When you think of exotic, your mind probably wanders to far-away spots and islands where the vibe is slow and the language isn’t your own. But the U.S. has places that defy our notion of our homeland, with natural wonders that look as exotic as they feel, and local cultures that make you think you’ve traveled a long way to experience. Check out our list of top destinations that deliver unfamiliar, curious, and fascinating – all without requiring a trans continental flight.
Saint Augustine, Florida
Saint Augustine, Florida, is the oldest city in the U.S., having gotten its start in 1565 when Spanish explorer Pedro Menedez de Aviles set foot on the sunny shoreline. Once you stake your claim to a hotel room, spend your time visiting museums, the downtown historic district, and Castillo de San Marcos, a large stone fortress the Spanish built to protect Spain’s interests.
Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska
One of Alaska’s great landscapes, Denali National Park and Preserve is like stepping back into another era. While the park is massive, much of it remains untouched by trails, cars, and highways – including the last 70 miles of dirt road that ends just beyond Wonder Lake. Open wilderness and tundra are navigated by good old-fashioned map and compass, and encounters with bears and moose are surprisingly common. If you’re looking for an awe-inspiring adventure and jaw-dropping landscape, Denali is a hit.
Catalina Island, California
Close to Los Angeles? Yes. A mostly undeveloped island? Check. Mediterranean vibe? You bet. More like Monaco than L.A., Catalina Island is a fun escape just 26 miles across the open ocean from downtown Long Beach, and feels like a world away. While wild Buffalo still roam much of the island, the main town, Avalon, is your place to soak in the rich culture and spend time enjoying food, drinks, and epic views.
Olympic National Park, Washington
This national gem offers scenic mountains and jagged shorelines. Numerous ecosystems merge here – from rainforests to slopes above the treeline. There is so much to do and see in the park, you’ll want to make several trips to take it all in.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Tucked against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southeast Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is an epic sculpted spectacle that attests to the power of wind. Scale the dunes for a calf-burning workout and well-earned views. From the top, you’ll swear you were somewhere else and not merely standing in the middle of Colorado’s wildlands.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
Above timberline and exposed to the temperamental nature of wind and weather, the White Mountains offer incredible hiking opportunities and views for days. Here, you’ll feel more like you’re standing in the Scottish Highlands or atop Ireland’s high, heather-covered hillscape.
For more summer fun, check out our blog for more close-to-home adventures.