When it comes to must-see USA vacation spots, well-known hotspots such as the Grand Canyon, New York City, and Disney World are probably first to come to mind. While these destinations are popular for good reason, venturing off the beaten track has its benefits. For example, a lesser-explored place may reveal deeper glimpses of genuine Americana, or open your eyes to a new kind of paradise that doesn't have big crowds. Some places made the list simply for being an underrated locale, others because there is something new happening. There's still time to start planning your vacation bucket list for the new year, so get ready to fuel your wanderlust.
Manchester is part laid-back ski town, part upscale artisanal center, and part nature-lovers’ stomping ground all rolled into one. So much more than only a winter destination, this southern Vermont town set in the backdrop of the Green Mountains has been emerging as a year-round vacation hotspot. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike through miles of trails that crisscross the surrounding Battenkill Valley; foodies can taste their way through the cheese, maple syrup, and craft beer trails; and Manchester's two nearby ski resorts are attracting summer tourists with a range of activities and events.
Manchester has even attracted the boutique hotel chain Kimpton, which recently opened the Taconic on Main Street. The design of the 87-room hotel was inspired by New England’s grand inns of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It partners closely with local businesses and artisans. For a truly unique experience, ask about a glass-blowing class at Manchester Hot Glass Glassblowing Studio Gallery. Artist and New Jersey native Andrew Weill entertains with witty one-liners as he helps newbie glassblowers craft pint glasses or wavy bowls, and you might see his six-year old daughter entertaining toddlers while their parents take a class. Rates for classes start at $50, or stop by to browse and pick out a unique souvenir.
Also don’t miss grabbing dinner and drinks at the Copper Grouse adjacent to the Taconic. Helmed by local chef Vanessa Davis, the elevated tavern fare focuses on using locally-sourced staples with a twist, such as the Vermont poutine with Maplebrook cheddar curds or pan-roasted scallops with pickled green apples and sparkling cider vinaigrette.
Thirty-minutes down the road is Stratton Mountain, the first ski resort in the USA to open its slopes to snowboarders. It has an entire resort village featuring gear shops, a day spa, and restaurant/bars regularly playing live music. In summer the resort draws national and international visitors as host to the popular yoga, music, and farm-to-table festival known as Wanderlust.
Only a 15-minute drive from town, Bromley Mountain is an ideal place to ski with kids: You'll see plenty of ski-school students making S-curves down the slopes, and the original fireplace in the converted-barn lodge makes for a cozy family meeting place. Bromley is also a kid-friendly summer destination, thanks to a waterslide ride, climbing wall, mini golf, trampolines, giant swing, five-course Aerial Adventure Park, and a half-mile-long zip line ride.
Wailea Beach, Maui
Hawaii's island of Maui has long been reserved for luxury travelers and honeymooners, but that might be changing thanks to some more affordable hotel openings just minutes away from Wailea Beach's soft-sand shores. With rates starting at $313 a night, Marriott's new Residence Inn's studios and suites have in-room kitchens and include a free daily breakfast bar and pool-side activities, helping families leave more room in their budget for fun around the island.
After a morning dip in the pool, drive inland to Maui Tropical Plantation for a tram or zipline tour of the historic sugar cane plantation fields, before lunch at farm-sourced Mill House. Swim alongside sea turtles on a traditional Hawaiian outrigger canoe excursion from Maui Paddle Sports or plan a full day trip to visit the soaring valleys and volcanic shorelines along the east of the island on the one-lane road to Hana. Adults can sip on craft Pineapple Mana wheat beer on a private tasting and tour at newly opened Maui Brewing Company or grab an island-famous Mai Tai at Monkeypod, before sitting down for a classic Hawaiian cuisine, panoramic ocean views, and spectacular sunsets at Gannon's.
Ozark Mountains, Arkansas
While New England's fall foliage may get all the glory, in Arkansas' Ozark Mountains, the leaves are also spectacular. The destination is great for families preferring a woodsy type of vacation because it has a little bit of everything, from fishing trout to visiting caves to spending the night lake-side at Beaver Lake. Get lost in nature by hiking or backpacking through part of the 258-mile Ozark Highlands National Recreation Trail. For those who are more adventurous, there is zip-lining, and waterskiing, and canoeing down the Buffalo National River.
October is prime foliage viewing and also the month of the Wine Fest. An ideal way to experience both is to plan a road trip through this area that is home to the state's top wine makers. Artsy types may find inspiration in the Crystal Bridges Museum Of American Art, which house permanent collections from colonial times to today and features famous artists such as Any Warhol.
The Golden Isles, Georgia
A culturally-rich vacation spot along the Atlantic Ocean, the Golden Isles will give you and your family that beach fun you all seek. From eco-friendly to animal-friendly, you can choose between luxuries hotels to a secluded cabin in the woods and everything in between, but the one thing that will likely be consistent with any lodging is an air of Southern hospitality. There are several towns that you can visit—Brunswick, St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island—and each one will provide a unique experience, from shopping in antique stores to paddle boarding lessons and visiting museums such as St. Simons Lighthouse Museum.
For those looking an all-inclusive package by location, their website has some special offers depending on the time of the year. For example, during the month of February, families can take advantage of the Jekyll Island Club Island Treasures, where guests can find hidden treasures which are theirs to keep. Other events include the Maritime Forest Ecology & Bald Eagle Nest Viewing Tour, which runs until March, Coffee Sessions with authors like Sophia Porson and Maggie Toussaint, and the Southern Grown Farmers Market in February.
Asbury Park, New Jersey
Asbury Park was made famous from Bruce Springsteen's Greetings from Asbury Park. This destination is one of the Jersey Shore's gems and one of the music capital's of the country. It's also getting some attention for its newest accommodations: the Asbury Hotel just ranked #1 on USA Today’s 2017 Reader’s Choice Awards list for Best New Hotel in America.
The boardwalk is one of the most famous parts of the area and it's worth exploring. One of the top spots on the boardwalk is Wonder Bar, a popular nightclub that's linked with some of Jersey's music legends: Springsteen and Bon Jovi. The large dance floor is a great place to let loose. The Stone Pony is another popular destination and is known as one of the greatest rock destinations in America. The club opened in 1974 and has been a spot for music lovers ever since.
In addition to the unique music scene that Asbury Park offers, it is also a popular beach destination in New Jersey. The Jersey Shore is famous for the many beaches complete with sun, sand, and happening nightlife. Asbury Park is a beautiful beach and a fun city to explore.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Meet your next nature getaway: Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jackson Hole is close to two national parks, and one national forest and offers opportunities to get close to wildlife while going on outdoor adventures. Bridger-Teton National Forest offers a chance to get up close and personal to Wyoming's wildlife such as the buffalo. Grand Teton National Park is aa perfect place to camp out. Yellowstone National Park is one of the country's most famous national parks and for good reason. See the natural hot springs, mudpots, and explore the mountains, forests, lakes, and wildlife that makes Yellowstone famous.
If you're planning a winter trip, the mountain is especially good for intermediate and advanced skiiers as the peaks are higher than what you'd find in the Northeast. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers passes for the ski lift, ski and snowboard rentals, and lessons and camps for those looking to learn more skills.
If you want to visit in the summer, there are several outdoor adventures to look into. Rent a mountain bike and explore the terrain. If you want to get the best views, look into paragliding over the area and seeing it from above. If you'll be traveling with kids, there are summer camp programs for all ages. Regardless of when you choose to visit Jackson Hole or what you choose to explore, you'll be surrounded by nature's beauty.
Asheville, North Carolina
The infamous Blue Ridge Parkway is nothing new: With memorable views and a breathtaking landscape, this highway is one of the famous drives in America. Asheville is a small city that has recently gained popularity due to its proximity to these stunning views.
Once you've checked out the Blue Ridge Parkway, there is plenty more to explore within Asheville's city limits. The River Arts District is filled with the studios of more than 200 artists. In this area, you can window-shop and witness talented artists at work. You can also purchase their unique artwork. The downtown Asheville area also features delicious Southern cuisine paired with a wide range of craft beers from local breweries and unique music festivals and performers.
While you're in Asheville, don't miss Biltmore-- Asheville's claim to fame. Biltmore Estate is America's largest private home and was built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. The estate features a house audio tour and unique tours to fit your interests. While you're visiting Biltmore be sure to explore the grounds-- complete with a farm, gardens, and the famous Biltmore winery. For more information on how to make the most of your Biltmore visit, take a look at their website.
When in Indianapolis, don't miss the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum to celebrate the Indy500. Indianapolis is known as "the racing capital of the world" and the track lives up to the name. Visit the website to view a schedule and plan your trip around the best races. If you visit in May, you can even see Indy500 rehearsals and qualifiers.
Indianapolis is a good place to explore with young children, so if you're planning your next big family vacation, look no further. Kids can visit the Indianapolis Zoo, the Indianapolis Children's Museum, and watch a AAA baseball game at Victory Field. The Indianapolis Children's Museum is one of the biggest attractions in the city. The museum features tons of exhibits for every child's interests, be it dinosaurs, space travel, fast cars, Egyptian and Chinese history, or a magical carousel.
If you're looking to get a taste of nature while you're in Indianapolis, take the time to walk around the White River State park. The Indianapolis Zoo is on the property and the greens are large and expansive. Walking around the park offers beautiful views and a chance to get out of the bustling city.
Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley, Arizona
If you are looking to take your family in a different type of summer vacation, Navajo’s Nation Monument Valley in Arizona is the place to go. The Navajo Indian Reservation is the largest land area retained by a U.S. tribe with a population of 173,667. You might plan a scenic drive to see the 13 monuments formed by rock structures, all of which represent a certain meaning to the Navajo people. You can also explore the area by hiking the Wildcat Trail, around the West Mitten Butte monument. This specific hike will probably take you from 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on your pace. It will also take you up to a 5400 feet elevation and will grant you with a sweepig view of the valley.
There are also several organized tours, including ones that travel via jeep or horse, all of them varying in prices, duration, and transportation. Monument Valley also permits you to camp in the grounds, either in cabins or tents, but you must be responsible of the disposal of your trash. General admission is $20 for adults.
The Willamette Valley, Oregon
Home to 531 wineries and 715 vineyards, the Willamette Valley in Oregon is being called the new Napa. It is Oregon’s leading wine region, expanding over 60 miles of valley and recognized as one of the premier Pinot Noir producing areas in the world. Although its Pinot Noir is the main attraction, wine lovers can also please their palettes with tastings of Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Melon, Gewürztraminer, sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc and some Syrah, Cabernet, and Merlot.
Your trip can be as luxurious or as rustic as you want it to be with accommodations ranging from high-end hotels to quaint B&Bs. Galleries, hiking and biking trails, and even hot air balloon rides could be part of your get-away. Check out these set itineraries for those who don’t want to plan much. The valley also celebrates many events, such as Mo’s Crab and Chowder Festival and the Bubbles Fest (focused on small bites paired with sparkling wine).