Hotel We Love: Blockade Runner Beach Resort, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Not 20 minutes from downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, on the barrier island of Wrightsville Beach sits the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, a family-owned property centrally located on a pristine oceanfront plot. The boutique hotel has been around since the mid-60s, but it’s received a contemporary facelift over the years, now boasting stylish accommodations, beautifully manicured gardens, and an unsullied stretch of white sand, where beach meets gentle ocean waves.
The Blockade Runner’s history begins some 120 years ago, when the Colonial-style Seashore Hotel, located at the same site, opened to the public in 1897. As with many buildings in the Wilmington area during this time period, it didn’t last long, falling victim to a fire in 1918. In 1922, the Ocean Terrace Hotel took its place, but it wasn’t long for this world either, hit hard by a hurricane in 1954 and burning down entirely the following year. In 1964, the current iteration opened, and you can see still elements of the original midcentury style in the blonde-wood ballroom, once the main dining room. Today, the resort is collectively owned by four siblings, two of whom have managed the property since 1984.
Each floor of the Blockade Runner has a unique style—my third-floor oceanfront room featured two queen-size sleigh beds with pink accents, a set of white chairs cozily arranged in front of sliding-glass doors for optimal sunrise-watching or coffee-drinking, and a gold wall treatment reminiscent of glam fish scales—but its 147 rooms and three suites all come equipped with a king or two queen beds, flat-screen TVs, Keurig coffee makers, mini fridges, free WiFi, and plush terry robes. Harborfront rooms are the least expensive; they overlook the Intracoastal Waterway’s boat slips and offer great sunset views, but in the process, they also face the parking lot. Oceanfront rooms come with or without a balcony and cost a little more, and suites are at the top end, thanks to roomy digs, soaking tubs with ocean views, and loungy balconies with gas fireplaces. Also available: A two-story cottage (formerly a boarding house), adjacent to the hotel, that sleeps up to 26 people, with 13 bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, and a dining room that seats 20.
The beach is the neighborhood. Blockade Runner is a classic resort and it lives up to its billing, with enough attractions to keep guests on the property and happy about it, but it’s also centrally located on the island, just a brief walk from beach-town style bars, restaurants, and shops and a short drive over the causeway from Wilmington proper. No visit to the shore is complete without a stop at beachwear chain Wings, where you’ll find every conceivable accessory you’d want (and quite a few that you wouldn’t), and you’ll pass one on your way to the hotel, just as you exit the bridge. After you’ve had your fill of cheap t-shirts and toys, head around the corner to Hallelu, a cute boutique peddling bohemian, beachy clothes and inexpensive jewelry, or stroll a little further down Lumina Avenue to Sweetwater Surf Shop, where you’ll find a collection of cheeky Ts, bikinis, and boards, and Wrightsville Beach Art Company, the only gallery on the island, for nautical pieces made from recycled materials.
On the property, East Oceanfront Dining serves coastal cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, either in the sleek dining room or outside on the canopied garden patio, and there’s a poolside bar that opens in late March for cocktails and seafood-forward fare. (Breakfast is only included with certain packages, and if yours isn’t one of them, the a la carte menu is a more appealing option than the buffet.) Within walking distance, try the Trolly Stop for hot dogs (varieties include all-beef, smoked pork, and vegetarian) or the deli counter at Roberts Market for juicy, piping-hot fried chicken—but only before 3 p.m., when both local faves stop serving (on offseason weekdays, at least). The Workshop, tucked into a small space behind Wings, offers espresso drinks and premade sandwiches with a side of shark-teeth jewelry; further down Lumina, 22 North has a killer fried-alligator special that’s lovely with a glass of white wine. On Harbor Island, between Wrightsville and the mainland, try Poe’s Tavern for burgers; across the Intracoastal, grab a seat on the deck at the Fish House Grill for iced tea and fish tacos (expect a wait on sunny afternoons), or make a reservation at the Bridge Tender for a more upscale waterfront experience. And over the causeway, just a few minutes from Blockade Runner by car (my Lyft ride cost all of $4), is Ceviche’s, a Panamanian restaurant with strong tropical beverages and a menu that ranges from traditional plates like ropa vieja and arroz con pollo to the namesake selection of ceviches. Scoop up the corvina, sea bass classically prepared with lime, cilantro, and red onion, and the langoustine, marinated in citrus and coconut milk, with plantain chips and tostones, and wash it all down with a fresh-lime margarita (only $6 on Mondays!).
ALL THE REST
Blockade Runner’s ocean-facing gardens are beautifully manicured, with a pool and hot tub that open in the spring. Guests can take classes at an ASA-certified sailing school (good for beginners or intermediates) or charter a boat for an evening sail; rent a kayak and explore the sound, either on your own or with a guided tour of the salt marsh; or lounge by the pool or the ocean and let an attendant keep you in fruity umbrella drinks. In low season, you can get a great deal on accommodations, and though you might not spend much time lying on the beach, the area makes a good mid-winter escape, with average temperatures hovering around the 60s from December to February. The rates more than double during the summer, though, so if you’re looking for a peak-summer bargain, this probably isn’t it. Also, as is common with some beach locations, the tap water is sulfuric, so if you’re sensitive to that smell or taste, be sure to bring filtered water with you.
RATES & DEETS
Starting at $125.
Blockade Runner Beach Resort
275 Waynick Boulevard
Wrightsville Beach, NC
BT on the Weather Channel: Awesome & Affordable Spring Trips
If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of winter 2018 melting (finally!) into spring, and with that warm weather comes spring road trips, big-city getaways, and hiking in the national parks. Budget Travel editor in chief Robert Firpo-Cappiello shares three great spring destinations on The Weather Channel’s morning show, AMHQ, on Friday morning, March 30, around 8:40am Eastern. If you miss one of our regular live broadcasts on The Weather Channel, you can often catch them on Budget Travel’s Facebook page, and, of course, you can learn more about each of these affordable spring trips right here at BudgetTravel.com. 1. SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO First of all: How does 300 days of sunshine per year sound? That’s what Santa Fe, New Mexico, enjoys, and you will too. The second-oldest city in America is also the highest state capital, at 7,000 feet above sea level. Santa Fe offers incredible history going back to the days when it was a hub for traders and pioneers in the Southwest. You’ll love the museums, galleries, and interactive art spaces, decadent spas, great food, and free-flowing margaritas. It’s a city that embraces its own quirkiness, earning its nickname, The City Different. 2. NEW ORLEANS New Orleans has a reputation for partying, and this year may be its biggest party yet. The Big Easy celebrates its 300th anniversary all year long, and spring - the sweet spot between Mardi Gras and summer vacation - may be the best time to find bargains and fewer crowds. You can hear authentic American jazz, blues, and other music all over town, try a classic Sazerac cocktail, explore the city’s voodoo culture, and kayak the bayou. 3. GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK With more than 11 million visitors each year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling the Tennessee and North Carolina border, is America’s most popular - it’s centrally located for a relatively easy road trip from much of the East, South, and Midwest. And admission is free, thanks to an agreement with the state of Tennessee when the park was founded (though we do recommend you make a donation to the nonprofit Friends of the Smokies. The park is bouncing back from the fires of late 2016, and it’s the ultimate budget escape with campsites for $20, amazing hiking, old-growth forest, and the kind of scenic overlooks that Instagram was invented for.
Hotel We Love: Hotel Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM
As soon as you step foot in the lobby at Hotel Santa Fe, it's clear you're somewhere that takes its location seriously. From the rough-hewn vigas, posts, and lintels—hallmarks of the signature Santa Fe Style—in the lobby to the heavy leather furniture, southwestern textiles, and Native American art featured throughout the property, that sense of place permeates every corner. Closer to the Railyard than the hustle and bustle of Santa Fe's historic central Plaza, it makes a good base of operations for exploring both areas. And, as the only Native American-owned hotel downtown, it provides guests with an opportunity to learn a bit more about an underrepresented culture and history, all while supporting the local economy. THE STORY Hotel Santa Fe opened in 1991, but its story begins in 1988, when the idea of a collaboration between local business folks and the Picurís Pueblo, one of 23 tribes in New Mexico, was first floated. At that time, other Pueblos in the area were looking to casinos to provide revenue streams, but given its remote mountain location, that wasn’t an option for the Picurís, so the Bureau of Indian Affairs suggested looking to Santa Fe and its robust tourism industry for opportunities. That partnership produced the only property in the city’s downtown area that’s majority Native American–owned, and it offers guests a unique glimpse of Picurís Pueblo art and culture, from sculpture and storytelling to drumming and dance. THE QUARTERS Though its adobe exterior lends an air of antiquity, Hotel Santa Fe’s accommodations are anything but. Each of the 28 rooms and 90 suites is kitted out with crisp white sheets, down comforters, granite bathroom vanities, and southwestern-style pine furnishings, while the 35 rooms and suites in the Hacienda, a separate building with a more exclusive, upscale feel, come equipped with remote-controlled fireplaces, professional butler service, and walk-in showers. All rooms have WiFi and fully stocked minibars. THE NEIGHBORHOOD A few years before the hotel’s partners acquired the land upon which they’d eventually build, the city announced plans to revitalize the Railyard. It would take more than 20 years for then Mayor Montaño’s vision to be realized, but after the project finally debuted in 2008, Hotel Santa Fe was literally in prime position: a five-minute walk to avant-garde art at SITE Santa Fe in the Railyard, with its galleries, shops, and fantastic farmers’ market, but still only 15 minutes from the historic Plaza and its surrounding museums, restaurants, and bars. Not up for the walk? The hotel has a free shuttle that will deliver guests door to door within a certain radius, so you can leave your car parked in the lot (also free!) without fretting about trying to nab one of those elusive spots downtown. THE FOOD The City Different is known for its chile and its margaritas, and there are enough of both here to keep even the biggest diehard happy—and more. Within a couple of blocks of the Hotel Santa Fe, there’s a brewery, a hard-cider taproom, and a distillery, not to mention coffee shops and cafes, so guests should have no trouble quenching their thirst; nearby snack options include a hot-dog spot and Sage Bakehouse, known for its green-chili cheese bread and flaky almond croissants. For a more substantial meal, venture a few blocks north to Cowgirl BBQ for smoked meats and chiles rellenos, and a few blocks further for legendary breakfast burritos at Tia Sophia’s, blue-corn pancakes at La Fonda on the Plaza, crowd-pleasers like queso, guac, ground-beef tacos, and margaritas at the Shed, and four-star modern Mexican moles at Sazón. At the hotel itself, Amaya serves a seasonally appropriate menu combining local Pueblo and northern New Mexican cuisines; between Memorial Day and Labor Day, private family-style dinners are also available in a teepee that comes complete with traditional hides and blankets. If you’ve opted for a room in the Hacienda, you’ll have access to an “afternoon reception” (otherwise known as happy hour) on the sixth floor, with complimentary drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and city views from the terrace. ALL THE REST Santa Fe’s art scene is justly renowned, and you don’t have to step foot off the property to see why. (Though you should!) The hotel is home to a multimillion-dollar collection of Native American art, and paintings, pottery, and sculpture are interspersed inside and out. There’s live music in the lounge on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as a spa, a heated pool (closed from about Thanksgiving to Easter), and a hot tub. The spa menu features the usual suspects—massage, reflexology, facials, and the like—but even if you’re not going to spend time on the treatment table, it’s worth a trip to upstairs just to gawk at the gorgeous wall of crystals at the entrance. RATES & DEETS Starting at $129. Hotel Santa Fe1501 Paseo de PeraltaSanta Fe, NM 87501(855) 825-9876 hotelsantafe.com
How to Have a Fun, Low-Key Weekend in San Francisco
Whether you’re visiting a city for the first time or the tenth, it’s easy to find yourself scrambling to fill every moment with must-see, can’t-miss stuff. There’s a time and a place for trips like that, but once in awhile, it’s refreshing to go somewhere and just...hang out. That's how I spent a recent weekend in San Francisco, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s how I did it. Day One: Start Off Strong. Cappucino at Ritual Coffee. (Maya Stanton) After a late arrival the night before, I was desperate for caffeine, and my friend had hopped an early flight that morning, so he was in the same boat. (We were really lucky to be staying with friends who live in NoPa, but even without our awesome hosts, I’d recommend a hotel or Airbnb away from the usual touristy zones, just like I’d recommend that visitors to New York stay somewhere other than Times Square.) We walked a few blocks to Ritual Coffee (ritualroasters.com), a white-walled, light-filled space on Haight Street, where the beans are consciously sourced, roasted on site, and turned into quality cups of brew. Sitting outside in the sun, we plotted our next move. Dim sum extravaganza at Hong Kong Lounge II. (Maya Stanton) Confession time: I like to organize my time around the meals I want to eat, and I don’t go anywhere without a list of restaurants to try. Priorities! We tossed around a few ideas, settled on dim sum, and made our way over to Hong Kong Lounge II (hongkonglounge2.com) in Laurel Heights. We got there just ahead of the lunch crowd, snagged a table, and stuffed ourselves silly with soup dumplings, pork buns, crispy tofu-skin rolls, pea shoots with garlic, turnip cakes, and salt and pepper calamari. (And maybe more dumplings.) The Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park. (Maya Stanton) After that feast, a nap would've been in order, but we opted for a long walk instead, wandering to and through Golden Gate Park (goldengatepark.com) and basking in the perfect 70-degree weather. Hidden Garden Steps, on 16th Avenue between Kirkham and Lawton. (Maya Stanton) Exiting the park, we meandered toward the Inner Sunset, where we stumbled upon a set of staircases leading up toward Grandview Park. The 15th Avenue Steps were steep and plain, so we kept walking until we hit the Hidden Garden Steps (hiddengardensteps.org), which were steep and beautifully tiled, and then a little bit further, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps (16thavenuetiledsteps.com), which were steep, with a sea to stars–themed mosaic. We opted for the last one, and it was a punishing climb, but the views from the top were worth it. At that point, we figured we’d earned ourselves a beer, and happy hour at Finnegans Wake (finneganssf.com), a classic pub in Cole Valley, proved to be just the thing. We spent an amiable hour or so catching up over cheap cans of Founders on the shady, muraled back patio, then headed back toward home base via Haight-Ashbury, the iconic, now kinda seedy birthplace of ‘60s counterculture. Piedmont Boutique in Haight-Ashbury. (Maya Stanton) We caught up with our hosts and decided on a late dinner at Tartine Manufactory (tartinemanufactory.com), the newish offshoot of the much-renowned Mission bakery and a carb-lovers’ paradise in its own right. The bread is the point here, and it’s amazing and a must-have—we ordered three or four rounds to go with a couple of generously proportioned salads and a few spreads, and it was the perfect way to round out our Friday. Day Two: Take It Easy. Ocean Beach. (Maya Stanton) After logging nearly 22,000 steps the day before, we had something a little more relaxing in mind for Saturday: The weather was perfect, once again, and the beach beckoned. We made a quick stop at Trouble Coffee Co. (trouble.coffee), the tiny storefront that originated the $4 toast craze, then rolled down to Ocean Beach. Under clear blue skies, surrounded by happy, playful pups and pick-up games of football and ultimate frisbee, we strolled by the water’s edge, watched the surfers, and gave thanks for cheap airfare. Pints and parmesan-truffle fries at Park Chalet. (Maya Stanton) Then it was time for lunch, and we didn’t have far to go. Just across the road from the beach is Park Chalet (parkchalet.com), a beer garden in Golden Gate Park that’s tailor-made for sunny afternoons, with low tables and Adirondack-style plastic chairs sprawled across the lawn for optimal lounging. It took a few minutes of hovering and scoping out the scene—families with babies and dogs, groups of friends downing pints and eating bread bowls brimming with clam chowder—before we could find a table, but once we got one, we settled in for the long haul for burgers, salads, and baskets of parmesan-truffle fries. Next time, I'd order the fish tacos, but other than that, I wouldn't change a thing. On our way out of the park, we stopped for a quick peek at the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden and its authentic Dutch windmill, donated to the city in 1902, then swung by the Sunday Roller Disco Party at Skatin' Place (cora.org/skatinplace.htm), where skaters of all stripes get down to DJ-spun dance tunes. Despite not doing much of anything all day, those hours in the sun wore us out, so we opted for dinner delivery and camped out on the couch to watch the Olympics in comfy pants. Another super-strenuous, successful day, in the books. Day 3: Wind It Down. Wave Organ in San Francisco Bay. (Pius Lee/Dreamstime) With my mid-afternoon flight fast approaching, there wasn’t much time on Sunday, but we managed to squeeze in a bit of fun before takeoff. First stop: Wave Organ (exploratorium.edu/visit/wave-organ), an acoustic sculpture on a jetty in San Francisco Bay that channels the flow of water through a network of PVC and concrete pipes to subtle, musical effect. (We missed high tide, which is when it's at its best; make sure you check those times before you go.) Brunch at Presidio Social Club. (Courtesy Presidio Social Club) We were already in the Marina district, and from there it’s just a quick scoot over to the Presidio, where we had a reservation for brunch in the former barracks now known as the Presidio Social Club (presidiosocialclub.com). The service was painfully slow, but if you have to wait 20 minutes for a Bloody Mary and a cup of coffee, there are worse places to do it. In the airy, grown-up dining room with its big windows, white tablecloths, and dark wood, we chowed down on quiche and salad and ahi tuna poke, but the best thing we had was a selection of pastries from the bakery section of the menu—the churro-like beignets, with hot-chocolate dipping sauce, and the cinnamon roll, a special that day, were the highlights of the meal, hands down. Finally, sadly, it was time for the airport. My wallet was a little lighter on the return leg, but after a low-key weekend filled with good friends, good food, and good weather, my state of mind was a little lighter too.
Asbury Park, NJ, Celebrates Music and Film
Last spring, Budget Travel named Asbury Park, NJ, the Coolest Small Town in America 2017. This spring, more than 20,000 people will savor AP’s coolness by attending the annual Asbury Park Music & Film Festival (April 27 - 29, apmff.org). AN AFFORDABLE FESTIVAL With festival tickets starting at $20, Budget Travelers will swarm iconic Asbury Park venues like the Wonder Bar, Stone Pony, and Paramount Theatre to catch acts that include Sublime with Rome, an evening with Danny DeVito, Built to Spill, North Mississippi All-Stars, Low Cut Connie, Bobby Bandiera, and more. A MUSICAL MECCA This shore town has been a hotbed of American music for decades, including the classic bandstand concerts of the early 20th century and the rock and soul scene of the ’60s and ’70s that gave birth to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, David Sancious, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. GREAT HOTELS Speaking of rock and soul, a beautiful exhibit of images of Asbury Park’s musical greats shot by photographer Danny Clinch is on display at Soundbooth, the lobby bar at the newly opened Asbury Hotel (theasburyhotel.com), which has a book-one-night-get-the-second-night-free offer through May 24. Asbury Park offers an array of reliable and affordable lodging that gets you close to the beach, boardwalk, restaurants, and music.