75 reasons to love the West

The top people, places, things, and trends that make us happy to live here now

The Grand Canyon, even grander

Thomas J. Story

The Grand Canyon, even grander

A wave of new projects means a visit to the South Rim is, believe it or not, better than you remember.

The canyon without the cars. A redesign has shifted traffic away from Mather Point, one of the canyon’s most popular viewpoints, so you can take in the vista in true peace and quiet.

Bikers, rejoice. The Tusayan Greenway brings the park’s bike-path total to ​18 miles, meaning you can pedal to the canyon’s edge from the gateway town of Tusayan. Bright Angel Bicycles and Café, the South Rim’s first rental outfit, leads family-friendly tours.  bikegrandcanyon.com

Epic trails, little luxuries. The South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails will always be thigh-burners, but the views make them worth every ache and pain. Now the South Kaibab has undergone the park’s biggest trail overhaul since the 1960s. And the Bright Angel trailhead has shaded seating—just what you’ll need after trekking to the rim.

Really, truly a must-see. Pooh-pooh the idea of a visitor center film all you want, but you’d be a sucker to skip Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, chock-full of award-winning cinematography.

More: Grand Canyon National Park guide

Everyday, handmade

Jim Golden

Everyday, handmade

Our artisans’ inspired creations make even simple tasks a pleasure.

  • Pot holders (top). A small army of Bay Area crafters—designer, crocheter, hand dyer—creates these homespun holders. From $38 each; fibershed.bigcartel.com
  • Pottery (center left). The warm matte finish on this tea set from Berkeley makes your daily cup feel both elegant and homey. Teapot $150, cup and plate $25 each; jeredspottery.com
  • Spoon and jam spreaders (center). L.A. woodworkers craft these out of walnut and cherry. From $60 each; knotworkla.tumblr.com
  • Garden tools (bottom left). Forged by Bozeman, MT, blacksmith Tuli Fisher, these tools have serious heft in the garden. $52 each; fisherblacksmithing.com
  • Cutting board (bottom center). Unfinished edges give this S.F.-made board rustic appeal. $160; shop-generalstore.com
  • Kitchen broom (right). In Grant’s Pass, OR, second-generation broom maker Warren Olney bases sweepers on 1810 designs. $40; broomshop.com
More: 21 great garden & harvest tools

Artisanal compost

Jeffery Cross

Artisanal compost

“Made in small batches … ” and “crumbly texture, like chocolate cake … ” You’d think people were describing a dessert, the way they talk about Malibu Compost, the first-ever certified biodynamic. Its Central California farm uses manure from organic dairy cows, plus chamomile, dandelion, and nettle, which act like homeopathic medicines added to enliven the soil. The stuff is dark, moist, and rich, nothing like the sawdust remnants we’re used to. And it’s Sunset Test Garden approved. Next up: Malibu plans to open regional farms, so you can be a locavore about your dirt too. malibucompost.com

More: How to make your own compost bin

Amazing flavors

Jeffery Cross

Amazing flavors

Pacific sea salt. Hatch chiles. Honey. In the local ingredient–obsessed West, is there anything we won’t try to capture and cork? Some of our favorites:

  • Freddy Guys Hazelnut Oil. Willamette Valley, OR, nuts freshly roasted then pressed. $16; freddyguys.com
  • WholeVine Riesling Grapeseed Oil. Extracted from Riesling grapes grown on California’s coast. $25; wholevine.com
  • Séka Hills Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. From Arbequina olives grown in California’s Capay Valley. $10; sekahills.com
  • Maui Preserved Sweet & Spicy Pineapple. Jarred in local cane sugar syrup, with Hawaiian chiles for a bit of heat. $10; mauipreserved.com
  • El Pinto Green Chile Sauce. A recipe passed down for generations, made with chiles from New Mexico. $5; elpinto.com
  • Bee Local Honey (pictured).  Harvested from hives in Portland’s Alberta neighborhood. From $15; beelocal.com
  • Slide Ridge Vinegar. Fermented with Utah wildflower honey, then aged into a sweet vinegar. $20; slideridgehoney.com
  • Jacobsen Salt Co. Pure Flake Sea Salt. Hand-harvested off the Oregon coast. $45; jacobsensalt.com

We've given a great artist a great home

Raul J. Garcia Photography

We've given a great artist a great home

Clyfford Still was a titan of abstract expressionist painting, yet for years his work remained largely hidden. Then the reclusive North Dakota artist’s widow offered nearly his entire prolific output to any U.S. city that would give it a home. Denver rose to the occasion with its Clyfford Still Museum, an extraordinary concrete building by Allied Works Architecture: Craggy surfaced, with evocative qualities of light—like Still’s monumental paintings—it’s an oasis in the Cultural Arts District. $10; clyffordstillmuseum.org

More:  Insider guide to Denver

That Hawaiian sound

Jeffery Cross

That Hawaiian sound

Hawaii’s signature instrument, the ukelele, is popping up everywhere. Don’t have finger-callus cred yet? Get in on the action:

Listen to a master. From intricate picking and strumming to flat-out rocking, Hawaii’s Jake Shimabukuro is the ukulele master of our day. His latest album, Grand Ukulele, includes tracks with a 29-piece orchestra accompaniment. jakeshimabukuro.com

Get a uke. Good news: At $60 for a starter model, a uke is affordable for just about anyone. And music stores around the West are stocking them like crazy—from Pacific Winds in Eugene, Oregon, where you can choose from 78, to Ukulele Source, a uke-only mom-and-pop shop in San Jose’s Japantown (where we found the handcrafted Kamaka pictured here). pacificwindsmusic.com; ukulelesource.com

Learn to play. The uke is a cinch to learn. “Besides the kazoo, nothing is faster,” says Heidi Swedberg, a former Seinfeld actress who teaches at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. Many of her students can play a dozen songs after just one lesson. On Ukulele Underground, Kauai instructor Aldrine Guerrero is your free online tutor. Swedberg: $60/hour; sukeyjumpmusic.com. Guerrero: ukuleleunderground.com.

Go to a festival. From Hayward, California, and Reno, to this year’s inaugural fest in Port Townsend, Washington, the West loves to throw uke parties. To take it to the source, though, hop a plane to the Annual Ukulele Festival near Oahu’s Waikiki Beach, with big-name masters and an orchestra of 700-plus eager uke students. Free; ukulelefestivalhawaii.org

More: Insider guide to Hawaii

Artisanal chocolate ups its game

Jeffery Cross

Artisanal chocolate ups its game

The number of chocolatiers in the West boggles the mind, and chocolate just keeps getting better, from fair trade, organic, and single-origin beans to bonbons emblazoned in jewel tones. Here’s a taste of the new class:

  • Madre Chocolate, Honolulu. Meet the perfect chocolate. The Triple Cacao Bar extracts every possible flavor and texture from a cocoa bean: the fruity pulp, crunchy nibs, and satiny chocolate. madrechocolate.com
  • Cadeaux Chocolates, Seattle. Each gemlike truffle is filled with beautifully textured ganache. The caramels are dreamy too. cadeauxchocolates.com
  • Chocolot, Ogden, UT. The company works wonders with the cacao nib, especially in its Orange Nib Bar. sweetchocolot.com
  • Au Coeur Des Chocolats, San Francisco. These airbrushed truffles are (almost) too pretty to eat. heartofchocolates.com
  • Michael Mischer, Oakland. We love his single-origin bars studded with toffee and salt. michaelmischerchocolates.com
  • Xocolatl de David, Portland (pictured). We’re obsessing over the Raleigh bars (like a gourmet Snickers). xocolatldedavid.com
  • Seth Ellis Chocolatier, Boulder, CO. Organic, handcrafted truffles with silky smooth ganache astound; try the raspberry. sethellischocolatier.com

We love a comeback

Jessica Lowry

We love a comeback

Bison (pictured). The guys who founded American Prairie Reserve are determined to bring back the bison herds that enchanted 19th-century travelers. So they’re gobbling up Montana land as fast as they can—nearly 300,000 acres so far, with a goal of 3 million—and have a healthy herd of 250 roaming free. americanprairie.org

Forests. Archangel Ancient Tree Archive harvested shoots from 2,000-year-old coast redwoods and has planted the clones in Oregon. The goal: to re-create not just any redwood forest but one with sturdy bloodlines. Meanwhile, near Yellowstone, TreeFight’s volunteers tack pheromone pouches onto whitebark pines to ward off devastating pine beetles. As TreeFight likes to say, “Fight now, hug later.” ancienttreearchive.org; treefight.org

Rivers. Thanks to dam removals, the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River is running free for the first time in more than a century, and the salmon are coming back strong. nps.gov/olym

More: Sunset's Environmental Awards

Our backdoor national park

Larry Ulrich

Our backdoor national park

Pinnacles: the newest, and best, national park almost no one has been to yet.  Part of the “wow” moment of rolling up at Pinnacles, about two hours south of San Francisco, is the unexpected contrast. One minute you’re on a grassy country road, then suddenly: a shambling sky-high rock castle. In January 2013, Congress upgraded Pinnacles from national monument to national park, in part because of the park’s condor recovery program and the talus caves and rock spires that beckon climbers. nps.gov/pinn

More: The West's best national parks

We're done apologizing for our bagels

Jeffery Cross

We're done apologizing for our bagels

Like pizza before them, bagels of the West have been promoted from punchline to something worth seeking out:

  • Spielman Coffee Roasters & Bagels, Portland. Crackly crusted sourdough bagels sweetened with a little honey. The Seedy (pictured) lives up to its name. (503) 467-0600. 
  • Beauty’s Bagel Shop, Oakland. Small, dense, Montreal-style bagels with a great chew; boiled first, then baked in a wood-fired oven. beautys​bagelshop.com
  • Bagels on Broadway, Missoula, MT. Moist, tender, and definitely unorthodox: the cake lover’s bagel. bagelsonbroadway.com
  • Solly’s Bagelry, Vancouver, B.C. Knobbly and rustic with dense yet creamy crumbs. Don’t miss the Mishmash, with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and sweet onion shreds. ​sollysbagelry.com
  • Moe’s Broadway Bagel, Boulder, CO. Golden, springy beauties, packed with seasonings on both sides. moesbagel.com

A new kind of jazz club

Thomas J. Story

A new kind of jazz club

Combining the intimacy of a nightclub with the acoustics of a state-of-the-art concert hall sounds like a tall order. But architect Mark Cavagnero pulled it off when he designed SFJazz, ​a 35,000-square-foot venue that opened in San Francisco in January 2013. Steeply raked seating brings the audience face-to-face with performers, and transparent walls onto the streets connect the jamming inside with city life. sfjazz.org

More: Insider guide to the San Francisco Bay Area 

Grist for the mill

John Clark

Grist for the mill

Freshly milled flour is the hottest pantry staple. What's more, thousands of flour varieties, all with different flavors and uses, are available, and freshness and variety are revolutionizing the way we bake.

More: Baking with unusual wheats

Locally sourced body products

Jeffery Cross

Locally sourced body products

A crop of handmade products and beauty lines take a good-for-you/good-for-the-planet approach to beauty, each tied to its own corner of the West:

  • Captain Blankenship Rusalka Bath Salts (pictured). Made in S.F. from Pacific sea salt. $20; captainblankenship.com
  • Earth Tu Face Face Wash. With California and Oregon organic jojoba, olive oil, and lavender. $48; earthtuface.com
  • Juniper Ridge Trail Crew Soap. Fragrances extracted from wild botanicals, using presses and stills in Oakland. $35; juniperridge.com
  • Osmia Organics Facial Serum. Made in Carbondale, CO, with chamomile oil from the Northwest. $50; osmiaorganics.com
  • House of Matriarch Blackbird Perfume. From aromatics like Northwest conifers and Puget Sound seaweed. $120; matriarch.biz
  • Molly Mutt Dog Shampoo. Made in California from local rosemary oil and Idaho peppermint oil. $15; mollymutt.com
  • Lotus Wei. This Phoenix-based line is the brainchild of organic alchemist Katie Hess, who infuses flower essences from local blooms for her skin tone–boosting elixirs. lotuswei.com
  • Gunilla Skin Alchemy. At her cult San Francisco spa, Gunilla Eisenberg blends essential oils and herbs, mostly from Northern California, for her Gunilla Skin Alchemy line. gunillaskinbutik.com
  • Isun Skincare. Bunnie Gulick, founder of Isun Skincare, brings a touch of the mountains to her organic line, with wild herbs foraged near her lab in Colorado’s San Juan Range. Although packaged in glass and sustainably sourced, these aren’t the hippie tonics sold on card tables at your local farmers’ market—they’re used in some of the best spas in the West. isunskincare.com

We're inspiring future scientists

Thomas J. Story

We're inspiring future scientists

If you think there’s nothing for you at a children’s science museum, San Francisco’s revamped Exploratorium will blow your mind. It took more than two years and the massed IQs of hundreds of scientists, artists, and other brainiacs, but they remade an old classic into a sleek, interactive monument to scientific inquiry.

The 600 physics and optics and biology and you-name-it exhibits spin, spark, buzz, baffle, and delight. And that’s all before you get a load of the city and bay views from its piertop perch on the Embarcadero. Plus there’s the civilized Seaglass Restaurant, with a comet-inspired bar and tasty, local, sustainable food, like marinated sardines with avocado—yum.

3 big-wow moments:

Step onto artist Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog Bridge, a sculptural span that disappears into ethereal manmade mists.

Listen to the mashup of music and science at the Aeolian Harp, where bay breezes metamorphose into song.

Marvel at a projected sun’s sped-up daytime arc over San Francisco in the Sky Theater. $25, $19/ages 6–17; exploratorium.edu

More: Insider guide to the San Francisco Bay Area 

Foraging made easy

Foraging made easy

Seattle’s Beacon Hill Food Forest is a free-to-all urban U-pick. beaconfoodforest.weebly.com

 

Heaven in a bowl

Annabelle Breakey

Heaven in a bowl

Ramen is the "It" dish of the West. From ever-popular Daikokuya (L.A.) to Monta Japanese Noodle House (Vegas) to Benkei Ramen (Vancouver), restaurants West-wide are cooking up steaming bowls of deliciousness that keep lines of customers growing.

More: The West's best Asian noodle dishes

Genius in a bottle

Jeffery Cross

Genius in a bottle

The beverages we're loving:

  • Fremont Mischief John Jacob Whiskey (pictured).  Distilled in Seattle with rye grown in Washington and Oregon. $33; fremontmischief.com
  • Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka. Infused with mandarin blossoms plucked in Exeter, CA. $25; hangarone.com
  • High West Whiskey Rendezvous Rye. Blended at Utah’s first (legal, ahem) distillery to open since 1870. $50; highwest.com
  • Re:Find Vodka. Distilled from grapes grown in Paso Robles, CA, instead of the traditional potatoes or grain. $35; refinddistillery.com
  • Leopold Bros. Rocky Mountain Liqueur. Four-plus pounds of Denver black­berries in each bottle. $37; leopoldbros.com
  • Sergeant Classick Gold Rum. Made from Hawaiian molasses, distilled in Mountain View, CA. $30; sgtclassick.com
  • Pok Pok Som Drinking Vinegar. Crafted from Northwest raspberries and great splashed into drinks or over ice cream. $15; pokpoksom.com
  • ’Tude Juice Pinky’tude Apple Juice. Made with not-too-sweet Cripps Pinks from Yakima Valley, WA. From $3; tudejuice.com
More: San Francisco's new batch of gins

Local lettuce, year-round

Ashley Davis Tilly

Local lettuce, year-round

Soilless hydroponic gardening is all the rage for three simple reasons: It saves land, water, and time. “Lettuce matures three times faster with hydroponics, and we use a tenth of the water of traditional farming,” explains Coby Gould of Denver’s GrowHaus. This also means Denver now has a constant supply of local, fresh, organic greens, like Bibb lettuce (at Denver-area Whole Foods Markets) and bok choy, basil, and other leafy greens (at the city’s Marczyk Fine Foods). For a behind-the-scenes look, join a free GrowHaus tour. 10 a.m. Fri; thegrowhaus.com

More: How to grow greens

Our portal to the final frontier

Courtesy of Spaceport America

Our portal to the final frontier

Spaceport America, way out in New Mexico’s desert, is an airport to space. Seriously.

Zin is back

Jeffery Cross

Zin is back

Late last century, many Zinfandels—the West’s very own lovely, dark-berried, barbecue-loving wine—lost their way. Chasing big flavors, winemakers let alcohol levels creep too high to be balanced. But recent forays through wine-shop Zin shelves have turned up a growing number showing restraint. Some of our recent faves: Elyse 2008 Morisoli Vineyard, Frog’s Leap 2010, Seghesio 2011, Storybook Mountain 2009 Mayacamas Range, and—from longtime champions of balance—Ridge 2011 East Bench.

More: 29 perfect food & wine pairings

The tiniest garden

Jeffery Cross

The tiniest garden

A miniature Northwest moss-scape in a repurposed wine bottle? Swoon! Potting Shed Creations' Moss Terrarium Bottle makes for a brilliant gift or a new decorative item for yourself, just because. $38; pottingshedcreations.com

More: 8 cool DIY terrariums

Architectural eye candy

Benjamin Benschneider

Architectural eye candy

When Seattle’s Gethsemane Lutheran Church decided to expand its building, Olson Kundig Architects—one of the Northwest’s most creative firms—got the call to create a chapel on a busy downtown intersection. The result, a luminous mosaic of colored glass, is a gift to the city. Stop in for a few moments of pure beauty. urbanfaith.org

More: Insider guide to Seattle

Floral find

Audreyjm529 (on Flickr Creative Commons)

Floral find

Our horticulturists introduce a rainbow of new plants every year. This summer’s brightest star: ‘Secret Glow’, an echinacea bred in Oregon by Terra Nova Nurseries and chosen from hundreds of thousands of their seedlings for release. Its school-bus yellow is a charmer alongside fleshy-leafed sedums. Find a retailer at terranovanurseries.com

More: 5 game-changing flowers

Over-the-top DIY

Chantal Anderson

Over-the-top DIY

We all harbor some kind of foodie fantasy, and the West is dotted with classes that’ll give you the skills to …

Master the noodle. The ramen workshop at The Pantry in Seattle (pictured) does a deep dive into the Japanese soup, from cutting noodles by hand to boiling pig trotters for an unctuous tonkotsu broth. $70; pantryatdelancey.com

Sell your jam. And not just jam. In Oakland, Food Craft Institute’s 12-week class covers sauces and condiments too. There’s plenty of hands-on kitchen time plus a lesson on funding with crowdsourcing. $2,750; foodcraftinstitute.org

Butcher a pig. Wielding a knife and a saw, you’ll break down a pig into loins, ham roasts, and stew meat in Portland Meat Collective’s basic butchery class. $265; pdxmeat.com

Perfect the coffee pour-over. L.A.’s Institute of Domestic Technology is home ec on steroids. Two coffee classes walk students through roasting beans, proper brewing, and how to ace an iced coffee. $190; instituteofdomestictechnology.com

More: 6 DIY gourmet foods

Cutting-edge gadget

Thomas J. Story

Cutting-edge gadget

Google Glass: Love it or hate it, it’s a game-changer. www.google.com/glass

Dessert wine makes waves

Annabelle Breakey

Dessert wine makes waves

More and more Western winemakers are tackling port-style wines—the dark, sweet, fortified stuff that is best consumed fireside. And made from a range of grapes (Zinfandel, Syrah, and the traditional Touriga Nacional and its cousins), they’re even more versatile than the Portuguese product. We (gasp) paired them with pizza. Look for Prager, Ficklin, Quady, Sonoma Valley Portworks, and PasoPort.

Eco innovation

Method Products

Eco innovation

S.F.’s Method soap company has made the first bottle from recycled ocean plastic. Find the product line at Whole Foods. methodhome.com/ocean-plastic

More: How to make your own household cleaner

Sweet treats

Jeffery Cross

Sweet treats

Rich nutty brown butter, sweetness with a hint of sea salt—the Brown Butter Cookie Company, in tiny Cayucos, California, has baked something simply perfect. They happen to make a Sunset-inspired citrus flavor—we're flattered. $15/dozen; brownbuttercookies.com

Dazzling public art

Thomas J. Story

Dazzling public art

Bay Bridge’s nightly Bay Lights in San Francisco: best urban spectacle since the Eiffel Tower? It's eight times the scale of that certain Parisian icon's 100th anniversary lighting phenomenon, clocking in as the world's largest LED light sculpture. The installation will illuminate the bridge's span nightly through 2015, making the Bay Area's skyline shine a little brighter. thebaylights.org

More: Insider guide to the San Francisco Bay Area 

CSAs that always surprise

Jeffery Cross

CSAs that always surprise

Plants and seeds. In Seattle, seasonal deliveries like lavender (top left) and snow pea starts (top center) take the guesswork out of gardening. eatyouryard.com

The works. The Bay Area’s Good Eggs lets you pick and choose from lots of local foods, like House Kombucha (center), Capay Valley Farm Shop’s peas (center left) and blueberries (center left), Bloomfield Farms chard (bottom left), and Happy Hens eggs (center). goodeggs.com

Beans and grains. Get monthly batches of grains (bottom right) and rare dried beans (center right) from Lonesome Whistle Farm, near Eugene, Oregon. lonesomewhistlefarm.com

Pot treats. Yes, this is out there: The Green Cross brings prescription cannabis to San Franciscans in the form of desserts like caramels or blueberry lemon drop cookies (top right). thegreencross.org

 

Public transit goes bigger

David Zaitz

Public transit goes bigger

We're super excited about the incredible subway expansion in car-crazed L.A. Dubbed the Purple Line Extension, the project will bring the L.A. Metro to the Westside.

More: Insider guide to Los Angeles

Land worth protecting

Andrea M. Gómez

Land worth protecting

And the government’s national monument nod goes to … the San Juan Islands. Now, 1,000 acres housing scenic recreation areas; rare habitat for birds, marine life, and plants; and historic fishing sites, lighthouses, and more will be protected. Thank you, Obama! www.sanjuanislandsnca.org

More: 4 perfect days on the San Juan Islands

Super-gorgeous cycling

Dave Lauridsen

Super-gorgeous cycling

Just when we thought we couldn’t love the Tetons any more? The Jenny Lake bike path. Wow. nps.gov/grte

More: Grand Teton National park guide

Feel-good farmed salmon

Jeffery Cross

Feel-good farmed salmon

Skuna Bay Salmon, on Vancouver Island, B.C., has finally cracked the code on the farmed-versus-wild dilemma. By blending the best of wild and farmed practices, this “craft raised” salmon—clean, buttery, and always firm—is being hailed as the future of commercial fishing, coveted by the best chefs in the West. Look for it on menus of top restaurants like Morimoto Napa, the Phoenician in Scottsdale, and chef Jennifer Jasinski’s Denver restaurants. They’re working on getting it into stores too, so check listings at skunasalmon.com.

How they do it:

  • Fish are raised in pens of glacier-fed, fast-moving ocean water, which cuts pollutants and keeps them swimming and healthy, as in the wild.
  • Harvested fish are dipped in brine as a natural preservative for the journey.
  • Trucks roll within 24 hours from when the fish were pulled from the water, and no one so much as peeks at the salmon until they’re in the chef’s hands.
More: Your guide to sustainable seafood

Bottles with park perks

Jeffery Cross

Bottles with park perks

The recycled-aluminum bottles from Washington-based Liberty Bottleworks are both perfectly practical and an ode to our favorite national parks. Each is a topographical map of one of eight Western wonders like the Grand Canyon (which phased out the sale of plastic water bottles last year), and using one not only cuts down on plastic but also helps the parks: 1 percent of sales from the “Topo” line goes to the Conservation Alliance. From $19; libertybottleworks.com

More: The West's best national parks

Best. Socks. Ever.

Jeffery Cross

Best. Socks. Ever.

No self-respecting Westerner wants hiking socks with heels that turn to cheesecloth after a season or two. Founded by Coloradans Peter and Patty Duke (who created SmartWool in 1994), Point6 makes merino wool socks that are improbably durable, with compact-spun yarns that refuse to pill—even after years of hiking, biking, and market-going. Hiking Tech socks, $17; point6.com

More: Top 45 hikes in the West

Michael Pollan keeps changing the way we eat

Courtesy of Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan keeps changing the way we eat

What’s the gist of your latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation? The decline in home cooking has meant outsourcing cooking to corporations that will never support local agriculture. On the West Coast, we can eat locally year-round—farmers’ markets are open 52 weeks a year. It’s an extraordinary blessing. In many parts of the country, that’s simply not possible. My hope is people will recognize that cooking is the best way to support your local food economy and eat more healthfully. It turns out that the single most important dietary choice is not about a nutrient or even calories, but an activity: cooking.

What’s your home routine? We make a point of cooking at least four or five nights a week. It’s often something simple we can pull together in 40 minutes or so—roast vegetables, pasta, a piece of fish on the grill. Then there are the meals that roll over one to the other—the roast chicken that becomes chicken tacos, then soup.

What’s your advice for people who rarely cook? Try to make something you usually buy processed—a pizza, say, or a stir-fry. I think you’ll be surprised how satisfying it is to make it yourself, how much better it tastes, and that it really doesn’t take much longer.

More: 10 ways to eat healthier

Denver changes beer—again

Matt Nager

Denver changes beer—again

If you want to get in on the West’s booming beer scene, Denver is your mother lode. The craft beer movement was born here in the ’80s—but recently, pilgrimage-worthy breweries and bars have been opening with a staccato rhythm, making this one of the most vibrant beer towns anywhere. Every fall, the Great American Beer Festival draws throngs, but enjoy the scene now with our must-hit list:

Have a crisp, pale, dry-finishing Pils on the patio at Prost brewery, getting buzz for its refreshing throwbacks to traditional German styles. prostbrewing.com

Aficionados swoon over the tart, winelike Belgians at up-and-coming brewery Crooked Stave, helmed by local beer guru Chad Yakobson. Best news yet? The Crooked Stave has a taproom in The Source, an urban culinary collective in a massive brick warehouse. crookedstave.com; facebook.com/thesourcedenver

Try Great Divide’s big beers at its brewery taproom. Yeti is a stout aged with cocoa nibs and oak. If the rarely seen Peach Grand Cru is offered, order it immediately. greatdivide.com

Classic beer bar Falling Rock Tap House’s 80 taps make it a top spot for finding rarities from locals like Odell, New Belgium, Dry Dock, Elevation, Left Hand, and Funkwerks. frth.com

Hit the hopping Lower Downtown district for The Kitchen Denver, a sunny, sleek American bistro with a deep beer list. thekitchencommunity.com

And Euclid Hall is a required stop for innovative brews and bites, like hops-infused pickles. euclidhall.com

More:  Insider guide to Denver

Top-notch beer isn't limited to Denver

Matt Nager

Top-notch beer isn't limited to Denver

3 best beers in the West 

  • Firestone Walker’s Pivo Pils. A German-style pilsner made in the wine country of Paso Robles, California. Clean, crisp, and refreshing, it’s the best American-made Pilsner this summer. firestonebeer.com
  • Hopworks Urban Brewery’s Organic I.P.A. Juicy and floral. And now this Portland fave comes in cans. Yes, cans. Hey—they’re easier to chill and fit nicely in coozies for car camping. hopworksbeer.com
  • Anchorage Brewing Co.’s The Tide and Its Takers. Hazy gold, fruity, and aromatic. This small-batch Belgian-style tripel, aged in Chardonnay barrels, is a masterpiece accented with lemongrass-y hops. anchoragebrewingcompany.com
3 pubs doing it right

  • The Linkery, San Diego. The Friendship Brew from local Green Flash is extra­ordinary and pairs well with the restaurant’s farm-to-table eats. thelinkery.com
  • Apex, Portland. A go-to for rare beers served with care. On a hot day, a Stiegl Radler—grapefruit soda mixed with Austrian lager—is pure refreshment. From there, the list gets infinitely more complex. apexbar.com
  • The Trappist, Oakland. Here, beer is treated with the respect once reserved for wine. Sit on the back patio and sip your way through the deep Belgian and American list. thetrappist.com
More: California's best craft beer

Your Lego palace awaits

Dave Lauridsen

Your Lego palace awaits

Now you no longer just visit fantasy land, you live in it. The Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad, California, has nailed every detail down to the themed rooms (pirates, castles) and lobby with its giant mosh pit full of plastic blocks, so kids can click away while grown-ups check in. And you can’t walk around a corner without stumbling across larger-than-life Lego sculptures, made with more than 3 million blocks: In the Bricks Family Restaurant, bumbling chefs tussle with overflowing cookie batter and a dog making off with sausage links. Head into the Skyline Café, and the mini cityscape has Spider-Man scaling a building and a wizard reading a book by a rooftop pool. Industrial-strength glue holds the sculptures together, so go ahead and touch. Or, better yet, use them as inspiration—there’s a Lego box in every room. From $269; california.legoland.com

More: Insider Guide to San Diego

The sharing economy keeps growing

Courtesy of Scoot member, Thushan Amarasiriwardena

The sharing economy keeps growing

First there was Zipcar for carshares, and now there's Scoot. Rent a cherry red scooter using only your smartphone and get the same benefits as Zipcar, but with easier parking. No motorcycle license required. scootnetworks.com

More: The economy of sharing

The next food truck craze

Jessica Sample

The next food truck craze

Chinese bao buns are taking the street-food scene by storm. The warm pillowy breads have all the versatility of a taco, inspiring chefs to get creative with the fillings. Case in point: L.A.’s The Bun Truck (pictured) is doing an evil-genius Asian-with-a-Greek-twist thing. thebuntruck.com More bao trucks we're stalking on Twitter: S.F.’s The Chairman: @chairmantruck • Las Vegas’ Great Bao: @GreatBaoLV • Vancouver, B.C.’s Roaming Dragon: @DragonTruck

A smarter way to drink wine

Thomas J. Story

A smarter way to drink wine

The West’s wine-friendly restaurants now have the stuff flowing from taps, meaning that it’s fresher, cheaper, and (bonus!) better for the planet, slashing the carbon footprint of making, shipping, and recycling all those bottles. Restaurants like Cindy Pawlcyn’s new Wood Grill and Wine Bar in Napa Valley are using kegged local wines as part of a bigger program, while places like The Bent Brick in Portland are all in, with only wines on tap. cindypawlcynsgrill.com; thebentbrick.com

The chicken coop is the new doghouse

E. Spencer Toy

The chicken coop is the new doghouse

As the backyard chicken craze spreads like wildfire, Fidos all over the West are having to share the yard with the ladies. Henhouses run the gamut from high-design to DIY—we’ve seen clever ones crafted out of truck cabs and window frames. Check out backyardchickens.com for inspiration.

Gifts from the sea

Leo Gong

Gifts from the seaEnjoy gifts from the sea

On menus everywhere: locally grown seaweed. You can also find it at specialty markets and whip up easy dishes at home. Healthy alert: Seaweed is packed with super-good-for-you omega-3's.

Recipe: Sesame Seaweed Salad

 

 

Wineries as the ultimate playgrounds

Thomas J. Story

Wineries as the ultimate playgrounds

It started with a bocce court or two (Robert Mondavi Winery) and some medieval turrets (Castello di Amorosa) in Napa Valley, but the winery-as-theme-park trend hits its stride at Sonoma County’s Francis Ford Coppola Winery (pictured), which has a pool, cabanas, two full bars, and a museum’s worth of movie memorabilia. Nab a table on the terrace for lunch and then—yes—hit the bocce court. franciscoppolawinery.com

Tea hits the big time

Jen Siska

Tea hits the big time

We’re riding a tea wave here in the West: tea drinks, tea-flavored chocolates, tea soaps, all kinds of cool new artisanal teas, green teas, herbal teas, biodegradable tea containers—and that’s just in the grocery store (actual teahouses offer even more). One of our favorite sips is pu-erh, a large-leaf Chinese tea that’s aged for extra-rich, deep flavor.

More: 10 ways to cook wtih tea

Bike nation

Bike nation

Move over, cars—we’re fast becoming the most bike-happy part of the country. Here’s just a taste of what’s going on.

Car-free festivals. Cyclists have taken over San Francisco streets on designated Sundays (sundaystreetssf.com). Portland (portlandsundayparkways.org), Oakland (oaklavia.org), Boulder (bouldergreenstreets.org), and even L.A. (ciclavia.org) have also joined in.

City planning. Believing that biking to work should be easier for locals, Tucson’s Department of Transportation is planning a network of 40 bicycle boulevards, with traffic-calming elements for safer commutes.

Bike sharing. Home to more than 300 miles of trails, Denver launched the West’s first bike-share program (bcycle.com), with 50 kiosks of cherry red bikes (pictured). Seattle, Portland, and Boulder have followed suit, and San Diego, San Francisco, and L.A. are getting in on the action.

More: 20 best bike paths in the West

Cocktail catering

Jeffery Cross

Cocktail catering

Star Bay Area bartenders are launching catering businesses that bring handcrafted cocktails right to your party. H.M.S. Cocktails (hmscocktails.com) specializes in fanciful drinks like the Chartreuse Swizzle (pictured) and Sazerac. With Rye on the Road (ryeontheroad.com), you get custom menus, vintage barware, and even workshops. Sure beats a watery G&T.

More: 30+ favorite summer drinks & cocktails

Nurseries are the new bookstores

Thomas J. Story

Nurseries are the new bookstores

In the past, they were utilitarian outposts where you’d get your plants and go. Now, nurseries nudge you to take your coat off and stay awhile, with coffee bars, shelves of books to browse, and cafe tables amid the greenery. Latte, please!

San Francisco. Grab a coffee and scone at always-ahead-of-the-trend Flora Grubb Gardens, then wander through lush plant­scapes and cozy seating nooks that feel like a fabulously stylish friend’s garden.  floragrubb.com

Santa Cruz. Shop alongside skateboard-toting students and backyard farmers at Dig Gardens. The store has a great collection of botanical-inspired decor and local art, plus locally roasted espresso. diggardens.com  

Seattle Area. Molbak’s (pictured; molbaks.com) in Woodinville and Swansons (swansonsnursery.com) in Seattle have acres of greenery and airy, light-filled cafes. Check out the houseplant collection at Molbak’s—one of the best around—and Swansons’ conservatory and koi pond.

The jam explosion

Jeffery Cross

The jam explosion

Nothing really beats fresh fruit captured at its peak of ripeness and slathered on a piece of buttery toast. With a focus on heirloom fruits, small-batch recipes, and local, local, local (often the fruit comes from the yard out back), the jams here blow our minds. Grab a spoon.

June Taylor Company, Berkeley. The grand dame of small-batch jams, Taylor seeks out heir­loom and forgotten fruits. From $13; junetaylorjams.com

Hurley Farms, Napa. Its Royal Blenheim apricot preserves and Sun Grand nectarine jam are sunshine on a spoon. $6.75; hurleyfarms.com

Ayers Creek Farm, Gaston, OR. The Ayers Creek family crafts small-batch jams using only fresh fruit, lemon juice, and a touch of sugar. The logan­berry is a must. $7; 503/985-0177.

Ellelle Kitchen, Pasadena, CA. We love the fun, delicious jam combos like Backyard Grapefruit with Campari or Two Berry with Lavender. $14; ellellekitchen.com

INNA, Berkeley. Pure jam perfection—the ideal spoonable texture (between runny and firm) and not too sweet. Try the Seascape strawberry jam. $12; innajam.com

The Girl & The Fig, Sonoma. The to-die-for black Mission fig jam is made with fruit picked at its peak, cooked with sugar and a touch of cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. $6.75; thegirlandthefig.com

Aravaipa Farms, Aravaipa Canyon, AZ. Apricots from the owner’s own sun-drenched orchard are turned into glorious preserves, using an old French recipe. $8.50; aravaipafarms.com

Blue Chair Fruit, Oakland. Made with local organic fruit in small batches, its seasonal flavors, like Adriatic fig, are simply transcendent. $12; bluechairfruit.com

Big Spoon Jam, Seattle. Small batches of blackberries and honey from the Northwest. $15; bigspoonjam.com

Urban wineries

Andrea Gómez

Urban wineries

Tasting great wines right where they’re made is a true Left Coast luxury. Now, thanks to the rise of urban wineries, your next spontaneous tasting may be even closer than you think.

Bartholomew Winery. The newest of the South Seattle Artisan Wineries makes beautifully balanced Rhône and Bordeaux blends. bartholomewwinery.com  

Portland Wine Project. A twofer (Boedecker Cellars and Grochau Cellars together) in Portland’s Northwest industrial area. 503/224-5778.

The Winery SF. The first full-fledged winery in San Francisco since the repeal of Prohibition. winery-sf.com  

San Antonio Winery. The pioneer, it has operated since 1917, when it served L.A.’s Italian workforce. Now it offers workshops. sanantoniowinery.com  

San Pasqual Winery (pictured). In a retrofitted San Diego warehouse, you can taste north-of-the-border-made Tempranillo (a Spanish grape), grown in Baja, Mexico. The wines are works in progress but fun to try. sanpasqualwinery.com  

Farming 2.0

Jason Todd

Farming 2.0

Farming’s next generation: Back-to-the-landers used to drop off the grid. But today’s young farmers don’t want to check out—they want to be part of a community, whether that’s selling micro greens to restaurants from a city plot or operating a CSA in the burbs. Take Ilan Salzberg (pictured), a farmer-turned-lawyer-turned-farmer who manages Ekar, a nonprofit farm in Denver that donates most of its produce to a local food pantry. His take on the growing relationship between farmers and residents: “Someone who never related to farming can show up on a bike, harvest a cucumber, and keep going.” Sounds good to us.

Bold new farm schools. Law school? That’s so 1998. More students are heading to the West’s ag schools, drawn by new curriculum emphasizing organic methods, sustainability, and the business savvy they’ll need to thrive. The University of California, Davis, is creating a formal college major in sustainable agriculture, merging theory with roll-up-your-sleeves farm time. Washington State University now offers one of the country’s first majors in organic agriculture, while Cal Poly San Luis Obispo lets any undergrad, no matter what her major, minor in sustainable agriculture.

More: Top 8 agritourism experiences

Western cheeses, bigger than ever

Jeffery Cross

Western cheeses, bigger than ever

Our cream-of-the-crop picks for tasteist Western cheesemakers:

Chèvre with white pepper, Nordland, WA. A mild, buttery, romantic goat cheese with a delicacy and balance not often seen in flavored cheeses. $8/4-oz. log; mysterybayfarm.com for stores

Txiki, Marshall, CA (pictured). This rich Basque-style sheep’s-milk cheese smells like soil after a rain. The deep, earthy flavor goes on and on. $30/lb.; available summer/fall; barinagaranch.com for stores 

Two-Faced Blue, Doty, WA. A smooth, pale-yellow cheese with craggy lines of blue shooting through it, this mellow beauty reminds us of Stilton. $26/lb.; willapahillscheese.com

Seascape, Oakdale, CA. Both cow’s and goat’s milk go into these big wheels, creating a complex cheese with nutty sweetness and great acidity. $17/lb.; centralcoastcreamery.com  

Gear made here

Gear made here

Surprise! Hobie Cat’s latest kayak, the Mirage Oasis (pictured), doesn’t hail from Singapore; it’s designed and made right here, in Oceanside, California. We love the foot pedals, which free up hands for fishing and picture taking. $2,699; hobiecat.com for stores.

 

Mushroom fever

Jeffery Cross

Mushroom fever

From foraging to festivals, the West can’t get enough of these earthy delights.

Foraging. Hunting for mushrooms has become a passion in the West, as foragers scour damp forests, mountain peaks, and coastlines for the coveted caps. To safely join in the adventure, check out a mushroom club near you (namyco.org for listings). Or sign up for Healdsburg, California’s Relish Culinary Adventures (relishculinary.com), where you forage and then cook up your haul.

Dinners. Menus here are the most fungi-friendly in the country. We like Poggio Trattoria ($$; 415/332-7771) in Sausalito, California, which celebrates the rainy season with dishes like porcini pasta and pizza with chanterelles.

Festivals: Mushroom festivals are weird and wonderful things, mostly happening in late fall and winter. Get your feet wet at California’s Mendocino County Wine & Mushroom Festival (visitmendocino.com) in November. In late January, Oregon fetes its most famous fungus with the Oregon Truffle Festival (oregontrufflefestival.com), which hosts seminars and dinners in and around Eugene.

Loving your lawn

William P. Wright

Loving your lawn

The West is the land of the backyard, of days spent grilling outside while the kids run around barefoot. That used to mean grass—tough, resilient, feels-good-between-your-toes grass—until drought concerns ushered in a wave of low-water landscapes. We’ve been a big champion of those at Sunset, but lately, we’ve been thinking there’s room for grass too. Before you yowl in protest, consider this: Your lawn doesn’t need as much water as you think it does. There are now more drought-tolerant grass mixes available. And nothing, nothing, feels the same under your feet. (When was the last time you ran barefoot over a patch of eco-conscious pebbles? Exactly.) So go ahead and love your lawn. Just choose a low-water mix, keep your irrigation uniform, and treat grass clippings as the terrific fertilizer they are, by leaving them be or collecting them for your compost pile. Because without grass, you lose a great backyard design element—the restful spaces between your plantings—and your surest bet against soil loss. Ever pull up grass and find a clump of dirt attached? That’s called erosion control, and grass is better at it than anything else, period.

Food truck on the brink

David Lanthan Reamer

Food truck on the brink

Where but Portland, the land of 600 food carts, could you open Lardo, a temple to meaty goodness that comes with a double farm-to-table pedigree? Chefs-owners Rick Gencarelli and Adam Parziale hail from the Inn at Shelburne Farms in Vermont, a top farmstead restaurant, and now serve crisp pork belly and farm egg sandwiches out of a tiny Cape Cod cottage on wheels. The porchetta is a three-napkin affair; the fries, cooked in rendered leaf lard, are a triumph. $; lardopdx.com

More: 5 other amazing food carts

Most worth-it homesteading trend

Harley Soltes

Most worth-it homesteading trend

Cheaper than a weed whacker, healthier than pesticides, and darn cute to boot, goats chomp through your invasive plants and weeds—from blackberry bushes to stinging nettle—often in a matter of hours. Rent from a farm or grazing service. Lease pairs at vegetationmanagementservices.com in Vernonia, OR, or check livestockforlandscapes.com for herds. 

The B&B shows its sexy side

Thomas J. Story

The B&B shows its sexy side

Between the Granny-was-here decor and the chumsy breakfast, B&Bs can be hard to love. So we’ve cheered the arrival of a few that deliver the cozy, homey feel that chic boutique hotels miss, but with an updated, come-hither look. Sonoma County’s Farmhouse Inn (pictured; from $295; farmhouseinn.com) got us with its luxe new “barn rooms” fit for a king. And in the hills above California’s Anderson Valley, the century-old Toll House Inn (from $150; tollhouseinn.com) has reopened with a clean, classic update that makes us long for the country life.

More: Top 10 B&Bs in the West

Game-changing urban farming

David Fenton

Game-changing urban farming

Innovators from guerrilla gardeners to backyard fruit swappers are forcing creaky city code to adapt to the urban farming revolution. Take the case of San Francisco gardeners Brooke Budner and Caitlyn Galloway. Their 3/4-acre plot, Little City Gardens, was legal, but zoning prohibited them from selling a single bean sprout unless they bought a $3,000 permit. Seeing this as a bureaucratic killer for urban farms, the women challenged the rules--and it worked. Now the farm has a small salad greens business, supplying restaurants and a CSA program.

Experience trumps consumption

Simon Perkins

Experience trumps consumption

Research shows that doing things tends to make us happier than buying things—and, let’s face it, the West is one of the best places to learn a new hobby. Lately, we’ve fallen for fly-fishing, which combines the thrill of catching fish with spending time (a lot of time) in beautiful landscapes. PRO Outfitters (prooutfitters.com), based in Helena, Montana, is one of the best guiding outfits around: Dip your toe in with a day trip ($500 for 2), or book a five-night stay at their luxe tent camp on the Blackfoot River (May–Sep; $2,780 for 2 with meals). The memories will make you a heck of a lot happier than, say, a new wing chair.

Inspired salvage

Thomas J. Story

Inspired salvage

Only out here would people think to make homes from abandoned cargo containers and old planes, lamps from bike chains, or planters from discarded sinks. Call it a knack for seeing the potential in something others have cast away.

More: 28 DIY salvage makeovers

Pop-up parks

Coral von Zumwalt

Pop-up parks

Parklets. Ped plazas. Hell strips. Call ’em what you want—but isn’t it marvelous what pavement can become when a community pulls together? In 2010, San Francisco kicked off what’s becoming a West-wide trend when, with help from the Pavement to Parks program, a strip of sidewalk in front of the Mojo Bicycle Café was transformed into a leafy oasis on Divisadero Street, among many other similar locations around the city. In Portland, a grassroots blog called Re-thinking the Right-of-Way gussied up commercial areas such as Mississippi Avenue and Alberta Street. Another favorite  project is the Sunset Substation Park in Seattle: A pocket park with purpose, it turned a defunct electrical station into a green space with a solar-powered canopy.

More: Top 10 gardening innovations

Dinner at the bar

Andrea Gómez Romero

Dinner at the bar

At fancy restaurants, we’re starting to think the hottest seat is at the bar—the menu is often less pricey, the wines by the glass tantalizing and unusual, and, thanks to the bartender banter (and eaves-dropping), it’s entertaining to boot. Plus, a pile of Monterey sardines or a tall craft beer just tastes better at the bar, where food tends to come out faster. Dig in at hotspots such as Redd in Napa Valley (pictured; reddnapavalley.com). 

 

Everyone can be a cheesemaker here

Thomas J. Story

Everyone can be a cheesemaker here

The DIY food obsession has led to classes in everything from canning to kombucha fermenting (really). For our money, the biggest payoff comes from learning to make cheese—totally doable, yet utterly impressive.

The Cheese School of San Francisco. Learn the ABCs of making fresh cheeses (think fromage blanc), and leave with a chèvre you’ve flavored yourself. $65; cheeseschoolsf.com

Kookoolan Farms, Yamhill, OR. First, watch the brie, gouda, or cheddar demo. Then buy the supplies here to make your own. From $65; kookoolanfarms.com  

Old Windmill Dairy, Estancia, NM. Hands-on intros walk you through the mozzarella process. A springtime bonus: bottle-feeding the farm’s baby goats. From $38; theoldwindmilldairy.com

River Valley Cheese, Fall City, WA. Tackle a different cheese every month, from blue to havarti to manchego, and age it yourself. From $125; rivervalleycheese.com

Veggie vacations

Jennifer Martiné

Veggie vacations

Get this: Westerners are now gardening (hold the weeding, please!) for fun ... on vacation.

Garden tours and classes at Napa Valley’s Bardessono are open to the public as well as to guests at the neo-schmancy hotel. By appointment; from $20; bardessono.com

Dinner no longer starts with appetizers at the Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington. It starts with working in the idyllic kitchen garden and on the farm—and ends with a well-earned nine-course meal. $1,200 for 2, including classes, meal, and lodging; herbfarm.com

The third Saturday of the month, Pie Ranch welcomes volunteers to its coastal farm south of San Francisco to learn about organic growing. After a good hand-washing, all join a potluck dinner and then do-si-do at a barn dance. Dance from $7 (sliding scale); pieranch.org

More: Top 8 agritourism experiences

Soft-serve grows up

Drew Kelly

Soft-serve grows up

First came the Western ice cream revolution—scoops in flavors as outlandish as candied bacon and wasabi. Now, soft-serve is getting in on the action. The childhood swirl makes its play for attention with artisanal toppings and new flavors.

Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay, California, drowns its organic vanilla soft-serve with a shot of bitter espresso to make a very Italian affogato. samschowderhouse.com

At San Francisco’s Zero Zero, you choose both base (ricotta doughnuts, say) and topping (pomegranate seeds and saffron?) for your Straus Family Creamery soft-serve (pictured). zerozerosf.com

Restaurant Jane in Santa Barbara tops swirls of soft-serve with housemade toffee and caramel as well as seasonal berry sauces. 805/962-1311.

Oceanside oysters

Thomas M. Barwick

Oceanside oysters

An icy, briny oyster on the half-shell is one of the West’s unrivaled pleasures—especially when consumed within a literal stone’s throw of the water it grew in. And with 1,293 miles of coastline (not even counting Alaska), we have a growing number of aqua farms where you can do just that. Plus, there’s no need for fish farm guilt—oysters are terrific water filters that make our bays healthier.

So get right to the source at one of these oyster farms: Buy a few dozen sweet little Kumamotos or plump, cucumbery Pacifics, and get cracking.

Two-wheeled businesses

Drew Kelly

Two-wheeled businesses

Imagine delicious restaurant delivery … without the restaurant. Entrepreneurs who do gourmet takeout—i.e., post a Web menu, hop on a bike, all without an actual storefront—are popping up in the West. Our hats (helmets?) are off to them.

SoupCycle, Portland. Sign up for a subscription and choose from three varieties—vegan, veggie, and meat—each week. soupcycle.com

Small Cog Coffee, Seattle. There’s nothing better on a foggy morning than this micro roaster’s coffee—except finding a bag of it on your doorstep. smallcogcoffee.com

 

Green hotels hit the mainstream

Green hotels hit the mainstream

City hotels have been jumping on the green thing for years, but it’s bigger than that now. With eco-friendly inns popping up all over the place, this is no longer an urban thing—it’s, well, just the way it is out here.

Park Hotel, South Lake Tahoe, CA. Comfy reclaimed-wood furniture and recycled Doug fir walls, covered in craft newspaper, are a warm welcome back from the slopes. From $189; 968parkhotel.com

The Oxford Hotel, Bend, OR. Silver tree stumps and cork floors merge rustic with cool. Explore on cruiser bikes, then snuggle under duvets made of recycled plastic. From $189; oxfordhotelbend.com  

Gaia Shasta, Anderson, CA. Watch swans and koi swim in the lake surrounded by leafy native plants. Inside, tubular skylights bring the sunshine in. From $89; gaiashasta.com

Hotel Terra, Jackson hole, WY. A chic mountain resort (pictured) with eco tours of Grand Teton National Park, and plush organic mattresses. From $319; hotelterrajacksonhole.com  

Olive oil, within reach

Jeffery Cross

Olive oil, within reach

Really good extra-virgin olive oil has never been cheap (it’s called liquid gold for a reason), even when made in California. But thanks to a new way of planting trees—trained close together on trellises—great, affordable olive oil is here. We love the buttery, faintly spicy blend from California Olive Ranch. From $10 for 500 ml.; at stores and californiaoliveranch.com

 

The new motor lodges

Andrea Gómez Romero

The new motor lodges

There’s nothing more Western than an epic road trip. One change we’re happy to see? The roadside digs have gotten an upgrade since your childhood summers in the family wagon.

The Presidio Motel, Santa Barbara. Its tiny office may shout “motor court lodge,” but the loaner cruiser bikes and new glam touches (like embroidered pillows and chic wall decals) scream cool. From $179; thepresidiomotel.com

Caliente Tropics Resort, Palm Springs. Elvis Presley and Nancy Sinatra used to hang at this 1964 hotel, where the original Polynesian decor has been upgraded to tiki-modern. From $105; calientetropics.com

The Pearl Hotel, San Diego. The vintage motel turned boutique hotel has kept its spirit with classic cocktails and “dive-in” movies by the kidney-shaped pool. From $129; thepearlsd.com

The Motor Lodge, Prescott, AZ. At the 100-year-old motel, rooms have gotten a dust-off with luxe linens and original art. Catch a ride downtown in the lodge’s flame orange 1965 pickup. From $89; themotorlodge.com

The case for Disneyland

Disneyland Resort

The case for Disneyland

We know people who don’t like Disneyland, and here are their reasons. The admission price. The lines. The fear that they will have to have their picture taken with Goofy; the belief that while Disneyland may enchant kids, it only bores adults. They are wrong.

No place takes as many pains as Disneyland to get the details right, down to its Mickey Mouse topiary. And while the park is 55 years old, it never stands still. Its theme park twin, California Adventure, has opened a hallucinogenic laser- and fire-effects show. Coming this spring is a Little Mermaid extravaganza. And the sparks keep flying from Disney’s alliance with the animation wizards at Pixar: Finding Nemo’s Nemo, Toy Story’s Buzz and Woody—all have been installed in the pantheon of Disney rides. In 2012, the Pixar-inspired Cars Land opened—the Disney equivalent of a new continent.

So give in. Brave the lines. Let yourself go. Because somewhere, say on Nemo’s submarine, you’ll feel gratitude for pop culture that exalts rather than demeans. And you’ll grasp the essential Disneyland secret: All the pains the park takes are taken just for you.

More: One perfect day in Disney's Cars Land

Dark skies, our last best place

Dark skies, our last best place

We’ve all been there—camping or vacationing in the middle of nowhere, the day ends, and suddenly there’s the blackest sky imaginable above, bristling with stars. The West’s vast open spaces mean the darkest skies in the country, and the National Park Service’s Night Sky Program, in Fort Collins, Colorado, is fighting to keep them that way, partnering with towns and cities to limit light pollution that crowds out stars. It’s not a battle for aesthetics alone—studies show that darkness makes us healthier, helping our sleep patterns and boosting immunity. All the more reason to grab your tent and take in the wild night skies.

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