Travel

The Most Relaxing Vacation Spots in the United States

At long last, it's time to chill out.

Visit Carmel
Visit Carmel
Visit Carmel

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.

Ben Girardi/Aurora Photos/Getty Images
Ben Girardi/Aurora Photos/Getty Images
Ben Girardi/Aurora Photos/Getty Images

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 National Park
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park

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.

NPS/Emily Hassell
NPS/Emily Hassell
NPS/Emily Hassell

Joshua Tree National Park, California

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.

John Apte/Shutterstock
John Apte/Shutterstock
John Apte/Shutterstock

Sanibel Island, Florida

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.

Visit Maine
Visit Maine
Visit Maine

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.

Anton Foltin/Shutterstock
Anton Foltin/Shutterstock
Anton Foltin/Shutterstock

Snowmass, Colorado

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.

Roman Khomlyak/Shutterstock
Roman Khomlyak/Shutterstock
Roman Khomlyak/Shutterstock

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.

Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock
Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock
Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock

Virginia Wine Country

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 Lodge
Flathead Lake Lodge
Flathead Lake Lodge

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.

Don Donelson/Shutterstock
Don Donelson/Shutterstock
Don Donelson/Shutterstock

Stowe, Vermont

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 Ranch
Carmel Valley Ranch
Carmel Valley Ranch

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.

Visit Southern Utah
Visit Southern Utah
Visit Southern Utah

Duck Creek Village, Utah

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.

 Evangeline Gaikwad/500px/Getty Images
Evangeline Gaikwad/500px/Getty Images
Evangeline Gaikwad/500px/Getty Images

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 4×4 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.

Canyon Ranch Lenox
Canyon Ranch Lenox
Canyon Ranch Lenox

Canyon Ranch, Massachusetts

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
Little St. Simons Island
Little St. Simons Island

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 Wine Country Tours
Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours
Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours

Santa Barbara Wine Country, California

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.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Meaghan Agnew is a Boston-based writer who pets strange dogs with impunity. Follow her on Twitter: @meaghandeth.

Tiana Attride is Thrillist’s associate travel editor. It’s her. She needs a relaxing vacation.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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