10 "Hidden Gems" You'll Love This Summer!
Psst. Can you keep a secret? If you're looking for a world-class vacation minus the crowds, Budget Travel has got a hot tip. Well, actually we've got 10 of them. Over the past year we've visited some of America's most amazing parklands and unique small towns. Stretching across the U.S., our list of beautiful hidden gems includes ocean spray, lapping lakeshores, forests, mountains, and some of the nicest hosts you'll ever meet. What all these places have in common is that you might have never heard of them without BT's spilling the beans. Enjoy!
1. VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK
One of the state's best-loved parks is the Valley of Fire, 42,000 arid acres about an hour's drive northeast from Las Vegas. The park delivers its own kind of high-stakes drama, trading neon and nightclubs for 150-million-year-old sandstone formations and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs (images carved in rock). You could even say it has star quality: The surreal, burnt-sienna landscape stood in for Mars in the 1990 movie Total Recall. If you're embarking on your own photo safari or DIY sci-fi flick in Nevada's largest state park, don't miss Arch Rock, Elephant Rock, or the Beehives, all of which are essentially solid-stone versions of exactly what they sound like. And be sure to take snapshots with and without people in the frame—the structures are even more outstanding when you can get a sense of their scale. Most important of all: Bring lots of water with you. There are few facilities within the park, and the sandy stretches of some hikes make them more strenuous than you'd think, particularly in the summer, when Mojave Desert temperatures top 120 degrees. Best to come in spring or fall for a more comfortable trip.
Where to stay: The park contains 72 campsites, including RV spots with water and electrical hookups (campsites cost $20 per night plus $10 for hookups; There is a $2 discount for Nevada residents). If that's not your speed, the family-run North Shore Inn has a pool, in-room fridges, and powerful air conditioning (northshoreinnatlakemead.com, doubles from $85).
Captain Horatio Sinbad is what you might call a friendly pirate. He's got six cannons on his 54-foot brigantine, the Meka II, but he's also got Wi-Fi. He's got a gold tooth and a gold hoop in his left ear, but his mate lovingly wears the matching earring on a chain around her neck (and brings him coffee on deck). He makes his living as a pirate, sailing the East Coast to lead mock invasions—"historical entertainments," as he calls them—then dutifully returns to Beaufort, N.C., every chance he gets. "The water is clean, the fishing is great, and the people are friendly," he says. "This is home port for me." If you'd just dropped into Beaufort, you might be surprised to find that a pirate has weighed anchor there. Perched on an especially serene stretch of the North Carolina coast, the town has an air of Southern gentility about it, with restored 17th- and 18th-century buildings that flank the local historical society. Feeling a shiver in your timbers? A cup of rich gumbo and a slice of salty, pillow-soft French bread at the Beaufort Grocery restaurant and bakery will warm you up nicely (117 Queen St., beaufortgrocery.com, cup of gumbo $4.25). There's even a thriving health-food store, the Coastal Community Market (606 Broad St., coastalcommunitymarket.com, locally made hummus $4). And yet Beaufort's got a wild side, starting with the undomesticated horses you'll see roaming just across Taylors Creek. Blackbeard himself sailed those waters, and his spirit pops up at the North Carolina Maritime Museum (315 Front St., ncmaritimemuseums.com, admission free), the Queen Anne's Revenge restaurant (510 Front St., qarbeaufort.com, crab-stuffed shrimp $15), and beyond. If he were alive, you'd almost certainly find him on a stool at the Backstreet Pub, a dive-bar-like joint that also serves as a live-music venue and a lending library for sailors. Owner Liz Kopf likes to call her place the funkiest bar from Maine to Venezuela: "I always say there are more characters per capita in here than anywhere in the state" (124 Middle Lane, historicbeaufort.com, beer $2 on Mondays and Tuesdays).
Where to stay: Confederate jasmine and animal topiaries frame the Langdon House B&B (135 Craven St., langdonhouse.com, doubles from $108).
3. LUDINGTON STATE PARK
Snug between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, this nearly 5,300-acre park has seven miles of sandy, dune-strewn beaches, a historic lighthouse you can climb, more than 20 miles of hiking trails (plus paths for biking and cross-country skiing), and the shallow, clear Big Sable River, which is perfect for drifting down in an inner tube. No wonder Ludington has been a Great Lakes-area favorite since it was established 76 years ago.
Where to stay: Ludington's four campgrounds fill up quickly; reserve campsites six months in advance or cabins and yurts one year out, when openings are posted (midnrreservations.com, camping from $16). You can also try the Lamplighter Bed & Breakfast, an 1892 home with an original oak banister, leaded-glass windows, and a porcelain-tiled fireplace (ludington-michigan.com, doubles from $115).
Hammondsport, N.Y., may well be the recycling capital of America. Not garbage recycling (though they do that, too). We're talking about the vintage seaplanes restored and flown by the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum (8419 State Rte. 54, glennhcurtissmuseum.org, admission $8.50). The birdhouses made of scrap wood in front of the Aroma Coffee Art Gallery (60 Shethar St., 607/569-3047, birdhouses from $40). Even the cypress paneling in the Bully Hill Vineyard's lower dining room came from old wine barrels (8843 Greyton H. Taylor Memorial Dr., bullyhill.com, smoked pulled pork sandwich $13). "When my husband and I came back to live here, the first thing he did was start restoring old boats," says Nancy Wightman, whose husband, Ed, grew up in the Finger Lakes region. "It's not just about loving history. You get the sense that's who the people here are." It's tempting to say that there's something in the water, but Hammondsport's passion for the past really comes via the wine. The Pleasant Valley Wine Company, opened in 1860, was the first in the Finger Lakes region (8260 Pleasant Valley Rd., pleasantvalleywine.com, bottles from $6). In 1962, a Ukrainian viticulturist further transformed the local wine industry at his Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars by successfully planting European grapes in the colder New York climate (9749 Middle Rd., drfrankwines.com, bottles from $9). Today, both those wineries—and several more—are mainstays of the landscape. That's literally true of Dr. Frank's, which sits on an impossibly green piece of land overlooking its vineyards and sparkling, Y-shaped Keuka Lake. The vineyard is run by Fred Frank, Konstantin's grandson. "I enjoy hearing stories about children sitting on my grandfather's knee 40 years ago," says Fred. "That's very rewarding." Also rewarding: After all these years, tastings at Dr. Frank's are still free. In fact, many of the best things in Hammondsport are. Sunbathing on condo-less Keuka Lake, kicking back on the town square for outdoor summer concerts on Thursday nights, jam sessions in the basement of the Union Block Italian Bistro—spring for one of the plus-size meals, such as linguini and clam sauce (31 Shethar St., unionblockitalian.com, linguini with clam sauce $19). "We're pretty darn proud of what we've built here," says Mayor Emery Cummings, who has lived in Hammondsport for every one of his 54 years, "and we're hoping to keep it the way it's always been."
Where to stay: You'll find a spiral staircase, crown moldings, and bits of vintage wallpaper in the octagonal 1859 home that has been converted into the Black Sheep Inn (8329 Pleasant Valley Rd., stayblacksheepinn.com, doubles from $149).
5. CACHE RIVER STATE NATURAL AREA
There are more famous swamps than the one in Cache River State Natural Area, a nearly 15,000-acre Illinois state park 30 miles from the Kentucky border. The Everglades, say, or Okefenokee. But who wants a crowd along? One of the northernmost examples of a true Southern swamp, the delightfully under-the-radar Cache River park gets only about 200,000 annual visitors—that's about one visitor per acre per month. Other life forms aren't nearly so scarce here: The park's wetlands, floodplains, forests, and limestone barrens harbor more than 100 threatened or endangered species. It's best explored by canoe, along six miles of paddling trails that bring you face-to-face with massive tupelo and cypress trunks. There are also 20 miles of foot trails in the park and a floating boardwalk that leads to the center of Heron Pond, which is carpeted in summer with a bright-green layer of floating duckweed. BYO boat, or rent one from White Crane Canoe and Pirogue Rentals in Ullin, Ill., about 12 miles west (whitecranerentals.com, canoe rental $15 per person per day).
Where to stay: A half-hour drive west of the park, Anna, Ill., has a handful
of antiques shops, a pottery museum, and the Davie School Inn, an 11-room, all-suite B&B in a converted 1910 schoolhouse (davieschoolinn.com, doubles from $100).
You expect certain trappings in any Gold Rush town. A saloon, a main street, maybe a hitching post. Also a 138-year-old working Chinese temple. No? You'll find one in Weaverville, where the Joss House State Historic Park is a testament to the town's unsung history of tolerance (630 Main St., parks.ca.gov, admission $4). Chinese immigrants, facing discrimination in ports such as San Francisco, were welcomed here and ultimately accounted for up to 25 percent of the Rush-era population. "Some of our staff looks at this place as a museum piece you just have to keep clean and take care of," says guide Jack Frost. "But Chinese people who work in the parks system say it's a national treasure." Maybe it's the mining connection, but Weaverville is a place where you often strike it rich in unexpected places. The 1854 drugstore and bank are now home to the La Grange Cafe, which features a wildly creative menu of boar, rabbit, and buffalo-as well as an impressive wine cellar in the old bank vault (520 Main St., 530/623-5325, buffalo burger $11). Mamma Llama Eatery & Cafe hosts a surprisingly funky roster of live musicians: Gypsy jazz, junkyard percussion, even didgeridoo (490 Main St., mammallama.com, hoagie $5.75).
Where to stay: One place that hews to a more period Old West experience is the 132-year-old Weaverville Hotel, which features four-poster beds, clawfoot tubs, and a peaceful Victorian library (481 Main St., weavervillehotel.com, doubles from $99).
7. BLACKWATER FALLS STATE PARK
Blackwater Falls's namesake cascade isn't just the most picturesque spot in this 2,456-acre park—it's also one of the most photographed places in the state. The area is equally eye-catching when it's dressed in the bright greens of spring, the Crayola-box colors of autumn, or silvery winter, when parts of the falls freeze into man-size icicles. The falls themselves—more brown than black—get their distinctive hue from tannic acid that leaches into the river from hemlock and red spruce needles upstream.
Where to stay: Outdoorsy types can pitch a tent at 65 campsites, or upgrade to one of 26 deluxe cabins with full kitchens, private bathrooms, and fireplaces—but not A/C. For that creature comfort, you'll need to book a night in the 54-room lodge, which also has a game room and an indoor pool (blackwaterfalls.com, camping from $20, lodge rooms from $84).
If you decide to drive to Damascus, you'll likely be in the minority. This is hiking and cycling heaven, where seven major trails intersect, including the undulating Virginia Creeper and the granddaddy of them all: the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. In a nifty bit of irony, six of the seven trails converge in a parking lot, at Mojoes Trailside Coffee House (331 Douglas Dr., mojoestrailsidecoffee.com, lattes from $3.50), where most mornings you'll find a clutch of locals and through-hikers chatting about travel plans. Breakfast is the big meal in town, and the more energy-boosting calories the better. Yet the carbo-loading, hard-core trekkers you'll find in Damascus don't always look as you'd expect. "Mamaw B." (her adopted trail name) was in town beginning her usual 15- to 18-mile hike. She's 71 and has been backpacking for 31 years. "The secret to good health is to remain active and to always have something to look forward to," she says, as she sets off from Mojoes toward-where, exactly? She just smiles and points north.
Where to stay: The Lazy Fox Inn is famous less for its trailside location than for its legendary country breakfast that includes cheese grits, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy, and sausage (133 Imboden St., lazyfoxinn.com, doubles with private bath from $85).
9. KATY TRAIL STATE PARK
The largest rails-to-trails conversion in America, the 240-mile Katy Trail spans Missouri's midsection, from Clinton in the west to Machens in the east, along the former track of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad (a.k.a. the Katy). The mostly flat path is open to hikers and cyclists—and in some sections, horseback riders—and traverses historic railroad bridges, tunnels, forests, valleys, and open fields. In spots, it skirts the edge of the Missouri River. Some hardy souls tackle the whole trail (a roughly five-day undertaking for an experienced cyclist). Those who prefer a more leisurely trek should consider a day-trip between Rocheport and Boonville, two early-19th-century towns (the latter established by Daniel Boone's offspring) separated by 12 miles of nature preserves, vineyards, and river views.
Where to stay: There are no campgrounds in the park, but you can have your pick of small-town inns along the route. Some cater to cyclists with extras such as free laundry service, double-size whirlpool tubs, and free bike storage and tune-up tools. Rocheport's School House Bed & Breakfast, in a three-story brick schoolhouse from 1914, sweetens the deal with fresh-baked cookies at check-in (schoolhousebb.com, doubles from $149).
10. OHIOPYLE STATE PARK
If ever there were an all-purpose park, southwestern Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park is it. Looking for waterfalls? It has four (including the one in our slide show above, which seems as if it must have inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house, just five miles away). Trails? Hikers get 79 miles of them—plus 27 miles for cyclists, 11 for folks on horseback, and nearly 40 for cross-country skiers. And why not throw in a natural water slide or two? The lifeblood of the 20,000-acre park, however, is the Youghiogheny River Gorge—a.k.a. the Yough. The Middle Yough, which flows to Ohiopyle from Confluence, Pa., is the gentler section, with Class I and II rapids for rafters and kayakers; the Lower Yough, downstream, gets up to Class IV whitewater. Combined, they attract a good chunk of the 1 million people who visit the park every year.
Where to stay: The quietest campsites in Ohiopyle's Kentuck campground are the walk-in sites numbered 51-64 and 103-115; however, some folks have found the camp's firm 9 p.m. quiet hours a little too restrictive. If your brood tends to get livelier as the night wears on, consider a vacation rental in Hidden Valley, Pa., or Seven Springs, Pa., both less than 30 miles to the northeast; these two ski towns have solid selections of rental condos and homes that can be deeply discounted in the off-season (vrbo.com).
Ireland's 10 Best Attractions
Whether you're headed to the Emerald Isle any time soon or simply window-shopping, we've rounded up 10 of the best attractions Ireland has to offer, from natural wonders on the Atlantic coast to Dublin's literary highlights, a world-famous castle, and traditional music and merriment. SEE OUR READERS' BEST IRELAND PHOTOS Davy Byrnes Pub This establishment on Dublin's Duke Street is mentioned in Irish novelist James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, and attracts visitors from around the world for precisely that reason. Stop in for a pint of stout and a taste of the famed Dublin wit at the heart of Joyce's work. Abbey Theatre Having presented the work of playwrights such as William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, and Samuel Beckett, Dublin's Abbey Theatre can rightly claim to be the treasure house of Irish literary culture. Catch a play, then follow the actors to a favorite nearby haunt, the Flowing Tide, for refreshment. Trinity College Founded in the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth I, this college, on the south bank of the River Liffey in central Dublin, boasts alumni that include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett. Today, it is home to the iconic Book of Kells, a spectacular illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. Newgrange In County Meath, about 30 miles northwest of Dublin, this prehistoric passage tomb (a narrow passage made of large stones with a covered burial chamber) takes you back to 4000 B.C., a thousand years before England's Stonehenge. During the winter solstice, the rising sun shines through a small opening above the tomb's doorway, illuminating the chamber. Blarney Castle Yup, it's as touristy as it gets, but countless visitors have made the five-mile pilgrimage from Cork City to this impressive tower to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone (by some thoroughly unreliable accounts, a fragment of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall) in hopes of acquiring the gift of gab. Before you schlep all the way, be warned: In order for your lips to reach the storied stone, you have to lean backward over a parapet with an attendant holding your legs to keep you from falling. Aran Islands A short boat ride from Rossaveal or Doolin will take you to these islands off the Atlantic coast where the Irish language is still spoken. The smallest of the islands, Inisheer, is like a time capsule of ancient Ireland, with its patchwork of fields and stone walls; the Hotel Inisheer is famed for traditional Irish music and merrymaking. Cliffs of Moher Towering 700 feet above the roaring Atlantic Ocean, these shale and sandstone cliffs, near the village of Liscannor about halfway between Kerry and Connemara, make you feel as if you are standing on the edge of the world. A visitors' center offers guided tours and on clear days you can see past the Aran Islands all the way to Connemara. Skellig Michael A 700-foot-high rock that rises from the sea off the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Skellig Michael can be reached by an hour-long boat ride from Valentia Island. But when you disembark your journey isn't complete; you can climb 650 small steps cut out of the rock to see the remains of a 7th-century Christian monastery. Maamturk Mountains Galway has been a mecca for cyclists for years, and the Maamturk Mountains offer gentle climbs that take you past pristine lakes and bogs, plus the opportunity to coast down into tiny Leenane, where the Atlantic Ocean flows into Killary Harbour. Glenveagh National Park North of Galway, this isolated park is home to red deer and falcons and offers some of the most beautiful hiking, such as the Derrylahan Trail and the Glen Walk through the Derryveagh Mountains.
Meet America's Coolest Small Town!
How would you feel if your town was named Coolest in America? I recently spoke with Kelly Withum of Lititz, PA, winner of Budget Travel's 2013 Coolest Small Town in America, and couldn't help asking that very question. "Fantastic," says Withum, the executive director of the Lititz Farmers Market and Venture Lititz. "It's wonderful to be recognized. So many of the organizations within the Lititz community work very hard to make this a special place to live." So, what's so cool about Lititz? After all, we had thousands of nominations to consider, then after we chose 15 finalists the real action began—with thousands more readers casting the votes that led to this inviting Pennsylvania hamlet of more than 9,000, founded as a Moravian community in the 18th century, being named the coolest of the cool. What makes Lititz a standout among standouts? First off, its location, in rural Lancaster County, is the kind of setting a film scout might choose—and one actually did. Rolling farmland and the traditional Amish communities made famous by the Harrison Ford thriller Witness have turned this corner of Pennsylvania into one of America's favorite long-weekend destinations. Lititz wears its colonial-era heritage on its sleeve, but that doesn't mean it forgoes contemporary pleasures. Next time you're in the area (Lititz is a 90-minute drive west of Philadelphia), these are some of the delights you'll find in America's Coolest Small Town: Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery was the first commercial pretzel bakery in the U.S., founded in 1861. Take a bakery tour, including learning hands-on pretzel-making, and visit the bakery shop to take home treats with a twist. Wilbur Chocolate Company runs an old-fashioned candy store on the ground floor of its factory. Watch them make their own fudge, and pick up a package of distinctive Wilbur Buds, little chocolates sold by the pound. Historical sites abound in this town that was founded in 1756 by Moravians from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic); must-sees include the Lititz Historical Foundation, the Johannes Mueller House (a re-creation of a Moravian home), the Moravian Church, and a historical cemetery known by locals as God's Acre. Restaurants dominate Lititz's downtown, and while some burghs may seek "revitalization," Lititz has instead campaigned for downtown "vibrancy," and it shows. Eating establishments and watering holes are too numerous to list here, but favorites include Tomato Pie Café, Café Chocolate, Bulls Head Public House, Appalachian Brewing Company, Savory Gourmet, Olio, and Zest. General Sutter Inn is a comfy B&B with a decidedly un-quaint angle: Six of its rooms have been decorated with rock-n-roll stage equipment courtesy of a Lititz entertainment cluster that is responsible for the staging, lighting, and sound for major rock acts. Lititz Springs Park, in the middle of downtown, is ideal for the little ones, who will have a chance to feed the ducks and maybe even see a family of quackers cross busy Route 501, as in the classic picture book Make Way for Ducklings. We're psyched to have Lititz join the ranks of Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns, and Withum suggests that just participating in the competition—let alone winning it—has been good for the town. "This contest has been a remarkable community builder," she says. "Our online campaign went viral, and we had people who had visited Lititz from all over the world voting. Our sign company put up a banner on Route 501! We thank Budget Travel for this great honor."
9 Most Colorful Beaches in the World
Most beaches need umbrellas and blankets to brighten up the landscape. Not these nine stretches of sand. From iconic pink sand beaches in the Bahamas to a green beach in Hawaii, we've rounded up nine beaches around the world that you have to see to believe—and we show you exactly how to get there. SEE THE WORLD'S MOST COLORFUL BEACHES! BLACK SANDMuriwai Black Sand Beach, New ZealandBlack sand beaches are typically a result of an island's explosive volcanic past—the rich color is a result of a mixture of iron, titanium, and several other volcanic materials. New Zealand's stunning Muriwai Black Sand Beach is a 37-mile stretch of sparkling black sand and home to New Zealand's largest colony of Gannet birds. Hike up the scenic trail at the southern end of the beach to two viewing platforms for great ocean views and a peek at the birds in their natural habitat, where nearly 1,200 pairs nest between August and March each year. See it for yourself: Just a 40-minute ride west of downtown Auckland, Muriwai Black Sand Beach can be a day trip, or book a room at the Lodge Escape at Muriwai for from $120 a night. Feeling gutsy? Try a two-hour lesson from the Muriwai Surf School (from $60 per person including equipment). GREEN SANDPapakōlea Beach, Big Island of HawaiiLocated on the southern tip of Hawaii's Big Island, Papakōlea Beach is more commonly referred to as Green Sand Beach. And for good reason. The sand here is made of tiny olivine crystals from the surrounding lava rocks that are trapped in the 49,000-year-old Pu'u Mahana cinder cone by the waters of Mahana Bay. The density of the olivine crystals keeps them from being washed away by the tide, resulting in a striking olive-green accumulation along the coastline. Swimming is allowed but waves on the windy southern coast can be particularly strong. And while it's tempting, it's bad form to take the sand home with you. See it for yourself: Papakōlea Beach is equidistant from both Kona and Hilo, and well worth the scenic two-hour-and-15-minute drive on Highway 11 (look for signs for Ka Lae, or South Point between mile markers 69 and 70). You can also take the two-mile hike along the southernmost point in the U.S.A. for a glimpse of the uniquely olive-green sand. RED SANDRed Beach, Santorini, GreeceSantorini's Red Beach (also called Kokkini Beach) is set at the base of giant red cliffs that rise high over crystal-blue Mediterranean waters. The colorful red sand is a result of the surrounding iron-rich black and red lava rocks left over from the ancient volcanic activity of Thira, the impressive volcano that erupted and essentially shaped Santorini in 1450 B.C. Nowadays, the beach is popular with sunbathers, though you'll want to rent beach chairs to avoid sitting directly on the coarse sand. And it's best to visit in the early morning hours—the sand heats up under the warm Mediterranean sun. See it for yourself: The easiest way to reach Red Beach is by boat from Akrotíri or Períssa on Santorini. Pair your trip to the beach with a visit to the ancient Minoan Ruins of Akrotiri, a 10-minute walk away. PINK SANDPink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, BahamasA lot goes into making this Pink Sand Beach so… pink. The three-and-a half-mile-long stretch gets its hue from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by foraminifera (tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells) that live in the coral reefs that surround the beach. The pink sands can also be found on Harbour Island's Atlantic side and along the Exuma Sound—Lighthouse Beach, Surfer's Beach, Winding Bay Beach, and French Leave Beach are also famous for their rosy sand. See it for yourself: Several flights to Eleuthera are available through Bahamasair from South Florida, or opt for one of several ferries or water taxis from the other Bahamian islands. The five-hour Eleuthera Express from Nassau costs $35 per person one-way. To get to Harbor Island from North Eleuthera Airport, take a 10-minute taxi ride (about $5 per person) to the boat dock and a 10-minute water taxi (also about $5 per person) across to Harbor Island—bicycles, scooters, and golf carts are available for rental once on the island, while walking tends to be the preferred form of transportation. PURPLE SANDPfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CaliforniaHave you ever heard of purple sand? Head to the northern coastline of Pfeiffer Beach, where patches of violet and deep-purple sand can be found. The source is large deposits of quartz and manganese garnet originating in the nearby hills being washed down from the creek to its final resting place along the Pacific. The purple sand is more likely to be seen after storms during the winter. Swimming is not recommended because of strong currents and a number of sharp purple rocks offshore, which also contribute to the beach's rare coloration. See it for yourself: Pfeiffer Beach is located just outside Big Sur State Park about an hour south of Monterey, or roughly two hours and 45 minutes south of San Francisco along Pacific Coast Highway 1. Keep an eye out for Sycamore Canyon Road just past mile marker 45.64 and continue through Los Padres National Forest—if you are driving from Northern California, turn right approximately 0.66 miles after you see the park ranger station. Parking is available for $5 per vehicle. ORANGE SANDPorto Ferro, Sardinia, ItalyThe northern corner of Italy's island of Sardinia is home to Porto Ferro, a one-and-a-quarter-mile stretch of oddly orange-colored sand thanks to a unique mixture of the area's native orange limestone, crushed shells, and other volcanic deposits. You can also find 65-foot-tall ochre-colored sand dunes behind the beach on the way to Lake Baratz, Sardinia's only natural salt lake. The area is known for its scenic bike and hiking paths, and three Spanish lookout towers—Torre Negra, Torre Bianca, and Torre de Bantine Sale—that date back to the 1600s. Boating is the best way to explore this pristine area of Sardinia, which is also a popular spot for diving, surfing, and windsurfing. See it for yourself: Ryanair offers affordable round-trip flights from many Italian cities to the town of Alghero on Sardinia, with prices from Rome's Ciampino Airport starting at around $69 per person. Once on the island of Sardinia, Porto Ferro is just 19 miles outside Alghero—drive northwest toward the town of Capo Caccia, turn right, and continue up the coast to reach Porto Ferro. WHITE SANDCrescent Beach, Siesta Key, FloridaA lot of places boast that they have white-sand beaches, but it doesn't get much whiter than Crescent Beach, located on Siesta Key, a barrier island just off the coast of Sarasota, FL. The sand here is 99 percent pure quartz, which has traveled down Florida's rivers from the Appalachian Mountains. The best part about this sand's fine texture: Not only does it feel like you're walking through powdered sugar, but because of its unique quartz makeup, it will never heat up no matter how hot the Florida sun beats down. You'll also find coral and other diverse rock formations at the southern end of the beach at Point of Rocks that make this a great area for diving and snorkeling. Alas, it turns out there may be one beach with whiter sand: Hyams Beach in Australia is now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the whitest sand in the world. See it for yourself: Siesta Key is about a 20-minute drive from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport—travel south on U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) to Siesta Drive, turn right and go over the bridge to Siesta Key, bear left at the first traffic light, follow State Highway 758, and make a right at the second traffic light at Beach Road. Park in the lot on the left and walk five minutes south to reach Crescent Beach. GRAY SANDShelter Cove, Humboldt County, CaliforniaOne word best describes Shelter Cove: remote. It's worth the trip to see the gray-colored sand, the result of years of erosion of the nearby gray-shale cliffs along the shore. The area is also known for its scenic coastal drives, hikes, and an abundant source of wildlife at the nearby 68,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area, home to sea lions, bald eagles, and Roosevelt elk—even Bigfoot himself has been spotted roaming the woods here. See it for yourself: Make the four-and-a-half-hour drive north from San Francisco on Highway 101 to Northern California's Humboldt County. Shelter Cove is along "The Lost Coast" just above Mendocino County and about an hour south of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Look for the Redway-Shelter Cove exit on U.S. Highway 101 and drive onto Briceland Road to get to the northern part of the beach. MULTICOLORED SANDRainbow Beach, AustraliaRainbow Beach makes up for its small size (just 0.62 miles) with its many colors. There are 74 different hues, a clandestine combination of erosion and iron oxide buildup that has been occurring since the last ice age, and the makeup changes. There is a sad romantic story behind the colors as well. According to an ancient Aboriginal legend, the sands became colorful as a result of the rainbow spirit falling onto the large 656-foot tall beachside cliffs after losing a battle over a beautiful woman, leaving his beautiful colors to rest on the beach for all of eternity. See it for yourself: Rainbow Beach is a three-hour drive north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast of northeast Queensland. Greyhound Australia offers shuttle bus service to Rainbow Beach from Brisbane International Airport—prices for a round-trip adult ticket start from $114 per person including taxes. Another bus company, Premier Motor Services, offers similar routes for from $60 per person for a round-trip ticket.
5 Spectacular Resorts for Ski-Lovers and Ski-Skeptics
If you've never skied before, the idea of strapping yourself into a slippery device atop a mountain can seem like a recipe for a prolonged hospital visit. I know I wasn't too keen on the concept. It took a friend of mine who is an experienced skier to convince me to try it. "C'mon, if a 2-year-old can learn how to ski so can you," he told me. "Two-year-olds have a lot less far to fall than I do," I retorted. But nonetheless, I took him up on the challenge and we headed up to the Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont-a resort that's known for its expert runs with vertical drops of over 2,300-feet and a stellar beginner program that gets newcomers off the lifts and down the slopes within an hour. What really convinced me to try my luck on skis wasn't the idea that I would enjoy the sport. I was pretty convinced I would hate it. It was the après-ski scene that lured me-hot chocolate by a crackling fire, romantic mountain-top dinners against a backdrop of swirling snowflakes, hot tubs overlooking the valley. As it turns out, two days on the slopes, a ski lesson, and only one bruise later, I am a convert. I love the sport. And, as every experienced skier knows, all of that exercise and adrenaline makes the fireside hot chocolate that much more enjoyable. Whether you're a beginner like me, or a family with small children (and if you are, check out our favorite ski resorts for families), the key to having a good time is to find the right resort. You need experienced instructors, beginners-only slopes, and a place that separates the hard runs from the easy ones so that newbies don't make the mistake of winding up on a black-diamond run by accidentally taking a wrong turn. At the same time, you need the kind of action-packed runs that will challenge the more serious skiers in your party. With that in mind, here are five resorts that cater equally to newbies and experts. Some of them are a bit more expensive than others, but each is a worthy splurge. Stowe Mountain Lodge, Vermont The Stowe Mountain Resort is one of the few east coast destinations that can rival the ski options out west. Indeed, serious skiers will find themselves challenged on the black-diamond runs of Mt. Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont at 4,395 feet. Beginners benefit from top-notch instruction (Ski Magazine recently named Stowe's ski school one of the best in the Northeast) and a separate mountain on which to practice their snow-plows and turns. An annual snowfall of 333 inches per year means that newbies and experts alike have plenty of fresh powder to plow through and a recent 4.7-million-dollar investment in snow-making machines means that even the odd warm day won't ruin your ski trip. Where to Stay: The 5-year-old Stowe Mountain Lodge gets it all right, from the ski valet who will get your gear ready for you in the morning, to the in-room fireplaces you can turn on at the push of a button. Best of all, most of the 312 rooms come with a fully equipped kitchen—a benefit for families who want to save on meals (though their Solstice Restaurant, which serves the best in local produce, is worth the splurge). 7412 Mountain Rd., Stowe, VT, stowemountainlodge.com, from $399 per night Jiminy Peak, MassachusettsNestled in the heart of the Berkshires, Jiminy Peak rises 2,380 feet above the town of Hancock, Massachusetts. Experienced skiers and snowboarders come for the terrain parks, such as Coyote Ridge with its wall ride and a 30-foot flat box. Jiminy's GETSkiing series ensures that newcomers and little ones will have a good time too. Not only does the program incorporate special skis designed specifically for beginners, but they guarantee that you'll leave your lesson knowing how to stop, turn, and put on your gear—or the next lesson is on them. The mountain region also offers night skiing-a boon for folks who want to keep their adrenaline pumping long after the sun sets. Where to Stay: Each of the 102 rooms at the Country Inn comes equipped with a king-sized bed, a living room with a queen-size sleep sofa and a fully equipped kitchenette, not to mention free WiFi. 37 Corey Rd., Hancock, MA, jiminypeak.com, from $199 per night. Northstar-at-Tahoe, Nevada, CaliforniaThe Tahoe region is synonymous with skiing. With over 3,100 acres of skiable terrain and an elevation of 8,610 feet, it's no wonder ski gurus come far and wide to try out its 92 trails and terrain parks, including a 22-foot superpipe. That said, 13 percent of the region is dedicated specifically to beginner trails and they have a lesson program that caters to adults and kids who are new to the sport. Intermediate skiers can take advantage of a complimentary tour of the mountain that will introduce them to trails and features that are best for their level. Where to Stay: Located at the base of the mountain, the Village Lofts provide ski-in, ski-out access to Northstar's trails. Full kitchens and gas fireplaces make for a homey stay. 5001 Northstar Dr., Truckee, CA northstarattahoe.com, from $274 Breckenridge Ski Resort, ColoradoEven non-skiers have heard of Breckenridge—the historic gold-mining town in Colorado with a long, ski history. The resort has the highest chairlift in North America, which isn't surprising when you consider that the summit is 12,998 feet high. There are 155 trails spread out across the 2,358 acres of terrain, including the kinds of features that make that adrenaline junkies and skilled skiers salivate (the kinds of bowls and jumps that make less experienced skiers like myself weak in the knees). They also have one of the strongest programs in the nation for new skiers, including over 500 professional instructors and a wide range of lesson programs. Where to Stay: Choose from a studio or a four-bedroom condominium at The Village at Breckenridge Resort. With the exception of studios, all units come with wood-burning fireplaces and full kitchens. It's also conveniently located at the base of the mountain and right next door to the Quicksilver Ski Rental. 535 S Park Ave., Breckenridge, CO, breckresorts.com, from $250 Deer Valley, UtahDeer Valley has serious cred among powder junkies. It hosted multiple events at the 2002 winter Olympics, including the freestyle moguls and the alpine slalom. In addition to sublime snow, there are six mountains with dozens of trails for skiers of all aptitudes. Plus, The Deer Valley Ski School has a well-established reputation of getting novices up on skis and hitting the trails with confidence. Their policy of allowing no more than four people per group lesson means that new skiers are guaranteed the kind of attention and direction that they need to master the sport. Where to stay: Rustic elegance is the word at The Lodges at Deer Valley, where guests can choose between traditional hotel rooms and one to three bedroom condominiums with full kitchens. The property is practically a village in itself with everything from a general store to a fitness center to a liquor store. 2250 Deer Valley Dr. S, Park City, UT, deervalley.com, from $132 Do you ski? What are your favorite resorts?