12 Under-the-Radar Destinations to Visit: No Passport Required

Jan 28, 2018

Seasoned adventurers don’t have to go abroad to get a fresh travel experience. Head off the beaten path to these underrated U.S. destinations.

1. Narragansett, Rhode Island

If there’s a hidden gem of New England, it’s Rhode Island—and if there’s a hidden gem of Rhode Island, it’s Narragansett. Narragansett is known for its dramatic shoreline and colonial architecture—both of which are embodied in the Towers, an iconic landmark located on the coast and visible from the beach. The area’s history also includes the impacts of the Druid population, Celtic priests who are credited with the creation of Stonehenge; tourists can visit the area’s stone monuments, including Witch Altar and Druid’s Chair.

2. Kihei, Hawaii

As far as Maui destinations go, tourists rarely look further than Lahaina and Wailea—letting homey Kihei, a local secret on the southwest shore, fly under the radar. In fact, Kihei only has three real hotels; all other accommodations are B&Bs and vacation rentals. But it’s this minimized tourism industry and small-town vibe that make Kihei and its beaches so striking—especially in comparison to some of Hawaii’s more crowded areas. After a long day at the beach in Kihei, there’s only one way to refresh: at Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade, a local shop with a wide variety of fresh lemonade flavors and acai bowls.

3. Petoskey, Michigan

As far as Michigan locals’ best-kept secrets go, Petoskey ranks near the top. A coastal town on the shore of Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey promises sweeping vistas, Victorian architecture and a distinctly homey feel—all just steps from some of the Midwest’s most beautiful beaches. When not lounging at the beach, visitors can shop at the Historic Gaslight District, explore Petoskey State Park or go wine tasting at some of the local vineyards. Petoskey is also known for its literary history; Hemingway summered in Petoskey as a child, drew on the town for the setting of his first published novel “The Torrents of Spring,” and discusses Petoskey’s Horton Bay General Store (still in operation) in his short story “Up in Michigan.”

4. Vashon Island, Washington

Just a short ferry ride from Seattle, Vashon Island is the ideal day trip or weekend getaway when visiting the Puget Sound area. A charming community known for its unspoiled natural landscape, thriving arts scene and local farms, Vashon Island is highly bikeable, scenic, and—perhaps most importantly—delicious. Spend your day cruising around the island, picking lavender and browsing galleries, then spend the night cozied up in one of Vashon’s intimate inns and B&Bs. Need an excuse to make it out to Vashon Island? There’s none better than the Vashon Island Strawberry Festival, a family-friendly celebration held annually for more than 100 years.

5. Des Moines, Iowa

Flickr/Phil Roeder 

Sure, you probably know Des Moines as the capital of Iowa (thanks, elementary school social studies). But did you know that this city also has a burgeoning creative scene? In fact, Des Moines has transformed into a hub of local culture and boasts a series of progressive arts centers including the contemporary-focused Des Moines Art Center, architecturally stunning Des Moines Public Library central branch and innovative Des Moines Social Club. Further, Des Moines has emerged as a Midwest hipster haven—the city draws an increasingly large demographic of millennials seeking a lower cost of living, a newly cool downtown area and a blossoming tech scene. Without the prices, stress or competition found in larger metropolitan areas, Des Moines has the potential to be the next big thing.

6. Bozeman, Montana

From skiing and snowboarding in the winter to hiking and fishing in the summer, this all-season destination is one of the best places in the U.S. to reconnect with nature. The growing college town—home to Montana State University—is an outdoorsman’s paradise; visitors shouldn’t miss Palisade Falls, the Museum of the Rockies, a scenic drive through Gallatin Canyon and skiing at Bridger Bowl. But that’s not all there is to do in Bozeman—the rustic town is also home to a burgeoning downtown, where visitors can experience Southern cooking at Roost Fried Chicken, craft beers at White Dog Brewing Company and Montana art at local galleries. While many accommodations in the area are low-budget chains, visitors looking for something different can try the homey Gallatin River Lodge or the LARK Bozeman, a hip motor lodge with funky rooms.

7. Thousand Islands, New York

Straddling the border between the U.S. and Canada in upstate New York, the Thousand Islands are a group of 1,864 islands along the St. Lawrence River. While many are privately owned, guests can tour the Thousand Islands through local boat tours and explore coastal towns including Alexandria Bay, Cape Vincent and Sackets Harbor—each a quaint waterfront spot for taking in the sights and sounds of this historic area. In fact, the history of Thousand Islands is, in many ways, it’s charm: the area was once patrolled by pirates and Prohibition bootleggers; lighthouses, castles and museums act as reminders of its unique past.

8. Stowe, Vermont

This idyllic Vermont town is home to some of the best skiing in the country at Mount Mansfield’s Stowe Mountain Resort. But this destination isn’t only for those planning to spend their vacations on the slopes; Stowe also offers a series of full-service spas, nature trails and golf courses ideal for the whole family. In fact, Stowe is arguably most breathtaking in fall, as the white steeple church looks especially picturesque when set against a backdrop of red and orange trees. The town features a number of Swiss-inspired chalets and is reminiscent of the Alps; it’s the perfect place to cozy up by a fire, indulge in some après-ski hot chocolate and refuel at local eateries including the Bistro at Ten Acres, Harrison’s Restaurant & Bar and the Cafe on Main.

9. Willamette Valley, Oregon

Those who love wine may recognize Willamette Valley as one of the country’s top vinicultural areas—but, even still, this Oregon region continues to fly under the radar as a vacation destination. In some ways, this is what makes the Willamette Valley noteworthy; just about an hour’s drive from Portland, this 150-mile stretch draws visitors seeking respite, outdoor adventure, culinary experiences and (of course) wine. Lots and lots of wine. But with hundreds of wineries in the area, you may need to divide and conquer—either pick a few nearby wineries to visit independently, or join a tour to eliminate the need for a designated driver.

10. Sonoma Coast, California

North of San Francisco and west of Napa Valley, the Sonoma Coast is a gorgeous stretch of coastline including the towns of Bodega Bay, Timber Cove and Jenner. An outdoor adventurer’s dream, the Sonoma Coast is home to a series of secluded beaches, hiking trails, campgrounds and regional and state parks; other popular local attractions include historic Fort Ross, Gualala’s Sand Dunes and the architecturally spectacular Sea Ranch Chapel. And in this region, the journey is just as important as the destination; positioned next to California’s Highway 1, the Sonoma Coast is best explored by car—and makes the perfect excuse for a West Coast road trip.

11. Bar Harbor, Maine

Located on Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor is, simply put, one of the most adorable towns in all of America—just take one look at the waterfront downtown, a village lined with independent shops, galleries and restaurants in restored historic buildings. Far from your typical New England resort town, Bar Harbor’s culture is largely based on outdoor activities both on water and on land. When not lounging at the hotel or cruising downtown, visitors can walk the Shore Path, wade over to Bar Island or take a whale-watching tour. Mount Desert Island is also home to the Acadia National Park, which offers a series of trails as well as the oceanfront Thunder Hole and Cadillac Mountain peak.

12. San Antonio, Texas

Think Austin is the only burgeoning hot spot in Texas? San Antonio might just make you think again. It’s not only the Alamo that makes this a must-see destination—San Antonio is also home to the River Walk, botanical garden, a series of art and history museums and an up-and-coming culinary scene. In fact, there are few things that San Antonio locals can boast about more than the city’s continually evolving restaurant landscape, which includes recently opened tasting menu-focused Mixtli, a Culinary Institute of American campus and James Beard semifinalists Jason Dady and Steve McHugh. Best of all, those visiting over the next few years will experience the city in the throes of a cultural boom: San Antonio had its missions declared World Heritage Sites in 2015, begins a series of infrastructure projects in 2017 and celebrates its tri-centennial in 2018.

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