Domestic travel is up dramatically among Americans, and international travelers are certainly not shy about joining the party. It’s little wonder: The U.S. is packed with world-class cities, towns, and National Parks. Here are five exciting U.S. vacation destinations to consider for 2012.
#1: Portland, Maine
Modern-day Portland is the state’s largest city, a commercial hub where glass-and-steel high-rises house multinational corporations. But it’s the revitalized, working Old Port that makes the city so appealing. Lobstermen still commandeer wooden fishing boats, and the air rings with the music of ship bells and foghorns. Stroll the wooden wharfs and cobblestoned streets. Dine on fresh seafood, including lobster, at spots like Portland Lobster Company and hip Fore Street. In fact, in 2009, Bon Appetit named Portland the Foodiest Small Town in America for its roster of award-winning restaurants and top chefs. It also has some 20 microbreweries serving handcrafted pints in local pubs or the breweries themselves. Don’t leave without a photograph of the Portland Head Lighthouse in nearby Cape Elizabeth. The inspiration of artists like Edward Hopper, the whitewashed stone landmark rises above craggy cliffs and Casco Bay. Also nearby is Freeport, home of famed outdoor outfitter L.L. Bean, open around the clock, 365 days a year.
#2: Clearwater, Florida
“Winter,” a rescue dolphin without a tail, brought the world to Clearwater. The movie, Dolphin Tale, was filmed here and showcased the city’s marine rehabilitation center. Winter’s home, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, has just opened Winter’s Dolphin Tail Adventure, an interactive attraction in downtown’s Cleveland Street District with rebuilt sets, movie images and props, and a children’s play area. But Clearwater was long ago ready for its close-up, thanks to a beautiful Gulf Coast beach and blaze-of-glory sunsets. With a population of 110,000, Clearwater retains a small-town friendliness that you can experience along the Beach Walk. This lovely half-mile promenade -- where you can bike, take a surrey ride, or just stroll beneath shady palms -- curves alongside the broad, white-sand beach. It’s also lined with low-rise resorts and lively restaurants, many featured in the November food-and-wine extravaganza known as the Uncorked Festival.
#3: New York, New York
New York’s tourism officials might wonder “What financial recession?” With foreign and domestic visitors numbering almost 50 million a year, it’s clear that the Big Apple continues to bustle. People traditionally visit in summer and at Christmas, but locals know that the best times are spring, when trees blossom in clouds of wedding white, and fall, when the foliage turns to rust and butter-yellow. The weather at these times is not too hot and not too cold --- perfect for strolling the High Line, a revamped elevated railway along Manhattan’s West Side. These are also prime seasons to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, avoiding summer hordes and unbearable lines. In October, you can view Central Park’s brilliant colors from the Roof Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course, braving holiday crowds means seeing the city at its sparkly finest. Be sure to see the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, where miniature trains pass city landmarks, intricately fashioned out of tree twigs and other natural materials.