Fall Festivals in America's Cool Small Towns
NATIONAL APPLE HARVEST FESTIVAL
Biglerville, PA; October 7 & 8, 14 & 15; $10; appleharvest.com
For 50 years, the National Apple Harvest Festival has been celebrating the sweet, crunchy fall favorite with hands-on arts & crafts, demonstrations, music performances, and, of course, great food stands serving up (take a deep breath…) apple butter, apple cookies, apple bread, apple cotton candy, apple fritters, apple pie, apple dumplings, apple turnovers, apple cakes, apple cider, apple guacamole, apple salsa, apple pizza, and apple pie moonshine. If that’s not enough to satisfy you, take an orchard tour, visit the petting zoo, and see antique cars and vintage steam engine displays. And the whole shebang is in beautiful Biglerville, PA, an easy road trip from Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington, D.C., and just 10 miles from historic Gettysburg, where we love the Federal Pointe Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member, with rooms under $150/night.
SIEGEL’S COTTONWOOD FARM PUMPKIN FESTIVAL
Lockport, IL; September 23 to October 31, $15, ourpumpkinfarm.com
An easy road trip from the Chicago area, Lockport, IL, plays host to this incredible celebration of everyone’s favorite Halloween fruit. Wander a 15-acre corn maze if you dare, explore more than 30 attractions, including Duck Races, Zip Lines, a pick-your-own pumpkin field that Charlie Brown’s friend Linus would certainly approve of, a haunted barn, train rides, a “giant mountain slide,” zombie paintball, and, of course, play areas and pony rides for the little ones. Two major attractions each year are the Pumpkin Weigh-Off and the self-explanatory Pumpkin Drop & Smash (which - if you’re wondering “how high?” and “how big a smash?” - involves a crane). Aloft Bolingbrook, a few miles from town offers rooms for well under $150/night.
VALLEY OF THE MOON VINTAGE FESTIVAL
Sonoma, CA; September 22 to 24; entertainment on the Plaza is free, with food and beverages for sale; valleyofthemoonvintagefestival.com
In California’s wine country, an easy road trip from the San Francisco Bay Area, fall is the time for harvesting the incredible grapes that grow in the renowned vineyards that supply the world with some of its finest wines. And while that may evoke images of pricey bottles, the good news is that the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival, founded in 1897, throws a party on Sonoma’s historic Plaza that is anything but expensive. Bring a picnic, a blanket, and some cash to try some wine and beer tasting, local foods, and enjoy watching a parade, listening to great music, browsing the work of amazing area artists, and soaking up the atmosphere of a truly cool small town that has retained much of its Spanish Colonial flavor thanks to decades of forward-thinking preservationists, funky boutiques, great restaurants, and, of course, the stylish wine-tasting rooms that line the Plaza. Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn is a bargain at well under $200/night, and if you’re up for a bit of a splurge, the El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen, right on Sonoma’s Plaza, is a beauty any time of year (but they’re already booked solid during the Vintage Festival).
Fun Getaways for Mother's Day
FAMILY FUN IN UPSTATE NEW YORK An easy day trip or overnight from the New York City metro area, New Paltz, NY, and nearby Lake Minnewaska State Park Preserve are one of my family’s favorite ways to celebrate Mother’s Day. The Shawangunk Mountains will remind travelers of the granite peaks out west, and the hiking trails beautiful but manageable for all ages. The village of New Paltz has a charming Main Street, a welcoming flower-power vibe, and great eateries like Main Street Bistro, which has been honored by the Best of the Hudson Valley awards for its massive breakfasts. BEST B&B BREAKFAST IN AMERICA If you associate Mother’s Day with breakfast in bed, consider the Best B&B Breakfast in America, according to BedandBreakfast.com - the Chestnut Street Inn in Sheffield, Illinois, a two-hour drive from Chicago. Order their incredible Elvis Toast with Candied Bacon: It’s French Toast with peanut butter and bananas, plus bacon dredged in cinnamon and sugar (they’ll happily whip up a version sans bacon for vegetarians, of course). Enjoy a hike in nearby Starved Rock State Park and the scenic Hennepin Canal. JAZZ IN NEW ORLEANS Taking Mom out for brunch is a cliche. But a jazz brunch? In New Orleans? You’ve just won Mother’s Day. The city is legendary for heaping portions of jambalaya, beignets, and other treats, and the music is peerless. Take Mom on a carriage tour, a tasting tour, and catch as much live music as you can in the city that taught America how to swing. Learn more at neworleansonline.com.
Summer Vacations at Winter Resorts
With lift tickets at most major ski areas costing well over $50 per person and slopeside condos charging far more, skiing at well-known resorts has become a costly venture - and that's without considering the expense of clothing, meals, equipment, and keeping up with the Joneses of downhill schussing. But when the snow is replaced by wildflowers, these same ski areas get desperate to fill their digs, their lifts, their trendy restaurants and bars. And they've made the effort to do so by building golf courses at the bases of their mountains and keeping lifts running year-round to entice the summer hiker or biker. Yet, would you believe, it hasn't worked? Though the mountain scenery is among America's most majestic, summer tourism at the famous ski resorts has remained a slow trickle to everywhere except Aspen and Vail. Result: a frantic assortment of package offers at remarkably low rates, bargains that often combine lodging with food and activities. Here's how you can enjoy a fine, low-cost, warm-weather vacation at seven resorts mainly known for their winter glamour. Sugarbush, Vermont North of Killington, Route 100 is quintessential Vermont, where freshly painted steeples reach toward the skies, covered bridges built in the 1880s remain intact, and the farmland is so fertile you feel like running out of your car and digging your hands in the soil. Nothing seems to change in these parts, and that's the way locals prefer it. In Mad River Valley, the mountains barely top 4,000 feet, making them an accessible outdoor playground that challenges but doesn't leave you lost in the wilderness for days, howling with coyotes. Welcome to the Sugarbush Ski Area. Hovering above the towns of Waitsfield and Warren, Sugarbush is an ideal summer retreat. You can take a chairlift to the top of 4,135-foot Mt. Ellen and hike the Long Trail (Vermont's state-long hiking trail) south to Mt. Abraham or north to that distinctive mass of rock called Camel's Hump. Road bikers can rent bikes at the resort and ride a 15-mile loop on Routes 100 and 17 through Waitsfield and Warren and their respective covered bridges. Stop at the Warren Country Store for lunch and enjoy a Dagwoodesque sandwich outside overlooking a small waterfall. Mountain bikers can simply use the resort's ski trails to snake through the forest. Golfers will want to know that one night at the Sugarbush Inn and a round of golf can cost as little as $86 in the spring/summer/fall off-season (phone 800/53-SUGAR for reservations). Non-golfers can choose to spend the night at Hyde Away, a 12-room inn in Waitsfield, where rooms start at $59 and include a full breakfast (phone 802/496-2322 or 800/777-4933). Sugarloaf, Maine Viewing moose in Carrabassett Valley, Maine, in summer is almost as easy as seeing squirrels in your backyard in other parts of the country. Take a sunrise stroll along one of the numerous Sugarloaf ski trails and you're bound to see Bullwinkle and friends slurping knee-deep in some pond. Sugarloaf, in the central part of the state, is a great place to get lost in the thick woods and go canoeing, fly-fishing, or hiking. This big, brooding mountain, Maine's second highest peak, towers over the 17-mile-long valley. Across the road from the resort, a former railroad bed lines the Carrabassett River, providing an ideal trail for the novice mountain biker. Yet the highlight for many visitors is the golf course, which is always ranked by golf publications as one of the finest in New England. One of the best packages is the Early Bird Stay and Play. From late May to July 6, you get lodging at the resort's Sugarloaf Inn or Grand Summit Hotel, breakfast, and a round of golf for $99 per person (phone 800/THE-LOAF for both hotels). Keystone, Colorado If mom and dad downhill ski, they know that the best ski areas feature a slew of activities for children. Well, this doesn't stop when the slopes are green. At Keystone, a mere 90-minute drive from Denver, where you stay at the 9,300-foot base of a 12,200-foot high mountain, there's a long list of free summer activities for kids: It includes panning for gold, gathering around a campfire to hear Redtail the Mountain Man tell stories about his mining days, free fly-casting clinics, and children's craft nights. Parents receive two free Mountain Passports with every reservation. This will entitle you to more than a dozen free activities at Keystone, including mountain bike clinics (try white-knuckling down the hardest trail, "The Wild Thing"), nature hikes around Lake Dillon, yoga classes, tennis clinics, and much more. Spring/summer/fall lodging packages start at just $84 a night at the Keystone Inn or Keystone Lodge and $99 for a studio condominium in The Forest (phone 800/468-5004 for rooms at any of the three). They also feature two golf courses (ask about package deals with lodging) and more than 25 restaurants to choose from, including budget-oriented coffee shops. Crested Butte On the crest of the Rockies, stretching from craggy 12,000-foot peaks to winding rivers, Crested Butte has always been a summer playground for hikers, horseback riders, and fishermen. What outdoors person wouldn't be attracted to this vast wilderness where elk, eagles, deer, bear, and bighorn sheep outnumber the small human population? More recently, mountain bikers and golfers have been coming to the area. Bikers try the Gold Link Trail System, a moist pocket of deep-in-the-woods trails that will keep your adrenaline on overdrive for hours. Vast fields of shoulder-high wildflowers line the trails like spectators at a marathon. Indeed, in the summer, more than 600 varieties of wildflower carpet the mountainside in a profusion of color. Golfers savor the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr. course. Last year's golf package cost $292 per person for three nights at the Sheraton Crested Butte Resort and two days of golfing (phone 800/544-8448). Non-golfers will find the options more affordable. Stay at the Crested Butte Lodge (800/950-2133; $45 to 65 a night for two), walk the 30 yards to the lift, and pay only $13 to take the chairlift to the summit (your chance for a two-mile-high hike). Park City, Utah Thirty-five miles outside Salt Lake City, Park City is getting ready to welcome the world at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. On historic Main Street, where 64 buildings from the 1880s are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, new boutiques and restaurants have already opened to intrigue the masses. Yet, venture here this summer, before the big hoopla, and you'll have the streets of this former silver-boom town to yourself. Not to mention the hills. Take the $8 lift to the 10,000-foot summit and choose to hike or bike down more than 50 miles of trails, or simply picnic atop the peak. There's also the Park City Stables, where you can saddle up and go on an hour-long horseback ride ($29) through the woods. Kids will enjoy whipping down the Alpine Slide and playing the new miniature golf course. At night, Park City has free weekly concerts in City Park and, in late August, various jazz greats come to town to play in the Park City International Jazz Festival. The resort's accommodations start as low as $80 for a studio condo in The Lodge at the Mountain Village (800/222-PARK). Big Sky, Montana Big Sky, Montana, is the America you visit to leave your urban woes behind and breathe in the crisp, fresh air. Aptly named Lone Mountain rises up dramatically from the town's heavily forested lower slopes to an elevation of 11,150 feet. In winter, skiers carve their perfect turns down the mountain with few lift lines and even less traffic on the trails. The setting is even more serene in summer when the population decreases. This is A River Runs Through It country, where the movie was filmed, so grab that pole and try your luck fly-fishing for trout on the Gallatin River. Trail rides at one of the local ranches and golfing the Arnold Palmer-designed 18-hole course in Meadow Village are just as popular. Or put on your hiking boots and explore the miles and miles of trails in the Gallatin National Forest. One of the easiest and most enjoyable routes involves starting at the resort and simply taking a gondola ride up the mountain. Then enjoy a leisurely hike down to the base on a new self-guided nature trail along a roaring stream. If you're feeling lonely, head 18 miles south to Yellowstone National Park and hang with the bison, elk, and black bear. While golfing ($44 to $57 per round) and a lift ticket ($15) are cheaper than at most resorts, Big Sky's lodging tends to be more expensive, with Stillwater studio condos starting at $114 per night (800/548-4486). Or try Golden Eagle Property Management, which will rent its Hill Studios at the base of the mountain for $75 (800/548-4488). Whistler, British Columbia The excitement at British Columbia's Whistler starts long before you reach the resort, on the 75-mile drive from Vancouver, where 7,000-foot snowcapped peaks slope down to the waters of the Pacific. Like other ski resorts in warm weather, Whistler has its share of excellent golfing (including the Chateau Whistler Golf Club, which Golf magazine called "one of the best golf resorts in the world") and the requisite gondola ride to the peak for knockout views. There are also more than 62 kilometers of mountain bike trails for the off-road rider at the Whistler Mountain Bike Zone. Yet, it's the unusual possibilities for outdoor adventure that separate this ski area from the pack. You can take a helicopter ride to hike the untrammeled Coast Mountain alpine meadows, even do a little summertime skiing and snowboarding on Blackcomb's Horstman Glacier. During summer, three lifts run to Blackcomb, with lift tickets costing about $25. Then there's the Westcoaster alpine slide, a bobsled run at the bottom of Blackcomb, paragliding, in-line skating at a freestyle park, and Whistler Kids Windsurfing, which holds both kids-only courses and family camps. Whistler Central Reservations (800/WHISTLER) will place you in one of 450 slope-side condos and houses and include many of these activities in their customized packages. For example, five nights' lodging and one round of golf at each of Whistler's four designer courses is a mere $369 (US) in the off-season.
Theme Park Survival Guide
I am thinking of taking my kids to a theme park for the very first time. What kind of prep work should I do? Your planning—and fun—can start as early as... now. Build your kids' anticipation by visiting the park's website together. Get to know the map, decide what your must-see attractions are, and find out about special events such as shows, character parades, fireworks, and laser displays. Of course, while you're getting your kids pumped up for their park visit, you also have to manage their expectations. Take the time to prepare them emotionally for the big trip, suggests George Scarlett, a professor of developmental psychology at Tufts University. A theme park is awash in eye candy that can test kids' self-control, especially preschoolers'. Let them know there are park rules, just as there are rules at home. They may need to stand patiently in line before they can board a ride. They'll likely have to wear safety belts or protective gear, and they'll need to keep their hands and feet inside all attractions. Because many rides have minimum height restrictions, make sure they understand which ones will be off-limits to them. Robert Niles, founder and editor of ThemeParkInsider.com, suggests that in the weeks leading up to your theme park visit you should let your kids earn a "souvenir allowance" to spend at the end of the day or the trip (remember, you don't want to be stuck carting around a collossal stuffed animal from ride to ride). And prepare yourself to be patient with your little ones. I remember how my then-6-year-old desperately wanted to visit Disney's Haunted Mansion, but after we had waited in line for more than an hour, he freaked out in terror right at the front door. Seeing the look on his face, I sighed and promptly headed for the exit. There are a ton of ticket options. What's the best deal? Some things are obvious: You can save money—and time—buying park passes online; multiday tickets will usually bring the per-day cost down. But some seemingly high-priced offers—such as park combo deals and annual passes—can actually save you a bundle. A season pass to Six Flags, for instance, gets you into all 13 of the company's theme parks for the year. (If you decide to get an annual pass while you're at a park, you can usually upgrade your ticket right on the spot.) Be sure to follow a park on Twitter or Facebook, so you'll be alerted to flash promotions—last-minute offers that can include discounted nighttime attendance, buy-one-get-one-free deals, and savings on meals or souvenirs. Hotel package deals will certainly cost you more, but they also come with perks. A family of four can expect to pay several hundred dollars more for, say, a three-day Walt Disney World package than for a comparable "a la carte" stay at a nearby Marriott. But Disney packages often include discounts on on-site hotels, dining, and special events that may make up the difference. At Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, if you stay on-site you get a complimentary Express Plus Pass that lets you skip lines for certain rides and attractions. (For more on express passes, see "Should You Pay Extra for Shorter Lines?" to the left) I never take my kids anywhere without a loaded backpack. Is that a good idea at a theme park? Just because a park features a castle doesn't mean you should have to pay a king's ransom for basics like water, snacks, sunscreen, and bandages. "Never buy anything in a theme park you can buy outside the park," says Niles. If you worry about things like food spills, cuts, inclement weather, and meltdowns, by all means do some schlepping. Bring packaged snacks, wet wipes, Ziploc bags, a change of clothes, disposable rain ponchos, sunscreen, bug repellent, water bottles, a small first-aid kit, small toys, coloring books, and glow-in-the-dark sticks and necklaces (which the parks sell at dusk but they charge a fortune). And while we're obsessing over details, don't forget to pin your name and cell phone number to the inside of your kids' clothes and make sure your family wears closed-toe shoes to the park. You don't want your little one's flip-flops flying off on the new Wild Eagle ride at Dollywood. What are the best times of day—and times of year—to visit a theme park? Remember one thing: Always go against the flow. The more you can anticipate where the herd will be—and flee to where it's not—the more elbow room and (relative) solitude you'll enjoy. For instance, most visitors don't show up first thing in the morning. Arriving at least 15 minutes before the gate is thrown open (c'mon, your kids are going to be up at dawn anyway) and heading for the most popular rides first can be the difference between no wait and a wait of 60 to 90 minutes for marquee attractions. Niles notes that, amazingly enough, you can walk right on to Tatsu, billed as the world's tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster, at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles when the park opens at 10:30, but by 11 the wait can be as long as two hours. But do your homework so that you choose your morning rides carefully. A water ride that soaks you to the bone may be a less than inspiring way to start your day. The same goes for lunch. If you head to a popular watering hole such as Three Broomsticks in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure between noon and 2 you'll find that a thousand other Muggles had the same idea. Instead, pack a lunch, or make reservations to eat early or late (check reservation policies; Disney, for instance, will let you make online restaurant reservations up to 180 days in advance). While everyone else is chowing down, enjoy some shorter wait times at attractions that are otherwise jammed. If your park features a midday character parade or a popular live show, you'll likely find rides less crowded at those times as well. Other go-against-the-flow techniques include: heading for the back of the park at opening while everyone else is boarding the rides nearest the front gate; leaving the park at midday for a dip in the hotel pool or a nap, then returning in the early evening when crowds are often lighter; opting for the left-hand line at snack bars and souvenir shops because most folks are programmed to turn right (sounds crazy, I know, but park sharks swear this one is true). As for time of year, most major parks are less crowded in September and October, as school starts up, and April and May, as school winds down. (But if anyone asks, I'm not the one who suggested you take your youngster out of class just so she could shake hands with Mickey!) Some parks have trends all their own: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay sees an increase in student tour groups from Brazil each January and June; Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are more crowded at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom; at its Southern California cousin, Disneyland, locals flock on Saturdays and Sundays. How can my smartphone or tablet improve my visit? If you remember that your phone or tablet works for you (and not the other way around), it can help solve some problems. By now, everybody knows they should snap a shot of where they're parked, but you should also take a picture of your kids in their park-visit clothes each morning in case you have to ask for help in locating them. Smartphones and tablets also give you access to a new generation of apps, such as Disney's Mobile Magic and Cedar Point's GPS Park Map, that allow you to quickly pinpoint restaurants, bathrooms, and other crucial stops. Disney's app goes even further, providing up-to-the-minute estimates on wait times at rides and attractions. But Niles advises you to rely more on your own smarts than on your phone's. "Do you really need an app to tell you there's going to be a long line all day at Thunder Mountain?"
12 Awe-Inspiring American Castles
Who doesn't go a bit giddy at the sight of a castle? The good news is that you don't have to head to Europe for honest-to-goodness ones of the Cinderella variety—we have plenty right here in our own backyard. Railroad barons commissioned most of these estates, but at least one housed a legitimate king and queen (bet you didn't know this country had its own history of royalty!). Each is an engineering wonder in its own right, with some even constructed out of old-world castles that were shipped across the ocean. And each is open to tours should you decide to make a trip (a select few will even let you spend the night). Read this and you might just discover a side of America you never knew existed. SEE THE 12 AWE-INSPIRING CASTLES 1. GREY TOWERS CASTLE Most colleges contend to be fortresses of learning, but Arcadia University in the suburbs north of Philadelphia can back it up with battlements acquired in 1929. Grey Towers was built by eclectic sugar refiner William Welsh Harrison between 1893 and 1898 and modeled after Northumberland's Alnwick Castle (a.k.a. the most archetypal expression of the medieval style). The 40 rooms wowed with gilded ceilings, tapestries, ornamental paintings, and hand-carved walnut and mahogany woodwork in styles from French Renaissance to Louis XV—and of course a Mirror Room—while secret passages behind fireplaces and underground tunnels. Self-guided tours of public areas are possible while classes are in session (the building now contains dorm rooms and administration offices). Free brochures outline the history. 450 South Easton Rd., Glenside, PA, 215/572-2900, arcadia.edu. 2.'IOLANI PALACE Other properties on this list may be bigger and more lavish, but the 'Iolani Palace has one thing above them all: legitimacy. America's only true palace—as in, royalty resided here—was built from 1879 to 1882 by King Kalakua and Queen Kapi'olani. The goal was to enhance the prestige of modern Hawaii in a kind of Victorian-era keeping up with the Joneses. (The palace had electricity and a telephone even before the White House.) Stone-faced with plenty of koa wood inside, the two-floor American Florentine–style building includes a throne room, grand hall, and private suites, including the upstairs room where the queen was imprisoned for five months following the 1895 coup. Today, concerted efforts are underway to find artifacts and furniture (like the king's ebony and gilt bedroom set) that were auctioned off by the post-coup Provisional Government. 364 South King St., Honolulu, HI, 808/522-0832, iolanipalace.org. Admission $12, guided tour $20. 3. HAMMOND CASTLE Like a modern-day Frankenstein's castle on Massachusetts's rocky Atlantic shore, Abbadia Mare (Abbey by the Sea) served as both home and laboratory for prolific inventor John Hayes Hammond Jr. after it was completed in 1929. Hammond is largely credited as the "Father of the Radio Control," as in tanks and planes and remote-controlled cars. He was also a lover of medieval art, and the castle was designed to showcase his collection. The building itself is a blend of 15th-, 16th-, and 18th-century styles, including a great hall with elaborate rose windows and pipe organ plus a courtyard featuring a two-story meat market/wine merchant's house brought over from southern France. And, yes, like any proper mad scientist, he made sure there were secret passageways. Self-guided tours are available along with annual Renaissance Faire fund-raisers, psychic gatherings, and spooky Halloween events. 80 Hesperus Ave., Gloucester, MA, 978/283-2080, hammondcastle.org. Admission $10. 4. FONTHILL CASTLE Celebrating its centennial in 2012, the former home of industrialist-turned-archaeologist Henry Mercer is an ode to artisanship: All 44 rooms (10 bathrooms, five bedrooms, and 200 windows), 32 stairwells, 18 fireplaces, and 21 chimneys are hewn from hand-mixed reinforced concrete in a mishmash of medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine styles. Thousands of handcrafted ceramic tiles were inset throughout, including Mercer's own Moravian-style tiles plus Persian, Chinese, Spanish, and Dutch productions he collected. Today, the 60-acre Bucks County estate serves as a museum to pre-industrial life, with 900 American and European prints at Fonthill and even more artifacts (like a whale boat and Conestoga wagon) in its sister building, the Mercer Museum, a fun house–like six-story castle in its own right. East Court St. and Rt. 313, Doylestown, PA, 215/348-9461, mercermuseum.org. Admission $12. 5. CASTELLO DI AMOROSA Word to the wise: Imbibe the cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio at the Castello di Amorosa winery carefully, because somewhere in the 121,000-square-foot, 107-room, eight-level complex there's a dungeon with a functional Renaissance-era iron maiden. It took 14 years to construct the castle using historically accurate medieval building techniques. The end result is an "authentic" 12th- and 13th-century Tuscan castle with drawbridge and moat. The frescoes in the Great Hall and Knights' Chamber are hand-painted, some 8,000 tons of Napa Valley stone hand-chiseled, the Hapsburg-era bricks, hand-forged nails and chandeliers, and 500-year-old fireplace all tediously imported from Europe. That sense of awe? Very modern. 4045 N. St. Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA, 707/967-6272, castellodiamorosa.com. Admission $18, including wine tasting. 6. BOLDT CASTLE What do you do when you come across a heart-shaped isle while vacationing with your wife in the Thousand Islands? If you're upstart industrialist George Boldt, you buy it and hire 300 stonemasons, carpenters, and artists to build a six-story, 120-room testament to your love. There were Italian gardens, a dove-cote, and a turreted powerhouse, plus all the imported Italian marble, French silks, and Oriental rugs money could buy. But when his wife Louise died in 1904, the heartbroken Boldt ceased construction on the Rhineland-style Taj Mahal and left it to the elements for 73 years. Today, tourists can visit from May to October for self-guided tours—or book a wedding in the stone gazebo. +44° 20' 40.29" N, -75° 55' 21.27" W, Heart Island, Alexandria Bay, NY, 315/482-9724, boldtcastle.com. Admission $8. 7. GILLETTE CASTLE It's elementary: Get famous (and rich) by playing Sherlock Holmes on the stage; build your own Baskerville Hall. Pet project of campy eccentric William Hooker Gillette, the 24-room castle was completed in 1919 by a crew of 20 men over five years using the actor/playwright's own drafts and designs. It's also the focal point of his 184-acre Seventh Sister estate, a forested bluff overlooking the Connecticut River. Outside, the local fieldstone reads like crumbling medieval; inside, the built-in couches, curious detailing, and inventive hand-carved southern white oak woodwork is all arts and crafts. As for cat images? There are 60. (Gillette had 17 feline friends.) Gillette Castle State Park, 67 River Rd., East Haddam, CT, 860/526-2336, ct.gov. Grounds open year-round; interior tours available Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Admission $6. 8. OHEKA CASTLE Second behind Asheville's Biltmore as the largest private estate in the nation, OHEKA—an acronym of Otto Herman Kahn, its millionaire financier original owner—ended up abandoned in the late 1970s and sustained extensive damage from fires, vandals, and neglect. After a 20-year renovation, it's back in form and is now a 32-room luxury hotel. Think Downton Abbey just an hour from Manhattan (themed packages available), or for that matter, Citizen Kane (photos of it were used in the film). Originally set on 443 acres, massive tons of earth were moved to make the hilltop location of the 127-room, 109,000-square-foot manse the highest point in Long Island. The Olmsted Brothers planned the formal gardens, the Grand Staircase was inspired by Fontainebleau's famous exterior one, and 126 servants tended to the six-person family when they came for weekends and summers. The 1919 price tag: $11 million. That's $110 million in today's money. Sounds about right for a man whose likeness inspired Mr. Monopoly. 135 West Gate Dr., Huntington, NY, 631/659-1400, oheka.com. Admission $25. Double rooms from $395 per night. Guided tours available. 9. BISHOP'S PALACE Of all the Gilded Age Victorians built by Nicholas Clayton along Galveston's Gulf Coast, the Bishop's Palace (née Gresham Castle, 1893, after its original owner, Santa Fe railroad magnate Walther Gresham) remains the grandest—and not just because its steel and stone hulk survived the Great Storm of 1900. Its small lot and oversized proportions with château-esque detailing of steeply peaked rooflines and sculptural chimneys still dominate the street, while inside the 14-foot coffered ceilings, 40-foot octagonal mahogany stairwell, stained glass, plaster carvings, and Sienna marble columns exude richness. Keep a lookout for the bronze dragon sculptures. After serving as a Catholic bishop's residence for 50 years, the house is now open for tours. Book a private guide to see the usually off-limits third floor. 1402 Broadway, Galveston, TX, 409/762-2475, galveston.com. Admission $10, private tours from $50. 10. CASTLE IN THE CLOUDS Location, location, location—as important in castles to fending off conquers as forgetting Gilded Age woes. And for millionaire shoe baron Thomas Plant, that meant setting his 1914 Lucknow Estate (named after the Indian city he loved) on the rim of an extinct caldera high in the Ossipee Mountains with unbroken views over 6,300 private acres of woods and lakes. The mansion by comparison is relatively subdued: A mere 16 rooms, it's practically minuscule compared to the other castles on this list. Throughout, the arts and crafts philosophy of artisanship and living in harmony with nature is expressed in the stone walls, inventive handiwork like the jigsaw floor in the kitchen, and functional decor that eschews ostentation—all planned at Plant's 5-foot-4 height—plus a few technological innovations like a needle shower, self-cleaning oven, brine fridge, and central-vacuuming system. Much remains wholly preserved today. Route 171, 455 Old Mountain Rd., Moultonborough, NH, 603/476-5900, castleintheclouds.org. Admission $16. 11. THORNEWOOD CASTLE It's not every day Stephen King chooses your luxury B&B as setting for his haunted-house TV miniseries Rose Red. Then again it's not every day that a 400-year-old Elizabethan manor house is dismantled brick-by-brick and shipped round Cape Horn to be incorporated into an English Tudor Gothic castle in the Pacific Northwest, as Thornewood was from 1908 to 1911. The property was a gift from Chester Thorne, one of the founders of the Port of Tacoma, to his wife and apropos of its origin, the 54-room castle is now a prime wedding venue, with antiques and artwork galore plus an Olmsted Brothers–designed garden and three acres of fir-dotted grounds overlooking American Lake. Book a room to get an inside look at the building; there are also tours and events that are occasionally open to the public. 8601 N. Thorne Lane Southwest, Lakewood, WA, 253/584-4393, thornewoodcastle.com. Double rooms from $300 per night. 12. HEARST CASTLE Understatement of the millennium: William Randolph Hearst's 1919 directive to architect Julia Morgan to "build a little something" on his ranch in San Simeon. Then again, a 115-room "Casa Grande" inspired by a Spanish cathedral is a relatively modest proposition compared to the 250,000 acres and the 13 miles of coastline it's set on. It's when you add in the three additional Mediterranean Revival guesthouses (46 more rooms total), 127 acres of gardens, the Neptune pool with authentic Roman temple pediment, the zoo with roaming reindeer and zebra, Egyptian Sekhmet statues on the terraces, and the private airstrip that things get a bit over-the-top. Magnificent doesn't begin to describe the museum-quality artwork, which drove the architecture as much as anything, from Renaissance statuary to Gothic tapestries and entire ceilings, nor the palatial scale of the publishing magnate's vision for "La Cuesta Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill)—still unfinished upon his death in 1951. 750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon, CA, 800/444-4445, hearstcastle.org. Admission from $25.