When making travel plans for your next vacation you may want to include one of these diamond-in-the-rough cities. Sure, some may be relatively small in size, but each packs a lot of fun with its own hidden gems. Not only do they cater to your creative side, they also are a pretty good value, too, when compared with the more popular destinations tourists usually flock to.
Monterey, Calif., is situated right in the midst of the breathtaking Big Sur, a place where the Pacific Ocean collides with the Santa Lucia Mountains. U.S. Highway 1 is carved into the mountain side, which ranks among the world’s most exhilarating places to drive. The local people fought to ban billboards and construction within sight of the highway so the 70 mile drive is left splendidly natural. There is much to see, from the cliffs that drop off seemingly vertically to the miles of blue ocean, to the playful sea otters, and the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. The open spandrel arch bridge is a marvel in and of itself, not to mention a feat of engineering for its time.
If driving isn’t your idea of a vacation, Monterey offers some real hidden gems for those willing to work a little harder – secluded and secret beaches.
- Zmudowski State Park: The “Z” is silent, so it’s pronounced Mud-ow-ski. Most of the year, if you can find it, you’ll be the only one there. Known for its white sand and great bird watching, the beach offers some good fishing, too.
- Pfeiffer Beach: This gorgeous beach is a real reward to those who persevere to find it. You won’t find a road sign even on the only road that leads to it (perhaps so the locals can enjoy it without too many tourists). The beach has lavender-colored sand and a creek which empties into the ocean which makes for fun for the kids. The sunsets are also awe-inspiring, here.
There’s also a local art scene, camping, hiking and biking trails; the oldest continuously operating lighthouse (Point Pinos Lighthouse); Spanish missions built centuries ago; and California’s #1 rated restaurant, according to the review site, Zagat. Guided tours are available of the Hearst Mansion, the former publishing tycoon. There’s an aquarium that’s also ranked #1 in the U.S. for its innovative design and exhibits. In fact, there’s much, much more – far too much to list. Put it on your destination list and go knowing you will need no less week to take it all in.
Bring your camera and try to capture the beauty of Asheville, a vibrant little city that sits between the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountain ranges – a perfect blend of the bustling city life and North Carolina’s serene natural beauty.
During the day, whether you’re hiking on the Blue Ridge Mountain trails, whitewater rafting or admiring the natural waterslides, there are a myriad of activities and attractions that make this place so unique. One of the more notable hiking trails is Grandfather Mountain. At just under six-thousand feet, Grandfather Mountain is a good place to see wildlife like wild cougars, river otters, black bear and white-tailed deer. On days when the clouds hang low you can actually look down on them from near the summit, making it seem like you’re on Mount Everest!
At night, come back to the city — of just over 84,000 souls for a pint. Ashville has 11 microbreweries that serve over 50 craft beers. That might be how Asheville got its nickname, “Beer City, USA”. After a drink and dinner, there’s surprisingly still a lot to do. Local playhouses have nightly shows from comedies to drama. There are street musicians outside and live bands inside. For those who want to keep it rustic, just outside the city there are opportunities for spectacular stargazing.
Way the heck up north in Duluth, Minn., there’s an awful lot to do. Take, for starters, the Glensheen mansion. The mansion is open for tours and is run the University of Minnesota. The home of a lawyer and capitalist, the mansion was completed in 1908. It’s best visited in the summer when you can enjoy the sprawling grounds and amazing gardens.
Speaking of gardens, Duluth also has a charming rose garden near the Lake Superior Lakewalk that’s free and open to the public. It’s open May 1 – Oct. 1, though mid-summer is a good time to go and take advantage of the cool lake breeze. Stop and smell the roses if you’re in the area.
While you’re there, check out the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, Split Rock Lighthouse, and go for a dinner cruise on Lake Superior. Watch the sunset over what the Native Americans called the big water, or “Gitchee Gumee”.
Baltimore.org names Mount Vernon, the neighborhood just north of downtown Baltimore, as “the city’s cultural heart”. Several mansions of the Gilded Age have been transformed into art galleries and museums. You can proudly hail the original copy of Frances Scott Key’s The Star Spangled Banner in the Maryland Historical Society.
Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco, a pet-friendly hotel, has PUBLIC bikes available which allow guests to take their own unique adventure around town. Built in 1906, the hotel was originally the headquarters for the B&O Railroad.
This city has been reborn! In March 2014, www.livability.com named Providence as No. 2 on the List of Best Downtowns in America.
In about the last decade, old, unsightly buildings and a couple of the riversides have been transformed. There are now gondola rides available, and during certain times in June through early autumn, 100 bonfires burn along Province’s three rivers.
The “Creative City” also boasts a new Chace Center at the Museum of Art – Rhode Island School of Design.
Visit the Oregon Zoo, home of 2,000 animals and known for their Asian elephant breeding program. On the second Tuesday of each month, admission is just $4. The Portland Farmers Market is considered one of the world’s best. Each week, there are eight different markets that run from spring through fall.
Above Washington Park, participate in a guided tour of a 5.5-acre Japanese Garden complete with a marvelous Japanese Tea House.
For more ideas, order a free copy of Travel Portland magazine.