Locals Know Best: Providence
When Curt Columbus moved to Providence from Chicago to become artistic director at the renowned Trinity Repertory Company, he wasn’t sure what to expect, coming from one of the cultural capitals of the country and all. What he found, however, was a place that's "rich with cool, funky, fun hangout places,” he says. With an abundance of creative and exciting cultural, historical, and dining options, some neighborhoods have enough to do to fill an entire afternoon without having to get in a car. And some of these places are spots locals tend to keep to themselves. Despite its small size, it’s a huge destination.
“Part of what’s so great about it is that you can easily get to the woods for hiking, or to the beach and Newport and all that other stuff. People can come and spend a week because there’s a huge range of things to see,” he says. “And Providence great just a great wander city. People like to stroll and stop in places, have a drink in one place, eat in another, and have dessert in another.”
We asked him for some of his top recommendations for anyone looking to explore the city beyond the standard guidebook highlights. He had a lot to suggest.
Spend an afternoon strolling Providence’s scenic East Side. The main thoroughfare, Blackstone Boulevard, is three miles end to end and back. First fortify yourself at Three Sisters, an ice cream paradise with daily specials. that in the past have included extravagances like maple brownie peanut butter. By the time you’ve walked that off, you’ll be ready for dinner. In keeping with Curt’s suggestion of breaking up a meal at different venues, hit Garden Grill, which specializes in vegan and vegetarian fare for light and delicious apps. Two doors down is Rasoi, an Indian restaurant where the food is “just off the charts,” he says. Finally, just paces away is Wildflour, which also offers vegan treats that Curt recommends even if you’re a full-on carnivore.
In the Downtown area, Westminster Street is an historic strip that seems designed for wandering. Along the shop-lined corridor are must-sees like Symposium Books, which features records amid the bookshelves. Next door is Small Point Café, a spot where locals gather over espresso, soups, and sandwiches. Follow along to Arcade Providence. The oldest indoor shopping mall in the US, a national historic landmark, features only-in-Providence shops like the HP Lovecraft store, devoted to all things of the cultish cosmic fiction writer who called Providence home. Refuel—or relax-at New Harvest Coffee, a coffee roaster and whiskey bar.
If you stay through the evening, you’ll want to have dinner at Sura, a Japanese/Korean restaurants that’s popular among discerning yet budget-minded students. Finish up with a nightcap at The Eddy, a cocktail bar with a selection of classic and creative modern cocktails.
Chez Pascal: Though it’s a high-end restaurant, they have an option that won’t break the bank at Wurst Kitchen, a window in the front where, in the evenings, you can walk up and order some of the finest house-made wursts and hot dogs and slather them with amazing relishes.
Foo(d): AS220 is an arts space that serves as a lively hangout spot for creative types. It makes sense, then, that there’s an eatery here, too. The airy restaurant specializes in locavore fare designed to feed artists, Curt says, so you’ll find huge portions for the budget-friendly price of $10. Curt grabs an order of the popcorn-like crispy chickpeas ($2) a few days a week.
Despite it being one of the area’s top regional theaters, Trinity Rep offers $20 ticket deals for every show. Also, it’s affiliated with Brown University, which offers student performances for $5 to $10. But these are no scrappy affairs. “It’s like going seeing an actor before they were famous. You’ll catch actors that you’ll see for years to come," he says.
AS220 is a local favorite located between Brown and Trinity. To hear Curt talk of it, it’s “an un-juried and uncensored place for artists, from visual to performance art to music to slam poetry. There’s a ton of programming and rotating gallery exhibits in three downtown spaces. You’re absolutely seeing people as coming into their own.” It’s located near Swan Point Cemetery, a 200-acre garden cemetery home to HP Lovecraft’s resting place.
Rhode Island School of Design has its own museum with collections that Curt says are nothing less than “awe-inspiring.” Unlike most museums, he explains, they curate paintings, furniture, home items, clothes, and costumes all in the same space. “You’ll have a Jackson Pollack next to a Corbusier chair next to a Nick Cave jacket. It’s just so interesting to see how all art is interconnected. Fashion is painting is theater is music. It’s all influenced the same way,” he marvels. Sit down and take it all in when you’re done at Bolt Coffee, the adjacent coffee shop with plenty of sandwich offerings.
Live Like a Local in Italy
When it comes to traveling in Italy, Budget Travelers have always been big fans of “living like a local.” That means eating where the locals eat, visiting the off-the-beaten-path galleries and museums that tourists often miss, and hitting the best trails for cycling and hiking, many of which are not well known to Americans. That’s where Tourissimo got our attention. The bespoke cycling and hiking tour operator takes travelers into a super-local world of cycling and hiking in Italy, immersing them in the interests that are most important to them. When I sat down recently to chat with Tourissimo’s founder, Giuseppe “Beppe” Salerno, I was inspired by his enthusiasm, passion, and know-how. These are truly unique, customized travel experiences that manage to elegantly combine world-class service with a sense of adventure and discovery (not always easy to do). Bespoke tours offer a variety of potential experiences. Starting at $2,500 per person, tours may be escorted or self-guided private tours; tours include an excellent guide-to-guest ratio of 1:9, choice of activities (including wine tasting, cycling clinics, cooking lessons, and much more), bikes and equipment, and 3-4 star accommodations (with the option of an agriturismo lodging experience on a working farm). Tourissimo guides have personal connections to the regions where they travel and deliver a true locals’ point of view, including cultural immersion, traditions and customs, and the opportunity to meet local food and wine producers. Maybe because my great-grandmother was born in Palermo, I’m especially excited about Tourissimo’s upcoming “Sicily Magnifica Cycling Tour,” which explores the storied island’s historic past and vibrant present, including a stop in the town of Corleone, where novelist and screenwriter Mario Puzo set portions of The Godfather. Touring Sicily by bike is the kind of brag-worthy vacation most of us would love to check off our list. To learn more, visit Tourissimo.
Portland, Oregon's Year-Round Dining Deals Make for a Heckuva Happy Hour
It's not enough that Portland, Oregon is a major player on the world's dining stage. Apparently, the chefs and restaurant owners there are pretty committed to making sure everyone in the city--including tourists--have an opportunity to indulge in their delicious handiwork. Every weekday, restaurants around town, from unassuming neighborhood joints to highly regarded, award-winning dining destinations, offer their fare for a fraction of the standard menu prices. Locals refer to it as “happy hour,” but that’s hardly factual. More like “ecstatic hours” (with an “s”!) Some spots reprise the after-work specials late-night each night. Others insist on drawing it out for the entire afternoon and evening. Consider, for instance, the hip lounge-like Gold Dust Meridian: from 2PM to 8PM Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday they offer bites like deviled eggs and BBQ meatballs for $5 and crab cakes and calamari for just $6. There are also $4 to $6 drinks. At the Observatory, an airy neighborhood institution, Happy Hour runs daily from 2-6PM then Sunday through Thursday again from 10PM to close. During that time, treats like oregano fry bread are $3, drafts top off at $3.75 and cocktails, which this place is known for, are just $5. In fact, during these designated hours, terrific cocktails and excellent wine and beer are sold throughout the city at prices that make you think they're going out of style. The city’s top chefs are deep in the game, too. The menu at Nostrana, a top-rated Italian enoteca under the watch of Chef Cathy Whims, a six-time James Beard Award finalist, includes items straight off the dinner menu for a fraction of the price, like the house charcuterie for $5 (vs. $18) and pizza margherita for $7 (vs. $12). At Oven and Shaker (pictured), her more relaxed pizzeria with a strong cocktail focus, people gather for $7-$10 artisanal pizzas and $7 craft cocktails from 2.30PM to 5.30PM during the week and 10PM to close every night. Fancy burgers, ramen, sushi, Tex-Mex, spaetzle, steak sandwiches, Latin American classics—you can find it all for a song somewhere in the city before or after the dinner rush. Maybe you chalk it up to Pacific Northwestern hospitality or maybe it's just Portlandians’ obsession with getting out and socializing. Either way, it’s a local way of life that’s a traveler’s fantasy.
Great Fall Getaway: Portsmouth, NH
Here in the Northeast, we’re already noticing the shadows getting longer, the nights cooler, and, of course, the kids are getting ready to head back to school. But rather than mourn summer’s end, we’re getting psyched for… you got it… leaf-peeping season! My wife and I just got back from a weekend “escape from New York” to one of our favorite New England destinations, and I realized that Budget Travelers need to know: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, belongs on your autumn to-do list. We loved our stay at The Port Inn, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member, part of the Choice Hotels International family (late October weekday stays from $149/night, 505 U.S. Highway 1 Bypass, Portsmouth, NH 03801, 603-436-4378, portinnportsmouth.com), and it’s really an ideal base of operations for enjoying peak foliage season on the New Hampshire coast (approximately late October to early November). The Port Inn is one of the longest-operating lodgings in the Portsmouth area, combining the homey welcome of a family-run hotel with beautifully appointed furniture and fixtures thanks to a recent renovation. Waking up to the delicious complimentary hot breakfast (including excellent, locally roasted White Heron coffee) felt downright indulgent. We really enjoyed exploring Portsmouth’s downtown, which includes cobblestone streets and a historic wharf and must-sees like the John Paul Jones House, the preserved colonial buildings at Strawberry Banke, and the exceptional Riverrun bookstore. We’re also big fans of Portsmouth’s Flatbread Pizza, where you can watch your meal cook in an open wood-fire oven, and New Hampshire’s short-but-sweet 18 miles of coastline, especially Odiorne Point State Park and its kid-friendly Seacoast Science Center. In fall, don’t miss the Inland River & Fall Foliage Cruise for a unique way to experience the vibrant New England colors. Portsmouth's Port Inn was such a good experience, I looked into other Ascend Hotel Collection properties, which manage to combine an upscale lodging experience with authentic local flavor (not always easy to do) in prime leaf-peeping territory: They include the Hotel North Woods, Lake Placid, NY; and the Port Inn, Kennebunk, Maine. Happy autumn!
Never Mind Mardi Gras. This Month New Orleans Is One Big Dinner Party
When it comes to world-class culinary destinations in America, few cities beat New Orleans. From its longstanding iconic temples of dining to contemporary eateries that offer new spins on the city’s traditional fare, the biggest challenge of a visit to the Bayou is choosing where to dine. But throughout the month of August, restaurants are offering unbeatable prix-fixe meals as part of COOLinary Summer in New Orleans. Some of the city’s –if not the country’s—most acclaimed restaurants are rolling out the red carpet with two- and three-course lunch menus for $20 or less and three-course dinner menus for $39 or less. A few eateries are going all out and offering brunch, too. Among the dozens of restaurants, primarily in the French Quarter and Downtown, are fine-dining stalwarts, like Arnaud’s, Galatoire’s and the renowned Commander’s Palace, as well as plenty of modern locales, like Cafe Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar and Carrollton Market. So whether you're already a fan or still have the city on your bucket list, off-season in New Orleans, away from the maddening crowds of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, is a fine time to head down and see why people call New Orleans "America’s Most Delicious City.”