You know the feeling of being first to something? You battle between telling your family and friends or keeping it to yourself for just a little longer, as to not let the whole world in on your wonderful secret.
That’s how travelers feel about these 13 top-rated vacation rental destinations. They don’t receive the same fanfare of some of their bigger, more popular siblings, but TripAdvisor reviewers can’t stop raving about these hidden gems.
Rich history and culture, gorgeous scenery, an abundance of activities, family-friendly attractions and top-notch vacation home accommodations make these US towns true diamonds in the rough. Travelers far and wide are agreeing, too. TripAdvisor looked at all 2014 vacation rental review scores across the US and identified the best-rated locations that may not be on your “must-see” list, but surely deserve inclusion. Scores are out of a possible five, and locations must have received at least 500 reviews to be considered.
So avoid the crowds on your next trip, and visit one of America’s best-kept secrets. And once you decide on a destination, you can book all your tours, activities, and attractions right on TripAdvisor, too. Hurry up, though. It’s just a matter of time before everyone else is in on these wonderful US towns.
Overshadowed by Santa Fe and Albuquerque (see: Breaking Bad), Taos is a charming pet-friendly town known for its Spanish influence and picturesque scenery.
Taos gets over 300 days of sunshine each year and contains over a thousand square miles of wilderness lands, lending itself to incredible outdoor adventures like climbing, hiking, kayaking, zip-lines and horseback or llama treks. Roam the 200,000 acres of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument for breathtaking views.
Secret Travel Tip: Taos is hailed as the most pet-friendly destination in the Southwest, from the public trails to the restaurants, attractions and accommodations. Find the perfect Taos vacation home for you and your furry best friend.
Named after legendary American pioneer Daniel Boone, this Blue Ridge Mountain getaway is where outdoor playground meets eclectic shopping village.
Art centers, boutiques and restaurants populate downtown Boone, while hiking trails weave in and out of Grandfather Mountain’s rugged peaks. Experience the deep history of the Moses Cone Estate during the day and hit an outdoor theater show in the evening.
Secret Travel Tip: Boone is home to Appalachian State University (ASU), which provides ample family entertainment opportunities like sports games and the annual Appalachian Summer Festival – an inventive art festival drawing over 25,000 people. Hotel prices around Boone during the school year can jump due to specific ASU events, so opt for an affordable cabin on the outskirts to save money.
The air is fresh and spirit alive in Estes Park.
Camp under the western stars, plan a romantic summertime hike or winter ski trip, or taste the culture of Colorado’s niche food scene. Spring skiing is aplenty, with much shorter lines than the crowded resorts of Breckenridge or Aspen. Snag a Rocky Mountain vacation home right on the slopes for easy access to that glorious fresh powder.
Secret Travel Tip: True to Colorado’s culture, craft beer and local spirits are a staple of Estes Park. Head to Dancing Pines Distillery, Snowy Peaks Winery or The Barrel beer garden for truly thirst-quenching refreshments.
Offering a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of San Diego, Oceanside is a wondrous harbor village on California’s South Coast. From fishing off the pier to relaxing on the beautiful beaches, you’ll get everything you want out of a warm-weather vacation. It’s been said that Oceanside has the second-most ideal climate in the US.
Secret Travel Tip: Oceanside is known for its amazing farmers markets, where visitors can stock up on locally-grown ingredients. Take your fresh produce back to your beachside condo rental and enjoy a delightful home-cooked meal in the confines of your personal kitchen.
Mentioned far less in the tabloids than Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers offers vacationers the same Gulf Coast weather, beaches and family attractions but with much more history. Visit the estates of two American visionaries, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, or mosey through the historic downtown district with theaters, shops and restaurants. A Fort Myers beach rental lets you experience the water and the land alike.
Secret Travel Tip: If you’re checking out the Edison and Ford museums it’s worth doing the behind the scenes tour. You’ll appreciate the extended stories and rich insights that a guide can provide as opposed to perusing the estates yourself.
Cowboy hats and ski boots are equally welcome on this city’s streets, and outdoor recreation in general is a part of life here. If you’re not hitting the slopes then check out the Yampa River Botanic Park or Fish Creek Falls – just don’t forget your camera.
Secret Travel Tip: During or after an exhausting day-hike there’s no better way to relax than a dip in the natural hot springs for which the town was named after. The springs at Strawberry Park are consistently well-reviewed by TripAdvisor travelers.
Surrounded by the majestic Sierra Nevada, this rural California town won’t be a hidden gem for long.
Its population and visitor numbers have soared in recent years, due to the all-encompassing attractions available here. From water sports, biking, hiking, fishing and climbing to nightlife, live music and good eats, there’s something for everyone in South Lake Tahoe.
Secret Travel Tip: South Lake Tahoe boasts an incredible amphitheater, host to many superstar performing acts. If you’re renting a Tahoe home during the summer, don’t miss a show at Harvey’s Outdoor Arena.
Sure, Cape May sits on the Jersey Shore, but it’s not that Jersey Shore.
Victorian mansions are available to rent nearby museums, fresh seafood eateries, a beautiful lighthouse and classic East Coast beaches. Families of all ages enjoy a visit to this quaint beachside town.
Secret Travel Tip: Cape May beaches aren’t just for the day time. Every week there are outdoor movie showings on the sands, providing the perfect evening entertainment for parents and children.
Less discussed than nearby San Antonio or Austin, Fredericksburg is a small city with big-time charm.
One of the largest growing art hubs in the US, this Texas retreat infuses German flavor in its bakeries and boutiques, plus boasts magnificent vineyards and peach orchards. Sink your teeth into the sweetness that is Fredericksburg.
Secret Travel Tip: With limited hotels in the area, try out the true local experience with an affordable Fredericksburg rental cabin or ranch.
The 2002 Winter Olympics put Park City on the map, yet it still doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
An entertainment and social hub, Park City is the main location of the Sundance Film Festival and boasts some of the prettiest views in America. Gorgeous mountains surround a downtown mecca with bars, restaurants, theaters, spas and festivals. Park City condos offer the natural scenic beauty the region is known for, with easy access to the liveliness of downtown’s Main Street.
Secret Travel Tip: Locals rave about the mouthwatering food tours, where you’ll hit the area’s most famous restaurants and sample cuisine from world-renowned chefs.
From sunset cruises to surf lessons and outdoor wine tastings, you’ll feel the romance of Newport Beach as soon as you hit the ground.
Less urban than other California cities like San Diego or Los Angeles, Newport Beach is a hidden gem with gorgeous nature walks and stunning coves where seals will come right to shore. It’s not just the sights that impress, either. Newport is home to exquisite beachfront vacation homes of all types and sizes.
Secret Travel Tip: There may be no better place to go whale-watching than off the coast of Newport Beach. But the real tip is hiring a tour guide that will also show you around Balboa Island, Mariner’s Mile and Crystal Cove.
Located just 90 minutes from Portland, Seaside is a hidden treasure on Oregon’s North Coast with quaint beaches, blooming wildflowers and outdoor recreation galore. Rent a seaside beach house (we couldn’t resist) and walk along the Promenade for panoramic Pacific Ocean views, or spend a day shopping at the cute boutiques of Seaside’s three different shopping districts, all with unique flare, name brands and no sales tax! Children enjoy the mini-golf, bumper cars and the Seaside Aquarium where you can feed the seals.
Secret Travel Tip: Book a trip during the 4th of July and witness Seaside’s annual celebration, with a parade, outdoor concerts and one of the largest fireworks displays on the West Coast.
Neighboring the popular resort community of Orange Beach, this sunny Alabama city is the ideal beach vacation destination for families. There’s the miles of pristine white sands, where you can take off on a dolphin-watching cruise during sunset or simply relax with your toes in the sand. Kid-friendly entertainment includes The Track – a recreation center with go-karts, bumper boats, arcade games, thrilling rides and more – and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
Secret Travel Tip: One of America’s most popular music festivals, Hangout Fest, takes place here every May right on the beach, bringing thousands of music-lovers to the sands. If you’re privy to the laid-back music scene, a Gulf Shores beach house puts you right in the action, without paying for admission!