Relax—or dance—on Maui’s beaches.
Miss Fiesta San Antonio 2011 greets her subjects.
A grizzly bear growls in Alaska's Denali National Park.
London's Royal Horticultural Society puts on the Chelsea Flower Show each spring.
Drayton Hall, in Charleston, S.C., is one of the most well-preserved examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in America.
IF YOU'RE GOING...
View places to see, stay, and eat
1) Seek sun on Hawaii’s beaches Coarse red, rich black, and powdery white—Hawaii’s islands have sandy beaches of many temperaments. Looking for some of the best? On Kauai’s north shore, Anini Beach is partially protected by a fringe reef that keeps the water calm enough for kids. Or bask with sea turtles on Punalu‘u Beach, the Big Island’s prettiest expanse of black sand. Papohaku Beach’s three miles of coastline on Molokai afford virtual solitude year-round.
2) Experience history in London Last spring’s royal wedding turned many heads toward Great Britain, but the nuptials may be outdone by the Olympic Games in July and August. Get there ahead of the crowds to enjoy May’s Chelsea Flower Show, a garden tour de force; and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, a celebration of the monarch’s 60 years on the throne, which includes a flotilla of some 1,000 boats on the Thames.
3) Visit wild things in Alaska Alaska’s uncanny natural beauty makes a glamorous backdrop for wildlife in any season. Plan now for a summer trip to see salmon spawning and bears fishing in streams throughout the state. May and June are when moose give birth to their calves—look for the gawky babies on roadsides or in areas where aspen and birch trees have started to regrow after planned burns. Along the western coast, birders might spy unusual specimens such as Asian accidentals as well as migrating waterbirds of all stripes. Bonus: Steller sea lions in western waterfront colonies deliver their fuzzy pups.
4) Enjoy Southern hospitality Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.—just over 100 miles apart—are among the oldest European settlements in the United States. To experience the graciousness the South is famous for, start in Charleston, a seaport town full of well-preserved colonial and antebellum architecture. There you can see relics of both white high society and black slave reality on tours of historic houses. Then move to Savannah, with contemporary draws that include the recently reopened SCAD Museum of Art, in a Greek revival building with a new addition. Don’t miss grande belle Paula Deen’s dining destination, the Lady & Sons, for fried green tomatoes.
5) Celebrate San Antonio For 11 days in April, this South Texas town explodes with more than 100 multicultural events benefiting local nonprofit groups. First launched in 1891, Fiesta San Antonio now includes fashion shows, athletic events, and coronations. This year’s lineup features Incognito, a masked affair much like Venice’s Carnevale; Tejano Explosion, an 11-day music blowout featuring Tex-Mex bands; and an old-fashioned oyster bake.
6) Surprise yourself in Disneyland Walt Disney’s amusement park feels as thrilling now as it must have on opening day in 1955. Among the fresh delights: Star Tours reopened last year, its Star Wars characters adding lively commentary to its simulated space flight, and California Adventure gained a Little Mermaid attraction, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, last June. The park’s Matterhorn will get replacement bobsleds in the first half of 2012; look for the new Cars Land at California Adventure later in the year. For exclusive AAA member deals at Disney properties, visit AAA.com/disney.
Reader pick “Valley of Fire just outside Las Vegas is a totally unexpected delight—a glorious place, rivaling the better-known Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.”—Hetta Malone, Walnut Creek, Calif.
Reader pick “Julian, Calif., a small town northeast of San Diego, was once a rich gold-mining town, but it’s now famous for its apple pie bakeries. It’s also packed with wonderful bed-and-breakfasts, and we found plenty of inexpensive things to eat and do.”—Marvin Jung, Granite Bay, Calif.
Photography: courtesy of Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (Drayton Hall); courtesy of Jon Alonzo/Fiesta San Antonio Commission (Miss Fiesta); by David Olsen/Alamy (hula dancers); by Cliff Hide/Alamy (London flowers); courtesy Wikipedia (grizzly bear)
This article was first published in January 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
For more information, visit any AAA branch or visit AAA.com/travel.