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Step onto the sugar-white sand beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and suddenly you’re in a whole different state of relaxation. Turquoise waters, family-friendly attractions, renowned events, golf , fishing, and fresh Gulf seafood await. Alabama’s beaches have been family favorite vacation destinations for generations. Some say it’s because our beaches rival those found in the Caribbean, but it’s the Southern Hospitality that truly makes this place unique.
Our 32 miles of expansive beaches are lined with accommodations for all travel styles. You’re just steps away from the soft, white sand when you book lodging at a Gulf-front condo, nationally-branded hotel, full-service resort or private beach house. For those seeking to commune with nature, campgrounds and RV resorts are plentiful.
Everyone knows that New York City is famous for its New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, but for those looking for something a little more unique and symbolic to ring in 2022, these towns are hosting slightly weird yet totally “on-brand” drops on December 31. MoonPie Drop , Mobile, Alabama Photo by Joseph Brooke / Flickr Creative Commons Mobile’s mantra is “Born to Celebrate,” which makes New Year’s Eve a pretty exciting time around here. At midnight, you can witness a 600-pound electric MoonPie drop from the sky, complete with fireworks and a laser light show. Mobile’s big claim to fame is that it’s home to America’s original Mardi Gras. In the mid-1900s, locals started tossing sticky-sweet (but still-wrapped!) MoonPies from their Mardi Gras floats. Spectators went crazy for them and today an estimated half-million pies get tossed during an average Carnival season. Since Mobile loves a good party – and consumes more MoonPies per capita than anywhere else (including the pies’ hometown of Chattanooga) – its citizens decided to create the world’s largest electric MoonPie to help them usher in each new year. Mushroom Drop, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which is part of the Brandywine Valley, is known as the “Mushroom Capital of the World” because more than 60% of all the mushrooms in the United States are grown here. Celebrate their nickname – and their favorite crop -- by dropping a 700-pound lighted mushroom on New Year’s Eve during the annual Midnight in the Square event. The mushroom will be raised right before 9 p.m. and the drop will be live-streamed across social media at midnight. Marlin Drop, Orange Beach, Alabama Gulf Shores Reelin' in the New Year at The Wharf The Wharf, a popular dining, shopping and entertainment district in the town of Orange Beach, is hosting Reelin’ in The New Year from 5 p.m. to midnight on December 31. The highlight of this event is the Marlin Drop, a fishy nod to one of the many outdoor activities that draw visitors here year round. It’s free admission for the drop, and the whole family can come and ring in the new year Gulf Coast-style. Apple Drop, Winchester, Virginia To celebrate the arrival of the new year, a 400-pound apple is dropped more than 100 feet during the First Night Winchester event. First Night Winchester has been a tradition in the Northern Shenandoah Valley since 1987. Winchester is known as the “Apple Capital” because it’s the largest apple-producing area in all of Virginia and home to countless apple orchards. Giant Acorn Drop, Raleigh, N.C. Courtesy firstnightraleigh.com Each December 31 a giant copper acorn, the official monument commemorating the bicentennial of “the City of Oaks,” is transported from Raleigh’s Moore Square to the roof of the Civic Center where it’s dropped to celebrate the New Year - First Night Raleigh. Clam Drop, Yarmouth, Maine On December 31, Yarmouth's First Universalist Church lowers a giant clam named Steamer 25 feet from the bell tower. The Clam Drop includes music, cookies and cocoa to stay warm. Giant Potato Drop, Boise, Idaho Courtesy mrfood.com This year will be the 9th annual Idaho Potato Drop in Boise, Idaho. From 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., ring in the new year with food trucks, a beer garden, fireworks, and of course, the potato drop in front of the Idaho State Capitol.
6 road trips stops along the underrated Gulf Coast
On a recent road trip with my family from Pensacola, Florida, west along Interstate-10 through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, I got a taste of all I’ve been missing out on in the Gulf Coast. I’m pretty sure this stretch of Interstate-10 and the backroads branching off make for the the most underrated road trip in the South. Read on for a six great stops to make during a road trip along the surprising Gulf Coast. ALABAMA Meet sloths and lemurs at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo There is so much to love at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, Alabama, it’s hard to know where to start. Dubbed “The little zoo that could” for how it’s survived three major hurricanes (and now the pandemic, too), this beautiful and largely open-air facility offers phenomenal animal encounters you hardly find everywhere, including the chance to hand-feed sloths for just $19.95 per person (in addition to zoo admission, which is $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids ages 3 to 12). Whatever you do, don’t miss the zoo’s butterfly exhibit, featuring a jaw-dropping collection donated by a local resident that’s housed inside a room designed to look like a field research tent. Hundreds of incredible butterflies and moths (some with patterns on their wings that look just like snake heads, to scare off predators) are the stuff of pure wonder. Even if you’re not visiting the zoo itself, you can still have lunch on a spacious deck overlooking the grounds at The Safari Club (no zoo admission required), where a menu of delicious wood-fired pizzas, Gulf Coast seafood and more awaits. For a bike ride through Gulf State Park, Alabama Home to bobcats, bald eagles, alligators, owls and many more animals, Gulf State Park (free admission) has 28 miles of paved trails and boardwalks that are a blast to explore by bicycle. The park even has a free bike share program you can access with your smartphone. And you can rent tandem bikes and trailers for pulling kids along the trails, too, through Beach Bike Rentals in Orange Beach, Alabama (all rentals come with helmet and locks, starting from $25 for the day). When you’re not paddling through the coastal habitats, make time to relax at Gulf State Park’s two miles of white sand beaches and check out the Gulf State Park Campground, one of the best places to put up a tent or pull in with an RV in the state. Shrimp boats at sunset. Credit: Coastal Mississippi. MISSISSIPPI Hang out in the adorable town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi Continuing west along Interstate-10 into Mississippi, plan to spend a night or longer in the adorable coastal town of Ocean Springs, where a stay at the new-in-2020 Beatnik hotel (rooms from $157 per night) is nothing short of revelatory. The property has just four cabins decorated in mid-century boho style, each with a private patio complete an outdoor shower and hammock. There’s a communal plunge pool and fire pit, too, where guess gather for socially-distanced drinks at sunset. Stroll along Front Beach, the town’s small sandy beach, or visit the many outdoor galleries and cafes in Ocean Springs’ compact downtown. The best spot for a delicious and budget-minded breakfast is undoubtedly The Greenhouse on Porter, right next to the Beatnik, with heavenly housemade biscuits slathered with honey butter. Mississippi Aquarium Brand new in August 2020, the Mississippi Aquarium (admission $29.95 per person, $24.95 for kids ages 3 to 12) in Gulfport houses over 200 species of animals and native plants within indoor and outdoor exhibition areas overlooking the Mississippi Sound in downtown Gulfport. Among the many interesting animals you can see here are bottlenose dolphins, cow nose rays, American crocodiles and green-winged doves. Visitors age 10 and older can even get into the water with SeaTREK ($79.95 per person), a two-hour experience during which you don a helmet and enter one of the aquarium’s habitats to see fish, sharks and rays upclose from a perspective that’s similar to a scuba diver’s vantage point. LOUISIANA Go deep into Honey Island Swamp on a bayou tour with Cajun Encounters in Slidell, Louisiana This Florida girl got an education on the difference between the Everglades and freshwater bayou habitats during a fascinating tour by boat into Honey Island Swamp in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish with Cajun Encounters (from $57.50 per person, $37.50 for kids ages 3 to 12). We spotted wild boars sloshing around the bald cypress tree-filled bayou (essentially a flooded forest, as the guide explained it), learned all about the mythical bayou swamp monster called Letiche and even visited a floating village that looked like something straight from a Swamp People episode. Private and group tours are available. Take a family-friendly hike with Canoe and Trail Adventures in Covington, Louisiana Prefer to stay on dry land when exploring the bayou? A Louisiana Master Naturalist is your guide during hikes that can be as easy or adventurous as you like with Canoe and Trail Adventures in Covington, Louisiana (the company also offers paddling tours and canoe and kayak rentals). I loved exploring trails maintained by local Boy Scouts troops at Northlake Nature Center with our guide, Chad Almquist, who showed my kids how to scoop up crawfish and tiny minnows using nets in the shallow bayou waters. Our hike led us along boardwalks and trails through wetlands and hardwood forests where we scouted for salamanders under rocks and spotted native birds (private tours from $49 per person).
9 Perfect Day Trips From New Orleans
Whether you're fleeing from the brutally hot and humid weather or simply looking for a respite from the Big Easy's riot of colors and sounds, here are nine of the best day trips from New Orleans. 1. Barataria Preserve There are all sorts of swamp tours that operate out of New Orleans – we're even recommending one below – but one of our favorite ways to experience the south Louisiana wetlands is a visit to Barataria Preserve, a national park located about 25 miles south of New Orleans. Easy trails – dirt and boardwalk – thread through the swamps, and you may be able to spot local alligators, although wildlife viewing is hindered by prolific invasive water flora. On your way back to New Orleans, make sure to pop into the superlatively good Tan Dinh for some excellent Vietnamese food. Getting there: Take US-90 and cross the Crescent City Connection Bridge over the Mississippi to the New Orleans West Bank. From US-90, take exit 4B to access Barataria Blvd which takes you to the preserve. 2. Whitney Plantation A cluster of restored mansions sit roughly 50 miles west of New Orleans, with the Whitney being the most interesting of the bunch to visit. While most plantations now pay lip service to the history of slavery, the Whitney is a museum dedicated to unpacking the grim institution. Through a series of thoughtful exhibits, the Whitney demonstrates how the South did not just benefit from but was built upon chattel slavery. Getting there: The most direct route is I-10 West for about 40 miles, then detour south on LA-641 for another 10 miles. 3. Lafayette Cajun country is as fabled a destination as New Orleans, a land of low prairies, deep swamps, good music and delicious meals that you may never want to let your cardiologist know about. ‘Acadiana’, as the area is known, consists of many small towns scattered over southwest Louisiana. The capital of the region is Lafayette, a friendly small city located 140 miles west of New Orleans, packed with great food and excellent live music venues – don’t leave without stopping in for a night of dancing at the Blue Moon. Getting there: Take I-10 West for about 2-and-a-half hours. Part of the route goes through the preserved Atchafalaya Basin, one of the state’s remaining wild wetlands. 4. St Francisville When the furnace of New Orleans gets too hot or you just need some small-town arts atmosphere, head north about 120 miles to St Francisville, a tidy bohemian retreat set amidst hills and forests. A glut of historical buildings, cute cafes, antique-and-artsy shopping and hiking trails through the woods makes for a perfect break from New Orleans. Getting there: Take I-10 West up through the state capital to Baton Rouge, take exit 8C to get on I-110 North. From there, take US-61 North to St Francisville. 5. Mississippi Gulf Shore Despite being totally tied to the water, there’s no real beach access in New Orleans, barring a few stretches of not very friendly sand on Lake Pontchartrain. While the beaches of Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island, AL are pretty lovely, they’re also a fair distance. Consider instead the decent sand, friendly restaurants and generally laid-back seashore vibe at Mississippi Gulf Coast towns like Bay St Louis and Gulfport. While this area can get inundated with day-trippers on hot weekends, you can still embark on a relatively quiet escape during the week. Getting there: It depends on where you’re going, but this advice applies from Biloxi to the Alabama border – just head east on I-10. 6. North Shore The north shore of Lake Pontchartrain is made up of several bedroom suburbs of New Orleans and radiates a more sedate vibe than what you’ll find in the Crescent City. Attractions include sampling some brews at the Abita Brewery or exploring the surreal madness of theAbita Mystery House, one of the state’s great roadside attractions. Need a place to stay? Cabins at Fontainebleau State Park are raised on stilts over Lake Pontchartrain and make for a supremely relaxing, breezy escape. Getting there: To cross Lake Pontchartrain, take I-10 West and exit to cross the Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the largest bridges in the world. 7. New Iberia The hazy, humid town of New Iberia sits about 140 miles west of New Orleans. On the sleepy main streets you’ll find the well-preserved plantation of Shadows on the Teche, and just outside of town is the area’s main attraction: Avery Island (not really much of island), home of a huge salt mine and the headquarters of Tabasco, the iconic hot sauce maker. You can take a tour of the Tabasco Factory, and afterward amuse yourself by exploring the nearby Jungle Gardens, a sort of hybrid botanical retreat, wildlife preserve, aviary and a slice of historical trivia. Getting there: US-90 West gets you almost 100 percent into New Iberia, and you’ll get to see some low-lying Louisiana prairie and farmland on the way. 8. Paddling Into the Bayou While it’s great fun to trod a boardwalk at Barataria or watch an old fisherman point out gators on a motorized boat tour, there’s something utterly otherworldly about paddling the Louisiana swamps. It’s a strange, primal, beautiful experience; you are at once present in the midst of the bayou, yet also deeply aware that you are a visitor to this ecosystem, a fish out of water (or a human gliding across it, more accurately). Louisiana Lost Land Tours, conducted by local environmental experts, give participants an excellent kayaking experience, as well as a solid grounding in the unique environmental issues confronting south Louisiana. Getting there: Lost Lands will help you coordinate the launching point for your swamp adventure. 9. Baton Rouge A lot of New Orleanians blow off Baton Rouge – named for a red stick used as a geographic marker by local Native Americans. This may be known as the state’s grey, faceless capital, yet it's also a sprawling town with some decent attractions. Football games at LSU are a non-stop display of pageantry and spectacle; it's a glimpse into the football-mad world of the American South where a tailgating party is a monumental sports moment. For a quieter experience, the Rural Life Museum is a window onto the state’s past. Getting there: The ‘BR’ is an easy 80-mile trek northwest of New Orleans via I-10. 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Memorial Day 2019: 5 Affordable & Authentic Experiences
Memorial Day weekend (May 25 - 27) serves as the unofficial start of summer. Never mind that the holiday is a few weeks in advance of the June 21 solstice and that many school-age kids face one more month of school. The three-day weekend still provides a taste of summer delights to come. While many folks will spend the weekend grilling, shopping, or hitting up local hot spots, some will choose to hit the road. In fact, AAA predicts that nearly 42 million Americans plan to travel for Memorial Day 2019. Keeping in mind that the purpose of the holiday is to honor those who have given their lives in defense of the United States (its original designation was Decoration Day, dating back to the end of the Civil War, when Americans decorated the graves of those who had given what President Abraham Lincoln famously called "the last full measure of devotion" to their country), the Budget Travel editors have rounded up travel experiences that go well beyond the well-trod tourist path. Here, five exceptionally affordable getaways that are a relatively easy escape from urban areas and that also offer unique history, culture, and natural beauty—plus insider tips for getting the most out of your visit. 1. Portsmouth, New Hampshire New England history and culture in a charming, walkable city Why you’ll love it: Walking the brick sidewalks of Portsmouth, NH, can feel like stepping back into Colonial days, a fitting way to commemorate the holiday. As the third-oldest city in the U.S., the seaport certainly boasts ample history, from hands-on experiences at Strawberry Banke Museum to the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion to waterside Prescott Park, and the charming North Church. Even some of the eateries here will, in addition to serving you tasty fare, surround you with New England history, including a repurposed ferry terminal that is now now the popular seafood restaurant Old Ferry Landing, and a 19th-century ships chandlery-turned-bistro, Black Trumpet. Insider tip: Seek out Riverrun Books (32 Daniel Street), an exceptionally inspiring and well-stocked independent bookstore that regularly hosts author readings and other events. Memorial Day weekend festivities: See—and smell!—the Lilac Festival at the historic Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion the morning of May 25. An easy escape from: Boston (a one-hour drive), Providence (less than a two-hour drive), or Hartford, CT (less than a two-and-a-half-hour drive). Why it’s a bargain: Hotels from $121; Airbnb for two from $65. 2. Beacon, New York Artisans and makers in the Hudson River Valley Why you’ll love it: Whether you arrive in town via car or train, the sweeping views of the Hudson River will be your first glimpse of what Beacon has to offer. Before departing the waterfront for Main Street’s unique shops and food, you must experience the Dia:Beacon museum with its world-class collection of modern and contemporary art by masters such as painter/sculptor Frank Stella and "light-sculptor" Dan Flavin. Grab a pint at Hudson Valley Brewery before (or after) you make your way up the town’s main thoroughfare (Beacon’s Main Street literally ascends a gentle hill) to admire the work of local artists and “makers” who have transformed Beacon’s centuries-old manufacturing legacy into a decidedly chic, imaginative contemporary scene. No chain stores or outlets here, just one-of-a-kind and often surprising hand-crafted gifts and food, including the knitters at Loopy Mango boutique, the baking geniuses at Glazed Over Donuts, the mixologists at the Roundhouse, and an array of other shops and eateries. Keep an eye out for painter Rick Price’s murals on the exterior of the public library and both the exterior and interior of Tito Santana Taqueria (yum!). Beacon is also a stone’s throw (well, a short drive) from other Hudson River Valley hot spots such as Minnewaska State Park across the river in Ulster County, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. It's no wonder that Beacon earned the title "Coolest Small Town in America 2018." Insider tip: Zora Dora Micro Batch’s low-key exterior on Main Street is the gateway to incredible handcrafted gourmet paletas (popsicles), offering an evolving array of flavors including a mind-blowingly delicious pineapple, sea salt, and red pepper paleta you must taste to believe. Zora Dora earned a spot on Budget Travel’s list of the best ice cream shops in the U.S. Memorial Day weekend festivities: The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, in nearby Hyde Park, will host commemorative events all weekend long, including an exhibition devoted to the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion. Easy escape from: New York City (about a 90-minute drive; 90-minute train ride from Grand Central Terminal, with adult fares starting at $35 round-trip for an off-peak ticket bought at the station—it’ll cost you a few dollars more if you buy your ticket on the train) or Albany, NY (about a 90-minute drive). Why it’s a bargain: Hotels in neighboring communities from $79; Airbnb for two in Beacon from $67. 3. Orange Beach, Alabama A Gulf Shore beach town that also offers wild escapes A visit to Orange Beach (and its neighbor Gulf Shores) allows travelers to essentially enjoy two long weekends in one: The first vacation consists of the justly popular attractions that have been drawing Southerners here for generations, including the 30+ miles of Gulf of Mexico waterfront along the coast of what locals refer to as “Pleasure Island” with white-sand beaches, waterparks, zip lines, and fishing. The second vacation—which you can enjoy at exactly the same time—consists of a lesser-known and decidedly wilder side of the Gulf Coast, including the Backcountry Trail through Gulf State Park, 25 miles of trails ideal for cycling, running, or just strolling; and Graham Creek Nature Preserve in nearby Foley, boasting nearly 500 acres of habitat for kayaking or canoeing. And, this being the Gulf Coast, you’ll have access to fresh seafood favorites like shrimp and grits and a variety of platters that have kept travelers returning to Orange Beach and its neighboring communities for years. Insider tip: Go beyond the beach with a half-hour drive west to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge for kayaking and canoeing amidst migratory songbirds and sea turtles, and sign up for one of the excellent educational guided tours. (Important: Locals gently remind you to pack insect repellent and sunscreen and sun-protective clothing to ensure a comfortable and safe adventure in Bon Secour.) Memorial Day weekend festivities: Run in the Paradise Island 5K on May 26, hear country star Thomas Rhett at the Wharf Amphitheater on May 26, and “ooh” and “aah” at the fireworks at Sparks After Dark at the Wharf the evening of May 27. An easy escape from: Mobile (about a one-hour drive) or New Orleans (about a three-hour drive). Why it’s a bargain: Hotels under $200; Airbnb rentals for two from $111. 4. Rapid City, South Dakota A vibrant urban community in the midst of the Wild West Why you’ll love it: While South Dakota is renowned for wild spaces such as Badlands National Park and Custer State Park and for jaw-dropping feats of monument carving at Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument, many U.S. travelers don’t realize that Rapid City, nicknamed the “Gateway to the Black Hills,” can serve not only as a home base for exploring those famous spots but also as a vibrant urban destination in its own right, home to a variety of live music venues and arts and cultural institutions and festivals. Spend some time on the charming town square, drop by The Journey Museum & Learning Center for interactive exhibits, the Dahl Arts Center for cultural exhibits and free “art adventures," and get up close and personal with Rapid City’s ancient past at APEX Gallery, on the campus of South Dakota School of Mining & Technology, with its fine collection of fossils and minerals. And, of course, you shouldn’t miss the aforementioned wild spaces and monuments, which can all be happily squeezed into your three-day weekend in Rapid City: Mount Rushmore is about a half-hour drive, Crazy Horse Monument is less than an hour, Custer State Park is about a half-hour, and Badlands is less than an hour. Insider tip: Off the city’s main square, look for Art Alley, an informal community art gallery with cool murals devoted to the region’s history and culture. Memorial Day weekend festivities: Visit the May 25 - 27 open house at the Crazy Horse Monument to honor veterans and those who gave their lives in defense of the U.S. An easy escape from: Minneapolis (a 90-minute flight from under $300 round trip) or Chicago (a two-and-a-half-hour flight for under $350); Rapid City is not an easy driving distance from any major urban area. Why it’s a bargain: Hotels from well under $100; Airbnb for two from well under $100. 5. Morro Bay, California A genuine fishing village that welcomes newbies like family Why you’ll love it: Morro Bay is first and foremost an authentic seaside community on the central coast of California. While it’s been a popular vacation spot for central coast residents for generations, the town has managed not to evolve into what experienced travelers would diplomatically refer to as “a little touristy.” We’d love to encourage discerning weekenders from the Bay Area and Southern California (and beyond) to discover Morro Bay’s welcoming locals and under-the-radar delights while appreciating its authenticity. Morro Bay will happily accommodate a variety of travel tastes: Want to chill on a beach and do practically nothing? There’s a beach for that. Want to learn to surf? Lessons are available. How about exploring a gorgeous lesser-known state park, kayaking the town’s eponymous bay, or pedaling your family in a rented surrey around the charming downtown? Gear rentals are an easy walk from comfortable lodging such as the Landing at Morro Bay (with views of the bay and iconic Morro Rock from many rooms) and the super-fresh seafood at Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant (stop by the fish market behind the restaurant for Instagrammable tableaus). Insider tip: The immensely delicious breakfast burritos at Frankie & Lola’s combine an old-timey diner aesthetic with Mexican chorizo and cheese and are so big they can serve as both an ample morning meal and a hearty snack or lunch whilst exploring the coast. Memorial Day weekend festivities: Visit Art in the Park, May 25 - 27, at Morro Bay Boulevard and Harbor Street. An easy escape from: San Jose (about a three-hour drive) or Los Angeles (about a three-and-a-half-hour drive); the fact that Morro Bay is not a super-short drive from any major urban area is part of what makes it Morro Bay. Why it’s a steal: Hotels under $150, some starting under $100; Airbnb rentals for two from $79. (All lodging estimates were accurate when we published this story, but as Memorial Day gets closer, hotel rates and Airbnb inventory will likely change.)For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.
10 Best Bargain Trips for Spring
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get out there and savor everything a spring vacation has to offer. We've rounded up some of the best beaches, parkland, and cities where your dollar will go further this time of year—that means lodging well under $200/night, and an accessible array of food and activities that won't break the bank. From the South Pacific to the Caribbean, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Rocky Mountains, the only problem you may have with this top 10 list is choosing just one trip. 1. Dominican Republic Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (Binu777/Dreamstime) If your idea of spring break involves affordable all-inclusive resorts and perfect beaches, the Dominican Republic offers just about everything you might want. We love Punta Cana—just a two-hour flight from Miami—for reliable resorts like the Majestic Colonial Beach Resort and Bavaro Beach with gorgeous white sand, clear Caribbean waters, and an offshore coral reef. Or head to the charming off-the-beaten path fishing village of Las Terrenas, in the Samaná province, for “secret” gorgeous beaches and good deals. Exploring the DR’s natural wonders is a must as well: Los Haitises National Park is the place for kayaking the lagoons and mangrove canals and viewing wildlife such as pelicans and iconic leatherback turtles; the Cordillera Septentrional Mountains are a magnet for hikers. 2. Oahu, Hawaii Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii (Izabela 23/Dreamstime) With Southwest (winner of the 2018 Budget Travel Award for Value Airline) now flying to Honolulu, there’s no better time to hop over the Pacific to get to know the Hawaiian Islands, starting with Oahu, the most populous and accessible of the islands. The weather is almost always perfect on Waikiki Beach, and you are an easy drive from nearby mountains (including iconic Diamond Head) and an array of other, wilder beaches where, depending on the time of year and the weather, you may witness “monster” waves and the professional surfers who challenge them. As much as we love Honolulu’s accessible beachfront and affordable lodgings such as Hotel Renew, we also urge you to make the 15-minute drive to the mountain side of Diamond Head to get to know Kaimuki, a residential area we named one of the best budget destinations in America, where you’ll find amazing seafood, Japanese fare, and tasty regional dried fruits, among a wide array of other delights. 3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (Jaahnlieb/Dreamstime) At 147 years old, Yellowstone (nps.gov/yell) is the world’s oldest national park, but it still has a trick or two up its sleeve. A 3,472-square-foot swathe of land straddling Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, it’s busiest during the peak summer months, especially between July and August, when 55% of the park’s annual visitors descend to take in the geysers, wildlife, history and more. But the park’s roads begin to open in mid-April, and nature lovers would do well to consider a springtime visit. From May to June, in particular, young elk, bison, and pronghorn calves are finding their legs, wolves are on the prowl, and momma bears and their cubs are on the hunt. To catch the animals on parade, your best bet is to wake up before the sun—wolves and bears get moving early—though, with mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and birds out and about later in the day, there’s action to be had even if you’re not a morning person. June is prime wildflower season, and the park’s waterfalls are seriously impressive then too, thanks to snowmelt runoff that sends 63,500 gallons of water per second over the Yellowstone River’s Lower Falls. Plus, with substantially fewer visitors during the spring months, deals on accommodations abound, and you won’t have to jostle for position around Old Faithful. 4. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama Orange Beach, Alabama (Courtesy Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism) The mention of Alabama probably sparks thoughts of the civil rights movement, football, fried green tomatoes, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, who made it sound like everybody’s sweet home. But for spring travelers, Alabama should also mean the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, 32 miles of silken sand along the Gulf of Mexico. With April temps reaching mid-70s, it’s not quiet beach-lounging time yet, but the area provides a bounty of things for spring breakers to check out, an assortment of 200 local restaurants not least among them. Families can prepare for summer with classes at Sand Castle University (sandcastleu.com) for a crash course in building the impressive palaces out of sand. To explore the area’s natural treasures, the 28-mile Backcountry Trail (backcountrytrail.com) in Gulf State Park covers a tapestry of nine ecosystems that are best explored on bike or a guided Segway tour. And to fully immerse yourself in the rich landscape, made a reservation at the Lodge at Gulf State Park, which opened at the end of last year and features 350 Gulf-front rooms. 5. Williamsburg, Virginia Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia (Aviahuismanphotography/Dreamstime) Colonial Williamsburg is right up there with Disney World and the Washington Monument when it comes to iconic American sites that every family should have on its bucket list. But when it comes to grownup escapes, the greater Williamsburg region has no shortage of offerings, whether you’re reuniting with friends from high school or taking a second honeymoon. First, there are the restaurants. Farm-to-table is the norm here, and so is sea-to-table, what with Williamsburg’s location between the James and York rivers. Fresh oysters are the draw at Waypoint Seafood and Grill and Fat Canary is known for its creative dishes using ham and lamb from local farms. Where good food goes, drinks follow. Wine lovers can visit Williamsburg Winery (williamsburgwinery.com), Virginia’s largest, beer drinkers have their choice of breweries with taprooms, Copper Fox Distillery (copperfoxdistillery.com) is a small whiskey-making operation that pioneered the craft scene back in 2005, and in keeping with the area’s historic viewpoint, there’s even a meadery that produces the ancient style honey wine. Toss in posh spas, shopping, and a long-running comedy club and there you have it: a spring break for the history books. 6. Skagway, Alaska Skagway, Alaska (Izabela 23/Dreamstime) Skagway is a small town in southeast Alaska, along the Inside Passage, with a population of about 800, but in June, July, and August, that number swells to about 3,000. But before the many cruise ships dock here throughout the summer months, April and May are ideal times to explore the quaint, historic township. It’s one of the few towns in Alaska with a road directly into the continental U.S., albeit a long one. It’s about day-and-a-half drive from Seattle through British Columbia, but if you’re looking for a road trip, this is certainly a pretty one. Should you arrive by boat, you’ll sail through dramatic fjords that are merely a hint of the scenery you’re in for. Skagway is famous for its Klondike Gold Rush legacy, and that history plays out in the well-preserved buildings from that era, which are part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (nps.gov/klgo/index.htm). There are also water adventures, like Ocean-Raft Alaska (oceanraftalaska.com), a high-speed group ride in a motorized boat, the Chilkoot Trail for hikers who aren’t afraid of serious incline, and brewpubs. 7. Savannah, Georgia Savannah, Georgia (David M. Sacerdote/Dreamstime) With stunning Gothic Revival architecture, ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and a picturesque location on the banks of the Savannah River, this Southern charmer offers a sophisticated yet accessible urban escape for all ages. A free walking tour will give a good overview of Savannah’s history, from its antebellum past to modern days. (Don’t forget to tip!) Stop for a photo op in front of Forsyth Park’s highly Instagrammable fountain, and sneak a peek at Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low’s birthplace and the Scouts’ first headquarters. Hungry? You’ll probably have to queue for brunch at the Collins Quarter, but between the short-rib hash and the brioche French toast, it’s worth the wait. Bernie’s Oyster House on River Street serves cold beer and fresh oysters by the bucket, while Bayou Cafe slings stiff drinks and Cajun fare with a side of live blues. For an upscale affair, check out the Grey, where James Beard Award finalist Mashama Bailey is turning out refined Southern plates in a beautifully restored art deco Greyhound station. (Stop by at happy hour for discounted wine, beer, and oysters before your reservation.) Savannah College of Art and Design is where aspiring Picassos from around the world come to hone their craft; it’s affiliated with a world-class art museum. In the Historic District, the Telfair Museum is the South’s oldest public-art museum, and the Jepson Center has a stellar modern collection; the model ships at the Ships of the Sea Museum are a must-see for nautical enthusiasts. There’s retail therapy on Broughton Street (we like the Paris Market for fanciful home decor and 24e Design Co. for upcycled vintage finds), and when you need a break from the city, the sandy shores of Tybee Island are just a few miles away. 8. Sunny Isles Beach, Florida Sunny Isles Beach, Florida (Pressfoto/Dreamstime) Maybe you haven’t visited Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, yet? Maybe this is the first time you’ve even heard of this inviting family-friendly community between Fort Lauderdale and Miami? If so, that's what Budget Travel is here for—introducing you to beautiful places you didn't know you were missing. And you are in for an affordable world-class vacation in Sunny Isles. This decidedly lovely community on a barrier island in Miami-Dade County offers a 2.5-mile stretch of uncrowded white sand, fishing off Newport Fishing pier, exploring nearby mangrove preserves, and enjoying your proximity to Miami’s exceptional neighborhoods, parks, aquariums, and vibrant culinary scene. An array of local lodgings are offering spring deals, including Marenas Beach Resort, JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, and Solé Miami, A Noble House Resort. 9. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (Cheri Alguire/Dreamstime) Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 for an impressive concentration of ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings dating from the 6th to the 12th centuries, southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park (nps.gov/meve) makes for a unexpected—and stealthily educational—spring destination. With more than 4,700 archaeological sites to explore, from cliff dwellings to mesa-top villages with pit houses and pueblos, the kids will barely notice they’re learning things on their time off. The self-guided Mesa Top Loop Road auto tour, open year-round, is a six-mile drive with 12 sites and scenic overlooks easily accessible via short, paved walking trails; ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings begin in mid-April (though they’re visible from various overlooks any time) and backcountry hikes and special tours begin in mid-May. The park’s only lodge opens in mid-April and campsites are available in early May, but the nearby town of Cortez makes for a good base of operations if you’d prefer to sleep off the premises. Granted, a springtime visit may require leaning into winter a little longer, as the Mesa Verde plateau’s altitude of more than 8,500 feet above sea level means that warm weather arrives a bit later here (snow storms in April have been known to interfere with the park’s operations), so be sure to check the weather forecast before you go, and stop at the visitor’s center when you arrive for the latest road and trail conditions. 10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Sean Pavone/Dreamstime) South Carolina’s most popular beach town ranks third among most-searched travel destinations in the world and draws about 19 million visitors annually. That’s liable to change soon because over the past year, in addition to sleek new condo buildings and hotels, exciting new projects are underway or already open for business, likely bringing even bigger crowds. But before the beach bums set up camp for the summer, use spring break as a sneak peek at Myrtle Beach 2.0. October saw the opening of THEBlvd (theblvdmyrtle.com), a sprawling complex on the boardwalk with a concert venue, stores, and dining. The local arts scene is more active than ever, as evidence by the debut of the Grand Street Arts Trail (theartsgrandstrand.org), comprised of 18 galleries and three restaurants. The famously family-friendly destination got even friendlier in February with the opening of EdVenture (edventure.org/myrtle-beach), a new incarnation of the South Carolina Children’s Museum. Aviation and astronomy take the spotlight in the exhibits here, so kids can get an education on vacation. If you’ve got a getaway with your significant other or a group of friends on the calendar, Myrtle Beach has plenty of fun dining and drinking options. The sustainability-obsessed chef Heidi Vukov, long known for her cheery café Croissants, is expanding her footprint Hook & Barrel, which focuses on sustainable seafood. You can get local wine in Myrtle Beach, too. La Belle Amie Winery (labelleamie.com) is a farm-set destination known for owner and operator Vicki Weigle’s Twisted Sisters brand of wines.
9 Beach Bars You Need Right Now
There are few things better than relaxing on a beach with a cocktail in hand, especially when the weather at home sinks below freezing. From party-forward day-drinking bars to hole-in-the-wall classics, let these nine amazing beach bars across the U.S., Mexico, and Caribbean serve as you bucket list for the whole of 2019. Now, what are you waiting for? Cheers! 1. TnT: Los Cabos, Mexico Tucked inside the ritzy Chileno Bay Resort & Residences sits the seaside cantina, TnT. They offer a selection of Mexican street-style tacos, and you can’t go wrong with the camarón, deep-fried shrimp doused in chipotle mayo, jicama and cilantro. Then dive into the real treat on the menu—premium tequilas, mezcals, and raicilla, a lesser known but no less terrific agave spirit. Don’t leave without sampling the Sonora Commercial, made with aged tequila, eucalyptus syrup, lime, and Mexican Tepache, a fermented beverage made from the peel and the rind of pineapples. Try to plan your visit after sunset, when the fire pits are lit and guests can sip under the stars. Reservations required a day in advance. (aubergeresorts.com/chilenobay) 2. The Rusty Nail: Cape May, New Jersey Blue and orange umbrellas dot outdoor boardwalk planks in front of what was once regarded as “the longest bar in all of Cape May.” The Rusty Nail, the Jersey Shore’s iconic surfer bar, has been well known along the Eastern Seaboard since the 1970s. A seaside haunt open May through December, it features an outdoor fire pit in the warm weather months and indoor fireplaces once the air chills. Order a cone of fried shrimp and wash it down with an Orange Crush, a classic Garden State beach cocktail made with Absolut Mandrin, orange, triple sec, and lemon-lime soda. If you’re on vacation with the family, this is an ideal spot to for the whole crew. The Nail is open to young, old, and the four-legged, complete with a full doggy menu. (caperesorts.com/restaurants/capemay/rustynail) 3. Mai Tai Bar: Honolulu, Hawaii Mad Men fans will immediately recognize the Royal Hawaiian, the iconic pink hotel where Don and Megan Draper honeymooned in the heart of Waikiki Beach, Oahu. Explore the basement of the property, an ode to the hotel’s decorated past, then head to the Mai Tai Bar. The hotel’s beach-side enclave, speckled with umbrellas and pink chairs, is known across the island for its variety of mai tais. Order the 96 Degrees in the Shade to cool down. A frozen mai tai with Captain Morgan, fresh pineapple-passionfruit purée, lime juice, orgeat, and mint, it's topped with a generous dark-rum floater. (royal-hawaiian.com/dining/mai-tai-bar) 4. Rick’s Cafe: Negril, Jamaica Rick’s Café, perched atop a 35-foot cliff on the west end of Negril, is known as the island’s best spot for watching the sunset. Patrons arriving at this vibrant multi-level watering hole before dusk are treated to another phenomenon: cliff diving. As island music plays, a soundtrack often provided by the in-house reggae band, locals and tourists alike head behind the bar to tiered jumping points of varying heights for a serious adrenaline rush. Not into cliff jumping? No problem. Order a rum punch and kick back at an indoor or outdoor table. If the plan is to see the sunset, arrive no later than 4PM, as seats fill up fast. And don’t forget a camera for an Instagram-worthy snap. (rickscafejamaica.com) 5. Navy Beach: Montauk, New York White picnic tables and navy blue umbrellas mark Navy Beach, a waterfront wonder set on a 200-foot private beach in Montauk, one of many seaside communities tucked within the Hamptons, New York’s coastal getaway. A casual bar and eatery, guests arrive by both land and sea. (There’s a dock for boaters to tie up on Fort Pond Bay.) Once inside, be sure to try out the classic Dark & Stormy, a blend of Gosling’s rum, ginger beer, and bitters. If you’re with an entourage, opt for a pitcher of Navy Grog, rum mixed with grapefruit, orange, and pineapple juices. When hunger strikes, order the buttermilk fried chicken with a side of truffled mac. And don’t be surprised when you see an added charge on your tab—from May to September, a donation of $1 is added to each check in support of the Navy SEAL Foundation. Helping out never tasted so good. (navybeach.com) 6. Flora-Bama: Perdido Key, Florida Flora-Bama, the self-proclaimed most famous beach bar in the country, gets its name from its unique coordinates straddling the Florida-Alabama state line. A landmark in the Gulf Shores community, this energetic watering hole offers live entertainment 365 days a year, with events that range from chili cook-offs and fishing rodeos to the Annual Mullet Toss and beachfront concerts. Flora-Bama is best known for its Bushwhacker, a milkshake-like concoction from a secret recipe involving five different types of liquor. The likes of Kenny Chesney have paid homage to the bar with lyrics like “I'm in the redneck riviera, It's getting crazy, getting hammered, sitting right here at the Flora-Bama.” (florabama.com) 7. Soggy Dollar Bar: Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands Accessible only by boat, the Soggy Dollar Bar has been serving its famous Painkiller cocktail on Jost Van Dyke since the 1970s. Made with a top-secret recipe of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple, and orange juice and topped with freshly grated nutmeg from Grenada, the potent drink makes the trek to this salty saloon worth the effort. Devastated in 2017 by Hurricane Irma, Soggy Dollar’s owner and employees worked diligently to re-open in early 2018 for its rum-loving fans—and potential fans. Have a friend stopping by without you? The bar is famous for their “Drink Board,” an opportunity to buy a drink ahead of time for someone visiting. (soggydollar.com) 8. Pelican Brewing Company: Pacific City, Oregon A love of beer and the ocean brought Pelican Brewing company to life in 1996 on Cape Kiwanda, situated about 100 miles west of Portland in coastal Pacific City. Today it’s the only beachfront brewpub in the Pacific Northwest. Head straight for the bar and order a Kiwanda, a pre-Prohibition cream ale inspired by one of America’s 19th-century beer styles, marked by a floral aroma and clean finish. Pelican Brewing Company offers seven year-round beers, as well as seasonal specials and a small-batch series called Lone Pelican. For those that can't make the trip, a live brewery webcam allows for an instant beach-bar fantasy get-away. (pelicanbrewing.com) 9. Clayton’s Beach Bar: South Padre Island, Texas Everything's bigger in Texas, and the beach bars are no exception. To wit: Clayton’s Beach Bar. With a capacity for 5,000 guests, the venue features touring acts like Billy Currington and Nelly, and each March, it plays host to the largest free spring-break stage in Texas. Known for its frozen margaritas and Turbo Piña Coladas, this popular beachside bar is a partying hotspot and treats patrons to fireworks on the weekend. Whether heading to Clayton’s with friends or the kids (it’s family-friendly), be sure to have a designated driver or an Uber on speed dial—the bartenders are notoriously heavy handed. (claytonsbeachbar.com)
More Places to go
Foley is a city in Baldwin County, Alabama, United States. The 2010 census lists the population of the city as 14,618. Foley is a principal city of the Daphne–Fairhope–Foley Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Baldwin County.
Pensacola () is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle, and the county seat of Escambia County, Florida. As of 2019, the population was estimated to be 52,975. Pensacola is the principal city of the Pensacola Metropolitan Area, which had an estimated 502,629 residents as of 2019. Pensacola is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Gulf Coast region.Pensacola is the site of the first Spanish settlement within the borders of the continental United States in 1559, predating the establishment of St. Augustine by 6 years, although the settlement was abandoned due to a hurricane and not re-established until 1698. Pensacola is a seaport on Pensacola Bay, which is protected by the barrier island of Santa Rosa and connects to the Gulf of Mexico. A large United States Naval Air Station, the first in the United States, is located southwest of Pensacola near Warrington; it is the base of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The main campus of the University of West Florida is situated north of the city center. The area was originally inhabited by Muskogean-speaking peoples. The Pensacola people lived there at the time of European contact, and Creek people frequently visited and traded from present-day southern Alabama and Mississippi and southeast of Louisiana. Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna founded a short-lived settlement in 1559. In 1698 the Spanish established a presidio in the area, from which the modern city gradually developed. The area changed hands several times as European powers competed in North America. During Florida's British rule (1763–1781), fortifications were strengthened. It is nicknamed "The City of Five Flags", due to the five governments that have ruled it during its history: the flags of Spain (Castile), France, Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America. Other nicknames include "World's Whitest Beaches" (due to the white sand of Florida panhandle beaches), "Cradle of Naval Aviation", "Western Gate to the Sunshine State", "America's First Settlement", "Emerald Coast", "Red Snapper Capital of the World", and "P-Cola".
Mobile ( moh-BEEL, French: [mɔbil] (listen)) is the county seat of Mobile County, Alabama, United States. The population within the city limits was 195,111 as of the 2010 United States Census, making it the third-most-populous city in Alabama, and the most populous in Mobile County. Alabama's only saltwater port, Mobile is located on the Mobile River at the head of the Mobile Bay and the north-central Gulf Coast. The Port of Mobile has always played a key role in the economic health of the city, beginning with the settlement as an important trading center between the French colonists and Native Americans, down to its current role as the 12th-largest port in the United States.Mobile is the principal municipality of the Mobile metropolitan area. This region of 412,992 residents is composed solely of Mobile County; it is the third-largest metropolitan statistical area in the state. Mobile is the largest city in the Mobile-Daphne−Fairhope CSA, with a total population of 604,726, the second largest in the state. As of 2011, the population within a 60-mile (100 km) radius of Mobile is 1,262,907.Mobile was founded in 1702 by the French as the first capital of Louisiana. During its first 100 years, Mobile was a colony of France, then Britain, and lastly Spain. Mobile became a part of the United States in 1813, with the annexation by President James Madison of West Florida from Spain. The city surrendered to Federal forces on April 12, 1865, after Union victories at two forts protecting the city. This, along with the news of Johnston's surrender negotiations with Sherman, led Taylor to seek a meeting with his Union counterpart, Maj. Gen. Edward R. S. Canby. The two generals met several miles north of Mobile on May 2. After agreeing to a 48-hour truce, the generals enjoyed an al fresco luncheon of food, drink, and lively music. Canby offered Taylor the same terms agreed upon between Lee and Grant. Taylor accepted the terms and surrendered his command on May 4 at Citronelle, Alabama.Considered one of the Gulf Coast's cultural centers, Mobile has several art museums, a symphony orchestra, professional opera, professional ballet company, and a large concentration of historic architecture. Mobile is known for having the oldest organized Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States. Its French Catholic colonial settlers celebrated this festival from the first decade of the 18th century. Beginning in 1830, Mobile was host to the first formally organized Carnival mystic society to celebrate with a parade in the United States. (In New Orleans, such a group is called a krewe.)