Surrounded by sky and sea, Bonaire can have you feeling like you’ve found the middle of nowhere. Part of the Netherlands Lesser Antilles, you’ll find Bonaire just north of Venezuela and likely a few planes away from your current coordinates. Reach this speck of sun soaked paradise, the anticipation will all be worth it once you’re among gorgeous flamingos and steady salty breezes.Read More
From the endless shrines and temples with their contemplative Zen gardens, to the narrow streets lined with traditional shops, restaurants, and tea houses, here is our Wanderful City Guide to Kyoto!Read More
by Oui We Contributor Sam Spahr
Beach in the summer, hit the slopes in winter, view foliage in fall, and peep those blooms in spring… whoa, whoa, whoa, find the brakes here! It’s true: every destination has it’s peak attraction or crowning season, but for every peak there’s a valley called the off season, you’re new best friend.
This is usually the time when prices drop just about everywhere from lodging to rentals, and sometimes even food. Yes, please! Not only will you score a deal, but this is an opportunity to have the place to yourself. Off season means low traffic and more time and space for you to explore wherever you are. See this as a chance to meet the locals and discover your destination through seasoned eyes. Those who live and work in these vacation hot spots have developed something that almost resembles a subculture of the place itself. I’ve found that when the season is low, and if you’re kind, they’ll share a piece of it with you. Plus, you’ve made a friend, and who doesn’t like spreading the love?
So, If you’re in the mood for destinations that have a sexy secret, then welcome to valley my friends. Check out these suggestions to get your off season going:
Put Your Best ‘Buds First (Tastebuds Y’all): Winter in Napa Valley, California
Summer really draws the crowds in Napa, but if you can brave some rain and cooler temps then you will be oh-so rewarded! The rainy season means the grass truly is greener on this side. Just make sure you’re taking in the landscape from the tasting room of one of the many wineries. Upside? Being one of few visiting, you’ll receive the royal treatment garnering extra attention from the aficionados at the vineyard.
Relish in this moment; ask the questions you’ve always wanted answered about one of my personal favorite food groups. How often can you spend time learning about wonderfully talented people while scoring a peak into the rich world behind the booze? After all the indulging, make sure you’ve booked a place with a fireplace so you can cozy up next to the crackle. Retreat, relax, refill the glass.
Bonus: Get tickets to the annual Napa Valley Film Festival that takes place in November and treat yourself to some fine cinema, culinary demos, and you guessed it, even more wine tastings. You’ll get to view some amazing films in some truly unique venues (think an abbey and a farm).
Be One With Nature: Fall in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Go ahead, take a little stroll on a quiet beach and feel the breeze uninhibited by umbrellas and sun-seekers. Taste the salt in the air - get your fix quick though, because there is so much else to do! Step off the sand and you’ll find an outdoor wonderland. Barely minutes from the shore is Gulf State Park - which backs onto about 25 miles of paved trails to explore on bike or foot where you can spot dozens of critters in their natural home. Then, take in the wildlife from the lake where you can rent a kayak or paddle board. (Just try to stay on top of the water, chilly!)
Osprey are large, beautiful frequent flyers in this area and are easy to spot while you float in the secluded and serene lakes. In case you haven’t seen enough animal friends, you can cruise with the local dolphin population or head over to Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge to learn about the different sea turtles who come to nest here even into the fall season. You can likely catch a nest hatchling during this time as well. *Cue adorable coos* When it’s finally time to take a break, lay your head in one of the lakeside cottages in Gulf State Park. You’ll feel worlds away from the sky grazing condos and miles of beachfront.
Wanna Fly Away? Winter in Venice, Italy
There’s probably not a more authentic way to experience Venice than in the off season. Bring some rain boots, lots of layers, and a sense of humor because the city often experiences several floods they call aqua alta, high water. Traipse your way across constructed walkways or opt for floating transportation when the water rises, and remind yourself that for the city’s residents, this is just another day in the life. How many people can say they experienced Venice like a Venetian? Not many; when the crowds grow in the summer, the chance to truly take in the beauty, culture, and charm of its residents can be edged out by all the bustle that comes with moving bodies.
With no lines and little need for reservations, you’ll have to unique opportunity to be a bit more spontaneous and intimate with this ancient city. Allow the cold to push you into cafés and galleries you may have missed otherwise. Meet the local artists that keep the city afloat (no pun intended). Take a workshop or a class, and get creative in one of the most inspiring places in the world.
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A note from Andi:
Earlier this year I had an opportunity to travel to Fairhope, AL on a bit of a whim. I'd been writing a bit about solo travel and intended to take a drive to a new place to spend a little more time out on my own; as soon as the plan was made, however I was invited to cover a festival further down on the Alabama coast. I've gotten pretty good at going with the flow so I called my sister, invited her to meet me, and what started as a solo road trip turned into something seriously special.
Chelle and I stayed for the weekend at the Seaglass Inn. The place drips with relaxation. Deb, the Proprietor, has considered every detail from the luxurious linens to the locally made essential oil bath bombs. The Inn, a historically registered Mission style cottage, is on the bluff by the Mobile Bay and is perhaps one of the dreamiest b&b's anywhere. Each morning Deb prepared a breakfast full of local ingredients and in the evenings we enjoyed wine and cheese followed by steam baths and a retreat style soaking tub.
Susanna's hometown is Fairhope, AL, so of course I had to ask her for the full list of her favorite places! Between The Seaglass Inn and Susanna's recommendations below, when it's time for your next solo getaway, a weekend with your best girls, or even if you're planning a romantic weekend trip, Fairhope should be high on your list!
Enjoy Susanna's guide below!
Susanna's Guide to Fairhope, AL
Sometimes you have to step away from home to realize how beautiful it truly is. While I always knew Fairhope, AL was something special (a town that was founded by nudists, artists, and all around free spirits), I never really saw the beauty and particular charm until I came back as an adult with a fresh view. So if you’re visiting for the first time, or interested in taking a trip to an alluring little city on the bay, let me share a few must see spots us locals think you should put on your list.
The French Quarter:
Yes, we have our very own teeny tiny French Quarter that must be visited. Nestled between shops, a small cobblestone path leads back to a New Orleans-style courtyard filled with unique shops and savory dining spots. At the super popular Panini Pete's, people love to sit outside by the large fountain listening to New Orleans' jazz and eating some of Pete's delicious beignets (which I may be biased, but they're some of the best I've had). Another shop inside is The Bay Candle, with hand poured candles that are inspired by different areas of the city. Orange Street Pier, which smells exactly like oranges, and Fairhope Float, which is the best float found at Mr. Gene's Beans, are two of the most amazing candles you’ll ever purchase!
Mr. Gene's Beans:
This ice cream and candy shop has been around as long as I can remember. It used to be the place we would love to go to as kids, and I still go there whenever I'm in town. A small white cottage in the middle of downtown, this has always been a favorite place of the locals. Ice cream, candy, coffee, and like I mentioned above - The Fairhope Float, a coffee float that can be topped with cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, or nutmeg - is absolutely delicious! The same owner, Gene Leighty, has been running the place for over 20 years.
The Windmill Market:
A once abandoned 1960s car dealership, The Windmill Market is now a community for food, music, and all things local. Powered by a windmill that runs on collected rainwater and solar power, this marketplace is filled with all kinds of unique, healthy restaurants, with gardens of vegetables being grown on the premises. Fridays and Saturdays local bands hold concerts. Mary Ann's Deli, a longtime local favorite with some of the best sandwiches around resides there. Tom Jones Pottery has a small shop inside with tons of gorgeous pottery made from local Fairhope clay. (His actual shop is further out in Fairhope and a great place to buy all kinds of gifts- especially at Halloween when he makes clay jack-o-lanterns and witches).
The Fairhope Pier/Orange St. Pier:
This large pier is surrounded by parks and fishing boats and is gorgeous to walk on - especially at sunset. You can always find people fishing off the side, families heading down to the restaurant at the end to eat seafood, and couples just taking a walk. The parks and trails that go off down the beach are filled with running paths and dog parks. Overlooking the pier and the long stretch of beach are numerous parks along the bluff where the Baldwin Pops will put on Sunday night concerts for free in the summer. Stroll along and you’ll find access to other piers, such as Orange St. Pier, smaller, but just as beautiful a spot to enjoy the view.
Page and Palette:
This long time book store has been around since 1968 and hosts book signings and events. They also just opened a bar inside called The Book Cellar. Each drink has a literary name like Tequila Mockingbird, Rum Forrest Rum, The Old Man and the Seagram, etc. Who wouldn’t want to shop for books while sipping on a Gin Eyre?
What started out as an upscale Italian restaurant soon transformed an entire alleyway into a little piece of Italy. If you walk down this stretch of Fairhope, the cobblestone streets, the flickering lamps, outdoor tables, Italian music playing throughout, and themed buildings - for a few minutes it would look exactly like you were walking through Italy.
Fairhope is big on their art. Like other cities, the first Friday of every month is Art Walk night. On any given day though, you're bound to walk past artists set up on the side of the street or down on the bluffs overlooking the bay with their easels and watercolors. There are several galleries that are popular, but probably the oldest and best known for everyone in the city is Lyons Share. This large and beautiful two story gallery always features local and regional artists. Arts & Crafts is a huge event that happens one weekend every March. The whole downtown area is closed off and tents are put up with local and regional creations. Over the years it has grown with musical guests and plenty of food and parties.
Oak Hollow Farm:
A giant barn that's used for concerts (indoors and outdoors), horseback riding, and weddings. Surrounded by massive old oak trees, this place makes for a beautiful wedding venue. Bunk rooms are rented for anyone that wants to stay, and hayrides are given all over the farm. Visit this hidden gem and you’ll be able to capture some stunning images.
Susanna Williams is a creative writer in a variety of media. Spending years in the independent film industry in Los Angeles, she worked in screenwriting before becoming a distributor of festival winning films. When she's not working with her start up production company in New Orleans, she writes fiction and raises orphaned baby wildlife. 🐒🐻🐱 She's a huge travel enthusiast with a love for art, fashion, and beauty. (p.s. she wore baby blue velvet booties to her ouiwegirl.com interview. so between that and the baby animal love, clearly, she wins at life.)
All photos in Susanna's guide are her own.