Last year, my work brought me to Los Angeles, which East Coasters (myself included) often decry as a wasteland of strip malls and freeways. But on my first weekend I hightailed it to the Pacific, and have since found myself there more often than not—from Venice's whacked-out carnival to the privacy of El Matador State Beach to the tide pools of Leo Carillo State Park in Malibu. Recently, on the windiest of mornings, I brought my daughters, ages eight and five, to Santa Monica. We were the only ones on the beach and the sand was blowing everywhere, but we ran straight into the water and didn't look back. ¼
Down by the River
"A great thirst," desert rat Edward Abbey wrote, "is a great joy when quenched in time." Four ways to quench that thirst:
2 Guadalupe Canoe Livery (830/885-4671; www.guadalupecanoe.com; from $10 per person) offers four-mile floats along Texas's Guadalupe River—75 miles southwest ofAustin—beneath limestone cliffs and cypress trees, and past the occasional deer and turkey.
3 Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (River Point Outfitting Co.; 800/456-5580; www.elyoutfitters.com; four-day trips from $256 a person) covers 1,200 miles of canoeing trails leading to centuries-old cliff paintings and lakes where loon calls echo.
4 The American Queen (Delta Queen Steamboat Co.; 800/543-1949; www.deltaqueen.com; seven nights from $2,000 a person)—the largest steamboat ever built—rambles along the Mississippi from New Orleans into the heartland, dropping in on Baton Rouge, Memphis, and other spots along the way.
5 Idaho's Salmon River rises into 100-plus roller-coaster rapids as it bisects the Lower 48's largest wilderness area. A six-day, 80-mile package from Salmon River Outfitters (800/346-6204; www.salmonriveroutfitters.com; $1,495 a person) includes meals of poached salmon and wine tastings.
Lap It Up: Hotel Pools
6 Raffles L'Ermitage, Beverly Hills
THE POOL 23 by 32 feet. Ninth floor. THE LOOK Retro cool: olive trees, teak furniture, and three cabanas set the scene. THE VIEW 360 degrees of L.A., Bel Air, and the Hollywood Hills. THE PERKS Treatments from the Amrita Spa. Friday is sunset, champagne, and canapés night.
9291 BURTON WAY; 800/800-2113; www.lermitagehotel.com
7 Le Parker Meridien, New York
THE POOL 20 by 40 feet. 42nd floor. THE LOOK Metro chic: teak walls and chaise longues plus a glass skylight prove that heaven is in the details at this penthouse pool. THE VIEW Central Park and the midtown Manhattan skyline at eye level. THE PERKS Room service delivers snacks and cocktails poolside—a homemade ice cream sandwich and Cosmo, anyone?Work off the calories using free fitness toys (kickboards, buoyancy belts, waterproof dumbbells).
118 W. 57TH ST.; 800/543-4300; www.parkermeridien.com
8 Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel
THE POOL 24 by 60 feet. 12th floor. THE LOOK Capital heights: there are green plastic lounge chairs, lush tropical plants, and white-umbrella-shaded tables, in a courtyard near the top of the hotel. THE VIEW Depends on whose curtains are open. THE PERKS There's plenty to see from the pool's edge: the chef plucking seasonings from his herb garden; guests sipping tropical drinks at Flamingos, the tiki bar.
480 L'ENFANT PLAZA, WASHINGTON, D.C.; 800/235-6397; www.loewshotels.com
9 The Hotel
THE POOL 12 by 35 feet. Fourth floor. THE LOOK In the navy: the Todd Oldham-designed tricolored deck and tie-dyed cabanas take their cues from a ship at sea. THE VIEW The Atlantic Ocean and Ocean Drive from above. THE PERKS Pool bar lunch menu from Wish, the hotel's restaurant; workout area.
801 COLLINS AVE., MIAMI BEACH; 877/843-4683; www.thehotelofsouthbeach.com