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Boston in Bloom

What a long, cold winter this has been. If you live in or near Boston (or, let’s be honest, anywhere in the upper half of the continent), chances are that you’re really, REALLY ready for springtime weather. Now that it’s finally warming up, what better way to celebrate the change of season in Boston than with some plein air activities?

Boston Common/ Public Garden/ Swan Boats

First stop: Boston Common, the oldest public park in the country and the home of the city’s Public Garden, with its iconic Swan Boats. Comprised of 48 acres of greenspace in the heart of the city, the Common is perfect for a stroll down the paths, a picnic in the grass, or a game of Frisbee. The beautifully cultivated flowers and plants of the more formal Public Garden are stunning in the springtime. Take a ride on the elegant Swan Boats – a 130-year old tradition, having ferried famous passengers such as Shirley Temple and John F. Kennedy – to complete the experience.

Swan Boat at Boston's Public Garden. Photo credit: Captain Tucker.

Public Art Walk

The history of Boston comes alive through its numerous public art works. Officially compiled through the Public Art Walk, you’ll find all types of artistry – sculptures, mosaics, paintings, architecture – that interpret the history of the city, from its founding through present day. (You can start your tour on your stroll through Boston Common with Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ bronze bas-relief “Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment,” a Civil War monument that is considered one of the greatest examples of public art in the United States.)

The Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment is a bronze relief sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, located at 24 Beacon Street, Boston. Photo credit: Ingfbruno.

Visit the Green Monster

Is there a city in the country that loves its baseball team more than Boston loves its Red Sox? (The answer, of course, is “no”… in case you were inclined to say otherwise.) Fenway Park – the oldest Major League ballpark in the county – is itself worth a visit and offers daily tours, but don’t stop there; nothing compares to enjoying a BoSox game on a warm spring night. Check the Red Sox website for tickets. You can occasionally find some a day or two before the game, or go to the box office if you’re willing to wait in line on the game day.

Fenway Park. Photo credit: Werner Kunz.

Heritage Trails

Chances are, you’re familiar with the Freedom Trail – perhaps you’ve already walked it and visited some of the most significant historical sites in our country, including the Old South Meeting House and the Old North Church. But were you aware that Boston also has a Women’s Heritage Trail, a Black Heritage Trail, an Irish Heritage Trail, and a Sports Trail? Take advantage of a beautiful spring day to walk the trail of your choice.

The Abiel Smith School, built in 1834, now adapted and operated as the Museum of African American History.
Photo credit: Tim Pierce.

A Musical Evening

The Boston Pops, the popular-tune orchestra that became a household name under legendary conductors Arthur Fiedler and John Williams, kicks off its season on May 7th with special guest Jason Alexander. This year’s May highlights include “The Very Best of the Boston Pops,” “Cirque de la Symphonie” and “Gatsby Night.”

The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra performing at the Hatch Shell in Boston. Photo credit: Garrett A. Wollman.

Museum Spring Exhibits

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is world-renowned for its collections of American art, Chinese and Japanese art, and Impressionist art – Monet’s famous Water Lilies is there, as is Renoir’s Dance at Bougival. It also highlights several special exhibits this spring, which include a quilt exhibit, an exhibit of Latin American art, and a special exhibit featuring the “Top 30” Impressionist works as voted on by the public; in case you’re wondering, Vincent van Gogh’s “Houses at Auvers” won the top spot.

If you’re more left-brained than right-brained, then check out the Boston Museum of Science – it’s also a little more “kid friendly” than the MFA. Along with hands-on activities and fun discoveries, the Museum of Science is opening several new exhibits this May on math, the human body and whales. While you’re there, don’t miss the current show at the Charles Hayden Planetarium, “Moons: Worlds of Mystery.” And if you happen to go on a Friday and the weather is nice, stay and visit Gilliland Observatory on the roof of the Museum’s parking garage. On clear Friday nights starting in the spring (8:30pm-10pm), you can view stars, planets, the moon, and other astronomical phenomena.

Luis Melendez, Still Life with Melon and Pears, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Shopaholics Unite!

I have to confess, this is my personal number-one way to really soak in the springtime vibe in Boston: an afternoon on Newbury Street. This gorgeous, historic Back Bay neighborhood is home to a unique assortment of boutiques, salons, restaurants, and of course, the flagship store of Newbury Comics. Grab an outdoor table at a café for some al fresco dining and people watching, or visit the shops – from brand-name to one-of-a-kind indie stores, with something for every taste and price range.

Finally, no Boston-in-the-spring list would be complete without mentioning one of the top destinations for visitors, Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall. They provide a wonderful outdoor shopping and dining experience as only Boston can; the structures themselves are landmarks from revolutionary times, and you’ll experience American history while enjoying the boutiques, chain stores, souvenir shops and restaurants.

Quincy Market. Photo credit: Yuvb.

 

A Perfect Weekend in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

There’s a reason San Francisco often appears on the list of most expensive cities in the nation. It’s because so many people want to be there.

San Francisco has some of the world’s best chefs, city parks, sports teams, iconic views and landmarks, shopping districts, and waterfronts. It has a modern transportation system and old-school, world-famous cable cars. Plus, SF residents have a live-and-let-live attitude about quirky interests, alternative lifestyles and unabashed eccentricities. In other words, it’s just a fun city to be in.

But a first, money-saving step for any visitor is to buy a San Francisco CityPASS ticket booklet. It includes a 7-day Muni and Cable Car Passport, as well as discounted, prepaid admission to the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, and a choice between Aquarium of the Bay or Monterey Bay Aquarium, and either the de Young and Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museums or the Exploratorium. The city is your oyster with that in your hand.

Having visited San Francisco on a regular basis for as long as I can recall, with each trip, I wrestle between seeking new experiences and going back to old favorites. With that, let’s have a drumroll of my top things to do (as of this writing).

First, we’d better get some chocolate: Dandelion Chocolate, which operates out of a small factory in the Mission District, is one the few small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate makers in America. That means they make chocolate from the bean, rather than working with already-finished chocolate. They offer free 30-minute tours that can be booked in advance, and they even have a chocolate school. San Franciscans are pretty serious about their eats, so why should their sweets be any different?

Mural on Clarion Alley. Photo: Deston Nokes

Discover amazing mural art: While you’re in the Mission District, take a tour of the most amazing collection of street art and murals in America. Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley resemble an open-air street-art museum with about 40 murals each. Precita Eyes offers low-cost walking tours if you wish to dig deeper. Also, Diego Rivera fans should head inside the Pacific Stock Exchange in the Financial District to view his masterwork Allegory of California (between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. daily).

Foodies to the Ferry Building: Inspired by the world’s iconic markets — from Harrods in London and the street markets of Paris, to Pike Place Market in Seattle — the resurrection of the Ferry Building brings together the greater Bay Area's specialty food purveyors under one massive roof. There are cafés, restaurants, a farmer’s market, and an artisan cheese shop called Cowgirl Creamery. You already blew the diet with the chocolate, so might as well indulge in some mouth-watering cheese. Another foodie highlight is the celebrated Slanted Door, a nationally acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant listed by many reviewers as a do-not-miss experience.

Take in the SF Jazz Festival: There’s always a musical or theatrical happening in the city. This summer’s SF Jazz Festival promises to get your toes tapping and your glutes grinding, with an eclectic mix of shows lined up to satisfy all musical tastes. But if you’re in town earlier, Branford Marsalis appears on April 29-30.

The Slanted Door. Photo: Melissa Davidson

Get a window view: Go to the Top of the Mark for cocktails and one of the best views in the city. Go right when it opens to get a window seat. The InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel is quite the swanky property, so you may even decide to stay the night at this classic, historic landmark, especially if you lose track of time loving the city’s lights over vodka martoonies.

See the Exploratorium’s new digs: The Exploratorium recently moved from its lush location at the Palace of Fine Arts to a new, more accessible location on the Embarcadero. Famed physicist Frank Oppenheimer founded this interactive museum dedicated to experimentation. Its galleries include artwork and installations, displays about the bay’s ecosystems, seeing and listening exhibits, hands-on activities, and another full section for experiments on thoughts, feelings and social behavior.

The Exploratorium. Photo: Annie Allen

Watch the Bay Lights: On display through March 2015, The Bay Lights sculpture consists of 25,000 individually programmed LED lights covering the western span of the Bay Bridge. Designed and configured by artist Leo Villareal, it shimmers with moving patterns that resemble raindrops, shooting stars, waves and whatever else may come into a viewer’s imagination. The best place to enjoy them is at the Waterbar on the Embarcadero. Outside, the best views are at the end of Pier 14, which is the closest location to the Bay Bridge, or at the end of Pier 7 on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Wander the park: Golden Gate Park is a wonderful respite from the crowds and the concrete, but it’s far from boring. Visitors can take a row in a boat, enjoy the walking and biking paths, and meditate in the Japanese Tea Garden. Plus, for some artistic inspiration this summer, stop in at the de Young Fine Arts Museum, which is located in the park. Between June 7–October 12, 2014, it will host a special exhibition: Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection, which brings paintings by the great masters of the post-war world to San Francisco. It features 50 works by Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Frank Stella.

Atlanta for Romantics

Sugar Magnolia Bed & Breakfast. Photo credit: Debi Starnes

If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, Atlanta is a wonderful place to go. As a large city, it offers a multitude of world-class accommodations, cultural events and sights, yet it’s diverse and quirky enough to allow for a truly unique experience. What you and your partner choose to do depends, of course, on who you are as a couple, what you most enjoy together, and what your ideal date would be. Atlanta is a delightful setting for your romantic experience, whether you opt for cozy and intimate, lavish and luxurious, or simple and inexpensive.

ACCOMMODATIONS

The first decision you need to make is where to stay, and for most, it boils down to two options: midtown or Buckhead. Midtown’s advantage is that you’ll be in the heart of the city, and as a result, you’re more likely to experience what it has to offer. For the ultimate in luxury and service, The Four Seasons (75 Fourteenth St.) is unbeatable, and it’s situated near Woodruff Arts Center and not far from Piedmont Park. The High Museum of Art (which is included in Atlanta CityPASS), is also close to Piedmont Park and Woodruff Arts Center.

A less expensive but quite charming lodging option is the Georgian Terrace Hotel (659 Peachtree St.), located across the street from the Fox Theatre, while the Artmore Hotel (1302 West Peachtree St.), a boutique hotel with a playful and edgy atmosphere, features a courtyard with lounge seating and a fire pit.

Buckhead, a ritzy neighborhood north of the city, offers extravagant hotels, world-class restaurants and upscale shopping centers, but is not quite as convenient to the city’s main attractions – plan to drive a little to your midtown or downtown destinations. If you choose to stay in Buckhead, then luxury is the way to go: the St. Regis (88 West Paces Ferry Rd.), the Ritz-Carlton (3434 Peachtree Rd. N.E.) and – my personal favorite – the Mandarin Oriental (3376 Peachtree Rd.) are all top-notch, and all offer couples packages that will infuse your experience with that extra element of romance.

High Museum of Art

If you’re looking for something a little simpler, cozier or less expensive, consider staying at a bed and breakfast in the city; really, it doesn’t get any more Southern or charming than that. Notable among the many options are the King-Keith House (889 Edgewood Avenue N.E.) and Sugar Magnolia (804 Edgewood Ave.), mansions in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood that both date back to the 1890s. These B&Bs offer what many of the modern midtown hotels have – luxurious accommodations, convenience to city attractions, wonderful service – with a few additional features: a sense of living history, a deeper level of personal attention, and a genuine experience of Southern charm.

RESTAURANTS

Perhaps even more so than where you decide to stay, where you decide to eat is a highly individualized choice. Whatever your preferences as a couple, Atlanta has fantastic restaurants and all the diversity of cuisine you could wish for. That said, keep in mind that it’s the capital of “New South” fare, and if haute cuisine versions of fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread and cobbler tempt your palate, then consider Rathbun’s (Inman Park - just 2 blocks from Sugar Magnolia) or Empire State South (999 Peachtree St.) in midtown, or Canoe (4199 Paces Ferry Rd NW), Restaurant Eugene (2277 Peachtree Rd NE) and Aria (490 East Paces Ferry Rd. NE) in Buckhead. If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, the Italian restaurant La Tavola (992 Virginia Avenue) and the intimate Babette’s Café (573 N Highland Ave.) offer romantic settings and reasonable prices.

Rathbun's. Photo credit: James Camp

ENTERTAINMENT/ACTIVITIES

Does your idea of romance include getting your culture on? Even if the answer is “no,” you might want to give it a try here, since cultural events in Atlanta are both top-notch and very accessible. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which usually performs at Atlanta Symphony Hall, is a world-renowned orchestra that features both classical and modern pieces. You may be pleasantly surprised by reasonable ticket prices and unfussy dress code. Cobb Energy Centre, a modern and beautiful venue about a 10-minute drive north of the city, is the home of the Atlanta Opera and the Atlanta Ballet, which are both excellent. I recently saw the ballet perform “Romeo and Juliet,” and it was absolutely breathtaking – doesn’t get much more romantic than that, either!

Atlanta is also home to a number of excellent performance troupes. Enjoy a Broadway show at the Fabulous Fox Theater, a romantic comedy at the quirky and engaging Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, or a leave-you-in-stitches murder mystery at Agatha’s Mystery Dinner Theater.

Finally, consider taking a romantic stroll … through a cemetery. Oakland Cemetery is one of Atlanta’s hidden treasures, a lovely intersection of history, architecture, sculpture, and fields of flowers. Another romantic outdoorsy is to picnic in Piedmont Park, where on any sunny, temperate day, you’ll find everyone out on the grass and soaking up the sunshine.

Piedmont Park. Photo credit: Clinton Steeds.

Travel Tips:

  • Plan accordingly for the weather. June, July and August can be miserably hot, so if your plan is to spend the day in the park, perhaps consider a “plan B” in case temps are too brutal.
  • If you’re taking in a show, check websites like Groupon or LivingSocial for better ticket prices.
  • If you’re flying in, strongly consider renting a car. Yes, Atlanta’s public transportation system (MARTA) exists, but it doesn’t provide service to the areas in which many of the city’s fantastic restaurants and nightspots are located. And if the train is running late, or your fellow passengers are unpleasant, you might find your romantic date taking a turn for the worse.

 

5 Places to See Spring Bloom

5 Places to See Spring Bloom While it can be wonderful to head to your local public park or enjoy the flowers and freshly cut grass in your own backyard, winter-induced cabin fever may have left you itching for a road trip. Right now, there is no better time to hit the road and see spring burst into bloom! Here are some of our picks for places that will put the “spring” back in your step and bring you in-tune with nature and the new cycle of warmer weather. read more »

Toronto's Ethnic Buffet

When I tell my friends in Toronto how much I love their city, they often say, “Really?” I always assume they imagine I’m just trying to be gracious, or perhaps — with characteristic Canadian modesty — they’re reluctant to acknowledge how easy their city is to love. But they also have a great deal of justifiable civic pride, and a clear sense of why Toronto is such a special and unusual place to live and visit. There’s more to this understated city than many people might realize. read more »

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