Eat: Vail, Colo.If you’re a skier or mountain biker, you know that the quintessential town of Vail, Colo. is considered one of the best summer and winter destinations in the country. Vail Mountain celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, debuting its ultra high-tech Gondala One, the fastest in North America, all while having invested more than $2 billion in improvements over the last eight years. But Vail has much more to offer visitors than fresh powder and acres of skiable and hikeable terrain. It’s also a foodie’s fantasyland with chefs now utilizing Colorado’s once-underwhelming ingredients on their menus, making the beautiful Rocky Mountain landscape here what you go for and the Rocky Mountain cuisine what you go back for. Where to Stay: Vail is huge in terms of a ski town, so you have plenty of options when it comes to lodging. And public transportation is completely free, so getting around is a breeze. The ultra-swanky Solaris Residences (www.solarisvail.com) are located in the heart of Vail Village and within walking distance to restaurants and shops. It offers studios to six-bedroom penthouses; rates vary depending on season, but start at $785 for winter season. The Four Seasons Vail Resort (www.fourseasons.com/vail) also offers standard guest rooms, suites and private residences in Vail Village if you prefer a more traditional hotel stay. What to Know: There’s so much to do in Vail you can vacation here and never put on a pair of skis (why would you, though?). Touring the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens is a must—even if there’s snow. It’s the world’s highest botanical garden and is named in honor of former first lady Betty Ford for her contributions to the area. Of course, if you plan to be on the slopes for opening day on Nov. 22, you’ll probably want to book some recovery time at The Vitality Center at Vail Mountain Lodge. Go for one of the signature treatments like the Epicurean's Body Facial, which starts off with a grape seed and papaya body polish followed by a full body massage. You can also warm up in the sauna, rejuvenate with a morning yoga session or detox all of those dinners with a long sit in the steam room. Dine: You probably don’t think of Colorado when you think of fresh produce and local ingredients. But that’s beginning to change. And one of the newest hotspots in Vail Village at the forefront of utilizing local ingredients is Mountain Standard. It’s from the same owners as Sweet Basil—a longtime favorite in Vail since 1977. Executive chef Paul Anders helms the kitchens of both restaurants (they’re located in the same building overlooking Gore Creek) but the similarities end there. Sweet Basil’s menu focuses on classical fine dining but Mountain Standard is totally low key. Glassware is recycled wine bottles and chairs are made of recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles. But the main element here is wood: Walls and flooring are made of reclaimed spruce, and most food is cooked on a wood-fired rotisserie. Share a range of starters and small plates: We love the whiskey braised pork belly, Colorado beef carpaccio, coal-roasted olives and yellowfin tuna crudo. Pair these with a “special sauce” (cocktail) like the W.U.P.E. (Cabo Wabo Repodado with lime and blood orange San Pellegrino) or one of several Colorado draft beers.
If you’re looking for cool cocktails (and great food), head to three-time James Beard nominee Kelly Liken’s eponymous restaurant. The menu focuses on seasonal Colorado ingredients like lamb, elk and bison, but the “bar chefs” here are mad scientists that concoct unusual—and outstanding—signature cocktails like Kelly’s Original Tomato Consommé Martini with CapRock Vodka and crystal clear Colorado tomato essence; and the Colorado Campfire (pine nut-infused Breckenridge Bourbon, grilled Palisade peaches and cold-smoked ice cubes).
After a long day on the mountain, you might just want a big old burger, and when that’s what you’re craving, call the Four Seasons Resort Vail and book the Back of the House Burger Bar. This super casual table is located in the kitchen at Flame restaurant where executive chef Jason Harrison has created a fun menu with massive (like you-have-to-eat-it-with-a-fork massive) burgers like the Big Mamba (wagyu patty with egg, mushrooms, mixed peppers, house gruyere cheese and chipotle aioli), the Columbine (fried chicken sandwiched between two bacon, green onion and cheddar waffles) and the Grizzly Peak (Skuna salmon with relish and avocado). Did we mention these were massive? The menu at BOH also features adult milkshakes—think creamsicle (Stoli O vodka and housemade vanilla ice cream), birthday cake (cake vodka and housemade cake batter ice cream) and black forest (cherries, Grey Goose Cherry Noir with housemade chocolate ice cream)—so save room if you can.
Play: Sea IslandThough it might seem like a good distance to travel, there’s good reason to make the five-hour drive to Sea Island, Georgia. On this small, cozy island—albeit acres of pristine wilderness with stunning residential properties that rival those on Kiawah, Pawley’s, and Sullivan’s islands—stands the anchor of this barrier island. For the past eighty-five years, the Forbes Five-Star Cloister and Lodge have been the preeminent accommodations on Georgia’s Golden Isles. Whether you’ve come for the spa, the immaculate, quiet beaches, the biking, the fishing, the shooting, the food, or the nature, there’s something here for everyone. Where to Stay: You could certainly rent one of the House Beautiful-worthy homes on Sea Island, but the better option is to book a room at The Cloister (www.seaisland.com/TheCloister) or the nearby Lodge or Cottages, all of which offer luxurious accommodations complete with Molton Brown bath products and views of the beach and marshlands. Surrounded by three of the island’s premier golf courses, the more rustic refined Lodge is a golfer’s paradise. The Cottages offer year-round accommodations close to the beach, but it’s The Cloister that is the piece de resistance of Sea Island. Built in 1928, Bill Jones and automobile magnate Howard Coffin created a cozy seaside hotel on the Georgian coast. Fast forward eighty-five years and The Cloister, having undergone a $350 million uplift to its traditional décor and Mediterranean-inspired architecture in 2006, boasts a luxurious yet wholly casual and comfortable atmosphere where couples and families alike can unwind. What to Know: It’s a wasted trip to Sea Island if you don’t book a treatment at the first-class, 65,000-square-foot, Spa and Fitness Center. Open since 2006, the two-story spa features dark wood paneling complemented by white archways and Turkish rugs. But it’s the atrium that’s the true star here: waterfalls and streams flow among rocks smoothed by the flowing water while chairs are perched nearby making this the ultimate place for relaxation. After a day at the spa, book the Chef’s Table at the Georgian Room. Located in an air-conditioned room partitioned by a large glass wall overlooking the kitchen, the Chef’s Table boasts a high-def TV, which allows guests to scan from station to station within the kitchen to watch the action take place. Play: There’s the beach, of course, with free access to small craft boats and paddleboards for all Sea Island guests. But it’s what’s off the beach that has adventurous travelers coming back here year after year. Down the street from The Cloister is one of the country’s best shooting schools. Here, guests can take advantage of the competitive five-stand sporting clay field, two skeet ranges, and a trap field while the kiddies flock to the popular Air Rifle Bull's-eye Hour (kids ages 6 to 12). Water lovers will want to book a fishing trip: in-shore fishing is a great option as casting a line in the serpentine marshland results in bountiful catches of trout, redfish, flounder, and whiting, which some of Sea Island’s restaurants will cook up for dinner that evening. But the best way to see the island is by bike: rent a beach cruiser at the bike shop and ride along the paths throughout the quaint neighborhoods. Better yet: book a nature tour with the onsite Naturalist, who will guide you via bikes to some of the island’s precious sea turtle nests.
Drink: Washington, DCThese days it’s the nation’s capital’s food scene that’s getting all the attention. New chefs and food reality show stars have made the city a recent favorite for foodies. But DC has another edible—er, drinkable—trend worthy of attention. From craft brews to handcrafted cocktails, Washington is ascending to capital status. And, of course, between world class shopping, national monuments, and ever-changing art exhibits, there’s plenty of ways to pass the time until cocktail hour. Where to stay: While there’s no shortage of sophisticated hotels in DC, one of the most convenient—and most sleek—is the W Washington DC (www.wwashingtondc.com). Set in Penn Quarter, just a block from the White House, this hotel’s historic fascade belies its swank interior. You’ll find a lobby awash in jewel tones where a DJ spins most nights at one end and the stylish set mingle under dramatic chandeliers. Rooms offer a similar juxtaposition with views of the Washington Monument and the Treasury Building as the backdrop to urbane design and tech-savvy amenities. For your first sip upon arrival, catch the elevator to the rooftop bar, P.O.V. where you can indulge in drinks like the Marmalade made with gin, lemon, and house made citrus marmalade as you soak in panoramic views of the city’s landmarks. What to know: While Georgetown’s M Street has always been a favorite for visiting shoppers, these days 14th Street is on trend for the fashion focused. Check out shops like Redeem, a recently reopened men and women’s boutique featuring a new and larger chic interior packed with edgy brands. More interested in high brow culture? Van Gogh Repetitions, featuring 20 of the famed artist’s paintings as well as related drawings and photos, can be found at The Phillips Collection through January 26, 2014. For style and art, head to the Corcoran Gallery of Art to see Alex Prager: Face in the Crowd. Sponsored by Bottega Veneta and W Magazine, the exhibit from the LA-based photographer features a series of large-scale photos of people squeezed into public places. It’s the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States and will be on view through March 9, 2014. Drink: If you’re a craft beer lover, you’ve come to the right place. The city’s fast-growing scene includes top breweries like DC Brau Brewing Company and the brand new Bluejacket, which opened in the Navy Yard neighborhood in October. Bluejacket, which plans to produce about 5,000 barrels of beer per year and have 25 rotating taps featuring 15 house drafts, also offers its brews in bars and restaurants in DC and Northern Virginia. The brewery, which includes a restaurant, is owned by the same restaurant group behind popular beer destinations like Churchkey and Birch & Barley.
If you prefer your booze on ice and in a swanky setting, Washington has plenty to offer there as well. The best way to choose your elixir may be by the mix master behind the bar. At The Passenger, you’ll find Derek Brown inventing creatively-named drinks using fresh ingredients in unexpected combinations. Or try your luck and knock on the door at Old Town Alexandria’s PX speakeasy where mixologist Todd Thrasher turns out tasty concoctions. The most innovative addition to the scene may be Gina Chersevani’s Buffalo & Bergen inside the new Union Market where you can pull up a seat to the counter and sip on the soda-shop-meets-bar’s boozy beverages.
See: San Francisco, CALess than six hours from Charlotte by air, the lure of hilly San Francisco offers a clarion call for antsy Charloteans who aren’t afraid to splurge for an extended weekend that promises the go-see-do-enthusiast an abundance of choices. The city by the bay dishes up the best of compact walking, shopping, and museum rich east coast cities all wrapped up in a California package that features plenty of sunshine, the Pan-Asian influence of the Pacific Rim, and an art lover’s paradise with several never assembled before exhibitions this fall and winter promising delight at every turn. Where to stay: Visitors exploring a walking city like San Francisco need a cozy central base of operations. The Ritz-Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com/en/properties/SanFrancisco) on Nob Hill goes above and beyond in meeting that criteria. The best feature of chic destination may be its restaurant, Parallel 37. The star of the kitchen, Charlie Trotter’s former chef, Michael Rotondo, has created a California hyper local menu that inspires. His seared octopus, with sunchoke, skyhawk olive oil, and crispy garlic may be worth the flight alone. Paired with creative cocktails by mixolgist Camber Lay (think Pig n Boots featuring Pig’s Nose Scotch, Lillet Rose, Lavender, and Yuzu) you’ll want to plan to linger over a meal here. What to know: Walking is still the preferred method for exploring and getting a street side feel for many of the best attractions in the city. Walk to Chinatown, the largest outside of Asia, and take half a day to explore the fascinating markets, bakeries, and restaurants that dish up some of the best Dim Sum on earth. Explore Little Italy and its vast number of authentic Italian deli’s on your walk up Telegraph Hill to visit the wild parrots. The Embarcadero is a must for an entire day of strolling along the waterfront. Start at the Ferry Building Marketplace, a foodie’s paradise. Shop for artisanal cheeses, organic meats, and prepared steamed buns. Dining in? The hottest table there is the venerable Slanted Door, a polished Vietnamese fusion spot with sweeping views of the bay. See: Several exhibitions are on display this fall heading all the way into the New Year. Here are our top picks: Art in the Parks: Mark di Suvero at Crissy Field
Former airstrip Crissy Field is now a vast park at the northern tip of the SF peninsula. Discover the 8 colossal-sized pieces by sculptor Mark di Suvero that are captivating park goers. The installation features giant playful works that tower near the bay. The giants are assembled with massive steel beams, wrecking balls, twisted scrap and finessed metal, some as high as 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide. Through May 13, 2014. David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition The de Young Fine Arts Museum
The de Young is a destination museum surrounded by gardens and outdoor sculpture in the center of Golden Gate State Park. David Hockney takes residence this fall showing 300 pieces in their largest show ever. Best known for the use of technology in his boldly colored and dramatic landscapes and outdoor themed art, Hockney’s fascination with the Polaroid camera is legendary and seen through his series of swimming pool works. Through January 20, 2014. In Grand Style: Celebrations in Korean Art at the Asian Art Museum
Just beyond the raucous farmers market and food truck hangout at United Nations Plaza near City Hall is San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. The museum regularly attracts traveling exhibits of international acclaim. In Grand Style puts such treasures as Bridal Robes, Royal thrones and silk paintings from the Joseon Dynasty front and center for the visitor providing glimpses to pieces never before seen in the U.S. Through January 12, 2014.