North America

Take It Slow in Glen Ellen, Sonoma

Posted November 11, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Sonoma Just north of San Francisco, leave your hectic workaday pace behind as you encounter farms with grazing cattle, meadows of wildflowers, and especially rows of grapevines. This is Glen Ellen, Sonoma, where Jack London found his inspiration and agriculturists work the soil to produce top-notch wines, vegetables, and even flowers. Taste the fruits of their labor with a glass of Cabernet and a gourmet meal while you unwind and let the chaos slip away.

Glen Ellen Inn: Looking for a place to hide from the outside world? Look no further than the secret cottages of Glen Ellen Inn. With creekside views, fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, and a lack of in-room phones, these private, free-standing bungalows are just the place to lay low. Because of the inn's location close to downtown Glen Ellen and many of the area's vineyards, you can still get in a day of wine-tasting and shopping without having to travel too far. If you decide you never want to leave your little hideaway, the on-site Glen Ellen Inn Oyster Grill & Martini Bar brings the local scene inside with California-fusion inspired dishes paired with regional wines. Prices start at $149 for weeknights and $239 for weekends during high season.

Valley of the Moon Winery: If you want a different type of escape, take a walk in the Valley of the Moon, where the wines are heavenly. Operating since 1863, this winery is the oldest in Glen Ellen, and pairs contemporary wine making with time-honored traditions. Free tours of the expansive grounds run twice daily, taking you through historical stone buildings, ancient trees, and fertile land. Complimentary tastings are offered between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m, and you'll find classic Sonoma-style reds and whites, as well as a smooth vintage port.

Oak Hill Farm of Sonoma: Though it sells much of its bounty to local restaurateurs and markets, including San Francisco's famous Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Oak Hill Farm welcomes visitors to eat off the fat of the land, too. With the Mayacamas Mountains as a backdrop and set among 700 acres of protected wildlands, the Red Barn Store, a 100-year-old dairy barn, sells vegetables, fruits, and herbs, as well as flowers and wreaths produced on its 45-acre organic farm. Prices reflect the quality of the produce, but it doesn't cost a thing to inhale a more agrarian-side of life.

Use our price-comparison tool to search for flights and compare prices to Oakland, San Francisco, and Sacramento, which are home to Glen Ellen’s nearest major airports.

(Photo: Oak Hill Farm of Sonoma)

Uncover Washington, D.C.'s Hidden Secrets

Posted November 3, 2010 by Kate Hamman

DC When it comes to a politically charged atmosphere, Washington, D.C., has the market cornered. Not only is it the place our president calls home, but you can uncover hidden secrets by taking a ride through its history or eavesdropping over cocktails in a local lounge. After you've finished your sleuthing, you can dine on organic dishes to clear your conscience.

Bi-Partisan Tour Company: Honor our country's freedom of choice by choosing to be the driver and navigator of your own tour of the nation's capital. The Bi-Partisan Tour Company encourages either side to ride in their very own red-and-blue electrical roadster, in which historical facts and scandalous secrets are revealed at almost every turn. You can even don a rubber mask of your favorite political figure and hit the streets as a true leader. Tours run a bit steep at $75 per person, but the direction-savvy can ride for $40 without the added benefits of GPS navigation and storytelling. Don't forget to bring along your mobile phone, as the company offers free two-to-four minute recorded tours.

Lounge 201: With dynamite drink specials Tuesday through Friday, this hip Capitol Hill lounge adds new meaning to "happy hour." On Tuesdays, you can choose from a range of sweet and savory martinis to suit almost any taste, including the Tiramisu Tini and the Red Caramel Apple, for half the original price. Grab a cocktail and listen to the lively political discussions by White House aides who hang out here, because you never know what you might overhear. Martinis start at $9, but don't forget to ask about the daily specials to get the best deal.

Restaurant Nora: America's first certified organic restaurant, Nora has been enticing the District's environmentalists and politicians with fresh seasonal dishes since 1989. It's rumored to be a Clinton favorite. Originally a grocery store in the 19th century, the main dining room has always been home to food. Antique Mennonite and Amish crib quilts decorate the walls as you dine on dishes such as fragrant Amish veal with cashew curry. Entrees start at $25.

To search for flights and compare prices to Washington, D.C., please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Index Open)

Amelia Island Takes You Back in Time on a Dime

Posted October 29, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Amelia Once a Victorian seaport, Amelia Island has a fascinating past. Experience pieces of the island's history in the Fernandina Beach district, where you can stay in Florida's oldest operating hotel and drink at the state's longest-running bar. And when you get hungry, a funky restaurant will bring you back into the 21st century without charging too much inflation.

Florida House Inn: The Florida House Inn is the oldest surviving hotel in the state, and once housed famous guests like Ulysses S. Grant and comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. These days, the hotel hosts a slew of different activities, ranging from Carolina shag dance lessons to bluegrass jam sessions. Ten of the 22 rooms come with fireplaces. Prices start at $109 per night, and include breakfast and free scooter rentals.

The Palace Saloon: The Palace Saloon is not only the oldest continuously run bar in Florida, but it also holds the title as the first hard-liquor joint to serve Coca-Cola. Once the gathering place of sailors and captains docked along Fernandina's harbor, the Palace still welcomes patrons with a thirst for adventure. Pull up a stool and order a cocktail as you listen to the live entertainment that plays daily.

Cafe Karibo: This eclectic restaurant may not be the oldest in town, but its broad menu is one for the history books. You can support the island's thriving shrimp industry with a plate of shrimp and grits, or sample items ranging from turkey meatloaf to seared ahi tuna. Eat inside or under the large oak trees on the garden patio. Dinner entrees start at $14.

To search for flights and compare prices to Jacksonville, which is home to Amelia Islands’s closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Amelia Island Tourist Development Council)

Watch Your Footsteps, Not Your Wallet, in Boulder

Posted October 20, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Boulder With mountains to hike, open spaces to bike, and a heartfelt concern for Mother Earth, Boulder is an outdoor enthusiast's dream come true. Come eat at a cafe that goes above and beyond its green practices by creating hearty and satisfying dishes. Then shop at an REI with an eco-friendly attitude and design before returning to an inn where you can relax knowing that the innkeepers are doing their part to help nature. Plus, you won't have to go broke to appreciate the splendor of the area.

The Kitchen: The Kitchen prides itself on being green by recycling or reusing 100 percent of everything it discards, using only biodegradable paper products, and relying on wind-powered energy. The bistro's dinner menu, featuring dishes like braised pork cheek ravioli, changes nightly depending on what's fresh. Upstairs, there's a comfortable wine-and-beer lounge, where food is prepared in a wood-fired oven. Dinner features over 20 shared plates and you can dine family-style for $47 per person.

REI: As a prototype for green retail stores, Boulder's REI goes beyond selling outdoor gear and aims to reduce its environmental footprint. The shop is LEED certified and incorporates recycling, composting, water and energy conservation, and indoor air quality improvement into its design. Come shop for all of your adventure needs while taking comfort in how the store is keeping Mother Earth fit for all your future outings. Prices vary from item to item.

Briar Rose Bed and Breakfast: Besides being an eco-friendly place to stay, where recycling and composting are at the top of the list, the Briar Rose aims to bring tranquility and peace into the heart of Boulder. You can have a cup of tea anytime throughout the day next to the wood-burning fireplace, snuggle into organic cotton sheets, and enjoy a full-service organic breakfast. Rooms start at $139 per night.

To search for flights and compare prices to Denver, which is home to Boulders’s closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(photo: iStockphoto)

Austin Entertains on a Student's Budget

Posted October 13, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Austin With movies, music, or art around nearly every corner, Austin is a student's dream getaway. However, whether you're in school or just young at heart, you don't have to be rich to have a good time. Come watch a movie in a theater with a killer beer selection, shop in a store filled with offbeat antiques, and eat pancakes at 4 a.m. at an all-night diner.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema: Find a film to fit any mood at one of the three Alamo Drafthouses in Austin. Once you're seated, you can order drinks and food during the show. There's an impressive selection of beers on tap and in the bottle. And if you're in need of sustenance, you can order standard fried pub fare, pizzas, and sandwiches. Each seat comes equipped with a table and order forms.

Uncommon Objects: Whether or not you love to shop, pay a visit to Uncommon Objects to appreciate its range of oddball antiques and vintage collectables. You never know what you may find buried amongst the purses, jewelry, photos, dolls, and the like. And with an amazing array of quirky and unique items like mannequin hands or vintage family portraits, this store is all about uncovering your own kind of treasure. Prices vary, but you may just unearth a steal if you dig deep enough.

Magnolia Cafe: Magnolia Cafe is so serious about offering top-notch diner food "24 hours, eight days a week" that they've hung a neon sign outside apologizing for being open. The two locations in Austin serve a wide range of pasta, burgers, fish, steaks, and breakfast items. So, no matter what hour of the day you're craving pancakes, Magnolia is there with a stack of your favorite fix. Pancakes will set you back a mere $4.75, and almost everything else on the menu costs under $10.

To search for flights and compare prices to Austin, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: J Alcorn)

Greensboro LEEDs the Way as an Affordable and Sustainable Destination

Posted October 5, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Greensboro With a name like Greensboro, it's not surprising that this North Carolina city is turning its focus to sustainable practices. Here, you can stay in an over-the-top-green hotel, dine on upscale farm-to-table dishes, and support local vendors at a farmers' market, all the while keeping your savings intact.

Proximity Hotel: Designed and constructed following Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's (LEED) standards, the Proximity Hotel is green from the ground floor up. More than 70 sustainable practices have been incorporated into the hotel, including a solar-paneled rooftop and recycled materials. Each room features seven-foot-tall windows that offer ample natural lighting and views of the outdoors. Rooms start at about $189 per night.

Green Valley Grill: As a sister property to the Proximity Hotel, the Green Valley Grill uses fresh local ingredients in its European-inspired cuisine. By upholding the belief that "the nearer the farm to the fork the better the flavor," the restaurant creates tantalizing dishes such as parmesan-crusted chicken and lemon-rosemary duck breast. You can also sample North Carolina wines to pair with your dinner. Entrees start at $15.95.

Farmers' Curb Market: Opening in 1874, the Farmers' Curb Market is one of the oldest in North Carolina and to this day becomes a veritable smorgasbord of local crafts, produce, meats, and treats every Saturday morning during the summer. Many vendors' goods come straight from the farm, where they were handpicked fresh that morning. Items are priced accordingly, but the way you'll feel about supporting the local industry is priceless.

To search for flights and compare prices to Greensboro, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Proximity Hotel)

Win Big on History and Affordability at Foxwoods Casino

Posted September 17, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Foxwoods Located in Mashantucket, Connecticut, Foxwoods is a destination unto itself. But, it has more to offer than just gambling. While here, you can learn about the Pequot Tribe that runs the massive casino by exploring a nearby museum devoted to the Tribe's history. Then you can get your fill of all types of food at an affordable buffet, before returning to your room across the street from the noisy slot machines.

Pequot Museum: Not far from Foxwoods, you'll find a tribally owned and operated museum featuring exhibits on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's history and culture. Through a series of dioramas, text panels, computer programs, and films featured in the permanent display, you'll come to understand the evolution of the tribe. On top of this, the museum features native crafts and artwork in the galleries. Plus, walk through the life-sized Pequot Village and literally step back in time as you follow the tribe's movements from the Ice Age through the 19th century. Admission costs $15.

Festival Buffet: No matter what type of food you're craving, the Festival Buffet in the Foxwoods Casino is sure to deliver something that will satisfy your needs. Here, you can dine on Asian, BBQ, Italian, seafood, and pastas all in one sitting. Plus, you can get fresh made-to-order risotto, steaks, and hot snow crab legs. The breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus rotate, so you can eat here almost every day without having the same thing twice. Prices for all-you-can-eat lunch and dinner start at $16.95, but the real bargain is breakfast for $10.50.

Two Trees Inn: With four hotels to choose from, Foxwoods offers options for any budget. You'll find affordable country-style comfort at the Two Trees Inn, where you can relax by the inviting fireplace in the lobby. Located close to Foxwoods, the hotel provides a 24-hour courtesy shuttle that makes it easy to get to the action of the casino.

To search for flights and compare prices to Hartford and Providence, the nearest major airports, please use our price-comparison tool. (Photo: Index Open)

Explore the Sea on a Few Clams in Monterey Bay

Posted September 13, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Monterey Bay Monterey Bay captures the essence of the sea. Here, you can get up close and personal with marine life without getting wet, dine on seafood at a wharfside restaurant, and stay at a hotel just steps from the beach. Plus, this ocean escape won't cost you a whole lot of clams.

Monterey Bay Aquarium: The "Splash Zone" exhibit features several old sea friends, such as the blackfooted penguins, cuttlefish, and seahorses. Explore the Kelp Forest, where you can walk under a kelp canopy and search for creatures or fishes living within. You'll also still get to see some of the older exhibits, which include giant octopuses, sea otters, and jellyfish. Tickets cost $29.95 per adult, and $17.95 per child.

Abalonetti Seafood Trattoria: With nearly a dozen different types of calamari dishes, Abalonetti is the place to go for squid. But, there's much more to this wharfside restaurant than just tentacles. Choose from a range of seafood dishes, or snack on items from the a la carte antipasto menu. You can also order pizza for the little ones if they don't like the looks of calamari. While you dine, you can enjoy sweeping views of the bay from the restaurant's location on Fisherman's Wharf. Dinner entrees start at $13.95.

Monterey Bay Lodge: About 150 steps from the beach in the heart of the peninsula, the Monterey Bay Lodge is ideal for a family getaway. It features 43 guestrooms, as well as two family suites that come equipped with twin bunk beds and a Nintendo 64. Relax by the heated outdoor pool while your kids frolic in the fountain. Rates are reasonable and the hotel also features several packages, including one that features a discount on two-day Aquarium passes.

To search for flights and compare prices to San Francisco, which is home to Monterey’s closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder)

Plant Yourself in Madison Without Pruning your Savings

Posted September 10, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Madison Madison holds its place as one of the greener cities in the U.S. by preserving 6,000 acres of parkland and offering nearly 100 miles of bike trails. Best of all, you don't have to touch your life savings to experience the "eco" side of the city. You can take a class on sustainable home gardening, dine at a restaurant serving home-grown organic comfort foods, and rest easy in an eco-minded hotel that caters to outdoor lovers.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens: Olbrich is more than just a pretty flower garden. Its events lineup features a lecture series on sustainability topics such as eco-friendly garden design, perennial grasses, and using rain water to efficiently water your garden. The gardens are free to explore, and most classes cost between $12 and $15.

Harvest Restaurant: Designated as one of Gourmet Magazine's top farm-to-table restaurants, Harvest serves fresh food for every season. Tami Lax is not only the owner, but also the founder of the Madison Slow Food chapter. Using organic and local ingredients, the restaurant features a range of simple yet inventive dishes such as porcini-salt-rubbed Angus tenderloin or local grass-fed beef steak. Menus change with the seasons, and entrees cost between $18 and $42.

Arbor House: A former tavern and stagecoach stop dating back to 1853, the Arbor House has come a long way, winning several awards for its eco-friendly practices. Each of the eight rooms comes equipped with organic mattresses, energy-efficient lights, and water-saving appliances. The hotel also provides complimentary mountain bikes for daily activities. Rates start at $110 per night.

To search for flights and compare prices to Madison, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: iStockPhoto/ Borislav Yankov)

Taste Oaxaca, Mexico, Without a Hefty Bill

Posted September 8, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Oaxaca As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Oaxaca is a smorgasbord of cultural flavors. However, you don't have to spend a lot of pesos to get a taste of the city. You can learn how to create an authentic Mexican meal at home, dine on traditional dishes such as mole, and stay at an inn for just $50 per night.

Seasons of my Heart Cooking School: Whether you're new to cooking or a long-time chef, Seasons of my Heart will teach you a thing or two about Mexican cuisine. Choose from half-day, full-day, or week-long classes. For the full-day class, you'll begin by exploring a local market to taste and find the meal's ingredients. Upon returning to the school, you'll don an apron and create five different dishes to eat at the end of class. Full-day classes cost $75, and include transportation.

Hotel Azucenas: Located in a renovated colonial home near the town square, Hotel Azucenas offers relaxation and comfort in the heart of Oaxaca. Each of its 10 rooms overlook an interior courtyard, and come with morning coffee delivery. The hotel offers a fresh breakfast buffet, and you can spend your day lounging in the rooftop terrace garden or the cafe bar. Rooms start at about 625 pesos per night (about $48 U.S., see for current conversion rates).

To search for flights and compare prices to Oaxaca, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Gunion)

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