Mystic and the Connecticut Coast
Katharine Hepburn grew up in Old Saybrook. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall honeymooned in Mystic. Julia Roberts had her big-screen breakthrough role in 1988’s Mystic Pizza. But long before any of them came America’s seafaring heritage. Mystic, Connecticut, wraps visitors in memories, romance, charm, great food and a living museum. (And maybe a wager or two …)
Mystic is America. The postcard-perfect town midway along the northern edge of the Long Island Sound refused to blink, determined to hold on to its seafaring past. Today, the charming town offers the uninitiated an opportunity to learn about that past while savoring modern-day luxury.
Deep Creek Lake
Deep Creek Lake, with its serene setting and convenience to entertainment, culture and family-friendly dining, is a four-season escape that can be enjoyed by both thrill-seekers and loungers. And it is a vacation getaway that has a generational pull.
The Brandywine Valley is a picturesque region known for extraordinary contributions to America’s cultural heritage. Driving through the countryside lined with dazzling estates, you’ll pass legendary Longwood Gardens and Winterthur, known for its premier collection of American furniture and decor. Members of the aristocratic du Pont family founded both of these landmarks, while a third-generation du Pont built the Versailles-like Nemours Mansion. Another must-see is Brandywine River Museum of Art, where the Wyeth family painted notable works of American art.
Bald Head Island
At some point in life, we all want to get away to a secluded island and shuck off life’s responsibilities. Bald Head Island is most likely the closest we Northern Virginians will get.
On this barrier island where residents live as one with nature, only a ferry gets you to the island—instead of cars, golf carts are used for transportation around the 5.8-square-mile (3.9 of it being land) island made up of beaches and dunes, maritime forest, freshwater lagoons and salt marshes. Home to just 158 residents (according to the 2010 census), the island is also home to wild boar and 260 species of birds, is a nesting ground for loggerhead turtles and in the past was a home to Native Americans (used as a seasonal retreat), pirates (Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, and Stede Bonnet, known as the gentleman pirate) and bootleggers. Today the island takes it up a notch with modern cottages, marinas, golf clubs and small shopping districts that hold restaurants, markets and shops.
For decades creative types have been drawn to the Catskill Mountains of New York. Artists flocked here during the mid-19th century Hudson River School art movement that was influenced by romanticism and focused on landscape painting. Musicians converged during the ’60s for America’s famous Woodstock Festival. And today it is referred to as the Hamptons of the mountains. One can understand the moniker after just a day in the small towns that are escapes for New York’s creatives.
As a middle-aged regular at the Last Days of Autumn Brewery swills his craft brew and leans forward on his barstool, he reflects on the ways he thinks this Tennessee city bests a popular North Carolina town. “Asheville is the girl who knows she’s pretty. Knoxville is the pretty girl who doesn’t know it.”
Knoxville has a great music scene, he continues. A genuine sense of community, with reasonably priced homes. Dozens of niche restaurants. A burgeoning microbrew industry. And it’s still a bit of a secret to many potential tourists. The Scruffy City, as it’s affectionately called among natives, is a mere seven hours from NoVA by car—time easily well-spent. The town is a jewel. Every door of its restored turn-of-the-century buildings welcomes you in. And every resident is willing to linger for an extended conversation.
Cleveland is a place of deep pride. The Great Lakes hub is experiencing a period of immense growth and revitalization, and upon arriving, a group of friends and locals were quick to offer help for the assignment at hand: what to see and do during a trip to The ’Land (the city’s affectionate nickname). They offered their two cents on the best restaurants, festivals, museums and, inevitably, the great east versus west side debate. In that moment, and all the moments that followed during our trip, it was easy to see just where all that pride comes from.