Through its Traveler’s Choice Awards, Trip Advisor recognizes the best of the best in key travel categories like hotels, airlines, and restaurants. Here are their ten Up and Coming US Travel Destinations kicked up a notch with recommendations from fellow travel bloggers.
Will you be adding of these destinations to your 2018 travel plans?
Trip Advisor has long been my first stop for planning an adventure. From how to get there to where to stay, from what to do to where to eat, I trust the real reviews that feed the algorithm that chooses their Traveler’s Choice Awards. But there’s something about the additional advice, pro tips, and perspective from fellow travel bloggers and everyday wanderers that give any destination a little more perspective.
To help you consider one of these ten up and coming US destinations for your 2018 travel plans, here are ten travel bloggers to share their favorite experiences and provide advice to first-time visitors to these ten up and coming cities.
10. Jacksonville, Florida
Located in northeastern Florida where the St. John’s River meets the Atlantic Ocean, Jacksonville has the beautiful beaches and championship golf courses that you’d expect plus gardens, zoos, museums, and more.
What activity did you enjoy most in Jacksonville? As Simple as it may sound, I enjoyed walking along the beach the most. Every day we took time to walk along the water, especially at morning and in the evening. We would walk along the water, then explore the shops and boardwalk. Living in central Illinois, while there is a tranquil beauty in the water, the ocean just draws me in.
The family scenes along the beach, the hotels, especially the historic Casa Marina Hotel where we stayed were also a great backdrop to the water. At the top of the hotel is a bar/restaurant where there is a balcony. We would sit there each day, as well, to enjoy the panoramic view of the beach and ocean. I loved watching the boats out in the ocean and would wonder where they were going and who was on them. The ocean offers time for contemplation and just settling of the brain!
What time of year is best to visit Jacksonville? Because my husband is a farmer, the spring and fall are usually impossible, so February tends to be our big travel month. While it was a little chilly to get in the water, I liked visiting at this time because it is low season and the area wasn’t as crowded. In Illinois when the temperature is below freezing, the high 60’s are mighty fine! Seeing flowers and feeling the sun are reasons for us to head south this time of year along with the beauty and history of the Jacksonville Beach area.
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to Jacksonville? My #1 tip is to get out and see the sites. There is a very cool Beach Museum that shows the history of the area. I love the stories of how the people traveled to the area first by river, then by train to arrive at the beach and the Casa Marina hotel and the area. There is great art like the surfer statues and fun dining opportunities like Zeta’s. The beach and pier though are I have to say the main attractions. Walk, watch and enjoy!
9. Columbus, Ohio
Named for Christopher Columbus and located in the heart of Ohio, Columbus is both the state’s capital and largest city. It’s the second largest city in the Midwest after Chicago and the third largest capital city after Phoenix, Arizona and Austin, Texas. Last year, Money Magazine credited Columbus as the best big city in the Midwest in its list of “Best Big Cities.”
Ohio native and the author of Secret Cleveland: a Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure, Tonya Prater knows Columbus well. Here are her recommendations for this up and coming US travel destination.
What activity do you enjoy most in Columbus? This is a toss-up. I spent the afternoon snooping through a few of the many thrift stores in Columbus and walked away with several boxes of items to decorate my home, but if you asked me any other day, I’d say the public art and architecture. The Topiary Park, the murals in the Short North, and the world’s largest gavel are the type of attractions that draw me to Columbus. The attractions are free and accessible to all who explore the city.
What time of year is best to visit Columbus? You can visit and enjoy Columbus any time of the year and enjoy your visit. The warmer months are a perfect time to take an architectural walking tour of Columbus or enjoy one of the outdoor parks. Winter is the perfect time to step indoors and shop, explore the food scene at the North Market, or take in a hockey game. Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium kicks off in November followed by the Ohio Statehouse Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting in early December. The Columbus Arts Festival draws thousands downtown and along the banks of the Scioto River during June and the Highball in October touts itself as the most elaborate costume party in the nation and bridges the high-fashion of the city’s runway industry with the culture of the Short North. From the museums to the unique neighborhood’s to the many festivals, there is always something to do in Columbus.
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to Columbus? Before visiting Columbus, spend some time at the Experience Columbus website. The CVB has done a fabulous job of sharing sample itineraries and sharing ideas of things to do based on interest. Families may enjoy a trip to the zoo, COSI, and playing in the Scioto Mile Fountain on a hot summer day. Couples can stroll through the Topiary Park, enjoy a food tour, and pamper themselves at Hotel Leveque. Shopping at the Polaris Fashion Place or Easton Town Center followed by a show at The Funny Bone or Shadowbox Live make a fun-filled girls getaway. There really is so much to see and do in Columbus that you’ll want to visit over and over again.
8. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Just north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge is a small town of about 6,000 people in the eastern part of Tennessee. Whether you’re seeking the majestic beauty of the Appalachian Mountains or the Southern culture and country music of Dollywood, Pigeon Forge lives up to its motto, “The Center of Fun in the Smokies.”
What activity did you enjoy most in Pigeon Forge? We really enjoyed hanging out at the Island entertainment district in Pigeon Forge, because there is SO much to do there! We loved the super fun Margaritaville Island Hotel from Jimmy Buffet with a chatty parrot and laid back, Key West vibe, the “dancing” fountains in front designed by the same folks who did the fountains at the Bellagio, the Great Smoky Mountain Ferris Wheel, delicious Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen restaurant, and loads of family-friendly attractions like an escape game, mirror maze, and bumper cars.
What time of year is best to visit Pigeon Forge? I think fall is a great time to visit as the beautiful autumn foliage turns the Great Smoky Mountain National Park all sorts of brilliant colors and the temperature is perfect for a hike.
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to Pigeon Forge? My #1 tip for first-time visitors to Pigeon Forge would be don’t try to see it all. There is so much to do in this area, you can quickly become overwhelmed with what to choose! Try to pick one show to attend like Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, a museum or two (I recommend the Titanic Museum and Alcatraz East Crime Museum), go on a hike through the Smoky Mountains, and enjoy some time shopping.
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7. Tuscon, Arizona
About 100 miles south of Phoenix and 60 miles north of the Mexican border, Tucson is located in the Sonoran Desert and surrounded by mountains. Due to its higher elevation, Tucson is cooler and wetter than Phoenix making it one of the more perennially pleasant desert locations. The majestic saguaro cactus, an iconic symbol of the American Southwest, is found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and is plentiful in and around Tucson. With the University of Arizona, this town of about one million people still maintains a bit of a college town feel, despite its size.
What activity do you enjoy most in Tucson? Visitors to Tucson enjoy so many options for outdoor fun that it’s hard to know where to begin. I suggest starting your day as many other Tucsonans do by hiking the main trail in Sabino Canyon Recreation Area of the Coronado National Forest. Located close to the city, Sabino Canyon introduces visitors to a rugged terrain wrapped in a lush desert landscape. Other hiking options include trails in Saguaro National Park East or Saguaro National Park West, two very different experiences in the same national park. Or try out one of the trails in Catalina State Park. Tucson is a hiker’s paradise!
What time of year is best to visit Tucson? Although snowbirds flock to Tucson in the winter, I recommend visiting in fall or spring. You won’t encounter as many crowded restaurants or attractions plus the weather is fantastic. On good wildflower years, a visit in March or early April will reward you with a Sonoran Desert painted in purple, yellow, blue and red. But if you’re a bargain hunter, brave the hot temperatures for a summer visit to enjoy discounted rates at Tucson luxury resorts.
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to Tucson? Did you know that UNESCO designated Tucson as a World City of Gastronomy? No matter which activities you choose, complete the Old Pueblo experience by sampling as many restaurants as possible. Enjoy breakfast in the garden at Tohono Chul Garden Bistro, stop for a lunch at Tucson Tamale Company, then finish the day at Café Poca Cosa for a fine day of dining in Tucson.
6. Houston, Texas
The fourth largest city in the United States and a phoenix rising from the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey, Houston is full of things to see, do, taste, and experience. It is home to 2.3 million people, 110,000 restaurants, nearly 20 museums, six professional major league sports teams, and the Johnson Space Center.
What activity do you enjoy most in Houston? One of the activities I enjoy in Houston is having so many different shopping venues to choose from to explore. Depending on my mood, it’s easy to choose between a local neighborhood boutique or bargain-hunting at the outdoor outlet malls. Often, I am able to spend time at one of the large master-planned mega-malls, located on the outskirts in the suburbs of Houston. I have also been known to treat myself for the day by visiting the classy, upscale Galleria, with its full-size, indoor ice skating rink and over 400 shops and restaurants. The best part is that, no matter which shopping venue style I choose, the variety of available options guarantee that I am able to find that special, unique item I am looking for.
What time of year is best to visit Houston? One of the best times to visit Houston is during October. After the sweltering hot days of summer, the weather during October is usually perfect. Activities also start ramping up during this time of year. There are many things to do around this time of year like outdoor festivals, sales at the shopping venues, special events like Octoberfest, the Bikers rally in Galveston, and the Renaissance Festival north of Houston.
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to Houston? Relax and enjoy the Texas hospitality! You will notice people will make eye contact and nod their head to acknowledge you. Enjoy the atmosphere and be sure to try some fabulous Texas BBQ or a delicious Tex-Mex dish with some fiery hot sauce.
5. Colorado Springs, Colorado
Located an hour south of Denver at an elevation almost 1,000 feet above the Mile High City, Colorado Springs is located at the base of Pike’s Peak. Home to the US Air Force Academy and US Olympic Committee, this city of 700,000 has plenty to offer visitors from adventure-seekers to everyday wanderers.
What activity did you enjoy most in CO Springs? Most Colorado Springs vacationers probably plan to ride the cog railway to Pike’s Peak, see the red rock formations at Garden of the Gods, and tour the U.S. Olympic Training Center. While those three experiences should be on a Colorado Springs trip itinerary, I’d also add the Ivywild School. Previously an elementary school, the property has been converted into a community marketplace with tasty options for eating and drinking. At the Principal’s Office, I sipped a deliciously potent blackberry smash on the patio. Over at Bristol Brewery, I enjoyed their Beehive Honey Wheat. For travelers who appreciate destinations for the local food and drink just as much as the sights and attractions, the Ivywild School would be my top recommendation in Colorado Springs.
What time of year is best to visit CO Springs? Colorado is truly a four-season travel destination, and visitors will find activities year-round in Colorado Springs. However, I think Colorado’s Front Range is best experienced in the warmer months from late spring through early fall. When I visited in September, the temperatures in the 70s were very comfortable for walking around Garden of the Gods, touring the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and dining alfresco at the Wild Goose Meeting House.
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to CO Springs? What I love most about Colorado Springs is how accessible the variety of activities are for all ages. Visits to two of the biggest attractions — Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak — can be customized to the activity level that fits your comfort level. For example, outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers can spend a whole day exploring, hiking, or biking through the large red sandstone formations at Garden of the Gods. Meanwhile, families with small children or visitors less athletically inclined may prefer a scenic drive with stops for photo opportunities or short strolls through this gem of a free park. Another can’t-miss attraction when visiting Colorado Springs is Pikes Peak. Convenient for travelers of all ages and activity levels, there are a variety of ways to reach the top of America’s Mountain. Visitors can climb, drive, or — my favorite option for its stunning views and background information provided throughout the relaxing ride — take The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the summit for a view of the Rocky Mountains that inspired “America the Beautiful.” Since there is such a wide variety of activities at varying elevation levels, my No. 1 tip for first-time visitors to Colorado Springs is to pack and wear layers. As I mentioned, it had been in the 70s when I visited in September, but there was snow atop Pikes Peak. You’ll want your clothing options to be as diverse as your Colorado Springs itinerary.
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4. Louisville, Kentucky
While Louisville may be most famous for the Kentucky Derby held annually at Churchill Downs, the Bluegrass State has plenty else to offer visitors from the Louisville Slugger Museum to Conrad’s Castle. Located just across the Ohio River from Indiana, Kentucky’s biggest city is named for King Louis XVI of France and is one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains.
What activity did you enjoy most in Louisville? There are so many things to do and see in Louisville, but we absolutely loved the underground ropes course at Louisville Mega Cavern. Since none of us had ever attempted a ropes course before, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into! Travel gives you the perfect opportunity to try new things and stretch a bit out of your comfort zone. We also thought that the course underground was a bit novel, so we gave it a try. The course presented an enjoyable challenge! We ended up spending nearly two hours on the course. Navigating the ropes course was an amazing and exhilarating experience. Plus, it helped us work up quite an appetite for delicious Louisville fare!
What time of year is best to visit Louisville? Honestly, I love Louisville in all seasons. A couple of years ago we visited during Fourth of July weekend and enjoyed a festival on the Ohio River. Plus, the warmer months are the best time to enjoy a steamboat on the river. Towards the end of August is an enormous zombie walk. During the holidays, Mega Cavern has an underground, drive-through holiday light show called Lights Under Louisville. May includes all of the fanfare and splendor of the Kentucky Derby!
What is your #1 trip for first-time visitors to Louisville? Louisville has an incredible history and is full of flavor. I like to start my trips with a visit to a local history museum. The Frazier History Museum gives a fabulous foundation in regards to the history of Louisville. Spend some time with the historic places including the Camberly Brown and Seelbach Hilton hotels and historic homes like Farmington which was home to Abraham Lincoln’s closest friend Joshua Speed. Louisville is one of those cities you keep returning to because there is always something new to explore.
3. Portland, Maine
Although it’s Maine’s largest city, Portland has plenty of small-town hospitality and old-world charm. Walk along the waterfront, visit the oldest lighthouse still in operation in the US, or go whale watching. While you’re in Maine, don’t forget to enjoy some of its world-class lobster!
What activity did you enjoy most in Portland? I LOVED exploring the lighthouses in the South Portland area. It was a beautiful day and everything was picture perfect. Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth was my favorite as it sits atop of the most beautiful coastal cliffs on the East Coast. I traveled to Portland with one of my best friends and we had a great time exploring on the trails along the cliffs, eating the best lobster rolls from Bite Into Maine food truck in Fort Williams Park and pretending we were in a postcard as we stood gazing at the gorgeous lighthouse.
What time of the year is best to visit Portland? I visited Portland during the spring and even though it was sunny with blue skies, it was also very chilly. Since Portland is near some beautiful beaches, I would recommend visiting in the summertime so you could enjoy the city and also do a lot of fun outdoor adventures in the area. New England’s fall foliage is one of the best in the country, so late September or early October would also be a great time to visit before it starts to get too cold.
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to Portland? Make reservations! Since there are so many AMAZING restaurants in Portland (talk about a seafood heaven), tables tend to fill up quickly – even for brunch. I recommend doing research on what restaurants you want to eat at a few days before your trip to Portland and call ahead of time to make sure you have a table. There were a few restaurants on my “bucket list” (such as Eventide) that I didn’t get to try out because we didn’t make a reservation ahead of time.
I also suggest getting a hotel in downtown Portland so that you don’t have to drive everywhere. Parking downtown is rough, as most lots tend to fill up quickly and it gets costly as you travel to and from the city. There are so many amazing restaurants, coffee shops, breweries,
boutiques, bars and scenic areas in Portland and it is awesome to be able to walk to those places since the city is not too big.
Overall, Portland is a quaint fisherman city full of culture, charm, and art. Not only were the food places in Portland amazing, but so were the bars! There was a great craft cocktail house that I recommend everyone visiting the city to check out called Vena’s Fizz House. Walking the
peaceful Eastern Promenade along the water was amazing as well! You won’t go wrong by choosing to visit Portland, Maine.
2. Park City, Utah
With nearly one foot of perfect powder falling every five days during ski season, it’s no wonder Utah’s slogan is “The Greatest Snow on Earth.” Travelers flying into Salt Lake International Airport can be skiing in one of four ski resorts within an hour of landing. Known as the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City is framed by the Wasatch Mountains and offers plenty to do, see, and experience year-round.
Susannah O’Brien from O’Briens Abroad loves visiting Park City with her husband and son and has these tips to share.
What activity did you enjoy most in Park City? We love visiting the Park City mountain resort. There are plenty of activities for our five-year-old son to enjoy, and my husband and I love skiing there during the winter and mountain biking during the summer! The mountain resort also features restaurants and shops, so it’s also perfect when you need to take a break from activities and want to people watch.
What time of year is best to visit Park City? My favorite time of year in Park City is Autumn. The weather is the perfect temperature, the mountain resort activities are still open for my son, there are less crowds, and the changing colors make the mountain look like it’s on fire!
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to Park City? Most people come to Park City to ski or stay at the Mountain Resort, so my #1 tip would be to get out of the resort! Yes, it’s also my favorite part of the city, but there is more to do there. There’s a quaint downtown area near the Mountain Resort with cute shops and restaurants- spend as much time there as in the expensive Park City Mountain Resort to get a local feel!
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1. Kihei, Hawaii
Located on the western side of Maui just north of Wailea, Kihei is the number one up and coming US travel destination per Trip Advisor. Kihei has all of the swimming, surfing, snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, and diving activities that you’d expect from America’s 50th state plus the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary Visitor Center.
Pro Tip: If you plan to kayak in Hawaii, be sure to check out this inflatable kayak guide.
What activity do you enjoy most in Kihei? I love that Kihei has a more laid-back feel than other coastal areas of central and northwestern Maui. It’s a great place to just relax and hang out at the beach. Kihei’s central location also makes it perfectly positioned for a day trip driving the famous Road to Hana, snorkeling in Honolua Bay, or the shopping and nightlife in Lahaina.
What time of year is best to visit Kihei? I love to visit in the late fall since the weather is perfect–not too hot or too rainy. Plus, since it’s not peak tourist season, crowds are smaller and accommodation prices are a bit more affordable.
What is your #1 tip for first-time visitors to Kihei? Pretend to be a local! While Maui has plenty of great activities to take in, spend at least part of your vacation just enjoying the island. Rent some snorkeling equipment and spend a lazy day at the beach. Check out the tropical fruit available at a farmer’s market. Listen to Hawaiian music on the local radio station. Pick up some poke (raw marinated fish, a Hawaiian specialty) at a grocery store and enjoy an oceanside picnic.
What about you? Have you recently visited one of these up and coming US destinations? Is one of these cities a part of your 2018 travel plans? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.