From the museums of Washington D.C. to New York’s colourful commerce and les bon temps of News Orleans, America’s great cities are rightly lauded for varied cultural magnificence that would make the Mona Lisa blush. Similarly, small and mid-size towns by the hundreds embody an Americana that one might think exists only in history books or the black and white frames of Mayberry or Pleasantville. We’ve selected several cities across the country to consider that may not always come to mind, but places where visitors are still sure to find plenty to inspire, educate and entertain.
Escape to: Tampa Bay, Florida
Often overlooked amongst the Orlando’s and Miami’s of the State, Tampa Bay, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, has transformed into one of the Florida’s most hip, authentic, and urban tourism destinations, featuring new hotels, delectable dining and thrilling attractions. The beach isn’t far away, nor the equally enthralling attractions of neighbouring St. Pete/Clearwater, making for an a great two-centre combo holiday, or one that stands just fine on its own!
Must-see & do Tampa Bay highlights:
Avast! There be pirates here!
Each January, the scurvy crew of legendary pirate José Gaspar sails into Tampa Bay with cannons blazing. Get into the spirit by pulling out your best pirate gear to greet Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla as they lead the country’s third-largest parade down scenic Bayshore Boulevard past 300,000 cheering fans (Jan. 27, 2018). The invasion aboard the nation’s only fully functioning pirate ship kicks off Gasparilla Season: eight weeks of parades, festivals (arts, music, and film), and sporting events.
The four-kilometre Tampa Riverwalk links popular downtown attractions like gems on a string. You’ll find hotels, restaurants, museums, and festival parks. After dark, the Riverwalk becomes a canvas for shifting colours of light, joining downtown’s bridges and the Tampa Museum of Art in the nightly display. For those who would rather ride than walk, rent a ride from Coast Bike Share, which has stations along the Riverwalk. Fourth Friday includes discounts, tours or free admission to Riverwalk attractions.
A waterfront full of wonders
Where the river meets the bay, downtown abounds in ways to get out on the water. The Cross Bay Ferry (departing from the Tampa Convention Centre) now links Tampa and St. Petersburg from November to May while Pirate Water Taxi stops at downtown’s popular spots on its daily runs up and down the Hillsborough River. Or see the city from a new angle by renting a water bike, biyak or e-boat for a self-guided and in some cases self-propelled tours along the sparkling waterfront. Set out with iTrekkers in search of fantastic fishing in sight of downtown’s towers or paddle with Canoe Escape among cypress trees minutes from downtown.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has 121 hectares of rides, stage shows, and wildlife — all a short trip from downtown. Thrill-seekers can test their courage at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay where Cobra’s Curse sends the whole family swooping and spinning through an Egyptian archeological dig. Half way up Falcon’s Fury, North America’s tallest drop tower, your heart starts to beat faster. Soon you’re looking straight down at the ground 102 metres away. Then things get really wild. Need to slow down? Travel into the sprawling Serengeti Plain to visit rhinos, zebras, and gazelles. You can even feed a giraffe.
The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa offers visitors a chance to get up close to many of Florida’s aquatic and terrestrial animals – including lemurs, sharks, rays, river otters, sea turtles and much more – and ecosystems, as well as others from around the world.
One of the city’s signature tourism attractions, the facility is mandated to protect and restore our blue planet on many conservation fronts, including research and rescue efforts that help restore Florida’s sea turtle and coral and shark populations. Ranked by TripAdvisor as one of the top 10 aquariums in the U.S., visitors can explore habitats that are laid out to show the journey of a drop of water from one of Florida's many freshwater springs out to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Exhibits include a large simulated wetlands environment located under a tall glass atrium, shallow bays and beaches, and a coral reef ecosystem encompassed in 500,000-gallons of natural seawater. There is also a splash pad for kids and a 4-D movie theatre.
Meet a manatee
From November to April, the Manatee Viewing Center at the TECO Big Bend Power Station shelters hundreds of manatees. An observation deck and nature trail are a great place to watch Florida’s State Marine Mammal. All year long, visitors can meet manatees at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, which includes an underwater manatee viewing area and a hospital to rehabilitate injured manatees and return them to the wild. Manatees also turn up frequently along the Tampa Riverwalk and Bayshore Boulevard.
Where to eat and drink in Tampa Bay:
Take your taste buds on tour
Ulele | Pedro Castellano
Meanwhile, creative chefs continue to earn Tampa Bay a spot on every foodie’s must-try list and are putting the city on the map of the most creative food scenes in the U.S. The Refinery, ranks among the Top 10 Eco-Conscious Restaurants in the U.S., while James Beard-winning Bern’s Steak House houses the world’s largest private wine collection. Other restaurants that imbue their menus with local flavour include Ulele, Oxford Exchange, and the Columbia, Florida’s oldest restaurant. Taste local history at the reborn Goody Goody burger.
Florida’s hub for craft beer, artisan cocktails
Visit Tampa Bay
Great drinks are part of Tampa Bay like sunshine and hand-rolled cigars. Local brewers produce unique award-winning drafts, among them Cigar City Brewing Co., which ranks among RateBeer’s best craft brewers in the world. Rock Brothers Brewing blends beer and music at its Ybor City site while Brew Bus runs beer-tasting tours from its own brewery in hipster-friendly Seminole Heights. Try cocktails at Florida Cane Distillery from Florida-grown sugar cane or mingle with the locals in the intimate confines of Cigar City Cider & Mead. The menu changes regularly and the drinks are made on site.
Where to stay in Tampa Bay:
Popular European chain AC Hotel by Marriott can now be found in Tampa. Meanwhile, changes are in store for The Westshore Grand, (formerly InterContinental Tampa), and for downtown’s Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, which has added a wellness floor.
In the meantime, downtown’s popular boutiques — Aloft Tampa Downtown, Le Méridien Tampa and the Epicurean — continue to add new features, such as free bicycles for guests. On the horizon: new hotels for downtown, West Shore, Ybor City, and the Busch Gardens Tampa Bay area.
A day at the beach
From St. Pete Beach to Clearwater Beach and Treasure Island, the Gulf Coast beach communities are only a short distance from downtown, with accommodation options ranging from traditional hotels to apartments, condos, and cottages. Check out some of the many possibilities recommended by the city’s Chamber of Commerce: click here.
Worth the splurge: The Epicurean
Heard of a “stay-cation?” Top Tampa hotel The Epicurean wants you to consider a “steak-cation.” The foodies’ paradise and wine lover’s dream, located in the city’s hop Soho district, is a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and is dedicated to being a place “for connoisseurs of life to come and indulge their appetite,” including at Bern’s Steak House, or lingering over breakfast at Élevage, both of which are included in the Steak-cation package. Rooms and suites, all 137 of them, exude urban chic and luxurious comfort, making for an ideal retreat that is worth the splurge.
A hotel that rocks: Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Consistently ranked as one of Tampa’s top hotels, the stylish Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino marries two distinct concepts: HR’s hip music vibe – with popular music memorabilia throughout and lively nightlife “that rocks 24/7/365” – along with a casino that includes thousands of slots and 112 table games, including high stakes poker. There’s also great dining with six restaurant choices and a food court, four bars and lounges, pool, and full-service spa.
A river runs through it
Located in the heart of downtown Tampa along the banks of the scenic Hillsborough River and the Tampa Riverwalk, the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel features 277 over-sized guest rooms, all with Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed. Within walking distance of Curtis Hixon Park, The Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa Museum of Art, Glazer Children's Museum, The Florida Aquarium, and Amalie Arena.
Have a cigar!
A century ago, Ybor City (“ee-bore”) was the Cigar Capital of the World. Skilled tabaqueros still roll cigars by hand along Seventh Avenue. Smoke one while sipping a café con leche before enjoying Ybor City’s restaurants or nightclubs. Or sample a Cuban sandwich, which was invented in Ybor City. Taking the TECO Historic Streetcar, a vintage replica streetcar, is a fun way to get there.
Escape to: St. Pete/Clearwater
A long-time favourite for Canadians, not least due to its status as the long-time spring training home for the Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin), the communities comprising St. Petersburg/Clearwater offer an unbeatable duality: some of America’s best beaches and (sometimes unexpected) world-class culture. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, the destination is just a hop, skip and short car ride across the extraordinary Gandy Bridge to Tampa, and a couple of hours further down the I4 to Orlando’s theme parks.
Must-see & do in St. Pete/Clearwater:
(C) 2015 Dorian Aerial & Architectural Photographics | Visit St Pete Clearwater
Downtown St. Petersburg
Downtown St. Petersburg is the city’s heart, home to great shopping, restaurants, bars and attractions. Along with renowned spaces devoted to Dali and Chihuly (read on), there’s The Museum of Fine Arts and an astounding outdoor art scene with more than 70 murals. Culture vultures can get a sneak peek of these gigantic public works by browsing the neighborhood on their own, or take the walking mural tour to hear the stories behind their creation.
The Dali Museum
©2013 Steven P. Widoff | Visit St. Pete Clearwater
Perhaps there’s no more unlikely place in the world for a museum devoted to Salvadore Dali than downtown St. Petersburg, but The Dali Museum was the inspiration of Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who moved their personal collection of works from the Spanish artist there from Cleveland in 1982. The collection is the largest outside of Spain (more than 2,000 works and eight of 18 of Dali’s “masterworks”) and a recent new-build facility is a work of art in its own right. Travelling exhibitions highlight other renowned artists like Mexico’s Frida Kahlo (through April 2018).
Pure class in glass
Visit St Pete Clearwater
A perfect pairing with the Dali, the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center on picturesque Beach Drive, presents the America artist’s mind-blowing glasswork. Visitors can get lost in a swirl of classy glass sculptures, in a building specially designed to show off the amazing creations.
A peach of a beach
© 2013 Steven P. Widoff | Visit St. Pete Clearwater
St. Pete/Clearwater beaches continually wrack up awards as among the best tracks of seaside sand in the U.S. In 2016, Clearwater Beach earned top honours from TripAdvisor, while St. Pete Beach checked in at No. 4. Other favourites among the dozens of options include Caladesi, Fort DeSoto, Treasure Island, Indian Shores and Pass-a-Grille.
Fort De Soto Park
Nicholas A Collura-Gehrt | Visit St. Pete Clearwater
Fort De Soto Park may be thought of first and foremost as a beach, but it’s more than that. The popular county park is comprised of five islands and 460 hectares on the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, and offers activities and amenities including canoe, kayak or bike rentals for exploring the park’s paved and natural trails, including four-kilometre long paddling trail; pier fishing; and a historic fort. And, of course, there is the beach, with its white sand, wide tidal pools, and veritable natural supermarket for shells. Stay for the day, or go back again and again.
Where to eat & drink in St. Pete/Clearwater:
©2013 Steven P. Widoff | Visit St. Pete Clearwater
Locale Market is a formidable 1,858-sq.-metre marketplace in St. Pete’s that offers some of the region’s freshest and finest artisanal foods at food stations supported by 11 state-of-the-art kitchens. Located two blocks from Beach Drive, “low cal” offers top quality local produce and seasonal menus in a truly unique environment. As one visitor commented, “If you can’t find it here, you don’t want to eat it!”
Gulp Coast Craft Beer Trail
The Gulp Coast Craft Beer Trail spans a route from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg and will take your designated driver about an hour to cover – not including the time spent taste testing stouts, pilsners and IPAs at the more than 30 designated craft breweries along the way, which feature local, one-of-a-kind artisanal beverages, including the area’s signature white beer, Florida Weisse, a brew that has various interesting fruits added during the fermentation process.
Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill
For fresh seafood and beach views, Clearwater Beach’s Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill serves one of the best grouper sandwiches around – add a serving of garlic crab fries for a flavour overload. Daily live music compliments stellar sunset views, and two large bars serve up the beaches’ famous rum runners.
Where to stay in St. Pete/Clearwater:
Pink Palace: Don CeSar
Opened at the height of the Gatsby Era in 1928, the legendary coral pink Don CeSar resort is an iconic landmark overlooking St. Pete Beach. Combining a century of history with five-star elegance, the Pink Palace is “the epitome of old-world glamour and sophistication,” and has welcomed celebrities and dignitaries galore over the years. Families and small groups can try the newly renovated Don Cesar Beach House Suites, a 70-room all-suite resort located directly on St. Pete Beach, one kilometre from the Don CeSar Hotel. Beach House guests enjoy full resort privileges at the Don CeSar and complimentary shuttle service is provided between the two properties.
Renaissance Vinoy St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club
Visit St Pete Clearwater
The Renaissance Vinoy St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, a member of Historic Hotels of America, boasts its own marina and private 18-hole course. Comfortable four-star luxury reflects the Golden Age and spacious rooms create a restful oasis, with robes, plush linens and Aveda amenities. On-site amenities include a spa, multiple restaurants, including top-rated Marchand’s Bar & Grill, seasonal kid camps and pools. St. Petersburg attractions are nearby.
TradeWinds Island Grand
Overlooking the tranquil waters of the Gulf of Mexico, TradeWinds Island Grand is located on the white sand beaches of St Pete Beach. Families have access to five pools, stand-up paddleboards, kids club activities, an inflatable water slide and more, while the adults in the crowd will find their favourite tropical drink at Salty's Tiki Bar or can let go with an ultimate luxury day at the spa.
Sandpearl in Clearwater Beach
Each of the 253 guest rooms and suites at Sandpearl in Clearwater Beach invites brilliant sunlight and whispers of encompassing gulf waves. Expansive balconies frame captivating views of alabaster sands, scenic shoreline and spectacular sunsets, adding to the uncompromising luxury and serenity of the setting.
From the Dunedin Center for Fine Arts, to the Warehouse Arts District, and with many top-rated museums, St. Pete/Clearwater’s arts and culture scene is so encompassing, with so many programs and facilities, that visitors can always discover a world-class masterpiece, or a hidden treasure.
Escape to: Phoenix, AZ
© Visit Phoenix | Kevin Kaminski
Arizona’s capital is hot in more ways that one: temperature-wise, Phoenix is the steamiest major city in the U.S., and an influx of residents in recent years has helped the metropolis surge to become one of the largest in the nation. Centrally located, it is also a gateway to the state for visitors, including Canadians, who come to escape winter back home, enjoy a vibrant arts and food scene, golf and spas, venture into the nearby desert, and catch an NHL game, complete with Timbits and a double-double. Here’s to the “cosmopolitan heart of the Southwest!”
Must-see & do in Phoenix:
Bill Timmerman Courtesy Phoenix Art Museum | © Visit Phoenix
Self-guided art walk
The first Friday of every month (6-10 p.m.) is set aside for one of the largest, self-guided art walks in the U.S. Art aficionados, and even those who just like to dabble, can tour more than 70 galleries, venues and art-related spaces to see a variety of artwork and enjoy the spirit and culture of the city. Visitors are invited to hop-on/hop-off free shuttles that circulate on three routes through downtown Phoenix's arts districts. (https://artlinkphx.org/)
Ride a bike
©Visit Phoenix | Nick Oza
If going home from holiday with dsextra centimetres around the waistline is a worry, then consider combining sightseeing with a little exercise courtesy of the Grid Bikes, the pay-as-you-go “personal transit system” in Phoenix. The bike sharing system is available throughout the city, as well as Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale, enabling visitors to see such sights as Roosevelt Row up close, or hop on and off at attractions like the Heard Museum or Japanese Friendship Garden near Hanceark.
Take a hike
© Visit Phoenix
A short drive from downtown (15 kilometres) is South Mountain Park Preserve, where visitors can enjoy trails of hiking (searching for Native American petroglyphs), horseback riding or a scenic drive to Dobbins Point Lookout Point for a skyline view photo opp.
Grab a bite
Sure, you’ll dine in a more customary mode (see "Where to eat & drink in Phoenix" below), but there are loads of foodie finds in Phoenix to discover while on the go:
- Have a homemade pop tart and cartel coffee at the Phoenix Public Market Café.
- Grab a bite to eat at the quirky gourmet hotdog shop Short Leash (try the Sonoran Dog!) and stop for a handcrafted brew at female-owned Mother Bunch Brewing – their Mac ‘n Cheese sampler has been top rated by Fodor’s.
- Explore the farmers market and locally crafted goods at the Open Air Market (every Saturday morning) or take a stroll or pop in for lunchtime yoga at The Farm at South Mountain.
- Lunch at one Desoto Central Market– a gourmet food-hall curated from Chef Stephen Jones. Also offers fun themed nights from Drag Queen Bingo to swing dancing.
Catch a game
© Visit Phoenix | Kerrick James
Missing hockey while down south? The Arizona Coyotes play in Glendale at the Gila River Arena; tickets can be purchased from the arena at gilariverarena.com, or from other ticket vendors such as ticketmaster.com.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix metropolitan area is home to 10 stadiums and 15 Major League Baseball teams so it's easy to catch a game in the sun, in the middle of winter! Additional information can be found about the season at visitarizona.com/springtraining and tickets can be purchased at cactusleague.com.
Where to eat & drink in Phoenix:
Pizzeria Bianco | © Visit Phoenix
Historic Heritage Square is home to a pair of James Beard award-winning restaurants: Pizzeria Bianco – hailed one of the best slices of pizza in the nation – and Nobuo at Teeter House, a refined Asian-style tea house featuring Japanese cuisine crafted by Nobuo Fakuda.
Cobra Arcade Bar
“Don't pass up Cobra Arcade Bar. This spot, off of 2nd and McKinley, is a must visit for two reasons: the old school games, and the beer. There's a decent lineup of locally-brewed craft beer to choose from, if you're so inclined, plus cocktails and wine. Cobra Arcade is a real winner. Hungry? Take the walk across the street to Angel's Trumpet Ale House for a bite. May I suggest the crispy Spam sliders?” – Lauren Topor, @hungryinphoenix
Cocktails at Kimpton
“Check into the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix, drop off your bags, and take the elevator to Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails. Executive Chef Sean Currid's contemporary American menu changes with the seasons and is the perfect pairing for craft cocktails such as my favourite, the Dirty Boulevard with bourbon, vermouth, and coconut oil-washed Campari.” – Christina Barrueta, WriteOnRubee.com
Bitter and Twisted Cocktail Parlour
“Step into the award-winning Bitter and Twisted Cocktail Parlour to dine on Chef Bob Tam's global dishes, such as the cult-favorite dragon dumpling burger or Asian shrimp and grits, while cocktail lovers will love exploring the 60-plus drinks in the beautifully illustrated Book o'Cocktails.” – Christina Barrueta, WriteOnRubee.com
Food on film
Filmmaker Andrew Gooi showcases influencers from the Phoenix food scene in this Food Talkies video series: visitphoenix.com/food-talkies
Where to stay in Phoenix:
© Visit Phoenix | Eric Lindberg
Memories of Marilyn: Arizona Biltmore
The Arizona Biltmore is the place to be for those who love luxury. Guests can lay poolside at the resort’s famed art deco Catalina Pool, which Marilyn Monroe claimed to be her favourite spot to plunge and sunbathe.
A hotel with art: FOUND:RE
For travellers who enjoy art, want access to nightlife and like to “go local,” FOUND:RE Phoenix is the newest art-filled, luxurious-yet-approachable, boutique downtown Phoenix hotel. The hotel is best known as a “working art gallery” as local artists display and sell their pieces.
Edgy and sophisticated, The Camby promises “quirky elegance and sophisticated fun.” Located halfway between downtown Phoenix and downtown Scottsdale in the Biltmore entertainment district, the property is close to shopping and nightlife, but delivers its own modern twist on tradition, such as the “Tipsy Tea Party” and rooftop pool bar.
For work or play: Hilton Phoenix/Mesa
The Hilton Phoenix/Mesa is a dynamic, atrium-style hotel with a resort flair. Gently enveloped by desert terrain, every room features double French doors delivering fresh air and mountain views. The surrounding area provides walking distance dining and shopping. Recently renovated, the hotel is located 15 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, making Hilton an equally ideal setting for business and leisure travel.
© Visit Phoenix
Arizona is known for its outdoors (and even it’s an occasional cactus or tumbleweed), but did you know that the state actually has a pretty healthy growing season? The Sonoran Desert is one of the most fertile landscapes globally, which offers an abundance of fresh produce and thriving culinary scene.
Escape to: San Antonio, TX
Considered the birthplace of “Tex-Mex,” which is evident in the city’s culture, art, music and cuisine, America’s seventh largest city also boasts Texas’s No. 1 tourism attraction, The Alamo, and was recently named a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO – only the second city in the U.S. to earn this distinction, and the first in Texas. Visitors will discover acclaimed museums, the largest collection of colonial architecture in North America, thrilling theme parks, and the one-of-a-kind River Walk entertainment district. Salud!
Must-see & do in San Antonio:
No stay in San Antonio is complete without visiting The Alamo and other mission sites in the area, such as Mission San Jose. These 18th- century Spanish colonial missions have been an important part of San Antonio since they were first established
San Antonio River Walk
Stuart-Dee | visitsanantonio.com
A “verdant oasis of cypress-lined paved paths, arched stone bridges and lush landscapes,” San Antonio River Walk – the largest urban eco system in the U.S. – gently winds through the city centre, providing millions of visitors each year with easy access to the city’s cultural hot spots, historic sites and dozens of restaurants and bars. Just steps from the River Walk is Main Plaza - “the heart of the city.” Walk the Walk or consider cycling, kayaking or a boat cruise (including dinner cruise).
Slam dunk activities for kids
Retired pro basketball player (San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors) and family man Matt Bonner offers the following insider recommendations gleaned from San Antonio outings with his two young children: “San Antonio Zoo, The Witte (natural history and heritage museum) and The DoSeum (children’s museum) – and all three are close to downtown and my favourite eating neighborhoods: The Pearl and King William/South Town.”
Beyond its cultured museum scene and abundant history, visitors can let loose with no strings attached at SeaWorld San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, two theme parks fit for all ages. There’s also Morgan’s Wonderland – the world’s largest ultra-accessible theme park for those with special needs.
Fredericksburg, 110 kilometres from San Antonio, makes a great day trip from the city. Shop along the “magical” main street and discover the town’s German connections, then head out to visit the wineries in the Texas Hill Country.
Where to eat & drink in San Antonio:
StuartDee | visitantonio.com
The Pearl neighbourhood
Formed from a former brewery, The Pearl is now home to some of America’s top chefs, plying their trade at 15 unconventional restaurants and cafés that befit the fledgling neighbourhood’s status as the hippest spot in town.
Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery
Another River Walk eatery, Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery, is influenced by coastal classics, with menu features such as fried snapper throats and cracker crusted gulf redfish.
Cuisine at Botika, one of The Pearl’s many favourites, is inspired by unusual pairings, such as “Chifa” – Chinese-Peruvian – and “Nikkei” – Japanese Peruvian – along with other inventive takes on traditional dishes from across Asia and Latin America.
A taste for Tex-Mex
Tracey Maurer | visitsanantonio.com
You can’t visit San Antonio without enjoying delicious nachos, enchiladas, tacos or fajitas – not to mention the fabulous margaritas. One favourite, found in River Walk, is La Gloria, where Chef Johnny Hernandez’s menu includes local favourites such as tacos de trompo al pastor and quesadillas, as well as harder-to-find specialties such as tlayudas from Oaxaca, panuchos from the Yucatan and volcanic molcajete dishes served simmering at your table.
The Smoke Shack BBQ + Southern Kitchen
If snapper throats and Japanese-Peruvian fusion seems just a little too much after a long day of sightseeing, The Smoke Shack BBQ + Southern Kitchen offers pure and simple comfort food, from ribs to chicken to pulled pork and, of course, that old classic, Frito Pie – frito chips topped with brisket, pinto beans and cheese and barbecue sauce.
Where to stay in San Antonio:
New kid on the block: Hotel Emma
For an upscale urban experience that is trés chic like no other, try the Hotel Emma. Once a 19th-century Brewhouse, the hotel boasts unique, rustic décor with many elements repurposed from the buildings former use. With understated elegance and eclectic charm, Hotel Emma is simultaneously warm and edgy, and the newest place in San Antonio to see and be seen.
Historic opulence: St. Anthony
Considered the city’s first luxury hotel, the St. Anthony is still one of the city’s best over a hundred years on from its debut in 1909, having been restored to a level of opulence that has attracted politicos, princesses and A-list celebrities over the years. The national historic landmark reminds of a bygone era, but offers the modern conveniences that today’s travellers require. It is located just a few blocks from both The Alamo River Walk.
Legend and lore: Menger
As the oldest continuously operated hotel west of the Mississippi, the Menger doesn’t have to do much to play up to the “legend and lore” of Alamo City. Architectural grandeur of a bygone era, including “museum-worthy” furnishings, is just one attributes of the elegant inn, which has been a landmark in the city for 150 years. And don’t forget to try the famous mango ice cream.
An oasis in the city: Hotel Havana
Away from the crowds, Hotel Havana is nevertheless ideally situated in the heart of the city, overlooking River Walk and walking distance from culinary, cultural and historic sites. Featuring just 27 rooms and suites, the historic boutique hotel is designed to “encourage the creative spirit and offer a respite from the world.”
300 years young
San Antonio will go beyond the famous River Walk and historic walls of The Alamo to celebrate and honour three centuries of history, innovation and culture in 2018. The milestone will be celebrated throughout the year with events that are designed to inspire, innovate and propel San Antonio into its next 300 years. (SanAntonio300.org)
Escape to: a "Tweener City"
Not too big, not too small, these three classic “’’tweener” cities – one each in the eastern, central and western parts of the U.S. – might be considered “just right” for visitors.
This border city has long lured Ontarians with its famed chicken wings, late night bars, and available NHL hockey tickets (often all during the same excursion), as well as Buffalo Bills NFL games and cheap flights from Buffalo International Airport to other U.S. destinations. At the same time, with countless traditional and outlet malls to roam, cross-border shopping has become a veritable right of passage for southern Ontarians, who enjoy prices that are typically cheaper in the U.S., even when the currency exchange rate is less than favourable.
Yet, with over $1 billion in investment in recent years, manifested in new hotels, restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and civic renovations, Buffalo is suddenly appealing to more and more visitors with time, not just money, to spend, boasting a host of things to do.
Must-see & do in Buffalo:
- Adjacent to Lake Erie, the restored Canalaside waterfront is the Queen City’s new “jewel” and park place. In winter it features one of the northeast’s largest outdoor skating rinks in winter.
- New York state’s second largest city boasts turn-of-the-century American architecture that is considered among the finest outside of New York and Chicago.
- A wide variety of guided tours are available for architectural enthusiasts, as are biking excursions, boat rides and walks through what is essentially an open-air architectural museum.
- Art lovers can discover a world-renowned collection of modern and contemporary art from masters like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the anchor of the city’s thriving arts scene, which includes a host of smaller galleries and seasonal festivals.
- And if that isn’t enough, world-famous Niagara Falls is only a barrel ride away.
St. Louis, MO
North American history buffs are in for a treat this July when St. Louis’s famous Gateway Arch, humorously called the most recognizable arch in America not associated with a fast food chain, unveils the fruits of a massive multi-year renovation, including a new museum, additional park space, and a new entrance that is designed to provide greater connectivity to the city and riverfront. The arch symbolizes the city’s historic status as “gateway to the West” and the place where Lewis and Clark started their famous expedition in 1804.
On a clear day, those who ascend the Arch can see 50 kilometres in any direction, including to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
Must-see & do in St. Louis:
- History not your thing? Then remember that St. Louis’s most famous contribution to popular culture, Budweiser beer, has been brewed in the city since 1852 courtesy of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co., which can be toured along with Grants Farm, home of the famous Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale horses.
- Louis is also known as one America’s top baseball towns, for its zoo, and for its legacy as a centre of blues music (hence the name of the local hockey team). It is lesser known for having the second largest Mardi Gras in the U.S., great Italian food (including St. Louis-style pizza) in the Hill area, and the cosmopolitan Loop district.
Nevada’s second city (after Las Vegas), Reno has nearly two dozen casinos of its own to tempt testers of fate, but is better known for its amazing natural setting and as a gateway to northern Nevada and bordering California, including the Lake Tahoe region, 40 kilometres away. Surrounded by tall mountains and flat deserts, the four-season resort town delivers snow in winter, which is ideal for skiing and boarding at any of the nine ski resorts in the region, and sunshine in summer, illuminating a host of activity options from golf to hiking, kayaking, white-water rafting, tubing and fishing.
Must-see & do in Reno:
- More than 300 events are held in the Reno-Tahoe region each year, not the least of which is the Reno Rodeo, one of the largest in the western U.S., with 750 professional athletes competing over 10 days in events such as bull riding, team roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing and bronc riding. Visitors can get a taste of the Old West at the event parade and as well as shopping, food, carnival and “mutton bustin’” at the Double R Marketplace.
- If you happen to be in town at the start of summer, the Great Eldorado BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival (June 15-16, 2018) is an event not to be missed. The massive block party features streets lined with food booths and over 50 craft brew vendors, all of them contributing to a lively kick-off of the season, complete with a searing non-stop rock and blues music soundtrack.
- Dubbed “the biggest little city in the world,” Reno doesn’t come up short on urban amenities. Besides its hotel-casinos, the city boasts a top-flight list of spas, restaurants, coffee shops, brewpubs and music venues. Wine walks and brew bikes add a twist to the nightly entertainment options, while Booze Bus tours permit a drive-free afternoon on the town on Saturdays.
Have you travelled any of our top-pick city escapes?
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More USA 'best-ofs" on Canadian Traveller: