Treehouse Vacations: 3 Awesome & Affordable Destinations
When you’re planning a vacation, an inspiring view out your hotel window is often high on your list. Well, it turns out there are some lodgings around the U.S. and beyond where that view is extremely inspiring, not to mention extremely high - like, in the treetops.
Here, three of our favorite treehouse vacations—all for well under $200/night.
1. BLUE RIDGE TREEHOUSE, BLUE RIDGE, GA
As if Blue Ridge, Georgia, weren’t beautiful enough, the Blue Ridge TreeHouse, located at Bear Claw Vineyards, delivers breathtaking views year-round. And autumn may be the best time of all to soak up those gorgeous colors. You’ll stay in a real treehouse - tree trunks are part of the interior design! - and enjoy visiting the vineyards, the nearby cool town of Blue Ridge, and those endless northern Georgia mountain views. (blueridgetreehouse.com)
2. TREEBONES RESORT, BIG SUR, CA
Perched high above cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur, California, Treebones Resort, on Highway 1 (which is now completely reopened) offers an array of elevated structures that deliver views of the sea and the stars you’ll never forget. The Human Nest (just what it sounds like) literally gets you up into the trees, and you have to bring your own sleeping bag and, when needed, rain gear. Cushier options include yurts (essentially comfy tents with hotel-style furnishings inside). The property also offers cozy indoor amenities, food at the Wild Coast Restaurant and the Sushi Bar, and lounge chairs for taking in the ocean views. You may even hear the distant cry of sea lions. (treebonesresort.com)
3. BANGKOK TREEHOUSE, THAILAND
Treehouse hotels aren’t just for U.S. domestic travelers. One of the best-known in the world is the Bangkok Treehouse, in Thailand, with a dozen elegant elevated bungalows built with sustainable wood and repurposed and recycled materials. You won’t believe you’re in a major metro area, just a short ferry or taxi ride from the city’s river, temples, and iconic skyscrapers. Thailand, though it’s a long flight away, we’ve found that it is affordable and easily navigable for American travelers thanks to reliable public transportation and English-speaking locals. (bangkoktreehouse.com)
5 Great Things to Eat in Mexico City
With dining options running the gamut from lowbrow to high, one star to five, the city formerly known as Distrito Federal has long been a mecca for foodies, and today, it’s better than ever. (The DF rebranded in 2016, and now it’s officially called Ciudad de México, though the original nickname still sticks.) Here are five things to look for on your next sojourn to the south, from sweet to spicy and everything in between. 1. Fanciful Fine Dining Beet salad, sea-urchin tostada, and rosé at Restaurante Máximo Bistrot Local. (Maya Stanton) Mexico City’s food scene went upscale some time ago, and it’s still going strong, with creative, multi-course tasting menus (a taco omakase, anyone?) at prices that would be a steal in most other major metropolises. To sample the high-end wares in a low-key setting, book a table at Máximo Bistrot, where chef Eduardo García has been turning out European-accented Mexican fare on a shady, tree-lined corner in Roma since 2011. A late, leisurely lunch is the move here; order a bottle of domestic rosé (the Adobe Guadalupe is a popular pick) and get ready for some of the best bites in town. The octopus ceviche is a standout, with tender slices of cephalopod in a deep pool of homemade Clamato spiked with lemon juice, cilantro, and serranos, and the sea-urchin tostada is something special, the bright-orange uni cooked with garlic, onions and tomatoes, paired with black-bean and avocado purées, crunchy radishes, and a dried-chile and peanut salsa, and served atop a crisp blue-corn tostada. The seasonal, locally sourced menu changes daily, and everything looks as good as it tastes, all beautifully plated on fair-trade serveware from artisans in and around Mexico City. For the ultimate sophisticated Saturday, spend the morning museum-going or gallery-hopping, then fortify yourself with a midday meal at Máximo. Restaurante Máximo Bistrot Local, Tonalá 133, Roma, +52-55-5264-4291; maximobistrot.com.mx. 2. Terrific Tacos A campechano taco from Los Cocuyos. (Maya Stanton) You can’t throw a stick without hitting a taco joint in the DF, and it’s safe to say that unless you live in one of the few U.S. locales that knows how to do tacos right, the quality here is way better than what you’ll find north of the border. Each is served atop doubled-up pint-sized tortillas, an abundance of meaty fillings to choose from, and fresh cilantro and finely chopped onion scattered on top—and that’s not to mention the array of accoutrements available. If you’re in the Centro, you can’t go wrong with the suadero (brisket), lengua (tongue), or campechano (mixed meat) tacos from Los Cocuyos, a hole-in-the-wall spot that keeps a giant pan of assorted sausages and hunks of meat on a permanent simmer, just waiting for the orders to roll in. Customize yours with pico de gallo, salsas verde or rojo, radish slices, and lime wedges, then head outside and eat hunched over a paper plate with grease streaming through your fingers. Taquería Los Cocuyos, Calle de Bolívar 57, Centro. 3. Street Eats Mango with hot sauce and lime, from a vendor outside of Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul. (Maya Stanton) Those with sensitive hypochondriac tendencies might opt out of street food, but for people with tough stomachs and curious palettes, there’s all kinds of good stuff on offer. From overstuffed gorditas to market-stand ceviches to tacos upon tacos upon tacos, Mexico City is awash with open-air vendors hawking pretty much everything imaginable. Don’t leave without trying the fresh-cut mango: Peeled, chopped, sprinkled with sugar, and doused with lime juice and hot sauce, it's incredibly refreshing on a hot sunny day. 4. Marvelous Masa An octopus memela from Fonda Fina. (Maya Stanton) The corn-based dough known as masa serves as the basis for Mexican staples of all kinds, from tortillas and banana leaf–wrapped tamales to sopes (small fried pucks crowned with assorted meat and vegetables) and huaraches (flat shoe-shaped patties covered with refried beans and other garnishes). Memelas, slightly thicker than a tortilla but thinner than a sope, are a mesa’s close cousin. You’ll find an excellent, upmarket take at Fonda Fina in Roma Norte, where the corn cake is topped with penny-sized slices of octopus, knobs of roasted cauliflower, and little bits of pressed pork, then drenched in squid ink and dusted with ground chicatana ants. It’s hardly a pretty dish, but what it lacks in beauty, it more than makes up for in flavor. Well-executed menu aside, the restaurant gets bonus points for serving dinner on Sunday, a rarity in this town. Just be sure to get there early, as the kitchen closes at 7:00 p.m. Fonda Fina, Medellín 79, Roma Norte, +52-55-5208-3925; fondafina.com.mx. 5. Sweet Treats An order of churros from Churrería El Moro. (Maya Stanton) A visit to Mexico City isn’t complete without a stop for churros, those deep-fried, cruller-like delights, and lucky for night owls, local mini-chain Churrería El Moro’s flagship Centro spot is open 24 hours. Watch the workers behind the counter wrangle unruly coils of piped dough into a bubbling trough of hot oil and try to wait patiently for your order to arrive, fresh out of the fryer and dusted with cinnamon and sugar, a cup of dipping chocolate on the side. At just $1 for four, and 35 cents or so for the chocolate, they’re a satisfying, easily shared, budget-friendly snack. Churrería El Moro, Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 42, Centro, +52-55-5512-0896; elmoro.mx.
5 Secrets to Perfect Leaf Peeping
Blink and you’ll miss it: That short stretch of time when you can catch the autumn leaves at their peak color. We talked to some outdoorsy experts for pro tips on how to get the most out of this season's splendid display of reds, golds, and yellows. 1. Be an early riser (Daveallenphoto/Dreamstime)Jim Salge has a background in meteorology and environmental science and spends time observing the weather from up on New Hampshire's Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. He’s also a widely published nature photographer. If Salge has one piece of advice for leaf-peepers, it’s this: get up early. “So much of the magic happens at dawn in the fall in New England,” he says. “There’s morning mist, amazing sunbeam patterns, dew on the ground, and fog over lakes and settling over valleys. You miss so much of what fall is if you get out at nine or ten in the morning and the sun is already bright.” That means superior photographs and envy-worthy Instagram posts for early birds. And tranquility. Salge is out before dawn every day between mid-September and November, so he’s well familiar with the serenity to be found when there’s just a few others around to share the majestic landscape. 2. Know the science (Brian Lasenby/Dreamstime)It tends to take people by surprise when you put it in these terms, but foliage is essentially death. When a tree shuts down for the winter, photosynthesis--the respiration process that produces the chlorophyll that gives leaves their green hue--stops. To hear Chris Martin, director and state forester at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, explain it, that allows the leaves’ other pigments, many of which are always present, just not visible under the predominant green, to pop through as they take a longer time to die off. Fun fact: those other pigments play familiar roles elsewhere in nature, like carotenoids, the stuff that makes carrots orange and buttercups and bananas yellow. Each leaf is like a snowflake: unique in its own way. Salge suggests looking at leaves backlit by the sun to see the singular vein structure. 3. Follow the map Considering there are apps for identifying stars in the night sky, it’s almost a wonder that foliage trackers didn’t have many digital guide options until recently. A few popular regions have their own up-to-the-moment live maps to follow. The Adirondacks, for one, has reintroduced its Foliage Meter this year (adirondacksusa.com/fall), which indicates, by region, what percentage of the trees are at peak. At the time of writing this in late September, they were only at an average of 10% around the Adirondacks. The site also provides itineraries for day trips and guidance on where to eat and stay. Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website offers predictions and advisories as well as suggestions for prime viewing locations and day trips. Newengland.com shows where the wave of peak is occurring—or where it’s expected, at least, notes Salge with a wink. But perhaps most impressive of all is the effort from SmokyMountains.com, an extensive tourism website. Their predictive map involves an algorithm that analyzes a few million data points, like historical temperatures and precipitations as well as forecast temps and precipitations, all of which are based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s figures. The algorithm is designed to forecast the precise moment when peak foliage will happen. And this year there are even more features to enhance the experience. "After having dozens of conversations with our fall foliage map users, I realized the data-driven predictive process seems magical to the average layperson,” Wes Melton, the map's creator and co-founder and chief technology officer of SmokyMountains.com, said in a statement. “This year, I decided to make a secondary interactive graphic with regional and state data related to temperature variations. The temperature data supplied by the NOAA is one of the most important factors and now leaf map users can easily visualize the impact of regional precipitation on peak fall dates." Fall prediction map for October 1, 2018. (Courtesy smokymountains.com) 4. Park your car When you’re looking at the foliage at 65 miles per hour, it’s one giant blur of color, making it easy to think every tree looks like all the rest. Not so fast. Most people like scenic vistas, Martin notes, so find a precipice and park your car for a long view of the scenery. With their hills and varied terrain, the northeast and northwest corners of Connecticut provide excellent observation points. And for a deeper understanding of foliage’s glorious diversity, get out of your car and take a hike. 5. Make a plan As you now know from the interactive map of the Smoky Mountains, the moment’s foliage is not simply dependent on the week’s weather. Year-round conditions contribute to the ultimate color show. This year there have been drought issues in northern New York and northern Vermont, which could mute the colors, so if this season’s spectacle doesn’t quite compare to that of last year, that’s why. In Connecticut, however, there was lots of rain in August and the damp forestry lends itself to some vivid color across the area’s diverse trees. Anyone south-bound will be happy to know that the recent hurricane did not have an impact on the foliage in the Blue Ridge. Asheville experienced only 1.5 inches of rainfall from the storm, so they're expecting as jaw-dropping of a show as always in the area, including along the Blue Ridge Parkway. As far as planning, there are some general things to keep in mind. Peak color takes about six weeks to move across New England. It starts at high elevations and moves downhill then south and towards the ocean over that time. But let’s be honest: even the most avid nature buff can only tree-gaze for so long. Salge reminds that for many people, foliage is about more than just trees. Most plan their travels as a bonus to traditional fall events, like going to a farm, a fall festival, or apple orchards. “I’ve been doing this for ten years, and it’s amazing to go out and enjoy looking at leaves, but natural sites are second to traditions.” he says. And everyone knows that leaves look even better with cider and a donut in hand.
Locals Know Best: Salt Lake City, Utah
Brad Wheeler is many things: a DJ at KUAA 99.9FM, a Salt Lake City radio station owned by Utah Arts Alliance, the program director and music director at the station, a blues musician who plays a mean harmonica and lists Willie Nelson and jazz saxophone legend Joe McQueen among the artists he's performed with, and teacher, estimating he's taught about 20,000 kids to play harmonica over the past few decades. Most of all, though, he's a die-hard lover of Salt Lake City, his hometown for decades. We checked in with him to get his recommendations on where to eat, shop, and listen to music, as well as where to go when you just wanna get outta dodge. Eat your heart out If there’s one thing Brad wants everyone to know, it’s that Utah has the greatest Mexican restaurant in the world, and not just for the food. “Ohio may have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but we have the Red Iguana. More famous musicians have come through the doors there than I can tell you,” he says. The late Ramon Cardenas, whose parents founded the restaurant, is the Red Iguana's patron saint—and maybe Salt Lake’s music industry’s patron saint, too. As legend has it, his parents came from Mexico and opened the restaurant in 1985. While they ran it, he’d go out to concerts and if he liked the band, he’d pile them into his hot rod after the show and drive them over to the restaurant to chow. He placed ads all over the punk magazines. A cult classic was born. (Being featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" only furthered the cause.) It’s so popular that when they opened a second one around the block in 2011, the lines were immediately just as long as the ones at the first. And its fans are so loyal, Brad says, that the day someone rammed his car into the restaurant, lines formed around the car. But that’s not the only spot Brad insists on taking out-of-town guests. Caputo’s Deli is high on the list, but the Italian deli foods here aren’t even half of the allure. The shop has what is said to be the largest collection of artisanal chocolate bars in the country—over 300 and counting. And if you’re planning to be in town for a while, sign up for one of the chocolate tasting classes. But wait—there’s more. It’s the only place in the country to have not one, but two cheese caves for aging. As proof of just how superior they are, Brad notes that Cristiano Creminelli—a superstar in Italy for his salami—pinpointed Salt Lake City as his homebase not simply because the pigs he found roaming in Spanish Fork, a nearby town, were perfect for his meat, but also because Caputo’s caves were an ideal aging facility. Paradise City for music lovers Let’s be very clear: the Heavy Metal Shop sells far more than just heavy metal vinyl and CDs. Brad proclaims owner Kevin Kirk one of rock and roll’s greatest fans, and he’s curated such an excellent selection that word’s out all over the world. In the early 1990s, Alice Cooper and members of the metal band Slayer were spotted wearing the store’s branded t-shirts on a television interview and magazine cover, respectively. Kurt was flooded with orders—via phone. (It was the early '90s, after all.) Now people around the world sport his t-shirts and hoodies and musicians like the Athens alt-country band Drive By Truckers swing through when they’re in town to shop and even perform quick acoustic sets. There’s also Randy’s Record Shop, one of the top four oldest record stores west of the Mississippi and another one of Brad’s go-to’s for excellent vinyl--both familiar and obscure. Keep an eye out for the monthly $1 sale. “It’s unreal,” Brad, who's known to his listeners as "Bad Brad," assures. That’s hardly the only reason Salt Lake City is a destination for music lovers. There are a number of options for anyone looking for live shows. Garage on Beck is a funky venue located in the middle of an oil refinery, just bear in mind: the concerts—which range from rock to jazz—tend to sell out and the parking lot is a very narrow stretch of land, so if you get there late, prepare to trek up to more than a mile from your car. When you arrive, though, you’ll be richly rewarded with the funeral potatoes, a deep-fried potato ordeal that involves jalapenos, cheddar cheese, bacon, scallions, and a corn flake crust. It’s a Mormon tradition gone off the deep end. For something a bit more low-key, but not much, there are three downtown clubs all within three blocks of one another, and Brad endorses them each for their own individual reasons. Metro Music Hall is a mid-size venue that hosts local and national acts, the Depot is a retrofitted old Union Pacific depot that now hosts mostly DJs and rock shows, and the Complex is, not surprisingly, a complex of several venues hosting marquee name musicians as well as sports events. Daytripping Music is so deeply woven into Brad’s sense of being that he measures drive times by CD lengths. Salt Lake City is two and a half CDs from the canyons and rock formations that distinguish Capital Reef National Park. The mighty Moab is three or four CDs, depending on how fast you drive, and Zion National Park is five or six. And they’re both must-sees while in Utah. “They’re places that change the way you look at the world—they change you from the outside in,” he says, still in wonder of the landscapes despite visiting them for decades. Chalk it up to the incredibly varied landscape. “One minute you’re in an Alpine forest, like something in Switzerland, then the next minute it’s like a scene out of Dr. Seuss. Or Mars." A bit closer to town is Snowbasin, a resort known for its 3,000 acres land, much of which is skiable. It’s actually, however, a year-round destination with swimming, concerts, tram rides, and alpine slides in the warmer months. Regardless of the weather, Brad recommends stopping off at the Shooting Star Saloon on your drive to the resort. It's the oldest bar west of the Mississippi and it proudly stays true to its vintage roots. You’ll find burgers cooked on electric griddles, a jukebox with vinyl records, and more. Those interested in older history should head about 30 minutes east for a day in Park City and explore its mining legacy. And if you’re if even older history is more your speed, the scene is pretty much primordial at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Tens of thousands of years ago it was a tremendous saline lake and today, with the water gone, it’s one of the flattest places on the planet, a fantasy playground for bicyclists, kiteboarders and hot rod drivers. (“On a clear day, you can see the curvature of the earth,” says Brad.) Not too far is Danger Cave, an archaeological site that Brad, who studied archeology, loves to recommend. Some of the oldest weavings in the world were found there. It all just adds to the mysterious glory of the place. “It just feels like you’re in a Fleetwood Mac video—you're just out there where there’s nothing,” he says. “It’s big and flat and all out there.” Pick up some sandwiches from Caputo’s and make a day of it.
Hotel We Love: Hotel Max, Seattle
Seattle was established as a city in 1851, yet chances are that when its history is written in 50 years, the most memorable chapter will be about when Howard Schultz opened his little coffee shop in Pike’s Place Market in 1971 and called it Starbucks. Or it will be about the 1990s when Seattle served as ground zero for the grunge music that defined Gen X. It’s the latter that takes center stage at Hotel Max, a creative downtown option that’s part boutique hotel and part shrine to the city’s indigenous sound and laidback vibe. THE STORY Hotel Max isn’t just in downtown Seattle, it is Seattle. At every turn there is something to remind you where you are, from the signed prototype of the Gibson bass guitar designed by Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic perched in the spacious lobby to local craft beer at the bar and served during happy hour to the 350-plus paintings and photos by area artists on display throughout the ten-floor hotel. Among that collection of photos are the images on the exterior of each room’s door. Each floor is dedicated to a single photographer’s work and perhaps the most notable of all is the collection of Charles Peterson’s shots on the fifth floor. Known for documenting legends, the photos here include dramatic concert shots of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and more. But that’s only the start of the fifth floor’s story. Seattle’s seminal music label Sub Pop Records celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013 and for the occasion, the hotel transformed the rooms on the floor as a tribute to them. Each room is now equipped with a record player and vinyl collection, a bathrobe styled as a grey hoodie, and cheeky references to the bands, like the do-not-disturb door tag that reads “Nevermind” and the hair dryer stored in a cloth bag labeled “Blow.” THE QUARTERS There are five different size options among the 163 spacious rooms, from minimalist option with a full-size bed to four increasingly bigger sizes, including one with a king-size bed and separate sitting space. They’re all designed in a neutral grey palate with pops of bright color throughout--the pillows, the throws, the bathroom walls--that evoke 1960s design. Local pride rings through in the exclusive Sub Pop television channel, which broadcasts the label’s current and vintage videos, and a mini fridge stocked with spirits made at the nearby Sun Liquor Distillery. Each room features a flat-screen TV, free Wi-Fi, and, like its sister property in Portland, Oregon, Hotel deLuxe, a clever “You Got It” button on the phone that connects you to the front desk for all requests—even whimsical ones, within reason. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The hotel sits smack in the middle of downtown Seattle, a notably walkable city. An array of local restaurants as well as familiar retailers—Nordstrom, Macy's, H&M—are located within blocks. It takes 15 minutes or less to walk to the famed Pike Place Market or the hip enclave of Belltown, and a little more than that to reach Capital Hill, a popular tourist destination for coffee-loving visitors, as it's home to the sweeping Starbucks Roastery, a veritable carnival of a coffee house with a food court–like setup and a huge roaster that attracts a picture-snapping crowd every few hours when it motors up. There's even a bar. Should you feel like venturing out to the beach or opt for public transportation to and from the airport, the hotel is a few blocks away from a Link light-rail station. THE FOOD A nine-foot-long custom-built, brass-accented grill anchors Miller’s Guild, the hotel’s restaurant that’s retrofitted into a space originally built in 1925 to house workers and craftspeople who worked at the Vance Lumber Company. Helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson, the emphasis here is on local and nose-to-tail butchering of heritage breed livestock. The butcher block, in fact, is on full view. The menu features all kinds of wood-fired indulgences, like 75-day dry-aged beef, straight off the flames of the showcase grill. The drink list is just as engaging, with an extensive selection of local spirits and beer as well as cocktails aged in barrels perched behind the bar. A full breakfast menu is served here, too. There's also free locally roast coffee each morning in the lobby. ALL THE REST Two words: Happy hour. Each day between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., guests are treated to complimentary pints of local beer in the window-lined lobby, which is equipped with comfy furniture and board games. And dog-owners, take note: in accordance with classic Pacific Northwest lifestyle, the hotel is pet-friendly. Amenities for four-legged guests include everything from room service with eco-minded food choices, groomers, veterinarians, and a few more bourgeois services, like pet acupuncture and psychics. RATES & DEETS Starting at $125 Hotel Max 620 Stewart St. Seattle, WA 98101 (206) 728-6299 / hotelmaxseattle.com