The greatest adventure in human history had perhaps many starting points — but, if you were to pick just one, you might say it began with a speech. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood before Congress and set a goal: that, before the end of the ’60s, an American would set foot on the Moon. It was ambitious — impractical, even — but also, the late president must have thought, achievable. He would never know it, having died two short years later, but on July 20, 1969, with less than six months left in the decade, Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module’s ladder to utter his famous words: “That’s one small step for man…”
Over the next three and a half years, a total of twelve men would reach the Moon, culminating with Gene Cernan, who recently, on January 17, 2017, died at the age of 82. According to some, Cernan was often troubled by the superlative that defined the last man on the Moon. Like many astronauts of the Apollo era, he believed, firmly, that humans would return there sometime in his lifetime. In 2010, Cernan, joined by Neil Armstrong, testified before Congress in opposition to the cancellation of the Constellation program, a $230 billion program developed by NASA with three major goals: complete the International Space Station, return to the Moon no later than 2020 and, finally, send humans to Mars in the 2030s.
At the time of his passing, social media sites like Twitter swelled with Cernan’s words: “Curiosity is the essence of human existence,” he once said. “It is our destiny to explore.”
So to all who read this — despite your provenance, social class or political affiliation — I challenge you to set your own exploration goal before 2017 ends. Touch a famous landmark, visit a new continent, or simply make a point to see the other side of town. It might not be the Moon. But every leap has its starting point: the courage to step farther than you’ve ever been before. – Jack Seemer
Where the prairie meets the Rockies.
Celebrate Canada’s 150th with free entry to all of the country’s national parks, five of which happen to be in Alberta. Photograph the bison herds of Elk Island or wind through the Canadian Rockies of Jasper and Banff on the Icefields Parkway — scenery is by no means in short supply. A thirst for adventure can be quenched with skiing, hiking, kayaking and fishing, and beyond the mountains, the province’s capital city of Edmonton hosts a growing cultural scene not to be overlooked.
See the real Cuban capital — before it’s too late.
The 50-plus year ban on commercial travel from the US to Cuba was lifted in 2016. Naturally, all Americans want to go now. The guidebooks, however, will lead tourists on a merry dance around historic Habana Vieja (Old Havana) — and while important and beautiful, with copious museums and historic plazas, arguably more exciting is the “New Havana,” a burgeoning culinary and cultural scene located in the eastern and central parts of the city.
The Western Slope, Colorado
An off-roader’s paradise comes of age.
The Western Slope of Colorado runs roughly from Glenwood Springs, west to Fruita and south to Durango. It’s a large area, but one well worth exploring. Beyond gratuitous off-road adventure opportunities, you’ll find a unique food and wine culture in the Grand Junction-Palisade region, with Bin 707 Foodbar leading the charge.
Japan’s best-kept secret.
Despite its title as the largest city in Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, Fukuoka is largely overlooked by Western travelers fixated on Honshu heavyweights like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Shame. The city was voted seventh most livable city in the world in Monocle’s most recent Quality of Life Survey thanks to its growing greenery and bike-friendly street. Travelers, however, will rejoice in Fukuoka’s legendary ramen culture; tonkotsu, that supremely rich ramen with pork-bone broth, was invented here. Find it at Ganso Nagahama, a no-frills favorite, or the original Ippudo location in Daiymo. If you’re a third-wave coffee fiend, meanwhile, you’ll want to make time for Cafe Bimi, a small coffee shop specializing in nel drip.
Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia
Surf the other side of the world.
Kamchatka, the nearly impossible-to-reach peninsula to the far east of Russia, is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. If you’re a surfer, much of the coastline is largely unexplored and has been known to see fairly large swells. The fishing’s also good, though you must be part of a group “conducting scientific research” to take advantage of its famous steelhead.
A lakeside adventure hub in the shadow of an active volcano.
Settled on the eastern shores of Lago Villarrica in Chile’s Lake District is the resort town of Pucón. While small — the main drag, Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins, stretches just six blocks — the downtown area is home to a variety of hotels and eateries. It’s worth the commute to get out of town for a stay at the Hacienda Hotel Vira Vira, and to experience the best local Mapuche recipes head further east to Cocina Mapuche Mapu Lyagl. Relaxing on the beach may be tempting, but so are the snowy flanks of the Villarrica Volcano. Depending on who you ask, it’s one of the most active volcanoes in South America. It also has one of the world’s few visible lava lakes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hire a guide service and climb to the summit in summer or ski and snowboard down its slopes in winter. Hiking, rafting, canyoning and hydrospeeding are just a sampling of the other adrenaline-spiking activities the area has to offer.
Revival in the Spanish capital.
Every guidebook on Madrid has more or less the same list: the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza are three of the finest museums in the world, while the Buen Retiro might just be the prettiest public park in western Europe; closer to the city center, there’s Restaurante Sobrino de Botín, not just the oldest restaurant on the planet but once a favorite of Hemingway. If that’s not enough to draw you, one of the specialties is pork so tender that it’s cut with plates. Madrid’s list goes on, chock-full of superlative landmarks (many centuries old) that would make any city proud.
But there’s a new face to Madrid, thanks in part to the global economic crises of 2008, and young chefs especially have rebounded with both poise and creativity. Highly recommended are BiBo Madrid, where Michelin-starred chef Dani García shines with spins on Spanish classics (cherry gazpacho, oxtail brioche), and Recreo, a neighborhood tavern that narrows in on casa de comidas — or “home cooking.” Of course you always have your guidebook to fall back on.
Canoe thousands of America’s most pristine lakes.
In the far northern reaches of Minnesota, straddling the border of Canada, is a vast region of lakes and boreal forest known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or BWCA. Outside of the Midwest, it seems, the BWCA is hardly ever spoken of — and Minnesotans probably like it that way. It is a million-acre best-kept secret. Stand on the rocky shores of any of its thousand-plus pristine lakes, throw a stone in any direction, and it’ll land in a more pristine lake. Bull moose roam swampy creeks, black bears sniff around campsites, bald eagles soar, loons wail. And the fish — monstrous Northern pike, largemouth bass, walleye, trout — are abundant and tasty beyond belief. There are three ways to experience the BWCA: canoe, kayak or motorboat. Canoe is the traditional way, and by far the most popular. All you need to do is apply for a permit, get outfitted, draw your route on a map, and go.
The last remaining Himalayan Buddhist kingdom in the world.
The United Nations named 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, making Bhutan a particularly fitting destination this year. Nestled in the Himalayas, the country absorbs more carbon gas than it emits, due in great part to the dense forests that cover more than 70 percent of its landscape. Sustainable development and cultural preservation are central to Bhutanese existence (sometimes to an extreme), and its concept of Gross Domestic Happiness is reflective of that. Rather than imports, exports and revenue, Bhutan measures contentment, seeking to forge a national identity that allows its citizens to pursue happiness however they choose to define it.
Bhutan requires all tourists to be registered with or sponsored by an official tour company, imposing a minimum $250 daily tariff on visitors. But low-volume, high-impact tourism is the name of the game. While most tours are fully customizable, ranging from camping and trekking to cultural immersions with luxury accommodations, it’s wise to do and see a little bit of everything: hike up mountains to the cliffside Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest Monastery) complex, biking down into valleys, walking alongside rice paddies and touring the markets of the capital city of Thimphu.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Former playground of the rich and famous.
In the ’40s and ’50s, Sun Valley was known to draw celebrities such as Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and several members of the Kennedy family. While some celebrities still own homes here, this Idaho resort town near Ketchum is now known as a premier outdoor adventure destination. Go mountain biking on the Warm Springs Trail if you visit in the summer, or ski some of the surrounding burn forests in the winter. For a place to stay, check out the newly opened Limelight Hotel right in the heart of downtown Ketchum or the quaint Knob Hill Inn just off of the main strip.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
A seasonal oasis and magnet for migratory herds.
There may be plenty of options when it comes to African safaris, but none boast the geographic or biological diversity of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Seasonal floods draw herds of buffalo, wildebeest, giraffe, leopards, hyenas, rhinoceros, zebra and more to the region, which is a designated world heritage site and one of the only inland freshwater deltas on Earth. A uniquely seasonal landscape means that an Okavango Delta safari can incorporate savannah, forests, rivers and lagoons — each offering diverse flora and fauna. Encompassing nearly 40 percent of the Okavango Delta’s waterways, the Moremi Reserve is regarded as one of the best game-viewing areas on the continent. And while the Mombo Camp, one of the Reserve’s premier luxury campsites, located on the north end of Chief’s Island in the middle of the Delta, is renowned for its 4×4 game drives, the long verandas surrounding each tent offer prime viewing for local herds, prides and packs, too.
Roadtrip through America’s legendary red rock desert.
If there is no activity more American than a road trip, then there is no setting more American than the straight and endless highways that pass through the sandstone canyonlands of Southern Utah. The region is home to the Mighty 5, a family of national parks that includes the frequently instagrammed Arches as well as the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument. The region is well populated with campsites, but if you’re looking to wash away a newly acquired coating of red dust in luxury, do so at the Amangiri in Canyon Point. All visitors, however, should stop in at Nedra’s Cafe in Kanab for some Hollywood history and a plate of carnitas.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Thermal baths and barbecue in America’s first resort town.
An under-the-radar destination well suited for long weekends, Hot Springs offers more than just thermal baths. While bathhouses like Buckstaff, the only remaining spa within the boundaries of Hot Springs National Park, are undoubtedly a big draw, Hot Springs is also a prime spot for hiking and mountain biking. Plan to swing by Superior Bathhouse Brewery, the only brewery located in a national park, after a day spent outdoors, and round out the evening with dinner at McClard’s, whose barbecue former president Bill Clinton had flown to the White House on a regular basis. Better yet, Hot Springs is a mere hourlong drive to the world’s only above-ground, keep-what-you-find diamond mine, Crater of Diamonds. A hidden gem, indeed.
East Los Angeles, California
Where the grass is greener.
The Eastside is a more affordable escape from its lavish western sibling — plus, nearby Burbank has copious parkland and hiking trails to keep you outdoors. There are great new places to stay cropping up all over Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz, but the real reason to stay is the cuisine. Michelin hasn’t published an L.A. guide since 2009 — thus, no new stars or Bib Gourmands for any of the city’s up-and-comers, like Salazar Mexican Food or Sqirl Kitchen.
Find bliss in a hilly utopian community.
Set into the rolling hills and rice paddies of northern Thailand, Pai is basically what would’ve happened to San Fransisco if the hippies had won. Colorful, elaborate wooden shanties and Buddhist temples dot the landscape. Miles and miles of paved motorbike roads weave through the countryside, with plenty of pristine waterfall pit stops. Domesticated elephants occasionally stroll into town, munching on roadside grass. Every flavor of human exists peacefully in the small village, though young backpackers and itinerant soul-seekers are most prevalent, given the village’s lax laws on marijuana and psychedelics — some bars even offer over-the-counter doobies and magic mushroom concoctions called “happy shakes.” Daytime is for lounging in hammocks; nighttime is for wild black-lit jungle parties, fire-dancing and free love.
Explore the heart of bourbon country.
The American bourbon industry is in the middle of a boom, having become a multi-billion dollar industry in 2015 and continuing to climb. Lexington happens to be in the dead center of bourbon country, making for a great place to set up base camp before you explore the bourbon trail. Stay in the heart of downtown Lexington at the 21c Museum Hotel. Part boutique hotel part contemporary art museum, the spot is a cultural highlight and home to the Lockbox resturuant, where chef Jonathan Searle has orchestrated delicious menu focusing on the culinary heritage of bluegrass culture. Once you’ve had your fill at one of the many bourbon distilleries in the area, head to Keeneland, one of the most beautiful horse race tracks in the country, catch a race and place a few bets.
Jaw-dropping scenery, far removed.
Mongolia is a country of incredibly varied terrain with vast stretches of land seemingly unaltered by people. One of the most remote parts of the country is Eastern Mongolia, an area of grasslands, forests, lakes and wildlife. Fly into Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, and get a connecting flight to the Choibalsan, where you should base your excursions. From there you can take Jeeps on unpaved roads through the Dornod Mongolia steppe, an immense grassland (likened to the Serengeti) inhabited by white-tailed gazelle, cranes, moose and bears. For anglers, Buir Lake offers ample fishing after a 180-mile drive from Choibalsan. Traditional wool-processing is still done in Eastern Mongolia, though the mining and oil industries have quickly grown over the past few decades. As more businesses look to Mongolia, the traditional ways of life and unprotected landscapes will eventually change.
Cap Bénat, France
All that’s good about the French Riviera — but none of the tourist traps.
The southern coast of France isn’t really the land of Bardot et al. But if you still want that glamour, movie star-esque experience, however, there’s Cap Bénat. The quiet peninsular bit of the Bormes-les-Mimosas commune, Cap Bénat is about an hour west of Saint Tropez and has all that’s good about the French Riviera: Mediterranean coastline beaches, beautiful villas and none of the tourist groups. Best advice: rent the nicest ride you can that’ll fit your group and just enjoy the sunshine.
The Paris of Indonesia.
The capital of West Java, Bandung is Indonesia’s second biggest metropolitan area, situated on a river basin bound by volcanic mountains. Formerly a resort city for plantation owners, Bandung’s assortment of hotels, restaurants and cafes earned it the nickname, “The Paris of Java.” For an incredible hotel with a view, stay at the Padma Hotel, but make for the streets of the city for an authentic taste of the region. In Badung, you won’t be inundated with the chaos of Jakarta, and can taste through the best street food scene in Southeast Asia. For a respite from urban exploring, take advantage of the nearby mountain hikes and vibrant blue lakes. It’s an amazing juxtaposition of pure natural beauty and a densely populated urban center, a microcosm of Indonesia as a whole.
Experience the soul of Hawaii, from city to surf.
More than two-thirds of Hawaii’s population resides on Oahu, the third largest of Hawaii’s eight islands — and they’re not there just to escape the throngs of tourists on Maui. Oahu has it all. The southern half of the diamond-shaped island is the seat of Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu. A special strain of laid-back cosmopolitan life exists there, with a nightlife and food scene that feels untainted by the franchise-everything methodology of unchecked tourism. The North Shore, however, is where Oahu’s spirit shines brightest. Some of the most legendary big waves in the world break off Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline. Rent a vintage VW surf bus and hit the road for an adventure you can’t get anywhere else.
The Western Balkans
Hike Eastern Europe’s version of Yosemite.
Now that the Via Dinarica trail will finally be completed this year, fully connecting over 1,200 miles of trekking trails across seven countries — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosova, Serbia, and Slovenia — the western Balkan region is ripe for an outdoor adventure. Sutjeska National Park in Bosnia is often referred to as the Yosemite of the Balkans, and it’s a must-see if you’re making your way along the Via Dinarica trail. But if you have to pick one spot to settle down in and relax, you can’t go wrong in Montenegro. Stay at the hotel Forza Mare on the shores of Boka Bay and take in all the enormous beauty that Adriatic coast has to offer.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
A temperate weekend getaway
Summers in East Coast cities get frustratingly hot, but, thanks to its northern position along the Atlantic coast, Nova Scotia’s capital city is pleasantly mild for a majority of the year. Further, roundtrip flights from New York and Boston are quick and affordable, making Halifax a great destination for a relaxing weekend out of the city. Stay at the Prince George, a boutique hotel a short walk away from the city’s historic riverfront and enjoy fresh Atlantic seafood at the Press Gang or other local fare at EDNA. Nova Scotia is also home to a healthy craft beer scene, with notable breweries like local stalwarts Garrison Brewing and Belgian-style experimenters North Brewing in Halifax city limits. Looking to get outdoors? The Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Wilderness Area is a quick jaunt to the northwest and home to some great hiking and kayaking.
The Scottish Highlands
Take a road trip on Scotland’s own Route 66
Hire a car (if you’re awesome, make it a Caterham) and drive the North Coast 500, a 500-mile loop, recently launched by Scotland’s tourism board, encompassing the northern tip of Scotland. Stunning views of the highlands are in abundance, as do castles, hiking trails and world-class distilleries like Glen Ord on the southern portion of the loop and Rock Rose on the north (if you’re cool with swapping scotch for gin). It’s a big trip; it’s recommended you allot five days to complete the loop, so make sure to plan out your stops and accommodations ahead of time.
The Texas Hill Country
The heart of Texas.
The Texas Hill Country is home to beautiful green rolling hills, regionally unique barbecue and a cadre of trendsetter denizens. The region includes portions of two major cities — Austin and San Antonio — and is known for its live music, unique culture diffused from German immigrants and world-class hunting. Stay at the South Congress Hotel in Austin, but get out of the city to explore the region’s beautiful two-lane highways. Stop in Llano at Coopers for brisket, or indulge in any of the area’s great Tex-Mex restaurants. The area’s unique landscape offers ample opportunity for kayaking, hiking and caving, but if you’d rather relax and imbibe, a new breed of breweries and wineries are taking a stake in the region.
A layover city enters the zeitgeist.
Atlanta’s reputation as the de facto capital of the South has for years been a nod to geography and convenience — not its culture. It’s home to the biggest airport in the world (and, oddly, the biggest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere). But something’s changing in the Peach City, and it’s not just its quirky, off-beat attractions. The Georgia capital has a thriving music current — one reason why it’s the basis of the hit series Atlanta