Budget Travel was born from a simple idea: “Vacations for Real People.” Our audience (that’s you, by the way) is curious, discerning, intelligent, and down to earth. You want the best travel experience that money can buy, and you want to enjoy travel without the hassle. Our Coolest Small Towns in America series has been going strong for more years than we can count, and it reflects on a couple of our founding beliefs: you don’t need to break the bank to have a nice vacation, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We want to invite you to explore the possibility that your next transformative travel experience might be just around the corner. Maybe in your own state, or maybe a day’s ride from home. This year, we want to highlight the small towns that not a lot of people have heard about and have a strong and thriving community. Trends may come and go, destinations may fall in and out of fashion. But curiosity, discernment, and intelligence are always in style. Our 2022 Coolest Small Towns are spread across the country, so that you can Rediscover America. Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
If you’re looking for a laid-back place to make your Gulf dreams come true, Cedar Key, about an hour from Gainesville, on Florida’s northwest coast, is the place to do it. With a population hovering around 700 and a location that puts a firm emphasis on salt water — including a national wildlife refuge, a state park, nature preserves, stretches of sandy beach, and a thriving fishing industry — Cedar Key basically challenges you not to relax. Set aside a few days to get to know this beautiful corner of the Sunshine State. The 13 islands of Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge offer unique opportunities for birdwatching (including migratory birds and majestic pelicans), dolphins in season, and colorful butterflies. Cedar Key Museum State Park combines the best of the region’s natural beauty with rich history, including the restored 1920s Whitman home and memorabilia from the town’s past. Speaking of history, when you’re not soaking up some sun at the beach, you’ll want to soak up some history via photographs and artifacts at Cedar Key Historical Museum. But who are we kidding? With all that Gulf water lapping the shores, seafood may be your number-one priority here — clam bars, seafood joints ranging from modest to posh, and chowder abound in Cedar Key, with enough options to satisfy every taste. More about Cedar Key Cedar Key, FL Cedar Key is a place where time stands still and allows you to enjoy the unique qualities of our coastal environment. Cedar Key is a quiet island community nestled among many tiny keys on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
In the heart of Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg celebrates both its German roots and its pioneer heritage. In fact, the town’s Pioneer Museum is a good place to get your bearings, tracing the area’s settler history, which dates back to the 1840s. While you may associate fine wine more with the West Coast, Hill Country is home to a good number of major wineries, including several in the Fredericksburg area — explore the local tasting rooms and bring home a bottle (or a case). Even less on-the-nose here in Hill Country is the National Museum of the Pacific War, dedicated to the history of World War II in the Pacific, inspired by local Chester Nimitz, born and raised in Fredericksburg, who served as an admiral in the U.S. Navy during the war. But getting outdoors should be at the top of your Fredericksburg to-do list, with Enchanted Rock State Natural Area offering distinctive pink rocks, endless trails for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding, and ample opportunities for climbing. Fredericksburg is also home to more than 300 species of bird, and millions of bats that attract visitors (really!) More about Fredericksburg Fredericksburg, TX For a relatively small town, it’s easy for you and your family to get lost in Fredericksburg. In the serene beauty of the Texas Hill Country. In the rich German history. The countless unique and sophisticated shops. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
You will likely approach the town via inland Highway 101 before heading west, winding through coastal hills down toward the water. As you arrive in town, you’ll find you are a world away from the hustle-bustle of Cali’s big cities to the north and south. Here in Morro Bay, life moves at a pace well-suited to a “vacation for real people.” Tour the wharf, where kids of all ages will love watching fishing boats delivering their daily bounty. And you don’t have to just watch — local restaurants such as Bayside Cafe transform each day’s catch into fresh, imaginative meals such as contemporary riffs on fried clams and crabcakes. Stroll Morro Bay’s main drag, and drop into charming shops like Kites & Surreys, and Revolve Thrift. Explore exceptional parkland, including Morro Bay State Park, or the nearby beaches. Rest your head in a comfy, affordable room at The Landing motel, with views of the bay — and iconic Morro Rock — out your window. Morro Bay is one of those little towns that touches your heart in a big way, making a return visit just about mandatory. More about Morro Bay Morro Bay Morro Bay is unlike any other California seaside town. Just off its shore an ancient volcanic monolith known as Morro Rock rises 576 feet from the ocean, amplifying the magnificence of this stunning coastal backdrop. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
Nisswa, in central Minnesota, offers a true small town experience — the pace is leisurely, the people are friendly, and visitors can “choose their own adventure,” at whatever pace they like. In summer, turtle races are all the rage here. For real. If you prefer something more active, the Paul Bunyan Bike Trail beckons, and the region is defined by its many lakes, offering an array of watersports, boating, fishing, and more. On the other end of the seasonal spectrum, winter in Nisswa means skiing (downhill and cross-country), ice fishing, snowmobiling, and even dog sledding. Downtown is characterized by cozy shops and eateries serving up comfort food and artisanal candies, and it’s also a good place to purchase hearty winter outerwear. Up here, folks know how to dress for the cold! More about Nisswa Nisswa, MN Nisswa, Minnesota, nestled in the heart of the lakes area. Has been a destination for visitors for more than a century. Generation after generation comes to the area that many call their second home. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
We love the Berkshires, in Western Massachusetts, for the way they combine gorgeous outdoor vistas with fine art, music, and food — what’s not to love? North Adams is Exhibit A: Sure, it’s a small town, but, with a population around 12,000, it boasts of being the “smallest city” in Massachusetts. Browse along downtown’s artsy streets where cool pubs, cutting-edge cuisine, and cafes beckon. A truly vibrant place to live — or visit — North Adams offers indie music, endless opportunities for outdoor activities (especially popular in fall, when the forests burst into their signature oranges, reds, and golds), great food, small shops, and, of course antiques. Immerse yourself in the town’s Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) for groundbreaking work as well as masterworks of some of the giants of modern art housed in a restored 19th-century mill complex. The museum isn’t just for ogling art — MASS MoCA brings visual and performing artists to town for residencies and presentations of new work. We’re especially fond of The Porches Inn, which allows visitors to bed down in a pleasantly kitschy environment. And your art odyssey doesn’t have to end in North Adams: Nearby Williamstown is home to the Clark Museum, and Bennington, just across the Vermont border, boasts the world’s largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings. More about North Adams North Adams, MA North Adams is a vibrant community located in the Northwest corner of the beautiful Berkshires. Steeped in art, culture, and community..Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
If Red Lodge didn’t have you at “Gateway to Yellowstone,” consider that the drive from Red Lodge to Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance takes you over the Beartooth Highway, perhaps the most beautiful, dizzying, surreal, and thrilling drive in the world, reaching an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet above sea level at the top of the pass. But whether Red Lodge serves as your gateway to the wonders of Yellowstone or as your first stop back in the “real world” after exploring the park, the town is legit cool all on its own, with its own outdoor recreation offerings, family activities, authentic culinary traditions, and much more. Spend some time getting to know the town’s arts and culture — art galleries like the Clay Center, unique shops, Pride Park, and walking tours of historic downtown (once said to have a “saloon on every corner,” but nowadays decidedly more sophisticated) will keep you busy. And while catching a fleeting glimpse of wildlife in Yellowstone depends very much on luck, it’s an everyday occurrence at Red Lodge’s Yellowstone WIldlife Sanctuary, a few blocks from downtown and home to “non-releasable” mountain lions, wolves, bears, bison, eagles, hawks, and many other native Montana animals. More about Red Lodge Red Lodge, MT Red Lodge, Montana - Gateway to Yellowstone Park via the beautiful Beartooth Highway. Come and experience true western hospitality in this quaint, historic, mountain town. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
If you really want to get away from it all, Colorado is an excellent choice — the state’s jaw-dropping mountains, wildlife, and independent thinkers have been attracting escapees from the rat race for decades. Telluride (and its close neighbor, Mountain Village), in the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern corner of the state, is firmly in that tradition. Once a boomtown thanks to local mining, the town transformed itself into a skiing mecca in the mid-20th century and today ranks as one of the most dense concentrations of great food, art, nature, and much more. Want to hike? Bike? Ski? The trails that wind in and around town will keep you busy for days, weeks — did we mention that some folks just up and run away to Telluride for good? And, like many popular ski areas, Telluride transforms in the “off-season” (what summer destinations call the “high-season”) into a paradise for hikers, skate boarders, cyclists, and water enthusiasts. Music and arts festivals abound, and we're particularly fond of Telluride’s unique Nothing Festival, in which cyclists ride in the nude. Remember what we said about attracting free thinkers? More about Telluride Telluride, CO If you really want to get away from it all, Colorado is an excellent choice — the state’s jaw-dropping mountains, wildlife, and independent thinkers have been attracting escapees from the rat race for decades. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
Sure, not everybody remembers that Georgia — renowned for its inland forests and mountains and urban centers like Atlanta and Savannah — has drop-dead gorgeous beaches. St. Simons Island, on the state’s southern coast, is a good place to get acquainted with the watery side of the Peachtree State. (St. Simons is one of Georgia’s four “Golden Isles,” barrier islands that also include Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons island). Here, you’ll find a number of quaint villages that boast one-of-a-kind shops and museums. Explore historic sites such as St. Simons Island Lighthouse (dating back to 1872), Fort Frederick National Monument, and Christ Church. Then hit the waterways in a kayak, take a sunset bottlenose dolphin cruise, ride in unique open-air trolleys (which also offer an after-dinner Ghost Tour!), go on a cycling tour, or spend the day fishing with the help of an experienced local guide. Tuck into a plate of shrimp and grits at one of the island’s eateries,like Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill, or stop by the Public House for exceptional pork chops. More about St. Simons Island St. Simons Island, GA St. Simons Island, GA is home to fabulous beaches, golfing, charter fishing, spas and salons, and a variety of restaurants, fun events and entertainment for everyone. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
On the shores of New York’s Hudson River, just 16 miles from the Bronx border, Tarrytown combines history, natural beauty, and a range of small businesses that make for a truly unique small-town experience. Margo Timmins, lead singer of the alt-country band Cowboy Junkies, recently announced from the stage of the Tarrytown Music Hall that the venue, on the town’s scenic Main Street, is one of her favorite places to perform because there is a great coffeehouse on one side and the yarn shop on the other. That would be Coffee Labs, purveyors of exquisite artisanal java (there will be a line, possibly out the door, but it’s worth the wait), and Flying Fingers, a favorite of Martha Stewart’s, boasting a giant sheep sculpture adorned with brightly colored yarn right outside the front door. You could spend your entire day combing Main Street for world cuisine — Lefteris’s Greek fare and Tarry Tavern’s upscale comfort food are just two wildly popular examples — or galleries, thrift shops, and musical instruments. But set aside some time to explore beautiful historic sites such as Sunnyside (once home to Washington Irving, the first man of American letters and the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle) and Lyndhurst (a 19th century mansion whose riverside grounds now play host to craft fairs, kennel shows, and jazz concerts). No visit to this region is complete without traversing RiverWalk, a scenic trail through the woods along the eastern shore of the Hudson, and the many winding trails in Rockefeller State Park and Preserve. More about Tarrytown Tarrytown, NY A trip to Tarrytown offers visitors the perfect complement of history, dining, shopping and nature -- not to mention entertainment and first class lodging. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
Most folks already know that Louisiana is at the crossroads of American history and culture — but you might say that Thibodaux, in Bayou country, near the Gulf of Mexico, is at the very center of those crossroads. Here, people from France, Spain, and West Africa met Native Americans and French Canadians, known then as Acadians and now known as Cajuns, and a rich cultural stew began to simmer. Visitors to Thibodaux can’t help but dive into local history: From the E.D. White Historic Site, dedicated to a Bayou Lafourche family that produced a governor and a U.S. Senator, to the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center (part of the multisite Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve), the region wears its multicultural heritage with pride. A visit to Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center delivers immersive presentations via film, exhibits, performances, and boat tours of the Bayou. Visitors can also take a guided tour of downtown led by a National Park Ranger. Whether guided or not, you should definitely stroll Thibodaux’s historic downtown for a taste of Cajun cuisine — dishes such as boudin sausages, gumbo, and jambalaya, that bear the influence of the Bayou’s varied settlers. More about Thibodaux Thibodaux, LA Thibodaux’s backstory is linked to French, Spanish and African peoples who arrived in the region in the early 18th century, and French-Canadian immigrants — known as Acadians (or Cajuns) — who settled here in the mid-1700s. Keep Reading... Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/
Budget Travel was born from a simple idea: “Vacations for Real People.” Our audience (that’s you, by the way) is curious, discerning, intelligent, and down to earth. You want the best travel experience that money can buy, and you want to enjoy travel without the hassle. Our Coolest Small Towns in America series has been going strong for more years than we can count, and it reflects on a couple of our founding beliefs: you don’t need to break the bank to have a nice vacation, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We want to invite you to explore the possibility that your next transformative travel experience might be just around the corner. Maybe in your own state, or maybe a day’s ride from home. This year, we want to highlight the small towns that not a lot of people have heard about and have a strong and thriving community. Trends may come and go, destinations may fall in and out of fashion. But curiosity, discernment, and intelligence are always in style. Our 2022 Coolest Small Towns are spread across the country, so that you can Rediscover America. Meet Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns for 2022: Content presented by Have Fun Do Good Have Fun Do Good (HFDG) is on a mission to provide adventure seekers with a unique experience that allows them to travel while giving back to the community through volunteering. Learn more at https://havefundogood.co/Presented by Have Fun Do Good
1. SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO With more than 100 hotels welcoming guests, 4,000+ restaurants cooking away, and 107 tourist attractions open to visitors, San Juan’s post-Maria comeback is something to behold. Add to that the stunning beaches and the 16th-century colonial history, and you have the makings for a trip that mixes relaxing tropical vacation with cultural getaway. Hit the beaches in the blissfully uncrowded mornings (Ocean Park Beach and Isla Verde Beach are local favorites) and spend your afternoons strolling the cobblestone streets and admiring the candy-colored buildings of Old Town. History buffs won’t want to miss Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro” to locals), a 16th-century fort perched at the edge of a triangle of land. READ MORE: The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets EAT: Alcapurrias, bacalaitos, empanadillas – do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the names of popular Puerto Rican street foods pre-trip so you’ll be ready to hit the food trucks the minute you land. Choose from the many vendors in Old San Juan, or if you’re up for exploring, drive about 30 minutes to Piñones, famous for its authentic street food. For an eclectic array of options, head to Lote 23, a collection of food trucks serving everything from poke bowls to croquettes to made-to-order donuts. STAY: Like San Juan itself, The Gallery Inn is a masterful mix of old-world charm and gorgeous tropical getaway. Originally built in the 17th century, the inn is a labyrinth of lush gardens (19 of them, inf fact), art studios, fountains, a music room (check the front desk for concert times), a pool with waterfalls, and 27 guest rooms. Don’t miss the wine deck, with its panoramic views of Old San Juan (rooms from $117). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (three-and-a-half-hour flight), Orlando (four-hour flight), New York City (five-hour flight). 2. SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA The sea is hands-down the main attraction in Sanibel, and while there are some top contenders when it comes to beaches – Lighthouse Beach, Bowman’s Beach, and Blind Pass Beach are all stellar options – whichever spot you choose you can rest assured you’ll be treated to fine white sand and calm turquoise waters. To get out on said waters, sign up for a kayak tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers, where a naturalist will explain every wading bird and mysterious underwater shadow you encounter as you paddle through the mangrove forest (tours from $35; includes use of the kayak for the rest of the day). Cool off with a trip to Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream, a local institution famous for its island-inspired flavors (Key-Lime Hurricane, Dirty Sand Dollar) and signature animal cracker perched atop each scoop (scoops from $4). EAT: “Restaurant” doesn’t seem like quite the right word for The Island Cow. It’s more of an event, complete with an outdoor corn-hole set-up, photo opps, live music, and yes, food. The bustling spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a four-page menu that has everything from pancakes to conch fritters (breakfast from $8; dinner entrées from $10). For something a little more serene, Gramma Dot’s sits dockside at the Sanibel Marina and serves all manner of local seafood, from grouper and tilapia to soft-shell crab and shrimp (entrées from $26). STAY: In a state where beachside hotels are plentiful, Seahorse Cottages is a welcome departure. Tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood, the collection of cottages – ranging in size from studio to two-bedroom – feels welcoming and quaint, almost as though a relative has given you the keys to a guesthouse for the weekend. Hospitality prevails, with free cruiser bicycles for guests to explore nearby Old Town Sanibel, as well as beach chairs, umbrellas, and wagons to cart your beach gear back and forth (adults only, from $135). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (2 hr 45 minute drive), Orlando (1-hour flight), New York City (three-hour flight). 3. KAILUA, OAHU, HAWAII Winter months mean towering waves at many of Oahu’s most popular beaches – which is great if you want to sit on the sand and admire the world-class surfers, but far too dangerous for mere mortals to go swimming. Kailua Beach, however, is nearly always calm and safe. The small, gentle waves make it an ideal beach for everything from swimming to kayaking to kiteboarding. On days when the water is extra calm, rent a kayak from Kailua Beach Adventures and paddle the mile or so out to the Mokulua Islands (rentals from $59). Conveniently, the town’s best shave ice is just a few storefronts down from the rental shop. Post-kayaking, drop off your boat and treat yourself to an icy, syrupy delight (shave ice from $3.50). EAT: Just across the road from the beach, Buzz’s Original Steakhouse has been serving up tropical drinks and steak and fish dinners for 55 years. The feel is part tiki-bar kitsch, part tropical elegance (no tank tops after 4:30 p.m.) (entrées from $23). STAY: Kailua and neighboring Lanikai are primarily residential, so hotels are few and far between. In-the-know visitors opt for house rentals instead – and fortunately, there are plenty to choose from. You’ll likely be spending most of your time here at the beach, so look for something that’s walking distance to the water. EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (20-minute drive), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight). 4. HANALEI, KAUA'I, HAWAII Kaua'i has managed to stay a little more under the radar than other Hawaiian islands, and that's what makes it so appealing. Hanalei, on the North Shore, is as close to magical as a town can get – lush green mountains, fields of taro, and rainbows on a daily basis. The horseshoe-shaped, secluded Hanalei Bay is the best beach for swimming and lounging on the golden sand, but if you want to get out on the water, sign up for one of the four-hour motor-powered raft trips with Na Pali Riders. You'll explore sea caves, go snorkeling, and almost definitely spot dolphins (tours from $149). Afterward, dry off with a hike along the Hanakapi'ai Trail, which follows the stunningly beautiful Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi'ai Beach and back, about four miles altogether. EAT: You can't go to Hawaii without trying a plate lunch: a local specialty that consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and your choice of protein (often teriyaki chicken or seared ahi). Locals rave about the version served up at the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., a restaurant owned by a family that's been farming taro in the valley for generations (plate lunch from $10). For straight-from-the-ocean fish, have dinner at The Hanalei Dolphin Sushi Lounge (hanaleidolphin.com). STAY: The four studio apartments at casual Hanalei Inn, just a block from Hanalei Bay, have full kitchens and an outdoor lanai with a grill, so you can save money by cooking meals during your stay. Plus, the picnic table looking out at the mountains is the perfect place to have your morning coffee (from $159). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (40-minute flight), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight). 5. LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA Done the right way, this SoCal beach town can be surprisingly down-to-earth. After all, some of its first citizens were not glamorous teenagers or housewives but early 20th-century struggling artists such as William Wendt and Lolita Perine. The arts still play a big role here, thanks to the Laguna Art Museum, galleries along the waterfront, and the Laguna Playhouse. Still, the seven miles of classic California coastline are the big draw. Beaches fill up during the summer, but in the winter months they're blissfully crowd-free – especially 1,000 Steps Beach, just off 9th Street (don't let the name scare you; there are actually only 230-something steps leading down to the beach). The waves are perfect for boogie boarding, and the views – golden cliffs and multimillion-dollar houses, some with elevators – are pure SoCal. Post-beach, drive a mile and a half along Laguna Canyon Road to Laguna Canyon Winery, where you can sample award-winning reds and whites in the cozy, low-lit barrel room (tastings from $2, waived with bottle purchase). EAT: As you watch the sun dip below the horizon from Sapphire Laguna’s patio, you’ll understand why they call their happy hour “Sunset Hour.” The menu – a pared-down version of their lunch and dinner offerings – includes a curated selection of wines, beers and specialty cocktails, plus a just-right sampling of snacks and entrées. Beware the house-made potato chips, made with rosemary, sage, and sea salt – they’re so deliciously addictive you could easily order them on a loop, staying long past the actual sunset. During the cooler months, stay warm at a table near the fire pit. (snacks from $4; entrées from $11). STAY: With its Spanish Colonial architecture, lush gardens, and towering palms, Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa is quintessential Southern California. Each of the 23 rooms is unique and lively, designed with Moroccan tiles and bright fabrics. Start the day with the complimentary breakfast, then choose between the heated pool, on-site spa, or the beach, just across the street (from $230). EASY ESCAPE FROM: L.A. (50 miles; about one hour by car), San Diego (73 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Chicago (four-and-a-half-hour flight). 6. GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA In the winter, the population of this barrier island off Louisiana's Gulf Coast shrinks back down to its 1600 permanent residents from its summer high of 14,000. But temperatures remain warm enough to sunbathe, and you can do so without the crowds. Anglers adore this island thanks to the more than 280 species of fish in the surrounding waters, and many flock to Grand Isle State Park to fish in its calm waters. Those not obsessed with reeling in The Big One head to the beaches. Although the 2010 oil spill closed all beaches on the seven-mile-long island this summer, most stretches of golden sand reopened in August 2018, after an intensive cleanup effort. EAT: Most of the restaurants on Grand Isle specialize in – what else? – fresh fish, particularly catfish and trout. So make like a local and indulge in the fish sandwiches and po'boys at Starfish Restaurant (sandwiches from $5.25). STAY: The old-fashioned, no-frills Cajun Tide Beach Resort sits beachside and caters to anglers with a fish-cleaning room, a screened-in cooking room, and enough barbecue pits for guests to cook up feasts from the day's catch (from $50). EASY ESCAPE FROM: New Orleans (109 miles; about two hours by car), Baton Rouge (160 miles; about three hours by car), Chicago (three-hour flight to New Orleans), Detroit (four-and-a-half-hour flight to New Orleans). 7. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA San Diego is a small town with big ambitions: the revitalized Gaslamp Quarter, with its shops and restaurants, feels urban, but the crashing waves of the Pacific nearby create a vibe that's classic American beach village. However, the best way to experience it all is to hit the boardwalk. At Pacific Beach, known for its wide stretches of sand and perfect surfing waves, rent a beach cruiser from Cheap Rentals and ride the three-and-a-half-mile stretch to South Mission Beach, passing all manner of local characters along the way: scantily clad in-line skaters, vacationing families, throwback '60s hippies, and even the random guy on a unicycle who always seems to make an appearance (rentals from $6 per hour). EAT: The massive breakfast burrito with eggs, sausage, and fresh avocado at beachside Kono's Surf Club is a San Diego rite of passage – as is the line that snakes out the door and around the corner (breakfast from $3.50). STAY: Beach shacks in the area sound charming...until you see the shag carpet, wood-paneled walls, and sagging mattresses. Tower23 is a welcome departure from the norm, with its modern, glass-box look, neutral-palette rooms filled with teak furniture, and a hip indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar with a view of the ocean (from $229). EASY ESCAPE FROM: LA (120 miles; about two hours by car), Phoenix (one-hour flight), Seattle (two-and-a-half-hour flight). 8. ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GEORGIA One of four islands that make up Georgia's Golden Isles (a collection of barrier islands just off the southeastern coast), St. Simons is known for its centuries-old moss-draped oak trees, historical landmarks, white-sand beaches, and 99 holes of golf. Cars are allowed on the island, but the leisurely pace of life here will make you want to stay away from anything with a motor. Instead, rent a beach-cruiser bike from Ocean Motion Surf Co. and pedal your way past King and Prince Beach, plantations, the lighthouse, and Christ Church, originally built in 1820. The ride covers about 14 miles, and there are plenty of stops to admire the scenery, so allow at least a half day (rentals from $15). EAT: Owned by the same family for 30 years, Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill prides itself on its passed-down-from-generations recipes and its welcoming we’re-all-friends-here ambiance. With the exception of a few obligatory chicken and steak dishes, virtually everything on the menu is seafood-based. Whatever you choose, be sure to start with an order of shrimp and grits, the house specialty (entrées from $18). STAY: The oak trees on St. Simons are so treasured that the Village Inn & Pub was built around them – not one tree had to be cut down during construction. This place is as charming as it gets: the reception area is a restored 1930s cottage, the English pub is outfitted with a huge stone fireplace, and each of the 28 guest rooms is named for a historical figure with some significance to the island, such as Sid Lanier, a poet, novelist, and composer (from $135). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Savannah (84 miles; about two hours by car), Atlanta (282 miles; about five hours by car), Charleston, S.C. (193 miles; about four hours by car). 9. ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA Most people don't automatically associate the phrase "beach retreat" with Alabama – but don't tell a local that. Alabamians are adamant that their Gulf Coast beaches are among the most beautiful in the country. The sand is 95 percent quartz, meaning it's snow-white and sparkles in the sun, and the waters are as blue as any you'll find in Florida. Nine-mile Orange Beach has everything you need – warm water, lots of room to spread out your beach blanket, and restaurants just off the sand. Dolphins love the waters around here so much that Dolphin Cruises Aboard the Cold Mil Fleet guarantees sightings (90-minute tours from $20). EAT: Gulf Shores Steamer is a rarity in these parts: a beachside seafood joint that doesn't fry everything in sight. In fact, the folks here don't fry anything. Instead, the fresh fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters are steamed or grilled—and always delicious (gulfshoressteamer.com, entrées from $15). STAY: The beachfront 346-room Perdido Beach Resort is like a community unto itself, with four restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool, hot tubs, and tennis courts (from $94). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Mobile, Ala. (54 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Pensacola, Fla. (29 miles; about one hour by car), St. Louis (four-hour flight to Mobile). 10. GALVESTON, TEXAS In this South Texas hotspot, savvy travelers skip crowded East Beach (which gets overrun in March with spring breakers) and head to the more secluded West Beach or Galveston Island State Park. Both have wide expanses of sand that are perfect for trolling for shells or soaking up some sun. Once you're out of the water, the historic Strand district, along Strand Street between 25th and 11th, is worth a stop. Buildings from the 1800s have been restored recently and now house restaurants, antiques stores, and many galleries full of fine art and photography. The town's other big attraction is the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Indoor Waterpark, which attracts families with its water chutes, speed slides, wave pool, and, for the adults, enormous 30,000-person hot tub with a swim-up bar (from $26). EAT: A few blocks inland from the waterfront is Postoffice Street, where you can get authentic gumbo and a cold brew at Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar (gumbo from $12), known as the best place to get gumbo on the island, or try the Ceviche Corinto at Latin-influenced Rudy & Paco's (ceviche $17). STAY: Overlooking the wharf, the 42-room Harbor House has an old-school nautical vibe and is less than a 10-minute walk from downtown (from $102). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Houston (53 miles; about one hour by car), Austin (212 miles; about four hours by car), Denver (two-hour flight to Houston), Chicago (three-hour flight to Houston).
Everyone knows that New York City is famous for its New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, but for those looking for something a little more unique and symbolic to ring in 2022, these towns are hosting slightly weird yet totally “on-brand” drops on December 31. MoonPie Drop , Mobile, Alabama Photo by Joseph Brooke / Flickr Creative Commons Mobile’s mantra is “Born to Celebrate,” which makes New Year’s Eve a pretty exciting time around here. At midnight, you can witness a 600-pound electric MoonPie drop from the sky, complete with fireworks and a laser light show. Mobile’s big claim to fame is that it’s home to America’s original Mardi Gras. In the mid-1900s, locals started tossing sticky-sweet (but still-wrapped!) MoonPies from their Mardi Gras floats. Spectators went crazy for them and today an estimated half-million pies get tossed during an average Carnival season. Since Mobile loves a good party – and consumes more MoonPies per capita than anywhere else (including the pies’ hometown of Chattanooga) – its citizens decided to create the world’s largest electric MoonPie to help them usher in each new year. Mushroom Drop, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, which is part of the Brandywine Valley, is known as the “Mushroom Capital of the World” because more than 60% of all the mushrooms in the United States are grown here. Celebrate their nickname – and their favorite crop -- by dropping a 700-pound lighted mushroom on New Year’s Eve during the annual Midnight in the Square event. The mushroom will be raised right before 9 p.m. and the drop will be live-streamed across social media at midnight. Marlin Drop, Orange Beach, Alabama Gulf Shores Reelin' in the New Year at The Wharf The Wharf, a popular dining, shopping and entertainment district in the town of Orange Beach, is hosting Reelin’ in The New Year from 5 p.m. to midnight on December 31. The highlight of this event is the Marlin Drop, a fishy nod to one of the many outdoor activities that draw visitors here year round. It’s free admission for the drop, and the whole family can come and ring in the new year Gulf Coast-style. Apple Drop, Winchester, Virginia To celebrate the arrival of the new year, a 400-pound apple is dropped more than 100 feet during the First Night Winchester event. First Night Winchester has been a tradition in the Northern Shenandoah Valley since 1987. Winchester is known as the “Apple Capital” because it’s the largest apple-producing area in all of Virginia and home to countless apple orchards. Giant Acorn Drop, Raleigh, N.C. Courtesy firstnightraleigh.com Each December 31 a giant copper acorn, the official monument commemorating the bicentennial of “the City of Oaks,” is transported from Raleigh’s Moore Square to the roof of the Civic Center where it’s dropped to celebrate the New Year - First Night Raleigh. Clam Drop, Yarmouth, Maine On December 31, Yarmouth's First Universalist Church lowers a giant clam named Steamer 25 feet from the bell tower. The Clam Drop includes music, cookies and cocoa to stay warm. Giant Potato Drop, Boise, Idaho Courtesy mrfood.com This year will be the 9th annual Idaho Potato Drop in Boise, Idaho. From 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., ring in the new year with food trucks, a beer garden, fireworks, and of course, the potato drop in front of the Idaho State Capitol.
There is plenty to splurge on in Philadelphia, from rooftop cocktails at the Hotel Monaco to High Tea at the Rittenhouse Hotel. And while hitting up a pricey art museum and then indulging in Vetri Cucina's quattro piatti for dinner is a good time, Philly doesn't have to be expensive - especially if you're a history buff. Luckily, most of Philly's top attractions are easily accessible via public transportation, which is very affordable. One-way subway rides are just $2.50. For just $13, you can get a one-day SEPTA Independence Pass, which allows you to switch between modes of transportation. Then there's the tourist-friendly Philly PLASH bus which stops at the city's main tourist attractions for just $2 per ride or $5 for a day pass. Here is our guide to taking in Philadelphia's history and culture without breaking the bank. Philly's top historical sites Entrance to the Liberty Bell Center is free, and it's open on a first-come, first-serve basis with capacity restrictions in place. While the bell is visible from outside the center, there are benefits to waiting in line to get inside. One side of the hallway is lined with exhibits, and there's also a space for rotating temporary exhibitions. And once inside, you get an unobstructed photo op of this American icon. Independence Hall tickets must be reserved online in advance. They carry a $1 reservation fee, which is less than the cost of a small "wooder" ice anywhere in Philly. Guided tours last 30 minutes and run every 15 minutes, with the last one each day starting at 4:45 PM. Between the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall sits the President's House, an outdoor exhibit that explores the contradiction of freedom and slavery during the founding of the United States. The 24-hour open-air display sits on the former grounds of America's first executive mansion. George Washington and John Adams lived here while James Hoban was constructing the first White House. Beneath the large glass vitrine at the south end of the exhibit, you can see the foundations of the predecessor to The White House. Philly's best history museums under $10 The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall get most of the much-deserved attention when it comes to historic sites in Philly. But both are surrounded by history museums that are affordable and family-friendly. Just a couple blocks east of the Independence Visitor Center, you can tour the Betsy Ross House with an audio guide for under $10. Each tour includes a Q & A with a Besty Ross reenactor dressed in period clothing. For no additional fee, you can find out why she kept the name "Ross" after remarrying twice and learn what George Washington was like to do business with. Before you reach the Betsy Ross House, you'll pass Benjamin Franklin's gravesite, which you can visit between noon and 4 Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $5, but many choose to experience Ben's final resting place by throwing pennies onto his gravestone through the cemetery gates. You are better off saving your $5 and using it to enter the Benjamin Franklin Museum, located just one block south of his final resting place. You'll get much more for your money, including five rooms of exhibits, videos, touchscreen interactives, and hundreds of artifacts. Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Photo by Sean Pavone, iStock Explore America's oldest residential street A couple blocks east of the Betsy Ross house is Elfreth's Alley. This well-preserved, car-free cobblestone street is widely recognized as the oldest continuously inhabited street in the United States. There's a small museum halfway down this short, narrow alley, sandwiched between homes that date back to 1755. The museum is open from noon to 4 Friday through Sunday. Admission is just $3, with an optional audio guide for an additional $3. Even if you cannot stop by during their business hours, you can't leave the City of Brotherly Love without visiting Elfreth's Alley. The Fireman's Hall Museum is located one block north of Elfreth's Alley. This restored 1902 firehouse has various tools of the trade on display, some of which date back to the earliest days of the Philadelphia Fire Department. Reservations are free but must be made in advance, and donations to the fire department are appreciated. Live our your Rocky fantasy for less than the price of a movie ticket Regardless of the time of day or year, the Rocky Statue is a major attraction. You may have to wait in line to get your picture snapped with the world's most famous fictional sports hero, but it's an essential Philly experience! From there, you should climb the 72 steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some run like young Rocky did, while the rest ascend at a more leisurely pace reminiscent of an aging Rocky in the first Creed movie. Once atop, you can take in the view of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Logan Square, and the Philly skyline. Get lost in a public market Reading Terminal Market dates back to 1893. Before Philly had the subway system that we know today, the Reading Railroad Company operated the city's main market. Back then, it had 250 specialty vendors and up to 100 farmers on any given day. Today, the National Historic Landmark market operates daily from 8 to 6 with more than 70 vendors. Inside, you'll see (and smell) Philly cheesesteaks, as well as a mix of fresh fish, meat, and cheese. You can also purchase treats sold by Amish vendors from nearby Lancaster County. If you're driving in and plan to explore the area for a couple of hours, it's worth making a $10 purchase at the market. That will get you two-hour validated $5 parking at two of the nearby garages. But it's even more affordable to take the SEPTA Regional Rail to Jefferson Station or the underground MFL to 11th Street ----- SPONSORED BY GEICO Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Budget Travel, and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.
New Smyrna Beach, FL Spending January in 70° F weather has its perks but that’s just part of what makes New Smyrna Beach especially inviting. The city also boasts 17 miles of white sandy beaches and wave action that’s great for surfing. Some “new-to-you” activities can include: Fresh-caught Dinner – Since New Smyrna Beach is located on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River Lagoon, both saltwater and freshwater fishing are available. Book a charter with an experienced captain to catch an oh-so fresh seafood dinner. Many local restaurants offer a “catch and cook” option where the chef will prepare your fish almost any way you like it. A Trio of Water Views – A visit to Smyrna Dunes Park delivers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, Indian River, and Ponce de Leon Inlet. The park has two miles of wide, elevated, handicapped accessible boardwalk, along with access to the beach. Florida’s Tallest Lighthouse – Climb 175 feet for a spectacular, sweeping view of coastal Florida. The world-famous Ponce Inlet Lighthouse was constructed in 1887 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1998. The site includes all the original structures, including the homes of the principal keeper and first and second assistant keepers. On January 17, the lighthouse hosts its monthly “Climb to the Moon.” Get spectacular views of the sunset and full moon, along with a private tour with a lighthouse keeper. NASCAR’s Prestigious Track – The Daytona International Speedway, which is just is 15 miles from New Smyrna Beach, is an iconic track that hosts the internationally known Daytona 500. A track tour includes a: visit to the start/finish line; close-up view of the pit stalls; photos in Gatorade Victory Lane; stunning view of the trioval and infield; and access to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. For those who’d like to see racing in person at the track, the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association's Classic MotoFest will be held January 7-9, 2022. RVers can spend the night at New Smyrna Beach RV Park and Campground. New Orleans, LA peeterv / Istock This French, Creole, and Cajun city literally beckons travelers to try something new. NOLA Curiosities – The neighborhood of the French Quarter was the original city of New Orleans established by the French to control commerce on the Mississippi River. Today, it’s the epicenter for activities and eccentricities. Start with the curiosities of Jackson Square that include unusual street artists, fortune tellers, and brass bands. Visit the 200-year-old Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House which became famous in the 19th century for its absinthe frappe – a mixture of absinthe and sugar water – and the popular legend that pirate Jean Lafitte met with Andrew Jackson at the establishment. Finally, it’s not a sure thing but jazz funerals are still held. Catching one is just by luck since they’re typically conducted only after the death of a significant resident or musician. Ghost Tours – New Orleans is home to two well-known women of mystery. Marie Laveau was a powerful voodoo priestess from the 19th century and Anne Rice is the best-selling author who wrote the Vampire Chronicles series. Set fears aside and book a nighttime walking tour that shares the city’s “dark side” and takes visitors to above-ground cemeteries, haunted locations, and voodoo shrines. Boiled Crawfish – Whatever name you use – crayfish, crawfish, crawdads, or mudbugs – the crustaceans are synonymous with New Orleans. Crawfish are in season from January through July and can be served boiled, sauteed, baked, or fried. However, locals insist boiled is the best. Crawfish boils abound throughout New Orleans so get courageous and make a reservation. Swamp Tours – Explore the watery world of Louisiana’s swamps and bayous aboard an airboat, skiff, or kayak. Travel through channels edged by cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss and learn how the waterways still provide a living for locals. See alligators, nutria, wild hogs, and other wildlife. RVers can spend the night at the French Quarter RV Resort or Reunion Lake Luxury RV Campground, which is an hour from New Orleans. New Braunfels, TX Founded in 1845 and known for its German heritage, New Bruenfels is in Texas Hill Country between San Antonio and Austin and provides a gateway to exciting adventures. Fly Fishing – From December to February, Texas Parks & Wildlife stocks more than 20,000 rainbow trout in the Guadalupe River and Canyon Tailrace. Action Angler, a stream-side fly shop and guide service, provides seasoned pros, rods, flies, waders, and boots for fishing on the Guadalupe River. For those who aren’t quite ready for fly fishing, nature tour float trips are available. Spelunking – At 180 feet below ground, Natural Bridge Caverns is Texas’ largest show cave with dramatic stalagmites, stalactites, flowstones, chandeliers, and soda straws formed by minerals in water drops. For the bold, a Discovery Adventure Tour delivers an “off trail” experience in an undeveloped section of the cave. Gear is provided but be prepared to get muddy while crawling, wiggling, and climbing to explore deep sections of the cave. For those who’d like a more predictable visit, a walking path tour is available. Craft Breweries – Due to its German heritage, New Braunfels has a long history of brewing that includes the original New Braunfels Brewing Company built on the banks of the Comal River in 1847 by Julius Rennert. Three exceptional craft breweries include a reborn New Braunfels Brewing Company, Faust Hotel & Brewing Company, and Guadalupe Brewing Company – all of which are on the Craft Beer Trail that winds through Texas Hill Country. To be safe and responsible, book a spot on a trail shuttle bus. Country Music – Gruene Hall is the place to embrace country music. Lyle Lovett, Hal Ketchum, Lucinda Williams, and many other legends have played at this historic honky-tonk. Built in 1878, it’s the state’s oldest continually operating dance hall and hasn’t changed much since its early days. RVers can spend the night at Hill Country Cottage & RV Resort. New Harmony, UT jose1983 / istock Although New Harmony is home to just 200-some residents, it’s the ideal place for a New Year’s selfie. Who doesn’t want “new harmony” in 2022? Plus, its setting is picture perfect since it’s surrounded by the peaks of Pine Valley Mountain and close to some of the best recreational areas in the United States. Water Hiking – Kanarra Falls, which is approximately 10 miles from New Harmony, is a spectacular adventure trek that requires stamina, agility, and surefootedness and, in return, delivers rushing waterfalls in red rock slot canyons. The canyoneering hike includes walking through and along a stream bed, climbing a 15-foot-ladder, and scaling a large boulder. All the effort is worth it to see a natural water slide and pool and two sets of waterfalls in slot canyons. Advance tickets are required, winter hours are limited, and cold weather gear (including neoprene socks) are a must. Double Arch Alcove – Located in the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park, the Taylor Creek Trail is a five-mile roundtrip hike up a “finger” canyon that leads to Double Arch Alcove. The cave-like formation features a palette of beautifully colored streaks thanks to water that seeps through the porous Navajo sandstone. The trail also includes two historic cabins from the 1903’s before the Kolob area became part of Zion. Kolob Canyons is smaller than Zion Canyon but that also means it’s not as busy. Rugged Horseback Riding – Experience the beauty of southern Utah on horseback. Book a ride that ranges from 1 ½ hours to six. The pace and scenery of the rides can vary from a demanding ride in the steep and rugged Zion Mountain country to a more leisurely trip through the valley to admire the peaks from below. RVers can spend the night at Zion River Resort - RV Park & Campground. Newport Beach, CA Those looking for marine adventures will adore Newport Beach. Take sailing or surfing lessons, rent a paddle board, or simply stroll the beach, it’s all possible at Newport Beach. Whale Watching – December through April is a prime time to see gray whales as they travel 12,000 miles round trip from the Arctic to the lagoons of Baja California to calve and breed. Humpback, Fin, and Minke whales can be seen year-round, along with dolphin megapods with more than 1,000 in each pod. Electric Boats & Gondolas – Known as the first and finest electric boat since 1970, Duffy Boats are available to leisurely cruise Newport Harbor and take in the beauty of the coast. For a romantic cruise for two, book a gondola. Options range from a casual pizza cruise to a dinner cruise with a three-course meal. 1919 Ferry – A mere $1.25 secures a one-way ticket for a quick ride on the Balboa Island Ferry. Ferry service was established in 1919 to span the 800 feet between the peninsula and Balboa Island. Island activities include a stroll on Marine Avenue that’s dotted with chic coastal shops and quaint island restaurants. Don’t miss the area’s iconic Frozen Banana treat that’s been a signature for 75 years. In fact, the banana stand in the sitcom Arrested Development was located on Balboa Island. Tidepools – Visit Crystal Cove State Park and its more than three miles of pristine uninterrupted coastline. During low tide, check out four tidepool viewing areas – Reef Point, Rocky Bight, Pelican Point, and Treasure Cove – to spot bat stars, chestnut cowries, purple sea urchins, and other amazing creatures. The tidepools are Marine Protected Areas so picking up or moving animals is prohibited. The area also includes Crystal Cove Historic District, an enclave of 46 vintage rustic coastal cottages originally built in the 1920s and 1930s nestled around the mouth of Los Trancos Creek. It is one of the last remaining examples of early 20th century Southern California coastal development. RVers can spend the night at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina. For more information on Holiday Rambler visit their site.
If you’re in the mood for a challenging but rewarding hike, Phoenix is ready to deliver. The city boasts a variety of mountain trails that’ll have you scrambling over boulders, marveling at saguaros, and earning incredible views. Phoenix features over 200 miles of hiking trails, but these seven are among the most iconic mountain hikes in the city. Before you set out, make sure that you’re taking the necessary safety precautions. Phoenix is a dry, desert climate, so bring plenty of water(!!) and a fully charged cellphone, and wear sunscreen and protective gear. And, of course, read up on these Phoenix peaks to decide which is suitable for you before hitting the trail — consider distances and elevation gains carefully, and only attempt hikes that you're confident you are physically capable of completing safely. Piestewa Peak Located smack dab in Central Phoenix, Piestewa Peak is the third highest peak in the city, at 2,610 feet. “The Stairmaster” is an apt nickname for the out-and-back Summit Trail, which climbs 1,200 feet in 1.2 miles. Be prepared for a trail that rises dramatically almost from the get-go and only levels off occasionally. The hike gets more intense closer to the summit, with metal handrails to guide you up the trail. At the very top, hikers scramble up a few rocks to reach the apex. Your reward for all the effort? Epic views of all of metropolitan Phoenix. Camelback Mountain Named after the shape it takes on the skyline, Camelback Mountain is the highest point in Phoenix at 2,704 feet. There are two popular trails on this mountain: Echo Canyon, and Cholla, although Cholla Trail is currently closed for renovation. Some consider Cholla the easier of the two but make no mistake, both trails are a challenge. Expect to get dusty and sweaty as you scramble to reach the top, ascending a staggering and heart-pumping 1,280 feet in 1.2 miles. The steep slope begins not far from the trailhead, with railroad ties used as steps that help hikers navigate the rocky terrain. After the seemingly endless climbing, the work pays off with stunning city views and a deep sense of satisfaction. Mind your footing on the way back down for a 2.5-mile hike. The top of Camelback Mountain. Photo by Reuben Schulz, iStock Tom’s Thumb Located in the McDowell Mountains of Scottsdale, Tom’s Thumb was named after the first person to climb it, Arizona Mountaineering Club member Tom Kreuser. When you reach the end of the trail, you can’t miss the granite formation at the summit of this trail that looks like… yep, you guessed it: a thumb pointing toward the sky. Hikers will get an intense cardio workout as the trail ascends more than 1,300 feet in 2.5 miles. The stellar hike features switchbacks, scenic vistas, dramatic granite outcroppings, and desert flora and fauna. As you’re working up a sweat from start to finish, be sure to pause and take in the sweeping and stunning views of North Scottsdale and the surrounding area. The view from Tom’s thumb is particularly unforgettable. After enjoying the sights and a well-earned breather, simply hike out the way you came for a round-trip that’s about 5 miles. Siphon Draw to Flatiron Trail About 40 miles south of Phoenix, the Flatiron Trail is a hike that is simultaneously iconic, challenging, and totally epic. Part of the Superstition Mountains (“the Supes,” to locals), Flatiron towers high at 4,861 feet. Hikers can anticipate a 2,750-foot elevation gain if they hike this out and back 6-mile journey. Begin your hike at the Siphon Draw trailhead in Lost Dutchman State Park. The hike from Siphon Draw will take you into a canyon of the same name. This trail is 4 miles round trip and offers plenty of scenic Sonoran desert vistas untouched by development. Many hikers will turn around at the end of the Siphon Draw Trail. If you’re up for a steep climb and have the experience and stamina, scramble up Flatiron, sticking to the left to stay on course. Before you reach the top, you’ll have to scale a (gulp) 12-foot wall to reach the summit. Once you’re there, relax, revel in your accomplishment, and take in breathtaking views of the Apache Junction area. Sunset in the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Brent_1, iStock Images Shaw Butte Trail Back in Central Phoenix, the Shaw Butte Trail in North Mountain Park is well-maintained and one of the easier mountain peak hikes in town. Parts of the trail are even paved, and it all kicks off at a well-developed visitors center. It’s relatively flat for the first mile, after which the course begins its reasonably steep climb. The trail dips and rises a few times before topping out at Shaw Butte, which stands high at 2,149 feet. At the summit, you can’t miss the radio towers and sweeping views of the Central Valley of the Sun. On your way back down, be sure to check out the concrete remnants of Cloud 9 Restaurant—a swanky spot that burned down in 1964—for a hike that’s around four miles total. Holbert Trail At more than 16,000 acres, South Mountain Park and Preserve is one the largest municipal parks in the entire country. Its Holbert Trail is one of the most popular hikes for one key and beautiful reason: Dobbins Overlook. Dobbins is the highest point in the park that is open to the public (at 2,330 feet), and it offers sweeping views of the entire Valley. By following this steep 2.5-mile hike that covers 1,100 vertical feet, hikers can reach this iconic viewpoint. Sure, you can drive to the top… but hiking the Holbert Trail and following the detour that leads to the Overlook is admittedly more rewarding. Once you’ve soaked up all the views, turn back the way you came – by the time you’ve returned to the trailhead, you’ll have hiked about 3.6 total miles. Lookout Mountain Summit Trail Lookout Mountain is a short peak hike that’s tucked away in a North Phoenix neighborhood, making it ideal for hikers who are short on time. Anticipate an elevation gain of about 400 feet in less than a mile. Near the summit, be prepared to do some scrambling on this mostly moderate trail. At the top, take in panoramic views of metro Phoenix before you head back down. __________ SPONSORED BY GEICO This content was produced in partnership with GEICO, Lonely Planet, and Budget Travel.Sponsored by Geico