The Most Relaxing Vacation Spots in the United States
At long last, it's time to chill out.
Hey—you look a little tense. Are your shoulders tired? Back aching? Brain melting? Are you sick of the stresses of this world, with its never-ending public health crises and rampant work schedules and endless stream of shit to get done? Yeah, we figured as much.
If any or all of the above apply to you—or if you’re just a fan of doing absolutely nothing for a few days, which is also valid!—you might be in need of a relaxing vacation. Not the kind that’ll take you to some fast-paced destination where you’ll be surrounded by crowds, scramble to squeeze in a dozen itinerary items, or battle for spots at the bar. No: you need somewhere you can sit on your butt, possibly with a drink in hand, and completely tune out. Whether a sunny seaside getaway, rugged mountain escape, or lesser-known wine trail is more your style, the pace of life in these vacation spots will rejuvenate you 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. 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’ 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 uniquely accessible, and the vibes laid-back. Be sure to hit the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, the country's very first, which includes dog-friendly wineries, distilleries, and breweries as well as excellent waterfall views.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Honestly, you won't believe what you're seeing if you come here. The blueness of Oregon’s Crater Lake—the deepest lake in the US—is so mesmerizing, and the cliffs surrounding it so overwhelming, that you could spend an entire vacay simply drinking it all in. Walk or bike the rim, take a volcano boat cruise, fish for rainbow trout, and otherwise give yourself up to a force greater than yourself. Sure, the seasonal, century-old Crater Lake Lodge might conjure comparisons to The Shining, but really it's 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 all these years.
That Joshua Tree is a choice getaway is no secret: woo-woo-types, A-list celebrities, and outdoorspeople alike all find themselves in this expanse of the Mojave Desert at some point or another, some coming directly from busy Los Angeles, others from artsy Palm Springs, and others still from all around the country. But what’s sometimes lost in translation—meaning, what Instagram photos can’t quite convey—is how really, truly restorative this park is. The sparse cell service, miles of open desert, rare plant life, and superb night skies, not to mention the unique, intimate Airbnbs and quirky locals, all culminate in the ultimate environment for total disconnection from reality.
So much of Florida looks like a relaxing destination (white sand beaches, crystal 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. Located off 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 like the Sanibel Beach Resort (complete with tiki bar). Meanwhile, the northern half of the island 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, including 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 feels like some hidden ocean. It's deep and cold and dotted with tiny islands and small beaches, and in the summer it becomes a boating haven—all of which 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-ing in a 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 much 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 to August), a tradition that starts with barbecue and cocktails and ends with roasted marshmallows around a communal campfire, with 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 around the moody seaside vibes of the PNW, the 73 miles of protected Olympic coastline are an equally beautiful—not to mention less crowded—entry point to the region. Camping is the preferred lodging, and coastal hiking, kayaking, and bird watching are some of the preferred low-key activities (as well as swimming, of course, as long as you respect the tides). Kalaloch Lodge is a rustic, coastal retreat that has to be stayed in to be believed. Just sit in one of the Adirondacks overlooking the ocean and dare yourself not to relax.
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 bucolic: stone buildings, rolling hills, and the chance to buy a bottle of blanc de blancs. Wander down to the pond and set up a blanket for an afternoon picnic.
Flathead Lake, Montana
Let’s be clear: there are very few places you can go in Montana where you’ll find yourself surrounded by “crowds” of any description. 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 just a few—relaxation isn’t that difficult to find. But even in a state where laid-back escapes are a 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 Indian 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 retire 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, you have local breweries, you have the friendliest folks New England has to offer, and you have Ben & Jerry's nearby. Field Guide, the area's newest boutique hotel, gives you that hidden-lodge vibe, complete with video games in the lounge area, a pool area with fire pit and lounge chairs, while the Stowe Farmers' Market goes well beyond whatever your neighborhood's dinky roadside stand provides: come here for locally made cured meats, cheeses, sodas, spirits, and all kinds of takeaway snacks.
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 US. 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 eateries), check into Bernardus Lodge & Spa, an upscale ranch resort with a fabulous restaurant, or the more wallet-friendly Carmel Valley Lodge, where every unit has a fireplace and either a wooden deck, balcony, or a flagstone patio. If the views in this region doesn’t get you chilled out, the ample amounts of vino definitely will.
We’d argue that Utah is one of, if not the, most beautiful states in the Union. 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—which is where Duck Creek Village comes in. Located in 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, uncrowded 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 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 really just sand). Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find that life is 100% about the beach out here. There are 11 miles of it—all of which stay fairly quiet, even in summer—where you can swim the always-temperate waters, surf, paddleboard, or do a whole lotta nothing. While you’re here, make like a Rolling Stone and look out for those wild, 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, Vegas, and Turkey) is far less likely to house a celebrity friend squad—which makes it that much more relaxing. Housed in a remote, century-old Bellefontaine mansion (the original library really has to be gawked at to be believed) this is one of those twig-to-nut spa experiences you spring for when an unexpected windfall appears. There's many a solitary activity on hand, including hiking, biking, sculling, paddleboarding, swimming in the indoor lap pool, and, of course, a million and one spa treatments.
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.
Hint: 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, owing to the hilly, tree-dotted vistas, 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 mini-horse farm. The windmill-y funkiness of Solvang always grabs the cover shots, but Los Olivos deserves equal attention. It's like a Western outpost come to life, what with the horse ranchers, except with sneakily sophisticated dining and tasting rooms aplenty.