By Thomas Swick
City & Shore Magazine
Sanibel & Captiva
The timeless quality of these two islands tends to keep them off Where-To-Go-Next lists. Travel trends come and go and people still scour the Sanibel beaches for shells and then gather for breakfast at the Lighthouse Café. Cyclists flow along the extensive bike paths, seafood lovers fill places like Traders, cake aficionados make the pilgrimage to The Bubble Room, and diners at the Green Flash feed the resident iguana, Igor. The biggest attraction on Sanibel, other than the shells, is the unchanging J.N. “Ding” Darling Natural Wildlife Refuge, home to 245 species of birds, as well as alligators and one American crocodile. For the bookish – apart from the Sanibel Island Writers Conference every November – the great draw is Gene’s Books, one of the finest bookstores in Florida. One cottage is devoted to mysteries (with large sections of American, English, Irish, French and Scandinavian), one to literature (American, English, Irish and World) and one to history. And every book is marked down. It’s a store that makes bibliophiles forget all about shells.
The city has long had one of the loveliest downtowns in Florida – wide, straight streets and an attractive mix of old and new architecture. The only thing missing was people. But that’s changed, as the shuffleboard crowd has been joined, if not supplanted, by millennials, many of whom decided to stay after graduation from Eckerd and other nearby colleges. The once dormant waterfront is now a busy promenade lined with cafes, fine restaurants and even buskers, who give it a vaguely Key West feel. (If you stay at the historic Vinoy Renaissance Resort you’ll be at the north end of the promenade.) Central Avenue is lively with funky bars, retro boutiques, and hip coffeehouses stretching all the way up to Tropicana Field and beyond. This is where you’ll find Haslam’s, which claims to be the state’s largest new and used bookstore. (Check out the shelf devoted to the works of Peter Meinke, local resident and recent poet laureate of Florida.) Back near the water, the Dali Museum, long a city attraction, is now even more so thanks to its stunning new home, opened in 2011. If you’re there on a Saturday – and why wouldn’t you be? – stock up at the delightful Saturday Morning Market downtown.
Just across the bridge from Key West, this small island contains not just Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden but the Monroe County Detention Center, where the Sheriff’s Animal Farm is open to the public the second and fourth Sunday of every month from 1-3 p.m. Started in 1994 as a refuge for homeless animals, the “farm” – situated underneath the jail – now contains an assortment of farm animals (including llamas), an aviary, a rabbit warren and a reptile exhibit. So on your next trip to Key West, stop and say hello to Arthur, the 100-pound African spurred tortoise, and take a gander at Mo the sloth. (The name is short for Molasses.)
In the USA
Having hosted the Democrats, the City of Brotherly Love is now ready for all of us. Walk along the red-brick sidewalks of Old City and Society Hill – with their meeting houses, synagogues, churches (Catholic, Baptist, Episcopal, AME) – and you’ll understand how the city got its nickname. More recently it has become the City of Heavenly Grub, with eclectic eateries in once forgotten neighborhoods like Northern Liberties and Fishtown. Though you’ll still find the classics: In Reading Terminal Market, young Mennonite women roll soft pretzels by hand and waitresses at the Down Home Diner wear T-shirts urging you to “Eat More Scrapple.” A section of the Italian market in South Philly has become Mexican, so now you can follow your cheesesteak with an al pastor taco. And you no longer have to make the trek out to the Main Line to see great Impressionist paintings; the Barnes Foundation has been on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, next door to the Rodin Museum, since 2012.
The National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016, which makes this a great year to visit the parks. (All the trails will be cleared of party hats.) And the Beehive State has the Mighty Five: Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands. Speaking of parks, there’s Park City, one of the nation’s premier ski resorts, which hosts the Sundance Film Festival every January. In summer, the pretty town is popular with hikers. Salt Lake City has the famous Temple Square, an American landmark in its own right, while the nearby City Creek Mall may be the only one in the country with a creek running through it. Hungry? Step into the early 20th century ambience of Lamb’s Grill (celebrating its 98th birthday this February). And if you like your nature with a little something extra, drive out to the lake that gave the city its name and ponder Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson’s haunting earthwork sculpture.
A few years ago, Smithsonian magazine called Houston “the next great American city.” Then last year, Anthony Bourdain visited for his show Parts Unknown, giving the place his coveted imprimatur of cool. It’s a sprawling Sun Belt metropolis but with a dynamic downtown, where you can catch a ballgame at Minute Maid Park (indoors or out, depending on the weather), ogle the fish in the Downtown Aquarium, pick up some flatbread at Phoenicia Specialty Foods (more than 10,000 items from more than 50 countries), and drink an Art Car IPA at Saint Arnold Brewing Company, Texas’ oldest craft brewery. (Every spring the city hosts Art Car Weekend, the highlight of which is the world’s first, and largest, Art Car parade.) Because of the rich mix of immigrants, you can eat Vietnamese, Indian, Bosnian, and of course East Texan (Bourdain filmed at Burns Original BBQ). And the Houston Museum of Natural Science, out near the campus of Rice University, has a dinosaur exhibit so breathtaking that the kids won’t complain when you drag them to the Rothko Chapel.
Where to go in the world
This small Scandinavian country has been riding a crest of trendiness for some years now, while its citizens are frequently cited as the world’s happiest. (Hygge is the new gemütlichkeit.) Which begs the question: Does being trendy make you happy? Or does being happy make you trendy? The only way to find out is to go there, which you can do directly from Fort Lauderdale on Norwegian Air. You’ll land in Copenhagen, a city filled with black bicycles, warm cafes, fashionable boutiques and delightful people. Perhaps this last component comes from having an amusement park (Tivoli) in the middle of town. A short train ride out of town is Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, situated on bucolic grounds overlooking the Øresund Strait. On your walk back to the train station, stop and buy a container of Salt & Caramel Chocolate Covered Licorice by Johan Bulow. Then savor them the following day when you travel to Aarhus, a university city known for music (it hosts an international jazz festival) and a European Capital of Culture this year. It also has a great new street food market.
The thing that kept so many visitors away for years – its out-of-the-way location there on the lower edge of the continent – is now attracting them: In the age of terrorism and refugees, Portugal seems safe and removed from turmoil. That may be temporary, or even illusory, but one thing is certain: It is one of the friendliest, and cheapest, countries in Europe. And Lisbon is one of the world’s most picturesque cities, spread across hills, a few of its buildings covered with decorative tiles. The vintage streetcars make you think of an older, more weathered San Francisco. Porto in the north is Lisbon’s less visited but no less striking sibling, with a dramatic bridge spanning the Douro River and port wine caves climbing the south bank. Portugal has long been known for its hauntingly beautiful music (fado), but now it’s getting recognition for its cuisine; last year The Wall Street Journal designated the country the “most compelling new food destination.” The pastries, often rich with egg yolks, are worth the trip alone.
Tokyo is already looking ahead to the 2020 Summer Olympics, so now would be a good time to see this country that never ceases to fascinate Westerners. In the capital, the crowds and lights and giant screens make you feel like a character in a video game. People looking for Old Japan can head to Kyoto, the city of temples where, on back streets in the evening, you can still catch a glimpse of a geisha hurrying to an assignation. (Listen for the clacking of her wooden sandals.) Every Oct. 22 the Jidai Matsuri parade celebrates the city’s past with people in historic costumes. At the beginning of February, the 68th Sapporo Snow Festival will take place; and, of course, in spring there is the annual adoration, throughout the country, of cherry blossoms. Summer is prime Mount Fuji climbing season. For ailurophiles, there are not only cat cafes (now sprouting up here in the States), and a town (Kishi) with a feline train station master (Nitama), but “cat islands” (like Aoshima) where the animals outnumber residents and seem not at all perturbed by the boatloads of tourists coming to say “Hello kitty.”
IF YOU GO
Lighthouse Café, lighthousecafe.com
The Bubble Room, bubbleroomrestaurant.com
The Green Flash, greenflashcaptiva.com
J.N. “Ding” Darling Natural Wildlife Refuge, fws.gov/refuge/JN_Ding_Darling
Sanibel Island Writers Conference, annually in November, fgcu.edu/siwc/
Gene’s Books, 239-472-1446
Vinoy Renaissance Resort, 727-894-1000, vinoyrenaissanceresort.com
Central Avenue, grandcentraldistrict.org
Haslam’s Book Store, haslams.com
The Dali Museum, thedali.org
Saturday Morning Market downtown, saturdaymorningmarket.com
Stock Island/Key West
Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, keywestbotanicalgarden.org
Florida Keys & Key West, fla-keys.com
Sheriff’s Animal Farm, facebook.com/keysanimalfarm
Reading Terminal Market, readingterminalmarket.org
Down Home Diner, 215-627-1955, readingterminalmarket.org/merchants/93-down-home-diner
The Barnes Foundation, barnesfoundation.org
Rodin Museum, rodinmuseum.org
Bryce Canyon, nps.gov/brca
Capitol Reef, nps.gov/care
Park City, one of the nation’s premier ski resorts, parkcitymountain.com
Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 19-29, sundance.org/festival
Temple Square (Salt Lake City), templesquare.com
City Creek Mall (also SLC), shopcitycreek.com
Lamb’s Grill (SLC), lambsgrill.com
Spiral Jetty (SLC), Robert Smithson’s haunting earthwork sculpture, umfa.utah.edu/land_art_spiraljetty
Minute Maid Park, houston.astros.mlb.com/hou/ballpark/index.jsp
Downtown Aquarium, 713-223-3474, aquariumrestaurants.com/downtownaquariumhouston/default.asp
Phoenicia Specialty Foods, phoeniciafoods.com
Saint Arnold Brewing Company, saintarnold.com
Art Car Weekend, April 6-9, thehoustonartcarparade.com
Burns Original BBQ, 281-999-5559, facebook.com/BurnsOriginalBbq
Houston Museum of Natural Science, hmns.org
Norwegian Air, norwegian.com
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, en.louisiana.dk
Aarhus, a university city known for music (it hosts an international jazz festival, July 16-18) and a European Capital of Culture this year, visitaarhus.com
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Emirates Airlines, 800-777-3999, emirates.com
2020 Summer Olympics, July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, olympic.org/news/tokyo-2020
October 22 the Jidai Matsuri parade, jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/festival/jidai.html
At the beginning of February, the 68th Sapporo Snow Festival, snowfes.com/english/