Day Trips From Charleston

Charleston has something for everyone, so there’s always plenty to do. But if you get restless for a little more variety, the city’s central location on the South Carolina coast offers plenty of easy day trips to explore the Southeast.

Here are six popular destinations within two hours’ drive of Charleston:

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Myrtle Beach with Skywheel, South Carolina

MYRTLE BEACH: The broad, sparkling sands along the “Grand Strand” provide a classic beach experience more commonly associated with Florida or the Jersey shore. Amusement parks, arcades, miniature golf, Ripley’s Aquarium, and a new 1.2-mile boardwalk anchored by the “Skywheel” Ferris wheel make this a popular destination for youngsters and their families. Myrtle Beach is known as the “Golf Capital of America” for its numerous, well-manicured courses. Nightlife includes theaters with live musical performances, fresh seafood restaurants, and clubs where you can learn the Carolina shag – a Southern style of beach dancing that originated in Myrtle Beach. For a more laid-back outing, check out nearby Murrells Inlet (the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina”); the mansions and grounds at Hopsewee Plantation, built in 1735; or the dramatic collection of outdoor figurative sculptures at Brookgreen Gardens.

Hilton Head Harbor with lighthouse

Hilton Head Harbor with lighthouse

HILTON HEAD ISLAND: Located midway between Charleston and Savannah, Hilton Head is consistently ranked as one of the “Top 10 Best U.S. Islands” by Conde Nast readers. “Golf Island” is home to more than 20 championship courses and regularly hosts the PGA Tour. The island also boasts a number of top-rated tennis facilities, with more than 350 courts in all three Grand Slam surfaces – including covered courts so play can continue during the occasional rain shower. Hilton Head has also been voted one of the Top 10 beaches for families. Explore the tidal waters by kayak or paddleboard, or sail the Atlantic Ocean. Upscale resorts, shopping at 200-plus retail and outlet stores, and more than 250 restaurants complete the picture.

COLUMBIA: The “River City” is the capital of the Palmetto State, drawing visitors to cosmopolitan restaurants, live music, theaters, public art, and historic buildings. Tour the Hampton Preston Mansion and Gardens, originally constructed in 1818. Explore Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens, home to more than 2,000 animals and one of the country’s top botanical gardens. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike or canoe through the old growth bottomland forests of Congaree National Park. Or head to 50,000-acre Lake Murray for boating, fishing and picnicking.

FLORENCE:  A regional center for sports, shopping and the arts, the “Magic City” area offers diverse cultural and recreational opportunities. Hop into a pace car and challenge the Darlington Speedway — the NASCAR track billed as “Too Tough to Tame”. Or for a quieter outing, visit the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville, where the self-taught artist has created a stunning collection of living sculptures.

BEAUFORT: Imagine a colonial seaport with antebellum mansions overlooking the Atlanta Ocean, and you’ll picture Beaufort – the location for such films as “The Big Chill” and “The Great Santini”. Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride in the Landmark Historic District, or paddle down the Beaufort River on a guided kayak tour. This charming city provides a perfect quiet Lowcountry getaway.

Augusta, Georgia skyline

Augusta, Georgia skyline

 AUGUSTA, GA: The world comes to Augusta each April for the Masters Golf tournament. But there’s plenty to see and do year-round at this thriving city on the Georgia-South Carolina border. Relive the musical career of Augusta’s own James Brown at the Augusta Museum of History, which recently expanded its permanent exhibit honoring the “Godfather of Soul”. Ride a Petersburg flatboat along the historic Augusta Canal. Or look for blue heron, red-shoulder hawks, bobcats and alligators in their natural habitat at 1,100-acre Phinizy Swamp Nature Park.

Once you’ve had a taste of these nearby coastal and inland destinations, it will be time to head back to Charleston for more fun!

If you are interested in visiting Charleston, South Carolina check out our Charleston Vacation Packages and start planning your next vacation!

Bobby L. Hickman is a freelance travel and business journalist based in Atlanta who specializes in the Southeast. His work has appeared in such publications as Southern Living, Georgia Trend, and TravelMuse.com. You can contact him through www.blhickman.com

Vancouver’s Active Playgrounds

Breathe. Just breathe.  Skulking across the Capilano Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, I tell myself not to look down, yet I have to. It is dreamily lush and woody. I must take in the rainforest splendor, but the distance between me and the Capilano River below is a nasty 230 feet. That part I, the acrophobe, do not like.

One foot in front of the other. I have made it across the 450-foot, undulating arm of steel supports.  It was not so bad, and I feel sense of victory, for I did it without beads of sweat breaking across my forehead.  On the way back, another tourist is not so fortunate.  An adorably tiny, young Japanese tourist is clinging onto the steel suspension cable with a grip so tight I think her fingers will not be able to unfurl.  The guide is trying to calm her down, but all she is doing is shaking her head with eyes shut tight crying, “No, no, no!”

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Capilano Bridge

Taking a trip this summer with your outdoor lovin’ pals? Look no further than Vancouver where you will be mesmerized by the sheer volume of adrenalin-rushing things to do inside the city and on the outskirts. And yes, if you are like the Japanese tourist described above, you will be relieved knowing low-intensity, non-death defying activities are also in abundance.

While the Capilano Bridge in North Vancouver has been around since 1889, the bridge has become quite the tourist attraction and is now called the Capilano Bridge Park. It has evolved to become a natural adventure zone that includes, as of 2011, Cliffwalk, a series of cantilevered walkways and suspension bridges that jut out from a granite cliff. Also included in the $31 adult admission is the Treetop Adventure, seven suspension bridges that link fir tree to fir tree. While there, families can spend the day watching First Nations performances and bringing their kids to the soaring tree house made with recycled wood.

Also found in North Vancouver is Grouse Mountain, a ski and summer resort replete with a zip line, snow sports, an aerial tram, hiking trails, and casual and fine dining at The Observatory which has 360-degree views.  Both soft and hard core explorers will benefit here, for no one will go home feeling like she was not challenged. The annual Grouse Grind Mountain Run is a 1.8 mile sprint where participants zip straight up the Grouse Mountain. Locals call the incredibly steep trail “nature’s Stair Master.”

Capilano Reservoir - Whistler Mountain

Capilano Reservoir – Whistler Mountain

About two-hours outside of Vancouver are the famous communities of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain, both renown for their Olympic level ski mountains. You do remember that the Vancouver and Whistler region hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, yes? So you are in for a treat when you go skiing here. Everything was remodeled and retooled in time for those games. And the surrounding lodging consisting of condos and hotels was also spiffed up.  Around the Whistler and Blackcomb area are a number of lakes for fishing, boating, and swimming.  Like Grouse Mountain, while known mainly for skiing, the Whistler region is popular in summer as well with many, many activities to enjoy for all ages.

Gondola at Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain

Gondola at Whistler and Blackcomb Mountain

Need another reason to come to Vancouver? Best times to come are winter or summer, all dependent on what you love to do. Several major festivals will show you how Canadians can party with gusto.  In April, the Vancouver Sun Run features some 54,000 runners who will trod the six-mile course. Then in June, the Vancouver International Jazz Festival brings talent out to 40 venues throughout the city.  The same month, the Dragon Boat Festival celebrates with 5,000 dragon boat contenders from around the world.  In the fall, keep on the lookout for the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival.  And during the holidays, a myriad of celebrations sprout from every suburb and village.

Skiing, hiking, festival hopping.  In winter or summer, you’ve come to the right place for adventures both physical and cultural.  When you plan it right, you can partner a festival with excursions to remember.  For a family trip, multi-generatoinal reunion, guy or girlfriend getaway, Vancouver is suitable for all activity levels and all ages.

For more information about Vancouver, check out California Tours Vancouver Vacations.

Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books, Sunset Magazine, and many others.

Vancouver: Canada’s Great All-Around City

When you think of a vacation spot that has it all, Vancouver tops the list. Great climate? Check. Easy-to-use public transit? Check. Awesome cuisine? Check. Safe and clean streets, scenic wonders, unique neighborhoods, trendy shopping outlets?  Check, check, check, check, check.

Vancouver

Vancouver

Perched on the coast of British Columbia, Vancouver is a peacock of a city: colorful, proud, beautiful, vibrant. This multi-ethnic metropolis, bordered on 3 sides by water, boasts more than 603,000 residents and was named recently as Canada’s best destination and the world’s most reputable city. Urban pleasures abound with a plethora of music and cultural experiences, balanced with outdoor adventures such as hiking, biking, and skiing. Best time to visit are in the summer months.

How to get around? Newcomers can rent a car, but they don’t have to. Some tourists may recoil at the thought of going into a major city without the use of an auto, but in Vancouver, a sky tram and bus system works hand-in-hand to get visitors and locals to the places they need to go.

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Granville Island Market – Fresh produce

For the first timer, several  key attractions are must-sees.  First, pedestrian-only Granville Island is a foodie’s and shopper’s paradise. This hopping farmers’ market surrounded by eateries and charming stores filled with handmade items provides a sensory explosion, topped off with outdoor music around its many courtyards and public spaces. Jugglers, minstrels, mimes, you name it, are here to entertain, not harass, although tipping is highly encouraged.  In September, the island will again host the Vancouver Fringe Festival, an event that promotes 400 independent plays in 11 days. The acts  range from comedy to drama and everything in between. For theater junkies, this buffet of theater is an ideal reason to come to Vancouver while supporting the work of playwrights and thespians.

For families, one of the best place to take kids (and anyone for that matter) is the uncomprable Stanley Park. The 1,000 acres in beloved Stanley Park is comprised of rose gardens, serene trails, lakes and lagoons, trails, playgrounds, and herculean cedar trees. Of note are the myriad of artists who come out of hiding from their studio enclaves to paint, sketch, and sell their wares which adds for wonderful people watching on a sun ripened afternoon.  Another blessed gem here is the Vancouver Aquarium, The giant tank famous for its beluga whale, tropical forest, and regional and international aquatic life.

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Totem Poles at Stanley Park

While walking and picnicking at Stanley Park is highly recommended, visitors can bike or leisurely admire the park via vintage car, double decker bus, or horse drawn carriage.

Meanwhile, Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood established in 1886, gives all a lesson in urban revival. Now honored as a National Historic Site since 2009, the cobblestone streets of Gastown will give goosebumps to those enamored by Victorian architecture and history. Here you have quaintness juxtaposed with a hipster verve where creativity seems to merge with the molecules of the air.

Gastown is the newest restored enclave where writers, artists of every ilk, architects, and interior designers live and breathe. This tony village has become quite the high-tech hub for entrepeneurs wanting to establish digs. Explorers will find eateries and fine dining by the monikers of Chronic Tacos, Judas Goat Taberna, and Nelson the Seagull. At last count, Gastown officials counted 180 shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and restaurants, a subset of the 550 businesses in this hood of 100 antique buildings.

Be sure to take a photo of the signature icon, a restored, whistling steam clock, a popular meet-me-there corner for locals. Don’t rush through Gastown. The Inuit and fine art galleries, gourmet food hops, and fashion-forward boutiques with colorful window displays must be savored. Gastown is one of the venues for the annual Vancouver International Jazz Festival held every June.

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Gastown Steam Clock

And no trip to Vancouver can be complete without trekking to the 55-acre Buchart Gardens, which draws visitors around the globe for its abundance of waterfalls, manicured flower beds and trees. A full-day visit always leaves tourists flabbergasted and flummoxed at the variety of the flora and fauna.  These are all kept in tip top shape by 50 gardeners who will practically sterilize the walking paths, keeping them leaf and blossom free. And it’s not just a place for grandma and her garden club. The place is plenty kid-friendly with an enormous gift shop with stuff for all ages.  And for kids, there is a carousel at only $2 a ride. Families can also book children’s parties in the dedicated party room.

How long to spend in Vancouver? You can never spend too long in this B.C. city that never seems to sleep. However, if you spend time at Granville Island, Gastown, Stanley Park, and Buchart Gardens, you’ll have enjoyed the tip of the city’s tourist iceburg. After tasting the pleasures of Vancouver, you will be back for a second helping.

If you need assistance planning your vacation, check out California Tours Vancouver Vacations.

Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books, Sunset Magazine, and many others.

Hiking in Hawaii

 

While there are many spectacular destinations to hike around the globe, the Hawaii islands offer its visitors a plethora of excellent hiking trails. There are nine island masses that make up Hawaii: Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Each island has its own unique geography and history. Whether you are interested in a physically strenuous, but very fulfilling hike, or if you enjoy a less challenging scenic hike, the Hawaii Islands are the place to go.

Hiking Na Pali Coast in Kauai

If you are seasoned hiker, or even a beginner, there are numerous trails in Kauai to satisfy all your hiking needs. Much of Kauai is inaccessible by road, making it the perfect hiking destination. The Kalalau Trail along the Napali Coast is 11 miles long. While this trail is considered challenging, don’t let that stop you from exploring its beauty for at least 2 miles to see Hanakapi’ai Beach. The view of Kauai’s North Shore is breathtaking – with the lush green mountain terrain on one side and the steep cliff drop towards the powerful ocean below, the Kalalau trail is not one to miss.

There are also many famous hiking trails on the Big Island. King’s Trail, also known as Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, is located on the Kona Coast. It is a 175-mile long trail that travels through numerous ancient Hawaiian settlements.  You will come across temples, petroglyphs, and even fishing shrines! In addition to the cultural and historical richness of the trail, the natural resources will be surrounding you in abundance. Look for the native sea turtle habitats – when the water is calm you may see turtles in small coves along the shore.

Pipiwai Trail waterfalls, Maui, Hawaii

The Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park in Maui offers its visitors a glimpse of the island’s beautifully diverse scenery. Don’t forget to pick up some bamboo hiking poles at the trailhead. The hike has some steep slopes in the first half mile that can be difficult to maneuver, especially in the rainy season from November through March. Highlights on the trail include sights such as a majestic banyan tree, a bamboo forest, and cascading waterfalls. Waimoku Falls, located at the end of the trail, drops 400 feet off a sheer cliff of black lava rock.

View from Diamond Head

Have you even wanted to hike up a volcano? If you are planning a visit to Waikiki, the Diamond Head summit trail, or Le’ahi in Hawaiian, is not to be missed. Diamond Head received its name by British sailors in the 19th century who thought they saw diamonds on the volcano slopes. Although there were no diamonds to be found, the name stuck. This 560 foot climb can be done in about an hour and any able-bodied person can enjoy its spectacular 360° views. From Waikiki, to the Pacific Ocean, to Ko’olau Mountains, the views are absolutely stunning. Bring water and sunscreen with you on the hike to the Diamond Head crater, as it can get hot on the trail and a nice breeze and shade are sometimes hard to come by.

Always take precautions while hiking. Be sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and/or muddy. It is also important to always bring water and food, as the hiking can work up an appetite. Even if you are a seasoned hiker, it is best to hike with a partner. Not only will you be able to share the sights with someone, but it’s always nice to have a helping hand on those steeper slopes. Hawaii is gorgeous with its pristine natural beauty and its magnificently breathtaking views. There are many well-tread trails that wind around the islands of Hawaii, don’t miss your opportunity to explore as many of them as you can. For information on Hawaii vacations, check out California Tours Hawaii Packages and book your flight and hotel today!

For more trail information check out the following links:
Kauai: http://www.hawaii-guide.com/kauai/hiking_trails
Hawaii: http://www.gohawaii.com/
Maui: http://www.gohawaii.com/maui/guidebook/topics/hiking-on-maui
Oahu: http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu

Napa Valley- Reservations Required

Appointment only wineries are worth it! They say wine is like a story and Napa Valley certainly has a lot. Don’t miss your opportunity to get all the juicy details from insiders. Wineries requiring reservations offer one-on-one time and often the chance to meet the winemakers themselves. Don’t deprive yourself of the true VIP experience by only sticking strictly with public tasting.  Make a reservation and finally find the time to relax, have a glass of wine, and take advantage of the intimate setting at these “exclusive” wineries.

Straight from the vine, freshly picked Napa Valley Grapes

Pros-Not the most experienced wine connoisseurs-fear not. Surprisingly the appointment only wineries are not as exclusive and highbrow as many may think. The wineries we experienced were down to earth and most importantly not phased by our sometimes-remedial questions.  The value of tasting are largely better, by limiting the number of patron wineries can focus on quality control rather than surviving the bum rush at the tasting bar. Savor the moment, no one is rushing you and you have the wine host all to your self. With private tasting you have a captive audience, the pourer has no reason to move on to bigger wallets- don’t be shy to ask for seconds.

Cons- yes you do have to pay a tasting fee that is on average more expensive than the public wineries. Keep in mind you are also paying for the opportunity to taste some superior quality wines available nowhere else. Why not bring home a Souvenir; often tasting fees are waived when you decide take a bottle home.

Wanting to try the experience for ourselves we called ahead and made appointments with two of Napa’s hidden gems: Fleury Estate and Schweiger Vineyard & Winery.

Front patio view from Fluery Estate Winery, Napa Valley

Appointment only Fleury Estate Winery lives up to its motto: 100% Good Juice. Their wine BDX is featured exclusively on French Laundry’s Tasting Menu- an honor that is not overlooked in the valley. Owners’ son, Eric, admits that they have no plans of making their wine available in stores anytime soon. Despite their upscale following Fleury’s atmosphere is surprising casual and fun. Eric was charming and candidly shared some of the family stories behind the wines. We spent most of our appointment with him and his passion for the family business was obvious.  Tasting highlights include: Reserve Howell Mountain BDX and the Port.

Schweiger Vineyard & Winery, Napa Valley

Historically Napa Wineries have been family owned. Boutique appointment only wineries, like Schweiger, are keeping this tradition alive, keeping both grape growing and wine making in the family. Upon arrival at this mountaintop vineyard we observed owner Fred Schweiger running a tractor through the rows. Erin our hostess sat on the balcony and chatted with us like an old friend. She told us about the wine, family history and even doted on her favorite vineyard dog.  We learned that every year wine-maker and son Andrew releases his Dedication Wine, of which he honors someone important in his life. We easily could have spent our entire day there our day was that enjoyable; at Schweiger Vineyards & Winery, “…what’s important is family and friends”.  Highlights: cheese plate with tasting & cellar and “wine blending tour”.

Interested in visiting similar appointment only wineries in Napa Valley? For a complete listing of appointment only wineries in Napa Valley please see www.napavintners.com. Check out California Tours’ Napa Valley Packages and book your private wine country get-away today!