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Maggie Butler

Best of: Off the Beaten Path

Best of: Off the Beaten Path

While cities like Paris and Rome and New York top the list of most visited travel destinations, it's often the charming, unknown towns that make us remember why we traveled in the first place. These are the cities where you go beyond tourism, where the true essence of a place is embodied in the deep culture of people and authenticity. These are the places that make travel what is should be: a delightful discovery.

Here's a look at our favorite off the beaten path towns.

St. Petersburg, FL

Just thirty minutes south of downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg (St. Pete for short) has blossomed into a vibrant city full of art, breweries, beaches and cuisine. Over the past few years, handfuls of microbreweries opened their doors, adorned with local murals and patio space galore. No longer just a beach bar destination, downtown St. Pete is easily walkable with blocks full of bars, shops and activity.

Be sure to check out a few of the established breweries like St. Pete Brewing or Green Bench. If wine is your thing, stop by Try Wine Bar which offers wine tastings of all sizes (on tap!). Looking for something to eat? Check out The Mill Restaurant in downtown for new American fare and exquisite cocktails. And if beaches are your thing, don't worry. St. Pete has you covered.

Stay: Beach - Kimpton Hotel Zamora; Downtown - Hollander Hotel

Hood River, Oregon

Worth the drive alone, the two hour trip from Portland, OR to Hood River transports you through the magical world of winding roads, jagging cliffs and endless waterfalls. Take the Historic Columbia River Hwy to pass numerous hiking spots, waterfall sightings and 50-shades of green. State Park exits are easy to spot, so don't be afraid to pull over and begin hiking. Once done, keep heading east to downtown Hood River for your small town vibe, full of charm and activity.

Known for it's sports and active lifestyle, Hood River sits just off the Columbia River, while being closely located to Mt. Hood. This is a city Explore Beyond awarded the Outdoor Holy Trinity: where nature supports not only physical activity, but also social liveliness and visual awe. It's one of those dream locations where you can bike, hike, fish, wind surf and ski all in one day (or at least in one weekend!).  And when your glutes tire, head to the "Fruit Loop," a stretch of miles surrounding the area with an abundance of wineries, breweries, orchards and lavender farms. End your day watching the sunset on the Columbia River bridge, with Mt. Hood in your peripherals.

Try: Winery: Marchesi Vineyards for laid-back vibes and amazing charcuterie or Cathedral Ridge for views of Mt. Hood (on a sunny day).

Stay: Hood River Hotel for a central location and homey comfort

Toledo, Spain

Thirty minutes by train from Madrid, Spain is the medieval capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Toledo. Filled with cobblestones, rolling hills and wine-drenched sunsets, Toledo is a glimpse into the Spain of ancient times. Tight winding alleyways interlaced within the medieval walls, barely large enough for a single car, guide you through the maze of hills. From every angle, the city is always beckoning you to enjoy it's views with a glass of sangria or cerveza. 

Walking through the town will lead you to historic bridges, pathways and of course, churches. The most impressive is the Catedral Toledo, decorated in 13th century, Gothic designs. Or cross the bridge and head to the Alcazar, an ancient Moorish fortress.

Typically a day-trip for most Madrid visitors, we recommend renting an Airbnb so you can experience an authentic, spanish apartment. Plus, the medieval history and romantic charm are worth it alone.

Kilkenny, Ireland

Kilkenny, a mere two hour bus ride from Dublin, may be a top destination for local stag parties (bachelor / bachelorette parties), yet it has us rejoicing for it's well-preserved historic churches and museums, easily walkable streets and authentic Irish charm.

The gem of Kilkenny is Kilkenny Castle. Ideally situated in the center of town, there are no daytrips needed for castle lovers. Pop into the castle after lunch and admire the rooms and gardens.

Kilkenny is picturesque and as lovely as one could imagine an Irish town would be.  And the best part, bars and restaurants are easily accessible within a mile of the castle. Looking for something more? Kilkenny is a well-perserved historic town and Rothe House & Gardens is a restored 1500's home where you can relive the past, like a {ancient} local.

Stay: Kilkenny Pembroke for chic rooms and views of the town

Eat: Zuni Restaurant

Antigua, Guatemala

Less than an hour from Guatemala City, the serene and enchanting Antigua feels like a completely different land compared to the country's capital. The colonial city, colorful and friendly, sits in a valley surrounded by volcanoes and ancient ruins. Looking for natural beauty and good hospitality? This is the best place inCentral America.

Stroll around the central Plaza Mayor, enjoying local Antigua coffee and shopping through the local art. Or relax at one of the many hotel spas in town. If you are feeling adventurous, take a trip to the local coffee farms or a day hike to one of the volcanoes. Tour guides may be so inclined to include ingredients for smores, as you can toast your marshmallow above the flowing lava.

Try: Tamale making cooking class

Stay: For those looking to completely immerse yourself in natures beauty, stay at the Earth Lodge. An ecolodge, with basic amenities, is located on the mountainside on an avocado farm and is a prime spot for volcano watching. Tip: Hiking is involved to get to your rooms but they do provide a shuttle to / from the city center. Best part? Rooms are usually less than $30 a night.

 

All of these destinations are worth the trip alone. Do you have a favorite "off the beaten path" destination? Or do you have a place we should check out next? Leave your comments below or connect on Instagram!

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