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5 Things to Do in Pasadena, CA

By Maya Stanton
January 12, 2022
Norton Simon Museum Garden Pond
Maya Stanton
Escape from L.A. with a weekend in this rose-loving city, a destination in its own right.

Long overshadowed by the big-city sprawl of Los Angeles and known primarily for the Tournament of Roses, Pasadena is finally coming into its own. With world-class arts institutions, an array of delicious places to eat and drink, and a splash of Hollywood-adjacent glamour, it's an ideal urban escape for Angelenos—and everyone else, too. Here's how to make the most of your time on the ground. 

1. GET OUTSIDE

Huntington-Library-Couple.jpg?mtime=20180823164559#asset:103040An arbor-covered path leads from the Huntington's Japanese garden to its rose garden, where more than 1,200 cultivars of the petaled plants are on display. (Maya Stanton)

It’s rare to find something that appeals to indoor and outdoor types alike, but thanks to an extensive collection of European and American art, a research library filled with treasures, and lush botanical gardens spanning 120-some acres, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (huntington.org) does just that. Get here early to explore the premises, from the Garden of Flowering Fragrance, an oasis in the tradition of Suzhou, China’s scholar gardens, to a walled Zen garden to one of the world’s largest collections of mature cacti and succulents. Then check out the library: Book lovers will drool over a handwritten draft of Jack London’s White Fang, a breathtakingly illustrated Canterbury Tales manuscript, and a vellum copy of the Gutenberg bible, just one of 12 known copies in existence. At $29 for adults, $24 for seniors and full-time students, and $13 for kids ages 4-11, weekend tickets are on the pricey side, but you'll need a solid amount of time here to take it all in anyway, so you'll easily get your money’s worth. Or you can just book in advance for free entry on the first Thursday of the month.

2. ABSORB SOME ART

Norton-Simon-museum-statue-garden.jpg?mtime=20180823164608#asset:103043From Rodin's The Thinker to Aristide Maillol's Mountain (above) to a circa-1100 Buddha from India's Tamil Nadu state, the Norton Simon Museum's sculpture garden features work from a variety of artists. (Maya Stanton)

With a lush sculpture garden, an impressive selection of 19th and 20th-century art, and a deep array of paintings, bronzes, woodblock prints, and stone sculpture from South and Southeast Asia, the Norton Simon Museum (nortonsimon.org) is as refreshing as a blast of cool air on a hot summer day. Situated on almost eight acres of land in the center of town, this jewel of an institution was renovated in 1999 by Frank Gehry and landscape architect Nancy Goslee Power, and its tranquil grounds draw inspiration from Monet’s Impressionist gardens, while its galleries provide a respite from the California sun. Come for classic work from Renoir, Degas, and Van Gogh, stay for pieces by modern masters like Picasso, Rivera, and Kandinsky, and don't miss the huge, eye-catching murals by northern California native Sam Francis. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, and free for kids under 18 and students and military personnel with a valid ID, but those on a budget should drop by on the first Friday of the month, when it’s a free-for-all from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. 

3. EAT YOUR HEART OUT

Sage-vegan-restaurant-food.jpg?mtime=20180823164701#asset:103048For plant-based fare, the Pasadena branch of local mini-chain Sage Vegan Bistro is where it's at. (Maya Stanton)

Boasting 500 restaurants within its city limits, Pasadena offers no shortage of dining options—and, from the birthplace of culinary legend Julia Child, you’d expect nothing less. Hit Lunasia Dim Sum House (lunasiadimsumhouse.com) for extra-large, translucent har gow, baby bok choy simmered in fish broth, or scallop-topped squid-ink-skinned dumplings. In Old Pasadena, Café Santorini (cafesantorini.com) draws crowds for its stellar Mediterranean fare, from overflowing mezze plates and pastas to and oversized salads topped with generous portions of chicken milanese or lemony sautéed seafood. Just across the alley, the plant-based Sage Vegan Bistro (sageveganbistro.com) makes comfort food feel virtuous. Go light with a green juice, or all-out with avocado toast, polenta tots, or a colorful, hearty breakfast bowl. For a real knockout, splurge at Union Restaurant (unionpasadena.com), an intimate neighborhood spot that puts a California spin on northern Italian cuisine. You could make a meal out of the appetizers—a simple arugula salad showered with Pecorino pairs well with rich chunks of charred avocado, and the grilled octopus is the stuff of dreams, a crispy, tender tentacle plated with burnt eggplant, sweet-pepper puree, and Fresno chiles—but then you’d miss out on the rest of the outstanding seasonal menu. The key is to pace yourself: Order a glass of bubbly rosé and a snack to start, choose from plates like pappardelle with peppers and pork sugo or squid-ink pasta with lobster, Meyer lemon, and truffle butter, and settle in for the long haul. 

4. GO BEHIND THE SCENES

Downtown-Pasedena-town-hall.jpg?mtime=20180823164557#asset:103039Pasadena's City Hall has made frequent appearances on screens small and large, standing in, with equal aplomb, for the police station in Beverly Hills Cop II and an American embassy in Mexico in The Net. Fans of Parks and Recreation might also recognize it as small-town Pawnee’s city hall. (Maya Stanton) 

A go-to filming location for the likes of Rob Reiner and Quentin Tarantino, Pasadena is basically Hollywood East, and you can follow in your favorite directors’ footsteps, courtesy of a Pasadena Film Tour ($50; myvalleypass.com). The three-hour bus excursion is led by the enthusiastic Jared Cowan, a writer, production buff, and Philly transplant who’s scouted some of the city’s most noteworthy locations, from the famous facade of Doc Brown’s house in Back to the Future (a National Historic Landmark that's now owned by the city and operated by the USC School of Architecture for docent-led tours and events) to the historic Raymond Theatre, which served as the backdrop for talents as diametrically opposed as Whitney Houston and Spinal Tap, as well as less-recognizable spots like the narrow alley through which Bruce Willis escapes after his ill-fated boxing match in Pulp Fiction. You’ll never watch your favorite flicks the same way again.

5. SMELL THE ROSES

Perhaps Pasadena’s best-known draw, the Rose Bowl is one of the country’s preeminent venues, and if you have a chance to attend an event here, go! Since its first college football game kicked off in 1923, the historic blue-grass field has hosted everything from Olympic events to LA Galaxy soccer games to artists like Pink Floyd and Beyoncé, not to mention 90-plus years of college football games. It more than lives up to its reputation as a great place to see a show. 

THE DETAILS

East of Los Angeles, some 30 miles from the airport, Pasadena is easily accessible from LAX by cab, shuttle bus, or metro. The city is highly walkable, but it also has a strong public transit system and a plethora of Uber and Lyft drivers on call at any given time. The Hilton Pasadena (hilton.com) is centrally located, just steps from Colorado Boulevard’s shops and restaurants, a 20-minute walk to Old Pasadena, and less than 10 minutes by car to the Huntington Library and the Norton Simon Museum. And, with minimal rainfall and average temperatures hovering anywhere between the low 90s in August and the high 60s in winter, there’s never a bad time to visit.

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Budget Travel Lists

6 Oahu Hikes That Belong on Your Bucket List

From picturesque views of turquoise water to stunning waterfalls and lush tropical forests, there is a trail on Oahu to please every type of outdoor enthusiast and hikers of all skill levels. The best part? Working them into a day full of other adventures is a cinch. All quadrants of the island have a hike to offer tourists and locals alike, as well as sights to see and food to devour. Whether it is a quick sweat session followed by some fun in the sun or a longer, more strenuous workout with pupus to punctuate the day, there is something for everyone on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu.  1. Koko Head Crater Trail (Gennadiyp/Dreamstime) Koko Head Crater Trail, one of the most strenuous island hikes, is a former railway turned hike that is not for the faint of heart. Comprised of over 1,000 railway ties arranged like stairs, this 1.5-mile roundtrip trek will test the endurance of even the most avid hikers with steep inclines and a portion that acts as a bridge, as the under footing has completely eroded. The panoramic views of Hanauma Bay, Hawaii Kai, and Makapu’u make this hike worth it. The wide “stairs” offer plenty of space to step off to the side for a water break and it’s not uncommon to see children and runners frequenting this trail—it’s popular! Try to get here before it gets too hot, and be sure to pack plenty of water. When finished, head into Kaimuki, a suburb of Honolulu, for brunch at Koko Head Cafe (headed up by Top Chef alum Lee Ann Wong) and stay awhile to browse at Sugarcane Shop, a local boutique that sources gifts and souvenirs from local artists. 2. Lanikai Pillboxes (Kalai80/Dreamstime) Located on the east side of Oahu, Lanikai Pillboxes is a short hike that offers screensaver-worthy views of turquoise water and white sandy beaches throughout. The one-mile roundtrip trail starts with a steep vertical incline, then hits relatively flat terrain followed by a hilly peak before reaching the summit marked by two "pillboxes" (former military bunkers). Views at the top extend over Kailua and Lanikai Beaches, some of the best the windward side of Oahu has to offer, with the Mokulua Islands dotting the backdrop. Because the entrance to this hike is buried within a residential neighborhood across from the Mid Pacific Country Club, parking can be tricky, so adhere to the no-parking signs and be respectful of homeowners' driveways. The Pillboxes put you in a prime location for venturing into Kailua Town for post-hike light bites at the Kalapawai Café (be sure to order the browned-butter salted chocolate chip cookie for later), followed by shave ice, a Hawaiian staple, at President Obama’s favorite haunt, Island Snow. 3. Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail (Patrick Evans/Dreamstime) Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail’s fully paved incline makes it stroller-friendly and easy to navigate without worrying about footing, but the cliffs are steep at points, and the trail doesn’t have guardrails, so little ones have to be watched closely if they’re on their own two feet. A lookout point on the way up offers information about viewing the humpback whale migration, which occurs from November through early spring. There’s a viewing scope, but pack a pair of binoculars to increase your chances of seeing a whale or other wildlife. Views of Makapu’u Lighthouse and Koko Head greet hikers who navigate the mile to the very top, and on clear days, neighboring islands Molokai and Lanai can be visible in the distance. When you’re back at sea level, make a right out of the Makapu’u parking area, drive the coastal highway into Waimanalo for burritos at Serg’s Mexican Kitchen or a vegan plate from Ai Love Nalo, and enjoy your well-earned grub right on Waimanalo Beach, which is consistently ranked one of America’s best beaches. 4. Ehukai Pillbox Hike (Kaitlin Hanson) A short uphill hike, the Ehukai Pillbox is distinguished by the historic World War II bunkers on Oahu’s North Shore. The path’s entrance is located across the street from Sunset Beach and a muddy trail with a few built-in stairs that lead to captivating views of the famed Banzai Pipeline, where surfers like Kelly Slater and John John Florence ride the waves each winter. A painted picnic bench makes for a good water break stop before heading up to the first bunker, where the forest opens up to unobstructed ocean views. For those continuing to the second pillbox, a giant peace sign painted on a rock marks the spot where soldiers would watch for enemy ships during World War II. The incline on this 1.5-mile roundtrip hike is enough to make it slightly strenuous, so be sure to stop by Ted’s Bakery to refuel. Grab a slice of the famous haupia pie and take it across the street to eat on the sand before continuing on to explore Turtle Bay Resort, where Forgetting Sarah Marshall was filmed. 5. Aiea Loop Trail (Joshua Mcdonough/Dreamstime) The Aiea Loop Trail is an easy-to-moderate trail that clocks in at just under five miles and overlooks Honolulu and the surrounding neighborhoods. Mostly covered by lush foliage, the trail meanders through slight elevation changes and is a good choice for a more shaded experience. Part of the greater Keaiwa Heiau State Park (open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.), the Loop also leads to Kalauao Falls, which can be accessed via a side trail, an option for more experienced hikers who can easily navigate steep inclines. The trailhead is centrally located on the island, which makes it a great option before or after visiting Pearl Harbor (advance reservations recommended). On the way back toward Honolulu on Nimitz Highway, stop at La Tour Cafe for a crispy chicken sandwich, then try a coco puff, a cream-filled pastry that all the locals rave about, a half-mile down the road at Liliha Bakery. Drive just a bit further into the up-and-coming neighborhood of Kaka’ako to explore the hand-painted murals by local artists that are refreshed annually. 6. Waimea Falls Park + Botanical Garden (Kaitlin Hanson) Hikers of all levels can enjoy Waimea Falls (open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; $17 for adults, discounted admission for seniors, children, and military), a tropical park that boasts a botanical garden and waterfall, located across the street from Waimea Bay. Around two miles out and back, the lush flora and fauna of Oahu surround a simple walking trail that leads to the 30-foot waterfall. A run-off pool below offers visitors the opportunity to cool off and take a dip under lifeguard supervision. Exhibit signs along the trail provide guests the opportunity to learn about the plants and history of Waimea Valley. After visiting the waterfall, head a half-mile up the road to snorkel or dive at Shark’s Cove, one of the best spots on the island for spotting marine life. Before heading out, walk across the street to grab a fresh poke bowl or Tsunami Sandwich from Aji Limo Food Truck, then relax on the sand to catch the sunset at Waimea Bay.

Budget Travel Lists

5 Things You Should Know About Fallingwater

An open floor plan. Built-in storage. Clean, organic lines, and a harmonious indoor-outdoor balance. These hallmarks of mid-century modern design tend to be associated with American architecture in the 1940s, ‘50s, and '60s—the actual mid-century—but the style took root well before that. One of the most iconic examples of the genre is Fallingwater, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, built in the ‘30s, that puts an organic spin on stark mid-century simplicity. Just over an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh, the last 20 miles or so via a stretch of curvy, tree-lined, two-lane state highway, the home isn’t visible from the road; guests park in a lot and check in at the visitors’ center for the guided tour, the only way to set foot inside this storied property.  It’s a short walk from there to the house itself, and when it finally comes into view, it's hard to believe it went up some 80 years ago, thanks to its ultra-modern handling of space and forward-thinking design touches. Arguably the pinnacle of Wright's influential career, the home was designed as a weekend retreat for the Kaufmann family, department-store moguls from Pittsburgh who hosted such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo in their splendid new digs. In 1963, Fallingwater was deeded to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and it opened to the public the year after. Since that time, more than 5 million visitors have passed through to pay homage to the fruits of a visionary’s labor. You'll have to book a tour to really experience this quintessential piece of American architecture, but here’s a sneak peek of what awaits behind the falls. 1. MAKING A MASTERPIECE (Courtesy Western Pennsylvania Conservancy) When Fallingwater was conceptualized in 1935, Wright was nearing 70 and in a bit of a lull career-wise, thanks to some personal scandals that made him untouchable among the upper crust he relied on for commissions. Some 30 years prior, in his early work in the Midwest, he had embraced the philosophy of organic architecture, and the Kaufmanns’ weekend retreat would turn out to be one of the most striking examples of his approach. Contrary to the family’s expectations of a home overlooking the falls, Wright told his clients that they’d appreciate it more if the waterfall became a part of their everyday life—and if they had to travel to take in the view—so he opted to incorporate the rushing water and natural landscape into the very build.  He cantilevered the entire building over the falls, making the water the focal point, its sound a constant companion and source of ambiance. The wealthy Kaufmanns agreed to pay $30,000 for a main house and a guest house, both fully furnished. ($4,000 was the average cost of a three-bedroom/one-bath home at the time.) They owned the land, and the materials were on site, so they expected that to be the end of discussion, but the final tally spiraled to $155,000—the equivalent of nearly $3 million today. But it proved worth it. The family moved in in December 1937, and Fallingwater became an immediate sensation, starring in a Museum of Modern Art exhibit and features in Time, Life, and Architectural Forum the next month. 2. PLAYING WITH PERCEPTION (Christopher Little/Courtesy Western Pennsylvania Conservancy) After butting heads with the Kaufmanns over his proposed vision and the costs it would entail, Wright began building in 1936, with concrete, native Pottsville sandstone, glass, steel and other materials excavated on site and brought in by draft horses and rail. With the idea of compression of space in mind, he created the entrance as a tunnel so visitors would approach the house from the front. You squeeze through that shadowy passageway to get inside, and when you reach the main room, it practically explodes with natural light, made to seem even brighter thanks to the preceding darkness. Wright relied on that sense of compression throughout the house to manipulate the experience, and you'll notice the contrast between darkness and light, open spaces and tight ones, as you move between the cave-like interiors and the broad outdoor terraces and walkways. Frank Lloyd Wright is widely recognized as the father of the open floor plan, a lynchpin of the Prairie school of architecture he pioneered in the early 20th century, and even as late as the ‘30s, Fallingwater’s open layout was a surprising deviation from the norm.  3. HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTH IS (Christopher Little/Courtesy Western Pennsylvania Conservancy) Wright believed that the fireplace was the centerpiece of the home, and Fallingwater is no exception. In keeping with the architect's commitment to organic materials and design, the hearth here springs directly from the natural setting. Wright fit the house into and around the boulders surrounding the waterfall on which it’s perched, and one boulder is even weight-bearing and built into the decor. It's a huge piece of rock: Half is in the kitchen, and the other extends into the living room from the outside, creating the hearthstone itself. Under foot, the floors are boulders treated with wax to make them look wet, shiny, and reminiscent of the water. 4. WINDOWS ON THE WORLD (Christopher Little/Courtesy Western Pennsylvania Conservancy) If the moving water is the star, the windows take the award for best supporting player. With steel sashes that practically float into the the walls and no blinds or curtains to distract from the view, the soaring windows welcome the outside in. (And if Wright had had his way, they would’ve been even more welcoming; for aesthetic purposes, the architect argued against installing mosquito screens, but the Kaufmanns drew the line at that.) On their own, the banks of windows are dramatic, but the understated details are just as impressive, if not more so. Take, for example, the corner windows: An innovation of Wright’s own making, the bevel-edged panes open up entirely, bringing in light where it hadn’t been before. It was a groundbreaking design element that would, in the following years, become popular worldwide.  5. THE DETAILS Nothing in the house is behind glass or protected in any way, so there’s a strict no-touching rule in effect. Guided tours are offered daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Wednesdays); tickets start at $30 for adults and $18 for kids ages 6-12. Advance bookings are strongly recommended, and children under the age of 6 are not permitted. Admission includes access to the grounds as well as a small gallery adjacent to the visitors' center, with exhibits that put Fallingwater in the greater context of Wright's work and the Kaufmann family's background; there's also an extensive gift shop worth browsing as you wait for your group's number to be called. And, for a light bite before or after your tour, there's a surprisingly good café on site. Sandwiches and salads are prepared with more care than you'd expect, but the desserts steal the show. If it's available, definitely grab a slice of Wright's traditional birthday treat, a lighter-than-it-sounds layer cake with strawberry jam and copious-yet-ethereal tiers of whipped cream. fallingwater.org.

Budget Travel Lists

6 Things to Do in Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia, looks like a satellite of Norway, feels like a more laidback yet just as hip version of Vancouver, and prides itself on showing off all the things that make it distinctly Canadian, from its history to its local food, beer, and spirits. British Columbia’s cheerful, welcoming capital city on Vancouver Island is 72 miles southwest of Vancouver, but there’s easy access from Seattle. Flights are under an hour, and the fast-speed ferry takes about two hours and 45 minutes. The Capital City Region District, which includes Victoria and its surrounding townships, has a population of about 350,000 people, and there are strong creative and entrepreneurial contingents among them, as evident from the food, drink, stores, galleries, and general vibe of the downtown area. But even a city as small as this offers plenty to do, and that’s to say nothing of a surrounding natural landscape that beckons hikers and outdoorsy types. We rounded up a few things to do when you plan your northern island getaway. 1. The Royal Treatment: Empress Hotel (Courtesy Empress Hotel) The Empress Hotel (fairmont.com/empress-victoria) is probably the city’s glitziest attraction. The majestic hotel, a National Historic Site of Canada, was built between 1904 and 1908 and underwent a $60 million renovation in 2017. You do not, however, need to be staying in one of their luxe accommodations to enjoy its glamour. In fact, the hotel is probably better known for its High Tea, an enduring tribute to the city’s British namesake, than its accommodations. Stop by for the stately afternoon ceremony and indulge in elegant finger food and tea. Night owls, there’s something for you, too. Q Bar, the hotel’s stylish restaurant, a sweeping old-world space adorned with punk-tinged portraits of the queen, is known for its locally minded breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus as well as its terrific cocktail list. For a true local—and somewhat surreal—experience, ask for the 1908 cocktail. It’s made with 1908 gin, a spirit made about 30 miles away at Victoria Distillers (victoriadistillers.com), a sleek waterfront distillery with a tasting room so elaborate, they call it a lounge. The gin is unique for its inclusion of butterfly pea blossom in its botanical mix, which changes color from royal blue to rose pink when it mixes with citrus or anything else acidic. It’s as beautiful to look at as it is to taste. 2. Shop Around: Victoria Public Market (Marc Bruxelle/Dreamstime) Live music and cooking demos are just a few of the added enticements at Victoria Public Market (victoriapublicmarket.com), which opened in the fall of 2013 in a 102-year-old building. On the 290-by-50-mile Victoria Island, where the Capital Region District covers about 7 percent of the land, you can imagine how much room there is for farms, dairies, wineries, and the sorts of spaces where local makers can create. Their wares and items from around the world are on display at this lively year-round emporium, which doubles as a food court and includes outdoor vendors in the warmer months. Check out the Victorian Pie Company for sweet and savory options, the French Oven, which specializes in baguettes, croissants, and other Gallic treats, and Very Good Butchers, which has a cult following for tasty plant-based meat alternatives that even a carnivore can love. The Market is also where you’ll find Silk Road, a tea purveyor and local staple since it started in Victoria’s large Chinatown in 1992, and the engaging Olive the Senses, which offers over a dozen flavors of olive oil, more than a dozen vinegars (rose balsamic white, anyone, or dark cherry balsamic?), and a staff that can educate you on all of them. 3. Beer Here There are more than 150 craft brewers in British Columbia. But in 1984, before craft beer became mainstream, curious local imbibers could be found at Spinnaker’s (spinnakers.com), which dubs itself a “gastro brewpub” and is recognized as Canada’s first brewpub. Decades later, as breweries continue to open and grow, Spinnaker’s popularity hasn’t flagged. You could chalk that up to the laser focus on farm-to-table dishes and commitment to working with local farmers, you could chalk it up to the creative brews they continue to come up with, or you could say that it’s the intrigue factor of pairing the beer with the food. Either way, it’s hard to resist trying something like a sour beer aged in a tequila barrel, is just one recent examples of their imaginative creations. Beer isn’t the only fermented liquid they specialize in. A bottle from their diverse selection of housemade malt vinegars makes for an excellent souvenir, while the handmade truffles they sell—lavender and peppercorn, chipotle and bacon—will likely get gobbled up before you get home. But back to beer. The city is small, but the presence of local beer isn’t. Swans Brewpub, another early downtown arrival (1989) is an airy lodge-like space in an old warehouse that now anchors a charming hotel. Phillips Brewing, just a short walk from the center of downtown, offers tours and samples in their tasting room, and Riot Brewing, which has a tasting room and kid-friendly patio, is worth the hour’s drive north up the scenic coast. 4. Miniature World: Little Wonders (Liza Weisstuch) The only thing big about Miniature World ($15 for adults, $11 for seniors, $10 for youths, and $8 for kids) is the impression it’ll make on you. Founded in 1971 and housed in the Empress, though only accessible from an entrance around the back of the building, the museum is a wonderland of vast dioramas filled with itty-bitty figurines, trains, boats, animals, furniture, food, castles, architectural marvels, and natural wonders. The 85 scenes are inspired by everything from fairy tales to literature to war battles. There are too many highlights to point out, but don’t miss the operational sawmill, the planet’s largest dollhouse, the carnival with working Ferris wheel, and the tremendous model train.  5. Whisky Galore Canadian whisky is having a moment. Big time. More and more craft distilleries are opening from coast to coast—including several on the island—and mass-produced whiskies that had fallen into the shadows of bourbon and single malt Scotch are getting their mojo back. When it comes to native hooch, bars throughout the city are not holding back, and you can visit any number of them to sample a selection and learn what the big deal is. At Clarke & Co. (clarke-co.ca), a lively cocktail den with a vintage wood bar and casual small plates, the emphasis is on the regional whisky and imaginative cocktails. Little Jumbo (littlejumbo.ca) hews to the modern-day speakeasy-style joint, with only a subtle pink elephant sign above the entrance, which leads to a long hall with a down-the-rabbit-hole feel. The bar is a dimly lit throwback to the jazz age, with forward-thinking cocktails made with fresh ingredients and house bitters. Reservations are recommended. For a sampling of Canadian hooch in a decidedly Canadian setting, hit Argyle Attic (argyleattic.com), where the whisky menu features clever tasting notes that will guide any novice and impress a seasoned tippler. With a taxidermied moose on the wall, vintage photographs posted throughout, and poutine on the menu, it’s a fine backdrop for a flight or one of the excellent cocktails. 6. Fan Tan Alley: On the Straight and Narrow  (Lembi Buchanan/Dreamstime) You might not notice Fan Tan Alley if you pass it at night, what with it being the most narrow street in Canada and all, but in the daytime, this passage, bordered by brick buildings with vast storefront windows, is quite the draw. First things first: The discovery of gold in British Columbia in 1858 led to the influx of Chinese immigrants, largely from California, and today Victoria lays claim to the oldest Chinatown in Canada and the second oldest in North America, after San Francisco. The alley—just 35 inches at its most narrow point—was once a gambling district packed with opium dens and stores. In 2001, the local government designated it a heritage property. Today, it’s a shopping strip with a miscellany of stores, like Whirled Arts, which specializes in jewelry and women’s clothing, Heart’s Content (heartscontentvictoriaca.com), a haven for punk rock fans, and perhaps the most destination-worthy of all, the Umbrellatorium and Canery (umbrellatorium.com), a cheery Victorian-accented shop with more styles of umbrellas and walking sticks than you ever thought existed. 

Budget Travel Lists

Discover These 10 NYC Museums

The Met and the Guggenheim are world-famous—worthy of a pilgrimage, some would say—but New York's museums extend far beyond the 28-block stretch of Fifth Avenue that's official recognized as Museum Mile. Smaller institutions throughout the city's five boroughs bring various aspects of local history, industry, and culture to life. From Midtown Manhattan to Staten Island to the Bronx, here are 10 gems that shine. Shining a light on maritime history: National Lighthouse Museum Everyone knows that New York City has historically been a center of finance, art, and theater. It’s nautical history, however, remains a bit under the radar. That heritage comes to life at the National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island, just a quick walk from the ferry terminal. Located in a 1912 foundry building on the former site of the once bustling US Lighthouse Service’s General Depot (one of the six remaining buildings from the original 18), the largely self-guided museum explains everything you never thought there was to know about lighthouse upkeep, the life of lightkeepers, and the physics of light projection. You’ll never look at nautical navigation the same way again. Picture perfect: Museum of the Moving Image It's no stretch to think of the Museum of the Moving Image like a mini-Smithsonian Institute, what with its all-encompassing collection that represent American culture. The museum, which opened in Astoria, Queens, in 1981 in the former home of the once illustrious Astoria Studios, features about 130,000 objects relating to film, television, sports and news broadcasting, and even video games. Plus, there was a recent exciting development: A Jim Henson exhibit, once a temporary display of all things Muppets and Sesame Street, became a permanent part of the museum's collection in 2017. Add that to everything from costumes from Gone With the Wind to vintage cartoon and comic book memorabilia to old-fashioned film and recording equipment and vintage movie theater furnishings, and an afternoon here presents a vivid portrait of America’s love affair with entertainment. It all adds up: National Museum of Mathematics (Courtesy Museum of Mathematics) Algebra and geometry might not be part of your most riveting high school memories, but the family-friendly Museum of Mathematics, a two-story tech-forward playground that opened near Madison Square Park in Manhattan in 2012, wants to change your opinions of algorithms, physics and optics. Committed to showing how so many of the glorious things we take for granted are a direct consequence of an intricate natural numbers game, it offers interactive exhibits are designed to illuminate how shapes, angles, curves, and motion work. That’s no small undertaking, but with exhibits like a pixilated floor that reacts to movement and a rectangle-wheeled tricycle that moves smoothly along a corrugated track, odds are you’ll walk out excited to talk about paraboloids, catenaries, and tessellation. Logically. Next stop: New York Transit Museum (Demerzel21/Dreamstime) Between delays and overcrowding, the New York subway system gets a bad rap. But when you stop and think about the fact that the 150-plus-year old system with 472 stations—the most of any mass transit operation in the world—runs 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, delays are a small price to pay to ride on this remarkable network. The New York Transit Museum, located in a 1936 subway station in downtown Brooklyn, features vintage cars dating back to 1907 and permanent exhibits that pay tribute to engineering, construction, employees, and many other aspects that ensure the system keeps people moving. Historical artifacts, old signage, video footage, photography, and structures like vintage turnstiles collectively tell the dynamic story of this system that has helped define New York City. Temporary exhibits cover topics like the subway’s role in comic books. And yes, the museum is walking distance from four subway stations and six different lines, so be sure to take the train here. Coming to America: Tenement Museum Few images of late 19th- and early 20th-century American history are more iconic than those of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. The Tenement Museum offers a snapshot of their lives once they settled in New York City. Located on the fast-gentrifying Lower East Side in two tenement buildings, a National Historic Site that housed an estimated 15,000 working class people between 1863 and 2014, the museum presents interactive exhibits and displays that tell vivid stories about families adopting new identities and making new lives for themselves. Throughout fives floors of exhibits, you’ll learn about garment factory workers, kosher butchers, and shop owners, transmitting a vivid sense of what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. There’s also a variety of neighborhood walking tours, including one that samples the area’s ethnic foods and one that points out historic sites that played into the daily immigrant experience. Be a part of it: Museum of the City of New York (Courtesy Filip Wolak) For a deep dive into the history of this ever-changing metropolis and work by some of its most renowned residents, the Museum of the City of New York is hard to beat. Housed in a 1932 Georgian Colonial-Revival building in East Harlem, the institution is a tribute to the city's status as a hub of urban creativity. With an impressive collection of some 750,000 objects spanning photography and sculpture to costumes and theatrical memorabilia, there’s too much to display at one time, but with rotating exhibits drawing from such a varied collection, there’s bound to be something for everyone here. Broadway nerds will thrill to Eugene O’Neill’s handwritten drafts and Gershwin Brothers’ memorabilia, while those fascinated by the details will appreciate maps and ephemera from the 17th century on. You can even see hand-painted casts of famous New York boxers’ hands in the sculpture collection. Northern exposure: Museum of Bronx History Aside from pilgrimages to Yankee Stadium and the other Little Italy, Arthur Avenue, the Bronx doesn’t get much non-local love. And that’s a shame, because the Museum of Bronx History is well worth the trek north. Located in a 1758 house – the borough’s second-oldest – with original details like oak and pine floorboards and hand-forged nails, the building that holds the museum survived a two-day, one-block move in the 1960s and is now as much an attraction as its contents. Opened in 1968, the museum’s main level features two galleries with rotating exhibits and a permanent display in the front parlor that digs into the Bronx backstory, from the arrival of the Dutch to the booting of the British. Get on board: Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (Tomasz Wozniak/Dreamstime) It’s not often that you get the chance to live out your Top Gun fantasies and learn about America’s history of science and service at the same time, but at Manhattan’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, you can do just that. A legendary aircraft carrier that faced kamikaze attacks and torpedo strikes during World War II, tracked Soviet submarines during the Cold War, picked up NASA astronauts on their return from space in the ‘60s, and served three tours of duty in Vietnam, the Intrepid is now docked on the Hudson River, where it hosts more than a million visitors a year. Explore the ship from top to bottom – or, to be specific, from the flight deck to the third deck – to get a feel for life as a recruit. And be sure to allow time for the rest of the museum’s collection, too. Featuring an array of carefully preserved and restored aircraft, there are plenty of superlatives to see, including the world’s first space shuttle, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier on its maiden voyage, and the plane flown by the first President Bush during World War II. A family affair: Museum of the American Gangster From Al Capone to The Godfather, little holds a place in the American imagination like the Mafia, and at the Museum of the American Gangster in the East Village, you can descend into the criminal underworld – for an afternoon, at least. A former speakeasy turned shrine to organized crime, the two-room museum investigates the role of illegal enterprise in the development of cities like New York and Chicago, from politics and culture to myths and urban legends. Plus, it boasts a collection of artifacts that would make even the most hardened mobster jealous, from the shell casings from the shootout that ended Bonnie and Clyde’s bank-robbing spree to the death masks of John Dillinger. No vows of loyalty required for entry. Fun and games: Coney Island Museum (Courtesy Norman Blake) Home to a world-famous hot-dog eating contest, a legendary boardwalk, a long-running, near-legendary sideshow, and a 91-year-old wooden roller coaster that’s earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, Brooklyn’s Coney Island has served as a respite from city life since its inaugural hotel went up in the 1920s. You can learn about its storied history at the Coney Island Museum. Founded in 1981 and located just across the street from a subway terminus, this small second-story establishment is like wandering into an eccentric uncle’s attic. Past the funhouse mirrors, you’ll find a treasure trove of vintage ephemera and antique collectibles – photos, ticket stubs, postcards, game signage, and actual cars from decommissioned coasters – as well as exhibitions detailing the amusement parks that came before, and the neighborhood’s evolution from upscale retreat to freak-friendly phenomenon to G-rated vacation destination. It’s the perfect place to embrace your weird side.