think Game of Thrones-like scepters topped with an emu egg or a stringed instrument made from a curvaceous gourd. Artist Kamon Lilly, a former paratrooper wounded in combat (he lost his fingers to Agent Orange), is a self-proclaimed “spirit-taught” artist, a nod to his spiritual awakening. He attributes his healing to Mother Nature (he’s also a master gardener and herbalist) and pays homage by using her materials, including feathers, cholla cactus, coral beans, devil’s claw and seedpods, to fashion one-of-a kind decorative pieces and jewelry. See his work at Out of the Way Galleria in Tubac, which is affiliated with the Global Community Communications Alliance, a Tumacacori-based spiritual community.
29 Tubac Plaza, 520-398-9409, outofthewaygalleria.org
Fees: Free to tour the gallery
Kids: Leave ’em
Pro Tip: While you’re in town, hit up the Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company; the chili paste is especially tasty.
Throughout Southern Arizona
You’re in an orange vest under a canopy of trees in Madeira Canyon, stabbing a shovel into rocky ground. It’s hard work uprooting invasive species and planting milkweeds that will attract butterflies. But it’s the best kind of labor: the kind that makes a difference. And you’re doing it with cool people who want to pitch in beyond writing a check. Sky Island Alliance offers year-round service opportunities across Southern Arizona that are popular with students, retirees and snowbirds. There are many other stewardship organizations, including Arizona Wilderness Coalition and Friends of Saguaro National Park, that also seek hands-on citizen involvement. Bonus: There are often appreciation parties. 520-624-7080, skyislandalliance.org
Fees: Many are free; some have registration fees
Kids: Take ’em on certain projects
Did You Know? Sky Island Alliance calculates that each volunteer hour is worth $23.07; logged hours apply toward grant-matching.
Be a Vintner for an Hour
Nothing takes the chill off an October day like a glass – or two – of red wine. To that end, the folks at Blendz in Downtown Flag will let you create your own blend. Good-natured Esteban Flores leads groups through a custom blending which includes a dizzying array of choices – such as Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot and Syrah. It takes some tinkering, but laughs are aplenty and Flores even strums a ukulele for impromptu entertainment. The finishing touch? A custom label featuring a photo downloaded from your cell phone. 21 E. Aspen Ave., 928-779-6445, wineblendz.com
Fees: $15 per person
Kids: Leave ’em
Pro Tip: Order $3 plates of charcuterie, cheese and olives to line your stomach for sipping.
Cellblock Trick or Treat
Talk about spooky: Strolling the imposing granite cellblock of the Yuma Territorial Prison is one of Arizona’s great creep-fests. But it’s also sweet collecting treats during Halloween’s Trick or Treat at the Prison. During its operation from 1876 to 1909, more than 3,000 captives, including women and polygamists, were held here. But for one night a year, a quirky twist has federal, local, state and tribal public safety employees, along with local businesspeople and non-profit staffers, pose as temporary “cellmates” and pass out candy to kids younger than 12. It’s ghoulishly good fun for both parents and children. 220 N. Prison Hill Rd., 928-783-4771, yumaprison.org
Fees: $1 per person admission
Kids: Take ’em
Did You Know? These chambers are notorious because prisoners had to hack out their own cells as living quarters.
Fall B&B Special
Secret Sylvan Resort
If it’s autumnal color you crave, red rock country delivers. Nestled in the woods near Oak Creek, the one- and two-bedroom cabins at Junipine Resort feature wraparound decks, wood-burning fireplaces and full kitchens. Though there’s plenty to do – including trout fishing (the chef will prepare your catch) – the lovely seclusion of the property might inspire you to inaction, just chilling out among the gold, orange, red and yellow foliage. Oh, and did we mention the rooms come with your own private hot tub for moonlight dips? 8351 AZ-89A, 928-282-3375, junipine.com
Fees: Call for best rates
Kids: Leave ʼ’em
Pro Tip: During leaf season, opt for a mid-week stay; it’ll be less expensive and less crowded in Sedona.
Stargaze Like a BOSS
tohono o’odham nation
The dark, clear Southern Arizona skies are home to some of the world’s most renowned observatories, including Kitt Peak National Observatory. Established in 1964, it boasts the largest collection of optical telescopes on earth. A specialized private astronomy program allows amateur Galileos to observe and capture images of the cosmos. The experience is customized and includes a guide along with full meals and dormitory-style, mountaintop lodging. Spaces are limited and requests must be submitted at least 30 days in advance.
Fees: Packages start at $650
Kids: Take ’em if they’re budding astronomers.
Pro Tip: Nightly viewing programs and full moon events are another – cheaper – way to experience dark skies.
Hiking Back Through Time
A trio of prehistoric cliff dwellings that date back to A.D. 1290 awaits the intrepid hiker at Pueblo Canyon Ruins. Located in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness near Roosevelt Lake, this is advanced backcountry hiking; Hike Arizona pegs the difficulty at 4 on a scale of 5, with an elevation gain of 2,500 feet over the eight miles. Because of this and its remote locale, it’s little used. But it packs big rewards as a result, both in landscape – red cliffs, desert scrub, impressive vistas – and a real sense of accomplishment. arizonaruins.com/sierra_ancha/pueblo_canyon
Kids: Leave ’em
Pro Tip: The trail can be overgrown and challenging to follow, so don’t go it alone, and you’ll need a high-clearance vehicle.
Discover Native Cuisine
Cholla buds are not the kind of thing you typically see on Phoenix menus. But they are a staple that has sustained the Tohono O’odham for centuries. Desert Rain Café puts a modern spin on traditional foodstuffs, serving up the buds (which have a delicate, artichoke-like flavor) in a zingy citrus salad. You can also taste tepary beans and saguaro fruit syrup. The café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but our favorite meal is the Thursday lunch, which features popular prickly pear-glazed pork ribs. Come early as they sell out fast. There’s also a gift shop so you can take home ingredients – the cinnamon-like mesquite flour makes wonderful cookies – for a home-based feast. Tohono Plaza, Main St., 520-383-4918, desertraincafe.com
Fees: Varies depending on what you order, but $-$$
Kids: Leave ’em
Did You Know? Many Native foods help regulate blood pressure and diabetes.
Take An RV To Wine Country
We love Southern Arizona wine country, save one thing – the primitive hospitality options. Scant B&Bs. Few restaurants. Zero resort scene. One solution: Bring your own hospitality, in the guise of a well-equipped recreational vehicle. Follow this three-day Southern Arizona RV itinerary to experience the region the way few others have.
What You’ll Need
• Bikes, preferably “mountain”
• A grill, preferably “charcoal”
• An RV, preferably “fully loaded”
Day 1: Unless you're in a right hurry, why not spend a night in Tucson? The spacious gravel parking lot next to the Downtown Clifton Hotel (485 S. Stone Ave., 520-623-3163, thedowntownclifton.com) in the city's Barrio Viejo neighborhood can accommodate your rig for the evening – a no-hookup RV practice known as “dry camping” – and is but two blocks from the Congress district and its sundry nightlife spots.
Day 2: After exploring the Sonoita/Elgin winemaking area (sonoitawineguild.com), make your way north to Willcox, where the lots are vast and operations like Pillsbury Wine Company (6450 S. Bennett Pl., 520-384-3964, pillsburywine.com) – recently named the best winery in Arizona by MSN – will welcome your rig with open arms. “We're what you call ‘harvest hosts,’” Sam Pillsbury says. “You can come and park or camp. If a farmer has chickens, you buy some eggs. If we crush grapes, you buy some wine. You can park wherever you want. And if you want to drink a lot of wine, it's a good thing you're walking back to your RV.”
Day 3: After a late breakfast, hop on your bike and explore Pillsbury's neighborhood, known as the Willcox bench. The area also includes award-winning wineries Sand-Reckoner Vineyards (sand-reckoner.com) and Bodega Pierce (bodegapierce.com). On the way home, stop in downtown Willcox, which has five more tasting rooms (willcoxwines.com) – or dry-camp for another night at Pillsbury's place if your designated driver tastes one too many.
Stay in a Snowbound Yurt
Someone once told us: “If you want to make a lifestyle magazine editor light in the head, show them a picture of a yurt.” The actual wording was actually a bit racier than that, but you get the picture. So what’s the appeal of these large, tent-like domiciles, favored by Mongolian invaders as they swept across the steppes of Asia? Well, they offer the illusion of camping, which we love, with comfort and theoretical cleanliness, which we also love. And it so happens that one of our favorite high-country recreation outfits, Nordic Village Arizona, operates five back-country yurts of varying size in the Coconino National Forest, each requiring a snowshoe or nordic ski trip of 1 to 2.7 miles. Because yurt bliss shouldn’t come easily – you need to suffer a little.
Kids: Take ’em if they can handle a snowshoe.
Pro Tip: Each yurt has a gas-burning grill, so load up your backpack with carne asada from Ranch Market.
Have a “Date” to Remember
“Sup like at sultan at a gourmet spread under the stars,” reads the tagline for Yuma’s Date Night dinners. And that’s not hyperbole. So delicious are Yuma dates, that some date-exporting Middle Eastern countries import them from us. A multi-course dinner in a lush date grove in the – surprise! – Medjool date capital of the world showcases the versatile fruit in all its sticky glory for a handful of dates in the balmy winter months through March. The open-air affair is limited to just 36, ensuring an intimate evening. Fair warning: tickets go fast. visityuma.com
Fees: $70 per person
Kids: Leave ’em
Did You Know? Naturally high in carbohydrates, dates are an excellent source of energy.
Plate Up for the Holidays
HF Coors doesn’t look like much from the outside: a dusty lot and a modest building behind a chain-link fence. But this
family-owned South Tucson dinnerware institution, which dates to 1925, makes its own clay and molds, fires and hand-paints everything onsite. There’s a lot to see crammed into the tight space, all of it tempting: colorful designs that feature familiar Southwestern graphics, animals and landscapes. Seasonal items feature Day of the Dead and Christmas motifs. This is restaurant-quality stuff made to last. Items start below $10 and rise to $1,000 for some complete settings. 1600 S. Cherrybell Stra., 520-903-1010, hfcoors.com
Fees: Free entrance
Kids: Leave ’em
Pro Tip: There’s a monthly sale on slightly imperfect items.
Downtown Los Angeles
Once a nightlife and entertainment black hole – save the odd philharmonic concert – Downtown Los Angeles is rumbling to life once again, and L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles is the epicenter. The entertainment complex houses a cinema, a performing arts theater and more than 15 restaurants. Some highlights:
• Wolfgang Puck’s WP24, a new restaurant featuring the chef’s modern take on traditional Chinese food.
• Two cutting-edge nightclubs: The Novo by Microsoft, a 2,300-person-capacity EDM palace; and the Conga Room, owned by a slew of celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, will.i.am, Jimmy Smits and Sheila E.
• The must-see/must-hear GRAMMY Museum, documenting the 57-year history of the music awards show.
• Staples Center, where you can see massive touring acts like U2 and Paul McCartney or catch a pro sports game (the L.A. Sparks in summer, and the Lakers, Clippers and Kings in fall, winter and spring).
This isn’t a quiet and peaceful vacay spot – people party into the wee hours of the morning on game and concert nights. But it’s perfect if you want to taste a pure distillation of L.A., bubbling in a neon-lit microcosm. If you’re bored here, you should check yourself for a pulse. Forgo high-end chain hotels for a room at bodacious boutique Luxe City Center Hotel, directly across the street from L.A. Live with windows overlooking all the action. 1020 S. Figueroa St., 213-748-1291, luxecitycenter.com
Getting There: Hey, it’s L.A. Just point your car west.
Cost: $392-$465 per night at the hotel
Kids: Take ’em... unless you’re going to The Novo
Did You Know? Adele played a record eight sold-out shows at Staples Center in 2016.
— Niki D’Andrea
The Great American Eclipse: Multiple Locations
Want to treat yourself to the most surreal, wondrous and spellbinding 101 seconds of your life? Make your way to one of the 12 U.S. states that will enjoy views of a total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. The super rare astronomical phenomenon – created when the Moon passes in front of the Sun, creating a path of daytime shadow over the surface of the Earth – will be viewable only on American soil, the first such exclusive engagement in the country’s 241-year history. Here are our three best bets for a solar money shot.
• Salem, Ore.
Coastal Oregon towns like Lincoln City and Newport risk being cloaked under a marine layer during the morning eclipse, but inland skies in the Willamette Valley are generally crisp in the late summer. Added bonus: Many area wineries, including Willamette Valley Vineyards (8800 Enchanted Way SE, Turner, 503-588-9463, wvv.com) will be holding eclipse parties.
• Casper, Wyo.
The preferred location of telescope geeks. Why? Superior weather prospects, and pinpoint location along the eclipse’s “centerline” lends itself to a long duration (2 minutes, 26 seconds).
• Nashville, Tenn.
Has the distinction of being the largest city in the path of the eclipse. Also has a pretty good music scene, from what we hear. And bourbon. And hot chicken.
info: For viewing tips, maps and times, visit greatamericaneclipse.com
— Craig Outhier
If New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, then Santa Fe is where its spellbinders live. And the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe is the best place to tap into their magic. The five-star resort is worth the splurge – nestled among golden cottonwoods in the aptly-named Sangre de Cristo red rock foothills just north of town, you’ll never want to leave. Dine at Terra, where executive chef Kai Autenrieth is a culinary wiz combining New Mexican flavors with his German roots (think green chile short ribs with chorizo-spiked spätzle). Unwind in their tranquil spa with a very-Santa Fe chakra-balancing massage. Or sign up for a signature excursion with Adventure Partners and explore the cliff dwellings of nearby Bandelier National Monument followed by insanely good hominy-laden posole on the San Ildefonso Pueblo, a working Native American reservation. If city life calls, hop on a complimentary resort shuttle and check out Meow Wolf, an interactive downtown art experience evocative of a “weird Disneyland,” an enchanted old house where doors lead into different dimensions. Weird magic? That’s Santa Fe for you. Rancho Encantado, 198 State Rd. 592, Santa Fe, 505-946-5700, fourseasons.com/santafe
Getting There: In December, American Airlines launched Phoenix Sky Harbor’s only direct flight to Santa Fe Municipal Airport, starting at $158 roundtrip.
Cost: Call for rates
Kids: Take ’em for the adventure, ditch ’em for the romance
Pro Tip: Four Seasons is notorious for pampering guests. Case in point: Rancho Encantado provides complimentary butlers who will light your room’s fireplace for a cozy night in.
— Lauren Loftus
Winter Escape: Cuba
It may sit just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, but for decades, Cuba has been inaccessible to most Americans. No more. Thanks to a lifted travel embargo last year, the country has become one of the hottest travel destinations of 2017. Cuba is a living time capsule that offers everything from sugar-sand beaches to UNESCO World Heritage Sites that have “weathered five centuries with barely a wrinkle,” according to UNESCO.
“What year?” my husband asks the taxi driver. “1952 Buick,” the fellow responds. Car person or no, you can’t resist the living museum of Eisenhower-era classic cars that is Havana. Negotiate a cheap fare and have your driver take you on a tour. Start with the Malecón, the miles-long promenade that was originally built to protect the city. It’s a gathering place for locals, tourists, fishermen and the occasional trumpet player… fedora and all.
Stay at a CASA PARTICULAR
Havana has some high-end hotels, but why go that route when the Airbnb revolution is in full swing? Known as casas particulares, these private residences offer you a history lesson in Cuban culture as you sip on Cuban coffee and chat with the owners. Some options include a mansion in Vedado, a penthouse room in Miramar and a charming place in Old Havana called Casa Pedro Maria, where a huge blue Colonial door on a cobblestone street opens to a lovely courtyard. Many tasty Cuba Libres and spirited talk about Fidel Castro’s legacy may follow.
Cubans love telling you all the places Ernest Hemingway frequented, including the famous El Floridita bar where the literary legend cultivated his love of daiquiris. Still, one of my favorite meals was at a place Hemingway did not visit – a tiny, graffiti-ridden dive bar called El Chanchullero. Servers look like they came out of a Super Mario Bros. video game, outfitted in revolutionary worker overalls, and the simple menu features tapas and croquetas plus amazing salads with some of the freshest fish you’ll find. You’ll know the place by the clever spray-painted signage out front: ¡Aquí Jamás Estuvo Hemingway! Translation: “Hemingway was never here!”
Getting There: Spirit and United Airlines fly to Havana through Houston.
Cost: Fares can be as low as $400
Kids: Take ’em if they’re older
Pro Tip: If you have time, rent a taxi and visit Viñales, home of tobacco fields and limestone outposts called mogotes. It’s a hiker’s and rock climber’s paradise.
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