South Haven, MI
Growing up, my family spent every summer in this area. It takes the meaning of the word "special" to a new level; we are obsessed with this place. My Grandparents bought a cottage on a nearby lake back in the '50s and that, I believe, has to be the best money they ever spent because it has become the place where so many family memories have been created over the years.
I always remember summers at The Cottage being endless, even as our stays there got shorter and shorter as we got older. This summer, we're going back for the first time since we've had kids. I am looking so forward to showing them around just as so many other generations in my family has in years past. Check out these scruffy young characters racing sailboats on Lake Osterhout (me and my brother Rick racing our homemade sailboats c. 1985):
In terms of things to do in South Haven, I've enjoyed hanging out at Three Pelicans (recently renamed to "The Fish Tale" or some such thing) on their open air deck drinking some South Haven Iced Teas; or their sister establishment across the way The Bayou Beach Club. Captain Lou's is a great little hole in the wall bar to visit. When I retire, I'd like to buy it and call it "Captain Bob's". It is right under the drawbridge where my brother Rick has, in the past, generously offered to buy a round of drinks for the bar whenever the bridge goes up. The younger set might enjoy a trip to the old fashioned Soda Fountain at Macdonald Drug Store- delicious stuff.
The family favorite restaurant in town is Clementine's- don't miss their onion rings by the foot. And absolutely, whatever you do, do *not* miss Sherman's Dairy Ice Cream. Best ice cream anywhere, and it is their 50th anniversary this year.
Four Seasons Aviara, Carlsbad, CA
We discovered this gem while we were living in Arizona. This Four Seasons offers a resort hotel and adjacent Four Seasons Residence Club. We first visited for 3 nights as part of a Residence Club preview package. This place is amazing on so many levels I don't know where to begin. When we arrived they had chocolate covered strawberries and Champagne waiting for us, and it just kept going from there. The preview package is a great deal because for $250/night you get to stay in a 1,000 square foot villa that would probably cost close to $800/night, and the only thing you have to do is stop in and talk to them about the the Residence Club (timeshare) for about 30 minutes. They brought us some muffins, some coffee, they told us the pricing and they sent us on our way. Later that night they called and asked if we wanted some complimentary tickets to the Padres game. The service was amazing.
Though I tried to rig the math that would convince myself that buying into their timeshare program was a good deal, I just couldn't make the numbers add up. I knew I wanted to go back to this property again, and I didn't want to pay too much for it, so I signed up for http://redweek.com. There, I found a week being rented by an agency for a great price and we went back and had the time of our lives. This property is the #1 rated timeshare in the world according the Timeshare User's Group. Clearly, I love this place; but I also recommend timeshare rentals in general as being one of the best values in the travel industry.
Must do: Lay by the pool, have an attendant "set you up" with towels, and order lunch poolside with an icy cold beverage. You won't want to leave the resort.
Top food: The Friday night all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. Avoid the starches and load up on the lobster tails. But be careful not to overdose and have an allergic reaction!
Sedona/Grand Canyon/Flagstaff, AZ
When I'm rich and famous, and consequently interviewed in the American Way in-flight magazine, I'll surely wax poetic about my home state. I grew up in Tempe, AZ and went to college in Flagstaff, AZ so when it comes to showing visitors Arizona, I love to take them on a loop as follows:
- Get an early start from Phoenix and head up to the Grand Canyon. Stop for lunch in Flagstaff on the way at the Crystal Creek Sandwich Co. It's OK if you get to the Canyon towards the later part of the day because the views only gets better as the sun sets.
- On the way back from the Grand Canyon, stop and spend the night in Flagstaff. The lodging options are nothing special, but there are lots of great bars and restaurants. For bars, the names are ever changing, but if they're still there I'd recommend Beaver Street Brewery, Maloney's Tavern and Collins Irish Pub. For restaurants I'd recommend Buster's (for fried zucchini and a Buster Bowl), August Moon (for the best $5 Chinese food you've ever had), and Strombolli's (for a Strombolli calzone and a pint of Oak Creek Nut Brown Ale). Oh, and be sure to visit the NAU campus- alma matter to three Dwyer kids!
- The next morning, head down through the switchbacks to Sedona. Sedona has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are tons of great hikes to take around Sedona. Nearby Slide Rock State Park is always fun. It's like a naturally occurring water slide. I like to stop in Tlaquepaque (tuh-la-key-pah-kee) to stroll around the shops and have lunch at El Rincon.
- Once you're done in Sedona, head back to Phoenix to relax for the rest of the day. Taking in some margaritas under the stars at a nice resort in North Scottsdale would be the perfect end to the day (though I'm usually zonked after this trip and just want to rest).
What vacation destination defines you? I'd love to hear about it. Please post a comment below to share.