Photo: Edgardo Contreras
For our first Readers’ Choice Awards, we asked you to share where you like to go most, from the ultimate beach resort to your favorite ski destination.
FAVORITE AMERICAN CITY: NEW YORK CITY
Start spreading the news, the Big Apple is the biggest winner of our first readers’ choice poll, proving to be your favorite place in America for the arts and dining, as well as best city overall. It’s no surprise, really: Even if you’ve never spent a night in The City That Never Sleeps, you’ll recognize its landmarks (the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal, Central Park) from a solid century of cinema (respectively: King Kong, North by Northwest, and When Harry Met Sally). No matter what happens in New York, New York, people always want to be a part of it.
Finalists: Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, Los Angeles
FAVORITE INTERNATIONAL CITY: PARIS
“If you’re lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man,” Ernest Hemingway said, “then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you.” We would humbly venture that this is true whether you’re young or old, man or woman, resident or just a visitor. Even a few days in the City of Light—craning your neck up at the Eiffel Tower, browsing the shelves at Shakespeare and Company, wandering the Jardin des Tuileries, enjoying a café au lait at any sidewalk table—will have you agreeing that Paris is a moveable feast, and a place that lives up to its ever-lofty expectations.
Finalists: London, Rome, Barcelona, Tokyo
BEST INTERNATIONAL CITY FOR KIDS: LONDON
Whether your kids want to be royals or Ravenclaws, they’ll love London. Simply riding a double-decker bus for the first time will merit a postcard home to Grandma. Add a spin on the London Eye, a look at the crown jewels in the Tower of London, a Harry Potter tour at Warner Bros. Studios, and a trip to the interactive Wonderlab at the Science Museum, and your young’uns will already be planning their study abroad for junior year—even if that’s 10 years down the line.
Finalists: Cancún, Paris, Rome, Tokyo
BEST AMERICAN CITY FOR KIDS: ORLANDO
It’s a no-brainer, really: There’s Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Legoland, SeaWorld, Gatorland, Icon Park, pirate- and Congo River–themed miniature golf courses, hotels with veritable waterparks on property, a restaurant with animatronic dinosaurs… Simply put, Orlando is paradise for the under-16 set.
Finalists: Chicago, Indianapolis, San Diego, Washington, D.C.
MOST ROMANTIC AMERICAN DESTINATION: HAWAII
The Aloha State is the land of proposals, weddings, honeymoons, and anniversaries. Whether you’re sailing along Kauai’s Napali Coast, snorkeling in Maui’s Honolua Bay, or hiking to the Island of Hawaii’s Rainbow Falls (pictured) you can’t help but feel love—both for this magical place and for whomever you’re experiencing it with.
Finalists: Charleston, South Carolina; Napa Valley, California; New Orleans; New York City
MOST ROMANTIC INTERNATIONAL DESTINATION: SANTORINI
We could rhapsodize about the beauty of Santorini, Greece … or we could just show you this stunning photo.
Finalists: Paris; Venice, Italy; Los Cabos, Mexico; Tahiti
BEST INTERNATIONAL COUNTRY FOR ADVENTURE: NEW ZEALAND
Adventure is practically a way of life in New Zealand. The Kiwis have yet to find a ledge they won’t bungee-jump off, whether it’s at the 1,076-foot-tall Auckland Sky Tower or the 439-foot-high Nevis Bungy in the Southern Alps near Queenstown. If you prefer depths to heights, you can go blackwater rafting in the Waitomo Caves (which are known for their luminescent glowworms) or diving at Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve (which Jacques Cousteau called one of the world’s best dive sites). There’s also sky-diving, jet-boating, heliskiing … just writing this is making our pulses race!
Finalists: Costa Rica, Australia, Switzerland, Chile
BEST AMERICAN BEACH DESTINATION: SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
LA’s most famous strip of sand is the ideal American beach. As the terminus of Route 66, it stands as the endpoint of America’s push westward, the sunny spot where the continent drops off into the Pacific. The sand is crowded with the Baywatch-esque bods of Southern California, the water is full of surfers (and barking sea lions!), and a lively carnival atmosphere carries on at the Santa Monica Pier. And is there a better place in the U.S. to watch a sunset? We say no.
Finalists: Siesta Key, Florida; Clearwater Beach, Florida; Miami Beach, Florida; Nantucket, Massachusetts
BEST INTERNATIONAL BEACH DESTINATION: CANCÚN
In 1971, the Mexican government decided to transform a fishing village into a tourist destination. Now, more than 6 million people flock to Cancún each year, mostly staying in the 14-mile-long Hotel Zone, a barrier island where margaritas flow freely and sunburns are a point of pride. And this place really is for everyone: spring-break revelers, families, retirees, honeymooners, adventurers, and more. The one thing they all have in common? A love of swimming in warm, crystal-clear water.
Finalists: Bondi Beach, Australia; Maundays Bay, Anguilla; Baie Longue, St. Martin; Ipanema Beach, Brazil
BEST INTERNATIONAL SKI DESTINATION: ST. MORITZ
Alpine winter tourism was born in 1864, when this Swiss village became the first winter-sports resort in the world. St. Moritz has since hosted two Winter Olympic Games and five Alpine World Ski Championships, and the area has more than 85 pistes in four separate sectors, plus a 143-mile network of cross-country trails. When it comes to skiing, the Swiss are anything but neutral.
Finalists: Whistler Blackcomb, Canada; Gstaad, Switzerland; Portillo, Chile; Niseko, Japan
BEST AMERICAN SKI DESTINATION: ASPEN SNOWMASS, COLORADO
Since Aspen Snowmass, Colorado is really four ski experiences in one, it’s not exactly a surprise favorite. Experienced skiers and snowboarders race down Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands, while newbies tend to hit up Buttermilk and Snowpassbut everyone loves buying just one lift ticket. Nonskiers too adore the culture- (and celebrity-) rich former mining town, which is packed with antiques shops, designer boutiques, art galleries, and stylish restaurants.
Finalists: Vail, Colorado; Park City, Utah; Stowe, Vermont; Lake Tahoe, California
BEST CITY FOR SPORT LOVERS: BOSTON
In one of the closest calls on our ballot, Boston beat out Chicago by a mere five votes. It’s not a coincidence that these cities boast the most revered baseball stadiums in America, Fenway Park (pictured) and Wrigley Field. In Beantown, though, everyone gets in on the action, whether rowing crew on the Charles River, running the Boston Marathon, or celebrating another Celtics or Patriots championship at the pub.
Finalists: Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston
COOLEST UP-AND-COMING CITY: COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA
The Palmetto State’s capital offers a blend of old-school charm and urban cool. While a walk by the University of South Carolina will take you back 200 years, downtown buzzes with the Main Street District’s Saturday market, the Vista District’s new South Carolina State Museum, and the hip bowling alley The Grand.
Finalists: Asheville, North Carolina; Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Boise, Idaho
BEST CITY FOR THE ARTS: NEW YORK CITY
While New York is home to some of the world’s greatest arts institutions (the Met, MoMA, Lincoln Center, Broadway), where you can experience everything from The Starry Night to Hamilton (pictured), visitors will feel the city’s true artistic spirit a bit off the beaten path: seeing experimental theater in a tiny off-off-Broadway playhouse, wandering among the small galleries in Bushwick, stumbling across a famous Japanese artist’s doodles on the wall of a Lower East Side bar (Yoshitomo Nara and Niagara, for the record). No matter if you look high or low, there’s always something to see.
Finalists: Paris, Chicago, New Orleans, Houston
BEST INTERNATIONAL WINE REGION: TUSCANY, ITALY
The very name Tuscany is synonymous with the good life, in part because this slice of central Italy produces many of the country’s finest wines: Chianti, Brunello, and Montepulciano. Combine these with the scenery—grapevines traversing the hills between medieval villages—and you have a trip that transports wine enthusiasts both back in time and forward to the planning of their next visit.
Finalists: Bordeaux, France; Loire Valley, France; Cape Winelands, South Africa; Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico
BEST CITY FOR FINE DINING: NEW YORK CITY
With 76 Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s no place quite like the Big Apple to get a (10-course tasting menu) bite. NYC has star chefs (Éric Ripert), World’s Best Restaurant winners (Eleven Madison Park), inventive fusion (Momofuku Ko), palatial spaces (Del Posto), and anything else you’d want for a special occasion—except, of course, for a table at 7 p.m.
Finalists: San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, Houston
BEST CITY FOR STREET FOOD: NEW YORK CITY
As well as NYC does fine dining, the city is also great at feeding you when you need something right here, right now. There’s no quick bite more iconic than the dirtywater hot dog (sounds gross, tastes strangely sublime), but hungry tourists can also visit carts and trucks dishing out souvlaki (The Halal Guys is a must), tacos, empanadas, pad Thai, waffles, dosas, artisanal ice cream, and much, much more. New Yorkers are famously always on the move; it makes sense that their food would be too.
Finalists: Austin, Texas; Singapore; Mexico City; Portland, Oregon
BEST CITY FOR BEER LOVERS: PORTLAND, OREGON
There’s a reason hops-happy Oregonians have taken to calling Portland “Beervana.” With more than 75 breweries at last count, PDX has everything from award-winning IPAs (Breakside) to face-puckering sours (Cascade). Want to try them all? Plan a trip for June, when the annual Portland Beer Week takes over the town.
Finalists: Denver; Chicago; Fort Collins, Colorado; San Diego
BEST AMERICAN WINE REGION: NAPA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
For an in-depth look at what makes Napa Valley the winner (and Sonoma the first runner-up) in this category, turn to page 74 and read this month’s “Three Perfect Days” story. While you’re at it, pour yourself a nice glass of cabernet.
Finalists: Sonoma County, California; Willamette Valley, Oregon; Paso Robles, California; Finger Lakes, New York
BEST ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT: SANDALS MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA
Sandals’ flagship resort doesn’t mess around. When they say all-inclusive, they really mean it. You can dine on sushi and steak and crepes and bruschetta at 12 different restaurants; drink top-shelf cocktails in a hammock suspended above the water; go scuba diving and sailing and water skiing; and watch dancers and performers put on shows every evening. If that’s not enough, stay three nights and even your wedding is included. I do, indeed.
Finalists: Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, Mexico; Unico 20°N 87°W, Mexico; Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado; Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Florida
BEST HOTEL FOR FAMILIES: AULANI, A DISNEY RESORT AND SPA, HAWAII
What family can say no to the combination of Disney and Hawaii? Kids love spotting Moana at the breakfast buffet; parents love making their own poke bowls and taking a break with mai tais by the adults-only pool.
Finalists: The Breakers Palm Beach, Florida; Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, the Bahamas; JW Marriott Cancún Resort & Spa, Mexico; Mohonk Mountain House, New York
BEST INTERNATIONAL BEACH RESORT: BELMOND LA SAMANNA, ST. MARTIN
Perched above Baie Longue, a stretch of shining sand leading to the kind of azure water you see only in commercials, this resort (above and top) is a place where you can’t help but treat yourself, whether you’re taking a dip in the plunge pool on your private terrace or exploring the La Cave Wine Cellar, which is built two stories below sea level and holds 12,000 bottles. You’ll have plenty to toast to.
Finalists: Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, Mexico; Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, the Bahamas; Belmond Cap Juluca, Anguilla; GoldenEye, Jamaica
BEST AMERICAN URBAN HOTEL: THE RITZ-CARLTON RESIDENCES, WAIKIKI BEACH, HONOLULU
The runners-up in this category could perhaps claim that the victor had an unfair advantage. After all, Honolulu’s Ritz-Carlton is basically both an urban hotel and a beach resort. We’ll give it a pass, though, since the building is a 10-minute walk from the sand. With its eighth-floor infinity pool (Oahu’s highest), residential-style studios and suites, locally inspired spa treatments, and dining options such as Dean & DeLuca and Sushi Sho, this hotel would be a winner no matter where it were built.
Finalists: The Langham, Chicago; The Galt House Hotel, Louisville; Hotel Figueroa, Los Angeles; Hotel Alessandra, Houston
BEST INTERNATIONAL URBAN HOTEL: LA RÉSERVE PARIS
By the closest of margins literally a single vote—La Réserve squeaked past The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, to take this trophy home. Yet a trip to this posh palace, tucked just off the Champs-Élysées, leaves little doubt that La Réserve is a deserving winner. Twenty-six of the 40 rooms are suites, opulently furnished and featuring full bars stocked with Cos d’Estournel wines. There’s also a gorgeous indoor pool, a spa, and Restaurant Le Gabriel, which boasts two Michelin stars. C’est magnifique!
Finalists: The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong; Rosewood London; The Langham, Sydney; One&Only Cape Town
BEST AMERICAN BEACH RESORT: FOUR SEASONS RESORT MAUI AT WAILEA, HAWAII
This five-star Four Seasons lives up to its paradisiacal surroundings. It’s located right on the golden sands of Wailea Beach, with 81 cabanas that face the ocean or one of the three saltwater pools. Dining options include an outpost of Wolfgang Puck’s famed Spago. The resort is family-friendly, with a free Kids for All Seasons club, but calm and quiet can be found at the adults-only pool. There are even outrigger canoes for those seeking a more authentic experience. Add it all up, and you’ll be wishing “aloha” meant only hello, and not goodbye.
Finalists: JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, Florida; Omni Amelia Island Resort, Fernandina Beach, Florida; Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, Santa Monica, California; Paséa Hotel & Spa, Huntington Beach, California
BEST INTERNATIONAL SPA: SPA MÉTROPOLE BY GIVENCHY, MONACO
You know the luxury options are going to be over-the-top when French fashion house Givenchy and Monaco’s five-star Hotel Métropole combine forces. A spa day here begins with a “fragrance journey,” in which your favored scent is sprayed on a pocket square that you carry throughout your visit. Try the “heat experience”—a progression of sauna, hammam, caldarium, ice fountain, and sensory shower—or the headliner Le Soin Noir Renaissance Intégrale, a two-hour facial and body scrub that utilizes the anti-aging properties of deep-sea black algae.
Finalists: The Day Spa by Chuan at The Langham, Sydney, Australia; Schloss Elmau, Germany; One&Only Palmilla, Mexico; Naum Wellness & Spa at Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya, Mexico
BEST AMERICAN SPA: SPA TERRA AT THE MERITAGE RESORT, NAPA, CALIFORNIA
Set within the cool confines of a 22,000-square-foot wine cave, Spa Terra offers a wide variety of treatments, including the Vino Bello, a grapeseed scrub followed by a wine and rosehip mud wrap. After the pampering is over, try a flight at one of the nine on-site tasting rooms.
Finalists: Boulders Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, Arizona; Remède Spa at The St. Regis Aspen Resort, Colorado; Chuan Spa at The Langham, Chicago; Miraval Arizona, Tucson
BEST AMERICAN MUSEUM: THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE, WASHINGTON, D.C.
The NMAAHC opened to much fanfare in 2016 and is the only national museum solely devoted to documenting African American life, history, and culture. Now, more than ever, it should be a required stop for any visitor to the nation’s capital.
Finalists: The Museum of Modern Art, New York City; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; The National WWII Museum, New Orleans
BEST INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM: THE LOUVRE, PARIS
Among the roughly 35,000 objects exhibited at Paris’s premier museum are the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, and the coronation crown of Louis XV. It’s all housed in a former royal palace on the Right Bank of the Seine that I.M. Pei augmented with his glass pyramids in 1989.
Finalists: Musée d’Orsay, Paris; The British Museum, London; National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City; Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Tokyo
MOST BEAUTIFUL NATIONAL PARK: YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
There is no more stunning sight than Yosemite’s Tunnel View, which looks out at El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. This national park welcomes about 4 million visitors each year, but most never stray from Yosemite Valley, leaving more than 1,000 square miles of wilderness to explore.
Finalists: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona; Glacier National Park, Montana; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
BEST ZOO: SAN DIEGO ZOO
There are zoos, and then there’s the San Diego Zoo. This 100-acre oasis in Balboa Park is home to 3,700 rare and endangered animals (lemurs and tapirs and sloths, oh my!) across nearly 660 species and subspecies, as well as more than 700,000 plants.
Finalists: Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington, D.C.; Audubon Zoo, New Orleans; Denver Zoo; The Bronx Zoo
BEST THEME PARK: WALT DISNEY WORLD FLORIDA
They call this the happiest place on earth for a reason—and with last year’s addition of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, it’s now the happiest place in the galaxy.
Finalists: Disneyland Park, California; Universal Studios Florida; Cedar Point, Ohio; Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Colorado
BEST CULTURAL FESTIVAL: NEW ORLEANS JAZZ AND HERITAGE FESTIVAL
It’s sometimes said that jazz is America’s only original art form. Whether or not you agree, there’s no doubt that jazz was born in New Orleans (and popularized in the 20th century by NOLA native Louis Armstrong). Music remains front and center in the Big Easy all year, but never more than in late April, when tens of thousands of people descend on the city for Jazz Fest. The Fair Grounds Race Course blooms with tents that host everything from traditional jazz to blues to huge pop and rock acts. (Recent headliners have included Santana and Pearl Jam.) In-the-know fans will tell you that the best part isn’t even the festival itself: It’s scouring the clubs in the French Quarter and the Marigny for secret late-night shows featuring world-famous performers.
Finalists: Oktoberfest, Germany; Carnaval do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Holi, India; PrideFest, Providence, Rhode Island
BEST AQUARIUM: MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM, CALIFORNIA
The Monterey Bay Aquarium does a better job of showing visitors another world than perhaps any museum on earth. Paradoxically, the aquarium, which opened in 1984 in an overhauled sardine cannery on Monterey’s Cannery Row (made famous by John Steinbeck), accomplishes this feat by focusing on the ecosystem of the Bay right outside its windows. Jellyfish, stingrays, a hammerhead shark, and a giant Pacific octopus are among the strange species that live in the tanks here, but there’s never any doubt about which creatures will be the family favorites: the acrobatic, playful sea otters, perhaps the cutest animals that live in land or water, on this planet or any other.
Finalists: Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta; Shedd Aquarium, Chicago; National Aquarium, Baltimore; Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans
BEST OCEAN CRUISE LINE: ROYAL CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL
With the biggest ships (the Symphony of the Seas sails with 6,680 passengers), awesome activities (ice skating, bumper cars), more than 275 destinations (from Alaska to Australia), and reasonable rates (U.S. News & World Report ranked it 2020’s #1 Best Cruise Line for the Money), Royal Caribbean is a true crowd-pleaser.
Finalists: Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Viking Ocean Cruises, Seabourn
BEST RIVER OR SMALL SHIP CRUISE LINE: VIKING CRUISES
You’d be hard-pressed to find a renowned river that Viking doesn’t ply. Make like Mark Twain on the Mississippi, taste the best of Portugal’s port wines on the Douro, see the pyramids on the Nile, or go deep into the Mekong Delta—all while enjoying sleek staterooms and regional dining.
Next-up: 20 of the best new hotels for 2020