Whether it’s west of the Mississippi or western Europe, there’s something about heading westward that fills one with anticipation. It’s been explored, settled and re-invented, but there’s still plenty to discover at points west on the proverbial compass. Here are some things to check out, as well as fresh takes on the familiar.
Utah's famous dry powder snow and spectacular ski resorts have long made it a favorite destination for Atlanta-based skiers and snowboarders, thanks to direct flights between ATL and SLC. You can be on the slopes of world class Olympic venues within an hour after deplaning at Salt Lake International. What's new this year is the IKON Pass, which offers five-to-seven days of skiing at three Utah resorts: Alta, Snowbird and Deer Valley Resort. In a week's time, you can ski at all three resorts for cheaper than it would cost if you purchased full-day lift tickets at each one. If you only want to ski at Deer Valley, one of the more luxurious resorts in North America, it's still cheaper to buy the IKON pass for a week's worth of skiing than it is to purchase lift tickets at the resort each day. And if you're planning another ski trip later, the pass is good at 27 resorts in the U.S., Canada, and Australia after your Utah adventures are done. It's important to note that Alta and Deer Valley don't allow snowboarding, but Snowbird does. Seven-day pass $999, five-day pass $699. Some restrictions apply. 303-729-3174, www.ikonpass.com.
Napa and Sonoma get all the glory when it comes to California wine, but Lodi in the San Joaquin Valley in the central part of the state has been providing wine grapes to the wineries in those more famous regions for decades. More recently, the Lodi Wine Country has been producing its own fine wines. Boutique wineries specializing in small-lot wines now dot the landscape, home to many old-growth vines. It makes a nice low-key wine country getaway alternative with the added character of an older California vibe, where rural and agricultural roots run deep. Stay at the Wine and Roses hotel, a 66-room property on 7 acres that feels like a Mediterranean-style resort. There's a full-service spa on site, as well as a restaurant and lounge with an impressive wine list featuring more than 70 local wines. The visitor center for Lodi is also on the premises so you can plan your tasting room excursions steps away from your room. Lodi is easily accessible from the San Francisco and Sacramento airports, with the latter being the closer, lesser-trafficked option. Rates $209 and up. 2505 W. Turner Road, 209-334-6988, winerose.com. www.visitlodi.com.
Paso Robles, Calif.
The Allegretto Vineyard Resort in Paso Robles has installed a new outdoor sound circle pathway that it claims is the world's first sonic labyrinth. Like many Zen gardens, the pathway is designed to provide guests with a peaceful journey inward. As they walk, guests experience a variety of gentle and soothing tones activated by motion sensors and provided by various wind instruments such as three-chambered clay vessel flutes sounding harmonic notes. The farther you walk the more synchronized the tones become. There's no melody, but the music is designed to make you slow your pace and become more mindful. "The idea is not to have a musical melody exactly, but to have different notes of harmonic sound to help evoke various emotions, ultimately creating a calming state of mind through this transformative experience," said proprietor Doug Ayres. This fits right in with the overall wellness mission of the resort as a place of harmony and self-discovery. Rates $349 and up. 2700 Buena Vista Drive, 805-369-2500, www.allegrettovineyardresort.com.
Home of the Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America, Taos has been attracting artists to its stunning landscape for decades. It was most famously the stomping grounds of Georiga O'Keeffe. The arts scene continues to thrive today, and now it includes a burgeoning music scene. Local venues and festivals draw top acts to this remote and mystical city in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Taos Vortex festival debuted last month, bringing the Flaming Lips and Thievery Corporation to Kit Carson Park while spotlighting local acts and artists. The grounds of Taos Mesa Brewing have become another hotbed of the music scene featuring events like Music on the Mothership, Motet on the Mesa and the Fish Out of Water Festival, all relatively new events featuring a wide array of musical genres. In between big concerts and multi-day festivals, there's live music around town every day of the week year-round. See who's playing atwww.taos.org.
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Jackson Hole is best-known as a winter and summer mountain getaway but if skiing and crowds aren't your thing, fall is the best time to visit. This is when visitors can enjoy the area's rustic charm without the peak-season chaos. Deer, elk and moose are in their breeding season, and bears are seeking food for winter, so the wildlife viewing opportunities are abundant. Positioned at the base of Grand Teton National Park and a short drive to Yellowstone National Park, it's a great place to experience the changing colors of the season. Delta offers daily direct flights from Atlanta. Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was recently ranked No. 10 in Conde Nast's Readers' Choice poll, making it the highest-ranked resort in Jackson Hole. The hotel is situated slopeside and offers a multitude of fall activities before the snow starts falling, including wildlife tours, hiking, mountain biking, hot air balloon rides, horseback riding and fly-fishing. Rates $305 and up. 3385 Cody Lane, Teton Village. 855-318-6669, www.tetonlodge.com.
San Antonio, Texas
Remember the Alamo, sure, but also venture beyond touristy downtown to discover San Antonio's vibrant arts scene, great museums and other historic sites. Use the River Walk along the San Antonio River as your transportation artery. Beyond the crowded downtown section, there are quieter sections such as Museum Reach and Mission Reach. Here, you'll find locals enjoying green spaces, public art installations and hip spots like the old Pearl Brewery, now a live/work/shop/play development where it seems there's always an art event happening. Nearby is the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Witte Museum that focuses on Texas history and the DoSeum, a children's museum, all easily accessible via the River Walk. Mission Reach south of downtown leads to four Spanish Colonial missions built in the 1700s. Beyond the River Walk, the McNay Art Museum is worth the short drive for its well-rounded collection of Medieval, Renaissance and modern art in a former Spanish-Colonial Revival mansion. For the best of the local contemporary art scene, head to the working studios and galleries in Southtown, home to the Blue Star Arts Complex and other artists' communities. www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com. The McNay Art Museum, $20. 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave. 210-824-5368, www.mcnayart.org. Blue Star Arts Complex, free. 1414 S. Alamo St. 210-354-3775, bluestarartscomplex.com.
Every October more than 750,000 people flock here for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a nine-day event that fills the crisp blue skies of the high desert with hundreds of colorful and creatively designed and shaped hot air balloons. This year marks the 47th annual Fiesta, the largest gathering of balloons and balloonists in the world. The signature events are the morning mass ascension, which launches each weekend (Oct. 6-7, Oct. 13-14) and once mid-week (Oct. 10). Other favorite events include the Balloon Glows that light up the nighttime sky and the Special Shape Rodeo spotlighting unusually shaped balloons, always a crowd favorite. Besides the balloons, there are food and craft vendors, and a wide array of entertainment is offered each day including a special music event called Music Fiesta on Oct. 13. Balloon rides are available, too. $10 per session. 4401 Alameda Place. 888-422-7277, www.balloonfiesta.com.
It isn't hyperbole to suggest that central Idaho near the resort town of Sun Valley is the best spot in America for stargazing. That's because it's the first place in the United States to be named a Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark Sky Association. There are a few designated Dark Sky Parks in the U.S., including one in Georgia, but the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve encompasses an amazing 1,416 square miles. Within its boundaries, there are two core wilderness areas in the Sawtooth and White Clouds mountain ranges where conditions are optimal for night sky viewing thanks to clear air quality at high elevations and no light pollution from nearby towns or developments. Even in the more populated Sun Valley/Ketchum area, the Milky Way is easily visible on clear nights and the photo opportunities for night photographers are abundant. Take a short drive or hike away from the main streets up to a bald knob or out to an open meadow to see the heavens open up in a brilliant starry display not usually seen within most city limits. visitsunvalley.com. www.idahodarksky.org.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Many people think of St. Moritz in the Swiss Alps as a pure winter and skiing destination. After all, the place has hosted two Winter Olympic Games. But early fall is just as enticing for sailing enthusiasts. The Engadin Valley is home to Lake St. Moritz, a crystal-clear high alpine lake with ideal wind conditions for sailing, complemented by breathtaking panoramic mountain vistas not usually seen from a sailboat. The historic Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains, built in 1864, offers an outdoor program specifically tailored to the warmer months that includes sailing excursions on the lake. This isn't only a sightseeing cruise but one where you learn how to sail while receiving expert instruction from the skipper. Other activities before winter sets in are mountain biking, mountain climbing, goat trekking and glider flights. The hotel is situated steps away from a cable car that transports guests up the mountain to mineral springs known for their healing properties. Rates $284 and up. www.kempinski.com/en/st-moritz/grand-hotel-des-bains.
Off-the-beaten track in Italy
Like many western European destinations, Italy has become overrun with mass tourism during the high season in places like Venice, Florence and Rome. Two travel companies aim to highlight lesser-known spots in Italy as a way to combat over-tourism. La Dolce Via Travel and Rethinking Italy by Divertimento Group focus on alternative itineraries for the curious traveler willing to explore new and different locales. The companies provide customized immersive visits to places like the hilltop village of Matera in southern Italy for explorations of the ancient Sassi cave dwellings, or the island of Murano in the Venitian Lagoon, famed for its artisan glass-making, among many other highly personalized adventures. Both companies were founded by and are run by women with extensive experience in the Italian travel market who have close relationships with the residents of the places they visit. This allows them to create custom trips where you may find yourself trekking on a family's farm in the Matera countryside or exploring a little-known town near Rome with a hidden lake where Caligula is said to have raced his ships. La Dolce Via Travel. 844-446-4825, www.ladolceviatravel.com. Rethinking Italy by Divertimento Group. 708-386-7197, www.rethinkingitaly.com.
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