The Best-Kept Secret in Every State
Whether you love beach towns, adventure trails, or urban exploration, one of these wildly overlooked cities and towns across America is sure to be right up your alley.
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These spots should be on your radar
It’s the first, and hopefully last, summer of COVID-19, and many of us have postponed our travel plans and are biding our time, daydreaming about the places we long to visit. Others are opting for socially distanced road trips or these safe summer vacations. Either way, we’re all plotting our next adventure, especially for when life gets back to normal. Whether you yearn for sandy beaches or quirky towns full of mystery, these under-the-radar U.S. destinations are ready to welcome you when the time is right.
The Shoals of Alabama in the northwest part of the state have a rich history and a vibrant modern-day culture. Each of the region’s “quad cities” boasts its own claim to fame: The musical town Sheffield is home to FAME Studios, where Etta James and Aretha Franklin recorded tracks, while Tuscumbia is Helen Keller’s birthplace, and Muscle Shoals gets a shout-out in the unofficial state anthem, “Sweet Home Alabama.” But it’s the least known of the four, Florence, that’s arguably the most exciting. It’s considered one of America’s newest and most important foodie towns, with everything from cute cafés to high-end seafood restaurants to satisfy virtually every budget and taste.
When it’s time to book your trip, stay at the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa. Also make sure to dine at its revolving rooftop restaurant, 360 Grill, for breathtaking panoramic views of Florence and the Tennessee River. These dreamy hotel rooms have views you’ll wish you were looking at right now.
By now, you’ve probably read about the wonders of Alaska’s scenic capital, Juneau. But nearby Sitka is considered Alaska’s true hidden gem—and that’s saying a lot in a place famous for its raw natural beauty. In what other U.S. state can you hike through a rainforest peppered with totem poles and watch the sunset behind a dormant volcano? Sitka has a colorful history, too: It became the first capital city when the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. Sitka’s Russian roots are still prominent in the city’s myriad historical parks and museums.
There’s perhaps no place better to see the best of Sitka than the Sitka Hotel. Overlooking Sitka Harbor and Crescent Bay, it’s located in the heart of downtown, within walking distance to most of the local attractions; the newly renovated hotel also offers shuttle service from the ferry terminal or airport. While summer is definitely a great time to visit, these 16 photos showcase Alaska’s beauty in winter.
Want to take a walk on Easy Street? You finally can—just make a left on Ho Hum Drive. The whimsically named Carefree is a planned community created in the 1950s by a pair of American entrepreneurs, who marketed it as “a place for gracious living in a desert forest of rare beauty.” Today, the small city just outside of Scottsdale lives up to its name—and its founders’ vision for a quirky, upscale utopia. Head to Carefree for fine dining, golf, tennis, art museums, spa facilities, and shopping. And don’t miss the world’s largest sundial (it points to the North Star!) or the world’s tallest Kachina doll, a traditional Native American craft. Afterward, indulge yourself with a night at Boulders Resort & Spa amid 12-million-year-old boulder formations in the high Sonoran Desert.
If you pass through Sedona while you’re in the state and notice something funny about a certain fast-food restaurant, this is the surprising reason one Arizona McDonald’s uses turquoise arches.
Arkansas: Eureka Springs
This Victorian resort village was once known as “The Magic City,” and it’s easy to see why. Around the turn of the 20th century, it was believed that Eureka Springs had healing waters, and a reputation for sorcery has stuck with it to this day. This bed-and-breakfast town is now famous for its healing spas, magic shows, and popular outdoor theater. It’s also known for its LGBTQ-friendly community and thrice-yearly gay pride celebrations. Stay the night at the quaint yet luxurious Heartstone Inn and Cottages, recently named as one of TripAdvisor’s top 25 bed and breakfasts in the United States. Heartstone is famous for treating guests like royalty, and it’s conveniently located in the Eureka Springs historic district. Don’t miss the most charming small-town bed and breakfasts in every state.
California: San Luis Obispo
There are so many high-profile places to visit in the Golden State—Hollywood, the Bay Area, Napa—that it can be hard to identify an off-the-radar spot. But smack-dab in between San Francisco and Los Angeles is a quiet county called San Luis Obispo. Billed as “the happiest place in America,” it encompasses some of California’s prime selling points: wine country, outdoor adventure, pristine coastlines, farm-to-table dining, and a perfect climate. But because it’s relatively far-flung, it feels more serene and less like a scene.
Need a place to stay? The Granada Hotel & Bistro represents the best of San Luis Obispo. This exposed-brick hotel is located close to the shops, restaurants, and wineries downtown, and its bistro features an amazing Spanish-inspired menu sourced from local farms. If you’re a wine lover, you might also want to plan a trip to one (or more) of these gorgeous wineries around the world someday.
While ski bunnies and film buffs flock to towns like Breckenridge, Vail, and Telluride, take a detour to the relatively undiscovered Salida, a resort town on the Arkansas River. It’s a stone’s throw from another popular town, Aspen, and offers much of the same year-round recreation without all the tourists and fanfare. When you’re not snowboarding, kayaking, mountain biking, or taking a hot-springs plunge, head indoors. Salida’s burgeoning art and restaurant scene and prominent historic district are what truly set this town apart. You’ll love the Manhattan Hotel, a boutique hotel with amazing views of the Arkansas River and Tenderfoot Mountain. Check out these 20 mountain towns that look like they’re straight from a storybook.
Much of Connecticut is residential, but the maritime village of Mystic stands apart from everything else in the state. Mystic Seaport is essentially a 19-acre museum, and it hearkens back to the area’s 19th-century seafaring roots. An adjacent museum and aquarium are among the area’s major attractions, and the cobblestoned Olde Mistick Village is a throwback to a much simpler time. Fresh seafood is abundant in this coastal town, and a haunted tour is a perfect way to end your trip. The Whaler’s Inn is an adorably beachy boutique hotel that’s right in downtown Mystic. You can’t beat the location, and the hotel is taking COVID safety seriously. If an intimate stay sounds appealing, especially right now, check out more of the best boutique hotels in America.
Delaware: Slaughter Beach
It may be the second-smallest state, but Delaware is a giant when it comes to beach towns. Rehoboth Beach is by far its most coveted summer spot, with Dewey and Bethany coming in as close seconds. But if crowds make you crabby, plant your umbrella in the sand at Slaughter Beach instead. This ominously named, but perfectly lovely, beach has been designated a sanctuary for the swarms of horseshoe crabs that wash up on its shores each year. When you’ve had enough sun and surf, fill up on fresh seafood, then take a trip to nearby Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
Modern and upscale, Hotel Blue is the perfect place to stay in the area. If you get tired of the beach, you can take in the panoramic views while lounging beside its rooftop pool. Discover another 12 East Coast getaways locals want to keep secret.
Florida: St. Augustine
In contrast to state-of-the-art Orlando and other, more commercial parts of Florida, historic St. Augustine, situated between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach, is a quaint city. And when we say historic, we mean it—St. Augustine is the oldest city in America. And though it’s a coastal community, the best parts are inland, where you’ll find cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and horse-drawn carriage tours of the area’s many-storied landmarks. This casual and culturally rich little city is family-friendly and famous for its ideal weather.
Bayfront Marin House Historic Inn is located on the waterfront and has a large front porch for people watching. They pamper their guests with beautifully decorated rooms, beach chairs, umbrellas, bicycles, and perks like free happy hour. Check out these other American cities that are great for history buffs.
Georgia: Sapelo Island
One of a series of islands off Georgia’s coast, tiny Sapelo Island is lesser-known than counterparts like Jekyll and St. Simon’s Islands, and that’s a good thing if you’re looking for a truly secluded getaway. Sapelo Island has barely any commercial hotels or restaurants, and it’s accessible only by ferry. Once there, you can kayak, hike, bike, and explore to your heart’s content, then head into the historic Hog Hammock community. La Quinta Inn And Suites in Brunswick is the perfect jumping-off spot for visitors to Sapelo Island, and it’s a good value. Find out which other U.S. islands you’ll want to add to your bucket list.
Finding an undiscovered spot in one of the most popular island destinations on the planet isn’t an easy task. While the vast majority of travelers head to Maui, Kauai, Oahu, and the Big Island, a hidden gem called Lanai is pretty and unspoiled, and it’s just a 25-minute flight from Honolulu. Enjoy much of what Hawaii has become famous for—crystal clear waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling, rugged trails ideal for hiking and horseback riding—but without the throngs of tourists. It’s the perfect spot for couples romance or a spell of solitude in paradise.
The best of Hawaii is on display at the stunning Four Seasons Resort Lanai, perched on top of a bluff overlooking Hulopoe and the Pacific Ocean. With 90,000 acres to explore and a long list of complimentary activities, you may never want to leave. Here are more of the best beaches in Hawaii to visit in your lifetime.
Idaho: Coeur d’Alene
The beauty of North Idaho is grossly underrated, and its Coeur d’Alene lakeside community is one of the best-kept secrets in all of the Pacific Northwest. This exotically named mountain enclave, dubbed CDA by locals, has something for everyone: stunning landscapes, a lively food scene, and year-round activities like skiing, fly-fishing, golf, and parasailing. Pass through Coeur d’Alene on a cruise or on foot, but be ready to splurge; this isn’t a budget getaway. Coeur d’Alene’s newest luxury hotel, One Lakeside, will be opening in late summer in an unbeatable location with stunning views of the lake, luxurious accommodations, and an incredible outdoor terrace. By the way, did you know that Idaho is the least wasteful state in the country?
Believe it or not, there’s life outside Chicago. If you’re road-tripping through Illinois, blow right through the Windy City and head south to Alton instead. This quirky community has developed a reputation for the macabre. Its haunted tours, Museum of Torture Devices, and homage to a mythical man-eating bird-dragon are just some of the things that make this town so delightfully weird. Alton is also home to the tallest man who ever lived and the site of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858. On a more down-to-earth note, you can enjoy comfort food at comfortable prices in this casual community. Lodging options in Alton are as quirky as the city itself. The Beall Mansion Bed and Breakfast is a beautifully restored historic mansion that offers unique amenities like a 24-hour chocolate buffet.
The Indy 500 is an excellent reason to come to Indiana, but there’s a lot going on outside of Indianapolis. Muncie, an incorporated city 50 miles northeast of Indianapolis, is a cultural hub that boasts museums and music halls, plus a mouthwatering farm-to-table food scene. It’s also a college town; Ball State University is here. There are also plenty of golf courses and local shops for passing the time, and the climate is perfect year-round. In addition to being an all-around incredible town, Muncie is an incredible value—it’s full of reasonably priced restaurants and activities. Here are another 20 affordable summer getaways for families.
When winter is coming, this city on the Mississippi River can become so desolate that it famously inspired former resident George R.R. Martin to hole himself up and pen the Game of Thrones series. But in spring and summer, the waterfront community of Dubuque truly blossoms, and it’s not to be missed. Botanical gardens, aquariums, and riverboat rides abound, and the city even offers cave exploration and a slew of kid-friendly museums. Head to Cable Car Square for shops, galleries, and restaurants, and tour an organic farm where cloistered nuns make caramels by hand. The Redstone Inn & Suites, set in a brick mansion, is within walking distance to downtown highlights such as the town’s historic clock tower, city hall, pubs, and eateries. It’s the perfect home base from which to explore Dubuque. Here are 13 amazing castles from Game of Thrones you can visit in real life.
The “Grassroots Art Capital of the United States” is home to many bizarre exhibitions, not the least of which is the Garden of Eden, called “one of the eight wonders of art.” The gallery is packed with cryptic concrete sculptures and has a macabre backstory. Tempted to take a peek at its founder, S.P. Dinsmoor? You’re in luck: His mummified remains happen to be buried in a mausoleum on the property. While you’re in town, don’t miss the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum. Lucas is an affordable road trip pit stop or a bona fide curiosity of a destination all on its own. For more distinctly American oddities, see the strangest roadside attractions in every state.
Most visitors to Lucas stay in nearby Wilson. There, you can check out (and check into) the Midland Railroad Hotel, which was established way back in 1899 and is just about 16 miles from the Garden of Eden. Though it still has a quaint feel, it’s been completely updated with modern amenities.
Kentucky: Cave City
Are you a sucker for stalagmites? Then venture off the beaten path to a small spot in Kentucky called Cave City, and get ready to get subterranean. The city’s claim to fame is Mammoth Cave National Park, where you can explore 390 miles of preserved natural caves in the warmer months—and enjoy on-site dining. Then visit the city’s amusement parks, where you can go zip lining and mountain climbing, and rent a canoe on the Green River. Cave City is about 85 miles south of Louisville, so it’s perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway.
Most of the hotels in Cave City are reasonably priced chains. The Comfort Inn & Suites is a solid option, especially for families, with a swimming pool and free breakfast included in your stay. Until you can get to Cave City, here are 25 breathtaking photos of caves around the world to satisfy your wanderlust.
Louisiana: Avery Island
With so much to do, see, and taste in New Orleans, there’s little reason to venture off to any other part of Louisiana, right? Wrong. In fact, the Big Easy’s rich culture spills over into plenty of other, less-discovered cities, and one of them is Avery Island, where Tabasco sauce got its start and is still made today. Tour its famous factory, then use some of the famous hot sauce to season your crawfish and jambalaya—this is Cajun country, after all. In your downtime, take an airboat ride and go birding in the beautiful jungle gardens; just know that this little town is all about the food. If you’re visiting Avery Island for the weekend, there are lodging options about six miles away in New Iberia.
Maine is home to arguably the prettiest coastal towns in the country, and people know it—that’s probably why it’s dubbed “The Vacation State.” After you’ve had your fill of Maine must-sees like Bar Harbor and Camden, take in the small-town vibes of Belfast on the mid-coast. Like more bustling parts of coastal Maine, Belfast is teeming with some of the freshest seafood around; plus, it’s home to marine museums, street festivals, and an Art Deco movie theater.
If you need a place to stay, try the Ocean’s Edge Fireside Inn & Suites. Every room has a gorgeous view of the ocean, and there’s a heated indoor mineral pool and hot tub to soak your weary bones. They even throw in a free breakfast to start your day. Don’t miss these other coastal towns to road trip to that will leave you breathless.
As small towns go, it doesn’t get much cooler than Berlin—the other Berlin, that is. The meticulously preserved downtown area is a National Register Historic District, packed with Victorian and early-20th-century architecture, as well as family-owned eateries and the famous Globe Theater. The town’s array of tree species is impressive; you can find magnolias, sycamores, tulip poplars, and gingkos among them. Explore the town on a walking tour or on a bicycle—on warm days, the beach is within riding distance. The best place to stay is the recently updated Atlantic Hotel, which has been welcoming visitors to Berlin for more than a century and offers guest rooms with a Victorian feel. There’s no better place to learn about the town’s history.
Boston undoubtedly has its many attractions, but sometimes you just want a sleepy seaside town with all the typical New England charm. Enter: Marblehead. Take a stroll in Old Town to experience its quaint historic district, enjoy a scenic drive down Marblehead Neck, visit a Puritan graveyard, and dine at any of the area’s abundant seafood shacks. Ah, beach life. Make a weekend of it by booking a room at Hotel Marblehead. You’ll experience New England charm from a beautiful Victorian mansion, which has delightful amenities like afternoon tea and badminton on the lawn. If you’re traveling in the fall, you might want to extend your vacation and embark on a road trip that showcases stunning fall foliage.
Two and a half hours away from Detroit on the other side of the state is the cheerful beach town of Caseville, situated on Pigeon River. Caseville is famous for its Cheeseburger Festival, but it also offers sweet pastimes like mini-golf, go-karts, and water slides. There are also plenty of shops and dining to check out—it’s not just a kids’ town. Most visitors to Caseville stay in Bad Axe, where the primary options are chain hotels like Holiday Inn Express. Here are 15 other American food festivals that are worth a pit stop when life gets back to normal.
Excelsior has been called one of the best small towns in the country, and many local Minnesotans would agree. This historic spot on Lake Minnetonka oozes charm, with bistros, boutiques, and specialty shops galore. Hop a cable car to a local ice cream shop or picnic in the Commons, a protected park ground that normally features live concerts in the summer months. And the locals are some of the friendliest people you can find. The Country Inn & Suites by Radisson is about three miles from Excelsior, and it has a golf course, pool, gym, and free breakfast to make the most of your stay. These are more of the nicest small towns to visit in America.
History meets hipster in this vintage mansion town, the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River. Visitors to Natchez are invited to imbibe on locally made spirits, peep historic homes on a seasonal pilgrimage tour, enjoy regional fare in a carriage house, and attend local festivals like the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race. Old is constantly mingling with new in this haven for Southern hospitality 100 miles southwest of Jackson. Of course, bed and breakfasts abound, so don’t miss out on the full experience. Some, like the Guest House, are set in gorgeous, historic mansions that are within walking distance to the main delights of Natchez. Speaking of which, these are the most beautiful mansions in every state.
Wine country in Missouri? This may not be your first choice for Merlot and Cabernet tastings, but Missouri’s Augusta viticulture area has actually been designated the “First United States Wine District.” It’s the perfect place for a wine-filled weekend and just 35 miles outside of St. Louis. If you can tear yourself away from the award-winning vineyards, ride a bike along the scenic Katy Trail to see the town’s quaint restaurants, shops, and bakeries. The Wildwood Hotel is nearby, and with its large rooms and free breakfast, it’s a great place to relax and rest up before heading out on your Augusta adventure.
Montana: Flathead Valley
No matter your travel style, we can all agree that pleasant weather is a universal “yes” factor. The perpetually mild climate of this northwest Montana gem of a county allows for year-round recreation—and who doesn’t love that? Flathead Valley isn’t just a destination for outdoor adventurists, though; it’s also a vibrant artists’ community where you can find theater and fine dining aplenty. Don’t leave without taking advantage of the valley’s close proximity to Glacier National Park, “the Crown of the Continent,” for a day hike or a weekend of camping. Stay at the historic, rustic, and utterly charming Glacier Park Lodge when you visit. It offers a shuttle to take you to the park, a pool, a golf course, and a bar. If camping’s more your thing, check out the best places to camp at Glacier and other national parks.
Valentine’s motto is “Small town, big adventure,” and this little community delivers big time! Hike one of the Heart City’s two wildlife refuges, which are home to bison, elk, prairie dogs, and 260 bird species, collectively. Go canoeing or inner-tubing in the federally protected Niobrara National Scenic River, then set up camp in Smith Falls State Park, where you’ll find Nebraska’s highest waterfall. See ranch life up close at Arthur Bowring Ranch State Historical Park, and go biking or horseback riding along the scenic Cowboy Trail. The Niobrara Lodge is reasonably priced, has a pool, and offers free breakfast, and it’s a smart choice for your home base.
Nevada: Virginia City
If you’re like most visitors to Nevada, you never leave the Vegas strip. But when you grow tired of casinos and showgirls, step into Virginia City and all of its Wild West mining-town glory. Explore the Chollar Mine, hop aboard the historic V&T railroad, or take a trolley or walking tour around the city. Depending on the time of year, catch a rodeo or participate in a saloon crawl. If you love this idea, check out these other small towns that look like they’re frozen in time.
Virginia City is just a short drive from Reno, and the latter is the ideal spot to stay when you decide it’s time to visit the area. The Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, which offers 850 luxury suites among its nearly 2,000 guest rooms, is a good value with a pool, casino, and fitness center. Plus, you’ll have access to numerous golf courses and ski resorts, as well as hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and more. It can strike the right balance with your small-town adventures in Virginia City.
New Hampshire: Sugar Hill
Welcome to New Hampshire’s newest town! The quaint Sugar Hill, with its population of less than 600, was incorporated as recently as 1962, but it doesn’t feel modern—in all the best ways, of course. This is a town that touts a handmade-cheese shop and a pancake house among its top eateries, and moose and turkeys among its wildlife. The White Mountains serve as a backdrop for Sugar Hill, and yes, they’re an amazing place to ski and snowboard. In the fall, come for the world-class leaf-peeping, and in the summer, attend a charming festival honoring the local wildflower, lupine. The Sunset Hill House is a gorgeous place to lay your head. Enjoy its postcard-worthy views of the mountains and a free breakfast before you reluctantly head home.
New Jersey: Montclair
If the popular Jersey Shore and its myriad beaches are already on your radar, give the city-meets-suburb of Montclair a spin. Considered an outgrowth of New York City, it has much of the culture and Bohemian charm of the Big Apple at a much more realistic price point. The area is renowned for its cultural diversity—many accomplished artists, writers, and musicians call it home—and its highly walkable downtown area, packed with top-notch restaurants, shops, cafés, and the popular Wellmont Theater. For a true getaway, book a room at The M.C., part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. It’s within walking distance to many Montclair highlights, and its rooftop bar has a spectacular view. To save a little money, check out the best free tourist attraction in New Jersey—and every other state.
New Mexico: Taos
Santa Fe has a well-earned reputation as an enchanting and artistically diverse community. Its lesser-known cousin, Taos, deserves its share of accolades, too. It hosts a seemingly endless number of festivals, including the Pueblo Pow Wow, an outdoor arts festival, and a storytelling festival. Taos is a mecca for artists, writers, and musicians, and creativity permeates this Southwestern community. Get into the creative spirit with a pottery class, or visit a few of the town’s many museums. For an authentic experience, opt to stay in one of the area’s many charming and rustic bed and breakfasts. You can’t go wrong with the eight-room Palacio de Marquesa, which consistently gets rave reviews from guests for its beauty and convenient location just a half a mile from the galleries and historic landmarks downtown.
New York: Beacon
When New Yorkers are looking to escape the city, they often head north to the Hudson Valley for some fresh air. Laid-back Beacon offers that and so much more. The spectacular modern art museum Dia: Beacon is the town’s biggest draw, and it’s even within walking distance from public transportation. Craft beers and artisanal cuisine make up much of Beacon’s food scene, and its (relatively) lively Main Street is home to artisan shops and vintage stores. Of course, kayaking on the Hudson River is encouraged, and hiking trails are abundant. Make it a romantic weekend by booking a room at the quaint Beacon Bed and Breakfast. The owners are famous for their friendliness and attention to detail, and the breakfasts are fantastic. The next time you visit the Big Apple, check out these 15 NYC hidden gems most New Yorkers don’t know about.
North Carolina: Asheville
If Asheville isn’t the best-kept secret in North Carolina, then it’s certainly one of the best-kept secrets in the United States. Tucked between the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, this Bohemian community gives more high-profile places like Portland, Oregon, and Brooklyn a run for their money. Dubbed “the Land of the Sky,” this highly walkable city appeals to creatives of all kinds, entrepreneurs, and the LGBTQ community. It also has a storied history (it influenced the novel You Can’t Go Home Again), an organic food scene, and a reputation for some of the most delicious beer in the country.
The Foundry Hotel, located in a historical area called “the Block,” is just a five-minute walk from downtown. You’ll fall in love with its modern design, exposed-brick walls, gorgeous bedrooms, and waterfall showers. Even if you don’t stay there, be sure to have a meal at the Foundry’s restaurant, Benne on Eagle. The menu features Appalachian soul food, and you can also take in the ambiance around the outdoor fire pits.
North Dakota: Kenmare
A certain 1990s movie put Fargo on the map (uh, that movie would be Fargo), but are there other places you should see on a visit to North Dakota? You betcha! In particular, a charming small town called Kenmare is a sweet destination for anyone with kids in tow. It boasts a toy museum, an old theater, a Danish windmill, a café on a farm, and a recreation of a pioneer town. There’s even a local wildlife refuge. Most of the visitors to Kenmare stay in Stanley. At the Black Gold Suites, you’ll find a terrific value for both short- and long-term bookings. Bonus: It’s pet-friendly! If you’re traveling with your furry BFF, consider planning a trip to one of these 15 best pet-friendly hotels.
Cleveland rocks, and so does Cincinnati, but the Buckeye State is home to a few other cool cities, too. One of them is the island of Put-in-Bay, accessible by ferry, private boat, or airplane. Known as a party island, this happy community on Lake Erie has a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. Golf is this island’s biggest activity, but there’s also plenty of kayaking, boat tours, and museums, as well as a bustling downtown with a Victorian flair. Put-in-Bay is also home to the fourth-tallest national monument in the United States, Perry’s Victory, and International Peace Memorial, which commemorates the most significant naval battle of the War of 1812. If you’re staying overnight, the Bay Lodging Resort is just three blocks from downtown, so you can explore the area on foot. You can even rent a golf cart from the front desk to drive around the area!
In 1937, the circus rolled into town—and it never left. Hugo, aka “Circus Town, USA,” has been home to 20 different circus troops and currently hosts three. This theme carries over, from the circus sculptures that adorn its public library to a section of Mount Olivet cemetery devoted to performers who’ve passed, complete with flamboyant headstones. Even the town’s water tower has a big-top theme. Visit Endangered Ark Foundation, an elephant sanctuary, then head over to Hugo’s circus-themed dinner for some hometown grub. Looking for a place to stay? The Choctaw Casino & Resort is only five miles away, and it has a stunning swimming pool to soak in the rays. Check out these 15 vintage photos from America’s first circuses.
Once upon a time, the culturally diverse and proudly “weird” Portland was Oregon’s best-kept secret. Today, it’s probably Bend, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive away. Craft-beer breweries abound along the Bend Ale Trail, and its sophisticated food scene is bound to impress. Spend your day on a volcano tour, go paddleboarding, hike the 500-foot Pilot Butte to get a panoramic view of the city, or schedule a cave, rafting, or snowshoe adventure with Wanderlust Tours. Then unwind by taking in local art and strolling through historic downtown Bend. When you’re done, knock back a freshly brewed cold one and grab a bite to eat at Crux Fermentation Project or Deschutes Brewery’s Bend Public House. If spirits are more your thing, be sure to stop by the Crater Lake Distillery Tasting Room. While we’re on the topic, beer lovers must try these best craft beers from every state.
One day is not enough time to see the sights of Bend, so when you make your plans, book a room at Riverhouse on the Deschutes. The rooms at the recently renovated hotel are large and inviting, and many have balconies and river-front views. The restaurant also has a beautiful deck for outdoor dining right along the river.
Pennsylvania: Bucks County
If you’re looking for a healthy dose of character in the Keystone State, look no further than Bucks County, nestled within Philadelphia’s countryside. Main Street is teeming with unique shops, and once a year, an antique car show rolls into town. Take a ride on the county’s historic New Hope & Ivyland Railroad, take in a show at the Bucks County Playhouse, and enjoy the affordable, all-American fare. The area is full of unique places to stay, such as the Washington House Hotel, which offers old-world charm and is consistently ranked by guests as the best lodging in the area. This is your day-by-day guide to the perfect family weekend in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Rhode Island: Pawtuxet Village
The culturally rich city of Providence and unspoiled beaches of Block Island usually get all the glory where Rhode Island is concerned. But Pawtuxet Village has that quaint New England feel and is the perfect coastal community. This walkable, picturesque town has worked hard to establish itself as a foodie destination, and it’s rich in history, too—it was a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The Courtyard by Marriott is about 2.5 miles away, and guests have access to a pool, jacuzzi, and restaurant. If you book a room at a Marriott property, be sure to register for their rewards program. These are the 10 best hotel rewards programs, and Marriott ranks number one.
South Carolina: Pawleys Island
You’ve probably heard of Charleston and Myrtle Beach, but tucked right in between the two is a sleepy beach town called Pawleys Island, one of the oldest resort towns in the United States. Its beaches don’t see the crowds of its more famous neighbor, but the white sand and crystal clear waters are all the same. Get some golfing in, then spend your evening dining at any of the town’s cozy seafood restaurants. The weather is hot in the summer and mild in the winter, making it a wonderful year-round destination. The Oceanfront Inn, which is right on Lichfield Beach, has a lovely pool if you decide you want a little more waterside action when you get back from a day on the sand. For more fun in the sun, discover the best beach in every state.
South Dakota: Rapid City
The Black Hills of South Dakota are home to some of the most exciting adventures the state has to offer, including a trip to the famous Mount Rushmore. Rapid City, often a home base for adventure tourists, is a gem hiding in plain sight. Museums and arts centers offer an education on the very things that make the Black Hills so significant, and a 200-acre park called Bear Country USA is home to mountain lions, reindeer, wolves, and, yes, black bears. Presidential statues will greet you along your walk through Rapid City, and “the City of the Presidents” just may be the nicest place in South Dakota. While there, stay at the Hotel Alex Johnson. Welcoming visitors for nearly 100 years, this downtown hotel combines historic charm with modern delights like a rooftop bar.
Pardon me, please: Have you heard of Chattanooga? The fourth-largest city in Tennessee is a locomotive town immortalized in the Glenn Miller song “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Today, you can take a ride on the town’s storied railroad system and visit its railroad museum. Hike the mountainous terrain of Rock City, then dine at a local gastropub. The foliage is New England–worthy during fall, when RiverRocks, Chattanooga’s month-long adventure festival, rolls into town. Book your stay at the Great Gatsby–style Read House and walk to Chattanooga’s main attractions, assuming you can tear yourself away from your lovely, luxurious room. These are the most scenic train rides in the United States.
This historic city isn’t exactly what you think of when you think of Texas—but it would fit right in if you were in Louisiana. In fact, this community on the banks of Big Cypress Bayou is reminiscent of New Orleans in a lot of ways, from its ghost tours and Antebellum architecture to its trolley system and its Cajun and Creole cuisine. (In case you’re wondering, this is the difference between Cajun and Creole food.) If it’s raining, stop in the Gone with the Wind Museum—after all, tomorrow is another day! For the ultimate in relaxation, stay at the lovingly restored Delta Street Inn. You’ll enjoy gracious hospitality in this circa-1920, prairie-style bed and breakfast, which is filled with both modern amenities and antique pieces and is surrounded by large, shady trees.
Utah: Snow Canyon State Park
Utah is renowned for its stunning national parks, most famously Zion and Bryce—yet just 50 miles from Zion is the lesser-known Snow Canyon State Park. Despite its name, this oasis rarely sees anything but mild weather, and with epic cliffs made of red Navajo sandstone and ancient lava flows, this wonder at the edge of the Mojave desert will take your breath away. Camping is allowed year-round, and it’s a haven for cyclists, hikers, and rock climbers. Spot coyotes, foxes, and roadrunners along the way. If you’re not camping, dine and crash in nearby St. George. The luxurious Inn at Entrada is designed to blend in with its red-rock surroundings. Guests swim in the picture-perfect pool, golf, and enjoy the inn’s famous fresh-baked cinnamon rolls in the morning. Here are another 10 off-the-beaten-path national parks that are practically secret.
Yes, you can find fresh maple syrup in this little New England village, but you can also find orchards, wineries, adorable eateries, and a yarn-spinning cooperative. Go berry picking, take a dip in a local swimming hole, visit the general store, and buy artisan crafts in Downtown Putney, a district on the National Register of Historic Places. At night, catch a show at the local theater. It doesn’t get more “small town” than this.
Just five miles away, you’ll find the Chesterfield Inn, a luxury bed and breakfast filled with historic charm and antiques that’s the perfect setting for romance. Guest rooms have fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, and private terraces, and if you’re there with a special someone, take advantage of the candlelit dinners. Don’t linger too long in your room when you wake up, though, or you might miss the gourmet breakfast.
Looking for a city experience that’s not too pricey or chaotic? Welcome to Norfolk. This seaside city is packed with local art (prepare to see mermaid sculptures everywhere), seafood-heavy cuisine, craft beer, and year-round festivals. It’s also home to the world’s largest Navy station, which you can tour, of course. But the city is known most for its kind and friendly locals and the fact that it’s pretty immaculate for a city of its stature. Hilton Norfolk The Main is right downtown and has sweeping views of the Elizabeth River. There’s no better place to stay in Norfolk, especially since Hilton properties are being diligent about coronavirus safety and number among the cleanest hotels in the world, according to travel agents.
This faux-Bavarian village is the perfect two-and-a-half-hour road trip from Seattle—and it really delivers on the German theme. Enjoy schnitzel and beer, and in the fall, let loose at the annual Oktoberfest celebration. (Note: Due to coronavirus, Oktoberfest has been canceled for this year, but plans are already underway for 2021.) During the summer, try hiking, fishing, and birding—and drop into the town’s fabled Christmas store, which is proudly open year-round. While you’re there, take an old-timey photo in traditional saloon gear. The Enzian Inn, nestled in the mountains and just a short walk from downtown, is full of European charm. During breakfast, an Alpine horn player serenades guests, and it isn’t unusual to see mountain goats sunning themselves across the street. Here are more small towns in America that will have you feeling like you hopped the Atlantic.
West Virginia: Lewisburg
This “wild and wonderful” state is often overlooked as a travel destination, but Lewisburg will change your mind. Voted America’s coolest small town and one of the best small arts towns in America by two major publications, it’s packed with everything you love in a small town: mom-and-pop shops, eateries, and small businesses. It’s also home to one of four Carnegie Halls. Go on a walking tour, experience Civil War reenactments, or catch live music in downtown Lewisburg at night to round out your visit. When you make your way there, spend the night at the stunning Greenbrier Resort, which combines history, incredible scenery, luxury, and loads of on-site activities. This massive hotel is a National Historic Landmark and has been open since 1778. (Yes, you read that right!)
Wisconsin: Kickapoo Valley
If you’re a fan of wildflowers and wild-mushroom foraging, then off-the-beaten-path Kickapoo Valley is for you. Mosses, ferns, and hemlocks also pepper the shores of 125-mile Kickapoo River, the longest tributary of the Wisconsin River, which invites you to canoe, drive, or bike its length. Go fishing, hunting, or horseback riding in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, also a lively birding location. Wisconsin cheese is famous all over the world, and the area is known for Kickapoo Blue Cheese, manufactured by supermarket favorite Organic Valley, which got its start in the area.
There are plenty of lodging options in Lacrosse, about 30 miles away. The Charmont Hotel makes its home in a renovated 1898 candy factory, and the rooms—with their wood beams and exposed brick—are lovely, luxurious, and distinctive. You can also indulge at this boutique hotel’s locally sourced restaurant, cocktail bar, and sweets bar. Yum! Check out these other amazing hotel perks that will make you want to book a room ASAP.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are no-brainers, but in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains lies a historic little town called Buffalo that’s well worth a visit. It’s full of Old West charms, including the 131-year-old Occidental Hotel, which once hosted Butch Cassidy. Today, it’s a prime location for outdoor adventure, and many historic trails are available to traverse, including Clear Creek Centennial Trail and Bozeman Trail, which led to the gold country of Montana in the 19th century. Most of the area is private land, so guided tours are recommended. The budget-friendly Hampton Inn and Suites is situated in the base of the Big Horn Mountains beside a babbling creek. Next, check out more of the most stunning mountain towns in America.