The Frommer's' Best Places to Go List for 2016

Frommer's' Best Places to Go in 2016 Mendocino County
Every year when Frommer's decides which destinations to include on our eagerly awaited Best Places to Go list, we ask our global team of traveling experts to name their favorites. It's never an easy matter. How can you settle on just 16 places when the world is so full of wonders?

Yet we did. Some of the spots that received our award this year made the list because they are entering a golden age. Some are marking occasions that make 2016 the best time to go in many years. Some must be seen before they the spotlight falls upon them and they are changed forever. Others should be seen because they're at risk. And some are simply so cool we can't believe they aren't more popular. Whatever the reasons, these are the places that—in no particular order—are worthy of your visit now above other times. We hope your lives are changed for the better for visiting them.

This image: Albion, Mendocino County, California
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A herd of kangaroos in New South Wales, Australia. Glen Wright/Flickr
Suddenly, Australia got affordable. Just a year ago, a flat white (milky coffee) in Australia could cost the equivalent of 7 American dollars. But head Down Under in 2016 and you may now be able to pay half of what you're used to at home. Leading economists, looking at the decline of Australia's mining industry, among other factors, are predicting that the Aussie dollar will be trading at 50 cents to the American dollar by the end of 2016. So if you've ever wanted to experience this dazzling continent, in 2016, you may finally be able to fit it into your budget. Part of that new accessibilty is due to increased competition among air carrriers, which is leading to unprecedented price cuts in airfare to both Australia and nearby New Zealand, a cheap flight away from Sydney.
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If you were to design a place that has all the things you dream of finding in an ideal rustic coastal getaway, you'd come up with Mendocino County: undeveloped coastal drives, country bistros and eccentric roadhouses, sloping houses in cozy villages, redwoods you can drive through, and an ocean dashing itself madly against crags—President Obama recently added its Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to the California Coastal National Monument. Add to that a cosmopolitan population of artists and entrepreneurs that places a pleasant emphasis on wineries (there are more than 90), handmade cheese, and boutique breweries, and you've got an antidote to the twee self-importance and overpriced bombast of Napa and Sonoma, just south. Mendocino is a throwback that still has an edge, possessing the saltiness of a seaward community and the sophistication of a modern-minded escape. It's a less frenetic Big Sur for people who'd rather relax. Get to it by flying to Santa Rosa, or better yet, fly into San Francisco and make the scenic 2 1/2-hour drive. With every mile, you may be plotting your own permanent escape to this patch—just close enough to the city to be lively, just far enough to be both wild and winsome.
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There are some intense botanical explanations why the Cape Floral region, on the extreme southwestern tip of Africa, is so significant. But we can simplify its appeal: It's gorgeous. The region is home to more than 9,000 plant types, some 70% of which can only be found there. In this place, which is just 0.5% of Africa's area, 20% of the continent's plant life is represented; its diversity thrives on an ultra-rare mix of Mediterranean climate and fire-dependent regeneration. Cape Floral is also endangered, quickly losing its specificity thanks to habitat loss and invasive species as development grows around it. The only-found-here blooms and fynbos shrubs are why UNESCO World Heritage, which inscribed the area in 2004, just decided to roughly double the size of the protected region to 2.7 million acres spread around South Africa's Western Cape. Beyond the flora, the craggy views over the South Atlantic Ocean are mind-boggling. You reach this truly unique ecosystem by flying into Cape Town—which as any previous visitor will tell you, is its own bonus.
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Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, South Island, New Zealand Tourism New Zealand
In just a few years of hard work, the South Island of New Zealand completed a major tourist initiative by cobbling together the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, a stunning and cheerfully hospitable new tourist track from old stock routes, miners' treks, and rail lines. You can start in Aoraki at Mt. Cook, which sets a perfect standard for "awesome." Then the ride wanders (over 4 to 5 days) past pristine lakeshores, great sweeps of tussock grasses and stands of mountain beech, weird rock formations, Lake Ohau (pictured), ancient caves, and country pubs. Your destination is a pretty seaside town and the surprising sight of Victorian-era streets and original buildings from the 1880s. Your local hosts along the trail are happy to greet you and warmly organize food and lodging—after all, they pitched in to create this route for tourists—so come meet them under wide landscapes and huge skies....before the hordes find their way here.
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Take a quick ferry from the island of St. Vincent and you'll find Bequia ("BECK-way"), the Caribbean as it once was—and as you dreamed it could be. Beaches with no one but you. A weekly Thursday night barbecue with free steel pan music at the Frangipani Hotel. Perfectly clear water. Local "dollar van" shuttles still lazily crossing the island. Glasses of strong rum punch at open-air bars. It's such a throwback the locals, just 4,800 of them, still whale—it's the only place in the Americas where it's still permitted (although they are gradually trading whale hunting for whale watching), and when one is harpooned, it's a festival event that reminds a visitor of what life used to be like in the Caribbean. The major resorts and gold duty-free shops haven't gotten a foothold here yet—most people stay in boutique hotels or on yacht-sized boats—and although we knew that times always change, other than for the whales, we hope they won't catch up here. Yet this idyll sits on a precipice:the new Argyle International Airport, on the nearby island of St. Vincent, is poised to ratchet up visitors fourfold. See Bequia now before it's consumed by the homogeneity of mass tourism.
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Charlottesville, Virginia Leonard Phillips. Virginia Tourism Corporation.
The October 2015 discovery of the remains of a Jefferson-era chemisty lab in the walls of the University of Virginia's ancient Rotunda Building reminded us of Charlottesville in general: There's always something interesting to discover, if only more people would look. Sure, there's Thomas Jefferson's bespoke mansion Monticello (pictured), a bucket-list U.S. heritage site if ever there was one. But in these rolling green hills there's also a thriving student scene, a music scene that consistently surprises, and even a wine trail of some 30 wineries. There's the Kluge-Ruge, the only museum in America dedicated to the dense messaging of Aboriginal Australian Art. In 2016, UVA's Fralin Museum of Art mounts a retrospectives of both Navajo weaving and artist Jacob Lawrence. Even the sites in the area cover history from every angle: Patrick Henry's farm and grave, the farm where Booker T. Washington was a slave and formed into a great man, and Appomattox, the fateful surrender spot of the Civil War, are all within easy driving distance. Make a special detour for one of the city's most unusual attractions: a burgeoning subculture of gas stations that have been converted to truly recommendable eateries, from the fried chicken at the Exxon Mobil's The Chicken Coop on Route 29 in Lovington to the Preston Avenue Shell's stewed apples. It's by virtue of being immensely diverse, unexpectedly delicious, and a delight hidden in plain sight that we choose Charlottesville as a Best Place to Go for 2016.
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The Liuli Museum in Shanghai, China Bjarke Liboriussen/Flickr
To understand why the post-colonial mega-city of Shanghai is finally taking center stage as a destination for Americans in 2016, just learn the Mandarin word for mouse: lăoshŭ.  This year, mainland China gets the biggest lăoshŭ of all in the form of Shanghai Disneyland, the brand's sixth global theme park resort. Unlike modest Hong Kong Disneyland (2005), it's bigger and bolder than any Disney park ever built in America—there's a ride inside the castle! There's a Tron ride! So legions of non-Chinese Mouseheads are already making plans to cross the Pacific to try the park for themselves. And just to prove how mainstream Shanghai has gotten, one of Royal Caribbean's biggest new cruise ships, the 4,905-passenger Quantum of the Seas, is now sailing to Japan and Korea out of nearby Baoshan.

But it's not just pop culture that's taking the spotlight in Shanghai: the city has made a commitment to promoting high culture as well, and has gone on a museum-building binge only rivaled by Abu Dhabi. Among the new cultural monuments (many designed by the world's most sought-after architects) are contemporary world art museums—including the impressive Yuz Museum and the Power Station of Art, home to Shanghai's Bienniale—plus  institutions dedicated to Chinese art and natural history. Pictured is the Liuli Museum, which focusses on glass art. In 2017, Dreamworks is expected to open its $2.5 billion campus, the Shanghai DreamCenter, which will not only house the company's Asian offices, but also a huge entertainment complex with a Legoland, an Imax theater, other performance venues, shops, restaurants, clubs and bars.

Who would have predicted Shanghai's mainstream appeal just 15 years ago? The invasion of major U.S. travel brands, plus this intense focus on contemporary art, can only mean that masses of travelers will suddenly feel more at home if they go there—and that's a new chapter for China.
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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates Visit Abu Dhabi
It used to be that Abu Dhabi was the UAE's also-ran town, the runner-up to the excesses of sister city Dubai, a two-hour drive north. But money solves everything, and cash is being poured into attractions that will put the coastal city on the map in other ways. For the first time, a museum branded to Paris's Louvre will open on the Saadiyat island district. Several French museums, the Louvre included, are shipping some of their cache of masterpieces to the delayed Louvre Abu Dhabi, opening in late 2016—among them Edouard Manet's The Gypsy and a storehouse of decorative treasures from Eastern and African cultures. It has cost Abu Dhabi $1.27 billion just to license the Louvre name and borrow the art. And that's not all: In addition to the new McLouvre, over the next five years, Saadiyat—Arabic for "happiness"—is importing even more culture in the form of a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim and a new National Museum designed by Norman Foster, the architect who revitalized London's own national museum. All this joins shopping malls, beaches, and super-luxe hotels such as a St. Regis.

Abu Dhabi wants to be interesting, but some say its methods have made it so for the wrong reasons: There have been accusations that the UAE is simply buying its way into culture and that many of these projects were only made possible by exploiting migrant labor. But it's also true that a corner has been turned, and Abu Dhabi may soon be as recognized as Dubai. Whatever the means it used to get there—even the White House was built by slaves, then things changed—Abu Dhabi is joining the world culture it is so desperate to belong to, and now it's up to international observers to judge whether the city is truly prepared to play at the international level. 
 
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White robed congregation members get ready to take part in a Holy Week procession in Zamora, Spain. Antramir/Flickr
If the name Zamora sounds familiar, it may be because much of its population abandoned the town in the 17th century and established several other Zamoras across the Americas. That was a blessing in disguise. It means visitors today get to see a perfectly preserved, open-air museum of Romanesque architecture—one of the most stylistically unified and evocative medieval towns in all of Spain. And one of the least visited…until now. But in late 2015, a high-speed AVE rail line opened, meaning that travelers can now zip to this exquisite burg in just 85 minutes from Madrid. Many will likely come for the Holy Week processions (pictured), some of the largest and most spectacular in Spain. But year-round, it's a joy to explore the town’s 12th century cathedral with its squat Byzantine-influenced dome and the 22 other Romanesque churches from the 12th and 13th centuries. Zamora is also the western gateway to the Toro wine region along the Douro River—an area only officially recognized in 1987 despite making wine since the 10th century. This year, the international and Spanish wine press alike have ranked Toro, with the Rioja and the Priorat, as the greatest producer of Spanish red wines.
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Visitors admire fields of pink flowers in Hokkaido. Satoshi Sawada/Flickr
The debut of a high-speed rail line is also the reason we're choosing Hokkaido. In March 2016, a shinkansen (bullet train) will open up what was Japan's last frontier to visitors, making this area far more accessable than it ever was before. The northernmost of Japan's four islands, Hokkaido accounts for 22% of the land mass of the nation but only 5% of its population, meaning there's a lot more open space here than in other parts of this crowded country. Much of the untamed land, which ranges from extinct volcanoes to meadowlands awash in flowers (pictured) to crystaline lakes, is protected by Japan's national and prefectural park systems. Visitors come here to bathe in hot springs, hike, and cycle. The area is also beloved for its skiing, some of the best on the planet due to a weather system that consistently blows in snow from Siberia (and it's a famously dry, light snow, great for those who like to schuss through powder). February sees the city of Sapporo's world-famous winter festival, featuring massive snow and ice sculptures.
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Bogota, Colombia Eduardo Zárate/Flickr
El Cartucho, one of Bogotá's most infamous and dangerous drug markets, is now a public park. And El Candeleria, the once-dilapidated neighborhood that surrounded the market and sheltered its denizens, is in the throes of a joyous renaissance, its exquisite and colorfully-painted Spanish colonial and art deco buildings now housing bustling cafes, new hotels, hip boutiques, and museums. As the capital of a country that was, just 15 years ago, dominated by narco-guerillas and convulsed by a bloody civil war, Bogotá is the poster child for rebirth. But because of its sprawl, its Seattle-like weather and its reputation as a biz city, it hasn't gotten as much of a tourism resurgence as, say, beachy and postcard-perfect Cartagena.

So let's change that, because if ever a city deserved to be played in, it's Bogotá. Wreathed by the Andes mountains (and thus a great jumping-off point for nature lovers), its historic core is a charmer, filled with exquisite works of architecture (including the Catedral Primada en Navidad, pictured) and top-flight museums. Among the latter are the glittering Museo del Oro and  the exuberant Museo Botero, dedicated to the corpulent characters created by native son Fernando Botero. Several areas, most notably the Parque de la 93, are flush with sophisticated restaurants and sexy nightspots. And there's now a raft of direct (and affordable) flights from the U.S. to Bogotá from JetBlue, Avianca, and United Airlines.
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A vineyard in Chianti, Italy. Francesco Sgroi/Flickr
Let’s raise a glass to Grand Duke Cosimo III. In 1716, the royal oenophile decreed the boundaries of Chianti and established an organization to oversee the production of vino, making this the oldest demarcated wine region on the planet. The 300th anniversary of the formal creation of the Chianti wine industry is expected to be celebrated with a slew of festivities, though—this being Italy—none have been announced yet. We’re expecting, however, to see far-bigger-than-usual September harvest fests in the towns of Greve, Vagliagi, and Panzano. The country’s cyclists are a bit more organized than its tipplers, and they’ve announced that one stage of the Gira de Italia race (considered the second-most important classic tour after the Tour de France) will be held in the heart of Chianti Classico territory, with racers zooming from Radda to Greve.
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A Mongolian woman and her baby on the steppes of Mongolia John Pannell/Flickr
Vast tracts of wilderness are hard to come by on our increasingly crowded planet, one of the reasons we're urging travelers to head to the rapidly transforming nation of Mongolia, a massive (603,909 square miles) landlocked nation that's wedged between Russia and China. Mining operations of all varieties have recently added dozens of new roads into what was once wilderness, making it easier than ever for visitors to get around, but also breaking up what had been pristine and untouched natural areas. It's an epic, once-in-in-lifetime trip—but it's also a place that will be radically changed within in your lifetime.

So what's worth appreciating in the wilds of Mongolia? For one, the globe's last intact grasslands—on the scale that used to cover the American prairies. You'll find these on the Eastern Steppes and Central Grasslands (the latter is an easy hop from the country's quirky capital, Ulaanbaatur). Also the Kham Khati, a region of uninhabited mountains, larch forests, bogs, and rivers that's beloved by hikers and birders. Or the famous Gobi Desert, which is actually only 3% sand—most of it is semi-arid terrain—and is home, in its southern end, to the densest concentration of snow leopards on the planet. Mongolia's glacier-covered Altai Mountains are a favorite region for trekkers and climbers. Most compelling for visitors, though, is getting to know the nomadic Mongolian tribespeople who are warmly welcoming, still live in gers (and you will, too, if you visit), and remain extraordinary horsemen.


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A boy tries to catch a soap bubble in the rynek (market square) of Wroclaw, Poland Klearchos Kapoutsis/Flickr
Why are we sending you to Lower Silesia? Because Wroclaw, its capital, will be a European Capital of Culture in 2016 (along with San Sebastian, Spain), and UNESCO's World Book Capital City for the year. Residents of Wroclaw have spent the last three years putting together what promises to be a lollapalooza of high art. Some 1,000 events are planned, many of which will draw the biggest names on the world stage: Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis will perform, as will guitarist David Gilmore of Pink Floyd; famed directors Robert Wilson, Peter Brook, and Tadashi Suzuki will take part in a "Theater Olympiad"; and renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang will play with the Washington National Symphony Orchestra. On top of all this will be the European Film awards ceremony; a retrospective of the work of architect Mies van der Rohe; a choir fest that promises draw singers from across Europe; and installations created by visual artists in backyards across the city, among many, many other treats. But even if these events weren't taking place, we'd urge you to visit this surprisingly charismatic city, with its handsome market square (pictured, it's the second-largest in Poland after Krakow), many museums and historic sites, and happening café scene.
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Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England Visit England
We hate to reopen fresh wounds, but 2016 marks the 400th year since Shakespeare died. (Sorry—too soon?) Just like many of the characters in his plays, old William continues to haunt everyone else, and his birthplace/burial place, Stratford-upon-Avon, refuses to let the milestone pass unsold. This death will be brimming with life: Hotels will offer special anniverary packages; the Royal Shakespeare Company will roll out new productions of his CymbelineA Midsummer Night's Dream, and Hamlet starring hot young actor Paapa Essiedu; and the 15th-century Guildhall (one of only a dozen so old in England that survive) will emerge from a restoration with a new attraction: Shakespeare's Schoolroom, in which the Bard was educated. On April 23, the actual anniversary of his demise, the town breaks out into a full-fledged party, with a day of free outdoor events, acrobatic shows, and fireworks. You'd almost suspect they're glad he's dead. Forsooth, it's touristy—and it dares to contradict Bill's famous words, "profit grows where there is no pleasure taken."
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A gnarled tree at the edge of a cliff at Canyonlands National Park. Jose Fong/Flickr
And last, but certainly far from least, Frommer's would like to urge travelers to help celebrate the US National Park's 100th birthday in the best way possible—by enjoying one yourself. With 409 parks in the system—and the parks range from historic sights to nature areas (such as Canyonlands National Parks, pictured) to important monuments (hello, Lady Liberty!), and more—there's likely a park closer to you than you'd imagine.

Every park will celebrate the centennial in its own way. Many parks are making 2016 the endpoint of important projects: Improved and new trails are debuting in nature areas; new exhibits are rolling out (in the case of Bryce Canyon, a $1 million makeover of its museum); and structural improvements will be unveiled (like the spiffed-up Gardiner Gateway at Yellowstone, which was America's very first national park). Be on the lookout for conventional and unconventional celebrations at each park—talks by documentarian and "Mr. National Parks" Ken Burns, concerts, special walks, lectures. On May 21 and 22, it's the "BioBlitz," a hands-on census of sorts in which average citizens like you (including a lot of kids) help scientists track biodiversity by going into parks across the nation and counting every living thing they see. And throughout the 2015–16 school year, fourth graders and their families will get free admission to all the parks.

Many happy returns, National Parks! You are a cornerstone of travel in the United States, and may you thrive forevermore.

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