The collective mood seems to shift after Labor Day. Summer Fridays are forgotten, long shadows stencil the sidewalk, and our feeds are peppered with images of crockpots and reading nooks, rather than white sand beaches in Italy and Greece.
If you're not ready to nest just yet, now's the best time to book a last-minute weekend getaway. We're officially in so-called "shoulder season," when many peak summer destinations lower their rates to entice visitors, making traveling in the U.S. more affordable than ever. Where to go? There's no need for European vacation envy. Ahead, we chose six stunning stateside alternatives that rival a trip to Tuscany, Switzerland, and more. These gorgeous cities and towns prove there's simply no place like home.
SEE: Ana Maria Island, Florida
Positano and the greater Amalfi Coast seemed like the place to be this summer, but there's no need to leave the U.S. for stunning white sand beaches. Anna Maria Island in Florida is one of the state's best-kept secrets. Located on the west coast neighbored by the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, the island spans just seven miles. Don't let the size fool you, though. Here, you'll find jewel-colored beaches, waterfront restaurants proffering fresh seafood, and three relaxed coastal towns.
SEE: Grand Teton National Park
It's a popular time to visit Switzerland thanks to the U.S. dollar and Swiss Franc reaching near-parity, but if you didn't make it there over summer, there's a host of local national parks in the U.S. to explore, instead. At the top of our list is Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, which encompasses the breathtaking jagged Teton mountain range and valley known as Jackson Hole. Embark on a scenic hike, go backcountry camping, or try your hand at fly fishing—there's a seemingly neverending list of outdoor activities.
SEE: Governor's Island, New York
There's something so lavish and exotic about glamping in a safari-style tent, but you don't have to pack your passport to experience this type of vacation. This year, Collective Retreats launched its first pop-up on Governor's Island, a 172-acre island in New York Harbor. It takes just 10 minutes to reach from the southern tip of Manhattan, but you'll feel worlds away. Book the Summit Tent for the full five-star experience, complete with a king bed, 1500 thread-count sheets, electricity, a private en-suite bathroom with hot water, and campfire s'mores kit.
SEE: Verge Valley, Arizona
Beyond Napa, there are a ton of emerging wine regions to visit this fall. Despite Arizona's arid desert reputation, Verde Valley is a surprisingly good wine region for those who like Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel. Pacific cold fronts and summer monsoons create the perfect conditions for grape vines, Vogue explains, and its proximity to Sedona means you can access some of the country's top-rated spas. Be sure to bookmark the Verde Valley Wine Trail before your trip—the route includes local wineries and cellar doors including D.A. Ranch, a 100-year-old family-owned vineyard.
SEE: North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota
Craving a road trip? Minnesota's North Shore Scenic Drive from Duluth to Grand Portage belongs on your list. National Geographic named it one of the top "essential drives for a U.S. road trip" for good reason—the route takes you through eight state parks with waterfalls and coastal cliffs. If the timing is right, you might even be able to see the Northern Lights.
France is certainly a popular choice for those who love cheese but you don't have to brave a red-eye to indulge in the tasting platter of your dreams. Consider Wisconsin, instead. The state produces some of the best artisanal cheese in the U.S., spanning 600 varieties, types, and styles. Be sure to stop by Fromagination, an epic cheese shop in Madison where you can learn about how cheese is made (and take home some tasty souvenirs, of course). Those who are really serious about cheese can pursue an elite Master Cheesemaker certification, too. Wisconsin is the only place outside Europe where you can gain the specialist credentials.
Planning a trip? Add these travel items to your packing list:
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