2022 Sunset Travel Awards: 100 Reasons We Love the West Right Now
There are so many ways to experience the West. Here is a roundup of the best of 2022.
Consider this your guide to some of the most inspiring people, places, and activities worth a visit right now. With travel back in full swing, there’s plenty to discover—and not just the next great road trip, emerging foodie destination, or newly redesigned hotel. Exploration in the West is changing. People don’t want to just be tourists passing through; they want to immerse themselves in local culture and support community-run businesses. They’re seeking connection with strangers and their neighbors, whether around a table or on the trail. So, here’s to your next epic excursion. We’ve got plenty of ideas for making the most of your trip, even if it’s right next door.
We’re mapping out the latest trends, and you can jump to them here:
Coastal Gems | Wine Country Winners | The New Food Pilgrimage | Stress-Free Staycations | A Sense of Place and Purpose | Epic Outdoor Getaways
Or, you can keep scrolling to read more below.
Want to see all 400+ entrants to this year’s Travel Awards? Check out our full directory here.
The salty sea air and rugged cliffs of the coast are calling. With many travelers looking to book stress-free trips at places they never have to leave, we predict a massive return to beachfront escapes. Here are some of our favorite coastal hot spots.
Beautiful Beach City: Huntington Beach, California
With a name like Surf City, it’s easy to see why the California town beckons families and surfers alike. We’re celebrating recent efforts to make the beach more accessible for all. Now visitors with disabilities, stroller-toting parents, and others can make their way down a pair of mats that serve as a stable pathway across the sand.
Classic Coastal Charm: Nick’s Cove
An iconic Tomales Bay hot spot recently got a refresh for the first time in 15 years. The cottages sport new furnishings and wallpaper, and the restaurant has an upgraded back bar. It’s Northern California coastal cooking at its best: lots of seafood, salads, Asian and Mexican influences, and a heavy dose of Alice Waters–style, produce-first deliciousness.
Cool Coastal Getaways
- Dream Inn Santa Cruz
- Inn at Moonlight Beach
- The Lodge at Bodega Bay
- SCP Depoe Bay Hotel
- Timber Cove Resort
Stunning Seaside Renovations
Rad Mexico Resorts
- Conrad Punta Mita
- Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort
- Playa Viva
- Villa La Valencia Beach Resort & Spa
- Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal
Wine Country Winners
It’s no easy feat making wine in the West. And yet the region’s growers and producers continue on the path of mindful cultivation, releasing innovative bottles in the face of a historic pandemic, wildfires, and drought. We’re ready for a viticulture renaissance. Here’s where you’ll find us amid the vines.
World-Class Wine Region: Santa Ynez Valley
Let us name the reasons we keep returning to the fertile California valley: more than 100 wineries, an array of family farms, notable hotel openings, and a renovated open-air theater, among others. If you’re looking for rolling vineyards, this is the place to be.
Outstanding Bakery: Bob’s Well Bread Bakery
It doesn’t get any better than a brisket sandwich special on the patio of the beloved Los Alamos outpost. Pastries and loaves are baked fresh daily.
Wine Country Escapes
- The Estate Yountville
- The Finch Hotel
- Granada Hotel & Bistro
- Hotel Ynez
- The Inn at Abeja
- MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa
- The Madrona
- North Block Yountville
Top Wine Tasting Experiences
Wine Country Classics
- The Hitching Post 2 Restaurant & Tasting Room: Did you really go to the Santa Ynez Valley if you didn’t eat tri-tip at the Hitching Post? The legendary steakhouse recently installed a big top for outdoor dining, elevating the open-air vibes while you enjoy a rib chop from the wood-fired grill.
- La Paloma Cafe: One of Santa Barbara’s most beloved restaurants recently reopened under new management, but the good eats stayed the same: Weekend brunch features seasonal selections on a gorgeous outdoor patio in the Presidio.
The New Food Pilgrimage
Experiential dining spaces and over-the-top tasting menus are en vogue. We don’t just want to share food with our friends; we want to commune with strangers amid a dining experience that ignites all of our senses. Here are some of our favorites.
Brilliant Brassiere: Chez Maggy
Michelin-starred chef Ludo Lefebvre takes on Denver at a hip, new French restaurant with staples like steak tartare, duck à l’orange, and bison bourguignon.
Standout Wine-and-Dine Region: Walla Walla, Washington
No longer the new kid on the block, Washington’s fertile southeastern region is teeming with new restaurants and food trucks, a burgeoning arts scene, and more than 100 wineries that appeal to all types of palates.
Best Dinner Spots with Epic Views
Transcendent Tasting Menus
Drinks with a View
- Frolik Kitchen + Cocktails
- Lido House, Autograph Collection
- The Rooftop at the Wayfarer Downtown LA
- Treehouse Lounge at Pasea Hotel & Spa
Your next great getaway could be right in your backyard. Fueled by an increase in local exploration, more people are finding rest and rejuvenation close to home, whether that’s a nearby metropolis or a wellness resort. Luckily, the West is home to myriad hospitality groups constantly creating innovative spaces to discover throughout the region.
Architectural Gem: Line Hotel San Francisco
A hotel, private residences, four dining experiences, a nonprofit theater space, and a rooftop solarium all converge in this expansive project designed by Bjarke Ingels Group and Handel Architects. It’s slated to open this year.
Most Inspiring Hotel: Hotel Figueroa
This downtown Los Angeles hotel’s history in the women’s movement remains apparent, with a revolving art series featuring female artists and a custom suite outfitted with eye masks, candles, and more from women-owned businesses.
Superlative Spa Retreats
Great Hotel Groups
A Sense of Place and Purpose
Travelers want to be intentional about where they spend money and who’s guiding them on the journey. Whether taking in a piece of history or getting tips from a bonafide local outfitter, we’ve got ideas.
Standout Southwest Culture Trip: Santa Fe
You won’t find pueblo and adobe architecture like this anywhere else in the U.S., not to mention the city’s unique topography that lends itself to stargazing, hiking, and hot spring dips
Sublime Arts Center: Oregon’s Patricia Reser Center for the Arts
A creekside 550-seat theater recently opened to bring regional arts organizations, international performers, and educational exhibitions to Beaverton.
Top Tour Guides
- Heritage Inspirations
- Inquisitour’s Complete Pacific Northwest Experience
- Routes Bicycle Tours & Rentals
We Did Our Market Research
- The Barlow: Sonoma County’s open-air market fills four blocks with dog-friendly glass studios, olive oil tastings, a concert series, and an annual beer run.
- State Street Market: Step into this Los Altos food hall for global cuisine at its best. There’s Californian-Indian comfort food, Taiwanese-Korean dishes, a raw bar, and more.
Motels with the Most
- Egyptian Motor Hotel: Make a pit stop at a brand-new Phoenix inn that’s been thoughtfully restored, all the way down to the original turf and old-school amenities like retro refrigerators and Magic 8 Balls.
- Skyview Los Alamos: Pull off Highway 101 and into a 1950s hillside motel that still has the original pool, a working vineyard, and fleet of Linus bikes to explore the Santa Ynez Valley.
Epic Outdoor Getaways
More people than ever are venturing out into Mother Nature—and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Whether you’re hitting the open road, hiking solo, or camping with a group, here’s how to live your best outdoor life this year.
Remarkable Outdoor Recreation Region: Wyoming’s Wind River Country
The red desert and Wind River Mountain Range play host to an array of opportunities in the great outdoors, from rodeos to road trips through Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, plus a new public access point on the Popo Agie River.
Best Transit: Sequoia Shuttle
Avoid parking headaches at Sequoia National Park with an eco-friendly shuttle that departs from most Visalia hotels. Even if you’re headed to the backcountry, the shuttle offers a one-way ride to spots including the Pacific Crest Trail.
Jewels of Alaska
Amazing Outdoor Activities
- Roll or stroll the Olympic Discovery Trail
- Sequoia Riverlands Trust
- REI Grand Canyon & Lake Powell Family Adventure
- Imperial River Co.
- Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe