Want to reinvent your summer vacation? Let Sunset show you how
BARGAIN BEACH VACATION
Q: We've both fallen in love with Hawaii. We've been twice in the last year and discovered a deep need for the sandy, sunny saltiness of Waikiki. Trouble is, we can't keep going to Oahu twice a year. We need a sunny beach escape on the Mainland without an all-day plane trip and the ticket price that goes with it.
Zack Reinig and Molly Moon Neitzel
A: The restored historic Crystal Cove Beach Cottages (from $165; 800/444-7275) in Laguna Beach, California, have an endless-sand, step-back-in-time feel, and they're unusually affordable. But they're first come, first served, and you can only book up to seven months ahead. Mexico can also be cheaper than Hawaii. We love the Villa Amor (from $110; 619/819-5407) in Sayulita, 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta.
Q: We used to travel constantly, often booking trips at the last minute. But since we got our dog, Tassie, we've found it's a lot harder to be spontaneous - or even to travel at all. What should we do, and where should we stay with the pooch?
Mike Bland and Kimmie Wong
A: Check out bringfido.com (877/411-3436) and petswelcome.com for general tips on where to stay with dogs, then try dogfriendly.com (877/475-2275) for everything from beaches where dogs can romp to facts about flying with dogs.
Our favorite dog-friendly town is Carmel, California. At Carmel Beach, dogs run leash-free, and at the historic Cypress Inn (from $150, plus $30 pet fee; 800/443-7443), big dogs hang out in the lobby and bar. For more on bringing your dog to Carmel, visit carmelcalifornia.org or call 800/550-4333.
INN-TO-INN BIKE TRIP
Q: We were all set to go on a guided cycling adventure this summer - until we looked into prices. Ouch! What should we do instead?
Jeff Rakow and Munira Rahemtulla
A: Forget the outfitter and try what we call a credit-card bike trip: Charge your food and lodging each night, and carry only the essentials (like one evening outfit) in small day packs or bike baskets called panniers.
Try the 34-mile Galloping Goose Regional Trail (250/478-3344), which links Victoria in British Columbia (B&B central) to the little town of Sooke - home of the famous Sooke Harbour House restaurant ($$$$ U.S.; 800/889-9688) and Cooper's Cove B&B (from $175 U.S.; $75 five-course dinner Wed and Sat for B&B guests only; 877/642-5727). For easy scenic routes in the States, check out the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
FOOD LOVER'S HOLIDAY
Q: I used to take high-end foodie vacations around the world, but now traveling all that way for a few good meals seems irresponsible. What to do?
A: Eat locally! Visit localharvest.org for a Western guide to farmers' markets and other sources of sustainably grown food in the areas you're visiting. And subscribe to Edible Communities' localized publications for tips in various cities.
Our favorite locavore haven is Washington's Lummi Island. At the Willows Inn (from $135, including breakfast; restaurant: $$$; closed Mon-Tue; 888/294-2620), owner Riley Starks has revived the ancient art of reef-net fishing, and he and his wife, Judy Olsen, run the Nettles Farm, where all of the inn's produce is grown.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS WITH KIDS
Q: We're avid backpackers, but now that our son is a toddler, it just seems too arduous. How can we get out into nature without hiking too far?
Anne Hsu Gibson and Steve Gibson
A: Try car camping (choose the right spot, and you'll still feel plenty removed from civilization), or be purists and pack in all your possessions but look for a campsite that's a short distance from the road. You also might consider staying in a cabin or yurt to make your overnight comfier.
At reserveamerica.com, you can find campsites all over the West that meet these criteria. For car camping not far from Boulder, we recommend the nine drive-in sites at Hall Valley Campground ($13; 303/275-5610) in Pike National Forest, 65 miles west of Denver. From there, you can hike 3.5 easy miles to Gibson Lake and picnic in wildflower-filled meadows.
For a pack-it-in option, try to snag the Continental Divide Cabin ($35 per person
or $280 for entire cabin; 970/925-5775), located practically on top of the Divide but less than a mile off State 24.
It has beds, a wood-burning stove, and amenities like toilet paper and silverware, but it's popular, so book far in advance.