Spring Break may seem like a long way away – depending on how wintry the weather is in OKC as you’re reading this, perhaps a very long way away – but according to AAA travel consultant Julie Mills, now is the time to start looking around in order to get the best rates on hotels and flights. If you’re in the mood to indulge in the time-honored sun and ski vacations, we have some great suggestions for you. But we also asked our entire staff, from photographers and writers to the advertising team, to share personal recommendations based on their favorite travel experiences. Several are great suggestions for Spring Break; others, you can make note of for a longer trip when time allows. Here are some of the fabulous destinations we came up with to get those creative vacation-planning juices flowing.
Taos Ski Valley
You don’t have to be a seasoned expert to hit the slopes. The Children’s Ski School specializes in showing young skiers the ropes in a special learning area, with their own lifts, equipment shop and trained instructors.
NYC, New York
I went to New York City in 1989 with a group of university theater majors in my first year of college. This was the old New York City; before the sanitization of Times Square and 42nd Street by Disney and the like. It was thrilling to be so far away from the parents for the first time in a place still reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets or Taxi Driver. This was the city of CB/GB’s, Sardi’s, seedy neon signs and SoHo dives. It was everything I hoped it would be. Brian, graphic designer
The North Shores of Lake Pontchartrain in Saint Tammany Parish, Louisiana
New Orleans has long been a draw for those seeking incredible food, rich culture and eclectic nightlife. What most folks don’t know is that visitors can head across the causeway to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain to enjoy all that New Orleans offers, only you don’t have to worry about pickpockets, price inflation or parking spaces. St. Tammany Parish is home to Mandeville, Abita Springs and Covington, among other towns along the sometimes-brackish shoreline – and each offers its own unique spin on Cajun, creole, antebellum style and outdoor adventure ranging from swamp tours to bike rides. Matt, contributing writer/photographer
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The weather, the landscape, the art, the food – I love it all. It will always have a special place in my heart, as my girls and I visited there with my parents in wonderful homes. They were very special times and memories for all of us. Melissa, account executive
Los Angeles, California
I chose to go to Los Angeles because I was looking for a getaway filled with sunshine, a cool ocean breeze and exquisite art museums. And ultimately, I was looking to get out of Oklahoma and experience a landscape that was unfamiliar to me, to remind myself that we are all a part of something greater than ourselves. As a kid, I loved road trips, so driving across the country as an adult to create new memories and experience awe-inspiring art left me feeling rejuvenated, and filled with inspiration for the future. Tiffany, design & production coordinator
(clockwise from top left)
• The North Shores of Lake Pontchartrain in Saint Tammany Parish, Louisiana
• The Broad in Los Angeles
• Monument Valley in Southern Utah
• Aspen Colorado
Aspen has always been a favorite destination. The food and atmosphere can’t be beat. Any season – there’s no better place to hang with family and friends. Tom, associate publisher
St. Louis, Missouri
Unlike so many Midwestern cities, St. Louis sits among rolling, green hills on the edge of the Mississippi River, making it a stunningly beautiful setting. The City Museum – an urban playhouse – is one of the country’s most amazing, hands-on museums. The city is a mecca for history nerds, major league sports fans and beer geeks alike, and I’d drive all night to eat at Olive + Oak one more time. Greg, contributing writer
Santa Monica, California
One of the best spots for a quick getaway was the beach at Santa Monica. The warm California sun on your back, toes in the sand and bicycles to ride along the beach made for a perfect vacation. I interviewed actress and Oklahoma native Megan Mullally for a recent story in 405 Magazine about the return of “Will & Grace.” She gave us tickets to watch a live taping, and while we were at NBC Studios for a day, the rest of the vacation was spent soaking up the sun. Mark, contributing writer
There are five National Parks located within the state of Utah – Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion – as well as the Navajo Indian Reservation known as Monument Valley. Within these six locations are some of the most inspiring, mind-blowing natural formations in the world. From Delicate Arch in Arches to the canyons of Zion to the megaliths of Monument Valley, I can’t help but be awestruck by the stop-you-in-your-tracks grandeur of these places. Don, contributing photographer
New Zealand was actually chosen for me, as the site of an international meeting. I was blown away by the variety of scenery, from gorgeous gardens to towering, snow-capped mountains. Even the airline – Air New Zealand – was wonderful. Elaine, contributing writer/photographer
Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia
The sacred red heart of the Australian Outback, formerly called Ayers Rock. Though climbs to the top are now discouraged, a hike to the summit 30 years ago revealed an ancient Dreamtime world of undulating pathways, mesmerizing light, shifting colors, singing wind … and a white-dotted danger line painted near the edge, to save hikers from tumbling off in their hypnotic state. MJ, contributing writer/photographer
(clockwise from top left)
• Ubud, Bali
• Juneau, Ketchikan and Icy Strait Point, Alaska
• The Icelandic Punk Museum in Reykjavik, Iceland
This tropical “Island of the Gods” is a tranquil haven filled with beautiful food and people; an Indonesian paradise where you do not need a high-end budget to enjoy a high-end experience. In 2005, I went with no expectations – and, as a jaded traveler in my sixth month on the road, not much cash, either. However, I found myself in the picture-perfect setting of Sania’s House, in Ubud ($10 per night) swimming in an ornate pool surrounded by carved stone goddesses and eating at the famous Ibu Oka restaurant visited by celeb chef Anthony Bourdain, who described the roast pig as the best that he’s ever had. It’s easy to get lost in its beautiful beaches, forests and ornate temples … but happily, I managed to find the eerie Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, an unusual place of worship where mischievous monkeys have an eye for all things shiny. It was two weeks of unforgettable island bliss. Louise, editorial coordinator
My wife and I visited there on our honeymoon in October 2015. The fall colors at that time of year are nothing short of spectacular. We are also self-proclaimed foodies, and the ocean-to-table dining is unmatched. For aesthetics, Old Port is riddled with quaint and rustic coffee shops and microbreweries just blocks from the waterfront. Charlie, contributing photographer
We chose Iceland initially because of the multitude of natural wonders on the island – beautiful waterfalls, hot springs, black sand beaches, etc. But after spending time in Reykjavik, I would have to say that I have one reason for ever going back to Iceland: The Icelandic Punk Museum. Gunnthor Sigurdsson, the museum’s proprietor, is probably the coolest guy in Iceland and the museum, while small, is unforgettable (it is located in an old public restroom). Don’t miss dressing up like a punk and playing some music at the end of the tour. Scotty, art director
In Northern England, I saw so many places that were steeped in history. The land was rich with old castles and estates from long ago, along with the countrysides covered with poppies – and then there were the harbor towns. It all made for a gorgeous, completely enjoyable trip. Cynthia, executive director of advertising
Juneau, Ketchikan and Icy Strait Point, Alaska
Coastal Alaska, as seen from an ocean liner, looks completely fake – in the best possible way. The breathtaking scenery, combined with excellent (and plentiful) food and the ceaseless susurrus of the waves, makes for a simultaneously memorable and restful voyage. I loved it, even during the times when I was merely sitting on deck and reading. Steve, managing editor
Key West, Florida
We took my dad here for his 60th birthday – it’s such a neat town, full of history and adventure. We took a sunset cruise on the Wolf, flagship of the Conch Navy, while we were dressed as pirates … which was outstanding. Oh, and Captain Tony’s Pirates Punch is a life-changer! Carrie, account executive
(left to right)
• Prague, Czechia
• Massai Mara National Reserve in Kenya
Turks and Caicos
Beautiful beaches and turquoise water. The resort where our son’s wedding was held had white colonial cottages and pristine landscaping. The food and cocktails were great, and it was much fun with our 50 to 60 guests who joined us. I hope they can recover quickly after the recent hurricane. Ronnie, account manager
I’m really more of a sun and beach person, but visiting the enchanting city of Prague over Christmas and New Year’s Day was simply majestic. Despite the coldest cold I could ever imagine experiencing (bone-chilling doesn’t even come close), the scenery, the architecture, the food, the people – all beautiful. This was the first time in my life that I completely lost sense of time: It didn’t matter, and it didn’t seem to even exist. Heidi, editor in chief
Maasai Mara, Kenya
Upon arrival, we landed on an airstrip where they had to chase zebras away from the runway for us to land. We were one of three camps where we actually slept out in The Maasai Mara National Reserve. I was serenaded night and day by hippos, zebra, lions, baboons and hyenas. As our trip came to an end, I was known as the “zebra whisperer,” and you will have to ask me what that means. Jennifer, fashion editor
My favorite U.S. city, hands down. The food scene is insane: Food trucks (they are called food pods there) are absolutely everywhere. Voodoo Doughnut for sweet treat lovers; Pok Pok, which was once a tiny Thai place and now has slowly grown into the best Thai restaurant in the United States; tapas at Toro Bravo; Russian food at Katchka … the list goes on practically forever. The cocktail and craft brewery scenes are unrivaled, and handcrafted goods are everywhere. The city explodes with creativity and innovation.
There is no shortage of beauty, either – Forest Park, Portland Japanese Garden and Washington Park are unparalleled. Beyond the food and culture scene, Portland is half an hour from the Columbia River Gorge and two hours from beautiful Bend, which would also make the list of one of my favorite spots in the country. Two hours away is also the Oregon coast, and if you’ve seen Goonies, you know that it is epic. Portland is a fantastic hub city for those looking to experience a variety of ecosystems and environments. Matt, contributing writer/photographer
Palm Springs, California
The Palm Springs area, which includes Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and Joshua Tree National Park, is an epic place to escape for a week in the spring. Everybody knows that there are dozens of incredible golf courses, spas and resorts – but the San Jacinto Mountains also offer amazing hiking and outdoor adventure opportunities, and Joshua Tree National Park is an hour out of town. The upscale El Dorado shopping area has some of the world’s best designer clothing shops. The whole Greater Palm Springs area smells like orange blossoms in the spring. Dry desert air and temperatures in the low eighties … what more could you ask for? Oh yeah, and if you wanna sneak off to the beach for a day, head to Los Angeles, then north to Malibu or south to Orange County, soak in the Pacific and get back to Palm Springs for dinner … assuming you get out before the traffic starts. Matt, contributing writer/photographer
Book a small ship expedition cruise anywhere!
I’ve done three: two with Uncruise in Costa Rica/Panama and Alaska, and one with International Expeditions to the Galapagos Islands. These expeditions take groups, ranging in size from 30 to 80 or so, into some of the most remote regions of the world. For anybody who wants respite in remote locations with high-end amenities and world-class naturalists, these little boats are the way to go! Matt … again
Sand and Ski Worth Visiting
For many, Spring Break means one thing: the beach. A potent and terrible hurricane season took a toll on many gorgeous beaches in Florida and throughout the Florida Keys. Hurricane Harvey ripped through Corpus Christi and Port Aransas, and at this writing, those communities and many others are still recovering. The storm surge from Hurricane Irma flattened and narrowed much of the beachfront in Florida’s Collier County, and ravaged Naples. Other areas sustained limited damage, or escaped largely unscathed, and while their beachy brethren recover, places such as Galveston Island and Sarasota – with its many keys – are ready and waiting for you.
Arroyo Seco and Taos
Skiing Taos has been a tradition since 1955. The Ski Valley has 1,240 ski-able acres with 110 ski trails – almost half of them designated beginner to intermediate. The rest can be categorized as full-on adventurous, culminating skill-level wise with the (in)famous Taos Steeps.
The city of Taos features a walkable, pleasant shop- and restaurant-filled town square. Family-friendly restaurant choices are plentiful. Try Orlando’s for excellent Mexican food and margaritas; Pizanos Pizza for hot, cheesy pies; or Stray Dog Cantina in the Ski Valley for the best vegetarian Frito Chili Pie, and more great margs.
Stay in Arroyo Seco if you can. It’s halfway between the city of Taos and Taos Ski Valley, and like no place else on the planet. It’s a friendly, groovy, full-throttle hippie community that you’ll either love or hate. There are plenty of homes within walking distance of the town for rent via VRBO or Air B&B, which allow your crew to enjoy a little space after a day on the mountain.
This tiny burg boasts one of the best farm-to-table restaurants anywhere: Aceq (open for dinner only), as well as the Taos Cow, a gourmet ice cream shop that serves a mean organic breakfast and lunch, the alleged best breakfast burritos in the world at Abe’s Cantina y Cocina, galleries, more restaurants and shops, the Taos Hot Yoga studio and even a cool organic grocery store, Sol Food Market and Café.
Boulder, Colorado, is an easy, albeit slightly tedious, drive from the 405 via the endless wheat field that is Kansas. When you arrive, make dining and strolling a priority. Stay on, or within walking distance of, Pearl Street, Boulder’s pedestrian-centric dining and shopping district. On Pearl, you’ll find breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with great bars, lots of shops, public art and street performers, no matter the weather. Stay at the Boulder University Inn for a low-key, not quite bare-bones experience, or opt for a dollop of extravagance and book a suite at the Hotel Boulderado.
You’ll love the Andrews Arboretum, hiking the Flatirons and visiting the Boulder History Museum. Try Snooze on Pearl for breakfast, but go early or prepare for a line. One day last December, Britney Spears’ birthday to be specific, the entire staff was dressed as various stages of Britney. Leaf is an outstanding and inventive farm-to-table vegetarian restaurant, and Oak is a swanky, cool spot serving upscale New American fare. It’ll make you feel even cooler than you are.
“Galveston Island is a family-friendly beach vacation destination, offering a bounty of thrilling attractions, newly expanded beaches, unique shops, savory eateries and special events year round,” says Galveston CVB spokeswoman Ivette Wilhelm, and she’s right. “The island truly is a hidden gem nestled along the Texas coast beloved for its welcoming beachside charm.” Activities vary from sailing and enjoying the beach to visiting Moody Gardens and its bounty of flora and fauna, and don’t forget the Pleasure Pier with its thrilling rides and Coney Island-style fare.
While much of Florida got hammered, Sarasota remained largely unharmed. That is fantastic news for those who love white, powdery sand, warm water and a bustling food scene. Sarasota is home to The Selby Gardens, a stunning collection covering 15 acres that is the only garden in the world dedicated to the study of epiphytes (more commonly known as orchids). There also is the Mote Marine Aquarium, with an extensive display of interactive marine life exhibitions.
Tourists easily could spend a long weekend just in the city, but Sarasota’s primary draws are the surrounding keys. It is on keys such as Lido, Siesta and Longboat that you find real respite. Siesta Key likely has racked up more “Most Beautiful Beach” awards than anyplace else in the country – while its town is sleepy, its beaches are crowded. For some quiet time in the sand, head to neighboring Lido Key, where the primary draw is the restaurant scene, but the beaches are largely unoccupied. Saint Armand’s Circle hops with great restaurants like Café l’Europe, Crab and Fin or Colombia, if you are looking for a little Latin flair.
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