Put Leap Year's Extra Day to Good Use With a Trip to These Destinations

By BT Editor
February 1, 2004
Downtown Cary Park
Downtown Cary Park in North Carolina - courtesy of Visit Raleigh

This year, 2024, is a leap year. While February 29th may feel like just another day, why not put that extra time to good use by traveling? Explore a new town or extend an already-planned vacation just a bit longer. Below are four destinations that make a perfect spot to visit this time of year.

Spend a few nights in Lake Placid, New York

Mountain Lake Vista views in Lake Placid, New York by Susan Jones - Unsplash

Stay with High Peaks Resort for three nights, from February 24 through March 5, 2024 and get the fourth night free. Discover cozy rooms with Mirror Lake views, savor historic dining at Dancing Bears Restaurant, and embrace winter adventures in the Adirondacks.

The resort is the perfect place to make a homebase while exploring the Adirondacks, with easy access to Whiteface Mountain (35-minute drive), the Olympic sites, and many other top attractions in the area. The resort offers three unique lodging experiences, from a traditional hotel experience in the High Peaks Resort, to a modern retro-vibe in the Lake House, to privacy and serenity in the Waterfront Collection (including suites with fireplaces!). Guests enjoy sweeping views of the Adirondack mountains, arts and crafts, family movie nights, s’mores building and marshmallow toasting, birds of prey demonstrations and dining specials in Dancing Bears Restaurant. Make this Leap Year unforgettable at High Peaks Resort. Book now and experience a magical Lake Placid getaway.

Eat out in Raleigh, North Carolina

New cuisine at Madre in Raleigh, North Carolina - courtesy of Madre/Visit Raleigh

If you haven't visited Raleigh recently, there's no time like the present, and 2024 is packed with exciting new restaurants, bars, and breweries. Raleigh is an ever-evolving capital city that artfully blends tradition with innovation, creativity with sciences and excitement with relaxation.

In the past year, the city has seen several new dining establishments open:

  • SAAP, which means 'delicious' in Laotian, is the newest restaurant from Chef and Laos native Lou Bounsanga, formerly of Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana. SAAP's menu is divided into small plates, large plates and a wok section for fried rice and noodle dishes. The restaurant overlooks the stunning Downtown Cary Park.
  • Beloved Raleigh Chef Cheetie Kumar and partner Paul Siler opened their much-anticipated new restaurant, Ajja, in the Five Points neighborhood. Kumar's new eatery features an indoor-outdoor area with bright, fresh Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes.
  • Head to Madre for a celebration of motherly hospitality and the beautiful way of life along the Mediterranean that offers fresh and inventive Spanish tapas. Madre's interior was thoughtfully conceived by local designer, Bryan Costello, well-known for his collaborations with Heights House Hotel and the NCMA Cafe.
  • Eastcut Sandwich Bar, specializing in East Coast sandwich culture, was the first restaurant to open in Raleigh's new Iron Works development.
  • Now open in the Smoky Hollow District is Midwood Smokehouse, a wildly popular Charlotte-based barbeque joint known for its all-hickory-smoked barbeque.
  • After much success with his northern Virginia and Maryland locations, Chef Victor Albisu opened Taco Bamba in Raleigh with its menu honoring traditional flavors and boasting Raleigh-themed items like the Sir Walter torta with Carolina-style beef franks and the Wolfpack poutine. Local restauranteur
  • Giorgios Bakatsias opened three new restaurants in Raleigh in 2023: Giorgio Pizza Bar, Las Ramblas and East End Bistrot.
  • Finally, downtown Raleigh is now home to Chido Taco, a casual Mexican restaurant serving traditional street tacos, quesadillas and burritos while also offering an assortment of tequilas and mezcals.

The fun doesn't end there. A slew of new breweries and bars also opened last year including Ashley Christensen's Fox's Liquor Bar (re-opening after a three-year hiatus), East Bower Cider Company (Raleigh's first cidery), Cuya Cocktail Bar (a cocktail bar and music garden perched in the middle of Glenwood South and the sister bar to Cortez), Incendiary Brewing (from Winston-Salem) and Gussie's (a comfortable, lounge-like space for the community with a grab-and-go retail shop and bar known for specialty drinks and chef-driven sharable bites) to name a few. Long-time Raleigh favorites, Kings and Neptunes have both reopened post-pandemic under new management offering live music and always a good time. Finally and fortunately, Raleigh's oldest movie theater The Rialto Theater was saved, renovated and reopened. Originally built in 1942 in the Five Points neighborhood, this classic and historic theater features live music, comedy acts, showings of foreign and independent films as well as the Rocky Horror Picture Show every third Friday at midnight.

Go wine-tasting in Sonoma County, California

A vineyard in Sonoma, California by Trent Erwin - Unsplash

Sonoma County's wintertime allure is multifaceted for travelers seeking a special experience. Stonemason Cellars has unveiled its new tasting room in Historic Railroad Square in Downtown Santa Rosa, a space that seamlessly blends tradition with modern design. Stonemason Cellars commitment revolves around cultivating the finest Sonoma County fruit to craft wines that boast both elegance and robust flavors, exemplifying the distinct characteristics of the region's terroir. Visitors to the new tasting room are invited to savor a curated selection of high-quality, limited-production wines. Each wine is meticulously handcrafted in the Stonemason Cellars vineyards, utilizing sustainable and organic farming practices. Elevating the tasting experience, guests can pair their tastings with an array of artisanal small bites, thoughtfully chosen to complement and enhance the flavors.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery has achieved Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) status, recognized by the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA). Known for their premium estate wines and a longstanding commitment to sustainability, the Bundschu family prides themselves in their 165 years of operation with a sustainability mindset. To attain ROC status, companies must first have a nationally recognized organic certification, such as CCOF. The certification involves meeting rigorous prerequisites related to soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness for farmworkers. ROC(R) requires extra measures like zero use of chemical pesticides, organic cover cropping, composting, and the use of livestock. This certification reflects a commitment to holistic farming practices and aligns with the current trend of conscious consumerism, offering individuals a sense of contributing to positive environmental and social impacts through their purchases of ROC(R) products.

Also in 2024, Mill Creek Vineyards is celebrating its 50th commercial wine vintage. Founded by the Kreck family in 1965, Mill Creek Vineyards stands as a trailblazing winery in the Dry Creek Valley appellation. Synonymous with a commitment to quality and tradition, the family-owned and operated establishment integrates vineyard care and winemaking, reflecting a genuine passion for crafting exceptional wines. Located in Healdsburg, the winery's estate is a testament to the marriage of expertise and terroir, resulting in award-winning wines that have earned acclaim. 2024 festivities will honor the enduring legacy and dedication that define this remarkable family winemaking journey.

Take a dive off the coast of Pensacola, Florida

A panoramic view of Pensacola, Florida and the Gulf by Kevin Dunlap - Unsplash

Pensacola's best-kept secret, unparalleled diving experiences, is quickly making the destination a favorite amongst the diving community, especially those looking for eco-friendly diving experiences. Experienced divers can descend about 200 feet beneath the emerald waters to view the USS Oriskany, aka “The Mighty O.” This shipwrecked 872-foot aircraft carrier now acts as the world's largest artificial reef, hosting an entire marine ecosystem. Affectionately nicknamed the “Great Carrier Reef,” divers can swim among goliath grouper, sea turtles, sunfish, eagle rays, tuna, amberjack, and tropical fish as they explore Pensacola's deeper waters. The Three Coal Barges dive site offers a beginner's experience and gets its name from three barges that broke free in 1974 and sank just a few miles from shore. Today they lie end-to-end in a field of bridge rubble, creating a rich undersea habitat in just 50 feet of water, providing easy navigation for first-time divers.

Pensacola's dive shops and charters have long been known for being stewards of the Gulf. For those interested in arranging travel plans to experience one of Pensacola's many dive sites, the winter season is suggested when water visibility is at its highest.

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Beyond Cancun: The Best Beaches of the Yucatan

Think you can't budget a beautiful, international beach trip? Think again: the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico is typically easy to travel to with many direct (and reasonably priced) flights going to Cancun, in the state of Quintana Roo. Just west of Quintana Roo, however, is the state of Yucatan. Its reputation for the world’s most impressive ancient archeological sites, Spanish-style architecture, and underground cenotes is legendary. But this state along the Yucatan peninsula is also known for its splendid white-sand beaches that are bordered by the shimmering turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.The Caribbean-style beaches are among its most idyllic and photo-worthy attributes. While the beaches of Quintana Roo have taken up much of the beach spotlight, Yucatan’s beaches have been flying under the radar waiting to be discovered. Whether visitors are looking for a bustling fishing village with local shops and hotels, or the far-reaches of virgin, palm-fringed coastline, Yucatan has 235 miles of coastline to discover. Progreso Beach in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico by Laurentiu Morariu - Unsplash Progreso is one of the most popular beach towns in the state of Yucatan. Located just 22 miles from the capital city, Merida, the town was founded in 1871 and has grown to become the main port of the Yucatan coast. Today it is a tourist hub and a border point open to commercial exchange with the states and countries on the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.Due to its commercial activity, Progreso is the most-visited port in the state and a popular cruise destination for visitors from all over the world. Along the boardwalk, visitors will find both international and local restaurants, as well as shops and boutiques. The market of Progreso is a destination in its own right, selling local food, crafts, and more. The beaches are the real star of Progreso, with white sand, turquoise water, and endless activities from kitesurfing and windsurfing to water skiing and fishing. Alacranes Reef National Park Just off the coast of Progreso is the Alacranes Reef National Park, a naturally protected area brimming with flora and fauna. The group of islands is the largest coral structure in the Gulf of Mexico and the archipelago is made up of five islets, named Isla Blanca, Isla Muertos, Isla Pajaros, Isla Desterrada, and Isla Perez. In fact, it's possible to camp on Isla Perez and experience its sugary sand and warm, shallow, turquoise water. Chuburná Chuburna Puerto in Yucatan by Jorge Zapata - Unsplash To the west of Progreso is the fishing port of Chuburná. This small, picturesque town is known for its handful of vibrant, lively restaurants that specialize in local seafood. At the port pier, visitors can appreciate the gradient of shades of blue that dance across the sea. The beaches are calm and clean and perfect for walking. If you head to the west, you'll find a small lighthouse and a semi-virgin beach, as well as a channel where fishing boats sputter back and forth out to sea. San Cristano San Cristano is another fishing village about an hour from Merida. This sleepy slice of the world has a population of roughly 600 people and is known for its pristine ecotourism. San Cristiano boasts nearly two miles of beach and water that is a Caribbean-style shade of blue. Its rich watering holes are abundant with more than 130 species of birds, fish, and other types of flora and fauna. You'll also find many cenotes here, the best known of which is Dzonot-Tzik, or Cenote Bravo, known for its crystal clear waters and sense of calm. Celestún Flamingos in Celestún by Akshaye Sikand - Unsplash You'll find no better spot for eco-tourism in Yucatan than in the beach town of Celestún. In fact, the biosphere reserve of Celestún has declared a wildlife refuge in 1979. Located about 68 miles from Merida and 76 miles from Progreso, Celestún has several springs that make it ideal for swimming, diving, and viewing wildlife. Feast your eyes on the thousands of pink flamingos that call the sanctuary of Celestún home. On guided boat tours, you can learn more about their history and see them as closely as possible without interrupting their habitat. Celestún is also home to many other types of fauna, like ocelots, jaguars, tigrillos, and spider monkeys. El Palmar Another important ecological reserve in Yucatan is El Palmar, a natural protected area and state reserve as of 1990. It is about 50 miles from Merida and known for its semi-virgin beach, as well as its modest cabin services and local restaurants. Here visitors can take boat rides for wildlife viewing or participate in activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. Drink in the views from Yucatan's tallest lighthouse, as well. Cancunito Finally, Cancunito is one of the Yucatan's most pristine and virgin beaches — the perfect place to disconnect from the city and reconnect with the sea. Shrouded by mangroves and not far from the famous pink-hued Las Coloradas salt mines, the waters here are calm and clear, free of shops, hotels, and restaurants, and simply blessed with the raw splendor of nature.


Travel Trends for 2023

Looking for inspiration for new travel experiences and trip ideas? Wondering about the best ways to save on hotels, flights, and more this year? Several large travel and finance companies including Kayak, Booking.com, and American Express have all recently released their reports on travel trends for the upcoming year. Data indicates that many tourists are looking towards trips that focus on wellness, "unplugged" experiences and especially interested in ways to learn about new and unfamiliar cultures. Since many people put off travel during the pandemic, prospective travelers have also increased spending limits for trips they plan to take this year. However, even with the costs of flights (and pretty much everything) skyrocketing across the country due to inflation, there are still several potential destinations that will prove to be very budget-friendly if you're not one of the many planning to splurge more than necessary just yet. Below are some of the big takeaways from these travel trends reports. Money-Saving Trends and Tips According to data gathered by Booking.com, almost two-thirds (63%) will keep a close eye on deals and hacks, with more than half (53%) happy to travel off-season or via longer routes. That means 2023’s off-season may be a little busier than last year’s, while the summer may be somewhat quieter than usual. This may help spread the crowds at busy attractions such as Walt Disney World. 61% of people also intend on planning their vacations further in advance, so expect to see fewer last-minute travelers in 2023. As a result, there may be less last-minute deals on trips (though this remains to be seen). Unfortunately, the increase on flight prices will likely continue into 2023. Both domestic and international flight prices are up in 2023 compared to 2022 (52% for domestic and 29% for international). Flights from the US to destinations around the world will see an increase in price for 2023 trips. That being said, flights to the South Pacific (+3%) and Europe (+10%) will see the smallest price increases. Both domestic and international trips are expected to see price increases through June, so you may save if you take trips earlier in the year. JFK Airport in New York - courtesy of hotels.com Kayak pulled together the North American destinations with the cheapest flight prices, so if you're looking to save less on airfare consider a trip to one of the below cities: New York, New York: $337Chicago, Illinois: $343Austin, Texas: $360Atlanta, Georgia: $363Houston, Texas: $365Nashville, Tennessee: $365Guadalajara, Mexico: $369Toronto, Canada: $375Raleigh, North Carolina: $375Fort Lauderdale, Florida: $376 When it comes to accommodations, the West dominates with generally lower nightly hotel rates. If you’re looking to stay in and around the US for less, you may find the best hotel prices in Northwest and Southwest locations. The majority of destinations around North America with affordable nightly rates are also great for the traveler looking to get outside. No matter where you’re looking to stay, nightly prices for hotels and rentals aren’t seeing huge increases in rates. For both domestic and international stays, travelers could expect to pay under $220 a night depending on where they’re headed. Based on Kayak's numbers, here are destinations with the most affordable accommodations: Ocean Shores, Washington: $153/nightPortland, Oregon: $161/nightCody, Wyoming: $169/nightMexico City, Mexico: $190/nightReno, Nevada: $190/nightSalt Lake City, Utah: $192/nightToronto, Canada: $202/nightHouston, Texas: $205/nightSan Antonio, Texas: $212/nightDenver, Colorado: $214/night Off-grid Travel Takes Priority Camping in the great outdoors - courtesy of timeout.com Following various international lockdowns in which many people weren’t allowed to leave their homes, let alone travel, we became reliant on technology for entertainment. Now that most restrictions have been lifted, travelers are keen to disconnect, with 55% wanting to spend their vacations off-grid. But it doesn’t just stop at wanting to disconnect from technology, with more and more people craving a back-to-basics experience, many travelers are expressing a desire to use their vacations in 2023 as an opportunity to learn survival skills (58%), according to research from Booking.com. This includes learning how to source clean water (53%), light a fire from scratch (42%), forage for food in the wild (39%) and even how to prep for an apocalypse (39%). Connecting with nature also tops travelers' wishlists. Sitting in front of a cozy, crackling fireplace somewhere deep in the woods and miles from the nearest microchip is many travelers’ idea of bliss. However, almost half (48%) would only consider going off-grid if it meant they could take a few luxuries and indulgences with them, and 53% revealed they’d need their phone and stable internet connection. Along with this desire to unplug is a need for focusing on health and wellness. A large majority (75%) of those polled by American Express are planning to decrease screen time while traveling to better their mental health and/or seeking to surround themselves with nature to focus on mental clarity (68%). Travelers want to relax from their busy lives—and are gravitating toward destinations and resorts that will help them decompress and feel healthier. According to American Express, 82% of respondents enjoy walking as their favorite activity to stay healthy while traveling. Also, 72% of respondents say they are more focused on self-care than they were a year ago and 57% of respondents plan to take extended vacations to focus on wellness. Most respondents see leisure travel as a break from overstimulation and multi-tasking. The Appeal of "Culture Shock" Roswell welcome sign - courtesy of roadtrippers.com When you find somewhere you enjoy traveling to, it can be tempting to revisit that same place on your next vacation, but in 2023 travelers intend to mix things up. Almost three-quarters (73%) of those surveyed by Booking.com want to experience travel out of their comfort zone, with 30% keen to explore lesser-known cities to find some hidden gems. Travelers want authentic experiences that give them a taste of local culture and let them explore hidden gems that friends back home don’t know about. They also want to know that the decisions they make while traveling can have a positive impact on the destinations they visit, and want the money that they spend on vacation to support the local community. Plenty of travelers (38%) want an out-of-this-world culture shock, and to go on the hunt for UFOs. This means there will likely be an increase in visitors to extra-terrestrial hotspots such as Roswell, New Mexico. Meanwhile, others may go further east: 47% of travelers are interested in exploring exotic delicacies such as the hottest chili pepper (the current world record is held by the California Reaper, bred in Rock Hill, South Carolina). In American Express' research, 89% of survey respondents agree that they want to travel to destinations they’ve never visited before, 79% of Gen-Z and Millennial respondents agree that they would love to partake in a day in the life of locals in the destination they are visiting, and 68% of respondents agree that they pride themselves on finding lesser-known vacation spots before they become popular. Sampling the local cuisine is a big part of people's interest when it comes to learning about a new culture. Some people, however, are even planning their whole trip around food. In fact, 47% of Gen-Z and Millennials say they have planned an entire trip around visiting a specific restaurant—compared to 37% of respondents overall. Furthermore, 45% of Gen-Z and Millennials say they have planned a trip around attending a food festival, compared to just 35% of all respondents. Due to increased interest, its possible that more local and off-the-beaten-path activities and experiences will pop up in many destinations. Research shows that 86% of Gen-Z and Millennial respondents and 83% of all surveyed respondents want to shop at small businesses when they travel to a new location. Plus, 69% of all respondents would spend more during a vacation if they knew it supported the local community, and 88% of all respondents agreed that dining and shopping at local small businesses brings a more authentic experience. Nostalgic Escapes Make a Comeback Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World - courtesy of wdwmagic.com It's not all about the unusual and unfamiliar, though. Especially when it comes to family vacations, "classic" trips or simple beach getaways, road trips, or theme park trips may see a resurgence. Over the last couple of years, popular culture has seen a nostalgia resurgence of sorts, with 80s and 90s coming back into fashion. It seems as though the same will happen with travel in 2023, with almost nine in ten (88%) in Booking.com's polls wanting to go on a nostalgic getaway. About a quarter (23%) of travelers want to escape to simpler times, when all we had to worry about was rewinding that rented VHS and how long the lines were for Space Mountain. And 61% of travelers want to get their hearts racing with a trip to a theme park in 2023, with more than half (54%) planning on taking a family reunion-focused vacation. That means theme parks such as Universal Orlando Resort may be visited by multi-generational families in 2023.