One-tank escapes for 8 cities

Published: Sunday, July 01, 2012 @ 12:03 PM
Updated: Sunday, July 01, 2012 @ 12:03 PM

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Summer vacation doesn't have to mean a long, expensive trek. These getaways are a short drive from eight major urban areas. All you need is a weekend and a tank of gas!

Shenandoah Valley, Va.

107 miles from Washington, D.C.

A collection of 10 independent cities make up the Shenandoah Valley, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an idyllic watercolor landscape and outdoor adventure haven.

SEE OUR SUMMER ROAD TRIPS!

Shenandoah National Park is famous for its outdoor beauty, accessible via both easy and difficult hiking trails, some of which are part of the park's 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail (540/999-3500, nps.gov/shen, $15 per vehicle, $8 per person). The Limberlost Trail takes you past lush mountain laurel; Old Rag Mountain offers panoramic vistas. To refuel, perch in the Pollock Dining Room's taproom at Skyland Resort Lodge and order a Prohibition Punch, featuring local (legal) moonshine ($7.50), and a slice of famous blackberry ice cream pie, made from scratch from the season's harvest (540/999-2212, visitshenandoah.com/dining/skyland-restaurant, Prohibition Punch $7.50, blackberry ice cream pie $6). Not outdoorsy? Stroll through downtown Winchester with a guided tour of the Patsy Cline Historic House, where the country star lived for five years (540/662-5555, celebratingpatsycline.org, $8), or pick your own flowers in the fragrant fields at White Oak Lavender farm in Harrisonburg (540/421-6345, whiteoaklavender.com, tours $5).

WHERE TO STAY Instead of camping out with her hubby FDR in Shenandoah National Park in 1936, Eleanor Roosevelt opted for luxury in Luray: "Franklin, you can rough it if you want, but I'm staying at the Mimslyn," she allegedly told the president. Even today, the property has opulent touches like Doric columns, formal gardens, and fine dining courtesy in the hotel's "upscale Southern" Circa '31 restaurant—necktie recommended (800/296-5105, mimslyninn.com, from $160).

DRIVING TIP I-81 runs the length of the valley and connects large towns like Winchester, Harrisonburg, and Stanton. Consider jumping onto Skyline Drive to take in some of the most beautiful mountain vistas in the U.S.

Yountville, Calif.

56 miles from San Francisco

A walkable mecca for wine and food enthusiasts, Yountville offers glasses of big California reds, award-winning bites, and lush Napa Valley scenery that's a refreshing change from San Francisco's cityscapes.

To sample vino, hop the Napa Valley Wine Train that chugs through the heart of town: It serves meals onboard, and visits local wineries for tours (800/427-4124, winetrain.com, from $135). Or go rogue and create your own tasting of five wines at Cornerstone Cellars (707/945-0388, cornerstonecellars.com). Get Michelin-star-quality flavor for less at chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant by partaking in the evening family-style four-course menu (707/944-2487, adhocrestaurant.com, $45); also, make time to walk through Keller's French Laundry Garden, which nurtures fresh vegetables and fruits used at French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro—it's free and open to the public. On a weekend morning, stop by Bouchon Bakery for the somewhat elusive chocolate doughnut—brioche dough filled with decadent chocolate pastry cream and topped with chocolate frosting and chocolate-covered Rice Krispies. But go early (it opens at 7) to score one (707-944-2253, bouchonbakery.com/yountville). Then float above the horizon on a group hot air balloon ride for eight to 12 passengers or take a romantic trip à deux with Napa Valley Balloons (800/253-2224, napavalleyballoons.com, from $210).

WHERE TO STAY For a French country feel, book a room at Maison Fleurie, a B&B with a morning breakfast buffet and complimentary wine, tea, and hors d'oeuvres in the afternoon. Borrow bicycles from the front desk and go for a leisurely ride when you tire of tippling (800/788-0369, maisonfleurienapa.com, from $145).

DRIVING TIP The most direct route from San Francisco is I-80 East, over the Bay Bridge, to Highway 37 West and then Highway 29 through Napa Valley.

New Braunfels, Tex.

175 miles from Houston

If you visit New Braunfels and don't (a) eat German food or (b) get wet, you're doing something wrong. The town is well known for the innovative 65-acre Schlitterbahn Water Park, but its German history, food, and freshwater activities are equally compelling.

Floating down the spring-fed Comal River on giant inflatable "toobs" is essential in New Braunfels. Rent one for the day or take a guided group trip at Rockin 'R' River Rides (830/629-9999, rockinr.com, call for a group trip quote). Quell your post-river appetite with one of 10 types of schnitzel, pan-fried bouletten (meatballs), or classic brats at Friesenhaus, one of the area's specialty German restaurants (830/625-1040, friesenhausnb.com, schnitzel from $15). No German meal is complete without a hearty dessert, so pop into Naegelin's Bakery, "the oldest bakery in Texas, since 1868," for a big hunk of apple streudel—a whole one is more than two feet long (830/625-5722, naegelins.com).

WHERE TO STAY The 30-unit Greune Mansion Inn, right on the Guadalupe River, has a quiet, Victorian feel, with multiple historical buildings broken up into residences that guarantee each guest his or her own entrance and porch. Many of the units have river views (830/629-2641, gruenemansioninn.com, from $190).

DRIVING TIP Take I-10 to I-46, making sure to avoid Houston rush hour if you can help it.

Hood River, Ore.

62 miles from Portland

Orchards, wineries, and outdoor recreation are all hallmarks of this Columbia River Gorge destination.

Taking a drive on the whimsically named Fruit Loop steers you through 35 miles of orchards, vineyards, forests, and farmland (541/386-7697, hoodriverfruitloop.com). Sampling the area's up-and-coming viticulture is another must: Columbia Wine Tours shuttles from two to 24 people to four wineries in four hours and provides bottled waters and snacks along the way (541/380-1410, hoodrivertours.com, two-person tour $140). Or if you prefer hops to grapes, swing by the Full Sail Brewing Company Tasting Room & Pub for a sip (or three) of Full Sail Amber (541/386-2247, fullsailbrewing.com). Dubbed the "windsurfing capital of the world" by some, Hood River is an ideal place to test your mettle on the water: Hood River Waterplay offers five different levels of windsurfing classes, plus equipment rental if you need it (541/386-9463, hoodriverwaterplay.com, from $69).

WHERE TO STAY Seven Oaks Bed and Breakfast describes itself as a "garden oasis," surrounded by two acres of flowering plant life and fenced in by Douglas firs. The four-unit house (plus separate cottage) provides storage for recreational equipment and serves organic eggs, jams, and pastries (541/386-7622, sevenoaksbb.com, $160).

DRIVING TIP I-84—a.k.a. the Columbia River Highway—is a straight, gorgeous shot from Portland. Look for both mountains: Mount Hood and Mount Adams.

Harbor Country, Mich.

26 miles from Chicago

Hitting the beach in the heart of the Midwest is possible at Harbor Country, a group of eight towns on the white-sand beaches of Lake Michigan. The southern beaches of New Buffalo and Warren Dunes State Park are biggest, but individual townships have access too (harborcountry.org).

Charter a fishing boat in the New Buffalo Harbor with Cap'n D Charters to hunt down salmon, trout, bass, and blue gill (574/232-0436, capndcharters.com, $500 for up to four people for six hours) or try surfing or stand-up paddleboarding in New Buffalo or St. Joseph, assisted by Third Coast Surf Shop (269/932-4575, thirdcoastsurfshop.com, $75 for a 90-minute private lesson). Afterward, head to Three Oaks to the brand-new organic Journeyman Distillery, nestled in a former corset-making factory, and kick back in the tasting room for a sample of Featherbone Bourbon, a nod to the turkey feathers that the corsets were fashioned out of (269/820-2050, journeymandistillery.com). Soak up the booze at Skip's in New Buffalo, famous for its ultra-tender prime rib (269/469-3330, skipsrestaurantandcatering.info, from $22).

WHERE TO STAY Directly across the road from its own private beach, the 31-room Lakeside Inn, built in the late 1800s, has a front porch filled with rocking chairs, plus an on-site café (269/469-0600, lakesideinns.com, from $80).

DRIVING TIP Stick to highways 90 or 94. Creatively taking the back roads will only lead you into stop-and-go traffic.

Clarksville, Tenn.

207 miles from Memphis

How to describe Clarksville? "Think Carrie Bradshaw meets Dolly Parton," suggests the Clarksville Chamber of Commerce's website. With entertainment offerings just as diverse as those two pop culture icons, Clarksville manages to be a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll.

The tobacco trade—specifically stemmeries—brought in the big bucks in Clarksville in the late 1800s: Tour the Greek Revival/Italinata-style Smith-Trahern mansion, built in 1958 by a wealthy tobacconist - the slaves' quarters out back are still standing, as is an adjacent 1700s cemetery (931/648-5725, fceclarksville.org, $2). Continue exploring the past via the trails at Fort Defiance Civil War Park, between the Red and Cumberland rivers. The site was a Confederate fort that fell to Union soldiers in 1862; soon after, it served as a safe place for freed and runaway slaves (931/472-3351, fortdefianceclarksville.com). Or, hike one of three trails at Dunbar Cave State Park—the caves were once mined for gunpowder (931/648-5526, tn.gov/environment/parks/dunbarcave). Cool off afterward amid 1870s architecture downtown, at the Blackhorse Pub & Brewery, which makes its own beer onsite, including the signature Barnstormer Red Ale, made with Bavarian Hallertau hops. Pair it with one of the eatery's specialty pizzas, like the Whitehorse, a pie topped with alfredo sauce, fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, feta, provolone, and mozzarella (931/552-3726, theblackhorsepub.net, from $15.50).

WHERE TO STAY For an authentic 1800s experience, drive 15 miles southwest of Clarksville to Lylewood Inn Bed & Breakfast in Indian Mound, run by Mandy Williams. The rich antebellum décor—some rooms have claw-foot bathtubs—is matched in decadence only by the group meals: In addition to the requisite country breakfast, home-cooked dinners can include glazed pork loin, garlic cheese biscuits, and fresh berry cobbler (931/232-4203, lylewoodinn.com, from $75).

DRIVING TIP Take Highway 40 to Highway 24, but don't fear the backroads. Visit the Tennessee Trails and Byways website for multiple mapped driving routes from different destinations - like the "Screaming Eagle" trail that begins in Nashville (tntrailsandbyways.com).

Excelsior Springs, Mo.

28 miles from Kansas City, Mo.

Soak up the late-18th and early-19th century history of Excelsior Springs, a Missouri town that boomed due to its wealth of pure, natural springwater. Early tourists came from miles around to bathe in the mineral-rich H2O and hopefully heal their ailments, and the city has preserved that craze via historic buildings and walking tours.

Belly up to the world's longest water bar, housed in the Art Deco-style Hall of Waters and Cultural Museum, built in 1937, where you can taste the mineral waters that put Excelsior Springs on the map (816/637-2811, visitesprings.com). A few blocks down, stop into Oooey Gooey Chocolates for a chocolate-dipped Twinkie on a stick—your choice of either milk or white chocolate (816/630-9255, oooeygooey.com, $2.25). Or get away from it all at the 40-acre Knott Nature Sanctuary, which features education and recreation programs that include hiking, camping, and gardening and landscaping (816/630-2872).

WHERE TO STAY Notorious characters Al Capone and Bugsy Malone reportedly threw their own bathtub gin and gambling parties at The Elms Resort and Spa, which reopened this year for its 100th anniversary after a multi-million-dollar renovation that includes a spa with a hydrotherapy grotto. The hotel is perhaps best known, though, for being the place Harry S. Truman found out he'd defeated Dewey for the presidency in 1948 (816/630-5500, elmshotelandspa.com, from $139).

DRIVING TIP The quickest way to get to Excelsior Springs: Catch I-35 North from downtown Kansas City, then take Highway 69 to Excelsior.

Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

30 miles from New York City

Indulge your love of literature, the arts, and lifestyles of the rich and famous in this storied region north of New York City.

Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman live on (in spirit, anyway) in the Sleep Hollow Cemetery, which author Washington Irving name-checked in his 1820  story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Walk the grounds for free and visit cemetery residents including Irving himself, Andrew Carnegie, Elizabeth Arden, and William and J.D. Rockefeller, or take a two-hour, lantern-lit guided evening tour—if you dare (914/631-0081, sleepyhollowcemetery.org, guided tour $25). For a quick bite, select a hot "Fleetwood original" calzone (stuffed with pepperoni, sausage, peppers, onions, mozzarella, and tomato sauce) from Fleetwood Pizzeria, founded by the Guzzo family in 1965 (914/631-3267, fleetwoodpizza.com, $5.75). Drive two miles northwest, on Bedford Road, to Pocantico Hills to see how the other half lived at Kykuit: The Rockefeller Estate. Drift through the main rooms of the six-story stone house, past the fountains and sculptures dotting the expansive gardens, and tour the underground art galleries, replete with works by Picasso and Warhol (914/631-8200, hudsonvalley.org/historic-sites/kykuit/tours, from $23).

WHERE TO STAY Venture eight miles north of Sleepy Hollow to bunk at the Alexander Hamilton House, an eight-unit Victorian B&B with an eight-foot-deep swimming pool and a giant lawn chess set in the backyard (914/271-6737, alexanderhamiltonhouse.com, from $135).

DRIVING TIP Allow traveling time for New York City traffic—the 25-mile drive can take much longer than an hour, even during off-peak hours.

6 top tiny home vacation rentals that won’t cost you your mortgage

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 2:57 PM

Here are six tiny home vacation rentals that offer lots of fun per square foot Four-season cottage near Awenda provincial park Tiny House on the Bay Sand Pebble Cottage Victorian cottage Laurel Escape Serenity Now

Need a vacation that isn't followed by a barrage of credit card bills?

Tiny home vacation rentals are a wallet-friendly option, with beach, mountain and ranch locations available. Renting a small space for a weekend getaway or weeklong adventure is also a great way to test drive the tiny home concept. 

»RELATED: Here's what a $1 million house looks like in 7 major US cities

»Here are six tiny home vacation rentals that offer lots of fun per square foot:

(Via VRBO)

Four-season cottage near Awenda provincial park

Ontario, Canada

$119 average per night

Right across from Farlain Lake with its sandy beach and shallow waters, this tiny vacation rental is also close to many ski and snow mobile trails, parks and lakes.

(AirBnB)

Tiny House on the Bay

Olympia, Washington

Around $89 per night

Set on a hill by Puget Sound, this extra tiny 160-square-foot vacation rental comes with a window seat, full-size sleeping loft under a skylight and mini gas fireplace. Oh, yes, and trail access to a private beach.

(AirBnb)

Sand Pebble Cottage

Dennis Port, Massachusetts

Around $70 per night

Just 300 square feet, this Cape Cod cottage is just a short walk from the ocean beach and near restaurants (including Sundae School Ice-Cream). 

Victorian cottage

Canyon Lake, Texas

Around $202 average per night

Perfect for a romantic lake getaway, this Victorian cottage is made from reclaimed building materials and features vintage stained glass windows.

(Via Mountain Laurel Cabin Rentals)

Laurel Escape 

Mineral Bluff, Georgia

Prices start at $99 per night

Ah, the mountains! This is a perfect - and perfectly affordable - way to enjoy the North Georgia mountain air. The 480-square-foot cabin boasts amenities like a king-size bed, fire pit, hot tub and stainless appliances and granite countertops.

Serenity Now

Alpharetta, Georgia

Average $83 per night 

Yes, you can have a ranch vacation at tiny house rental prices. This custom-built tiny house rests on a 4-acre mini horse farm. It features two lofts and complimentary continental breakfast with biscuits.

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U.S. issues ‘do not travel’ advisory for 5 states in Mexico

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 12:32 PM

‘Do Not Travel Advisory’ To Five Mexico States Issued By U.S.

The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel advisory urging citizens to use increased caution when traveling to five states in Mexico.

USA Today reported that the new warning from the government has increased the Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas states to a level 4, the highest level of potential danger. 

The warning for the states, issued Thursday, was raised due to crime.

>> Read more trending news 

The State Department already recommends that travelers use “increased caution” when in Mexico because of widespread crime, such as kidnapping, homicide, carjacking and robbery, USA Today reported.

The department recommends that those who decide to travel to Mexico to use toll roads, avoid night driving, be extra vigilant when visiting banks and ATMs, use caution when visiting local bars, nightclubs and casinos, and to avoid displaying signs of wealth. Travelers are also urged to enroll in Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to make locating easier in an emergency and to have an emergency contingency plan. Travelers should also review crime and safety reports for Mexico.

More information on the travel advisory can be found at travel.state.gov.

Try your luck: 10 tips on beating the odds on your first casino trip

Published: Monday, January 08, 2018 @ 10:50 AM

Man Wins Over $1 Million At Texas Casino On Christmas

There's just something appealing about a casino vacation, whether you're dreaming of the luxury of the world's most extravagant casino resorts or playing roulette at one of Yahoo's top-ranked casinos outside of Vegas. Or maybe you're just longing for a day playing the slots at a smaller place like the Mardis Gras Casino and Resort in West Virginia.

»RELATED: Feeling lucky? Travel to these four casinos closest to Atlanta

While the Las Vegas strip topped the list as "the king of gaming, boasting the most revenue from casinos in the world," according to The Richest, Atlantic City, Chicago and Detroit weren't far behind.

If this is the year you'd like to join in on the action, great! Just take it slow and do your research if you want maximum enjoyment from your first visit to a casino. 

Whether you're mesmerized by the televised World Series of Poker, intrigued by the high-stakes poker in the 2017 movie Molly's Game, or obsessed with playing slots or blackjack online, understand one thing: when you get out of the entertainment world and step into a real-life casino, everything's different.

Here are 10 tips for anyone making a first-time trip to a casino, drawing from the combined knowledge of gambling and travel experts:

•Learn the games

"You wouldn't offer to play Kobe Bryant a little one-on-one basketball for $1,000, would you?" ThoughtCo. asked. "Well, your odds of beating him are probably about the same as winning at a casino game you've never played or read about, and while reading about Kobe won't help you beat him, learning about a new game first will really help!"

You can pick up the game basics at a site like WhereTraveler

•Try free lessons when you get there

Many casinos offer free, live instruction in blackjack, craps, roulette, pai gow, pai gow poker, mini-baccarat and poker in an effort to entice you to play more. Not only do the lessons teach you the rules of the game, they can boost your confidence with lessons on the etiquette and jargon associated with each game. Check directly with the casino to find out what gaming lessons are offered and at what time.

Vegas Hotel Special also has a list of the Vegas casinos that offer free gaming lessons.

•Take your time deciding what to play

This advice from the Party Poker blog applies to all the casino rooms. "If you can't work out what is being played, ask a dealer or the floor manager, as they'll be more than happy to talk you through it."

•Don't be embarrassed if you can only afford a minimum buy-in

"Remember, you are paying to play in a recreational activity for your own enjoyment," noted Party Poker. "The establishment wants you to come back, so they should be very helpful and accommodating. If all of the games being played are too expensive, the floor manager can suggest more affordable games at alternate times."

(CMG)

•Know the odds

It's simple and complicated at the same time. Simple in that odds merely determine the chances that a player will win over other players (in games like Texas Hold 'Em) or the house (in games like Blackjack.) But complicated in that odds are a huge business, and vary wildly per game, according to Wise Geek. "Some games have relatively low gambling odds for the house, ranging from less than 1 percent in their favor for games like blackjack, to more than 20 percent for games like Big Six or keno."

Dummies.com recommended certain games and tactics for newbie players, including:

  • Jacks or Better video poker (the 9/6 version): "The 9/6 version of Jacks or Better is considered full pay because you get a payout of 9 for 1 for a full house and 6 for 1 for a flush." Make sure you're playing 9/6 by looking at the Full House/Flush payouts for one coin. Also never keep a kicker (a high card along with a pair) and throw away a small pair (tens or lower) if you have four cards to a flush or three cards to a royal flush.
  • Blackjack: Increase the already (relatively) good odds by playing the table with the least amount of decks, staying away from gimmick games like 6-5 blackjack, Spanish 21, or Super Fun blackjack and never take insurance.
  • Craps: The smartest strategy is to stick to the following bets in craps: Pass line bet with odds bet, come bet with odds, don't pass bet with odds, don't come bet with odds.

•Skip the bonus bets

Keep in mind that main bets (such as pass line at craps, banker bet at baccarat, ante bet at Three Card Poker) have the smallest house edge, according to ThoughtCo. Avoid the extra (or bonus) bets, since the house edge might be as much as five times higher.

•Know your limit

"Money management is a really boring subject and many people have trouble keeping track of what they have spent after a few hours of casino action," ThoughtCo. noted. "Make things easy on yourself by deciding on what you can afford to lose before you start playing. If you actually win, great, and don't be afraid to go home with the bucks. The casino will be open tomorrow, too!"

•Check out the hospitality standards before you go

If you're heading to Las Vegas, odds are good that you'll be able to hit a casino that offers free alcohol. Many will also have discounted rooms. Outside of Vegas, many of the tiny casinos or ones with little competition or state prohibitions (like Harrah's Cherokee in North Carolina) don't have free drinks.

•Play the free liquor game like a champ

According to WhereTraveler, it's a good idea to wait until the cocktail waitress approaches you at places with free liquor, instead of hitting a bar on the way in. "And if you're hitting the clubs later, start your drinking on the casino floor so there's less you have to spend - for any type of performance, even a DJ spinning, you'll get hit with an additional live entertainment tax. Better to start early!"

Avoid peak dinner times

To really enjoy your day of gambling, avoid the huge lines at peak dinner time. Instead, opt to eat between 5 p.m.-5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.-9 p.m. to avoid hours of waiting.

Related

Woman sues hotel after she claims she was charged $350 after negative review

Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2017 @ 4:48 AM

Woman Files Lawsuit After Hotel Charges Her For Bad Review

An Indiana woman is taking a hotel to court saying that she was charged $350 for a negative online review and the hotel claims it has a right to charge customers who give them bad reviews.

Katrina Arthur and her husband stayed at Abbey Inn & Suites in March 2016.

Arthur alleges that when they arrived, the room was not cleaned. She said she found hair and dirt in the sheets. The air conditioner didn’t work and the room smelled like sewage. She also said there was little water pressure, WRTV reported.

>> Read more trending news 

“We didn’t see anybody we could talk with, so I decided to call the number that goes to the front desk and it automatically went to a lawyer’s or something weird like that,” Arthur told WRTV.

She told the television station that she cleaned the room herself.

After the stay, she said she received an email asking for an online review. 

“I was honest. I wanted people to know not to waste their money because I know people save their money for special occasions,” Arthur told WRTV.

That’s when Arthur said she was charged $350 and received a letter from the hotel’s lawyer that threatened legal action.

She ended up deleting her review.

But then she did some checking and found out that she may not have been alone and filed a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General to get her $350 back.

The Attorney General filed a lawsuit this month against Abbey Management, the hotel’s owners at the time of Arthur’s stay, WRTV reported.

The lawsuit alleges that for more than a year, Abbey Inn had rules that allowed them to charge customers if they left a negative review. The policy was posted on the hotel’s website, but customers were not given a hard copy of the rule, and it was not posted in hotel common areas or rooms, according to the Attorney General.

The email that solicited reviews also made no mention of the fine, WRTV reported.

The lawsuit also alleges that there were no employees at the hotel to handle issues, but rather a sign instructed lodgers to call an overnight phone number. If there was no emergency and the number was called, the hotel would charge the guest $100.

The current owner did not answer WRTV’S attempts to get a response about the pending lawsuit, but a woman who, along with her husband, have been trying to buy the Abbey Inn since January told WRTV that she was unaware of any litigation against the owners. She told WRTV that they are attempting to improve the hotel.