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The US destinations you need to see in 2018

Lonely Planet’s travel experts have scoured the States to bring you our top 10 underrated, rejuvenated and out-of-this-world spots to visit in 2018. From natural wonders to captivating coastlines and up-and-coming cities, these destinations promise big things this year.

Inspired to hit the road?

1. California’s Redwood Coast

Lose all track of time (and cell signal) along California's Redwood Coast. Movie buffs might recognize the region’s scene-stealing backdrops from Hollywood blockbusters like Jurassic Park, E.T. and Star Wars. But the full wonder of California’s 2000-year-old redwoods – some reaching 20 stories high – is impossible to capture on any screen. Look up at the forest canopy: that last 100ft of redwood growth marks 50 years since Redwood National Park was established in California's tree-hugging triumph over logging. And this year, in celebration of their 100th anniversary, Save the Redwoods League are offering free entry to over 40 redwood state parks every second Saturday of each month.


In 2018, another kind of greenery has been making headlines as California introduces the state-wide legalization of marijuana. But the draws of the Redwood Coast far surpass changes in this industry, inviting travelers to achieve the ultimate California mellow with its quirky shops, brewpubs, coffee roasters and oyster happy hours.

Wander through a forest of giants along California’s Redwood Coast © kurdistan / Shutterstock

2. Boise, Idaho

Home to a spirited arts community, an explosion of award-winning wineries and craft breweries and a socially responsible shopping district, Boise is what cool looks like before the rest of the world has figured it out. Fun festivals abound in Idaho’s capital from downtown’s Treefort Music Festival (hailed as the new alternative to SXSW) to the Boise Brew Olympics and Punk in Drublic – a beautiful marriage of punk rock and craft beer.


Being in close proximity to a wealth of natural riches, urban adventures easily transition into outdoor escapes. Meander through the Boise River Greenbelt, a 25-mile park in the heart of the city, or head into the surrounding mountains and foothills for hiking, mountain biking, skiing and river rafting.

Downtown Boise is home to award-winning restaurants, wineries and craft breweries © Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau Downtown Boise is home to award-winning restaurants, wineries and craft breweries © Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau

3. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Once little more than a pit stop between Atlanta and Nashville, the nature-centric 'Noog has transformed itself into a bastion of elevated Southern living. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Chattanooga for some of the best rock climbing in the country, myriad hiking and mountain biking trails and wild rides on the Ocoee River – one of America's top spots for whitewater rafting.


Foodies, hopheads and techies aren't far behind, either. Chattanooga's revitalized downtown – centered on the $20-million makeover of the city's signature train station into a multi-purpose nightlife and entertainment destination (including a world-class guitar museum) – is rife with pilgrimage-worthy New Southern cuisine, thirst-quenching breweries and techie-pleasing internet speeds. Meet the New South!

Chattanooga epitomises elevated Southern living © Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau Chattanooga epitomises elevated Southern living © Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau

4. Florida’s Space Coast

Space tourism is a rising star, with 2018 set to mark the launch of the world’s first lunar tourism flight from SpaceX. Don't want to lose your life savings down a black hole? Visit the next best thing, Florida’s Space Coast: home to the Kennedy Space Center and the setting for countless iconic launches including Apollo 8 – the world’s first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon – which celebrates 50 years since blastoff in 2018.


View satellite launches from Cape Canaveral and Titusville or visit the new ATX (Astronaut Training Experience) at the Kennedy Space Center, where wannabe astronauts can go on a simulated mission to Mars. Continue your out-of-this-world adventures with a nighttime kayak in the bioluminescent waters around Merritt Island and observe nesting sea turtles on an eco-friendly tour.

First stage engines from the Saturn 5 rocket on display at the Kennedy Space Center © NaughtyNut / Shutterstock First stage engines from the Saturn 5 rocket on display at the Kennedy Space Center © NaughtyNut / Shutterstock

5. Cincinnati, Ohio

Set among steep hills with the bridge-strewn Ohio River swashing its edge, Cincinnati has always been a looker. Now beer, arts and savvy neighborhood development are giving it some swagger. The new Brewing Heritage Trail tells the beer story: how Cincy was a leading producer through the late 1800s, its citizens guzzling 2.5 times the national average. Today Rhinegeist and other modern beer makers have taken over the abandoned breweries, many of which are walkable in Over-the-Rhine, an old German neighborhood of ornate brick buildings, fresh eateries and funky shops.


2018 welcomes a new chapter for the city's artistic icons as the Music Hall celebrates its 140th birthday after undergoing massive renovations, and the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company settles into their new dynamic performance space.

Dawn over downtown Cincinnati © photo.ua / Shutterstock Dawn over downtown Cincinnati © photo.ua / Shutterstock

6. Midcoast, Maine

One word says it all: ‘Ayuh’. The easygoing equivalent of ‘mm-hm’, it’s Mainers’ characteristically quirky and modest go-to reply. Is it true, you ask, that about 90% of Maine is forested (the highest percentage of any state), making it ideal for adventure activities and escaping from tourist crowds? Ayuh. And how about Midcoast Maine's superb maritime museums and exploding foodie scene of craft breweries, local vineyards and gourmet farm-to-table restaurants? It's not the quiet backwoods it once was. Ayuh. In fact, 2018 will mark the region's 70th Maine Lobster Festival and a coming of age as an increasingly exciting cultural center of world-class art museums and galleries, right? Ayuh. So is now the time to visit? All together now: A-...

Midcoast Maine is picture-perfect coastal beauty © BW Folsom / Shutterstock Midcoast Maine is picture-perfect coastal beauty © BW Folsom / Shutterstock

7. Richmond, Virginia

River City has flipped from humdrum to happening, but the ‘hey y’all’ hospitality remains. Scott’s Addition, once a gritty manufacturing district, thrums with microbreweries, cideries and buzzworthy restaurants, while the James River lures adventurers with whitewater rapids plus a new 52-mile bike trail along its banks.


Artistic highlights include downtown’s bright murals, the whimsical Quirk Hotel (featuring unique design elements and its own art gallery) and innovative temporary exhibits at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The American Civil War Museum – a recent consolidation of three separate Civil War sites – takes a multi-perspective look at Richmond’s role as the capital of the Confederacy. One constant? Patrick Henry demanding liberty or death at reenactments every Sunday in summer at St John’s Church.

Cyclists, strollers and adrenaline-junkies alike are all drawn to Richmond’s James Rivers © Xavier Ascanio / Shutterstock Cyclists, strollers and adrenaline-junkies alike are all drawn to Richmond’s James Rivers © Xavier Ascanio / Shutterstock

8. Kentucky Bourbon Country

The state of Kentucky is known for its rolling hills topped with stately horse farms, its fierce devotion to college basketball and, most importantly, its bourbon. The state’s distilling heritage runs deep, and those looking for a taste should head straight to Kentucky Bourbon Country, the golden triangle between Louisville, Lexington and Elizabethtown where this seasoned spirit comes to life. You’ll find an enticing network of the country’s most well-known distilleries and top-notch restaurants with bourbon-inspired menus.


But this industry isn’t so steeped in tradition that it forgets progress – craft distillers are opening their doors, long defunct bourbon districts are being revitalized, and in 2018 the Frazier Museum will be named the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Whiskey barrels at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, Kentucky © thomas carr / Shutterstock Whiskey barrels at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, Kentucky © thomas carr / Shutterstock

9. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Despite landing atop lists of 'most affordable' and 'most livable' cities – and in a state ranked the USA's happiest – Minneapolis seems a bit underappreciated. But after its turn in the spotlight for this year’s Super Bowl, that just might change. The city worked hard to spruce up for the big event, in particular with renovations to downtown’s main thoroughfare Nicollet Mall introducing groovy light features, art installations and innovative social spaces.


The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden also got a revamp, with 18 new works by famous chiselers. And Target Center, the city's NBA and WNBA arena, got a fan-friendly $145 million makeover. Meanwhile, new boutique hotels and modern farm-to-table restaurants (heavy on local ingredients) are popping up with cool verve.

The US Bank Stadium, home of the 2018 Super Bowl © Krivit / Meet Minneapolis The US Bank Stadium, home of the 2018 Super Bowl © Krivit / Meet Minneapolis

10. Southeastern Utah

Arches National Park’s multicolored sandstone spans. Island in the Sky’s Colorado River-carved vistas. Monument Valley’s sky-piercing towers. Southeast Utah’s major landmarks have been firm favorites among travelers for decades. Recently, however, lesser-known regional sites like the forested plateaus of the new Bears Ears National Monument have become hot-button news items due to political tussles in Washington, DC over protecting natural and cultural resources.


This vast quarter of the Beehive State holds many notable outdoor destinations, from the hotel-filled adventure town of Moab and uncrowded Capitol Reef to the atmospheric Ancestral Puebloan ruins of Hovenweep. Water has hewn the desert landscape here, carving the sandstone into startling forms such as the picturesque Natural Bridges and immense Lake Powell. This is quintessential Americana road-trip country.

Reflection Canyon, one of the myriad geological wonders along the length of Lake Powell © Johnny Adolphson / Shutterstock Reflection Canyon, one of the myriad geological wonders along the length of Lake Powell © Johnny Adolphson / Shutterstock

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