The 8 Best Off-The-Radar Destinations in the U.S. That Need to Be on Your Bucket List
FROM TINY TOWNS IN ARIZONA TO CALIFORNIA, THESE TOURIST-FREE SPOTS ARE WORTH A VISIT.
Hitting Miami's beaches is a blast and the Grand Canyon will forever take our breath away, but sometimes, venturing somewhere unexpected—like an off-the-radar destination that's less saturated with tourists (and tourist traps!) but still rich in culture—is precisely what the soul needs.
The thing is, it can be tricky to find a place within the U.S. that's worth visiting that others aren't already shouting about at the top of their lungs (or posting about on Instagram). Lucky for you, we're showcasing some hidden gems worthy of your travel bucket list that are truly still hidden.
From tiny towns in Arizona to Indiana, there's at least one destination on this list that will check all the right vacation boxes for you. Keep reading for the best off-the-radar destinations across the country you should visit.
The Best Off-The-Radar Destinations in the U.S.
1. Port Townsend, Washington
Seattle is easily the most visited city in Washington, but venture just two hours north and you'll find yourself in a quaint village-by-the-sea known for its Victorian architecture, world-class culinary scene, maritime legacy, and picture-perfect beaches.
"This town is a perfect weekend getaway that is full of bohemian art, crafts, beer and food, and bumper stickers that read 'we're all here because we're not all there,'" says Woody Sears, co-founder of the Autio travel app.
While you're there, check out Olympic National Park, take a wildlife cruise, or partake in an evening pub crawl. Sears also recommends taking a hike through forests and the pre-WWII bunkers inside of Fort Worden Historical State Park.
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2. Tubac, Arizona
Wendy Rose Gould
From Jerome to Bisbee to Carefree, Arizona is brimming with tiny historical towns where you can easily spend an entire weekend. If you're looking for a magical getaway that even locals aren't familiar with, then try Tubac. Located about 45 minutes south of Tucson, this 270-year-old town was an OG stop on the Camino Real and ripe with history, classic adobe architecture, museums, and monuments.
Tubac is also a thriving haven for artists and otherwise creative-minded folks, brimming with art galleries, storefronts, and eclectic restaurants. While you're there, definitely check out the Clay Rabbit House, Feminine Mystique Art Gallery, and Elvira's. For an edifying day trip that'll leave you awestruck, drive four miles to Tumacácori National Historical Park.
3. New River Gorge, West Virginia
Outdoor-focused locales still remain at the top of travelers' lists, a trend that took off during the summer of 2020 when people sought safer getaways. While big-ticket national parks like Glacier, Yosemite, and Acadia will never go out of style, sometimes contending with crowds can put a real damper on your getaway. Cue lesser-known parks like New River Gorge in West Virginia, which is the United States' youngest National Park.
"Americans are realizing the natural gems in their own backyards and are more frequently using the parks to pick a region they are going to visit," says Sarah Casewit, senior travel curator with Origin. "With this newest national park in West Virginia, people are seeing and realizing how much untouched beauty and charm there is to offer."
New River Gorge's leading star is its mature and rugged whitewater river which winds through lush, majestic canyons. The park itself boasts over 70,000 acres of sweeping vistas and outdoor adventure.
Related: 10 U.S. Islands That Need to Be on Your Bucket List—No Passport Required.
4. Cambria, California
People flock to California for good reason. The state's charming ocean towns, idyllic weather, and impressive culinary scene ensure that every second and dollar of your vacay is well spent. For a less-frequented Cali destination, consider venturing to Cambria.
"This little seaside town is full of open space, walking and biking trails, and wild beaches," says Sears. He adds, "[It also has] a desirable downtown with plenty of dining options."
Located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, this picturesque town is home to unspoiled coasts and preserves, picture-perfect inns, and charming eateries. Hunt for moonstones at the beach, stop by Stepladder Creamery for fresh cheese, try the famous Olallieberry pie at Linn's, and partake in forest bathing—or simply stroll or pedal—at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
5. Shipshewana, Indiana
Wendy Rose Gould
If you're craving a trip that helps slow your roll, quaint Shipshewana in Northern Indiana will help you do that in more ways than one. This small Amish town promises visions of seemingly endless green fields speckled with red barns, mouthwatering Amish cooking, and sturdy handcrafted goods you can take back home.
Wind along the back country roads between Shipshewana and Middlebury and stop at Amish-run establishments, like Heritage Ridge Creamery where you can watch fresh cheese being made, or Rise'n Roll Bakery which is famous for its donuts. (So famous, in fact, that it's one of the few Amish eateries that's been franchised within the state.) You can also spend a good chunk of time downtown Shipshewana. Check out the Blue Gate Restaurant and Theater, the massive Auction & Flea Market, and take some time enjoying the Barn Quilt & Mural Trail.
RELATED: The 10 Best U.S. Cities Every Traveler Should See.
6. Bend, Oregon
Portland gets its fair share of accolades, but Sears says that lesser-frequented Bend is worthy of your travel bucket list, too. Roughly three hours southeast of Portland and nestled along the Deschutes River, it's surrounded 360 degrees by raw natural beauty. You've got access to the Cascade Mountains, Oregon Badlands Wilderness, Deschutes National Forest, and Newberry National Volcanic Monument with its astounding Lava River Cave.
Bend is also home to relaxing spas, world-class museums, art exhibits, breweries, and an array of food options. Sears says you must float or SUP down the Deschutes River through downtown and then grab a slice at 10 Barrel Brewing, "where the pies and beers rival the best in the country."
7. Natchez, Mississippi
G. Douglass Adams Photography
If you're a history buff looking for somewhere to visit beyond the obvious Williamsburg, Virginia or Salem, Massachusetts, Natchez should be on your radar. With more than 1,000 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Southern town is full of unique architecture and rich history.
"It's an off-the-radar destination that offers plenty to do, including exploring its many historic sites such as antebellum plantations, Native American mounds, and Civil War sites," Fred Hoffman, founder and chief editor at The True Wilderness tells Best Life. "Visitors can also enjoy a range of outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, and hiking in Natchez Trace State Park."
Those who are interested in the town's cultural heritage must check out the Forks of the Road National Park, the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, which houses three prehistoric Native American burial grounds.
If you're a foodie, you're in luck too. You can get a taste of real southern cuisine at The Castle Restaurant, The Camp, The Kitchen Bistro and Piano Bar, or Fat Mama's Tamales, a hidden gem that sells famous Mississippi tamales.
Hoffman also recommends taking a carriage ride around town (which is very walkable too), tasting some of the area's famous boiled peanuts, and visiting the charming boutiques and galleries.
8. Grand Lake, Colorado
Markel Echaburu Bilbao/Shutterstock
Colorado is a sought-after travel destination for obvious reasons (hello, gorgeous mountains!), but many of its popular towns can become super crowded because of it. If you're looking for somewhere off the beaten path that is not overrun with tourists, Grand Lake should be added to your bucket list.
With a population of 410 (yes, you read that right) this tiny mountain town offers everything you'd want out of a Colorado vacation—breathtaking views, outdoor adventures, a charming downtown—without a lot of the hassle.
Grand Lake sees fewer visitors than its better-known neighbor, Estes Park, because it is on the western entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, instead of the eastern, which is easier to get to from Denver. But Dan Meyer, founder and director of the adventure travel company BACK&PACK, says if you're willing to drive a bit longer, Grand Lake makes the best home base for exploring the park and surrounding area.
"Grand Lake has all the draws you'd expect from a great tourist town. You'll find top-notch restaurants, ice cream parlors, souvenir shops, mini golf, boating, kayaking, and more," says Meyer. "Plus, the backdrop is stunning—picture the Rockies majestic mountains and add in the pristine waters of Colorado's largest natural body of water. It's picture perfect."
He also says you are more likely to spot wildlife in Grand Lake. "I love Grand Lake because it's deep in the heart of mountain country," he says. "You stand a much better chance of seeing iconic Rocky Mountain wildlife on the western side of the park. My family and I were up there not too long ago and saw five moose along our drive."