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Big-City Trips Minus the Crowds

When you plan a trip to a destination like Orlando, Las Vegas, or New York City, you kind of expect to be stuck in the middle of tourist throngs. Or maybe you just avoid these locations completely because you can't tolerate the crowds. But for every tourist trap in a large city you'll find dozens of undiscovered offerings-quirky neighborhoods, obscure museums, interesting eateries, and maybe even the chance to run, not drive, over one of the most famous bridges in the world-that will make your stay more than worthwhile. To get you started, we've scouted some hidden gems in five hot vacation spots and thrown in some sightseeingoriented workout options. Not only will you enjoy a little adventure, at times you may feel as if you have the place practically to yourself. And that may make the idea of standing in line to have your picture taken with Mickey Mouse seem that much more tolerable later in your trip.

Skip the Memorial Tours - Washington D.C

Our nation's capital is understandably defined by politics, but there are plenty of non-government-related diversions, such as hip hoods and amazing art (including the National Museum of Women in the Arts, located in a former men-only Masonic temple), to keep you from getting memorial fatigue. If you've never been to D.C., go ahead and tour the traditional sites, but do it the speedy way: Pretend you're a Secret Service agent and run the 1.6-mile presidential-inaugural-parade route, which begins near the Capitol and ends at the White House. Or jog the gravel paths along the Mall from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Monument and back, about 3.5 miles.

 

When you're ready to see the rest of the city, steer clear of touristy Georgetown and head to Adams Morgan (centered on Columbia Road and 18th Street NW), a low-profile, multicultural neighborhood that features everything from Latin hot spot Habana Village (where you can take salsa and merengue lessons Wednesday through Saturday) to the always packed Amsterdam Falafel Shop.

 

The place to stay
The sleek new Hotel Palomar in Dupont Circle organizes nightly wine tastings and has eight Motion Rooms, which come equipped with an elliptical trainer and either strengthtraining equipment or a ballet barre and instructional dance DVDs (rooms from $254 per night; hotelpalomar-dc.com).

Putt At Your Own Pace - Orlando, Florida

Like most people, you probably think, If I don't want to kiss Shamu or Goofy, why go to Orlando? The reason: It's a golf mecca. With its 176 courses, you can hone your drive or putt without an audience. Try the beginner-friendly Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes, which is set among pine and palmetto forests and features five sets of tees at each hole for varying skill levels (from $125 per person for nonhotel guests; ritzcarlton.com). If you want some intense golf instruction, consider attending the Annika Academy, created by Annika Sorenstam. In addition to playing as many holes as you can handle, you'll get to work with her swing coach and personal trainer (rates from $3,750 per person for three days, including lodging at the Reunion Resort, all golf and fitness instruction, breakfast, and lunch; theannikaacademy.com).

 

Okay, maybe you're a little curious about Disney but loath to stand in long lines. The two-hour Around the World at Epcot tour will whiz you through the 11 "countries" on the property with no waiting. You won't get to sample the rides, but you do get to explore on a Segway Human Transporter. The first of four tours starts at 7:45 a.m. ($85 per person; disneyworld.com). Our favorite behind-the-scenes experience is Epcot's DiveQuest program, which allows certified scuba divers to spend 40 minutes swimming with exotic fish, eagle rays, and sea turtles ($140 per person; disneyworld.com).

 

The place to stay
The refined Grand Bohemian Hotel-perhaps the only place where you aren't offered Mickey ears upon check-in-boasts a rooftop pool with views of downtown Orlando (rooms from $229 per night; grandbohemianhotel.com).

Hit Small Music Venues - Nashville, Tennessee

You probably wouldn't go to Nashville if you didn't want to listen to some of the best country, bluegrass, or Southern rock in the country. But that doesn't mean you have to frequent standard spots like the Grand Ole Opry with everyone else. The best way to track down some below-the-radar treasures (and this tactic works whether you're in Nashville or Paris) is to follow the locals. In Music City, that will take you to the Bluebird Cafe (4104 Hillsboro Rd.), where you can catch aspiring songwriters as well as more established acts, and the Basement, a dartboards-on-the-walls type of bar that hosts a different band almost every night (1604 Eighth Ave. South). Instead of plotting out all your must-sees ahead of time, stop in at one of these rockin' joints, get to know the people at the next table, and ask what's on their list.

 

You could spend 24/7 visiting all the music places in Nashville, but when your ears need a break, head to Warner Parks and hike Mossy Ridge Trail, a 4.5-mile path that takes you past a spring-fed waterfall and through forests of oak and hickory trees. Build your inner calm even further with a yoga class at the Sri Ganesha Temple, a Hindu shrine beloved by locals ($8 per person; ganeshatemple.org).

 

The place to stay
The Hermitage Hotel is in the center of the city and the country-music scene: Everybody from the Dixie Chicks to Jewel has stayed here (rooms from $260 per night; thehermitagehotel.com). Be sure to slip away for some peace and quiet during your stay: Have the bath concierge draw you the perfect soak, which might include eucalyptus bubbles in the water or chocolate-covered strawberries beside the tub ($40 to $110).

Stray Away From the Strip - Las Vegas

Like chocolate and wine, Las Vegas is best savored in moderation. Too much of it and you'll end up regretting the whole experience. Better yet, bypass the lights, noise, and traffic and enjoy some amazing hiking and landscapes. Start by seeing the area the truly Western way: on horseback. The Mount Charleston Riding Stables, 35 minutes from the Strip, offer everything from one-hour beginner rides to five-hour tours along a steep ridge-complete with views of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead ($45 to $329 per person; mountcharlestonridingstables.com). If you prefer to travel on your own two feet, head about an hour's drive north of Vegas and hike in Valley of Fire State Park in the Mojave Desert; if you're lucky you'll spot Native American petroglyphs in the red sandstone formations. With a clear head, you'll be able to hit the lights- and craps tables-back on the Strip and maybe even walk out a winner.

 

The place to stay
At the Mount Charleston Lodge you won't walk into a dark, smoke-filled, slots-dinging lobby; instead you'll check in at a quaint log cabin and then be sent to one of 23 other cabins for your stay. Enjoy the pristine setting 7,717 feet above sea level in the middle of the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest (rooms from $145 per night; mtcharlestonlodge.com).

Tour the Neighborhoods - New York City

Your visit to the Big Apple can revolve around 42nd Street and the dozen or so blocks (and thousands of tourists) between the Empire State Building and Times Square-or you can explore the whole island and sample all the different cultures that make New York City so fantastic. But first, get a feel for the city by having a guide from NYC Run pick you up at your hotel and lead you (at your pace) through Central Park or SoHo, over the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge, or wherever you choose ($60 per person for the first six miles; nycrun.com). To cover ground more quickly, strap on some in-line skates and a helmet and join the free weekly group outings that the Empire Skate Club organizes; you'll roll through the streets of Manhattan or into the outer boroughs (empireskate.org).

 

The New York City area is packed with dozens of ethnic enclaves, so once you have the lay of the land, start your world tour: Explore the markets and mazelike alleyways of Chinatown in search of bubble tea, a hipster drink of sweetened milk tea with tapioca pearls; then make your way to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, housed in a 144-year-old building. It gives a glimpse of what life must have been like for a newly arrived immigrant generations ago (tickets from $13 to $17; tenement.org). Hungry? Try kimchi or bulgogi, a beef dish, in Koreatown, or for an even wider assortment of cultures, take the 7 subway line (called the International Express) to the borough of Queens. There you'll find everything from Arabic to Maltese communities.

 

To rejuvenate your tired tootsies (one of the hazards of this walking oriented city), stop in at the 30-minute Foot Fixers class at Erika Bloom's Pilates Plus studio, which helps you stretch, strengthen, and massage your feet ($14; erikabloompilates.com). Then top off the pampering with a pedicure at the downtown spa Haven, where the Foot Renaissance treatment includes a honeysuckle-and-algae scrub, loofah exfoliation, shea-butter massage, and polish ($70; havensoho.com).

 

The place to stay The Affinia Dumont is centrally located yet still quiet. The fitness concierge can set you up with maps of good walking routes, one of four free prepackaged fit kits-for yoga, strength training, walking or running, and overall wellness-or a personal-training session (rates from $230; affinia.com).

 

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