29 Reasons to Visit Chicago This Holiday Season

Halloween is so over and now is the time to move on to the magic of Chicago during the holiday season. From skating rinks, tradtional Christmas Markets to show-stopping parades, there’s plenty to enjoy. Here’s some of Choose Chicago’s tips on what to see and do

See the Lights

  • Lightscape, the acclaimed holiday event, returns from November 11, 2022 – January 8, 2023 with a new path and new light-filled installations created just for the Chicago Botanic Garden. Featured artistic works will include favorites such as the luminous Winter Cathedral and a reimagined fire garden. Tickets start at $32 for adults ($30 for members), $16 for children ($14 for child members) and all little ones under 2 can enter for free. 
  • The City of Chicago’s “official” Christmas tree in Millennium Park will shine brightly near the intersection of Michigan Ave. and Washington St. from November 18, 2022 through January 8, 2023. A pre-show will begin at 5 p.m. (with performers including the cast of Cabaret ZaZou and several Broadway in Chicago productions), followed by the lighting at approximately 6:30 p.m. and culminating in a fireworks show. 
Photo credit: Phil Parcellano
  • The annual, one-of-a-kind holiday experience ZooLights (Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ) at Lincoln Park Zoo will return from November 19, 2022 – January 1, 2023. Tickets are now on sale for $5 General Admission, Members-only Nights and Sensory-friendly Night. Tickets to Free Admission Mondays will be released the Tuesday prior at 11 a.m. each week.
  • Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum returns for its 10th year during Morton Arboretum’s 100th anniversary year, from November 19, 2022 – January 7, 2023, Explore 50 acres of the Arboretum’s majestic trees during this one-of-a-kind spectacle of color, light, and sound featuring six dazzling new displays as well as returning favorites. You will be awed and delighted by the first-ever Illumination display in the Arboretum’s new Grand Garden, leading to a spectacular laser-light finale. Craft beer lovers won’t want to miss IllumiBrew, November 17-18. This 21-and-over event provides a first look at Illumination while sampling local brews along the trail. New this year is a special series of Electric Illumination late-night experiences (December 16, 23 and 30; 9:30-11:00 PM) for adults 18+ with an eclectic, curated mix of Trance and Progressive House music, synchronized to the light displays. Ilumination ticket costs will run between $11-$22 for members and $16-$27 for guests, depending on the date and other available discounts.
  • Navy Pier’s Light Up The Lake returns from November 25 2022 to January 7, 2023. Visitors can experience the magic with interactive light displays, a whimsical skating rink, journeys through the birch tree maze, visits with Santa, and more. Pricing is $27 for an adult ticket, and 17 for a child’s ticket (ages 3-12).
  • In the nearby suburbs, Brookfield Zoo is hosting their annual Holiday Magicdisplay, a local tradition for more than 40 years. Zoo-goers can stroll along the many pathways lit with more than two million twinkling LED lights, including the 600-foot-long Tunnel of Lights with thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music as well as enjoy a skating rink, illuminated animal sculptures, numerous photo opps, drop-off letters for Santa and more.

Who Doesn’t Love a Parade?

  • The holiday season in Chicago officially kicks off with The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival (November 19, 2022) a day-through-night, mile-long extravaganza drawing more than one million celebrants. Its centerpiece is the largest nighttime parade in the U.S. — a spectacular parade down Michigan Avenue. Led by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse of The Walt Disney World Resort, the parade features fabulous floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, celebrities, musical performances, Santa Claus, fireworks and more —illuminating one million lights on The Avenue’s 200+ trees. Broadcast on ABC 7 Chicago on Sunday, November 20, 2022, Lights Festival will also air throughout the holiday season.
  • The Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade promises a fun-filled morning in the heart of downtown Chicago on November 24, 2022. Starting at iconic State Street in the Loop at 8:00 AM, the procession makes its way up State from Ida B. Wells Drive to Randolph Street. This free, all-ages event features more than 100 floats filled with entertainers, performance artists, helium balloons led by Teddy the Turkey (the parade’s official mascot) and a visit from Santa Claus.

Find That Perfect Gift

  • The Christkindlmarket Chicago, the most authentic traditional holiday market of its kind outside of Europe, returns November 18, 2022 and runs through the Christmas season, with the main location at Daley Plaza, along with outposts in Wrigleyville and Aurora. Of-age visitors can enjoy a mug of glühwein (hot spiced wine) as well as sweet and savory German snacks while shopping for handmade and traditional souvenirs. There are also musical performances and plenty of family-friendly activities for kids.
  • Now in its 21st year in Chicago, the One of a Kind Holiday Show (December 1-4, 2022) brings together hundreds of talented artists, makers and designers with thousands of happy shoppers who love art and original work. The show continues to be the best place in Chicago to find thousands of handmade products, truly unique and meaningful gifts for the holidays.
  • At the iconic Macy’s on State Street, take a break from holiday shopping to enjoy the annual Holiday Windows or have a peek at the Great Tree inside the historic Walnut Room, the first restaurant ever opened in a department store. With Circassian wood paneling imported from Russia and Austrian chandeliers, the 17,000 square foot dining room is both elegant and comfortable and a favored place to enjoy a festive afternoon treat.

Enjoy a Holiday Exhibit

  • At the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), the annual Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibits return November 16, 2022-January 4, 2023. A simple tradition that began in 1942 with a single tree now features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe.

Lace Up Your Skates

  • The scenic rink at Millennium Park offers panoramic views of Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) and the surrounding city skyline dusted in snow. The rink is open daily from November through March, weather permitting. Skate rentals are available, or you can bring your own.
  • Nearby, Maggie Daley Park is known for its one-of-a-kind Skating Ribbon, an icy path that curves through the park’s whimsical landscape. The Skating Ribbon is open from November through March. You can reserve skate rentals ahead of time or use your own.
  • The Gallagher Way Rink in Wrigleyville offers ice skating from November 18, 2022 – January , 2023, weather permitting. The Rink welcomes all skill levels to skate on their own or ride ice bumper cars on the newly expanded 12,000 square-foot ice rink, located inside Wrigley Field. Tickets are required for access and may be booked ahead of time here or on site. Activities at Gallagher Way also include holiday movie nights, a wreath-making workshop, a branch of Chicago’s Christkindlmarket and meetings with Santa.

Catch a Festive Live Show

Hotel Happenings 

The Peninsula Chicago is back with the Merry & Bright Holiday Package (ideal for couples) and Holly Jolly Family Holiday Package (great for families), valid for stays from November 26 – December 31, 2022. Guests are also encouraged to make a reservation for The Peninsula Hotel’s Holiday Afternoon Tea, where the 20-foot Christmas tree and lavish holiday décor at The Lobby enhance the traditional English tea menu of finger sandwiches, scones with house made preserves and Devonshire clotted cream, and petite seasonal pastries. Vegan and gluten-free options are available. 

The Langham Chicago is again offering its traditional Thanksgiving Feast on November 24, 2022 at its onsite restaurant Travelle, where the menu curated by Executive Chef Damion Henry includes holiday favorites, turkey and stuffing, as well as complementary enhancements such as seafood and carving stations. Chef Henry is also preparing a Christmas Day Brunch on December 25, 2022 and afternoon tea is available throughout the holiday season. 

The Pendry Chicago is offering a series of seasonal happenings, from a “Friendsgiving” dinner at onsite restaurant Venteux on November 23, 2022 to lighting the Menorah each night at 5 p.m. from December 18 – December 26, 2022 to Christmas Eve Dinner and Christmas Day brunch at Venteux on December 24 and 25, 2022.

Grab your partner and head to The Emily Hotel for the ultimate winter rooftop curling experience, complete with an overnight stay for two, curling for two players and two complimentary cocktails at Stone’s Throw. Stone’s Throw, located on the fifth floor of the hotel, features four Olympic sized curling rinks and heated yurts decked out in 80s nostalgia serving up a menu of winter sips and snacks. Offer valid for reservations of 1 or more nights booked by March 27, 2023 for stays between November 11, 2022 and March 31, 2023.

Celebrate winter at Fairmont Millennium Park Chicago’s Fairmont Lodge where you can relax, recharge and have fun with their cozy decor, indoor “fire pits”, festive programming, overnight packages and more. 

The annual Winter Wonderland returns to the IlO Godfrey Rooftop at The Godfrey Hotel with its heated, clear-domed igloos which are available to rent (for groups of up to six people) with purchase from the menu. Order a hot cocktail and s’mores to roast over the outdoor firepits and enjoy winter in Chicago under the city lights. 

From November 1 through January 3, LondonHouse Chicago is hosting Rudolph’s Rooftop from November 1, 2022 – January 3, 2023. This fun holiday-themed experience, complete with whimsical decor, photo opps and igloos, takes place on the 22nd level terrace, featuring breathtaking panoramic views of the city. Holiday cocktails are available from Executive Chef Elizabeth Sweeney. 

Nine Reasons Not to Miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas

Various Scenes from Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Last week Mindy Bianca @mindybiancapr.com introduced her newest employee, an elf named Jolly Jinglebutton who, I have to admit, had some great holiday travel destination. Well, it turns out the elf is back and, as he puts it, excited as a reindeer in a carrot patch because “I get to tell you all about one of my favorite places on the entire planet … Dollywood!”

File this under “who would have thought” but it seems Dolly Parton, owner of Dollywood, is an elf favorite, having recently been voted as their Very Favorite Human Ever. I wonder how Santa and Mrs. Claus feel about that as they’re humans too—I think. But anyway, everyone loves Dolly Parton and they’ll probably love her a lot more when they find out about all the special fun things going on at Dollywood from now until January 1st. By the way, in case you didn’t know, Dollywood has been awarded the title of Best Theme Park Christmas Event a whopping 14 times,  

Various Scenes from Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Here are nine reasons not to miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas.

Lights!

Six million of them, to be exact … spread across 160 acres. I’m not very math-y, but I’m here to tell you that it equates to A LOT of lights. They introduced a million new lights this year, so a park that already glistened and gleamed now also shimmers and shines. Hooray! There’s something bright and festive around every corner, which means that a walk around Dollywood will make you as giddy as a double espresso with a chocolate chip chaser. Every themed area of the park gets its own look and feel, so it’s kind of like you’re taking a stroll through a series of magical winter wonderlands.

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Fireworks!

As if the lights all over the park – in every tree and on every surface – weren’t enough, on Friday and Saturday nights, they put a bunch of lights up in the sky … in the form of the “Merry and Bright!” fireworks show. The colorful display is set to upbeat, contemporary holiday hits and it’s quite a way to end a weekend night in the park. It warms my little heart to see kids try to make it to the end of the day so they can be awake for the whole show. I guess it gives them good practice for trying to stay up late to see Santa, but we all know how that works out …

Trees!

There are hundreds of trees throughout the park – and they decorated even more this year, just to literally up the voltage – but I have two favorites. One is the 50-foot giant evergreen in Glacier Ridge. This magical tree does a whole synchronized music and light show that ends with – wait for it – snow falling! I didn’t think anything could get better than that, but this year they really decked out the part of the park called Adventures in Imagination. The lights here are pink, platinum and gold – VERY Dolly – and they introduced a new 20-foot tree in an area they’re calling “Dolly’s Christmas.” Guess what else you’ll find there? About 60 LED butterflies! What reindeer are to Santa, butterflies are to Dolly. They’re her spirit animal.

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Santa!

Speaking of Santa, I don’t think it’ll surprise you to know that he and Dolly are pals. They’re so close, in fact, that she talked him into getting himself a little Smoky Mountain cabin so they can be neighbors! His cabin magically appears inside Dollywood throughout the month of November and right until Christmas Day.(After that, as you can imagine, Santa gets to take a little vacation.) You can get a sneak peek inside the cabin to watch Santa at work and – bonus – if you look closely enough, you can actually see if YOUR name is on his Naughty or Nice List! I have personally witnessed kids turn from grumpy to grand in a matter of seconds so they can be assured that they’ll show up on the correct list!

Music!

Various Scenes from DollywoodÕs Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Let’s face it: Dolly Parton isn’t going to have a theme park with lousy entertainment, is she? Dollywood is legendary in the amusement industry for having some of the best performances and performers. There are so many shows here, in fact, that the park uses both indoor and outdoor venues. The headliner is called “Christmas in the Smokies,” and it’s a show that has been featured here every Christmas since 1990. Music is an incredibly important part of life here in the Smokies – and obviously something that Dolly loves – so get ready to tap your toes as part of your visit. MY toes are clad in special little booties with bells on the end, so you’ll know when I’m in the audience near you!

Various Scenes from DollywoodÕs Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Food!

We elves may be small, but we have big appetites … and I’m here to tell you that Dollywood puts out quite a spread. Let’s see if I can make your mouth water by mentioning some of my favorite hyphenated foods: herb-roasted turkey breast and citrus-glazed carved ham. Or how about chicken pot pie in a bread cone? Yeah, I said it … BREAD CONE! I love to carb load before a long night of delivering gifts, and I can promise you that I’m taking this recipe back to Mrs. Claus. There are also eggnog cupcakes and gingerbread-dusted funnel cakes, and I think I’ve convinced my favorite North Pole barista, Spazzy Sparkleshots, to start serving those at her café.

Rides!

Let’s not forget that this is a theme park, and most of the rides operate even in these cooler months. That means you can race through the night sky while millions of lights twinkle below. And you know what? I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s a lot like how Santa feels when he takes his sleigh ride on Christmas Eve!

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Gifts!

Some people love Christmas shopping, others dread it. I’m an elf, so we don’t shop … we MAKE gifts. And so do the craftsmen at Dollywood, who – if they weren’t so tall and didn’t enjoy life in the Smokies so much – could probably be recruited for Santa’s Workshop. Everything they create would make a perfect gift, and they’re also preserving some of the greatest arts of these mountains. Sometimes they even let YOU do the creating, like when the glassblower coaches you in how to make your very own glass Christmas ornament!

Stay!

If you’re thinking there’s a lot to do at Dollywood and you’ll need more than a day here to take it all in, you’re absolutely right. So, it’s kind of perfect that in addition to this award-winning theme park, there’s also a beautiful resort. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa offers families plenty of food, entertainment and décor during the holiday season. I love the two-story Christmas tree that greets you as you enter the resort. It’s very sparkly … just like me!

Whew! That was a lot to share, but I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

Remember … this Christmas, keep it holly, keep it jolly, keep it Dolly!

Holiday Cheers,

Jolly

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Four Great Christmas Destinations for the Holiday Season

My friend Mindy Bianca of Mindy Bianca Public Relations (MBPR) introduced me to hr newest employee, Jolly Jinglebutton (I don’t know where Mindy meets these characters), an elf who seems in the know for all things Christmas. And here, in his words, are some great holiday destinations.

Photo courtesy of Branson Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

Branson, Missouri

            In this Ozark Mountain town, moms and dads put the kids to bed on Halloween night, sneak some candy to get a little sugar rush, and then scurry around to transform Branson from fall to festive in a matter of hours. Poof! By the morning of November 1, Branson looks like the North Pole … minus the snow! Actually, this year they’re upping their game and transforming the historic downtown into a massive “winter wonderland” display – including hundreds of snowflakes suspended from the lampposts – so maybe it WILL look just like my home!

There are more than 1,500 beautifully decorated trees all around town, including a giant Community Tree whose themed décor changes each year. This year that tree is titled “We All SHINE ON!” and it will feature more than 200 super-sparkly LED stars in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. The Community Tree display, which will stand nearly four stories tall, will be part of Branson’s holiday scene from November 1 through January 7. It’ll be positioned right next to the Branson Ferris Wheel, which itself is beautifully decorated with lights that “dance” to favorite Christmas tunes during multiple shows each night.

Photo courtesy of Branson Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

Though all the attractions around Branson get into the holiday spirit, the highest concentration of lights and décor can be found at Silver Dollar City, a legendary theme park that annually celebrates “An Old Time Christmas.” The park installs more than 6.5 million lights – that’s 680 miles of stringed bulbs! – as well as 1,000 decorated trees, 600 giant wreaths, 3 miles of garland, and 15,000 yards of ribbon. (Fun fact: That’s about 15,000 elves’ worth of ribbon, if we all laid head to toe.)

And perfect for a holiday visit: At the World’s Largest Toy Museum, you’ll find more than 1 million toys that represent pretty much everything that kids have been putting on their Christmas lists for the past 100 years. This museum sure makes me glad that Santa invested in all the new-fangled technology that relieves us elves from some of the most difficult toy-making tasks. (Don’t even talk about sewing on teddy bears’ noses. Ouch!)

Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

            We elves took a recent poll, and our very favorite human – ever – is Dolly Parton. There really isn’t anything she can’t do. She writes and sings songs, she acts (check out her Christmas movie on NBC later this year!), she helps finance COVID vaccines, she promotes literacy, and she owns a theme park in the middle of the Smoky Mountains so that visitors far and wide can learn about and fall in love with her Tennessee Mountain Home.

In fact, Dolly is so amazing that I’m not saying she’s an elf, but I’m not NOT saying she is one, either. Think about it: Some of the best elves I know are named Polly (last name: Peppermintstripe), Molly (Mistletoe), Holly (Hugsomuch), Folly (Funsmith) and Golly (Gumdrop). And then, of course, there’s me … Jolly. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Dolly’s name just SOUNDS elf-y?

Anyway, back to that incredible theme park, Dollywood, which has a tendency – like me – to go a little Christmas-crazy. Starting on the first Saturday of November, the park is completely transformed into a winter wonderland, coming aglow as more than 5 million gleaming lights sparkle across the property. (They have a team of humans here called “Lighting Bugs” who start stringing in the summertime! They started early this year so Dolly could film her Christmas movie last month!) A highlight of the décor is a 50-foot-tall, animated Christmas tree that comes to life via a synchronized light show throughout the evening.

And this is a theme park, so there are plenty of rides to enjoy, too! You get to race through the night sky while millions of lights twinkle below. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s a lot like how Santa feels when he takes his sleigh ride on Christmas Eve.

Frostburg, Maryland

            Photographer: Hassan Rasheed

Take a look at this tiny town’s name. You just know people here are going to make a fuss about all wintery stuff, right? Fun fact: Frostburg is not named for Jack Frost – which is okay with me, because I’ve always thought that guy was kind of cold. Instead, it was named for a family that was among the first settlers here on what they call “The Mountain Side of Maryland,” way back when this area was pure wilderness.

But that bristly Jack Frost does show up once a year, on the first Saturday of December (this year that’s December 3), for the town’s “Storybook Holiday” celebration. Old Jack pushes his way right to the front of the parade and tries to make it all about him. So typical.

Photographer: Janelle Muletz

But you know who it’s really about? The students from Frostburg University, who work with members of the community to raise money for the university’s Children’s Literature Centre. They all come together to celebrate books, reading and literacy. Kids show up to hear Christmas stories, meet authors, write letters to Santa, watch the parade and sip “Cocoa with the Po-Po,” which is hosted by Frostburg’s police department.

But the very, very best part is – wait for it – when the college kids compete in the Elf Olympics. Events include all the things I’ve spent my life perfecting: cookie tossing, package wrapping, tree decorating, toy creating and even song serenading. It’s so much fun to watch! I asked Santa if I can recruit the best participants for our North Pole team, but he said they probably exceed our maximum height limit.

Something else I love about Frostburg is that it gives me plenty of chances to support small, local businesses, including an independent bookstore, a shop that sells vinyl records, an old-fashioned theater that shows classic Christmas movies, and a café that serves an eggnog latte that I wish Spazzy Sparkleshots, my favorite barista back in the North Pole, could learn how to make.

Bellingrath Gardens in Theodore, Alabama (near Mobile)

            I think a lot of people equate Christmas with colder weather and forget that there are plenty of warmer places that really get into the holiday spirit, too. MBPR represents several destinations that prove you don’t have to freeze your jingle bells off to enjoy the holidays. So, I want to tell you about Christmas at Bellingrath Gardens & Home, which is near Mobile, Alabama. The place is named for Walter Bellingrath, who made his fortune owning the region’s Coca-Cola bottling franchise, and O, Christmas tree … do they go all-out when it comes to decorating his 65-acre garden estate!

            During the Magic Christmas in Lights event, which this year runs November 25 through January 4, the gardens are adorned with more than 1,200 handmade set pieces, 3 million glittering lights and 16 custom scenes that can be enjoyed on your own or via a guided group walking tour. And guess what? Everything is designed, welded, painted and lamped on site by three members of the gardens’ staff.

In December, this area boasts an average daytime high of 63 degrees and a nighttime low of 45, so it’s possible to experience the lights in a comfortable climate but also enjoy a little bundling up … and perhaps a sip or bite of something warm along the way.

In addition to the light displays, the garden hosts live choral performances nearly every night. I love to sing-sing-sing, so I go every night to show my support … and tap my toes in my little curlicued shoes.

Also – news flash! – there ARE flowers that bloom at this time of year. Bellingrath is home to one of the South’s most amazing collections of Alabama’s state flower, the camellia. That was Mr. Bellingrath’s very favorite flower … and it happens to be Mrs. Claus’s fave, too! The team here always lets me pick a few camellias and send them home with Santa, who presents them to Mrs. Claus as part of the elves’ Christmas gift to her.

Three Great Destinations for Fall Colors and Fun

Hikes, fly fishing, falconry, all-inclusive wilderness retreats, and a view from the top of America’s mountain, no one does Western fall wonder and adventure like The Broadmoor. Here are a variety of different ways (water, air and on top of a mountain) to enjoy those autumn golden aspens that everyone is talking about.

Fall fun by water: Get your boots wet with some Colorado fly fishing.

The Broadmoor’s all-inclusive Wilderness Properties such as Fly Fishing Camp are where fall colors and adventure combine.

For more water wonder, stay at The Broadmoor and take advantage of an autumn hike at Seven Falls.

For more water wonder, stay at The Broadmoor and take advantage of an autumn hike at Seven Falls.

The Broadmoor’s Soaring AdventuresEnjoy the tree tops and fresh autumn air with a zip lining experience in the mountains. For more reasons to look up, take advantage of The Broadmoor’s falconry experience which allows the unique opportunity for an up-close encounter with the resort’s majestic birds of prey plus the opportunity to watch them in flight.

A view from the top of the land: The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway

What’s better than a view from the top? America’s highest railway reaching a height of 14,115 feet offers stunning Colorado mountain views and some of the country’s best fall foliage landscapes. 

Cape May, NJ is one of the most underrated beach towns in America.

This charming seaside getaway offers the perfect beach town trip any time of year. Fall is a great time to beat the crowds and enjoy the award-winning beaches, cozy fireplaces, exquisite farm to table dining, and amazing small-town amenities including exploring this Victorian town by foot or bike and enjoying family-friendly fun and shopping. Plus families will also enjoy visiting Beach Plum Farm during harvest season to enjoy a mix of summer and a preview to fall.

Set on 62 acres less than two miles away from the center of Cape May, Beach Plum Farm is a family favorite and provides ingredients to several local restaurants, including the award-winning Ebbitt Room. The farm provides many of the seasonal ingredients used in the delicious food served at Congress Hall, its restaurants and sister properties! Kids love feeding the chickens and exploring the acres of gardens and fields. Cape May is also home to Congress Hall, America’s oldest seaside resort. Check out caperesorts.com

 Sag Harbor & Shelter Island (Hamptons / Eastern Long Island)

Grab a classic novel and head to Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor, NY. Rich in literary history (the hotel was a favorite of John Steinbeck), this classic all-American hotel sits in one of the best spots in Sag overlooking the harbor making its porch and pool the perfect spot to curl up with a book and enjoy the autumn harbor breezes. Bonus: enjoy some of the East End’s freshest dock to dish dining. Baron’s Cove’s culinary team works closely with local farmers, purveyors, and fishing boats and can name the captain and boat that the restaurant’s daily fish came off of that morning. Baron’s Cove is also one of the few places in town that offers live music every night during the summer and Wednesday through Sunday in the fall.  

Over on Shelter Island, NY, Baron’s Cove’s sister property, The Pridwin Hotel & Cottages, recently reopened its doors after a two-year renovation (recently as in, the ribbon cutting took place mid-July!) Another waterfront property, The Pridwin offers travelers the best of both worlds: the vibes of a luxury lake/adult summer camp getaway with the thrill of the beach (it has its own private beach steps from the hotel). Guests may also take advantage of water sports activities, sunset sailing, private luxury yacht experiences and also the resort’s very own kayaking and paddle boarding. Guests also have the extra perk of fishing off of the resort’s dock.

Heading into the cooler weather, The Pridwin will continue to offer several family friendly programming throughout the fall including lawn games, arts & crafts, live music, kids cooking classes, nature walks, hiking in Mashomack; farm tours with local Sylvester Manor Farm; plus yoga on the lawn programming for children.

The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway

Re-discover Your Inner Child Along Alabama’s Gulf Coast

Though I missed Be a Kid Again Day on July 8th–and you may have too, it’s never too late to connect with our inner child. And don’t we all need that considering not only our own busy lives but also what’s going on in the world. Sigh! It’s enough to make you want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over your head. But here’s another suggestion.

Why not head to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, two twin beach towns along the Gulf Coast known for their miles and miles of sugar-white sandy beaches and myriad water and land activities as well as great seafood and lots of you-can-only-find-it-here fun. Want examples?

Think prehistoric creatures that go beyond the big screen this summer. That’s right. It’s Jurassic Golf. But don’t worry. You don’t have to run from these creatures. Your only concern at this indoor, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course is whether you can get finally get a hole-in-one,

Or further your education. That’s right. But this isn’t calculus. Instead it’s Sand Castle University, a program teaching “students” the very best ways to build sand castles. Yes, soon you’ll be the beach equivalent of Frank Lloyd Wright. Well, maybe not. But you’ll certainly have some Instagramable moments.

Those covers aren’t looking like such a great option anymore, are they?

Well, let’s do some more convincing. Building sandcastles and playing miniature golf with prehistoric relics calls for sustenance. And since calories don’t count on vacation (honest, trust me on this) check out The Yard Milkshake Bar for their creative mind-bending dessert concoctions served in jars. 

The options at City Donut include their unique, made-from-scratch donuts with toppings like Nerds or Fruity Pebbles, or you can just go glazed–all are yummy.

Now that we’ve gotten dessert out of the way, sit down for dinner at LuLu’s, a family-friendly restaurant which not only has great coastal cuisine (including allergy-friendly dishes) but also features ropes courses (including the Mountain of Youth, a three-story climbing structure), an arcade, a seasonal caricature artist and live music. Oh and views of the water. Last time I was there I saw a dolphin pop up but he didn’t stop to say hi.

Fortified, stop at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo which offers up-close and personal animal encounters with kangaroos, lemurs and sloths. For kangaroos and lemurs, kids must be at least 3 years old to attend, but sloths will hang with guests of any age.

Thye’re definitely not hands-on or good for close encounters but the zoo recently brought in three new African lions (Daniel, Chadwick and Regina from the Pittsburgh Zoo) to assist in lion conservation efforts. Guests will be able to spot them as they’re introduced to the zoo’s resident lion, Nandi.

Nothing is more relaxing and rejuvenating than getting out in the fresh, coastal air. Hop on a bike at Gulf State Park and enjoy the 28 peaceful miles of the Backcountry Trail. The park offers a free bike-share program, so visitors can explore the nine different ecosystems that make up the park. Bikes in the park are designed for adults and bigger kids; if you have younger children, several local bike shops rent kids’ and tandem bikes. And if biking seems like too much effort, that’s okay. The park also offers more than three miles of public beach to the visitors who prefer to just sit on the sand and listen to the sound of crashing waves.

Looking for a day trip from the Gulf Shores? Consider Magnolia Springs, a true step back in time.

Convinced? Then begin planning your trip at https://www.gulfshores.com

Road Trips & Recipes: Follow the magic to Dublin, Ohio

Special guest blogger Kathy Witt is back with another great road trip.

Legend holds that fairy doors are magical portals and, while humans can’t travel into this realm, they can at least find the tiny doors if they know where to look.

That place is Dublin, Ohio, home to the very first Irish Fairy Door Trail in the United States and a land of enchantment itself, from its picturesque historic downtown, where cheery gift, toy and sweet shops line bricked-paved streets, to the bustling blocks of Bridge Park – an entertainment wonderland with fun, games and gastronomy.

Dublin embraces its Irish through this experience and others, including the Celtic Cocktail Trail, a 19-stop libation celebration with an Irish twist. And it brings a touch of Brigadoon with its many waterfalls and water features, including Indian Run Falls, located minutes from downtown.

Play:

Boho 72 lets Irish fairy door finders know to come here to check off one of the 11 resident fairies on Dublin, OH’s Irish Fairy Door Trail. Photo: Kathy Witt

Following the Irish Fairy Door Trail (www.visitdublinohio.com/things-to-do/fairy-door-trail) is something-for-everyone fun and the perfect way to get acquainted with downtown Dublin. From high-energy North Market Bridge packed with local merchants, including a 75-year-old confectionery, to the quieter historic district with its locally owned shops, the trail meanders across the S-shaped suspension bridge spanning the Scioto River, past architecture both contemporary and centuries old and into the happy-go-lucky vibe of this community.

Decisions . . . Decisions . . . Winans Chocolates & Coffees presents a challenge to those on the Irish Fairy Door Trail. Photo: Kathy Witt

No purchase is necessary at any of the 11 trail stops, but you’ll want to bring your mad money anyway. Irresistible goodies await at Winans Chocolates & Coffees; Our Cupcakery and Johnson’s Real Ice Cream.

Candy Chef Carolyn Gasiorek hand-dips apples at Kilwin’s, a stop on the Irish Fairy Door Trail in Dublin, OH. Photo: Kathy Witt

Make sure to stop at Kilwin’s – where you can watch Candy Chef Carolyn Gasiorek hand-dip apples or shake sprinkles onto handmade chocolates; the Cheesecake Girl (a bonus trail stop); and Dublin Toy Emporium, where mom and former educator Enas Lanham has created a world of pure joy and imagination with plush puppets, science kits, books, puzzles, arts and crafts kits and more.

Find all 11 doors on the Dublin, OH Irish Fairy Door Trail and earn an official t-shirt from the Dublin Visitors Center. Photo: Visit Dublin, Ohio,
Enas Lanham, owner of Dublin Toy Emporium, rings up purchases by two Irish Fairy Door Trailblazers. Photo: Kathy Witt

Find the tiny fairy doors hidden among French macarons, boxes of chocolates and candles, clothing and tea towels, make note of the name of the resident fairy on your passport, available at the Dublin Visitor and Information Center (www.visitdublinohio.com), and earn an Irish Fairy Doors of Dublin t-shirt.

Stay:

With its separate bed, seating and workspace areas as well as mini-refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker, the SpringHill Suites by Marriott (www.visitdublinohio.com/hotels) is ideal for multigenerational family stays. Plus, it’s well located in the Bridge Park area with easy access to the Irish Fairy Door Trail and Celtic Cocktail Trail and the shops, restaurants and waterfalls of the surrounding area.

Reservations include complimentary buffet breakfast and free Wi-Fi and parking, among other amenities.

Can you find the Irish fairy door among all the merch at Extravagifts in Dublin, OH?
Photo: Kathy Witt

Eat:

Dublin revels in its Irish attitude through official “Irish Approved Businesses” that include numerous eateries, like the come-as-you-are Dublin Village Tavern (www.thedublinvillagetavern.com). This neighborhood pub is a favorite among locals and visitors alike for its congenial atmosphere, friendly waitstaff and full-on Irish dishes.

Begin with Hooley Eggs, a deep-fried delicacy featuring a hard-boiled egg wrapped in Irish sausage, then move onto braised beef shepherd’s pie, slow-cooked in Guinness and loaded with veggies piping hot beneath a mashed potato crust. The full bar stocks dozens of Irish whiskeys, plus Guinness and other Irish imports and craft beers on tap, wine, Irish coffee and specialty cocktails.

Treat:

Find all 11 doors on the Dublin, OH Irish Fairy Door Trail and earn an official t-shirt from the Dublin Visitors Center. Photo: Visit Dublin, Ohio

Finding fairy doors is hard work but Dublin has just the place to chill after checking off all the stops: Zoombezi Bay Waterpark (www.zoombezibay.columbuszoo.org). From thrill-ride slides to Tiny Tides – a heated-water playground for little ones – Mexican-style street tacos and ice cream to margarita and daiquiri bar, an afternoon here can be as crazy or lazy as you like. Adding appeal are shaded cabana rentals, furnished with chaise lounges and dining tables/chairs.

Event:

The Dublin Irish Festival (www.dublinirishfestival.org) takes place August 5-7, 2022, in the city’s Coffman Park. It is the largest three-day Irish festival in the world and features seven stages of entertainment with Irish musicians and dancers; storytelling, folklore, music and hands-on workshops; 100 vendors selling everything from kilts to jewelry to handmade instruments; and a menu of foodie options from traditional Irish fish and chips to festival faves to food trucks, pizza and more.

RECIPE

Tuck in for a true Irish experience at the neighborhood Dublin Village Tavern, a must-visit Irish pub dishing up shepherd’s pie, Irish egg rolls and an Irish Kettle Dinner.
Photo: Visit Dublin, Ohio
 

Shepherd’s Pie

Dublin Irish Tavern (www.thedublinvillagetavern.com)

This dish was concocted in the late 1700s/early 1800s by creative and frugal Irish housewives intent of finding a delicious way to use up their leftovers.

  • 2 lbs. chuck road, cubed
  • 4 carrots, medium dice
  • 3 medium yellow onions, medium dice
  • 4 ribs celery, medium dice
  • 1 C peas
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 TBSP fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 TBSP fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 1/3 C Guinness beer
  • 1/4 C Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/4 C beef stock
  • Prepared mashed potatoes
  • 2 TBSP panko bread crumbs
  • 2 TBSP grated parmesan

Place a large frying pan over high heat and add a thin layer of olive oil. Season the meat with salt and pepper and fry, stirring, in two or three batches, until nicely browned. Once cooked, place meat in colander to drain off the fat.

Place pan back over medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. When hot, fry the onion, celery, garlic and thyme, for 8-10 minutes, until soft and golden. Add the browned meat, peas and carrots. Stir constantly for 4-5 minutes.

Add the Guinness and Worcestershire sauce and boil until the liquid has reduced by half. Pour in the stock and return to boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 20-25 minutes, by which time the mixture should thicken. Continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes if it doesn’t seem quite thick enough. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Spoon mixture into casserole dish. Spread mashed potato on top of meat. Top with panko breadcrumbs and parmesan. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.Kathy has a new interactive Cincinnati-themed book arriving summer 2022!

Traveling Through Time: Down the Danube Narrows to Weltenburg Abbey

Weltenburg Abbey was more than four centuries old before the monks first began brewing ale—or at least ale worth noting–in 1050. Now vying for the title of the oldest monastic brewery in the world (Weihenstephan Abbey also claims the honor), they set their claim on maintaining the original brewing process. Like the beer, much is as it was remains at the Abbey, the somewhat plain exterior of the cathedral opens onto an elaborately ornate and gilded interior. Services are still held regularly, and monks still live and work on the premises. And just as abbeys were places for gatherings for a millennium and more, Weltenburg also remains a destination. Located 25 miles west of the charming Bavarian city of Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage City and just three miles from Kelheim, it is accessible by car. But I totally like immersing myself in history and my goal today is to replicate—as much as I can—the 1050 experience.

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Long Wall and St. Nepomuk

On the ferry from Kelheim, I watch as the boat’s wake cuts through waters reflecting the dark greens of dense woods and whites of limestone rocks of the Fränkische Alb mountains, some rising 300-feet high. Winds, water and time have carved caves and nooks in the limestone and in one of these crannies on an expansive stretch of stone called the Long Wall someone has tucked a statue of St. Nepomuk, the patron saint of water and bridges who was drowned when he refused to reveal the confessions made to him by the Queen of Bavaria. Her husband must have really wanted to know what she was up to.

The Danube Narrows

Today it will take 40 minutes to travel the Danube Narrows, an ancient waterway to and from Weltenburg Abbey or if you want to be really German about it, Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei, a sprawling complex of Baroque stone buildings surrounded by the lush rural beauty of Southern Bavaria.

There are times when the river is a lively place with small boats passing by and bicyclists and hikers making their way along the riverbank. Then suddenly, navigating a bend, it’s all calm waters and quiet.  I imagine this is how it was when pilgrims and tradesmen (and hopefully tradeswomen as well) came to the abbey to retreat from the world, rest or conduct business. It was a time when travel was mainly by water as roads barely existed and their trip would have taken much longer without our gas powered engines. But the sight they saw when making the final curve is much the same as today—Weltenburg’s blue tower roof and the washed pink walls.

Weltenburger Klosterbrauerei

The abbey sits on a bend of the river and in front is a small sandy beach and shallow waters where people play. It’s hot today—a heat wave is moving across Europe—and I envy them as the water looks cool and refreshing. But history calls and instead I move up the walk leading from the dock to the entrance already awed by the size and beauty of the place.

There are always hard choices and today I need to decide whether to tour first (there are self-guided and guided tours available) or take a seat in the sun at the biergarten, It appears that most people have chosen the latter and rather than wait for a table or sit inside the restaurant, I enter the church.

St. Georg Church

We’re talking seriously rococo inside, an overdrive of theatrical flourishes mixed with more Gothic elements. Paintings date back to the 1300s, a statue of the church’s namesake St. George or St. Georg as its spelled here, sculpted in smooth, sleek marble, rides his horse most likely on his way to slay the dragon. The main room, its ceiling 65-feet high, has alcoves off to the sides, each one just as ornate. It’s hard to take in everything at once, the artistry, pageantry and craftsmanship are so amazing.  Standing near a group tour, I hear phrases like “eight ionic columns, Weltenburg marble and gold fresco” and hurriedly write the words down as it helps sort out this wonderment of riches.

Bavarian Fare

Back outside, I spot an empty table and grab it. Addicted to German fare (yes, really), I order pigs’ knuckle known as schweinshaxe, schnitzel and even though I’m in Bavarian and not the Black Forest (hey, it’s nearby) the famous cake from that region. Of course, I need a glass of their Kloster Barock Dunkel—an almost black in color ale which is still made on site in a rock cave and then sent by pipeline to the monastery taps. Also available—to drink or take home, there is a gift store of course–are other brews and such medicinal spirits as their Weltenburg monastery bitters and liqueurs. And if you want to go full abbey, there’s their klosterkas and monastery sausage both based on ancient Weltenburg recipes.

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that last schnitzel and definitely not the cake. To assuage my conscience, I climb the mountain path as it winds past the Stations of the Cross. It’s steep but the gaps in the woods offer commanding views of the valley, abbey and gorge below. I briefly contemplate spending the night at the St. Georg Guest House to be able to walk the abbey grounds late at night when all the visitors are gone but I don’t have a reservation. Next time for sure.

The Oldest Wheat Beer Brewery in Bavaria

          Returning to Kelheim isn’t exactly like entering the 21st century. In the old town I wander the narrow streets snapping photos of perfectly maintained Medieval-era buildings just a short walk from the docks and on the way to where I parked my car, I let my friends talk me into stopping at Weisses Bauhaus Kelheim.

It’s a beautiful place, all wood, vaulted ceilings and archways leading from room to room. Outside we sit in, yes another beer garden, this one next to a small stream, and order a round of their wheat beer. Really, I had to since they’ve been brewing beer here since 1607, making the Weisses Brauhaus the oldest wheat beer brewery in Bavaria.

 

I’m not typically a beer lover but both the Kloster Barock Dunkel at the abbey and the TAP7 here, made from the original 1872 recipe, are robust and flavorful without bitterness or an overly hoppy taste. I’m driving so instead of more beer, I listen to the live music, enjoy the myriad of colorful blooms cascading from window boxes, baskets and containers and contemplate how I’ve spent the day moving through history and only now have reached the 17th century.

Road Trippers Now Have Many Options for Taking Their Four-Legged Friends Along

Bertram, TX in the beautiful Hill Country.

Whether we’re on vacation with family, friends, or by ourselves, it’s great to take our pets along. No matter what type of trip we’re embarking (excuse the pun) on, Fido can be a wonderful companion. After all, until we learn how to translate barks to words, we don’t have to deal with countless “how long until we get there?” Or squabbles in the back seat about such inane things as whose milk shake has the most ice cream in it.

Bonair Winery and Vineyards, Zillah, WA

If the love of traveling with pets describes you, you’re not alone. Pets are family members and it’s not just them missing us when we’re on the road. We miss them particularly after two years of working from home. Many of us, particularly Millennials, don’t want to leave our pets behind.

Harvest Hosts

According to a survey conducted by Harvest Hosts, a membership club for RVers offering unique overnight stays at over 6,000 locations throughout North America, 52% of all travelers say they base their travel plans with their pets in mind. For Millennials, the number rises to 56% who want to plan a trip including their pets.  

For some, it’s not just a consideration. It’s an imperative. More than one-third of travelers (37%) deemed pet-friendly accommodations a “must-have.” Millennials are most likely to bring their pets on vacation, with 39% saying pet-friendly accommodations are a “must-have.” Gen Zers are slightly less tied to their furry friends, with about one-third saying pet-friendly accommodations are “nice to have, but not necessary.” While Boomers are not traveling with pets as much, and 34% say pet-friendly accommodations are “not necessary.”

Taking Our Pets Along

Fortunately, you don’t have to leave Fido behind. About 75 percent of hotels now allow pets, according to a survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.


For Harvest Hosts that number is even higher. Over 90% of our Hosts are pet friendly and they’ve now have a filter for “Pets” in their search function allowing trip planners to show only the Hosts that welcome our four legged friends. Harvest House offers eclectic overnight accommodations including more than 3,200 farms, wineries, breweries, distilleries, golf courses, churches, museums, and other scenic small businesses in addition to 2,900 Boondockers Welcome community host locations.

The company’s mission is to help millions of people live happier lives through road travel, while supporting wonderful small businesses and communities along the way. Their redesigned mobile app letts members view hosts’ information, photos, reviews and availability – quickly requesting stays and communicating with hosts through in-app messaging. To learn more, visit: www.harvesthosts.com or download the Harvest Hosts app on iOS here and Android here

Chicago Spring & Summer: Neighborhood Attractions, Tours & Developments

Art on the MART is queuing up four new projections for 2022 that will spotlight Chicago dance and the dancers, choreographers and visual artists that bring the medium to its full potential.  

  • The first projection Floe, created by choreographer and Chicago native Carrie Hanson with her dance company, The Seldoms, is a piece that spotlights climate change, extreme weather, vanishing ice, denialism, bodies of water and, ultimately, bodies. Hanson teamed with several long-time collaborators for this project. A stellar team of visual artists (Bob Faust, Liviu Pasare and Andrew Glatt) assembled a dynamic, emotional projection by weaving dance, word and image. Mikhail Fiksel crafted a soundscape that includes field recordings of icebergs, water and rain; Maria Pinto created architectural garments in an array of watery blues; Seth Bockley provided text that moves from irreverent to elegiac. Performers include Sarah Gonsiorowski, Damon Green and Maggie Vannucci.   Floe will be on-view from May 6 to June 29, 2022.  

Chicago Fine Arts Building

Chicago’s Fine Arts Building (410 S. Michigan Avenue) launched its new look and a website with centralized ticketing and rental platforms that encompass all of the landmark building’s spaces: artists’ studios, offices, rehearsal halls and two theaters—the historic Studebaker Theater and Carriage Hall, a contemporary multidisciplinary performance and event space that is being built in the former Playhouse Theater space.

  • Property owner Berger Realty Group began major renovations of Studebaker Theater and Carriage Hall earlier this year, to enhance the experiences of theatergoers and producing companies at both venues. Renovations to the historic Studebaker will be completed in May 2022, including all-new seating, enhancements and modernization of the theater’s AV and grid systems, a state-of-the-art technical booth, updated lobbies and a newly designed VIP lounge on the third floor. The new Carriage Hall venue will open in late 2022, with more details to be announced in the coming months.

Chicago Mahogany Tours

Chicago Mahogany Tours, led by Chicago’s rising sensation Urban Historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas, are a must when visiting Chicago. He takes visitors on a bus tour of Chicago’s historic south side neighborhoods – Pullman, Bronzeville, Roseland, Bridgeport and Stockyard – while sharing unique facts about Chicago Black history.

Obama Presidential Center

The Obama Presidential Center broke ground this fall in Jackson Park; this amazing world-class museum will bring a spectacular new campus to Chicago’s South Side and provide a fabulous new gathering space for the Hyde Park community and residents. Upon completion, it will feature a museum, library, park and activity center, women’s garden and so much more.

Pepper Family Wildlife Center at the Lincoln Park Zoo

The Pepper Family Wildlife Center, a new state-of-the-art habitat for lions and big cats, recently opened at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The Center’s Lion House features a Great Hall that can host dinners for 400 guests or receptions for up to 500. The Lion House also features a conference room, which can seat 80 guests, or 100 for a standing reception. Both the Great Hall and the conference room feature windows overlooking the inside of the exciting lion exhibit.

Shedd Aquarium

In preparation for the organization’s 100th anniversary in 2030, the Shedd Aquarium has unveiled a new, comprehensive strategic vision, a multi-faceted, 8-year, $500 million dollar Centennial Commitment which will include deeper community investments and partnerships, a modernized aquarium experience through the transformation and restoration of the historic galleries and dynamic new exhibits, new educational and experiential programs created with equity and inclusion at the center, compelling digital engagements, advancement in exemplary animal care and welfare and accelerated aquatic and scientific research.

Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower

Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower has reopened after completing an extensive redevelopment encompassing the attraction’s lower level, delivering an interactive experience that celebrates the unique personality, history, neighborhoods and sites of Chicago. This immersive, new Chicago-themed museum features modern physical and visual displays, educating guests of all ages on Chicago history, culture, cuisine and architecture through interactive and informative experiences.

  • The complete transformation on the 103rd-floor observation deck includes fresh design features and interactive monitors, providing a space to inspire guest poses and allow visitors to upload and display their Ledge social media photos. Along with the stunning views, guests can indulge in informational videos about the city’s growth, travel patterns, cultural attractions and the making and history of The Ledge. Guests are invited to leave a mark on the city by creating drawings or messages on the interactive sequin wall. Screens also feature the impressive eastside views from the 103rd floor, allowing visitors to discover more about local sights, no matter the weather.   

Country Fair: Nostalgic Blue Ribbon Recipes From America’s Small Towns

        There was a time when I would visit several county fairs each summer, taking in the delights of fair food, visiting the Home Economics buildings where pies, cakes, cookies, and all manner of sweets were on display along with jars filled with pickled veggies, fruits, and even meats, and freshly picked fruits and vegetables. It was in short, entire rooms filled with the cooking and farming traditions that date back centuries.

The county fair tradition is woven into the fabric of nearly every American community across every small town. However, the all-American state and county fair tradition is not all carnies, corn dogs, cotton candy, and apple pie. The fair is a place for communities to come together and share some of the most meaningful moments in life that can evoke affection and nostalgia.

Best-selling author and winner of the Gourmand Cookbook Award (2018), Liza Gershman captures this long held tradition in her newest book — County Fair: Nostalgic Blue Ribbon Recipes from America’s Small Towns  Listed as one of the Top Ten Best Books About Food in 2021 by Smithsonian Magazine, Gershman’s book is a visual feast that is jam-packed with the images, stories, and voices of the folks in the tightly knit communities who celebrate this unique slice of Americana each year.

In partnership with Images Publishing, Gershman beautifully illustrates the county fairs throughout the book with stunning color photographs of food, vintage, and retro ephemera. Highlighted here are close to 80 Blue Ribbon–winning recipes from across America’s heartland as well as interviews, from tastemakers behind each region.

From homemade pies and cakes to jams, jellies, pickles, preserves, sweets, to the classic apple pie, chip chocolate chipper, lemon meringue to unique snickerdoodles and chokecherry jelly, Gershman brings us prize-winning regional specialties from all 50 states, as well as ample 4H and FFA livestock events — secret tips for stocking your pantry, and recipes that embodies the legacy of an American institution.

“Fairs have always been a passion, and imagery of carnival games and Americana decorate my mind,” says Gershman. “The cacophony of the Big Top and the midway –packed full with myriad colorfully themed games, amusement rides, and food booths–entice visitors; the scents from the farm overwhelm; the sweetest pink cotton candy aromas wafting through the air. Certainly, I’ve fallen in love at the fair, been amazed and awestruck by crafts, and delicacies, and community coming together as one.

 “This book was made with love during the pandemic. It took a village, as best projects do, and I was so fortunate to have the help of many friends and family lending a hand to this book. Pages include my mother’s watercolors, award-winning recipes from loved ones, and portraits of many of my wonderful growing fairy-godchildren.”

Let County Fair be your travel guide, state by state, sharing the most-loved recipe from each region. This book is not only recipes though; the photographs capture the energy of the carnival games and rides we all know and love.

About the author

Best-selling author and Winner of the Gourmand Cookbook Award (2018), with a master’s degree in English & American Literature and a photography degree, Liza has nearly two decades of industry experience working in all facets of commercial and editorial photography and writing. Liza’s 19 published books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine stories have enhanced her storytelling abilities in her extensive professional background, which includes Creative Direction, Art Direction, Producing, Event Production, Wardrobe, Prop and Set Styling. 

A storyteller in all mediums, Liza specializes in Lifestyle, Food, and Travel. Her passion for people, culture, and cuisine has taken her to more than 55 countries and 47 U.S. states during her career. Liza’s 12th book, Cuban Flavor, garnered numerous accolades, and has been touted on CBS and in National Geographic, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, NPR, and many additional local and national publications and radio shows. Liza was honored to speak for Talks At Google, and on the prestigious campuses of Twitter, Oracle, and Disney, among others.

As a photographer and art director, Liza teaches, writes, and presents for such celebrated companies as Creative Live and Canon USA. She was honored to be selected to nationally launch the 6D for Canon, and the T6. Prior to that, she worked as the in-house Senior Digital Photographer for Williams-Sonoma and continues to freelance for clients such as Goldman Sachs, Hyatt Hotels, Restoration Hardware, Safeway, Party City, Getty Images, Airbnb, and Visa. In 2010, Liza was Governor Jerry Brown’s campaign photographer, and in 2014 was a photographer for the RedBull Youth America’s Cup.

Lisa was a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle Travel Section, writing tips on top destinations for a monthly column called “5 Places” She continues to write about travel, food, and culture in articles and book form. Many of Liza’s notable clients include celebrity chefs, restaurants, wineries, beverage brands, fashion brands, spas, and hotels.

Recipes

The following recipes are courtesy of Liza Gershman’s County Fair.

Whiskey Sour Cocktail Jelly

Terry Sennett, Blue Ribbon Prize

Duchess County Fair, New York State

  • 6 tablespoons bottled lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons bottled lime juice
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 4 to 6 ounce package boiled liquid fruit pectin
  • 5 five maraschino cherries with stems
  • 5 fresh orange slices

In a heavy pot stir together the juices, sugar, and bourbon. Cook over high heat until the mixture comes to full rolling boil, stirring constantly.

Quickly stir in the pectin. Return to a full rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, quickly skim off foam with a metal spoon. Place one cherry and one orange slice into each hot sterilized jar.

 Ladle hot jelly into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe jars and rims, adjust lids, and screw bands. Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for five minutes.

Buttery Peach Toffee Pie

Inspired by Emily Sibthorpe-Trittschler, Blue Ribbon Pie

Michigan State Fair

  • Graham cracker crust see recipe below
  • 5 cups sliced Peaches
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca
  • 1tablespoon butter flavor
  • 16 toffee candies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the filling combine peaches, sugar, flour, tapioca, and butter flavor.

Grind the candies thoroughly in a food processor until crumbs. Stir crumbed crumbled candy into peach mixture.

Line the bottom pie crust with mixture. Add top pie crust and seal. Cut vents and top crust. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Graham cracker crust

Simply double this recipe for a double pie crust

  • 1 3/4 cup Graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup on salted butter, melted

Mix ingredients together until mixture has the consistency of wet sand. Press into a 9 inch pie dish or tart pan, using the back of a flat measuring cup or drinking glass to ensure a flat and even bottom. Bake at 375 degrees for seven minutes before filling.

Zucchini Cream Pie

From Suzanne Heiser’s mother’s recipe box via Norma Malaby, a favorite cousin from Kokomo Indiana.

Indiana State Fair Indiana

  • Graham cracker crust (see recipe above)
  • 1 cup cooked zucchinis
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter  
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cinnamon or nutmeg to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Puree zucchini and continue with other ingredients except sprinkle spices. Poor in an unbaked pie shell and sprinkle top with cinnamon or nutmeg. Bake 20 minutes at 425 degrees then reduce oven heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake until done and the filling is set.

Apple Cake

inspired by Kathy McInnis, Blackwood New Jersey.

County 4H Fair New Jersey

  • 3 cups flour, unsifted
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange or pineapple juice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 to 4 apples, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon divided in half
  • 8 teaspoons sugar divided in half

Place flour sugar oil eggs juice vanilla and baking powder into a bowl in order given, beat until smooth.

Place half the batter into a well-greased pan. Arrange some apple slices on top of batter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and additional sugar. Pour in the rest of the batter and repeat apple slices and cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 325 degrees for about 90 minutes. Cool in pan.