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posted Friday, January 29, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 05
OUTBOUND: Best of Travel 2015 includes our favorite hotels, restaurants, bars, and visitor spots from last year's journeys
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OUTBOUND: Best of Travel 2015 includes our favorite hotels, restaurants, bars, and visitor spots from last year's journeys

by Albert Rodriguez - and Jessica Price
SGN A&E Writers

Each year, we embark on journeys to places we've never been to, or some that we're revisiting because they're that special. What we encounter during these trips are wonderful places and things within these destinations that make for a unique, amazing experience on their own. Allow us to share the hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, tourist spots, and special events from our travels last year that we absolutely loved and would go back to in a heartbeat, all in alphabetical order.

HOTELS / ACCOMMODATIONS

1. The Betsy - South Beach - Miami Beach, Florida USA
Cool, sophisticated, and perfectly situated - across the street from the Atlantic Ocean - is what makes The Betsy outshine many of the other hotels dotting Miami Beach. The hotel has extended a welcome mat to authors, who huddle together over meals or stay here to write novels, and it's been extremely inviting to LGBT guests as well, who can appreciate the rooftop sundeck for afternoon tanning. A. Rodriguez

2. Cedarbrook Lodge - Seattle, Washington USA
It's not your ordinary airport hotel, not when you consider it has an award-winning restaurant, spa, classy decorated rooms, 24-hour complimentary snacks, and free breakfast. Less than 10 minutes from Sea-Tac Airport, Cedarbrook Lodge is a vacation before the vacation. A. Rodriguez

3. EA Hotel Joseph 1699 - Trebíc, Czech Republic
Atop a small hill overlooking the picturesque Czech city of Trebíc is this charming hotel that feels so homey the minute you walk in. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles that other properties do, but it's wonderfully comfortable and centrally located with a cheery staff to greet you at the entrance. A. Rodriguez

4. Equator Resort - Key West, Florida USA
This 34-room gay hotel in Key West, about 5 to 7 minutes from the core tourist area, is a little tropical oasis offering two swimming pools, complimentary breakfasts and daily Happy Hours in a modest, discreet setting. If you can deal with the club music playing non-stop outside during daytime hours, you'll come to cherish this male-exclusive resort. A. Rodriguez

5. Holland America Line MS Noordam - Alaska Inside Passage, USA
Whether you depart from Seattle or Vancouver, a voyage aboard Holland America Line (HAL) through the Alaska Inside Passage is a marvelous experience with breathtaking scenery and stops in places like Juneau and Skagway. But it's the amenities on the ship - from world-class spa to jazz club to multi-level theater, not to mention really great food - that makes this an unforgettable journey. A. Rodriguez

6. Hotel Eastlund - Portland, Oregon USA
Hotel Eastlund is my new favorite boutique hotel in Portland. Nestled a stone's throw from Moda Center, it's '60s mod with a modern twist and is inviting where many other retro hotels miss the mark. Recommended. J. Price

7. Hotel Gaythering - Miami Beach, Florida USA
Both kitschy and cool, this 25-room hotel in Miami Beach offers comfortable, friendly accommodations for LGBT travelers, while also drawing nightly crowds to its popular Gaythering Bar. Great communal spaces, like a Men's Self Spa and a Library, are a couple of amenities guests will love. A. Rodriguez

8. Loews Ventana Canyon Resort - Tucson, Arizona USA
Situated in the majestic Catalina Foothills, overlooking Tucson, this beautiful hotel and resort is a nice option for those wanting to soak up the Arizona sun with some remoteness. Outdoor pool, nearby hiking trails, and impeccable vistas are part of the experience. A. Rodriguez

9. Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort - Honolulu, Hawaii USA
There are fancier and prettier hotels in Waikiki, but for its oceanfront locale, reasonable prices, and awesome amenities, primarily Duke's and Hula Grill restaurants, along with genuine Aloha hospitality, you can't beat the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, which just added a Blue Note jazz club to its property. A. Rodriguez

10. 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati - Cincinnati, Ohio USA
Not just a hotel, this artsy property in Cincinnati is partly a museum with 8,000 square feet of exhibition space, from its main floor up to the stairway that ascends to the top floor from its in-house spa. The open-air, rooftop bar provides guests with views they won't get anywhere else in downtown. A. Rodriguez

RESTAURANTS

1. BLT Steak Miami - Miami Beach, Florida USA
You don't have to pay $16 for a Cuban Sandwich; however, when it's as good as the one cooked up at this swanky-meets-casual restaurant, then go for it. From fresh fish entrees to juicy steaks to premiere desserts (the Carrot Cake is heaven), don't leave Miami Beach without a stop at BLT Steak. A. Rodriguez

2. Fat Head's Brewery - Portland, Oregon USA
Portland's Fat Head's Brewery excels at award-winning craft beers and an absolutely killer 'Adult Grilled Cheese,' as well as burgers as big as your face. Indulge and then walk it off in the heart of the Pearl District. J. Price

3. Kaimuki Superette - Honolulu, Hawaii USA
This super food-focused deli in the hip Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu not only serves up healthy eating options, but they preserve their own vegetables bought from local farmers for customers to take home and enjoy. A. Rodriguez

4. Koko Head Cafe - Honolulu, Hawaii USA
The Honolulu brunch crowd will wait up to an hour for a seat at this non-descript, diner-style cafe, also in the Kaimuki neighborhood, and it's worth it because the food is phenomenal. The Cornflake French Toast, Volcano Eggs Skillet, Breakfast Bibimbap, and signature all-day Dumplings are to die for. A. Rodriguez

5. The Littlefield - Cincinnati, Ohio USA
What could be overlooked as just another neighborhood restaurant, this standout, bourbon-inspired eatery in the Northside district of Cincinnati is anything but. I thoroughly enjoyed stuffing my face with the Pigs in a Blanket (house made pork sausage wrapped in pastry with mustard and fennel apple sauce), Meatloaf Sandwich (tasso ham, gravy, 16 Bricks bread), and the gotta-have Bourbon Pecan Pie. A. Rodriguez

6. Minami - Vancouver, BC Canada
A sister restaurant to the fabulous Miku, this Yaletown hotspot is where to get your sushi on in Vancouver. But don't stop there, the Jidori Chicken and Foie Gras Gyoza, Albacore Tuna and Kaiso Seaweed Tartare, and Sweet Soy-Dijon Braised Short Rib are simply divine. A. Rodriguez

7. Nanea Restaurant & Bar - Princeville, Hawaii USA
With a sweeping view overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Nanea Restaurant & Bar at The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas in Kauai is worth a reservation, even if you aren't a guest of the luxury resort. Locally sourced, unbelievably fresh ingredients are prepared with care to honor the island's bountiful offerings from land and sea. Vegan and gluten-free options are available and the chefs really do cater to any imaginable dietary need. Perfect for celebrating a special occasion or just relaxing with friends. J. Price

8. Prep & Pastry - Tucson, Arizona USA
S'mores French Toast and Duck Confit Hash might sound a bit indulgent, but what the hell? At this beloved cafe and bakery in Tucson's Campbell-Grant neighborhood, everything on the menu is sinful, yet amazingly delicious. And don't leave without having a 'doughssant,, a perfect marriage of doughnut and croissant available to eat there or take home (though you probably won't make it out of the parking lot without cramming it in your mouth). A. Rodriguez

9. Proper - Tucson, Arizona USA
Sourcing nearly all of its meats, produce, cooking oils, tortillas, even coffee and teas, from within Arizona, this Tucson restaurant is a definite go-to for foodies. The menu changes seasonally, but there's always an outstanding variety of dishes to savor, and if the olive oil cake is available for dessert, order it without hesitation. A. Rodriguez

10. Sotto - Cincinnati, Ohio USA
This downtown Italian restaurant in Cincinnati is so good and so popular that you're lucky to even get seated. Once inside, the Chicken Liver Mousse w/Pistachio and Short Rib Cappellacci are definite must-haves. Locals love it, as do celebs, such as Serena Williams and Drake who stopped here on a date last summer. A. Rodriguez

BARS & LOUNGES / COFFEE SHOPS

1. Coffee Emporium (Over the Rhine) - Cincinnati, Ohio USA
There's never a dull moment at this bustling coffee shop, located on the cusp of Cincinnati's Over The Rhine district. It's a coffee shop, organic food eatery, study hall, and power-meeting spot for corporate execs all wrapped into one. A. Rodriguez

2. Explorations Cafe (Holland America Line MS Noordam) - Alaska Inside Passage, USA
Aboard most, if not all, HAL cruise ships is an Explorations Cafe on the top deck, or in this case Deck 3, that functions like any other cafe with espresso beverages, pastries, and light bites, but also with hard-wire computer stations, leather armchairs, board games, and a New York Times-branded library. A. Rodriguez

3. The Manifest - Honolulu, Hawaii USA
The Chinatown district of Honolulu has dramatically changed from seedy to hipster with the opening of several independently-owned restaurants, bars, cafes, and retail boutiques in recent years. The Manifest, a lounge and dance club rolled into one, is worth a taxi ride from Waikiki, if nothing else than to listen to good music with the locals. A. Rodriguez

4. Palace Bar - Miami Beach, Florida USA
Don't be surprised if you see drag queens strutting their stuff on the sidewalk in front of this Miami Beach gay bar. Nightly performances by female impersonators - yes, on the sidewalk - and weekend 'Brunchic' gatherings are what keep the crowds coming back for more. A. Rodriguez

5. Shift Drinks - Portland, Oregon USA
Portland's self-tagged 'professional drinking establishment' Shift Drinks is a fave of locals and industry insiders. While most bars in downtown Portland are hard to get into, so far Shift Drinks is still a bit of a secret. Craft cocktails and a refreshingly solid late night food menu up the appeal. J. Price

6. Sundry and Vice - Cincinnati, Ohio USA
When in Cincinnati, Over The Rhine is the place to be. It's where the cool kids hang out, and you're likely to find a bunch of them at this apothecary-inspired lounge that draws a healthy mix of straights and gays. Sundry and Vice is highly recommended when visiting The City of Seven Hills. A. Rodriguez

7. Sparkroot - Tucson, Arizona USA
In downtown Tucson, you'll spot this hip coffee shop and bar serving artisanal coffee, teas, beer, and wine in an art-decorated space complete with cozy loft area and raised window-side counter looking out to the street. If you want somewhere memorable to read a book or flip through a newspaper, this is it. A. Rodriguez

8. Starbucks Prague Castle - Prague, Czech Republic
It's not the coffee that makes this particular Starbucks stand out from the rest, it's the location. Perched atop the upper levels of an old brick building near the famed Prague Castle, this coffee shop has stunning, unobstructed views of the city from its garden terrace. A. Rodriguez

9. The Taproom - Braxton Brewing Company - Covington, Kentucky USA
Across the river from Cincinnati is Kentucky, and in the quaint town of Covington you'll hopefully come across The Taproom, a somewhat new establishment from locally-based Braxton Brewing Company. Large communal spaces to drink, eat, work, or study brings in a steady clientele day and night, and with regular performances by area musicians, it's a terrific spot to hear some live tunes. A. Rodriguez

10. United Club (George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Terminal E) - Houston, Texas USA
Being stuck at the airport isn't all that bad, if you have a pass to the lounge. And at Houston's Bush Airport, the tri-level United Club at Terminal E is a spectacular nook to disappear into before your flight. With a full bar, individual work stations, complimentary beverages and snacks, stylish furniture to relax in, and a theater room with a wall-size TV, you'll almost want to miss your flight on purpose. A. Rodriguez

VISITOR ATTRACTIONS / SPECIAL EVENTS

1. Danger Charters 'Snorkel, Sail & Kayak Day Trips' and 'Wind & Wine Sunset Sail' - Key West, Florida USA
There's not a better way to enjoy your stay in Key West without booking a day trip adventure or sunset sail with Danger Charters. The tour guides, mostly young and fit men, are what make each excursion fun and interactive, plus complimentary beverages and snacks never hurt. A. Rodriguez

2. HONOLULU Fashion Week - Honolulu, Hawaii USA
Although it's only been around for two years, this well-organized event is drawing major designers and the industry's top publications, from Vogue, to Marie Claire, to HAWAII Magazine the weekend before Thanksgiving. If you love sunshine and fashion, head to Oahu in November. A. Rodriguez

3. Jewish Quarter of Trebíc - Trebíc, Czech Republic
This designated UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the best-preserved Jewish ghettos in Europe with two synagogues, a cemetery, and over 100 historic houses once occupied by families who never returned after being deported during the Holocaust. A. Rodriguez

4. Kualoa Ranch - Kaneohe, Hawaii USA
Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Godzilla, Pearl Harbor, Lost, and Hawaii Five-O are just some of the movies and TV shows that were filmed at this 4,000-acre private nature reserve on the island of Oahu. Guests can view the attraction on guided bus or ATV tours, and afterwards enjoy lunch outdoors with food from the on-site cafe. A. Rodriguez

5. Museum of Contemporary Craft - Portland, Oregon USA
Portland's Museum of Contemporary Craft will feature two highly anticipated exhibits in the coming months, CARPA: Craft Advanced Research Projects Agency (running January 29 through July 2) and Rowland Ricketts: Work Time (running January 29 through June 4). Definitely include a visit to this museum next time you're in PDX. J. Price

6. Sea to Sky Gondola - Squamish, BC Canada
If you can stomach the steep climb to the summit, at 2,903 feet above the ground, you'll be rewarded with stunning scenery during the 10-minute gondola ride and panoramic views at the very top, where you'll find The Summit Lodge with observation deck, suspension bridge, and a food concession stand. A. Rodriguez

7. Smale Riverfront Park - Cincinnati, Ohio USA
Public parks are terrific free attractions everywhere you go and this one in Cincinnati, situated within footsteps of restaurants, bars, and sports stadiums, includes playground and fitness equipment for all ages, grassy lawns, and views of the river with Northern Kentucky on the opposite side. A. Rodriguez

8. Tucson Festival of Books - Tucson, Arizona USA
Every spring, some of the biggest names in the literary world gather at the University of Arizona campus to introduce new titles, conduct seminars, and meet with diehard fans. The festival is a godsend for book nerds, and the campus itself - with museums, gardens, and large food court - is worth spending an afternoon at. A. Rodriguez

9. Western & Southern Open - Cincinnati, Ohio USA
For tennis fans who can't afford New York in late summer, this is a terrific alternative. The sport's top players are required to participate in this major tournament, a warm-up to the U.S. Open, about 25 minutes from downtown Cincy that allows attendees great opportunities to meet players throughout the weeklong event. A. Rodriguez

10. White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad: A Luxury Travel Experience - Skagway, Alaska USA
Traveling up to 2,865 feet into the Alaskan mountains is incredible on its own, but getting there in a luxury train car with complimentary beer, wine, cocktails, and specially catered food while reclining in leather armchairs and loveseats is another thing all together. As part of a shore excursion offered by the Alaska cruise ships, this experience is unbeatable. A. Rodriguez

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