Who Needs a Passport? Exotic-Looking Destinations in the U.S.

florida keys
florida keys

The Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is reachable only by boat or plane. (All photos courtesy Oyster unless otherwise noted)

By Kristina Fazzalaro

As much as we would all love to pack our bags and fly off to some remote corner of the world, the reality is that the majority of Americans won’t be leaving the “Land of the Free” any time soon. In fact, as of last year, a study showed that more than half of Americans have never left the country. A full third does not have a passport. When asked why, many of those Americans who participated in the study said they felt everything worth seeing was already in their own backyards.

While we’d like to contest the veracity of that statement, we have to give credit where credit is due. The States DO have lots to offer travelers. From crystal clear waters that rival those in the Caribbean, to insurmountable mountain peaks that wow even the most experienced adventure traveler, the geography of America is as varied as the citizens that call it home. By that logic, you technically don’t have to leave the States to feel miles away. This summer, explore the far corners of America and discover just how diverse your country is – you won’t even know you’re still on your home turf.

Getaway: The Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are as close to the Caribbean (and its nice weather) as you can get in the U.S. Formerly thriving on the loot from wrecked ships, the Keys now thrive on tourism. Visitors flock to the area during the winter and spring to soak up the year-round heat and swim in the beautiful, calm waters. Situated on the third-largest barrier reef in the world, the Keys are a great destination for snorkeling and scuba diving, and there are tons of other outdoor activities, too – tennis, golf, kayaking, fishing … the list goes on.

Stay: Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

Reachable only by boat or seaplane, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is located on a private island where wild key deer roam. It includes 30 luxurious suites, many with private oceanfront verandas. A favorite getaway for celebrities, it provides a secluded place to unplug from the world (use of technology is discouraged) and experience a romantic vacation in a lush, tropical environment.


Sonoma is a more laid-back version of Napa.

Getaway: Sonoma County

Sonoma County is one of the world’s best wine-growing regions, with hundreds of wineries sprawling over rolling hills that call to mind gorgeous Tuscany. It’s a little less touristy than nearby Napa, and more laid-back, with family-owned wineries and less crowded towns. The area is best known for Sonoma Valley, a region in the southeastern part of the county that’s home to the cities of Sonoma, Glen Ellen, and Boyes Hot Springs, but there are great wineries elsewhere in the county as well. The charming town of Healdsburg in the wine-growing region of Dry Creek Valley is a popular destination. Sonoma’s beauty is striking any time of the year, but especially during the harvest season (September and October) and spring. It can get busy during the summer months, but you shouldn’t expect as many crowds as in Napa Valley.

Stay: Kenwood Inn and Spa

The hotel and grounds here truly do evoke beautiful Tuscany, so you’ll feel like you’re worlds away from home. The European-style property impresses with its lush gardens and courtyards, and exquisite fountains and pools. The 29 private and spacious rooms are individually decorated with romantic Mediterranean-inspired decor, and are furnished with cozy fireplaces, quality Italian linens, oversize showers, and personal balconies (some with stunning vineyard views).

Related: The Most Over-the-Top Hotel Suites in the World

Austria Haus Hotel
Austria Haus Hotel

Austria Haus Hotel in Vail.

Getaway: Vail

It’s hard to compete with European ski chalets when it comes to mountain destinations, but America rises to the challenge in Vail. The town is actually based off of Zermatt, Switzerland, with architecture boasting gorgeous decorative woodwork, charming balconies, and detailed doors and windows. Some restaurants and bars even serve Alpine cuisine. While the city comes alive in the winter months, the summer is also a great time to visit. Be sure to remember your hiking boots, because the once snow-covered trails now offer spectacular views and wildlife. Trout prosper in the streams and lakes in the area, making Vail a hot spot for regional fishing. When the sun sets, live bands awaken Vail’s downtown restaurant patios.

Stay: Austria Haus Hotel

This 25-room upper-middle-range boutique offers a solid value, with homey rooms featuring rustic touches (such as wood beams and sturdy wood doors) and marble bathrooms with heated floors. Guests get free access to The Lodge at Vail’s pools and hot tubs, which are worth the short walk. The hotel’s most notable asset may be its great central location in Vail Village square, close to the Vista Bahn ski lift.


Kauai is truly a film-setting kind of destination.

Getaway: Kauai

Though Hawaii requires a bit more traveling, it IS still part of the United States, and, of the four most popular Hawaiian islands, Kauai is the smallest and least developed, and, some would argue, the most beautiful. Kauai draws visitors with the wild grandeur of its lush, mountainous terrain – that will most assuredly feel miles away from anything vaguely American. Its craggy shores have provided the backdrop for numerous Hollywood visions of untamed, other-worldly paradises. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Jurassic Park films, and the 2005 version of King Kong were all filmed here. The 10-mile-long Waimea Canyon, the lava-rock seawater pool at Queen’s Bath, and the remote, towering cliffs of the Na Pali Coast are among the world’s most unique natural attractions. There’s hardly a spot on Kauai where human settlement obscures the island’s tropical, rustic beauty.

Stay: Kauai Beach Resort

This private, quiet property has large rooms, gorgeous sunrises over a rugged beach, a waterslide and sand-bottom pool, and a romantic bar with live music. It’s a good choice for a quiet, relaxed stay.

ace hotel seattle
ace hotel seattle

(Courtesy: Ace Hotel)

Getaway: Seattle

You might be scratching your head a bit at this one, but stay with me – Seattle may be the most European city in the States, in terms of personality at least. The main reason: Soccer. While the rest of America has inexplicably ignored the world’s most popular sport, the Pacific Northwest is rife with soccer supporters. (In fact, the only city that threatens Seattle for soccer supremacy is nearby Portland.) But this isn’t just about the Emerald City’s sports preferences. Seattle has an undeniable love of caffeine that rivals European nations – a fact that is evidenced by the ever-growing Starbucks conglomerate. There’s also a culture of sustainability that echoes practices across Europe, and locals and tourists alike often choose to bike (a la Amsterdam) or walk (like in Paris) versus driving. Overall, the laid-back, liberal vibe of this city screams Europe. For a metropolitan getaway in the States that will still transport you across the pond, Seattle is the way to go.

Stay: Ace Hotel Seattle

This petite 28-room boutique in Belltown was the first hotel of the hipster-friendly Ace Hotels mini-chain, and it was designed with young, hip budget travelers in mind. The owner deliberately filled the hotel with flea market finds, and rooms are spare and bohemian, with wool blankets, vintage or repurposed furniture, and quirky details such as Andre the Giant artwork.

Related: Flirt Across America: How to Thaw the Seattle Freeze

Inn at Palmetto Bluff
Inn at Palmetto Bluff

The Inn at Palmetto Bluff.

Getaway: Carolina Lowcountry

People will often describe Carolina Lowcountry with words such as mystical, ethereal, and hauntingly beautiful. That’s because this region along the southern part of the South Carolina coast — home to wetlands, rivers, saltwater marshes, and mossy forests – is all of those things. It’s a place that feels at once exotic and familiar, a place where time seems to have stood still; the Gullah inhabitants and language (a blend of Creole and English) still thrive, historic architecture has been preserved, and the magical natural beauty has remained relatively untouched, giving it a totally other-worldly vibe.

Stay: The Inn at Palmetto Bluff

This “inn” – really more akin to a sprawling estate – provides a one-of-a-kind experience amid the region’s natural beauty. Rooms are simultaneously homey and utterly luxurious, with working fireplaces, screen porches, and gorgeous bathrooms. Guests can enjoy a range of recreational facilities, including golf, bicycling, tennis croquet, kayaking, and swimming (in the two pools), and the luxury spa is highly acclaimed.

trapp family lodge
trapp family lodge

Trapp Family Lodge (Photo: Jason Vines/Flickr)

Getaway: Stowe & Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont

This northernmost part of Vermont – which is less than an hour from the Canadian border – offers travelers a mountain escape that feels miles away from the rest of the country. Winding roads along rolling hills allow for vistas of tumbling streams, lovely villages, and thick woods. The Green Mountains, one of the main attractions in the region, offer gorgeous views, plus over 20 resorts with some of the best skiing on the East Coast. Summer months are chock full of leisurely hikes and swims. Here, you feel as though you could be anywhere in the world — to the north in the Canadian countryside or across the Atlantic in some of Europe’s most gorgeous mountain villages.

Stay: Trapp Family Lodge

Speaking of Europe, this Austrian-inspired lodge in Stowe is owned by the very von Trapp family that served as the inspiration for “The Sound of Music.” Original memorabilia from past generations is displayed throughout, and rooms are large, bright, and comfortable with cottage-like decor. Amenities are abundant: The hotel has three restaurants, a brewery and bakery, a fitness center, and three pools (including an adults-only option). It’s a delicious slice of Europe in one of America’s favorite New England states.

Related: Stay in the Most Beautiful Palace and Castle Hotels in the World

Korakia Pensione
Korakia Pensione

Korakia Pensione in Palm Springs.

Getaway: California Deserts

If you can’t make it out of the country to premier desert locations like Dubai or Morocco, then head out west to California’s desert terrain. While there are certainly differences among these varied ecosystems, California will give you a taste of that infamous dry heat and stunning natural desert beauty. Badlands, canyons, and sand dunes are all to be had across the state – you can always find a new corner to explore that will offer something completely new. Volcanic craters and rare waterfalls are both hidden in the far-off corners of the landscape. For travelers desirous of a more developed hub to escape the desert heat, Palm Springs is a quickly growing tourist destination in the middle of it all. This oasis has shopping and sports, as well as a cool arts scene and laid-back atmosphere.

Stay: Korakia Pensione

Korakia Pensioneis a striking hotel. Modeled after a Mediterranean pensione, it looks like something out of Greece or Morocco – Forbes even named it one of the sexiest hotels in America. The hotel’s two pools and many outdoor spaces, including fire pits, fountains, and stone paths, are all beautiful and unexpected. The rooms are named, not numbered, and each is slightly different, but all have an old-world feel.

More from Oyster:

Into the Wild: 10 of the World’s Most Remote Hotels

Nearcation Destinations: 5 Locales That Are Budget-Friendly

9 Most Beautiful Natural Wonders in the USA

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