In 2017, storms, fires, floods, and heat waves caused at least $306 billion in destruction. Numerous cities were completely devastated and are still working on rebuilding months later. Some destinations were more resilient than anyone could have imagined, especially since they were able to open their doors to visitors just days after the disaster. While a city recently affected by a major natural disaster might not be at the top of your must-visit list, it definitely should be. Tourism is the major industry for many — if not most — of these cities, and your visit is exactly what these places need for a little boost of optimism! Keep an open mind in terms of accommodations. Quite a few hotels and resorts are still closed, so vacation rentals (the ones located inland and not affected by a hurricane, for example), will easily be your best option. From San Juan, Puerto Rico to Napa, California, check out the top cities to visit.
1. Houston, Texas
One of the first steps to rebuilding any city is uplifting hope and a resilient spirit. After the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Houston bounced back faster than anyone predicted. The phrase “Houston Strong” has since become this Texas city’s new motto, and you can see it spray painted across freeway underpasses or held up during Houston Astros baseball games. While recovery is still a work in progress, many of the damaged homes have been rebuilt and there are few signs of the storm that was the largest recorded rainfall in history. Most of Houston’s major attractions, including Space Center Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Natural Science, and the Galleria shopping center, suffered little damage and reopened shortly after the storm. All the top hotels and restaurants are up and running, as are the parks and sports stadiums. However, another top tourist draw, the downtown theater district was not as lucky. Located just blocks from Buffalo Bayou, which rose about 40 feet during the storm, the district suffered widespread flooding. If you’re still wanting to catch a show during your Houston visit, don’t worry. The ballet, the symphony, and the Alley theater were able to move their performances to other concert halls around town. The Houston Grand Opera was even more creative in building an entirely new venue, dubbed the Resilience Theater, inside the cavernous George R. Brown Convention Center.
2. Napa and Sonoma, California
Known for sweeping fields of grapevines, the view is still splendid if not a little bittersweet in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Just beyond the vineyards, a hint of green is beginning to dot the fire-scarred hills. It’s the first sign of regrowth after the Tubbs Fire that swept through the area in October 2017. Seven Wine Country wildfires burned upwards of 100,000 acres, killing more than 40 people and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses, but the area is now inviting visitors to celebrate the resilience of the region. Napa’s valley floor and over 90 percent of Sonoma were unaffected, so you may not see any fire scars during your visit. No hotels in Napa County burned down, and the majority of the Valley’s 400-plus wineries resumed operations within days after the fires. Two hotels and one winery in Sonoma were destroyed by the fire, but new hotels have opened since, and the county reports that more than 425 wineries are currently welcoming visitors. The biggest question is how the fires will affect the wines. 2017 grapes were harvested early and saved from “smoke taint,” but only time will tell how the fires will affect wines of the future.
3. Florida Keys, Florida
The Keys officially reopened to visitors on October 1st, just three weeks after Hurricane Irma hit. All 42 bridges of the scenic Overseas Highway were deemed safe for driving within five days of the storm, and Key West International Airport and the Port of Key West began operating as usual. Most resorts, attractions, bars and restaurants followed suit and are also open for business. All ten Keys state parks, from Bahia Honda to John Pennekamp, are open while restoration efforts continue, and most fishing, diving and snorkeling charters have even resumed operation. Some of the Keys most popular resorts are still under construction, so stay in a vacation rental instead!
4. Santa Barbara, California
Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire on record in California, devastated Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The fire burned for more than a month and was finally 100% contained in January 2018. In the end, the fire burned 281,893 acres. Much of the area’s damaged wasn’t caused by the fires but actually by subsequent mudslides which buried neighborhoods but also helped fully extinguish the blaze. Most Santa Barbara attractions are open, including the Santa Barbara Zoo, Old Mission Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. In fact, aside from Montecito, all other Santa Barbara South Coast cities were not in the impact zone. That includes Santa Barbara as well as Goleta and Summerland. All hotels, restaurants, and attractions in these cities are open for business.
5. San Juan, Puerto Rico
After Hurricane Maria, tourism is exactly what Puerto Rico needs to rebuild. Even though $16 billion in federal disaster relief was approved for repairing the electrical grid and rebuilding homes, it’s nowhere close to the $94.4 billion that Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has said the island needs. Although 400,000 Puerto Ricans are reportedly still without power, that is mostly in the rural and mountainous regions. In most of the tourist areas, the power is fully restored, the roads are cleared. Many of the popular hotels on the island are fully booked or closed for renovations, so make your reservations ahead of time or opt for a vacation rental instead. There can be spotty cell service in parts of the island, but most tourist hotspots have cell reception, so you can post plenty of Instagram pictures. Plus, since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, your American cell phone will work!
6. Biloxi, Mississippi
All coastal casinos in Biloxi were mandated to close on Saturday before the storm, but they were ready for business by 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. Thankfully only minor damage was reported after Hurricane Nate, and the shutdown was less than 20 hours. Even though the Golden Nugget’s elevator lobby flooded with four feet of water, the water didn’t reach the casino floor which starts at 27 feet. The casino hotels were even allowed to stay open! Other popular Biloxi hotels and casinos had the same story. Silver Slipper Casino, Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort, and The Beau Rivage reported no damage or loss of power during the hurricane. That means tourism in Biloxi has continued without skipping a beat! Biloxi’s main beachfront was littered with debris, but it was cleaned up quickly, and there was no widespread damage in the city.
7. Mexico City, Mexico
In Mexico City, earthquakes are always a concern, but the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake on September 19, 2017, killed nearly 200 people and flattened buildings in Roma, Condesa, and other parts of the city. Much of Mexico’s capital city has been rebuilt since the devastating 1985 earthquake, and now it’s time to do it again. In spite of the destruction, it’s still safe to travel to Mexico. In Mexico City, most tourist destinations are still open to the public, including most hotels, museums, and restaurants. If you prefer to visit areas that weren’t damaged by the earthquake at all, there are plenty of other wonderful tourist destinations like the Spanish colonial city of San Miguel de Allende and the Yucatan Coast.
8. Havana, Cuba
Hurricane Irma hurt more than just the Florida Keys. 100,000 Cuban homes were slammed as the hurricane scraped along Cuba’s northern coast. Much of the flood damage in Havana was cleaned up within weeks, but some of the damage left by Hurricane Irma is still evident. 90 percent of damaged homes have been repaired, and it’s clear that getting restaurants, hotels and other tourist attractions up and running was a major priority. Most hotels and private bed-and-breakfasts in Havana reopened in a matter of weeks, in addition to repairs on the roads, bridges and airports. There’s no better time to visit Cuba’s capital city than now!
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