Recomendo
A compendium of Recomendo
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Travel

Destination

 

Offbeat attractions guide

Whenever I travel I google my destination at the Atlas Obscura website. It will yield dozens of very obscure, very offbeat attractions in the area. How else can you find a nearby museum of parasites, or trail of doll heads, or a restaurant of robots, underground tunnels, or a store for time travel? — KK

Coolest nature museum

The world’s coolest nature museum: The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England. It’s a day trip from London. Take the 1-hour train to Oxford, then walk 15 minutes from the station to the museum, co-housed with the Oxford University Nature Museum. Enter into a lost world of curiosity. You are surrounded by three floors of artifacts collected over centuries by eccentric British explorers. Displays include shrunken heads, voodoo dolls, tomb relics, weird insects, ancient folk tools, dinosaurs skeletons, taxidermy galore, uncountable biological and mineralogical specimens, all stacked in glassy cabinets with typed cards and labels. It’s supremely old-school and hugely satisfying. — KK

SF interactive exhibit museum

Since I live in the San Francisco metro area, I get a lot of out-of-town visitors. My favorite place to take them is the Exploratorium along the bayside waterfront. It is the original hands-on science museum, and still the world’s best hands-on learning experience. Many of the interactive exhibits now common at science museums around the world began here; the Exploratorium has all of them and many more found nowhere else. This sprawling temple of innovation and maker-goodness can easily occupy me — even after my 50th visit — for four hours or more. (I normally get saturated after only one hour in other museums.) Of course while it is perfect for kids of all ages, every Thursday evening it’s reserved for adults, and crowded with innovators and artists of all types. — KK

Japanese transit

Japan is one of the most convenient places in the world to travel. Public transit — both local and long distance — is ubiquitous, frequent, fast, insanely prompt, safe and reliable. However its ubiquity means there is a labyrinth of so many routes that your journey can be an impenetrable puzzle — not to mention the real hurdle of the language barrier. To the rescue comes Google maps. If you chose the transit option for directions it will provide you with brilliantly designed color-coded instructions on which subway/bus/trains to take, exactly where to catch each leg, which line, how many stops, how many minutes you need to walk between, the price, and all the alternative routes, in English. Since Japanese transit runs like clockwork, all this precision turns you into a relaxed native traveller. (Google maps provides similar instructions all over the world, but for Japan’s maze of transit, this is game changing.) — KK

Escape rooms

My family and I are obsessed with escape rooms. Twelve people are locked in a themed room (theater backstage, 1940s Hollywood private eye office, alchemist’s laboratory, etc.) and given one hour to solve clues to get out. You’ll quickly get over any shyness of strangers as you collaborate to beat the clock. There are escape rooms all over the world. I recommend Escape Room LA in downtown Los Angeles. — MF

Intimate boat tours

A tour in the Galapagos was one of our best vacations ever. There are no hotels so you live on a boat, which travels during the night so you wake up in the cove of a different island each morning. Each island is a different biome (inspiring the idea of evolution for Darwin). You spend the day actively hiking around the islands encountering myriad perfectly tame animals and birds. While there are large cruise boats, the key is to sail on a small boat to minimize transit times ashore. Go to Happy Gringo to find diverse small boat tours, rated by previous customers. They are utterly reliable and ⅓ the cost of others. — KK

5 things to do in LA every day

If you are in LA, 5 Every Day is one of my favorite smartphone apps. It’s very simple and its purpose is clear: it recommends five things to do in Los Angeles that day. Art openings, lectures, art house movies, music, food, etc. Many of the events are free. If you come to LA for more than a couple of days, install it on your phone. — MF

Caravanistan

I’ve been exploring the vast territory of Central Asia, sometimes known as the Silk Road. Between the Caucuses in the west, and remote parts of China in the east, these places are exotic, beautiful, vastly varied (deserts to alpine) sufficiently developed to be fun, yet devoid of tourists. In the near future these will be prime tourist destinations. But right now it can be hard to navigate and occasionally hard to get visas. By far the best resource is a website, called Caravanistan, run by a English-speaking couple that has the clearest, most up-to-date information on the practical aspects of traveling along the Silk Road. Not what to see, but how to see it. Highly reliable, immensely helpful, and always inspiring. — KK

Best way to book China travel

China is so vast that the only way to get around is either by high speed train or plane. But because of its language barrier it’s really hard for foreigners to book tickets for either. The best way to book a flight in China is via the English language site Ctrip, which I use. Easy to make reservations, changes, refunds. I can skype a call to them if needed. For trains I use the English language site Travel China Guide — KK

Cheaper than Napa

If you’re in Northern California and have yet to visit Amador County, I could not recommend it more. The county is steeped in Gold Rush history and offers 40+ wineries, romantic B&Bs and historical small towns, all within a short drive of one another. Side note: I was once the Lifestyles Editor for the county newspaper, which might make me a bit biased, but I also have enjoyed enough time there to know it makes for a magical getaway. — CD

Best movie theater

This feels like the golden age of movie theaters. I find myself making more movie dates at either dine-in theaters, like the Alamo Drafthouse or at ones with luxury loungers. Buying tickets in advance for reserved seating makes it really convenient. — CD

Found footage

If the Found Footage Festival tour ever comes your way, I highly recommend you check it out. The two guys who host the events scour thrift stores and yard sales for the most obscure and awkward infomercials, public access shows, training tapes and home videos to showcase. I’ve been to four of their shows and I always laugh so hard it hurts. They currently have 8 volumes available on DVD. You can watch videos of some of their findings on the website. — CD 

Scale of our War

The Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand has a permanent exhibit, Scale of Our War, that is almost worth going to New Zealand to see, and should certainly be on a must visit list if you happen to travel there. Weta Workshops, the folks who made all the props and special effects in the Lord of the Rings movies and other Peter Jackson productions, created a set of sculptures to mourn the disaster of the WWI battle of Gallipoli, Turkey, which was the seminal trigger for New Zealand independence. Weta created 2X lifesize versions of soldiers and nurses in the war that are hyperreal in their detail, from each hair on their arms, to flies on their frayed jackets, the 2X scale of threads in the cloth, and uncannily realistic flesh and faces, all at twice the size. You are looking up, in the embrace of these large beings, like a child in the arms of its parent. I’ve seen statues and art, ancient and modern, around the world, and no sculpture has been so emotionally potent as these. Worth going out of your way to see. — KK

TravelClaudia Dawson