Drag out summer after Labor Day: 12 ideas

So what if it’s almost the end of August, kids are heading back to school in droves, and Labor Day is almost here?

There are ways to drag out that summer feeling with easy-going, inexpensive travel. Pick places that you haven’t been to before to heighten a sense of adventure — something that summers are made for.

Here are 12 ideas to get you started into dragging out summer–at least until the leaves start to change color.

(This gorgeous shot of summer was taken in Ireland.)

1. Go to an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor or stand that you have not been to before and try a new flavor. As treats go, ice-cream is affordable and has nutritional value–if you ignore the sugar and fat. For example, at Tom’s Ice-Cream Bowl in Zanesville, Ohio, there’s a wonderful concoction made with coconut and chocolate chips. Tom’s Ice-Cream Bowl is one of my new favorite travel destinations and worth the drive. If you have a favorite parlor or stand, do tell. (Margot’s is in San Juan Bautista, CA.)

2. Go to a festival–any festival. Although Labor Day festivals abound, look for one that is after Labor Day. The Honeyfest in Lithopolis, Ohio fits that category. Held the first Saturday after Labor Day (this year, Sept. 12), this is a festival that blends music, honey, food and art into a lovely concoction with a summertime feel. I’m sure there are other festivals like this one that are organized by folks who hate to say good-bye to summer as well.

3. Get out that bicycle or the roller blades, strap on a helmet and head out to celebrate your inner child. If you don’t own a bicycle or roller blades, rent. One of my favorite places to rent roller blades is Santa Monica, California. Skate to Venice Beach to browse the craft tables that people set up on weekends. Also, at any given hour, there is someone doing entertainment for donations only. My favorite is the guy who juggles chain saws. (The photo of cyclists and roller bladers by Herkie was taken in Iowa.)

4. Find a historic home that has been turned into a museum. Often these museums are operated by volunteers who are passionate about history and what makes their house museum worth visiting. As a bonus, admission is generally inexpensive. Although hours often are cut back after Labor Day, many historic houses offer a weekend visit option. My favorite house museum is the Dinsmore Homestead near Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, about a half-hour from Cincinnati. Another fascinating home is the Copper King Mansion in Butte, Montana. Again, if you have a favorite historic home, pass along your suggestions.

5. Grab a fishing pole for a lazy hour or two of trying to catch a fish. Even if you end up with nada, watching the water ripple and the clouds move overhead is a cheap summer-like treat. Before you go, find out what the regulations are for a fishing license. In Ohio, people age 15 and under and age 60 and over don’t need a license. My son fished on the Smith River in Montana last summer using a friend’s borrowed pole. This summer was an evening visit to Sharon Woods Metro Park in Westerville, Ohio. Neither experience cost money. State parks are a good place to look for a free to inexpensive fishing location.

6. Take a merry-go-round ride, even if you don’t have a kid with you. Several parks and towns have merry-go-rounds as stand alone attractions. Last summer we took a spin on the merry-go-round in Saratoga, New York. The National Mall in Washington, D.C. also has a merry-go-round, as does Central Park in New York City. For two more carousel gems, check out the one in downtown Mansfield, Ohio, and my favorite, the merry-go-round in Missoula, Montana.

7. Rent a paddle boat for an hour. If you have more than two people who want to take a paddle boat ride, but you only want to rent for an hour, split the hour with the same boat. We did this in Sturbridge, Massachusetts one summer. Paddle boat rentals, I’ve found, are surprisingly cheap. A little over a week ago, the ONLY cheap thing we did in Greece was rent a paddle boat in Corfu.

8. Go tide-pooling to see what critters have become temporarily caught between the beach and the ocean. Once, near Thomaston, Maine, we spent hours walking along craggy rocks checking out the variety. Of course, Maine can feel nippy come September, but elsewhere, the temperatures are still comfortably summer.

9. It’s not too late to head to a swimming hole and float in an inner tube or swing off a rope to land in the water. The most memorable swimming hole I’ve been to is in New Braunfels, Texas between Austin and San Antonio.

10. Hike to a summit no matter how high the mountain. Getting to the top of a hill can also feel like an accomplishment. The trail to the top of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico offers a huge reward those who end up a mile higher than where they started at the parking lot where the trailhead begins. The view from the top is splendid. Look for Mt. Taylor near Grants, New Mexico in the distance.

(Clinton Steeds took this shot on Ryan Mountain at Joshua Tree.)

11. Drive out of town or the city, if that’s where you happen to live,and find a field. Once found, spread out a blanket, lie down and look up at the stars. Find the Big Dipper if nothing else. This summer, in addition to the Big Dipper, I was lucky enough to see shooting stars one night near Telluride, Colorado.

12. Baseball season is not over yet. For a down-home version of baseball, head to a minor league game. Those teams are still into crowd pleasing and involve spectators in the fun of the sport. When we were at an Isotope’s game this summer in Albuquerque, the excitement and fun of spectator participation, turned the kids of friends of ours into baseball fans.

And, one more thing. Wherever you go, wear white. The adage that you aren’t supposed to wear white after Labor Day is made to ignore, particularly by anyone who wants a summery feel.

Naked guy forces Albuquerque landing

Keith Wright, a New Yorker (damn!) felt restricted by more than just cramped airline seating today. On a flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles, he ditched his clothing and did not respond (vocally, at least) to flight attendant requests to put them back on. The mile-high nudist also wouldn’t accept the cover of a blanket.

As a result of Wright’s defiance, the US Airways flight was diverted to Albuquerque, where the passenger was met by federal authorities. According to the FBI, he’s now in federal custody, with a charge of interfering with flight crew members and attendants. Once Wright got off (the plane), the flight continued to its planned destination.

Every story has a moral: you’ll have no problem getting a blanket from a flight attendant if you strip.

Itching to learn more about high-altitude nekkidness? Click here to get the bare truth.

10 places to enjoy May flowers for free

When my daughter was about five we went on a wildflower hike for Mother’s Day. The hike was free and I remember the day’s loveliness even though this was over 10 years ago. May’s flowers are one of life’s great pleasures. It’s a visual feast with the world’s locations offering their own special palate.

With this weekend being the last chance to see May flowers as in “April showers bring May flowers,” head outdoors to look for gorgeous colors and lovely scents–urban areas are included. Go for a long, leisurely walk around a neighborhood known for flower beds–or find a city garden that’s in bloom.

Here are 10 flower hotspots that I’ve enjoyed in my travels. Besides being beautiful, I’ve included them here because they are free and flowers are part of their glory. The list is in alphabetical order. Even if you don’t find as many flowers as you might have hoped depending upon your timing, none will disappoint.

  • Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden, Honolulu, Hawaii. The first time I visited Brenda’s stomping ground, I was mesmerized by its lushness. This botanical garden was designed to “make a place of peace and tranquility.” Featuring endangered and rare plants from several geographic regions of the world that have tropical environments. Stroll here to take in a wealth of diversity, but in one location.
  • Inniswood Metro Parks Garden, Westerville, Ohio. The gardens are exquisite and the children’s area is quite well done. I never tire of going here. Because it’s part of the Columbus MetroParks system it’s free including the fabulous public events that are frequenlty held.
  • Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris. To escape the bustle of the city and tourists who flock to other landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, this is a place to head. People-watching also offers pleasure.
  • Lexington Cemetery, Lexington, Kentucky. Once, my history buff cousin and I spent a few hours walking along the grounds while he pointed out the burial spots of famous Kentuckians. I also noticed the gardens and trees.
  • Munsinger/Clemens Gardens, St. Cloud, Minnesota. Last summer when we were on our great American road trip, we spent an afternoon strolling through these two adjacent garden’s delights. Each section pays tribute to certain flowers in this park that was begun in 1915, enhanced thanks to WPA money in the Depression, and added onto in the 1990s. It’s sublime and a prime example of what happens when a community works together to create something that everyone can enjoy, even those from out of town.
  • Pino Trail in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first section is a marked nature trail where signage tells you what you’re looking at. You don’t have to hike the whole trail to enjoy the scenery. Take in the smell of juniper and pinons. Wildflowers with a desert twist are on the menu.
  • San Francisco Botanical Garden, San Francisco, California. I strolled through here years ago. Irises, one of my favorite flowers, are in bloom right now.
  • The Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore at the edge of Singapore’s downtown is known for its orchids. This is a gorgeous place for wandering, particularly since each section has its own nuances.
  • St. Stephens Green, Dublin, Ireland. This Victorian-style garden in the center of the city has been adding beauty since 1880. When I was here, a group of school children kept wanting to play.
  • The United States Botanic Garden, Washington, D.C. Here’s a garden where a part of it was designed to give people ideas to use at home. Pop into the conservatory for a visual and olfactory explosion. The wonderful aspect of a conservatory is that flowers bloom year round. Paul Busse’s wondrous trains, along with their showing in New York, chug here in December.

For an article that lists sublime places to hike for wildflower viewing, click here. The range is from California to Tennessee.

Chattanooga, Portsmouth among top art destinations in the U.S.

Who thought that Tennessee and New Hampshire would be some of the top towns in the country for art lovers. AmericanStyle magazine just issued the results of its twelfth annual arts destinations poll. Some spots are predictable. Others, like Chattanooga, will just blow your mind.

This is the first year Chattanooga made the list, shooting all the way up to second in the mid-sized city category. If you’ve been there, some of the surprise wears off. I hit Chattanooga back in 1999, and it was turning into a pretty cool small city. The past decade, obviously, has treated the city well. More shocking is the top mid-sized city: Buffalo, NY.

At the top of the small city list, Santa Fe is an utterly predictable #1 – like New York in the big city category. Portsmouth, NH, toward the bottom of the small city list, is a sentimental favorite. I had my first real job in Portsmouth and drank away many a Friday and Saturday (and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday) night on its sidewalks.

See the full lists after the jump.Big Cities (population of 500,000 or more)

  1. New York, NY
  2. Chicago, IL
  3. Washington, DC
  4. San Francisco, CA
  5. Albuquerque, NM
  6. Boston, MA
  7. Seattle, WA
  8. Atlanta, GA
  9. Philadelphia, PA
  10. Los Angeles, CA
  11. Portland, OR
  12. Baltimore, MD
  13. Denver, CO
  14. Phoenix, AZ
  15. Austin, TX
  16. Charlotte, NC
  17. Columbus, OH
  18. Nashville, TN
  19. San Diego, CA
  20. Tucson, AZ
  21. San Antonio, TX
  22. Las Vegas, NV
  23. Milwaukee, WI
  24. Dallas, TX
  25. Houston, TX

Mid-Sized Cities (population of 100,000 to 499,000)

  1. Buffalo, NY
  2. Chattanooga, TN
  3. Pittsburgh, PA
  4. Scottsdale, AZ
  5. New Orleans, LA
  6. Charleston, SC
  7. Savannah, GA
  8. Cleveland, OH
  9. Ann Arbor, MI
  10. Minneapolis, MN
  11. Alexandria, VA
  12. Miami, FL
  13. Tacoma, WA
  14. St. Louis, MO
  15. Athens, GA
  16. Kansas City, MO
  17. Colorado Springs, MO
  18. Providence, RI
  19. Salt Lake City, UT
  20. Honolulu, HI
  21. Rochester, NY
  22. St. Petersburg, FL
  23. Cincinnati, OH
  24. Raleigh, NC
  25. Tampa, FL

Small Cities (population of below 100,000)

  1. Santa Fe, NM
  2. Asheville, NC
  3. Sedona, AZ
  4. Taos, NM
  5. Saugatuck, MI
  6. Key West, FL
  7. Berkeley Springs, WV
  8. Boulder, CO
  9. Carmel, CA
  10. Corning, NY
  11. Sarasota, FL
  12. Beaufort, SC
  13. Chapel Hill, NC
  14. Burlington, VT
  15. Annapolis, MD
  16. Aspen, CO
  17. Laguna Beach, CA
  18. Northampton, MA
  19. Eureka Springs, AR
  20. Brattleboro, VT
  21. New Hope, PA
  22. Naples, FL
  23. Cumberland, MD
  24. Berea, KY
  25. Portsmouth, NH

Budget Travel: Albuquerque

Summary: Albuquerque, founded in 1706 by a group of Spanish colonists on the banks of the Rio Grande, has grown into a sprawling southwestern city that creeps up the Sandia and Manzano Mountains to the east and out onto the mesa to the west where it meets the National Petroglyph Park Monument. On the southern end, Isleta Pueblo halts it’s sprawl, and to the north is Sandia Pueblo.

If you drive into the city at night from the west, it can look like stars. From a distance during the day, Albuquerque can look like an oasis. For an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or someone interested in the arts, there is an array of things to do that won’t break the bank or bleed your wallet dry. With the airport right at the city’s edge, and the train and bus stations close to downtown, Albuquerque is quite accessible, however, don’t stop here. I’d use Albuquerque as a stepping off place to see more of New Mexico, but take a few days to enjoy what it has to offer on your way in or out.

Getting In: Bus, train, plane, car, bicycle–you pick. Albuquerque is an accessible city with inexpensive travel options. Airlines have much competition which helps keep the prices down. Continental and Southwest are the best bets. Amtrak also has a stop here, as does Greyhound. Albuquerque is on the way to other places, so why not spend time here if you’re making a cross-country jaunt?

If you do arrive without a car, I’d rent one. It would make life easier and give you more options of places to go in the city in the quickest amount of time–as well as take drives to Santa Fe, Acoma Pueblo or Bandelier National Monument. In 2008, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express opened. It’s the communter train between Santa Fe and Belen and points in between.

There is an extensive city bus service and many tourist sites are accessible by foot from Central Avenue, the Albuquerque’s main artery that goes from east to west. Bring water along if you’re walking. It gets hot if you arrive after April and before October. It’s a dry heat, so if you perspire, you won’t end up soaked.

Although, I haven’t done this option, if you arrive with a bicycle, you can hop on a bike trail at the airport. Here’s a link to the details.

Where to Stay: As the largest city in New Mexico with the major airport located here, there is an abundance of places to stay. Think of a chain hotel, and you’ll find it. If you’re looking for funky, stay in one of the independently owned hotels on Central Avenue, part of historic Route 66. As a word of warning, choose carefully. A friend and I thought it would be fun to stay in one when I lived in Albuquerque and I think it might have been a flop house. Let’s just say one of the TV channels offered more than I anticipated and one didn’t need to pay extra. To find a recommendation, contact Route 66, the organization dedicated to keeping this historic road thriving. Stay close to Nob Hill, University of New Mexico or Old Town.

Where to Eat: Albuquerque is where you can eat your fill of Mexican food and never get bored. You’ll be asked if you want red or green chilie. Try green chilie at least once. One place to dry a dose of the good stuff for breakfast, lunch or dinner is at The Frontier across from the University of New Mexico. You can’t miss it since it takes up almost a whole block. Try the cinnamon rolls. I repeat. Try the cinnamon rolls. They are legendary.

Two other inexpensive places for great Mexican fare are Garcia’s Kitchen and Los Cuates. Garcia’s Kitchen started out in one location across from Old Town. Now there are seven. I’m partial to the original. There are two Los Cuates on Lomas directly across the street from each other. The south side of the street is the original. The north side has margaritas. Whichever Mexican restaurant you head to, enjoy the sopapillas with honey. Oh, how I miss those.

For a Route 66 dining experience, eat at the Route 66 Diner. Although the original burned in 1995, the rebuilt one reflects the time period.

To pick up food to take along on a bicycle or hiking outing, head to the La Montanita Co-op Market in Nob Hill.

Things to Do:

As a centerpiece to your visit, head to Old Town which is the oldest part of the city, but has been transformed into a area rich in shopping and things to do. The plaza is at the heart of the area and is where the 300 year old San Felipe de Neri Parish church, still stands. The church has a museum and a gift shop which reflect the Spanish influence.

You could browse Old Town’s shops for hours. Things to buy range from ticky tacky to high-end gorgeous. I’d browse before you buy. One thing to pick up that I think is a hoot is an adobe house incense burner. For wonderful arts and crafts, check out Amapola Gallery. It’s a cooperative that showcases the work of about 40 artists.

Also in the Old Town area are Rattlesnake Museum, Turquoise Museum, Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, and Explora, a museum that integrates art, technology and science. Also, there’s the National Atomic Museum. which gives a nod to Albuquerque’s military and nuclear science connections. This spring, the museum will change to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.

Not far from Old Town is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, perhaps my favorite attraction. There’s a museum that covers the history and life of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. The gallery and gift shop is superb, plus the restaurant is a wonderful place to get a Tewa taco and green chile stew. If you want authentic Indian jewelry, this is where to get it. It’s high quality and reasonable. Take time to look at the murals on the outside walls of the building that surround the courtyard. For dance performances and other events check the calendar.

If you’re museumed out, Albuquerque is made for outdoor exploration. Bicycling is incredibly popular and something that’s doable in any season. Trails are extensive. For suggestions on where to bike, check out this page of RideThisBike.com. Here’s a link to bicycle shops to help you scout out a rental.

Test your mettle by hiking up Crest Trail in the Sandias. The trail goes up one of the mountainsides in a series of switchbacks. If you want to get to the top an easier way, take the Sandia Peak Tramway and hike back down. Bring a windbreaker or a sweatshirt, even in summer. At the top you can get chilled if you’ve hiked up. Trust me. I know. Although hiking in the Sandias offers the stunning views of the city and the challenge of pacing your climb to not poop out before the top, hiking in the mesa around the Petroglyph National Monument is also satisfying. Imagine who walked here before you.

In winter months, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing in the Sandias is another outdoor option. Because the temperatures in the city are much higher than the backside of the mountains, you could conceivably ski and golf on the same day. For the best and least expensive thing to do in Albuquerque, head away from the city and watch the sunrise or sunset.