US Virgin Islands
In a year when travelers are apt to still be watching their wallets, this is our #1 choice for an American tropical getaway. It’s eternally 80 degrees, rimmed with white-sand beaches on turquoise water, and, yes, it’s a US territory. Each of the US Virgin Islands has their own identity: if you want a break from resorts, St John is nearly two-thirds a lush national park with tent cabins amid trees and hikes to secluded beaches – this sadly may be the last year for the Maho Bay Camps, a long-standing eco-resort which is the place to stay if you’re watching your budget; or try the St John Inn which offers great-value rooms with kitchenettes. For more action, the previously inaccessible Hassel Island, now part of Virgin Islands National Park (St Thomas), can be explored by snorkel or kayak. And word is that the Captain Morgan Rum Distillery on St. Croix will open its new visitor center in spring 2012.
Seen Cincy lately? The pretty city on the Ohio River – off the main cross-country interstates – gets bypassed by many road trippers, but it’s quietly transformed itself in the last decade into a worthy weekend getaway. Life centers around the river – much which can be seen by foot: river walkways are best on the Kentucky side, reached via a couple bridges including John Roebling’s Suspension Bridge (a prequel to his famous Brooklyn Bridge). Narrow, twisting (and steep) brick roads of the Mt Adams district lead past 19th-century Victorian townhouses and the free Cincinnati Art Museum, while the once-dangerous, emerging Over-the-Rhine, just north of downtown, is home to the Findlay Market and a sprawling collection of historic Italianate architecture. Best, though, is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, open since 2004, on the banks of the river where many slaves escaped to freedom in the 19th century.
Four Corners Region, Southwest USA
Looking for a beach? Don’t forget Puerto Rico, just a short hop from the US mainland. The island is rimmed with great beaches, but the best – and still a secret to most visitors – is the world-class Playa Flamenco, on wee, offbeat, laid-back island of Culebra, 17 miles off Puerto Rico’s mainland. Reached by ferry or flight, Culebra is great for beach-hopping, snorkeling or hikes in a wildlife refuge. You can find beachside apartments for $150/night, including Villa Flamenco Beach, while the personable, cheaper Palmetto Guesthouse offers free water-sports gear.
The university town of Boulder is one of the most livable cities in US. Locals live with a mad crush on the outdoors, and adventure can be found at every turn. Main roads are filled with cyclists, except for the bustling ped-only Pearl St Mall lined with shops and great eateries and brewpubs. There’s also a bike path along Boulder Creek, which gets filled with tubers in summer. The Royal Arch Trail is a two-hour hike though a challenging red-rock canyon in town. And, in winter, don’t overlook Nederland’s goofy Frozen Dead Guy festival, 17 miles west.
For too long, ‘Hawai’i’ has meant Honolulu, but a rise in direct flights from the US mainland to Kona, on the Big Island, mean the draw of this magical place has never been easier. Plan to stay as long as you can, considering its wide variety of attractions: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Kealakekua Bay snorkeling, hikes into caves and waterfalls along the lava field at Hilina Pai, or just bumming on the island’s best beach at Hapuna.
Chicago’s going to be busy in 2012, with G8 and NATO summits based here – though the main attraction lies outside politics. Instead, occupy the Magnificent Mile! Chicago has incredible art offerings at places like the Art Institute and Millennium Park, some of the country’s best restaurants and world-class festivals like Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago. And the Obamas’ old neighborhood on the south side – Hyde Park – is seeing more visitors for its lakeside walks and a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘prairie style’ Robie House, up this year for World Heritage Site status.