The Most Relaxing Vacation Spots in the United States
When a spa day isn’t enough.
Feeling so tired and burnt out that not even a long massage or any of those Goop-sponsored supplements you’ve been splurging on won’t help? Stressed because another friend has gotten COVID-19 (bet you’re glad you’ve stocked up on a year’s supply of at-home tests!) or something else has happened to make the country even more of a political nightmare?
Whether the answer is yes to some or all of the above, or you’re simply ready to skip town for a few days and do absolutely nothing, you’ve earned the right to take a relaxing vacation. We’re talking someplace where no one cares what the hot new restaurant is (spoiler alert: there isn’t one) and where you won’t have to scramble through crowds on a guided tour through town. And the best part is that you don’t need to wait for summer to make your escape.
Whether you’re going solo or with a group, want a cozy cottage secluded in the mountains or something on the sand facing the sea, we’ve selected some of the most relaxing vacation spots in the U.S. where you can reset your mind, body, and spirit.
Finger Lakes, New York
Yes, it’s true that the Finger Lakes have grown exponentially in popularity over the last few years—and we’re not complaining about having wine country closer to the other coast. But considering the sheer size of this Upstate New York getaway—including the 11 major lakes the region is named for—its increasingly large fan club will still find themselves spread out, with plenty of cozy cabins and luxe lakeside stays to go around. That’s not to mention the Finger Lakes’s real claim to fame: the four distinct trails that’ll take you through bucolic scenery as you hit up the region’s 100-plus wineries, where the pours are generous, the staff accessible and knowledgeable, and the vibes laid-back. Be sure to hit the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, the country's very first, which is lined with dog-friendly wineries, distilleries, and breweries—plus excellent waterfall views.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Honestly, you won't believe what you're seeing if you come here. The striking blue of Oregon’s Crater Lake—the deepest lake in the U.S.—is so mesmerizing, and the cliffs surrounding it so overwhelming, that you could spend an entire vacation simply drinkin’ it all in. Walk or bike the rim, take a volcano boat cruise, fish for rainbow trout, and, simply, give yourself up to a greater force. Sure, the seasonal, century-old Crater Lake Lodge might draw comparisons to The Shining, but it’s actually just one of those rustic, throwback retreats that forces you to really, truly unplug. There are no phones or TVs in the rooms, so it's all about slowing down and appreciating your environs. Oh, and hitting up the dining room at night to finally sample that bison meatloaf you’ve been curious about since arriving.
That Joshua Tree is a choice getaway is no secret. You’ve seen photos of yurts and sunsets at those infamous arches flooding your Instagram feed. Woo-woo-types, A-list celebrities, and outdoorsy people alike all find themselves in this expanse of the Mojave Desert at some point or another, some coming directly from bustling Los Angeles, others from artsy Palm Springs, and the rest from around the country—and even from across the world. But what’s sometimes lost in translation—meaning, what Instagram photos can’t quite convey—is how restorative this park is. The sparse cell service, miles of open desert, rare plant life, and superb, star-filled night skies—not to mention the unique, intimate Airbnbs and quirky locals—all make for a dreamlike setting to disconnect from reality.
Sanibel Island, Florida
So much of Florida looks like a relaxing destination (white-sand beaches, crystal-clear blue waves, swaying palms) without actually being a relaxing destination (overrun shorelines, high-rise condos, Florida Men). That’s not the case on Sanibel Island, on the state’s Gulf Coast. This is Florida's ultimate leave-your-worries-at-home destination. The southern part is awash in secluded beaches and laid-back, seaside stays at spots like the Sanibel Beach Resort (which even has its own tiki bar). The northern half of the island, meanwhile, is protected by the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where you can spot 250 species of birds, gators, and eagles along marshy trails. From here, it’s also an easy ride to other islands like nearby Captiva and Cayo Costa, where you’ll find a wealth of sandbars to snorkel through and even more idyllic, peaceful beaches to lounge on.
Sebago Lake, Maine
Sebago Lake is a sneaky wonder, a massive body of water in the middle of Maine that moonlights as a hidden ocean. It's deep, cold, and dotted with tiny islands and small beaches. In the summer, it’s a boating haven. All of this serves as proof that you don't have to hit the coast to get your summertime waterfront experience. Set up camp at Migis Lodge, a luxe cabin retreat where you have private access to canoeing, paddle boarding, clay-court tennis, motor boating (supervised or not), water skiing, and sauna sessions in the tiny outdoor shack. This is the kind of place where they ring a lunch bell, and where the lunch turns out to be lobster rolls, and where you then go to dinner after cocktail hour and find a pile of steamed lobsters in the middle of the buffet table. Which is to say, it's pretty perfect.
Snowmass is irrefutable proof that while ski resorts obviously shine in winter, they often get even better as the weather warms up. Wait until spring, when tourism tends to take a dip, and watch as the snow melts to reveal picturesque mountain vistas. The outdoor activity lineup might just cause you to cancel that overpriced Grand Canyon jaunt—mountain biking, fly fishing, whitewater rafting, golfing, rock climbing, and horseback riding (plus gondola rides into the hills for the non-sporty bunch) are all available. And if you’re looking to mix things up with a little excitement, pop into the Snowmass Rodeo (every Wednesday night, June through August), a tradition that starts with barbecue and cocktails and ends with roasted marshmallows around a communal campfire, and all the expected trappings—bull riding, barrel racing, roping demos—in between.
Olympic Coast, Washington
Your first adult Goonies re-viewing probably got you all excited about Pacific Northwestern beaches (anything to distract from the Sloth subplot). And while Oregon’s shores understandably receive a lot of the hype thanks to the moody seaside vibes of the PNW, the 73 miles of protected Olympic coastline are an equally beautiful—and less crowded—entry point to the region. Camping is the main type of lodging, and coastal hiking, kayaking, and birdwatching are some of the preferred low-key activities (as well as swimming, of course, as long as you respect the tides). Stay at Kalaloch Lodge, a rustic, coastal retreat with cabins and a restaurant that sources so local, even all of the wines are from Washington.
So wait—you may say—there are more than 250 wineries and tasting rooms in Virginia spread across nine different regions? When did that happen? Well actually, hundreds of years ago, when Thomas Jefferson was determined to start a wine revolution in the state. It took a while, but within the last 20 years, Virginian viticulture has taken off. Today, you can spend days driving from the Chesapeake Bay to Blue Ridge, sampling the chardonnays and cab francs the region is now most famous for. Greenhill Winery is beyond beautiful with its stone buildings, rolling hills, and—something that makes the experience even better—bottles of blanc de blancs. Wander down to the pond and set up a blanket for an afternoon picnic.
Flathead Lake, Montana
There are very few places you can go in Montana where you’ll find yourself surrounded by enough people to call it a crowd. With dozens of small cities and even smaller towns offering low-fuss weekends in the foothills of the state’s scenic mountains—Bozeman, Big Sky, Missoula, and Livingston, to name a few—relaxation isn’t that difficult to find. But even in a state where laid-back escapes are part of everyday life, Kalispell-adjacent Flathead Lake and its many islands stand out. The largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, Flathead pulls in boaters, fishermen, and tourists interested in learning more about the Flathead Reservation. Which is to say, it's a quiet crowd hanging in a quiet region of Northwest Montana. Seek out the Flathead Lake Lodge, an all-inclusive dude ranch on the water where, after days spent horseback riding and sailing, you can relax in front of a massive stone fireplace every night after a dinner of roasted pig and buffalo.
Stowe is quintessential Vermont. You have mountains, you have rivers, you have covered bridges, you have mountain biking and horseback riding, you have ski resorts that turn into spa getaways, you have ski mountains that turn into summertime hikes. You have farm-to-table restaurants, local breweries, the friendliest folks New England has to offer, and even a Ben & Jerry's nearby. Field Guide Lodge, the area's newest boutique hotel, has everything from video games in the lounge area to a pool with fire pit and lounge chairs, while the Stowe Farmers' Market goes well beyond whatever your neighborhood's roadside stand provides. Come here for locally made cured meats, cheeses, sodas, spirits, and all kinds of takeaway snacks you’ll be glad you stockpiled when you’re advenuring in the mountains all day.
Carmel Valley, California
All throughout Northern California—and particularly around the Bay Area—you’ll find little pockets that closely resemble European destinations. But to really max out on Euro-style relaxation, head straight for the Carmel Valley, where you can expect to find 300 days of sunshine, rolling hills, vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields, and European cuisine all in one place—not to mention Carmel-by-the-Sea, perhaps the most European-style fairytale town in the entire country. After sampling all of Carmel Valley Village’s wine tasting rooms (there are 20 here, all within walking distance of one another, interspersed between art galleries and restaurants), check into Bernardus Lodge & Spa, an upscale ranch resort with a fabulous farm-to-table eatery, or stay at the more wallet-friendly Carmel Valley Lodge, where every unit has a fireplace and either a wooden deck, balcony, or private patio with mountain views. If the vistas in this region don't chill you out, the ample amounts of vino definitely will.
Duck Creek Village, Utah
We’d argue that Utah is one of, if not the, most beautiful states in the country. Replete with soaring mountains, steep canyons, desert expanses, towering rock formations, and sunsets that Bob Ross couldn’t dream of capturing in their full majesty, you can toss a stone in any direction and hit a viewpoint that’ll soothe the soul. A lot of the action is centered around the Big Five national parks, all of which are notoriously busy—but this is where Duck Creek Village comes in. Located in the Dixie National Forest, what this tiny town lacks in amenities—there are just a few bars, restaurants, and rental shops around—it makes up for in outdoorsy, crowd-free goodness. Smack dab in between Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, and the Grand Canyon, here you can get a taste of the desert, forest, and mountains, all accessible from a smattering of cozy woodland cabins on an expanse of land that remains peaceful year-round.
Carova Beach, North Carolina
The Outer Banks are an obvious exhale spot for North Carolinians (or any Southerners, really) ready to hit the beach. But Carova, the northernmost outpost, is especially serene, given that it's about as far out on the Banks as you can get. There are no hotels or stores, just vacation homes, and you’ll need a 4x4 vehicle to get there (the “roads” are just sand). Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find that life revolves entirely around the beach. There are 11 miles of it—all of which stay fairly quiet, even in summer—where you can swim the temperate waters, surf, paddleboard, or do a whole lotta nothing. While you’re here, look out for those wild horses—Carova’s Spanish mustangs wander all over the island, so you're likely to spend as much time admiring them as you do the waves. Just keep your distance—the horses are feral, so there's no Black Stallion-style bonding going on.
Surrounded by the mountainous, forested beauty of the Berkshires, the Western Massachusetts outpost of this celebrated, New Age-y wellness retreat chain (with locations in Tucson, Woodside, and Las Vegas) is far less likely to draw the see-and-be-seen celebrity crowd—which makes it that much more relaxing. Housed in a remote, century-old Bellefontaine mansion (the original library really has to be seen to be believed) in Lenox, this is one of those twig-to-nut spa experiences you spring for when an unexpected windfall occurs. There's plenty of solitary activities to fill your days, including hiking, biking, sculling, paddleboarding, swimming in the indoor lap pool, and, of course, tons of spa treatments to splurge on.
Little St. Simons Island, Georgia
We’re suckers for private retreats on private islands. But unlike some venture capitalist-owned Caribbean isle, Georgia's Little St. Simons is rustic and naturalistic in all the best ways. The cottages are quaint and no-frills; it's about the screened-in front porches, not the amenities. The Lodge prides itself on its conservation efforts, which include a seed-to-table dining program. And all activities are nature-oriented, from birding to boating to biking along the resort's private beach (most of the island is undeveloped). To top off your days, the nightly cocktail hour is a must; the Friday night oyster roast cocktail hour is a must-must.
Santa Barbara isn’t great because of Sideways—it's in spite of it. Long before Alexander Payne poked his nose in, SB County was a refuge for any Angeleno in need of more wine and less smog. The drive between wineries is half the fun (those hilly, tree-dotted vistas never get old), but of course you're really there to taste your cares away at every open winery you can find, with the occasional detour into a miniature horse farm. The charming, European village-like Solvang always grabs the cover shots, but Los Olivos deserves equal attention. With all the horse ranchers, it’s like a Western outpost come to life, except with sneakily sophisticated dining and tasting rooms aplenty.
Tiana Attride is Thrillist's associate travel editor. It's her. She needs a relaxing vacation.