I’ve been following Gawker’s newest series, The Worst 50 States. I’ve been enjoying following this series. In an effort to pin down not only the best states in the US of A, but, more importantly, the worst states, Gawker compiled a Gawker-invented rating system in order to rank our fair fifty. Granted, this rating system consists solely of the viewpoints of those on staff for Gawker, so the viewpoints are just about as biased as you would deem Gawker (Which might be not at all according to you!), but there’s some interesting stuff in there. Yes, they’re focusing on the bad more than the good, those damn pessimists, but all in all, fact or fiction, the commentary on the 50 states is makes me laugh. And, I’ll just throw this in there, I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states and much of every summary they make rings true to me. They’re not done wrapping up the states yet, but check out their analysis of most of the states here.
If you’re inflamed, saddened, or curling over with laughter after reading what’s so bad about your home state, come back here and tell us in the comments how Gawker made you feel.
Spring’s upon us, and those summer months you’ve been desperately waiting for are nearly here (in this hemisphere, anyway). We can’t help but say that anytime is a perfect time for a road trip, but the prime months for hitting the highway are just ahead, and that leaves you precious little time to prepare. In haste, many road trippers tend to overlook, or simply brush aside, one critical aspect of their journey: lodging. For whatever reason, lodging has become more of a hassle and unsatisfying expense than anything else. Call it the empty calories of a road trip, if you will. Trust us — it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the best aspects of exploring America (or any nation, for that matter) by road is the near limitless amount of options you’ll have when looking for a place to rest your weary soul at the day’s end. Join us after the break as we explain just how vital proper lodging research is to a fulfilling road trip, and how to find yourself in a venue that’s not only close to attractions you’re after, but that integrate seamlessly into the region you find yourself in.Be a historian
So, now that you’ve settled on a destination for day 1 of your road trip (or any successive day), you’ll need to figure out where you’ll be tucking yourself in for a night of well-deserved rest. We will say that camping is always an option, and if that’s your cup of tea, we couldn’t encourage it more highly. For the purposes of this article, however, we’ll be focusing on slightly more sophisticated options — hotels and bed & breakfast venues, namely. Let’s say you’ve settled on staying somewhere in the wild, wild west of America for a few days. To get more specific, let’s focus our attention on one of the wild’s most adored locations: Deadwood, South Dakota.
Obviously, Deadwood is coated in history. Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down on the very streets that tourists from all walks of life come to visit. The old architecture still covers the town, and the gorgeous Black Hills that surround it assist in ushering you into an era that still thrives scores after the west was won. That’s fine and dandy during the day — you’ll have no issues finding a copious amount of things to do in the area while the sun’s up — but what happens when the moon sets up shop, your gambling budget is whittled down to nothing and your entire family is clamoring for a place to rest? For many, they simply wheel over to the nearest hotel with a “Vacancy” sign lit, plop down a credit card and call it a night. Essentially, the lodging is not only an unimportant part of the experience, it’s one that’s immediately forgotten once check-out time comes.
There’s a better way, and it’s to find a venue that enhances one’s stay in an area. Believe it or not, finding a place that does this is far easier than you might imagine, particularly with the Internet putting a world of knowledge just a few clicks away. If you’re in a historic town, one of the easiest ways to find a venue that ties in with the surroundings is to search for historic hotels, B&Bs, hostels, etc. Something that’ll take you back in time and give you a better grasp on where exactly you’re at. In the Deadwood region, there’s no shortage of lodging options that have been standing for decades, and by and large, few have changed. But on our recent trip to the area, we wanted to see if a modern player could integrate itself into the landscape in a way that would be transparent to the traveler. We wanted to feel as if we were in Deadwood, but with all the amenities of a hotel that opened its doors to the first guests just a few short months ago. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish — numerous hotels in the area looked markedly out of place given the aged surroundings, but The Lodge at Deadwood caught our eye.
Built atop a hill just a mile or so outside of downtown Deadwood, this mega-hotel just screams Deadwood 2.0. Going in, we wanted to experience a venue that was Deadwood through and through, enabling us to feel as if our hotel was just as much an attraction as the region’s own Chubby Chipmunk chocolate factory (to die for, by the way). Why pay for a lodging venue that adds no value to your trip outside of providing a shower, bathroom and bed? Your road trip is likely to be one of the more memorable things you do — you might as well select a venue that’s memorable and relevant to where you’re staying, right? That’s the goal we sought to accomplish while staying at The Lodge, and in short, we felt they nailed it.
Unlike some of the historic downtown hotels, The Lodge is set just outside of town. Still surrounded by the gorgeous Black Hills, the venue was established to be all-inclusive if you’d like. There’s a full scale casino on the property, a restaurant, meeting rooms and plenty of opportunities to mingle with other travelers. The good news is that a car still isn’t required to enjoy Deadwood proper; a trolley makes its way out to the property on a regular basis, though we certainly appreciated the ample (free!) parking available given the whole “road trip” thing. We never felt detached from downtown Deadwood even though we were a mile away, and that’s precisely the point.
The design of The Lodge at Deadwood was carefully chosen; the deep wood timbers that make themselves visible are indicative of the region, and the gorgeous views continually remind you of the special place that you’re in. Unlike some of the older options in the area, though, everything here was supremely modern. From the HDTV nestled on the wall to the high quality, western-themed bedding to the deep brown / black color schemes to the exceptionally clean gaming floor, there’s little question that this place has delivered modern day touches to a place steeped in history, all without losing touch with what makes Deadwood, well, Deadwood.
Get with the times
Now, let’s say your headed to a place with just a few more locals than Deadwood. Like… Minneapolis. No question, the city positioned between NYC and LA has a deep amount of history behind it, but what makes this city so special is just how modern it is. It’s artsy, it’s edgy, it’s sophisticated, and it’s continually relevant. Regardless of whether you keep with the latest fashions and trends in your home town, you can totally get away with posing in a place like this, and let’s face it — half the fun in a road trip is doing your darnedest to become a local in as many places as possible. To that end, we sought out one of the most lauded boutique hotels in the downtown area to reside in for 24 hours, and if you’re looking to plant yourself right smack dab in the middle of everything, there’s hardly a better place to head than Le Méridien, Chambers Minneapolis.
Of course, staying at a place like this will require a larger-than-average outlay of cash, but who said city living was cheap? We’re trying to find places that integrate with the feel of the locale, remember? It only took about ten steps through the door for us to feel immediately more cosmopolitan, surrounded by downright astounding works of art (many seen in the gallery below), a gorgeous eatery and dozens of viewpoints into the city streets below. Located on Hennepin Avenue, we were able to dash our car for the evening and enjoy the best The Mill City had to offer, and honestly, your night’s stay effectively includes a pass to a modern art museum. The installations that were scattered about during our stay were nothing short of jaw-dropping, and even the LCD-based piece above the retro-styled cigarette machine demanded a few moments of your time just to take in its simplistic brilliance.
The room itself felt like a direct reflection of the bustling, chilly city below. Adorned in white and red accents, the highlight of the room was a bathroom that included its own LCD, twin white sinks and a massive shower, the latter of which featured a rainfall head that was utterly magnificent to stand beneath. And the art doesn’t stop at the lobby; the actual shower protrudes out into the room on one side, with a coated glass that looks like a continually changing rainfall painting from the outside looking in. Again, a touch of brilliance you won’t find at your everyday chain hotel. The basket of fresh fruit was also welcoming, and the bed was undoubtedly the most comfortable I’ve personally ever slept on. Yeah, it’s $300+ a night, but at least you’ll encounter a few things that are quite literally nowhere to be found at more mundane establishments.
It’s all about the culture, man
Not in the mood for historic nor modern? You’re not quite out of luck. Another aspect to seek out when selecting a lodging venue that’ll consistently be remembered as an integral part of your trip is to find one dripping with culture. Many times, these places will indeed have been around awhile, but more often than not, they’ll be off the beaten path and of the bed & breakfast variety. One key element that B&B owners can control more readily than hotels is culture, design elements and accessories. When looking to spend a few days deep within the Black Hills of South Dakota, we stumbled upon a hundred-year old facility that had been hosting families, workers and wandering bodies for decades upon decades: the Hisega Lodge. Overlooking a babbling brook some ten miles (by road; it’s more like 40 by any other measure) from Rapid City, this warm and welcoming B&B was decorated with images from its early days and dressed up with age-appropriate furnishings by its proud new (since 2007, anyway) owners.
The Hisega Lodge has room for 22, but it’s just as intimate with only a couple. Providing a quiet respite from a long, activity-laden day on the road, we immediately forgot our cares and escaped into a world far, far away from this thing we know so well as “reality.” The inn was carefully maintained as to not remove the old world charm, and all the quirks of a century-old mountain home aided in the experience: gently creaking floors, sloping porches and unpredictable ceiling heights were all here, and all helped to make it one of the more memorable B&Bs we’ve had the opportunity to stay at. The lodge was originally built as a vacation home to be used by multiple families at once, all looking to escape to the beautiful Black Hills. Suffice it to say, it’s still succeeding in doing what it was built to do. The homemade breakfast feast was astounding in both taste and beauty, and moreover, we were made to feel like family by a couple who adore the Black Hills just as much as anyone lucky enough to meander through them.
Stop staying with no purpose
In case you’ve missed the message, there’s simply no reason to not think carefully about the places you choose to stay when you head out on the road. With a small amount of research into the history, culture and “known-fors” of a given location, you can easily find hotels, hostels, B&Bs and other lodging options that do more than simply provide a bed. Unless you’re a hardcore nomad, you’ll be sleeping somewhere reasonable each and every night of your road trip — shouldn’t you make each night count just as much as the days?
%Gallery-91036% The venues mentioned here offered complementary media stays, but the views expressed and venue choices are entirely my own; images provided by Dana Jo Photography]
Farmers’ markets are not only a great way to sample a community’s natural bounty, they’re also a unique setting to experience its culture. While each farmers’ market is different, a really good farmers’ market brings a sense of community to the cities and municipalities where they operate. Wondering where you can experience some of the freshest produce, tastiest snacks and friendliest people across the country? Check out our picks for 16 of our favorites below.
Saint Louis – Soulard Farmer’s Market
The Soulard Farmers Market began in St. Louis in 1779, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers market west of the Mississippi. In addition to the fresh fruit, produce, baked goods and flowers, the market includes a craft and flea market in the two wings of an old train terminal. A bit “Old World” in atmosphere, shoppers can buy live chickens, barter with vendors and enjoy a festive, energetic atmosphere all year round.
Indianapolis – Indianapolis City Market
The Indianapolis City Market was built in 1886 and today includes an arts market on Saturday, a farmers’ market on Wednesdays, cooking classes and ethnic theme events that may focus on the foods of Asia one week or the spices of the Middle East the next. The common thread through it all is that homegrown goodness of corn, tomatoes and other produce from the soil of Indiana.
The Madison Wisconsin Farmers Market fills the grounds of the state capitol building and draws a huge crowd to the pedestrian-only mall and shops nearby. Fresh produce is only part of the fun. One Saturday, Wisconsin’s famous dairy cows may be on display; at other times there might be an iron man competition underway. Since it’s the state capitol, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to sign a petition or happen to see an up-and-coming politician working the crowd.
Kansas City – City Market
Kansas City’s City Market overflows with activity weekend mornings all year when as many as 10,000 people have been known to shop for produce and bedding plants one more, artwork on another and bargains from the community garage sale another weekend morning. Valet service is available for big purchases. Some of the city’s most prosperous farm-to-table restaurants have found a naturally successful home here.
Des Moines, Iowa
All products sold at the Des Moines Farmers Market must be grown within the state of Iowa and that means 160 or more booths carrying the freshest produce grown in some of the world’s best farmland. There are also hand-made items, such as dried flower arrangements, seed murals and wheat weaving. A miniature train for children is a standard fixture and most Saturday mornings, you’ll find musicians, clowns or dance troupes performing.
Voted the best farmers market in the state of Illinois in 2008, the Woodstock Farmers Market could easily be called a “producers market” because everything must be grown, raised or made by the seller. Located on the town square of this historic community, shoppers are accompanied by folk music performed live from a nearby gazebo on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.
The Holland Michigan Farmers Market literally overflows with blueberries, cherries, strawberries and other fresh fruit from the fields of western Michigan. The market also carries farm fresh cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. In the craft area, handmade furniture is an unexpected treat. But just wandering the aisles, munching on freshly baked Danish and feeling the breeze from Lake Michigan is a treat in itself.
Columbus, Ohio – North Market
Columbus Ohio’s North Market comes with its own kitchen and James Beard-award winning chef to prepare meals right on the spot from items bought at the market. In addition to fresh dairy products, including ice cream, and prepared foods from international vendors, the North Market sells just the right utensils and cookware to bring any meal together.
Lincoln, Nebraska – Historic Haymarket
The Historic Haymarket in Lincoln, Nebraska was originally a place where livestock and produce were sold in the state capitol, but now it is the site of the trendiest restaurants and retail outlets in the city. Every Saturday morning from May to October, the activity jumps another notch when more than 200 of the Midwest’s best farmers bring their produce. It’s also the best place in the city for Kolaches and coffee.
Little Rock, Arkansas – River Market
As polished as any supermarket, the Little Rock Arkansas River Market, located in the historic Quapaw Quarter, is a year-round destination for ethnic cuisine, entertainment and in the summer months, some of Arkansas’ famous tomatoes and watermelons. Something is always happening at the adjacent park overlooking the Arkansas River, and just a few blocks from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library.
Washington D.C. – Eastern Market
Casualty of a fire that ripped through the stalls in April of 2007, the historical Eastern Market has made a comeback and continues to serve meats, poultry, breads and gourmet goodies throughout the week in the South Hall, where many employees of nearby Capitol Hill migrate for lunch. On the weekends, stalls extend to the surrounding outdoor areas and offer antiques, crafts, photography, handmade jewelry and other collectibles. On our last visit, we purchased some vintage fruit labels and stocked up on distinctive greeting cards for less than a dollar apiece.
Santa Monica, California – Virginia Avenue Park
There are several markets that sprout up over the course of the week in this beach city. The best is the Saturday one in Virginia Avenue Park where weekly appearances are made by local restaurateurs featuring the best of their menus.
New York, NY – Union Square Greenmarket
One of the best markets in New York City is the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which extends the length of the west side of the square. Stalls are filled with local fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, poultry, fish, spices… just about anything you can imagine. At the tail end, you’ll find tables with artists selling their wares. We picked up some local goat cheese and wine, plus a hilarious comic-book version of the Grimm brother tales, handed to us directly by the author.
Chicago, IL – French Market
Inspired by European markets, the French Market was recently developed as an effort to promote community in the city. It’s located adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. The vendors sell delicious pastries and prepared foods as well as produce, meats, cheese and seafood. Grab some mussels and delicious Sicilian sandwiches before hopping on a train to the Chicago suburbs. Make sure to stop by Chicago’s world-renowned Green City Market while you’re in town.
Portland, OR – Portland State University
Portland has long relished in its status as one of the country’s most eco-conscious, sophisticated food cities, and the town’s wealth of farmer’s markets certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each Saturday the shoppers of Portland flock to the grounds of Portland State University, home to Portland’s biggest and most famous of the city’s six recognized downtown markets.
San Francisco, CA – Ferry Building and Plaza
No list of farmers markets could be complete without mentioning this titan of the food world. Ground zero for the birth of slow food and much of the current revolution in local, organic eating sweeping the nation, San Francisco and the Bay Area is king and its historic Ferry Building and nearby Plaza Farmer’s Market is the capital building. Stop by for delicious favorites like locally produced cheeses, more mushrooms than you’ve ever seen and some tasty gelato.
Routine often breeds insight, and the form of business travel that once ruled my life was one of the variety that Ralph Waldo Emerson would have called “the hobgoblin of little minds.” During one project, which involved seven months of weekly roundtrips to Omaha (and platinum status on Northwest by June), I’d get to Logan Airport every Monday morning and see the same names called for upgrades. It was demoralizing. As my miles accumulated, I knew that theirs were, too, leaving me no closer to my goal.
Then, a strange thing happened when I crossed from silver to gold: I started to get the bump. The people normally summoned up to the gate – who I had come to know by sight and the first three letters of their last name – were no longer on my flight. The upgrade candidates behind them were getting the first nod, and occasionally, I’d pick up some first class table scraps. Two months later, I was at the top of the list.
My business partner, who joined me in this weekly grind, noticed the change, as well. Having gotten this far, it didn’t take us long to put the rest together. The people who used to beat us to the upgrades had rolled off their projects: their work was done, and they had moved on to gigs in other cities. We still had plenty of Omaha time in front of us and relished the thought of having to compete with only the people paying for first class, and the occasional heavy-hitter who was taking a rare trip in our direction.Watching this unannounced changing of the guard is good for a morale boost in a life where pleasant surprises just aren’t frequent enough. It entails a sense of accomplishment, a touch of prestige and an expectation of a little more comfort. Everything that cuts your way carries disproportionate weight when you’re a road warrior.
So, if you’re among the many making the weekly “commute” to another part of the country on a long-term project, watch the pre-boarding process, and celebrate when those familiar faces disappear. It means you’re getting closer to a wider seat and coffee in a ceramic mug. There’s a rhythm to business travel, much of it defined by the work the passengers do. Get in synch with it, and the lifestyle becomes much easier to bear.
When most people think of going on a wine-tasting trip, their thoughts tend to head west – to California, Washington, and Oregon. It’s not surprising. From Napa Valley in California to Walla Walla in Washington, these states are some of the biggest producers of wine in the US. But if you don’t live in one of these states, there’s no need to venture far from home for a weekend of swirling and sipping. In fact, almost every state in the US has at least one winery, so you can enjoy a low-cost wine tasting vacation in a long weekend. Check out these wine-tasting regions in every corner of the country.
Midwest The Midwest states have traditionally been agriculture centers. Now many farms are trading potatoes and corn for grapes, and opening their doors to tourists. Illinois is home to around 80 wineries located on six wine trails within a few hours of Chicago. Most of Michigan’s 50 or so wineries are located in the west and southwest, near Traverse City or along the coast of Lake Michigan. Even Missouri has five wine trails scattered around the state.
Northeast New York’s Finger Lakes area is the jewel of the northeast wine region. Nearly 100 wineries are spread along three main wine trails, which surround four beautiful lakes. Not to be outdone, Maryland has almost 30 wineries open for tastings, and even tiny Rhode Island has five.
Southeast Kentucky is now making a name for itself in the wine world, with over 30 wineries clustered in the north central area of the state. Florida is home to over 15 scattered wineries and Virginia, the largest producer in the region, has nearly 150 wineries on several easy to follow trails.
West/Southwest Grapes in Arizona? Yep, there are over 20 wineries in the state, most just south of Tuscon. New Mexico has almost 40, most of which are clustered around Albuquerque and Taos, and Texas is home to over 80 wineries, predominantly in Hill Country, south of Austin. Colorado, which has over 60 wineries, boasts the highest grape-growing elevation in the country, and even Nebraska has more than 30 wine producers operating in the state.