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Budget Italy: Yes, You Can Afford Amalfi

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
May 5, 2017
green cliff and blue water
Minnystock/Dreamstime
You haven’t really seen Italy till you’ve hugged the southern coast, where villages perch precariously over the sea and days and nights are given over to the sweetness of doing nothing.

Nowhere else on earth quite compares to Italy's Amalfi Coast. You've seen the pictures: A highway that hugs the hillsides. Colorful towns that perch along cliffs, as if to say, "Quick! Grab us—along with our buffalo mozzarella, limoncello, and caponata—before we tumble into the sea!" And, of course, the people strolling the streets, kicking back on the beaches, and embodying the expression La dolce far niente ("The sweetness of doing nothing"). If you're like me, you've probably regarded Amalfi's awesomness as a little too rarefied for the likes of you. With must-see neighbors to the north (Rome, Florence, and Venice, anyone?) and what we've presumed to be a prohibitive price tag, this gorgeous stretch of Italy's Campania region has languished on the margins of our travel list. That's going to change. While it's possible to drop a small fortune in pursuit of a sun-drenched dream here in the enchanting countryside outside of Naples, it is also possible to grab your piece of the Amalfi without breaking the bank.

GETTING THERE

The simplest way to see the Amalfi region is on a day trip from Naples. Viator.com and other tour operators offer easy, reasonably priced round-trip sightseeing tours via bus or private car. Sure, you'll soak up some sole, but you'll leave wanting more. The next step up is a multi-day excursion from Naples or Rome, in which you can spend a few days (a typical tour from Rome may include three days' sightseeing and two nights' accommodations for under $400). This will be more than a window on Naples, the Amalfi, and the ruins of Pompeii, but it's hardly an immersive experience. For that, G Adventures offers the opportunity to live in an agriturismo on the Amalfi Coast for a week, with tours of the nearby towns, restaurant and home-cooked meals, for less than $1,800 (not including airfare). If you're ready to explore sans tour guide, book a flight to Naples (flights from New York start around $1,200, but to get the earliest notification for fares, follow all the major airlines on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to their e-newsletters), grab the convenient public rail line, the Circumvesuviana, to Sorrento, and travel at your own pace along this string of jewels along the water.

SORRENTO

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Often the first stop for visitors to the Amalfi, Sorrento is perhaps the picture-perfect Amalfi town because of its photogenically tiered buildings adorning the hillside that rises from the water. Remember, this is such a popular arrival point that it will probably strike you as a bit touristy, and that breathtaking cliff sort of precludes a conventional beachgoing experience. But don't overlook the authentic charms lurking behind the tourst façade. Elizabeth Minchilli, author of the bestselling apps Eat Rome, Eat Florence, and Eat Venice, notes that while vendors at every turn will attempt to sell you bottles of limoncello (the signature lemon liqueur of Southern Italy), there are lesser-known local favorites to be savored. "Try fried fresh-caught anchovies," suggests Minchilli, "and caponata, a local salad made with cornbread, tomatoes, tuna, basil, and mozzarella." Casa Astarita is a comfortable and affordable B&B (casastarita.com, from $150).

AMALFI

Yes, Amalfi is the name of the region (officially Costiera Amalfitana) and of one of its towns. Centuries ago, this little village was a dominant force in the Mediterranean shipping trade. These days, it's more about hoisting cold beverages than sails. Ideal for leisurely strolls, you can cover most of Amalfi in a few hours, window-shopping and snacking along the way. Ready to bump your walk up to the next level? Gillian Price, author of Walking on the Amalfi Coast, recommends, "Take a walk on the old mule tracks, the Sentiero degli Dei ("Pathway of the Gods"), a breathtaking route high above the spectacular coastline. It links the hillside village of Bomerano (above Amalfi) with gorgeous, trendy Positano. Should you need a guide, contact local expert and English-speaking Giovanni Visetti (giovis.com). While in Amalfi, enjoy a Caprese salad, lentil soup, and lemon risotto with prawns at Da Gemma Trattoria (trattoriadagemma.com).

POSITANO

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Here, big-city style meets coastal sun and fun. You can spend an entire day or more browsing Positano's boutiques and ceramics shops, and the prestigious Franco Sinesi gallery is a must for modern art lovers. And, of course, an upscale town like Positano is a perfect place to indulge in more great food. "Delizia al Limone is a luscious, soft sponge cake with delicate lemon cream," enthuses Price. "And Sfogliatelle are layered pastries stuffed with candied fruit and ricotta." If you're looking to spend a night or two here in affordable luxury, the former palazzo Albergo California (yes, Eagles fans, that's "Hotel California") won't disappoint (hotelcaliforniapositano.it, from $200). And when you're ready to hang with Positano's jetsetters, belly up to the sleek, modern Next2 bar-dinner can be pricey, but you can soak up the vibe for the price of a tasty local cocktail (next2.it).

MINORI

You might call Minori your window into the real Amalfi Coast. This is, after all, where Italians themselves are likely to visit on vacation, and you'll definitely notice a more relaxed, less touristy scene here. And speaking of real, the executive chef at Minori's Hotel Villa Romana, Giuliano Donatantonio, leads cooking classes that let you take home some of the secrets of Italian cuisine, recipes included (hotelvillaromana.it, weekend special includes two nights, breakfast, and one dinner for two from $260; learn more about cooking classes at travelingtoitaly.com). The town is also home to a limoncello factory that offers tours-and tastings!

PAESTUM

In Paestum, you can do more than just eat fresh mozzarella and tomatoes like everybody who visits the Amalfi does—here, you can actually see how the light, creamy cheese is made daily. Drop by Tenuta Vannulo (vannulo.it) for a tour of an operating buffalo mozzarella factory. Minchilli suggests, "Enjoy fresh mozzarella grilled on lemon leaves till just warmed and oozing." And you can thank the somewhat forbidding-looking water buffaloes who live on the grounds of Tenuta Vannulo for contributing their milk to the uniquely heavenly cheese!

PRAIANO

When visiting Italy, there are a few simple rules of thumb that always pay off. One, "If it was good enough for a doge, it's pretty much going to be a nice place to visit." Here in Praiano, the doges (dukes) are long gone, but the relaxing atmosphere and lovely mountainside make this one of the Amalfi's off-the-beaten-path gems. Enjoy an afternoon at the local beach and the Chiesa de San Luca.

CAPRI

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"Catch a ferry to Capri, where the Roman emperors built their holiday villas," recommends Price. Indeed, Augustus and Tiberius made Capri their home-away-from-home, and these days hydrofoils from Positano and Amalfi will get you there for about $22 (a few dolllars extra for luggage). If you like your rocky seashores mixed with Roman ruins, world-class cafes, and more than a hint of the artsy crowd that put this island on the travel map in the 20th century, Capri might be the highlight of your Amalfi adventure!

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Inspiration

Locals Know Best: Myrtle Beach

After more than a decade and a half in Miami, Larry Bond relocated to Myrtle Beach to help his mother with health issues in 2007. Might seem like quite a switch. After all, Miami is typically thought of as a hub of cool, from its design to the bacchanalian clubs to its classic beachfronts. Myrtle Beach, which can see up to 17 million vacationers each year, is not. But that’s changing. And Larry is a torchbearer in that renaissance. Today he owns two restaurants—The Chemist, an ultra-cool hangout with an attention-grabbing cocktail program that involves all kinds of slights of hand (think: liquid nitrogen, from-scratch syrups, essential oil extractions) and ART Burger Sushi Bar, which you might call a nouvelle gallery eatery. The works by local artists change up regularly and it's all for sale, with proceeds going entirely to the creators.) Part of being an excellent restaurateur means knowing your community, and know it he does. We checked in with Larry to get the lowdown on where to eat, drink, and play far beyond the well-trod path of beach vacationers. EAT YOUR HEART OUT The Myrtle Beach Pavilion was once the beating heart of this seaside town. It was long home to an amusement park which, like Coney Island, featured pay-per-ride roller coasters and more. But the park closed in 2006 and the area became a desolate lot, but today it's in the throes of a galvanizing renaissance, and Larry has been a driving force of that renewal. After the success of ART and the Chemist, he opened the festive Gordo's Tacos & Tequila in 2016 and is in the conceptual phase of another eatery, The Edge. The restaurants are all within three blocks of one another in this downtown hub. (His other spot, The Noizy Oyster, is about seven blocks away on a main thoroughfare.)  When the snowbirds arrive for their warm weather escape, chances are high that there’ll be a wait for a table on a Tuesday at the local surf’n’turf spot. But there’s a roster of eateries dishing out creative or authentic fare. You just have to know where to look. Larry is a fan of Rioz, a classic Brazilian steakhouse, complete with table-side carving ritual, that offers a blockbuster meal for $36.95. Not bad considering there’s a choice of up to 15 different meats. Larry deems it “as good as anything you find in Sao Paulo.”READ: "Locals Know Best: Cleveland" If he’s looking for a quiet meal away from the maddening crowd (and table-side theatrics), he goes to Jerusalem. It's the ultimate family affair, as a mother and son team in the kitchen turn out kabbabs, hummus platters, tabbouleh, and a roster of other Middle Eastern staples. The restaurant's setting is super-chill, but there's a separate room where lively belly dancing takes place several times a week.  Running a restaurant in a tourist destination—or anywhere, for that matter—can be punishing work. When industry folks wrap up for the night, you can find lots of them hanging out in North Myrtle Beach. The Office, one of the late-night hotspots, is a draw for its from-scratch American-Italian fare, not to mention the $2 well drinks and $3 wines. About two minutes away from there is 39th Avenue, a remarkable sushi and steak joint located in an unremarkable shopping center. Don't miss the excellent live music or the happy hour from 4PM to 7PM, when prices are a steal. There are also late-night specials and live music. Larry trained as a sushi chef in Tokyo for before he opened ART, so we really trust his judgement.   MAKE A DAY OF IT The Hot Fish Club specializes in lobster pot pie, but otherwise the menu changes regularly, so little wonder that Larry makes frequent appearances there. Of course, that’s to say nothing of the happy hour (Beers for $2.50? We’ll take it?), live music, and a delightful gazebo that overlooks the marsh. When he has the time, he’ll hit the nearby Brookgreen Gardens, a green space, cultural center, and National Historic Landmark offering all sorts of stuff to do. There's a zoo, activities for kids, and the world's largest sculpture garden, featuring over 1,400 sculptures by 350 artists, including some that date back to the early 19th century. It's worth noting that there's a concert series throughout the summer months as well as an art show featuring local artists in June in July. In December, it’s the site of the Festival of Lights/Night of 1000 Candles. Whatever the season, though, Larry's key to making it a perfect day off is a stop at Frank's Restaurant & Bar, which offers modern seafood dishes in a space that evokes a vintage chophouse. Instead of plunking yourself inside, Larry recommends you go around the side and through a small arrangement of trees until you encounter a hostess greeting you to Frank’s Outback. A deck, a canopy of trees, and water fountains make for a relaxed hangout. Larry’s keen on going with a bunch of friends and ordering appetizers, from lamb chops to crab cakes, to share. READ: "Locals Know Best: Portland, Oregon" THE PLAY’S THE THING If you’ve never thought of Myrtle Beach as a destination for adrenaline junkies, think again. First, there’s the water sports. Mytle Beach Watersports is a go-to for all sorts of cruises and, more importantly,  jet ski rentals and such. All it takes is a 30-minute safety presentation before you can jump on a jet ski or pontoon. Larry waxes enthusiastic about cruising down the waterway, which curves around into jetties, for about ten minutes to Bird Island, home to 1200 acres of salt marshes and tidal creeks. It's one of ten sites that make up North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve. Park your vehicle and zen out at the ultra-chill beach. It's home to a whimsical American treasure: the fabled Kindred Spirit mailbox in which you'll find notebooks. Join the ranks of countless travelers and locals that have written their hopes and wishes in the books for nearly 40 years.   Daredevils are further suited at the Myrtle Beach Speedway. The venue plays hosts to Monster Truck rallies, concerts, NASCAR races, and other marquee events, but on the down days, there’s the opportunity to take a class on NASCAR driving then accelerate on the track. Larry says he’s reached 101 mph.  On a bit of a mellower note, 710 is a funky new bowling alley that Larry describes as a latter day Dave & Busters, the arcade-style burger chain. A much hipper attitude prevails here, where aside from the bowling, everything--shuffleboard, pool, cornhole, etc.—is free.  

Inspiration

What's the Coolest Small Town in America 2017?

What makes a small town cool? We’ve all been there. You’re walking down a vibrant Main Street in a small American town you’ve never visited before. The people are especially open, especially proud. The storefronts beckon, one after another, with unique art, food, clothing. Maybe you even discover that the town happens to be the birthplace of a figure from history or the arts that you especially admire. The view from Main Street of, say, distant mountains, or a bustling wharf, or a perfect park, inspires you to post a picture on Instagram. Congrats. You’ve just discovered one of the Coolest Small Towns in America. Tell us about a cool small town Whether it’s your hometown or your favorite weekend escape or a community you’ve recently discovered, we want to hear your suggestions for the Coolest Small Town in America 2017. Tell us the name of a cool American town (pop. under 20,000, please), some inspiring information (where to eat, play, and stay) today. There are three ways to share: Post on social media: Tag us at #BTCoolestSmallTowns on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (we’d love to see images of your Coolest Small Town too).Email us: CoolestSmallTowns@BudgetTravel.com.Post a comment: Scroll down to the bottom of this story and post in the comment box.In a few weeks, just as the official summer 2017 season kicks off, we’ll announce our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2017, carefully curated by the Budget Travel editorial team to deliver world-class travel destinations, reflect cultural and geographical diversity, and honor communities that display the qualities we consider cool. Will your town be on our list?

Inspiration

Locals Know Best: Charleston, South Carolina

Ten years ago, when Yuriy Bekker moved to Charleston from Brooklyn, he was hit by a bolt of culture shock. But it didn’t take too long for the violinist and principal pops conductor of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (not to mention artistic director of various music festivals and groups and globe-trotting performer), to realize that although there was more sunshine and tranquility and fewer bagel shops as well as Ukranian restaurants like the ones he grew up frequenting as the son of immigrants from Minsk, Belarus, he could feel quite at home in this jewel of a city, where cosmopolitan energy fuses with a laid-back southern attitude and European charm. FEED YOUR BODY, FEED YOUR SOUL The Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s concert hall, Gaillard Center, recently underwent a $140 million renovation. Performances typically start around 7.30PM and he’s usually well on his way home around 9PM. That’s pretty much dinner time, as any New Yorker will tell you. Yuriy prefers not to eat before a performance (even veterans have nerves), so afterwards he heads to 39 Rue de Jean, located just two blocks from the performance hall and known for serving food late-night. The mussels, which are flown in daily from PEI, and French onion soup are his no-fail choices. Charleston is widely known as a walkable city, so it’s easy to spot new joints that frequently pop up. Mercantile and Mash, a relative newcomer that opened in an old cigar factory, quickly became a regular hangout for him and his wife. The artisanal food market, which includes a saloon-style whiskey and beer bar, is a go-to for the house-smoked meats and a top-notch weekend brunch that’s still undiscovered by the masses. It’s located in an area of the peninsula where there’s a bustlng farmers market known for selling local crafts alongside the produce and other food. It's every Saturday from April through November, One of Yuriy’s habitual stops is Roti Rolls, a food truck that serves Indian-style rotis with local ingredients and clever names. (See: the "Mother Clucker") Of course, having been in town for a decade now, he’s well versed in the old-school eateries that make Charleston a legendary foodie destination. When it comes to getting his fix of the classic flavor of the South, he hits High Cotton for what he deems the best shrimp and grits in town, though he also sings the praises of Hominy Grill, a much better known tourist draw. There’s often a wait, but it’s worth it, he assures.  A MECCA FOR MUSIC Visitors to Charleston who love classical music are in for a treat. The symphony has two different programs—a pop series of four annual concerts, each of which delivers orchestral versions of familiar tunes, and Masterworks, which features some of the most iconic pieces of classical music, or as Yuriy explains them, “the true reason for the art form.” The CSO makes it easy for everyone to access this exquisite beauty with the launch of CSOgo, a rather revolutionary and budget-friendly way to see performances. A monthly membership is $35, and it allows you to attend any performance with best day-of seats as well as chances to attend social events, making it an exciting option for wallet-watching travelers who don’t want to commit to buying tickets in advance. That means if you're in town for a few days, you can go to several performances for less than the cost of a week of lattes. When Yuriy isn’t performing in grand concert halls, you might spot him playing music elsewhere around the city. In a clever partnership with the world-class Gibbes Museum of Art, there’s an ongoing series, Rush Hour Concerts, in which a string quartet from CSO plays music somehow related to the art in a featured show. Culture buffs would be well served to coordinate their visit to the museum with one of these chamber music performances.  Of course, when a musician isn’t performing, there’s a good chance you’ll find him out listening to others perform. He likes to take in the local jazz scene at Charleston Grill, which also happens to be one of the best restaurants in town with a fun bar to go with it.  Speaking of bars, the Rooftop Pavilion Bar in the Market Pavilion Hotel is probably one of the best spots for a late-night outing. From several stories above the street, you can gaze out at the water and city landmarks, even in the winter, when heat lamps keep it cozy and classy. Across the street, is The Watch: Rooftop Kitchen and Spirits, an ultra-hip and more lively and rambuctious rooftop hangout, at The Restoration, a boutique hotel. MAKE A NIGHT OF IT Charleston has become an increasingly popular destination over the last few years and as a result, the downtown has a serious hustle and bustle vibe and a parking situation that’s increasingly reminding Yuriy of New York City. John’s Island is a growing community with a great deal of development that makes a fine alternative for a night out, but James Island, located next to it and just seven minutes from downtown Charleston, is where Yuriy and his wife go when they’ve got time to relax. They’ll catch a movie at Terrace Theater, which sells wine and ice cream, before grabbing dinner nearby, either tacos and tortas at Zia or craft beer and modern pub grub (lamb burger, anyone?) at Maybank Public House. DAY TRIPPER Charleston is as much of destination for nature lovers as it is to city slickers. When he has time to escape for the day, he’ll set off to gorgeous Kiawah Island, a small island with landscapes that vary from woodlands to beaches. Yuriy speaks from experience when he says it’s easy to lose the day here amid the tangle of bike trails. There’s also a multitude of waterways, which is “a world in its own,” he says, so you could rent a kayak and explore for hours. This island has a place of distinction in the annals of American musicals: George Gershwin spent summers and it’s known to be his inspiration for “Porgy and Bess.” WANDER So much of Charleston’s exquisiteness lies in the detail, and the best way to take it all in is on foot. “There’s 18th century architecture but there’s also palm trees. It has a European charm, but you can’t compare it to anyplace else. Maybe the South of France? But it really has its own identity,” Yuriy says, noting the iconic sloped porches with ceilings traditionally painted blue. He has a route he regularly strolls, one that gives a sweeping, comprehensive lay of the land. It starts at Marion Square, where the giant farmers market takes place. When it’s in season, he has his “eye-opener” roti from Roti Rolls, the aforementioned food truck, and coffee from Charleston Coffee Roasters, a local outfit that sells its brew both in super markets and at a nearby stand, then stroll north to John Street (off King Street) to Macaroon Boutique, which sells what Yuriy declares the best croissants—homemade, of course.   From there, he strolls south down King Street, a boulevard lined with boutique stores, and hang a left on Market Street, an historic strip that's been the site of a market since the early 1800s. Today Charleston City Market is all slow old-world charm (see: people stationed outside making sweetgrass baskets) with a thoroughly hip vibe. Then it’s a right on East Bay, a strip that runs along the water and is home to the sleek Market Pavilion Hotel and the Old Exchange Building as well as historic Rainbow Row, a series of quaint colorful Georgian row houses where fishermen lived in the early 20th century. At the end of East Bay, you end up at the tip of the city’s peninsula where the pretty White Point Garden with views that invite lingering: From the water’s edge you can spot James Island, Mount Pleasant and the historic Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started, in between. That course lets you see lots of the city’s greatest architectural hits, including many historic churches, but Charleston is a city where there are tons of surprises around every corner. “Wander off on a small cobblestone streets and take a moment to get lost. They’re cobblestone streets and they’re lined with old homes. Just wander around, look, and enjoy. Eventually you’ll  hit a main street, so you won’t be lost for long.”

Inspiration

Locals Know Best: Wichita

When Wichita was first established as a trading post along the Chisolm Trail, it was a popular stop for cowboys driving their cattle from Texas to the end of the railroad in Kansas. Today, although some still call it a “cow town,” the only outlaws are the business owners and artists who are blazing their own trails. In modern times, Wichita has been known as the air capital of the world because of the high concentration of factories producing aircrafts, a heritage that’s on display at the Kansas Aviation Museum. But more than that, there's been fast and furious urban growth over the past few years, with rapid development in the downtown area, which sits on the Arkansas River, affectionately referred to as “Our Kansas River.” (Wink*) Apartment buildings have gone up and new bike lanes are highly trafficked. To get a sense of the Wichita landscape, we checked in with Andrew Gough, who owns the popular cafe/roastery Reverie Roasters (so popular, in fact, that it’s moving to a much bigger space after opening in 2013 in its original location.) He had the inside scoop on where the eat, hangout, and daytrip.  DINE AROUND THE WORLD WITHIN THE CITY LIMITS A few years ago, Andrew was on a dining panel enlisted by the Wichita Eagle, the city’s daily newspaper, because there were too many new restaurants for the one primary restaurant critic to keep up with. Now that’s saying something. Given that, plus the fact that he owns a café and his phone is a who's who of local culinary types, it’s safe to say he’s a trustworthy guide for anyone curious about where to dine around town. To hear him tell it, some of the city’s most interesting meals are offered at tucked-away mom’n’pop eateries that collectively serve a rich assortment of ethnic cuisines. He’s a regular at Manna Wok, a homey Korean restaurant where the kimchee spread is off the charts and the owner clearly loves her customers as much as they love her spot. Why else would the walls be plastered little photographs of diners who’ve visited over the years? It’s a ritual that goes back so long that Polaroids from the early days still hang on the wall. Latin American fare is the pick on the southside of town. Usuluteco, a low-key and family owned El Salvadorian joint, is set inconspicuously in a strip mall just off a busy street where mom cooks and dad runs the front of house. Everything, he says, is 100% authentic, so he has a tough time deciding what to recommend. “Definitely the pupusas,” he says, referring to the classic El Salvadorian masa cakes with savory fillings. “But also anything with chicken or beef is really good. And also their pastelitos--fried empanadas stuffed with something like beef stew." In other words: everything.  But if you were to press him on what food is identifiable with the region the way that cheesesteak is synonymous with Philly and pizza with New York, the nu way, a loose meat sandwich, is "a total Wichita thing," Andrew declares. It originated at a restaurant of the same name (Nu way), and you'd be best off going to the source to try it. "You need to eat it at the restaurant because when you get it to go, the grease just steeps through the bag. Sure, it's a heart attack on a bun, but it's delicious."  More generally speaking, humus and all sorts of other Middle Eastern dishes are ubiquitous, thanks to a humongous Lebanese community in town. Wichita is also home to a sizable Vietnamese population, so you’d be well served at any of the many pho joints around town. HEARTY MEALS IN THE HEARTLAND But Kansas is smack in the middle of the heartland, so it’s only reasonable to expect to find places dishing out good ole American comfort food. Wichita, it seems, prefers its comfort food with a healthy dash of creativity. Tanya’s Soup Kitchen is one of Andrew’s go-tos for sandwiches he describes as “well thought out” (smoked turkey, blueberry barbecue sauce and provolone on an onion kaiser roll, anyone?) and soups. On Wednesdays they make a curry soup, but all the locals know that it’s the legendary tomato bisque you’ll want to try. Good thing it’s on offer all week. There’s a neat twist here. “They have recipe cards for all their products so you can make them at home, but interestingly, there’s still a line out the door every day."   Sometimes you can find the most extraordinary grub in the most unlikely places. You might not be enticed by the no frills exterior of Dempsey’s Burger Pub, but the creative burgers here will teach you not to just a pub by its façade. The selections rotate, but the Thai peanut butter burger is a recurring choice and Andrew’s favorite. After all, it’s made with espresso from his roastery. COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST  Dempsey's is located in Clifton Square, a block-long stretch comprised of mostly Victorian buildings that house an array of businesses, including some that are unique to the city, like College Hill Creamery, a homey neighborhood spot that turns out house-made ice cream. Tissu, a hip, charming little shop that sells yarn and all sorts of notions, features a sewing studio with classes. If you’re in town with friends and up for an offbeat group activity, the Wichita Escape Room is for you. A “live action” escape game, you get closed in a room with your group and all you have is puzzles and logic tricks to figure out how to find the key to get out.  Each of Wichita's many neighborhoods has its own very distinctive flavor and character. The Douglas Design District, which is awash with murals and revitalized storefronts, is regarded as the most creative community. Well over 90% of its hundreds of businesses are small and independently owned. Not surprisingly, it’s where you'll find Andrew’s cozy Reverie Roasters, a go-to cafe for thoughtfully prepared java drinks. His is one among the ranks of businesses that’s making Wichita a destination for foodies. Down the street, Donut Whole offers fresh donuts made with local ingredients and coffee made with beans from Andrew's roastery. He says it's the shop that ignited the 'hood's creative energy. Complete with a gallery and a lounge with live music, he describes it as “funky, creative, super-duper unique, and eclectic.” Next door is Piatto, a pizzeria run by a man who went to Italy to learn how to make true Neapolitan-style pies and brought a traditional pizza oven back with him. The aforementioned Tanya’s is across the street.  One of the most exciting things in the DDD is the growing craft beer scene. Hopping Gnome and Central Standard Brewing both feature a brewpub where you can hangout and drink the house suds. Plus they’re food-truck-friendly, so people pick up grub from the trucks and bring it inside for a session. Workers at both brewpubs are really engaging and informative, Andrew says, offering history lessons on beer styles, information on where they source ingredients, and elaborate explanations of beer styles. “Every one of these new breweries does that. It makes it all more interesting,” he says.  DAY TRIPPER 2016 marked the centennial of Coronado Heights, a castle-like stone structure built into the side of a bluff pathways from spiderweb to the top....pathways carved into hill... Located about an hour and 15 minutes outside town and listed on the National and Kansas State Registers of Historic Places, it features an observatory deck that offers breathtaking views of the Smoky Hill River Valley and it’s one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Geography.” (Who knew?) Coronado Heights is surrounded by a an elaborate network of walking paths with astonishing views. Make a day trip out of it and stop in nearby Linsborg, known as “Little Sweden” because it was built by Scandinavian immigrants back when they settled there in 1869. That history lives on in its Scandinavian architecture and rich cultural sites. About 30 miles in the opposite direction of town is Mushroom Rock State Park, a collection of bizarre oversize standstone formations; millions years ago water left rock formation in the shape of fungi. "There's so many little things and always more to discover. It's a beautiful drive to get there."

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