Amazing US Destinations You've Never Heard of

Carmel-by-the-Sea is unfairly overlooked on many travel itineraries
Carmel-by-the-Sea is unfairly overlooked on many travel itineraries | © David Kilpatrick / Alamy Stock Photo

Editorial Manager

As the world begins to reopen, it’s easy to see why you’d want your US vacation to tick some essentials off the bucket list. But as much as the Empire State Building, White House and Hollywood sign are landmarks, why endure the inevitable waves of tourists when these lesser-known idylls are waiting to be discovered?

From calming California towns to ancient Unesco World Heritage Sites, here are the destinations so many tourists overlook when discovering the Land of the Free.

Yachats, Oregon

This coastal town in Oregon excels as a destination for nature lovers, ideal if you’re looking for an all-American adventure. There are unique cultural events and festivals held throughout the year, so it’s worth planning your visit with a look at what’s on – but there’s also plenty to entertain you in the wild. Take a short detour to the mind-boggling oceanic chasm of Thor’s Well. The rocky opening, which looks like a massive sinkhole in the waves, is thought to have been formed by the collapse of an underwater cave.

Yachats excels as a destination for nature lovers

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

If you’re trekking southbound to visit Monterey, keep driving along the famous Big Sur highway for just 15 minutes and you’ll come across Carmel-by-the-Sea. This Californian town is unfairly overlooked on so many travel itineraries. Sure, it has a reputation for being beyond most people’s budgets, or too small to justify a standalone trip, but there’s certainly a case to be made for a flying visit. You can fit many of the major attractions into a short stopover – but don’t miss the simple pleasures of relaxing in one of the prettiest places on the West Coast.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is unfairly overlooked on many travel itineraries

Barnesville, Georgia

You may not know the name, but you’ve probably seen the town. Barnesville, Georgia, was where Marvel recently filmed The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021). It was also the backdrop for HBO thriller series Sharp Objects (2018), with the old-school look standing out to producers when they went hunting for locations. The appeal of the place lies in its relaxed attitude and unforced retro charm. Popping into a diner here is like stepping into the past, and it all feels genuine. If you decide to drive from Atlanta to Savannah (one of the classic US road trips), a pit stop in Barnesville is highly recommended.

Taos, New Mexico

It’s hard to keep up appearances when your neighbours are as well known as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, but Taos is a beautiful southwestern town that’s full of historical sites. The main town is a short distance from Taos Pueblo, a Unesco World Heritage Site, so you’ll get to experience a great contrast of old and new. Art lovers are in for a treat as well, with a plethora of modern galleries showcasing some of the best work by local creatives. If you’re looking for a more adventurous escape, you can explore the hot springs and mountain bike trails in the surrounding area. Taos has a bewildering mix of experiences on offer – so come and visit soon before the secret gets out.

Taos Pueblo is a Unesco World Heritage Site

Lanai, Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands get their fair share of tourists from around the world, but you can escape from the crowds on the smaller islands away from Hawaii (the Big Island), Maui (the Valley Isle) and Oahu (the Gathering Place). One of our favourites is Lanai, known locally as Pineapple Island, which is accessible via short connecting flights, or a ferry ride from Maui. There are several hotels and plenty of things to do – including 18mi (29km) of secluded beaches and the gorgeous Garden of the Gods – but you’ll need to rent a car to get around. Given that the terrain is best described as unspoilt, make sure your vehicle is up to the task of taking you to some seriously remote spots.

Lanai, known locally as Pineapple Island, is accessible via short connecting flights from the main islands

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