Locals Know Best: Olympia, Washington
Riana Nelson started traveling the world right after graduating from the University of Michigan, thanks to performing on cruise ships and working for Disney in Beijing, China. But when she and her brothers formed Derik Nelson & Family, a trio known for unique three-part harmonies, they began working with the U.S. Department of State as Cultural Ambassadors of the United States and traveled the globe to promote cultural diplomacy through music and arts education. They perform in places like Turkmenistan, Moldova, and Albania to share their music, which blends the driving yet gentle melodies of folk-inflected rock of the 1970s, the familiar rhythms that made Nashville famous, and the contemplative lyrics associated with some of today’s popular indie singer-songwriters, like Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver. But no matter how far and wide she travels, she loves coming home to Olympia, Washington. The scenic state capital, at the southern end of the Puget Sound, is home to less than 52,000. Its creative energy and the surrounding natural wonders make it a destination for a relaxed weekend—or longer. We checked in with her to learn about her favorite spots to eat, shop, hang out, and just be.
Eat Your Heart Out
When it comes to sampling Olympia’s flavors, go downtown. Riana is a big fan of the local food truck culture, giving a particular shout-out to Arepa, which serves Venezuelan-style fare like killer plantains and yuca fries with garlic oil dipping sauce. The trucks park in a cluster close to picnic tables, so you can savor the fare while you soak up the city’s vibe. About a block away is Olympia Coffee, which takes java very seriously. She has an artist’s appreciation for the artistry of the baristas here. They ground beans and slow-pour everything to order. But perhaps the most exciting attraction for eating and drinking is the Olympia Farmers Market, a year-round indoor emporium where the region’s freshest flavors have been on display for 45 years. Riana has a few vendors that she regularly visits, like Johnson Berry Farm. “My favorites are the sweet and mellow popular Tayberry or seasonal Little Wild Jake Blackberry jam,” she insists. “But you can also go spicy and savory with their spicy varieties like the XXX spice Blackberry Habenero or Raspberry Chipotle.” In a clever move, they sell carry-on-friendly sizes, so stock up.
She also has a special place in her heart for Skipping Stone Garden, a husband-and-wife-owned farm that peddles thoughtfully grown organic vegetables. Down the street is 222 Market, a more modern artisanal food hall in a 1940s-era building that originally housed a car dealership. One of Riana’s favorite stop is Sift and Gather, another husband-and-wife-owned business, this one famous for its gooey sticky buns. Just be sure to heed her warning: the pastries go on sale at 10 a.m. and when they’re gone, that’s it. Better luck tomorrow. Sofie's Scoops is a must for its small-batch gelato. Their imaginative flavors include candied ginger, cardamom, and salty butterscotch. If you’re looking to sit down for something a little fancier, she recommends the Bread Peddler, a refined yet laidback French-inspired bistro with superior local mussels in hard cider sauce. The sister café, also in the market, sells coffee drinks, sandwiches, and pastries until afternoon each day.
Hiking and camping are one of Washington’s most terrific attractions, and outdoorsy types will find that Olympia’s surrounds are among the region’s finest. Take, for instance, the Hoh Rain Forest, one of the largest temperate rain forests in the country. A big reason it stands out, Riana notes, is that it’s the starting point of hiking trails that run through Olympia National Park. Another option for getting out of the city for the day is Ruby Beach, a rugged, rural oasis that’s about a two-hour drive from the city. Riana has mastered the way to enjoy the place: “Walk north along the beach to the mouth of the Hoh River. The seastacks are beautiful!" she says. "Go at low tide, and definitely be mindful of the tide tables or you won’t be able to return to your car if the tide gets too high!”
Getting to and from Ruby Beach is part of the fun because along the way you can stop at Kalaloch Lodge, a collection of rustic-chic cabins that overlook the water and you can find rates that hover around $100 in the off-season, but she strongly recommends stopping here even if you’re not planning an overnight because its Creekside Restaurant is an absolute gem. She speaks whimsically about watching the ocean as you tuck into an exquisite dinner made of local products--especially during storm season. It’s one of the greatest perches for storm-watching around.
There’s plenty of natural beauty in the city as well. Riana’s go-to for nature walks is Watershed Park, a 1.4-mile loop trail a few minutes from the Capitol Building that she describes as an "urban oasis." You can wander amid native plants, huge maple trees, and a variety of moss and fern species. There are more than 20 bridges and boardwalks that cross over natural springs and the gorgeous Moxlie Creek, so carve out some time to explore.
Local retailers embody Olympia’s creative, smart indie spirit. Riana is a big fan of Pieces to Peaces, a gift stand in the Farmers Market that sells a assorted styles of adorable handmade headbands (Riana has more than a few), including some for pets. Owner Danielle Hale, who Riana describes as an “incredible, badass mom,” has created something of a mini empire with her accessories, selling them far and wide by mail order.
Downtown, Radiance is well worth a visit, not least because it captures the essence of the town’s freewheeling vibe. The fragrant, relaxed shop is stocked with essential oils, natural skincare products, bulk teas, and other holistic-minded goods. Psychic Sisters, which you can find by looking for the neon sigh that reads “The psychic is in,” sells funky gifts and jewelry as well as visions of your future, thanks to the mediums who work there. And, she notes, their second-hand clothing selection is a site to behold: everything is sorted by color. Got kids with you? Make sure to take them to Captain Little, a toys shop with delightful toys, puzzles, games, quirky gifts. And then there’s Browsers, an 80-year-old bookstore where you’re almost guaranteed to lose track of time. Riana loves it for the beautiful bright loft upstairs with spacious work tables and free WiFi, not to mention the Pacific Northwest-inspired postcards and books about the region.
Monet in San Francisco: The Best Way to See a Once-in-a-Lifetime Exhibit
Looking for a little culture with your breakfast? For a limited time only, visitors to San Francisco can take part in a special hotel package that includes early exclusive access to Monet: The Late Years, the first exhibition in over 20 years dedicated to the final phase of the artist’s career. Book Through the Stanford Court Hotel Available to book through the Stanford Court Hotel, the Monet in the Morning package includes accommodation, two early bird tickets to the exhibition at the de Young Museum’s Herbst gallery, a Claude Monet Water Lilies eco-tote bag, and breakfast for two. Taking place every weekend in May from 8.30am to 9.30am (before the museum has officially opened to the general public), the morning event is capped at just 150, allowing for a more relaxed and intimate experience of the showcase that attracts thousands of people during regular opening hours. Monet's Late Work, in Focus Focusing on the last years of the painter’s life in Giverny, France in the early 1900s, where he produced dozens of works inspired by the landscape of his five-acre property, the exhibition brings together pieces from museums and galleries all over the world. Visitors can see variations of some of his most beautiful and well-known works, including the famous Water Lilies, Weeping Willow, Rose Garden, and The Japanese Footbridge. The exhibition includes several rooms, and after guests have viewed the works, they can take an elevator to the top of the de Young for a 360-degree view of San Francisco. “Guests can expect an illuminating experience. Monet: The Late Years features almost 50 masterpieces, and this exhibition continues to define the artist’s lasting legacy. In the final years of his prolific career, his experimental and creative energies took artistic liberties that reflected a path toward modernism. After Monet, guests have the rare opportunity to see another French master in Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey as well as the renowned permanent collection of the de Young,” Patrick Buijten, Group and Tourism Manager for de Young Museum told Lonely Planet Travel News. Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to Lonely Planet's daily newsletter.
New TWA Hotel at JFK Airport: What It Feels Like to Visit
I was standing, suspended in midair on a red-carpeted gangplank in the dead center of the new TWA Hotel’s cavernous hub, the newly reanimated version of architect Eero Saarinen’s 1962 midcentury aeronautic wonderland, when the full force of his design hit me: The vertigo kicked in. The sensation of peering down from the uppermost peak of the catwalk, high above other travelers relaxing in the glamorous, oft-photographed rouge-carpeted Sunken Lounge, transmits a godlike feeling to anyone who dares perch there. It’s best described as a cross between “I can’t believe they let me up here” awe and healthy “I should come down now” fear. It’s dizzying. And therein lies the genius of Eero Saarinen. What Was the TWA Hotel Originally? Designed to resemble a winged bird, Saarinen’s majestic, blinding-white, red-accented, super-’60s love letter to aviation wasn’t just for show: From 1962 to 2001, this modernist palace was wholly functional, as an airport terminal for Trans World Airlines at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport (originally called Idlewild Airport until it was renamed in 1963). After TWA shuttered the building in 2001, the whole cantilevered clamshell-like landmark structure was in danger of falling into neglect, but a series of preservation and repair measures prevented that from happening. Almost two decades later, after a joint Herculean effort from MCR/Morse Development hotel owner/operators, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, JetBlue, Beyer Blinder Belle Architects, the Gerber Group, and many others, Saarinen’s Jet Age masterpiece has been brought back to life—this time as an airport hotel, with a rooftop infinity pool and a mall-like, commerce-and-cocktails-heavy “hub” in place of a working airline terminal. To the left of the entrance, former TWA ticket counters now function as hotel reservation desks, with several of them dedicated to renting out Blade helicopter rides to Manhattan. To the right, the ticket counters are food hall stands. Restaurants, sleek shops, coffee bars, and cocktail lounges—along with several amusing touches, such as replicas of Howard Hughes’ and Saarinen’s offices—populate the rest of the structure. Courtesy TWA Hotel Eero Saarinen’s Original TWA Design Say what you will about the changes, but the new TWA Hotel’s near-slavish deference to the past is alive and well. So evident is the painstaking restoration of Saarinen’s boundary-pushing architecture that you can feel the Jet Age energy in your bones. On opening day, I certainly did. Making your way through the flight tubes and mezzanine landings of Saarinen’s designs involves letting your body rise and fall, dip and soar. The low ceilings of the Saarinen and Hughes wings to the left and right of the entrance give way to the main cavernous, skylit hub with multiple sinewy levels connected by grand staircases. A catwalk slashes precariously through the center, the whole beautiful architecture sundae topped with an analog clock as the cherry. Ascending a flight of stairs next to a constantly chattering wooden split-flap departures board — housed in a Jetsons-style oval, flashing red and green, and flip-flip-flipping to dream destinations like Basel and Nairobi — brings you closer to descending into the famous Sunken Lounge, where a sheet of towering black-framed windows leans away from the iconic curvy red banquettes. Ducking into eggshell-textured tunnels and following the smooth perimeter of the massive structure can induce nerve-jangling disequilibrium. There are no right angles in this space, which makes every vignette look as though it was shot through a fish-eye lens. In other words, skyscrapers, in all their cloud-busting glass-and-steel pomposity, have nothing on Eero Saarinen’s vision of flight. Courtesy TWA Hotel Who Can Go Inside the TWA Building? Everyone, Basically. Despite the not-exactly-cheap hotel rooms, from which one can see planes taking off through soundproof windows; the prices of the TWA swizzle stick–festooned cocktails, which include riffs on oldies but goodies, including a classic Aviation; and the numerous shops, which hawk everything from Shinola watches to Warby Parker glasses to TWA-branded merch, the best part about the newly refurbished TWA Hotel is how egalitarian the structure itself is. Anyone who flies into New York City’s JFK Airport or hops on the subway and forks over the mere $5 for an Airtrain ticket can go up and stand at the very point that I did and play god—or Saarinen, as it were. But if you’re an aviation geek or if you really like being on time for your flights, staying in the hotel couldn’t be more convenient to JFK, and the allure of watching the planes ascend from the comfort of your room is a draw that might be worth the price. Viewing the vintage TWA air hostess uniforms displayed on mannequins on the mezzanine level costs nothing. Making a call on the throwback rotary pay phones will run you a dime (if that). Unabashedly geeking out about aviation, design, or how the space compares with Mad Men’s Season 7 TWA-themed promo images is always free of charge. Are there $16 cocktails? Yes. Is the Jean-Georges Paris Café guarded by three employees ready to bounce you out if you don’t have a reservation, like they did me? Yes. But the travelers sitting on tulip stools and banquettes in the Sunken Lounge and above it, on the balconies, aren’t all partaking in witty repartee over $20 Sunken Lounge Martinis (served with TWA flight wings). Some are eating plastic-bagged halal food they bought in the Hughes Wing, which is really just a long tunnel filled with decent takeout. Some are JetBlue customers killing time in Terminal 5. Technically, as with every airport terminal, everyone is just waiting. What Will Aviation Geeks Like About the TWA Hotel? Before the original TWA Flight Center was built, Saarinen and one of his employees, architect Kevin Roche, made a 3-D model out of cardboard and tape — a structure fashioned after extensive, meticulous research on airports and airplanes. “He was interested in the pragmatic aspects: how long it took a plane to taxi; where passengers arrived; how long they spent at the ticket counter,” Roche told Metropolis magazine. “When we traveled, Eero went around with a stopwatch, measuring everything: ‘This took four seconds more than last time.’ Of course, I was just waiting for the goddamn plane to take off so I could get a martini.” There is perhaps no better metaphor for the new TWA Hotel, an oasis of majestic design with an ocean of booze lapping at its edges. A total of five bars are on property. There’s even a wet bar retrofitted into the back of a (stationary) 1958 Lockheed Constellation L-1649A directly outside, the cockpit left intact so you can “fly” the plane tipsy. As viewed from the mezzanine balconies, two circular bars rising up from the floor look like life preservers. Depending on one’s perspective, the hotel’s entire concept could be art or commerce: an ode to architecture and a great excuse to make a Don Draper reference (yes, there are old fashioneds on the menu, but the ashtrays of yore are long gone), or a bastardization of the space’s intended utility—a ghost in the shell. But, as a wise person on the internet once wrote: Why can’t we have both? The evening that the TWA Hotel opened, I spoke to Roxane Hartfield, a former TWA flight attendant and gate agent who worked at the company for 33 years, from 1988 to the day the Flight Center closed in 2001, when the employees were told to leave the building. “It’s like coming to see an old friend,” she said of the newly refurbished space while gazing at a vintage TWA photograph and holding a full martini with lemon twist. “It’s like coming to a part of life that’s in a particular corner that you never thought you’d see again, and here I am.” Whatever this place is — or is not — walking through the white space and feeling the Saarinen design close in, open up, shrink, and expand again is worth a visit all on its own. And if the vertigo or the waiting gets to be too much, well, there’s a deluge of booze to quell the sensation. But I recommend feeling your feelings instead. For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.
Hotel We Love: CityFlatsHotel, Grand Rapids, Michigan
There are “green” hotels and then there’s CityFlatsHotel. This Grand Rapids hotel, located smack in the middle of downtown, is as smart and environmentally minded as it is visually stunning and all-around cool. Here’s what to expect when you check in. The Story The City Flats in Grand Rapids is the second of three locations opened by Charter House Innovations, a furniture company based in Holland, Michigan. They retrofitted the hotel into a circa 1874 office building with a façade that stands as one of Grand Rapids’ earliest examples of a terra cotta frontage. With lobby countertops made of recycled glass and concrete, wood fixtures around the eatery and front desk made from panels reclaimed during the building process, and preservation of the brick walls built in 1874, CHI was so committed to ensuring a low environmental impact that the building earned LEED Gold certification. Most of the furniture in the rooms, like the bed frames and seating, as well as the lobby furniture, was design by and built at CHI. The Quarters With apologies to Forrest Gump, we tell you that City Flats’ rooms are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Each of the 48 rooms is individually designed with its own distinct paint, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and lighting. That’s all par for the course when a design house is calling the shots. What does stay the same throughout, however, are the eco-minded touches, like cork floors, bamboo bedding, locally manufactured beds, and energy-efficient heating and cooling units that are sensor-operated, so they turn down when the room is unoccupied. There are five options for room sizes, like single queen and single king, plus a junior suite and a luxe master suite. The Neighborhood If location is what you're after, make this your pick. The hotel is surrounded by a cute coffee shop, a fast-casual Middle Eastern restaurant, and a hodgepodge of other eateries and cafes. It's a quick scoot to Ionia Street, a thoroughfare lined with brewpubs and other restaurants. A 10-minute walk down the road takes you to City Market, a locally minded food hall. And all that's to say nothing of the hotel's illustrious neighbor, the world-class Grand Rapids Art Museum. It's an excellent base camp for culture vultures of all stripes, as the Gerald Ford Museum and the kid-friendly Public Museum are about a 15-minute walk away across the Grand River. The Food The coffee's always on at CityBru Coffee, the coffee bar at the front desk that also features a concession selection, includes granola bars made by the owner. But the real attraction here—for guests and locals alike—is CitySen (pronounced: city scene) Lounge, the lobby eatery opened for lunch and dinner every day with the exception of Sunday, when it opens at 4 p.m. Happy hour is a daily event here, with bites like bacon maple brussels sprouts, arranccini, and tacos topping off at $6. There are drinks specials, too. All the Rest Like the bed? The linens? You can buy it through Charter House Innovations website (gotochi.com). Rates & Deets Starting at $169 CityFlatsHotel83 Monroe Center St. NWGrand Rapids, Michigan(616)608-1720 \\ cityflatshotel.com/location/grandrapids/
Meet the Newest International Dark Sky Park
Fans of astronomy and beautiful night vistas have a new option for observing the Milky Way. The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado has been officially designated as an International Dark Sky Park. It has more than 149,164 acres of dunes, wetlands, grasslands, forests and alpine tundra, which offer an array of opportunities to view the night sky and to explore the park after dark by moonlight. What Is a Dark Sky Park? The International Dark-Sky Association is a recognized authority on combating light pollution worldwide. Its designation recognizes Great Sand Dunes for the exceptional quality of its dark night skies and for the park’s commitment to preserving and educating about the night sky. It now joins three other national park sites in Colorado and approximately two dozen national parks around the U.S. that have been designated as International Dark Sky Parks. Great Sand Dunes: A Magnet for Astronomers Great Sand Dunes National Monument was established in 1932 to protect the tallest dunes in North America. In the late 1990s, it was expanded into a national park and preserved to protect the greater dunes ecosystem that was under threat at that time. It has served as an astronomy destination for decades, thanks to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which shelter the park from much of the sky glow created by Colorado’s Front Range cities. According to Great Sand Dunes superintendent Pamela Rice, the dry air, high elevation and lack of light pollution all make the park an ideal dark-sky destination. It offers a variety of night sky programs on summer weekends as well as a Junior Ranger Night Explorer program, and it will host a celebration of its new designation in late summer. Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to Lonely Planet's daily newsletter.