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Let's Get Festive: Five Fun & Funky US Fests

Chicago Pride Fest. Photo credit: Adam Dixon.

Spring has sprung and summer is not far behind. With the arrival of better weather, now is the time to start letting you know about all the sunny fun that’s available to you at the many festivals taking place in your favorite CityPASS destinations. Here are five fun and funky festivals to enjoy. We will share more as the season heats up!

NEW YORK CITY

If Robert DeNiro created it, you know it has to be cool. “Bob” created the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002 with some friends in response to the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001. It was his way of giving back to the city he loves. And boy has he ever. The festival, now in its 13th year and currently taking place in Lower Manhattan until April 27th, attracts over 3 million people to the Tribeca neighborhood to celebrate independent film and thinking. Pssst…it’s also a great place to run into elusive celebrities. Now through April 27. Buy tickets.

CHICAGO

Chicago’s Pride Fest, which celebrates June's Pride Month, returns for its 12th fabulous year in 2014. It's held on the first day of summer and the weekend before Chicago's iconic annual Pride Parade (which this year takes place on Sunday, June 29). 

Highlights include non-stop entertainment for gay/lesbian Chicagoans as well as for out-of-town visitors. Pride Fest features top dance and pop/rock music acts on two stages, food and drink and more than 60 vendors offering arts, crafts and unique merchandise tailored to the LGBT community. 
Saturday-Sunday, June 21-22. Buy tickets.

Death cab for cutie, Bumbershoot 2013. Photo credit: David Lee.

SEATTLE

There’s one festival that takes place each summer that has something for everyone. Perhaps that’s why people in Seattle call it “Bumbershoot.” The arts festival known originally as Festival ’71 was dubbed Bumbershoot in 1973. According to the powers that be, the name was chosen to describe the festival as an umbrella for all of the various arts and performers it encompasses. North America’s largest urban arts festival, Bumbershoot takes place in the heart of the city at the 74-acre Seattle Center. Now in its 43rd year, Bumbershoot has consistently drawn artists representing the best in music, film, comedy, spoken word, dance, theatre, performance, and visual arts to Seattle every Labor Day weekend. Bumbershoot also features a variety of food, merchandise, and urban craft vendors throughout Bumbershoot grounds—there’s plenty to eat, see, and do all weekend long. Saturday-Monday, August 30-Sept 1. Buy tickets

Fillmore Jazz Festival performer. Photo credit: star5112.

SAN FRANCISCO

Before rock and roll transformed San Francisco into the city of summertime “love,” jazz was the most popular form of entertainment, especially on the always bopping Fillmore Street. And it still is. Every summer this city welcomes more than 100,000 music lovers to the largest (free!) jazz festival on the West Coast. The Fillmore Jazz Festival, held July 5-6 on Fillmore Street (between Jackson and Eddy Streets), is a chance to see the best and the brightest jazz musicians in that beautiful city by the bay. From sunup to sundown, visitors can groove to the sounds of live music from multiple stages, browse the offerings of over 12 blocks of fine art and crafts and enjoy gourmet food and beverages. Saturday-Sunday, July 5-6. Free!

HOUSTON

Just around the time that the Tribeca Film Fest is wrapping up in New York, is when one of our favorite cities in Texas spreads its wings for the Houston International Festival. This annual downtown event, affectionately known as “IFest,” celebrates music, dance and cultures from around the world, and this year’s theme revolves around the “down under” culture of Australia. The big draw at IFest is the vendors selling local and international foods and crafts as well as the half-dozen or more arts markets with more than 400 artists. April 26-May 4. Buy tickets.

Best Playgrounds in the United States

Springtime -- and the impending end of school days -- brings out the kid in all of us. For those adults with kids of their own, no family summer vacation trip would be complete without some time to experience life out of doors in the big city. After you've scouted out some fun, educational attractions, treat the kids (and yourself) to a visit to some of the most amazing modern playgrounds around the country. While playground staples such as monkey bars, slides, and tire swings are still a part of the mix, there are numerous high-end playgrounds across the country, all boasting something unique. Here are some to visit and compare with those fond, albeit flickering, images from our childhoods.

Hudson River Park, New York City

Hudson River Park's Pier 25 Playground is a beautiful, activity-filled diversion for children of all ages. From swings to a climbing wall to mini-golf, kids have a wealth of great things to do. A little further down the line, the Pier 51 Play Area offers some educational attractions, including a replica of Minetta Brook, which was once part of New York City's wetlands. (Wetlands? In NYC?) Kids get to control the flow of water in the miniature brook and splash around in a fun, outdoor setting.

Geometry Playground

Here's the wildcard on the list. Geometry Playground takes playtime and learning to an entirely new level as a true interactive recreational area. It also takes its roving, educational play space around the country. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the traveling playground exhibit is currently housed in Oklahoma City and scheduled to rotate to the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, Utah, in June 2014. Previously, Geometry Playground made its rounds to San Francisco's Exploratorium and the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. If there is any single playground that children will refuse to leave, then this is it. Part science expo, part theme park, this is one of those opportunities to experience something entirely unique, and extremely fun.

Discovery Playground, Tampa Bay

A hopscotch skip and a jump from Tampa, Florida, Tarpon Springs' Discovery Playground boasts a beautiful playground that has the look of natural wood, but is actually comprised of a mix of wood fiber and synthetic binding agents to offer splinter-free play. The playground itself has a number of tunnels to crawl through, hanging structures, a rope bridge and pirate ship -- to name just a few fun features. As an added bonus, Discovery Playground is in close proximity to a soccer field and an ice cream shop.

Lincoln Park, Seattle

Think of Seattle’s Lincoln Park as a playground within a nature campus. Encompassing 135 acres, the Park's grounds contain picnic areas, beach front, hiking trails, a boat launch, saltwater pool, ball fields, and a multitude of designated play areas. With so much to see and do, one day is not enough to even scratch the surface. For a play date on this playground, it's best to leave a weekend open to explore as much of this wonderland as possible!

Franklin Square, Philadelphia

If a bit of history mixed in with playtime is more to your liking, then Franklin Square is the answer. Located in Philadelphia's picturesque historic district, Franklin Square allows children to indulge themselves in everything from standard playground fare to a glorious carousel. The added bonus is that kids are playing on sacred ground that hosted our country's founding fathers. No one can say with certainty if little Tommy Jefferson or Johnny Adams amused themselves in Franklin Square, but it makes for a rather romantic notion.

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

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. read more »

Atlanta for Romantics

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, what your ideal date would be – but whether you opt for cozy and intimate, lavish and luxurious, or simple and inexpensive, Atlanta is a delightful setting for your romantic experience.

read more »

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