Meet the Coolest Small Town in America 2016
Congratulations to Sykesville, Maryland, the winner of Budget Travel's 11th annual Coolest Small Town in America contest! With an enthusiastic campaign to amass the votes needed to claim the title "coolest," Sykesville earned its victory by a wide margin.
The Coolest Small Town in America contest is one of the high points of our editorial calendar at Budget Travel, and we love getting to know more about these amazing communities across the country where so many truly cool things are happening in the worlds of art, food, public parks, and community spirit. This morning, I had the privilege of hearing from some of Sykesville's residents, and I couldn't help asking the obvious question: How does it feel to wake up in the Coolest Small Town in America 2016?
Stacy Link, Sykesville town council member, enthuses, "When I pulled into town this morning, crossed the railroad tracks, and turned the curve at Baldwin's Station to get a clear view of our Main Street, I was like, 'Yes, we are!'"
Mary Vaccarino, owner of Revive & Company, says, "We're SYKED! This contest inspired us to show our community spirit and it shines. We are feeling blessed to live in such a great community.
Rachael Beck, owner of EW Becks Pub, tells us, "If you’re from Sykesville, you’re family. If you are a visitor to Sykesville, we will make you feel like family before you go."
Steven Colella, director of economic development for the Town of Sykesville, shares, "Waking up this morning to find out I work for the Coolest Small Town in America was pretty surreal. I knew throughout the contest that if we won, it could do big things for our town – promoting tourism, community events, and new businesses, but I was so focused on promoting the contest that I didn’t stop to think what it would mean if we won. Now that we did, it’s exciting and a little overwhelming to think of all of the COOL things that lie ahead!"
And each resident of Sykesville is looking forward to upcoming events such as First Fridays, the town Farmers Market, and Farm to Table Progressive Dinners.
Budget Travel's 11th annual Coolest Small Town in America contest started by gathering online nominations from tens of thousands of readers. The towns that received the most nominations (subject to a bit of editorial discretion for geographical and cultural diversity), made our 15 semifinalists list, and a month of voting saw towns like Sykesville; Baker City, Oregon; and Pipestone, Minnesota vying for the top spot.
This year's nine runners-up (all cool towns in their own right) deserve a shout-out:
Baker City, OR
Ocean Springs, MS
Steamboat Springs, CO
8 Secrets of Paris You've Never Heard Before
Gallery owner and author Matt Wagner literally wrote the book on Paris—his gorgeous new coffee-table book The Tall Trees of Paris interviews 42 artists (in both English and French!) about their favorite neighborhoods and what inspires them. Naturally, in the course of his work, he picked up a few secrets of Paris that only the coolest locals know. We couldn't resist tapping his wealth of insider knowledge—and now we want to go back and try each and every one! 1. A must-see neighborhood locals love: "I really love the 18th arrondissement, Château Rouge neighborhood in particular, known as Little Africa. Thre's so much activity in this neighborhood—and great food too. Check out Ground Control. It’s a bar, restaurant, and music venue within a decommissioned train yard. In between each track is pétanque courts [pétanque is a bowling-style game that's similar to bocce]. Great way to spend a sunny Sunday in Paris." 2. Two obscure museums worth visiting: "Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme [admission about $14] and the Institut Du Monde Arabe [from about $9] are both particularly good. The World Arab institute had an amazing history of hip-hop show last year." 3. A café you'll be talking about for years: "Hands down, my favorite café is Jeanne A in the 11th arrondissement. There's a deli up front and tables in the back for eating in. Roast chicken and lamb are standouts, and the service is spectacular. All at a very affordable price." 4. A pastry shop so authentic it has no name: "One of my favorite pâtisseries is a place at 15 Rue Marcadet in Château Rouge. Order one of the classics: pain aux raisins or a chocolate croissant." 5. Souvenirs (plus art) that won't break the bank: "Galerie Arts Factory in the Bastille has a fantastic book selection and art. The owners, Effi and Laurent, are fantastic people." 6. A beautiful, movie-worthy walk: "Without a doubt, Canal de L’Ourcq in the 19th arrondissement. Having a picnic on a Sunday afternoon then walking up the canal listening to the street music and people watching is pretty much my perfect day in Paris." 7. How to fit in with the locals in Paris: "A little bit of language goes a long way. It will make the people you are interacting with appreciate the attempt before they most likely break into English for you. Steering clear of the main tourist areas would also help." 8. The train pass Budget Travelers need: "If you're going to be in Paris for a week or more, I suggest buying the Navigo Découverte train pass. The pass is a swipe card that will eliminate trying to come up with cash to ride the trains. It is quite affordable at around $25 for a weeklong pass. You will need to provide a small picture of yourself at the gate."
5 Things You Don't Know About... the Great Wall of China
Contrary to urban legend, this gargantuan tourist favorite known as the Great Wall of China is not visible from space, but just about everything else about the travel icon is mind-blowing in scale: 1. Construction began in 214 B.C. and continued for more than 2,000 years. At one point, the massive fortification spanned 6,000-plus miles; these days, only about a third of the original remains. 2. The ups, downs, and curves of the wall are often compared to an immense dragon. Wear comfortable walking shoes, and be prepared for lots of uphill and downhill hiking. 3. Bring your own water, use the restrooms before ascending to the top, and expect some culinary cultural whiplash, as food vendors range from traditional noodles and dumplings to, yep, Burger King! 4. The most popular place to visit the Great Wall is the two-mile stretch at Badaling, a day trip from Beijing. A little farther from the capital, you’ll find some elbow room if you visit the wall at Mutianyu or Simatai. 5. To get off the beaten path, hike and camp out under the stars on an unrestored, relatively quiet section of the Great Wall via JetBay’s Camp the Great Wall trip (from $238, jetbay.com).
8 Essential Tips For Visiting the Island of Oahu
I was lucky enough to grow up in Kaneohe and Kailua on the island of Oahu—my parents had visited for their honeymoon in the 1980s and fallen in love with the island, vowing to move there someday and raise a family, which they eventually did. After leaving our home in Kailua 14 years ago, my mother and I finally had a chance to go back and visit Oahu this year, stopping by our old haunts along the Windward coast and North Shore, and checking out new restaurants and nightlife in Honolulu and Waikiki now that I was actually old enough to enjoy them. Hawaii will always have a place in my heart and if you're in the process of planning your own island adventure, I want you to help you have the most amazing trip possible. Here are my best tips for visiting Oahu, Hawaii's Gathering Place, whether it's your first trip or you're a veteran visitor. Always look for travel deals First things first, always check for flight specials on Hawaiian Airlines, especially if you're flying from the West coast or from JFK in New York. If you don't see anything you like there, browse through Budget Travel's Hawaii travel deals to find air and hotel packages to the islands. If you want to see Pearl Harbor, reserve your tickets ahead of time online. Nothing ruins a trip more than not planning ahead and getting locked out of a major attraction you came all the way to see. Anyone interested in World War II history will want to visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, a moving reminder of the attack that launched the United States into World War II in the Pacific. Click here to reserve your tickets ahead of time (you'll have to pay a $1.50 convenience fee per ticket but other than that, it's free.) Each historic tour is about an hour and 15 minutes long, and includes a boat ride to the site of the USS Arizona Memorial, where you can see the remains of the battleship just below the water's surface. Make time to venture out of Waikiki and Honolulu Some of the island's best attractions are located out of the main tourist zone of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu, but are still worth checking out. The Bus, Hawaii's main form of public transportation, offers a variety of options for as low as $2.50 a ride with two free transfers, or you could even hop on one of the Circle Island Tours, which last anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 hours depending on where you board. A four-day bus pass is also available for $35 per person. Of course, the other option is to rent a car and travel around the island at your own pace. My favorite drive? Up the windward coast from Waikiki to Waimanalo along Kalanianaole (pronounced "ka-la-nee-ah-nah-oh-lee") Highway, where you'll have Koko Head, a dormant yet impressive-looking volcano on one side, and sharp cliffs leading into the bluest ocean you've ever seen on the other. Step into your favorite films at Kualoa Ranch Are you a fan of Jurassic Park, George of the Jungle, or LOST? Don't miss the "Hollywood's Hawaii Backlot" Tour at Kualoa Ranch, where you can take a 90-minute trip through Ka'a'wa Valley onboard a vintage school bus and visit Godzilla's footprints, Hurley's golf course from LOST, and take a silly photo with the fallen tree from the infamous raptor-chase scene in Jurassic Park. There's also a chance to walk through a legit WWII bunker and check out some historical artifacts from the 1940s. Kualoa Ranch also offers a number of tours and day-trips—my favorite is the trip to "Secret Island," where you can chill out on the beach, play volleyball, or go kayaking around Kaneohe Bay for 2.5 hours (each tour mentioned here starts at $35 for adults, $25 for children ages 3-12). Snorkel at Hanauma Bay Spend a day snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, a protected nature preserve on Oahu's southeast coast that rents out snorkel gear and a supply of fish food guaranteed to work the wildlife into a tizzy you'll never forget. Tickets start at $7.50 per person, free for children under 3 and Hawaii residents and it costs $1 to park. Open daily except Tuesday. Get to know Polynesian culture Visit Oahu's North Shore and spend a day exploring the Polynesian Cultural Center, where locals from Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Aotearoa (New Zealand), and other islands showcase their cultural dances, food, music, and other traditions (tickets start at $59.95 for adults, $47.96 for kids ages 5-11). For a real treat, opt for the Ali'i Luau Package, which gives you daytime admission, entry to the Ali'i Luau and dinner show, and great seats at Ha: The Breath of Life, an incredible show and the perfect way to end your day in paradise (from $99.95 for adults, from $79.96 for children ages 5-11). Taste shrimp scampi and shave ice on Oahu's North Shore If you're venturing up to see the sights of Oahu's North Shore, make sure you stop by Giovanni's Shrimp Truck in Kahuku just outside the town of Laie—their shrimp scampi is still something I think about, even though it's been 14 years since we moved. The North Shore is also home to Oahu's legendary shaved ice spot, Matsumoto Shave Ice, in the historic town of Haleiwa. They're known all over the island for having a unique variety of flavors like tangerine, green tea, and creamsicle among others, so choose wisely. Stay in the middle of the Waikiki—for less! Waikiki is home to family-friendly beaches and great nightlife. Stay in the center of all the action at The Shoreline Hotel Waikiki, located just a few blocks from Waikiki Beach near the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center (a Joie de Vivre hotel, rates from $170 per night in January). For that iconic Diamond Head view, stay at the Park Shore Waikiki, a beautiful beachfront hotel that's just steps from Waikiki Beach and located next to Kapiolani Park, home of the Honolulu Zoo, (rates from $153 per night thanks to their Rock A Shaka special). For more information and to plan your Hawaii adventure, visit GoHawaii.com.
12 Things To Do In Kennebunk & Kennebunkport, Maine
Although Maine is considered to be more of a summer destination, there are still plenty of activities going on year round, even as colder temperatures rush in—there’s even a popular holiday celebration in Kennebunkport called Christmas Prelude every December. Though shops and restaurants in Kennebunk and its neighbor, Kennebunkport, may close down for the season or reduce their business hours, day-to-day offerings within both locations keep the pace going. Consider this your go-to bucket list for visiting these two towns along Maine's southern coast. Take a cooking class Started by the Kennebunkport Resort Collection in February 2015, Table Maine is a weekend culinary program of classes led by local chefs, offering kitchen techniques on food and beverage subjects (like mixology) or preparing meat and seafood dishes. Coursework includes viewing cooking demonstrations, hands-on lessons, and even local restaurants putting on tasty “pop up” dinners. Treat yourself to breakfast at Boulangerie In Kennebunk, this village bakery produces artisanal breads, croissants, baguettes, focaccia, sticky buns, meat pies, and other flour-based delights. The location is very rustic—a barn dating back to the 1900s—with indoor and outdoor seating for plopping down and savoring a breakfast treat or afternoon snack. Stop by the Wedding Cake House Referred to as the most photographed house in Maine, this Gothic style home off Route 35 in Kennebunk is literally eye candy. According to local legend, this bright yellow house with white trim was built by a sea captain as a wedding gift for his bride. Today this place is privately owned, but most people might stop by to catch a glimpse or snap a quick photo (104 Summer Street, officially called the George W. Bourne House in Kennebunk). Go for a bike ride Kennebunkport is known for having the best places to trek to on two wheels, whether you prefer to peddle alongside the water, through town, or on a nature trail—Ocean Avenue takes you on a scenic route with views of the sea, beaches, restaurants, and summer homes, like presidential Bush family’s compound at Walker’s Point. Serious mountain bikers should consider heading to the Edwin L. Smith Preserve of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, which has acquired and preserved various natural areas and trails. Not bringing your own bike? Rent your wheels from Kennebunkport Bicycle on Arundel Road. Hunt for antiques along Route 1 The Maine Antique Trail (aka. Route 1 in Southern Maine) doubles as a map for 42 miles full of more than 50 antique stores, where rare a treasure trove of rare finds, hidden surprises, and one-of-a-kind items can be discovered. Kennebunk contains a few, including Armada Antiques & Collectibles. Located in Kennebunk’s Lower Village, the shelves and display cases inside this two-level building feature old-fashioned dinnerware, books and periodicals, sports memorabilia, and an assortment of relics from another era. Taste New England favorites at Salt & Honey In Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, Salt & Honey has been dishing out comfort food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner since it opened in May 2014. Its ever-changing menu offers staple dishes and New England favorites, featuring ingredients like Maine lobster and blueberries. Try my favorite, the fish and chips combo with a finely breaded North Atlantic haddock. Get back to nature Just about a 10-minute ride from Kennebunkport, the town of Wells has two nature reserves that are best seen on foot. The Wells Reserve at Laudholm has a network of trails that allow for strolling along the different habitats through a protected coastal ecosystem. Open year-round, trails run easy to moderate and, for the most part, are self-guided. An admission fee is charged from Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day. Not far from Wells Reserve, the Rachel Carlson Wildlife Refuge has designated visitor use areas that enable the public to do activities such as kayaking or viewing wildlife. Have lunch at Duffy’s Tavern & Grill With one location stationed in Kennebunk’s historic Lafayette Center, Duffy's Tavern & Grill offers great pub fare. The venue serves up American food for patrons of all ages: burgers, salads, apps, and wings, plus gluten-free some options, in a family-friendly, casual scene. Shop at H.B. Provisions At this general store and deli, also in Kennebunk, pick up a souvenir or order a sandwich, specialty wrap, burger, or panini. There’s table space for sitting down and just watching the shop work, or you can grab some groceries—check out the walls for photos of famous shoppers who have stopped by over the years. Learn about Kennebunk’s history Said to be one of the few U.S. museums to open during the Great Depression, the Brick Store Museum in the center of Kennebunk serves as an arts institution, historic site, and archives center. It is comprised of three buildings dating back to various periods in the 1800s—inside, rotating exhibitions highlight the town’s legacy through its residents and locations. Do dinner at The Ramp Bar & Grill Under Pier 77, in Kennebunkport’s Porpoise Harbor, the tiny yet lively waterside Ramp Bar & Grill has both a local and tourist following. What you’ll notice first are the football helmets hanging above the bar, but the lunch and dinner servings run the gamut from New England seafood favorites and finger foods to more fork-required dishes like traditional penne Bolognese and a Greek meze. Tour the Shipyard Brewing Company at Federal Jack’s At this eatery in Kennebunkport Harbor, Shipyard brewed its first craft beer in 1992. Although the main plant is now in Portland, Maine, visitors can still see and learn more about Shipyard on tours at this location in the same building as Federal Jack’s. A seven-barrel system uses state-of-the-art technology to produce house and seasonal ales, plus stouts and IPAs, and keeps its upstairs pub neighbor supplied with continuous suds.