Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Where To Eat In Toronto

Contributed by Kathleen Squires

Canada's largest city boasts a sizable cultural variety, with 200 ethnic origins speaking 130 languages and dialects in neighborhoods that include five Chinatowns, two Little Italys, a Greektown, a Little India, and a Koreatown. Such a societal mash-up makes Toronto a terrific food destination, with over 9,000 restaurants to choose from. Here's our guide to the newest, hottest, and most delicious, from Yorkville to Ossington Avenue.

Dbar and Café Boulud

Who says you have to go to Quebec for poutine? Daniel Boulud's chic and casual Yorkville spot, Dbar, inside the new Four Seasons Torontoserves some of the best outside the non-French reaches of Canada. Despite the dish's Quebecois roots, you can't find Boulud's "Firehouse" poutine– a piquant pile of frites, spicy pulled pork, jalapenos, brown gravy, and cheese curds—in his Montreal restaurant. The rest of the comfort-driven menu reads like a greatest hits from the chef's renowned casual spots: there's rustic charcuterie, house-made sausages and gourmet burgers along with locally-inspired cocktails, such as the Yorkville, a blend of rye, Amaro, kirsch cherries and anise bitters named for the surrounding neighborhood.
Craving Boulud's more upscale cuisine? Then head upstairs to the Toronto outpost of the chef's popular New York City and Palm Beach restaurant, Café Boulud, where the menu is divided into "La Tradition," with classic French dishes like steak au poivre; "Le Potager," with picks from the vegetable garden; the market-inspired "La Saison;" and "Le Voyage," which celebrates flavors of the world in dishes like octopus a la plancha with Marcona almonds and Jerez vinegar.

Rock Lobster

The original pop-up restaurant of the same name was so popular that its cultish customers clamored for a permanent location. And their wish was granted at the end of 2012. As the name hints, this spot on Toronto's happening Ossington Avenue strip celebrates crustaceans, most notably those from Nova Scotia, in a menu featuring lobster "cappuccino" (bisque), lobster poutine, lobster roll, lobster mac and cheese, and a whole lobster dinner. Even cocktails get in on the theme; order a lobster "Caesar," a spin on a bloody Mary with a generous tail as garnish.

Ja Bistro

This spinoff from popular Japanese izakaya restaurant Guu stands apart for its focus on aburi (blow-torched sushi) and oshizushi (sushi pressed in a wooden mold). Opened in November 2012 in Toronto's Entertainment District, it quickly won a following for its high-quality fish and bistro dishes, like smoked duck breast; its popular "demi-katsu" (pork cutlet sandwich slathered with demi-glace) is the go-to dish on the lunch menu. Die-hards pine for the last Sunday of each month, when chef Koji Tashiro serves his "Fisherman's Platter," a five-course feast for groups of six.

Momofuku Noodle Bar, Nikai, Daisho, and Shoto

Four concepts from celebrated chef David Chang under one roof almost seemed too good to be true. But it became a reality in September 2012, within a three-story glass cube next to the newShangri-La Toronto, on the border of Downtown and the Entertainment District. The first level holds Noodle Bar, a spinoff of the New York original, with all of its bun-and-ramen glory. On the second level, Nikai is the indispensible cocktail lounge, where the crowds wait to get into the no-reservation Noodle Bar and Daisho, the largest offering of the bunch, driven by family-style servings of fried chicken and short ribs and mini kegs. Tucked behind Daisho, is Shoto, which the Globe and Mail's food critic hailed as Toronto's best restaurant when he graced it with a four-star review in November 2012. With its 22 counter seats, online-only reservation policy, and exciting dishes like veal cheeks with green chile and yuzu sauce, Shoto is currently the hottest seat in town.
Photo Credits: Dbar and Cafe Boulud: Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts; Rock Lobster: Rock Lobster Food Co; Ja Bistro: Courtesy of JaBistro; Momofuku: Courtesy of Momofuku

Sunday, April 28, 2013

South Africa’s Top 10 Parks And Reserves

Contributed by James BainbridgeLonely Planet 
From snow-capped mountains to the Bushveld, and from sub-tropical beaches to the Kalahari, South Africa is a mind-bogglingly diverse country. Showcasing the best of its stunning landscapes, its parks and reserves (www.sanparks.org) are great places to experience African wilderness and see the continent’s famous wildlife.
The following gems offer distinct experiences, and are malaria-free (www.sa-venues.com/malaria-risk-areas.htm) apart from Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Kruger National Park: best for wildlife watching

This 20,000-sq-km stretch of bush bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwehas the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) and impressive statistics in abundance. In an area roughly the size of Wales, 145 mammal species, including the world’s largest rhino population, hunt and graze in grasslands and riverine forests. Conveniently, you can see Kruger scenes like the famous lion-buffalo-crocodile battle (see it here on YouTube) within about five hours’ drive of Johannesburg. Tarred roads criss-cross the park and intrepid visitors can go on a guided walk, accompanied by gun-toting rangers. The best time to visit is winter (June to September), when sparse vegetation aids visibility, animals gather at waterholes, and the risk of malaria is lower.
The Amphitheatre, a 5km-long wall of cliffs, towers above the green slopes of the Royal Natal National Park. Photo by James Bainbridge

Royal Natal National Park: best for mountains

The Drakensberg is one of Africa’s greatest mountain ranges, its mystical moniker (which means Dragon Mountains in Afrikaans) befitting its spiny ridges, green slopes and knobbly rock formations. The Royal Natal National Park covers a relative slither of the 2500-sq-km uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site, but packs in some of the range’s best-known peaks. Towering above its gushing mountain streams and baboon-inhabited forests is the Amphitheatre, a 5km-long wall of cliffs rising over 3000m. The best time to visit the park, which is about 280km northwest of Durban, is April to July, when the weather is mild for hiking.
Plan your trip with the official website, www.kznwildlife.com.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park: best for sunsets

In these dreamy foothills of the Maluti Mountains, 300km northeast of the city of Bloemfontein, antelopes bound across shimmering grasslands beneath sandstone bluffs. The park’s name comes from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock, which overlooks the main rest camp. The best time to appreciate Golden Gate’s open spaces and wide horizons is at sunset, when the cotton-wool clouds become pink flecks and you might spot a lone silhouetted kudu. Visit in summer (December to March) to escape the heat in lower-lying areas.
The peaks of the Twelve Apostles mountain range, part of the chain of mountains running down the Cape Peninsula. Photo by James Bainbridge

Table Mountain National Park: best for activities

Cape Town’s favourite park runs down the mountainous Cape Peninsula from Table Mountain, the 1000m-high plateau with sweeping views of South Africa’s oldest city, to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Numerous activities make the most of this stunning environment, including tandem paragliding from the jagged tooth-like peak of Lion’s Head (669m; www.paraglide.co.za); one of the world’s highest commercial abseils (www.abseilafrica.co.za), a 112m rappel from Table Mountain; and of course hiking up the famous mountain. Platteklip Gorge is a popular route up the front face; Capetonians also recommend the paths leading up from Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardenwww.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch). Visit in spring (October and November) or autumn (March and April) for fresh sunny days.
Click over to www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain for all the details.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: best for desert

Red dunes roll away to the horizon in this 36,000-sq-km chunk of raw Kalahari, which sprawls across the South Africa-Botswana border and comprises one of the world’s largest conservation areas. It’s amazing to see animals from ostriches to lions, cheetahs and leopards surviving in this arid and unforgiving environment. The park is one of the world’s best places to spot big cats; you might find yourself sharing the road with a growling lion. Visit between May and August, when the temperature drops and animals congregate at bores along the dry river beds.
Silvermine dam, a popular picnic spot in the centre of the mountainous Cape Peninsula. Photo by James Bainbridge

Cederberg Wilderness Area: best for hiking

Located about 200km northeast of Cape Town, the Cederberg range encompasses dramatic sandstone formations, San rock art and mountainfynbos, including the rare snowball protea. Hiking trails lasting from one hour (www.cederberg.co.za/dayhikes.html) to several days (www.cedheroute.co.za) lead into the 700-sq-km wilderness, climbing rocky slopes to formations such as the Maltese Cross and Wolfberg Arch. A great place to stay is the Sanddrif resort (cederbergwine.com/sanddrif), which has an astronomical observatory and a high-altitude winery, Cederberg Private Cellar. Visit between April and August for cooler hiking weather.
Plan your trip on www.capenature.co.za.

Mapungubwe National Park: best for history

Mapungubwe lies alongside the Zimbabwe and Botswana borders in the steamy Limpopo River Valley, where elephants, giraffes, leopards and baboons roam between the baobab trees. The park is a World Heritage Site with considerable historical significance, making it well worth the 550km journey north from Johannesburg. Mapungubwe was the heart of southern Africa’s first indigenous kingdom; more than 9000 people lived here around AD1300, and archaeologists have discovered a hill-top graveyard, containing treasures including a golden rhino figurine. You can learn about the park, which is best visited in the cooler winter months (June to August), through guided tours and the Interpretation Centre.
 The blue expanse of False Bay seen from the Cape of Good Hope section of Table Mountain National Park

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve: best for rock formations

The world’s third-largest canyon is a breathtaking sight, towering above the Blyde River as it winds down from the mountainous Drakensberg Escarpment to the lowveld. Adding further drama to the steep green slopes, many are topped by dolomite and sandstone formations. Most famously, there’s the Three Rondavels, enormous rock domes with pointy peaks resemblingrondavel (hut) roofs; Bourke’s Luck Potholes, cylindrical holes carved by whirlpools; and the skyscraper-like Pinnacle. All can be seen, along with caves, waterfalls and panoramic viewpoints, on a drive down the canyon’s western edge. Between January and March, the Drakensberg Escarpment makes a cool escape from the lowveld, which is uncomfortably humid and has a small risk of malaria.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park: best for coastline

One of the world’s great ecotourist destinations, iSimangaliso’s name means ‘miracle’ or ‘wonder’ in Zulu – an apt description of this 3320-sq-km World Heritage Site’s eight ecosystems, which include lakes, swamp forests, coral reefs, Africa’s largest estuary, and 220km of Indian Ocean beaches. Activities including kayaking, horse riding, diving and wildlife watching make the most of the park, where you might see whales and rhinos on the same day. Located 375km north of Durban on the Elephant Coast, iSimangaliso is best visited between June and October, when the weather is cooler and drier, with a lower risk of malaria.
Make it happen on www.isimangaliso.com.

Namaqua National Park: best for wildflowers

Stretching up South Africa’s west coast, Namaqualand is famous for its spring bloom, which covers the region’s barren expanses with a multicoloured carpet of flowers. The best time to see the floral spectacle is generally mid-August to mid-September; the best part of the region varies, but Namaqua National Park’s coastal hills are generally a good bet, watered as they are by rain from the Atlantic.  Located 540km north of Cape Town, the park also conserves the world’s richest succulent flora – an amazing sight when the Namaqualand daisies are out in full force.
Want to learn more? Head over to www.sanparks.org/parks/namaqua.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Travelore Tips: 9 Rules Westerners Should Remember When Visiting Japan

Contributed by Scott Norvell

In many ways -- to Western eyes anyway -- Japan is as baffling as Bill Murray's facial expressions made it seem in Sofia Coppola's brilliant 2003 Oscar-winner "Lost in Translation." The sea of black suits streaming down Tokyo's sidewalks. The young female barkers dressed like schoolgirls outside Akihabara's maid cafes. Multi-story towers of pachinko machines or computer games emitting ungodly noises. It truly is overwhelming.
It's outwardly disorderly in many ways, but underneath is anything but. There are rules, both written and unwritten, that everyone seems to know and follow. Everyone, that is, except the casual visitor. As a first-time traveler to Japan recently, I quickly learned those lessons the hard way. Not that there are consequences to ignoring them, other than the stoic stares that pass for admonition in Japan, but knowing them ahead of time would have made settling in a little easier.
I give you, then, nine things that every traveler to Japan should know before they get on a plane. I wish someone had shared them with me ahead of time.
1. You must remember this from the moment you get off the plane: on escalators, stand on the left and walk on the right. It seems simple enough, but this is the opposite of everywhere else in America and Europe and is exceedingly hard to get used to for some reason. And escalators are everywhere in Japan.
2. Everyone smokes. And smoking is highly restricted. But then it isn't.
It's a major digression to smoke while walking down Tokyo's crowded sidewalks. There are designated smoking areas even out of doors. I gather that's so people don't get brushed by 700-degree flaming sticks on crowded sidewalks. Or have to wade through clouds of exhaust. Eating and drinking while walking is also verboten. Maybe it's the same principal, but there are good aesthetic reasons as well. The sight of someone wolfing down a slice of pizza or burger while strolling down Fifth Avenue always makes me cringe back home.
But, curiously, people still smoke prevalently indoors. Don't be surprised to see people smoking at the adjacent table in a restaurant. Strident anti-smokers just have to deal with it. It's not going to kill you. That, or learn enough Japanese to ask whether the restaurant has a non-smoking section.
3. The threat of being scorched by someone's cigarette may be lessened, but the prospect of being plowed into by a bicycle is another matter. Despite the orderliness that guides everything else in Tokyo, bikes get a free reign on just about all the city sidewalks. But just try to ride a cycle into some of the many parks and you will be met by a yellow-gloved guardian in a blue suit with a stern face and and a wagging finger. Those gorgeous, wide sidewalks winding beneath exploding cherry trees have to be enjoyed on foot instead of bicycle.
4. Tipping is a no-no. It's insulting. And it actually makes for a less stressful dining experience. Grappling with gratuity in strange surroundings is always off-putting anyway. Despite this, service is spectacular. A cry for "sumimasen" never failed to attract a polite server in any restaurant we entered over the course of several days.
5. There aren't any trash cans around, so if you generate much in the way of rubbish over the course of wandering then be prepared to lug it around. Despite this, the city sidewalks are relatively spotless. Never did figure that one out.
6. One doesn't hand money directly to cashiers in either restaurants or retail outlets in Tokyo. There is always a small tray near the register into which the money is placed and any change will be deposited for you to retrieve. If you are faced with the prospect of handing anything of value directly to someone (a credit card, for example, or a business card), clutch the item with both hands and deliver with it a subtle nod. It's actually dignified. It demonstrates that both parties are exchanging something of value and they respect both the item and each other enough to entrust it to the other.
7. Eating and drinking on trains -- wholesale picnics, in fact -- is perfectly acceptable on the marvels of modern travel that are the shinkansen, the famed bullet trains. Loudly yammering on one's phone, however, is not. Every car is a quiet car in Japan, and one rarely even hears the chimes or wretched techno ringtones of mobile telephony on either the long-distance trains or the subways in Tokyo. Most people seem to keep them on vibrate. Those who must take calls on the shinkansen usually do so in the depopulated zones between cars.
8. Agoraphobes should probably avoid Tokyo subways, especially during the rush hours, and stick to taxis (but be prepared to take out a second mortgage when you get home to pay for those taxis). One will get pushed around on subways. Count on it, and expect to have to do the same yourself if you plan on getting anywhere. There are, as always, rules, though. Only push gently when you have to, and never with your hands -- only your body. Remove backpacks and clutch handbags close to the body to make yourself as small as possible and learn the most useful phrase in the Japanese language: "sumimasen," or "excuse me." The same "sumimasen" you use to summon waiters in restaurants.
As always, a caveat to this rule: the shinkansen. People waiting for the bullet trains queue in orderly lines while impeccably attired cleaners, down to the white gloves, sweep each car during turnarounds.
9. And, lastly, more of a handy tip than a rule. Tokyo department stores have the most magnificent food halls I have encountered in the world. Better even than Harrod's and the grand magasins of Paris. Anything and everything is available and displayed in the most lavish fashion possible. This is the land of those mythical hundred-dollar melons. And they do actually exist. At one depachika (literally, "department store basement"), as they are known, in Shinjuku we found a pair of muskmelons wrapped in tissue and boxed, offered for the tidy sum of 16,800 yen, or about US$170.
These food halls also sell beautiful bento lunch boxes with sushi, sashimi, pickles and cordoned off delicacies of all sorts. And some, at a rack rate in the $12 to $13 each range, are not that expensive by local standards. An even better deal awaits those who visit the food halls at the end of the day, however. Those same bento boxes and loads of other items made fresh that day go for half-price or less. We wandered into one at closing time and fought through throngs of young office workers snatching up everything they could get their hands on.
It's not a bad way to close the day. Grab a bento and pick a bench near a busy intersection and watch the busiest city in the world go about it's business in a fashion that is orderly beyond belief considering you are in the middle of the largest city on the planet.
Scott Norvell's Japan
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Scott Norvell

    Friday, April 26, 2013

    Normandy Celebrates Impressionism From April 27th Through September 29th


      Back for a second year, the Normandy Impressionist Festival celebrates the birth of the 19th-century art movement in the region where it all started.

      Impressionism began in Normandy in 1872 when Monet painted the sea in Le Havre and called it Impression: Sunrise, penning the term "Impressionism" for the first time. From then on, artists like Pissarro, Manet, Renoir and Signac adopted this new style of blurring lines, sweeping brush strokes and blending pastel colors to capture the French countryside in an entirely new way.

      This year's edition celebrates the theme of "water," a favorite motif used by the painters of that time, who were inspired by the scenic coastlines and vibrant natural colors.
      Over 600 events will be held across Normandy from April to September including art installations, special film screenings, riverside picnics and waterfront concerts. On June 2, art enthusiasts will have the chance to create masterpieces of their own, taking inspiration from the impressionists' favorite spots at Normandy's "Painting Festival." For this event, the public will be encouraged to set up canvases by the seaside, take part in creating a fresco, and meet professional artists. Even more, the Grand Hotel in Cabourg will be lit up every Sunday throughout the summer, recreating the roaring 20s era of seaside bathing by projecting images on the hotel's façade.

      Major exhibits on the agenda:
      • Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts: "Dazzling Reflections," April 29 - September 30
      A display of 100 Impressionist masterpieces centered on images reflected through water

      • Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts: "A Summer at the Water's Edge: Leisure and Impressionism," April 27 - September 29
      A showcase of 80 paintings depicting people enjoying leisure activities by the water

      • Le Havre, Musée André Malraux: "Pissarro and the Ports: Rouen, Dieppe, Le Havre," April 27 - September 29
      Works by Pissarro featuring industrial ports, as well as art by his contemporaries who continued the trend

      • Giverny, Musée des Impressionnismes: "Signac, the Colours of Water," March 29 - July 2
      Signac's brilliant conveyance of the play of light with water

      • Giverny, Musée des Impressionnismes: "Hiramatsu, the Lily Pond: Homage to Monet," July 13 - October 31
      Japanese artist Hiramatsu's modern reinterpretations of Monet's iconic lily ponds

    Thursday, April 25, 2013

    Top 10 US Travel Destinations For 2013

    • Contributed by Robert Reid
    • Lonely Planet 
    Tufa formations in Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve.
    • Ofu Island.
    • A hiker taking in the views of Red Rock Wilderness in Sedona.
    • The Arch Street mural and the art-deco Liberty Tower in downtown Philadelphia.
    • Man standing on road looking through binoculars near Lone Pine, Eastern Sierras.
    • Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) colours the night sky through a silhouetted forest.
    View gallery
    Every year our US-based editors team up with Lonely Planet’s expert authors to compile a list of US destinations that are prime for the next year. Best in Travel 2013already covered two places we think the world should be looking at – San Franciscoand the Gulf Coast – but here we wanted to dig deeper and shine a light on 10 places in the US that travelers should add to their wish lists for the coming year. Our 2013 picks are literally all over the map: once-in-a-lifetime northern lights, new top-tier museums, moose trails, Polynesian paradise and barrels of bourbon. Enjoy, and send us a postcard!
    Could it be that the new Portland is in… Kentucky? Louisville has asserted itself as a lively, offbeat cultural mecca on the Ohio River. New Louisville, also known as the East Market District or NuLu, features converted warehouses used as local breweries, antique shops and the city’s coolest restaurants. On Bardstown Rd in the Highlands you’ll find a hipster strip of shops and bars, not to mention many ‘Keep Louisville Weird’ stickers. Bourbon reigns in Louisville. This is the traditional jump-off for theBourbon Trail; with bourbon’s current wave of popularity, new upstart microdistilleries, including some in and around Louisville like the small-batch Angel’s Envy, are giving the old names in bourbon a run for their money. Try for the first Saturday in May to witness the ‘greatest two minutes in sports,’ the Kentucky Derby.
    The coolest hotel in town is 21c Museum Hotel, an edgy contemporary hotel with scissor chandeliers and loft-like rooms.
    On Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail
    Photo by Marty Pearl, courtesy of Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau
    2. Fairbanks, Alaska
    Have you seen aurora borealis (aka the northern lights)? The sensation of seeing Arctic skies crackle with smoky blues, greens and reds has long drawn off-season travelers way north. 2013 will be big, marking the end of a fiery 11-year-cycle, when sunspots are particularly feisty, making for a big show in the Fairbanks sky 240 nights a year. Go. From May to mid-August daylight is too strong to see much, but by late summer they start to appear, and Fairbanks is the place to be. On the ground, curious foodies can sample traditional Athabascan cuisine at Taste of Alaska (call to book in advance) at the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center, or take part in a unique pub-crawl, The Great Fairbanks Pub Paddle. Open all year, the 414-mile Dalton Highway plies north of Fairbanks into the Arctic, and air taxis reach the pristine 800-sq-mile Gates of the Arctic National Park, but the light show will be best back in Fairbanks.
    A favorite place to stay is Ah, Rose Marie B&B, a homey Dutch-built cottage that takes its breakfasts seriously.
    A stunning display of aurora borealis over a cabin near Fairbanks, Alaska
    Photo by Todd Paris, courtesy of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau
    3. San Juan Islands, Washington
    Lonely Planet guidebook author Brendan Sainsbury has a new name for these dreamy islands north of Seattle: the ‘Gourmet Archipelago’. Proudly home to a decidedly un-Pacific Northwest-like 250 days of sunshine a year, the San Juan Islands have always gone for self-sufficiency. You’ll find fresh, fresh food, with local artichokes and marionberries from farmers markets, seafood plates of oysters, razor clams and freshly caught salmon, and foraged edibles like seaweed and elderflowers at places like the Doe Bay Café on Orcas Island, or Willows Inn on Lummi Island whose head chef is an alumnus of world-renowned Noma. Hop on a bike, explore the beaches and enjoy the scenery, but be sure to eat!
    Friday Harbor Farmers’ Market, San Juan Island
    Photo by Barbara Marrett, courtesy of San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
    4. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    Forget the cheesesteaks and tri-corner hat, Philadelphia is becoming known as an art capital. In addition to the world renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art, the formerly remote the Barnes Foundation, a once private collection of Matisse, Renoir and Cézanne, has a new central location. And it’s not just the big museums – Philly’s gallery scene is exploding with new venues like the Icebox garnering international attention and turning the Northern Liberties and Fishtown neighborhoods into the new hot arts hub. First Fridays, the monthly gallery open house, long a tradition in Old City, has expanded to the refurbished Loft District, where the party goes on in a host of new bars, clubs and live music venues.
    For places to stay, the vintage-boutique inn Rittenhouse 1715 is around the corner from the namesake park.
    Barnes Foundation gallery, Philadelphia
    Photo by R. Kennedy courtesy of GPTMC
    5. American Samoa
    Did you know that a US passport can get you to an isolated South Pacific paradise without even leaving US territory? From the US mainland, American Samoa is a longer trek than Hawaii, but the distance rewards the visitor with some of the most stunning, untouched beauty of the Pacific and a national park that even the most ardent park system fans won’t have checked off their list yet. From the US, flights run from Honolulu to Pago Pago on lovely Tutuila, with waterfalls, fishing villages and spectacular beaches nearby. But press on with a quick flight on Inter Island Air to the tiny nearby Manuʻa Islands of Taʻu and Ofu, with shining, palm-fringed white sand beaches flanked by shark-tooth-shaped mountains. The best time to visit is Flag Day, April 17, when there are activities galore. This may be US territory, but it’s some of the purest Polynesia you’ll find anywhere.
    It’s simple, but the family-run Vaoto Lodge can get you snorkeling within minutes of arrival.
    Ofu Island, American Samoa
    Photo courtesy of American Samoa Visitors Bureau
    6. Eastern Sierra, California
    This year, hop past Yosemite – just beyond lies the secret California dream: theEastern Sierra, the overlooked flank of the Sierra Nevada range, with other-worldly natural attractions and surprises (Basque culture?), not to mention far fewer visitors. Just follow the scenic US Route 395 as it connects wonders like the Travertine hot spring in Bridgeport, the Gold Rush ghost town of BodieMono Lake’s bizarre calcified tufa towers, or the surreal Devils Postpile National Monument’s 60-foot curtain of basalt columns made from rivers of molten lava. Eastward, ho!
    In Lee Vining stop at perhaps the greatest wonder of all: fantastic food served out of a gas station at the Whoa Nellie Deli with live music during the warmer months
    July 24thTufa towers in Mono Lake, Eastern SierraPhoto by John Lemieux, Creative Commons Attribution license
    7. Northern Maine
    Moose, white water rafting, epic hiking. No, not the Rockies – we’re talking aboutMaine. Maine isn’t only lobster rolls, lighthouses and rocky shoreline. The woodsy interior, on the top half of the Maine ‘thumb’ reaching north to the Canada border, makes for a wilderness adventure. The Appalachian Trail begins/ends atop Mt Katahdin (which literally means ‘Mt Great Mountain’) in primitive Baxter State Park, with 200,000 acres of lakes and mountains to reach by hiking boot. Nearby is Moosehead Lake, home to a 99-year-old steamboat to ride, and the source of the Kennebec River, with great rafting opportunities at the Forks. To the north in remote Aroostook County, miles of old rail beds have been transformed into bike trails, and multi-day canoe trips can paddle you right up to the Canadian border.
    Baxter is camping only. A good B&B nearby is the Greenville Inn on Moosehead Lake, built from a century-old lumber baron’s home.
    Near Chimney Pond, Mt. Katahdin
    Photo by Jue WangCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.
    8. Twin Cities, Minnesota
    Lake Wobegon might be ‘the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve,’ but time has been much kinder to the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul. Minneapolis is often called the country’s best bike city and the Nice Ride bike-share system with its web of new bike lanes proves the point. The St Anthony Falls Heritage Trail is a 2-mile path along the banks of the Mississippi River. Plan time for Uptown’sBryant-Lake Bowl, an old bowling alley with seriously good food (think artisanal cheese plates). And pay homage to the epicenter of Twin Cities’ music scene, First Avenue & 7th St Entry – hometown hero Prince sometimes comes by (seriously). St Paul is quieter, but key to see. Pedal over for a meal at the Hmongtown Marketplace, with authentic Lao dishes, and a show at the Fitzgerald Theater, where Garrison Keillor tapes his Prairie Home Companion.
    Wales House is a cheery B&B with a fireplace lounge and frequent scholar guests working at the nearby University of Minnesota. (Go Gophers!)
    Twin Cities Jazz Festival, St Paul
    Photo by Chris McDuffie, courtesy of Visit Saint Paul.
    9. Verde Valley, Arizona
    Between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, the Verde Valley is taking off as Arizona’s go-to destination, and not just among the spa and crystal Sedona-fans of years past. The Verde Valley region is beautiful, with green canyons rimmed by red rocks, and towns like Cottonwood, Jerome and Sedona that have long drawn visitors for good food, art and mining lore. But the Verde boost is all about the wine. The new Verde Valley Wine Trail links four new vineyards clustered around Cornville, near Sedona. Most fun is reaching the Alcantara Vineyards… by kayak. Less fun is being the designated kayaker.
    Sedona’s Cozy Cactus is a, well, cozy B&B in an adobe with easy access to local hiking trails.
    Kayaking to Alcantara Vineyards, Verde Valley
    Photo courtesy of Verde Valley Wine Trail
    10. Glacier National Park, Montana
    One of the countries wildest, most remote and pristine national parks, Glacier is everyone’s favorite national park who’s been. Its jagged, snow-blanketed ridges and glacier-sculpted horns tower dramatically over aquamarine lakes and meadows blanketed in wildflowers. Most visitors stick to the drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, so it’s easy to escape crowds by venturing beyond it. A relatively new shuttle system offers an eco-friendly alternative. But go soon. The park’s 25 glaciers are melting – and could be gone altogether by 2030 if current climate changes continue!
    The summer-only Many Glacier Hotel, built like a Swiss chalet, is a once-in-a-lifetimer hotel set on Swiftcurrent Lake like a queen on a throne.
    Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glaciers, Glacier National ParkSwiftcurrent Lake from at Many Glacier Hotel
    Photo by Bill WeaverCreative Commons Attribution license