Ultimate Southwest Girlfriend Getaway

By Jamie Beckman
December 28, 2015
Walking in downtown Santa Fe
Whitney Tressel
Road trip! Two Budget Travel editors motored through New Mexico from Cloudcroft to Taos, mixing wild outdoor adventures with spicy local cuisine, an affordable spa visit, must-see historical sites—and one very cute cowboy.

Show of hands: Is it a jerk move to taunt someone who says they’re afraid of ghosts by making them listen to dramatic ghost stories? Looking back, perhaps that wasn't the kindest, gentlest way to kick off a girlfriend getaway road trip through New Mexico with BT Photo Editor Whitney Tressel. In my defense, she revealed her phobia after we had pulled up to the Lodge at Cloudcroft, a Titanic-era haunted mansion perched high in the Sacramento Mountains. And I honestly thought she was kidding. Over dinner in the candlelit lodge, I pumped our server, Tonya, for information about "Rebecca," the hotel’s friendly, lovelorn ghost who “makes herself known” by moving small objects.

I was riveted. Whitney was terrified. “I’m going to sleep with you tonight,” she said. Again, I thought she was kidding. But she followed me upstairs, dragged her suitcase into my room, changed into a psychedelic T-shirt and pajama pants, climbed into bed, and fell asleep.

As I lay stiff and wide awake on one side of the four-poster Victorian-style bed, under a portrait of Mexican-American War hero Zachary Taylor, tapping out notes about our trip on my smartphone, my world-weary Louise to her excitable Thelma, I heard Whitney whimpering. Should I break the touch barrier to wake her up?

I nudged her shoulder and found her skin clammy. She had goosebumps. And it was my fault. “Jamie...?” she said, voice wavering. “Thank you. I just got a’scared.” Caring for others isn’t my strong suit, but in that moment, my heart went out to her in a way that the closeness of a road trip fosters. “It’s OK,” I said in my the most soothing tone I could muster. “Everything is going to be all right.”

Rebecca never did reveal herself, but we did have some certifiably spiritual adventures in the desert, where women have gone for centuries to be reborn. Come along on our journey through the Southwest, a fabulously inexpensive bonding trip of a lifetime.

Day 1: Cloudcroft to Albuquerque

Whitney at the wheel, we wound down through the mountains from the Lodge at Cloudcroft (from $99 per night) on Highway 82 in our rented Volkswagen Bug on our way to White Sands National Monument.

Driving into White Sands, a vast, 10-acre desert scape of sparkling gypsum crests, mounds, and drifts, is like discovering a portal to another universe and pushing through to the other side ($5). We parked six miles in, where a ranger told us the “scenery gets good,” and I bent down to scoop up a handful of gypsum sand, fine and soft to the touch. The tops of the dunes’ curves are almost feminine—they move and change with the wind, the bone-dry landscape constantly shifting. Only the strong plants and animals survive—the ones that are able to adapt. Like the bleached earless lizard and the defiantly vibrant pink sand verbena. And, I might add, Whitney and me. On rented purple and green plastic discs, we sledded down the dunes together, shouting, “I’m the winner!” “No, you’re the winner!”—sometimes taking rough tumbles instead of elegant swooshes. Over and over, we stood up after falling, yelling, “I’m okay!” before clambering back up the dunes in our leather boots and jeans, eager to go again.

Sand in our clothes, we drove to Albuquerque on 25 North through pounding rains and angry navy-blue skies, looking in the rear-view mirrors at the clear blue sky and fluffy clouds that trailed behind us, as though we were inhabiting two separate worlds. When the radio turned staticky, I fiddled with music on my smartphone, searching for tunes we could agree on—Whitney explained to me who rapper Fetty Wap was; I quickly scrolled past my extensive Frightened Rabbit collection—before we chose an album we both loved, the lyrics inscribed on our lives years ago: Scarlet’s Walk, by Tori Amos, about a coast-to-coast journey through America. Perfect. We belted “A Sorta Fairytale” in unison: “Down New Mexico way, somethin’ about the open road / I knew that he was lookin’ for some Indian blood / Find a little in you, find a little in me / We may be on this road, but / We’re just imposters in this country, you know…”

We took a detour in Carrizozo, New Mexico, to the homespun Carrizozo Café, furnished with wood paneling and mismatched kitchen chairs, and shared a Rocky Mountain Mudslide, the Everest of indulgent desserts, part fresh-made “ooey and gooey” brownie, part pecan pie, part vanilla ice cream, and part whipped cream ($5, 575/430-9708). At the counter, we sat next to a sexy, weathered, real-life cowboy named Dave—black cowboy hat, plaid shirt—who ordered steak and beans and called us “ma’am.” Back in the car, Whitney said what both of us were thinking: “Did you find him attractive?” “Yes,” I shouted. We half-joked that we wished he’d join us on the road.

Two hours later, at Sadie’s in Albuquerque, appetites back, we taste-tested three fiery salsas and a green chile cheeseburger topped with freshly chopped chiles, washed down with a dainty sip of the famous $7 house margarita. Gilbert, the general manager, let us in on a local secret: If a server asks you if you’d like “red or green” sauce on your Mexican food, don’t say “Christmas.” Tourists say that. Instead, say, “both.”

Spent and stuffed, we headed to tranquil Los Poblanos Historic Inn, a 1930s ranch turned B&B and lavender farm (from $165 per night). Four regal peacocks strut the grounds; lavender bushes dot paths to spacious rooms with soaking tubs. In the summer, the inn holds aromatherapy, yoga, and cooking classes. After night fell, each of us in her own room this time, we burned wood in our fireplaces, smoke drifting up the flue as the warmth from bright-orange embers kissed us goodnight.

Day 2: Albuquerque to Santa Fe

After filling up on organic blueberry pancakes and fresh-squeezed orange juice next to a table of six women on their own girlfriend getaway, we hit Los Poblanos’ Farm Shop for souvenir tubs of the inn’s Lavender Salve and other sundries, like blue corn mint soap and piñon incense (spa products from $4).

Before leaving town, we popped by Grove Café and Market—better known as the place where Walter White poisoned Lydia Rodarte-Quayle with a ricin-laced Stevia packet in Breaking Bad, but much sunnier and lovelier in person. Our roasted tomato soups and farmers salads arrived quickly, works of vegetable art dotted with Marcona almonds, roasted golden beets, and local goat cheese (entrées from $8).

The quickest way to get to Santa Fe is a straight shot on Highway 25, but we took the scenic route via the 54-mile Turquoise Trail (or State Road 14), named for the region’s turquoise mining history. It was worth the extra time to sail through golden sagebrush fields, sipping hot coffee from travel cups and watching the Sandia Mountains pass by, clouds brushing up against the tops of snow-covered peaks.

Checking into downtown’s Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe, a tribute to the village of Chimayó, was a religious experience (from $89 per night). Dark chunky wood furniture fills the lobby alongside Catholic candles set aflame, hanging Mexican blankets, a statue of the Virgin Mary, and wooden tiles painted with biblical scenes lining the fireplace.

We ambled through Santa Fe’s downtown, past vivid street art and turquoise jewelry in shop windows. After two days of being on the road, I (a road-trip newbie) begged Whitney (a road-trip pro) for a cocktail break. The proprietor of a photography shop told us about a new secret bar nearby. Intrigued, we walked around Saint Francis Cathedral and took an elevator to the top floor of the unassuming Drury Plaza Hotel. There we found Bar Alto, a modern crow’s nest surrounded by sleek white-framed windowpanes with a sweeping view of the city (drinks from $5).

At precisely that second, the sun was setting in a watercolor wash of tangerine orange and royal blue. We rushed outside, next to the outdoor pool, for the best vantage point. Back at our barstools, Joseph the barkeep, sporting an apron, fuzzy beard, and samurai bun, psychoanalyzed our tastes and our pasts (“What’s your favorite bar in New York?” “Where did you grow up?”) to pour us two perfect cocktails that eerily matched our personalities: a hot, dry, mezcal-and-tequila concoction for me, and a light, fruity old-fashioned for Whitney. Who knew she was a bourbon fan? I respected that. Relaxed, we pulled out our phones and compared photos from our trip, “liking” each other’s Instagrams and reminiscing about Cowboy Dave and our White Sands playground.

We strolled away happy, ready for Mexican food at The Shed: an appetizer of posole, a Pueblo stew of fat nixtamal corn, pork, and red chile; fuchsia-hued prickly-pear and strawberry margaritas; skewered shrimp atop fluffy Spanish rice; and enchiladas smothered with spicy green chile sauce (margaritas from $8,
entrées from $12).

Day 3: Santa Fe to Taos

Running late, we put the pedal to the metal on 84 North, our VW Bug climbing into the hills to Abiquiu, scenery bursting with fluffy tufts of burnt-umber leaves and thin, lemon-yellow trees standing stock-straight. Whitney and I affectionately called them “our flame trees.” 

We arrived in time to catch the noon group tour of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu Home and Studio, a sprawling Spanish-Colonial estate where O’Keeffe lived from 1949 well into the ’80s (from $30). We stepped gingerly through her courtyard, past a hanging cow skull, into the room she used to freeze vegetables from her garden, and through her kitchen before reaching her studio. Sunlight streamed through the massive plate-glass windows, our pupils contracting as we drank in the view of Pedernal mountain, its warm fall colors spilling down into the valley below, more inspiring than we could have imagined. 

Back on the road, we drove south and then north again to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, an affordable, egalitarian place for a quiet soak in mineral-rich pools, picturesque cliffs rising in the background (access from $16). We changed into our swimsuits and dipped first into the warm iron pool, then the steaming soda pool, sharing the greenhouse-like space with guests from teenagers to seniors, their eyes closed, faces serene. If you prefer alone time, it’s worth the $45 to upgrade to a private outdoor pool—with wood-burning fireplace, Adirondack chairs, and rustic cliffside view—for an hour. We relished the heat in the crisp November weather, taking turns throwing logs into the fire and sinking into piping-hot water that coursed into the pool from a giant faucet.

I told Whitney she had to try the Milagro body wrap with me, a $12 ancient ritual thought to release toxins. We walked into a hospital-like room full of empty massage tables and awkwardly shed our robes. A spa attendant swaddled each of us in blankets, tucking us in tight, putting a towel over our eyes. For 25 minutes, we were mummies, motionless, listening to chiming New Age music. I could hear Whitney breathing in and out; I knew she was meditating. I, on the other hand, surprised myself when
I started to cry in the darkness, tears soaking the towel, stress melting out of me. Were those the toxins? Time passed like molasses. “Did she forget about us?” I whispered. But, no—the 25 minutes hadn’t ended yet. When the lights came on, Whitney and I turned and looked at each other sleepily. “I dedicated my love and kindness meditation to you,” she said. A lump in my throat, all I could think to say was, “That’s nice.”

At twilight, we set out for Taos. It was impossible not to feel the girl power when we stepped into Palacio de Marquesa, a restored 1920s Spanish-style casa designed to pay tribute to Taos women (from $129 per night). The eight rooms, bearing names like “Matriarch Suite” for art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan, are awash in pristine ivory paint and vibrant works by local female artists, who designed everything from the blankets to the window shades. 

Later, at cozy farm-to-table restaurant Aceq, we speared slices of ahi tuna and pork tenderloin doused in a heavenly balsamic reduction (sharable plates from $7).

Day 4: Taos to Albuquerque

Whitney and I had both long dreamed of visiting Taos Pueblo, a Native American community inhabited for roughly 1,000 years, a four-mile drive from our hotel. We pulled up to the UNESCO World Heritage site, with its unmistakeable adobe structures, passed down generation to generation, and took a free tour led by a tribal member. We began in San Geronimo Chapel and circling the property, listening to the tribe’s bittersweet history, from Spanish colonization to the government’s return of spiritually significant Blue Lake in 1970 (admission $16).

Some of the pueblo homes are open to visitors—residents sell pottery, jewelry, food. Whitney bought a bundle of sage to smudge her new apartment ($3); I purchased a tiny teal-and-black box, painted by a grandmother who told me she worked all her life so her grandchildren wouldn’t have to spend their childhoods in day care. Swept up in the moment, I hugged her. In another pueblo, we sipped piñon coffee and devoured sugar-sprinkled puffy fry bread in a resident named Bertha’s home (coffee $3, fry bread $6). We bid Bertha tah ah—the phoenetic spelling of “thank you” in Tiwa, the native language—and drove back to Taos, peeking into art galleries before tearing ourselves away to catch our flight. 

In the air, I peered at Whitney’s laptop, admiring how she deftly clicked through our trip photos and filed them electronically.

On Georgia O’Keeffe’s dining-room sofa in Abiquiu rests an Alexander Girard pillow with a red heart formed by words: “ ‘love’ in many languages,” our tour guide had explained. In my language, “That’s nice” means “I love you as a friend too, Whitney. I’m glad we got to know each other better in this beautiful place. Also, thank you for driving.”

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Gorgeous Caribbean B&Bs from $69!

As winter arrives, we firmly believe that the Caribbean is always a good idea, and our friends at have come up with some “luxe for less” deals that we want to pass on right away: Westender Inn, Jamaica, is perched on the low-lying cliffs of the West End and starts at $69. You’ll want to relax in a hammock on your verandah or patio and savor authentic Jamaican cuisine (after your shuttle returns you from a fun day shopping in nearby Negril). Nab a table at Rick's Cafe on the Negril Cliffs for a scary/cool view of cliff divers. Gloucester Place, Tobago, starts at $70 and offers airy rooms that open onto a verandah with sweet views of the sea and fishing boats bearing the day’s catch (a.k.a. your dinner), plus an infinity pool that’ll make you feel as if you’re swimming to the horizon. Browse the small shops and outdoor market in nearby Scarborough and visit the historic 18th-century Fort St. George.   B&B Sombré di Kabana, Curacao, just outside the colorful capital city of Willemstad, starts from $150 and offers a soothing garden setting with tropical birds, pool, and Jacuzzi. Feeling a little adventurous? Some first-rate nearby dive sites will let you explore beautiful undersea coral formations.


Why You Should Visit Freeport, Maine

Freeport, Maine, home to L. L. Bean’s flagship store and dozens of other retail outlets, is a shopaholic’s fantasy. But even those without a tad of interest in shopping will enjoy a weekend visit to this tidy town on the shores of Casco Bay. If you’re seeking active adventures for a bargain price, you’ve come to the right place. Mother Nature shines in these parts and admirers of the great outdoors will appreciate the region’s beauty. Foodies looking for the next culinary “it girl” are flocking here to sample a tantalizing array of sweet and savory goodies. Freeport’s compact nature and walkability factor make it a pedestrian’s delight. With so much to offer in all four seasons, you’ll quickly see why this town attracts over three million visitors annually. Unleash your inner shopaholic If you think L.L. Bean is all about Oxford shirts, boat shoes and moccasins, think again. Sure, you can purchase these preppy staples 24/7 at the flagship store, but New England’s best bargain attraction is the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, where for $25 you can learn a new sport or perfect an old favorite, with expert instruction and all equipment included. In summer, try your hand at standup paddle-boarding, fly fishing, canoeing, or archery. In winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular options. Get back to nature Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park is a place of solitude and pristine beauty. Groomed trails provide glimpses of coastal scenery. Hike or just meander and soak up the sweeping views and fresh air. Splurge on local favorites You’ll find generic outlet stores such as Gap, J. Crew and Banana Republic here, but don’t miss the unique local boutiques and shops. Wilbur’s Candy sells rich and delish Maine-made confections. Casco Bay Fibers is the place to purchase yarn, fabric, beads and other crafty supplies that should appeal to do-it-yourself types. Maine Wicked Goods Mercantile is packed with heirloom and artisanal items representing the best products this Yankee state can muster. Foodies, rejoice! Check out these great local restaurants Portland swipes Maine’s epicurean spotlight, but Freeport is garnering plenty of its own accolades. Chefs are drawn here for the abundance of high-integrity seafood, collaborative food community and relatively low overhead costs. New on the dining scene is Stirling & Mull. Modeled after a German beer garden, the selection of craft brews and wine-by-the-glass is varied. Chef Anthony pleases patrons with casual bar food like fish and chips with an oatmeal crust and homemade soft pretzel bites. Bring the family; the kids can romp in the playground while the grownups relax with a drink by the fire pit. The Harraseeket Inn’s Broad Arrow Tavern’s authentic New England cuisine is mouth-watering. Don’t miss the award-winning Maine lobster stew or the flaky chicken pot pie. The Sunday buffet brunch is a scrumptious showstopper. One bite and you’ll understand why Azure Cafe’s Chef Christopher Bassett was named Maine Chef of the Year. He’s inspired by Italian, Spanish and French cooking traditions but not bound by them. He serves only seafood that is found in abundance, so expect local lobster and sustainably harvested Pollack. The sugar fairy has blessed this town with an assortment of sweet treats, so leave your diet at the state border. Frosty’s Donuts are hand-cut daily. Locavores won’t be disappointed with the maple or blueberry varieties, while purists can chow down on a chocolate frosted. Whoopie pie is Maine’s official state treat. If you’re not familiar with this Northern staple of two soft cookies with a creamy filling, it’s time to get acquainted. Wicked Whoopies sells the classic chocolate sandwich version as well creative takes like red velvet, Creamsicle and coconut. If you find yourself in need of a fix, they do a brisk mail order business and ship anywhere in the U.S. If you’re proclivities lean towards the liquid, Maine Craft Distilling uses local agricultural products to make small batch spirits that taste like New England in a bottle. Gin, whiskey and rum are all produced using farm to-flask methods for a distinct flavor profile. Stay at a lovely B&B The Harraseeket Inn offers some of New England’s finest lodging and friendliest service. Book one of the 93 luxury rooms directly through the hotel’s website and a generous breakfast and lavish fireside afternoon tea are included in the rate. If you prefer a Bed and Breakfast, the cozy White Cedar Inn is located right on Main Street. Innkeeper Rock’s morning meal is a fortifying way to start the day. How to get to Freeport Freeport is enticing visitors without cars thanks to Amtrak’s Downeaster stopping in the center of town. If you’re driving, it’s twenty minutes north of Portland. To plan your trip, go to and


Great Getaways: Hawaii's Big Island

When I was 12 years old, my family was living in Hawaii on the island of Oahu, and we decided to branch out and explore the other islands—we started with Maui, and eventually visited the Big Island and Kauai before the summer was over. I remember being especially excited to visit the Big Island since we had just finished learning about volcanoes in my middle school science class a few weeks before our trip, and couldn't wait to see the real thing up close. I recently wrote about the best things to do on Oahu—here's my list of places you shouldn't miss on Hawaii's Big Island. (Special note: you will need a car to reach the places mentioned, as most Big Island hotels are centered around the towns of Hilo and Kona.) Get up close to an active volcano Remember all those earth science classes you took about volcanoes and lava rocks? Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the real thing in action. Not only will you get the chance to drive right up to the caldera—don't miss the Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile road that passes through the various volcano landscapes from tropical rainforest to the desert-like crater itself, with scenic overlooks all along the way—there's also the opportunity to walk inside the Thurston Lava Tube, no longer an active part of the volcano, that allows you to walk 1/3 mile inside Kilauea where lava once flowed a few hundred years ago. Expect to pay $15 per vehicle that enters the park, or $8 per individual if you enter by foot, bicycle, or $10 per motorcycle (passes are valid for seven days). Grab a park map on your way in and stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum to learn more about what you're viewing. Free camping and hiking opportunities are also available, as are park ranger-led walking tours, but be sure to check the website for updates on volcanic activity in the park before you head out. Always stick to the marked paths and never try to get closer to the lava, no matter how great you think your photo might turn out. You're still on an active volcano, after all. Don't take lava rocks as a souvenir, it's bad luck There are any number of souvenirs you could buy and take home from the Hawaiian Islands, but taking lava rocks  from their natural place is a major no-no. Tourists from all over the world have been known to send back lava rocks to the Hawaii Visitor's Bureau with letters saying they've had an unusual streak of bad luck lately, which locals claim is just a little dose of revenge from Pele, the volcano goddess. Don't buy souvenirs containing fragments of lava rocks, and remember to shake out your shoes after a hike so as not to accidentally take any lava dust home with you. Even if you're not the superstitous type, don't say I didn't warn you. Visit the Hilo Farmers Market and nearby Akaka Falls You can't visit the Big Island without stopping in Hilo, home to the Hilo Farmers Market. Every Wednesday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., more than 200 local farmers and crafters share their goods with locals and tourists alike, offering the best deals on local produce, arts, and crafts around—coupons are also available on their website for more discounts. A wide selection of Hawaiian food vendors, clothing, coffee and tea, honey, and fresh flowers are also available, and keep an eye out for free live musical performances offered twice a week. Just a 25-minute drive north of downtown Hilo is `Akaka Falls State Park, home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the islands. Admission is $5 per vehicle and the photo-ops are endless. Snorkel in historic Kealakekua Bay Don't miss Fair Wind's Morning Snorkel Cruise & BBQ for a chance to sail along the Big Island's historic west coast from Keahou Bay to Kealakekua Bay, home to gorgeous coral reefs, crystal-clear waters, and a beautiful coral reef to explore. The day-trip is 4.5-hours long and includes breakfast, delicious Kona Coffee, and the use of snorkel equipment, inner tubes, and floatation devices, as well as a yummy BBQ lunch and two 15-foot water slides for you to play with—Kealakekua Bay is also a popular spot for dolphins so keep those cameras handy! From $129 per adult, $79 for children ages 4-12, and $29 for children ages three and under. Go stargazing at Mauna Kea At 14,000 feet, Mauna Kea is Hawaii's highest point and home to the world's biggest telescopes at the Mauna Kea Observatories. Drive 90 minutes from Hilo on Route 200 up the twisting, winding, Saddle Road, and stop at the Visitor Information Station of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy to learn more about the dormant volcano, see the giant telescopes, and buy souvenirs. Brace yourself for cold temperatures and the occasional snow drift at such high altitudes (yes, it does sometimes snow in Hawaii), and if weather and road conditions permit, drive to the 14,000-foot summit for a view of the main observatory. From $212 per person, Mauna Kea Summit Adventures will pick you up from certain locations in Kailua-Kona, and loan you cold-weather parkas and gloves for an educational trip to Mauna Kea's summit, and the stargazing opportunity of a lifetime using their large portable telescopes. The tour can last anywhere from seven to eight hours, and also includes dinner at the Mauna Kea Visitors Center. Stay in the heart of Hilo or on the beach in Kona—for less! Located just a 10-minute drive from Hilo International Airport and about five minutes from downtown, you'll find the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, your best base for any day-trips to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, `Akaka Falls, or anything else of interest along the island's east coast. It's also right next door to Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens, a beautiful beachside 30-acre park along Banyan Drive that is dedicated to the Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields (rates from $156 per night). If you're after iconic Kona sunsets on the west side of the island, stay at Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel. The property is located right on Kona's main drag so you'll be able to walk to most restaurants and nightlife downtown (or else you can always hop on the Keahou Honu Express Shuttle for $2 per person), and its lobby is reminiscent of a beautiful gallery with local Hawaiian artwork on display. Don't miss it (rates from $152 per night). For more information and to plan your Hawaii adventure, visit


Three-Day Weekend: Quebec City

I’m walking the streets of Quebec City with a red feather clipped into my hair, a fluffy layer of petticoat-like cushions, a large (and surprisingly heavy) red and gold skirt layered over them, and a rather snug matching long-sleeved corset top to bring the outfit together. My father, John Conforti, who accompanied me on this weekend getaway, is smiling ear to ear, dressed as a dashing French nobleman, hamming it up for the camera. He declares that he’s never felt more like a musketeer in his life. There’s something special about a place that throws a five-day bash to celebrate its heritage by donning period costumes and partying like it’s 1699. Quebec City’s New France Festival, held each summer, commemorates the anniversary of the 1665 siege of Quebec, in which 500 French Canadians defended the city against the British army. I quickly discover that the people here are warm and welcoming, speaking French or English depending on your reaction to their friendly, “Bonjour, hello!” At times it feels like I’m strolling along a pretty Parisian promenade, but have to remind myself that it’s the St. Lawrence River I’m fawning over, not the Seine. Of course, the biggest perks here are the prices—everything’s a bargain thanks to the strong dollar—and the fact that I’ve flown only 90 minutes from New York City to get here. Here’s why you should visit, too. PICK A FESTIVAL, ANY FESTIVAL Quebec City may be best known for the world’s largest Winter Carnival. It’s returning January 29 to February 14, 2016, and you’ll find everything from snow sculptures to ice skating and tons of winter wonderland fun for the whole family (the official Carnaval Effigy pin is your entry to all festival events and activities, about $11). Visit during the summer to see Macy’s-level fireworks shows every Wednesday and Saturday night, or in early August for the New France Festival, mentioned above. Get in on the fun by making your own costume or renting one at Costumier Lépoque from $60 to $160 each, depending on how intricate you want your outfit to be). An $8 festival medallion gives you access to all festival venues and activities. If music festivals are more your style, check out the Quebec City Summer Festival, an 11-day event featuring 300 shows on 10 stages. The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, and Keith Urban all headlined this year (tickets from about $74 for the 11-day festival). STAY IN THE CENTER OF ALL THE ACTION—FOR LESS Charming Hôtel Château Laurier Québec is a 10-minute walk from the heart of Quebec City’s Old Town—you’ll know you’re there when you reach the impressive-looking ramparts (from about $129 per night). The hub of the city’s nightlife is around the corner along Grand Allée, with an artsy vibe and food scene happening on nearby Cartier Street. For a non-traditional traditional stay, try Le Monastère des Augustines, once a cloistered monastery for the Augustinian Sisters, now a newly renovated hotel in the center of the Old City (breakfast and access to the museum and heritage site included, historical-style single rooms from $95 per night, traditional-style double rooms from about $110 per night, and contemporary double rooms from about $141 per night). Hilton Quebec is also lo- cated just outside the ramparts and offers rooms overlooking the scenic city below (from about $135 per night). GET AROUND TOWN BY BUS—OR SEE THE SIGHTS FROM THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER It’s wonderful to just spend time wandering the colorful streets of Quebec City, taking in views of the St. Lawrence River from the historic Promenade Samuel-De Champlain. For a different point of view, take a ride up and down the Funicular between Upper Town and Lower Town (about $2 per person). If you’re short on time, opt for a hop-on-hop-off city tour from Old Quebec Tours to see the sights (about $27), or better yet, take in the city from the water with a 90-minute cruise down the St. Lawrence River, operated by family-owed company Croisières AML (from about $26). ADMIRE WATERFALLS AND ART ON A DAY TRIP TO THE CÔTE-DE-BEAUPRÉ COAST AND ÎLE D’ORLÉANS No car? No problem! Old Quebec Tours offers half-day guided trips from Quebec City. You’ll visit the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Shrine—a stunning neo-Roman basilica known for being the oldest pilgrimage site in North America—Montmorency Falls, an impressive waterfall 1.5 times higher than Niagara Falls, and Île d’Orléans, home to quaint country villages (about $38). If you decide to rent a car to better explore the region, don’t miss a trip to Canyon Sainte-Anne, a gorgeous waterfall complex surrounded by family-friendly hiking trails (about $10, open seasonally between May and October). Art lovers should stop by the Albert Gilles Copper Art Museum for a look at 50 beautifully embossed panels that depict the life of Christ, a masterpiece that took artist Albert Gilles more than 15 years to create (free). On your way back into town, treat yourself to lunch at La Monnaguette restaurant, part of Cassis Monna & Filles, on Île d’Orléans, where you can taste delicious, locally made black currant wines and other farm-to-table specialties (entrées from $10). EAT WHAT THE LOCALS EAT Don’t forget to try every Québécois’ favorite dish, poutine, an intriguing yet deliciously filling combination of French fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds—several locals told me the best poutine in town can be found at Chez Ashton, a popular chain restaurant offering heaping plates of piping-hot poutine (from $7). THE BEST PART: IT’S CLOSER THAN YOU THINK Yes, you will need a valid passport if you’re traveling from the U.S., but great news: Quebec City is super-accessible thanks to planes, trains (VIA Rail Canada, anyone?), and automobiles—catch a nonstop flight from many cities within the U.S. and Canada via Delta, United, WestJet, Air Canada, and Porter Airlines (round-trip flights from $323 in mid-December on Porter Airlines from Newark to Quebec City with a stopover in Toronto). Feeling adventurous? Make it a French-Canadian road trip from Montreal to Quebec City (roughly a 2.5-hour drive), and continue another hour north to Le Massif de Charlevoix for a Canadian skiing adventure you’ll never forget (half-day lift tickets about $44).