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
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
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
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.
8 Things to Do in Banff National Park, Alberta
Banff, Canada, has been a haven for adventurous travelers for more than 125 years. The earliest visitors came via the Canadian Pacific Railway to explore the newly minted Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada and third in the world. These days, the area is a reasonable 90-minute drive along the Trans-Canada Highway from Calgary’s International Airport. Lured by the rugged natural beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, backpackers, ski bums, camera-toting tourists, and royals alike have checked the Bow Valley town off their bucket lists, and iconic images of snow-capped peaks with the promise of expert skiing terrain should convince anyone to follow suit. The UNESCO World Heritage Site’s magnificent mountain panoramas and pristine glacial lakes will likely surpass even the most jaded traveler's sky-high expectations. Rolling into town, Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Cascade Mountain are so close you can almost touch them—and that's just the first impression. Here are eight ways to get away from the crowds and bask in the wilderness of Banff, one of the most beautiful natural playgrounds on earth. 1. Linger Around a Lake Moraine Lake is one of several bodies of water not far from Banff. (Jtbob168/Dreamstime) Moraine Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Vermilion Lakes, and Lake Louise are all within a one-hour drive of the town of Banff. Whichever you choose, plan to arrive early to get a moment of quiet reflection and capture sunrise before the masses descend and parking spots disappear. Minnewanka is a prime spot to catch the Northern Lights, so check the aurora forecast (@aurorawatch on Twitter) to plan a late-night viewing, or cruise along the bike path that skirts the Vermilion Lakes—just make sure to keep an eye out for the moose, black bears, and elk that frequent this corridor. 2. Take a Hike or Two On Sulphur Mountain, a boardwalk connects to the gondola landing. (John6863373/Dreamstime) It’s not an insult—it’s expert advice, and the best way to get acquainted with the park and find solitude. There are more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails throughout Banff National Park, but most visitors stick to a handful of crowded routes. The longer—and yes, more strenuous—trails like Cory Pass and Mount Edith or Aylmer Lookout have less foot traffic, with beautiful unobstructed views as rewards for the exertion. As an alternative, Sulphur Mountain, right on the edge of town, boasts a renovated summit area complete with boardwalks and 360-degree panoramas. Consider giving your tired feet a rest and paying for the scenic Banff Gondola (banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/banff-gondola/experience) ride to the top. 3. Go Deeper with Guided Tours Ice climbing in Banff. (Franky/Dreamstime) Banff National Park’s wonderful hikes and vistas are available to all, but local tour operators open up the wilderness for a safe and memorable experience. For an adrenaline rush, ice-climbing trips with Banff Alpine Guides (banffalpineguides.com) in winter and Mount Norquay’s Via Ferrata (banffnorquay.com) assisted-climbing excursions in summer don’t disappoint. Both come with expert instruction and all the necessary safety gear, no experience required. Additionally, canoeing along the Bow River with The Banff Canoe Club (banffcanoeclub.com) seamlessly combines a history lesson and a leisurely journey. 4. Hit the Slopes in Spring Skiing near Lake Louise, Banff. (Sburel/Dreamstime) If you ask any local, they will recommend spring for skiing and snowboarding. Come April, there’s no shortage of fresh powder, the temperatures rise, and accommodations are plentiful and reasonably priced. Banff National Park is home to three ski resorts, Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Mount Norquay (us.skibig3.com), with ample terrain for every ability. The Canadian Rockies may be famous for heli-skiing and adrenaline-packed expert-only lines, but leisurely runs still afford spectacular views of the peaks. 5. Sip a Distinctive Après Ski or Hike Drink Hit the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise's Lakeview Lounge for post-hike refreshments. (Helena Bilkova/Dreamstime) All that activity is bound to make you thirsty, and Banff has a reputation as a party town, with lively drinking scenes on rooftop patios and alfresco tables. Your beverage comes with at least one mountain backdrop and, if you time it right, the sunset. The Bison Restaurant + Terrace (thebison.ca) has a carefully curated selection of British Columbian wines by the glass and by the bottle. When it comes to suds, a flight from Banff Ave. Brewing Co. (banffavebrewingco.ca) is a great way to sample the local craft scene. For teetotalers, Nourish Bistro (nourishbistro.com) offers kombucha on tap with flavors changing daily, and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s Lakeview Lounge (fairmont.com) uses Seedlip’s non-alcoholic distilled spirits for mix-and-match mocktails. 6. Savor Local Flavors Picturesque downtown Banff is home to restaurants and shops alike. (Helena Bilkova/Dreamstime) Thanks to the work-to-live regulations in Banff, locally owned restaurants flourish and have fueled adventurers for years. Start your day at Wild Flour (wildflourbakery.ca) with fresh-baked bread and pastries, local coffees, and lunch to go. Don’t leave without perusing the “vintage” basket, which holds day-old goodies like focaccia and scones, ideal trail snacks at $1 (Canadian) each. Its sister location, Little Wild Coffee (littlewildcoffee.ca), has an unbeatable daily happy hour with $1 drip coffees from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. In addition to a local wine list, The Bison Restaurant + Terrace serves elevated Canadian cuisine with dishes like elk tartare and bison short ribs. A map on the menu notes the origin of every ingredient, three walls of windows offer mountain views, and chefs cook in a copper-accented open-concept kitchen. For more casual fare, head downstairs to The Bear Street Tavern, a local favorite for pizza and homemade sauces. Down the street, Nourish Bistro manages to make meat-eaters crave its raw, vegan, and vegetarian fare, and its colossal veggie burger requires a knife and fork to conquer. 7. Recover in Mountain Style A thermal pool inside Banff's Cave and Basin National Historic Site. (Jairo Rene Leiva/Dreamstime) Banff was founded after three railroad workers discovered natural hot springs at the site now known as Cave and Basin. Today, the healing waters of Banff Upper Hot Springs and other local pools remain popular antidotes to mountain adventures. Try a soak in the mineral pool at the Grotto Spa at Delta Hotels Banff Royal Canadian Lodge (deltahotels.com), or one of the rooftop pools at the Moose Hotel & Suites (moosehotelandsuites.com) or Mount Royal Hotel (banffjaspercollection.com). 8. Get Cultured Indoors If the weather doesn’t cooperate, it’s not a total loss. Make the most of a stormy day with a visit to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies (whyte.org), Banff Park Museum (pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/ab/banff), and Banff Centre (banffcentre.ca). The museums chronicle the fascinating cultural and natural history of the Rockies, and the Banff Centre brings it to life through art, performances, and an annual film festival. The Details Accommodations range from campsites and hostels to luxurious rooms with exquisite views. Summer is high season, with the most visitors coming in July and August. As a result, late winter and early fall are the best bets for scoring a deal, while nearby Canmore has even more budget-friendly lodging.
9 Gorgeous Things to See in Shasta Cascade, California
Way up north in California, not far from the Oregon state line, the Shasta Cascade region boasts a stunning array of mountains, lakes, rivers, and redwoods that provide a backdrop for everything from river-rafting, kayaking, and paddleboarding to fishing, camping, and hiking. There’s a Pacific Crest Trail access point nearby, among others, but you don’t have to be an experienced outdoor enthusiast to enjoy the area’s grandeur—if you’re not quite ready for your own personal Wild moment, there are plenty ways to keep it low-impact without skimping on the scenery. Here’s our guide to the natural (and man-made!) wonders in this beautiful corner of the world. Travel Over Water and Under Stone A cloudy day on Lake Shasta. (Maya Stanton) Thirty minutes north of Redding via narrow roads rife with switchbacks and tight curves, you'll find Lake Shasta Caverns National Landmark (lakeshastacaverns.com). The two-hour group tour of these 200-million-year-old limestone caves ($28 for adults, $16 for kids ages 3-15) begins with a catamaran ride across Lake Shasta, California’s biggest reservoir, which plays host to fish like bass, catfish, and sturgeon. It's also houseboat heaven, with plenty of marinas dotting the 370 miles of wildlife-rich shoreline. Keep an eye out for bald eagles—there were 67 in the vicinity at last count. Tour guide Maria Diane Jensen (right) leads a group through Lake Shasta Caverns. (Maya Stanton) After you dock at the other side, a mini-bus takes you up a steep mountain road to the cave entrance. (En route, your driver will rattle off fun facts and historical tidbits to distract from your proximity to the cliff’s edge, but if you’re nervous about heights, avoid the window seat.) A guide will meet you at the top and take you into the mountain, pointing out the perfectly preserved formations, from stalactites dating to the 1700s to flowstone resembling strips of bacon. Pro-tip: If you end up with the hyper-talented Maria Diane Jensen as your guide, be sure to ask for an aria. You won’t soon forget the sound of her classically trained voice bouncing around the 125-foot-tall cathedral room. Embrace the Sun America only has two Santiago Calatrava bridges, one of which is in Redding. (Maya Stanton) Redding’s newly opened Sheraton is just a few minutes from famed architect Santiago Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge, a cantilevered structure that spans the Sacramento River, with an opaque glass walkway that lights up at night and a 217-foot cable-stayed pylon that’s actually the largest working sundial in the world. It links the two campuses of Turtle Bay Exploration Park (turtlebay.org), a 300-acre urban escape featuring botanical gardens, a forestry and wildlife center, and more. The bridge is also an access point for the Sacramento River Trail, a paved path with gorgeous river and mountain views. Walk or bike the entire stretch, or connect to the Sacramento River Rail Trail, an 11-mile trek that runs between two dams: the 157-foot-high Keswick and the 602-foot-high Shasta, the masterpiece of engineering that created Lake Shasta. Take a free tour of the facility (usbr.gov/mp/ncao/dam-tours.html), or take in the scenery on your own. See Some Volcanoes Serene Manzanita Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park. (Maya Stanton) From Redding, it's an hour's drive east to Lassen Volcanic National Park ($20 park pass required; nps.gov/lavo), reportedly the only place on earth to see each different type of volcano—who knew there were four kinds?—as well as hydrothermal phenomena like boiling hot springs and burbling mud pots. Lassen Peak is the 106,372-acre park’s centerpiece and the world’s largest plug dome volcano; it's active, but hasn’t erupted since 1915. Get up close and personal with a hike to the summit (five miles round-trip through steep, rocky terrain), or admire it from afar as you mosey around peaceful Manzanita Lake on the easy 1.5-mile trail. Go Waterfall-Chasing A hundred million gallons of water flow through spring-fed Burney Falls each day. (Maya Stanton) Once you're in Lassen, you're perfectly positioned for a trip to waterfall country. Just under an hour north, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park ($8 entry fee; parks.ca.gov/?page_id=455) is home to a cascade so impressive that Teddy Roosevelt once called it the eighth wonder of the world. You can hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail here, or book a campsite or a cabin for an overnight stay, but the main attraction is the 129-foot-high falls. Walk the short paved loop from the overlook to the pool at the base, then grab a soft-serve cone from the camp store before getting back on the road. Beware of wild beasts around Lower McCloud Falls. (Maya Stanton) Your next destination, McCloud River, is another 40-some miles to the north. The site's three stellar sets of falls are each accessible by car or trail, but either way, you’ll want to start at Lower McCloud, where you can park and walk to the falls or take the easy-to-moderate path that leads upriver to the other two. The middle set of McCloud River falls. (Maya Stanton) At 120 feet wide, with rushing water that drops 40 feet into a picture-perfect (but super-cold!) swimming hole, Middle McCloud makes the strongest impression, but the taller Upper McCloud is beautiful as well. Cool off at Hedge Creek Falls. (Maya Stanton) From there, it’s on to Hedge Creek Falls, the final stop on the loop. A smaller-scale enterprise with a cave behind and prime swimming spots in front, Hedge Creek feels like a hidden treasure, but really, it’s a not-so-well-kept secret. On warm sunny days, get there early to avoid the crowds. Relax Like a Local Get out on the water at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. (Maya Stanton) If the rest of the region weren’t so well-endowed in the natural-splendor department, you’d want to spend all your time at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area ($20 entry fee for cars; nps.gov/whis), a 39,000-acre playground with breathtaking lake and mountain vistas, 70 miles of hiking trails, and even more waterfalls. Book a free ranger-led kayak or paddleboard tour through the park, or sign up for a complimentary Friday-night social paddle with Headwaters Adventure Company (headwatersadventure.com); take a dip in the pristine mountain waters; and explore the falls of your choice. The 3.4-mile hike to Whiskeytown Falls is arduous, but the trail to Lower Crystal Creek is ADA-accessible, and the payoff far outweighs the effort you'll expend getting there. On the drive back to town, pull over in Old Shasta for a peek at the remains of a circa-1860s Gold Rush town, then make a pitstop at La Cocina de Chuy (lacocinadechuy.com), a tiny local gem slinging handmade tortillas and righteous carnitas in decidedly down-home digs behind a gas station. After a day spent in the sun and on the water, not much tastes better than a round of tacos. The Details By car, Redding is about 160 miles from Sacramento, 215 miles from San Francisco, and 315 miles from Eugene, Oregon. Flights connect in San Francisco via United Express, which runs daily service between SFO and Redding Municipal Airport. Once you land, you’ll need a car to get around, and rental agencies such as Enterprise offer airport pick-up and drop-off within business hours. I used these driving directions for the waterfall loop. Opening hours for national and state parks vary seasonally and are subject to change, so check online for trail closures and warnings before heading out. It’s a good idea to bring cash for the entry fees, especially in the off-season when toll booths are often unmanned and reliant upon an honor system. Local accommodations range from rustic campsites and cabins to tricked-out houseboat rentals, but if sleeping under the stars isn’t your thing, the Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge is a convenient pick and will run you less than $200 a night. Downtown, the Thunderbird Lodge is a revamped mid-century motel with great vintage signage and even better rates, walking distance to bars and restaurants. Plan your trip around the annual Redding Rodeo (reddingrodeo.com) in mid-May, or visit year-round for outdoor exploration of all sorts.
7 Things to Do in Cheyenne, Wyoming
There are ten days in July when tens of thousands of people descend on Wyoming's capital for Cheyenne Frontier Days (cfdrodeo.com), the biggest rodeo event in America. It dates back to 1897, making it the second-oldest event the USA after Mardi Gras. In addition to the adrenaline-charged bronco-bucking spectacles, it includes parades, concerts featuring national acts, and costumes galore. The rodeo more than doubles the town’s population of 60,000, but Cheyenne has plenty to offer the rest of the year, too. Yes, crash courses in westward expansion, frontier history, and rodeo abound, and you can get a comprehensive and thorough tutorial on it all on the Cheyenne Trolley tour. But there’s also plenty to eat and drink, nature to explore, and locally made items to buy. Only 90 miles from Denver (shuttle service is even available), Cheyenne makes for a fine destination, whether you’re just passing through, seeking a weekend getaway, or looking to set up camp for a few days. 1. Western Studies 101: Cowgirls and Rodeo "It's sort of like hockey, except the other team is a bull. And he wants to kill you," said my guide at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum (oldwestmuseum.com), a stronghold of the Old West and everything that made it iconic. “People do wild things all the time. It’s just a matter of what kind of wild you grew up with.” She was, of course, explaining rodeo. The museum sits on the grounds of Frontier Park, where the epic annual event takes place, so photos, videos, and relevant artifacts like saddles and costumes make up a sizable part of the collection, but bronco bucks are merely one chapter of Western history presented here. An array of historic stage coaches, covered wagons, and carriages illustrates the evolution of this distinctive mode of transportation; an assemblage of photos and artifacts chronicle the emergence of Frontier Day traditions. Tradition, however, will be the last thing on your mind at the Cowgirl Museum of the West (cowgirlsofthewestmuseum.com), a downtown storefront that pays tribute to the brazen, boundary-breaking broads whose very lives are the stuff of Hollywood screenwriters' dreams. Women who roped 500-pound steers and raised six-plus children while forging successful film or recording careers, women who shot and taxidermied wild animals during Victorian times, and activists who made Wyoming women the first women in the nation with the right to vote—they’re all immortalized here. Add that an extensive collection of early cowgirl fashion (a welcome development that came on the heels of women getting arrested for wearing pants), and it’s a wonder the Smithsonian hasn’t come calling, especially since, like the Smithsonian, entry here is free. 2. Day Tripping: Wyoming Wilderness and a Presidential Monument (Liza Weisstuch) Forty miles west of downtown, halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie on I-80, is a rest stop with a visitor center. But calling it a rest stop is a major injustice. It’s the pull-off point to see the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument, which was commissioned in 1959 in honor of the 16th president’s 150th birthday. The cast-bronze sculpture, which clocks in at 30 feet and 7,000 pounds, was originally located on the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway and the manifestation of his long-held vision of coast-to-coast transportation; it was moved to I-80 in 1969. You could get away with calling the visitors' center a museum, with placards that detail the area’s military history, wildlife, the daily life of pioneers and settlers, and the construction of the highway. Here’s where you can also learn that Lincoln’s commitment to travel did not end with the roads: He’s responsible for signing off on the Union Pacific Railroad. But for a full education on that, head back to town to the Depot Museum (cheyennedepotmuseum.org), located in the historic Union Pacific Railroad depot. The highway, of course, is a modern creation, but you can take Happy Jack Road, the scenic route that runs 40 miles from Laramie to Cheyenne and along Medicine Bow National Forest, to see the natural landscape as it looked for time immemorial. Make sure you stop along the way to take in the scenery. 3. Distillation Nation Once upon a time, when the West was a land of moonshiners and whiskey-runners, tough-talkin' gunslingers knocked back raw hooch around campfires while en route to the next town. These days, though, Wyoming, like every state in the nation, has small distilleries where producers use local products to make whiskey, gin, vodka, and more. The Equality State’s newest is Pine Bluffs Distilling (pinebluffsdistilling.com), which sits on an expansive farm property about 45 miles east of downtown Cheyenne, close to the Nebraska border. Longtime home-brewer Chad Brown opened the distillery in November 2017, and he’s made it a family affair, with his sister overseeing the distillation and his dad volunteering in the tasting room. Chad co-owns the distillery with his aunt and cousin. Unlike the majority of America's 1,500-plus small-batch distilleries, this one is also a malting facility, selling malted grain to craft breweries. See how they prepare the grain, bought straight from local farmers, then stroll through the distillery for a look at the practically alchemistic process that transforms corn and rye into booze. The airy tasting room, dominated by a colorful larger-than-life mural of the farm, serves spirits and cocktails. Feel free to bring some food, grab one of the board games, and settle in with some friends for the afternoon. 4. The Nighttime Is the Right Time Whether you’re a banking exec from London, a college student, or a worker fresh off a demanding day on the oil rigs, everyone is the same when they belly up to the bar and order a bottle of beer. Watering holes around the city are easy to come by, to be sure, but what looks like one man’s dive is another man’s treasure. Sleek new bars, as a rule, will always turn heads, but don't overlook the local watering holes. There's no better way to get the pulse of the city than chat with its those who know it best over a few drinks. I was lucky enough to hit Alf's, a virtual roadside tavern, on karaoke night. A veteran DJ came to the rescue of singers who needed a boost and some crooners even had revelers slow dancing. The proceedings were slightly more polished at Scooters, another proudly no-frills joint where the participants seemed to have serious training and the man overseeing the music put on an auditorium-worthy show of his own when he took the mic. But for a true country music experience, you'll want to head to the Outlaw Saloon, which features live music most nights (a $5 cover charge applies) on a stage overlooking a dance floor. But with three individual bars, the venue is sprawling enough that you can hang out without feeling like you're at a concert. But about those sleek bars, there's at least one, it seems, in every city and Cheyenne is no exception. The Paramount Ballroom is a bright, modern, laid-back space downtown where locals linger over creative craft cocktails and elevated bar bites like cheese boards and deviled eggs. The sister venue, Paramount Cafe, turns out excellent coffee drinks next door. 5. Tea Time (Liza Weisstuch) Bars are egalitarian, but high tea tends to remain a bougie affair. English, Irish, and Scottish immigrants brought their homelands’ afternoon-tea tradition to the frontier during the Victorian era, and the custom is preserved almost single-handedly at the grand Nagle Warren Mansion (naglewarrenmansion.com). The mansion was built by a senator, who later bequeathed it to his son, who married a daughter of J.P. Morgan; she, in turn, gave it to the local YWCA. (After all, last thing she needed was to care for another property.) Today, it’s a charming bed and breakfast. Proprietor Jim Osterfoss insists it’s not a museum, but anyone with an interest in architecture or design will be mesmerized by original fixtures, woodworking, molding, stained glass, and more. As far as renovations go, Jim told me, “We try to be historically sensitive, but don’t have to be hysterically correct.” Now, about that tea. It’s served every Friday and Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the mansion’s elegant sitting room. A gorgeous spread of both sweet and savory sophisticated finger food is up for grabs (just grab daintily, please), and the special blend of Nagle Warren tea that’s poured all afternoon is available for sale to take home. 6. What's in Store (Liza Weisstuch) Yes, you can absolutely get a flashy pair of cowboy boots and a bona fide Stetson hat in downtown Cheyenne, as well as frontier-themed tchotchkes and bedazzled apparel galore, but you can also get handmade silver jewelry, crocheted doll clothes, old books on American history, cooking, and Far Eastern art, or vintage mid-century modern glassware. And that’s just for starters. The Wrangler Store, which opened in the 1960s and is now part of the national Boot Barn chain, is the anchor of downtown, situated in a distinctive red brick building that’s been home to a series of retailers since it was built in 1892. It’s a ranch-wear emporium with extensive shelves of cowboy boots for men, women, and kids. Embroidered, emblazoned, stitched, and studded, they run from rugged to ornate. It’s easy to be charmed by the rugged chop houses, the historic train depot, and all kinds of Wild West–minded stores and attractions that dot the streets, but it was the small stores that delivered the biggest treasures. My companion and I spent about two hours in Phoenix Books & Music, chatting with the soft-spoken owner Don McKee, a musician and committed collector who’s made a career out of digging for vinyl. While my friend thumbed through the stacks of well-curated records, which run the gamut from vintage country to soul to free jazz and eccentric gems, I picked through shelves of cowboy pulp paperbacks, tomes about trains and birds and rivers, Native American histories, life manuals of a metaphysical stripe, and old road atlases. After narrowing down my picks to nine books, including a novel by Louis L’Amour, the Danielle Steel of Western pulp, that teased, “He battled for his range against winter, a wild bunch and a hard-driving woman!” we headed around the corner to Mid Mod (midmodetc.com), an emporium of vintage furniture, jewelry, dishes, glassware, and more, so beautifully staged that it was more of a design museum than your average secondhand store. 7. Vintage Delights It’s hard to walk past the Atlas Theatre without slowing down to gawk. The magnificent building was completed in 1887 and turned into a theater in 1908, but it suffered a series of misfortunes and recoveries before receiving National Landmark status. Even after all this time, it's still a working theater, home to the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players (cheyennelittletheatre.org/atlas), which was established in 1930, making it one of the oldest community theater groups in the US. Tours of the opulent building are offered during Frontier Days, and they're in the process of putting together a year-round schedule, too. On the day in May that I was walking past, a sandwich board for Emma’s Old Time Photos (emmasoldtimephotos.com) beckoned me inside. Val Martin, the owner and photographer, was presiding over a rack of old-timey costumes, a wardrobe to clothe cowboys and cowgirls, coquettes, can-can dancers, and villains and mavericks of every stripe. Val, who often sets up her studio here, was inspired by the western-themed photo studios in Deadwood, a major tourist destination. From that, her more low-key, cozy version of the concept was born. An affable expert on Cheyenne (she also works as a guide for Cheyenne Trolley Tours), Val has a way of putting people at ease for their photo sessions. She can accommodate couples, individuals, or big groups. She regularly operates as a pop-up at the theater, but keep track of her moves on her Facebook page, because she can also be found at fairs and other events.
9 Artsy Things to Do in Columbus, OH
Thanks to a notoriously rabid college-football fanbase, Ohio’s capital city is perhaps best known for its athletics, but there’s way more to Columbus than Buckeye Nation would have you believe. With no fewer than 80 arts-oriented organizations around town, indoor kids young and old will find more than enough here to stimulate their creativity, from world-class museums to art-school fashion shows to hands-on crafts to venues centered around popular interests like comic books and dinosaurs. Explore the contemporary galleries in the Short North Arts District, do some museum-hopping, or settle in for an outdoor movie—no matter what you do, this fertile community offers no shortage of inspiration. 1. Take a Crash Course In Comic-Book History The work of native son Bill Watterson greets visitors to Ohio State's Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum & Library. (Courtesy Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum & Library) Home to the largest collection of comic and cartoon-related material in the world, the archives of Ohio State's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (cartoons.osu.edu) boast more than 300,000 original cartoons and 2.5 million comic-strip clippings, a small portion of which are on display here. A gem of a museum, it features the work of renowned print artists such as The Legend of Wonder Woman’s Trina Robbins, Ohio’s own Will Rannells, whose dog portraits covered highly regarded midcentury magazines such as Life and McCall’s, and my personal favorite, native son and Calvin and Hobbes auteur Bill Watterson, as well as rarities and lesser-known treasures like the first African-American comic book, produced solely by Black writers and artists, and Roe v. Wade comics, both pro- and anti-choice. Tailor your visit to the annual city-wide Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival in September, check out a rotating exhibit (recent examples include one devoted to the satire of MAD Magazine and one to Toronto-based small imprint Koyama Press), or just come in to spend some time in the reading room. The hours are tied to the university’s schedule, so appointments are highly recommended, but if you plan in advance, you can request off-site materials to use while you're there, or book a group tour for behind-the-scenes info and trivia. The cherry on the cake? It’s all free. 2. Pay Homage to Master Artists Old and New The Columbus Museum of Art's architecturally impressive Margaret M. Walter Wing serves as a high-design backdrop for the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions alike. (Courtesy Columbus Museum of Art) The Columbus Museum of Art (columbusmuseum.org) turns 140 years old in 2018, and the state’s first charter museum has plenty to celebrate. In addition to a permanent collection that includes works by Picasso, Cassatt, Degas, and other masters alongside pieces from more modern visionaries like Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Jerome Liebling, and Ahmed Alsoudani, rotating exhibits vary widely, focusing on everything from the power of Star Wars fandom to the 19th-century Parisian art scene (the latter a peripatetic partnership with the Guggenheim Bilbao that made its sole U.S. stop in Columbus). Admission is $14 for adults with discounts for students and seniors, and there's never a charge for kids 5 and under, but bargain-hunters would do well to visit on Sundays, when everyone gets in free, or Thursday evenings, when you can pay what you choose. Families will want to pop into the Center for Creativity and let the little ones loose in the textile-rich Wonder Room, where they can explore a next-level blanket fort and develop a signature style at an interactive fashion station, or dig into the concept of motion in the Big Idea Gallery, then make mobiles based on the pieces in the museum’s collection. But whatever you do, don’t miss the opulent, larger-than-life painting from presidential portraitist Kehinde Wiley on the museum's second floor. Before Barack and Michelle, there was Portrait of Andries Stilte II, a modern-day spin on a 17-century Dutch work, starring a Columbus local as the model. The original is placed nearby for reference, and though the two pieces couldn’t be more different in style and execution, the likeness is uncanny. 3. Keep Up With the Contemporary Crowd Movie buffs turn out for the annual Wex Drive-In, a free outdoor film festival screening classics and cult faves in 35mm. (Courtesy Wexner Center for the Arts) Since it opened in 1989, the Wexner Center for the Arts (wexarts.org) has put artist residencies and the commission of new work front and center, and this commitment to contemporary creatives can't help but benefit the community. Expect elite-level programming, like a retrospective of photographer and director Cindy Sherman’s work that made its only appearance outside of Los Angeles here in Columbus. Upcoming highlights include a deep dive into the outré visual art of cult director John Waters, a 16-film series devoted to the work of Ingmar Bergman, and a live performance incorporating footage of a current-day house party into a reading of the unerring Joan Didion’s ‘60s-set essay The White Album. Entry is $8 for adults, but if you’re counting your pennies, visit for free on a Thursday after 4:00 p.m. or on the first Sunday of the month (college students and those under the age of 18 get in gratis anytime), or attend an open event like the Wex Drive-In, the annual outdoor film festival that screens classics, cult faves, and underappreciated masterpieces, all in 35mm, for true movie buffs. Try the on-site cafe for a light, locally sourced lunch, and be sure to allow time for the gift shop, where the generous selection of beautiful art tomes and fun knick-knacks just might put your suitcase over the weight limit. 4. Support Next-Generation Talent Taking it all in at Chroma: Best of CCAD, an annual campus-wide juried show featuring standout student work. (Ty Wright for Columbus College of Art & Design) Local stalwarts like CMA and the Wex may get the lion's share of the love, but don’t sleep on the Columbus College of Art & Design (ccad.edu), a private, nonprofit art school that’s a never-ending font of boundary-pushing creative output, thanks to a revolving cast of students and a supportive circle of alumni. Swing by the college’s Beeler Gallery (beelergallery.org), a public exhibition space that hosts a roster of complimentary art and design exhibits in addition to a visiting artists and scholars series. Catch talks with makers of all kinds, as well as special programming involving painting, photography, sculpture, installations, and performances. To get a taste of the college aesthetic, stop by the semiannual art fair ($5 in advance, $7 at the door) held each semester, and shop for everything from paintings, prints, and sculptures to glassworks, housewares, and jewelry, all courtesy of CCAD students and grads. In the spring, catch the fashion show, the MFA thesis exhibition, or the campus-wide juried show, and you might just discover the next big thing. 5. See Things From a Global Perspective The Pizzuti Collection's Go Figure exhibit, on display through mid-August, features five pieces by photographer Deana Lawson, including “Wanda and Daughters,” 2009 (left), and “Cortez,” 2016 (right). (Courtesy the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery)A tightly curated repository of contemporary art set inside an urbane, impeccably restored historic building in the Short North, the nonprofit Pizzuti Collection (pizzuticollection.org) makes its donors’ private holdings available to the Columbus community. The well-rooted sculpture garden aside, the gallery forgoes permanence in favor of rotation, deploying its 18,000 square feet in service of a fascinating lineup of exhibitions. During a recent visit, paintings, mixed-media pieces, eye-catching sculptures, and large-scale installations from 21st-century Indian luminaries such as Anish Kapoor and Dia Mehta Buhpal were on display. This summer, two completely different shows have moved in: one dedicated to well-known contemporary artists’ studies of the human form, and the other to the documentary-style imagery of photographer Alex Soth. With such a high rate of turnover, you could visit the Pizzuti every couple of months and have a different experience each time, and at $12 a pop for adults, $10 for seniors, and free entry for students and children, you’ll want to do just that. 6. Get Down With the Dinosaurs (Courtesy Robb McCormick/COSI) It’s not exactly Jurassic Park, but dino-fans should make the Center of Science and Industry’s new Dinosaur Gallery (cosi.org/exhibits/dinos) a top pick on their must-see list. Opened in late 2017 as a partnership between COSI and New York’s American Museum of Natural History, the 14,000-square-foot space gives aspiring paleontologists plenty of face time with these Mesozoic marvels, from full-size cast skeletons displayed alongside the latest theories and hypotheses about dinosaur biology and behavior to massive models like a 60-foot-long Apatosaurus, a six-foot-long T. rex that walks in place, and a true-to-size, climable replica of an Oviraptor nest discovered in China. Entrance to the gallery is included with admission to the museum ($25 for adults, $20 for kids ages 2-12), but if you want to make a full day of it, a Do-It-All ticket costs $15 more and offers unlimited access to COSI’s 3D movie theater, motion simulator, and planetarium. For the ultimate excursion, get handsy with the interactive exhibits, see how you measure up against the dinosaur of your choice, and settle in for a bit of star-gazing. 7. Sow Your Wild Oats An improv night at Wild Goose Creative, one of many wide-ranging events on offer at the nonprofit community-oriented arts space. (UA Creative Studios) If you prefer your art a bit less polished, with a commitment to grassroots organizing and local artists and makers, the arts-for-all approach of Wild Goose Creative (wildgoosecreative.org) might just fit the bill. The venue serves the community, offering mentoring programs, software-development courses, and business-for-artists classes, but it’s also a destination for a deep slate of recurring events, from figure-drawing classes and improv nights to dance-party karaoke and open-mic storytelling. Keep an eye out for one-off happenings, like an Iron Chef-style cooking challenge or yoga for (and with!) your favorite canine companion, as well as monthly gallery exhibitions covering such diverse topics as the transgender body form and art inspired by Midwest literature. Costs vary depending on the occasion, so consult the Facebook page or website for detailed information. 8. Block Out Time for Independent Auteurs Illustrator and designer Sherleelah Jones displays her work at Blockfort, a collective that provides gallery and studio space to entrepreneurs, performers, and organizers as well as artists of various mediums. (@blockfort/Instagram) On an industrial block in downtown Columbus’s Discovery District, a former auto-parts store now plays host to a cross-discipline congregation of entrepreneurs, performers, organizers, and artists of all stripes. In keeping with its independent ethos, Blockfort (blockfortcolumbus.com) doesn’t keep regular business hours, but the fledgling cooperative welcomes guests for monthly gallery openings, and for studio tours by appointment. To catch a glimpse of the artists in action, call ahead to arrange your visit (614-887-7162), then spend an enjoyable hour or two perusing the goods and making small talk with the creators. Look for hand-printed t-shirts from local favorite Alison Rose, whimsical paintings and mixed-media work from Jen Wrubleski, woodlands-inspired illustrated screen prints from Logan Schmitt, and vibrant, melancholy-tinged portraits courtesy of illustrator and designer Sherleelah Jones—the last three, all CCAD grads. To stay up to date on the latest happenings, visit the website to subscribe to the mailing list, and check social media for up-to-the-minute announcements. 9. Burn the Candle at Both Ends At The Candle Lab, choose from an array of aromas to create your own custom-scented candle. (Maya Stanton) This one is more craftsy than artsy, but those without a painterly bone in their body should be relieved to hear that they don’t need so much as a soupçon of artistic talent to participate. A regional mini-chain founded right here in town, The Candle Lab (thecandlelab.com) could be a distant cousin of the paint-your-own-pottery studio, except here, customers create their own custom-scented soy-wax candles. With more than 120 aromas available, from bergamot and bubblegum to pine needles and pomegranate, fragrance hounds will delight in the variety on offer. However, those prone to indecision (ahem, yours truly) may find the sheer volume of options overwhelming. Not to fear: You’ll make an initial pass to note your favorites, then team up with an expert who will help you make sense of, well...your preferred scents. I eventually chose rosemary, hops, and amber musk, a combination that didn’t sound too promising, but my pro somehow managed to divine a cohesive, on-point blend from the hodgepodge I selected, and I wound up with a final product that suits me to a tee.