5 Unexpected U.S. Cities You MUST Visit This Year!

Spring and summer are right around the corner, and everyone’s thinking about doing some traveling! Here are five destinations that you may or may not have heard of, but should be on your travel bucket list.  The best part is, these trips won’t break the bank, and won’t require too much time off work, but will still provide you with an unforgettable vacation!

1. Hood River, Oregon

The photos of Hood River speak for themselves. If you’re looking for a quaint, laid-back town with outdoor activities, beautiful scenery, craft breweries AND wineries, look no further! Located at the crossroads of the Columbia River Gorge and Cascade Range, the lush greenery and river views will completely steal your heart. The best part is Hood River’s proximity to Portland so you can visit both awesome cities in one trip and the hour drive is unbelievably beautiful. Plus, you can make a stop at the famous Multnomah Falls, as well as other waterfalls along the way.

Hood River is also only 30 miles from Mount Hood, the tallest peak in Oregon. With it’s four incredible seasons, Hood River offers a wide array of outdoor activities including hiking, skiing, kayaking, biking, and is the wind-surfing capital of the world! But this destination offers so much more. It is also known for its production of apples, pears, and cherries and is home to many orchards as well as wineries. We HIGHLY recommend staying at the Best Western Hotel Plus (the only hotel right on the water). We enjoyed a sunset dinner while soaking in the beautiful view of the river from the hotel’s restaurant. Also be sure to visit Full Sail Brewery and you absolutely cannot miss Marchesi Vineyards!

View the Hood River Gallery below

2. Santa Fe, New Mexico

We originally planned a trip to Santa Fe because it wasn’t too far of a drive from Colorado. When we began researching what to do there, we realized we had to go in September because of their annual Burning of Zozobra festival. The event seemed so interesting because of its long history and it ended up being such a unique, memorable experience. Zozobra, or “Old Man Gloom” is a 50-foot-tall marionette stuffed with hundreds of bags of shredded paper. Up until an hour before the show, attendees can place any forms or documents that represent their bad luck – such as divorce papers or police reports – into the “gloom box”. This is then shredded, placed inside Old Man Gloom, and yes…burned for all to see!! Witnessing the many sorrows go up in smoke along with Zozobra himself is a creepy, but fascinating sight to see! Watch our quick video to get the whole effect and visit the event’s main website for more details and to purchase tickets!

It wasn’t just this event that made Santa Fe so memorable, though. The entire city itself has so much to offer! You can get lost for hours enjoying the charming art culture, delicious food, and history. Even just the sight of the adobe architecture backdropped by the Sangre De Cristo mountains and its southwestern style makes this place a must-see! Here are a few other activities we enjoyed and recommend:

  • Cross of the Martyrs at Sunset

    Accessible via a mild hike along a walkway or by car, this beautiful and historic cross sits atop a hill on the historic Eastside. It offers incredible west-facing views of the city, making it the perfect place for sunset.

  • Loretto Chapel’s Mysterious Staircase

    This former Roman Catholic church was featured on Unsolved Mysteries and is therefore now mainly used as a museum. The church’s unusual helix-shaped spiral staircase is called “The Miraculous Stairway” because of its unknown means of support. It can be a quick stop to snap a photo, or you can explore the museum in depth, depending on your time and interests.

  • Santa Fe Brewing Company

    The state’s oldest microbrewery features a tasting room, a fun patio, and offers tours of its facilitates once a week. It’s a bit of a drive from the center of town, but worth it! We not only enjoyed the delicious beer, but also the laid-back crowd, the wide-open space to enjoy the weather and corn hole, and yet another gorgeous Santa Fe sunset. We were even lucky enough to catch a beautiful rainbow.

  • Santa Fe Farmer’s Market

    Voted one of the “Top Ten Farmers’ Markets” by Sunset Magazine, it’s also one of the oldest, largest, and most successful markets in the country. With over 150 farmers and producers, you’re bound to find something you love! We rode our bikes there, strolled through the stalls, ate lunch, and had a great time. Best part – the market is open year round! Be sure to check their website, though, because the days and times vary throughout the year.

  • Frank S. Ortiz Park

    This is a beautiful public park close to downtown where you can enjoy lots of walking trails with beautiful views. Plus it’s dog-friendly! The park’s off-leash areas allowed us to get the dogs some exercise too. It’s approximately 135-acres so there’s lots of roaming and exploring for your whole family to enjoy!

  • Exploring Downtown on Bikes

    Whether you bike or walk, there’s so much to see in downtown Santa Fe. We loved the Santa Fe Plaza, which is the center gathering place and truly the “heart” of the town. It’s filled with cultural shops, a variety of restaurants,  and was also hosting an art festival with live music while we were there. Before you plan your trip, we suggest checking out the events that the Plaza hosts and choose one to plan your visit around.

View the Santa Fe Gallery below

3. Brevard, North Carolina

You may have heard of Brevard’s popular neighboring town, Asheville. While Asheville is a must-visit, we found Brevard to be the hidden gem.  It’s proximity to a variety of hikes, waterfalls, the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, and picturesque fall foliage are a few of the things we loved about Brevard. It’s a quaint town but still offers excellent dining options and a decent nightlife, while keeping a small town close-knit community feel.

Brevard is also proud to be home to a rare population of white squirrels! The white squirrel has become the mascot of the town, and you’ll be amazed when you spot one. So, have your camera ready at all times! You’ll definitely want to visit during the fall. We found late October to be the best timing for the changing leaves and comfortable weather.

During your visit to Brevard, you won’t want to miss these activities:

  • Pisgah National Forest

    The 500,000-acre national forest in the Appalachian Mountains is filled with gorgeous scenery and outdoor adventure. Here are two activities that we enjoyed:

    • Looking Glass Falls Brevard is known as “The Land of Waterfalls” so there’s plenty to choose from, but we enjoyed the convenience of Looking Glass Falls.  Since it’s right along the road and very accessible, but also extremely beautiful, Looking Glass Falls is one of the most popular and most visited waterfalls in the state.
    • Sliding Rock This 60-foot long, flat, steep boulder with 11,000 gallons of water flowing down it has been turned into a natural waterslide by its visitors. Tourists and locals alike brave the chilly waters to line up and slide down the waterfall and plunge into the 8-feet-deep pool below it. Other’s can view the fun from the observation deck above. While you’re free to slide any time during daylight, lifeguards are present from May through August. It’s extremely popular during this time, so be prepared for the crowds and a small admission fee. We enjoyed the rock to ourselves in October for free, but paid the price with the cooler water temps!

  • Chimney Rock State Park

    This 6,807-acre park offers a variety of hiking trails for all skill levels, incredible views, the Hickory Nut waterfall, and the Devil’s Head balancing rock. But its most famous feature is the 315-foot granite rock formation, Chimney Rock. You can feel the burn while walking up 500 steps to the top or take the elevator. Either way will give you stunning panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure, and the surrounding countryside.

  • Lake Lure.

    This beautiful man-made lake is featured in the movie Dirty Dancing, which is the reason Lindsay had to go there! We simply spent an afternoon there walking along the boardwalk and taking in the scenery. The lake would be best to visit during the summer months when you can enjoy various water activities, the sandy beach, and the water park with a waterslide into the lake. There are also plenty of activities to do around the lake, including golf, a zip line tour, and biking and hiking trails.

  • Oskar Blues Brewery

    Have you noticed yet that we have to visit a brewery everywhere we go? Well, good beer, great outdoor space, and a beautiful backdrop made this brewery one of our favorites!

View the Brevard Gallery below:

For more great tips for traveling to Brevard and also the surrounding areas in the North Carolina mountains, be sure to check out this site, its one of our favorites!

4. Palisade, Colorado

Known as Colorado wine country and famous for their peaches, Palisade is nestled along the Colorado River and wedged between Grand Junction and the Grand Mesa National Forest. This unique, small town has stunning scenery of vineyards surrounded by bright colored mesas.  The townspeople have immaculate lawns and take such great care of their land, not to mention are friendly and prideful. You’ll almost feel like you’re in Pleasantville, especially with the bright colored flowers that fill the town during spring and summer. Since Palisade boasts 75 percent of Colorado’s premium wine grape vineyards, the number one activity is obviously wine sampling. There are so many wineries to visit, you’ll need at least 2 days to visit them all. If you aren’t a wine drinker, there are also a few nearby breweries and a distillery. We rode bikes to as many wineries as we could in one day and then enjoyed the other day in Grand Junction. We explored the Colorado National Monument and hiked to Devils Kitchen. If you stay longer, there are, of course, plenty of trails to explore and waters to fish in.

View the Palisade Gallery below

5. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

This was our first road trip destination when we moved to Raleigh and it quickly became one of our favorite beach towns that we’ve ever been to. Located at the southern tip of South Carolina’s coastline, Hilton Head has 12 miles of white sand beaches and a variety of accommodations from gated communities and luxury resorts to beach bungalows. You can find whatever vibe and activities you are looking for – a relaxing spa retreat, a party scene, a secluded oasis, world class golfing, or adventure-packed fun.

The island is also very bike friendly and has bike trails that will take you anywhere you need to go. Just watch out for the alligators lurking in the marshlands! The sand along the beaches is hard packed enough so that you can also ride your bike right along the beach, making biking the best way to get around. If you visit Hilton Head, be sure to do the following:

  • Visit the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse

    Great place for dinner, drinks, and shopping (especially during sunset).

  • Grab lunch or a treat at the Salty Dog Cafe and check out their gift shop

    They also brew their own beer, so there is always that!

  • If you have dogs traveling with you, let them run free on the beach after 5:00 pm

    Our dogs were in heaven and this was one of our favorite things about Hilton Head!

  • Don’t miss a sunset at Skull Creek Boathouse

    While there’s always going to be a long wait for dinner during peak season, the wait ended up being our favorite part. There’s a beer stand that sells delicious pretzels. So, we enjoyed some pre-dinner drinks and treats while we walked along the boat ramps and watched one of the most beautiful sunsets we’ve ever seen. There is also lawn games, live music, and plenty of tourists to mingle with!

  • Grab a daiquiri at the famous Frosty Frogs

    Frosty Frogs serves all kinds of tasty, icy, blended cocktails for your enjoyment. They serve food as well but we only tried the daiquiris :).

View the Hilton Head Gallery below

 

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About Lindsay McKenzie

Lindsay is a proud Colorado native who loves Jesus, her family (especially her 3 nieces and 5 nephews), and of course, adventures with her husband Dan and their 2 dogs. She's a simple kind of girl. All it takes to make her happy is a cold beer, some country music, a sunset, and maybe a fishing pole!

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11 Comments on "5 Unexpected U.S. Cities You MUST Visit This Year!"

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Victoria
Guest

I haven’t been to any of these places. However, I must say that they all are very beautiful. I can see why you chose to highlight these places and as I do more traveling this year maybe I will end up in one of them.

Daniel McKenzie
Admin

Hi Victoria,

Thank you for the nice comment! I really hope you do get the chance to visit one of these places. If you do, come back and let us know how you liked it!

Lisa Favre
Guest

These are all places I would love to visit someday. I actually love the fact that your list isn’t so typical and features areas that I have never been to. I guess I must start on some good traveling!

Daniel McKenzie
Admin

Hi Lisa,

We are happy you like the list. We loved each of these places so much and we hope others enjoy visiting them too!

Sandy N Vyjay
Guest

This is a wonderful list and the places are indeed a revelation. Santa Fe seems to be intriguing an holds the promise of great times. So many things to see and experience. Hood River is another amazing place which I would love to visit.

Leah
Guest

I’ve been looking for an idea of where to go to celebrate our 25th this summer. You’ve given me some nice options. Just what I needed! Thanks.

Kash+Mike
Guest

Wow..I thought we had been almost everywhere, until I read this. I like reading about places I need to check out. I gotta show my hubby. Thanks for new places🤓👍🏼

Nausheen
Guest

What a great roundup, love this! Especially interested in checking out Brevard, will have to make it over there:)

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