As we approach the one year anniversary of the world shutting down, many of us are experiencing a combination of optimism and burnout. There’s hope ahead, in the form of expanding vaccine rollout, not to mention warmer spring temperatures. But we’ve also been living our new normal for a while: trying to find safe, enjoyable ways to pass our free time, and distract ourselves from the more challenging realities of living through a pandemic.
It’s not always easy to muster up the energy to do something new—say, to look up a nearby hike, or maybe, finally, find a local restaurant serving boat noodles just like the ones you loved eating in Bangkok last summer. Whenever our editors have managed to break out of their pandemic routines, though—finding new day trips, meals, museums exhibitions, and more—it’s been a much-needed taste of the excitement travel used to bring us.
Until we can safely jet around the world again, we’ll be leaning on these bits of newness closer to home. If you’re in need of fresh inspiration for your weekend activities, read on for the best things we did this month. (For more inspiration, take a look at what we were up to in February, January, and beyond.)
This article was last published on March 15, 2021. It has been updated with new information.
A vintage barn sale in Purcellville, Virginia
I’m a sucker for a good barn sale—a sale in yes, an actual barn, often packed with vintage and antique finds. During a recent visit to Loudoun County, Virginia, I was tipped off that my favorite barn sale purveyor, Ekster Antiques, was having one. (Technically, it was a vintage pop-up sale in a farmhouse, but the barn was full of goods, too.) Caroline Verschoor, the driving force behind Ekster, scouts the world for everything from unique furniture and decor to fireplace mantels and elaborate chandeliers. Her finds all reflect her chic but breezy vibe—and her prices are incredibly fair. I walked off with two pitchers, some antique serving spoons, and linens, and my sisters-in-law nabbed wall art and a gorgeous mirror. Verschoor holds sales semi-regularly and by appointment, so follow her Instagram account or sign up for her mailing list to hit up the next one. —Corina Quinn, city guides director
A wildlife-filled Florida park
A few weeks back, I explored the possibility of going from Sarasota to the Everglades for just a day, but nixed those plans when I realized the amount of time on the road it would involve. But in my searching I discovered a place closer to home with gators, birds, and a river cruise from which to watch all the wetland life unfold. Myakka River State Park is a wild 375,000 acre reserve with lazy, arched oaks and palm trees sprouting up from fields of tall grasses and wild flowers. The best place to take it all in is high up on the Canopy Walk, a wooden structure at the leaf line with a platform that lets hikers see out to the river bed and over much of the park’s acreage. Of course, if you’d prefer biking or horse-riding to hiking, there’s a web of trails for both, all of which loop to the main river dock where hourly boats take passengers along the shoreline for prime osprey, heron, and gator viewing. I can’t imagine it’s the same thrill as sitting high up on an Everglades fan boat, but it was a nice reminder, especially for these days, that sometimes you can find a perfectly great version of what you are looking for closer to home. —Erin Florio, travel news director
Great katsu and salmon teriyaki in Brooklyn
Weeks often passed without me leaving my neighborhood this winter, thanks to a combination of my ongoing work-from-home life and, well, the occasional blizzard. And so it felt particularly glorious that just as spring arrived in Brooklyn earlier this month, so did a new Japanese to-go spot at the end of my block in Clinton Hill. Owned by a husband-and-wife team local to the area, Chef Katsu’s menu is full of the sort of high-quality-yet-low-key dishes I thought I’d have to go back to Japan for. So far, I’ve managed to sample two items since the soft opening: an umami-packed salmon teriyaki bowl with a soy-glazed soft boiled egg, blistered shishito peppers, and delicately sliced pickles; and an impossibly crispy chicken katsu burger topped with shiso-dressed shredded cabbage and slathered in curry sauce. I ate both on my stoop in the sunshine, an experience made even more enjoyable by the knowledge that two people deciding to open a restaurant in 2021 can mean only one thing: optimism. —Lale Arikoglu, senior lifestyle editor
A pétanque court in New York
Part mall, part food hall, part event space, South Brooklyn’s Industry City has a little of everything. Amid the grocery stores with cultish followings (Sahadi’s, Sunrise Mart), public art, and world-class breweries, though, sits what looks like little more than a mall kiosk: Carreau Club. Carreau Club rents balls (known as boules) and lanes, for the French bocce-like sport known as pétanque. Thankfully, whoever is working that day be available for as much time as you need to learn how to play. It’s been a beautiful way to spend a sunny hour throughout the pandemic, made better by the fact that the Carreau Club also serves better drinks than anyone has a right to expect of a pétanque kiosk. If you’re pétanque-curious, their spring league, open to all skill levels, runs Thursdays in May. And stay tuned for an expansion into a larger space at IC in the future. —Noah Kaufman, city guides editor
A slice of Israel in Philly
For my birthday a few weeks ago, my fiancé and I spent the night in Philadelphia, one of our favorite cities. Fortunately for us, the days were warm and sunny—one of the first true spring weekends, when you can sit outside comfortably without a heater and bask in the sun. We managed to hit two of chef Michael Solomonov’s restaurants, Goldie and Dizengoff, which specialize in falafel and hummus, respectively—two dishes you’ll find throughout Israel—before we headed home to New Jersey, and were surprised to discover that both meals brought us back to the trip we took to Israel together in May of 2019: the way we sat outside in the shade, life passing by, and took in the chatter of other satisfied diners; the smell of fried falafel wafting in the warm breeze; the fresh tang of zhug on our tongues; even the way we moved our wrists counter-clockwise to lift the perfect amount of hummus onto freshly baked pita. We ate our food—and the memory of that trip—right up. —Betsy Blumenthal, associate editor
A natural refuge in Sarasota
During a stay at my parents’ place in Sarasota, Florida, I made a point of spending as much time outdoors as possible. This brought me to parts of this Gulf Coast city that I’d somehow missed over 15 years of visits, including the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Tucked just behind the city center on the bay, the gardens are dedicated to preserving the area’s native flora, including flaming orange orchids and ferns. My two-year-old nephew had a blast running across the hanging bridges of the Children’s Rainforest Garden treehouse; we both squealed when we saw dolphins off the Bayou lookout. We didn’t spot any alligators during the mangrove walk, but our eyes were glued on a turtle inching his way back into the lagoon at the garden’s eastern edge. If you visit, swing around the garden’s outer edge and end at the beginning of the Great Lawn, where you can have a cold beer from the on-site cafe at tables overlooking the grounds and the water beyond.—E.F.
Highly coveted pastries and ceramics in Brooklyn
I’ve been following Not Work Related, Sarah Hussaini’s ceramics shop, since last summer, and have been coveting one of her gorgeous hand-thrown mugs for months. She makes them in small batches, and they always sell out as soon as they go live on her site. Last December, she opened up pre-orders for those of us who’ve been wanting an item and were willing to wait. My mug was ready for this past weekend, and since I opted for pick-up, we drove to Hussaini’s Greenpoint studio, where she also teaches private pottery classes.
Since we were already in Brooklyn, we swung by Gertie, where new head baker Melissa Funk Weller has been making waves with her bialys, bagels, and pastries. Her bagels are soft and doughy in the best way possible, and absolutely worth a special trip; the pastry box had her famous babka and schnecken, a sticky caramel bun. Next up for Funk Weller and the Gertie team are themed boxes (the first one was a French and Jew-ish mashup that included pastrami reuben croissant sandwiches and kouign-amann). If you’re hoping to snag one, order ahead of time—these are known to sell out incredibly quickly. —Stephanie Wu, articles director
A new (affordable) art shop in Minneapolis
I attended the opening weekend of Walrus, a lovely new community marketplace in Minneapolis. While the Twin Cities are blessed with terrific art galleries and festivals (including Art-A-Whirl, the largest open studio tour in the country), Walrus founder Michelle Courtright felt there was something missing from the scene: an affordable art boutique. She brought her vision to life inside a turreted machine repair building dating to 1894. Her curation includes original works by some of Minnesota’s most talented artists (Hilary Greenstein, Madison Elyse Rubenstein), limited-edition prints, and a smattering of vintage pieces. There’s something for every price point, from $25 to $2,500, and many of the works are already framed. Even cooler—10 percent of the shop’s net profits are donated to Juxtaposition Arts, a teen-staffed art and design center in North Minneapolis. —Ashlea Halpern, contributor
A cabin getaway in upstate New York
Cedar Lakes Estate, in New York’s Hudson Valley, has gone through several iterations—starting as a sleepaway camp for kids from Harlem, then an Olympics training ground, and eventually, a wedding and event venue with a wide variety of accommodations, from high-ceilinged cottages to huge rooms with bunk beds. But last year, as large gatherings were canceled, owners Stephanie and Lisa Karvellas reworked their business plan to pivot to cabin getaways, which had previously only been available in the wedding off-season, in hopes of recouping some of the money lost from postponed weddings. They imagined a place where couples, families, and pandemic pods could spend a weekend in nature, with plenty of fresh air and incredible meals.
My husband and I got married at Cedar Lakes in 2019, and given that it’s only a 90-minute drive from the city, it seemed like the ideal place to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. We checked into one of their cozy Sleepy Pine cottages, which was decorated with rustic memorabilia and had plenty of space for us to stretch out for the weekend. The same amount of attention that goes into planning destination weddings has gone into these weekend getaways—there are work spaces if you need to dial in; we got daily texts reminding us of the events, like movie night in the barn and a cocktail-making class. All the meals are included in the resort fee, including a hearty breakfast, picnic lunch, and multi-course dinner (that can be eaten in your room if you’d prefer not to dine in their spaced out pavilion). And the 500-acre grounds are set up for all sorts of winter activities, like sledding, ice fishing, snowshoeing, and more. We loved being back on the property and experiencing it as guests, where every detail was taken care of and COVID measures were carefully put into place. Cedar Lakes plans to continue these weekend getaways through April, so there’s plenty more time for those in the region to enjoy this rare chance to experience this pop-up hotel—no wedding festivities required. —S.W.
An at-home raw bar
In the midst of a recent bout of winter cooking doldrums, Citarella swept in with the ultimate save: a complete at-home raw bar kit that required minimal work (basically, we plated it) and an impressive level of escapism. Citarella, the New York City–based gourmet market, recently created the package and named it after owner Joe Gurrera, a fishmonger known for his expertise on all things fresh seafood. We chose it because we’ve been craving some lighter dinner options—and at this time of year, wish we could be somewhere sunny and by the sea.
I didn’t realize you could ship shellfish and keep it so fresh. When we first opened it, I was sold on the caviar alone—the tangy crème fraîche really landed it—but then came a parade of heavy-hitters from the sea. Fresh, baby pink shrimp; pre-shucked oysters on the half shell; stone and king crab legs; as well as a full lobster (also pre-cut and pre-cracked). It was more than enough for two—but we didn’t leave a single bite behind. —C.Q.
Grocery shopping in Manhattan’s Chinatown
Like many others, I’ve been cooking up a storm over the past year, turning cookbooks that once served as coffee table decor into sauce-splattered kitchen tools. And they have, in turn, sent me throughout New York’s five boroughs in search of the spices, flours, and produce needed to recreate flavors from every corner of the world. Most recently, I did a two-part journey to Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, and its counterpart in downtown Manhattan. Armed with a lengthy shopping list, I scooped up whole Szechuan peppercorns for dry pot, winter melon for a pork rib soup, and, because I couldn’t resist, frozen soup dumplings and bamboo steamers (both of which you can find at Hong Kong Market in the city), for those snowy nights when I’m too tired to cook, yet the weather is miserable enough that I can’t justify ordering delivery. —Megan Spurrell, associate editor
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