Some plane rides are tougher than others. Between red-eye departures, cramped seats and long lines, even simple trips can be tiresome and disorienting. But the first morning at your new destination can be a wonderful thing.
How you spend those first few hours can set the tone for your visit. Most of the time I drift to the water at a new place.
That's easy in Hawaii, particularly if you're at Waikiki Beach. Some resorts, like the Hilton Hawaiian Village, sit just a few steps from the ocean. You can wander over to the elevator, then walk out of the lobby and into the water. It's a great way to start the morning. Or, just take a stroll on the beach. You can walk all the way down Waikiki Beach and even over to the zoo if you want. I've never made it that far … but it's possible. In Maui, my favorite beach walk is on Napili Beach, at the northwest corner of the island. It's next door to my second-favorite Maui beach at Kapaula. Both of these beaches are great for swimming and snorkeling too. Of course, there are great beaches on all the Hawaiian Islands.
Follow Willamette River
In Portland, the Willamette River snakes through downtown. A bunch of bridges span the waterway and it's fun to take a stroll on either side. Tom McCall Waterfront Park is on the downtown side, and it's a great place for walking. Now there's a program called Biketown that lets you pick up one of the thousands of orange bikes at kiosks around town. It's $12 per day, or $2.50 per one-way trip. When I was in Portland last month, there were bikes in the Pioneer Square kiosk —perfect for exploring either side of the river. Since it was raining, though, I opted to hop on the MAX train over to the newest bridge, Tilikum Crossing. No cars are allowed. But the bridge is perfect for pedestrians and bikers.
San Francisco is one of my favorite cities — not just because of the cable cars, either. My grandparents lived near Ghirardelli Square by Fisherman's Wharf, which is set back a couple blocks from the Maritime Museum, which has a small beach next to it. Some people would go swimming each morning and my sister and I would watch them and just shiver. Instead, we'd walk to the long, curvy pier at the end of Van Ness Street called the "Aquatic Park Pier." There always was a little breeze and often some fog drifting by. Usually, though, we could get a good view of Golden Gate Bridge. And we could always see Alcatraz, less than a mile offshore, and local fishermen casting from the bridge. Once we saw a 6-foot shark that someone had caught.
Washington, D.C., is a city that's made for sightseeing. On every corner is an iconic monument or display. The National Mall can get crowded with tourists, especially during the summer. But in the morning, it's a great place to go for a bike ride. Washington is another city with a bike share program, called "Capital Bikeshare." You can rent the bikes for a one-way trip, or for the day. Even though I lived near Washington for several years, I'd never visited the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial or several of the other monuments on the Mall. So an early-morning bike ride was a great solution. Oh, the water feature? Well, the Potomac River isn't particularly photogenic. But the Reflecting Pool near the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall is beautiful. And the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial is nice too. Be careful as you're riding on the trail around the basin, though. Many of the trees have low-hanging branches!
Reykjavik, Iceland's capital, should be on your radar. After all, Icelandair flies nonstop to its hub from Anchorage twice a week during the summer. The town is about the size of Anchorage — and it's easy to get around. It's set right on the ocean and there's a great walkway along the shore that goes by "Hofdi House," where Reagan and Gorbachev held a summit in 1986.
There's a good reason to take a nice stroll from the marina area along the water. It's on the way to Laugardalslaug, the public pools in the middle of town. The famous Blue Lagoon hot spring is about 20 miles from town on the way to the airport. It's beautiful. The flight from Anchorage lands around 7 a.m., before Blue Lagoon opens. But in Iceland, there's a hot spring and a spa every few miles. Soaking in the hot springs is a national pastime. I first visited the pools because a gym and a yoga studio are also on-site. In addition to a brisk walk, if I can get a yoga session under my belt, it helps me shake off the jet lag.
Thin air, great coffee
Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border, is a spectacular vacation spot. The air is crisp and clear — and, at 6,225 feet, a little thin too. The water is chilly and the coastline is diverse. There are several sandy beaches, as well as miles of rocky coastline. I've spent most of my time at Tahoe near the north shore community of Carnelian Bay. But we took over a south Tahoe resort at Camp Richardson for a family reunion. A small collection of cabins sits back from the beach in a grove of giant redwoods. All you have to do is step out of the rustic cabin and watch out for the giant pine cones on your way to the beach. Just stick your toe in the water: You'll be wide awake! I was fine just taking a walk along the beach. But my brother-in-law is a bike nut and insisted on riding all 70 miles around the lake.
In Seattle, my morning routine is a little different. There are some great places near downtown for a walk near the water, including the Olympic Sculpture Park (http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/visit/olympic-sculpture-park). The park includes a crossing over the railroad and a path right down to the beach. In one direction you can see the Space Needle. Turn and face Elliott Bay and you'll see the fabulous Olympic Mountains across the water. The sculptures are beautiful, including "The Eagle" by Alexander Calder.
Since I'm a frequent Seattle visitor, the waterfront walks are familiar. They're nice. But what I really want is a great cup of coffee — and some fast, free Wi-Fi. Top Pot Doughnuts, in the shadow of the monorail on Fifth Avenue, fits the bill. With its flashy neon sign and its wooden shelves filled with books, this place is my "Seattle office." Even when I was staying on the shores of Lake Union, before the South Lake Union Trolley, or SLUT, I hiked a mile up Westlake Avenue to get some coffee. Oh, did I mention that they serve some great apple fritters too? Yeah, there's that.
So on your next trip, after getting a good night's sleep, start your day off with a great stroll along the water. Breathe deeply. Shake off that jet lag. And pick me up an apple fritter on your way back.
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.