Quick Weekend Getaway In Atlanta GA For Curious First Timers

WHY GO: When Super Bowl LIII plays in Atlanta, Georgia it will be at the still shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Next door, the third largest convention center in the United States, Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) anchors the downtown entertainment hub that’s only a 15-minute Lyft ride from one of the world’s busiest airports. Many of Atlanta’s most popular attractions, hotels, and restaurants are concentrated within strolling distance Centennial Olympic Park, although you can hop on the Atlanta Streetcar to reach even more within a 2.7 mile loop. Big-city glitz wraps this metropolis with gleaming skyscrapers and a cosmopolitan polish, but at heart, Atlanta retains the feel of a charming Southern town.

Couple walks in Centennial Olympic Park with Atlanta GA skyline in background.

Things to Do in Atlanta GA

VISIT: Georgia Aquarium. When complete in 2020, the $100 million, 104,100-square-foot expansion will add an immersive shark exhibit to what was already the world’s largest aquarium from 2005-2012.

VISIT: Atlanta Botanical Garden. Set next to the Piedmont Park, a multi-use green space in Midtown, the botanical collections cover over 30 acres devoted to Southeastern flora as well as rare collections such as that of the Fuqua Orchid Center. Spring through Autumn, drop in on Thursday evening Cocktails in the Garden for specialty drinks and live music in a fairytale setting.

Visitors looking at Civil Rights March exhibit at Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site Visitor Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

TOUR: Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Begin with the orientation video and informative displays in the Visitor Center before touring the several buildings and gardens, over 35 acres, that are part of the site. Note that the Birth Home Tours do sell out, plan to go early.

VISIT: Center for Human and Civil Rights. This educational museum is well worth at least a 2-hour visit to learn about the struggle for equality in America; it’s a good complement to touring the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site for understanding the civil rights movement within the context of global human rights.

African American couple views mural about education and Black History in Atlanta GA.SEE: Atlanta Murals. Atlanta has one of the most colorful and diverse mural collections in the country, and it’s growing. In anticipation of Super Bowl LIII, the city is adding 30 murals inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. Check the Atlanta Street Art Map for directions and artist links, as well as self guided walking tours, encompassing the city’s extensive public art works collection.

Employee hands out free cans of soda at beginning of World of Coca Cola tour in Atlanta GA.

World of Coca Cola visit begins with a free can of soda.

VISIT: World of Coca Cola. If you’ve ever dropped into Club Cool at Disney World’s Epcot, you may already be familiar with the soda sampler. Kids (and many adults) grimace over the unusual soda flavors that are popular around the world. Expect even more variety (and weird flavors) at the Taste It! Beverage Lounge. Plan on at least two hours to get through the bottling works display, marketing exhibit, 4D Theater, and interactive Secret Formula Vault. Consider the VIP Guided Tour to avoid long lines and delays.

VISIT: College Football Hall of Fame. More than just a homage to the best of the best college players, the 95,000 square foot venue holds a 45-yard indoor football field with Touchstone Tunnel and Skill Zone Course.

CNN SignTOUR: CNN Studio Tours. Choose from a variety of experience options from Behind the Scenes to live studio options requiring background checks. Reservations highly recommended for specialty options.

TOUR: Southern Food Walk. The city boasts several food tours, some combining history and tastings. The Southern Food Tour stands out by offering 15 food tastings at 7 locally owned restaurants, with a look at the role food played in city history.

Girl rides scooter in front of Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta GA.

GO: The App transportation movement is in full force in Atlanta with a full assortment of electric scooters, bike sharing, and mopeds from Lime, Bird, and Muving. Use with caution, and do consider traveling with helmets.

SAVE: Atlanta CityPass. See five top Atlanta attractions–Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola, CNN Studio Tours, Zoo Atlanta or Center for Civil and Human Rights, and College Football Hall of Fame or Fernbank Museum of Natural History–for $76 adults ($61 child.)

Front facade of The Food Shoppe in Atlanta GA.

What to Eat in Atlanta GA

VIEW: Sun Dial Restaurant. It’s hard to beat the view from atop one of Atlanta’s tallest buildings, but the Westin Peachtree Plaza’s premier dining venue goes all out by maximizing window-side seating in a three-level restaurant that revolves 360 degrees. Delicious farm-to-table fare, an extensive wine list, and signature cocktails ensure a truly special dining experience.

Tasting Menu: Staplehouse. Doing good and being good, meals at Staplehouse benefit the Giving Kitchen, serving restaurant workers in crisis. With seasonal tasting menus described as transcend, this is one of those bucket list restaurants that warrant repeat visits.

CHEAP EATS: The Food Shoppe. Nothing is really cheap in downtown Atlanta, but dishes here are relatively affordable and the location can’t be beat (one block from Centennial Olympic Park. Expect typical creole fare; the Shrimp & Grits, Mac n’ Cheese, and made-from-scratch Jambalaya are outstanding. There’s only a couple of tables indoors, consider doing take out.

Westin Peachtree Hotel Tower view from Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta GA.

Where to Stay in Atlanta GA

STAY: Westin Peachtree Plaza. The plusses: central location, very friendly staff, amazing view, indoor pool, onsite Starbucks, decent size room (for an urban hotel,) and all that one expects from the upscale Westin brand. Only drawback was the $48/night parking fee (not uncommon in major cities,) and that the entire computer system was down upon our midnight arrival, leading to long lines at checkin. (It’s hoped that this was an unusual occurrence.)

HISTORIC/BOUTIQUE: Ellis Hotel. Luxury with a dash of whimsy, some of the hotel’s more unusual offerings include specialty floors for Women Only or Dog Lovers.

Big-city glitz wraps this metropolis with gleaming skyscrapers and a cosmopolitan polish, but at heart, Atlanta retains the feel of a charming Southern town.

Springfield MA: From Dr. Seuss to Basketball With Great Beer and BBQ

Basketball theme continues on the streets of Springfield MA

WHY GO: When Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote, “Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!  There are points to be scored.  There are games to be won, he just may have been spinning lyrics about his own hometown, Springfield MA. You can score points at the National Basketball Hall of Fame, see the “Organ of Muskets” at America’s first National Armory built just after the Revolutionary War, and discover other Springfield innovations at the Springfield Museums. Slightly dodgy, but with a downtown unexpectedly tidy and tended to, Springfield might not leap to mind as a great overnight getaway, but we’re asking you to give it a chance. Visit the Basketball Hall of Fame then stay for remarkable history, great homemade Bratwurst, authentic Louisiana fare and the best barbeque this side of the Mason Dixon line.

Things to Do in Springfield MA

Visitors shoot hoops on large court at the Basetball Hall of Fame in Springfield MA

VISIT: Basketball Hall of Fame. Basketball has come a long way since Dr. James Naismith invented the game at Springfield College in 1891. You’ll find everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the sport and the people who play it at the Basketball Hall of Fame. With an eye-catching design that attracts motorists from speedy Interstate 91, the slick planetarium-looking structure draws Michael Jordan wannabes and driveway slam-dunkers alike. In the expansive lobby, visitors stand in athlete’s footprints while watching videos of season highlights. And the regulation-size Center Court hosts clinics, shooting competitions and skill challenges. Try to palm a basketball, compare your “wingspan” with that of Kevin Durant’s impressive 7’5”, watch AM Sports Radio 1450 announcers and interviewees through the lobby window, and pay tribute to your favorite players in the “World’s Premier Basketball Museum.”   $20 adults, $14 kids. Daily 10-4.

Watch Sport Radio 1450 broadcasting from Basetball Hall of Fame in Springfield MA

VISIT: The four Springfield Museums. I was originally going to shove all four Springfield Museums into one paragraph, but then I visited them and realized that lumping them all together takes away from the individual quirkiness of each. Begin in the happy, Dr. Seuss-ified Visitor’s Center and purchase tickets to all four museums and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. $15 adults, $8 kids, Tues – Sat. 10-5, Sun. 11-5.

Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museums, Springfield MA

Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel grew up in Springfield MA and much of what he did and saw here ended up in his illustrations and writings. His father was a brewer who was forced to find a new career after Prohibition, bought a zoo, and allowed little Ted a run of the place. It’s no surprise, then, that Dr. Seuss’s fantastical creatures stem from this time in his life. Plan a photo op with Geisel or The Cat in the Hat or Horton or any of the several dozen Seuss characters planted in this wonderful sculpture garden.

Science Museum. It’s got your stuffed animals (and not the plush, bedtime kind if you know what I’m saying), including an orphaned polar bear named Snowball, who lived at the Springfield Zoo for 29 years before standing, in perpetuity, at the entrance to the museum. Stop into the gift shop and look over the door to find what might be – at 26 feet – the biggest taxidermied Python on record.  In the world.  There are plenty of live critters here as well, and if you’ve got a few minutes, it’s worth a peak.

Tiffany Windows illuminate the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum in Springfield MA

George Walter Vincent Smith Museum. Opened in 1895, in an era when wealthy eccentrics built public institutions to showcase their eccentric collections (in this case, Asian art, arms and armor including the largest assembly of cloisonné outside of China), the building itself is architecturally significant. Built in the style of an Italianate Villa, the stained glass windows are all original Tiffany, casting a dim golden glow in the magnificent foyer.

A selection of American and European Art throughout the centuries at the Fine Art Museum, Springfield MA

D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. Situated in a 1930’s Art Deco building, the Museum has assembled the usual suspects – Remington, O’Keefe, Winslow Homer, European artists, etc. – and the country’s only permanent gallery dedicated to art created to grace the homes of the middle class, the lithographs of Currier and Ives.

1928 Rolls Royce from Springfield MA Auto Plant, Museum of Springfield History

Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History. Opened in 2009, this is the newest of the Springfield Museums and the one you’ll want to devote the most time to, especially if you are connoisseur of vintage motorcycles, Smith and Wesson pistols or candy-colored Rolls Royces.  In the former New England Telephone and Telegraph building, you’ll find artifacts from all the companies once (and still) headquartered here, including the largest collection of Indian Motorcycles in the world.  Based in Springfield, Indian manufactured the most commercially successful bike in the world, reaching its pinnacle with the iconic 1928 Scout.

The best known Indian Motorcycle, the Scout, at Museum of Springfield MA History

You’ll also find a gorgeous green 1928 Rolls Royce, built during the 10 years (1919-1929) that the English automaker moved production to Springfield, MA.  The Museum also houses the largest collection of revolvers and pistols (1,500), from Springfield’s still operating Smith and Wesson Company, including four engraved by Tiffany, and the Model #1 dated 1858. The game of Basketball, Milton Bradley’s Checkered Game of Life, Friendly’s Ice Cream, and Breck Shampoo also got their start in this western MA river city, which once again is attempting to reinvent itself while honoring its past.

Exterior shot of former Arsenal Storage building at Springfield Armory National Historic Site, Springfield MA

TOUR: The Springfield Armory. In 1843, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow compared the double-musket racks at the Springfield Armory to an “Organ of Muskets” in his poetic lamentation of gun use:“when the death-angel touches those swift keys.” Commissioned by President George Washington in 1777, America’s first Federal Arsenal “carried out manufacturing, storage, repair, testing and development of arms for the US Army” until 1968. During its heyday – World War II – 15,500 workers (42% women!) churned out hundreds of thousand of M1 Rifles per year.

Organ of Muskets at Springfield Armory National Historic Site, Springfield MA

Now a National Historic Site housing the world’s largest collection of American military guns, the Armory does not glorify gun culture, but deftly informs visitors about the technological innovations gleaned from weapons production over the years and the fact that “Springfield citizens worked diligently to provide our military with the best infantry weapons necessary to safeguard the nation.”  Featuring machinery and exhibits about gun-making (look for enlarged photos of women missing fingers – a common industrial pitfall pre-OSHA), ballistic tests, evolution of firearms, rare models,”mishaps,”  an array of gatling guns, and one remaining “Organ of Muskets,” that is arguably the most photographed exhibit here, the Armory presents a sobering overview of what our soldiers use in battle.

Best Places to Eat in Springfield MA

Bar room crammed with beer steins at Student Prince and The Fort Springfield MA

EAT: Student Prince and Fort. A local landmark, this doubly named restaurant has been dishing out schnitzel and other excellent German chow since 1935.  Crammed with 2,000 beer steins and an impressive collection of corkscrews in several bar and dining areas, SP&F was listed among “Twenty Legendary Restaurants in the USA” by Gourmet Magazine. Still family-owned, still making their own delectable Bratwurst ($11.95), and still mixing “Salad with Roquefort” ($6) tableside, this warm and welcoming restaurant keeps traditions alive while inventing new ones. Of course, German beer is the signature beverage, but if you’re looking for a sweet alternative, ask for the “Ice Cream Drink,” ($8.95), a mixture of Grand Marnier, Galliano, and other liqueurs.

Mural on the wall of Theodore's Booze Blues and BBQ, Springfield MA

EAT: Theodore’s Blues, Brews and BBQ. After a recent change of chef, the preposterously good southern BBQ should take first billing, rather than third.  Yes, Theodore’s was once named the Best Blues Club in the country by the esteemed Blues Foundation, and wonderful murals of blues musicians cover the walls, but you cannot leave Springfield without trying Theo’s Short Ribs (“the bacon of beef”), St. Lewis Ribs ($13.95 for half rack), or Pulled Pork with delectable homemade Carolina Mustard in this purportedly haunted old printing factory. Apparently, Ghosthunters taped a convincing episode in this very place.

Modest exterior of Chef Wayne's Big Mamou, Springfield MA

EAT: Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou. Located in a space you’d likely pass by (or actively avoid), it would be a shame if you did.  Anyone who appreciates Big Easy seasonings will find some of the best Cajun food in the country in this unassuming open-kitchen café wedged between a parking lot and a furniture discount store on a wide, busy road. My personal favorite is the “Chicken Mississippi” ($8.95) – a stew of cubed chicken, al dente onions and spinach in lip-smacking broth.  So good, you’ll ask for more cornbread to sop it up.

View of Bell Tower from Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place, Springfield MA

Where to Stay in Springfield MA

MGM Springfield MA Sign

STAY: MGM SpringfieldNot just for gamblers, this new “Resort casino” is contributing to the revitalization of downtown Springfield. A “Maven Favorite” you can read all about it HERESpringfield MA is more than just the Basketball Hall of Fame. It was hometown of Dr. Seuss, manufacturing site of the first Indian Motorcycle, and where a Revolutionary War armory, built under orders from George Washington still stands as a National Historic Site. #DrSeuss #NationalArmory #SpringfieldArmory #SpringfieldMuseums #BigMamou #StudentPrince #MGMSpringfield #SpringfieldMA #Historic #USHistory #IndianMotorcycles #Travel #Massachusetts #NortheastUSA #LocalTravel #WesternMA #PioneerValley

Oh, Say Can You See Baltimore MD?

WHY GO: The Flag. Yes, ours. The one we sing about in the Star Spangled Banner was sewn and originally sent up the pole in Baltimore. So a visit to the “Monumental City” wouldn’t be complete without seeing where Old Glory was stitched and flew proudly.

Baltimore Inner Harbor, Baltimore MD

Chances are you’ve been here already – at least to the more commercialized Inner Harbor where the National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center the Baltimore Maritime Museum, and a myriad of shops and restaurants draw year round tourists like ants to a picnic.

But this Getaway takes you to some lesser known attractions and neighborhoods: to a Dentistry Museum that features George Washington’s teeth; the Birthplace of American Railroading (and its corporate office, now a boutique hotel); the Jewish enclave of Lombard Street.  You don’t have to look very hard to find historical and “Offbeat” Baltimore. For a longer stay, combine this Getaway with an Arts and Neighborhood focused visit.

Things to Do in Baltimore MD

Star Spangled Banner Museum, Baltimore MD

VISIT: Star Spangled Banner Museum. Before you even step foot inside, consider that the flag built into the front wall of the building is the same size as the one observed by Francis Scott Key on September 14, 1814 as he penned The Star Spangled Banner from a boat just off Fort McHenry. When war was declared two years earlier, the Army in Baltimore requested an “ensign” large enough to see from afar. But, who would stitch it? Mary Pickersgill’s family had a long history of sewing “colors” and sign flags for merchant ships (quite possibly competing for the same jobs as Betsy Ross up in Philadelphia). For this purpose Pickersgill was asked to craft an American Flag 30 ft. X 42 ft, with each stripe two feet wide and 15 stars two feet each from tip to tip. With just a few aides, she managed to get the job done in six weeks.

Flag House, Mary Pickersgill Home, Baltimore MD

A visit to this museum complex includes a tour of Pickersgill’s original circa 1793 home in its original location, exactly where she spent those 6 weeks sewing the fateful flag. With floorboards and windows over 200 years old, and samples of Old Glory folded in her workroom, it’s a thrilling look at a perspective of US History we don’t ordinarily consider. The flag that Mary made still exists, though you won’t find it here. To see it, you’ll have to head down to Washington, DC and the Smithsonian Museum.  Museum open Tues. –Sat. 10-4, $8 adult, $6 kids.

Fort McHenry, Baltimore MD

VISIT: Fort McHenry. Baltimore owns a “key” place in our nation’s history: the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British in the War of 1814 inspired an observer, Francis Scott Key, to write the words that would become our Star Spangled Banner.  One of the most uplifting moments of the tour comes just after watching a short movie in the Visitor’s Center when you are invited to stand to sing the national anthem as curtains open to reveal an American flag flying right outside. It’s worth visiting Baltimore for that spine-tingling moment alone. Open daily 9-4:45, $7 adults, kids free.

Mount Vernon Garden Baltimore MD

TOUR: Baltimore Trolley Tour. We’d ordinarily steer you clear of these kind of touristy things, but at least this 90-minute tour takes you out of the Inner Harbor and exposes you to other, lesser known Baltimore neighborhoods, while allowing for a bit of history. Sure you’ll hear all about attractions of the Inner Harbor: the USS Constellation, which was the last all-sail ship, used as a Naval Academy Training vessel, and the Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture – the latest museum to open there. On the cobblestone streets of Fells Point, you’ll learn about the mustering site for Massachusetts Civil War recruits, the bar favored by Edgar Allan Poe, and the row of homes that Frederick Douglas purchased after escaping slavery disguised as a seaman. “When I left Maryland, I was property.  When I came back, I bought property,” he was purported to have said.

Washington Monument, Mount Vernon Neighborhood, Baltimore MD

You’ll drive through Little Italy, “Cornbeef Row” – the Jewish section and home to the third longest-standing synagogue in the United States, and the monument studded Mount Vernon, arguably the most beautiful area of Baltimore.  The 178-ft. marble column and statue of George Washington, completed in 1829, was the first monument in the country to honor a United States President. When acting President, John Quincy Adams, came to town, he called Baltimore, “The Monumental City,” and the name stuck. The adjacent gothic spire Methodist Church and a central city garden creates a tableau that appears elegantly European. “This area unfortunately gets lost in the whole harbor thing,” say in-the-know guides.  Tours, $27 adults, $16 kids,  run from Visitor Center 10:30 and 12:30 daily.

1890 Crowned Teeth National Museum of Dentistry Baltimore MD

VISIT: Samuel Harris National Museum of Dentistry. There may be other Dentistry Museums (who knew?), but this one, opened in 1996 on the University of Maryland campus, is the largest in the country most likely because the world’s first dental school, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, debuted here in 1840. At first, you may think a museum dedicated to a dreaded medical procedure would be blah, boring, or even trigger-stressful, but I ended up staying much longer than the 20 minutes I’d allotted because it is so fascinating.

The most prominent – and myth-busting – artifact here is an actual set of George Washington’s dentures. And they are not made out of wood, as countless teachers have taught us. Made of sculpted bone and hinged wire, they were so uncomfortable, Washington had to have new ones made often.

Andy Warhol Art National Museum of Dentistry Baltimore MD

Walk in to find a stained glass window of the “Patron Saint of Tooth Sufferers,” Apollonia, from a church in Wales next to portraits of same by Andy Warhol. Visitors are invited to “Share Your Smile” – via digital camera that snaps a photo and then adds it to the roster of rotating toothy faces above. There’s a “Guess The Smile” interactive that questions your ability to identify a celebrity based just on his or her grinning mouth.

Traveling Dentist Tools National Museum of Dentistry Baltimore MD

Prior to the mid 1800’s, dentistry was not considered a part of the medical field. Most small towns did not have a practicing dentist, and so traveling dentists were required for those suffering from tooth pain. On display is a “well-supplied traveling dentist’s outfit, carried in saddlebags” for those small rural communities.

Queen Victoria Teeth Scaling Set National Museum of Dentistry Baltimore MD

Learn interesting Victorian-age particulars about dental health – such as the not so surprising fact that the upper class displayed wealth by owning personalized sets of tooth scalers (implements that scrape plaque from teeth). In fact, Queen Victoria’s mother-of-pearl-handled set is on exhibit here.

Doc Holliday National Museum of Dentistry Baltimore MD

The museum owns one of the only authenticated photos (if not the only photo) of Dr. John Henry “Doc” Holliday performing a dental procedure in 1875. That well-preserved photograph was discovered while cleaning trash out of a classic car in 1991. Open Mon-Fri 9-4 (last admitted at 3pm), $7 adults, $5 kids.

Jewish Museum of Maryland Baltimore MD

VISIT: Jewish Museum of Maryland. In 1960, the Maryland Jewish Historical Society was formed to save the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the first built in Baltimore in 1845, to house the Orthodox Baltimore Hebrew Association. The Synagogue is now part of the Jewish Museum of Maryland with its poignant permanent exhibit, “Voices of Lombard St.” Stories are told through poster-sized photographs, text quotes and objects. Though specific to Jewish life in Baltimore, the exhibit speaks to a more universal immigrant experience, where newcomers are totally out of their element and ethnic groups must help each other:

Jewish Museum of Maryland Baltimore MD

“My grandparents had no life after they got here. They were unfit for American life. And I think this was common among these immigrants. Their purpose was to open up the world to their children.” – Joseph Hirschmann. “The Haves had to help the Have Not’s. It was a simple matter of justice.”

Lombard St Jewish Museum of Maryland Baltimore MD

Anyone – Jewish or not – who grew up in Baltimore’s Jewish neighborhood will experience a strong sense of nostalgia here. “I thought the whole world was Italian and Jewish,” wrote a Lombard St. resident. Exhibits illustrate the prevailing customs of Baltimore’s Jewish population: there’s a picture of a fish in a bathtub, exemplifying the practice of keeping carp fresh before being ground and cooked as gefilte fish, along with a photo montage of markets and butcher shops right before the  Jewish Sabbath and holidays.

Market Day Jewish Museum of Maryland Baltimore MD

Soon, though stories of Yiddish Theater and deli’s give way to riots and drugs that ultimately forced Jews to move to safer places. Plan to spend a half hour or more here if you want to read all the signage. Even if you didn’t live here, and have no connections to Baltimore, it’s an emotional look at an immigrant group who made the best of a new country and new world. Open Sun-Thurs 10-5, $10 adults, $4 kids.

B & O Museum, Baltimore MD

VISIT: B&O Railroad Museum. Conceived as a new technology to compete with the New York Erie Canal, the 1827 Maryland State Legislators granted a charter to build a “road of rails” between Baltimore and the Ohio River. This 40-acre museum tells the story of railroading from the place of its origins. Most of the train cars are arrayed within St. Claire’s Roundhouse, which, at 235 feet interior diameter was designed to accommodate the largest passenger cars of the day, and was the largest circular industrial building in the world at the time of its construction in 1884. Enormous train cars radiate like spokes from a wheel inside this colossal building and you can jump aboard each one, and then avail yourself of various tours through the day.  “The War Came By Train” exhibit illuminates the way this new technology influenced the outcome of the Civil War. Outside, walk through retired train cars – some set up with model-train dioramas, others available to ride. $6, adults, $4 kids, Mon-Sat 10-4, Sun 11-4.

Baltimore Water Taxi, Baltimore MD

DO: Take The Baltimore Water Taxi  which ferries beau coups visitors to 17 harbor access points, for just $12 per day.  On an ideal afternoon, it’s the best place to chill out on the water – even if you have no desire to get off.

Best Restaurants in Baltimore MD

Sabatino’s Restaurant Baltimore MD

EAT: Sabatino’s, Little Italy. In all the hoopla about the hottest new restaurants, sometimes its nice to shine light on those that have stood the test of time. Sabatino’s – opened in 1955 and still a Little Italy landmark – is one such “old school” institution, with friendly service, traditional “red sauce” Italian cuisine, and white linen table-set dining rooms. Known for its homemade salad dressing on the signature Bookmaker Salad, Sabatino’s also serves up full and half-orders of Lasagna, Penne Vodka, Baked Ziti, and Eggplant Parm ($15-$19) like Mama used to make. All are hearty, fresh and delicious.

Miss Shirley's Cafe, Baltimore MD

EAT/BREAKFAST: Miss Shirley’s. This is where most Baltimore natives will send you for your morning meal, provided you have enough room in your stomach for some serious eats. With portions designed to share, the savories win out. Battle Of the Brunches bestowed best dish on Crab Cake and Fred Green Tomatoes, though Shirley’s Affair with Oscar – Beef Fillet with Crab has won numerous awards.

Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore MD

EAT: Woodberry Kitchen. Another hotspot in the gentrifying outskirts of town, Woodberry Kitchen is tucked into the repurposed Clipper Mill complex. With an outdoor patio strung with lights, flickering votives,  wood beam interior a hermit’s cabin gone wild, Woodberry has the atmosphere and quality of locavore food that keeps the reservation phones a-ringing.

Fells Point

EAT/DRINK: Pick a place in Fells Point. It’s the oldest section of Baltimore – and charms you with brick sidewalks and cobblestone streets. Fells Point has been Baltimore’s go-to neighborhood for drinking and carousing since 1763. A party every night. With bars named The Cat’s Eye Pub, Ale Mary and One Eyed Mikes, and Bad Decisions, you can’t go wrong stumbling in to any and all.

Where to Stay in Baltimore MD

Hotel Monaco Baltimore Wine Hour, Baltimore MD

STAY: Baltimore Hotel Monaco. The 1906 Beaux Arts Hotel Monaco was initially the B&O Corporate Headquarters and is just three blocks from the Inner Harbor.  A bit more sedate than the typical crazy-cat Kimpton Hotel décor, the multi-nook lobby is a quiet-riot of maroons, dollar-bill greens, and ecru, punched up by flashes of chartreuse where every evening, guests are invited to a convivial complementary Wine Hour. High ceiling guestrooms are perfect lairs for CEO’s and those who like to travel like them. Rich blue leather headboards on Frette linen enrobed beds, red lacquer desks, Poupon-yellow leather walls in dark marble baths, the Monaco caters to lovers of the colorful. And here’s an “offbeat” amenity: if you’re lonely, staff will bring up a companion goldfish to keep you company. Rooms $179-$399, Majestic Suite, $1500. Includes complimentary hosted wine hour, use of bicycles, companion goldfish.

Lord Baltimore Hotel Lobby

STAY: Lord Baltimore Hotel.  Another historic hotel three blocks from the inner harbor, the Lord Baltimore was the centerpiece of upscale Baltimore hospitality when it opened in the late 1920’s. After fading and falling out of favor, Rubell Hotels purchased the property in 2013, redesigning the common areas and most of the guest rooms. Though bathrooms still have a ways to go (bathtub tiles and fixtures have not been replaced), rooms are handsomely masculine and cool – and at this point, reasonably priced for the area. Rooms from $155 per night plus tax.


Like this post? Put a pin on it!

Baltimore pin

Southwestern VA Towns, Abingdon and Bristol

Bristol Sign VA

WHY GO: With the demise of “extractive industries” (coal and timber), Southwestern Virginia is reinventing itself through its cultural offerings. You’ll most likely be surprised by the caliber of theater, music, food and lodging in the corner of Virginia wedged between Tennessee and Kentucky, a renaissance led by the small but worldly towns of Abingdon and Bristol. Come set a spell, listen to home-grown bluegrass, learn about “The Big Bang of Country Music,” watch some future Hollywood or Nashville star on a small-town stage, and then stay in a brand-spankin’ new boutique hotel. Southwest VA provides honest to goodness heart, talent, and hospitality with a heavy dose of luxury.

Best Things to Do in Southwestern VA


Heartwood, Abingdon VA

VISIT/Abingdon: Heartwood – Artisan Gateway to Southwest Virginia. Heartwood is a performance space, art and craft gallery, wine bar and café and should be your first stop just to get your bearings. Over 450 juried artisans, many who introduce themselves through short videos, display and perform their considerable skills and talents in this modern building. Constructed from local materials, you can practically eat off of the burnished Virginia Hickory floor. Fortunately, you don’t have to. You can enjoy local farm cuisine on tables arranged around a stage used for live musical performances

Road of Traditional Music, the 330 Mile Crooked Road through Southwestern VA

Road of Traditional Music, the 330 Mile Crooked Road through Southwestern VA

One whole room in Heartwood is devoted to The Crooked Road – 330 miles of meandering Southwestern Virginia back roads that propels road-trippers from one obscure music venue to another. Spearheaded by Bluegrass musician Jack Hinshelwood and folklorist, Joe Wilson, The Crooked Road preserves this “everyday fabric of life, this precious heirloom” while helping musical communities in ways they never had before. Open Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 10-3, Free.

Nancy Garretson 3-D Tapestries, Abingdon VA

Nancy Garretson forms 3-D Tapestries that must be seen to be believed at Arts Depot, Abingdon VA

VISIT/Abingdon: Arts Depot. If you are a fan of exceptional local art and crafts, you can’t get more local than this. Seven artists moved their studios into this renovated former railroad station, and you can engage with each while you watch them create. Helen Morgan fashions hedgehogs and other animals from yarn and cloth, and Nancy Garretson forms 3-D Tapestries that must be seen to be believed. At price points of $900-$1,500, these one of a kind handiworks are a steal. Open April – Dec Thur-Sat 10-4, Jan-March 11-3, Free.

William King Museum of Art, Artist Studio

William King Museum of Art, Artist Studio

VISIT/Abingdon: William King Museum of Art. In a former All Boys Academy school building, the William King MOA (named after a wealthy local who made his fortune in salt) is the only accredited art museum within 100 miles. Rotating exhibits (none permanent) in beautiful galleries are well thought out, scholarly and compelling, and best of all, free. Be sure to check out art in progress in the messy-intriguing Artist Studio. Open Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5. Free.

VISIT/Abingdon: Holston Mountain Artisans. In its 45rd year, this gallery is one of the longest running artists cooperative in the United States, with over 100 craftspeople represented. Worth it to see what creative minds and talents are up to in Southwestern VA. Open March-Dec. Mon-Sat 10-5:30, Seasonal Sundays 1-5, Jan and Feb Thur-Sat 10-5:30, Free.

Shuttle Shack, Damascus VA

Shuttle Shack, Damascus VA on Virginia Creeper Bike Trail

BIKE/Damascus: The Virginia Creeper Trail. An old, abandoned railroad right-of-way has put the tiny town of Damascus (pop 960) on the map. That’s because it’s midpoint on the 34-mile Whitetop Mountain-to-Abingdon Virginia Creeper Trail – Southwest Virginia’s hottest recreational sensation. In the late 1800’s through early 1900’s, trains would “creep up” nearby mountains to haul 30,000 acres of cut timber for regional furniture factories, but when the economy flailed, the railroad vacated the area. Seeing opportunity in the stunning landscape along the former tracks, locals pushed to have a bike path created.

Damascus VA Appalachian Trail

Damascus VA Appalachian Trail

Now, over 200,000 people a year (and growing) ride from mountaintop, along and over rivers, through valleys and into towns. There are seven bicycle rental shops in Damascus alone. For $24 you can rent a bike and shuttle to the summit of Whitetop Mountain where the trail begins. Damascus is also on the Appalachian Trail and hosts the 30,000 strong “Appalachian Trails Days” every May – the largest gathering of hikers on the whole trail.

Barter Theater

Barter Theater, Abingdon VA

SEE/Abingdon: Barter Theater. In 1929, Abingdon born actor, Robert Porterfield, was trying to find fame and fortune in New York City, but he and his friends were starving as the Depression hit the entertainment industry hard. So, Porterfield returned to Virginia with his troupe in tow to barter his talents for food, trading “Ham for Hamlet.” Thus the “Barter Theater” was formed. Many well-known actors– including Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, and Kevin Spacey – earned their chops on these boards. So, watch a revival of a favorite show here and you might catch the next big name. Tickets $28-$44.

SHOP/Abingdon: Farmers Market. If you happen to be in town on Tues afternoon or Sat morning, this year-round regional market has been called the best of its kind in the country. You’ll find fruits, veggies, meats, wine, clothing, soaps and more, unloaded from vans fresh from farms and studios. The market is unique in that it is “producer-only” – if you don’t “make bake it or grow it,” you can’t participate. Organized in 2001, it was one of the first markets in the state to accept food stamps and is a business incubator for the town. Connecting restaurants to local farmers, the Abingdon Farmer’s Market helps keep local farms in business. Saturdays 8-1, Tuesdays 3-6 year round, Free.

Olive Oil Co

Abingdon Olive Oil Co.

SHOP/Abingdon. Abingdon Olive Oil Co. What sets this Olive Oil emporium apart from others? That would be its owner K.C., who dishes delightfully on the health benefits of both the oil and vinegars that she sells. Take the tour and you’ll be sure to walk away with a couple of bottles and accessories.

Carter Family Fold

Carter Family Fold, Hiltons VA

SEE/Hiltons: Carter Family Fold. About 30 miles outside of Bristol and Abingdon (40 minute drive) on country curvy roads that enfold and enchant, you’ll find the Carter Family homestead and 820-seat theater – a gift from June Carter’s husband, Johnny Cash in the 1970’s. (Cash’s last appearance was on this stage for the July 4th weekend 2003. He died that September).

Original Carter House

Original Carter Family House

The Carter Family patriarch, A.P. Carter, lived in this fold of the Appalachian Mountains with his brood in a simple log cabin where all eight slept together in an upstairs loft. Visitors who find their way here can see it and a small museum housed in what was A.P.’s grocery store, before settling in to experience the weekly show featuring the best of Bluegrass and Fiddle music. With an unshakable faith in her family tradition, A.P.’s granddaughter, Rita Forester, keeps the music alive in this incredibly down home place.

Opie and Owner Waltzing

Opie and Owner Waltzing at Carter Family Fold, Hiltons VA

You can tell the regulars from visitors – they’re the ones flatfoot clogging like unrestrained Riverdancers on the dance floor. One woman even waltzes with her dog, Opie.

Carter Fold

Carter Family Fold Sat Night, Hiltons VA

Little kids learn from the grown-ups, and grandpas clog with towhead toddlers. It’s a scene that will surely melt your heart in this fast-paced, plugged in world, as will Rita’s call for prayer for those ill in the community, and her acknowledgement of guests who come from near and far, many from foreign lands. Rita cooks all the food available in the concession stand – Pork BBQ, Chicken Biscuit, and tickets are only $10 each ($1 for kids 6-11 and free under 6). FYI – you won’t find alcohol on the premises. “This is a family place.” $10Shows every Saturday night at 7:30 pm, but come at 6 to tour the compound.

Bristol VA TN

State Street Bristol divides Virginia and Tennessee

WALK: State Street, Bristol. Walk down the center of the street and you’ll be straddling Virginia and Tennessee. The TN side has the NASCAR racetrack, but the Virginia side is where the “Bristol Sessions” were held. (see, Birthplace of Country Music Museum).

Bristol Sessions at Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol VA

Bristol Sessions at Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol VA

VISIT/Bristol: Birthplace of Country Music Museum. The image of Appalachia as a careworn and weathered woman peeling apples on a decaying porch is not an accurate one, as you’ll discover as you make your way through this Smithsonian Affiliate Museum, which celebrates a complex musical style far from the “country bumpkin” stereotype.

Birthplace of Country Music Museum

1927 Bristol Sessions, satisfying a national craze for “Hillbilly” music

Walk through the doors of this paean to The 1927 Bristol Sessions, and you’ll hear rootsy bluegrass music piped through speakers. These speakers, and the machines that both play and record music, are the reasons that this museum is here. At a time when you could “Trade in your mule for your first Motorwagon,” Ralph Peer, a record producer for the Victor Talking Machine Company in NYC, came to the southern crossroads of Bristol to find musicians who couldn’t make it up to the recording studios in New York.

Counting on the public’s growing demand for “hillbilly” music, Peer utilized the latest in recording technology to capture 76 songs by 19 artists over a ten-day period in July 1927, paying each performer $50 per song – a kings ransom at the time. Peer proved prescient. The Bristol Sessions, considered by industry insiders to be “The Big Bang of Country Music,” made celebrities of Jimmy Rogers and The Carter Family – and Peer a wealthy man.

Mix Your Own Song

Make your own music, at Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol VA

In addition to the history of the Sessions and technical aspects of the recording industry, you can “sit in” on the original recordings, dance along to other tunes and even get to try your hand at singing in a blessedly soundproof Karaoke Booth. Open Tues-Sat 10-6, Sun 1-5. $13.

Benjamin Walls Gallery Bristol VA

VISIT: Benjamin Walls Gallery. It’s quite the shock to find a world-renowned photographer in this unassuming place, but here, next door to the soon to be reopened Cameo Theater, you’ll come across some pictures that you swear you’ve seen before. That’s because some of these photos of African beasts, Western US canyons, and other landscapes from Maine to California and across the world have been in DC’s Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Benjamin Walls Photo Bristol VA

Even if you have no desire to purchase one of these beauties (available in Limited Editions of 5, 50, 500, or 950 copies) come in to gaze upon them. Walls, all of 38 years old, has captured the best of Mother Nature. If a Walls photo is too rich for your wallet, buy the book of his images: American icon, Dolly Parton, wrote the forward.

Cameo Theater Renovation Bristol VA

GO: Cameo Theater. New owner, Brant Buchanan, wants to take The Cameo “back to 1925” when it was first built as an entertainment venue. In the process of being restored, Buchanan hopes to have it open by the end of 2018, with a state of the art sound system that weighs 2,000 lbs: “literally a ton of sound.” Already, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver are lined up for December 1st.

Cameo Theater Facade Bristol VA

Buchanan runs a Funeral Home in town, and considers the Cameo his “escape:” providing a happy place vs. sad. Last year, a friend recommended that Buchanan buy the old theater and restore it. He had never been inside, but “as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with the space.” Though the venue’s 550 seats had been refurbished a few years ago, Buchanan is updating color palate while keeping some walls and trim original to 1925. Harking back to its roots, he’d like the theater to offer staged plays, music, some movies; “the whole shebang.” When the Cameo was first built, there were two staircases to the balcony: one for Whites and the other for Blacks. Though segregated, this was one of the first theaters to even allow African Americans in the same room. Now, a deck off the balcony will serve as a VIP area for 30-35 people, with food service and private bathroom. In conjunction with the Birth of Country Music Museum, the Cameo will be a huge draw for Bristol.

Hester’s Country Store Bristol VA

SHOP: Southern Churn, Hester’s Country Store, and Cranberry Lane. All owned by Carol Hester, these State Street establishments – connected as one large store inside – have been tourist destinations for over 19 years for families on their way to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Each year, Hester sells over 30,000 lbs of fudge, as well as old-fashioned candies and chocolates at Southern Churn. You’ll find all kinds of great baby and housewarming gifts at Hester’s and Cranberry Lane as well.

Studio Brew Bristol VA

TASTE/EAT: Studio Brew. Going back to its roots, the building was originally erected in 1908 as a distillery and warehouse for Happy Valley Whiskey barrels, and over time became a photography studio and appliance warehouse. Now, thanks so owners since 2014, Pam and Erich Allen, it’s back in the booze-making biz, with brews named Czardust (Russian Imperial Stout), Dancing Monk (Belgian Ale), Juicy Tube (New England IPA), Hop-A-Delic Kewl-Aid, the Mex-I-Can (Vienna Lager), and my favorite, The Ferguson – a delish grownup “chocolate milk:” oatmeal-chocolate milk Stout.

Interior Studio Brew Bristol VA

The tasting room is fun and witty, with flights served in painter’s palettes, and beer taps fitted on industrial pipes. Not into frosties? Studio Brew makes the delectable Big e’ze Root Beer – in fact, it’s 10% of its business. Pair up a drink with wood-fired pizza, sandwiches or the most popular – “Kraut Poppers” with sour cream, bacon, and sauerkraut.

Places to Eat in Southwestern VA

Vivian’s Table at The Bristol Hotel VA

EAT/BRISTOL: Vivian’s Table at The Bristol Hotel. With its distressed wood tables, contemporary crystal, and orange napkins for pop, Vivian’s Table showcases the region’s traditional scratch-made food and locally sourced ingredients – with a twist. Thanks to a crackerjack Executive Chef, Rocco Pisera, the food here is flavorful, recognizable but inventively tweaked, and rather reasonably priced: Shrimp and Grits ($24), Stuffed Trout ($26), and Pasta Dishes ($24).

Fried Green Tomatoes Vivians Table Bristol VA

Superlative Calamari, lightly fried, comes with thin disks of slightly battered and sautéed zucchini topped with a drizzle of sweet-spicy special sauce that all in all make an addictive first course. Fried Green Tomato Caprese Salad is a play on Southern cuisine – a fine dish to share.

Lumac Roof Bar Bristol Hotel VA

DRINK/BRISTOL: Lumac at Bristol Hotel. Lumac is Bristol’s first rooftop bar, and offers panoramic views of the nearby Appalachian Mountains. Its modern lines offer – dare I say it – a hip place for locals and visitors to drink in both the views and craft cocktails, like “A Good Place To Live,” which consists of Vodka, Kahlua, and Cream of Pumpkin.

Burger Bar

Burger Bar, Bristol VA

EAT/Bristol: Burger Bar. You got your “plain Jane” burger for $4.95, a Bacon Cheese for $6.95 and an assortment of milkshake flavors at this iconic burger joint where “Hank Williams was last seen alive” (right before his car accident).

Blackbird Bakery Bristol VA

SWEET TREAT/Bristol: Blackbird Bakery. “It’s ridiculousness,” says one fan about the quality of the baked goods at the famous Blackbird Bakery. People come from the surrounding states just for the absurdly good donuts, cakes, and other oven-made sweets at this Bristol classic. Take your treats to go, or sit in the “Friends” – like area on a cushy couch or table – and if you time it right, listen to some great live music

EAT/Bristol: Eatz on Moore StSoul food, great fried chicken, and perfect Southern cuisine.

The Tavern, Abingdon VA

The Tavern, Abingdon VA

EAT/Abingdon. The Tavern. The Tavern was built in 1779 “on the wilderness road” as a stagecoach stop and served as a Civil War hospital in the 1860’s. Ask to see the charcoal numbers on the walls of the third floor (purported to be haunted), indicating where injured soldiers’ beds were placed. Dinner is a two hour affair, with excellent signature “Black and Blue Medallions of Beef” ($35) and Veal Schnitzel ($30). Pricey, but worth it for the atmosphere, quality of food and experience.

128 Pecan

128 Pecan, Abingdon VA

EAT/Abingdon. 128 Pecan. Pictures of owner Jack Barrow and his family adorn of the wall of this cute, colorful eatery. Known for its sop-it-all-up Tomato Bisque (cup $3, bowl $5), which can serve as a meal in itself, the sandwiches and Jerk Chicken Salad ($11.50) are excellent as well.

EAT/Abingdon. Rain. One of Abingdon’s newest places, it hit the ground running with a contemporary menu and consistently good food.

Wolf Hills Brewery

Wolf Hills Brewery, Abingdon VA

DRINK/Abingdon. Wolf Hills Brewery. Join in the know locals at this rustic, barnlike former icehouse, for what amount to a kegger with live music (weekends) and some of the freshest brews around. Maven’s favorite? The White Blaze Honey Cream Ale. WHB is also a favorite stop for cyclists at the end of the Creeper Trail.

Where to Stay in Bristol and Abingdon VA

Reception Bristol Hotel VA

STAY/BRISTOL: The Bristol Hotel, Virginia. Next door to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, this brand new boutique hotel (opened Oct. 2018) has a winning formula for “high-end” travelers seeking an upscale, stylish overnight stay and is a new Maven Favorite, with its own write-up HERE.

STAY/ABINGDON: The Martha.It used to be The Martha Washington Inn, but this gem of a Historic Hotel of America, was rebranded to reflect more modern tastes. This was a Getaway Mavens Top Pick – read the complete review here.

Lexington VA: VMI, Washington & Lee, and Thomas Jefferson’s Favorite Attraction

VMI Lunchtime Lexington VA

WHY GO: Virginia Military Institute (VMI) dominates Lexington Virginia like a fortress. Right next door, Washington & Lee University, a Liberal Arts College founded by George Washington and presided over by Robert E. Lee after the Civil War, draws students from all over the country and the world. There is so much USA History in Lexington, outsiders might not realize that there is also a community component as well. With a horse drawn carriage tour that’s been delighting visitors for decades, Main Street merchants who champion each other, boutique hotels that incorporate the past with modern luxuries, a growing culinary scene that serves an array of tastes (read: upscale and collegiate), and beautifully curated independent shops run by passionate owners, Lexington deserves a few days to explore.

Entrance Dinosaur Kingdom II Natural Bridge VA

Yes, Thomas Jefferson’s favorite American attraction, Natural Bridge, is nearby, as is the highly recommended Virginia Safari Park, but there’s also a “Civil War Era Dinosaur Experience” so weird and wonderful (from the mind of the man who gave us “Foamhenge”), you just have to see it to believe it. Spend a weekend here and be immersed in the Yin and Yang of this small mid-Virginia town. Just read on…..

Things to Do in Lexington VA

Lexington Carriage Tour Woody and Weepy VA

TOUR: Lexington Carriage Tour. There’s no better way to tour a hilly historic town than by a fancy carriage pulled by draft horses. Sure, you’ll see some sights and learn something about the history of Lexington on your 45 minute excursion, but you’ll also fall in love with the hard working equines, each with his or her own distinct personality, like the stocky Haflingers, Woody and Weepy.

Lexington Carriage Company Lexington VA

Lexington Carriage Co. owner, Shana Layman, adores her horses, and they love her back. She’s been in this business since 1985 – initially as a driver – and now owns five carriages that provide multiple tours a day with add on private events and weddings in season.

Shana Layman Lexington Carriage Company

Arron and Abe pulled my coach – more like a surrey with a fringe on top – and wore diapers, or in Layman’s terms, “poop bags,” in accordance with the City law, which explained the lack of horse excrement on Lexington streets. Arron and Abe were show horses from Indiana who retired at 11 years old and were “bored to death” until Layman brought them to Virginia and gave them a job.

Lexington Bricks Lexington VA

You’ll clip-clop through beautiful neighborhoods of stately homes and sidewalks laid with very uniquely patterned “Lexington Brick,” first used in the 1880’s. These bricks are so distinctive: jewelry, art, photos, and house-wares in their image are sold around town.

Lexington VA Neighborhood Carriage Tour

Lexington was settled on a hilltop in the 1730’s by the Scotts-Irish who found the passage South to be less treacherous than that of the Westward expansion. Named in 1778 for the town in Massachusetts; Lexington’s hills were both a blessing and a curse. The blessing, of course, was the town’s defensible location. The curse was the steepness of its streets. Though in the mid-1800’s some of the roads were leveled out, Lexington still remains a hilly place. I had my doubts about two horses pulling such a heavy load up these inclines, but Layman assured guests that her steeds were not only capable, but loved doing it. Like Husky’s with Alaskan sleds, draft horses are naturally game. April – October, several 50 minute tours a day (check website), $16 adults, $7 kids. Begins across from the Visitor’s Center.

TOUR: Natural Bridge State Park. Surveyed in 1750 by George Washington and “granted to Thomas Jefferson” on July 5, 1774, the Natural Bridge remains a Wonder of the World. The solid grey limestone arch is 215 feet high (55 ft. higher than Niagara Falls), and spans 90 feet. Open daily 8 to dusk, $8 over 13, $6 6-12.

TOUR: Virginia Safari Park,Natural Bridge. I don’t usually write about such touristy places, but some are just too good to pass up. You can’t miss Virginia Safari Park from I-81, and it’s not cheap to enter. But it is so worth it (and they’re not every paying me to say this!) On 180 acres, you can drive through on the 3 mile loop road as many times as you’d like.

Virginia Safari Park Natural Bridge VA

For this particular “Safari Park” (and against all common sense), leave your car windows open, because you’ll be feeding the bison, elk, lama, deer, ostriches, and other animals that beg and stick their heads right into your car for buckets of feed purchased at the gate. They slobber, they spray food pellets all over the place, and you’ll never laugh so hard. At least, I didn’t. The animals look healthy and well cared for. If they don’t get enough to eat (which is doubtful on a crowded weekend day), staff makes sure to supplement.

Virginia Safari Park Aviary Natural Bridge VA

Virginia Safari Park Aviary Natural Bridge VA

Then, there’s the walk-through Safari Village, which is also crazy fun. Dozens of colorful nipping parakeets swarm you as you eek into a net-enclosed aviary. They’re looking for little lollipop-birdseed sticks, and if you don’t have them, watch out. Those beaks are sharp. You’ll see kangaroos, Bengal Tigers, penguins, and even giraffes – at whom you’ll stare eye to eye from platform Feeding Stations.

Mark Cline Dinosaur Kingdom II Natural Bridge VA

TOUR: Dinosaur Kingdom II (Back From Extinction), Natural Bridge.  This strange, but weirdly compelling place, drawn from the unbound mind of Mark Cline, re-imagines the Civil War as if the Union side had a secret weapon: dinosaurs. Yes, you read that correctly. During your walk though 16 acres of forest, you’ll encounter Yankees in 1864 using various dinosaurs as weapons of mass destruction against the South.

Dinosaur Kingdom II Natural Bridge VA

You might know Cline (related to Patsy’s ex-husband) from his famous recreation of Stonehenge in foam, aka “FoamHenge,” which became a media sensation a few years back. He’s an artist, a fabricator (of figures, monuments, and stories), and in his very quirky way, a do-gooder and philanthropist. He’s built attractions around the country, and here, his fiberglass creations are both simple and intricate.

Dinosaur Kingdom II Natural Bridge VA

Pay your $10 and you enter a town that’s obviously been destroyed by…. something. I won’t give away the “special effects,” but suffice it to say that Cline uses the psychology of fear and trepidation well here. There are optical illusions, surprise monsters, and, an amusing 10 minute video showing the “alternate history” of the Civil War Dinosaur: that “little known story” during the Battle of Natural Bridge, when Union Soldiers found a “remnant of ancient times” down a mine shaft. Soon, their “secret weapon” turned on them “because dinosaurs didn’t really care what side of the Mason-Dickson line you’re on.”

As you wend your way about a mile through the forest, you’ll come across a series of non-mechanical, sedentary scenes of T-Rex and other prehistoric creatures mauling the troops (these dinos are not animatronic) some brought to life on your cellphone where you’ll see the events leading up to that moment. My favorite was Stonewall Jackson battling the Great White Beast with his mechanical arm. Cline has more ideas for his Park, and is continuously adding on. Of course, you exit through the gift shop – where you can buy the comic book version of your experience. Park open daily Memorial Day – August, 10-6, May weekends only 11-5, Sept/October weekends only 10-6, $10 adults, $6 kids.

Cline also runs Lexington’s 1.5 hour Lexington Ghost Tour, which features the ghost of General Lee’s horse, Traveller, the most haunted house on the East Coast, messages from the beyond, and more. Memorial Day – Oct, 8pm from the Visitor’s Center, $15 adults, $7 kids.

Virginia Military Institute Lexington VA

TOUR: Virginia Military Institute. Originally built as an arsenal to protect the James River Canal, in 1839, VMI became a military training school for the young men who beforehand sat mostly idle and bored. It is now a four-year undergraduate college that combines a full curriculum within a framework of military discipline emphasizing honor, integrity, and responsibility.

Virginia Mourning Her Dead VMI Lexington VA

The VMI campus abuts that of Washington & Lee University, and it’s easy to stroll from one to the other: and experience two very different worlds. Walk on original Lexington Brick sidewalks, and stop at the entrance to the VMI Museum/Chapel where you’ll find the statue of Virginia Mourning Her Dead, by the first Jewish VMI graduate, Moses Ezekiel.

VMI Lunchtime Lexington VA

Before heading downstairs to the museum, study the mural above the stage – depicting the Battle of New Market, when, during the Civil War, 257 cadets, ages 15-21 from Virginia Military Institute, were called up as Confederate reinforcements in the face of the encroaching Union Army. They marched 85 miles in five days, and fought on an open field so muddy from rain, it sucked the shoes right off their feet (subsequently called “The Field of Lost Shoes”). Ten were killed, many more wounded. At age 19, new Cadet, Moses Ezekiel, fought bravely at New Market and survived.

Stonewall Jacksons Coat VMI Museum Lexington VA

The VMI Museum provides visitors with a view of the Civil War from the South’s perspective. It begins with the history of Stonewall Jackson, who taught artillery tactics and physics as Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at VMI, with artifacts that include his horse, Little Sorrel, taxidermied for all eternity, and the bullet-ridden raincoat he was wearing when shot in the arm. (His arm had to be amputated and was, strangely, buried elsewhere).

VMI Barracks Lexington VA

There are plenty of traditions at VMI, as text panels, photos, and documents showcase. New cadets are called “rats,” with fellows calling each other “brother rat;” students must salute professors and Jackson’s statue when they walk by; and women are still required to wear white dresses (some that look like wedding gowns) for Ring Figure, the annual presentation of the Class Ring Gala, held in November during the Cadet’s second class year.

Prisoner of War Flag VMI Museum Lexington VA

There are more exhibits on a lower floor, including a collection of 450 rare firearms, and a memorial of VMI Graduates who have died while serving in action since 9-11. But what held my attention the longest was a display devoted to James Berger, a Prisoner of War with John McCain at the “Hanoi Hilton.” Berger managed to make patriotic and religious objects out of scraps in his cell: a cross from two splinters of wood, an “American Flag” from a t-shirt and rags, and more. Free, Open daily 9-5, closed Dec. 23-Jan 3rd.

Also on campus – the George Marshall Museum, with rotating exhibits covering the military side of the man who gave the post-WWII world “The Marshall Plan.” Open Tues-Sat 11-4.

Lee Chapel Washington and Lee University Lexington VA

TOUR: Washington & Lee University. Though first established as Augusta Academy in 1749 by Scotts-Irish pioneers, the school’s name had been changed to Liberty Academy by 1796 when George Washington endowed enough stock to keep the struggling school afloat. In gratitude, the board of Liberty Academy renamed the college after its benefactor, and it remained Washington University until the addition of “Lee,” as in Robert E. Lee, who served as school President from 1865 until his death in 1870.

Robert E Lee Crypt Washigton and Lee U Lexington VA

Be sure to take a tour of Robert E. Lee’s final resting place, the Lee Chapel, a National Historic Site first built as an assembly hall for students, and now a tomb for the Lee Family and museum for the rest of us. The interior of the Chapel is modest, adorned with two large portraits of the University’s namesakes. George Washington is portrayed as a young man – in fact, this is the earliest image of him. The Southern Lee is entombed in a vault beneath his carved likeness – made, ironically, of Vermont (Yankee) Marble. Downstairs, you’ll find the crypt of the Lee family, Robert E.’s recreated office as University President, and a small museum devoted to Lee’s term.

Lee Chapel Museum Lexington VA

Lee wrote, “I shall devote my life to training young men to do their duty in life,” and he was true to his word. A large orrery – a mechanical model of the solar system used as a classroom tool for W&L’s Astronomy course until 1994 – forms the center of a circular museum gallery. A proponent of the sciences and philosophy, Lee left a lasting educational legacy after the Civil War, and it is his last five years on earth that has become the focus here. Before leaving, check out the grave of Traveller, Lee’s beloved horse who he brought to campus serving as Washington & Lee’s unofficial mascot. Traveller is buried right outside the doors of the lower level of the Lee Chapel. April – Oct. Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 1-5, Nov-March Mon-Sat 9-4, Sun. 1-4. Free.

TOUR: Stonewall Jackson House. The only house the Civil War General ever owned (which he lived in while a Professor at VMI), the house was sold to the Daughters of the Confederacy for $2000 and served as an 18-bed hospital until 1954, when it was restored as a house museum. Jackson’s granddaughter was 101 when she passed away, and historians used her memories to furnish and set up the home. To see more of Jackson, pay a visit to the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery where most of him is buried. His arm, wounded in battle, is buried near the site of its amputation – a whole other story in itself. Open Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 1-5, Closed Jan/Feb.

Blue Phoenix Market Bluegrass Lexington VA

DO/EAT: Wednesday Mornings (8am-9am) at Blue Phoenix Café and Market. Come to the Blue Phoenix Café on a midweek morning to capture a slice of local life in Central Virginia. I’m placing this in the “Things To Do” section because, if you are in Lexington on Wednesday morning, you MUST plan to be here from 8am – 9am for what I can only describe as “unplugged free-range Bluegrass.” Best of all, it’s free.

Morning Bluegrass Blue Phoenix Market Lexington VA

Community fiddlers, and harmonica, bass, banjo, guitar, dulcimer, hand drum, and mouth organ players of all ages gather at this vegetarian restaurant every week to entertain themselves and the folks who walk by burlap bags of organic grain to pick up a coffee and muffin at the counter and then stake a place at a table in the back room. It’s quite the treat to hear the Bluegrass version of “Your Momma Don’t Dance and You’re Daddy Don’t Rock ‘n Roll,” or plaintive love song lyrics like, “ A tattoo of her name is on my soul; everything she touches turns to gold.”

Larry Krietemeyer Halcyon Days Cider Co. Natural Bridge VA

TOUR/TASTE: Halcyon Days Cider (on Route 11). Opened on Labor Day 2018, this small batch cidery is worth a drive from anywhere. I’ve never seen a more whimsical, creative, innovative spirit production and tasting facility, and I’ve seen many. Not only do owners Larry Krietemeyer, his brother, Andy, and wife Martha grow their own apples, but one of its apple orchards forms a 425 ft wide Medieval Labyrinth, based on the one in Chartres Cathedral. Visitors are invited to walk its 1.7 mile 11 circuit path along 2,000 “espaliered” (splayed/branch-trained) trees.

Halcyon Days Cider Co. Tasting Room Natural Bridge VA

The Krietemeyer’s make small batch Hard Cider (“at the most, 500 bottles”) in an old milk shed that was on the property. The tasting room – once Thelma Downey’s 1850’s North Mountain cabin, where she raised 17 kids – is connected to the milk shed by a breezeway arrayed with tables made from a Red Oak that fell on the land. The lamp overhead was made from, wait for it…outhouse seats.

Halcyon Days Cider Co Labarynth Natural Bridge VA

Recently moved here, the cabin, which resembles the home of the Beverly Hillbillies before they struck it rich, shows evidence of Larry’s former life as an architect. The woodwork is exquisite and witty, with upbeat quotes all over the place, vibrantly colored shelves and tables, and a sculptural barn door. Halcyon’s most popular ciders – First Light and Rambunctious – are on the sweet side, but oh so good. Open Fri. and Sat 11-6.

Great Valley Farm Brewery Natural Bridge VA

TASTE: Great Valley Farm Brewery, Natural Bridge. With a focus on Belgian style beer, this brewery differs from most in that it’s got “lots of land,” according to owner Nathan Bailey. You’ll find crowds drawn by music and food trucks on select Saturdays, and, of course for the fresh Hibiscus Wit, Belgian Stout, Belgian IPA and other brews you can only get right here. Open Wed/Thurs 12-7, Fri/Sat 12-8, Sun 12-6.

Earth Fire Spirit Gallery Lexington VA

SHOP: Earth, Fire, and Spirit Pottery on Washington Street. It’s not the same old, same old at this ceramics shop where I found unique casserole dishes and jewelry in deep purple hues. Prices are reasonable, and there’s a huge range of items. With so many arts and crafts shops, Washington St. is also known as “Gallery Row,” so it behooves the visitor to meander slowly and stop often into these independent stores.

Sugar Maple Trading Co. Lexington VA

SHOP: Sugar Maple Trading Co. Step in to this brand new, cleverly curated gift shop and grab some Swedish Fish to eat now or later. For some reason, owners Cindy and Jeff Hughes, who sell all things maple syrup, found that customers love those little gummy fish, and so made them their signature welcome treat. Yes, there is a maple sugar industry in Virginia – in high country – so this shop is not a rip-off of New England in Central VA. The Hughes design seasonal displays of plants, dishware, soap, candles, and so much more in this unique boutique right across from the Georges Hotel.

TASTE: Rockbridge Vineyards, Raphine. Try the award-winning Ice Wine on a Sunday afternoon from 1-4 for “Uncorked” – live music in the hills.

STOP: Wade’s Mill, Raphine. Opened in 1750, this is the oldest operating grist mill in the Shenandoah Valley with three floors of historic milling equipment and museum displays.

THEATER: Lime Kiln Theater. There are theatrical performances, live musical bands, and kids programs “under the stars” in this amphitheater carved out of an old lime kiln. May-Sept. – check website for schedule.

Where to Eat in and around Lexington VA

Haywoods Restaurant Lexington VA

EAT: Haywood’s. I love a place named for a guy who “never met a stranger.” Part of The Georges boutique inn, this upscale convivial, Italian spot turns out lusciously good homemade pasta, like the sumptuous Seasonal Mushroom Ravioli with four cheese sauce ($17), plus burgers ($15), steaks ($28-$32) and other great dishes. Cobalt-colored water glasses and vibrant paintings punch up a modern dining room where soft jazz soothes satisfied guests. Chef Troy Sheller first learned to cook in his Sicilian mother’s kitchen, so besides wanting diners to eat happily, he and his menu are both authentic and inventive.

EAT: Bistro on Main. Chic and popular, dishes like Organic French Chicken Breast ($17) and Vodka Penne ($13) are simply prepared, but very, very  good.

Natty B Cafe, Natural Bridge VA

EAT/LUNCH: Natty B’s Café at Natural Bridge. This divey looking, unassuming General Store also dishes out some good, rib-sticking food – like Grilled Cheese and Veggie Ruben – along with a Penny Candy station that will trigger Boomer childhood memories.

Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe Lexington VA

ICE CREAM: Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe. Patty and Chris Williams own this Lexington landmark, where everyone in town seems to end up after games, events, or just for an after-dinner treat. Try the unique “Chunky Irish Girl Scout” – Girl Scout Thin Mint with Bailey’s Irish Cream – or Guinness Dark Ale, Ginger, and other creamy blends from the 24 flavors available each day.

EAT: Locals also love Sheraton Livery, and the Southern Inn for Contemporary American.

Where to Stay in Lexington VA

Hampton Inn Col Alto Hotel Lexington VA

STAY: Hampton Inn Col Alto Hotel. This is not your average “Hampton by Hilton” hotel, steeped as it is in local history. On eight landscaped acres, you can choose to stay in the original 1827 Manor House (where guests check in, and where the daily complimentary breakfast is served) or in a modern hotel room.

Reception Hampton Inn Col Alto Hotel Lexington VA

The Manor House, which in its day hosted Governors and Statesmen, features ten luxury rooms in period décor, with in-room breakfast, turndown service, and in some cases, a fireplace.

Guest Room Hampton Inn Col Alto Hotel Lexington VA

Rooms in the newest part of the hotel have been refreshed – and are modern, clean, and comfy, with granite sink bathrooms and plenty of bedside outlets. Breakfast, with hot eggs, bacon, potatoes, and make your own waffles is a communal affair in the Manor House. Room rates start at $125 off season in the hotel and $140 in the Manor House, and includes parking, wifi and a complimentary breakfast.

The Georges Inn Lexington VA

STAY: The Georges. This in-town boutique hotel is split in two on both sides of Main St. Named after George Washington and George Marshall (architect of the post WWII Marshall Plan), the renovated, plush inn is a tony addition to downtown Lexington.

Schoharie County: Haunting Getaway In Rural Central New York


Front entrance of Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie, New York. A pile of cannon balls and wooden cutout soldier are posted at the door.

WHY GO: While some tourist destinations go all out at Halloween to add creepy decor to attractions, historic New York is the real deal. There are so many ghostly getaways in the Empire State, that the folks behind I Love New York put together a Haunted History Trail of New York State resource listing over sixty-five spooky locations across the state. We tracked down a few of these ghost stories in rural Schoharie NY.

The Old Stone Fort Museum Tower overlooking cemetery in Schoharie NY.

Things To Do In Schoharie County

VISIT: The Old Stone Fort Museum.  In 2010, SYFY’s Ghost Hunters failed to debunk claims of ghost sightings–footsteps on the otherwise empty second floor, screams possibly from a long ago childbirth death–but the jury is still out on their authenticity. What’s clear is that the building has a long history from Revolutionary War fort to church to Civil War armory and that the museum collection adds even more chilling tales.

Oldest Fire Engine in US on display at Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie NY

One of the oldest artifacts on display at the museum, and one that the Ghost Hunter crew suggested may be the associated with some of the paranormal activity, is a fire engine built before the birth of George Washington. It’s one of a pair brought over from England in 1731 for fighting fires in Manhattan, possibly including the Great Fire of New York of 1776 which burnt down most of the city.

Almost as old are a set of miniature chests that once belonged to 5-year-old twins who sought shelter within stockade walls when the fort was attacked in 1780. These tiny chests would have held all of the girls’ possessions as their farming family sought protection from Loyalist sympathizers seeking to disrupt rebel food supplies. Strangely enough, even though they moved away when they married out, both chests made their way back to the fort independently.

Creepy Victorian-era doll sits in display case at the Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie NY.

Children have been known to scream when they see the creepy doll that belonged to Evelyn McMahon in 1918. Kept captive in a glass case on the museum’s second floor, where several visitors claim they’ve seen or heard ghosts, it’s surrounded by cabinets holding collections ranging from jeweled buttons to a gory knife collection brought back from the Philippines by Major Abram L. Haines (1859-1914.)

Black and white photo of Dr Best House interior that appears to show a ghost.

Paranormal experts claim to see a specter in this image of the interior of the front parlor at the Dr. Best House.

VISIT: Dr. Best House & Medical Exhibit. Two generations of the Best family, father and son physicians, resided at the old Victorian home in Middleburgh, NY for over a hundred years. Many question if they never left. The Tri-City New York Paranormal Society uses the house as a training ground, regularly scheduling events such as “Paranormal Investigations” or “Victorian Post-Mortem Photography.”

Turn of the century toiletries in a bathroom cabinet at Dr Best House in Middleburgh NY.

A walking tour of the house takes you through period rooms and stocked cabinets. The bathroom contains original toiletries, including a bottle of the toilet water favored by Ursula Best.  (Some folks claim to still smell violets in the house.) The kitchen holds tins of hundred-year-old corn starch and fruit cake, but also serves as the transition from private home to medical offices.

Surgical tools displayed on table at Dr Best House in Middleburgh NY.

Surgical instruments appear at the ready on a kitchen table, next to medical gadgets that suggest the doctors were willing to try cutting edge techniques (some more outlandish than others.)

Woman posing with Electrostatic Machine at Dr Best House and Medical Exhibit in Middleburgh NY.

The Electrostatic Machine was used to treat a long list of ailments including: asthma, alcoholism, heart disease,  cancer, dandruff, deafness, diabetes, hemorrhoids, flabby breast, moles, obesity, and writer’s cramp.

Dr. Christopher Best was an innovator who was instrumental in bringing phone service to the region, and the family was the first to have indoor plumbing in Middleburgh. The collection features several interesting items, including one of the original x-ray machines from the era of Madame Curie.

Show kitchen counter backed by Wall of Neighbors Art Installation at Beekman 1802 Home Wares Shop in Sharon Springs NY.

Wall of Neighbors Art Installation at Beekman 1802 was created from heirloom kitchen tools sent in by customers aka “Neighbors” from all over the United States.

SHOP: Beekman 1802. Ten minutes before closing, two women dressed in nightgowns and bonnets entered the shop, and announced that, “She is with you.” The shop attendant never saw them leave, and to this day, can only imagine that they were ghosts who perished in the fire of 1911. Today, the brightly-lit artisanal home wares shop made famous by “gay Green Acres” The Fabulous Beekman Boys reality TV show seems an unlikely place to find ghosts, but you never know.

Signed hallway in the upstairs apartments of Cobbler and Co gift shop in Sharon Springs NY

SHOP: Cobbler & Co. Maureen Lodes, gift shop owner since 1994, claims to have felt the presence of poltergeists, especially in the former apartment of the original owner, milliner Florence Fonda. On one occasion, a lady trying on hats had her hair yanked by an unseen presence. On another occasion, the air suddenly chilled and glasses exploded. Little girls claim to play with invisible friends on stairs. And almost daily, lights left off are found on.

WALK: Landis ArboretumAs far as we know, there are no ghosts at Landis Arboretum. But you can find night owls (of the feathered sort) along trails in Old Growth Forests. Open year round dawn to dusk, check the events calendar for evening events.

Rock cliff shaped like a nose overlooking Schoharie Valley at Vromans Nose Nature Preserve in Upstate New York.

HIKE: Vromans Nose Nature Preserve. One of the more popular hikes in Schoharie Valley, a hike to the summit takes you to a spectacular overlook encompassing the fertile lands once known as “America’s bread basket.” Local legend says that Saratoga Battle hero Timothy Murphy fell down Vroman’s nose holding two pitchers of milk, without spilling a drop.

Lester Howe animatronic at Howe Caverns in Schoharie NY.

TOUR: Howe Caverns. In the early 1840s farmer Lester Howe’s cow, Millicent, found the entrance to the cave. A year later, Lester opened Howe Caverns to the public, thus beginning one of New York State’s most popular and longest running tourist attractions. Today, the truly fearless–who don’t mind knowing that early miners died excavating cave routes–can opt for the after-hours Lantern Tour.

Front exterior of white farmhouse at Grapevine Farms in Schoharie NY.

Where To Eat In Schoharie County

BREAKFAST/LUNCH: Black Cat CafeSome folks hear boards creaking in what used to be a boarding house, a water douser swore he saw an old Jewish gentleman making tea in the corner. Better known for its its cooking classes and dinner clubs, the cafe is a popular spot for brunch.

Broken headstone at Grapevine Farms

BISTRO/WINE CELLAR: Grapevine FarmsWhen newlyweds Tim and Tracy Purcell were clearing out the abandoned 1850s farmhouse that they had just purchased, they joked, “Gosh wouldn’t it be funny if we found graves.” Well, no one was laughing when they found graves on the land and a tombstone in the garage.

They contacted Psychic Katie Hilton to find out if they should move the headstone. She told them that farmers often moved burial stones to mow lawns, and that David Hiltz, the spirit in question, preferred to remain indoors.

Copper embellished steps at Grapevine Farms

The Purcells have not seen the apparition, but customers claim to have heard voices, and more than one visitor believes that a ghost saved them from falling on the stairs. Several have seen a man at the top of the stairs.

The spirits seem to be happy with the new occupants. Since the purchase in 2002, Grapevine Farms has grown into a bistro, bakery, wine cellar, and gift shop. The award-winning chicken salad is a must-try, while the well stocked wine cellar carries a full range of New York wines and spirits. Wine sampling is free, and there’s a new tasting sheet each month.

Front exterior of Bulls Head Inn in Cobleskill NY

RESTAURANT/CELLAR TAVERN: Bulls Head Inn. Built in 1802 to serve turnpike traffic, Bulls Head Inn is one of Schoharie’s oldest buildings, and even so, it was constructed on the ruins of log cabins that weathered the French & Indian War and the American Revolution. And although this might suggest a long line of interesting inhabitants, the one that stands out is Mrs. John Stacy, an upstanding member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union who was married to a notorious drunkard.

Bulls Head Inn Restaurant Bar

The renovated restaurant bar at Bull Heads Inn features a custom vintage Frigidaire refrigeration system.

It’s said that ever since a Cage Bar was installed in her former bedroom, she has made her displeasure known by slamming doors and sending utensils flying across the room.

Other Cobbleskill residents have been much more welcoming. Community donations supplemented expensive renovations necessary after Hurricane Irene devastated the region in 2011. Bulls Head Inn received original street pavers from 1910, wood from a County Fair, and the bar was constructed from wood salvaged from a torn down silo. Local students reproduced the original shutters in a high school shop project. And Landis Arboretum specced out what was authentic and did all the plantings.

Steve Larson, of Adelphi Paper Hangings (whose wallpaper reproductions can be found in the White House,) spotted an 1820s design fragment in one of the Inn’s closets. He donated his services to produce and press the hand wood block wallpaper now seen in the main dining room, and now the pattern “Bulls Head Medallion” can be purchased directly from Adelphi’s catalog.

Bulls Head Inn Cellar Tavern

The Bulls Head Inn Cellar Tavern was almost exclusively renovated using reclaimed materials, many donated by the Cobleskill community.

This attention to detail and community spirit seemed to take a decided turn to the weird when a guest commented how clever it was to have bathroom attendants costumed in period dress. According to owners Chris Guldner and Mary Sagendorf, there were no bathroom attendants.

SNACK: Schoharie Valley Farms/The Carrot Barn. Drop in for seasonal fruits–strawberries in June, apples and cider donuts in autumn–and/or pick up pick up picnic sandwiches for local hikes.

Front exterior of the American Hotel in Sharon Springs NY.

Where To Stay In Schoharie County

STAY: The American Hotel. Sharon Springs’ reputation for healing waters can be traced all the way back to the Iroquois, although the village’s popularity waxed and waned over the years. By the 1920s to 1960s, self-catered boarding houses called kuchaleyans drew Jewish visitors–a trend that benefitted from Germany’s WWII medical care reparations to Holocaust survivors which included therapeutic spa vacations.

Interior shot of American Hotel lobby with Oy Vey pillow placed on arm chair.

By the time the new owners opened the newly renovated hotel in the early 2000s, the building had seen a number of guests come and go, with just a few lingering on. One spirit, a rabbi who remained angry with his son in law, was inciting all kinds of bizarre behavior in the occupants of Room 1. Luckily, another guest who happened to be an Alabama Native American medicine woman, explained that they could send him on his way by asking him to leave and promising to keep a pillow to remember him by.

Hospital beds recall the spa town era in The American Hotel's Room 6.

Simple bed frames in Room 6 are a reminder of Sharon Springs’ history as a therapeutic spa town.

Room 6 is reputed to harbor a resting spirit who quietly expired from a lung ailment he had hoped to cure at the spa town. One room on the top floor, that will likely never be restored, harbors deep sorrow. Then there’s the tale of the gambling dandy. That’s a story best told in person by gifted entertainer and host,  Sharon Springs Mayor Doug Plummer.

Syracuse NY: Revitalized Former Erie Canal Town

Erie Canal Through Syracuse NY Erie Canal Museum

WHY GO: Due to its “port” status, Syracuse NY has always been sophisticated and open to the outside world despite its remote Central NY location. The Erie Canal once coursed right through downtown – old photographs convey a Venice-like panorama – but was paved over in the 1920’s.

Armory Square Syracuse NY Mid Autumn

Syracuse has been going through a renaissance as of late, with the reopening of a fancy Prohibition-era hotel, renewed interest in an I.M. Pei designed museum in its central plaza, the honoring of Native American history that informed our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the rediscovery of a Women’s Rights leader who happened to be the model for Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and whose name was lost to history. Oh, we don’t forget the great places to eat. Or drink: like the fantastic distillery that doubles as the Best Apple Orchard in the USA.

Tipsy Cow 1911 Distillery Lafayette NY

If you come to Syracuse just to drop your kid off at the University, plan to stay a day or two. You’ll be surprised at what’s new. Read on….

Things to Do in and Around Syracuse NY

Beak and Skiff Apple Orchards Lafayette NY

GO/TASTE/EAT: Beak & Skiff Orchards and 1911 Distillery, Lafayette. For several years in a row, USA Today named Beak & Skiff, now run by the 4th and 5th generation of its founding families, the “Best Apple Orchard in America.” (In 2018 – #2).

1911 Distillery at Beak and Skiff Orchards Lafayette NY

That would probably come as a surprise to those who go there strictly for the 1911 Distillery where apple-distilled flavored Vodka, Gin, and now Bourbon (the first product that is not made with apples) flow into tasting cups and employed in the creation of smash-hit cocktails like the “Tipsy Cow” (Cold Pressed Coffee Vodka, Chocolate Milk, Coffee, topped with Whipped Cream and half a Cider Donut), the “Orchard Palmer” (made with Honeycrisp Vodka), and where bottles and cans of Hard Cider and Wine pressed from home-grown fruit soar off the shelves.

Pick Your Own Beak and Skiff Orchards Lafayette NY

Families flock to Beak & Skiff each fall for “Pick Your Own Apples,” an annual tradition for many around here. The “campus” of B&S on Apple Hill has been expanding over the years, with each generation of Skiff adding something new, and there’s no end in site. First Generation, George Skiff and Andrew Beak planted apple seeds in 1911. Third Generation, Marshall Skiff, added the popular U-Pick. Fifth Generation, Eddie Brennan (whose mother, Debbie, is a Skiff), now manages the 1911 Distillery and Cidery, and has his eyes trained on a wedding business and upgrading the 1911 Store and Tasting Room for year round events.

Apple Barn Beak and Skiff Lafayette NY

Sure, you can jump on a hayride out to the orchards, and of course try sips of distilled beverages before buying. But you can also have a quick meal at the Café and Bakery (those cider donuts! Or fantastic Apple Pie), purchase orchard related knickknacks in the General Store, bypass the “picking” and go for any of 20 varieties of just-picked apples in the Apple Barn.

1911 Distillery Rickhouse Tasting Room Lafayette NY

If you’re into hard cider, wine, and spirits sampling, but want to avoid all the Orchard crowds, head a minute down the road, take a right on Rt. 20, and you’ll find the 1911 Distillery and Rickhouse – for now, a less frenetic place to sip on the best of Beak & Skiff’s boozy offerings.

Erie Canal Museum Syracuse NY

VISIT: Erie Canal Museum. Did you know that the Erie Canal cut straight through downtown Syracuse? In fact, the older part of the Erie Canal Museum was, in 1850, the Weighlock Building – a pull out where canal boats were weighed for tolls, like semi-tractor trucks are today. It stands as the last remaining canal boat weigh station in America.

Weighmaster Office Erie Canal Museum Syracuse NY

Since the museum first opened in 1962, it doubled in size with a new 2016 first floor exhibit showcasing “functional interactives” (read: phone stations where you can listen to stories) amid text panels and artifacts. Between 1817 and its completion in 1825, the building of the Erie Canal was a shot in the dark done by workers with no formal engineering training. Hacking out a 363-mile long ditch of water, linking the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes through the New York wilderness, joked many, “was it’s own School of Engineering.”

Photo of Canal Boat in Syracuse Being Weighed

The decade of the Canal’s construction happened to align with the heyday of postcards – and fortunately for museum visitors, there were plenty of pictures taken to document each phase. Enlarged and on display, these tinted photographs impart both a realistic and romanticized version of the historic “Wedding of the Waters.” Some visitors get so caught up in these photos, signage, and artifacts, they completely miss the walk-on canal boat, which is definitely a museum highlight.

Aboard Canal Boat Erie Canal Museum Syracuse NY

In the back, walk past the Weigh-master’s office, and hop onto to a full sized replica of a Line Boat (used by a shipping line) that carried cargo, passengers, and maintenance workers. Canal work was a family affair, and each family lived in the back of the boat. The middle section was generally used for storage and cargo, and the bow area accommodated very, very basic passenger quarters consisting of three salami-sized hammocks one above the other (overnight train sleeping compartments seem luxurious in comparison). Look behind and ahead of the boat, and get a sense of where the Canal ran through town – now a paved city thoroughfare.

Don’t miss a ride up in the multi-media elevator to the second floor where you’ll find vignettes of life in a Canal Town: a Tavern, General Store, and Guild Theater. More sophisticated than you’d expect, by dint of canal-town status, goods and people came to Syracuse from all over the world. Open Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 10-3, free but $5 suggested donation.

Interior Everson Museum of Art Syracuse NY

VISIT: Everson Museum of Art. This was I.M. Pei’s second commission in Syracuse (after S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse U), and befits the focus of the Everson Museum – Ceramic Art. Boxy and weighty like a bomb shelter – the durable concrete structure that sits in the city’s central plaza is nothing like the delicate projects Pei would subsequently design. But inside, the architecture is in itself art, its muted grey textural walls and curvy staircases counterpoint to vividly colored ceramic installations.

Everson Museum of Art Syracuse NY

The newly opened gallery downstairs contains glass cases in the center of the room and mirrored shelves along each wall displaying dozens of clay art pieces in novel fashion.

Basement Gallery Everson Museum of Art Syracuse NY

Two paintings, purchased with funds raised by the community and school groups in the 1970’s however, always remain on view: an original Gilbert Stewart portrait of George Washington, and one of 62 variations of The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks. Don’t miss the boutique-like gift shop, which has great, affordable contemporary ceramic art and jewelry for sale, among other artful gifts. $8 adults, kids under 12 free, open Wed-Sun noon – 5, Thurs. till 8pm.

SUArt Galleries Syracuse NY

VISIT: SUArt Galleries, Syracuse University. With a focus on American Prints, and a permanent collection that rotates every semester, the SUArt Gallery on the Quad is worth a look even if you are not an art student – or even a student – at Syracuse University. The encyclopedic art collection of 45,000 objects from the 15th to 21st centuries runs the gamut from 2-D to 3-D, many from important world-renowned artists. Recently, sculptures by Rodin from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collection were on view.

Study Cabinets SUArt Gallery Syracuse NY

Holdings include Burchfield, Avery, Man Ray – and, much to my surprise, a Salvador Dali portrait of Col. Jack Warner, founder of Warner Bros., who looks so much like Walt Disney, many viewers mistake one entertainment mogul for another.

Jack Warner by Salvador Dali SUArt Gallery Syracuse NY

Warner hated Dali’s depiction of him so much, he installed the painting in his doghouse. Ask to see the myriad prints in Study Cabinets –a series of cases within cases constructed with engineering precision by campus Physical Plant mechanics. The Print Room – containing over 20,000 renderings in architectural drawers – is open to all for perusal or study. Open Tues-Sun 11-4:30, Thurs till 8, free.

Carved Faces OHA Museum Syracuse NY

VISIT: OHA – Onondaga Historical Association. I’m always on the lookout for the most profound or strangest things in any local history museum, and the OHA did not disappoint. Perhaps the most important exhibit is of the sculpted clay faces discovered in a small tunnel under the former Wesleyan Methodist Church (now The Mission Restaurant), that date to the mid 1800’s most likely created by runaway slaves hidden by abolitionist parishioners. Like many in this region, the Church openly participated in the Underground Railroad, which had “stations” throughout upstate NY.

Brannock Device OHA HIstorical Society Syracuse NY

You’ll also find Native American artifacts and stories of the Five Nations that constitute the Iroquois League – Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk – now referred to in their native name, the Haudenosaunee; and not-so-native-American stories like the three Jewish Eastern-European born Shubert Brothers, who moved with their family to Syracuse in 1882, purchased their first theater in Manhattan in 1900, and established NYC’s Broadway District as the hub of American Theater that we recognize today.

My favorites among the items invented and still manufactured in Syracuse: the Brannock Device, known to all as the slidey thing that measures your foot size in shoe-stores; and the manufacturer of every single candle used by the Vatican – Cathedral Candle Co. (get yours in this gift-shop – the only place to buy them retail in the USA). Syracuse based Marsellus Casket Co., which closed in 2003, was the preferred coffin-maker for the Kennedy family and Nancy Regan, who was one of the last to be buried in one.

Photo Opening of Hotel Syracuse Party

Don’t leave before finding the enlarged photo taken at the opening of the Hotel Syracuse at the height of Prohibition in 1924. Look carefully to see many revelers with hands under tables, or barely hiding flasks – a snapshot of the reality of the day. Open Wed-Fri. 10-4, Sat/Sun 11-4, free.

Gage, Stanton, Anthony, Women’s Rights Pioneers

TOUR: Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation Center and Museum, Fayetteville. Matilda J. Gage was the inspiration for Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and was also one of the three founders of the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, yet we never hear of Gage today. Why? With her insistence of separation of Church and State, her views were even too radical for a faction that sought to create coalitions with the religious fundamentalists of the Temperance Movement. Gage believed that the Church kept women at heel, and the bond of the trio broke down over the religious issue: after 20 years agitating for Women’s Rights (1869 – 1889), Anthony and Stanton kicked her out and wiped her name from most documents. It took some journalists’ sleuthing to bring Gage back to the fore.

Matilda Joslyn Gage Desk, Fayetteville NY

The Matilda Joslyn Gage Center is in her own home a few miles from Syracuse, renovated and opened as a museum in 2010. A sign at the entrance insists that you “Check your dogma at the door,” and “Think for Yourself.” You can actually sit at Gage’s own desk in the back parlor where she worked and write notes to her if you wish. Rooms serve as galleries addressing Social Justice issues (Women’s Rights, Underground Railroad, Religious Freedom) and Gage’s history.

Matilda’s father, Dr. Hezekiah Joslyn, was a well-known abolitionist, and the Joslyn home in Cicero NY served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Matilda grew up around the Native American Nation of the Haudenosaunee – a Matriarchal society that regarded men and women equally. The exposure to this kind of non-violent gender equality informed her life’s work.

Photo of Matilda Gage parlor by L. Frank Baum Fayetteville NY

Matilda married Henry Hill Gage in 1845 and moved to Syracuse, where the couple raised four children. In 1848, Gage was unable to attend the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention, but in 1852 when the 3rd Convention came to Syracuse, she became a noted speaker and writer on Women’s Suffrage. While the Movement was concerned primarily with Voting Rights, Gage focused on Equal Rights for Women, using her tribal experience as guide. In the 1870’s Gage was an advocate for the Native Americans at a time when the US Government treated them poorly, and to honor her, the Mohawk Tribe adopted her into their Wolf Clan.

By all accounts, Gage was a “good wife and mother” and Henry was supportive of his wife’s work, taking care of the kids when needed. One of their four children, Maud, married a dreamer of a man 8 years her senior against her mother’s wishes. That man was L. Frank Baum, who years later wrote The Wizard of Oz, using his Mother In Law as model for Dorothy, the book’s strong, speak-truth-to-power main character, at a time when women were generally portrayed as damsels in distress. Baum and Maud were married in 1882 in the front parlor of this home, and the room now serves as “The Oz Room” decorated as it was when Gage lived here.

Matilda J. Gage was Dorothy’s “spiritual ancestor,” teaching women to be brave, speak up, speak out, and use the power of their convictions: a message that still resonates today. The epitaph on her gravestone reads: “There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home, or Heaven; that word is Liberty.” Open Tues-Fri 10-3, first and last Sat of each month 10-3, free for individual drop-ins, Groups: $8 adults, $6 kids.

Ska.Nonh Great Law of Peace Center Syracuse NY

VISIT: Ska.Nonh Great Law of Peace Center, a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Heritage site. Man, do we need a Law of Peace Center right about now. This museum tells the story of the indigenous peoples of Central New York from the perspective of The Onondaga Nation with a focus on oral history traditions and importance of language in maintaining a culture.

Thankfulness Ska.Nonh Great Law of Peace Center Syracuse NY

An interpretive museum with video, text panels and artifacts, the Ska.Nonh Center’s exhibits start on the first floor with the “Words that come before all else” – the Thanksgiving Address – which might be different from person to person (crops, weather, health), but uniformly conveys gratitude to the “Creator” aka “The Great Peacemaker.”

Origin Story Ska.Nonh Great Law of Peace Center Syracuse NY

You’ll learn about the Haudenosaunee Creation Story (involving a pregnant Grandmother who fell from the sky, a goose that caught her, and the turtle upon which she landed), and the significance of the Great White Pine Tree; a symbol of peace between the Five Nations (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk).

In 1744, Benjamin Franklin, then the owner of a profitable Printing Press in Philadelphia, sat in on a Haudenosaunee meeting to learn about decision-making in a Democracy rather than under a King. He was inspired by the way the five nations of the Haudenosaunee made treaties with each other and with the Europeans. This meeting informed Franklin’s decision to found the United States as a Democracy rather than a Monarchy, as was originally and vigorously discussed.

Upstairs, there are a number of exhibits about the Onondaga Tribe over time. One, in particular, intrigued me – involving a 550 year old law, a recent land claim, and, of all people, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In 1452, King Alfonso V of Portugal issued a Papal Bull – the Doctrine of Discovery – that sanctified the seizure of non-Christian lands: allowing Portuguese explorers to “invade, capture, vanquish and subdue all pagans.” In 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a Land Claim for territory in Central NY: a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. In the case of Sherrill v. Onondaga Indian Nation, Justice Ginsberg cited the Doctrine of Discovery in the majority decision against the Native American claim. Open Wed-Fri 10-4, Sat/Sun 11-4, $5 adults, children 8 and under free.

MOST Syracuse NY

VISIT: MOST – Museum of Science and Technology. Until the 1980’s this vast building was repository for Military vehicles as a U.S. Armory in the center of town. Now, you’ll find dinosaurs where tanks and jeeps used to be, and plenty of interactive exhibits covering “nanoscience to dark matter.” MOST encompasses the only domed IMAX Omni Theater in NY State, an amateur radio station that made contact with the International Space Station (visitors spoke to an astronaut for 9 minutes), a multi-level crawl-through Playhouse, a fully functional Flight Training program in the cockpit of an F-16, a Planetarium (with a countdown clock that shows when the Space Station passes overhead), a walk-through heart, Energy and Health Exhibits, and an abundance of other hands-on learning opportunities. $17 Adults Museum and IMAX Combo, $15 kids, open Wed-Sun 10-5.

Where to Eat in Syracuse NY

Eleven Waters Marriott Syracuse Downtown

EAT: Eleven Waters @ Marriott Syracuse Downtown. The trendy-contemporary 11 Waters (referencing the 11 Finger Lakes) made a splash when it opened a couple of years ago, and it’s still a popular place for an upscale meal at very reasonable prices: Onion Soup $7; Bistro Cesar $8; Puttanesca $15; Roast Half Chicken $25, Rigatoni Bolognese $16, and more.

Bar at Eleven Waters Marriott Syracuse Downtown

The Eleven Waters Bar, carved out of the hotel’s former barbershop, features shampoo sink faucets on one wall, and cocktails named in the spirit of the place: Clean Shave (a “clean” version of a Moscow Mule), Undercut (rum, lime juice, grapefruit and maraschino liqueur), and Mullet (a classic Mint Julep).

Modern Malt Syracuse NY

EAT: Locals recommend Dinosaur BBQ – the first one ever – for amazing Q; Funk ‘N Waffles, first opened by entrepreneurial students on the SU Campus and now off campus offering any kind of loaded waffle you can think up; Pastabilities for homemade pastas and “stretch bread;” Kitty Hoynes – an authentic Irish Pub on Armory Square; Lemongrass Restaurant for upscale white-linen Thai cuisine, and Modern Malt – a tweaked Malt Shop with a full bar rather than milkshake machines and Tater Tots instead of fries.

Where to Stay in Syracuse NY

Renovated Syracuse Marriott Downtown

STAY: Marriott Syracuse Downtown. Renovated and reopened recently, this Marriott is once again a city landmark. Walk in on the ground floor, head up the stairs, and the lobby wows as its 20 ft. stenciled plaster carved ceiling comes into view. The Terrazzo floors and crystal chandeliers are all original to 1924. This place is so fantastic, it’s a Maven Favorite with its own complete write up here.

Lobby Reception Jefferson Clinton Hotel Syracuse NY

STAY: Jefferson Clinton Hotel. If you want to feel cared for in the cozy, elegant ambiance of years gone by, the Jefferson Clinton, a Historic Hotel of America, is your best bet in Syracuse. Wonderfully situated on Armory Square, across the street from MOST (Museum of Science and Technology), and next door to the highly recommended Lemongrass Restaurant, this small establishment doesn’t scream “fashionable,” “chic,” or “stylish,” as do some other boutique hotels. Instead, it whispers “understated luxury.” And most of all “personal, amiable service”.

Room View Jefferson Clinton Hotel Syracuse NY

This genuinely good-natured service was on view in the morning, when the small lobby turned eatery was packed with dozens of business people (on a weekday), enjoying a buffet breakfast that includes an omelet station. The omelet chef was one of the friendliest I’ve ever met. He executed each order quickly, and even brought plates to the guests with a smile. The whole vibe was so upbeat, one patron remarked, “so this is The Place where everyone goes for breakfast in Syracuse!”

Fresh Omelets Jefferson Clinton Hotel Syracuse NY

Leave some time to get up to your room: there is only one elevator. While waiting, grab a fresh-baked cookie (afternoon) or apple (anytime) from the reception desk.

Guest Room Jefferson Clinton Hotel Syracuse NY

Rooms are done up in maroon and gold, with new earth-brown carpeting, ecru-colored grasscloth wallpaper and, a mix of contemporary and traditional furnishings (glass desk, wingback chairs). Tiled bathrooms are clean and bright, with a good amount of lighting over a Corian sink, and tub showers. Bedding is so dreamy-comfortable, I actually slept through the night for a change.  Rooms from $155 per night include hot buffet breakfast with made to order omelets, free wifi.

Greater State College PA: Stamp Collecting, Christopher Columbus, and Water Caves in the Land of the Nittany Lions

WHY GO: Penn State in State College PA is on the college tour, of course! But there’s so much more here than the Campus, its Museums, and Arboretum. Drive a few miles and you’ll find yourself at the center of the Stamp Collecting world, inside the Country’s Only “All-Water Cave and Wildlife Park”, and, incredibly enough, within inches of the traveling desk that Christopher Columbus might have had with him as he “sailed the ocean blue in 1492.” There are surprises galore on this mid-Pennsylvania Getaway. Follow along here….

What To Do in Greater State College PA

Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

TOUR: Boal Mansion, Vault, and Columbus Chapel, Boalsburg. It almost seems too suspect to be true: the cross that Christopher Columbus used to claim unexplored land and his circa 1400’s Admiral’s Desk in a vault in this tiny mid-PA town? And, slivers of the True Cross of Jesus, too? Well, at least one of those has been authenticated, the other taken on faith, but both artifacts have ended up in this small town location, the home of 8 generations of the Boal family, in Boalsburg PA.

Columbus Chapel Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

Columbus Chapel Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

How? The fifth generation Boal, Theodore/Teddy, an architect, met Spanish born Mathilde Dolores Denis Lagarde while attending the prestigious Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris. Mathilde was the niece of Victoria Columbus Montalvo, widow of Diego Colon, a descendant of Christopher Columbus, and because Victoria died childless, the Colon (Columbus in English) family artifacts passed down from her to Mathilde in 1908. These Family treasures included not just the travel desk, but some shackles from CC’s ship, the Santa Maria (that were not used to chain slaves: the famous explorer was notoriously distrustful of his own men), and the complete Columbus Family Chapel – dating back to the 1400’s – from the Columbus Castle in Asturias, Spain. Consequently, little Boalsburg PA is home to the most significant collection of Christopher Columbus artifacts in North America.

Columbus Chapel interior Boalsburg PA

Columbus Chapel interior Boalsburg PA

Teddy, a Protestant, had the Catholic Chapel installed on Boal Mansion’s grounds, using good old Pennsylvania limestone for the exterior, and incorporating original pieces like the carved door and alter (15th century oak), and marble cross. Portraits of the Columbus family depict them as saints, as was done back then for wealthy dynasties. The original Colon Family Crest is built into a railing in the rear of the sanctuary. Original vestments with silk and gold thread are kept in airtight drawers. One, adorned with Skull and Crossbones, was used for funerals. At this point in the tour, your guide will open the cabinet door where a “relic query” holds two splinters of what is believed to Christ’s Cross.

Travel Desk and Land-Claim Cross owned by Christopher Columbus, Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

Travel Desk and Land-Claim Cross owned by Christopher Columbus, Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

It was said that Mathilde took solace in the consecrated Catholic Chapel when her husband and son were off fighting in France during the Great War (WWI). At first, Columbus’s Admiral’s Desk sat among the gilded alter and artifacts inside the Chapel. Over time, humidity and fluctuating temperatures started to take their toll, and so the desk and a stack of Columbus Family papers believed to be hundreds of years old, discovered in a cabinet crumbling with decay, have been moved into a third building on the property – a temperature-controlled walk-in vault. The papers have yet to be digitized. Though credited with “discovering America,” Christopher Columbus never sailed farther north than what is now the Dominican Republic and never set foot on mainland USA. He went back to Spain, negotiated a 10% deal with Queen Isabella on all the riches gleaned from the New World, and made his family quite rich.

Colon (Columbus) Family Papers Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

Colon (Columbus) Family Papers Boal Mansion Boalsburg PA

A tour of the Boal Mansion Museum, Vault, and Columbus Chapel includes all three structures. Photos and portraits of Presidents, celebrities, friends, and family members cover every inch of every wall throughout the 2-story home. Both Teddy and his son, Pierre, served admirably during WWI: Teddy trained troops here to fight the Keiser, and then fought for the US with the 28th Infantry Division, Pierre with the French Cavalry. Pierre, like his father, also married a French woman, Jeanne de Menthon, and was appointed Ambassador to Peru and Nicaragua under FDR. One of Pierre’s daughters, Mimi, married the Governor of Maryland, Blair Lee, a Richard Henry Lee descendent. The wedding generated congratulations from Presidents and dignitaries. Do you see where this is going?

Teddy Boal's 1916 Government Issued Gun and Document, Boalsburg PA

Teddy Boal’s 1916 Government Issued Gun and Document, Boalsburg PA

The Mansion holds a hoarder’s heaven worth of stuff – much of it incredibly valuable or at least historic. It was said that “Teddy inherited three fortunes and spent them all.” He collected everything. There’s a deck of cards and lock of hair from Napoleon Bonaparte, the White House piano that belonged to Dolly Madison, put on the market when Teddy Roosevelt moved in, a piece of a plane that Col. Boal shot down in France, and upstairs, a whole armory exhibit that includes Col. Boal’s Colt 45 with its original holster and purchase order from the US Government. There’s also a great deal for the fashion obsessed: Louis Vuitton trunks full of early 1900’s Parisian fashions provided the array of dresses on display in another upstairs room. One dress, worn by Renoir’s lover in his portrait of her, is on display behind the painting.

Upon his return from his Ambassadorship in 1952, Pierre Boal donated the house as a museum as is – “Clutter and all.” The next year, the Boal Barn Playhouse, the oldest continuously operating summer stock Theater in a Bank Barn, was established on site, and is still going strong. Pierre Boal and his father, Theodore, are buried in the Chapel crypt, though, after her husband’s death in 1938, Mathilde went back to France and passed away there in 1951. More and more people are discovering this eccentric place with its dizzying number of important artifacts that once belonged to world-renowned historical figures. It definitely should be on your visit to the Penn State area. 1 ½ hour tours $10 adults, $7 kids, open May through October, Tues-Sun 1:30-5, last tour at 3:30pm.

PA Military Museum Boalsburg PA

PA Military Museum Boalsburg PA

GO: Pennsylvania Military Museum and Shrine to the 28th Infantry Division, Boalsburg. Across the street from Boal Mansion, it’s easy to combine a visit here with a tour of the Boal Home and Chapel. Though small, this military museum is engaging and well designed, with a focus on the lesser-known WWI up to current military operations. Begin by walking through a trench, and into rooms replete with jeeps and tanks. The park itself and its War Memorials are beautiful, and a walk around is a good way to pay your respects to our lost soldiers, and take in some fresh air. Open Wed-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5, $6 adults, $4 kids.

American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

VISIT: American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte. A quick 20 minute drive from State College brings you to Bellefonte, a lovely “river runs through it” kind of town and center of the universe for all things philatelic. “Philatelic” may be a mouthful of a word, but in essence it concerns stamp collecting and postal history – with an emphasis on academic research. Who knew that the hobby some of us pursued as kids could be so exciting?

Errors Freaks and Oddities Stamps American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

Errors Freaks and Oddities Stamps American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

The APS, founded in 1886, “is the largest, most influential and respected organization in the world of stamp collecting.” Aside from publishing the American Philatelist Quarterly and Philatelic Literature Review, sent to 28,000 members worldwide, the APS bestows annual awards on those who conduct distinguished research and are major donors. The Headquarters is comprised of several departments, including the magazine publishing office, operations, and, several reasons to visit: a small museum, the largest public access Philatelic Library in North America, and the rescued Old Headsville WV Post Office, still operating as a Bellefonte PA P.O.

Public Access Library - American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

Public Access Library – American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

As the demographic of the serious philatelist ages, the APS is actively seeking to attract a younger stamp collecting crowd through social media, YouTube (“Exploring Stamps” with the Millennial, Graham), and the release of youth-relevant stamps – e.g., in August 2018, “Here There Be Dragons.”

The museum’s key exhibit, “Alphabetilately A to Z,” created for the 15th anniversary of the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington DC, and on permanent loan here, is worth a long look. Twenty six panels pasted with stamps that correspond to the alphabet – Cinderella Stamps, Duck Stamps, EFO’s (Error’s, Freaks, and Oddities – yes, a stamp classification), Local Post, Overprint, Persian Rug (refers to security patterns in the background), War Issues, Zeplin Post, and the like invite closer inspection. Collectors are forever watching out for errors, and one of the fan favorites is the “Inverted Jenny” – an airmail stamp with an upside-down airplane. One sheet of 100 stamps made it into the market, making them very rare indeed. (A member donated a single Inverted Jenny to the APS, which is held in a safe. A facsimile is on display).

Rescued WV Rural Post Office - American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

Rescued WV Rural Post Office – American Philatelic Society Headquarters at the Match Factory, Bellefonte PA

Did you know that you could send live chicks through the mail? Raw eggs? You’ll discover this at the relocated Old Headsville Post Office, from which you can buy new stamps and send mail (canceled stamps read: “American Philatelic Society, Bellefonte PA”). The day after the new Mr. Rogers stamp was released, it was sold out here. In a scene that tapped into the compassion of Fred Rogers, as the sheets of stamps were selling out, people who were fortunate enough to be early in line started buying just one stamp each so that others behind them could get one as well. Museum open Mon-Fri 8-4:30, free.

Big Springs Distillery Bellefone PA

Big Springs Distillery Bellefone PA

TASTE: Big Spring Spirits, Match Factory, Bellefonte. Just around the corner from the Philatelic Society in the same complex, Big Spring Spirits has one of the prettiest distillery tasting rooms I’ve ever seen. By dint of its aesthetics, quality of its products, and innovative mixed drinks, Big Springs Spirits is not only the perfect follow-up to a visit to the Stamp Society, but is worth a drive from anywhere.

Décor has a woman’s touch – there are table lamps, floral print chairs, and of course a lovely bar at which you can order Big Spring Vodka, Straight Corn Whiskey, or any of the fantastic craft cocktails made with those spirits and others distilled in the back room. Examples: Hawaiian Lion – gin, basil, pineapple syrup, club soda; Harvest Mule – aged corn whiskey, ginger beer, local apple cider; and my favorite – Salted Caramel Martini – vodka, dulce le leche, salt and cream. Heavenly.  Pair these up with food offerings, like humongous pretzels, Charcuterie (4 items, $19), Roasted Baby Kale and Beet Salad ($12), or White Wine Braised Pork Mac and Cheese, and you’ve got yourself a meal. The latest, and most popular trend here: cartons of 8 different Grab and Go Cocktails that are a big hit with Penn State tailgaters.

Penn's Cave, Spring Mills PA

Penn’s Cave, Spring Mills PA

TOUR: Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park, Spring Mills. You can’t miss ads and billboards for this attraction about a 25 minute drive from Penn State. Touted as the “Only all-water Cavern AND Wildlife Park” in America: See It By Boat!” this show cave has been delighting tourists for 133 years. Though there’s a Wildlife Park Safari on the premises (combo tickets available), those short on time should opt for the mainstay: a half mile boat ride though the otherworldly cavern of dripping stalactites and unusual formations, mostly in darkness, and then out into the river/spring that feeds the cave.

Water Source Penn's Cave Spring Mills PA

Water Source Penn’s Cave Spring Mills PA

Yes, it’s touristy – but you’ll never see anything like it elsewhere. FYI – you’ve got to be in relatively good shape to walk down a long hill and steep sets of stairs to get to the small boats that hold about 20 people and leave every 10-15 minutes. $19 adults, $11 kids, March-Nov daily, Dec and Feb weekends only – check website for hours.

All Sports Museum Beaver Stadium State College PA

All Sports Museum Beaver Stadium State College PA

VISIT: All Sports Museum at Beaver Stadium, Penn State. I didn’t go to Penn State, and I don’t have much interest in sports. But, I gamely went to Beaver Stadium, home of the Nittany Lions, and the second largest college stadium in the country (at 106,500 seats, second only to U of Michigan, with 109,000 seats), to check out the All Sports Museum. I’m glad I did.

All Sports Museum Penn State - State College PA

All Sports Museum Penn State – State College PA

The stadium itself is imposing, but the museum swept me up in the fierce devotion, positive striving, and competitive spirit of the “Blue and White.” A sport by sport walkthrough on two floors, with interactive opportunities in some – lift a 100lb dummy in Wrestling, “be a sharpshooter” in the Rifle section (where I also learned that the sport had its origins in WWI Student Army Training in 1917), give a boxing bag your best shot – it’s a multi-media extravaganza of shouting crowds and clashing athletes playing on myriad screens throughout.

Beaver Stadium Penn State State College PA

Beaver Stadium Penn State State College PA

Not one sport is left out: Gymnastics, Fencing, Basketball, Volleyball, Swimming and Diving, Bowling, Ice Hockey, Field Hockey, Track and Field, Cross Country, Soccer, Lacrosse, Softball, Baseball, Golf, and of course Football. The Sandusky scandal is glossed over, and Joe Paterno is lionized posthumously, which is to be expected in this rah-rah museum that accentuates the positive.  If there’s no game going on, ask to be escorted up the elevator to the 4th level Club Room. You’ll get a great overview of the surrounding “Happy Valley” landscape and of an eerily empty stadium. Open Tues-Sat 10-4, Sunday noon-4, $5 adults, $3 kids.

Chihuly Glass Palmer Museum of Art Penn State - State College PA

Chihuly Glass Palmer Museum of Art Penn State – State College PA

VISIT: Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State. Another great college Art Museum, The Palmer (largest art museum between Philly and Pittsburgh) focuses on American Art from the 18th Century through today, with detours into 16th and 17th century French and Italian religious art, stoneware from around the world, and important glass pieces. What is most compelling here, however, are the clever juxtapositions – a 1972 Botero rendering of a portly nun right beside Jeff Davies 1980 portrait of the beer-bellied Jerome Paul Witkin – and innovative sculptural materials – the Willie Cole multi-petal flower sculpture made entirely of shoes.

Lynched - Palmer Museum of Art Penn State - State College PA

Lynched – Palmer Museum of Art Penn State – State College PA

The most disturbing piece, at least to me, is upstairs in the William Hull Gallery: a bronze sculpture, created in 1933 by Jewish dentist-turned-artist, Seymour Lipton, called “Lynched.” A dead black man in fetal position, mouth open, rope around his neck and hands bound behind him; it’s a powerful statement on the sanctioned murder of Black men in the South – a representation that Lipton fashioned while it was still going on to a lessening degree. I couldn’t tear myself away. Open Tues-Sat 10-4:30, Sun noon – 4, also 6-9pm on “Third Thursdays,” free.

Penn State Arboretum State College PA

Penn State Arboretum State College PA

WALK: Arboretum at Penn State: H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens. A copse of evergreen trees pierces the sky, and colorful sculptures and flowers beguile throughout this serene arboretum. No wonder it’s one of the most popular attractions on campus. There’s a Children’s Garden, a Lotus Pool, Tropical Grove, and Marsh Meadows, and many more gardens to explore. Plan on at least 30-40 minutes to meander and appreciate the art of both Mother Nature and Man. Open daily dawn to dusk, free.

Where to Eat in State College PA

Berkey Creamery Penn State - College Park PA

Berkey Creamery Penn State – College Park PA

ICE CREAM: Berkey Creamery. Those on a quest to find the best ice cream in America will most likely join the long line to the counter in this blue and white cafeteria-like ice cream parlor. Penn State is known for its ambrosial and creamy versions – dispensed on campus in the Food Science building. Little known fact: Ben & Jerry split the $5 cost of a Penn State ice-cream-making correspondence course, and then famously opened their first shop in Burlington Vermont. Open 7am-10pm.

EAT: The Gardens at Penn Stater Hotel. (See in hotel review below).

Where to Stay in State College PA

Lobby Penn Stater Hotel - State College PA

Lobby Penn Stater Hotel – State College PA

STAY: Penn Stater Hotel, State College. This corporate looking hotel welcomes you with a mid-century modern living room – complete with roaring gas fireplace – as soon as you walk through the door. It’s a charming first impression of the place where many Penn State parents, prospective students, and visitors to the area stay when they want to feel at home in the land of the Blue and White. Walk around, and you’ll see Nittany Lions everywhere.

Nittany Lion at Penn Stater Hotel College Park PA

Nittany Lion at Penn Stater Hotel College Park PA

A sprawling conference center, wedding and event venue, The Penn Stater is always pretty busy, so you might have to wait on line to check in. Just know that reception folks are friendly and kind, and want to give every guest all the information they need for the best stay.

Guest Rooms at Penn Stater

Guest Room Penn Stater - College Park PA

Guest Room Penn Stater – College Park PA

At first glance, guest rooms seem like those in your standard mid-high end hotel, but look closer and you’ll see details that give them extra appeal. Very comfy beds are clad in white duvets and sport blue throws, and navy leather upholstered chairs (with ottoman) offer the perfect place to read and write.

Bathroom Penn Stater Hotel - College Park PA

Bathroom Penn Stater Hotel – College Park PA

Large bathrooms, in wood and terra cotta hues feature a textural floral tile backsplash behind the granite bathroom vanity. Toiletries are from Gilchrist & Soames, but the pretty labels are photos of the Arboretum, taken by Penn State Students.

Dining at Penn Stater

Two restaurants on site: the rah-rah (or should I say, “roar!”) sports-bar, Legends, and finer “The Gardens.” I’m always wary of the food at large conference hotels, especially those that offer generally uninspiring dinner buffets. With a large captive audience, it’s usually anything but destination dining. But I was so wrong about The Gardens. The food was terrific.

I had been told that most restaurants in town cater to Penn State students, so locals reserve a table at The Gardens when celebrating a special occasion. On the night I dined there, the feature buffet was “America’s Bounty,” and the tastes, variety, freshness, and innovative menu items were astoundingly good – and all for the unbelievable cost of $24.95 per person! I started with Mushroom-Brie Soup, which was so delicious I wanted seconds right away. But, there was so much more to try: Grilled Marinated Sirloin Steak with Sauce Robert – expertly cooked, right off the grill – followed by Brick-Roasted Chipotle Ranch Chicken with Andouille Cornbread Stuffing, Honey Glaze, and Tequila-Lime Crema. There was Swordfish with Fattoush Salad and Pomegranate Molasses; Mussels in Curry Sauce; Peel and Eat Shrimp; a groaning Cheese Board, and so much more. But you get the gist. This was not a Denny’s meal. So far from it, I would have gone back again if I’d stayed another night.

Amenities at Penn Stater

Though a couple of miles from the Penn State Campus and downtown State College, a complimentary shuttle is available for guests daily from 5am-11:30pm.

Complimentary coffee each morning 5am-10am.

Complimentary wi fi

Rates from $119 per night include coffee, wifi, parking, local shuttle.

STAY: As a college town, there are plenty of chain hotels to choose from. If you’re averse to big hotel brands, The Nittany Lion Inn and Atherton Hotel in town are good independent alternatives.

York County PA: All Revved Up With Lots of Places To Go

Downtown York PA

Downtown York PA

WHY GO: The last post I wrote about York PA, which still applies and should be read in conjunction with this one, sung the praises of “The Snack Food Capital of the USA”. But this time, the Getaway Mavens delve into the reasons that most people come to York: first and foremost to tour the Harley Davidson Manufacturing Plant; second, for the impressive historical structures still standing since Colonial times; and third, for a beautifully revitalized downtown with a Central Market that serves as forum for terrific ethnic eateries. Of course, as is our hallmark, there are other quirky museums and sites, not to mention a growing locally sourced culinary scene. Read on….

Things to Do in York PA

Harley Davidson Plant York PA

Harley Davidson Plant York PA

TOUR: Harley Davidson Plant (Touring, CVO’s and Trike motorcycles). Even if you’re not into motorcycles, it’s thrilling to witness large-scale robots working in concert with humans to create distinctive icons of the American road. A free one hour self-guided tour through the buzzing, beeping factory gets you up close to literal fender-benders, welders, self-driving AGC’s (Automatically Guided Carts), and assembly stations where, piece by piece, each bike is formed into a recognized whole.

Harley Davidson Vehicle Operations York PA

Harley Davidson Vehicle Operations York PA

Stroll past 10,000 lb. cylinders of cold-rolled steel, stop to watch sheets of said steel pressure cooked into “half-shells” via the force of 500-ton molding machines, and then see the shells welded together by both humans and robots to form gas tanks. Next up, the ever-moving Frame Paint line – where all frames are painted black and baked to a glossy shine.

You’ll start to see more human workers in the Assembly area of the factory where the whole operation takes on a Disneyesque quality as AGC’s, conveying assembled parts from station to station, roll all around you. Every part is color coded and numbered – the whole operation is organized and pristine. No big surprise that each employee exudes great pride in his or her product.

New Bikes Harley-Davidson Plant York PA

New Bikes Harley-Davidson Plant York PA

Perhaps the most coveted job is that of the dozen or so examiners who have 4 minutes to test – on rollers in small bays – each of the roughly 800 Harleys that leave the plant each day. To prove that robots haven’t taken over factories completely, humans can override computer analytics when it comes to authorizing the final product. Naturally, you’ll exit through the gift shop – where you can purchase every Harley Davidson stamped product imaginable. One-hour factory tours are free. It costs $38 for the 2-hour “Steel Toe” tour, which gives you a behind the scenes look, but you must RSVP way in advance as it often sells out. Be aware that photography is not allowed anywhere inside the plant. Open 8-5, Mon-Fri. all year.

Colonial Complex York County PA

Colonial Complex York County PA

TOUR: Colonial Complex of York County History Center. The YCHC consists of five museums, and a library/archive. A $15 ticket enables you to visit the Colonial Complex, the Agricultural & Industrial Museum, the Historical Society Museum, the Bonham House, and the 1903 Fire Museum of York County.

Costumed Interpreter Colonial Complex York PA

Costumed Interpreter Colonial Complex York PA

Begin at the Colonial Complex, which includes The 1741 Golden Plough Tavern, the adjoining 1755 General Horatio Gates House, and the 1812 Barnett Bobb Log House, which was moved here in the 1960’s. The Tavern belonged to a family of German heritage who lived and worked here. A “half-timber framework,” the Golden Plough is a rare, intact example of this architectural style. You’ll see evidence of this construction through Lucite-covered cutaways in one original wall, packed with twigs and mud for insulation. On the first floor, the tavern room was as close as it got to network news, as travelers would eat, drink, and share gossip of the day. Upstairs, travelers snored together on paper thin mats on the floor of the common sleeping room – not exactly the Ritz.

Vignette - Gen. Horatio Gates House York PA

Vignette – Gen. Horatio Gates House York PA

The General Gates house is a step up in status. A Commander of US Troops in the Revolutionary War, General Horatio Gates lived here temporarily, and the home is decorated as if he’ll walk through the door any minute. A table is set with imported dinnerware and an expensive beeswax candle (in the shape of a beehive), indicating the upper class standing of the home’s owners.

Active Train Tracks in Street York PA

Active Train Tracks in Street York PA

Cross the street (watching out for freight-trains that very occasionally ride on tracks embedded in the road) to the 1976 replica of the Colonial era Courthouse, (the original was demolished in 1841), accurate to size and location. It was here, in November 1777, that the Second Continental Congress met to adopt the Articles of Confederation in an effort to unite the 13 colonies. The Articles served as the Law of the Land until the US Constitution was ratified in 1788. $15 for all sites, Open April – Nov. Tues – Sat, check website for times.

Working demonstration Waterwheel Agriculture And Industrial Museum York PA

Working demonstration Waterwheel Agriculture And Industrial Museum York PA

VISIT: Agricultural And Industrial Museum. Located in a repurposed factory complex, this museum is built to impress. Large scale printing presses manufactured by George F. Motter’s Sons, overhead crane rails, a 1916 trolley car from downtown York, a working gristmill water wheel, and artifacts from many York factories can all be found in this massive institution. It’s a wonderland for both kids and adults.

Wallpaper artisans - Agriculture And Industrial Museum York PA

Wallpaper artisans – Agriculture And Industrial Museum York PA

The museum highlights York County’s many local industries including tobacco, with rolling tables, cartons, and tobacco powder on display. There’s a photo and model of the first turbine windmill, built by S. Morgan Smith Co – a hydroelectric dam blade manufacturer – in 1941, installed as a test product for a Central Vermont utility. It failed quickly when the blade snapped off. There’s an early Linotype Machine – a complex contraption used to print newspapers –  and a large industrial center phone system, complete with hands on rotary phones, that has become a big hit with kids who have never seen such things. There’s an exhibit on Stauffer Biscuit Co. – maker of Animal Crackers (yes, those toddler favorites are still made in York PA), York Barbells, and artists-created York Wallpaper.

Reddy Kilowatt, Agriculture & Industrial Museum, York PA

Reddy Kilowatt, Agriculture & Industrial Museum, York PA

The Hall of Giants packs a big punch, so don’t miss this soaring space on the other side of the lobby. In it, there’s a humongous, partially working A-Frame ammonia compressor, built in 1904 to make ice for a meatpacking plant, before the advent of Freon. My favorite, though, was the sky-high Reddy Kilowatt; the iconic advertisement for home electricity in the 1930’s. Open Tues-Sat. 10-4.

Entrance Hall - Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbells York PA

Entrance Hall – Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbells York PA

VISIT: Weightlifting Hall of Fame @ York Barbells. York Oil Burner Company founder, Bob Hoffman, opened an Athletic Club for his workers in the 1930’s. He found that the gym equipment used, mostly the barbells, were such a hot commodity he decided to expand his business into making and selling them. York Barbells became his primary business. Hoffman, considered the “Father of World Weightlifting” – which includes both power lifting (as pertains to weight) and body-building (sculpting the muscles) –  started a trend that was popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1970’s and still continues to this day.

Gym - Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbells York PA

Gym – Weightlifting Hall of Fame at York Barbells York PA

Anyone who is at all interested in either of these sports will find much to enjoy here from the display of exceptional physiques that were part of the theatrics of 1800’s showmen, to photos and stats of male and female Olympic World Weightlifting Champions throughout the years. You can try out equipment in a couple of large gyms on site, and then make purchases in the store at favorable prices. Open Mon-Sat 9-4:30, Fridays open until 6, free.

African Animal Diorama Nixon County Park Nature Center York PA

African Animal Diorama Nixon County Park Nature Center York PA

VISIT/WALK: Richard M. Nixon Park and Nature Center.  I had to go, given the name of this park, if only for the charms it actually possesses. Nixon never lived in York, and never visited here, but York Barbell owner, Bob Hoffman, donated the Park to the fine people of this county on the eve of Presidential election, in Nixon’s honor. You’ll see a big portrait of the former President in the reception area, where helpful docents provide an overview of the multi-faceted 187-acre park, with six miles of trails and a cool Nature Center.

Richard M. Nixon County Park York PA

Richard M. Nixon County Park York PA

The Nature Center is far better than I expected – with both live animals and artful dioramas showcasing a bevy of taxidermied animals from Africa, the Arctic, the Northwest US, and East Coast, along with cases of mounted birds, collections of eggs, and more on two floors. No bikes are allowed on the trails – a visit here is meant to be contemplative – one of the reasons the place is so popular with “Hike It Baby” groups. Open Tues-Sat. 8:30-4:30, Sun 12-4:30, grounds daily dawn to dusk.

Denise Mathias, Old Republic Distillery York PA

Denise Mathias, Old Republic Distillery York PA

TASTE: Old Republic Distillery. Owned by Denise Mathias and her brother, Bill, this super-small batch, artisanal distillery serves specialized cocktails made with its very own hooch. With the bar and tasting area aglow in blue light, and mixologists pouring drinks at a funky bar, Old Republic could be a hot spot in a much larger city. But here we are in York PA, and it’s where the excellent Battlefield Vodka (using non-GMO white corn), Blackberry Battlefield (80 proof), Golden Plough Tavern Rum (100 proof, great for Dark and Stormy’s), Love Potion Moonshine (great with lemonade for “Lovenade”), Apple Pie Moonshine (like drinking apple pie, including the crust), and Blueberry Apple Pie Moonshine – is made.

Sunrise Soap Co. York PA

Sunrise Soap Co. York PA

SHOP: Sunrise Soap Co. Next door to Central Market, it’s easy to find this purveyor of smell-good soaps, bath fizzies, and other natural body care products. You can even custom blend your own!

Heritage Rail Trail County Park York PA

Heritage Rail Trail County Park York PA

BIKE: Heritage Rail Trail Park. The 21 mile, 176-acre linear bike and hiking trail runs from the Mason-Dixon line to York PA.

Where to Eat and Stay in York PA

Roost Uncommon Kitchen York PA

Roost Uncommon Kitchen York PA

EAT/BREAKFAST: Roost Uncommon Kitchen. This “kitchen,” featuring a modern take on country breakfast, is oh so kitsch, and oh so fun. A sign at the door playfully demands that you “Have a gosh-darn seat already!” Throw your cholesterol cautions to the wind and order one of the specials: The Garbage Biscuit – smoked pulled pork, bacon, sausage, gravy, hash browns, apricot butter, and scratch biscuit ($9), or Roost Special with Fried Chicken and Sausage. Other options include Huevos Rancheros, all kinds of omelets, and more. Tables are made from old doors topped with glass. Bird prints and a mixed bag of wallpaper blanket the walls. It’s a joyful way to start your day.

Korean BBQ York Central Market York PA

Korean BBQ York Central Market York PA

EAT/BREAKFAST/LUNCH: York Central Market. In the mid-1800’s, York farmers loaded up their carts and sold their goods outside in the town square, because, well, there were no grocery stores around. The carts turned into shacks and over time these shacks became a nuisance. So, in 1888, a benefactor built this beautiful structure to provide these farmers and their customers with a roof over their heads. A hundred thirty years later, there’s a great mix of nearly 70 restaurants, farm stands, butchers, and artisans – you can shop for fresh ingredients and also take your pick of world cuisine for a quick lunch. Sushi (Joony), Italian, Mexican (Roburrito’s Food Truck), Greek, Korean (BBQ Cup), American BBQ (Three Hogs), creative salads (Busy Bee), and house-made sodas (Fizzy Bee) are all popular. There’s a demo performance kitchen and an incubator kitchen where new chefs can prep for a pop-up restaurant. Open Tues, Thurs 7am-2pm, Sat 6am-2pm.

Tutonis Restaurant York PA

Tutonis Restaurant York PA

EAT/DINNER: Tutoni’s. Owners Tony (man) and Toni (woman) Calderone are so serious about good Italian food; they took their kitchen staff to Italy for a couple of weeks to bone up on the most exciting and authentic dishes. Reinvigorated, they brought back the best recipes to this old refurbished brick-walled, candle-lit building, with a stunning modern-meets-wine-cellar interior. Plates of stuffed Squash Blossoms ($10), Chicken Gemelli ($21), Atlantic Cod ($31), and more evoke memories of long ago, authentic Italian meals.

Wyndridge Farms Dallastown PA

Wyndridge Farms Dallastown PA

EAT: Wyndridge Farms, Dallastown. Just a 20 minute drive from downtown York, the farm-fresh food here is good and straightforward – Soups, Salads, Cobb ($18), Brick Fired Pizzas ($12-$18), Pasta Prima Vera ($12), Burgers ($11-$16) – but it’s the landscape outside that wows. No wonder bride after bride insists on having her wedding here. Undulating lawns, verdant hills as backdrop: this Craft Brewery/Restaurant/Wedding Venue is spectacular.

EAT/ICE-CREAM: Perrydell Dairy Farm. When your ice-cream comes straight from the cow, it couldn’t get any fresher. But that’s not the only appeal of this popular York dairy farm. You can take a self-guided tour to watch cows being milked, learn the dairy process, and even pet some baby calves.

Heritage Hills Hotel and Golf Resort York PA

Heritage Hills Hotel and Golf Resort York PA

STAY: Heritage Hills Hotel and Golf Resort; Upscale hotels are few and far between in this neck of the woods, but Heritage Hills is fine, comfortable, updated, great bedding, granite bathroom, nice amenities – a good choice for those who want a touch of resort-standard while avoiding a chain brand.  Do you love to golf?  Bring your clubs and hit some balls right outside your window – there’s a popular driving range and a resident 18-hole course. Come in winter, and the driving range turns into a snow-tubing hill.  Greens fees $33-$74.  Hotel rates $180-$260.

Plymouth MA: The Rock, Faith, and Libations

Plymouth Harbor MA

Plymouth Harbor MA

WHY GO: So, you think you’ve seen all there is to see in Plymouth MA. You’ve taken photos of “The Rock” and most likely have engaged with some of the original Pilgrims at Plimoth Plantation. But did you make it up to the National Monument to the Forefathers? To the Pilgrim Hall Museum? Or one of the few historic homes built in the 1600’s? If not, your visit to Plymouth, originally charted and named by John Smith in 1614, was incomplete.

English Village Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

English Village Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

Coastal Massachusetts was not the ultimate destination for the 102 Mayflower passengers, a group consisting of religious Puritans (Saints) and fortune hunters (Strangers). Intending to settle “well south” of here in New York, they were blown off course, and in doing so had to deal with the harsh realities of winter in New England. Half of them died within the first year.

Cooking Demo Plimoth Plantation MA

Cooking Demo Plimoth Plantation MA

A current introduction would not be complete without mention of Plymouth 400 – an umbrella organization that is coordinating the activities of member attractions and organizations celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s Landing in 2020. To whit – the Plymouth Harbor will be dredged (for the first time ever) in anticipation of the return of the Mayflower II (now undergoing restoration at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut), and to allow larger vessels to enter the inner harbor.

Wampanoag Settlement Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

Wampanoag Settlement Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

A “Path of Pilgrims and Wampanoug” Tourist Trail, much like the Freedom Trail in Boston, has been established. This Quadricentennial celebration will not ignore America’s first residents – the Native Americans who had lived here for over 10,000 years before first welcoming our country’s first immigrants with feasts of Thanksgiving – who perished in droves from foreign diseases and in battle with increasingly hostile newcomers. Plans are in the works for a Wampanoag Ancestor’s Walk and Indigenous History Conference and Powwow to address this disconcerting aspect of America’s origin story.

Plymouth has rebranded itself as “America’s Hometown” and of course our country’s history is the initial draw. But the Mavens throw in a fashionable winery, a gallery-rich main street (parallel to the tourist-rich street along the waterfront), a new boutique hotel, and lush spa resort for an enticing historic Getaway.

Things to Do in Plymouth MA

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock

SEE/PHOTO OP: Plymouth Rock. In 1741, when a certain rock on the shoreline of town was in danger of being concealed by a proposed wharf, a 94-year-old Church elder, Thomas Faunce, claimed that his father’s friends, who had arrived on the Mayflower, told him that the boulder was the first stepping stone on land for the 102 disembarking passengers in 1620. The wharf project was tabled, and the once large boulder became ever smaller as locals got wind of its importance. They chiseled it away, using pieces for stone floors and home decor.

The actual Plymouth Rock MA

The actual Plymouth Rock MA

Now under shelter, what’s left of “The Rock” would fit in the back of a pick-up truck: not quite the stirring sight you’d expect. The jury is still out on whether it was this exact rock, but many believe that the granite stone – standing alone amid thickets of brush and trees – would have certainly been a landmark to steer by, if not the actual landing site.

Monument to the Forefathers Plymouth MA

Monument to the Forefathers Plymouth MA

SEE/PHOTO OP: National Monument To the Forefathers. The 81ft tall monument, including the looming 36ft-tall granite rendering of Faith, stands on a hill several blocks from the waterfront and can be seen by boats entering Plymouth Harbor. Yet not many tourists know about this imposing structure. First conceived in 1820 as the 200th year memorial to the Mayflower’s arrival in the New World (Abe Lincoln sent a $5 donation), construction of the Pilgrim Monument was put on hold due to the Civil War. Finally completed in 1889, Faith is surrounded by sculptures representing four other Puritan values: Morality, Liberty Education, and Law.

Entrance to Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

Entrance to Plimoth Plantation Plymouth MA

TOUR: Plimoth Plantation. Several miles from its original placement, Plimoth Plantation was built in 1947 as a Living History Museum to recreate the structures and conditions of the Plymouth Colony in 1620. Start in the Visitor’s Center with a 15-minute orientation film, and then follow a well marked path, first to the Wampanoag Settlement, where Native American interpreters play the part of their ancestors who lived here, and then to the 17th Century English Village, built to look like the one established by the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Costumed Docents at Plimoth Plantation

You’ll find costumed docents cooking, gardening, doing chores, or gossiping with one another. Much of the fun comes from engaging these villagers in conversation. We stumbled upon Master Hopkins snipping hops buds from vines “to make beer out of ale.” This is Plymouth’s most popular attraction for a reason. Open daily Late March to Sunday after Thanksgiving, 9-5, $28 adults, $16 kids. Plimoth Cinema on site shows first-run movies daily.

The Pilgrim Story Pilgrim Hall Museum Plymouth MA

The Pilgrim Story Pilgrim Hall Museum Plymouth MA

VISIT: Pilgrim Hall Museum. In 1820, local citizens and descendants of the 102 Mayflower passengers realized that treasured family artifacts – those transported here and handed down through the generations – were disappearing and would likely be gone in a few more generations unless they did something to preserve them. And so, in 1824, the group spearheaded a fundraising campaign to build Pilgrim Hall – now considered the oldest continuously operating museum built as a museum in the country – in order to house the wares brought over on the Mayflower. Wings were added over the years, the latest a 2008 addition for handicap accessibility.

Cradle from the Mayflower Pilgrim Hall Plymouth MA

Cradle from the Mayflower Pilgrim Hall Plymouth MA

The museum tells the story of the Puritan sect that had first moved from England to Holland in 1609 to practice their own form of Christianity. Within 11 years, parents were dismayed to find that their children were “becoming Dutch,” and so made plans to create a new life in another land. It is quite astounding to be within inches of William Bradford’s bible and the cradle that Susanna and William White took with them from England in anticipation of the birth of their child, along with packing trunks, bibles, and other cherished and necessary items that all traveled to the New World in 1620. Open daily Feb – Dec., 9:30-4:30, $12.

Jabez Howland House, Plymouth MA

Jabez Howland House, Plymouth MA

TOUR: Jabez Howland House. John Howland, 13th signer of the Mayflower Compact, fell off the ship during a terrible storm and lived (he held onto a line and was pulled back aboard). Good thing, too, as he was then able to marry fellow passenger, Elizabeth Tilly (who was 13 during the voyage) several years later, and have ten children who all lived into adulthood (practically unheard of at the time) and who each had passels of kids of their own. One of those children was Jabez Howland, who purchased the home in 1670. John moved in with his son and family in his later years and died in 1673.

Inside Jabez Howland House Plymouth MA

Inside Jabez Howland House Plymouth MA

On your 30-minute tour of the last existing house where a Mayflower passenger actually lived, you’ll see letters from Jabez to Reverend Cotton Mather, a 1635 “upside down” world map of Europe and the New World, and unearthed artifacts from an ongoing excavation of John Howland’s Rocky Nook Farm. $6, Memorial Day to early October, 10-4:30 daily, tours on hour and half hour.

Plimoth Grist Mill, Plymouth MA

Plimoth Grist Mill, Plymouth MA

TOUR: Plimoth Grist Mill, Town Brook, Burial Hill Cemetery. First built in 1636, the original gristmill burned down in the 1940’s. This replica was constructed on its former footprint in the 1960’s. Visitors can see a working water mill in action, purchase fresh-ground cornmeal, and then meander along the brook where the Pilgrims first came for water. The now-commercialized Leyden St. was the site of the first Plimoth Settlement. Burial Hill, where some of the Mayflower passengers are buried, is directly behind First Congregational Church. Mill open daily March – Nov. 9-5, $7 adults, $5 kids.

Jenny Museum Plymouth MA

Jenny Museum Plymouth MA

TOUR: Jenney Museum. Run by Pilgrim Pursuit of Happiness author, Leo Martin, the Jenney Museum tells the story of the earliest abolitionists for whom family and faith were everything. More a history museum than a “house museum”- this place belonged to entrepreneur, John Jenny, who ran the Grist Mill next door as well as a brewery and bakery. Upending their lives in England to travel to the New World, the Pilgrims sought “Five Liberties:” Spiritual, Religious, Political, Constitutional, and Economic. This pursuit came with a considerable cost: Within the first year, 51 of the 102 passengers died. Each themed room throughout the museum sparks discussions. Martin also leads Historic Plymouth Walking Tours from here, including Discover Plymouth, National Monument to the Forefathers, Conversations With A Pilgrim, and more. Reservations required. Open April – mid November, Mon-Sat. 9:30-5, $7 self guided, $15 guided tours.

Mayflower Society Headquarters Plymouth MA

Mayflower Society House Plymouth MA

VISIT: Mayflower Society House. Housing the headquarters of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, this high-ceiling manor also serves as a museum open to the public. There are an estimated ten million Mayflower decedents all over the world – those Puritans were a prolific bunch – and a guided tour here depicts several notable ones: for example, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, in 1835, married Lydia Jackson in front of the fireplace framed with bible-themed Delft Tiles.

Bible-Themed Delft Tiles, Mayflower Society House Plymouth M

Built in 1754 for politician and Loyalist, Edward Winslow (who fled back to England in 1781), this reproduction of an English Manor House cycled through a succession of owners, and served as a Red Cross Station, until Chicago clothier, Charles Willoughby left it to the Mayflower Society in 1941. Visitors come to see the space-saving double floating staircase and formal dining room with black walnut woodwork and Waterford crystal chandelier, as well as to peruse the stunning gardens out back. A genealogical library is open by reservation. Open Mid-June to Early October, Thurs-Sun 11-4, $7 for guided tour.

TOUR: Three Plymouth Antiquarian Society Homes – 1670 Harlow Old Fort House, 1749 Spooner House, and 1804 Hedge House Museum tell the story of Plymouth MA as it evolved from the 1600’s to the 1800’s.

Whale Watching Tours Plymouth MA

Whale Watching Tours Plymouth MA

TOURS: There are tours galore in town; Ghost Tours, Pedicab Tours, Captain John’s Whale Watching, and more. You can spend the better part of a week here and not see/do everything.

Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

TOUR: Flax Pond Farm, Cranberry Bog,  Carver. It’s a bit of a drive (about 20 minutes) from Plymouth to Carver, but worth it to learn about the Cranberry biz from Dot and Jack Angley, Ocean Spray grower-owners. (Flax Pond Farm is one of the 800 plus farms that make up the Ocean Spray cooperative, formed in 1936.)

Cranberry Bog Tour Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Cranberry Bog Tour Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Everything you know about cranberry growing (admit it, from the two guys on Ocean Spray commercials) is wrong. Or at least partially wrong. The ads depict a now rarely-applied “Water Harvest.” Before modern irrigation techniques, cranberry bogs were flooded, causing the berries to rise (and allowing for the eye-catching sea of red in which the Ocean Spray guys stand).

Transporting Cranberries by Helicopter Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Transporting Cranberries by Helicopter, Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Flax Pond Farm is a “Dry Bog” where berries are grown for fresh fruit (rather than for juice or jellies), first planted in 1893. By the time the Angley’s purchased the bog in 1967, it was a decades old operating farm. Jack’s Dad was a Harvard-trained doctor with a patient who needed to sell his bog. Jack – 27 at the time – knew nothing about cranberries, or farming for that matter, but was “up for a challenge.” He and Dot have now been growing heirloom varieties on 36 acres “for 52 years.”

Dot and Jack Angley, owners, Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

Dot and Jack Angley, owners, Flax Pond Farm Carver MA

A tour here takes you through the timeline and process of cranberry cultivation – from pollination (bringing in the bees), to harvest, sorting, and finally being picked up by helicopter (in half ton bins), and flown to flatbed trucks that offload at a mega Ocean Spray plant in Middleborough MA. There, the berries are cleaned, screened, and packed in those 12oz packages you buy to make fresh cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner. While here, be sure to pick up something cranberry-related in the barn gift shop: soap, jam, juice, or even Ocean Spray Bloody Mary Mix, generally sold only to bars and restaurants. Tours Sept and October Weekdays 1-4, weekends 10-4, free.

Where to Eat and Drink in Plymouth MA

1620 Winery Tasting Room, Plymouth MA

1620 Winery Tasting Room, Plymouth MA

DRINK/BITES: 1620 Wine Bar. Bought by Robert and Raquel Mullaney over three years ago, the former Plymouth Winery now references the year of the Mayflower landing. The 1620 Wine Bar,  located at Village Landing Marketplace on Water St., serves up its own wines and vintages from around the world – as well as homemade tapas – in a beautifully designed upscale, clubby space. Filled with patrons on a mid-week afternoon, 1620 Wine Bar is a very hot spot at the moment. “We don’t have a wine club,” says Raquel. “We have a wine cult.”

Robert and Raquel Mullaney, owners, 1620 Winery, Plymouth MA

Robert and Raquel Mullaney, owners, 1620 Winery, Plymouth MA

Robert concocts the house wines, calling some of them, like the cold-brew Coffee Wine, his “chemistry projects.” Pilgrim Off White (Oaked Chardonnay), Plymouth Rock White (Pino Grigio), Plantation White (Sauvignon Blanc), Plantation Red (blend), Wampanoag Red (Sangiovese), and Bug Light Red (Zinfandel), are popular dry wines, with Black Magic Rose – made with black currants – on the sweeter side. The 1620 Winery itself is situated at Cordage Park, former home of Plymouth Cordage Co., the 1829 rope-maker that sold to tall ships all over the world. (In the early 1900’s, Plymouth Cordage made the rope for the USS Constitution.) It’s now a top spot for weddings and wine pairing dinners.

Local Yolk Co Plymouth MA

Local Yolk Co Plymouth MA

EAT/BREAKFAST: Local Yolk Co. This tiny space overlooking the harbor is sweet both in décor and service – and tends to be jam-packed on weekend mornings. That’s because the locally sourced eggs make for simply good breakfasts.

Blue Blinds Cafe Plymouth MA

Blue Blinds Bakery and Cafe Plymouth MA

EAT/LUNCH: Blue Blinds Bakery. With outside curb appeal and a kitschy, mural-parlor-tea-house interior, this bakery/sandwich shop is a local favorite.

Vela Juice Bar, Plymouth MA

EAT: Locals recommend Vela Juice Bar – next door to Pilgrim Hall and perfect for a mid-day healthy pick-me-up,  East Bay Grill, Wood’s Seafood (on a pier where fishermen unload their catch), and Lobster Hut for unpretentious dining, The Tasty for great drinks and small bites, and Waterfront Bar and Grill for the views, beer, and Buffalo Chicken.

Where to Stay in Plymouth MA

Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

STAY/CENTRAL: Hotel 1620 Plymouth Harbor. You’ll never forget where you are as you enter the newest boutique hotel in Plymouth: there’s a huge projection of a couple of Pilgrims over the reception desk – welcoming you to “America’s Home Town” and the Hotel 1620. An upstairs seating area features a small, but well done, homage to The Mayflower Passengers, who arrived to these shores in, yep, 1620.

Mayflower Passengers Seating Area - Hotel 1620 - Plymouth MA

Mayflower Passengers Seating Area – Hotel 1620 – Plymouth MA

Like most boutique hotels, The 1620 draws from and capitalizes on local history – but besides the common areas, it’s not so in-your-face, and therein lies its charm. What the hotel lacks in harbor views (it’s not on the waterfront), it makes up for in crisp décor and excellent service.

Guestroom Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

Guestroom Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

Ship-shape rooms are done up in nautical blues and grays with yachting life furnishings.  Bathrooms are bright, with gleaming glass showers clad in Navy Blue tiles.

Indoor Pool Hotel 1620 Plymouth MA

Many room balconies overlook a large indoor pool that takes center stage in an enclosed courtyard. The fitness room is small but has state of the art equipment. Room rates start at $120 off season and start at $350 in season.

Mirbeau Inn and Spa, The Pinehills MA

Mirbeau Inn and Spa, The Pinehills MA

STAY/DINE: Mirbeau Inn and Spa, The Pinehills. Opened in 2014, Mirbeau’s French Country décor, bewitching gardens (with “Monet Bridge” popular for wedding photos), and well-regarded spa appeal to brides and Boomers alike. And, of course, girlfriend groups. Fifty guest rooms are quietly luxurious – not overdone – and common areas, with fireplaces, are the go-to spots on a snowy winter’s eve. If you don’t plan to stay here, at least reserve a table for lunch or dinner at The Bistro & Wine Bar – a fantastic meal that begins with addictive popovers and honey butter. Reasonably priced starters and entrees, like Warm Mushroom Salad ($11) and Steak Frittes ($29) are deftly prepared, and service is top notch. Rooms from $300 – $400 per night in season, from $220 off season. 

TwitCount Button