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AARP’s Top U.S. Destinations for 2018

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    Take a Trip

    If you profited from the nation’s booming stock market in 2017 or simply are due for an affordable getaway, check out these made-in-the-USA destinations to visit in 2018.

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    New Orleans

    The Big Easy is celebrating its 300th anniversary all year. So don’t miss out — if any city knows how to toss a party, it’s NOLA. Mardi Gras revelry will be frenzied Feb. 13, when the elite Krewe of Rex parades numerous elaborate floats honoring people, places and events that shaped New Orleans — including A Streetcar Named Desire and voodoo queen Marie Laveau. The Prospect.4 art expo, now through Feb. 25, features tricentennial-themed artwork by 73 international artists scattered around the city. Catch the extensive offerings of jazz concerts at intimate Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. Raise a Sazerac or Hurricane cocktail and join the festivities.

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    Healdsburg, Calif.

    Fall wildfires scorched the wine-producing Sonoma Valley. Now it is pouring energy into wooing back visitors. Healdsburg, a pretty town surrounded by vineyards, about an hour north of San Francisco, escaped damage and is open for tourist business. Take one of the Wine Country Walking Tours to sample food and vino in the historic downtown. Or rent a bike to explore wineries, sampling judiciously along the way. Afterward, savor eclectic dining, such as guacamole tacones (with cone-shaped taco shells) washed down with a jalapeño-laced margarita, at Mateo’s Cocina Latina. Or wind down with a soothing Meyer lemon-sage massage in Hotel Healdsburg’s intimate spa.

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    Houston

    The nation’s fourth-largest city is rebounding from a disastrous late-summer hit by Hurricane Harvey. But tourist areas escaped major damage, the Astros won the World Series, and the city is hitting home runs with its lineup of museums and restaurants. Represented by Houston's notably diverse population, restaurants serve eats from steak and barbecue to down-home chicken and waffles at the Breakfast Klub (hometown heroine Beyoncé is a fan) to Greek, Korean and Vietnamese. Onetime undocumented immigrant Hugo Ortega won the 2017 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southwest award for Hugo’s, serving Mexican favorites made from scratch. Xochi, honoring Mexico’s Oaxaca region, is his newest eatery.

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    Kodiak Island, Alaska

    Many mature travelers have taken Glacier Bay cruises and toured majestic Denali National Park. But not so many know that Kodiak Island — reached by plane or ferry from Anchorage — is home to its own species of bear, and that guides can take you to watch them catch fish and play in their natural habitat. These are the world’s largest brown bears (some weigh more than 1,000 pounds). You can stay in rustic cabins with modern comforts and — like the bears — feast on freshly caught salmon. Best time for bears: July through September. Whale watch on Kodiak from April to November.

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    New York City

    Start spreading the news: New York’s Times Square is an even bigger tourist attraction. Kick off a visit with the new NFL Experience — a 4-D movie theater that lets you feel rocked and shocked like a pro. See game highlights and do drills if you like. At Gulliver's Gate, gawk at thousands of miniature figures, replicas of famous cities, trains that move and more. Pop into the new Opry City Stage, bringing Nashville to urban cowpokes with performances, exhibits and a restaurant. The National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey takes visitors on a voyage under the Pacific. But you won’t get wet.

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    Kansas City, Mo.

    Everything’s truly up to date in the redeveloped Missouri side of Kansas City, which also spills into Kansas. Downtown is home to the Power & Light District, a nine-block dining and entertainment destination. In 2017, Outside magazine named Kansas City one of 25 “Best Towns Ever,” citing its “newly revamped downtown, a low cost of living, and emerging food and art scenes.” Add to that dozens of fountains, tree-lined boulevards, verdant parks and miles of bike trails. Known for barbecue, the city now is on the craft-beer map. Take the self-guided KC Tap Tour, which encompasses 19 breweries. The KC Streetcar running through downtown doesn't cost a cent.

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    Charleston

    This haven of Southern hospitality was voted the USA’s friendliest city in 2017 by readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine. It also was named the No. 1 city south of the Mason-Dixon Line by Southern Living magazine readers. Step back in time by choosing a B&B in an antebellum home in the compact tourist area. Get a view of historic Fort Sumter from the waterfront Battery. Some come to this city just for the cuisine. (You can always diet after you get back home). Acclaimed Hyman’s Seafood won’t drown your budget. FIG —another award winner — serves creative, seasonally inspired cuisine and is worth a splurge.

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    Colorado Springs, Colo.

    Area tourist draws include the Garden of the Gods Park with its red rock formations and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which climbs to the 14,115-foot summit offering views that inspired "America the Beautiful." Colorado Springs is home to the Broadmoor, a Forbes Travel Guide five-star and AAA five-diamond resort, marking its 100th anniversary in 2018. Visitors can stay there in style or just tour its beautifully landscaped grounds, have a bite at its inviting restaurants, book a massage in the spa or take a spin on zip lines. The Broadmoor boasts three golf courses and hosts the 2018 Senior Open on June 28 to July 1.

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    Delray Beach, Fla.

    This once-sleepy retirement community north of Fort Lauderdale has morphed into a happening hangout. The main drag — vibrant Atlantic Avenue — is lined with bars offering live music, good restaurants and boutiques selling attractively priced clothes and gifts. The beaches are long, pristine and notably uncrowded. Those with green thumbs dig the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens with its bonsai collection, and for some old-time fun, visitors can play retro-pinball machines at the Silverball Museum. Traditionalists soak up an Old Florida vibe at the historic sunshine-yellow Colony Hotel & Cabaña Club. Free trolley service makes getting around a breeze.

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    Roanoke, Va.

    The city of 100,000 that's just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in western Virginia has been off tourists’ radar lately. But thanks to an influx of businesses, it has undergone a quiet renaissance. The stunning Taubman Museum of Art, whose curvy silver-colored roofline pays homage to the Blue Ridge Mountains, was designed by a onetime associate of famed architect Frank Gehry. Admission is free. Roanoke has craft beer, wineries, food trucks and an affordable menu of restaurants. Sip iconic peanut soup at the rejuvenated Hotel Roanoke. A sign of Roanoke’s revival: Amtrak recently added service from Washington, D.C., and other cities.

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