Traveling with the Stars: 'CSI: NY's' Hill Harper

Hill Harper, who plays Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on CSI: NY, heads to Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama. The two were classmates at Harvard Law School and Harper serves on Obama's National Finance Committee. He shares his travel highlights and tips with Kelly Carter for USA TODAY.

Q: Where have you been recently that you liked or were surprised by?

A:This past year I've been all over the country for the Obama campaign. I was in Virginia (on Nov. 2) about to speak at a rally in Charles City, and on my way there stopped and visited one of the plantations. I had a really amazing, kind of cathartic experience as far as the resonance of campaigning for the first African-American president, connected to the fact that the plantation where we happened to stop was John Tyler's, who was the 10th president of the United States. It's almost like you could feel the ancestors, the slaves who had worked so very hard on that plantation for hundreds of years and created wealth for so many individuals who went on to these positions of powers. To be in a position of campaigning for (an African-American) candidate, it was a pretty incredible thing.

Q:What's the best place you've ever visited and why?

A:The most impactful place that I've been to where I was just completely awestruck, happy, moved is Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is probably the most beautiful and romantic place in the world. I wasn't there with anyone significant but I would absolutely go back with my future wife. I was just blown away by the sheer majesty and awesome strength of these falls and what they represent. And then I went white-water rafting below it down the Zambezi and had a wonderful experience. I love being athletic and doing things that are active, even when I'm traveling.

Q: What's the most surprising/unexpected place you're ever visited and why?

A:The John Tyler plantation. I was not thinking about plantations at all. I was thinking about the election that was happening in the next couple of days and what were we going to do to make sure that folks in Virginia really turned out and voted. That was really surprising.

A: What's your favorite vacation spot and why?

Q:My favorite vacation spot is a beautiful beach. I've been to many, many beaches on many continents: Mombasa, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Barbados, Mexico and the U.S. What's beautiful about beach communities is for whatever reason, they feel like vacation to me. I tend to repeat them but there are so many new beaches to explore. On my list is Hawaii and Sardinia.

Q: Can you offer an insider vacation tip or recommendation?

A:What you really need to do as soon as you get on the ground, start talking to people who are from the area but aren't necessarily in the hospitality business. That's the key. I've found I get the best recommendations from them because they've seen things from a completely different point of view. That's how I've found some of my favorite places. But it does take an element of faith because when you get recommended something and you mention it to the hospitality people at your hotel and they kind of turn their nose up, you still have to trust the person you spoke to.

I went to the Dominican Republic a few years ago for New Year's. I was staying in an area that had a lot of tourists. I had a conversation with locals and the people at the hotel gave me all these reasons not to go where they recommended. I ended up going to this beautiful, little restaurant. I can?t remember the name but it was certainly the best meal I had on my vacation and one of the loveliest meals I?ve ever had just because the people were really wonderful and the restaurant had a beautiful vibe and feeling.