Travel Q&A: Canary Islands 101; Road-Tripping to Michigan

By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 23, 2009

Q. My husband and I are flying to La Gomera in the Canary Islands in September for the golden wedding anniversary of his parents. I cannot find much information about the island online. Can you give us tips on La Gomera and also Tenerife?

Joell Gallardo, Rockville

A. The Canary Islands, in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa, have a rep as a beer-and-beach destination for Spanish mainlanders.

But take heart: The unspoiled island of La Gomera makes a great introduction to the Canaries, says Josephine Quintero, co-author of the Lonely Planet guide to the Spanish archipelago. At about 145 square miles, it's the second smallest of the chain's seven major islands. Not much night life, but plenty of action for nature lovers: black-sand beaches, natural swimming holes, hiking trails, whale and dolphin watching, and an extraordinary variety of landscapes, from rocky peaks to volcanic chimneys.

Tenerife is more touristy, with lots of resorts, especially in the southwest part. But Quintero, who lives in Spain and visits the islands frequently, says it's still possible to have an authentic Canarian experience there. Highlights: the moonscape surrounding the El Teide volcano, the charming capital of Santa Cruz and the delicious traditional Canarian food. But beware of restaurants that advertise their "international cuisine" with large posters of their dishes on the sidewalk, Quintero warns. "Instead, head for a restaurant where the locals eat, and go for the economical menu del dia, where you will typically eat traditional, well-prepared Canarian cuisine."

The weather in September should be lovely, with daily highs of 75 to 80 degrees.

My wife and I will be traveling to the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan via the Pennsylvania and Ohio turnpikes and I-75. Are there any interesting short stops along the way to lighten the trip?

Neil Crowley, Mechanicsville

Your route will take you through some blight, but here's one terrific stop: Pittsburgh, about a third of the way to the U.P. Lots of quick hits, from world-class museums to the country's largest aviary.

Ride the Monongahela Incline (known locally as the Mon) up Mount Washington. For $2 each way, the oldest and steepest incline in the country takes you up 635 feet at a 35-degree angle, with views of downtown Pittsburgh at the top. Then have lunch, and stock up on ethnic food to take home, in the Strip District, on Penn Avenue between 11th and 22nd streets. Markets there offer everything from fresh biscotti to pulled pork sandwiches.

Two local faves: De Luca's, with classic diner fare, and Primanti Bros., which packs the coleslaw and fries inside the sandwiches. Info on the city: Visit Pittsburgh,

Six hours farther north is the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, south of Saginaw, Mich. Located in the Mississippi Flyway, it hosts more than 270 species of birds each year, with thousands of ducks, geese and other waterfowl stopping to refuel during the spring and fall migrations. Info: 989-777-5930,

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