13 Summer Travel Ideas: USA

It’s too early for me to be awake. I was watching my nephew shoot off bottle rockets next to a raging bonfire in BackWoods, USA last night (Greensboro, Pennsylvania). To nobody’s surprise, that lasted all night. But I’m up and I’m happy it’s July 4th. I’m in Morgantown, West Virginia for it, getting ready to embark on an afternoon of one of the most American things out there: a BBQ. I’m either feeling groggy or generous or both, but I want to help you plan your travels this summer across the USA if you haven’t already done some planning. Here are some summer travel ideas, straight to you from The Anti Tourist.

1. Spokane, Washington

Go biking, kayaking, wine-tasting, live-music-watching, or out to eat in this city that surprised me last summer. I had a blast in the blazing heat and you will, too. The Davenport is the main hotel downtown and I swear on my life that it’s haunted.

2. California (Santa Cruz and farther north)

SoCal is gorgeous in its own right, but during the summer, head north–preferably on a road trip up the 101. Between Santa Cruz, The Redwoods, and all that is offered in San Francisco and San Mateo County, you’ll keep yourself busy and wonder why you hadn’t explored more thoroughly before now.

3. Maine

Maine makes for a great summer getaway. You’ll hit a lot of cities on the east coast, but once you hit Maine, you’ll get some much-needed peace and quiet. Try out The Cliffhouse for top-of-the-line oceanside rooms and a rockin’ spa. HINT: you can also bring your dog(s).

Need more ideas? OK. Here you go. 10 more USA summer travel ideas:

4. Pamper yourself at NYC Spas.

5. Visit Asheville. Stay in a B&B in Asheville.

6. Go ghost hunting in Texas, stay here, eat at the Mighty Cone (serious about that last one–FRIED FOOD in ICE CREAM cones, what??).

7. Speaking of ghosts, go to Dudleytown in Connecticut.

8. Colorado is good for more than its slopes. Check out the state in the summertime. Stay at the Boulder Canyon Inn, check out the Bat Cave!

9. Hit the streets of DC. From cool clubs with caves for basements to bed and breakfasts that will give you way too much wine, DC is a sweet city that comes alive in a way we like during the summer. Worship both Jehovah and the Gods of Rock and Roll at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue/Music venue!

10. Go zip-lining in Hocking Hills, Ohio. While you’re there, go Hot-Air Ballooning too, because, why the hell not? How about a Lunchbox Museum? How about flying lessons from a crazy (crazy AWESOME) man?

11. Hike, ride horses, and do other country thaaangs while staying at a B&B in Pennsylvania.

12. Turn off your phone and check into a cottage in Oregon.

13. Go caving. Anywhere. The caves will keep you cool during the hot summer months. Tennesee and Kentucky are full of ’em, but check out a full list of USA Caves to map out your underground route.

Now quit talkin’ about getting away this summer and just do it.

By: Elizabeth Seward

Terlingua, Texas; a Ghost Town Filled with Quirks and Authenticity

The entire front wing is falling down. There are no doors or windows in this wing. There are bullet holes in the kitchen walls along with graffiti from its visitors while abandoned over the decades. There’s an underground radio station in a secret room. There are only two rooms that can be reserved in a wing behind the dilapidated wing. There is one bathroom. There is original furniture leftover from its former residents, hauntingly furnishing what little remains of the mansion.

Graffiti in the kitchen from visitors over the years while the Mansion had been abandoned

Welcome to Upstairs at the Mansion, also referred to as the Perry Mansion, a two-room “hotel” on a hilltop overlooking the (authentic) ghost town of Terlingua, Texas.

Bullet holes in the kitchen walls

The ghost town of Terlingua is a cozy place. It’s quiet. It’s calming. It has a rich history. It has a few residents in what few structures are still standing within the perimeter of the ghost town. Everyone knows each other and most of them can be found on the steps of the local general store on Texas afternoons and evenings, playing guitar and drinking cold beers. Mind you, this general store allows its patrons to purchase beer, leave it in the fridge inside, and take them out one by one as you enjoy an evening on the porch, under the vast Texas sky. The worker keeps a tally of how many you have left. You can’t get more small-town than that. And that, my friends, is authenticity at its finest.

The old kitchen windows, dressed in burlap

Kaci Fullwood, the mind behind the Mansion, is an amazingly intelligent, knowledgeable host, offering immense insight into the surrounding area, local charms, natural history, and area legends. She left the Mansion much as it was when she first crafted the idea of renting the rooms to visitors. Aside from her crafty touches in the livable areas of the Mansion, it stands deteriorating as it has been for several decades, which I find both genuine and intriguing.

A beautiful sconce in the Mansion's hallway

Arriving much after dark on a warm Texas night, there’s an enveloping eeriness to the Mansion. There’s a quietness to West Texas that’s unlike any place I’ve been. It was almost as if the Mansion was breathing and given its history, that’s a possibility. Miss Kaci (as locals call her) greeted me with a glass of Sangiovese and an intriguing conversation in the rustic kitchen (a tin ceiling, a door leading to the dilapidated wing, and original windows), before showing me to my room.

An old filing cabinet in the upstairs room

The room was upstairs. It was simple, simply having two beds and a vanity sink. The curtains hung on “rods” made from local vegetation. And there was an antique filing cabinet found in the remains of the Mansion. The bathroom is at the foot of the stairs, which is lined with built-in bookshelves filled with classic novels and local tales, a collection belonging to another local resident who had nowhere to put them. There’s another door leading to the top floor of the inaccessible wing which remains sealed, as the floor is no longer existent.

Sunrise from the Mansion's porch

I awoke around 5 a.m. to brew some coffee and watch the sunrise over the Chinati Mountains from the Mansion’s porch. The vibrant colors slowly rising over the desert and mountain ranges was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen. Steam from my hot coffee created a mystic, cloud-like forefront to the distant sunrise. By 7 a.m., Miss Kaci and I were off to Mexico, via River Road, listed in America’s most scenic drives, which travels along the Rio Grande River into Presidio, Texas before crossing into Ojinaga, Mexico, which was about a two hour drive from the Mansion, though I took my time for innumerable photo ops along the route.

Saying farewell to the Mansion, en route to Mexico

We spent the morning exploring the sidestreets of Ojinaga, having roadside ceviche, and interacting with other Terlingua locals who happened to be having lunch at the same drug-lord operated restaurant where we were having morning margaritas (Miss Kaci is well-informed). One of my favorite characteristics of Ojinaga were the city official trucks with cannons in their beds. I didn’t know cannons were still considered conventional weapons?! We then ventured farther in search of San Carlos, a small village about 3 hours into Mexico. We went through Mexican Federales checkpoints (a dream come true for me- ridiculous, I realize) and explored the quiet streets of a village that had little activity aside from a cock-fighting arena and a couple of local farmers selling produce from the back of their truck. With timing seemingly perfect, we were headed back to Terlingua along River Road as the sun set over the Rio Grande, offering scenery that words do no justice.

Alongside River Road leading into Presidio

After napping, I headed down the hill, just footsteps away, to the Starlight Theater, a local restaurant next to the town’s general store- a colorfully converted theater turned restaurant and bar in an adobe style building, specializing in live music and wild game.

The beautiful colors of Ojinaga dwellings

The following morning, I set off to explore the ghost town by foot, which I’d yet to do. I enjoyed the Wild West cemeteries scattered amongst decrepit mining houses, backdropped by mountain ranges in all directions, wooden crosses standing pridefully in the desert stillness. I met Blair Pittman, a former correspondent for National Geographic, for lunch at the Ghost Town Cafe, a very local diner- a diner so local my waitress was rolling cigarettes at the table next to me while I ate homemade chicken noodle soup and Bridget (the Ghost Town Cafe kitty) happened to jump into my lap mid-meal. I ventured with Blair to a different ghost town he lives on- a former cinnabar mine (which I’m not allowed to name- hey, that’s The Anti Tourist loyalty; some things are meant to be discovered on our own).

A local farmer selling produce in San Carlos, Mexico

I had planned to leave thereafter when I received a last minute offer from a townsperson to stay another night in their friend’s adobe house in the town. Apparently the said friend was in Ecuador, so they did the logical thing and sent their daughter through his window to unlock the doors, granting me an entire house to myself for another evening of exploration. Anytime “breaking and entering” is involved, I’m happy. Again, names will be left unstated for obvious reasons.

The Starlight Theater

So, I headed to Long Draw Pizza for dinner. I somehow scored a free pizza, made friends with some locals who I ended up incredibly intoxicated with (Newcastles were only $2), and was taught that cell phone usage is not permitted in Long Draw. In fact, the owner will go ape-shit if she sees you on your phone. I like this. We ended up going to La Kiva, a bar down the street, and playing a game called Butt Darts. (That’s one of those things that must be discovered on your own as well. And I might be a little bit ashamed.)

Bridget, the Ghost Town Cafe kitty

The next morning I ventured to Kosmic Kathy’s Kowgirl Kafe, a pink roadside trailer specializing in BBQ. I sat around a fire with a few locals, attempting to cure the damage from the previous eve. One man mentions being at La Kiva the night before when I said, “Oh! I was there last night.” He responds, “I met you last night. Do you remember playing butt darts?” Laughter ensued around the campfire. I then met Brown Dog, who is apparently the collective pet of Terlingua. Brown Dog wonders the highway between Study Butte and Terlingua (about 5 miles), stopping at restaurants along the way, knowing what time people will be where. When veterinary attention is necessary, a random townsperson will take him and set him free again. I was informed that there’s no worry of a traffic accident as Brown Dog’s apparently a “free spirit, a wanderer, a wise dog.”

Brown Dog relaxing at Kosmic Kathy's

The quirks, authenticities, mysteries, and discoveries are endless in this quiet, remote corner of West Texas. Within just three days, I gained random insight, nearly unbelievable stories, unusual experiences, new friends, local knowledge, and reassurance of realness left in the world. Terlingua offers a change of pace that seems impossible to achieve. Terlingua offers a direct interaction with a history long lost. Terlingua offers remarkable beauty, a genuine sense of community, and most importantly, a reminder that our personal velocity is, in fact, our personal option.

Remains of Terlingua dwellings

By: Ashley Halligan

The Mighty Cone–Ice Cream’s New Rival: Austin, Texas

1600 S. Congress Ave, Austin, TX
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 11am to 9pm

In true Austin fashion, The Mighty Cone sits in a parking lot in the ever-trendy South Congress district. Little more than a trailer and picnic benches, The Mighty Cone offers Hot ‘n’ Crunchy sandwiches in a cone. The Cone’s owner, Jeff Blank, began this fair-worthy food back in 2002 when the Austin City Limits Festival contacted Hudson’s on the Bay to help entice local restaurants to join the festival’s food court. At that time, Hudson’s on the Bay was already offering Hot ‘n’ Crunch trout, easily one of their most ordered entrees. Blank and Executive Chef Robert Rhoades began to test their breading on other foods and decided to go with chicken, breaded with their Hot ‘n’ Crunchy, wrapped in a tortilla, dropped into a paper cone and served with mango-jalapeño slaw and ancho sauce.
Just like that, the Hot ‘n’ Crunchy Chicken Cone was born. These cones proved to be a fan favorite at the ACL Festival for years, and they ended up expanded the menu to include avocado and shrimp. After the fair hype and sales, Blank knew he had to offer the Hot ‘n’ Crunchy Cone on a regular basis. In March 2009, he launched the opening of The Mighty Cone on South Congress. Blank’s motto: “If it sits still long enough, we’ll put Hot ‘n’ Crunchy on it.”

The Mighty Cone is an expanded version of the ACL Festival offerings. They now offer a variety of cones to include their chicken, avocado, and shrimp staples and combinations of those. The chicken avocado cone is tasty and filling. The Mighty Cone also offers a cone dog, which is made with grass fed venison and beef sliders. For vegetarians, the cone has All-Veggie sliders. Pair any cone with some fries or the even bolder chili-dusted fries and you’re in for a real fair experience. Finally, but certainly not least, wash it all down with fresh hand-dipped Blue Bell shakes that come in chocolate, vanilla, or fresh strawberry. The best part? The Hot ‘n’ Crunchy Chicken Cone is a mere $4.95. They offer delicious food that’s easy on the pockets, and FAST. This is lunch-break-approved and a definite destination for any traveler trying to avoid restaurant chains in Austin.

If you happen to find yourself on the South Congress block, look for the bright red picnic tables and big umbrellas. You might order a cone and chat amongst your friends while it cools in their fancy cone holders (each table offers many holders) and enjoy the foot traffic and music that South Congress always offers. The Mighty Cone: definitely giving ice cream a rival in the cone business.

By: Tanya Munoz

Geeks Unite at Local Watering Hole: Austin, Texas

In the midst of the many bars on West 6th Street lies a group of nerds. Not just any nerds–nerds that drink. Opal Divine’s Freehouse attracts geniuses, historians, random fact students, drinkers, and anyone who can answer questions. On a Tuesday night, when most families are eating supper with their children, 17 teams are playing Geeks Who Drink pub trivia. The quiz consists of eight rounds and teams can be no bigger than six people. Questions are read aloud and air all over the bar. These questions can range anywhere from 80’s TV Shows to lipstick lesbians. (So please note that while Opal Divines is generally a family-friendly establishment, the quiz is not. If you are sitting with a child, the quiz masters ask them to alert their server. Who knows what they do with those children?)

Geeks Who Drink is not for the faint at heart. It is competitive and includes bonus questions at the end of select rounds, where contestants and geeks alike can attempt to win a free pint of beer. This challenge basically comes down to who can write the fastest. The quiz masters also use audio rounds– which is always fun to try to hear in a noisy bar.

So why strain your ear and possibly your dignity just to come out for such a nerdy night? The prizes. Prizes include: discounts off your bar tab, free beers and a random prize (like an air freshener that says “My cat is the only one that understands me”). Also, Tuesdays are Pint Night–where you can get delicious tasty beers for under $3.25. If you arrive between 4 and 7pm (quiz starts at 8pm), you’ll hit their Happy Hour which has the ever-so-dangerous Prickly Pear Margarita for a mere $3. (Editor’s note: whaaaaaaaaat???!)

The teams last night ranged from dedicated Geeks who come every week to random people who just happened to be there on a Tuesday night. One gentleman I spoke with was so serious about the quiz that he did not want to talk to me, for fear that he would miss the scoring of the teams. The same gentleman also declined to have his picture taken. (Editor’s note: I hate him.) But do not fear! Many other Geeks proved to be much more social and friendly. Joseph, who was sitting by himself, kindly accepted my offer to join our team. This new found friendship proved to be most satisfying, as he ended up being a Historian with a lot of right answers (bonus!).

I must also put in a brief mention of the food, because it is…tasty. Whether you are in the mood for a side of fires with an array of dipping sauces or some pub style fish and chips, Opal’s has the menu that will satisfy all your pub needs. Since the actual bar has a plethora of seating, I recommend outdoor patio seating in Matt’s section. This lovely mohawked bartender knows how to pour a drink and give it to you in a timely manner. Just one Tuesday at Opal’s will show you why the locals flock here. Regardless if you are a geek or chic, nest up at Opal’s for Geeks Who Drink night. At the very least, you will find entertainment in the competition. You’ll laugh at the off-hand questions asked in such a sultry voice and you’ll find solace in a pint from this hot Texas heat.

By: Tanya Munoz

Hotel San Jose: an Austin Tradition

Famous (and rightfully so) hotelier Liz Lambert crafted a masterpiece on Austin’s South Congress Avenue when she flipped the original uber-modern Hotel San Jose built in 1939.  As chronicled by the hotel’s documentary, The Last Days of the San Jose, Lambert had a seemingly unconquerable task ahead of her, refurbishing the deteriorating and violent scape of the San Jose frequented by crackheads, prostitutes, and once- a stabbing, and all too often guests unable to pay the hotel’s rate offering only what they could.

Everything about the hotel is a contradiction- a beautiful contradiction that is. With stucco walls and cacti aside ivy-covered walls and complimentary baskets of apples scattered throughout the premises, Hotel San Jose is both modern and simple, Feng Shui-appropriate and exquisitely quirky- yet surprisingly calm and invigorating. A place you would go when you want both serenity and hipness, tastefully paired with house-made white wine sangria and Polaroid cameras available for rent to snap nostalgic photos of the cozy corners San Jose has tucked away behind desert flora and ’50s inspired lawn furniture. Vintage typewriters are also available to rent during your stay, so you can write haikus under a shade-tree, a love letter in the comfort of your bed, or maybe a death threat while under the influence. Either way, the unusual amenities are quite romantic.

The courtyard is chill and funky, while hipster servers take orders in high-waisted pencil skirts and short, perfect bangs- orders for fun beers like Ephemere and the new house charcuterie board. Neighboring the hotel pool, the courtyard births an ambience of 1950s eclectic-ness with Jetsons-y touches and rock-n-roll artistic-ness.

Tucked into the overgrown walls of San Jose, it almost feels as if you’ve entered a desert fortress somewhere completely other than this too-hip-to-be-trendy section of South Congress Ave. The rooms are simple and complex, masterfully done. The walls are white. The floors are white. The bathroom is white. A colorful tapestry adds a splash of color to the bed and an antique school desk sits perfectly under the bright window with a single, fresh white flower on its top.  A typed Billy Collins poem called “Morning” on nothing other than plain, white paper is tacked to the bathroom wall with a sewing pin. Simply, yet boldly stated.

The mini-bar offers irresistable novelties as well. My weakness? Cracker Jacks. Cracker Jacks ignite the inner child and when paired with a full bottle of Blanc du Bois (made with Texas grapes) from Georgetown Winery (30 minutes north of Austin), it’s easy to please the aging drunkard as well, similarly to the contradicting presence of San Jose itself.

Within walking distance of some of Austin’s most iconic local businesses, San Jose’s location is prime for those who seek exploration. Nearby is Pink Hair Salon, offering one of the city’s only beehives (yes, really!); Home Slice Pizza, which hand-tosses dough as you wait and is arguably the BEST pizza in town; Boticelli’s, an Italian restaurant with a delightful beer garden and outdoor films on Sundays (my favorite that I’ve caught thus far? Mr. Mom); Uncommon Goods, perhaps my favorite salvage and vintage shop ANYwhere; the Continental Club, featuring great bands nightly; and Hey Cupcake (if they haven’t discontinued it for ethical purposes, the Michael Jackson is my favorite- white on the top and black on the bottom). And those are just a few of the nearby treasures.

San Jose is what happens when the cardigan-wearing librarian girl has a naughty love affair with the leather jacket-clad Jimmy Dean look-a-like. And there’s something sexy about that. Though it makes no sense to those who’ve yet to visit, San Jose is the perfect reflection of an institution and rock-n-roll, truly creating a School of Rock appeal.

By: Ashley Halligan