Sea to shining sea: 11 of the best destinations to visit across the US
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You’re not going to see a round-up of the best places to enjoy the Fourth of July here this year. Instead, we want to highlight some of our favorite places to visit across the U.S. — even if now isn’t the right time for us to load up the car or fly to visit each of these destinations because of the ongoing health crisis and travel restrictions.
But, as we look back on 244 years of being the United States of America, here are 11 of our favorite places across the country you can look forward to visiting when the time is right for you.
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Antelope Canyon in Arizona
If you appreciate natural beauty that photographs just as well as it looks in person, put Antelope Canyon on your must-visit list. These two Upper and Lower slot canyons are located outside Page, Arizona, and rise 75 feet overhead to totally surround you in light, color and texture.
Of the two, the Upper Canyon is more navigable as it’s essentially a flat walk in and out. It’s also where you’ll see the famous “light beams” and, for that reason (plus its ease of accessibility) it’s more popular. The Lower Canyon is below ground and requires a descent to its winding floor, so it’s more challenging to reach, but rewarding if you can pull it off.
You need advance tour reservations to visit either canyon, and note that, right now, Antelope Canyon is closed, so you’ll need to add this one to the future planning list. But when you do, know that Antelope Canyon is about five hours east of Las Vegas by car.
Related: Best road trips from Las Vegas
The Black Hills and Badlands in South Dakota
When you think of tourism in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore probably rushes to mind. And, yes, there’s that. But also, there’s Badlands National Park, with 244,000 acres of what could be described as a mix of Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park all in one, with magnificent native grasses that soften the rugged landscape.
Another way to take in the landscape of the area is on a vintage steam train that runs seasonally from Hill City to Keystone.
But regardless of what exactly you decide to do and see, the entire area that includes the Black Hills, Badlands National Park and Custer State Park provides an incredible sense of openness and space — along with a compelling story of the land, from prehistory to Standing Rock.
Related: 5 road trips to take this summer
There’s a long list of reasons that Northern California is so special.
If that sounds like a whole lot to lump together, it is. You could spend weeks here exploring the area and still not see it all. That’s why Northern California is a place you revisit time and again. You can get a taste and return later for an entirely different experience.
Related: Best beaches in California
Cape May in New Jersey
Those who live in the New York City or Philadelphia areas and are craving a driveable getaway may be well-served by visiting Cape May, New Jersey.
There you’ll find quiet beaches here, plus great food, elegant Victorian homes, excellent bike paths and lovely estates, like Beach Plum Farm, which TPG editor-at-large, Zach Honig, visited during a trip last month. This farm provides produce to Cape May restaurants, residents and guests and is a must-visit spot.
Hanalei Bay in Hawaii
Out across the Pacific in Hawaii is the magical, mountainous island of Kauai. Sure, the island has a drier sunny side, too, but on the northern side, you can visit the serene shore of Hanalei Bay.
Hawaii isn’t ready for tourists quite yet, but when you make that trek to Hawaii, you’d be remiss to not block out at least a full day on Kauai’s North Shore for some of the best shave ice you’ll ever eat, fresh ahi and hours spent relaxing on the beach, watching the sunset over the golden sand of Hanalei Bay.
Rosemary Beach in Florida
If you like sugar-white sand and a great atmosphere, Rosemary Beach in the panhandle of Florida may deserve a spot at the top of your future domestic destinations list.
Rosemary is the type of charming town people visit year after year. It’s quieter than nearby Destin or Seaside but with similar white sand beaches, a local candy store that gets high marks and good restaurants just a short walk from the center of town.
Related: 13 of the best beaches in Florida
Shelter Island in New York
Nestled between the North Fork and South Fork of Long Island — on the map, it looks a bit like it’s caught in the jaws of a crocodile — Shelter Island is a version of the nearby Hamptons without the glitz and, frankly, the hassle of New York’s beach playground.
You’ll need a ferry to get to the island; there’s one from the north and the south, both taking mere minutes. But you’ll feel like you’re much farther away than that. With only a few hotels and Airbnbs, Shelter Island really doesn’t aspire to be a big destination; its charm is all in its remoteness.
At the Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack reserve, a haven for migrating ospreys, the only thing reminding you of the 21st century will be the jets overhead, arriving from Europe and descending into New York’s JFK airport. Come winter, the island is half empty, and nothing short of magic. For New Yorkers in the know, this is shelter indeed.
Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina
It’s no wonder Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park in the U.S. There’s a ton to see and do — and the area is just a reasonable drive away for millions and millions of Americans.
Many visitors come here to simply drive around and enjoy the view. For example, Cades Cove Loop Road is a scenic (and very popular) 11-mile loop that will give you a great introduction to what the Smokies have to offer.
But you don’t need to stay in your car the whole time. Here, you can go tubing, hiking and exploring to your hearts’ content. The Great Smoky Mountains are obvious fun in the summer, but make for an exquisite fall foliage destination, too. And, when the time is right for some theme park-style fun, Dollywood is right there in Pigeon Forge. If you do go to Dollywood, go hungry, and try the famous pull-apart cinnamon bread from the Grist Mill.
Related: Best things to do in Gatlinburg
Wolfeboro in New Hampshire
This city has a serious claim to domestic vacation fame, as it’s considered the “oldest summer resort city in America” — Wolfeboro has roots dating back to the 1700s and is known not only for its shopping and dining, but also for Lake Winnepesaukee.
In addition to lazy days on the lake, visitors must try the Maine lobster, eat clams with butter and crumbs and lobster rolls. TPG credit cards editor Benet Wilson says the Wi-Fi in the region is often spotty at best, which really makes visiting that much better.
Saratoga Springs and the Adirondacks in New York
Upstate New York is great in many ways — the picturesque towns, the mountains and the distance from the hustle of New York City. Saratoga Springs and the Adirondack region are favorites for many in the area, including TPG global news editor Emily McNutt, who is from the area and misses it while working across the pond with TPG UK.
Saratoga is about a 3-hour drive north of Manhattan and can also be reached by Amtrak on either the Adirondack or Ethan Allen Express lines. Alternatively, you could take the train to Albany or fly to Albany International Airport (ALB) and then make the short 40-minute drive to Saratoga. But once you get there, the city is most famous for its mineral springs — it’s literally in the name — and horse racing, with a season that will start in mid-July, albeit without live spectators.
The culinary scene in Saratoga is a highlight as well. Try 15 Church Restaurant for fine dining, Max London’s for brunch, Druthers for craft beer and delicious food or The Local for some of the best fish and chips outside the U.K.
Also don’t miss the 21 public mineral springs around town, which are said to have healing effects. If you’re ready to leave and head into nature, drive 30 minutes north to the Adirondack region. Lake George is a great starting point for your Adirondack journey, as it has a thriving village scene with arcades, live music, lakeside bars and restaurants and the opportunity to take a stroll through history.
Related: Best weekend getaways from NYC
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Last, but far from least, who can resist cool, crisp Colorado air right now? Rocky Mountain National Park sits about 90 minutes northwest of Denver by car and is home to 147 lakes, dozens of different mammals (bear, moose and bighorn sheep among them), 355 miles of hiking trails and the Continental Divide.
Whether you want a moderate hike around Bear Lake or Emerald Lake, or prefer to let the car do the work on a drive around Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountian National Park is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for a domestic destination.
There’s no bad time to visit, but while summer is also quite popular, fall is spectacular. In mid- to late-September, you can expect to see elk in abundance, aspen trees ablaze with yellow and gold foliage and maybe even spot some early season snow in the higher elevations of the park.
Related: Best Airbnb homes in Colorado
There are hundreds — if not thousands — of amazing places to visit across the country. This list is far from exhaustive, but it encompasses 11 well-loved popular amongst TPG staff. While we all look forward to the day that international trips are once again realistic for travelers, exploring the country one national park, charming town, gorgeous beach and deep, blue lake at a time could also keep us busy for years to come.
Additional reporting by Alberto Riva, Zach Honig, Benet Wilson, Mimi Wright, Emily McNutt and Buddy Smith.
Featured image by Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon/Getty Images
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