The US is vast, so big that choosing between coast or mountains, islands or quaint small towns can get downright overwhelming.

But there are some places that we keep going back to year after year, season after season. These places just hit right. The food, the fun, the beauty all combine to make these vacations fill our cups and remind us what makes living in this weird and wild country so engaging. We polled our staff and these are the places in the US that they just can't get enough of.

Looking for more inspiration? Here are the top places to visit in USA

Low light of Cashiers Lake at Cashiers City, North Carolina
Relax on serene lakes, climb mountains and more in Cashiers, NC © Chadarat Saibhut / Shutterstock

1. Cashiers, NC

Ann Douglas Lott, Associate Editor

My family has been vacationing in Cashiers, North Carolina, for almost 20 years. My aunt and uncle loved it so much that they eventually retired there, so it has become an annual ritual to visit them.

Cashiers is one of the closest access points to the Blue Ridge Mountains for those of us below the range, a teensy bit north of the Georgia border. By far, the best part of this lush mountainous region is that it's SO pleasant in the summer. It gets warm, but I'm never sweating, which is rare in the South. The main town is simply adorable and worth exploring, about a 20-minute drive from the equally cute town of Highlands.

There are also endless outdoor activities. Climb mountain trails (I love Whiteside Mountain), hike to cascading waterfalls like Silver Run Falls, and relax on peaceful lakes. My perfect itinerary involves the smoked trout dip and fried chicken salad sandwich from Cornucopia, a drink on Canyon Kitchen's grassy lawn with a mountain view, and vintage shopping at Victoria’s Closet. Grab your morning coffee from Buck's Coffee Cafe in Cashiers' town center and enjoy it on the front porch, or take it to go, sipping away as you walk through the 13-acre Village Green.

For a high-end stay, head to High Hampton Resort or Old Edward Inn in nearby Highlands. For a more affordable getaway, opt for Skyline Lodge near Highlands – it’s very Frank Lloyd Wright-esque. 

Looking for hiking trails in North Carolina? Here's our pick of the best

A beautiful sunset over hills that stretch into the misty distance as the light fades
Ojai is a beautiful place to visit all through the year © PhotoviewPlus / Getty Images

2. Ojai, California  

Annie Greenberg, Senior Director of Creative

The California valley town of Ojai is a little bohemian idyll about an hour and a half from Los Angeles. I love to spend a night or weekend up there whenever I’m on the West Coast, and I even got married in a secret botanical garden there. Despite its closeness to LA, Ojai transports you to a different world. Leave behind bumper-to-bumper traffic and city life for the mountains, wine, and a dash of country flair.

The area is made up of primarily local businesses that keep Ojai’s signature style alive, and around every corner, expect to find unique  threads and trinkets to be loved for years. A California perk is that regardless of when you go, expect beauty all year round. Dine at local spots like the Duchess, Pinyon Pizza, and Full Moon Izakaya. Have a lazy afternoon or evening trying flights of beer at Topa Topa Brewery.

I tend to spend as much of my time outside as possible, picking pixie tangerines in a sprawling orange grove, wandering the local farmers markets and sampling the fresh produce, or tasting wine at one of the many local vineyards. Lace up your boots for a day of hiking in the rolling hills and round off this perfect trip with a stay at the Capri, a mid-century motel renovated to perfection, or the Ojai Valley Inn, the area’s most luxurious lodging with pools and a spa to boot. 

Planning a trip to California? Here are the things you should know before you go 

An empty beach lapped by strong waves
Follow the hiking trails that weave through the woods and beach at Warren Dunes State Park © Single-Tooth Productions / Getty Images

3. Warren Dunes State Park, Sawyer, Michigan

Erin Leczycki, Photo Editor

I grew up going to Warren Dunes State Park, and spent every summer on its beach, which is one of the best beaches on Michigan's west coast, with massive sand dunes that offer captivating views of Lake Michigan. There are 6 miles of winding trails that span the beach and woods and – an extra perk for those of age – Warren Dunes is near some of Southwest Michigan's best wineries. 

Hit the beach, first and foremost. Try your hand at sandboarding, rent kayaks or paddle boards. Once you have gotten your fill of the water, hit the trails. They are great all year around, but especially in the fall. The colors are beautiful and the warm sand, unlike in summer, is perfect for going barefoot without burning your feet.

For wine lovers, take a tour of Round Barn or Tabor Hill, and if you prefer hops, stop into Greenbush or Silver Harbor, two of the area's most popular breweries. Keep up the momentum with a visit to the local orchards or blueberry farms where you can pick your own. 

There are several local restaurants that sling great bites. Mikey’s Drive-in serves casual fare, for classic bar food head to Lake Street Eats and a taste top-notch falafel at Cafe Gulistan. Take a break from the sun with a visit to the Beach Bucket or Oink’s Dutch for a scoop of ice cream. 

The area is a popular camping spot, so rent a cabin, load up the RV, set up a tent, and enjoy some of Michigan’s finest! If you prefer something slightly more upscale, the Lakeside Inn is a quaint and fun alternative.

Looking for other beaches in Michigan? Here's our pick of the best

The skyline of a low-rise city with an orange glow in the sky from sunset
There are many great things to do in and around Santa Fe © Sean Pavone / Getty Images

4. Santa Fe, NM

Emily Dubin, Senior Book Designer

My family roots are in the Santa Fe area, so we would regularly visit there from Denver, where I grew up. It's close enough to drive, but it feels a world away from Colorado, or really anywhere in the US, with the culture of a big city — world-class art, incredible restaurants, centuries of history — packed into the accessibility and charm of a small town.

The ubiquitous adobe architecture and Native culture give Santa Fe a distinctive feel, and there are plenty of great activities. Hike Pecos National Monument, looking out for ancient pottery shards still littering the ground. Pay a visit to the International Folk Art Museum, wander the shops near the Plaza and check out the art galleries on Canyon Road. The Railyard Farmers Market, held on Saturdays, is especially excellent during chile season in the fall. For an immersive art experience, including potential sensory overload, Santa Fe is home to the original Meow Wolf. If you're there for the holidays, the annual Christmas Eve farolito (paper lantern) walk, in the Historic East Side neighborhood, is magical. 

Santa Fe knows food, too. La Choza serves authentic New Mexican fare, go to Izanami for Japanese with the beautifully zen surroundings of Ten Thousand Waves resort and spa, and taste the best chile relleno at Palacio Cafe. For an inventive breakfast or lunch visit Modern General, also with a well-curated store, and don't miss tasting the spiced hot chocolate at specialist chocolate company Kakawa Cafe

Santa Fe is a fairly compact, small city, so staying anywhere near the Plaza ensures walkability. La Fonda is full of historic charm, while the Inn on the Alameda is a bit removed for a quieter stay. Away from downtown, El Rey is a restored '50s motor inn with a fun ambiance and a great bar.

Traveling without your own wheels? Here are the best places to go car-free in the US

A sandy pathway leads down to a beach with a blue umbrella
Pick a beach and relax at the towns along Highway 30A © Steven Greaves / Getty Images

5. Highway 30A, FL

Ann Douglas Lott, Associate Editor

The beach towns along Hwy 30A are a top destination for Southerners (I don't know anyone in Alabama who hasn't gone here). I grew up on fall trips to Inlet Beach at the far eastern end of the highway when it's still warm enough to be on the beach, but the crowds aren't unbearable. It's grown so much in so little time, but it's still such a special little pocket of Florida, with one dreamy beach town after another, each wildly different from the one before it.

The true beauty of this place is how you can seamlessly travel between towns (by bike is a must) and experience all of their different vibes, from the dreamy Dutch-inspired lanes of Rosemary Beach to the peaceful, laid-back stretch of Grayton Beach. It's so special how you can get anyone here without a car. Some towns like Alys and Watercolor also have nature trails at the back that are fun to explore on two wheels.

No matter where you land on 30A, you have to go to the Red Bar. It's been around forever and has a relaxed beach shack vibe. Other great places to eat include Bud and Alley's beachside rooftop for seafood lunch in Seaside, Old Florida Fish House for a sunset dinner, and Blue Mountain Beach Creamery or the Donut Hole for a sweet treat. The white-sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico are so stunning to lay on, swim, play volleyball, or even paddleboard.

First time along Hwy 30A? Here's all the info you need to plan your trip

A moose drinking from a waterway as the sun reflects of mountains in the distance
Keep an eye out for moose as you drive out to the Tetons near Jackson Hole © Diana Robinson / 500px

6. Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Deepa Lakshmin, Director of Social Media

I've been to Jackson Hole three times (once in summer, twice in winter) over long weekends with friends. I also learned to ski there as an adult, but Jackson Hole is a special kind of ski town where you don't have to actually ski or snowboard to have a great time. 

In the summer, drive out to the Tetons and kayak at Jenny Lake. In the winter, keep an eye out for moose. Wander the charming town square, then dance your heart out at Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. If you own cowboy boots, this is the place to wear them. 

Fresh off the slopes, head to the Mangy Moose walking distance from the mountain for live music, classic bar bites, and all your après needs, plus there's no need to change out of your gear. For a nice dinner out, try Glorietta Trattoria or Snake River Grill. For takeout, pick up Liberty Burger or sandwiches from Cowboy Coffee. Teton Tiger has an odd mix of Asian fusion cuisine – personally, I don't trust any menu with both chicken tikka masala and ramen – but its cocktails and atmosphere are fun. 

If you are feeling the urge to learn how to navigate the slopes, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a $50 beginner pass you can buy in person only, so I practiced in the easier areas for a few days before upgrading to the more expensive full-mountain lift pass. Who wants to pay for runs they can't even go down? (Yet!) 

If you're going with a big group, rent a house for the full experience. We most recently stayed at Spring Creek Ranch, which had an outdoor hot tub (score!) and was walking distance from Aman Resorts' Amangani – out of our budget but lovely for drinks and a spectacular view of the Tetons.

Two young children run along a path in a park on a sunny day with the rusty hulk of old gas works in front of them
Enjoy the best of Seattle's weather and landscapes in the summer months © Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images

7. Seattle

Chamidae Ford, Associate Writer

I grew up in Western Washington and went to college in Seattle, so the city has a special place in my heart. But I am not exaggerating when I say summer in Seattle is heaven on earth. Every summer, I try to make a trip back to soak up the sun and enjoy the city. It's the perfect temperature, we don’t have East Coast bugs or humidity, and you’re rarely more than 15 minutes from a body of water you can swim in. What more can you ask for?

Have a picnic at Gas Works Park and watch the sunset across Lake Union. Grab your friends and head to Golden Gardens Beach for a bonfire and cold plunges in the Puget Sound. Personally, I love to get Ezells famous fried chicken (Oprah-approved) and head to Madison beach. You can expect to jump off diving boards and listen to thumping dance music on most sunny days. On Sundays, stop by the Freemont Sunday Market for street food, loads of vintage shopping and handmade trinkets. Grab bikes and cruise along the Burke-Gilman, a 27-mile trail that winds throughout the city.

We are eating good in Seattle, and each neighborhood has a few life-changing gems. Head to Mighty-o for some of the best vegan donuts around. Milk Drunk has a mouthwatering chicken sandwich, Pink Door is every Seattilites favorite Italian food, and brunch at Joli is always a treat.

Since I am from the area, I tend to stay with friends, but Seattle has some fabulous hotels. There's the quirky Graduate Hotel in the University District, or Lotte Hotel in Downtown, which is stunning and keeps you close to the tourist attractions like Pike Place Market. The Mediterranean Inn in Queen Anne has beautiful views, and you get a feel for how locals experience the city in its cozy neighborhoods.

Wondering where to go in Seattle? Explore one neighborhood at a time

Palm trees line a beach. A solo surfer stands in the water looking out to sea
Maui is a magical place to spend a US vacation © Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

8. Maui, Hawaii

Brekke Fletcher, Senior Director of Content

When I was a wee babe growing up in Los Angeles, our most frequent island escape was Maui. We went so many times I lost count. The magic of this place is in my bones for life. 

When the wildfires devastated Lahaina last year, the loss and grief was overwhelming. It was impossible to take in. It still is. Now that some time has passed, I’m ready to return, and when I do my plan is to recreate at least some of my most cherished memories. 

When in Northwest Maui, we love to start our day by walking from our condo in Napili to the Honolua Store in the Kapalua resort, where I also go to play tennis. Afterwards we make our way back to Napili via the Kapalua Coastal Trail. The beach at Napili Bay is one of the best on the island, and it’s essential to rent gear at Snorkel Bob’s to take in all the beauty and wonder under the sea. You’re also pretty much guaranteed to see giant Green sea turtles – but please keep your distance and do not touch. 

If we don’t cook out (we stock up on provisions at Napili Market), our evening outing might be sushi at Sansei or a sundowner at Merriman’s. Or we’ll wander around Kaanapali and end up at Leilani’s. Breakfast is always (and most deliciously) at the Gazebo. Order yourself some pog (pineapple, orange and guava juice) and just try to finish the heaping stack of macadamia nut pancakes! I also cannot resist the breakfast burrito.

From there, we might make our way to Paia for some shopping, grab a burger at the Stopwatch in Makawao, or if we’re feeling like going big, we’ll have a daytime feast at Mama’s Fish House, choosing from the listing of the day’s fresh catches while savoring the best freshly-baked bread on the island. I also have to have at least one Mai Tai (makes me miss my late father so much just contemplating this, I’m weeping).

And finally, if we’re feeling super adventurous, we’ll wake up at 3am to watch the sunrise at Haleakalā then bike down the volcano, all before breakfast. Or we’ll drive the road to Hana and stop along the way to take photos and maybe climb down to the black sand beach. I cannot wait to get back.

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