Mount Forest, Ontario
Experience Canada's love of butter tarts.
Saccharine, syrupy pie filling oozes out of a flaky-yet-substantive crust in every bite of a handheld butter tart. While purists demand that the Canadian dessert be made with only butter, sugar, syrup and eggs, others add ingredients to skyrocket these pastries to culinary stardom — think pumpkin, bacon and rhubarb. Ontario's Wellington County rounds up all the possibilities along its Butter Tart Trail. If you pick up a bike rental from B-Active Cycle and Fitness before heading into Mount Forest, you might be able to keep your calorie count low. Start out with an original tart at Munro's on Main, where a side of house-made butter tart ice cream is not considered indulgent. Quirky finds include tart-shaped soap at 6Y The Clothing Corp and dog treats made of chickpea and carob flours at Spoil Me Pets. Tired legs need a good rest, so make your way to Colonel's Rest B&B, where you'll wake in the morning to the scent of butter tart waffles.
Stop along the famous bourbon trail.
There's no wrong way to discover the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but to miss the Windy Corner Market and Restaurant would be as sad as not sampling a single whiskey on your trek. Enjoy its Kentucky Boy — a pulled-pork barbecue sandwich with bourbon barrel beer cheese, red onions, shredded lettuce and crispy fried pickles — from a seat at picnic tables with views of horses grazing nearby. Gratz Park Inn should serve as your home base. Famous for its hospitality, this elegant boutique inn has 41 rooms adorned with wooden four-post beds, antique furniture and Victorian horse-print fabrics. Stop by Wild Turkey Distillery, overlooking the Kentucky River, and there's a good chance you'll bump into master distiller Jimmy Russell. Take a $5 tour, offered on the hour seven days a week.
Indulge in delicious delights from gourmet food carts and eateries.
I've tasted my share of street food, from New York City to Hong Kong, but Portland is the epicenter of mobile meals, with nearly 500 carts specializing in Mexican, Mauritian and everything between. In my search for a gourmandizing vacation — where I could let all my delicious inhibitions go — there was no other choice but here.
While I'd been in Portland for three hours, only 40 minutes have passed since I'd noshed on Brunch Box's $7 YouCanHasCheeseburger, a thick patty surrounded by grilled cheese sandwiches. And yet, here I am, gobbling down a $5.75 burrito bowl of black beans and grilled chicken from Fuego and planning to attack the palm-sized meatballs in the $9 pork meatball banh mi from Lardo, a cart recently turned brick-and-mortar.
I aim to find heaven at the bottom of a cup of shredded pork from J Mo's Sandwich Shack, but my stomach calls a cease-fire.
After two days of food cart exploration, I diversify my wanton munching, booking a seat at Clyde Common, off the lobby of the Ace Hotel. In the former Clyde Hotel building, the Ace is replete with hipster amenities, such as a photo booth, and ultra-chic clientele, who drape themselves across vintage furniture. But the restaurant is packed with locals filling up on craft beer from the Portland Cider Co.
Its communal tables, which comfortably fit a group of eight strangers, makes it effortless for me to ask my dining neighbor for a house-made soda recommendation. I choose the sparkling lavender lemonade, a fizzy, not-too-sweet substitute for someone who wants to pass on a beer after a weekend of indulging.
My foodie downfall comes just hours later during a walk back to our hotel as my friend and I pass a line for Voodoo Doughnuts. There, my week of gluttony performs its grand finale: A sugar coma courtesy of the Voodoo Doll — a man-shaped doughnut with a pretzel jabbed into his jelly heart. Like sinners ashamed of their extravagance, we check out the next morning in silence, only to spend our trip home plotting a return to the carts we'd missed. // Annemarie Dooling
Give in to your wild side.
Wheaton is a town-sized playground for children and adults alike. Across 146 acres in Lincoln Marsh, you'll find owls, coyote, deer, mink and more than 100 species of migratory birds. But there's room for humans too. The wetland preserve offers 2 miles of trails, a ropes course and climbing wall. While you won't find tigers at Cosley Zoo, you can get close to farm animals, from shaggy Shetland ponies to box turtles and kestrels. Kids get a chance to monkey around too. A classic caboose car outside the zoo's gift shop is ready to be boarded by pint-sized passengers. Grab a snack at the Little Popcorn Store, a skinny shop built into an alleyway on Wheaton's main drag. It may be the novelty of the space — the store is less than 50 inches wide — but it's probably just practice that makes the popcorn so good. The shop has been in operation since 1921.
Vacation like a celebrity in South Beach.
The place lives up to its name. The Epic Hotel offers downtown's most breathtaking view: art deco skyscrapers, islands lush with palm trees and gem-blue water of Biscayne Bay and Brickell Key — all basked in an amber glow. Soak it in from a 16-story perch while dining on succulent lobster at Area 31's posh patio. But true luxury lives in South Beach, so book a room at the lavish Delano, known for its ultra-hip pool and red-hot FDR speakeasy. See dolphins and manatees and the most tricked-out celebrity mansions on board the amphibious Miami Beach Pirate Duck Tour. Then make like a Kardashian and shop the designer-heavy Lincoln Road, but save some sunlight to lounge on the white sand South Beach. Dine at Havana 1957 on Espanola Way where the portions of spicy meat and vegetables are as big as the servers' personalities and the mojitos are not to be missed. Top your night with the ultimate Miami conquest: getting past the velvet rope at the city's hottest club, Liv, and leave feeling like a million bucks.
Pick a bushel of fresh fun for the family.
Red Arrow Highway is flanked by orchards and vineyards with waves that quietly lap at the shores of Lake Michigan. Find a picturesque respite at central Sawyer's Rabbit Run Inn, a four-room cottage that welcomes guests during holidays with a basket of Michigan-grown fruit, cheese and wine. Save room, though. It's just a short jaunt to Eau Claire, where you will find Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm, a 450-acre, family-owned orchard that boasts 250 varieties of apples ready to be plucked from trees. You'll want to snack on a Pink Sparkle — a crisp and tart apple in hues of bubblegum pink — as you fill your basket with fruit. Cap off the day at Lemon Creek Winery, which makes its own wine from grapes grown on its 154-year-old farm. You can sample a barrel select cabernet sauvignon, made from Michigan's oldest cabernet grapes, or choose a nonalcoholic beverage to go. The nonalcoholic peach juice tastes like liquid peach pie — enjoy it for dessert.
Wander through antique treasures.
With 10 antique stores and 20 specialty shops in a single four-block stretch, it's easy to see why USA Today named Lebanon one of the 10 great places to browse for antiques. For North American and European pieces, head to Ambassador's Antiques and Fine Linens, where you'll discover 18th-century English breakfronts and tea boxes. If you're looking for something even older, visit Gerhardt Tribal Art to buy 5,000-year-old Chinese artifacts. Rest up for more shopping at the Golden Lamb Restaurant and Inn. The restaurant built its current brick home in 1815 and is recognized as Ohio's oldest continually operating inn. Rooms are stocked with Shaker antiques and afford views of historic downtown.
Parkersburg, West Virginia
History runs deep along the Ohio River.
For a scenic look at history, hop on a narrated stern-wheeler ride that departs from Parkersburg's Ohio River banks. You'll arrive at Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park, where you can tour the mansion of the island's namesake family, who settled here in 1798. At the Blennerhassett Hotel, rifle through more than 200 books dating back to 1845 inside a pine-paneled library. From Fort Boreman Historical Park, you can take in vivid views of Parkersburg as well as traces of the Civil War, including Union trenches. Ravenous from the trek? Head to da Vinci's, an Italian-American restaurant known for its trademarked German Pizza, topped with horseradish sauce, mozzarella cheese, sauerkraut and corned beef.
Bay Harbor, Michigan
Watch the sun set over Lake Michigan.
Bay harbor, a cheerful port town 4 miles from Petoskey, occupies a prime spot on Lake Michigan and enjoys a front row seat to the lake's famous sunsets. Pack your sunglasses and book a room at the Inn at Bay Harbor, where the spa offers a signature hot stone massage using Petoskey stones, the official state stone of Michigan. The mottled coral fossils can be found scattered across beaches in Bay Harbor, too — be sure to collect some to relieve sore muscles when you return home. Work on your swing at the inn's golf club, where the quarry view from tee No. 8 includes natural waterfalls and patches of wildflowers. For a bite to eat, stop by the South American Grille and Wine Bar, which serves sushi and tapas accompanied by Michigan spirits and live acoustic music. For dessert, make the short drive to City Park Grill in Petoskey, a historic restaurant that got its start as an 1870s billiard hall in the walkable and shopper-friendly Gaslight District.
Phoenicia, New York
Kick back and relax at a retro boutique hotel.
From inside the Graham and Co. Hotel, it's difficult to tell you're outside New York City. The 2-year-old, 20-room refurbished boutique space features chic amenities such as Tivoli radios and a signature shampoo that smells like pillows of mint. But once you toss back its warm Faribault woolen blankets and open the door, the scene is unmistakably Catskills — the hotel is in the center of Phoenicia, just 20 minutes west of Woodstock. The main strip consists of a diner named Sweet Sue's Restaurant, home of more than a dozen varieties of fluffy house-made pancakes, and Mystery Spot Antiques, a vintage shop where patrons can browse the porch after-hours and slide their payment through a slot on the front door. But with a cold beer at check-in, a bijou pool filled with inner tubes and complimentary bicycles built just for the hotel, it will be a challenge to leave Graham and Co. at all.
Hike through sand dunes.
Whether you dip a toe into the sandy surf of Lake Michigan or ascend the 192-foot Mount Tom, Indiana's highest sand dune, you'll experience the awe-inspiring serenity that is Indiana Dunes. Set up your tent a mile beyond the lake, where the densely forested Dunewood Campground offers 53 primitive campsites. It's also near the Rolling Stonebaker, which serves wood-fired pizzas made with locally grown and foraged ingredients out of two Studebaker trucks. If you need to charge your phone, take a walk to Indiana Dunes State Park Campground, which offers modern amenities such as electrical hookups. Otherwise, leave technology behind and walk trails from the water past the dunes — the 4.5-mile Cowles Bog Trail veers past a marshland renowned for its variety of birds and birdsongs — or bike the concrete 10.4-mile Prairie Duneland Trail that passes through the nearby town of Porter.
Have a whale of a time down south.
The 55-degree dark blue water in Georgia Aquarium's beluga tank is bone-chilling, but once the always-smiling arctic whale swims over you soon forget. Every minute of the two-hour Beluga and Friends interactive program is pure joy as a trainer teaches you to instruct a beluga to swim backward and spin around. Dry off and pop over to the neighboring World of Coca-Cola to view fun memorabilia and taste nearly 100 global varieties of Coke. Stroll to Centennial Olympic Park for the colorful free Fountain of Rings show, so magical you might let the kids talk you into riding the nearby SkyView Ferris wheel. Retreat to the Stone Mountain Inn in Stone Mountain Park, home to an 825-foot-tall mountain with a relief carving of three Confederate heroes. Ride to the top for a postcard-worthy view of Atlanta's three skylines: downtown, midtown and Buckhead — it's so majestic you'll linger just a moment longer.