The first time you visit a new destination, the goal is to go full-on tourist mode and check off the area’s must-do attractions one by one. But a second (or fifth!) visit unlocks all kinds of surprising opportunities. Skip the things you’ve already seen, get off the beaten path, and hit the local hangouts. Here are a few ideas for seeking out hidden gems in three popular vacation spots.
Been There, Done That: The must-see Yellowstone National Park spots
Now Do This: Take the scenic route
You’ve seen Old Faithful and the other geysers in the national park, so avoid the crowds with a picturesque drive. The “Around the Block” route (as it’s known to the locals) is more about the journey than the destination. This 64-mile round-trip excursion travels around two states, two mountain passes, and three lakes. Pull over whenever the mood strikes to admire the stunning scenery, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife — the drive is the perfect chance to spot moose, elk, bison, and bears. Stop by the visitor center at Earthquake Lake, which offers a panoramic view and fascinating history of the lake. As the name suggests, it was formed when a major tremor caused 80 million tons of rock from Sheep Mountain to crash down into the canyon in less than one minute, blocking the Madison River.
Stay Here: WorldMark West Yellowstone
Been There, Done That: Beach, Amusement parks
Now Do This: Day trip to Murrells Inlet
Spend a day exploring this quaint fishing village, located about 10 miles south of Myrtle Beach. Huntington Beach State Park offers fishing, hiking, and 3 miles of pristine beach — without the hordes of beachgoers. The park features self-tours of Atalaya, the Moorish-style winter home of Archer and Anna Huntington, a philanthropist and sculptor, respectively, who owned much of the surrounding area in the 1930s. The couple also donated Brookgreen Gardens, which is now an attraction featuring botanical gardens, sculptures and art installations, and a zoo. Kids will especially love wandering through the enchanted storybook forest. Stop for a bite at The MarshWalk, a ½-mile boardwalk lined with waterfront restaurants, where you can dine on low country cuisine.
Stay Here: Club Wyndham SeaWatch Resort, Club Wyndham Towers on the Grove, Club Wyndham Grand Palms, Club Wyndham Westwinds, Club Wyndham Dye Villas, Club Wyndham Ocean Boulevard, Club Wyndham at The Cottages
Been There, Done That: The Riverwalk, The Alamo, theme parks
Now Do This: Hang in a Japanese Tea Garden
Offering an unexpected respite from the downtown area, The Japanese Tea Garden in Brackenridge Park was created from an abandoned rock quarry in the early 1900s. After falling into disrepair in the ’60s, the spot recently underwent a million-dollar renovation in 2008, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. The entrance is marked by a replica Japanese torii gate, designed by Mexican artist Dionicio Rodriguez. Spend the afternoon strolling the grounds, admiring the limestone bridges, koi ponds, pagoda-style pavilion, and 60-foot waterfall. Pack a picnic or have lunch at the Jingu House, which serves bento boxes, sushi, salads, and sandwiches.
Stay Here: Club Wyndham La Cascada, Club Wyndham Riverside Suites