From Virginia’s largest winery to the country’s first folk art museum to an authentic meadery, there’s so much more to Greater Williamsburg than meets the eye.
Psssst. Hey, you. Over here. Let us tell you a secret. We sent our modern-day spies into the shadows to uncover Williamsburg’s most surprising attractions, unexpected experiences, and little-known facts for your visit.
Did you know that … Copper Fox Distillery is the only distillery in North America to hand malt barley for its single malt whiskey, rye, and gin — called VirGin because it uses locally grown grain? It is also the only distillery in the world to use apple and cherry wood to flavor its barley, giving the spirits a unique flavor. The distillery is open for tours and tastings from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Spies Like Us
Did you know that … Williamsburg has been infiltrated by “real-life” TV spies from AMC’s Revolutionary War-era drama, TURN: Washington’s Spies? You might catch them when the show films in Williamsburg from time to time. Filming sites include Shirley Plantation, where the barn serves as the show’s jail; Tuckahoe Plantation, which stands in as the home of Judge Richard Woodhull; the Great Hall of the Christopher Wren Building at the College of William & Mary, which appears as the throne room of King George IV; and the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, which substitute for Philadelphia.
Did you know that … you can soak in a salt tank to improve your health at the first salt spa on the East Coast? Fifteen tons of Polish and Himalayan salt create the Salt Cave at the Williamsburg Salt Spa. Clients at the spa can sit in the cave or float in tanks, which helps the body absorb a combination of minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and others. The concept is based on the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, where in 1843 a doctor first cited the connection between working in the mine and the good health of workers. So relax, soak, and breathe in deeply for good health.
Raise a Goblet
Did you know that … you can make like a Viking and drink mead, an ancient honey-based fermented drink, at the Silver Hand Meadery? It offers honey and mead tastings as well as light-food pairings, and allows patrons to watch the mead production.
The Secret Garden
Did you know that … you can take home historic 18th-century additions to your garden from the Colonial Nursery? It’s just one of the often-ignored gardens that are part of the houses in Colonial Williamsburg. Only the very wealthy colonists would have had separate gardens for flowers, herbs, and vegetables so wandering the paths of these landscapes reveals riotous masses of color and food, from peas to rosemary to wildflowers.
Did you know that … archaeologists are still unearthing secrets that are transforming the understanding of how the first settlers lived four centuries ago? You can dig into them on a tour of the 1607 James Fort at Historic Jamestowne. William Kelso, director of archaeology, will take you under the ropes to walk in the steps of Capt. John Smith on the site of this active dig.
Did you know that … you can sample award-winning wines at the largest winery in Virginia? Take the winding driveway through fields of vines at the 300-acre Williamsburg Winery compound. There’s a tasting room and store as well as the Gabriel Archer Tavern. Take a tour, try the tasting, then sit outside in the sun at the Tavern to enjoy dishes made with ingredients from nearby farms and waters.
A-Gamboling We Go
Did you know that … you can enjoy Colonial-era gambols at the Josiah Chowning’s Tavern, one of the best-kept secrets in Williamsburg? Play tavern games, sing along (to sometimes bawdy songs), watch magicians, and laugh at jokes from costumed waiters. The “diversions” start at 5 p.m. Sit at tables that recreate the spirit of a Colonial alehouse with candlelight and order light fare from a menu that includes Brunswick stew, a Virginia ham and cheese sandwich, and Welsh rarebit.
Quilts and Instruments and Dollhouses, oh my!
Did you know that … the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is the first of its kind in the country? This unique museum offers changing exhibitions of American folk art highlighting subjects such as quilting, ship paintings, folk music instruments, and dollhouses. The 424 objects originally donated by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the wife of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the founder of Colonial Williamsburg, remain the core of the collection. But the museum has grown to more than 3,000 objects.
Secret Agent Man
Did you know that… the Marquis de Lafayette recruited a local black slave as a secret agent, who played a key role in the final battle for American independence? During the Yorktown battle campaign, James Armistead got his master’s permission to assist the Continental Army by infiltrating Cornwallis’s camp, posing as a runaway slave loyal to the Redcoats. He funneled phony information supplied by Lafayette and was one of the first to know that the British were gathering at Yorktown during the summer of 1781, vital information for the Revolution. You can visit the Yorktown Battlefield where on Oct. 19, 1781, British forces under Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered to the combined American and French armies led by Gen. George Washington, concluding the battle that led to the end of the fight for American independence.
It’s just another one of the secrets you’ll find if you look hard enough.
While Costa Rica is still perhaps better known for its lush green natural attractions and awe-inspiring beaches, the fertile land that produces a mouth-watering assortment of fruits and vegetables all year long, and is blessed with the world’s finest tasting coffee and cacao, has been capturing the hearts and taste buds of visitors for ages. With cacao and coconuts dripping from the trees along the Caribbean coast, it’s little wonder why Costa Rica is such a happy, healthy and peaceful place. In between exploring rainforests, climbing volcanos and splashing in waterfalls, make sure to map out a relaxing, refreshing meal . Traditional Costa Rica dishes often include rice and beans; in the morning they’re mixed together into gallo pinto. Later, they’re served as sides in a casado, a traditional Costa Rican plate. La Criollita in San Jose offers an affordable menu and ambiance rooted in Costa Rican tradition, while across town at Le Monastère and Grano de Oro there are exceptional French chefs in the kitchen. Tin-Jo will satisfy your craving for excellent Chinese food, and on the Caribbean coast, organic chocolate tasting, dinner in the rainforest at La Pecora Nera and ceviche by the sea at Sobre las Olas are culinary highlights.
La Criollita is an excellent place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and has something on the menu for everyone. The fare is traditional Costa Rican; generous portions of meat, chicken and fish with rice, beans and salad on the side, and big selection of delicious appetizers like Tico-style ceviche and a tasty chicken soup to whet the appetite. There are three dining spaces, a main room that overlooks the big and busy kitchen, a bright and airy side room with art-filled walls, and a charming covered outdoor terrace with a bird garden and wrought iron furniture. There is rarely a wait for a table, but lunch time fills up early with nearby business people, so breakfast and dinner are ideal for settling into a relaxing meal. The coffee is excellent, too,save room for dessert; checkout the options like flan and cheesecake on display under the glass on your way in. Bonus: Full Bar.
Lizard King Café
Whether you’re in the mood for fluffy pancakes made with real organic chocolate or a platter of huevos rancheros, the Lizard King Café has something on its menu for everyone. Burritos at the Lizard King are legendarily delicious flour tortillas stuffed with farm fresh ingredients and topped with special salsa unlike any other. The lunch menu includes a range of farm fresh dishes from traditional casados to Caribbean specialties and twists on Mexican favorites, like the reggae roots nachos and the marlin and pineapple kabobs served with coconut rice. Homemade bread and pastries are treats, as are the cheeseburgers
La Pecora Nera
If delicious authentic Italian cuisine served in a delightful open-air restaurant well off-the beaten track on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast sounds like your cup of tea, look no further than La Pecora Nera. The Italian chef Ilario is as charismatic as he is talented in the kitchen, and his recommendations of daily specials are always spot on, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the simple yet well-rounded menu. It’s romantic yet family-friendly, unpretentious yet undeniably special, and easily one of the best restaurants in Costa Rica. Ask the chef to recommend a bottle of wine to complement your meal.
Product C is part of a growing group of restaurants in Costa Rica that embodies the locally grown movement, serving fresh-caught seafood that spends very little time between the water and the table. What started as a beachside fish shop in the surf town of Mal Pais has blossomed into two modern concept restaurants in the capital city of San Jose that serve locally and sustainably caught seafood including four kinds of ceviche and raw warm-water oysters. The chef works with the fishermen directly, then brings his creativity to each dish, and the results are fresh, flavorful, and perhaps even unforgettable.
Restaurante Tin-Jo has rightfully named itself “the best” restaurant in Costa Rica, offering delicious, healthy Asian cuisine from its home in an original colonial mansion in the heart of San Jose. What started out as a Chinese restaurant in 1972 has blossomed into Thailand, Viet Nam, and Japan for its inspired menu. The menu is full of vegetarian and naturally gluten free options, and the desserts are exotic, decadent, and to-die-for without being bad for you. Tin-Jo also offers yoga and meditation classes throughout the week, and hosts Miercoles Candelas every Wednesday evening, when the lights are turned off in favor of candles. Televisions are nowhere to be seen and cells phones are turned off in the Bamboo Room, a sanctuary annex of Tin-Jo.
With a name like Chimera, one might expect an a diverse selection of food, and this Santa Elena restaurant delivers. Every plate is a creative fusion of flavors, many of which are Latin, all of which are wrought from the bounty of local ingredients that only the little enclave of Santa Elena, near the Monteverde Cloudforest, can offer. Tapas are the perfect solution for hungry travelers, and Chimera has a way with them. Perfect for sharing among a group of friends and especially for a romantic tasting dinner, each dish is an inspired fusion. The gazpacho appetizer, coconut shrimp, and ginger margarita all come highly recommended.
For the well-heeled and epicurious, Le Monastère delivers and then some. Everything is prepared and served expertly, from escargot and French Onion Soup to chef specials like Venison Tenderloin Flambee in Port Wine and Seabass filet in Tarragon Cream Sauce. The menu is extensive and impressive and is enhanced by daily specials and always includes fresh local produce from some of Costa Rica’s best farms and gardens; choose from a wine list 300 bottles long. Even the desserts are too decadent to deny; Oraange Souffl� Cointreau and Cr�me Br�l�e are just the beginning. And as if the food weren’t enough, the ambiance at Le Monast�re is an unparalleled experience: take in a nearly 360 degree from above the city from a historic former monastery decorated in traditional European style down to marble statues, authentic antiques live classical music played on an opulent grand piano.
Sobre las Olas
Perched on the edge of the coral reef overlooking the beautiful coast of Cahuita, Sobre las Olas is a perfect little restaurant that has excellent food to match its ambience. The best seats are outside nestled between the palm trees, where mussels on the half shell and ceviche are fine appetizers to get you in the mood for an excellent meal. Italian owners have created a menu with the home country’s influence but focused on fresh local ingredients and expertly prepared seafood. If you haven’t happened upon it while visiting Cahuita, it’s worth asking to be pointed in the right direction and is a pleasant stroll just north of town.
Those with a hankering for high-quality meat should look no further than Doris Metropolitan, a stand-out, and stand alone- restaurant in San Jose, Costa Rica- although there is now a Doris Metropolitan stateside, too. Embracing the locally-grown movement wholeheartedly, Doris Metropolitan partners with a cattle farm in southern Costa Rica to specially raise cow that are fed not only grass but pineapple, which gives it a uniquely marbled texture and distinct flavor; both of which tend to be lacking in much of Costa Rica’s beef. Specialties include meat cured all-naturally in a process known as French Dry Aged and Chateaubriand Tenderloin.
Tucked between the Atlantic coast and the northern Cordillera Mountains, Puerto Plata was the first custom-built tourist destination in the Dominican Republic. Today Puerto Plata is still a magnet for budget-conscious beach lovers. Large all-inclusive resorts dominate Puerto Plata’s beige-sand coastal strip, which is dotted with deck chairs and speakers playing Merengue. But this seaside town offers so much more than resorts.
Towering above the city, Mount Isabel de Torres delights with panoramic views of Puerto Plata from its flat-topped peak. Playa Dorada and Sosua claim excellent beaches, and the Amber Museum honors the country’s rich deposits of this golden sap. For an adrenalin rush, thrill seekers flock to Damajagua Waterfalls and the seaside town of Cabarete where an exhilarating line-up of water sports awaits. Visitors can also enjoy Puerto Plata’s many tourist attractions which include museums, historic Fort San Felipe, top-notch golf, an interactive water park, restaurants, cafes, and more
1 Playa Dorada
Playa Dorada, Puerto Plata’s tourist hub, is a huge resort complex along a beautiful stretch of golden beach. Besides the many hotels, visitors will find dozens of restaurants, a shopping center, and a Robert Trent Jones golf course. Aquatic pursuits abound on the beach. The warm waters are ideal for swimming and many of the resorts offer cabanas and sun lounges.
2 Mount Isabel de Torres
Puerto Plata’s most impressive geographic feature, 2,600-foot Mount Isabel is accessed via a seven-minute cable car ride up the nearly vertical slope. Greeting visitors at the top are spectacular views of Puerto Plata, flower-filled botanic gardens, a restaurant, and a statue of Christ similar to the iconic attraction in Río de Janeiro.
3 Damajagua Waterfalls
A short drive from Puerto Plata, Damajagua Waterfalls encompass a series of 27 cool cascades and rock pools. This popular side trip is not for the faint of heart. Tours involve climbing ladders up to the falls then sliding, swimming, and jumping down them wearing helmets and lifejackets. A visitor center and restaurant are also on site.
4 Fort San Felipe
Forte San Felipe (Fuerte San Felipe) is Puerto Plata’s only remaining colonial structure and one of the first European forts constructed in the Americas. It was built in 1564 to ward off French and English pirates and later used as a prison for political dissidents. Inside its eight-foot-thick walls, visitors will find some interesting wartime historical artifacts as well as a small museum. The fort is ringed by a moat and outlined in lights at night
5 Ocean World Adventure Park
Ocean World Adventure Park, three miles from Puerto Plata, is a popular interactive water park and marina. In addition to viewing the aquariums, guests can swim with dolphins, play with sea lions, pet sharks and stingrays, and snorkel with tropical fish. The park is also home to tropical birds and tigers. Glass walls let tourists get up close to the animals.
Sosúa, approximately 15 miles east of Puerto Plata, is known for its sheltered beaches and cosmopolitan character. In 1940, it became a refuge for about 600 European Jews who settled here to start a new life. Today the area is home to many guesthouses, villas, hotels, and cafes. The crescent-shaped Sosua Beach buzzes with vendors and its waters are good for diving and snorkeling. During winter, whales are sometimes spotted in the bay.
Rimmed by a four-mile stretch of white-sand beach, Cabarete is a hotspot for the young, hip, and physically fit. With warm waters and consistent winds, the bay here is considered one of the best in the world for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Surfing is also popular. In addition to all the water sports, cafes, restaurants, and shops line the top of the beach making it a great place to kick back and relax.
8 Amber Museum of Puerto Plata
Amber is the Dominican Republic’s designated national gem and the Amber Museum of Puerto Plata, celebrates its beauty. Set in an elegant Victorian-style house, the museum displays specimens of valuable Dominican amber, many with fossilized flora and fauna. The museum also has a gift shop selling amber jewelry.
Comarca Kuna Yala: This is the premier beach destination in Panama, with over 350 islands scattered off the Caribbean coast that offer picture-postcard beaches with powdery white sand, coral reef, piercing turquoise water, and clusters of swaying palm trees. The colorful Kuna indigenous population administers this province, and their fascinating culture is part of the reason to visit the region, too. The glitch is that scuba diving is prohibited, and lodging is mostly Robinson Crusoe rustic, but all you’ll want to do here anyway is swim, sun, and swing in a hammock.
Isla Bastimentos National Park, Bocas del Toro: Cayos Zapatillas, or the “Slippers Islands” (so-called because they resemble footprints), not only fulfill the beach lover’s fantasy with their soft sand backed by a tangle of jungle; they are also surrounded by a rich display of coral that attracts hordes of fish, providing good snorkeling. The park’s main island, Isla Bastimentos, offers terrific beaches with clean sand and blue water, such as Red Frog Beach, Wizard Beach, and Playa Larga, which can be reached by a short walk or hike, or by boat during the calm-water season from August through October.
Las Perlas Archipelago: Despite this Pacific archipelago’s proximity to Panama City, its top-notch snorkeling, white-sand beaches, and calm-water swimming conditions, the Pearl Islands are a relatively unsung beach destination. Outside of holidays and the hard-core summer, you won’t find crowds here, even during weekends. It’s also drier here during the rainy season.
Isla Coiba National Park: Beyond ranking as Panama’s number-one diving site, Isla Coiba National Park boasts fine beaches backed by dense jungle. Tiny islands such as Granito de Oro are so idyllic that midsize cruise ships make a stop here (which could spoil your day if you’re here independently). Even the beach fronting the park station seems too perfect to be true.
Las Lajas, Chiriquí Province: It’s not the most beautiful beach in Panama, but the water is the perfect temperature and produces just the right amount of waves for bodysurfing — though there’s little current. All of which means that Las Lajas is ideal for swimming, and since the beach measures more than 13km (8 miles) in length, you can walk forever. Rustic shacks and cheap restaurants are clustered on the beach at the end of the road, but it’s best to bring your own snacks. If you’re looking for a beach closer to David (and Boquete), try La Barqueta. Strong currents at this black-sand beach mean the water is not ideal for swimming, but it is lengthy like Las Lajas and good for walking, and there is a nature reserve here, too.
Playa Los Destiladores & Playa Venado, Azuero Peninsula: Of the multitude of beaches lining the coast of the Azuero Peninsula, these two are the cleanest and the most attractive, and they are within a 20-minute drive from each other. However, given the deforestation in the area, they are less “tropical” than other Panamanian beaches. Currents will occasionally churn up the water along the golden sand at Playa Destiladores, but a protected cove at Playa Venado means it’s calm enough for a toddler, and farther east crashing waves have converted the beach into a surfing hot spot. A major bonus here is the nearby picturesque town of Pedasí, and three gorgeous lodges.
Santa Clara & Farallón, Pacific Coast: These two are the most appealing beaches along the Pacific Coast, and the best for swimming. Best of all, they lie within a 2-hour drive of Panama City. The beaches’ water is bluer and the sand cleaner and whiter than its neighbors closer to the city.
This isn’t a place where you should pack your schedule: Embrace Palm Springs’ relaxed mentality by enjoying time by the pool, at the spa and on the links. Pools and golf courses cover the desert landscape, but if you’re interested, there’s much more to do than just sunbathing and swinging golf clubs. For instance, the Palm Springs Art Museum boasts an impressive collection for its small size, and Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway offers a glimpse of the area’s star-studded past. Meanwhile, the surrounding canyons and mountains provide ample opportunities for warm weather hikes and cold weather cross-country skiing.
Coachella Valley Preserve
The Coachella Valley Preserve may seem like barren desert landscape, but keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see that the 17,000-acre area is more than just sand and brush. The preserve encompasses the smaller Thousand Palms Oasis preserve, which boasts a whopping 25 miles of hiking paths. Along the trails you’ll spot rare wildlife (including the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard) and lush palm woodland oases and desert wetlands, which at different times of the year blossoms with wildflowers. Before heading out, past visitors recommend stopping by the visitor center — located in a log cabin at the entrance of the park — to pick up a map of the trails.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is an oasis in the center of the desert. From Hidden Valley (which features a nice, easy hike) to the Cholla Cactus Garden (home to many a photo op at sunset), Joshua Tree caters to a variety of active travelers. Meanwhile, with its perch in the Little San Bernadino Mountains, the Keyes View lookout is another great place for a spectacular view of the Coachella Valley. Whether you’re planning on hiking or just driving through, the park rangers recommend bringing plenty of water — this is the desert after all.
Palm Springs Art Museum
The Palm Springs Art Museum, which was founded in 1938, contains a stunning collection of works, including pieces by big names like Andy Warhol and Marc Chagall. You’ll also find an ever-changing list of rotating exhibits, which have included studies of impressionism, contemporary sculpture, pop and graphic art, and architecture. The facility’s permanent collection is not to be missed, either.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The city of Palm Springs rests in the shadows of the San Jacinto Mountains. The towering, snow-topped peaks of Southern California’s second-highest mountain range are beautiful to behold from the valley floor, but many visitors say that a mountaintop experience is incredible. To reach the summit, you’ll take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Once you rise 8,516 feet to the top, you can hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski before heading back down the mountain via a return tram.
Escena Golf Club
Experts and casual players alike say the 18-hole, par 72 course at Escena is the place to golf in Palm Springs. Not only are the grounds gorgeous — framed by the San Jacinto Mountains and the wide desert sky — Escena is also a good course for all levels of golfers thanks to its clear sightlines and fairly challenging Jack Nicklaus design. Escena Golf Club’s location near both the airport and the city is also a point in its favor.
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
The Living Desert is half-zoo and half-botanical garden, all in the extraordinary setting of a desert. Along with animals like mountain lions, bighorn sheep and meerkats, there are a handful of gardens that showcase cacti and other desert flora and fauna. Some visitors do mention that the animals are sometimes hard to spot, but that just goes to show that the Living Desert’s design is working. The designers aimed to create space that would mimic the animals’ natural environments, so there are places for them to hide.
Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway
The Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway was first the Las Palmas Estate, home to 1960s socialites Robert and Helene Alexander. In the mid-1960s, the Alexanders leased the home to none other than “the King” and his new bride Priscilla. The couple honeymooned at the estate, and nine months later their first child, Lisa, was born. Today, visitors can tour the home with two look-alike “tribute artists” or guides, “Aloha King Tony” and “Darling Presley.”
Palm Springs Air Museum
The Palm Springs Air Museum boasts an extensive collection of aircraft from World War II, including planes that range from the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat to the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. The planes are positioned throughout the museum, not unlike the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Agua Caliente Indian Canyons
Some visitors refer to the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons as Palm Springs’ best-kept secret. These canyons, which consist of the Palm Canyon, Murray Canyon, Tahquitz Canyon and Andreas Canyon, are located on the reservation lands of the Agua Caliente American Indians. The canyons are praised for their desert beauty — as seen in their jutting rocks and prickly cacti — as well as their hiking opportunities.