San Francisco

Hotels with the Best Views in America

Posted July 30, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

 

Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California (Photo: Preferred Hotel Group)

A perfect view is a priceless hotel amenity. It allows you to enjoy a perspective of a landscape or monument that's, for the time being, yours alone. You get to maintain a visual connection to your destination even after you've retreated to your room with a bottle of wine and the room-service menu. And it affords the opportunity to take some pretty impressive pictures without battling crowds of camera-wielding tourists.

Some of the greatest views of America's most spectacular sites—the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, the rugged beaches of California's Central Coast—are available from the guest rooms of hotels. Here are 10 U.S. properties that overlook superb vistas and offer guests a picture-perfect point of view.

 

(Photo: Ian A Gratton via flickr/CC Attribution)

The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, New York City, New York

New Yorkers are knee-deep in marvelous views, from teeming Times Square to the high-flying city skyline to the emerald-green expanse of Central Park. But at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park, telescopes in harbor-view rooms help you get a special perspective on one of America's icons: the Statue of Liberty. One of two Ritz-Carlton properties in New York City, the Battery Park Ritz property is located about 100 yards from the harbor, giving guests an unobstructed look at Ellis Island. Plus, the port for Statue of Liberty tours is a stone's throw away.

 

(Photo: Grand Canyon NPS via flickr/CC Attribution)

Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The astonishing views are what draw many to the rim of the Grand Canyon. So why not stay in a place that's as close to the powerful landscape as you can get? The Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim is the only lodging inside the park that's located at the North Rim. (This means you should book your stay far in advance.) The lodge consists of cabins and motel rooms; the prime spots to book are the cabins close to the rim of the canyon. For best results, be sure to ask for a cabin with a North Rim view.

 

(Photo: Hotel Vitale)

Hotel Vitale, San Francisco, California

The Golden Gate isn't the only San Francisco bridge worth looking at. Last year, an enormous installation comprised of 25,000 LED lights was hung on the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland. The Bay Lights make up the world's largest LED sculpture. And Hotel Vitale, which sits on the San Fran waterfront across from the Embarcadero promenade, offers guests perfect Bay Bridge views. When booking your stay, ask for a bridge-view room. You'll get to see the Bay Bridge sparkling with more than a mile of glittering lights from dusk until dawn, right from your room. Some guest rooms also offer views of the Ferry Building Marketplace along the Embarcadero.

 

(Photo: Preferred Hotel Group)

The Chanler at Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island

Enjoy a view fit for a gilded-age baron in … where else but the former home of a gilded-age baron. There's little argument that this gorgeous historical property offers the best ocean views in Newport. The Chanler at Cliff Walk, a mansion constructed in the 19th century by Civil War-era congressman John Winthrop Chanler, is the only hotel located on Newport's celebrated Cliff Walk. It's perched directly on the trail that snakes between the Atlantic Ocean and a sequence of ornate gilded-age manors. Grab an Ocean Villa to enjoy unforgettable views of the ocean and the historical town of Newport directly from your room.

 

(Photo: Far View Lodge)

Far View Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

This hotel's name says it all. The only lodging available inside Mesa Verde National Park, Far View Lodge sits amidst miles of arid sagebrush-blanketed wilderness on the Colorado Plateau. All rooms at the lodge have private balconies from which guests can stargaze, search for wandering Rocky Mountain elk, black bears, or coyotes, or simply enjoy the rolling cuesta landscape that seems to extend forever.

 

Corner Executive Suite (Photo: Swissotel)

Swissotel Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

This Magnificent Mile property affords views of the best of both Chicago worlds: Lake Michigan and the city skyline. Certainly, the finest viewpoints are available via Swissotel Chicago's corner king rooms; these accommodations have wide windows that allow guests to enjoy full views of water and city in two directions. Need an excuse to work out? The property's fitness center, located on the 42nd floor, also offers panoramic Windy City views.

 

(Photo: Ryan Harvey via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Enchantment Resort, Sedona, Arizona

Tucked amidst the multihued red rocks of Sedona, Enchantment Resort has a well-deserved reputation for stunning views. The property is located on 70 pristine acres at Boynton Canyon, where a mix of forest, desert, and canyons forms a unique and visually stunning ecosystem. Trails are accessible for those who want to explore the extraordinary natural setting. Or you can order room service from one of a handful of on-site restaurants and dine on your own private terrace in full view of the Sedona scenery. For the best perspective, request a room with a view of the canyon face or a room on a higher floor.

 

(Photo: Four Seasons)

Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, Lanai, Hawaii

The secluded Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay is one of just a few hotels on Lanai, so you won't see any other properties from your window; that equates to pristine, unobstructed views of red lava cliffs and blue ocean. Even if you don't snag a room with an ocean view, you won't have to worry about getting stuck with concrete high-rises in your visual field. There's not a bad view in the house: You might have a view of the sea. You might have a view of the property's lush tropical gardens. Either way, you'll be hard-pressed to spot any signs of commercial development from your accommodations on this calm, quiet island.

 

View from Peak House Guest Room (Photo: Preferred Hotel Group)

Port Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California

At Post Ranch Inn, secluded cliff-side dwellings offer expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. Take in the sea view from a private porch, a living room warmed by a crackling fire, or a roomy jetted tub positioned before a wall of glass. (The windows facing the ocean hang above a steep incline, which supplies the requisite privacy for large-windowed bathrooms.) You'll also find amazing views in the property's restaurant, Sierra Mar, where walls and floors made entirely of glass extend over the sloping cliffs, creating the perfect visual setting for an unforgettable meal.

 

(Photo: brianandjaclyn via flickr/CC Attribution)

Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, Montana

It's generally agreed upon that Many Glacier Hotel offers the best views of all the lodgings in Glacier National Park. And what views they are: Lake-facing windows at this Swiss-style property provide a flawless perspective on glacier-carved mountainous landscapes. See the jagged peaks reflecting onto the clear water of Swiftcurrent Lake right from your room. But book early. There are only a handful of hotels within the national park, and lake-facing accommodations fill up especially fast.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Hotels with the Best Views in the U.S.

Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

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10 Unique City Tours Around the World

Posted May 5, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Magic Bus)

See a completely different side of a city when you break away from the mob of tourists following the guide with the red umbrella. On these 10 unique city tours, you'll venture into the Bronx with an old-school rapper, see abandoned buildings in Portugal's second city, and go longboarding through Amsterdam's most famous park. You're sure to come home with a camera full of authentic experiences that most visitors miss.

 

(Photo: Bats Over Congress Avenue Bridge via Shutterstock)

Never Unpack Your Travel Items

Crowds gather from March through October on the Congress Avenue Bridge to see a natural spectacle that has earned the resident bat colony celebrity status in Austin. Each night at dusk, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from beneath the bridge, swirling like a black ribbon into the sky. For a unique perspective on the mass exodus, watch it from the water on a Congress Avenue Kayaks bat tour. With a small group of 10, you'll paddle under the bridge in sit-on-top kayaks. After encountering the bats, you can venture out on your own to see other sights on the water.

Details: The 90-minute kayak bat tour departs at sunset in season and is $30 for a two-person kayak.

Insider Tip: You can also watch the bats from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin's lobby lounge, which serves a "Batini" cocktail. Plan an August visit to coincide with the city's annual bat festival.

 

(Photo: Magic Bus San Francisco Tour)

1960s Summer of Love Tour, San Francisco, California

It's all peace, love, and bubble-spewing on this psychedelic hippie bus that takes you on a trip back to San Francisco's 1960s counterculture. The Magic Bus Tour stops at landmarks of the city's hippie movement; you can even join in a drum circle (this time without the purple haze). On the bus, a groovy guide/actor will share interesting stories and rock out with you to the music of the era. It's a multimedia adventure that evokes the decade's politics and attitudes through live action and video projections on the bus's retractable window screens. The tour hits Chinatown and the North Beach spot where Jack Kerouac hung out. You'll see Golden Gate Park and the crossroads of Haight and Ashbury streets, home of the Summer of Love, in a whole new light.

Details: The two-hour tour is $55 and starts at Union Square.

Insider Tip: Bring a jacket or sweater. It can be chilly at Golden Gate Park even if it's warm downtown at the tour's start.

 

(Photo: Rob Moody)

Downtown Yoga Tour, Asheville, North Carolina

Take your downward dog downtown in Asheville, North Carolina. On this Travelling Yogini Tour, you'll strike a pose and connect with your breath in several of the city's iconic spots. A yoga guide will start with beginner-level stretches and, as you move from Pritchard Park to the Flat Iron Building to the artsy Chicken Alley district, the poses will become more challenging. By the time you finish with a cooldown and meditation, you'll have heard about Asheville's history and architecture. Between flowing in and out of poses, you'll meet street performers, artists, and others who are out exploring the city.

Details: The 90-minute downtown tour is $20.

Insider Tip: Along the way, the yoga guide will point out funky boutiques and specialty shops, giving you interesting tidbits on the history and products so you can plan your apres-yoga shopping route.

 

(Photo: Berlinagenten)

Urban Home-Visit Tour, Berlin, Germany

Want an invitation to sit in a Berliner's flat and chat over coffee or beer? The Urban Living Tour, the ultimate insider's tour, will introduce you to three different Berliners in three different neighborhoods. You'll get to go inside their homes and spend an hour visiting and checking out their decor. The hosts you'll meet will depend on who is in town on the day you're visiting. It could be a set designer in an underground courtyard apartment or a photographer with an uber-luxe pad on a main thoroughfare built in the Stalin era. While you snoop around and see how they live, you'll hear about what drew them to the city and what they love about it.

Details: The 4.5-hour tour includes visits to three private apartments, drinks and sweets, sightseeing between the visits, transport, and a private guide. Prices vary based on how many people are taking the tour; see website for details.

Insider Tip: Keep an open mind and come with questions.

 

(Photo: Dominic Stevenson)

City Tour Led by Homeless Guide, London, England

See London through the eyes of someone who lives on the city's streets. Unseen Tours hires and professionally trains homeless and formerly homeless people to lead its walking tours of London Bridge, Camden, Shoreditch, and Convent Garden. See the stark contrast between historical landmarks and sites where the guides have slept, hear riveting personal stories, and discover tucked-away places few others ever experience. The tour ends at either a pub or a cafe, so you can carry on with your guide or group in a discussion that ebbs between the politics of street begging and the effects of gentrification on the East End.

Details: The tour runs $9 to $14 per hour and usually lasts about 90 minutes.

Insider Tip: On each tour, the company reserves two free spots for those who are either unable to pay or are accompanying someone as a caregiver. Wondering how much of the ticket sales goes back to the guide? About 80 percent. Unseen Tours was the winner for best tour operator for local experiences in the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2011.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

'Worst' Walking Tour, Porto, Portugal

This tour in Portugal's second-largest city is the antithesis of a tourist trap. Avoiding all of Porto's polished postcard-perfect sites, it takes visitors past decrepit homes and crumbling shops. Started by three out-of-work architects who stuck around after the country was hit hard by the recession, The Worst Tours will show you the not-for-tourists sites and guides will tell stories about the old markets and abandoned buildings, helping you understand what's behind Europe's economic crisis. Learn about Porto's architecture, history, politics, and urbanism from a few people who are "OK with not being popular or cool or the best in anything, least of all touring."

Details: Tours are two to three hours and are free.

Insider Tip: Let your guide know which parts of the city you've already visited and what your interests are, and he or she will create a route that shows you things you haven't seen.

 

(Photo: Urban Adventures)

Gwana Music Tour, Essaouira, Morocco

New this spring, the Gnawa Music Experience tour gives you a unique encounter with one of Morocco's off-the-charts popular trends: trance-like Gnawa music and its acrobatic dance moves. You'll be introduced to the addictive music's Afro-Moroccan culture and customs in the medina, where musicians will be jamming. Then, you'll step inside hidden domains typically inaccessible to visitors: You'll go into the home of a dancer to see him perform, watch a troupe master play a traditional lute-like instrument in his private quarters, and visit a temple where sacred rituals drive out evil spirits.

Details: The evening tour costs around $100 and lasts two to three hours.

Insider Tip: Both men and women should dress with respect, covering everything from the shoulders to the knees. At the end of the tour, your guide can recommend places to go dancing where you'll hear Gnawa music fused with Western and Latin music.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor LLC)

Hip-Hop Tour, New York, New York

With a legendary hip-hop artist as your guide, Hush Tours will give you a truly entertaining experience in the Bronx and Harlem, the birthplace of the culture. Here, people on the street might recognize and give shout-outs to the Hush Tours guides—Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, and others—as they delve into four aspects of hip-hop culture: DJing, MCing, B-boy and B-girl dancing, and graffiti artistry. You'll see the important landmarks and check out where Biggie, Nas, and Jay-Z grew up on this fun tour.

Details: Tours range from two hours ($32) to four hours ($75).

Insider Tip: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. At one point on the tour, you'll learn hip-hop moves and try them out on the streets.

 

(Photo: LiveToronto)

Date-Night City Tour with a Photographer, Toronto, Canada

Nothing against snapping a selfie with your iPhone, but on LiveToronto's Date Night Tour, you'll get enviable pics (without your arm) for posting on Facebook or printing in a photo book. Depending on your interests (sports, architecture, music, etc.), your personal paparazzo will plan a walking route to hit Toronto's key sites and set up photo ops. As you explore downtown's icons and hidden gems, your photographer guide will share interesting details about each landmark while capturing everything from classic poses to silly shots. Choose your own adventure: You can include the Harbourfront, the base of the CN Tower, Osgoode Hall, Roundhouse Park, and others.

Details: The 60-minute private tour is $100 to $200 per couple and includes 50 fully edited digital photos, which will be delivered within 24 hours.

Insider Tip: Don't surprise your significant other with this date-night tour—there are too many things to consider beforehand (including hair, nails, and a second outfit or pair of shoes for another look). The company runs tours for families and corporate groups, too.

 

(Photo: Vondelsurfing)

Longboarding Tour, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

You won't find this longboard tour through Vondelpark in your guidebook or officially operated by any local tour company. But check Vayable.com and there it is: Vondelsurfing, offered by a "semi-professional amateur" longboarder named Milan V. In the new sharing economy, websites like Vayable.com connect you with a vetted local guide. Here, Milan V. puts you on a long skateboard in the middle of Amsterdam's most popular park, hands you a rope, and pulls you behind a fixie bicycle for a couple of hours. It's a chance to see the park like a true hipster Amsterdammer, says Milan V., who has hosted beginners as well as seasoned longboarders.

Details: The two-hour tour is $24 and includes all gear, a drink, and photo/video of your ride.

Insider Tip: Vondelsurfing is fun in pairs of two, so you can switch and watch how the other is doing.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Truly Unique City Tours Around the World.

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Discover Land and Sea in Point Reyes

Posted May 26, 2009 by Kate Hamman

CA-PointReyesLighthouse-DEF Point Reyes National Seashore may be a mere hop, skip, and less-than-an-hour car ride from San Francisco, but it's worlds away from the bright lights of the city. Visitors find a nature-oriented escape carved between the endless Pacific Ocean and rugged wildlife. Food comes freshly plucked from the ground or water, and guests are welcome to shuck their own oysters.

Eat
Hog Island Oyster Company: At Hog Island Oysters, you can have your oyster, and shuck it too. At the farm, guests learn about aquaculture, order fresh-from-the-sea oysters, and enjoy a picnic by the water. Picnic area fees are $8 per person on weekends, $10 without as available (weekend reservations are highly recommended), and $5 on weekdays. The price includes BBQ access, lemon, sauces, shucking tools, and a shucking lesson for newbies. So, pack a picnic, grab a bottle of wine, and come taste the freshest oysters on the market opened with your own two hands.

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The Point Reyes Lighthouse: Touted as the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place in North America, Point Reyes is a prime destination for a lighthouse. And visitors can tour for free this beacon of hope that has guided mariners for more than 100 years. Just be prepared to climb down 308 steps to the ledge where the lighthouse sits to see the lens room. The stairway and visitor's center is open 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday, but closes if winds exceed 40 m.p.h. On bad weather days, guests can still peruse other historical artifacts such as a lightkeeper's journal and photos in the visitor's center.

Stay
Bear Valley Inn at Point Reyes National Seashore: Continue your coastal escape with a stay at Bear Valley Inn. Each room is inspired by the outdoors. For example, the Tides Room features blue sea tones. In the morning, you're greeted with a hearty breakfast, made with only fresh and local ingredients like eggs from the inn's own chickens. Rates start at $120 per night, and include breakfast. A 15-percent discount is available for those who bike to the inn.

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

(Photo: Rafael Ramirez Lee)

Take It Slow in Glen Ellen, Sonoma

Posted May 11, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Ca-glenellen-redbarnstore-def 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.

Stay
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.

Drink
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.

Shop
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)

Sourdough and Storytelling in San Francisco

Posted February 12, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Gocars Fresh seafood and a great location draw visitors to Fisherman's Wharf. Easily reachable by cable car, the wharf stands minutes from popular attractions like Coit Tower, and a few splashes across the bay from Alcatraz. The boardwalk can't be beat as a jumping off point for popular city tours.

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Boudin Bakery: It's doubtful that the Boudin family could have guessed in 1849 that the yeast in the salty San Francisco air would give rise to such a popular bread. However, fast-forward more than 150 years, and people are still addicted to the tart flavor of Boudin's serendipitous sourdough. At the flagship store on the wharf, you can tour the museum and bakery, watch the masters in action, grab a full course meal at the bistro, or enjoy clam chowder in a bread bowl for about $6.

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GoCar GPS-Guided Tours: Take the wheel and be in control of your own tour with these nifty yellow convertibles. They may not look like much, but they're equipped with a talking GPS system that helps you navigate through the city streets, and tells stories about the sights along the way. With several guided tours to choose from, and the option to stop for a picnic or to explore the area, there's no better way to get to know San Francisco. The vehicle seats two people and costs $46 for the first hour. Pick up your GoCar at Fisherman's Wharf, but be sure to make reservations in advance.

Stay
Golden Gate Hotel: Some hotels are simply a place to rest your head, while others are so comfortable you'll never want to leave. The Golden Gate Hotel makes each guest feel like he or she is in a fairytale, with plush mattresses, hypoallergenic down pillows and comforters, and homemade cookies at tea time. A short cable-car ride from Fisherman's Wharf, this 1913 Edwardian inn has been kept in tip-top shape for 25 years by third-generation innkeepers. Rooms with a shared bath start at $95 per night, and include continental breakfast and afternoon tea.

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

(Photo: GoCar Tours)

American Airlines Cranks Up In-flight Wi-Fi

Posted June 25, 2008 by Zak Patten

Wifiaa You ever have one of those days? You know, nothing's going right, it's raining and your umbrella won't open, your dog is sick, and your boss just dumped a pile of work on your desk? Or maybe you slipped on a wet kitchen floor—courtesy of the leak in your roof? Then, out of nowhere, a little ray of sunshine enters your life.

After a 2008 spent in the doldrums, the clouds have lifted on air travelers, if only for a brief moment. That's because American Airlines has picked today to test wireless Internet service on two flights between New York and Los Angeles. And if those tests go well, we're looking at more trials on planes from New York to L.A., San Francisco, and Miami.

Once the Wi-Fi goes live, "passengers will be able to connect free to American's Web site, Frommer's travel guides, and limited news headlines." All well and good, but what about the Holy Grail of all Internet users: unfettered access to the full capabilities of the World Wide Web? Not surprisingly, that isn't exactly free. Depending on the length of your flight, you'll be paying $9.95 to $12.95 to get fully online. No, that's not cheap. But in American's defense, it's not much more than an average airport lunch. And assuming there's enough bandwidth, the service will be incredibly useful to business travelers and armchair Web surfers alike. And the airline, like all of its peers, is in dire need of cash. You're not going to get all thrifty now, are you?

I know this announcement has brightened my day. How do you feel about it? Is there any technology you'd rather see on your next flight than wireless Internet? Share it with us by posting a comment below.

(Image: stickergirl.com, wisewifi.net)


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