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The top U.S. travel destinations you shouldn’t overlook

Some are well-known, some a bit more obscure; have you visited any of these?

A man having coffee in the early morning hours at a campsite in Badlands National Park, South Dakota.
A man having coffee in the early morning hours at a campsite in Badlands National Park, South Dakota. (Getty Images)

It’s never too early to start planning that next trip.

Do you have a destination in mind?

Sure, Mexico is gorgeous and everyone seems to dream of Europe or Australia … but what about the good old U.S. of A.? Have you visited the following spots? Some are a bit more obvious as tourist hotspots, while others remain more obscure.

So before you apply for a passport, we recommend you check out somewhere in our very own backyard, so to speak. We asked around, and here were the spots people were loving:

How about …

1. San Juan Island (Washington)

A view of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)

Have you heard of San Juan Island -- not to be confused with San Juan, Puerto Rico -- in northwest Washington, not far from Seattle? The island, which has a temperate, year-round climate, offers whale watching, kayaking, hiking, zip-lining, horseback riding, paddle boating, horseback riding and sailing, just to name a few activities. If you’d prefer something a little calmer, try visiting the alpaca ranch, a lavender farm or a winery with an historic tasting room.

The views look simply stunning.

2. Montana (several recommendations)

Perhaps it’s time to check out the great state of Montana. Bozeman comes highly recommended, as it’s known as a splendid little town close in proximity to Yellowstone. If you’re up for a drive, Glacier National Park is within about four hours, and it’s guaranteed to take your breath away.

3. Boston

What about Boston? This is a city truly steeped in history. It boasts chowder, an incredible atmosphere, Fenway Park and the New England Aquarium, just to name a few attractions. Those are truly the tip of the iceberg, as there’s likely something for everyone in Boston.

4. Maine (several recommendations)

Lobstermen use a skiff get to their boat moored before heading out into the Gulf of Maine in Deer Isle, Maine. (Getty Images)

How about Maine? Bar Harbor is gorgeous, particularly if you climb the hills outside the town in the fall and look toward the coastline. Another Maine advocate recommended Stonington, on Deer Isle, saying you can even take a mail boat out to the surrounding islands. Acadia National Park is pretty close, as well.

5. Savannah, Georgia

Or you could visit Savannah, Georgia: A friend described it like this -- it’s beautiful in a very timeless, storybook way, with Spanish moss hanging from the trees over cobblestone pathways and the smell of pralines in the air. (What more could you ask for, really?)

6. Utah (several recommendations)

How about an outdoor lover’s paradise? That brings us to Utah. The state boasts five national parks, including Zion, and it also has the Flaming Gorge Recreational Area. The journey there from Salt Lake City is a gorgeous mountain drive that you won’t want to nap through. Once you arrive, there’s Utah red rock, a pretty reservoir, fly-fishing, rafting and horseback tours along the Red Canyon Rim. You’re welcome!

7. Mackinac Island, Michigan

A view from the Grand Hotel (Photo provided by Turner PR for the Grand Hotel)

Have you heard of Mackinac Island, Michigan? Clearly people in the Mitten State have -- but in other parts of the country, perhaps it’s a bit more obscure.

You’ll have to leave your car behind, much like San Juan Island, because there are no vehicles on Mackinac. But there are horses!

Mackinac is beautiful -- located right on the Great Lakes, offering bike rentals, fudge, quaint little shops, Fort Mackinac, golf and the Grand Hotel. (Even if you can’t afford to stay there, a walk on the porch is worth it). If you’re in the Midwest or up for a bit of a trek, give it a shot!

8. Hawaii (several recommendations)

Or try Hawaii: Not that we’re throwing a curveball at you with this recommendation. Hawaii doesn’t exactly fly under the radar as far as gorgeous travel destinations are concerned, but we couldn’t justify leaving it off the list. Each island offers something uniquely different, so depending on whether you’re traveling with friends, family or a significant other, you can customize your experience to fit your vacation needs. And the waterfalls in Kauai look pretty epic.

9. The Badlands

Visitors drive into the Badlands National Park near Wall, South Dakota. (Getty Images)

And then there are the Badlands, also known as Badlands National Park in southwest South Dakota. One enthusiast put it this way: “(Visiting is) a completely otherworldly experience where it’s both uniquely U.S. and yet you feel so far away from the U.S. It’s almost like a different planet entirely.”

10. San Luis Obispo, California

This is a bit of a college town (home to Cal Poly) and a bit of a beach town. What a fun, picturesque city!

Now, obviously California has a LOT to offer. The Golden State is known for big places such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. But SLO, as it’s called, flies under the radar a bit, while still offering the beach, sun, wine and some excellent tri-tip (particularly at a restaurant called Firestone Grill). Hop to it!

11. New Orleans

New Orleans: Who could forget the Big Easy? Again, this is one of those cities where you’ve likely heard of the major attractions and draws -- the French Quarter, Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, etc. But if you’ve never been, perhaps now is the time. Who doesn’t love beignets and jambalaya? Get to this culinary capital, with iconic dishes and nightlife, before you even think about venturing out of the U.S.

The classic cities are considered classics for a reason, right?

12. Destin, Florida

A family plays on the beach in Destin, Florida. (Getty Images)

Destin showcases powder-like sand and crystal clear water. The city, and its surrounding towns, look like Pleasantville, basically. You can rent out beach cruisers, there are plenty of stands selling ice cream cones and food, and everyone seems happy, as one Destin fan said.

13. Nashville

How about Nashville, better known as Music City? Between the live shows (which seem to be everywhere), the booming food scene, the incredible nightlife and the legendary venues, there is truly NO shortage of places to check out in Nashville.

14. New Braunfels, Texas

Are you into small-town charm? This might be the place for you!

Deep in the heart of Texas lies the beautiful city of New Braunfels. The live music is top notch, and you can find a concert every day of the week. If you’re outdoorsy, the area is perfect for tubing and fishing. There’s also an award-winning farmers market held every Saturday, rain or shine, and the Craft Beer Trail.

What did we forget? Drop your favorite U.S. travel destinations below!

Mackinac Island (Photo provided by Turner PR for the Grand Hotel)

About the Author:

Michelle is the Managing Editor of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which writes for all of the company's news websites.