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From Maui to Myrtle Beach and California to Chicago, here are my annual Jimmy Awards for best US & world travel for 2017

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/

The wild northwest shore of Molokai. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The Wyndham Grand is a sleek, beautiful spot on Clearwater Beach in Florida. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Sunny Powers on of her Flower Power Haight-Ashbury tours in San Francisco. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The City Reliquary in Brooklyn, NY. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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

The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel pool in Sacramento. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Awesome meatballs at Atrio Wine Bar at the Conrad Hotel New York. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Prettiest hotel gardens: The Japanese-influenced one at the Langham Pasadena; a classic southern California property. http://www.langhamhotels.com/en/the-langham/pasadena/

The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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!

Dunedin has several pretty patios for great dining. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The Westin Nanea at Ka’anapali Beach on Maui. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Coolest Christmas display: Fairmont Scottsdale. Wild and wonderful http://www.fairmont.com/scottsdale/

The Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale at Christmas. PHOTO COURTESY FAIRMONT HOTELS

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/

A girl and her pig at the Wisconsin State Fair. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Downtown Los Angeles. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Closest encounter with a Storm Trooper: At Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando. https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/en_CA/destinations/hollywood-studios/

Hamming it up at Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The Crane Resort in Barbados is one of my favourite places in the world. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The Napili Kai resort sits on the best beach in Hawaii. PHOTO COURTESY NAPILI KAI RESORT

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.

JIM BYERS 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/

Kayaking on the Chicago River. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

I loved my brief visit to the Halawa Valley on Molokai. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Dining al fresco in Oakland. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Best Caribbean sunset photo: This one, at the Colony Club resort and hotel on the west coast of Barbados.

A beautiful Barbados sunset. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The overwater bungalows at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Jamaica. PHOTO COURTESY SANDALS RESORTS

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/

A performance at Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The Cirque du Gavarnie in the Pyrenees Mountains of France. .TOURISM BOARD PHOTO

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/

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is one of the top-rated cruise lines in the world. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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

The swimming pool at the swanky Intercontinental Hotel, Miracle Mile, Chicago. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The par-3 golf course at Mountain Shadows in Scottsdale. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Best sunrise photo: This one, taken of the California state capitol from my room at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel

The California State Capitol in Sacramento. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The lagoon and garden at Bonnet House in Fort Lauderdale. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

An unbelievable meal at a California winery put on by Visit California. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Anthony Hunte serves up cool drinks at his home in Barbados. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The hiking is sensational in North Carolina. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Most unusual San Francisco photo: This one, taken at my favourite city park, Corona Heights.

A rock outcropping at Corona Heights Park in San Francisco. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The south end of Dominica is stunningly beautiful. Here’s to hoping they make a recovery from Hurricane Maria sooner versus later. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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

Rafting the Rio Grande in Jamaica. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Rue Notre Dame in Bordeaux, France. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Wrigley Field, Chicago. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The Four Seasons Downtown New York. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

My AMA Waterways cruise this year included a visit to sensational St. Emilion, France. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

The lovely Willamette Valley in Oregon. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Kepuhi Beach on Molokai was almost empty when I visited earlier this year. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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.

Two members of Jamaica’s famous Jolly Boys. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Best Hawaiian sunset photo: This one, at Ka’anapali Beach on Maui. http://kaanapaliresort.com/

West Maui sunsets are my favourites anywhere. JIM BYERS PHOTO

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/

Hiking at The Boulders Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. JIM BYERS PHOTO

SOME MORE FAVE PHOTOS

A quintessential American shot, taken near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

JIM BYERS PHOTO

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.

What can I say? A natural ham. PHOTO BY LAURIE ARMSTRONG GOSSY

A fountain in Bordeaux, France

JIM BYERS PHOTO

The quiet, east side of Barbados

JIM BYERS PHOTO

A beautiful shot at the magnificent National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

JIM BYERS PHOTO

Silly Me Two: Relaxing in the big chair in Dunedin, Florida

PHOTO BY BARBARA LONERGAN-BYERS

Sunset in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

JIM BYERS PHOTO

A musician at Lake Merritt in Oakland, about a mile from where I was born

JIM BYERS PHOTO

The surprising canals of Winter Park, Florida, just north of Orlando

JIM BYERS PHOTO

Grapes on the vine in California in November

JIM BYERS PHOTO

A quiet road on the east side of Molokai, near the Halawa Valley

JIM BYERS PHOTO

Stand Up Paddleboarding at Ka’anapali Beach

A beautiful waterfall on Dominica:

JIM BYERS PHOTO

Boston Bay, Jamaica

JIM BYERS PHOTO

Flying into New York City

JIM BYERS PHOTO

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Dale Dunlop 28 December 2017, 9:57 pm

    Great stuff Jim. Should be a mandatory assignment for all travel writers. Thanks for posting on TMAC and Happy New Year. Safe travels in 2018.

    • jimbyers 12 January 2018, 11:58 pm

      Thanks, Dale. Take care!

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