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Locals Know Best: Portland, Maine

By Liza Weisstuch
January 27, 2022
downtown street day time
Wangkun Jia/Dreamstime
There's no better guide to a city than someone who lives there, so we asked former mayor Ed Suslovic for his take on culture, food and drink on the town he calls home.

When Ed Suslovic moved to Portland, Maine, in 1992, it was like he’d died and gone to heaven, he says. Coming from Washington DC, this beautiful, relaxed urban enclave along the ocean was a jolting culture shock—the best possible kind. He fell so deeply in love with the city that he devoted his life to it, serving as city counselor, mayor, and state legislator. Today he teaches at the Muskie School of Public Service at University of Southern Maine in Portland and remains a committed citizen and, by default, ambassador. We checked in with him and got the lowdown of how to make the best of a visit to this gem of a seaside city.

Eat—and Drink—Your Heart Out

Regardless of whether you leap out of bed before sunrise to start the day or peel yourself out from under the covers later in the morning, every day in Portland should begin with a meal at Becky’s Diner. (“Nothing’s finer than Becky’s Diner,” Ed insists.) Becky’s is the kind of place where, on any given morning, you could sit at the counter and turn to your right and start a conversation with a lobsterman or dockworker, then turn to your left and gab with a federal judge. Becky’s captures Portland’s everything-for-everyone, open spirit. The food is as notable as the vibe. Breakfasts dishes never fail here, especially if any sort of eggs doused with Captain Mowatt’s, the local hot sauce named for a famous sea captain. If you like it, pick up a bottle to bring home at Leroux, a kitchen and home goods shop just down the street. And the homemade pies and cakes are simply “to die for,” Ed guarantees.

New England charm is alive and well at cozy family-run restaurants throughout Portland. Take, for instance, Susan's Fish-n-Chips. "It looks like it's in an old gas station, but don't be put off by that. Oh my god--it's the best fried fish ever, just light and crispy. You sit down with other folks at picnic tables and next thing you know you'll be sharing tartar sauce with them."

Or Anthony's Italian Kitchen, which has such a discreet location next to the city's court house and police stations that you wouldn't know it was there if you weren't looking for it. Ed has a list of reasons to love it: homemade everything, huge servings/guaranteed leftovers, and the show. More than just run a restaurant, the family, led by patriarch Anthony, who Ed estimates is nearing 80, puts on a cabaret show each night, so they serve up one-liners and songs along with dinner.

Ruski’s is another casual local that is, in no uncertain terms, an institution. (“It's been there forever. And some of the people at the bar have been there forever, too,” he quips.) Ed hung out there plenty before he got into politics, but once he did start running for office, Ruskie’s is where he’d mingle with the locals. It’s a standard come-as-you-are dive bar, with night-shift workers washing down home-fries with PBR at 9AM and countless regulars stopping in for Allen’s Coffee-flavored brandy and milk over ice, a traditional tipple in the region, at all hours.

Across the intersection from this old-school stronghold is Little Giant, a gastropub with a grocery shop that Ed describes as an “upscale take on the corner store.” Owners Brianna and Andrew Volk also run Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, a cocktail bar that’s made a splash on the national drinks scene. Ed views the juxtaposition of Ruski’s and Little Giant as an illustration of what’s great about Portland today: the old and the new coexisting in harmony. “They couldn’t be more different and I love them both,” Ed says.

A Small Neighborhood, a Big Impression

Once upon a time, it was easy to pass through Woodfords Corner and barely notice it. But in recent years—including some under Ed’s mayoral watch, the city worked to change that. A turning lane was removed and a small pedestrian plaza was installed in its place. There’s a light sculpture and other small pieces of public art. Now, not only is it more pedestrian-friendly, it’s actually attracted businesses to addresses that once housed pawn shops or tattoo parlors and made Woodfords Corner a destination. You can always find your way there if you look for the iconic clock tower of Odd Fellow’s Hall, an old fraternal lodge visible from a distance. Right next door is Woodford Food & Beverage, a French bistro-style eatery that Ed describes as a casual neighborhood hangout, but you don’t have to be a neighbor to feel like one. “You’ll go in there and pretty soon people are inviting you to join them at a table for dinner,” Ed says. The restaurant was the original location of Valle’s, a famous chain that started in the 1950s. A nostalgic retro-tinged style gives the Woodford F&B its a charming old-timey vibe. Nearby is Big Sky Bakery, located in a fire station, making this another business that’s made the most of one of the street’s beautiful old abandoned spaces. Like any bakery worth its weight in chocolate chip cookies, Big Sky is popular with kids, but not just because of the sweets. On any given day, you’ll spot pint-size patrons crowded around a small table playing with dough the bakers put out for them.

Break for Art

The Art of the Matter. About six blocks from Woodfords Corner is Deering Center which, locals will tell you, used to be its own town. Today it’s merely a neighborhood, but one that offers quite an impressive array of things to check out given its small size. As Ed tells it, Deering Corner’s claim to fame is its main thoroughfare, Stevens Avenue, ostensibly the only street in the U.S. where you can go from kindergarten to college without leaving the drag. There’s an elementary school, a high school and one side of the University of New England’s main campus. UNE in particular is worth a visit because of the University of New England Art Gallery, a small outpost with frequently rotating roster of shows, many by young artists, and what Ed describes as a very interesting and interested staff, so go by and say hi.

Day Tripper

Much as he loves everything about Portland, Ed has all sorts of recommendations for things to do and see and eat outside the city limits, most of which you can do in a single day. His relaxing itinerary for what he considers an “ideal Maine summer day” starts with picking up coffee and donuts in town at one of the two donut shops in town and heading north about an hour up Route 1 to Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg. “I love it because it’s the biggest, most expansive beach in Maine, and at low tide, it just becomes immense,” he says, noting that you can get out of your car and walk over the dunes and still not be able to see the ocean because it’s so far away. Climb the sandbar and check out an old stone Colonial-era fort just around the bend. That’s just one of the many jaw-dropping visions to behold. Islands and lighthouses dot the oceanscape for miles. Nearby you have your choice of low-key lobster joints, but you’ll want to save your appetite for your trip home because a stop in Brunswick for a classic American meal at Fat Boy’s Drive-In is a must. “After a long day, you’re all sandy and salty and sunburned .” To hear Ed tell it, you pull up, put your headlights on, give the waitress your order, and she’ll bring your burgers (Ed deems them “phenomenal”), onion rings, frappes, and the rest to your car and you eat it there. It’s a piece of history, he says, but warns that after generations, it’s presently on for sale. Legions of loyal fans are hoping that the new owners carry out its legacy. Especially Ed.

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Inspiration

All Aboard! There's Excellent Wine To Try on These Trains

“All aboard!” These words are music to the ears of anyone who appreciates the romantic nostalgia of a train excursion. And who wouldn’t? No other mode of transportation allows you to experience the varied landscapes of a country so intimately. Now imagine this journey with a glass of wine in hand, accompanied by hors d’oeuvres or a multi-course meal, and you have a recipe for a delicious adventure. Plus, it’s a responsible way to imbibe since you don’t have to worry about driving around wine country. From the California coast to the Deep South, through Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley and up to Canada, each of these trains not only offers stunning scenery, but an unparalleled wine-tasting experience. 1. Napa Valley Wine Train: California (Napa Valley Wine Train) This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of Napa Valley’s finest luxury train. With its polished reputation and carefully curated menus, it’s no wonder that Napa Valley Wine Train is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Step back in time as you board the retro coaches that were once used on the Northern Pacific Railway, and prepare to drink and dine in splendor with a variety of different tours, from an Italian-themed Legacy tour that includes a visit to Robert Mondavi winery to an Estate tour that focuses on French winemaking traditions. Tours generally run between three to six hours, and each option includes a multiple-course lunch or dinner along with a tasting at one or more wineries. From $150 for the gourmet express lunch train; winetrain.com. 2. Wine on the Rails: Tennessee A collaboration between local music-festival producer Muddy Roots Music and the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, this is a wine train ride that won’t easily be forgotten—thought the details may be fuzzy, depending on how many glasses you've had, that is. As you depart Nashville, sit back and enjoy a tasting on this 1950s passenger train while live music accompanies your voyage. Spontaneous dancing has been known to erupt in the aisles, and as you reach your destination the revelry continues with a tasting at the Del Monaco Winery in the tiny town of Baxter. (Population: 1,200ish.) Passengers are encouraged to dress in vintage attire, making the experience all the more unique. From $60, which includes a commemorative wine glass and other goodies; wineontherails.com. 3. Grape Escape Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad: Ohio This wine train takes you through the beautiful Cuyahoga National Park between Cleveland and Akron, delivering spectacular scenery along the way, from forests to rolling hills and the winding Cuyahoga River. Each Saturday, two-hour excursions offer tastings of five different wines paired with light appetizers. Themed tours take place on select Saturdays, during which you can sample wines from Africa or South America, or stick a little closer to home with some of Ohio’s best wines on a Buckeye State of Wine tour. For beer-drinkers, there’s also an Ales on Rails journey. From $60; cvsr.com/take-the-train/grape-escape-ales-on-rails. 4. Cross-Canada VIA Rail: various routes across the country The VIA Rail, the only passenger train that travels the length of Canada year-round, is often referred to as Canada’s best window, and it is easy to see why, as breathtaking views are easily the main attraction on every route. A Sleeper Plus ticket allows you to enjoy complimentary tastings of Canadian beer and wine as well as musical acts and special cultural presentations. For those with more of a champagne budget, a Prestige Class ticket also includes a personal concierge who will ensure that your journey is beyond memorable. From $479 for a Sleeper Plus ticket on the Winnipeg-Edmonton route, with other routes available; viarail.ca. 5. New Hope and Ivyland Railroad Grapevine Express: Pennsylvania Late summer and early fall are ideal times to enjoy a leaf-peeping foliage tour, and luckily, the Grapevine Express operates from August through the end of October. As you board this vintage diesel locomotive and make your way to the first class parlor car, you’ll be offered a glass of wine and a spread of gourmet cheeses, fruit, and artisan crackers. The hour-long nonstop round-trip excursion begins about 40 miles outside of Philadelphia and travels through the historic Bucks County woods. The adventure is both educational and entertaining, and you'll learn about the history of the area through on-board narration. From $75, which includes two glasses of wine and a souvenir wine glass; newhoperailroad.com/grapevineexpress. 6. San Diego Winery Train Tour: California Take in the magnificent scenery of the California coast from the comfort of your seat as you travel to several urban wineries and wine bars in San Diego. The green and eco-friendly train runs along the city’s coastal route, following the same path as the local commuter train, and makes four stops for a total of 15 tastings. The trip lasts approximately five hours and includes a light Italian lunch as well as a behind-the-scenes view of the wine-making process and a presentation on wine appreciation, sometimes from one of the winemakers themselves. You'll also have an opportunity to soak up some culture on a guided, historic walk to each winery. There's a beer train trolley tour as well, which stops at four local breweries. From $98, plus the cost of the train ticket; sandiegobeerwinespiritstours.com. 7. Royal Gorge Route Railroad Wine Dinners: Colorado This leisurely three-hour ride on Colorado’s scenic steamliner route takes guests on an epic adventure along the mighty Arkansas River deep within the granite cliffs of the Royal Gorge. A selection of themed wine dinners is offered throughout the year, each featuring meticulously chosen entrees paired with award-winning wines. And this is serious business—every year the team scouts the best wines across the United States and the world, selecting those that best complement their style of Colorado cuisine. From $199, which includes the five-course dinner with wine pairings; royalgorgeroute.com/dining/wine-dinner. 8. The Winery Train: New Jersey Journey along the Delaware River to one of New Jersey’s smallest wineries: the charming Villa Milagro Vineyards. Once there, you’ll enjoy a tour with hors d’oeuvres and tastings, but you’ll also likely be distracted by the panoramic views. On the train ride back, you’ll have the option of stopping at the Ol’ Susquehanna Mine to relax in the grove and enjoy a picnic, so you might want to pick up a bottle or two while you're at the winery. Trains operate from May through October and they run every 90 minutes, so you can stay as long as you like and get on board a later train.All-inclusive tours from $35; 877trainride.com/winery.htm.

Inspiration

Live Like a Local in the Florida Keys

The 125-mile-long stretch of islands just south of the Florida mainland have been drawing diverse settlers and visitors, from Europe, the Caribbean, and the continental U.S. for centuries, forming one of the most vibrant and inviting cultural melanges anywhere in the world. For travelers, that means jaw-dropping natural beauty sustained by the Keys’ commitment to environmental stewardship, a tasty array of ethnic cuisines (Bahamian seafood, Cuban specialties, and more), and outdoor activities above and below the waters of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Florida Bay that keep visitors coming back year after year. Here, the best of the Keys, including “live like a local” tips from the savvy residents, conservationists, and forward-thinking business owners of the Keys.. DIVE INTO KEY LARGO (Ryan Jones/Dreamstime)Key Largo is an excellent first stop in the Keys. It’s the longest and northernmost island in the chain, a 60-minute drive from Miami International Airport, and a perfect place to start relaxing and taking in the natural wonders of the region. Bordered by the Atlantic, Florida Bay, and Everglades backcountry, Key Largo has earned the nickname the Dive Capital of the World. Take your pick of scuba, snorkeling, fishing, and much more—beginners can easily learn the basics of diving while on vacation. The star attraction is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The state park draws more than 1 million visitors per year for both on-land hiking and cycling trails and underwater adventures, and you’ll love snorkeling the shallow waters of the colorful reef with hundreds of species of fish and more than 50 varieties of coral. For a one-of-a-kind underwater landmark, don’t miss the adjacent Key Largo Dry Rocks, with its nine-foot-tall sculpture “Christ in the Abyss.” Experienced scuba divers will love exploring Key Largo’s Spiegel Grove, which includes a sunken vessel that’s become a prized artificial reef. After the sun goes down, enjoy a cocktail at Caribbean Club, where scenes from the 1947 classic film Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, were shot. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: For some visitors, renting bicycles and pedaling from Key Largo all the way down to Key West is at the top of their bucket list. Key Largo Bike and Adventure Tours, operated by one-time Louisiana cop Mark Terrill and one-time Ohio bar owner Patrick Fitzgerald, offers a variety of bikes suitable for the journey. FISHING & MORE IN ISLAMORADA Islamorada means “purple island” in Spanish, but the 20-mile-long village, bordered by Florida Bay and the Atlantic, actually includes not one but four of the Florida Keys: Plantation, Windley, and Upper and Lower Matecumbe. Islamorada will be your next stop on your drive south from Key Largo, or either a 90-minute drive from Miami International Airport or a 40-minute drive from Florida Keys Marathon Airport if you’re set on starting your Keys vacation here in the Sport-Fishing Capital of the World. And that nickname is more than just a local boast: The warm waters of the Gulf Stream pass as close as 10 miles offshore, drawing prized sport fish such as sailfish, marlin, kingfish, wahoo, mahi-mahi, and tuna for small-boat anglers to pursue offshore. Those who prefer to cast from piers or shore will enjoy catching tarpon and bonefish (you can also try a local tradition by hand-feeding tarpon off the docks at Robbie’s Marina). When you’re not fishing or diving Islamorada’s reefs full of tropical fish, coral, and sponges, you’ll love the vibrant arts and culture scene in the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District with its art galleries, monthly Third Thursday Art Walk, and wide array of restaurants: Take your pick from fresh-caught seafood, comfort foods like burgers and pizza, and a variety of great ethnic flavors from the melting pot that is south Florida. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: Our late 41st president, George H.W. Bush paid many visits to the Islamorada area before, during, and after his presidency and was an avid proponent of catch-and-release fishing for tarpon, bonefish, and permit. Participating in catch-and-release is a fine way to pay tribute to the “kinder, gentler” president and his legacy. FAMILY FUN IN MARATHON (Typhoonski/Dreamstime)The city of Marathon is made up of several keys, with Vaca Key as the epicenter. Settled by fruit farmers from the Bahamas and fishermen from New England more than 200 years ago, Marathon allegedly got its name thanks to the workers who constructed the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad more than a century ago, working a “marathon” schedule of nights and days. Today, Marathon is a magnet for families and boating enthusiasts, with its own airport (it’s also a one-hour drive from Key West International Airport and a 2.5-hour drive from Miami International Airport). Visitors love driving on Seven Mile Bridge, just south of Vaca Key, savoring the perfect water views and the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which was once part of the Over-Sea Railroad. Kids of all ages will enjoy a visit to Pigeon Key, the original headquarters of the railroad construction, home to models, artifacts, and an educational video. Families will want to spend time exploring local hardwood forests and white-sand beaches, fishing for tarpon or diving the local reefs, and kayaking the incredible backcountry waters. But be sure to set aside time for the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, including a 200,000-gallon tank containing tropical reef fish (and the opportunity to watch divers feed the fish), the truly magical Instagrammable experience of swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center and seeing environmental stewardship in action at the Turtle Hospital. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: Marathon resident Rachel Bowman is the only female commercial lionfish fisherman in the Keys, catching up to 400 pounds per day of the invasive species and selling it to local restaurants and Whole Foods Markets; when you order delicious, flaky white lionfish off the menu in Marathon or other regions of the Keys, Bowman says you’re helping to reduce the predatory fish’s numbers and preserve native species such as snapper. EASY ADVENTURES IN BIG PINE AND THE LOWER KEYS We admire the devotion to the environment shown by Big Pine and the Lower Keys, nicknamed the Natural Keys for the district’s advocacy for sustainability and preservation. Here, a 30-minute drive from either Key West International Airport or Marathon International Airport, visitors will find abundant opportunities to enjoy the natural environment while staying within their personal comfort zone—easy adventures you’ll love and brag about when you get home. Bahia Honda State Park provides one-stop recreation opportunities with one of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S. according to Budget Travel and many travel polls and studies, campsites, and watersports. Get to know the endangered Key deer, smaller cousins of the more common white-tailed deer, at the National Key Deer Refuge. Try snorkeling (even beginners can master the basics in a few minutes) Looe Key Reef for Technicolor coral and marine life such as tropical fish, sponges, and more. Bring your binoculars and camera (or smartphone) on a kayak or canoe paddle or shallow-draft boat ride to Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, covering 375 square miles of water and islands between Key West and Marathon, where white herons and other migratory birds put on quite a show. You’ll find ample campgrounds and RV parks in the Big Pine and Lower Keys area, allowing you to savor the natural environment of the Natural Keys 24/7 during your visit. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: Support the environmental mission of the Natural Keys by heeding the 10 Keymandments, assembled by locals to help residents and visitors alike give back to the communities and habitats of the Keys: (1) Adopt a coral (by making a charitable donation, and, of course, don’t touch coral when you are diving); (2) Support the wildlife (by donating food or money, or volunteering time at a local wildlife center); (3) Take out the trash (which can mean literally removing debris from the water, and not contributing to it); (4) Capture a lionfish (an invasive species); (5) Leave a digital footprint (take photos of the Keys and share them with friends and family); (6) Hike it, bike it, or hoof it (these are all low-eco-impact activities); (7) Catch dinner (fishing for bonefish, tarpon, and permit is plentiful just about anywhere in the Keys); (8) Use a mooring buoy at dive sites (instead of an anchor); (9) Conserve vs. consume (continuing the same reuse, reuse, and recyling practice you employ at home while on vacation); (10) Get off the beaten path (explore hiking and cycling trails, kayaking, and canoeing). NIGHTLIFE & WATERSPORTS IN KEY WEST Even in the unique, gorgeous world of the Keys, Key West is a destination apart, a world unto itself. With its own airport, and located closer to Havana than it is to Miami, this southernmost point of the Keys (and the continental U.S. itself) is known for its buzzing nightlife and great food and drinks, but also for outdoor recreation and watersports that rival any other destination in America. Here, the influence of the Bahamas, Cuba, Spain, American literary giants like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, and LGBTQ residents and visitors come together to form a culturally diverse and delicious getaway. For a taste of the town’s Caribbean community, visit Bahama Village with its revitalized homes and shops, marketplace, and eateries. Speaking of seafood, hop aboard the Conch Tour Train, named for the Caribbean delicacy, for a guided tour of the area. The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum draw not only fans of American literature but also those curious about the life of one of Key West’s best-known party animals; you can tour the influential author’s writing studio and pick up a copy of his novel set in Key West, To Have and Have Not. Enjoy a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, spend some time at the Key West Aquarium (devoted to the marine life of the Keys and offering guided tours, shark feedings, a “please touch” tank, and more), or hit the links at the Key West Golf Club. Another form of wildlife you’ll enjoy meeting are the denizens of the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, featuring a 5,000-square-foot tropical habitat under a glass dome, more than 50 species of butterfly, and even colorful birds like flamingos. Drop by the Instagrammable buoy that marks the southernmost point in the continental U.S., just 90 miles from Cuba. And, honestly, where else in the world will you find a nightly celebration of the setting sun, as you will at Key West’s Mallory Square, complete with cocktails, street performers, and the always-captivating colors of the sun going down over the Gulf of Mexico. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: Stop by Frangipani Gallery to see the work of local artists, including Larry Blackburn, the current King of Fantasy Fest (Key West’s annual 10-day October festival devoted to creative costumes and masks) and a prominent Key West-based photographer and board member of the AIDS Memorial. To learn more about the Florida Keys and help plan your trip, visit fla-keys.com.

Inspiration

Estes Park, CO: Where to Eat, Play & Stay

Any way you look at Estes Park, Colorado, it calls your name. Its natural beauty surrounds and enchants visitors, from the heart of downtown to its vibrant “backyard,” Rocky Mountain National Park, with its iconic peaks, array of wildlife (including the main draw, majestic elk), and miles of rivers, lakes, and streams. In winter and early spring, the town is in close proximity to some of America’s prime backcountry skiing and snowshoeing areas, minus the sticker shock that comes with Colorado’s resorts (skiing here is actually free). In summer, you can spend most of your day outdoors exploring nearby forests, parks, and waterways, or chill at a local festival, music concert, art gallery, or farmers market. In autumn, Colorado’s eye-popping golden aspen leaves rival the fall foliage of any region in the U.S., and the annual elk rut draws visitors from across the U.S. Hungry? Estes Park is a place where you can play all day then sit down to an exquisite meal accompanied by exceptional wine. With all that Estes Park has to offer, we’ve assembled a handy guide for visitors, including something for just about every travel personality, from foodies to outdoors enthusiasts to those just seeking a relaxing place to kick back and savor a starry sky (either with the naked eye, binoculars, or at the town’s very own observatory), a rippling mountain stream, or unique shopping. And with one of the finest systems of public transportation of any community of its size, it’s no wonder that Budget Travelers have named Estes Park one of the Coolest Small Towns in America. WHERE TO EAT For many travelers, one of the main attractions of being on vacation is the opportunity to chow down on some truly great local food and expanding their culinary horizons. (Maybe that’s why “eat” is the first word in the phrase “eat, play & stay.”) When it comes to hungry travelers, Estes Park delivers something for every taste and budget, from upscale finery to fast-and-good and everything in between. One of the reasons the food scene here is so rich is its relationship to the land and the wild game of the region: Diners who are eager to try menu items such as local bison or elk or mountain trout are rewarded with the freshest possible fare. (You’ll find elk on the menu at nearly 20 percent of Estes Park eateries.) More familiar western comfort foods abound as well, as do any array of ethnic traditions. Just a few examples of popular eating experiences that have generated buzz in recent years: Sip local Colorado craft beer along with your gourmet burger at Latitude 105 Alehouse; sip a cold margarita along with your bison (or chicken, beef, or pork) burrito at Peppers Mexican Grill; or drink in views of Rocky Mountain National Park from your table as you enjoy fresh-caught trout or locally raised lamb at Bird & Jim. WHERE TO PLAY (Fiskness/Dreamstime) Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S., and certainly the crown jewel of Colorado’s parkland. Open year-round, the park beckons every traveler, from those seeking easy trails and wildlife perfect for hiking and photography practically under their nose to those who are looking for the thrill of rock climbing, horseback riding, or ice climbing. For a popular overview, drive Trail Ridge Road, a National Scenic Byway (at more than 12,000 feet, the highest in the U.S.) that takes you from Estes Park to Grand Lake. Visitors of all ages will love the ranger programs devoted to wildlife such as black bear, elk, moose, mule deer, and the iconic bighorn sheep; forest stewardship; geology; the night sky; and more. Kids will especially enjoy the NPS’s educational and fun Junior Ranger program, which ends with the presentation of an official badge. Camping is always the most affordable way to immerse yourself in a national park, but sites fill up fast and you should make a reservation six months in advance. Skiing and snowshoeing are two of the best ways to navigate the mountains around Estes Park not only in winter but also in early spring, with March and April being two of the very best months for that great combination of snow and sun that skiers crave. It’s a short drive to some fine ski areas, including Eldora, Echo Mountain, and the Hidden Valley zone within Rocky Mountain National Park. Experienced backcountry skiers may want to try the terrain in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Steven Miller/Dreamstime)Outdoors enthusiasts will never want to leave Estes Park, and why would they? The truly adventurous can go rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking in some of the most challenging and jaw-droppingly beautiful terrain in America. The moderate thrill seeker will love learning to fly fish, climb, or ride a horse, and hiking the miles of trails in search of Colorado’s smaller wildlife such as the snowshoe hare and the great-horned owl. And what if you just want to kick back and relax? In winter, snuggle with that special someone by a roaring fire and watch the snow outside your window; in summer, enjoy watching the sunset over the mountains and the range of light from bright yellow to gold to red to blue as day gives way to night; year-round, pack binoculars for a spectacular view of Colorado’s dark starry skies. Points of interest and events around town are seemingly endless, and vacationers of every kind will find something to do. Art lovers will spend hours browsing exceptional galleries and regular public art events in warm weather. Avid shoppers will find that the only challenge is how to get their haul of unique locally produced clothing, jewelry, packaged foods, and souvenirs home in their suitcase. And an array of other events including outdoor concerts, historical commemorations, and celebrations of Native, European settler, and other ethnic cultures will keep every family member engaged in Estes Park’s substantial history and vibrant cultural scene. WHERE TO STAY Ready to start planning your Estes Park vacation? The town’s lodging options are as varied as its food, outdoor activities, and cultural offerings. Take your pick from camping in Rocky Mountain National Park to bunking down in one of the cabins at the YMCA of the Rockies (winner of the 2018 Budget Travel Award for Value Resort) to booking one of the many hotel rooms, suites, cabins, and vacation homes available around town.

Inspiration

Budget Caribbean Rentals With a View

As winter wears on, our thoughts turn to the white sand, blue seas, and temperate climes of the Caribbean. An island vacation may sound like a splurge, but you don't have to be loaded to make it happen. Although rates do shift based on season and availability, we've found 10 places that'll allow you to stretch your travel budget without sacrifice—all with amazing scenery and amenities, for less than $200 a night. 1. Dominican Republic: Las Terrenas (Courtesy Airbnb)On a hilltop overlooking the resort town of Las Terrenas, on the Samaná Peninsula in the Dominican Republic, this two-bedroom apartment offers mountain views from its private terrace, and that’s just for starters. Located in Monte Placido, a gated community with six other properties, its shared amenities include an infinity pool overlooking the countryside and the ocean, with a lounge area and a gas grill, plus a sprawling yoga studio that’s half wooden deck and half cave. It sleeps up to six adults and two kids, and the expat couple that runs the place can help arrange tours, meals, and even spa services. airbnb.com 2. Curaçao: Willemstad (Courtesy Airbnb) In a resort on Curaçao’s southwest coast, a 20-minute drive from the capital of WIllemstad, this stand-alone alone villa boasts modern interiors and creature comforts, just steps away from the beach. Take a dip in the private pool, rinse off in the outdoor shower, and sip a cocktail while you gaze at the sea from the comfort of your terrace, or venture over to the property’s infinity pool for a picture-perfect swim. Christoffelpark, the island’s largest national park, isn’t far by car, and the owners are happy to offer tips and suggestions. The house accommodates four people, and comes equipped with Apple TV, just in case you need a break from all of that natural beauty. airbnb.com 3. Martinique: Le Diamant (Courtesy HomeAway) With private access to a small strip of unsullied beach and unobstructed waterfront views for taking in both sunrises and sunsets, this two-bedroom villa offers tranquility and scenery at a modest price. Located on the outskirts of Le Diamant, a small town on Martinique’s south coast, it’s a destination best suited for those in search of peace and quiet—you won’t find much nightlife here, just a few hotels and restaurants spread out over the 1.25-mile public beach. Embrace the solitude and channel your inner homebody: Hit up the nearby local fishermen for their catch of the day, fire up the grill, and enjoy a dinner al fresco as you watch the sun slip into the bay. homeaway.com 4. Dominican Republic: Cabarete (Courtesy VRBO) A Spanish Colonial-style home that sleeps up to seven, this Cabarete abode has a private pool right off the sand, a manicured garden, an enclosed, ground-floor patio, and an open-air shower—the perfect amenities for a week or two of outdoor living. The upstairs master bedroom has ocean views, and there’s a caretaker on the property—and two dogs!—who will make you feel right at home. Plus, your airport transfers are covered, so you won’t have to worry about a thing upon landing. Walk into town to partake in the vibrant nightlife and waterfront dining scene, or stick with sun and fun: Cabarete is known for its water sports, and you’ll have easy access to the best kitesurfing, windsurfing, and just plain surfing spots from your beachside perch. vrbo.com 5. Jamaica: Montego Bay (Courtesy Airbnb) A 20-minute walk from Montego Bay’s Hip Strip and the white sand and clear waters of premiere swimming spots like Doctors Cave, this two-bedroom apartment is close to restaurants, bars, and beach alike. Located in a residential building with a communal rooftop pool offering stellar ocean views, it sleeps up to seven and provides a unique peek at life in a real island community. A driver from the Jamaica Tourist Board is on call to show you around—arrange for the $30 airport-pickup option, and he’ll take you to the grocery store to stock up on provisions, with a stop for jerk chicken along the way—and the owner can help arrange excursions around the island—think day trips to Negril, rafting on the Martha Brae river, and the refreshing rock pools and waterfalls of Westmoreland’s Mayfield Falls. airbnb.com 6. Saint Lucia: Marigot Bay (Courtesy HomeAway) A two-bedroom apartment in a hilltop villa a short drive from Castries, the island’s capital, this private flat offers the best of both worlds: There’s a secluded cove for snorkeling and swimming, just a few minutes away via a nature path, and Marigot Bay’s action-packed water-sports scene is nearby too. Take advantage of the kayaking, paddleboarding, and sailing opportunities on the bay, then retreat from the hustle and bustle to your private verandah, where you can listen to the birds singing as you look out over the gardens and pool. A serene escape with easy access to both mountains and sea (there’s a hiking trail not far away), it has a 20-foot-high tree deck that’s perfect for catching the sunset, fitness equipment, and more. Plus, when you check in, you’ll be greeted by a friendly face bearing an icy-cold pitcher of rum punch—a warm welcome indeed. homeaway.com 7. Dominican Republic: Las Terrenas (Courtesy Airbnb) Also located in Las Terrenas, this villa was designed by an Italian architect to make the most of its location, with stunning views of the Atlantic from every room, not to mention soaring ceilings, contemporary furnishings, and a gorgeous, private salt-water infinity pool overlooking the ocean. There’s a patio with cushy couches, so you can recline and take in the sunset in comfort, as well as a fully equipped kitchen; fend for yourself, or ask the management to arrange your meals and experience some great Dominican cooking firsthand. Located mere yards from Playa Coson, it’s not far from other regional beaches either, like Playa Rincón and Cayo Levantado, and it makes a good base of operations for exploring the area—Los Haitises National Park and El Limón waterfall are both nearby. Pro tip: Plan your trip for February through April, when the humpback whales come out to play in Samaná Bay. airbnb.com 8. Curaçao: Sint Michiel (Courtesy HomeAway) In the heart of a Curaçao fishing village off the well-trodden tourist trail, this two-bedroom villa faces the ocean and boasts direct beach access, a private dock, an outdoor shower, and a lush tropical garden. Sit on the brick-lined patio and watch the dolphins passing by, or jump in and join them if you’ve got the nerve; you'll also have a great vantage point here for spectacular sunsets. Sint Michiel is known for its scuba diving, and some of the best schools on the island are within walking distance. Newbies can take a guided tour or sign up for a night dive with a nearby pro, but you can also bring your own equipment and descend to the depths from your own front porch. homeaway.com 9. Bonaire: Kralendijk (Courtesy VRBO) East of Curaçao, you’ll find the Dutch island of Bonaire, a tiny, easy-going place with a laidback way of life—and a lack of traffic lights. You’ll have to get creative to get here, as plane tickets can be pricey and routes difficult to navigate, but if you play your cards right and time your airfare-shopping properly, you’ll be rewarded with a dreamy vacation destination that puts sustainable travel front and center, from coral-reef preservation to carbon-offsetting initiatives. This three-bedroom villa sits on a secluded hill outside of town, 10 minutes from the shops and restaurants of Kralendijk (the capital city and main port) and a quick drive to the dive sites on the northern side of the island. On the property, you'll find brightly colored tropical birds singing in the trees, plus a private pool with a deck and a shady cabana, all with views to the ocean. vrbo.com 10. Cayman Islands: Cayman Brac (Courtesy VRBO) Grand Cayman may get the lion’s share of the love, but northeast of the popular cruise-ship port is Cayman Brac, a haven for divers, snorkelers, and hikers too. This beautiful beachfront house sleeps six, and it’s steps from the sand, with a private jetty, a Caribbean-facing verandah, and hammocks, chaise lounges, and Adirondack chairs throughout for ultimate outdoor relaxation. On the bluff behind the house, there’s a parrot reserve where you’ll spot native Brac parrots and vitelline warblers, and on the southeastern cliffs, you can watch the brown booby birds building their nests. Go for a trek on the bluff, launch your kayak from the jetty, go shore diving, or simply settle in for some star-gazing. vrbo.com

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