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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Top 10 desert city destinations

Top 10 desert city destinations

Beaches are hotting up but for real heat without the cooling influence of the sea, head for the desert or a city near one. Online travel advisers Cheapflights ( offers its top 10 desert city destinations. Reuters does not endorse this list: 

1. Las Vegas, Nevada
Love it or loathe it, Las Vegas is the leviathan of desert destinations. It's a city of mega hotels: Mandalay Bay, New York-New York, The Mirage, Luxor, Bellagio, and Paris -- all waiting to fulfil your fantasies. Shows, world-class shopping, and some of the best restaurants anywhere are here too. It long ago ceased to be a mere magnet for North Americans. Europeans flock here too with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic each offering nonstop London flights to Las Vegas. 

2. Four Corners

It's the anti-Vegas. Remote and resplendent, pilots like to point it out from 35,000 feet. It's Four Corners - where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado kiss. Back down to earth the view is more intimate. It's steeped in Navajo culture: arts, handcrafts, and ceremony. It's also home to a great getaway-from-it-all resort called Amangiri. You get there via a winding road descending into a valley. And as you descend, leave the real world behind. 

3. Palm Springs, California

It's the startling contrast of vivid golf greens amidst sandy surroundings that signals Palm Springs. Glitterati and plain folk gather under the same blue sky to explore, kick back, and recharge. Embraced by the ethereal San Jacinto Mountains are galleries, boutique shops, and authentic culture. This extraordinary land is ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The prime perch to take it all in is from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. 

4. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Nowhere in North America do the arts, antiquity, and the high desert blend so effortlessly as in Santa Fe. Sited in the foothills of the Rockies, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, galleries and museums exhibit traditional and contemporary works – including those of Georgia O'Keefe. See what inspired O'Keefe with a visit to nearby Native American pueblos. Savor the flavors of traditional Native American fare 

5. Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff is near the sites that define this slice of desert: the Grand Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Meteor Crater, Wupatki National Monument. After a day in that desert you're hungry. One place locals love is El Capitan Fresh Mexican Grill. Culinary sorts say it has the best tacos and (maybe more importantly) the best salsa in town. Shopping is a more sedate pursuit. The city's historic district is replete with plenty of boutiques -- and some first-rate booksellers. 

6. Scottsdale, Arizona

Drink in the sights, sounds, and smells of the rugged Sonoran Desert from the gondola of a hot air balloon. Scottsdale has legions of experienced, licensed pilots. Adventure whet the appetite? The city is full of great places to eat. There's even a working olive mill and winery where you can create your own blends. Don't leave the kids at home. There's an award-winning zoo, and a railroad museum. 

7. Tucson, Arizona

Desert destinations have one thing in common: outdoor pursuits. Take Tucson. There's hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, biking and even caving. But if you really want to explore the ultimate out-of-doors visit Kitt Peak National Observatory for some real-life stargazing. It reputedly possesses the greatest collection of telescopes for stellar and solar research on our humble planet. After viewing the heavens, head to Café Poca Casa for imaginative Mexican cuisine, and perhaps the area's primo collection of Tequilas. 

8. Casablanca, Morocco

Romance in the western reaches of the Sahara? Play it again, Sam. Casablanca Bar conjures up Bogart and Bergman, aided by a pianist who plays songs from the film. More romance? Take the Aïn-Diab coast road that runs between the El Hank lighthouse and Sidi Bou Abderrahmane mausoleum, a small village accessible solely at low tide. Balance the old with the new. In the city, visit the Mâarif district. This is where you'll find emerging Morocco. 

9. Dubai

More than a commercial crossroads, Dubai is a prime tourist draw. An air bridge from London puts golfers, shoppers, and sunbathers in one of the hottest (literally and figurative) destinations anywhere. December through March is the best time to visit. Revel in the warm waters just off Jumeria, site of the area's best beaches. There are bars, clubs, and restaurants aplenty -- most located in the major hotels. Earthier ambience? Dine on a dhow as it cruises The Creek. 

10. Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt

Relatively removed from the tumult, this Red Sea resort is one of be most sublime scuba venues in the world. Coral reefs and almost a thousand species of fish make the Little Mermaid mad with jealousy. Cutting-edge cuisine clusters in the center of the city, in the Naama Bay area. Break from traditional tourist temptations and head for Ras Mohammed, at the south-most tip of the peninsula. It's a national park, preserving this extraordinary area the way it was.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

For $70K a night, you can rent a country

For $70K a night, you can rent a country

You've heard of renting a palace, renting a mega yacht, even renting an island. How about renting a country? For $70,000 a night with a two-night minimum and a very strict cancellation policy, you can rent Liechtenstein. Yes, the entire country.  You can rent the country for a conference, a party - whatever you drum up for you and your 900 closest friends.

Now, if you're forgetting your high school geography, Liechtenstein is a tiny Alpine country - population 35,000 - tucked between Austria and Switzerland.
So what to do with your own nation? Well, how about starting with a wine tasting at the prince's estate while watching your own fireworks show. You want to make this a very personal experience? You can rename the city streets and town squares as you wish and even print your own temporary currency with your face on it.
Now, if you do decide Liechtenstein is the perfect place for your party, please don't cause too much of a ruckus. The nation has only a handful of police officers and no military.

Castelo Vaduz Liechtenstein

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Virginia: Hotel Monaco Alexandria marks Civil War history with $150 rooms

Virginia: Hotel Monaco Alexandria marks Civil War history with $150 rooms

The Marshall House in Alexandria, Va., was the site of adeadly skirmish in May 1861 between Col. Elmer Ellsworth and innkeeper James Jackson over the removal of a Confederate flag flying atop the small inn. Though the inn no longer exists, the Hotel Monaco Alexandria stands at its former site. The hotel is offering a special room rate of $150 a night during the Civil War's 150th anniversary year. 

Marshall House in Alexandria was where a Civil War skirmish broke out.Marshall House in Alexandria was where a Civil War skirmish broke out. Today the Hotel Monaco stands on the site. (National Archives and Records Administration)

The deal: The Civil War Blue & Gray package covers a room plus a Key to the City Civil War pass  that includes free entry to historic attractions in the area. Use the promotion code "BLUGRA" when reserving online or by phone.

When: The offer is good for stays through Dec. 30 on Thursdays through Sundays and selected weekdays, based on availability.

Tested: I went to the hotel's website and found the package available June 23 to 25 for a room with a choice of king, queen or two double beds for $150 plus tax. As a comparison, the best available rates for comparable rooms on the same nights cost $189 to $209 plus tax without the package.

Tips: Check out other Civil War-themed packages at the Hotel Monaco, including one that includes a bicycle tour of Civil War sites in the area. Also, if you visit Alexandria, check out an exhibit titled "The Marshall House Incident" at the Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site, which is on display through the end of the year.

Contact: Hotel Monaco Alexandria, (800) 368-5047

Monday, April 25, 2011

Travel deals in N.Y., Chicago and Puerto Rico

Travel deals in N.Y., Chicago and Puerto Rico

The deal: The Hotel Athenee in New York is offering the Savage Beauty package to celebrate the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty" exhibit.
Cost: Starting at $1,045 per night for single or double occupancy.
What's included: Deluxe room or classic suite accommodations; daily continental breakfast for two; welcome gift of "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" hardcover book; two priority guest passes to the Met and the exhibit; choice of a 50-minute massage or a 50-minute facial.
When: May 4 through July 31.
Information: E-mail
* * *

The deal: The Affinia Chicago is offering a Shop 'Til You Drop package.
Cost: Starting at $229 per room, per night.
What's included: $50 gift card for 900 North Michigan Shops; two cocktails at C-House or C-View; gift bag with a coffee mug, mini wallet and offers from stores; $25 credit for SPAffinia in-room pedicures or massages; complimentary makeup consultation and custom-blended lip color at Mario Tricoci; overnight parking and accommodations.
When: Through Sept. 6.
Information: name=Shop-Til-You-Drop-Affinia-Chicago.
* * *

The deal: The La Concha Resort in Puerto Rico is offering the LUXE at the Suites package.
Cost: $195 per night.
What's included: $50 debit card per stay; 20 percent off choice of in-room or beach massage; two poolside cocktails; La Concha Candela CD; 20 percent off Dragonfly Adventure Tours; and 15 percent off regular rates in all new Suite Tower suites (this discount is applied to the rate when booking).
When: June 1 to Sept. 30.

— Alexis Tarrazi

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why your trusty GPS sometimes fails you

Why your trusty GPS sometimes fails you
By Jeffrey Weiss

(CNN) -- There's a droll car insurance commercial making the rounds lately. An actor plays a GPS navigator device that hasn't been updated for a while and is "just winging it." He directs his driver to turn the wrong way down a one-way street. "Recalculating!"

The joke contains a kernel of truth. GPS navigation systems aren't perfect. Most of them are pretty good, but blind acceptance of their advice can become a traveler's nightmare.

The Blue Heron Inn is a quiet bed-and-breakfast on the Georgia coast, a peaceful destination for birdwatchers and folks seeking to slough off the stresses of modern living. But the owners have learned that some of their guests will arrive late, frustrated and angry.

These are the tech-savvy travelers who just know that their GPS navigator will give better instructions than the ones that Blue Heron owners Bill and Jan Chamberlain carefully send to everyone with a reservation.

"Some users -- usually the tech person of the couple -- will sometimes try to defend their GPS. And their partner usually says, 'throw it out the window' and 'we would be better off without it,'" Jan Chamberlain said. "Luckily we have wine ready to soothe them, and once they have rested they are in better spirits."

The problem is that several of the most popular navigation systems, and particularly those on smartphones, send people to a location that's wrong by several swampy miles. Google Maps recently offered two locations for the Blue Heron Inn address. One wasn't even the right street name.

But rural travelers aren't the only ones who need to be wary of over-trusting their helpful navigation robots. If you're driving in a part of town that's been recently developed, that can be a problem. If you're in the middle of a city, with tall buildings blocking your view of the sky, that can be a problem. And what if one street has several names?

Old-timers in Miami may remember a road called Tamiami Trail. Younger drivers may know it as Calle Ocho. Number-crunchers may just call it SW Eighth Street. But OnStar's directions refer to it as U.S. 41.

All of those names are correct. But if you're depending on audio navigation, you could miss a turn out of confusion.

No matter what kind of GPS system you use, there are potential problems common across platforms:

• Despite the many brands of devices and apps available, fewer than a handful of companies actually produce the map databases. So if there's an error on one device or app, there's a good chance others will have the same error.

• "Maps are always out of date," is the succinct evaluation of Rich Owings, curator of the website Additions and corrections can take months to be added to the commercial databases, and each company that produces an app or device has its own timetable for offering updates.

• Be careful about your settings, Owings warns. Make sure you have your navigator set for "paved roads" and "fastest route" rather than the shortest. "If you set it for the latter and allow it to route you onto unpaved roads, you're courting disaster, especially in isolated parts of the western U.S. or in mountainous regions," he said. "And it may well direct you into an area without cellular coverage. People have died due to mistakes such as these."

• For international travel, be extra wary. The databases are getting very good, even for formerly remote parts of the globe. iGO Navigation, for example, offers maps and other content extras for more than 80 countries from all continents. But the iGO maps are only updated quarterly. Imagine if you have last quarter's map for Japan or Libya. Make sure you are aware of local conditions.

• Most GPS devices are looking for signals from several satellites. If you're unlucky enough for your local patch of sky not to have enough satellites, or you're in a downtown where the signals are blocked, you're not going to get accurate navigation. Some premium systems charge extra because they have so many satellites aloft. Iridium, for instance, has 66 satellites in orbit.

There are also some differences between systems.

• Does your device or app use an "onboard" or "offboard" map? An onboard system carries the map in your device. That's true for standalone GPS devices such as TomTom or Garmin and smartphone navigators like Navigon. The advantage is that they work whether or not you have cell phone connection. But if their map hasn't been updated recently, you could have a problem ("Recalculating!")

• Some systems have incorporated proprietary correction systems in an attempt to boost accuracy. Mapquest, for instance, uses crowdsourcing with 320,000 registered mappers who are sending in thousands of tweaks every week. NAVTEQ, one of the major map database companies, has more than 1,100 of what it calls "geographic analysts" around the world, actually driving the roads to verify or correct the database.

But even with all of that, there will be holes. Jerry Jacobson is managing director of Monmouth Plantation, a resort in Natchez, Mississippi. He's been wrangling with the databases to correct mapping errors since he got there six months ago. He's so frustrated that he finally added the precise, accurate latitude and longitude to the resort website in hopes that will help guide guests. But this isn't his first battle with GPS.

His prior hotel was in the mountains of New Hampshire at the end of a country road that somehow didn't show up on the databases.

"I was frightened guests would drive off into "neverland" and freeze to death during the winter," he said. "It turns out the local community never bothered to register their town maps with state agencies; thus, the end result being my then hotel was over a mile from where the mapping companies had placed it."

The bottom line: GPS is an amazing aid for the many directionally challenged travelers who nevertheless take to the roads. But it has its limits.

"It's always good to take the directions with a grain of salt," said Owings of GPSTracklog. "Do the Reaganesque thing -- trust but verify."

Guests at the Blue Heron Inn, located at the end of this road along the Georgia coast, often get lost using GPS devices.
Guests at the Blue Heron Inn, located at the end of this road along the Georgia coast, often get lost using GPS devices.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

16 Places to see before they Disappear

16 Endangered Places Around the World

Democratic Republic of Congo Basin
Wadden Sea, Denmark

Kauai, Hawaii 
Congo Basin, Democratic Republic of Congo

Zahara de la Sierra, Andalusia, Spain
Kauai, Hawaii

Guajarat, India
Zahara de la Sierra, Andalusia, Spain

The Ganges Delta, India
Gujarat, India

Olympia, Greece
The Ganges Delta, India

Big Sur, California
Olympia, Greece

Mergui Islands, Myanmar
Big Sur, California

Mergui Islands, Myanmar

Trinidad, Cuba
Mergui Islands, Myanmar

Mississippi River Delta, United Sates
Trinidad, Cuba

Yangtze River. China
Mississippi River Delta, United States

Kitzbuhel. The Alps, Austria
Yangtze River, China

The Battery, New York City, United States
Kitzbuhel, The Alps, Austria

Tuvalo, Pacific Ocean
The Battery, New York City, United States

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ohio's new attractions in 2011

Ohio's new attractions in 2011

From family travel spots, a Jurassic forest, recreational activities to the cultural and historical tour, Ohio in the United States has a lot more to offer to attract tourists in 2011.

Ohio is unveiling a host of new and unique travel experiences this year, ranging from a one-of-a-kind elephant habitat to a rare glimpse into the life of Cleopatra and from Civil War history and more, Ohio Tourism Division said in a statement.

Following are just some of the highlights of the new exhibits, attractions, events and travel opportunities to look forward to in Ohio this year:

Exhilarating amusement
WindSeeker, a new thrill ride is debuting at both Kings Island on April 30, and Cedar Point on May 14. The 301-foot-tall tower will spin riders nearly 30 stories above the ground in two-person swings, reaching speeds up to 30 miles per hour and flaring out 45 degrees from the tower.

Dinosaurs Alive!, a Jurassic forest at Kings Island opens on May 26. The highlight of Dinosaurs Alive! is the world's largest animatronic dinosaur, the Ruyang Yellow River dinosaur – measuring an incredible 72 feet long, 12 feet wide and 30 feet high – and more than 60 of his life-sized friends like the meat-eating Tyrannosaurs Rex and the three-horned Triceratops. Other highlights in the 12.5-acre Jurassic forest setting include a kids' paleontological dig site where visitors can uncover prehistoric fossils, and interactive consoles that allow guests to guide movement in some of the dinosaurs.

Modeled after African savannas, a new exhibit named African Elephant Crossing opens on May 5 at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. The highligh of the exhibit is its naturalistic five-acre habitat with two sprawling ranges, deep ponds, a waterfall and mud wallow for up to 10 elephants. Visitors will be immersed in a realistic African village setting at the Crossing's education center that offers interactive displays, as well as "nose-to-trunk" viewing areas.

Sports & Recreation
Hocking Hills Canopy Zipline Night Flight, a two-hour nocturnal tour in Rockbridge, beginning May, will be offered on Fridays and Saturdays. Visitors will experience the sounds, the smells and the creatures of the night – then bravely zip off into the blackness! The tour includes six ziplines and four skybridges.
The Scottish Links Golf Course at Glenlaurel will replicate the links-style courses built in the British Isles hundreds of years ago. This eight-hole, private course will be available for guests of Glenlaurel, a Scottish-themed inn in the Hocking Hills, and may be played with modern clubs or – for a true old-time experience – visitors can rent hickory-shaft clubs and vintage golf balls.

Cities, Culture & Cuisine
Columbus Food Adventures tours showcase a new side of the city, including eclectic neighborhoods, unique architecture and ethnic offerings. Starting in June, Columbus Food Adventures will add a German Village walking tour to its existing tours that focus on taco trucks, alternative eats, Short North food and desserts.

Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power – a new exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland opens May 13. It will touch on the firsts, the best, the celebrated, under-rated, and every rockin' woman who moved rock and roll music forward. Check out artifacts, video and listening stations, and other interactive exhibits that will tell the stories of more than 60 artists.

History & Heritage
Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt – a new exhibition opens through September 5 at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Roughly 150 artifacts in the exhibition – from the smallest gold coins and jewelry to a papyrus document believed to be hand-written by Cleopatra and colossal statues – will provide a window into Cleopatra's life and times.
Civil War Sesquicentennial, which is now being observed through 2015 in Ohio offers a great chance to learn about and honor those Ohioans who played critical roles in the Civil War. Options include the recently relocated and renovated American Civil War Museum of Ohio in Tiffin, which offers eight exhibit rooms that follow the Civil War and Ohio's role in the conflict, boasting more than 10,000-square-feet of exhibit space and research. Additionally, the Ohio Statehouse – the spot where Abraham Lincoln learned he was officially elected U.S. President – is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2011 with a series of special events.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Redondo Beach: 20% off ocean-view rooms

Redondo Beach: 20% off ocean-view rooms at Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club

By Mary Forgione

Stay at the waterfront Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club in Redondo Beach through June and you can save on rooms with a view. But you'll need to make your reservation this week.

The deal: The Spring Ocean View Sale takes 20% off the best available rate for ocean-view rooms at the 161-room hotel at King Harbor. Under this sale, rooms with two double beds, start at $199 a night; rooms with a Jacuzzi start at $247 a night. Prices don't include tax.

When: The offer is good for travel now through June 30,  but you must reserve by Friday.

Tested: I looked for the cheapest room and found one with a partial view of the ocean for $199 plus tax on May 20. The room comes with two double beds and a private furnished patio. For those feeling flush, a room at the sale rate with full ocean views, king bed, living room area and balcony starts at $247 plus tax.

Caveat: Parking is $23 a day.

Contact: Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club, (800) 468-4292

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

America's Most Fascinating Public Gardens

America's Most Fascinating Public Gardens
by Robert Macias

With daffodils and lilacs in bloom, we're dreaming about visiting some of the prettiest public gardens in the country. 

In compiling this list of some of America's best public gardens, we considered not only beauty but also factors such as outrageousness, scrappiness and willingness to try something completely different. Read on...

public-gardensCourtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden

Missouri Botanical Garden

4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri; 314-577-5100
Founded in 1859, Missouri Botanical Garden is the oldest continuously operated botanical garden in the U.S. "We're widely considered one of the top three botanical gardens in the world, noted for our expansive science and conservation efforts around the globe and for our stunning horticultural displays," says Karen Hagenow, the garden's public information officer. Don't miss the Climatron conservatory, a 50-year-old geodesic dome that houses a tropical rainforest.

Spring blooms: 41,000 tulips representing 100 varieties; 2,640 daffodil bulbs representing 72 varieties; 12,000 corms and 7 varieties of crocus; and 1,850 bulbs and 17 varieties of hyacinth.

public-gardensCourtesy of Kahanu Garden

Kahanu GardenSee the Pregnant Banana Tree 

650 Ula Ino Road, Hana, Maui, Hawaii; 808-248-8912
A remote treasure located on the eastern shore of Maui, Kahanu Garden features plants that have historical and cultural ties to the indigenous peoples of the region. They have the world's largest collection of breadfruit trees, which produces a grapefruit-size fruit that remains a staple food in many tropical regions. 

Best of all, the garden is also home to one of Hawaii's last remaining native Pandanus forests. The odd-looking Pandanus tree is supported by thick, above-ground roots. Other interesting sights in spring include blooming passion fruit plants, baobab trees and leopard trees. "We specialize in what we call canoe plants, or plants that were brought to the island by our ancestors in canoes. These include sugar cane, sweet potato and banana," says Kamaui Aiona, director of Kahanu Garden. What's the most bizarre plant? Instead of growing bananas on its branches, the pregnant banana stores them within its trunk, creating a distinct bulge around harvest time.

Spring blooms: Many people are surprised by the huge variety of sugar cane species, says Aiona, some with striking bark colors and stripes. "The garden explains our story as a people. These are plants that were used not only for food but also for textiles and construction," says Aiona.

public-gardensCourtesy of Wave Hill

Wave HillThe Unexpected Urban Oasis
West 249th Street and Independence Avenue (front gate), Bronx, New York; 718-549-3200
Scott Canning, director of horticulture at Wave Hill, doesn't like too many labels. He takes the former private estate's Victorian heritage seriously and wants to maintain a certain aesthetic throughout the grounds. While many gardens slap an informational label on anything and everything, Canning places subtle labels only on items of seasonal interest. That way, you can get information about what's in bloom right now without feeling like you're walking through an encyclopedia. Year-round, Wave Hill offers surprisingly intimate nooks that will make you forget you're in the Bronx. The casual wanderer will also be treated to serendipitous views as walkways open up to the Hudson River. Says longtime garden volunteer Laura Green of Wave Hill's 28 acres, "It's small, scrappy and absolutely beautiful. There's a level of design that's simply breathtaking."

Spring blooms: For April, Canning recommends making the Paisley Bed near the visitor's center your first stop; it's bursting with colorful tulips. In May, the same area will be used to showcase easy-to-grow annuals.

public-gardensCourtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
10901 Old Cutler Road Coral Gables, Florida; 305-667-1651
A repository of rare tropical plants and fruit trees from around the world, Fairchild takes full advantage of its hot, humid Florida spot. Fairchild tries to strike a balance between its role as a tourist attraction and its function as a community gathering place for area residents, according to Kimberly Bobson, the garden's communications coordinator. "From our variety of festivals throughout the year, to our family-friendly events, plant sales and lectures, to even hosting days to bring your dog, we make sure there is something enjoyable for everyone in our large local and not-so-local community," she says.

Spring blooms: April and May bloomers include Philippine violet, epiphytic orchids, red silk cotton tree, sweet almond bush and monkey's brush. For those with an eye for the outlandish, don't miss the jackfruit tree. Its fruit can weigh up to 40 pounds, it's covered with spiky green skin, and the insides smell like Juicy Fruit gum.

public-gardensCourtesy of Bloedel Reserve

Bloedel Reserve

7571 NE Dolphin Drive, Bainbridge Island, Washington State; 206-842-7631
As you walk into Bloedel Reserve, you won't see any massive meadows of flowers. That's intentional, according to Andy Navage, director of horticulture. "You're slowly brought into the experience," he says. Navage considers the entryway, which features plants native to the Pacific Northwest, "an unwinding area, to help you slow your thought patterns down." Dwight Shappell, an air force veteran who has volunteered at the reserve for 14 years, didn't hesitate when asked about his favorite areas. It's hard to beat the complete solitude of the moss garden, he says. Beneath a dense canopy of Angelica trees, the living green carpet of moss envelops everything and absorbs nature's cacophony, inviting quiet contemplation. He also likes the reflection pool, which is surrounded on three sides by manicured, 12-foot-high 
shrubbery. While sitting on the solitary bench, you can see towering hemlocks reflected in the water. "And you don't have to walk through a gift shop on your way out," says Shappell.

Spring blooms: Rhododendrons, orchids and wildflowers.

public-gardensCourtesy of Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
18220 North Highway One, Fort Bragg, California; 707-964-4352
If you like to view colorful flora against a backdrop of blue ocean, Mendocino Coast is the place for you. Linda Brown, a volunteer at Mendocino for 20 years, encourages non-gardeners to visit simply for the stress relief. "Public gardens offer so much to the horticulturally-impaired visitor. A walk through our gardens is a great way to slow down, calm down and take advantage of just being here now," she says. Brown says visitors enjoy walking through arbors of rhododendrons in the spring, crossing over the little creeks and then coming upon the vast Pacific Ocean. "It has a way of getting one in tune with life and how spectacular it is," she says. "It's good exercise, you can bring your dog, a picnic, or just sit on a bench and zone out."

Spring blooms: In April, you can view blooming rhododendrons, camellias, daffodils, magnolias and Pacific Coast iris. Many of the trails are covered in rhododendron petals, dropped by hybrid plants growing overhead. And if you're lucky, you might see a migrating whale. It's also a hot spot for spring birdwatching. Ospreys, hawks, sandpipers and plovers routinely patrol the coastline.

public-gardensCourtesy of Blithewold

101 Ferry Road (Rt. 114), Bristol, Rhode Island; 401-253-2707
Every spring about 50,000 daffodils bloom on the property. "Most are in a woodland area we call the Bosquet and it's a pretty spectacular sight," says Kristin Green, Blithewold's interpretive horticulturist. Woodland wildflowers like may apple and trout lily are starting to bloom also. Situated on the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay, Blithewold was the home of Augustus Van Wickle, who built the original mansion in 1896. The house burned down in 1906 and was replaced by an even grander mansion.

What's on show: "Our claim to fame, plant-wise, is the tallest giant sequoia east of the Rockies," says Green.

public-gardensCourtesy of Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA ; 610-388-1000
What started as a humble arboretum in the 1700s has evolved into one of the most extravagant gardens in the world. Industrialist Pierre du Pont bought the property in 1906 to preserve the trees, and he later used his immense wealth to create a horticultural showplace. The 195,668-square-foot conservatory, built in 1919, houses 20 indoor gardens and 5,500 types of plants. 

Spring Blooms: Kaufmann tulip, trumpet daffodil, white pearl hyacinth and Lenten-rose.

public-gardensCourtesy of Moody Gardens

Moody Gardens

One Hope Boulevard, Galveston, TX; 800-582-4673
After extensive renovations, Moody Gardens' 40,000-square-foot Rainforest Pyramid reopened last spring. The conservatory houses over 1,000 species of exotic tropical plants from rainforest regions of Africa, the Americas and Asia. Unlike traditional botanical gardens, this is a family-oriented tourist attraction, complete with a 3-D theater, butterfly gardens, a white-sand beach and a water park. "We're seeing a lot more public gardens installing butterfly gardens on their grounds," says Donita Brannon, Moody Garden's horticultural exhibits manager. " Everyone loves to see colorful butterflies flitting among fragrant flowers. And they are very educational, to boot." Moody Gardens has had a butterfly garden for several years and it attracts butterflies to the grounds all year long. 

Spring Blooms: In addition to orchids, violets and bromeliads, you'll also encounter macaws, an anaconda, turtles and fish inside the 10-story glass pyramid.

public-gardensCourtesy of McKee Botanical Garden

McKee Botanical Garden's Waterlily Garden 

350 U.S. Highway 1, Vero Beach, FL; 772-794-0601
"McKee is not an extremely manicured garden; we've let its natural growth dictate the design," says Christine Hobart, the garden's executive director. A mile of waterways wind next to and under the botanical garden's trails. "The sound of falling water might lead you into a secluded meditation area, or a turn might be crafted to suddenly showcase a burst of colorful waterlilies," says Hobart. Established in 1929 as McKee Jungle Gardens, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Spring Blooms: Waterlilies are the star of the show in the springtime at McKee Botanical Garden. "We have more than 75 species and 200 individual plants that fill our ponds and waterways with vibrant colors," says Hobart. Other spring bloomers include pineapple, plumbago and bromeliads.