Denali National Park, AK
Leave the iPhone behind—Instagramming Denali National Park’s 6 million acres of grandiose natural beauty is blissfully futile. Wildlife buffs who have outgrown the bar birthdays of their 20s will dig this epically adventurous landscape, pockmarked with rugged campsites and serene lakes (our pick is Wonder Lake, which is as striking as its name suggests), and home to grizzly bears, wolves, and moose. Your birthday adventure can be as DIY as a road trip across the 92-mile Denali Park Road or as curated as a naturalist-led backcountry hike, with an operator like Alaska Nature Guides.
Portland’s bottomless well of distilleries, breweries, and bars makes it the ideal city for a choose-your-own-adventure bar crawl. Dive bar graduates will love using Portland’s stylish Sentinel hotel as a celebratory base camp. The design bridges cheeky youthful sentiments like plaster taxidermy with sophisticated quality. Start your big night with creative cocktails at the hotel’s posh bar, Jackknife, before moving on to other options like Multnomah Whiskey Library and Doug Fir Lounge.
Palm Springs, CA
This eternally sunny mid-century enclave is the ideal bucket list girlfriend getaway for a social group that’s not too heavy on the partying. Thanks to a recent revival spurred by the Coachella crowd, the town is rife with hotel options that offer cool pool parties (Ace Hotel & Swim Club and Arrive), a throwback to Hollywood’s Golden Age (Riviera Palm Springs), and laid-back private courtyards (The Monkey Tree Hotel).
Round up a troop of your besties and take to the Colorado wilderness for a hut-to-hut hiking weekend, venturing across a network of basic but comfortable backcountry cabins in the Rockies. Connected by 350 miles of hiking routes, it’s one of the best ways for experienced hikers to see Colorado’s spectacular nature with a group. The Aspen-based 10th Mountain Division Hut Association maintains the 34 huts and provides essential trip planning information. The cabins are spacious, accommodating up to 16 people. Our pick? The angular midcentury Markley Hut, just south of Aspen.
A quick birthday jaunt over the border to Tijuana is no longer just for underage college kids. Always a hub for good Mexican street food, TJ now draws serious foodies (and imbibers) for new developments like the Food Garden, or ingredient-driven restaurants like Verde y Crema for a seated celebration, and hip spirit-serious bars like Mezcalera to keep the festivities going into the night.
Joie de Vivre Hotels
Santa Cruz, CA
Don’t let the throngs of kids fool you—the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is still a great place to spend your 30th birthday, especially with friends. Swap the traditional birthday cake for funnel cake and indulge in nostalgia on the seaside Ferris wheel. Keep the play theme going with a surf lesson on the beach, and book a suite overlooking the Pacific at the remodeled Dream Inn Santa Cruz (pictured), the city’s only hotel on the beach.
Surrounded by Sawtooth Mountains, this beautiful and active mountain town in Montana, just outside Glacier National Park, is a hotspot for Western-minded adventure—from fly-fishing to rodeos, skiing to hiking. Friends looking to celebrate while trying something new may want to get in touch with their inner cowboy at Bar W Guest Ranch, where trail rides, cookouts, and glamping are all part of the experience.
Thomas J. Story
Sonoma Coast, CA
The town of Sonoma has long since attracted couples celebrating special occasions—but often with a high price tag to match. Head west and you’ll find that Sonoma’s rustic coastline offers a thrillingly romantic alternative, at a more budget-friendly price. Must-dos include Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery’s tasting room, where you can sip Pinot above the coastal fog, and an overnight at the recently re-envisioned Timber Cove Resort.
For a blissfully simple yet serene celebration, base yourself at the Ojai Rancho Inn, an old motor lodge that was reinvented as a Bohemian-chic inn and social hub. Celebrate at the inn’s Chief Peak’s bar, and spend days lounging by the pool and picking up hiking tips from locals for the nearby Topatopa Mountains.
San Juan Island, WA
Ring in 30 on Washington’s secluded San Juan Island. At the heart of the San Juan Island archipelago, it’s the perfect place to build a romantic weekend around experiencing the island’s nature: Set sail in the morning while watching for pods of orcas, cruise the scenic byway, and see the sunset at the Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse when the red-barked madrone trees turn orange.