2019 Travel Awards: The 33 Best Trips, Guides, and Hotels in the World

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The ultimate night sky. The gnarliest wildlife encounter. The most luxurious surf lodge. The wildest restaurant. From some of the best culinary adventures to the world’s best places to stay, we present the 2019 Men’s Journal Travel Awards.


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Best Night’s Sleep in a Tree: Post Ranch Inn, California

There are few places in Big Sur, California, as iconic as the famed Post Ranch Inn. The resort, a series of high-design buildings scattered along a ridgeline 1,200 feet above the Pacific, is a modernist masterpiece. Each of its 39 rooms are named according to their general vibe—Cliff, Pacific, Peak—and no two are exactly alike. They’re all amazing. But if you’re looking for a truly, well, elevated experience, stay at one of its Tree Houses, which are built on stilts nine feet off the ground amid towering redwoods. Each one has a fireplace and glass skylights to view the forest canopy (or, come night, the Milky Way) from your bed. Plus, if you’ve never been to Big Sur, there’s no better time than now, because the area has finally recovered from the huge 2017 landslide that took out a portion of its other incomparable draw: California Highway 1. —Tim Sohn

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Best Place to Live Like Indiana Jones: Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia

If you’ve ever dreamed of hunting for dinosaur bones in some far-off land like a 19th-century explorer, well, now you can. The Three Camel Lodge, set in southern Mongolia, near the country’s border with China, consists of one handcrafted temple-like structure and a collection of luxurious gers, the traditional felt tents of nomadic herders. While staying at the lodge, you can explore the Gobi Desert on horseback, visit ancient petroglyphs, or hike in thel ush Yol Valley. If you book through the Three Camel’s partner company Nomadic Expeditions, you can also ride out into the Gobi toward the Flaming Cliffs, where adventurer Roy Chapman Andrews discovered the first fossilized dinosaur eggs during his legendary 1923 expedition. An expert is on hand to point out fossils, including finds like the knuckle of a velociraptor or a protoceratops skull. You’re not allowed to take any discoveries out of Mongolia, obviously, but just seeing the bones lying there, half-buried in the sand, will give you the paleontological thrill of a lifetime. —Kitt Doucette

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South America’s Wildest Discovery: Guyana

Guyana is an Idaho-size Eden made up of unspoiled coastline, Amazon rain forest, and golden savannas. And as the only country in South America where English is the primary language, it’s surprisingly accessible—even more so now that American Airlines has nonstop flights from Miami. Don’t expect five-star hotels, though. You’ll stay in modest lodges, like ATTA Rainforest, which sits at the jungle’s edge for prime jaguar viewing. Of course, to really explore Guyana’s biodiverse-rich landscape, you’ll want to go off the grid with an outfitter like Rupununi River Drifters, which runs canoe expeditions into the country’s most remote forests for a trip like no other in the world. —Jen Murphy

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Our Favorite Bush Pilot: Paul Claus, Owner of Ultima Thule Lodge

Flying with Paul Claus is like having an all-access pass to the Alaskan wilderness. As the owner and head pilot at Ultima Thule Lodge, a six-cabin retreat with a fleet of 10 planes in the middle of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Claus, 59, has front-door access to a swath of land the size of Massachusetts and Vermont combined. Every day that the weather permits, he takes his guests up in his Piper Super Cub for tours of the Saint Elias Mountains, landing on glaciers for hikes or on flat mountaintops for photo ops with Dall sheep. “I can fly a new route every day and take people where no human has ever set foot,” he says. He’s lived in Wrangell-St. Elias for the past 40 years, and while he’s traveled around the world for adventures, including an attempt on Mount Everest in 1989, he’s always returned to Alaska. “I’m a connoisseur of wild places,” he says. “But no place on the planet compares to home.” —J.M.


Best Wildlife Experience: Spirit Bear Lodge, British Columbia

Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, on the country’s Pacific Coast, has no shortage of wild animals worth seeing—wolves, mountain goats, Sitka deer, orcas—but none is more impressive than the Kermode bear. Commonly known as the spirit bear, these seemingly mythical creatures are actually a subspecies of the American black bear that have a recessive trait which causes their fur to appear white. There are fewer than 150 in the wild, and the largest concentration prowl the islands near the small town of Klemtu, home to the seafront Spirit Bear Lodge. Run by the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation—and infused with its traditions, including stunning hand-carved totem poles—the lodge’s overnight stays include daily boat rides and hikes through the lush temperate rain forest in search of the bears. If you’re lucky enough to spot one (about half of guests do during the fall), the experience may be powerful enough to make you reconsider your spirit animal. —Mark Johansen

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Best Late-Night Tobogganing: St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria

Sledding may be child’s play in the States, but in Europe it’s an extreme sport, with adults bombing down sled runs up to nine miles long on wood toboggans. In the village St. Anton am Arlberg, you can take the gondola to the mid-mountain restaurant Rodel Alm, dine on Flintstone-size schweinshaxe (pork knuckle), then fortify yourself with a shot of pear schnapps before racing down a 2.6-mile track that’s lit up at night. There are snow jumps for daredevils and a bonfire at the finish. It’ll make you feel like a kid again. —J.M.

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Most Civilized Surf Break: Nihi Sumba, Indonesia

Set on a mile-long whitesand beach on Sumba Island, Indonesia, that overlooks one of the best waves in the world, Nihi Sumba is about as remote and refined as it gets. The total number of guests is never more than 60, which leaves its board shed, après-surf bar, spa, and left-hand break just offshore gloriously crowd-free. When not surfing or relaxing in your thatched-roof villa, you can ride horses on the beach, go deep-sea fishing, do standup paddleboarding, practice yoga, or relax around one of the infinity pools where, yes, you can keep an eye on the waves. —K.D.

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Best Moto-Bike Trip: Thakhek Loop, Laos

Elephants and tigers and two-wheels, oh my! Yes, that’s the strange, downright tantalizing combo that’s luring an increasing number of intrepid backpackers and motorcyclists to the suddenly booming little town of Thakhek, in central Laos. The three-day, 250-mile Thakhek Loop, as the journey is dubbed, follows a mix of paved roads and dirt paths that pass a series of spectacular karst walls popular with rock climbers, submerged forests and villages of the Nam Theun 2 Reservoir, and dense jungle. A ride on a janky boat through the pitch-black darkness will take you to a gaping cave with a river flowing out from it, or stop by the virgin wilderness of Phou Hin Boun to look for wild elephants and tigers. When you return to Thakhek, you’ll be exhausted with plenty of wear, but you’ll never feel better off. —M.J.

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Best Resort Extravaganza for Budding Oceanographers: Atlantis Resort, Bahamas

Atlantis is the Bahamas’ largest resort by far, with some 3,800 rooms, and with all those accommodations come amenities, too. The most unique is the world’s largest marine exhibit, with more than 50,000 aquatic animals, including stingrays, nurse sharks, barracudas, and giant groupers. You can even snorkel in a 2.7-million-gallon aquarium that’s decked out with fake ruins. And when it comes time to actually hit the ocean, well, that’s outside your room, too.

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Best Culinary Experiences: Robot Restaurant, Tokyo

This wildly popular restaurant, in Tokyo’s nightlife-heavy Shinjuku district, is the best place for one of those only-in-Japan moments. Visitors descend a strobe-lit stairwell into an underground theater with a few rows of seats and small tables on either side of the stage. Once the show, acted out by a confusing mix of humans and robots, begins, it quickly grows to include 10-foot-tall Transformer robots, bikini-clad warriors, laser beams, fog machines, and giant panda robots. It’s a 90-minute array of aural and visual near-chaos that culminates in what seems to be a battle among robot armies. It’s never quite clear what’s going on. But if you want to see an approximation of what our future life will be like under our robot overlords, this is it. The food, a Japanese tasting menu, is less than stellar, but you’ll be so engrossed with the show that you’ll probably forget to eat anyway. —T.S.

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Best Modernist Beach Hotel: Areias Do Seixo, Santa Cruz, Portugal

The hotel’s name may sound provocative, but it doesn’t mean what you think: It translates to “pebble sand.” Of course, the place sure is sexy—a bespoke compound on the rugged, Atlantic-facing Costa de Prata, with rich culture, richer food, and stunning beaches. Its mod rooms are decked out with fireplaces, silk throws, and private outdoor showers or terraces facing the dunes, where you can hear the crashing waves while sipping wine. The hotel has its own organic garden, too, and its inspired restaurant leans heavily on it for ingredients. The combo makes it feel as if Alice Waters, Kelly Slater, and Frank Gehry decided to move to the beach together. —T.S.

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The Catskills’ Classiest Inn: The DeBruce, New York

Sitting on a bluff above Willowemoc Creek, in New York’s Catskill Park, the DeBruce has hosted weekenders on and off since the 1880s. Since reopening in 2017, though, it has won a number of awards for its restaurant, which features items sourced exclusively from New York, and most from within less than 20 miles. The new owners are developing 30 miles of trails on the property’s 600 acres, and guests have a private half-mile section of river for trout fishing. At day’s end, it’s customary to relax in the Conservatory, which still has the lodge’s original fieldstone fireplace and that woodsy, aristocratic elegance that made the Catskills so popular in the first place. —T.S.

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Best Culinary Experiences: Cervejaria Ramiro, Lisbon

With an atmosphere that’s changed little since it opened in the 1950s— equal parts beer hall and fishing boat in a three-story building—this classic Lisbon seafood mecca overflows with local families and tourists alike waiting for a table. The menu leans heavily to shellfish, with prawn dishes the real specialty, as well as crabs, clams, barnacles, and on and on. There are plenty of great beers, and, if you pay attention, you’ll notice an off-menu “dessert” coming out to the tables filled with Lisbonites. It’s a mouthwatering version of prego, a traditional Portuguese steak sandwich. Whisper that word to your waiter, and you’ll get one, too, along with the satisfaction of truly becoming an insider. —T.S.

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Best Undiscovered Island Chain: Gulf of Chirqui, Panama

The Gulf of Chirquí, a 36,000-acre marine park off Panama’s Pacific coast, is one of those rarities in the world: a place with dozens of remote islands that offer total seclusion, pristine nature, and easy access. (The gulf is a 90-minute flight from Panama City.) Virtually uninhabited since pre-Columbian times, the “lost coast,” as it’s nicknamed, is home to Jurassic period–like jungles, mangrove swamps teeming with fish, and protected waters full of sea turtles, rays, dolphins, and humpback whales, which come here to calve. And now the area is home to two new eco-lodges: Isla Palenque, a 400-acre, eight-casita property, and Isla Secas, a four-casita resort on the archipelago’s largest island. Both allow front-door access to empty beaches and one of the biggest reefs in the Pacific, for diving, standup paddle-boarding, and deep-sea fishing. Plus, their combined sustainability practices—reforestation programs, solar power—might ensure that paradise stays preserved forever. —J.M.

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Best Art Island: Naoshima, Japan

This island, in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, is home to a delightful mix of world-class art and architecture set amid a surreal landscape—all with a hint of Bond-villain chic. This last detail is thanks to architect Tadao Ando’s modish bunkers and tunnels between buildings, which were constructed after Naoshima’s owner transformed it into an art and architecture incubator in 1989. The various museums, as well as the famed Benesse House Hotel, are perfect showcases for an impressive art collection, and limited lodging means it never feels crowded. —T.S.

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Best Way to Bond With Your Guide: Eleven Experience

A lot of hotel brands make celebrity chefs or wellness gurus their star attractions, and outsource their guides to whatever company they can find. But at Eleven Experience, a collection of nearly a dozen adventure bases around the globe—including lodges in Iceland and Patagonia—the guides are the draw. That’s because Eleven hires only the best. A few days with them is like hanging out with an old buddy who became the foremost fly-fishing expert in the Bahamas. Or a legendary ski guide in France. Every Eleven lodge is stunning in its own right, including an 19th-century saloon in Crested Butte, Colorado, that was transformed into the world’s most relaxing private lodge. But it’s the guides and support staff, including an “experience manager” who handles your activities, that sets Eleven apart. At day’s end, rather than buying your guide a drink, you’re more likely to find yourself dancing with them in a converted sheep herder’s hut in Iceland. Or sharing your chef-prepared dinner, just so you can chat awhile longer and linger in the glow of a crew who’s living their best life—and wants you to, too. —J.M.

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Best Approximation of a Spaceship: Ion Adventure Hotel, Iceland

As otherworldly as the Icelandic landscape is, it will never feel more spectacular—or cushier—than while crashing at Ion Adventure Hotel, an hour outside of Reykjavík. The building is a modernist cube on stilts that looks as if some Star Wars vehicle crashed into the hillside. There’s hiking nearby, horseback riding, and hot-springing. But the most exciting adventure of all may be simply lying in your bed and being transported away by the northern lights.

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Best Place to Land a King Salmon: West Coast Fishing Club, Canada

On the far northwestern edge of Haida Gwaii, the British Columbian archipelago formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands, sits the off-grid West Coast Fishing Club. Accessed via helicopter, it’s surrounded by miles of temperate rain forest and rich waters teeming with salmon and halibut. Big ones. Anglers staying at the timber-framed Clubhouse, as they call it, routinely hook king salmon weighing north of 30 pounds—and 50-pound monsters aren’t unheard of. And after a day on the water, while sitting in the hot tub with a cold beer, with a five-star meal being prepared inside, it’s easy to appreciate just how civilized being off-grid can be. —K.D.

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Our Favorite Arctic Guide: Marcel Schütz, Owner of Spitzbergen-Reisen

“If you meet bears without a weapon, you have a big problem.” This is how Marcel Schütz, owner of the guiding company Spitzbergen-Reisen, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, describes the possibility of running into a polar bear. Of course, it’s that understated humor—and a beet-red beard—that makes him one of the Arctic’s iconic guides. The Swede spends most days on the tundra, dogsledding, camping, or snow-kiting with clients, avoiding crevasses and showing off Jurassic fossils and dwarf reindeer. His love for all things Arctic is unmatched—and infectious when you head out with him. “Beautiful place,” he says. “But there’s always danger lurking. That’s why I love it here.” —Adam Popescu

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Best Wildlife Experiences: Madhya Pradesh, India

The Bengal tiger is one of the largest wild cats on the planet, and the national animal of India, thanks to its unusually charismatic presence when encountered. But there are only an estimated 2,000 left on the planet, and witnessing one is like winning the lottery. To increase your odds, head straight to the “tiger state” of Madhya Pradesh, in the central part of India. There’s been a healthy rise in tiger population in the state’s Pench National Park, the inspiration for the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 The Jungle Book, and there are more than a few outfitters proficient in tracking the big cats. The best of them is Pugdundee Safaris, which has six immaculate lodges spread throughout the region but specializes in tiger trips through Pench’s dense teak forests and savanna-like grasslands. Driving bumpy roads through the forest can feel like riding a bull at the rodeo, but if you can keep your binoculars steady, you’ll have more than enough opportunities for sightings of leopards, sloth bears, and, yes, rare Bengal tigers—as well as the rest of the Jungle Book crew. —M.J.

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The Best Reason to Visit the Jersey Shore: The Asbury Hotel, Asbury Park, New Jersey

The 110-room Asbury is a magnet of cool 60 miles south of New York City, with a rooftop cinema, outdoor pool, and lobby bar with a huge vinyl collection. A secret passage for select events takes guests to Asbury Lanes, the legendary bowling alley–music venue that reopened in May. Its opening act: hometown boy Bruce Springsteen, naturally.

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The Best Cabin to Weather a Winter Storm: Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, Colorado

This brand-new lodge, run by Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Guides, has every modern-day convenience you can ask for in an off-grid hut made from hand-hewn wood beams: heated stone floors, a coffee bar, a forged-steel boot dryer. But the most unforgettable luxury will be the moment you wake up post-snowstorm, look out the panoramic windows, and realize that you’re about to have the best ski day of your life. —Berne Broudy

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Best Culinary Experiences: EMP Winter House, Aspen

When the team behind New York’s Eleven Madison Park, routinely rated one of the best restaurants in the world, decided to bring some of their Michelin-starred mastery to a mountain town for ski season, it seemed only fitting that they’d land in a little place called Aspen. From December to April, the team is moving into the St. Regis to open a winter version of the EMP Summer House pop-up that’s been wildly popular in the Hamptons the last two years. The Swiss-inspired menu is drool-worthy, full of alpine comfort foods like fondue and schnitzel, and the drinks menu is just as soothing—think thermoses full of mulled wine. And as usual with this team, the decor and details will be both refined and whimsical. One highlight: a series of private yurts where diners can summon a server by flicking on some Christmas lights. —T.S.

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Best Hotel Trend: Pop-Up Eco Lodges

Ephemeral accommodations are the trendiest digs in luxury travel. You can now stay in a temporary fly-fishing camp in Patagonia (Outpost by Upscape); a lunar-like bubble on the world’s largest salt flat, in Bolivia (Blink by Black Tomato); even in a tent on NYC’s Governors Island (Collective Retreats).

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Best Cabins in a State Park: Devils Fork Park, South Carolina

Most state parks don’t have showers, let alone upscale villas on a wooded lake. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at Devils Fork, outside of Greenville. The 20 A-frame cabins, which you can rent through the park, have AC, Wi-Fi, charcoal grills, and screened-in porches. It just might be the most refreshing example of your tax dollars at work.

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Best Stargazing on Earth: Elqui Valley, Chile

At the southern edge of the world’s driest non-polar desert, on the fringe of a landscape used by NASA to test instruments for Mars, is a vine-carpeted corridor of pisco vineyards known as Elqui Valley. Thanks to that dry air and dearth of light pollution, this startlingly green oasis will, along with the rest of the greater Atacama Desert, be home to an astounding 70 percent of the world’s large research telescopes by the end of 2020. This July, it will also be ground zero for an onslaught of tourists looking to experience a rare total solar eclipse, when daylight turns to dark as the moon passes in front of the sun. Of course, even if you don’t get to toast totality with a pisco sour, the valley is still one of the best places on the planet to view the Milky Way, and lodges in the area are increasingly catering to night-sky tourists. The best of those is Elqui Domos, which has four cabins and seven geodesic domes with skylights that allow you to witness the universe from the comfort of your own bed. —M.J.

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Best New Wine Destination: Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Valle de Guadalupe, 90 minutes south of San Diego, is like Napa—if Napa had way less traffic and a few more stray dogs roaming the vineyards. Its Mediterranean-like microclimate is perfect for growing red-wine grapes, and a dozen or more hotel openings in the last two years—including the villas at El Cielo Winery and Resort—have made the mountainous area one of Mexico’s trendiest. During the day, you can hike or bike in the mountains and, at night, work your way through a sampling of incredible wines and five-star food—all with a laidback, SoCal vibe. —Ryan Krogh

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Best Floating Bed: Volda Floating Home, Norway

This new “lodge,” built on a converted 1960s ferry moored in a fjord off northern Norway, has an open-plan living room and kitchen with massive floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as seven bedrooms that sleep up to 14 people. Come night, with the northern lights going off, it’ll feel like you’re a million miles from land.

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Best Places to Shred: Hard Rock Hotel, Mexico

Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya’s new partnership with ski and skate behemoth Camp Woodward resulted in a 29,000-square-foot action-sports facility at the all-inclusive resort, with an indoor skate plaza and foam pit for learning new tricks. So while the kids are dialing in their kickflip, you can relax on the beach—or drop in yourself.

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Best Place to Feel Like a Knight for a Night: Ashford Castle, Ireland

Constructed in 1228, Ashford Castle has stood along the shore of Ireland’s Lough Corrib, three hours west of Dublin, for just shy of 800 years. Wars have been fought over it. People have died to protect it. Today it’s a five-star hotel, and entering the grounds is like being transported into an Arthurian legend. From the front gate, a narrow road leads you across a drawbridge and up to the immaculately groomed grounds. Inside the stone walls, hallways and stairs head off every direction, twist- ing and turning through the many expansions that Ashford has undergone over the centuries. Open one door and you’ll find a plush theater. Another door leads into a lush billiards room. The spa and lap pool are housed in an old greenhouse made of opaque glass tiles. The guest rooms are outfitted with four-poster beds and period furnishings. There are plenty of modern-day activities to keep you occupied—kayaking on the lake, horseback riding, and tennis—but the most exciting may be an ancient one. The castle has its own falconry program, and guests can walk with a trainer, watching Harris’s hawks hunt in the surrounding fields and forests. The whole experience may make you long for the Middle Ages. —K.D.

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Our Favorite Guidebook Guru: Taylor Bruce, Founder of Wildsam Field Guides

In this era of Yelp reviews and TripAdvisor tips, Bruce has made the old-school travel guide cool again. “We live in an age of information overload,” he says. “Finding a list of hotels takes seconds. But so often, even with data and algorithms, we don’t have a deep sense of place.” Bruce says his pocket-size, U.S.-focused guides are more like Kerouac’s notebooks than a Frommer’s. Instead of a checklist of attractions, you’ll find hand-illustrated maps, soulful essays, historical letters, and interviews with locals ranging from taxidermists to boxing champs. The concept reflects how Bruce travels—by talking to locals and reading fiction that captures the spirit of a destination. “Our aim is to help people discover the magic of a city, the roots of a place,” he says. “My hunch is that a paper guide in your back pocket makes that immersion more likely than holding your iPhone.” —J.M.

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Best Wildlife Experiences: Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Coming eye to eye with a great white shark may be the most dramatic experience you can have underwater. And there is no better place to do it than Guadalupe Island, 150 miles off the coast off Baja. Water visibility generally exceeds 50 feet, making the prehistoric beasts easy to spot. Water temperatures usually hover from 68 to 72 degrees, making the diving comfortable, at least from a thermal perspective. Add to that the abundant food sources like tuna, seals, and sea lions that congregate around the island; its remote location (accessible only by an overnight sail on liveaboard dive boats); and an incredibly robust shark population—and you have the perfect combination for shark lovers. Great White Adventures runs five- and six-day trip trips to the island July through November, and will put you in the water, surrounded by a cage, to witness the jaw-dropping aggressiveness of sub-adult males or the tank-like grace of a 15-foot female plying the water. In either case, you’ll go home with a new appreciation of the ocean’s top predator—and perhaps needing a new pair of swim trunks. —K.D.

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The Best Resort for the Whole Brood: Big Cedar Lodge, Missouri

Big Cedar, built by Bass Pro Shop’s founder, Johnny Morris, is like a sportsman’s version of Disney World, with a world-class bass fishing lake, a trap-shooting academy, and an iconic par-3 golf course by Jack Nicklaus. A 50,000-square-foot kids zone called Fun Mountain includes a rock-climbing wall, laser tag, and an under-the-sea-theme bowling alley. For the adults, there’s even the legendary Buzzards bar, a favorite watering hole of Kid Rock. Yes, this is redneck luxury at its finest.

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