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9 Underrated Summer Travel Ideas to Try This Year

san juan island, washington mountain

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Summer’s finally here! So you know what that means—sunny days, balmy weather, and plenty more time outside. One of the best parts about summer, though? The opportunity to take some much-needed time off and book a little vacation while the weather is beautiful. Maybe you’ve been visiting the same beach town for the past 10 years, or maybe it’s been a while since you took a vacation at all. In either case, it might be time to look into taking a leap and trying someplace new to travel to. After all, the most underrated summer travel ideas are often the ones where the best memories are made.

After doing a ton of research and playing travel agent, we discovered some underrated vacation spots that we couldn’t believe aren’t more popular. (Was nobody going to tell us there’s a place in Florida where you can swim with manatees?!) Whether you’re searching for a mountaintop village stay, a serene island getaway, or a small town vacay with larger-than-life views, these spots take the cake. So if you’re looking to take a new adventure and do something a little out of the norm this summer, you have to put these destinations on your list. Grab your travel essentials and your neck pillows and let’s go!


Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

carmel-by-the-sea, ca downtown district with cute shops

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a quaint little beach town on the Monterey Peninsula coastline. It’s known for its charming cottages, bustling art galleries, and the historic architecture. And because it’s just one square mile, you can easily walk or bike anywhere you need to go. The village is full of whimsical shops and restaurants, as well as beautiful white sand beaches.

What to Do:

Walk the scenic pathway along the bluff of Carmel Beach. If weather permits, you could also catch a wave and surf the crystal clear waters, taking in the views of Point Lobos and Pebble Beach. In the evening, opt for a wine tasting at one of Carmel’s 18 tasting rooms. While you’re sipping vino from local Monterey County, catch a live performance at one of the town’s outdoor theaters.

Where to Stay:

Check out Le Petit Pali at Ocean Ave, a boutique hotel sprinkled with playful luxuries and beautiful design details that mimic the modern whimsy of the town. Or, opt for bespoke luxury at La Playa Hotel, a preserved mansion-made-hotel, built by an artist in 1905. Both stays are in the heart of the village.


Telluride, Colorado

telluride colorado

Smack dab in the heart of Telluride, you can look up to see full views of the beautiful San Juan Mountains. The 14,000-foot peaks hover over the skyline of the small historic mining town. Telluride is well-regarded for its lively arts scene, bounty of outdoor activities, and preserved landmarks like the Sheridan Opera House and Telluride Historical Museum.

What to Do:

Summertime in Colorado is all about outdoor activities. Kayaking, biking, hiking, and paddleboarding are just some of the many options. After a long hike, head downtown for a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants. You’ll find the town is full of small mom-and-pop shops, bustling farmer’s markets, hearty brew pubs, and cozy mountain cafes.

Where to Stay:

Stay mountainside at Mountain Longe Telluride, a log-cabin ski resort that’s anything but roughing it. Condos, suites, lodge rooms, and individual log cabins are all available to book. It’s just one scenic gondola ride away from downtown Telluride. There are also a variety of cabins to stay in or outside of town.


Crystal River, Florida

swimming with manatees in crystal river, florida

Nestled in Florida’s Gulf Coast is Crystal River. The small town is home to the spring-fed Kings Bay. Inside the bay, you’ll find quite a few wildlife refuges, like Three Sisters Springs, Hunter Springs Park, and the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, which shelters manatees year-round. The gentle marine mammal is so populous here that you even have the opportunity to swim alongside them in their natural environment!

What to Do:

Tour the vast ecosystems of Crystal River by boat, with a guide who’ll take you through the bay and springs. Conversely, discover the waters yourself and rent a kayak or swim alongside the manatees in clear waters. In the town center, Heritage Village, stroll into a local dive before getting a fresh catch fish of the day at one of the many eateries. From July 1st – September 24th, scallop season hits. That means you can harvest your own fresh scallops right on the shore to cook with some local veggies from Tony’s Produce.

Where to Stay:

Sometimes, the best way to stay local is by renting a vacation home in town. But you can even stay on your very own houseboat right on the water. Or, rent a treetop bungalow in the nearby town of Homosassa. The options are endless.


Bar Harbor, Maine

ports in bar harbor, maine

Located on the Gulf of Maine, just outside of Acadia National Park, you’ll find the quaint New England beach town of Bar Harbor. The relaxed vibe can be felt as soon as you’re welcomed into the area. And even with its small town feel, Bar Harbor has so many things to do. From boat tours to delicious eats, beautiful views from every angle, and a variety of natural areas to traverse, there are endless options to explore.

What to Do:

On the southwestern tip of Mount Desert Island, you’ll find Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. It’s one of the most well-photographed areas in all of Acadia National Park (and for good reason!). After taking in the sights of the rocky cliffside, head into town for a fresh lobster roll at one of the many seasonal shacks or fish fries. At sunset, take the half-mile walk across the sand bar to Bar Island and soak in the unique beauty of the connecting lands. Just make sure to check the tide charts first and connect with a guide about the best time to take the scenic stroll.

Where to Stay:

The Ivy Manner Inn is shoreside, so that means it’s a fabulous option for those looking for an easy walk to the beach. Likewise, the Inn On Mount Desert and the Saltair Inn Waterfront B&B also both offer spectacular whale-watching views right on the water’s edge. Each of the local bed and breakfasts have a beachy, historic charm to them that makes the Bar Harbor experience unique. There are also a variety of cottages and campsites available to rent more toward the national park area, if that’s more your speed.


Mackinac Island, Michigan

mackinac island, michigan bikeway

Did you know there’s a small island town between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas where there are no cars at all? That’s right, Mackinac Island allows travel around the isle only by foot or bike. Back in 1898, “horseless carriages” (read: cars, buses, etc.) were banned entirely. And that rule has been kept in place since. The small island has been a well-kept Midwest summer secret for years. And with a surprising amount of sightseeing, food and drink, shopping, and historic architecture, it’s easy to see why.

What to Do:

After hopping off the ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, you’ll find yourself at the ferry dock, taking in the cool breeze of Lake Huron. Rent a bike for your stay, and take a tour around the island. Afterward, head to Joann’s or May’s for some world-famous Mackinac Island fudge. (Shops in town make 10,000 pounds of fudge each day in the summer!) Tour historic sites like the Arch Rock, Island House Hotel, and Marquette Park, too, to take in the beautiful surroundings.

Where to Stay:

If you’re looking for a picturesque cottage B&B to stay, the Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast will surely fit the bill. It’s a preserved historic building—one of the first hotels that was ever built on the island—and hasn’t lost its vintage appeal. In fact, author Ernest Hemingway stayed here back in the day. There are also lighthouse homes, shoreside properties, and a variety of lodges available.


Finger Lakes, New York

watkins glen finger lakes new york gorge trail and waterfall

New York State’s Finger Lakes region is home to 11 small lakes (shaped like fingers), each offering their own individual quirks and sights. But the two largest and most frequently visited are Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. Throughout each lake, you’ll find unique opportunities to see beautiful gorges, eat delicious food, and sip on boutique wines, ciders, and beers from local wineries and breweries. Dive into watering holes, take hikes through the woods, and immerse yourself in the small town charms of Upstate New York.

What to Do:

Wineries are abundant along the Finger Lakes, and well-regarded as some of the best in the country! Hiking trails, waterfalls, antique stores, and boutique spas can be found in many of the Finger Lakes towns as well. Ithaca, along the south shore of Cayuga Lake, is a small college town with a big foodie scene as well as ample hiking and swimming holes. Watkins Glen is a bustling village with a beautiful state park and so many yummy eateries. It’s also home to the NASCAR racing event, Go Bowling at the Glen, each June.

Where to Stay:

Depending on where you’re traveling to within the 11 finger lakes, there will be a wide array of B&Bs, hotels, spas, and inns to stay at. If you’ll be visiting Watkins Glen, the Idlwilde Inn is a gorgeous historic Victorian mansion-turned-B&B that overlooks Seneca Lake. The Inns of Aurora Resort & Spa will be a fabulous option for boutique luxury in the northeast coast of Cayuga Lake. If you’d like to tour Ithaca, we suggest checking out the Statler Inn at Cornell University near the Botanic Gardens. Conversely, the Inn at Taughannock Falls is perfect if you’re looking to stay in a more woodsy area.


Stowe, Vermont

stowe vermont village and mountains

You don’t have to limit visits to Vermont only for winter ski season! During the summer, the small mountain town of Stowe comes alive with mountain biking, zip lining, hiking paths, and more. In fact, there are endless opportunities to tour the town’s local eateries, museums, and sights of Mount Mansfield.

What to Do:

After an afternoon hike at Sterling Pond, head over to Waterbury, just a 15-minute drive south of Stowe. There, you can tour the original Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. (Don’t forget to check out the iconic ice cream flavor graveyard!) Enjoy a variety of micro breweries and wineries, like von Trapp Brewery and Bierhall, The Alchemist Brewery, and Ellison Estate Vineyard, to name a few. Then, in the evening, enjoy drinks and flip through vinyl records at Doc Ponds.

Where to Stay:

The beauty of Stowe lies in its landscape, but the town is also a beautiful place to stay, especially in the summertime. The Green Mountain Inn is right in the center of town, so it’s a quick walk to shops and breweries. However, if you’re looking to stay in the woodlands, the Tälta Lodge has wonderful amenities and modern finishes.


San Juan Islands, Washington

san juan island, washington mountain

You might be surprised to hear that the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington State, are home to over 400 small islands to explore. The three largest and most popular are San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez Island. You’ll love it here if you’re looking for a relaxed vacay, with beautiful sights, whale watching, and sailing opportunities.

What to Do:

The idyllic Pacific Northwest getaway is whatever you’d like to make it. If you’re in the mood for sailing and whale watching, there’s multiple tours available each day to take advantage of. But if you’re in the mood to journey the terrain on your own terms, you can rent a bike or kayak instead. In the mood to learn something new? The Whale Museum on San Juan Island presents a wonderful opportunity to learn all about the local ecosystem.

Where to Stay:

Friday Harbor is an especially well-maintained modern lodging experience. Tucker House Inn, on the other hand, is a boutique beach B&B complete with a spa and cottage-like charm. There are also a variety of glamping sites in the islands’ woodland areas, perfect for those looking to be in nature, sans the bugs and pitching your own tent.


Door County, Wisconsin

boating in door county, wisconsin

Scenic attractions, shipwrecks, fish broils, rocky beaches, lighthouse tours, cherry farms… these are just a few of the many unique components that make it hard not to fall in love with Door County. Some popular destinations in the area include Sturgeon Bay, Baileys Harbor, Egg Harbor, and Ellison Bay, for example. But because there are so many towns to take in the sights of Lake Michigan, your best option will depend on your priorities.

What to Do:

Summertime is prime cherry-picking season in Door County, so you gotta get your hands on a fresh cherry pie while you can! Then, take a walk beachside and take a boat ride up to a lighthouse. There, you’ll not only see the beauty of these lighthouses, but also the beauty of the shoreline itself. Walk downtown into one of the many mom-and-pop shops, go to a couple of the local markets, and promise us you won’t leave without tasting Wisconsin cheese curds.

Where to Stay:

The charming Chanticleer Guest House in Sturgeon Bay features individually decorated rooms, as well as its very own wildflower garden. In Egg Harbor and Ellison Bay, on the other hand, there are lots of small lodges and inns available to rent.

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