Even though America’s most popular destinations are beloved for a reason, sometimes what makes travel exciting is seeking out some undiscovered wonders around the world. You don’t have to go too far to have one of these new experiences, either. These American towns, islands and regions aren’t as universally known as major American tourist hotspots, yet are just as worthy of a visit, whether it’s for natural beauty, an exemplary arts scene or even just impressive architecture. Visit these hidden gems while they’re still a perfect slice of authentic Americana and a place to get away from the tourist hordes.
Ogunquit, Maine, is one of the most underrated beach towns in America. Legend has it this spot was named by the indigenous Abenaki tribe and means “beautiful place by the sea.” Just 4 square miles, the small town is located on the southern Maine coast and is home to a thriving theater and art scene as well as plenty of shops and independent restaurants serving some of America’s best lobster rolls.
Bisbee is a charming small town with a lot of history in the southeastern part of Arizona. The weather in Bisbee — which is situated in the Mule Mountains — is a bit cooler than elsewhere in the state, and the early 20th-century architecture of its downtown is still well preserved, making this one of those towns that look like they’re stuck in time. Markets, saloons and bars provide great food and drink options, while the town’s arts scene thrives in its multiple small art galleries and craft and jewelry shops.
Ashland is one of the coolest cities in Oregon thanks to its impressive restaurant scene, award-winning wineries and breweries, access to the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains and many festivals celebrating art, music and theater. Among the most notable events in Ashland are the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Ashland Culinary Festival.
One of those places only East Coasters know about, New York’s car-free Fire Island can be reached by a ferry from Long Island that runs only from May through mid-October. Visit the restaurants and take in the nightlife in Ocean Beach or Ocean Bay Park, go fishing in Kismet, sail around the island by boat or on a bike or explore the Sunken Forest, an ancient maritime forest home to beautiful birds and wildlife.
Situated in the picturesque Texas Hill Country region, Wimberley has as much beauty indoors as it does outdoors. Multiple art galleries housing unique artworks take part in the Second Saturday Gallery Trail, an event held every second Saturday in which the galleries stay open late for viewing, offering appetizers and wine to guests. The lovely town is also known for being home to a few swimming holes, including Jacob’s Well, a popular summer swimming spot that leads to an underwater cave system.
Jim Thorpe is considered the prettiest town in Pennsylvania, with Victorian charm in a mountain setting. Located in the Lehigh Gorge in eastern Pennsylvania, the town offers visitors a great base for adventures in the Poconos Mountains, as well as the chance for a quiet getaway with live entertainment and strolls through its downtown.
Taos is the perfect spot for a day trip from Santa Fe, which is just an hour-and-a-half drive away. Home to over 20 nationally registered historic sites, this New Mexican city is the kind of place you can go any time of year. It’s known for art and skiing, and the Taos Ski Valley is a must for anyone who wants to hit the Southwestern slopes. Take on the Rio Grande in a river adventure or make a trip to visit the Taos Pueblo, a Native American community just north of Taos that is open to visitors.
A truly underrated vacation spot, Block Island is situated about 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Enjoy 17 miles of free public beaches and scenic views of 250-foot-high bluffs, as well as more than 30 miles of hiking trails. More than 50 stores, many with specialty goods, offer charming gifts, antiques and souvenirs, and a fine-dining and art gallery scene offer a sophisticated cultural experience.
Running along the northern shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota’s North Shore region stretches 145 miles and is home to plenty of state parks and trails perfect for hiking, biking and exploring. While the city of Duluth is located here, offering plenty of city life and excitement, there are also plenty of charming smaller towns, such as the artistic community of Grand Marais and the ski resort town of Lutsen.
The bright and pastel colors of the houses along the beach in Capitola as well as the mild weather year-round make it quite surprising that this town is pretty much only known to West Coasters. During the summer, live music is played at the beach and Esplanade Park, while the rest of the year the town hosts events such as the Capitola Art & Wine Festival and the Capitola Beach Festival.
Located off the coast of Washington state, the San Juan Islands offer an island getaway with a mild climate; summer temperatures are typically around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, while winter weather is around 40 degrees F. The ocean and mountain scenery here is absolutely breathtaking. Orcas Island, the largest of the bunch, is home to Mount Constitution, which has a stone observation tower with particularly stunning views.
Western North Carolina’s Blowing Rock is a quaint village located on the crest of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. Hit its main street and the charming shops that line it, which sell goods such as fudge, spices, specialty candles, jewelry and more. Go hiking on the Glen Burney Trail along New Year’s Creek, and get a fantastic view of the surrounding forests from the Blowing Rock after which the village is named, a sight that’s particularly lovely in autumn.
Located on South Bass Island 3 miles off the shore of Ohio in Lake Erie, Put-in-Bay is just 2.5 miles by 5 miles in size. While the lake is a great place to swim, go boating or relax on the pebble beach, the village itself has many walking trails and nature preserves as well as shopping and both casual and fine dining. For those looking to work for their supper, fishing is a popular endeavor too.
Ouray, Colorado, surrounded by canyons and mountains and filled with history, is a small town that deserves more recognition. Named for a Native American chief of the Ute tribe, the town of Ouray has old wagon trails now frequented by Jeeps, a historic steam train to ride and ancient Native American ruins as well as other local artifacts kept at the Ouray County Ranch History Museum. Ouray and the surrounding area are also notable as the filming location for many westerns, most notably the original “True Grit” starring John Wayne.
Avery Island is a spot full of beauty and Tabasco sauce. Located a few miles inland from Louisiana’s Vermilion Bay, the island is actually a salt dome, and it’s known for being home to the famous condiment, with a factory that people can visit. The Tabasco sauce, bird sanctuary and exotic garden on the island are all courtesy of the Avery family, after whom the island was named.
The coastal town of Camden, Maine, has a beautiful harbor marked by the postcard-worthy Curtis Island Lighthouse. Get lost in the Camden Hills among 30 miles of trails and more than 100 campsites and take to the nearby beach for swimming or sailing. Visit in the summer to see the largest gathering of windjammers in the Northeast at the Camden Windjammer Festival or join filmmakers from around the globe at the Camden International Film Festival in the fall.
Okoboji is the most photogenic spot in Iowa, home to a chain of glacier-carved lakes known as the Iowa Great Lakes. West Lake Okoboji is 136 feet deep and fed by springs. There are all kinds of water sports available, as well as other attractions such as Arnolds Park amusement park, local history museums and golf courses.
About 40 miles off the coast of southern California, Santa Rosa Island is about 53,000 acres and home to about 500 plant species, including one of the rarest pine trees in the world. Birds, foxes, seals and sea lions also call the island home, and archaeologists have found that humans have had a presence on the island for more than 13,000 years.
The best time to plan a trip to Traverse City is in the summer, when the city hosts the best food festival in the state, the National Cherry Festival. Located on Lake Michigan on the northern part of Michigan’s “mitt,” Traverse City is also a hotspot for wine production in the Midwest, with many wineries hosting wine tours. The city also offers access to skiing spots, freshwater beaches and a national lakeshore characterized by forests, huge sand dunes and a plethora of hiking trails.
In order to get to the beaches of Cumberland Island, visitors must catch the ferry, which departs just twice a day from St. Marys. The largest of Georgia’s barrier islands, it’s home to 17 miles of beaches and known for the wild horses that roam its terrain. Other creatures that one might encounter while exploring the island and its ruins include sea turtles, armadillos, deer and all kinds of birds.
A 24-foot totem pole named “Chief Little Owl” greets people in downtown Bethany Beach, home to just over 1,200 people and located on the southern Delaware coast. The beach has a well-kept boardwalk, and other popular activities in town include golfing and fishing. In addition to multiple parks, the town also has a nature center that promotes awareness of local flora and fauna, as well as annual events such as the Seaside Craft Show and the Poseidon Festival, a celebration filled with sand sculpting, hermit crab races, mermaids and pirates.
A quieter side of the Hamptons, the village of Sag Harbor is less than 2 square miles and located within both the towns of East Hampton and Southampton. Enjoy the beaches, stroll historic streets lined with ancient trees and old homes and peruse the shops that line the quaint main street which lies right next to the harbor.
This small village of less than 700 is named for the river on which it sits, with the Central Oregon Coast Range’s mountainous forests to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Hike or bike its many trails, or take a kayak through the terrain instead, exploring the tidal pools, secret coves and sandy beaches. One of the most amazing natural wonders in Yachats, however, is Thor’s Well, a 20-foot-deep sinkhole on the edge of the coast.
An approximately 40-minute drive from Charleston, South Carolina’s Kiawah Island has 10 miles of beaches and all kinds of wildlife such as alligators, bobcats, white-tailed deer and loggerhead sea turtles. The island also has plenty of options for world-class golfing and the supremely luxurious Sanctuary Hotel is home to the best hotel restaurant in the entire state, The Ocean Room.
Hugely popular with Midwesterners — 90% of overnight visitors come from the region — Wisconsin’s Door County covers nearly 500 square miles and has 300 miles of beautiful shoreline, with 53 beaches open for public swimming. In addition to countless local parks, Door County is home to five state and 19 county parks for hiking, as well as eight wineries that make up the Door County Wine Trail. There are also 11 historic lighthouses, 11 golf courses to tee off at and more than 100 museums, galleries and performance venues — making it one of America’s best weekend getaways.
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