It is true, the United States has some gorgeous scenery to behold. Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Zion’s National Park, and so on. But, there are so many other amazing destinations in the United States, that most people have never heard of. And that means to me: less crowds, and perfect photo opportunities. Let’s take a look at some of these places:
At more than 3.7 million square miles and containing no less than 38,000 distinct cities and towns, the United States has more first-rate attractions than most people can possibly comprehend, let alone experience in a single lifetime. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that there are tons of amazing travel destinations right here at home that you probably never knew about.
For instance, have you ever been to the charming hamlet of Driftwood, Texas? (We’re guessing you haven’t.) Also, have you ever seen the awe-inspiring Apostle Islands, nestled high up in the nosebleeds of Wisconsin? And what about the seaside beauty you’ll discover at Maryland’s quaint Assateague Island?
If names likes these don’t ring a bell, we’ve got some good news for you: These are just a few of the great places in the U.S. that could inspire your next trip. So pack your bags and read on, because here are the coolest spots in your own backyard that you didn’t know existed.
1. The Apostle Islands, Wisconsin Set on Lake Superior at the northernmost tip of Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands, a chain of 21 islands made up of gorgeous rock formations, are unlike anywhere else in the country. Nicknamed the “jewels of Lake Superior,” the Apostle Islands make up a national park of beaches and cliffs, perfect for hiking, kayaking, or sailing during the summer, or exploring the ice caves during the winter. Visitors can take a car ferry to Madeline Island, the gateway to the islands, or join an Apostle Islands cruise in the warmer months that takes you through the center of the archipelago. For adventurous travelers, there are campsites on 19 of the islands. Photo courtesy of: Best Life
2. North Adams, Massachusetts Art lovers will want to seek out the progressive Berkshire mountain town of North Adams. Home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (better known as Mass MoCA), North Adams also houses public art installations and a handful of smaller, excellent galleries like Cynthia Reeves and Ferrin Contemporary. It’s also where you’ll find Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, which you can hike during the warmer months. PUBLIC eat + drink is one of the best restaurants in town, perfect for flatbreads and burgers after a museum visit, and you’ll want to try a chili cheese dog at Jack’s, an old school hot dog stand where the prices have remained the same for decades. If you go, book a room at The Porches Inn, a Victorian-era house within walking distance of Mass MoCA. Provided by Best Life
3. Ogden, Utah You’ve heard of Park City and Salt Lake City, but chances are you’ve never heard of Ogden, the oldest town in the state. If there’s one reason to visit, it’s for the great outdoors. Bordered by Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains, Ogden offers hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking, and access to three of Utah’s best ski slopes like Snowbasin, Nordic Valley, and Powder Mountain. Downtown, shops and restaurants line historic 25th Street before a backdrop of mountain peaks. Hearth on 25th is the place to go for an upscale meal made with local ingredients, but there are casual options too like Rovali’s for big bowls of pasta and Smokey’s for southern-style BBQ. Provided by Best Life
4. Morro Bay, California If you’re driving along the California coast, you could easily pass right through this small and sleepy surf town without even noticing it. But located right smack in between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Morro Bay is a perfect stopping point on any California road trip. It’s the kind of town where no one is in a rush and the sun always manages to come out from the fog. Sea lions and otters bob around in the harbor, small shops dot the Embarcadero , and patient surfers float with the waves next to Morro Rock. If you want a bite to eat, pop into Bayside Cafe for local seafood like fish and chips, chowder, and shrimp tacos. Provided by Best Life
5. Talkeetna, Alaska Talkeetna, a quirky village located two hours north of Anchorage, is a bucket-list trip for anyone seeking adventure. It’s the gateway to Denali National Park, home to the tallest mountain peak in the whole country. Talkeetna is an artistic, tight-knit community with a laissez-faire attitude and lots of character, but above all, it’s a base camp for climbers hoping to conquer Denali. In town you’ll find helicopter and air taxi flight-seeing tours, river excursions during the summer months, sled dog tours, and multi-day guided wilderness treks. Provided by Best Life
6. La Push, Washington For travelers in search of serenity and natural beauty, look no further than La Push. This remote seaside village sits in northwestern Washington, just south of Vancouver Island and almost completely surrounded by Olympic National Park. While the hotel options are sparse, there are plenty of cozy seaside home rentals on Airbnb. The rugged coast is comprised of crescent beaches, tiny inlets, and sea stacks rising from the Pacific for as far as the eye can see. La Push is still inhabited by the Quileutes, an indigenous tribe that has called the village home for centuries. There’s one place to grab a bite, and it’s called River’s End Restaurant, a cozy spot serving burgers, chowder, and local seafood with a waterfront view. Provided by Best Life
7. Assateague Island, Maryland Assateague Island, a barrier island that spans both Maryland and Virginia, is not your usual beach getaway. Unless you’re willing to camp out, you can’t actually stay on the island. In fact, the closest hotels are in Chincoteague, Virginia. But you can obtain an over-sand vehicle permit to drive your car onto Assateague for the day. The beaches are stunning, and the best part is you’ll see wild, free-roaming horses galloping in the sand as you swim. This protected national park is also full of marine life and biodiversity, and the best way to see it is by kayaking or clamming on the bay.
8. Camden, Maine Maine has no shortage of adorable towns—from Kennebunkport to Bar Harbor, but for something a bit quieter, look no further than Camden. Set on Penobscot Bay about 85 miles up the coast from Portland, Camden has everything you’d expect from a New England summer town: a harbor dotted with sailboats, seafood restaurants like Peter Ott’s on the Water, and easy access to the great outdoors like Camden Hill State Park. Craving a great lobster roll? Drive 10 minutes south to Claws, a no-frills shack dishing out toasted buns stuffed with buttery lobster meat.
9. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Bay St. Louis is a city that feels more like a charming small town. Just 90 miles from New Orleans, it’s a southern vacation spot that belongs on your bucket list. In Old Town, you’ll find everything from Gallery 220, a cooperative art gallery established after Hurricane Katrina to Tree House, a yoga studio. There are also a handful of restaurants serving southern fare like Cuz’s, a Cajun eatery serving po’ boys, trout étouffée, and boiled crawfish.
10. Driftwood, Texas Located in Hill Country, Driftwood is the perfect place for a pit stop or weekend stay on any Texas road trip. From there, you’ll have access to Fredericksburg’s wineries, Austin’s big city life, and Dripping Springs’ natural swimming holes. Some can’t miss spots in Driftwood include Jester King Brewing, a sprawling spot where you can pair IPAs with homemade pizza, and Salt Lick BBQ, arguably one of the best spots for beef ribs and brisket in all of Texas.
11. Saugatuck, Michigan Just two hours from Chicago and three from Detroit, this artistic and progressive town on the shores of Lake Michigan is a summertime favorite. Ovan Beach and Saugatuck Dunes State Park with their windswept dunes speak for themselves, but there’s plenty to do in Saugatuck if you aren’t a sun worshipper. Saugatuck Center for the Arts has a thriving art scene with exhibitions, films, and theater performances, plus there’s wine tasting at nearby Fenn Valley Vineyards, and awesome dining in town. For egg skillets al fresco, head to GROW, for the best deli-style sandwiches make your way to Farmhouse Deli + Pantry, and for haute comfort food, don’t miss The Southerner.
12. Little Compton, Rhode Island Rhode Island is full of popular summer towns—from Newport to Block Island—but chances are you’ve never even heard of Little Compton. This picture-perfect village in Newport Country sits at the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border. It’s calm and quiet and feels almost stuck in time (in a good way, of course). Instead of Whole Foods, you’ll find an old fashioned general store, and in lieu of IHOP, there’s The Commons Lunch, a family-run spot serving famous Rhode Island Johnny Cakes and The Barn, a rustic farmhouse for delicious breakfast fare. Like any good summer town, Little Compton has its sandy stretches of shoreline. Spend your days on the pristine and quiet beach at Goosewing Preserve or the more popular spot, South Shore Beach.
13. White Sands National Park, New Mexico You’ve probably seen photos of White Sands National Monument without even realizing this fascinating landscape is actually in the United States. Located in southern New Mexico just 100 miles from El Paso, White Sands—America’s newest national park—is known for its dunes of gypsum sand that stretch as far as the eye can see. The awe-inspiring landscape looks almost otherworldly. Alamogordo is the closest town to the park, and there are plenty of hotel options to choose from. To fuel up before a day of exploring, grab a seat at CJ’s Si Señor Restaurant for the best chili relleno around.
14. Encinitas, California If you like laid-back SoCal surfer vibes, you’ll fall head over heels for this town between San Diego and Los Angeles. Encinitas is, in many ways, the quintessential California beach town: Palm trees, crashing ocean waves, lots of small businesses, and cute cafés abound. There’s plenty to see and do in this quiet, coastal enclave, such as Moonlight State Beach, the quiet community of Cardiff-by-the-sea, and the Spanish colonial revival-style movie theater, La Paloma. When hunger strikes, Fish 101 is the place to go for the fresh catch of the day and The Taco Stand dishes out seriously good Baja fish tacos and breakfast burritos.
15. Beacon, New York Beacon is basically the new Brooklyn. This hip and artsy town in the Hudson Valley has all the makings for a perfect long weekend getaway. Just 60 miles north of Manhattan, it’s an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Art lovers will enjoy the contemporary art museum, Dia:Beacon, and Storm King Art Center, just 15 minutes away. There’s gorgeous nature around Denning’s Point and Long Dock Park, and a flea and farmers’ market that pops up each Sunday. Spend some time walking around the charming Main Street, which is full of boutiques like King and Curated for unique jewelry and great dining options like Dogwood.
16. The Big Island, Hawaii While everyone else is jet-setting to Maui and Oahu, Hawaii’s Big Island is often overlooked. Unlike the shores of Waikiki Beach that are built up with high rises and hotel chains, The Big Island is made up of small, friendly towns that feel more like an authentic Hawaii. Visit Hilo, home to the largest farmer’s market in Hawaii and a handful of spectacular waterfalls like Akaka and Rainbow Falls. Then spend some time in Kona, home to black sand beaches, coffee plantations, breweries, and health food stores. Of course, no trip to the Big Island would be complete without visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
17. Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida Florida has no shortage of great beaches from the Keys to Amelia Island, but if you’re looking for a vacation that feels more like the Caribbean, check out the sister islands, Sanibel and Captiva. There are no high rises and no traffic lights—just cerulean blue water, shores dotted with pink-hued seashells, and wildlife refuges where you can spot turtles, blue crabs, egrets, and even dolphins if you’re lucky. South Seas Island Resort is a gorgeous oceanfront property on Captiva Island, and there are also beach cottages for rent on both islands. Sanibel, the livelier of the two islands, has more restaurant options, especially seafood spots like Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille and The Sandbar.
18. Astoria, Oregon It doesn’t get much more beautiful than this small town that sits at the border of Washington and Oregon, where the mouth of the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. If there’s one must-do activity it’s the Astoria Riverwalk, a four-mile stretch under the Astoria-Megler Bridge that offers stunning views of the Columbia River, especially around sunset. Visit Fort George Brewery to taste craft beers from the Pacific Northwest, eat ice cream with french fries at Frite and Scoop, hike to the summit of Saddle Mountain, sip on coffee or cocktails at Street 14 Cafe, shop at the Sunday farmer’s market, and visit Cannon Beach, just 25 minutes away.
19. Woodstock, Vermont Not to be confused with New York’s Woodstock—you know, the one that hosted the iconic 1969 concert featuring Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, and Janis Joplin—this Woodstock, in Vermont, is a quiet retreat. In the summer it’s perfect for hiking and exploring nature, during the fall and spring it bursts into color with foliage and flowers, and during the colder months, it’s a snowy winter wonderland. Stay at The Woodstock Inn, a spa and hotel walking distance from town. Spend your days shopping for home goods at Farmhouse Pottery, checking out Simon Pearce’s glassblowing studio, buying local produce, flowers, and freshly baked breads at Woodstock Farmer’s Market or Market on the Green, sampling homemade maple syrup at Sugar Bush Farm, hiking Mt. Tom, and eating a farm-to-table dinner at Cloudland Farm. For more travel tips, check out these 33 Travel Hack That Make Summer Vacation a Total Breeze.
20. St. Simon’s Island, Georgia Small town vibes, southern charm, and a seaside location make this gem along Georgia’s Golden Isles an easy pick for a relaxing vacation. Stay at The Inn at Sea Island, a luxury resort with a golf course, spa and fitness club, and activities for the whole family from boating to horseback riding. Climb to the top of iconic St. Simon’s Lighthouse for a view of neighboring Jekyll Island, rent some wheels and explore the 30 miles of bike paths, and hunt for the tree spirits of St. Simon’s, which are designs carved into live oak trees around the island. If you’re looking for a great meal, head to Southern Soul BBQ for brisket, pulled pork, and barbecue beans.
21. Frederick, Maryland Perhaps Western Maryland isn’t on your travel radar, but this picturesque part of the state, surrounded by the Appalachian mountains, is a hidden gem. Frederick, located about an hour drive from Washington D.C. and Baltimore, is full of history, nature, and great dining and drinking. Visit Flying Dog Brewery, which produces some cult IPAs, and then head to the Frederick Wine Trail. History buffs should sign up for a tour of downtown Frederick, stop at the Francis Scott Key Monument, and visit the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. For the best barbecue in town, head to Black Hog BBQ, or for fine dining in a gorgeous 19th-century mansion, book a table at Volt.
22. Paia, Hawaii Set on the iconic Road to Hana in Maui, the quiet surf town of Paia feels worlds away from the big resorts and flocks of tourists. A visit to this bohemian town feels almost like traveling back in time to the ’60s. Downtown is made up of pastel colored shops, natural food stores, yoga studios, surf shacks, and even a Buddhist temple, the Maui Dharma Center. Paia offers just about everything you’d expect from a Hawaiian vacation: Beautiful beaches and secret coves, great boutiques, and excellent dining. For great fish tacos and grilled mahi mahi, don’t miss Paia Fish House, and there’s also Mama’s Fish House, more upscale but one of the best restaurants in all of Maui.
23. Greenport, New York While the entire world (or at least the whole tri-state area) flocks to the Hamptons come Memorial Day weekend, Long Island’s North Fork flies under the radar. That’s where you’ll find the seaside village of Greenport, surrounded by oyster bars, wineries, and bike lanes. You can go just about anywhere in a T-shirt and flip flops, whether it’s a pancake breakfast at Bruce & Son, a happy hour of briny oysters at Little Creek Oyster Farm, or cocktails at Brix and Rye. Oenophiles can’t miss Kontokosta Winery where you can taste Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc at a picnic bench overlooking the Long Island Sound.
24. Fort Collins, Colorado Home to Colorado State University, there’s always something happening in FoCo. With a population of around 160,000, Fort Collins is one of Colorado’s biggest cities, yet it still manages to maintain a charming small town feel. Throughout the year, the city hosts dozens of free festivals like the popular Lagoon Summer Concert Series and Bohemian Nights music festival. There’s also an amazing craft beer scene with dozens of breweries to explore like Zwei Brewing Co and Odell Brewing Co. For outdoor enthusiasts, the options are endless: There’s whitewater rafting on Cache la Poudre River, rock climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir, camping in Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, and hiking and biking trails just about everywhere you look.
25. Whitefish, Montana This resort town in the Rocky Mountains is an ideal trip for anyone seeking nature and outdoor adventure. Think: Jackson Hole, but without all the tourists. Whitefish is beautiful regardless of the season with unique activities for any weather. There’s skiing and snowboarding on Big Mountain in the snowy months, and when the weather warms up there’s ziplining, rock climbing, hiking, fishing on Whitefish Lake, and world class golf. Whitefish is also the perfect starting point from which to explore Montana’s picturesque Glacier National Park. There’s also an adorable downtown with great dining like Tupelo Grille for a rustic-meets-elegant meal of Southern-inspired dishes and Cafe Kandahar for a daily tasting menu made with local ingredients.
26. Geneva, New York The Finger Lakes are one of the most underrated wine regions in the country, and the cute town of Geneva is the perfect place to make your basecamp during a weekend of exploring and wine tasting. Book a room at Geneva on the Lake, a 10-acre resort where rooms have views of Seneca Lake. When you’re ready for some vino, visit Red Newt Cellars for excellent dry Rieslings and Silver Thread Vineyard for small-batch Pinot Noirs. There’s also great dining like Kindred Fare, which serves farm-to-table food heavy on the veggies, and F.L.X Table, an incredible 12-seat affair where a single tasting menu is offered each night.
27. Sandpoint, Idaho For a similar feel to Lake Tahoe but at a more reasonable price point, book your next trip to Sandpoint. Set on Lake Pend Oreille, visitors can choose from watersports like jet skiing, kayaking, and boating on the lake. Sandpoint is also right at the foot of Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which offers snow sports, hiking, or biking depending on the season. Mickinnick Trail is a sweat-inducing hike that rises over 2,000 feet to a scenic overlook, and Sandpoint City Beach is the local-favorite swimming beach. After an active day, unwind at Joel’s for tacos and burritos or Idaho Pour Authority, where you can choose from hundreds of craft beers.
28. Fairhope, Alabama Smack dab between Mobile and Gulf Shores, Alabama, the tiny town of Fairhope looks like a Southern fairytale, with antebellum plantations and a quaint main street lined with mossy oaks. Drop your bags at The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection, which sits on 55o acres overlooking Mobile Bay. The hotel was originally a Civil War hospital, and to this day, a cannon is fired every afternoon to honor its history. In the mornings, make a beeline for Two Sisters Bakery & Deli for its homemade beignets, biscuits, and blueberry scones. Then curl up with a novel from Page and Palette, an independent bookstore that’s been a community gathering place for more than 50 years.
29. Sioux Falls, South Dakota South Dakota might not be the obvious choice for your next getaway, but the beautiful midwest city of Sioux Falls combines urban comforts with outdoor activity. It’s a large city, so there’s no shortage of dining options. Some highlights include retro Phillips Avenue Diner, Sanaa’s Gourmet for Mediterranean meze, and Minerva’s for an upscale steak dinner. When you’re ready for some adventure, take the Phillips to the Falls route past the main downtown stretch to Falls Park, a series of cascading waterfalls spread over 100-plus acres. Just 30 minutes from town you’ll also find Palisades State Park, with its Sioux quartzite cliffs. Art lovers should make sure to check out Sculpture Walk, a constantly rotating outdoor exhibit of sculptures.
30. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho It’s quite possible you never considered Idaho for your next vacation, but Coeur d’Alene, an idyllic lake town on the border of Washington State, may convince you otherwise. Stay at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, a lakefront hotel that boasts a golf course, swimming pool, and spa. Above all, Coeur d’Alene is an outdoor destination where you can raft on Clark Fork River, bike along the Spokane River, and boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene. There’s also great food to be found at Crafted Tap House + Kitchen, an elevated gastropub, and The Garnet Café, a farm-to-fork breakfast spot.
31. Moab, Utah If you need to be reminded of just how incredibly beautiful the United States is, book yourself a trip to Moab. This city in eastern Utah is best known as the gateway to Arches National Park, where thousands of sandstone arches shine in shades of fiery red and orange. But there’s more to Moab than Arches: There’s Dead Horse Point State Park with is incredible views of the Colorado River, Canyonlands National Park with its colorful gorges, and hiking trails galore. If you go, stay at Moab Under Canvas, a stunning glamping site where you’ll wake up to the sun rising over the desert. Other must-visit spots include Moab Rock Shop, a quirky roadside stop selling everything from colorful crystals to petrified wood fossils.
32. Chattanooga, Tennessee For an urban vacation you probably haven’t thought of before, put Chattanooga on your list. Set in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains right along the Tennessee River, Chattanooga combines southern charm with art, culture, and outdoor adventure. Visit River Gallery and the Hunter Museum of American Art in the historic Bluff View Art District, stroll along Walnut Street Bridge, listen to live music at JJ’s Bohemia, and window shop at the local boutiques on Warehouse Row. Chattanooga also has a seriously up-and-coming dining scene, so don’t overlook some of the local favorites like The Bitter Alibi for elevated bar food and Opa for excellent Greek fare.
33. Duck, North Carolina This Outer Banks town is a laid back, family-friendly vacation spot that offers seven miles of pristine beaches, a lively boardwalk lined with small shops, watersports, and casual restaurants. On sunny days, the beaches are full of sunbathers, and you’ll find Currituck Sound is busy with people fishing, paddleboarding, and kayaking. There are a handful of hotels, but many travelers say the best way to experience Duck is by renting a home on Airbnb or one of the local vacation rental companies. Duck has some of the best dining option in the Outer Banks such as The Blue Point and AQUA Restaurant. Anyone with a sweet tooth should make a point to pop into the iconic Duck Donuts.
A special thanks to Hannah Loewentheil who put this amazing pictorial together for msn.com/travel. And it was sponsored by:
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