The real life Hobbit village in New Zealand. The magical town in Croatia where the sea can actually sing. The gorgeous town in Denmark where the streets are made entirely of water. The world is filled with hideaways so enchanting it’s as if they’ve been plucked from a fairytale. But get this: there are also plenty of magical gems to be found right here in the good-ole U.S. of A., as well.
From a religious mecca in Iowa to the sleepy lakeside towns of New York, what follows are the most enchanting hideaways just waiting for your discovery. And for more destinations off the beaten path, check out these 15 Best Under-the-Radar American Escapes.
1 Jekyll Island, Georgia
Where to fly: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport
Located off the coast of Georgia, this island rich with history and beauty is just an hour’s drive from Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida. Whether you’re planning to stay for a day or a week, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy—or calm—from walking along the sandbars to historical tours of the centuries-old buildings and attractions.
Pro tip: Get up close and personal with the area’s infamous sea turtle population by paying a visit to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, an organization dedicated to keeping these friendly creatures safe from any potential threats.
And for more of America’s unsung travel gems, 50 Destinations So Magical You Won’t Believe They’re in the U.S.
2 Fly Geyser; Washoe County, Nevada
Where to fly: Reno-Tahoe International Airport
The perfect pitstop for any road trip out west, the Fly Geyser in Washoe County, Nevada, was accidentally created in 1964 when a geothermal power company drilled a test well into the surface of the rock, with the sediments that flow from it creating red and green-colored deposits on the surrounding rock structures. And, though the geyser is located on privately-owned land, there are tours available that allow guests to witness this man-made phenomenon up close.
Pro tip: After your desert excursion, book a room at the Whitney Peak Hotel for chic rooms and a renowned farm-to-table restaurant serving up some of the best meals in the area.
3 Pismo Beach, California
Where to fly: San Luis Obispo Airport, or Los Angeles International Airport
The “Clam Capital of the World” has much to offer the tourist: amazing cuisines, beautiful beaches, inspiring views—all delivered with the desired solitude and quaint charm not often found along the coast of California. Stroll along the boardwalk before an afternoon swim, or take a day away from the beach to explore the various shopping and dining experiences along Pismo Beach.
Pro tip: Take relaxation to a whole new level when you book your stay at The Cliffs Hotel and Spa, which offers a truly unique coastal experience from the cuisine to the expansive views of the sea.
And for more enchanting waterways, check out these 15 Waterfalls So Magical You Won’t Believe They’re in the U.S.
4 Cache River State Natural Area; Johnson County, Illinois
Where to fly: Central Illinois Regional Airport, or Chicago Midway International Airport
This southern Illinois park is situated on a floodplain created long ago by glacial floodwater from the Ohio River. Exploring these magical, sprawling forests and wetlands is a must no matter the season or temperatures, though, during the summer, the levels of greenery throughout the park is breathtaking. Visitors can enjoy an array of outdoor activities, like hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, and seasonal hunting programs.
Pro tip: For a taste of the local beer and small-town hospitality of the surrounding counties, stay at The Riverview Mansion Hotel in Golconda, Illinois, just minutes from the park.
5 Fayetteville, West Virginia
Where to fly: Raleigh-Durham International Airport
To be perfectly honest, the overwhelming amount of bad press that the entire state of West Virginia receives is largely due to ignorance. In fact, any person who makes the trek Fayetteville, one of the many hamlets in West Virginia containing an abundance of natural beauty, will quickly learn that the people, the food, and the mountains of West Virginia are more than welcoming—they’re actually quite addictive. From its historical architecture to the lakes teeming with fish and wildlife, Fayetteville is a must-see for those looking for small-town charm and comfort.
Pro tip: After your long day of sightseeing, rest easy at The Historic Morris Harvey House Bed and Breakfast for a truly southern stay—complete with a wraparound porch and Victorian architecture.
And for more ways to stay zen on your travels, learn the 20 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful.
6 New Paltz, New York
Where to fly: Stewart International Airport, or LaGuardia Airport
Located only 80 miles north of New York City, New Paltz is a great escape for those looking to escape the chaos of the city for a weekend. Just by strolling through the downtown area, visitors can feel a sense of the historical importance of the town, founded in 1678 by French Huguenots settlers. Explore the town’s Huguenot Street Historic District or venture outside with a hike through the winding and wild Mohonk Preserve.
Pro tip: Pictured above, the Mohonk Mountain House is a Victorian castle built in 1869, offering its guests farm-to-table cuisines and an award-winning spa.
7 Mackinac Island, Michigan
Where to fly: Cherry Capital Airport, or Detroit Metro Airport
Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac, offers something for everyone. During the day, the area boasts quiet streets and a wide array of shopping, dining, and breathtaking vistas. After the sun sets, however, the island’s bars-and-music scene comes alive to paint a welcoming and fun picture of the coastline.
Pro tip: Without a doubt, Mackinac Island is one of the best places in the country to wolf down fudge. A visit to Murdick’s Fudge, the island’s original fudge shop established in 1887, is a must for newcomers.
8 Estes Park, Colorado
Where to fly: Denver International Airport
Serving as the headquarters for the Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado is full of sweeping landscapes and some of the best ski resorts in the entire country. Even if you’re not one to be completely entranced by a hike through the mountains, Estes Park offers scenic drives (amazing views from the inside of your air-conditioned or heated vehicle!), shops full of unique southwestern goods, and a host of wineries, breweries, and distilleries that easily turn your fun night into an unforgettable experience (unless you go too hard on the sauce, that is).
Pro tip: For the best view of the stars (without the need to apply bug spray), book a stay at The Stanley Hotel, just outside of downtown Estes Park.
9 Fort Bragg, California
Where to fly: Sacramento International Airport
A California Historical Landmark, the coastal city of Fort Bragg, California is the perfect haven for beach enthusiasts. Tourists can pay a visit to the famous Glass Beach on the edge of town, featuring smooth pieces of glass and trash worn down by decades of pounding surf, or to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens along the coastal bluffs. Aside from these adventures, there is much more fun to be had at the various state parks and lighthouses along the coast and further inland.
Pro tip: To capture the essence of the Fort Bragg charm, don’t miss a chance to stay at The Country Inn Bed and Breakfast, located right in the downtown, with each room a boasting a different, magical experience.
10 Islamorada, Florida
Where to fly: Miami International Airport
Instead of wading through throngs of tourists in the Siesta Keys, set your sights on a trip to Islamorada, Florida, stretched across the five less-densely populated islands in the Keys: Tea Table Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Windley Key, and Plantation Key. Partake in a slice of pizza from Boardwalk Pizza while you stroll through the shallow waters of Anne’s Beach, or take in the stunning coastal views at Bahia Honda State Park.
Pro tip: Book your stay at the Cheeca Lodge for posh oceanside amenities like tennis courts, a lagoon, a private palm-lined beach, and a nine-hole pitch & putt golf course.
11 Hanging Lake; Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Where to fly: Denver International Airport
This crystal-clear, travertine lake is situated on top of steep cliffs in Glenwood Springs, boasting amazing views and endless hiking trails stretching in every direction. Due to the popularity of the park, however, visitors desiring a more tranquil hike should aim to visit Hanging Lake during the fall and spring.
Pro tip: The Hotel Glenwood Springs is the perfect place to stay if you have any kids in tow—they will appreciate endless trips to the indoor waterpark.
12 Grotto of the Redemption; West Bend, Iowa
Where to fly: Sioux Gateway Airport, or General Mitchell International Airport
Described as a “miracle in stone,” this religious shrine is not only meant for the believers, but for those with an interest in art and compelling hidden gems. Eventually finished in 1912, this work of art was created by Father Paul Matthias Dobberstein, an immigrant from Germany, who, after promising a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary upon her curing pneumonia, erected the Grotto of the Redemption as a token of his gratitude. Now, over a hundred years later, visitors can see the magic of the precious stones and intimate art creation themselves.
Pro tip: On your way home from the Grotto of the Redemption, stop over to the Wagon Wheel Cafe for a basket of the best onion rings in the entire country.
13 Topsail Island, North Carolina
Where to fly: Wilmington International Airport
With its thick maritime forests and beautiful beaches, Topsail Island is a lush escape for those summer tourists craving sand, surf, and quiet. The island is a long barrier reef located off the coast of North Carolina, but still easily accessible from any direction of travel. Aside from its beaches, the area is known for being a prominent turtle sanctuary and supposedly the resting place of Blackbeard’s hidden treasure, that, prior to World War II, treasure hunters repeatedly searched the island to find.
Pro tip: Book a room with just the right amount of Carolina ambiance at Carolina Stays—with impeccable views of the beach.
14 Lake George Islands, New York
Where to fly: Albany International Airport
Located in the heart of the Adirondack Mountain range are the laidback Lake George Islands, suited for the kind of tourists that appreciate a slow day on the water over the typical craze of summertime sightseeing. Take it easy by paying a visit to one of the many local wineries, or take a steamboat along the islands for unparalleled views of the dramatic scenery that make upstate New York an entirely different destination.
Pro tip: Maintain the peace with a stay at The Lodges at Cresthaven, a series of lakeside cottages with posh amenities.
15 The International Car Forest of the Last Church; Goldfield, Nevada
Where to fly: Mammoth Yosemite Airport, or Fresno Yosemite International Airport
This piece of scrap metal heaven was created by artists Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie, looking to create a unique art installation in the middle of the desert in Nevada. Now, just seven years after its inception, the graveyard has been likened to Stonehenge in its strangeness and beauty, with over 40 cars balanced delicately on their ends and pointing into the sky. On top of this unique arrangement, the cars are also each carefully painted with colorful motifs depicting everything from politicians to alien heads.
Pro tip: While you’re in the area, be sure to pay a visit to Tonopah, an old mining town with an infamous clown motel and a small city center that still bears an eerie resemblance to its storied past.
16 Taos, New Mexico
Where to fly: Albuquerque International Sunport Airport
There’s a reason why Julia Roberts moved her family to the desert town of Taos, New Mexico—its ancient beauty has enticed many into planting roots there. Since the forming of the Taos Society of Artists in 1915, the city has become a haven for artists and creative people alike, seeking inspiration buried deep in the desert. For history buffs, the area also boasts incredibly interesting historical sites like Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and many other glimpses into its storied past.
Pro tip: Book your stay at the Burch Street Casitas, within walking distance of downtown historic Taos and featuring rooms filled to the brim with odds and ends of the area’s culture and creativity.
17 Bozeman, Montana
Where to fly: Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
This college town, nestled in the mountains of Montana, is surrounded by some of the best hiking trails in the entire country, meaning that any visit would be remiss without a trek through scenic paths like Gallagator Trail and Peets Hill. Outside of the trails, a stroll through picturesque Main Street, with its wide array of antiques and one-of-a-kind shops and venues, like the historical Rialto venue, is a must.
Pro tip: After a long day of hiking (or shopping), treat yourself to authentic Korean cuisine via Whistle Pig Korean in downtown Bozeman.
18 Mount Bohemia; Mohawk, Michigan
Where to fly: Houghton County Memorial Airport, or Austin Straubel International Airport
This ski resort is open year-round and offers some of the most breathtaking views of Michigan. During the winter, the resort hosts many diverse activities ranging snowcat skiing (where the skiers and snowboarders ride in a 20-person cab on the snowcat machine and are then taken to a remote mountain) to a ski down Voodoo Mountain, featuring a vertical drop of close to 700 feet, making it one of the biggest drops in the Midwest. If you’re making the trek to Mount Bohemia during the warmer months, though—where, as you can see, it’s just as breathtaking as it is in the winter months—don’t miss out on the hiking, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and luxurious sauna-lounging that make this ski resort the ultimate summer destination.
Pro tip: No matter the season, a stay in one of Mount Bohemia’s yurts is as rugged as it is chic and comfortable.
19 Camden, Maine
Where to fly: Portland International Jetport
Instead of heading to the typical Maine getaway, Cape Cod, head north to Camden, a quaint seaside town with sprawling estates and historical buildings like the Camden Amphitheater and Camden Harbor Park. And, while you’re there, it’s essential to pay a visit to the 5,500-acre Camden Hills State Park with spectacular views of the hills and sea that make this coastal town an equally magical experience to Cape Cod.
Pro tip: While on the coast of Maine, it’s almost a requirement to eat lobster in any of its various forms—and Peter Ott’s on the Water is one of the best places to experience the decadent cuisine.
20 Door County, Wisconsin
Where to fly: Austin Straubel International Airport
As the visitor’s guide suggests, the small, sleepy community of Door County, Wisconsin, stretched across the peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, is incredibly welcoming to all guests. The best time to visit the peninsula is in Autumn when the leaves’ changing colors hold a startling contrast to the shimmering waters of the surrounding lakes. While you’re in the area, be sure to pay a visit to the Potawatomi State Park or Peninsula State Park for great hiking options, or admire the decades-old architecture present in the lighthouses and churches of the region. Aside from these destinations, set aside time to explore Door County’s local shops and restaurants that make your stay even more memorable.
Pro tip: After your jaunt around town, be sure to book your room at Eagle Harbor Inn for equal amounts of tranquility and charm. Plus, it comes complete with an indoor pool, sauna, and gardens.
21 Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Where to fly: Spokane International Airport
Though it’s a town known mainly for water sports, Coeur d’Alene boasts much more than water-based fun. For enthusiasts of the great outdoors, there is an abundance of adventure—from zipline tours through the cascading mountain ranges to extreme ski runs in the winter, this town has it all. And, for those seeking indoor excursions, the area is home to a number of art galleries, historical centers (one that even involves panning your own gold), and a thriving nightlife.
Pro tip: Established in 1904, the Blackwell Hotel in downtown Coeur d’Alene brings a perfect blend of sophistication, charm, and history into every room, promising a truly memorable stay.
22 Stinson Beach, California
Where to fly: San Francisco International Airport
While many may not consider the northern California coastline when planning their next sun-soaked getaway, Stinson Beach, located just outside of San Francisco, is a perfect getaway for those craving the California sun without dealing with the often overcrowded beaches. Aside from taking a digging your toes in the sand, beachgoers can appreciate the hiking trails, fishing, surfing, and countless other activities available—so feel free to leave that Danielle Steel novel at home.
Pro tip: For a true taste of Stinson Beach, stop for refreshments at The Siren Canteen, which serves California-inspired cuisine at the base of a lifeguard tower.
23 Ruidoso, New Mexico
Where to fly: Roswell International Air Center, or El Paso International Airport
Set in the Sierra Blanca mountain range, Ruidoso, New Mexico serves up some of the best scenery of the desert, and, true to the area’s penchant for the strange, popular attractions like the world’s largest fairy garden. Make the most of your visit out west with the authentic The Flying J Ranch Chuckwagon Supper and Western Show, or check out one of the area’s many bike trails.
Pro tip: Stay in this beautiful pueblo-style home, set against the backdrop of the rugged New Mexico mountains.
24 Katy Trail State Park; Clinton-Machens, Missouri
Where to fly: Springfield-Branson National Airport, or Kansas City International Airport
The Katy Trail State Park in Missouri is built on the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, and boasts the longest developed rail-trail in the entire country, running 240 miles along multiple quaint towns in the state. There are bountiful options of fun for nature lovers and history buffs alike, as park-goers can explore a range of activities from visiting the official segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail between Cooper County and St. Charles County, to paths that wind through caves and over stretches of the Missouri River.
Pro tip: Don’t miss a chance to eat at Magpies Cafe in historic St. Charles, Missouri, for exquisite dining and bespoke cocktails.
25 Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio
Where to fly: Erie International Airport
While a sun-soaked escape to Ohio may seem completely surprising, this oasis on Lake Erie contains prime shopping, dining, and beach fun in a quiet and atmospheric small town. Take a walk along The Strip or paddle out into the water—enjoy the slow thrill of these adventures in Geneva-on-the-Lake.
Pro tip: Dine at the famous Eddie’s Grill on The Strip to capture the history of Geneva-on-the-Lake with every bite.
26 Kodiak Island, Alaska
Where to fly: Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
Kodiak Island is a breathtaking slice of scenery, located on the south coast of Alaska. Outdoor recreation enthusiasts will find their ideal vacation spot on Kodiak Island, with its abundance of hiking trails, fishing havens, and endless stretches of water and forest to explore. After your hike, take a stroll through the many art galleries and authentic Alaskan restaurants boasting some of the best seafood in the state.
Pro tip: For amazing views of the water and surrounding mountains, don’t miss a stay at the Cranky Crow Bed and Breakfast—complete with beautiful rooms and breakfast in bed.
27 Blue Hole; Morgantown, West Virginia
Where to fly: Pittsburgh International Airport
This enormous swimming hole in Morgantown, West Virginia, is the perfect summer pit-stop on any road trip. Whether you’d like to camp out overnight, or just make a quick stop swim and soak in the sun, Blue Hole is swimming paradise, located in the gorgeous mountains of West Virginia.
Pro tip: While you’re in Morgantown, visit the Dorseys Knob Park for picturesque views set atop stunning mountain vistas.
Image via Facebook
28 Natchez, Mississippi
Where to fly: Alexandria International Airport
Natchez, Mississippi, is often considered the crown jewel of the Mississippi River, still maintaining the vibrancy of the deep south. While paying a visit to Natchez, architecture enthusiasts and novices alike with relish in a chance to see centuries-old antebellum plantations, cemeteries, and churches still serving as monuments to the state’s past. Outside of its compelling architecture, Natchez boasts a variety of shopping, art galleries, and scenic drives along the Mississippi Delta.
Pro tip: During your trip down south, don’t miss a chance to dine at one of the best barbeque spots in Mississippi, The Pig Out Inn, located in Natchez.
29 Hermann, Missouri
Where to fly: St. Louis Lambert International Airport
Just south of the Missouri River, this hamlet is a perfect destination for wine aficionados, as the area boasts multiple sprawling vineyards, each with their own distinct flavor and history. For those in your traveling party that don’t drink wine, there are plenty of hiking trails, unique thrift stores, and art galleries to inspire anyone to see the magic that lies within the state of Missouri—who knew?
Pro tip: Book your room at the Captain Wohlt Inn for a relaxing stay and gourmet breakfast.
30 The Ghost Town of Bodie, California
Where to fly: Mammoth Yosemite Airport, or Reno-Tahoe International Airport
This former mining town, near the Nevada border, encompasses numerous structures left abandoned since the middle of the 19th-century. To up the eerie-factor, most buildings are still decked out in all of the original outfittings—cups, clothes, and anything else that 19th-century coal miners would have possessed.
Pro tip: Staying with the rustic theme, the Willow Springs Motel and RV Park provides a slice of heaven deep in the desert.
And for more hotels that double as destinations, check out these 20 Hotels So Outrageous You Won’t Believe They’re Real.
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