Whether you’re looking to wander the streets of a new city exploring buzzy restaurants, bars and shops, or if you’re looking for an island getaway to escape from your daily routine, here are Better’s top picks for destinations both near and far to visit this year. Wherever you travel, consider how you can give back to the local community, too, whether it’s patronizing a small businesses or paying it forward with volun-tourism through programs like Mālama Hawaiʻi. By supporting these efforts, we can all be visitors who lead with kindness and travel with an open heart.
The most beautiful major city in North America, Vancouver, BC consistently ranks highly in The Economist’s list of the world’s most livable cities. And with the US dollar as strong as it is, all Canadian destinations are that much more affordable for Americans. Stanley Park is one of the city’s top attractions — larger than New York’s Central Park! — and a great example of Vancouver’s proximity to nature and outdoorsy spirit. Book a tour with First Nation guides through Talaysay Tours to admire the park’s vibrant totem poles and sculptures along with an Indigenous artist, and learn how the local trees and plants have nourished Indigenous people through food and medicine for thousands of years.
Foodies know that Vancouver just got its first Michelin guide in October 2021, finally receiving international accolades for its world-class culinary scene including affordable tasting menus at Burdock & Co., St. Lawrence and AnnaLena. Seek out fresh local seafood from salmon and sablefish to oysters, sea urchin and spot prawns on menus.
Take the SeaBus across the Burrard Inlet from downtown to explore North Vancouver, too. The Shipyards District in Lower Lonsdale is the hottest neighborhood in the city right now with new restaurant and shop openings, as well as thought-provoking exhibits at the Museum of North Vancouver (MONOVA) and The Polygon Gallery.
Where to Stay: JW Marriott Parq Vancouver is a luxurious urban oasis, ideally located next to the hip Yaletown neighborhood and BC Place stadium. There are eight restaurants on property, although you could also eat a full meal at the executive club lounge, which offers lavish culinary spreads for breakfast and dinner. Don’t skip the 17th floor Spa by JW, including an outdoor hydrotherapy tub overlooking the city.
Mexico City, Mexico
If you’ve been to Cancún and Cabo and are looking for a more authentic, urban experience on your next trip to Mexico, consider a visit to Mexico’s high altitude — much higher than Denver — capital city. With a population of more than 22 million, it’s the largest city in North America and every neighborhood offers something unique. Visit Reforma for the city’s top museums, hipster Roma for delicious eats and Polanco for luxury shopping, including Xinú perfumery, housewares at Onora and the best emerging Latin American designers at Lago.
Spot Diego Rivera’s politically charged murals throughout town, from the Palacio de Bellas Artes to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. Then visit the famous blue house where Rivera lived with Frida Kahlo, now the Museo Frida Kahlo located in the bohemian Coyoacán neighborhood. Afterwards, shop like a local for spices, produce, textiles and handicrafts at Coyoacán Market close by.
When it’s time for dinner, you’re in luck. Mexico City claims five of the world’s top 100 restaurants including Quintonil, Pujol and Maximo Bistrot, where you’ll feast on an assortment of Mexican seafood sashimi, fresh roasted baby elotes and local goat cheese ice cream with crispy phyllo and guava.
Where to Stay: With just 35 guestrooms and suites, the newly renovated Las Alcobas feels like staying at a sophisticated friend’s pied-à-terre in the posh Polanco neighborhood. The boutique hotel has five-star amenities, including Jacuzzi soaking tubs and bath butlers, plus an intimate spa with just two treatment rooms. Breakfast at signature restaurant Anatol is only available for hotel guests, and their chilaquiles are a great way to start your day.
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Kauai has never been as popular as Honolulu or Maui, but it’s a favorite island among nature lovers and adventure seekers for tranquil waterfall hikes, deserted beaches, cliff diving and rich local culture. Kauai is the same size as O’ahu, but home to less than 75,000 people. With Mālama Hawaiʻi, guests can earn free or discounted nights or other hotel perks at participating hotels when completing beach clean-ups or volunteering at a local nursery with reforestation efforts.
Plan your visit around the Kauai Poke Fest on June 3rd, where more than 500 pounds of fresh ahi tuna poke is served with professional and amateur cooks competing for the title. James Beard Award-winning chef Sam Choy — revered as the godfather of poke — hosts the event; super inventive variations on the iconic Hawaiian dish make this one of the most fun and underrated food festivals around.
Where to Stay: Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, Autograph Collection is an excellent choice for families, casual and fun with great service. The villas are well-appointed for extended stays with large private lanais, ensuite laundry and gourmet kitchens equipped with Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Even if Mardi Gras isn’t on your bucket list, historically beautiful and fascinating New Orleans should be. The birthplace of jazz is like nowhere else in the United States, a melting pot of cultures, with incredible Creole cuisine, gorgeous architecture, a thriving local art and music scene and Las Vegas-level parties.
Meander through the lovely Lower Garden District, where new businesses like Piety and Desire Chocolate and Blue Dream New Orleans are breathing fresh life into the classic curving streets. Spend some time exploring Bayou Road too, known as the Black Wall Street of New Orleans for its many Black-owned and Afro-Caribbean businesses, including new hotspots like Ethiopian restaurant Addis NOLA, King & Queen Emporium and Domino Sound Record Shack.
Where to Stay: Many new boutique hotels have opened in the past couple of years, including The Chloe — a 14-room respite in a 19th century Uptown mansion that’s the perfect location to watch the Mardi Gras parade away from the rowdy French Quarter. The artful design here is Instagram-worthy from every angle. Though Windsor Court Hotel is still the city’s grand dame, with super spacious suites, the best spa in town and a chic club lounge with complimentary afternoon tea.
The demand for authentic and meaningful Indigenous cultural experiences is growing, especially in Australia, offering new ways to bridge cultural divides with understanding and respect. Dating back at least 100 million years, ancient Daintree forests in North Queensland are thought to be twice as old as the Amazon. It’s home to one of the longest continuously occupied regions on Earth, and it’s finally being handed back to its original keepers, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, who will manage the national park alongside the Queensland state government.
The newly opened Mossman Gorge Centre is a pioneering ecotourism hub operated by a staff that’s nearly 75% Indigenous. Visitors walk the land with a traditional custodian as a guide opening travelers’ eyes to wildlife and folklore-ridden landmarks they never would have seen otherwise. Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours offers guests a chance to night walk, crab and spearfish under the moon and Walkabout Cultural Adventures explore indigenous plants and medicines in guided rainforest excursions.
The Great Barrier Reef is also becoming a tourism model for precious destinations threatened by climate change. Take part in a groundbreaking citizen science initiative to survey the far reaches of the 2,300 kilometre Great Barrier Reef with Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef or sail on a sustainably powered pontoon that uses 18 solar panels and three wind turbines. Reef Magic is helmed by a team of Indigenous guides who interweave Aboriginal storytelling with Western science, while an onboard marine-biology lab conducts research.
United Airlines recently launched nonstop service between San Francisco and Brisbane, operating three times weekly, and making it easier than ever to get here.
Where to Stay: The House at Lizard Island is a secluded new estate with a contemporary residence that overlooks the Great Barrier Reef and the InterContinental Hayman Island introduces new beachfront pavilions, villas and residences in the Whitsundays.
Sweden’s second largest city celebrates its 400th anniversary this year and has been named the most sustainable city in the world for the sixth straight year by the Global Destination Sustainability Index. The city is known for its nature reserves, emission-free public transportation and urban parks — including a new open-air bath, public sauna and playground in the heart of the city opening in June at Jubileumsparken.
Gothenburg’s birthday is on June 4 and an anniversary festival will be held from June 2-5 in the Frihamnen port district with concerts, art and food. Celebrations will continue through the summer, culminating in the Gothenburg Culture Festival the first weekend in September. Summer is an especially beautiful time to visit and SAS will launch direct flights from New York beginning in April.
Where to Stay: There’s a pony carousel in the restaurant, a slide down into the lobby and a speakeasy cocktail bar at the new Liseberg Grand Curiosa hotel, an imaginative family-friendly hotel on the doorstep of Sweden’s largest amusement park. Jacy’z Hotel & Resort is another fun new place to stay, with an outdoor rooftop pool, multiplex theater, sky bar and Miami-inspired pool club.
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Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley.