Where are the Biggest Little Gems in the U.S.A?

1,698 Views Updated: 12 Mar 2018
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Where are the Biggest Little Gems in the U.S.A?

Vacation: a word associated a multitude of thoughts and feelings; new countries, distance, travel, expensive, relaxing - you understand.

While some of the first thoughts that tend to come to mind for the majority of us are ‘distance’ and ‘expensive’, there are numerous new places to explore right in your own backyard. Sure, maybe you have been to New York, and you have ventured down to Houston, Texas or Nashville, Tennessee; maybe you have made it up to Seattle, Washington, or down to Miami, Florida. While you were hitting the major cities that the United States has to offer, you may have missed out on the myriad smaller, less popular areas that are just begging to be discovered by you and explored.

The little areas that the locals of a state know all about, but are yearning to be explored by the rest of the country. These big little spots are chock full of charm and adventure. By staying in the country, you can cut flight costs or even forego the airport altogether by jumping in the family car for a good old-fashioned road trip. The highways of the United States were built to be the veins that connect each state’s residents to all the others, providing a path for all to partake on and explore the vast and diverse land that they call home. Grab the ones you love and hit the road, it is time for the stay-cation you will never forget.

Portland, Oregon

While becoming far more popular due to Fred Armisen’s and Carrie Bradshaw’s show, ‘Portlandia’, this little city has so much to offer. Get a taste of the infamous Pacific Northwest craft beers at numerous local breweries or enjoy a sweet treat from the eclectic Voodoo Doughnuts. With a sign painted on the side of the building encouraging you to “keep Portland weird”, you are reminded that this city is anything but ordinary.

Here in Portland, Oregon you will find everything from rustic antique shops reminiscent of your grandmother’s attic to Powell’s Books book store that spans multiple city blocks and boasts two floors. Be sure to snag a meal at the food truck block (a whole city block swarming with food trucks offering anything and everything imaginable) while on your way to exploring the beautiful Japanese gardens. Each district has its own little offerings and the city itself is easily walkable, offering numerous pedestrian walkways despite the multiple bridges that connect each half of the city.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona attracts individuals of all sorts for all kinds of reasons. First and foremost, this place is breathtaking. The landscape of Sedona, Arizona is akin to being on Mars. You are surrounded by red rocks in such baffling forms and structures that it is difficult to believe they came to be that way naturally and smattered all about among these martian boulders are every species of cactus you could imagine and more. All of this mind boggling scenery is sprawled out under the biggest and bluest sky. Yes, the sky is always the same size no matter where, but the severe flatness of a seemingly endless desert allows you to see farther than ever before. Along with the immense beauty of Sedona, Arizona and its plethora of boulders and rocks to climb and trails to meander, this city is famous around the world for being filled to the brim with spiritual energy. Spiritualists flock here year round to experience vortexes and share in each others’ chakras. It creates for an interesting mix of people who may hold different views, but everyone can agree that Sedona is stunning.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

This quaint town, nestled snugly in the Ozark Mountains, is everything you would not expect it to be. When we think Arkansas, especially in the mountains, we think towns circa the Wild West eras and log cabins. Eureka Springs, Arkansas surprises its visitors with its brilliant Victorian era architecture of the Historic District. The town, originally built around - you guessed it - the Eureka Springs natural hot springs, has been preserved beautifully. Take the trolley into town to the Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church, the only church whose entrance is via its bell tower, or stay at the Palace Hotel and Bathhouse, the original housing of the Eureka Springs hot spring. This pleasant town is surrounded by lush forests and hosts the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a not for profit animal rescue center focused on lions, tigers, and other big cats. Full of wildlife, history, and its share of ghost stories, Eureka Springs is sure to delight anyone and everyone.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Hilton Head Island is the ultimate for all: fun-filled family vacations, romantic get-aways for couples, and ‘mom needs a break with her friends’ vacations. This lovely island hugs the shore of Bluffton in South Carolina and boasts nature, golf, and classic beach-side arcades. The Pickney Island National Wildlife Refuge is a boat ride away for natural exploration and the Newhall Audubon Nature Preserve offers insurmountable birding opportunities. Play a round of golf and then go for a stroll or a bike ride along one of the scores of trails snaking their way about the island before heading out for a decadent meal at one of Hilton Head Island’s premier restaurants. For kids, there is mini golf and games, as well as the Sandbox Museum. Speaking of sand, take this advantage to bury your toes in the dazzling white sand that graces the warm beaches of the Atlantic on the outskirts of this wonderful little island.

Telluride, Colorado

Telluride is the hidden gem of Colorado. While the rest of the world stays in the Telluride Ski Resort Mountain Village, take the time to check out the town that started it all. This small town got its start in the mining industry during the Victorian age, but is now the welcoming door step to some of the best skiing and golf you will find in the United States of America. The charming Victorian architecture of the town will whisk you away to another time, while the weightless powder that awaits you on the peaks will have you up at first chair and cursing the last. In the summer months, get in your eighteen holes or head into the mountains for brisk hikes that offer breathtaking views. Get a glimpse of Bridal Veil Falls or, if hiking is not really your speed, go for a tour of La Plata Canyon in a rugged Jeep. While strolling down Main Street in town, visit the historic New Sheridan Hotel - a Telluride institution - or the Telluride Historical Museum..

Mystic, Connecticut

This charming little coastal town brings you history with just a touch of whimsy. With shores on both the Mystic River and the Atlantic Ocean, Mystic is rife with a rich culture of seafaring life. Visit the Mystic Aquarium to learn about local sea life and specimens from around the world, or climb aboard the Charles Morgan, one of the last whaling ships. Keeping in the mariner vein, see the New England coast like never before on on a cruise on an eighteen foot schooner. Pack a picnic for a half day of family fun, or make it an evening of romance with a twilight cruise. Take a walk through history in Olde Mystick Village, a cobblestone street lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. While the shopping and dining is modern, the architecture and layout of Olde Mystick Village is modeled after those one would find in the 1720s. Finally, have a slice at Mystic Pizza, the parlour that inspired the Julia Roberts’ film of the same title.

St. Augustine, Florida

Come see the dwelling place of the ever-sought-after Fountain of Youth. These infamous springs, discovered by conquistador Ponce de Leon in 1513, now host an archeological park filled with rich history. Learn about the peoples who called the site of these springs home and the explorations of Ponce de Leon and his fleet. Take a sip from the Fountain and maybe you will live forever. With your newfound youth, take part in Black Raven Adventures’ interactive pirate cruise, or see your favourite celebrities and characters at Potter’s Wax Museum - can you tell the difference? While you are still feeling young, take a trip to the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the United States and learn about what life was like in the early 1700s. Keeping in with the 1700s, see how hospitals have changed with the Spanish Military Hospital Museum. Learn about how herbs were made into medicine in the apothecary and see the original layouts and medical tools of eighteenth century hospitals.

Galena, Illinois

Another historical treasure, Galena, Illinois boasts impeccably preserved nineteenth century architecture that immediately whisks you away to a different era. These simple yet elegant buildings capture the imagination and soothe the soul. Head out into the country fresh air and have a meander about the Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve to take advantage of some of the most spectacular views of the magnificent Mississippi River, or take a hike out to Thunderbay Falls to watch the water cascade over the gently arcing rocks into Smallpox Creek. If natural wonders are not really your thing, take the time to visit some of the beautiful architecture that fills Galena, Illinois. The Belvedere Mansion and the Dowling House offer a delightful look into the homes and lifestyles of individuals in 1800s, while the Old Market House State Historic State and the Old Blacksmith Shop offer a look into the past with interesting museums and tours describing the goings ons of these edifices.

Pella, Iowa

Pella, Iowa was founded by the Dutch in the 1840s and has earned itself the title of the Netherlands of the United States. Come immerse yourself in a little taste of Netherland charm and learn about early life in the United States as a European immigrant. The Historic Village, be sure to catch a glimpse of the Vermeer Windmill and Scholte House. The entirety of the Historic Village is an interactive museum of sorts; all volunteers are dressed in costume and ready to share their knowledge about life in traditional Pella, Iowa in the nineteenth century. Tour guides are available for both the Vermeer Windmill as well as the Scholte House to help enhance your historical education. The Scholte House was home to the founder of Pella and has been preserved to put the daily life of his household on display. The Molengracht, or mill canal, within the town center combines old world charm with modern day life. This building complex sports a canal and drawbridge while playing host to shops, restaurants, and a movie theatre. Nearby, the klokkenspel delights both locals and tourists alike. This massive glockenspiel clock has daily performances and provides a cozy atmosphere to the lovely town center.

Bardstown, Kentucky

If you are a drinker and lover of bourbon and whiskey, then Bardstown, Kentucky is your Mecca. Boasting numerous bourbon distilleries, the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, and, naturally, a massive bourbon festival, Bardstown is the expert when it comes to your favourite alcoholic beverage. If bourbon is not the number one item on your list, Bardstown has multiple other offerings. Go for a stroll, run, or hike in the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. This stunning forest preserve spans over fourteen thousand acres with over thirty-five miles of trails. After a refreshing meander, dive into history at the Old Bardstown Village Civil War Museum or rummage about in one of the many antique shops, where you are certain to find some one-of-a-kind relic.

Whether you are looking to get out into the great outdoors, itching to learn from the past, or simply looking for a relaxing getaway, there is a town out there for you, smuggled away in the pocket of some state or another. Whatever your interest, and wherever your destination, you are certain to find a hidden gem of a town to spark your fancy in any corner of the United States of America. Adventure awaits; pack your bags!

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