When it comes to vacation spots within America, sure, you can look at Orlando, the beaches of Southern California, Washington D.C., various amusement parks like Six Flags and Cedar Point, or just about any major city, but those places can be overcrowded, expensive tourist traps. What most of us desire (OK, maybe it’s just me) in a vacation is a place where there is plenty to do, but also plenty of opportunities to relax and recharge. I’m a big believer in not needing a vacation after returning from a vacation and having some money left in my wallet as well. With that in mind, I present 10 often overlooked, relatively inexpensive vaca spots you might want to check out this summer in no particular order.
- Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina – Established in 1934 and encompassing over 500,000 acres, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is an ideal location for anyone with even a passing interest in getting back to nature. Its numerous accommodation options include camping, cabins, and various low-cost hotels located along its fringes. As for activities, take your pick: hiking, biking, fishing, bird and wildlife watching, horseback riding, ranger-led tours and other activities, and auto and train tours. Visit nps.gov/grsm for more details.
- Key West, Florida — “But isn’t all of Florida a tourist trap?” you ask. The answer is usually a resounding yes. However, Key West has such a laid-back atmosphere and hidden gems in terms of small hotels and rental properties, that it made the list. The secret to avoiding the tourist crush is to simply avoid Duval Street, but why would you want to do that? It offers some of the best bars in the country. Key West also offers beaches and numerous water-based activities. Finally, if you get the chance to grab a seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park, take it. Its pristine beaches support some great snorkeling and the massive Ft. Jefferson is also worth the trip.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico – Founded in 1706 and occupied by Native Americans for centuries prior, this city of over half a million has plenty of history to offer visitors, such as the Petroglyph National Park and Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. It also has a variety of museums (to include the American International Rattlesnake Museum), a zoo, aquarium, Old Town Albuquerque, and the Sandia Peak Tramway which is the longest in the U.S., takes riders to a height of over 10,000-feet and offers panoramic views of the high desert. As for accommodations, it offers everything from quaint B & Bs to trendy downtown hotels.
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – No longer the Steel City, Pittsburgh has transformed itself into a hip, technologically-based city. Its downtown is home to both swanky and economical hotels, a vibrant cultural district that features top-end shows, and nightspots that range from dive to chic. Its New World history dates back to the French and Indian War of the 1750s. Thus, history-buffs will find plenty of museums and historical sites to visit. And after all that, there’s always the city’s sports venues. The Penguins just secured another Stanley Cup, the Steelers seem to truly be “America’s team” and PNC Park, home to the Pirates, is consistently ranked as one of MLB’s best parks to visit.
- Salt Lake City, Utah – Yes, there is plenty of Mormon based history in Salt Lake City, but there’s also so much more. This highest of state capitals offers numerous year-round outdoor activities centered around its mountains, state and national parks and the Great Salt Lake. It also gives tourists the option of visiting its various museums, an aviary, planetarium, water parks, amphitheaters, and concerts at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. As for accommodations, the city has quaint bed & breakfasts, lodges, resorts and traditional hotels from which to choose.
- Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – Yep, you read that correctly…Idaho! Coeur d’Alene is located in western Idaho, not too far from Spokane, Washington and it offers something for everyone, except an ocean view. There are over 50 lakes within a few hours of this mid-sized town of about 50,000, but by far the most popular is the massive Lake Coeur d’Alene. As one would expect, the town is known for its outdoor activities to include fishing, boating, golfing, hiking, biking and anything else you can think of to do out-of-doors. The town also puts on numerous festivals and fairs throughout the year and has a surprising number of “artsy” venues and dining establishments.
- Portland, Maine – The water’s a bit chilly on the shores of this southern Maine town, but the ocean views more than make up for the chill in the water. The surrounding area of Portland offers a myriad of inexpensive places to stay, such as cabins, rental homes, small resorts and traditional hotels. And while Maine is best known for its rocky coast, the area offers plenty of sandy beaches to choose from. Did I mention the seafood? Its fresh, relatively inexpensive and abundant. Portland is also large enough to offer a vibrant nightlife…if you’re into that kind of thing.
- La Push, Washington – Ok, if you really want to get away from it all, La Push is the place for you. Located about as far west as you can get in the continental U.S., La Push is home to and managed by the Quileute Tribe which has occupied the area for centuries. Known for its picturesque beaches and ocean fishing, La Push doesn’t push one to do much at all, except relax and unwind. However, should you feel the need, the nearby Olympic National Park offers plenty of outdoor activities. The surfing is purported to be quite good along the coast as is the whale watching too!
- Mackinac Island, Michigan – If La Push is the get away place for the west coast, then Mackinac Island serves that purpose for the central part of the country. Located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, Mackinac Island sits close to where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet. Firstly, there are no cars permitted on the island…yes, you read that correctly, no cars! Next, there are no franchise hotels on the island. It offers over 1,500 unique room options from small, family owned accommodations to resorts to a Grand Hotel. Simply relax along a lake-front beach, visit Mackinac State Park, or rent a water craft and hit the lake. It’s all up to you.
- Kansas City, Missouri – Those who live in the center of the nation…so-called “fly-over” country, would do well to spend a few days in Kansas City. This mid-sized city is more cosmopolitan than mid-western and presents a myriad of tourist options. It has some world-class museums devoted to World War I, American Jazz, and the negro baseball leagues…almost forgot, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library is in nearby Independence. Its city center contains numerous street cafés and if barbeque is your thing, then KC is the place for you. And depending on when you visit, you might want to check out a Chiefs football or Royals baseball game.
Now it’s up to you to get out there and check out one of these hidden vaca gems. What the heck are you waiting for? Live a little already!