After much spirited discussion, countless days on the road, and plenty of nights sleeping around the West, we’re excited to share the hotels, landmarks, gear, and travel trends that have made our year
Courtesy of REI Outessa
Maybe the outdoors is already your soul space. Maybe you just suspect it could be. Either way, REI Outessa retreats are a great way to get out there. These women-only nature retreats lead you through hiking, paddleboarding, yoga, and more, teaching outdoors skills minus the mansplaining. The three-day weekend in Mt. Hood, for example, includes all gear and instruction; lodging that ranges from camping to comfy resorts; generous meals; and s’mores, of course. From $799.
Courtesy of Sun Valley Resort
The Limelight Hotel is the first hip night’s stay to open in Ketchum since John and Jackie Kennedy lent their glamour to Sun Valley’s ski slopes (pictured). The December 2016 launch of this 99-room boutique property kicked off a party that hasn’t abated: The spacious, modern lounge draws everyone from locals to trout bums to vacationing families, thanks to its mix of shuffleboard, live music, bargain-priced food, and Sawtooth’s locally brewed Idahome IPA. From $240.
Courtesy of Dakine
That wicker basket sure looks sweet … until you try to carry your feast in it for more than a few yards. Dakine Party Pack makes longer hauls a whole lot easier by transferring the load to your back. Based in Hood River, Oregon—where wine and cheese qualify as essential food groups—the company has made a bag with a main compartment big enough to fit snacks for a herd, plus a soft-sided cooler, three koozies, and a picnic blanket clipped to the exterior. $70.
Ysa Adams / Incite Photography
It probably won't be your proudest moment as a parent, but there you are, eating room service on the toilet so your baby can sleep in your hotel room. How about an upgrade instead? Book family rentals listed on Kid & Coe, to score well-designed homes equipped with toys and a crib. Now you can safely say you won’t be found hiding in the bathroom again.
Thomas J. Story
Just outside the canvas cabins of the Philipsburg, MT Ranch at Rock Creek flows the all-inclusive resort’s star amenity: the namesake stream, nationally designated a Blue Ribbon fishery for its pureness and sustainability. The waters are packed to the gills with six species of wild-born trout, as well as Rocky Mountain whitefish, while moose and eagles look on from the ponderosa- and Douglas fir–lined banks. To keep numbers healthy, fishing here (on your own or with a guide) is catch-and-release, but you can request lunch on your trip: When hunger strikes, the resort’s chef will be waiting ashore with an organic campfire meal. From $1,300.
Thomas J. Story
Steve Glass / Getty Images
The peak-ringed town of Estes Park, Colorado, on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park, is ringing in its 100th anniversary. It’s an excellent excuse to pitch a tent in quiet Aspenglen, a 54-site campground, then hit up one of the birthday concerts in town. From $26.
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Bunk in a vintage trailer and wake up amid the grapevines on the organic Alta Colina Vineyard in Paso Robles, California. The Trailer Pond campground also has a pond-side dock, lots of hiking, and an included tasting of Syrahs and Grenache Blanc. From $175.
Idaho Division of Tourism Development
The one-of-a-kind Lava Flow Campground in Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, Idaho, has a weird, wild landscape—and this summer it reopened after a yearlong renovation (now with more pull-through RV options). From $15.
Courtesy of Hydro Flask
Hydro Flask’s stainless steel, double-wall insulated wine bottle swallows an entire 750-ml. bottle of your favorite wine, keeping it well chilled for hours without taking up space in a cooler. $38.
Tim Murphy Photography Inc.
Using Colorado’s Yampa River as his laboratory, avid paddleboarder Peter Hall designed an inflatable board that’s also legit on the water. For travel, the board folds down into a roller-bag that can also be carried like a backpack. Inflated, the 10-foot-long Radito is so rigid, it punches and rises through the water like a hardboard, making it ideal for whitewater expeditions and overnight trips. Rigging points make it easy to lash on a cooler, a swallowtail lets you make last-minute maneuvers, and a veneer of reinforced PVC makes the board nearly ironclad—in fact, manufacturer Hala Gear offers a three-year warranty, something that’s unheard-of in the sport. $1,299.
Courtesy of San Francisco International Airport
Flying is stressful, but at San Francisco International Airport, the frazzled can unwind with an unlikely friend: LiLou, the world’s first airport therapy pig. A piano-playing, tutu-wearing Instagram star (@lilou_sfpig) trained by owner Tatyana Danilova and certified by the SPCA, the Juliana spotted swine struts through the terminals—her favorite is the carpeted Terminal 3 (it’s less slippery)—looking for anyone who wants to say hi or have the ultimate meet-cute story to tell a seatmate later.
The French may do escargot, but in Mendocino, they prefer snails that come from the sea. Abalone is a delicacy, and there are a lot of rules that aim to protect the population, which makes free diving for the mollusks out of reach for most people. But during three days at the end of each June, the Little River Inn offers an Abalone Camp. An expert guide will teach you how to plunge headfirst into the surging waters down to plump, briny-sweet wild California red abalone. One pop to pry it off the rock, and up you go with your prize. Back at the hotel, you’ll learn how to clean and cook your catch, then feast on it. Afterward, an ocean-view fireplace room awaits. From $575.
Courtesy of Raden
In chic colors ranging from hunter green to light pink, Raden suitcases were designed to stand out on the carousel. But it’s the built-in extras that are guaranteed to win over seasoned travelers: Two USB ports for juicing up devices en route, a scale to make sure you don’t get dinged for excess weight, and—best of all—Bluetooth technology that allows you to track the case’s every move via an app on your phone. That’s right: no more lost luggage. From $295.
How would you celebrate your 150th birthday? If you’re Canada, you invite the entire world to your party by swinging open the doors to your national parks. For 2017, the country’s making its annual Discovery Pass (normally $68) free, giving visitors admission to all of the country’s 40-plus parks for the calendar year, including 12 Western sites. Visit Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim for sandy beaches, year-round surfing, and a hiking trail originally forged by shipwrecked sailors; or hit north coast Gwaii Haanas for remote campsites, bald eagles, and ocean sightings of whales and dolphins.
You’re all about The Find—Grüner Veltliner? Bring it on. Cabernet? Absolutely. On your next wine weekend in the Northwest, you don’t have to choose. Heck, you don’t even have to stay put in one state. The Columbia Gorge AVA, spanning its namesake river for 40 miles starting 45 minutes east of Portland and continuing through to Goldendale, Washington, has it all. Running through the Cascade Range, the youngish wine region (officially established in 2004) comprises cool mountainous vineyards excellent for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as warm, dry, desert-influenced vines that grow intense Rhônes. The laid-back tasting rooms along the river offer stealth quality, giving counterparts in the rest of the Northwest a run for their money. Get here before the crowds find out.
Courtesy of Caravan Outpost
You love the idea of a throwback home on wheels, but towing just isn’t your thing. The parked trailers at Ojai, CA's Caravan Outpost let you live the dream, at least for a night. Perched in the Topatopa Mountains, 11 gleaming Airstreams are kitted out with handwoven textiles reminiscent of a modern-day bedouin lifestyle. At night, in a palm-studded grove strung with lights, guests gather around the fire to swap stories and play music. From $180.
Courtesy of AllBirds
Think of the San Francisco–based AllBirds as the unicorn of shoes. Made with natural resources like merino wool, they’re light but durable, breathable, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking—which you’ll be especially grateful for after a day of sightseeing. $95.
Spondylotithesis / Getty Images
The concourse at Long Beach Airport in Southern California looks more like a seaside resort than a commercial terminal, thanks to an $89 million facelift. Breezy security lines and nonstop flights to domestic destinations like Sacramento and Fort Lauderdale are nice perks, but the live music and food trucks may make you miss your flight.
amygdala_imagery / Getty Images
Ranked as one of the top mountain-biking towns in the country, Santa Fe boasts 230 trails—and growing—covering more than 145 miles. For the best view, shuttle up to Winsor Trail and then cruise 10 miles down to the base.
Port of Portland
Dinner-and-a-show has never been an airport pastime, but leave it to Portland to change that. The dining court at PDX serves Blue Star Donuts and House Spirits Distillery libations; follow up with a show at Concourse C’s free Hollywood Theatre, which shows short indie films by Oregon filmmakers.
Creative Commons photo by Mark Byzewski is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Alaska’s rugged coastline is rewarding but tricky to navigate by car, which is why we suggest the Alaska Marine Highway System, a network of ferry routes through the Inside Passage from Bellingham to Yakutat. Instead of watching the road, you can take in all the eye candy—glaciers, whales, bears, otters, and eagles—Alaska is legendary for. From $532.
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Denver’s finest art collection isn’t in a museum but rather in a series of rail stations and bus stops. Taking public transit through the 45-plus commissioned murals, mosaics, sculptures, and towering installations might just be the best case ever for taking the bus.
Soumya Banerjee / Getty Images
Via Rail Canada’s Vancouver-Edmonton line winds through British Columbia’s passes for a mountaineer’s-eye view of the Rockies—but without the schlep. Admire river canyons, waterfalls, and wildlife from the crystal-clear second-story Skyline Dome Car, then feast on local Canadian lake trout in the gilded vintage dining car. From $169.
Thomas J. Story
Towering tiki head, life-size dinosaurs, desert landscapes—when it comes to roadside attractions, Arizona’s Route 66 is king. New to the mix is a crashed space capsule by Scottsdale artist Jack Millard in a farm field next to Interstate 10.
Courtesy of Okiino
The secret to minimalist carry-ons? Clothes that do double duty—or quadruple duty in the case of Okiino’s leggings. Sure, they’re quick-drying, durable, and offer UV protection, but they’re also downright fashionable, meaning they can go from an eight-hour flight to yoga or kayaking to an elegant dinner. If you can spare the room, it might just be worth it to throw in one of their artist-created patterns for a colorful twist. From $98.
Every day, Sunset readers inspire us with their letters, tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagrams pointing us in the direction of the West’s best hidden gems. When we asked you to share your all-time favorites online for this story, Maui’s Haleakala National Park emerged as the clear winner. Spanning more than 30,000 acres, the park is home to everything from the dormant Haleakala Volcano and lava tubes to freshwater pools and waterfalls. Your photo tip: Snap a selfie on the bridge leading into Haleakala’s bamboo forest.
You made all the hotel and dinner reservations two months ago, booked the flights, and Googled enough attractions to keep your upcoming trip action-packed. Instead of digging through your email inbox for details of your trip, you can keep everything in one place with Google Trips. The free app not only gathers your flight and plans from your email, but also adds curated lists of spots to visit based on your search data. From there, a single click turns everything into an itinerary and map that can be saved on- or
offline—because you never know when you’ll find yourself in a Wi-Fi dead zone.
There’s something wondrous about driving through the Centennial State: Just as you start aching from hours behind the wheel, your road trip morphs into a spa vacation. A 720-mile trek on the Hot Springs Loop takes you past 19 different soaks, ranging from the world’s largest mineral hot-springs pool and geothermic vapor caves in Glenwood Springs to intimate and rustic natural steam baths in Chaffee County. Start your journey in Denver and make your way northwest to Steamboat Springs for a spring-fed plunge after a day of hiking. Then head south on the loop to a naturally occurring underground steam bath in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Continue south to Ouray to poach amid canyon scenery, and make your way southeast to Pagosa Springs to explore the world’s deepest geothermal aquifer in the San Juan Mountains, surrounded by 3 million acres of wilderness. Colorado, take us away!
South of the border, luxury isn’t relegated to just the resorts. At the new Camp Cecil, on the UNESCO-protected island of Espíritu Santo in Baja, white canvas tents with cushy beds, teak lanterns, and rattan sofas in the sand are the kind of hideaway you could get used to. Naturalist guides take you kayaking around bird colonies, SUPing over translucent waves, bouldering up sculpted arroyos, and swimming with sea lion pups. Ivan, the camp’s Italian chef, lays out three miraculously fresh meals a day, plus happy hour. From $275.
Vermilion. Rose. Amber. At least a half-dozen colors play along the contoured walls of the Kanarra Creek slot canyon as you make your way to Utah’s Kanarraville Falls, a roughly 5-mile round-trip. August temperatures in the 90s make the family-friendly water hike even more refreshing, yet the prize is not one but two waterfalls—plus a natural waterslide for the win. There, in red rock country just beyond Zion National Park’s northernmost boundary, you can soak in the gush of the falls and take turns zipping down a smooth section of rock (about the length of a playground slide) that dunks you into the pool just below.
Courtesy of FLG Terroir
For tourists who go out for a drink, it’s sometimes one or two and done before heading back to the hotel. But this downtown’s 60-plus watering holes beg you to make a night of it. Slake your thirst with a pub crawl through the walkable bar scene, starting at Mother Road Brewery, where citrusy Tower Station IPA is one of eight-plus craft beers always on offer. The taproom puts you within inches of tuns and tanks and is housed in a 1920s commercial laundry building. Walk a few blocks to The Annex, a dark, cozy lounge with a patio tucked into a handball court, built in 1926 by Basque shepherds. Bartenders mix old-school cocktails like Manhattans and shandies, or ask for a Founding Father (muddled cherries, Jefferson bourbon, and bitters, topped with a puff of pipe tobacco smoke). Finish with a tawny port nightcap at FLG Terroir (pictured), a second-story wine bistro that spotlights boutique Euro wineries. Exposed brick walls and wooden beams speak of the building’s 1913 provenance. The bistro’s sherry- and port-spiked ice creams speak to your sweet tooth.
Courtesy of Xanterra Parks and Resort
From the outside, the Old Faithful Inn looms as shaggy and massive as the bison that roam in Yellowstone National Park. Inside, you’ll gape at the lobby anchored by a 500-ton stone fireplace: It’s the treehouse of your dreams, or maybe Hogwarts magically transported to the Wyoming frontier. From $119.
Courtesy of Hotel Roosevelt
No stay shimmers with Old Hollywood glamour more than The Hollywood Roosevelt. As for the Library Bar, it’s everything you want in a hideaway, where you can design your own cocktails in a noirish setting made for plotting a movie deal or an affair.
A multimillion-dollar renovation gave the Timber Cove in Jenner, California, the mod elegance it had when it first opened in 1963. The A-frame lobby and the Crosley LP record players in the guest rooms make for the most chic boho stay imaginable. From $250.
Courtesy of ROW Adventures
Idaho has more miles of whitewater rivers than any other state in the country. And the person you want guiding you down them is Peter Grubb of Coeur d’Alene–based ROW Adventures. Whatever the trip, Grubb makes you feel like family, which makes sense since his wife, Betsy, and their children are also river guides. From $795.
Wan Ru Chen / Getty Images
Beyond the sun, surf, and beaches, San Diego has an action-packed urban core. Downtown shines with new skyscrapers, and the adjacent Gaslamp Quarter has a historic vibe that mixes well with hipster restaurants and hotels. To the south, mural-rich Chicano Park was just named a National Historic Landmark. And by the airport, Liberty Station’s former navy buildings now house restaurants, a public market, and shops.
Devils Tower National Monument
Wyoming’s Devils Tower is one amazing sight: an 867-foot-high plug of igneous rock, rising above ponderosa pines. The Tower is venerated by the Cheyenne, Lakota, and Crow peoples. Odds are good that once you visit, you’ll venerate it too.
Creative Commons photo by Airtime Al is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Denver’s beloved Elitch Gardens is a wooden roller-coaster-aficionado’s favorite: 10-story-high Twister II (pictured); the new-this-year 17-story Star Flyer; a charming 83-year-old carousel; and plenty of water rides to cool you off. And because this is Colorado, there’s a beer garden with 12 local brews on tap.
Jordan Siemens / Getty Images
Vacation’s almost over, and you’ve forgotten to buy that postcard Mom’s expecting. (Why she doesn’t just follow you on Instagram, you’ll never know.) Enter Postagram, a mobile app that creates a physical postcard from the photos in your feed. You could be boarding the plane and still have a few minutes to choose a photo, customize the card background, and ship it for $2. Or do one better and snap a selfie in front of that iconic landmark—that’ll really make Mom’s day.
This winter saw Calistoga’s wine country flooded with some unexpected—and much-needed—storms that didn’t exactly encourage tasting-room tours. In response to guests just wanting to stay cozy, Solage’s indoor-outdoor spa added Hot Toddy for the Body (from $125) to its menu: a mud application followed by 20 minutes in a claw-foot tub filled with warm mineral water (and a tea-based cocktail in hand!). The tub faces a garden-view window, allowing you to watch the downpour while you get your buzz on. Dec–Mar.
Sleeping outside used to mean pitching a tent wherever the crowds parted ways and forgoing fresh vegetables and fruit until you got back home. This year, though, small farms around the West started opening up their orchards to summertime campers, allowing them to eat whatever they pick during their stay. Activities often include farm tours and sing-alongs around a fire (usually a safe distance from crops). For example, Capay Organic in Northern California is open to campers during farm-held festivals (next one Sep 16) featuring live music, a petting zoo, and a box of produce to take home with you. Camping from $35, festival from $15.
Laura Ciapponi / Getty Images
Northern California is best known for its transcendent beaches and hiking trails, but it’s also home to thousands of protected acres of farmland, much of it thanks to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT). In many ways, the organization is the reason why there are so many open spaces in this rural corner of Marin County—and why the area hasn’t been colonized by mega hotels. To raise awareness and introduce visitors to West Marin’s ranchers and farmers, MALT arranges day trips of all kinds throughout the year: How about a hike followed by locally produced ice cream or a barn dance serving organic beef at family-run Stemple Creek Ranch? It’s a tasty way to explore a place and help preserve it at the same time.
Angela Weiss / Getty Images
It took more than 40 years to complete, but the new 67-mile Backbone Trail was worth the wait. The unbroken footpath across the Santa Monica Mountains’ wild outback lets you wander from Malibu to Pacific Palisades, passing through sycamore groves, hidden waterfalls, rock outcrops, and historic movie locations along the way. It tops out at 3,111-foot Sandstone Peak, offering vistas that make L.A. realtors weak at the knees— a wide expanse of island-dotted Pacific and a sweep of downtown’s jagged skyline, plus Mt. Baldy guarding the Inland Empire. Start at one of 12 trailheads for a quick stroll or backpack for a week. There are only five campgrounds along the route, but no worries. This is L.A., and Lyft can whisk you away at a moment’s notice.
Courtesy of Molokai Land Trust
Get in some beach time, and do right by the planet while you’re at it. Molokai Land Trust in Hawaii invites visitors to volunteer and help restore the island’s native flora across thousands of acres, otherwise inaccessible to the public. We’re talking rugged shorelines, coastal dunes, and seasonal wetlands via four-wheeling, followed by a day of cleanup, light weeding, and perhaps building a fence. It’s a rewarding experience in a beautiful part of the islands, and the efforts are already paying off. Hawaiian artists were able to make leis using rare, native ‘ohai flowers—not seen in nearly a century—propagated from a single specimen gathered by the trust.
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For years, discerning locals in Santa Cruz, California, queued up for the fish tacos and seasonal aguas frescas Fran Grayson served out of her truck. Last summer, Grayson parked that truck next to her new cafe-and-surf-supply concession stand called Steamer Lane Supply, located in Lighthouse Field State Park (pictured). It now stands at the ready on Saturdays and Sundays to sate surfers and tourists with budget-friendly, locally sourced grub like grass-fed beef burgers and those famous fish tacos.
Courtesy of Fatboy
Summer’s beach days and outdoor concerts call for an upgrade from that old blanket that may be stuffed in your trunk. Enter Fatboy's Picnic Lounge. It’s stylish—with an ornate-yet-cheeky Persian-esque pattern featuring glazed doughnuts and rocket ships—and at nearly 7 feet by 9 feet, big enough to fit a bunch of friends plus a cooler. Plastic stakes prevent it from becoming a flying carpet, and a center grommet even lets you add an umbrella. And when you’re ready to roll, the blanket folds to look like a duffle bag with a cross-body strap. $249.