Do you seek the refuge of the mountains, a cultural destination with a dash of southern hospitality? Or do you pursue the serenity of the warmth of the sun and the repetitious sound of crashing waves? Or do you wish to escape to the wildness of the west where rock formations are frozen in time? Whether your dream excursion is large or small, daring or relaxing, we have an experience to inspire you. Evansville Living shares five of our personal favorite getaways that will feed your body and soul.
Door County, Wisconsin, offers a blend of seaside charm in the heart of the MidwestBy Kristen K. Tucker
How Door County, Wisconsin, is on my very short list of favorite vacations — the slim finger of a peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan I’ve visited only twice — is best told by a Door County Trolley (doorcountytrolley.com) Lighthouse Tour Guide wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
The gregarious tour guide, John Berns, introduced himself to our group at the Cana Island Light House. Earlier in the day, we had toured the county on a trolley (a large operation) on the Scenic Tour. Berns had brought a group to the lighthouse and was departing as we arrived.
“Travel writers!” said Berns. “I can tell you my best Door County story real quick. A few years ago I was visiting Hawaii, my wife and I were at a Tower Records store in Honolulu where a guy saw me wearing a Packers shirt and asked me where I was from. Well, to make it easy, I just said, ‘the Green Bay area.’ Well, he said, ‘No, where exactly are you from?’ And, I said, ‘My wife and I are from Door County.’ ‘Door County!’ he said, ‘My is that beautiful. What are you doing here?’”
Jon Jarosh, director of communications and public relations at the Door County Visitor Bureau (doorcounty.com), describes the allure of the county where he lives with his family and works:
“A bucolic sliver of land that juts into Lake Michigan in Wisconsin’s northeast corner, Door County offers seaside experiences in the heart of the Midwest. Few places in the Midwest provide a combination of natural beauty, small-town charm, and a sense of history as rich as Door County. Amidst its scenic beauty are waterfront villages offering museums, performing arts venues, boutique shops, galleries, golf courses, and restaurants. Along with the county’s 300 miles of shoreline, five state parks and 19 county parks combine to make Door County a wonderfully special getaway destination.”
From Evansville, Indiana, driving to Door County will take you about nine hours straight up Interstate 57 or U.S. Highway 41-N. I flew to the Appleton International Airport (connecting through Detroit from Evansville). From the airport, it’s about a 90-minute drive to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, at the southern end of the county.
Roughly three quarters of Door County’s 2 million annual visitors come between early May and late October, but the shoulder seasons are becoming increasingly popular thanks to the abundance of winter sports and leisure activities available (ice fishing, snowmobiling, and snowshoe hiking), as well as the quiet serenity of the winter peninsula.
The Lay of the Land
Founded in 1851, Door County is named for Death’s Door, the aptly named water passage that lies off the tip of the peninsula where the waters of Lake Michigan and Green Bay converge. Death’s Door is the English translation of Porte Des Morts, the name given to the treacherous water passage by early French explorers based on Native American stories they heard and their own perilous experiences. By the late 19th century, Lake Michigan was the nautical superhighway for schooners and freighters. A journal kept by the Cana Island lighthouse keeper in the late 1800s noted that in one summer he counted more than 4,000 passing ships. With the clashing waters of the bay and the lake, not all ships passed safely — the waters around the county hold more than 200 registered shipwrecks; experienced divers say there are more than three dozen shipwrecks that can be explored.
Door County has 11 historic lighthouses that dot the peninsula’s shores, one of the largest concentrations of lighthouses for any county in the U.S. Three are open for tours. As Jarosh noted, the county has five state parks, 19 county parks, as well as a large number of local parks, nature preserves, and state natural areas — more than 23,000 acres of public and preserved land. The county has beaches galore — 54 Lake Michigan and Green Bay public swimming beaches with around 6.5 total miles of sandy shoreline.
Despite development pressure of recent decades, the vast majority of Door County’s land mass remains undeveloped. Outside of Sturgeon Bay, the county seat, visitors see no chain hotels, restaurants, or gas stations. In fact, you won’t hit a single stoplight leaving Sturgeon Bay and driving north to the tip, on either the bay side or the lakeside of the peninsula.
Which Door to Explore?
You don’t have to choose which Door County communities to explore; you’ll want to get acquainted with all 14 towns, four villages, and one city along the 70-mile long peninsula covering 492 square miles. Each community has its own tone and style, yet the overarching culture and hospitality unites the 28,000 residents of the peninsula and its visitors. Here, I’ll highlight the communities I recently visited.
Sturgeon Bay (sturgeonbay.net), population 9,100, at the southern end of Door County is a year-round waterfront community dating to 1835. The city is located on the bay of Green Bay, which flows into Lake Michigan through the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, dug between 1872 and 1881.
Be sure to visit the Door County Maritime Museum (dcmm.org) on the busy Sturgeon Bay waterfront. Our docent, Jon Gast, a retired newspaper manager and editor who now owns Edible Door magazine (edibledoor.com), gave an excellent tour of the museum’s four attractive and interactive galleries, and its recently restored Tug John Purves, an immaculately restored 1960s era Great Lakes tugboat. (The tug was built in 1919 as an ocean-going tug.)
Don’t leave Sturgeon Bay without stopping in Door County Coffee & Tea Company (doorcountycoffee.com); visit at breakfast or lunch so you can enjoy their delicious menu. Call in advance and bring a small group, and owner Vicki Wilson will make a delightful presentation in the Coffee College conference room about the history of coffee beans and the company’s efforts to source only the highest quality coffee, which is roasted and flavored in-house. Who knew that in ancient Turkey, not offering a wife sufficient coffee was grounds for divorce!
Sturgeon Bay is a working town, still involved in shipbuilding and fishing. Eat like a local at Scaturo’s Café and Baking Co. (scaturos.com); it’s not uncommon for it to open at the crack of dawn to serve fishermen.
Egg Harbor (eggharbordoorcounty.org) was the location of my accommodations, Best of Door County perennial winner the Landmark Resort (thelandmarkresort.com), also the largest resort in the county with 294 suites. The resort is located just south of the town, on a bluff with fantastic views of the bay of Green Bay, foliage, and the Alpine Resort and Golf Course (36 holes). It’s about a 15 minute walk to town — remember once you walk down the steep road that is Highway 42, you have to walk back up to the resort; it’s a workout.
Dine at the Shipwrecked Brew Pub (shipwreckedmicrobrew.com), a tavern since 1882, and an inn, too, since 1904. In the 1920s, it was a favorite hideaway of Al Capone, because tunnels (now closed) ran under the building and all through Egg Harbor. Today the brewpub prides itself on offering nothing but 100 percent handcrafted Door County beers, including the beers brewed on site.
The village of Fish Creek (visitfishcreek.com) will charm you. Evansville resident and travel writer Tracey Teo remarked that the town reminded her of Maine’s coastal villages. It’s in Fish Creek that you will find the entrance to Peninsula State Park (dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/peninsula).
High bluffs and sandy beaches, a 1860s lighthouse, an 18-hole golf course, and professional summer theater performances make this 3,776-acre park a destination. Hiking and bicycling are the preferred ways to explore trails that wind through the interior of the park and offer outlooks from the 200- to 300-foot bluffs of the Niagara Escarpment (geological formations stretching through Door County and creating its dolomite rock bluffs). Visitors may also tour and climb the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse at the park.
Door County is among the top cherry producing regions in the country with more than 2,500 acres of cherry orchards and annual cherry harvests from 8 million to 12 million pounds of cherries. Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek (orchardcountry.com) has been planting, harvesting, and producing quality fruit products in Door County since 1955. Situated on 100 acres of blossoming orchards and lush vineyards, the family estate is home to a winery, cider mill, and farm market. Come during one of Orchard Country’s three festivals and try your hand at the cherry pit-spitting contest. The orchard offers guided winery tours daily May through October; you can warm up with wine and cider tastings daily through the year, including winter.
Villaggio’s (villaggios-doorcounty.com), with a Fish Creek address but really in the tiny of settlement of Juddville, is the Door County destination for authentic Italian dining. Try the ravioli special, always stuffed with fresh seasonal ingredients. I ordered mushroom stuffed ravioli with a glass of Chianti.
Sister Bay (cometosisterbay.com) is home to what is arguably the most well known Door County restaurant — Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant. Al Johnson’s is an authentic Swedish family-owned restaurant with goats grazing its sod roof. While the goats don’t come to work in the winter, Al Johnson’s goat cam is always on, so come spring, check it out (aljohnsons.com/goat-cam). Inside the casual dining room, servers in Scandinavian garb offer limpa bread, Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, and Swedish meatballs. The restaurant and its gift shop pay homage to the Scandinavians who immigrated to Door County two centuries ago.
Also stop in Grasse’s Grill (grassesgrill.com) and meet owner and chef Jimmy Grasse and his wife Jessica, who have turned their building, a former dairy carrying the family name, into a restaurant with thoughtful food preparation and community mindedness.
You’ll want to explore Door County from land and water. From the Sister Bay Marina, take an excursion onto the bay of Green Bay with Shoreline Charters (shorelinecharters.net) offered daily (in season, before the bay freezes). The company’s captains and crew will show you cliffs, caves, lighthouses, shipwreck locations, and waterfront estates, and will share local history and nautical folklore.
Bailey’s Harbor (baileysharbor.com), on the eastern shore of the peninsula, is home to the Cana Island Lighthouse (dcmm.org/cana-island-lighthouse). In season, ascend the 97 steps of the tower, 80-feet up, to the open observation gallery and a view of the lantern room containing the lighthouse’s lens (first lit in 1870), which is a third order Fresnel lens built in Paris. Bailey’s Harbor also offers a unique hiking opportunity — a naturalist-guided walk at The Ridges Sanctuary (ridgessanctuary.org), Wisconsin’s oldest nonprofit nature preserve, so named because the preserve is dominated by a series of 30 ridges formed by the retreating of post glacial waters that began nearly 1,200 years ago. The Ridges recently opened a beautiful new interpretive center, the first LEED certified commercial building in Door County.
A taste of Door County’s finest dining can be found in Bailey’s Harbor at the Harbor Fish Market & Grille (harborfishmarket-grille.com), serving New England style seafood with white tablecloths and amazing views of Lake Michigan. For a cocktail, try a Door County Mule, made with tart cherries, Grey Goose Vodka, and ginger beer, and served in a chilled copper mug.
Long ago, when settling Door County, Scandinavian immigrants brought with them an ingenious method of feeding lots of people, on the cheap. Today, coastal communities dotting the shores of the county carry on the tradition that is part meal, part spectacle — the fish boil. Your trip to Door County is not complete without experiencing it.
From May to October, as many as 15 restaurants offer fish boils several times a week. It’s best to make reservations. I visited Rowleys Bay Resort (rowleysbayresort.com), located on Rowleys Bay, for one of its last fish boils of the season. Guests gather around as the resort’s master storyteller (a retired English professor) spins the history of Rowleys Bay and the fish boil while the boil master tends to the flaming fire under the huge iron cauldron, filled with freshly caught Lake Michigan white fish, onions, and red potatoes. Guests then enjoy the purest tasting white fish they’ve ever tasted, of course with as much melted butter as desired.
Off the Beaten Path
National park passports open doors to explorationBy Emily Patton
Following a paper map in an area with non-existent cellphone service on a dirt road in the desert of Northern Arizona, I was on the hunt for a national park site. Men on horseback with bandanas covering half their faces raced alongside my car as I entered the grounds of the Navajo National Monument, an empty, yet breathtaking wild west.
This national monument is safeguarded by the National Park Service, which has protected America’s lands since 1916. More than 400 national park sites (408 to be exact) see 275 million visitors annually. Visiting each of these sites in the system is a goal thousands of travelers like myself wish to accomplish. In 1986, a passport program was launched to help encourage visitors to travel to all of the parks including those lesser known such as the Navajo National Monument.
As a teenager, I watched my parents, who are frequent national parkers, return after travels with a passport full of stamps. They carried an Eastern National Passport to Your National Parks booklet (eparks.com), which is a 104-page replica of an international passport personalized to America’s National Park Service (nps.gov). The passport allows visitors to stamp cancellations provided at each site as proof of their visit. Cancellations can be found in the visitor center with the name of the park, the location in which you’re stamping, and the date you arrived. Each park is divided into a region of the U.S. and also has a corresponding sticker to be placed in the passport, with a scenic image and information about the site. Proceeds from the program are donated to the National Park Service.
Since starting the program in 2011, I’ve stamped my passport 114 times while traveling to 17 states. The passport has taken me to the expansive, popular landmarks such as the Grand Canyon National Park, Gettysburg National Military Park, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the Great Smoky Mountains, and also has forced me off the beaten path into areas I would never travel otherwise.
One of the most popular parks for passport carriers is the Grand Canyon National Park (nps.gov/grca) with nearly 5 million visitors last year. Beginning your journey at the 277-mile-long gorge allows you to mark off a bucket list item before proceeding onto nearby sites that will spice up the average trip west. My absolute favorite part of visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was electing to take a mule ride (grandcanyonforever.com). More than 600,000 people have taken mule rides into the park since they were first offered in 1887.
I recommend reserving the Inner-Canyon Half Day Trip, which is a five-hour trek into the canyon. Guides will pair riders with mules based on skill level from those small children to seasoned adults. There is a weight and age limit. Ask for Wrangler Swanny as your guide who will stop along the trail to provide information about the geology, ecology, and the loyal animals you’re riding. If you are planning a summer trip to the Grand Canyon, reserve your mule ride now — these excursions are known to book 13 months in advance.
After riding into the canyon, it’s time to set your sights two hours east of the North Rim to tour a lesser-known park site. The Navajo National Monument (nps.gov/nava), a national sandstone canyon where Puebloan ancestors built villages located in Shonto, Arizona, which date from AD 1250 to 1300, offers free entry, camping at its two remote campgrounds, and guided hikes to cliff dwellings. During my visit, I chose to camp at the Sunset View Campground, which offers 31 small sites for RV and tent camping on sandstone. Surrounded by pinyon pine and juniper forest, there are restrooms and running water available and a gorgeous sunset overlook into the desert. The campground is an easy walking distance to the visitors’ center, which is the start to three mesa top trails. The casual hiker can take the Canyon View Trail (0.6 miles round trip) to view the Betatakin Canyon, a spectacular cliff dwelling, from afar. For an up-close and worth-it-look at the dwellings, plan your visit between May and September and hike five miles round trip on a free guided tour. Because this site is off the radar of most tourists, I found it to be incredibly peaceful, wild, and untouched.
Spend a full day or two at the national monument before deciding to continue on the road. Head north three hours to Canyonlands National Park (nps.gov/cany), located near the town of Moab, Utah, which easily rivals the Grand Canyon with four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the Rivers. I explored the Island in the Sky district during my visit. Take a short 30-minute hike to the Mesa Arch, which is one of the most popular sunrise photograph spots in the park. For a longer hike with panoramic
views, Murphy Point is a two-hour and 3.4-mile trek roundtrip that provides unbelievable sights of the Stillwater Canyon of the Green River. Your Instagram followers won’t be disappointed. In the summer months at Canyonlands, beware of gnats and pack plenty of water, as most paths have little to no shade. Look for cairns or small rock piles that serve as trail markers.
Choose to camp inside the national park at the Willow Flat Campground, which has 12 tent sites with picnic tables, fire grates, and vault toilets. Because the prime location of the campground provides gorgeous scenic views of the massive wild terrain, sites are filled first-come, first-served every day from late March through June, and again in the fall months.
Less than an hour away from the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands is the entrance to Arches National Park (nps.gov/arch), located on the Colorado River four miles north of Moab. The park feels like another planet with its more than 2,000 natural stone arches, and hundreds of pinnacles and giant balanced rocks. I recommend simply taking a driving tour of the park, especially if you are limited on time. Drive to the Windows Section of the park and see some of the largest arches, such as the North Window or the Double Arch.
One of the most popular hikes is to the Delicate Arch, which is a strenuous 1.5-mile journey to the 65-foot tall freestanding natural arch. I suggest starting this hike early in the day or in the late afternoon to avoid crowds, parking headaches, and the heat. The trek to the park’s most famous arch can take around two and a half hours or longer. An extremely popular photograph is directly under the geologic formation, but don’t forget to document the journey. A picture while climbing the 200-yard rock ledge toward the end of the hike reveals the remoteness of Arches.
If you have a couple days to enjoy the park, I recommend securing a campground at Devils Garden Campground, located within Arches. During the peak season, reserving one of the 51 sites may be impossible. A notable second option is Goose Island Campground, only 1.4 miles from Highway 191 near the national park entrance. The Bureau of Land Management (discovermoab.com/campgrounds) maintains 24 campgrounds in the Moab area and the sites are first-come, first-served. Goose Island sits on the banks of the Colorado River with hard-to-find shade from its the red rock cliffs.
After departing Arches, your passport already will have four stamps. If you have time, feed your new addiction and visit the rest of Southern Utah. Fill up the gas tank to make stops at Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Zion National Park.
For more information about the National Park Service, visit nps.gov.
National Park Passes
Last spring, the National Park Service announced it would increase the price of admission to some of its parks and raise fees charged for camping, tours, and other activities in order to repair and maintain roads, trails, and buildings. By signing up for an annual or lifetime pass, visitors can save money while seeing these protected lands of America.
Annual Pass — $80 covers entrance fee for driver and up to four adults
Pass for U.S. Military — Free entry available to U.S. military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Reserve and National Guard members
Annual Fourth Grade Pass — Free entry available to U.S. fourth graders, including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age
Senior Pass — $10 lifetime pass for U.S. citizens and permanent residents age 62 or over
Access Pass — Free entry available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities
Volunteer Pass — Free entry available for volunteers with 250 service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program
Find Your Park
While traveling long distances is part of the appeal of national parks, often people do not realize how many are located only a few hours driving distance from Evansville.
Less than an hour away just west of Santa Claus, Indiana, is the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial, where Abraham Lincoln and his family lived for 14 years after moving from Hodgenville, Kentucky, (the site of the Lincoln Birthplace National Memorial two hours from Evansville) in 1816 to 1830. The future 16th president of the U.S. spent his youth in these woods of Southern Indiana before moving to Illinois. The park entrance is $5 for those 16 and older, or $10 per family. The fee provides a visitor a seven-day entrance.
Also within an hour driving distance of Evansville is George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, located on the banks of the Wabash River in Vincennes, Indiana. The beautiful granite memorial is placed at the believed site of Fort Sackville, a key moment in the American Revolution, which led to the U.S. claiming control of future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Entrance is free to this site. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it overlooking the river in the shadow of the memorial.
If you’re making a weekend trip to St. Louis, two national park sites await. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, commonly referred to as the Gateway Arch, which turned 50 on Oct. 28, reflects St. Louis’ role in the Westward Expansion of the U.S. Within walking distance of the arch is the St. Louis’ Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott Case, one of the most important cases in U.S. history, was tried. Twenty minutes from the arch is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, home of the 18th president of the U.S. and Civil War general Grant. Entrance is free and visitors can enter the historic home and outbuildings.
Barrier island Sanibel is a sheller’s paradise rich with wildlife and historyBy Heather Gray
As a child, I thought of Sanibel, Florida, as a magical, far-off land. Stories of pristine white beaches, peaceful vistas, and exotic treasure — seashells — reached my ears via a friend whose family vacationed in the area. I was spellbound, being a young shell collector myself, but it would be more than 20 years before I finally set foot on the barrier island. Now, I visit Sanibel at least once a year, and consider it a home away from home.
The story of the island begins with the Calusa, a Native American people who inhabited the area more than 2,500 years ago, utilizing local waterways for trade and thriving on a fish-based diet. Famed explorer Juan Ponce de León is given credit of being the first European to make contact with the Calusa and discover the territory in 1513. The Calusa fiercely battled the Spanish for years to come — mortally wounding Ponce de León — but would be wiped out by the mid-1700s. Evidence of the mound builders still exists today in the remains of enormous shell piles.
In 1832, the first modern settlement of Sanybel was established and the people petitioned for a lighthouse on the island, though it would not be completed until 1884. History has lived on in its name, “Point Ybel Light,” and the 98-foot tall iron structure continues to be the island’s most frequented and photographed spot. Located on the eastern tip of Sanibel, it marks the entrance to San Carlos Bay, and underwent a much-needed restoration in 2013. Though the lighthouse itself is not available to the public, the grounds always are open.
If you’re a history buff like me, you can learn much more about the island’s rich past at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village (sanibelmuseum.org). Seven historic buildings —including a schoolhouse, post office, and general store — were moved from their original sites to the village, where each was restored to its original state.
Until 1963 when the causeway from Fort Myers was built, the only way to reach Sanibel was by ferry or boat. Very protective of their natural paradise, the city incorporated in 1974 to control new development and establish land-use restrictions. Still today, the local administration has resisted pressure to build high rises or add traffic lights. No fast food or chain restaurants are allowed on the island except two, which were built before the laws were enacted. These measures have kept Sanibel’s quiet, unique character intact, making it a welcome respite from the crowds and commercialism of the mainland. The $6 toll per vehicle to make the trip across the causeway is well worth it. (Experienced islanders often call this the “happy lane.”)
The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (sccf.org) also has been instrumental in the task to maintain the island’s natural beauty. The SCCF is dedicated to preserving natural resources and wildlife habitat, and has acquired more than 1,300 acres of land on the islands for research and ongoing projects. A nature center with exhibits, a butterfly house, monthly programs, and a variety of walking trails are available to visitors.
Perhaps the best example of the island’s commitment to preservation is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling).
Cartoonist Jay Norwood Darling was key in the effort to block the sale of its thousands of acres of environmentally valuable land to developers. In 1945, President Harry S. Truman created the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge, which was later renamed to honor the conservationist. Today, it is known as one of the top 10 birding spots in the nation, with more than 245 species represented. You can drive, bike, or walk the 4-mile Wildlife Drive for a small fee, or tour the Visitor and Education Center for free. Like many activities on the island, I recommend timing your visit around the tides. At low tide you’ll have a better chance of seeing birds feeding or an alligator catching some rays.
Different from most islands that line Florida’s coast, Sanibel’s 15-mile curved coastline runs east-to-west instead of north and south. This, along with its gently sloping beaches and mangrove forests, contribute to the island’s famed abundance of seashells. Sanibel attracts visitors from all over the world, each hoping to gather their own pieces of salty treasure.
I happen to be one of those people who often do the “Sanibel Stoop” for hours on end. Shelling easily is my preferred activity while visiting the islands. I’ve even been fortunate enough to find two junonia shells over the years. Considered one of the most elusive shells native to the island, every shell collector dreams of seeing one rolling up in the surf. Also note that Sanibel law prohibits live shelling. Photograph and appreciate live shells, then return them gently to the sea, please.
While I enjoy staying in a beachfront condo that allows for easy access to more private beaches, plenty of public beaches with paid parking are worth visiting. The Lighthouse Beach has calm waves and shallow waters, making it especially fun at low tide. Bowman’s Beach is the most secluded beach on Sanibel, and has a special meaning to me since my husband proposed to me there. But my favorite is Turner Beach, usually referred to as Blind Pass. This is the waterway that separates Sanibel from its sister island Captiva, and the area is known for its prime shelling, vivid sunsets, and excellent fishing.
If you’re interested in shelling, my best tip is to first educate yourself on what you’re seeking. Simple shell charts are available at most shops, or better yet — visit the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum (shellmuseum.org). It is the sole museum in the U.S. devoted to shells and the mollusks who make them.
Once you’ve studied up, go on a shelling adventure to one of the area’s remote out islands. I have enjoyed traveling with both Adventures In Paradise (adventuresinparadiseinc.com) and Captiva Cruises (captivacruises.com). Pam Rambo, a Sanibel local who runs the popular blog I Love Shelling (iloveshelling.com) also offers guided excursions.
Bikes and Bites
Upon visiting Sanibel, you’ll notice the favorite method of travel is by bike. Not only does it keep you out of the standstill traffic that often occurs “in season,” biking is the perfect way to truly see Sanibel’s beauty. You’ll smell the bougainvillea, wait for gopher tortoises to cross the road, and smile as speedy anoles run up the palms as you pass.
There are 27 miles of bicycle paths on the island, allowing you to visit most points of interest and shopping centers quite easily. Rentals of bicycles, scooters, and Segways are available from Billy’s Bikes (billysrentals.com) or Finnimore’s Cycle Shop (finnimores.com).
When you’re ready to get out of the sun completely, pop into one of Sanibel’s many restaurants. For breakfast, you can’t go wrong with the Over Easy Café (overeasycafesanibel.com). With handmade mugs of fresh coffee and cinnamon rolls as large as your head, it’s a cozy place serving delicious food, and one I return to every time I visit Sanibel.
Lunch requires a visit to The Island Cow (sanibelislandcow.com). Be prepared — the menu is huge and varied, with everything from seafood and steaks, to barbecue and milkshakes. You’ll also be treated to a plate of complimentary muffins upon being seated.
One of my frequent dinner spots is Matzaluna (matzaluna.net). Offering wood-fired pizza and a huge range of pasta dishes to suit every palate, it’s just the place if you’re craving Italian. I admit I often daydream of their roasted garlic dip that pairs just perfectly with crusty bread.
Looking for a quick snack? Schnapper’s Hots (schnappershots.com) serves up the best in fresh-cut fries, and Pinocchio’s Ice Cream (pinocchiosicecream.com) is famous for their homemade Italian scoops. Another Sanibel institution is Doc Ford’s (docfordssanibel.com), owned by author Randy Wayne White.
Looking back, my early vision of Sanibel was more accurate than I could realize. As most people who have become acquainted with the island will eagerly tell you, it is truly an enchanting place, one that lifts the spirit and tunes you into nature and into yourself. Life moves more slowly when you’re on “island time.” Days are long, but your stay seems short, and while atop the causeway driving home I promise you’ll be planning your next visit.
If you travel north over the bridge at Blind Pass, you’ll meet Sanibel’s little sister Captiva. I enjoy this peaceful journey up Captiva Drive, delighting at the creative names of each estate, like “Seas the Day.” More than half of Captiva Island is privately owned, with numerous grand properties nestled in its landscape. The island’s biggest residential landowner was famed artist Robert Rauschenberg, who lived and worked there until his death in 2008.
Our drive ends in “downtown” Captiva, a cozy area dotted with shops, galleries, and restaurants. A frequent stop is The Bubble Room (bubbleroomrestaurant.com), an eclectic eatery known for its kitschy Christmas decorations and delicious cakes. Nearby, the largest development on Captiva, South Seas Island Resort (southseas.com), sits on 330 acres at the northern tip of the island and is a popular destination for vacations and weddings. Be sure to swing by the legendary Mucky Duck (muckyduck.com) to grab a drink and watch the sun set.
Food (and fun) for Though
Ashville, North Carolina, is a splendid mix of culture, cuisine, and nature.By Laura M. Mathis
Some places just feed the soul.In Asheville, North Carolina, it is almost always a feast.
Situated in a valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, Asheville is part mountain town, part cultural destination, and all southern hospitality. There is plenty of diversity in things to explore — the arts, dining, outdoors, and history — making it a perfect destination for romantic weekends, nature retreats, and friend getaways. It is kind of like New York City — only nothing like it at all.
My best friend of 40 plus years and I make a near annual trek to Asheville. We try to squeeze in as much as possible while still soaking up the laid back attitude that is so prevalent.
One of our favorite excursions is spending the day at the Biltmore Estate (biltmore.com). It’s not hard to understand why a young George W. Vanderbilt chose the area just south of Asheville to build his French Renaissance castle-styled mansion. The sweeping vistas of the mountains were integral in the design brought forth by architect William Morris Hunt and landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted. After six years of construction, Vanderbilt opened Biltmore to his family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895. It wasn’t completely finished for many years, but the 250-room, 175,000-square-foot home has some very unique amenities including an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, and a library containing more than 10,000 books. At the time of completion, it was considered a modern marvel for its use of electricity, central heating system, and extensive indoor plumbing for all of its 34 bedrooms.
The grandson of railroad and shipping magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958) and had only one child, Cornelia (1900–1976). Cornelia grew up in the grand estate surrounded by the vast collection of art and antiquities procured on the many trips to Europe and the Orient. One of my favorite things in the home is the hall of tapestries where eight 16th century Flemish tapestries hang along with several Persian rugs. The collection also includes paintings by John Singer Sargent and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, porcelain from the Ming dynasty, and a chess set which belonged to Napoleon. In 1930, Cornelia opened the house to the public.
Today, a visit to the Biltmore Estate offers self-guided tours of the home and well-manicured grounds, guided tours, and specialty tours such as the Rooftop Tour and the Legacy of the Land Tour. The winery was opened 30 years ago and is one of the most visited wineries in America. It is located in Antler Village, which is a working farm that supports the Biltmore Estate. The Vine to Wine Tour includes a visit to the vineyards, the production facility, and wine tastings.
You can stay on the grounds of this historic property at the luxurious Inn on Biltmore Estate, the intimate Cottage of Biltmore Estate, or coming in December 2015, the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate.
Not Just for the Vanderbilts
The charm of Asheville spread quickly, and during the 1920s, it experienced booming growth and development. Architecturally speaking, downtown Asheville is varied and boasts more Art Deco buildings in the southeast than any other city except Miami Beach. During this same period, many people came to enjoy Asheville as a vacation retreat area. Capitalizing on this, several grand hotels were built including the Grove Park Inn.
With its breathtaking sunset views, enormous grand fireplaces, and distinctive stone façade and red tile roof, the Grove Park Inn (omnihotels.com) was modeled after the grand lodge in Yellowstone National Park. You do not have to be a guest to enjoy the splendor of the inn. In fact, it is our annual tradition to drive through the beautiful neighborhood leading to the inn and enjoy a cocktail on the Sunset Terrace. There also is a world-class spa and golf course on the property. From mid-November to the end of the year, the Grove Park Inn hosts the Annual National Gingerbread House competition. The inn has had many famous guests, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison, and 10 U.S. presidents.
Without a doubt, my favorite thing to do in Asheville is wander around Asheville. The city is easily navigated on foot and at the turn of every corner brings unique local shops, inviting art galleries, hidden bars, and restaurants that have made Asheville a top culinary destination. We usually start at the old Woolworth’s that has been converted into an artist gallery of mostly all local work. With dozens of booths and a variety of mediums and styles, you can easily spend several hours window-shopping. In this art friendly-town, Woolworth Walk (woolworthwalk.com) is just one of the 23 galleries and studios located in downtown Asheville.
Invariably we end up walking through Pritchard Park on Patton Avenue at College Street, and on every Friday night in warm weather months you can hear the Asheville Drum Circle. It’s a free event and anyone can join in. A few blocks away is the Historic Grove Arcade. Built by E.W. Grove — who also built the Grove Park Inn — the Grove Arcade is an eclectic mix of shops, galleries, restaurants, office space, and apartments in an elegantly designed historic building. Around the corner is Wall Street, where you will find the Flat Iron Building and local eateries and shops.
Sometimes we need a break from the vibrant scenery and will slip into French Broad Chocolate Lounge (frenchbroadchocolates.com). And who can resist the indulgence of handcrafted truffles and caramels, artisanal chocolate bars, and pastries? It’s not for the weak-willed or carb cruncher.
A short drive across town is the River Arts District (riverartsdistrict.com). It is made up of 22 former factories and historic buildings now home to more than 180 working art studios. The galleries are open every day, all year long. Twice a year — in November and June — there is a studio stroll when many of the artists are on hand creating their wares. The ScreenDoor (screendoorasheville.com) also is worth heading to the outskirts of downtown. It is a 25,000-square-foot treasure trove of architectural salvage, antiques, mid-century modern furnishings, and garden décor. I always come home with some fabulous something.
Get Out of Town (If you must)
The Blue Ridge Parkway (blueridgeparkway.org) is a winding drive through some of the most beautiful views of the mountains and there are dozens of trails and waterfalls to explore. Craggy Gardens is popular in early summer for its rhododendron tunnel trail. Depending on how much time you have, a short drive (25 miles away from Asheville) to Chimney Rock State Park (chimneyrockpark.com) offers a variety of skill-level trails and an easy hike to a waterfall. This also is where “The Last of the Mohicans” featuring Daniel Day Lewis was filmed. A section of the Appalachian Trail also is close by.
Who Needs to Sleep?
Well, some of us do. I have stayed in the traditional hotel, and there are the aforementioned Grove Park Inn and Biltmore Inn, but this year we went with Airbnb (a website allowing people to list, find, and rent lodging all over the world.) If you look at their site, there are hundreds of accommodations available. In October, we stayed in a walkout basement apartment on a heavily wooded lot that was within walking distance of downtown. We had lots of room and our hosts were more than happy to share some insider Asheville spots. There are locations listed all over town and up in the mountains.
Eat All Day
Asheville certainly isn’t lacking in places to feed your soul as well as your body. In 2014, Southern Living listed it among the Tastiest Towns in the South, and they’re not kidding. Long before it was country chic to serve farm-to-table food, Asheville already operated that way. Here are some of my favorites:
Biscuit Head (biscuitheads.com)
If you’re going to see and do everything you want in Asheville, you’re going to need a hearty breakfast. Biscuit Head fills the bill and your appetite with things like mimosa fried chicken biscuit or smoked chévre grits.
Don’t miss: Gravy flight with your choice of three gravies and served,of course, with biscuits.
I am always on the quest for the perfect Bloody Mary, and Mayfel’s puts the ball back in my court with an ample make-your-own Bloody Mary bar. This New Orleans cuisine-inspired spot is just the right touch of the French Quarter. The fried oysters, as well as the beignets, are a crowd favorite.
Don’t miss: Collard greens. Because you’re just not southern enough to cook these right, and this is how they are supposed to taste.
The Nightbell (thenightbell.com)
I was searching the Internet for “Speakeasy” and “Asheville,” and this came up. Though I really just stumbled upon it, I was no stranger to its executive chef, Katie Button. She also is the executive chef at Cúrate bar de tapas (curatetapasbar.com) — probably my most favorite spot in Asheville — until now. Button was named a James Beard Rising Star Chef Semi-Finalist for three consecutive years (2012-2014) and a Finalist in 2014. You can call her chef, and I will call her magician.
The Nightbell is that rare blend of modern and timeless. I couldn’t try everything, but everything I did taste was just another small plate of perfection. Equally inspiring was the drink menu where mixologists at the bar hand shave ice and saw cubes from large blocks of ice.
Don’t miss: Deviled Eggs. Deviled eggs seem to be a popular appetizer in Asheville, but none of them are like this. Creamy and served warm, it is a comforting mix of corn sabayon, sunburst smoked trout gravlax, and trout roe in an egg cup. Steak Tartare – Hand cut brasstown beef New York strip with smoked horseradish cream served in feuille de brick, or thin pastry dough, cones. Yes, served in mini cones. Improved Whiskey Cocktail – Four Roses small batch bourbon, Luxardo cherries, angostura bitters, with an absinthe rinse. I’ve had plenty of Old Fashions, and this one is definitely improved.
Drink All Night
I did say this was a girlfriend getaway, so yes there were cocktails. Although I’m not much of a beer drinker, Asheville has become a large purveyor of craft beers. There are more breweries per capita in Asheville than any U.S. city — roughly 100 local beers served on draft and in bottles, and there are several brewery tours available. My preferred libations lean toward interestingly crafted cocktails, and there is no shortage here.
Imperial Life (imperialbarasheville.com)
When I was searching for “Speakeasy” and “Asheville,” I was really looking for more places like this. Tucked away, barely marked, and up a steep flight of steps awaits a lively scene where the bartender takes his job very seriously.
Don’t miss: The Bartender’s Choice. Tell the bartender what you like, and he will come up with a variation of ingredients you would have never considered. And then you will wonder why you didn’t.
The Social Lounge (socialloungeasheville.com)
You think you know what you’re getting into when you stroll into the pleasant enough downstairs bar. But wait. There’s an upstairs bar that is kind of dark and intimate and it leads to a rooftop patio that is filled with the best mix of locals. It was here that I first had a Luxardo cherry – and I will never eat a maraschino cherry again.
Don’t miss: The rooftop patio. You will meet some great locals, who might become long-time friends.
The Thirsty Monk Pub and Brewery (monkpub.com)
If you want to go to just one place and sample a wide variety of Asheville’s craft beers, the Thirsty Monk is for you. And for me — hidden away upstairs — is the Top of the Monk, a pre-prohibition era cocktail bar serving creative twists on classic favorites.
Don’t miss: the beer. more than 35 varieties of local beer are on tap.
Sovereign Remedies (sovereignremedies.com)
Sovereign Remedies is the kind of place you go for a pre-dinner drink and end up staying all night because you couldn’t resist the appetizer menu or the thoughtfully crafted drinks.
Don’t miss: Donnie Appleseed. Apple brandy, bourbon, salted caramel, apple, lemon, and bitters. Did someone say fall?
Families set sail with Windjammer through the remote islands of the CaribbeanBy Kristen K. Tucker
Picture this: Remote islands in the Southern Caribbean, lush green mountains rising from the sea, delicious Spice Island food, endless rum, warm days turning to warm nights, your back on teak, stargazing the southern sky, the Caribbean people — beautiful in spirit and body, reading a book under a palm tree on a deserted island (watch the coconuts!), picnicking on the beach, a tall ship sailing the gentle waves, all enjoyed with your sweetie — and your kids.
This summer we found the opportunity to experience our dream vacation — sailing on a tall ship through the Caribbean — with our sons, Maxwell, 17, and Jackson, 14. Though there was plenty of rum, the captain, in his daily Story Time (where the day’s itinerary is revealed), rewarded the passengers’ enthusiastic responses to his greetings with, “More rum in the punch, more juice in the juice!” After all, there were children on board.
For nearly 10 years, my husband and I, often accompanied by friends and relatives, booked annual sailing trips with Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. The legendary company, which was established in 1947 and sailed five tall ships in its prime, filed for bankruptcy in 2007, ceasing operations. Windjammer fans and employees were loyal, though, and the freewheeling sailing culture the company created was extremely popular. In 2012, an investor group including former employees of Windjammer formed a new company, Sail Windjammer (sailwindjammer.com), and purchased the gem of the sailing fleet, S.V. Mandalay, before she was scrapped. The company is now owned by Mandalay Captain Sylvester Dzomeku and Cindy Greenway.
“We treasure our Junior Jammers week,” says Greenway. “It’s really wonderful to share such a unique experience with family. Reconnecting in such a busy world is so important and it’s also a gift to us because we get to share in the experience with them. Seeing their faces light up when they get to help with raising the sails or be at the helm is a beautiful thing. We love when families sail with us!”
At least once annually, usually in July, Sail Windjammer offers its regular weekly itinerary, sailing from St. George’s, Grenada, through the necklace islands of St. Vincent and The Grenadines for families and kids age 10 and older. The Tucker family signed on as passengers — adults in a cabin, kids in a cabin — for the sailing cruise and purchased airline tickets to Grenada. American Airlines flies to Maurice Bishop International Airport in St. George’s once daily, three or four flights weekly; you will want to search for your flights several months in advance, if possible.
We arrived in Grenada a day early and stayed a day over when we departed the ship. Adding these days assures you have plenty of time to deal with any flight problems and a chance to enjoy the lovely island nation of Grenada. Both times we have visited Grenada, we stayed on Morne Rouge Bay. This year we stayed at the Kalinago Beach Resort (kalinagobeachresort.com), right on the beach with a beautiful pool, swim up bar, and a great restaurant. Also on Morne Rouge Bay, we have enjoyed Sangria Restaurant, Bar & Lounge (facebook.com/SangriaRestaurantGD), which is a short walk from the resort.
We boarded Mandalay on a Saturday afternoon, after being picked up by Mandoo (grenadatours.com) at the resort. Sail Windjammer arranged our transfers and we had met the amiable tour operator Mandoo on a previous sail. Passengers are taken to the Mandalay, anchored offshore, in launch boats.
After a welcome reception and the management of paperwork and documents (passports are required) our sail through the Grenadines, destination unknown, began with the raising of the sails to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”
“We had heard about our parents’ Windjammer trips for years, and I was very curious and excited to sail on the Mandalay,” says Maxwell Tucker. “It is definitely for the traveler who does not want to know where he or she is going the next day. It’s zero percent stress and very authentic,” he says. “Grenada is a cool destination.”
In the view of the Mandalay at all times is a Grenadine island that’s hard to find on the map. The Grenadines are an archipelago of more than 600 islands in the Windward Islands, part of the West Indies, in the Caribbean Sea. They are divided between the island nations of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada — the countries we would report travel to on customs documents. During the seven-day trip, we sailed to Union Island, Mayreau, Tobago Cays, Bequia, Canouan, and Carriacou. Other islands in the chain include Petite Martinique and Mustique, the private holiday island frequented by celebrities.
On beach days, the crew set up beach bars and tendered lunch to us on the beach. A splendid day was on an uninhabited island in Tobago Cays. Lunch was a picnic of sandwiches on galley-made focaccia, spicy salads, and rum punch, under a palm tree. On islands with villages and small commercial districts — Bequia and Carriacou — passengers can sign up for an island tour (separate but affordable fee). Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is served on the ship, as well as daily “snacks and rum swizzles,” served around 5:30 p.m. — another Windjammer tradition. When the parents are offered rum swizzles, the kids get the virgin version. For early risers, the galley staff bakes sticky buns and serves Bloody Marys at 6:30 a.m. All of our meals were delicious, dressed up with West Indian flair and spices.
Snorkeling gear is rented on board, and nearly every day there were snorkeling opportunities, either from the beach, or through an excursion offered. At the Tobago Cays Marine Park, Todd and the boys swam with sea turtles. Maxwell strapped his GoPro camera to his head and came up with amazing videos of the turtles’ elegant movements. The kids formed onboard friendships and snorkeled together; Todd helped Jacob from California, whose mom, like me, preferred reading on the beach.
Unlike a cruise ship, nightly entertainment is more of the make-your-own-fun variety, with plenty of games for the kids. Crab Races and the costume party are passenger favorites.
Alcoholic beverages are purchased on the ship with “doubloons” — another Windjammer tradition; three or four times for a beer; five or more for cocktails. Each day, a special tropical cocktail is featured. Kids purchase unlimited soft drink doubloons (it’s vacation!), though Gloria and Ignacio “Nacho” (Las Vegas residents who sailed without children; they had won the trip at a Las Vegas charity dinner) were eager to buy the kids soft drinks on their cards.
Months later, our family recalls special, fun, and funny moments aboard the Mandalay in July. Will we take our children on a Junior Jammer sailing trip again? Absolutely. Though Maxwell soon will turn 18, he’ll be happy to return again, any time.
The Historic Ship
The 236-foot barquentine Mandalay was built in 1923 for financier E. F. Hutton and his wife Marjorie Merriweather Post. Grand in every fashion, the ship wasn’t big enough for Mrs. Post, who asked her husband for a larger ship. He complied, and in 1931 had the same shipyard build her the 360-foot Sea Cloud. The Sea Cloud sails still today, too, as a luxury passenger ship. In the 1930s, Mandalay was sold to a shipping magnate, who re-christened her VEMA. During WWII she searched for German U-boats off the coast of Long Island, New York. In 1953, Mandalay began service for Columbia University sailing more than 1.25 million miles worldwide. Evidence gathered on her voyages confirmed the theory of continental drift and mapped ocean floors.
Today, the ship carries up to 46 passengers with a crew of about 20. Though cabins vary in size and design, many feature beautiful original tile and woodwork. All sleep at least two, have private bathrooms, and air conditioning.