Grown-up Getaways


Glass Half Full

By Louis La Plante I always mixed my bourbon with soda. Then I wandered along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and was shamed.

The Woodford Reserve  bourbon distillery looks like the definition of  “my old Kentucky home.” Grassy knolls, front porches — heck — horse stables surround the campus. The whole scene belongs on a painting or, at the very least, a refrigerator magnet.

The distillery is one of six on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a close-knit community of bourbon makers who grant the public intimate access to the 200-year process of creating “America’s official native spirit.”

The trail, which formed in 1999, is serious business. Since 2006, more than 1.5 million visitors have come from every state and 25 countries. What they see is a process honed in the late 1700s, and today the industry creates an estimated 10,000 jobs.

From picture-perfect scenery to the rich tradition of bourbon making, the trail is about more than celebrating a fine alcohol. The attraction, roughly three hours from Evansville, is a learning experience. Here’s what I discovered along the way:

Never mix bourbon with soda — or ice. It’s a cruel rule for newbies to the spirit, but my tour guide at Woodford Reserve was strict on this policy. I hadn’t felt so guilty about something since I was a student in Catholic school.

A good time still is possible, despite the occasional scolding, but plan your visit carefully. Some distilleries are 70 miles apart while only eight miles separate a few, so if you thought you could see all six in one day, think again. Not only would that trip be logistically unsound but also a hasty one. Most distillery tours take 90 minutes. Those tours take even longer if a wise-cracking bachelor party is part of your group. Cross your fingers these guys aren’t on your tour. They aren’t nearly as funny as they think they are.

I went on three bourbon tours (at Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey Bourbon, and Maker’s Mark) with a bachelor party because I was in that bachelor party. Sorry. Despite our propensity for misbehaving, the tour guides at the distilleries managed to tell all visitors cool facts such as:

Not all bourbon is made in Kentucky. The spirit can be produced anywhere in the world, but 95 percent is produced in the Bluegrass State. Tour guides at the Wild Turkey distillery claim the well water on their grounds — used for bourbon production — is so pure that the City of Lawrenceburg located its water plant on Wild Turkey’s property. In Loretto, Ky., visitors to Maker’s Mark (the bourbon known for bottles dipped in red wax) know that the distillery is two centuries old, but the Maker’s Mark brand began in 1953 when T.W. Samuels Sr. bought the abandoned Victorian distillery. The copper pot stills at Woodford Reserve in Versailles come from Scotland, and these large containers hold 2,500 gallons.

History and bourbon lovers rejoice. This is the trip for you.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail /
Maker’s Mark /
Wild Turkey Bourbon /
Woodford Reserve /


Relying on Rosemary

By Kristen K. Tucker Florida without children? Yes, it is possible.

The family appeal of a Florida panhandle vacation is undeniable: Ten hours of car time, and you’re checked into your teal- and coral-toned condo ready to hit the crowded beach or take the kids to the go-cart track.

Even more appealing is a grown-up vacation to one of the super attractive, new urbanist communities along the famed Highway 30A.  Without the kids, you may choose to fly. Last year’s opening of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport with Southwest Airlines’ new nonstop air service from Nashville provides an easy option.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve stayed in the ubiquitous gulf-view condos in Panama City and Destin and also sampled, with and without my family, the friendly, community-spirited yet sophisticated towns inspired by Seaside, Fla. Last fall, I enjoyed a quick and relaxing getaway to Rosemary Beach, a neo-traditional town between Panama City and Destin at the eastern end of Highway 30A.

Established in 1995, the 107-acre gulf-front Rosemary Beach is an architectural trove boasting influences from the West Indies, New Orleans, Charleston, S.C., and St. Augustine, Fla. The grand homes (many with adjoining carriage houses that are just as extraordinary) are interconnected by a discreet network of pedestrian paths and boardwalks, which become even more charming at night basked in the soft flicker of gas-lit lanterns. Parking is restricted to alleyways located behind homes, and the town’s pedestrian scale ensures that everything is within a five-minute walk.

The “Long Green,” a pleasant grassy stretch along 30A, frequently hosts outdoor festivals, markets and charity events. In the summer, a West Indies market features open-air booths filled with local arts and crafts.

The toughest decisions of the day involve choosing among the town’s impressive eateries to dine and which of the five gorgeous pools — or the brilliant white sand beach — best suits your mood for lounging.

Opened last fall is La Crema Tapas & Chocolate where you’ll enjoy small plates of Spanish fare and chocolate offered in dozens of indulgent forms.  Restaurant Paradis serves a lush supper club-like atmosphere with an impressive wine list. Onano Neighborhood Café features sidewalk dining with bright Italian entrees.

For vacationers easily bored with the sameness of resort-style dining, be assured this won’t be your experience at Rosemary Beach. In total, nine dining options serve the community. If you must leave for food (and I do recommend a drive to check out the other nice communities in the area), try Fish Out of Water on the Gulf of Mexico at WaterColor Inn & Resort (closer to Destin along 30A) and Pizza by the Sea, a great local pizza joint in Seagrove Beach. Fish Out of Water is popular with folks from Evansville; when we dined there during spring break last year, Evansvillians occupied all four glamorous gulf-view tables.

Rosemary Beach’s merchant district is a shopper’s delight with friendly, accessible shopkeepers offering home décor, breezy apparel, personal fragrance and beauty products, spa services, and children’s clothing and toys.

If you’re concerned about too much rest and relaxation, try the new sport of Yolo boarding available at Rosemary Beach. Also known as stand up padding, Yolo boarding is the combination of surfing and traditional kayaking. Using a paddle and standing atop a larger version of a traditional longboard surfboard, paddlers push themselves through the beautiful, biologically diverse Western Lake with side-to-side paddle strokes. Yolo boarding takes no special athletic skills and provides a terrific core workout. Try it, and you’ll gain a new perspective of the meaning of the acronym, You Only Live Once.

And that’s also plenty reason to vacation in Rosemary Beach. 

La Crema Tapas & Chocolate /
Onano Neighborhood Café /
Pizza by the Sea /
Restaurant Paradis /
Rosemary Beach /
WaterColor Inn & Resort /


Girlfriend Getaway

By Kristen K. Tucker As much as this feature is about vacationing free of children, Texas is a destination ideally suited for girlfriends.

“Life’s too short to live in Dallas. In Fredericksburg, you just breathe the air and become rich.”

That’s exactly what the patron wearing a high-crowned, wide-brimmed hat outside the Java Ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, told me. On a sunny spring day along the bustling and charming Main Street of Fredericksburg, I took him at his word. I didn’t characterize his prideful comment as arrogant. Though this small German community appears prosperous enough, the richness he claims is rooted in heritage and culture.

Mother Earth News, the national magazine which bills itself as the original guide to living wisely, named Fredericksburg to its list of six “Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.” To Texans, Fredericksburg is known as a weekend getaway for San Antonians who don’t mind taking the hour-long trek to the Texas Hill Country. Until I took a wonderful trip to Fredericksburg this spring, I was not aware Texas even had a hill country.

I arrived for a girlfriends’ getaway. Fredericksburg is home to shops galore (close to 150 by some counts), wonderfully diverse restaurants (dozens, most with a local and organic focus), easily accessible wineries with impressive tasting rooms, art galleries, and a top-drawer spa.

Founded by German settlers in 1846, Fredericksburg is just 70 miles west of Austin, the state’s capital, though the small-town charm that pervades this town makes it feel worlds away from big-city living. Along Main Street — nearly four miles long and wide enough that stagecoaches could easily make U-turns in the 1800s — native limestone homes and stone commercial buildings are everyday reminders of Fredericksburg’s rich heritage.

When making my accommodation arrangements, I learned I would be staying at a “Sunday House” on an herb farm. “How perfectly charming,” I thought, though I had no idea what that actually meant. The Sunday house is perhaps the most unique symbol of Fredericksburg history, resulting from the pioneers’ original land grant package. Based on the assumption that settlers would live in town and travel out to their farms each day (according to European custom), each received a small town lot and 10 country acres. Instead, many soon adopted the American custom of country living, using the in-town lots for small, simple homes that provided a place to stay while conducting business on Saturday and attending church on Sunday. Today, many of those 18th-century Sunday houses are among the accommodations available to visitors through rental agencies.

My Sunday house actually was a new construction, and the Herb Farm is the name of the lovely property owned by Dick and Rosemary Estenson. A Minnesota native, Dick says, “The farm concept is near and dear to my heart. Doing anything mediocre is not in our playbook.” The Sunday House Cottages at the Farm are patterned after three of the most popular historical designs. Each bears its own color and herb name, and all feature a king bed, fantastic bathroom with shower, granite vanity with a vessel sink, flat-screen HD television, high-speed Internet, ceiling fans, and rockers on a porch bordered by white jasmine blossoms.

Nature’s Spa, located at The Herb Farm, aims to be a destination spa where guests are indulged in treatments infused with rosemary and other herbs.

The Estensons are also responsible for another outside-the-norm lodging option: The Hangar Hotel, with an exterior that replicates a WWII hangar right out of the 1940s and meeting space so unique and cool, it must be seen.

Wine plays a big part in the appeal of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 is an association of 10 Texas wineries, just minutes apart, along U.S. Highway 290. We secured the knowledgeable Jim Thompson, owner of Texas Wine Tours, to take us to three wineries in a limousine coach.

Grape Creek Vineyards has claimed 100 medals from San Francisco to New York in the past two years. Becker Vineyards touts Texas’ most popular cabernet, their 2009 Iconoclast. Torre di Pietra boasts live music on the piazza and patios. Each tasting room was as beautiful and unique as the one before, the wines were all delicious, and the winemakers charmed with interesting life stories — much like Fredericksburg itself.

Becker Vineyards /
Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau /
Fredericksburg Herb Farm /
Grape Creek Vineyards /
Hangar Hotel /
Texas Wine Tours /
Torre di Pietra /


Destination: Anywhere

By John Gifford Not every vacation needs a beach.

John Gifford’s been around and around America, so we asked the longtime travel writer to plan three trips for us. Destination: anywhere he felt worthy of a visit. From the silence of the desert in secluded New Mexico to the music blaring in blues-happy Memphis, Gifford’s recommendations have no state boundaries.

For Shoppers: Santa Fe, N.M.
In the morning — no matter where you are in Santa Fe — you will wake to the sounds of birds singing. I swear. Well, at least once.

After a crepe and coffee in the dining room of your hotel, Las Palomas, visit Santa Fe’s shopping district, the historic Plaza, a short walk up San Francisco Street. Before you know it, you’ve browsed dozens of jewelry shops, art galleries, and boutiques, and it’s time for lunch. Stop at the Plaza Café for an order of cashew mole enchiladas or a tortilla burger. Afterward, make an appointment for a massage at the Eldorado hotel, then head to La Puerta Originals on State Highway 14, where you’ll spend the next hour or two perusing four acres of antique doors, columns, shutters, timbers, and other unique items the company uses for their home creations. La Puerta’s inventory, which contains pieces dating from the 18th century, has been salvaged from Europe, Mexico, South America, Southeast Asia, India, and Egypt. Like Santa Fe itself, it’s unlike any other.

For Party People: Mississippi Delta
Actor Morgan Freeman is co-owner of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss., which is one reason you may want to visit this juke joint on your trip to the Delta. You may not see Freeman when you stop in, but you’ll probably get to visit with Abraham, who can draw you a beer, tell you where the catfish are biting, or, if it’s Friday night, cook you a steak on the Ground Zero’s front porch. If you have too many beers and get into a brawl, Abraham also will show you the door. But he’ll be nice about it and probably ask you to come back tomorrow. Have someone else drive you to Greenwood and sleep it off at The Alluvian — the Delta’s luxury boutique hotel, where you can enjoy spa treatments or attend a cooking class at the Viking Cooking School. If you’re still feeling blue in the morning, head out to sample some of the local Mississippi Blues Trail points of interest, including the gravesites of legendary bluesmen Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and Charley Patton.  

For Hound Dogs: Memphis, Tenn.
Barbecue, blues music, and Beale Street — these things come to mind on any visit to Memphis. But if you can see only one attraction, make it Graceland, which is reputed to be the second most-visited home in America after the White House. By today’s standards, Elvis Presley’s mansion is quite modest in style and size, but the home is a throwback to earlier definitions of gaudy and luxury, and contains more heart and soul than an entire neighborhood of McMansions. After your visit, head downtown to Dyer’s Burgers on Beale Street. It’s been around since 1912, and so has the grease they deep-fry your food in. Forget your diet. Though it’s strained daily, this century-old grease gives your hamburger, chicken wings, and fries the kind of flavor you won’t soon forget. Elvis would be proud, and you can work on your “thank you very much” while sipping an old fashioned in the hotel lobby of The Peabody Memphis before ascending to your room for bed. It’s just a few blocks’ walk from Dyer’s, but worlds apart. Get there at 4:45 p.m. if you want to see the Peabody ducks march into the lobby, which is a Memphis tradition since 1933. If you miss it, have another old fashioned and relish the fact that you’re spending the night in a grand hotel of the South.   

Eldorado Hotel & Spa /
Las Palomas /
La Puerta Originals /
Plaza Café /
The Alluvian /
Ground Zero Blues Club /
Mississippi Blues Trail /
Viking Cooking School /
Dyer’s Burgers /
Graceland /
The Peabody Memphis /


The Un-bean Scene

By Louis La Plante Ever since my two closest friends moved to Chicago, I haven’t been allowed near a Windy City tourist trap. Here, they list acceptable neighborhood haunts.

My friends and I step inside a Chicago bar swarming with an eclectic mix of University of Michigan football fans and a group of twenty-somethings dressed like flappers. We start our own crowd at Southport Lanes & Billiards in the Lakeview neighborhood. We’re the bowlers sans the cool bowling shirts. We rent shoes, grab a ball, and duck through a tiny door. The space, connected to the bar, is empty except for two pairs of legs, each standing behind a bowling lane. Those appendages belong to the pin boys, living flashbacks to a time when everything in the world wasn’t automated. The pin boy removes the pins a bowler knocks down and replaces them for a new frame.

We tip our pin boy by shoving cash in a finger hole of a bowling ball and rolling it gently down the gutter. The pin boy is on our side now. At one point, I knock down nine pins in a frame, but my well-paid pin boy “accidentally” bumps the final stubborn pin over. I mark my roll a strike because a game without automation is imperfect, and those flaws count as points. So, if you’re looking for an honest game, don’t come to Southport. We weren’t looking for one, but then again, we aren’t professional bowlers. Otherwise, we would have had those cool bowling shirts.

The experience is the most fun we had since we dropped into the Old Town Ale House (in Old Town, of course) hours beforehand to gawk at a painting of a nude Sarah Palin hanging above the bar. The fictionalized portrait portrays the Fox News commentator and former vice presidential candidate gripping a gun, wearing red high heels, and standing on a polar bear rug. Alongside the Palin painting are numerous risqué art pieces. We had a beer, talked politics, and to a certain degree, considered human anatomy. We realized the Old Town Ale House is a museum masquerading as a bar.

The bowling alley and ale house are off the beaten path of the typical tourist-trap attractions, though I do love “The Bean,” a stainless steel sculpture in Millennium Park, but my two best friends — Brian Goedde and Sam Stuckey — are Evansville natives, parading around Chicago like a subway map is tattooed on their backs. In reality, Goedde and Stuckey have been married to their wives in Chicago for years, and without children, they’ve discovered a host of haunts made for grown-ups. Here, they list reasons to visit.

Stuckey Approved: Drinks at The Violet Hour / Area: Wicker Park

You almost certainly won’t recognize The Violet Hour from the outside (the only indication it is open is a yellow light bulb above the door of a seemingly abandoned building). Once inside, The Violet Hour is an intimate lounge that mixes up some of Chicago’s most complex — and best — cocktails.

Goedde Approved: Hot Doug’s / Area: Avondale

Hot Doug’s is a meat lover’s paradise. The hot dog place boasts a menu filled with sausages made from pork, duck, and wild game. The dishes are grilled or deep-fried. “You want the fried hot dogs,” Goedde says. “Grilling won’t make the meal much healthier.”

Stuckey Approved: Flat Iron Arts Building / Area: Wicker Park

The Flat Iron Arts building is a mix of artist studios and living spaces. The first Friday of each month, the building opens to allow the public to wander the halls, providing the opportunity to both view the artists’ work and speak with them in their studios. “I bought a beautifully sculpted whale there,” Stuckey says. “I named the piece ‘Herman.’ My wife Margaret does not think I’m clever at naming.”

Goedde Approved: Piece Brewery & Pizzeria / Area: Wicker Park

Chicago-style pizza? “I’ve had too much of it,” Goedde says, “and I think the real attraction comes from the scattering of great non-stuffed pizza places in north side neighborhoods.” Try the Piece Brewery & Pizzeria. The ingredients — spinach, jalapenos, black olives, anchovies, onions, green peppers, garlic, banana peppers, and barbecue sauce — come generously. The beer comes from a brewing genius, Jonathan Cutler, who crafts his beverages in a seven-barrel, brew house.

Stuckey Approved: Concert at Ravinia / Area: Highland, Il. (a Chicago suburb)

Ravinia Pavilion in Highland Park hosts concerts nearly every weekend during the summer. Audience members can bring their own food and beverages to enjoy a picnic under the stars along with the show.

Goedde Approved: Blackbird / Area: Near West Side

The ten-course tasting menu at this Chicago restaurant fills you up, but this isn’t a buffet-nausea-inducing-button-bursting experience. The food is eloquent, wine is recommended, and the interior is sleek.

Blackbird /
Concert at Ravinia /
Flat Iron Arts Building /
Hot Doug’s /
Piece Brewery & Pizzeria /
The Violet Hour /

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