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Trip Ideas

Coolest Getaways You’ve Never Heard Of

Nantucket, Miami, and L.A. have their charms, but for our money it’s the little-known summer spots that are most worth your vacation time. Think fewer crowds with the same attractions (pristine beaches, authentic food, gorgeous views) as the world’s classic destinations. It’s hard to go wrong.

See recent posts by April Ellis


Isla Bastimentos, Panama

A 10-minute boatride off mainland Panama, Bastimentos Island is nothing short of a natural wonderland. (For proof, just look to the sea turtles roaming its unspoiled beaches.) Hike Salt Creek Trail, in Bastimentos National Marine Park to see rare orchids and red poison dart frogs (look, don't touch) or explore Cayo Crawl, a coral garden just offshore, where you can snorkel with parrotfish, snapper and angelfish. The nearby Casa Cayuco ecolodge is the place to stay, with its open-air thatch-roofed cabins and treehouse-style main lodge. JS tip: Ask the hotel to arrange a private tour of a local chocolate farm or a sunset boat ride alongside dolphin pods.

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Castlerock, Northern Island

Ireland proper gets the majority of American tourists, while Northern Ireland — every bit as lush as the south but on the British pound — remains relatively under the radar. An hour’s drive from Belfast, Castlerock has verdant, cow-dotted farmland, which stretches down to the sea. The Keeragh Lodge Bed & Breakfast is a prime jumping off point for exploring the area. After a breakfast of piping hot tea and fresh-baked scones, make your way to Downhill Demesne, a swath of coast where Earl Bishop lived during the 18th-century. Wander his former manse (now in ruins) and the still very much intact Mussenden Temple, which has sat above the area's 120-foot cliffs since 1785.

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Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Canada

Montana’s Glacier National Park is a summer classic—but did you know it has an equally gorgeous Canadian counterpart? Just over the border, at Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, you'll find 1,720 square miles of postcard-worthy views, along with grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, moose, and elk that roam the wilds. Stay at the chalet-style Prince of Wales Hotel, from 1927, which sits on Waterton Lake and has a 30-foot bell tower with views of the surrounding mountains. You won't want to miss the wildflower-lined 90-minute hike to Bertha Falls; reward yourself back at the hotel's afternoon tea—complete with porcelain teacups, finger sandwiches, seasonal berries and a strict no-cell-phones policy that would make the Queen Mum proud.

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Vik, Iceland

On Iceland’s southernmost tip, the village of Vik has arguably one of the most Instagram-worthy spots in the world: Reynisfjara, a black sand beach where basalt sea stacks jut from the surf and puffins roam the shore. Snap a photo (you'll earn serious bragging rights), then head to the new Icelandair Hotel Vik, a mod boutique stay with a view of the Reynisdrangar pillars and an airy restaurant that serves regional dishes like Arctic char from Fagridalur with lemon salsa and asparagus mashed potatoes. Unwind with a dip in the alfresco hot baths at the Vík í Mýrdal Swimming Pool. You may get a rare glimpse of the summer Northern Lights.

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Wallowa Lake, Oregon

They don’t call this swath of eastern Oregon “Little Switzerland” for nothing: Craggy snowcapped mountains surround the 300-foot-deep Wallowa Lake, which was formed by glaciers some 20,000 years ago. In summer guests at the 1923 Wallowa Lake Lodge rent standup paddleboards and pontoon boats to ply the shimmering waters, or hike to waterfalls in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Hop on the Wallowa Lake Tramway to climb 3,700 feet, almost to the summit of Mount Howard (the Summit Grill serves standout beer-boiled kielbasa and bratwurst for lunch). Don't leave the area without stopping by the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center, where you can learn more about Joseph's indigenous tribe.

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Hayama, Japan

Tokyo may be known for its electrifying pace, but you don't have to go far to take it down a notch or two. Just an hour's drive south of the city is Isshiki Beach, where grassy knolls overlook the placid water. It's about as far from the Jersey Shore as you can get, with the 1894 Hayama Imperial Villa, a vacation home for Japan's ruling family, and very few visitors except during peak summer weekends. Splurge on a stay at Scapes, with rooms that look out onto the sea and 12,000-foot Mount Fuji. For lunch, head to the 400 -year-old garden tea house at Hayama Hikage-chaya.

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Gavarnie, France

Rushing rivers, snowcapped mountains and centuries-old villages — this UNESCO heritage region in the Pyrenees is so idyllic year-round that Victor Hugo called it the “Colosseum of nature.” We love it in summer when the hillsides are lush and the temperatures perfect. Rent a horse to explore the foothills (keep your eyes out for roaming marmots) and the three-tier Gavarnie Falls, the tallest waterfall in the country. The turreted Hotel Le Marbore is the classic mountainside retreat, with sweeping views and a small restaurant that serves simply grilled fish and meat. If you'd rather venture out for dinner, Les Cascades is the town's best table thanks to its on-point regional dishes (try the crispy duck confit or just-caught trout).

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Salema, Portugal

Far from the crowds that clog Portugal’s more popular shores, this quiet fishing town in the Algarve is one of the country's best-kept secrets. Lunch on just-caught grilled sardines and shrimp at oceanfront restaurants (Restaurante Don Sebastiao and Mira Mar are favorites), wander sunlit streets lined with white and blue houses, swim the turquoise waters of Praia do Martinhal, or join local surfers at nearby Zavial Beach. Check into the nearby Belmar Spa & Beach Resort, a chic boutique stay that fronts a stretch of powder-soft sand.

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Empire, Michigan

This charming hamlet (population: 400) is a summer favorite among in-the-know Midwesterners for one simple reason: The cool breezes that roll in at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The Empire Lakeshore Inn is a stylish yet affordable hotel on the Leelanau Peninsula, just a 10-minute walk from the beach—perfect for exploring the 35 miles of powdery dunes. Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak rents kayaks and even hosts full-moon rides; if you'd rather stay on land, the 2.7-mile Pyramid Point Trail provides eye-opening views of the water and surrounding meadows. After the trek, treat yourself to some locally made ice cream at Tiffany's Café.

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Seabrook Island, South Carolina

Just 22 miles from Charleston, this forested private island has all the things you won’t find in town — namely, loggerhead turtles, otters, white tail deer… and very few tourists. Because Seabrook is a gated community, its three miles of road, lined with live oak and magnolia trees, can feel almost empty (in a good way). Rent a house on the island and take your pick of activities: a horseback ride along the beach with the Equestrian Center, say, or an early morning fishing expedition. Whatever you do, make sure you have at least one meal at Lucky Luciano's Pizzeria, where the roasted garlic and three-cheese pie is a must. Then grab dessert at the Ice Cream Boat in Bohicket Marina.



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