10 great places that live up to their reputation
Some places get such a build-up that they can't possibly live up to their reputation. Visitors leave having checked off their bucket list, but feeling vaguely unsatisfied. But occasionally a destination delivers big time, says Jamie Wong, founder of Vayable.com, a site connecting visitors to locals who offer insider tours and travel advice. "Even in the hyped up world of travel, some places are truly remarkable," Wong says. She shares some favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona and Utah
Even though it has grand in its name, nothing can prepare you for the initial view from the edge of the canyon. "The colors in relief, the vastness, the different texture, the juxtaposition against the sky. It's absolutely stunning and there's just no way you can be let down by this," says Wong, who urges visitors to hike into the canyon and explore.928-638-7888; nps.gov/grca
10Best.com: Grand Canyon Guide
Wong says she expected western Canada's largest city to have an environmental focus, but she was surprised just how many residents take advantage of nearby ski resorts and the wilderness found just outside of town. "There's an outdoors culture that's like no other place. It's not a larger San Francisco, a different Seattle or an American Hong Kong. It's truly its own international city." Perhaps there's no better way to experience the city's waterfront setting then biking along the Sea Wall in Stanley Park, she says. tourismvancouver.com
Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
There's a reason U.S. presidents favor this Atlantic island. "The elite vacation here not because it's fancy, but because it's a place to get away from it all," says Wong, who notes it's home to schools and year-round residents. "It's like every photo you've ever seen. There's peace in the air and tranquility." 800-505-4815; mvy.com
Wong loved this coastal city for what was expected – historic homes and gorgeous pocket parks. "It was a mysterious Southern town so rich in history." But she also found surprises: a rich Jewish heritage, and large gay and yoga-centric communities. "It's uniquely diverse. The past, as well as the present, makes the place quite magical."877-728-2662; visitsavannah.com
10Best.com: Much more about Savannah
The capital of the Lone Star State has become a national cultural capital too, with a vibrant music, film and food scene. It all peaks in the spring during the South by Southwest media and technology conference. "It turns the town into a Disneyland for geeks," Wong says. But there's plenty to entrance visitors year round too, including a booming arts scene. 800-926-2282; austintexas.org
Wong grew up in Berkeley, but it's not until she left that she began to appreciate it. She says the city's liberal hippy reputation is deserved, and is on full display in its parks, bookstores and cafes. From free speech to organic food, Berkeley has had a huge influence on the country. "At the core of Berkeley culture is a deep devotion to education and intellectualism," she says. 800-847-4823; visitberkeley.com
Baja California, Mexico
From big resorts to tiny hamlets, the Pacific coast of Mexico really does resemble the ads, offering visitors a relaxed vacation that feels far from home. Wong particularly likes the colonial city of La Paz, and the surrounding countryside. "There are pockets that are undeveloped and you're just left with the desert and sea, and it's gorgeous," she says. visitmexico.com
New York City
Yes, it's as big and brash as Frank Sinatra's song suggests, says Wong, who lived in New York for more than a decade. But she loves the city because it has something for everyone, from nature lover to foodie to culture seeker. "You just need to seek it out and follow your passion. New York will bend to you." 212-484-1200; nycgo.com
North Shore Kauai
Plenty of people call Hawaii paradise, but this island really does comes close. It's laid-back, lush and the perfect place to unwind, Wong says. "If you like things a little bit more tucked away and active with nature, it has kayaking, hiking, surfing and swimming. And there's nowhere better to do any of that." 800-464-2924; gohawaii.com
Wong, a contrarian at heart, was dubious about Paris. And then she visited. "It is so clichéd, but gosh, what you see is what you get, and it is so stunning and there's something about the culture." She suggests seeing the famous sites – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre – and then heading out to explore neighborhoods away from the city center.us.franceguide.com
Originally published in USA Today.