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The Best Beer Gardens Around the U.S.

The biergarten as we know it has come a long way from its German ancestor. (I can’t imagine Bavarian dukes playing ping pong or bocce ball, can you?) Yet, one idea ties them together: being among friends outside on a crisp autumn afternoon is one of the best ways to enjoy your beer.

Cities across the United States have caught on, continuing to combine the traditional biergarten with their unique, local characteristics. There are many fantastic beer gardens throughout the United States, but we’ve narrowed down the list to a few notables you must keep in mind when traveling to any of these cities.

New York - Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden

Let’s start off by going back in time - to the oldest existing biergarten in New York City. The Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall is over a century old, established in Queens, New York in 1910. This historic venue originated in a growing Czech and Slovak community in Astoria during the late 1800’s and was created by an immigrant support organization that still works to preserve these cultural roots throughout Astoria.

The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden is an open environment that can provide a relaxing break from the world of attractions in New York City. Take a load off, recline under an umbrella, and soak in the shade of the trees while enjoying one (or several) of the 15 beers on draft. You’ll find the usual barbecue fare here, but don’t miss out on a feature that distinguishes the food - its Czech menu, including Tlacenka, goulash, Svickova. You may not be able to pronounce all those words, but don’t worry, the taste is what’s important.

Chicago - Sheffield’s

There are almost too many things to do in Chicago, but Sheffield’s is essential for anyone stopping by. Chi-town has always had a robust beer and barbecue scene, and Sheffield’s is one of the best places to experience it to its fullest. In fact, Sheffield’s has several bars within its establishment. The beer garden itself is located under a canopy of cottonwood trees. But make sure you get there early - this is one of the most coveted spots in Chicago.

Besides the immense beer list (nearly 50 drafts of craft beer on tap and 100 in bottles), be prepared to get some bangin’ barbecue - lamb burgers, smoked beef brisket, and pulled pork that’s been smoking for 14 hours. Sheffield’s isn’t all about beer and beef. It’s got a sensitive side too, hosting literary events, such as Reading Under the Influence. Drinking is not required, but strongly encouraged.

San Diego - Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens

In May 2013, Stone converted the Naval Training Center in Point Loma to one of the most extravagantly designed beer gardens in the United States. The garden itself is 11,315 square feet, complete with courts for bocce ball and a movie theater. In its entirety, the Stone Brewing World Bistro takes up more than 23,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor space for both dining and drinking.

With so much space and so many features, Stone is a world of its own for the beer garden enthusiast. The menu is a refined mix of international cuisine and 40 craft beers on tap, including selections from its namesake, the Stone Brewing Company.

For a brewery with some unusually strong beers (they have a draft named “Arrogant Bastard”), the experience of the beer garden is almost the opposite - letting you unwind and take in the idyllic setting. Be warned, if you stop at the Stone Brewing World Bistro, it may be difficult to leave.

That concludes our list of some of the most noteworthy biergartens in the United States. We’ve visited the old and the new, but no doubt, we’ve just skimmed the surface of America’s biergarten culture. There are certainly more amazing venues out there, so tell us, what are your favorite biergartens?

Haunted Places: Fact or Fiction? You Decide.

Photo credit: Mark Smidt - The author strolling down the French Quarter during a haunted ghost tour. Why is that photos with haunted associations often seem to have some type of light abnormality thereby making them spookier?

Every town and city holds their share of unsavory secrets and horror stories. Passed on from person to person like an unreliable game of “Telephone,” the good ghost stories only get better with time.

And with Halloween only days away, it’s time to dive into the creepy end, or more accurately, through the walls of hotels and homes across the country. Whether you believe in paranormal activity or not, the tales below aren’t your literary classic ghost stories by the master of horror, Edgar Allan Poe. They’re more sinister.

“And the dead know much

And the dead hold under

Their tongues

A locked-up story”

- Carl Sandburg

New York: Famous Ghosts of Chelsea

A call to the front desk at the Chelsea Hotel came in around 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, 1978 from someone outside the hotel. The unknown man said, "There's trouble in room 100." The bellboy ran up to the room, and meanwhile from inside room 100, Sid Vicious called the front desk, "Someone is sick. Need help." The bellboy found a 20-year-old platinum blonde lying on the bathroom floor in her blood-soaked underwear. Nancy Spungen had a one-inch knife wound in her lower abdomen. She was dead.

Built in 1884, the Chelsea Hotel is a famous, historic New York City landmark that was once a mecca for famous artists, writers and musicians. Dylan Thomas, Thomas Wolfe, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and many others have all spent time there. It’s now considered one of the most haunted places in the nation, and hotel residents report regular encounters with a variety of ghosts.

By 1978, when Nancy Spungen and boyfriend Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols moved to the Chelsea, the hotel's reputation as an artist's den had subsided. People were more into partying like rock stars than actually performing like rock stars. As the Sex Pistols’ bassist, Vicious apparently didn’t know how to play the bass. The first floor was known as the “junkies” floor, and after Vicious collapsed in the lobby from a drug overdose, the hotel manager moved the couple to the first floor.

Photo credit: Chicago Art Department c/o: L. Schorr; Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols

For years, residents and visitors of the hotel claim to have seen the ghost of Sid Vicious close to the first floor elevator. In some cases, guests have reported paranormal activity in and around room 100, including large temperature fluctuations and floating orbs. Some guests have even reported loud music coming from room 100, and others have heard the loud voices of a couple arguing, but after checking, they find the room empty.

Vicious was arrested for Spungen’s murder, although the case never went to trial because he died from a heroine overdose four months later. In a movie made about Sid and Nancy in 1986, the actor playing him told the Associated Press that the Chelsea Hotel “…is a vortex – an artistic tornado of death and destruction and love and broken dreams.”

Interestingly, the hotel – now known as Hotel Chelsea – isn’t accepting (new) residents and has been under controversial renovations for several years.

Photo credit: Enrique Vázquez - Hotel Chelsea

Salem: Joshua Ward House

In 1784, a wealthy sea captain named Joshua Ward built a 3-story brick house on 148 Washington St. in Salem, MA., about a 45-minute drive from Boston. George Washington is reported to have specifically requested staying in this house when he visited Salem in 1789.

Before Ward built his home, a man by the name of George Corwin lived on the property. Corwin was the sheriff during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and was responsible for imprisoning over 150 accused ‘witches’ in his basement. He hung 19 people and "pressed to death" one man. Corwin reportedly “savored torturing them.” According to Unexplained Mysteries columnist Matt Forde, Corwin tied his “prone victims’ necks to their ankles until the blood ran from their noses.” Known as “The Strangler,” Corwin allegedly stole all of the victims’ possessions after they were hung at Gallows Hill.

Four years after the end of the witch trials, Corwin died from a heart attack at the age of 30. He was buried in the basement of his own home and later moved to a nearby cemetery.

In the late 19th century, this structure became an upscale hotel, The Washington Hotel. It stood vacant for years but was eventually restored. It was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1978. In the early ‘80s, Carlson Realty moved into the historic house and mysterious events started to occur.

Photo credit: Joshua Ward House

Chairs, lampshades, trashcans and candlesticks would be found turned upside down when the staff arrived in the morning. Papers were scattered on the floor and candles were bent in the shape of an ‘s’. Fire alarms went off for no reason. One of the offices, on the second floor, was ice cold which is supposedly a sign of a haunting. And then there’s the photo: The Witch of Joshua Ward House. It’s a Polaroid taken of a realty employee but it looks nothing like the employee. Most people say the "witch" photo is just a fluke or a bad Polaroid. Even if it is, it's strange. The photo first appeared in Robert Ellis Cahill's book, New England's Ghostly Haunts, published in 1983. The original photo was brought to his attention by another employee, Lorraine St. Pierre, who had had her own run-ins with the alleged paranormal activity.

After doing a quick search on the status of the Joshua Ward House now, an article posted on the website Salem Uncommon, in early 2014, declared the house for sale for $900,000. But a click on the commercial property link takes you here: “The property you are searching for is no longer an active listing.”

Photo credit: Melissa Davidson - A pretend graveyard at a Haunted Mill with "orbs" of light

Louisiana: The French Quarter

Halloween in New Orleans is, of course, a party holiday. It also attracts people who are interested in the macabre and supernatural. A ghost story can’t be written without mentioning New Orleans, which always makes the top-10 most haunted cities list.

Probably the most famous haunted house in the French Quarter is the LaLaurie mansion. Socialite Madame Delphine LaLaurie and her husband, Dr. Louis LaLaurie, owned the mansion at 1140 Royal St., located at the dark and quiet downriver end of the Vieux Carre, in 1834.

It was here that firefighters were called to extinguish a blaze that started in the kitchen. They were shocked to find a torture chamber in the attic where the madame slowly murdered chained slaves. After the fire, more tales of LaLaurie's cruelty surfaced, including an incident in which she reportedly chased a slave girl with a whip until the scared girl jumped from the roof to her death.

The LaLaurie legacy remains because of sightings of a small child wandering the building's rooftop, as though seeking escape from long-ago brutality, only to plummet toward the ground and vanish.

The original chronicling can be found in a report by the New Orleans Bee newspaper, which states a mob stormed the mansion, ripping out walls and ransacking furnishings. The madame ran away to Paris and never admitted to any of her crimes.

Photo credit: LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans' French Quarter

San Diego: Hotel del Coronado

Kate Morgan’s ghost is so famous she has her own story on the hotel’s website. Hotel del Coronado has been experiencing paranormal activity for as long as the hotel has existed – 125 years.

Legend has it that Kate checked into the hotel in 1892 and never checked out. She spent five lonely days waiting for a man who never arrived. She was found dead on an exterior staircase leading to the beach with a gunshot wound to her head. The lovesick woman killed herself, according to the San Diego coroner, although that’s debatable.

Her spirit refuses to leave the former guest room she used to occupy. According to Christine Donovan, "The Del’s" historian and author of the book “Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado,” Kate is a relatively harmless ghost. “She generally limits her activity to fleeting appearances and inexplicable antics,” says Donovan. “Guests in Kate’s room report everything from breezes that come from nowhere to having to deal with a television set that turns on and off by itself.”

Then there’s the time a young couple – away for a romantic Valentine's weekend – experienced a string of supernatural occurrences, culminating in their covers being ripped off in the middle of the night by a ghostly apparition.

Photo credit: Hotel del Coronado in San Diego

Kate has been seen walking down the hallways, through the garden, and along the beach. One of the most “active” areas of the Hotel del Coronado is the resort’s gift shop, called Established 1888. Originally located in the lower lobby level, this specialty store – which showcases the hotel’s vintage history – has a hard time keeping glassware from “flying” off shelves or pictures from falling off walls.

When Established 1888 relocated (now adjoining the lobby), it was thought that the ghostly pranks would stop. Instead, the new space is as active as the store’s former residence. Memorabilia related to Marilyn Monroe’s 1958 hotel filming of “Some Like It Hot” seems to be the most prone to tumbling, so some long-time shop employees speculate that The Del’s resident ghost doesn’t like sharing the spotlight with Hollywood’s biggest star.

Donovan, who keeps files on guests’ paranormal experiences, received this one from a visiting business executive. “At about 2am, I was awakened by exceedingly cold temperatures and the ceiling fan working at high speed. The fan remained on for about 30 seconds and then stopped. Later, I awoke to find that all of the bed pillows had been stacked pyramid style on top of my computer.” This gentleman took his first paranormal experience in stride: “I learned that ceiling fans have a mind of their own and pillows are best placed on a computer,” ultimately concluding that Kate Morgan “is a great addition to your housekeeping staff.”

Guests also send Donovan "mysterious photos taken at the hotel, some of which feature inexplicable transparent 'globes' of light, sometimes with multiple patterns that arch across an entire image…"

Photo credit: Melissa Davidson - Happy Halloween!


Taste Seattle: Off the Eaten track

Seattle's Pioneer Square - Photo credit: Ming-yen Hsu

Seattle begins at Pioneer Square, the historic heart of the city’s original downtown. Rebuilt after a catastrophic fire in the late 1880s, this neighborhood of Richardsonian Romanesque style enjoyed a turn as Seattle’s “it” scene before deteriorating into the city’s “skid road.” A brief revival largely fueled by artists took place in the 1980s and early ’90s. Once home to the storied Elliott Bay Book Company, the area again lost a bit of favor with both residents and tourists at the end of the 20th century, when suddenly trendier districts such as Belltown and Capitol Hill started to attract more attention. For a few years, jury duty seemed to be the only reason anyone would visit.

But the intrinsic appeal of Pioneer Square couldn’t be overlooked for long. Restaurateurs especially have rediscovered the area, opening all sorts of eateries in the classic buildings that give the neighborhood its singular charm.

With Taste Seattle Food Tours, you can explore Pioneer Square one bite at a time. The walking tour covers about a 1-mile chunk of the district’s 20 square blocks in a leisurely 3.5-hour stroll. Tour guides dispense historical, architectural and cultural information about the fascinating neighborhood, punctuated by tastings of artisanal and ethnic foods, and locally produced wine, German beer and authentic sakes.

Cherry Street Coffee House - Photo credit: Lara604

While tasting locations are subject to change without notice, recent tours have stopped at the Cherry Street Coffee House for a salmon-lox bagel; Salumi, the Batali family’s shrine of cured meats; Altstadt German Bierhalle & Brathaus, where award-winning chefs source only the best local ingredients for their Bavarian menu; and the headquarters of DRY Soda.

If you'd rather work up your appetite with a little more activity, you might enjoy the Alki Beach bike tour. Just across Elliott Bay from downtown, the Alki Beach community stretches along 2.5 miles of sand, an unusual sight on rocky Puget Sound. The city’s first white settlers spent a winter here, optimistically naming the beach New York – Alki in the hopes that their settlement would grow to the size and importance of its namesake back East. A Coney Island-esque amusement park did flourish here until 1931 and a mini Statue of Liberty holds court at Alki Beach Park, but otherwise, Alki remains a quiet beach community – albeit with a front-row seat to the downtown Seattle show.

The Taste Seattle tour covers 6 flat miles in 3 hours, with stops for sustenance at such famed locations as the Alki Spud Fish and Chips, Seattle’s oldest fast-food restaurant; Marination ma kai, named best food truck in America by ABC’s Good Morning America; and Salty’s on Alki Beach, a fine-dining restaurant with an unparalleled view of Seattle’s skyline. Tour prices include all tastings plus bike and helmet rental.

Booked tours take place regardless of Seattle’s notoriously soggy weather, so dress appropriately with layered rain gear. Late July through September offer the best chance of lasting sunshine, but the Emerald City really does have year-round appeal. The Pioneer Square tour is open to anyone 21 and older; competent bike riders from age 12 and up are welcomed to join an Alki Beach tour. Advanced reservations are required.

Alki Beach

CityPASS - A Great Gift For the Holidays

CityPASS Holiday Gift CityPASS is a nice gift that will never go out of style. An urban vacation probably won’t lose its allure any time soon. Visiting the Statue of Liberty will never not be cool. Might as well get that pocket-sized booklet to a destination you and your family have always wanted to visit. read more »

Haunted Houston Attractions

Haunted Houston AttractionsAs Halloween looms closer, it brings to light Houston’s haunted side. This Southwest metropolis is home to a number of legitimately haunted houses and hotels. If you’re Texas-bound and in the mood for some haunted happenings, check out a few of our picks for haunted things to do in Houston. read more »


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