By Jay Jones, Special to Tribune Newspapers
7:38 PM EDT, July 23, 2013
"Good things come to those who wait." There's certainly truth in that popular proverb when it comes to people who have yet to plan a summer getaway.
August and September can be ideal months to take a vacation.
The crowds begin to thin. So, too, do the hordes of biting bugs.
Whether it's a walk — yes, a walk — across the Mississippi River or a stroll through a seaside fishing port, America is your oyster during the still-warm weeks ahead at these five unique destinations.
Gatlinburg, Tenn. — Outdoor enthusiasts know it as the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, amusement park fans know Dollywood is just a jog away, and the town itself is a kid's dream playground. But Gatlinburg also is home to the scores of skilled souls who are members of the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community (gatlinburgcrafts.com). More than 120 artisans have set up shop along an 8-mile loop that winds through the hills and hollows.
Amid the usual gaggle of painters and potters is a handful of folks practicing traditional Appalachian trades. They include Dave Ogle, who crafts 22 varieties of old-fashioned brooms inside the tiny Ogle's Broom Shop (670 Glades Road, Gatlinburg; 865-430-4402; oglesbroomshop.com). While wife Tammie stitches together bristles made from stalks of broomcorn, a type of sorghum, Ogle cuts and carves the handles from local woods such as dogwood, sassafras and wild cherry. At age 9, he learned the skill from his grandfather, and he took up the trade at age 13. The various shops are open year-round, but late August to mid-October — after schools have reopened and before the fall leaf peepers arrive — is an ideal time to visit.
Itasca State Park, Minn. — The Mighty Mississippi is simply a shallow stream, one that's easy to wade across, at its origin about a three-hour drive north of the Twin Cities.
Here, at Itasca State Park (Park Rapids, Minn.; 218-699-7251; dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/itasca/index.html), the "Father of Waters" begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Learn more about the beautiful spot where our country's most famous river begins at the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center. (It's named for the woman who in 1903, at age 24, inherited the job of park commissioner following the death of her father.)
The sprawling park contains more than 100 lakes, miles of bike trails, plus all manner of boat rentals. Among the lakes is Itasca, from which the at-first-modest Mississippi materializes. The black flies for which the North Woods are notorious are pretty much gone by mid-August, and the mosquitoes disappear following the first frost, usually by mid-September.
New Bedford, Mass. — Want to hear a good fish tale or two? Head to this oceanfront city an hour south of Boston for the Working Waterfront Festival (workingwaterfrontfestival.org) Sept. 28 and 29. The bustling port will be full of seafarers sharing the culture of commercial fishermen. They'll tell stories about the ones that got away in a tent on Steamboat Pier and also demonstrate how they have to act quickly when someone shouts, "Man overboard!"
Between tasty bites of fried scallops, clam cakes and oysters on the half shell, visitors can tour various boats from the local fleet. Those who can't make it to New Bedford that weekend can witness the activity anytime from a table at the Waterfront Grille (36 Homers Wharf, New Bedford; 508-997-7010; waterfrontgrille.com), where the menu features daily specials "fresh off the boat."
Nearby, the Ocean Explorium (174 Union St., New Bedford; 508-994-5400; oceanexplorium.org) features various exhibits about the give-and-take between humans and the sea.
Tampa, Fla. — The Tampa area is home to the second-largest Cuban community in the U.S., after the Miami area. The historic neighborhood of Ybor City hums to a Latin vibe, and its red brick buildings and narrow brick streets house art galleries, restaurants and nightclubs.
Get grounded during a visit to Ybor City Museum State Park (1818 N. 19th St., Tampa; 813-247-6323; ybormuseum.org).
Here, guests learn how Don Vincente Martinez Ybor launched Tampa's cigar-making industry more than a century ago. At its peak, the industry's 12,000 workers produced 700 million cigars a year.
Through September, the museum features "Beisbol: Tampa's Love of the Game," a special exhibit examining the city's 125-year love affair with baseball, a popular pastime in both America and Cuba. (The Al Lopez Baseball Museum will open nearby next year.) Unwind and people-watch while enjoying a cup of cafe con leche — and maybe a hand-rolled cigar as well.
The Ybor City Chamber of Commerce has a list of attractions and tours on its website (ybor.org) and offers insider tips at its Visitor Information Center (1600 E. Eighth Ave., Tampa; 813-241-8838).
Zoar, Ohio — Founded in 1817, Zoar was "a sanctuary from evil" for the religious refugees from Germany who created a flourishing commune. The Ohio Historical Society owns and operates 10 restored buildings, both homes and businesses, collectively known as Zoar Village (tinyurl.com/bgdk3nh). They're staffed with costumed interpreters and furnished with items made or used by the religious separatists.
Begin at the Zoar Store, 198 Main St., where tour tickets are sold and a short film explains the sect's history. Other restored, state-owned buildings include the bakery, blacksmith shop and wagon shop. A number of privately owned historic buildings in Zoar are now used as inns and restaurants. To absorb the culture, visit during special events, such as the Zoar Harvest Festival (Aug. 3-4) and Beginning Blacksmithing classes (Aug. 18 and Sept. 21). They're organized by the Zoar Community Association (330-874-3011, historiczoarvillage.com).
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