There’s no better time than the first month of the year to starting dreaming and scheming about new places to explore. January is the ideal time to begin coming up with a few dream destinations – whether the locales are not far from home or one hundreds or thousands of miles away – and putting plans in place to knock one or all off your list.
First do extensive research about hotel and airfare prices, best time to travel regarding the weather and crowds, activities that capture your imagination and estimate costs. Then create a plan, taking into account your budget and the number of days you’ll need to see and do the thing you want.
According to travel experts, airfare prices will be higher this year as demand is up so be diligent about analyzing fares and shopping for bargains. Destination Web sites and travel search engines are invaluable for gathering broad and specific information about where to go, when to go and how to go. Consumer Search lists the following as the top-rated travel search engines that can provide you with flight, hotel, rental car specifics:
I offer a short compendium of favorite places that I visited last year and highly recommend:
San Francisco – The Bay City offers a wide range of things to do whether it’s touristy stuff like visits to Alcatraz, tours of iconic neighborhoods such as Nob Hill and Haight-Asbury, biking from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge and not-to-be-missed experiences such as the Napa Valley Wine Train and walking among the giant redwoods at Muir Woods. As for dining, San Francisco is known for its food. Nothing passed my lips during a four-day trip there last June that wasn’t mouthwatering. Great restaurants are located all over the place. A few that I can’t say enough positive things about include: the Crab House at Pier 39, the Brazilian Espetus Charrascaria on Market Street and McCormick and Kuleto’s in Ghiradelli Square, a seafood fine dining restaurant with exceptional views of the bay. For more San Francisco tourism information, visit www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com.
The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle – Pennsylvania is now home to a new eco-friendly inn that offer guests the best of all worlds—a back-to-nature experience in accommodations that have an array of energy efficiency and environmental considerations such as reduced storm water runoff and a solar-thermal hot water system. The property includes lovely upscale touches such as 40-inch flat-screen TVs in guest rooms, individual room energy monitoring systems and a high-power telescope on the large back balcony overlooking the mountains and lake. The Nature Inn, a perfect spot for nature lovers and environmentally conscious travelers, has direct access to nature trails. Located in Bald Eagle State Park in Howard, Pa.,–approximately two hours from Harrisburg and four hours from Philadelphia–the Nature Inn opened in 2010. For more information, visit www.natureinnatbaldeagle.com or call (888) PA-PARKS.
Mazatlan, Mexico – Escape to a part of Mexico where the old and the new coexist harmoniously, and locals and tourists congregate at many of the same spots for a good time. I recommend the Playa Mazatlan Hotel, (www.hotelplayamazatlan) which sits directly on the beach with awesome views of two mountainous islands in the Sea of Cortez. Two thumbs up for their breakfast buffet and open-air seating. The 400-room property was the first one built in the area known as the Golden Zone 45 years ago. Spacious guest rooms resemble condos. I had a surprisingly captivating experience at the newly renovated Aquarium Mazatlan—which includes an outdoor seal show and for the adventuresome swim-with-the-fishes and feed-the-fishes (submerged in a tank) experiences. The aquarium’s shark tank is the largest in Mexico. Step back in time through a visit to historic Old Mazatlan, which comes to life every night as diners flock to restaurants with charming outdoor dining on the square. And as the day winds down the malécon, a seaside promenade, comes alive as locals and tourists stroll, jog, skate and generally hang out. Upcoming events include:
• ArtWalk, a self guided tour of more than 25 artists’ studios and galleries in the historic center held on the first Fridays through May.
• Mazatlan’s International Carnival, March 3-8, is one of the oldest and largest carnivals of its kind in the Mexican Pacific with parades, crowning of king and queen, a ball, beauty contest and more.
For more information on Mazatlan, visit www.gomazatlan.com.