If you think big cities have a corner on the market when it comes to exciting travel options, think again. After your plane has landed in a big hub and you’ve explored the urban landscape, hit the road to visit these 10 memorable destinations conveniently located within a couple hours of major metropolises. It's the best of both worlds.
1. Atchison, Kan.
Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum — Photo courtesy of Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce
Less than an hour from Kansas City, this historic, hilly Missouri River town is the birthplace of renowned aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, whose home is now a beautiful tiny museum.
Among the nation’s most haunted locales, the Atchison Trolley offers haunted homes tours including gorgeous vintage mansions, some of which serve as lavish B&Bs. And there are enough good restaurants that you might have trouble deciding where to dine.
2. Canandaigua, N.Y.
New York Wine and Culinary Center — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Located only 35 miles from Rochester, N.Y., Canandaigua features a pretty waterfront. It's also home to the nonprofit New York Wine and Culinary Center where public classes are offered and local ingredients shine – including wine.
Experience Native American history at the nearby Ganondagan State Historic Site, sip craft beers at area breweries and then savor the quaint downtown dining and shopping district.
3. Chimayo, N.M.
Santuario de Chimayo — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Travel slowly along a two-lane road towards this tiny historical town, about 28 miles from Santa Fe. After viewing holy dirt and discarded crutches at the antique Santuario de Chimayo chapel, enjoy enchiladas at Rancho de Chimayo restaurant, operated for five decades.
Then, admire handcrafted rugs at the nine-generations-old Ortega’s Weaving, and meticulously dyed and woven pieces from Centinela Traditional Arts.
4. Clear Lake, Iowa
Surf Ballroom — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Less than two hours from Des Moines, Clear Lake is home to the Surf Ballroom – the last place where rockers, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the ‘Big Bopper’ (J.P. Richardson) performed before perishing in a local plane crash during a winter storm. Explore decades of music here, grab a bite in town and then cruise pristine water on a 24-foot-wide paddle wheel vessel.
5. Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Aspira Spa at Osthoff Resort — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
An hour north of Milwaukee’s urban hustle-bustle, this tiny resort community combines a gorgeous waterfront and crystal clear lake with fine dining, quaint shops and renowned road racing facility, Road America. While visiting, pamper yourself at award-winning Aspira Spa, inside the AAA Four Diamond Osthoff Resort.
6. Floyd, Va.
Floyd Country Store — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Once a thriving agricultural community, Floyd lies less than an hour from Roanoke. Today, The Floyd Country Store offers exciting weekend music, from Friday evening gospel performances and Sunday jams to Americana Afternoons full of folk, blues and more.
At nearby Chateau Morrisette, enjoy wine tasting and stunning mountaintop views. You can also tour the winery and savor delicious chef-prepared meals incorporating ultra-fresh ingredients.
7. Healdsburg, Calif.
Passalacqua Winery — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Centrally located to dozens of wineries and tasting rooms, and about 70 minutes from San Francisco, this Sonoma County town and its beautiful hills may remind visitors of Tuscany. Area restaurants serve all sorts of quality cuisine from classic deli fare to fresh seafood to tasty ethnic eats, while shopping downtown is a favorite pastime.
Art enthusiasts will love the Hand Fan Museum, displaying exquisitely crafted fans from across the globe.
8. Hot Springs, Ark.
Quapaw Baths — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
Drive an hour from Little Rock to this National Park, where hot springs have drawn people seeking relief from ailments since the 1830s. Enjoy treatments at an original bathhouse, or ‘bathe’ in public indoor pools.
Hot Springs is also geologically rich with quartz, which local shops sell in all shapes and sizes. Enjoy circa 1928 barbecue, plate-sized pancakes, craft beers and many more top-notch restaurants.
9. Paducah, Ky.
The National Quilt Museum — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
A designated UNESCO Creative City of Crafts & Folk Art since 2013, and home of the awe-inspiring National Quilt Museum, this riverfront town is about two hours from Nashville.
Artist studios and restaurants abound amid the 20-block, beautifully maintained historic downtown, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, an expansive historical mural flanks the Ohio River bank.
10. Rosemary Beach, Fla.
Rosemary Beach sunset — Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray
A planned community, founded in 1995, Rosemary Beach is situated on northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast and is less than 30 minutes from Panama City. Bocce ball and golf are favorite sports, and bicycles are favored transportation in this vacation spot full of gorgeous rentals (many with waterfront views), upscale shopping and sophisticated cuisine.
Nine boardwalks also lead to the Gulf where stunning sunsets are daily events.
Best Florida Beach (10Best Readers' Choice Awards 2015)