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Destination Unknown: 8 Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the U.S.

These are 8 places to ditch the crowds for a weekend getaway and check out a destination unknown

The best vacation spots in the U.S. remain relatively hidden, allowing you to ditch the crowds and check out an unknown destination. You can show a new place to the kids, or, perhaps, spend some quality (and relaxing) moments with your partner.

From the outdoor adventure town of Ouray, hidden in a box canyon surrounded by soaring peaks in southwest Colorado, to the serene lakes, charming villages, and thriving wine region of New York’s Finger Lakes region, these eight destinations offer space to explore without feeling crowded!

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Explore the “Switzerland of America" in Ouray, Colorado

If you can’t make it to Switzerland from the U.S., then head to Ouray about 5.5 hours drive southwest of Denver. Set in a box canyon, it is engulfed by the craggy, soaring San Juan Mountain peaks in all directions. Ouray is perhaps most famous for its natural hot springs with pools in the town center as well as some hotels.

The rugged terrain around Ouray is fun to explore on off-road trails by jeep or 4-x-4, and numerous companies offer rentals or guided tours in either vehicle. There are also horseback riding adventures, fly fishing, and excellent rock climbing (ice climbing in winter) for all levels.

Before heading out in the morning you’ll want to fuel up at the Ouray Cafe & Steakhouse . Local Chef Bombie cooks up legendary huevos rancheros and a signature breakfast burrito smothered in Colorado green chile. For dinner, locals head to Brickhouse 737, which serves eclectic American fare in an exposed brick dining room decorated with a local artist’s creations.

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Picture Perfect Caribbean Style Beach Vacation at Anna Maria Island, Florida

On Florida’s west coast just southwest of Tampa, Anna Maria Island is another hidden gem worth discovering for a weekend. Easy to access, but off the beaten path, it is brimming with opportunities to experience Florida at its most idyllic. The barrier island offers sugar-white sand beaches, turquoise blue waters, and options for snorkeling, shelling, or just relishing the seclusion of your surroundings.

Anna Maria is filled with “old Florida charm” with flips flops a way of life and a speed limit that never exceeds 35 mph. Pay a visit to the local boutiques and cafes along Pine Avenue, where the nostalgia factor is high and you won’t find any chain restaurants or stores. Anna Maria is easy to get around, and many visitors choose to rent a golf cart or bike for their stay.

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Watch Whales Around San Juan Island, Washington

Part of a group of islands by the same name in the Puget Sound about 1.5 hours north of Seattle, San Juan Island is a wild and rugged destination accessible by ferry or seaplane. If you’re looking for a hidden vacation spot where you don’t have to socialize with strangers, this is a perfect choice. Historic and walkable Friday Harbor is the island’s only town–here you’ll find many of the accommodation and dining options.

Whale watching should be at the top of your activity list. Orcas (also known as killer whales) live around the San Juan Islands year-round, making this the best place in the world to see them in the wild. A number of professional companies offer whale watching cruises with onboard naturalists–besides orcas you have a good chance of spotting humpbacks, gray whales, and sea lions.

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Taste Some Good Wine and Relax in New York's Finger Lakes Region

Upstate New York’s Finger Lakes Region is just a 4.5 hour drive from New York City but feels a world away. This bucolic area is home to 11 lakes as well as charming small towns dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries and a surprising number of vineyards.

The region is known for producing excellent Rieslings and Gewürztraminers, and you can easily spend a whole weekend exploring its numerous vineyards along the half dozen or so different wine trails. Check out the burgeoning Canandaigua Lake wine trail, and pay a visit to the New York Kitchen, which showcases wine, craft beer, and food from around the state.

There is also plenty to do outdoors including hiking trails in Letchworth State Park, which is known as “The Grand Canyon of the East,” and the serene Watkins Glen State Park. The lakes themselves offer aquatic adventures from SUP boarding to swimming. You’ll also find plenty of arts and culture, especially in the college town of Ithaca. A great time to visit is the fall for the spectacular foliage season.

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Explore Wild Coastline and Contoured Golf Greens Around Marina, California

Less than a 30 minute drive northeast of Monterey on California’s scenic Central Coast, Marina is a hidden gem known for its prehistoric sand dunes and outdoor adventures. Head to Marina State Beach for stellar scenery and– if you know what you’re doing–good surfing and hang-gliding (these are not beginner waves, be careful when swimming as well). The beach sits beneath a rugged line of dunes that are popular launching points for hang-gliders. But many visitors just come to walk the oft-deserted sand and listen to the waves.

Golfers will want to check out the Bayonet & Black Horse in nearby Seaside. It is perched just above the coast with sweeping views of Monterey Bay on what was once a U.S. Army base called Fort Ord. The original 18-hole courses were only open to the military, but since the base closed in the late ’90s, they have been completely revamped and upgraded and are open to the public. In 2012 and 2018 the Bayonet course hosted the PGA Professional National Championship and is considered one of the top 100 courses in the country. There are 36 holes on two courses to play.

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Discover Barrier Island Charm in Tybee Island, Georgia

Just a 30-minute drive from Savannah, Tybee Island is a five-mile long barrier island that is accessible all year long in Georgia. With its small size, Tybee is a great destination to ditch the car and explore by foot, bike. or golf cart.

Whether you want to charter a boat with a guide or explore on a paddleboard, jet ski, kayak, or surf board, water activities are plentiful–there are numerous companies to rent gear from. The south end of the island is home to a buzzy pier where people come for picnics, fishing, and sunsets. If you’d rather look for wild dolphins and birds, then explore the area around North Beach and Back River. Tybee Island is also home to the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia.

You can also kayak or take a boat charter over to Little Tybee Island for some serious social distancing fun. The uninhabited isle allows camping and there is excellent birding, beach walking and even inland hikes. However, do not attempt to swim across from Tybee Island, the currents can be deadly.

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Enjoy Wide Open Spaces in Big Sky, Montana

A popular ski destination in winter–although not nearly as expensive or crowded as resorts in Colorado or Utah–Big Sky is a great, year-round hidden vacation spot. Located just outside of Yellowstone National Park’s northwest corner, it is easy to explore the park on a day trip from town.

In winter skiing takes place at Big Sky Resort, which is one of the country’s largest ski areas. In summer there is also plenty of hiking and mountain biking adventures to had here. Whitewater rafting and fly fishing on the Gallatin River are also popular seasonal pastimes in this land of seemingly endless skies and few people.

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Disconnect to Reconnect in Mackinac Island, Michigan

With less than 600 residents, a trip to Mackinac Island feels like stepping back in time. Referred to as “The Jewel of the Great Lakes,” Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron, just north of the Mackinac Bridge that connects Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with the Lower Peninsula. With a ban on motor vehicles, the island limits modes of transportation to horse and buggy, walking, and biking.

It’s the perfect unique bucket list destination to disconnect from daily routines and technology and reconnect with yourself, nature, and the surrounding culture. The Victorian-era downtown is perfect for strolling and grabbing a bite to eat at restaurants like quintessential diner Chuckwagon, which serves classic American breakfasts and some more unique burger and sandwich selections at lunch.

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