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March 18, 2011

Final Four Travel Plans

TX, Houston_TX skyline with Memorial Park in foreground_73068373 (VisionsofAmerica-Joe Sohm_Digital Vision_Getty)
Houston plays host to this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament (Joe Sohm)

Chances are, you're too busy hiding the NCAA Tournament video stream behind an Excel spreadsheet right now to read this, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little sleepy from staying out to watch the UConn-Bucknell game last night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. But if your team is making a run deep into the tournament, here are a few places you might hope they wind up:

5. Tuscon, Arizona
Site of the first and second rounds (or, sorry NCAA, second and third rounds thanks to the miserably confusing "First Four" play-in games), Tucson is a great destination for early spring. Dry desert air and Spanish colonial architecture make you almost forget this is one of the West's greatest college towns and home to the Arizona Wildcats, a five-seed in the West bracket.

Tuscon Travel Guide

4. Tulsa, Oklahoma
Really? This host of early-round games gets its reputation from oil-derrick roots (and indeed, you'll find the 76-foot-tall "Golden Driller" statue in the town's fairgrounds), but spring brings rose blooms and cool temperatures to Tornado Alley. And the burgeoning area along East 15th Street is awash in new restaurants and boutique shops, including the trendy Rope Tulsa.

Tulsa Travel Guide

3. Anaheim, California
Home of the West bracket finals, families will find plenty to do in Orange County, from Disneyland to Lego Land to a land filled with great beaches and nearby mountains close enough to squeeze in a hike before the games start.

Anaheim Travel Guide

2. Newark, New Jersey
Ok, laugh. Make your Jersey Shore jokes or snide comments about crime rates. They're all somewhat valid in New York's largest suburb. But what's lost is that Newark has some legitimate attractions and fine hotels, including a superb art museum and a history rooted deeply in sports. It's the perfect place to catch the East bracket semi-final game and see if your team can make the Final Four. (And an easy train ride from New York if that's more your style.)

Newark Travel Guide

1. Houston, Texas
Of course, everyone wants to be in the final. And Houston, with its fascinating shipping port, resurgent arts scene, and excellent shopping and dining, is a mighty good host for the championship games. Of course, I think I might hold out until next year, when the finals will come to New Orleans and may even overlap with Jazz Fest. I'll just have to hope my Huskies can make the trip.

Houston Travel Guide

See's Top Ten College Towns.

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January 25, 2011

Spring When to Go Guide: Cherry Blossoms, Death Valley Wildflowers, and More!

View of the cherry blossoms and Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. (Eric Brodnax)

Spring is still some weeks away in most parts of the country, but it's time to start dreaming—and planning—for Mother Nature's big thaw. Here's an update on several of spring's big seasonal events.

Desert Wildflowers (Death Valley National Park, California)
Given the harsh desert environment, winter rainfall totals are a fairly predictable indicator of when the colorful desert wildflowers will bloom in the Mojave's Death Valley National Park (and elsewhere in North America's other three major deserts, the Sonoran, Great Basin, and Chihuahuan deserts). And unlike this winter's rain-drenched sections of the California coastline, Death Valley has only recorded a half-inch of rain since July 2010. Consequently, park officials are not anticipating a bumper crop of wildflower blooms this year. "We are seeing sprouts of wildflowers in the southern part of the park due to rain in October," the NPS website reports, adding that plants on the lower-elevation hillsides and alluvial fans around Jubilee Pass may come into bloom by late February. Look for an update from the NPS in early February. Low rainfall throughout the year and cooler winter temps suggest that peak bloom should occur in mid- to late March.

Continue reading "Spring When to Go Guide: Cherry Blossoms, Death Valley Wildflowers, and More!" »

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Related Topics: California Travel · Family Vacation · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · National Parks · Trip Ideas

January 11, 2011

Death Valley's Sailing Stones

By Lacy Morris

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Death Valley National Park, California,Racetrack Playa,sailing stones(Pete Ryan,Nat Geo,Getty)
Racetrack Playa in California's Death Valley National Park (Pete Ryan/National Geographic Images/Getty)

Planet Earth is not only home to nearly seven billion people; it is the source of wonder and amazement for some of our most brilliant minds. Sailing stones, one of the many geological phenomenons of California's Death Valley, occur when rocks (some just pebbles, others nearly 700-pound boulders) move along the floor of the appropriately named Racetrack Playa—at times dramatically changing direction in more than 90-degree turns. No human has ever witnessed this phenomenon firsthand; thick meandering scars on the desert floor are the only evidence of their existence.

Click here to see more travel photos of Death Valley or to sign up for our free "Your Daily Escape," a newsletter featuring unique destinations complete with travel tips, articles, and some of the most stunning travel photos meant for your computer desktop. An escape delivered straight to your inbox.   

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April 05, 2010

Family Gold Rush: Uncover Columbia, California

By Guest Blogger

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Columbia SHP + Easter egg hunt at Ottilie's 128_tb
Family Easter egg hunt in Columbia, California (Laure Latham)

Only two and a half hours away from San Francisco or Sacramento, the Gold Rush city of Columbia still lives frozen in time like it's the 1850s—cowboy hats, saloons, gold panning, and stage coaches included. Located in the Sierra foothills between Sonora and Angels Camp, Columbia is one of the rare Gold Rush towns where a thriving restored historic downtown—with shops, restaurants, and museums—oozes an authentic feel. Preserved as a California State Historic Park, it is open every day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving, is run like a real town, and has been featured in many recognizable movies. With so many indoor and outdoor activities, Columbia is an ideal place for families.

Entering Columbia on Main Street from the visitor parking lot, you arrive next to the Fallon Theatre on Washington Street where you can catch some great theatre by the Sierra Repertory Theatre. Right across from the theater is the Columbia Gazette Newspaper Office where children can learn to write their name on a galley with the type backwards and upside down. Keep walking up Washington Street as it becomes Main Street. A small courtyard on the right hosts a candle-dipping shop where children get to pick a white candle and dip it in several buckets of hot wax for a colorful outcome. The Columbia Museum occupies the next corner and offers the kids a chance to learn how to build a brick wall with foam bricks or play dress-up in the back room.

Continue reading "Family Gold Rush: Uncover Columbia, California" »

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February 02, 2010

Record Rainfall Promises Spectacular Spring Wildflowers in Death Valley

Desert-gold-death-valley LIFE IN DEATH: Desert gold in Death Valley National Park (courtesy, Xanterra Parks & Resorts)

Editor's Note: Click here for our update about the Death Valley wildflowers for spring 2011

Officials in Death Valley National Park are predicting a bumper wildflower season this spring following record rainfall in the California park. Torrential downpours throughout the state at the end of January, plus higher than average accumulation throughout the year, has locals readying for a colorful show of spring blooms. "Because of the rain last week, everyone who lives and works here in Death Valley is optimistic that we will at least have a better-than-average show this year," says Phil Dickinson, sales and marketing director at Death Valley's historic Furnace Creek Resort.

Continue reading "Record Rainfall Promises Spectacular Spring Wildflowers in Death Valley" »

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Related Topics: California Travel · National Parks · Places to Stay

December 16, 2009

Ski Resort Smackdown: And the Winner Is...

By Lacy Morris

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Skiing winter_North Lake Tahoe Resort Association-Tom Zikas
UNTOUCHED POWDER: North Lake Tahoe, California (Tom Zikas)

Results have been calculated and by most accounts, we didn't anger too many of our loyal readers with our slightly biased, yet completely well-intentioned list of top North American ski resorts. We received the most votes from people who wanted to praise us for including Alta Resort among our chosen few. Tahoe came in a close second, and brought us our winner, Barbara Hill from California who wrote in to defend and state a case for her favorite, Tahoe's Sugar Bowl:

"In spite of heavily advertised competition in the Lake Tahoe area, Sugar Bowl remains my favorite. Location, location, location—Sugar Bowl has it over all the others. Don't get slowed down at Donner Summit; get off Highway 80 earlier and head for The Bowl. If you get there early enough you're rewarded with a parking spot in the garage. The gondola ride across the gorge is only the first thrill. With 12 lifts, 91 runs, and home of the snow gods, skiers and boarders at every level are happy. It's not "Sugar" just because it's white; this is the finest powder around. Scenery is spectacular while cruising Mt. Judah, and doesn't matter while whizzing down Silverbelt. This year, Olympic training is an extra kick. You, too, can try the course when they aren't training or watch and be wowed when they are."

Other notable mentions came in for Whistler, with four votes, and Vail, with three. Congratulations on your new gear, Barbara. 

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June 24, 2009

Beach Bytes: Best Beaches for a July 4th Celebration

HAPPY FOURTH!: Holiday decorations at a coastal celebration (Liz Mitchell)

It’s not too late to plan a beach trip for the July 4th weekend, when Independence Day is celebrated in thousands of coastal towns throughout the United States. You’ll find the biggest festivals and warmest welcomes—sometimes hot—during this prime summer holiday when Americans celebrate the birth of their country (or at the very least, celebrate a day off from work!).  A few suggestions for events follow, and I would be excited to join any of them for fireworks and festivities.

- Visit the coast of New Hampshire for a unique, historical day of festivities. An American Celebration at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth is a fabulous old-fashioned way to celebrate July 4th, offering an opportunity to experience four centuries of New England life. One of the highlights of a New Hampshire summer, this event includes a children’s bike and wagon parade, games and crafts, historic garden tours, live music, living history, hands-on activities, and lots of food.

- Off the coast of Massachusetts, Nantucket's July 4th Celebration includes face painting, watermelon and pie-eating contests, a dunk tank, children's parades, three-legged races, tug-o-war, music, and a huge water fight. Fireworks set off from Jetties Beach, a family-friendly spot on the North Shore. 

Continue reading "Beach Bytes: Best Beaches for a July 4th Celebration" »

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June 17, 2009

Beach Bytes: San Diego, California

Coronado Beach in San Diego (Bob Yarbrough/courtesy, San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau)

San Diego is a fabulous Southern California town for a beach and so much more. Although I always choose destinations with a beach feature so I can relax on the shore if I want, this trip lured me toward some days off the beach, onto the water, and touring the city's plethora of other attractions.

Public transportation provides an easy way for visitors to figure out how to get almost anywhere. People are friendly, the weather inviting year-round, and the food really good. Culture, sports, history, art, and architecture lend so many dimensions that a week’s visit is too short to touch it all. You could easily spend full days exploring the history and art of the city, which come alive with dozens of museums, 15 of those being easily accessible in Balboa Park, the largest urban park in the country. One of my favorite sections was the Spanish Village Art Center, where dozens of artists work daily in studios hosted by the center.  On my next visit, I will want to see a ballet, the symphony, and a play. Or you could feed a passion for railroads, cars, sports, anthropology, science…you get the idea…it’s all here.

Continue reading "Beach Bytes: San Diego, California" »

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June 05, 2009

Bulk of California State Parks May Close

By Kate Chandler

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California (Robert Holmes/CalTour)

In an effort to narrow the massive California state deficit, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed, among other cuts, the closure of 220 of the 279 state parks and beaches to save about $213 million over the next two years. The state's famed park system attracts nearly 80 million visitors a year.

Parks on the chopping block include Point Lobos near Carmel; Lake Tahoe's Emerald Bay; Bodie State Historic Park, one of the best-preserved Old West ghost towns; Anza-Borrego Desert State Park; Will Rogers' Southern California ranch; the Governor's Mansion in Sacramento; Big Basin Redwoods, the oldest state park; and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the world's tallest tree.

The 59 parks that will remain open are said to be the only ones that generate more revenue than they cost to operate. These include Old Town San Diego, William Randolph Hearst's Castle, and many popular San Diego County beach campgrounds. Opponents of the plan, however, argue that this analysis is incomplete and short-sighted, not considering the effects of job loss and tax revenue loss from businesses near the parks.

Continue reading "Bulk of California State Parks May Close" »

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May 26, 2009

Top 10 U.S. Beaches: Dr. Beach's 2009 Picks

POT OF GOLD: Hanalei Bay on Kauai, Hawaii (Thinkstock/Getty)

Florida International University's Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, has released his 2009 list of top beaches (note that past winners are ineligible for inclusion). Here are his top ten beaches:

1. Hanalei Bay (Kauai, Hawaii)
2. Siesta Beach (Sarasota, Florida)
3. Coopers Beach (Southampton, New York)
4. Coronado Beach (San Diego, California)
5. Hamoa Beach (Maui, Hawaii)
6. Main Beach (East Hampton, New York)
7. Cape Hatteras (Outer Banks, North Carolina)
8. Cape Florida State Park (Key Biscayne, Florida)
9. Coast Guard Beach (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)
10. Beachwalker Park (Kiawah Island, South Carolina)

Tell us about your favorites in the comments section. My fave U.S. beach is probably the pristine stretch of sand at the bottom of the road in Carmel (amazing sunsets); outside the U.S.—and this one's way off the beaten track—it's Mogushi Beach in southwestern Japan. (For more of staffers' far-flung beach favorites, check out our interactive Google Map here.)

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · California Travel · Florida Vacation · Hawaii Vacation · Top 10 Lists

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