Travis Levius (@MisterLevius) is a travel writer and content creator based in London and Atlanta. Beyond his bylines in Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, TIME and other publications, Travis shares his ongoing travels (and the occasional comedic skit) as a content creator on Instagram and YouTube.
Low-key, non-touristy destinations are more sought-after than ever for Labor Day vacations this year. If you’re still wondering where to spend the long weekend, these five under-the-radar places offer plenty to experience, but without the typical crowds.
But before you start packing, be sure to check local COVID-related guidelines.
1. Bacalar, Mexico
If the boozy tourist crowds of Cancun and Tulum aren’t your thing, ditch the beaches for laidback lagoon life a few hours’ drive south in Bacalar. This sleepy town’s star attraction is Laguna Bacalar, a spectacular lake that’s helped Bacalar earn the unofficial nickname as “The Maldives of Mexico.” Visitors often spend the most of the day on the lagoon boating and kayaking, swimming or simply gazing at the brilliant blue-green hues of the water’s surface for hours—prepare to be mesmerized.
The insider scoop on Bacalar
Nubia Younge (@iamnubiayounge), founder/CEO of Black in Tulum, shares her top Bacalar tips:
- Travel with pesos. Bacalar is a small town and ATMs are limited.
- Give yourself an extra day or two and rent a car! Bacalar is about 4.5 hours from Cancun and the nearest airport. You’ll definitely want to stop along the coast to Tulum or the gorgeous village of Mahahual for an afternoon at the beach.
- Los Aluxes Bacalar is a great place to spend the day along the lake. You can purchase a day pass for the “beachclub” minus the beach. The price of the day pass goes toward food and beverage. There are swings in the water, you can go swimming, chill and relax along the beautiful Laguna de Bacalar.
Plan your Bacalar trip here:
2. Finger Lakes, New York
Are you in search of a wine country getaway for Labor Day weekend? Head to the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York to experience a destination that some say is emerging as the Napa of the East Coast. This region, comprising 11 picturesque, slim-figured lakes near Lake Ontario, features numerous award-winning wineries within a quick drive’s reach. Wine aficionados will also enjoy the food pairing possibilities at renowned eateries like Veraisons Restaurant, named one of America’s “Best Winery Restaurants” by Food & Wine. Outdoorsy types are spoiled for choice with gorge-filled state parks, waterfalls and endless hiking trails. Take a boat cruise on one of the stunning lakes or delight in the Finger Lakes’ robust farm-to-table cuisine from celebrated local chefs.
The insider scoop on the Finger Lakes
Carol Cain (@girlgonetravel), a New York-based travel blogger, shares her top Finger Lakes tips:
- The largest concentration of Finger Lakes wineries are along Seneca, Keuka and Cayuga lakes—officially known as Finger Lakes Wine Country—and with it are a ton of cute small towns, eateries and things to do.
- Buttermilk Falls is one of our favorite hikes in Ithaca. The falls themselves are beautiful, and on warm days, you can can cool off in the swimming hole at the foot of the cascades.
- For a one-of-a-kind experience, ride a glider over the Finger Lakes with Harris Hill Soaring, for a bird’s eye view of all the beauty below.
- Labor Day weekend and the fall season is one of the most beautiful times of the year to visit, but consider visiting in winter, too. Winter holiday events here are especially magical, and small towns such as Corning, Hammondsport, Geneva and Skaneateles feel like a Hallmark movie.
Plan your Finger Lakes trip here:
- Check flights to Finger Lakes (via Rochester)
- Stay at Hilton Garden Inn Auburn
- Visit Watkins Glen State Park
Find your flights for Labor Day travel 2021
3. Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha might not fuel thoughts of Midwest wanderlust like other cities as, say, Chicago or Indianapolis, but those who venture to Nebraska’s largest city will be impressed with its burgeoning dining scene, top-rated cultural attractions and its riverside skyline. The revitalized downtown area sparkles with cobblestone streets and a plethora of arts and entertainment options, while smart boutique hotel openings and cult-status microbreweries prove Omaha is the underdog city to watch (and visit). Try the taps and order a flight at Monolithic Brewing and Brickway Brewery & Distillery for a fun tasting experience (jalapeño pineapple pilsner, anyone?).
The art scene in Omaha stands out as a unique local experience, with dozens of contemporary and fine art galleries and museums sprinkled across the city—and you can bring home a piece of Omaha from Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, which hosts the works of 30+ artists, from paintings and sculptures to ceramics and glass.
The insider scoop on Omaha
Katy Spratte Joyce (@katysjoyce), an Omaha-based travel writer, shares her top tips:
- Stay somewhere east of 72nd Street, as the best things to see and do are clustered in/near downtown and midtown, and will cut down on your driving time.
- Speaking of driving—despite recent strides to expand our bus rapid transit system, Omaha remains a city that necessitates a car rental.
- My favorite hotel in town is the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel, located in the Blackstone District. The Pool Club is always bustling, all the art was created by local artists and the building was the birthplace of the reuben sandwich.
- No Omaha visit can be complete without enjoying a steak (if you eat beef). Local winners are the whiskey filet at the Drover, anything at Omaha Prime, and Warren Buffet’s old school favorite spot, Gorat’s.
Plan your Omaha trip here:
4. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
Welcome to America’s latest national park: a stunning, forested region in West Virginia that has seen a fraction of tourists compared to other famous natural sites. Whether you plan to maneuver through Upper Gauley’s expert-level whitewater rapids, traverse the 820-foot-tall New River Gorge Bridge or take an easy, accessible-friendly jaunt to the Sandstone Falls Boardwalk, scenic Appalachian thrills await here—make your way soon before the inevitable tourism rush.
The insider scoop on New River Gorge
Bret Love (@green_global_travel), co-founder and managing editor of Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide, shares his top New River Gorge tips:
- Whitewater rafting is THE must-do for anyone visiting the New River Gorge. It’s a great activity for families with teens, and is challenging enough to provide an adrenaline rush, but safe and offers time to soak in the spectacular scenery.
- For whitewater rafting tours, we loved Adventures On The Gorge, one of the oldest New River Gorge resorts.
- I also highly recommend their pulse-pounding BridgeWalk Tour, which takes you on a narrow, 3,000-foot-long catwalk across the New River Gorge Bridge, some 820 feet above the river. Even though there are two safety lines for protection, this tour is truly breathtaking in every sense of the word!
Plan your New River Gorge trip here:
- Check flights to New River Gorge
- Stay at The Resort at Glade Springs
- Check out the Canyon Rim Visitor Center
5. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga’s makeover as a railway hub of yesteryear to Tennessee’s eco-friendly, tech-savvy cool kid is pretty darn impressive. The pedestrian-friendly downtown is rife with distilleries and breweries, fun boutique hotels, repurposed historic buildings and oodles of youthful character. For the adventure seekers, the Appalachian is at your doorstep: explore caves, hike (or climb) mountains, kayak the Tennessee River and enjoy numerous hiking trails in the area. One thing’s for sure: Chattanooga isn’t your average Southern town.
The insider scoop on Chattanooga
Moise Baptiste (@trailblazus_outdoors), founder of TrailblazUS Outdoors, shares his top Chattanooga tips:
- To stay cool during Labor Day weekend, get on a paddle board and pick one of the many connectors to the Tennessee River.
- Camping is a good way to save money, avoid large crowds, and maximize all that the Chattanooga outdoors has to offer.
- My top first-timer recommendations for the outdoors are the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center and Lula Lake Land Trust.
- For food, Plant Power Café is an awesome choice for vegans! If you want a more diverse Chattanooga foodie experience, talk to Briana at Chatt Taste Food Tours.
Plan your Chattanooga trip here:
- Check flights to Chattanooga
- Stay at Kinley Chattanooga, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel
- Visit Lookout Mountain
The current pandemic has made Labor Day trip planning trickier than previous years, but being flexible and using at-your-fingertips resources like Skyscanner to find the best flights, hotels and car rentals means you can still leave the house and enjoy the final days of summer. Safe travels!
More inspo from America in 5
There’s more to explore across the US – check out our guides for recommendations, tips, and surprising destinations. Want to book? Hey, don’t let us stop you. We’ve got flights to all 50 states, all in one place.
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