2. New Orleans, Louisiana
If you're even thinking of being in New Orleans, check out our DestiNATION: New Orleans guide. It's stacked with expert advice from locals on what to eat, where to drink, and what to do.
Must eat/drink: No city in America claims a more distinct cuisine than New Orleans. A beignet and a po-boy really are just the tip of the iceberg of things you absolutely must try.
Don't leave without: Wandering aimlessly through the Quarter, preferably with a drink in hand. There's no better way to take in the architecture, stumble upon some music, and discover the hidden nooks and crannies of the old neighborhood. Still, one of the biggest mistakes tourists makes here is limiting themselves to the French Quarter; get out and see more of the real Crescent City, if only for a minute.
Weekend highlights: There are, as you might imagine, endless bars in the Big Easy, but go beyond the tourist haunts and seek out the more quintessential watering holes. For cocktails, try Kingfish, whose bar program was created by premier cocktail historian Chris McMillian, the French 75, helmed by Chris Hannah (one of the world's best bartenders), and Broussard's Empire Bar, whose Ramos Gin Fizz is a testament to a lost decade of cocktail craftsmanship. You can take a ride around the Carousel Bar while sipping a Pimm's Cup or walk over to Latitude 29, the lone bar created by Beachbum Berry, the man who resurrected the Tiki movement.
Waiting to soak up all that booze are grand dames of the city, like Antoine's and Brennan's, and relatively newer restaurants, like Sylvain and Cane & Table, which take advantage of the dark, comfortable charm of the 'hood, while plating creative new dishes. You can also duck into Preservation Hall or hop along Frenchmen's strip of jazz clubs, and don't be surprised if you run into at least three impromptu dance parties -- the natural reaction to street performers here -- when you round a random corner, just because music flows so freely through those streets and within culture. The city is captivating and engaging and filling and, well, it'll probably leave you hungover, and rope you back for yet another weekend. -- Liz Childers, special projects director