I covered my top 10 travel highlights in 2010 last year, so I thought I’d continue the tradition. It was kind of a quiet year for me on the travel front, but after four countries and nine states, here’s what wowed in the past 365 days:
1. Belize. The 10 days I spent in Belize made up what was one of my favorite solo international trips ever. I rode old U.S. school buses down bumpy dirt roads, was followed around by curious children in a remote village, stand-up paddleboarded around Caye Caulker, scrambled up rocks in a cave, spent untold hours reading in many hammocks, swam with sharks, and ate lots of delicious food.
2. Exploring the Salish Sea. Washington state is teeming with delightful communities (and I’m only slightly biased having been raised there), and I got a whirlwind tour of four of them this past fall: San Juan Island, Port Townsend, Whidbey Island, and Camano Island. A restful night’s sleep in the couldn’t-be-cuter Dove in the Window room at Tucker House Inn, a Grown Up Grilled Cheese at Sweet Laurette Cafe & Bistro, an inside look at Penn Cove Shellfish, and a soak in my own hot tub at Camano Island Inn were just a few of the high points.
3. Newport Mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. I love my family, but if I could’ve chosen which one to be born into, I just may have picked the Vanderbilts. And if I could jump back in time with my new last name, I’d spend my summers at The Breakers, a 70-room “cottage” you have to see to believe. The Elms, Marble House, and Rosecliff were also quite impressive.
4. The Pacific Coast Highway. A guidebook project took me down the PCH, starting in Washington and ending in San Diego. The vistas are so stunning along the way, you almost become desensitized to having postcard-worthy shots with each passing mile. Big Sur’s hairpin turns (and the red Mustangs/giant rented motor homes that refused to pull over) will remain in my memory for years to come.
5. Market Ghost Tour, Seattle. I never watch scary movies and always plug my ears whenever someone suggests a hotel I’m staying in might be haunted, so a ghost tour normally wouldn’t be up my alley — but on this tour, you learn fascinating factoids about the Northwest’s largest city, which are suitable for skeptics and believers alike. My ghost-obsessed sister and I were both pleased with the tour, as was everyone else with us.
6. Tikal. The largest Mayan ruins site in Central America, Guatemala’s Tikal is a huge and awe-inspiring example of Classic Period architecture. Wildlife roaming the grounds, including howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and coatis, only add to the appeal of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
7. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Sunshine was in long supply during my July visit to this northern Idaho city, and I made sure to enjoy it, with a 12-mile biking jaunt on the Centennial Trail, a kayaking trip with ROW Adventures, and a boat ride to see the world’s only floating golf green. The hot stone massage, huckleberry-infused drinks, and view from my room at The Coeur d’Alene Resort made me wish I could stay another day … or 10.
8. Vancouver, British Columbia. When my credit card refused to work in the ticket machines for the metro at midnight, a nice young man paid my fare — that’s just how they roll in Canada. Unfailingly polite people, natural beauty, and a huge array of sights make this one of my favorite cities to visit. This time around, I slowly traversed the Capilano Suspension Bridge, watched the belugas swim at the Vancouver Aquarium, and let the horses lead the way on a carriage ride through Stanley Park.
9. Concord, Massachusetts. It’s a wonder that as a writer and someone interested in history that I’d never been to Concord before this year, given its prominence in the American Revolution and many literary connections. I felt like writing a book after seeing Louisa May Alcott’s house and staring out at Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Sidney also lived in this still-quaint New England town.
10. Whistler, British Columbia. After journeying to Whistler on the absolutely delightful Rocky Mountaineer train (the afternoon tea service in the Dome class is a nice touch), I was bombarded with an amazing assortment of things to do in the summer: zip-lining with WildPlay Whistler, delicious local dining at Alta Bistro, shocking the system at the beautiful outdoor Scandinave Spa, and soaring through the sky on the world’s highest-off-the-ground gondola, Peak 2 Peak.