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Five Favorites


Being raised by a botanist and science teacher, most of my vacations centered around the great outdoors, whether national parks or anywhere we could collect specimens for the classroom. Soon I learned to value our country’s national parks’ beauty and wildlife diversity as phenomenon you have to see to fully comprehend.

Zion National Park, Utah — The massive stone walls with swirling shades of red, cream and pink impressed early settlers so much that they gave the canyon’s formations biblical names. You can gaze up the canyon’s walls from the bottom or climb the five-mile Angels Landing hike to behold the park from a heavenly perspective.

Redwood National and State Parks, Calif. — If trees could talk, you wonder what some

Courtesy California’s Redwood Coast

of them would say at places like the Redwood National and State Parks, where the oldest trees are more than 2,000 years old. Ancient trees stretching 22 feet wide and ferns reaching higher than my head look straight out of a storybook fairyland.

Everglades National Park, Fla. — A Florida swamp may not seem like everyone’s dream vacation at first, but the Everglades National Park contains a wonderland of wildlife with 50 reptile species and 360 bird species scattered throughout 1.5 million acres. On the half-a-mile Anhinga Trail alone I spotted alligators, anhinga birds and other creatures around every turn.

Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz. — When I first glimpsed the plummeting depths of the up-to-18-mile wide Grand Canyon, I couldn’t wrap my mind around its enormity. After scenic drives, trails and a mule ride, I still left wanting one more look.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Ky. — Underneath the forest floor, pitch-black shadows and twisting rock formations seem from another world. Mammoth Cave’s tours traverse the cave’s labyrinths past cave crickets, blind fish and spectacular chambers fit for a cathedral.

Eliza Tychonievich

 Live Music

My favorite way to get to know a city is to hear its music — the soul that comes out of a singer’s voice tells you much more about a place than a tour guide ever could. Here are my five favorite places to hear live music. Some are obvious, and some are sentimental picks, but they’re all remarkable in their own way.

Nashville’s honky-tonks — Up-and-coming country singers have been paying their dues in Nashville’s downtown honky-tonk bars for decades. Singers and musicians work these bars night after night, playing to rooms full of Nashville locals and out-of-town visitors. Spend an evening at the honky-tonks, and you’ll understand what country music is all about — and you might just catch a glimpse of the next big star.

Courtesy Nashville CVB

Mountain View, Ark. — At the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View nightly concerts present the historic folk music of the mountains. And after the show, many of the featured performers take to the streets to join in with the impromptu jam sessions that take place all over the town square. Locals and visitors are welcome to join in with a fiddle, a guitar or a mandolin.

Sydney Opera House — Many people have seen pictures of the dramatic Sydney Opera House, with its large shell-like walls rising over beautiful Sydney Harbor. For a real treat, attend a concert at the opera house, where you’ll find the local ballet, opera and symphonic companies performing. The building’s distinctive architecture creates amazing acoustic resonance.

New Orleans’ French Quarter — For me, New Orleans has always been about Creole food and jazz, best served together. Some of the finest musicians in the South play in restaurants throughout the French Quarter. One of my favorite memories is listening to a jazz guitarist on the sidewalk while enjoying the beignets at Café du Monde.

Peñas of Morelia, Mexico — In Mexico, the colonial city of Morelia is treasured for its beautiful architecture and rich indigenous heritage. Throughout the city, you can hear indigenous music at “peñas,” small clubs where students and culture lovers gather for dinner, music. The simple songs are often accompanied by beautiful dances.

Brian Jewell



Name my five favorite places to have a beer? That’s a tough assignment, but I’m up to it.

Kleine Scheidegg train station, Switzerland — It has to be a Rugenbrau as you sit on the sun terrace behind this tiny rail station with all the other hikers and climbers gathered there. Grab a table beneath a bright red-and-white Rugenbrau umbrella and have a grilled brat or rosti. The Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains stand in silence above you. What else do you want?

The Bathhouse Cafe, Queenstown, New Zealand — This little café sits on Lake Wakatipu in this country’s mountain center. In its 100-year history, the cafe has been everything fro

Courtesy Kim Lacy

m a public bathhouse to a tearoom and is now a restaurant. It’s tiny — eight tables and a bar. We had lunch there and enjoyed a couple of Three Boys Wheats, a beer brewed in nearby Christchurch.
Happy hour on the Island Spirit, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest — This small ship cruises in the San Juan Islands, into British Columbia, on the Columbia River and up into Alaska. Every day around 4:30, 20 to 25 passengers flock to the small bar for freshly prepared hors’deuvres and a drink. Most recently, I had Alaskan White, a wheat beer brewed with spices.The company among these small crowds is also fascinating.  
Highlands Bar and Grill, on the south side of Birmingham, Ala. — This list has to include one golf stop, and I’ve been going to this iconic downtown watering hole (and gourmet restaurant) after golf for 15 years with my friend Jim Smither of the Birmingham CVB. It’s pretty much Guinness Stout here for me. And usually a few oysters on the half shell to get me home.

Rooftop Bar, Hotel Washington, Washington, D.C. — I used to get to this comfortable old bar several times a year, but not so much anymore. On 15th Street, just off the Washington Mall and near the White House, it’s a great late day spot for enjoying the Washington atmosphere. And it’s only a couple of blocks to Old Ebbitt Grill for dinner, so this starts a memorable evening in America’s capital. Guinness is usually my choice here, too.

Mac Lacy


A scene, whether from high atop a mountain or walking along a beach, can leave an indelible image of a place. Here are five views that remain with me long after the visit.

Vista House, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon — Situated 725 feet above the Columbia River east of Portland, this 93-year-old octagonal stone structure provides a dramatic vantage point as the wide Columbia River Gorge spreads out for miles before you.

Serengeti from a hot-air balloon — A wildlife safari in Kenya leaves many memories. One of my most memorable was quietly floating above the ancient grassy plains and thorny acacia trees of the Serengeti as wildebeest, gazelles, giraffes elephants and zebras grazed below, unaware of our presence above. It gave a different perspective of the animals. A topi, found only there and in Tanzania, looked like a “grain of brown rice in the grass.”

Courtesy Travel Oregon

Pittsburgh skyline from Mount Washington —The Duquesne and Monongahela inclines slowly ascend a steep hill to the Mount Washington neighborhood, where you get a spectacular view of Pittsburgh’s gleaming revitalized downtown and the Golden Triangle where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers join to form the Ohio River. USA Weekend magazine has ranked it America’s second most beautiful view with good reason.

Moonlight on the ocean — Although I have taken frequent beach vacations, this summer’s trip to Wrightsville Beach, N.C., was the first time I had been at the ocean during a full moon. Watching the moon’s band of white light extending to the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean while walking along the clean beach or sitting on the balcony of my oceanfront room left a soothing impression I will long remember.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina — The 469-mile, two-lane parkway leisurely leads past mountain meadows, split-rail fences and old farmsteads, through tall forests and along ridges with sweeping views of lush, green rolling fields far below.

Herb  Sparrow