New Mexico: This year, New Mexicans mark 100 years of statehood. But much of the state’s appeal stems from its human history that goes back much further. (In 2010, Santa Fe celebrated 400 years of cityhood.) Explore here: the adobe architecture and art galleries of Santa Fe; the vintage signage along old Route 66; the lingering hippie vibe of Truth or Consequences. Don’t forget the Lightning Field, an art installation outside Quemado where (for $150 to $250 a person) you spend a summer night in a wood cabin and wait to see if lightning will strike one of the 400 tall steel poles outside your door. Even if there’s no strike, the sky puts on shows at sunset and sunrise that will leave you in awe.
London: The city is twinkling with improvements and special events these days, in part because of the Summer Olympics July 27-Aug. 12. But there are also the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee events (June 2-5), which celebrate Queen Elizabeth II‘s ascent to the throne 60 years ago. If you can dodge the Olympic dates (and attendant price hikes), great opportunities await — for instance, a new exhibition of landscapes by David Hockney, Jan. 21-April 9 at the Royal Academy of Art, and a major “Dickens and London” show at the Museum of London (www.museumoflondon.org.uk)through June 10. Why Charles Dickens now? Because the author was born Feb. 7, 1812.
New York: This is no secret. In 2011, the city drew more than 50 million visitors (including day-trippers from as close as 50 miles away), a record. The museums, shows and shops are as impressive and inspiring as ever, and more than 45 hotels have opened since January 2010. Among them: the Mondrian SoHo (http://www.mondriansoho.com); the Sanctuary Hotel (132 W. 47th St.); the Nolitan (www.nolitanhotel.com), north of Little Italy; the Hôtel Americano (http://www.hotel-americano.com) in Chelsea; the YOTEL New York (www.yotel.com/Hotels/New-York-City) near Times Square; W New York Downtown (http://www.wnewyorkdowntown.com) in the Financial District; and Andaz Wall Street (newyork.wallstreet.andaz.hyatt.com/). In Brooklyn, openings include the boutique Hotel Williamsburg(http://www.hwbrooklyn.com). All these new rooms probably won’t put a big dent in the city’s hefty lodging rates, which average roughly $250 a night, but they surely won’t hurt.
Oahu: As the Obamas remind us yearly, you need not jump to Maui or Kauai in order to experience that Hawaiian getaway feeling. Though Oahu’s big city, Honolulu, has urban challenges, and the crowded towers of Waikiki are a bit much for some people, Oahu’s assets are many, beginning with Waikiki’s gentle waves and the sight of Diamond Head. There’s also the slower pace of life on the windward side, including the enclave of Kailua, where the president’s family has vacationed repeatedly. Now add Disney’s 21-acre Aulani resort (resorts.disney.go.com/Aulani), which opened in August.
Salt Lake City and environs: There are seven ski resorts within an hour of Salt Lake City International Airport, and the largest ski area, Park City, keeps improving, with the December 2010 opening of the luxurious Montage Deer Valley (http://www.montagedeervalley.com). At Park City’s Canyons resort (http://www.canyonsresort.com), recent additions include heated chairlift seats and a kosher restaurant. Down in Salt Lake City on March 22, local leaders will unveil City Creek Center, a 20-acre shopping, office and residential project with a retractable roof designed to revitalize the area around downtown’s Temple Square.
Portland, Ore., and Willamette wine country: The word is out about this city’s indie spirit, flowing beer and coffee, rampant bicyclists and myriad food trucks. Most readers know of the wonderland called Powell’s (http://www.powells.com), the bricks-and-mortar-and-bandwidth bookshop empire based here. Outsiders are learning to cross the Willamette River into east-side neighborhoods such as Hawthorne (home to Reed College), Belmont and Sellwood/Westmoreland, which bristle with vital restaurants, bars and shops. Meanwhile, the wine industry grows in the nearby Willamette Valley. If you drive 45 minutes from Portland, you can see for yourself, then flop at the Allison Inn & Spa (http://www.theallison.com in Newberg, a boutique lodging that opened in 2009.
Necker Island: Richard Branson‘s Caribbean retreat on Necker Island (www.neckerisland.com) went up in flames last summer. But be calm, billionaires. The island, in the British Virgin Islands east of Puerto Rico, is back in business as a getaway spot for the rich and famous. (Kate Winslet was among the guests when the Great House caught fire on Aug. 22; she was said to have helped Branson’s 90-year-old mother to safety.) Though no serious injuries were reported, reconstruction will take awhile. To keep guests coming, the island’s Bali Houses and Branson’s private home, Temple House, have been refurbished. Travelers also can book the resort’s 104-foot catamaran, Necker Belle.
Myanmar: It’s been decades since the U.S. has been friendly with Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, but as its new civilian government edges toward reforms after 50 years of repressive and isolationist military regimes, U.S. officials agreed on Jan. 13 to resume full diplomatic relations. This is great news for curious Americans. Those who head to Yangon (formerly Rangoon) will find the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda. And outside the city of Bagan, the plains are studded with temples, some of them 1,000 years old. (Rough Guides has declined to publish a Myanmar guide because of the regime’s oppressive tactics, but Lonely Planet, which says travelers must make their own decisions, published a new edition in November.)
New Zealand: The country, which likes to call itself “home of Middle-earth,” has another bout of Tolkien movie madness coming up. In 2001, the first “Lord of the Rings” film — and the Kiwi landscape’s featured role in it — prompted a boom in travel to the land of sheep, lakes and bungee jumps. Now (well, in December) comes “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” with a prominent role for Matamata (a North Island town about two hours south of Auckland) as stand-in for Hobbiton. Naturally, the New Zealand tourism folks (http://www.newzealand.com/us/) stand ready with plenty of info on shooting locations. Vayama, a web travel agency, counts the country among its 12 “most sought-after” 2012 destinations.
Washington, D.C., with a Virginia side trip: Washington is great in an election year — in every monument, museum and government agency, you feel a part of breaking news. You could go to the St. Petersburg–Tampa area of Florida (where the Republicans will hold their convention Aug. 27-30) or Charlotte, N.C. (where Democrats will gather Sept. 3-7). But why not head instead to where we’re all supposed to come together? The city’s recent additions include the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in West Potomac Park, dedicated in October. Besides this year’s campaign hoopla, you can listen for echoes of the Civil War, which was in its early months 150 years ago. Sesquicentennial commemorations are happening throughout Virginia. If you head south from D.C. on Interstate 95, in two hours you’ll reach the old Confederate capital, Richmond, Va. Travelers can check out the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar (http://www.tredegar.org); the neighboring Richmond National Battlefield Park (www.nps.gov/rich) and the Museum of the Confederacy (www.moc.org), which includes the mansion where Confederate President Jefferson Davis lived from 1861 until shortly before war’s end in 1865.
Chicago: Don’t go to Chicago on May 19-21 unless you like barricades or you’re looking to make an impression on the global economy. That’s when the G8 and NATO summits will be held. The rest of the year looks good in the Windy City, weather permitting. Millennium Park, tardily unveiled in 2004, has become one of the most admired public spaces in the country, especially its three-story reflecting steel “Cloud Gate” sculpture. Among the hotel openings in 2011: The Public Chicago (http://www.publichotels.com/chicago), an Ian Schrager venture on the city’s Gold Coast, and the hyper-stylish Radisson Blu Aqua Chicago (http://www.radissonblu.com/aquahotel-chicago), whose wavy white exterior wall fins are said to bring out the chic in Chicago.
Bentonville, Ark.: That’s right, Bentonville, served by Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. It’s where Wal-Mart is headquartered, and it’s where Alice Walton, of the chain’s founding Walton family, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build Crystal Bridges, a new museum of American art, colonial to contemporary, on a 120-acre site. The collection, which opened Nov. 11, leans toward representational works with broad appeal. Norman Rockwell‘s “Rosie the Riveter” is here, as is Andy Warhol‘s “Dolly Parton.” New Yorkers may scoff at this distant town as a cultural destination, but we out west should be above that. crystalbridges.org; free admission to the permanent collection.