Ahhh, Spring. One of my favorite seasons. Now, you may be saying, Erik, what are you talking about, it’s still the dead of winter! Well, to you I say, “correct.” HOWEVER! One of my favorite things about spring being just around the corner is the return of Major League Baseball! Which brings us to the real reason I'm mentioning spring… MLB SPRING TRAINING!! Pitchers and Catchers have all reported, and teams are in full swing (pun intended), gearing up for the first season of the new decade. What better way for a baseball fan to enjoy his or her spring than to travel to spring training to soak up a little sun and enjoy America’s Pastime.
Stop what you’re doing and book a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. I returned to this famous destination in December of 2018 and I am so glad I did. There’s just something about this iconic place that is special to me, and frankly, the reasons are too innumerable to mention- but I’ll try.
First of all, flying into Sky Harbor International Airport is where the transformation began. I was there to host an episode of Beyond Your Backyard. My mind was squarely focused on creating the best television episode I could. I stared out the airplane window and saw the vast brown openness of this part of the country. Like you, I carry my own luggage, so after a brief stint at baggage claim, I was off to the rental car center to punch in the coordinates of the hotel. As I try to do on my travels, I arrived during the day before rush hour, so getting to the resort took about 20 minutes. The valet greeted me and the check-in to Mountain Shadows Resort was effortless. The saguaro cactus reminded me that the vibe here is unique. The dry heat was a refreshing change from NYC in December, and I was reminded once again that this trip was an excellent idea.
On this trip we stayed at Mountain Shadows Resort in Paradise Valley, which is a sister resort to the urban chic and very retro Valley Ho in downtown. This property has a very historic past, originally built below Camelback Mountain in 1959 but after a $100-million-dollar complete rebuild, re-opened with great fanfare in 2017. My room was spacious, and the bedding was very luxurious. But I’m not here to give a Trip Advisor review, I’m here to remind you that your lodging choice is just as important as the destination itself. I instantly felt this property embodied the free spirit of the West and the staff was as friendly as can be.
I first visited Scottsdale in 2007 and have been holding a slow burn candle ever since. My first day was an early start as we were whisked away for a hot air balloon voyage that was out of this world. The company we chose was Hot Air Expeditions and our Captain was fantastic. There is a reason this pastime is a popular one with both visitors and locals alike. After an eventful landing, a champagne toast was had by all in the desert and it was an excellent way to start the shoot. Also, on this journey we toured the Museum of the West and WOW, just WOW. We strolled along the downtown streets and dropped in on the art galleries. Old Town Scottsdale boasts world class art, especially along main street in the heart of the Arts District. We drove about 30 minutes from the town center and took a nature hike in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, where there are 30 acres of recreation and conservation area and miles of prime hiking and biking trails. Again, the sky was big, the vistas were gorgeous, and the work was simply easier and more fun because of the natural beauty. We had an excellent guide from McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Stewards and the Scottsdale official tourism bureau. We didn't have time to go horseback riding, off-road driving or play a round of golf. All of which win awards for exceptional experiences. Perhaps next time!
With more than 900 restaurants in Scottsdale frankly, I’m not sure where to start with the local cuisine. Every meal we had was bursting with flavor. The Mission was one of my new favorites. We also spent time with chef/owner Brett Vibber at Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine in Cave Creek. His passion for the destination runs as deep as the menu choices. Oh, and for breakfast, make a stop at The Hash Kitchen & Bar for eggs benedict made with a giant soft pretzel topped with thick cut bacon, two poached eggs, fried onions and a beer cheese hollandaise sauce.
Again, I cannot quite put my finger on WHY I am a huge fan of Scottsdale, I just am, and you will be too after your first visit. So, stop what you’re doing and book a vacation to Scottsdale.
If you are so inclined, watch the video to see how amazing it truly is! And PLEASE share your thoughts and questions about Scottsdale in the comment section below.
Standout examples of classic Miami Art Deco include the postcard-worthy neon-lit Breakwater Hotel and the McAlpin. Though a small building, the latter is arguably the purest form of Art Deco because of its perfectly symmetrical façade and candy-colored hues. The Breakwater Hotel, meanwhile, is one of the jewels of Ocean Drive. Built in 1936, this boutique hotel features clean, symmetrical lines that become a neon blue beacon come nighttime. The Raleigh Hotel, which is considered the grand dame of Art Deco buildings, is also worth a visit. Its pool with curved-edges was once voted as the most beautiful swimming pool in America.Miami has the largest concentration of Art Deco architecture in the world, housing over 800 of these structures. Most of them are found in Miami Beach, a city famous for its luxury beach resorts, restaurants, bars, and cruise lines. That being said, a tour of the most notable Art Deco buildings is another worthy addition to your itinerary.
The 20th century architectural trend was created as an avant-garde expression of wealth and sophistication. It’s characterized by symmetrical, streamlined designs. Although it was born in Paris via the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, it was the United States that took the lead in developing Art Deco. Miami Beach invented its own variant through incorporating pastel colors, white stucco, neon lights, and decoration features like herons, sea shells, and palm trees.
At some point in the past, the Art Deco scene deteriorated and was eventually neglected by its residents. But thanks to the efforts of the non-profit organization Miami Design Preservation League, many of the Art Deco structures were restored to their original appearance. Many of these iconic structures are situated in South Beach, where the Art Deco Historic District is located. Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, in particular, make for a fascinating spectacle of pastel three-storey hotels.
In line with the League’s preservation efforts, newer buildings were also constructed in the neoclassical style of Art Deco. The Betsy Hotel’s new wing on Collins Avenue is the perfect example. Reopened in 2009 after a multimillion-dollar restoration, the hotel marries Art Deco with modern interiors. The Tides South Beach is another building that has a vintage outer appearance and modern interiors.
Not all Art Deco structures are hotels though. You can also admire the classic beauty of Colony Theater, which lies on Lincoln Road. The theater was built in 1935 and last renovated in 2006. Today, it hosts events like music festivals, theater performances, and stand-up comedy specials, among others. There is also the Bass Museum on Collins Avenue, which houses the Miami Beach Public Library and Arts Center. Its aesthetic is a bit different from the rest of the Art Deco buildings in Miami due to its use of fossilized Paleolithic coral during construction. The distinctive façade features intricate carvings of a montage of scenes, including the Spanish conquest, a pelican eating a fish, cruise ships, and planes.
In celebration of the style and its cosmopolitan era, the League also holds an annual three-day community cultural festival. During this time, the neighborhood transforms into its former glory, giving attendees a blast from the past. Vintage cars line up the streets on Ocean Drive, jazz parties and retro fashion shows light up the night, and walking tours of the Art Deco Historic District take place. It’s an experience that could leave you mesmerized.
Yet another example of why I suggest you make your way to Miami for an ungforgettable vacation.
I love fireworks for any holiday, and I am incredibly excited how Colonial Williamsburg has packed an entire day with music, tradition, and fireworks in the unique way only this iconic American city can do. Join me in Colonial Williamsburg to enjoy the holiday festivities of Grand Illumination on Sunday, Dec. 3. After a morning of the town’s special activities and an afternoon of music, the events will conclude with “A Festival of Light and Thunder,” a free fireworks demonstration. Trust me, it’s going to be epic.
First, what is an illumination? In the 18th century, illuminations involved the firing of guns and lighting of fireworks. These guns and fireworks announced major events such as the birthday of a reigning sovereign, military victories, or the arrival of a new colonial governor.
Grand Illumination festivities begin at 4 p.m. when a town crier (of course Colonial Williamsburg begins the festivities with a town crier) officially opens the holiday season from the Courthouse steps. I’ve listed the highlights of the city's December 3rd events below. Visit colonialwilliamsburg.com for tickets and even more details.
Until 6:30 p.m., themed musical performances will be showcased on four Historic Area stages:
At the same time, the William & Mary a Capella group the Gentlemen of the College will sing on the new porch of the Raleigh Tavern.
Fireworks and Parade
The celebration culminates in “A Festival of Light and Thunder” at 7 p.m. with simultaneous free fireworks demonstrations above the Capitol, the Magazine and the Governor’s Palace, followed by a torch-lit procession of the Fifes & Drums down Duke of Gloucester Street. Visit colonialwilliamsburg.com for complete programming details.
The day’s dining highlights include:
Guest parking is available at the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center.
Daytime programs included with Colonial Williamsburg admission
Good Neighbor Passes to the Governor’s Palace
Also on Dec. 3, Colonial Williamsburg is offering a single-site ticket to the iconic Governor’s Palace, available in limited quantities exclusively via the Colonial Williamsburg Explorer mobile app for $15. The ticket will only be available on Dec. 3. For just $10, residents of Williamsburg, James City County and the Bruton District of York County can visit the Governor’s Palace and other sites daily and enjoy other benefits with a Good Neighbor Annual Pass. For additional information and to purchase a Good Neighbor Annual Pass visit colonialwilliamsburg.com/good-neighbor.
Tickets and program information are available by visiting colonialwilliamsburg.com. Tickets, reservations and information are available by calling 855-296-6627, toll-free. Information, dining reservations and same-day program tickets are available via the free Colonial Williamsburg Explorer app, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play. Information is also available by following Colonial Williamsburg on Facebook and @colonialwmsburg on Twitter and Instagram.
Knoxville Market Square is just about the perfect sliver of American civic and community life I’ve ever experienced. Located in the center of downtown, the square covers over one acre, with storefronts lining the east and west. The site became popular in the early 1800s, when farmers gathered to sell their produce. Now, you can still visit the local farmers’ market as well as people watch, see street performers, shop in unique boutiques, and eat at some of the best food trucks and restaurants in the area. For ideas for your next visit, check out my top-ten list below!
Experience the 30th Annual Town Point Virginia Wine Festival, Norfolk’s famous wine festival, this October. Wine Enthusiast Magazine has called Virginia one of the 10 best wine travel destinations in the world! According to Norfolk FestEvents, this year’s fall wine festival will showcase more than 30 wineries with over 200 of Virginia’s best wine varieties.
Stroll along the Elizabeth River, sampling and purchasing premier wine vintages. Enjoy live musical performances, along with gourmet foods and specialty wares.
October 21-22, 2017
Town Point Park, Downtown Norfolk Waterfront, Virginia
Saturday: 11am - 6pm
Sunday: 11am - 6pm
General admission tickets (which don’t include tasting privileges nor souvenir glass) are $25 on Saturday and $20 on Sunday. Tasting tickets (which include souvenir glass and tasting privileges) are $35 in advance on Saturday; $30 in advance on Sunday.
While you’re exploring the Downtown Norfolk Waterfront, consider taking the ferry as part of your weekend adventure. The ferry service is also operated by Hampton Roads Transit and offers a great view of the harbor. The ferry only has one route, which travels between Downtown Norfolk at The Waterside, and North Landing and High Street in Portsmouth. For more information, visit Paddlewheel Ferry .
What will the weather be like? Because of its temperate mid-Atlantic climate, Norfolk is a year-round destination. October in Norfolk has ideal warmth, with an average high of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and low of 54 degrees. Pack clothes that layer well, such as a fleece vest if you want to explore the waterfront in the mornings.
For more information about transportation, weather, and my recommendations on restaurants and places to stay, check out our inexpensive Norfolk itinerary.
I love island life.
The last week of August, I spent a week with my family on Hilton Head Island and, well, fell in love with a lifestyle.
Not just any old island will do. You must pick the RIGHT island for you. As with true love, the sensation of falling head-over-heals in love comes out of nowhere; but once you feel it, you can't live without it.
I love Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Despite the frequent traveling I do, I honestly don't think I understood what “island life” meant until this trip. And I had not been to this part of the country since we shot videos here in 2008. To see the series, you can watch them on the Hilton Head page of my site.
Securing a vacation rental was the best fit for our family. We stayed at Palmetto Dunes at Inverness Village. I loved this community. The white, sandy beach was a five-minute’s bike ride away. Within Inverness Village, I had all the comforts and amenities of a luxury resort. The sand is HOT in August. An hour at the beach every day was enough for my family. Having a private pool off the deck was perfect; my children and I swam every day.
Because of the vacation rental, we could be as active as we were capable. Wherever we went on the island (or off), it was clean. I appreciated not having to pay attention to every step I took.
I decided to rent bikes for the family on the first day.
It was the BEST vacation decision I've made in a long time.
Island life revolves around biking...even when you don't do it in your everyday life. I chose to rent bikes from Pedals. They delivered the bikes to the house and picked them up free of charge. Easy.
I really am not a "sit around the beach and do nothing" sort of guy. I crave things to do. On this trip, I golfed, played tennis, jet-skied, mini-golfed and ate my way through the week.
Speaking of food, Hilton Head has more options than you'll have time to get to. Skull Creek Boathouse was a stand out as were all the restaurants I listed in my downloadable itinerary for Hilton Head Island.
Look for more on this subject in the future as I fully intend to return to Hilton Head and other iconic beach destinations in the future.
Let me know if you have a favorite island in the comments below.
I wrote an article for Hashtag West Virginia highlighting the State Fair of West Virginia a couple of weeks ago which reminded me of the many charms of the state fairs.
For budget-conscious families, state fairs offer affordable dining and fun close to home, and the fall is one of the best times to visit the state fair. The crisp air carries the scents of fresh-picked, farm-fresh food and the chance of sunburn decreases as you watch the horse, dog, and demolition displays from the grand stands.
Munch on funnel cake and giant cinnamon rolls as you browse the crafts, stained-glass, and needlework of the state’s residents. Take your sweetheart on a ride around the Ferris wheel for a bird’s eye view of the activity and try to win larger-than-life stuffed animal prize at the ring toss.
Give your kids a taste of old-fashioned pleasures such as fiddling, square dancing, and hay rides. And state fairs can be one of the best (and one of the most affordable) places to hear the biggest names in country music.
This Labor Day weekend and fall, make time to go to the fair. All over America, the good times are rolling.
State Fairs - Fall 2017
New York State Fair
August 23 – September 4, 2017
Alaska State Fair
August 24 - September 4, 2017
Maryland State Fair
August 24 - September 4, 2017
Minnesota State Fair
August 24 - September 4, 2017
Nebraska State Fair
August 25 - September 4, 2017
Oregon State Fair
August 25 - September 4, 2017
Colorado State Fair
August 25 - September 4, 2017
New Hampshire State Fair
September 1 - 4, 2017
Washington State Fair
September 1 - September 24, 2017
New Mexico State Fair
September 7 - 17, 2017
Kansas State Fair
September 8 - 17, 2017
Oklahoma State Fair
September 14 - 24, 2017
Massachusetts State Fair
September 15 – October 1, 2017
Virginia State Fair
September 29 - October 8, 2017
Arizona State Fair
October 6 -29, 2017.
Arkansas State Fair
October 12 - 22, 2017
Georgia National Fair
October 5 - 15, 2017
South Carolina State Fair
October 11 - 22, 2017
North Carolina State Fair
October 12 - 24, 2017
Louisiana State Fair
October 26 - November 5, 2017
Alabama National Fair
October 27 - November 5, 2017
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!