Las Catalinas is a New Urbanism development on the Pacific Coast in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica. Contributed by Preferred Hotels and Resorts

Four Points of the Compass: Head south for a star-gazing cruise, lesson in civil rights

Whether traveling in the United States or the tropical climes of the Caribbean and Central America, check out what’s new and noteworthy at points south on the compass, or get a different perspective on familiar destinations.

Montgomery, Ala.

Once called “the Cradle of the Confederacy,” Montgomery has come a long way since Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. These days, Alabama’s capital is a burgeoning hot spot, a riverside city with a strong culinary scene along with plentiful historic sites, many connected to the civil rights movement. A new attraction in town is a sobering and heart-wrenching one: the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, aka the National Lynching Memorial. The hilltop site commemorates every documented lynching in the U.S. It’s a difficult subject to talk about, but the memorial and nearby Legacy Museum tackle the subject head-on. The memorial contains 800 hanging monoliths, each one representing a county where a lynching, or many lynchings, occurred. For each inscribed monolith, there’s a double waiting for the county to claim it and carry it back home to erect. It serves as a challenge to the rest of the country to face the demons of our collective past and honor the victims of racist vigilante justice. Memorial $5, museum $8, combo ticket $10. 417 Caroline St. 334-386-9100.

Yellowhammer Brewing is one of the craft breweries located inside the Campus No. 805 complex in Huntsville, Ala. Contributed by Yellowhammer Brewing
Photo: For the AJC

Huntsville, Ala.

Abandoned industrial sites and schools are a common sight across the nation, but many cities have taken action and repurposed them into thriving work-play destinations. Huntsville contains two great examples of this trend with the rebirth of an old mill and middle school. Lowe Mill and Campus No. 805 are now two of the hippest spots in town, home to artists’ studios, craft breweries and entertainment venues. Lowe Mill mainly concerns itself with creating a space for artists to work, display and sell their work. The former textile mill claims to be the largest privately owned arts facility in the U.S. It’s also home to the popular Concerts on the Dock music series with the former loading dock of the mill serving as the concert stage. Campus No. 805 is home to two craft breweries along with a bottle shop, arcade, an event center, as well as locally owned bars and restaurants. The facilities, different from each other in look and feel, retain elements of their past uses and are only blocks away from each other in the resurgent West Huntsville neighborhood. Lowe Mill, 2211 Seminole Drive, 256-533-0399, Campus No. 805, 2620 Clinton Ave. 256-519-6212,


We may be heading into cooler weather, but that doesn’t mean the family can’t enjoy playing a water park now that Great Wolf Lodge has opened in LaGrange. The new massive all-season indoor water park and adjacent lodge and adventure park is situated right next to I-85 between exits 13 and 14. Housed in a 93,000-square-foot facility, the water in the park stays at a comfortable 84 degrees no matter how cold it gets outside. Great Wolf Lodge doesn’t sell day passes, so you have to be an overnight guest of the lodge to enjoy the park. This policy creates an environment free of overcrowding and long lines like at most day-pass water parks. Admission to the water park is included in the room rate, and all of the rooms are suites designed to accommodate different-sized families and groups. Beyond the water park, the resort features plenty of kid-friendly activities day and night, along with an array of shopping and dining options. Story Time, a pajama-friendly event for young kids by the fireplace in the lodge each evening, offers a show and bedtime stories to cap off a day of adventure. Rates $199 and up. 150 Tom Hall Pkwy. 844-473-9653,

Georgia State Parks 

New at Georgia State Parks for 2018 is the Parks After Dark program aimed at showing people a different side of the parks with a variety of nocturnal activities. Options include full-moon hikes, paddling excursions, movie nights, concerts, hayrides and tours by candlelight or lantern at some historic sites in the parks system. Astronomy and stargazing programs are popular activities The best park for gazing at the nighttime sky is Stephen C. Foster State Park. Located in the remote Okefenokee Swamp where artificial light pollution is at a minimum, it’s a designated International Dark Sky Park, joining the illustrious ranks of national parks such as Death Valley and Grand Canyon. It’s the only Georgia park to make the list compiled by the International Dark-Sky Association. Recurring ranger-led nighttime events include astronomy programs like the Swamper’s Guide to the Galaxy and paddling and motorboat excursions like the Constellation Cruise and the Moonlight Paddle. Check the Parks After Dark event calendar to stay abreast of the multitude of events at all the parks. Parks After Dark, 800-864-7275, Stephen C. Foster State Park, $5 parking. 17515 Highway 177, Fargo. 912-637-5274,

Mount Pleasant, S.C.

The Atlanta-based Hotel Indigo chain opened its first South Carolina location this year in Mount Pleasant, located across the harbor from downtown Charleston. The new hotel is situated at the foot of the Ravenel Bridge providing easy access to downtown as well as to the attractions on the Mount Pleasant side such as the Old Village Historic District, beautiful Shem Creek with its dockside restaurants, and Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. Beaches and historic plantations are a short drive away. The Hotel Indigo brand has become known for its local focus that strives to blend in with the neighborhood it’s a part of in both design and feel. You’ll find plenty of Lowcountry elements here, from the palmetto trees lining the resort-style pool to the offerings at Eliza’s Bar and Kitchen. It’s fitting that a Hotel Indigo has finally opened in the Palmetto State since the indigo plant was historically a part of the state’s economy in its earliest days, a fact that isn’t lost on the hotel’s decor. Rates $124 and up. 250 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 843-884-6000,


Downtown Nashville is booming and one of its newest boutique hotels brings the retro vibe with its mid-century modern flourishes. The Fairlane Hotel opened in March, repurposing the landmark 401 Union building in the business and arts district and creating an interior that feels like a throwback to the “Mad Men” era of the 1960s with its design motifs. The company behind the project, Oliver Hospitality, is the same one behind the rebirth of Atlanta’s legendary Hotel Clermont. Oliver has done a similar job with the Fairlane, bringing a modern touch to the property while retaining beloved vintage elements of the building. On the fourth floor, Ellington’s Mid Way Bar and Grill serves classic American fare and features an outdoor terrace with a view. In the lobby, there’s an outpost of the famed New York Jewish deli Mile End Delicatessen. Situated in the heart of the city, the hotel is an easy walk to some of Nashville’s top performing arts venues like the Ryman Auditorium and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, among others. Rates are $249 and up. 401 Union St. 615-988-8511,

SkyWheel in Pier Park at Panama City Beach, Fla., is scheduled to open this month. Contributed
Photo: For the AJC

Panama City Beach, Fla.

Panama City Beach retains traces of its vintage Florida past, but it has largely cast off the Redneck Riviera moniker it was given decades ago. Gone is the beloved Miracle Strip Amusement Park and its once-iconic beachside observation tower. Unless you’re staying on the upper floors of a condominium high-rise, parasailing, or riding in a helicopter, you won’t get a view from on-high anywhere else but the top of the new SkyWheel at Pier Park, slated to open this month. It’s like Skyview Atlanta, only at the beach. Topping out at nearly 200 feet, the glass-enclosed gondolas of the SkyWheel overlook Pier Park, a large open-air shopping and entertainment facility across from a municipal pier that stretches 1,500 feet into the Gulf from the wide white-sand beach. At the top of its rotation, SkyWheel will provide one-of-a-kind views of Pier Park, the surrounding landscape and the emerald Gulf waters. The air-conditioned gondolas seat six people, with one VIP gondola seating four. Rides will last 10 to 15 minutes. The Skwheel will be a year-round attraction. Price TBA. 15700 LC Hilton Jr. Drive, 850-888-0020,

Beech Mountain, N.C.

Beech Mountain is best known as a winter sports destination where skiers and snowboarders flock to the slopes. Before the snow comes, though, it makes a great hiking, mountain biking and fall foliage getaway. Adjacent to the slopes, there’s the seven-mile Emerald Outback trail system that crisscrosses the mountaintop and is open to hikers and bikers. At 5,400 feet, it’s one of the highest mountain biking spots in the east. The Town of Beech Mountain also contains 20 miles of hiking trails. Multiple accommodations in town are participating in the Hike and Wine lodging package this fall. Two people can stay two nights in an inn, lodge or cabin, get a wine tasting at Banner Elk Winery, guest passes to the local recreation center and receive a detailed trail map at check-in. The offer is valid through Nov. 11. Keep in mind that the Town of Beech Mountain is one of the highest elevation towns in the east so peak color may arrive a bit earlier than at lower elevations. Beech Mountain Hike and Wine package $199 for two people. $15 for an extra tasting at Linville Falls Winery., 800-468-5506.

The Montford Point Marine Memorial at Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville, N.C., commemorates the first African-American Marines to fight for their country during a time of segregation. Contributed by Blake Guthrie
Photo: For the AJC

Onslow County, N.C.

Situated between the Outer Banks and Wilmington on the North Carolina coast, Onslow County has everything one would expect from a coastal destination including great beaches, high dunes anchored by sea oats waving in the salty breeze, inland waterways where dolphins frolic, sailboats plying the Intracoastal Waterway and the enchanting historic waterfront village of Swansboro. What sets the destination apart, though, is its sense of purpose and remembrance to the men and women who served in the U.S. armed services at Lejeune Memorial Gardens, located in Jacksonville on the edge of the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. The garden contains the Beirut Memorial, dedicated to the 241 military personnel killed during the 1983 barracks bombing in Lebanon; the glass-walled Vietnam Veterans Memorial; and the Montford Point Marine Memorial, which honors the first African-Americans admitted to the Marine Corps during a time of segregation. There’s also a museum. The county’s African-American Heritage Trail contains other noteworthy sites, including Bear Island, once a vacation spot for blacks during the Jim Crow era when public beaches were segregated. The undeveloped barrier island is now part of Hammocks Beach State Park, a coveted primitive camping and beachcombing spot blissfully free of crowds. Lejeune Memorial Gardens, Montford Landing Road, Jacksonville, Hammocks Beach State Park, $5 ferry, $13 camping. 1572 Hammocks Beach Road, Swansboro. 910-326-4881,

Las Catalinas, Costa Rica

The New Urbanism movement has reached the Pacific shore of Costa Rica with the rising of Las Catalinas. The seaside village in the Guanacaste Province was inspired by places like Seaside in Florida, widely considered to be the first New Urbanist community, and the ancient seaside towns of the Mediterranean. Like those places, foot traffic is the most prominent form of transportation. The streets of Las Catalinas are car-free pedestrian zones, and the surrounding area is a forest preserve with miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails providing spectacular coastal and tropical forest views. Accommodations consist of a variety of vacation home rentals but in February 2019 the Santarena Hotel is slated to open. The 45-room property will be situated steps away from Playa Danta, one of the region’s best beaches, and feature a variety of dining and drinking options including a rooftop lounge. Rates $425 and up. 866-357-3872,

Animal Hero Award Given to Beagle with PTSD

St. Vincent and the Grenadines

The newest luxury hotel in the southern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Lesser Antilles island chain is Liming Bequia on the tiny island of Bequia. Opening Nov. 1, the property is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection. Accommodations are provided in private villas, each with their own infinity pools providing ocean views. A five-bedroom mansion called the Gingerlily is also available at the adults-only property. In local parlance, the namesake word of the hotel, “liming,” means “the art of doing nothing.” This is a place to while away the days and nights in tropical relaxation, whether strolling the lush gardens or the idyllic beach. If adventure is what you crave, board a hand-built schooner for a day trip to Mustique, or head into colorful and bustling Port Elizabeth. Rates $542 and up. 877-234-7033,

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