Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth!
In our modern world, we’re more connected by technology than ever before, but I can’t help but feel that we’re actually growing further apart. Travel is all about connection—that sense of belonging. So I decided to seek out travel advice from the people I met on a solo road trip across the U.S. We start on the California Coast. You ready?
Days 1–3: Los Angeles, CA to Yuma, AZ
The scenic Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) just south of Los Angeles couldn’t have been a more inspiring start to my trip. Travel is a funny thing: No matter how seasoned you are, there’s nothing more encouraging than meeting an impossibly earnest person with a contagious spirit in the face of a long, unknown path ahead. Warm, lovely Allie Rose, working at a strawberry stand in Long Beach, reminded me why I decided to take this journey in the first place: I needed to look up from scrolling through my iPhone, put down my guidebook with its carefully dog-eared corners, and appreciate fleeting moments and enlightening people. I call them the “darlings” of the road, placed there seemingly on purpose.
I bought two pints of ripe red strawberries from Allie for $4 before taking in the scene at Tamarack State Beach. So many cars were pulling over that I thought there must be a festival. Nope! The pre-sunset tides were so ideal that droves of surfers were racing to catch the perfect wave. I’m a surfer poseur, so after snapping shots of them suited up and expertly skimming the water, I sat on the beach and ate the fresh, sweet strawberries while looking out over the Pacific Ocean, at times seeing nothing but the heads of agile surfers bobbing up and down in the distance.
As I dipped 24 miles south on the PCH, picturesque vignettes of the ocean kept appearing over my right shoulder, one after the other. I reached La Jolla Cove—famous for its hundreds of seals—just in time to catch the sunset.
Daybreak at San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs Natural Park came dressed in a mellow haze of light fog—peaceful weather ideal for yoga at dawn. I was soon back on the road, on Route 5, in search of a dish true to the area. A local truck driver’s recommendation? Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill. Less than five bucks bought me a hearty mahi mahi taco and a fresh-outta-the-sea flavor I’ll spend my whole life trying to find again.
Turning onto I-8, I traced the Mexican border, weaving close to it, then skirting away when the highway leaned north. Coming from the coast, the ocean vistas twisted into a mountainous desert landscape, which transformed into hills seemingly made of tiny pebbles. The roadside flatlined into desert followed by fields. Just shy of Yuma, Arizona, the almost Moroccan-looking Algodones Dunes came into view, the sand’s curves resembling perfectly whipped chocolate meringue, the peaks folding into valleys again and again.
Ten miles west of Yuma, I motored to Felicity, California, dubbed the Center of the World. The strange compound’s pyramid holds the “official” center-of-the-world plaque. A sun dial made of a bronze replica of God’s arm juts out from the ground, as does an original spiral staircase from the Eiffel Tower. I felt that pleasant disorientation that road tripping is all about.
At Yuma Territorial Prison Museum, I met Louie, the kind of guy who refuses to take his sunglasses off for a portrait but will let you see into his big, open heart. As I left, he said, “Good luck on your trip. Don’t take any bullsh*t from anybody. If people try and tell you bullsh*t, just ignore them and go on your way. Keep holding true to your instincts.”
Days 4–6: Tucson, AZ to El Paso, TX
Green chiles and desert peaks: Check and double-check! The southwest, by way of southern Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas, offered me spicy eats, cool drinks—and a pickup line that's so good you might want to write it down.
After cruising past the unmistakable desert silhouette of Picacho Peak on I-10, I discovered my new favorite drink: kombucha on tap—literally pourable probiotics!—at “plant-based” (a.k.a. organic, locally sourced, and vegan-friendly) Food for Ascension Café in Tucson. While exploring the city center, I crossed paths more than once with a curious kid along East Congress Street. When we finally spoke. I thought I had just heard our generation’s latest pickup line (“You on Instagram?”), but it turned out he was a local filmmaker likely just interested in my heavy-duty camera and what I was shooting. A self-proclaimed Chuck Taylor sneaker enthusiast, José suggested I head to Fourth Avenue, a stretch of road saturated with hyper-local establishments and colorful characters, not technically downtown and not quite into University of Arizona territory. Fourth Avenue feels like it’s growing by the minute yet manages to maintain a humble, familiar energy—a nostalgia, even: the rare up-and-coming area that’s not trying too hard to be hip.
Afterward, I hopped back on the road to Las Cruces, New Mexico, specifically the village of Mesilla. I’d gotten word that La Posta de Mesilla dishes out the “best green chiles in town,” so I pulled up a chair and ate next to a group of friendly folks who recommended I take Route 28 to El Paso. Reason being: It runs south through a string of pecan farms, with trees reaching out from either side of the road to form a gorgeous natural leafy archway that continues for miles and miles.
Around the West Texas border, I noticed my “I’s” turning into “we’s.” My rented Prius (I’d named her Penn) and I had been through a lot: unexpectedly rugged terrain, shameless karaoke-worthy playlists, and eerie green skies in El Paso, where I feared flash floods and tornadoes that never appeared. Yes, I had formed a bond with an inanimate object. Penn was officially the Rocinante to my Don Quixote. My noble steed.
Days 7–9: Marfa, TX to Lockhart, TX
Take one nail-biting traffic stop and mix in wild animals and a barbeque joint, and you've got my first taste of the Lone Star State. Border police, if you're reading this, I vow never to mess with Texas again.
Three hours southeast of El Paso, the artsy celebrity haunt Marfa, Texas, appeared like a mirage. I stumbled on the Food Shark Truck, where hipsters in combat boots, families, and in-the-know seniors were grabbing falafel sandwiches (“marfalafels”) and tacos. On advice from Laura in El Paso, I cruised to Big Bend Brewing Co. in Alpine, Texas, where I admired amber-hued ales and met hard-scrabble Randy. When I asked about his hat, he said, “A hat? This is a lid, kid. I was born with this thing on.”
En route to San Antonio, I had my first—and only—run-in with the law. I had innocently taken a long-cut around Brackettville to avoid stirring up my fear of wind turbines (it’s a real thing called anemomenophobia!), which is a no-no: The route is often used by shady types to avoid the border patrol checkpoint on I-90. Two cops swiftly pulled me over. I told a very serious-looking officer about my windmill phobia, and they sent me on my way—after searching my car. The trouble was worth the beauty I saw next: five antelope with prominent spiral horns.
After a stop at Pearl in San Antonio for some souvenir jewelry, this leg of my trip ended on a high note: Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. I eagerly dug into my pile of smokehouse meat served on butcher paper.
Days 10–11: Austin, TX to Houston, TX
I didn't have to look too hard to find exactly what keeps Austin weird (hint: peacocks and two-stepping play a major role) before heading east to Houston and eventually leaving my inner cowgirl behind.
Next on the map? Austin. And the close wildlife encounters were just beginning: Back in Marfa, I received a true Keep Austin Weird–style suggestion to visit Mayfield Park, a “peacock park” that is not a zoo. The pretty beasts unfurled their plumage as I snapped them mid-mating dance.
Later that night, I got my ultimate Texas experience at the Broken Spoke in Austin, a dance hall dubbed the “best honky-tonk in Texas,” where locals pay $12 to two-step to live music, sip beers, eat barbecued brisket and potato salad, and watch newcomers try their best to fit in. Soon after I arrived, an older amiable fellow in a cowboy hat, Levi’s, and leather boots named Polo, who says he comes every Saturday, introduced himself. He knew right away that I was a newbie—not because I was green to the scene, but because he seems to have met everyone who comes through the Spoke’s door. I was honored when he asked me to dance. That night, a legend was in the house: Dressed in a flashy red shirt studded with rhinestones, Broken Spoke founder James M. White made his way through the crowd, which treated him with deference and respect, as though he were a beloved local politician.
A soothing punctuation mark to my Texas travelogue was a sunrise visit to artist James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace: a grass, concrete, stone, and steel structure with a rectangular window to the sky designed to function as a mind-bending play on color when the sun rises and sets. As I lay on the ground, I watched the colors of the sky change as the pavilion’s artificial light glowed around it, tricking the mind into thinking the sky is a different color than it is. You could call it an immersive, highbrow version of the “blue or white dress” debate. Visits are always free.
Before I headed to Louisiana, I grabbed a bite in Houston at Local Foods, where Nina shared with me her favorite New Orleans staples from her days at Tulane, despite the long, long line of people waiting behind me: “When you are downtown, make sure to look at the antique shops on Royal Street and see some live music on Frenchman. New Orleans is my favorite city in the world... so far.”
Days 12–13: New Orleans, LA to Tallahassee, FL
A little-known beignet joint, a stroll down Frenchman Street, and a conversation with a New Orleanian who tried to beat me at my own game were all highlights of my journey through the Deep South.
Swinging low from Baton Rouge to N’awlins and back up again to Slidell via I-10, I found myself deep in southern Louisiana.
If you’ve been to NOLA, you probably know Cafe Du Monde’s beignets. Instead, on the advice of a photographer couple, I went north, toward Lake Ponchartrain, to Morning Call Coffee Stand, which serves beignets off the beaten track—and has fewer tourists waiting to steal your table. There, I met Robbie, exactly the kind of server you’d expect to find at a 24/7 coffee stand going on its 145th year of service in the south. Even though I only wanted to try one hand-rolled beignet, Robbie informed me, with an infectious grin and persuasive shrug, that I could get three for the same price. When I asked to take his portait, he said yes—but only if he could also take mine. Pretty clever, and a first on this trip! My beignets appeared on a white plate, plump and golden, a sugar shaker at the ready. After giving them a powdery coat, I bit into the first one. Bliss. Sugar State bliss.
Days 14–15: Savannah, GA to Charleston, SC
Is it over already? After two weeks of unique sights, good food, and unbeatable chats with locals, I pumped the brakes to settle into Georgia's slow southern pace, eventually winging my way up to South Carolina for one last sunset.
Dusk in Savannah. As the sun melted like hot butter on the horizon, over the rooftop of my hotel, I plotted out my journey to the Olde Pink House for dinner the next day—the restaurant has a stellar reputation for shrimp and grits, specifically its “southern sushi,” smoked shrimp and grits rolled in coconut-crusted nori. Since my hotel was nearby, I stopped by to scout it out. While doing so, I met Jasmine, an effervescent young hostess who asked me if I would take her portrait—but quickly caught herself: “Tomorrow! Can you come back tomorrow? I’ll wear pink.”
My second day in town, I hopscotched among Savannah’s 22 lush, grassy squares to iconic Forsyth Park, draped in the Spanish moss that's inseparable from the idea of Savannah as a city. After capturing the scene on camera and doing some serious people-watching and music- listening—musicians constantly play in the park—I meandered along the river, stopping at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for a candy-dipped apple crisscrossed with ribbons of chocolate.
One last state loomed large as I zoomed up I-17. Folly Beach, South Carolina, grabbed my attention with its classic Atlantic Coast vibe: locals eating ice cream, playing volleyball, and dipping their toes in the surf. I bellied up to the Folly Beach Crab Shack, ordered crab balls with rémoulade for less than 10 bucks, and set out for a marina between the beach and Charleston: the best place to watch the sun set, Bonnie at the crab shack shared.
As the horizon shifted from orange to pink to navy, I let my mind drift back to the start of my trip, my thoughts running backward across the country, up and down the south’s peaks and valleys, past its ocean vistas, along the open road, accompanied by my camera, now filled with freeze-framed natural beauty and the faces of new friends.
10 Car-Free Fall Foliage Trips of the Northeast
1. SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS What to fall for: No matter what time of year you visit this historic hamlet on the harbor 16 miles north of Boston, the town will cast its spell. Yet when the leaves form a crimson canopy, the pumpkins come out, and Halloween takes hold, there is a haunting chill in the air that well serves the stories of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Soak up the bewitching colors of the season as you explore the Walking Heritage Trail, hunch over the graves of hanged victims, and ride the Tales & Tombstones Trolley (one hour, from $15 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-14, $14 for seniors over 60). Grab a bite at the newly opened Opus restaurant or locavore gastropub Naumkeag Ordinary before visiting Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables, situated conveniently across the street from your accommodations at the Morning Glory Bed & Breakfast, a charming 1808 Georgian Federal house with a rooftop patio (from $170). Peak Season: Mid-October How to get there: From Boston, take the Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail or the Salem Ferry (roundtrip, from $45 for adults, $41 for seniors over 65, $35 for children ages 3-11). The Morning Glory B&B offers free transportation to and from the port and train stations. SEE BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS OF FALL FOLIAGE! 2. BURLINGTON, VERMONT What to fall for: Without knowing Burlington recently joined a tiny coterie of American cities to be 100% run on renewable energy, you can sense a "green" ethos while walking through the streets that goes beyond being pedestrian-friendly, accessible by train, and the Green Mountain State. You may be here for other hues, like orange, burgundy, and gold, but Burlington's celebration of the environment—found on plates at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, in pint glasses at Burlington Hearth, and in guestrooms at newcomer Hotel Vermont (from $199)—makes for a more rewarding getaway. Take one of Hotel Vermont's complimentary bikes out for a scenic ride around Lake Champlain or use their suggested guided itinerary for an off the beaten path farm-to-foliage-to-table excursion on two wheels. Peak Season: Mid-October How to get there: Visit Amtrak.com to book your trip. 3. HUDSON VALLEY, NEW YORK What to fall for: Affordable all-inclusive getaways in luxurious remote destinations don't come along often enough for car-free travelers, which is why this package from Metro-North and the Mohonk Mountain House belongs on your bucket list. Daily meals, transportation, and on-site activities-—including yoga, guided hikes, and tennis-—are part of the deal (worth a splurge from $297 per person per night for all-inclusive amenities) at this 145-year-old Victorian castle nestled on Lake Mohonk. At some point mid-stride in the Shawangunk Mountains, stop a moment to look down at the resort's red rooftops blending in with fall's dramatic backdrop. Peak Season: Mid-late October How to get there: Ride Metro-North from New York City to Poughkeepsie Station. Book your stay two weeks in advance and connect with the hotel for pick-up and drop-off via their free shuttle. 4. PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND What to fall for: State capitals like Providence are a rare breed. Here, half way between New York City and Boston, the vibe is anything but business and politics. After a long workweek, this has become a place to forget all that. With a sizzling art scene, hip hotels, and James Beard-nominated restaurants opening up, Providence is the Northeast's new cool kid on the block. Wake up to a cup of Bolt Coffee at The Dean Hotel (from $99 for a single room or from $149 for a suite), a former brothel-turned-hotel with elegant rooms, a cocktail lounge, karaoke bar, beer, bratwurst and pretzel hall, and a locally sourced aesthetic. From The Dean, go for a 13-minute stroll past City Hall, across the river-—where WaterFire is celebrating its 20th year-—and over to the Rhode Island School of Design. From there, head up a few paces to Prospect Terrace Park for sweeping views of the city's blazing skyline. Walk east through Brown's beautiful campus, up Thayer Street, and head over to brunch at the Duck & Bunny. Wind down the day at Roger Williams Park Zoo's annual Jack O Lantern Spectacular (happening Oct 1st thru Nov 1st, featuring 5,000 creatively carved pumpkins), then settle in to a creatively carved meal at Birch. Peak Season: Late October How to get there: Take Amtrak's Acela or Northeast Regional trains. Peter Pan Bus and Megabus also service Providence. 5. BRETTON WOODS, NEW HAMPSHIRE What to fall for: When the mountains start calling this season, bring the flannels and flasks to the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center at Crawford Notch—the oldest, continually maintained hiking trail in the country. Breakfast and dinner are included in your stay, as are the naturalist programs, L.L. Bean gear, waterfalls, and breathtaking summits with panoramic views accessible right outside your door. With non-member rates from $81/pp, this is one of the best budget-friendly glamping adventures in the northeast. Peak Season: Early October How to get there: Through fall, AMC's Hiker Shuttle offers transportation to various major approach routes. The AMC shuttle also picks up in Gorham, NH. If coming from Boston, take Concord Coach Lines to Lincoln, NH, where Shuttle Connection offers van service to the Highland Center. 6. CATSKILLS, NEW YORK What to fall for: The getaway starts before you even leave home. Where you're going you'll need one bag of groceries (don't forget the s'mores!) in addition to the usual overnight necessities. Tucked away on 70 acres in the Catskill Mountains, this upstate retreat has everything else you'll need, like peace and quiet, your own yurt, your own woods, and your own private planetarium. By day, sitting on your deck at Harmony Hill (from $125 for a yurt, $195 for a mountain chalet), looking out at the leafy spectrum of amber, citrus, and fuschia, you'll get your foliage fix all right. By night, the stars will light up the sky along with your campfire, chopped wood included. Near the yurt—a 314-square-foot heated sanctuary with a bathroom, kitchen, king size bed, four windows, and a dome skylight—there are hiking trails and meadows, and an 11-circuit labyrinth. The charcoal grill may come in handy, but it's advised to let owners Jana Batey and Chris Rosenthal arrange for dinner to be delivered to your picnic table ($50 per person with wine) from neighboring Stone & Thistle Farm. Peak Season: Mid-late October How to get there: Take the Adirondack Trailways bus to Delhi, NY. Call ahead for Harmony Hill to pick you up at the station. 7. ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, MAINE What to fall for: For a taste of the wild outdoors without leaving civilization, plan a trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. You'll want to linger in your waterfront room at The West Street Hotel (from $129), but this place in the tippy-top corner of the country seems like it was made just for autumn. Acadia National Park will turn you into a morning person; set out onto 45 miles of car-free Carriage Trails with an Acadia Bike ($23 for a day rentals), paddle around the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay with Coastal Kayaking Tours ($49 for half day rentals), and hike some of the 125 miles of trails offering panoramic views of the spectacular season. Peak Season: Mid-October How to get there: Take the Bar Harbor Shuttle ($45 per person, one way) from Bangor, ME. Visit http://exploreacadia.com for more car-free travel options to the area. 8. WASHINGTON, D.C. What to fall for: DC makes it easy to get over summer. Especially when you're standing atop the recently reopened Washington Monument or at Arlington National Cemetery's Arlington House above the city and its government buildings that never looked so radiant. Whether roaming the capital's free attractions—be it the U.S. National Arboretum, Botanic Garden, Smithsonian's National Zoo, National Mall, Rock Creek Park, or Tidal Basin, or rolling through various neighborhoods like Georgetown and Adams Morgan on the $1 DC Circulator—you'll be thinking this is better than cherry blossoms or the 4th of July. Enjoy free bikes at Hotel Monaco (from $139) or free breakfast at American Guest House (from $184), and make sure to tap into a few autumnal events, including FotoWeekDC (Nov. 7-15) and Taste of DC (Oct. 10-11), while in town. Before turning in—or riding the rails home—be one of the first to have a nightcap at Union Social, a train station themed bar expected to open this fall in the NoMa district. Peak Season: Mid-late October How to get there: The capital is easily accessible via plane, train, and bus. 9. SOUTHPORT, CONNECTICUT What to fall for: The journey by train is part of the allure of this Connecticut coast escape. The trip begins without fuss, no traffic jams or getting lost, and carries you into a quaint town tinged with orange leaves and a fair amount of fun for such a small zipcode. Fairfield Restaurant Week (Oct 11-17, from $10 for lunch, $30 for dinner) is on the docket, as is a complimentary welcome bottle of champagne at Delamar Southport, which also includes breakfast for two at on-site Artisan Restaurant (from $289, weekends). After gallery hopping, a hike and picnic in the newly revitalized Southport Park, and a stroll along pristine beaches, walk over to restaurant week participant Gray Goose Café for a delicious organic meal, the only kind of refueling you'll need all weekend. Peak Season: Mid-late October thru early November. How to get there: Take Metro North's New Haven Line to Southport Station. Call the hotel directly to book the package and arrange for transfers to and from the station. 10. NEW HOPE, PENNSYLVANIA What to fall for: It's been called a hidden gem and Pennsylvania's best kept secret, but for whatever reason Bucks County still ends up being one of those places you say you're going to visit some day but never do. In the heart of town, drop your bags at Olivia's Bridge Street Inn (from $199) and skip over to South Main Street to pick up the Delaware Canal towpath. In a setting like this, you'll feel as though you've never seen the real foliage before. If you only have a short time to explore the canal and take in the sights, rent two wheels at New Hope Cyclery ($10 per hour, lock and helmet included; $25 for a half-day or $35 for a full day rental) or enjoy a two and a half hour "Fall Foliage Train" tour on the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad ($48.95 for adults, $46.95 for children ages 2-11, $8.95 for children under 2) that whooshes across Bucks County on weekends Oct 3rd thru Nov 1st; hop on an enlightening hour rail excursion (from $19.95) in an Open Air Car. Slow things down at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve ($6 for adults, $4 for students with a valid ID and seniors over 65, $3 for children ages 3-14), home to 800 native PA species, for a relaxing guided walk included in admission. Toast to finally making it to Bucks County over a riverfront feast at The Landing or Martine's. Peak Season: October How to get there: The Transbridge Bus (Doyleston/Frenchtown/Flemington line) goes from Penn Station to New Hope, but it might be better to get off at the Lambertville stop and walk across the bridge (approximately 10 minutes) into town.
Travel 101: The Best of Florida
Florida is a big, beautiful place with something for every style of traveler. Here, we've narrowed the list a bit, with options that will please everyone in your family. THE SPACE COAST Just about an hour’s drive from Orlando, the Cape Canaveral area is one of Florida’s jewels. Cruising the “Space Coast” between Titusville and Melbourne is a thrilling way to delve into America’s past (this was, after all, the center of the national space program in the 1960s) and enjoy some of the state’s finest natural wonders, too. The Kennedy Space Center is the must-see here for its great displays devoted to the space program. But you may find yourself just as drawn to beaches and wildlife refuges, and that’s just fine. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to egrets, herons, manatees, and even feral hogs. Canaveral National Seashore is a cool place to see loggerhead turtles in their natural habitat. Cocoa Beach is a surfer's paradise—where else can you shop 24/7 at Ron Jon's Surf Shop? You can also pick up the perfect Cuban sandwich in Cocoa. In Melbourne, you can sign up for open-water scuba lessons if you’re feeling adventurous, or just relax at a local eatery with a plate of fried chicken atop buttermilk pancakes. ORLANDO’S FOOD SCENE Sure, we all know that Miami is a mecca for foodies. But Orlando has its own food scene that even some of its biggest fans are surprised to learn about. Devotees of the “big three” theme parks (Universal, Disney, and SeaWorld) may know that the fish & chips at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are magical, and that Walt Disney World and Epcot offer fine dining choices, but when it comes to culinary arts, Orlando is not such a small world after all. The Rusty Spoon has garnered much praise for its creative use of fresh local ingredients sourced from Florida farmers, including butter-poached wild clams and slow-braised Jamison farm lamb collar. International Drive has an array of choices like Ethiopian, Indian, and Japanese fare, and a new Shake Shack (the chain that started as a NYC hot dog cart) has arrived, too. And we enjoy partaking of food trucks like Arepas El Cacao. THE WILD SIDE You’ve no doubt heard that Everglades National Park is a famous Florida park, with miles of fascinating and beautiful waterways and wildlife like alligators. But Florida is also home to lesser known parks and preserves such as Honeymoon Island, a state park with four miles of white beaches and two miles of nature trails where you may spot osprey, bald eagles, and terns. Once known as Hog Island, the decidedly romantic park got a lift when beach cottages were built in the 1930s and the name was changed to more accurately describe its allure. The cottages are gone, but more than a million visitors enjoy the day trip to swim, surf, kayak, and search for seashells along the shore. (You can stay in the nearby towns of Dunedin and Clearwater Beach.) THE KEYS Sunset Celebration at Key West’s Mallory Square is one of those bucket-list items every visitor must experience, preferably with a margarita from one of the nearby stands in hand. Key West is known for its party scene, but just around the corner from raucous Duval Street you’ll find the quieter Bahama Village neighborhood. Tour the “Little White House,” where Harry Truman stayed on vacation when he was president, and the Hemingway Home and Museum and check out the many cats said to have descended directly from Papa’s semi-famous six-toed cat. Just up Route 1, you’ll marvel at Seven Mile Bridge, which runs between mile markers 40 and 47, and Key Largo, where you can rent a bungalow and enjoy a slice of, what else, key lime pie. THE GULF COAST Though Florida is justly renowned for its Atlantic beaches, the western shores of the state are beautiful in their own right and are home to one of North America’s finest seafood scenes, deserving equal footing with Maine’s lobsters, Maryland’s crabs, and Baja’s fish tacos. The marina in the village of Dunedin, for instance, offers locally caught cobia and mangrove snapper that are prepared and turned into tasty fish tacos. In Clearwater Beach, you can watch fishermen on the Pier (and try it yourself) and grab yourself some smoked mullet, salmon, mahi mahi, and mackerel at Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in nearby South Pasadena. Just across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (which looks like a giant sailboat), check out Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, the world’s longest fishing pier, where the pelicans will entertain you with their antics. A BEACH FOR EVERY PERSONALITY It’s no secret that we’re fans of Siesta Key, just off the coast of Sarasota. The white sands of Crescent Beach are dazzlingly bright, composed of pure quartz that has made its way from the Appalachian Mountains down Florida’s rivers to settle here along the coast. (The Guinness Book of World Records says Hyams Beach in Australia has whiter sand, but we’re not entirely convinced.) Say “Florida” to most travelers and not only Siesta Key but an array of other white-sand beaches spring to mind. We’ve sometimes wondered if the state has a beach for every type of beachgoer. Turns out we were onto something: VISIT FLORIDA has published a Beach Finder app that allows you to adjust your interests and preferences to find the perfect Florida beach for you! ALL THAT HISTORY Along with beaches, fun in the sun, seafood, and America’s space program, Florida also boasts heaps of history. The city of St. Augustine, for instance, celebrated its 450th anniversary in 2015. (Yes, the city was founded more than 50 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.) A trip to St. Augustine lets you travel back to the days of the Colonial Quarter and scenic Castillo de San Marcos, get your pirate on at Pat Croce’s St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, and take a “Frightseeing” ghost tour of America’s oldest city. Discover Florida. With 825 miles of beaches and the world’s best theme parks, there are endless ways find fun every day in Florida. Starting planning your vacation today at VISITFLORIDA.com.
Wilderness for beginners
Not everyone wants to spend a week in the Utah wilderness and, let's say, rip out invasive olive trees. Or volunteer outdoors anywhere during a vacation, for that matter. But what if you were told that, for only $300 (plus your own airfare), you could have a getaway outdoors at your choice of a gorgeous setting in Hawaii, Arizona, or elsewhere in America? And what if that opportunity included a chance to be physically active, make new friends, and indulge in some digital detox—unplugging yourself from our stressed-out world? Maybe this idea has something to it after all, right? Since 1997, the nonprofit group Wilderness Volunteers has been organizing volunteer service to America's wild lands. First-timers are allowed to make reservations for this year's line-up of trips in January of each year. So book your trips now for departures later this year. By March, it may be too late, as all slots may be filled. For details on applying, visit wildernessvolunteers.org. Other great options—typically costing a little more—include Volunteer Vacations, run by the American Hiking Society, and Outings, run by the Sierra Club. For more planning tips, check out our recent story "Ask Trip Coach: Volunteer Vacations." MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Like chocolate? You might like working with cocoa farmers in the D.R. Volunteer travel trend: Wwoofing Excavation vacations: Dig for a day
Electric bike rentals smooth out sightseeing
When it comes to sightseeing, it's hard to beat riding from place to place by bicycle. Add a quiet, battery-powered motor to a bicycle, however, and you can make the experience that much better. Who doesn't want to pedal without breaking a sweat while on vacation? Riding a so-called "e-bike" feels like having a fairy godmother give you a little push from behind. The extra boost helps you cope with traffic and overtake hills with ease. Unlike a scooter, an e-bike has no noisy motor or smelly exhaust fumes. Few Americans have ridden the battery-assisted bikes in the U.S., where they average about $1,500. Yet Americans traveling abroad are increasingly test-riding the two-wheelers, as some rental companies make them available by the day at popular destinations. Last month in London, Hertz began renting electric bikes for £19 ($30.50) a day from its Marble Arch location. You rent the e-bike as if it were a vehicle, booking it through the Hertz website and standing in the same line as other customers. You pick up a bike, helmet, lock, and city map. Hertz sells two types of bikes: One type still expects you to pedal, matching your effort with a boost from its motor. The other type of bike doesn't require you to pedal, allowing you to use a throttle to power the two-wheeler instead. Both types of bicycle are powered by lithium-ion batteries (similar to the ones used in many laptops). Company employees charge the batteries at night, plugging them into standard electric sockets. In this way, the batteries still slurp up juice from the grid, so they're not quite as environmentally friendly as one might first think. Earlier this week in England's Lake District National Park, about 50 electric bikes were made available for nine special trails. Provider Electric Bicycle Network knows that their "e-bikes" remove much of the hardship of going uphill, making it pleasant for non-athletic travelers to appreciate the scenery without having to pedal heavily. The organization provides two-wheelers to local businesses, such as hotels and B&Bs;, which rent them out for about £25 a day. Last month, the company began the service in England's Peak District, near Manchester. Next month, it is rolling out the battery-powered bicycles in Devon in the country's scenic southwest. In Switzerland, travel agency Swiss Trails teamed up with the government and the Rent a Bike company to provide bike rentals along nine scenic trails, including three models of electric bike. You no longer have to be a fit cyclist to be able to tackle mountain passes and view lakes and alpine panoramas. You don't need a rental car to reach the trails, either. The e-bikes are for rent at 20 SBB train stations, which are easily reachable from the country's major cities. Sadly, the rental cost is high: 98 Swiss francs a day or about $119, though tax, helmet, and other items are covered. In Beijing, guided e-bike tours allow you to explore the city in small groups, allowing you to cover more territory than a walking tour can alone without getting exhausted. Half-day tours from 300 CNY or about $48. Details at bjebiketours.com. On Japan's Awajishima Island, near Osaka, more than 30 electric bicycles are available for rent as an alternative method of transport for the estimated 12 million sightseers who visit each year to see the stunning scenery. Prices start at 500 yen (about $6) for two hours. Details available at tourist offices on the island. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Theory confirmed! Credit cards have better exchange rates than banks Figure out which hotel you'll get on Hotwire How to travel like a lady