This morning, Lonely Planet released its annual list of the top places to visit in the US in the coming year. Lonely Planet's Top 10 US Destinations for 2013, selected and ranked by the company's team of US-based editors and expert authors features locations all over the map that are either emerging and up-and-coming or perennial favorites that have a new and timely angle that make them prime for visitors in 2013.
Once-in-a-lifetime northern lights, new top-tier museums, moose trails, Polynesian paradise, and barrels of bourbon are some of the elements that help make these destinations amongst the list of top 10 places Lonely Planet thinks travelers should add to their wish lists for the coming year.
Lonely Planet's Top 10 US Destinations for 2013 includes:
1. Louisville, Kentucky
Is Louisville's lively offbeat cultural scene quickly on the verge of making it the new Portland? With old warehouses-turned local breweries, antique shops and the city's coolest restaurants in "NuLu" or New Louisville in the East Market District, hipster shops and bars on Bardstown Rd in the Highlands, and the new wave of microdistilleries that serve as the jump-off for the Bourbon Trail, it would seem so. And then, of course, there's the Kentucky Derby.
2. Fairbanks, Alaska
If you haven't seen aurora borealis (aka the northern lights), get to Fairbanks. 2013 marks the end of a fiery 11-year-cycle, when sunspots are particularly feisty, making for a big show in the sky for locals and visitors 240 nights next year. Go starting in late summer, when the daylight isn't too strong. On the ground, curious foodies can sample traditional Athabascan cuisine at Taste of Alaska at the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center, or take part in a unique pub-crawl, The Great Fairbanks Pub Paddle.
3. San Juan Islands, Washington
Called the "Gourmet Archipelago" by Lonely Planet guidebook author Brendon Sainsbury, these Pacific Northwest islands have 250 days of sunshine and are entirely self-sufficient when it comes to food. Explore the beaches and scenery by bike, but be sure to eat during your visit. San Juan Islands is filled with fresh, fresh food, with local artichokes and marionberries from farmers markets, seafood plates of oysters, razor clams and freshly caught salmon, and foraged edibles like seaweed and elderflowers.
4. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Forget the cheesesteaks and tri-corner hat, Philadelphia is becoming known as an art capital. In addition to the world renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art, the formerly remote Barnes Foundation , a once private collection of Matisse, Renoir and Cézanne, has a new central location. And it's not just the big museums - Philly's gallery scene is exploding with new venues like the Icebox garnering international attention and turning the Northern Liberties and Fishtown neighborhoods into the new hot arts hub. First Fridays , the monthly gallery open house, long a tradition in Old City, has expanded to the refurbished Loft District, where the party goes on in a host of new bars, clubs and live music venues.
5. American Samoa
Did you know a US passport can get you to an isolated South Pacific paradise without even leaving US territory? From the US mainland, American Samoa is a longer trek than Hawaii, but the distance rewards the visitor with some of the most stunning, untouched beauty of the Pacific and a National Park that even the most ardent park system fans won't have checked off their list yet. From the US, flights run from Honolulu to Pago Pago on lovely Tutuila, with waterfalls, fishing villages and spectacular beaches nearby. But press on with a quick flight on Inter Island Air to nearby, 3-sq-mile Ofu in the Manua Islands, with shining, palm-fringed white sand flanked by shark tooth-shaped mountains. The best time to visit is Flag Day, April 17, when there are activities galore. This may be US territory, but it's some of the purest Polynesia you'll find anywhere.
6. Eastern Sierra, California
Just beyond Yosemite lies the secret California dream: the Eastern Sierra, the overlooked flank of the Sierra Nevada range, with other-worldly natural attractions and surprises, and far fewer visitors. Just follow the scenic US Route 395 as it connects wonders like the Travertine hot spring in Bridgeport, the Gold Rush ghost town of Bodie, Mono Lake's bizarre calcified tufa towers, or the surreal Devils Postpile National Monument's 60-foot curtain of basalt columns made from rivers of molten lava.
7. Northern Maine, ME
Maine isn't only lobster rolls, lighthouses and rocky shoreline. The woodsy interior, on the top half of the Maine 'thumb' reaching north to the Canada border, makes for a wilderness adventure with moose, white water rafting, and epic hiking. The Appalachian Trail begins/ends atop Mt Katahdin in primitive Baxter State Park, with 200,000 acres of lakes and mountains to reach by hiking boot. Nearby is Moosehead Lake, home to a 99-year-old steamboat to ride, and the source of the Kennebec River, with great rafting opportunities at the Forks. To the north in remote Aroostook County, miles of old rail beds have been transformed into bike trails, and multi-day canoe trips can paddle you right up to the Canadian border.
8. Twin Cities, Minnesota
Lake Wobegone might be 'the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve,' but time has been much kinder to the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul. Minneapolis is often called the country's best bike city and the Nice Ride bike-share system with its web of new bike lanes proves the point. The St Anthony Falls Heritage Trail is a 2-mile path along the banks of the Mississippi River. Plan time for Uptown's Bryant-Lake Bowl, an old bowling alley with seriously good food, and pay homage to the epicenter of Twin Cities' music scene, First Avenue & 7th St Entry, where hometown hero Prince sometimes comes by. St Paul is quieter, but key to see. Pedal over for an authentic Lao meal at the Hmongtown Marketplace and a show at the Fitzgerald Theater.