Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting up with some girlfriends from across the country for a kidless weekend. Some drove, some flew, but If you're a mom, you know what a big deal it is to up and leave your kid(s) and go to another state. Now, being a beach lover and not a huge country music fan, Nashville is not really high on my list of places to travel... but it was a great weekend getaway. The weather was fantastic and the people were super friendly. We laughed so hard we cried, ate barbeque, drank beer (there are lots of decent microbrews in the area), did some shopping, and listened to a LOT of country music.
Everyone in Nashville is a musician, even the hotel bartender. So even though I am not a fan, I made it a point to take a tour of the Grand Old Opry. It was pretty cool to see some of the places the show Nashville is being filmed, and I had no idea that Darius Rucker (of Hootie and the Blowfish fame) was a member of the Opry. Being a closet fan of the show, I wish I'd had a chance to see the Ryman Center, but I guess I'll just have to save that until the next time.
I did get to walk around the Gaylord Opryland resort. What a beautiful, serene resort! Indoor waterfalls, gardens, shopping, dining... you could definitely spend the weekend having fun just in the resort- which is a good thing, since it's close to Opry Mills (outlet shopping) but far from downtown. My flight was the last, so once my friends left, I had a nice quiet coffee and enjoyed the view. Had I really been on it, I would've called the spa and booked myself an appointment. :)
For those who don't have time to make the drive to Outer Banks, there are still some really nice beaches in Virginia Beach. Lots of people flock to the Oceanfront, which I guess is the rough equivalent to Waikiki- high rise hotels on the shore, with nightlife within walking distance. My personal favorite is not the Oceanfront (although the boardwalk is really nice and there's a Dairy Queen at 27th Street), it's a little off the beaten path but not too far. Sandbridge Beach is only a few miles south, and will give you a much better escape/experience, particularly if you are going with the family and like surfing and beach combing. From the Oceanfront, head south on Pacific (which turns into General Booth), turn left on Princess Anne, and follow the signs. It should take roughly half an hour.
On the southern side of Sandbridge, there's a park called "Little Island," which is maintained by the City (and therefore you have to pay for parking). It's great for beach combing (you can even find intact cowrie shells), and you can access the backbay side (where it's a little more flat) for kayaking. Oh, yeah... and the fishing pier. :) Something for everyone.
On the northern side of Sandbridge is Dam Neck, which belongs to the Navy. I also happen to like this beach a lot. One of my co-workers said when he was stationed there (some 30 years ago), there used to be deer stands ON THE BEACH. How crazy is that? Just hang out on the beach in a deer stand and wait for one to decide it wanted to go for a swim. I have never seen deer here and hunting is no longer allowed, but there is a fishing area and always someone running on the sand.
There are lots of private beach homes available to rent in the area. For more information on activities and other amenities in the Sandbridge area, click here.
It's no secret. If you love the beach, there are tremendous beach communities in Hawaii. Each has its own feel. We were lucky to call Kailua "home" for a number of years. There's a great mix of people there, and lots of small thriving businesses. If you ever find yourself on Oahu, GET OUT OF WAIKIKI and drive over to the Windward side of the island!
Kailua Beach is the largest beach park in the area, lots of families, dogs, swimming, and wind/water sports. Be sure to stop by Kalapawai Market!
If you have access to military bases, Bellows AFB (which is a few more minutes east), also has a large sandy beach with fewer people.
If you like body boarding, Kalama Beach is smaller but has great wave action.
Lanikai Beach is also pretty popular for picnics, although you have to park on residential streets. Just make sure you find public access paths and stay off of private property.
In Kailua, you will want to try Lanikai Juice for a refreshing treat. There are also some great shops with unique, upcycled, hand made jewelry, housewares, and clothes. My favorites are Kailua Verde and Global Village. Lanikai Bath and Body has some really great soaps and lotions. (Beautiful scents, not overpowering... perfect gift for someone on the Mainland who loves Hawaii.)
People who've "known" me for a while will recognize this photo... or maybe just parts of this photo. This photo is the background for my business cards, banner, and many of my online avatars. (It was actually taken in Waimanalo, which is a few minutes down the road from Kailua.) I am not a photoshop guru. This is really the color of the sand, sea, and sky. I love it.
Now, I know the United Arab Emirates probably isn't the most common "bucket list" destination, but if you like large coastal cities, you should add Dubai to your list. What? Dubai is a very fun city. Lots of high end shopping, dining, and everything is over the top. If Disney designed a major city, it would be Dubai. Transportation is reliable and affordable, the city is very clean and safe for a major city, and any imaginable luxury can be found. Where else would you find a four story indoor water fountain, the world's largest single pane acrylic aquarium, and the world's tallest building- all within a 10 minute walk from each other? Want to shop 'til you drop, hit an indoor ski slope, lay on the beach, or enjoy high tea? You can do that here!
Planning a visit to Dubai? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
If you are a "go see things" type of tourist, it will take at least 3 full days to hit Ski Dubai & Mall of the Emirates, Burj Khalifa & Dubai Mall, and Burj Al Arab & Jumeirah Beach. They are located far enough apart that it's very difficult to hit two areas in the same day.
If you want time to relax and do nothing (or have a world class spa day), you should allocate 4-5 days at a minimum.
If you want to attend tea at Burj al Arab (the world's only 6 star resort- you know, the one shaped like a huge sail with the helipad on the roof), make reservations in advance.
If you happen to be interested in a luxury fitness retreat in Dubai, then check out Mind Body Transformation. One of the owners is a long time friend, and I am sure it would be a world class experience.