Even if you’ve been there before, there’s always something new to discover. That’s why your hotel concierge can be such a rich asset: leveraging insider know-how to make your vacation different and distinctive can make even a repeat visit feel fresh and new. Here, we continue our look at some of the country’s top destinations, through the eyes of men and women in the business of making travel special.
See This, Skip That: Maui
The Four Seasons Maui Resort, on the posh enclave of Wailea, is the island’s only Forbes 5-Star resort. It caters, as you’d imagine, to a sophisticated and celeb-driven clientele. But, based on my own experience, any couple or family will find a visit here to be personal and down-to-earth. This year, Shermaine Rodrigues became the hotel’s GEM (Guest Experience Manager), focused solely on the needs and experiences of guests in the hotel’s top-tier residential or ocean front suites.
She says the Haleakala National Park hike, with an elevation of 10,000 feet, is most popular in the early morning. “But visiting during sunset is equally spectacular, with very few other visitors and zero tour companies there at that time,” she said. She also likes to send her adventurer guests on the Windmills Hike, “which is almost exclusively explored by locals.”
“This is an out-and-back hike -- 10 miles round-trip -- so most prefer to cut the length in half by parking a car at both trailheads to make it a one-way adventure," she added. "While it takes some coordination because there are no organized tours, the sweeping views of the central valley, Haleakala, and the coastline make it all worth it.”
The resort’s Chef Concierge, Sam Wilhelm, likes to offer an alternative to everyone’s favorite winding drive, the Road to Hana. “The West Maui Mountain loop is equally stunning,” he says. “Drive through Kahakuloa and try Julia's famous Banana Bread, made fresh daily. Follow that up with a hike up Waihee Ridge Trail for gorgeous views of Central Maui.”
See This, Skip That: Seattle
When my 9-year-old son and I visited Seattle this summer, we loved staying at Kimpton’s Alexis Hotel, whose First Avenue location put us walking distance to a ton of attractions. The Chef Concierge here, Keith Dowsing, has been on property for 3-1/2 years, though he’s been with the Kimpton brand for more than eighteen. He likes to send guests on a water adventure. “Head to the waterfront and take a water taxi at Pier 50 over to West Seattle, known to locals as Alki,” he says. “Right next to where you [disembark], you can rent kayaks or bikes at Kayak Alki. You and the family can kayak and enjoy the views of the Seattle skyline and maybe even see some local wildlife, like eagles, harbor seals or otters.
If you decide to bike, take advantage of the bike path that leads you to Alki Beach, where there are shops and great spots for lunch. One of my favorite spots is located right where you get off the water taxi: Marination Ma Kai. The best Pork Katsu sandwich ever!” Interesting side note: in 2009, this Hawaiian-Korean spot’s Marination Mobile was voted America’s best food truck by Good Morning America!
See This, Skip That: Palm Springs
For decades, the desert communities of Southern California have drawn everyone from Tinsel Town luminaries to college kids on break, all in search of an escape. At the AAA 4-Diamond Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa, home to seven pools and 36 holes of championship golf and located about 20 minutes from Palm Springs, Katie Brueggemann touts the natural wonders nearby, like Joshua Tree National Park. She also likes Shields Date Gardens, “one of the largest date productions in the world.” And she recommends the Coachella Valley Preserve “for amazing hiking and views of a natural palm oasis. This site has an original homestead cabin which serves as the visitor center, which is quite unique. And, you are directly on the San Andreas Faultline, which can be a great story to tell your friends back home!”
For adrenaline junkies, Brueggemann sends guests to the BMW Performance Center about 45 minutes east of the resort, one of only two in the country. “This is a full race track where you can actually drive high performance BMWs as fast as your heart can take it! There are different program options that we can reserve for you with advance notice.”
See This, Skip That: Salt Lake City
With Salt Lake City’s only Forbes 4-Star rating, The Grand America Hotel may be the most luxurious stay in town. Marcie Burger has been catering to the tastes of her elite clientele here for 13 years and suggests that SLC looks prettiest from above. “Located 2-1/2 miles from downtown, Ensign Peak offers a spectacular view of the Salt Lake Valley and of Great Salt Lake, especially at sunset,” she says. “The trailhead begins at Ensign Peak Nature Park and the trek to the top is a short, but steep, one mile roundtrip hike. The trail is family-friendly and offers sweeping, panoramic views.” She thinks that animal buffs will love Tracy Aviary, in Liberty Park, just outside downtown; with 400-plus birds in an urban forest setting, it’s the oldest and largest free-standing aviary in the U.S. And don’t bother with the ordinary souvenir. Spanning more than 25,000 square feet, Anthony’s Antiques and Fine Arts “sells curated pieces from over 30 years of global travel,” says Burger. “Collections include Egyptian sarcophagi, western art, monumental structures, fine jewelry and European furniture.”
See This, Skip That: New Orleans
A decade after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is on the rebound in a big way, and its hospitality industry is shining. One of the city’s newest hotels, The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, graces the trendy Warehouse District. The property pays homage to its former incarnation as a coffee warehouse with a loft-like aesthetic that features brick walls, high ceilings and exposed pipes. Top Chef fave Nina Compton helms the restaurant, Compere Lapin, and NOLA native Allen Alongi offers insider know-how as group sales concierge. “To start, let's remove the ideology that Bourbon Street is the place to be. The city lives and breathes culture and creativity that is dying to be explored,” he insists. His top spot to kick back? The Fly, located 10 minutes from downtown by streetcar, behind the Audubon Zoo. “It attracts all people, young and old, as it sits on the edge of the Mississippi River where different boats troll up and down the basin. Locals flock here to throw the Frisbee, jam out to some tunes and host the occasional picnic.”
For guests who want to quench their thirst, the dive bar known as Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge is a must, with its “year-round Christmas decorations, lively bartenders and a late night crowd that, at points, makes Mardi Gras look feeble.” His other suggestion is Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar, “which features the famous Scorpion Shot. Take the shot, get a shirt. NOLA love!” For diners on a budget who crave classic New Orleans fare, Alongi likes Crescent City Brewhouse, near Jackson Square. Seafood dishes galore. “And the fried duck with pepper jelly is a must, along with one of their very own craft beers.” Get a seat on the balcony for views of the Gulf.
See This, Skip That: New York City
The Hotel Eventi is one of my favorite Big Apple stays. It’s in northern Chelsea, easily one of New York City’s most dynamic areas, and Jason Blake has held the Concierge title here for two years. He says there are “great restaurant selections adjacent to the hotel that feature exclusive NYC chefs, like George Mendes and Laurent Tourondel.” But he also likes to tout this sector’s newest food choices. “The Flatiron Room on 26th, between 6th and Broadway, is a small, elegantly appointed whiskey bar featuring live jazz every evening. And just across the street is Flatiron Hall, a vintage-inspired beer garden serving oversized pretzels and a selection of local brews from Greenpoint Brewery in Brooklyn,” he says. “For a healthier choice, Sweetgreen at NoMad, in collaboration with local farmers, features an extensive farm-to-table menu with fresh produce being sourced from the community.”
For a little culture, Blake likes the new Whitney Museum, at the southern end of the Highline. “It recently opened after relocating from the Upper East Side, adding to the growing attractions within walking distance from our hotel,” he says.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features exclusive deals to and in all of these destinations.