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The House of Shields, San Francisco

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, December 29 05:09 PM

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So what if this beautiful old bar in downtown San Francisco doesn't have a clock (or a TV) to help count down the last seconds of 2010? We're hoping it means there won't be a last call, either.

The House of Shields has been around for a while--over 100 years, in fact. But it has just reopened after a renovation that's added some extra polish to the wood-paneled walls and brass statues and stripped the floor back to the original tile mosaic. Owner and chef, Dennis Leary, also runs Canteen restaurant and the much-loved Sentinel sandwich shop next door, so expect some quality eats soon, too.

Grab one of the spruced-up wooden booths for you and your posse to toast 2011...just make sure one of you wears a watch.

Padma Lakshmi Collection, The Surrey Hotel, New York City

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, December 28 05:13 PM

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New York City's Upper East Side, home to the pretty of face and the deep of pocket. Could there be a better place to shill the new jewelry line of model-turned-reality-TV-star Padma Lakshmi?

To catch the eye of chic peripatetic types, the Top Chef host has checked her baubles into the neighborhood's recently renovated Surrey hotel (look for the customized armoire in the lobby). We love the boho elegance of the bold pyrite and garnet necklace that references Masai bead wear and the 14-karat-gold earrings reminiscent of Southeast Asian orchids.

While a touch of Lakshmi's glamour is an added attraction, there's no need for her cooking prowess here--the top chefs of Café Boulud at The Surrey have all that in hand.

Our Favorite Hotel Skating Rinks

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, December 27 05:15 PM

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The Standard NYC

Sitting at street level in New York City's Meatpacking District, the Standard's winter wonderland (pictured) is a good spot for people-watching both on and off the ice (note the sexy staff clad in custom Roxy snowsuits). Blade runners can refuel with cheese fondue and tempura onion rings. But go easy on the spiked hot chocolate, or the only thing you'll be putting on ice is your behind.

Open through winter. Tickets $12, skate rental $3.

Hotel del Coronado
Forget frozen fingers and tingly toes. At the Hotel del Coronado, in San Diego, you can practice your figure eights and work on your tan. The palm treeringed rink overlooks the Pacific, and a portion of the proceeds from each two- or three-hour skating session goes to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Open through January 2. Three-hour session: $20 for adults, $15 for kids. Two-hour session: $15 for adults, $10 for kids. Skate rental: $5.

St. Regis Atlanta
Tented in billowing white fabric and illuminated by twinkling fairy lights, the St. Regis Atlanta's rink is the place to go to win you serious romance points. Afterward, cozy up for hot chocolate and s'mores around the outdoor fireplaces or head upstairs for free leg and foot massages at the spa.

Open through January 3. One-hour session: $30 for adults, $18 for kids.

ME by Meliá, Cancún, Mexico

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, December 21 05:19 PM

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As the clock strikes midnight this New Year's Eve, some of us will be making resolutions of abstinence for 2011. ME by Meliá, on the other hand, will be celebrating self-indulgence and the launch of Complete ME--the scene-y Cancún hotel's all-inclusive model.

The new format allows you to indulge your every vacation whim without the nickel-and-diming you encounter at some of Cancún's all-inclusives. That means accommodation at the South Beach-style, 448-room property as well as alcoholic beverages, meals, and admission to ME's famous beach parties and clubs are all included in rates starting at $194 per person per night.

So go ahead, have another tequila--or four. It's on the house.

Lomography's Sprocket Rocket Camera

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, December 20 05:23 PM

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Don't get us wrong, we love the convenience of digital cameras. But remember the excitement of seeing your prints for the first time, when you shot on film? The new mini Sprocket Rocket might tempt you back. It's as bite-size as your compact digital, with a 35 mm wide-angle lens that's perfect for panoramic shots. And its retro appearance wins style points.

The Sprocket Rocket lends some extra creativity to your picture-taking experience, too. It exposes images over the entire piece of film, including the sprockets, which gives the edges of your prints a film-reel vibe. It's also the first camera fitted with a reverse gear, allowing you to take a shot then rewind to superimpose another picture over it. The result? Perhaps a streaky neon Tokyo scene over a field of poppies, or multiple perspectives of the Brooklyn Bridge, all in one photograph.

And since there's no preview, half the fun is waiting to see how your images turn out. There's nothing like a little delayed photo gratification.

The Counter, New York City

By Conde Nast Traveler Friday, December 17 05:26 PM

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Is there such a thing as too much choice? When West Coast burger joint The Counter opens its first New York City outpost in Times Square on Monday, you'll be able to choose from more than 300,000 burger combinations. Surely it's only a matter of time before someone takes that as a challenge.

The options to build your own Angus beef, grilled chicken, turkey, or veggie burger--with toppings like grilled pineapple, roasted corn and black bean salsa, country buttermilk Ranch dressing, basil pesto, fried egg, and dill pickle chips--sound yummy. And the industrial-style interiors with hanging globe lights and mint-colored walls will be a welcome respite from the many gaudy fast-food options in Midtown.

Better still, there's a full bar with spiked shakes. We're there.

Photo: Courtesy of The Counter

Amanyara, Turks and Caicos

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, December 15 11:18 AM

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New Year's resolutions usually start after your holiday vacation. But we've found a luxury Caribbean getaway with three top professional athletes on hand to get you psyched for a healthier 2011.

Amanyara resort in Turks and Caicos has enlisted tennis pro Peter Rennert (John McEnroe's former doubles partner) to boost your game on the hotel's two Har-Tru clay courts, triathlete Boris Talan to streamline your strokes in the 50-meter pool, and world record-holder Tanya Streeter to teach you the ins and outs of free diving.

So even if you do succumb to overeating/drinking/lounging during your stay at one of the 40 stylish glass-and-wood guest pavilions surrounded by reflecting pools, at least you'll have professionals on call to get you back on track.

Photo: Courtesy of Amanresorts

The Normandy Hotel, Washington, D.C.

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, December 14 11:21 AM

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Saving a couple of hundred dollars when you're staying in D.C. might feel like a drop in the ocean compared with the sums Congress is arguing over. But for ordinary folks like us, it's a big deal. The Normandy is a 75-room hotel that feels far more luxurious than the bargain rates (often as low as $109 per night) suggest. Located on a leafy side street within walking distance of Dupont Circle's restaurants and bars, the Normandy juxtaposes Old World touches like toile wallpaper with a clean, neutral palette and leather headboards. Service is friendly and efficient, and there's a host of perks (free Wi-Fi, Nespresso coffee machines in the rooms, wine and cheese receptions). It all adds up to a pleasant stay, and, dare we say, the best value in the District.

And while you're in town...

Eat here:
Bibiana
Madeleine Albright, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg have all been spotted in Bibiana's buzzy dining room. So, what's the draw? Chef Nicholas Stefanelli applies a light touch to pasta dishes such as citrus agnolotti (airy pillows perked up with tangy ricotta) and buttery Maryland lump crab on a rich tangle of squid ink spaghetti. The confident yet unobtrusive service is a welcome plus, too.

Drink here:
Columbia Room
The tiny Columbia Room is part apothecary, part Japanese omakase experience. Owner and master of ceremonies Derek Brown chips ice from a wooden hangiri while holding forth on the chemistry of tinctures and the history of tiki. Tipplers tend to linger, taste-testing new recipes, mellowing out to the acoustic indie soundtrack, and ordering one last cocktail. We suggest the martini, the perfect marriage of precision (Brown uses a thermometer) and flair (that cut crystal coupe!).

Photo: Courtesy of the Normandy Hotel

TKTS iPhone App, New York City

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, December 13 11:33 AM

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A lot can happen in a New York minute. Broadway theater tickets can be available at a 50 percent discount one minute then sell out the next. Which is why, if you're visiting NYC and planning to catch a show, you should download the Theatre Development Fund's new TKTS iPhone app (free through March 2011).

Check the app for real-time listings of all Broadway and Off-Broadway shows for which discounted same-day tickets are available at TKTS booths. (The big one under the red glass steps in Times Square is hard to miss, but there's another in Lower Manhattan at South Street Seaport and a third at 1 MetroTech Center, Brooklyn.) The app also provides show descriptions, performance schedules, theater locations, and accessibility info.

Now give yourself a round of applause for saving time and money.

Download the TKTS iPhone App at the iTunes app store or TDF.org.

Photo: Gary Burke, Flickr

EpicQuest Heli-Ski Photography Package, Alaska

By Conde Nast Traveler Friday, December 10 11:48 AM

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Half the fun of heli-skiing is the bragging rights. So why not take it to the next level and combine a heli-ski trip with a squad of professional outdoors photographers who'll capture your adrenaline-fueled adventures and teach you the tricks of their trade?

Starting in March 2011, EpicQuest's heli-ski and photography package will bring together outdoors/ski photographer Scott Markewitz, Powder magazine photo editor David Reddick, and up to eight guests on a seven-day excursion to Alaska's Chugach Mountains. The pros will teach you how to shoot on the slopes and atop remote peaks as well as from a helicopter, but it's not all about looking through a lens--you'll be swooshing through fresh powder on the steeps, too.

Finally, your aprčs-ski tales of derring-do can be backed up with photographic evidence.

Photo: EpicQuest/Scott Markewitz

La Terrasse, Bern, Switzerland

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, December 09 11:52 AM

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If you like the idea of watching a chef at work but prefer to keep your distance from sharp knives and hot sauces, La Terrasse at the grande dame Bellevue Palace hotel in Bern, Switzerland, is the place to eat.

Diners already use an iPad to browse the French dishes on the menu. Now they can use the tablet to watch head chef Gregor Zimmermann cook their dinner. And beginning next year, it will also be possible to connect to the kitchen directly via instant messaging to say hello or share some "constructive criticism."

We're told the communication will be one-way, so you won't hear what the chef thinks of your culinary advice. Probably just as well.

Photo: Courtesy of the Victoria-Jungfrau Collection

Babylonstoren, Drakenstein Valley, South Africa

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, December 08 12:27 PM

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Locavores are likely to think they've died and gone to heaven when they arrive at Babylonstoren, a 300-year-old working farm in South Africa's Cape Winelands that has just opened 14 Dutch-style luxury cottages in its gardens.

Green-fingered types can roll up their sleeves and get to work planting, pruning, or picking produce. But if getting your hands dirty is the last thing you want to do on vacation--no judgment--you can enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor in the seasonal farm restaurant, Babel, or kick back at the hotel's spa and pool. The comfortable, high-ceilinged suites have modern furniture and open hearths and are housed in traditional whitewashed buildings with ornate gables and thatched roofs.

If you think this place can't get any better, think again: Babylonstoren's first batch of wine will be ready in mid-2011.

Photo: Courtesy of Babylonstoren

Oscar de la Renta's Ultimate Wedding Experience

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, December 07 12:31 PM

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Powdery white sand: Check. Azure sea: Check. Personal gown consultation with a fashion legend: Check.

If you book all 15 Tortuga Bay villas at the Dominican Republic's Puntacana Resort & Club for your impending nuptials, not only will you benefit from pearls of fashion wisdom from Oscar de la Renta at his New York atelier, but your wedding will include access to nine restaurants, a Six Senses spa, and a 600-acre forest preserve where you can be at one with nature (as well as each other, in the spring-fed pools). And since the resort also owns the airport, your pre-wedding nerves will be soothed by the smoothest of transfers.

Sun, sea, and style. Now that's what your big day should be all about.

Photo: Courtesy of Puntacana Resort & Club

Canal House, Amsterdam, Netherlands

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, December 06 12:35 PM

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A bit tulip-sniffing organic, a bit debauched, Amsterdam is a city with a split personality. Now a new hotel, opening in January, is looking to bridge the divide.

Comprised of three 17th- and 18th-century canal houses perched on a particularly elegant stretch of the Keizersgracht, the Canal House hotel will include a dusky bar and 23 rooms with a seductive black, purple, and copper palette, plus come-hither open bathrooms that would seem custom-made for an illicit tryst. The tulip-sniffing side? The Great Room restaurant, carved out of a former ballroom, will serve Dutch locavore dishes, and a hidden garden out back includes a Garden House folly for private dinners.

Photo: Amy Murrell

ck 3d Sunglasses by ck Calvin Klein

By Conde Nast Traveler Friday, December 03 12:39 PM

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If your travel plans include Cannes in May, trust Calvin Klein to help you save face: The designer's ck 3d sunglasses will complement your look as you pose on the beach and keep you from appearing ridiculous at film screenings.

The shades come in three styles: the Safari (pictured above), the Wayfarer-esque Havana, and the Glam (a large, square frame for women). They offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, and the lenses are curved to give you a better viewing experience than those disposable frames handed out at movie theaters.

The specs will be available this month, so even if the gloomy weather doesn't give you an excuse to wear them, the crop of 3-D holiday movie releases will.

ck 3d Sunglasses by ck Calvin Klein, $180, will be available exclusively at the Calvin Klein Collection boutique, 654 Madison Avenue, New York City.

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Prices and other information were accurate at press time, but are subject to change. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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