Louisville, Kentucky came out on top for more than horses and bourbon
Alaska's northern lights will be especially spectacular next year
Glacier National Park's glaciers might not be around for much longer
Fresh, local cuisine is the name of the game on the San Juan Islands in Washington state
Attention American travel aficionados: There’s no need to leave the United States to find the next hot destination.
With Lonely Planet’s Top 10 U.S. Destinations for 2013, innovative cuisine and drink, hopping art scenes and spectacular nature are available – all without a passport. They include emerging destinations, locations that have something special for 2013 and longtime favorites with something new to offer visitors.
“U.S destinations are always going to be popular for U.S. residents,” said Robert Reid, Lonely Planet’s U.S. travel editor. “It’s a big country and we don’t have as much vacation time as Europeans.”
So consider putting that limited time to good use at one of these top destinations:
Louisville is the new Portland?
Louisville, Kentucky, was named the top U.S. destination for 2013, following travel publisher Lonely Planet’s discussions among its group of U.S. editors and authors. While they tend to debate entries into each year’s Top 10 list, everyone agreed on Louisville, said Reid.
While many horse lovers descend upon this Southern town the first Saturday in May to witness the Kentucky Derby, also known as the “greatest two minutes in sports,” there’s more to Louisville than one horse race.
With its hip bourbon scene (including microdistilleries), fine dining and emerging East Market District, also known as NuLu, Louisville may just be the new Portland, Oregon. Reid said. Consider exploring the city via the Urban Bourbon Trail for a powerful introduction to Kentucky’s famous spirit.
The rest of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 destinations: Fairbanks, Alaska (2); San Juan Islands, Washington (3), Philadelphia (4); American Samoa (5); Eastern Sierra, California (6); northern Maine (7); Twin Cities, Minnesota (8); Verde Valley, Arizona (9); and Glacier National Park, Montana (10).
Lonely Planet’s Best Value worldwide destinations for 2013
Nature is putting on a show
Fairbanks, Alaska, is the place to view the northern lights (aurora borealis) next year, when the sunspots put on a spectacular show in the sky. It’s the end of an 11-year solar cycle so the show should be exceptionally beautiful. Go in late summer for the best view.
And people who haven’t seen Glacier National Park yet should visit soon. Beloved by Montana residents and visitors alike, most visitors enjoy the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. However, the park’s namesake glaciers are melting and could be gone by 2020 if the current warming trends continue, according to the National Park Service.
The Eastern Sierra in California is just beyond Yosemite, allowing for exploration of hot springs, a gold rush ghost town and the amazing Devils Postpile National Monument’s 60-foot curtain of basalt columns made from rivers of lava.
Across the country, most visitors going to Maine stick to the shoreline. But the interior of northern Maine also has plenty for the active outdoors traveler. Not only is the Appalachian Trail’s northern terminus located at Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, there are also miles of bike trails, canoe trips, rafting and a nearly 100-year-old steamboat ride at Moosehead Lake.
The Spiritual Journey of the Appalachian Trail
The food and drink are divine
The lovely San Juan Islands north of Seattle have been coined “the Gourmet Archipelago” by Lonely Planet guidebook author Brendan Sainsbury. The area has plenty of not-Seattle-like sunshine and lots of fresh, local food. High on the menus of local restaurants: locally farmed artichokes and marionberries and fresh-caught salmon, oysters and razor clams. Sainsbury recommends the Doe Bay Cafe on Orcas Island, and Willows Inn on Lummi Island.
Beyond the red rocks, crystals and spa culture of Arizona, Verde Valley is blossoming as a wine community. The new Verde Valley Wine Trail near Sedona connects four vineyards around Cornville in northern Arizona.
Classic American cities
Art is truly taking center stage in Philadelphia. True, the city has long had the Philadelphia Museum of Art with its Rocky-climbing steps. But with the move of the Barnes Foundation – with its once-private collection of Cézanne, Matisse and Renoir – into the city, Philly is now the place to explore art. And the gallery scene is exploding in emerging neighborhoods like Fishtown and Northern Liberties – with a restaurant and bar scene to enjoy while you’re there.
Minnesota’s Twin Cities have long been known as bike-friendly, but the Nice Ride Minnesota bike-share system and its new bike lanes have made the region even more cyclist-friendly. Ride along the Mississippi River close to the headwaters and enjoy the beauty of the trails there.
Prince still stops by the Minneapolis clubs to hear the latest bands, Reid promised. And you can also enjoy a show at Minnesota Public Radio’s Fitzgerald Theater (named after St. Paul native F. Scott Fitzgerald) where Garrison Keillor tapes “A Prairie Home Companion.” Keillor’s next show is February 2, 2013, but there’s plenty of other entertainment there in the meantime.
Far away without a passport
While there’s no need to have a passport when traveling to the U.S. territory of American Samoa, it will take most U.S. residents some time to get there. From already far-flung Hawaii, travelers take a nearly six-hour flight from Honolulu to Pago Pago on Tutuila.
It’s not a place most people can afford to go, but it’s worth your consideration for the trip of a lifetime, said Reid. “It’s a dream South Pacific beach vacation,” he said.
Tutuila offers incredible beaches, waterfalls and even the National Park of American Samoa, but Reid recommends jumping on a quick connecting flight to the 3-square-mile Ofu in the Manu’a Islands, which features white-sand beaches flanked by palm trees and surrounded by shark-tooth-shaped mountains. While the editors recommend visiting on Flag Day, April 17, when the island celebrates big time, snorkeling and pure Polynesian bliss is available almost anytime.