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Our favorite vacation spots blend the best of both worlds: plenty of things to see and do but also not overrun with other visitors. They’re beloved by locals, but fly just under the radar to remain unspoiled by overtourism. These 15 destinations are some of the best-kept travel secrets in the United States — but you might have a hard time keeping quiet about them once you visit.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado
In their rush to the ski resorts, many travelers to Colorado miss out on this historic mining town at the northern edge of the Roaring Fork Valley. But Glenwood Springs oozes charm, from the beautifully preserved buildings to the wonderfully warm hot springs that bubble up from the depths beneath town. Visitors don’t even need a car: Amtrak treats passengers to spectacular scenery on the five-hour ride from Denver, dropping them in the heart of the easily walkable downtown. Pro tip: The Pullman, right across from the station, has some of the best food in town. And if you stay at the historic Hotel Colorado, its complimentary guest shuttle will whisk you to Iron Mountain Hot Springs, overlooking the river.
Saint Augustine, Florida
Florida is much more than Mickey Mouse and beaches: It’s also home to the oldest European settlement in the United States. The Spanish founded Saint Augustine in 1565, and this romantic city on Florida’s northeastern coast contains 144 immaculately maintained blocks filled with lush public parks, fascinating museums, and pristine Spanish colonial, Moorish Revival, and Gilded Age architecture lining its cobblestone streets. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride down Aviles Street (America’s oldest) to get a feel for the city. Finally, don’t miss a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos — overlooking Matanzas Bay, it’s the oldest masonry fortification on the continent.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Nearby Taos and Santa Fe frequently make the travel guidebooks, but for laid-back, relatively untouristed charm, Albuquerque is hard to top. The city's high desert location means you can ski Sandia Peak in the morning and enjoy a sunny round of golf in the afternoon. The unique geography has also allowed the city to become the hot air ballooning capital of the world — take flight yourself or marvel at the masses at the annual international balloon fiesta. Santa Fe is also known for its mouthwatering New Mexican cuisine; Papa Felipe’s is a can’t-miss local favorite. And for a bit of Provence in the desert, visit the lavender fields and enjoy an exquisite meal at the Los Poblanos Historic Inn.
Waipi’o Valley, Hawaii
The Big Island’s Waipi’o Valley — nicknamed the “Valley of Kings” — is indeed fit for the Hawaiian royalty who called the sacred valley home for generations. Located at the northern end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor, the steep and sparsely populated valley stretches across more than five miles of dense jungle. Getting to the bottom requires a strenuous hike or a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so a tour (by shuttle, mule-drawn wagon, or horseback) is often the best way to experience Waipi’o. The intrepid will be rewarded with uncrowded vistas, a beautiful (but treacherous) black sand beach, and Hi'ilawe Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the state.
Topsail Island, North Carolina
South of the better-known Outer Banks, Topsail is a 26-mile-long barrier island between the coast of North Carolina and the Atlantic Ocean. Two high-rise bridges are Topsail’s only connections to the mainland, and it remains a wild sanctuary of maritime forests and a refuge for sea turtles. The island was historically a hideout for pirates; legend has it that Blackbeard buried a still-undiscovered trove somewhere on its southern end. Today, Topsail’s treasure consists of incredible oceanfront rentals, uncrowded beaches, and spectacular fishing.
With Yellowstone National Park practically in its backyard, Bozeman has natural beauty in abundance. Nicknamed “Boz Angeles” because of the outsized numbers of celebrities and Californians who frequent it, this Montana town of around 50,000 residents has undeniable appeal. The low-slung Main Street district runs a little more than eight blocks, but is well-supplied with great restaurants (check out Hail Mary’s for hearty fare) and a surprisingly sophisticated coffee scene. But nothing human-made can compete with Bozeman’s best attraction: the Montana wilderness that just begs visitors to hit the backcountry for hiking, biking, climbing, fishing, and pure Western solitude.
There’s something special about the energy of college towns, and the “Classic City,” home to the University of Georgia, is an ideal example. The college — the nation’s first land-grant university — dates back to 1785, but Athens itself wasn't officially incorporated until 1806, two years after the first class graduated. Filled with graceful mansions, a restored Victorian downtown, and classic architecture, Athens has a rich musical history (REM, the B-52s, and Widespread Panic formed here) along with a vibrant culinary scene. Grab an oversized biscuit at Mama’s Boy and then stroll off the calories at the 300-plus-acre State Botanical Garden.
Illinois’ state capital has presidential history in abundance, but Abraham Lincoln isn’t the only reason to travel to this mid-state destination. Of course, Springfield is home to — and justifiably proud of — Honest Abe’s presidential library and museum, his 1860 home, and his tomb. But even without these, the city has plenty of appeal. The Dana Thomas House is a lovingly preserved example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style architecture. Wright designed approximately 450 art glass windows, skylights, door panels, sconces, and light fixtures for the house, which also contains the largest collection of his custom-created furniture. For more modern glass, check out the vintage Route 66 neon signs at the Ace Sign Co. Sign Museum.
Fans of the 1985 cult classic The Goonies will instantly recognize this coastal city at the mouth of the Columbia River. (And yes, there are plenty of film locations to see around town.) The first permanent non-Native settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, Astoria quickly became a center of fur trading, lumber, and canning, thanks to the millions of salmon that once ran along the river. Astoria today embraces its industrial roots, all while welcoming visitors who come for its many attractions, from the maritime museum to the six-mile riverwalk, the vibrant downtown, and endless recreation opportunities on Oregon’s wild Pacific coast.
Finger Lakes, New York
Water and cottages and wineries, oh my! This scenic corner of upstate New York has 11 finger-shaped lakes, the longest of which, Cayuga, stretches more than 30 miles. You’ll usually find almost as many boats as automobiles on the uncrowded lanes that lead to Cayuga or the more remote Keuka and Skaneateles lakes. And then there’s the wine: The Finger Lakes region is home to more than 100 wineries, and produces particularly fine Rieslings. Whether you're savoring maple syrup and leaf-peeping, sledding and ice-skating, or splashing and sunning, the Finger Lakes are truly a year-round delight.
German settlers homesick for the Rhine Valley found the rolling hills of the Missouri River Valley a suitable substitute, and decided to call them home. Planting vineyards on the rocky hillsides and erecting brick buildings along the Missouri River, the early 19th-century colony prospered. One of its wineries, Stone Hill, has won gold medals at wine competitions around the globe, and grew to become the second-largest winery in the country. At one point, Hermann’s vintners produced 3 million gallons of wine a year, until Prohibition put an end to the party. Today, the picturebook-pretty town is on the map again, holding a lively Oktoberfest and boasting a varied selection of restaurants and boutiques in its historic downtown.
It’s Christmas every day of the year in this Bavarian-themed town. Located in central Michigan, the old-fashioned Frankenmuth instantly transports visitors to Germany — no passport required. Don’t miss the Holz-Brücke covered wooden bridge spanning the Cass River. At 239 feet and 230 tons, it’s the largest in the state. On Main Street, Zehnder’s draws fried chicken enthusiasts from around the world. But the biggest attraction is undoubtedly Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. A Santa lover’s dream, the Christmas store is the size of one-and-a-half football fields and has more than 50,000 lights, ornaments, and trims.
Often called "The Sweetest Place on Earth," Hershey (aka Chocolatetown, USA) is the home of Milton Hershey’s chocolate company, founded in 1894 and now one of the world’s largest. From the streetlights in downtown Hershey that look like Hershey’s Kisses to the cute chocolate bar character signs around town, Hershey is predictably all about chocolate. On a hill overlooking the town, the Mediterranean-style Hotel Hershey has a spa focusing on cocoa-kissed treatments such as a chocolate-infused sugar scrub and a decadent fondue body wrap. And Willy Wonka would eat his heart out at the over-the-top amusement park, with candy-themed attractions including coasters, a water park, and its own zoo.
Haddonfield, New Jersey
Just 20 minutes outside the state’s largest city, Haddonfield is colonial Philadelphia in miniature — and without the crowds. Tree-lined and flower-filled, the town has well-preserved early American architecture and a charming old English vibe. Tuck into a traditional English breakfast or a crisp fish “sarnie” at the British Chip Shop before browsing in more than 200 shops and galleries in the historic downtown.
Saint George, Utah
Only 90 minutes from Las Vegas and 45 minutes from Zion National Park, Saint George is surrounded by dramatic red rocks and bluebird skies. While non-Mormons can’t enter the limestone grandeur of Saint George Temple, there’s plenty to see elsewhere, including Brigham Young’s former winter home and the 19th-century Saint George Tabernacle. Don’t miss the Red Hills Desert Garden, bursting with the colors of five acres of desert plants and endangered species. And paleontology buffs should check out the Saint George Dinosaur Discovery at Johnson Farm, a natural history museum with preserved footprints and fossils from dinosaurs and other ancient animals of Utah.