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Actors, Authors Share Their Favorite Travel Destinations

Eight American hotspots to inspire your next journey


spinner image San Diego's Sunset Cliffs Natural Park with the  sun setting over the water
Jazz singer Gregory Porter wrote his first songs at Sunset Cliffs in San Diego.
GlowCam/eStock Photo

Some vacations are for adventure. Others are for rest. And then there’s the kind of trip that has a deeper meaning, a journey to a precious, even sacred space. A place full of memories, of promise. A place that automatically puts your mind and heart at ease.

These eight Americans were kind enough to share their most treasured places with us. Maybe their stories will inspire you to visit one of these spots. Or maybe you’ll get the urge to return to your own happy place — one you’ve been away from for too long.

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Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego

Gregory Porter, 52, Grammy Award–winning jazz singer

So few things in life are permanent. The house I grew up in got torn down. People come and go. But Sunset Cliffs is a forever place.

I was recruited to college in San Diego on a football scholarship. Coming from the hot and dry agricultural town of Bakersfield, Sunset Cliffs felt tropical and exotic. Ocean waves crashing on the rocks. A sea cave with a hole open to the sky.

My father died when I was 20 and my mother died when I was 21, and going to Sunset Cliffs brought me solace. It gave me hope that I could be happy again. I had a ’68 Lincoln Continental, and I would drive out to the cliffs and just sit and reflect. I wrote my first songs at Sunset Cliffs. The title of my first album is Water.

After my brother died from COVID in 2020, I went back. At Sunset Cliffs, you can cast your cares upon the water. Just being there makes me feel lighter.

While you’re in San Diego …

• Tour long-retired Old Point Loma Lighthouse for a glimpse of the past and the Pacific Ocean.

• Stroll sandstone cliffs at La Jolla Cove as seals lounge about on the rocks.

• Wander the USS Midway to learn about life on an aircraft carrier; most of the docents are veterans.

 

spinner image A smiling Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson and Will Forte, peek out from the Old Mill in Little Rock, Arkansas
Mary Steenburgen, with husband Ted Danson and friend Will Forte, explores the Old Mill in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Courtesy Mary Steenburgen

The Old Mill, T.R. Pugh Memorial Park, North Little Rock, Arkansas

Mary Steenburgen, 71, Academy Award–winning actress, singer and songwriter

As a child, I was in love with reading and obsessed with books about elves and fairies and gnomes — all those magical worlds. So when my mother would bring me to the Old Mill, a 1930s reproduction of an 1880s water-powered gristmill, it felt like I was entering a storybook. It’s just a magical place, especially in the springtime, because there are lots of flowering plants and trees. It has even been in the movies — you can see it in one of the opening shots of Gone With the Wind.

North Little Rock, where I grew up, is across the river from the state capital of Little Rock. The capital city was always considered the spot where all the important and beautiful things were, but we kids always felt so proud that we had our own special thing in our town, and that was the Old Mill.

I’ve probably been there more than 50 times; I still take friends there. It’s a really special, unusual, beautiful place. It’s like the physical manifestation of all these worlds that I used to love to dream about.

While you’re in North Little Rock …

• Drink an award-winning Victory Pale Ale at Diamond Bear Brewing Co.

• Drive to Emerald Park for scenic views of the Arkansas River. 

• Enjoy the pulled pork and brisket at Lindsey’s Hospitality House — but don’t skip the catfish.

 

spinner image overhead view of the ornate lobby of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago with an inset headshot of David Sedaris
The ornate lobby of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago transfixed author David Sedaris during his college years.
AARP (Lana Rastro/Alamy; Anne Fishbein/Courtesy Hachette Book Group)

Palmer House Hotel, Chicago

David Sedaris, 67, humorist

In college I thought, Oh my God, the Palmer House is just it. The hotel is in that part of downtown where the big department stores were. The lobby would bustle with tourists from other parts of the Midwest. I was broke as a student, but I would go to the coffee shop every Friday and linger over my little cake.

Whenever I’m back in Chicago, I can’t help but think of my younger self and how I’m living the life I dreamed about in those days. I’m delighted the Palmer House is still there. They don’t have that coffee shop anymore, but I love the memories. They used to have those standing ashtrays outside the elevators, and someone would stamp the hotel logo into the sand. I literally wanted, when I died, to have my ashes put in the ashtrays of the Palmer House hotel and have their logo embossed upon my remains. I think the ashtrays are gone now too.

While you’re at the hotel …  

• Eat a brownie — legend has it they were invented there — in the ornate, French-style lobby.

• Walk to the Art Institute of Chicago, home to American Gothic and Nighthawks.

• Visit The Ledge, a glass balcony at Willis Tower.

 

spinner image Colorful buildings and docked boats at Marina del Rey harbor in Los Angeles with inset headshot of  Gayle King
"CBS Mornings" co-host Gayle King enjoys the casual atmosphere of the Marina del Rey harbor in Los Angeles.
AARP (Dan Hanscom/Alamy; Michele Crowe/CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

Marina del Rey Harbor, Los Angeles

Gayle King, 69, cohost, CBS Mornings

You know that song “Walking on Sunshine”? That’s me in Marina del Rey. I love strolling along the docks and looking at the sailboats that I’ll never have. You can watch people on kayaks or fishing boats, and parents taking their children on bike rides. And you’ll usually see seals or sea lions soaking up the sun.

Both of my kids live in L.A., so I visit the area often. In Hollywood, it feels like most people are either looking for a job or losing a job. But the marina is a more casual part of the city. Even the seals look happy.

Life is about creating moments when you don’t think you’re creating them. Walking around the marina isn’t a big-deal experience like going to Disneyland. It’s only when you look back that you gain an appreciation for something like that. I’ll remember a conversation. Or I’ll be at my desk in New York City thinking about how good the L.A. sun feels on my face when I’m with people I love.

While you’re at Marina del Rey …

• Head to 10-acre Burton W. Chace Park for summer concerts and water views (especially pretty at sunset).

• Indulge in banana bread French toast at Brizo restaurant.

• Hop aboard the $1 WaterBus, a water taxi that makes eight stops.

 

spinner image two people walk along the loop surrounding the Stanford Dish in Stanford, California, with inset headshot of Ellen Ochoa
A 3 ½-mile loop surrounds the Stanford Dish in Stanford, California, and presented a welcome academic reprieve for former astronaut Ellen Ochoa while she was earning her Ph.D.
AARP (Colouria Media/Alamy; Carmen Jaspersen/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP Images)

The Stanford Dish, Stanford, California

Ellen Ochoa, 65, former astronaut

Getting a Ph.D. is stressful. You’re not sure if you’ll ever get there. Much of my research time was spent in an optics lab at Stanford University where we blocked out the light because we were working with laser beams. Getting outside after spending all day in complete darkness was liberating. As often as possible, I would head to the Dish.

The Stanford Dish is a satellite dish with a big radio antenna in the foothills west of campus, and there’s a three-and-a-half-mile loop around it that is my favorite walk. When you get up near the top, you can see from San Jose to San Francisco. It’s a beautiful place.

In 1981, near the end of my first year at Stanford, the space shuttle flew for the first time. Then two years later, Sally Ride, who also studied at Stanford, became the first American woman in space. My walks around the Dish were when I first started thinking about the astronaut program. As soon as I got my Ph.D., I applied to NASA.

Years later, on my second shuttle mission, we flew over the Bay Area. I had a fairly large camera lens, and I could pick out the campus — the red-tiled roofs, the Dish. I could see where it all started for me. Whenever I go back to Stanford now, I see the Dish and think, This is where my life took wing.

While you’re at Stanford …

• Enjoy views of the Bay Area from Stanford’s Hoover Tower observation deck. 

• Explore the open-air Stanford Shopping Center — not just for its 146 stores but also for the lush flower gardens. 

• Geek out — and play Pong! — at the Computer History Museum, about 5 miles from Palo Alto.

 

spinner image Politics and Prose Bookstore's shelves brimming with books, and inset headshot of Min Jin Lee
When Min Jin Lee was a debut author, Washington, D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose invited her to do a book reading, earning it a place in her heart.
AARP (Courtesy Politics and Prose Bookstore; Elena Seibert/Courtesy Steven Barclay Agency)

Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.

Min Jin Lee, 55, best-selling author of Pachinko

My parents could never take me to bookstores. That was for rich people. It wasn’t until I was in college that I was able to buy books. While at law school in D.C., I would go to Politics and Prose as a treat.

I never thought I’d be a writer. It didn’t feel like a real job to me. But I remember going to a reading at Politics and Prose that the author Ethan Canin gave. I remember thinking, This young guy is a literary genius, but he’s also just a lovely person and real.

When I was a debut author myself, Politics and Prose was one of the first places that invited me to do a book event. At my first reading there, it felt like this sense of arrival. Today when I visit the shop and sit on the floor with a stack of books, I think, There’s both struggle and joy behind every one of these titles.

Other destination bookstores

Powell’s 1.6 acres of retail space occupies a full city block in Portland, Oregon. 

The Strand in New York City carries a vast inventory of used, new and rare books. 

• L.A.’s The Last Bookstore is a literary fun house, with a tunnel of books.

 

spinner image a water feature at Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf in Sarasota, Florida, with inset headshot of A.J. Jacobs
Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf in Sarasota, Florida, is a favorite outing for author A.J. Jacobs and his family.
AARP (Courtesy Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf; Mike Pont/Getty Images)

Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf, Sarasota, Florida

A.J. Jacobs, 56, best-selling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically

It’s got waterfalls. Delightfully cheesy mini golf. A pond with a dozen ravenous alligators. What’s not to love about Smugglers Cove? We’ve been visiting the course on trips to Florida since my three kids were little. Now that they’re bigger, our mini golf battles have become a great equalizer among three generations.

My wife’s stepmom lives nearby. Granny is very good at actual golf, but she doesn’t always beat the kids at mini golf. They kick my butt sometimes, too, and I’m OK with that. To me, it’s a delight when the next generation can outdo you.

I’m a big fan of rituals, and going to Smugglers Cove has that ritual quality for me. Every step of the way is meaningful. The grownups will usually place bets with the kids. For example, if the parents get a hole in one, no one gets ice cream afterwards. Although, to be honest, we always end up eating ice cream anyway. It’s a tradition!

Other renowned miniature golf courses

• Each summer, Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center unveils a 10-hole rooftop course with skyline views.

• Every hole at Philly Mini Golf focuses on a city landmark, such as the Liberty Bell. 

• Both courses at Crave Golf Club in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, have candy themes.

 

spinner image A hiker seen from behind in the Ko‘olau Range, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i with inset headshot of Tia Carrere
Actress and model Tia Carrere says hiking the Ko‘olau Range in O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, helps connect her to her truest self.
AARP (Courtesy Tia Carrere; Willy Sanjuan/AP Images)

The Ko‘olau Range, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i

Tia Carrere, 57, actress, model, singer and two-time Grammy Award winner

My grandmother’s family worked hard on Hawai‘i’s sugarcane and pineapple plantations. There were 11 kids, and they all lived together in a tiny hut. Later, my grandparents bought a house in Kalihi, which is where I grew up. I have always been acutely aware of how fortunate I am to have traveled so far from these humble beginnings.

Maybe it was a premonition, but when I was a kid, I dreamt about soaring like a bird above the Ko‘olau mountain range. These are the towering mountains I saw each morning when I went to school. They look like an open accordion rising from the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

Ever since I can remember, these mountains have connected me to the truest part of myself. I’ve hiked for nine hours to reach the top. But if you’re not up for the climb, there’s Pali Lookout. You can just drive there and take in the view. It’s humbling to feel how ancient these mountains are, that there are things much greater than us that we need to respect.

While you’re in O‘ahu …

• Tour the Byodo-In Temple, one of the world’s most beautiful Buddhist temples, per National Geographic.

• Drive to the Kilonani Mauka overlook at the Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden for a nearly 360-degree mountain view.

• Eat authentic Hawaiian food at the Waiahole Poi Factory

 

 

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