A Local’s Tour of Summertime Austin

 

carlos-delgado-HCcmfL-l08I-unsplash-Austin

photo: Carlos Delgado

No matter how far removed from school we are, by the time June rolls around many of us still yearn for a few months of freewheeling childlike fun. I still long for the summers I spent growing up in Austin, Texas. It provides all you’d expect of an epic summer experience, so please join me for a local’s tour featuring a few personal highlights in this week’s installment of #WhereToGoWednesday.

Austin deserves all the press and praise it gets for its world-famous music scene and the innate coolness that comes from being a high-tech hub, but there is far more to do than simply club hop and shop for skinny jeans in the heart of Texas. Here are a few tips for spending some summer vacation time in the town that we’d all like to keep weird.

On a Lake
Austin is an anomaly to people who think of the Lone Star state as one vast expanse of flat, dry land. Hilly and green, it’s blessed with a string of lakes that course through town, and on the water is the place to be during the summer. I spent every weekend on a boat as a kid, and even more time when I could finally drive the boat to waterski and hang out lakeside with friends. You should, too! Rent a boat on Lake Travis, a paddleboard on Lake Austin, or a canoe on Lake Bird Lake right in downtown.

In a Texas-Sized Pool
Speaking of water, the most famous pool in Austin is also one of its most refreshing. Barton Springs Pool, located within the downtown area’s 358-acre Zilker Park, is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and because it’s spring fed, stays a refreshing 68 degrees year round. Drawing an eclectic crowd, Barton Springs is almost as good for people watching as it is for swimming. Topless sunbathing is legal and although not as popular as it was in the psychedelic 70s, it’s still practiced by some visitors. Part of the pool has been left as natural limestone, so you can spot fish and sea plants while you swim laps in three acres of water.
Continue reading

Loreto, Mexico: Adventure Travel Within Reach, Baja-Style

loreto-bay-bryanestep

Loreto Bay photo by Bryan Estep

I LOVE outdoor adventure travel. But logistics can be a pain. If I am planning a trip with limited vacation time, and just getting to the activity from my hotel is going to take longer than the activity itself, I’ll bag the whole deal. On the other hand, some of my favorite trip activities — like hiking, kayaking, and scuba diving –generally involve advanced coordination and transport time. (Sigh). What’s a girl to do? Well, you can travel to Loreto, Mexico — this week’s #WhereToGoWednesday destination. You can fly directly there in under two hours from Los Angeles, and once you’ve arrived, Loreto provides some of the most accessible adventure travel options anywhere.

Last week my husband Bryan and I stole away to Loreto for the long Memorial Day weekend. Loreto is a picturesque colonial town tucked between the rugged Sierra Gigante Mountains and the placid, cobalt Sea of Cortez, about two-thirds of the way down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Although the town itself is quite appealing — with a well-preserved, centuries-old Jesuit mission and leafy square — the Bay of Loreto National Marine Park is the real draw.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002, the marine park covers over 500,000 acres and includes a number of uninhabited islands easily reachable from shore. It’s North America’s version of the Galapagos Islands, with some 695 plant species, 891 fish species, and 39% of the world’s total species of marine mammals. This makes it a Mecca for ocean activities like scuba diving, kayaking, and sport-fishing. The calm waters of the Sea of Cortez are the perfect place to paddle around to quiet, isolated beaches. But what amazed us was how easy it was to experience these off-shore delights.

Our resort, Villa del Palmar, is perfectly situated south of town and directly in front of the islands of Loreto. Sitting on our balcony the first morning, we were transfixed by expansive views that included layers of corduroy mountains, a calm, blue bay with a few anchored sloops, and multiple craggy desert (and deserted) islands just off shore. We couldn’t wait to get out there — and luckily, we didn’t have to. After a quick stop by the activities desk, we walked down to the beach where we were outfitting with snorkeling gear and a two-person kayak. Total time investment—about ten minutes. How easy was that?

Continue reading

A Contrarian’s Summer Travel Options

Call me contrarian, but I often find myself planning trips when others don’t want to go.  Instead of visiting destinations during the crowded high season, I try to hit them when they actually need travelers.  Of course, given the realities of the typical work or school schedule, it can be hard to time an off-peak trip.  But for those who seek it out, lower prices and a less hectic experience is their reward.  So as the masses rush to the beach this summer, I’ll be whizzing by them in the opposite lane on my way to the mountains – they’re this week’s theme for #WhereToGoWednesday.

Maybe it’s the fact that it was 102 degrees in Phoenix today, but I couldn’t help but play around on the TripTuner sliders and daydream about escaping my puddle of sweat. Just the act of moving the slider all the way from Bikini to Parka made my office feel ten degrees cooler. Moving the next one from Beach to Mountain had me envisioning snow-capped peaks and lush wildflowers instead of the sizzling heat waves I could see through my window. Here were two of my top matches:

kaitlin-muro-jg9bzbL1Lv4-unsplash vail

photo: Kaitlin Muro

Vail, Colorado
Vail is known as a prime winter destination, with 5,300 hundred acres of skiing and boarding terrain and a sophisticated infrastructure of hotels, restaurants, and shopping to support all that schussing. It used to be that ski mountains put all of their eggs into the winter basket, but recently resorts have started catering to summer crowds as well to help that infrastructure make it through the rest of the year. Vail is no exception.

Continue reading

Three Memorial Day Trip Ideas from a Panicked Mom

Ten days till Memorial Day weekend.  Work’s been crazy, so I haven’t had a chance to even think about trip ideas.  But I’m not going to let the start of summer slip away. Here’s what I did…

Being new at TripTuner, I figured that I need to become an expert on on the site quickly — what better way than to use it to plan my family’s own getaway? I hop onto the homepage and start adjusting the sliders.

Relaxing vs. Active? Adults vs Kid-friendly? Hmmm.  I’ll definitely need to balance this well.  My energetic nine-year old will need some outdoor options for running around, but since I’m wearing the trip-planning hat for this one, my husband and I better like it, too.  So the first slider moves to active, and I’ll keep the second one in the middle. Beaches and mountains are both fine with me, and I can either liven things up or go remote for this trip so I’ll keep those in the middle as well.  (Mom and Dad would push it all the way to remote, but with daughter in tow and a shorter vacation time frame, we’ll keep it in the middle). I know, I’m not going out on any limbs here, but I’m open for suggestions.  Here are the top 3 that TripTuner came up with:

Flagstaff, Arizona
Wow. TripTuner nailed it. This funky mountain town just a few hours north of Phoenix is my family’s favorite in-state getaway. With 50 miles of urban trails and thousands of acres of National Forest, it’s a place we can all get our fingers in the dirt while biking, hiking, and playing in the pine and aspen woods. We’ll explore haunting 800-year-old pueblo ruins or star gaze at Lowell Observatory, where the now-demoted Pluto was discovered. The 7,000 foot elevation means temperatures that are 20 to 30 degrees cooler than Phoenix – something you won’t hear any complaints about from my crew. Memorial Day Weekend kicks off the summer in Flag with free Movies on the Square on Friday nights, free Summer Concerts, and the first Sunday Farmer’s Market of the season. Oh yeah, and the Grand Canyon is only an hour away.

Seattle
I can already taste the fresh seafood. Seattle is a treat in contrasts for this desert-dweller. Hop on a plane and in a few hours we go from desert hues to a land of lush green and expansive lakes that almost seems like a movie set. Rainy days won’t slow us down – we can marvel at the bounty of sea at the Pike Place Market, jam away on instruments at the Experience Music Project, or survey the city and the mountains beyond from the newly-repainted Space Needle. My husband will be like a kid in a toy store at the flagship REI, while my daughter can skate, bike, and monkey-bar around at Green Lake Park. And every delectable meal – from fresh sushi to perfectly seared scallops – will be a delight. Another spot-on recommendation.

Madrid
The lure of Madrid has me considering cashing in some of our frequent flier miles to score award tickets to Europe and using the day off as an excuse for a longer vacation. Award seats sometimes open up at the last minute, so it’s not entirely out of the question. My daughter would be right in her element at the 350-acre Retiro Park whether paddling a row boat, exploring the formal gardens, or snacking on the many treats sold there. I’d love to see her face as we tour the 2,000-room Royal Palace and its acres of marble, mosaics, frescoes, crystal, and even diamonds. We can wander through the medieval-era streets around the Plaza Mayor and feast on tapas. Luckily she tolerates art museums, because between the Prado and Reina Sofia, her parents will be hauling her around to admire the works of the masters. I feel confident that Dalí, Miró, and Picasso will keep her engaged. Active enough for her, culturally engaging for the parents — TripTuner got this one right too.

So those are my top three — disaster averted. Now the dilemma is figuring out which one to choose.  I’m going to give Madrid a look-see.  Give TripTuner a spin and see what comes up for you!

Like this post?  We’ll feature a few more that highlight the different destinations that pop up based on specific slider settings, so stay tuned.

TripTuner’s New Contributing Editor

We interrupt our regularly scheduled #WheretoGoWednesday blog post to introduce the newest member of the TripTuner team. Becky Youman is joining us as both a Contributing Editor and our newly-minted Social Media Sensei. We’ll let her take the rest of the introduction from here…

Every time I plan a trip I feel the excitement and anticipation of new discovery, but at the same time I sometimes experience slight paralysis when considering the deluge of information and opinions about potential destinations. That is why I so appreciate the elegance of TripTuner. All I have to do is adjust the sliders and instantly I’ve got personalized recommendations. How cool is that?

Having played around with TripTuner for the last few months, I can say that its guidance is right on the mark. When, for example, Torres del Paine comes up as one of my top Mountain Adventure locales, I can vouch that it’s a majestic nature-lovers playground. Having co-written a guidebook on Chile and spent a couple of years traveling the country, I can go even further to say that Torres del Paine is one of my all time favorite outdoor adventure spots — I have seen flocks of wild parakeets soaring over massive glaciers, shared pisco with travelers from around the world, and felt the accomplishment of completing the physically-challenging circuito around the park. That gives me great confidence that Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, another of TripTuner’s suggested destinations for me, should be at the top of my list.

While I certainly love the outdoors, I am not all nature all the time. This girl also jones for some urban escapes. Having belted out horribly off-tune songs in a karaoke booth in Hong Kong and watched the sunrise after a night of tapas and Cava in Barcelona — two of my TripTuner recommended cities — I can’t wait to visit some of the others that come up when I adjust the sliders.
Continue reading

Where to Go: Grand Canyon, Arizona

 

Grand Canyon panoramic view, Arizona

Grand Canyon photo by Becky Youman

Looks like people have been trip planning closer to home, with American’s own stunning and majestic Grand Canyon grabbing the spotlight as this week’s #WheretoGoWednesday most popular destination.

Visit the canyon and you’ll experience the wonder created not only by the national icon’s magnificent beauty, by also by the sheer scale of its vastness. Layer upon layer of pink, red, and orange cliffs and hoodoos extend for hundreds of miles — doing proper justice to the marvels of nature.

There are almost as many way to enjoy the canyon as there are stratum in Grand Canyon National Park’s 1.2 million acres. Active visitors can choose from hiking to the bottom of the canyon for a cabin stay at Phantom Ranch, bicycling along the abyss on the South Rim’s Hermit Road, strolling through piñon and ponderosa pine along the Rim Trail, or going for the ultimate bragging rights with a one-day, rim-to-rim trek. Those looking for a more relaxing stay can watch condors soar over the chasm from a rocking chair on the patio of the lodge at the North Rim, listen to the roar of the Colorado River’s Granite Rapid from the Pima Point Overlook, or get their own bird’s eye view of the park from the vantage point of a plane or helicopter.
Continue reading