7 Unexpected North American Alternatives to International Destinations

By Alexa Wheeler  ·  January 2022

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly yearning to pack your bags, get on a plane, and head just about anywhere. Needless to say, it’s been a bit harder here lately to fulfill our inner wanderlust. But even though the iconic international destinations might be harder to visit, it doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice living out our vacation dreams. Here are seven unexpected places throughout North America that will have you feeling like you’re on an entirely different continent.

1  |  Alys Beach, Florida

Inspired by the traditional, brilliant white homes of Bermuda, yet with touches of blue like that of the Greek islands, the Alys Beach community in Florida’s Panhandle is the most visually stunning along the scenic 30A Highway. Although Alys Beach itself is private, the neighborhood also features a 21-acre nature preserve, an amphitheater, the Alys Shoppe and other boutiques, and Caliza – one of the most elegant swimming pool and restaurant combos in the world.

Best Times to Visit: Late spring and early-to-mid summer for best weather and limited hurricane activity

Image Credit: Kara Day | Instagram: @karaa_day and @kararuthphoto

2  |  Glacier National Park, Montana

Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road from West Glacier up to Logan Pass is an experience like no other. Not only is Glacier National Park full of adventure and endless hiking options but Going-to-the-Sun Road is absolutely gorgeous with breathtaking views of snow-capped mountain peaks and wide valleys, stunning waterfalls and lakes, and pristine glaciers. It will leave you utterly stunned, feeling as if you’re driving through the Swiss Alps.

Best Times to Visit: July and August if you’re wanting to access the entire park and all trails

3  |  Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario

Niagara-on-the-Lake sits just north of Niagara Falls on the shore of Lake Ontario. This quintessential town boasts 19th century buildings, a picturesque old town and waterfront, and a wine country that has taken a backseat to its neighbor, Niagara Falls. Home to rolling vineyards with chateaus, iconic ice wine, and more than 20 wineries in a five-mile radius (with nearly 100 wineries in the entire Niagara region), Niagara-on-the-Lake rivals European wine destinations and even California – but without the crowds.

Best Times to Visit: May-October for good temperatures; June-August are the most popular months

4  |  Catalina Island, California

As if you snapped a photo from Monaco or anywhere along the French Riviera, California’s Catalina Island almost feels misplaced in the Pacific Ocean. With both on land and at-sea adventure, and plenty of sun and sand relaxation, this under-the-radar island is prime for a paradise getaway closer to home. Make sure to visit Descanso Beach Club where “feet in the sand and a drink in your hand” is the motto they take very seriously.

Best Times to Visit: Spring and fall for better weather and less crowds than in the summer

5  |  White Sands National Park, New Mexico

With nothing but blinding white sand dunes and endless horizons, you might think you’re in a desert on the other side of the world, but you’re actually in, perhaps, the most unexpected place of all – New Mexico. White Sands National Park is an incredibly unique and underrated national treasure of the U.S. You can spend time hiking the “trails,” sliding down sand dunes on your version of a sled, or taking the coolest Instagram-worthy photos. Plus, word has it, visiting the park at sunset is worth the trip itself.

Best Times to Visit: Fall for the best temperatures without spring winds

6  |  Quebec City, Quebec

Quebec City may not be as “unexpected” as the other locations on this list, but it’s so European, it couldn’t be left off. What makes it “so European”? For starters, the winding cobblestone streets and French-style architecture will immediately transport you to the Old World. Not to mention, the city was founded by a French Explorer, Samuel de Champlain, in 1608 making the city over 400 years old and one of North America’s oldest cities. For an extra ounce of old-world charm, visit Quebec City during the holidays when Christmas markets, twinkling lights, snow flurries, and holiday cheer abound.

Best Times to Visit: June through September for the best weather; December for holiday magic

7  |  Oregon, USA

Secretly known as the “Iceland of America,” Oregon is an adventure lover’s paradise. Not only is it beautiful and a considerably less expensive option to international destinations, is has so many spots comparable to Iceland, it’s almost unbelievable. Instead of Iceland’s black sand beaches such as Reynisfjara or Fauskasandur, check out Oregon’s Secret Beach. Instead of Aldeyarfoss waterfall in Iceland, visit Oregon’s Toketee Waterfall. Instead of Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon, wade through Oregon’s Oneonta Gorge instead (and be rewarded with a waterfall). Instead of Iceland’s colorful Landmannalaugar mountains, hike Oregon’s Painted Hills. Lastly, you may ask, “But what about waterfalls you can walk behind?” Well, instead of Iceland’s incredibly popular Seljalandsfoss falls, you can walk up and behind the waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.

Best Times to Visit: Summer months for the best weather; September and October for leaf peeping


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