North Carolina: Beaufort
Coastal North Carolina swarms with idyllic beach towns: Wrightsville Beach, Hatteras Island, Seaside. The best-rounded of them is Beaufort, where antebellum architecture and farmers markets under oak trees meet serene Southern coastline and vast, open prairies. Watch the sun rise over the ocean, then head out deep-sea fishing, dolphin-watching, or driving through fields full of wild horses. The wilderness here is actually wild, and while the houses along the shoreline are quaint, nothing ever feels crowded. When you can end the day with a waterfront sunset in the same spot you watched a waterfront sunrise, it’s a pretty special place. -- M.M.
North Dakota: Grand Forks
While Japanese gardens and art museums aren’t exactly what you’d associate with North Dakota, this college town brings a lot of unexpected surprises. Sure, it’s home to one of the most beautiful hockey arenas in the country, and if you find yourself in Grand Forks during hockey season, a UND game is like the college hockey equivalent of Duke's Cameron Indoor. But weather permitting, the Grand Forks Japanese Garden offers an oasis of color in the prairies, a gift from Awano, Japan, as part of its recovery from the 1997 Red River Flood. Grand Forks also boasts the North Dakota Museum of Art -- the state’s first -- set in a 1907-vintage former gymnasium. And if you’re into repurposed structures like that, Urban Stampede is the city’s top coffee shop, set in an old-west saloon. -- M.M.