The ten best cities for sunbathing

After you’ve been cooped-up inside all winter, that first day of nice weather at home feels like a gift from heaven. Clothes come off, frisbees start flying and the hardcore sunbathing begins. Even if it’s still cold where you live, the prospect of warmer days ahead looms large. In preparation for the endless days of spring and summer, here’s ten of our favorite spots for sunbathing around the world. Grab yourself a towel and some sunscreen and check it out.

10. Barcelona, Spain
Barceloneta Beach is ideally located at the water’s edge in Barcelona with fantastic restaurant and nightclub options at the nearby boardwalk. While the cleanliness of the sand has been an object of controversy in recent years, Barceloneta cannot be matched for its proximity to the many urban options that Barcelona affords. When you tire of the Mediterranean sun, there is Las Ramblas, La Sagrada Familia, Montjuic, Park Guell, and the smattering of architectural tributes to Gaudi.9. Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles offers a wide variety of beaches, from gritty Venice Beach to trendy, hip Malibu. For the best sunbathing, Zuma Beach in Malibu is the destination. A city surrounded by beach options, Zuma is one of the largest and most popular options in Los Angeles County; known for its long, wide stretches of sand and excellent surf. It consistently ranks among the healthiest beaches for clean water conditions in Los Angeles County. Grab a red one-piece and imagine yourself in a Baywatch episode.

8. New York, New York (tie)
Manhattanites know about Carl Schurz Park. This 15 acre parkland on the Upper East Side boasts a waterfront promenade built over FDR Drive. Sunbathing options abound with winding, shady paths, green lawns, waterfront views, a large playground for children, and two dog runs. Bring a towel and picnic basket, plug in your iPod to Astrud Gilberto and imagine you’re on Copacabana Beach.

8. Punta del Este, Uruguay (tie)
South Americans looking for an escape retreat to Punta del Este, an upscale resort town invaded by wealthy denizens of Buenos Aires and Montevideo from early November until late February. With a heady ancestral mix of Spanish and Italian descendants, this Southern Hemisphere destination is perfect for those seeking the “endless summer.” Punta has scenic coasts and beaches with the Rio de la Plata on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. All beaches on the peninsula have public access. Sunbathers have the option of choosing quiet and calm areas to others with strong waves and the requisite surfers, all with fine white or golden sand.

7. Bondi Beach, Sydney
Located 20 minutes from central Sydney, Bondi (pronounced “Bond-Eye”) is the quintessential beach abounding with sun, sand, and sensuality You’d be hard-pressed to find more heavenly bodies than on this half-mile stretch of paradise. Bondi is replete with a wide range of food, entertainment and accommodation options nearby. Here you’ll find fantastic waves, sunbathing models, year-round sun and the coolest beach-side vibe anywhere. And if you really want to blend in and look like an Australian, take a surfing class. Lets Go Surfing, conveniently located in Bondi, is one of the most professional surf schools in Australia.

6. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is certainly not a beach, and not anywhere near a very good beach. However, the banks of the Charles River come alive (and shirts begin to peel off) the moment mercury rises above 68. With a population of 1 in 6 attending any one of the many institutions of higher learning, this hip town has a great deal of young eye candy to enjoy without wandering too far from the dignified boundaries of Beacon Hill or the Back Bay. The Esplanade has miles of jogging and rollerblade trails, and an abundance of manicured lawns to enjoy your choice of literature from Isabel Allende to Emile Zola. After the sun sets, you may be lucky to enjoy a concert at the Hatch Shell.

5. Miami South Beach, Florida

It wasn’t long ago that South Beach was nothing more than a tawdry, tacky strip of forgotten beach land. South Beach has experienced resurgence in the past 20 years to become one of the “hippest” beach destinations in the US. The famous strip affords more miles of undulating sand and perfectly sculpted bodies than seems mortally possible. Beautiful bodies can be found on the beaches, but more so in the hotel pools that line the coast. At the end of the day, head inland a few blocks to the stylish clubs, restaurants and shopping along Lincoln Road, Washington Avenue and Ocean Drive.

4. Paris, France
Though not anywhere near a beach, Paris tops our list of “urban” sunbathing options. In 2002, Paris introduced “Paris Plage,” (Paris Beach), a free summer event that transforms the banks of the Seine River into 3 distinct districts. Those in search of a “traditional” beach (as “traditional” as one might find in a city of 3 million) should head between the Pont Neuf and Pont de Sully bridges. With classic French panache, this location features sand and grass beaches, parasols and chaise lounges–all free! Even the obligatory Le Hot Dog is served in French fashion–stuffed inside a baguette.

Near Pompidou Center, the area takes on a tropical flair, while in the northern reaches of La Vilette boating and water sport options abound. When the sun sets, enjoy many of free concerts offered throughout the season. Considering Paris already has nearly everything a visitor could want, we can now add the “Best City for Sunbathing” to the list.

3. Honolulu, Hawaii
With Diamond Head as an impressive background, the beach at Waikiki is a slice of Hawaiian heaven, offering great weather, good restaurants, and a two-mile stretch of fantastic, sandy beaches. Though Waikiki can be particularly costly (parking and food) and overrun with tourists, nearby Kuhio Beach Park is a quieter, more affordable option. The warm, clear, shallow waters cannot be beat. You may be fortunate to be present during the many events the beach hosts throughout the year, including surf competitions, hula dancing, outrigger canoe racing and outdoor performances. Don’t be tempted to lift one of the grass skirts to see if there’s some sort of vibrating mechanism underneath. These movements should not be attempted at home unless a chiropractor is nearby.

2. San Diego, California
In San Diego, the beach is a way of life, a source of pride and a defining influence in people’s lives. San Diego comes in a strong second due to the sheer number of beaches that run the length of an entire county, from its northern extremity at Oceanside to its southern border with Mexico. Additionally, with 365 days of perfectly balanced sunshine per year, San Diego can’t be beat. La Jolla, an affluent neighborhood with several stunning beaches, tranquil coves and foamy surf, is ideal for families.

Heading north, the exclusive communities of Del Mar, Solana Beach and Leucadia have dramatic coastlines and vistas. Film buffs will recognize the Hotel del Coronado from “Some Like It Hot” on Coronado Island. Your sunbathing may (or may not be) interrupted by troops jogging by as the San Diego Naval Base is situated nearby. When the sun sets, the many activities and pleasures of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, Mission Bay, and Sea World are at your doorstep.

1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio’s Ipanema Beach has long been considered one of the Sexiest Beaches in the World, Combining the very best any city has to offer with great restaurants, fashionable clubs, and world-class museums, the beach at Ipanema tops our list. Brash with Brazilian style, Ipanema sways to its own captivating rhythm. Somehow I must have gotten by the sensors on the beach which magically prevents anyone from entering with more than a single-digit body fat index. With bravado, the young, fit and beautiful Brazilians hold court one of the most enticing sunbathing destinations on earth.

SkyMall Monday: Solafeet Foot Tanner

This week, as promised, I’m featuring the best new product in the Holiday 2009 SkyMall catalog. And it couldn’t come at a better time.

This may shock you, but being America’s leading SkyMall expert doesn’t pay very well. So, I’ve applied for a lot of jobs to supplement my income. My resumé is impressive. I interview well. But at the end of the process, I always get turned down. And my status of a Doctor of SkyMall also doesn’t attract as many woman as you might think. So, I end up asking out random females every chance I get. It’s not that I have trouble meeting women. I can usually entertain them with witty anecdotes and cheap liquor. But when the time comes to have adult relations, they always point and laugh. To be honest with you, I was about to kill myself after all of this rejection. But then I realized that the problem was right there in front of me. Well, more accurately, it was underneath me. My pale feet were making me a social pariah. But how could I possibly remedy such an acute condition? How could I treat a problem as complex and localized as Pale Feet Syndrome Disease Condition (PFSDC)? Depressed and out of socks, I turned to my Primary Care Physician: SkyMall. And what did the good catalog prescribe? You guessed it: The Solafeet Foot Tanner.
For too long, the world’s greatest minds have sought to cure PFSDC. You’ve all seen the rubber anklets being worn to support the cause and participated in the annual Walk Over Hot Coals for PFSDC Research. And finally, all of this hard work and dedication has been rewarded. We’ve won the battle against PFSDC!

The product description may be the most uplifting collection of prose that I will read in my lifetime:

If you always feel like people are gawking at your white feet and the unsightly tan lines around your ankles when you wear sandals or pumps, then you need the Solafeet foot tanner. Those tan lines can be gone in 5 to 10 days with just fifteen minutes a day. Then you can go from the golf course to the clubhouse in confidence. The Solafeet is ideal for flip-flop wearers, tennis players and joggers.

If I had a nickel for every time I had to say, “Excuse me, my eyes are up here,” while a woman gawked at my pale feet, I’d be nickeless. But now, in five to ten days, my tan lines will disappear. That’s only slightly longer than the time it takes for tan lines to naturally disappear. This truly is a marvel of modern science. Finally, I can enjoy my elitist leisure activities with confidence. My friends in the PFSDC chatrooms will be so thrilled.

I’m certain to find gainful employment and a hot girlfriend now that I can wear flip-flops with impunity. It’s a brand new day for me and all my PFSDC brethren. No longer will we have to just not care about tan lines like the rest of the world. No. Now we can spend $230 and look like assholes at our desks while curing our superficial problem. Thank you, SkyMall!

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

A Canadian in Beijing: “No Clamber Over”

I’m from Ontario. It’s a relatively flat province in Canada with lots of rolling hills and some small mountains that most of my west-coast friends won’t even call mountains. That’s fair enough, considering they’re looking at the Rockies all the time. The first time I saw those magnificent Rocky mountains I was sixteen years old and I remember feeling as though I had never seen anything so intense, so breathtaking, so grand in nature. Every time I get the opportunity to go west again and look up at their majestic snow-capped peaks, I am awed all over again. They never get boring to me – this Ontario-born Canadian – and I always feel really lucky to see them again.

Now here I am in Beijing and I was only an hour out of town this weekend and I had a similar moment of complete shock. I knew there were mountains outside of Beijing, but I didn’t know they’d be so beautiful! Of course, they’re nowhere near as high as the Rockies (i.e. no snow and no cloud-covered peaks), but they’re majestic all the same. These mountains are lush and green and they hold beautiful “tan ?” (deep pools), waterfalls and teal-coloured lakes in their various stony crevices.

I am moved by natural beauty.

(I took a lot of photos.)

The mountain we climbed was called: “Yougu Shentan 幽古伸潭.” The path rounded around a flowing stream filled with huge rocks and small waterfalls, mountain pools heated by the sunshine and picturesque views that took your breath away every time you turned around. And, you had to turn around regularly. Why keep your back to the beauty? It made for a slower ascent, but the view was always worth it.

Climbing was, of course, hard work. This was a tourist site, though, and it was set up well with resting spots equipped with sun awnings, railings on steep sections and lots of benches along the way. The “No Clamber Over” signs made me chuckle, too. I explained to my friend that the word “clamber” was technically correct, but it’s just such a strange way to request that people stay on the walkway side of the fence. “Don’t Climb Over the Fence” would more likely be on a sign at home. In fact, I haven’t seen the word “clamber” in print in a long time!

We didn’t bring any water or food with us, however, and made the mistake of assuming there’d be a vendor somewhere. About halfway up, we asked someone coming the other way and discovered that there would be no food at all for us unless we were to invade a stranger’s picnic! Of course, that was out of the question, but we were lucky enough to learn that a free flowing spring was at the top of the mountain and we just needed to get there to re-hydrate. Around the next bend, we found it.

As non-Chinese as it was, I washed my hands vigorously under the spout and then cupped them together and filled them up with water so that I could drink from the spring. I brought my cupped hands to my lips several times and felt refreshed.

I heard a woman exclaim “she’s drinking from her hands!” and I knew it was because here in China it is assumed that hands are very dirty. Perhaps this is a fair assumption, for the most part, but I didn’t have a bottle with me and this method is a way I have known to collect water since my childhood. Different cultures = different practices.

My friend, however, had a different plan. The fact that he’s Chinese meant that he wasn’t going to do as I had done and he, too, looked at me strangely as I cupped my hands together and brought them to my lips. I shrugged and continued. I was too thirsty to change my ways in that moment. When I was done, he leaned his whole face into the spout and took the water directly into his mouth. He came away from the spring with his whole face and part of his hair drenched but smiling. Different strokes for different folks! Either way, we both felt better.

At this point in the walk, we were too tired to continue and started to double back. This mountain path was not a circular one and so lunch was no closer to us the farther we walked. Food was becoming more of a motivator than scenic sights.

After getting back down to the foot of the mountain, we hopped on the bike and drove deeper into the hills where the roads wound around steep cliffs and rose and fell in switchbacks and hairpin turns. Around one corner, we saw a building that looked, to me, like an old gas station. My friend turned in and parked the bike right next to an empty outdoor table and asked the proprietor if we could have lunch there. They said sure and motioned for us to sit.

I was shocked. It didn’t look like a restaurant to me! There were three tables that were sitting in front of two cars. These cars were essentially in the parking lot (or where the pumps would have been had it once been a gas station, which it hadn’t) and then there was an L-shaped building that didn’t look like a restaurant in the least.

On closer inspection, this was indeed an eating establishment. One of those rooms housed some interior tables, one was the kitchen and one appeared to be living quarters for those who ran the restaurant. Simple and nothing fancy, but fully functional.

We ordered some vegetarian dishes, which included vegetables that grow on these very mountains. The food was delicious, the service was kind and it was the perfect lunch for two incredibly hungry hikers. Afterwards, I took several pictures of the surroundings not wanting to forget this nondescript building and its hidden hospitality. After all, it felt to me that we were pulling up at a personal residence and we were treated as such – just like long-lost guests.

This mountain top adventure more than quenched my thirst for beauty and my hunger for nature. I came away humbled by my insular Beijing existence over the past two months (not counting my foray into Shanghai, but that too is another city). I now know that all of this natural beauty is just a short drive away. I’ll be sure to take more of it in on my next journey to China.

Until then, I have lots of photos.