Chile: A Few Days in the Atacama Desert

The stark desert landscape is a backdrop for constantly changing shows of extraordinary light and colors.  This is an active, adventurous vacation filled with hiking, biking and horseback riding through gorges, canyons, dunes and salt flats--an otherworldly experience suitable for all levels of fitness, and perfect for couples, families, or solo travelers.

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MAINE: ACTIVE DAY ON MOUNT DESERT ISLAND

Mount Desert Island, Maine (MDI) is a small gem of an island combining lakes, mountains, ocean, and the East Coast’s oldest national park, Acadia, into a single destination.  Our good friend, Jon, travels to MDI every summer and knows all the best spots. Jon recommends you allot several days to fully explore the island, but offers these suggestions for what a perfect day might look like.

Tripper Tips:

Book well in advance… Acadia attracts tons of visitors in the summer months. Many families choose to stay at the Bar Harbor Inn or at the Harborside Hotel, Spa and Marina. For a quieter stay,  try the Ullikana, a B&B overlooking Frenchman Bay or The Asticou Inn, located in Northeast Harbor.

When to Go…The peak summer season runs late June through Labor Day. Fall brings spectacular foliage and winter’s the time for excellent cross-country skiing.

Early Morning: You’ll thank yourself later for getting up at dawn to catch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the East Coast at 1,532 feet. Enter the park near Bar Harbor, drive up the winding road, and join the blanket-wrapped masses to see the sunrise before anyone else in the United States. It’s a sight you’ll long remember. Make sure to check the exact time before you go, and give yourself an extra 20 minutes for the drive up the mountain.

Morning Meal: Once the sun is up, head into Bar Harbor for breakfast. Jordan’s Restaurant opens at 5am, and will welcome you (and local lobsterman) with friendly service and quality diner fare. If you can wait until 7am to eat, other more upscale options are Café This Way and Two Cats. Blueberry pancakes are a tradition for breakfast in MDI, but lobster eggs Benedict is quickly becoming another favorite. Eat well — you’re going to need the fuel. 

Hit the Trails: One of Acadia National Park’s most beloved features is the 40+ miles of carriage roads. John D. Rockefeller spent thirty years supervising and financing the creation of a network of broken-stone roads free of motorized vehicles that make the park one of the most beautiful and bike-friendly destinations in the US. You can rent bikes at the Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop, then either drive or hop on the free Island Shuttle busses to Eagle Lake parking lot. You could bike around Eagle Lake (a 6 mile loop), or if you’re feeling adventurous, continue further to Jordan Pond House, which is famous for popovers and jam.

Scenic Road: Another option is to get back in your car after biking, re-enter the park near Bar Harbor, and drive the Park Loop Road — 27 miles of postcard-worthy Maine scenery. A park pass is needed, but the funds are an important part of maintaining Acadia’s beauty. You’ll want to pull over often to take pictures and explore some of the footpaths along the coast. Keep an eye out for Sand Beach (a rarity along a rocky Maine coastline), and Thunder Hole, where waves collide loudly with land. 

Lunch: Next, head to the western half of the island, known as the “quiet side.” If you’re hungry, pull over at Mother’s Kitchen in Town Hill. It’s a small stand-alone building next to a hardware store, and serves popular gourmet sandwiches made with local, organic ingredients. Another option is to drive into Southwest Harbor and stop at either Eat-a-Pita (which has much more than pita, and offers outdoor seating) or Little Notch Café, which features artisanal breads, pastries, and pizza, all made expertly in their own bakery. (There is also a Little Notch Bakery outpost in Bar Harbor.)

Get moving: Next, it’s time to work off lunch with a hike and a swim. There are many great hikes in Acadia, from easy strolls along the shore to iron-rung trails like the Precipice and Beehive trails. (Not for the faint of heart)  A good guidebook with maps and descriptions is essential. On your way out of Southwest Harbor, you could explore a good moderate trail by parking at the Echo Lake parking lot and hiking up the Acadia Mountain or St. Sauveur trails. These are loops that have the advantage of ending at Echo Lake so you can swim afterwards.

Stay Moving: Another option on the quiet side is to drive to the end of Beech Hill Road and hike the Beech Mountain Trail up to the fire tower, which is a good workout and offers summit views of the surrounding islands, or the Canada Cliffs trail, which has spectacular views of the Cranberry Islands and Echo Lake. Stay on the lookout for blueberries as you hike — in late July and early August, they are all along the trails.

Farm Market: Once you’re back in the car, you’ll pass Beech Hill Farm, a sustainable 73-acre farm run by the College of the Atlantic and offering great local vegetables, flowers, dairy, other organic goodies. You could then take a quick swim at nearby Long Pond (which also rents kayaks and canoes), or the smaller Somes Pond favored by locals.

Dinner: After a well-deserved nap, it’s time for dinner, and nothing says mid-coastal Maine like fresh lobster. There are many options for great lobster on the island. Two favorites are Beal’s in Southwest Harbor, which has a fun, family-friendly vibe overlooking the harbor, and Thurston’s in Bass Harbor, which added a full bar two years ago. Thurston’s serves IslandBound Treats’ excellent berry pies for dessert. You can’t go wrong with either, but be patient because the lines can be long and cooking lobster takes time.

After-Dinner Fun: Assuming you left room for ice cream (come on, you’re on vacation), swing by Mount Desert Island Ice Cream back in Bar Harbor. Their Maine Sea Salt Caramel ice cream is amazing, but they make many unusual gourmet flavors and gladly let you try samples. Then while exploring the town’s many shops, you could check out the newly restored Criterion Theater, built in 1932, which features movies, music, and more in a 1932 Art Deco setting, or play Bocce at the Lompoc Café and grab a local craft beer while you share highlights of your day on MDI.



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OREGON: EXPLORE PORTLAND

Quirkier than Seattle, the “other” Pacific Northwest city, Portland wears a small town feel with big city offerings. The restaurant, bar and coffee scene is as good as anywhere, everyone is super friendly and the city boasts beautiful parks and gardens. I had always heard great things about Portland, and a recent visit with my family did not disappoint. In fact, it surpassed all our expectations. Rent a car so you can spend time outside the city visiting the Columbia Gorge, the Willamette Valley wine country or head down the coast for an extended trip. Here’s my hit list for an ideal two days in Portland.

Tripper Tips:

The lovely girl working at Palace told us to head to Mississippi Ave between Freemont and Shaver for cool stores in a newly trendy neighborhood. She raved about Sweedeedee, which Eater put on their Essential list, but unfortunately we ran out of time and had to leave it for our next trip.

Portland is a bike town, 8 bridges span the river, and many use bikes as their primary transportation. Rent bikes or do one of their tours at Pedal Bike Tours.

Unfortunately, I was not in Portland for the Saturday Market, which funny enough, also takes place on Sunday. On the river by the Hawthorne Bridge rent a canoe, kayak or SUP at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. Or just stroll along the Eastbank Esplanade.

If you’re a doughnut fan, stop at Voodoo Doughnut on SW 3rd, not far from The Nines, to pick up some of their unusual creations to bring along on your hike. Early morning is a good time to go to this 24/7 Portland institution, which is on everyone’s must do list, as later the line is down the block.

At Ava Genes, chef Joshua Mcfadden has a way with vegetable salads, called Giardini, they were the star of our meal. Until his cookbook comes out in 2016, make his standout Kale salad, originally created while he was chef de cuisine at Franny's in Brooklyn, using the recipe here. Want to make more of his delicious veggie salads?  Click here for two more recipes.

What’s in a Name: Portland goes by many names: City of Roses, Rip City, Stumptown, P-Town, and Bridgetown to name the most popular.  See here for the origin behind all these commonly used nicknames. 

Stay: I liked the Nines. Sitting next to Pioneer Square, it’s centrally located, the rooms are very comfortable, and there is an awesome 15th floor rooftop bar with great views. Part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, we used our points, a heads up to you Starwood junkies. Yet, the neighborhood wasn’t my favorite, being the business and retail hub for Portland. (There is a mall, a Nordstrom’s and an Apple store all within sight.) Still, until Portland gets a game changer hotel, I would stay here again.

Walk: Bring comfortable shoes, as Portland is an extremely walkable city. Each neighborhood is like it’s own little town, with a unique and different character--it’s really the best way to get a feel for Portland. Portland is divided by the Willamette River, and you can walk across the bridges and over to the East side, which has a much different vibe—more residential and definitely more hipster. Other ways to get around include renting bikes, riding the MAX light rail or calling an Uber. We found that Uber was fairly priced and a good option if you get tired, or lost.

Coffee: Where do you even begin in a city with so many great coffee houses?  Staying downtown head to Heart, on SW 12th or Stumptown at the Ace Hotel. Our favorite was Courier Coffee, for the hipster vibe, coffee drinks served in mason jars, and the friendly staff. A few blocks over in the Pearl, popular Barista has a nice patio and excellent coffee. Next-door Maurice bills itself as a pastry luncheonette, I bill it as absolutely adorable and charming, serving the most beautiful and delicious tarts and pastries early morning and moving into salads, soups and quiches at lunchtime.

Books: We are a family that can’t walk by a bookstore without being drawn in, so this was priority number one for our day.  Powell’s City of Books is a major Portland tourist destination and the world’s largest independent bookstore spanning an entire square block. (Locals love it too!) One could easily spend a day in the maze-like mecca of Powell’s, with used books mixed in with new, staff recommendations intermixed throughout the store in sections you’d never dream of, a rare book room and an in-house cafe.  If you love bookstores this will instantly shoot to the top of your list of favorites. 

Shop: Near Powell’s there is good shopping at Frances May, West End Select, Back Talk, Woonwinkel, Canoe, Alder and Co. and Tanner Goods.

Lunch: Over 700 food carts are registered in Portland and more are popping up each day. The carts are assembled together in food courts, and most neighborhoods have one. One of the largest is right downtown at 9th and SW Alder. Walk around and see what appeals to you, and then head to Nong Khao Man Gai, one of Portland’s most popular and legendary carts. The poached organic chicken and rice, served with the key garlic and ginger sauce, comes with a clear soup on the side. Itsa perfect combination. Winning Nong’s a new fan, my 18-year-old daughter made us go back three times in three days. 

Casual Sit Down: It’s hard to choose among the creative sandwich offerings at Lardo. Meat lovers will want the pork meatball banh mi or an excellent hamburger, while vegetarians will be happy with the chickpea or broccoli rabe sandwich.  Don’t think of skipping the fries. The Southeast location has a large outdoor patio.

Urban Renewal: The Pearl District, once home to abandoned warehouses, has been transformed into a hip neighborhood of art galleries, chic boutiques, restaurants, breweries and high end loft apartments. On a nice day people roam the cobble stone streets and drink and dine on the outdoor patios and loading docks late into the night. 

North West: Industrial stretches and tall buildings give way to Victorian houses and tree lined streets as you approach NW 23rd street. Among the boutiques and restaurants, you must stop and indulge at Salt and Straw, a small-batch handmade ice cream shop with a cult like following. You can expect a line here, but it moves quickly, and once inside you will not be rushed, but encouraged to taste up to 4 flavors. Sample some of the wacky, unusual combinations. 

Sweet Smells: There are upwards of 500 varieties of roses, and approximately 7000 individual plants at the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park.  Roses are not just red here, but a burst of all colors and sizes. June was the peak of the season and something special to behold, but with great views of Portland from up high it’s worth going even off peak.

Quiet Reflection: Get your Zen on at the Japanese Garden, a peaceful oasis in the city, right above the Rose Garden. Allow at least 30-40 minutes to explore the 5 distinct gardens including sand and stone, tea and a strolling pond garden spread out across 5.5 acres.

Dinner: South East Division has been dubbed “Restaurant Row,” and I could be very happy not venturing any further. One night we put our name down on Pok Pok’s list, and spent the hour wait at their sister place across the street Whiskey Soda Lounge. The time flew by drinking Tamarind Whiskey Sours and nibbling on the strangely addictive roasted red peanuts with lime leaf, garlic, chilies and salt. One of Food and Wine's best new chefs of 2013, Jenn Louis, cooks at Sunshine Tavern. More than a few locals told us to try Bollywood Theatre, for its take on Indian street food. One afternoon, though we weren’t even hungry, we stopped by to try their signature Kati roll, and oh wow was it good. And then there’s Ava Genes, one of Bon Appetit’s top ten restaurants in the US in 2013, and our best meal in Portland.  If you didn’t make it earlier, skip dessert and join the line next door at Salt and Straw's other location. 

Day Two:

Quick Breakfast: Head back to the food trucks on SW Alder to Bing Mi for a Chinese breakfast crepe called the Jian Bing. This savory crepe is stuffed with scrambled eggs, black bean paste, wonton crackers, cilantro, scallions and pickled veggies. It was wow at first bite-- if I lived in Portland, I’d be a regular, it’s that good!

Southern Style Brunch:  For an even heartier, sit down meal, head across the bridge, to the Screen Porch. On the weekends the lines are long, the secret is to go during the week. Fill up on the most delicious chicken and waffles, and be extra decadent with a side of biscuits and gravy. The meal will sustain you for your hiking to come. Right down the street is the other location of Heart for a coffee stop and Palace, which became our favorite store in Portland. We left with a few too many of their vintage tee’s hand tie-died in subtle patterns and colors. (Discovered thanks to local artist Christiana Hedlund’s itinerary here.)

Eclectic: A few blocks from the Screen Porch is the hipster Hawthorne neighborhood. Powell’s has two smaller stores here on Hawthorne Blvd. and music fans will love Jackpot Records and Crossroads Music for their old vinyls. House of Vintage, with over 13,000 square feet of wares from different independent dealers, is a maze of old denim, clothes, jewelry and housewares. 

Chasing Waterfalls: Head out of town on I-84 and onto the Historic Hood River Highway towards the Columbia Gorge. The drive is just beautiful, if you like spectacular vistas. Don’t think of just doing a drive by at Vista House at Crown Point, stop and enjoy the panoramic view. The gorge is famous for its waterfalls, and you will have time to visit a few such as Bridal Veil and Horsetail Falls; as all are located within a few miles of each other. Multnomah Falls is the most visited and the highest with a drop of 620 feet, so expect crowds here, but it’s worth searching for a parking spot.

Continue On: From Multnomah Falls its approximately 30 miles to Hood River. In laid back Hood River, you can rent gear or take a lesson at Kite the Gorge, grab a beer and burger at Full Sail Brewery (can also do a tour and tasting) or eat at Celilo. Continue onto the Fruit Loop. A scenic 35 mile drive passing farm stands, vineyards all with great views of Mt. Hood. Stop and pick some fresh peaches, or cut yourself some fresh lavender. Taste some wine at Cathedral Ridge Winery.

Alternate Route: Another hour from Hood River you'll reach Timberline Lodge and Mount Hood, take the highway for a quicker route back to Portland.

Dinner: Tired after a day at the Gorge, we stayed close and headed to Olympia Provisions SE. (There is another location across the bridge, and both have just recently changed the name from Olympic to Olympia). Everyone loves Bamboo Sushi, head to the NW location for signature rolls and plates. So many restaurants, so little days. I didn’t get to dine at Beast, Paley’s Place, Le Pigeon and Ned Ludd, all on my list for next time.


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THE OREGON COAST

Photo by  Grace and Jaden

The Oregon Coast is part of the great Pacific Rainforest, the largest temperate rain-forest in the world. Stretching 350 miles from Astoria to Brookings the scenery is stunning at every turn. Beautiful, wide sandy beaches set against dramatic rocky coastlines call out for long walks no matter what the weather. Just under two hours from Portland, the town of Cannon Beach is known for Haystack Rock, an icon of the Oregon coast and a charming place to spend a few days.

Tripper Tips:

The weather on the coast can be unpredictable. December- February is rainy season with late spring becoming drier and summer the driest. A magical part of being on the coast is experiencing the atmospheric changes—the fog rolling in, the clouds thick as a wall surrounding Haystack Rock, the sun bursting through the maritime layer—all beautiful. Be prepared by bringing layers! For hiking enthusiasts we strongly recommend that you check out Saddle Mountain which is about a 20 minute drive from the Stephanie Inn. The hike begins at an elevation of 1650 feet and  climbs to a  height of 3290 feet over  2.75 miles of  fairly steep  terrain. The challenge  pays off handsomely for those who refuse to  quit.  From the summit (on a clear day) you are able to see the Columbia river feeding into the Pacific Ocean in addition to the peaks of Mt Rainier, Mt. Hood, Mt St. Helens and Mt Jefferson.  Bring plenty of water and maybe even a picnic lunch to enjoy up top!

Stay: Check in to the three-story Stephanie Inn, right on the beach with sweeping views of Haystack Rock and the needles. Rooms are large and very comfortable, if not quite stylish, and top floor rooms have spacious balconies; perfect to watch sunset. The vibe is sweet, rather than sophisticated, with charming touches including an afternoon wine tasting hour, evening nightcap at 9, and homemade cookies available all day. (Stored in the ceramic house, next to the front desk.)

Coffee: After or before the complimentary breakfast at the hotel head to the adorable Sleepy Monk, for very good organic coffee roasted right in Cannon Beach.

Hike: Walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark at Ecola State Park, just a 5-minute drive from downtown Cannon Beach. This is one of the best spots for panoramic views of the Coast—the sea stacks and small islands to the South, and to the West, Tillamook Rock, Oregon’s only offshore lighthouse. There are both walking and hiking trails and beach access at Indian Beach, popular with surfers. We hiked the 4-mile Tillamook head Trail climbing up through a tall forest of Sitka Spruce before reaching the top.

Lunch: How can you not love the concept of the Screw and Brew: half hardware store, half restaurant. The funky space more than delivers with good burgers, salads and fish sandwiches.  At Ecola Seafoods, a fish market with a bunch of tables, the packed house doesn’t seem to mind the no-frills-atmosphere as they happily consume steamers, clam chowder, fish and chips, and grilled locally caught salmon or halibut. The fresh Dungeness crab meat cocktail and a whole cooked crab were the clear favorites at our table.

Town: Cannon Beach is a cute beach town with shops and galleries. If the line isn’t too long at Osburns, get an ice cream and walk around after lunch.

Beach Biking: The Stephanie Inn has bikes for guests to use; don’t miss the opportunity to ride them on the beach. The sand at the waters edge is hard packed, making for a great ride. At low tide you can go for miles. We rode in the direction of Tolovana State Beach, continuing past Silver Point and Humbug Point and turning around at Hug Point. Along the way the scenery constantly changes; the crowds by Haystack replaced by isolated stretches of beach, sea caves, high dramatic cliffs, and an old road bed that is now a path of barnacles and green algae.  (If you just want to play around, recumbent bikes can be rented at Family Fun Cycles at Tolovana Park.)

The Rock: At low tide, walk right up to Haystack Rock to explore the tidal pools where kids of all ages are looking for starfish, crabs, shrimp and anemones. Tufted Puffins arrive late spring and summer to join the thousands of birds already calling Haystack home. Friends of Haystack are on hand to answer questions and to safeguard the ecosystem of this incredible monolith, formed from lava flows millions of years ago.

Dinner: When I mentioned to a friend I was visiting Cannon Beach, she told me stop what I was doing and immediately call EVOO for a dinner reservation. She was so adamant, that I didn’t argue, and I was lucky enough to score a reservation. Chef Bob Neroni and his wife Lenore Emery have been welcoming guests for over 10 years to their unique venue, a combination cooking class and fine dining experience all in one. Watch each dish prepared with lively discussion from Bob and Lenore, who have a light banter that comes from years of experience. They use only the best ingredients--organic, local, and seasonal in their Mediterranean inspired menu. The food was delicious, sophisticated and layered, and the wine pairings were well thought out and complimentary. This was a fun night out and no visit to Cannon Beach would be complete without a stop at EVOO.

Night Skies: Sunset is late in the summer, sometime around 9PM, allowing you to pack the most in a day. Luck plays a part here, as one day the colors can be spectacular and the next night a wall of clouds can roll in shutting down the sun splash. As the daylight fades away, a surprise awaits, as small beach bonfires begin doting the beach in small pockets for miles.

Must do: Arranged ahead of time, the Stephanie Inn will set up a beach bonfire for you complete with all the s’mores fixings. Song lyrics for Kumbaya not included.

**A special thank you to photographer Grace Hurtienne of Grace and Jaden, a husband and wife team who specialize in wedding and travel destination photography and cinematography. Click here to see their stunning photographs and the schedule for their upcoming workshops.


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