In a town that reveres horses more than men there’s a statue of Secretariat proudly greeting visitors to historic Belmont Park. If he were alive today, he might ask, “But is there anything else to do in Belmont?” No, Secretariat, there isn’t. And thank God for that.
History: The Belmont Track opened in 1905 and is the famed third leg of the Triple Crown. What to see: Oh, you mean besides grown men flushing their futures down the crapper because of a muddle-headed dream on four legs? Well there’s the Allegany County Museum which houses… oh, who are we kidding, when’s post time? Where to hook up: Surely you jest? With a straw boater, mint julep in hand and a casual “who do you like in the next race?,” you’ll be heading for the home stretch in no time. Why it’s special: Men making poor decisions, prima donna stallions and the sweet smell of cigar smoke. Where to stay: The unfortunately named Wellsville Microtel sits at the foot of the Appalachians, nine miles from the track. 30 W. Dyke St, Wellsville, 585-593-3449
Beloved as an oasis of European sophistication, the cultural capital of Quebec is about two parts Paris, one part New York, with smatterings of Rome, Seattle and Casablanca, depending on where you look.
History: Founded by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve in 1642, who erected a wooden cross on Mont-Royal. Later came seething resentment at the English overlords expressed through letter bombs, martial law in 1970, independence referendums, and a few Stanley Cup riots.
What to see: Known as “The Mountain,” Mount Royal is really just a big hill, but it’s where you’ll find the cross that lights up at night (the lights turn lavender when the Pope dies) drum-playing hippies on Sundays and ice-skating in the wintertime. The flying saucer-like white concrete elephant you see floating in the distance is the Olympic Stadium.
Where to eat: Bagels, smoked meat and poutine (fries and cheese curds smothered in gravy), three supremely unhealthy local staples you’ve got to try. La Banquise is a 24-hour poutine joint, St. Viateur Bagels is the tops in the city, and be prepared to wait in line at Schwartz’s for a heavenly smoked meat sandwich.
Where to hook up: Montreal girls, unlike drunken American coeds, actually have to be charmed to go home with you. Eastern European-inflected Bily Kun is a place where all the pretty people hang out.
Why it’s special: Outdoor balconies, separatists and Jos Louies — delicious Twinkie-like desserts whose secret ingredient is lard… ewww.
Where to stay: Le St. James is like a miniature Plaza Hotel located in the heart of Old Montreal — live like a king. 355 St. Jacques St, 514-841-3111
IN BETWEEN: The Hudson Valley
The Hudson Valley: Sure, it starts somewhere around Riverdale, but for our purposes, we’re talking about the ridiculously picturesque 60-mile stretch between Beacon and Hudson.
History: Named for Dutch explorer Henryk, this traditional trading route for Algonquin tribes was first navigated by Giovanni da Verrazano, who later discovered the Verrazano Bridge.
What to see: We recommend a little Sunday driving to really get a sense of how beautiful the lush, rolling hills of the valley can be; of course, there are plenty of actual destinations. There’s Dia in Beacon for contemporary art, Olana in Germantown, the gorgeously situated Persian-style home of painter Frederick Church, Kingston’s historic Rondout District, antique row in Hudson… and way, way more (like we said, explore).
What to eat: Make sure to stop by one of the numerous roadside farm stands for fresh corn, tomatoes, peaches, etc. If you’re going to hit one place for restaurants, try Rhinebeck, where you’ll find Gigi (great neo-Italian), Le Petit Bistro (classic French), Terrapin (new American), and the Rhinbeck Inn (classic American) all within three minutes walk.
Where to stay: The Madalin Hotel, Tivoli. This tiny town was celebrated by Griffin Dunne in a recent NY Times article — the restored hotel is cool, though. 845-757-2100
TO THE SOUTH
NEAR: Staten Island
Envied the world over for its sophisticated boutiques… oops, wrong borough. Ok, cheap shot — but you know what? S.I. can take it. It’s a fiercely proud little piece of rock that hasn’t become emasculated by gentrification like some other places we won’t name.
History: Known as “the forgotten borough,” it’s been a part of the city since 1898. Besides the ferry, its main claim to fame may be the Fresh Kills landfill, New York’s trash bin for over 50 years, which closed in 2001.
Where to hook up: This club Atlantis, yo. It’s a tribute to underwater civilization and shit. And no fucking sneakers!
Where to eat: For a taste of old Bavaria there’s the Old Bavarian Inn, dating from 1890, which makes a mean sauerbraten and serves mini-kegs of Kostritzer. Wunderbar!
What to see: Besides obvious stuff like the S.I. Zoo and the beautiful St. George Theatre downtown, check out Snug Harbor in Livingston, which features a Chinese scholar’s garden, a Ming Dynasty replica.
Why it’s special: The ferry is mad awesome and you can get drunk on it. Plus they have their own Yankees too.
Where to stay: More for business travelers, weddings, sweet 16s (and the occasional ill-advised tryst), Hilton Garden Inn Staten Island is where locals can pretend they’re convention-going orthodontists from Ohio.
1100 South Ave, 718-477-4258.
FAR: Tulum, Mexico
Nestled along the coast of the Yucatan, this charming small town feels like a resort right out of the 1950s — in stark contrast to the evil mega-hotel villages up the coast toward Cancun.
History: The ruined Mayan city to the north was the great maritime port of that empire, and the view from a hundred feet offshore is incredible (bathing suit required).
What to see: Along with the Mayan ruins, the Cenotes are a must: giant, swimmable sinkholes in the jungle (created by meteors, some say!) filled with crystal-clear water.
Where to eat: The Mexican food you’ll find at the resorts is mediocre. If you want genuine Italian try Posada Margherita, but since you’re in Mexico, hit the town, and one of the taco stands on a side street.
Where to hook up: D’uh, the beach, where if you just keep walking, you’ll eventually find a pleasant group of people sipping mescal, who will therefore be happy to talk.
Why it’s special: Getting woken up by the sun rising over the Caribbean Sea is very nice.
Where to stay: The town proper has a few hostels, but you’ll want to hit the coast, which features dozens of beach hut-style places, ranging from hippie-type backpacker spots, to fancy meditative spas.
IN BETWEEN: Philadelphia
Jokes about the sixth borough aside, Philadelphia’s pretty cool. Beautiful old buildings, resurgent artistic community, hip restaurants… it’s like a sixth borough!
History: Though obviously touristy, taking a horse-and-buggy tour can be fun, as long as the driver is a little tipsy. Or climb the Rocky steps. Does that count as history?
What to see: After all that history, you’ll need a drink. If you’re fond of bars like Boat or Union Pool, you’ll want to check out Johnny Brenda’s in Northern Liberties (NoLibs, if you’re sexy, and you are).
Where to eat: Fine, so the locals stridently insist Philly’s a “world-class restaurant city.” Just like New York! Go native (and by native, we mean stereotypically clichéd) and gorge on cheesesteaks at Campo’s Deli; and they’ll actually ship a cheesesteak to your door if you don’t want to make the trip down.
Where to hook up: Somehow, Philly is even more overrun with DJ nights than NYC, so you might have to try a little harder, of course. But think about how much better you’ll feel knowing you tricked the girl or boy who was dancing to Felt to talk to you.
Why it’s special: Democracy was kind of born here, stupid. Or wait. Rocky was born here? Quaker Oats?
Where to stay: Courtyard Philadelphia — downtown and not super expensive. Definitely has cable. 215-496-3200
TO THE WEST
NEAR: Amish Country
Immortalized in Witness, those dour modernity-rejecting Amish live in some of the most scenic geography of these United States. And they’re not all dark-cloth morality and disapproving gazes. Ok, they sort of are.
History: Believing their Mennonite brethren are whores and technology-worshipping heathens, the “plain people” broke away in 1693 and settled in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania.
What to see: Cashing in on even ostensibly non-commercial cultural phenomena is the American way. Besides the countless farms there’s Sturgis Pretzel House and the Strasburg Rail Road — the oldest short-line railroad in America. And did we mention the buggy tours?
Where to eat: The Amish may not know four-wheel drive but they know barbecue. Jakey’s Amish Barbecue has got slow-cooked brisket, hand-cut french fries and fresh squeezed lemonade that’s positively sinful.
Where to hook up: Ahem, next.
Why it’s special: The Amish are trilingual, speaking a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch, high German at services and English at home. Plus, there are nearby towns called Intercourse and another called Beaver (snicker).
Where to stay: Go whole hog (so to speak) and stay at a Farm Bed & Breakfast. Read scripture with goats! Ride tractors with roosters! Or something like that. Hillside Farm Bed & Breakfast overlooking Chickies Creek has a hot tub (wtf?) 607 Eby Chiques Rd, 717-653-6697
FAR: Steinbeck Country
The verdant, hilly central coast of California is the backdrop for much of John Steinbeck’s fiction.
History: Spanish Missionaries established small, agricultural communities here in the 18th century. While less densely populated than the rest of California, some larger cities including Santa Cruz and Monterey dot the central coast.
What to see: Don’t forget to go inland, where some of Steinbeck’s most moving works are set; and check out Gilroy, famed (sort of) garlic capital of the world.
Where to eat: Prior to stealing the region from Mexico during the Gold Rush, this was Mexican territory, and the influence is apparent in the food. Everywhere.
Where to hook up: If you’re bipedal and like to drink, head over to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey and put the moves on a bilingual man or woman in uniform.
Why it’s special: Thankfully, this fantastically beautiful region is often overlooked by tourists who forget that there’s over 500 miles of winding coastline between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Where to stay: Avoid Santa Cruz hippies and try a B&B in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Or camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the north — breathtaking.
IN BETWEEN: Chicago
Sometimes it can be tough to live in the first city, all that stuff going on all the time — why not try… the second city!
History: Formed in 1967 by a group of DePaul University students, the band went on to great success in the 1970s led by the positively dishy Peter Cetera.
What to see: The brand new fancy lakeside Millennium Park is chockablock with architectural gimcracks from Gehry, Plensa and Kapoor, and offers a breathtaking view of the legendary Golden Mile. And then, Ferris Bueller time: Sears Tower, Cubs game, parade marshalling… it’s ok, you’re a tourist.
Where to eat: Screw that saucy pizza, try tapas emporium Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba in gentrified Lincoln Park: it actually manages to feel a little like a biergarten, while at the same time serving great pulpo.
Where to hook up: They say Wicker Park is kind of like the Williamsburg of Chicago… or maybe it’s the Red Hook… errr… Hunt’s Point… Murray Hill? All of the above.
Why it’s special: The Elevated Train. And everybody talks nice and slow.
Where to stay: The Belden Stratford Hotel in Lincoln Park is affordable and right by the lake. 733-281-2900
TO THE EAST
NEAR: City Island
New York truly is a city of islands: Roosevelt, Ellis, Governor’s… there’s even an island named “City,” and it sits off Pelham Bay in the Bronx!
History: A guy named Palmer bought Minneford Island in 1761 and changed its name to “City,” with dreams of creating a rival port to NYC — which hasn’t happened… yet.
What to see: This ain’t a walk-on-the-beach kind of spot, it’s more of a charter-a-fishing-boat-and-get-some-sea-air kind of experience. There’s Jack’s Bait and Tackle for the fishing, or you can get a crash course in sailing at the New York Sailing Center.
Where to eat: Sure, you’ve tried all those other crab shanties, but have you tried the Original Crab Shanty?
Where to hook up: Manhattan — City Island is best left to the couples. Although Boat Livery sells tackle and beer.
Why it’s special: C’mon, it’s a picturesque little fishing island in the city of New York.
Where to stay: Not exactly budget, but Le Refuge is real classy like, filled with antiques and the sublime smells of Chef Pierre St. Denis’ kitchen. 718-885-2478
For a thousand years it’s had a well-earned rep as a very tough, frequently sketchy place; and then, in search of cheap rent and nice lofts, the artists came from Paris…
History: It’s been around for a while… the Romans called it Marsella — it was tough then, too.
What to see: The place is so big, there’s actually an astounding seaside national park within city limits, called Luminy, reachable by city bus; the Vieux Port is a must for strolling and eating, and if you’re not too tired, hike up the hill to Notre Dame de la Garde, a cathedral that looks out over the Mediterranean from on high.
Where to eat: Did we mention the old harbor? Fresh seafood, oh yes.
Where to hook up: Over a hundred miles of coastline within city limits, half of which is beach? The less you’re wearing, the better.
Why it’s special: It’s a spectacularly multicultural place just before full-scale gentrification, surrounded by natural beauty, and still “scary” to most tourists.
Where to stay: The New Hotel Vieux Port, right by the water, won’t wreck your budget. +33-4-91-99-23-23
IN BETWEEN: Block Island
Lower profile than Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, Block Island is the unheralded summer vacation spot…till now we suppose.
History: Named for Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, it eventually became part of the Rhode Island colony, and remained neutral during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
What to see: The Great Salt Pond (take a kayak tour!), the boat races during Race Week, two giant lighthouses, nature trails.
Where to eat: Lots of delectable fresh seafood... if you like fine cuisine, the Hotel Manisses’ dining room is for you, otherwise hit up a family joint like Ballard’s.
Where to hook up: Head to the beach… if you happen to be a single parent; otherwise try a scallywag-themed bar like Captain Nick’s for nubile wenches and doe-eyed cabin boys.
Why it’s special: In no particular order: Black Rock nude beach, the majestic Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island (boat) Race week, bike paths, peace and quiet.
Where to stay: Rent a tiny cottage with five of your closest friends ($1500/week) or go fancy at the Hotel Manisses (if you have to ask how much per night, you can’t afford it). Rates are cheaper in early June and September. 401-466-2421