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Cityscape: Try Out Greater Phoenix

The Phoenix area of Arizona has quietly become a rival to South Florida in attracphoenix-travel-Wildfire-Faldo-2ting visitors from the Northeast United States who are looking for a respite from cold weather. What's intriguing about Phoenix is how its diverse lodging properties can truly shape a getaway.

(2012, incidentally, marks the centennial of Arizona being admitted as our 48th state.)

Until recently a very sleepy home to faceless government office buildings, downtown Phoenix has been transformed by the new Phoenix Convention Center and by its growing professional sports sector. Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks play at Chase Field while the NBA’s Phoenix Suns play across the street at the US Airways Center.

The 31-story Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel opened a couple of years ago and it has over 1,000 rooms, making it Arizona’s largest hotel. With that kind of available occupancy, leisure travelers can get great deals, particularly on weekends.

The Sheraton’s main restaurant, District, has become popular for its happy hour. If you want to blend in with the locals, stop by after 5 PM and enjoy sloppy joe sliders, Tepary bean hummus, and a cold glass of white peach sangria.

The days of having to travel for the privilege of gambling in a casino are past. The executives at the Talking Stick Casino, located in ritzy Scottsdale, realize this as they entice visitors not just with slots and card games, but with reasonable room rates, Vegas-style entertainment, and very good food. Most casino buffets that I have sampled throughout the country offer quantity at the expensive of quality.

The Talking Stick’s Wandphoenix-travel-Wildfire-poolering Horse Buffet cooks nearly everything from scratch. Its $9.95 breakfast can fill you up for the entire day and is very popular with the locals. You can’t help but feel good taking a dip after taking dip at the Talking Stick’s outdoor pool and relaxing in the hot tub with mighty Red Mountain in the background.

The Talking Stick’s sizable collection of Southwest Native American art work and artifacts rivals that of downtown Phoenix’s Heard Museum.

The JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort, located a few miles away on the North Phoenix-Scottsdale border, has everything a vacationer can desire. The Desert Ridge’s Wildfire Golf Club features two championship golf courses that were designed by PGA legends Nick Faldo and Arnold Palmer, respectively. The Wildfire is a terrific place to either learn the game or brush up on it as its instructors are certified by the game’s publishing bible, Golf Digest.

The Desert Ridge Resort will certainly satisfy your epicurean desires. The Tuscany restaurant offers modern Italian cuisine. Roy’s specializes in both seafood and Polynesian dishes. Meritage is a terrific steakhouse that is arguably the Valley of the Sun’s answer to Peter Luger’s. Finally, the Blue Sage Restaurant offers hearty American fare and its breakfasts are quite popular. Make sure to sample the prickly pear cactus juice.

A mile away from the Desert Ridge is Phoenix’s newest attraction, the Musical Instrument Museum. Yes, there are guitars from Elvis, Carlos Santana, and Paul Simon on display. phoenix-travel-Musical

But what makes this place special is the number of instruments from around the world that are not only on display, but visitors are encouraged to play as well, including a baby grand piano from Queens, NY, Steinway’s factory.

Scottsdale was the longtime winter home of arguably the most famous architect in history, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s home, Taliesin West, is now used as a school of architecture and it’s open to the public.

Make sure to visit the lush green Scottsdale Mall, which was inspired by the Washington Mall in D.C. While there is no Capitol or major monuments here, nearly every local civic institution has its office building here.

Make sure, also, to stop by the Scottsdale Historical Museum. The admission is free and a highlight is legendary western sculptor Frederic Remington’s famous "Bronco Buster" statue.

The Hermosa Inn, situated in upscale Paradise Valley, consists of 34 single-story hacienda-style rooms. The rooms all have canopy beds so it’s best to enjoy the Hermosa Inn with that special someone.

Lon’s is the Hermosa’s signature restaurant, and an outdoor dinner under the starry sky is a truly memorable experience. Many of the fruits and vegetables served here are grown on the premises.

Combine the Hermosa’s architecture with the cholla and other cactus that are integral parts of its landscaping and you feel like you are living in the Arizona of Barry Goldwater’s childhood.phoenix-travel-Hermosa-Inn

Papago Park, which is home to both the highly regarded Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, is a fifteen-minute drive from the Hermosa Inn.

If you are looking for value, the city of Mesa is to Phoenix what Queens is to Manhattan. You can easily get to downtown Phoenix by taking its relatively new and inexpensive light rail line.

Mesa has a lot of terrific Mexican restaurants, such as Rancho de Tia Rosa and its hotels have lower rates than almost any other town in the Valley of the Sun.

The Mesa Arts Center is greater Phoenix’s answer to Lincoln Center. The spring training home to the Chicago Cubs, Mesa is also located near most of the other stadiums used by other major league teams who spend March in Arizona.

Forest Hills’ own JetBlue offers two daily flights from New York's JFK Airport to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. Not only does JetBlue offer great fares, but on all of its flights you can watch DIRECTV at your seat. (It seemed as if every passenger was cheering on the Giants on my flight back to New York.)

For more information, call the Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau at 877-CALLPHX or log onto

Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel
340 N. 3rd Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Talking Stick Resort and Casino
9800 E. Indian Bend  
Scottsdale, AZ 85256

JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort
5350 East Marriott Drive
Phoenix, AZ

Hermosa Inn
5532 N. Palo Cristi Rd  
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253

The Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art
2301 N. Central Avenue  
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Musical Instrument Museum
4725 E. Mayo Boulevard  
Phoenix, AZ 85050

Taliesin West
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard
Scottsdale, AZ
480-860-2700 x494

Scottsdale Historical Museum
7333 E. Scottsdale Mall  
Scottsdale, AZ 85251-4414

Mesa Arts Center
1 E. Main Street  
Mesa, AZ 85201-7403

Cityscape: Don’t Just Breeze Through Atlanta

Based in Atlanta, Georgia for 70 years, Delta Airlines has long used the city’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport as its chief Atalanta Skyline 2010hub for connecting flights to destinations throughout the world. It is astonishing how many people say that they have changed planes in Atlanta without ever spending any time outside of Hartsfield.

If that sounds like you, then it is time to take Delta from either LaGuardia or JFK Airport in New York and come down to "Hotlanta" so that you explore all that the Capital of the South has to offer.

Civil War buffs will certainly be kept busy. The Atlanta History Center, located in the ritzy, mansion-filled North Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead, has plenty of exhibits showing the weapons, uniforms and strategies employed by both the Union and the Confederacy from 1861-1865.

Read more: Cityscape: Don’t Just Breeze...

Beach, Burgers and Bars in San Diego

The eighth-largest city in the United States and second-largest city in California, San Diego sits on the coast of Southern California by the Pacific Ocean, immediately adjacent to the Mexican border. ls-sd-beach1

With its mild year-round climate, natural deep-water harbor, and long association with the U.S. Navy, the birthplace of California is a great place to visit. It is known for its beaches, burgers, bars and a yearly event called Comic-Con. Though the population was 1,307,402 -- according to the 2010 census -- it increases by over 100,000 people during the near-week of this ultimate geek fest. But when the fans hit the town, where else do they know to go besides the Convention Center?

Here are seven places to hit outside of Comic-Con this weekend.

The Hidden Local Cove: 

A trip to San Diego is not a trip to San Diego without the beach. These things don’t have names unless you’re in Orange County. While most noobs flock to the safe, packed expanses of the big, popular beaches (La Jolla Shores, anyone?), mix up your break from nerd-central with a trip to one of the many no-name hidden coves tucked along the SD coast.

Either find your own beach (drive residential streets along the coast and look for gates at the top of cliffs -- these usually conceal beach access), or hit up one of our personal favorites at the end of Santa Cruz Blvd in Ocean Beach.

This perfect little patch of sand is stuck between two mussel- and crab-covered outcroppings of rock, meaning it’s not the safest swimming location. But the view is hands-down breathtaking -- if you don’t mind the hula-hoop wielding Rastafarians, that is. All part of the local culture.

Insider tip: If you do end up talking to a local, don’t say "dude" or "whatever, man" every other word. They can tell the difference.

The True San Diego Cult Burger Joint:

Los Angeles has Pinks, New York has the Shake Shack, and San Diego hasls-sd-Hodads Hodad‛s.

This little burger dive in Ocean Beach is well worth the side trip if you’re looking for an excellent burger and a true San Diegan chill vibe. Trust us, the never-ending line is worth it to sink your pearly whites into one of their trademark Bacon Burgers.

If the crowd of surfers, dudes, and road-tripping European hippies isn’t enough entertainment, the walls are papered with license plates from every country (and smart-aleck disposition) possible, so you can play I Spy as you wait for your extra order of fries. We’re talking big, succulent fries; no McDonalds limp, did-that-really-come-from-a-potato offerings here. Oh, and the vanilla malts are heart-stoppingly delicious. And huge.

Insider tip: Hodad’s recently opened a downtown location. Same great burgers. Less entertaining crowd.

The Classic California Experience:

If you’re unfortunate enough to live in a state less awesome than California, do yourself a favor and do not leave until you sample our signature contribution to the fast food world. Easy, low maintenance, reliable and chill, In-N-Out Burger is typical California cool. And it's just good.

Insider tip: There is a secret menu. Don’t worry about it. Here’s a hint: "Animal Style" means good things.

Mexico Without the Passport: ls-sd-Beach

Legend has it that a little old Mexican lady lives in the back of this traditional spot, Old Town Mexican Café, and makes tortillas by hand all day, every day, just like she has been doing for the past 500 years (only pausing to change locations of course).

Little old lady or not, you don’t get much more authentic than this local staple, and there is definitely something special about their tortillas.

Once upon a time, you’d be able to hop the border for some real tacos after a day of Comic-Con madness. Seeing as that isn’t exactly the safest option anymore, and Mexican food is still a San Diego priority, Old Town Mexican Café is your best bet.

Chips, salsa, guacamole…we’re drooling just thinking about it. The menu ranges from gringo-safe fare (tacos, burritos, etc) to more traditional Mexican cuisine like mole and molcajete.

Insider tip: "Pollo" means chicken and is pronounced "poy-yo," not "polo." And tequila shots are $2.50 on Taco Tuesdays. Just saying.

The Posh Hotel Bar: 

So you’ve spent all day running around dressed as Princess Leia and now (for some strange reason -- chafing pls-sd-Grantslerhaps?) you feel the need to class it up a bit.

If the secret, mildly snobby side of you is looking for a chic hotel bar with excellent cocktails and an unspoken "no costumes" door policy, the US Grant Hotel‛s Grant’s Grill has a bar which is the place to go.

Open until 11:30pm, this swanky (and historical! It’s been a San Diego institution since 1910) joint is perfect for a refreshing pit stop or a nice, intimate chat. Men, if your lady friend isn’t going gaga over the obscure gaming trivia you’ve been rattling off all day, this is an opportunity to show you have range.

Insider tip: Try the Privee Cocktail (Maissenez Ginger Liqueur, Passion Fruit Puree, Moet Chandon) for some fruity goodness.  

The Always Pumping, Aren’t-You-Jealous Venue:

Always packed. Always a line. One of those "what did YOU do last night" kind of places. Then again, being a San Diego nightlife icon, the crowd comes with the territory.

ls-sd-HardRockConnected to the popular 207 Club and famous for hosting its own rooftop pool parties, The Hard Rock Hotel  can be safely labeled as San Diego’s ultimate luxury party hotel. If you want peace and quiet, go elsewhere.

If you and your gang of minions want to stay out all night, go here. Steps from the Convention Center, the hotel stands right outside the entrance to the Gaslamp. So if there isn’t enough nightlife for you at the hotel, the rest of San Diego’s best restaurants, bars and clubs are literally just outside.

Insider tip: Sorry, minors, the Gaslamp is notorious for its strict carding policies. If you aren’t 21, it’s probably not worth trying.

For the rest of you, this means no high schoolers will be crashing your party.

The Old-School San Diego Speakeasy:

If a dark, mahogany bar with a piano man and pictures of women dressed (or not dressed) in vintage lingerie piques your interest, waste no time and head over to Lady Cora’s Marble Room, the local speakeasy for an after-dinner drink.

Or come here early and have dinner -- we hear the sea bass is divine. After the dinner crowd clears out, though, there’s room at the bar for the entire Zelda cast.

Though it’s not the same as the ocarina, their piano man is a sport, has been there for ages, and can play practically anything (except two years ago, he didn’t know "Message in a Bottle". We haven’t asked again).  

Regardless, the Marble Room’s Moulin-Rouge-meets-Wild-West ambiance is something you won’t find anywhere else.

Insider tip: Back when the Gaslamp was San Diego’s bustling Redlight district, the Marble Room was the location of one of the most popular brothels of its day. The waitresses still wear corsets.

The "Hidden Local Cove"
End of Santa Cruz Blvd
(past Bacon Street)
San Diego, CA

5010 Newport Ave.
Ocean Beach, CA

Hodad’s Downtown:
945 Broadway Ave
Ocean Beach, CA  

In-N-Out Burger
For locations, check out
(or let your Android be your guide)

Old Town Mexican Café
2489 San Diego Avenue
San Diego, CA

Grant’s Grill
US Grant Hotel
326 Broadway
San Diego, CA

The Hard Rock Hotel
207 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA

Lady Cora’s Marble Room
535 Fifth Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

A New Hampshire Jaunt

VFrank Lloyd Wright's Zimmerman Houseermont has skiing, Maine has Acadia National Park, and Massachusetts has Boston, Cape Cod and the Berkshires.

What’s worth seeing in New Hampshire?

I recently found out after always managing to miss visiting that state on previous New England trips.

My wife and I, both Frank Lloyd Wright fans, were happy to see that Manchester, New Hampshire has not one but two Wright houses -- and on the same street!  The privately owned Kalil House is not open to the public, but the masterly Zimmerman House (right) is operated by the nearby Currier Museum of Art (below), which gives tours of the property.

Read more: A New Hampshire Jaunt

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