By land or by air – for the weekend or longer – when the weather gets warmer, it’s time to plan a getaway.
By KATIE MCELVEEN
Beaufort, South Carolina
Why go: South Carolina’s second-oldest city is set on a coastal isle surrounded by a backdrop of tidal creeks, old rice plantations and some of the state’s most dramatic moss-draped live oak trees. Take in Gullah culture on St. Helena Island at the Penn Center, which was founded by Quaker missionaries as a school for freed slaves in 1862, and has become a museum. The 50-acre site includes historic buildings (including the cottage where Martin Luther King stayed) and old burial grounds; at the museum, you can listen to the recorded voices of students sharing their stories.
Sporty types can rent a kayak and explore the maze of rivers and tidal creeks that meander through the region; there’s also shopping and gallery-hopping along Bay Street. Set a few blocks away from the downtown retail district, Beaufort’s Old Point neighborhood is filled with homes built for wealthy 18th and 19th-century planters. One, the John Mark Verdier House Museum, is open to the public; another at 1 Laurens Street, was the filming location for the movie The Big Chill.
Where to eat: Join the locals at Griffin Market, where chef Laura Bonino infuses specialties from Italy’s Piedmont with locally-sourced ingredients like wild boar sausage, cuttlefish and, of course, shrimp. The Sunday night family-style prix-fixe dinner is legendary. griffinmarket.com
Where to stay: Owned and operated by a pair of Wofford University grads eager to share their love of the Lowcountry, Anchorage 1770 makes a convenient base camp from which to explore both the natural and the stylish side of Beaufort. They’ll arrange curated food tours, paddleboard yoga, private fishing expeditions and more. anchorage1770.com
Boone and Banner Elk, North Carolina
Why Go: Beech Mountain Resort’s plethora of non-snow activities prove you don’t need snow to have fun on a mountain. Hike, bike and ride ATV’s on miles of trails that wind their way through the shady forest; ride the ski lifts to gorgeous views as well as a disc golf course, beer tastings (and yoga) at Beech Mountain Brewing Company, and there's plenty of places to refuel, including the Famous Brick Oven Pizzeria and Skybar 5506, the highest altitude restaurant in the east. beechmountainresort.com; famousbrickoven.com
Where to Eat: Off the mountain, try The Gamekeeper for exotic game like emu and bison (as well as more familiar fare like pork chops and beef tenderloin), the Painted Fish for craft brews and everything from burgers to seared ahi tuna and curry-scented scallops on the deck and Sorrento’s Italian Bistro for pizza, pasta, Italian specialties and a giant slab of what might be the best cheesecake in the state. Breakfast at Dunn’s Deli—egg sandwiches on croissants, creamy sausage gravy biscuits—is a local tradition. gamekeeper-nc.com; paintedfishcafe.com
Where to stay: Rooms at Archer’s Mountain Inn have stone fireplaces and private terraces, some of which overlook Grandfather Mountain. Even better, the included full breakfast can be delivered to your room at no extra charge. Don’t miss dinner at Jackalope’s View, where dishes like local trout and a decadent short rib-stuffed grilled cheese sandwich come with an awe-inspiring view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. archersinn.com
Why go: Central America’s only English-speaking country is a kaleidoscope of adventure that includes hiking through an orchid-strewn jungle to a 1,000-foot-tall waterfall, gliding through an underground labyrinth of caves and rivers on an inner tube and clamoring over the ancient Mayan temples that stud rainforests alive with howler monkeys, jaguars, ocelots and crocodiles. Top sites include ATM cave, which will take you deep into a world of stalactites and stalagmites; the Mayan site of Lamanai, where one of the 700 buildings excavated is more than 125 feet tall. Ambergris Caye, a tiny island just off the northern coast of the country, is just a ten-minute boat ride from the world’s second-largest coral reef system. Snorkel at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where a chink in the miles-long reef means you’ll be surrounded by sea turtles, giant grouper, sharks and rays to its watery paradise. Afterwards take a golf cart or water taxi to the town of San Pedro, which is lined with traditional bakeries, fun beach bars and galleries.
Where to eat: On Ambergris Caye, hip Rojo Beach Bar serves stylish beach food—think guava-glazed ribs and lobster pizza—under a palapa roof next to the ocean. Grab a cold Belikan beer, play a round of pool, hang out with one of the friendly local dogs who have taken up residence and enjoy the view. rojolounge.com
Where to stay: For a bit of seaside swank, stay at Las Terrazas, where you’ll find a full-service spa, a large pool set with shady cabanas overlooking the ocean and suites with full kitchens. The resort’s restaurant, O, is one of the few places on the island to taste lionfish, an invasive species that’s killing native fish and can only be harvested by spearfishing. lasterrazasresort.com
Italy and Switzerland come together in the Switzerland’s sun-splashed Ticino region, which lies in the southernmost part of the country.
Set with parks and lakefront promenades, strewn with gardens and outdoor cafes and rimmed with snow-capped peaks, Italian-styled Lugano is unabashedly romantic. Take one of the free guided walking tours through the town, ogle the 16th-century fresco hidden inside the Church of Saint Maria degli Angioli, rent a small boat and explore the lake or hike Lugano to stunning views of the lake on one of the many paths that crisscross the forested mountains. There’s shopping, too, both within Lugano and at Foxtown, where outlets from designers like Gucci, Prada, Loro Piana and Etro are open every day.
A funicular makes it easy to reach the summit of Monte Bre and the nearby gallery-strewn town; there are also mountain bike and hiking trails that lead up and down the mountain. From the end of the trail, it’s just a short hike to the ancient cliffside community of Gandria, where lunch is served on patios stretched over the lake. Stroll back to Lugano along a lakefront path set with olive trees, with stops along the way at tiny waterfront cafes, or take one of the water taxis.
Where to eat: Homemade pastas, grilled veal and charcuterie top the menu at Bottegone del Vino; dozens of wines are offered by the glass, waiters are patient and, if it’s warm, you can sit outside.
Where to stay: What Hotel Lugano Dante Center lacks in charm—the rooms and lobby have a distinctly 90’s vibeâ€•it makes up in service: staff work tirelessly to make guests happy, recommending off-the-track tours and restaurants, keeping the bar open for latecomers and prepping free box breakfasts for the ride to the airport. hotel-luganodante.com
Saluda, North Carolina
Founded in 1881, this tiny town is known for a quaint downtown filled with galleries (don’t miss Heartwood Contemporary Crafts Gallery) and general stores, some of which have been open for generations, as well as citywide events like Coon Dog Day and the Saluda Arts Festival, which is scheduled for May 21st. Saluda’s location at the edge of the rugged Green River Gorge also makes it an easy escape for ziplining, hiking and tubing.
The gentlest way to take in the stunning landscape is to visit Pearson’s Falls and Glen, a botanical preserve that blooms with 200 types of wildflowers and has a ¼ mile trail that leads to a rushing 90-foot-waterfall. The most thrilling is the Gorge’s Zipline Canopy Adventure, a 4-hour excursion that takes daredevils over the gorge via 11 separate ziplines, 3 rappels and a sky bridge. It’s said to be the steepest and fastest zipline in the US. In between, there’s Green River Cover Tubing, which runs on days that water is released from the Tuxedo Hydro Plant, and Green River Adventure’s Waterfall Rappel, which leads adrenaline junkies down 70-foot-tall waterfalls on ropes.
Where to eat: The Mediterranean-inflected Red Onion is a mainstay in Saluda, and it’s easy to see why: everything from meal-sized salads and sandwiches, vegetarian entrées and big steaks, are well-prepared with local ingredients. Dogs are welcome on the porch. thepurpleonionsaluda.com
Where to stay: The sunny yellow Orchard Inn is located on a 12-acre mountain bluff about a mile from the center of Saluda. Stay in a regular room, or book one of the small cottages that dot the property. orchardinn.com
Todos Santos, Mexico
Located about an hour from Los Cabos, Todos Santos is what Cabo San Lucas was when writer John Steinbeck visited in 1940: a tiny fishing village tucked along the Pacific’s scalloped coastline. Today, open-air cafes, galleries and shops fill the quiet streets of this artists’ colony, particularly along Juarez Street, where pottery, clothing and jewelry are for sale in stylish shops. Coffee bars have sprung up, too, as well as an artisanal chocolate shop and, at Guaycura Hotel, a fun rooftop bar.
Although many of the region’s migrating grey whales have started their journey back to Alaska by March, there’s still plenty of sea life to take in, including humpback whales, sea turtles, seals and rays. Unlike tour operators in Los Cabos, who take visitors whale watching on large boats, eco-tours in Todos Santos put you within touching distance of these sea creatures aboard rubber zodiacs or pangas, traditional open-air fishing boats. Todos Santos is also a popular surfing destination, with both beginners and experts. At Los Cerritos, surf instructors guarantee that even the least-balanced novices will get up at least once.
Where to eat: La Casita may look like a typical nachos-and-margaritas restaurant; in reality, Chef/owner Sergio Rivera serves up some of the tastiest and most creative sushi in all of Baja. It’s fresh, too: many nights, you’ll see fishermen coming through the front door, massive Dorado or Mahi in hand. Moments later, it will show up on your plate. The margaritas are pretty good, too. lacasitatapaswinebar.com
Where to stay: There’s nothing fancy about the rooms at Hotel Casa Toda, but the concrete floors, tiled showers and platform beds have a spare, industrial vibe and the courtyard pool is stunning.
A spate of new restaurants, activities and, yes, winery tours, makes Napa worth visiting again. One of the valley’s oldest wineries, Inglenook, is now its newest, Sinegal Estate, which opened in January and is owned by the family that started Costco. Tours and tastings are available by appointment only. Cupcakes and wine? This seemingly oddball pairing is available by request (and with an appointment) at The Wine Foundry, which opened in October. You can also have your wine with a bit of exercise: Enjoy Napa Valley’s Bicycling and Kayak Tour and begin the day kayaking on the Napa River and end with visiting wineries by bicycle.
Napa’s Arts in April kicks off on April 4 and will feature exhibitions, gallery crawls and special shows throughout the month. Highlights include live music on Friday nights at the Napa Train Station—wines by the glass will be for purchase, or you can buy a bottle at the adjacent wine store and enjoy it with no corkage—and a home and garden tour on April 30.
Where to eat: Michelin two-star chef Matthew Lightener opened Ninebark in downtown Napa this fall; the three-story restaurant features three different dining concepts. The ground floor caters to walk-ins with simple cocktails and snacks, the main dining room is on the second floor and the top floor is a rooftop terrace serving snacks (including a seven-layer dip featuring lobster and ahi tuna), and complex cocktails like the Old Ball Game, which is made with rye infused with popcorn and peanuts. ninebark-napa.com
Where to stay: New suites with fireplaces, refrigerators stocked with local wines and cheeses, open-air showers and 1,300 square feet of indoor and outdoor space are just one of the highlights at Auberge du Soleil. Others include a botanical spa open only to hotel guests, a Michelin-starred restaurant and walking trails that wind through an outdoor sculpture garden. aubergedusoleil.com
Boone, North Carolina
Anchoring North Carolina’s heavily forested High Country, Boone is a paradise for outdoorsy types, who come to hike, mountain bike, rock climb and kayak. But thanks to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds through the region, those with less strenuous activities on their minds can also take in spring’s glorious vistas, particularly near the overlooks at mileposts 302.8, 304.8 and 305.2. Milepost 302.8, Rough Ridge, also offers access to the Rough Ridge Trail, which rambles to a boardwalk then on through the alpine landscape to flat, sun splashed boulders overlooking the valley.
Art and the outdoors come together at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, which sits on a high bluff and offers views of Bass Lake and the surrounding mountains, as well as access to miles of hiking trails. The park is the former estate of Moses H. Cone, a Gilded Age industrialist and conservationist. Cone’s 13,000 square-foot manse now houses the Parkway Craft Center, one of five shops of the Southern Highland Craft Guild which features handmade crafts by hundreds of regional artists.
Where to eat: After culinary school and stints in kitchens as far away as Park City, chef Sam Ratchford returned home to Boone and, in 2008, opened Vidalia. College students from nearby Appalachian State University can’t get enough of Ratchford’s signature Cajun-spiced onion rings or burgers; parents love the grilled salmon with creamy corn risotto. vidaliaofboonenc.com
Where to stay: It’s all about old-school fun at Chetola Resort, which has its own lake where you can rent paddleboats and fishing poles. There are also tennis courts and carriage trails; stay at the inn or in one of the resort’s multi-bedroomed condos. chetola.com