Baja Sur: Mexico's Most Colorful Region

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What you really want from Baja Sur is simple—the big surf, the big cactuses that look like your friends, the agreement with your travel companion that arroyo is a beautiful word, the fish tacos, the huevos rancheros, the beaches you have to hike in to, the absence of rattlesnakes but the wish that lizards liked you more.

If you can imagine a lost horse wandering around any town, you can imagine him in Todos Santos. It’s not exactly like stray cats in Rome (or Pompeii), but stray stallions, and strays in general—surfers, cowboys, Californians from north of the border—are in their element here.

A brief history of Baja Sur—of any tropical destination, really—is a history of where people swim. Bodies of water, built and unbuilt, are an opportunity for the traveler to go Goldilocks-ing. Whether you pull up to a vast empty ocean or a private plunge pool at an extravagant resort, the character of the swimming spot is a quick read upon arrival.

The signs in Todos Santos are hand-painted, with smiling fruits and vegetables in primary colors. A large juice costs about $1.30 at El Papayón, and you have confidence that jugo (juice) is not on the verge of becoming a verb down here.

Caffé El Triunfo, in the former silver mining town of El Triunfo, about midway between the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, serves wood-fired foods made with local ingredients, courtesy of Northern Californian owner Marcus Spahr.

Guests at the Todos Santos Inn enjoy dinner alfresco at La Copa Cocina. The dual indoor/outdoor space offers diners a view of the action Chef Patricio’s presentation kitchen inside and a garden patio outside.

Those looking to shop in Todos Santos should meet Euva Anderson, a longtime Todos Santos resident, in her eclectic boutique, Mixtica.

Many locals and visitors start the day with coffee and pastries from the three-in-one cafe, restaurant, and bar, Caffé Todos Santos.

Hotel Rancho Las Cruces seems happily stuck in another era. Strip steaks and parfaits and tapioca pudding are still on the menu and the restaurant has been serving guests huevos rancheros
for more than 60 years.

Cactus grows everywhere—on roofs, on trees, on other cactuses—at Dr. Héctor Nolasco Soria’s impressive Santuario de Los Cactus, just outside the charming old mining town of El Triunfo, an hour’s drive from both La Paz and Todos Santos.

There are two fishing co-ops at Playa Punta Lobos in Todos Santos, one with yellow pangas, the other red. Head to the beach in the afternoon to watch the fleets return.

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Inside the Most Romantic Hotel in America

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I mean, look at this place: It’s a Newport mansion on a National Recreation Trail and just a three-minute walk from the beach. Inside, the 1873 congressman’s residence mixes Gothic, Renaissance, and English Tudor interiors—nothing says “romance, romance, romance” like the Old World, right? Readers agree: “Amazing setting, service, and style.”

Each of the 20 rooms come “made for romance,” quote another reader. Custom linens line antique furnishings, while fireplaces and stone bathrooms with heated floors keep things cozy. Spring for a villa, and you’ll even have your own outdoor hot tub.

Prefer an indoor soak? Look no further than the marble bath with a walk-in shower and separate double Jacuzzi tub. Every detail was “examined and refined,” said one reader.

Rooms are decorated according to theme, with period pieces and ensembles ranging from French Provincial to Greek Revival. The whole vibe is downy and plush—the kind of room that you might not want to leave.

Unless, of course, you’re taking an extended break for a six- or nine-course tasting menu at the hotel’s “exceptional” fine-dining restaurant, The Spiced Pear. With just a few seatings, you’re encouraged to linger and drink up both handcrafted cocktails—and the views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Even the entrées are seductive: Go à la carte with Nova Scotia halibut, five-spiced Muscovy duck breast, or Berkshire pork chops. Whatever you choose, “you won’t be disappointed,” said one reader.

At dusk, take some wine outside and sit around a stone fireplace to catch the sunset—and later, a sky full of stars. “Beautiful” only begins to describe it.

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Where to Watch Super Bowl 50 in Denver and Charlotte

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Courtesy Draught

The calm before the storm at Draught Bar.

CHARLOTTE

Draught

Sitting in the shadow of Bank of America stadium, this bar is smack in the middle of the Carolina Panthers’ backyard. With 40 beers on tap, and even Moscow Mules on draft (served in a mason jar, of course), Draught makes the sports bar feel a little bit more upscale. You can make table reservations now or head to the outdoor heated tents to watch on one of three Jumbotrons ordered just for the occasion. 601 S. Cedar St.

Duckworth’s

Though Duckworth’s has five bars around Charlotte, Panthers fans will likely migrate to the bar’s biggest outpost in Uptown. This location has 170 (!) televisions—more than the number of tables—and, according to a local news source, is preparing to serve more than 20,000 wings. Known for its craft beer, Duckworth’s has more than 50 brews on tap, with many from North Carolina; and if you’re not throwing back wings, try one of the Philly cheesesteaks this spot is known for. 330 N. Tryon St.

All American Pub

Right off the Bland Street light rail station in Charlotte, the All American Pub is just a few blocks from the Bank of America stadium and is a regular haunt for dedicated fans. Grab a $5 tall boy and an order of Carolina pulled-pork stuffed egg rolls and enjoy the dance parties during TV breaks (you’ll have to catch up on the Super Bowl commercials at home if you stop at this bar). Disclaimer: We have it on good authority that this pub will be packed (extremely packed), so bring your game face to push your way to the bar. 200 E. Bland St.

Tyber Creek Pub

Located in the city’s historic Southend, this pub channels an authentic Irish feel and is offering reservations for Panthers fans looking to secure a seat in front of one of the bar’s two giant projectors. With bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and corned beef and cabbage on the menu, this pub isn’t just for those who want to watch the game with a Guinness at their side. 933 South Blvd.

Courtesy La Biblioteca

Denver’s La Biblioteca, or “library of tequila.”

DENVER

Breckenridge Brewery

The only thing Coloradans love more than their Broncos is craft beer, and Breckenridge Brewery is one of the state’s original brewers, pouring suds born high in the Rockies at its Denver ale house, a sporty hot spot in the historic Ball Park Neighborhood adjacent to Coors Field. Pop in for 32 American craft beers on tap and plenty of big screens. Top pours include Breckenridge Brewery’s Avalanche Ale, Oatmeal Stout, and Breck IPA. 2220 Blake St.

La Biblioteca

Celeb-chef Richard Sandoval stormed the Mile High City dining scene with this hip spot in the RiverFront Park neighborhood, just west of downtown. The place is modeled after Sandoval’s New York City outpost, complete with chef’s “Library of Tequila,” a collection of more than 350 tequilas, mezcals, and agave spirits. Pair your pour with Latin-Asian fusion fare, from spicy sushi to tasty tacos. Watch the game at the restaurants bottomless viewing party—$35 per guest includes all you can eat and drink. 1610 Little Raven St.

LoHi SteakBar

The steakhouse is so passé. Denver likes its steak like it likes its beer and booze—locally made and low key. This spot in the trendy Highlands neighborhood north of downtown melds the pomp of a classic steakhouse with the vibe of a local tavern. LoHi goes the extra mile for Super Bowl Sunday with a viewing party benefiting Denver’s Children’s Hospital. A $25 donation includes five beers or cocktails along with a selection of choice appetizers. 3200 Tejon St.

Washington Park Sports Alley

Beyond its beauty as one of Denver’s most cherished parks, the neighborhood ringing Washington Park is among the city’s most beautiful, with cafes, bars, and boutiques hidden down side streets, and a beloved sports bar down a back alley. Pair a pitcher of Coors with the bar’s famous wings. With 28 big screens blasting out the Big Game, you’re sure to have a good seat— and during commercial breaks you can play arcade games ranging from classic pinball to Ms. Pac-Man to Big Buck Hunter. 266B South Downing St.

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Why You Should Visit Savannah for Clams and Dumplings

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Photo by Luke Smith

The only things better than chicken and dumplings? Clams and dumplings.

Savannah is well known for its history and charm. There are stately, centuries-old oak trees and Spanish moss that hangs everywhere like curtains. There are cemeteries with gravestones that read collectively like story books. And there’s the genius of its urban planning: The 22 genteel squares that punctuate the city’s grid with places to gather and laze and let the pace of a more relaxed idea of life slowly soak in. Thanks to a spate of new restaurants like The Grey, Savannah is also becoming known for a fresh wave of cuisine and hospitality that plays into local legacy, but is also very much of the moment.

The Grey’s restaurateur John O. Morisano and chef Mashama Bailey aren’t the likeliest business partners. Morisano, 48, grew up Italian on Staten Island in New York City, eventually launching a career as a tech and media investor. Bailey, 41 and African American, spent her childhood in Savannah and the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx, before cooking with Gabrielle Hamilton at her esteemed Manhattan restaurant, Prune. After Morisano fell in love with Savannah on a road trip a few years back, he bought a home there—and a former Greyhound bus station, with plans to turn it into a restaurant that was hugely ambitious in its menu and design: Southern, but modern. Today, the station has been restored to a work of art deco glory, its metal, wood, and tile all expertly arranged by the design firm Parts and Labor. Dishes include Bailey’s velvety fried sweetbreads with a vibrant parsley salad, and her ash-roasted sweet potato, thoughtfully seasoned with roasted chili pepper and molasses.

At the onset, Morisano was obsessed with Hamilton becoming his chef—he’d listened to her audiobook—but Hamilton introduced him to Bailey instead, pointing out her Savannah connection (her parents were married in a church close to the restaurant). Hamilton proved to be quite the matchmaker: A year into operations, The Grey has become one of the buzziest spots in the country. And if there’s one dish that showcases Bailey’s and Morisano’s collaborative spirit—and why the cooking at The Grey has been so resonant—it’s the clams and dumplings; an alle vongole-adjacent idea that evolved like this:

Mashama Bailey: “We were talking about switching up the menu and running mussels with white wine, parsley sauce, and a piece of grilled bread on top. But I felt like I’d had that everywhere.”

John O. Morisano: “Mashama wanted to find a way to incorporate clams from Sapelo Island onto the menu. Sapelo Island clams are held in high regard here. They’re the perfect size, the perfect bite of brininess. I immediately advocated for linguine with clam sauce. Mashama looked at me and said: ‘I’m not Italian. I’m not doing linguine with clam sauce.’ She was like, ‘We’ll have that at your house on Sunday afternoon. We’re not having that at The Grey.’”

Bailey: “I’m trying to look at everything through a person’s eyes who lives here—their cravings, and tapping into my own Southern childhood as well. But I started looking through all these Italian cookbooks. The dish started as clams and a bread dough. I called it clams and dumplings, but it wasn’t. It was more like clams and bread. It didn’t resonate. Then it just clicked: to put clams with actual dumplings. Purging the clams can be a struggle. You soak them in a little bit of salt and water and you have to agitate them just to get it to filter through. It can take hours. Sometimes, you purge once. Sometimes, 10 times. We cook to order, about 10 clams at a time, covering them about half way up [in a pan] with water and white wine.”

Morisano: “A dry wine, not a sweet one.”

Bailey: “We steam them open, they release their juices, we take them out of the liquid and hold them warm.”

Morisano: “It takes four to five minutes for the clams to open.”

Bailey: “When you think about chicken and dumplings, it’s a drop dumpling. That means you make the batter—flour, baking powder, butter, salt, water, sometimes milk or buttermilk—and drop the dough into the boiling liquid. I knew I wanted to use that technique here, dropping the dough into the sauce with a teaspoon and cooking it that way so it comes out rustic looking. That gets the dumplings seasoned with the clam juice and the wine. I cook them on each side for about two minutes, five dumplings per 10 clams. That way, there’s a little dumpling leftover to soak up the broth at the bottom of the bowl.”

Morisano: “These are very juicy clams. There’s a paste that goes into the liquid as well.”

Bailey: “We make a sort of salsa verde, chopping parsley and arugula, then grinding it down in a mortar and pestle with a little olive oil, garlic, and chili flakes. That seasons the dumplings, too. It takes it to the edge of wonderfulness.”

Morisano: “We’ve had tables who order this, eat it, and a order a second helping. It’s the perfect representation of Mashama’s cooking—it feels just familiar enough, but by putting dumplings with clams, it also feels totally new.”

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Virgin America to Fly L.A. to Hawaii for $169 One Way

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Nuuanu Pali Lookout, Oahu, Hawaii

Virgin’s entry into the highly competitive L.A.-to-Hawaii market is good news for travelers. Make that excellent news. Los Angeles is the no. 1 U.S. mainland departure city for Hawaii flights, and every day sees approximately 15 jets take off from LAX to Hawaii’s capital alone. The 50th state is also the top tourism destination all around from the West Coast, racking up over 3.3 million visitors in 2014. Travelers may chose to fly non-stop from LAX or SFO, or connect to the islands from Virgin America’s other flights out of New York (JFK), Seattle, and Las Vegas.

Already the competition is bringing airfares down; Virgin America’s starting price of $169 one-way from L.A. to Hawaii is less than its $199 promo price from San Francisco, and deals from the West Coast on competitor Hawaiian Airlines have, over the last few months, dipped as low as $400 round-trip, which is hundreds less than the average for Hawaii’s winter high season.

When the airline celebrated its inaugural Hawaii flight—from San Francisco to Honolulu on November 2, 2015—Virgin Group head honcho Richard Branson hinted to Condé Nast Traveler that he had “one or two new [routes] penciled into the diary.” Virgin America CEO David Cush was a little less cryptic, saying, “In 2017 we’ll be looking at service from Los Angeles and from San Francisco to some of the smaller islands.” Thankfully travelers won’t have to wait until next year to sip Virgin’s “Makena Cocktail” (a crew-created cocktail of POG, or passion-orange-guava juice, with rum, club soda, and grenadine specially for the Hawaii routes) between Hollywood and paradise; the daily L.A. routes are scheduled to begin to Honolulu on May 5 and to Maui on June 14.

Cush admits that Hawaii has been Virgin America’s most requested destination from the airline’s start, back in 2007, and the response to the new flights out of San Francisco has been beyond expectations. Says Cush: “Since we launched our Hawaii service last year, we’ve seen firsthand why it is one of the most popular leisure destinations among West Coast travelers. The guest response to our new routes has been extremely positive.”

To score one of the promo $169 one-way deals between L.A. and Hawaii on Virgin America, visit the airline’s website and search travel dates from late spring through summer.

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