The top two questions I'm asked as a travel writer are, "What's your favorite place in the world?" (Ebey's Prairie, located about 20 minutes from my home on Whidbey Island) and, "You're never home, how often do you travel?" The second is a little trickier, as my travel schedule varies from year to year. Looking back on 2013, I was on the road 100 nights. Some of the destinations, such as Maui and the Adriatic, were with my favorite travel partner -- who also happens to be my husband! But for many of the getaways, I was on my own. Here are a dozen trips for 2014 based on my favorite adventures from last year. Bon Voyage!
If you're looking for winter warmth, the Hawaiian Islands are ideal. We enjoyed a week in February at Hotel Wailea, located on a tropical hillside in southwest Maui. Our spacious suite included a full kitchen and outdoor deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. When not cooking in, we dined at Capiche, the hotel's restaurant; Mulligans on the Blue, a nearby Irish pub; Kehei's Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar; and Stella Blues (the latter a dinner show with Hawaiian duo HAPA). Day trips took us to Upcountry, with stops in Kula (where Oprah has a house); Makawao for lunch at Hali'imaile General Store; and Pai'a, home to the Pai'a Fish Market and Mama's Fish House. We also enjoyed a morning cruise with Ultimate Whale Watch in Lahaina, followed by lunch at Star Noodle (home base for Top Chef alum Sheldon Simeon). Our favorite ocean spot was Big Beach in Makena, just a few miles from our hotel.
Whitefish, Montana is an all-season destination that's particularly beautiful in winter. Although I don't ski or snowboard, it's a very chill town! Since I was on assignment, I stayed at several places: Grouse Mountain Lodge, The Lodge at Whitefish Lake and the Garden Wall Inn. With no car (I flew into the nearby Glacier Park International Airport), I found the Garden Wall Inn to be the most convenient to downtown. Owners Rhonda and Chris are savvy and hospitable innkeepers, and accommodations include a full gourmet breakfast and early evening appetizers and wine. If you do ski or snowboard, take the free SNOW bus to Whitefish Mountain Resort -- there's a stop nearby the inn. It was fun to have dinner at McGarry's Roadhouse, one of Whitefish's top restaurants owned by friends Steve and Sandy Nogal (former innkeepers at The Inn at Langley); Tupelo Grille; and Casey's Bar & Grill. Being an outdoors/recreation town, Whitefish has no shortage of watering holes (read about them in my Crosscut article). To round out my winter adventure, I booked a sleeper car aboard Amtrak's Empire Builder for the return trip to Seattle. Amtrak is offering a 20% off winter getaway rate to Whitefish that's valid through April 11, 2014. All aboard!
Las Vegas, Nevada
My first visit to Las Vegas was when O.J. Simpson's Ford white Bronco chase was unfolding on an LA freeway in 1994. It played out on TV screens throughout the Vegas casinos, and seemed the perfect backdrop for Sin City. So when I was invited to a 50th surprise birthday party for my nephew in Vegas last year, I figured it was time to catch up with the city. Our small birthday posse booked rooms at The Signature at MGM Grand, enjoyed a delish dinner at Tom Colicchio's CraftSteak and traveled via armored car (!) to Cirque du Soleil's watery show O. But that's about all I recall -- as the saying goes, What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas!
1,000 Mile Oregon Road Trip
Just before spring arrived last year, I set out on what I called my 1000 Mile Road Trip. In addition to wanting to take my new MINI Cooper out for a really big spin, I was working on a feature story about family-friendly destinations -- and one of them was in Oregon. My Oregon road trip overnight stops included: Seaside (Sandy Cove Inn); Pacific City (The Cottages at Cape Kiwanda, pictured here); Bend (The Oxford Hotel); Dufur (Balch Hotel); and Portland (Hotel deLuxe). It was a mighty fine trip, and outside of a white knuckle drive in an unexpected snowstorm over the mountain pass to Bend, there were no mishaps for me and MINI. Best of all, when I arrived in my driveway at home on Whidbey Island, my odometer magically read 999.9 miles. That's about as close as you can get to a 1,000 Mile Road Trip!
New York City
I never turn down a chance to go to the Big Apple. So when my husband flew off to a conference in New York City last spring, I was in the aisle seat next to him. Since our son lived in Manhattan for a number of years, I'd pretty much checked off the top things to see and do. But one thing New York is always good for is walking, and I'm a big fan of walking tours. I signed up with CityRover for a walking tour of the High Line, New York's newest outdoor attraction, popular with both residents and visitors. I also visited the 9/11 Memorial and the nearby St. Paul's Chapel -- one of Manhattan's oldest buildings that became a 9/11 recovery center. On the entertainment front, I attended a matinee of Kinky Boots, with a pre-theatre lunch at Angus' Cafe Bistro; spent a late evening at Don't Tell Mama, a lively piano bar featuring velvet-voiced singers; and spotted a few celebrities (tennis legend Jimmy Connors being interviewed on the outdoor set of Access Hollywood by Billy Bush). Foodwise, it never stopped, and my dining delights included a burger and fries at the Shake Shack, lunch at Eataly and dinner at Morimoto. Bon Appetit!
Rick Steves' 14-Day Adriatic Tour
Although my husband and I have traveled the seven continents, for the most part we're independent travelers. But in the past decade, we've branched out and tried a variety of tours: a self-guided 50-mile walk with friends along the Drover's Trail in Scotland; a small group biking tour in France's Loire Valley; and most recently, a wonderful walking tour in Italy with La Dolce Vita Wine Tours. And even though we've been longtime fans of Rick Steves' guide books and shows, we had never signed up for one of his tours. That all changed in May of last year when we flew to Ljubljana, Slovenia (pictured here) to begin our Rick Steves' Best of the Adriatic in 14 Days tour. It was tops, from our two guides Amir and Ben, to the thoughtful itinerary that included Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovena. Although it may seem a bit odd to travel with strangers for two weeks, our group got along famously, and many of us reunited in January during the annual get-together of tour guides and trip alumni at Rick Steves' headquarters in Edmonds, Washington. As Rick says, "Until next time, keep on traveling!"
The Dalles, Oregon
While Hood River, Oregon has been the darling of the Columbia River Gorge for some time now, just 12 miles east is The Dalles. Boasting 300 days of sunshine a year, The Dalles is branding itself as a destination for history buffs, wine aficionados, hikers, cyclists and river rafters. I went on a two-day media tour of the area, which took us from a spectacular wildflower walk at the nearby Tom McCall Preserve to the Sunshine Mill for wine tasting. We toured the Dalles Dam, had afternoon tea at The Anzac Tea Parlour (complete with house made Anzac Biscuits) and went across the Columbia River to the Maryhill Museum of Art and Horse Thief Lake State Park. The downtown area is going through a renaissance (Google opened a data center in The Dalles in 2006). There are two historic districts, a dozen murals and Klindt's Booksellers (established 1870) is the oldest bookstore in Oregon.
As much as I like a road trip now and again, my favorite way to travel is by leaving MINI at home. I repeated such a trip for the second time last year, traveling by train, whale watching boat, ferry and plane. I took Amtrak Cascades from Seattle to Vancouver, where I spent the night at the OPUS Hotel in Yaletown. The next morning, I boarded the Prince of Whales in Coal Harbour for the three-hour trip to Victoria on Vancouver Island (we spotted whales near the San Juan Islands in the US). After a night at the Magnolia Hotel & Spa in the Inner Harbour, it was time to catch Black Ball Ferry Line's MV Coho to Port Angeles, Washington. There I spent the night at the Red Lion Inn and the next morning (after a sweet treat at Cock-a-Doodle-Doughtnuts), flew Kenmore Air back to Seattle's Boeing Field. What a fun three-night adventure!
Sidney on Vancouver Island
Often overshadowed by Victoria, Sidney is one of my favorite communities on Vancouver Island. Located on the Saanich Peninsula, 30 minutes north of British Columbia's capital city, it's accessible via Washington State Ferries from Anacortes and BC Ferries at nearby Swartz Bay. My favorite place to stay is The Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa, a 55-room boutique hole with town or water views. Go for a stroll along the new Sidney Seaside Sculpture Walk, which starts in front of the hotel and continues along the waterfront promenade. Adjacent to the hotel is the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, the Aquarium of the Salish Sea. Sidney is Canada's only Booktown, with seven independently owned bookstores. Dining options include Haro's Restaurant + Bar at the hotel; 3rd Street Cafe for breakfast; Fish on 5th for fish 'n chips; Chef Lucien Frauenfelder's Bistro Suisse; and the 110-year-old Sidney Bakery for traditional "breads and buns." In summer, take a passenger ferry to Sidney Spit, part of Canada's Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
I try to visit the Rose City at least twice a year, autumn and spring, either via Amtrak Cascades or BoltBus. Portland is a fun town, with great shopping (no sales tax), hip hotels and never ending dining options (click on the above links for recommendations). But just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't bundle up and savor some of that Portlandia flavor. Fertile Ground, a City-Wide Festival of New Works, celebrates the "verdant and abundant acts of creation" from January 23 - February 2, 2014. Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse) is celebrated at Lan Su Chinese Garden January 31 - February 14. And the Portland Jazz Festival will heat things up February 20 - March 2.
Napa Valley, California
I hadn't visited the Napa Valley since the 1970's, somewhat surprising due to my fondness for the grape. In early November, my husband and I flew into Oakland to attend a wedding in Napa, and spent an extra day wining and dining. With more than 450 wineries to choose from, we narrowed it down to three: Silverado, Regusci and Cade. They made a perfect trio for tasting, with lunch in between at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Redd the night before. Wine Touring Tip: Go on a weekday. We were in Napa on a sunny Tuesday, and it was not only beautiful, but no lines or bad traffic to impede the sipping of wine!
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
After attending a wedding in Cancun, I said adios to the sprawling Mexican resort city and escaped to Isla Mujeres, a 30-minute ferry ride via Ultra-Mar Ferries. I booked a room online at the four-room Casa El Pio, located a few blocks from the town square. It was was spacious and comfortable, priced right at $72 -- a stark contrast to the huge, all-inclusive resort where I stayed in Cancun. I felt at home in Isla Mujeres, the ideal walking town (if you wish to go further afield, rent a golf cart). Fun dining options, no shortage of shops and attractions, and even a surprise rainstorm that resulted in flooded streets made for a memorable three nights. The Island of Women is well worth repeating.