Happy independence day, America! They say it takes leaving home to appreciate the beauty of your own backyard, and in my evolution as a traveler, I’ve found that to be true. There was a time when not a single one of the fifty states seemed adventurous enough to quench my thirst for all things exotic, but over time I’ve come to appreciate the breadth, diversity and awe of all the places I can visit without ever having to crack open a passport. In honor of the USA’s big day, here are my thirteen favorite domestic travel destinations, in no particular order.
1. Martha’s Vineyard
I’ve yet to find a more charming domestic destination than this one. Taking the ferry over to this quaint, chain-store-free island is like stepping back in time. Each of the island’s five towns has a distinct character, and there are endless hidden beaches and backroads to explore. I grew up making annual summer trips to Martha’s Vineyard and now that my family owns a home there we fall more and more in love all the time.
Perfect day: A morning bike ride from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, an afternoon at State Beach, and an evening at Red Kat Kitchen followed by ice cream on Circuit Avenue.
2. New York City
My last permanent American address was in Brooklyn, and it’s hard for me to truly imagine ever settling back down anywhere else in the US. New York City is the measuring stick from which I size up every other city in the world, and there are very few places on the planet in which I feel so alive. How else can one sum up the city that never sleeps?
Perfect day: The best part about New York is that every day can be different, but for fun let’s say – a crazy fitness class, brunch somewhere painfully hip, a few hours strolling across a bridge and amongst some skyscrapers, and sunset on the roof of an apartment building before setting off for a warehouse party in Brooklyn.
3. New Orleans
I’ve got big love for the Big Easy. The live music seeping from every bar, the flavors wafting from every restaurant, the joy of Mardi Gras that lingers throughout the year, the sense of resilience that sits with every resident… damn if this city doesn’t just have soul. Though my sister relocated to Boston and so I no longer have an in-town crash pad to land in, I have a feeling New Orleans hasn’t seen the last of either of us.
Perfect day: A morning wandering the Garden District, a twenty-five cent martini lunch at Commander’s Palace, an afternoon taking in the French Quarter and the evening dancing to a big brass band at The Maple Leaf.
A city on the sea, what more could a girl ask for? With its stunning beaches, bustling art scene, pristine art deco architecture, amazing nightlife, outdoor-loving community and infusion of Latin culture and flavor, Miami is one of my favorite cities in America. Don’t get me started on the low cost of living and the strategic location for flights to Latin America and the Caribbean. I’ve entertained many a daydream about moving here!
Perfect day: Paddleboard yoga on South Beach, an afternoon stroll along the art deco wonders of Ocean Drive, and dinner and drinks in Little Havana, Wynwood Arts District or South Beach, depending on the vibe of the day.
How could this country music lover not list Music City among her must-visit vacation destinations? Nashville hits all marks on the travel trinity of music, food, and Southern hospitality. And yes – I’m addicted to the TV show of the same name.
Perfect day: Whatever my dear friend and Queen of Nashville Kristin Luna tells you to do.
6. The Hawaiian Islands
Naming a whole state is a bit of a cop out, but I just couldn’t choose! Oahu and Maui are the islands I’ve spent the most time on and the likely candidates for ones I’d chose to set up camp if I ever made good on my promise to someday live aloha full time. Hawaii is so much more than honeymooners sipping overpriced drinks aside an exclusive pool. It’s the beauty of the land, the spirit of the ocean, the strength of the culture, and the way you feel when the islanders treat you like ohana.
Maui perfect day: A morning surfing off the Honoappiilani Highway, kalua pig lunch in Paia and an afternoon driving around the upcountry farms
Oahu perfect day: A morning kayaking in Kailua, shave ice for lunch, an afternoon at the Honolulu Museum of Art and a night checking out the hip bars and clubs in Chinatown
7. Las Vegas
Las Vegas is one of those destinations I just can’t seem to quit – and I don’t even gamble! The food, the nightlife, the people watching and the pool parties – there’s simply nowhere in America greater at entertaining. Need a break from the bright lights? Options for day trips are unreal – drive to Valley of Fire State Park, Red Rock Canyon, the Hoover Dam, or Seven Magic Mountains, or just pop up to the hip Downtown.
Perfect day: Spend the day poolside at a party or on a lounger depending on your mood, watch sunset from the High Roller, and then head downtown for dinner, drinks, and a tour of the Neon Museum.
8. The Finger Lakes
I may be biased considering I call Upstate New York my original home (I hail from Albany!) but I’m obsessed with the beauty of The Finger Lakes region. Glamping in Ithaca, glass-blowing in Corning, hiking through Watkins Glen, and wine tasting along the shores of Keuka and Cayuga Lakes – there’s much more to New York State than our famous five boroughs!
Perfect day: Wake up at Firelight Camps, hike down to Buttermilk Falls in the morning, and reward yourself with a trip around the wineries in the afternoon. Cap it off with an Antioxidant Wine Trail Wrap at August Moon Spa!
9. Black Rock City
You may only be able to visit Black Rock City for about a week per year, but the crazy urban planning experiment that takes place in the northern Nevada desert at the end of each August is arguably the most unique, fascinating place in America. Burning Man is more than a festival — it’s a ticket to another planet, no passport necessary.
Perfect day: A Mimosa and Motown Brunch, an Acro Yoga Workshop in a yurt, an art-spotting bike ride around the playa, sunset at The Man, and dancing the night away at a Britney Vs. Madonna dance party at Planet Earth.
10. The Everglades
I’ve spent less time in The Everglades than anywhere else on this list – literally just a day – but I’d be remiss to leave it off considering I think it is one of the most underrated natural wonders in America. Maybe I’ve just read one too many Carl Hiaasan novels, but I’m obsessed with this quirky, wild, untamed corner of the Sunshine State.
Perfect day: A morning riding the Shark Valley bike loop, lunch in Everglades City, and an afternoon on an airboat tour.
11. Myrtle Beach
Everyone has one — that nostalgia filled, guilty-pleasure destination of their childhood. For me, it’s Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to where I’ve pilled in a minivan and made the thirteen hour drive down the coast more times than I can count. Miles of sand, a cooler full of beach snacks and a non-existent to-do list? It’s the perfect low-drama dose of Vitamin D.
Perfect day: A morning at the beach, and afternoon by the pool, and an evening strolling around Broadway at the Beach watching fireworks and enjoying the happy glow of people on vacation.
12. San Diego
San Francisco is a little too cold and Los Angeles is a little too sprawling, but for this newly-minted certified California addict, San Diego is just right (Golden State runners up definitely include both Palm Springs and Disneyland!) I fell in love with San Diego’s charming city’s surfer vibes, dog friendly mood and good-life loving energy — this would absolutely be the city I’d settle in if I ever deflected to the West Coast.
Perfect day: An acai bowl for breakfast and a day at the Ocean Beach dog beach with a four legged friend, capped off with an early dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter and a late-night candlight yoga class in Mission Beach.
13. Lake Powell
Grand Canyon gets all the attention (and for good reason!) but if I had to pick one piece of paradise in this corner of the country it would be Lake Powell — a body of water marked by surreal beauty and surrounded by natural treasures like slot canyons, Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River, and more. Next trip, I’m renting a houseboat!
Perfect day: A morning tour of the slot canyons, an afternoon stand up paddle tour of the lake, and an evening in the hot tub at Wahweap Campground (yes, this lakeside campground has a hot tub and a pool!)
And A Few I Can’t Wait to Get To
The crazy part is how hard it was to narrow down this list – and I’ve only been to 21 of the country’s 50 great states! I’m super enthusiastic about a Colorado River rafting slash Lake Powell houseboating trip, and I have my eye on the Denali Star. I want to hop over to my Martha’s Vineyard neighbor Nantucket, take a dog-friendly road trip to the wineries of Santa Barbara, and go diving in the Florida Keys. Among cities I’m itching to visit, Austin, Seattle, and Portland top the list (along with Denver and Atlanta, which I’ve been to but far too briefly or too young).
Considering my propensity for visiting the same destinations over and over and over again, there’s no doubt that I’ll tick off my “new place” wish list slowly. But man, I can’t wait for all the homegrown adventures ahead.
What’s your favorite US travel destination?