Four Perfect Days in Yountville

Wining, dining, and hot air ballooning are only part of the fun in action-packed Yountville in California’s Napa Valley

Wining, dining, and hot air ballooning are only part of the fun in action-packed Yountville in California’s Napa Valley

“Wow!” Stepping onto my second-story terrace, I was awestruck. Hanging in the sky above me was a hot air balloon, so close it seemed I could reach out and touch it. Talk about your wine country welcomes! The cheery orb continued within close sight, sailing in slow motion above the red tile roofs and in and out from behind the big shady trees as I descended the open-air staircase and walked along flower-lined pathways on my way to breakfast at the Villagio Inn & Spa.

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Girls’ Getaway in South Lake Tahoe

Sandy Baldwin Beach and the mountains beyond

Sandy Baldwin Beach and the mountains beyond

South Lake Tahoe was the perfect location for a friend’s recent bachelorette party. Granted, I think it would also be the perfect location for a romantic couples retreat, a family vacation, or any other reason to get away—if what you’re looking for is a mountain hideout with a variety of outdoor activities and dining options. My group of eight 20-something women wanted a day by the beach and a night out on the town—and of course ways to celebrate our beautiful bride-to-be along the way.

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Adventure and the Aloha Spirit on the Big Island

Sunset by the Sheraton Kona pool welcomed us to Hawaii

Sunset by the Sheraton Kona pool welcomed us to Hawaii

Our nighttime manta ray tour took us far out into ocean until the boat anchored and we entered the cool water, grasping the handles of our long surfboard while waiting for what some called "the experience of a lifetime." In the gloomy depths below, giant manta rays with 10-to-20-foot wingspans slowly emerged from the darkness to feed on the tiny plankton swarming around our lights. These ocean acrobats always performed a barrel roll as they fed, gliding mere inches beneath us and allowing us to peer deep into their astonishingly large, luminescent gullets. A nearby girl screamed at the sight, but in reality these behemoths posed no danger as they lacked teeth or stingers. What an unforgettable introduction to the unique wonders of Hawaii, the Big Island.

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Magic and Charm in Philadelphia

Intricate mosaic at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Intricate mosaic at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

I’ve been to Philadelphia a few times since it’s an easy train ride from my home in New York City, but my most recent trip was by far the most fun. A girlfriend and I decided to take a quick, last-minute trip down backpacker-style. With no heavy luggage in tow and just a short time to prepare, we played everything by ear, skipped all of the major tourist sites—and had the best time. Here’s a rundown of what we saw and did.

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Memorable Experiences in the Heidelberg Castle District

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg is a vibrant university town set amongst some of most beautiful scenery Germany has to offer. This pulsating small city has an impressive Castle District with roots reaching back to the 13th century. There is a week’s worth of things to do here, but like many visitors I had just two days to experience the magic. Deciding where to concentrate my efforts was a challenge, but I decided to focus on the Castle District for a first-time, two-day stay.

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