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Venturing beyond the US’s most popular destinations allows you to delve deeper into the country’s history, culture, and natural beauty. It’ll also help you steer away from the crowds.

Below, our specialists showcase five of their favorite US destinations that often fly under the radar, from temperate rainforests in the Pacific Northwest to historic towns in the American South. They also share how you could tie each one into a wider trip that covers the region’s more well-known highlights.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe
New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe

By Karl

Smooth adobe houses, churches built in an eclectic array of styles, and not a high-rise in sight — Santa Fe has a distinct character far removed from the rest of the USA. It’s also deemed one of the country’s great art cities, giving you a good dose of culture during an adventure-packed trip to the Southwest.

One of the things I love about the city is how compact it is — no matter where you stay, you’re just a stroll away from the action. The hotels also stay true to the city’s cultural heritage, like Inn of the Five Graces, with its earthen exterior and vibrant handcrafted furnishings.

To help you unravel Santa Fe’s multicultural past, I can book you onto a walking tour with a local guide. Depending on your tastes, you might explore the city through the lens of its diverse architectural styles, learn about Navajo textiles and Spanish colonial art on a culture-focused tour, or taste the flavors of New Mexico as you hop from one restaurant to the next. If you like, I can also arrange for you to take a hands-on cooking class so you can recreate classic New Mexican dishes at home (personally, I love a sizzling pot of posole, a rich, spicy broth with lime-soaked corn kernels).

A short drive away, you can also walk among the fossil-littered landscape of Ghost Ranch or visit Taos Pueblo, an ancient village of multi-level adobe buildings that’s been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years.

I’d say a trip to Santa Fe wouldn’t be complete without exploring its many museums and art galleries, which span centuries, eras, and influences of all kinds. There’s the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, to name a few. Each paint a vivid picture of the history, culture, and people that have shaped New Mexico.

Tie it in with a trip to: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the Grand Canyon, and Zion National Park to take in more of the Southwest.

When to go: April to June or September to November, when the weather is warm and sunny. I particularly recommend April or October if you want to experience the town with fewer visitors around.

Asheville, North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

By Shannon

The South is best known for its music and food, but if it’s the great outdoors you’re looking for, Asheville tops my list of recommendations for the region. While the city itself boasts trendy eateries, microbreweries, and galleries galore, its proximity to the forest-swathed Great Smoky Mountains National Park is part of what sets it apart.

A backdrop of mist-shrouded peaks rises behind the city, inviting you to venture further out to its natural surroundings. If you like, I can arrange for you to head into the park with a naturalist guide. They’ll take you on a hike deep into old-growth forests and past cascading waterfalls, revealing the secrets of the local wildlife and culture as you go. En route, you can stop to cool off in a natural swimming hole and pause for a picnic beneath the trees.

Another way to explore the countryside is by taking a sunset drive along the tree-lined Blue Ridge Parkway. You can, of course, go alone, but I find heading out with a guide more rewarding. A local themselves, they’ll share the history of the area while you gaze out towards the orange glow of the sun sinking behind the mountains.

As for where to stay, I recommend the historic Inn on Biltmore Estate if you want to unwind in rural luxury, or the Kimpton Hotel Arras if you’d prefer to stay close to the restaurants and cafes of downtown Asheville.

Tie it in with a trip to: Atlanta, Blowing Rock, and Bluffton for a longer outdoor adventure in the South, with hiking, dolphin watching, and plenty more time in the Smokies.

When to go: May or November, when the weather is pleasantly balmy and visitors are fewer. In early November, you can also catch the surrounding fall foliage, which rivals the blazing oranges and reds that draw crowds to New England.

The Pacific Northwest

Cannon Beach in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest
Cannon Beach in Oregon, the Pacific Northwest

By Ewan

Coastal views, snow-sprinkled mountain scenery, and little village stop-overs at boutique hotels… For me, a road trip through the Pacific Northwest is just as impressive as following California’s renowned Pacific Highway. It’s not a destination for ultra-luxury seekers, but if you want to explore the natural beauty of the West Coast without the crowds, I highly recommend adding it to your list.

Your first foray into nature will be Olympic National Park, home to the one of the largest temperate rainforests in the country. I’m always taken aback by its vibrance — the fern-covered ground and moss-cloaked trees feel almost otherworldly. There are high alpine meadows and pebble-strewn coastlines to explore, too. I can pair you with a guide who’ll take you to corners of the park you may not find by yourself. They’ll share their in-depth knowledge to help you gain a deeper understanding of the wildlife and ecosystems that thrive there.

Then, after you’ve hiked to your heart’s content, head south to unwind along the Oregon coastline — Cannon Beach is my go-to spot. Here, mountain greenery meets the inky ocean, dotted with craggy sea stacks. I encourage you not to plan out your days ahead of time and, instead, enjoy a slower pace as you stroll along the shore, dip into the local museums and galleries, and dine at restaurants where freshly caught seafood is the star of the show. For the best ocean views (and a botanical-inspired spa), stay at the Stephanie Inn.

Tie it in with a trip to: Northern California to visit San Francisco and wander among the cathedral-high redwoods. If you’ve already seen Northern California’s highlights, take a circular trip around the Pacific Northwest, starting and ending in Seattle.

When to go: May, June, or September, outside of the school breaks. There may be some rain, but you’ll be able to explore the parks with far fewer people around.

Charleston, South Carolina

Downtown Charleston, South Carolina
Downtown Charleston, South Carolina

By Monty

Charleston is one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever visited in the US. Brightly painted houses and fan-like palmetto trees line cobbled streets, historic buildings stand tall along the manicured waterfront, and live oaks sprawl out in nearby parks and gardens.

It’s also a very walkable town, and I particularly love its vibrant food scene. Charleston plays host to a delicious mix of regional and international cuisines. Restaurants range from casual eateries where you can tuck into tender Texas barbecue to high-end establishments serving up Southern classics. Lowcountry South Carolina is known for its blue crabs, so I suggest trying the crab cakes while here — delicate shreds of sweet and briny crabmeat, formed into tidy patties, coated in crumbs, and fried to a crunchy crush.

Aside from eating, I think the best way to get to know the town is on a private tour with a local resident. They’ll regale you with stories of Charleston’s history and cultural heritage, while also shedding light on its dark past — the region was a stronghold of slavery. For further context, take a visit to nearby Fort Sumter, the island fort where the Civil War began.

Next up, I suggest heading two hours south to Bluffton, where you can unwind in nature at the Montage Palmetto Bluff. Built into the marshes with a soothing white clapboard exterior, it feels far removed from everyday life. During your stay, there’s a myriad of activities to enjoy: kayaking, wildlife walks, tennis, golf, a spa, and much more. But for me, it’s the quintessential Southern hospitality that makes a stay here so special.

Tie it in with a trip to: Asheville, North Carolina, as well as Savannah and Jekyll Island, Georgia, for a luxury city and coastal break in Georgia and the Carolinas.

When to go: Mid-March to early June, when you can enjoy sunny, dry days before temperatures and the humidity soar in summer. However, if you can stand the heat, summertime is quieter.

Southern California

San Diego, Southern California
San Diego, Southern California

By Alex

I find that most people who are visiting California for the first time go from San Francisco to Los Angeles and stop there. But, the state has so much more to offer, especially if you want extra time to unwind after the bustle of LA. That’s why I encourage you to go further south into Orange County and San Diego.

Orange County is the epitome of Southern California cool. It’s artsy, relaxed, and has some of the best beaches (and golf courses) in the region. Newport Beach and Laguna Beach are two of my top choices. While there, I recommend taking a boat trip out to spot whales and dolphins, or trying your hand at the beloved Californian pastime — surfing.

Then, wrap up your trip in laid-back San Diego. I particularly like staying in the lively Gaslamp Quarter, which offers easy access to the baseball stadium and local Mexican restaurants — you’re just minutes from the border, so the food is deliciously authentic. The beaches are just a short drive away, too.

However, if you want a quieter coastal retreat, stay along the amber sands of La Jolla. Secluded sea caves, basking sea lions, and long walks along the bluffs bring peace and quiet to the end of your California adventure.

Tie it in with a trip to: San Franciso, Monterey, and Santa Monica, for a classic coastal road trip across California.

When to go: September for blue skies and sunny beach days. If you’re visiting during spring or autumn, I suggest swapping out Orange County for some luxury desert relaxation in Palm Springs, where the weather is warmer.

Read more about trips to the US

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They're just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

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