In honor of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, let’s take a peek at some of the places where the guys who run the country kick back and, um, clear some brush (I’m still not exactly sure what that means).
Regardless of how they choose to spend their vacation time, the leaders of the free world, it seems, have a knack for finding the most gorgeous corners of the country in which to retreat from life in the White House. With a sky’s-the-limit budget and a team of assistants, finding the perfect place to get away probably isn’t too challenging for a commander in chief. But for those of us who do our own trip planning, the presidents’ array of amazing vacation spots can provide some excellent summer travel ideas. Here are four of our favorite presidential destinations, with suggestions for planning your own stately retreat:
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
This summer, the Obamas are once again jetting to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island freckled with sheep, apple orchards and seafood shacks (the Obamas have spent previous summer stays here). The island’s pastoral, timeworn character belies its status as a travel destination for the most stalwart power circles. The Obamas are in solid Democratic company: Previous presidential Martha’s Vineyard vacationers include the Clintons and the Kennedys.
The Obamas are returning to Blue Heron Farm, a 28-acre estate that overlooks the water. According to ABC News, “Tom Wallace, of Wallace and Company Sotheby’s International Realty, said the property, which is home to a five-bedroom main house, also features a Cape Cod guest house, a swimming pool and a half-court basketball court. The Obamas will have their pick of activities on the property, ranging from kayaking on the West Tisbury Great Pond to a simple game of horseshoes.”
A Vacation for the Rest of Us: Martha’s Vineyard has a handful of Victorian B&B’s that ooze New England charm and, most importantly, offer reasonable rates for those of us without security details and private planes. We like the Oak Bluffs Inn, a 19th-century home with wicker rocking chairs on the porch and a cool polygonal tower. Rates start at $225 per night for the summer season.
In the quiet seaside town of Kennebunkport sits the famed Bush Compound, the vacation spot to which George and George W.’s family members have been returning for generations. I guess it’s called a “compound” due to the prevalence of suited security guys in dark shades — there’s a checkpoint on the road leading to the entrance — but I think “estate” or “mansion” sounds like a less frightening place to take one’s summer break. The compound was originally known as Walker’s Point Estate when it was constructed at the turn of the century. The expansive property features a four-car garage, a pool, a boathouse, tennis courts and a nine-bedroom main house.
A Vacation for the Rest of Us: Like Martha’s Vineyard, Kennebunkport offers plenty of Victorian B&B’s (it’s a New England thing). The Captain Lord Mansion, a popular B&B, has, without a doubt, the best name for a New England inn that I’ve heard yet. Built in 1812, the inn features lavishly appointed rooms with canopy beds and fireplaces, with summer rates starting at $239 per night.
Santa Barbara, California
During his term as president, Ronald Reagan would often retreat to Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, where he spent his time clearing brush, chopping wood and heroically riding around on horses. There’s something, well, sort of paradoxical about traveling to a multi-million-dollar ranch to partake in brush clearing. But hey — that’s what the Gipper liked to do.
The ranch spans 688 acres and provides views of the Santa Ynez Valley and the Pacific Ocean. Amenities include a quirky mix of the rustic and stately: There’s a helipad, a Secret Service command post (the only federal building remaining on the property), a hay barn, and pastures with cows and horses.
A Vacation for the Rest of Us: Students who participate in Reagan Ranch programs and members of the Young America’s Foundation’s President’s Club are eligible to visit the ranch by appointment. Is this you? No? Then we recommend a stay at the Santa Ynez Inn, a convenient hub for exploring the region’s vineyards, art galleries and horse ranches. Rates start at $218.33 per night during summer, but the inn also offers various cycling tour and golf packages for bargain prices.
Key Biscayne, Florida
Ah, the beautiful Florida Keys. Nixon may have had a penchant for political sabotage, but he certainly had fine taste in vacation homes. Known as the “Florida White House,” Nixon’s Key Biscayne retreat provided a tropical waterfront escape for the 37th president of the U.S. The compound (there’s that word again) featured six bedrooms, eight bathrooms and oodles of ocean views — but it was razed in 2004 and replaced with a new home. Today, Key Biscayne’s claim to fame is that Nixon once relaxed by the ocean (and occasionally consorted with certain Florida businessmen) on its shores.
A Vacation for the Rest of Us: Key Biscayne is a tiny island close to Miami, where lovely beaches and the occasional Cuban restaurant are the main attractions. There’s a Ritz-Carlton on the key, where rates range from $300 to $1,000-plus per night. For the budget minded among us, Silver Sands Resort offers a cool blue pool and beachfront digs with off-season summer rates starting at $129.
— written by Caroline Costello
“‘Tradition’ is a synonym for ‘rut,'” tweeted @wandering_j in response to a call out for unique summer travel traditions. We beg to differ — especially if your tradition is to visit a different island park each summer, or to charter a boat and explore places unknown. Not that there’s anything wrong with the yearly beach pilgrimage to Wildwood for family fun, arcades and deep-fried Oreos, but we’re going unique here. Check out our five, then share your own inspired ideas for summer travel traditions.
1. Trace the Beer and Food Festivals
For the connoisseur or boozehound, Beerfestivals.org’s July calendar lists dozens of fests throughout the U.S. and beyond. I think this year, I’ll start on July 23 at the Philly Zoo’s Summer Ale Festival. Attendees can drink River Horse’s Hop Hazard (or brews from a list of other outfits) and eat local cuisine while supporting the zoo’s mission to “bring about the x-tink-shun of extinction.” Or brave the summer heat for New Orleans’s Tales of the Cocktail festival, which offers cooking demos and cocktail tastings at the end of July. Finally, we had to mention @TravelSpinner’s suggestion: Head to Suffolk, England for “Dwile Flonking,” which Wikipedia says “involves two teams, each taking a turn to dance around the other while attempting to avoid a beer-soaked dwile (cloth) thrown by the non-dancing team.” Now how could you miss that?
2. Escape to an Island State Park
Florida‘s Bahia Honda Key comprises a state park with a natural beach (you’ll quickly get used to the strong seaweed smell), fishing and snorkeling, kayaking, rare plant spotting, and hiking. Head up to the old Bahia Honda Bridge, part of the iconic Overseas Highway, for a view of the island and its surroundings. You can rent cabins or rough it at a campsite (a store and shower facilities are available on the island). Across the country, trekkers can camp at California‘s Channel Islands, a chain of uninhabited islands with a unique ecosystem. The islands are said to resemble California as it was B.S. (before smog). Activities for campers (back country and official campsites) include surfing, hiking, and seal and sea lion viewing.
3. Explore a Destination by Chartered Boat
Visiting a place by boat is often the best — and sometimes only — way to go. If you can pull together 3 – 20 like-minded friends (the more you gather, the more you can divide the costs), you can charter a boat for a cruise of Alaska’s Inside Passage, which is made up of islands unlinked by road. There are various choices, from two- or three-nighters to a week or more; all come with cook and captain. Meals and snacks are included in the costs, and often feature “catch of the day”-type fare, as well as crab and shrimp bakes. Excursions may include beach and rain forest hiking, fishing, kayaking (most charters are equipped with kayaks and smaller skiffs), wetsuit diving, whale watching, and visits to hot springs and waterfalls — all there to be enjoyed whenever the opportunity presents itself. For more tips, see Planning a Trip to Alaska.
4. Relive History
Some of the most important (and bloodiest) battles of Civil War occurred during the summer months. @PolPrairieMama mentioned that she heads to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and Antietam (in Sharpsburg, Maryland), where 23,000 soldiers were killed in 12 hours, for summer reenactments. The big annual Gettysburg Civil War Battle Reenactment runs from July 1 to 3 and features live mortar fire demos and battles — but there are enough battlefields and reenactments to fill a lifetime of summers. And don’t forget: This year is the start of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
5. Become a Home Team Groupie
Leap-frogging on an annual manly bonding trip taken by IndependentTraveler.com Editor Sarah Schlichter’s father and brother, we’re hitting the road with an arbitrarily chosen sports squadron. A quick glance at the Philadelphia Phillies’ schedule reveals a West Coast swing from August 1 – 10, during which the team plays the Colorado Rockies for three, the San Francisco Giants for four and the Los Angeles Dodgers for three. Three vastly different cities, climates, ballparks, landscapes. Next year we’ll pick a different team on a different swing. Anything but a rut.
Get more summer vacation ideas!
— written by Dan Askin
Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).
The correct answer to last week’s Photo Friday guessing game is Yosemite Falls! At 2,425 feet, it’s the highest of the many waterfalls in California’s Yosemite National Park. It flows from approximately November through July, with its peak in May. Learn more about Yosemite (and see our other favorite parks) in our slideshow of the 10 Best National Parks.
— written by Sarah Schlichter
Just like Kate, you can walk down the aisle of an iconic historic treasure to marry a prince. Okay, we can’t guarantee the prince part (a partner with princely qualities is a good substitute), but we do know of a few historic attractions that are the perfect places for a fairy tale wedding in the style of European royalty — and a ticket across the pond won’t be required for the event.
Castles built by America’s royalty, from Gilded Age robber barons to, well, authentic royals (think Hawaii), make for spectacularly impressive weddings. Your event may not be viewed on YouTube by half the world, but it will be an occasion to remember, with a grandiose 250-room chateau, splendid gardens or a six-story medieval-style castle setting the scene for your nuptials.
Don’t feel left out if you aren’t walking down the aisle anytime soon. These attractions are open for tours as well as weddings.
Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
When a newspaper tycoon of the Gilded Age builds his dream home, moderation is negligible. Fifty-six bedrooms and 61 bathrooms are a must. A world-class collection of priceless art, a private zoo and two lavish swimming pools are obligatory. And perfectly manicured gardens bursting with color? William Randolph Hearst had to have them, so he surrounded his American castle with acres of exotic plants, from elegant cypress trees to vibrant pomegranate hedges, inspired by gardens in Italy and Spain. All in all, the place makes a sensational backdrop for a royal-esque wedding. Couples can tie the knot on one of the castle’s many terraces, with the surrounding emerald San Simeon hills and the castle’s white Mediterranean Revival-style towers stretching to the sky behind them.
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home in the United States, seems straight out of a fairy tale. The Vanderbilt mansion was built in the 1800’s in the romantic architectural style of French chateaus, with tall spires and steeply pitched roofs. The gardens of Biltmore, where weddings are held amidst cool lily ponds, stone walls, ancient cypress trees and blooming beds of delicate flowers, extend for nearly 8,000 acres. Read more about Asheville.
Boldt Castle, Heart Island, New York
Nestled in New York’s Thousand Islands region, Boldt Castle is a living tribute to love. The six-story castle was commissioned by American hotelier George Boldt to honor his wife, Louise. Construction began in 1900, and the Boldt family visited the castle regularly as it was built, staying in nearby Alster Tower. But work on the structure ceased suddenly in 1904 when Louise died and a heartbroken George Boldt abandoned the project that he had shared with his beloved partner. The incredible 120-room castle was left unfinished for 73 years until it was restored in the 1970’s. Today, couples can arrange a wedding on the appropriately named Heart Island, where the Boldts’ massive medieval-style castle stands as a magnificent monument to marriage.
Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii
The United States is home to a single royal palace, about which American travelers can proudly brag to British locals on trips to the U.K. It’s Honolulu‘s Iolani Palace, the former home of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani. The palace, built in 1879, sits on land that is believed to be the site of an ancient Hawaiian place of worship, a sacred area known as a “wahi pana.” Weddings can be held on the royal palace’s lawns beneath swaying palm trees and Indian banyan trees.
Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island
Dance and dine under painted ceilings in the ballroom at Rosecliff, the only Newport mansion that is available for weddings. Newport is the storied site of some of the United States’ most lavish mansions. The area was the summer vacation spot of choice for Gilded Age American elites like the Vanderbilts and the Astors; their opulent homes sit on acres of beautifully landscaped gardens near dramatic coastal cliffs. (There’s even a 19th-century topiary garden with bushes cut into the shapes of animals nearby.) Rosecliff, built for the Oelrich family in the style of Versailles, was featured in the film “The Great Gatsby.”
— written by Caroline Costello
Food, wine, parades, live music and finally getting outdoors after a long winter … what’s not to love about the spring festival season? If you’re seeking inspiration for a last-minute spring trip, don’t miss the festivities going on around the U.S. in celebration of everything from strawberries to Cinco de Mayo. Read on for info on our five favorite upcoming spring festivals.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: New Orleans, LA
Despite its name, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival showcases much more than just jazz music; headliners this year include Jimmy Buffett, Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, Cyndi Lauper, Wilco, Wyclef Jean and dozens of other artists in every musical genre you can imagine. In addition to live concerts every day, the festival — which runs for 10 days from April 29 through May 8 — also offers a Louisiana Folklife Village and a Native American Village where visitors can watch crafts demonstrations and enjoy traditional local music. And don’t forget the food! This is your chance to sample N’awlins favorites like muffuletta, red beans and rice, po’boys, and crawfish pie.
California Strawberry Festival: Oxnard, CA
Whether you like ’em baked into a shortcake, dipped in chocolate, slathered with whipped cream or even tossed on top of a pizza, strawberries are the center of the action at Oxnard, California’s annual Strawberry Festival on May 21 and 22. Check out the Strawberry Promenade to watch cooking demonstrations and take in an informative exhibit on the “Life of a Strawberry.” Live music, a kids’ area, and locally made arts and crafts round out the offerings.
Cinco in the Park: Denver, CO
Denver celebrates Mexican culture and heritage with its annual Cinco in the Park festival, scheduled this year for May 7 and 8. The holiday of Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle in which the Mexican town of Puebla overcame the French back in 1862; in modern-day Denver, the fiesta includes music, dancing, a parade and a Green Chili Bowl Cook-Off, in which local restaurants duke it out over who has the best spicy recipe.
Nantucket Daffodil Festival: Nantucket, MA
After a long and snowy winter, the island of Nantucket celebrates the spring thaw each year with its colorful Nantucket Daffodil Festival. This year’s festivities, which run from April 29 through May 1, will feature annual events such as the antique car parade (the vehicles are, of course, bedecked with daffodil blooms), the daffy hat pageant (how many flowers can you fit onto your baseball cap?) and the daffy dog parade (a daffodil-decorated Fido might lack a little dignity, but he’ll sure look pretty).
Vidalia Onion Festival: Vidalia, GA
Did you know that the Vidalia sweet onion is Georgia’s official state vegetable? Help celebrate all things onion at the 34th annual Vidalia Onion Festival, which runs from April 28 through May 1. The town goes all out for the festivities, which include an air show, a concert (with “American Idol” alum Kellie Pickler as the headliner), a Miss Vidalia Onion pageant, a rodeo, a motorcycle rally and, of course, plenty of opportunities to sample those yummy onions! Try the sweet onion rings, available downtown all day during the festival, or attend the Vidalia Onion Culinary Extravaganza with a local chef and cookbook author. Those with iron stomachs can join the onion eating contest.
For more ideas, see our Top 10 Stunning Spring Destinations.
— written by Sarah Schlichter
During spring, when frozen fields evolve into painterly kaleidoscopes of color, certain destinations shine. While Holland is arguably the most famous spot for flower aficionados, with Provence, France being a close second, there are plenty of domestic destinations that can compete with the big bloomers. Here are a few of our favorite places to see roses and rhododendrons in the U.S., with bonus travel deals to match.
1. Philadelphia International Flower Show
The Philadelphia International Flower Show, the world’s largest indoor display of flowers, is a world-renowned affair (the show is even highlighted in that famous book, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”). The event takes place each spring at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which transforms into a wild array of eye-popping floral exhibits, featuring everything from fantastical arrangements to full-on gardens brimming with colorful blooms. This year, the theme is “Springtime in Paris,” and the show will take place from March 6 through March 13.
The Deal: The Windsor Suites Philadelphia is currently offering a special flower show package, which includes accommodations, two tickets to the show and breakfast for two, starting at $169 per night.
2. Yellowstone National Park
Carpets of wild irises, shooting stars, yellow violets, ladies’ tresses and countless other wildflower species take over Yellowstone National Park from May through August (head to the park in June and July to catch the peak). Expect rolling meadows full of flowers and shocks of electric-pink blooms growing from forest floors during late-spring and summer months. Take a ranger-guided hike to learn about Yellowstone’s variety of flowers from a park expert.
The Deal: Parade Rest Guest Ranch, which is located near the Yellowstone park entrance, is currently offering special spring rates for stays from May 20 through June 12.
3. Portland Rose Festival
Portland, the “City of Roses,” an urban center where pretty gardens seem to sprout on every corner, welcomes spring with its annual Rose Festival. This year’s celebrations take place from the end of May through mid-June. The high point of the whole shebang is the Grand Floral Parade, a must-see frenzy of floats, flowers and music. Other fun events include a rose lighting ceremony with fireworks and a heart-pounding dragon boat race on the Willamette River.
The Deal: The Red Lion Hotel Portland, which is located right on the Grand Floral Parade route, is offering special Rose Festival rates starting at $99 per night.
4. Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Vibrant orange, yellow and red blankets of poppies appear in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, located about a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, in early spring. Look for blooms to arrive as soon as March. The peak period for viewing eternal fields of flowers generally happens in mid-April. The reserve has eight miles of quiet trails that are perfect for hiking, photography, wildlife spotting and picnicking.
The Deal: When you stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Lancaster, California (the city of Lancaster is next to the Poppy Reserve), save 20 percent on your weekend stay.
5. National Cherry Blossom Festival
Our nation’s capital transforms into a breathtaking blush-pink panorama of blooming cherry trees each spring. Thousands of trees popping with color near icons like the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial make for stunning photographs. On top of that, the Cherry Blossom Festival features more than 100 performances and events — many of which are free — including guided tours, fireworks and even a 5K run. The festival runs from March 27 through April 11.
The Deal: Book a Cherry Blossom Festival package at the Melrose Hotel and get accommodations, dinner for two and a late check-out with rates starting at $156 per night.
— written by Caroline Costello