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Lonely Planet’s “Best in the U.S. 2018”: From the Redwoods to the Space Coast

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
February 7, 2018
A view of the sun shining through giant redwoods at Redwoods National Park.
Lonely Planet
We’re gonna need a bigger bucket list…

Our colleagues at our parent company, Lonely Planet, have unveiled their “Best in the U.S. 2018” and in terms of trip inspiration it’s resonating with us like the classic Woody Guthrie ballad: “From the Redwood forests, to the Gulf Stream waters,” this list covers the U.S.’s most compelling hotspots, culled from Lonely Planet’s community of travel experts, including editors, researchers, and locals.

CALIFORNIA, HERE WE COME

California’s Redwood Coast is the number-one destination for 2018, offering the incredible towering coastal redwoods, one of America’s most beautiful national parks, and endless miles (well, 175) of Pacific coastline just four hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Budget Travelers will find affordable lodging and amazing seafood in Crescent City, CA, just outside Redwoods National Park.

IDAHO, TENNESSEE, AND (OF COURSE) FLORIDA

Other top-ranking U.S. destinations include Boise, ID, for its great wines, beers, and festivals (it’s also the capital of America’s fastest-growing state), Chattanooga, TN, for its cool train station hotel and dynamic culinary scene, and Florida’s Space Coast, which, in addition to educating families about the history of space travel, offers affordable food and fun in Cocoa Beach.

SEE THEM ALL

The nice thing about a domestic must-see list is that each destination is actually within reach of the American traveler, a flight or a road trip away. Rounding out Lonely Planet’s 2018 list you’ll find Cincinnati, Midcoast Maine, Richmond, Kentucky Bourbon Country, Minneapolis, and Southeastern Utah.

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Inspiration

5 Things You Don't Know About... the Cliffs of Moher

Don’t let the steep drops scare you away: The landscape around these iconic cliffs in Ireland will warm you with traditional music and a taste of Irish hospitality. 1. THE CLIFFS WERE CARVED BY ICE  The 700-foot limestone Cliffs of Moher, stretching five miles and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in County Clare, Ireland, were carved during the last Ice Age. 2. THERE'S A HIKING TRAIL  Explore rolling hills and vertigo-inducing views on the 28-mile Burren Way hiking trail (irishtrails.ie). 3. THERE'S A VISITORS CENTER The excellent visitors center is a good place to start your visit (cliffsofmoher.ie). 4. NEARBY DOOLIN WELCOMES DINERS AND MUSIC LOVERS The tiny nearby town of Doolin, on the coast, is home to several pubs where high-quality traditional Irish folk music is on tap nightly; boat tours of the cliffs depart from Doolin. 5. THERE'S A CASTLE NEARBY Kick it old school at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, where you’ll eat with your hands at a torch-lit table (admission about $11, banquet tickets from about $52, shannonheritage.com).

Inspiration

4 Things You Don’t Know About NYC Broadway Week

The singing! The dancing! The eye-popping costumes, sets, and lights! And… the prices. Sure, catching a Broadway show requires some fiscal planning. But there’s a cool window each year in mid-January when some of the most popular shows become a lot more accessible to those of us on a budget. Here, four things you’ll want to know about this year’s NYC Broadway Week: 1. BROADWAY WEEK IS LONGER THAN ONE WEEK NYC Broadway Week is the best time of year to save money on show tickets. Now in its 8th year, Broadway Week runs from January 16 through February 4 (yes, the “week” is actually 20 days), and since its inaugural year in 2011 the program has sold more than 1 million tickets and raised more than $70 million. It’s an incredible celebration of one of New York City’s most storied industries, produced by NYC & Co., the city’s official destination marketing organization, in partnership with American Express, the Broadway League, Ticketmaster, Telecharge, and Audience Rewards. 2. YOU CAN BUY 2-FOR-1 TICKETS TO TOP SHOWS Tickets for 18 Broadway shows are now available with a 2-for-1 deal (buy one, get one free, which is basically half-price), bringing typical Broadway prices back down to earth for visitors and locals alike. Available shows include the acclaimed new production of Once on This Island, Hello Dolly starring Bernadette Peters, John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons, and classics such as Aladdin, Beautiful, Wicked, and more. (Availability is subject to change as tickets get snapped up, of course.) 3. YOU COULD WIN A FREE PAIR OF TICKETS NYC Broadway Sweeps will give away a free pair of Broadway tickets to one of 14 selected Broadway performances, Sponsored by the Shubert Organization, the sweepstakes has two drawings, on January 22 and 29. 4. ENJOY SAVINGS ON RESTAURANTS AND NYC MUST-SEES TOO During the week of January 29 to February 4, Budget Travelers can revel in the confluence of NYC Broadway Week, NYC Restaurant Week, and NYC Must-See Week. For lovers of great theater, cutting-edge cuisine, and jaw-dropping cultural institutions, mid-winter in New York may very well replace April in Paris.

Inspiration

Great Getaways: Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine

There's more to Florida than theme parks, beaches, and cities where you can party til dawn (although those are pretty great, too!) Whether you're looking for a quick golf getaway or your next great family vacation, here are six of our favorite family-friendly activities and affordable adventures in Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine—all within an hour's drive of Jacksonville on Florida's northeast coast. Many area hotel options start at well under $100 a night, making a trip to this area super-affordable.  Tour the World Golf Hall of FameGolf enthusiasts will love tracing the roots of the game from its early days in Scotland, testing out old versions of golf clubs, and learning where certain traditions like sand traps and caddies hail from (both stories will surprise you, I promise). The World Golf Hall of Fame also features a replica of the Swilcan Burn Bridge from the Old Course at St. Andrews, displays of the Hall of Fame Members Locker Room with more than 2,000 personal items from all your favorite players, and a large collection of memorabilia dedicated to golf lover Bob Hope. The World Golf Hall of Fame is part of the World Golf Village, home to the PGA Tour Golf Academy, two major golf courses, and a number of shops and restaurants including Murray Bros. Caddyshack, owned by actor Bill Murray and his five brothers. Want to stay close to all the action? The Renaissance World Golf Village Resort offers rooms from under $200 a night—check the website for specials for Florida Villages residents, military members, firefighters, and law enforcement officers where rates start at $109 a night, as well as Stay & Play packages for from $259 a night for two golfers. Visit TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players ChampionshipIf watching The Players Championship each May has you itching to hit the greens, you can still visit the course in Ponte Vedra and its massive clubhouse year-round, or start planning for this year's visit to this surprisingly affordable tournament held in May 6-11 in 2014. For the price of a TPC Sawgrass adult Grounds ticket (options from $66 per person per day), you'll be able to see your favorite players—like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, or Matt Kuchar—up close as they take on the 17th hole island green, one of the most famous holes in golf. Families can save money with free admission for ages 18 and under (with a paying adult), while active-duty, reserve, retired military members, and their dependents get free admission with a valid military ID. You're also allowed to bring your own food to the tournament as long as it's packed in a one gallon clear plastic bag (food items must also be wrapped in clear wrap), and bring your water bottle along to refill during the day. A variety of food trucks ranging from Corner Taco to The Swedish Bistro will also be on site, and those who plan to carpool with four or more people in the car will be rewarded with free parking this year. Looking to indulge in a little VIP experience? You can score access to The Blue Room VIP Lounge for under $150 per person per day including entry to the tournament, exclusive access to music and entertainment, unlimited food from the local restaurants, and all-inclusive beer, wine, water, and soda while you watch. Zip line over alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological ParkAs if an entire zoological park full of alligators, crocodiles, caimans, pythons, lemurs, and exotic birds wasn't cool enough, just wait til you try zip lining over them. Crocodile Crossing at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park gives you two options—the 45-minute short course or the 90-minute long course—with each offering an extensive aerial obstacle course and several opportunities to zip line over the wildlife enclosures. At 20 to 60 feet up, you're out of reach of the many reptiles you're zooming over but still able to get a good look at the impressive creatures as you take on the ropes course. Make sure you're wearing closed toe shoes (with laces) and weigh less than 250 pounds, and you're good to go! Definitely give this one a try if you're in the neighborhood—the bragging rights alone are worth the cost of admission. Step back in time at Castillo de San Marcos and the Colonial QuarterGet to know Old St. Augustine with a trip to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a 20.5-acre fortress built in 1672 that has protected the city's people during various battles against the Spanish, French, British, and even attacks by pirates throughout history. Nowadays visitors can explore the fort and view colonial era weapon and cannon firing demonstrations on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. The best part: adults pay $7 while children under age 15 get in free, and your ticket is valid for up to seven consecutive days. For an in-depth look at what everyday life was like in 16th to 18th century St. Augustine, check out the Colonial Quarter, a living history museum featuring traditional musket demonstrations, a working blacksmith shop, and the chance to climb a 17th century watchtower for panoramic views of the city.  Indulge your inner pirateFormerly The Pirate Soul Museum in Key West, the entire collection was moved to St. Augustine and reopened in December of 2010 as Pat Croce's St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. Home to one of the largest collections of authentic pirate artifacts in the world, the museum features one of only two original Jolly Roger flags in existence, Captain Thomas Tew's treasure chest, an official journal of Captain Kidd's final voyage, and one of the world's oldest wanted posters from the 1696 search for Captain Henry Every. Pick a ghost tour, any ghost tourThere seem to be an abundance of ghost tours available in the nation's oldest city. I went on the Ghosts & Gravestones St. Augustine Frightseeing Tour, a late night trolley ride around town with stops at the St. Augustine Lighthouse Grounds—you'll hear the heartbreaking story of what happened to the three little girls who can still be seen and heard playing on the playground swings more than one hundred years later—and get to explore the Old Jail at night on a tour led by an actor in traditional prison garb who tells stories of the jail's former inhabitants. While it is a fun chance to hear some creepy legends and ghost stories, the tour may not be appropriate for children under age 13.

Inspiration

Hotel We Love: Gralehaus, Louisville, KY

At most motels and hotels, if the restaurant is destination-worthy, it's an added bonus. At Gralehaus, in Louisville, KY, the dining option is a main focus, to the point where the locals who frequent the locally minded, beer-obsessed café often forget that there are lodgings upstairs. THE STORY The owners, Tyler Trotter and Lori Beck, partners in business and life, also own and run the Louisville Beer Store, which is two miles away. The couple has traveled through Europe extensively, and their Louisville B&B, which Trotter says stands for “bed and beverage,” is their way of further sharing their love for suds. “We fly brewers in from around the world and sometimes we have a hard time finding them a place to say,” says Beck, explaining the inspiration for the place. “In our travels to breweries, especially in Europe, we appreciated that a lot of them have inns on the property, even above the brewery. Now we can show them a similar hospitality.” Regardless of whether you’re in the industry, though, you have the option to purchase a beer or cider ahead of time so it's waiting in your mini-fridge when you arrive.  And in the spirit of a classic B&B, it’s self check-in and check-out. THE QUARTERS Each of the three lavish yet cozy rooms, which features either a king-size or queen-size bed, is designed distinctly from the others. That's a matter of happenstance, Trotter says. It turned out that way because as they designed the rooms, they discovered how differently the natural light affected each space. There’s a cowhide rug here, a vintage record player there. But while they look unique, they all share the owners’ love for Louisville. A local interior designer made all the curtains and local artists’ works adorn the walls. The fragrant bath products come from Peace of the Earth, a nearby boutique specializing in eco-friendly products; and the books that line the shelves, all chosen specifically to suit the vibe of each room, were purchased at Carmichael’s Bookstore, a longstanding independent shop. And if that doesn’t impress you, consider the decadent chocolates in the room from Louisville’s Cellar Door, which once was the featured chocolate at the Emmy Awards. THE NEIGHBORHOOD  Gralehaus is located in the Highlands, which is known as the oldest neighborhood in the city. It’s long been home to the city’s Restaurant Row. Today the whole area is jam-packed with bars and nightclubs, but standouts include Jack Fry’s, an historic restaurant known for its classic Southern fare and vintage photos of athletes, and Steel City Pops, an Alabama-based chain in the Southeast that peddles inventive popsicles made with fresh ingredients. There’s a Walgreen’s down the street. Street parking is available.  THE FOOD The ground-floor daytime café, a local hangout, features a fridge with about 75 bottled beers, from local brews to esoteric European options. There are also four taps and an extensive menu of coffee drinks. The from-scratch food leans Southern, but is thoroughly modern. (Think: country ham tartine, veggie hash, creative crepes.) ALL THE REST Beck and Trotter’s third business, Holy Grale, is an expansive beer hall in a church-like building that they opened in 2010. It’s right behind Gralehaus, so it’s really easy to hunker down with a brew or two and get back to your quarters without hassle. The only drawback is that with a bar outside and a cafe downstairs, it can get loud in the rooms, so each one is equipped with white noise machines. Look for the tokens in your room when you arrive. Each can be used for one of the expertly crafted coffee drinks in the café. RATES & DEETS Starting at $150. Extended-stay rates are available.  Gralehaus1001 Baxter AvenueLouisville, KY 40204(502) 454-7075 / gralehaus.com

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