7 Exceptional American Food Halls

By Tobey Grumet Segal
January 12, 2022
Mexican food on trays
From coast to coast, food halls are transforming casual dining into a sophisticated culinary adventure.

These days, savvy travelers have a more sophisticated option for fast-casual dining thanks to the growing trend of multi-vendor food halls. A trifecta of choice, atmosphere, and affordability, the best of these large, usually urban-based, eateries offer something for everyone while reveling in the spirit of their surroundings. In addition to showcasing native chefs, products, and cuisines, many food halls also offer locally sourced wine and beer as well as cocktails. Traveling with a family? Now everyone can find something they like. From New York City to Plano, Texas, to Portland, Oregon, this fun and informal way of chowing down offers culinary freedom to tourists and resident foodies alike.

1. Urbanspace Vanderbilt, NYC

Nothing says New York City like Grand Central, and this Midtown oasis is the perfect way to get acquainted with the city’s exciting culinary scene. Located on the ground floor of 230 Park Avenue, just one block north of the train station, the 12,000 square-foot food hall ( is packed with local vendors serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s even cocktails at Seamore’s NYC, a sustainable seafood purveyor and the newest mezzanine bar. Other notable tenants include Brooklyn Pizza legend Roberta’s; upper east side Greek darling Amali Mou, which serves pork, lamb, chicken, and veggie gyros; designer donut producer Dough dishing South American flavors like hibiscus and tropical chile. Or check out Asian eats from Mr. Bong Beijing Street Foods, Tukami Taco, Hai Street & Co., kbbq by Karilla, and Bangkok Bar.

2. Pine Street Market, Portland, OR


Located in the historic Carriage & Baggage Building in downtown Portland, this cavernous food hall ( is an ode to the city’s varied dining scene and celebrated indie spirit. The industrial ground floor, which housed a string of Portland nightclubs since the 1980’s, is now home to nine Portland-based vendors, many of which are offshoots of local restaurants. Taking center stage, Olympia Provisions Annex pairs sausages and foot-long dogs with craft cocktails, Champagne and a well-chosen wine list. But don’t miss other standouts like Tokyo ramen joint Marukin; soft-serve wizard WizBangBar, specializing in magic-dip shells infused with freshly-shaved Oregon black truffles; Kim Jong Smokehouse, a Top-Chef helmed mash-up of Korean and Texas BBQ featuring a scorched rice noodle bibimbap bowl; and Mexican-inspired Pollo Bravo serving up rotisserie chicken and tapas-sized sides like papas bravos and salty/spicy chicken and serrano ham croquettes.

3. Legacy Hall, Plano, TX

Nobody can accuse this Plano food hall of being modest. A giant three-story dining destination in the Legacy West, a business district, Legacy Hall ( proffers access to over 20 food and drink vendors, including award-winning chefs like John Tesar. Long known for Knife, his Dallas steakhouse, Knife Burger is his food hall debut. In addition to its size, this extensive space is courting Millennials with cutting edge features. To whit: it operates on a no-cash basis and offers a refillable gift card called a Hall Pass. It’s a nifty place to hit during happy hour, as there are nine bars to choose from, including one dedicated to cocktails made with Texas-based Tito’s Vodka. Happily, the food is just as momentous. Favorites include Freshfin Poke Co. for build-your-own Poke; Tex-Mex inspired FAQ (flautas and quesadillas) known for modern, authentic fillings like Texas brisket and chicken chorizo; and the Dallas-offshoot of Sea Breeze Lobsta’ and Chowda House, featuring a wild caught lobster roll, thick with tarragon and celery-rich mayo and topped with luscious drawn butter.

4. Block 16 Urban Food Hall, Las Vegas, NV

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but nobody has been keeping quiet about the city’s massive and evolving restaurant scene. A plethora of upscale eateries can be found in Sin City, fronted by marquee names like Nobu Matsuhisa, Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Rick Moonen and Mario Carbone. It only goes to follow that a food hall was the next step to entice the fast-casual connoisseur. Enter Block 16 Urban Food Hall (, a massive dining complex recently opened on the Las Vegas Strip, inside The Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Tower. With six regional eateries offering a small-format taste of their chef’s standout foods and drinks, you’ll find foodie faves like Andy Ricker’s Vietnamese cult classic Pok Pok Wing showcasing its well-known crispy fried chicken wings smothered in fish sauce and sugar; New Orleans’s District: Donuts. Sliders. Brew., serving 100 rotating doughnut flavors as well as handmade biscuit sandwiches and zippy nitro cold brew; and Takashi Segawa’s Tekka Bar: Handroll & Sake turning out its signature spicy, creamy, crunchy Tekka Tuna roll and a wide range of sake to wash it down.

5. Workshop, Charleston, SC

Workshop ( was originally founded as a rotating, fancy food court to help stoke the creative fires of local chefs. Now a daring food hall housing six kitchens with five stalls, it also doubles as an incubator for new business ideas and concepts from creative locals. And because the stands are swapped out each season, it fosters a fun, exploratory, and adventurous atmosphere for foodies of all stripes. The current line-up includes Thai Phi, the brick and mortar debut from the Vietnamese food truck of the same name, a Charleston favorite. Or hit Pink Bellies, where you can munch on crispy, panko-encrusted avocado fries and fried chicken skins with a spicy chili sauce bath, or Cuban/Southern eatery Spanglish Cuban Kitchen, which focuses solely on southern ingredients like the Edwards Country ham and TN Alpine cheese in the melty, chewy El Cubano sandwich. Thursday through Saturdays catch Merrows Garden Bar, a pop-up pouring a rotating selection of organic, biodynamic and small-batch wines by the glass or bottle.

6. The Wynwood Yard, Miami, FL

Al fresco dining is nothing new for Miami’s swinging restaurant culture. And though the urge to see and be seen has always gone hand in hand with the tropical swagger of the city’s culinary scene, the Wynwood Yard ( is a breath of fresh air—combining pop-up food stands with the cutting-edge art, entertainment, design, and entrepreneurial communities. This summer brought Charcoal, the food hall's first full-service restaurant, offering a beer garden, tapas, and a rotating, wholly seasonal menu of local meat, poultry, fish, and produce. Other current stalls include World Famous House of Mac, known for its indulgently creamy pasta bowl packed with five melted cheeses and truffles. (There’s also a vegan version.) Can’t make up your mind? Try the Friday night Taste of the Yard. $25 will score you five samples of food and drink.

7. Revival Food Hall, Chicago, IL

This 24,000 square-foot food hall ( and marketplace located in the Chicago Loop occupies the first floor of the historic National building, a circa-1907 bank designed by legendary architect Daniel Burnham. A varied collection of 15 stalls feature many spin-offs of neighborhood restaurants as well as some wholly new concepts from up-and-coming local chefs. The newest stands include Lito’s Empanadas, serving up elevated Mexican turnovers filled with everything from ground beef, rice, and a slightly spicy salsa to a blend of apples, caramel and cinnamon sugar. There's also Duck Inn’s new concept, Duck Inn Dogs, revolving around specialty beef and duck fat hot dogs with seasonal toppings like kimchi and house-made pickled hot peppers. Debuting in September, cutting-edge sushi spot Tomi will also feature a robot which quickly assembles high-quality rolls for a reasonable price.

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Hotel We Love: Hotel deLuxe, Portland, OR

If the name doesn’t tip you off to the hotel’s ambiance, consider that the Czech chandeliers that dominate the lobby are masterpieces from the 1960s. Consider also that the property was inspired by the Golden Age elegance of Hollywood. But this standout in the heart of Portland is luxury without pretension, or the hoity-toity price tag. Opened in 1912 as the glamorous Mallory Hotel, it underwent a $20 million renovation in 2005, re-opening as Hotel deLuxe, an homage to the opulence and elegance captured in the classic films of the 1950s and 1960s. THE STORY The Mallory was a longtime institution and the go-to accommodation for any member of American high-society that came to town. As such, it aimed to impress. It was the first hotel in the city to install air conditioners in each room and, later on, the first in Portland to offer Wi-Fi. In 2004, it was purchased by an art collector and devoted patron of the city’s institutions, who kept the décor relatively unchanged—including the original letterbox next to the elevator, a classy mailbox by any standard—as a salute to the hotel’s heyday. THE QUARTERS That heyday is largely defined by Hollywood, which explains the 400 photos—film stills and studio shots—adorning the corridors. Each of the eight floors is devoted to a thematic group of silver-screen greats, to wit: the Dance and Music Masters (Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire), the Masters (Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, and George Cukor), and so on. The spacious rooms also nod to the era, with Art Deco–style crystal lamps and leather accents. Of course, there’s no nostalgia in the tech department. Each room features a flat-screen TV, Wi-Fi, and a clever “Make It So” button on the phone that connects you to the front desk for all requests—even creative ones, within reason. There's a Spotify Menu, a Spiritual Menu offering books, beyond the bible, that are central to a variety of religions, and a Pillow Menu, which is exactly what it sounds like. Want memory foam? Full body? Soft? Just ask. The honor bar shines a spotlight on locally made treats, many designed to take home as souvenirs, like tins of sea salt from Jacobsen Salt, honey from Bee Local, olive oil from Red Ridge Farms, and Kettle Chips made in Oregon. Make sure to try a nip of Portland-produced Burnside Bourbon for a nightcap. THE NEIGHBORHOOD If you’re looking for convenience, this is as good as it gets. Situated in Portland’s West End, the hotel is walking distance from the downtown shopping district, which is chock-full of bars and restaurants, but the adjacent Providence Park, a sprawling sports facility that hosts Portland State football, Major League Soccer, and various community events, separates it from the hustle and bustle. It’s also on the light-rail line, which has direct service to Portland International Airport. THE FOOD The hotel has an exclusive partnership with Salt and Straw, a local ice cream company known for its creative handmade flavors. There are scoop shops throughout the city and all over the west coast, but no need to run out for a cone—the deLuxe will deliver a pint to your room. As far as dining, Gracie's, an elegant, cheery eatery specializing in modern food with local ingredients, is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, and there are dinner hours on the weekend. The Art Deco–accented Driftwood Room, which looks much the way it did when it opened in the 1950s, draws a local crowd for its excellent spirits selection and classic cocktails. ALL THE REST One of the city's best-kept secrets is Pop Up Cinema (, which happens about twice a month on a giant screen in the hotel lobby. They mostly screen classic flicks, as befits the ambiance, but every so often you can catch a newer movie. RATES AND DEETS Starting at $189. Hotel deLuxe729 SW 15th Ave. Portland, OR 97205(503) 219-2094 //


Live Like a Local in the ‘First in Flight’ State

Whether you’re an adventure-seeker in pursuit of an adrenaline-pumping spree of parasailing, cycling, climbing, waterfalls, skydiving, and hot-air ballooning, an American history buff, or a nature lover in search of achingly beautiful beaches, North Carolina is rich with options for the intrepid traveler. The biggest challenge is making the most of your time, so we’ve searched the state and checked in with some locals who maintain some of the most gorgeously trip-inspiring NC-themed Instagram accounts to learn about the standout places to eat, drink, stay, and play during your visit. From the outdoor adventures in Boone to the museums and restaurants of Charlotte to the beaches of the Outer Banks, North Carolina has all the makings of a memorable vacation, regardless of whether it’s your first or tenth time visiting. THE OUTER BANKS Folly Beach near Charleston, South Carolina. (Cvandyke/Dreamstime)When it comes to tried-and-true, the Outer Banks, a 130-mile stretch of barrier islands on the north coast of North Carolina, delivers a wide assortment of vacation opportunities. Magnificent beaches, winery tours, exceptional seafood, and iconic lighthouses are all yours for the taking. And, appropriately enough for the “First in Flight” state, you can savor it all from the sky on a classic biplane tour. Elizabeth Boyette (@elizabeth_boyette on Instagram), an avid traveler and proprietor of Good South, a design firm with offices in Raleigh, NC, and Charleston, SC, suggests the area around Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, the northern end of the “OBX” (local parlance for the area). A longtime resident of Raleigh who recently relocated to Charleston, Boyette just came back from a trip to Duck, in Dare County, and reports that “the Outer Banks is truly something special. ” She notes that equine aficionados in particular should head north to Currituck County while they’re on the islands. “Make sure to take a tour of the wild horses on the beach in Corolla, a one-of-a-kind experience,” she says. BOONE & BLOWING ROCK The jaw-dropping scenery of the Boone region of the Blue Ridge Parkway is reason alone to visit this bucolic town. Along the area’s stretch of highway you’ll find more than 50 hiking trails and over 20 overlooks where you can picnic and take in the landscape. In town, there are sites that showcase and honor the town’s rich history. Check out Hickory Ridge Museum, which features actors in period dress engaged in old-world activities, and more than 200 species of plant varieties at Daniel Boone Native Gardens, named for the trailblazing frontiersman who spent time in the region. While it’s absolutely stunning on the ground, there’s plenty more to be seen from above. At Grandfather Mountain, an international Biosphere Reserve, there’s the Mile High Swinging Bridge, America’s highest suspension bridge since it was built in 1952, which delivers heart-stopping 360-degree views of the Carolina Piedmont. For a more modern thrill, head to the neighboring town of Blowing Rock, where the new Ultimate Adventure park boasts ziplines, a giant swing, and activities for kids ages four and up. And when you’re ready to kick back and chill out, fishing, shopping—including old-timey stores—and an array of relaxing spas await. ASHEVILLE You may have heard that Asheville is one cool little city, and we’d be the first to agree. Budget Travel’s senior editor, Liza Weisstuch, visited recently and is still talking about the imaginative restaurant scene, creative arts, and craft beer. And you can pretty much take your pick of nearby outdoor adventures, including zip-lining, canopy tours, and hot air ballooning. Karie Reinertson and Rob Maddox, who run Shelter Collective (@shelterprotectsyou on Instagram), an architecture and interior design shop in Asheville, share their locals-only secrets: “We love spending a rainy Saturday at Well Played, a board game cafe we designed in downtown. East Fork Pottery is perfect for outfitting an entire home or picking up a quick guest’s gift. OWL is one of our favorite places to grab a coffee and some of the best pastries in town. The best way to spend time in Asheville, though, is outdoors - our favorite hike is Black Balsam, which starts with a beautiful drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway.” RALEIGH-DURHAM-CHAPEL HILL North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Coralimages2020/Dreamstime)North Carolina’s centrally located Piedmont Region boasts some of the most populous cities in the state, and the Triangle offers an urbane alternative to the sun and sand of the coast, thanks in large part to the area’s trifecta of universities (North Carolina State, Duke, and the University of North Carolina). In Raleigh, start with a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Art, with a collection spanning more than 5,000 years and includes pieces from Europe, America, and Africa and a sculpture park marrying a three-mile trail system and an outdoor amphitheater with 29 works of art. Follow up with a stop at the Raleigh Farmers Market for a snack, then spend the afternoon winery-hopping. For dinner, try something from chef Ashley Christensen’s local mini-empire. Poole’s Diner is justifiably renowned for its rich, cheesy macaroni au gratin, and anything from the wood-fired oven at Death & Taxes (think: roasted oysters with preserved lemon and chili butter) is bound to be a hit. Over in Durham, there’s a wealth of creative endeavors, from grand museums to funky galleries. Check out the artist studios at historic textile mill Golden Belt, browse the contemporary collection at Duke University’s Nasher Museum of Art, and get lost in the terraces, gazebos, and Japanese-style walking bridges of Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Break for lunch with a fried chicken, pimento cheese, and bacon biscuit from Rise, and spend the afternoon antiquing before catching a show at the Pinhook, a bastion of the indie-music scene. Get your learning on in Chapel Hill, where the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center offers shows to please all ages, and UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History features a roster of year-round events in keeping with its mission of supporting the critical examination of the African-American diaspora and African cultures. Pick up picnic provisions at Southern Season, then head for the North Carolina Botanical Garden for lunch al fresco. Sample the house-made vodka, gin, and whiskey at Top of the Hill Distillery, treat yourself to shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner, then take in the symphony at Hill Hall Auditorium on the UNC campus. CHARLOTTE Charlotte, North Carolina’s biggest city, packs the most art, history, music, and food into a visit, including former plantations, Southern cuisine with creative twists, and an array of museums to suit all tastes, like the Levine Museum of the New South, which focuses on post-Civil War life in the region, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a sport that has its roots in the area, thanks to bootlegging outlaws who were constantly trying to outrun the authorities during Prohibition. Somewhat unexpectedly, the central NC area also boasts ample opportunities for skydiving. And if you’d like to make a day trip, Boyette suggests skipping town for Davidson, a lakeside town about 20 miles north. “When you’re around Charlotte, I recommend a stop in Davidson, which has a college-town charm, to eat at Kindred. From the food to the atmosphere, it’s perfection. Two words: milk bread. And the oysters are a must-order.” WILMINGTON & ISLAND BEACHES “My parents had a condo in Wrightsville Beach for years and it really is one of the most quaint, prettiest beaches in the state,” says Boyette. While Wilmington and its beaches were hit especially hard by Hurricane Florence in September, its recovery is well under way and its locals are eager to host travelers. Boyette recommends perusing the beach and checking out the Baja fish tacos at K38 across the bridge in Wilmington. Budget Travel’s associate editor, Maya Stanton, has her own mouthwatering restaurant reviews, including Savorez for tuna tostadas and Catch for crabcakes. If you need a break from seafood and the beach, pencil in a tour through one of the city’s many historic homes or visit the Cameron Art Museum for a glimpse into Wilmington’s culture and history. KINSTON Heading inland a bit, there’s a world of history and authentic NC cuisine to be found in the town of Kinston, in Lenoir County, the site of one of the most significant and hard-fought battles of the Civil War, now commemorated by a historic walking path and tour. In keeping with the vintage trend, look for accommodations at the Mother Earth Motor Lodge, a motel dating to 1963 that, in its previous incarnation, gave shelter to the touring musicians such as James Brown and his band as they passed through town. Local craft-beer brand Mother Earth Brewing took over and gave the property a facelift in 2017, and it now offers 45 upgraded rooms as well as a pool, shuffleboard, and mini-golf. For a dose of star-power, make a reservation for creative regional fare at James Beard award-winner and PBS host Vivian Howard’s Chef & the Farmer, or grab a seat at her more casual sister restaurant, the Boiler Room oyster bar. Crystal Thornton, a photographer who maintains one of the most beautiful NC-themed Instagram accounts out there (@seastarnc), recommends Kinston for “an absolute gem of a BBQ joint by the name of King’s Bar-B-Que and Chicken. It serves a sandwich called the Pig in a Puppy, a North Carolina-style BBQ in a sub-sandwich sized hush puppy.” May we simply add … Yum!


Just Back From: New Hampshire

Thanks to its soaring mountain ranges and northeast weather patterns, the Granite State is a well-known destination for skiiers, snowboarders, and winter-sports enthusiasts of all stripes, but there’s plenty to draw summer vacationers here as well, from the famed Lake Winnipesaukee to the lush White Mountains. I spent a few days exploring the state’s lakes, peaks, and valleys, seeing stunning landscapes, hiking beautiful trails, and eating as much lobster as humanly possible. Here’s how I did it. Day 1: Wolfeboro and Lake Winnipesaukee The drive from Massachusetts to New Hampshire’s Lakes Region via I-93 isn’t a particularly scenic or relaxing one, and yet, after two and a half long hours, when I pulled up to Lake Opechee Inn & Spa ( in Laconia, I might as well have been a world away. The family-owned and -run lakefront property has 34 country-quaint rooms with cozy lounge seating anchored by gas fireplaces, a kitchen and bar cranking out delicious plates and marvelous martinis, and a pair of fluffy, friendly golden-retriever overseers patrolling the place. I checked in and headed out to explore. About 30 miles east on the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee is Wolfeboro, billed as the oldest summer resort in the country. The one-time farming community features sandy beaches, green parks, multi-use trails, and museums of all sorts, from natural history to historic homes. Nautical types should paddle over to the New Hampshire Boat Museum (, an experiential nonprofit that examines the role of the state’s 900-plus lakes in the lives of its residents, while architecture buffs should allot time for a visit to Lucknow, the Arts and Crafts–style mountaintop estate known as Castle in the Clouds ( Built between 1913 and 1914 and opened to the public in 1959, it's a striking tribute to the movement’s ethos of living in harmony with nature.  A display at the Wright Museum of World War II. (Maya Stanton) With time for one stop, I decided on the Wright Museum of World War II (, where a permanent collection of artifacts, memorabilia, and operational military vehicles show the impact of the “war to end all wars.” Check out the full-scale tableau-style recreations of public spaces and private interiors circa the 1940s, the room filled with jeeps, tanks, and planes that saw action during the war, and outside, the museum’s very own victory garden, as well as special exhibits dedicated to subjects like World War I propaganda posters and the lively, slice-of-life sketches that soldier Charles J. Miller produced during his time in the South Pacific. Heading back to Lake Opechee, I was making good time until I passed Shibley’s Drive-In (, a small roadside joint hawking fried seafood, ice cream, and 24 flavors of soft serve in Lake Winnipesaukee’s Alton Bay. I u-turned when I saw the ice-cream sign and didn’t regret my pre-dinner cone even a little bit. I still made it back to the inn in time to catch the sunset from my room’s balcony. Too exhausted to get back in the car, I popped down to the hotel's restaurant, O Steaks & Seafood ( It was Friday, nearly 9:00 p.m., as I settled into an Adirondack chair on the lawn, sipped a perfectly spicy, dirty martini, and waited for a table. I had modest hopes for the meal, but local oysters on the half-shell and an expertly cooked salmon filet with kale pesto and cauliflower and asparagus risotto far exceeded expectations. Bleary-eyed and satisfied, I knew I was sufficiently fueled for tomorrow.  Day 2: Zip Lines and Wine It felt like no time had passed when my alarm went off the next morning, but no matter—I was on my way to Gunstock Mountain Resort ( for some outdoor adventure. First developed as a recreation area as part of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration and originally featuring a chair lift, rope tows, hiking and cross-country trails, and a show-stopping lodge, the complex now known as Gunstock has grown well beyond its initial purview.  Learning the ropes at Gunstock Mountain Resort. (Maya Stanton) A popular skiing destination in the winter, it now boasts options for the om-seeker and the adrenaline junkie alike, from scenic lift rides, mountaintop yoga, and off-road Segway tours to a treetop ropes course, a mountain coaster, and one of the longest canopy zip lines in the continental U.S. As a zip-line newbie, I opted for 90 minutes in the clouds, and after a brief training session with my fellow adventurers (and a nerve-calming chat with the operators about how often the equipment is tested and vetted for safety), we hopped on the lift to the summit. The ride down is split into a couple of legs, and each time, stepping off those platforms was terrifying and exhilarating and didn’t get any less so with experience. After I’d soared the full 1.6 miles, though, I was ready to do it again. Make a full day of it here if you can. Once I caught my breath, I drove north to Weirs Beach ( Situated on Lake Winnipesaukee, this family-friendly destination features a boardwalk with mountain and lake views, mini golf and go-karts, kitschy beach-town shops, and, of course, swimming, boating, and picnicking. There's a plethora of places to stop for grub, like Lobster in the Rough (, where vacationers were hunkered down for lobster rolls, and for a sweet treat, the Ice Cream Parlor Car on board the scenic lakefront railway.   Fruit-based wines are the name of the game at Meredith's Hermit Woods Winery. (Maya Stanton) Later that day, I drove up to Meredith, a busy little town in the heart of the Lakes Region, about 10 miles from the hotel. I parked by the marina and wandered through the waterfront Sculpture Walk, an annual, juried selection of works from sculptors around the northeast. By the time I finished, it was just about happy hour, and luckily, Hermit Woods Winery ( was only a few steps away. Named to Food & Wine’s 2017 guide to the 500 best wineries in America, Hermit’s wines are made from local whole fruit, resulting in beautifully balanced options, from a dry white blend of peaches, rhubarb, quince, and rosehips to a medium-dry strawberry rhubarb to a sweet blueberry dessert wine. Taste six varietals for $10, and take home your glass as a souvenir. For waterfront libations, Town Docks Restaurant ( comes highly recommended. Enjoy breezes off the lake while sipping a watermelon cooler or a cucumber-basil smash, and try the mayo-dressed or hot-butter-poached lobster roll—just for comparison's sake, of course.  Day 3: Into the Mountains I couldn’t say goodbye to the Lakes Region without getting out on the water, so I booked an early-morning boat ride with EKAL Activity Center ( A 28-foot antique Chris Craft that once belonged to royalty, the Miss Meredith seats up to seven, but at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday, I had the whole thing to myself. Lake Winnipesaukee was quiet too, and as we zipped around the calm, glassy lake, it felt like a window into a simpler, more peaceful time. The 87-year-old Miss Meredith looks great for her age. (Maya Stanton) But that zen feeling was short-lived. Before long, I was back in the car, northward bound for the White Mountains. Forty-five minutes later, I arrived at the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery ( in North Woodstock, just in time to watch the World Cup final with a pint of seasonal craft pale ale in hand. If you don’t want to waste your precious hours on such things, hit the Peaked Moon Market ( in nearby Lincoln for sandwiches and other provisions, then drive west until you reach the kid-friendly Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves ( A natural choose-your-own-adventure-style obstacle course, Lost River features a warren of caves that are open for exploration and perfectly sized for pint-sized pathfinders. A wooden boardwalk winds its way down into the gorge, past a waterfall, across a suspension bridge, and up to a treehouse with life-sized animal carvings. Pause to take in the views of Kinsman Notch, and watch the kids do their thing. Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves. (Maya Stanton) From there, I headed back east, then north to Franconia Notch State Park ( and Flume Gorge, a natural gorge at the foot of Mount Liberty, with smooth granite walls standing 90 feet high and as little as 12 feet apart. The boardwalk winds through and up to the top for a view of Avalanche Falls, the 45-foot waterfall at the heart of the Flume. There's quite a bit of foot traffic, but peaceful nooks and crannies are easy to find along the way. Cannon Mountain's easy Rim Trail offers great vistas, but the heights aren't for the faint of heart. (Maya Stanton) Further into the park, you’ll want to queue up for the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway (—unless you’re afraid of heights. Sure, you could hike to the top, but if you're short on time or energy or will, the cable car will get you to the summit in no time, and the perspective from 4,000 feet is spectacular. On the August day I visited, it was a breezy 61 degrees, and visibility was 20 miles in every direction. Take a spin around the rim trail while you’re up there, and hit the observation deck for the full 360. Then, it was east through Franconia Notch to North Conway, my base of operations for the next two nights. Be sure to allow time for a leisurely drive—the park is so rich with photo ops that I got adept at pulling over on short notice and whipping out the camera. I would've stopped more, but I had a reservation at the Christmas Farm Inn (, an 18th-century Cape Cod-style farmhouse just outside of town in Jackson. After the Great Recession, a father gave the property to his daughter as a holiday gift, and its next owner converted it to an inn, welcoming the first guests in the winter of 1946. Today, it’s owned by a German-American couple who racked up years of globe-trotting experience in the hospitality industry before settling down in rural New Hampshire. Their expertise shows in the inn's welcoming environment, from the friendly greeting at the door to the communal fire pit on the front lawn. Hole up in the cozy pub, order a glass of wine, and dig into copious servings of dishes like steamed mussels and chorizo in an addictive tomato-garlic-wine broth and hearty, creamy cannelini beans with prosciutto, caramelized onions, Parmesan, and garlic bread. Unable to manage another bite, I drove back to North Conway and tucked myself in at the Merrill Farm Inn (  Day 4: Lobster and Leisure Time I was still stuffed from the feast the night before, so on my last full day in-state, I skipped the complimentary breakfast and had a leisurely morning and a light lunch before diving into the afternoon’s full slate of activities. I rolled up to the Lobster Trap (, a North Conway institution since 1958, and placed an order for a final lobster roll. Unlike most spots with seafood rolls on the menu, this one was customizable, and as an avowed celery-hater, I was thrilled to be able to omit it from the proceedings. It wasn’t the best version I’ve ever had, but the meat was fresh and sweet, and at $15 for a roll and a salad, it was definitely the most cost-effective. A customized lobster roll (no celery!) at North Conway's Lobster Trap. (Maya Stanton) Fueled up and ready to go, it was time for some action. Mount Washington Valley is home to several adventure parks, from Cranmore Mountain Resort (, which features giant swings, tubing, bouncy houses, and a bungy trampoline, to Attitash Mountain Resort (, with the longest zip line east of the Rockies, a mountain coaster, water slides, an airbag jump, and a climbing wall, to Wildcat Mountain (, where you can take a gondola ride to the summit or play 18 holes of alpine disc golf. Take your pick, based on geography, experience, and age levels—you really can’t go wrong with any of them. The view from the top of Mt. Washington. (Maya Stanton) Next stop, Mount Washington itself, the highest peak in the northeast and one with a fair bit of history. Dating to 1861, the Mt. Washington Auto Road ( is the country’s oldest man-made attraction, while the Mount Washington Cog Railway ( is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog-driven train. At $78 per adult and $41 per child roundtrip, the Cog is a steep ride (pun intended), but one that train buffs may find worth the expenditure. For me, the auto road was more than sufficient. I opted for a guided tour, and as my intrepid driver navigated the narrow turns, often one-handed to point out the landmarks, I tried not to think about how close we were to the edge, and how glad I was not to be behind the wheel myself. Diana's Baths draws crowds during the day, but in the early evening, it's a peaceful retreat. (Maya Stanton)Before dinner, I had one more place to check off my list: Diana’s Baths, just outside of North Conway. A half-mile through the woods on a flat, easy trail, with picturesque pools and cascading falls, it looks like something out of a fairy tale. Go early or late to cool off without the crowds, bring a fiver for the self-service pay station, and beware of mosquitoes—they're brutal along the way. For my final Granite State meal, I went out with a bang at The Wild Rose Restaurant at Stonehurst Manor (, an old-school estate with mountain views and seafood from the Maine coast. Summer guests love the baked lobster, but I branched out from my all-seafood diet and tried the prime rib. A hulking cut of medium-rare beef served with chunky mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, it was, like that antique boat ride, retro in the most satisfying way. For something a little less refined but just as meaty, Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Co. ( is right across the street and serves a wide-ranging menu of burgers, barbecue, and wood-grilled pizzas, sourced from local suppliers whenever possible. Day 5: Back to Reality With what promised to be a huge storm incoming, I got an early start back to Boston's Logan Airport, taking the Kancamagus Highway (, an American Scenic Byway, in hopes of squeezing in a bit more sightseeing. But that hope was dashed when the skies opened up. When I got to the airport, I learned the weather seriously delayed my flight. Normally, I’d be beside myself with frustration, but in this case, it gave me the chance to have one last seafood roll for the road. This time around, I went with an overflowing crab-stuffed version, and it couldn’t have tasted better. Until next time, New England.


Just Back From: Alaska

There are things that immediately come to mind at the mention of Alaska: Northern Lights, fishing, glaciers, cruise ships. But to go to the state and only see or do those things would be to miss out on a whole lot. In early August, I spent a week and a half traveling from Fairbanks to Anchorage to Juneau, barely covering a fraction of the tremendous state, and learning about some of the many, many things that make it so special. From its rich and entertaining history (see: the fortune-hunters and scoundrels that streamed in during the Gold Rush) to countless incredible stories about how the Native people survived and thrived in the harsh weather to arctic astronomy, here are just a few of the things that might inspire you to take a trip. 1. ALL THE BEAUTIFUL TWILIGHTS Though not something that we in the Lower 48 would typically be aware of unless we work in aviation or astronomy, being in Alaska sort of forces you to learn about times of sunrise, sunset and, most interestingly, twilight, that transitional time of partial light between sunrise and sunset. This is particularly true in Fairbanks, which is a popular destination for viewing the Northern Lights around April. But since I was there in early August when the sun set around 2.30 a.m., I started trying to understand the physics of it all. In the process, I learned there are three different kinds of twilight, each having to do with the tilt of the planet and the position of the sun above or below the horizon. During Civil Twilight, which happens in the morning and evening when the center of the sun is six degrees below the horizon, you can spot the brightest stars and planets but also see objects here on Earth without the help of artificial light. Nautical Twilight gets its name from the fact that sailors could see well-known stars clearly enough to use them for navigation. With the sun 12 degrees below the horizon, artificial light may be needed to see activity on the ground. And during Astronomical Twilight, the sun sits 18 degrees below the horizon, which isn’t visible. The sky appears totally dark, but full darkness only actually occurs once the great ball of fire sinks below 18 degrees. Illuminating, right? 2. SUB-ZERO COUTURE High fashion can be mesmerizingly creative or ridiculous, depending on your perspective. A collection from John-Paul Gaultier in the early 1990s was influenced by the clothing of Hasidic Jews, and one of John Galliano’s collections for Christian Dior took its cues from the tattered garb of the homeless people of Paris, a concept that resulted in controversy, needless to say. But, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and considering the extreme weather Alaska’s Native people faced and the natural resources and materials they had to work with, their inventiveness when it comes to making clothing and accessories is nothing short of mind-bending. In Fairbanks, at the Museum of the North (, which is part of the University of Alaska, I spent a few minutes just staring at a coat made of nearly translucent yet heavy duty fish skin. At the Anchorange Museum (, in a sprawling exhibit developed with the Smithsonian  ( that covers all different aspects of Native culture, I marveled at a “gut parka” made from seal and walrus intestine, a material that's light, strong, and waterproof, and hefty coats made with fur assembled in such unlikely and eye-catching patterns that even a jaded fashionista would stop and stare. But one of the most resourceful items was a pair of snow goggles fashioned from mountain-sheep hooves, strung together with glass trade beads. Talk about visionary. 3. COFFEE CONNECTIONS  While Finland may boast the highest consumption of coffee per person, Anchorage has more places to get coffee than anywhere else in the United States, a statistic that makes a lot of sense considering that temps can reach 70-below here—it's easy to imagine that your organs would freeze if you didn't have a constant intake of warm liquids. A large number of those places are coffee huts, funky little drive-throughs that sell all the specialty drinks you’d find at a familiar coffee shop. In summer, it’s a convenience or, if you’re a tourist, a novelty. In the winter, however, they’re a necessity. 4. A BEACH LIKE NO OTHER A beach is just a beach...unless you’re in Juneau, where the coastline has a highly unusual origin story. Douglas is a city neighborhood located on an island of its own and accessible from downtown via a single 620-foot pedestrian-friendly bridge. The island’s eastern shore is directly across a channel from downtown and the cruise port. It’s a quiet bedroom community, but it wasn’t always. During the Gold Rush that lasted from about 1881 to 1922, the island’s Treadwell Mine was the source of three million ounces of gold. Hundreds of stamp machines, giant and exceptionally noisy pieces of industrial equipment used to smash boulders, were operating 363 days a year—every day except Fourth of July and Christmas Day, when it was so eerily quiet that, as legend has it, nobody slept. Those stamps pulverized stone for decades, long enough to produce massive amounts of sand-like material that makes for a seemingly natural looking shoreline. All this took shape on top of land that was shaped by glacier movement several thousand years ago. 5. DOG DAYS  Iditarod is the Wimbledon of dog racing. And like any world class competition, this one has its celebrities and legends. Susan Butcher is the Serena Williams of dog racing, or mushing, as it’s known in the state. Butcher won three years in a row, from 1986 to 1988, then again in 1990. But those victories are hardly her only accomplishment. In 1979, she was also the first to reach the top of Mount McKinley, North America’s highest peak, with a dog team. She passed away of leukemia in 2006, but her legacy is alive and well on the Chena River in Fairbanks. On a riverboat cruise (, not only did I learn the details of the punishing race (1,150 miles from Anchorage to Nome, extreme temperatures, etcetera), but I came to understand that Butcher’s impact on the sport, one of the few in the world where men and women compete against each other as equals, goes beyond her racing skills. She was revolutionary in the way she trained and treated her animals, and her husband carries out her legacy, training dogs at a sprawling outdoor kennel and giving lively demos of what goes into making a pup a champion.