Category: Travelara Blog

Sea to Sky Highway highlights in BC

Sea to Sky Highway highlights in BC

You may have seen the sights in Vancouver and skied in Whistler traveling the photogenic Sea to Sky Highway — but, if you’re like too many travelers, you may have never stopped to take in the sights along the way. Or you haven’t made it past Whistler to experience the wilderness due north.

British Columbia’s Coast Mountains are a beautiful region to explore and are quite accessible from the Sea to Sky Highway that runs from Horseshoe Bay through Squamish to the charming town of Pemberton — traversing some of the most stunning terrain in Canada. Here are some of the best-kept, and not-so-well-kept, secrets along the Sea to Sky, including rustic hot springs, hiking trails leading to pristine lakes and mountain huts, and waterfalls that take your breath away.

1. Shannon Falls

Photo: Ravi Natarajan/Shutterstock

If you’re a frequent visitor to Squamish or Whistler, you’ve driven past Shannon Falls Provincial Park numerous times. The park is just over a mile outside of Squamish and is home to the third-highest waterfall in the province, which cascades down nearly 1,100 feet. The falls are reachable from the main parking area, the Sea to Sky Gondola lot, and the Stawamus Chief lot. After a short half-mile hike in you’re at the falls. Take some time to scramble about in the boulders near the base, where you can witness the thundering falls in all of their glory. Accessible at pretty much every point during the year, Shannon Falls is an excellent detour while on your way through Squamish.

2. Stawamus Chief

Photo: Rowan Sims Photography/Shutterstock

Some gritty folks might enjoy a trip up to Stawamus Chief for the sheer challenge of it. For the rest of us, the grind is fortunately rewarded with sweeping views of Squamish, the waters of Howe Sound, and the stunning peaks of the Coast Mountains. Standing at the summit of The Chief gives a great sense as to why the Sea to Sky Highway is named as such.

The hike to the first peak takes about 90 minutes and is largely on wooden stairs. On the way up, take note of the brightly streaked orange and red rock to your left, with moss crawling in the crevices and water dripping from the forest above. Once you’ve cleared the stairs, you will find the forest opening up to reveal the solid granite beneath your feet. This granite monolith is one of the largest in the world, attracting rock climbers from across North America.

The overall elevation gain is about 1,600 feet to the first peak, which is where the majority of people turn back. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can choose to summit the second and third peaks, which top out at 1,940 feet and 2,070 feet, respectively.

The Stawamus Chief parking is just a mile and a half from the Squamish historic center. Afterward, you can reward your hard work with a stop at Sunny Chibas in Squamish. Formerly known as Mag’s 99, Sunny Chibas is sure to satisfy by carrying on the Mag’s 99 legacy of fried chicken and Mexican food. The brightly painted eatery is easy to spot from the highway and never fails to disappoint. Our recommended order is a two-piece Chiba pack and the crispy corn fish tacos. You’d be surprised how well the two pair together. While the lines can be long, the wait is worth it.

3. Elfin Lakes

Photo: Dan Breckwoldt/Shutterstock

This hike to Elfin Lakes is not one of the better secrets of the region, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a visit. The six-mile trail starts at the end of the Diamond Head parking lot, which is a one hour and 30-minute drive north from Vancouver (or about an hour south of Whistler). Without stopping, you could get to the lake and back in about five hours — but you’ll want to stop and picnic by the lakes.

The trail is moderate and is suitable for families willing to take on the challenge. The first part of it winds along an old road through the forest, which eventually rises to the Red Heather Meadows shelter. Continuing on from there, the forest gives way to vibrant subalpine meadows beneath the imposing figures of the surrounding mountains. After continuing along the ridge for a while, the trail dips back down to end at Elfin Lakes.

There is a shelter nestled in between a few trees between the two lakes, and tent pads are available for those looking to make the trip an overnight endeavor. The views from the lakes are absolutely stunning, showing off the striking character of the Coast Mountains. If you complete the hike in September or October, the crisp bite of fall will be in the air, and snow will have dusted the surrounding peaks. Even if you don’t picnic, at least bring a thermos of hot chocolate to sip next to the lakes and take a moment to wonder how you got so lucky.

4. T’sek Hot Springs

Photo: Tatjana Stone

Previously known as the Skookumchuk hot springs, the T’sek Hot Springs is an easy day trip from Whistler (one hour and 45 minutes) and a slightly longer one from Vancouver (three and hours 15 minutes). The hot springs are accessible via In-SHUCK-ch Forest Service Road (FSR), which ties into the Sea to Sky about 11 miles outside of Pemberton. Taking the FSR for 30 miles will bring you to the T’sek campground and springs. The road is usually in pretty good shape and is driveable in all seasons, but caution should be used following heavy snowfall in the area.

Along the way, there are several notable sights. At the southern end of Lillooet Lake, the formidable mountain In-SHUCK-Ch — also known as Gunsight Peak for the distinctive notch at its summit — dominates the skyline and inspires a sense of awe. Later along the road, to your right as you’re headed to the springs, is a rather curious cemetery. Aptly titled “Graveyard” on the arch over the entrance, it is where several generations of families who settled in the area have been laid to rest.

Once you arrive at the T’sek springs themselves, you will find sites available for camping as well as a day-use parking area. The hot springs are sacred to the In-SHUCK-ch and St’át’imc people, and as such, proper respect should be afforded when visiting them. Alcohol and glass are strictly prohibited while using the springs. There are fees associated for both day and overnight use, but they are very reasonable at $5.70 per adult for the day or $7.50 per vehicle per night. There are 12 tubs available in total, many of which allow for temperature control. The overall ambience of the hot springs is one of peace and serenity. A strong sense of connection with nature and the land is found by those who are willing to seek it during their visit.

5. Mount Brew hike (or ski tour)

Photo: Tatjana Stone

Mount Brew is located about 11 miles southwest of Whistler. Leaving from downtown Vancouver, take Highway 99 North for about one hour and 15 minutes to Chance Creek Forest Service Road. Take a left here and follow the road for one mile until you reach a large switchback heading up to the left. There are some facilities at this point that are used by a local cat skiing company in the winter. If you’re hiking in the summer, you’re good to drive on another 0.9 miles, taking a right at the fork. In the winter, you will likely have to park at the bottom of the switchback and gear up. The trail starts off the R200 Branch of the Roe Creek Road in the middle of a cut-block.

The trail meanders around the ridge along a bench, dipping in and out of the forest. Eventually, the trail opens up into meadows just south of Brew Lake. From the meadows, the trail heads up into the alpine and winds through the boulder fields. Continuing past Upper Brew Lake, the trail heads towards the saddle of the bowl. At this point, Brew Hut is only a few hundred feet more up the ridge.

If you’d like to stay the night, the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) maintains a hut that is available to the public just south of Mount Brew. You can stay in the hut for a fee of $7.60 per night, which can be paid in the box inside of the hut. The money that is collected is used by the VOC for hut maintenance.

If you’re just up for a quick single-day jaunt, then continue up the ridge toward the summit of Mount Brew. There is no marked trail here, but in conditions with good visibility, the route is easy to navigate. On your way back down, consider taking a dip in Brew Lake. Though a bit shallow and muddy along the shore, it’s good for swimming in the summer. The best spot to hop in is right near the outlet of the lake where it pours into Brandywine Falls.

The post Stunning stops along the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler appeared first on Matador Network.

Asheville, NC, for LGBTQ travelers

Asheville, NC, for LGBTQ travelers

Though the southeast, in general, has never been among the most gay-friendly regions in the United States, there are some pockets, namely urban areas, where the LGBTQ community is not only welcomed but also embraced. One such place is Asheville, North Carolina.

The southern charm in Asheville is warm and sincere. Being downtown and among the lively crowd of both tourists and locals, you’d be forgiven for forgetting, if even for a moment, that North Carolina was at the epicenter of the “bathroom bill” battle. Thankfully, a settlement was reached in late July 2019 so that transgender people can now use whichever bathroom they choose in state-run buildings. Regardless, anyone who may feel uncomfortable visiting North Carolina can rest assured that they will be welcomed with open arms in Asheville.

Asheville has long been a destination for artists and musicians. Several venues bring some of the biggest names in music and entertainment to town. Both the Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile have pulled a tour bus into town. It’s also a draw for many other smaller acts; it’s not uncommon to see buskers on each corner of downtown putting on a show and drawing a crowd. In addition to Asheville’s thriving music scene, its proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains has always been an attraction for outdoor adventurers. There are numerous options for cycling, hiking, kayaking, and even stand-up paddleboarding. The city has also not-so-quietly been making a name for itself in the food and drink scene. It’s got a handful of James Beard nominees who call the place home, and there are currently 50 breweries in the area with more on the way. Locals aren’t bragging when they say the town has pretty much everything a person could want, and that includes numerous safe spaces for the LGBTQ traveler.

While you can go pretty much anywhere in Asheville and be accepted, this guide highlights places that are specifically queer-friendly, from LGBTQ-owned businesses to venues that host events catered to the community.


West Asheville

Photo: Nolichuckyjake/Shutterstock

This neighborhood is, as its name suggests, just west of downtown. Ditch your car or hop in an Uber as parking can be hard to come by, and get around like a local on foot or bike. There’s a lot of cool murals in West Asheville, and there are several great queer-friendly coffee shops and places to get a bite or a beer along Haywood Road. Odd’s Cafe is a must if you’re craving a little caffeine.


Asheville’s downtown is super walkable. There are plenty of bar-hopping options that serve brews and cocktails made with local ingredients and just as many restaurants to choose from. As if the food and drink scene wasn’t enough, there are also plenty of places to pick up a local-to-Asheville souvenir. We recommend stopping at the L.O.F.T for funny postcards, Malaprops for books by local authors, and Diamond Brand for some outdoor gear.

River Arts District

The River Arts District (RAD) is a collection of art galleries and studios. You’ll find everything from potters to painters to sculptors and even a glass blowing space. There are also several places in the RAD to get a very good meal or a drink. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Foundation. The old warehouse-style buildings there are covered in ever-changing street art, and it makes a great spot for an Instagram photo or two. It’s also home to several queer-friendly businesses.



Photo: Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe/Facebook

Conveniently located in the heart of downtown is one of the most beloved bookshops in Asheville: Malaprops. It has tons of titles in-store with an especially large selection of books from western North Carolina authors. It also hosts an LGBTQ book club that meets on the first Monday of every month. Check out the website to see what the club is currently reading.

Where: 55 Haywood Street

Horse and Hero

The art scene in Asheville is one of the main attractions for both locals and tourists. There are several galleries and shops in Asheville that sell products made by local artists, and Horse and Hero is one of the coolest. It’s located downtown and has a great selection of prints, cards, stickers, and more. In addition to being a great spot for finding a one-of-a-kind gift, Horse and Hero are also supporters of the #shopforequality day that supports LGBTQ rights.

Where: 14 Patton Avenue


Photo: Flora Asheville/Facebook

Visiting Flora is like stepping into an oasis of calm. The shop is lovingly filled with uniquely arranged potted plants and terrariums. You can feel good about purchasing a souvenir or gift as this business is one of several in Asheville that supports the Campaign for Southern Equality by donating some of its proceeds during the winter holidays. It also frequently posts on social media photos of local LGBTQ weddings for which they provided the floral arrangements.

Where: 428 B Haywood Road

Harvest Records

This is a queer-friendly space with all kinds of records, CDs, cassettes and even books that celebrate all kinds of artists. The staff is super knowledgeable and quick to answer questions about that hard-to-find LP you’ve been looking for. The shop sells tickets to shows at the most popular music venues in town, and it’s also a supporter of the Campaign for Southern Equality, donating a portion of its proceeds like Flora above.

Where: 415 Haywood Road

Restaurants and cafes

Baked Pie Company

Photo: Baked Pie Company/Facebook

Every second Tuesday of the month is Queer Pie Night. Join the Asheville queer community for a slice of pie, salad, or quiche. If you can’t decide on what to order we recommend a pie flight. Similar in concept to the beer flight, at the Baked Pie Company you can get a sampling of three of freshly baked options and a scoop of ice cream. Bonus: They often have vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free options.

Where: 50 North Merrimon Avenue

Odd’s Cafe

If you’re in need of some caffeine or a late-afternoon snack, Odd’s is the cafe to visit. It’s got all kinds of delicious and creative coffee drinks, teas, baked goods, and snacks. Plus, the space is welcoming to all. The motto kind of says it all: “We’re all a little different, just like you.” The bathrooms at Odd’s are unisex with signs stating that everyone is welcome. Odd’s also welcomes artists from the Asheville area to hang and sell their art on the wall, many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community. There is a new show on the walls each month.

Where: 800 Haywood Road, Suite A

12 Bones Smokehouse

Photo: 12 Bones River/Facebook

The pulled pork BBQ sandwich is a hot-and-tender, juicy heaping pile of meat bookended with a fresh, soft, slightly sweet roll. Try to resist shoving the entire thing in your mouth and take a few extra seconds to dunk it in some of their tomato “Q” sauce. A word to the wise: You’ll be sorry if you left without tasting all of the homemade sauces and getting a side of the garlicky, buttery green beans. On top of all that, 12 Bones is gay-friendly. The owners, Angela and Bryan are super welcoming to all and have created a space where you can truly come as you are.

Where: 5 Foundy Street, Suite 10


Both locals and tourists love chef Katie Button’s Cúrate. She has been nominated for several James Beard awards, and as you might expect, the food there is phenomenal. The wine list at Curate is extensive, and the menu changes seasonally. It’s a fun place to share some small plates with friends and family. The LGBTQ community will find this to be a safe space as Button and company are supporters of LGBTQ rights that have partnered up with the Campaign for Southern Equality.

Where: 13 Biltmore Avenue

Sovereign Remedies

Photo: Sovereign Remedies/Facebook

This downtown restaurant in Asheville is gay-owned and one of the best places to get a hand-crafted cocktail or meal. It also does an amazing brunch and has both a full dinner menu and a late-night menu. Many of the ingredients are from local farmers and foragers, which make for an exceptionally delicious and unique experience. It’s a wonderful place to go on a date as the space is beautiful and the food and drinks are top-notch.

Where: 29 North Market Street

Bars and nightlife

Banks Ave

Banks Ave is located in the hip South Slope neighborhood and is a great spot for drag shows, dancing, and karaoke. It hosts the Stonewall Sports League kickoff party and has a bunch of pool tables and corn-hole boards, as well as an outdoor patio which makes for a laid-back vibe and fun place to meet locals.

Where: 32 Banks Avenue

Grey Eagle

Photo: The Grey Eagle/Facebook

Small-ish bands and artists frequent the Grey Eagle. It’s the kind of place where you can see someone whose star is on the rise, and then in five or six years say, “I saw them play in Asheville.” The Avett Brothers and Sharon Jones both belted out sets here. The rainbow sticker on the door is more than just lip service as the staff and space inside both talk the talk and walk the walk. Be on the lookout for the Drag Brunch events as tickets go quickly and proceeds benefit local LGBTQ youth groups.

Where: 185 Clingman Avenue


O.Henry’s is the oldest gay bar in North Carolina. It’s located downtown and is close enough to a few hotels that you can easily walk to and from it without having to get in the car. It has a couple of pool tables and often has drag shows and other live entertainment. There aren’t many places that specifically carve out space for the LGBTQ community in Asheville, but this is one of them. Be ready to buck up $7 as O.Henry’s is a private club, but once you’ve paid, your membership is good for the entire year.

Where: 237 Haywood Road

The Odditorium

The Odditorium is located in West Asheville and is a one-of-a-kind LGBTQ spot in Asheville. It’s known for its events, which include everything from drag shows to burlesque shows to open mic comedy and live sets from local bands. Stop by on a Sunday afternoon to order the Bloody Mary, which is both a meal and a drink.

Where: 1045 Haywood Road

New Belgium Brewing

Photo: New Belgium Brewing/Facebook

New Belgium sits in between West Asheville and downtown and is a great spot for anyone in the LGBTQ community that wants to grab a beer and hang out without having to worry about whether or not they’ll be safe or welcome. You’ll be both at New Belgium. It’s been offering same-sex benefits since it started its health coverage plan in the early 1990s and recently hired a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, as well as doing multiple collaboration beers where profits have been donated to LGBTQ organizations.

Where: 21 Craven Street

The Mothlight

The Mothlight sits on the west side of town and is one of those places you might walk by if you weren’t looking for it. If you’re visiting Asheville, be sure to check out the event calendar because they have all kinds of fun, inclusive shows. They host everyone from local DJ Marley Carroll to spoken word acts to intimate evenings of storytelling and sharing. They also team up with local radio station 103.3 AshevilleFM to host the Pansy Fest Local Queer Benefit Show.

Where: 701 Haywood Road

The Whale

Craft beers, some of which are rare and hard-to-find, are the name of the game at the Whale, one of the coolest places to grab a beer in West Asheville. There’s a chill outdoor patio as well as a fun indoor space and tons of beers to try, all of which are served up by an easygoing, knowledgeable, and unpretentious staff. The best part is that you can drink with an easy conscience knowing that the Whale not only supports the queer community but also donates some of its money each year to the LGBTQ community via The Campaign for Southern Equality.

Where: 507 Haywood Road

Where to stay

Photo: ZakZeinert/Shutterstock

There are a ton of lodging options in Asheville, everything from your typical chains to hostels to the largest home in the US, the Biltmore Estate. As they say in Asheville, “y’all means all,” and in this case, it pertains to lodging as well. Your best bet when looking for accommodation is to decide what neighborhood you want to use as a home base and then Uber or walk everywhere.

Biltmore Estate

You can do more than just rest your head at the Biltmore Estate. In addition to various lodging options, there are trails and gardens to explore, shopping, wine tasting, and, of course, tours of the grounds to partake in. Not only that but you can also have your very own gay wedding at the Biltmore Estate. A spokesperson for the Biltmore says, “These weddings are not only welcomed but encouraged.” There are tons of great places for photo ops on the Biltmore Estate, as well as plenty of accommodations to host your friends and family on your special day.

Where: 1 Lodge Street

A Bed of Roses Bed and Breakfast

Tucked in a quiet part of the Montford neighborhood you’ll find a bed and breakfast that is not only historic but also gay-friendly. The owners and hosts, Bill and Emily, welcome people from all walks of life regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Plus, you can treat yourself to the finer things in life with plush bathrobes, Jacuzzi-style tubs and a two-course breakfast in the morning.

Where: 135 Cumberland Avenue

The post The ultimate LGBTQ guide to Asheville appeared first on Matador Network.

Best US music festivals spring 2020

Best US music festivals spring 2020

Hopefully, you’re not yet at the point where you’re going all Portlandia and attending festivals via drone. Because though the heat, crowds, and cost of a major music festival can be a little aggravating, it’s still the only chance to see your entire playlist live in one place, combining it with an epic vacation to a new city or a beachfront paradise.

Spring might be even better than summer when it comes to US music festivals, offering cooler weather and bills with a little more variety. Read on for the best music fests to hit between March and May, and some of the best acts to see when you get there.

1. Okeechobee Music Festival, Okeechobee, Florida — March 4-8

Spring break in Florida typically conjures up images of sun-soaked beaches and regrettable ice luges, but that’s not the case if you head to this festival deep in the swamps north of Lake Okeechobee. The camping festival is a world away from beachy Florida, with giant art installations, a vaudeville/stand-up comedy theater, and a roving group of performers keeping you entertained when you’re not listening to music. But if you’re hellbent on a beach, Okeechobee’s got one of those too at Aquachobee — just make sure to look out for alligators first.

Notable acts: Rufus del sol, Vampire Weekend, Bassnectar, Mumford & Sons, Kaskade

2. SXSW Music Festival, Austin, Texas — March 16-22

Photo: GSPhotography/Shutterstock

Though there was a time when South By Southwest was just a little music festival for up-and-coming acts in Texas’s quirky capital, like the city it takes over the festival has grown exponentially. Now, it’s a tech conference, film festival, and worldwide networking event where you can still catch shows from great acts all around town. It’s not a festival in the sense of buying one ticket and seeing scores of big names but rather a chance to catch tons of live music in one of the best live music cities on the planet.

Notable acts: You’ll find literally 2,000 performers from over 60 countries at SXSW, but if you need a little direction, MICHELLE and Disq are both worth checking out.

3. Ultra Music Festival, Miami, Florida — March 20-22

The granddaddy of electronic music festivals returns to downtown Miami this year. It’s a chance to catch the biggest names in EDM and other modern genres under the glorious Florida sunshine in the shadow of the downtown skyline, with people from literally all over the world. Ultra’s also the culmination of Miami Music Week, where the same acts you see on the mainstage play small clubs and even some retail shops around town.

Notable acts: Sofi Tukker, Armin van Buuren, Above & Beyond, Kyg, Carl Cox

4. Treefort Music Festival, Boise, Idaho — March 25-29

Not to say the secret is out about Treefort, necessarily, but for music lovers who long for festivals “the way they used to be,” it’s already become a household name. The five-day fest takes over downtown Boise in a far-less-obtrusive way than SXSW, where every bar, restaurant, and event space around the area is filled with live music. You can also find temporary stages for headliners and daylong spring parties, plus satellite “forts” like flimfort, comedyfort, artfort, and foodfort to supplement your experience.

Notable acts: Calexico, GROUPLOVE, Omar Apollo, Japanese Breakfast, The Ophelias

5. Coachella, Indio, Californi — April 10-12, 17-19

The undisputed queen of spring music festivals has mastered the two-weekend format, offering lineups just different enough to keep you around and just similar enough you won’t beat yourself up for choosing one week to go. It’s also become the platform of choice for momentous occasions in popular music: Remember, this is the same festival where Tupac came back from the dead via hologram, Guns n’ Roses finally took the stage after decades apart, and Beyoncé redefined the headliner performance. Though Coachella may be the festival many point to as the icon of over-commercialization, it’s still a great time.

Notable acts: Rage Against the Machine, Travis Scott, Fatboy Slim, Lana del Rey, Bishop Briggs

6. New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana — April 23-May 3

Having outgrown its old “New Orleans Jazz Fest” moniker, this two-week takeover of the Fair Grounds and Race Course now features a folklife village, a cultural pavilion, and an entire exhibit devoted to the native peoples of Louisiana. The festival delivers hundreds of acts over a dozen stages in genres including jazz, obviously, but also everything from rock to blues to hip-hop.

Notable acts: Lizzo, The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra: Kool & The Gang, The Who, The Black Crowes, Chick Correa, Big Freedia

7. Stagecoach, Indio, California — April 24-26

Indio may as well be the music capital of the world for the last month of spring. As this festival, originally conceived as a way to monetize the existing infrastructure from Coachella, has blossomed into one of the most popular country music festivals in the world. The crowds are not nearly as massive for the country acts that land near Palm Springs the last weekend of April. While it’s not exactly a hidden gem, it is a more tolerable alternative to the madness of the previous two weeks.

Notable acts: Carrie Underwood, Dan + Shay, Alan Jackson, Lil Nas X, ZZ Top, Eric Church

8. III Points Festival, Miami, Florida — May 1-2

What began as a one-night festival of local bands in Miami’s Wynwood arts district has grown into what many music lovers consider the city’s best festival. It attracts a perfect balance of local and regional acts you’d never get to see elsewhere, with just enough big names to keep you staying out late. III Points is also housed in the massive Mana Wynwood venue, smack in the middle of one of the biggest concentrations of street art in the world.

Notable acts: Wu-Tang Clan, Robyn, The Strokes, Ghostflower

9. Beale Street Music Festival, Memphis, Tennessee — May 1-3

Though for most of the year, Memphis is overshadowed in the music world by its sexy sister to the north in Nashville, for one glorious weekend in May it regains its position as the original Music City, USA. Memphis in May has become the city’s cornerstone event, and for its kickoff weekend, you’ll find the biggest names in entertainment playing Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi. Hang out in town another couple weeks and you’ll experience the other thing this city’s known best for when the World Championship Barbecue Contest continues the celebration.

Notable acts: Smashing Pumpkins; Weezer; Lil Wayne; The 1975; Portugal, The Man; Three 6 Mafia

10. Shaky Knees Music Festival, Atlanta, Georgia — May 1-3

You like rock? Like, bands with four people playing actual instruments and singers who aren’t auto-tuned rock? Shaky Knees might be the only major music festival left for you, where top names in indie, alternative, hard, soft, and classic rock play Atlanta’s Central Park, reminding us that reports of rock and roll’s death have been greatly exaggerated. It’s also a city festival, which means those who like rock on stage — but not under their back when they’re trying to sleep — can post up in a nice, comfy hotel after the show.

Notable acts: The Smashing Pumpkins, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liam Gallagher, Of Mice and Men, Murder by Death

11. Rolling Loud, Miami Gardens, Florida — May 8-10

This year the Super Bowl of hip-hop music festivals will occupy the same space as the actual Super Bowl when it takes over Hard Rock Stadium between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. Though it won’t be on the same field where the 49ers blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, Rolling Loud will be spread across multiple stages in the Hard Rock parking lots, drawing music fans from all over the southeast. That same weekend, many of the headlining acts play small shows at clubs and bars around South Florida, so traveling here is a chance to see them in intimate spaces as well.

Notable acts: Post Malone, Rick Ross, Dababy, Travis Scott, City Girls, Big Sean

12. Hangout Music Festival, Gulf Shores, Alabama — May 14-17

Combining all the beachside recklessness of spring break with the uninhibited fun of a music festival, Hangout may be the best music festival vacation one can take. Rent out a condo overlooking the white sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, make new friends playing beer pong until lunchtime, then head over to the festival with them for the afternoon. It’s the only big fest held right on the water, and though you can’t really go swimming inside festival grounds, nobody’s stopping you from doing it outside.

Notable acts: Billie Eilish, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Marshmello, Post Malone

13. Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada — May 15-17

Photo: EDC Las Vegas

While spending all day on an asphalt racetrack in late-spring in Las Vegas may not sound like everyone’s idea of a good time, for ravers, candy-flippers, and fans of electronic music it’s about the best place in the world. EDC Vegas is the odd festival that combines a camping experience — RVs and shiftpods are as ubiquitous in the parking lot as they are during NASCAR events — with an urban festival. And though you might be tempted to base from the comforting A/C of the Wynn or Circus Circus, long shuttle lines and rides home at the end of the night can be a nasty buzzkill.

Notable acts: Tiesto, Cosmic Gate, A$AP Rocky, Alesso, Above & Beyond, Opening ceremony with Bill Nye

14. Boston Calling, Boston, Massachusetts — May 22-24

Ahh Harvard. Alma mater of eight US Presidents. Birthplace of Facebook. And, for Memorial Day weekend anyway, the world epicenter of rock and roll. The Bean’s biggest music festival is also one of the best for music lovers, where beyond seeing a smattering of big-name headliners you can also spend a few days checking out talented acts you might otherwise not see. You can also try some of Boston’s best food and beer at the fest, a big draw for those who remember to eat at music festivals.

Notable acts Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The 1975, Dinosaur, Jr.

15. BottleRock Napa Valley, Napa, California — May 22-24

If you’re going to Napa, music festival or not, you’re gonna want wine and food too. And the folks behind BottleRock don’t make you choose, where in addition to a stellar lineup of multiple genres you’ll find ample wine tents and food trucks. The only tricky part about this fest is finding a place to stay, as even on weekdays in the winter Napa hotels can be bank-breaking. If you’re down to camp, your best bet is probably Camp Carneros at the Skyline Wilderness Park, only a couple of miles away.

Notable acts: Janelle Monae, Blondie, Dave Matthew Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Zedd, Eric B & Rakim

The post Every single music festival in the US you need to hit this spring appeared first on Matador Network.

Best shows to see in London in 2020

Best shows to see in London in 2020

Putting on the world’s greatest shows since Shakespeare made his mark in the 1500s, London is right up there with Broadway as the most iconic place in the world to watch theater. If you’ve made your way through the long list of West End giants like The Lion King and Mamma Mia, don’t worry — you’re not done just yet.

From the dark, heart-wrenching melodrama to the all-singing, all-dancing musicals, here’s our pick of London’s hottest new shows for 2020.

1. Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare's Globe

Photo: Nick Brundle/Shutterstock

The opening of the Globe’s 2020 summer season (April-October) will see Shakespeare’s most famous tragic love story, Romeo and Juliet, return to London’s favorite open-air stage. With rising director Ola Ince making her Shakespeare debut and Harry Potter actor Alfred Enoch confirmed as Romeo, the play is expected to be a highlight of London’s outdoor theater season. The 700 standing “yard” seats, which sell for just 5 British pounds, have the best views of the stage, while seated gallery tickets offer the luxury of a cushioned seat and sweeping views of the Globe’s 17th-century inspired architecture.

Dates: From April 14 to July 12, 2020
Tickets: From £5 to £59, visit the show’s official website to book

2. 4000 Miles, Old Vic Theatre

Starring Call Me By Your Name star Timothée Chalamet and BAFTA-winning actress Dame Eileen Atkins, 4000 Miles has already got the best of the West End critics talking on social media. The Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, written by American playwright Amy Herzog in 2011, tells the story of a young adventurer visiting his estranged 91-year-old grandmother in her New York apartment, where he ends up staying a little longer than planned. Tickets, despite being released just recently by the Old Vic Theatre, are already selling out fast. In other words, you better be quick if you want to catch Chalamet making his much-anticipated West End debut.

Dates: From April 6 to May 23, 2020
Tickets: From £12 to £65, visit the Old Vic Theatre to book

3. Pretty Woman: The Musical, Piccadilly Theatre

Pretty Woman play London 2020

Photo: Piccadilly Theatre/Facebook

It has been 30 years since we saw Julia Roberts and Richard Geare making Hollywood history with the hit rom-com, Pretty Woman. Following a successful year on Broadway, 2020 will mark the film’s West End debut with an all-singing, all-dancing production that will run for a scheduled 46 weeks. BBC’s hit drama Eastenders star Dannie Mac will play Edward Lewis, while Olivier-nominee and ex-Six lead Aimie Atkinson will take to the stage as Vivian Ward. With two-time Tony Award-winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde, and Hairspray) appointed as head of choreography and direction, Pretty Woman: The Musical is promising to be a great night out.

Dates: From February 15 to January 2, 2021
Tickets: From £15, visit the Piccadilly Theatre to book

4. The Doctor, Duke of York’s Theatre

After last year’s sellout run in the 325-seat Almeida Theatre, The Doctor — Robert Icke’s award-winning adaptation of the 1912 play by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler — has been selected for a West End transfer this April. Olivier Award-winner Juliet Stevenson is set to return for the lead role, a Jewish physician condemned by Vienese society after a Catholic patient dies in her care. Thanks to its collection of five-star reviews from the Financial Times, The Telegraph, and The Evening Standard, The Doctor is expected to sell out fast, so don’t delay in securing your tickets for this one.

Dates: From April 20 to July 18, 2020
Tickets: From £15, visit the Duke of York’s Theatre to book.

5. Sunday in the Park with George, Savoy Theatre

Sunday in the Park with George Play London 2020

Photo: Savoy Theatre

After an 18-year West End hiatus, Hollywood megastar Jake Gyllenhaal returns to the London stage to repeat his lead role in Sunday in the Park with George, the hugely successful Broadway adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning 1984 musical. The story follows the life of French impressionist Georges Seurat as he works on his most famous painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Consumed by his masterpiece, George becomes alienated from his lover, Dot (played by Tony Award-winner Annaleigh Ashford) and the world around him. Praised by critics in New York and with the fastest-selling Broadway records, Sunday in the Park with George is set to be one of 2020’s West End highlights.

Dates: From May 11 to September 5, 2020
Tickets: From £25, visit the Savoy Theatre to book

6. To Kill A Mockingbird, Gielgud Theatre

After a good run on Broadway, Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of literary masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird is finally coming to London. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has been tweaked for the stage, with much of the action revolving around the trial and, perhaps most controversially, a slightly darker portrayal of Atticus Finch’s character (played by Welsh actor, Rhys Ifans); a creative decision that was heavily criticized by the Harper Lee estate. Despite the show’s initial legal battle to adapt the story, To Kill A Mockingbird went on to receive huge praise from the likes of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and is expected to cause similar waves in London this summer.

Dates: From May 21 to September 5, 2020
Tickets: From £40 to £152, visit Delfont Mackintosh Theatres to book

7. A Doll’s House, The Playhouse Theatre

Actress Jessica Chastain will be yet another Hollywood star to grace London’s West End this year. Chastain’s UK stage debut will see her playing the powerful female character of Nora, a mother and wife who is dissatisfied with the roles thrust upon her by society. In an attempt to make theater accessible to all, director Jamie Lloyd and his company (best known for critically acclaimed Betrayal and Cyrano de Bergerac) will be offering 15,000 free tickets for first-time theatergoers, with disadvantaged communities and secondary schools getting first priority. A second set of 15,000 tickets will be sold at £15 for those under 30 or receiving government benefits.

Dates: From June 10 to September 5, 2020
Tickets: From £15, visit the show’s official website to book

8. Life of Pi, Wyndham’s Theatre

Life of Pi play in London 2020

Photo: Goodman Theatre/YouTube

When Lolita Chakrabarti first took on the challenge of adapting Yann Martel’s bestselling novel for the stage (it involves an Indian boy being stranded at sea with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a giant Bengal tiger), everyone most likely thought she was mad. But, thanks to Finn Caldwell’s master puppetry and stellar performance by Hiran Abeysekera (Pi), the show was an immediate hit when it premiered in Sheffield in 2019. Fans of the Booker Prize-winning novel will be pleased to hear that Life of Pi will be transferred to the West End stage this summer with an even bigger production backed by legend theater producer, Max Webster.

Dates: From June 22 to October 4, 2020
Tickets: From £27.50 to £117, visit the Delfont Mackintosh Theatres to book

9. The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, Bridge Theatre

The Book of Dust La Belle Sauvage play London 2020

Photo: Bridge Theatre/Facebook

After the BBC’s hit TV adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials in 2019, it’s of little surprise to see the prequel (the first volume to the trilogy The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, is set 12 years before His Dark Materials) on the stage this year. Fans can expect all the usual traits of Pullman’s fantasy world — talking animals, parallel worlds, and evil forces — as we travel back in time to a six-month-old Lyra Belacqua being kept safe by new characters, Malcolm and Alice. Nicholas Hytner — the man behind National Theatre’s run of His Dark Materials in 2003 — will direct the show, and has said that they plan to use puppets for the animal “daemons” as they did for His Dark Materials’ stage adaptation.

Dates: From July 11 to October 10, 2020
Tickets: From £15 to £75, visit the Bridge Theatre to book

10. Sister Act, Eventim Apollo

If you’re a theater regular, you’ll know that Sister Act isn’t new to London this year; the hit 1992 movie first appeared on the West End stage back in 2012. But stay with us, because the newly-adapted Sister Act for 2020 has a big surprise in store: For a limited time only, Whoopi Goldberg will perform on stage as Deloris for the first time ever. Three-time BAFTA-winning actress Jennifer Saunders will join Goldberg on stage as Mother Superior, who does everything in her power to stop Deloris turning her convent into a disco. The only downside? A star-studded cast means a considerable hike in price, so get in early if you don’t want to part with 249 pounds for a ticket.

Dates: From July 29 to August 30, 2020
Tickets: £29.75 to £249.50, visit Eventim Apollo to book

11. Frozen, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

After a year of renovations, Theatre Royal Drury Lane will finally reopen its doors this October. And what better way to show off its new multi-million interior than with Michael Grandage’s hit Broadway adaptation of Disney’s Frozen? Fans will be pleased to know that the songs, brought to life with lavish costumes and hand-painted sets, are scheduled to be the same as in the film, meaning “Let it Go” should make an appearance. West End and BBC actress Samantha Barks announced on Twitter that she will play Elsa, but all other casting has been kept under wraps, as has the official opening date.

Dates: From October
Tickets: TBC, visit Frozen the Musical for more information

A version of this article was previously published on March 29, 2019, and was updated on February 19, 2020, with more information.

The post The 11 best shows to see in London this year appeared first on Matador Network.

2020 ideas for solo female travelers

2020 ideas for solo female travelers

No mere trend: Solo female travel is here to stay. Women around the world are getting out of their comfort zones to discover the challenges and rewards of planning and executing a trip all on their own. Solo travel encourages confidence, allows you the freedom to do exactly what you want on a trip without having to compromise, grants total immersion in a different environment and culture, and gives you the chance to connect with locals and other travelers.

Whether you’re looking to make new friends while on the road, spend all your time hiking through remote national parks, or eat your way through every restaurant and food stand in a new city, there are tons of options to choose from when it comes to selecting a solo travel destination that will fit your personality and trip goals. These offerings range from captivating landscapes to ancient cities to vibrant food scenes. So no matter what type of adventure you’re out to have, we’ve got you covered: These are the best solo female travel destinations for 2020.

1. For first-timers: Iceland

Photo: Creative Family/Shutterstock

Some may say Iceland’s reign as the must-visit destination for solitude-loving adventurers and photographers is coming to an end with the demise of its low-cost airfare options. Well, if interest in Iceland is waning, that’s good news for solo travelers as there will be fewer crowds to contend with, and you’ll get all those amazing landscapes to yourself.

Solo travelers will find a great base camp in the capital city of Reykjavik, which, thanks to the boom, has blossomed into a truly cosmopolitan city full of both local and international dining options, diverse shopping, cultural diversions like museums and tours, and more. It’s also extremely walkable and easy to navigate solo.

From Reykjavik, it’s easy to branch out and explore nearby attractions like the Blue Lagoon and Black Sand Beach; in fact, many of southern Iceland’s most popular sites are within driving distance of the city. You can either choose to rent a car and explore on your own or take a group tour if you’d like to meet new people, especially during the high season months of June to August. But 2020 promises to be an especially good year for solo travel in Iceland because, in an effort to reduce crowds at overrun sites on the southern half of the island, Iceland’s tourism board has been improving infrastructure to promote more off-the-beaten destinations further afield like the Westfjords or the northern reaches of the country.

Furthermore, there’s no language barrier, with 99 percent of Icelanders speaking fluent English, and their friendly, open cultural attitudes make it easy to ask locals for help or advice. Plus, your tourism dollars will be supporting a country that ranks first in gender equality, having had female presidents, taken on the gender pay gap, and possessing a culture that is supportive of strong women — you won’t even get cat-called here.

The sole caveat would be to always be careful when venturing out into the landscapes alone; Iceland’s nature is beautiful but can be deadly due to extreme weather, so if you are off exploring on your own, check the weather, bring the right gear, and make sure someone knows where you’re going.

2. For the trailblazers: Saudi Arabia

Two women in hijab feeling excited taking photo with the elephant mountain as background

Photo: Hafizzuddin/Shutterstock

For years, Saudi Arabia remained largely closed off from the outside world, accessible mainly to those undertaking the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. But the kingdom is opening up to visitors, with the release late last year of a new tourist visa for 49 different countries, as well as relaxed dress rules for foreign women such as not requiring the use of an abaya (the traditional long, black dress that covers Saudi women’s body and hair). With traditional Arab hospitality fostering a culture of safety and respect, increased access for both foreign and Saudi women to travel at leisure, and the fact that some tour companies now hire female guides, Saudi Arabia is clearly taking steps to prove it’s a modern country for modern women, especially solo travelers.

As with many Middle Eastern destinations, Saudi Arabia’s past sits juxtaposed with its present, with ancient archeological sites a short drive from innovative, 21st-century hubs of technology and commerce. The capital of Ridyah is chock-full of historic buildings, like the Al Murabba Palace, but also modern skyscrapers, cutting-edge museums, and luxe shopping and dining, all accessed via the favored mode of transport: Uber.

The country is home to five different UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the spectacular Mada’in Saleh, a stone-carved palace made by the same empire that built Petra. You can pound the pavement in cities to visit classic markets, fortresses, and cafes (coffee culture is huge here) or head out into the desert on trekking expeditions to the Edge of the World, a prominent rock pinnacle overlooking the desert. Go to electronic music festivals, dive or swim in the warm waters of the Red Sea, stroll along the stylish Jeddah waterfront, view the spectacular architecture in Medina… really, the list goes on and on.

There is still some gender segregation that female visitors will have to deal with (like male-only pools or stores), and dressing modestly is encouraged, but overall, solo travelers who have visited since the visas became available have reported feeling safe, comfortable, and at ease. Still, do your research before going: Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is far from clean, so concerns about spending your time and money here are valid. But if you do decide to go, you’ll be among the first.

3. For the foodies: Mexico

Photo: PR Image Factory/Shutterstock

Mexico is a thriving, vibrant, and welcoming destination for eager travelers looking to dive into a new culture, language, and lifestyle. Oh, and food.

Mexico City is one of the great foodie cities of the world, where you can have everything from Japanese food that’s on-par with what you would find in actual Japan to tacos so good they’ll give you an existential crisis. Some of the world’s most celebrated fine-dining restaurants call Mexico City home, but the street food here is also legendary. At night, you can hop between trendy mezcal bars and historic cantinas. Between all the eating, try to make time to walk the city’s many vibrant barrios, visiting local artisan shops, galleries, and world-class museums. Mexico City is renowned for attracting ex-pats, so you’re bound to meet people from all over, either passing through or who’ve lived here for ages.

Venturing further afield, Oaxaca is the home of that oh-so-hip-right-now tipple, mezcal. Around the state, you can visit the traditional palenques where the agave hearts are cooked and then ground down and mashed to ferment into mezcal. Oaxaca City is another big foodie destination, as well, and is famous for its street food and regional dishes like posole, mole, and chapulines (grasshoppers.) No matter where you go in Mexico, you’re bound to find some great eats.

4. For Mars on Earth: Jordan

Photo: Simbarashe Sakuinje/Shutterstock

Even amid ongoing conflicts in neighboring countries, Jordan’s staid safety and security, open and welcoming culture, friendly and helpful locals, hip city life, and out-of-this-world landscapes have made it a must in the solo travel world.

Sitting right at the point where Africa meets the Middle East, this multicultural country is home to some of the most amazing archeological finds on Earth, making it a must-visit for lovers of culture and history. Naturally, the most famous site is the ancient sandstone city of Petra. But there’s much more, like Bethany Beyond The Jordan, where it’s said Jesus Chris was baptized, or the ancient amphitheater and free-standing columns of Jerash. Urbanites will find much to enjoy in the capital of Amman, with museums, ancient architecture, and souk markets to visit during the day. Once the sun goes down the city’s nightlife scene takes over at flashy dance clubs or chill shisha bars. Amman is also a great place to experience Jordan’s delicious cuisine, such as falafel, kanafeh, and mansaf. From Amman, it’s also an easy day trip to the Dead Sea, where you can feel weightless floating on the heavily salted waters.

Outdoor and adventure travel has also taken off in Jordan in recent years thanks to its expansive deserts, red rock mountains, and meandering canyons. Solo hikers and backpackers are rapidly falling in love with the Jordan Trail, a multi-day backpacking trail spanning the entire country. It’s a popular route, so it’s easy to link up with a group or make new friends along the trail to travel with. Along its 400 miles, you see and experience the best of Jordan, including Petra, the Martian-esque landscapes of Wadi Rum, and the sparkling shores of the Red Sea. Along the trail, you can also learn about traditional Bedouin culture by visiting or even staying at one of their camps.

As a country with liberal attitudes toward women’s rights, female solo travel here is on the ups, making it easy to get around on your own or to join a group. Solo travel reviews of Jordan couldn’t be more glowing.

5. For nature-lovers: Chile

Photo: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

Chile has climbed the charts in recent years to become a top destination, and now, at the height of its boom, it’s fully ready to embrace solo travelers. Getting around the country by bus, low-budget airline, or car has never been easier. Hostels and hotels up and down the country are stuffed with international visitors. Although most Chileans outside of Santiago or major tourist towns don’t speak much English, they are extremely friendly people who are always eager to offer advice or aid.

And that’s just the logistics. Then there’s what to do. If you’re visiting in summer, there’s trekking or hiking among the mountains and glaciers of Patagonia, rafting past volcanoes in the Lakes District, wandering the colorful streets of the seaside city of Valparaiso, wine-tasting in Casablanca, and stargazing in the Atacama Desert. In winter, there’s world-class skiing or snowboarding outside the capital city of Santiago, which is coming into its own as a cosmopolitan hub, with a vibrant foodie scene, fun and quirky neighborhoods, and excellent cultural attractions like historic buildings and museums. Chile is also one of the best places to get to Easter Island, where you can visit the world-famous Moai statues, hike up volcanoes, try traditional foods, and watch local dances.

6. For the ‘gram: Morocco

Photo: illpaxphotomatic/Shutterstock

Fashionistas, design lovers, and aspiring influencers take note: Morocco — with its multicultural European, Arabian, and Berber influences; splendid cities of maze-like markets and elegant architecture; and picturesque backcountry — should take top priority for your next solo travel adventure. Morocco is one of Africa’s safest destinations, and the only thing solo travelers should be aware of is dressing conservatively in this largely Muslim country. Morocco is also really easy to navigate thanks to an extensive public transit system.

As Africa’s first-ever City of Culture, Marrakech is a great jumping-off point, packed with museums, galleries, and shops. Two must-visits are the calming Majorelle Gardens, populated with unique plant life and a beautiful Art Deco house, and the chic museum honoring designer Yves Saint Laurent who lived in Marrakech for a number of years. Shoppers will have a field day in the famous medina, a teeming marketplace stocked with everything from colorful piles of spices to opulent rugs. The city of Fez is also famed for its medina, and the varied architecture of cities like Casablanca, Tangier, and Chefchaouen (a city of entirely blue buildings) makes them perfect for exploring and photoshoots.

As fabulous as Morocco’s cities are, it’s well worth getting out of town to explore the country’s deserts and mountains, like camel-riding to the golden dunes of Erg Chigaga. The rugged Atlas Mountains are especially great for trekking and hiking, and the summit of Mount Toubkal, Africa’s highest peak, is easily achievable. And there’s no better guide to help you navigate the mountains than Hafida Hdoubane. In 1994, she became Morocco’s first female mountain guide and now leads trekking tours both for international tour operators like Wild Women Expeditions and with her own tour company. She also provides access to traditional Berber villages in the region, acting as an interpreter so her clients can learn more about the indigenous Berber culture and way of life. And now, the example Hdoubane has set is opening the doors for more women to become guides as well.

7. For a good time: South Korea

Photo: Travel man/Shutterstock

With modern infrastructure, efficient public transportation, delicious cuisine, and stunning landscapes, South Korea ranks high on many travelers’ bucket lists. But if you like to party, Seoul needs to be the city you visit this year. This modern city of nearly 10 million is a nightlife hotspot — and not just at traditional nightclubs. There are late-night bars and lounges like The Library, where you can sit back and relax with a book and a good drink until the wee hours, and plenty of LGBTQ-friendly spots. The late-night Dongdaemun night market is also a popular stop, especially for some delicious street eats. But Seoul shines during the day, as well, with ancient palaces like Gyeongbokgung, temples, markets, skyscrapers, and hip restaurants and bars. And, if you’re a K-Pop fan, you’ll be able to indulge your passion at shows, visiting the SMTOWN Museum, and mastering K-Pop dance moves at specialized lessons.

Getting outside the city with the aid of cheap and efficient public transport via buses or the high-speed railway, you can explore the surrounding countryside, like the tranquil Boseong green tea fields, or Jeju, a volcanic island paradise of sandy beaches, waterfalls, and cherry blossoms that’s known as the Hawaii of South Korea. You can hike to the top of forest-shrouded peaks in Bukhansan National Park, chow down on traditional bibimbap in Jeonju, and learn more about Korean history by visiting the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

As a country with a strong sense of respect and community, it’s also super easy to make friends with Koreans as a solo traveler. A growing ex-pat scene, largely made up of English teachers, means it’s also easy to meet people from around the world. English is widely spoken, so it can be easy to interact with the locals. It’s also overall more affordable than many other countries in the region.

8. For disconnecting: Cuba

Photo: Saga_bear/Shutterstock

There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding US travel to Cuba, but the good news is that, yes, you can easily travel to Cuba with a US passport, and even take a direct flight from select cities — it’s no longer necessary to go through Mexico or Canada. But all that confusion may be to your advantage, as you can discover this rising solo travel star before the hordes do.

You’ve likely heard about Havana’s notorious, rum-fueled party scene, and it doesn’t disappoint, with lively bars, art galleries, and salsa dancing clubs going until the late hours. During the day, either stroll or take a vintage car to view the many historic buildings or districts like the UNESCO-certified Old Havana, visit the Malecon sea wall, browse local stores and artisan shops, and tour a cigar factory.

With taxis readily available in the cities and bus service throughout the island, it’s also easy and cheap to get around and explore spots further afield like the beach at Playa de Estes, Bellamar Caves, colorful houses of Trinidad, and verdant mountains and forests of the Vinales. In rural parts of the island, you’ll find more natural areas for outdoor sports like hiking, boating, and wildlife spotting. And Cuba’s foodie scene is rapidly growing, with hearty, flavorful dishes like ropa vieja served at small paladares (Cuban private restaurants) and street food carts.

If you’re looking to disconnect, Cuba is also a great option as the WiFi is state-controlled and so not always readily available; this means you’ll need to do your research on activities or where to go in advance or, better yet, ask the locals. Another perk for solo female travelers is the chance to stay in a casa particular, where local families rent out spare rooms in their home, allowing guests to stay in a traditional Cuban house and partake of their food and traditions but also get to know other travelers staying with them.

9. For going the distance: New Zealand

Photo: TDway/Shutterstock

If you’re the adventurous type who wants to spend their solo travel venture immersed in spectacular, rugged landscapes ranging from mountains to fjords to lakes, New Zealand is the place for you. Thanks to an abundance of varied environments, this small island country has an outsized reputation for adventure travel and outdoor sports, from basics like hiking to going ice-caving inside glaciers.

Culture and leisure lovers will also find much to their fancy. In towns like Rotorua, you can learn about and immerse yourself in the Maori culture, watch performances, try traditional foods, and visit artist workshops to observe carving and weaving demonstrations. In cities like Wellington, Auckland, and Queenstown, there are burgeoning foodie scenes celebrating native ingredients and cuisines. In the country’s famous wine regions, you can cycle between vineyards to taste the island’s best varietals like pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. And, of course, there are over 9,300 miles of coastline, with lovely beaches like the famous Ninety Mile Beach for stunning, swimming, or surfing.

From a logistical standpoint, New Zealand is also really easy to get around, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes planning an itinerary in advance. Although most cities and towns have public transport, renting a car to get out in the countryside offers the best ease of access.

The post The best destinations for solo female travel in 2020 appeared first on Matador Network.

Hike Hungary’s National Blue Trail

Hike Hungary’s National Blue Trail

Hungary impresses visitors with its vibrant and photogenic capital Budapest. Yet even that capital hints at what else there is to be enjoyed beyond its urban charms, as it’s made up not just of bustling Pest on one side of the Danube River but also the rolling hills of Buda on the other. In fact, those Buda Hills contain one stretch of a much longer hiking path that cuts across the country and was the first official long-distance hike in Europe. Established in 1938, the National Blue Trail, or Kéktúra, passes fertile countryside, vineyards, palaces, and the most stunning sections of the Danube. Well known among Hungarians, the Blue Trail is only now gaining international attention. Here’s what you need to know about walking Hungary’s beloved path, and some highlights to expect along the way.

The Kéktúra traverses Hungary

Photo: bSmart/Shutterstock

The National Blue Trail is 1130 kilometers, or 700 miles, and runs from the peak of Irottkő Mountain on the Austrian border in the west to the small village of Hollóház near the border with Slovakia in the northeast. The National Blue Trail also forms part of the E4, a European long-distance trail that runs from Portugal to Cyprus.

Situated in the lowlands of the Carpathian Basin, Hungary is mostly flat with a few mountain ranges in the north, namely the Transdanubian Mountains and North Hungarian Mountains. The highest point in the entire country and on the trail is only 3,327 feet. You won’t find dramatic peaks and steep ascents here but rather gently undulating hills and easy terrain. This makes the National Blue Trail not as strenuous as such renowned long-distance hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail or the New Zealand’s Great Walks. The low altitude and moderate difficulty make it accessible to almost anyone with a reasonable level of fitness.

The trail takes you on a rewarding adventure through Hungary to its varied terrain and unique sights. Expect vast deciduous forests, historic villages, rolling hills, thermal lakes, wine regions, Lake Balaton, several national parks, capital city time in Budapest, ancient castles, and ruined fortresses.

What to know before you go

Photo: Benerys/Shutterstock

The trail takes about 57 days to complete. To be an official finisher and earn a Blue Trail Badge, you need to get yourself a Blue Trail Passport beforehand and stamp it at 147 checkpoints along the trail. You’ll find these stamps in metal boxes on trees, fences, and walls along the path. The checkpoints are numbered from west to east, but the trail can be completed in any order and over any length of time. So even if you don’t have the time to do it all in one go, you can hike it in stages over several months or years and still earn the coveted badge.

No permits are required to hike any length of the trail. These paths can be freely traveled by anyone, and you will find many locals enjoying day hikes along the route, especially on weekends. The most popular times on the trail are in August and September when the weather is warm. The fall months from September to November are particularly beautiful, as the leaves change into their fall colors.

You also won’t have to haul weeks’ worth of food and water with you in your backpack. Every day the trail passes through villages, which have small shops with basic supplies. You’ll be able to stock up on fresh bread, Hungarian salami, pastries, fresh fruit, and granola bars. Bigger towns have supermarkets and restaurants, too, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to refuel with some goulash, Hungary’s best known national dish. Most shops will be closed on Sundays, so bear that in mind when meal planning. As for water, there are plenty of public water fountains for drinking water and filling up a CamelBak or bottle along the way.

Apart from Budapest and a few other major centers, you will struggle to find people who can speak and understand English well. Hungarian is a notoriously difficult language to learn, though it’s a good idea to know at least a few basic phrases before you go. At the very least, download a translation app on your phone. Even if you can’t communicate well together, you’ll discover that the locals are more than happy to help you along your way and even share with you some homemade pálinka, the traditional fruit spirit.

Accommodation on the trail

Photo: berni0004/Shutterstock

If you love camping, or are just looking to save on accommodation costs, you’ll be happy to learn that wild camping is legally allowed on public land in Hungary if you stay fewer than 24 hours. Note that wild camping is not, however, allowed in national parks. To keep a roof over your head, you’re spoiled for choice with accommodation along the route. Guesthouses, known in Hungarian as vendégház, offer simple rooms for as little as $7 to $20.

Getting there and navigating the trail

Photo: bSmart/Shutterstock

The National Blue Trail is operated by The Hungarian Hikers Association. The path is well maintained and marked by a horizontal blue stripe between two white stripes painted on trees, walls, gates, and fences all along the trail. Be sure to download their official free app, Természetjáró, for detailed descriptions and elevation profiles of each section, and a map that can be used for offline navigation.

Hungary has a comprehensive public transport network of trains and buses across the country. The start of the trail, Irottkő Mountain, is on the Hungarian-Austrian border and can be reached easily from Budapest. Trains depart from Keleti station several times a day; with one change you’ll get to Kőszeg, near the start of the trail, in 3.5 hours.

What to see (and photograph) along the way

Photo: anderm/Shutterstock

Countless geological, historic, and scenic sights pepper the trail. The Természetjáró app has a detailed description of the highlights and attractions of each stage, but here are our choices of the top highlights of the trail to ignite your Blue Trail wanderlust.

Irottkő lookout tower

It’s here at the beginning of the trail where you get the first stamp in your Blue Trail Passport to officially begin your trek. The Irottkő mountain lookout tower sits exactly on the border, with the entrance on the Austrian side. It’s only since the early 1990s, post-Iron Curtain, that it’s been possible to climb the tower from the Hungarian side, and you can still sense the previous Cold War history as you look out over the two countries.


Photo: parlanteste/Shutterstock

Kőszeg, the first town the trail passes through, is worth taking some time to explore. It has a well-preserved historic center, medieval city walls, and the 13th-century Jurisics Castle, which was named after Baron Nikola Jurisic, who in the 1500 led a heroic defense of the castle against persistent Ottoman invaders.

Lake Hévíz

People travel from across Europe to soak in the world’s second-largest thermal lake. Lake Hévíz is known for its healing properties, which are due to the presence of calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and other minerals in the water. A soak here will definitely rejuvenate you after a long day’s hike.

Buda Hills

Photo: Federico Fioravanti/Shutterstock

The trail doesn’t take you into the hustle and bustle of central Budapest but skirts around it through the undulating Buda Hills. Climb the Erzsebet Lookout Tower in Normafa Park for great views of the city and the Danube. Among the many unique things to do here, you could take a ride through the forests on The Children’s Railway, a railway line run almost completely by children. If you do wander into busy Budapest, you could rest your tired muscles at one of its famed thermal spas or, if you’d prefer to recuperate over a beer, hit up one of the city’s iconic ruin bars.

Lake Balaton

Not far from Hévíz is the largest lake in central Europe, known affectionately as “The Hungarian Sea.” Locals flock to this striking aquamarine lake during the summer months for camping, sailing, and music festivals. The trail traverses the Balaton Uplands on the north shore of the lake and is one of the most scenic sections of the trail. This area was a hotspot for volcanic activity millions of years ago, and you will climb several extinct volcanoes on the trail. Locals and hikers alike enjoy the three wine regions here: Balatonfüred-Csopak, Balaton-felvidék, and Badacsony.

Visegrád Castle

Photo: Gabor Tokodi/Shutterstock

Built in the 13th century, this hilltop citadel served as the residence of numerous Hungarian kings and the home of the Hungarian Crown Jewels. Its imposing walls and location high above the Danube alone are impressive, but inside you’ll also find interesting exhibitions on display. One of Hungary’s most popular historic festivals, The Palace Games, also takes place here every July.

The Danube Bend

At the Danube Bend, Dunakanyar, the Danube river takes a sharp turn between the mountains to become almost horseshoe-shaped before flowing southwards. Many people say that this is the most beautiful stretch of the entire river. The best view on the trail is from the Julianus Lookout Tower, where you have a fantastic panorama of the surrounding lush hills, Visegrad Castle, and the Danube Bend.

Hollókő World Heritage site

Photo: Inspired By Maps/Shutterstock

The enchanting old village of Hollókő is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This traditional agricultural settlement gives you a peek into what rural life was like in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is a living settlement still inhabited by the Páloc people, an ethnic subgroup of Hungarians with their own dialect and traditions. You can stop in the village to learn traditional pottery and weaving from the locals, try unique Páloc delicacies, and, if you are lucky with timing, experience one of their many annual folk festivals.

Mátra Mountains

These mountains are the highest in Hungary and the steepest section on the trail. It’s in this area that you will conquer the highest point in Hungary, Kékestető, at 1,014 meters (3,326 feet). Along the trail in these beech- and oak-covered rugged mountains, you’ll have the best chance of spotting wildlife like red deer, wild boar, wild cat, and salamander.

Aggtelek caves

The Aggtelek Karst cave system in Hungary and Slovakia is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing over 1,200 caves. The trail passes the entrance to the largest and most magnificent cave in the entire system, the 13-mile-long Baradla-Domica cave system, packed with eerie stalactites and stalagmites.

The post Find history, heritage, and beauty on Hungary’s National Blue Trail appeared first on Matador Network.

Plymouth Rock vandalized

Plymouth Rock vandalized

As the historic town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, gets ready to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower, vandals tagged Plymouth Rock and other town landmarks on Sunday night. The vandals not only covered the famed rock and its “1620” inscription with red spray paint but also defaced the Pilgrim Maiden statue, the National Monument to the Forefathers, and a seashell-shaped sign erected to celebrate the anniversary.

Photo: Selectman, Betty Cavacco/Facebook

Photo: Selectman, Betty Cavacco/Facebook

Photo: Selectman, Betty Cavacco/Facebook

The rock was cleaned up by late Monday morning, but the town of Plymouth certainly isn’t taking the incident lightly and has launched a police investigation. Melissa Arrighi, the Town Manager, tweeted, “We are saddened and sickened by the recent vandalism in our historic town.”

Lea Filson, the executive director of the See Plymouth tourism organization, echoed the town manager’s sentiment, expressing her disappointment in the vandals but also showing some optimism in the way the community has come together. “Seeing this type of disrespect or the historic reminders of the Mayflower story is both sad and unsettling,” she said. “The outpouring of concern and anger over the incident has been a positive ending to a thoughtless gesture.”

Despite the vandalism, the Plymouth anniversary celebration will go ahead as planned in late April.

The post Vandals deface Plymouth Rock and other historical monuments with red spray paint appeared first on Matador Network.

How to prepare for avalanches

How to prepare for avalanches

In January of this year, a 34-year-old skier was killed inbounds at Lake Tahoe’s Squaw Alpine Resort, skiing a piste off of Alpine Meadows’s Scott Chair. That followed another avalanche that trapped eight skiers at Idaho’s Silver Mountain Ski Resort. Tragically, three of those skiers died.

We already know that even more skiers and snowboarders are hitting up the backcountry — a reported 1.4 million two seasons ago, with continued exponential growth since then — and that they are putting themselves at risk of avalanche-related deaths and injuries. What seems somehow more shocking is when these tragedies happen inside ski area boundaries.

Ski patrols the world over employ professional avalanche training, hazard evaluation, and mitigation techniques to keep slopes safe — and are generally successful. But nature can’t be completely controlled, and accidents do occur. Last year, two skiers died on Taos’ Kachina Peak last year after a slide swept them up on an open shoot.

What this means is that “hitting the good stuff” comes with inherent avalanche risk, even inbounds. The takeaway is that a responsible big-mountain skier is always prepared for the worst, no matter how unlikely that may be. Here’s how to be one of those responsible skiers.

Avalanches are still a threat, even at major ski resorts.

Kachina Peak

Photo: Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock

Despite all efforts to mitigate them, avalanches are a threat anywhere with “avalanche terrain,” including within ski resorts. The odds of being killed by an inbounds avalanche are extremely low. You’re more likely to hit a tree or fatally crash into someone. But there’s still a risk.

“The ability to self-arrest is an important component of skiing in steep and/or exposed terrain,” said Mike Spayd, assistant snow safety director at Aspen Highlands in Colorado. “It is a good idea to ski with a partner and have a meeting place in the event of separation. While more of an issue in deeper maritime snow climates, it is still important to be aware of the dangers of tree wells and the possibility of snow immersion suffocation.”

That said, there’s effectively no avalanche risk on low-angle groomed trails. The continued packing of the snow breaks the “layers” formed by each subsequent storm, making it next to impossible for a top layer to break the layer beneath it and cause a slide. You’re also generally safe when skiing on maintained slopes at less than a 30-degree angle — nearly all green and some blue runs fall into this category — as avalanches are most common on slopes between 30 and 45 degrees.

Tougher blue runs may be steeper than 30 degrees, and most challenging resort runs fall in the category of “avalanche terrain.” Off-piste skiing, such as terrain above treeline or off of a groomed trail, is where you need to be particularly aware as you’re in “lift-accessed backcountry.” In these cases, you should use the same precautions as you would in the backcountry.

Climate change is increasing risk.

Large avalanche set by skier in Sillian

Photo: Alessandro Zappalorto/Shutterstock

Climate change is actively playing a role in the increased threat, both inbounds and out. With warming winters, the total snowpack varies from year to year at a higher level than it has in the past. This is known as “interannual variability.” Rising temperatures increase the triggering of avalanches for a number of reasons. First, rapidly rising temperatures after a snowstorm generally make the snowpack less stable. Warmed ground and air temperatures cause the layers of snow to weaken, making already weak layers more likely to collapse.

The greater disparity in predictable weather patterns also impacts the snowpack. Early season snow, followed by an extended period without snow, can create a dangerous layer of very weak snow called “depth hoar” that, as layers build on top of it throughout the season, is increasingly likely to succumb to the pressure and collapse. For example, while skiers in Colorado — the deadliest US state for avalanches — tend to celebrate big October dumps, this can actually set the stage for a heightened avalanche season if it doesn’t snow again until mid-November. Warmer ground and air temperatures also mean that the snowpack is increasingly destabilized across larger areas, leading to bigger and potentially more hazardous avalanches.

A study on the impact of climate change on avalanches, published in the journal Science Daily, found that, “Snow is now also falling earlier in the season, and is being destabilised before spring, at a time when it is thicker, leading to an increase in the number and intensity of avalanches. Since the snow is wet, avalanches are descending slowly but over greater distances than in the past.”

This makes the job of ski patrol even tougher, as spring snowstorms can cause a sudden spike in avalanche risk.

Check avalanche conditions in the region where you are skiing.

one freeride skier skiing downhill trough deep fresh powder

Photo: MWiklik/Shutterstock

This all sounds rather dire. While the threat of an inbounds avalanche should be taken seriously, remember that there are professionals in red coats actively working to mitigate the risk at your local ski area. There are two major things you can do to help:

  • Check conditions. If you plan to ski high-altitude or challenging terrain, be aware of the avalanche conditions in the area even if you don’t plan to head out the backcountry gate. Use a site like to monitor conditions. Should hazardous conditions exist, employ the same tactics as you would in the backcountry. Avoid terrain traps, carry avalanche gear, ski with a partner, and generally maintain an awareness of your surroundings.
  • Obey the signs. When a resort opens terrain for the first time in a given season, it is at higher risk because the snow hasn’t been continually packed down by skiers. This is often why a particular run remains closed longer than others or is closed off mid-season, even though it appears to have plenty of snow; ski patrol isn’t done mitigating the risk just yet. Ducking ropes only worsens the risk, for you and first responders.

Follow backcountry protocol.

Skiers and snowboarders

Photo: Olena Rublenko/Shutterstock

Many ski areas with high-altitude extreme terrain actively encourage skiers and riders to wear a beacon at all times. These transceiving devices are used by rescuers and backcountry skiers to locate someone buried in an avalanche and hopefully get them out alive. Backcountry Access, or BCA, has multiple options. On that same note, you should always ski with a partner in challenging terrain, lest an accident should befall you and you’re stuck in a tree well or below a cliff with no one to help you.

“While we operate in a very conservative manner, the risk is never entirely eliminated,” said Spayd. “In the event of an inbounds avalanche Ski Patrol will always perform a beacon search prior to any other search techniques. If the buried subject is wearing a transceiver, a beacon search is hands down the most effective way to locate the individual.”

If you’re chasing powder and find yourself at a resort that has been pounded by snow for three days straight, all terrain above a blue should be considered “lift-accessed backcountry” and approached with caution. Avoid hazards such as convex and concave rolls, commonly known as “rollers,” where terrain suddenly steepens or drops briefly before flattening into a duct, valley, or low-angle slope. Stay in heavily gladed areas whenever possible, as the trees act as anchors that keep snowpack more stable than it is in chutes and couloirs. But avoid single anchors, as they can act as an easy trigger because the snow immediately around them is likely to be at a different temperature than the general snowpack.

Last but not least, know when to call it a day. Even with all considerations taken, the only surefire way to avoid an inbounds avalanche is to stay away from tougher terrain when hazardous conditions exist.

“While it is important to be aware of the hazards it is also important to recognize the risk-vs-reward model,” said Spayd. After all, you don’t need to schuss down the riskiest terrain to have a great day on the mountain.

The post Avalanche risks are growing for inbound skiers. Here’s how to stay safe. appeared first on Matador Network.

Modern veggie burger, ancient roots

Modern veggie burger, ancient roots

Amanda Cohen’s veggie burger at her latest venture, Lekka, is, as she puts it, “sort of a secret.” The coy restaurateur, known for her vegan tasting menu restaurant Dirt Candy, will only divulge to me that a collaboration between Cohen and a historian, during which she prepared 900-year-old Chinese dishes, inspired the recipe. A little research, however, reveals that Cohen’s veggie burger is based on yuguanfei, a vegetarian, mock-meat likely invented during the Song Dynasty. “Rice cultured with the edible mold,” according to historian Robban Toleno, gives yuguanfei the appearance of red meat. Fried dough imitates the look of fatty marbling. Portobello mushrooms and cannellini beans make the burger’s foundation while the milk-bread buns, based on a Japanese recipe, are made in house.

Cohen’s decision to draw from the past for her veggie burger recipe heralds a return to a more traditional way of eating by turning to ingredients that were more commonplace on the plates of our ancestors. Fibrous, protein-rich ingredients like quinoa, sweet potatoes, and black beans often form the foundation of the veggie burger patty. These ingredients have also been at the core of human nutrition for thousands of years — especially for indigenous groups from South America to Polynesia. In this way, the modern veggie burger is at the heart of a movement to embrace foodways that have existed since humans began cooking.

Veggie burgers are far from new. They’ve been around since at least the mid-1970s when iconic vegan outpost Moosewood Restaurant began serving a tofu version. The inventor of the first commercially sold veggie burger, Gregory Sams, launched his so-called VegeBurger in 1982. For most of its life-span, the veggie burger has been the realm of staunch vegans who are most committed to eschewing the environmentally toxic meat industry. In 2011, that paradigm began to shift.

That year, the Impossible Burger, made mostly from soy and wheat protein, entered the market. By 2017, the Impossible Burger was available at just eight restaurants (mostly fine-dining) in the United States. Today, it can be found on 15,000 menus across the US, Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore — including chains like Burger King, White Castle, The Cheesecake Factory, and The Hard Rock Cafe. That astonishing degree of growth is in step with food trends of the past several years: A Nielsen study in 2018 found that nearly 40 percent of Americans “are actively trying to eat more plant-based foods.”

The Impossible Burger seemed to be a win when it came to sustainability, too. According to the company’s impact report, it uses “87 percent less water, 96 percent less land, and 89 percent less fossil fuel emissions than a quarter pound of regular ground beef.” In the era of pervasive, inescapable climate change, the mission to replace carbon-spewing beef with a more sustainable alternative is undeniably admirable.

Today, a similar company, Beyond Meat, can be found at most grocery stores. Meanwhile, the Impossible Burger poses such a huge threat to the beef industry that the Center for Consumer Freedom made a Super Bowl advertisement attacking one of its ingredients, methylcellulose (which is, by the way, not harmful to humans).

“This huge discussion we’re having about meat and veggie burgers and what they mean, and how we incorporate eating more vegetables into our diet, it’s definitely because of the [meatless burger] industry,” Cohen says. “I don’t think we would be having this discussion if [Beyond and Impossible] didn’t exist.”

Part of the reason that soy-free vegetable burgers got sidelined in the past is that they’ve had, until recently, a marketing problem: Most don’t attempt to replicate the texture or taste of beef whereas that is the explicit purpose of the Impossible Burger. At first, that seemed to add to Impossible’s appeal. Followers of any diet, or no diet at all, could get their burger fix without the guilt of hurting animals or the environment.

Yet, as recently as fall of last year, controversy began to catch up with Beyond and Impossible Burgers as the products became more mainstream. Critics warned that in the current era of juice cleanses to plant-based dieting, giving up beef burgers for Impossible — high in sodium, saturated fat, and ingredients derived from plants but no actual plants — might not actually be the healthier choice. This was the opening the veggie burger had been waiting for — because when it comes to nutrition, veggie burgers have an edge.

A 2018 report by the Label Insight and the Food Marketing Institute found that increasingly health-conscious consumers are drawn to transparent “ingredients lists and nutritional information.” Few recipes are more transparent than those for veggie burgers, which consist of a list of grains and vegetables.

“From what I can tell, the main driver for people turning to plant-based diet or veganism is health reason,” says Erin Hahn, the chef behind the Fort Worth, Texas-based vegan food truck Zonk Burger.

The veggie burger at Zonk is made of chickpea, millet, onions, carrots, and mushrooms. Hahn explains that while a beef burger is a more “uniform bite,” her burger is crispier on the outside and softer toward the middle. Carrots and caramelized onions add a touch of sweetness while savory, umami flavors come from the mushrooms.

Hahn worked at a vegan restaurant that focused mostly on creating fake meat products. However, creating a more classic, satisfying dish like the burger, but made exclusively with plants, appealed much more to her. So in March of 2019, she opened Zonk.

Photo: Zonk Burger

“The veggie burger occupies an interesting cultural space to me. The burger is so central to American culture. The veggie burger has that Americana thing going on but it’s also associated with hippie-dom and the Moosewood cookbook,” says Hahn. “And now with the Beyond and Impossible Burger, it’s become a tech product. Different iterations of the veggie burger are strangely dominant in our culture right now.”

The modern veggie burger has also earned its place in the pantheon of American cuisine because it requires so much invention. Chefs must cobble together global ingredients like quinoa, brown rice, mushrooms, and tofu to create a burger that tastes good enough to attract skeptical Americans who prefer beef. In America, plant-based chefs traffic in the idea that vegetables can be, believe it or not, just as satisfying, filling, and delicious as meat.

Cohen has called burgers “something that everybody eats, and when you transition into veganism or if you’ve been a vegan for a while, I think it is something you miss.” She told me that a veggie burger can be gateway food for people dabbling in vegan eating, “an easy entry food into the plant-based world.” Those two elements combined — that burgers are both the archetypal dish of American cuisine and familiar enough to lure in people from all dietary backgrounds — is perhaps why burgers have become the face of the push to eat more plant-based foods.

“I thought it would be a more accessible business model for larger groups of people than just vegans,” says Hahn of her food truck. “Fort Worth is known as Cow Town. I expected a lot more hostility going into it from meat-eaters, but folks have been very open-minded.”

Part of the relatively new, at least in American culture, embrace of plant-based food might come from the fact that meatless burgers like Impossible and Beyond are stigmatized as a tech product rather than a food product. Hahn has spoken with friends and family who are attracted to vegetable-forward burgers simply because it’s easier to explain what’s in them.

“If you can say [a veggie patty] is made from carrots and mushrooms, they can understand that,” she adds. “It’s real food, unlike the Impossible Burger, which is unknown to them.”

Veggie burgers seemed to have nailed the branding question, and they’re swelling in popularity: The vegan and vegetarian equivalent of Yelp, called Happy Cow, reports that there are at least 24,000 “veg-friendly” restaurants in the United States to date. Now veggie burger chefs face another problem: How to produce them on a large enough scale to replace meat. For small scale outposts like Lekka and Zonk (Hahn is currently working on plans to open a brick-and-mortar venue) it’s just not possible. That’s where the Impossible Burger can find its true calling.

“The Whopper seems like the appropriate application for [Impossible and Beyond burgers],” says Hahn. “I can hand make vegetable and bean patties, and I don’t know if that’s possible on a larger scale.” But that’s not a bad thing. “If we can get people off beef burgers with the Impossible or Beyond,” she continues, “maybe it opens them up to thinking about plant-based eating in a more traditional or old school way.”

More to the point, however, is that the plant-based burger wars do not have to be a fight to the death. Meatless burgers like Impossible and Beyond, and the more vegetable-forward options like those served at Lekka and Zonk, can co-exist, each doing their part to create a future in which plant-based burgers supplant their beef counterparts.

“Those lab or factory-made burgers are being made for all the right reasons. They’ve introduced a whole new population to the idea that you don’t have to eat meat to have a really satisfying burger,” Cohen says. “The world has opened up. They see that you have an Impossible or Beyond burger, or even something homemade, that’s just as delicious. There are so many other options out there, which is good for everybody. The more the merrier.”

The post For the future of plant-based burgers, chefs are looking to ancient history appeared first on Matador Network.

US LGBTQ and Pride events in 2020

US LGBTQ and Pride events in 2020

Let’s get one thing straight — LGBTQ people know how to throw one hell of a party, and in the United States, there’s no shortage of creativity when it comes to curating a queer shindig. From ski-slope soirees to fetish-themed festivals, the only thing more difficult than choosing which events to attend in 2020 is choosing who to vote for in the Democratic primary. Luckily, choosing from this list of epic LGBTQ gatherings is a win-win situation.

Editor’s note: Queer culture doesn’t begin and end with Pride month, and while a zillion epic Pride events take place in the United States throughout the year, this list focuses exclusively on non-Pride related parties that appeal to all kinds of interests.


Photo: Elevation Gay Ski Week/Facebook

Elevation Utah — This February, Park City’s powder slopes are getting a little more fabulous for Elevation’s gay ski week. In addition to hitting world-class ski courses with the rest of the homos, attendees can choose from a series of apres-ski events, dinners, and dance parties offered all weekend long. The event caters to a predominantly male crowd and prides itself on being a laid-back event that’s great for making new friends.

Where: Park City, Utah
When: February 26-March 1


Photo: Winter Party Festival/Facebook

Winter Party — Miami’s six-day music festival is the perfect excuse to ditch America’s cold weather climes, don your most daring speedo, and dance until dawn all week long. Don’t worry — this iconic circuit party, going strong since 1994, isn’t only about hips gyrating to house music — a portion of the proceeds goes to the National LGBTQ task force, which supports 80 nonprofit organizations in South Florida. The Roundup, a multi-day conference for LGBTQ individuals in a 12-step recovery program, is happening in Miami simultaneously this year.

Where: Miami, Florida
When: March 4-10

Elevation: Mammoth — Located a scenic 45-minute drive from Yosemite National Park, Elevation’s gay ski week at California’s Mammoth Lakes is a picturesque place to get sweaty on both the ski slopes and the dance floor. This unpretentious gathering, now in its 18th year, regularly attracts 2,500 skiers for five days of outdoor adventures and indoor shindigs.

Where: Mammoth Lakes, California
When: March 18-22


Dinah Shore Weekend — Every spring, thousands of women gather in the desert to celebrate all things female for five days filled with pool parties and all-night dance ragers. Now in its 30th year, Dinah’s long-term success is undoubtedly due to its spirit of inclusivity. You’ll find lesbians of all ages, races, and identities among the diverse crowd. Fun Fact: Dinah Shore, the entertainer after whom the party is named, was not a lesbian herself — she just happened to throw popular golf tournaments in the 1970s that were infamous for attracting gay women. The legacy lives on!

Where: Palm Springs, California
When: April 1-6

Spring Diversity Weekend — This unassuming enclave nestled in the Ozarks is an LGBTQ haven, and several times throughout the year, the town hosts a Diversity Weekend featuring drag shows, pool parties, and family-friendly entertainment to celebrate their queer community. The April festivities are an ideal time to visit — the steep hillside town comes alive with the first signs of spring.

Where: Eureka Spring, Arkansas
When: April 3-5

Photo: Saint At Large/Facebook

The Black Party — New York’s hedonistic fetish fete is a springtime celebration of sex and debauchery. Wear your favorite harness and dance until you drop (to your knees). Be warned: This dance party is heavily boy-flavored, and if others plan to attend, they should possess an unflappable sense of sexual adventure.

Where: New York City
When: April 4-5

Cherry Weekend — Cherry trees aren’t the only thing in full bloom during this annual springtime DC dance party — the local gays emerge from hibernation just in time for this shirtless-boy soiree, too. The Cherry Fund, which organizes the party, is the country’s longest-running non-profit queer dance festival; since its inception, they’ve raised $1.3 million in support of mental health and HIV/AIDS service organizations. This year marks the event’s 25th anniversary.

Where: Washington, DC
When: April 16-20

White Party — With over 30,000 people in attendance every year, this Palm Springs music festival is one of the largest LGBTQ circuit parties in the United States. The line-up always makes it worth shipping yourself out to the desert for at least one packed pool party and a pop star sighting — past performers include the likes of JLo, Mary J. Blige, and Kesha.

Where: Palm Springs, California
When: April 24-27


Photo: RuPaul’s DragCon/Facebook

RuPaul’s DragCon — If you know that Alaska is way more than a state and Aquaria isn’t just the plural of”aquarium,” you’ll have a hoot meeting the fishiest and funniest queens in RuPaul’s Drag Race herstory. On top of getting some one-on-one time with America’s drag superstars, visitors can attend talkbacks, watch live performances, and spend three full days gagging on all the eleganza.

Where: Los Angeles, California
When: May 1-3

Purple Party — Thousands of people flock to Dallas every spring for this circuit-queen mainstay, which bills itself as the largest non-profit, volunteer-run dance party in the country. The Purple Party is one of several events thrown by the Purple Foundation, which raises money for those affected by HIV/AIDS and in support of the local LGBTQ community.

Where: Dallas, Texas
When: May 7-11

International Mr. Leather — IML is basically the Miss America competition, only the pageant queens are burly dudes decked out in fetish gear, and the title for which they’re competing is International Mister Leather. Chicago’s premier leather event features myriad fetish-forward dance parties and meet-ups where contestants mix and mingle with attendees throughout the week.

Where: Chicago, Illinois
When: May 21-25

Sizzle — Memorial Day Weekend in Miami is for men of melanin. Sizzle, a circuit festival catering to gay black men since 2002, serves up five days of late-night raves, all-day pool parties, and at least one well-attended takeover of the naturist section at Haulover Beach.

Where: Miami, Florida
When: May 21-25

AIDS/LifeCycle — AIDS/Lifecycle, the seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, may sound like a real banana-seat in the ass, but for many who participate, it’s a joyful, life-changing experience. Since the event began in 1993, participants have raised over $200 million to help fund services related to HIV/AIDS, and the friendships formed along the bike route last long after the ride ends.

Where: San Francisco to Los Angeles, California
When: May 31-June 6


Photo: LOVELOUD/Facebook

LoveLoud Festival — Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds founded Salt Lake City’s LoveLoud Festival in 2017 to raise awareness and understanding for the LGBTQ community. Benefits from the concert — which feature the top names in EDM, pop, rock, and hip-hop — benefit LGBTQ organizations around the nation.

Where: Salt Lake City, Utah
When: Dates in June TBD. Check the website for more info.

One Magical Weekend — This annual trip to the House of Mouse is half circuit party, half fairytale fantasia. Put them together, and what’ve you got? One Magical Weekend! A portion of the proceeds goes to KindRED Pride Foundation, a non-profit that promotes diversity, equality, and inclusion. Girls in Wonderland, a non-affiliated Orlanda-based circuit party for lesbians, happens to take place at the same weekend, and for a good reason. On the first Saturday in June, LGBTQ individuals are encouraged to wear red shirts within Disney World to promote awareness and acceptance for queer folks.

Where: Orlando, Florida
When: June 4-8

Trans March — The Friday before San Francisco’s epic Pride celebrations, the Bay Area’s trans community has a march of its own. Since the inaugural parade in 2004, this volunteer-run event has grown into one of the largest trans-focused gatherings in the world. A series of speakers and performers takes to the stage post-parade, followed by a handful of afterparties catering to the trans community.

Where: San Francisco, California
When: June 26

LadyLand — For the past two years, Ladyfag (the queen of NYC’s nightlife scene behind bashes like Battle Hymn and Holy Mountain) has thrown one of the most prized events during Pride weekend: a two-day queer music festival featuring a seriously dope lineup of LGBTQ artists. Hosted in the open-air Brooklyn Mirage, the immersive event space is reason enough to check out the festivities; everything else is rainbow-colored icing on the cake.

Where: Brooklyn, New York
When: Dates in June TBD. Check the website for more info.


Events on Fire Island

Photo: Pines Party/Facebook

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, this car-free sandbar on the Long Island Sound becomes one of the country’s go-to gay getaways. While there’s most likely a wild party to attend every weekend, these two events are the island’s most popular:

Invasion of the Pines — After a wig-wearing lad was denied entry at a Fire Island Pines restaurant in 1976, a gaggle of drag queens hopped on a boat in nearby Cherry Grove and stormed the Pines Harbor in protest. The invasion was so popular that queens revive the happening every July 4 for thousands of onlookers. Like an ultra-campy passion play, this is the perfect way to kick off celebrations honoring the red, white, and blue… and every other color in the rainbow.

Where: Fire Island Pines, New York
When: July 4

Pines Party — Fire Island’s most hyped event is the Pines Party — a weekend-long circuit festival where mostly naked men dance under the stars until the sun comes up. There’s a new theme every year, and revelers always come dressed to impress. Local lodging fills up quickly for this weekend, and those looking to attend should start planning their trip ASAP.

Where: Fire Island Pines, New York
When: July 24-26

Events in Provincetown

Photo: Provincetown For Women/Facebook

In summer, the population of this quaint Cape Cod village swells from 3,000 to 60,000. Although the events for LGBTQ folks are seemingly endless and all-inclusive, certain weekends cater to specific crowds. Choose your weekend wisely.

Bear Weekend — The bears go wild during this week dedicated to furry men and their admirers. Don’t worry — there’s no need for bear spray. These burly boys are a welcoming bunch.

Where: Provincetown, Massachusetts
When: July 11-18

Girl Splash — Lesbians and those who love them dominate the streets of P-town for this week filled with shows, dance parties, and meet-ups geared toward women.

Where: Provincetown, Massachusetts
When: July 23-27

Gay Wine Weekend — This LGBTQ gathering in Sonoma County’s wine country is a week-long palate pleaser. With tours and tastings at local wineries, food and wine pairings created by the area’s best chefs, and a Twilight T-Dance in Northern California’s rolling hillside to cap it all off, this laid-back weekend is an ideal way to unwind with chosen family.

Where: Sonoma, California
When: July 16-22

OutFest — With screenings of over 200 movies, LA’s 11-day queer film festival is a must-do for LGBTQ folks in and around Hollywood.

Where: Los Angeles, California
When: July 16-26


Photo: Alexey Kamenskiy/Shutterstock

Rendezvous — LGBTQ nature enthusiasts have been pitching tents together since 1992 at Rendezvous, the largest LGBTQ Pride camping event in the Rocky Mountain region. Located in Medicine Bow National Forest between Laramie and Cheyenne, this five-day outing is open to people with all levels of outdoor experience. If you’re having trouble pitching that tent, don’t fret — one of the 500+ attendees is bound to give you a helping hand.

Where: Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming
When: August 5-9

Market Days — Chicago’s 39th annual Northalsted Market Days is a two-day outdoor festival with five stages of live performances and nearly 100,000 annual attendees. A half-mile stretch of Halstead Street, which runs through the heart of historic Boystown, shuts down so the party can take over. The largest queer street festival in the Midwest, this popular summer party attracts diverse crowds from around the country.

Where: Chicago, Illinois
When: August 8-9

Carnival — Nearly 90,000 visitors flock to Provincetown for this week filled with art fairs, costume balls, and Bacchanalian bashes. It all leads up to the Carnival Parade, which will take place on Thursday, August 20. This year’s theme is “holidays” — don’t forget to bring your sexy Santa outfit.

Where: Provincetown, Massachusetts
When: August 15-22

Transmission — Located in Upper Lake, California, Transmission is a four-day wilderness retreat for trans, non-binary, and genderqueer people featuring workshops and activities where guests can reconnect with nature and build community all at the same time.

Where: Upper Lake, California
When: Dates in August TBD. Check the website for more info.


Southern Decadence — The corner of Bourbon Street and Ann Street is always the center of queer life in New Orleans, but from the Wednesday before Labor Day until the Tuesday following, it feels like the center of the universe. Nicknamed “gay Mardi Gras,” this carnal carnival celebrating summer’s end turns the city’s historic French Quarter into an adult Disneyland for the entire LGBTQ community.

Where: New Orleans, Louisiana
When: September 3-7

Folsom Street Fair — Folsom ain’t your grandma’s street fair — unless, of course, your grandma owns a leather harness, a puppy mask, and is into some serious nipple play. Either way, around 400,000 people ranging from fetish-curious first-timers to BDSM connoisseurs fill the streets of SoMa for San Francisco’s annual leather event. Although this festival isn’t nearly as hardcore as it used to be (Up Your Alley now scratches that itch), perusing the many booths selling sex toys and giving live performances is still a delightful window into the BDSM lifestyle.

Where: San Francisco, California
When: September 27


Photo: Aqua Girl/Facebook

Aqua Girl — At this time of year, no one is wearing swimsuits in the north, but the girls in Miami are still getting wet at Aqua Girl — a Miami Beach party geared toward the lesbian community. Billed as the country’s largest gay women’s charity event, a portion of the proceeds go to the Aqua Foundation for Women, a Florida-based LGBTQ non-profit.

Where: Miami, Florida
When: Dates will be announced once an event space is booked. Check the website for more info.

Gay Days Anaheim — A sea of red shirts swarms California’s Disneyland every October for Gay Days Anaheim — a three-day festival celebrating the LGBTQ community in the Happiest Place on Earth. Over 30,000 people participate in the family-friendly event every year. Disneyland doesn’t officially sponsor the bash, so it’s best to check the Gay Days Anaheim website for details.

Where: Anaheim, California
When: October 2-4

Events in Provincetown

In case you missed out on Provincetown’s summer activities, two autumn weekends attract large groups of LGBTQ folks, making the trip to Cape Cod worthwhile.

Women’s Week: Last year, P-town hosted over 350 events during this celebration, including whale watching, wine tastings, live shows, and dance parties. The plans for 2020 are equally ambitious. If you’re reticent to visit a New England beach town in October, don’t be — you’ll beat the summer heat and get to enjoy some seasonal leaf-peeping during your stay.

Where: Provincetown, Massachusetts
When: October 12-18

Spooky Bear Weekend: What better place to celebrate gay Christmas than in the country’s most gay-friendly resort town? Provincetown turns into a perpetual costume party in honor of the homo-riffic High Holy Day with plenty of tricks and treats to be had throughout the week. Accommodations fill up fast — plan well in advance if you’d like to attend.

Where: Provincetown, Massachusetts
When: October 29-November 1


San Francisco Transgender Film Festival — In 1997, San Francisco became the first city in North America to host a transgender film festival. Today, the festival’s mission remains the same: provide opportunities for trans and gender-nonconforming artists to share their voices on the big screen, and engage audiences in creating a dialogue that reaches out long after the festival ends.

Where: San Francisco, California
When: Dates in November still TBD; film submissions are open from May 1-August 21. Check the website for more info.

The post Every single LGBTQ event in the US you need to go to in 2020 appeared first on Matador Network.