Romantic Montana vacations for couples
Imagine being snuggled up in a cozy cabin somewhere far away from reality. The fire is glowing as snow-capped mountains sit in the background. Hiking trails and ski slopes abound. This mental picture is why we’re convinced there might be no better place for a romantic getaway this Valentine’s Day than Montana, dubbed “The Last Best Place” for a reason. The western part of the state particularly makes it obvious why it earned the right to that nickname.
The global health crisis has meant weddings across the country (and the world) have been downsized, postponed, or canceled altogether. But celebrating love seems more important than ever as we collectively hit the year anniversary of socially distancing from friends, family, and lovers. Montana offers couples the perfect place to turn up the romance and disconnect from the noise this February in a safe and snowy setting.
The first step in setting up the sexiest Valentine’s escape in Montana is finding the right place to stay.
Set against the Mission Mountain range is an idyllic couples retreat in the form of a 500 square foot cabin. The cabin and its signature slanted roof sits on 10 acres of prairie only minutes from untamed Montana wilderness. The scenery is the selling point, but Calowahcan’s giant ceramic bathtub is a surefire way to set the mood. Unwind with your lover by lighting a bonfire on the patio, wildflowers and mountain peaks standing in the distance. Calowahcan is the right accommodation for couples seeking rest and respite; those who want to hit the hiking trails but, ultimately, are happy to settle in for an evening surrounded by snowy peaks on the horizon.
This A-frame cabin in picturesque Whitefish is what Montana getaway dreams are made of. A cosy bed sits in the loft space overlooking Whitefish Lake, with twinkly lights illuminating the patio. The bonfire pit out back is well suited for warming up over s’mores making. Exploring the town is made simple thanks to the cabin being ideally located only a 10-minute drive from breweries and restaurants. Having a Valentine’s weekend spent in Whitefish is especially well-suited for skiers and snowboarders, as the town is home to one of the state’s most esteemed ski resorts.
Columbia Falls, Montana
What is more romantic than cuddling up to your loved one under twinkly lights hanging from a three-story treehouse? Not much, honestly. A simple scroll of Meadowlark’s Instagram account will have you drooling over the interior of the cabin in equal measure to the beauty right out the front door. The treehouse comes full of blankets, board games, and books to keep you occupied, as well as a fire pit if you fancy lighting a fire.
If cabins and treehouses aren’t really your thing, the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel’s lodging might be perfectly suited for you. Located in the heart of the downtown area, the Kalispell Grand used to host luxury travelers for a whopping $2 per night. Nowadays, the price point has changed and the amenities have no doubt been upgraded, but the Kalispell Grand still holds onto its old-time, Montana charm thanks to details like the lobby’s solid oak staircase and moose head taxidermy. It’s in a premier location, within walking distance of local establishments like Norm’s Soda Fountain, Colter Coffee, and Kalispell Brewery. Kalispell as a town is an ideal base for a romantic Montana getaway because it’s near marvelous Flathead Lake, a short drive from Whitefish ski slopes, and not far from Glacier National Park.
West Glacier National Park, Montana
On the edge of West Glacier, near crystal clear lakes and purple mountains, are a set of small log cabins with the necessary amenities for a lovers’ retreat. Fireplace? Check. Kitchen fully equipped for you to cook up a Valentine’s Day dinner? Check. Comfortable bed for post-hike cuddles? Check. As a cutesy touch, each cabin is named after Montana wildlife, which you very well might encounter if you venture back in the warmer months of the year. Being based in West Glacier for Valentine’s Day means you’re surrounded by staggering scenery, including nearby Lake McDonald, and astonishing quiet-- the makings of a truly intimate vacation.
Another less rustic choice is the Kimpton Armory Hotel located in one of Montana’s most aesthetic towns. It is a hotel made for modern lovers. Everything about the Kimpton is sleek: its on-site dining, its interior design, its common areas. The Kimpton’s rooftop is a great place for a nightcap before you slip back into the warmth of your contemporary bedroom.
Once you’ve booked your stay, you’ll need to find activities to enjoy with your Valentine. A February visit comes with the bonus of fewer crowds, and it also means you have a bevy of winter time activities to choose from. Catch fresh air and stunning views by taking part in any (or all) of these outdoor activities.
Dog sledding isn’t just an Alaskan bucket list item-- Montana has incredible dog sledding rails and operators, particularly in the Western part of the state. An energetic team of dogs will lead you through the stillness of the beauty that surrounds you as they run down snowy trails. Most operators offer half-day adventures, but some have a multi-night option that allows you to extend your sledding experience. Fun fact: the reality-TV famed Kardashian family were keen to book a dog sledding excursion, but refused to pay and, ultimately, missed out on this incredible winter activity.
Skiing and snowboarding
Montana has some of the best slopes for skiing and snowboarding and, thanks to its geographical location, it also receives a dependable amount of fresh snow. Although equipment rental and lift tickets make for an expensive day out, the rush of gliding downhill is worth every penny. Whitefish Mountain, Big Sky, Bridger Bowl, and Showdown are some of the state’s finest ski and snowboarding resorts. For a more affordable option, Maverick Mountain has virtually no lift ticket fees and extends over 450 family-owned acres.
Horseback trail rides
It might seem counterintuitive to go horseback riding in the cold, but it’s magic. Big, fat flakes falling around you as you sit back and take in the views. In order to book a horseback trail ride, you’ll need to find an outfitter or guide near you to lend you a horse and lead you along the trail. Your accommodation might be able to recommend a local ranch with guides for you to hire, like the renowned Artemis Acres. You can also find operating trail rides online via the Visit Montana directory.
A super traditional (and budget-friendly) way to spend any day in Montana (rain, shine, or snow) is hitting the hiking trails that undoubtedly surround you. Hiking doesn’t require prior booking, loads of gear, or heaps of money. Due to the nature of Montana’s winter weather conditions, you’re also likely to have paths all to yourselves-- a total bonus.
If you’re up to burn more calories and try something a little different, snowshoeing is a great alternative to hiking. You’ll need to rent some snowshoes, but that’s easily done in most Montana towns with outdoor recreation retailers. Your body will work harder, but there are fewer things as luxurious as a post-snowshoe bubble bath back at your cabin or hotel. Make sure you know what trails are conducive to snowshoeing before you head out! You can do this by asking your equipment rental company what paths they recommend.
Soaking in a natural hot spring
West Montana has a wealth of natural hot springs for you and your Valentine to warm up in. Some of the most famed are Quinn’s Hot Springs in Plains and Chico Hot Springs in Pray. Many of the hot springs locations offer premium lodging and fine dining options including private cabins to stay in and locally-sourced, wild game. Currently, many hot springs require advanced booking; make sure you plan accordingly.
Snowmobiling is a surefire way to ramp up the excitement in your Valentine celebrations. It’s a great adrenaline rush for those looking to tear up fresh powder. Lucky for you and your date, Western Montana in the winter time was made for adventure junkies to slide over frozen lakes and zoom along groomed trails.
"Mom, you can't trick us-we know you can't drive a house!" my children told me. The more I explained about our RV vacation, the less my kids believed me. They thought the part where the dinner table changed into a bed was either the biggest whopper of all or proof that Mommy had magical powers. In the parking lot at the start of our trip I felt no supernatural talents as I stared in fear at our home on wheels away from home: a rented Winnebago measuring 32 feet-much longer than my living room. But after an hour-long training session, we were on our own. The next day we negotiated the spectacular curves of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The grown-ups sat in the Barcalounger-type reclinable front seats watching through the four-foot-tall windshield as turkey vultures circled above the tree-covered mountainsides. Sky, clouds, birds, blooming dogwood trees, green valleys, more mountains, large iced drinks in cup holders, two kids buckled in at their own table with toys and a view: "Mom," they announced, "this is the life." Our plan was to travel across Virginia comparing private, public, franchise, and nonfranchise types of campgrounds. Of course, our vehicle itself provided amenities and entertainment. We had a week's worth of groceries and our own electricity and water. We were protected from the bad weather that ruins many a camping vacation and shielded from the wild behavior of vehicle-bound children that ruins many a road trip. (When we reached orange alert levels we-gasp!-popped a movie in the DVD player.) These comforts gave us more time to experience the places we visited. And at all the campgrounds, whether rustic or developed, my kids did not want to leave. Not your average bear Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. These popular campsites, the first type we visited, are filled with families seeking man-made, outdoor fun. RV site prices are usually on the higher end, at some 70 Jellystone Parks across the U.S. and Canada. All of them promise easy-to-RV level sites, where you can pull through to park and quickly hook up water/electric/sewage lines; clean rest rooms and laundry facilities; a pool; a video theater and game rooms; a well-stocked convenience store; and, most important, entertainment. Although the particulars vary, every Jellystone Park offers activities of some kind-theme weeks or weekends, hayrides, arts and crafts, ice cream socials-and equipment like fully loaded playgrounds, sports courts, and bounce houses. Schedules of events are listed on their site; some activities may cost extra. Jellystone park waterslide - Courtesy of Jellystone Park We stayed at a Jellystone Park in Luray, Virginia. The campground was as RV-friendly as expected. It took us about 10 minutes-in the dark, no less-to park, make the RV level, and connect to the hookups for our very first time. In the morning my kids took one look at the 400-foot water slide and the playground with eight slides and dressed themselves at warp speed. The camp-type activities, such as Yogi's birthday week, are in full swing in summer. In the spring and fall, theme weekends ("Junior Ranger: Bugs!") are scheduled. Parental advisory: If you go to the giftie-filled camp store with your kids, expect to endure a heavy round of begging. Uncle Sam, you, and a view National Park campgrounds (reserve by searching nps.gov). Outdoors enthusiasts can stay in the scenery at many National Park campgrounds. Recreation.gov handles some parks; private concessions manage reservations for others. Some parks only permit camping on a first come, first served basis-get there early! The National Park Web site gives reservations details and tells which parks offer full hookups and which offer no facilities and less-than-RV-friendly warnings, like "RV sites may not be level." On average camping usually costs less than $50, (not including park admission) but really varies by park and season. We left Yogi's Jellystone for Shenandoah, a real national park, where the amenities are mostly those provided by Mother Nature. The campsites at the edge of the quiet Big Meadows campground provide a high-altitude sleeping spot overlooking a beautiful series of valleys and mountains. RV sites (some pull-throughs) with picnic tables and fire grates cost $30. There are no hookups, but there are stations to fill up your water tank and dump that other tank. Generators can only be used until 8 p.m. After that, for hot running water you can use the bathhouse with its coin-operated showers. We headed out to the Appalachian Trail and ate ice cream, fresh pineapple, and strawberries-a picnic made possible with the help of an RV kitchen. Shenandoah National Park Follow the yellow-signed road KOA or Kampgrounds of America. Bright-yellow signs with a tent logo lead the way to more than 500 franchises of KOA in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Vacationing families come, snowbird retirees come, overnight visitors en route to other destinations come-millions of campers a year stay at a KOA. Most sites cost $40 to $80. Visitors know that certain facilities are standard: clean rest rooms and laundry rooms, full hookup pull-through sites, an inviting pool, playground, game room, and a fully stocked store. Entertainment, however, varies with the individual KOA's location. Some franchise owners offer pancake breakfasts, river tubing, 25-person hot tubs, rental cars, and wireless Internet connections; some offer quiet country settings. We stayed at the Charlottesville KOA, which has a peaceful, woodsy setting with hiking trails, a fishing pond, and all the KOA offerings. The friendly owners have preserved the traditional sleeping-in-the-woods experience. Many of the sites, including the one we stayed at, are shaded by trees. In the summer, family movies are shown nightly at a central pavilion, and Saturday night is ice cream social time. The Governors' own State park campgrounds. State parks offer all kinds of inexpensive, unspoiled opportunities that only the locals may know about. You have to research state by state because there are no complete clearinghouses for state parks. Search state park or campground and the name of the state you want to visit. You may even find reservation systems for some states. The site www.reserveamerica.com lists campgrounds in 44 states. There is a may be a charge for reserving through this site. State tourism offices and web sites also provide camping information. I was amazed to find that Virginia State Parks has 23 reservable RV campgrounds. Most offer electric and water hookups, usually $40 to $50 a site, including park admission. We stayed at Chippokes Plantation State Park in the peanut-farm country of Surry. This park was full of surprises-we could tour the plantation's mansion, formal gardens, and agricultural area complete with chickens, cows, and crops. Or we could swim (the pool was huge), hike, fish, or look for marine fossils on the beach. In the campground, the host helped us back into our site. We had hookups for water and 30-amp (one appliance at a time) electricity. We felt like we had the woods to ourselves. We roasted marshmallows way past bedtime and were able to wash off all the stickiness. For our next day's adventure, we drove onto the Pocahontas, a free ferry, to cross the river into Jamestown and Williamsburg. My husband and I argued over who could drive onto the ferry. (I won.) Chippokes Plantation State Park - Credit: IStock - Douglas Rissing Stop at Mom-and-Pop's Local, independent campgrounds. An independently owned campground might be located just where you want to stay. It might be cheaper than a franchised campground. It might have all the amenities you want-or, it might not. Sites like Hipcamp and RVshare have RV campground searched that you can use. Our final campground, Aquia Pines Camp Resort in Stafford, a privately owned, nonfranchise operation, was actually the most high tech of all. Free WiFi, there was a well-stocked store, pool, game room, and an elaborate playground. After we ate our Indian dinner, we sat outside, faintly hearing one neighbor's birthday party and another's reggae, and enjoyed the campfire we made in a big, old washtub. When we switched vehicles for the trip home, our car crammed with all the goods so neatly stowed in our RV, my kids started asking, "Are we there yet?" My husband and I laughed-we hadn't heard that once on our RV vacation. Content Presented by RVshare, the world’s first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace with more than 100,000 RVs to rent nationwide. RVshare brings RV renters and RV owners together by providing the safest and most secure platform for booking an RV rental. Find the Perfect RV Rental at RVshare
Celebrate Mardi Gras By Mail Ordering A King Cake
There are bakeries across the American South that ship their creations of this oval-shaped and tri-hued dessert across most of the U.S. Often many of them maintain the traditional king cake recipe of a brioche base adorned with white icing and gold, green and purple colored sugaring. Others have experimented with more contemporary versions and fill them with cream cheese or fruit flavors and go all out with toppings. And most bakeries can process mail orders to send a king cake right to your doorstep. Louisiana Of course, Louisiana is synonymous with Mardi Gras and has many bakeries that ship king cakes. New Orleans In New Orleans, Gracious Bakery + Café’s King Cake Mix is available for purchase online. The artisan bakery has boxed up what’s needed for making a king cake in your kitchen; you just need to add in the wet ingredients. Randazzo’s Camellia City Bakery in Slidell sells out quickly on its king cake shipping orders. Upon seeing their webpage, you’ll know the reason why. Theirs range from traditional to ones filled with cream cheese or topped with pecans. Brennan's in New Orleans is famous for its bananas foster but for 2022 Mardi Gras the fine dining restaurant is shipping three special king cake varieties. They are traditional, a Chocolate “Black & Gold”, “Pink Parade” Strawberry Cream Cheese and Banana Foster. courtesy of Brennan’s Gambino’s Bakery, a NOLA longtimer, has king cake specialty packs with Mardi Gras attire to don while dining on this dessert, among other choices. Cannata’s Market in Houma has a RougaGooey King Cake adorned with Louisiana roasted pecans and cane sugar, white chocolate, and gooey butter along with Mardi Gras beads. Another reason to buy this cake: a donation from its sale goes to the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center. Among its king cakes, Cajun Pecan House in Cutoff has a popular cinnamon-pecan flavored king cake. Or splurge on king cake carnival packs, having the King Cake story, Mardi Gras beads, doubloons and a porcelain mask. NOLA’s Haydel’s Bakery broke the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest king cake in 2010, by creating two giant rings that wrapped around the Superdome. Haydel’s king cakes include traditional or filled with cream cheese, German chocolate and other choices. Also in NOLA, Adrian’s Bakery sends out king cake choices including Bavarian cream, lemon, pineapple and praline. Lake Charles Delicious Donuts & Bakery in Lake Charles takes mail orders by phone. Their king cakes choices involve their pecan and praline along with fruit or cream fillings with choices including cream cheese, apple, blueberry, cherry, and strawberry. Baton Rouge In Baton Rouge, The Ambrosia Bakery sells mini, small, and large versions of its traditional king cake along with a Zulu King Cake with a coconut, cream cheese and chocolate morsel filling. Lafayette Crystal Weddings in Lafayette has an alphabet of king cake flavor options, from almond amaretto to strawberry cream cheese. Also in Lafayette, Poupart Bakery ships both a traditional French king cake--a round puff pastry with almond filling--and the Mardi Gras king cake. Alabama courtesy of Lighthouse Bakery Mobile, Alabama also celebrates this pre-Lenten festival. The Lighthouse Bakery in Dauphin Island, Ala. ships their baby king cakes by mail but requires orders to be placed over the phone during business hours. Texas Galveston has both the largest Mardi Gras celebration in Texas and the third largest one in the nation behind New Orleans and Mobile. Both the Maceo Spice and Import Company and Gypsy Joynt take orders over the phone for shipping king cakes. In Houston, which also honors Mardi Gras, Rao’s Bakery ships king cakes with traditional cinnamon or strawberry, blueberry and raspberry fillings; mini king cakes are also available.
New Smyrna Beach, FL Spending January in 70° F weather has its perks but that’s just part of what makes New Smyrna Beach especially inviting. The city also boasts 17 miles of white sandy beaches and wave action that’s great for surfing. Some “new-to-you” activities can include: Fresh-caught Dinner – Since New Smyrna Beach is located on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River Lagoon, both saltwater and freshwater fishing are available. Book a charter with an experienced captain to catch an oh-so fresh seafood dinner. Many local restaurants offer a “catch and cook” option where the chef will prepare your fish almost any way you like it. A Trio of Water Views – A visit to Smyrna Dunes Park delivers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, Indian River, and Ponce de Leon Inlet. The park has two miles of wide, elevated, handicapped accessible boardwalk, along with access to the beach. Florida’s Tallest Lighthouse – Climb 175 feet for a spectacular, sweeping view of coastal Florida. The world-famous Ponce Inlet Lighthouse was constructed in 1887 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1998. The site includes all the original structures, including the homes of the principal keeper and first and second assistant keepers. On January 17, the lighthouse hosts its monthly “Climb to the Moon.” Get spectacular views of the sunset and full moon, along with a private tour with a lighthouse keeper. NASCAR’s Prestigious Track – The Daytona International Speedway, which is just is 15 miles from New Smyrna Beach, is an iconic track that hosts the internationally known Daytona 500. A track tour includes a: visit to the start/finish line; close-up view of the pit stalls; photos in Gatorade Victory Lane; stunning view of the trioval and infield; and access to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. For those who’d like to see racing in person at the track, the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association's Classic MotoFest will be held January 7-9, 2022. RVers can spend the night at New Smyrna Beach RV Park and Campground. New Orleans, LA peeterv / Istock This French, Creole, and Cajun city literally beckons travelers to try something new. NOLA Curiosities – The neighborhood of the French Quarter was the original city of New Orleans established by the French to control commerce on the Mississippi River. Today, it’s the epicenter for activities and eccentricities. Start with the curiosities of Jackson Square that include unusual street artists, fortune tellers, and brass bands. Visit the 200-year-old Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House which became famous in the 19th century for its absinthe frappe – a mixture of absinthe and sugar water – and the popular legend that pirate Jean Lafitte met with Andrew Jackson at the establishment. Finally, it’s not a sure thing but jazz funerals are still held. Catching one is just by luck since they’re typically conducted only after the death of a significant resident or musician. Ghost Tours – New Orleans is home to two well-known women of mystery. Marie Laveau was a powerful voodoo priestess from the 19th century and Anne Rice is the best-selling author who wrote the Vampire Chronicles series. Set fears aside and book a nighttime walking tour that shares the city’s “dark side” and takes visitors to above-ground cemeteries, haunted locations, and voodoo shrines. Boiled Crawfish – Whatever name you use – crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, or mudbugs – the crustaceans are synonymous with New Orleans. Crawfish are in season from January through July and can be served boiled, sauteed, baked, or fried. However, locals insist boiled is the best. Crawfish boils abound throughout New Orleans so get courageous and make a reservation. Swamp Tours – Explore the watery world of Louisiana’s swamps and bayous aboard an airboat, skiff, or kayak. Travel through channels edged by cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss and learn how the waterways still provide a living for locals. See alligators, nutria, wild hogs, and other wildlife. RVers can spend the night at the French Quarter RV Resort or Reunion Lake Luxury RV Campground, which is an hour from New Orleans. New Braunfels, TX Founded in 1845 and known for its German heritage, New Bruenfels is in Texas Hill Country between San Antonio and Austin and provides a gateway to exciting adventures. Fly Fishing – From December to February, Texas Parks & Wildlife stocks more than 20,000 rainbow trout in the Guadalupe River and Canyon Tailrace. Action Angler, a stream-side fly shop and guide service, provides seasoned pros, rods, flies, waders, and boots for fishing on the Guadalupe River. For those who aren’t quite ready for fly fishing, nature tour float trips are available. Spelunking – At 180 feet below ground, Natural Bridge Caverns is Texas’ largest show cave with dramatic stalagmites, stalactites, flowstones, chandeliers, and soda straws formed by minerals in water drops. For the bold, a Discovery Adventure Tour delivers an “off trail” experience in an undeveloped section of the cave. Gear is provided but be prepared to get muddy while crawling, wiggling, and climbing to explore deep sections of the cave. For those who’d like a more predictable visit, a walking path tour is available. Craft Breweries – Due to its German heritage, New Braunfels has a long history of brewing that includes the original New Braunfels Brewing Company built on the banks of the Comal River in 1847 by Julius Rennert. Three exceptional craft breweries include a reborn New Braunfels Brewing Company, Faust Hotel & Brewing Company, and Guadalupe Brewing Company – all of which are on the Craft Beer Trail that winds through Texas Hill Country. To be safe and responsible, book a spot on a trail shuttle bus. Country Music – Gruene Hall is the place to embrace country music. Lyle Lovett, Hal Ketchum, Lucinda Williams, and many other legends have played at this historic honky-tonk. Built in 1878, it’s the state’s oldest continually operating dance hall and hasn’t changed much since its early days. RVers can spend the night at Hill Country Cottage & RV Resort. New Harmony, UT jose1983 / istock Although New Harmony is home to just 200-some residents, it’s the ideal place for a New Year’s selfie. Who doesn’t want “new harmony” in 2022? Plus, its setting is picture perfect since it’s surrounded by the peaks of Pine Valley Mountain and close to some of the best recreational areas in the United States. Water Hiking – Kanarra Falls, which is approximately 10 miles from New Harmony, is a spectacular adventure trek that requires stamina, agility, and surefootedness and, in return, delivers rushing waterfalls in red rock slot canyons. The canyoneering hike includes walking through and along a stream bed, climbing a 15-foot-ladder, and scaling a large boulder. All the effort is worth it to see a natural water slide and pool and two sets of waterfalls in slot canyons. Advance tickets are required, winter hours are limited, and cold weather gear (including neoprene socks) are a must. Double Arch Alcove – Located in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park, the Taylor Creek Trail is a five-mile roundtrip hike up a “finger” canyon that leads to Double Arch Alcove. The cave-like formation features a palette of beautifully colored streaks thanks to water that seeps through the porous Navajo sandstone. The trail also includes two historic cabins from the 1903’s before the Kolob area became part of Zion. Kolob Canyons is smaller than Zion Canyon but that also means it’s not as busy. Rugged Horseback Riding – Experience the beauty of southern Utah on horseback. Book a ride that ranges from 1 ½ hours to six. The pace and scenery of the rides can vary from a demanding ride in the steep and rugged Zion Mountain country to a more leisurely trip through the valley to admire the peaks from below. RVers can spend the night at Zion River Resort - RV Park & Campground. Newport Beach, CA Those looking for marine adventures will adore Newport Beach. Take sailing or surfing lessons, rent a paddle board, or simply stroll the beach, it’s all possible at Newport Beach. Whale Watching – December through April is a prime time to see gray whales as they travel 12,000 miles round trip from the Arctic to the lagoons of Baja California to calve and breed. Humpback, Fin, and Minke whales can be seen year-round, along with dolphin megapods with more than 1,000 in each pod. Electric Boats & Gondolas – Known as the first and finest electric boat since 1970, Duffy Boats are available to leisurely cruise Newport Harbor and take in the beauty of the coast. For a romantic cruise for two, book a gondola. Options range from a casual pizza cruise to a dinner cruise with a three-course meal. 1919 Ferry – A mere $1.25 secures a one-way ticket for a quick ride on the Balboa Island Ferry. Ferry service was established in 1919 to span the 800 feet between the peninsula and Balboa Island. Island activities include a stroll on Marine Avenue that’s dotted with chic coastal shops and quaint island restaurants. Don’t miss the area’s iconic Frozen Banana treat that’s been a signature for 75 years. In fact, the banana stand in the sitcom Arrested Development was located on Balboa Island. Tidepools – Visit Crystal Cove State Park and its more than three miles of pristine uninterrupted coastline. During low tide, check out four tidepool viewing areas – Reef Point, Rocky Bight, Pelican Point, and Treasure Cove – to spot bat stars, chestnut cowries, purple sea urchins, and other amazing creatures. The tidepools are Marine Protected Areas so picking up or moving animals is prohibited. The area also includes Crystal Cove Historic District, an enclave of 46 vintage rustic coastal cottages originally built in the 1920s and 1930s nestled around the mouth of Los Trancos Creek. It is one of the last remaining examples of early 20th century Southern California coastal development. RVers can spend the night at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina. For more information on Holiday Rambler visit their site.
Where does Santa Claus go for his post-Christmas vacation?
You're not gonna believe this, but I interviewed Santa Claus. It happened like this: About a month ago I was thinking about how much I dislike traveling around the holidays. Call me Scrooge (who, btw, I did not interview—because he is a fictional character), but I just don't like crowds. If I have my way, I take my family somewhere nice after the holidays. I started thinking about who might be an expert on post-Christmas travel and it hit me: Who works harder at Christmastime—or deserves more of a break afterward—than St. Nick? Getting the interview wasn't easy. Apparently there's no 800 number, no website. Jeez, even the Wikipedia entry offers surprisingly little in the way of factual information. But there are benefits to working for an award-winning magazine and website, and it turns out that Mr. Kringle thoroughly enjoyed our "How Not to Be the Ugly American Overseas" and agreed to give me a few spare minutes. (Also, full disclosure: I reminded him that we are the house that leaves him Nutella-stuffed chocolate chip cookies on Christmas Eve.) Here's my interview. Robert Firpo-Cappiello: Thanks so much for speaking with BT—I know this is your busiest time of year. Santa Claus: You know, that "busiest time of year" malarky is hype. We're fairly streamlined up here at the North Pole. Yeah, years ago we sat around nine months out of the year till the "Dear Santa" letters started arriving, then it was a freakin' goat rodeo to fill the orders of the kids who made "Category: Nice." But these days we're monitoring trends via social media, which allows us to start making toys as early as April. RFC: Jolly Old St. Nicholas is on Twitter? SC: Well, I leave Twitter to the younger folks on staff. I do enjoy Pinterest, though. I repinned BT's "Happiness is a direction, not a place" photo badge. I can def relate. RFC: So, Santa Claus, when does your vacation start? SC: We deliver the last toys of the night out in the Pacific, by the International Dateline, then I turn the sleigh north and head back home. Typically my elves are feeding and watering Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon... RFC: You're a Dylan fan? SC: I like his good stuff, yeah. RFC: Please go on. SC: While the elves are taking care of the crew I'm enjoying a cold seltzer and a plate of pierogies on Christmas morning. RFC: What about Rudolph? SC: Rudolph is a fictional character. You knew that, right? RFC: Yes. Of course. SC: Then I crash for what someone once called a "long winter's nap." RFC: Do you take off for vacation on the 26th? SC: Omigosh, no, I won't go near an airport until after New Year's. RFC: And you're willing to share some post-Christmas vacation ideas with BT readers? SC: Happy to make some suggestions. First off is Walt Disney World—in early January the place is pretty quiet after all the holiday hubbub, and hotel rates are much lower than they are in December. RFC: But I'd think you'd get recognized at Walt Disney World—don't people bother you? SC: Wherever I go, people point and shout, "Hey, it's Santa Claus!". I reply, "Yup, it's me, and my elves tell me you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" And we have a good laugh. RFC: Do you always go to Disney? SC: By no means. In fact, last year Mrs. Claus and I had a wonderful getaway to Laguna Beach, down the coast from Los Angeles. It's always a bargain considering that you can stay right on the beach, take a surfing lesson, get some fresh seafood for dinner. RFC: Surfing lesson? SC: Son, when you've successfully wrangled a team of flying antlered ruminants, hanging ten is cake. RFC: Ruminants? SC: Yes, reindeer have four-chambered stomachs. RFC: Gotcha. Any other ideas? SC: Mexico! We've actually been pleasantly surprised at how affordable the all-inclusive resorts on the Riviera Maya can be. For me, all-inclusive is huge. J'adore not having to reach for my wallet when I'm on vacation. You might say, "I gave at the office." Know what I mean? RFC: Ho, ho, ho. Where else? SC: New Orleans is uncrowded and cheaper before Mardi Gras season heats up. And, of course, the Dominican Republic is a great choice for bargain hunters. Mrs. Claus snapped a shot of me riding a horse on the beach in Punta Cana that's just priceless—beard flapping in the breeze and whatnot. RFC: Would you consider pinning that photo on a BT Pinterest board? SC: Don't hold your breath. RFC: Santa, on behalf of our BT audience, I'd like to thank you for your time and your great January vacation ideas! SC: Keep up the good work, BT!