The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
I Get Around (Round, Round, Well, You Know ...)
February 16, 1994 -- I'm no Beach Boy (and I look terrible in vertical stripes), but I do get around. But, of course, so do you and that's the point of this exercise.

While I haven't been to California lately (again, I really look rotten in those Beach Boys shirts), I am back with useful tips and recommendations on five good towns from Toronto to Texas. I've got suggestions on where to eat, where to stay--even where to catch a ball game or a bit of culture.

The Residence Inn by Marriott at Tyvola Executive Park (704-527-8110) is halfway between the airport and downtown. Weekend rates range from $49-$79 for a studio suite to $79-$90 for a 2-bedroom loft suite with fireplace. ... The Charlotte Hornets of the NBA play their home games at the league's largest arena, the 23,698-seat Charlotte Coliseum. But tickets are scarce and there have been more than 200 consecutive sellouts. ... Charlotte boasts a plethora of barbeque pits and a variety of styles. The original location of Carolina Country Barbecue (704-525-0337) specializes in hickory-smoked shredded pork and pork ribs. ... The gracious walled garden at Wing Haven (704-332-5770) is a nationally known bird sanctuary. More than 140 species have been sighted over the years. Wing Haven is open to visitors between 2 and 5 P.M. on Sundays. Admission is free.

The privately-owned La Mansion Del Rio Hotel (800-531-7208) overlooks the San Antonio River and River Walk, the heart and soul San Antonio. A two-night "Romancing the River" package ($426 for two) includes a deluxe river view room, one breakfast, champagne and taxes. ... The aforementioned River Walk is a tranquil thread of stone bridges, walks, stairways and landscaping, conceived in 1929 and mostly built by the Works Progress Administration. It connects many of the city's historic sites, including The Alamo. ... If you're eating in bicultural San Antonio, you're probably eating Mexican. And if you're eating on Saturday, you're probably queuing up for soups at El Mirador (210-225-9444). Service begins at 11 a.m. and prices start at $4.50. Sopa Azteca, a kind of tortilla soup, is the favorite. ... April is a blooming month for Texas wildflowers. They grow by the sides of the roads and at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens (210-821-5115)

Ensconced on a swanky little island in Tampa Bay, the Wyndham Harbour Island Hotel (800-996-3426) offers spacious guest rooms with exceptional views. Weekend rates are $109 a night from May through September. Now that Americans unapologetically devour red meat again, Bern's Steak House (813-251-2421) is back in fashion. The quirky eatery also boasts a nearly endless wine list and a gargantuan dessert menu. ... Long before Disney, a railroad magnate named Henry B. Plant created Florida's first tourist attraction: the opulent, rococo Tampa Bay Hotel. Built in 1891, the hotel is now part of the Henry B. Plant Museum (813-254-1891) at the University of Tampa. It's an eye-opening look at how the other half traveled. It's open Tuesday to Saturday; admission is $3 per person.) ... Ybor City was once the world's cigar-making capital, but now it is a 110-block national landmark district alive with Cuban cafes, restaurants and clubs. There are also carefully restored cigar factories and workers' cottages, excellent examples of Spanish-style architecture.

The Canadian dollar is worth about 30 percent less than the U.S. greenback, so dedicated shoppers head for The Eaton Centre (416-598-8700). The five-level mall houses three department stores and more than 350 shops and restaurants. The Sandcastle Weekend package at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel (800-228-3000) costs about US$115 per night and includes harborfront accommodations, valet parking and full breakfast for two. ... SkyDome bills itself as the "world's greatest entertainment center" and it's hard to argue the point. The stadium seats at least 50,000, features a retractable roof and boasts the world's largest video board. There's a hotel and a Hard Rock Cafe, too. SkyDome is also home to the Toronto Blue Jays, baseball's defending champions. Blue Jay tickets are scarce, but you can arrange a one-hour SkyDome tour (416-341-2770). ... Like all great cities, Toronto is a walker's paradise. Try the Toronto Architecture Tour (416-922-7606) a 2.5-hour guided ramble through the downtown district. It costs about US$7.50.

Washington summers are hot and humid, so head for the Jefferson Memorial (202-426-6822), the District's least frenetic attraction. There's usually a breeze off the Tidal Basin and nothing is more relaxing than sitting on Jefferson's majestic front steps and watching the world go by. ... The cozy Phoenix Park Hotel (800-824-5419) on Capitol Hill offers an $88 per night summer rate until mid-September. "Inside the Beltway" power players are regulars at the hotel's restaurant and Irish pub. ... Washington has a babble of ethnic restaurants, but Germaine's (202-965-1185) in Georgetown is unique. It was America's first great Vietnamese restaurant when it opened 15 years ago. Now the cooking is more pan-Pacific and eclectic than ethnic. ... U.S. military bands offer free outdoor concerts every evening until Labor Day. At the Capitol on Fridays, it's the Army Band (703-6966-3399). At the Sylvan Theatre, it's Air Force Band (202-767-5658) on Fridays and the Marine Band (202-433-4011) on Sundays. Service bands rotate performances at the U.S. Navy Memorial (202-433-2525) on Saturdays.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

This column is Copyright 1994-2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.