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Baker City, Oregon, Is in the Lead in Our Coolest Small Town in America Contest

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 27, 2022
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Baker County Tourism

We love the way Baker City, Oregon, has jumped to the head of our Coolest Small Towns contest.

Of course, there are weeks remaining until our 11th annual Coolest Small Town in America contest closes (at 11:59 p.m. on June 6), but we're impressed that Baker City (bordered by the Elkhorn and Wallowa mountains in northeast Oregon at the intersection of three Oregon Scenic Byways) has grabbed more than 40 percent of all votes so far to take a commanding lead.

Right behind Baker City in early voting, Sykesville, Maryland, has gotten our attention with more than 27 percent of all votes. But we're eager to see how each of our 15 finalists fares in their quest to take the title of coolest.

Check out all 15 finalists and vote for your favorite HERE.

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Inspiration

Dumb Things Tourists Did This Week

This has been a banner week for stupid tourist stunts, and we're calling them out. From putting a wild animal into a hatchback to defacing precious natural wonders, here's what the unenlightened have been up to in some of our favorite places to visit: 1. Two tourists in Yellowstone National Park put a baby bison in the back of their SUV because it "looked cold." What more can we even say about this? Not kidnapping wildlife to "rescue" it because you think you know more than Yellowstone park rangers would be a good start. It's not only dangerous; it's illegal. Adding to the ignorance, the high was 50 degrees that day. Not exactly an icy tundra. Because of these two geniuses, the baby bison later died. The Washington Post reported: “Park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd. These efforts failed. The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.” 2. Vanessa Hudgens agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for carving a heart into a red rock wall in Sedona, Arizona—and then Instagramming it. Frankly, we expected more of actress Hudgens, who seems like a nice young woman. What makes the defacing more obnoxious is the heart contained the names "Vanessa" and "Austin"—a.k.a. Hudgens and her boyfriend, actor Austin Butler. There are no real winners here except Hudgens's Instagram followers, who alerted the media, causing the authorities to get involved. They issued her a citation for "a misdemeanor count of damaging a natural feature on U.S. Forest Service land," according to the Associated Press, hence the fine of $1K. Good on ya, Vanessa fans. 3. A dude in Portugal smashed a 126-year-old statue after climbing it...to take a selfie. We're shaking our heads right now. Which is more than we can say for poor Dom Sebastiao, a 16th-century king of Portugal, whose statue was smashed to pieces when a tourist allegedly tried to scale it and snap a photo, Artnet News reported. The statue is in Lisbon's Rossio train station, and the suspect "attempted to flee." Big surprise. Check out the pre-smashing and post-smashing photos here. They will make you very sad. We won't speculate on whether a selfie stick was used, but let's just all agree not to use selfie sticks while we're around priceless artwork...or maybe ever.

Inspiration

Prepare to Binge on Budget Travel's Addictive Coast-to-Coast Video Series!

My name is Robert and I am addicted to Budget Travel's Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth video series. I honestly thought I was immune. After all, I'm the editor in chief who greenlighted the crazy coast-to-coast concept: Our photo editor, Whitney Tressel, would drive from Los Angeles to Charleston, sans GPS, sans guidebooks, following only the advice of locals she met along the way; Whitney would shoot video and still photography and deliver dispatches from the road, which our senior, Jamie Beckman, turned into fun blog posts, a huge feature, and a pleasantly endless slideshow. But I'm not immune to binging on this incredible video series. From the moment Whitney hits the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles to her final sunset in South Carolina, these short films keep me watching and smiling.  And I'm not the only one: The great travel tips, amazing food, and friendly faces of Whitney's informal "tour guides" earned Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth a nomination for MIN's Best of the Web award for multi-media feature. To watch our Coast-to-Coast by Word of Mouth preview and episodes 1 through 4, visit Budget Travel's video collection (where you'll also find incredible "day-in-the-life" footage of Cuba, Antigua, Miami, Berlin, Bangkok, and more).

Inspiration

Confessions of a Singing Tour Guide

Jan Tervoort, known as “Amster Jan,” will lead you on a walking tour of Amsterdam and serenade you with traditional Dutch folk songs along the way. Here, his insider hints for visiting the uniquely gorgeous city. (Hpbfotos/Dreamstime)Q: What inspired you to become a singing tour guide? A: I fell in love with Amsterdam when I moved here 12 years ago and started giving tours to friends who were visiting, then decided to go professional. The city’s tourist industry is very competitive, so I needed something to stand out. I brought along my guitar and sang old folk songs. I’m still the only singing tour guide in the city. Q: What’s your best money-saving tip for the first-time visitor to Amsterdam? A: Contact me at Amsterjan.nl. Start with a general tour of the city. A two-hour tour costs 100 euros, but the tips and advice you will get in the two hours will help you save time and money the rest of the trip. Q: I’ll bet you get asked a lot of interesting questions on tours. A: One family brought their 89-year-old grandma in a wheelchair to the old Amsterdam neighborhood where she was born. They brought along a very old picture of the house where she was born, and for some reason she didn’t know the address. From clues in the picture, we went for a search through the neighborhood and found the place. It was very in­teresting and emotional. Q: What’s your number-one Amsterdam secret that you’re willing to share? (Frank Cornelissen/Dreamstime)A: Visit the Western Islands, created in the 17th century for the shipping industry. Tourists haven’t discov­ered them yet. They’re in the center of Amsterdam close to central station, the busiest part of the city, but on the islands it is totally quiet. There is almost no traffic, beau­tiful old storehouses, little old wooden walking bridges, a little children’s farm, nice canals, a local bar, and no shops. You’d actually feel as if you’re going back in time if it weren’t for the big yellow submarine that rests in the central canal. Q: What’s the weirdest encounter you’ve had on a tour? (Hpbfotos/Dreamstime)A: In the posh neighborhood of Jordaan, I was telling a tour group about one of Holland’s most famous gangsters, and the gangster in question actually pulled up on a scooter to say hi. Every­one went silent, then be­gan to laugh. The man is currently in jail, charged with several murders.

Inspiration

"Secret Menus" of America's Favorite Fast Food Joints

"Off the menu" has an elegant ring to it, no? We associate the phrase with high rollers and celebs who are certain the chef has something up his or her sleeve that they're not broadcasting to the world. Well, it turns out you don't have to be on the A-list to order off the menu—and you don't have to be dining at a white tablecloth joint to make special requests. Our friends at Foursquare have compiled tips left by their users—always a great resource for real-life feedback—about some of America's favorite off-the-menu orders from affordable, quality chain restaurants. From imaginative and messy riffs on burgers to unusual twists on pizza, sandwiches, and burritos, there's a little something here for everyone. IN-N-OUT BURGER, a regional chain in Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Utah, has a devoted following for its better-than-fast-food burgers. Foursquare user Jessica says, "It's not on the menu, but they'll substitute a veggie burger if you ask!" Nick recommends, "Ask for your burger Animal Style [with extra spread, pickles, and grilled onions]. Not on the menu, but the only way to go." And Andy says, "Get the 'grilled cheese' off the secret menu." M BURGER, in Chicago, offers its own "secret menu," too. Samantha says to order "Doctor Betty! Beef burger with avocado, tomato, and pepper jack cheese." Mikinzie says, "Try the cheese frieds with jalapeños on the secret menu. You won't regret it." TORCHY'S TACOS, in Texas, has a following statewide and beyond. Bryan recommends "Go for the Ace of Spades on the secret menu. Sausage, brisket, cheese, queso, Diablo sauce, sour cream and a fried egg. It made me a believer." Marc says, "LOVED The Matador." Nick insists, "Order the Hillbilly. You won't regret it." UMAMI BURGER, with locations in California, Illinois, Nevada, and New York, also boasts a secret menu. "Must order their cheesy tots and truffle fries," says Betty. Rameen recommends, "Spicy Bird (turkey burger)." JAMBA JUICE, with 800 locations in 26 state, the Bahamas, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and South Korea, helped jump-start the smoothie worldwide. It continues to delight the taste buds with off-the-menu specialities. "The Pink Star is my favorite," says April. "It tastes like a pink Starburst. Ingredients: lemonade, soymilk, raspberry sherbert, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and fresh strawberries." Continuing the candy-flavored theme, Alex says, "Ask for the White Gummy Bear. So good." FOOSACKLEY'S, a local chicken restaurant with locations across coastal Alabama, offers some tasty variations you must be in-the-know to ask for. "It's not on the menu, but try a Buf-foo-lo Chicken Sandwich. It's chicken dipped in buffalo sauce, topped with ranch on a bun. Delicious!" says Whitney. "For a vegetarian option, or just a tasty alternative, try the Grilled Cheese! It's not on the menu, but it is worth ordering! And to spice it up, try dipping it in ranch! Mmmmm!!" says Brandon. PAPALOTE MEXICAN GRILL, with two locations in San Francisco, includes a Super Adobo chicken burrito you won't find on the menu, according to Foursquare user The Feast. PANERA BREAD, with locations across the U.S. and Canada, will serve up a Steak and Egg Protein Bowl with onions and cheese if you ask them to, says Dee. MELLOW MUSHROOM, with locations across the U.S., mostly in the Southeast, includes some surprising pizza options that only insiders know. "Ask for the Maui Wowie pizza," says Jhim. "Pesto sauce, mozzarella, banana peppers, pineapple, jerk chicken, ham & bacon. Heaven!" Johanna says, "Order a chicken Caesar pizza. It's not on the menu, but they'll still make it and it's awesome!"

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