ALL DESTINATIONS Alaska: Illinois: Ohio: Anchorage Chicago Cincinnati Arizona: Cleveland Louisiana: Columbus Grand Canyon NP New Orleans Phoenix & Scottsdale Oregon: Tucson Maine: Portland Acadia NP California: Pennsylvania: California Wine Country Maryland: Philadelphia Death Valley & Mojave Baltimore Pittsburgh Lake Tahoe Los Angeles Massachusetts: Rhode Island: Monterey Peninsula Berkshires Newport & Southern R.I. Oakland & Berkeley Boston Providence & Northern R.I. Orange County with Anaheim Cape Cod Palm Springs Martha's Vineyard South Carolina: Sacramento & the Gold Nantucket Charleston Country The Coast San Diego Michigan: Detroit Tennessee: San Francisco Great Smoky Mountains NP San Jose Minnesota: Memphis Santa Barbara & the Central Minneapolis/St. Paul Nashville Coast Yosemite NP Missouri: Texas: Kansas City Austin Colorado: St. Louis Dallas/Ft. Worth Aspen & Snowmass Galveston Boulder Montana: Houston Denver Glacier NP San Antonio Rocky Mountain NP Steamboat Springs Nevada: Utah: Telluride Lake Tahoe Bryce Canyon NP Vail Las Vegas Park City & the Wasatch New Hampshire: Range Connecticut: White Mountains Salt Lake City Hartford Zion NP Florida: New Jersey: Amelia Island The Shore with Atlantic City Vermont: Vermont Mountains Everglades NP New Mexico: Florida Keys Fort Lauderdale Albuquerque Virginia: Fort Myers & Naples Santa Fe Blue Ridge Parkway Jacksonville & St. Augustine Taos Williamsburg Key West New York: Washington: Miami New York City Seattle Orlando-Disney World Palm Beach Hamptons & Montauk Washington, D.C. Sarasota & Bradenton North Carolina: Tampa Bay Area Wisconsin: Blue Ridge Parkway Chapel Hill Milwaukee Georgia: Atlanta Charlotte Wyoming: The Coast Durham Grand Teton NP Savannah Great Smoky Mountains NP Yellowstone NP North Carolina Coast Hawaii: Raleigh Big Island Honolulu and Oahu Kauai Lanai Maui Molokai Alaska: Anchorage Anchorage Overview With nearly half the state's population, Anchorage is Alaska's biggest city and the state's only true metropolis. You'll find a varied selection of ethnic restaurants, a performing arts center, theatre groups, an opera company, and an orchestra here. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art houses an outstanding collection of historic and contemporary Alaskan art. The Alaska Native Heritage Centre celebrates the rich diversity of the state's original inhabitants. At nearby Lake Hood -- the largest seaplane base in the world -- the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum preserves examples of rare and restored planes. For all the attractions Anchorage offers, most visitors spend little time here, using it as a jumping-off point for excursions into less-settled parts of the state or merely as a place to catch a plane home. But there's plenty to do and see if you are passing through -- and the occasional moose ambling down a city bike trail or a hawk passing through will remind you of the vast stretches of wilderness just outside the city borders. Best in 3 Days Before you put on your comfortable shoes and grab your camera, take a few minutes to figure out what you're most interested in -- seeing wildlife, shopping, taking a hike in the surrounding Chugach Mountains, or soaking up some of Alaska's rich Native culture. Day 1 Take a stroll through downtown Anchorage to acquaint yourself with the fine shops and galleries, historic sites, museums, and parks. Walk along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail if the weather's cooperating. If you have a car, explore the city highlights, including the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Centre. End the day with some window-shopping downtown or dinner and a walk along the Delaney Park Strip. Several places are open late if coffee and dessert -- or beer and nachos, for that matter -- sound like the perfect nightcap. Day 2 On the your second day, head south along the Seward Highway for views of Potter Marsh and Turnagain Arm. Drive 40 mi to the community of Girdwood, with its several good restaurants, scenic hiking trails, and inviting shops. Continue farther down the highway to Alyeska Resort at Girdwood, where you can ride the tram to the 2,300-foot level for lunch with a view. Head south of Girdwood to Portage Glacier and the Begich-Boggs Visitor Center, all the while looking for Dall sheep and beluga whales. Day 3 Back in Anchorage on Day 3, consider visiting some of the special-interest museums or, if it's the season, taking in a baseball game at Mulcahy Stadium. A hike along one of the city's many bike trails or in the neighbouring Chugach Mountains lets you see the role nature plays in the lives of those who make Anchorage their home. Bears and moose roam the park, which has trails from 2 mi to 30 mi in length. Arizona: Grand Canyon NP Phoenix & Scottsdale Tucson Grand Canyon Overview The Grand Canyon is far more than an experience. It's an emotion. Ask anyone who's visited, hiked, worked, or lived here. Many think it deserves a greater superlative than just "Grand." As you gaze out from the rim, you're viewing 2 billion years of geologic history, exposed for all to see in the canyon's rock walls. There is more Paleozoic and Pre-Cambrian Earth history on view here than anywhere else on the planet. Far below the rim, the Colorado River continues its timeless carving process. It's been estimated that, prior to the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam, an average of 400,000 tons of silt was carried away every day. That equates to 80,000 5-ton dump-truck loads -- one per second, nonstop. If you were to travel from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other, you would journey just under 280 mi from Lees Ferry near the junction of the Paria and Colorado rivers in northern Arizona to the western border shared by Arizona and Nevada. At its deepest point, the canyon is nearly 6,000 feet. From the North Rim to the South Rim, the distance across varies from 18 mi to less than ½ mi. However, to travel between rims by car requires a journey of 200 mi. Hiking steep and arduous trails from rim to rim is a strenuous trek of at least 21 mi. A rim-to-rim hike for the very fit is well worth the effort, though. There is ample evidence of early habitation from ruins that are between 8,000 and 10,000 years old in some of the highest, most inaccessible areas of the canyon. The Paleo-Indians were nomadic peoples known as Elephant Hunters, whose existence depended upon hunting large prehistoric elephants, mastodons, and mammoths. Then, about 1,500 years ago, the Puebloan people more popularly known as the Anasazi (a name that means both "ancient ones" and "enemy ancestors") arrived on the scene. More than 2,000 of their sites have been found, including Tusayan Pueblo, some 3 mi west of Desert View in the South Rim. The last of the Native Americans to occupy the region were the Navajo, who came into the area some 600 years ago. Today, more than 5 million people each year stand in awe at the canyon and leave with therealization that they have witnessed nature at her finest. "Leave it as it is," President Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed. "You cannot improve on it. Keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you as the one great sight which every American should see." If You Have 1 Day Although Grand Canyon National Park covers more than 1,900 square mi, you can see all of the primary sights at the South Rim in one full day. Start early, pack a picnic lunch, then take the shuttle to Canyon View Information Plaza just north of the South Entrance, where you can pick up information about the canyon and see your first incredible view at Mather Point. Continue east along Desert View Drive for about 2 mi to Yaki Point, your first stop. Then, continue 7 mi east to Grandview Point, where you'll get a good view of Krishna Shrine and Vishnu Temple, among other buttes. Four miles east is another good spot for a view, Moran Point. Then, take the shuttle 3 mi to the Tusayan Ruin and Museum, a good place to stretch your legs. The small display area is devoted to preserving the history of the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited the region 800 years ago. After the museum, continue another mile east to Lipan Point, one of the best angles in the park from which to view the Colorado River and some of its whitewater rapids. Navajo Point, the highest elevation on the South Rim, is less than a mile farther. Desert View and the Watchtower are the final stops along the shuttle route, again less than a mile beyond Navajo Point. Climb the stairs to the third-floor roof of the stone-and-mortar Watchtower for views of the Painted Desert to the east, the Vermillion Cliffs to the north, and the Colorado River below. Have your lunch at one of the picnic tables below. After lunch, return to the Grand Canyon Village and take a walk on the paved Rim Trail to Maricopa Point. Along the way, stop in at the historic El Tovar Hotel, where you can make reservations for dinner. Before your walk or afterward, you can go souvenir shopping in the village. If you have time in the late afternoon before dinner, take the shuttle on Hermit Road to Hermits Rest, 8 mi one-way. Stop at the Powell Memorial, a tribute to the explorer who measured, charted, and named many of the creeks and small canyons in the park; Hopi Point, where you can see Zoroaster Temple and the thin line of the Colorado River below; the Abyss, perhaps the most awesome stop on the route, which reveals a sheer drop of 3,000 feet to the Tonto Plateau; and Hermits Rest, the westernmost viewpoint on the South Rim and a good place to watch the sunset. If You Have 2 Days You'll need at least two days to fully explore Grand Canyon West. Start early on your first day with Grand Canyon West Tours, a narrated bus ride to Quarter Master, Eagle Point, and Guano Point. Extend your afternoon with a Hummer Tour along the rim or a helicopter ride into the canyon paired with a 20-minute pontoon ride up the Colorado River. On the second day, get geared up for a day on the rapids. A bus ride down Diamond Creek road to the river will introduce you to the canyon's geology before you hop onboard a raft for a thrilling rush along class 3 and 4 rapids, a box lunch, and a side hike to Travertine Falls. After a helicopter lift out of the canyon and a narrated bus ride through the pine forest, you'll end back up at the Hualapai Lodge, where you can fill up on a Hualapai taco at the Diamond Creek Restaurant before heading home. If you are more adventurous and a hardy hiker, you might consider going to Havasu Canyon. Hike 8 mi down into the canyon to the small village of Supai and the Havasupai Lodge. It's a healthy drive to the trailhead, and you'll need a Havasupai tribal permit to hike here; but it's an unforgettable hike. Reservations are required to stay at the lodge and are highly recommended for the backpacker's campground. You'll need plenty of time and water for your rigorous climb back to the rim. You might even consider returning to the top by mule. If You Have 3 Days Back at the South Rim, a visit of three days will allow you to experience Grand Canyon National Park more fully. On your first day, follow the one-day itinerary above, but spend more time exploring the sights on Desert View Drive, and take a leisurely picnic or luncheon in Grand Canyon Village. Leave Hermit Road for your second morning, riding the shuttle as described in the one-day itinerary, or drive to Grand Canyon Airport for a small plane or helicopter tour of the area. Have lunch in Tusayan, and cool off in the IMAX theater while you watch a short but big film on the Grand Canyon that may reenact your flightseeing trip. Return to Grand Canyon Village, and join one of the free educational programs led by park rangers. On your third day, hike on Bright Angel Trail, or plan a longer hike into the canyon. Remember, it will take twice as long to hike back up as it does to hike down, so plan accordingly. Pick up trail maps at Canyon View Information Plaza and bring plenty of water. If You Have 6 Days Stay six days between May and October and you can visit the North and South Rim. First, follow the three-day South Rim itinerary. On the morning of your fourth day, start out on the long but rewarding drive to the North Rim: From Grand Canyon Village, take Route 64 east out of the park for 55 mi. Turn left onto U.S. 89 and head north over the Painted Desert. You'll see thousands of square miles of mesas and windswept plains. At Bitter Springs, bear left onto U.S. 89A, and drive 14 mi west to the Navajo Bridge, hanging 500 feet above the Colorado River. Once used for car traffic, the narrow steel bridge is now pedestrian-only. A newer bridge beside it carries cars across the river. At Jacob Lake, 55 mi past Marble Canyon, turn left and drive south on Route 67. The remaining 45 mi to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon lie ahead. Along Route 67, you'll drive over the summit of the 9,000-foot Kaibab Plateau. Spend the night at Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim. Spend the next day hiking around the area. The most popular trails are Transept Trail, which starts near the Grand Canyon Lodge, and Cliff Springs Trail, which starts near Cape Royal. If you're not too car-weary, drive out Cape Royal Road 11 mi to Point Imperial. At 8,803 feet, it's the highest vista on either rim. Spend a second night at Grand Canyon Lodge before beginning the long drive back on your sixth day. Phoenix Overview Phoenix rises in the shimmering heat of the great Sonoran Desert in central Arizona. Here are some of the oldest human dwellings in the Western Hemisphere along with the homes of contemporary Native American tribes and one of America's fastest-growing major urban centres: metropolitan Phoenix, a melding of 22 communities, with a population of more than 4 million people. Top 5 Experiences in the Phoenix Area 1. Eat well. Enjoy a delectable dinner at one of Phoenix's excellent restaurants while you marvel at the red, orange, and purple colors of a sunset against the desert mountains and saguaros. Try the views from elements restaurant at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley or the Top of the Rock restaurant at the Wyndham Buttes Resort in Tempe. 2. Hike the hills. Check out South Mountain Park, Camelback Mountain, or Papago Park and enjoy Arizona's cacti, wildflowers, and distinct geology. The parks offer a variety of hikes ranging from novice to difficult. 3. The Heard Museum. Learn about Native American people, culture, art, and history at this fascinating, world-renowned museum. 4. Take a jeep tour. Sign up with Desert Dog Hummer Adventures in Fountain Hills or Wild West Jeep Tours in Scottsdale to really get out there and see what the Sonoran desert looks like. 5. Golf. Book a tee time and take your clubs to Troon North, The Phoenician, or the Tournament Players Club. They all boast spectacular views and world-class courses. Tucson Overview The Old Pueblo, as Tucson is affectionately known, is built upon a deep Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and Old West foundation. Arizona's second-largest city is both a bustling center of business and a relaxed university and resort town. Metropolitan Tucson has more than 850,000 residents, including thousands of snowbirds who flee colder climes to enjoy the warm sun that shines on the city more than 340 days a year. The name Tucson came from the Native American word stjukshon (pronounced stook-shahn), meaning "spring at the foot of a black mountain." (The springs at the foot of Sentinel Peak, made of black volcanic rock, are now dry.) The name became Tucson (originally pronounced tuk-son) by the Spanish explorers who built a wall around the city in 1776 to keep Native Americans from reclaiming it. At the time, this presidio (fortified city), called San Augustin del Tuguison, was the northernmost Spanish settlement in the area, and current-day Main Avenue is a quiet reminder of the former Camino Real ("royal road") that stretched from this tiny walled fort all the way to Mexico City. Choose Destination Asia & Africa Australia/NZ Canada Caribbean/Bermuda Central/So America Cruises & Private Yachts Europe Mexico South Pacific UK & Ireland United States April, 2007May, 2007June, 2007July, 2007August, 2007September, 2007October, 2007November, 2007December, 2007January, 2008February, 2008March, 2008Any Tucson's 20th-century growth occurred after World War I, when veterans with damaged lungs sought the dry air and healing power of the sun, and again during World War II with the opening of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the rise of local aeronautical industries. It was also around this time that air-conditioning made the desert climate hospitable year-round. Today, many transplants come from the Midwest and nearby California because of the lower housing costs, cleaner environment, and spectacular scenery. And despite the ubiquitous strip malls and tract-home developments, this college town has Mexican and Native American-cultural influences, a striking landscape, and all the amenities of a resort town. High-tech industries have moved into the area, but the economy still relies heavily on tourism and the university, although, come summer, you'd never guess. When the snowbirds and students depart, Tucson can be a sleepy place. California: California Wine Country Death Valley & Mojave Lake Tahoe Los Angeles Monterey Peninsula Oakland & Berkeley Orange County with Anaheim Palm Springs Sacramento & the Gold Country San Diego San Francisco San Jose Santa Barbara & the Central Coast Yosemite NP California Wine Country Overview The "dormant resources" that the father of California's viticulture saw in the balmy days and cool nights of the temperate Napa and Sonoma valleys have come to fruition today. The wines produced here are praised and savoured by connoisseurs throughout the world. The area also continues to be a proving ground for the latest techniques of grape growing and wine making. Ever more competitive, vintners constantly hone their skills, aided by the scientific expertise of graduates of the nearby University of California at Davis and by the practical knowledge of the grape growers. They experiment with high-density vineyard planting, canopy management (to control the amount of sunlight that reaches the grapes), and organic farming techniques to finely tune the quality of the grapes that will go into the wine. For many, wine making is a second career. Any would-be winemaker can rent the cumbersome, costly machinery needed to stem and press the grapes. Many say making wine is a good way to turn a large fortune into a small one, but that hasn't deterred the doctors, former college professors, publishing tycoons, entertainers, and others who come here to try their hand at it. In 1975 Napa Valley had no more than 20 wineries; today there are more than 250, though not all of these have tasting rooms open to the public. In Sonoma County, where the web of vineyards is looser, there are well over 150 wineries, and development is now claiming the cool Carneros region, at the head of the San Francisco Bay, deemed ideal for growing the chardonnay grape. Nowadays many individual grape growers produce their own wines instead of selling their grapes to larger wineries. As a result, smaller "boutique" wineries harvest excellent, reasonably priced wines that have caught the attention of connoisseurs and critics, while the larger wineries consolidate land and expand their varietals. This state-of-the-art viticulture has also given rise to an equally robust passion for food. Inspired by the creative spirit that produces the region's great wines, nationally and regionally famous chefs have opened restaurants both extravagant and modest, sealing the area's reputation as one of the finest destinations for dining in the nation. In addition to great food and wine, you'll find a wealth of California history in the Wine Country. The town of Sonoma is filled with remnants of Mexican California and the solid, ivy- covered, brick wineries built by Haraszthy and his followers. Calistoga is a virtual museum of Steamboat Gothic architecture, replete with the fretwork and clapboard beloved of gold-rush prospectors and late-19th-century spa goers. A later architectural fantasy, the beautiful art- nouveau mansion of the Beringer brothers, is in St. Helena. Modern architecture is the exception rather than the rule, but one standout exception is the postmodern extravaganza of Clos Pegase winery, in Calistoga. The area's natural beauty draws a continuous flow of tourists -- from the late winter, when the vineyards bloom yellow with wild mustard and mist shrouds the mountains encircling the valleys, to the fall, when the grapes are ripe. If You Have 2 Days Start at the circa-1857 Buena Vista Carneros Winery just outside Sonoma. From there, take Route 12 north to the Trinity Road/Oakville Grade. Drive east over the Mayacamas Mountains, taking time to admire the views as you descend into the Napa Valley. Take Route 29 north into historic St. Helena for lunch. After lunch in St. Helena, take the 30-minute tour of Beringer Vineyards. The next day continue north on Route 29 to Calistoga for an early- morning balloon ride, an afternoon trip to the mud baths, and a visit to Clos Pegase before heading back to St. Helena for dinner at Greystone -- the beautiful West Coast campus and highly acclaimed restaurant of the Culinary Institute of America. If You Have 4 Days Concentrate on the Napa Valley north of Yountville. Make your first stop in Oakville, where the circa-1880s Oakville Grocery -- once a Wells Fargo Pony Express stop -- is indisputably the most popular place for picnic supplies and an espresso. Enjoy the picnic grounds at Robert Mondavi before touring the winery and tasting the wine. If time permits, spend the night in the town of Rutherford and visit either Round Pond, where you can learn about locally made olive oil, or the Niebaum-Coppola Estate, or continue north to St. Helena. Take a look at the nearby Silverado Museum and visit the shopping complex surrounding the Freemark Abbey Winery. On your third day drive to Calistoga for a balloon ride before heading north to Old Faithful Geyser of California; then continue on to Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, which encompasses the summit of Mount St. Helena. On the fourth day take Route 29 just north of Calistoga proper, head west on Petrified Forest Road, and then go south on Calistoga Road, which runs into Route 12. Follow Route 12 southeast to rustic Glen Ellen for a taste of the Sonoma Valley. Visit Jack London State Historic Park, and then loop back north on Bennett Valley Road to beautiful Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa. If You Have 7 Days Begin in the town of Sonoma, whose colorful plaza and mission evoke early California's Spanish past. Afterward, head north to Glen Ellen. Picnic and explore the grounds at Jack London State Historic Park. The next morning visit Kenwood Vineyards before heading north to Healdsburg in Dry Creek Valley via Santa Rosa and U.S. 101. In this less-trafficked haven of northern Sonoma County, a host of "hidden" wineries -- including Ferrari-Carano Winery -- lie nestled in the woods along the roads. Spend the night in Healdsburg, where a stroll around the plaza offers many opportunities for shopping and fine dining. On the third day cross over into Napa Valley -- take Mark Springs Road east off U.S. 101's River Road exit and follow the signs on Porter Creek Road to Petrified Forest Road to Route 29. Spend the day (and the night) in the Western-style town of Calistoga, noted for its mud baths and mineral springs. Wake up early on the fourth day for a balloon ride. If you're feeling energetic, take to the Silverado Trail for a bike ride with stops at Cuvaison, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, and Clos du Val. On Day 5, visit the galleries, shops, and eateries of St. Helena before heading to Oakville for the Oakville Grocery, where you can stock up on hard-to-find products or simply stop for a snack. Spend the night and visit the wineries in Rutherford. On Day 6, explore nearby Yountville, stopping for lunch at one of its many acclaimed restaurants before heading up the hill to the Hess Collection Winery and Vineyards, on Mt. Veeder, where a brilliant art collection and excellent wines may keep you occupied for hours. On your last day, return to the town of Sonoma via the Carneros Highway, moving on to the landmark Buena Vista Winery or Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves. Death Valley Overview Dust and desolation, tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes, barren landscapes -- these are the bleak images that come to mind when most people hear the word desert. But east of the Sierra Nevada, where the land quickly flattens and the rain seldom falls, the desert is anything but a wasteland. The topography here is extreme; whereas Death Valley drops to almost 300 feet below sea level and contains the lowest (and hottest) spot in the Western Hemisphere, the Mojave Desert, which lies to the south, has elevations ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 feet. These remote regions (which are known, respectively, as low desert and high desert) possess a singular beauty found nowhere else in California: there are vast open spaces populated with spiky Joshua trees, undulating sand dunes, faulted mountains, and dramatic rock formations. Owens Valley is where the desert meets the mountains; its 80-mi width separates the depths of Death Valley from Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental United States. Exploring the wonders of Death Valley in the morning and then heading to the Sierra to cool off in the afternoon is an amazing study in contrasts. Believe everything you've ever heard about desert heat: it can be brutal. To avoid dehydration and sunburn, you need sunglasses, sunblock, a hat, and clothing that blocks the sun's rays and the wind. Because this region is vast -- about as big as Ohio -- and the weather is unpredictable, you'll also need to make careful driving plans. Facilities such as gas stations and supermarkets are few, so be sure to fill your gas tank whenever you can and check your vehicle's fluids and tire pressure frequently. Shut off your car's air-conditioning on steep grades to avoid engine overheating. At the start of each day load the car with three gallons of water per person, plus additional radiator water, and a cooler stocked with extra food. Be sure to bring reliable maps; signage can be limited and, in some places, nonexistent. It's a good idea to have a compass and a cell phone (though the signal may fade in remote areas). A pair of binoculars can also come in handy, and don't forget your camera -- you're likely to see things you've never seen before. Best in 3 to 7 Days If You Have 3 Days Start in Death Valley National Park. Stop for lunch at Stovepipe Wells Village; then spend the rest of the afternoon at Scotty's Castle and Ubehebe Crater. Stay the night in Furnace Creek Village and explore the southern half of the park on Day 3. Be sure not to miss the vivid desert colours of Artists Palette, the Western Hemisphere's lowest spot, at Badwater, or the stunning panorama from Dante's View. If You Have 7 Days Spend two days exploring the many wonders of Death Valley National Park. On your third day head out of the park to Ridgecrest for a hike through Red Rock Canyon, Fossil Falls, or Trona Pinnacles Natural National Landmark. If you're visiting on a spring or fall weekend, make advance arrangements at the Maturango Museum to tour Petroglyph Canyons. The next morning continue south to Lancaster to see Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, where poppies cover the hillsides as far as the eye can see. Move on to Palmdale and its Antelope Valley Indian Museum, then drive to Pearblossom to pick up some ceramic tiles at St. Andrew's Abbey. Return to Palmdale for dinner and a night's rest. On the morning of Day 5, after a stop at Big Pines Visitor Centre, at the highest point on the San Andreas Fault, venture north on I- 15 into Route 66 country. In Victorville, the California Route 66 Museum tells the story of one of America's most famous roads. Heading for Barstow, get another hit of Route 66 nostalgia at Casa del Desierto Harvey House, site of the Route 66 Mother Road Museum and Gift Shop. Explore the Barstow area, including Desert Discovery Centre, Calico Ghost Town, and Rainbow Basin National Natural Landmark, on Day 6. The next morning drive to Mojave National Preserve to see Kelso Dunes and to tour Mitchell Caverns, in Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. If time and road conditions permit, drive through Afton Canyon on your way back to Barstow. Lake Tahoe Overview Stunning cobalt-blue Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, famous for its clarity, deep blue water, and surrounding snowcapped peaks. Straddling the state line between California and Nevada, it lies 6,225 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada. The border gives this popular resort region a split personality. About half its visitors are intent on low-key sightseeing, hiking, fishing, camping, and boating. The rest head directly for the Nevada side, where bargain dining, big-name entertainment, and the lure of a jackpot draw them into the glittering casinos. The first white explorer to gaze upon this spectacular region was Captain John C. Fremont, in 1844, guided by the famous scout Kit Carson. Not long afterward, silver was discovered in Nevada's Comstock Lode, at Virginia City. As the mines grew larger and deeper, the Tahoe Basin's forests were levelled to provide lumber for subterranean support (had the forests been left untouched, Lake Tahoe might well have become a national park). By the early 1900s wealthy Californians were building lakeside estates here, some of which still stand. Improved roads brought the less affluent in the 1920s and 1930s, when modest bungalows began to appear. The first casinos opened in the 1940s. Ski resorts inspired another development boom in the 1950s and 1960s, turning the lake into a year-round destination. Though Lake Tahoe possesses abundant natural beauty and accessible wilderness, nearby towns are highly developed, and roads around the lake are often congested with traffic. Those who prefer solitude can escape to the many state parks, national forests, and protected tracts of wilderness that ring the 22-mi-long, 12-mi-wide lake. At a vantage point overlooking Emerald Bay, on a trail in the national forests that ring the basin, or on a sunset cruise on the lake itself, you can forget the hordes and the commercial development. You can even pretend that you're Mark Twain, who found "not fifteen other human beings throughout its wide circumference" when he visited the lake in 1861 and wrote that "the eye never tired of gazing, night or day, calm or storm." Best of Lake Tahoe in 3 to 5 Days It takes only one day to "see" Lake Tahoe -- to drive around the lake, stretch your legs at a few overlooks, take a nature walk, and wander among the casinos at Stateline. But if you have more time, you can laze on a beach and swim, venture onto the lake or into the mountains, and sample Tahoe's finer restaurants. If you have five days, you may become so attached to Tahoe that you begin visiting real-estate agents. If You Have 3 Days On your first day stop in South Lake Tahoe and pick up provisions for a picnic lunch. Start in Pope-Baldwin Recreation Area and check out Tallac Historic Site. Head west on Highway 89, stopping at the Lake Tahoe Visitor Centre and the Emerald Bay State Park lookout. Have a tailgate picnic at the lookout, or hike down to Vikingsholm, a reproduction of a Viking castle. In the late afternoon explore the trails and mansion at Sugar Pine Point State Park; then backtrack on Highway 89 and U.S. 50 for dinner in Stateline or in South Lake Tahoe. On Day 2 cruise on the Tahoe Queen out of South Lake Tahoe or the MS Dixie II out of Zephyr Cove and then ride the Heavenly Gondola at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe. Carry a picnic for lunch high above the lake, and (except in snow season) take a walk on one of Heavenly's nature trails. You can try your luck at the Stateline casinos before dinner. Start your third day by heading north on U.S. 50, stopping at Cave Rock and (after turning north on Highway 28) at Sand Harbour Beach. If there's no snow on the ground, tour the Thunderbird Lodge (reservations essential) for a glimpse of life at an old-Tahoe estate just south of Incline Village, or else continue on to Crystal Bay. If you have time, drive to Tahoe City to see the Gatekeeper's Cabin Museum, or make the 45-minute drive down to Reno for dinner and some nightlife. If You Have 5 Days Spend your first morning at Pope-Baldwin Recreation Area. After a picnic lunch head to the Lake Tahoe Visitor Centre and the Emerald Bay State Park lookout. Hike to Vikingsholm or move on to Sugar Pine Point State Park. Have dinner in South Lake Tahoe. On your second day take a cruise to Emerald Bay or a half-day cruise around the lake; back on land, ride the Heavenly Gondola, and possibly take a hike. Spend the late afternoon or early evening sampling the worldly pleasures of the Stateline casinos. On Day 3 visit Cave Rock, and the Thunderbird Lodge (reservations essential) just south of Incline Village, where you can have a late lunch before heading to Crystal Bay and playing the slots, or to nearby Kings Beach State Recreation Area, where you can spend the late afternoon on the beach. That evening, drive down to Reno for dinner and entertainment. On your fourth day hang out at Sand Harbour Beach. If the high-mountain desert appeals, spend Day 5 in the Great Basin, touring Carson City and Virginia City and the vast expanse of the eastern Sierra. Alternatively, head to D. L. Bliss State Park for a hike; then drive to Tahoe City for lunch and a tour of the Gatekeeper's Cabin Museum. Afterward, visit Olympic Valley and ride the cable car to High Camp at Squaw Valley for a sunset cocktail. Los Angeles Overview Los Angeles is as much an idea as it is a physical city. It sprawls across 467 square mi; add in the surrounding five-county metropolitan area, and you've got an area of more than 34,000 square mi. Contrary to popular myth, however, that doesn't mean you have to spend all your time in a car. In fact, getting out of your car is the only way to really get to know Los Angeles. We've divided the major sightseeing areas into 10 driving and walking tours that take you through the various entertainment-industry-centred, financial, beachfront, wealthy, and fringe neighbourhoods and minicities that make up the vast L.A. area. But remember, no single locale -- whether it be Malibu, downtown, Beverly Hills, or Burbank -- fully embodies Los Angeles. It's in the mix that you'll discover the city's character. Looking at a map of sprawling Los Angeles, first-time visitors are sometimes overwhelmed. Where to begin? What to see first? And what about all those freeways? Here's some advice: relax. Begin by setting your priorities -- movie and television fans should first head to Hollywood, Universal Studios, and a taping of a television show. Beach lovers and outdoorsy types might start out in Santa Monica or Venice or Malibu, or spend an afternoon in Griffith Park, one of the largest city parks in the country. Those with a cultural bent should probably make a beeline for the twin Gettys (the centre in Brentwood and the villa near Malibu), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), or the Norton Simon Museum. And urban explorers might begin with downtown Los Angeles. 5 Days in L.A. A car is virtually a necessity in L.A. (public transit is sparse and taxis are expensive and not that convenient). If renting a car, this is the perfect place to make it a convertible. Play for local sympathy and say you hail from a cold place and need solar therapy! Day 1: Beverly Hills & the Getty Center Make like the Clampetts and head straight for the riches of Beverly Hills. Many of the stereotypes about Angelenos are rooted here. Hey, you're a visitor, you're allowed to indulge in some gawking! Do a bit of driving along Sunset Boulevard, perhaps dipping into Bel Air to see some of the over-the-top mansions. Then stretch your legs with shopping, real or window, on Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard. Next up: a bird's-eye view of the city from the Getty Center in Brentwood. Wander among the stunning, travertine marble-clad pavilions and explore the gardens. And then there's the art, including exceptional European paintings and antique French furniture. But it's hard to tear your eyes from the view, especially at sunset. As the day winds down, splurge on a posh meal in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood. Day 2: Culture Vulture Follow your artsy preferences to today's destination -- but wherever you end up, you're sure to defeat the old joke that L.A. is a cultural vacuum. The newest major museum is the revamped Getty Villa Malibu, dedicated to Greco-Roman antiquities. As with the Getty Center, the gardens and views are almost as mesmerizing as what's in the galleries. If you're a serious museum fan, consider the cluster along Museum Row, especially the LACMA. Or, you could drive inland to the Pasadena area to see the art and enormous gardens of the Huntington estate, plus the impressive European and Asian exhibits at the Norton Simon. Let your hair down at night (and rest your museum-fatigued feet) at a live-music or comedy club. Day 3: Hit the Beach! Some cities have snow days but L.A. has beach days: parents pack up the car, make lunch, cancel lessons, and take the kids to the beach. Take a page from the locals and spend a day just enjoying the sun and sand. Before you pack your picnic, do some planning and pick a beach that suits your needs. Remember to bring cash for parking and, as Murphy's Law insurance, some books or games in case the water's too cold for much swimming. If you end up in Venice, you might want to rent bikes to ride along the boardwalk, and also spend an hour browsing in Abbot Kinney Boulevard's funky boutiques. If you're in Santa Monica, there's always the pier, with its old-school amusement-park rides. Day 4: Downtown Bound Pick a weekday to venture downtown -- and wear comfortable shoes because unlike other parts of L.A., downtown is best explored on foot and on the DASH bus. Start at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (couldn't they just call it COLA?). You can see the Music Center, with the shining Walt Disney Concert Hall, on the way to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Not far from here is the Grand Central Market, where you might pick up a tamale or fresh fruit juice while eyeing the produce. Hop back in the car for the short drive to the grand Union Station; zip across to Olvera Street for a browse through the crafts market and perhaps an early Mexican dinner. Do you still have time for a performance at the Disney concert hall? Or a drink at the Millennium Biltmore (retro) or Downtown L.A. Standard (cutting-edge)? Hurry, back to the car! Logistics: Downtown has some sketchy blocks, so use common sense. If you don't like the look of a certain street, turn around. There's also a DASH shuttle bus for short hops between sights. Day 5: Hurray for Hollywood Over breakfast, check the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times for showtimes at the old movie palaces like Grauman's Chinese or the El Capitan. (The Arclight is another top film spot.) Once you're in Hollywood, pay your respects to your favorite celluloid stars at their plaques on the Walk of Fame. Hit the Hollywood & Highland complex for a great view of the "Hollywood" sign and perhaps lunch at Vert. If you're a major movie buff, you may want to tour the complex's Kodak Theatre, where the Academy Awards are held, or spend an hour at the Hollywood Museum. Music fans should make time for the awesome Amoeba Records shop. If you'd like to do some funkier shopping, or try a low-key place for dinner, drive east on Sunset Boulevard to Los Feliz or Silver Lake. Somewhere in the day, take time out for a flick - - it's Hollywood, after all. Monterey Overview Monterey well deserves its popularity as a vacation destination. The city has carefully preserved history, an outstanding aquarium, souvenir and gift shops galore, and a setting on a broad bay. Herds of tour buses stampede daily in season, but to the south, on either end of 17-Mile Drive, Victorian-flavoured Pacific Grove and the exclusive mission town of Carmel are generally quieter. On the northern edge of the bay Santa Cruz feels less ready for prime time, with its old-school beach boardwalk and its downtown cafés geared to self-consciously alternative college students. All around Monterey Bay you can spend a lot to dine very well or badly, and you'll probably pay dearly for your room. Best of the Monterey Peninsula in 3 to 5 Days Although it's compact, the Monterey Peninsula is chock-full of diversions. In Carmel you can shop till you drop, and when summer and weekend hordes overwhelm the town's clothing boutiques, art galleries, housewares outlets, and gift shops, you can slip off to enjoy the coast. Fans of Victorian architecture will want to search out the many fine examples in Pacific Grove. If you have an interest in California history and historic preservation, the place to start is Monterey, with its adobe buildings along the downtown Path of History. If You Have 3 Days Start in Carmel to visit Carmel Mission and Tor House if it's open. Leave yourself plenty of time to browse the shops of Ocean Avenue, then stroll over to Scenic Road and spend time on Carmel Beach before dinner. On the following day, motor up 17-Mile Drive in the morning, stopping at Point Lobos State Reserve to take in the views. That afternoon visit a few of the buildings in the state historic park in Monterey. Spend your final day along Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf. Don't miss the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Catch the sunset from the bustling wharf or slip into the serene bar at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa. If You Have 5 Days Spend your first day and second morning following the itinerary above, but instead of continuing to Monterey on your second afternoon, explore the shoreline and Victorian houses of Pacific Grove. Start Day 3 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and enjoy the afternoon either relaxing on the waterfront in Monterey- or getting a glimpse of the city's fascinating past at Monterey State Historic Park. The next morning, get up-close and personal with Monterey Bay marine life by boarding a whale-watching or other cruise vessel at Fisherman's Wharf. Spend the afternoon on the wharf and along Cannery Row. On your last day, head up the Monterey-Salinas Highway and stop for a taste of wine at Ventana Vineyards, then visit San Juan Bautista, a classic mission village. Oakland and Berkeley Overview When San Franciscans refer to it, the East Bay often means nothing more than what you can see across the bay from the city -- mainly Oakland and Berkeley, both of which are in Alameda County. In fact, the East Bay stretches north and east of Alameda to Contra Costa County, which itself has emerged as a powerful business nexus. It includes several small towns as well as upscale Walnut Creek, where most of the county's fine restaurants and shopping centres are found. Farther north, beyond the East Bay, is Marine World, a popular theme park that combines roller coasters and animal shows. East Bay towns south of Alameda and Contra Costa counties have become bedroom communities for workers in the high-tech industry. These begin to run into one another, reaching critical mass on the edge of Silicon Valley. Sights & Activities Oakland Often overshadowed by San Francisco's beauty and Berkeley's offbeat antics, Oakland's allure lies in its amazing diversity. Here you can find a Nigerian clothing store, a beautifully renovated Victorian home, a Buddhist meditation centre, and a lively salsa club, all within the same block. Oakland's multifaceted nature reflects its colourful and often tumultuous history. Once a cluster of Mediterranean-style homes and gardens that served as a bedroom community for San Francisco, the city became a hub of shipbuilding and industry almost overnight when the United States entered World War II. New jobs in the city's shipyards and factories attracted thousands of workers, including some of the first female welders, and the city's neighbourhoods were imbued with a proud but gritty spirit. In the 1960s and '70s this intense community pride gave rise to such militant groups as the Black Panther Party and the Symbionese Liberation Army, but they were little match for the economic hardships and racial tensions that plagued Oakland. In many neighbourhoods the reality was widespread poverty and gang violence -- subjects that dominated the songs of such Oakland-bred rappers as the late Tupac Shakur. Today Oakland is a mosaic of its past. The affluent have once again flocked to the city's hillside homes as a warmer, more spacious, and more affordable alternative to San Francisco, and a constant flow of newcomers -- many from Central America and Asia -- ensures continued diversity, vitality, and growing pains. Many neighbourhoods to the west and south of downtown remain run-down and unsafe, but a renovated downtown area -- including one of the most vibrant arts scenes in the Bay Area -- and the thriving though sterile Jack London Square have injected new life into the city. The national visibility from the 1998 election of former California governor Jerry Brown as Oakland mayor further invigorated the city's rising spirits. Despite economic disparities between its separate parts, Oakland is held together by a strong sense of community. Everyday life here revolves around the neighbourhood, with a main business strip attracting both shoppers and socialisers. In some areas, such as high-end Piedmont and Rockridge, you'd swear you were in Berkeley or San Francisco's Noe Valley or Cow Hollow. These are perfect places for browsing, eating, or just relaxing between sightseeing trips to Oakland's architectural gems, rejuvenated waterfront, and numerous green spaces. Between Rockridge and Piedmont and to the west, the Temescal district, along Telegraph Avenue just south of 51st Street, is starting to attract a small but diverting collection of eateries and shops. Berkeley The birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, the radical hub of the 1960s, the home of arguably the nation's top public university, and the city whose government condemned the bombing of Afghanistan -- Berkeley is all of those things. The city of 100,000 facing San Francisco across the bay is also culturally diverse, a breeding ground for social trends, a bastion of the counterculture, and an important centre for Bay Area writers, artists, and musicians. Berkeley residents, students, and faculty spend hours nursing various coffee concoctions while they read, discuss, and debate at any of the dozens of cafés that surround the campus. Oakland may have Berkeley beat when it comes to cutting-edge arts, and the city may have forfeited some of its renegade 1960s spirit, as some residents say, but unless a guy in a hot-pink satin body suit, skull cap, and cape rides a unicycle around your town singing, you'll likely find that Berkeley remains plenty offbeat. Orange County Overview Few of the citrus groves that gave Orange County its name remain. This region south and east of Los Angeles is now ruled by tourism and high-tech business instead of farmers. Angelenos may make cracks about theme parks being the extent of culture here, but there's much more to the area than mouse ears and laid-back beach towns. You can get an evocative dose of history by visiting the 18th-century Mission San Juan Capistrano or find a thriving performing arts centre (albeit near the massive shopping centre South Coast Plaza). Several major bands got started here, including ska-infected No Doubt, thrash metal Korn, and the punk band Social Distortion. And while local style was long focused on hometown surf-gear companies like Quiksilver and Billabong, its edgier elements mean that Orange County gets profiled in Vogue. With its tropical flowers and palm trees, the stretch of coast between Seal Beach and San Clemente is often called the California Riviera. Exclusive Newport Beach, artsy Laguna, and the up-and-coming surf town of Huntington Beach are the stars, but lesser-known gems on the glistening coast -- such as Corona del Mar -- are also worth visiting. Offshore, meanwhile, lies gorgeous Catalina Island, a terrific spot for diving, snorkelling, and hiking. And despite a building boom that began in the 1990s, the area is still a place to find wilderness trails, canyons, greenbelts, and national parks. Some of Orange County's towns are now high-profile, thanks to Fox's spoiled-teen drama The O.C. and Laguna Beach, MTV's "reality soap." But life here is much more diverse than the McMansion world shown on TV. A strong Mexican influence contributes to the cuisine and architecture; the largest Vietnamese community outside Asia is that of Westminster's Little Saigon. And please don't tell the 3 million locals that they live in a suburb of Los Angeles. Orange County is different, with its own concerns. It's more relaxed, more family oriented, and friendlier. (Not every waiter here is trying to break into the movies.) Few of the citrus groves that gave Orange County its name remain. This region south and east of Los Angeles is now a high-tech business hub where tourism is the number-one industry. Angelenos may make cracks about theme parks being the extent of culture here, but moving beyond them, there are 42 miles of expansive beaches and quirky beach towns, the 18th- century Mission San Juan Capistrano, and the Noguchi Garden near the massive shopping centre South Coast Plaza. The art scene is big enough to encompass the cutting edge in Santa Ana's Artists' Village as well as the faux-impressionist work found on Laguna Beach's boardwalk. The music scene is also strong with ska-infected No Doubt, thrash metal Korn, and the punk band Social Distortion all got started here. With its tropical flowers and palm trees, the stretch of coast between Seal Beach and San Clemente is often called the California Riviera. Exclusive Newport Beach, artsy Laguna, and the up-and-coming surf town of Huntington Beach are the stars, but lesser-known gems on the glistening coast -- such as Corona del Mar -- are also worth visiting. Offshore, meanwhile, lies gorgeous Catalina Island, a terrific spot for diving, snorkelling, and hiking. And despite a building boom that began in the 1990s, the area is still a place to find wilderness trails, canyons, greenbelts, and national parks. Orange County's 31 cities are diverse, multicultural places, and some come with a claim to hipness, thanks to Fox's The O.C. and Laguna Beach, MTV's "reality soap." A Mexican influence is part of the cuisine and architecture; the largest Vietnamese community outside Asia is that of Westminster's Little Saigon. And please don't tell the 3 million locals that they live in a suburb of Los Angeles. Orange County is different, with its own concerns. It's more relaxed, more family-oriented, and friendlier. (Not every waiter here is trying to break into the movies.) If You Have Three Days You're still going to Disneyland (stay overnight in Anaheim), and if it's up to the kids you could add Disney's California Adventure to the mix and easily devote all three days (and a considerable amount of money) to the Disneyland Resort. If you'd prefer to escape the Magic Kingdom or avoid it altogether, get an early start and head to Laguna Beach, before the crowds arrive. Breakfast alfresco, and then take a walk on the sand. Afterward, stroll around the local streets lined with boutiques and art galleries. Pick up a game if you like or hold out for an impromptu chess match with a local at one of the nearby tables surfside and plan to spend the night. On Day 3, visit Newport Beach or Huntington Beach; then head inland to Costa Mesa, where you can browse through South Coast Plaza, one of the world's largest retail, entertainment, and dining complexes, or visit the smaller nearby shopping centers. Alternatively, catch an early boat out to Catalina Island for the day. Palm Springs Overview A tourist destination since the late 19th century, Palm Springs had already caught Hollywood's eye by the time of the Great Depression. It was an ideal hideaway: celebrities could slip into town, play a few sets of tennis, lounge around the pool, attend a party or two, and, unless things got out of hand, remain safely beyond the reach of gossip columnists. But it took a pair of tennis-playing celebrities to put Palm Springs on the map. In the 1930s actors Charlie Farrell and Ralph Bellamy bought 200 acres of land for $30 an acre and opened the Palm Springs Racquet Club, which soon listed Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable among its members. During its slow, steady growth period from the 1930s to 1970s, the Palm Springs area drew some of the world's most famous architects to design homes for the rich and famous. The collected works, inspired by the mountains and desert sands and notable for the use of glass and indoor/outdoor space, became known as Palm Springs Modernism. The city lost some of its luster in the 1970s as the wealthy moved to newer down-valley communities. But Palm Springs reinvented itself, restoring the bright and airy old houses and hotels, and cultivating a welcoming atmosphere for well-heeled gay visitors. You'll find reminders of the city's glamorous past in its unique architecture and renovated hotels, and change and progress are evidenced by trendy restaurants and upscale shops. Formerly exclusive Palm Canyon Drive is now a lively avenue with coffeehouses, outdoor cafés and bars, and frequent special events. The towns of Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms punctuate Twentynine Palms Highway (Highway 62), the northern highway from the desert resorts to Joshua Tree National Park, and provide lodging and other visitor services to park goers. Flanked by Twentynine Palms Highway on the north and I-10 on the south, the park protects some of the southern desert's most interesting and beautiful scenery. A visit to the park provides a glimpse of the rigors of desert life in the Little San Bernardino Mountains. You can see the park highlights in a half day or take a daylong expedition into the backcountry. Best of Palm Springs & Joshua Tree NP in 1 to 5 Days If You Have 1 Day If you've just slipped into the desert for a day, focus your activities around Palm Springs. Get an early-morning scenic overview by taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. In the afternoon head for Palm Canyon Drive, where you can have lunch and pick up tickets for an evening performance of the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies (better still, make reservations before your visit). You can also visit Palm Desert, the trendiest of the desert cities, for a walk through the canyons and hillsides of the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens and a preshow dinner at a restaurant on El Paseo. If You Have 3 Days Palm Springs- makes a good base for exploring the area. On your first day head to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in the morning and have lunch at a sidewalk cafe on Palm Canyon Drive. Spend the afternoon browsing through the Uptown District shops for midcentury and retro items or (unless it's the height of summer) hiking through the Indian Canyons. On Day 2 take an early-morning drive to Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree National Park, where you can explore the terrain, crawl through the entrance to Hidden Valley, and stop by the Oasis Visitor Center. Have a picnic lunch in the park or head back to El Paseo, in Palm Desert, for a midafternoon bite before exploring the chic shopping area. On the third morning take in the Palm Springs Desert Museum, where you can learn about the natural history of the desert and see some great art. In the afternoon pamper yourself at one of the spas for which Palm Springs is famous. Then have dinner and take in a performance of the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies. If You Have 5 Days If you have five days to spend in the desert, you'll have time to explore beyond the immediate Palm Springs- area. On your first day take in a sweeping view of the Coachella Valley from the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in the morning, and stroll along Palm Canyon Drive in the afternoon. On the second morning visit the Palm Springs Desert Museum. Then grab a picnic lunch and head out to Indian Canyons, where you can eat by a waterfall. By evening you'll be ready to live it up at one of the desert's nightspots. Spend Days 3 and 4 at Joshua Tree National Park. You can camp in the park or stay at a B&B in Twentynine Palms, just outside the park. In the evening take an hour to gaze at the stars. On Day 5 get an early start and complete your drive through the park so you can arrive back in the Palm Springs area for lunch. Check into a spa for the afternoon, and catch the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies on your last night. Alternatively, you can spend Days 3 and 4 in quiet Borrego Springs, exploring the wonders of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Salton Sea. On the fifth morning drive to Palm Desert to visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, have lunch on El Paseo, do some shopping, and head back to your hotel for one last dip in the pool. Sacramento Overview The gateway to the Gold Country, the seat of state government (headed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), and an agricultural hub, the city of Sacramento plays many important contemporary roles. Nearly 2 million people live in the metropolitan area. The continuing influx of newcomers seeking opportunity, sunshine, and lower housing costs than in coastal California has made it one of the nation's fastest-growing regions. The midtown area, just east of downtown, contains many of the city's best restaurants and quirkiest shops; downtown, pedestrians-only K Street Mall has a persistent panhandling problem. An infusion of upscale, popular restaurants, nightclubs, and breweries is nevertheless energizing the downtown scene. Ten miles west is the college town of Davis, which, like nearby Woodland, is beginning to feel more suburban than agricultural because many Sacramento workers are settling there. Sacramento contains more than 2,000 acres of natural and developed parkland. Grand old evergreens, deciduous and fruit-bearing trees (many lawns and even parks are littered with oranges in springtime), and giant palms give it a shady, lush quality. Genteel Victorian edifices sit side by side with art deco and postmodern skyscrapers, though cheap-looking apartment buildings abound in midtown, and stuccoed suburbs are obliterating a lot of the greater metro area's rural charm. Best of Sacramento & the Gold Country in 1 to 5 Days If You Have 1 Day Increasing traffic makes a drive from Sacramento to and along Highway 49 potentially long and frustrating. Instead, if you have only one day to spend in the area, stick to Sacramento. Begin at Sutter's Fort, and then walk down J Street or take a bus to the Capitol for a free tour. Its huge park is pleasant for picnics. Next, head to Old Sacramento, perhaps detouring through the vibrant Downtown Plaza mall for a drink in its River City Brewing Co. Explore the California State Railroad Museum, and, time permitting, take a one-hour river cruise before dining at one of Old Sacramento's many good restaurants. If You Have 5 Days Start your trip in Sacramento, where you can visit the California State Railroad Museum and Sutter's Fort and take a riverboat cruise. On the second day, drive to Placerville to see Hangtown's Gold Bug Park & Mine and continue to Sutter Creek. Day 3 starts with a visit to the Amador County Museum, in Jackson, after which you can head south on Highway 49 and northeast on Highway 4 for lunch in Murphys. Return to Highway 49 and continue south to Columbia State Historic Park, in Columbia. You can relive the 1800s by dining and spending the night at the City Hotel. If you've been itching to pan for gold, do that on the morning of Day 4. Drive back north on Highway 49 to Coloma and Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, and head to Auburn to spend the night. On your last day, stop at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley and pay a visit to Nevada City. San Diego Overview Exploring San Diego may be an endless adventure, but there are limitations, especially if you don't have a car. San Diego is more a chain of separate communities than a cohesive city, and many of the major attractions are separated by some distance. Walking is good for getting an up-close look at how San Diegans live, but true Southern Californians use the freeways that crisscross the county. Interstate 5 runs a direct north-south route through the coastal communities from Orange County in the north to the Mexican border. Interstates 805 and 15 do much the same inland. Interstate 8 is the main east-west route. Routes 163, 52, and 94 serve as connectors. If you're going to drive around San Diego, study the map before you hit the road. The freeways are convenient and fast most of the time, but if you miss your turnoff or get caught in commuter traffic, you'll experience a none-too-pleasurable hallmark of Southern California living -- freeway madness. Drivers rush around on a complex freeway system with the same fervor they use for jogging scores of marathons each year. They particularly enjoy speeding up at interchanges and entrance and exit ramps. Be sure you know where you're going before you join the chase. Public transportation has improved a great deal in the past decade: the San Diego Trolley, which runs as far south as San Ysidro, has expanded in the north from Old Town to beyond Mission San Diego and San Diego State University; commuter Coaster trains run frequently between downtown San Diego and Oceanside, with convenient stops in Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and other charming coastal towns; and the bus system covers almost all of the county. Making connections to see the various sights is time-consuming, however. Note that Fashion Valley shopping centre, Old Town, and downtown are the three major bus transfer points, but because many of the city's attractions are along the coast, and the coast is itself a major attraction, you'll be best off staying there if you're carless. The bike-path system is extensive, the weather is almost always bicycle-friendly, and lots of buses and trolley cars have bike racks, so two-wheeling is a good option for the athletic. The great distances between sights render taxis prohibitively expensive for general transportation, although cabs are useful for getting around once you're in a given area. Old Town Trolley Tours has a hop- on, hop-off route of popular spots around the city, but it takes so long to cover the route that you're unlikely to see more than two areas in one day. San Diego County's warm climate nurtures some amazing flora. Golden stalks of pampas grass grow in wild patches near SeaWorld. Bougainvilleas cover roofs and hillsides in La Jolla, spreading magenta blankets over whitewashed adobe walls, and when the jacaranda trees that line the streets in Cortez Hill and nearby neighbourhoods bloom in spring, spreading vivid, shady canopies, downtown is a vision in purple. Towering palms and twisted junipers are more common than maples or oaks, and fields of wild daisies and chamomile cover dry, dusty lots. Red-and-white poinsettias proliferate at Christmas, and candy-coloured pink- and yellow-flowered ice plants edge the roads year-round. Jasmine blooms on bushes and vines in front yards and parking lots, while citrus groves pop up in unlikely places, along the freeways and back roads. When the orange, lemon, and lime trees bloom in spring, the fragrance of their tiny white blossoms is nearly overpowering. Unless you're on the freeway, it's hard not to find a scenic drive in San Diego, but an officially designated 52-mi Scenic Drive over much of central San Diego begins at the foot of Broadway. Road signs with a white sea gull on a yellow-and-blue background direct the way through the Embarcadero to Harbour and Shelter islands, Point Loma and Cabrillo Monument, Mission Bay, Old Town, Balboa Park, Mount Soledad, and La Jolla. It's best to take this three-hour drive, outlined on some local maps, on the weekend, when the commuters are off the road. Sights & Activities Overlooking downtown and the Pacific Ocean, 1,200-acre Balboa Park is the cultural heart of San Diego. Ranked as one of the world's best parks by the Project for Public Spaces in 2004, it's the place where you can find most of the city's museums and its world-famous zoo. Most first-time visitors see only these attractions, but Balboa Park is really a series of botanical gardens. Thanks to the "Mother of Balboa Park," Kate Sessions, who first suggested hiring a landscape architect in 1889, gardens both cultivated and wild are an integral part of the park. Downtown is San Diego's Lazarus. Written off as moribund by the 1970s, when few people willingly stayed in the area after dark, downtown is now one of the city's prime draws. The turnaround began in the late 1970s with the revitalization of the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District and massive redevelopment that gave rise to the Horton Plaza shopping centre and the San Diego Convention Centre, as well as to elegant hotels, upscale condominium complexes, and swank, trendy restaurants and cafés. Now people linger downtown well into the night -- and also wake up there the next morning. The populated outcroppings that jut into the bay just west of downtown and the airport demonstrate the potential of human collaboration with nature. Point Loma, Mother Nature's contribution to San Diego's attractions, has always protected the centre city from the Pacific's tides and waves. It's shared by military installations, funky motels and fast-food shacks, stately family homes, huge estates, and private marinas packed with sailboats and yachts. Newer to the scene, Harbour and Shelter islands are landfill. Created out of sand dredged from the San Diego Bay in the second half of the past century, they've become tourist hubs, their high-rise hotels, seafood restaurants, and boat-rental centres looking as solid as those anywhere else in the city. Mission Bay Park is San Diego's monument to sports and fitness. This 4,600-acre aquatic park has 27 mi of shoreline including 19 of sandy beach. Admission is free. All you need for a perfect day is a bathing suit, shorts, and the right selection of playthings. San Diego's Spanish and Mexican roots are most evident in Old Town, the area north of downtown at Juan Street, near the intersection of Interstates 5 and 8, that was the first European settlement in Southern California. Old Town San Diego's first houses, of sun-dried adobe bricks arranged around a central plaza, began to appear in the 1820s; by the 1850s, after the discovery of gold drew prospectors to California from around the globe, they began to be replaced with wood-frame structures. In the 1860s, however, the advent of Alonzo Horton's New Town to the southeast stole thunder from Old Town, which began to wither. Efforts to preserve it began early in the 20th century, and when it became a state historic park in 1968, the process of restoration gained momentum. San Francisco Overview Snuggled on a 46½-square-mi tip of land between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco is a relatively small city of about 750,000 residents. San Franciscans cherish the city, partly for the same reasons so many visitors do: the proximity of the bay and its pleasures, rows of Victorian homes clinging precariously to the hillsides, the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Longtime locals know the city's attraction goes much deeper, from the diversity of its neighbourhoods and residents (trannies in the seedy Tenderloin, yuppie MBAs in the Marina, elderly Russians in the Richmond, working-class Latino families in the Mission) to the city's progressive free spirit (we voted to ban handguns, we embrace a photographer's project that involves naked people frolicking in trees on public land, our thirtysomething mayor poses for GQ and is seen out on the town with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, a former model). Take all these things together and you'll begin to understand why, despite the dizzying cost of living here, many San Franciscans can't imagine calling anyplace else home. San Francisco's charms are great and small. You wouldn't want to miss Golden Gate Park, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Golden Gate Bridge, or a cable-car ride over Nob Hill. But a walk down the Filbert Steps or through Macondray Lane or an hour gazing at murals in the Mission or the thundering Pacific from the cliffs of Lincoln Park can be equally inspiring. Best in 7 Days Day 1: Chinatown, North Beach Start off the day with an espresso and pastry at an outdoor café in North Beach. Wander this charming quarter of tempting delis, bakeries, and pasta houses, and hit City Lights Bookstore for a glimpse of the city's Beat-era legacy. Take in sweeping views of the bay at Coit Tower, then head to labyrinthine Chinatown for dim sum, and peer into mysterious herb apothecaries, live-seafood stores, and sweet-smelling tea shops. Hit the stores near the Chinatown Gate for good values on souvenirs, and then head back to North Beach for pasta, followed by a drink at celebrity favourite Tosca. Day 2: Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39 With your prereserved ticket in hand, set out for a tour of the Rock. When the ferry docks back at the wharf, take a step back in time to early-20th-century San Francisco at delightful Musée Mécanique. Just east of Fisherman's Wharf, you can find some great souvenirs among the schlocky and overpriced stores and restaurants at Pier 39. If you absolutely must dine on the water, the restaurants here have spectacular views and less-spectacular food. Otherwise hop the Hyde Street or Mason Street cable-car line for better dining in Russian Hill and North Beach, respectively. Day 3: Soma, Union Square Beat the crowds in the morning at SFMOMA; then take a break across the street in the expansive Yerba Buena Gardens. Head up 4th Street and join stylish locals browsing in the tony stores around Union Square. This area isn't known for great restaurants, so when you get peckish, head to Belden Place. This bistro-lined alley is one of the few places around Union Square where locals dine. To top off the evening, gaze down on the city lights from one of the square's sky-view lounges. Day 4: Golden Gate Park Start your day at the glorious Conservatory of Flowers. Be sure to take in the city scenes ingeniously rendered in flowers out front. Make your way to the Japanese Tea Garden and amble across wooden bridges and along stone pathways over ponds filled with 100-plus-year- old carp. Just across the street, egrets perch and kids frolic at the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Check out -- even if just from the outside -- the striking, controversial redesign of the de Young Museum. Move on to Stow Lake, where you can rent a surrey or paddleboat. Make your way to the western edge of the park (if you're travelling with kids, stop by the Buffalo Paddock) and top off the day with a bite and a pint and view the sunset over the Pacific at the WPA mural-covered Beach Chalet. Day 5: The Castro, The Mission Here's your chance to ride the charming antique trolleys of the F-line -- the Castro is the end of the line. Stroll down Castro Street, past the art-deco Castro Theatre, stopping at any café that attracts you. Head east on 16th Street to Dolores Street and unimposing Mission Dolores, and wander rows of centuries-old gravestones in its tiny cemetery. Discover the offbeat Mission District around 16th and Valencia streets, wandering past political bookstores, hipster cafés, and quirky shops. You can have your pick of excellent, reasonably priced spots for dinner and drinks. Day 6: Ferry Building, Marina, Presidio Gather breakfast at the bustling Ferry Building and watch sailboats and ferries on the bay as you dine outside. If you gather supplies here, you'll be well equipped for a picnic later on the northern shoreline. Head to the Marina and the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts; if you're travelling with kids, be sure to visit the Exploratorium next door. Continue west into the Presidio and make for Crissy Field, the marshland along the northern shore. Stake out your picnic spot and watch the sun set beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. Day 7: Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Lombard Street See what really makes the cable cars go at the free, very cool Cable Car Museum on Nob Hill; then climb up to terraced Ina Coolbrith Park on Russian Hill for broad vistas of the bay. Ascend the Vallejo Steps and you're within easy reach of many of Russian Hill's hidden lanes. Explore famous Macondray Lane; then head around the corner to Leavenworth Street just north of Union Street and look left for the steps to equally lovely but virtually unknown Havens Place. Continue north to crooked Lombard Street; then head back to Hyde Street for dinner at one of Russian Hill's trendy eateries. ALTERNATIVES: On Day 2, skip Fisherman's Wharf. Instead, take a walk onto -- or over -- the Golden Gate Bridge, or head back to North Beach for a mellow afternoon. Instead of shopping at Union Square on Day 3, head to Kabuki Springs and Spa and relax in the communal baths, or walk out to Lands End on the western shoreline. If you have more time, drive up to Marin to see the redwoods, or head down the coast to the beaches of San Mateo. San Jose Overview South of San Francisco, Silicon Valley occupies the eastern shore of the peninsula that sequesters the bay from the Pacific Ocean. In this prosperous land of corporate parks, technology eclipses tourism, though the twain do meet in places such as Stanford University and San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation. The bump and hustle of dot-com business, which can make for heavy traffic along the many freeways, imparts an energetic buzz to the restaurants and bars of downtown Palo Alto and San Jose. A world away across a mountain range, nature still reigns on the often foggy coastal peninsula. Highway 1 threads up rugged shoreline past the elephant seal rookery at Año Nuevo State Reserve and beach getaways such as Half Moon Bay. Best of the Peninsula & South Bay in 1 to 3 Days If You Have 1 Day Spend your morning in Palo Alto, taking a look around town and a tour of Stanford University. In the afternoon head for San Jose- and the Tech Museum of Innovation, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, and the Winchester Mystery House. Depending on your taste, have an evening of symphony, ballet, or theatre at San Jose's Centre for Performing Arts. If You Have 3 Days Spend your first day on the coast, noodling around Año Nuevo State Reserve, Pescadero State Beach, Half Moon Bay, and Moss Beach. After overnighting in a Half Moon Bay B&B, drive Route 92 through the countryside to I-280 and head south to Woodside, where you can tour Filoli (except Monday November-January). Drive south on I-280 to the Sand Hill Road exit and take that route to the central campus of Stanford University. Take an afternoon tour of the university and its Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Centre for Visual Arts, then have dinner in Palo Alto. On your third day stop in Santa Clara to see Mission Santa Clara de Asis, or if you have kids in tow, you might want to treat them to a morning at Paramount's Great America. Devote your afternoon to San Jose- and its attractions, then take a sunset drive to Saratoga. Santa Barbara Overview The coastline between Santa Barbara and Carmel, a distance of about 200 mi, is one of the most popular drives in California. Except for a few smallish cities -- Ventura and Santa Barbara, in the south, and San Luis Obispo, in the north -- the area is sparsely populated. The countryside's few inhabitants relish their isolation at the sharp edge of land and sea. Around Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Oxnard, Southern California peters out in long, sandy beaches. To the north the shoreline gradually rises into hills dotted with cattle, and by the time you reach Big Sur, the Santa Lucia Mountains drop down to the Pacific with dizzying grandeur. Sunny, well-scrubbed Santa Barbara, only 95 mi north of Los Angeles, is the link between Northern and Southern California. Santa Barbara's Spanish-Mexican heritage is reflected in the architectural style of the mission, courthouse, and many homes and public buildings. Inland from the Pacific a burgeoning Central Coast wine region stretches 100 mi from Santa Ynez north to Paso Robles; the 190-plus wineries here have earned reputations for high- quality vintages that rival those of Northern California. Visual artists create and sell their works in towns such as Ojai and Cambria. The town of Solvang, where restaurants serve Scandinavian fare and windmills line the streets, is a European outpost in this otherwise quintessentially Californian landscape. Best of Santa Barbara & the Central Coast in 3 to 7 Days If You Have 3 Days Start your trip in Santa Barbara, where you can tour the Santa Barbara County Courthouse and Mission Santa Barbara. In the afternoon explore Stearns Wharf and other waterfront sights, and stroll State Street if you like to shop, or have some fun at the Santa Barbara Zoo. The next day, drive up to San Luis Obispo and visit Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and the nearby County Historical Museum. Pausing north of town to poke your head into the kitschy Madonna Inn, drive to Morro Bay to stroll the Embarcadero and see Morro Rock. Stop at Montaña de Oro State Park for a late-afternoon hike and spend the evening in San Luis Obispo. In the morning, start bright and early, driving north through Cambria to San Simeon for a tour of Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. Next, head for the Big Sur coastline, where you can have a sunset dinner at Nepenthe and spend the night in or near Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. If You Have 7 Days Get your tour off to a natural start in Ventura, on a morning cruise to Channel Islands National Park. In the afternoon, take Highway 33 east to see Ojai. On Day 2, drive to Santa Barbara- and get a feel for the city's architecture, history, and vegetation at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, Mission Santa Barbara, and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Have dinner in Montecito and explore the Coast Village Road shopping district. It's a short walk south from here to the shore to catch the sunset before or after you eat. The next day take it easy with a visit to Stearns Wharf, a walk or bike along East Beach, and a prowl through Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Have dinner on State Street and check out the area's shops and clubs. Day 4 starts with a drive up U.S. 101 to Highway 246 west to reach La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in Lompoc. Spend the afternoon in Santa Barbara wine country, stopping at wineries in Santa Ynez and Los Olivos. Another option is to browse the shops in Danish Solvang, where there are plenty of places to choose from for dinner. In the morning continue north through Morro Bay to Cambria, a good place for lunch, and take an afternoon tour of Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. After a night in San Simeon, head for the Big Sur coast on Day 6. Observe the glories of Los Padres National Forest up close by hiking one of the many trails in the Ventana Wilderness. Overnight at one of the spots around Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and on your last day watch the waves break on Pfeiffer Beach, one of the few places in the area where you can actually set foot on the shore. If you're here on a weekend (or on Wednesday April-October), tour Point Sur State Historic Park. Yosemite National Park Overview People from around the world travel to California to see Yosemite National Park's towering granite monoliths, verdant glacial valleys, and lofty waterfalls. The park's natural attributes do live up to the hype, but if you come May through September, you're likely to see more visitors than vistas. Yosemite is so large you can think of it as five different parks. Yosemite Valley, famous for waterfalls and cliffs, and Wawona, where the giant sequoias stand, are open all year. Hetch Hetchy, home of less-used backcountry trails, closes after the first big snow and reopens in May or June. The subalpine high country, Tuolumne Meadows, is open for summer hiking and camping; in winter it's accessible only by cross-country skis or snowshoes. Badger Pass Ski Area is open in winter only. The fee to visit Yosemite National Park (good for seven days) is $20 per car, $10 per person if you don't arrive in a car. Within park boundaries, you can buy gasoline only in Wawona and Crane Flat, not the valley. On entering the park, you'll receive a small glossy magazine with general information about the park, and a free monthly newspaper, Yosemite Today, which lists locations and times for ranger-led nature walks. Make it a point to read at least the newspaper for up-to-date visitors' information. Best of Yosemite National Park in 3 Days If your time is limited, explore Yosemite National Park. Use the Big Oak Flat Entrance on Highway 120, and head east toward Yosemite Valley. Once you reach the valley floor, traffic is diverted onto a one-way loop road. Continue east, following the signs to day-use parking, and ride the shuttle to Yosemite Village and the Valley Visitor Center. Loop back west for a short hike near Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America. Hop back in the car and continue west for a valley view of famous El Capitan. This area is a good place for a picnic. Double back onto Southside Drive en route to Highway 41 southbound, stopping at misty Bridalveil Fall; then follow Highway 41/Wawona Road south 14 mi to the Chinquapin junction and make a left turn onto Glacier Point Road. From Glacier Point (road closed in winter) you'll get a phenomenal bird's-eye view of the entire valley, including Half Dome, Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall. If you want to avoid the busloads of tourists at Glacier Point, stop at Sentinel Dome instead. On Day 2, head south again on Highway 41/Wawona Road and visit the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees at the southern end of the park. Afterward, head north to the Wawona Hotel (closed in midwinter), where you can have lunch or a relaxing drink on the veranda or in the charming lobby bar. Afterward tour the Pioneer Yosemite History Centre. Head back to Yosemite Valley on Wawona Road, and stop at the mouth of the tunnel on Highway 41, just before you drop into the valley, for one of the park's most famous and spectacular views. Plan to watch the sunset on Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge, and take in a ranger-led program in the early evening. On the third day, have breakfast near the Valley Visitor Centre before hiking to Vernal Fall or Nevada Fall. If you are up for a strenuous hike, you can climb to the top of Yosemite Falls. Colorado: Aspen & Snowmass Boulder Denver Rocky Mountain NP Steamboat Springs Telluride Vail Aspen Overview One of the world's fabled resorts, Aspen practically defines glitz, glamour, and glorious skiing. To the uninitiated, Aspen and Vail are synonymous. To residents, a rivalry exists, with locals of each claiming to have the state's most epic skiing, finest restaurants, and hottest nightlife. The most obvious distinction is the look: Vail is a faux-Bavarian development, whereas Aspen is an overgrown mining town. Vail is full of politicians: it's where Gerald Ford, Dan Quayle, and John Sununu fled to escape the cares of state, whereas Aspen is popular with singers and movie stars. Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith married (and divorced) here, and Barbra Streisand took a stand against state legislation that discriminated against gay people. Between the galleries, museums, music festivals, and other glittering social events, there's so much going on in Aspen that even in winter many people come simply to "do the scene" -- many never make it to the slopes. High-end boutiques have been known to serve free Campari-and-sodas après-ski, a practice so brazenly elitist that there's a certain charm to it. At the same time, Aspen is a place where people live fairly average lives, sending their children to school and working at jobs that may or may not have to do with skiing. It is, arguably, America's original ski-bum destination, a fact that continues to give the town's character an underlying layer of humour and texture. You can come to Aspen and have a reasonably straightforward, enjoyable ski vacation, because once you've stripped away the veneer, Aspen is simply a great place to ski. Heading east along Highway 82 toward Aspen you'll spot the turnoffs (Brush Creek and Owl Creek roads) to the Snowmass Ski Area, one of four ski mountains owned by the Aspen Skiing Company. The town at the mountain's base, Snowmass Village, has a handful of chic boutiques and eateries, but it's more down-to-earth and much slower-paced than Aspen. In general, Snowmass is the preferred alternative for families with young children, leaving the town of Aspen to a more up-at-the-crack-of-noon kind of crowd. The selling points of Snowmass as an alternative to Aspen are many ski-in ski-out lodgings, a slower pace, and one of the best intermediate ski hills in the country. Sights & Activities Wedged in a valley between the Elk Mountain palisades to the southwest and the high- altitude massifs of the Sawatch Range in the east, the Roaring Fork Valley is a Rocky Mountain Shangri-La with Aspen at the headwaters. The charm and beauty of this isolation can make reaching Aspen both a scenic and frustrating journey. Downtown Aspen is easily explored on foot. It's best to wander without a planned itinerary. You can spend an afternoon admiring the sleek window displays and graceful Victorian mansions, many of which now house fine boutiques and restaurants. From Memorial Day to Labour Day, Highway 82 pierces this wilderness area, stringing together Glenwood Springs (on Interstate 70), Carbondale, Basalt, and Aspen before climbing up and over 12,080-foot Independence Pass and switch-backing down to the Vail-Leadville- Buena Vista corridor on the east side of the Sawatch Mountains. The pass divides the Mount Massive Wilderness to the north and the Collegiate Peaks to the south. Elk and mule deer herds can sometimes be seen at dawn and dusk grazing in the willow thickets beside Lake Creek as it cascades down the eastern flank of the pass. As soon as the autumn snow flies, however, Independence Pass closes and Aspen becomes a cul-de-sac town. The only way in or out is Highway 82 up the Roaring Fork Valley from Glenwood Springs. Aspen's explosive growth hasn't come without some headaches. Despite ongoing improvements and expanded lanes, Highway 82 can quickly clog with weekend skiers and day commuters. Still, you'll have some gorgeous scenery to kill the time. Boulder Overview No place in Colorado better epitomizes the state's outdoor mania than Boulder, where sunny weather keeps locals busy through all seasons. There are nearly as many bicycles as cars in this uncommonly beautiful and beautifully uncommon city embroidered with 30,000 acres of parks and greenbelts and laced with more than 200 mi of trails for hiking, walking, jogging, and bicycling. Boulder started taxing itself in 1967 in order to buy greenbelts and in 2000 had a referendum (failed) on the ballot to provide free public transportation for city residents. Even in winter, residents cycle to work and jog on the open-space paths. It's nearly a matter of civic pride to spend a lunch hour playing Frisbee, in-line skating, hiking with the family dog, and even rock climbing on the Flatirons. The proverbial Boulder three-piece suit is a T-shirt, fleece vest, and shorts, completed by Birkenstock sandals. Sights & Activities Boulder is beautiful, and the best place to take a first look is from the scenic overlook on Davidson Mesa (it's on U.S. 36 south of town). On the left you'll see Bear Mountain and the obvious Devil's Thumb on its left slope marking the entrance to Eldorado Canyon. To the right is Green Mountain and its trademark red sandstone Flatirons that you'll be able to see from almost every vantage point in town. These massive rock upthrusts, so named for their flat faces, are popular among rock climbers and hikers. Flagstaff Mountain, Bald Mountain, and Lee Hill are to the right, and at the horizon behind them you'll see the Indian Peaks. Meeker and Longs Peak, both in Rocky Mountain National Park, tower above them all nearly straight ahead of you in the distance. The red-tile roofs of the University of Colorado at Boulder are easy to spot, and the downtown is to the right with the Red Rocks, Mount Sanitas, and Dakota Ridge as a backdrop just in front of the foothills. Boulder Creek courses along the south side of the downtown area at the bottom of "The Hill" on which both the university and its companion off-beat neighbourhood are located. Although 10 minutes of walking separate downtown and the Hill the milieus seem miles and ages apart; downtown bustles with families, buskers, the arts, classy boutiques, and eateries, while the Hill pulsates with trendy shops, packed coffeehouses, bars, and restaurants geared more to students. Parking and driving in these sections of Boulder can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Leave your car at the hotel and try the Hop, a bus that circulates in both directions between downtown, the Hill, and the university for about the cost of an hour at a parking meter. Denver Overview You can tell from its skyline alone that Denver is a major metropolis, with a major league- baseball stadium at the center of downtown and parking-meter rates that rival even Chicago and New York. But look to the west to see where Denver distinguishes itself. You'll be driving along Interstate 70, for example, contemplating the industrial warehouses on the way back from Denver International Airport, and suddenly the Rocky Mountains, snow-peaked and breathtakingly huge, appear in the distance. This combination of urban sprawl and proximity to nature is what gives the city character. People spend their weeks commuting to LoDo, the business district and historic downtown, and their weekends reveling in the multitude of skiing, camping, hiking, bicycling, and fishing areas surrounding the city limits. Many Denverites are unabashed nature lovers who can also enjoy the outdoors within the city limits, walking along the park-lined river paths downtown. (Perhaps as a result of their active lifestyle, Denverites are the "thinnest" city residents in the United States, with only 20% of the adult population overweight.) For Denverites, preserving the environment and the city's rich mining and ranching heritage are of equally vital importance to the quality of life. LoDo buzzes with jazz clubs, restaurants, and art galleries housed in carefully restored century-old buildings. The culturally diverse populace avidly supports the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Colorado History Museum, and the Museo de las Americas. The Denver Performing Arts Complex is the nation's second-largest theatrical venue, bested in capacity only by New York's Lincoln Centre. An excellent public transportation system, including a popular, growing light rail and 400 mi of bike paths, makes getting around easy. If you don't know Denver, you may be in for a few big surprises. Although one of its monikers is the "Mile High City," another is "Queen City of the Plains." Denver is flat, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop; this combination keeps the climate delightfully mild. Denverites do not spend their winters digging out of fierce snowstorms and skiing out their front doors, though snow may arrive early and leave late. They take advantage of a comfortable climate (more than 300 days of sunshine a year), historic city blocks, a cultural centre, and sky's-the- limit outdoor adventures just minutes from downtown. All of these factors make this appealing city more than just a layover between home and the Rockies. Best in 3 to 4 Days If You Have 3 Days Stay at the hotel Brown Palace, a regal downtown fixture where you might spot a celebrity in the quiet, tea-serving lobby. On the first day, wander through LoDo, Larimer Square, and the 16th Street Mall, where shopping and dining, both high-end and affordable, are plentiful. You won't need a car for any of this, especially if you take advantage of the free Mall Ride. At night, during baseball season, take in a Rockies game at Coors Field; during football and hockey seasons, try for Broncos or Avalanche tickets. (If seats aren't available, the ever- improving Nuggets are your fall-back option.) If you have kids or are just death-defyingly inclined, play a day at Six Flags Elitch Gardens, bordering LoDo, or in the off-season head over to the Downtown Aquarium to check out the sharks. On the third day, expand your exploration of downtown Denver by heading to the Capitol Hill area, where you can stop at the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado History Museum, and the U.S. Mint. Save 45 minutes for a quirky book-and-record shopping strip on Colfax Avenue. At night, the Denver Performing Arts Complex is bound to have something to pique your interest. If You Have Another Day Follow the three-day itinerary and on your fourth day, explore the City Park neighbourhood. In addition to the sprawling, pond-filled park, attractions include the space-obsessed Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the Denver Zoo. Or, rent some wheels at the Bicycle Doctor/Edgeworks and spend the last day on the South Platte River Valley Path, a set of concrete walks surrounding a creek that spills into the South Platte River. The river path takes you to a soothing spot behind the REI flagship store and leads to relaxing parks to the east and Invesco Field at Mile High to the west. Rocky Mountain Overview The Rocky Mountain wilderness of more than 265,000 acres of forested valleys, wildlife habitat, rushing rivers, shimmering lakes, and high alpine meadows, all tucked between soaring granite peaks, was established as a national park in 1915. A savage clawing of the earth by volcanic uplifts and receding glaciers has resulted in a majestic landscape of three distinct ecosystems in this national park: verdant mountain valleys towering with proud ponderosa pines and Douglas firs; higher and colder subalpine mountains with wind-whipped trees (krummholz) that grow at right angles; and harsh, unforgiving alpine tundra with dollhouse-size versions of familiar plants and wildflowers. The park teems with wildlife, from beaver to bighorn sheep. The Estes Park and Grand Lake resort towns are the gateways to Rocky Mountain National Park. The scenery on the U.S. 36 approach to Estes Park gives little hint of the grandeur to come. If ever there was a classic picture-postcard Rockies view, Estes Park has it. The town is at an altitude of more than 7,500 feet before a stunning backdrop of 14,255-foot Longs Peak and surrounding mountains. The town itself is very family-oriented, albeit somewhat kitschy: many of the small hotels lining the roads are mom-and-pop outfits that have been passed down through several generations. Grand Lake village is doubly blessed by its surroundings. It's the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and also sits on the shores of the state's largest natural lake, the highest-altitude yacht anchorage in America. With views of snowy peaks and verdant mountains from any vantage point, Grand Lake village is favoured by Coloradans for sailing, canoeing, waterskiing, and fishing. In winter it's the snowmobiling capital and ice-fishing destination. Even with its wooden boardwalks, Old West-style storefronts, and usual assortment of souvenir shops and motels, the town seems less spoiled than many other resort communities. On the other side of the park, in Grand County, where ranching is still a livelihood for many, guest ranches and golf courses provide an indulgent retreat. Vistas of the Rockies to the east and south and of the Gore Range to the west seem out of place for these grasslands that the early French explorers named Middle Park. Waterskiing, sailing, canoeing, ice-fishing, and snowmobiling have made Grand Lake village and Colorado's "Great Lakes" a destination even for vacationing Coloradans. Fort Collins received the prestigious Preserve America Award for its efforts in historic preservation. A walk through Old Town Square and the neighbourhoods to its south and west validates the designation. The city sits on the cusp of the high plains of eastern Colorado but is sheltered on the west by the lower foothills of the Rockies, giving residents plenty of nearby hiking and mountain biking. By plugging a couple gaps in the foothills with dams, the city created Horsetooth Reservoir, which you won't be able to see from town. To view the high mountains, you'll need to head up into Lorry State Park or Horsetooth Mountain Park, which are just west of town. Best of Rocky Mountain NP in 3 to 7 Days If You Have 3 Days Start in Boulder- by bicycling the Boulder Creek Path or the Marshall Mesa, or hiking near the Flatirons after a breakfast at the Chautauqua Dining Hall. After lunch you can poke around the town or antique in Niwot. On Day 2, head toward Estes Park, but first take in the scenery along the Peak-to-Peak Highway, diverting long enough for a light lunch in Gold Hill or an old- fashioned ice-cream soda in Lyons. Hike near Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park and work up an appetite for dinner in Estes Park. On Day 3, drive up Fall River Road -- keeping a sharp eye out for wildlife -- to Rocky Mountain National Park's Alpine Visitors Centre. Linger there for the views and to learn about the alpine ecosystem before driving back along Trail Ridge Road, with its many scenic viewpoints. After lunch, peruse the shops and galleries along Elkhorn Avenue, learn to kayak on Lake Estes, or visit the Trail Ridge Winery near Loveland. If You Have 5 Days Follow the three-day itinerary, replacing the drive up Fall River Road on Day 3 with a guided horseback ride or rock-climbing lesson in the national park. Try the Sweet Basilico for lunch, and follow the afternoon itinerary. On Day 4 take your time along Trail Ridge Road and at the Alpine Visitors Center before descending the hairpin curves to Grand Lake for lunch. Hike along the Colorado River to Lulu City or trot around Monarch Lake. There's time to stroll the boardwalk before dinner. On Day 5 you can play 18 holes near Granby at the Headwaters Golf Course at Granby Ranch or Grand Elk Ranch clubs; sail, canoe, or boat on Shadow Mountain Reservoir; bicycle up to Willow Creek Pass; or mountain-bike in the Arapaho National Recreation Area. The spa at Hot Sulphur Springs will revive you before a hearty dinner. Don't miss the rodeo in Granby if it's the season. If You Have 7 Days Follow the five-day itinerary but replace Days 4 and 5 with the following itinerary. On Day 4, drive to Fort Collins-; hike or mountain-bike in Horsetooth Mountain Park, or bicycle along the Poudre River in town. In the afternoon, tour a brewery or take the kids to the Swetsville Zoo. Learn about raptors at the Environmental Learning Centre or take in some history at the Avery House and the Fort Collins Museum. Relax over a leisurely Italian dinner at Canino's before checking out the vibrant music scene. On Day 5, let the guides from St. Peter's Fly Shop take you on a float trip for trout, or get an adrenaline rush on an A-1 white-water raft trip on the Cache la Poudre River. Later in the afternoon you can get your land legs back by wandering the galleries and shops in Old Town Square before an elegant dinner at Nico's Catacombs or a zesty Mexican meal at Rio Grande. Spend your last two days and nights in Granby, following the five-day itinerary. Steamboat Springs Overview Steamboat Springs is aptly nicknamed Ski Town, U.S.A., since it has sent more athletes to the Winter Olympics than any other ski town in the nation. The most famous alumnus is probably 1964 slalom silver medallist Billy Kidd, whose irrepressible grin and 10-gallon hat are instantly recognizable. When he's around in his position as director of skiing at the resort, Kidd takes visitors for a run down the mountain and gives free pointers. When sizing up the mountain, keep in mind that the part that's visible from below is only the tip of the iceberg -- much more terrain lies concealed in back. Steamboat is famed for its eiderdown-soft snow; in fact, the term "champagne powder" was coined (and amusingly enough registered as a trademark) here to describe the area's unique feathery drifts, the result of Steamboat's fortuitous position between the arid desert to the west and the moisture- magnet of the Continental Divide to the east, where storm fronts duke it out. If you're looking for hellacious steeps and menacing couloirs, you won't find them in Steamboat, but you will discover what is perhaps the finest tree skiing in America. Beginning and intermediate skiers rave about the wide-open spaces of Sunshine Bowl and Storm Peak. Steamboat also earns high marks for its comprehensive children's programs and the Billy Kidd Centre for Performance Skiing, where you can learn demanding disciplines such as powder, mogul, and tree skiing. Eons of erosion have sculpted the northwest's varied terrain that, millions of years ago, was submerged under a roiling sea. These days, the water flows in mighty rivers coursing through spectacular canyons, carrying nature-lovers and thrill-seekers to a place that still feels largely undiscovered, where it's still possible to literally dig into the past. Adventures in these far western and northern regions of the state might range from a bone- jarring mountain bike ride on Kokopelli's Trail -- a 142-mi route through remote desert sandstone and shale canyon from Grand Junction to Moab -- to a heart-pounding raft trip down the Green River, where Major John Wesley Powell took his epic exploration of this continent's last uncharted wilderness in 1869. Colorado National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument offer endless opportunities for hiking. For the less adventurous, a visit to the wine country makes for a relaxing afternoon, or try your hand at excavating prehistoric bones from a dinosaur quarry. Rich in more recent history as well, the area is home to the Museum of Western Colorado and Escalante Canyon, named after Spanish missionary explorer Francisco Silvestre Velez de Escalante, who with father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez led an expedition through the area in 1776. Sights & Activities So much distance, so little time. A little planning goes a long way when deciding what attractions to visit in this region. Grand Junction, the largest city between Denver and Salt Lake City, makes the ideal hub for exploring the region. Many of the sights, with the notable exception of Steamboat Springs, are less than a two-hour drive from Grand Junction. You can make the loop from Delta to Cedaredge and Grand Mesa to Palisade easily in a day. If you want to break up the trip, stop at one of the clusters of cabins atop the mesa, or in the lovely town of Cedaredge overnight. The loop in the opposite direction -- including Rifle, Meeker, Craig, Dinosaur National Monument, and Rangely -- is quite a bit longer, but there's decent lodging in any of the stops along the way, with the exception of Dinosaur National Monument (unless you're prepared to camp). If you're headed to Steamboat Springs from Denver in winter, exercise caution on Highway 40. It sees less traffic than I-70, but it can be treacherous in the Berthoud Pass stretch during snowstorms. Telluride & Southwest Colorado Overview The ruddy or red-hue rocks found in much of the state, particularly in the Southwest, give Colorado its name. The region's terrain varies widely -- from yawning black canyons and desolate monochrome moonscapes to pastel deserts and mesas, glistening sapphire lakes, and wide expanses of those stunning red rocks. It's so rugged in the southwest that a four- wheel-drive vehicle or hiker's sturdiness is necessary to explore much of the wild and beautiful backcountry. The region's history and people are as colourful as the landscape. South-western Colorado, as well as the "Four Corners" neighbours of north-western New Mexico, north-eastern Arizona, and south-eastern Utah, was home to the Ancestral Puebloan peoples formerly known as Anasazi, meaning "ancient ones." They constructed impressive cliff dwellings in what are now Mesa Verde National Park, Ute Mountain Tribal Park, and other nearby sites. This wild and woolly region, dotted with rowdy mining camps and boomtowns, also witnessed the antics of such notorious outlaws as Butch Cassidy, who embarked on his storied career by robbing the Telluride Bank in 1889, and Robert "Bobby" Clark, who hid out in Creede from the James Gang after he shot Jesse in the back. Even today, the more ornery, independent locals, disgusted with the political system, periodically talk of seceding from the union. They can be as rough as the country they inhabit. Southwest Colorado offers such diversity that, depending on where you go, you can have radically different vacations. You can spiral from the towering peaks of the San Juan range to the plunging Black Canyon of the Gunnison, taking in alpine scenery along the way, as well as the eerie remains of old mining camps, before winding through striking desert landscapes, the superlative Ancestral Puebloan ruins, and the Old West railroad town of Durango. If you're not here to ski or golf in the resorts of Crested Butte, Purgatory, or Telluride, there's still much to experience in this part of the state. Tucked like a jewel in a tiny valley caught between azure sky and gunmetal mountains is Telluride, once so inaccessible that it was a favourite hideout for desperadoes such as Butch Cassidy, who robbed his first bank here in 1889. The savage but beautiful terrain of the San Juan Mountains, with peaks like 14,157-foot Mt. Sneffels, and rivers, like the San Miguel, now attracts mountain people of a different sort -- alpinists, snowboarders, freestylers, mountain bikers, and freewheeling four-wheelers -- who attack any incline, up or down, and do so with abandon. Best of Southwest Colorado in 3 to 7 Days If You Have 3 Days From Ridgway, drive south for 10 mi to visit Ouray, a Victorian-era gem along the stupendously beautiful San Juan Skyway. Retrace your route, then head to Telluride for lunch and a gondola ride up the mountain. Continue over Lizard Head Pass, stopping at the Anasazi Heritage Centre in Dolores before spending the night in Cortez or Mancos. Start early the next morning so you can explore Mesa Verde National Park before the peak heat of the day. Drive east to Durango, a good place to spend the night. The next morning, board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, one of the state's must-see attractions. Spend a few hours in Silverton, and return for dinner at one of Durango's world-class restaurants. If You Have 5 Days Begin your trip in Gunnison, passing Blue Mesa Reservoir on your way to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Spend the night in Montrose or Ridgway before hooking into the three-day itinerary above. After your return to Durango, drive east via Pagosa Springs and over Wolf Creek Pass. Continue north through Creede and Lake City to return to Blue Mesa Reservoir. If You Have 7 Days Start your itinerary in Crested Butte, spending a day hiking amid the wildflowers, fishing in the crystal-clear streams, or just exploring this quaint mountain town. Spend a night there or in nearby Gunnison, and then follow the suggested five-day itinerary above, leaving enough time to visit Yankee Boy Basin, soak in the hot springs of either Ouray or Ridgway, and overnight in either of those towns before driving to Telluride. Vail Overview The attraction for vacationers from all over is the thin, aspen-cloaked Vail Valley, a narrow corridor slit by Interstate 70 and bounded by the rugged Gore Range to the north and the tabled Sawatch escarpments to the south. Through it all runs the sparkling Eagle River. The resorts begin just west of Vail Pass, a saddle well below treeline, and stretch 20 mi through the communities of Vail Village, Eagle-Vail, Minturn, Avon, Beaver Creek, Arrowhead, and Edwards. The hub of activity in winter and summer revolves around Vail Village, but many vacationers will spend time dining, skiing, and shopping in the other towns. The vibe in these places varies dramatically, from Beaver Creek, a gated community of second (and probably third) megahomes; to Edwards, a rapidly growing worker town; to Vail Village, filled with styles of lodging, dining, and shopping appealing to a wide range of tastes. In winter, this region is famous for the glittering resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek. Between these two areas, skiers and snowboarders have almost 7,000 acres at their disposal including the unforgettable Back Bowls far beyond the noise of I-70 traffic. In summer, these resorts are great bases from which you can explore the high country by foot, horseback, raft, or bike. But take heed, all trails go up. Some trails are designated for bikers, others for hikes, and many for both. Always remember that bikers should yield to hikers, though in practice it's considered courteous to let them blow by. In addition, there are hundreds of miles of trails weaving through the White River National Forest. Warm-weather weekends are filled with an exciting range of cultural events, including performances by groups such as the New York Philharmonic and the Bolshoi Ballet. Sights & Activities Finding your way around the Vail Valley is relatively easy; the valley runs east and west, and everything you need is less than a mile or two off the I-70 corridor (and the constant drone of traffic), which parallels the Eagle River. The Gore Range to the north is one of the most rugged wilderness areas in Colorado -- the peaks are jagged and broken, and any hiking here immediately involves a steep and sustained climb. To the south the tabled heights of the Sawatch Mountain are gentler and give Vail her superb skiing, particularly in the famed Back Bowls. Beaver Creek feels more isolated, being set off the highway behind a series of gates that control access to the posh communities within. Connecticut: Hartford Hartford Overview Westward expansion in the New World began along the meandering Connecticut River. Dutch explorer Adrian Block first explored the area in 1614, and in 1633 a trading post was set up in what is now Hartford. Within five years, throngs of restive Massachusetts Bay colonists had settled in this fertile valley. What followed was more than three centuries of shipbuilding, shad hauling, and river trading with ports as far away as the West Indies and the Mediterranean. Less touristy than the coast and northwest hills, the Connecticut River valley is a swath of small villages and uncrowded state parks punctuated by a few small cities and a large one: the capital city of Hartford. To the south of Hartford, with the exception of industrial Middletown, genuinely quaint hamlets vie for a share of Connecticut's tourist crop with antiques shops, scenic drives, and trendy restaurants. Sights & Activities Hartford, the state capital, is also Connecticut's first European settlement, founded in 1633. America's insurance industry was born in Hartford in 1810 -- largely in an effort to protect the Connecticut River Valley's tremendously important shipping interests. Throughout the 19th century, insurance companies expanded their coverage to include fires, accidents, life, and (in 1898) automobiles. Through the years, Hartford industries have included the inspection and packing of tobacco (a once-prominent industry in the northern river valley) and the manufacture of everything from bedsprings to artificial limbs, pool tables to coffins. Like many of Connecticut's cities, Hartford is hard at work revitalizing its downtown and surrounding areas. Florida: Amelia Island Everglades NP Florida Keys Fort Lauderdale Fort Myers & Naples Jacksonville & St. Augustine Key West Miami Orlando-Disney World Palm Beach Sarasota & Bradenton Tampa Bay Area Amelia Island Overview Some of the oldest settlements in the state -- indeed in all of the United States -- are in northeastern Florida, although the region didn't get much attention until the Union army came through during the Civil War. The soldiers' rapturous accounts of the mild climate, pristine beaches, and lush vegetation captured the imagination of folks up north. First came the speculators and the curiosity seekers. Then the advent of the railroads brought more permanent settlers and the first wave of winter vacationers. Finally, the automobile transported the full rush of snowbirds, seasonal residents escaping from harsh northern winters. They still come to sop up sun on the beach, to tee up year-round, to bass-fish and bird-watch in forests and parks, and to party in the clubs and bars of Daytona, a popular spring-break destination. The region is remarkably diverse. Tortured, towering live oaks; plantations; and antebellum-style architecture recollect the Old South. The mossy marshes of Silver Springs and the St. Johns River look as untouched and junglelike today as they did generations ago. Horse farms around Ocala resemble Kentucky's bluegrass country or the hunt clubs of Virginia. St. Augustine is a showcase of early U.S. history, and Jacksonville is a young but sophisticated metropolis. Yet these are all but light diversions from northeastern Florida's primary draw -- absolutely sensational beaches. Hugging the coast are long, slender barrier islands whose entire eastern sides make up a broad band of spectacular sand. Except in the most populated areas, development has been modest, and beaches are lined with funky, appealing little towns. If You Have 3 Days Spend your first night in Jacksonville, using it as a base to explore the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art or the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, as well as Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island, which has one of the best-preserved brick forts in the United States. Take Interstate 95 south to St. Augustine- and see the restored Colonial Spanish Quarter and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument before continuing down the coast. Enjoy Canaveral National Seashore -- accessible from either New Smyrna Beach or Cocoa Beach -- and don't miss the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex in Titusville. If You Have 5 Days Before leaving Jacksonville- try to visit the three largest museums, the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, and the Museum of Science and History. Then focus your sightseeing on Amelia Island, including its historic district and Fort Clinch State Park. Going south on Interstate 95, stop in St. Augustine. Follow the Old City Walking Tour suggested by the Visitor Information and Preview Centre and stroll through the restored Colonial Spanish Quarter. Consider taking the slightly longer but more scenic Route A1A to Daytona Beach; visit the Museum of Arts and Sciences and the famous beaches. For your last night, stay in New Smyrna Beach or Cocoa Beach, both within reach of Canaveral National Seashore and Kennedy Space Centre. If You Have 10 Days As in the previous two itineraries, start in Jacksonville- and visit the attractions mentioned above; by staying three nights, however, you'll have time to make the drive north to Kingsley Plantation, Florida's oldest remaining plantation, on Fort George Island, and hike or picnic in Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island. Next, head to St. Augustine. Three days here enable you to conduct a more leisurely exploration of the extensive historic district and to take in the Lightner Museum, in what was originally one of Henry Flagler's fancy hotels. Another three- day stay, this time based at Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, or Cocoa Beach, allows you to cover Daytona's Museum of Arts and Sciences, drive along the shoreline, spend some time at the beach, and see Canaveral National Seashore, as well as the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex near Titusville. Then head inland for a day in Ocala National Forest, a beautiful wilderness area. Everglades Overview Miami is the only city in the country that has two national parks and a national preserve in its backyard. Everglades National Park, created in 1947, was meant to preserve the slow-moving River of Grass -- a freshwater river 50 mi wide but only 6 inches deep, flowing from Lake Okeechobee through marshy grassland into Florida Bay. Along the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), marshes of saw grass extend as far as the eye can see, interspersed only with hammocks or tree islands of bald cypress and mahogany, while overhead southern bald eagles make circles in the sky. An assembly of plants and flowers, including ferns, orchids, and bromeliads, shares the brackish waters with river otters, turtles, alligators, and occasionally that gentle giant, the West Indian manatee. Not so gentle, though, is the saw grass. Deceptively graceful, these tall, willowy sedges have small, sharp teeth on the edges of their leaves. Biscayne National Park, established as a national monument in 1968 and 12 years later expanded and designated a national park, is the nation's largest marine park and the largest national park within the continental United States with living coral reefs. A small portion of the park's almost 274 square mi consists of mainland coast and outlying islands, but 95% is under water, much of it in Biscayne Bay. The islands contain lush, heavily wooded forests with an abundance of ferns and native palm trees. Of particular interest are the mangroves and their tangled masses of stiltlike roots that thicken the shorelines. These "walking trees," as locals call them, have striking curved prop roots, which arch down from the trunk, while aerial roots drop from branches. The trees draw fresh water from saltwater and create a coastal nursery capable of sustaining myriad types of marine life. Congress established Big Cypress National Preserve in 1974 after buying up one of the least-developed watershed areas in South Florida to protect Everglades National Park. The preserve, on the northern edge of Everglades National Park, entails extensive tracts of prairie, marsh, pinelands, forested swamps, and sloughs. Although preservation and recreation are the preserve's mainstay, hunting and off-road vehicle use are allowed. Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, accessible only by boat, spreads to the south of Everglades National Park on its gulf side; and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, accessible by two new trails, and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park both lie to the northwest. Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma took their toll on the Everglades in 2005, knocking down trees, flooding, and flattening the landscape. Although nature heals quickly, towns take a little longer, particularly Chokoloskee Island and Flamingo, which took the brunt of the storm before it moved northward. The lodge, restaurant, and some marina tours and facilities were still indefinitely closed at press time, with a projected opening date of no sooner than September 2006. More long-term in effect, Miami's backyard is threatened by suburban sprawl, agriculture, and business development. What results is competition among environmental, agricultural, and developmental interests. The biggest issue is water. Originally, alternating floods and dry periods maintained a wildlife habitat and regulated the water flowing into Florida Bay. The brackish seasonal flux sustained a remarkably vigorous bay, with thriving mangrove thickets and coral reefs at its Atlantic edge. The system nurtured sea life and attracted anglers and divers. Starting in the 1930s, however, a giant flood-control system began diverting water to canals running to the gulf and the ocean. As you travel Florida's north-south routes, you cross this network of canals built by the South Florida Water Management District, ironically known as "Protector of the Everglades" (ironic because most people feel it's done more for the developers than the environment). The unfortunate side effect of flood control has been devastation of the wilderness. Park visitors decry diminished bird counts (a 90% reduction over 50 years); the black bear population has been nearly eliminated; and the Florida panther is nearing extinction. Meanwhile, the loss of fresh water has made Florida Bay saltier, devastating breeding grounds and creating dead zones where pea-green algae have replaced sea grasses and sponges. The nearly $8-billion, 10-year Comprehensive Plan worked out between government agencies and a host of conservation groups and industries to restore, protect, and preserve the ecosystem is underway. More than 200 projects tear down levees, fill canals, construct new water-storage areas on land formerly preserved for agriculture or new development, channel water to estuaries and Everglades National Park, and provide flood protection and a reliable water supply. The expectation is that new policies and projects implemented over the next decade will go a long way toward reviving the natural system. Best in 1 to 5 Days 1 Day You have three choices. If you're interested in boating or seeing underwater flora and fauna, Biscayne is your best bet. For interpretive trails and exhibits, go with the Everglades. For quiet, wilderness canoeing, and nature, don't miss Big Cypress. Numbers in the text correspond to numbers in the margin and on the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks map. For a day in Everglades National Park, begin in Florida City, the southeastern gateway to the park. Head to the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Centre and continue to the Royal Palm Visitor Centre. Then go to Flamingo and rent a boat or take a tour of backwaters. (Note: call ahead to ensure boat rentals are available.) If Biscayne is your preference, begin at Convoy Point for an orientation before forsaking dry land. Sign up for a snorkel or dive trip or an outing on a glass- bottom boat, kayak, or canoe. To spend a day in Big Cypress National Preserve, begin at the Oasis Visitor Centre. Then head to Everglades City and rent a canoe for a tour of the Turner River. 3 Days With three days, explore all three accesses to the Everglades as well as Biscayne National Park. Start at Homestead as your base for exploring Biscayne. If you plan to scuba dive or take a glass-bottom-boat trip, get an early start. Explore the visitor centre at Convoy Point when you return and finish your day checking out sights in Homestead and Florida City. There's an afternoon snorkel trip also, which would give you time to see Florida City and Homestead, have lunch, and learn about the park's ecosystem at the visitor centre first. Head to the Everglades on Day 2, following the one-day itinerary above. Spend the night in Flamingo. On Day 3, start by driving west along the Tamiami Trail, stopping at Everglades Safari Park for an airboat ride; at Shark Valley for a tram tour, walk, or bicycle trip; at the Miccosukee Indian Village for lunch; at the Big Cypress Gallery; and then at the Ochopee Post Office, before ending in Everglades City. From here, visit historic Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee Island and watch the sunset. 5 Days Follow Day 1 and 2 above. On Day 3, hike a trail or two along the road from Flamingo and stop at Robert Is Here for a snack. Take in Fruit & Spice Park and lunch in Homestead, then head across Tamiami Trail, stopping for a tram tour at Shark Valley and spending the night in Everglades City. On Day 4, see the sights of Everglades City and do a canoe, kayak, or boat tour of the Ten Thousand Islands. The next morning, bike around Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and, in the afternoon, visit Collier-Seminole State Park; then reserve a canoe for the next day's trip to Big Cypress National Preserve's Turner River. On Day 5, drive to the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Centre to put in for the canoe tour. Visit Big Cypress Gallery and the Ochopee Post Office before heading back to Everglades City or Homestead for the night. Florida Keys Overview BEING A CONCH IS A STATE OF MIND, condition of the heart, and foreclosure on the soul. Many throughout the Florida Keys wear that epitaph proudly, yet there is anything but a shared lifestyle here. To the south, Key West has a Mardi Gras mood with Fantasy Festivals, Hemingway look-alike contests and the occasional threat to secede from the Union. It's an island whose melting-pot character allows crusty natives to mingle (more or less peacefully) with eccentrics and escape artists who lovingly call this 4-mi sandbar "Paradise." Although life elsewhere in the island chain isn't quite as offbeat, it's nearly as diverse. Flowering jungles, shimmering seas, and mangrove-lined islands are also, conversely, overburdened. Booming tourism and a growing population have created sewage contamination at beaches and a 110- mi traffic jam lined with garish billboards, burger barns, strip malls, motels, and trailer courts. Unfortunately, in the Keys you can't have one without the other. The river of tourist traffic gushes along U.S. 1 (also called the Overseas Highway), the main artery linking the inhabited islands. Residents of Monroe County live by diverting the river's flow of dollars to their own pockets. In the process, the fragile beauty of the Keys -- or at least the 45 that are inhabited and linked to the mainland by 43 bridges -- is paying an environmental price. At the top, nearest the mainland, is Key Largo, becoming more congested as it evolves into a bedroom community and weekend hideaway for residents of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. At the bottom, 106 mi southwest, is Key West, where hundreds of passengers from multiple cruise ships swarm the narrow streets in search of the best deal on T-shirts. Despite designation as "an area of critical state concern" in 1975 and a subsequent state- mandated development slowdown, growth has continued, and the Keys' natural resources remain imperilled. In 1990, Congress established the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, covering 2,800 square mi of coastal waters. Adjacent to the Keys landmass are spectacular, unique, and nationally significant marine environments, including sea-grass meadows, mangrove islands, and extensive living coral reefs. These fragile environments support rich and diverse biological communities possessing extensive conservation, recreational, commercial, ecological, historical, research, educational, and aesthetic values. The sanctuary protects the coral reefs and water quality, but problems continue. Increased salinity in Florida Bay causes large areas of sea grass to die and drift in mats out of the bay. These mats then block sunlight from reaching the reefs, stifling their growth and threatening both the Keys' recreational diving economy and tourism in general. The 18-Mile Stretch, as it's called, is getting a new high-span bridge, a concrete center barrier, a wider road bed, and wildlife culverts. The four-year project means occasional single- lane traffic from 9 PM to 5:30 AM Sunday through Thursday. Other threats to the Keys' charm also loom. The expansion of U.S. 1 to the mainland to four lanes will open the floodgates to increased traffic, population, and tourism. Observers wonder if the four-laning of the rest of U.S. 1 throughout the Keys can be far away. For now, however, take pleasure as you drive down U.S. 1 along the islands. Gaze over the silvery blue-and-green Atlantic and its still-living reef, with Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the backcountry on your right (the Keys extend east-west from the mainland). At a few points the ocean and gulf are as much as 10 mi apart. In most places, however, they are from 1 to 4 mi apart, and on the narrowest landfill islands, they are separated only by the road. Try to get off the highway. Once you do, rent a boat, anchor, and then fish, swim, or marvel at the sun, sea, and sky. In the Atlantic, dive spectacular coral reefs or pursue grouper, blue marlin, and other deep-water game fish. Along Florida Bay's coastline, kayak and canoe to secluded islands and bays or seek out the bonefish, snapper, snook, and tarpon that lurk in the grass flats and in the shallow, winding channels of the backcountry. More than 600 kinds of fish populate the reefs and islands. Diminutive Key deer and pale raccoons, related to but distinct from their mainland cousins, inhabit the Lower Keys. And throughout the islands you'll find such exotic West Indian plants as Jamaican dogwood, pigeon plum, poisonwood, satin leaf, and silver-and-thatch palms, as well as tropical birds, including the great white heron, mangrove cuckoo, roseate spoonbill, and white-crowned pigeon. Mangroves, with their gracefully bowed prop roots, appear to march out to sea. Day by day they busily add more keys to the archipelago. With virtually no distracting air pollution or obstructive high-rises, sunsets are a pure, unadulterated spectacle that each evening attracts thousands to waterfront parks, piers, restaurants, bars, and resorts throughout the Keys. Weather is another attraction: winter is typically 10°F warmer than on the mainland; summer is usually 10°F cooler. The Keys also get substantially less rain, around 30 inches annually, compared to an average 55 to 60 inches in Miami and the Everglades. Most rain falls in quick downpours on summer afternoons, except in June, September, and October, when tropical storms can dump rain for two to four days. Winter cold fronts occasionally stall over the Keys, dragging overnight temperatures down to the high 40s. The Keys were only sparsely populated until the early 20th century. In 1905, however, railroad magnate Henry Flagler began building the extension of his Florida railroad south from Homestead to Key West. His goal was to establish a Miami to Key West rail link to his steamships that sailed between Key West and Havana, just 90 mi across the Straits of Florida. The railroad arrived at Key West in 1912 and remained a lifeline of commerce until the Labour Day hurricane of 1935 washed out much of its roadbed. The Overseas Highway, built over the railroad's old roadbeds and bridges, was completed in 1938. If You Have 3 Days Don't push your luck. You can fly and then dive; but if you dive, you can't fly for 24 hours, so spend your first morning diving or snorkelling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. If you aren't certified, take a resort course, and you'll be exploring the reefs by afternoon. Dinner or cocktails at a bayside restaurant or bar will give you your first look at a fabulous Keys sunset. On Day 2 get an early start to savour the breathtaking views on the two-hour drive to Key West. Along the way make stops at the natural-history museum that's part of the Museums and Nature Centre of Crane Point Hammock, in Marathon, and Bahia Honda State Park, on Bahia Honda Key; stretch your legs on a forest trail or snorkel on an offshore reef. Once in Key West, watch the sunset before dining at one of the island's first- class restaurants. Spend the next morning exploring beaches, visiting any of the myriad museums, or taking a walking or trolley tour of Old Town before driving back to the mainland. If You Have 4 Days Spend the first day as you would above, overnighting in Key Largo. Start Day 2 by renting a kayak and exploring the mangroves and small islands of Florida Bay, or take an ecotour of the islands in Everglades National Park. In the afternoon, stop by the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Centre before driving down to Islamorada. Pause to read the inscription on the Hurricane Monument, and before day's end, make plans for the next day's fishing. After a late lunch on Day 3 -- perhaps at one of the many restaurants that will prepare your catch for you - - set off for Key West. Enjoy the sunset celebration at Mallory Square, and spend the last day as you would above. If You Have 7 Days Spend your first three days as you would in the four-day itinerary, but stay the third night in Islamorada. In the morning catch a boat, or rent a kayak to paddle to Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, before making the one-hour drive to Marathon. Visit the natural-history museum that's part of the Museums and Nature Centre of Crane Point Hammock and walk or take a train across the Old Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key. The next stop is just 10 mi away at Bahia Honda State Park, on Bahia Honda Key. Take a walk on a wilderness trail, go snorkelling on an offshore reef, wriggle your toes in the beach's soft sand, and spend the night in a waterfront cabin, letting the waves lull you to sleep. Your sixth day starts with either a half day of fabulous snorkelling or diving at Looe Key Reef or a visit to the National Key Deer Refuge, on Big Pine Key. Then continue on to Key West, and get in a little sightseeing before watching the sunset. The next morning take a walking, bicycling, or trolley tour of town or catch a ferry or seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park before heading home. Fort Lauderdale Overview COLLEGE STUDENTS OF THE 1960s returning to Fort Lauderdale for vacations today would be hard pressed to recognize the onetime "Sun and Suds Spring Break Capital of the Universe." Back then, Fort Lauderdale's beachfront was lined with T-shirt shops interspersed with quickie food outlets, and downtown consisted of a lone office tower, some dilapidated government buildings, and motley other structures waiting to be razed. Today, the beach has upscale shops and restaurants, and downtown growth of recent years has exploded with new office and luxury residential development. The 1960 film Where the Boys Are changed everything for the city. The movie depicted how college students -- upward of 20,000 -- were swarming to the city for the spring-break phenomenon. By 1985 the 20,000 had mushroomed to 350,000. Hotel owners complained about students by the dozen cramming into a room, with civility hitting new lows. Drug trafficking and petty theft proliferated, along with downscale bars staging wet T-shirt and banana-eating contests. Fed up, city leaders adopted policies and restrictions designed to encourage spring-breakers to go elsewhere. They did, and the complaints of lost business are few -- given a new era attracting a far more sophisticated, affluent crowd. Underscoring that success is the proliferation of luxury hotels arrived or on the near horizon: A W Hotel, St. Regis Hotel, a five-star Hilton, and two Trump hotels are slated to open in Greater Fort Lauderdale by the end of 2007. A major beneficiary is Las Olas Boulevard, a shopping street once moribund after 5 PM, which has reinvented itself as a hot venue, with a mix of trendy shops and eateries. Ever more restaurants have sprung up, and both visitors and locals often make an evening of strolling the boulevard. On-street parking on weekends has slowed traffic, providing more of a village feel. Farther west, along New River, is evidence of Fort Lauderdale's cultural renaissance: the Arts and Entertainment District and its crown jewel, the Broward Centre for the Performing Arts. Still farther west, in the community of Sunrise, is the BankAtlantic Centre (formerly the Office Depot Centre, and before that the National Car Rental Center), serving as the county's major-league sports and concert venue and as home arena for the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers. Upscale shopping of an open-air outlet nature is now an option with the debut of the Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass in Sunrise, featuring a slew of design stars, from Kate Spade and David Yurman to Valentino. Of course, a captivating shoreline with wide ribbons of sand for beachcombing and sunbathing is what continues to make Fort Lauderdale and Broward County a major draw. Tying this all together is a transportation system that, though less congested than elsewhere in south Florida, is rapidly becoming overwhelmed by traffic overload. Interstate 595 connects the city and suburbs and provides a direct route to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades, but be sure to avoid morning and evening rush hours when lanes slow to a crawl. For a more scenic way to really see this canal-laced city, simply hop on a water taxi, now known as a water bus. None of this was envisioned by Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Florida's governor from 1905 to 1909, for whom the county was named. His drainage schemes opened much of the marshy Everglades region for farming, ranching, and settling (in retrospect, an environmental disaster). But it was for Major William Lauderdale, who built a fort at the river's mouth in 1838 during the Seminole Indian wars, that the city was named. Incorporated in 1911 with just 175 residents, Fort Lauderdale grew rapidly during the Florida boom of the 1920s. Today its population is 150,000, and suburbs keep growing -- 1.6 million live in the county's 31 municipalities and unincorporated areas. Once oriented toward retirees, Broward now attracts younger families, many living in such newer communities as Weston, southwest of Fort Lauderdale. A revitalized downtown and a skyline (marked by ever more high-rises) now includes multiuse complexes mixing retail and loft housing, and the city's young professionals are buying and revamping aging beachside condominiums. Prospects of gaming are further changing the area's complexion. Although south Florida's Indian tribes have long offered bingo, poker, and machines resembling slots -- Hollywood's Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino now ranks as the most glittering example -- big change is afoot (despite some foot-dragging by state legislators.) In 2005, Broward voters gave a thumbs up to becoming Florida's first county to offer Las Vegas-style gambling with true slot machines at four wagering facilities: Gulfstream Park, Hollywood Greyhound Track, Dania Jai Alai, and Pompano Park Harness Track. These facilities are still awaiting word from state government on operational particulars, while threats of lawsuits loom over delays. The newly exfoliated face of Greater Fort Lauderdale is pockmarked with plywood-covered windows and blue "heck of a job" FEMA roofs after no fewer than seven hurricanes touched or boldly swept through the area in 2004 and 2005, ending Broward's long history of dodging such bullets. Names like Charlie, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma won't make it onto favourite-names lists here for quite a while, but I survived Hurricane ___ T-shirts quickly became hot souvenirs at beach shops. The best-sellers most likely referenced Hurricane Wilma, which brought 90 percent of Fort Lauderdale and much of south Florida to its knees. Great Itineraries Since many Broward County attractions and sights are close, it's easy to pack a lot into a day if you have a vehicle. Catch the history, museums, and shops and bistros in Fort Lauderdale's downtown area and along Las Olas Boulevard. Then if you feel like hitting the beach, just take a 10-minute drive east to the intersection of Las Olas and A1A and you're there. Neighbouring communities like Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and Pompano Beach or Dania Beach and Hollywood, with attractions of their own, are just north or south of Fort Lauderdale and you may not even be aware when you've crossed municipal lines. As a result, you'll be able to cover most of the high points in 3 days, and with 7 to 10 days, you can experience virtually all of Broward's mainstream charms. 3 Days With a bigger concentration of hotels, restaurants, and attractions than its suburbs, Fort Lauderdale- makes a logical base of operations for any visit. On your first day, see the downtown area, especially Las Olas Boulevard between Southeast 3rd and Southeast 15th avenues. After lunch at a sidewalk café, head for the nearby Arts and Science District and the downtown Riverwalk; enjoy it at a leisurely pace in half a day, or less. On your second day, spend some time at the Fort Lauderdale Beachfront, shopping or having a cooling libation at an oceanfront lounge if heat drives you off the sand. Tour the waterways on the third day, either on a rented boat from one of the marinas along Route A1A, or via a sightseeing vessel or water taxi. The latter can be boarded at points along the intracoastal waterway. Reachable by water taxi are attractions such as Beach Place, Broward Centre for the Performing Arts, the Galleria Mall, Las Olas Boulevard shops, Las Olas Riverfront, and the Museum of Art and Museum of Discovery and Science/Blockbuster IMAX Theater; restaurants such as 15th Street Fisheries, Grill Room at Riverside Hotel, Shula's on the Beach, and dozens of others; and hotels such as the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six, Radisson Bahia Mar, Riverside Hotel, and Pillars Waterfront. 5 Days With additional time, see more of the beach and the arts district and still work in some outdoor sports -- and you'll be able to rearrange your plans depending on weather. On the first day, visit the Arts and Science District and the downtown Riverwalk. Set aside the next day for an offshore adventure, perhaps a deep-sea fishing charter, a reef-diving trip, or some parasailing along the beach. Landlubbers might go for hiking at Markham Park or at Tradewinds Park (home of Butterfly World). On Day 3, shop, dine, and relax along the Fort Lauderdale Beachfront, and at the end of the day, sneak a peak at the Hillsboro Light, at Lighthouse Point. Day 4 can be spent at the Hugh Taylor Birch State Recreation Area. Enjoy your fifth day in Hollywood. Fort Myers Overview With its subtropical climate and beckoning family-friendly beaches, the Lower Gulf Coast, also referred to as the state's southwestern region, is a favourite vacation spot of Florida residents as well as visitors. There's lots to do in addition to the sun and surf scene throughout its several distinct travel destinations. Small and pretty downtown Fort Myers rises inland along the Caloosahatchee River, while the rest of the town sprawls in all directions. It got its nickname, the City of Palms, from the hundreds of towering royal palms that inventor Thomas Edison planted between 1900 and 1917 along McGregor Boulevard, a historic residential street and site of his winter estate. Edison's idea caught on, and more than 2,000 royal palms now line McGregor Boulevard alone. Museums and educational attractions are the draw here, as downtown diligently tries to shape itself as an entertainment district and makes slow but sure headway. Off the coast west of Fort Myers are more than 100 coastal islands in all shapes and sizes -- among them Sanibel and Captiva, two thoughtfully developed resort islands. Connected to the mainland by a 3-mi causeway, Sanibel is known for its superb shelling, fine fishing, beachfront resorts, and wildlife refuge. Here and on Captiva, to which it is connected by a short bridge, multimillion-dollar homes line both waterfronts, but the gulf beaches are readily accessible. Just southwest of Fort Myers is Estero Island, home of busy Fort Myers Beach, and farther south, Lovers Key State Park and the growing area north of Naples, Bonita Springs. North of Fort Myers, Punta Gorda is the centre of a fishing-frenzied vacationland that remains a well-kept secret. Farther down the coast lies Naples, once a small fishing village and now a thriving and sophisticated town, a smaller, more understated version of Palm Beach with fine restaurants, chichi shopping areas, and -- locals will tell you -- more golf holes per capita than anywhere else in the world. There's a lovely small art museum in the 1,473-seat Naples Philharmonic Centre, which is the west-coast home of the Miami City Ballet. The beaches are soft and white, and access is relatively easy. East of Naples stretch the Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, and a half hour south basks Marco Island, which people visit mostly for beaches and fishing. See a maze of pristine miniature mangrove islands when you take a boat tour departing from the island's marinas into Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Although high-rises line much of Marco's waterfront, natural areas have been preserved, including the tiny fishing village of Goodland, an outpost of Old Florida that is starting to sprout condos at its fringes. If You Have 2 Days Fort Myers is a good base for a short visit. It's not directly on the beach, but its central location makes day trips easy. On the morning of your first day, visit Edison & Ford Winter Estates, in downtown Fort Myers, and then take McGregor Boulevard and Summerlin Road to Sanibel Island. There, stop by the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum and the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge before heading to Bowman's Beach for shelling, swimming, and its famous sunset. The next day drive down Interstate 75 to Naples. Check out the subtropical plants and exotic animals at Naples Zoo. If you have a heart for art, stop by the Naples Museum of Art before hitting Old Naples for some shopping and relaxing on the nearby beach. If You Have 4 Days Stay near the water on Sanibel Island. Spend your first day shelling and swimming, taking a break from the beach for a stop at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. On Day 2, head into Fort Myers to Edison & Ford Winter Estates and, if you have kids, the hands-on Imaginarium nearby. Spend your third day back on Sanibel, dividing your time between the beach and the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge; go kayaking or try bird-watching in the early morning or evening. On Day 4, drive south to Naples- and the sights mentioned in the two- day itinerary, or for even more wildlife, head to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a nature preserve east of Bonita Springs. If You Have 10 Days An extended stay enables you to move your base and explore several areas in more depth. With two days in the area around Fort Myers, add Babcock Wilderness Adventures and the Calusa Nature Centre and Planetarium to the sights on the four-day itinerary. An extra day on Sanibel Island allows you to visit by boat an isolated island such as Cabbage Key or the little town of Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island. For the second half of your trip, relocate to Naples, stopping en route at Lovers Key State Park for some sensational shelling along its 2½ mi of white-sand beach. Once in Naples, divide your time between the beach and the galleries and shops. Naples Zoo and the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary are good bets for kids; to try your hand at paddling, rent a canoe or kayak at the Naples Nature Centre. Or get your dose of culture at the impressive Naples Museum of Art. As a diversion, head to Marco Island for a day of fishing or a wildlife-viewing boat trip in the Everglades. Jacksonville with St. Augustine Overview Some of the oldest settlements in the state -- indeed in all of the United States -- are in northeastern Florida, although the region didn't get much attention until the Union army came through during the Civil War. The soldiers' rapturous accounts of the mild climate, pristine beaches, and lush vegetation captured the imagination of folks up north. First came the speculators and the curiosity seekers. Then the advent of the railroads brought more permanent settlers and the first wave of winter vacationers. Finally, the automobile transported the full rush of snowbirds, seasonal residents escaping from harsh northern winters. They still come to sop up sun on the beach, to tee up year-round, to bass-fish and bird-watch in forests and parks, and to party in the clubs and bars of Daytona, a popular spring-break destination. The region is remarkably diverse. Tortured, towering live oaks; plantations; and antebellum-style architecture recollect the Old South. The mossy marshes of Silver Springs and the St. Johns River look as untouched and junglelike today as they did generations ago. Horse farms around Ocala resemble Kentucky's bluegrass country or the hunt clubs of Virginia. St. Augustine is a showcase of early U.S. history, and Jacksonville is a young but sophisticated metropolis. Yet these are all but light diversions from northeastern Florida's primary draw -- absolutely sensational beaches. Hugging the coast are long, slender barrier islands whose entire eastern sides make up a broad band of spectacular sand. Except in the most populated areas, development has been modest, and beaches are lined with funky, appealing little towns. If You Have 3 Days Spend your first night in Jacksonville, using it as a base to explore the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art or the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, as well as Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island, which has one of the best-preserved brick forts in the United States. Take Interstate 95 south to St. Augustine- and see the restored Colonial Spanish Quarter and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument before continuing down the coast. Enjoy Canaveral National Seashore -- accessible from either New Smyrna Beach or Cocoa Beach -- and don't miss the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex in Titusville. If You Have 5 Days Before leaving Jacksonville- try to visit the three largest museums, the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, and the Museum of Science and History. Then focus your sightseeing on Amelia Island, including its historic district and Fort Clinch State Park. Going south on Interstate 95, stop in St. Augustine. Follow the Old City Walking Tour suggested by the Visitor Information and Preview Centre and stroll through the restored Colonial Spanish Quarter. Consider taking the slightly longer but more scenic Route A1A to Daytona Beach; visit the Museum of Arts and Sciences and the famous beaches. For your last night, stay in New Smyrna Beach or Cocoa Beach, both within reach of Canaveral National Seashore and Kennedy Space Centre. If You Have 10 Days As in the previous two itineraries, start in Jacksonville- and visit the attractions mentioned above; by staying three nights, however, you'll have time to make the drive north to Kingsley Plantation, Florida's oldest remaining plantation, on Fort George Island, and hike or picnic in Fort Clinch State Park on Amelia Island. Next, head to St. Augustine. Three days here enable you to conduct a more leisurely exploration of the extensive historic district and to take in the Lightner Museum, in what was originally one of Henry Flagler's fancy hotels. Another three- day stay, this time based at Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, or Cocoa Beach, allows you to cover Daytona's Museum of Arts and Sciences, drive along the shoreline, spend some time at the beach, and see Canaveral National Seashore, as well as the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex near Titusville. Then head inland for a day in Ocala National Forest, a beautiful wilderness area. Key West Overview Situated 150 mi from Miami and 90 mi from Havana, this tropical island city has always maintained a strong sense of detachment, even after it was connected to the rest of the United States -- by the railroad in 1912 and by the Overseas Highway in 1938. The U.S. government acquired Key West from Spain in 1821 along with the rest of Florida. The Spanish had named the island Cayo Hueso (Bone Key) after the Native American skeletons they found on its shores. In 1823 Uncle Sam sent Commodore David S. Porter to chase pirates away. For three decades, the primary industry in Key West was wrecking -- rescuing people and salvaging cargo from ships that foundered on the nearby reefs. According to some reports, when pickings were lean, the wreckers hung out lights to lure ships aground. Their business declined after 1849, when the federal government began building lighthouses. In 1845 the army started construction of Fort Taylor, which kept Key West on the Union team during the Civil War. After the war, an influx of Cuban dissidents unhappy with Spain's rule brought the cigar industry here. Fishing, shrimping, and sponge-gathering became important industries, and a pineapple-canning factory opened. Major military installations were established during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Through much of the 19th century and into the second decade of the 20th, Key West was Florida's wealthiest city in per- capita terms. But in 1929 the local economy began to unravel. Modern ships no longer needed to provision in Key West, cigar making moved to Tampa, Hawaii dominated the pineapple industry, and the sponges succumbed to a blight. Then the Depression hit, and the military moved out. By 1934 half the population was on relief. The city defaulted on its bond payments, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration took over the city and county governments. By promoting Key West as a tourist destination, federal officials attracted 40,000 visitors during the 1934-35 winter season, but when the 1935 Labour Day hurricane struck the Middle Keys, it wiped out the railroad -- and some slow-moving tourists. An important naval centre during World War II and the Korean War, the island remains a strategic listening post on the doorstep of Fidel Castro's Cuba. It was during the 1960s that the fringes of society began moving here and the mid-'70s that gay guesthouses opened in rapid succession. In April 1982 the U.S. Border Patrol threw a roadblock across the Overseas Highway just south of Florida City to catch drug runners and illegal aliens. Traffic backed up for miles as Border Patrol agents searched vehicles and demanded that the occupants prove U.S. citizenship. City officials in Key West, outraged at being treated like foreigners by the federal government, staged a protest and formed their own "nation," the so-called Conch Republic. They hoisted a flag and distributed mock border passes, visas, and Conch currency. The embarrassed Border Patrol dismantled its roadblock, and now an annual festival recalls the city's victory. Key West reflects a diverse population: native "Conchs" (white Key Westers, many of whom trace their ancestry to the Bahamas), freshwater Conchs (longtime residents who migrated from somewhere else years ago), black Bahamians (descendants of those who worked the railroads and burned charcoal), Hispanics (primarily Cuban immigrants), recent refugees from the urban sprawl of mainland Florida, navy and air force personnel, and an assortment of vagabonds, drifters, and dropouts in search of refuge. The island was once Florida's gay vacation hot spot and it remains decidedly gay-friendly, although gays are a declining demographic here. Some of the most renowned gay guesthouses no longer cater exclusively to a gay clientele. Although the rest of the Keys are highly outdoor-oriented, Key West has more of a city feel. Few open spaces remain, as promoters continue to churn out restaurants, galleries, shops, and museums to interpret the city's intriguing past. As a tourist destination, Key West has a lot to sell -- an average temperature of 79°F, 19th-century architecture, and a laid-back lifestyle. There's also a growing calendar of festivals and artistic and cultural events -- including the Conch Republic Celebration in April and a Halloween Fantasy Fest. Few cities of its size -- a mere 2 mi by 4 mi -- offer the joie de vivre of this one. Yet, as elsewhere, when preservation has successfully revived once-tired towns, next have come those unmindful of style and eager for a buck. Duval Street can look like a mini Las Vegas strip (with ubiquitous T-shirt shops and tour shills instead of casinos). Mass marketers directing the town's tourism have attracted cruise ships, which dwarf the town's skyline, and Duval Street floods with day- trippers who gawk at the earringed hippies with dogs in their bike baskets, gay couples walking down the street holding hands, and the oddball lot of locals, some of whom bark louder than the dogs. Sights & Activities The heart of Key West, Old Town runs from White Street west to the waterfront. Beginning in 1822, wharves, warehouses, chandleries, ship-repair facilities, and eventually in 1891 the U.S. Custom House sprang up around the deep harbor to accommodate the navy's large ships and other sailing vessels. Wealthy wreckers, merchants, and sea captains built lavish houses near the bustling waterfront. A remarkable number of these fine Victorian and pre- Victorian structures have been restored to their original grandeur and now serve as homes, guest houses, and museums. These, along with the dwellings of famous writers, artists, and politicians who've come to Key West over the past 175 years, are among the area's approximately 3,000 historic structures. Old Town also has the city's finest restaurants and hotels, lively street life, and popular nightspots. The Overseas Highway splits as it enters Key West, the two forks rejoining to encircle New Town, the area east of White Street to Cow Key Channel. The southern fork runs along the shore as South Roosevelt Boulevard (Route A1A), past municipal beaches, salt ponds, and Key West International Airport. Along the north shore, North Roosevelt Boulevard (U.S. 1) passes the Key West Welcome Centre, shopping centres, chain hotels, and fast-food eateries. Part of New Town was created with dredged fill. The island would have continued growing this way had the Army Corps of Engineers not determined in the early 1970s that it was detrimental to the nearby reef. Miami Overview Miami is different from any other city in America -- or any city in Latin America for that matter, even though it has a distinctly Latin flavour. Both logically and geologically, Miami shouldn't even be here. Resting on a paved swamp between the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean, the city is subject to periodic flooding, hurricanes, and the onslaught of swallow-size mosquitoes. Despite the downsides, however, Miami is a vibrant city. The Tequesta Indians called this area home long before Spain's gold-laden treasure ships sailed along the Gulf Stream a few miles offshore. Foreshadowing 20th-century corporations, the Tequesta traded with mainland neighbours to the north and island brethren to the south. Today their descendants are the 150-plus U.S. and multinational companies whose Latin American headquarters are based in Greater Miami. For fans of international business and random statistics, Greater Miami has more than 40 foreign bank agencies, 11 Edge Act banks, 23 foreign trade offices, 31 binational chambers of commerce, and 53 consulates. Sights & Activities If you had arrived here 40 years ago with Fodor's guide in hand, chances are you'd be thumbing through listings looking for alligator wrestlers and you-pick strawberry fields or citrus groves. Well, things have changed. While Disney sidetracked families in Orlando, Miami was developing a grown-up attitude courtesy of the original Miami Vice, European fashion photographers, and historic preservationists. Nowadays the wildest ride is the city itself. Climb aboard and check out the different sides of Greater Miami. Miami on the mainland is south Florida's commercial hub, whereas its sultry sister, Miami Beach (America's Riviera), encompasses 17 islands in Biscayne Bay. Seducing winter refugees with its sunshine, beaches, palms, and nightlife, this is what most people envision when planning a trip to what they think of as Miami. These visitors fail to realize that there's more to Miami Beach than the bustle of South Beach and its Deco District. Indeed, there are quieter areas to the north like Sunny Isles Beach, Surfside, and Bal Harbour. During the day downtown Miami has become the lively hub of the mainland city, relatively accessible thanks to the Metromover extension, a supplementary rail system linking many downtown sights that conveniently connects Metrorail's Government Centre and Brickell stations. Other major attractions include Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Little Havana, and, of course, the South Beach-Art Deco District (by the way -- only tourists use the term "Art Deco District"). Since these areas are spread out beyond the reach of public transportation, you'll have to drive. Rent a convertible if you can. There's nothing quite like wearing cool shades and feeling the wind in your hair as you drive across one of the causeways en route to Miami Beach. To find your way around Greater Miami, learn how the numbering system works. Miami is laid out on a grid with four quadrants -- northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest -- which meet at Miami Avenue and Flagler Street. Miami Avenue separates east from west, and Flagler Street separates north from south. Avenues and courts run north-south; streets, terraces, and ways run east-west. Roads run diagonally, northwest-southeast. But other districts -- Miami Beach, Coral Gables, and Hialeah -- may or may not follow this system, and along the curve of Biscayne Bay, the symmetrical grid may shift diagonally. It's best to buy a detailed map, stick to the major roads, and ask directions early and often. However, make sure you're in a safe neighbourhood or public place when you seek guidance; cab drivers and cops are good resources. Orlando-Disney World Overview Long before "It's a Small World" echoed through the palmetto scrub, other theme parks tempted visitors away from the beaches into the heart of central Florida. Interstate 4 hadn't even been built when Dick and Julie Pope created Cypress Gardens, one of the region's oldest attractions. But when Walt Disney World (WDW) opened on October 1, 1971, and was immediately successful, the central Florida theme-park scene became big business. Since then, Disney has bolstered its flagship theme park, the Magic Kingdom, with three others -- Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom -- which, together with the company's two water parks, myriad hotels, retail establishments, sports facility, night-time entertainment centres, and restaurants, form what is today known collectively as the Walt Disney World Resort. Disney's success has spurred major competition to town, namely SeaWorld and Discovery Cove, and Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Smaller attractions such as the Orlando Science Centre and WonderWorks, among others, also bid for your business. The problem if you have tight schedules or slim wallets is that each park is worth a visit. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and SeaWorld are not to be missed. Of the two movie parks, Universal Studios and Disney-MGM Studios, the former is larger and rooted more in contemporary film; the latter projects the ambience of Hollywood in its heyday while incorporating modern movie and television themes. Islands of Adventure has more thrills for big kids and adults, and will bring out the child in everyone. Two dining, shopping, and entertainment centres stand out: CityWalk at Universal and Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World Resort. If there's time, you shouldn't miss Cirque du Soleil's acrobats, theatrics, and stunning choreography of "La Nouba," a show created for Cirque's Downtown Disney theater. DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney is an indoor theme park with several hours' worth of virtual- reality attractions. At CityWalk, sports bars and establishments with musical themes -- such as Jimmy Buffet and Motown -- lend lots of dining fun to its eateries. Your best bet is to poll family or group members on their theme-park wishes, then develop a strategy to enjoy the top picks. It's easy to forget that this ever-expanding fantasy world grew up around a sleepy farming town founded as a military outpost, Fort Gatlin, in 1838. Although not on any major waterway, Orlando is surrounded by small spring-fed lakes, and transplanted northerners planted sprawling oak trees to vary the landscape of palmetto scrub and citrus groves. Most development is in southwest Orlando, along the Interstate 4 corridor south of Florida's Turnpike. Orlando itself has become a centre of international business, and north of downtown are several handsome, prosperous cities, most notably Winter Park, which retains its Old Florida charm. Sights & Activities No doubt about it, the Disney parks have a special magic. You probably know lots about the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. But there are also two wonderful water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, as well as the indoor excitement at DisneyQuest. Before venturing into one of the big four, study the park's guide map to note FASTPASS attractions. With your park ticket, make a free appointment to return to these locations later to gain quick admission and avoid long lines. One hitch: you usually can't make appointments for more than one FASTPASS attraction at a time. If you ask the attraction host, however, he or she can help you navigate the system. The FASTPASS system lets you experience the top attractions with little or no wait. Just feed your theme-park admission ticket into a FASTPASS machine and book your reservation time to visit an attraction. The "umbrella" that is Universal Orlando contains Universal Studios (the original movie theme park), Islands of Adventure (the second theme park), and CityWalk (the dining-shopping- nightclub complex). Although it's bordered by residential neighbourhoods and thickly trafficked International Drive, Universal Orlando is surprisingly expansive, intimate, and accessible, with two massive parking complexes, easy walks to all attractions, and a motor launch that cruises to the hotels. Although Universal Orlando emphasizes "two parks, two days, one great adventure," you may find the presentation, creativity, and cutting-edge technology bringing you back for more. Palm Beach Overview This golden stretch of Atlantic coast resists categorization for good reason. The territory from Palm Beach south to Boca Raton defines old-world glamour and new-age sophistication. North of Palm Beach you'll uncover the comparatively undeveloped Treasure Coast -- liberally sprinkled with coastal gems -- where towns and wide-open spaces along the road await your discovery. Altogether, there's a delightful disparity, from Palm Beach, pulsing fast with plenty of old-money wealth, to low-key Hutchinson Island and Manalapan. Seductive as the beach scene interspersed with eclectic dining options can be, you should also take advantage of flourishing commitments to historic preservation and the arts as town after town yields intriguing museums, galleries, theaters, and gardens. Long reigning as the epicenter of where the crème de la crème go to shake off winter's chill, Palm Beach continues to be a seasonal hotbed of platinum-grade consumption. Rare is the visitor to this region who can resist popping over to the island for a peek. Yes, other Florida favorites such as Jupiter Island actually rank higher on the per-capita-wealth meters of financial intelligence sources such as Worth magazine. But there's no competing with the historic social supremacy of Palm Beach, long a winter address for heirs of icons named Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Colgate, Post, Kellogg, and Kennedy. Yet even newer power brokers, with names like Kravis, Peltz, and Trump, are made to understand that strict laws govern everything from building to landscaping, and not so much as a pool awning gets added without a town council nod. If Palm Beach were to fly a flag, it's been observed, there might be three interlocking Cs, standing not only for Cartier, Chanel, and Christian Dior but also for clean, civil, and capricious. Only three bridges allow access to the island, and huge tour buses are a no-no. Yet when a freighter ran aground near a Palm Beach socialite's pool, she was quick to lament not having "enough Bloody Mary mix for all these sailors." To learn who's who in Palm Beach, it helps to pick up a copy of the Palm Beach Daily News -- locals call it the Shiny Sheet because its high-quality paper avoids smudging society hands or Pratesi linens -- for, as it is said, to be mentioned in the Shiny Sheet is to be Palm Beach. All this fabled ambience started with Henry Morrison Flagler, Florida's premier developer, and cofounder, along with John D. Rockefeller, of Standard Oil. No sooner did Flagler bring the railroad to Florida in the 1890s than he erected the famed Royal Poinciana and Breakers hotels. Rail access sent real-estate prices soaring, and ever since, princely sums have been forked over for personal stationery engraved with the 33480 zip code of Palm Beach. To service Palm Beach with servants and other workers, Flagler also developed an off-island community a mile or so west. West Palm Beach now bustles with its own affluent identity, even if there's still no competing with one of the world's toniest island resorts. With Palm Beach proper representing only 1% of Palm Beach County's land, remaining territory is given over to West Palm and other classic Florida coastal towns, along with -- to the west -- citrus farms, the Arthur R. Marshall-Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and Lake Okeechobee, a bass-fishing hot spot and Florida's largest lake. Well worth exploring is the Treasure Coast territory, covering northernmost Palm Beach County, plus Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River counties. Despite a growing number of malls and beachfront condominiums, much of the Treasure Coast's shoreline remains blissfully undeveloped. Along the coast, the broad tidal lagoon called the Indian River separates barrier islands from the mainland. Inland there's cattle ranching in tracts of pine and palmetto scrub, along with sugar and citrus production. Shrimp farming utilizes techniques for acclimatizing shrimp from saltwater -- land near seawater is costly -- to fresh water, all the better to serve demand from restaurants popping up all over the region. Great Itineraries 3 Days When time is tight, make Palm Beach- your base. On the first day, start downtown on Worth Avenue to window-shop and gallery-browse. After a très chic bistro lunch, head for that other must-see on even the shortest itinerary, the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum. Your second day is for the beach. Consider either Lantana Public Beach or Oceanfront Park in Boynton Beach. Budget your last day for exploring other attractions, such as the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in nearby Delray Beach, or Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach, yielding tastes of Africa. 5 Days Stay in Palm Beach- for two nights. The first day visit the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum and the luxury hotel known as the Breakers, another Flagler legacy. Then head to Worth Avenue for lunch and afternoon shopping, even if it's only the window variety. On the second day, drive over to West Palm Beach- and the Norton Museum of Art, with many 19th- and 20th- century paintings and sculptures. On Day 3, choose between an overnight visit to Lake Okeechobee, the world's bass-fishing capital, or Palm Beach for another night and a drive of a half hour or so to explore the Arthur R. Marshall-Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Or head for the National Croquet Center. Go to Boca Raton on the fourth day, and check into a hotel near the beach before spending the afternoon wandering through Mizner Park's shops. On your fifth day, meander through Mizner Park's Boca Raton Museum of Art in the morning and get some sun at South Beach Park after lunch. 7 Days Stay two nights in Palm Beach, spending your first day enjoying the stellar sights mentioned in the five-day itinerary. On Day 2, rent a bicycle and follow the bike path along Lake Worth, which provides great glimpses at backyards of many Palm Beach mansions. Drive north on Day 3, going first to the mainland and then across Jerry Thomas Bridge to Singer Island and John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. Spend the third night farther north, on Hutchinson Island, and relax the next morning on the beach at your hotel. On your way back south, explore Stuart and its historic downtown area, and pause at the Arthur R. Marshall- Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge before ending up in Boca Raton, for three nights at a hotel near the beach. Split Day 5 between shopping at Mizner Park and sunning at South Beach Park. Day 6 is for cultural attractions: the Boca Raton Museum of Art followed by the Atlantic Avenue galleries and the Morikami in Delray Beach. On your last day, check out one of Boca's other two beaches, Spanish River and Red Reef parks. Bradenton and Sarasota Overview Bradenton and Sarasota anchor the southern end of Tampa Bay. A string of barrier islands borders the two cities with fine beaches. Sarasota County has 35 mi of gulf beaches, as well as two state parks, 22 municipal parks, and more than 30 golf courses, many open to the public. Sarasota has a thriving cultural scene, thanks mostly to circus magnate John Ringling, who chose this area for the winter home of his circus and his family. Bradenton, to the north, maintains a lower profile, and Venice, a few miles south on the Gulf Coast, claims beaches known for their prehistoric sharks' teeth. Top Reasons to Go to Sarasota 1. Shopping at St. Armands Circle's cluster of boutiques and taking a break at the Lido Key beach. 2. Spending the afternoon on the white-sand beach at Siesta Key in Sarasota -- then staying for sunset. 3. Touring the impressive baroque and Renaissance collection at the Ringling Centre for the Cultural Arts, Sarasota: John Ringling collected many works by Rubens. Tampa Overview Today the region offers astounding diversity. Terrain ranges from the pine-dotted northern reaches to the coast's white-sand beaches and barrier islands. Tampa is a full-fledged city, with a high-rise skyline and highways jammed with traffic. Across the bay lies the peninsula that contains Clearwater and St. Petersburg. The compact St. Petersburg downtown, which has interesting restaurants, shops, and museums, is on the southeast side of the peninsula, facing Tampa. Inland is largely classic American suburbia. The peninsula's western periphery is rimmed by barrier islands with beaches, quiet parks, and little, laid-back beach towns. To the north are communities that celebrate their ethnic heritage -- such as Tarpon Springs, settled by Greek sponge-divers -- and, farther north, mostly undeveloped land dotted with crystal-clear rivers, springs, and nature preserves. Great Itineraries 3 Days Florida Aquarium and Busch Gardens, 8 mi northeast of Tampa, are probably the two most popular attractions in the area. You need a half day for the aquarium and a full day for Busch Gardens. Then it's on to Sarasota, with the Ringling Centre for the Cultural Arts and Mote Marine Aquarium. 4 Days Start in Tampa- with a half day at the Florida Aquarium. Then it's just a short drive to Ybor City. Rest your feet over lunch before an hour or two of strolling through the shops. Busch Gardens takes your whole second day. Start your third day in downtown St. Petersburg at the Florida International Museum. Catch lunch in the BayWalk dining and entertainment complex just across the street. A few blocks east is the Florida Holocaust Museum. On Day 4, choose between the beach or the streets of Sarasota. One of the best spots for a day at the beach is pristine Fort De Soto Park, a perfect place to picnic or watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Spend your last day in Sarasota, seeing the museums at the Ringling Centre for the Cultural Arts and at Mote Marine Aquarium. 10 Days With this much time, linger three days in St. Petersburg. Catch a meal or two and do some shopping at BayWalk, which is across the street from the Florida International Museum, in turn a short walk from the Florida Holocaust Museum and a five-minute drive from the Salvador Dalí Museum. You could easily spend a full day in downtown Tampa. Start the morning with the spectacular Florida Aquarium. Then head to Ybor City for a bit of touring, shopping, and lunch. End the day with the Tampa Museum of Art and the Channelside dining and entertainment district for dinner. The next three attractions, clustered northeast of Tampa, are 45-60 minutes by car from St. Petersburg. Spend a day at Busch Gardens. If you are into water slides, set aside another day for Adventure Island, Busch Gardens' water-park cousin. Spend a day around Tarpon Springs, the self-described Sponge Capital of the World. Consider Caladesi Island State Park or nearby Honeymoon Island State Park, outside Dunedin, for a day at the beach. Sarasota- is a convenient base for the second part of your stay. Drive up to Bradenton- to take in its sights and beaches for a day. In Sarasota, allow about four hours to cover the museums at the Ringling Centre for the Cultural Arts and Sarasota Jungle Gardens. In the afternoon you might drive to St. Armands Circle on Lido Key to see shops and Mote Marine Aquarium. On another day explore the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and take a couple of hours to explore downtown Sarasota. Venice makes an enjoyable half- or full-day trip. Georgia: Atlanta The Coast Savannah Atlanta Overview Atlanta's character has evolved from a mix of peoples: transplanted Northerners and those from elsewhere account for more than half the population and have undeniably affected the mood and character of the city. Irish immigrants had a major role in the city's early history, along with Germans and Austrians; the Hungarian-born Rich brothers founded Atlanta's principal department store. And the immigrants keep coming. In the past two decades Atlanta has seen spirited growth in its Asian and Latin-American communities. Related restaurants, shops, and institutions have become part of the city's texture. For more than four decades Atlanta has been linked to the civil rights movement. Among the many accomplishments of which Atlanta's African-American community is proud is the Nobel Peace Prize that Martin Luther King Jr. won in 1964. Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, continues to operate the King Centre, which she founded after her husband's assassination in 1968. In 1972 Andrew Young was elected the first black congressman from the South since Reconstruction. After serving as ambassador to the United Nations during President Jimmy Carter's administration, Young was elected mayor of Atlanta. Since his term ended in the early '90s, Young has kept busy being co-chairman of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and president of the National Council of Churches. The traditional South -- which in romantic versions consists of lacy moss dangling from tree limbs; thick, sugary Southern drawls; a leisurely pace; and luxurious antebellum mansions -- rarely reveals itself here. Even before the Civil War, the columned house was a rarity -- and prior to the construction boom of the 1850s, houses of any kind were rare. The frenetic pace of rebuilding that characterized the period after the Civil War continues unabated. Still viewed by die-hard Southerners as the heart of the Old Confederacy, Atlanta has become the best example of the New South, a fast-paced modern city proud of its heritage. In the past two decades Atlanta has experienced unprecedented growth -- the official city population remains steady, at about 420,000, but the metro population has grown in the past decade by nearly 40%, from 2.9 million to 4.1 million people. A good measure of this growth is the ever-changing downtown skyline, along with skyscrapers constructed in the Midtown, Buckhead, and outer perimeter (fringing I-285) business districts. Since the late 1970s dozens of dazzling skyscrapers designed by such luminaries as Philip Johnson, I. M. Pei, and Marcel Breuer have reshaped the city's profile. Great Itineraries If You Have 3 Days Begin your visit downtown with a couple of Atlanta icons: Coca-Cola and CNN. You can learn the history of Atlanta's favourite beverage by walking though the World of Coca-Cola Pavilion. Stop for a snack or a little window shopping at Underground Atlanta, and then walk west on Marietta Street to CNN Centre (reservations for tours must be made 24 hours in advance). Grab lunch at CNN Centre and then stroll through Centennial Olympic Park. If you have young children, spend the afternoon at Imagine It! The Children's Museum of Atlanta. Older kids and adults may want to take a taxi to Grant Park to visit the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum and Zoo Atlanta. Devote your second day to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District. Start at the visitor centre, at 450 Auburn Avenue, where you can sign up for a tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. Birth Home; then head over to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Spend the rest of the day exploring the historic district's museums and historic buildings, including King's tomb and the African-American Panoramic Experience. On the third day, explore Midtown. Start the day with a visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden at Piedmont Park. The park itself is a wonderful place to get some exercise or to just relax under a tree. After lunch, head east to Peachtree Street and the High, one of the nation's top art museums. In the evening, you might want to catch a concert or play at Woodruff Arts Center. If You Have 5 Days Follow the three-day itinerary above. On the fourth day, head to Buckhead for some history and shopping. In addition to its fine exhibits, the Atlanta History Centre also has carefully tended grounds landscaped with native plants. A block away, shops of all kinds line Peachtree and its side streets. To the north are Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square, two of the most famous malls in the Southeast. On your fifth day, explore some of Atlanta's great neighbourhoods. Start at Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum or the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Next drive to Virginia-Highland, which is rich in art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. A mile or two to the southeast is Little Five Points, the city's most bohemian neighbourhood. For a night of beer and rock and roll, head to East Atlanta. If you prefer a quieter evening, visit downtown Decatur for dinner, a stroll, and maybe a free concert at the gazebo behind the Decatur Historical Courthouse. If You Have 7 Days Follow the five-day itinerary above, and then dedicate your last two days to the kids -- or the kid in you. On your way out east to Stone Mountain Park, be sure to stop by Your DeKalb Farmers Market for a danish and other goodies. You can easily spend a day at the park. Hike or take the cable car to the top of the mountain, and if the Lasershow Spectacular is playing that night, stick around for it. Spend your final day at the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park, or drive to Kennesaw to visit the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield and the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. Georgia Coast Overview The coastal isles of Georgia are a string of lush, subtropical barrier islands meandering lazily down the state's Atlantic coast from Savannah to the Florida border. The islands have a long history of human habitation; Native American relics have been found here that date from about 2500 BC. The four islands known as the Golden Isles -- Little St. Simons, Sea, St. Simons, and Jekyll islands -- are great vacation spots. The best way to appreciate the barrier islands' rare ecology is to visit Sapelo and Cumberland islands or take a guided tour. Each coastal isle has a distinct personality, shaped by its history and ecology. All the Golden Isles but Little St. Simons are connected to the mainland by bridges in the vicinity of Brunswick; these are the only coastal isles accessible by automobile. Little St. Simons Island, a privately owned retreat with guest accommodations, is reached by a launch from St. Simons. Sapelo Island is accessible by ferry from the visitor centre just north of Darien. The Cumberland Island National Seashore is reached by ferry from St. Marys. About 50 miles inland is the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which has a character all its own. All Georgia beaches are in the public domain. Okefenokee in a Day Arrive at one of the visitor centres early in the morning. Start off in one of the museums, and watch any of the short documentaries to learn what to look for in the swamp. Take a guided boat tour to get a full overview of the swamp environment. Then strike out onto the boardwalk and climb an observation tower, binoculars in hand. If you're at the north or east entrance, visit the restored homesteads. Savannah Overview Genteel Savannah sits inward of the Savannah River at the top of Georgia's 100-mile coast. Heading south, the seaside resorts of the Golden Isles blend Southern elegance with a casual sensibility. Savannah's beginning was February 12, 1733, when English general James Edward Oglethorpe and 120 colonists arrived at Yamacraw Bluff on the Savannah River to found the 13th and last colony in the New World. As the port city grew, people from England and Ireland, Scottish Highlanders, French Huguenots, Germans, Austrian Salzburgers, Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, Moravians, Italians, Swiss, Welsh, and Greeks all arrived to create what could be called a rich gumbo. In 1793 Eli Whitney of Connecticut, who was tutoring on a plantation near Savannah, invented a mechanized means of "ginning" seeds from cotton bolls. Cotton soon became king, and Savannah, already a busy seaport, flourished under its reign. Waterfront warehouses were filled with "white gold," and brokers trading in the Savannah Cotton Exchange set world prices. The white gold brought in solid gold, and fine mansions were built in the prospering city. In 1864 Savannahians surrendered their city to Union general Sherman rather than see it torched. Following World War I and the decline of the cotton market, the city's economy virtually collapsed, and its historic buildings languished for more than 30 years. Elegant mansions were razed or allowed to decay, and cobwebs replaced cotton in the dilapidated riverfront warehouses. In 1955, Savannah's spirits rose again. News that the exquisite Isaiah Davenport House at Number 324 East State Street was to be destroyed prompted seven outraged ladies to raise money to buy the house. They saved it the day before the wrecking ball was to swing. Thus was born the Historic Savannah Foundation, the organization responsible for the restoration of downtown Savannah, where more than 1,000 restored buildings form the 2½-square-mile Historic District, the nation's largest. Many of these buildings are open to the public during the annual tour of homes, and today Savannah is one of the country's top 10 cities for walking tours. Great Itineraries If You Have 3 Days Any trip to Savannah should include a walking tour of the Historic District. Though it's possible to take in most of the district in a day (see the Good Walk above), you might be more comfortable, particularly in the summer heat, devoting two days to your wanderings. A good way to divide your days might be to spend one in the area closest to the river, taking in such sights as the Savannah History Museum, the First African Baptist Church, Factor's Walk, and the Telfair Museum. On the second day, tour the southern part of the district, including Forsyth Park, the Andrew Low House, the Green-Meldrim House, Monterey Square, and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. On a third day, why not go to the beach? Tybee Island, roughly a 20-minute drive from downtown, is largely unchanged over the last few decades. You'll find a wide, pleasant public beach. Once you're back downtown, River Street, down by the Savannah River, is worth a visit for its shops and restaurants. If You Have 4 Days Follow the three-day itinerary above, then try a side trip across the Savannah River into South Carolina. Beaufort is a classy seaside town with rows of elegant historical homes. Nearby Hilton Head offers high-end shopping, a fine beach, and countless courses to tempt golfers. Outside of Beaufort, Hunting Island State Park is one of the state's most popular attractions, with a pristine beach, a historic lighthouse, and camping areas. If You Have 5 Days Follow the four-day itinerary above, then take a look at coastal Georgia, south of Savannah. In an easy day's drive, you can visit sleepy, oak-shaded towns like Midway and Darien, surrounded by historic sites like Fort McAllister, Fort Morris, and the colonial town site of Sunbury. Numerous important incidents during the Revolutionary War occurred in the region. About an hour and a half south of Savannah is Jekyll Island, where you can find a nice public beach. The island's historic district was the playground for the 19th-century's plutocratic elite, the Astors, Vanderbilts, Pulitzers, and Morgans among them. Hawaii: Big Island Honolulu and Oahu Kauai Lanai Maui Molokai Big Island Overview Although development has run wild on the Big Island as of late, it manages to maintain an Old Hawai'i feel, with tourism concentrated on its sunny northwest coast. From its active volcano seeping lava into the ocean to its white-sand beaches and its verdant green valleys, waterfalls, and rainbows, the Big Island delivers everything the postcards promise and then some. Sea turtles and manta rays make their homes here, and Mark Twain wrote some of his best prose in the moonlike southern region. Long after his death, artists, travelers, and locals continue to seek inspiration from the cliffs, lava, hidden valleys, ancient wisdom, and tranquil waters of Hawai'i. The Big Island is indeed big, and the largest of the Islands by far at 4,038 square miles. Even with recent development, the Big Island's population remains low (163,000), and only 2% of the island's 2.57 million acres is classified as urban. Great 1-Day Itineraries Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park The volcano is not to be missed. How often do you have the chance to see earth being formed? Call ahead of time to check the lava activity and plan your time accordingly. If the volcano is very active, go straight to the lava flow area. If it's less active, find out the best times of day for seeing what lava glow there is and head to the active flows at that time. And don't forget that there's a lot more to see in the park. Hike on the Kilauea Iki trail, a 4-mile loop that takes you down through volcanic rain forests and then across the floor of a small vent, and check out the Thurston Lava Tube. Just before sunset, head down to the ocean via Chain of Craters Road; this is the best spot to see the nighttime lava show. Consider staying a night in Volcano village, especially if your home base is on the Kona side. It will give you the time to explore, without having to rush off for the long (over 2 hours), dark drive back to Kona. Waipi'o Valley Completely off the grid today, it's hard to believe that Waipi'o Valley was once home to a thriving little village, not to mention early Hawaiian royalty. Waipi'o is a uniquely Big Island experience -- untouched nature and a mystifying bit of island history. It's best to book a tour to see the valley either on horseback or from a jeep. Most tours last from two to four hours. Hamakua Coast This jagged stretch of coastline along the eastern side of the island embodies all things tropical. There are waterfalls galore, and the trees and plants are thick and bright green. It's wet, but it tends to rain most in the mornings and clear up in the afternoons. Plan to spend some time driving down the tiny roads that dart off the main highway. Anywhere you see a gulch, there's a waterfall waiting to be discovered. And keep your eyes peeled for rainbows. Kohala Beach Day Chances are that one of the main reasons you came to Hawai'i was to lie on the beach and work on your tan. You will not be disappointed with the Kohala Coast. Hapuna Beach has powdery soft white sand and crystal clear blue water. Or get an early start and hike into one of the Kohala Coast's unmarked beaches, like Kua Bay or Makalawena. Either way, end the day at a seaside restaurant in Kawaihae or Kailua-Kona, watching the sunset and sipping a mai tai. Paniolo Country Upcountry Waimea is not what pops to mind when you think Hawai'i -- rolling green hills, a chill in the morning, and ranches. Stop first at the old sugar-cane town of Hawi or at Pololu Valley. Then take Kohala Mountain Road (Highway 250) up the hill to Waimea, stopping along the way to snap pictures of the incredible view. There are several ranches in Waimea where you can go horseback or ATV riding. Plan on staying for dinner at one of Waimea's top-notch restaurants. Honolulu & O'ahu Overview Should you even bother with O'ahu? Aren't the Neighbour Islands where the real beauty of Hawai'i lives? Isn't Honolulu just another traffic-clogged city and Waikiki just another tourist trap? To answer, we present these O'ahu scenes: The broad golden sands and turquoise waters of Kailua Beach. The shops of Chinatown noisy with a half-dozen languages, stacked with mysterious goods, redolent of steaming pastries and jasmine lei. The creaking wooden floors of the Queen Emma Summer Palace and the hushed voice of a guide who seems to be speaking of beloved friends, transporting you back 100 years. Sunset Beach on a winter morning, the power of the waves communicating itself in the throbbing sand under your feet, the surfers slicing furroughs through the walls of water. A looping, easy trail through a cool forest above 'Aiea, a sharma thrush imitating your whistle, the perfume of ferns, a sudden view into an untouched emerald valley. Darkness and the hair-raising call of the ancient nose flute introducing a hula -- not a tourist show but a recital by an amateur troupe that dances for love. A catamaran off the Wai'ane Coast, slapping through mischievous winter waves while spinner dolphins wheel and turn in the froth, seeming to eye you with intelligent interest. An outdoor stage just yards from the beach where a twentysomething island hipster is demonstrating why 'ukulele means "jumping flea," reinterpreting rock. In short, O'ahu is one-stop Hawai'i -- all the allure of the Islands in a chop-suey mix that has you kayaking around offshore islets by day and sitting in a jazz club 'round midnight, all without ever having to take another flight or repack your suitcase. It has more museums, staffed historic sites, and walking tours than any other island. And only here do a wealth of renovated buildings and well-preserved neighbourhoods so clearly spin the story of Hawai'i history. It's the only place to experience island-style urbanity, since there are no other true cities in the state. And yet you can get as lost in the rural landscape and be as laid-back as you wish. Great 1-Day Itineraries To experience even a fraction of O'ahu's charms, you need a minimum of four days and a bus pass. Five days and a car is better: Waikiki is at least a day, Honolulu and Chinatown another, Pearl Harbor the better part of another. Each of the rural sections can swallow a day each, just for driving, sight-seeing and stopping to eat. And that's before you've taken a surf lesson, hung from a parasail, hiked a loop trail, or visited a botanical garden. The following itineraries will take you to our favorite spots on the island. First Day in Waikiki You'll be up at dawn due to the time change and dead on your feet by afternoon due to jet lag. Have a dawn swim, change into walking gear, and head east along Kalakaua Avenue to Monsarrat Avenue, and climb Diamond Head. After lunch, nap in the shade (sunburn!), do some shopping, or visit the nearby East Honolulu neighborhoods of Mo'ili'ili and Ka'imuki, rife with small shops and good, little restaurants. End the day with an early, interesting, and inexpensive dinner at one of these neighborhood spots. Windward Exploring For sand, sun, and surf, follow H1 east to keyhole-shaped Hanauma Bay for picture-perfect snorkeling, then round the southeast tip of the island with its wind-swept cliffs and the famous Halona Blowhole. Fly a kite or watch body surfers at Sandy Beach. Take in Sea Life Park. In Waimanalo, stop for local-style plate lunch, or punch on through to Kailua, where there's intriguing shopping and good eating. The North Shore Hit H1 westbound and then H2 to get to the North Shore. You'll pass through pineapple country, then drop down a scenic winding road to Waialua and Hale'iwa. Stop in Hale'iwa town to shop, to experience shave ice, and to pick up a guided dive or snorkel trip. On winding Kamehameha Highway, stop at famous big-wave beaches, take a dip in a cove with a turtle, and buy fresh Island fruit at roadside stands. Pearl Harbour Pearl Harbour is an almost all-day investment. Be on the grounds by 7:30 AM to line up for Arizona Memorial tickets. Clamber all over the USS Bowfin submarine. Finally, take the free trolley to see the Mighty Mo battleship. If it's Wednesday or Saturday, make the 5-minute drive mauka (toward the mountains) for bargain-basement shopping at the sprawling Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. Town Time If you are interested in history, devote a day to Honolulu's historic sites. Downtown, see 'Iolani Palace, the Kamehameha Statue, and Kawaiaha'o Church. A few blocks east, explore Chinatown, gilded Kuan Yin Temple, and artsy Nu'uanu with its galleries. On the water is the informative Hawai'i Maritime Center. Hop west on H1 to the Bishop Museum, the state's anthropological and archeological center. And a mile up Pali Highway is Queen Emma Summer Palace, whose shady grounds were a royal retreat. Worth a visit for plant lovers: Foster Botanical Garden. Kaua'i Overview Even a nickname like "the Garden Island" fails to do justice to Kaua'i's beauty. Verdant trees grow canopies over the island's few roads, brooding mountains are framed by long, sandy beaches, coral reefs, and sheer sea cliffs. For years, Kaua'i managed to resist the rampant growth occurring elsewhere in the state. Its reputation for rain deterred tourists, and devastating hurricanes in 1982 and 1992 discouraged development. Currently, a proliferation of new construction offers irrefutable proof that Kaua'i has been discovered, but life here remains simple, and the locals are determined to keep it that way. The oldest of the Hawaiian islands, Kaua'i also holds the dubious honour of being "the wettest place on Earth," thanks to its 460-inch average annual rainfall. At 558 square miles it is the fourth-largest island, and its population remains low at 54,200. 1-Day Itineraries So much to do, so little time, is a common lament among visitors who think they can see Kaua'i in a day or two. To get a good sample of the highlights, try some of the following one- day itineraries. Waimea Canyon & Koke'e State Park. Start early, pack a picnic, and head up the mountain for some of the loveliest scenery on the island. Stop at the scenic overlooks and peer into the colorful chasm of Waimea Canyon, then continue on to the cool forests of Koke'e. Spend the afternoon hiking, then cruise down to Salt Pond Beach Park and watch the sunset. Wailua River & Kapa'a. Whether you rent a kayak, take a guided tour, or board one of the motor boats, spend the morning traversing the Wailua River. You'll pass through lush tropical foliage and wind up at the Fern Grotto. Afterward, drive up Kuamo'o Road to '.paeka'a Falls, then head into Kapa'a for lunch and a bit of shopping in one of the many boutiques and galleries on the northern edge of town. Sweet History. Start at the Kaua'i Museum in Lihu'e for an overview of island history, then tour Grove Farm Homestead to get a feel of country life in bygone days. As you head west on Kaumuali'i Highway, stop in at Kilohana Plantation and check out the mansion. Continue on to Kaumakani, the dusty little camp town on the west side, where you can take a guided tour of the island's last sugar plantation, owned by Gay & Robinson. After viewing the fields and seeing how cane is processed into granulated sugar, head east to Koloa town, site of Kaua'i's first plantation. Browse the shops in the historic buildings that line the charming main street, or zip over to Po'ip. Beach, where you can wash off the dust with a refreshing swim before dinner. Beaches & Birds. Load up the kids and head for Lydgate State Park on the East Side, where they can enjoy Kamalani Playground and everyone can swim and snorkel. For lunch, grab a bite to eat as you drive north through Kapa'a. Relax and enjoy the scenery as you continue to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where you can watch seabirds soar and perhaps spot whales and dolphins cavorting offshore. Continue north to Hanalei Bay, where you can swim, boogie board, or jog on the beach. If the waves are huge, stay out of the water and check out the surfing scene. As the sun sinks and the mountains turn rosy, pick up a pizza and drive back to your hotel while the kids snooze in the back seat. Ways to Save Save on produce and flowers by shopping at the farmers' markets held on different days of the week all around the island. Stock up on gas and groceries in Kapa'a and Lihu'e if you're staying on the North Shore or South Side, as prices go up farther from town. Book guided activities, such as Na Pali Coast boat tours, on the Internet. Individual outfitters' Web sites usually offer discounts for those who book on-line. Reserve the smallest car for your needs to save money on gas and rental fees. Lana'i Overview Even many locals have never been to Lana'i because, for years, there was nothing to see but mile upon mile of pineapple and red-dirt roads. Two upscale resorts offer the usual island mix of sun and sand, plus archery and shooting, four-wheel-drive excursions, and superb scuba diving. Both attract the well-heeled in search of privacy, but the luxe shine has worn a bit. Do stroll Dole Park, the town square; if there's a local event on, you'll meet the bulk of the population in minutes. Top 5 Reasons to Visit Lana'i 1. Seclusion & Serenity: Lana'i is small: local motion is slow motion. Go home rested instead of exhausted. 2. Garden of the Gods: Walk amid the eerie red rock spires that ancient Hawaiians believed to be the home of the spirits. 3. A Dive at Cathedrals: Explore underwater pinnacle formations and mysterious caverns lit by shimmering rays of light. 4. Dole Square: Hang out in the shade of the Cook Pines and talk story with the locals. 5. Lana'i Pine Sporting Clays & Archery Range: Play a Pacific William Tell, aiming your arrow at a pineapple. Maui Overview Maui no ka 'oi -- Maui is the best, the most, the top of the heap. To those who know the island well, there's good reason for the superlatives. The second-largest in the Hawaiian chain, the Valley Isle has made a name for itself with its tropical allure, arts and cultural activities, and miles of perfect-tan beaches. Popularity and success have led to some modern-day problems: too many cars, for example. Still, from the chilly heights of Haleakala to the below- sea-level taro beds of Ke'anae Peninsula, Maui continues to weave a spell over the more than 2 million people who visit its shores each year. Pursuits range from hiking in a crater to swimming under a waterfall to diving with sea turtles. This is without question the most diversified island, recommended for a family or group with divergent interests. Great 1-Day Itineraries on Maui Maui's landscape is incredibly diverse, offering everything from underwater encounters with eagle rays to treks across moonlike terrain. Although daydreaming at the pool or on the beach may fulfil your initial island fantasy, Maui has much more to offer. The following one-day itineraries will take you to our favourite spots on the island. Beach Day in West Maui West Maui has some of the island's most beautiful beaches, though many of them are hidden by megaresorts. If you get an early start, you can begin your day snorkelling at Slaughterhouse Beach (in winter, D. T. Fleming Beach is a better option as it's less rough). Then spend the day beach-hopping through Kapalua, Napili, and Ka'anapali as you make your way south. You'll want to get to Lahaina before dark so you can spend some time exploring the historic whaling town before choosing a restaurant for a sunset dinner. Focus on Marine Life on the South Shore Start your South Shore trip early in the morning, and head out past Makena into the rough lava fields of rugged La Pérouse Bay. At the road's end, the 'Ahihi-Kina'u Marine Preserve has no beach, but it's a rich spot for snorkeling and getting to know Maui's spectacular underwater world. Head to Kihei for lunch then enjoy the afternoon learning more about Maui's marine life at the Maui Ocean Centre at Ma'alaea. Haleakala National Park, Upcountry & the North Shore If you don't plan to spend an entire day hiking in the crater at Haleakala National Park, this itinerary will at least allow you to take a peek at it. Get up early and head straight for the summit of Haleakala (if you're jetlagged and waking up in the middle of the night, you may want to get there in time for sunrise). Bring water, sunscreen, and warm clothing (it's freezing at sunrise). Plan to spend a couple of hours exploring the various look-out points in the park. On your way down the mountain, turn right on Makawao Avenue, and head into the little town of Makawao. You can have lunch here, or make a left on Baldwin Avenue and head downhill to the town of Pa'ia where there are a number of great lunch spots and shops to explore. Spend the rest of your afternoon at Pa'ia's main strip of sand, Ho'okipa Beach. The Road to Hana This cliff-side driving tour through rain-forest canopy reveals Maui's most lush and tropical terrain. It will take a full day, especially if you plan to make it all the way to 'Oheo Gulch. You'll pass through communities where old Hawai'i still thrives, and where the forest runs unchecked from the sea to the summit. You'll want to make frequent exploratory stops. To really soak in the magic of this place, consider staying overnight in Hana town. That way you can spend a full day winding toward Hana, hiking and exploring along the way, and the next day travelling leisurely back to civilization. Moloka'i Overview Nicknamed The Friendly Island, Moloka'i is generally thought of as the last bit of "real" Hawai'i. Tourism has been held at bay by the island's unique history (Moloka'i was once occupied solely by a leper's colony), despite the fact that the longest white sand beach in Hawai'i can be found along its western shore. With working ranches and sandy beaches to the west, sheer sea cliffs to the north, and a rainy, lush eastern coast, Moloka'i offers a bit of everything, including a peek at what the islands were like 50 years ago. The sign at the airport says it all, "Slow down, you're in Moloka'i". Only 38 miles long and 10 miles wide at its widest point, Moloka'i is the fifth largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Eight thousand residents call Moloka'i home, nearly 40% of whom are Hawaiian. Supplies are delivered once a year to the store and hospital at Kaunakakai, by barge from Honolulu. History In 1886, Moloka'i's Makanalua Peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Pacific and accessible only by a steep, switchback trail, seemed the ideal place to exile people cursed with leprosy. The first patients were thrown into the waters and left for 7 years with no facilities, shelter or supplies. In 1893 a missionary named Father Damien arrived and created Moloka'i's famous leper's colony. Though the disease is no longer contagious, many patients chose to stay in their long-time home, and the colony still has roughly 100 residents. Visitors are welcome, but must pay $40 for a tour operated by Damien Tours of Kalaupapa. Birthplace of Hula Legend has it that Laka, goddess of the hula, gave birth to the dance on Moloka'i, at a sacred place in Ka'ana. The island recognizes the birth of this sacred dance with a celebration called Ka Hula Piko every year during the third weekend in May. When Laka died, it is believed that her remains were secretly hidden somewhere beneath the hill Pu'u Nana. The hula was finally established, the work of Laka was complete, and the dance has flourished ever since throughout Hawai'i. Top 5 Reasons to Go to Moloka'i 1. Kalaupapa Peninsula: Hike of take a mule ride down the world's tallest sea cliffs to a fascinating, historic community. 2. Biking Single-Track Trails at Moloka'i Ranch: A complex network of trails offers some of the best mountain-bike experiences in the world. 3. Deep-Sea Fishing: Big sport fish are plentiful in these waters, as are gorgeous views of several islands. 4. Nature: Deep valleys, sheer cliffs, and the untamed ocean are the main attractions on Moloka'i. 5. Papohaku Beach: This 3-mile stretch of sand is one of the most sensational beaches in all of Hawai'i. Illinois: Chicago Chicago Overview The thriving commercial and financial "City of Broad Shoulders" is spiked with gorgeous architecture and set with cultural and recreational gems, including the Art Institute, Millennium Park, 250 theatre companies, and 31 mi of shoreline. Three million residents live within city limits. The current Mayor Daley gave downtown a makeover, adding wrought-iron street furniture, regular fireworks, and planters of flowers. Spectacular lights brighten buildings along Michigan Avenue after dark. There are always controversies, but most Chicagoans are proud to call the city home. The Loop is a living architectural museum, where shimmering modern towers stand side-by- side with 19th-century buildings. Striking sculptures by Picasso, Miró, and Chagall watch over plazas alive with music and farmers' markets in summer. There are noisy, mesmerizing trading centres, gigantic department stores, internationally known landmarks like the Sears Tower and the Art Institute, and the city's newest playground, Millennium Park. Rattling overhead, encircling it all, is the train system Chicagoans call the El. Lake View is a massive North Side neighbourhood made up of smaller enclaves that each have their own distinct personalities. There's the beer-swilling, Cubby-blue-'til-we-die sports bar fanaticism of Wrigleyville, home of the esteemed Wrigley Field; the out-and-proud colours of the gay bars, shops, and clubs along Halsted Street in Boys Town; and an air of urban chicness along Southport Avenue (a street that's really a bit too far west to enjoy any lake views, but part of the neighbourhood still the same), where young families stroll amid the trendy boutiques and ice-cream shops. It's a mix that means that a few blocks' walk in one direction or another will surely lead to some interesting finds. The city's greatest tourist magnet reads like a to-do checklist: Navy Pier, the John Hancock Building, art museums and galleries, lakefront activities, and countless shops where you could spend a few dollars or thousands. The Magnificent Mile, a stretch of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street, owes its name to the swanky shops that line both sides of the street. Shoppers cram the sidewalks in summer and keep the street bustling even in winter, when the trees are twined with thousands of white fairy lights and the buildings are lighted with coloured flood lights. City Itineraries Two Hours in Town If you've only got a bit of time, go see a museum. Although you could spend days in any of the city's major museums, two hours will give you a quick taste of Chicago's cultural riches. Take a brisk walk around the Art Institute to see Grant Wood's American Gothic, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, and one of the finest collections of impressionists in the country. Or check out the major dinosaur collection or the gorgeous Native American regalia at the Field Museum. Take a close look at the sharks at the Shedd Aquarium. If the weather's nice, stroll along the lakefront outside the Adler Planetarium -- you'll see one of the nicest skyline views in the city. After dark? Hear some music at a local club. Catch jazz at the Green Lounge in Uptown or some blues at the Checkerboard in Hyde Park to get a taste of authentic Chicago. Tip: Remember that museums are closed on Monday. A Perfect Afternoon Do the zoo. Spend some time at the free Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory (the tropical plants will warm you up in winter), take a ride on the exotic animal-themed carousel, and then spend a couple hours at the nearby Chicago Historical Society for a quirky look at the city's past. If you'd like to stay in the Lincoln Park neighbourhood a bit longer, have dinner at one of many great local restaurants and then head to The Second City, the sketch comedy troupe that was the precursor to Saturday Night Live. Tip: The Second City offers free improvisation following the last performance every night but Friday. Sightseeing in the Loop State Street, that Great Street, is home to Marshall Fields (soon to be reborn as Macy's, as of this writing), Louis Sullivan's ornate iron entrance to department store Carson Pirie Scott, and a nascent theater district, as well as great people-watching. Start at Harold Washington Library at Van Buren Street and walk north, venturing a block east to the beautiful Chicago Cultural Center when you hit Randolph Street. Grab lunch at the Museum of Contemporary Art's serene Wolfgang Puck café, Puck's at the MCA, and spend a couple hours with in-your- face art. Head north for dinner to Pizzeria Uno or Due (both are at 29 E. Ohio Ave.) for Chicago-style pizza in a fun setting. Amble over to the House of Blues for a concert or a nightcap, or spend the evening back in the Loop at a Chicago theatre. Broadway touring shows are on Randolph Street at the Oriental or the Ford, but excellent local theatre is downtown as well -- the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, and Chicago Shakespeare will each give you a night to remember. Get Outdoors Begin with a long walk (or run) along the lakefront, or rent a bike or inline skates and watch the waves on wheels. Then catch an el train north to Wrigley Field for Cubs baseball; grab a dog at the seventh-inning stretch and sing your heart out to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Afterward, soak up a little beer and atmosphere on the patio at one of the local sports bars. Finish up with an outdoor concert in Grant or Millennium parks. Family Time Start at Navy Pier -- or heck, spend all day there. The Chicago Children's Museum is a main attraction, but there's also an IMAX Theatre, a Ferris wheel, a swing ride, a fun house, a stained-glass museum, and in winter, Chicago-themed miniature golf in a sunny atrium. If the crowds at the Pier get to be too much, walk or take the free trolley to Millennium Park, where kids of all ages can ice-skate in winter and play in the fountain in summer, and where giant digital portraits of Chicagoans spit streams of water to help cool you off. Whatever the weather, make sure to get your picture taken in the mirrored centre of the Bean -- the sculpture that's formally known as Cloud Gate. At night in summertime, take a stroll by Buckingham Fountain, where the dancing sprays jump to music and are lit by computer- controlled colour lights, or take a turn on the dance floor during Chicago's nightly Summerdance celebration. Tip: Fireworks explode near Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday night at 9 PM, Memorial Day through Labour Day. City Scapes Start at the top. Hit the heights of the John Hancock Centre or the Sears Tower Skydeck for a grand view of the city and the lake. Then take a walking tour of downtown with a well-read docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. In the afternoon, wander north to the Michigan Avenue Bridge, where you can pick up an informative boat tour of the Chicago River. Enjoy the architecture as you float by, resting your weary feet. Buy Chicago Grab your bankroll and stroll the Mag Mile in search of great buys and souvenirs. Walking north from around the Michigan Avenue Bridge, window shop your way along the many upscale stores. Hang a left on Oak Street for the most elite boutiques. Dedicated shoppers will want to detour a little farther south to State Street in the Loop for a walk through the landmark Marshall Fields, which is soon to become a Macy's. For a culture buzz, check out the Museum of Contemporary Art (closed Monday). After making a tough restaurant choice (Prime rib at Smith & Wollensky's or Lawry's? Deep-dish pizza at Giordano's?), consider a nightcap at the Signature Room at the 95th bar on top of the John Hancock Centre -- the city will be spread beneath your feet. Louisiana: New Orleans New Orleans Overview Sometime during your visit to New Orleans, find a wrought-iron balcony, an oak-shaded courtyard, or a columned front porch and sit quietly, favourite beverage in hand, at 6 AM. At this hour, when the moist air sits most heavily on the streets, New Orleans is a city of mesmerizing tranquillity. By noon, early-morning calm confronts big-city chaos: with all there is to see and hear and eat and drink and do, the old, mystical, weighty spirit in the city's air can at times be frustrating, seeming to prevent you and everyone around you from accomplishing anything too quickly or efficiently. But when it also keeps you from really caring, then you have found the true secret of New Orleans. The spiritual and cultural heart of New Orleans is the French Quarter, where the city was settled by the French in 1718. You can easily spend several days visiting museums, shops, and eateries in this area. Yet the rest of the city's neighbourhoods, radiating out from this focal point, also make for rewarding rambling. The mansion-lined streets of the Garden District and Uptown, the aboveground cemeteries that dot the city, and the open air along Lake Pontchartrain provide a nice balance to the frenzy of the Quarter. Despite its sprawling size, residents treat New Orleans like a small town, or perhaps like a collection of small towns. Families have lived in the same neighbourhoods for generations; red beans and rice is served throughout the city on Monday; people visit the tombs of their departed on All Saints' Day; and from the smartest office to the most down-home local bar, New Orleanians are ready to celebrate anything at the drop of a hat. To experience this fun-filled city, you can begin with the usual tourist attractions, but you must go beyond them to linger in a corner grocery store, sip a cold drink in a local joint, or chat with a stoop-sitter. New Orleanians, for all their gripes and grumbling, love their city. They treasure custom and tradition, take in stride the heat and humidity of a semitropical climate, and face life with a laid-back attitude, despite the ravages from Hurricane Katrina, which caused heavy damage to the city in late August 2005. Highlights of New Orleans Day 1: The French Quarter Start by getting to know the city's most famous neighbourhood. Sure, it's a cliché, but the café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde are a good place to begin, followed by a stroll around Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. Cross the seawall and take in the views of the Mississippi River from Woldenberg Riverfront Park. Wander along North Peters Street to the shops and market stalls in the French Market, followed by a stroll around the mostly residential Lower Quarter. After lunch, explore the antique stores and art galleries on Royal and Chartres streets, winding it all up with a cocktail in a shady courtyard; try Napoleon House, an atmospheric bar and café that makes a mean Pimm's Cup, or the French Quarter mainstay Pat O'Brien's. Save Bourbon Street for later in the evening; like anything that's lived hard and been around as long, it's much more attractive in low light. Day 2: Uptown & the Garden District The St. Charles Avenue streetcar rumbles past some of the South's most prized real estate; take a seat in one of the antique wooden seats, raise a window and admire the scenery on the way to leafy Audubon Park. Follow the paved footpath to the Audubon Zoo, keeping an eye out for the zoo's white tigers, a pair of albino brothers named Rex and Zulu. Board an inbound Magazine Street bus near the zoo entrance and take it to just past Napoleon Avenue, where a number of restaurants, some with sidewalk tables, are clustered. Continue on Magazine to Washington Avenue and head left through the Garden District. Prytania Street, just past Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 (Anne Rice fans, take note), is a good axis from which you can explore the neighbourhood's elegant side streets. Catch a Downtown-bound streetcar on St. Charles, or wrap up the afternoon shopping and dining on Magazine. Day 3: Remembering Katrina It may strike some as macabre, but touring the neighbourhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina and its subsequent floods has become a ritual for many visitors, not unlike the hordes that have made Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan a pilgrimage site. You can opt for a guided bus tour, which takes you to Lakeview and the infamous 17th Street Canal levee breach; some companies also travel to the Ninth Ward and Chalmette. If you have your own transportation, follow a drive through Katrina's aftermath on page 14 in our remembering Katrina feature. After a sombre tour of Katrina's devastation, a good antidote is to look for signs of renewal and rebirth. City Park, which sustained extensive wind and flood damage, has reopened its stately botanical gardens; nearby stands the venerable New Orleans Museum of Art and the adjacent Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Wrap the day up with dinner and live music downtown at one of the clubs on Frenchmen Street, in the Faubourg Marigny neighbourhood, where the city's diehard party spirit soldiers on. Day 4: Art, History & Culture Dedicate one day to a deeper exploration of the city's cultural attractions. Art lovers shouldn't miss the Warehouse District, where a pair of fine museums -- the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the Contemporary Arts Centre -- anchors a vibrant strip of contemporary art galleries, most of which feature local artists. History buffs will want to check out the National D-Day Museum, also in the Warehouse District, and the Historical Collection of New Orleans in the French Quarter, which hosts changing exhibits in a beautifully restored town home. New Orleans music aficionados can browse the bins at the Louisiana Music Factory, which has a wide selection of CDs, and occasional in-store performances, by Louisiana musicians. Day 5: Heading Out of Town Consider a day trip out of town to one of the region's elegant plantation homes, a trip to Cajun Country, or a guided swamp tour. Some tour companies offer a combination, with lunch included. Many of the antebellum mansions between New Orleans and Baton Rouge have been painstakingly restored and filled with period furniture; nature lovers will want to set aside time to explore the grounds and lush flower gardens. Swamp tours may sound hokey, but they're actually a good way to see south Louisiana's cypress-studded wetlands (and get up close and personal with the alligators and other critters who live there). Continue the nautical theme in the evening with a ride to Algiers Point aboard the Canal Street ferry for sunset views of the New Orleans skyline. Tips Call ahead for hours and days of operation. Several months after Katrina, many businesses still had not returned to their full pre-storm schedules. The city has a lot to offer, but some patience and understanding is called for while it rebuilds. If you're venturing out in your own vehicle, be aware that street conditions, which weren't great to begin with, are still in disrepair in some places. Traffic signals can be erratic, and debris and roofing nails left behind by contractors can be hazardous to tires. Summers in New Orleans arrive early and stick around longer than most people would like. If visiting in the hot months, stay hydrated, limit your midday outdoor activities and be prepared for sudden, sometimes violent downpours. Maine: Acadia NP Acadia NP Overview With some of the most dramatic and varied scenery on the Maine Coast, Mount Desert Island attracts more than 2 million visitors each year and has been a popular summer destination for more than a century. The island, much of which belongs to Acadia National Park, measures approximately 12 mi long and 9 mi across. Samuel de Champlain, the first European explorer to discover the area, named the island the "Isle de Monts Desert." Today Mount Desert Island (often pronounced "dessert") is Maine's most popular tourist attraction. The rocky coastline rises starkly from the ocean, appreciable along the scenic drives. Trails for hikers of all skill levels lead to the rounded tops of the mountains, providing views of Frenchman Bay, Blue Hill Bay, and beyond. Ponds and lakes beckon you to swim, fish, or boat. Ferries and charter boats provide spectacular views and a new perspective of the island, as well as a chance to explore the outer islands. A network of carriage roads lets you explore Acadia National Park's wooded interior, filled with birds and other wildlife. Mount Desert Island has four different townships, each with its own personality. The town of Bar Harbour is on the northeastern corner of the island, and includes Bar Harbour, Hulls Cove, Salsbury Cove, and Town Hill. The town of Mount Desert comprises the southeastern corner of the island and parts of the western edge, and includes Mount Desert, Somesville, Hall Quarry, Beech Hill, Pretty Marsh, Northeast Harbour, Seal Harbour, and Otter Creek. As its name suggests, the town of Southwest Harbour is on the southwestern corner of the island, although the town of Tremont is at the southernmost tip of the west side. This area includes the villages of Southwest Harbour, Manset, Bass Harbour, Bernard, and Seal Cove. Bar Harbour is a major tourist centre, with plenty of accommodations, restaurants, and shops. Less congested are smaller towns such as Northeast Harbour, Southwest Harbour, Bass Harbour, and the outlying islands. After a full day of sightseeing and exploring, you can relax in a comfortable seaside room, watch the sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain, or dine at one of the island's numerous eateries. Whatever your interests, Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park can provide days -- and even weeks -- of enjoyment. If You Have 3 Days If you have three days on Mount Desert Island, stay in Bar Harbour. There's plenty of things in this popular resort town to keep you occupied on your first day -- from bustling boutiques to interesting museums. On Day 2, stop at the Hulls Cove Visitor Centre to pick up information about special events, then head to Acadia National Park. A drive around Park Loop Road is a great way to learn the lay of the land. Stop along the way -- a lot of the scenic overlooks have informational signs you may find interesting. Finish up the Park Loop Road journey by driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain to enjoy the sunset. On Day 3, rent a bike and explore the network of carriage roads that crisscross the island. Take in the spectacular view of Jordan Pond from the observation deck of the Jordan Pond House, a restaurant known for its massive popovers with lots of strawberry jam. For the afternoon's entertainment, hike the South Bubble Mountain (easier) or Penobscot Mountain (more challenging). If You Have 5 Days Follow the three-day itinerary above. On Day 4, drive to Northeast Harbor, the summer home of many of the country's wealthiest families. Take in the Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Gardens. On your last day, take a sightseeing cruise in the morning. In the afternoon, head to Bass Harbour Head Lighthouse, taking in Somesville and Southwest Harbour along the way. Maryland: Baltimore Baltimore Overview Baltimore is a city of neighbourhoods. From the cobblestone streets of historic Fells Point and Federal Hill, up the wide avenues of elegant Mount Vernon, and across the countless modest blue-collar enclaves, the city wears many different faces. On the east and west sides, seamless blocks of the city's trademark redbrick row houses, each fronted by white marble steps, radiate outward from the modern towers of downtown Baltimore. Uptown, marble mansions, grand churches, and philanthropic institutions proudly bearing their founders' names mark the city's progress: fortunes earned on the harbour flowed north to create these monuments to wealth and power. Baltimore was established by the Colonial government in 1729, at the end of the broad Patapsco River that empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Named for George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore and the founder of Maryland, the town grew as a port and shipbuilding centre and did booming business during the War of Independence. A quantum leap came at the turn of the 19th century: from 6,700 in 1776, the population reached 45,000 by 1810. Because it was the home port for U.S. Navy vessels and for the swift Baltimore clipper ships that often preyed on British shipping, the city was a natural target for the enemy during the War of 1812. After capturing and torching Washington, D.C., the British fleet sailed up the Patapsco River and bombarded Baltimore's Fort McHenry, but in vain. The 30- by 42-foot, 15-star, 15-stripe flag was still flying "by the dawn's early light," a spectacle that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner." After the War of 1812, Baltimore prospered as a slave market, and during the Civil War the population's sympathies were divided between North and South, provoking riots. Frederick Douglass escaped his childhood enslavement in the shipyards of Fells Point to become a famed orator and abolitionist. The first bloodshed of the Civil War occurred in Baltimore when the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment was stoned by an angry group of Baltimoreans. (This is a town whose regional identity has always been, and remains, ambiguous.) Soon after, President Lincoln, mistrusting the loyalty of certain city officials, had them summarily detained -- an act that was no doubt strategically effective but was probably unconstitutional. In the late 1800s, Baltimore became a manufacturing center of iron, steel, chemical fertilizer, and textiles. It also became the oyster capital of the world, packing more of those tasty mollusks in 1880 than anywhere else. After a 1904 fire destroyed 1,500 structures, Baltimore rebuilt valiantly and rode the economic roller coaster through World War I and the Great Depression. World War II brought an influx of people and industry to the city. After the war, a steady flow of residents to the newly developed suburbs drained the city of vitality as well as population; the loss of manufacturing jobs also hurt this blue-collar town, and many neighbourhoods seriously declined. Starting in the late 1950s, the city began trying to revive itself. The construction of Charles Centre in 1961 was one early attempt. By the late 1960s, plans were in effect to invigorate the city's waterfront. But it wasn't until the early 1980s when Harbourplace opened that the Inner Harbour became what it is today. Hotels, office buildings, and attractions such as the Maryland Science Centre, the stellar National Aquarium, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards were built around Inner Harbour. Restaurants and shops proliferated in the once- downtrodden downtown area and then beyond. Development continues to spread along the waterfront into the formerly industrial areas of Fells Point, Canton, and Locust Point, and many young professionals and businesses are moving in -- to the dismay of some, who see the impending loss of the city's waterfront industries. In fact, neighbourhoods all over the city are being revitalized. Other areas, like Roland Park, Guilford, Homeland, and Mt. Washington in north Baltimore, remain the tony residential neighbourhoods they've always been. Yet just east and west of downtown are blocks of boarded up homes, signs of the problems that the city still faces. It is this stark contrast that Baltimore continues to address. Sights & Activities Many of Baltimore's biggest attractions are around the Inner Harbour -- the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Visionary Arts Museum, and Camden Yards. Farther uptown are the Walters Museum of Art, in Mount Vernon, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, near Johns Hopkins University, in Charles Village. The neighbourhoods themselves are fun to explore. Historic Federal Hill, just south of the Inner Harbour, is home to some of the oldest houses in the city. Fells Point and Canton, farther east, are lively waterfront communities. Mount Vernon and Charles Village have wide avenues lined with grand old row houses that were once home to Baltimore's wealthiest residents. Farther north are Roland Park (Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. contributed to its planning), Guilford, Homeland, and Mt. Washington, all leafy, residential neighbourhoods with cottages, large Victorian house, and redbrick Colonials. It's easy to explore the Inner Harbour and neighbourhoods such as Mount Vernon, Charles Village, and Fells Point by foot. For travelling between areas, however, a car is the most efficient means of transportation. Parking around the Inner Harbour is primarily in garages, though meters can be found along Key Highway. In other neighbourhoods, you can generally find meter parking on the street. Pratt Street runs east along the Inner Harbour; from here the major northbound arteries are Charles Street and the Jones Falls Expressway (I-83). Cross street addresses are marked "East" or "West" according to which side of Charles Street they are on; similarly, Baltimore Street marks the dividing line between north and south. Residents refer to areas of the city by direction of these major arteries: thus, South Baltimore, North Baltimore, East Baltimore, West Baltimore, Northeast Baltimore, Northwest Baltimore, etc. A light-rail runs north-south along Howard Street, going between Camden Yards and Hunt Valley in the northern suburbs. Buses also run throughout the city. But neither is particularly quick, and they don't go to every part of town. Cabs can be a good way to get around the city, but you must call first to arrange a pickup. A fun way to travel between waterfront attractions such as Fort McHenry and Fells Point is to take one of the water taxis that ply the harbour. Massachusetts: Berkshires Boston Cape Cod Martha's Vineyard Nantucket Berkshires Overview More than a century ago, wealthy families from New York and Boston built "summer cottages" in the Berkshires -- great country estates that earned Berkshire County the nickname "inland Newport." Today many of the surviving mansions have become fine inns or museums, or have had their grounds converted to outdoor venues for performing-arts groups such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This seasonal cornucopia of live music, dance, and theatre has turned the region into the summer culture capital of New England, which is why area accommodations are able to command such high prices during performance-packed summer weekends. Autumn's palette of brightly coloured foliage brings out the leaf peepers in droves, while winter's snow-covered peaks lure skiers from all the large cities within a couple of hours' driving distance. Best in 4 Days Bershires Itinerary What surprises many first-time visitors to the Berkshires is the persistence of an earlier America. Stockbridge really does look exactly as Norman Rockwell painted it. And minutes from the conclaves of arts aficionados, the hill towns are still studded with tiny dairy farms and spreading orchards. Day 1 Begin your first day in North Adams, a former mill town now bubbling with cultural ferment. Boosters call the community "the Gateway to the Berkshires." Spend the morning touring the splendid Mass MoCA museum. Continue west from North Adams on Route 2 to 3,491-foot Mount Greylock. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Herman Melville were among the 19th-century visitors to the highest peak in Massachusetts. Stay the night in Williamstown. Day 2 In the morning, tour Williamstown's main attraction, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. If you're in a more outdoorsy mood, stroll up Stone Hill. Travel south from Williamstown on Route 43 until it joins with Route 7 at the intersection known as Five Corners. The Store at Five Corners sells gourmet deli food. Continue south on Route 7, stopping along the way to Pittsfield for a picnic. At Pittsfield, head west on Route 20 to get to Hancock Shaker Village. Route 41 heading south from Hancock Shaker Village traverses the swampy bottomlands east of the Taconic Range to the erstwhile iron-smelting village of Richmond. Here Lenox Road departs east to cross a series of hills before spilling down to the broad green lawns of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Stay the night in nearby Lenox. Day 3 Spend the morning in downtown Lenox before visiting The Mount, author Edith Wharton's estate. Continue south on Route 7 to Stockbridge, known for its elegant old houses and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Spend the night in Stockbridge. Day 4 Drive to the town of Lee in the morning, checking out its cute downtown before proceeding to Great Barrington, whose strollable downtown contains many crafts and antiques stores (and numerous options for lunch). If you enjoy antiquing, by all means continue south on Route 7 to Sheffield, which has a slew of dealers. Otherwise, head southwest from Great Barrington on Route 23 and continue south (past South Egremont) on Route 344 to Big Bash Falls, the most dramatic waterfall in Massachusetts. Boston Overview There's history and culture at every turn in Boston, but a down-to-earth attitude can always be found on the edges of its New England pride. The city defies stereotype because it consists of different layers. The deepest layer is the historical base, the place where musket-bearing revolutionaries vowed to hang together or hang separately. The next tier, a dense spread of Brahmin fortune and fortitude, might be labelled the Hub. The Hub saw only journalistic accuracy in the label "the Athens of America" and felt only pride in the slogan "Banned in Boston." Over that layer lies Beantown, home to the Red Sox faithful and the raucous Bruins fans who crowded the old Boston "Gah-den"; this is the city whose ethnic loyalties account for its many distinct neighbourhoods. Crowning these layers are the students who throng the area's universities and colleges every fall, infuriating some but pleasing many with their infusion of high spirits and money from home. 5 Great Itineraries A Taste of Everything Wear comfortable walking shoes and get off to an early start with a walk through the Public Gardens to the Boston Common. (If the Swan Boats are sailing, be sure to take a ride.) Sample a few of the highlights on the Freedom Trail, making sure to stop at the Old Granary Burying Ground, and tour the Athenaeum. (The Children's Reading Room is much more fun than it sounds, and the whole building reeks of Boston's love affair with learning.) Stroll up to Beacon Hill to Mt. Vernon Street and Louisburg Square, stopping along Charles Street for a coffee and a little boutique browsing. In the afternoon, cross through Government Center to Faneuil Hall (peek into the building known as the "Cradle of Liberty"), and traverse the long arcades of Quincy Market, always lively indoors and out. The food court here is a good choice for an inexpensive lunch or dinner. Drag yourself away from the shops at Quincy Market, and continue across to Rowes Wharf and the Aquarium docks for an afternoon or late-evening harbor cruise. You could skip the cruise and take the Aquarium walk along Atlantic Avenue to the North End and have some first-rate Italian food on Hanover or Salem streets. Hail a cab or one of the horse-drawn carriages that park near Quincy Market for a last dose of old-world charm. Cityscapes & Culture Channel that early-morning energy into a walk along the Charles River. On most pleasant days, the crew shells are out early, and so are the joggers. The view of Cambridge and east to Beacon Hill with the State House's golden dome is at its best early in the morning and late in the day. Whiz up to the top-floor observation level in the Prudential or "Pru" Tower to see how Boston is laid out geographically. On a clear day, you can see the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the outlines of the Berkshire Mountains to the west. (Use the telescope for the Berkshires.) Mostly, you'll get a sense of how the Charles River organizes and divides Boston from its irascible neighbour Cambridge, and you'll get a feel for the layout of Boston neighbourhoods. We're always struck by the profusion of colour: redbrick buildings, inky blue river, and green grassy parks. Walk down Newbury Street and pop into a few shops and galleries, perhaps wrangling a seat at one of the sidewalk cafés. You will want to visit one or two of Boston's museums during your stay, and we recommend a short stop at the Mapparium at the Mother Church of Christ Scientist with its reflecting pool (especially good if you are travelling with children), followed by a longer visit at the Museum of Fine Arts or at "Mrs. Jack's Palace," a.k.a. the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. (Both museums have first- rate cafés.) For dinner, try one of Boston's small chef-owned bistros sprinkled all over Back Bay and downtown Boston. The Charles & Cambridge From pre-Revolutionary days, Boston was the region's commercial centre, and Cambridge was the 'burbs, more residential than mercantile, with plenty of room to build the nation's first English-style, redbrick university in Harvard Square. Today, Cambridge is a city of great contrasts -- the students and the university own Harvard Square, ethnic enclaves claim Central Square, and the area around Kendall Square, home to MIT, is known as Information Alley and Biotech Central. Begin your day in Harvard Square, walking down Brattle Street to see the historic homes of Tory Row and looping back to the square, down Massachusetts Avenue through the Cambridge Common, where you can cross through one of the archways into Harvard Yard. (Chances are, you'll recognize it from countless movies about college life. If you can, circle around Sanders Theatre, considered either the ugliest or most marvellous building in Cambridge.) Spend some time at a coffeehouse, a shop, or a bookstore in Harvard Square, and then continue down to the banks of the Charles River and stand on the Eliot Bridge, watching the university crew teams practice. It's the best site in Cambridge for a photo op. If you continue down Memorial Drive (the Cambridge side of the river), you'll arrive at MIT. The contrast between the architectural appearances of Cambridge's two great educational institutions epitomizes today's Boston -- a tug-of-war between the cutting edge and the colonial. Get Out on the Water Devote a day to the Atlantic Ocean. Boston is defined by its coast and its waterways. Much of its legacy is the result of being the first stop across the Atlantic after Europe, and much of its industry, pleasure, and population mix is defined by seafaring. There are three basic choices: a day trip to a nearby sandy beach south or north of Boston; a day trip to the North Shore port towns of Marblehead, Gloucester, Rockport, or Salem; and a whale-watching or fishing trip. All are quintessential Boston experiences, and if you have several days with Boston as your base of operations, you might want to give yourself the full-salt treatment and enjoy all of the above. The Revolutionary Suburbs & Beyond Rent a car or join a tour and head out to Concord, Lexington, and Sudbury to bond with the young American patriots. Start your visit at Battle Green in Lexington, where the shot that was heard round the world was fired. For the best explanation of the sequence that kick-started the American Revolution, visit the National Heritage Museum. Most Bostonians know Lexington as an upscale bedroom community, but the western suburbs are far more textured with history and sensation than they appear. If you are there on a bright, slightly crisp New England day, it won't be hard to feel the shiver of the young riflemen as they stood surrounded by well-armed and seasoned British Redcoats. Next stop after Lexington is at the Minute Man Historical Park in Concord, where a multimedia presentation will stir up your Revolutionary fervour. In Concord, you may want to walk around Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau wrote his famous tome on solitude, and visit the many historical houses -- among the literati who lived in Concord were Louisa May Alcott's family and Ralph Waldo Emerson's family. For a Yankee pot roast sort of lunch (more ambience and history than culinary panache), try Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury, where you can also visit an 18th- century gristmill and see the schoolhouse that "Mary" attended with her "little lamb." Cape Cod Overview Your primary goal may be to get to Cape Cod sooner rather than later, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't stop to see some of the eclectic towns you'll pass through as you approach the region -- they're a mix of suburbanized colonial hamlets, low-key yachting enclaves, and riches-to-rags industrial communities enjoying varying degrees of resurgence. Though the approach to the Cape may not have the cachet of the Cape proper, there's plenty to interest travellers looking for something to do on a rainy day -- or even those who just want to take a break from the road. In the communities that line the principal routes to Cape Cod, you'll find some of New England's seminal historic attractions (all of them well suited to kids), a handful of bewitching beaches, a few pretty-damn-quaint seaside villages, and a passable selection of pleasing restaurants and accommodations. In Plymouth you can see that monument you've heard about since childhood, Plymouth Rock, and walk the decks of the Mayflower II. A few miles down the road, don't miss Plimouth Plantation, a re-created 17th-century Puritan village where trained staff members vividly dramatize the everyday lives of the first English settlers. Watch them make cheese, forge nails, and explain where and when they bathe (hint: not often). If you have the time, as you leave Boston and pass through Quincy, exit from Route 3 onto the South Shore's slower but infinitely more scenic highway, Route 3A. It runs for about 50 mi down through the South Shore along Massachusetts Bay, from Quincy through Scituate, Duxbury, and Plymouth and on to Cape Cod Canal. It takes an extra hour to go this way, but you'll avoid Route 3's occasionally vicious traffic jams, and this drive is great fun if you're a fan of road-tripping. If you're coming by way of I-195, consider stopping in the seafaring city of New Bedford, a major whaling port in the 19th century. It now delights visitors with the nation's largest museum on the history of whaling. If you have the time, and especially if you're intrigued by the macabre legacy of the 19th century's most infamous trial, in which Lizzie Borden was accused, and acquitted, of dispatching her parents with "40 whacks" of an ax, stop in Fall River, where this riveting drama played out. Fall River has seen better days, but it's also home to the largest collection of historic naval ships and submarines all open for exploration -- Battleship Cove. Not far from I-195 and the Fall River-New Bedford corridors, along the coves of Buzzards Bay, you'll find charming seaside towns and sandy beaches, the best known of which is Horseneck Beach in Westport. The pretty villages of South Dartmouth, Fairhaven, and Marion are also worth a stop. Classic Beaches & Bustling Villages Day 1: Falmouth Begin by crossing the Bourne Bridge and taking Route 28A south through some lovely little towns until you reach Falmouth, an excellent base for exploring the Upper Cape. Here you can stroll around the village green, look into some of the historic houses, and stop at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve for a walk along the estuary and barrier beach. Take some time to check out the village of Woods Hole, the center for international marine research and the year-round ferry port for Martha's Vineyard. A small aquarium in town has regional sea-life exhibits, and there are several shops and museums. If you have any extra time, spend it north of here in the lovely old town of Sandwich, known for the Sandwich Glass Museum and the beautiful grounds and collection of antique cars at Heritage Museums and Gardens. Days 2 & 3: Hyannis The crowded Mid Cape is a centre of activity, and its hub is Hyannis. Here you can take a cruise around the harbour or go on a deep-sea fishing trip. There are shops and restaurants along Main Street and plenty of kid-worthy amusements. Kennedy fans shouldn't miss the JFK Museum. End the day with a concert at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. Spend your second day exploring the northern reaches of the Mid Cape with a drive along scenic Route 6, which passes through the charming, slow-paced villages of Barnstable, Yarmouth Port, and Dennis. There are beaches and salt marshes, museums, antiques shops and galleries, and old graveyards along this route. Yarmouth Port's Bass Hole Boardwalk makes for a particularly beautiful stroll. In Dennis there are historic houses to tour, and the Cape Museum of Fine Arts merits a stop. End the day by climbing 30-foot Scargo Tower to watch the sun set. At night you can catch a film at the Cape Cinema, on the grounds of the Cape Playhouse. Days 4 & 5: Chatham Chatham, with its handsome Main Street, is a perfect base for strolling, shopping, and dining. A trip to the nearby Monomoy Islands is a must for bird-watchers and nature lovers. Back in town, you can watch glassblowing at the Chatham Glass Company, visit the Old Atwood House and Railroad Museums, and drive over to take in the view from Chatham Light. Spend your second day detouring up to Brewster to check out the eclectic mix of antiques shops, museums, freshwater ponds for swimming and fishing, and miles of biking and hiking trails through Nickerson State Park. Don't miss the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. On the way north from Chatham, take the less-commercial end of Route 28 to Orleans, driving past sailboat-speckled views of Pleasant Bay. On the way up toward Provincetown, stop in Eastham at the National Seashore's Salt Pond Visitor Centre. Days 6 & 7: Provincetown Bustling Provincetown sits at the very tip of the Cape, and there's a lot to see and do here. Catch a whale-watch boat and take a trolley tour in town or bike through the National Seashore on its miles of trails. Climb the Pilgrim Monument for a spectacular view of the area -- on an exceptionally clear day you can see the Boston skyline. Visit the museums and shops and art galleries, or spend the afternoon swimming and sunning on one of the beaches. To escape the crowds, spend a day driving south through sleepy but scenic Truro and then park your car in Wellfleet's historic downtown, where you'll find a bounty of intriguing shops and galleries. Continue a bit south to historic Marconi Station, which was the landing point for the transatlantic telegraph early in the 20th century. It's also worth walking the short but stunning White Cedar Swamp Trail. Alternatives On Day 2, hop the ferry for a day trip to either Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket. Both islands offer breathtaking scenery and village centres chock-full of great shops and restaurants. And if you're really keen on exploring either island, consider spending the night. Martha's Vineyard requires a shorter ferry ride and is your best choice if time is tight. On either your first or final day -- especially if you're a history buff or you're travelling with kids -- pass through Plymouth, on the mainland just north of Sagamore Bridge, and make a visit to Plimoth Plantation, one of the most impressive living-history museums in the country. Tips Keep in mind that traffic leading onto the Cape is particularly horrendous on Friday, and traffic leading off the Cape is rough on Sunday. Try to time your visit to avoid these times, but if you must travel to or from the Cape on these days, cross as early in the day as possible. If you're travelling with kids, you might want to pass on some of the itinerary's more adult- oriented highlights described above -- such as shopping in Wellfleet and driving along scenic Route 6A from Barnstable to Dennis -- and instead set aside some time in the southern sections of Yarmouth and Dennis, where Route 28 passes by countless amusement centres, minigolf courses, and other kid-friendly amusements. A car is the best way to explore the Cape, but in the busier town centres -- such as Falmouth, Hyannis, Chatham, and Provincetown -- you can get around quite easily on foot. Plan to park your car at your accommodation and avoid using it except to explore less densely populated areas of the Cape. Martha's Vineyard Overview Far less developed than Cape Cod -- thanks to a few local conservation organizations -- yet more cosmopolitan than neighbouring Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard is an island with a double life. From Memorial Day through Labour Day the quieter, some might say real, Vineyard quickens into a vibrant, star-studded place. Edgartown floods with people who come to wander narrow streets flanked with elegant boutiques, stately whaling captains' homes, and charming inns. The busy main port, Vineyard Haven, welcomes day-trippers fresh off ferries and private yachts to browse in its own array of shops. Oak Bluffs, where pizza and ice cream emporiums reign supreme, attracts diverse crowds with its boardwalk-town air and nightspots that cater to high-spirited, carefree youth. Summer regulars include a host of celebrities, among them William Styron, Art Buchwald, Walter Cronkite, Beverly Sills, Patricia Neal, Spike Lee, and Diane Sawyer. Former president Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, were frequent visitors during his terms in office. Concerts, theatre, dance performances, and lecture series draw top talent to the island; a county agricultural fair, weekly farmers' markets, and miles of walking trails provide earthier pleasures. Most people know the Vineyard's summer persona, but in many ways its other self has even more appeal, for the off-season island is a place of peace and simple beauty. Drivers traversing country lanes through the agricultural centre of the island find time to linger over pastoral and ocean vistas, without being pushed along by a throng of other cars, bicycles, and mopeds. In nature reserves, the voices of summer are gone, leaving only the sounds of birdsong and the crackle of leaves underfoot. Private beaches open to the public, and the water sparkles under crisp, blue skies. Locals are at their convivial best off-season. After the craziness of their short moneymaking months, they re-establish contact with friends and take up pastimes temporarily crowded out by work. The result for visitors -- besides the extra dose of friendliness -- is that cultural, educational, and recreational events continue year-round. Sights & Activities Characterizing Martha's Vineyard is an experience unlike any other. The three towns that compose Down-Island (the east end of Martha's Vineyard) -- Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown -- are the most popular and most populated. Here you'll find the ferry docks, shops, and a concentration of things to do and see, including the centuries-old houses and churches that document the island's history. However, much of what makes the Vineyard special is found in its rural reaches, in the agricultural heart of the island and the largely undeveloped lands south and west of the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown line known as Up-Island. Country roads meander through woods and tranquil farmland, and dirt side roads lead past crystalline ponds, abandoned cranberry bogs, and conservation lands. In Chilmark, West Tisbury, and Aquinnah, nature lovers, writers, and artists have established close, ongoing summer communities. You will not be disappointed with the beaches of Martha's Vineyard. Although just 75 miles in circumference, the island has enough varieties of the elemental meeting of land and water to fulfil the fantasies of every Gilligan. Quiet coves, beaches along freshwater ponds, big waves splashing up against soft white sand, gentle ones lapping up to a shoreline, tidal pools, rocky coastlines, dramatic cliffs falling into the ocean -- they're all here. Nantucket Overview For the first time since its golden age as a world-renowned whaling capital in the early 1800s, the tiny island of Nantucket is decidedly on a roll. Modest shingled cottages that might have gone begging for a buyer a few decades ago now fetch an easy million. The 800-plus pre- 1840 structures that compose the core of town -- a National Landmark Historic District -- only rarely change hands, and then at exalted prices. As for the trophy houses, those mega- mansions built in the hinterlands for rich arrivistes, they're constantly off the charts, setting new records only to break them. Essentially Nantucket is all beach -- a boomerang-shape sand spit consisting of detritus left by a glacier that receded millennia ago. Off Cape Cod, 26 mi out to sea, the island measures 3½ by 14 mi at its widest points, while encompassing more than 100 mi of sandy shoreline, all of it open, as a matter of local pride, to absolutely everyone. Throughout most of the New England coast, private interests have carved prime beachfront into exclusive enclaves. Nantucketers, however, are resolved that the beaches should remain accessible to the general public. A half dozen or so town-supervised beaches have amenities such as snack bars and lifeguard stations. The rest are the purview of solitary strollers -- or, unfortunately, ever-growing convoys of dune-destroying SUVs. The small commercial area of Nantucket Town is the centre of island activity, just as it has been since the early 1700s. It's only a few square blocks of mostly historical buildings, restored inns, and boutiques and galleries leading up from the pretty harbour and waterfront, where the ferries dock. Beyond it, quiet residential roads fan out to points around the island; Siasconset (Sconset) lies 8 mi to the east, Surfside 3 mi to the south, and Madaket 6 mi west of town. Thus far, the outlying areas appear relatively rural; however, increasing "infill" threatens the idyll. Still, on a day when sun scintillates on sand and the thrumming waves hint at an eternal rhythm, it's hard to imagine that anything could ever go terribly wrong here. Perfection can be surprisingly simple, after all, and even if Nantucket's current cachet should fade, the island's timeless pleasures will endure. Sights & Activities In addition to Nantucket's cranberry bogs, fields of daffodils, and miles of sandy shoreline, there are dozens of lovely and interesting architectural sights to see, from windmills to lighthouses; from the Quaker Friends Meeting House to the centuries-old Greek Revival-style town houses. In fact, the entire island is a historic district -- 800 buildings predate the Civil War. On a magnificent harbour, Nantucket Town remains the centre of island activity it has been since the early 1700s. A small commercial area of a few square blocks leads up from the waterfront. Beyond it, quiet residential roads fan out to points around the island. Surfside Beach lies 3 miles south of town. Siasconset ('Sconset) is 7 miles to the east, in the island's southeast corner, and has a fair number of services and essential stores. At the island's northeast end is Wauwinet, an old residential enclave with a landmark inn. Wauwinet is the gateway to the sprawling beach and reserves of Coatue, Coskata, and Great Point. At the island's west end, the village of Madaket has a beach and harbour, great sunsets, a seasonal restaurant, and bluefishing off the point. Although major roads will take you to most of these areas, exploring must often be done on dirt roads. Bike paths lead east from the town of Nantucket to 'Sconset, south to Surfside Beach, and west to Madaket. Michigan: Detroit Detroit Overview Few realize that Detroit is one of the Midwest's oldest cities. Founded in 1701 as "la Ville d'Etroit" -- the city at the straits -- it was once a strategic Native American and French trading post. In the mid-19th century the city was compared to Paris because of its scenic parks and beautiful architecture, but it soon evolved into the modern Motor City, the city that put the world on wheels. With the growth of the auto industry, Detroit and its suburbs spread out across an ever larger geographical area, eventually making it one of the country's largest cities. While Motown and Motor City are the nicknames that stick in people's minds, Detroit is also one of the world's busiest inland ports, a major steel producer, and a leader in the production of office equipment, paint, salt, garden seeds, and pharmaceuticals. The Detroit River is linked by 25 steamship companies to more than 40 countries; vessels ranging from ocean-going freighters to private yachts dock in the city's protected harbour. A multicultural city known for high hopes and hard work, Detroit offers world-class museums, theatres, and galleries, a well-run park system, extensive recreational and sports opportunities, and lively ethnic neighbourhoods full of friendly people and good restaurants. Those who visit the city for the first time are pleasantly surprised, and tend to echo the Convention and Visitors Bureau's slogan: "It's a Great Time in Detroit." Sights & Activities Founded seven decades before the American Revolution, the oldest city in the Midwest is a busy industrial centre, producing roughly a quarter of the nation's autos, trucks, and tractors. The riverfront harbour is one of the busiest ports on the Great Lakes. Downtown, a constant flow of traffic moves in and out of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and across the Ambassador Bridge, both of which connect Detroit with Windsor, Ontario, directly across the Detroit River. Though the city nicknamed itself "Renaissance City" in the 1970s, it did little to deserve the title until recently. The 1990s brought major changes, including a new mayor, plans for new sports stadiums, and a number of revitalized downtown areas, including the glitzy theater district -- now second only to New York's Great White Way in number of seats. Detroit is the Motor City, and everyone does drive. Many downtown streets are one-way; a detailed map is a necessity. The main streets into downtown are Woodward Avenue (north- south) and Jefferson Avenue (east-west). Starting on foot from the riverside Renaissance Centre, downtown, you can move outward to east Detroit, with its burgeoning Rivertown neighbourhood, and then on to the northwest side, the cultural heart of the city. Detroit's elevated monorail, the People Mover, traces a 3-mile circuit around the downtown area; trains stop at 13 stations at approximately 3-minute intervals. Minnesota: Minneapolis/St. Paul Minneapolis and St. Paul Overview Drawing comparisons between Minneapolis and St. Paul is a difficult task. St. Paul has a slightly reserved, antique feel about it; Minneapolis is hipper, noisier, and busier. Both cities have tall, gleaming glass skylines; St. Paul's is designed to blend with the city's Art Deco and Victorian architecture, while Minneapolis's is more eclectic. St. Paul has preserved much of its architectural heritage, while most of downtown Minneapolis is new. Both cities straddle the Mississippi River, and riverboat traffic calls at the Twin Cities from as far away as New Orleans. There are 2.4 million people in the Greater Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, but Minneapolis wins the population race with 368,400. The strong Scandinavian strain in the cities' ancestry has not prevented them from constructing miles-long skyway systems. Residents can drive downtown, park, walk to work, go to lunch, shop, see a show, and return to their cars without once setting foot outdoors -- a blessing in the blustery Minnesota winters. Sights & Activities Downtown Minneapolis is easily walkable in any season. The area is home to many fine stores, more than 30 theatres, two world-class art museums, and three professional sports teams. Much of downtown, including the Nicollet Mall, a mile-long pedestrian mall, is connected by a system of covered second-story skyways, which helps keep the city running even on the coldest days. With an average temperature of 18°F in December, 12°F in January, and 18°F again in February in these parts, the opportunity to stay indoors can be a definite plus. (In general, skyways remain open during the business hours of the buildings they connect.) Many sights you'll want to visit are beyond downtown Minneapolis, however, so wheels are necessary. Downtown St. Paul, like its twin 8 miles west, is also easily explored on foot thanks to its all- weather, climate-controlled skyway system. The city's architectural landmarks include bridges that span the Mississippi River, grand mansions from the fur-trading days, and the majestic Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul. Both cities are laid out on a grid, with streets running north-south and east-west. However, many downtown Minneapolis streets parallel the Mississippi and run on a diagonal, and not all streets cross the river. Missouri: Kansas City St. Louis Kansas City Overview Kansas City bills itself as the "Heart of America." Within 250 mi of both the geographic and population centres of the nation, the city is famous for its stockyards, saxophone player Charlie "Bird" Parker and his Kansas City-style bebop, and some of the best barbecue in the world. The city has more boulevards than Paris and more working fountains (200) than any city but Rome. A fountain of some sort is incorporated into the design of nearly every commercial building, giving Kansas City its second nickname: "The City of Fountains." Established as a fur trading post in 1821, Kansas City played a major role in American history as a gateway for pioneers heading west along the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe trails. In the mid-1800s, settlers, missionaries, and traders began their overland journeys here or from nearby Independence and Westport. Several Civil War battles were fought here, and the 33rd president of the United States, Harry S Truman, began his political career here. Jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington played in the nightclubs of the 18th and Vine District, Walt Disney first sketched Mickey Mouse in a Kansas City garage, and Joyce Hall (cofounder of Hallmark Cards) made his first greeting card here. Vibrant and diverse, Kansas City maintains a healthy mix of art and agriculture, sports and technology, cowboys and haute couture. Sights & Activities Attractions are scattered throughout the metropolitan Kansas City region, making a car important for travellers. St. Louis Overview St. Louis was settled by New Orleans fur trader Pierre Laclède in 1764 at the junction of the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. This location proved ideal as St. Louis quickly surpassed its downstream neighbour, Ste. Genevieve, in growth. Indeed, by 1860 its population grew to more than 160,000. St. Louis is known as the Gateway to the West. Certainly that was true for Lewis and Clark: it was here that they stopped for provisions while on their famous expedition. And in the years that followed, the city became a manufacturing centre for wagons, guns, blankets, saddles, and everything the pioneer would need on a journey west. Because of its size and location, St. Louis became a centre for government offices and financial trade. The 1904 World's Fair brought increasing growth and diversification to the St. Louis marketplace. The Roman Catholic Church dominated the religious life of early St. Louis, and it remains a powerful voice in the religious, social, and political debates of both city and state. The city's educational institutions, including Washington University and St. Louis University, are global leaders in scientific and social research. Forest Park's Muny Opera is the largest open-air theatre in the nation, and the St. Louis Art Museum is known throughout the world. St. Louis is indisputably a baseball town. Since the St. Louis Browns placed first in the major leagues in 1885, and the Cardinals won their first World Series title in 1926, fanatic love of the sport has been a way of life for many. Other sports come and go, but St. Louisans remain loyal to baseball. Sights & Activities St. Louis has three major neighbourhoods. The Hill is known for its good restaurants -- mostly Italian -- and simple Old-World charm. The neighbourhood is bounded by Hampton Avenue on the west and Kingshighway on the east, south of Interstate 44. You'll know when you've reached the Hill because the fireplugs are painted green, white, and red: the colours of the Italian flag. Baseball legends Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up playing stickball on these streets, but today you are more likely to see a game of boccie -- Italian lawn bowling -- played at local pubs. Soulard is a French neighbourhood, bounded by the Mississippi River to the east and Interstate 55 to the north and west. There are many reasons to come to Soulard, including the Bastille Day celebrations and Mardi Gras, but since 1779, St. Louisans have been coming here for the fresh produce, baked goods, and exotic spices offered Wednesday through Saturday at Soulard Market. The Central West End, between Forest Park and Page Avenue, is a chic neighbourhood filled with trendy boutiques, cozy sidewalk cafés, and numerous galleries. Many of the early 20th- century homes are on display during the annual Greek Festival, held during Labour Day weekend. St. Louisans often stop here after work for a drink or dinner, but the Cathedral of Saint Louis and the collection of mosaic art inside are worth a visit as well. Downtown sights can be explored on foot. To visit other parts of town you'll need a car. Montana: Glacier NP Glacier NP & Northwestern Montana Overview Northwest Montana's seemingly endless mountain ranges shimmer under the Big Sky, reflecting the state's motto, Oro y Plata (gold and silver). When the Lewis and Clark expedition travelled through the region, they found lush forests surrounding glaciated valleys teeming with wildlife. Not much has changed today, as you can see in 1.2-million-acre Glacier National Park. At the top of any northwest Montana must-see list, Glacier remains open year- round. You'll have the most company in summer, when people come to drive the jaw- dropping Going-to-the-Sun Road, but winter has undeniable charms. The park's cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails lead to turquoise waterfalls and cedar forests where, if you're lucky, you just might hear the howling of wolves. The massive peaks of the Continental Divide are the backbone of Glacier National Park and its sister across the border, Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park. These parks embody the essence of the Rocky Mountains. Coniferous forests, thickly vegetated creek bottoms, and green-carpeted meadows and basins provide homes for all kinds of wildlife. Melting snow and alpine glaciers yield streaming ribbons of clear, frigid water, the headwaters of rivers that flow west to the Pacific Ocean, north to the Arctic, and southeast to the Atlantic via the Gulf of Mexico. In the backcountry you can see some of the Rockies' oldest geological formations and numerous rare species of mammals, plants, and birds. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, which snakes through the precipitous centre of Glacier, is one of the most dizzying rides on the continent. In the rocky northwest corner of America's fourth-largest state, Glacier encompasses more than 1 million acres (1,563 square mi) of untrammeled wilds. It came into being under the aegis of President William Howard Taft in 1910. Great Northern Railway baron Louis Hill's "See America First" campaign drew wealthy Easterners to the new park, where he'd built lodges, chalets, roads, and trails, many of which are still in use today. Along the 720 mi of trails are 37 named glaciers, 200 lakes, and 1,000 mi of streams. Neighbouring Waterton Lakes National Park, across the border in Alberta, Canada, covers another 130,000 acres. In 1932, the parks were symbolically unified to form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in recognition of the two nations' friendship and dedication to peace. Both parks continue to be maintained by their respective park services. Beyond Glacier stretch 2.7 million acres of northern Rockies wilderness, most of it roadless but some of it visible along impossibly scenic drives. Accessible lands offer stellar bird- watching, fishing, golfing, bicycling, and skiing (both downhill and cross-country). Hiking trails lace mountains and meadows, cross streams, and skirt lakes all over northwest Montana. In the 200 years since Lewis and Clark passed through, Montana's population has grown to 902,000, and much of it has concentrated in the Bitterroot, Missoula, Mission, and Flathead valleys of the northwest. The largest city in the area, with a population of approximately 57,000, Missoula is a business and shopping centre and home to the University of Montana, as well as to many arts and cultural attractions. In and between friendly towns such as Hamilton, Stevensville, Kalispell, Polson, and Whitefish are well-preserved historical sites and small yet resourceful museums; entertainment includes everything from local theatre to Native American festivals. Civilization, however, perches on the edge of seemingly endless wilderness: visit this part of the world for its wildlife, its water, and its pristine lands. Sights & Activities Overview Rivers, streams, lakes, and mountains dominate landscapes here and attract boaters, fly fishers, and outdoor adventurers. Once here, they discover playhouses, art galleries, and summer festivals and rodeos. In winter, visitors seek out northwest Montana's seven ski areas and scores of miles of cross-country ski trails. Spring and fall, the quiet seasons, are blessed with temperate weather, open tee times, and frequent wildlife sightings. Motorized access to Glacier National Park is limited, but the few roads can take you through a range of settings -- from densely forested lowlands to craggy heights. Going-to-the-Sun Road is the main thoroughfare, snaking through the precipitous centre of the park. Beginning in 2007, the Federal Highway Administration and the park are embarking upon a multiyear alpine road rehabilitation. The narrow, curving highway, built from 1922 to 1932, will undergo structural repair. While work is underway, a shuttle system will allow access for visitors. Until then and undoubtedly after construction is complete, vehicles more than 21 feet long and 8 feet wide (including mirrors) are not allowed to drive over Logan Pass -- a restriction that is enforced at checkpoints at the east and west entrances. Touring cars can take you over the Going-to-the-Sun Road while a driver interprets. Shuttle services will drop off and pick up hikers -- useful, since parking at many trailheads is limited. Note that extreme weather conditions occasionally prompt short-term closures of the alpine section of Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can check online or by calling the park service for the most up-to-date road report. Most development and services are concentrated around St. Mary Lake, on the east side of the park, and Lake McDonald, on the west side. Other islands of development occur in Many Glacier, in the northeastern part of the park; Logan Pass Visitor Centre; Apgar Village; and West Glacier. Remember that weather in the mountains can change quickly; snow can fall even in August. Be prepared with extra layers, a hat, and rain gear. If you intend to travel to Canada, be sure that everyone in your vehicle has proper identification. A U.S. driver's license will do for adults; kids travelling with one parent need a notarized letter from the other parent giving permission to enter Canada. If you are travelling with pets, you need proof of immunizations to cross the border into Canada. Nevada: Lake Tahoe Las Vegas Lake Tahoe Overview Stunning cobalt-blue Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, famous for its clarity, deep blue water, and surrounding snowcapped peaks. Straddling the state line between California and Nevada, it lies 6,225 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada. The border gives this popular resort region a split personality. About half its visitors are intent on low-key sightseeing, hiking, fishing, camping, and boating. The rest head directly for the Nevada side, where bargain dining, big-name entertainment, and the lure of a jackpot draw them into the glittering casinos. Though Lake Tahoe possesses abundant natural beauty and accessible wilderness, nearby towns are highly developed, and roads around the lake are often congested with traffic. Those who prefer solitude can escape to the many state parks, national forests, and protected tracts of wilderness that ring the 22-mi-long, 12-mi-wide lake. At a vantage point overlooking Emerald Bay, on a trail in the national forests that ring the basin, or on a sunset cruise on the lake itself, you can forget the hordes and the commercial development. You can even pretend that you're Mark Twain, who found "not fifteen other human beings throughout its wide circumference" when he visited the lake in 1861 and wrote that "the eye never tired of gazing, night or day, calm or storm." Best in 3 to 5 Days It takes only one day to "see" Lake Tahoe -- to drive around the lake, stretch your legs at a few overlooks, take a nature walk, and wander among the casinos at Stateline. But if you have more time, you can laze on a beach and swim, venture onto the lake or into the mountains, and sample Tahoe's finer restaurants. If you have five days, you may become so attached to Tahoe that you begin visiting real-estate agents. If You Have 3 Days On your first day stop in South Lake Tahoe and pick up provisions for a picnic lunch. Start in Pope-Baldwin Recreation Area and check out Tallac Historic Site. Head west on Highway 89, stopping at the Lake Tahoe Visitor Center and the Emerald Bay State Park lookout. Have a tailgate picnic at the lookout, or hike down to Vikingsholm, a reproduction of a Viking castle. In the late afternoon explore the trails and mansion at Sugar Pine Point State Park; then backtrack on Highway 89 and U.S. 50 for dinner in Stateline or in South Lake Tahoe. On Day 2 cruise on the Tahoe Queen out of South Lake Tahoe or the MS Dixie II out of Zephyr Cove and then ride the Heavenly Gondola at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe. Carry a picnic for lunch high above the lake, and (except in snow season) take a walk on one of Heavenly's nature trails. You can try your luck at the Stateline casinos before dinner. Start your third day by heading north on U.S. 50, stopping at Cave Rock and (after turning north on Highway 28) at Sand Harbour Beach. If there's no snow on the ground, tour the Thunderbird Lodge (reservations essential) for a glimpse of life at an old-Tahoe estate just south of Incline Village, or else continue on to Crystal Bay. If you have time, drive to Tahoe City to see the Gatekeeper's Cabin Museum, or make the 45-minute drive down to Reno for dinner and some nightlife. If You Have 5 Days Spend your first morning at Pope-Baldwin Recreation Area. After a picnic lunch head to the Lake Tahoe Visitor Centre and the Emerald Bay State Park lookout. Hike to Vikingsholm or move on to Sugar Pine Point State Park. Have dinner in South Lake Tahoe. On your second day take a cruise to Emerald Bay or a half-day cruise around the lake; back on land, ride the Heavenly Gondola, and possibly take a hike. Spend the late afternoon or early evening sampling the worldly pleasures of the Stateline casinos. On Day 3 visit Cave Rock, and the Thunderbird Lodge (reservations essential) just south of Incline Village, where you can have a late lunch before heading to Crystal Bay and playing the slots, or to nearby Kings Beach State Recreation Area, where you can spend the late afternoon on the beach. That evening, drive down to Reno for dinner and entertainment. On your fourth day hang out at Sand Harbour Beach. If the high-mountain desert appeals, spend Day 5 in the Great Basin, touring Carson City and Virginia City and the vast expanse of the eastern Sierra. Alternatively, head to D. L. Bliss State Park for a hike; then drive to Tahoe City for lunch and a tour of the Gatekeeper's Cabin Museum. Afterward, visit Olympic Valley and ride the cable car to High Camp at Squaw Valley for a sunset cocktail. Las Vegas Overview If you're a fan of gaming, Las Vegas has gone from already fabulous to simply stellar. But what's truly wonderful about this city is that it's actually developed into an amazingly well rounded destination. As recently as the 1990s, the culinary landscape struggled along with bland buffets and unintentionally kitsch steak houses -- now Las Vegas is one of the most exciting dining cities in the world. The variety of dazzling, outlandish shows and super- exclusive nightclubs continues to increase. If the city hasn't exactly become a major cultural hub, there's still enough to see and do both on and off the Strip to keep you busy for days, from helicopter tour excursions to the Grand Canyon and hiking trips to Mt. Charleston to tours of wild-animal habitats and hair-raising thrill rides at many of the Strip's outrageously themed casinos. Top 11 Attractions Spectacular Spectaculars 1. Will it be strange, cavorting Blue Men, or a sophisticated Cirque du Soleil acrobatic extravaganza? An afternoon comedy show, or Broadway light (90-minute cut-downs of East Coast favourites)? A classic feather revue, or nouveau burlesque? Maybe you're just in the mood for a plain-old lounge show. Vegas has all the over-the-top razzle-dazzle you could ever hope for. Gut-busting Buffets 2. Buffets in Las Vegas -- those tributes to extravagance and excess -- are an event in and of themselves. There are still plenty of cheapies-but-goodies around, especially if you're willing to cast farther afield and explore some of the local casinos. But now that the city's become renowned as a gourmet food place, those ubiquitous buffets have followed suit. Loosen those belts, and get ready to pig out. Rolling the Dice 3. Never mind those buffets, swimming pools, spas, traffic jams, dancing girls (and boys, and water), wedding chapels, circus acts, and cavorting sea life. It's Vegas, baby, and you're here to gamble. The Corner of Flamingo Road and the Strip 4. The Corner of Flamingo Road and the Strip. Casino-hopping is the best all-around way to explore this colourful, fanciful city, and the junction of Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard puts you right in the centre of the action. Within a short walk are the Bellagio, with its dramatic fountains, gardens, and art museum; Paris, with its half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower; and the Roman-theme Caesars Palace. It's just a fairly easy walk north to reach some of the Strip's other must-sees, including the Venetian and Wynn Las Vegas. Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat 5. Of the handful of intriguing up-close animal encounters in Vegas, this lushly landscaped enclosure displays creatures you'll see together in few places on the planet, from snow leopards to white tigers. Watching the eight bottle-nosed dolphins cavort about 2.5-million gallons of water is great fun, too. The Stratosphere Thrill Rides 6. If you're an adrenaline fiend, you can't miss the incredibly scary (and fun) rides perched atop the 112-floor Stratosphere Tower. The Big Shot fires you 160 feet up the Stratosphere needle, and both the X Scream and Insanity dangle you over the edge of the Stratosphere tower. These aren't for the faint of heart. The Studio Walk at MGM Grand 7. In a city that continues to dazzle foodies with its dozens of celebrity-helmed restaurants, this indoor promenade at MGM Grand has become arguably America's most impressive "Restaurant Row." Bring your appetite (and your charge cards) and eat your heart out at such culinary shrines as Joël Robuchon, Nobhill, Emeril's, Diego's, and Shibuya -- to name but a few. Forum Shops at Caesars 8. Opened in 1992, this chichi shopping and dining mall modelled after a Roman streetscape forever changed the retail and culinary scene in Vegas. In addition to stellar restaurants like BOA Steakhouse and Spago, this snazzy space contains dozens of fine stores, including Gucci, Fendi, Dolce & Gabbana, and Bulgari. Legendary Nightlife 9. Skyhigh bars. Burlesque. Wild dance clubs. Sophisticated lounges. Strip clubs. Beefy man shows. You can't go to Vegas and not at least check out the spectacle. So pick your scene, grab a martini, and join the 24-hour party. Over-the-Top Pools 10. The tanning booth is now a ubiquitous feature in the any-town strip mall, but it still can't compare with the old-fashioned poolside sun-soak -- especially if that soak is in Las Vegas, land of toned bodies, cocktails, cabanas, swaying palms, man-made sandy beaches, and swim-up blackjack. Hoover Dam 11. If you have time for just one trip outside of town, make it to this spectacular structure created during the 1930s -- it's considered one of the seven wonders of the industrial world. Rising 726 feet above the Colorado River, the dam affords tremendous views, and tours of it are available. You can combine a trip here with a tour of the nearby body of water that the dam created, Lake Mead. New Hampshire: White Mountains White Mountains Overview Sailors approaching East Coast harbours frequently mistake the pale peaks of the White Mountains -- the highest range in the northeastern United States -- for clouds. It was 1642 when explorer Darby Field could no longer contain his curiosity about one mountain in particular. He set off from his Exeter homestead and became the first man to climb what would eventually be called Mt. Washington. The 6,288-ft peak must have presented Field with formidable obstacles -- its peak claims the highest wind velocity ever recorded and it can see snow every month of the year. More than 350 years after Field's climb, curiosity about the mountains has not abated. Today, an auto road and a railway lead to the top of Mt. Washington, and people come here by the tens of thousands to hike and climb, to photograph the vistas, and to ski. The White Mountain National Forest consists of roughly 770,000 acres and includes the Presidential Range, whose peaks -- like Mt. Washington -- are all named after early presidents. Among the forest's scenic notches (deep mountain passes) are Pinkham, Franconia, and Crawford. This tour begins in Waterville Valley, off I-93, and continues to North Woodstock. It then follows portions of the White Mountains Trail, a 100-mi loop designated as a National Scenic & Cultural Byway. Best in a Day Itinerary Start early from Conway, with breakfast behind you and a picnic lunch in tow, heading north on Route 16; to avoid the congestion caused by the popular outlet stores, take a left off Route 16 onto West Side Road, which runs parallel to the more frenetic route through town. About 4 miles north, turn left for the 1-mile drive up to Cathedral Ledge and a rewarding view of the valley below. Then head east to Route 16 and make a left, heading north. Short side trips to the towns of Interval, Bartlett, and Jackson will provide a more endearing version of small-town New Hampshire than does North Conway. Continue north on Route 16 into Pinkham Notch and the heart of the White Mountains' Presidential Range. The Appalachian Mountain Club headquarters and visitor centre here will help get you oriented. If you are interested in a hike, this is the place to ask for suggestions. After spending some time in Pinkham Notch, head north to Gorham and turn left on Route 2. Fourteen miles to the west in Jefferson, turn left on Route 115 for a cut-through to Route 302 in Twin Mountain and an easterly turn to Bretton Woods and Crawford Notch State Park. Or better yet, in Jefferson, take the more adventurous Jefferson Notch Road south between Mt. Dartmouth and Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson into Bretton Woods and then Route 302 into Crawford Notch. This serene valley is a good place to break out the picnic lunch and to enjoy a short hike afterward. Backtrack northwest on Route 302, bearing left onto Route 3 south in Twin Mountain for the 10-mile drive into Franconia Notch State Park, where you might take a dip in Echo Lake. Or consider making a detour via Route 18 to the village of Franconia, renting a bicycle, and spending the afternoon riding the 9-mile bike path that slices through the notch. New Jersey: The Shore with Atlantic City New Jersey Shore with Atlantic City Overview The Jersey Shore is 127 miles of public beachfront stretching like a pointing finger along the Atlantic Ocean from the Sandy Hook Peninsula in the north to Cape May at the southern tip. There is no one description of what it's like "down the shore." Things change town by town and sometimes season by season -- winter storms have a habit of rearranging beaches and boardwalks. Some shore towns, such as Wildwood, are party hot spots with all-out amusement piers; others, such as Ocean Grove, which was originally a Methodist camp meeting ground, Spring Lake, and Cape May, are more sedate Victorian enclaves. Atlantic City has its glitzy casinos. In the warmer months, locals and visitors also enjoy nature walks at the ecologically protected Island Beach State Park; the beaches, rides, and attractions at Six Flags Great Adventure Theme Park and Safari in Jackson; and performances at the PNC Bank Arts Centre in Holmdel. Sights & Activities The northern part of New Jersey's shore comprises Monmouth and Ocean counties. There are close to three dozen beaches here, among them the Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area, where you can mix history with your nature walks and sunning. Many of the state's 23 lighthouses are here, including the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. Farther south are Atlantic and Cape May counties. Atlantic City itself, roughly two-thirds of the way down the coast, has been a gambling mecca since its first casino, Resorts Casino Hotel, opened in May 1978; now there are 13 casino-hotels and more in the planning stages. Although most visitors have traditionally been day-trippers from around the area, Atlantic City developers are broadening their scope, with a world-class convention-centre complex, better boardwalk attractions, and a citywide revitalization project. South of Atlantic City is Ocean City, which has a 2½-mile boardwalk of rides, food, and fun; the Ocean City Music Pier; more than 200 holes of miniature golf; unique shops; and parades and festivals throughout the year. A bit farther south, the shores of Sea Isle City, Avalon, and Stone Harbour offer wide, pristine beaches and wetlands for bird-watching. Wildwood is known for its four amusement piers and wonderful, wide, 3-mile beach. At the very end of the shore is the classic Victorian town of Cape May, itself a National Historic Landmark featuring 600 restored Victorian homes. Activities along the shore include saltwater fishing from the pier, bridge, dock, or boat (licenses not required); all kinds of water sports; bird-, whale-, and dolphin-watching; and bicycling or strolling on the ubiquitous wood-plank or concrete boardwalks. Windsurfing is especially good in the calm waters of the open bays. New Mexico: Albuquerque Santa Fe Taos Albuquerque Overview At first glance, Albuquerque appears to be a typical Sun Belt city, stretching out more than 100 square mi with no grand design, architectural or otherwise, to hold it together. The city's growth pattern seems as free-spirited as all those hot-air balloons that take part in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta every October. With a bit of exploration, however, this initial impression of an asphalt maze softens as you get a sense of Albuquerque's distinctive neighbourhoods. The charms of Albuquerque may not jump out to greet you, but the blend of Spanish, Mexican, Native American, Anglo, and Asian influences makes this a vibrant multicultural metropolis well worth exploring. In fact, the city's most distinctive components -- first-rate museums and performing arts venues; well-preserved Spanish- colonial, Victorian, and art deco architecture; both sophisticated and funky restaurants and B&Bs; and offbeat shops and galleries -- measure up to those you'd find in most U.S. cities this size. You just have to persevere beyond the suburban sprawl and strip-mall excess to find all the good stuff. Great Itineraries Most visitors to Albuquerque combine a stay here with some explorations of the entire northern Rio Grande Valley. If you're looking for the perfect regional tour, combine either of the short Albuquerque itineraries here with those provided in the Side Trips from the Cities chapter, which covers several great areas within a 60- to 90-minute drive of Albuquerque as well as covering Isleta Pueblo and the towns of Corrales and Bernalillo, just on the outskirts of Albuquerque. If You Have 1 Day One of the best places to kick off the day is the Gold Street Caffe, where you can enjoy breakfast in the heart of downtown before checking out the shops and galleries on Gold and Central avenues. From here, it's a short drive or 30-minute walk west along Central to reach Old Town, where you can explore the shops and museums of the neighbourhood. Definitely be sure to check out the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, and also try to make your way over to the Albuquerque Biological Park, which contains the aquarium, zoo, and botanic park. For lunch, try the atmospheric Monica's or the sophisticated St. Clair Winery and Bistro, both near the Old Town centre. Later in the afternoon, you'll need a car to head east a couple of miles along Central to reach the University of New Mexico's main campus and the nearby Nob Hill District. Start with a stroll around the UNM campus with its many historic adobe buildings; if you have time, pop inside either the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology or the University Art Museum. When you're finished here, walk east along Central into Nob Hill and check out the dozens of offbeat shops. If it's summer, meaning that you still have some time before the sun sets, it's worth detouring from Old Town to Far Northeast Heights (a 15-minute drive), where you can take the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway 2.7 mi up to Sandia Peak for spectacular sunset views of the city. Either way, plan to have dinner back in Nob Hill, perhaps at Graze or Flying Star. If you're still up for more fun, check out one of the neighbourhood's lively lounges or head back downtown for a bit of late-night barhopping. If You Have 3 Days Follow the morning portion of the one-day itinerary above, and then spend the rest of your day exploring Old Town. With the extra time, you can hit the innovative Explora Science Centre, the small but fascinating American International Rattlesnake Museum, and the National Hispanic Cultural Centre of New Mexico, which is a 10-minute drive away on the southern edge of downtown. At the end of the day, head to one of the trendy, relative new restaurants that have sprung up in the revitalized downtown, such as Slate Street Cafe or Standard Diner. On your second day, rent a car and drive out to see the more than 25,000 ancient Native American rock drawings at Petroglyph National Monument. From here, follow Coors Boulevard up to Paseo del Norte, heading east to Balloon Fiesta Park, home to the fascinating Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. From here, hop on I-25 north for one exit, getting off onto Tramway Road, which leads east into the foothills to Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. Here, take the tram 2.7 mi up to Sandia Peak for spectacular views of the city. You can grab lunch up here at High Finance Restaurant, and then walk off your meal with a hike along the crest of the mountain. Depending on how much time you spend on the mountain hiking and exploring and also how exhausted you are, you might either head back to your accommodation to rest a while or drive directly back down Tramway to Sandia Resort & Casino to test your luck on the slots and tables. Either way, when it is time for dinner, head to Bien Shur, the superb restaurant on Sandia Resort's rooftop, where you can first sip cocktails in the open-air lounge while admiring the view of the city before sampling some of the best contemporary food around in the adjacent restaurant. On your final day, spend the morning checking out the museums at the University of New Mexico, and then enjoy a leisurely afternoon exploring Nob Hill, as described in the one-day itinerary above. If you have some extra time, consider driving north of Old Town to Rio Grande Nature Centre State Park, in the North Valley, and then perhaps continue north up Rio Grande Boulevard for some wine-touring at Anderson Valley Vineyards and Casa Rondena Winery. It's not far from here to such appealing dinner options as Casa de Benavidez for great New Mexican fare or Cafe Voila for urbane French bistro cuisine. Santa Fe Overview With its crisp, clear air and bright, sunny weather, Santa Fe couldn't be more welcoming. On a plateau at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains -- at an elevation of 7,000 feet -- the city is surrounded by remnants of a 2,000-year-old Pueblo civilization and filled with reminders of almost four centuries of Spanish and Mexican rule. The town's placid central Plaza, which dates from the early 17th century, has been the site of bullfights, public floggings, gunfights, battles, political rallies, promenades, and public markets over the years. A one-of-a-kind destination, Santa Fe is fabled for its rows of chic art galleries, superb restaurants, and shops selling Southwestern furnishings and cowboy gear. Great Itineraries Unless you're in Santa Fe for just a few days, you're probably going to explore the rest of the northern Rio Grande Valley. For the best tour, combine either of these itineraries with those in the Albuquerque, Taos, and Side Trips chapters; the latter includes several side trips within a 60- to 90-minute drive of Santa Fe. If You Have 1 Day Breakfast in Santa Fe is a social tradition, so consider heading to one of the city's best breakfast spots, such as Cloud Cliff Bakery or Bagelmania. Drive to Museum Hill, spending the morning checking out the area's two best art collections, the Museum of International Folk Art and Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. Return to the Plaza for lunch at the Plaza Café or, nearby, Santacafé. Stroll around the Plaza area, taking in the shops and galleries, and if you'd like, drop by the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum or Museum of Fine Arts. By later afternoon, saunter east from the Plaza along San Francisco Street, admiring St. Francis Cathedral Basilica; bear right to Alameda Street, turn left and continue to Paseo de Peralta, and then quickly turn right and then left onto Canyon Road to stroll into the leafy foothills. You pass dozens of galleries, several of which stay open into early evening. Finish with a meal at one of the restaurants midway up Canyon Road. If You Have 3 Days Follow the one-day itinerary's morning portion, but allow time to visit another museum on Museum Hill, either the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture or Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. Spend the afternoon ambling about the Plaza area, saving additional museum explorations for your last day. On your second day, plan to walk a bit. Head east from the Plaza up to Canyon Road's foot, perusing the galleries. Have lunch at one of the restaurants midway uphill, such as Sol or El Farol. From here, you can either continue walking 2 mi up Canyon, and then Upper Canyon, roads to the Randall Davey Audubon Centre, or you can take a cab there. Alternatively, you could drive from the start, first parking near Canyon Road to check out the galleries (there's a pay lot across from El Farol), then parking at the centre. Either way, once you're at the centre, you can hike the foothills -- there are trails within the centre's property and also from the free parking area (off Cerro Gordo Road) leading into the Dale Ball Trail Network. There may be late-afternoon summer thunderstorms and lightning, so check the forecast before you go, and bring at least a litter of water per person, even for a short stroll. On your final day, spend the morning at the O'Keeffe or Fine Arts museums near the Plaza, and at the Palace of the Governors. In the afternoon, head a few blocks southwest of the Plaza, crossing Alameda Street, and stroll through the Guadalupe District, which abounds with funky design and furniture shops and galleries. End your explorations with a margarita on the patio of the festive Cowgirl restaurant, which has live music most nights. Taos Overview Taos casts a lingering spell. Set on a rolling mesa at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, it's a place of piercing light and spectacular views, where the desert palette changes almost hourly as the sun moves across the sky. Adobe buildings -- some of them centuries old -- lie nestled amid pine trees and scrub, some in the shadow of majestic Taos Mountain. The smell of piñon wood smoke rises from the valley in winter; in spring and summer, it gives way to fragrant sage. Great Itineraries If You Have 1 Day Begin by strolling around Taos Plaza, taking in the galleries and Native American crafts shops. Take Ledoux Street south from the west Plaza and go two blocks to visit the Harwood Museum. Walk back to the Plaza and cross over to Kit Carson Road, where you can find more shops and galleries as well as the Kit Carson Home and Museum. Continue north on Paseo del Pueblo to the Taos Art Museum at the Fechin House. In the afternoon, get in the car and head north on Paseo del Pueblo to the traffic light, where you turn left on U.S. 64. to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. If you're feeling peppy, you can climb down to the river, or just gaze down into the breathtaking chasm from the bridge. Return the way you came, turning right at the light, and drive the short distance to Millicent Rogers Road. Turn right and proceed to the Millicent Rogers Museum, where you can easily spend the rest of the afternoon. If you're in town for the evening, stop in at the Adobe Bar at the Taos Inn for music and people- watching. If You Have 2 Days Spend the first day doing the one-day tour above. On the second day, drive out to the Taos Pueblo in the morning and tour the ancient village while the day is fresh. Return to town and go to the Blumenschein Home and Museum. Lunch at the nearby Dragonfly Café. After lunch drive out to La Hacienda de los Martinez for a look at early life in Taos and then to Ranchos de Taos to see the beautiful San Francisco de Asís Church. If it's dinnertime, eat at Joseph's Table or the Trading Post Café. If it's still early, drive back to town and browse in the shops on Bent Street and the adjacent John Dunn House Shops. New York: New York City Hamptons & Montauk New York Overview New York is, above all, a walker's city. Along its busy streets, an endless variety of sights unfolds everywhere you go, and the character of its neighbourhoods changes every few blocks. Quaint town houses stand shoulder to shoulder with sleek glass towers, gleaming gourmet supermarkets sit around the corner from dusty thrift shops, and chic bistros inhabit the storefronts of soot-smudged warehouses. Many visitors, beguiled into walking a little farther, then a little farther still, often have stumbled upon their trip's most memorable moments. If you plod dutifully from point to point, nose buried in a guidebook, you'll miss half the fun. Look up at the tops of skyscrapers, and you'll see a riot of mosaics, carvings, and ornaments. Step into the lobby of an architectural landmark and study its features; take a look around to see the real people who work, live, or worship there today. Peep down side streets, even in crowded midtown, and you may find fountains, greenery, and sudden bursts of flowers. Find a bench or ledge on which to perch and take time just to watch the crowd passing by. New York has so many faces that every visitor can discover a different one. Five Great New York City Itineraries New York Icons Begin a day dedicated to New York icons with a bird's-eye view atop the Empire State Building. Stroll up 5th Avenue past the leonine guardians of the New York Public Library and step inside to behold the gleaming Main Reading Room. Forty-second Street takes you east to the Beaux-Arts Grand Central Terminal, a hub of frenetic activity and architectural wonder. Move on to the Chrysler Building, an art deco stunner, and continue east to the United Nations. Make your way west across 49th Street to the triumvirate of Saks Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Centre, and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Shopping, ice-skating at the Rockefeller rink, or visiting a nearby museum could fill your day until dusk, a good time to walk south on 7th Avenue toward the bright lights of Times Square. Rush hour is a contact sport in Grand Central Terminal and Wednesday's foot traffic through Times Square can grind nearly to a standstill as audiences pour in and out of Broadway matinees. A Day in Little Italy & Chinatown Even though Little Italy no longer resembles its 19th-century heydey, when the are around Mulberry Street between Canal and Grand streets was flush with immigrants, the small enclave still resonates with flavour. Authentic grocers line Grand Street, where you can get fresh mozzarella and other cheese at Di Palo's (206 Grand) cheese and suasage shop or Alleva Dairy (188 Grand), hearty sandwiches at the Italian Food Centre (186 Grand), and fresh pasta at Piemonte Ravioli (190 Grand). It's worth stopping for an espresso and cannoli at Ferrar, at 195 Grand. If you must east pasta in Little Italy, now known for its generic red- sauce eateries, try Rocky's at 45 Spring. After your jaunt in Little Italy, head one block east of Mulberry to Mott Street, which has the highest concentration of restaurants and just about everything else, from dumpling shops to Southeast Asian grocers. While meandering around, if you smell a butter vanilla aroma wafting from a cart nearby, stop and buy a pack of fresh-cooked egg cakes. Chinatown's hub, Canal STreet, runs east-west, and is packed with street vendors hawking watches, toys, jewelry, and luggage. Branching off on side streets north and south of Canal are shops with everything from tchotchekes and Asian home furnishings to pungent fish and pork buns. Some of the most unlikely places serve the most soul-warming meals: steamed soup sumplings at Joe's Shanghai (9 Pell), Korean food at Li Hua (171 Grand), Hong Kong-style noodles at NY Noodle Town (28½ Bowery), and excellent seafood at Oriental Garden (14 Elizabeth) -- a place frequented by local chefs. Get some litchi or green-tea ice cream for dessert at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory at 65 Bayard, or sooth yourself with an after-dinner drink at Chinatown's hippes, swanky-kitsch hangouts: Double Happiness (173 Mott) or Happy Ending (302 Broome). Wander Around Do what many New Yorkers like to do on their days off -- wander. Make your way to Chinatown for a dim sum breakfast or tapioca-filled soft drink. From here head north to SoHo and NoLita for galleries and chic boutiques and restaurants. Farther east, the Lower East Side is a former immigrant enclave where you'll find the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and bargain shopping on Orchard Street. If you haven't eaten by now, hit a café a few blocks north in the happening East Village, home to yet more shops and vintage stores. From Union Square, walk up Broadway to the fashionable Flatiron District with its inimitable Flatiron Building. Have dinner in one of the neighbourhood's noted restaurants. A Day in Brooklyn For a breath of fresh air, take the 2 or 3 train to Park Slope's Grand Army Plaza or the Q to 7th Ave.-Flatbush. On Saturdays you'll exit the subway at Grand Army Plaza in the middle of a bustling farmer's market, with artinsanal produce and, in warmer weather, cooking demonstrations by Brooklyn chefs. Just east of the Olaza on Eastern Oarkway is the Beaux- Arts Brooklyn Museum, with a world-class collection from American art to Egyptian antiquities. Stroll around the halls for an hour, then venture east another block to the entrance of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, known for its shady wooded areas, more than 1,200 varieties of roses, and its idyllic Japanese garden and pond. After a few hours of wandering, your appetite should be kicking in: continue your stroll southward into the 585-acre Frederick Olmsted-designed Prospect Park, Brooklyn's recreational centre. Finally, head west through Prospect Park into Park Slope for some lunch. Brooklyn's top-tier neighbourhood has European-style mansions, wide leafy blocks, and elegant brownstone apartment houses. When you hit 7th Avenue, you'll find modish boutiques and scores of restaurants. The best of the bunch is Sette Enoteca, a casual but high-quality wine bar and restaurant at the corner of 7th Avenue and 3rd Street. Continue north along 7th Avenue for more restaurants and boutiques, then head back to Flatbush to catch the train to Manhattan. The Art Experience The Metropolitan, Guggenheim, and Whitney museums, the city's triumvirate of fine-art institutions, are good for years of browsing, but you can easily see all three in a day, with well- calculated snack stops and a respite in Central Park. Get a mellow, inspiring start at the Guggenheim, Frank Lloyd Rights' playfully inverted ziggurat, complete in 1959. It showcases serious and populist art, from Brancusi to Mathew Barney, on six gently sloping ramps; two annexes contain the permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings. Only a few steps south is the world-famous Metropolitan Museum. Don't attemp to see everything here -- choose a few exhibits or galleries, trek around a bit, then escape to Central Park, behind the museum, for a rest. For lunch, April through November, you can hit the Boathouse-72nd St., mid-park, and overlooking a lake. In winter, slip into any of the bistros, cafés, or sandwich shops lining Madison Avenue. Along Madison, try the rustic-chic Le Pain Quotidien at 83rd St, or E.A.T. Café at 81st, or, for picnic materials, Dean & Deluca at 85th. Once nourished, consider heading back into the Met to see a few more galleries, or head over to the galleries at the Whitney to see the lively collection of 20th-century American art -- from conceptual artists like Andrea Zittel to everyone's favourite, Edward Hopper. If you're still in an artsy mood, book a table at the eclectic Ureña or wd-50 for dinner. For traditional American nouveau cuisine, escape to Gotham or Gramercy Tavern, both local (and visitor) favourites. Hamptons and Montauk Overview New York's Long Island is the largest island on America's East Coast -- 1,682 square miles total. It extends 120 miles eastward from New York City, traversed by the notoriously clogged Long Island Expressway (LIE, or I-495) and encompassing two New York City boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens), congested commuter towns, the farmland of the North Fork, and the world-famous summer resorts of the Hamptons and Montauk on the South Fork. The seaside villages of the Hamptons, some dating from the 1600s, stretch west to east from Westhampton Beach to Amagansett; at the tip is the fishing community of Montauk. Both locals and the omnipresent rich and famous summer here, and they all come for what's possibly the nation's finest stretch of white-sand beach. Rolling farmland and vineyards, spectacular mansions and ranches, and blue skies and sunshine add to the allure. One could say that the "Hampton mystique" began in Westhampton Beach. In 1870, residents began renting out rooms to travellers who reached the area on the newly constructed Long Island Railroad. Soon the practice spread and it was not long before the Hamptons had become a resort area of renown. Today the Hamptons are full-blown summer resorts, drawing vacationers, summer-home owners, and twentysomething "summer share" renters out east by the carload between Memorial and Labour days. Just east of Westhampton Beach, Quogue and East Quogue are considered part of the Greater Westhampton area. Quogue's stately Victorians are nestled along tree-lined streets, and contemporary mansions line the ocean along Dune Road. In East Quogue, acres of farmland and pine forest, as well as beautiful bay and ocean beaches, are enlivened by Main Street shopping and lively nightlife. The town of Southampton was established in 1640 by English colonists and was the first settlement in New York State. With its Historical Museum, Southampton has a decidedly Colonial feel, and its Job Lane's shopping district oozes chic. Windsurfers enjoy three bays: Peconic, Noyac, and Shinnecock (which is also a popular diving spot). The farming community of Water Mill is the nation's only community with a functional, working water mill and windmill. Elegant Bridgehampton, just east of Water Mill, has antiques shops, art galleries, and restaurants in which you can sip wine made from grapes grown in local vineyards. This is also horse country, and Bridgehampton is home to the prestigious annual Hampton Classic Horse Show and the Mercedes-Benz Polo Challenge. The pearl of the Hamptons, East Hampton was founded by farmers in 1648, and farming remained its main source of livelihood until the 1800s, when the town began to develop into a fashionable resort. East Hampton's considerable wealth and Puritan heritage now combine into a particularly understated prosperity, and much of the village remains as it was during the 18th century. Amagansett is a Native American word meaning "place of good water," and from its earliest beginnings, the town has possessed a tranquillity that is perfectly suited to fishing and offshore whaling. At the easternmost part of the island, Montauk doesn't put on any airs, with its seaside hotels, thriving fishing and boating community, and surfer-studded beaches. The Montauk Point Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in the state and the fourth oldest in the country. The North Fork, across the Great Peconic Bay from the Hamptons and the South Fork, is best known for its quiet villages, bountiful farm stands, and burgeoning wine industry. New England-style hamlets such as Jamesport, Cutchogue, and Southold are peppered with unpretentious restaurants and interestings shops that seems transported from another era. Clean, uncrowded beaches lie to the south on Great Peconic Bay and to the north on Long Island Sound. Shelter Island lies between Long Island's North and South forks. Reachable only by boat (there's regular ferry service), the 11½-square-mi island offers at least a partial escape from the summer traffic and crowd snarls of the Hamptons. Quiet country lanes wind across the island's rolling land, nearly a third of which has been set aside as a nature preserve that's a bird-watcher's delight. Sights & Activities A long stretch of road separates Montauk, on Long Island's eastern tip, from the Hamptons, and as you roll into the small seaside village you notice immediately that here is a place apart in other respects as well. Surrounded by water on three sides, Montauk is known for its distinct natural beauty. In summer the fragrance of warm honeysuckle and wild beach roses blends with the ocean air. The spectacular undeveloped beaches and parks attract surfers and hikers, and the waters are superb for fishing. Route 27, the main artery across the South Fork, is the quickest way to Montauk; for a more scenic ride, veer onto the hilly Old Montauk Highway, where each rise in the road affords a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean and is promptly followed by a sharp dip (known locally as a "tummy-taker"). Continue east past the village centre and you arrive at land's end, where the Montauk Lighthouse, commissioned by President George Washington in 1792 and the oldest operating lighthouse in the state, perches on a rocky bluff overlooking the sea. It's here, in the 724-acre Montauk Point State Park, surrounded by ocean and craggy coastline, that you find the finest surf casting, naturalist-led seal walks, the informative Montauk Point Lighthouse Museum, and a myriad of places to relax and contemplate the view. More than 50 hotels, inns, and guest houses, along with many top-notch restaurants and a sprinkling of shops, are concentrated in two distinct sections of Montauk -- the village center, including Old Montauk Highway, and the harbour area, reached by following either West Lake Drive or Edgemere Street to the end. Most lodgings and eateries here are family-friendly, and you can leave your heels and neckties at home. The harbour is home to the local fishing fleet as well as to dozens of party, charter, and whale-watching boats, available daily for hire. Take a stroll around the docks between 4 and 5 in the afternoon and you see fishing boats arriving with their catch of the day -- some of it bound for local restaurants. Between the harbour area and the village centre is Montauk Downs State Park, with one of the top public golf courses in the country. The park is off West Lake Drive, from which you have breathtaking views of Lake Montauk to the east and Gardiner's Island to the northwest. Just west of Montauk is Amagansett. Its name is a Native American word meaning "place of good water," and from its earliest beginnings, Amagansett's tranquil setting was perfectly suited to fishing and offshore whaling. If you choose to stay at a lodging property here and have a car, you can easily make forays into Montauk as well as East Hampton, a few miles west. North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway Chapel Hill Charlotte Durham Great Smoky Mountains NP North Carolina Coast Raleigh Blue Ridge Pkwy Overview The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile scenic corridor that runs through the southern Appalachian Mountains from Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. It has much in common with these parks -- notably motor-vehicle access to hiking, camping, and picnicking opportunities; cultural and historical attractions; and modern lodgings nestled in some of the most striking mountain scenery in the East. Conceived in 1933 as a Great Depression-era public works effort, the Blue Ridge Parkway was begun in 1935 -- the first rural national parkway -- and finished in 1987. Its aim was to link the parks and to fight the area's dire unemployment. Today the parkway attracts more than 20 million visitors. The Blue Ridge's attraction is its elevated views of the wooded mountains and valleys that typify the Southern Highlands: modest peaks cloaked in a lush, leafy canopy of oak, hickory, and maple, with an occasional evergreen highlight of hemlock, spruce, or fir. With the exception of North Carolina's 6,684-foot Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, only a few Blue Ridge summits peak above 4,000 feet, but, the Blue Ridge Parkway reaches its highest point at Richland Balsam, which is 6,047 feet. Enveloping this expanse is the bluish haze that allegedly gave the Blue Ridge its name. Originally a product of moisture given off by the forest, today's haze is frequently infiltrated by airborne pollution that occasionally restricts views and has damaged some of the high-elevation foliage. More than six decades and 600 million visitors after it first opened, the parkway attracts a steady but uncrowded flow of weekday visitors from April through September; highest visitation is on summer weekends and during October's peak fall foliage, which usually occurs the second or third week of the month. In particularly popular areas, such as Virginia's Mabry Mill (Milepost 176.1), the traffic can sometimes resemble a big-city traffic jam -- the parkway is the most visited area in the 368-unit National Park System. Few travel the road in winter, and sections are frequently closed due to ice and snow. Best in a Day Itinerary Stop to enjoy the most inviting overlooks, take a couple of walks, visit one or two of the more popular attractions, and you've gotten about as much out of the parkway as one day will allow. Seeing the best of the entire roadway calls for at least two days, and preferably three or more. Must-see stops on the Virginia section of the parkway are the historical exhibits and hikes at Humpback Rocks (Milepost 5.8), Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86.0), Rocky Knob (Milepost 169.0), and Mabry Mill (Milepost 176.1). Worth the detour, if you have the time, are the view from the foot of Roanoke's towering Mill Mountain Star (on the spur road that intersects the parkway at Milepost 124.5) and the expansive picnic area and walking opportunities at Smart View (Milepost 154.5) and Ground Hog Mountain (Milepost 189.0). In North Carolina, be sure to see Doughton Park (Milepost 241.1), Linville Falls (Milepost 316.4), Crabtree Meadows (Milepost 339.5), Craggy Gardens (Milepost 364.6), Mt. Pisgah (Milepost 408), and Waterrock Knob (Milepost 451.2) -- all of which have wondrous walking, picnicking, and sightseeing opportunities. Also well worth the stop is Linn Cove Viaduct (Milepost 305.0), the inventive, structurally elegant bridge that enables the parkway to continue uninterrupted. Raleigh and Chapel Hill Overview Raleigh is the largest of the cities that compose the North Carolina's Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill). It's an area that's been characterized as full of "trees, tees, and Ph.D's." Raleigh is Old South and New South, down-home and upscale, all in one. The city has agrarian roots in both farming and mining, but today Raleigh thrives on high-tech industries, government (it's the state capital), education, service industries, research, and medicine. In addition to North Carolina State, there are six other universities and colleges in town. Thanks to the Triangle area's appearance on a slew of "best of" lists, Raleigh's growth has been rapid, especially in the suburban area known as North Raleigh. In recent years, downtown revitalization has taken off, with new housing, museums, shops, restaurants, and night spots infusing energy and new life into once abandoned buildings. With all the newcomers hailing from colder climates, it seemed only a matter of time before the National Hockey League realized that greater Raleigh would support an expansion team. Hence, the Carolina Hurricanes were born. All this growth has its price, though. During rush hour, certain corridors (I-40 through Research Triangle Park, for example) should be avoided at all costs. On Friday and Saturday nights, especially during the regular school year, the wait to be seated in some restaurants can stretch to an hour or more. Ethnically and racially diverse Durham long ago shed its tobacco-town image and is now known as the City of Medicine, for the medical and research centre at Duke University, one of the top schools in the nation. With tens of thousands of employees, Duke is not only the largest employer in Durham but also one of the largest in the state. Additionally, the majority of the 6,800-acre Research Triangle Park, one of the largest research parks in the United States, lies in Durham County. This city of 212,000 is home to three art centres and hosts 18 cultural festivals a year, and the Durham Bulls, a AAA baseball team immortalized in the hit movie Bull Durham, set national attendance records at their stadium downtown. The two most popular pastimes in Chapel Hill are music and basketball. The bars and restaurants on Franklin Street, the city's main drag, come alive at night with live music and dancing, and festivals celebrating almost every kind of music imaginable take place year round. On the other side of campus lies the "Dean Dome," the behemoth sports complex named after coach Dean Smith, the mastermind behind Tarheel dominance in NCAA basketball. Not surprisingly, Chapel Hill's most famous alumnus, Mr. Michael "Air" Jordan, is king in these parts, and any establishment worth its weight has at least one framed portrait of the master gracing its walls. Sights & Activities The cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill make up the Triangle, with Raleigh to the east, Durham to the north, Chapel Hill to the west. In the centre sits Research Triangle Park, a renowned complex of corporations and public and private research facilities set in 6,800 acres of lake-dotted pineland. It's a magnet for scientists, academics, and businesspeople from all over the world. Raleigh, the state capital, is the biggest of the three cities. Many of the state's largest and best museums are here, as are North Carolina State University and six other universities and colleges. Durham, 23 miles northwest of Raleigh on I-40 and NC 147 (Durham Freeway) has three of North Carolina's 22 National Historic Landmarks, as well as Duke University and its medical and research centres. It's no longer a tobacco town, and warehouses and mills around the city have been converted into chic shops, offices, and condos. Chapel Hill, the smallest city in the Research Triangle area, is 12 miles southwest of Durham on U.S. 15-501, and 28 miles northwest of Raleigh. Home to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill sits on a tree-shaded rise. While the downtown area is filled with shops and restaurants and bustles with students, businesspeople, and retirees, strict enforcement of stringent historic preservation laws -- no billboards are permitted -- preserve its 1950s smalltown-America air. Charlotte Overview In 1524 explorer Giovanni da Verrazano landed on what is now North Carolina's shore and wrote in his log, "as pleasant and delectable to behold as is possible to imagine." Sixty years later the New World's first English-speaking settlers found their way to the state's eastern edge, which is bordered by 300 miles of beaches, islands, and inlets. Though Charlotte dates from Revolutionary War times (it is named for King George III's wife, Queen Charlotte), its Uptown is distinctively New South, with gleaming skyscrapers. Uptown encompasses all of downtown Charlotte, its business and cultural heart and soul. It's also home to the government centre and some residential neighbourhoods. And public art is keeping pace with the city's growing skyline. Examples of this are the sculptures at the four corners of Trade and Tryon streets. Erected at Independence Square, they symbolize Charlotte's beginnings: a gold miner (commerce), a mill worker (the city's textile heritage), an African-American railroad builder (transportation), and a mother holding her baby aloft (the future). Residents of the Queen City won't hesitate to tell you that theirs is the largest city in the Carolinas and the second-largest banking centre in the nation. Heavy development has created some typical urban problems. Outdated road systems make traffic a nightmare during rush hour, and virtually all the city's restaurants are packed on weekends. But the locals' Southern courtesy is contagious, and people still love the traditional pleasure of picnicking in Freedom Park. Sights & Activities Charlotte was laid out in four wards around Independence Square, at Trade and Tryon streets. The Square, as it is known, is the centre of the Uptown area, which includes Discovery Place, the city's leading attraction, and the Fourth Ward neighbourhood, Charlotte's "old city." Additional interesting sights, from gardens to museums, are farther afield in Greater Charlotte. Historic sites in Pineville and Locust, a speedway in Harrisburg, and a theme park on the South Carolina state line provide plenty to explore beyond the city. Uptown Charlotte is ideal for walking (you'll be able to explore the Fourth Ward in an hour). Elsewhere, buses are adequate for getting around within the city limits; otherwise, you will need a car to tour. Great Smoky Mountains Overview Like a rumpled quilt thrown across the foot of the eastern United States, the Great Smoky Mountains sprawl across more than half a million acres of ancient terrain, the largest wilderness sanctuary in the East. The park is a patchwork of old-growth forest and high mountain meadow, its diverse habitats stitched together by mountain streams and roaring rivers. Encompassing nearly equal portions of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a land of superlatives. Here are the largest stands of old-growth forest in the eastern United States and the greatest mountains east of the Rockies -- 16 peaks shoulder into the sky more than 6,000 feet above sea level. But often, words pay poor homage to a park whose beauty also lies in the details of bloodroot and bluet, trillium and Turk's cap lily. A United Nations International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, the park contains about 125 species of trees, more than 200 species of birds -- even 27 different species of salamanders. These rugged mountains were once sacred to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, who in 1838 were brutally removed from their ancestral home by government action and forced to march to Oklahoma. Thousands died along the Trail of Tears, but small groups of Cherokee held out in the North Carolina high country, and in 1889 the 56,000-acre Qualla Indian Reservation was formed. It now shares part of the park's southern border. The high mountains that attracted rugged pioneer settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries were discovered by the timber industry in the early 1900s. A librarian and writer named Horace Kephart documented the changing fortunes of the southern Appalachian mountain peoples in the classic Our Southern Highlanders and sparked a national movement to declare the Smokies a national park. On June 15, 1934, the park was officially established. Today the interior is managed as a wilderness preserve: there are extensive camping facilities and interpretive programs, but few other services. The park is traversed by two main roads: a portion of U.S. 441 called the Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road, which leads to Cades Cove. On the perimeter of the park the resort towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina, offer extensive visitor facilities, while smaller towns around the park, such as Townsend, Tennessee, and Bryson City, North Carolina, afford a more limited array of services. This melding of facilities and sights makes the park a popular place. There are about 9 million recreational visits each year, more than twice the number of visits to any other national park. The oft-cited statistic that the park is within two days' drive of half of the nation's population shouldn't deter visitors, for solitude can often be found just a short hike from the blacktop. Step off the paved road and the true heart of the park opens itself. Here you'll find hollows and coves and ridges rarely seen by human eyes. In the space of a few dozen feet, quietness pervades, all sounds muffled by moss and fern, stream and forest. Birds call. Brooks trickle. Rain drips. Tiny unseen streams seep from the undergrowth. Welcome to Shaconage (Place of Blue Smoke), the land held sacred by the Cherokee, a land whose wildness is still celebrated today. Best in a Day Itinerary Rise early for a one-day tour of this gigantic slice of wilderness. You'll need to depart Gatlinburg in the dark to make the 45-minute drive to Cades Cove by sunrise, but save your groans: there's scheduled nap time in this dawn-to-dusk itinerary. Cades Cove, in the far western reaches of the park, preserves the historic structures and open pastoral landscape of the region as it appeared at the turn of the century. The 11-mile loop road through Cades Cove can be very crowded, which is one reason for arriving at sunrise (except Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer, when the road is closed to cars until 10 AM). The other reason is the valley at dawn. The warm early light turns fields into seas of golden flame. Deer feed in the meadows. Drive slowly, stop often, and find an open pasture where you can take a long walk. By mid-morning, find Missionary Baptist Church on the northern part of the Cades Cove loop. Directly across from the church, pick up the gravel Rich Mountain Road; follow it 8 miles over the mountain, with fantastic views of the Cades Cove valley and the spine of the towering Smokies above, then out of the park. Turn right on U.S. 321 just outside Townsend; keep right where U.S. 321 turns north, load up on picnic supplies in Townsend, then turn around and follow U.S. 321 south back through the park entrance. Take a left on Little River Road and follow this scenic route to Sugarlands Visitor Centre, 2 miles south of Gatlinburg. (Rich Mountain Road is closed in winter; at that time, take Laurel Creek Road from Cades Cove to Tremont, and continue straight on Little River Road, following the rest of this itinerary from there.) From Sugarlands, turn south on Newfound Gap Road and follow this primary Smokies thoroughfare toward its highest point at Clingmans Dome. Picnic along the way, perhaps at the Chimney Tops Picnic Area. From Chimney Tops, continue south on Newfound Gap Road to Newfound Gap. About.2 mile south of the gap, turn right on the road to Clingmans Dome and follow the 7-mile scenic route to the parking lot. It's a.5-mile walk to the observation tower on a steep, serpentine, asphalt walkway that switches back and rises above the treetops for a spectacular panoramic view. After Clingmans Dome, you'll likely be in search of solitude. Continue south on Newfound Gap Road to Cherokee and turn right on U.S. 19 toward Bryson City. Once in town, follow the signs to the Deep Creek area of the park, 3 miles north of town. If there's time, rent an inner tube for a late-afternoon float downriver. If not, find a nice smooth boulder, soothe your feet in the cool stream, and take a well-deserved nap. If all goes as planned, you'll be awakened by the flutelike calls of the wood thrush at dusk, with just enough time to find your way back to the car by dark. North Carolina Overview North Carolina's 300-plus miles of coastline are fronted by a continuous series of fragile barrier islands. Broad rivers lead inland from the sounds, along which port cities have grown. Lighthouses, dunes, and vacation homes (often built by out-of-staters) dot the water's edge. The coast is generally divided into three broad sections that include islands, shoreline, and coastal plains: the Outer Banks (Corolla south through Ocracoke, including Roanoke Island), the Crystal Coast (Core and Bogue Banks, Beaufort, Morehead City, and the inland river town of New Bern), and the greater Cape Fear region (Wrightsville Beach through the Brunswick County islands, including Wilmington). The Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands in the Atlantic, forms a giant sandbar south of the Virginia border. Addresses here are commonly noted by mile markers, not building numbers. The picturesque Albemarle area, on the mainland, parallels a portion of the Outer Banks. New Bern is a bit farther inland on the Central Coast and has sights that provide a close-up look at America during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Wilmington, on the Cape Fear River, is home to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and is the coast's largest city. It has fine restaurants and museums. Surrounding it are golf courses, white-sand beaches, and resort hotels, which have been voted some of the best in the nation by various sources. Whereas once the coast closed up shop after the summer season ended, the entire area, home to two national seashores (Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout), is now considered a year-round destination. You can explore museums; spend the day swimming, hang gliding, windsurfing, or kayaking; or stop in restaurants with fresh seafood and increasingly innovative chefs after you've spent the day shopping at retail outlets. Whether you're seeking peace or adventure, you can find it on the coast. Best in a Day Itinerary Cape Hatteras Few landmarks in North Carolina are as evocative as the three lighthouses along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A tour of these unusual structures should begin in the north at the 1872 Bodie Island Lighthouse. The 150-foot tower with wide horizontal stripes is set amid quiet marshlands and still has its original Fresnel glass lens. South of Bodie Island Lighthouse is the black-and-white-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, at Buxton. Standing 280 feet, this is the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. Erosion has threatened the tower since 1935; the current plan is to move it inland. At certain times of the year, usually between Easter and Columbus Day, visitors can climb the 268 steps to the top. From Buxton, head south to the town of Hatteras and catch the free ferry to Ocracoke; then drive to Ocracoke Village on the south end of the island and turn left on Lighthouse Road to reach the 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse. Unlike the others, this lighthouse is relatively small, standing a mere 75 feet, its whitewashed exterior free of design. The state's oldest operating lighthouse, Ocracoke serves mostly as a guide to Silver Lake Harbour. Cape Lookout Catch an early ferry to the point at Cape Lookout. (Be sure to pack everything you'll need, including water.) From the dock, walk along the wooden boardwalk to the lighthouse and visit with the volunteer caretakers. The old keeper's quarters doubles as a visitor centre, staffed from March through November. Next, take the boardwalk to the dunes and, once on the beach, turn south to the point, where the island ends. Along the dune line, look for the massive timbers of old shipwrecks, which are covered and uncovered periodically by the shifting sands. Fishing and shelling here can be very good. (Each visitor may take two gallons of uninhabited shells out of the park each day.) Continue around the point to the gun mounts - - massive, partially submerged metal structures that served as submarine defences during World War II. Ohio: Cincinnati Cleveland Columbus Cincinnati Overview Over the past 200 years, proud Cincinnati has captured the fancy of many renowned individuals. Winston Churchill dubbed it the most beautiful inland city in the Union. Charles Dickens called it thriving and animated. And, most famously, Longfellow labeled it the Queen City. For otherwise common folk, Cincinnati today is a livable city offering steady economic growth, low crime rates, and easy accessibility. Perhaps its location right on the bend of the Ohio River overlooking northern Kentucky has something to do with it. Cincinnati's position on the Ohio River lured shipbuilding companies to the area at the height of the steamboat craze. The city's coffers grew even more when the Miami and Erie Canal was connected to the Ohio River in 1829. In the final analysis, however, Cincinnati owes its development to the lowly pig. In 1835, the city was the largest pork producer in the nation, a title that would later pass to Chicago and St. Louis. Look for the famous flying pigs in the Bicentennial Commons, the 22-acre riverfront park the city dedicated in 1988 to celebrate its 200th birthday. In Cincinnati's rapidly growing downtown area-with its museums, entertainment, restaurants, and sporting venues, including the Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003 -- you can take in everything from a Bengals football game or a Reds baseball game to a performance by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra or the Cincinnati Ballet. There is also a variety of museums -- the Cincinnati Museum Centre, in the renovated Union Terminal (1933) railroad station, houses the Cinergy Children's Museum and the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. Sights & Activities Cincinnati's many hills, green parks, and neighbourhoods radiate north from Cincinnati's downtown. The downtown area is laid out along the north bank of the Ohio River, with numbered streets running east-west (2nd Street is Pete Rose Way); north-south streets are named. Vine Street divides the city into east and west. Fountain Square is the centre of the thriving downtown area, which is entirely walkable. Skywalks connect hotels, convention centres, stores, and garages. Across the river is Covington, Kentucky, with a prominent historic district lined with antebellum mansions and wonderful views from Riverside Drive. If flying into Cincinnati, you'll arrive across the river at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, 12 miles south of downtown. Cleveland Overview Everything about Cleveland seems rejuvenated these days. The lake and the river have been cleaned up, new buildings have altered the skyline, and the Flats -- the industrial area along the Cuyahoga River -- is booming with restaurants and nightclubs. Earlier in the decade the city and county built Gateway, the collective name for a new arena and baseball stadium just south of downtown. The city's bicentennial celebration in 1996 brought even more changes, including a new science museum that took its place beside the celebrated Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened in 1995-welcome additions to a city already boasting a world-class orchestra and a stunning art museum. Sights & Activities In recent years, Cleveland has emerged with a new cultural identity. Major attractions such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Great Lakes Science Centre, and the Gateway sports venues have been the main catalysts, along with a world-class orchestra, a stunning art museum, fully restored downtown Theatre district, and blooming gardens on the east side of town. Neighbourhoods such as the Flats, the Warehouse District, the Gateway district, and Northcoast Harbour buzz with restaurants, shops, and nightclubs. Columbus Overview Named after discoverer Christopher Columbus, Ohio's capital city encompasses a six-county metropolitan area and covers 3,142 square miles (8,138 square kilometers) in the centre of the state. In 1816, the Ohio Legislature moved the state capital here from nearby Chillicothe. Columbus prospered thanks to its location on the banks of the Scioto River, which attracted money, visitors, and settlers. Major railroads came next. Following damaging floods in 1913, the Scioto River was widened and levees, retaining wall, and bridges were built, which allowed for riverfront development. Even when the rest of Ohio began to suffer industrial decline in the second half of the 20th century, Columbus grew, primarily because its economy is based on state government, education, finance and insurance, and light industry. This continued prosperity has made Columbus an attractive place to live and visit. The city is home to Ohio State University, which is the state's largest academic institution, with more than 50,000 students. Another well-known local institution is the Columbus Zoo, one of the nation's most acclaimed. Columbus is known for its entrepreneurial spirit and economic vitality. The headquarters of a number of Fortune 500 companies are here, and many of their executives claim they would not leave the city -- even if they were promoted. Oregon: Portland Portland Overview Portland is loaded with energy. For decades this inland port on the Willamette River was the undiscovered gem of the West Coast, often overlooked by visitors seeking more sophisticated milieus. But in the past decade, people have begun flocking here in unprecedented numbers - - to visit and to live. The city's proximity to mountains, ocean, and desert adds an element of natural grandeur to its urban character. Majestic Mt. Hood, about 55 mi to the east, acts as a kind of mascot, and on a clear day several peaks of the Cascade Range are visible, including Mt. St. Helens, which dusted the city with ash when it erupted in 1980. The west side of town is built on a series of forested hills that descend to the downtown area, the Willamette River, and the flatter east side. Filled with stately late-19th-century and modern architecture, linked by an effective transit system, and home to a vital arts scene, Portland is a place where there's much to do day or night, rain or shine. The quality of life remains a constant priority here. As far back as 1852, Portland began setting aside city land as parks. Included among Portland's 250 parks, public gardens, and greenways are the nation's largest urban wilderness, the world's smallest park, and the only extinct volcano in the lower 48 states within a city's limits. A temperate climate and plenty of precipitation keep Portland green year-round. The City of Roses, as it's known, celebrates its favourite flower with a monthlong Rose Festival -- a June extravaganza with auto and boat races, visiting navy ships, and a grand parade second in size only to Pasadena's Rose Parade. But the floral spectacle really starts three months earlier, when streets and gardens bloom with the colours of flowering trees, camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas. The arts here flourish in unexpected places, thanks to a city ordinance requiring that 1% of the cost for new publicly funded construction projects be allotted to the arts. You'll find creative works on street corners, as well as in police stations, jails, transit stations, parks, and civic buildings. The new MAX light rail line along North Interstate Avenue is virtually an outdoor gallery of installations and sculptures. As for the performing arts, Portland has several professional theatre companies, the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Opera, and Chamber Music Northwest, to name a few. Those into nightlife will also find some of the best live-band and club action in the country. Families have plenty of kid-friendly attractions to enjoy, including the Oregon Zoo, Oaks Amusement Park, and Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Architectural preservation is a major preoccupation in Portland, particularly when it comes to the 1860s brick buildings with cast-iron columns and the 1890s ornate terra-cotta designs that grace areas like the Skidmore, Old Town, and Yamhill national historic districts. In the Pearl District, older industrial buildings are being given new life as residential lofts, restaurants, office space, galleries, and boutiques. It has also become the centre of the metro area's plan to more efficiently use available urban space by revitalizing existing neighbourhoods. Not all Portlanders are happy with the results, which have brought increased traffic congestion and constant construction. But the new century also brought a renewed emphasis on mass transit. An extension of the MAX light-rail line to Portland International Airport and the Portland Streetcar have made the city easy to get around without a car, connecting Portland State University, downtown, and the Pearl District and Nob Hill neighbourhood. The city's farsighted approach to growth and its pitfalls means it reaps all of the benefits and few of the problems of its boom. As a result, Portland is better than ever, cultivating a new level of sophistication, building on enhanced prosperity, and bursting with fresh energy. Best of Portland in 1 to 3 Days If You Have 1 Day Spend the morning exploring downtown. Visit the Portland Art Museum or the Oregon History Centre, stop by the historic First Congregational Church and Pioneer Courthouse Square, and take a stroll along the Park Blocks or Waterfront Park. Eat lunch and do a little shopping along Northwest 23rd Avenue in the early afternoon, and be sure to walk down a few side streets to get a look at the beautiful historic homes in Nob Hill. From there, drive up into the northwest hills by the Pittock Mansion, and finish off the afternoon at the Japanese Garden and the International Test Rose Garden in Washington Park. If you still have energy, head across the river for dinner on Hawthorne Boulevard; then drive up to Mt. Tabor Park for Portland's best view of sunset. If You Have 3 Days On your first day, follow the one-day itinerary above, exploring downtown, Nob Hill, and Washington Park, but stay on the west side for dinner, and take your evening stroll in Waterfront Park. On your second morning, visit the Portland Classical Chinese Garden in Old Town, and then head across the river to the Sellwood District for lunch and antiquing. Stop by the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden; then head up to Hawthorne District in the afternoon. Wander through the Hawthorne and Belmont neighbourhoods for a couple hours, stop by Laurelhurst Park, and take a picnic dinner up to Mt. Tabor Park. In the evening, catch a movie at the Bagdad Theatre, or get a beer at one of the east side brewpubs. On Day 3, take a morning hike in Hoyt Arboretum or Forest Park; then spend your afternoon exploring shops and galleries in the Pearl District and on northeast Alberta Street. Drive out to the Grotto, and then eat dinner at the Kennedy School or one of the other McMenamins brewpubs. Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Pittsburgh Philadelphia Overview "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." W. C. Fields may have been joking when he wrote his epitaph, but if he were here today, he would eat his words. They no longer roll up the sidewalks at night in Philadelphia. A construction boom, a restaurant renaissance, and cultural revival have helped transform the city. For more than a decade, there has been an optimistic mood, aggressive civic leadership, and national recognition of what the locals have long known: Philadelphia can be a very pleasant place to live -- a city with an impressive past and a fascinating future. Philadelphia is a place of contrasts: Grace Kelly and Rocky Balboa; Le Bec-Fin -- one of the nation's finest French haute cuisine restaurants -- and the fast-food heaven of Jim's Steaks; Independence Hall and the Mario Lanza Museum; 18th-century national icons with 21st- century-style skyscrapers soaring above them. The world-renowned Philadelphia Orchestra performs in a stunning concert hall -- the focal point of efforts to transform Broad Street into a multicultural Avenue of the Arts. Along the same street, 25,000 Mummers dressed in outrageous sequins and feathers historically have plucked their banjos and strutted their stuff to the strains of "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" on New Year's Day. City residents include descendants of the staid Quaker founding fathers, the self-possessed socialites of the Main Line (remember Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story?), and the unrestrained sports fans, who are as vocal as they are loyal. Historically speaking, Philadelphia is a city of superlatives: the world's largest municipal park; the best collection of public art in the United States; the widest variety of urban architecture in America; and according to some experts, the greatest concentration of institutions of higher learning in the country. Philadelphia is known as a city of neighbourhoods (109 by one count). Shoppers haggle over the price of tomatoes in South Philly's Italian Market; families picnic in the parks of Germantown; street vendors hawk soft pretzels in Logan Circle; and all over town kids play street games such as stickball, stoopball, wireball, and chink. It's a city of neighbourhood loyalty: ask a native where he's from and he'll tell you: Fairmount, Fishtown, or Frankford, rather than Philadelphia. The city's population is less transient than that of other large cities; people who are born here generally remain, and many who leave home to study or work eventually return. Although the population is nearly 1.5 million, its residents are intricately connected; on any given day, a Philadelphian is likely to encounter someone with whom he grew up. The "it's-a-small-world" syndrome makes people feel like they belong. Best of Philadelphia in 6 Days In a city with as many richly stocked museums and matchless marvels as Philadelphia, you risk seeing half of everything or all of nothing. So use the efficient itineraries below to keep you on track as you explore both the famous sights and those off the beaten path. Day 1 Begin your first day with an exploration of the city's historic district. Sign up at the Independence National Historical Park Visitor Center for a walking tour hosted by a National Park Service guide; try a go-at-your-own-pace tour offered by Audio Walk and Tour; or take a walk on your own. For lunch, proceed to the Reading Terminal Market, where you can sample the real Philadelphia "cuisine" -- cheese steaks, soft pretzels, and Bassett's ice cream -- or something else from the dozens of food stalls. (The market is closed Sunday.) After lunch, walk nine blocks east on Arch Street (or take a bus on Market Street) to Old City; Christ Church, the Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth's Alley are all in close proximity. The galleries and cafés in the area may tempt you to take a short break from your pursuit of history. In the late afternoon, head back to Independence Hall for a horse-drawn carriage ride. Have dinner in Old City; then catch the Lights of Liberty walking sound-and-light show (March-December, weather permitting). Day 2 Spend the morning of Day 2 exploring the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, followed by lunch in the museum's lovely dining room. Afterward, depending on your interests and the day of the week, you could head to Merion by bus or car to see the world-renowned collection of impressionist paintings at the Barnes Foundation (open Friday- Sunday). Or you could walk to Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site for a tour of a former prison or to the Franklin Institute Science Museum. Day 3 Start Day 3 in Centre City with a ride to the top of City Hall for a pigeon's-eye view of the city. Next, head across the street to the Masonic Temple for a surreal tour through time -- and architectural history -- led by a Mason. Art lovers may prefer a visit to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, two blocks north of City Hall at Broad and Cherry streets. Eat lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. If you want to stay inside, head to Rittenhouse Square's Rosenbach Museum and Library, which has a diverse collection ranging from the original manuscript of James Joyce's Ulysses to the works of beloved children's author Maurice Sendak. If you prefer being outdoors, visit Penn's Landing, where you can check out the Independence Seaport Museum and/or take the ferry across the river to the Adventure Aquarium and Camden Children's Garden. At sunset, have a drink on the deck of the Moshulu, which is docked on the Camden side of the Delaware River. Day 4 Begin Day 4 by exploring either Society Hill or the Rittenhouse Square area. Then take a bus west on Walnut Street to the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, in University City. You can have lunch at the museum or on campus. In the afternoon, return to Center City to the corner of 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, to pick up the Philadelphia Trolley Works' narrated tour of Fairmount Park; or if you have children along, visit the Philadelphia Zoo. Afterward, drive or catch the SEPTA R6 train to Manayunk, where you can have dinner in one of the restaurants lining Main Street; many stores here are open late, too. Day 5 On Day 5, head out of the city by car to Valley Forge National Historical Park, where you can hike or picnic after you've taken the self-guided auto tour of General Washington's winter encampment. If you like to shop, spend the afternoon at the nearby King of Prussia Mall. Or drive back toward the city to take in the Barnes Foundation, the Eastern State Penitentiary, or the Franklin Institute -- whichever ones you didn't see on Day 2. Another option for Day 5 is to stay in the city and explore Queen Village in Southwark and South Philadelphia. Follow up a visit to the Mummers Museum with a strut along 9th Street, site of the outdoor Italian Market. You can pick up the makings for a great picnic, or duck into one of the restaurants here for lunch. In the afternoon, visit the museums you missed on Day 2. Check the local papers for an evening activity -- perhaps a sporting event at the South Philadelphia stadiums, a show in Centre City, or live music at a jazz club. Day 6 Get out of the city again with a day trip by car to the Brandywine Valley. Your first stop will be the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, which showcases the art of Andrew Wyeth and his family, as well as works by other area painters and illustrators. Next, head south to Winterthur and feast your eyes on Henry Francis du Pont's extraordinary collection of American decorative art in an equally extraordinary mansion. Spend the balance of your day strolling through Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, which is in bloom even in winter. If it's a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday in summer, stay for dinner and the fountain light show. Pittsburgh Overview Pittsburgh lies where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River, in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. First an 18th-century French fortress and trading post, Fort Duquesne, then the British Fort Pitt, the city emerged as an industrial powerhouse in the 1800s, mostly due to iron and steel production. Today, the days of steel manufacturing are mostly gone, and with them the industrial pollution that earned the city the nickname "Smoky City." Pittsburgh has been recast into a pleasing blend of turn-of-the-20th-century architectural masterpieces and modern skyscrapers and consistently ranks among the nation's most liveable cities. Pittsburgh today has a real sense of fun, with various outdoor activities on its rivers and in its parks, unique shopping downtown and in the suburbs, and dining in some of the state's most interesting locales. The peninsula formed on the eastern side of this convergence of the three rivers grew into the downtown area, often referred to as the Golden Triangle. The city chose to put a park at its very tip, fittingly referred to as the Point; the stadium that once stood across the Allegheny from here (it was imploded in early 2001) bore the geographical imprint in its name -- Three Rivers Stadium. Although visiting the park allows for an up-close view of the rivers, for the best view you can use one of Pittsburgh's two 19th-century cable cars and travel up Mt. Washington. The views are breathtaking from the overlooks and restaurants up here. You can see the rivers flowing together, appreciate the city's unique skyline, and take in the two new stadiums, which flank the site of the former Three Rivers Stadium and are home to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers. Sights & Activities Built where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River, this city on seven hills is filled with the warmth of its residents, many of whom have roots here spanning generations. There is plenty of life on the streets of Pittsburgh, where former warehouses have been turned into restaurants and many street fairs are held in trendy neighbourhoods like the South Side, Shadyside, and the Strip. Rising above it all is the Duquesne Incline, a restored cable car that carries passengers up Mt. Washington for some fabulous views. And sports fans will especially enjoy the city's rich tradition of football, baseball, and hockey. As for getting around, the Port Authority operates daily bus and trolley service. The T, the subway that runs within the central business district, is always free. Bus service is free during the day. Rhode Island: Newport & Southern R.I. Providence & Northern R.I. Newport Overview The island city of Newport preserves Colonial industry and gilded-age splendor as no other place in the country does. The golden age of Newport ran from roughly 1720 to the 1770s, when products like cheese, clocks, and furniture, as well as livestock and the slave trade, put the city on a par with Charleston, South Carolina; the two cities trailed only Boston as centers of New World maritime commerce. In the mid-1700s, Newport was home to the best shipbuilders in North America. In the 19th century, Newport became a summer playground for the wealthy. These riches were not made in Rhode Island but imported by the titans of the gilded age and translated into the fabulous "cottages" overlooking the Atlantic. Newport's mansions served as proving grounds for the country's best young architects. Richard Upjohn, Richard Morris Hunt, and firms like McKim, Mead & White have left a legacy of remarkable homes, many now open to the public. Recreational sailing, a huge industry in Newport today, convincingly melds the attributes of two eras: the conspicuous consumption of the late 19th century and the nautical expertise of the Colonial era. Tanned young sailors often fill Newport bars and restaurants, where they talk of wind, waves, and expensive yachts. For those not arriving by water, a sailboat tour of the harbour is a great way to get your feet wet. Newport in summer can be exasperating, its streets jammed with visitors, the traffic slowed by sightseeing buses (3½ million people visit the city each year). Yet the quality of Newport's sights and its arts festivals persuade many people to brave the crowds. In fall and spring, you can explore the city without having to stand in long lines. If You Have 3 Days Spend a day and a half in the historic waterfront city of Newport, and then make the 40- minute drive north to Providence. Though this city's attractions are less packaged than Newport's, they include sophisticated restaurants, historic districts, two large city parks, and an outdoor skating rink. If You Have 5 Days Spend your first three days in Newport and Providence; then take two days to explore South County. With pristine beaches and no shortage of restaurants and inns, South County encourages a take-it-as-it-comes attitude that's just right for summer and fall touring. Shop and soak up the turn-of-the-20th-century elegance of Watch Hill, and then spend a day on the beach in Charlestown or South Kingstown try Misquamicut if you prefer beaches with a carnival atmosphere). Narragansett, which has great beaches and numerous B&Bs, is one option for a second South County night. A day trip to Block Island allows enough time to see some of its treasures, but it's easy to linger longer. Providence Overview New England's second-largest city (with a population of 173,000, behind Boston) comes into the 21st century as a renaissance city. Once regarded, even by its own residents, as an awkward stepchild of greater Boston (50 mi to the north), Providence has metamorphosed from an area that empties out at the end of a workday to a clean, modern, cultural, and gastronomical hub. The focal point of the city these days is Waterplace Park, a series of footbridges, walkways, and green spaces that run along both sides of the Providence River, which flows through the heart of downtown. Within walking distance of the park are a convention centre and several hotels, an outdoor ice rink, and Providence Place, a glittering, upscale shopping centre. With more restaurants per capita than any other major city in America, Providence legitimately lays claim to being one of the nation's best places to eat. Roger Williams founded Providence in 1636 as a refuge for freethinkers and religious dissenters escaping the dictates of the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony. The city still embraces independent thinking in business, the arts, and academia. Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and Tony award-winning Trinity Repertory Company are major forces in New England's intellectual and cultural life. Playing to that strength, Providence is striving to have its once-abandoned downtown (now called Downcity, to erase the connotations of the old downtown) populated by artists and art studios. The narrow Providence River cuts through the city north to south. West of the river lies the compact business district. An Italian neighbourhood, Federal Hill, pushes west from here along Atwells Avenue. To the north you'll see the white-marble capitol. South Main and Benefit streets run parallel to the river, on the East Side. College Hill constitutes the western half of the East Side. At the top of College Hill, the area's primary thoroughfare, Thayer Street, runs north to south. Don't confuse East Providence, a city unto itself, with Providence's East Side. Sights & Activities Providence has history, intellectual and cultural vitality, and great food. The city is relatively small and easy to travel, by car or on foot. South Carolina: Charleston The Coast Charleston Overview Charleston has survived three centuries of epidemics, earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes, and it is today one of the South's loveliest and best-preserved cities. Many of its treasured double- galleried antebellum homes are authentically furnished house museums, just as many are home to Charlestonians and newcomers. Residents air their quilts over piazzas, walk their dogs down cobblestone streets, and tend their famous gardens in much the same way their ancestors did 300 years ago. Renovation continues to expand to the far reaches of the downtown historic district, extending across the Cooper River Bridge and out of the town of Mount Pleasant into Awendaw and McClellanville. A visit to the city can easily include nearby towns, plantations and outstanding gardens, and historic sites, whether you're exploring Mount Pleasant or the area west of the Ashley River. Despite the emphasis on preservation, this city is not a museum. Culturally vibrant, Charleston nurtures theatre, dance, music, and visual arts, showcased each spring during the internationally acclaimed Spoleto Festival. Best in 5 Days Day 1. The best way to get acquainted with Charleston is to take a carriage ride, especially those that take you through the South of Broad neighbourhood. After the ride, carriage companies drop you off near the Old City Market in the North of Broad, in the Market area, where you can wander looking for souvenirs. Head to lunch and then hoof it to the Battery and White Point Gardens; take time for a house tour or two at mansions such as the Nathaniel Russell House and the Heyward-Washington House. Spend the night in the historic district Day 2. Drive to the magnificent plantations in West Ashley; you might tour Middleton Place, Drayton Hall, or Magnolia Gardens. Return downtown for the night. Day 3. Spend the morning shopping for antiques, seersucker suits, and one-of-a-kind jewellery on Lower King Street. Break for lunch and wander down toward Broad Street again, stopping to peek inside the churches and graveyards. Finish the day on a bench at Waterfront Park before heading to a sumptuous dinner. Day 4. Make your first stop the South Carolina Aquarium, near Upper King, which overlooks Charleston Harbour. From there take the harbour ferry to Fort Sumter National Monument to see where the Civil War began, or tour the waterfront on one of the other boat tours that depart from the Maritime Centre. Day 5. Drive across the Cooper River into Mount Pleasant and visit Patriots Point, the Old Village neighbourhood, and Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island. After lunch on Middle Street drive to one of the beaches, maybe to the Isle of Palms, to wind down. Return to Charleston after catching the sunset. South Carolina Overview The lively, family-oriented Grand Strand, a booming resort area along the South Carolina coast, is one of the eastern seaboard's megavacation centers. Myrtle Beach alone accounts for about 40% of the state's tourism revenue. The main attraction, of course, is the broad, beckoning beach -- 60 miles of white sand, stretching from the North Carolina border south to Georgetown, with Myrtle Beach as the hub. All along the Strand you can enjoy shell hunting, fishing, swimming, sunbathing, sailing, surfing, jogging, or just strolling on the beach. And the Strand has something for everyone: more than 100 championship golf courses, designed by Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones, Jack Nicklaus, and Tom and George Fazio, among others; excellent seafood restaurants; giant shopping malls and factory outlets; amusement parks, water slides, and arcades; a dozen shipwrecks for divers to explore; campgrounds, most of which are on the beach; plus antique-car and wax museums, the world's largest outdoor sculpture garden, an antique pipe organ and merry-go-round, and a museum dedicated entirely to rice. It has also emerged as a major centre for country music, with an expanding number of theatres. Myrtle Beach -- whose population of 26,000 explodes to about 350,000 in summer -- is the centre of activity on the Grand Strand. It is here that you find the amusement parks and other children's activities that make the area so popular with families, as well as most of the nightlife that keeps parents and teenagers happy. On the North Strand, there is Little River, with a thriving fishing and charter industry, and the several communities that make up North Myrtle Beach. On the South Strand, the family retreats of Surfside Beach and Garden City offer more summer homes and condominiums. Farther south are towns as alluring to visit as are the sights along the way: Murrells Inlet, once a pirate's haven and now a scenic fishing village and port; and Pawleys Island, one of the East Coast's oldest resorts, which prides itself on being "arrogantly shabby." At the south end of the Grand Strand lies historic Georgetown, founded in 1729 and once the centre of America's colonial rice empire. South Carolina's Lowcountry extends from south of Charleston to the state's southern border, including the barrier islands of Edisto, Fripp, and Hilton Head, and the charming town of Beaufort. Edisto (pronounced ed-is-toh) Island, settled in 1690 and once noted for cotton, is midway between Charleston and Beaufort. Some of its elaborate mansions have been restored; others brood in disrepair. Fripp Island, a self-contained resort with controlled access, is farther south, and still farther south is Hilton Head Island. Named after English sea captain William Hilton, who claimed its 42 square miles for England in 1663, Hilton Head was settled by planters in the 1700s. It flourished until the Civil War, after which it declined economically and languished until Charles E. Fraser, a visionary South Carolina attorney, began developing the Sea Pines resort in 1956. Other developments followed, and today Hilton Head's casual pace, broad beaches, myriad activities, and genteel good life make it one of the East Coast's most popular vacation getaways. Beaufort, some 40 miles north of Hilton Head, is a graceful antebellum town with a compact historic district preserving lavish 18th- and 19th-century homes from an era of immense prosperity, based on its silky-textured Sea Island cotton. The beau in Beaufort is pronounced as in "beautiful," and Beaufort certainly is. Sights & Activities Myrtle Beach is the glitzy bauble of the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of wide white-sand beaches -- nearly all of which are covered with beach towels in summer. The area abounds with recreational activities, especially golf, a major attraction. Stretching south from Myrtle Beach to historic Georgetown, at the southern tip of the Grand Strand, is a nearly continual community that enjoys a healthy tourism trade and offers a small-town respite from the amusement park excitement of Myrtle Beach and the big-city sophistication of Charleston still farther south. Murrell's Inlet, a fishing village with popular seafood restaurants, is a perfect place to rent a fishing boat or join an excursion. A notable garden and state park provide other diversions from the beach. The sea islands, separated from the mainland by expanses of estuaries and salt marshes, make up more than half of South Carolina's coastline. To the south, tasteful, low-key Hilton Head -- divided into several sophisticated, self-contained resorts -- has beautiful beaches and wonderful opportunities for golf and tennis. A toll expressway helps handle traffic to the island's resort areas. Sun City, a large, newly developed retirement community, attracts scores of fifty-somethings to the area. Lined by towering pines, palmetto trees, and wind-sculpted live oaks, Hilton Head's 12 miles of beaches are a major attraction, and the semitropical barrier island also has oak and pine woodlands and meandering lagoons. Choice stretches are occupied by various resorts, called "plantations," among them Sea Pines, Shipyard, Palmetto Dunes, and Port Royal. In these areas, accommodations range from rental villas and lavish private houses to luxury hotels. Hilton Head prides itself on its strict regulations that keep "light pollution" to a minimum; the lack of neon and streetlights also makes it difficult to find your way at night, so be sure to get good directions. The port city of Beaufort, its lovely streets dotted with preserved 18th-century homes, is a popular stopover with New York to Florida commuters. It's also the favourite of early retirees in search of small-town life and great deals on real estate; many have converted their historic houses into bed-and-breakfasts. Although many private houses in Old Point, the historic district, are not usually open to visitors, some can be visited on the annual Fall House Tour in mid-October and the Spring Tour of Homes and Gardens in April or May. Nearby, at the Penn Centre on St. Helena Island, freed slaves first found schooling. Edisto Island remains undiscovered, sleepy, and bucolic. Founded on Winyah Bay in 1729, Georgetown became the centre of America's colonial rice empire. A rich plantation culture developed here, and the historic district, which can be walked in a couple of hours, is among the prettiest in the state. Today, oceangoing vessels still come to Georgetown's busy port, and the Harbour Walk, the restored waterfront, hums with activity. Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains NP Memphis Nashville Great Smoky Mountains Overview Like a rumpled quilt thrown across the foot of the eastern United States, the Great Smoky Mountains sprawl across more than half a million acres of ancient terrain, the largest wilderness sanctuary in the East. The park is a patchwork of old-growth forest and high mountain meadow, its diverse habitats stitched together by mountain streams and roaring rivers. Encompassing nearly equal portions of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a land of superlatives. Here are the largest stands of old-growth forest in the eastern United States and the greatest mountains east of the Rockies -- 16 peaks shoulder into the sky more than 6,000 feet above sea level. But often, words pay poor homage to a park whose beauty also lies in the details of bloodroot and bluet, trillium and Turk's cap lily. A United Nations International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, the park contains about 125 species of trees, more than 200 species of birds -- even 27 different species of salamanders. These rugged mountains were once sacred to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, who in 1838 were brutally removed from their ancestral home by government action and forced to march to Oklahoma. Thousands died along the Trail of Tears, but small groups of Cherokee held out in the North Carolina high country, and in 1889 the 56,000-acre Qualla Indian Reservation was formed. It now shares part of the park's southern border. The high mountains that attracted rugged pioneer settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries were discovered by the timber industry in the early 1900s. A librarian and writer named Horace Kephart documented the changing fortunes of the southern Appalachian mountain peoples in the classic Our Southern Highlanders and sparked a national movement to declare the Smokies a national park. On June 15, 1934, the park was officially established. Today the interior is managed as a wilderness preserve: there are extensive camping facilities and interpretive programs, but few other services. The park is traversed by two main roads: a portion of U.S. 441 called the Newfound Gap Road and Little River Road, which leads to Cades Cove. On the perimeter of the park the resort towns of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina, offer extensive visitor facilities, while smaller towns around the park, such as Townsend, Tennessee, and Bryson City, North Carolina, afford a more limited array of services. This melding of facilities and sights makes the park a popular place. There are about 9 million recreational visits each year, more than twice the number of visits to any other national park. The oft-cited statistic that the park is within two days' drive of half of the nation's population shouldn't deter visitors, for solitude can often be found just a short hike from the blacktop. Step off the paved road and the true heart of the park opens itself. Here you'll find hollows and coves and ridges rarely seen by human eyes. In the space of a few dozen feet, quietness pervades, all sounds muffled by moss and fern, stream and forest. Birds call. Brooks trickle. Rain drips. Tiny unseen streams seep from the undergrowth. Welcome to Shaconage (Place of Blue Smoke), the land held sacred by the Cherokee, a land whose wildness is still celebrated today. Best in a Day Itinerary Rise early for a one-day tour of this gigantic slice of wilderness. You'll need to depart Gatlinburg in the dark to make the 45-minute drive to Cades Cove by sunrise, but save your groans: there's scheduled nap time in this dawn-to-dusk itinerary. Cades Cove, in the far western reaches of the park, preserves the historic structures and open pastoral landscape of the region as it appeared at the turn of the century. The 11-mile loop road through Cades Cove can be very crowded, which is one reason for arriving at sunrise (except Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer, when the road is closed to cars until 10 AM). The other reason is the valley at dawn. The warm early light turns fields into seas of golden flame. Deer feed in the meadows. Drive slowly, stop often, and find an open pasture where you can take a long walk. By mid-morning, find Missionary Baptist Church on the northern part of the Cades Cove loop. Directly across from the church, pick up the gravel Rich Mountain Road; follow it 8 miles over the mountain, with fantastic views of the Cades Cove valley and the spine of the towering Smokies above, then out of the park. Turn right on U.S. 321 just outside Townsend; keep right where U.S. 321 turns north, load up on picnic supplies in Townsend, then turn around and follow U.S. 321 south back through the park entrance. Take a left on Little River Road and follow this scenic route to Sugarlands Visitor Centre, 2 miles south of Gatlinburg. (Rich Mountain Road is closed in winter; at that time, take Laurel Creek Road from Cades Cove to Tremont, and continue straight on Little River Road, following the rest of this itinerary from there.) From Sugarlands, turn south on Newfound Gap Road and follow this primary Smokies thoroughfare toward its highest point at Clingmans Dome. Picnic along the way, perhaps at the Chimney Tops Picnic Area. From Chimney Tops, continue south on Newfound Gap Road to Newfound Gap. About.2 mile south of the gap, turn right on the road to Clingmans Dome and follow the 7-mile scenic route to the parking lot. It's a.5-mile walk to the observation tower on a steep, serpentine, asphalt walkway that switches back and rises above the treetops for a spectacular panoramic view. After Clingmans Dome, you'll likely be in search of solitude. Continue south on Newfound Gap Road to Cherokee and turn right on U.S. 19 toward Bryson City. Once in town, follow the signs to the Deep Creek area of the park, 3 miles north of town. If there's time, rent an inner tube for a late-afternoon float downriver. If not, find a nice smooth boulder, soothe your feet in the cool stream, and take a well-deserved nap. If all goes as planned, you'll be awakened by the flutelike calls of the wood thrush at dusk, with just enough time to find your way back to the car by dark. Memphis Overview On the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, Memphis is Tennessee's largest city and the commercial and cultural centre of the western part of the state. It is a blend of southern tradition and modern efficiency, where aging cotton warehouses stand in the shadow of sleek new office buildings, and old-fashioned paddle wheelers steam upriver past the city's newest landmark, the gleaming, stainless-steel Pyramid Arena. Memphis is perhaps best known for its music and for the two extraordinary men who introduced that music to the world: W. C. Handy, the "Father of the Blues," and Elvis Presley, the "King of Rock and Roll." A Good Tour of Downtown Memphis Old and new mingle as Memphis progresses with its riverfront development and urban renewal. Peabody Place, a collection of offices, shops, restaurants, and apartments, is a development in the area surrounding the Peabody Hotel at 2nd Street and Union Avenue. For travellers who want to tour the area without parking worries, the downtown trolley system runs a north-south route down Main Street, connecting major attractions. A new loop adjacent to Riverside Drive completes the 5-mi circle. The Tour Pick up a map of the city at the Tennessee Welcome Centre on Riverside Drive, where free parking is available. Take the Main Street trolley south to South Main Street to Peabody Place to visit the Centre for Southern Folklore, where the region's colourful past is chronicled in poignant exhibits. Continue south on foot to Beale Street and sneak a peak at the stately Orpheum Theatre; walk east to A. Schwab Dry Goods Store, a most unusual emporium. A few blocks east on Beale is Handy Park, where the father of the blues is immortalized. You can learn all about him at the nearby W. C. Handy Memphis Home and Museum. Walk farther east on Beale to the Hunt-Phelan Home for a tour. Head for the south end of downtown (take the Main Street trolley five blocks) to tour the National Civil Rights Museum, on the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, or north to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame Museum. Take the Main Street trolley north to Adams Avenue and walk west to the Mud Island Monorail to catch a ride over to the Mississippi River Park and Museum. When you come back, the Pyramid is several blocks away from Mud Island parking and can be visited by trolley. Afterwards, pick up your car and drive east on Adams, first to the Fire Museum of Memphis, then on to the Victorian Village Historic District for tours of the Magevney, Mallory Neely, and Woodruff-Fontaine houses. On the way out of downtown, stop at Sun Studio for a dose of Memphis music history. Timing Spend the morning in the Beale Street Historic District -- the Hunt-Phelan Tour alone will take an hour -- and work in lunch while you're there. The rest of downtown Memphis will take more than a day to cover, so depending on your schedule, you may want to pick and choose. Most of these attractions are closed Monday; the National Civil Rights Museum is closed Tuesday. Nashville Overview Heralded as Music City, USA, and the country-music capital of the world, Tennessee's fast- growing capital city also shines as a leading centre of higher education, appropriately known as the Athens of the South. Nashville has prospered from both labels, emerging as one of the South's most vibrant cities in the process. The Gaylor Entertainment Centre (formerly Nashville Arena), a 20,000-seat facility spanning three blocks at 5th and Broadway, opened in 1996. Connected to the city's convention centre by a tunnel, the Arena hosted the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in 1997. A successful drive to land both a National Football League and a National Hockey League franchise, coupled with a population gain that has pushed Nashville ahead of Memphis, has put Nashville into the major leagues of American cities. Nashville's Grand Ole Opry radio program, which began as station WSM's Barn Dance in 1925 and thrived throughout the Great Depression right into today's MTV years, established the town as a music centre. The Opry now performs in a sleek $15 million Opry House. An infusion of new talent is attracting another generation of fans. The Opry is still as gleeful and down-home informal as it was when ticket holders used to jam into the old Ryman Auditorium. Bolstering Nashville's reputation as a music town are dozens of clubs, performance stages (including the revitalized Ryman), and television tapings open to the public, as well as memorials to many country-music stars. The District, the downtown area along 2nd Avenue and historic Broadway, has emerged as another destination for tourists and locals alike, with restaurants, specialty shopping, and entertainment options. And, of course, legendary Music Row continues to beckon aspiring singers, musicians, and songwriters with stars in their eyes and lyrics tucked in their back pockets. Much of Nashville's role as a cultural leader, enhanced by the presence of the Tennessee Performing Arts Centre, is derived from the presence of 16 colleges and universities, two medical schools, two law schools, and six graduate business schools. Several, including Vanderbilt University, have national or international reputations, and many have private art galleries. As ancient Athens was the "School of Hellas," so Nashville, where a full-size replica of the Parthenon graces Centennial Park, fills this role in the contemporary South. The historic sites throughout the city -- such as the Hermitage, Belle Meade Plantation, and Travellers' Rest -- add another dimension. Sights & Activities Downtown Nashville has much to offer in the way of history, music, entertainment, dining, and specialty shopping. The Cumberland River horizontally bisects Nashville's central city. Numbered avenues, running north-south, are west of and parallel to the river; numbered streets are east of the river and parallel to it. To get a more complete feeling for the city, you'll want to explore the area beyond downtown, too. Among the offerings are historic plantations, a variety of museums covering everything from toys to science, and some great places for kids, including the Nashville Zoo -- not to mention the Grand Ole Opry. Texas: Austin Dallas/Ft. Worth Galveston Houston San Antonio Austin Overview When Mirabeau B. Lamar, president-elect of the Texas Republic, set out to hunt buffalo in the fall of 1838, he returned home with a much greater catch: a home for the new state capital. Lamar fell in love with a tiny settlement surrounded by rolling hills and fed by cool springs. Within a year, the government arrived, and Austin was on its way to becoming a city. In recent years the entertainment industry has discovered this big city with a small-town atmosphere, and it's not uncommon to see film crews blocking off an oak-lined street. Billing itself as the "live music capital of the world," Austin has been on the national music map since 1984 when Austin City Limits, a showcase for bands taped at the University of Texas campus, began airing nationwide. The city cemented its music reputation by hosting the annual South by Southwest conference, which draws bands and record company executives from around the world every March. High-tech industries have also migrated to the Austin area, making it Texas's answer to Silicon Valley. But, for all the changes that have occurred in the capital city, Austin is still very much a town whose roots are buried in the past -- a past the city is proud to preserve and show off to visitors. Sights & Activities A good place to begin a visit to Austin is downtown, where the pink-granite Texas State Capitol, built in 1888, is the most visible manmade attraction. The Colorado River, which slices through Austin, was once an unpredictable waterway, but it's been tamed into a series of lakes, including two within the city limits. The 22-mile-long Lake Austin, which lies in the western part of the city, flows into Town Lake, a narrow stretch of water that meanders for 5 miles through the centre of downtown. The sprawling University of Texas, one of the largest universities in the United States, flanks the capitol's north end. Among other things, it is home to both the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. In the late afternoon hours, locals grab their sneakers and head to Zilker Park for a jog or a leisurely walk. When the sun sets on summer days, attention turns to the lake's Congress Avenue Bridge, the location of the country's largest urban colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. The bats make their exodus after sunset to feed on insects in the surrounding Hill Country. Wherever you go, be on the lookout for art: by some estimates, Austin boasts the 6th highest per-capita concentration of artists in the nation. Tangible proof of this are the more than 150 pieces of art in public places, from bronze statues of Southern statesmen to modernist bats that twirl in the wind. Got a taste for history? There is, of course, a wealth of well-known museums and archives in this capital city, but remnants of the past are scattered around town in some of the most unlikely places. And you've got to agree that any town so party-crazed that it holds a celebration of Spam (yes, the potted meat) each spring, deserves close inspection. Dallas Overview These twin cities, separated by 30 miles of suburbs, may be the oddest couple of all in a state of odd couples. Dallas is glitzy and ritzy, a swelling, modernistic business metropolis whose inhabitants go to bed early and to church on Sunday. Fort Worth, sneered at as "Cowtown" by its neighbours, lives in the shadow of its wild history as a rip-roaring cowboy town, a place of gunfights and cattle drives -- even though its cultural establishment is superior to Dallas's and it has seen a downtown rebirth in recent years. In Fort Worth that fellow in the faded jeans and cowboy hat could well be the president of the bank. In Dallas, people tend to be a bit more formal. A Good Walk in Downtown Dallas Many thousands visit Dallas, in spite of -- or in some cases because of -- its unhappy legacy as the city where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, which occurred downtown. Also downtown is one of the most remarkable flowerings of skyscraping architecture anywhere -- that same skyline familiar to the world from the television show Dallas. A multitude of restaurants and shops are in the nearby West End Historic District, a former warehouse district. The Walk Begin at the corner of Elm and Houston streets at the Sixth Floor Museum, formerly the Texas School Book Depository and the spot from where it is believed that Lee Harvey Oswald fired upon President John F. Kennedy. Walk down Houston past Dealey Plaza and its infamous triple underpass (the actual place where Kennedy was shot) to the intersection of Main and Houston streets. Here you will find the Old Red Courthouse, a Romanesque-revival building that now houses a visitor's center on its first floor. Behind the former courthouse, on Main Street at Market, is the stark, white John F. Kennedy Memorial, a Philip Johnson- designed cenotaph. Cross Market and stop into the Conspiracy Museum, where you can explore theories on the assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Walk back down Market toward Main, then cross the street to the Dallas County Historical Plaza and its John Neely Bryan Cabin, which provides insight into how early Dallas settlers lived. Upon exiting the plaza, turn left on Market and walk four blocks to the West End MarketPlace. This five-story building, once a cracker factory, now houses retail shops and eateries, as well as Dallas Alley, where partiers can pay one cover charge for admittance to a variety of nightclubs. Walk back down Market Street two blocks to Ross Avenue, then turn left and continue approximately two blocks to Griffin. Turn left to visit the Dallas World Aquarium & Zoological Garden, which features not only creatures of the deep but also an indoor re-creation of a tropical rain forest. After exiting, turn right on Griffin and walk two blocks to Pacific. Turn left and walk two blocks to Thanks-Giving Square, at the corner of Bryan and Pacific. After exploring this site's tranquil chapel and park, exit on Ervay Street, turn right, and walk two blocks to Main Street, where you'll find the flagship of the luxe retailer Neiman Marcus. Walk four blocks down Ervay to Young Street. Turn right on Young and walk past the I. M. Pei- designed City Hall, with its Henry Moore sculpture in front. Continue on Young past Akard and Field streets and enter Pioneer Park on your left. The park is notable for its cemetery, which contains the remains of some of Dallas's first residents. At the corner of Young and Griffin you'll see Pioneer Plaza and its massive Robert Summer sculpture, which is a bronze rendering of a herd of longhorn cattle. Cross Griffin and continue down Young for five blocks to Houston. Enter the Union Station train depot and take its underground tunnel to Reunion Tower, which has a revolving restaurant and cocktail lounge, as well as a 50-story observation deck with a 360° view of the city. Timing Allow at least four hours for this walk. Galveston Overview One of Texas's most popular year-round coastal destinations, Galveston is an island in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles southeast of Houston, connected to the mainland by a causeway and bridge. The island is a marriage of the best of both worlds: it is both city and seaside resort. It offers historical and cultural attractions, as well as swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing. The restored Victorian Strand district, resort hotels, and beachfront businesses give a commercial feel to the north end of the island, while miles of private and rental residences on the southern end offer solitude and open beach access. Once one of the world's great port cities, Galveston was nearly devastated by a hurricane in 1900. More than 6,000 residents were killed by the storm, and many structures were demolished. The hurricane prompted city officials to raise the island and add a seawall, making Galveston a safe place to visit today. After the 1900 hurricane and the opening of the Houston ship channel, Galveston lost its position as Texas's busiest seaport and the street known as the Strand -- formerly the site of stores, offices, and warehouses -- faded as a bustling centre of commerce. In the 1950s, preservationists launched Galveston's renaissance by restoring stately homes and building up commercial districts with modern facilities. The Strand, now on the National Register of Historic Places, has one of the largest collections of historic buildings in the country. A resort city with a southern flair, Galveston is a petite and blended version of New Orleans and Charleston. Sights & Activities History and the waterfront are the main draws to Galveston, which was once the largest city in Texas. Its wealthy classes built the Victorian homes that give the island an elegant, early 20th-century appearance. The homes, as well as some beautifully restored iron-front commercial buildings, are concentrated on the northern side of the island, west through Galveston's midsection, and along the Strand, which parallels Broadway several blocks to the north. Since the 1970s, these two areas -- the East End Historic District and the Strand Historic District -- have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also hugging the north rim of the island, from 9th to 51st Street, is the harbour, port to small fishing boats and shrimp trawlers and to the Elissa, the tall ship that is Galveston's pride and joy. The southern, or ocean, side of the island is lined with beaches (all open to the public), hotels, parks, and restaurants. The eastern end of the island, especially around Stewart Beach Park, has amenities of all kinds, including places where you can rent surfboards, windsurfers, sailboats, chairs, and umbrellas. To the west are quieter, less-crowded beaches. The seawall along the waterfront attracts runners, cyclists, and rollerbladers. Houston Overview Unbridled energy has always been Houston's trademark. The forceful, wildcatter temperament that transformed what was once a swamp near the junction of the Buffalo and White Oak bayous into the nation's fourth-largest city also made the city a world energy centre and pushed exploration into outer space -- indeed, the first words spoken from the moon broadcast its name throughout the universe: "Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed." This same wild spirit explains much about the unrestricted growth that resulted in the city's patchwork layout: It's not unusual to find a luxury apartment complex next to a muffler repair shop, or a palm reader's storefront adjacent to a church. Magnificent glass and metal towers dominate the downtown corridor, but for the most part Houston's cityscape is characterized by random upcroppings of impressive architecture interspersed with groomed greenbelts and lively neighbourhoods. Houston is nevertheless an international business hub and the energy capital of the United States, evidenced by the Texas-size conventions that periodically fill its major hotels to bursting points. Medical institutions spawned from the discoveries of the famous heart transplant team of Cooley and DeBakey and research conducted at M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre have earned Houston the title of "healing centre." Top-notch museums, galleries, and performance halls affirm the city's commitment to creativity and expression, and its many ethnic restaurants add to the cosmopolitan flavour. Sights & Activities Houston can be divided neatly into three major areas. One is its very modern downtown (including the theatre district), which inspired one architecture critic to declare the city "America's future." Another is the area a couple of miles south of downtown, where some of the Southwest's leading museums are found along with Rice University and the internationally renowned Texas Medical Centre. Finally, there is the thriving shopping and business centre west of downtown, known as both the Galleria and Uptown. Since attractions are spread out, you'll need a car. Houston is ringed by I-610 and Beltway 8. A tighter loop, comprising several expressways, circles the downtown and provides remarkable views of the city, especially at dawn and dusk. Radiating out from these rings like spokes of a wheel are I-10, heading east to Louisiana and west to San Antonio; U.S. 59, northeast to Longview or southwest to Victoria; and I-45, southeast to Galveston (about an hour away) or north to Dallas. High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, tollways, and crosstown connectors have reduced traffic congestion, but all these highways can be extremely crowded during rush hours. San Antonio Overview The Alamo -- symbol either of Texan heroism or Anglo arrogance -- is by no means the only reason to visit San Antonio. This is in many ways Texas's most beautiful and atmospheric city. Northwest of San Antonio is the Hill Country, an anomaly in generally flat Texas, rich with pretty landscapes, early American history, and echoes of the linen-to-silk story of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the nation's 36th president. In general, the most visited city in Texas draws three types of tourists: Texans who come to shop and sightsee; conventioneers; and visitors from northern Mexico, especially during Christmas and Holy Week. Mexicans flock to San Antonio because it offers all the material comforts and advantages of the United States, yet they don't need to speak English to enjoy them. Even on the city's largely Anglo North Side, most concerns transact business in both English and Spanish. A Walk in Downtown San Antonio An interesting tour of downtown San Antonio begins at the 30-story Tower Life Building, which opened in 1929 as the Smith-Young Tower. West, across the River Walk, are two intriguing structures, the Spanish Governor's Palace and, adjacent to it, San Fernando Cathedral. Next, head east, following the River Walk, to the most famous mission in this city, which for the past two centuries has gone by the name Alamo, on downtown's eastern side. Just a few steps away from the Alamo is the Menger Hotel, built just 23 years after the famous Alamo battle. A few blocks west of the Menger is Market Square, a restoration of an old farmer's market and its surrounding buildings. This is where you'll find El Mercado, the place to take kids to buy locally made toys and crafts. Four blocks southeast of the Alamo is La Villita, a pleasant place for a quiet stroll on tree- shaded brick- and tile-paved streets filled with shops and boutiques, art galleries, and cafes. La Villita abuts HemisFair Park, which contains remnants from San Antonio's 1968 international exposition. Make sure to visit the Tower of the Americas, the Institute of Texan Cultures and take a look at Juan O'Gorman's mural "Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas," which adorns the front of the Lila Cockrell Theatre. Across I-37 from HemisFair Park is the Alamodome, which isn't a dome but a rectangular sports arena where NBA's San Antonio Spurs play. San Antonio's famous River Walk is lined with restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. The most attractive portion of the walk starts adjacent to the Tower Life Building and runs northeast to the Landing at the Hyatt Regency Hotel (123 Losoya Street). The Landing is a popular restaurant and club that hosts weekly broadcasts of "Riverwalk, Live from the Landing," a radio program of classic jazz performed by the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. Utah: Bryce Canyon NP Park City & the Wasatch Range Salt Lake City Zion NP Bryce Canyon Overview Looking at Bryce Canyon is much like gazing at the clouds: in the colourful rock formations you can pick out the shapes of animals, ships, castles, or carriages. This astonishing landscape was named for Ebenezer Bryce, a pioneer cattleman and the first permanent settler in the area. His description of the landscape, oft repeated today, was more succinct: "It's a hell of a place to lose a cow." The rock formations you see at Bryce Canyon began forming about 60 million years ago. At that time, freshwater lakes filled the shallow basins in southern Utah. When they receded, about 2,000 feet of lime-rich sediment was deposited, and the lack of fossils in that layer suggests that the lakes were inhospitable environments for most organisms. Some 16 million years ago, the earth in the Colorado Plateau -- of which Bryce is a part -- broke up and tilted, creating great blocks of rock-faulted uplands, which were then exposed to weathering and erosion. Water seeped into cracks in the rock, froze, expanded, and shattered the surrounding rock. Runoff from rain or melting snow created gullies that carried away soft layers of rock. In the process, Bryce Canyon was formed. Because of its origins and shape Bryce is actually an amphitheatre, not a canyon, in geological terms. The hoodoos (vertical columns of rock) that populate the amphitheatre took on their unusual shapes because the top layer of rock (caprock) is harder than the layers below it. Once erosion undercuts the soft rock beneath the cap too much, the hoodoo tumbles. But Bryce will not soon lose its hoodoos, because as the amphitheatre's rim recedes further, new hoodoos will form to replace their fallen brethren. The rim of Bryce Canyon is up to 9,000 feet in elevation, so the wildflower season arrives in late summer. Fall colour in the park is stupendous as aspen, bigtooth maple, and other hardwoods turn golden. In winter, snow provides a good canvas on which to look for the footprints of mountain lions, mule deer, elk, and coyote, as well as plastering a brilliant white contrast on the pink rock of the amphitheatre. A Tour of Bryce Canyon NP Bryce Canyon can easily be experienced in a day, as long as you don't spend much time on the trail. Start at Fairyland Point, 1 mi north of the fee station and visitor centre, to get a preview of the many amphitheatre views that lie ahead. Proceed to the Bryce Canyon Visitor Centre to get an overview of the park and purchase any books or maps that might enhance your visit. Watch the video presentation on the park and peruse exhibits about the natural and cultural history of Bryce Canyon. Thus informed, drive to Bryce Canyon Lodge to see the historic property. From the lodge, you can walk out to the Rim Trail and stroll along the half- mile stretch between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. Drive the 18-mi main park road and stop at several of the overlooks along the way. Before you take the road to Rainbow and Yovimpa points, take a 2-mi detour to Bryce Point, which provides the southernmost view looking back on the main amphitheatre. Return to the main road and continue south past Fairview Point to the Natural Bridge, an arch that stands just off the edge of the rim. Another mile or so south is a narrow drainage called Agua Canyon, which contains several unique hoodoo formations, including the Hunter. Finally, continue another 4 mi or so to the end of the road, where you can linger at Rainbow and Yovimpa Points. From here the short rolling hike along the Bristlecone Loop Trail rewards you with spectacular views and a cool walk through a forest of bristlecone pines. Consider ending your day with sunset at Inspiration Point. Have your camera ready to catch the dramatic play of light on the colourful hoodoos. If you have the time and energy for a hike after checking out Sunrise Point, the Navajo Loop and Queen's Garden trails descend into the amphitheatre. Although these are the least strenuous routes into the amphitheatre, they still involve steep descents and return climbs to the rim. Before you hit the road again, unpack your picnic lunch on one of the benches along this part of the Rim Trail. From Bryce Point, you can access the Peekaboo Loop and Under- the-Rim trails, which lead to the unique hoodoo formations of the Wall of Windows and the Hat Shop, respectively. Timing This tour will take you the bulk of a day (10 to 12 hours), though you may have some extra time in the late afternoon for some rest or a short hike. Allowing for traffic, if you stop at all 13 overlooks, this drive to Rainbow Point and back will take you between two and three hours. If you cut out all of the stops except Rainbow Point, you can reduce the tour by 45 minutes to an hour. If you're really pressed for time, stick to the lodge area of the main amphitheatre, where you can see quite a bit without having to retreat to your car. Utah's Wasatch Mountains Overview Utah's Wasatch Mountains form a rugged divider spanning the centre of the state for 160 mi from north to south, providing spectacular staging ground for some of the finest ski resorts in the country, if not the world. With exceptional Wasatch Mountain terrain, the lightest, driest, deepest powder around, the ski resorts of the southern Wasatch in and around Park City please even the most discriminating skiers and snowboarders. And, surprise-surprise, it's not just about the snow: this part of Utah is home to world-class fly-fishing streams, a variety of challenging golf courses, and loads of high adventure in the backcountry. And after all that recreating, you can enjoy a drink in a chichi club, move on to a yummy supper, and then, if you don't feel like going home to the hot tub just yet, you can cut loose with some live music on Main Street. Park City's rep of being Utah's "Sin City" is inextricably tied to its past: it, along with the towns of Alta (where Alta and Snowbird are located) and Brighton (where Brighton and Solitude are located) were birthed by raucous mining camps and a significant vein of that wild lifestyle continues to this day. In contrast the Heber City area is a classically Mormon pioneer-formed community, as is Provo, home to Brigham Young University. Recreation opportunities abound here, too, but the nightlife is decidedly toned-down. The area north of Salt Lake City has striking scenery but far fewer tourists than the more popular regions to the south. Heading north from Salt Lake City along the Wasatch Front you pass a number of bedroom communities that fuse Odgen, the largest town in northern Utah, with the greater Salt Lake City area. North beyond Ogden, Utah is still rough and rugged country, not so unlike the way it was when the Transcontinental Railroad builders met in lonely Promontory to drive their celebratory golden spike and link the two coasts for the first time, in 1869. A large part of the region is within boundaries of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, home to breathtaking landscapes and countless miles of mostly undiscovered trails. In the northeastern part of the state is Logan, home to both Utah State University and the Utah Festival Opera. Logan is also a reliable homebase for hiking, biking, boating, and skiing excursions. Northern Utah is not necessarily the place for urban culture, but if you want genuine small town charm you're likely to find a dose or two here. It doesn't get more down- home than the legendary fresh raspberry shakes made by locals in Bear Lake. Best of the Wasatch Range in 3 to 7 Days If You Have 3 Days In three days you'll be hard-pressed to see all of this region so your best bet is to stick to the central Wasatch. Start with a day and a night in Park City, skiing one of its three resorts in winter or taking advantage of lift-served mountain biking in summer, then enjoy a night out on Park City's historic Main Street. The next day drive west on I-80, south along Salt Lake City's eastern bench on I-215, and east again on Route 210 up Little Cottonwood Canyon. In winter spend a day skiing at Alta or Snowbird. In summer hike the Catherine's Pass trail into neighboring Big Cottonwood Canyon. On your final day head south again on I-15, then east on Route 92 on the Alpine Loop scenic drive to Sundance Resort, where you can pamper yourself with a massage at the Spa and a quiet meal at the Tree Room or the Foundry Grill. In winter the Alpine Loop will be closed to traffic, so instead of driving east on Route 92 continue south on I-15 and spend some time exploring Provo before driving east on U.S. 189 to Sundance. If You Have 5 Days Start your five-day trip by following the suggested three-day itinerary above and then tack on the following: on Day 4 leave Sundance, heading east on Route 189 up Provo Canyon to the Heber Valley. In winter spend the day cross-country skiing or snowshoeing before your late- afternoon sleigh ride, and in summer spend the day hiking, golfing, or horseback riding in Wasatch Mountain State Park. The point is to take in the beauty of the Wasatch at a slower pace than is allowed while downhill skiing or snowboarding. Treat yourself to supper at Snake Creek Grill before retiring to the overnight comforts of the Homestead Resort. Strike out on Day 5 using River Road to connect to U.S. 40 and back to Park City- where, even though you started your trip here, something new awaits. Ski and/or snowboard until you're worn out and then nestle into an après-ski lounge for a hot toddy before suppertime and your pre-sleep hot tub. In warmer months spend your day fly-fishing with one of the guides from Trout Bum 2 or hiking some of Park City's extensive trail system and cap it off with supper on the patio of one of Park City's fine restaurants. If You Have 7 Days In a week you can get a good feel for the diversity of the Wasatch. Follow the five-day itinerary above, adding a day and a night in Big Cottonwood Canyon between Park City and Little Cottonwood Canyon. Then you can spend an extra day and night either exploring the Heber Valley or Park City. Salt Lake City Overview Sitting at the foot of the rugged Wasatch Mountains and extending to the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City has some of the best scenery in the country. The interface between city and nature draws residents and visitors alike to the Salt Lake Valley. There are few other places where you can enjoy urban pleasures and, within 20 minutes, hike a mountain trail or rest by a rushing stream. The world headquarters of the conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (you can hardly visit Salt Lake City without at least passing by Temple Square), Salt Lake City is surprisingly cosmopolitan, with the state's most diverse -- and most politically liberal -- population. Contrary to what you might have heard, Salt Lake City has a thriving nightlife scene and yes, you can get a drink. There's an active arts community and no dearth of good restaurants. And if you're a spectating sports enthusiast you'll have no problem finding a game: Salt Lake City is home to major basketball, hockey, baseball, and soccer clubs. Utah's largest newspapers and television stations originate here, and a significant feather in this city's cap was its terrific success as host to the world during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Best of Salt Lake City in 3 to 7 Days If You Have 3 Days The best place to start in Salt Lake City is downtown. Spend your first day visiting Temple Square, shopping The Gateway, and taking in a show at Clark Planetarium. On Day 2, visit Red Butte Garden & Arboretum and This Is the Place Heritage Park in the foothills of Salt Lake. Save Day 3 for experiencing the Great Salt Lake. A short 20 minutes away is Great Salt Lake State Park Marina, where you can see what it feels like to float in water three times heavier than freshwater. Finish your day with a visit to the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine, one of the largest man-made holes on earth. If You Have 5 Days Spend two full days in downtown Salt Lake City. Use your entire first day to visit the sites at Temple Square. On your second day, tour the Kearns Mansion and the Pioneer Memorial Museum. Spend Day 3 at the Utah Museum of Natural History and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on the University of Utah campus. Finish the day with a shopping trip to Trolley Square and a meal at the Hard Rock Cafe or Green Street Social Club at Trolley Square. On your fourth day, tour This Is the Place Heritage Park and Utah's Hogle Zoo. Spend the evening at the symphony, opera, or one of many theatres in the city. On Day 5 visit Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake. If You Have 7 Days Spend your first five days as outlined above. Take advantage of the city's great cultural offerings and restaurants at night. Depending on the season, take in a baseball or basketball game, or go to a play or concert in the evening. Make reservations for a dinner cruise on the Great Salt Lake on Day 5. On Day 6 start the morning with a walk or jog through Liberty Park and visit Tracy Aviary. Then head to the Bingham Canyon Copper Mine. On Day 7 start the day walking in Memory Grove or Ensign Peak, then visit any of the sights you didn't have time for the rest of the week. History buffs might opt to check out a portion of the Pony Express Trail. Zion Canyon Overview The walls of Zion Canyon soar more than 2,500 feet above the valley below, but it's the character, not the size, of the sandstone forms that defines the park's splendour. The domes, fins, and blocky massifs bear the names and likenesses of cathedrals and temples, prophets and angels. You can spend a whole visit to Zion taking in views from the valley floor, marvelling at every exhibit in this gallery of immense natural statuary. For all Zion's grandeur, trails that lead deep into side canyons and up narrow ledges on the sheer canyon walls reveal a subtler beauty. Tucked among the monoliths are delicate hanging gardens, serene spring-fed pools, and shaded spots of solitude. So diverse is this place that 85% of Utah's flora and fauna species are found here. Some, like the tiny Zion snail, appear nowhere else in the world. At the heart of Zion is the Virgin River, a tributary of the Colorado River. It's hard to believe that this muddy little stream is responsible for carving the great canyon you see, until you witness it transformed into a rumbling red torrent during spring runoff and summer thunderstorms. Cascades pour from the cliff tops, clouds float through the canyon, and then the sun comes out and you know you are walking in one of the West's most loved and sacred places. If you're lucky, you may catch such a spectacle, but when the noisy waters run thick with debris, make sure that you keep a safe distance -- these "flash floods" can and do kill. The elegance of Zion Canyon is most apparent as the morning sun alights upon the canyon walls or when the sunset draws out the brilliant colors of the rock. During the rains of March and September, you're likely to see waterfalls and fog. In fall, the canyon's trees explode into jarring hues of yellow and orange that mimic the sandstone backdrop. Winter is also dramatic, with a dusting of snow and storm clouds hugging the peaks. You are more likely to see wildlife on far-flung trails or in the off-season when there's less human and vehicular traffic. However, even in high season you may spot mule deer wandering in sheltered glens, especially early in the morning and at dusk. The park's many species of lizard come out to sun themselves on rocks during the heat of the day, and you may be surprised to come across a rattlesnake or, more benignly, a Gambel's quail. Mountain lion and ringtail cats prowl, but you're more likely to spot their tracks than catch a glimpse of the elusive animals themselves. A Good Tour: Zion Canyon Begin your visit at the Zion Canyon Visitor Centre, where outdoor exhibits inform you about the park's geology, wildlife, history, and trails, as well as how to best enjoy the park. Catch the shuttle or drive -- depending on the season -- into Zion Canyon. On your way in make a quick stop at the Zion Human History Museum. You can watch a 22-minute orientation program on the park and visit exhibits chronicling the human history of the area. Board the shuttle and travel to the Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint to take photos and walk the short path. Then pick up the next bus headed into the canyon. Stop at Zion Lodge and cross the road to the Emerald Pools trailhead, and take the short hike up to the pools themselves. Before reboarding the shuttle, grab lunch in the snack shop or dining room at Zion Lodge and browse the gift shop. Take the shuttle as far as Weeping Rock trailhead for a brief, cool walk up to the dripping, spring-fed cascade. Ride the next shuttle to the end of the road, where you can walk to the gateway of the canyon's narrows on the paved, accessible Riverside Walk. Follow with a relaxing dinner in Springdale after a stroll to the downtown galleries and shops. If you have another day, take a drive along the beautiful Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, with its long, curving tunnels, making sure your camera is loaded and ready for stops at viewpoints along the road. Once you reach the park's east entrance, turn around, and stop on the return trip to take the short hike up to Canyon Overlook. Afterward, rest your feet at a screening of Zion Canyon: Treasure of the Gods at the Zion Giant Screen Theatre in Springdale. In the evening, you might want to attend a ranger program at one of the campground amphitheatres or at Zion Lodge. Timing The two options here would each fill a day, with time for lingering at the sights along the way, or for making a couple of short hikes along the way. Vermont: Vermont Mountains Vermont Overview Vermont is an entire state of hidden treasures. Highways are not marred with billboards, and on some roads, cows still stop traffic twice a day, en route to and from the pasture. In spring, sap boils in sugarhouses, some built generations ago. Yet up the road, a chef trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier might use the maple syrup to glaze a pork tenderloin. It's the landscape that attracts people to Vermont. The rolling hills belie the rugged terrain underneath the green canopy of forest growth. During the heyday of the wool industry in the mid-1800s, sheep farming denuded 85% of the landscape. With railroads opening up the West after the Civil War, farming moved to the more profitable plain states, and the landscape began reclaiming itself. Tourism is one of the state's main economic engines. In winter, Vermont's 16 ski resorts are the prime attraction. In summer, clear lakes and streams provide ample opportunities for swimming, boating, and fishing; the hills attract hikers and mountain bikers. The more than 14,000 square miles of roads are great for road biking. In fall, the leaves have their last hurrah, painting the mountainsides a stunning array of yellow, gold, red, and orange. The only time things really slow down is during "mud" season -- otherwise known as late fall and spring. Even innkeepers have been known to tell guests to come another time. Sights & Activities Vermont can be divided into three regions. The southern part of the state, flanked by Bennington on the west and Brattleboro on the east, played an important role in Vermont's Revolutionary War-era drive to independence (yes, there was once a Republic of Vermont) and its eventual statehood. The central part is characterized by rugged mountains and the gently rolling dairy lands near Lake Champlain. Northern Vermont is the site of the state's capital, Montpelier, and its largest city, Burlington, yet it is also home to Vermont's most rural area, the Northeast Kingdom. Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway Williamsburg Blue Ridge Parkway Overview The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile scenic corridor that runs through the southern Appalachian Mountains from Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. It has much in common with these parks -- notably motor-vehicle access to hiking, camping, and picnicking opportunities; cultural and historical attractions; and modern lodgings nestled in some of the most striking mountain scenery in the East. Conceived in 1933 as a Great Depression-era public works effort, the Blue Ridge Parkway was begun in 1935 -- the first rural national parkway -- and finished in 1987. Its aim was to link the parks and to fight the area's dire unemployment. Today the parkway attracts more than 20 million visitors. The Blue Ridge's attraction is its elevated views of the wooded mountains and valleys that typify the Southern Highlands: modest peaks cloaked in a lush, leafy canopy of oak, hickory, and maple, with an occasional evergreen highlight of hemlock, spruce, or fir. With the exception of North Carolina's 6,684-foot Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, only a few Blue Ridge summits peak above 4,000 feet, but, the Blue Ridge Parkway reaches its highest point at Richland Balsam, which is 6,047 feet. Enveloping this expanse is the bluish haze that allegedly gave the Blue Ridge its name. Originally a product of moisture given off by the forest, today's haze is frequently infiltrated by airborne pollution that occasionally restricts views and has damaged some of the high-elevation foliage. More than six decades and 600 million visitors after it first opened, the parkway attracts a steady but uncrowded flow of weekday visitors from April through September; highest visitation is on summer weekends and during October's peak fall foliage, which usually occurs the second or third week of the month. In particularly popular areas, such as Virginia's Mabry Mill (Milepost 176.1), the traffic can sometimes resemble a big-city traffic jam -- the parkway is the most visited area in the 368-unit National Park System. Few travel the road in winter, and sections are frequently closed due to ice and snow. Best in a Day Itinerary Stop to enjoy the most inviting overlooks, take a couple of walks, visit one or two of the more popular attractions, and you've gotten about as much out of the parkway as one day will allow. Seeing the best of the entire roadway calls for at least two days, and preferably three or more. Must-see stops on the Virginia section of the parkway are the historical exhibits and hikes at Humpback Rocks (Milepost 5.8), Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86.0), Rocky Knob (Milepost 169.0), and Mabry Mill (Milepost 176.1). Worth the detour, if you have the time, are the view from the foot of Roanoke's towering Mill Mountain Star (on the spur road that intersects the parkway at Milepost 124.5) and the expansive picnic area and walking opportunities at Smart View (Milepost 154.5) and Ground Hog Mountain (Milepost 189.0). In North Carolina, be sure to see Doughton Park (Milepost 241.1), Linville Falls (Milepost 316.4), Crabtree Meadows (Milepost 339.5), Craggy Gardens (Milepost 364.6), Mt. Pisgah (Milepost 408), and Waterrock Knob (Milepost 451.2) -- all of which have wondrous walking, picnicking, and sightseeing opportunities. Also well worth the stop is Linn Cove Viaduct (Milepost 305.0), the inventive, structurally elegant bridge that enables the parkway to continue uninterrupted. Williamsburg Overview Colonial Williamsburg, a careful restoration of the former Virginia capital, gives you the chance to walk into another century and see how earlier Americans lived. The streets may be unrealistically clean for that era, and you can find hundreds of others exploring the buildings with you, but the rich detail of the re-creation and the sheer size of the city could hold your attention for days. A ticket or pass (price is based on the number of attractions and the duration of visit) admits the holder to sites in the restored area, but it costs nothing just to walk around and absorb the atmosphere. The 23-mi Colonial Parkway joins Williamsburg with two other significant historical sites on or near the peninsula bounded by the James and York rivers. Historic Jamestowne was the location of the first permanent English settlement in North America, and it's an excellent place to begin a visit to the area; Yorktown was the site of the final major battle in the American Revolutionary War. The sites themselves are maintained today by the National Park Service. Close by are Jamestown Settlement and the excellent Yorktown Victory Centre, both run by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Like Colonial Williamsburg, these two sights re-create the buildings and activities of the 18th century, using interpreters in period dress. Best of Williamsburg in 2 Days Itinerary Day 1 Spend the day touring Colonial Williamsburg. When you buy your tickets at the visitor centre, stay to see Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot, starring Jack Lord, which has the distinction of being the longest-playing movie in the history of the United States -- it premiered in 1957. To get a real feel for the old days, exchange your modern money for replicas of 18th-century currency that you can use to make purchases in the historic area. Before you leave the visitor centre, check out the scheduled events, which include drum and fife corps performances, rope making, brick making, and many other demonstrations by costumed re-enactors. After you've toured a bit, have lunch on Duke of Gloucester Street at Chowning's Tavern, the King's Arms, or one of the other restored taverns here. Or eat a fancy lunch at the Williamsburg Inn, overlooking a golf course. After lunch, walk around the campus of the College of William and Mary -- don't miss the Wren Building, America's oldest academic building still in use. Then head over to Nicholson Street and the jail, where criminals, debtors, and the insane were kept in leg irons and chains. The gardens adjoining the Governor's Palace are pleasant to stroll and worth a trip even if you aren't touring the palace. Adjacent to the gardens is an outdoor kitchen, where demos of 18th-century cooking techniques take place. Have dinner at one of the cafés and restaurants on Duke of Gloucester or at one of the 40 or so restaurants at Merchants Square. After dinner, stop by the Play Booth Theatre, where plays and scenes of plays from before the American Revolution are performed. Day 2 Spend the entire day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Washington: Seattle Seattle Overview Seattle is defined by water. There's no use denying the city's damp weather, or the fact that its skies are cloudy for much of the year. Seattleites don't tan, goes the joke, they rust. But Seattle is also defined by the rivers, lakes, and canals that bisect its steep green hills, creating distinctive micro-landscapes along the water's edge. Funky fishing boats, floating homes, swank yacht clubs, and waterfront restaurants exist side by side. A city is defined by its people as well as its weather or geography, and the people of Seattle -- a half-million or so within the city proper, another 2.5 million in the surrounding Puget Sound region -- are a diversified bunch. Seattle has long had a vibrant Asian and Asian-American population, and well-established communities of Scandinavians, African-Americans, Jews, Native Americans, and Latinos live here, too. It's impossible to generalize about such a varied group, but the prototypical Seattleite was once pithily summed up by a New Yorker cartoon in which one arch-browed East Coast matron says to another, "They're backpacky, but nice." Seattle's climate fosters an easygoing lifestyle. Overcast days and long winter nights have made the city a haven for moviegoers and book readers. Hollywood often tests new films here, and residents' per-capita book purchases are among North America's highest. Seattle has all the trappings of a metropolitan hub -- two daily newspapers; a state-of-the-art convention centre; professional sports teams; a diverse music club scene; and top-notch ballet, opera, symphony, and theatre companies. A major seaport, the city is a vital link in Pacific Rim trade. Best of Seattle in 3 to 6 Days If You Have 3 Days Get up with the sun and stroll to Pike Place Market. Take the steps down to the docks and visit the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Centre or the Seattle Aquarium. In the afternoon take a cruise on Elliott Bay or shop in Downtown's cosmopolitan shops. Return to Pike Place Market for dinner. Top off the night with a concert, a play, or a little clubbing in Belltown. On the second day, take the two-minute monorail ride from Downtown's Westlake Centre mall to the Seattle Centre. Head up the Space Needle for 360-degree city views. Afterward take in the Pacific Science Centre, the Children's Museum, the Experience Music Project, or the Science Fiction Experience. Have lunch in Queen Anne or Belltown, and then walk southwest down Broadway to the water. Ride the trolley past the docks and through Pioneer Square to the International District. Tour the Wing Luke Museum. For dinner, head to Uwajimaya, the market with a Pan-Asian food court. See what's happening at the Nippon Kan Theatre, or head east to Capitol Hill's shops and bars. Start the third day exploring galleries and shops in Pioneer Square. Wander through the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, then grab a latte at the corner Starbucks before you take the Seattle Underground Tour. Have lunch at Elliott Bay Books' café, then browse the shelves. Take a bay cruise or visit the Washington Park Arboretum. Head to Capitol Hill or back south to Pioneer Square for dinner and some nightclubbing. If You Have 6 Days Follow the three-day itinerary. On the fourth day, grab a coffee (or carrot juice) at a Green Lake café, then stroll around the water. Round out the morning exploring the Woodland Park Zoo or Ballard Locks. Head to Fremont for lunch and a little shopping. Cross over to the University District and the University of Washington's Waterfront Activities Centre, where you can rent a kayak. Try one of the U-District's ethnic restaurants for dinner, then spend the evening shopping at University Village or bar-hopping along the Avenue. Day 5 is for culture: spend the morning at the Frye Art Museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, the Henry Art Gallery, or the Museum of History & Industry. Afterward, drive northeast to the Woodinville vineyards. Take a Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery tour, then head across the street to the Columbia Winery to sample the vintages. Have lunch in one of the area's many restaurants, or wait to eat until after you've toured the Redhook Brewery. Head back through Kirkland, pausing to wander along the docks and the beach. End the day in Bellevue with dinner at a trendy restaurant. On Day 6 head to Capitol Hill and set out on a late-morning stroll through Volunteer Park. Then tour the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the conservatory. Have lunch on Broadway; do a little shopping here and along 12th Avenue. Drive to West Seattle's Alki Beach for the afternoon, and have dinner at a beachside restaurant. Washington, D.C. Washington Overview The Byzantine workings of the federal government; the sound-bite-ready oratory of the well- groomed politician; the murky foreign policy pronouncements issued from Foggy Bottom: they all cause many Americans to cast a sceptical eye on anything that happens "inside the Beltway." Washingtonians take it all in stride, though, reminding themselves that, after all, those responsible for political hijinks don't come from Washington, they come to Washington. Besides, such ribbing is a small price to pay for living in a city whose charms extend far beyond the bureaucratic. World-class museums and art galleries (nearly all of them free), tree-shaded and flower-filled parks and gardens, bars and restaurants that benefit from a large and creative immigrant community, and nightlife that seems to get better with every passing year are as much a part of Washington as floor debates or filibusters. There's no denying that Washington, the world's first planned capital, is also one of its most beautiful. And although the federal government dominates many of the city's activities and buildings, there are always places where you can leave politics behind. Washington is a city of vistas -- pleasant views that shift and change from block to block, a marriage of geometry and art. Unlike other large cities, Washington isn't dominated by skyscrapers, largely because, in 1910, Congress passed a height-restrictions act to prevent federal monuments from being overshadowed by commercial construction. Its buildings stretch out gracefully and are never far from expanses of green. Like its main industry, politics, Washington's design is a constantly changing kaleidoscope that invites inspection from all angles. Best in 3 to 5 Days You could easily spend several weeks exploring Washington, D.C., but if you're here for just a short period, make sure to plan your time carefully. The following suggested itineraries (one set is geared specifically for those travelling with children) can help you structure your visit efficiently. Days 1 & 2 Spend both days on the Mall checking out the museums and monuments. The National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum (also the most crowded), the National Gallery of Art, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum are the most popular. Take time out for a walk from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and around the Tidal Basin, where you can see the Jefferson Memorial and the FDR Memorial, and take a leisurely paddleboat ride around the cherry trees. Day 3 Explore Capitol Hill, where you'll have the option of visiting the Capitol, the U.S. Botanic Gardens, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Call your senators or congressional representatives in advance for tickets to see Congress in session. It's an unforgettable experience. Likewise, check the Supreme Court's Web site for weekday dates of oral arguments. Show up at 9:30 in the morning for admission either to a short (three-minute) or all-morning visit. Day 4 Head to the National Zoo for the morning. Say hi to the pandas, then, if it's nice out, hop on the Metro to Dupont Circle for lunch. Walk west on P Street NW to Georgetown, where the options for lattes, shopping, and leisurely strolling (for architecture buffs) abound. In inclement weather take a cab from the zoo straight to Georgetown's Washington Harbour, where you can dine until the sun comes out, then explore the neighbourhood. Day 5 Split your last day between Adams-Morgan and Dupont Circle. These two neighbourhoods have unusual shops, restaurants, and clubs, although each area has its own personality. Ethiopian, El Salvadoran, and Mexican cuisines abound in Adams-Morgan. Dupont Circle is a destination favoured by art lovers, thanks to an assortment of art galleries as well as the Phillips Collection. It's also where you'll find the renowned bookstore Kramerbooks & Afterwords. Wisconsin: Milwaukee Milwaukee Overview A small-town atmosphere prevails in Milwaukee, which is not so much a city as a large collection of neighbourhoods situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. Wisconsin's largest city, it is an international seaport and the state's primary commercial and manufacturing centre. Modern steel-and-glass high-rises occupy much of the downtown area, but they share the skyline with restored and well-kept 19th-century buildings from Milwaukee's early heritage. First settled by Potawatomi and later by French fur traders in the late 18th century, the city boomed in the 1840s with the arrival of German brewers, whose influence is still present. Milwaukee is known as a city of festivals, the biggest being Summerfest in late June and early July and the Great Circus Parade in July. Sights & Activities From the north, I-43 provides controlled access into downtown Milwaukee. I-94 leads to downtown from Chicago and other points south and west of the city. If you are travelling to sites in the wider metropolitan area, from I-94 you can connect to I-894, which bypasses central Milwaukee. Lake Michigan is Milwaukee's eastern boundary; Wisconsin Avenue is the main east-west thoroughfare. Milwaukee's downtown, the central business district, is 1 mi long, a few blocks wide, and is divided into east and west by the Milwaukee River. The East-West Expressway (I-94/I-794) is the dividing line between north and south. Streets are numbered in ascending order from the Milwaukee River west well into the suburbs. Many downtown attractions are near the Milwaukee River and can be reached on foot. Wyoming: Grand Teton NP Yellowstone NP Grand Teton National Park Overview Grand Teton National Park encompasses the spectacular Teton Range jutting into the sky above the Snake River. This part of Wyoming has the tallest, most spectacular peaks in the state and a diverse wildlife population that includes wolves, grizzly bears, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and antelope. Here you can hike through mountain meadows, challenge white water, explore Native American culture, and trace the history of westbound 19th century emigrants. You might think Grand Teton National Park would suffer in comparison to larger, more historic Yellowstone, but when you see the Tetons rising out of Jackson Hole, you realize that nothing overshadows soaring peaks like these. Jackson Hole, the valley to the east of the Tetons, is a world-class ski destination, with literally thousands of ways to get down the slopes. In the valley, the town of Jackson works to maintain its small-town charm while at the same time serving as the area's cultural center. In the Wind River Mountains, the Oregon-California- Mormon trail sites near South Pass merit a visit, and you can learn about Native American traditions on the Wind River Reservation. Wildlife-watching in northwest Wyoming ranks among the best in the state: look for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep at Whiskey Mountain near Dubois; buffalo, elk, and even wolves in Jackson Hole; and moose near Pinedale or north of Dubois. One of the best ways to admire the landscape -- mountain flowers, alpine lakes, and wildlife ranging from fat little pikas to grizzly bears -- is to pursue an outdoor activity. Name an outdoor activity and you can probably do it here, whether it be hiking, mountain biking, climbing, fishing, picnicking, and camping in summer, or downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, dogsledding, and snowmobiling in winter. You can hike or ride a horse along one of the backcountry trails near Grand Teton National Park, Dubois, or Lander; scale mountain peaks in the Wind River or Grand Teton ranges; or fish or float the Snake River near Jackson. Come winter, take a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge, snowmobile on hundreds of miles of trails, cross-country ski throughout the region, or hit the slopes at Snow King Mountain, Grand Targhee, or Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, one of the great skiing destinations in the country. There's more to northwest Wyoming than the great outdoors. A handful of museums, well worth a few hours of your trip, offer a window on the history of the American West. The Jackson Hole Museum concentrates on the early settlement of Jackson Hole, while the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale takes an informative look at the trapper heritage. The Indian Arts Museum, within the Colter Bay Visitor Centre at Grand Teton National Park, houses Plains Indians artefacts, including toys, clothing, and instruments; it occasionally hosts crafts demonstrations by tribal members and ranger programs on Native American culture. At Fort Washakie, the Gallery of the Wind and Museum celebrates the heritage of northwest Wyoming's earliest residents. Grand Teton Tour Start your tour at Moose Visitor Center, which has exhibits on the geology and wildlife of the area, plus information on the park. Follow Teton Park Road north for about ½ mi and then head east on the path to Menor's Ferry Historic Area, which illustrates how people crossed the Snake River before bridges were built. Also here is the tiny Chapel of the Transfiguration. Drive north for 10 mi on Teton Park Road to scenic Jenny Lake. If you want to hike, you can spend the rest of the day exploring trails in the Jenny Lake area. However, if you prefer a driving tour, return to the Teton Park Road and travel north. Jackson Lake, popular with boaters and anglers, starts several miles north of Jenny Lake, off Teton Park Road. Teton Park Road intersects with U.S. 89/191/287 west of Moran Junction; follow U.S. 89/191/287 north for about 5 mi as it skirts the lake to Jackson Lake Lodge, which is a good place for lunch. After eating, continue north to Colter Bay Visitor Center, which hosts daily programs on wildlife and Native American culture. Within the visitor centre, the Indian Arts Museum houses numerous Plains Indians artifacts and it's well worth the miles to see the collection. From the Colter Bay Visitor Centre, retrace your route south on U.S. 89/191/287 to the Willow Flats, where you have a good chance of seeing moose grazing. Continue east on U.S. 89/191/287 to the scenic Oxbow Bend, home to several species of birds. Drive southeast to Moran Junction and then head south for 6 mi on U.S. 191 to the late- 19th-century cabin at Cunningham Cabin Historic Site before returning to Jackson. Timing Plan to spend at least a full day on this tour, and budget even more time if you want to hike or pursue other outdoor activities in the park. This tour is meant to be done between late spring and early fall, as much of the park shuts down in winter to all but skiing and snowmobiling (Teton Park Road and many of the restaurants and lodgings in the area are closed between October and April). Yellowstone Overview Where else but Yellowstone can you pull off the empty highway at dawn to see two bison bulls shaking the earth as they collide in battle before the herd, and an hour later be caught in an RV traffic jam? For more than 125 years the granddaddy of national parks has been full of such contradictions, stemming from its twin goals: to remain America's pre-eminent wildlife preserve as well as its most accessible one. Anyone travelling to Wyoming or Montana should make a point of fitting Yellowstone into the itinerary. Few places in the world can match Yellowstone's collection of accessible wonders. The Continental Divide slices through the park from southeast to northwest, amid a diverse terrain that includes rugged mountains, lush meadows, pine forests, free-flowing rivers, and the largest natural high-elevation lake in the United States. Yellowstone is exceptional for its abundance of geothermal features, such as rainbow-colour hot springs and thundering geysers. As you visit the park's hydrothermal areas, you'll be walking on top of the Yellowstone Caldera -- a 28- by 47-mi collapsed volcanic cone that last erupted about 600,000 years ago. The park's geyser basins, hot mud pots, fumaroles (steam vents), and hot springs are kept bubbling by an underground pressure cooker filled with magma. One geophysicist describes Yellowstone as "a window on the Earth's interior." If you're not here for the geysers, chances are that you've come to spot some of the teeming wildlife, from grazing bison to cruising trumpeter swans. Yellowstone has 51 species of mammals and 209 species of birds, including predators such as grizzly and black bears, coyotes, foxes, hawks, and eagles, as well as less fearsome creatures such as elk, deer, moose, songbirds, and rodents. Controversy swirls around the park's wolves, which were reintroduced in 1995, and its bison, which sometimes roam outside the park in winter. Both draw headlines because neighbouring cattle ranchers, particularly in Montana, see both creatures as a threat to their herds. Yellowstone's attractions are as spectacular today as they were in the days of John Colter, the area's first white explorer. More than 3 million people visit annually to witness the geological wonders, the beautiful scenery, and the diverse array of wildlife. To see a spectacularly different Yellowstone than that experienced by most visitors, come in winter. Then the frosty silence is intruded upon by very few people -- even if some of them are riding in snow coaches. Stop along a trail or a road and simply listen; if you're patient, you'll hear the gentle voice of nature. Even in the depths of winter the park is never totally still: mud pots bubble, geysers shoot skyward, and wind soughs through the pine trees. Above these sounds, the cry of a hawk, the yip of a coyote, or -- if you're lucky -- the howl of a wolf may pierce the air. Planning Your Time If, like most people who visit Yellowstone, you plan to spend just one full day in the park before heading to the surrounding attractions and cities, you will have to strategize wisely to get a good glimpse of the park's wonders. Your best approach would be to concentrate on one or two of the park's major areas. Many visitors with limited time head for the two biggest attractions: the famous Old Faithful geyser, and the hiking trails in the Upper Geyser Basin and along both rims of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. En route between these attractions, you will be able to see some wildlife and some geothermal activity. With more time you can really sink your teeth into Yellowstone. In each of the major park villages -- Mammoth, Lake Yellowstone, Fishing Bridge, Roosevelt-Tower, and Grant -- you have a choices of activities and experiences. If you want to study a geyser terrace and see elk, go to Mammoth. Head to Roosevelt for hiking in open meadows, a horseback or stagecoach ride, and a cookout, as well as the chance to see or hear wolves and examine the remnants of a petrified forest. In the Lake Yellowstone and Fishing Bridge area, you can fish, watch buffalo and often see grizzly bears, especially in the Pelican Valley. Grant has its own small geyser basin that abuts Lake Yellowstone. Wherever you go in Yellowstone, spend as much time as possible out of the car to immerse yourself in this natural place. Take a hike on some of the park's dozens of trails, which range from extremely easy and suitable for people with impaired mobility to rigorous enough to challenge the hard-core backpacker. In the easy category, good walks in the outdoors include the Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin, and Norris Geyser Basin boardwalks. For a moderate hike, take the trail to Mystic Falls, with its trailhead at Biscuit Basin between Old Faithful and Mammoth, or the South Rim Trail at Canyon. More difficult and longer treks include hikes to Specimen Ridge, in the northeast part of the park, and the trail to the top of Elephant Back, near Lake Yellowstone. Another good way to learn about the park is to participate in a ranger-led tour or discussion. Take a sunset cruise on Lake Yellowstone or a ride to LeHardy Rapids in a classic 1937 touring bus. In winter there are guided snowmobile or snow-coach trips with options for cross- country skiing or snowshoeing through geyser basins and along the canyon. Sign up for the Yellowstone Association's Lodging and Learning program or one of its field seminars to delve more deeply into specific areas of interest, such as wildlife, geology, flora, or history. If you seek greater solitude, explore Yellowstone's backcountry either on your own or on a guided backpacking or horse-packing trip. For days on end, you might not see a visitor centre and you might not sleep in a bed with four walls around you, but you will gain an appreciation for the park's unspoiled wilderness -- without running into hordes of other people. Some backcountry campsites are accessible for people with disabilities, so everyone can witness Yellowstone's wild wonders.
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