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Offbeat and on the Road

Five unique U.S. summer vacation destinations.


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Summer is here and that means it’s time to hit the road. But before you spend most of your vacation at yet another overcrowded tourist destination, why not consider a less-traveled holiday locale?

According to Travel + Leisure magazine, the top five tourist destinations in the United States are New York City, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Orlando and Los Angeles—the last two being the homes of Disney World and Disneyland, respectively. 

Though they are all popular for good reason, what if you’re tired of overplayed tourist spots? Read on to discover five offbeat travel destinations that will keep you coming back for more.


North Fork, Long Island, New York

A lot of summer scene-sters flock to the congested and pricey Hamptons on the South Fork of Long Island. But savvy travelers visit the North Fork instead. There, in a cluster of quaint seaside villages, they find time for antiquing, exploring spacious beaches and enjoying the feel of small-town America. There’s even a scenic Main Street with candy shops, bakeries and more. Not only is the North Fork less crowded than its flashier sister to the south, it’s also smack in the middle of Long Island wine country. It has over 40 beautiful wineries, all a short walk or bike ride away.

What to do 

Besides taking a self-guided bike tour to the wineries and hitting the many beaches, the North Fork also offers plenty of family-run farms to not only visit and shop at, but also tour. A great place to go is Wickham’s Fruit Farm, where you can pick fruit straight off the trees and bushes.

Where to stay

Because the North Fork endeavors to keep its small-town feel, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any chain hotels. Instead, stay at an old-world bed-and-breakfast like the Bartlett House Inn, housed in an old Victorian home. For more modern lodgings, try The Greenporter, a chic, updated motel-turned-hipster-boutique-hotel with a highly rated restaurant and a great pool.

Where to eat 

Not surprisingly, delicious seafood is plentiful at this beachside town and the North Fork is brimming with both high-end and casual dining options. For your morning coffee, be sure to visit The Blue Duck Bakery for delightful breads and pastries.

For your post-wine tasting night out, try Noah’s, where all the seafood is locally harvested and the produce comes from North Fork farms. Don’t miss the BBQ’d local oysters.


Zion National Park, Utah

With its unique rocky landscape and breathtaking vistas, there are few sights as beautiful as Zion National Park in the Southwestern United States. Besides the abundance of photograph-worthy hikes and exciting river crossings, Zion also offers lush fields of flowers, abundant wildlife and the opportunity to camp under the stars in one of the finest national parks in the United States.

Hike Angel’s Landing along a crisscrossing trail of razorback mountain ridges—you have to use huge chains to help pull yourself up and along the trail—to get a vista of the stone formations formed by the Virgin River. Wade through the river itself as it snakes through the beautiful sandstone canyons of The Narrows. You can even stay in a log cabin on a buffalo ranch! Zion is meant to be explored and discovered.

What to do

Explore the red-walled canyons on horseback with Canyon Rides. Head over to the Zion Human History Museum to learn about American Indian culture, historic pioneer settlement and Zion’s growth as a national park. There are also opportunities to canyoneer and raft down the Virgin River. If you have time, pop over to the nearby Bryce Canyon for a completely different landscape of tall, pointed rock formations called hoodoos. Definitely an unforgettable sight.

Where to stay

The main types of accommodations in Zion are the lodge in the park itself, as well as the many campgrounds. If you want something smaller than the lodge but a little more accommodating than a tent, try one of the motels in Springdale, the small town right outside the park gates. 

For a real Western experience, head just outside the Eastern Gate of the park to Zion Mountain Ranch, a cluster of 30 or so cabins in the middle of an official buffalo preserve. 

Where to eat

While in the park, eat at the Red Rock Grill in the lodge. In Springdale, try some authentic Southwestern/Mexican food at Casa De Amigos or try some local beer at the Zion Canyon Brewing Company.


Charleston, South Carolina

If you’re searching for Southern charm without the hoopla of Atlanta or the crowds of Savannah, look no further than Charleston. A charming town full of antebellum beauty, Charleston is a capital of Southern hospitality, with plenty to see and do. Visiting Charleston is like stepping back in time. Visitors can even take ghost tours to explore the city’s Civil War past. In fact, Charleston has been named the Top U.S. City by Condé Nast Traveler 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards for three years in a row. The city’s rich past plays a big part in its present existence. Houses and buildings in the oldest part of town still proudly display their bullet wounds from Civil War skirmishes and horse-drawn carriages clip-clop down the cobblestone streets.

What to do

After your carriage ride, take a walking tour with Charleston Footprints, guided by a seventh generation native of the town. You’ll see colonial churches and graveyards, historic parks with monuments and cannons, gardens and flowering trees, old taverns and wharves, former cotton warehouses and factories, alleys famed for pirates and duelists, and incredible views and stories of the famed Charleston Harbor.

Where to stay

When in such a historically-steeped place, it’s only fitting to stay in a place equally tied to the past. Try the John Rutledge House, a stately inn that has been designated in the National Register of Historic Places. The family-owned bed-and-breakfast has an interesting past that includes the writing of drafts of the Constitution of the United States within its walls.

Where to eat

When in the South, you have to eat like a Southerner. For a high-end dining experience, try Husk, named Bon Appetit magazine’s Best New Restaurant in 2011, for inventive takes on Southern staples like deviled eggs with pickled okra and trout roe, and new delicacies like South Carolina shrimp and okra stew with Carolina gold rice and flowering basil.


St. Joseph, Michigan

Called “the Riviera of the Midwest,” the picturesque towns that dot the southeastern tip of Lake Michigan are perfect summer beach getaway destinations, so you can swim, play volleyball, hop on a fishing boat or explore scenic lighthouses, all along Silver Beach. The town of St. Joseph stands out because of its charming streets, welcoming activities and all-American feel. 

St. Joseph also has a dedication to the arts and hosts an art fair for two weeks every July. In 2012, their public exhibit was called “Beached Pirates” and for the whole summer, there was a life-sized pirate statue at almost every street corner! There are also quite a few wineries nearby, providing a playground for the adults on your trip as well.

What to do

If you like water, St. Joseph is the place for you. Boating, fishing, water skiing and more are all waiting for you in the relatively warm Lake Michigan. If shopping is more your thing, wander up and down State Street for charming antiques, home goods and more. And no visit to St. Joe, as the locals call St. Joseph, is complete without a trip to its scenic lighthouse.

Where to stay 

For a great view of the lake and luxurious accommodations, head to the Boulevard Inn. For a cozier experience, try the Painted Turtle Inn, a modern bed-and-breakfast with a nautical feel.

Where to eat 

The highest-rated restaurant in town is Silver Beach Pizza, a casual family spot famous for pies. For a real Americana burger, head to a bar and bistro called The Buck.


Sedona, Arizona

Mystical, magical Sedona is a red rock desert oasis with family-friendly adventures like horseback riding and all-terrain vehicle tours. This Old West town has a cowboy flair, Native American history and plenty to do, including exploring the famed “energy vortexes,” said to bring healing and good fortune. 

Sedona is a natural draw for health enthusiasts and offers a plethora of yoga classes, natural food stores, outdoor activities and memorable desert views. 

What to do

One of the most exciting things to do in Sedona is hike one of the many trails leading to an energy vortex and then sit quietly and try to feel the power and beauty of the landscape and its natural wonder flowing through you. One of the most accessible and beautiful vortexes is found on Bell Rock. Once you’re centered, it’s time for some biking and horseback riding. Be sure to take a Pink Jeep Tour through the red desert for some gravity-defying adventure.

Where to stay 

For a luxurious stay alongside the babbling Oak Creek, try L’Auberge de Sedona, which has been listed as one of Condé Nast’s Top 50 Hotels in the United States. L’Auberge is even pet-friendly.

But there’s another kind of lodging option. Because so many Sedona homeowners are only part-time residents—many people spend their winters there to escape their chilly hometowns—it’s also possible, and often cheaper, to rent an entire house for your stay through websites like airbnb.com or vrbo.com. 

Where to eat 

When you’re in Sedona, you have to have some authentic Southwestern cuisine and the most famous place in town to get it is the Elote Café. Tourists and locals alike don’t mind the long waiting time because the enchiladas, burritos and, of course, the delicious buttery corn dish called Elote are worth it.

Anne Walls is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California.