The 14 most beautiful home and garden tours in America

Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 @ 4:14 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 @ 4:14 PM

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You might think home and garden tours are merely a superficial pleasure (the kind Grandma might enjoy), but you're only half right. Sure, these estates offer their fair share of sensory pleasures—the scent of blossoming flowers, the gurgle of fountains, the warmth of the sunshine as you traverse the grounds—but their beauty is far from skin-deep. To make our list, a property had to be as interesting as it is beautiful, and the result is a collection of homes with real stories to tell. A Georgian Revival mansion that housed descendants of Abraham Lincoln, a palatial, Charles II-style mansion so striking that three classic Hollywood films were shot there—these are the kinds of places you'll still be talking about long after you've left. And then there are the gardens—romantic, Italian-inspired grounds, tropical forests, the gardening world's versions of the Mona Lisa and David. Yes, Grandma would like these places, but who wouldn't?


1) Filoli, Woodside, California

Husband-and-wife gold-mine owners built this Georgian-inspired 36,000-square-foot house between 1915 and 1917, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. But the property's star feature is the 16-acre English Renaissance garden, which was completed in 1929. The 654-acre Filoli estate is known for its bonsai and magnolia collections, as well as the largest heirloom orchard in private hands in the United States.
Best time to visit: In February through August on the fourth Wednesday of every month (and the third Wednesday in September and October), Filoli hosts afternoon teas, where visitors snack on scones with fresh lemon curd and sip tea out of china cups. Open Tuesdays-Sundays (except holidays) until October 21 in 2012, 86 Cañada Rd., 650/364-8300, filoli.org, admission $15, tea $45 (including admission).

Join us on a photo tour of the homes and gardens.

2) Hildene, Manchester, Vermont

The 107-year-old Hildene is a must-see for presidential-history buffs: After all, it was built by Robert Lincoln, the only son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to survive into adulthood. Set on a promontory 300 feet above the Battenkill Valley in Vermont's southwest corner, the Georgian Revival mansion housed descendants of the president until 1975 and still contains Lincoln family heirlooms, such as a 1,000-pipe organ installed in 1908, as well as one of only three of the President's iconic stovepipe hats in existence today. Hildene's gardens are notable for their multi-colored flowers, including more than 1,000 peony blooms, planted to resemble a cathedral-style stained-glass window.
Best time to visit: Mid-June marks the start of peony season; visit the Hoyt Garden to see Hildene's massive collection of the flowers (many from the original plantings) in bloom. Open daily (except for major holidays), 1005 Hildene Rd., 800/578-1788, hildene.org, admission $16.


3) Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Built in 1923, the Villa Terrace was once owned by Lloyd Smith, president of the A.O. Smith Corporation, which made bicycle parts, hot water heaters, and later heavy munitions during World War II. The place now serves as a decorative arts museum, housing pieces from the 15th to the 18th centuries, including an extensive collection of artisan iron crafts. The estate's grounds, which overlook Lake Michigan, are known for the Renaissance Garden, which was modeled after 16th-century Tuscany and restored in 2002. Highlights include bushes that sprout culinary and medicinal herbs and the Scaletta d'Aqua, a water stairway that flows down past three terraces of crab apple trees into a fishpond.
Best time to visit: Every year, on the first Sunday in June, the Renaissance Garden celebrates its official opening with free admission. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., 414/271-3656, villaterracemuseum.org, admission $5.


4) Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia

Designed by Thomas Jefferson in the neoclassical style, this plantation home sits on a mountaintop 70 miles northwest of Richmond. From oval flowerbeds to winding paths, Jefferson designed every fruit, vegetable, and flower garden over two centuries ago. Today, those gardens are planted up to three times per year to let seasonal flowers shine, including bee balm and calendula. Don't miss the home itself, where you can see Jefferson's 18th-century furniture, books, and gadgets such as the polygraph, a device which used pens and ink to make exact duplicates of his letters as he wrote them.
Best time to visit: Spring and early summer bring the prettiest blossoms. Vibrant tulips reign late April; ornamental Sweet William and delicate Canterbury bells bloom in May. Open daily except Christmas, 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, 434/984-9822, monticello.org, admission $17-$24 (depending on the season).


5) Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina

Set against the Blue Ridge Mountains, George Vanderbilt's 250-room chateau-style estate ranks as the largest private home in America. The 75 acres of formal and informal gardens—from a tree-specked shrub garden with meandering paths to a manicured Italian garden dotted with pools—were designed by master landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for creating New York City's Central Park. There's also a conservatory filled with tropical plants and a rose garden, which houses more than 250 varieties of the flower.
Best time to visit: During the annual Festival of Flowers (April 7-May 20), Biltmore's gardens burst with color as tulips and azaleas start to bloom. Open 365 days a year, 1 Lodge St., 800/411-3812, biltmore.com, admission varies by season and ranges from $35-$64.


6) Bartram's Garden, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Located less than 15 minutes from downtown Philadelphia, this 45-acre farmstead's bucolic vibe belies its urban surroundings. Not only do the grounds hold native species of ferns, wildflowers, and trees, including America's oldest gingko, but they're also home to the country's oldest living botanical garden, which botanist John Bartram started in 1728.
Best time to visit: In past springs, boats to Bartram's have departed from Philadelphia's Central City, though prices and dates have not been set for this year. After a cruise down the Schuylkill River, visitors are led on a tour of Bartram's grounds. Open year-round (except holidays), 54th St. and Lindbergh Blvd., 215/729-5281, bartramsgarden.org, admission $10; boat tour tickets available at schuylkillbankstours.tix.com.


7) Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina

A former slave plantation established in 1679, Magnolia contains America's oldest public gardens. They were constructed in 1840 by John Grimké Drayton, the original estate owner's great-great grandson, and opened to visitors three decades later. Today, the English-style gardens feature winding paths lined with native azaleas (Grimké Drayton is said to have introduced the flower to the U.S.) and antique camellias, as well as a pre-Revolution-era plantation house and a petting zoo with African pygmy goats and whitetail deer.
Best time to visit: Magnolia is known for its azalea collection—the biggest in the U.S.—so go in late March or early April when the flowers start to pop. Open year-round, 3550 Ashley River Rd., 800/367-3517, magnoliaplantation.com, admission $10.


8) Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami

Biscayne Bay glitters just beyond the 10 acres of European-inspired gardens and native forest at Vizcaya, an opulent, European-style villa built in 1916 as a winter home for agricultural industrialist James Deering. The mansion-turned-museum houses international antiques and art from the 15th through 19th centuries. But the real scene-stealer is the outdoor sculpture garden, which features artifacts like a Roman altar from the second century AD and the 290-year-old Sutri Fountain, imported from Italy especially by Deering.
Best time to visit: Romantics will dig Vizcaya's moonlight garden tours, which offer live music and a chance to gaze at flowers under the stars and are scheduled around full moons. Check the website for dates. Open daily (except Tuesdays and Thanksgiving/Christmas), 3251 South Miami Ave., 305/250-9133, vizcayamuseum.org, admission $15.


9) Naumkeag, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

This Gilded-Age mansion in the Berkshires was completed in 1886 as a summer retreat for prominent New York attorney Joseph Choate and his family. The 44-room house—which contains the Choates' furniture and artwork from Europe and Asia—sits among 10 acres of terraced gardens designed by America's first Modernist landscape architect, Fletcher Steele. Of particular note are the Blue Steps, four tiers of fountain pools surrounded by a grove of white birches.
Best time to visit: The fall foliage in the Berkshires is considered some of the most stunning anywhere in America. The leaves hit their peak in October so head to Naumkeag as close to the end of the season as possible to see the leaves beginning to turn. Open daily, Memorial Day through Columbus Day, 5 Prospect Hill Rd., 413/298-3239, thetrustees.org, admission $15.


10) Old Westbury Gardens, Old Westbury, New York

Hollywood has made good use of this palatial, Charles II-style mansion on Long Island's Gold Coast: North By Northwest, The Age of Innocence, and Cruel Intentions were all shot here. The estate was built between 1904 and 1906 for financier and lawyer John S. Phipps, with elements borrowed from classic British country estates and the medieval Battle Abbey. The collections of English antiques, American furnishings, and Chinese porcelain were amassed over the family's 50-year residence. Westbury House sits on a 200-acre property that once held a number of Quaker farms, surrounded by eight formal gardens, plus wooded paths, ponds, and more than 100 species of trees.
Best time to visit: Over 40 flower varieties (from lilacs to irises to tropical water lilies) bloom April through July, but leaf-peeping is a must in October, when Westbury's grounds burst with bold red, orange, and yellow fall foliage. Open daily (except Tuesdays), April 30 through October 31, 71 Old Westbury Rd., 516/333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org, admission $10.


11) Hermann-Grima House, New Orleans

Built in 1831 by a German-Jewish immigrant, who made his fortune in cotton, the pink-bricked Hermann-Grima house—which still includes its original mahogany dining table and hurricane shades—contains the only horse stable and functional outdoor kitchen in the French Quarter. Outside, the grounds include Versailles-inspired ornamental parterre filled with antique roses and citrus trees.
Best time to visit: Every October, Hermann-Grima commemorates 19th-century Creole mourning rituals with a "celebration" called Sacred to the Memory. The house is draped in black crepe, and a coffin is stationed in its parlor. It's morbid, sure, but it also happens to be the house's most popular annual event—and the closest you'll get to reenacting a scene from 1800s New Orleans. Open Monday-Saturday, 820 Saint Louis St., 504/525-5661, hgghh.org, admission $12.


12) Green Animals Topiary Garden, Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Have you ever seen a tree that looks like a teddy bear, or a reindeer, or a unicorn? You will at Green Animals Topiary Garden, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. Here, more than 80 plants (including California privet, yew, and English boxwood) have been clipped to resemble mammals, birds, and geometric shapes. The garden, which sits on seven acres overlooking Naragansett Bay, shares its land with a rose arbor and fruit trees. The grounds also include a white clapboard house that cotton manufacturer Thomas Brayton bought in 1872—a charmingly meager counterpoint to the ostentatious mansions of Newport, about 10 miles south of here.
Best time to visit: Summertime at Green Animals brings sensory overload: The herb gardens are fragrant, the on-site orchards brim with fruit, and Naragansett Bay is guaranteed to be a picturesque shade of blue. Open May 12-October 8, 380 Cory's Ln., 401/847-1000, newportmansions.org, admission $14.50.


13) Historic Deepwood Estate, Salem, Oregon

The 4.2 acres of formal English gardens and nature trails at Deepwood—a multi-gabled, Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1894—were designed by Lord & Schryver, the Northwest's first female landscape architecture team. The gardens, which are surrounded by the Rita Steiner Nature Trail, are full of romantic touches: gazebos, ivy-covered arbors, and fleur-de-lis-adorned gates.
Best time to visit: TheDeepwood Wine & Jazz Fest takes place in the estate's gardens on June 30; for $10, guests can stroll among the flowers while jamming out to local musicians. Oregon wine and gourmet snacks are on hand, too. Open daily (except Tuesdays), May 1-October 15; open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, October 16-April 30, 1116 Mission St. SE, 503/363-1825, historicdeepwoodestate.org, admission $4, though access to the grounds is free.


14) Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona

Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and studio, where he lived from 1937 until his death in 1959, sits at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in the Sonoran Desert. (The 550-acre property is now the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the international headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.) The house, considered to be one of the architect's masterpieces for touches like the cabaret theater and shaded pool, was constructed with native materials such as desert rocks, and its translucent roof and slanted windows let natural light flood in. Wright was so energized and reinvigorated by Taliesin's desert landscape that he designed some of his most renowned buildings, like New York's Guggenheim Museum, in the abode's drafting room. Outside, the grounds include a sculpture garden filled with bronze statues and desert plants.
Best time to visit:
The year 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Taliesin, and the milestone is being celebrated throughout the year with a series of symposiums, fundraisers, and concerts (check website for dates). If you want to skip the fanfare, sign up for the Night Lights tour, which runs Fridays from February through October. The two-hour trek starts at twilight and lets you experience Taliesin's grounds under the dusky desert sky. Open daily (except major holidays), 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., 480/627-5340, franklloydwright.org, admission varies by tour ($18-$60), Night Lights, $35

The least and most affordable places to spend your holiday vacation

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 2:30 PM

Southwest Airlines Is Finally Traveling to Hawaii

As the song goes, there’s no place like home for the holidays. But if you prefer to get away, there are plenty of cheap holiday trips you can take.

To help you pinpoint where to spend your Thanksgiving or Christmas without breaking your budget, GOBankingRates looked at six factors in popular destinations: the cost of hotels, holiday flights, food, drinks, transportation and entertainment. Read on to learn about the best and worst places to visit during the holidays.

Least affordable places to visit during the holidays

If you’re looking for cheap Christmas vacations or Thanksgiving getaways, cross these cities off your list of prospective destinations. We found that visiting these places can put a big dent in your budget during the holidays.

Honolulu

Honolulu is one of the most expensive tourist destinations in the U.S. Winter is the peak tourist season, making it one of the least affordable places to visit during the holidays. During Christmas, the average nightly hotel rate is $241 — the third-highest among the most expensive places in our rankings.

Flights aren’t cheap, either, but you’ll actually find lower fares during Christmas than Thanksgiving.

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Kihei, Hawaii

This city on the southwest shore of the Hawaiian island of Maui offers great beaches and surfing. It’s not a cheap place to visit for the holidays, however.

Lodging is especially expensive during Christmas, when the average nightly hotel rate jumps to $362 from $190 during Thanksgiving. In fact, Kihei has the second-highest lodging costs during the holidays in our rankings.

You’ll also have to shell out more for food here than in most other cities on our list. At $44, the average daily cost of meals makes Kihei the fourth-least affordable on our list.

Sydney

Christmas might seem like an ideal time to visit Sydney because it’s actually summer in this Australian city south of the equator. But December is peak tourist season here, which means prices are higher and crowds are bigger.

The cost of traveling to Sydney is what puts the city among the most expensive holiday destinations on our list. The average fare for a flight from Atlanta during Christmas is $2,666, with the average Christmas flights from Los Angeles costing $1,609.

» Warning: State Department discouraging travel to Cancun, Los Cabos

Park City, Utah

If you want to visit a world-class ski resort during the holidays, Park City, Utah, might be at the top of your list. Winter is peak season in this haven for skiers, who relish the city’s annual snowfall of 300 inches to 400 inches. But if you are looking for an affordable Christmas vacation, Park City isn’t it.

Flights to nearby Salt Lake City are actually cheaper than flights to most other places in our rankings. However, lodging costs can put a big dent in your travel budget if you plan to visit Park City during Christmas.

The average nightly hotel rate jumps from $116 around Thanksgiving to $534 around Christmas — the highest lodging cost of any place in our rankings. Daily transportation costs of $87 also are the highest on our list, and only Orlando, Fla., has higher entertainment costs.

Cape Town, South Africa

Winter is actually summer in South Africa, which makes it the peak season for tourists. As a result, it can be expensive to visit Cape Town during the holidays.

Flights are the biggest cost of visiting this cosmopolitan city on Africa’s Atlantic coast. It costs more to fly to from Los Angeles to Cape Town during Thanksgiving — $1,341 — than any other city on our list. During Christmas, the price jumps to $1,952. And a flight from Atlanta to Cape Town during Christmas costs $2,262.

Food and alcohol also are expensive. The average daily cost of meals is $48, and the average daily cost of drinks is $24.

» How to spend $25 or less on one week of groceries

Most affordable places to visit during the holidays

You don’t have to spend an exorbitant amount on a Thanksgiving or Christmas vacation. If you visit these affordable destinations, you can save money on your holiday travel.

Washington, D.C.

A trip to the nation’s capital can be an affordable Christmas vacation. Plus, you can avoid the crowds that are there at other times of the year. The average nightly hotel rate drops to $85 during Christmas from $97 during Thanksgiving. Christmas flights to Washington, D.C., also are cheaper than Thanksgiving flights and flights to most other cities in our rankings.

While there, you can visit holiday markets and see the National Christmas Tree near the White House, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and the National Menorah.

Seattle

A trip to Seattle during the cold, rainy winter might not seem ideal. But if you’re looking for cheap holiday vacations, you should consider Washington’s largest city.

Holiday flights to Seattle are cheaper than to most other cities in our rankings. Although lodging costs aren’t exorbitant, they aren’t super cheap. The average nightly hotel rate during Thanksgiving is $142, and the average rate during Christmas is $140.

Chicago

Chicago offers an affordable holiday getaway, but be prepared to bundle up in the Windy City if you go during the cold months of November or December.

You’ll be rewarded for braving chilly temperatures with low average nightly hotel rates of $87 during Thanksgiving and $85 during Christmas. And holiday flights to Chicago are among the cheapest in our rankings.

San Francisco

San Francisco might not seem like it would be near the top of a list of cheap Christmas trips because it has a reputation for being expensive. However, The City, as locals call it, can be more of a bargain in winter.

You can find cheap Christmas flights to San Francisco from Los Angeles — just $96. And the average nightly rate for a hotel during both Thanksgiving and Christmas is $121.

San Francisco’s transportation costs are among the lowest in our rankings, and you can see the city’s most popular tourist attractions for free. Those include Pier 39 and the Golden Gate Bridge (if you cross by foot or bicycle). Don’t forget to grab some free chocolate samples at Ghirardelli Square.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

For cheap Christmas vacations at the beach, look no further than Playa del Carmen, Mexico — the most affordable place to visit during the holidays. Located in the most eastern part of Mexico, this popular tourist destination has incredibly inexpensive food, transportation and alcohol costs, as well as the lowest entertainment costs of any city in our rankings.

72-hour sale: Southwest Airlines offers round-trip flights for as low as $100

Published: Tuesday, October 10, 2017 @ 3:35 PM

Southwest Airlines Having Major 72-Hour

During one of their more popular sales of the year, Southwest Airlines is again offering customers non-stop round-trip flights for less than $100. 

>> Read more trending news 

Dozens of the carrier’s shortest routes are available for $49 each way. Other non-stop one-way fares are offered for $79, $99 and $129 for longer flights. Some international flights are also being offered at extreme discounts.

The prices of flights are loosely tied to distance, according to USA Today.

>> Related: American Airlines to decrease legroom for passengers

Discounted flights can be purchased for travel between Oct. 31 and Dec. 19 and from Jan. 3 through Feb. 14. Travelers cannot purchase the discounted tickets for travel on Fridays and Sundays. 

The sale ends Thursday at 11:59 p.m. local time in the city of the departing flight. 

This is the second time this year the airline is offering the deal. Southwest previously offered the low fares in June.

Read more at Southwest.

(KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Passengers upset after flight minutes from landing returns to departure airport

Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017 @ 8:28 AM

What To Do the Minute Your Flight is Cancelled

Passengers on a late night flight to Santa Fe Tuesday were confused when the plane, just minutes from landing, instead returned to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Passengers and those waiting at the airport for loved ones to arrive told KRQE that it was a clear, calm night. After the flight's captain told passengers they were returning to DFW but didn't give a clear reason why, passenger Leighann Gagnon said other staff told her it was because there was no one in the control tower at Santa Fe's Municipal Airport.

>> Read more trending news

While the airport's control tower is unstaffed from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., flights can still land, and do so on a regular basis, KRQE reported.

American Airlines and airport staff clarified to KRQE that it was due to a technical malfunction at the National Weather Service, which could not provide a wind speed reading to the pilot. A wind speed reading is require by law in order to land, KRQE reported. 

Passengers were miffed that American Airlines didn't land in Albuquerque, but American officials said they don't operate out of Sunport International Airport, so that's why the flight returned to DFW.

When passengers arrived back at DFW at approximately 1 a.m. Wednesday, everything was closed and passengers were not offered a voucher for a hotel or a meal, KRQE reported. Passengers couldn't access their luggage because airport staff were not available. American Airlines officials said since it was not at fault, it could not issue vouchers per company policy.

Passengers took off for Santa Fe at 7 a.m. Wednesday. This time, the flight landed successfully at Santa Fe's Municipal Airport.

The truth about whether airlines jack up prices if you keep searching the same flight

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 1:54 PM

Channel 2's Consumer Adviser Clark Howard tells you how to avoid extra airline fees.

To make sure the right ads get to the people most interested in it, Google shows ads based on its users' search history. A user searching for "coffee" for example may see an ad for a coffee mug on the next page. But can airlines also harness that same personal data to increase the price of a particular flight?

Consumers may wonder whether airlines and ticketing websites raise airfares for consumers who research a specific route on their computer. However, airlines say prices change not because of a consumer's search history on a website, or their cookies, but because of inventory updates or glitches on the website, FareCompare's Rick Seaney said in an email.

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"If the airlines were to raise prices because of browser cookies (targeted individually) there would be air travel whistleblowers and senators running to microphones for legislation to prevent it," said Seaney. "What people see when they shop multiple times and prices are changing is a reflection of inventory changes, data caching techniques and the fact that prices generally get more expensive closer to departure date, even within a day."

Still, William McGee, an aviation adviser for Consumer Reports, says he's seen evidence that this pricing based on search history may not be entirely a myth.

In a 2016 study, McGee and his team conducted 372 searches on nine airline ticketing websites. The searches were simultaneous with the exact same itinerary and website but two different browsers — one with its cookies intact, another one that was scrubbed.

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McGee found that 59% of the times when the searches differed, the fares were higher on the scrubbed browser — the browser with no search history — but those higher fares often came from online travel agencies such as Orbitz. The lower fares on scrubbed browsers tended to come from meta-search sites, such as Google Flights or Kayak.

But McGee couldn't say for sure why he saw those different results.

"This is a very opaque industry," he said.

The best thing to do? Just shop around.

"Our takeaway advice is that consumers shop around, and ... if its possible, to search on at least two different browsers," he said. "If you see different results … you clearly want to go with lower ones."