Love to travel but drawing a blank on some fun and quirky places to visit for your next trip? It can be hard to find somewhere new; we only get so much time off work, and often we don’t want to “waste” it on a place that might not live up to the hype, yet we don’t want to go to the same old places again and again.
While experiencing places like San Francisco or New York are fun, they can also be costly and full of tourist markups, making planning your next dream trip discouraging. America is filled with little towns and lesser-known cities that make getting off the beaten path both fun and easy to do. Add these cities to your list of road trip possibilities and start making travel plans.
You may remember Salem from history class, but this little town about an hour north of Boston isn’t just about witches, although they do feature prominently. One of the oldest in America, the city offers many different historical walking or trolley tours where the witch trials feature heavily, along with fun shops and exhibits about the metaphysical. Salem also has a robust maritime history component, as it is the birthplace of the National Guard and features ship replicas from the 1620s.
If Halloween is your thing, visit in October and check out the Haunted Happenings Festival. You can try the delicious restaurants on Pickering Wharf and see the Peabody Essex Museum. A world-renowned art museum with an impressive international collection, it’s also been in operation for more than 220 years, the country’s oldest continuously operating museum.
Duck, North Carolina
Besides having a cute name, Duck offers an amazing beach-town experience without the crowds and hassle of larger resort towns. Duck sits on the outer banks of the North Carolina coast and only has a population of just over 700, so it retains a small-town feel, including a mile-long boardwalk with waterfront shops to explore, and golf carts for rent to help you get around town. Gorgeous beaches and fun shops and restaurants make this a great place to relax for a few days, or even your whole vacation.
Duck also makes a wonderful home base for visiting the rest of the outer bank islands, including Roanoke Island, or the town of Kitty Hawk — of Orville and Wright airplane fame — just slightly south.
Livingston is a delightful town and an excellent spot to experience real, western life from the turn of the 20th century. It sits just north of Yellowstone National Park, right on the Yellowstone River, and makes an interesting place to spend some time for a meal and a look around after exploring the great outdoors.
Besides being right next door to the world’s first national park, Livingston has a historical component that includes the restored Livingston Depot and offers a look into life in the west during the early 1900s. If you have a family member that loves trains or western history, give this town a try as you come into or out of Yellowstone.
Hanover, New Hampshire
Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, and the campus is full of interesting little spots to explore, especially during the fall when the trees change color. During the spring and summer, you can investigate part of the Appalachian Trail, and if you happen to be there during winter, there are plenty of skiing options.
Hanover also has lots of four- and five-star B&Bs; and restaurants for you to try. Check out Lou’s Bakery, a classic American Dinner with delicious baked goods, but expect a line if you go on the weekend. There are many hotel and inn options, so be sure you book your lodging using the best hotel credit card to get cash back or points to use on future adventures.
Ok, Hilo probably won’t make it on your best road trip list, but if you’re headed to Hawaii, check out our best airline credit card to help you get there for less, and make sure to spend some time in Hilo when you arrive. This city is on the northeast side of the Big Island, about 45 minutes north of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and gets overlooked by the usual tourist crowds.
Hilo has beautiful waterfalls, rainforests, and hiking trails, but if you get tired of the natural beauty (although who would get tired of the rainbow falls?), check out the Hilo Farmers Market for some delicious local cuisine, fresh produce, and handmade crafts.
Iowa might not be your first thought for a successful dream vacation, but Okoboji is a hidden gem tucked into the midwest. Ninety minutes from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and just south of the Minnesota state line, Okoboji is a small town of just over 750 people. It sits on the southwest edge of West Lake Okoboji, which makes up part of the Iowa Great Lakes region, along with eight other lakes.
You can relax on the sandy beaches, boat, or waterski during the summer, and ice fishing is popular once the lake freezes over in the winter. If you (or the kids) are looking for something a little more interactive, check out Arnolds Park, an amusement park that also features live music and concerts during the summer.
While it might not initially spring to mind as an incredible vacation destination, you have to love a state whose slogan is, “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” And while there is a lot of farmland and cattle — lots of cattle — there is also a lot to do, especially in summer.
For example, the small town of Alliance is just an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Scottsbluff, or four hours from Denver, Colorado, and boasts one of the coolest roadside attractions you’ll find: Carhenge.
A replica of England’s Stonehenge, but made entirely out of vintage cars spray-painted in various colors, Carhenge makes a great day trip if you’re in the area and is one of those spots that’s hard to describe, so you just have to experience it first hand.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Bay St. Louis sits right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and, in 2020, was named one of the best places to live by Mississippi Magazine. You can spend time at one of the many art galleries or antique shops in town, or hang out on the beach and enjoy what the Gulf of Mexico has to offer — just watch out for jellyfish that wash ashore during certain times. There are opportunities for fishing or boating, as well as opportunities for fresh seafood at gulf-front restaurants.
Nearby Gulfport, Mississippi has great golf courses with views of the Gulf as you play, and the vibrancy and zest of New Orleans is only about an hour away, which makes it a perfect day trip from your Bay St. Louis home base.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Motorheads have got to check out the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, and can even pay to ride around the museum grounds in one of the classic cars. Visit the Motorsports Park next door for some fun go-karting or, for the car lover in your life, purchase a whole Corvette Experience that lets you drive a corvette around their race track. That’s a pricey option, but could be well worth it to cross it off of someone’s bucket list.
Outdoor lovers will enjoy exploring the beautiful scenery, including the Lost River Cave. This non-profit open space contains a seven-mile-long cave and more than 72 acres to explore by foot or get an aerial view from the zip line course. Take a guided boat tour through the cave and learn more about the history and natural wonders of the area.
We can help you save big for your next journey with these best travel credit cards, but the hard part will be deciding where on this list you want to go. Don’t sell these nine cities short — they have a lot going for them and can add a lot of character to your next vacation. There’s something for just about everyone out there, so whether you just pass through on a day trip, or stay for a week or more, make sure that you include time to get off the beaten path and enjoy the more underrated side of travel.
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Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases
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