Locals Know Best: San Antonio, Texas
Before the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there was San Antonio. Established in 1718 by the Spanish, it celebrates its 300th anniversary this year (2018). And this Texas city, which clocks in as the seventh largest (still true in 2021) in the United States, has a whole lot to celebrate. Institutions along Broadway Cultural Corridor, a two-mile stretch north of downtown, have invested over $500 million in refurbishments and upgrades over the past five years. Among them is the Witte Museum, which encompasses ten acres along the river and focuses equally on nature, science and culture, all with a Texas slant. A multi-million refurbishment that transformed a total of 174,000 square feet was completed in 2017. It’s all happened under the watch of Marise McDermott, the Witte’s president and CEO for 17 years.
A culture journalist from New York turned culture executive in the Lone Star State—“Once you marry a Texan, you live in Texas,” she notes—she’s called San Antonio her home since 1986, with a six-year break in the middle. She appreciates its “slower pace” and cherishes the eleven oak trees in her yard. We checked in with her to get the lowdown on the changing landscape of one of America’s oldest cities.
A CULTURAL AND CULINARY MELTING POT
The McNay Art Museum (Florin Seitan/Dreamstime)
So, about those museums. The Broadway Cultural Corridor is a two-mile stretch just north of downtown on that runs along the San Antonio River. It includes the McNay Art Museum, a modern art hub; San Antonio Botanical Gardens; the San Antonio Museum of Art, which focuses on classical art dating back to the ancients; a 50-acre zoo; and the DoSeum, a children’s museum. It's also home to the Witte, which is devoted to telling the state’s history, from prehistoric times to recent decades. Under Marise’s watch, the Witte, which has been around since 1926, has taken great strides in elevating San Antonio’s cultural status on the international stage, bringing exhibits that hit other big cities to its galleries. A 10,000 square foot gallery that was opened as part of the $100 million transformation in 2017 as part of the $100 renovation debuted with “Whales: Giants of the Deep,” a show from New Zealand that featured a 58-foot whale sperm whale skeleton. (As an interesting footnote, Marise notes that there are 21 whale species on the Gulf Coast.)
Where museums go, restaurants follow. As the institutions invested money, a culinary renaissance flourished. Longstanding restaurants upped their game and new ones opened. Marise is no stranger to the rustic, casual Smoke Shack, not least because it’s located across from the Witte. Also, their barbecue holds its own in a culture that values its grilled meats. One of the city’s standouts is located a few miles away from the Corridor in the Pearl, a revitalized old brewery that’s now a destination for its creative independent businesses.La Gloria specializes in Oaxacan street food. Its fun décor—a garage door entrance, metal furniture, and other industrial-chic touches—signals its lighthearted vibe. There’s a dog-friendly porch where you might find Marise hanging out with her two greyhounds and indulging in the fish tacos, one of chef-owner Johnnie Hernandez’s signatures. But the highlight isn’t the fillings, it’s the fixings. “The sauces are the most important part. They give you all sorts of different ones and they’re all freshly done with herbs.” And one other important thing: “No matter what time of day it is, get the sangria.”
For something a bit more formal, she recommends Bliss, which is about two miles south of downtown. They offer a dependably excellent branzino dish, Marise says, and expertly paired wines. You’ll need a reservation because there aren’t many tables.
Missions Espada in San Antonio (Amanda McCadams)
Back when the Spanish arrived in the 1700s, Franciscan priests built complexes known as missions to establish their rule on the frontier and convert Native Americans. Each mission contained all the necessities of daily life, from chapels to farms and granaries to workshops and acequias, their water distribution system. Today, the missions stand as an example of how craftsmen blended European and local design elements. They’re such a bedrock of regional history that the Mission Reach, which embodies five missions on nearly eight riverside miles, was established as a World Heritage Sites in 2015. Now, as Marise says, “visitors are finally finding them.” A trip to Mission Reach, however, is hardly a stroll through time-tested ruins. Many are still living places with vibrant cultures. Taquerias that have been run by the same family for generations are dotted along the riverfront park, which has seen investments of about $300 million in the past five years for public art, plantings, and chutes for kayaks. The money has also gone to upkeep of the area’s wetland space, so expect to spot all kinds of wildlife.
When her teenage grandsons come to town, Marise will rent bikes from Swell Cycle (now called San Antonio Bike Share), the local bike share company, and hit as many missions as they can in a day. Along the way, they stop at roadside vendors for raspa, flavor-infused ice served by the scoop in paper cups, and paletas, Mexican ice pops made with traditional flavors like hibiscus flower or tamarind.
TAKE IT OUTSIDE
Texas is sprawling, to be sure, but you don’t have to go far for a change of scenery. For a heavy dose of the outdoors, head ten miles outside San Antonio to Government Canyon State Natural Area, which encompasses rugged bike trails, about 40 miles of easier walking trails, and camping sites on 12,244 expansive acres. To Marise, being there “feels like you’re in Hill Country, in the middle of nowhere.” Marise likes to share the story of the time the Witte’s paleontologist uncovered prehistoric footprints of an Acrocanthosaurus there. Museum staff thought there might be 20 tracks, but this one scientist uncovered 300 footprints and molded some of them you can find on display at the museum. Today, when wandering Government Canyon, the only beast you have to look out for is coyotes.
The Broadway Cultural Corridor is, to hear Marise tell it, a retail corridor as well. "I shop at all the museum stores," she says, noting that she's purchased most of her jewelry at art institutions' shops, especially the McNay, the modern art museum. The San Antonio Museum leans more toward ancient-themed item, and the stores at the Botanical Gardens offer a wide selection of books and gifts for kids as well as unique outdoorsy things like hemp-fiber picnic blankets, suitable for, well, an afternoon at the botanical gardens, or any laid-back sunny spot.
But that's not to say you can't get distinctly San Antonio items elsewhere. There are fantastic boutiques in the Pearl District. She calls out Dos Carolinas, a shop known for bespoke guayaberas made with natural fibers. This Caribbean and South American style of men's summer shirts is distinct for its pleated tailoring. "Good ones are hard to come by," she says. Until, that is, you get to San Antonio.
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Hotel We Love: Aloft Boston Seaport District, Boston
Today it seems that every city has one: a once decaying industrial neighborhood that's blossomed into a destination for shops, restaurants, breweries, museums, and all things creative. In Boston, that neighborhood is the Seaport District. The area is home to the sleek Boston Convention Center, which opened in 2004 and set off a hotel-development boom in the surrounds that continues to this day. The Aloft Boston Seaport District, which opened in February 2016, is just one of the neighborhood's many accommodation options, but it stands out for various reasons: its stylish decor, its live music performances, and its futuristic amenities. THE STORY The Aloft is a growing Marriott brand known for its tech-centric sensibility, lively vibe, and hip design. With its many technology startups and youthful population, Boston is a perfect fit as the global chain extends its national footprint. In fact, this location is an incubator where they often test some of their high-tech amenities THE QUARTERS The 330 rooms have five sizes ranging from one king-size bed to two queen-size. The brightly colored accents, from the the throw pillows to the images on the walls, are designed to look like pixelated cartoon images, giving the otherwise neutral room a jolt of energy. All rooms have Netflix streaming capabilities, a mini fridge, and Bliss bath products. Vast windows offer sweeping views; rooms that face the city fetch a higher rate, as do the ten high-tech rooms with voice-activated features. Select floors have dog-friendly rooms for pets under 60 pounds. They're each equipped with toys, food and water bowls, and more. THE NEIGHBORHOOD The Seaport District is best explained as a wide peninsula between downtown Boston and South Boston’s ever-evolving residential area. Less than 15 years ago, it was a stark patchwork of piers lined with seafood storehouses, rundown brick warehouses, and beat-up roads. The main reason for coming here was the federal courthouse. But in 2006, the Institute of Contemporary Art opened a stunning, futuristic location that cantilevers over the water, setting off a frenzy of development. Restaurants, some of which are Las Vegas–caliber in size, line the streets today. There are chophouses, Mexican cantinas, Italian eateries—from familiar names to smaller independent operations. Many offer outdoor seating in the warmer months, giving the entire neighborhood a unified pavilion-like feel. That’s good news for the countless employees who work in the startup and biotech companies that have their offices here. The hotel sits across from the Lawn on D, a lively green space that draws crowds for its food trucks, movie screenings, live music, bocce, ping pong, and various activities, like cornhole tournaments. The Seaport is about a ten-minute drive to the airport (on a good day) and a 15-minute walk to South Station, the train and bus terminal. THE FOOD The eating and drinking options perhaps best capture the hotel's fun, creative vibe. The spacious, art-adorned, sunlit lobby features WXYZ bar, which serves cocktails, beer, wine, and elevated bar bites and sandwiches. There’s no formal room service, but you can bring your food and your nightcap to your quarters. Re:fuel is a grab’n’go offering hot breakfast in the morning and artisanal snacks, pastries, juices, and espresso drinks throughout the day and night. For a sit-down meal, hit the elegant yet laid-back Social Register, an adjoining eatery specializing in New American fare that’s heavy on the seafood. ALL THE REST It isn’t often that a hotel lobby is a local hangout, but this one draws them in droves. Aloft has made itself a destination by offering a variety of activities, from paint nights to classes like flower arranging. There's also live music each Thursday, so you can drop by for a taste of the local talent while you indulge in a cocktail from WXYZ. Aloft’s green initiative is no joke. They offer 250 Starwood points or a $5 voucher for WXYZ bar and Re:Fuel for each day you skip housekeeping. RATES & DEETS Starting at $199. Aloft Boston Seaport Distrtict401-403 D StreetBoston, MA 02210(617) 530-1600 / aloftbostonseaportdistrict.com
5 Pride Events That Prove Virginia is for All Lovers
(Courtesy Joey Wharton) Travelling to Virginia this year? If you’re anything like us, you’ll be trying to fill your itinerary with the best festivals in the region. Since Virginia hosts an extraordinary array of events year-round, we decided to narrow our search down to what we all know to be the best party of the year: Pride. Whether you’re looking for low-key community vibes and scenic escapes or dance parties, drag shows, and urban raucousness, these five events have got you covered. Just be sure to snap a selfie with one of the many LOVE photo ops scattered throughout the state while you’re there. 1. HAMPTON ROADS PRIDE WEEK (Courtesy Wirt Confroy) Dates: June 21-30, 2018 Location: Town Point Park, Norfolk Travelling during Pride month? Check out Hampton Roads PrideFest, which is celebrating 30 years of Pride this June. This festival is prefaced by an entire week of events covering everything from a Drag Brunch, to a beach concert, to a Pride Block Party on Friday night. And of course, it all culminates with PrideFest on Saturday. At PrideFest, partygoers gather for the country’s only Pride Boat Parade—a fitting event considering Norfolk’s 300-year maritime history. Watch the parade from shore or party on board the American Rover three-masted sailing schooner. Aside from Pride, visiting Hampton Roads in the summer also guarantees a glimpse at Virginia’s coastal culture. Whether you want to bask in the sun and white sands of Virginia Beach or discover nearby Colonial Williamsburg, festival season offers the perfect opportunity to explore. 2. SHENANDOAH VALLEY PRIDE FESTIVAL Date: July 21, 2018 Location: Court Square, Harrisonburg Next up is Shenandoah Valley Pride Festival, located in picturesque Harrisonburg. This event is smaller than the Hampton Roads PrideFest, taking place on one Saturday afternoon, but don’t let its size fool you: this festival showcases local music and vendors, attracts more than 3,000 visitors each year, and has a positive community vibe—not surprising, given Harrisonburg’s charming reputation. Once you’ve gotten your festival fix, head to Harrisonburg’s vibrant downtown district, which is home to the commonwealth’s first Arts and Culture and Culinary Districts. There’s no shortage of adorable boutiques and locally sourced meals in the area, so whether you’re craving a mouth-watering cheesesteak or creative cocktails, this city’s got you covered. While in the region, take a trip to Shenandoah National Park. A VA bucket-list must, this park is home to 300 square miles of stunning valley views and woodland trails, including the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive. If you’re staying overnight, there’s a ton of camping throughout the park; for a more upscale experience, book a room at the rustic Big Meadows Lodge. 3. 7th ANNUAL CHARLOTTESVILLE PRIDE FESTIVAL (Courtesy Jacob RG Canon) Dates: Sept. 8-15, 2018 Location: Charlottesville Just south of Harrisonburg you’ll find the city of Charlottesville, which provides an escape into the land of golf and wine. A small city (the kind where everyone knows your name), Charlottesville is known for its gay-friendly reputation, offering a wide range of resources, events, and support for the LGBTQ community. Last year, Charlottesville drew over 8,000 partygoers to its week-long celebration of sex positivity. This year, Cville Pride Festival will include a variety of events such as the Miss Gay Charlottesville pageant, film screenings, and drag and musical performances. In terms of where to stay, look no further than Montfair Resort Farm. Located 15 miles outside of Charlottesville, this sprawling property includes nine quaint, eco-friendly cottages (such as Holly Cottage) that offer a romantic vacation experience for every couple. 4. PETERSBURG PRIDE AND PROUD FESTIVAL Date: Sept. 16, 2018 Location: DJ’s Rajun Cajun, Petersburg The Petersburg Pride and Proud Festival is all about grassroots community, so if you’re jonesing for an intimate, community-driven Pride party, this is the one for you. Launched in 2017 by David “DJ” Payne, owner of DJ’s Rajun Cajun, this festival celebrates the strength and support of Petersburg’s LGBTQ community. The festival will be followed by the Out & Proud After Party at Benny’s Tavern. While in Petersburg, book a day to explore the art, architecture, and boutiques of Old Towne, a neighborhood well-loved by film makers for its cobblestone streets and historical sites. Stay at the Omni Richmond Hotel for an elegant Southern experience in a modern setting. 5. VA PRIDEFEST (Courtesy Joey Wharton) Date: Sept. 22, 2018 Location: Brown’s Island, Richmond Last but certainly not least, VA PrideFest is the largest annual celebration of the LGBTQ community in the commonwealth. Organized by Virginia Pride, the 39th annual VA PrideFest expects over 30,000 attendees this year. This festival always attracts a ton of outstanding local vendors and musicians to entertain the masses, making the event an epic party not to be missed. To add to its status as a top LGBTQ travel destination, Richmond will also play host to the state’s first Black Pride festival this year from July 20-22. If you do happen to visit during VA PrideFest, check out the Quirk Hotel’s Pride weekend packages. When you’re making your way through the country’s Pride events this year, be sure to include Virginia on your list of stops. This naturally beautiful state will be throwing 13 of the liveliest and most welcoming Pride events around this year (nearly double last year’s number!), which serve as the perfect jumping off point for exploring Virginia’s charming, historic cities. For more information on other events and LGBTQ-friendly places to stay, check out Virginia Tourism’s website. ____ This article is sponsored content paid for by Virginia is for Lovers. Love is one voice that speaks to us all. And love is here — just waiting for you to find it.
Green & Gorgeous: 12 Environmentally Minded Hotels
Once upon a time, when you booked a hotel, the key things to look for were location, amenities, dining options, and wifi. These days, however, savvy travelers are increasingly attentive to how to plan a getaway without leaving a huge footprint on the local community, not to mention on the planet. Hotels are stepping up and investing money and time to upgrade their facilities so they're more energy efficient, and to work with local farms and organizations to make sure products are locally sourced and nothing goes to waste. Here are just a few of the many examples of hotels that are being as attentive to the earth as they are to guests. 1. TERRANEA RESORTRancho Palos Verdes, CA (Courtesy Terranea Resort) Terranea, a 102-acre resort on the coast of Southern California, diverts 80 percent of its waste from landfills through a thorough sustainability program that includes a strong emphasis on food waste recycling. That makes it one of the most comprehensive recycling programs in the vast Los Angeles area. Speaking of food, seasonal dining menus with local, organic products are the M.O., honey is harvested from the resorts garden, and the chef even harvests his own sea salt from an on-site sea salt conservatory. They’re equally attentive to water use, channeling waters from wet ponds and vegetated wetlands to irrigate its vast property. Those wetlands, moreover, are a habitat for native avian species. In addition to these systemic measures, there’s a serious attention to detail, from biodegradable golf tees to employee uniforms made of bamboo or organic materials.2. THE SAGE INNSanta Fe, NM (Courtesy Sage Inn) You could say that the green experience at the Sage Inn in Santa Fe, New Mexico starts before you even walk through the doors. The hotel is located across the street from the Santa Fe Farmers Market, which is widely recognized as one of the country’s best. The hotel itself is staffed by employees who regularly participate in trainings about sustainable practices. The facility follows stringent conservation practices, including use of high-impact water-saving systems and 100 percent energy efficient lighting, not to mention use of nontoxic cleaning products and recycled products. In 2016 they scored the Tier Two Silver Silver level of the Santa Fe Green Concierge Certification program, overseen by HospitalityGreen’s, and with new practices being implemented regularly, Tier Three Gold level could be in the stars.3. SHERATON PUERTO RICO HOTEL & CASINOSan Juan, PR (Courtesy Sheraton Puerto Rico) Few hotel brands are better known than Sheraton. That’s why it was a milestone when the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino became the first of all the Sheratons in the world to receive the prestigious LEED certification. Among the many measures to earn this prestigious accreditation are the property’s “cool roof,” which lowers the building’s temperature (a huge energy-saver given the tropical heat), a closed-loop system that converts food waste to fertilizer, which is used in the garden that supplies the hotel’s kitchens, and a water-filter system that traps sediment so it can run clean water into the sea. What’s more, if you happen to be on the beach and your phone runs out of battery before you take a selfie to send to your friends at home, call on the hotel’s so-called Energy Butler, which uses wireless chargers to refuel batteries to guests’ mobile devices on and off the property.4. ST. JULIEN HOTEL & SPABoulder, CO (Courtesy St. Julien Hotel & Spa) St. Julien Hotel & Spa in Boulder, Colorado, composts up to 20,000 pounds of materials a month. Also, thanks to its work with a Clean the World, local nonprofit, it’s donated more than 10,000 pounds of amenities and products—soaps, bedding, candles—to relevant local charities. Now, for context, consider that an African Bush Elephant weighs about 13,000 pounds. Yes, that’s a lot of recycling and reuse, and it accounts for close to 80% of the 201-room hotel’s would-be waste. Even the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has stepped up to recognize these and other environmental efforts. But that’s not where St. Julien’s community involvement ends. They regularly partner with other nonprofits to host community events. On America Recycles Day, they teamed up with local groups Blue Star Recyclers and PCs for People to collect more than 1,000 pounds of donated computers.5. THE SHIRE WOODSTOCKWoodstock, VT (Courtesy The Shire) Numbers don’t lie. When you break conservation efforts down to numbers, the sheer force of the green initiatives at The Shire in Woodstock, Vermont are overwhelming and well deserving of its recognition as a Green Hotel by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and the Vermont Small Business Development Center. For instance: 135 photovoltaic panels that generate over 42,000 kilowatt hours each year and a solar hot-water-generating system that generates over 32,000 BTUs of heating capacity annually, and several tons of of yard and landscaping waste get composted annually. And, of course, there’s a comprehensive recycling program, eco-friendly cleaning products, and rain water collection barrels that store irrigation water. After all, this is Vermont.6. LE BALUCHONQuebec, Canada (Le Baluchon) You know the old saying: One person’s trash is another’s….hand-woven reusable bag. Le Baluchon, a self-dubbed “eco resort” in Quebec’s Saint-Paulin neighborhood, is particularly creative with its recycling efforts: when an employee brings in a plastic bag, it goes to local artists who weave the would-be trash into nifty reusable bags that are sold at the Au bout du monde Eco-café, the resort’s rustic, organically-minded eatery. What’s more, a lot of hotels recycle, but Baluchon actually has its own recycling center. And thought it takes all materials, but guests often see the second life of paper, which is recycled into notepads. Its list of other green-minded measures is long and wide-ranging, from investing $1.2 million in a wastewater management system to developing a computerized energy management plan to sending used cooking oil offsite to be processed into biodiesel fuel. And speaking of fuel, in an effort to cut back emissions onsite, no motorized activities are allowed on the property. 7. HOTEL VINTAGE PORTLANDPortland, OR (Courtesy Hotel Vintage Portland) Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest impact. Small things, like putting divided trash bins in each room so guests can separate trash from recycling and offering guests to turn down turndown services boosted the Hotel Vintage Portland, a Kimpton property in Oregon, from a 44 rating to 62 on the notable Energy Star Scorecard since 2008 to 2012. But the hotel didn’t just leave the responsibility to its visitors. In 2016, the hotel, which is retrofitting into an historic building, invested $16 million to upgrade its various mechanical system to improve efficiency, from installing efficient boilers, replacing heat pumps, and retrofitting HVACs. The result: it pushed up the score from 62 to 85 in just one year.8. HYATT REGENCY ATLANTAAtlanta, GA (Courtesy Hyatt Regency Atlanta) We’ve heard lots about the boom in urban gardens in the last few years. Usually it’s a reference to a plot of shared land close in a public park or plot of land in an inner city area. In Georgia, however, arguably the most spectacular urban garden is on the roof of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. It sits 25 stories above Peachtree Street, a bustling and historic thoroughfare in downtown, and it’s fertile ground for tomatoes, peppers, and a variety of other veggies and herbs that chefs in the hotel’s three restaurants—Polaris, Twenty-Two Storys, and Sway—use in their kitchens. There are also beehives, which the hotel upkeeps in partnership with the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, for honey used in the restaurants and sold in the Hyatt’s 24-hour market and coffee shop.9. HARRASEEKET INNPortland, ME (Courtesy Harraseeket Inn) Harraseeket Inn, right outside Portland in Freeport, Maine, is the ideal model of locavore culture. The family-owned luxury country inn does its part to help the community—and the planet—by buying almost entirely local for its restaurant and tavern. That means supporting local sustainable fisheries, baking with Maine flour, and buying hormone-free dairy as well as meat and poultry that’s mindfully raised. But it doesn’t end when the meal is over. They work with a local farm for composting and they use a biodiesel reactor to turn used fry oil into 40-gallons of biodiesel fuel each week. That’s what powers their John Deere tractor, Mercedes station wagon, and Chevrolet pick-up truck. 10. HILTON CHICAGOChicago, IL (Courtesy Hilton Chicago) Chicago is arguably one of the country’s most exciting culinary destinations, so it makes sense that the Hilton Chicago’s environmentally-minded, high-impact initiatives are largely focused on food and committed to community. To wit: in addition to partnering with sustainable hotels in the Midwest, the hotel teams with Windy City Harvest, a nonprofit that employs teens from low-income communities to teach them about urban agriculture. Those young people develop the rooftop farm and beekeeping facility that supplies the restaurants.11. GOLDEN ARROW LAKESIDE RESORTLake Placid, NY (Courtesy Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort) Lake Placid in upstate New York can get pretty frigid in the wintertime, especially on the shores of Mirror Lake. With its 3,400-square-foot green roof that serves as insulation for the building, Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort is well equipped to keep guests warm without much waste, while solar panels on an adjacent roof are the heat source for the laundry service and hotel pool. Situated within the sprawling 6 million acres of Adirondack Park, the family-owned hotel was the first of six American resorts to score the ultimate platinum designation in Audubon International’s hotel eco-rating program. The rooftop herb garden, reserved parking spots for Hybrids, and an in-room recycling program that helps sends an estimated 486 cubic yards of waste off to be recycled each year are just a few of the other factors that earned it that prestigious recognition.12. INN BY THE SEACape Elizabeth, ME (Courtesy Inn by the Sea) From solar panels to recycled cork floors to a salinated cleaning system for the pool, the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine (just outside Portland) boasts a variety of design features that demonstrate why the beachside resort earned its prestigious LEED Silver level certification as well as recognition from the state’s environmental agencies. But more than that, it’s the things that guests do at the sprawling 61-room hotel that really drive home its owners’ commitment to the planet and community. In the warm weather, for instance, a local naturalist offers “beachecology” walks and the property’s head gardener leads classes about cultivating indigenous gardens that can create room and board (ie: habitat and food) for wildlife. Year-round, they work with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland to temporarily foster dogs at the hotel, each of which is ultimately adopted by guests. They’ve seen 73 dogs off to permanent homes so far.
Hotel We Love: Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge, Redding, CA
At the top of the Sacramento Valley in the northernmost part of California, the small city of Redding (population 90,000, give or take) is just a short drive from Sacramento and San Francisco, but it might as well be a world away. Surrounded by no fewer than seven national forests, offering easy access to jaw-dropping lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and redwoods, Redding is the jumping-off point for adventures of all kinds, from kayaking and hiking to olive-oil tasting and winery-hopping. The downtown area has plenty to recommend it, but if you'll be heading north to Lake Shasta Caverns, west to take in the waterfall loop, or putting in time at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the new Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge is a good choice, offering comfort and convenience at a fair price. THE STORY In January 2018, after a decade of planning and construction, the smallest Sheraton property in the country officially opened for business. According to the Record Searchlight, the hotel acquired its parcel of land from Turtle Bay Exploration Park in an effort to help the non-profit generate enough revenue to remain afloat, and so far, the plan seems to be working. The hotel was bustling when I visited, with families, couples, and business travelers traversing the lobby, bellying up to the bar, and enjoying the amenities. THE QUARTERS The brand-new accommodations comprise 124 rooms and 6 suites, all of which feature floor-to-ceiling windows, warm wood paneling, and crisp white linens, not to mention walk-in showers or tubs, 48-inch flat-screen TVs, portable work spaces, in-room safes, and mini-fridges. Traditional rooms sleep four, with two queen beds or one king; the deluxe patio rooms are a step up and offer the same bed configurations, plus a private, topiary-screened outdoor sitting area. Book a club room for access to the lounge and its free breakfast, all-day snacks and beverages, and cocktail-hour wine and hors d’oeuvres, or go all out with one of the cushy suites. THE NEIGHBORHOOD From its perch on the northern edge of town, the Sheraton is a five-minute walk from the Sacramento River and, as the name implies, Santiago Calatrava’s stunning Sundial Bridge. With opaque blue glass under foot and a 217-foot cable-stayed pylon creating a de facto sundial overhead, this cantilevered contraption is one of only two Calatrava bridges in America, and it’s well worth a visit. The bridge connects Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s two campuses, which span 300 acres and boast playgrounds, botanical gardens, a forestry and wildlife center, and hands-on educational activities, like the opportunity to feed beplumed birds at the Parrot Playhouse or a North American beaver on a behind-the-scenes tour. By car, the hotel is just off state route 44 and a few minutes from the I-5 on-ramp, so it's easily accessible from the highway and a quick half-hour drive north to Lake Shasta Caverns. THE FOOD On the premises is Mosaic, a beautiful room that nods to the area's natural splendor, pairing the wood that lines floors, walls, and ceilings with luxe-industrial elements like a granite bar, exposed ductwork, a wood-fired pizza oven, and Edison bulbs galore. Have breakfast here before setting off for Turtle Bay or one of the area’s many state or national parks; try the berries and granola with vanilla yogurt for a light (albeit sweet) start, or an omelet with fennel sausage, caramelized onions, smoked Gouda, and potatoes for something a bit heartier. The pizzas also earn rave reviews. On the way back from Lake Shasta Caverns, stop off at Moseley Family Cellars, a small winery that puts the state’s grapes to good use, and treat yourself to a nice glass of red, then dial it back a notch with a casual dinner. Less than 10 minutes away by car, Guadalajara delivers solid Mexican fare in a kaleidoscopically colorful dining room, where the waitstaff is super-friendly and the portions are huge and reasonably priced. The mole enchiladas, filled with shredded beef and served with rice, refried beans, a smattering of iceberg, and a wedge of tomato alongside a basket of complimentary chips and salsa, taste great after a day on the road—and run just $14.50. ALL THE REST In addition to the usual perks—pool, 24-hour fitness center, free WiFi—the Sheraton Redding is dog-friendly, providing beds and other amenities for an extra $45 per night. Mosaic restaurant even offers a special menu for your canine companion, with entrées like The Charlie, a burger patty with rice and diced apple, and the Max, grilled chicken with kale and carrots, if you choose to eat outside on the patio. Parking is $10 a day if you’re handling it yourself and $12 a day to valet. Tours of Turtle Bay that include meet-and-greets with animal ambassadors are available for $75 per person, but if that’s not in the budget, you can chat with a Turtle Bay trainer and one of their creatures for free on Friday and Saturday mornings in the hotel lobby. For your little ones who can’t get enough of the camping thing, Sheraton staff will set up both tent and sleeping bags in the comfort of your own room. A s’mores package is available for purchase, with marshmallows and all the fixins for roasting by the on-site fire pits. You can also rent kids’ fishing poles at the front desk. RATES & DEETS Starting at $119. Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge820 Sundial Bridge DriveRedding, CA530.364.2800sheratonredding.com