2021 Sunset Travel Awards: 75 Ways to Experience the West
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.”
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
Centennial Seaside Getaway: Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows
Forward Distiller: Backwards Distilling Co.
Ultimate Outdoor Retreats
These camping getaways seamlessly blend the outdoors with modern luxury. Just don’t call it glamping.
Wine Country Escapes
We’re raising our proverbial glass to these standout spots to explore wine country.
Hawaii hotels are unveiling spectacular transformations, leaving us longing for a tropical vacation.
A roadside renaissance is in full swing, and these moteliers make us want to pull over.
We’re so obsessed with Central Oregon, we couldn’t choose just one spot. Here’s a full weekend itinerary.
- Start your visit at the rustic yet romantic FivePine Lodge in Sisters, a town that’s also the longtime home of Three Creeks Brewing‘s classic beers and Sisters Coffee Co., where roasts range from Black Butte Gold to High Desert Sunrise.
- Then head just a half-hour south to Bend, where you can kick it old-school at Deschutes Brewery or see what all the cool kids are talking about at Boss Rambler Beer Club.
- Don’t forget a stop for a pale ale at Cascade Lakes Brewing Co., savor Northern Thai cuisine at Wild Rose restaurant, or pop over to 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar, a James Beard semifinalist restaurant from chef Joe Kim.
- End the trip with a bang at The Last Blockbuster on Earth.
Rad Hotel Redesigns
Hotels across the West are debuting new looks, expanded amenities, and all-around refreshed hospitality.
- Poetry Inn
- L’Auberge Del Mar
- Flamingo Resort
- MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa
- The Lodge At Sonoma
- Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa
- Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
- Kona Kai Resort & Spa
- Mar Monte Hotel
Cool Retro Redos
What’s old is new again at these hotels, all of which artfully turn throwback vibes on their head.
Not into the whole camping vibe? Stay at these spots near state and national parks instead.
Dinner with a View
These perfectly sited restaurants take your dining experience to new heights.
- Skytop Lounge at Adero Scottsdale
- Lincoln Steakhouse & Bar
- Vaga Restaurant & Bar
- The Dining Room At Salish Lodge & Spa
Immerse yourself in the rejuvenation that comes with a stay at these wellness retreats.
Embark on all types of outdoor adventures from these ideally located hotels.
Whether you’re hitting the runs or simply looking for an alpine getaway, these mountain lodges are the perfect places to hunker down.