(This article was one I originally wrote for The American Word)
Summer is rapidly approaching and with it comes the age old tradition: the summer vacation. Many people take trips to the classic vacation destinations – Disney, Hawaii, New York City, etc. But why would you want to be smothered by some creep in a giant Mickey costume, fight tooth and nail for a single square inch on an over-crowded beach, or try to appear on every morning show possible when you could take a chance on visiting one of these places instead? Here is a listed of the most off the beaten path places in the United States you should visit this summer.
Sightseeing: Marfa, Texas
A small town with 2,000 people in the middle-of-nowhere Texas is not usually what comes to mind when you think of sightseeing. However, over the past few decades Marfa, Texas has become nothing short of a destination for art lovers from all over the world to come and see. In 1971, renowned artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from the Big Apple with the intention of permanently installing his art, putting the town on the map in terms of the art world. He transformed the decommissioned army base into art spaces, which eventually inspired the cultural center for contemporary artists and artisans that it is today. One of the more well-known pieces in Marfa is a pop art exhibit done by the Scandinavian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset called Prada Marfa, which is located about 35 miles from town. The only way to truly experience this town is by visiting it. The Marfa Visitor Center literature says the town is, “Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it.”
Nature: North Cascades Park, Washington
Washington’s North Cascades Park gives nature lovers a combination of two very different experiences. In the park complex, you will find glacier-clad peaks rising almost vertically from thickly forested valleys and temperate rainforests. The result of such varying landscapes is a variety of plants and animals. But despite being called the American Alps, the North Cascades Park is one of the least-visited parks in the entire country. The wildness and ruggedness of the park is especially what lures hikers, backpackers, and mountaineers to visit each year. While that might turn off some casual outdoorsmen, the ones willing to try it out will get the rare experience of spotting bald eagles and hearing the numerous waterfalls that give the park its name.
Beach: Anna Maria Island, Florida
One of the best parts of the summer season is visiting the beach. However, for some, the usual crowds in popular beach towns like Miami are a big turn-off. If you’re looking for a beach vacation that is much more low-key, check out Anna Maria Island. Located on the west coast of Florida and just south of Tampa, the island is a coveted destination for Floridians, beach-goers and global travelers alike. The seven mile long, less than a mile wide island has arguably the whitest and most pristine beaches in all of the US. Anna Maria Island is committed to restricting development on the island. Not a single building on the island is over three stories tall and you will not find any fast food, wi-fi hotspots or familiar chain establishments there. If you love being able to unplug from the world or the “Old Florida” feel, Anna Maria Island is perfect for you.
Museums: National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN
A motel is not a typical location for a museum. However, for the National Civil Rights Museum, it makes sense. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, the the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel was where Martin Luther King Jr. stood before he was assassinated. The site marks the center of a cultural revolution that changed the course of United States History. The museum was reconstructed in 2014 and now allows the entire museum to be inside the former motel. However, you would hardly know it as the exterior of the motel remains pretty much as it once was. The museum gives you the chance to look at the civil rights movement through the eyes of the people who gave it life.
Rest and Relaxation: Newport, Rhode Island
Sometimes it’s nice to go on a vacation solely just to get away for a little rest and relaxation. If that is what you are looking to do, consider visiting Newport, Rhode Island. ABC News said that the little New England harbor town “represents life the way it should be”. Newport is well-known for its beautiful landscapes, filled with breathtaking shorelines, gorgeous sunsets, and sparkling waters. The town’s harbor is home to America’s Cup sailboats, yachts and everything in between. Some other possible activities you can do to relax during your visit include shopping, eating fresh from the ocean seafood, visiting the Tennis Hall of Fame, and viewing mansions of American royalty. The combination of Newport’s beauty and relaxing atmosphere is a constant and simple reminder that you should enjoy life’s little pleasures.
Staycation: Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.
Can’t afford to leave Washington, D.C. this summer but still want to avoid all of the tourists down on the National Mall? Visit Rock Creek Park! D.C. is lucky to have a unit of the National Park System right here in our own backyard. Located in northwestern D.C. and not that far from AU, it’s a great place for jogging, biking, picnicking, or whatever you desire. The park closes some streets to auto traffic on weekends and holidays, which creates peaceful paths that make you feel even more removed from the busy world of government and business that are just around the corner. Rock Creek Park completely fulfills its 1890 mandate to be “a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States” by being more than just a public park, but offering a nature center, a planetarium, historical exhibits, and even a concert venue. It is definitely a must visit place in D.C. that does not get as much credit as it deserves.