The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2021
Even for the compulsive jetsetters among us, it’s a simple truth that most travel stories are aspirational in the best of times. There are too many incredible places to see, not enough vacation days, and sometimes we all have to content ourselves with scrawling another spot on the bucket list and hoping the stars align.
But this year, as we all sat at home and watched the world come to a halt, “aspirational” took on new meaning. When restrictions relaxed this summer, the familiar wanderlust crept back in. With even the most straightforward international getaways ruled out, and many travelers still hesitant to hop on a plane, even simple trips — scenic drives, camping weekends, staycations across town — suddenly felt novel and luxurious.
With the first vaccines now rolling out, it seems the end of our long international nightmare is finally (finally!) in sight. In anticipation of that moment, we’ve once again compiled our annual list of the best places to travel in the coming year — with one twist. In honor of our revived appreciation for the discoveries to be made in our own backyards, this year’s list features 50 dynamic, of-the-moment destinations — all right here in the United States.
Some spots on the list ahead are newly blossoming thanks to hotel or infrastructure developments or revamped cultural attractions. Others caught on this summer, as social distancing made empty expanses of wilderness more compelling than ever and we all looked for new wells of charm in our own home states. What they all have in common is that singularity that makes a destination memorable — the sense that this place has something to offer that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
One day soon, we’ll all get back to traveling the way we did before. We’ll gripe about security lines and airplane meals, delight at hearing an unfamiliar language or staying in a new hotel, develop passionate loyalties for a particular food truck or coffee kiosk. Until then, we hope this list will serve as something to hold onto — to stoke your wanderlust and keep the tiny flame of optimism burning. Sure, it’s a little bit aspirational. But that just means we’re still willing to dream.
1. Alaska’s Coast
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In the midst of the pandemic, Alaska’s entire May to September cruise season was cancelled in 2020. That left some 1.3 million travelers unable to board ships to experience thunderously calving glaciers, frolicking humpback whales, lively gold rush towns, and fascinating Alaska Native arts scenes. Tourism providers missed serious income. Cruise lines and local officials express muted optimism about 2021, which may be the best year to see Alaska given that cruise ships are unlikely to sail full and coastal towns won’t have their typical crowds even post-vaccine rollout. Or skip the civilization part: Vast national parks such as Glacier Bay, Misty Fjords, and Kenai Fjords are best reached by boat. Small ship soft-adventure lines such as UnCruise Adventures and Lindblad Expeditions — and ultra-luxurious Seabourn with its zodiac and kayak exploration program on the 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey — have one-week itineraries that spend most of their time in the wild. For more privacy, rent the six-passenger, 78-foot Sea Mist for a luxury yachting experience in Prince William Sound, home to more active tidewater glaciers than anywhere else in the world.
2. Astoria, Oregon
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Goonies never say die, and neither does the nostalgia of visiting Astoria, the northwestern Oregon town at the mouth of the Columbia River where the ‘80s cult classic film was shot. The oldest American settlement in the West, this charming seaside town evokes a simpler time with its colorful Victorian houses and treasure-filled antique shops. Around these parts, freshness matters only for fish and beer. A new mobile passport program by the North Coast Craft Beer Trail ensures drinkers find their way to both big names like Fort George Brewery — famous for its IPAs — and smaller spots like the 20-barrel Buoy Beer, built in a former fish cannery right on the river. It’s one of many old cannery sites that have found new lives here, most notably the boutique Cannery Pier Hotel, where new ownership plans a February unveiling of renovations to its spa — famed for the Finnish sauna and water-view hot tub. Though the town made its name on tinned fish, Astoria now thrives on the direct connection to fresh seafood at places like South Bay Wild Fish House, from the family behind a fishing vessel of the same name. At their restaurant, sustainably caught Dungeness crab, Oregon pink shrimp, black cod, and more goes direct from boat to bánh mì.
3. The Berkshires
Eva LeWitt (b. Spoleto, 1985; lives and works in New York), Resin Towers A, B, and C, 2020. Resin, PVC, 128 x 10 x 10 in. (325.1 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm; each column) | CREDIT: THOMAS CLARK/COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND VI, VII, OSLO.
City-dwellers have been visiting this region of gently rolling hills and charmingly sedate towns in Western Massachusetts since the 19th century, but a welcome boost of youthful energy arrived with the 2018 opening of the design-forward hotel Tourists in North Adams and, last year, the launch of Miraval Berkshires, the third location of the luxe wellness resort. While summer is still the most popular season, thanks in part to the beloved classical music venue Tanglewood and dance center Jacob’s Pillow, there are still plenty of opportunities for social distancing, from the enormous exhibition spaces at the contemporary art museum Mass Moca, to the pastoral acres surrounding the Clark Art Institute (home to the Institute’s first-ever outdoor exhibition, Ground/work, through October 2021), to a hike up Mount Greylock or Monument Mountain, to a meal at Cantina 229, a restaurant set on a farm that offers outdoor seating in warmer months. Mooncloud, a new bar in Great Barrington, is riding out the pandemic with a slate of to-go meals and cocktail kits. Tuck in for the night at the peaceful but chic Inn at Kenmore Hall, a bed and breakfast in a classical Georgian estate.
4. Big Sky, Montana
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Big Sky’s 5,800 acres of skiable terrain makes it a fan favorite for crowd-free skiing in the Rocky Mountains. But a multi-year, $150 million investment into Big Sky Resort aims to transform this region of Southwest Montana into America’s Alps, meaning skiers may soon have to share their powder-perfect runs. Last year, The Wilson Hotel, a Residence Inn by Marriott, made headlines when it became the first and only major brand hotel to open in Big Sky’s town center (don’t miss the soon-to-open Tips Up, a vintage-inspired tavern across the street). Now, all eyes are on the $400 million ultra-luxury Montage Big Sky, which will open its doors for the 2021-22 ski season within Spanish Peaks Mountain Club, a 3,500-acre private golf and ski community. The 150-key resort features ski-in, ski-out access, an 11,000-square-foot spa, and a four-lane bowling alley. In warmer climes, guests can enjoy the development’s 18-hole golf course, nearby fly-fishing rivers, and an extensive network of hiking and mountain biking trails. Two slope-side hotels, the Summit and the Huntley Lodge, have renovations in the works, and Moonlight Basin, another private development adjacent to the ski resort, has plans to build a luxury hotel (a One&Only if the rumors are true) on its 8,000-acre-property, which is also home to a thousand-acre high-elevation Jack Nicklaus signature golf course. New airlift is ushering travelers from Nashville, Fort Lauderdale, and Charlotte, N.C. to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (less than an hour’s drive from downtown Big Sky), while a new six-person high-speed chairlift will begin whizzing people up Lone Peak in record time starting next November. When the snow melts, Big Sky’s 18-mile proximity to Yellowstone National Park adds even more appeal for nature lovers in search of epic adventures in the great outdoors. Just be sure to get there before everyone else does.
5. Birmingham, Alabama
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The modern scene in The Magic City is a great example of what can happen with when Alabama kids head off to the big city to hone their skills, then return home to do their thing — in a really high-quality way. Take Chef Adam Evans: the Muscle Shoals native worked in New Orleans and New York and opened The Optimist with Ford Fry in Atlanta before heading back to B-Ham to launch Automatic Seafood & Oysters. Moves like this — along with quirky java shops (Red Cat Coffee House), upscale cocktail bars (Paper Doll), a women-owned vegan food truck, and the Pizitz global food hall — have brought a vibrancy to the city, where contemporary charm and old Southern hospitality mingle on a big scale. The destination is catching up to demand for luxury lifestyle hotels with the Valley Hotel, opening in the historic, cool-again suburb Homewood in January with a new outpost of Edgar’s Bakery and more restaurants to come. Railroad Park, a 19-acre green space, has transformed downtown over the last decade, with walking trails, food truck festivals, and an outdoor symphony. And look for Protective Stadium, a 47,000-seat facility and entertainment district, to open in 2021.
6. The Black Hills of South Dakota
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The great American road trip is the best example of the journey as the destination. As Americans took to the road in search of wide-open spaces this year, places that may have been overlooked for lack of airlift found a new audience. South Dakota’s Black Hills have long been a mandatory road trip stop — its mountains are home to Mount Rushmore, the historic town of Deadwood, and several national monuments and parks — and now it’s back on the map as a destination in its own right. The region first got a little more glamour two years ago, when glamping outfitter Under Canvas raised its tent poles among the pine and juniper trees just four miles from the presidential monument. And this year, intrepid travelers can see the area in a fresh way with the debut of Adventure Cycling’s new Parks, Peaks, and Prairies cycling route, which pieces together trails winding from Yellowstone to Minneapolis. Over in historic Deadwood, a new year-round public space in the heart of town, Outlaw Square, is home to a slew of activities that sound luxurious after nearly a year in lockdown — movie nights, concerts — while in Rapid City, work is underway on the Monument, a massive civic center expansion that will bring bigger crowds to landmark events like the Black Hills Powwow, which marks its 35th anniversary next fall. — Scott Bay
7. Buffalo, New York
CREDIT: JEFFREY GIBSON/COURTESY OF K ART
Sure, you’ve heard rumblings about Buffalo’s restaurants, or maybe its brewery boom. But lately, the city is getting attention for its visual arts scene — and most notably, a game-changing new gallery that’s Native American-owned and dedicated entirely to Indigenous art. Dave Kimelberg, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, founded K. Art — the only gallery of its kind in the U.S. — this year in an effort to showcase the diversity of Native nations and carve out a bigger space in the market for contemporary Native works. Elsewhere in the city, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is undergoing a massive expansion, currently slated for completion in 2022; until then, visit the institution’s Northland campus, or explore projects across the city from the AK Public Art Initiative. Still more developments are in the works: the $65 million Silo City restoration and reuse will bring arts, commercial, and exhibition space to a string of abandoned grain silos, and golf brand OnCore is launching a massive golf complex and hotel on the Buffalo River.
8. Burlington, Vermont
CREDIT: COURTESY OF BURLINGTON SURF CLUB
Escaping to Vermont sounds like a way to get in touch with nature and spend some time on a farm, but Burlington has all the offerings of a much larger city — plus opportunities to get some much-needed fresh air. The city is home to an array of bars and restaurants slinging creative drinks: Deli 126, The Archives, Misery Loves Co., Peg & Ter's, and a collaboration between Orlando’s Bar & Lounge and Grandma’s Spanish Kitchen with Cuban and Peruvian influences. CO Cellars — located in the Soda Plant, a small business base camp with everything from custom lighting to pickles — sells local naturally fermented fruit wines from ZAFA Wines and Shacksbury Cider. And if that’s not enough, Dedalus Wine Shop and Market will help you taste through an array of natural wines from around the world, paired with housemade charcuterie, cheeses, and Spanish-inspired bites from the kitchen. Enjoy a slice of private beach with stand-up paddleboarding, yoga, and windsurfing at Burlington Surf Club when the weather is warmer. When there’s at least a few inches of snow on the ground, the adventurous can try winter sports: Hotel Vermont will equip you with gear to get you going, whether you want to go snowshoeing or Nordic skiing through the snowy streets or down Vermont hillsides, dare to try snowkiting, or prefer to ice skate on the frozen parts of Lake Champlain. To fuel up for — or warm up after — some time in the snow, try an array of pakoras at the newly-opened Elaichi, tacos and margs at Taco Gordo, dynamic Chinese fare at A Single Pebble’s brick-and-mortar restaurant or roving food truck, or the combo of Café Mamajuana’s Dominican fusion and Poppy Café & Market’s creative sandwiches in one shared space. Wherever you go, you’ll get a combination of small-town hospitality and big-city amenities.
9. Cape May, New Jersey
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During the summer of 1852, Harriet Tubman worked as a cook and housekeeper in Cape May, the seaside resort town where the Delaware Bay rushes into the Atlantic Ocean at the knifepoint of New Jersey. That was her day job, anyway. Given that Cape May was a hive of abolitionist activity at the time, it’s long been accepted that Tubman’s real work was guiding enslaved men and women through this critically situated junction between the South and freedom in Philadelphia and points north. Opening on Juneteenth, the years-in-the-works Harriet Tubman Museum chronicles her time in Cape May while contextualizing the city’s status as a critical (and critically overlooked) place in Black history. The museum occupies the former parson’s house of the historic Macedonian Baptist Church, and the late Reverend Robert Davis’s collection of artifacts (Bantu and Bakota masks, iron shackles used on enslaved peoples) ties the experience back to Africa and the transatlantic slave trade. A few blocks away, the Underground Railroad trolley tour departs to landmarks like abolitionist Stephen Smith’s house and the Franklin Street School, the city’s first segregated school (slated to become a cultural arts and community center). Renewed interest in Cape May has energized the staid hotel stock, with Philly’s Lokal brand opening a crisp beach house with a saltwater pool and the famed Peter Shields Inn debuting Inn Town Suites, a pair of palm-patterned quarters above Willow & Stone, a handsome boutique stocked with waterproof ORI knapsacks and knit cashmere for the modern seafaring rake. For more privacy, the meticulously furnished, ag-fantasy Cottages at Bach Plum Farm are situated on the less developed north side of town betwixt blackberry brambles and heritage hog paddocks — and a leisurely walk to the Cape May Lighthouse, a beacon for safety seekers fleeing slavery and stormy seas since 1859.
10. The Catskills
CREDIT: COURTESY OF CHAPIN ESTATE
From the 1920s to the 60s the scenic mountain region about two hours north of Manhattan boomed as the Borscht Belt, full of sprawling resorts catering chiefly to summering Jewish families. Today, young urbanites are snapping up weekend houses in the area at an ever-increasing rate, and entrepreneurs are following their lead by opening small, design-y hotels all over the region. The 15-room Shandaken Inn, in the village of Shandaken, puts outdoor enthusiasts within 25 minutes of the popular zipline canopy tours on Hunter Mountain and 35 minutes of the hiking trail to Kaaterskill Falls, the tallest cascading waterfall in the state. Seven miles down the road is the third outpost from Urban Cowboy. This 28-room fully embraces its rural setting near the Big Indian Wilderness forest preserve with on-site pursuits that include swimming and fishing for trout in the Esopus Creek. About an hour and a half southwest of Big Indian, Kenoza Hall began as a boarding house in the early 1900s. Sims Foster and his wife, Kirsten Harlow Foster, who own the nearby DeBruce inn, have overhauled the building, marrying historic touches like the original hardwood floors with custom elements, including sleigh beds. The boomlet shows no signs of slowing in 2021. Homeware design duo Nolan McHugh and Trevor Briggs are set to enter the hospitality scene in March with Piaule Catskill, a 24-cabin landscape hotel located just outside the region's namesake town. (Expect minimalist structures with lots of glass accented by steel and cedar.) Then in April, Sant Singh Chatwal of the Dream Hotel Group will open Chatwal Lodge in Bethel. Making the most of its position on 60 forested acres of the Chapin Estate, the refuge looks out onto the Toronto Reservoir and takes inspiration from its natural surroundings for decor elements like hand-carved wood accents and massive stone fireplaces. Accommodations will consist of 10 suites, a treehouse, and a glamping tent, and the food and beverage options will include a farm-to-table restaurant that will source fish from the onsite trout stream and produce from its own kitchen garden.
11. Cincinnati, Ohio
CREDIT: COURTESY OF HOTEL KINLEY
The first clues that the Queen City — a Rust Belt capital that was hard hit by the decline of American manufacturing — was poised for a comeback started a few years ago, when tech startups and small businesses moved into disused Over-the-Rhine warehouses, filmmakers flocked in to take advantage of tax breaks and early-20th-century architecture, and historic spaces like the city’s Music Hall got a much-needed polish. Now, the urban revival is official — but sneak in a 2021 visit and you can still claim to be a trendsetter. Check into the Kinley, which opened its doors in downtown Cincy in October with a much-buzzed-about restaurant from chefs Kevin Ashworth and Edward Lee. While you’re in town, dine at restaurant standouts Please and Goose & Elder, explore new outdoor installations at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and pay a visit the lauded Cincinnati Zoo, whose animal dispatches on social media are the only reasonable justification for keeping your Twitter account.
CREDIT: ANTHONY DEZENZIO/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES
Over the past year, Delaware has been making headlines as the de facto HQ for No. 46 and his transition team, but there’s plenty of reason for buzz beyond politics. Many of the recent developments that have drawn young professionals to the capital of Wilmington from nearby hubs like Philadelpha — creative businesses, a high-caliber culinary scene, fewer crowds — also appeal to travelers. Wilmington’s marquee hotel, Hotel DuPont, recently underwent a multi-million dollar refurbishment that breathed new life into its iconic Green Room, which now houses the refined French restaurant Le Cavalier, and added De.CO, a casual food hall with six stalls and a bar. Sartorially inclined visitors would do well to check out wares from Town and Store Studio. (For the time being, designer Liv McClintock is selling her handmade leather goods and jewelry via pop-ups and trunk shows.) And though Torbert Street Social is temporarily closed to adhere to COVID restrictions, the recent addition to Wilmington’s cocktail scene is worth a stop for such well-crafted originals as the LL Mule J, which pairs vodka with blood orange and kombucha. Come summer, it’ll be hard to stay away from the revitalized Riverfront area, which encompasses a number of seafood joints and provides access to water sports and local walking trails.
13. Denver’s Lower Highlands
CREDIT: MATT KISIDAY FOR LIFE HOUSE
When you visit a city, you want to be based where the cool crowd is. In Denver, that means the hip, arty Lower Highlands neighborhood. LoHi, as it’s known by locals, has long been the city’s hub for creative cocktails, craft breweries, and cult restaurants, like Pan-Latin small plates spot Señor Bear and Israeli hit Ash’Kara. In the face of a pandemic, the hood has loyally supported exciting newcomers including Fifth String, a restaurant focused on family-style dishes and natural wines, and Room for Milly, a cocktail bar inspired by the roaring 20s. The recent addition of 17-room Life House Lower Highlands finally gives visitors an option beyond Airbnb if they want to be immersed in the LoFi action. Located in the heart of the Navajo Street Art District, the intimate stay transports guests to a Victorian-era pioneer homestead — but, y’know, cool — with furnishings upholstered in dusty florals, Wild West nods like cowhide detailing and vintage cowboy photos, and a sexy, saloon-inspired restaurant and bar. Through an exclusive partnership with conservation-minded land management group Ranchlands, guests can escape the city for a day and experience the frontier spirit firsthand at Chico Basin Ranch. For a jolt of 21st century culture, downtown Denver is just short walk away and will unveil a massive art installation from New Mexico-backed artist collective Meow Wolf later this year. —Jen Murphy
14. Florida’s Middle Keys
CREDIT: ROSE MARIE CROMWELL
The closest you can get to a Caribbean vacation without leaving the continental U.S., the laid-back islands between Key Largo and Key West took the brunt of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and are where you want to visit in 2021 to connect with one of the country’s most fragile ecosystems, both above and below sea level: astronomer-led stargazing walks at the family-friendly Hawk’s Cay on Duck Key; Grimal Grove, where community organizer-turned-tropical fruit farmer Patrick Garvey is raising five varieties of nutritious breadfruit to fight hunger insecurity; the Turtle Hospital on Marathon, whose recent 911s include caring for babies beached by Hurricane Eta and endangered Kemps-Ridleys cold-stunned (like hypothermia for turtles) in Cape Cod. While unseasonably chilly water spells trouble up north, warming seas and a still-unidentified infection has bleached up to 98 percent of the Keys’ local reef — the largest in North America — but the young scientists at the MOTE Elizabeth Moore marine lab on Summerland Key are in the midst of a promising project to rejuvenate the crippled reef through lab reproduction (like IVF for coral). You can even participate in a hands-on underwater coral transplant through a new partnership with Captain Hook’s dive center on Big Pine. To balance good work with sybaritic indulgence, there’s no beating the scalloped pool and impeccable residences at Marathon’s recently reopened Marlin Bay Resort & Marina. The resort is walking distance to Keys Fisheries, the best place in the islands for stone crab, a sustainable specialty that goes for $3 a claw in season at the pleasingly disheveled upstairs bar.
15. Fort Worth, Texas
CREDIT: AUSTIN JAMES/VISIT FT. WORTH
A walloping dose of Texas heritage — with some luxe, modern updates — is drawing visitors to hit the city where the West begins. The historic Fort Worth Stockyards, once a resupply stop for cattle drovers, captures the celebrated legacy of Texas’ bustling livestock industry with rodeos, a history museum, and the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive. It’s also home to an array of boutiques rich with Lone Star style: In Mule Alley, visit Lucchese for a pair of hand-stitched boots, and stop at Stetson for the obligatory cowboy hat. The forthcoming Hotel Drover, too, will pay homage to the cowboys of old. Set to open in early 2021, the property has a design sensibility that’s Old West-meets-Spanish Colonial, with a sprinkling of Victorian smoking lounge moodiness. Embark on a tour of the city’s booming creative scene with stops at Art Tooth and the recently renovated Amon Carter Museum of American Art, then cap off your evening with some of Texas’s best grain-to-glass bourbon at Blackland Distilling. Stay overnight at the soon-to-open Hotel Dryce, a posh, locally owned boutique hotel and bar situated in Fort Worth’s Cultural District.
16. Galena, Illinois
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Hidden from the highway just a 30-minute drive from Dubuque, the town of Galena was once the largest riverboat port north of St. Louis. That may have made it one of the state's most influential cities in its 19th-century heyday, but today, history buffs are more likely to recognize it by name as home to nine former Civil War generals, most famously Ulysses S. Grant. And in an era when all of us are rediscovering regional treasures instead of heading further afield, the town has all the makings of the perfect afternoon: A main street just blocks from the Galena River that can be fully explored in a few hours, regional history museums, quirky boutiques, art galleries showcasing local talents, a bar on every corner, and a handful of restaurants. The magic begins not at the P.T. Murphy Magic Theatre, but on the journey into the downtown district: the quick and distinct shift from convenient fast food stops and gas stations to Late Victorian facades and cobblestones sets an oddly comforting tone, whether you're a repeat visitor or not. Galena’s easygoing charm is enough to draw both domestic and international tourists, but taking a walk along what's locally known as the "Helluva Half Mile" will plant itself in your memory. If you're looking to extend your stay, book a room at the DeSoto House, the state's oldest operating hotel.
17. Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah
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Glamping retreats gained new appeal in 2020 as travelers scrambled to safely scratch the vacation itch. And though the vaccine promises a slow return to normal in the months ahead, the taste for luxury in the wild is here to stay. That’s good news for luxury glamping operator Under Canvas, which will round out its western offerings with the new Under Canvas Lake Powell-Grand Staircase next year. The property sits on a 220-acre expanse right on the edge of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and guests staying in one of its 50 tents can enjoy all the standard Under Canvas amenities — chic, modern furnishings, s’mores by the fire — along with the option to tack on visits to the brand’s other area properties for a full Southwestern road trip experience. Just a few miles down the road in Canyon Point, Aman, too, is jumping on the tented-camp trend with Camp Sarika, a ten-suite Amangiri offshoot that has an away-from-it-all feel — along with heated plunge pools, fire pits, soaking tubs, and views of the sunset over the surrounding mesas.
18. The Gulf Coast
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Picture a white-sand beach, clear aquamarine water, gently swaying palms — the almost-too-perfect scene that looks for all the world like a Caribbean paradise or a remote cove in the Seychelles. Along the Gulf Coast, beauty like this is a given, and a road-trip is the best way to get your fill. Tampa is a great kickoff point; stay at the newly opened Hotel Haya, which nods to the city’s Cuban roots. On the Florida Panhandle, the cluster of towns that make up the Emerald Coast offer charms to spare. Grab a vacation rental for a few days to explore tony Alys Beach, which feels for all the world like it was plucked from a Grecian isle — its private shoreline, miles of meandering bike paths, and see-and-be-seen pool-restaurant complex have made it a favorite among the ultrawealthy. Over in Sandestin, Hotel Effie opens this February, with 250 rooms and a restaurant from chef Hugh Acheson. Time your trip right and you can make it to the Emerald Coast Open, a tournament focused on spearing invasive lionfish. At the corresponding Restaurant Week, local chefs work delicious magic with a fish long written off as bad eating. End your trip in Alabama’s twin Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, where repair efforts are underway after Hurricane Sally swept through this fall. Family-friendly Perdido’s Beach Resort will reopen in March after a full renovation, and closed areas of Gulf State Park are expected to reopen next year. Luckily, some of the area’s biggest highlights — its 32 miles of pristine powder beaches, the carnival of seafood delights at Fisher’s — remain unchanged.
19. Indianapolis, Indiana
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Indianapolis may be famous for its annual Indy 500 motorsports race, but it’s the state capital’s arts and culture scene that’s revving on all cylinders. Next year, the eight-mile Cultural Trail will undergo a two-mile extension, making it even easier to explore Circle City’s attractions on two wheels, including the revamped Madam Walker Legacy Center and the new 12-acre Bottleworks District along Carrollton Ave. Here, a $300 million investment is giving new life to an Art Deco gem—a 1930s Coca-Cola bottling plant whose restored terracotta facade, original terrazzo floors and tilework, and vintage brass doors will be on full display at the 139-room Bottleworks Hotel debuting this month. An Asian-fusion restaurant, coffee bar, nail salon, and speakeasy are coming soon to the property, while old maintenance garages across the street are being converted into a 20-vendor food hall, a duckpin bowling bar and an independent movie theater. This spring, James Beard-nominated chef Abbi Merriss will open Kan-Kan, an arthouse cinema and brasserie in Windsor Park, while chef Craig Baker is using colorful shipping containers to repurpose a 40,000 square foot building in the 16 Tech neighborhood into a food lover’s paradise with a European-style marketplace and dining venues. In June, THE LUME will permanently transform The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields’ 30,000-square-foot fourth floor into a digital art space with an inaugural exhibit featuring 3,000 moving images of Vincent Van Gogh paintings set to a classical music score.
20. Kansas City, Missouri
CREDIT: MICHAEL ROBINSON
The City of Fountains has so much more to offer than its (rightly praised) barbecue. The Crossroads Arts District, in particular, has seen notable growth since the Crossroads Hotel reopened inside the former Pabst bottling plant in 2018. Last February saw the arrival of Mean Mule Distilling Co.’s Agave Lounge, a tasting room dedicated to blue-agave–based spirits. James Beard finalist Michael Corvino’s late-night burger (served at his fine-dining supper club) became so popular that, in September, he decided to launch a dedicated venture, Ravenous, inside food hall Parlor KC. Several new breweries have also established roots in the neighborhood, with Casual Animal, Border Brewing Co., Double Shift, and Torn Label. Elsewhere in the city, female entrepreneurs have proven particularly resilient in the face of the pandemic. When actor Jackie Nguyen’s touring production had to close, the first-gen Vietnamese-American started Cafe Cà Phê, a mobile coffee shop serving both the classic beverage and Nguyen’s creative riffs. Yoli Tortilleria brought Sonoran-style tortillas to the city — first with its own retail shop, then through several local markets and restaurants. There’s also cultural news of note for 2021: after almost three years, the long-awaited renovation of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum is finally complete, and the facility — with its new multimedia and interactive exhibits — will be ready to go once cultural institutions are allowed to reopen. And don’t miss the chance to check into KC’s latest arrival, the new Hotel Kansas City, which opened this fall in the 1920s building that once housed the Kansas City Club.
21. Las Vegas
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You don’t go to Las Vegas seeking solitude — you go to indulge, to splash out, to revel in the nonstop energy of this shimmering, seductive oasis in the desert. A city defined by its hypnotic pool parties, around-the-clock gambling, epic nightlife scene, glitzy, over-the-top hotels, and next-level restaurants — each one trying to one up the other — just dreaming about a visit is enough to push your endorphins into overdrive. And after a year of staying still within our own four walls — the extreme antithesis of Sin City — getting back to Vegas and its many venues designed to bring crowds together will feel like the ultimate luxury. Throw in exciting new properties, like the Resorts World Las Vegas, a 3,500-room mega-resort and casino combining Hilton Hotels & Resorts, LXR, and the Conrad across 88 acres; the recently completed Circa Resort & Casino, the first adults-only casino resort with a pool amphitheater; and Virgin Hotels, set to replace the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and well, you’ve hit the jackpot.
22. Lexington, Kentucky
CREDIT: SIR FEMI OYENIRAN/COURTESY OF FRESH BOURBON
A handful of pilgrimage-worthy culinary and cultural developments will draw travelers to the Bluegrass State’s second-largest city in 2021. It’s not just The Queen’s Gambit that has drummed up excitement around Lexington. After sitting empty for 20 years, Greyline Station has been newly reimagined as a 70-stall open market populated by dozens of local small businesses like North Lime Coffee and Donuts and Old North Bar, which will have a “sip and stroll'' license so visitors can enjoy a beverage while they browse. The anchor tenant — taking up just over a third of the 65,000 square feet — is Julietta Market, an open-air grocery in the vein of Seattle’s Pike Place and Barcelona’s La Boqueria. Elsewhere in the city will be the new Fresh Bourbon distillery from entrepreneur Sean Edwards, who grew up in Lexington and learned the craft from his grandfather and uncles. The 34,000-square-foot facility is set to be the largest Black-owned distillery in the state when it opens and will offer tours and guided tastings. Cultural sites are also furthering initiatives to tell a richer, more diverse history of Kentucky: Don’t miss new walking tours of Lexington from the Faulkner Morgan Archive, an organization dedicated to preserving and chronicling the state’s LGBTQ+ legacy.
23. Lopez Island, Washington
CREDIT: NOVA ASKUE
Only the chilly saltwater splashing onto the rocky shores — and the occasional moo of the local farm animals — seem to disrupt the peaceful calm of Lopez Island. Idyllic nearly to the point of absurdity, the pace of life on these 30 acres in Puget Sound appeals to those who find serenity in the scenic route. For bicyclists, that comes in the form of the gentle, rolling roads that double as bike paths as they wind around the island. For food lovers, it means a feast of artisanal baked goods, heritage meats, and foraged foods from farm stands, markets, and restaurants. Midnight’s Farm encapsulates the Lopez ethos, selling rotationally grazed grass-fed beef from little more than a cash box nailed to the side of a lean-to, hosting yoga classes in an on-site studio, and renting out the homey field house for farm stays. North Star Farms uses their own wheat to bake bagels and doughnuts from the kitchen at the Edenwild, a cozy boutique inn. And Barn Owl Bakery sells its wild sourdough alongside spreads from Ursa Minor, where chef Nick Coffey distilled the flavors of Lopez Island into world-class multi-course menus before swiftly transitioning to community-centric takeout during the pandemic.
24. Los Angeles
CREDIT: ©RENZO PIANO BUILDING WORKSHOP/©ACADEMY MUSEUM FOUNDATION
Visit Los Angeles for the stress-relieving powers of sunshine and surf, stay to see two long-awaited museums finally open their doors. Renzo Piano has reimagined the 1930s May Company department store in Mid-Wilshire, where the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will unveil its centerpiece, the last-surviving full-scale shark model from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” when it opens in April. Other collection highlights include Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” items from the late Debbie Reynolds’ personal collection, and memorabilia from the Star Wars and Matrix films. If all that entertainment leaves you thirsty, 2021 will be the year a craft beer scene flourishes in South L.A.’s Florence neighborhood, thanks to the soon-to-open 13,000-square-foot South Los Angeles Beverage Company, a Black-owned brewery, tasting room, cidery, and coffee roastery. Meanwhile, a spate of new hotel openings is led by the Pendry West Hollywood, the brand’s first L.A. property, opening in January at the former House of Blues on the iconic Sunset Strip. In Century City, the expansive Fairmont Century Plaza will have 400 rooms and 63 luxury residences, and in Downtown L.A., the latest Proper location will feature Kelly Wearstler’s eclectic design combining work from California-based artists, plus restaurants, bars, and a rooftop pool sure to be a hit with the Staples Center crowd.
CREDIT: JEFFREY GREENBERG/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Miami continues to prove it’s much more than its blockbuster beaches and hedonist party scene. Early next year, the initial phase of the Underline, a planned 10-mile linear park below Miami’s Metromover (from the same design studio as New York’s High Line), will debut as the “Brickell Backyard” on a half-mile stretch from the Miami River to Coral Way. Expect public art, free concerts, outdoor gathering spaces, fitness activities, and lush landscapes with butterfly gardens. Cap off a visit with a bite at one of Brickell City Centre’s various new dining concepts, like the Cuban-inflected Marabu. Meanwhile, the neighborhood of Allapattah has become a fledgling arts district home to billionaire Jorge Perez’ year-old museum El Espacio 23, the Rubell Museum, and the highly-anticipated 50,000-square-foot experiential art space, Superblue, launching with three large-scale installations this spring. Throughout 2021, an overhauled CocoWalk will bring retailers, eateries, and slick architecture to quaint Coconut Grove. And when it comes time to bed down, travelers have their pick of glossy new Miami Beach hotels flaunting Art Deco design, swoon-worthy pools and exceptional food and drink. Check out souped-up iterations of the W Hotel, Mondrian, the Ritz-Carlton; recently opened Palihouse and Kimpton’s Palomar; and upcoming sure-to-be-hot spots Moxy Miami, Citizen M and Goodtime Hotel, the brainchild of hospitality mogul David Grutman and singer Pharrell Williams.
CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
The charm of Nantucket is that not much changes. Luckily, the historic cobblestone downtown, the tiny rose-covered S’conset cottages, the timeless beaches — they’re all still here. But as locals mark the 200th anniversary of the sinking of the Nantucket whaling ship Essex and cannibalism on the high seas, it’s a perfect time to remember that even on Nantucket, some changes can be okay. This year, the iconic Century House on Cliff Road left the ranks of Nantucket’s bed and breakfast lodgings to join the new Life House Nantucket. It’s just the latest of the new boutique hoteliers marrying tradition with luxury in the historic downtown — check out the Greydon House and their new Venetian-inspired small plates at Via Mare. From there, grab locally sourced provisions from Proprietors Bar and Table, Company of The Caldron, or Black-Eyed Susan’s, or wander to Tap Room, recently restored to the cellar of the Jared Coffin House. Out of town, Cisco Brewers is upping its game, partnering with the Levitate Music and Arts Festival to bring a schedule of big-name bands to play their festive outdoor island flagship location. After 2020, couldn’t we all use some outdoor tunes, craft beer, and a few cocktails?
CREDIT: COURTESY OF NMAAM
Nashville has been an “it” city for a while, we know. But if you look past Lower Broadway — and the hoards of bachelor and bachelorette parties that roam the stretch — there’s a lot more to the city than honky-tonks and country. In January, the long-awaited National Museum of African American Music will open its doors, adding a permanent home to celebrate the work of Black musicians and the evolution of gospel, blues, jazz, and hip-hop, among others. The 346-room W hotel will bring new flavor to the upscale Gulch, while legacy brands like Conrad and Four Seasons continue building out a true luxury market in Music City. Assembly Food Hall, at nearly 100,000 square feet, will bring over 24 restaurant stalls and a new music venue space overlooking the historic Ryman Auditorium downtown. And we’ll all be celebrating the Dolly Parton-funded vaccine at Graduate Hotel’s Dolly Parton-themed rooftop bar, White Limozeen.
28. New Orleans
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New Orleans never goes out of style, though for a moment, with 2021’s Mardi Gras parade season called off due to crowd concerns, it looked as if next year would be a low point for the city. But the top krewes rallied — drumming up virtual parades and scavenger hunts, making plans to deck out houses in lieu of floats, and charging forward with fundraising efforts to support their communities — reminding us all that this beloved city’s spirit is irrepressible. And while Mardi Gras may not look the same in 2021, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look forward to. This fall saw the opening of The Chloe, a 14-room hotel on St. Charles with an interior that marries old-fashioned drama and playful, pastel-colored sweetness. Still to come: Four Seasons New Orleans, a $530 million conversion of the landmarked World Trade Center building, right on the banks of the Mississippi.
29. New York City
CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
It’s often said that change is the only constant in New York — the very name serves as a reminder that new is indeed its hallmark. When the pandemic hit hard this spring, the city — resilient at its core — slowly reinvented itself: Restaurants eventually set up shop curbside, performances and museums went virtual, bars began peddling to-go cocktails from modest, makeshift windows, and hotels transformed rooms into remote offices. When the city cracks its door open to travel again, it will undoubtedly be another new New York. Its fresh look will include a slew of new hotels, like the Aman New York, with a three-story spa and sweeping Central Park views; the sophisticated yet laid-back Pendry, perched in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards district; and the Ritz-Carlton NoMad, a 38-floor tower touting a public garden, rooftop bar, and striking city vistas. Meanwhile, luxury hospitality group Six Senses, known for its wellness resorts in places like Bali and the Maldives, will soon bring a dose of its signature tranquility to the high-octane urban landscape, with a standout spa and calming views of the High Line and Hudson River. Restaurants, shops, and museums are poised to make a comeback, too. The only missing ingredient? You.
30. North Carolina’s Triangle
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For starters, let’s get one thing straight: Raleigh-Durham is an airport, not a city. But, okay, it’s handy to have a catchall term for this buzzy part of the Southeast, so go with local parlance: The Triangle, shorthand for the Research Triangle, a cluster in the North Carolina Piedmont anchored by the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Even as the area saw through-the-roof growth in recent decades, leisure travelers have overlooked the Triangle in favor of N.C. getaway spots like Asheville or the Outer Banks. That’s finally changing as new hotel stock has made it more inviting to linger. Boutique properties like the 53-room Durham Hotel and the tiny, stylish Guest House Raleigh have opened in the past few years, raising the bar for local accommodations and kicking off a wave of new spots with a design-forward sensibility. January 2020 saw the opening of the Longleaf Hotel, a downtown Raleigh motor lodge revamped with a fittingly midcentury-inspired aesthetic, and the sleek Origin Hotel — the upstart brand’s fourth location — made its debut this summer. While you’re in town, make time to explore the trails of Duke Forest or Umstead Park, wander down Durham’s Main Street or Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, and hit up the many incredible restaurants in the area. Much talked-about spots like Saltbox Seafood Joint, Brewery Bhavana, and Garland — not to mention chef Ashley Christensen’s stable of restaurants — live up to the hype. But don’t overlook the Triangle’s longstanding gems: You can’t go wrong with La Farm Bakery in Cary for artisan bread and a signature white chocolate baguette, Char-Grill for unfussy burgers, or Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill for the platonic ideal of shrimp and grits. Cap it off with a visit to the downtown Raleigh Krispy Kreme right when the HOT light goes on and you’re practically a native.
31. Northern Minnesota
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The promise of starry skies awaits in Minnesota’s northern reaches, where Voyageurs National Park recently joined Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as a certified Dark Sky destination. Clear views of the cosmos — and even the Northern Lights, if you’re lucky — are only part of the fun in this water-rich region. Adventurers flock to Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness’ 1.1 million rugged acres to paddle 1,200 miles of canoe-portage routes and camp under the constellations. Meanwhile, more than a third of the neighboring 218,000-acre Voyageurs National Park is a watery wonderland, making motorized houseboats a novel way to stargaze and explore the park’s five main lakes and boreal and deciduous forests. Both parks offer an abundance of wildlife from aquatic birds and beavers to timber wolves and black bear; miles of scenic nature trails; and opportunities to angle walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass. In winter, the firmament glitters even brighter, plus there’s dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling (the latter is only offered in Voyageurs National Park). Call on local outfitters to help organize year-round itineraries and stock up on necessary gear.
32. Northwest Arkansas
CREDIT: COURTESY OF THE MOMENTARY
With the opening early last year of the Momentary, a center for arts and culture housed in a former cheese factory, the formerly sleepy town of Bentonville in northwest Arkansas continued its transformation into a hub for creativity and outdoor experiences. Last October, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Walmart heir Alice Walton, announced that it will augment its collection with an outdoor play space that promises to harmonize with the surrounding landscape. The 21c Museum Hotel offers further art adventures, as well as the Hive, one of the region’s best restaurants. Venture beyond the town to Bella Vista, where you can hit the 39 miles of mountain biking paths at the recently expanded Little Sugar Trail System, or to Springdale, home of the new J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center, where families can explore exhibitions, nature trails, and an archery range.
33. Oahu, Hawaii
CREDIT: NICK CLARK/GETTY IMAGES
In October, America’s 50th state once again welcomed visitors from the mainland after six months of pandemic lockdown. And while many travelers opt to use the capital and most populous city, Honolulu, as a stopover to Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island, there’s good reason to stay put on Oahu this year. The hotel scene continues to expand — most recently with a complete overhaul of a Waikiki classic, Queen Kapi’olani, which debuted its new look in December. Inspired by vintage Hawaiiana and local art, the 315-room resort sits across the street from legendary Waikiki Beach, and is (fittingly) home to a new surf school and shop. Over is Kaimuki — a neighborhood that’s become the center of Oahu’s increasingly dynamic food world — chef Chris Kajioka followed up his wildly popular (and perennially packed) Arts District restaurant, Senia, with Miro, featuring a French-inspired menu using Japanese techniques and ingredients. And for a look at the island’s contemporary art, fashion, and design, head to Kaka’ako, a warehouse-filled industrial area near downtown with an ever-expanding open-air commercial compound, SALT at Our Kaka’ako to check out local creations and a weekly Saturday morning farmers market.
34. Omaha, Nebraska
CREDIT: JOE WILLMAN/EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES
Nebraska’s largest city is hitting its stride. Omaha’s patchwork of eclectic neighborhoods (one of which is home to billionaire Warren Buffett) blends old with new in exciting ways. A shining example: The just-opened Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel, a $75 million reinvention of the iconic Blackstone Hotel, which has played host to notable dignitaries like Eleanor Roosevelt, John and Jackie Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. Special attention was paid to preserving the 105-year-old grand dame’s hand-carved terra cotta columns, marble staircase, hardwood floors, and grand ballroom’s vaulted ceilings. The property’s 21st-century updates include five contemporary dining venues, including a modernized Orleans Room (which, in its heyday, consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best restaurants), a steakhouse, and reimagined speakeasy. A host of top-notch culinary purveyors and a 70-work art collection curated by artist Watie White highlights the best of Omaha’s local talent. To experience the revival playing out in the surrounding Blackstone District (birthplace of the Reuben sandwich), guests can hop in the hotel’s electric tuk-tuk to cruise streets chock full of ultra-hip eateries, craft-beer bars, and trendy boutiques. Be sure to grab front-row seats to Omaha’s hot-ticket events in 2021 including the buzzy Omaha Fashion Week in March, where attendees can buy looks right off the runway; the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in June to see the nation’s top athletes compete; and the annual Maha Festival, a high-caliber music and food festival happening late July. —Nora Walsh
CREDIT: MARIAH TYLER
Remember roller coasters? Dole Whips? Carefree days when the most important thing was not getting vertigo on the Tower of Terror? Next year, there’s no better place to live out your pent-up theme park fantasies than Walt Disney World Resort, which turns 50 in 2021. No details yet on the actual celebration, but we do know there’s a huge transformation of Epcot underway, including new experiences like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and a space-themed restaurant. Seeking an adrenaline rush (and who isn’t, these days)? Hit the new Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Universal come summer, where you’ll catapult upward at 70 miles per hour. Feel safe knowing Orlando was one of the first cities to develop a citywide health and safety program, with major parks going above CDC requirements. (Expect virtual kiosks and check-in at each.) And though its new south terminal won’t be open until 2022, Orlando International Airport just introduced on-site COVID testing, one of the first airports in the country to do so. Helping to welcome visitors back, newcomers to Orlando’s hotel scene include internationally inspired TRYP by Wyndham opened in November, Dockside Inn and Suites at Universal Orlando Resort in December, AC Hotel Orlando Downtown expected in January 2021, and the upscale Reserve tower at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort (with free shuttle service to Disney) in mid-2021. Fancy downtime away from the city? The tranquil Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes completes a $120 million transformation in February.
36. Palm Springs, California
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From the cocktails and pools to the starry night skies, the swath of desert east of L.A. never gets old. And now, a new crop of hotels, restaurants, bars, art and even sound bathing experiences are lending fresh energy to Palm Springs and its neighboring desert cities. Soak in mineral-rich waters at the just-opened Azure Palm Hot Springs, a 40-room resort and spa, in Desert Hot Springs. At the reimagined Casa Cody, rooms — 30 in total — feature fireplaces and patios, as well as colorful details such as Moroccan zellige tiles and otomi-embroidered pillows. And at year-old, 27-room Les Cactus, guests wake up to breakfast baskets with freshly baked croissants. Debuting its third installment this year, biennial art exhibition Desert X, which has quietly become a major art attraction, returns with new site-specific installations. Also opening in 2021, the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum is part 48,000-square foot museum and gardens, part bathhouse-cum-spa celebrating the history and culture of the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians. Come dinner, sample inventive rolls paired with scotch at Sandfish Sushi & Whiskey, helmed by chef Engin Onural. His latest venture is Tailor Shop, a cocktail bar drawing inspiration from faraway places including London, Norway and Hong Kong. For adventure of another kind, head to otherworldly Joshua Tree National Park nearby. The hiking, rock climbing, and stargazing do not disappoint.
37. Park City, Utah
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With Sundance events going mostly virtual and many still wary of travel, Utah’s greatest ski town is likely to take a tourism hit this winter. But once it’s safe to do so, make a beeline for this outdoor paradise — before everyone else does. A series of big-deal developments in the works have Park City poised for major growth in the coming years. Mayflower Mountain Resort — a massive 6,800-acre, multi-hotel complex which creators claim would be the first new ski resort in the U.S. in 40 years — is in the works for a 2023 opening. If and when it finally debuts, it’s expected to bring serious crowds, and a potential agreement with Deer Valley might mean some of the most exclusive slopes in the States (and famously, some of the last to ban snowboarding) get a little more traffic. Elsewhere in town, development for a new arts district is underway, and the forthcoming Pendry Park City is setting up shop in Canyons Village, with 152 guest rooms, a luxe spa, and the area’s first rooftop pool. Until that all arrives, soak in the highlights that have made Park City so beloved: the small businesses on historic Main Street, the crowd-free powder at tony Deer Valley, and the year-round outdoor adventures to be found in the surrounding mountains.
38. Rhode Island
CREDIT: MARIAH TYLER
Known for its Colonial seaside towns and Gilded Age mansions, Rhode Island is a destination steeped in history. But it’s become a modern hot spot recently with the openings of several new properties. The Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, created by a group of locals, touts its anti-nautical design vibe — visit the on-site restaurant, Nomi Park, for traditional New England fare with a twist. And the past blends with the present at Providence’s new hotel, the Beatrice, once the 1887 Exchange Building. Now, it’s a 47-room boutique property within walking distance of the university city’s buzzing downtown. And there are even options for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to the opening of the 3,500-acre Preserve Sporting Club & Residences in Richmond, from the team behind Ocean House. The one-of-a-kind wilderness retreat features an 18-hole golf course, zip line, mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, archery, and more. The pint-size state is having such a moment, luxury travel company Black Tomato even included a stop at the Vanderbilt in Newport on a New England road trip itinerary launched as part of its curated Take the Open Road with Auberge and Black Tomato collection. Of course, the classic experiences are just as appealing: You can’t leave the Ocean State without making a pilgrimage to try the epic Sunday brunch at Castle Hill Inn, overlooking Narragansett Bay.
39. Richmond, Virginia
CREDIT: RICHARD T NOWITZ/COURTESY OF VISIT RICHMOND
One of 2020’s most indelible images, and the one that best captured the changing identity of Richmond, was that of Marcus-David Peters Circle on Monument Avenue: A statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee astride a horse, its stone plinth a kaleidoscope of tags in support of Black Lives Matter. Now, with the statue’s removal in the works, Richmond is looking toward a new, more inclusive future. Virginia’s governor announced a proposal to allot $10 million in state funding to redesign the site, along with the stretches of Monument Avenue that once held similar tributes to Confederate figures. Another $9 million is proposed to help improve Richmond’s existing Slave Trail and establish a Slavery Heritage Site. Elsewhere in the city, look for public art created this year as part of Mending Walls RVA, a project spearheaded by muralist Hamilton Glass that brings together artists from disparate backgrounds to create murals around Richmond. Newly launched nonstop flights from Florida, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles will make visiting in 2021 a breeze, and Richmond’s location — within easy reach of Charlottesville, Virginia Beach, and wine country — makes it an ideal home base for a lengthier exploration of the state.
40. The Rockies
CREDIT: COURTESY OF ROCKY MOUNTAINEER
Colorado’s peaks have been all the more alluring in 2020 as outdoor activities became the default and the Great American Road Trip made its long-awaited comeback. But next year holds even more in store for visitors: Rocky Mountaineer, known for its impossibly scenic, glass-domed train rides through western Canada, will launch its first U.S. route in August, from the Rockies via Denver along the Colorado River to the Red Rocks in Moab, Utah. The two-day journey includes sparkling wine toasts and three-course meals served with views of canyons and cliffs, deserts and mountains. Before hopping on board, take time to visit Colorado’s newest state park, Fishers Peak, opening its 30 square miles of land in phases. Marked by a 9,633-foot mountain, it’s home to black bears, elk, mountain lions, and more wildlife to spot. For skiers, Aspen Snowmass will debut a high-speed chairlift, additional snowmaking for seamless shredding, and a new dining concept at High Alpine Marketplace, an offshoot of local favorite Gwyn’s, serving warming dishes with fresh ingredients sourced sustainably from local farmers. At the Viceroy Snowmass, a COVID-era uptick in interest in backcountry skiing has prompted a new Uphill Thrills experience, where guests can book an excursion to Aspen’s most isolated slopes and forego the lifts all together.
41. Santa Fe, New Mexico
CREDIT: COURTESY OF BISHOP'S LODGE, AUBERGE RESORTS COLLECTION
A UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art as well as City of Design, Santa Fe is widely known as an arts mecca. Stalwart stays like the Inn at Five Graces and the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, celebrate that status with their adobe architecture and distinctive art. But sometimes it takes a new hotel to help us see a destination with fresh eyes. The reimagined Bishop’s Lodge, Santa Fe’s newest luxury hotel in nearly a decade, aims to showcase far more than the city’s artistic side when it opens this spring. Set on 317 acres bordering Santa Fe National Forest, the 100-room Auberge Resorts Collection property will offer fly fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and wrangler-led trail rides from its on-site stables. A restaurant helmed by Dean Fearing, the godfather of Southwestern cuisine, and a healing arts studio with therapies such as turquoise gem therapy are respites from wilderness adventures. The lodge will serve as a base for new four- and six-day cycling trips from Trek Travel, as well a new road trip itinerary from Black Tomato. Meanwhile, Marcia Gordon, the New Mexico-born co-owner of African safari specialist Extraordinary Journeys, has cast her attention back home, with custom itineraries that might include hikes in Georgia O’ Keeffe’s beloved Ghost Ranch or Navajo-led walks through the ruins of Chaco Canyon.
42. The Sea Islands
CREDIT: DANIELA DUNCAN/GETTY IMAGES
Running along the southeastern coast of the U.S. are the Sea Islands, a chain of over 100 tidal and barrier islands spanning from Florida to North Carolina. The marshy region is also home to the Gullah Geechee Corridor, a 12,000-square-mile National Heritage Area — the cultural homeland of the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans who have preserved their traditions and language for centuries. The Sea Islands have emerged as a compelling travel destination in recent years, beginning with President Obama’s 2017 move to establish a Reconstruction Era National Monument in South Carolina’s Beaufort County. In 2019, a redesignation expanded the corridor, and this year brought still more attention to the region, with the new Reconstruction Era National Historic Network incorporating several sites in the area. You’d need a lifetime to fully explore the islands, but start your trip in South Carolina: Johns Island is home to Moving Star Hall, the last remaining praise house in the region, along with the Angel Oak Tree, rumored to be one of the oldest of its kind east of the Mississippi River. Visit St. Helena to see the Penn Center, one of the first schools for free Black children in America and the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. composed his “I Have A Dream” speech. On Georgia’s largely undeveloped Cumberland Island, undisturbed views more than make up for the bare-bones facilities, while further south in St. Augustine, Florida, Fort Mose Historic State Park offers opportunities to learn about the first legally recognized free Black settlement in America. Don’t leave without a stop at Gullah Grub Restaurant on St. Helena for a taste of true Gullah Geechee cuisine, a seafood- and grain-rich culinary tradition similar to the soul food developed by enslaved Africans across the American South.
43. Sonoma, California
CREDIT: COURTESY OF MONTAGE HEALDSBURG
In the face of back-to-back years of wildfires, Sonoma County is forging ahead to achieve a more sustainable future. As of 2019, 99 percent of the region’s vineyards were certified sustainable, earning Sonoma the accolade of world’s most sustainable wine growing region. And last year, area vineyards launched a pilot program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With that earth-conscious ethos, it’s only fitting that nature is the star of Sonoma’s newest experiences. Guests at the new Montage Healdsburg, which debuted this December, will literally feel like they’re living amidst the vines. Nestled among 258 acres of rolling vineyards, the resort’s 130 rooms each have spacious outdoor living areas, and guests can book experiences such as yoga classes and wine tastings amid rows of Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. While Montage begs indulgence at its terroir-to-table restaurant, Hazel Hill, nearby New Tree Ranch, a 120-acre biodynamic farmstead that opened last November, caters to guests in need of a reboot with plant-based menus, sound journeys, and cold water therapies. Boutique operator Bohemian Highway has launched chef-led tours of Healdsburg farms and vineyards leading the way in organic and biodynamic practices. Any DIY wine tasting tour of Healdsburg should include stops at winemaker wunderkind Jess Katz’s new sustainably-minded tasting room, Aperture Cellars, and the hip new al fresco venue from winemaker Noah Dorrance’s new project, Blood Root Wines. Sonoma’s restaurant scene is also heating up. Star chef Michael Mina debuted his first wine country project, Wit & Wisdom, in the town of Sonoma last fall, and later this year, acclaimed chef Douglas Keane will put sleepy Geyserville on the map when he unveils Cyrus 2.0, a reinvention of his two-Michelin-star restaurant previously in Healdsburg.
44. Texas Hill Country
CREDIT: WYNN MEYERS
Just outside the capital city of Austin is the idyllic region known as the Hill Country. Comprising over 20 towns — along with plenty of lush, loping countryside — the Hill Country has an inimitable charm that those outside of the state just seem to be catching onto. Experience the best in Texas terroir by visiting Driftwood-based wineries like the renowned Fall Creek Vineyards, run one of the founding families of the Texas wine industry, and acclaimed Duchman Family Winery, which makes exceptional wines (try their award-winning Aglianico) from Italian grape varieties. Stay the weekend in one of the rustic-chic Getaway cabins, which opened in early 2020 in the quaint town of Wimberley, and stop for a dram in Dripping Springs’ Distillery District, which is home to more than 25 distilleries, such as Treaty Oak Distilling and Deep Eddy Vodka. Complete your weekend road trip with a stay at the luxurious Camp Lucy, situated on 289 acres on a bluff above the famous Onion Creek.
45. Tucson, Arizona
CREDIT: COURTESY OF JOSHUA TREE HOUSE
Tucson has long lived in the shadow of its higher-profile Southwestern siblings like Phoenix, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas. But this undercover desert rose has come into its own recently, as more visitors discover the saguaro-dotted city that’s been a magnet for wellness enthusiasts long before the term went mainstream. Lately, new, boutique hotels have popped up, joining established spa resorts like Miraval and Canyon Ranch. These include The Tuxon — a 112-room property that takes its whimsical design cues from the region’s Mexican and Native American roots — and JTH Tucson, a five-suite earth-toned escape on the edge of Saguaro National Park. And architecture buffs will appreciate projects saved by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, like the Ball-Paylore House, an important mid-century modern residence designed by Arthur T. Brown which became available for overnight stays last year. Meanwhile, Tucson continues to cater to outdoorsy types, and anticipation is high for the forthcoming Bike Ranch, a sustainable, 20-acre resort adjacent to Saguaro National Park that’s dedicated to all aspects of cycling and mountain biking.
46. Tulsa, Oklahoma
CREDIT: SELSER SCHAEFER ARCHITECTS
Big, open green spaces like the 100-acre Gathering Place and a high quality of life — especially as measured in microbreweries and trendy restaurants — brought new crowds to the Art Deco darling of Tulsa in recent years. But Tulsa’s renaissance remained incomplete without a reconciliation and recognition of the city’s dark past. As much of the U.S. learned only last year, through television depictions on Lovecraft Country and Watchmen, the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 wiped out the thriving and successful neighborhood of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street. Approaching the 100th anniversary of the horrific attack, a new class of Black artists and entrepreneurs honors and explores that history, bringing residents and visitors to face the dark past through creative means. The Black Moon collective, Black Wall Street Gallery, and Fulton Street Books and Coffee each aim to heal and unify by centering the work and narratives of the Black community. Those narratives come in physical form in the sculptures at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, near the coming Greenwood Rising center dedicated to the legacy of Black Wall Street, and site of commemoration events planned leading up to a candlelight vigil marking the anniversary.
47. The U.S. National Parks
CREDIT: COURTESY OF AMANGANI
The National Park Service saw another banner year in 2020 — even if it was for all the wrong reasons. As the pandemic spurred interest in outdoor pursuits, Yellowstone National Park recorded the busiest September in history. Other biggies, like Joshua Tree, were bracing for huge holiday-season crowds. It should come as no surprise: Travelers also swarmed parks and nature preserves during the 1918 pandemic, according to Quartz. But record visitation and crowding at iconic spots kind of defeats the point of exploring wide-open spaces, doesn’t it? Enter TCS World Travel, a luxury outfitter that coordinates private jet trips. They’ve just launched a private itinerary — designed for quarantine pods of four to 12 guests — that hits many of the most in-demand national parks, including Bryce Canyon, Grand Teton, and Zion, by private Citation CJ3 or Hawker 800XP jet. These fully customizable trips will have adventurers tracking wolves in Yellowstone, hiking past hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, standup paddle boarding on Lake Powell, or whatever else your crew wants to do. And while TCS can’t promise you won’t see another soul along the way, they can get you into some of the most exclusive hotels in the American West, including Amangani, Amangiri, and Sage Lodge.
48. Washington, D.C.
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The push and pull between past and present is the great drama of Washington, D.C. Once you know to look, you’ll see it everywhere. The newly renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza — its great yellow block letters both immediately recognizable and extremely photogenic — abuts Lafayette Square, in front of the White House, which once was an open-air slave market. The Smithsonian Institution marks its 175th anniversary with its first national Latino gallery on the National Mall: a new exhibition space to open inside the National Museum of American History. The new Kimpton Banneker Hotel, just north of Scott Circle, is named after the city’s great polymath, Benjamin, the 18th-century free black writer and astronomer who surveyed the District’s boundaries. And making his debut at the National Zoo is Xiao Qi Ji (“Little Miracle”), a panda cub whose presence can be traced back to Nixon’s 1972 trip to China. But the pandemic-age inauguration of a new president in January will doubtless be the city’s biggest milestone — unless this is the year D.C. finally becomes a state.
49. White Sands, New Mexico
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Nothing is as it seems in White Sands, the 176,000-acre swath of New Mexico desert that was first established as a national monument in 1933. From afar, the gypsum dunes —the world’s largest such expanse — look as sterile and sun-scorched as the surface of a distant planet. Up close, the luxuriously cool sand teems with life. Bleached earless lizards, Apache pocket mice, and sand wolf spiders — all mostly white, to blend in with their surroundings — skitter across the dunes. At first, there’s no evidence of humankind, but investigate the right spot and you’ll find fossilized footprints overlaid by mammoth and giant-sloth tracks. Last year’s re-designation as a national park expanded the protected region’s scope by 2,030 acres, and, more importantly, increased its visibility to travelers. Researchers estimate that the change in status could contribute $7 million in spending, and 100 jobs, to the local economy.
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No one could have dreamed up a better marketing plan for Wyoming than social distancing. The country’s least-populated state has only six people per square mile, meaning it’s not only easy, but natural to stay safely apart. Yellowstone and Grand Teton have both seen huge spikes in visitation (credit “Yellowstone” binges), but don’t overlook Wyoming’s 12 state parks. A new 4-mile section was recently added to the famous Continental Divide Trail, too. Not so good with a compass? Go deeper into the park (without getting lost) with new itineraries from ToursByLocals, including a full-day adventure in Grand Teton National park, or book the new winter experience with wolves from Scott Dunn. In Casper, College National Finals Rodeo (the Rose Bowl of the sport) resumes in June after a year off, and the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days, celebrates its 125th anniversary in July 2021. Hit the pancake breakfast to feel like you really belong. In south central Wyoming, the Relais & Chateaux Magee Homestead reopens to leisure travelers and relaunches its popular culinary events. And in Jackson, the first hotel on the historic town square, the 100-room Cloudveil, opens in spring with a huge rooftop terrace overlooking Snow King Mountain.