There are so many ways to experience the West. Here is a roundup of the best of 2021.

Travel is central to Sunset: It’s how we find and photograph the homes and gardens we share with you, taste the food of the chefs whose recipes we print in our pages, and discover, firsthand, the next great little bar, perfectly curated shop, sweet country inn, hidden river or trail, and bucolic winery you need to visit. And then, as it did to everyone, the coronavirus pandemic permanently altered how we move through our own towns, let alone how we navigate others.

Sunset did not publish our annual Travel Awards in 2020. But for 2021 we are proudly presenting the awards to honor the folks in hospitality who continue to provide unparalleled service in the face of persistent loss and uncertainty—whether we are experiencing their generosity now or looking forward to it in the future.

“People are starting to embrace change rather than arguing about it,” said Brad Odo, director of restaurants for Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Hawaii. “The amount of gratitude we’ve been shown by guests for reopening, and for giving them the opportunity to travel again, has really been incredible.”

Under a canvas at Lake Powell

Travis Burke

So many of the changes are positive. New technologies like QR-coded menus are minimizing paper and plastic waste; room keys dispensed from sanitation machines create cleaner environments for guests and staff alike. Alfresco dining has become a much-welcome norm.

“Many people really like not having to share menus and (being) able to make payments using their watches or phones,” says Anu Bhambri, the owner of ROOH, a progressive Indian restaurant in San Francisco.

Others continue to be a challenge. Many restaurants and bars are short on staff. Delays and cancellations are expected, be it long lines or a positive COVID-19 test.

“Our planes went from ghost ships to pretty much packed in about as much time as we’ve been hearing about the vaccine,” says one flight attendant, who remains anonymous so they can share their experience independent of their airline. “With the influx of passengers has come an influx of wait time at security checkpoints, and a bump in the number of guests who need us to do a little more for them.

“I heard a gal who’d been flying longer than I’ve been alive say, ‘We’re a 737, not a 7-Eleven,’ ” the flight attendant continues, “and while it’s funny to think about, it’s true!”

We celebrate the pilots and flight attendants who mask up to get us safely from point A to point B. The hoteliers who hosted first responders—and those who greeted the first guests who ventured out on their first vacations after so many months. The restaurant manager who curates the floor plan for dinner service to ensure social distancing. The wine bar owner who built out a bodega to keep the sips flowing for neighborhood patrons who now order in the doorway. The cleaning staff who work diligently to meet elevated standards in each and every hotel room. And so many more.

We picked this year’s awards from submitted entries, ranging from accommodations to transportation options to places to eat and drink. Think of it as a guide for whenever you’re ready to travel—whether now or later. Above all, it’s a thank you to those working tirelessly to adapt and keep us safe, and even finding time to innovate along the way.

How to read this travel awards package: We’ve got Ultimate Outdoor Retreats, Wine Escapes, Hawaii Getaways, Mighty Motels, What to Do in Oregon, Rad Hotel Redesigns, Cool Retro Redos, Park Lodging, Dining with a View, Superlative Spas, Base Camp Hotels, and Slopeside Retreats. Read on for more below.

Want to see all 300+ entrants to this year’s Travel Awards? Check out our full directory here.

2021 Sunset Travel Awards


Ultimate Outdoor Retreats

Amangiri Camp Sarika - bedroom pavilion

Courtesy of Amangiri

These camping getaways seamlessly blend the outdoors with modern luxury. Just don’t call it glamping.

Learn more about the retreats

Wine Country Escapes

Carneros Resort and Spa poolside

Carneros Resort and Spa

We’re raising our proverbial glass to these standout spots to explore wine country.

Learn more about the escapes

Island Refresh

Kaimana Beach Hotel

Courtesy of Kaimana Beach Hotel

Hawaii hotels are unveiling spectacular transformations, leaving us longing for a tropical vacation.

Learn more about these Hawaii hotels

Mighty Motels

Campfire Hotel in Bend, Oregon

Lane Pearson Photo

A roadside renaissance is in full swing, and these moteliers make us want to pull over.

Learn more about these mighty motels

Desirable Destination

FivePine Lodge in Oregon

Courtesy of FivePine Lodge

We’re so obsessed with Central Oregon, we couldn’t choose just one spot. Here’s a full weekend itinerary.

Learn more about what to do in Central Oregon

Rad Hotel Redesigns

Arizona Biltmore hotel and resort

Courtesy of The Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort

Hotels across the West are debuting new looks, expanded amenities, and all-around refreshed hospitality.

Learn more about these rad hotels

Cool Retro Redos

Dr. Wilkinson's Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs

Codi Ann Backman

What’s old is new again at these hotels, all of which artfully turn throwback vibes on their head.

Learn more about these redos

Park Lodging

Glendeven Inn & Lodge exterior yard

Courtesy of Glendeven Inn & Lodge

Not into the whole camping vibe? Stay at these spots near state and national parks instead.

Learn more about these lodging options

Dinner with a View

Salish Lodge & Spa - dining room

Courtesy of Salish Lodge & Spa

These perfectly sited restaurants take your dining experience to new heights.

Learn more about these restaurants

Superlative Spas

Golden Door Spa exterior

Rhiannon Taylor

Immerse yourself in the rejuvenation that comes with a stay at these wellness retreats.

Learn more about these wellness retreats

Base Camp

Marriott Cloudveil - Jr. Suite

Ryan Sheets Studio/Courtesy of The Cloudveil

Embark on all types of outdoor adventures from these ideally located hotels.

Learn more about these hotels

Slopeside Retreats

The Blake at Taos Ski Valley

Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley

Whether you’re hitting the runs or simply looking for an alpine getaway, these mountain lodges are the perfect places to hunker down.

Learn more about the slopeside retreats

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