Bah, humbug: Where to go if you've had enough ho-ho-ho
By William Hageman
Sick of Christmas yet?
For months, stores have been shoving holiday decorations at us, with twinkly lights, mechanical elves and ornament-festooned trees crowding the aisles.
And it's only going to get worse. Christmas is still a ways off. Enough time to listen to Bing Crosby and David Bowie warble "Little Drummer Boy" thousands of times.
This is too much, you think. There must be a way out, you hope.
And there is: a holiday vacation where a person can avoid the excesses of the season -- no Christmas lights, no carolers, no guys in seedy Santa suits, no crazed holiday shoppers. A place where halls remain undecked.
We have found several destinations where a traveler won't -- or probably won't -- have to deal with all the vulgarities that have obscured the true meaning of the holiday. We're sticking with domestic suggestions here, though you can always find additional getaways in remote locales. You likely won't hear that dispiriting barking-dogs version of "Jingle Bells" in rural China, for example.
So here's a short list of spots where the holiday excesses will be limited, if not altogether invisible. Grab a suitcase and start packing. Just leave the elf ears at home.
• San Francisco: One would think that San Francisco's sprawling Chinatown might be a good option.
One would be wrong.
"It used to be so very non-Xmas-y years ago," Linda Lee, owner of All About Chinatown Tours (allaboutchinatown.com), said in an email, "but as you can imagine, China makes all of our Xmas decorations, so when you walk through [the streets] of Chinatown, you see ornaments, lights, Xmas music. ... Plus the tourists wear Santa hats all season long."
Now there's a festive visual. But a few blocks west of Union Square is Japantown, where an escape is possible.
Look no further than Hotel Tomo, a pop culture- and anime-themed hotel. The hotel's Players Suite was designed for gamers -- with an 8-foot by 5-foot LCD screen, huge beanbag chairs and wall-to-wall screens where you can play Xbox. You also get your own private club where you can lock yourself away, watch music videos and dance till your feet explode.
Dawn Shalhoup, a spokeswoman for Japantown (sfjapantown.org), has a few other suggestions. Among the highlights are New People, a shopping area focusing on Japanese pop culture; traditional tea ceremonies a visitor can schedule at Hokka Nichi Bei Kai; and mochi from Benkyodo, one of only three traditional mochi makers left in the U.S. "Or you can go to the Paper Tree, where there's an ongoing display of origami -- masterpieces, I guess," she said. "I don't know how else to describe them."
• Moab, Utah: If it's isolation you want, this is the place. This small town in eastern Utah is a great jumping-off point for hikers -- from serious canyon explorers to families wanting to look at dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs -- because it sits near Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
"Moab is my favorite place to visit between Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Shane Burrows, who runs the must-visit website climb-utah.com. "Rooms are dirt cheap, and the days are cool and make hiking to ruins, rock art and arches a pleasure."
Parking lots and trails in the national parks are nearly deserted, he said, daytime temperatures are usually just warm enough so you can hike in a jacket, much preferable to the near-100 temperatures at the height of tourist season.
And even better, for our purposes here, "Moab has no big stores or Walmart."
Burrows said rangers try to funnel 90 percent of the tourists into 10 percent of the parks. "It makes it easy for them to manage the park that way," he said. "That leaves 90 percent of the park crowd-free and off the radar of most tourists, and that 90 percent contains an amazing amount of treasures."
• Las Vegas: Nope, no flashing bright lights here.
Oh, of course there are.
But Paul Mello, director of marketing for vegas.com, said a visitor won't necessarily be assaulted by jingling bells.
"People do it all the time," he said. "Vegas doesn't close for Christmas. There is a little less going on. But there's plenty of people who aren't into that whole holiday Christmas thing -- single folks, or people not visiting their kids."
There will be holiday shoppers on the strip, he warned. But you can duck them and stick with what makes Vegas Vegas.
"The casino floors look very similar to the summer. The blackjack tables look the same. And the showrooms are the same for the holidays as any time of the year," he said. "It's much more a Vegas experience than a holiday experience."
n Fourpeaks, N.Y.: Fourpeaks Adirondack Backcountry Camps (4peaks.com) makes Moab look like a Super Bowl halftime show.
According to owner Martin Schwalbaum, there are no maps that show the 700-acre private wilderness in New York's Adirondack Mountains, about 17 miles from Lake Placid.
"We're off the grid and off the maps."
Once you find Fourpeaks - and if you appreciate solitude, it's worth the search -- you'll discover seven cabins that Schwalbaum built (4peaks.com/fcamp.htm). Generally about a quarter-mile apart, they're rustic and homey, with complete kitchens, fireplaces, handmade and antique furnishings and privies (portable flush toilets are available as an option). Water for washing comes from pumps. You bring in your own drinking water. Propane gives visitors heat and light and is used for cooking too.
There is access to the area because it was populated in the 1800s and early 1900s, and the residents built roads. When electricity started coming into upstate New York in the 1920s, they moved to cities to enjoy its benefits.
"The land, the last physical changes were from the Wisconsin glacier, about 15,000 years ago," Schwalbaum said. "The glacier left about 9,000 years ago, and the land is untouched since then."
There are four mountains with 2,000-foot peaks -- climb, walk or snowshoe them, or wander 20 miles of hiking and skiing trails.
If that seems too strenuous, sit around the cabin and read, play fetch with your dog (pet-friendly vacations are encouraged) or just observe nature.
Now there is peace on earth.