From the Experts: 10 Must-See U.S. Destinations for 2015

queens new york
queens new york

Queens finished atop Lonely Planet’s list because of its up-and-coming food and drink scene. And, of course, Rockaway Beach. (Courtesy: Queens Tourism Council)

Helping travelers nail down not-to-miss destinations for next year is the Best in the U.S. 2015 list, released this morning by Lonely Planet. And for once, Queens, New York, is getting the spotlight over Brooklyn as the No. 1 choice.

The theme behind 2015’s list? “Diversity,” Regis St. Louis, coordinating author of Lonely Planet’s USA guidebook, told Yahoo Travel. “If you were to visit all the places on the list, you’d be awestruck at how diverse our country is, with adventures like rafting down the Colorado River to dining at some of the best ethnic restaurants in the country, to seeing places that weren’t formerly on your radar, like Mount Shasta.”

The destinations were nominated by Lonely Planet writers who write extensively about the United States. A group of editors then whittled down the list, which includes perennial favorites and up-and coming areas.

Topping 2015’s list is Queens. “There are a lot of exciting things happening in Queens right now,” says St. Louis, pointing to the borough’s burgeoning number of restaurants, five recently opened microbreweries, and major renovations to the Queens Museum and the Museum of the Moving Image.

Related: Voters Choose These 7 Urban Wonders of the World

Another draw is Rockaway Beach. “It’s a popular alternative to the Hamptons, and you can get there on the subway,” says St. Louis. 

To celebrate, Lonely Planet is offering a free download of its chapter on Queens from its New York city guide.

No. 2: Western South Dakota

Western South Dakota
Western South Dakota

One of the tunnels on Needles Highway. (Courtesy: South Dakota Department of Tourism)

Several big anniversaries helped Western South Dakota earn No. 2 on Lonely Planet’s list. Sturgis, S.D., will celebrate 75 years as one of the largest annual gatherings of motorcycle enthusiasts. “During this cultural phenomenon, over half a million visitors gather in the town with its population of 6,000,” says St. Louis. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Buffalo Roundup, when the park’s 1,400 buffalo are moved to their grazing area for the winter.

No. 3: New Orleans

New Orleans
New Orleans

Art in the French Quarter. (Courtesy: New Orleans CVB)

A celebration of resilience lands New Orleans in third on the list, as 2015 will mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The city, renowned for its music scene and festivals like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, is also a draw for foodies. A restaurant St. Louis recommends checking out: “The James Beard Award-winning Pêche Seafood Grill. Farm-to-table cuisine has always been a way of life in New Orleans, and more and more people are discovering it.”

Related: The Most Festive Towns to Visit for the Holidays

No. 4: Colorado River

Colorado River
Colorado River

A person enjoys the view of Horseshoe Bend, in Page, Arizona. The Colorado River flows far down the cliffs of the Great Canyon. (Photo: Mikel Ortega/Moment/Getty Images)

Capturing fourth place is the Colorado River, a bucket-list favorite for many travelers. “From a preservation standpoint, we’re telling people to go and visit now to see the river while it’s still pristine,” St. Louis says, referring to impending development slated for the region. One event to remember is the 140th anniversary of General John Wesley Powell’s descent down the United States’ longest stretch of navigable river.

No. 5: North Conway, N.H.

Conway Scenic Railroad
Conway Scenic Railroad

The Conway Scenic Railroad. (Courtesy: Mount Valley Washington Chamber of Commerce)

In honor of its 250th birthday, the New England town of North Conway is recognized on the list. “Located in the heart of the White Mountains, North Conway is a dynamic hub for year-round adventure,” says St. Louis. “And if you’ve ever thought about wanting to learn how to rock climb, it’s home to one of the best schools in the country, the International Mountain Climbing School.” The area is prime for scenic drives, with covered bridges, mountain peaks, lakes and streams serving as backdrops.

Related: Go Here Now: The Hottest Destinations for 2015

No. 6: Indianapolis

Indianapolis
Indianapolis

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis will be celebrating its 90th anniversary. (Courtesy: VisitIndy.com)

Fitting for the city known as the car-racing capital of the world, Indianapolis will host the largest electric car sharing program in the U.S. next year, with 500 electric vehicles and 200 charging stations. Gourmands with wheels can take in Indianapolis’ micro farms and the opening of Tinker Flats, a renovated warehouse featuring artisanal food makers. Also to watch out for is the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, celebrating its 90th anniversary, the eight-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail, and the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center at the Indianapolis Zoo.

No. 7: Greenville, S.C.

Greenville, S.C.
Greenville, S.C.

Fluor Field in Greenville. (Courtesy: Chris Brown/VisitGreenvilleSC)

Claiming the list’s seventh spot is Greenville, S.C. There are six state parks in the area, but something else it has is mice. Nine bronze mouse sculptures have become city mascots, and there’s a scavenger hunt to help visitors explore Greenville. What they’ll find — museums, over 100 restaurants/craft beer pubs, and trails for hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

No. 8: Oakland, Calif.

Oakland, California
Oakland, California

Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood. (Photo: Greg Linhares/City of Oakland)

Near and dear to Lonely Planet’s heart is the city coming in eighth on the list: Oakland, Calif. “One of Lonely Planet’s offices has been in Oakland since the 1980s, so we’re well aware of its charm,” says St. Louis. Here, they’ve witnessed an influx of the Bay Area’s tastemakers setting up shop to avoid San Francisco’s rent prices. Oakland’s diverse population is reflected in its vibrant food culture, with regaled venues like the Michelin-starred Commis. There’s also plenty of nature via the nearby Redwood Regional Park and East Bay Regional Park District.

No. 9: Duluth, Minn.

Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth, Minnesota

The view from Oberg Mountain. (Photo: Jim Kruger/E+/Getty Images)

Another destination gaining high marks for its outdoors attributes is No. 9 on the list — Duluth, Minn. Appealing to mountain bikers will be the 26-mile Duluth Traverse, a soon-to-open, single-track trail that runs the length the city. Road trips along Highway 61 are promoted, replete with Duluth native Bob Dylan tunes serving as a soundtrack. The album of choice — Highway 61 Revisited, which turns 50 in 2015.

No. 10: Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta
Mount Shasta

Climbing Mount Shasta. (Courtesy: Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association)

Nature is also highlighted by the 10th location on the list. Mount Shasta gets recognized for family vacations, particularly lakeside camping, and Native Americans of the region consider it the Center of Creation. New Agers flock to the area for its vortexes and spiritual portals.

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