Let’s Explore

Whether at home or abroad, the world is filled with places and people to discover. Aside from the actual travel itself, there is nothing better than the vicarious pleasure of living through others’ experiences. Indulge your wanderlust and look inside travel journals from six local adventurers.

  • ○ Mississippi River
  • ○ Two-Nation Vacation
  • ○ Cancun Mexico
  • ○ San Diego California
  • ○ Myanmar Mission
  • ○ Colorado Road Trip


Like a scene straight out of “National Lampoon,” the kids hung their heads in disappointment. “Aww, Dad,” they moaned. “We’ve been driving for hours!”

While our vacation was overall a smashing success, any great road trip has its share of surprises. Our trek across Colorado was no exception.

When talking about Colorado, most people think of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” trips skiing, or perhaps shopping in Estes Park. We were determined to do things a little differently. After arriving at Denver International Airport, we trekked southwest across the state, visiting a wide array of destinations.

We hopped in our rental Subaru, a Colorado staple, and shot straight for Pagosa Springs (visitpagosasprings.com) in the south-central part of the state. Pagosa welcomed us with the sight of 23 steamy, bubbling hot spring mineral pools, nestled alongside the rippling bank of the San Juan River. Just a short walk away from the springs, we stayed at the local Springs Resort and Spa (pagosahotsprings.com), which allowed us 24-hour access to the pools. If you love hot tubs, the spring pools have temperatures everyone can enjoy, from 83 to 114 degrees. A friendly warning — the pools are genuine mineral springs and are accompanied by a sulfurous odor, but you quickly forget this inconvenience the moment you see the gorgeous sights and relax in the luxurious spring water.

Our next day took us to Mesa Verde National Park (nps.gov/meve/index.htm) in the southwest tip of the state. The site is known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan dwellings, rocky homes which have weathered hundreds of years along and underneath the mesa’s cliff. It’s easy to imagine ancient lives inside the ruins when you see the cliff walls still stained from long-abandoned campfires, which date back to 600 A.D.

Select tours allow visitors an intimate view of the buildings, but it’s recommended to book tickets several days in advance. This leads to our earlier mentioned disappointment, since we regrettably waited until the day of our visit to try and book tickets. At least it will give us something to look forward to next time.

From there, we backtracked east to Mineral County (colorado.gov/mineralcountycolorado). The county is one of the least populated places in continental America, with only 712 residents as of the most recent census, most living in the county seat, Creede. If you are looking for a taste of the rural life, this is it.

We settled down at Cottonwood Cove Guest Ranch (cottonwoodcove.com). Our cabins smelled of new wood and sat between sharp mountain cliffs and the Rio Grande River. The river isn’t very large this far north, but beautiful nonetheless. The water glistened in the morning sun as horses grazed in the sweet smelling grassy pastures, awaiting their daily treks through the nearby hills.

We had the pleasure of riding horseback on a guided tour, cresting the ridges of the mountains, smelling the earthy wind, and winding along the rippling river. We also visited Creede and its historic mine loop. Creede was a boom- town in 1889 with more than 10,000 people clamoring to find silver hidden in the hills. Guests to the town can stop by the visitors center, learn about the history of mining, and, if their vehicle is up to a challenge, go on the Bachelor Loop (creede.com/recreation-activities/explore/bachelor-loop.html).

The loop is a 17-mile driving tour through Creede’s mountainous, mostly abandoned silver mining district and its accompanying ghost towns. We wound along the steep corridors, visiting the massive mine buildings perched like monoliths just below the peaks. One of the mines, aptly named Last Chance, provides a chance to rockhound along the edges of the cliff.

Sitting at the lofty elevation of 10,300 feet, visitors can pay a few dollars to scale the mine’s refuse and look for stones and gems discarded in the original miners’ search for silver. Amethyst is so plentiful in the area it serves as one of the ingredients for gravel along sparkling roads.

A couple hours away awaited my favorite destination, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (nps.gov/grsa/index.htm). The park is a hidden gem, hosting the tallest dunes in North America surrounded by a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, and snow-capped mountains. Visitors can play in the shallow Medano Creek, climb the crest of the 750-foot tall Star Dune (taller than any building in Indiana), sandboard the lower dunes, or explore the backcountry trails.

A friendly tip — the elements in the area are extreme with no trees to slow wind or shade to cool, so be prepared. We chose to sandboard. Similar to sledding, rushing down the side of the steep dunes provides a thrill like no other. Though I must admit, I took a nasty nosedive, getting a good taste of the local elements. There are few places more majestic than the dunes, inspiring all who take the time to step upon their ever-changing surface.

The rugged and varied state of Colorado left an impression on us. It’s a place untamed by man, reminding us of our history, as people, as a nation. It’s a place where time has stood still. It’s a state with many faces — faces that come together to create something much greater than its singular parts — a place we can’t wait to visit again!

CANCUN MEXICO by Kristen Tucker

 I first fell in love with Cancun 20 years ago. My husband had won a trip in a sales contest to the resort city in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico’s state of Quintana Roo. It was April 1998; we stayed at a massive all-inclusive resort. I was expecting our first child. The resort likely lost money with the virgin fruit smoothies I drank all week. Todd took full advantage of the all-inclusive offerings.

Since then, I’ve visited Cancun four times. The main attraction — the sky, the beach, and the Caribbean Sea — is unchanged, the best in the world the local tourism industry says. But Cancun has grown up — its development as a resort city began only in 1970. (Isla Cancun was a coconut plantation with only three residents who actually lived on what is now the popular day-trip destination, Isla Mujeres.) We’ve grown up, too — trading the still popular all-inclusive vacation for the more quiet luxury of the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa (marriott.com/hotels/travel/cunjw-jw-marriott-cancun-resort-and-spa) and its adjoining sister property, the Marriott Cancun Resort (marriott.com/hotels/travel/cunmx-marriott-cancun-resort), where we spent our youngest son’s spring break this year.

“This is paradise,” says Rocio Juarez. Though the director of sales and marketing for the JW Marriott Cancun and Marriott Cancun promotes the many accolades of the properties, the Marriott Core Values, and how Marriott transmits the guest experience with standards in every area of operation, it is the “beautiful Caribbean color, the natural beauty of our destination,” that she cites as the main attraction in Cancun. “Every day the weather is beautiful.”

Mariana Garmendia, marketing and communications manager for the resorts, agrees. “I come from Mexico City, so for me, Cancun offers a quality of life. Everything is green; people at the beach are happy,” Garmendia says. “You’re not stressed; you feel very good; you feel healthy.”

Phil Mortis and his wife Dr. Laura Finch, and their 10-year-old son Luke of Evansville also visited Cancun during spring break, staying at the JW Marriott.

“We like the fact that Cancun is a Caribbean destination in close proximity to home, so it requires little travel time and is easy to get to with flights from Evansville. We know you can always count on the hospitality of the people in Cancun and at the resort, beautiful weather this time of of year, and good food,” food,” says Finch.

Travel to Cancun has become easier in recent years. Cancun International Airport, named the No. 1 airport in Latin America by Trip Advisor and the second busiest airport in Mexico, serves more than 450 flights daily.

Mortis also cites the quality of the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa in their family’s decision to visit Cancun.

“This is an excellent property; super location with a beautiful beach,” says Mortis. “The hotel itself is very beautiful, clean, and well maintained — located across from some of the finer restaurants in Cancun such as Porfrio’s, Harry’s Steak & Seafood, and Tempo by Martin Berasategui. If you would like to walk off property for dinner, it is a very safe environment.”

While Juarez encourages visitors to “schedule your time to enjoy everything Cancun offers,” our family planned to not leave the resort for much at all. We divided our time between the adjoining sister properties — three nights at the JW Marriott Cancun and two nights at the Marriott Cancun, allowing us to experience both “luxury” and “premium” accommodations.

The JW Marriott Cancun opened in 2001. Its unique design affords all 448 rooms ocean views and also allows the hotel to serve as a shelter in hurricanes to Category 3. Each room has a private balcony. There also are 74 luxury suites that range in style and size from the 926-square-foot JW suite to the 4,115-square-foot Presidential Suite.

Carrying the flag of the high-end Marriott brand, renewal is an ongoing effort at the JW Marriott Cancun. Mortis cited: “The hotel is under renovation until 2019 but is very accommodating.”

I was able to view the refreshed room concept the renovations will bring — classy, modern, yet completely Cancun, too.

My family and the Mortis Finch family agree the pools and beach are spectacular.

“The pool area is gorgeous, and the beach is wonderful,” says Finch. “The staff is absolutely some of the best with regards to service, especially the pool/beach servers.”

Son Luke who found other kids to socialize with at the hotel says, “I enjoyed the beautiful water and the pool was great! It was nice to have kids there to play football with on the beach.”

Yoga is offered each morning on the lawn between the beach and hotel. As noon approaches, the catering staff sets up a kiosk on the lawn, offering brochette grilled in front of you, make-your-own ceviche, and ice cream sandwiches.

“The gastronomic experience is very important to Marriott and our guests,” says Juarez. “Between the two properties we have nine dining options; all are very popular, very busy.”

The JW Marriott Cancun is home to the largest spa in Cancun. The 35,000-square-foot spa offers a full range of Mayan-inspired services, including the 80-minute signature massage, which I treated myself to.

While the JW Marriott offered yoga and live acoustic music, across the boardwalk guests at the Marriott Cancun took part in daily poolside Zumba classes (not this guest) to live electric music. Fresh from renovations completed last year, Marriott Cancun Resort features 450 guest rooms, including 30 suites and 300 premium ocean view rooms. Rooms range in size from 702 to 3,094 square feet. All rooms are equipped with a private balcony.

We did our best to not leave the resort. One evening we crossed Boulevard Kukulcan for dinner and took a cab (though a bus is just as easy) to the beautiful outdoor mall, La Isla (laislacancun.mx), within the hotel zone.

If this is your first trip to Cancun, you should heed Juarez’s advice to take the time to enjoy all the area offers — that means a day-trip to either Tulum (tulum.com), the seaside Mayan ruins about two hours from Cancun, or a bit farther to Chichen Itza (chichenitza.com). On our first trip in 1998, we rented a jeep and drove to Tulum, also stopping at Xel-Ha, a remarkable eco-park of cenotes, coves, and caves.

However, you can visit impressive Mayan ruins right there in the Cancun hotel zone — a discovery we made on a trip several years ago. El Rey’s small size makes it easy to see in a short time.

For this trip, we were content with the colors of Cancun — the sky, the beach, and the water — enjoyed from the vantage point of a name we trust.


I was completely baffled as I stood on the perfectly manicured, azalea-dotted lawn of The Towers, a majestic antebellum mansion in the port city of Natchez, Mississippi (thetowersofnatchez.com). This marvel of Italianate architecture embellished with graceful triple archways, white
columns, and elaborate cast iron filigree work perfectly captured the spirit of the Old South, but something clearly was amiss.

The Towers was towerless.

This house tour is one of many shore excursions offered to passengers sailing on the American Duchess, the American Queen Steamboat Company’s third and newest riverboat (americanqueensteamboatcompany.com). The nine-day Mississippi River cruise sails from New Orleans to Memphis, stopping at many charming, history-rich Southern towns in Mississippi and Louisiana along the way.

At ports-of-call, passengers have the choice of participating in premium organized shore excursion for an additional charge or exploring on their own by using the cruise line’s complimentary hop-on-hop-off buses.

Towers homeowners James and Ginger Hyland greeted us in an expansive foyer illuminated by a chandelier so exquisite it was practically a work of art. Thankfully, the couple wore sensible, 21st-century attire. This was not a house museum, but it certainly felt like one. Every table, chair, and knick-knack had a story.

An impressive collection of colored glass inkwells glowed like lustrous gems, and I couldn’t resist lingering over a display of antique handbags adorned with beads, fringe, and embroidery. Especially intriguing was a chatelaine, a fashionable and practical device loved by Victorian women — a set of short chains attached to the waist of a dress and used for carrying keys and other useful items.

At last, the mystery of the missing towers also was solved. There once was a pair of tower-shaped rooms on either end of the third story, but one was lost in a fire in the 1920s, and the other was removed to maintain the symmetry of
the house. Soon, The Towers will live up to its name once more, as plans are in the works to replace the structures.

Rollin’ on the River
After a long day of touring, I was happy to return to the comfort of the American Duchess (americanqueensteamboatcompany.com/vessels/american-duchess). A refurbished paddle-wheeler, it looks like a classic steamboat on the outside, but the lobby has contemporary touches and the all-suite staterooms are modern and spacious.

It’s easy to get to know your fellow passengers on a boat with a capacity of 166, and I struck up conversations with couples from France, England, and Canada. An onboard riverlorian, someone who specializes in river history and lore, provided daily lectures and held question-and-answer sessions.

Evenings were spent enjoying multi-course meals in The Grand Dining Room served by Edward. He quickly learned I abhor Chardonnay, I don’t eat bread with dinner, and pressing me to have dessert was not a kindness. By the end of the cruise, he probably knew more about me than my own mother.

Dinner always was followed by a show, and when the cast performed “Proud Mary,” the feel-good song made famous by Tina Turner, the audience belted out the familiar lyrics, “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river.”

Vicksburg, Mississippi
I was no ordinary woman — at least not that day. I was an extraordinarily courageous nun and Civil War nurse named Sister Otillia Duche who used her resourcefulness and wit to procure food for starving soldiers on the battlefield in Vicksburg, Mississippi. How she did it remains a mystery, but there’s no doubt the sister saved lives.

Assigning real Civil War identities to visitors by issuing army “enlistment cards” that chronicled the experience of those on the front lines was a compelling aspect of a bus tour through Vicksburg National Military Park (nps.gov/vick/index.htm).

Vicksburg is the site of one of the most pivotal battles of the war. When Union forces seized the port town, it cut off a crucial Confederate supply route on the Mississippi River. A grueling 47-day siege ended in the surrender of the city on July 4, 1863. Highlights of the sprawling, near-1,800-acre park included hundreds of historic monuments and a restored Union gunboat, the USS Cairo.

Memphis, Tennessee — All Shook Up in Graceland
For Elvis Presley fans, Memphis means one thing — Graceland (graceland.com). These days, folks are all shook up over a recent expansion, Elvis Presley’s Memphis. The $45-million entertainment and exhibit complex opened last year across from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s celebrated “mansion” and final resting place.

The cornerstone of the complex was the Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum (graceland.com/visit/experience/elvis_presleys_memphis.aspx), a sprawling facility that celebrates Elvis’ music, movies, and tours. Several video screens showed live concert footage and films, including “Jailhouse Rock,” where a young Elvis swiveled those swoon-inducing hips.

The charismatic singer’s over-the-top style is almost as legendary as his music, and glitzy jumpsuits sparkled like Christmas lights throughout the exhibit.

Elvis has left the building for good, but his legacy rocks on.

A heavy dose of Memphis magic was the perfect conclusion to my Southern odyssey.

Happy 300th, New Orleans!

I have an eccentric friend who can be as refined as a debutante at a garden party or as ribald as a sailor on leave. The spunky old gal is celebrating a milestone birthday this year. She’s turning 300 and her name is New Orleans (neworleansonline.com).

In honor of the tricentennial, I decided to get reacquainted with some of the city’s historic landmarks. I headed to Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter, the oldest section of the city. St. Louis Cathedral (stlouiscathedral.org), a triple-steepled wonder of French architecture, is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. A 6-foot-tall marble statue of St. John Paul II was erected in front of the cathedral in January.

My visit didn’t coincide with Carnival season, but I still caught a little Mardi Gras magic at the Presbytere (louisianastatemuseum.org/museum/presbytere). “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana,” is a permanent exhibit that offers an in-depth look at the festival’s history.

Later, I caught a jazz concert at Preservation Hall (preservationhall.com), a music venue established in 1961 when jazz seemed in danger of being usurped by rock n’ roll.

Afterwards, I dug into a plate of French-style beignets at Café du Monde (cafedumonde.com). Open 24-7, it’s just the spot to wrap up a late night. With music still trilling in my head, I boogied on back to the hotel covered in powdered sugar. The perfect ending to a birthday bash.


Peter and Rebecca Thang began their orphanage mission, Love Children Home, in a single-room bamboo hut outside the city of Yangon, Myanmar, in 1995 with 20 orphan children. But as I stepped off the bus that had taken me and 50 other U.S. travelers from our hotel in Yangon to Love Children Home, hundreds of children surrounded me, reaching to hold my hand, give me hugs, and welcome me to Myanmar.

As I made my way through the throng of children welcoming our team, I kept my eye out for one little girl in particular, Ngaung San Lun. My family had sponsored the now 8-year-old for six years, and I was about to meet her in person for the first time.

Over the past 23 years, Love Children Home has grown to include a network of 12 orphanages that care for more than 500 children in Myanmar.

In 1996, Love Children Home began receiving support from Bethel Church through a contact Myanmar natives Peter and Rebecca had with a missionary at the church. From there, more churches in Evansville became involved, offering support to the orphanages and sending teams of people to visit. In 2010, Uncharted International was formed as a Christian organization whose purpose today is to “help people do brave things to advance God’s kingdom all over the world.”

Since its formation, one of Uncharted’s main ways of fulfilling its mission is by sending teams of people from Evansville and the surrounding area to Myanmar and other locations like Central Asia and soon the Balkans, in addition to the financial support given. Through Uncharted, connections can be made with orphans in Myanmar, street-working children attending school in Central Asia, and church planters in the region through monthly sponsorships.

“We don’t want to just send money absent of the relationship,” says Geoff Bunting, the director of global operations at Uncharted. “It’s really about relationships as much as it is about anything.”

For the past six years, my family has helped financially support San Lun, helping to pay for basic necessities like food, clothing, and education. But an even more impactful part of our sponsorship has been the actual communication we’ve shared through letters, pictures, and trips to Myanmar.

I was placed on the women’s restoration center team along with three other women from our group of 51, serving at a center called Thelo that cares for women who have escaped or been rescued from situations of human trafficking, domestic violence, or sexual abuse. Three of my days in Myanmar were spent at the center doing crafts, lessons, and activities with the girls, but mostly my time at Thelo was spent marveling at the resilience and strength these girls maintained even after experiencing unimaginable trauma.

“I want to promote these girls,” says Thelo’s associate director Naw Say Nay Paw. “I dream of these girls having successful lives. I want them to have confidence in their own skills. I want to give them mental strength. If they have mental health, they can stand through difficulty.”

One young woman at Thelo had been a victim of domestic abuse in her home, causing her to revert to childlike behaviors. Another woman at Thelo had been trafficked by a man who had promised her family he could get her a good job in a bigger city. She went with him only to discover it was a lie to enslave her for domestic labor. The man she thought would help beat and burned her with a hot iron, leaving behind scars on her arms and legs.

When I first arrived at Thelo, the women were shy and quiet, weary of these strangers coming into their safe space. By the end of our third day, every person was playing, dancing, smiling, and poking fun at my clunky American accent in their Myanmar language.

While our priority in Myanmar was working within the orphanages and women’s restoration center, we couldn’t help but absorb as much of the local culture as possible. We tried many traditional Myanmar dishes (If you ever find yourself at the 8 Miles Golden Duck in Yangon, order the roasted cashews.) and visited tourist locations, like the Shwedagon Pagoda, which sits at 326 feet tall and is the biggest Buddhist stupa in the world. The pagoda gleams in gold glory in the Yangon skyline with its 2,317 rubies and 5,448 diamonds, one of which is the 76-carat diamond bud at the very top.

The Shwedagon Pagoda was an impressive sight, but what impressed me even more was discovering the real impact our small community in southern Indiana was having in this city across the world.

Uncharted funds about 70 percent of Love Children Home’s operations, including its network orphanages. One of those, RebeccAmy’s, was built entirely through support from people in Evansville.

Supporting the work of Love Children Home and Thelo is important, but the trips also serve to open people’s eyes to the reality of life in Myanmar for many.

“This is not our choice. This is what the love we have makes us do,” says Peter. “We will always love the orphans and the poor. Myanmar is totally opposite of what [Americans] think. If they come and experience it, they will understand more.”

Mission travel is not the most glamorous form of traveling the world, but I experienced the culture and people in Myanmar in a way most tourists to the country never will.

“I think at the end of the day there’s something really interesting and good that happens when you take people out of what their norm is and you ask them to serve,” say Geoff. “It changes a lot of perceptions and expands their worldview. I think for some people, though, it begins to change how they live their lives.”

For more information on Uncharted International, call 812-402-1886 or visit unchartedinternational.org.


Learning we’re from Evansville, every San Diego tour guide enthusiastically told us the story of Elisha Spurr Babcock, who built the legendary Hotel del Coronado (hoteldel.com). Born in Evansville in 1848, Babcock became a significant player in area business. When Babcock was in his early 40s, his Evansville doctor recommended a move to a warmer, less humid climate. Babcock chose San Diego.

Babcock met another wealthy entrepreneur during his travel — Chicago native Hampton Story, of Story and Clark piano fame. Babcock and Story hunted rabbits on the Coronado peninsula, west of San Diego Bay. The rabbits unsuccessfully foraged the barren land, while the Midwesterners envisioned growth of real estate on the oceanfront peninsula.

Babcock and Story purchased the area, formed the Coronado Beach Company, sold parcels for homes, and built the Hotel del Coronado in 11 months. Babcock didn’t forget his roots, hiring Evansville’s Reid Brothers’ architectural firm to design the hotel. Evansville’s Willard Library is another Reid Brother’s iconic design. (Evansville Living explored the connection of Hotel del Coronado and Willard library in “Ghostly Doppelganger” in the September/October 2015 issue.)

The 1888 opening of the Hotel brought national acclaim. Over the years, presidents from Benjamin Harrison to Gerald Ford visited. “Some Like It Hot,” starring Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis, was filmed at the Del in 1959.

Today the hotel retains its 19th-century ambiance with gilded elevator cages and the ornate Crown Room, with chandeliers designed by L. Frank Baum. Baum penned three of his “Wizard of Oz” series books on Coronado between 1904 and 1910. The hotel is sometimes called “Emerald City.” Babcock’s and Story’s legend is commemorated with a classic oceanfront bar carrying their names.

San Diego is a terrific vacation spot, in any season. The average temperature of low 70s, combined with a low humidity we rarely experience, makes the So Cal city an ideal winter get-away or summer trip with family.

We chose a private six-hour tour by San Diego Photography Tours (sandiegophotographytours.com) on our first day. We visited Point Loma, photographing the national monument of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, founder of San Diego, and spectacular cliffs and tide pools. We were humbled at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, American flags whipping in the ocean breeze over thousands of burial plots.

We hiked a pathway along the cliffs of LaJolla Cove, passing multiple California sea lions doing what sea lions do, sunning and playing. LaJolla Cove is a perfect spot for kayakers seeking peaceful water.

San Diego’s brightly colored Trolley Tours offer hop-on, hop-off service. Like the other guides, this driver added to the Babcock story. The trolley stops at Coronado, as well as other places in the city. Bay and ocean views are available at the Embarcadero Port, offering up various activities from whale-watching to dinner cruises.

San Diego’s crown jewel is Balboa Park (balboapark.org), where the San Diego Zoo also is located. We visited the Botanical Building with its spectacular display of orchids and desert and mountain plants. We found the hidden May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden, complete with a Henry Moore bronze and a view of a Moorish tower soaring over the park. The park is a photographer’s paradise with multi-colored flowers like Birds of Paradise, arches and staircases, tiled piazzas, and reflecting ponds.

Next door is the San Diego Zoo and its Safari Park (sdzsafaripark.org). San Diego hosts a habitat-focused environment and is moving away from cages. Don’t worry, protective barriers keep animals and humans apart. Our favorite exhibit was the Africa Rocks section with lions, elephants, and giraffes, oh my. We’ve missed our elephant fix since Mesker Park Zoo lost Bunny. San Diego boasts a large elephant program, with an onsite hospital.

We also saw the once-nearly extinct California condor in the Aviary, a beast of a bird that makes our Hoosier wild turkeys look like sparrows. Saving the condor is a huge win for the zoo, whose mission is to stop species extinction.

If you have some extra time to spend while visiting the city, here are some other great spots that are worth the stop:

Catch a foul ball while the Padres (mlb.com/padres) play Major League baseball at the centrally located Petco Park.

The World War II-era USS Midway (midway.org) and multiple sailing ships (sdmaritime.org) are moored along the Embarcadero. Both offer tours. Walk farther south to view an oversized statue of a famous post-war Times Square moment, a sailor kissing a girl.

Easy day trips from San Diego include Tijuana, Mexico (bring your passport), Disneyland via Amtrak, and Palm Springs.

San Diego is foodie heaven.
The city hosts a restaurant week twice each year (once in January and again in September) to showcase all the delectable dishes the city has to offer. We missed January’s week by six weeks, but held our own fresh and flavorful Restaurant Week.

After a long travel day, we stuck with the familiar, a Ruth’s Chris’ Steak House (ruthschris.com/restaurant-locations/san-diego) on our hotel property. Medium filets, still sizzling on a metal plate when served, are a treat.

The Fish Market, (thefishmarket.com/location/san-diego), a Bayside restaurant, had a wide menu and better views. I ordered the California roll, which was fresh and crisp. For my entrée, I had mahi-mahi in a Cilantro butter sauce.

On vacation, we prefer finding local places with character. Two that stood out were the Carnitas Snack Shack (carnitassnackshack.com/locations/embarcadero-location) and Brigantine’s Seafood Restaurant (brigantine.com). Carnitas is a small building with a walk-up window and outdoor dining, but it served the best fish tacos I’ve ever eaten. We found the local chain, Brigantine’s and ate there for lunch on “Taco Tuesday.” I again chose the fish tacos — California fish tacos have spoiled me for all others.

Little Italy offered eclectic choices, and we chose Buon Appetito (buonappetitosandiego.com) where we dined al fresco on a street patio, festooned with colorful lights. I had capellini alla Checca, fresh tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella tossed with angel hair pasta. Heavy on the red tomatoes and ripe mozzarella, I opened with a delicious Caprese salad, perfect with a glass of Italian Prosecco.


“You’re going to get dysentery,” my husband joked from a bluff nearthe McCurdy Smokehouse in Lubec, Maine, the easternmost town in the contiguous United States. The group of historic structures I ambled near were once fish processing facilities, the mucky beach directly below them packed with vintage debris. I was completely in my element, reaching into the dark mud to pull out antique medicine bottles and shards of colorful,
patterned pottery.

This scene is common on Down East shorelines, where passionate beachcombers like myself search for trash turned to treasure. We’d traveled to the area with guidance from Evansville residents Dennis and Margaret Haire, who own and rent four cottages on neighboring Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada (search for properties 117215, 120461, 3467120, and 133795 on homeaway.com). Our rental, the Sea Urchin, was mere minutes from Lubec thanks to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge, the only road connection to the 10-mile-long island. Border crossings (Don’t forget your passport!) are a part of daily life here, as Campobello has few shops and no gas station — but that’s also part of the island’s charm.

Many will remember “Sunrise in Campobello,” a Broadway play, then 1960 movie, based on the life of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The wealthy Roosevelt family built a retreat on their “beloved island” in the late 1880s and spent tranquil summers there, eventually donating the home to the U.S. and Canadian governments. In 1964, Roosevelt Campobello International Park (fdr.net) was established, consisting of a museum and 2,800-acre nature park jointly run by the two countries. Today it is one of the island’s main attractions for tourists, and we weren’t any exception.

After enjoying a dose of history at the Roosevelts’ bright red, 34-room cottage, we headed out to hike the numerous trails, gardens, and beaches nearby. Be sure to visit the observation deck at Liberty Point for panoramic vistas across the Lubec Channel and the chance to catch a whale sighting. Raccoon Beach was another personal favorite, with smooth stones, tide pools, and rugged rock formations that seemed otherworldly. A short drive took us to the Mulholland Point Lighthouse, which provided a spectacular view of both Lubec and numerous seals playing in the choppy water.

Several lighthouses, including the Mulholland, are easily found in the area. Only a few minutes from our rental was the Head Harbour (or East Quoddy) Lightstation, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, boldly marked with the red Cross of St. George. You can only walk to it across the ocean floor at low tide, so plan ahead! Its younger sister is the distinctively striped West Quoddy Light, located in Lubec on the easternmost point of land in the United States. Don’t be afraid to walk up the 50 steep iron steps to check out the lantern and get a stunning look at the coastline.

Waking up on Campobello is a pleasure. I didn’t anticipate the complete stillness that greeted me during early beachcombing sessions on the beach behind the cottage. The quiet only was permeated by the soft sounds of nature — a subtle breeze, water lapping at the shore, and birds (often eagles) in the surrounding trees. The last day of our visit to the island was bittersweet as we packed up our found treasures and Canadian candies, then headed two hours west for Bar Harbor, Maine.

“Baa Haa Bah” is how most Mainers refer to the popular destination on Mount Desert Island. The town may have forgotten their R’s, but not the legendary fire of 1947 that burned over half its acreage. A shift of the wind spared much of the downtown area, where we chose to stay. The Bar Harbor Grand Hotel (barharborgrand.com) put us right in the middle of the busy shopping district. While we had a good time walking to the waterfront and sampling local cuisine (opting to not try the lobster ice cream at Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium), my goal was to visit Acadia National Park (nps.gov/acad).

We only had one day to tour the 49,000-acre park, but I’d recommend at least double that for a more relaxed, complete experience. Driving the 27-mile Park Loop Road is a must for easy navigation, as it snakes through Acadia, connecting you to the biggest attractions. Be prepared to stop often to take in the sights or have a quick walk through rocky trails.

Sand Beach was our first destination on the loop. Sitting in an intimate cove surrounded by mountains and rocky shores, it is one of few cold-water, shell-based beaches in the world. We next made our way to Thunder Hole, known for the loud rumble made by high waves hitting a small inlet. Hide your phones — you might get a little wet!

There wasn’t time to snack on the famous popovers at Jordan Pond House Restaurant, but Jordan Pond itself was especially beautiful with its reflective, clear water. I was compelled to simply sit for a moment, visit with a chipmunk, and take in the calm. To top off our visit to Acadia we drove 3.5 miles up Cadillac Mountain, the tallest on the eastern coast of the United States. At the summit, we traversed rugged granite bedrock carved by glaciers to take in an unforgettable view.If you’re a morning person, arrive before sunrise and bask in the first rays to shine on our country.

This may have been my first trip to Maine, but it certainly left an impact. Remember that historic fishing complex in Lubec? In January of this year, one of the century-old structures I had beachcombed next to was swept into the ocean during a blizzard, causing a bit of an international uproar about its looting, salvage, and potential restoration. I found myself invested! It’s proof that just a few days Down East can make you feel at home. And like that brining shed, I hope to return. 

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