15 Best Under-the-Radar American Escapes
Fill up your travelogue with these in-the-know locales.
If you’re thinking about a vacation closer to home, any advice you receive may sound like a broken record. Go to Montauk—for the beaches. Go to New Orleans—the food’s to die for (as is the jazz). Go to Vegas—what happens there, stays there. We won’t blame you if this repetitive information blast has given you an impression that America is the Beautiful is quite small.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Look between the cracks and you’ll see that our country is big. Really big. For every well-groomed resort you read about in a travel mag, there’s an unsung artsy, foodie haven. For every over-documented vista you see on Instagram, there’s an au natural destination out there, yours for the photo-taking. Herein, we’ve compiled the 15 best under-the-radar American escapes. So read on, and happy travels. And if you need any further excuse to actually book the accommodations, check out the 35 Best Reasons To Take A Vacation.
Couer d’Alene, Idaho
Tucked away in northern Idaho, Couer d’Alene—known as CDA by the locals—is a haven for recreational pursuits. Within the city limits, you can swim, boat, fish, and kayak, or explore dedicated bike routes. Mere miles away, you can hit the slopes at two resorts, Silver Mountain and Schweitzer, which boast nearly 170 trails between them.
And if you’re a golfer, CDA is a must-visit destination: the 14th hole at the Couer d’Alene Resort Golf Course is the world’s only floating green—and the course itself consistently earns accolades from golf publications year after year after year. If you’re hitting the green, be sure to come prepared with the 5 Most Clever Tricks For Boosting Your Golf Game.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
In the late 19th century, when cars were nascent technology, the township of Mackinac Island banned them outright. To this day, that ban still exists; other than the occasional service car or emergency vehicle, you won’t see a single automobile. As such, Mackinac Island is a quaint, peaceful oasis. Methods for getting around town vary by the season. During warmer weather, bicycles rule the road. But in the winter, the bikes get tucked away—and the snowmobiles come out. So plan your trips accordingly.
Falmouth, Massachusetts, holds the esteemed honor of being the place where you pick up the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. But don’t discount this pitstop just yet; Falmouth is just as charming as its vacation hotspot neighbor. Full of pristine beaches, quaint restaurants, and winding bike paths, Falmouth is quiet coastal New England at its finest—and a perfect place to escape for a necessary recharge.
Forget the Grand Canyon. Arizona’s most breathtaking vistas are two-and-a-half hours to the south. Nestled in a seemingly infinite cascade of red-sandstone vistas deep in the Coconino National Forest, Sedona is more or less a living, breathing postcard. The locale also offers a (relative) respite from the oppressive Arizona heat. Average July highs in Sedona clock in around 96 ºF. Compare that to Phoenix, where midsummer days as high as 106 ºF are not uncommon.
At first glance, Durango looks as if it hasn’t aged a day since the late 19th century. But look closer—especially at the main drag, Main Avenue—and you’ll see a bevy of modern amenities under the wild west façade.
The town is full of quaint art galleries and foodie-haven restaurants. In fact, Durango has more restaurants and shops per capita than nearby Denver. Stay in the Strater (pictured) or the General Palmer; they’re the oldest accommodations in town, and will get you as close to Westworld as possible. (Minus the, y’know, robots and rampant murder.) And for more great travel #inspo, check out these amazing places that look straight out of a Wes Anderson movie.
Bear Lake, Utah-Idaho
Due to the water’s effervescent turquoise hue, Bear Lake—which straddles the border between Utah and Idaho—is frequently referred to as the “Caribbean of the Rockies.” On the Utah side, there’s a public marina, where you can rent and dock anything from jet-skis and windsurfers to sailboats and motorboats. And on the Idaho side, you can embark on an adventure through Minnetonka Cave, one of the country’s largest natural stalactite formations.
Tahoe, Aspen, Park City—when it comes to ski trips, everyone heads west. But the east coast has a hidden wintry oasis: Killington, Vermont. With six peaks, 3,000 feet of vertical, 155 trails, and the lengthiest operating hours in the region—not to mention a killer aprés ski—Killington can go toe-to-toe with any west coast destination. And you don’t even have hop a plane across the country.
The Black Hills, South Dakota
Sure, you may know the region for being home to Mount Rushmore. But the Black Hills is notable for far more than a bunch of presidents carved into a cliff. Don’t miss the Crazy Horse Memorial, the Minuteman Missile (for a dose of Cold War era nostalgia), the unblemished nature of Custer State Park, or the breathtaking Devil’s Tower (the first national monument in the country). And the best part? All of these sights are less than a two hours drive—through Insta-perfect scenery—apart.
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, the tiny vacation town in Rhode Island, is a must-visit destination for music junkies. In the summer months alone, you can catch the Newport Folk Festival (that’s where Bob Dylan controversially plugged in his electric for the first time) and the Newport Jazz Festival (an annual gathering of jazz’s greats; last year alone featured sets from Branford Marsalis, Vijay Iyer, Orrin Evans, and Christian McBride). And that doesn’t even mention the sublime boating available in the region; Newport is a famed sailing and yachting destination.
Bailey’s Harbor, Wisconsin
You can’t go wrong visiting any town in Wisconsin’s idyllic Door County. But for our money, Bailey’s Harbor is your best bet. Since it’s on the east of the Door Peninsula, you have access to incomparable sunrise views. Plus, between a weekly farmer’s market (featuring live tunes from local musicians), an abundance of farm-to-table cuisine (restaurants in town are committed to using as many regional ingredients as possible), and a generally warm and welcoming attitude toward tourists, you’ll feel like a local every minute you’re in town. For full immersion, skip the hotels and Airbnb a lakefront property.
Though it’s not technically its own jurisdiction—Gruene is part of New Braunfels, a small city just north of San Antonio—any lover of the lone star state’s mien needs to add the locale to their itinerary. In addition to the expected spattering of world-class barbecue (especially CBQ Smokehouse, whose expert smokers serve pulled pork so tender it falls apart in your mouth), the district is home to Gruene Hall (pictured), one of the oldest and largest dance halls in Texas.
Maine isn’t called “Vacationland” for nothing; the entire state is an ode to nature’s rejuvenating benefits. But the crown jewel doesn’t have anything to do with swaths of forest or serenity-inducing reservoirs. Instead, you’re going to Maine—Portland, specifically—for the food.
In recent years, the town has earned vaunted culinary honorifics; Bon Appetit dubbed Portland the “Foodiest Town In America,” while, in 2017, eight chefs received James Beard nominations. (The two chefs at local joint Eventide ended up taking top honors.) But before you visit, be sure you’re ready to tackle any term the Portland foodies throw your way by memorizing the 19 Fancy Menu Phrases Everyone Should Know.
Asheville, North Carolina
If you’re interested in an urban vacation, don’t count out Asheville. The North Carolina city is a cultural haven—full of art galleries, independent bookstores, and musicians (you can catch the free-for-all Asheville Drum Circle in Pritchard Park every Friday evening). And while you’re in town, check out the Biltmore, the former residence of George Vanderbilt, and one of the most intricately adorned architectural landmarks in the nation.
Bainbridge Island, Washington
Just across the Puget Sound, away from the hustle and bustle of Seattle, rests the sleepy, quaint locale of Bainbridge Island. Verdurous and secluded—though, yes, there is a small town—you’d be hard-pressed to find such solace as close to any major metropolitan area in the country. And if you get bored? Hey, that major metropolitan area is nothing more than a short ferry ride away.
If you’re heading to California, chances are, you’re checking out the cities, the vineyards, or the national parks. But what about the in-between? Monterey, a small city on the road from San Francisco to Big Sur, isn’t a spot to miss. The coastal locale features some of the best whale watching in the world and is also home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which itself is home to a mind-boggling 35,000 animals. So make a pitstop—even if it’s just for a night or two. And for more great vacation ideas, check out The Best Exotic Getaways For 2018.
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