The 7 Best Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremonies in the World

The holidays are quickly approaching and there is perhaps no better way to embrace them by attending a tree lighting ceremony. Christmas trees are erected all over the world, some man-made, some shipped from other countries and some famous. Whether you prefer a traditional tree complete with garland and twinkling lights, or prefer one made out of lobster crates, we have discovered some of the best tree lighting ceremonies in the world.

7. Lobster Trap Tree Lighting, New England Area

For a really unique Christmas Tree lighting ceremony you will want to head to any number of towns around New England- including Rockland, Maine and Gloucester, Massachusetts. It is here where apparently lobsters and Christmas go hand in hand. Rockland is home to the world’s largest Lobster Trap Tree, dating back to 2003 when the tree was built with 152 traps, all by volunteers. Each trap is outfitted with a red door and 480 ft of garland is used to decorate, along with 125 lobster buoys that were brought to the tree by lobstering families. The tree is lighted both from the inside as well as with twinkle lights throughout the garland. And the topper, a 5 foot fiberglass lobster that reigns over the tree for the holiday season.

Lobster Trap Christmas Tree

6. Rodeo Drive Holiday Lighting, California

On November 22, 2015 the Holiday Lighting Ceremony takes place on Rodeo Drive, a place where Christmas shopping is taken to the extreme. This free event takes places on 200,200 and 400 Blocks of Rodeo Drive and features live performances, music and a whole lot of lights. It’s not just one tree that gets lit up here, instead it is 42 Palm trees that get illuminated along with twinkling birches and chandeliers. In the past, the ceremony has included a fireworks show and a snow shower of confetti. You never know what you are going to get when you show up for this over the top holiday lighting celebration.

Andrew Zarivny / Shutterstock.com
Andrew Zarivny / Shutterstock.com

5. Zilker Holiday Tree, Texas

This man-made tree stands a whopping 155 feet tall, featuring 39 streamers that each hold 81 multicolored bulbs, making the total number of lights 3,309. The top of the tree features a double star that measures 10 feet from point to point and displays 150 frosted bulbs. The tree was actually created by City of Austin electricians in the 1960’s and manages to hold on to its retro, mod like vibe. On November 29th this mammoth tree gets lit up in the official tree lighting ceremony where one lucky winner gets to flip the switch. Featuring local entertainment, food, novelties and live music; this celebration is truly epic. Make sure to come back to this tree after December 7th to walk the Trail of Lights, a 1.25 mile long path with over 50 displays and decorated trees. Austin, Texas certainly knows how to make its residents get into the holiday spirit.

Photo by: City of Austin
Photo by: City of Austin

4. National Christmas Tree Lighting, Washington, D.C.

In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse to light a 48-foot tree decorated with 2,500 red, white and green bulbs. A local choir along with a quartet from the U.S Marine Band performed. All these years later this holiday tradition continues and brings citizens together to share messages of peace and hope. The lighting ceremony this year takes place on December 3rd and those hoping to attend must apply for a free ticket through the online lottery. Expect a televised ceremony complete with celebrity hosts, live music performers and of course, the President and First Family.

National Christmas Tree Washington

3. Ski Tree Lighting, Colorado

This entire ski town is loaded with Christmas trees and thus they have decided to put their own spin on a holiday tradition. Instead of cutting down one of the many trees in the area, Telluride has created a huge Christmas tree out of old skies that the community has donated. The ceremony takes place December 5, 2015 between 5:30-7:30pm and includes a ceremonial bonfire where old skis go up in flames to honor Ullr, the old Norse patron saint of skiers.

Photo by: Lodging Telluride
Photo by: Lodging Telluride

2. Trafalgar Square, London

Every year since 1947 a Chrstimas tree has been given to the people of London from the people of Norway, in gratitude for Britain’s support during WWII. The tree is normally a Norweigan Spruce, measuring over 20 meters high and aged about 50-60 years. The tree lighting is performed by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, the British Ambassador to Norway and the Mayor of Oslo. It is decorated in typical Norweigan fashion with vertical strings of lights and energy efficient light bulbs. Different groups performs carols in the square alongside this beautiful, handpicked and carefully delivered tree.

Bikeworldtravel / Shutterstock.com
Bikeworldtravel / Shutterstock.com

1. Rockefeller Center, New York

It has been a tradition since 1933, when a tree was placed in NYC’s famous Rockefeller Center and continues to be one of the most famous tree lighting ceremonies in the world. The lighting of the tree is considered to be a symbol of the start of the holiday season all over the world. The annual tree lighting ceremony is free and open to the public and takes place on Wednesday December 2nd, 2015 between 7-9pm and if you can’t be there, you can still watch it on TVO. The ceremony involves tens of thousands of spectators, live performances and the magical moment that the tree is illuminated.

Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock.com
Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock.com

America’s 10 Best Towns to Visit During the Holidays

It’s that time of year again, sleigh bells are ringing, Christmas lights are strung from rooftops and around trees, carols are playing over the radio and there is a feeling of holiday cheer in the air. Some towns in America take the holidays extra serious, with festive decorations, tree lighting ceremonies, parades, contests and more. From traditional Victorian Christmas Festivals to those that feature over 5 million lights, here are America’s best towns to visit during the holidays.

10. Woodstock, Vermont

The air smells like pine needles, the ground lightly dusted with snow and the twinkling of lights shine down on this town during the holiday season. For the past 25 years this town has hosted Wassail Weekend, a pre-Christmas festival that is rooted in 19th century Norse culture and traditions. Wassail is a hot beverage, something like cider that is associated with Christmastime. The festival brings a parade of over 50 horses and riders that are in holiday costumes and period dresses, as well as wagon and sleigh rides. Don’t forget about the feast and the tours of the most notable historic buildings as well. Add in local shops that decorate their windows and stay open late for shoppers during the festival, friendly locals and an old-world charm, and this may be the perfect town to visit this holiday season.

Photo by: Scenic VT PHotos
Photo by: Scenic VT PHotos

9. McAdenville, North Carolina

This small town just 20 minutes outside of Charlotte has actually renamed itself “Christmas Town USA” during the month of December each year. This small town draws an average of 600,000 people each year who come to gaze at the 500,000 lights that decorate this town. This town kicks off its holiday cheer with a tree lighting ceremony on December 1st where the big switch is turned on to reveal the 500,000 red, white and green lights. It takes about 375 trees to house all these lights and they light a route that is perfect for a winter stroll through the downtown. Along with these lights are homes that are lit up by owners, who all love to take part in this holiday celebration. Enjoy hot chocolate and kettle corn as you stroll through the downtown and down to the nearby lake which features 33 trees liming the perimeter and a 75 foot water fountain that is lit with vibrant colors. It’s truly Christmas here all December long.

McAdenville, North Carolina

8. Ogden, Utah

Located in Northern Utah, this great railway hub of a town welcomes in the holiday season each year with their downtown Christmas Village. From the Saturday after Thanksgiving through January 1st the downtown area is aglow with magnificent displays and holiday lights. Every year thousands of tourists come to view the Christmas lights and replica cottages that are modeled after Santa’s Village at the North Pole. To open the Christmas Village an Electric Light Parade fills the streets, loaded with elaborate floats, themes and performers. Santa also happens to arrive this day and flips the switch to turn on the lights and illuminate the village. Each of the 59 cottages have their own theme, including The Elf Workshop, The Grinch and of course, Santa’s Castle. Ride on the Polar Express Train, shop at Santa’s store and marvel at the millions of lights that light this village up.

Photo by: Our Beck Treks
Photo by: Our Beck Treks

7. Vail, Colorado

This town turns into a true Winter Wonderland when the holiday season hits. December brings the festivities of Snowdaze to the town, when fresh snow is celebrated with live concerts each night. The village is filled with sponsors and après parties and former performers include the Barenaked Ladies, Wilco and O.A.R. Vail also plays host to Holidaz, a celebration that includes the tree lighting ceremony, a New Year’s Eve torchlight parade and some incredible fireworks. Enjoy outdoor skating, hot coffee from local producers and equally warming cocktails. This incredible winter destination has more than 5,2000 acres of ski and snowboard terrain and things only get better during the holiday season. Get here and discover why this is one of America’s most loved towns, especially in December.

Photo by: Panoramio/Ash Cook
Photo by: Panoramio/Ash Cook

6. Nantucket, Massachusetts

The festivities in this town really started in the 1970’s, as too many locals left town to shop in Cape Cod, and there needed to be a solution. This island town quickly came up with an annual Christmas Stroll, in which stores stayed open late and shop owners entertained shoppers with wine, hot chocolate, cider and Christmas cookies while they browsed. Nowadays this Christmas Stroll lasts for the whole first weekend of December and visitors can take part in walking amid dozens of seven foot Christmas trees that are illuminated at night and the 20-foot tree that talks to all visitors who visit it. Carolers sing at various downtown locations, live entertainment takes place, craft shows happen and Santa and Mrs. Claus always make an appearance.

Nantucket, Massachusetts Christmas

5. Ogunquit, Maine

It used to be an artist’s colony but has transformed into a summer getaway, not the first place one would think of when it comes to the Holiday season. But visiting here during the holidays means lower prices, a laid-back feeling and enough festivities to keep you going. Christmas by the Sea Festival features a town tree lighting ceremony with caroling and warm drinks, concerts, a meet and greet with Santa, beer and wine tasting, nightly bonfires, Christmas craft making workshops and more. There are plenty of local shops for those last minute gifts and plenty of friendly locals, and great deals on accommodations and dining here.

Photo by: Discover New England/Paul LaCedra
Photo by: Discover New England/Paul LaCedra

4. Naples, Florida

If you want to avoid the snowy weather but still want to enjoy that festive feeling, there is no better place than Naples to head to. This snowbird-style winter wonderland lures visitors with its festive ambiance, luxury stores, fantastic dining and warm weather. The headquarters for the official Christmas tree is Third Street South where twinkling lights and red and silver decorations adorn the streets. It is here where Santa comes to visit, snow falls out of the lampposts and shows take place throughout the month. On Fifth Avenue South is where the Christmas Parade takes place, along with awesome shopping for the Holidays event, which features live music, dancing and dining. Those who still want holiday cheer but want to avoid the snow, this is the town for you.

Naples Florida Christmas

3. Nevada City, California

Nevada City is located about an hour northwest of Sacramento, population of just over 3,000 and it happens to take great pride in its annual Victorian Christmas Festival. Already picturesque all year round with its historic buildings and mountain surroundings, this town transforms into a beautiful picture perfect Christmas Card during the holiday season. The town brings in authentic gas lamps, twinkling white lights and carolers that dress up in Victorian apparel. The smell of roasted chestnuts and holiday food will fill the air as you wander through the streets that over-flow with Christmas treasures. Make sure to check out the famous walking Christmas tree and the living nativity scene, as well as take a ride in a horse drawn carriage. Visitors are also encouraged to dress up in period attire, complete with feathers, scarves and top hats.

Photo by: Nevada City Chamber of Commerce
Photo by: Nevada City Chamber of Commerce

2. Branson, Missouri

It is known as the Ozark Mountain Christmas here in this town, as Branson transforms into a winter wonderland complete with twinkling lights, live shows and plenty of shopping. Here in this town they don’t even wait until thanksgiving has passed to start their holiday cheer, celebrations run from the beginning of November through New Year’s Day. Branson is the live music capital of the world and visitors should plan on attending one of the famous events that incorporate traditional Christmas music. Visiting the Silver Dollar City’s an Old Time Christmas Festival is a must when you are here, where 5 million lights, two live chows, 1,000 decorated Christmas trees and the awesome light parade all take place. Many of the hotels and resorts in this town pull out all stops for the holidays and expect visits with Santa, special activities for kids and lots of yummy treats.

Photo by: Branson Ticket Travel
Photo by: Branson Ticket Travel

1. Historic Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

It is Washington D.C.’s oldest neighborhood, beautiful already with its historic buildings that line the streets, but it really comes alive during the holiday season. With over 450 stores, restaurants and galleries, the streets come alive with Yuletide decorations. The Holiday Window Competition that takes place each year means visitors are privy to the gorgeous and innovative displays that shop keepers come up with. Think roasted chestnuts, horse-drawn sleigh rides, appearances by St. Nicholas, carolers in Victorian costumes, dancers and other entertainment.

Photo by: Hotel Junkie
Photo by: Hotel Junkie

The 7 Best Beaches for Winter Surfing

Surfing is truly a year round sport, especially with the advances in wetsuit technology, making it easier than ever to stay warm and surf any temperature of water. Surfing is challenging enough on its own, but throw in huge winter swells and this sport becomes even more exciting. From the warm waters of Hawaii to the especially cold waters of Canada, these 7 places are the ultimate for winter surfing. Some of these beaches have waves meant for the experts while others are good for all levels, but they all have one thing in common, they are absolutely awesome in the wintertime.

7. Black’s Beach, California

Black Beach is a two-mile long beach that is perfect for winter surfing. On the southern edge of this beach is where you will find the best waves. The reason this beach puts out such good waves is that it sucks in north swells and manages to spit out A-frames and shimmering walls. Local surfers flock to this beach but it is well worth the walk down the trail to catch a few of these epic waves. Make sure you bundle up in that wetsuit as the water in the wintertime is quite chilly. If you look high above on the cliff tops you can be sure to spot some resident peregrine falcons.

"Blacks-Beach-View-South-La-Jolla" by Abeach4u - http://www.san-diego-beaches-and-adventures.com/blacks-beach-san-diego.html. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.
Blacks-Beach-View-South-La-Jolla” by Abeach4uhttp://www.san-diego-beaches-and-adventures.com/blacks-beach-san-diego.html. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

6. Hanalei Beach, Hawaii

This two-mile long beach in Hawaii boasts white sands and an incredible background of mountains and lush green vegetation. It is known not just as a romantic beach but also a surfer’s paradise. From September to May is the best time to head to this beach as the current is sturdy and the waves break right on the beach. A sand bottom makes this beach is even more appealing to surfers. Make sure you are an experienced surfer as the strong current and huge waves in the wintertime can be dangerous for beginners. The nice thing about surfing in Hawaii is the year round warm water temperatures and weather.

Hanalei Beach, Hawaii

5. Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

The north shore has been called Europe’s answer to Hawaii and surfing in the winter has been happening here for years and years. Locals call Fuerteventura “the Rock” but unlike the sand on most of the other Canary Islands which is black, the sand here is a charming pale yellow. The sun often shines all day in the wintertime here and the water is a sparkling royal blue. Surfers head to Playa Morro to ride long gentle waves into shore in the bath-warm water. For a bigger wave head to Playa Cotillo where the waves descend onto the shores with a deafening crash, or head to the famous Acid Drop or the Bubble, two north shore breaks that make this island famous. There are plenty of accommodations, delicious places to eat and more than enough helpful locals to point you in the right direction of the best winter waves.

Esmerelda Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

4. Morocco, Africa

The best time for surfing, hands down, in Morocco is the wintertime. From September to April you will find bigger swells and mild weather, the perfect combination. The waves here generally break over flat rock and sand with great point breaks and surfers come from all over the world to experience these waters. Boilers is Morocco’s most challenging surf spot, named after the boiler of a shipwreck that can be seen as the waves form. This awe-inspiring surf spot is meant for experienced surfers only, especially in the winter with those big swells. Anchor Point on the other hand is known for its consistent waves at all tide and waves normally start at 3 feet and can reach up to 15 feet. There is no better time to experience the famous right hands than the wintertime in Northern Africa.

Surfing Morocco, Africa

3. Tofino, British Columbia, Canada

It is here where you will find 35 km’s of surf-able beach breaks, perfect for beginners or experts, although big winter storms will have beginners watching from shore. Prepare to bundle up when you hit these cold Canadian waters, as you will need a warm wetsuit, booties, gloves and a hood. Although this is a year round surfing destination with thousands flocking in the summertime to try their hand at this sport, its winter that offers the strongest and most consistent swell. The surfing town of Tofino has an array of shops, places to eat and off-the-wall accommodations. Most surfers head to Long Beach where 16 km’s of sand await any level of surfer. Chesterman Beach is also a popular hot spot, located just 8 minutes from Central Tofino and offers one of the best beginner breaks in North America. As for the cold, you hardly notice it when you are zipping along some of the best winter waves in the world.

Tofino surfing

2. Baja, Mexico

Baja can be divided into two major surf regions; Northern Baja and Southern Baja with both offering excellent winter surfing. If you want the really big swell though, you will head to Northern Baja, but be prepared to bundle up. It’s much colder up here and its not uncommon to need a full wetsuit, booties, gloves and a hood. The Northern area is also where you will find great breaks without big crowds, although some of the areas have become more developed with vacation homes and rentals. Head to San Miguel for some of the best winter waves, although surfers need to be aware of sea urchins and sharp rock bottom. For some of the biggest waves in the Pacific during the winter head to Todos Santos (The Killers), an island accessible by boat or Jet Ski. There are a variety of breaks around the island including Killers, one of the original big break surfing spots. You won’t find many beginners here, just great waves and great surfers.

surfing Baja Mexico

1. Maine, USA

The water is never particularly warm in this state but that doesn’t stop surfers from flocking here in the winter months. You won’t get the towering swells of Pacific hot spots but you will get unspoiled landscapes, desolate waters, a tight community of local surfers and consistent surf-able waves. Beginners and vets often head to Long Sands Beach, which offers a clean beach with waves breaking over a sandbar. Some of the biggest waves in the state are located at the exposed beach called Higgins Beach. It here where fifteen-foot swells are not unheard of and there are a few rocks to watch out for, so beginners should be very cautious. In the summer this beach is actually closed during the day to surfers so this remains a popular winter surfing destination.

Photo by: Youtube/DaveIn NH
Photo by: Youtube/DaveIn NH

10 Foods That Make the State  

Every single one of the American States has its own quirky food scene and signature dish. Whether you are devouring a fresh lobster roll or chewing on a piece of saltwater taffy; these foods all have a history that ties them to a particular state. From the west coast to the east, from delectable marionberry pies to the famous Louisiana gumbo; these 10 foods and states go hand in hand, and it wouldn’t be a visit to any of these states without trying these foods.

10. Marionberry Pie, Oregon

Zigzag Mountain Art / Shutterstock

This hybrid berry is responsible for this awesome pie that Oregon is so greatly known for. The Marion blackberry, marketed as the marionberry is a cross between the ‘Chehalem’ and ‘Olallie’ blackberry and was developed by the USDA ARS breeding program in cooperation with Oregon State University. The berry has somewhat of a tart flavor, larger, sweeter, and juicier compared with an evergreen blackberry. Oregon produces between 28 million and 33 million pounds annually of these berries and the result is some incredible pies. There are thousands of recipes out there for these pies but the best have been handed down generations and every year at the State Fair there is a Marionberry Pie Contest. Many people are now adding cream cheese to the pie in addition to the berry filling, to add a little something extra. It wouldn’t be a trip to Oregon without filling your belly with at least one slice of this delicious pie.

9. Philly Cheese Steak, Pennsylvania

wsmahar / Getty Images

The Philly cheese steak is a passionately defended local institution, and rightfully so as this gooey sandwich is absolutely delicious. The cheesesteak was developed in the early 20th century but the identity of the inventor and exact process is the subject of spirited debate but Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are often credited with inventing the sandwich by serving chopped steak on an Italian roll in the early 1930s. Today the sandwich consists of a crusty roll filled with juicy thin-sliced beef and topped with fried onions, peppers, and Cheez Whiz. The best two places to get yourself one of these amazing sandwiches are either Pat’s King of Steaks or its rival Geno’s, they have been across-the-street rivals for nearly 50 years.

8. Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, Illinois

Morten Falch Sortland / Getty Images

Whoever invented deep-dish pizza, we wish they were alive today so we could give them a big old hug, or at least a high five. It was the year 1943 when this style of pizza was invented. Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo opened Pizzeria Uno in Chicago’s North Side neighborhood and served up a new style of pizza with a deeper dish, crunchier crust, and inverted layers. The deep-dish style pizza was invented and Chicago and the rest of the American world never looked back. What exactly goes into this process though? The cake-like pan in which the pizza is cooked is first coated in olive oil and then topped with a flour dough mixture. Before hitting the oven, a layer of sliced mozzarella is covered with vegetables and meats, typically Italian sausage, and then topped with a sweet layer of crushed tomatoes. The inverted layers of ingredients prevent the cheese from burning, while the meat, vegetables, sauce, and crust marry their flavors, leading to one incredible pie.

7. Crab Cakes, Maryland

Joff Lee / Getty Images

The Chesapeake Bay is known country-wide for its sweet-fleshed blue crabs and crab cakes quickly became the state food here. Before they became popular though, crabs were not widely eaten as they were considered too dangerous and difficult to eat. However as time went on fisherman began to master the technique of getting the meat out of the shell, and thus crab meat was in abundance. The term “crab cake” was first coined by Crosby Gaige in the 1930s. In his cookbook titled, New York World’s Fair Cook Book, he finally gave the popular recipe a name: “Baltimore Crab Cakes”. This fishcake is composed of crab meat, bread crumbs, milk, mayonnaise, eggs, seasoning, and may contain red or green peppers. The cake is then sautéed, baked, grilled, or broiled, turning it into a delicious seafood treat.

6. Lobster Roll, Maine

Photo by Cathy Scola / Getty Images

Maine lobster is celebrated from sea to table all over the state and one of the favorite ways to eat this delicious seafood is in the famous sandwich, the lobster roll. Like a lot of other incredible dishes on this list, the history of who actually did the lobster roll first is under much debate. Many locals view Bayley’s Lobster Pound at Pine Point as the inventor of the famous seafood sandwich. Then there are the out-of-state claimants. Some say that Harry Perry first offered lobster rolls out of his Milford, Connecticut, restaurant in the 1920s. Others claim the Nautilus Tea Room in Marblehead, Massachusetts, as the original purveyor of lobster rolls. Lobster rolls in Maine have several distinct characteristics starting with the bun. The roll is baked slightly different from a hot dog roll, the sides are flat so they can be buttered, lobster meat is actually served cold in the roll and there is a light spread of mayonnaise either spread in the roll or mixed in with the meat.

5. Hotdish, Minnesota

Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

This interesting variety of casserole is actually produced as “hoddish” and is commonly found at large gatherings and family events. What makes up a hotdish is a variety of ingredients including potatoes, ground beef, green beans, corn, and canned soup. The potatoes can either be hash browns, potato chips, or the most widely used tater tots. Usually served with a side of ketchup, this dish remains popular, to everyone’s surprise, that doesn’t live in this state. The history of the hotdish goes back to when budget-minded farm wives needed to feed their own families, as well as congregations in the basements of the first Minnesota churches. Since then, the state has embraced this dish and even runs an annual hotdish competition.

4. Salt Water Taffy, New Jersey

jskiba / Getty Images

Salt water taffy evokes the Jersey Shore, more than any other candy or food out there. Considering the ingredients in this candy include things such as sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, glycerine, water, butter, salt, natural and/or artificial flavor, and food color; it is astounding that this candy has remained the food we associate with New Jersey. Joseph Fralinger is said to be the one who popularized the candy when he started boxing it and selling it in Atlantic City. Shriver’s, the oldest business on the Ocean City boardwalk – it opened in 1898 – offers a staggering 70 flavors of taffy, with chocolate the overwhelming bestseller. Funny enough, the entire salt water taffy business in this state is owned by one family.  In 1947, four brothers named Glaser bought James and in 1990 they bought Fralinger’s. Today, the two famous taffy names are made in the same production rooms, with red collecting pans marked “James” and gray pans marked “Fralinger’s.”

3. Chimichanga, Arizona

Lew Robertson / Getty Images

The history of how the chimichanga became a dish is much debated. According to one source the founder of the Tucson, Arizona, restaurant “El Charro”, Monica Flin, accidentally dropped a pastry into the deep fryer in 1922. She immediately began to utter a Spanish curse-word but quickly stopped herself and instead exclaimed chimichanga, a Spanish equivalent of “thingamajig”. Woody Johnson on the other hand claims he invented this dish in 1946 when he put burritos into a deep fryer as part of an experiment at his restaurant, Wood’s El Nido. This delicious deep-fried monster is made up of a flour tortilla filled with a wide range of ingredients, most commonly rice, cheese, machaca, carne adobada, or shredded chicken. Fold it into a rectangular package, drop it in the deep fryer and serve it up with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.

2. Gumbo, Louisiana

LauriPatterson / Getty Images

Of all the dishes in the repertoire of Louisiana cooking, gumbo is absolutely the most famous and one of the most loved dishes of the state. Gumbo is found in the houses of both the rich and the poor, across restaurants, and at every single special event. Generally speaking, gumbo is a thick, dark soup containing a mixture of rice, vegetables, and meat or seafood. Yet when it comes to ingredients, the one constant in gumbo is variety. There are just two hard and fast rules: a gumbo must always contain rice, and it must always be thickened with something. The history of this dish is quite a mystery as it has been a staple in Louisiana kitchens long before written records of the dish existed. No one is certain whether the dish is Cajun or Creole in origin, but only one thing really matters; how delicious it truly is.

1. Shrimp and Grits, South Carolina

LauriPatterson / Getty Images

Shrimp and grits are the typical breakfast for many of the Charleston area fishermen during the shrimping season, which ordinarily runs from May through December, but was discovered as a dish long before these fishermen started eating it. Grits actually originated from the Native Americans and were used as a way to communicate with the white people before they learned how to speak the same language. An important event happened in 1584 when Native Americans gave some of their grits to Sir Walter Raleigh and centuries later, in 1976, grits were declared the official state food of South Carolina and noted for their vital contribution to the culture and the economy of South Carolina, as well as to the sustenance of the people living there. Essentially this dish is Grits (thick ground corn) that form a bed for fresh-from-the-sea shrimp and other mix-ins, like bacon, garlic, and lemon.

10 Historic US Forts That Shaped American History

The U.S. has an impressive military history, something that becomes apparent when you look at how many forts and garrisons litter the American landscape. From the first landings of Europeans in what is now New England, to the Spanish colonists from coast to coast and the French imperialists to the north, the U.S. has had conflicts from the very beginning; many U.S. cities had their start as military outposts. If you want to better understand U.S. history—or experience “living” history—there’s no better way than paying a visit to at least 1 of these 10 historic forts.

10. Fort Vancouver -Washington

Unlike some of the other forts on this list, Fort Vancouver in Washington state was established with commerce, not defense, in mind. The outpost was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company along the Columbia River during the winter of 1824–25, near present-day Portland, Oregon. In 1846, the trading post was closed as unprofitable; 3 years later, the Americans established army barracks on the same site. In 1866, the fort was destroyed by fire, then rebuilt. It remained an active site during both World Wars, and remained active until a forced closure in 2011. It was already on the National Historic Register, and had been since 1961. Today, you can tour the fort and visit some of the restored buildings, such as the Bake House and Blacksmith Shop, where workers employ historically accurate techniques in their reenactments of life in the fort.

Fort Vancouver Washington

9. Fort Verde -Arizona

While forts are typically associated with the Eastern Seaboard and New England, as part of the legacy of British colonialism, there are forts that dot the U.S.’s western frontier as well, such as Fort Verde in Arizona. Today, the site is part of the Fort Verde State Historical Park in the town of Camp Verde. The park offers visitors a living history museum that attempts to preserve the site as it existed during the Apache Wars. In the late 19th century, settlers near the Verde River requested state protection from Native American tribes that were raiding their crops; a sudden increase in the settler population had disrupted the tribes’ traditional lifeways. Over approximately 20 years, the army built several camps and forts, until they were abandoned in 1891. Four of the 22 original buildings survived until 1956, when preservation activities began. The museum opened in 1970.

Photo by: Coldwell Banker
Photo by: Coldwell Banker

8. Fort Sumter -South Carolina

Fort Sumter is an interesting fortification along the Atlantic coast, located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The fort was originally constructed after the War of 1812 as part of an American effort to protect important harbors and ports. In order to build up the sand bar where the fort is built, 70,000 tons of granite was imported from New England, although the fort remained unfinished until the Civil War broke out. When South Carolina seceded, U.S. Army Major Robert Anderson relocated to Fort Sumter. Calls for surrender of the fort were ignored, leading to the First Battle of Fort Sumter, in which the Confederates took the fort. Union forces didn’t regain control until 1865. Today, the fort is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument and features a Visitor Education Center and a museum.

Fort Sumter

7. Fort Gaines -Alabama

This historic fort is located on Dauphin Island in Alabama. Established in 1821, the fort is perhaps best known for its role during the Civil War, particularly the Battle of Mobile Bay. It is considered to be one of the best-preserved examples of Civil War-era masonry and the site boasts many of its original structures, including tunnels, and battle-used cannons. Also on display at the museum is the anchor from the USS Hartford, the flagship of Admiral David Farragut—the ship upon which he uttered the now famous line, “Damn the torpedoes—full speed ahead!” Historical reenactment is also part of the fort’s effort to appeal to tourists. Despite this, it is listed as one of the U.S.’s most endangered historic places: the fort has suffered damage from hurricanes, and ongoing erosion of sand dunes place Fort Gaines in danger of sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.

Photo by: Civil War Talk
Photo by: Civil War Talk

6. Fort Ticonderoga -New York

Fort Ticonderoga is an 18th-century, star-shaped fort near the south shores of Lake Champlain in New York state. It was originally known as Fort Carillon and was constructed by the French-Canadians during the Seven Years’ War. In 1758, the Battle of Carillon saw the French repel the British; in 1759, the French abandoned the fort. The fort saw action again during the American Revolution in May 1775, when it was captured by the Americans during a surprise attack. It changed back to British hands in 1777, but they abandoned the fort the same year. In 1781, it was abandoned for good. During the 19th century, the fort became a popular site for tourists, and private owners took steps to restore it. Today, the fort is a museum, teaching and research center and tourist attraction. The reconstructed King’s gardens were opened to the public in 1995.

Fort Ticonderoga

5. Fort Delaware -Delaware

Located on Pea Patch Island, Fort Delaware is a harbor defense facility. The site was first identified as a strategic defense point by the French in 1794. During the War of 1812, efforts were made to fortify the island, but construction of a fort did not begin until 1817. A major fire in 1833 caused the U.S. Army to start over again. Finally, between 1848 and 1860, the present-day fort was erected. During the Civil War, the fort served as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers. The fort was modernized during the 1890s. During the World Wars, it was garrisoned, but did not see battle. Today, the fort is a popular tourist attraction as a living history museum. In June of each year, the fort hosts an “Escape from Fort Delaware,” a triathlon event in which participants retrace the steps of 52 Civil War POW escapees.

"Fort delaware aerial photograph 2011" by Missy Lee - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Fort delaware aerial photograph 2011” by Missy LeeOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

4. Fort Halifax -Maine

Not much is left of the original palisaded star fort that was built in 1754 at Winslow, Maine: only a single blockhouse survives. Nonetheless, that blockhouse is the oldest surviving example in the U.S. today. The fort was 1 of the first 3 major forts built by the British along northeastern waterways, in an effort to limit Native access to the ocean. The fort was raided frequently until 1766, when it was abandoned and sold into private hands. During the American Revolution, it hosted troops on their way to Quebec. After this, the fort was largely dismantled. Tourists in the 19th century damaged the blockhouse by carving chunks of wood from it as souvenirs. Nonetheless, the blockhouse still survives and, in 2011, the Town of Winslow announced plans to develop the area around it with interpretive displays, trails and reconstructed portions of the fort.

Photo by: Maine Trail Finder
Photo by: Maine Trail Finder

3. Fort Independence -Massachusetts

Fort Independence has the distinction of being the oldest continuously fortified site of English origin in the U.S. Located on Castle Island in Boston Harbor, the first fort went up in 1634. It was replaced in 1701 with a structure known as Castle William. It was abandoned by the British during the American Revolution, and then rebuilt. The existing structure, a granite star fort, was constructed between 1833 and 1851. The fort was garrisoned and served as an arms depot during most of the major conflicts the U.S. has been involved in, although the federal government ceded the island to the city of Boston in the 1890s. In the 1960s, the federal government permanently deeded the island to Massachusetts, and today, the site is a state park. Occasional ceremonial salutes are still fired from the fort.

Fort Independence Massachusetts

2. The Alamo -Texas

Possibly one of the most famous battles in U.S. history occurred not at a fort, but at what was originally a Roman Catholic mission known as Mission San Antonio de Valero. In 1793, the mission was secularized, then abandoned. In 1803, it was converted into a garrisoned fortress, during which time it acquired the name “Alamo.” In 1835, the Mexican army surrendered the fort during the Texas Revolution. A small number of Texian soldiers were garrisoned at the fort until the infamous Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, during which they were all killed. When the Mexican army retreated several months later, they destroyed much of the fort. In 1892, conservation efforts began. After many squabbles and disagreements, portions of what had been the chapel were finally restored. Today, the Alamo is a museum that receives millions of visitors each year.

The Alamo

1. Fort McHenry -Maryland

This coastal fort was originally constructed in 1798. During the War of 1812, British warships bombarded the fort in an attempt to gain access to Baltimore Harbor. The shelling went on until the British depleted their ammunition early the next morning. The small flag flown during the assault was replaced by an oversized flag to signal American victory; Francis Scott Key, a lawyer on a nearby truce ship, was moved to write a poem entitled “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and set to music as the American national anthem. The fort was active during subsequent major conflicts, including both World Wars, and was made a national park in 1925. The fort serves as a museum and thousands visit each year to see “the birthplace of the star-spangled banner.”

Fort McHenry

12 Things to See and Do in Maine

Located in the northernmost and easternmost state in New England, Maine is well-known for its incredible scenery. With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, it’s jagged, rocky coastline is a sight to behold. The interior of the state is densely forested, while offering a mountainous terrain to explore, as well as many inland lakes and rivers. The cuisine includes a plethora of seafood…especially lobster and clams. If you are looking for the perfect place for fishing or hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, boating, camping, hiking or just about any outdoor activity, Maine offers it all, but also has so much more to offer.

1. Funtown Splashtown USA

Located in Saco, Funtown Splashtown USA, is a family-owned amusement park. One of the park’s most famous features is the wooden roller coaster, the Excalibur – the only one of its kind in Maine. It is also home to New England’s tallest and longest log flume, Thunder Falls and a 220-foot-tall (67m) drop tower called Dragon’s Descent. One of its most popular rides is the Astrosphere, an indoor scrambler with a laser light show and music. The Splashtown portion is the water park Pirate’s Paradise dumping hundreds of gallons of water on visitors every few minutes. The Tornado and Mammoth are two newer water park thrill rides you will want to experience as well as many water slides, and pools. There’s no question, Funtown is an appropriate name whatever your age. The variety of rides, slides, pools and other attractions are a treasure trove of fun and adventure.

Photo by: Martin Lewison via Flickr
Photo by: Martin Lewison via Flickr

2. Fort Knox State Park

Located on the western bank of the Penobscot River in Prospect, Fort Knox State Park was the first fort in Maine built out of granite rather than wood back around 1844 to 1869. Since Maine was constantly in a state of conflict over borders with British Canada during the War of 1812, the fort was built to protect the Penobscot River valley against possible British naval invasion. You can visit this very interesting and important part of Maine’s history and learn about the war between the U.S. and Canada, Maine’s contribution to the effort and explore the well-fortified fort. While you are there, can check out the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge which boasts a 420’ observation tower that can be accessed through the fort and take in the breathtaking view of the Penobscot River Valley. The view is amazing and you won’t see anything like it anywhere else in the western hemisphere.

Fort Knox State Park, Maine

3. Wolfe’s Neck Farm

Located on Burnett Street in Newport, Wolfe’s Neck Farm is a perfect family vacation destination. The farm is the ideal place for kids and adults alike to learn about agriculture, go camping, take a hike, a picturesque bicycle ride, go kayaking, or explore and visit some friendly animals. The greatest thing about it – it’s open every day from dusk til dawn and free-of-charge! However, donations are accepted and appreciated. What more could you ask for? In the Spring, there is an April Vacation Camp for kids, or you can enjoy the Spring Festival in May. Summertime is for camping at their Oceanfront Campground, you can rent a kayak, bike or canoe. Visit the barnyard or go to the Snack Shack for ice cream, it’s tons of fun for the entire family for very little money.

Photo by: Wolfe's Neck Farm
Photo by: Wolfe’s Neck Farm

4. Crescent Beach State Park

Crescent Beach State Park is located about eight miles south of Portland in beautiful Cape Elizabeth. The pristine sand beaches, saltwater coves, woods and rocky terrain is a utopia for any outdoors men. It offers absolutely everything you could possibly look for in a natural setting. The mile-long crescent-shaped beach offers a heavenly setting for sunbathing, strolling along the shore, picnicking or other beach activities. If you love to fish, swim or enjoy other water sports, you can’t ask for a more ideal place. For nature observers and watchers, you won’t be disappointed either. The park offers a picturesque setting for all kinds of wildlife on shore, in the skies overhead and in the crystal clear waters. Not far from the beautiful sandy beach, you can venture onto one of the hiking trails for a relaxing, scenic stroll. It’s a beautiful paradise that everyone in your family can enjoy.

Myrtle Beach State Park

5. Desert of Maine

The Desert of Maine is a 40-acre (160,000m2) tract of exposed glacial silt which resembles sand, but is finer grained. Though the name would imply a hot and dry environment, it is not truly a desert. It is ripe with vegetation which surrounds the area encroaching on the dunes and receives plenty of precipitation annually. Since its discovery, the site has been preserved as a natural curiosity and is home to a sand museum, farm museum and gift shop. While visiting there, you can take a narrated coach tour or walking tour, take a trek on one of the marked nature trails, the gigantic sand dunes, or try your hand at gem mining where every bag guarantees a find! You can create sand art bottles to take home for a souvenir, learn about the Tuttle Farm and more. Stop for some wonderful memories and souvenirs that last a lifetime.

Photo by: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

6. Casco Bay

An inlet of the Gulf of Maine, Casco Bay is on the southern coast of Maine with Portland along its southern edge. You will find abandoned military fortifications from the War of 1812 thru World War II. Touted as being one of the best places to sail in the world, Casco Bay offers several marinas such as Chebeague Island Boat Yard on Great Chebeague Island, Diamond Marine Service Inc. on Great Diamond Island and Dolphin Marina and Great Island Boatyard in Harpswell,  just to name a few. There are ferry services available year-round for passengers and freights so you can take a scenic cruise, music cruise or charter a private lobster boat where you can have a lobster bake. It doesn’t get any fresher than that. Take the time to visit or at least view the few hundreds of islands in the area and enjoy the vast beauty all around you.

Casco Bay, Maine

7. Seashore Trolley Museum

Located in Kennebunkport, the Seashore Trolley Museum was founded in 1939 and is the largest electric railway museum in the world. The collection includes streetcars from almost every major American city that had the service. You will see the transition from the omnibus to electric streetcars to buses, light rail vehicles, and rapid transit vehicles of today. Also located on the property, you will find numerous displays exploring transportation’s history, three exhibit carbarns, and an opportunity to view restoration from an observation gallery in the restoration shop. The real star of the show is the chance to ride in an actual streetcar while hearing about life and destinations in the early 1900s. They even have special events where other machinery is brought out. So make sure to check ahead. It’s a great way to spend the day exploring some history while having an enjoyable time. And to top it off, it is suitable for all ages.

Photo by: Rene Schwietzke via Flickr
Photo by: Rene Schwietzke via Flickr

8. Fort Williams Park

Cape Elizabeth’s first military fortification, Fort Williams was a one-time subpost of Fort Preble named after Brevet Major General Seth Williams and grew to be an important asset to World War II. The Fort was deactivated on June 30, 1963 and the 90 acre park was purchased by the Town of Cape Elizabeth when the old buildings became town property as well. It is home to the oldest lighthouse in Maine called Portland Head Light and has become a popular tourist attraction, as well as a place for recreation and leisure time enjoyment. Many people enjoy the playing fields, tennis courts, beach or simply enjoy walking around the park and taking in the scenery. Even the winter offers a wonderful place for cross-country skiing, sledding or pond skating. There are special events throughout the year, so you’ll want to check their calendar before visiting.

Fort Williams Park, Maine

9. Portland Head Light

Standing prominently along the shores of Fort Williams Park, Portland Head Light is a popular landmark and museum. Portland Head was once responsible for the security and safety of Portland and the surrounding area. It would warn residents of impending British attacks. The 92′ tall lighthouse illuminates the rocky and dangerous areas for ships to see to this day…though it is not automated so keepers are no longer required. The museum, called Museum at Portland Head Light, is located in the former Keepers’ Quarters and displays several lighthouse lenses and interpretive displays. The gift shop contains many lighthouse and Maine related souvenirs and gifts. With this wonderful historic landmark being located adjacent to Fort Williams Park, it’s pretty difficult to enjoy one without enjoying the other. The view, the history and the tranquil surroundings are something you won’t want to miss out on.

Portland Head Light, Maine

10. Palace Playland

Located in Old Orchard Beach, Palace Playland is a seasonal amusement park operating since 1902 and is touted to be New England’s only beachfront amusement park. It offers all that you would expect of a quality amusement park…rides, games, food and gift shops. There are rides and amusements suited to all ages and all levels of thrill seekers. Some of the rides offered include a carousel, Convoy and Crop Duster for the kiddies, Cascade Falls, Dodg’em bumper cars and Drop Zone for the entire family and several roller coasters and other Thrill rides for the more daring. Along with the rides, there is a 24,000 square foot arcade featuring more than 200 games and attractions including the ever popular Skeeball & Fortune Tellers. It’s a great place to take the kids for some unmitigated fun or for the adults to unwind, forget work and have some thrills.

Photo by: H. Michael Miley via Flickr
Photo by: H. Michael Miley via Flickr

11. Penobscot Marine Museum

Located in Searsport, Penobscot Marine Museum is Maine’s oldest Maritime museum consisting of eight buildings and containing New England’s best collection of marine art, artifacts and maritime heritage. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Penobscot Marine Museum buildings include a classic New England Town Hall, the First Congregational Church, private residences and a commercial building, all dated circa 1810 to 1845. Walking through the Village grounds is like stepping back in time making it easy to imagine its eclectic past. Visit the Seabag Visible Storage Center, Child-friendly exhibits, Yard in the Yard, Peapod, the Marine Science Lab and the First Congregational Church. All exhibits are interesting, beautiful, educational and family-friendly, so don’t hesitate to visit them all.

Photo by: Penobscot Marine Museum
Photo by: Penobscot Marine Museum

12. Acadia National Park

Originally known as Lafayette National Park, Acadia National Park is the oldest national park located east of the Mississippi River. It is located on the Atlantic coast and includes much of Mount Desert Island and other associated islands. The donated land is home to a diverse selection of plants, animals and the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast. It’s a picturesque landscape perfect for hiking the granite peaks, taking a bike or carriage ride on one of the old roads or just to simply relax and soak in all the breathtaking scenery that makes up this beautiful park. If you are the adventurous type, you can hike on the challenging trails and camp out at Blackwoods and Seawall Campground. You couldn’t ask for a better place in New England to go enjoy nature.

Acadia National Park, Maine

10 Breathtaking Gardens to Visit in the U.S.

If you are looking to find peace and tranquility there is absolutely no better place than one of America’s beautiful public gardens. Whether you want to spend an hour wandering through the trails, or have a whole day to explore, these gardens will inspire you. Discover a butterfly hatching into a tropical oasis, the largest display of orchids in the US, towering fountains, amazing koi ponds and hundreds of acres of complete bliss. From Arizona to New York City to Florida; here are 10 breathtaking gardens to visit in the US.

10. Longwood Gardens -Kennett Square, PA

In the Brandywine Creek Valley sits 1,077 acres of magnificent gardens, woodlands and meadows known as Longwood Gardens. The longtime home of industrialist Pierre S. du Pont, this public garden boasts century old trees that were the inspiration behind du Pont conserving this land. The historic four acre conservatory is not to be missed, packed full of colorful flowers, ferns and fruits. Du Pont had much of a hand in designing this garden and in fact the Italian water garden was done entirely by him. Visit during the summer to catch one of the concerts in the grand ballroom, complete with a massive organ. If you want to catch the breathtaking colors of the Norway Maples, make sure to come in fall as they surround the 130 foot main fountain which becomes emblazoned in gold. Spring is the best time to see the impressive crocus and trillium carpeting the forest floor.

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA

9. Desert Botanical Garden -Phoenix, AZ

Throw away any notion you may have of an ugly desert and experience the magic of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Spanning 145 acres this garden showcases more than 50,000 plants including the ever traditional cacti. This garden has a distinct mission to focus solely on desert plants while thrilling visitors with its colorful wildflower exhibit. The absolute best time to head here is during the spring when the wildflower exhibit explodes with color and the butterflies take flight in the covered pavilion. This garden also hosts a number of events including flashlight tours, music in the garden, kids programs and classes for adults. Discover the Mexican poppies, desert lupine and a large array of agave and other succulents in this awesome desert garden that pops with color.

Images by Dr. Alan Lipkin / Shutterstock.com
Images by Dr. Alan Lipkin / Shutterstock.com

8. Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens -Boothbay, ME

This is one the newest gardens on our list and only opened in 2007, quick to become one of Maine’s most popular attractions. The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens span 248 acres with a mile of waterfront and took over 16 years to plan, build and plant. The beautiful walking trails, plant life and sculptures can be appreciated by spending the entire day here. Visitors will find everything here, from manicured formal gardens to waterfalls to thousands of species of herbs, plants and flowers. A hands-on children’s garden makes this destination family friendly. The summer is the ultimate time to visit as everything is in bloom and the weather is warm, make sure you pack a picnic to enjoy either in the butterfly gardens or the meditation gardens. Lectures and education talks are offered all year round, as are guided tours throughout the gardens and this is quickly becoming one of the most beautiful gardens in America.

Photo by: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Photo by: Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

7. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens -Coral Gables, FL

The southern climate in this state makes for great year round growing and at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens visitors are privy to rare exotic fruit species and an abundance of lush foliage. Located less than 10 miles from downtown Miami, this space showcases more than 3,400 tropical species, many of them gathered by the founder of this garden. David Fairchild actually traveled the globe in search of useful plants and in 1938 opened the 83 acre garden. Today it is home to an impressive number of palms, cycads and fruit species. Also on the property is a magnificent butterfly conservatory that features almost 3,000 butterflies. Visitors can watch them hatch and be released into the conservatory. Visitors will want to head here in winter for cooler temperatures and fewer bugs.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, Coral Gables, FL

6. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park -Grand Rapids, MI

The motto of this garden is always growing, always beautiful and always new. The sculpture program at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park features over 200 works in the permanent collected, both indoors and out, spread over 158 acres. This haven is one of the best when it comes to incorporating horticulture and sculptures throughout its site. Plan on spending an entire day here while you discover the tropical conservatory featuring over 500 species from around the world, complete with waterfalls, bridges and a variety of tropical birds. Or head to the new Japanese gardens which spans over 8 acres complete with serene bridges and ponds. The children’s garden is a hit among the little ones as they are encouraged to dig for fossils, sit in the giants bird nest or look through the viewpoints at the numerous sculptures. Don’t miss the annual exhibition when the butterflies hatch and take flight in the tropical conservatory.

Photo by: Brett McPherson/Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Photo by: Brett McPherson/Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

5. Chicago Botanic Garden -Chicago, IL

The Chicago Botanic Garden draws about a million visitors annually and is considered one of the largest botanical gardens in the U.S, spanning nearly 400 acres. It is actually considered to be a living museum and this garden has a big hand in groundbreaking plant conservation research. Visitors will want to come here between late April and November to see the nearly 200 Bonsai that are on display. These miniature masterpieces are cultivated by bonsai master Susumu Nakamura and it is considered one of the best public displays of bonsai. Visitors here will also find a local-centric fruit and vegetable garden, a classic English walled garden and 100 acre native oak woodland. Spanning across nine islands and six miles of lakeshore, this garden is absolutely one of the most breathtaking in all of America.

Chicago Botanic Garden

4. Portland Japanese Garden -Portland, OR

This 5.5 acre garden is quite small compared to the rest of the beautiful gardens on this list but makes up for its size with what it offers visitors. The late landscape architect Takuma Tono created this magnificent garden true to the traditions of his native Japan with stunning results. The landscape here is split into five distinct gardens- the flat garden, strolling pond garden, tea garden, natural garden and sand and stone garden. If you have never been to a Japanese garden before, prepare yourself for the peace and tranquility that overwhelms you as you enter. These gardens are designed to make visitors feel as part of nature, not overwhelmed by it. One of the best times to visit is in the spring with the famous weeping cheery erupts into the beautiful pink blossoms. It is important to note that this garden has many trails that make it quite difficult for wheelchair guests.

Portland Japanese Garden

3. Missouri Botanical Garden -St. Louis, MO

The breathtaking Missouri Botanical Garden spans over 79 acres and includes an amazing 14 acre Japanese garden, an original 1850’s estate home and one of the world’s largest collections of rare and endangered orchids. The collection of orchids includes over 3,000 species with colors ranging from bright pink to dainty spotted varieties. February and March are the only moths to see the full orchid display and we guarantee it is like nothing you have seen before. But that’s not all this garden offers, there are also more than 700 types of daffodils on display and an amazing collection of daylilies. This garden is also home to the iconic Climatron conservatory, a clime controlled geodesic dome built in the 1960’s that features an impressive tropical paradise. From summer music festivals to train shows to holiday flower shows, there is something happening at this garden every day of the year.

Photo by: Carlos Muela
Photo by: Carlos Muela

2. The New York Botanical Garden -New York City, NY

This national historic landmark spans over 250 acres in the Bronx and gives the ever bustling city a sense of peace and tranquility. These gardens were established way back in 1891 and along with the millions of plants is home to a number of historic buildings. The 1902-era conservatory is a hit among visitors as it includes eleven distinct plant habitats including a tropical rainforest and desert environment of the Americas and Africa. The garden is arranged in fifty distinct areas and includes a century old collection of conifers, a 4,000 plant rose garden and the largest old growth deciduous forest in New York. Helpful guides are always located throughout this garden spouting bits of useful information to visitors, a welcome touch. Visitors flock here for the spring orchid exhibit and in the summer for fields of blooming daffodils.

The New York Botanical Garden

1. Atlanta Botanical Garden -Atlanta, GA

This 30 acre botanical garden boasts the largest collection of orchid species on permanent display in the US, and that is just one of the many reasons that visitors flock to experience this garden. There is fun for the whole family here, including a children’s garden complete with fountains, sculptures and fun exhibits on botany and ecology. The hit among many visitors is the 600 foot long canopy walk that takes you through the branches of oaks, hickories and poplars while overlooking native species of hydrangeas, perennials and camellias. A pond full of aquatic plants, a Japanese garden and rose garden are just a few things you should expect to explore here. Between the concerts they offer, the chef demonstrations and the guided tours; there is truly something for everyone. Check out the garden at night in the summers when unique structures feature hundreds of miles of optic fiber, turning the garden into an enchanting storybook setting.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

10 Places in North America to Escape the Heat

It’s been a long, hot summer – and it’s likely to just keep getting hotter. That jug of fresh iced tea isn’t meant to be sipped inside with the shades drawn and that blow-up kiddie pool you’ve outgrown doesn’t have to be your only means of summer heat relief. Because we have good news! There are quite a few places you can go to escape the heat – and none of them involve heading to the Southern Hemisphere. North America provides plenty of watery getaways, but you’ll also find a couple chill cities on this list. Here are the top 10 places to cool off in North America.

10. Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver does get a little warm at times, but for the most part, the cool breezes off the water that nearly surrounds the entire city are a constant relief. While the city’s public transportation is excellent, getting around on foot lets you see all its splendor. Try walking the Granville Bridge for the most perfect views of the city’s glass-fronted skyline, and then, after exploring the public market, take an Aquabus back across False Creek to downtown. If you’re looking for something a little more refreshing, visit one of the cities secluded swimming holes filled with glacier water. It doesn’t get much colder than that! Lynn Canyon is a great place for cliff diving, or to simply sit on a rock with your feet in the frigid water. There’s also Capilano Canyon located next to the Capilano Suspension Bridge where there are even more cliff diving spots, with some as high as 60 feet in the air!

Photo by: GoToVan via Flickr
Photo by: GoToVan via Flickr

9. Six Flags White Water -Atlanta, GA

There’s no denying Atlanta can be hot and sticky in the summer. But drive 30 minutes away to Marietta, and you’ll cool down in Six Flags’ stand-alone water park. Owned by the amusement park operators famous for their gravity-defying roller coasters, you’ll find more than lazy rivers and looping slides here (although they’ve got those as well). The Dive Bomber is White Water’s premier adrenaline rush, with their feet dangling freely in the air, riders are sent plummeting over a hundred feet, nearly straight down. Talk about a nice breeze! Calm your heart in the wave pool or get it racing again in the pitch-black darkness of Black River Falls.

Photo by: Six Flags White Water
Photo by: Six Flags White Water

8. Nova Scotia, Canada

Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, barely breaks a sweat in the summer because of its fresh salty ocean air. Take your camera to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a little over an hour away. The town looks remarkably similar to the way it did when it was founded in 1753, and its wooden architecture is perfectly picturesque. From Lunenburg, circle the island, photographing the iconic lighthouses along the coast. Then make for Brier Island, an out-of-the-way gem that features some of the best whale-watching in North America. Marine life is guaranteed (so always keep that camera ready!), but the refreshing breezes might be all you need.

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

7. Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Remember those lazy summer days you spent as a child, barely leaving the water? You can revisit them at Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where your biggest problem will be choosing which Great Lake to set your towel alongside – Superior? Huron? Michigan? Travel inland where you can cool off in one of the many glacier lakes, or hike to Tahquamenon Falls, the region’s largest waterfall. Explore the cliffs and beaches of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, here you can take a glass bottom boat tour of Munising Bay to view some of the area’s shipwreck sites, or paddle on your own through sea caves and around the coves of lighthouses.

Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan

6. Rangeley, Maine

Maine’s coastline gets rather crowded in the summer, so head inland to this charming town, located on the edge of Rangeley Lake. Relax in town while wandering through the historic streets, or use it as a jumping-off point to the Rangeley Lakes Region, which consists of six large lakes and hundreds of smaller lakes and ponds, rivers, streams and waterfalls. It’s known as a fisherman’s paradise, but the area also offers up almost every water sport imaginable, as well as hiking trails, lake cruises and beautiful overlooks along the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway.

Rangeley Maine

5. Mexico City, Mexico

Escape the heat in Mexico? Yes, thanks to its mile-high altitude, the country’s capital rarely gets unpleasantly hot. Put aside any misconceptions of Mexico City, as it’s both beautiful and endlessly intriguing. Visitors can poke around the many markets, seek out public spaces displaying the works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, take in exhibitions featuring Aztec artifacts, or simply sit and sip the lightly-alcoholic beverage known as pulque. Those wanting a bit of exercise can hike Chapultepec Hill, which offers incredible views from its summit, then immerse themselves in a history lesson at its castle, now the National History Museum.

mexico city

4. Schlitterbahn Waterpark -Kansas City, Kansas

Amusement Today named the Verrückt the “World’s Best New Waterpark Ride,” which alone is a reason to visit. It’s the world’s tallest waterslide, and riders are strapped into a raft before being sent flying down a 168-foot drop, then whooshed up a second hill and down another 50 feet. This ride’s so popular that you need to make a reservation when the park opens, but once your group is assigned a ride time, there’s no need to waste time in line. That leaves you free to cool off in one of the many slides and chutes that transport visitors across the park, making it unnecessary to ever leave the water.

Photo by: Schlitterbahn New Braunfels
Photo by: Schlitterbahn New Braunfels

3. Cannon Beach, Oregon

Babies of the ‘80s will quickly recognize Cannon Beach’s most prominent feature, Haystack Rock, from when the Goonies are checking their map for buried treasure. Ecola State Park might also be familiar to fans of the Twilight movies. But for Oregonians and visitors alike, Cannon Beach is simply a beautiful place to escape the summer’s heat. Even when temperatures push 100 inland, you might need a sweatshirt to walk the sand here. Oregon’s beaches aren’t meant for swimming – unless you’ve got a wet suit – but the dramatic, jagged coastline and the misty morning views will more than make up for it.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

2. Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska

If seeing the continent’s tallest peak isn’t on your bucket list, then skip Denali National Park in favor of the second best with a truer wilderness experience at Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Mount St. Elias weighs in as the second-highest mountain, and along with two neighboring parks, the 24-million-acre wilderness park is the largest internationally protected area. Summer is short, the mountains retain their snowcap all year long, and you can kayak through Icy Bay. This area is also where you’ll find Bagley Ice Field, over 100 miles long, as well as the Malaspina glacier, which is bigger than Rhode Island.

Wrangell St. Elias National Park

1. CHILL Ice House -Toronto, Canada

It might seem strange to build an ice bar in Toronto, where temperatures are near freezing half the year. But wise men and women looking to escape the heat should not only come to this city, where temperatures are rarely stifling, but also get themselves to the CHILL Ice House. Upon entry, guests put on hats and gloves, plus a digital watch that tracks purchases, so no one needs to feel their fingers freeze when handing over cash. Kids are welcome to come and gawk at the frozen interior until 8 p.m., but after that adults remove their coats and head to the speakeasy to sip drinks from ice cold glasses.

Photo by: CHILL Ice House
Photo by: CHILL Ice House

The 8 Best States to Live if You’re a Foodie

Foodies come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common: they love great food. Seeking out bold new flavors, foodies are always up for culinary adventure, and many like to support organic and local producers. But what about when it comes time for a foodie to put down roots? While every American state has its own unique culinary traditions and many have vibrant and growing food scenes, some states seem to be natural oases for foodies. Here are our picks for the top 8 states for foodies to live in the U.S.

8. Maine

Lobster and cranberries are the mainstay of cuisine in Maine, which maintains a unique position in New England cooking. Lobster rolls are relatively cheap and abundant, and blueberry pie, made from wild blueberries, is the state’s official dessert. Eggs, dairy, poultry and maple syrup are some of Maine’s major agricultural products, a fact that’s reflected in cooking around the state. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, Maine is also home to a growing locavore movement, likely inspired by traditions of small, family-run farming operations and the can-do attitude of early colonists. Small-batch preserves and pick-your-own operations are popular, and upscale restaurants serving dishes made of locally sourced ingredients are popping up around the Portland of the east coast. The countryside is dotted with farmers markets and there’s a growing agrotourism industry. A mix of history and innovation come together to make Maine a place for foodies to watch.

Maine Lobster

7. New Mexico

Southwestern cuisine is something of a phenomenon. Blending Amerindian, Mexican and European dishes and flavors, a new culinary tradition was forged in the arid desert climate of the Southwestern states. Reflecting the environment, Southwestern cooking tends to offer up smoky and spicy flavors reminiscent of Spain, the Mediterranean and the south-of-the-border influences of Mexico. New Mexican cuisine, however, is not the same as Mexican or Tex-Mex; it’s something else entirely—as evidenced by the state’s claim to have invented the breakfast burrito. Carne adovada, a take on the Mexican adobada, sees pork marinated in red chile sauce. The New Mexican chile (also called Hatch Chile) is omnipresent, added into everything from burgers to fries, and local favorites such as stacked enchiladas and sopapillas, often served in place of bread, round out the menu. Wine and chile festivals dot the map and make Santa Fe and Albuquerque excellent places for foodies to set up shop.

New Mexico

6. Rhode Island

Teeny, tiny Rhode Island on the Eastern Seaboard isn’t likely the first place people think of when they think of a culinary tour de force. Nonetheless, the geographically small state makes up what it lacks in size by packing a big punch on the gourmand scene. Imagine hot dogs with a Greek-inspired flare, locally produced clam chowder that’s influenced by traditional Portuguese palettes and clamcakes, fried quahog fritters that are popular throughout the state. These are just some of the homegrown classics, but the Ocean State also boasts a restaurant scene that’s become a hotbed for young chefs; in fact, Providence, the state capital, has more degreed chefs per capita than any other U.S. city. That means a vibrant restaurant scene and an atmosphere for food adventures. Other cities on Little Rhodie also boast food and wine festivals, which make the state a foodie’s paradise during the summer months.

Rhode Island

5. Louisiana

Louisiana might be seen as backwards by some people, but one thing is for sure: Louisiana’s residents are progressive and inventive when it comes to culinary creation. New Orleans frequently rates as one of America’s top cities for foodies, and it’s not hard to see why. With a unique blend of cultures not found anywhere else in the U.S., Louisiana has developed as a world apart—and that means a cuisine that’s as unique as this Southern belle. From French-inspired fare in the French Quarter of the state capital, to cajun-spiced catfish caught in the muddy waters at the mouth of the Mississipi, Louisiana-style cooking, more than anything, has typified and influenced “southern” imitators in other countries. Away from New Orleans, tucked away in bayous and swamps of Acadiana, rural communities have developed their own unique Creole dishes. There’s much for a foodie to explore in the Bayou State!

Crawfish boil

4. Washington

Washington State exhibits typical “west coast” attitudes: some of the most progressive politics in the country, high environmental awareness and a keen focus on “alternatives” to mainstream lifestyle. That’s resulted in a culture that’s ready to experiment, to explore and to innovate, and the world of food in Washington is no exception. Seattle is often seen as one of the foremost cities in the foodie revolution. Washington is a prime place, being one of the leading agricultural producers in the U.S., and there’s an abundance of seafood to boot. Coffee and microbrews abound, which means you’ll have great beverage selection whether you’re chowing down on smoked salmon, sampling a hand-crafted cheese or doing dessert with an artisanal chocolate. And while the state doesn’t have the ethnic enclaves others do, it does give others a run for their money in terms of teriyaki.

cdrin / Shutterstock.com
cdrin / Shutterstock.com

3. Texas

When we think of Texas, we typically think of big, open sky and longhorn cattle—and maybe some thick, juicy steaks. Most people wouldn’t imagine that the Lone Star state’s culinary heritage is so much more than that. Arlington, Dallas and Houston routinely rank on surveys of America’s best cities for foodies. Moving beyond meat-and-potatoes diets, Texas chefs have drawn heavily on the state’s proximity to the Mexican border, infusing perhaps more traditional dishes with a decidedly Latin American flavor. It’s no wonder we call it TexMex! Beyond that, cities like Dallas and Arlington attract their fair share of international and domestic tourists, which means ideas are constantly being imported and given a distinctive Texas twist. Whether you fancy some Texas caviar, Texas gumbo or German-style fare with the Lone Star seal of approval, it’s all here for you to discover under the big sky.

Alfie Photography / Shutterstock.com
Alfie Photography / Shutterstock.com

2. California

Check out any list of “foodie cities” in America and you’re likely to find anywhere from 2 to 4 Californian locales mentioned. Places like San Diego, Los Angeles, San Franscisco and the Napa Valley have all contributed to California becoming a food-lover’s dream come true. California has all the right ingredients to make it one of the foremost culinary destinations in the U.S.: a booming agricultural sector, which means much of the fruits and veggies you find are fresh and local; a proximity to the ocean, which means the sea’s bounty is never far from your plate; and a wine-producing region that’s become one of the most renowned in the country. California also has a unique ethnic mix—Latino and Southeast Asian influences echo throughout metropolises like LA—which means chefs have plenty of traditions to draw from as they dream up their next culinary masterpiece. Truly the Golden Coast!

Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com
Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com

1. New York

New York is tough to beat. As one of the oldest American cities, it has acted as a gateway to the U.S. for centuries now, acting as both the heart of business and culture. Ethnic enclaves exist throughout the metropolis of NYC, each contributing their unique culinary traditions—and blending them into fare that’s uniquely American and ubiquitously New York. Outside the city, you’ll find farmland; despite being overtaken by other states in terms of production, the history lingers, and New York remains a prominent producer of crops such as apples, which means chefs and gourmands have plenty of fresh ingredients to choose from. With a reputation as a premier tourist destination and a cosmopolitan population, it’s little wonder that New York claims the top spot on a list of foodie havens. From mom-and-pop shops to five-star restaurants, New York’s culinary landscape is like no other in all of America.

littleny / Shutterstock.com
littleny / Shutterstock.com

12 Great American Food Festivals

It’s no secret that Americans like good food and while there are a few all-American classics, the food across this great nation is largely diverse.  Asian, European, South American… no part of the globe stands unrepresented and no dish goes untouched in the land where food is celebrated at every opportunity. There are so many ways to enjoy the diverse cuisine of America but one of the best ways is to visit one of these great food festivals. Festivals offer you a chance to sample small bites from big places and try a lot more than you probably could than just visiting a restaurant for a full meal, so read on, take your pick and plan to visit these amazing food festivals soon.

12. Taste of Buffalo Festival

While you may be surprised to find the Taste of Buffalo on this list, you may also be surprised to know this festival is actually the largest 2-day food festival in the whole country. People from all over western New York and beyond flock to the streets of downtown Buffalo to sample more than 200 culinary specialties and beverages. With all items priced between $1-4, you can bring the whole family and afford to sample till your heart’s content. Just be prepared to deal with some crowds at this festival as it currently attracts almost 450,000 patrons annually.

Nicholas Piccillo / Shutterstock.com
Nicholas Piccillo / Shutterstock.com

11. Maine Lobster Festival

When you think of east coast specialties, Maine lobster is probably one of the first things to come to mind and it’s being celebrated in every way thinkable at the annual Maine Lobster Festival which takes place at the end of July. The festival runs for 5 days and features a carnival, arts and crafts vendors, art show, a parade, live entertainment and of course lobster! Over 20,000 pounds of these crustaceans are served up during the festival so if you’re a lobster lover this is the festival for you!

Maine Lobster

10.  Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

The annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival heads into its 7th year in 2015 and celebrates one of the country’s best cheesemaking regions. The one day festival takes place in July and highlights the award winning cheeses, wines and artisan foods of the area. There’s cheese themed workshops, cooking demonstrations by local chefs and of course lots of cheese to be sampled. Children under 3 get in free and regular priced adult admission is $50 but this gives you access to the workshops, cheesemaking and cooking demos and of course lots of samples!

Jeffrey B. Banke / Shutterstock.com
Jeffrey B. Banke / Shutterstock.com

9. Savannah Food and Wine Festival

The Savannah Food and Wine Festival is one of the newest and hottest food festivals in the country. 2014 marks the return of this celebration of the south after much success after their inaugural festival last year. Taking place in the fall, the festival runs for 1 week and features events of all kinds including cooking classes, farm to table dinners, celebrity chef tour, wine tastings, riverboat dinner cruise, and of course the main event: Taste of Savannah. Taking place on the Saturday, the streets are closed as patrons sip and sample some of the best the city has to offer.

Cupcakes Savannah

8. The Taste: Los Angeles

Presented by Los Angeles Times and Citi, The Taste is a weekend food festival highlighting the best of west coast cuisine. Featuring several events including opening night gala, field to fork, Sunday brunch and flavors of LA, The Taste provides supporters with a local food experience that’s authentically LA. Sample the best from local restaurateurs all looking to boost their restaurant street cred in a city where culinary competition is fierce and innovation is key. The Taste happens annually on labor day weekend.

Small bites

7. Austin Food and Wine Festival

Austin’s culinary scene has been steadily growing over the years and the Austin Food and Wine Festival proves this city deserves a spot right up with the culinary giants like New York and South Beach. The weekend festival takes place in the spring and includes some notable celebrity chef faces. There are events happening the entire weekend including cooking demos, chef showcases and feast under the stars. The grand tasting event is where you’ll get to try the best bites from the Austin culinary scene.

tacos

6. Taste of Chicago

Since 1980, Chicago’s lakefront Grant Park has been closing to play host to this 5 day food extravaganza celebrating everything that makes Chicago cuisine so unique.  This festival has something for everyone and is perfect for families with the kids zone and live music featuring notable performers each year. Of course there’s also the food…and it comes in the form of food trucks, 5 day festival restaurants and pop-up restaurants; keep an eye out for these short opportunity shops because they’re only around for a day or two!

Photo by: Taste of Chicago
Photo by: Taste of Chicago

5. New Orleans Food and Wine Experience

It’s safe to say the people of New Orleans enjoy good food and drink…in fact they’re downright passionate about it! From beignets to po’ boys, The New Orleans Food and Wine Experience showcases the best of the Big Easy. Not only is food celebrated at this event but this festival goes above and beyond to incorporate another Louisiana passion into the agenda; live music! With hundreds of wineries and restaurants participating each year, it’s easy to see why the festival is currently in its 22nd year.

Shrimp and grits

4. Taste of Vail

Rated among the best food and wine festivals by many media publications, we agree that Taste of Vail is an experience like no other, and should be high on any traveling foodies list. Each April, Vail Colorado hosts this 4 day culinary celebration highlighting the unique Vail lifestyle and renowned Colorado cuisine. While it may not be the biggest food festival in the country, each of the 30+ participating restaurants places a focus on quality ingredients with local flair.

Photo by: Taste of Vail
Photo by: Taste of Vail

3. NYC Food and Wine Festival

The New York City Food and Wine Festival presented by The Food Network and Food and Wine is a party with a purpose. 100% of the net proceeds from the 4-day fall festival go towards Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and the NYC Food Bank. With over $7 million raised in its six short years it’s clear to see this city supports both food and wine as well as community support. At this event you’ll find lots of recognizable Food Network celebrities but event tickets aren’t cheap so save up before visiting this one.

Cheese plate

2. South Beach Food and Wine Festival

Also presented by The Food Network and Food and Wine, The South Beach Food and Wine Festival (or SOBEWFF as it’s known) has been delighting diners in Florida for over 13 years. The event began as a 1-day festival at the Florida International University campus and was moved to South Beach in 2002 and as they say; the rest is history. South Beach is widely known as the premier celebration of celebrity chefs, exceptional wines and south coast dining. If you’re looking for a great food experience in a beautiful setting SOBEWFF is your spot.

South Beach

1. Aspen Food and Wine Classic

Celebrating its 32nd year, the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen is like the pro-bowl of America’s culinary scene. It’s a star studded affair with big name chefs like Tyler Florence, Giada De Laurentiis, Marcus Samuelsson and many more. The Classic allows chefs to demo their best new recipes, wineries to pour their finest drops, and attendees to enjoy all the best of these culinary geniuses…all surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the mountains.

Aspen Food and Wine