Milwaukee: Start with the Art

A highlight in Milwaukee is its unique art museum, with wings that open up during the day and close at night, right on the lake.
A highlight in Milwaukee is its unique art museum, with wings that open up during the day and close at night, right on the lake.

Milwaukee Wisconsin; land of beer and baseball – with a hidden knack for tourism. Come experience the festivals, the art and the unexpected.

The city has a spectacular art museum, with a roof that opens up like a bird’s wings during the day.  The art inside is pretty great too!

Get your relaxation and entertainment all in one place at the West Bend, a boutique Milwaukee hotel housing the Museum of Wisconsin Art. The Museum will also be opening a new rotating gallery in a fellow Hotel, Saint Kate. Its sparse, modern style will parallel the art exhibit beautifully.

As Jessica Wildes, communications and marketing director for the museum, was quoted on gmtoday.com, “The Saint Kate, for us, is a wonderful way to expand the museum footprint.”

Saint Kate, an Art Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Saint Kate, an Art Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin where more art is on its way.

If you’re in the area during the summer, definitely check out the Summerfest; the world’s largest music festival. Spanning over 11 days, 13 stages and most any genre of music you can think of. This, paired with an equal variety of food, shopping and children’s, activities should keep any and all blends of families entertained.  For 2019, headliners include Lil Wayne, Snoop Doggy Dog, and Jason Aldean, among dozens of other star musicians.

Unusual  Milwaukee attractions include The Holler House, the nation’s oldest bowling alley. Two lanes in the basement of a historic tap room – it doesn’t get any more authentic than this. This little gem is a ghost from the past reaching forward – you even have to call ahead to make sure the owner can schedule a pinsetter. No automatic machinery for these guys.

If you want to know what’s going on in the city, there is one place–it’s called OnMilwaukee, a city website that explores arts, news, and anything worth knowing about city.

For those more inclined to Milwaukee’s classic beer scene, Miller Brewing, Sprecher Brewery are key stops on the Baseball and booze tour. Miller Park provides a home for the Major Leagues Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers.

Drury Inn and Suites in Milwaukee.
Drury Inn and Suites in Milwaukee.

After a hard day of taste-tests and identifying hops, amble over to the 223-room Drury Inn and Suites, a hum-drum office building recently converted to the upscale hotel it is today.

Three new hotels are coming to Milwaukee,  due to open in July 2020. Located in downtown Milwaukee, the cumulated room count will total 300 so don’t worry, you won’t have to book too far in advance. Though maybe you will, as the ideal goal for these developers is to have these lodgings open at least a month before the 2020 Democratic National Convention, which should draw around 50,000 visitors to the area.

On second thought, make your reservation sooner rather than later.

So, while Milwaukee may not be your top traveling destination, it surely shouldn’t be your last.  Check out this link for easy access to all your top Milwaukee hotels.  

Oakland, California: Highlights of the City

Jack London Square in Oakland, California.
Oakland California skyline.
Oakland California skyline.

Oakland California doesn’t get the same flattering press that some of its neighbors, like San Francisco, do, but there are many good reasons to visit the city made famous by author Jack London.  Though there are some parts of Oakland you should probably avoid visiting, just like in Chicago and Baltimore, it’s quite easy to find desirable places to enjoy time with family without visiting the bad parts.

Start with sports: The city with just 400,000 inhabitants is home to the world champion Golden State Warriors Basketball team.  Oakland’s Oracle Arena gets rocking with a sea of yellow shirts when Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant begin tossing in three-pointers and win game after game. Try to get tickets from a ticker-reseller just before game time.

Don’t miss Lake Merritt during your time in Oakland, California! This lake is recognized as the country’s first official wildlife refuge, surrounded by lush green parkland and urban city neighborhoods.

Lake Merritt, Oakland, California.
Lake Merritt, Oakland, California.

Lake Merritt is a large tidal lagoon that is home to many species and visited by locals and tourists. Inside the lake, artificial islands have been designed as bird sanctuaries. The area also features walking paths and a boating center where canoes, rowboats, and sailboats can be rented out for a day of fun on the water. Lake Merritt is a great place to visit.  There’s even a themed amusement park for children, Children’s Fairyland!

For those more interested in the flora and fauna, check out the beautiful seven-acre collection of themed gardens known as The Gardens at Lake Merritt.

Jack London Square in Oakland, California.
Jack London Square in Oakland, California.

Found on Oakland’s waterfront, Jack London Square is a popular destination named after the world-renowned author, Jack London. This area is popular for entertainment and business, boasting restaurants, stores, hotels, an Amtrak Station, and more!  Every Sunday morning, locals and visitors alike can explore the farmer’s market for some bargains and farm fresh foods.

Tilden Park is a beautiful region in Oakland filled with outdoor adventure. There’s plenty of activities to immerse yourself in including an environmental center, steam train, merry-go-round, and golf course! This 2,000+ acre park is a respite for summer fun.  While you’re there, be sure to check out the botanic garden and swim in the lake.

Afterward, enjoy a picnic in the many seating areas.

The Morcom Rose Garden is a beautiful garden in Oakland featuring intricate paths and walkways, a reflecting pool, cascading fountain, and thousands of roses. This garden is named after Mayor Frank Morcom, known for planting the first rose bush in Oakland in 1933.

This garden has been a sanctuary of peace and tranquility, even serving for special occasions such as weddings. Visiting the Morcom Rose Garden is one of the best romantic things to do in Oakland.

Kids love visiting the Oakland Zoo.
Kids love visiting the Oakland Zoo.

The Oakland Zoo features 650+ native and exotic animals, a wildlife theater, and educational programs. This animal sanctuary covers a hundred acres of modern exhibits and natural habitats. There are also interactive displays for visitors to learn more about the zoo’s inhabitants.

The Oakland Zoo is nationally known for its excellent elephant exhibit, where the grey giants roam freely. Inside the zoo, the Valley Children’s Zoo boasts interactive play structures for children and is home to a range of unusual animals, including ring-tailed lemurs, century-old tortoises, pot-bellied pigs, and bats. The Children’s Zoo also has a modern Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Room and Bug Room, which is a favorite with younger visitors.

Waterfront Hotel, a Joie de Vivre Boutique Hotel

Stay at the Waterfront Hotel, a Joie de Vivre Boutique Hotel to be in the heart of Oakland. Only a two-minute drive from Jack London Square and seven minutes from the Oakland Museum of California, this hotel will put you right in the center of it all. Enjoy one of the 143 air-conditioned rooms featuring docking stations and flat-screen televisions.

Hotel Highlights: Make sure to take advantage of the outdoor pool, sauna, and 24-hour fitness center. Enjoy a meal at the restaurant or snacks in the coffee shop/cafe. Wrap up your day with a drink at the bar/lounge. Continental breakfasts are available for a fee.

At the Hilton Oakland Airport, you’ll be close to the airport and within a five-minute drive of San Francisco Bay. Make yourself at home in one of the 360 air-conditioned rooms featuring docking stations and flat-screen televisions.

Hotel Highlights: Spend some time in the outdoor pool or fitness center. Additional amenities at this hotel include complimentary wireless Internet access, an arcade/game room, and gift shops/newsstands.

Grab a bite at Sports Edition Bar Grill, one of the hotel’s two restaurants, or stay in and take advantage of the room service. Snacks are also available at the coffee shop/café. Wrap up your day with a drink at the bar/lounge. Buffet breakfasts are available daily from 6 AM to 10 AM for a fee.

Interested finding a hotel in Oakland? Check out bonwi.com for more hotels and use your Bonwi points to use during another stay

Norfolk, Virginia: A Navy Town with a Battleship to Explore

The Chrysler Museum in Norfolk Virginia.
The Chrysler Museum in Norfolk Virginia.
The Chrysler Museum in Norfolk Virginia.

In the southeast corner of Virginia, the city of Norfolk is filled with exciting things to do for families, solo travelers, and couples alike. Home to the largest naval base in the entire world and one of the most important art museums on the east coast, Norfolk draws the attention of a diverse group of visitors. And as this beautiful city is on the water, there’s plenty of nature to indulge yourself in.

Deep inside the Ghent district, better known for being the most artistic area of the city, is the Chrysler Museum of Art. The museum dates back to the 1930s and is based on the art collection of Walter Chrysler, of the automobile fame.

It holds over 30,000 items in the collection that will take you back thousands of years including sculptures, paintings, glasswork, photography, and decorative arts. Famous for being one of the most important museums in the Southeastern United States, this is something you don’t want to miss.

The USS Wisconsin was once a giant active battleship that was in operation during the Second World War as well as the Korean War. Although the ship was retired in the 1980s, it was called up for service again for Operation Desert Storm in the 1990s.

Now, the ship is a nautical museum in Norfolk where visitors can take self-guided tours through different parts of the ship including offices, an onboard chapel,  and the staterooms of the officers.

There are also guided tours available where you can follow the full history of the ship while seeing other parts of the USS Wisconsin including the captain’s cabin.

The USS Wisconsin is a popular tourist attraction in Norfolk, Virginia
The USS Wisconsin is a popular tourist attraction in Norfolk, Virginia

 The former home of the Moses Myers, a famous American entrepreneur who was crucial in the growth of Norfolk, gives visitors a look into how people would have lived in this part of the United States at the turn of the century.

The Moses Myers House has been restored over the years, but many of the original furnishings are still in place. In fact, the house is known for being one of the first brick buildings to have ever been built in Norfolk.

Moses Myers house in Norfolk, VA.
Moses Myers house in Norfolk, VA.

Dive into some colorful nature at the Norfolk Botanical Garden that fills up 150 acres and is divided into different sections that include over forty gardens, each with its own unique theme. The gardens are seasonal meaning the flowers and plants bloom all year round.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk VA.
The Norfolk Botanical Garden, Norfolk VA.

There’s even a special garden dedicated to younger visitors. All visitors can enjoy the different themes such as a relaxing Japanese garden complete with traditional Japanese ponds, as well as a Hummingbird Garden filled with both flowers and the unique birds. There’s even a Tropical Display Garden that features all of the mimics a rainforest environment.

The Virginia Zoo

Inside the lovely Lafayette Park, The Virginia Zoo holds over 500 animals from elephants to rare species of frogs. Visitors will find animals from all over the world here including Africa, Australia, and Asia. The zoo is divided into specific exhibits to showcase the different species, such as the Trail of the Tiger which has tigers from Malaysia. The Virginia Zoo is even open at night to get a glimpse of the many nocturnal animals that are housed there.

A pair of Bongo antelopes at the Norfolk Zoo.
A pair of Bongo antelopes at the Norfolk Zoo.

Hotels in Norfolk VA

Stay at the Hilton Norfolk The Main where you’ll be minutes from Town Point Park and Nauticus National Maritime Center. This 4-star hotel is also close to the USS Wisconsin BB-64 and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

The Hilton Norfolk The Main includes 300 air-conditioned rooms with MP3 docking stations and flat-screen televisions. To keep its visitors connected, the hotel offers wireless internet access. In addition, cable programming is available.

Enjoy the family-friendly amenities such as an indoor pool and a 24-hour fitness center. Stay for a bite to eat at one of the hotel’s two restaurants or take advantage of the room service.

Enjoy a stay at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel where you’ll be minutes from Waterside Festival Marketplace and the Douglas MacArthur Memorial. This hotel is also within close proximity of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and Town Point Park.

The 468 air-conditioned guest rooms feature flat-screen televisions, complimentary wireless Internet access, and cable programming.

Don’t forget to enjoy the recreational amenities including an outdoor pool and a fitness center.

The Wyndham Garden Norfolk Downtown puts you right in the heart of Norfolk, just walking distance from Norfolk Scope and Chrysler Hall. This hotel is within close proximity of Harrison Opera House and Moses Myers House.

Enjoy your stay in one of the 204 air-conditioned rooms that include refrigerators and microwaves. Each room comes with a Select Comfort bed, complimentary wireless Internet access, and cable programming. Private bathrooms with shower/tub combinations feature complimentary toiletries and hair dryers.

Relax by the outdoor pool or workout in the 24-hour fitness center. This hotel has a picnic area, a restaurant with a bar, and room service. Grab a drink at the bar/lounge. Full breakfasts are available daily from 6 AM to 10 AM for a fee.

For more hotels in Norfolk, get the best rates and use points for future stays on Bonwi.com.

Madison: Wisconsin’s Favorite College Town

Wisconsin State Capital in Madison,
Wisconsin's beautiful capital building in Madison. Victoria Hart/GoNOMAD photo.
Wisconsin’s beautiful capital building in Madison. Victoria Hart/GoNOMAD photo.

The city of Madison is known for being the state capital of Wisconsin, and while this may have made it famous, there is a lot more to this city than meets the eye. The wonderful city has so much to offer from arts to culture and museums to sports. Find your place in this fun college town.

The Wisconsin State Capitol is located near Madison’s gorgeous lakeshore in the downtown area of the city. Most visitors explore this area on foot. The building dates back from 1917 and is topped with a 284-foot dome. Inside the building itself are some beautiful decorative murals. It also holds marble from France, Italy, and Germany. Visitors can take a guided tour to learn more about the history and art of this magnificent building.

The Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison Wisconsin.
The Thai Pavilion, the Sala, at Olbrich Botanical Gardens

The Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a beautiful and colorful area located on the scenic waterfront of Madison. First opened in 1952, this garden is filled with seasonal plants, so you’ll be sure to see something blooming all year round. One of the signature features of the gardens are the roses that are grown here, as well as the Bolz Conservatory which is an indoor area that features a range of indigenous foliage. There are also architectural features in the park such as the Sala, a picturesque pavilion that was given to the gardens by the Thai government.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WI
Museum of Contemporary Art

In the heart of Wisconsin in Capitol Square is the Wisconsin Historical Museum, the perfect place to learn all about the background of this great city. The museum will take you back in time over the years and fill you in on all the historical and cultural significance of Madison. There are rotating exhibitions, galleries, fixed educational sections, sculptures, and more. There’s even a whole gallery dedicated to the creation of malted milk, said to be an invention of Wisconsin.

Head to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art for anything arts-related in Madison. Not only is this building filled with art and creativity, but the outer structure itself is often known as a work of art on its own. The front of the building resembles the bow of a ship and the museum spans three floors, all fronted with stunning glass.

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

Places to Stay in Madison

Stay overnight at the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace, situated right in the heart of the city and only a short walk from Capitol Square. Make yourself at home in one of the 240 air-conditioned rooms that include refrigerators, 37-inch LCD televisions, MP3 docking stations, and cable programming.

Highlights: Don’t miss out on the many recreational opportunities, including an indoor pool, a spa tub, and a 24-hour fitness center. Grab a bite at Capitol ChopHouse, one of the hotel’s two restaurants, or stay in and take advantage of the 24-hour room service. Snacks are also available at the coffee shop/café. If you’re in need of a drink, try one of the two bars/lounges.

The Graduate Madison is located in the center of the city, only a four-minute walk from Memorial Union Terrace and 10 minutes by foot from Kohl Center.

Relax in one of the 72 air-conditioned rooms featuring refrigerators, docking stations, complimentary wireless Internet, and cable programming. Private bathrooms in each guest room include showers, toiletries, and hair dryers.

Highlights: Enjoy recreation amenities such as a fitness center or take in the view from a rooftop terrace. Guests can catch a ride on the complimentary shuttle, which operates within 3.00 mi.

Wisconsin Veterans Museum
Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Grab a bite to eat at Portage Pi, a restaurant where you can enjoy drinks at the bar and dine alfresco. Snacks are also available at the coffee shop/café. Cooked-to-order breakfasts are available daily from 6 AM to 11 AM for a fee.

Stay at the AmericInn by Wyndham Madison West for a wonderful stay in the business district. Here, you’ll be within a five-minute drive of West Towne Mall and University Research Park. There are 120 rooms in the hotel.

Highlights: Take advantage of recreational opportunities offered, including an indoor pool, a spa tub, and a fitness center. Additional features at this hotel include a fireplace in the lobby and a picnic area.

Find hotels in Madison.  and save using Bonwi points.

Hotels in Downtown Salt Lake City – Where to Stay

Little America Hotel Salt Lake City

The hotel zones of Salt Lake City are quite easy to figure out. There’s the airport, there’s downtown, and then there’s the sprawling suburbs beyond. If you’re coming to be near the Mormon temple or you’ve got business at the Salt Palace Convention Center, the hotels in downtown Salt Lake City are probably the only ones you want to consider.

Salt Lake City hotels in Utah

Rates are surprisingly high in this city, frequently topping $250 per night for many of the big hotels in the center, more than $300 when they get full because of a convention–which seems to happen quite a lot. So plan as far ahead as possible when booking and take time to read the online reviews if the place looks sketchy for the price.

Hotels Near the Salt Palace Convention Center

You can walk from your hotel to the convention center in ten minutes or less from a variety of large and small SLC hotels. The best one for travelers who want something with character is probably the Kimpton Monaco. Then after that you’re mostly looking at big chain hotels. There are two Marriotts, an AC Hotel by Marriott, a Residence Inn by Marriott, a Courtyard, a Fairfield Inn, a TownePlace Suites, and a Sheraton–all run by the same company.

There’s also a Hyatt Place and a Hyatt House, then a Hilton, a Doubletree by Hilton, a Hampton Inn, and a Hilton Garden Inn.

The Red Lion is now called “Hotel RL” instead. Salt Lake City also has a high-rise Radisson.

There are still a fair number of independent hotels in downtown Salt Lake City. There’s the towering Grand America, then the smaller Little America. There’s The Peery very near the convention center, plus Crystal Inn and a couple more.

Little America Hotel Salt Lake City
Little America Hotel lobby

Salt Lake City Hotels on the Edge of Downtown

Mormon temple downtown SLCThere are a variety of newer hotels that have sprung up more than a few blocks away from the action, but close enough that you can walk it if you’re not in SLC when it’s below freezing. There’s even a hostel called Avenues if you’re really on a budget.

The blocks in Salt Lake city are quite long, however, so pull up Google maps or something else to see how far the hotel truly is from where you need to go. Even the Hyatt Place is at least a 15-minute walk away from the temple or the convention center. When you look at The Kimball or Anniversary Inn, add another 10 minutes at least.

Hotels Between Downtown and the Airport

It used to be that is you were outside of walking distance from the downtown Salt Lake City hotels, you had to rely on taxis, Lyft, and Uber to get where you needed to be. This was especially true in winter, when you would freeze your butt off going more than a couple blocks.

A few years back though, the city completed a light rail line that goes between the airport and several parts of the city, however, including the convention center. That train happens to run along the main artery coming into town from the airport, which suddenly made the cheap motels along the road more of a value. They’re all basic chain motels so you shouldn’t expect much, but if everything else is full or overpriced, settle for one of those.

The Econolodge has seen better days, but it’s the closest of the cheapies to downtown. There’s also a Holiday Inn Express, a Motel 6, and a Ramada.

To get the best rates online and earn points back you can use for hotels, flights, or gift cards, get a Salt Lake City hotel through Bonwi.com.

Doubletree Salt Lake City
Doubletree Suites by Hilton Salt Lake City

One last option? You could stay in Park City and get into SLC in less than an hour. Then head back early and hit the slopes! Otherwise, stick around and check out strange things to see in Salt Lake City.

 

Jacksonville, Florida: Museums and Amelia Island Await

Downtown Jacksonville South Bank.
Jacksonville's south bank.
Jacksonville’s south bank.

From beautiful beaches and river views to must-see museums and unique tours, Jacksonville, Florida is the perfect destination for couples and families alike.

One of Florida’s best art museums, The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens hosts one of the best art collections in the Southeast. The museum is housed in a series of twentieth-century buildings that overlook the St. John’s River. The museum has more than 6,000 works of art spanning the periods between 2100 B.C. and the 21st century, with distinct genres of European and American paintings.

The Cummer Museum is a highlight of any visit to Jacksonville, Florida.
The Cummer Museum is a highlight of any visit to Jacksonville, Florida.

The Cummer Museum is surrounded by beautifully kept gardens, the oldest of which date back to 1903. The 2.5 acres of gardens include unique examples of early 20th-century garden design with a tranquil reflecting pool, ornate fountains, and awe-inspiring sculptures. More famously, the garden is home to the majestic Cummer Oak, one of the oldest trees in Jacksonville.

Overlooking the St. Johns River, Downtown Jacksonville’s North and South banks are surrounded by skyscrapers that have both a contemporary, yet urban ambiance. Locals and visitors often find themselves heading for the banks of the river to enjoy a bite to eat.

Ranging from casual cafes to fine dining establishments, there is plenty to munch on in Downtown Jacksonville. Additionally, try the variety of nightlife options with buzzing bars and wonderful lounges.

The Southbank Riverwalk is a ¼-mile boardwalk that follows along the river, providing a great place to hike or sit on the benches and soak up the views. Take a walk to the famous Friendship Fountain at the west end of the Southbank Riverwalk, one of the city’s most popular attractions and the perfect setting for a quiet picnic or romantic evening under the stars.

Book a hotel in Jacksonville here.

Amelia Island, off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.
Amelia Island, off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

Amelia Island

If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, or even a short day trip, head on over to Amelia Island, which sits along Florida’s northeast coast. It’s just 30 miles from Jacksonville, but it gives off an entirely different vibe. There’s plenty to do on the island that consistently ranks among the “Top 10 U.S. Island.”

Horseback riding, dolphin and osprey sightings, historical exploration, golfing, and more. Visitors even have a chance of getting a glimpse at the endangered right whale.

Amelia Island is the perfect spot for recreation, relaxation, or family fun. Many enjoy the nightlife options that Amelia Island has to offer as well.

MOSH! The Museum of Science and History is known for its outstanding permanent and temporary exhibits that focus on science and local history. Located on the famous Southbank Riverwalk, the museum is one of the city’s top attractions. There’s plenty of exhibits that will interest everyone.

MOSH Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville
MOSH Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville

The ‘Brain Teasers’ feature brain-boosting skills to explore the innermost workings of the mind. Some traveling exhibits include full-scale fossils from around the world. The Museum also includes the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium, one of the largest single-lens digital dome planetariums in the United States. MOSH! The Museum of Science and History is one of the top fun things to do with kids in Jacksonville, FL.

Places to Stay in Jax

If you’re looking to be centrally located in Jacksonville Beach, stay and relax at Four Points by Sheraton Jacksonville Beachfront. This area offers walking distance from Jacksonville Beach Pier and is fairly close to Adventure Landing and Windsor Parke Golf Club.

Enjoy one of the 80 air-conditioned rooms featuring refrigerators and microwaves. Each guest room comes with a pillowtop bed, and all rooms are furnished with double sofa beds. Rooms also have private balconies.

Highlights: Don’t miss out on the outdoor pool, spa tub, or 24-hour fitness center that Four Points has to offer. This hotel also features complimentary Internet access, concierge services, and giftshop-newsstands.

Grab something to eat at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant or get a drink at a bar/lounge.

With a stay at Omni Jacksonville Hotel, you’ll be centrally located in Jacksonville. This 4-star hotel is close to Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art and Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Get comfortable in one of the 354 air-conditioned rooms featuring minibars and LCD televisions.

Highlights: Be sure to enjoy recreational amenities including an outdoor pool and a 24-hour fitness center. Getting to nearby attractions is easy with the complimentary area shuttle that operates within 2 miles. Eat at the hotel’s restaurant, which serves both lunch and dinner.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville puts you right in the heart of the city, giving visitors a walking distance from the Jacksonville Landing and Florida Theatre. This 4-star hotel is close to Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art and Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville offers 951 air-conditioned rooms featuring iPod/iPhone docking stations and flat-screen televisions. Highlights: Enjoy the many recreational opportunities including an outdoor pool, a fitness center, and bicycles for rent.  Guests can also get around on the complimentary shuttle, which operates within 3 miles.

For more hotels in the Jacksonville area, check out Bonwi.com and use your points to save on the next trip. 

New York City: Hudson Yards Brings New Energy to Lower Manhattan

Hudson Yards Manhattan New York City
Hudson Yards has changed the skyline of Manhattan by adding five Empire State Building-sized structures plus a massive arts center, retail stores, parkland, and condos.

When you think of New York City, what are the first images that come to your mind? You may be thinking of the Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty or maybe Rockefeller Center. But, now, when you think of the Big Apple, a huge new attraction has been built here in lower Manhattan that is sure to whisk you off your feet.

Constructed on 28 acres over a working rail yard, the Hudson Yards project is the largest private real estate development in United States history, and there was truly a staggering amount of effort put in to make this compelling vision a reality.

The Hudson Yards features one million square feet of retail and mixed-use space, eighteen million square feet of commercial and residential space, five Empire State Building-sized buildings, one hundred shops, fourteen acres of gardens, plazas, playgrounds and public space, four thousand state-of-the-art residences, and three dynamic parks.

The most dramatic site here is the Vessel–it’s a massive circular structure that consists of staircases that wind up and down that people can traverse, it looks like a gigantic beehive!

Several extremely high profile restaurateurs and boutiques have opened for business in the area, including world-renowned chef Thomas Keller. And if all that is not enough to get your attention, then some of its unique, never-before-seen architectural innovations may just do the trick.

Interior view of the Vessel, at Hudson Yards.
Interior view of the Vessel, at Hudson Yards.

The Vessel at the Hudson Yards is the centerpiece of the entire project. Engaging and interactive, the Vessel is comprised of one hundred and fifty-four interconnecting flights of stairs and about a mile’s worth of pathway rising over the Hudson Yard’s gardens. Its design, a geometric gridwork of stairways, is fashioned out of painted steel and a coating of polished copper-coloring, which almost gives New York City’s new public landmark a futuristic honeycomb feel.

Another fantastic addition that the Hudson Yards is its “Haven for Creative Expression”, The Shed. The Shed is New York’s first multi-arts center designed to be a flexible and manipulatable venue for all kinds of events, ranging from concerts to sporting events. An extremely notable feature of The Shed is its telescoping outer shell that can expand and contract with the flip of a switch.

The outer shell gives an unparalleled amount of freedom to its users, allowing the temporary construction of a one hundred and twenty-foot-high temperature controlled hall, which can be retracted at any point to clear the neighboring seventeen thousand foot plaza for public use.

According to Travel Weekly, it’s now easier to reserve your Vessel tour tickets. “Starting July 1, people wishing to climb the hive-shaped piece of public art at Hudson Yards will have the option to go online and pay $10 to secure admittance up to six months in advance.

Currently, all tickets are free, and advance tickets are only available as far out as two weeks out. All tickets are also time-specific to manage crowd sizes and to keep people moving.”

Special reservations are still required for groups of 15 or more and can be made by contacting 1-332-204-8500 or groups@hudsonyardsnewyork.com

Hudson Yards will also have a small public school for its residents and children in the surrounding areas, it’s literally a brand new neighborhood in an area that has never before had subway service. 

With the city’s newest 7th Avenue subway line terminating nearby, not only do visitors to the huge Jacob Javits Convention Center get an easier way to arrive, it opens up the entire underserved area of lower Manhattan to subway travel.

Many of the Hudson Yard’s features will be available to the public now, with a few areas scheduled to be completed as late as 2022.  So next time you’re in New York, make sure to check on the status of the Hudson Yards because it is set to become one of America’s most popular destinations!

Find NYC Hotels and use Bonwi points to save on your next Big Apple adventure!

Santa Barbara California: High-End Hotels and People Watching

Lower State Street, Santa Barbara, California.
Lower State Street, Santa Barbara, California.
Lower State Street, Santa Barbara, California.

You know your city is well off when your downtown sidewalks are decorative red brickIt’s these little details that will catch the eye of visitors and locals alike and part of what makes Santa Barbara California so special.

Come soak up the sunshine and the pleasant ocean views on your next vacation, business trip, or bleisure opportunity. 

Foodies, get psyched– food tours are one of Santa Barbara’s specialties. Cruise downtown at a leisurely pace on your fat tire cruiser bike as you sample bits from the city’s distinctive and eclectic restaurant scene.

Don’t leave without visiting one of the areas many wineries; Carr Winery, Jamie Slone Wines, or the classically named Santa Barbara winery to name a few. The climate is perfect for a variety of wines, but this one is best known for its fruit-driven Chardonnay. If that’s not so much your style, blends of Grenache-Syrah or Pinot Noir are a few other favorites.

Stearns Wharf Dolphin Fountain, Santa Barbara, California.

Stearns Wharf Dolphin Fountain, Santa Barbara, California.

 Families will appreciate Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, an area rich with art galleries and boutiques with the up-to-date styles of California (and wine of course).

The zone is home to brewpubs, wine tastings, art galleries, and trendy boutiques. The region used to be much less visually appealing, comprised of mainly industrial warehouses. What was once a hub for the fishing industry during the nineteenth century is now turning into an upscale spot that is attracting eclectic artists and business owners.

Pass by the well-known Dolphin fountain and take a jaunt down Stearns Wharf. Other (more outdoorsy) activities in Santa Barbara include hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding,  surfing, and fishing. Don’t forget your bathing suit, the water’s almost warm enough to swim in. Not quite.

A tour of the newly opened Rosewood Miramar Beach
A tour of the newly opened Rosewood Miramar Beach

There is no shortage of hotels and lodgings, whatever your budget. Those with a few extra bucks to spare should consider the new Miramar Hotel. Located in the affluent community of Montecito, (home of Oprah Winfrey and plenty of other billionaires)  the hotel is marked by many tells of its creator, Rick Caruso, including photos of his four kids above the bar to his family crest strewn throughout the modern beach styled get-away.

You might even get to glimpse the talented Leonardo Dicaprio, spotted at the resort not too long ago. Rooms start at $800 a night, with the grande suite coming in at a whopping $5,000 a night.

Other lodgings to appreciate include Hotel California with a Middle Eastern theme and the Santa Barbara Inn, recently renovated with views of the beach and mountains.

Santa Barbara resident Arthur von Wiesenberger shares his favorite restaurants in the city.
Santa Barbara resident Arthur von Wiesenberger shares his favorite restaurants in the city.

Fresh Takes on food

In a feature story on GoNOMAD Travel, local Arthur von Weisenberger shared his personal favorites of his hometown.  There are plenty of new options to grab a bite at in Santa Barbara.

Santa Mezcal is restaurateur Carlos Luna of Los Agaves Restaurants’ latest creation. The cuisine puts a Santa Barbara spin on traditional Mexican flavors by mixing in local and seasonal ingredients of the Santa Barbara region in. “The food is terrific, it’s very authentic,” Wiesenberger said.

Sit outside on the terrace to people-watch State Street’s pedestrians as you indulge in bold, exciting dishes.

“You can sit on the street and watch all the action on State Street– or you could sit inside and watch all the action at the bar,” Wiesenberger said.

Don’t delay, make a reservation today for hotels in Santa Barbara California.

The Coolest Design Hotels That Are Part of Major Chains

W Hotel Mexico City

W Design Hotels, like the one in Santiago Chile

In a sea of boring hotel rooms from the major chains, how do you find the design hotels that actually give you some visual stimulation during your stay?

We know, it’s really hard to keep up with all these hotel brands. In this world of hotel chain consolidation and brand offshoots, some of the multinational hospitality companies have more names in their portfolio than a Five Guys Burgers has menu items.

Here are some of the best ones to put on your list when you are searching hotels if you’re looking for art hotels, trendy hotels, or just unique resorts that have a high cool factor.

W Hotels

The original cool chain hotel brand to really go widespread is still one of the best. Originally part of Starwood and now Marriott, the W Hotels brand is consistently modern, artistic, and—if there have been recent renovations—still surprising. You get the benefits of good corporate hotel training, but with a hipper dress code and attitude more suited to 30-somethings than the Ritz-Carlton crowd. Take a look at this one in Mexico City to get an idea.

W Hotel Mexico City

Kimpton Hotels

This was, for a long time, the coolest independent hotel chain in the USA that

Kimpton trendy chain hotel Florida

stretched from one coast to the other. Most are more boutique hotel than large chain, small enough where you can get some personal attention.

Now Kimpton is part of the IHG group that previously only had the mid-range Hotel Indigo brand for the cool kids. You can count on decor that is always interesting, a daily complimentary wine hour for mingling, and attractive rooms. They’re pet-friendly and Kimpton guests also can rely on professional service that isn’t too aloof.

Andaz Hotels and Resorts

The Hyatt brand was best-known for huge convention hotels before they went through an acquisition binge the past decade and also developed a few new brands. The Andaz one has allowed them to appeal to upscale travelers who weren’t the type who went for the traditional look and feel of a Park Hyatt.

Andaz resorts usually employ a cutting-edge architect and designer in the building process and there’s a much stronger attention to unique details and nods to local culture than you usually find in a multinational chain hotel brand. Their tag line is, “You’ll know it when you sense it.” They currently have 22 properties, with 8 of them in the USA. The shot below is their resort in the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica.

Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica

Thompson Hotels

As with Kimpton, Thompson Hotels operated as an independent brand for many years, getting lots of write-ups and awards. Then Hyatt swallowed them up to liven up their portfolio. Thompson Hotels are artsy in a different way in each location with a few consistent elements. “Spacious bathrooms include state of the art rain showers, signature robes and D.S. & Durga products.”

The chain has six design hotels in different U.S. cities and four in Mexico and the Caribbean. Have a good time in such cool locations as Nashville, Seattle, and Zihuatanejo.

Dazzler by Wyndham

These are only in Latin America right now, but they’re worth a mention because they put their policies where their mouth is when they say they’re appealing to millennial travelers. There’s a complimentary minibar, breakfast keeps serving until noon, and you get an extra two hours to check out if needed. There’s a communal area for mingling and the prices are low enough that people in their 20s and 30s won’t get chastised for putting this place on their expense report.

Business Hotels, but Aimed Younger

If you don’t gravitate to innovative design and just want a hotel room that doesn’t make you feel like you’re at an airport in Cleveland, there are some in-between options as well. Where the major chains have been trying the hardest with new brands is business hotels that aren’t crazy expensive and are aimed at millennials who don’t draw a dark line between work and play. These properties usually have fewer frills and a less traditional look in their furniture picks. They usually have a bar though which is the centerpiece of a multi-functional work and social area. They’re often in urban locations where you can walk out the door instead of having to get in your car.

Radisson Red design hotels
(c) Radisson Red

Brands to look for that fit this “kind of cool, but still clearly a chain” look include the following:

Radisson Red
AC Hotels by Marriott
Aloft Hotels by Marriott
Hotel RL by Red Lion
Hyatt Centric
Tryp by Wyndham
Tru by Hilton

There are also some oddball brands that are sort of pitched as design hotels but are hard to define collectively. Curio by Hilton, for example, seems to be the umbrella for any independent property they take over management for but they don’t want to tag with the boring Hilton brand. These include The Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida, Hotel Phillips in Kansas City, and Hotel Andaluz in Albuquerque. It’s the same deal with their Tapestry Collection properties. Are they design hotels or traditional ones? Well, there’s not enough consistency to say either way.

When you go to book your art hotel or urban cool space to stay, you’ll find the best rates and a great points payback by booking at Bonwi.com.

Review and photos (except where indicated) by Tim Leffel, lodging expert and editor of Hotel Scoop. 

Richmond Virginia: A Cosmopolitan Civil War City

The James River flows through the city of Richmond, offering city kayaking to anyone.

The city of Richmond Virginia is one that holds deep historical significance as it was heavily involved in the Civil War period.  There are many historical markers and sites that pay tribute to this period of time in Richmond.

Over the past few years, some statues devoted to famous Civil War generals have been removed, causing anxiety and division among the populace.

Besides its role in the Civil War, Richmond is now becoming an emerging tourist destination with craft breweries and eateries that have put this city on the map.

The James River flows through the city of Richmond, offering city kayaking to anyone.
The James River flows through the city of Richmond, offering city kayaking to anyone.

Richmond includes the wonderful James River, which many will find kayaking, canoeing, or even swimming in the calmer parts of the waterway.
Richmond is also decked with areas of great natural beauty including many parks where visitors are found hiking, biking, bird watching, and horseback riding.

Things to Do in Richmond VA:

American Civil War Museum, White House, & Museum of the Confederacy

Richmond is one of the best places in the south to find out about the Civil War and learn the history of the battles and the Confederacy.

The White House of the Confederacy is better known as the official residence of President Jefferson Davis during the Civil War.

There are many guided tours of the mansion where visitors will learn about the historical and cultural significance of these landmarks.

The museum is located directly next to the White House and spans three floors which all include exhibits of Civil War memorabilia.

Belle Isle

On the James River Park System, cross the scenic footbridge that leads you to the small island. Belle Isle is a small area of land that is known for being surrounded by rocks that have been smoothed by the water so that they are flat in shape. Many locals come here to sunbathe on the rocks in the summer months. Belle Isle is also a great place to mountain bike.

Take some time on the walking trails around the island that take you through wild woodlands.

Hardywood Craft Brewery in Richmond VA.
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond VA.

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

For those interested in tasting some fresh brews, make your way to Hardywood Park, one of the most famous breweries in Richmond. Here you will find a delicious tasting room. You can also take a tour and learn how the beer is made before sampling some of the best beverages on offer. Many food trucks work with the brewery outside, as well as live music nights and special events and festivals.

Thinking of bringing your children to Richmond? Have no fear! It’s not all history and drinking. There’s plenty to do with your little ones in this city!

The Science Museum of Virginia is the place to come if you love science and want to know more. There are plenty of permanent exhibits here that are divided up into themed sections such as space, electricity, health, and geology, as well as rotating galleries.

The museum also features The Dome Theatre which is home to a 76-foot screen that has a claim for being the largest in all of Virginia.

Dooley Mansion at Maymont, Richmond Virginia.
Dooley Mansion at Maymont, Richmond Virginia.

The Maymont Children’s Barn features wonderful art and architecture for the parents to enjoy while children can play on the mansion’s grounds or just go wander through the gorgeous flower gardens. You can also tour the mansion on the property if you’re up for it!

The river goes through Maymont and you can sometimes find otters swimming in the waters, or you can play with the animals on the farm that sits in the grounds.

If you need one last place to take the kids to keep them occupied, try the Metro Richmond Zoo!

Places to Stay in Richmond VA:

If you’re looking to be centrally located in Downtown Richmond, stay overnight at the Hilton Richmond Downtown. It’s only steps from the Greater Richmond Convention Center and minutes from The National.

Belle Isle in the James River, Richmond VA.
Belle Isle in the James River

This hotel features 250 air-conditioned rooms with refrigerators and LCD televisions. Each room comes with a Select Comfort bed. Complimentary wired and wireless Internet access keeps you connected, and cable programming provides entertainment.

Highlights: Besides the beautiful guest rooms, enjoy the indoor pool, spa tub, and 24-hour fitness center. Other features include complimentary wireless Internet access, wedding services, and a fireplace in the lobby. Guests can catch a ride on the complimentary shuttle, which operates within 2 mi.

The Holiday Inn I 64 West End in Richmond is close to the airport and minutes from Crossroads Art Center and the Children’s Museum of Richmond. This hotel is within close proximity of the Shops at Willow Lawn and Markel Building.

This accommodation includes 142 air-conditioned rooms featuring refrigerators and microwaves. Complimentary wired and wireless Internet access keeps you connected, and cable programming provides entertainment.

Highlights: Enjoy the outdoor pool and fitness center. Grab a bite to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, which features a bar, or stay in and take advantage of room service. Quench your thirst with your favorite drink at a bar/lounge. Breakfast is available daily for a fee.

Looking for somewhere else to stay in Richmond, Virginia? Check out Bonwi.com for accommodations available for your trip!

Don’t Ignore the Independent Hotel Chains

Explora hotel Atacama

Inkaterra hotel in Peru, part of a local chain

You know a lot of the international chains when you pull up a list of what to book in a city, but sometimes the independent hotel chains are a better option in a specific location.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the big international hotel chains. Just as you gravitate to a familiar food chain logo when you pull off an interstate highway exit, it’s easy to book a logo you know for hotels as well.

The hotel developers know this, which is why they would often rather be a Hilton, Holiday Inn Express, or Wyndham. That way they have far fewer decisions to make in the building (blueprints are ready), the furniture purchasing (it’s all in the catalog), and the staffing (hiring and training manual, check). They they can tap into a giant marketing and reservation machine that keeps the bookings coming. Even though there are around 30 brands just under Marriott, being one of them makes guests feel like they’re taking less of a chance.

There are plenty of smaller hotels chains that are not part of the big conglomerate system, however. This is especially true outside the USA, where guests don’t normally like the cookie-cutter approach as much as we Americans do. Maybe the people who gave birth to McDonald’s, Walmart, and Starbucks are just more comfortable with spending money on conformity, despite that whole “land of the free” sloganeering.

Keep your eye out for regional chains, especially when you travel outside of the states and Canada. Don’t forget that many of today’s best-known names, like Fairmont, Kimpton, and Swissotel, were once regional independent chains before selling out to a larger corporation. Orient-Express became Belmond and got bought up, but not by a typical hospitality company: they’re part of LVMH luxury brands instead.

There are still a few (for now) independent chains based in the USA as well, so let’s start there.

USA Independent Hotel Options

This batch of scrappy independents surely has suitors swirling around them this very minute, but as this post goes to press you can book a room at these  and be outside the conglomerate sphere.

– Thompson Hotels
– Joie de Vivre
– Rosewood
– Viceroy
– Montage
– Auberge Resorts

It’s probably no coincidence that these are all luxury brands catering to independent-minded globetrotters and style mavens.

At the other end of the scale, there are some regional motel chains that probably won’t get you too excited, but Graduate Hotels are located in college towns and the Drury Inn chain regularly rates at the top in its rate class for comfort and service.

Mexican and Caribbean Independent Hotel Chains

One of the largest hotels groups in the world that has remained independent is Grupo Posadas of Mexico, which is best known for the Fiesta Americana and Live Aqua brands. It also runs several others, like Explorean, and mid-range options.

Independent hotel chains include luxury resorts like Le Blanc Los Cabos

AM Resorts is based in Mexico but has other resorts in the Caribbean, all-inclusive beach spots mostly under the brands Secrets, Now, Breathless, Dreams, Zoetry, and more.

Palace Resorts is a big player in Mexican resort destinations as well, with 10 properties under several brands, including the high-end Le Blanc.

With fewer beds but often the top choice in some Mexican cities are Quinta Real, Grupo Habita, and Velas Resorts.

In the Caribbean, Jamaica-based Sandals Resorts is a major force in the resort world, with 16 all-inclusive beachfront places to stay.

Find the best rates and point returns in Mexico and the Caribbean.

South American Regional Lodging Groups

Across South America, it hasn’t been until the last two decades that foreign chains have really come on strong. More often than not, the independent hotels outnumber the chain ones. A few regional groups that stayed independent have some of the prime locations in some cities and often have competitive rates. Check into these when exploring the countries of South America.

Colombia: Estelar and GLH Hotels
Peru: Inkaterra, Libertador, Aranwa, and Casa Andina.
Chile: Vik Retreats (also in Uruguay), Explora, Tierra Hotels, and Singular Hotels.
Argentina: Alvear and Casa Sur for Buenos Aires, Design Suites in four locations.
Brazil: Fasano, Louvre (most has Tulip in the name), Nobile, Blue Tree, Transamerica

See more details on some of them on this list.

Explora hotel Atacama

Europe Regional Hotel Chains

Europe has plenty of regional hotel chainsThere’s an assumption that Europe has fewer chain hotels than North America and in some markets there are indeed a large number of independent properties. Chain hotels tend to have about a third to one half of the room count in many countries though since they are the largest properties. Those with the biggest percentage are the UK, France, and Spain, which not coincidentally have their own international chains based in the country.

Many of Spain and France’s biggest groups are international names you’ve heard of, under the Accor, Melia, Riu, and NH various brands. Here are some independent hotels chains on the scene though.

Britannia, MacDonald, Old English Inns, easyHotel, and Red Carnation in England
Valamar Riviera in Croatia
Louvre Hotels Group, B&B Hotels, and Apart City in France
Motel One, Steigenberger Hotels, and Maritim in Germany
Dinubius, Hunguest, and Mellow Mood in Hungary
Clayton, Maldron, and Tifco in Ireland
Valtur, Aeroviaggi, TH Resorts, and many more in Italy (country has 137 total)
Van der Valk, Fletcher, Bilderberg, and Bastion in the Netherlands
Colonia, H10, Hipotels, and Vincci Seleccion in Spain

Independent Hotel Chains in Asia

Some Asian brands have spread far and wide across the world but still have the most properties in their homelands, like Banyan Tree, Aman Resorts, Shangri-La, and Peninsula. Some of these listed below have just a few here and there abroad.

India: Taj, Oberoi, ITC, and Royal Orchid
Indonesia: Aston, Amaris, Favehotel, and Santika
Japan: APA, Tokyo Inn, Route-Inn, and Super Hotel
Thailand: Centara, Hop Inn, B2
Malaysia: Sunway, Tune, Hotel Seri
Vietnam: Muong Thanh, Vinpearl, A25
Philippines: Sogo, Hotel Go, GV
Singapore: Hotel 81, Fragrance, Village

So with all these choices out there, on top of the big international chains, how do you decide?

Well one way might be to look at how much of a payback you get from booking. Sometimes these independent hotel chains will earn you far more points on Bonwi than the international chains. Other times the big boys will come out on top. If you play the game right, you could earn a free night’s stay or an airline ticket from the points scored on your trip.

Search here for the best rates and payback.

Tim Leffel has been reviewing hotels across the world since the mid-90s and is the editor of Hotel Scoop.

How To Do A Staycation

How To Do a Stayvation

Your state may not be one that is aggrandized on the silver screen, but it’s likely filled with amazing places to see, food to eat and cities/towns to explore on your next staycation.

Whether you’re a nomad or a home-body, it’s awesome to get out, experience something new and recharge from time to time. But not everybody has the time or budget to hop on a plane and take a week or month-long vacation. Luckily, there are beautiful and inspiring things happening nearby. Here’s what you can do to get out of the house and start making staycation memories.

Do some online research

A smart way to connect or reconnect with your local area is to view your local region through the eyes of a tourist. What are travel bloggers saying about camping, outdoor activities, site-seeing, food and shopping in your area?Which hotels offer jaw-dropping amenities?

  • Set up a starter checklist of must-sees and must-stays in your hometown, county or region.
  • Dive deeper into city websites, forums and even social media accounts.
  • Sites like Instagram allow for location tagging so you can see exactly where some of the most iconic scenes are located.

Don’t be afraid to just hop in the car without a plan and just see where the day takes you.

Get out and drive

If you’re ever going to take the road less traveled, you may have to find it yourself. There are a ton of digital resources out there to find all kinds of amazing drives, hikes and eats. However, some of the best areas in your state aren’t going to come up on Trip Advisor, Yelp, travel blogs or even Google Maps! Don’t be afraid to just hop in the car without a plan and just see where the day takes you. Get wild and upgrade your ride by renting a convertible for a day or two.

Ask a local

If you’ve lived in multiple regions of the country, you likely know that the best way to get to know an area is by living there. Want to know the ins and outs of a new city? The quickest way to find out is to ask a local. Stopping for gas? See what the attendant has to say about the area’s food scene. Checking into your staycation hotel for a night or two? The front desk staff should have a great idea of some of the best activities nearby for your specific interests.

Get wild and upgrade your ride by renting a convertible for a day or two.

Trips from a hat

Just like the well-known skit from “Who’s Line is it Anyway”, placing different trips into a hat or bowl to randomly select keeps you and your partner, friends or family spontaneous. Whether it’s a state park, view, road, city or restaurant that you would like to see, failure to launch is a common struggle that keeps us tied to our normal routines. This hat trick will help.

In your research of local areas of interest, print out the names of each location and place them somewhere accessible. Set a regular time each week or month to select an adventure “from the hat” and say goodbye to the endless vortex that is:

“What do you want to do?”

“Oh, I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Trust your instincts

Looking for a great bite to eat while out on the road? Searching for a change of scenery? The best thing to do may just be to follow your nose, eyes or gut. Some of the best local favorites an area has to offer may be so well known that they don’t focus on marketing their business. If this is the case, you could easily overlook an area classic for something a little more typical.

When you’re looking for a great escape, it’s okay to just slow down and feel out a given area. Use your senses to truly experience a given destination. If you smell something you like, go taste it! If you see something you like, go check it out! If something seems exciting, go explore it! If a place feels good to you, settle in and let it be your home for however long you’re there.

Failure to launch is a common struggle that keeps us tied to our normal routines.

Taking these little staycations can help you reset after a busy or stressful week, connect with your local area, inspire your sense of adventure and recharge your creativity. In other words, wander more and worry less! With Bonwi’s rewards system, you can accrue points with up to 40% back on hotel stays and car rentals. Where to?

Pittsburgh: A Renaissance City You Should Explore

Pittsburgh is at the confluence of three major rivers.
At the confluence three rivers, Pittsburgh PA is a city on the rebound, with lots to discover.
At the confluence three rivers, Pittsburgh PA is a city on the rebound, with lots to discover.

Famed for its steel industries during the Midwest’s industrial boom, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania is a place of red-bricks, countless depots, and arched bridges. However, taking a dive into the city’s riches will show any visitor a more characterful edge.

Pittsburgh’s museums are something not to miss, thanks to the investments of Andrew Carnegie in the 19th century.

Parks draped over the hills and riverside ridges of the downtown, Major League Baseball, Bavarian beers, and delicious eateries, make Pittsburgh a great place to visit. It’s one of the few small cities in the US that can boast a professional major league team in baseball, football, and hockey.

Things to Do in Pittsburgh

Eat downtown at the oldest restaurant in Pittsburgh.  The Original Oyster House, located in Market Square, first opened in 1870. The Original Oyster House is a designated historic landmark and represents much of what modern-day Pittsburgh is about, combining history with delicious food.

The Original Oyster House in downtown Pittsburgh is an institution in the Steel City.
The Original Oyster House in downtown Pittsburgh is an institution in the Steel City.

Old photos and Pittsburgh memorabilia cover the walls of this oyster house and bring a sense of nostalgia that makes you feel like you’re traveling back in time.

For some of the most breathtaking panoramic views of the Pittsburgh downtown and the waterways of the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, Mount Washington can’t be beat.

The hills of Mount Washington offer a picture-perfect broadside of the city’s skyscrapers and steely high-rises.

If you want to see something unique and cool, visit the Duquesne Incline, an old fashioned elevator that takes you up a steep hillside on the river.

Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh.
Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh.

The mountain features two funicular railways, wonderful eateries, historic spots supposedly once trodden by George Washington himself, and Emerald View Park, the perfect place for escaping the urban craze.

Experience the juxtaposition of something new in Pittsburgh’s historic Oakland neighborhood. The Oaklander Hotel is located in the heart of the collegiate and hospital districts. Considered the cultural center of Pittsburgh, Oakland houses Carnegie Library Main Branch, the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, Carnegie Music Hall, and Phipps Conservatory.

This hotel features expressive accents and guest rooms where classic meets modern.

Featured amenities include the hotel’s modern fitness center, lounge with a cocktail at Spirits & Tales, and free WiFi access.

Distrikt Hotel is a new Curio by Hilton property in Pittsburgh, PA.
Distrikt Hotel is a new Curio by Hilton property in Pittsburgh, PA.

The Curio Collection by Hilton welcomed the Distrikt Hotel in Pittsburgh only two years ago. This unique downtown property combines both a historic yet modern look. Formerly the Salvation Army headquarters, the boutique hotel offers contemporary amenities while honoring the building’s architecture on the National Register of Historic Places.

This hotel is full of Pittsburgh pride with photo collages on each floor along with original limestone, woodwork, and stained-glass windows. The guest rooms include complimentary WiFi, a mounted 42-inch TV, mini-fridge, coffeemaker, Turkish linens, and a walk-in shower.

The suites at Distrikt Hotel have several options such as a separate living area, sofa bed, and floor-to-ceiling windows, and their Penthouse Suite includes a terrace overlooking downtown.

Grab a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant, The Whale,  inspired by the novel ‘Moby-Dick.’ This seafood an chop house showcases French specialties and local ingredients.

The Distrikt Hotel Pittsburgh has plenty of amenities for your stay, including a rooftop terrace, business center, state-of-the-art fitness center, in-room dining and valet parking.  Look for hotels in Pittsburgh and use your Bonwi points to stay even longer!

Disneyland Summertime Survival Tips

Disneyland Summertime Survival Tips

All year long your little ones have been admiring their favorite characters on the big screen and TV, quoting inspiring and hilarious lines and singing the songs from the many Disney films. Don’t wait until your kids feel all cooped up in the house during summer vacation to start making your travel plans. A trip to Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is just the summer vacation idea that your family can get behind.

So now that you’re on board with planning a trip to Disneyland Resort (Disneyland Park together with California Adventure Park), you’re probably wondering what you need to do for a fun, successful trip within budget.  If the whole family isn’t comfortable physically or financially, it’s going to put a damper on the experience. At Bonwi, our mission is to make travel easier, so that vacations can actually feel like vacations. Here are our survival tips to help you make the most of your Disneyland Resort experience:

Beating the heat

Step one is to stay hydrated. Whether you’re towing your own bottle with a carabiner or regularly buying bottles at a cart or kiosk, it’s super important to keep your family hydrated. With all of the extra fun and excitement working together with the constant sunshine, you’re bound to exude a lot of energy.

The right apparel is also key to keeping your family safe and comfortable. Make sure to pack plenty of breathable tops, bottoms and footwear for the long days of fun ahead. One or more of the adults may want to consider bottoms or bags with plenty of storage to hold everyone’s essentials. Select apparel that will be comfortable for walking and standing the whole day. Hats and sunglasses will help to protect you and your family from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. 

Don’t forget to apply (AND reapply) sunscreen. Sunscreen should be applied to all skin that is exposed to the sun (remember to get the tops of your feet). There is a good chance that the protective effects will wash away after swimming, a water ride, excessive sweating or after a few hours.

The best tip of all for beating the heat at Disneyland or California Adventures is to hop on a water ride!

Keeping kids safe among the crowds

Let your kids know what to expect in terms of noise, excitement and crowds before your trip out to the park. Here’s how:

Talk to them ahead of time

It’s important to educate your children what to do in case you get separated for whatever reason. This can help reduce the overwhelm that children and parents may have heading into the experience.

Make sure phones are completely charged 

Setting devices to energy-saving mode helps lengthen the life of the charge. Bring your plug-in or solar charger.

Come equipped 

From the right strollers to safe and ergonomic carriers, the right equipment can help keep everyone’s legs fresh and ready for fun, while also ensuring that your children are safely within reach.

Consider buying ID bracelets for your kids

Customizable ID bracelets can include vital information such as your cell phone number, the child’s name, address, any medical conditions, etc. 

Come early and know where you want to go

By beating the crowds with early admission, you can avoid the issue of large crowds entirely. Having a good idea of the themes, characters, rides and attractions that your family wants to see/do while at the park will reduce idol time and confusion.

Maximizing the fun without maxing out your budget 

We all want to give our little ones the most amazing experiences possible. However, it’s important to keep in mind that any Disneyland trip should result in unforgettable memories. With a little bit of planning, your kiddos can have an amazing summer vacation in Southern California, regardless of your budget. Let’s focus on a few key areas that you can customize to plan the perfect Disneyland Resort vacation:

Characters

Where are your kiddos favorite characters? Do they have any special performances and when and where do they take place? For general admission, your family can interact with Disney’s most beloved cartoons come to life! There also a number of different dining options that feature some of the Disney greats, including Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy!

Themes

What are some of the can’t miss rides and activities that your children have to see while they’re at Disneyland? Plan each day to weave through all of the excitement and amazing attractions to stick together as a family while still ensuring each kid gets to spend time in their own real-life fantasy!

Lodging

If you stay inside the resort, you’re waking up right inside the action, but it may cut into your overall budget for your trip. Weigh the benefits of having your Disneyland hotel nearby and starting your days earlier vs. having more budget to spend on food, travel and memorabilia for your Disneyland vacation.

Ticket packages

For larger groups or for families looking for a comprehensive experience, Disneyland Resort offers ticket packages that permit visitors access to unique experiences at a more affordable value.

MaxPass

For $15 per day, per person, you can beat long lines with FASTPASS access as well as download and save as many pictures from your stay as you want.

Other considerations

Get to know the Disneyland Resort rules and regulations. This will make sure that there are no surprises during your vacation. Check their FAQs for answers to any other questions you may have.

Creating lasting memories

With enough attention to detail, you can all but guarantee that your Disneyland trip will be unforgettable. When your trip does go off without a hitch, you might want to turn it into a family tradition. Look into saving money on your summer vacations and all of your other travels with Bonwi’s rewards program. Take a look at Disneyland Resort hotels, Anaheim hotels and other properties a short drive away right here.

disneyland-resort-summertime-tips

The Best Motorcycle Road Trips for Bikers With Experience

Are you a weekend warrior who breaks out the colors and cuts whenever you can? Do you feel most alive when dawning your dome and taking on twisties? This post’s for you. 

For many bikers, hitting the open road is more than just a thrill ride – it’s a way of life. The road doesn’t know what kind of bike you ride, how seasoned you are or who you’re riding with. But you get to ride the curves in the road and experience mesmerizing natural vistas from the open air. So fill up your tank and start revving that hog for these 10 bucket list biker trips.

#1 Tail of the Dragon – Deal’s Gap
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • States: Tennessee and North Carolina
  • Nearby: Maryville, TN

This easy to miss slice of road is a biker’s dream. Right near the Tennessee/North Carolina border, the Tail of the Dragon is 11 miles of whipping curves and bends – 318 of them actually, but who’s counting? It’s ideally located right on the edge of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so it won’t be lacking in views. Wind through these 11 miles slowly and enjoy the ride or test your skills against the dragon!

#2 Skyline Drive

Winding through the entirety of the Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive makes for the perfect fall escape into the Northeast foliage that Virginia boasts. 

#3 Blue Ridge Parkway

For a longer trip, Blue Ridge Parkway only has a 45 mph limit and the roads are extremely well maintained. This is all the better so that you won’t miss the numerous pull off areas for all of the sight-seeing that can be done along this great parkway, including The Great Smoky Mountains!

#4 Beartooth Highway
  • Distance: 50 miles
  • States: Montana and Wyoming
  • Nearby: Billings, MT

Dozens of hairpin turns and switchbacks maximize this modestly populated stretch of highway near the border of Montana and Wyoming. Not for the waxers or independents, Beartooth has more twisties and ups and downs than it does guardrails.

#5 Coastal Route 1

Lobster anyone? U.S. Route 1 runs from Brunswick to Machias and generates an absolutely quintessential experience for a New England road trip that checks all the boxes. From lighthouses to the ocean breeze, you won’t be hurting for places to stop along the way to unwind after throttling through some high-speed curves.

#6 The Three Sisters AKA The Twisted Sisters

Deep within Texas’ stunning Hill Country, this route is comprised of three ranch roads (the sisters) 335, 336 and 337. Bendy hills and amazing curves make for an amazing day for Southwestern riders. Conquer The Twisted Sisters in a day or saddle up for a ranch tour cowboy!

#7 Grand Staircase

Starting near the outskirt of Capitol Reef National Park and cutting through the middle of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Bikers can get one heck of glimpse of some of the amazing vistas that Utah has to offer along this 130-mile motorcycle route. Take your time getting to the Grand Staircase, as both Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon are places along the way that you’ll want to soak in.

#8 Peak to Peak Highway
  • Distance: 60 miles
  • State: Colorado
  • Nearby: Denver, CO

If a 60-mile strip of road is going to make our list, you best believe it’s because it’s packed full of hairpins and unforgettable views. Deep within the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Peak to Peak Highway features some of the best of what both Mother Road and Mother Nature have to offer. Elk and Moose are known to cross this road, so you’ll want to take it slow and enjoy the ride. Take your hiking boots to truly make the most of this great 60-mile ride!

#9 California Route 36 AKA Twisty Road
  • Distance: 140 miles
  • State: California
  • Nearby: Eureka, CA

With little to no cell reception, you’re going to want to just grip your bars and trust your instincts on this windy road. You likely won’t find many roads with more intense changes in elevation. If you’re a fan of roller coasters, this is one trip you won’t want to miss!

#10 The Natchez Trace Parkway

This Southern motorcycle route starts in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee (just below Nashville) and finishes in the town of Natchez, Mississippi. With tons of historical southern and Native American landmarks along the way, riders can easily find themselves turning this 400+ mile long trip into an unforgettable weeklong vacation.

If your heart belongs on the road, travel is inevitable. Bonwi can not only help you find the best deals on your hotels and lodges, but our rewards program helps you rack up valuable points that result in further savings on stays you were going to pay for anyway. Find out more here.

Providence Rhode Island: Catch WaterFire and the Excitement

WaterFire Night packs in quite a crowd in Providence RI.
WaterFire Night packs in quite a crowd in Providence RI.
WaterFire Night packs in quite a crowd in Providence RI.

Providence Rhode Island is not the typical “go-to” tourist destination. Often overlooked, this tiny state is seeing some major surge in tourism in 2019, with new activities and eight hotels being built.

Woodspring Hotel, Providence RI.
Woodspring Hotel, Providence RI.

March welcomed the new Woodspring Suites Hotel along with two extended stay hotels, the Homewood Suites Hotel and the Marriot Residence Inn, due to open later this year. Tourism development like this has contributed to the increased occupancy the city has seen in the past year-and-a-half. With business going as well as it is, older hotels won’t need to worry about competition. Summer has proven the most hectic with the cities overall hotel capacity reaching 80%.

Providence offers a dizzying array of attractions for visitors. Between the months of May and November braziers are placed in the middle of the river in downtown Providence, 80 altogether, lighting the entire area in a warm glow. This annual tradition is called Waterfire, and it’s a big deal in the small city.

Benefit Street, Providence Rhode Island. GoNOMAD photo.
Benefit Street, Providence Rhode Island. GoNOMAD photo.

If history more your thing, Providence has plenty of it. From tours of the 1786 John Brown to Benefit streets “Mile of History”, a line of Federal period homes at one end, to later Victorian, to “arts and crafts” style. Roger Williams Park and Zoo provide more family-friendly experiences. Take the family for a day and see the over 435 acres of gardens, the carousel, and trackless train rides. If the kids aren’t cooperating, you can always introduce them to one of the snow leopards in the open and largely cage-free environment.

Vacation isn’t the only reason to visit. Other popular travel reasons include sporting events, weekend trips, fishing trips or business conventions. Homewood Suites would be the most convenient for business travelers, as the accommodations are located within walking distance of numerous corporate companies.

The CAV restaurant offers great food and antiques too, in Providence RI.
The CAV restaurant offers great food and antiques too, in Providence RI.

There’s even the possibility of combining play with work, bring the whole family and have them explore the Arcade and Downtown city of Providence while you handle your business meetings and conferences. Meet up with them later for a meal at the CAV restaurant, one of with its European yet muted décor and Monday night martini specials. You can also shop for antiques at this unique eatery–in Providence Rhode Island.

Whatever your reason for travel, Providence will surprise and delight. Use your Bonwi points and when you search for hotels in Providence RI, you can use them to stay longer!

Best Cities for People with Allergies

Best Cities for People with Allergies

Best Cities for People with Allergies

Whether your job requires frequent travel or you’re planning out potential summer vacation destinations, knowing which areas are allergy-friendly and which areas aren’t can help you get prepared.

One in five Americans suffers from allergies accounting for $18 billion dollars in annual costs. This is why it’s important to consider an area’s allergy production and what a given city is doing to manage its allergens.

Allergy causes, Symptoms and solutions

While everybody’s immune and respiratory systems are unique, certain climates are more prone to foster allergens and pollutants that typically bring about airborne allergy symptoms.

These symptoms include:

  • Dry, scratchy eyes
  • Itchy, runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Swelling of the nose or eyes

Your allergy symptoms can be triggered by different allergens. Just because you haven’t experienced allergy symptoms, doesn’t mean you won’t if you are traveling to a new area. No matter where you decide to travel to, you can help reduce the impact of airborne allergens by:

  • Showering at night – This works to rinse away any buildup pollen that could be irritating your skin in the night.
  • Wearing glasses and hats – This will help protect your eyes and head by deflecting airborne pollutants.
  • Limiting your outdoor time during peak pollen release periods.
  • Placing clothing in the washing machine and changing clothes immediately after outdoor activities.
  • Wiping off shoes and pets when entering your home.
  • Purchasing a whole-home or portable air purifying mechanism.
  • Flushing the inside of your nasal passage with a nose rinse.
Most Comfortable cities

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) puts together an annual list that ranks some of the nation’s major cities in terms of how comfortable they are for allergy sufferers.  Factors that make for more comfortable allergy conditions include:

  • Cooler weather – freezing temperatures can kill off plant life that produces pollen.
  • Strategically planted plant life – clustered plant life can lead to more potent pollen buildup rather than more manageably distributed pollen levels.
  • Planting fewer high-allergy plants.
  • Biodiversity – plants still purify our air. By diversifying the city’s plant life, the density of each type of pollen is reduced.
  • Coastal proximity – ocean breezes can be strong enough to impact air quality.

Many of the best cities for allergies can be found in coastal and mountainous regions of the country.

  1. Denver, CO
  2.  Provo, UT
  3. Boise, ID
  4. Portland, OR
  5. Colorado Springs, CO
  6. Ogden, UT
  7. Seattle, WA
  8. Salt Lake City, UT
  9. Raleigh, NC
  10. Spokane, WA

Allergy symptoms may often be overlooked, but they can have a profound impact on the quality of life of allergy sufferers. If you or your loved ones suffer from allergies, seriously consider the areas where allergy sufferers can breathe a little easier when planning your next vacation or business trip. 

Where to Stay in Syracuse, New York

Where to stay in Syracuse - best hotels

What are the best hotels in Syracuse to stay in if you’re headed to a university event, a Finger Lakes region tour, or a getaway vacation? We’ve got the scoop on your options around this easy-to-navigate city in upstate New York.

Where to stay in Syracuse - best hotels

Most people in the USA know of Syracuse, New York from it’s university. They mostly know that because of its history of great basketball teams. The university has a nice campus to stroll around, including the centerpiece building above which is the oldest. It is a fine college if you’re scouting out where to send your kid. But the city also has a lot of interesting history to dive into.

The historic Hotel Syracuse, now a Marriott and one of the best places to stayThe Erie Canal once went straight through downtown and was the reason Syracuse boomed in the first place. That canal mostly got built because of salt barons who were extracting this essential life element from a nearby lake in the early 1800s. Some 75% of the salt consumed in the USA in that century was from this area. The city because a technological center too, playing a big role in the advance of typewriters, gas lanterns, “China” dishes, bike gears, car gears, the airplane engine, and that metal thingy that measures your foot size for shoes.

This was also the birthplace of Gustav Stickley, the man who first developed his famous furniture here and started the Craftsman house movement.

It was one of the biggest beer brewing centers in the 1800s. Syracuse had more than 40 of them at its peak. Thankfully quite a few good craft brewers have emerged in this century too.

Take Amtrak here from Chicago, Toronto, or New York City, or pop over in a car from Niagara Falls or the Finger Lakes wineries. Here’s where to stay if you do.

Marriott Syracuse Downtown

When a tycoon bought this long-abandoned Hotel Syracuse building and restored it to its 1920s historic glory, the Marriott people kept telling him he was spending too much. It was getting too fancy to be a Marriott and execs worried that it turn out nicer than some of their JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton properties. It did actually and that’s good news for guests because the Marriott Syracuse Downtown is a stunning place to stay, with interiors from a “don’t make them like that anymore” time.

Marriott Syracuse Downtown Hotel

Interesting restaurants and bars with a story will keep you happy when the city gets one of its famous snowstorms.

Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel

Sheraton Hotel Syracuse

The closest hotel to the university is literally steps from campus. It has a view of that Hall of Languages building at the top of this post (built 1873) and the equally impressive Crouse College building (1884) from one side of the property. From the other side you see frat houses in historic homes much nicer than where most students will call home after graduation. This is a well-run modern hotel with good food, an indoor pool, and a bar with a billiards table and a few craft beers on tap.

Jefferson Clinton Hotel

Part of the Historic Hotels of America group, the Jefferson Clinton Hotel was built in 1927 and like the Hotel Syracuse, sat empty during the darkest years in this emptied industrial powerhouse before people and companies started coming back to downtown. It reopened in 2001 and is right in the heart of the city near Armory Square. You can walk to every great restaurant and bar in the central city from here, as well as all the museums and attractions.

The Parkview Hotel, BW Premier Collection

The “BW” in that name stands for Best Western, but this is no roadside motel. It’s in a historic building across from a park with a fountain and is walking distance to most of the city’s attractions. Room rates are often under $100, though visitors seeing the elegant entrance and lobby may think it’s much higher.

Hotel Skyler

Hotel Skyler Syracuse

The full name of this property is Hotel Skyler Syracuse Tapestry Collection by Hilton. Old time residents of the city would know the building by a different name: Temple Adath Yeshurun. That’s what it was for decades after being built a century ago. The LEED-certified property has plenty of character in the lobby with a fireplace and with 58 rooms it is not too sprawling. There’s a fitness center, sofa beds in each room, included breakfast, and a complimentary shuttle for rides within three miles.

Crowne Plaza Syracuse

You can’t miss the Crowne Plaza here since it has 279 rooms in a 20-story circular tower you can see from all over the city. You’ll get chain hotel predictability and a good skyline view, though get a high floor room if you don’t want to be looking at the interstate highway passing by. Built in 1969, it has operated under at least five names, but went through renovations before the latest sign went up. It’s walking distance from the universities and local hospitals, but has its own restaurant and bar for those often chilly nights when you don’t want to leave.

When deciding where to stay in Syracuse, there are plenty of other options of course, especially if you have a car and don’t mind being further out. To get the best rate and earn loyalty points that are easy to cash in for your next vacation, search here for hotels in Syracuse on Bonwi.

Article and photos by Hotel Scoop editor Tim Leffel, who was hosted at two of the hotels here on different trips for article research and a conference. For more information on the area, see the official Visit Syracuse website.

7 Underrated Places in the US the Whole Family Will Love

Family Vacation Summer 2019

Family Vacation Summer 2019

While classic summer vacations like Disney, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Wisconsin Dells, and Cedar Point might all be fun, the options below take a path less traveled. Your family will make memories they won’t soon forget and you’ll find something for everyone.

San Diego

This pretty city has perfect weather year-round. The whole family will enjoy manageable summer heat with zero humidity.

The award-winning San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most reputable in the world, and is a must-stop for families. You’ll delight in seeing the giant pandas, but the fun doesn’t stop there. The northern frontier area boasts polar bears and arctic foxes while the African exhibit includes leopards, rare baboons, and lemurs.

Families can enjoy some of the nicest beaches in the country with activities like seal tours, snorkeling with sharks, and surf lessons. You can also do San Diego sand-free at the incredible Children’s Museum, Belmont Amusement Park, LEGOLand, Balboa Park, and countless other small attractions where your child can explore his or her interests.

Miami Beach

Florida beaches like Destin and Saint Petersburg are a hit with families. So are North Florida family hubs like Disney World and Cape Canaveral. But South Florida has something different to offer. Boasting the most tropical stateside beaches, the snorkeling in Miami Beach can’t be beat, as you’ll easily spot tons of colorful fish and aquatic life.

When the heat becomes too much at midday, head indoors for more fun. There’s an exceptional children’s museum between Miami and Miami Beach not far from Jungle Island – a great indoor spot to enjoy orangutans, lemurs, sloths, and other jungle creatures. They also feature indoor sky-diving simulation, escape rooms, and more. The Ritz-Carlton at Bal Harbor also has a well-loved children’s beach club experience, but there are many other family-friendly resorts and hotels to explore, too.

New Orleans

New Orleans =swathed in beads and feathers for Mardi Gras is not the only draw to this warm and diverse city. While your family will undoubtedly enjoy the delicious seafood, Creole cuisine and French pastries, the Big Easy boasts much more than great dining.

NOLA is loaded with historical museums, beautiful outdoor experiences, and family-friendly music experiences. Gator tours will thrill kids and adults of all ages, the enchanting train garden makes for a fun adventure inside the botanical gardens. No family vacation to New Orleans would be complete without a romp through Storyland Park, which brings your family’s favorite characters and fairytales to life. New Orleans also caters to families with kid-friendly book stores, kid-focused restaurants, and parks on every corner. Your crew might be begging to stay forever.

Anchorage

Alaska gets a bad rap as a freezing cold arctic experience featuring moose encounters. While the potential for moose encounters holds true all year round, Alaska can be downright springlike. It’s a solid choice for escaping the hight temps of July and August. Stay in Anchorage, and plan trips from there to Alaska’s many outdoor destinations.

At wildlife hubs like the Sea Life Center, the Wildlife Conservatory, and Denali National Park, your family will get the chance to see – and even interact with – tons of native wildlife. Sled dogs, sea otters and puffins are among the protected creatures you might meet and interact with on tours, while luckier travelers will see bison, moose, reindeer, and even bears. Tours of all kinds allow you to paddle, hike, or cruise through the various ecosystems that make up Alaska’s unique lands.

In Anchorage itself, your family will love exploring The Imaginarium Science Discovery Center at the Anchorage Museum or the Nancy Lake State Recreational Park. Grab a Discovery Duffel at the botanical gardens, stuffed with challenges and activities for kids, and relax at a cafe or poolside at your hotel.  

Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg is an eastern Tennessee town you may or may not have ever heard of. For those in the know, the Smoky Mountains bring all of the enchantment and mystery of the western US mountains to the eastern hills.

If you’ve never been, one trip on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram will blow your mind. This tram will give you a bird’s eye view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is as incredible as it sounds. Even better, the end of the tram will drop you and your troops at a mountain-town amusement park. In nearby Anakeesta, you’ll enjoy mining for gems and traversing the treehouse park. By the way, mom and dad, the views are insane.

Other attractions in the area include Dollywood, exploring the Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not Museum and playing with penguins at Ripley’s Aquarium, entering a dessert dreamland at Crave Golf Club and more.   

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Lake Michigan is an attraction unto itself, with the usability and accessibility of a freshwater lake and the size and waves of a coastal beach vacation.

While America’s largest lake offers plenty of spots to stay and play, Sleeping Bear Dunes is among the most unique. This area boasts forests and dunes that invite adventurers to hike, bike, ride, tube, or buggy. The lake also offers constant entertainment from wading, swimming, and sandcastle building for little kiddos to jet skiing, hang-gliding, and learning to surf for older kids.

For the whole family, this area is spotted with old-town shops, ice cream parlors, and at night, the Lanphier Observatory is perfect for stargazing and forgetting to check your phone.

Olympic National Park

For an all-in-one outdoor excursion your family won’t soon forget, head to Washington state and the Olympic National Park. This national park is one of the most ecologically diverse as it includes mountains, lakes, ocean beaches, and temperate rainforests. Choose to camp in one of many pristine and remote campgrounds, opt for a lakeside resort like the Quinault lodge, or grab a hotel in a nearby staple city like Olympia, Shelton, or Port Angeles.

On the west side of the park, your crew can experience tidepools, whale watching, and sea otter spotting at the Kalaloch beaches. To the south, dip a kayak or canoe into Quinault lake, then hike out to see the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree. On the north side, from Port A, take a casual hike through the Hoh rainforest, where spots like the Hall of Mosses, bear-sightings along the salmon-filled Hoh River, or one of many gorgeous waterfalls will enchant you. From Port Angeles, you can also take a short drive to Hurricane Ridge to see acres and acres of wildflowers peppered with deer, foxes, and elk with a stunning mountain backdrop. (This is a great place to snowshoe, sled, and ski in the winter, too!)

If your family loves the water, take a dip in Lake Crescent – this lake is free of algae and is one of the deepest and cleanest in the country. You can also visit Sol Duc Hot Springs for an any-season soak. The Puget Sound, to the east, could round out your trip and, for families with time, nearby Olympia and Seattle offer tons of indoor excitement, too.

Where will you be traveling this summer?

Pigeon Forge Tennessee: Why Is It So Popular?

Pigeon Forge Tennessee show
The Great Smoky National Park is the reason so many visitors come to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Max Hartshorne photo.
The Great Smoky National Park is the reason so many visitors come to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Max Hartshorne photo.

Have you ever heard of Pigeon Forge Tennessee? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. Right next door to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and birthplace of the famous Dolly Parton, Pigeon Forge has much more to offer than its comical name would suggest.

More than 9 million, yes MILLION visitors see this small Tennessee city every year, as they drive through the famous national park that’s right next door.

Speaking of the famous country singer, Pigeon Forge houses the Dollywood theme park. Partly owned by Dolly herself, the park includes a roller-coaster, waterslides (for the summer months) and a plethora of Blue Grass music.

Hatfield and McCoy dinner theater in Pigeon Forge: Corny but so fun!
Hatfield and McCoy dinner theater in Pigeon Forge: Corny but so fun!

If country music isn’t your style, the Titanic Museum is a must see – the entire museum is shaped like the late ship. Discover 400 pre-discovery artifacts in twenty galleries.

For a hands-on experience, visit the WonderWorks Pigeon Forge. With over one-hundred hands-on science exhibits, the kids will be entertained with hours. That, paired with laser tag, rope courses, and a 6D motion ride creates a wonderland no one in the family will want to leave.

Later in the evening head over to the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner show. The home-style eats and family-friendly environment provide a great backdrop to dancing and comedy shows.   The only bummer: No booze in many of these shows and in most of the restaurants in Pigeon Forge. It’s a religious kind of a town.

Shopping is a must on The Island Pigeon Forge; a collection of shops, restaurants and amusement rides. Upcoming events for the Forge include the SEAA Fast Pitch World Series Opening Ceremony on July 14th and the Chalkfest on October 5th.

If you’re going to visit the mountain community of around 6,200 residents, you’re going to need a place to stay. Not a problem; with an average of nine million visitors a year, the town is prepared for most anything. If you don’t wind up Margaritaville Island Hotel, at least pay it a visit. With friendly staff, easy access to amenities and a classically themed tropical-travel environment (compasses and maps galore), you’ll never forget that you’re on vacation while staying here.

For an experience on the opposite end of the vacation spectrum, check out Black Fox Lodge Hidden Forge. Designed like a giant wilderness lodge (complete with water slide and hardwood flooring) imagine you’re on a hunting trip without ever entering the woods. 

Though it’s not New York City or Los Angeles, Pigeon Forge will wow and delight the wanderlust tourist interested in venturing down the non-traditional touristic path. Find hotels in Pigeon Forge and Knoxville TN and save when you use Bonwi points.