Another busy year in the old rear-view mirror, with fabulous memories of cliffside walks on laid-back Molokai to terrific tours of Wrigley Field and buttery biscuits in Chicago. Not to mention a wonderful Bordeaux wine cruise, crazy beautiful mountains in the south of France, awesome ice cream in North Carolina and one of the most memorable meals of my life on the border between Napa and Sonoma counties in California. Here’s a look at my favourite experiences and photos from the U.S. and the rest of world for 2017.
Best Hawaii hike: A short walk along the cliffs of northwest Molokai, where locals are working to restore the area’s natural habitat. Amazing views up and down the rugged coast of Molokai, the least developed Hawaiian island that’s open for tourists. http://molokailandtrust.org/
Best steak restaurant: Cut, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant located at the Four Seasons New York Downtown. Massive cuts of perfectly cooked beef and a dinner crowd that was buzzing with enough energy to light Manhattan. https://www.fourseasons.com/newyorkdowntown/dining/restaurants/cut/
Best Florida Hotel: The Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach is a stunning resort with a gorgeous pool, sleek rooms and sensational ocean views. One of the best beaches in the U.S., too. http://www.wyndhamgrandclearwater.com/
Favourite wine quote: On an AMA Waterways wine cruise in Bordeaux, Ray Falkner of Falkner Winery in California’s Temecula Valley said a Frenchman will taste a wine that’s been in the barrel for a couple years and think it needs to be aged a few more. “In California when we like a wine we say, ‘Great, can we get it on the shelves by the weekend?’” http://www.amawaterways.ca/default
Favourite interview: Sunshine (Sunny) Powers, who owns the Love on Haight shop in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco. She’s usually dressed in tie-dyed clothing from head to toe, with cool glitter around her eyes and a huge smile on her face. She’s engaging and fun and lively and strongly committed to her neighborhood. Folks here are lucky to have her. https://www.loveonhaight-sf.com/
Favourite European hotel: I loved my room at Hostellerie Le Vert a Mauroux in southwest France, which felt like it had been carved out of a cave. I had a fantastic dinner on a beautiful patio, and a great breakfast. The owners are lovely, too. www.hotellevert.com
Craziest museum: The City Reliquary in Brooklyn, where you’ll find all sorts of odd Statue of Liberty and 1964 World’s Fair memorabilia, as well as other quirky bits. And it only costs $5 US. http://www.cityreliquary.org/
Most surprising hotel: The Kimpton Sawyer in Sacramento. The rooms were great and they serve free glasses of California wine in the evening, but the best part is the sleek Revival Bar and the rooftop pool, which feels more South Beach than Sacramento. https://www.kimptonhotels.com/stay/kimpton-sawyer-hotel-sacramento-ca
Hippest restaurant: Bestia, located in the booming Arts District of downtown Los Angeles. Delicious fun and a very chic crowd. http://bestiala.com/
Best Meatballs: For the second year running, at the main restaurant at the Atrio Wine Bar at the sleek and stylish Conrad NYC hotel. http://www.conradnewyork.com/
Prettiest hotel gardens: The Japanese-influenced one at the Langham Pasadena; a classic southern California property. http://www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/pasadena/
Best Florida downtown: I’ve been in love with Dunedin for going on 25 years now. I still find a great mix of shops and fun food spots, including the state’s first craft brewery, bike and walking trails and a pretty marina. Oh, and Toronto Blue Jays spring training!
Best Sandwich: The pork meatball Banh Mi Sandwich with pickled veggies and sriracha mayo at Lardo in trendy Portland Scrumptious and then some. http://lardosandwiches.com/
Best Hawaii hotel: The Westin Nanea has chic, fashionable and large units at the north end of Ka’anapali Beach on Maui. The food is great and the swimming pools perfect for both families and couples seeking solitude. http://www.westinnanea.com/
Coolest Christmas display: Fairmont Scottsdale. Wild and wonderful http://www.fairmont.com/scottsdale/
Favourite U.S. restaurant: Alembic in San Francisco. I’ve never waxed poetic about consommé, but their version with woody mushrooms and an earthy base was awesome. If I could’ve taken a bath in it I would have. http://alembicsf.com/
Favourite pig photo: This one,taken at the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee. http://www.visitmilwaukee.org/
Best city hotel view: At Level Furnished Living, a sleek place for long-term stays (or shorter ones) in downtown Los Angeles. https://stayinglevel.com/los-angeles/
Closest encounter with a Storm Trooper: At Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando. https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/en_CA/destinations/hollywood-studios/
Best Caribbean resort: The Crane is a stunning place to stay in southeast Barbados, with sleek and sexy rooms, a killer series of swimming pools, wonderful food and a great beach. Always love my visits here. https://www.thecrane.com/
Most enjoyable winery: La Belle Amie in Myrtle Beach. A fantastic group of people, some of whom were flirting with a certain Canadian travel writer and general having a great old time. Pretty tasty wines, mostly from grapes shipped in from other parts of the U.S. And not a pretentious wine snob in the bunch. http://labelleamie.com/
Best beach bar: I’ve yet to find a better one than the Napili Kai Beach Resort on Maui, where the beach is literally a foot from the edge of your table and the sunsets are spectacular. That’s it over on the far right. https://www.napilikai.com/
Best iconic food tour: In Chicago we did a tour that included Lou Malanati’s deep dish pizza, Portillo’s for Chicago Hot Dogs, Al’s Beef for beef sandwiches and Chicago popcorn (cheese and caramel mixed together). Burp. www.choosechicago.com
Best candid photo: I was having lunch in Vero Beach Florida with my wife when a guy came by in one of those lightweight planes (kind of). I loved the way the colour of the aircraft matched the colour of this little girl’s dress and snapped a quick photo.
Best kayak trip: A wonderful outing on the Chicago River, checking out some of the world’s best skyscrapers and new riverside parks. A great way to see a fantastic city. https://urbankayaks.com/
Best bike tour: A tour of Hollywood and West Hollywood with Bikes and Hikes L.A., where we saw iconic So Cal sights and some burial grounds of the stars. Including Toto! https://bikesandhikesla.com/
Favourite photo: I’m not a great photographer when it comes to people. But I got a lovely shot, I think, of Anakala Pilipo Solatorio, in the spring when I was on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. He and his son, Gregory Kawaimaka Solatorio, live a simple life and explain Hawaiian history and authentic customers to visitors as part of what’s called the Halawa Valley Fallls Cultural Hike. http://halawavalleymolokai.com/
Coolest restaurant set-up: Bakesale Betty in Oakland, where you can get awesome chicken sandwiches and sit on the sidewalk with colourful metal ironing boards as your table. http://www.bakesalebetty.com/
Best Caribbean sunset photo: This one, at the Colony Club resort and hotel on the west coast of Barbados.
Best Lighthouse: The one at Jupiter Island, Florida. It’s a lovely part of the Sunshine State, with great food and great restaurants and resorts, including the Jupiter Beach Resort. https://www.jupiterbeachresort.com/
Best hotel room: My overwater bungalow at Sandals Royal Caribbean resort near Montego Bay Jamaica had a beautiful interior space and a back deck that could host 50 of your closest friends. http://www.sandals.com/main/royal/rj-home/
Best South Pacific Show: A wonderful dancing and musical performance at Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale. I thought it would be cheesy but the food and drinks were great and the music and dancing top-notch. http://www.maikai.com/
Best hot dog: I’m always partial (and then some) to Casper’s Hot Dogs in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I grew up. But a Tucson Dog in Arizona is spectacular, with a soft bun, onions, black beans, tomatoes and other goodies.
Most surprising mountains: The truly stunning views at Cirque du Gavarnie in the French Pyrenees. I had no idea the Pyrenees were this majestic. http://www.tourisme-hautes-pyrenees.com/
Best Cruise Ship I Visited (and dined on and got to try the spa at) but didn’t stay or cruise with: Regent Seven Seas, on a brief stop in Miami. Stunning design and great food with a Canyon Ranch Spa. Fantastic. https://www.rssc.com/
Most beautiful pool: The Intercontinental Chicago, Miracle Mile. Amazing architecture and a lovely place to stay. https://www.ihg.com/intercontinental/hotels/us/en/chicago/ordha/hoteldetail?qRef=sr&qDest=Chicago%2C+IL%2C+United+States&qRpn=1&qChld=0&qSrt=sBR&qSHp=1&qSmP=3&qIta=99504425&qGRM=0&qLng=-87.625&qRdU=1&qRms=1&srb_u=1&qAdlt=1&qPSt=0&qFRA=1&qLat=41.8894&qRRSrt=rt&qRad=30&qRpp=20&qBrs=6c.hi.ex.rs.ic.cp.in.sb.cw.cv.ul.vn.ki.sp.nd.ct&qWch=0
Best porch: At the Pelican Grand Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale. Love the rocking chairs! http://www.pelicanbeach.com/
Best golf experience: The renovated par-3 course at Mountain Shadows Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. A beautiful layout and lovely mountain views on a very fun, playable course. https://www.mountainshadows.com/
Best sunrise photo: This one, taken of the California state capitol from my room at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel
Most surprising garden: I had no idea Bonnet House Museum and Garden in Fort Lauderdale even existed, let alone that there are wild monkeys in the trees and a beautiful, South Seas-style lagoon. A very cool, artsy spot just steps from the beach. http://www.bonnethouse.org/
Best overall meal: The folks in Sonoma and Napa put together a lunch in a vineyard just before Thanksgiving to show California wine country is open for business. The food and wines were amazing and the setting spectacular. https://www.visitnapavalley.com/ and https://www.sonomacounty.com/
Best seafood dinner: In Barbados, at the Cliff Beach Club, where I was served a perfectly cooked snapper with black rice and a slightly sweet beurre blanc sauce. Fantastic. http://thecliffbeachclub.com/BC/Default.asp
As always, my favourite gardener: Anthony Hunte, who runs Hunte’s Gardens in the hills of Barbados. A gentle, inquisitive, thoughtful guy and an incredible gardener. Definitely a highlight of any visit to this great Caribbean island. http://huntesgardensbarbados.com/
Best U.S. mainland hike: The mountains of North Carolina, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock. Amazing mountain scenery with stunning rock formations and endless vistas. https://www.visitnc.com/
Most unusual San Francisco photo: This one, taken at my favourite city park, Corona Heights.
Best fish sandwich and best rum punch: Both at Cutters in Barbados, a short walk from the Crane Resort. Simple but perfect flying fish sandwiches and killer rum punches with nutmeg. http://www.cutters.bb/
Best Caribbean Visit: A four-day trip to beautiful Dominica, with its amazing waterfalls, beautiful coastline and friendly locals. It’s heartbreaking to see the damage done by Hurricane Maria. http://www.dominica.dm/
Best ice cream: NC: Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery. 3 large scoops (maybe 3.5) for 2.79! http://www.brushymtnsmokehouse.com/
Best sports moment: Taking in a Pittsburgh Steelers game with my sons, Chris and Mike.
Best rafting trip: A three-hour ride (with a great lunch on the sand) down the Rio Grande in Jamaica. http://www.portantonio.com/tours/rio-grande-rafting-tour.html
Favourite new street: Rue Notre Dame in Bordeaux, France. A wonderful collection of cool shops and atmospheric architecture, along with a gorgeous church. https://www.bordeaux-tourism.co.uk/
Most surprising wine: The red varietals at Clarksburg Wine Co. south of Sacramento. Great depth and character without that sometimes-too-sweet overtones that some California wines seem to have. http://www.clarksburgwineco.com/
Favourite tour: We took one of Wrigley Field prior to a Cubs’ game this year and it was fantastic. We were regaled with stories about former ballplayers, the famous ivy and antics of drunken fans, as well as the team’s colourful history. Hands down the best tour I took all year. https://www.choosechicago.com/travel-professionals/discover-chicago/wrigley-field-group-tours/
Best casual restaurant: Bang Bang Biscuits near Logan Square in Chicago, where you get great coffee, wonderful pie and sinfully good, fluffy biscuits. http://www.bangbangpie.com/
Niceest U.S. hotel of the year: Somehow they upgraded my wife and I to a huge suite at the Four Seasons New York Downtown, with a sensational style, tons of space, great city views and all the amenities you could ask for. https://www.fourseasons.com/newyorkdowntown/
Best personal moment: Watching my niece, Heather, and her new husband, Allan, get married on the beach (okay, and in the rain) at Kahana Sunset on Maui, a long-time family favourite. Happy New Year to the Happy Couple!
Best cruise: My trip through Bordeaux on a wine-tasting cruise with AMA Waterways. Wonderful tour guides and tasty wines in beautiful French towns and villages. https://www.amawaterways.com/
Best drink: The All in Thyme Cocktail, a killer combination of rye, lemon, thyme/honey syrup, combier (like triple sec) and absinthe, with a sprig of fresh thyme, served at a sleek Oakland, California restaurant called Shakewell. http://www.shakewelloakland.com/
Best fall colours photo: This one, taken at some vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. https://traveloregon.com/
Most surprising Mexican food: Black Rooster in the Mills 50 District of Orlando, with great tacos and other Mexican/Colombian style food. http://www.blackroostertaqueria.com
Prettiest beach; Kepuhi Beach on west Molokai. Dangerous surf in winter but a quiet, beautiful stretch of sand with hardly any people around. https://www.gohawaii.com/
Coolest hotel I didn’t get to stay at: Great Huts is a wild collection of huts and other buildings spread out along cliffs and a jungle-like section of eastern Jamaica. Some units are like small treehouses and others are filled with African and Jewish art. Quirky and strange and sensational. http://www.greathuts.com/
Favourite musical moment: Meeting a couple of members of the Jolly Boys, a famous Jamaican band, on a visit to Port Antonio in the spring.
Best Hawaiian sunset photo: This one, at Ka’anapali Beach on Maui. http://kaanapaliresort.com/
Best coffee shop: Old Soul, Sacramento. Beautiful space in an alley in central Sacramento. http://www.oldsoulco.com/
Best desert hike: A tour of the massive rock formations at The Boulders Resort in Scottsdale. A great guide and stunning scenery. http://www.theboulders.com/
SOME MORE FAVE PHOTOS
A quintessential American shot, taken near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.
Silly Me Photo: In my 1967 Haight-Ashbury San Francisco Flower Power glasses, taken at the U.S. IPW tourism summit in Washington D.C.
A fountain in Bordeaux, France
The quiet, east side of Barbados
A beautiful shot at the magnificent National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
Silly Me Two: Relaxing in the big chair in Dunedin, Florida
Sunset in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
A musician at Lake Merritt in Oakland, about a mile from where I was born
The surprising canals of Winter Park, Florida, just north of Orlando
Grapes on the vine in California in November
A quiet road on the east side of Molokai, near the Halawa Valley
Stand Up Paddleboarding at Ka’anapali Beach
A beautiful waterfall on Dominica:
Boston Bay, Jamaica
Flying into New York City