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Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is most famous for its stunning red rocks, which are particularly beautiful in the glow of sunrise and sunset, and have formed the backdrop for many a western film. The temperatures here are cooler than other Arizona destinations, thanks to the higher elevation, and Ponderosa Pines surround the city. It’s a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, with excellent biking, horseback riding and especially hiking. Some of the most popular hiking spots include Cathedral Rock, Bear Mountain, Bell Rock and Courthouse Rock.

The stunning desert-meets-forest scenery has, unsurprisingly, attracted many artists, and Sedona has become known for its numerous art galleries and craft shops. The inspiring setting has also drawn a New Age crowd; in the 1980s, the discovery of Sedona’s “vortexes” — concentrations of spiritual energy — caused alternative medicine peddlers, psychics, and vortex tour companies to make shop here.

L’Auberge de Sedona has one of the most stunning natural settings in not just the Southwest, but the country, with the picturesque Oak Creek running underneath shady trees, and Sedona’s soaring red rocks suspended in the background. Most of the luxe guest rooms and woodsy cottages come with fireplaces and private decks. It’s a popular spot for corporate retreats and romantic getaways. Families may want to check out the Village of Oak Creek — at the southernmost tip of Sedona — which offers restaurants, shops, hiking trails and Sedona’s only 18-hole public golf course. Las Posadas of Sedona is a quaint B&B in the area, with massive suites and freebies such as daily appetizers and cookies.

- Oyster.com Staff

 

Photography by Oyster.com

Norway is best known for 2 things: Its jaw-dropping prices and its stunning natural beauty. For those who can afford to go, Norway offers a wealth of outdoor riches — dramatic, lush fjords; cascading waterfalls; red farmhouses in rolling valleys; and jagged mountain peaks. It also offers impressive history, and some visitors come primarily to see the wooden medieval stave churches around the country or the Viking ships on display in Oslo.

Understandably, the summer months are the most popular for tourists, and the long days mean it’s possible to pack in a lot of sightseeing. Visitors can partake in activities such as hiking, fishing, kayaking, and beach bumming (yes, there are beaches in Norway; the ones near Stavanger are quite nice). Fjord cruises are by far the most popular summer activity; for many, seeing the fjords is on the do-before-you-die list, and for good reason. But plenty of people (and Norwegians) spend the winter on the slopes.

For many visitors, Oslo is just a stopover city before heading to Norway’s more charming metropolises. But it nonetheless boasts plenty of sights and high-end hotels. The Carlton Oslo Hotel Guldsmeden is a quaint option, with 50 shabby-chic rooms and an eco-friendly philosophy.  Domestic flights are the easiest way to get from city to city, and Bergen is a popular home base for leisure visitors. The Radisson Blu Hotel Norge, Bergen is a family-friendly option, with a large swimming pool on-site, while the Clarion Collection Hotel is a romantic spot, with sexy décor and gorgeous city views.

- Oyster.com Staff

“You’ll only gain 1 pound, rather than 20.” Those were my final words when I appeared on NBC Miami as the resident travel expert last month with InterContinental Miami’s Toro Toro executive chef Rodolfo Cuadros. Together, we introduced a dish that we created specifically for Intercontinental’s Kitchen Cookbook iPad app, an interactive app created in 2011 by the executive chefs of InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and filled with delicious recipes from around the world.

To create fresh content for the app, the hotel chain appointed 4 travel personalities to accompany 4 top chefs in select InterContinental hotels in the US (Miami, Atlanta-Buckhead, San Francisco and Boston). The individual “tastemakers” spent time with the chefs in their kitchen to create and cook these new recipes that paid tribute to their respective destinations. I was honored to be chosen and truly overjoyed to spend a few days in sunny Miami.

As soon as I arrived, I partnered up with chef Rodolfo Cuadros to create turkey pastelon, a new spin on the traditional Puerto Rico entree. Instead of ground beef, we used a leaner turkey. We also dropped the pasta layers and replaced it with sweet plantains. Thousands of viewers watched on NBC as we explained the innovative dish that will appear exclusively on InterContinental’s Kitchen Cookbook iPad app. And if I – even though I haven’t cooked in 10 years — can make the dishes, you can too!

But that’s not all that I whipped up in the kitchen. I had the privilege to prepare other innovative dishes with Rodolfo, including Pork Belly Skewers Al Pastor, served as an appetizer, and Churros con Dulce de Leche, a Latin dessert representing the holiday season (and one of my personal favorite desserts!). I was surprised to learn it was a super easy dish to make, and you can watch us prepare it in this short clip on InterContinental’s YouTube page. As per my request, I also had the opportunity to team up with head bartender of Toro Toro to create a Red Sangria cocktail, using Malbec, Cava, Beefeater Gin and Cointreau, as well as cinnamon, spices and a colorful assortment of fruits. Needless to say, I indulged.

But indulging is an understatement regarding the entire experience. My hosts exceeded expectations and checked me into the 2-story, 3,300-square-foot Royal Palm Presidential Suite, recently redesigned by tennis icon Venus Williams. I had breathtaking views of Biscayne Bay, not to mention a stand-alone soaking tub, private dining area and a bevy of turndown amenities that included everything from fresh-fruit sangria to chocolates.

InterContinental Miami wanted to make sure my stay wasn’t just all about the hotel (even though I was perfectly fine never leaving!). They set me up on an “Insider Experience” with Chef Concierge Eduardo Rosello to explore Miami through the eyes of a local. Rosello, who’s served as concierge at the hotel for 20 years, knows the city like the back of his hand and, quite frankly, knows everyone you need to know. He introduced me to institutions like Joe’s Stone Crab, La Gloria Cubana Cigar Company (where I learned how to roll a cigar) and even a private tour of the wine cellar at the high-brow restaurant, The Forge. This turned out to be my favorite, considering the hearty dishes and Enomatic wine dispenser.

But nothing topped the inventive dishes I created at Toro Toro with Chef Rodolfo. I even learned—as a virgin to the kitchen—that cooking isn’t an impossible feat. Who knows? You may see me again wearing an apron, making my own version of Chef Rodolfo’s version of turkey pastelon.

The Kitchen Cookbook iPad app has been a culinary hit, and it can be downloaded for free on iTunes. Check it out to experience some amazing dishes, and watch Chef Redolfo and me in the NBC Miami clip here.

- Jimmy Im

Jimmy Im is NYC-based travel writer, TV host and instructor, as well as the cofounder of OutEscapes.com

Photo Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Lodge

Like it or not, V-Day is right around the corner (just a month away, to be exact). So, if you really want to impress your sweetie, it would be a good idea to start planning now.  But if you’re still in the dark about what to get that special someone, there’s a good chance they only want to spend some quality time with you.

Sex and the City Zoo 4: Sexy Beast
Say what? Stay with us for a second. The Los Angeles Zoo is holding an “adults-only affair” on Feb. 9  with an enlightening talk by actress and interpretive naturalist of zoology Joleen Lutz. a reception featuring desserts and wines, “animal walk-abouts,” (including chats with keepers and the chance to observe small animals up close) and an optional 4-course dinner at Reggie’s Bistro inside the Zoo.

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Melbourne may be Australia’s second largest city, but it’s number one as the country’s culture capital. Situated on Port Phillip Bay, it’s packed with Victorian buildings, museums, galleries, large parks and gardens. The tree-lined streets and green spaces create a clean, eco-friendly vibe, which is probably part of the reason Melbourne has consistently been dubbed as one of the world’s most livable cities.

The city’s roots can be traced back to the mid-1800s, when British settlers colonized the city after finding gold in the surrounding hills. Now, burgundy-colored (and free!) City Circle trams zig-zag across the metropolis, making it easy for visitors to explore the city at a relaxed pace within a few days. Business travelers will likely want to stay within the City Centre -– the Central Business District. As the city’s heart, the City Centre is also great option for those looking to be within walking distance of all the major sights. The 59-room Hotel Lindrum is a modern boutique hotel located just a short walk from sights such as Federation Square and Melbourne Park. It lacks a fitness center and spa, but the features it does have are done well: The restaurant serves a nice breakfast buffet, and the cozy bar features a fireplace and a billiards table. Round-the-clock room service is also available, and Wi-Fi is free throughout the hotel. Though its slightly south of the City Centre, St. Kilda Road Parkview Hotel offers a solid value, with contemporary rooms and a rooftop plunge pool.

- Oyster.com Staff

Buenos Aires

The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires is home to many Argentine traditions and trademarks; the streets are lined by parrallias, or steakhouses, that serve up Argentina’s famous beef, luxury boutiques sell leather clothing and pieces by high-end designers, the nightlife is dominated by the tango and Evita’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” balcony overlooks the central square, Plaza de Mayo.

Though there are plenty of museums to visit in the city, Buenos Aires is a great place to explore by foot and simply wander around (the streets’ grid system makes it easy to explore). Known for its stunning architecture (gorgeous marble and bronze buildings line Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest boulevard in the world), Buenos Aires also boasts beautiful parks, particularly those in Palermo that include a museum, a planetarium and rose gardens. Outdoor markets are frequent occurences during the weekends and the cafe culture is a popular pastime — Portenos (as locals call themselves) can be seen sipping coffee with friends until the wee hours of the morning. So if you’re heading to Buenos Aires, be prepared to not get much sleep. Often referred to as the “Paris of South America,” the city has a lively nightlife that doesn’t get started until midnight, after locals and tourists have finished their late-night dinners.

Palermo is a popular area to stay in, as it boasts some of the city’s best restaurants, shops, and parks. A tranquil, minimalist vibe pervades the Awwa Suites & Spa. Its 60 large, bright rooms feature fully equipped kitchenettes, and the spa is comprised of a gorgeous indoor pool area, sauna and massage room. The nearby Livian Guest House is a funkier alternative, with just 8 artsy rooms in a French-inspired 1920s building Recoleta, a beautiful historic area, is also a nice spot to stay. Loi Suites Recoleta offer a solid value and convenient location, as well as a small pool, fitness center and full-service spa.

- Oyster.com Staff

Joshua Tree National Park

Photography by Kwin Mosby

When most people think of a warm winter getaway, they think about Florida or the Caribbean as prime destinations to soak up sunrays. California can be an iffy destination if you’re looking for hot weather, but bargains abound if you’re willing to don a jacket for a quick weekend getaway.

I was looking for a somewhat inexpensive vacation spot during the holidays and found out that Palm Springs, CA, is not only a popular gay travel destination, but the resort town is also a short driving distance to Mount San Jacinto State Park and a 1-hour drive from Joshua Tree National Park. So it was a no-brainer because I needed a trip that would provide me with the possible option to commune with nature for a couple hours or even a day.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway/Mount San Jacinto State Park
When visiting Palm Springs, rent a car and explore outside the city limits. And if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, I recommend spending about $20 (per adult) to hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway — just a 10- to 15-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs. The tramway (the largest of its kind in the world) offers amazing views of Mount San Jacinto, the highest peak in Palm Springs. Once you reach the top, there are several different self-guided trails as well as the Desert View trail if you want an awe-inspiring view of Palm Springs. And if there’s snow on top of the mountain, it’s a great spot to take the kids sledding.

My advice is to dress warmly and go early, otherwise expect to wait in line for an hour or more. Tourists can grab a bite to eat or warm up with spirits served at the Pines Cafe, located on the third floor of the Mountain Station. Food, alcoholic- and non-alcoholic beverages are also served at the Valley Station’s Cascade Cafe.

Joshua Tree National Park
If you have some time to kill, a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park is a must. The $15 entrance fee is a mere pittance when considering the abundance of natural beauty you’ll be able to explore. Head to Keys View to see — at a distance — Mount San Jacinto, the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs and yep, even the famous San Andreas Fault. And if the weather is clear you’ll be able to get a glimpse of the Mexico border.

I was on the road at 10 in the morning and back in my hotel room by 4 p.m., after visiting Keys View, Barker Dam, Skull Rock and eating my packed lunch at Hidden Valley while I watched experienced rock climbers scale the side of Intersection Rock. Campers can pitch their tent at 8 different campsites located throughout the park.

And if you need to make a pit stop during your road trip, bathrooms are located along the way.  As for food and water, that’s a different story. Neither is found in the park. Park rangers suggest packing ample food and water before entering the park. A small cafe next to the Joshua Tree Visitors Center, located on Park Boulevard, sells a reasonably priced packed lunch if you forget to plan ahead.

Food from Lulu Restaurant in Palm Springs

Photography by Kwin Mosby

Downtown Palm Springs
If outdoor exploring isn’t your thing, then the city of Palm Springs offers other fun activities. Explore the city’s downtown area for shopping, sightseeing and more. One of the biggest tourist attractions is the 26-foot-tall Forever Marilyn Monroe statue, located on the corner of North Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Drive.  Each day, dozens of tourists stop by for a photo op with the replica of the famous star, created by American artist Seward Johnson and taken from the movie The Seven Year Itch.

Stroll down Palm Canyon Drive to see the Walk of Stars dedicated to entertainers such as Phyllis Diller, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne and Kathy Griffin. Go bike riding on well-marked paths through the city’s historic neighborhoods or see local crafts, arts and entertainment at the Palm Springs Villagefest every Thursday night.

There’s no shortage of good food and restaurants in downtown Palm Springs. Grab lunch at the local and tourist favorite, Sherman’s Deli & Bakery. The spread of 3-layer cakes and desserts on display is a great reason to stop by. My favorite restaurant while visiting was the always-crowded, but chic Lulu California Bistro at 200 N. Palm Canyon Drive. I recommend the filet mignon or the turkey burger with the side salad.

Gay-Friendly Hotels and Nightlife
In addition to tasty food, Palm Springs has accommodations for everyone, at various price points. After a little research when planning my trip, I found several hotels and resorts that offered off-season rates — some as low as $100 per night. For gay travelers looking for au naturel sun and fun, check out clothing-optional resorts located in Palm Springs’ Warm Sands neighborhood, including INNdulge, Warm Sands Villas and Triangle Inn. Rates during Christmas and New Year’s can be pricey; so plan to stay before or after the holidays when rates are a little cheaper.

Some resorts provide great amenities, including free drinks during happy hour, a multipurpose spa, fitness center, heated pool or a Jacuzzi, which is great way to relax your weary bones after a long day of hiking. If you’re looking for a more luxurious place to stay, try the boutique hotels like The Saguaro, Ace Hotel or the East Canyon Hotel and Spa.

The gay nightlife scene is small with respect to the number of bars and clubs, but each place has a genuinely warm and welcoming crowd. Head to Arenas Road, where you’ll find diverse crowds, including an intergenerational mix of gay men at Toucans Tiki Lounge and Hunters Palm Springs. The latter venue has 2 bars, dart boards, pool tables, an adjoining dance floor and outdoor patio. If you enjoy crooning to Broadway show tunes, then Thursday nights at Spurline is right up your alley.  Across the road, Streetbar is usually a hangout for the mature gay man.

So warm up your winter! Plan a trip to the desert to explore the hidden treasures in and around Palm Springs.

Cancun

There are 2 Cancuns: The Zona Hotelera in Isla Cancun, which is the mega-resort, mega-mall area that caters to mass tourism, and Ciudad Cancun, which is the original downtown area and where locals actually live and have their businesses. Thousands of spring breakers, honeymooners, old couples, families and young groups of friends flow into Cancun every year, making it one of the world’s top beach destinations. Its turquoise waters, beautiful stretches of sand, and night-long parties are a main draw here, but there’s a lot to do besides going to the beach. Cancun is the gateway to the breathtaking Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum (Coba is also nearby, but is less well-preserved). Even for those planning to spend most of their time in lounge chair, these centuries-old archaeological sites are well worth a visit.

If all you need is a beautiful beach and a self-contained megaresort close to the party area, you’ll probably have a great time in the Hotel Zone. Le Blanc Spa Resort is a luxurious adults-only choice directly on a heavenly white-sand beach, with amenities such as a gorgeous spa and 3 outdoor pools. The nearby Gran Caribe Real is also a nice choice, but caters more to families with suite-style rooms, a kids’ club, and a waterpark. If you’d prefer a more authentic experience and don’t mind being a 10-minute cab ride from the beach, consider Ciudad Cancun. Here, you’ll find cheaper, smaller hotels, and a wide array of traditional and international restaurants and shops. The Radisson Hotel Hacienda is a decent budget option, with clean, spacious rooms and a nice pool.

- Oyster.com Staff

By Oyster.com Staff

US Virgin Islands

The small collection of mostly arid islands that make up the US Virgin Islands has long been a seafarers stomping ground — from the pirates of yore to today’s more abundant cruise ship hordes and the occasional yachtsman. And as they have for the past 400 years, people come to the islands mainly to drink, relax on the beach, and bargain shop — often, in just that order. Traveling to the islands, considered “insular areas” or “unincorporated territories” of the United States, is in many ways analogous to traveling within the US — citizens don’t need a passport, the US dollar is the official currency, and English is the official language. But a trip to the Virgin Islands still feels like a getaway with its laid-back atmosphere and sunny weather.

The islands’ hotels are largely concentrated on the 3 main islands – St. Thomas (the only island with an airport), St. John, and, to a lesser extent, St. Croix. Since the islands are so small, anywhere you stay will be within about a 30-minute drive from anywhere else on the island. Hotels range from the low-key, no-frills, family-owned spots, to all-inclusive mega-resorts, to unplugged, natural luxury, like at Caneel Bay, a historic sugar plantation turned top-notch hotel visited by the rich and famous (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have stayed here). Even with a quaint pool and rustic rooms that lack TVs and phones, Caneel’s attentive service and unparalleled setting make it one of the Caribbean’s best resorts. On neighboring St. Thomas, the Ritz-Carlton is also a luxe option, located only 5 minutes from Red Hook’s fun dining and yacht scene. And those traveling with kids (and on a tighter budget) may consider the Sugar Bay Resort and Spa – a clean, modern, family-oriented resort with a full-service spa, an excellent snorkeling beach and tons of kids’ activities.

By Oyster.com Staff

The city’s wonderful restaurants, fabulous shopping, hundreds of arts and culture venues, and world-class museums prove that Atlanta is one of the fastest-growing — and most exciting — destinations in the country. Home to the world’s largest aquarium, the new World of Coca-Cola, dozens of beautiful parks and the High Museum of Art, the hometown of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. is a gorgeous city that has made a name for itself in the new South. At the same time, Atlanta seamlessly exudes laid-back Southern charm and high-arts cultural appeal, both of which account for the millions of visitors that descend upon the city each year.

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