Direct flight

The best way to fun and excitement

MAR15-Feature1-A

It’s getting much easier to travel from Fort Wayne to countless destinations across the globe by flying out of Fort Wayne International Airport. The newest and best news is that increasingly, and especially in the past year, non-stop flights from Fort Wayne can whisk you directly to some very fun and exciting places.

To help you enjoy this wonderful fact about life in our Summit City, we’ve explored the possibilities in a seasonably suitable five of the dozen available destinations and present our recommendations. Explore the rest of them later this year!

FLORIDA: Unexpected delights

Sure, everyone goes to Florida for the sand, the sun and the mouse. But there’s more to the Sunshine State than Disney and the beach. That said, with several direct flights each week to Florida destinations like Fort Myers and Punta Gorda, Orlando/Sanford and Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, there’s a sunny destination for nearly everyone.

Instead of the usual (expensive) journey to the theme parks of Orlando, think instead about heading to the state’s Gulf coast to enjoy the spectacular nature offered in Charlotte Harbor and its Gulf Islands, an area that consistently ranks at the top of travel and retirement lists. Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands include the areas of Boca Grande, Don Pedro Island, El Jobean, Englewood-Cape Haze, Little Gasparilla Island, Manasota Key, Palm Island, Placida, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. You can fly to Fort Myers at least twice a week on Allegiant Air directly from Fort Wayne International Airport. (Allegiant adds more flights per week during holidays and spring break times.)

Scheduled to open this month in Punta Gorda is Florida Track and Trails, the largest outdoor experience park in the Southeast. It will feature dozens of trails for off-roading and motocross, plus a zipline, regular weekend concerts and a beach area. And no, you don’t have to bring your off-road vehicle with you: they’ve got plenty to rent.

If water is your thing, Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands offer 28 miles of white-sand beaches, plus 200 miles of waterways that are perfect for kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding and canoeing. At Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park, you can hike, fish and paddle in 42,000 acres of mangrove swamps, salt marshes and pine flatwoods. Six miles of marked trails wind through the park, and more than 300 species of birds frequent the area. The Great Florida Birding Trail features seven spots where you can see birds of all feathers flocked together.

In Punta Gorda, you can borrow the free, canary-yellow bikes to ride through this quaint small Florida town, where Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon founded a colony before he was felled by a poisoned arrow. These days, you’ll find boutique shopping, brick-lined streets and gallery walks on the third Thursday of each month. If you’re hungry, stop by The Captain’s Table on Charlotte Harbor, 1200 West Retta Esplanade in Punta Gorda, where you can dine on seafood while gazing out at the harbor at sunset. Looking for something a little off the beaten path? Try the Mango Bistro, which features fresh fruit smoothies and a gluten-free menu. You’ll find it at 301 W. Dearborn St. in Englewood.

For the art lovers among us, the Sea Grape Gallery, 113 W. Marion Ave in Punta Gorda, is a cooperative fine art gallery featuring works by nearly two-dozen artists. You’ll find oil paintings, watercolors, mixed media, photography and other crafts. The Punta Gorda Historical Railroad Depot and Antique Mall, 1009 Taylor Road in Punta Gorda, is a recently restored 1928 depot, and it features historical exhibits (include segregated ticket windows and waiting rooms, as it was originally built in the Jim Crow era), plus 20 antique booths for shopping. In March, the Peace River National Arts Festival is held in Laishley Park and features 90 juried artists. You’ll find it March 21-22 this year, at 100 Nesbit St., in Punta Gorda.

CHARLOTTE: Booming and welcoming

New air service to Charlotte began last fall with US Airways’ daily service to the booming North Carolina city. The Queen City was once known only for being a banking hub, but these days, it offers dozens of attractions. Example? The Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of NASCAR’s premier tracks, and you can tour the facility and experience what a 24-degree bank feels like firsthand. And there are plenty more family-friendly attractions. The ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St., is part library, part children’s theatre and more. It features state-of-the-art performance spaces, teen-only and 11-and-under libraries and a multi-media production space. Discovery Place, 301 N. Tryon St., features hands-on learning labs, an aquarium and rainforest, IMAX and 3D theatre and more (think Science Central on steroids).

Then there are the arts. Charlotte has a thriving arts culture, with the Charlotte Symphony, the Lee Street Theater, the Charlotte Fine Art Gallery, the Visulite Theatre and the Actor’s Crib, plus dozens of art galleries scattered throughout the city. The last weekend of April brings the Kings Drive Art Walk, which will be held along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, a newly reclaimed natural waterway between East Morehead Street and Pearle Street Bridge along Kings Drive. The Charlotte Ballet (formerly the North Carolina Dance Theatre) and Opera Carolina provide cultural opportunities throughout the year; while at the Levine Center, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture, the John S. and James L. Knight Theater and the Mint Museum Uptown offer a wide variety of artistic opportunities in Charlotte’s Uptown region in a two-block complex on South Tryon Street.

For the more active among us, check out the U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, where you can enjoy whitewater rafting and kayaking, flat-water kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, rock climbing, zip lines, ropes courses, a canopy tour and mountain biking on 25-plus miles of trails. Carowinds, Charlotte’s giant amusement park, located at 14523 Carowinds Blvd., features more than 50 rides, plus a water park. This spring, Carowinds debuts the Fury 325, the world’s tallest and fastest giga coaster, with top speeds of 95 mph.

Dining in Charlotte offers both traditional down-home Southern cooking along with the latest in today’s food trends. For those with a taste for sweet tea and proper Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue (made with vinegar and spices and no ketchup), look no further than Bubba’s Barbecue, voted best barbecue in Charlotte by readers of Southern Living magazine. You’ll find it just north of town at 4400 Sunset Road, just off Interstate 77. For a unique farm-to-table experience, The Asbury, 235 N. Tryon St., offers Old South cuisine influenced by modern cuisine movements. Examples include cornmeal-crusted oysters and cast iron scallops with a pumpkin grit cake. Yummy!

PHOENIX: Ancient to modern

Fort Wayne-area golfers are no doubt itching to get back on the course, and a weekend trip to Phoenix, Arizona, will give you all the golfing you want. (Allegiant Air wings twice weekly to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport from Fort Wayne.) For one of the most demanding courses in the Southwest, The Boulders Club, 34631 N. Tom Darlington Drive in the Phoenix suburb of Carefree, Arizona, offers two championship 18-hole courses in the high Sonoran desert, dotted with 12-million-year-old granite outcroppings. Located at a Waldorf-Astoria resort, The Boulders also features a world-class hotel and spa. Less experienced golfers should check out The Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, 2400 E. Missouri St., where top LPGA teaching professional Tina Tombs offers individual, group and on-the-course lessons.

But there’s more to Phoenix than golf. The Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave., houses both classic and contemporary works from across the globe and hosts national traveling exhibits. In March, you’ll find an Andy Warhol series of portraits on exhibit. At the Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., you’ll learn about the many cultures of Native Americans of the Southwest. And the Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, more than 50,000 plants provide a stunning backdrop in beautiful outdoor exhibits (don’t forget your sunscreen!).

Downtown Phoenix is alive with sports, with the Arizona Diamondbacks playing baseball at Chase Field, 401 E. Jefferson St., while the NBA’s Phoenix Suns shoot hoops at the US Airways Center nearby at 201 E. Jefferson St. Both are in walking distance from the Phoenix Convention Center and are in an area loaded with hotels, restaurants and nightlife. The Copper Blue Rock Pub & Kitchen, 50 W. Jefferson St., features live music nightly, while the Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, 1 W. Jefferson St., is housed in Phoenix’s first high-rise and former home of the Arizona Prohibition headquarters. Bitter & Twisted won the best cocktail menu in 2014 and was also voted best cocktail bar in Phoenix. Libations include a Lemongrass Collins with vanilla sugar or a watermelon-infused Lovefruit Medley. The eats are good, too, with Southwestern influences showing up on its Pan-Asian menu. (Confused? So were we, until we got a glimpse of the “ramen burger,” which pairs a crispy ramen “bun” with a soy-soaked burger layered with Sriracha soba sauce, carmelized onions and jalapeño mayo. Wow!)

For straight Southwestern fare, Aunt Chilada’s, 7330 N. Dreamy Draw Drive, serves up tacos, flautas, chicken tortilla soup, all in a 1890s-era desert-stone and railroad tie structure. For dining with a farm-to-table ethos, check out Arcadia Farms Café in nearby Scottsdale (7014 E. 1st Avenue, Scottsdale). There you’ll find signature omelets for breakfast, gourmet sandwiches, fresh organic salads, seasonal specialty entrées, fine wines and delectable pastries, according to its website. (Open daily for breakfast and lunch only.)

Nightlife is hopping in Phoenix, where you’ll find everything from live music to casino gambling to stand-up comedy. Check out Gypsy Bar, 50 W. Jefferson St., Suite 240, with 10,000 square feet of dancing, arcade games and signature drinks. The Crescent Ballroom features live music daily and its locally sourced menu includes items like a carne asada burrito, Sonoran hot dog and barbacoa tacos.

Looking for a quieter experience? The Film Bar, 815 N. 2nd St., is, as it describes itself, “a beer and wine bar and a movie theater all wrapped up in a neat little building in downtown Phoenix.” Think of it as Fort Wayne’s Cinema Center with a Southwestern flair. Plus booze!

Those up for some shopping should start out at CityScape Phoenix, 1 E. Washington St. Just a few steps from sporting and convention centers, it’s described as the “central hub” of downtown Phoenix and features shopping, dining, nightlife, entertainment and community events. Encompassing two full city blocks, CityScape includes Urban Outfitters, rePose Salon & Spa, The Arrogant Butcher and the Copper Blues and Stand-Up Live nightclub. Upscale shoppers will enjoy the Scottsdale Fashion Square, 7014 E. Camelback in Scottsdale. There you can get your Jimmy Choo’s and Carolina Herrera as well as Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus. Or if you want a more Arizona experience, check out Bunky Boutique, 1437 N. 1st St., Suite 103, where the vibe is invitingly Arizonan and features clothing designed and created by local artisans.

PHILADELPHIA: History and food

US Airways made big news in Fort Wayne this summer when it announced it would be adding seven-day-a-week flights to Philadelphia. And those who haven’t explored America’s first capital city should consider a trip to the City of Brotherly Love.

Why? In a word: cheesesteaks. Oh, and cream cheese. And art, history, music, sports – OK, OK — the list is too long for one-word sound bites. But that’s the beauty of one of American’s most historic cities: there’s literally something for just about everyone.

First up: food. Philadelphia’s cuisine spans the globe, from Italian to Indian to Irish. Foodies know there’s a war between two Philly restaurants over who exactly invented the now-ubiquitous cheesesteak sandwich, Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks. Pat’s is at 1237 E. Passyunk Ave., while Geno’s is across the street from Pat’s at 1219 S. 9th St. Be warned: you’d better know how to order (“wiz” means with Cheez Whiz, “wit” means with fried onions) and you’d better be prepared to wait in long lines for the city’s favorite sandwich. But there’s more to Philadelphia’s culinary scene than cheesesteak. To wit: Philadelphia’s Chinatown (located near the Philadelphia Convention Center) features a fortune cookie factory as well as dozens of Chinese restaurants and street carts with everything from steamed buns to bubble teas and noodle dishes.

Then there’s the Italian influence. From Piedmontese to Sicilian, there’s a restaurant for all Italian lovers. Zagat recommends Radicchio Café, 402 Wood St., where you can find fresh takes on seafood and pasta. Or check out The South 9th Street Curb Market (dubbed by locals The Italian Market) at the corner of 9th and Christian streets. (You may recognize it from the movie “Rocky” – you’ll see a vendor toss Rocky an orange as he’s on his training run.) There you’ll find dozens of Italian shopkeepers, who increasingly make room for Vietnamese and other South Asian vendors as well.

Philadelphia is nothing if not about its pivotal role in American history. You’ll find plenty of ways to experience this, from visiting the Liberty Bell (143 South Third St.), to Betsy Ross’ house (239 Arch St.) to enjoying living history tours of the city (visit HistoricPhiladelphia.org for schedules and routes).

DALLAS: Cowboys with culture

With two American Airlines flights each day to Dallas, Texas, Fort Waynians who need to put their cowboy hats on will enjoy experiencing all that Texas has to offer. With world-class museums, sports and all things Tex-Mex, Dallas is a city well worth exploring.

And Dallas in the springtime offers pleasant temperatures and a plethora of cultural activities. In April, for example, you can enjoy the Deep Ellum Arts Festival from April 3-5, when six city blocks of Main Street in Dallas’ Entertainment District are taken over by more than 100 original bands and performers, while more than 200 juried decorative artists offer their creations for sale. There’s even a Pet Parade. (Learn more at www.deepellumartsfestival.com.)

Then there’s the Dallas International Film Festival (April 9-19, various locations) and the Dallas Art Fair (April 10-12, 1807 Ross Ave. in the Fashion Industry Galley next to the Dallas Museum of Art). Both bring an international focus to the “Big D,” as locals call it. And while you’re visiting the Dallas Art Fair, you’ll be in the Dallas Art District, with nearly 70 acres of performing and visual arts organizations. The Dallas Zoo, established in 1888, features elephants, giraffes and cheetahs, and is a reciprocating zoo with the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo (which means your membership here gets you in for a discount). You’ll find the zoo at 650 South R.L. Thornton Freeway.

Dallas is quickly becoming a foodie haven, with Tex-Mex competing with nearly every cuisine you can imagine. Check out Waldron Lodge, 408 W. 7th St., where you can dine on bison, boar, quail or elk. Or check out the “rustic-chic” Dallas Grilled Cheese Company, 310 W. 7th St., where you can choose from 16 different cheese-filled sandwiches.

For nighttime entertainment, you’ll find that Dallas has plenty of things to do after the sun goes down. The aforementioned Deep Ellum area is the place for blues and rock ‘n roll, and the area, to the east of downtown Dallas, now features quirky nightclubs, galleries and plenty of shopping.

You can get there from here

“We understand that convenience is important to our leisure travelers,” said Scott Hinderman, executive director of airports for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority. “That’s why we’ve made it easier than ever to get from the parking lot to your gate, with no hassle in between. We’ve also worked hard to make our air service convenient, now offering nonstop flights to several vacation destinations and major hubs that allow for an easy one-stop connection.”

Those additional direct flight destinations? Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Myrtle Beach (seasonal service).

First appeared in the March 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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