Discovering the Unknown: Hidden Gems in the U.S.
Almost as quickly as we purchased our first RV, Brittany and I began feverishly crafting a list of each and every dreamy place we felt was an absolute must visit. Hunched over our computers, Google Maps, Pinterest and numerous popular travel blogs cluttered our screens, we raced to compile a "must-see" itinerary for our first months (or years) of travel. Not surprisingly, popular National Parks, America's top golf resorts and coastal hot spots filled the page of our bucket-list destinations.
But as we discovered over our two years of full-time travel, it's not always the obvious destinations that are the most rewarding.
In the age of Instagram and Facebook, it's become increasingly rare to discover the unknown. That is, to visit a destination where we don't already know the best hikes, restaurants, and photo-worthy spots to park the RV. Truthfully, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Today's online resources enable us to maximize our stay, easily identifying the best activities while eliminating those that aren't worth our precious time. And at the end of the day, these popular spots almost always deliver on their promise of greatness!
As much as we swoon over these must-see destinations, there's something enchanting about finding the lesser known. An unparalleled sense of discovery accompanies each and every find. Even simple activities like a restaurant off the beaten path or walking the uncrowded streets of a little-known town can yield a refreshing experience unlike any other.
Poised for Discovery
We as RVers possess a unique opportunity for this uncommon discovery. Each road trip from prime-time destination to destination offers hundreds (or thousands) of miles of lesser-known real estate to be explored.
If you're regimented in your travels, we can relate. Our initial months were met with a tight itinerary of travel days (read: focused driving with little room for stops). Pre-RV life was all about getting to the destination, and as we know, old habits always die hard. However, as time (and miles) on the open road accrued, our eyes were opened to the world beyond the obvious spots. Our mindsets transformed from "let's get there ASAP" to "what can we see along the way?"
We began scheduling time between our primary bucket-list stops with nothing specific planned. Through a little bit of luck and lots of conversations with friendly people on our travels, we began making stops at places you'd be hard pressed to find on any popular travel blog's must-visit lists.
Our 4 favorite 'unknown destinations':
1. Marfa, Texas
As we made our way from popular Austin, Texas, to the golfing hot spot of Scottsdale, Arizona, we took the advice of a stranger and detoured 100 miles off I-10 to the town of Marfa. This small desert spot in west Texas is home to less than 2,000 people, but its eclectic, artsy culture make a stop worthwhile.
We checked-into the cash only, $19 per night Apache Pines RV Park and spent a day wandering around the minimalist town. Contemporary art exhibits, a desert "Prada store" and a few quaint restaurants highlight the streets, while the infamous "Marfa Lights" are a must see at night.
On random nights, colorful lights can be seen dancing on the distant horizon -- the source is unknown and heavily debated, but their beauty universally accepted. Even without these vibrant lights, the crisp star-filled sky is reason enough to set-up for a few nights with the RV here. The town is simple, and desert expands all around.
2. Avila Beach, California
Located off Highway 1, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Avila Beach may not be a complete unknown, but it's certainly not atop many lists. This small coastal town charms at every turn. The "downtown" area is quaint and welcoming, but my favorite parts lie beyond the town center.
Following Avila Beach Drive, you'll find Fisherman's Beach (perfect for a walk with the dog), the Port San Luis Boatyard, and an accompanying pier. There's a cafe great for a quick bite, as well as the Olde Port Inn -- a seafood restaurant situated at the end of a long pier. The entire area is quiet, relaxing, and void of the masses.
Port San Luis RV Campground -- perhaps our favorite camp spot in all our travels -- overlooks Fisherman's Beach. It's a no reservations, drop your money in the box kind of place. There are some spots with hookups, though many are dry camping. At $50-$70 per night, it's not exactly cheap, but when you consider your view, the experience is well worth it. It's an idyllic spot to spend a night or two during your Highway 1 travels.
3. Dunedin, Florida
Yes, the Keys are incredible, and Disney World can be fun, but Florida is stacked with all kinds of unsuspecting great spots. One of those lesser known towns is Dunedin, located on the Gulf Coast about 30 minutes north of St. Petersburg.
Its streets are bustling with shops, breweries and restaurants, with retirees and beach goers buzzing about. The nearby Honeymoon Island State Park proves to be a fantastic spot to hang on the beach or enjoy some fishing. They have a dog-friendly beach and overnight stays can be arranged, too.
4. Faber, Virginia
After a few full days of hiking in Shenandoah National Park, we were looking for a nearby spot to spend some time relaxing. Thanks to the Harvest Hosts app, we zeroed in on a winery about an hour south.
At the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the landscape of this family-owned winery was absolutely stunning. We parked our Winnebago View atop a hill on the property and enjoyed daily tastings (and a few bottles of red) while taking in the great vineyard views.
By no means am I suggesting you tear-up your RV bucket list. But, be sure to build in a few days of exploration off the beaten path between top destinations. Be prepared -- you just may fall in love with discovering the unknown!