Our favorite things about living in the West in 2006

Sunset  – December 6, 2005

1. Best public transport

Here are three options that prove your daily commute doesn’t have to be a drag.

Bainbridge Island Ferry. In Seattle the best cityscape view is from the rear deck of the ferry at sunset, a half-mile out of its downtown port. $6. Departs from Pier 52, 801 Alaska Way; 206/464-6400.

Las Vegas Monorail. Whisking passengers from one end of the Strip to the other in under 15 minutes, the slick, driverless monorail travels 30 to 70 feet above the hubbub. From $5. 866/466-6672.

Portland Aerial Tram. In this city known for ground-breaking public works, the 500-foot-high tram is one to watch. Opening this fall, it connects the up-and-coming South Waterfront to Marquam Hill. Project manager Matt Brown promises that the cars’ futuristic aluminum skin will look “like soap bubbles floating in the air.” From $1.50. 503/823-4000.

2. Blockbuster rodeo

The “daddy of ’em all.” That’s what Cheyenne Frontier Days calls itself. And it’s true: No rodeo anywhere is as big, loud, or adrenaline-boosting as this Wyoming summer extravaganza. Wild horses, country singing stars, scary carnival rides, and the world’s largest turkey drumsticks too. Jul 21–30; from $11. www.cfdrodeo.com or 800/227-6336.

3. Favorite $10 deals…

• Two passes to a San Diego Padres game, where you sit in a grassy area beyond the outfield wall known as “The Park at the Park.” www.padres.com or 619/795-5000.

• Admission for a family carload to the Thursday-night double feature at the Amusement Park Drive-in Theater near Billings, Montana. Opens in Apr; 406/245-3212.

• About 11 hand-dipped chocolate truffles at 25 percent off at Seattle’s Dilettante Factory Outlet and Seconds. www.dilettante.com or 206/328-1955.

• Entry for two adults to the 2-acre Pineapple Garden Maze―known as the largest maze in the world―at the Dole Plantation in Oahu. 808/628-8408.

• A bottle of Vinum Cellars Chard No-Way Cuvée (Chenin Blanc), an excellent food wine. 707/254-8313.

• A standing-room ticket to the Santa Fe Opera’s upcoming production of Carmen. Jun 30–Aug 26; 800/280-4654.

• Admission to the ceremonial tea service every third Sunday at Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga, California. 408/741-4994.

• Ten oysters during happy hour on Monday and Thursday nights at Hog Island Oyster Co. in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. 5–7; 415/391-7117.

4. Best movable feast

We’ve never met a shrimp truck we didn’t like. On the North Shore of Oahu, these colorful, iconic roadside cafes on wheels are our preferred stop for food on the go. The best of the bunch is Sharks Cove Grill, where surfer Willy Asprey serves up his mom’s pesto shrimp skewers ($9) over local organic greens tossed with papaya-seed dressing. Savor your meal in a plastic chair under the awning, looking out over the waves. $; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 59-712 Kamehameha Hwy., across from Sharks Cove, about 5 mi. north of Hale’iwa; 808/638-8300.

5. Motels with attitude

We scouted four favorite spots for drive-up lodgings with boutique style.

Boulder Outlook Hotel in Boulder, Colorado, caters to sporty types with colorful hues and a bouldering wall (complete with waterfall) in the lobby. From $70. 800/542-0304.

Miracle Manor Retreat in Desert Hot Springs, California, pairs therapeutic natural hot mineral-water pools with luxe midcentury decor. From $150. 877/329-6641.

Farmer’s Daughter Hotel proves that only in L.A. could a farm theme be chic. From $99. 323/937-3930.

Hotel Valley Ho, the newly reopened motel in Scottsdale, Arizona, swings once more with glass-walled rooms and a new spa. From $289. 480/248-2000.

6. Jazz club that swings

L.A.’s Vibrato Grill is for jazz purists who like to mix a dash of flash with their dollop of bop. The legendary Herb Alpert, owner, may even take the stage in 2006. $$$$; dinner and music Tue–Sun. 2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel Air, CA; 310/474-9400.

7. Best shopping street

It’s long been known for vintage furniture and a certain artsy aesthetic. But Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California, has recently graduated from hippie to haute with a slew of design-minded shops and restaurants. Heading southeast from Main Street, the mile-long strip is now a one-stop shopping zone for all things chic.

At Tortoise (12–6 Wed–Sun or by appointment; 1208 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; 310/314-8448), look for bent-cedar bowls, porcelain tea sets, and walnut stools designed by owner Taku Shinomoto.

Nearby, Strange Invisible Perfumes (11–7 Tue–Sat, 12–6 Sun; 1138 Abbot Kinney; 310/314-1555) has the moody interiors of a nightclub but specializes in a different kind of brew: all-natural fragrances custom-blended to match your personality.

At Equator Books (1103 Abbot Kinney; 310/399-5544), L.A. architect Rania Alomar creates a gallery-like atmosphere for first editions and collectibles in categories that range from surfing and architecture to circus freaks and bullfighting.

Things are just as eclectic at Rose (11–6 Tue–Sun or by appointment; 1225 Abbot Kinney; 310/399-0040), which showcases jewelry, art, sculpture, and lots of obscure curios, both new and antique. (Vintage abalone ice bucket, anyone?)

At Happy at the Beach (11–5, Thu–Sun; 1644 Abbot Kinney; 310/396-8616), “one of a kind” comes in the form of nautical-inspired vintage furniture, such as shell-motif barware from the ’50s.

After a day of shopping, wind your way to Shima ($$$$; dinner Tue–Sat, lunch Sun; 1432 Abbot Kinney; 310/314-0882), a split-level sushi restaurant whose cool-as-a-cucumber design speaks to the best of the new on Abbot Kinney.

8. Next great destination: Astoria

Even when it rains these days, Astoria, Oregon, looks bright. New shops, restaurants, and hotels are springing up downtown and along the nearby Columbia riverfront―from the West Mooring Basin, where the over-the-water Cannery Pier Hotel opened last summer, to Pier 39, where the abandoned Bumble Bee Seafoods cannery buildings are being converted into offices, lodging, a pub, a coffeehouse, and the sales office for the new condos going up down the road.

“All along the waterfront there’s an energy,” says native son and Pier 39 developer Floyd Holcom. “I don’t think anybody would have predicted it.”

Astoria has always been a place for self-starters, from Lewis and Clark to John Jacob Astor himself. The decline of logging and fishing over the last half-century sent this historic Oregon community―the oldest American city west of the Mississippi―into a long economic slump, but there’s no denying the upswing. No longer can you pick up a century-old Victorian for next to nothing, and new art galleries are snapping up empty storefronts on downtown’s Commercial Street, where the 1925 Liberty Theater―$6 million into its projected $8.5 million revival―often sells out its 677-seat house.

But for the foreseeable future, Astoria is keeping it real. The Astoria Riverfront Trolley (tickets $1; 503/325-6311), popular with tourists who pile off the cruise ships that call on Astoria in spring and fall, clatters by the town’s active fishing fleet. The colorfully idiosyncratic works in Lunar Boy Gallery (opened by two former Disney Imagineers) seem as comfortable on Commercial Street as the neighboring chocolate store and apothecary. And no one can stop the rain, which at an average of 67 inches a year scares off some would-be newcomers―and, in so doing, may prove to be the town’s saving grace.

Cannery Pier Hotel. From your bed (or bath), watch oceangoing ships glide by seemingly inches away. Built on pilings over the river, the new 46-room hotel’s multilevel design mimics the original 1897 cannery that once stood here. From $139. 10 Basin St.; 888/325-4996.

• Fishermen’s Suites, Pier 39. Three new suites occupy an upstairs corner at Pier 39, each with a commanding view of the river and forested hills beyond. From $150. 100 39th St.; 503/325-2502.

• Columbian Café. Long a local favorite, this funky hole-in-the-wall is a true destination eatery, thanks to chef-owner Uriah Hulsey’s inspired vegetarian fare. $$; breakfast and lunch Mon–Sat, dinner Wed–Sat. 1114 Marine Dr.; 503/325-2233.

• T. Paul’s Urban Café. Eclectic and original, not to mention filling. Try the turkey sandwich (on focaccia with marionberry mayo) or the chipotle pesto pasta with bay shrimp and spinach. $$; lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. 1119 Commercial St.; 503/338-5133.

Liberty Theater. The hand-painted murals have been refreshed, the chandelier restored, and the elegance returned to this former movie palace that now hosts a variety of local and visiting performers. 1203 Commercial St.; 503/325-5922.

Lunar Boy Gallery. Original work by leading pop surrealist artists, with quirky modern gifts to match. Closed Tue. 1133 Commercial St.; 503/325-1566.

9. Best sunset

In Hawaii, beautiful spots to watch the sunset are as numerous as seashells. But among surfers, Oahu’s North Shore is the ultimate high. To drop down the face of a monstrous roller at Waimea Bay, or shoot through the glassy “Pipe” near Sunset Beach and emerge from the froth intact, is exhilarating enough. But then comes the magic hour at the end of the day when it’s time to unleash, plop down in the warm sand, and watch the sun slowly descend. A green flash, if it happens, is like a wink from the sea. All is well at this moment. A day’s work never seemed so sweet.


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