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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 GiftCityPASS Makes a Great Holiday Gift

Being frugal these days is a lifestyle choice for many. And what exactly is living frugally? It’s up to you to decide!

It could mean buying quality, used clothes from a thrift store. Or maybe it means shoving those extra napkins from fast food into your glove box. Perhaps it means not ordering drinks and appetizers at dinner. Maybe it entails buying a thoughtful and classy gift at a discounted price. Christmas will be here before you know it. Be prepared this year.

This is where CityPASS comes in. Because savvy savers know a thing or two about penny pinching, they probably already know about CityPASS. A CityPASS booklet contains 5-6 admission tickets to the top attractions in a city at up to half off regular prices. CityPASS currently offers ticket booklets in 10 big cities and a ticket card to theme parks in Southern California. The booklets are valid for 9 days and the card for 14 days.

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.

And don’t forget, frugal doesn’t mean cheap! Making wise and thoughtful decisions with the money you do have is living frugally.

Also, you can’t put a dollar amount on the time you save by skipping lines at many CityPASS attractions. You might even feel like a VIP because you get to bypass the main ticket lines!

For more than 15 years, CityPASS ticket booklets have been a premier product for travelers who want to visit a destination’s top attractions while enjoying significant savings of up to 50 percent. CityPASS ticket booklets, which have a 95 percent customer recommendation rating, are available for New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay and Toronto. For more information, visit CityPASS.com.

Haunted Houston Attractions

Houston, Texas, is an exciting mix of old and new where history meets innovation. The most heavily populated city in Texas and fourth-largest U.S. city in terms of residents, Houston started as a humble railroad hub in the 1860s. Today, it’s home to oil fields, NASA, a thriving finance industry, and a flourishing arts scene.

As 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.

Haunted History: The Rice Lofts (formerly the Rice Hotel)

In a former life, the Houston apartment high-rise known as the Rice Lofts was once the Rice Hotel, infamously known as the hotel where former President John F. Kennedy spent his last night before his assassination in 1963. Before it was converted into apartment buildings, guests of the hotel claimed to hear the rattling of objects, feel chills, see lights, and feel a ghostly presence in the room where JFK once slept.

The supernatural activity in this hotel was not limited to the former President’s room, however. The ghosts of couples on a dance floor were also said to have tripped the light phantasmic in the hotel ballroom. Since the hotel’s renovations, these ghostly dancers now perform their danse macabre on the Rice Lofts rooftop.

Rice HotelImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

Putting the “Fun” in Funeral: National Museum of Funeral History

Located at 415 Barren Springs Drive in Houston, the National Museum of Funeral History boasts the mission statement that “any day above ground is a good one.” Founded in 1992, the museum harbors a collection of funeral service memorabilia designed to educate visitors and keep the traditions of the funeral industry’s practices and history “alive.”

Among some of the exhibits at the National Museum of Funeral History are a restored, hand-carved wooden hearse from the 1920s that once transported coffins to their final place of rest. Another exhibit (in conjunction with the Vatican) focuses on the burial rituals of popes. Yet another display focuses on a retrospective of the work of Dr. Thomas Holmes, a prominent Civil War-era embalmer. And in a strangely whimsical exhibit, the Museum houses 12 colorful, customized “fantasy coffins” designed by sculptor Kane Quaye of Ghana to depict the life’s interests of their inhabitants – including coffins designed to resemble an airliner, leopard, lobster, and even a Mercedes Benz. This unique museum is not to be missed on your tour of haunted Houston!

Fantasy CoffinsImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

High Spirits: The Brewery Tap

Tired of walking around and want to grab a drink – and maybe do a little spirit-spotting? Check out The Brewery Tap, located at 717 Franklin Street (at the corner of Louisiana). This historic brewery building has an enormous selection of 35 beers on tap, an upbeat staff, games of darts for patrons to play, and (oh, yeah) its very own ghost.

From time to time, a friendly, otherworldly visitor named “William” materializes to chat with patrons at The Brewery Tap. According to bar lore, William is the ghost of a former brewery worker in the 1920s who died on the job. The owner even has a photo of this mysterious character and will show it to you if you ask nicely. Down a brew or two and find yourself in good “spirits” at this happily haunted Houston attraction.

The Brewery TapImage Source: Brewery Tap Houston

A Haunting Walk in the Park: Glenwood Cemetery

Houston’s Glenwood Cemetery is among one of the most beautifully landscaped graveyards in the country. Designed around the ravines that trail to Houston’s historic Buffalo Bayou, the gently curving walkways of this 19th century cemetery makes it feel more like an extraordinary park than a place of eternal rest.

Visitors can stop by the gravesites of some famous folks interred at Glenwood Cemetery, such as eccentric billionaire and aviator Howard Hughes, actress Gene Tierney (who, ironically, starred in the film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir), and the remarkable Sarah Emma Edmondson (married name: Seyle) – a Civil War-era nurse and spy who dressed as a man to join the Union army. The cemetery is a popular spot for ghost hunters to congregate due to its high electromagnetic fields generated within its iron gates, and the legend that its owner – the victim of an unsolved murder – haunts this beautiful cemetery.

Glenwood CemeteryImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

These are just a few haunted Houston attractions you can check out if you’re “plot”ting a trip to this fascinating city. Depending on how much additional (grave) digging you may want to do, you can unearth a number of haunted happenings throughout the city of Houston in time for Halloween – or any time you wish to visit the city and explore some spine-tingling spots.

Golden Gate Park Surrounded By Restaurant Variety

If Central Park is New York’s heart, Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s soul. A 1,000-acre rectangle wedged between Richmond and Sunset, the providentially engineered expanse of green stretches from The Haight to the sea. Flowers, lakes, museums and elbow room make Golden Gate a favorite haunt among residents and a must-do destination for city visitors. read more »

Rainbow Room Welcomes New Era at Rockefeller Center

The Rainbow Room is shining brightly once again, high above New York City on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Doors of the famed restaurant and dance hall reopened in early October for brunch, dinner and entertainment. After being closed several years for renovations, the legendary Rainbow Room is back with the same spirit, style and sophistication. read more »

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