HIDDEN GEMS: MEMORIAL DAY EDITION


We don’t often focus our post on the big ol' US of A. It’s not that we don’t love traveling there, quite the contrary, but there there are so many inspiring places out there we need a life time to talk about them all...and we plan to do just that.

Today, however, inspired by Bourdain’s backyard sojourn into Queens and in celebration of Memorial day today, we thought we should share some of our favourite spots of the moment.

So we cracked a few beers, dusted off the map and took a metaphorical road trip down memory lane. When it comes to the United States of America, from great highway road trips, bustling cities, windswept beaches, quaint little towns and epic natural scenery, picking just a few is, well, not such an easy task.

We landed on Hollywood Beach FL, San Antonio and the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Just a few places with which we could fall in love with over and over again.

San Antonio, Texas

They do say that everything is bigger in Texas. I can attest to the fact that it s not only a bigger, but arguably more diverse state than many countries are. And let me tell you, whether now or years from now, all of it is worth your time. However there’s one part that stands out from the rest...at least to us. Centrally located, amidst the lakes, rivers and highland hikes, are two great cities that lay approximately  80 miles apart, Austin and San Antonio. Together they lay claim to the statement that possibly nothing sums up Texas better than its' Central Region!  And since you’ve probably heard about how awesome Austin is what with South by Southwest, the Historic 6th Ave, Penny Cabs, live music and all that delicious BBQ we're going to talk about San Antonio.

In a past life, business usually took me Dallas, Houston and occasionally Austin. Each time I'd visit, I'd fall in love all over again. When my travels finally finally took me to San Antonio… with its' dose of “old world Texas” and incredible Mexican heritage, well the rest is history, as they say. 

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio, Texas. Photo from the KOSAN archives.

As I soaked up the dry heat, I felt as if I were walking back in time through the rich colonial heritage. The historic Market Place, La Villita, the Mission and Alamo at the city centre strike a perfect balance between two incredible historical timelines. For over a hundred years, this was a centre of conflict which later defined the state's independence.

With so much to see I actually found myself getting a bit anxious at the fact that I only had the afternoon to explore this place.  A cold local Shiner Bock (that's a beer by the way)  helped curb that feeling! From there, I  meandered along the Riverwalk past a variety of Mexican, American and of course, TexMexican restaurants and even some open air theatres. It was perfect except for the occasional security guard riding a Segway dressed in safari gear, not to mention everyone else who was riding a Segway.

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio, Texas. Photo from the KOSAN archives.

So if you thought watching incredibly well executed basketball from the San Antonio Spurs was the only reason to go to San Ann…think again.

Up until recently, Austin was the clear favourite in the category of "Texas cities I love". Now it's more like trying to pick between which child's activity you want to watch more. Some days it may be little Suzy and her violin skills, and other days it may be Mikey's karate power. Given these two cities are only about an hour apart you can make a trip of it and love them both.  Phew!  

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio, Texas. Photo from the KOSAN archives.

Hollywood Beach, Florida

Much like San Antonio, Hollywood Beach isn’t likely the first place you'd think of when dreaming of Florida’s Gold Coast. But of Florida’s 1,350  miles of coast line and innumerable beach towns, Hollywood, Florida is well worth visiting...if only for a few nights. As long as you avoid the haunted Hollywood Beach Resort, unless you're in to that type of thing, you’ll find this eclectic, sometimes overlooked community an unexpected and joyous escape.

Founded by Joseph Young in 1925, it has a rich and colorful history. Much of the town is an architectural tapestry of expressions from a bygone era. Young initially selected Spanish and Moorish architecture as being particularly suitable and harmonious to the South Florida climate. Later the Pueblo, Mission, Mediterranean, Art Deco and Post War Modern styles all added their own layers to the fabric of richness. Humidity has taken its toll on many of the buildings, but somehow that just adds to their charm. Whether you are on the beach, boardwalk or in the Historic Downtown, this arty, foodie little place is loaded with flavour and energy.  There is that sense of mystery, too….that little piece of an unknown story which always clings to somewhere new, and holds the power to both nourish and elate those travel senses.

Hollywood Beach, Florida

Hollywood Beach, Florida. Photo from the KOSAN archives.

As I sat back at a street side patio restaurant, sipping Key West Lager and watching the night joggers plod by, there was a faint hint of cigar smoke blowing in alongside the salt tang of the ocean breeze. The hum of a Bob Segar cover blended with the strains of some nearby Jazz. My mind started wandering, gathering in this experience....What is it I like so much about South Florida...and this little town with “Hollywood” splashed across a  hideous water tower  as if some accidental plagiarization? Is it that it can be a little tacky? Or that it seems to be a bit of throwback to another time…caught between two very different worlds with just enough beach and swamp to consume them both? 

Although once coined the Gold Coast for the mass amounts of wealth that existed between West Palm Beach and Miami, sometimes Hollywood Beach (and Florida in general) seems as much an island for misfits as it does a playground for the world’s swankiest club goers and super yacht owners (note: none of those swanky club are in Hollywood). Abandoned or unkempt homes dot the streets in perfect step with the million dollar abodes which line the inter-coastal waterway. The derelicts with sandy, shoeless feet shaving in the beachside washrooms don't look much different than the sun burnt rest of us. As the retired joggers run/walk along the boardwalks and sundry brick paths, they appear to be in no rush at all.

Hollywood Beach, Florida

Hollywood Beach, Florida. Photo from the KOSAN archives. 

Maybe eternal summer has taken its toll on the southern paradise. Maybe that is a good thing and maybe that’s what I love; a little less perfect but paradise all the same.

Adirondacks, New York

Last but not least on our current list of favourite spots to visit, the gorgeous mountainous region of the Adirondacks, upstate New York. The Adirondacks, a vibrant area rich in geological history, is the perfect outdoor playground. Regardless of the season, there’s always something to do. Camping seems to be the activity of choice, but if you prefer to indulge in more creature comforts, there’s plenty of quaint wooden cottages and chalets that will protect you from the elements.

Adirondacks, New York

Wright Peak, Adirondacks, New York. Photo from the KOSAN archives.

Personally, I am a big fan of camping so this part may be slightly biased. There’s something about sleeping outside under the stars that just sets your imagination on fire.  My favourite campsite in the area is Fish Creek Pond, or Rollins Pond State Campground. These two campgrounds are connected, and are located close to Saranac Lake. Well kept and affordably priced, most of the campsites are situated directly on the lake, making for some great sunset photo ops.

Adirondacks, New York

Fish Creek State Campground, Adirondacks, New York. Photo from the KOSAN archives.

One of the main attractions of the area is of course, hiking. The Adriondack park is larger in square footage than other well-known US sites, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and even the Grand Canyon. Featuring 46 ‘high peaks’ over 4,000 feet in height, this is nature’s stairmaster on an extreme scale. With hikes ranging from 2 hours to 15 hours in length, there truly is something for everyone. So far, my favourite hikes have included Ampersand Mountain (approx. 3 ½ hours return) and Wright Peak (approx 5 hours return). Both boast incredible views and endless vistas of forests, lakes and other peaks.

If hiking isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty to do in the Adirondacks. The fishing is supposed to be incredible, but don’t take it from me, as I’m not much if a fisherman myself. I do however like to get my toes wet once in and while, so I tend to alternate days between hiking and kayaking. If you’re staying at Fish Creek State Campground, there’s an adorable little rental place around the corner called Hicock Boat Livery. It’s been around for over 30 years, and Roger there can hook you up with kayaks or canoes for a few hours or a few days. The really hardcore campers pack up their gear and portage to more remote campsites.

Adirondacks, New York

Wright Peak, Adirondacks, New York. Photo from the KOSAN archives.

Either way, if you’re looking to indulge your wild side and wanting to enjoy a bit of fresh air, the Adirondacks is the place to do it. And after a long day of hiking, fishing or kayaking, kick up your feet and enjoy some locally brewed cider and smores by the fire. As the official Adirondacks website states, ‘the only thing better than the experience is the view’.