Dreaming of your next vacation? You’re probably considering heading somewhere remote to hide from the crowds once we’re allowed to travel again. There are many amazing places to tick off your bucket list, but what about those hidden gems that only locals or die-hard niche travelers know about? Here’s a handpicked insider’s list of the best secret places in the United States that might even be in your backyard.
Top 11 hidden gems to discover in the USA
- B&O Kitchen and Grocery, Sulphur, LA
- Poolesville, MD
- Jim Thorpe, PA
- Oceanside, OR
- Jemez Springs, NM
- Seattle Central Library, WA
- Tomales and Dillon Beach, CA
- Eldorado Canyon, NV
- Scott’s Addition Historic District, Richmond, VA
- Bennington, VT
- Dripping Springs, TX
Best hidden gem for foodies: B&O Kitchen and Grocery in Sulphur, LA
No trip to Louisiana is complete without a culinary immersion. However, you might not have heard of this authentic, homemade Cajun food spot that is a local favorite and an absolute delight. Don’t let the unassuming storefront fool you: the B&O Kitchen and Grocery in Sulphur, LA, packs a powerful punch when it comes to deliciousness!
You can count on them to serve up the classic boudin stuffed with pork and rice, as well as new items changing daily. And the staff are among the friendliest you’ll meet. As Eileen Cotter Wright of PureWander.com recalls, “As soon as I told them I was from Boston, I was invited out back to see firsthand how some popular items were made.” That’s warm hospitality at its best.
Take-away tip? Don’t forget to get a greasy bag of “cracklin’s” to take with you on the road.
Locals’ pick outside the city: Poolesville, MD
Sure, you already know that Washington, DC, has lots of attractions and great historical landmarks to visit. It’s certainly enough to cover a weekend trip. How about exploring outside the main tourist area to discover some unknown places in and around the nation’s capital?
Head out to Homestead Farm on a sunny fall day to pick apples and pumpkins, meet their adorable farm animals and buy some delicious local produce to take home with you. In the summer, swap the pumpkins for plump, flavorful cherries and strawberries.
Top up an awesome picnic basket with wine from Rocklands Farm Winery just up the road. Then relax on the banks of the Potomac River a stone’s throw away, or enjoy a forested walk on the C&O Canal towpath. Fresh air, fresh produce, and all within minutes of DC—what’s not to like?
Read more: The 16 must-see national parks in the US
Best small-town charm: Jim Thorpe, PA
You’ll definitely leave the big city behind here. Located in Eastern Pennsylvania halfway between Scranton and Allentown, Jim Thorpe is nestled against the Lehigh Valley and Flagstaff Mountain. This small town welcomes all outdoor-loving visitors with an array of activities. Take your pick among hiking, skiing, horseback riding and water sports—it’s an ideal, little-known destination for any season.
If you’re not into outdoor pursuits but looking for an escapist trip, Jim Thorpe’s quaint European village feel will have you hooked. There are Victorian mansions, an opera house, a jail, an old train station and even a coal and mine museum you can tour.
We recommend spending a night in one of the charming B&Bs and trying out the local cuisine. Then, head to your final surprise: the world’s largest general store. Don’t forget to buy a souvenir!
Secret ocean views without the crowds: Oceanside, OR
Oregon is a popular destination for its amazing coastline and unique attractions like the Columbia River Gorge. However, the area still has lots of secret places to charm old and new visitors alike.
Oceanside, a tiny town on the coast, offers perfect views and a wildlife refuge for incredible bird-watching opportunities. You can hang out on the beach and discover secret coves depending on the tide. And, of course, there are plenty of scenic lighthouses!
Greg Fitzpatrick, a Skyscanner writer, discovered Oceanside a few years ago when he traveled there for a friend’s wedding in Portland: “When it came time for choosing a spot on the Oregon coast, [my girlfriend] did extra detective work and found this town of about 300 full-time residents.” Watching whales and seabirds was a highlight of that trip. Greg is still surprised they ever left this “little piece of heaven.”
Hot soak hidden gem: Jemez Springs, NM
How about soaking in some off-the-beaten-track hot springs in New Mexico for your next trip? This tiny village of 250 inhabitants is full of natural springs for every taste and lifestyle. If you’re into wild adventures, you can hike to the more remote wild hot water sources and bathe in privacy. But, if you’d rather not sacrifice your feet in the heat, you can pay to access indoor and outdoor hot pools in the village itself.
For those in the know, hiking to a secret place for your own private hot spring is the must-do adventure here. You will not get a map for most of them, so it’s worth trying to discover the rock-lined wonders yourself. Alternatively, make friends with the locals and see if they’ll let you in on the best spots hidden among the pines and aspens.
Safety note: Wild hot springs are a great find, but this hidden gem can reach extreme temperatures! Stay safe in the heat by checking the water temperature with a thermometer if you’re the first to arrive on site. And don’t spend too long inside—prolonged soaking may put you at risk of hyperthermia or heat stroke. Short dips are better!
Secret treasure for book lovers: Seattle Central Library
Your local public library is probably a secret place you haven’t fully explored. And, when visiting somewhere new, public libraries can let you explore a new facet of a city, complete with stunning architecture and a quiet space for reflection.
Seattle Central Library combines form and functionality with quiet bliss. Opened in 2004, it was included in the American Institute of Architects’ list of Americans’ favorite structures in the US soon thereafter. Its interesting street-side shape will lure you inside, where you’ll discover the ideal place to relax on a rainy afternoon with a good book. Find a nearby hotel in Seattle for your next trip.
Unknown places in California: Tomales and Dillon Beach
Step away from the crowded cities and head to the secret location of Tomales, population 200. Here, you may find your new favorite mom-and-pop shops just off Highway 1. Most buildings date from the mid-1800s, so it’s like a trip back in time, complete with Victorian charm.
Skyscanner writer Danielle Owen says, “As a teenager in Napa, we used to drive out to Dillon Beach, stopping at the deli in Tomales to stock up on sandwiches and snacks for the day.” Driving out of town, you’ll be at the beach in less than 10 minutes. Have a picnic among the dunes and enjoy the peaceful Bodega Bay.
Read more: Want to visit some more spectacular beaches? Here are the 13 best US beach-side hotels to stay in.
Best for a Wild West immersion: Eldorado Canyon, NV
If you’re a fan of the Wild West and want a history-filled getaway, there are fewer places as evocative as the ghost town of Tehatticup, with its gold mine, in the middle of the Eldorado Canyon. The stories linked to the area tell it all: murder, double crossing and gun slinging abound. Later on, this was a popular hiding place for Civil War deserters.
Today, you can take a dune buggy ride through Eldorado Canyon from Las Vegas, pass through the old mine town of Nelson, and tour Tehatticup. Check out the remains of a fake exploded plane on site, too, from the set of the movie 3000 Miles to Graceland.
Beer lovers’ secret destination: Scott’s Addition Historic District, Richmond, VA
Beer tastings have become even more popular over the years, but the next step? Beercations! That’s right, you can take a vacation to a destination based solely on the quality of its breweries. “Richmond has a fantastic beer scene, particularly in Scott’s Addition,” says Skyscanner editor and local expert Tara Shubbuck.
Check out spots like Strangeways, The Veil, Ardent, and Väsen… and the list goes on. Not a fan of beer? There are also plenty of cideries in the same neighborhood. Local favorites for flavorful ciders include Blue Bee and Buskey. Bottoms up!
Best for a secret mountain escape: Bennington, VT
The Green Mountain State holds lots of hidden gems, and Bennington is one such quaint old town with a very specific charm. From the Blue Benn Diner, set in a small rail car and serving sourdough French toast, to the Bennington Potters, the town stoneware factory, you’ll be spoiled for choice of activities. Bennington County is also home to beautiful covered bridges.
While in town, you’ll find lots of historic architecture, a theater company and a highly respected liberal arts college full of creative students interacting with the community.
If you’re looking to spend some time outdoors, you can take advantage of Bennington’s multitude of walking and biking trails. You’ll also have a broad range of lovely cafés and diners to refuel in when you come back.
Read more: Top tips for planning travel in 2021
Texas’ hidden gem: Dripping Springs
While Texas is well-known for outdoor lovers, this relatively unknown place is off the beaten track and offers lots of surprises to visitors. Dripping Springs is named the Gateway to the Hill Country and is well set up to welcome tourists with traditional Texan hospitality, including a delicious egg, sausage and pesto croissant at the poetically named Rolling in Thyme and Dough.
But the real gem lies 10 miles out of town: the Hamilton Pool Preserve is one of the most beautiful natural pools in America, created thousands of years ago through erosion. It’s an extremely picturesque spot that not many know about.
Beyond the pool, you can visit lots of scenic countryside, including Milton Reimers Ranch Park, a favorite spot for mountain bikers, rock climbers and fishermen. And here’s another unique fact: Dripping Springs is known as the “Wedding Capital of Texas” thanks to being home to 35 wedding venues within a 15-mile radius!
Read more: Discover Texas’ 9 stunning national parks
A final thought
You might not be ready to book flights on Skyscanner just yet, but we hope that this list of hidden gems will whet your appetite for travel closer to home. You might find a new secret place in your own town or hit the road for one of these spots in the near future. Either way, we’ll be here with more travel inspiration when you’re ready to plan your next trip.
And remember: whenever you’re preparing for a vacation, make sure to check out your local government guidelines to find out the latest COVID-19 restrictions and measures. This way, you can make the most of anywhere you go.
Where can I go right now?
Keep an eye on travel restrictions as you plan your next trip. You can visit Skyscanner’s interactive travel restrictions map any time to see the latest updates. Check the conditions of entry for each country if you plan to go abroad.
Frequently asked questions about U.S. hidden gems
The best-known destinations in the US tend to be associated with historic locations (such as Washington, DC), big movie locations (like New York, NY), and natural wonders like U.S. national parks.
However, if you want to go off the beaten path, exploring some of the hidden gems in this rticle will reveal little-known but unique locations and things to do.
You can go to a number of extraordinary remote locations, but this doesn’t make them hidden gems. For example, the town of Marfa, TX, is now relatively famous thanks to its popularity on Instagram. This is why hidden gems are so precious: they are less known and well-loved and will give you a glimpse into local culture and history.
Yes, most of the destinations listed here are free to visit or have a free component. You can spend time outdoors at Dillon Beach, CA, in the wilderness around Dripping Springs, TX, and at Oceanside, OR. The wild hot springs in Jemez Springs, NM, are also free of charge. If you want to explore the cities above, there are lots of unpaid attractions, too.
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