Every year our Lonely Planet experts scour the states to bring you America’s unmissables. From sweeping mountain ranges, tropical coastline, desertscapes and dazzling cities, these underrated or off-the-radar spots are set to shine in the coming months.
1. Asheville, North Carolina
2017 sees one of the USA’s most eclectic and innovative small cities step firmly into the national spotlight. Under the glare of North Carolina's controversial 'bathroom bill', Asheville shines bright as a beacon of tolerance and acceptance. Creative spirits find their haven here; more than 200 artists showcase their wares in the River Arts District (riverartsdistrict.com) and the astonishing number of craft beers and spirits produced locally pair nicely with the food produced by the city’s numerous James Beard-nominated chefs. The French Broad River offers a respite from the modern world, whether you want to float, paddle, or kayak away from civilization and the verdant background for all of these delights, the Blue Ridge Mountains, are just waiting to be explored.
2. Western Washington
More than 25 years after the surreal TV drama Twin Peaks planted the iconic landscapes of Western Washington into popular consciousness, the series is making a comeback. The region’s misty mountains and evergreen forests are set to welcome a new generation of pilgrims in 2017; David Lynch fans will be able to investigate filming locations in the small towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend, as well as use the area as a springboard for other Washingtonian beauty spots such as Mt Rainier National Park or the farm-to-table restaurants of the San Juan Islands. Meanwhile, new cultural trends are luring people to Seattle as it pushes the envelope with nascent pot shops, inventive micro-distilleries and a growing penchant for craft cider.
3. Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln pops up amid a sea of prairie grass and corn, offering a patch of unexpected polish. Take downtown's Haymarket District, where century-old brick warehouses hold modern art galleries (especially festive during First Friday Artwalks), funky specialty shops (like Licorice International, the USA's biggest chewy candy retailer) and a whopping Saturday farmers’ market. The University of Nebraska's 25,000 students lend a fresh vibe, cycling the city's 130 miles of trails and carousing in its live music clubs. Communities of Vietnamese, Sudanese and other ethnicities also add to the mix, thanks to Lincoln's long history of resettling refugees. The action ramps up in 2017 as Nebraska celebrates its 150th anniversary, and Lincoln, the state capital, hosts parades and parties to mark the occasion.
4. California’s Low Desert
Deep in Southern California’s desert, the Coachella Valley’s always been hot, but nowadays there’s heat – and cool – that hasn’t been felt since it was the Rat Pack’s playground. A mid-century modern vibe pervades Palm Springs, the valley’s main town, in hip new (and newly hip) hotels, rakishly restored rental homes, twice-yearly Modernism Week festivals and vintage stores which help you – and your home – look the part at not-quite-bargain prices. Hikers and rock climbers can go wild atop the Palm Springs Aerial Tram or amid the lunar landscapes of nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Then there’s a little music festival called Coachella, and the colorful Salvation Mountain, an oddball, patchwork-painted hillside rising from the desert floor.
5. Montana’s Flathead Valley
Big sky, big mountains, big bears. This pocket of northwestern Montana, just east of the Continental Divide and majestic Glacier National Park, embodies ‘the West’ writ large. The scale is so big, let’s provide a little perspective: even the little-known ‘Bob’ (Bob Marshall Wilderness area) is massive. In fact, 67,000 acres were added in 2015 making it one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48. The national park’s glaciers are shrinking – some estimate they’ll mostly disappear by 2020 – but hiking through meadows of wildflowers to aquamarine lakes, backdropped by glacial peaks, is backcountry paradise. Whatever the season, the town of Whitefish is a rustically cool base, equally welcoming to hikers, bikers (both the spandex and Harley Davidson variety) and après-skiers.
6. Atlanta, Georgia
It should come as no surprise that Atlanta, home to the busiest airport in the world, is a city on the move. The opening of a state-of-the-art stadium in 2017 brings a Major League Soccer team to the already sports-mad capital; The BeltLine (beltline.org/visit/trails), Atlanta’s answer to NYC's High Line, adds a much-needed walkability factor to the traffic-snarled metropolis; and East Atlanta and surrounding neighborhoods are in the midst of a boom, ushering in cool brew pubs and innovative restaurants. From the epic Living Walls project (livingwallsatl.com) to the whimsical Tiny Doors installations (tinydoorsatl.com/doors), the local art scene provides a world-class experience. Hit shows such as Atlanta and The Walking Dead are filmed here too, earning the city a new nickname: Hollywood of the South.
7. The Adirondacks, NY
New York has its skyscrapers, sure. But it’s upstate in the Adirondacks where the vistas are truly worth million-dollar listings, with 42 peaks over 4000ft, streams and lakes teeming with fish, and woods so deep and dark Sasquatch (aka ‘Bigfoot’) sightings aren’t uncommon. Get an eagle’s-eye view of the forest canopy in Tupper Lake with a walk along the Wild Center’s (wildcenter.org) new version of an arboreal High Line, or use pedal power to make your way between Saranac and Lake Clear by rail bike (railexplorers.net), on a recently converted stretch of train tracks. In the winter, cozy up to grand fireplaces in Gilded Age ‘great camps’ (imposing log cabins) or keep warm at the Winter Olympic facilities in Lake Placid.
8. Texas Hill Country’s wine region
Texas may not be the first place you think of when it comes to wine, but the Lone Star State is doing its darnedest to create some of the best varietals in America outside of the west coast. Dozens of wineries sprinkle the aptly-named Hill Country, with Fredericksburg at the epicenter of the burgeoning scene. A ramble along the Wine Road 290 (wineroad290.com) reveals a remarkable range of Malbecs, Cabernets and Tempranillos served up in state-of-the-art tasting rooms. Hill Country loves a hootenanny, and the year’s biggest events combine great wine with rockabilly beats and a side of brisket (you’re in Texas after all). It’s worth planning a trip to Dripping Springs’ Wine and Food Festival and the Kerrville Folk Festival (kerrville-music.com).
9. Denver, Colorado
Home of the bearded and the buff, Denver’s aspen-tinged allure has never been greater. The secret is out: ample sunshine, a brewery on every corner and an endless supply of adrenaline-firing fun are fuelling the Rocky Mountain rush. And those lofty alpine summits aren’t the only highs in town – revamped Union Station is at the heart of new developments like the Ski Train, which in 2017 will whisk skiers direct from downtown to Winter Park’s powdery bliss. Throw a vibrant economy into the mix, and you get artsy districts like RiNo (River North) and LoHi (Lower Highlands), where you can replenish your calories in slow-food market halls, bookended by gallery hopping and a night out with some rootsy, denim-clad rockers.
10. Florida's Emerald Coast
Formerly dubbed the ‘Redneck Riviera’, this 100-mile stretch of sugar-fine sand and beachfront towns on Florida’s once-forgotten northeastern coast has gone fancy. Even celebs such as Sandra Bullock and Tony Romo frequent the shorelines now referred to as the Emerald Coast, and the rich and famous are hoping nobody else gets wind of their affordable but increasingly classy slice of oceanfront Old South. But in recent years investors have sniffed out the salty Shangri La and its delicious oysters; new condos and hotels, including the area’s first five-star property, Henderson Beach Resort, are shooting up along the coast, and the town of Seaside – or ‘Seahaven’, as seen in The Truman Show – is an eco-friendly, 80-acre dream now studied in architecture schools.
Now find out which destinations made Lonely Planet's latest Best in the US list.