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The United States spans across roughly 3.5 million square miles from sea to shining sea. Its borders envelope deserts, forests, coastline, large cities, sprawling farmland, mountains, and small towns. It’s safe to say that a few destinations in America are rather unlike anyplace else on Earth. If an offbeat destination piques your interest, check out these unique towns.
Tucked in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, the tiny village of Leavenworth, Washington, is straight out of a Bavarian fairytale. In the early 1960s, residents of the town transformed it from a dying, former lumber hub to the charming destination it is today. Visitors can indulge at one of the numerous wine and cider tasting rooms or take in a breath of fresh Pacific Northwest air by engaging in outdoor activities. During the winter, adventurous visitors and locals even go ice climbing and ascend frozen waterfalls in the mountains.
Thermopolis, Wyoming, is home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs. Hot Springs State Park boasts springs that reach up to 127 degrees Fahrenheit! For those looking to take a dip in more manageable temperatures, the park has a free public bathhouse, which remains at a balmy 104 degrees. The mineral water reportedly has therapeutic properties and was a popular gathering spot for dinosaurs, bison, and Native American tribes long before the park was established. The park is open year-round when weather permits, but be sure to visit the bathhouse outside of winter months. A visit to Thermopolis is often tacked on as a side trip to or from Yellowstone National Park.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Imagine a town where instead of cars, people roll through the streets in horse-drawn carriages. That dream exists on Mackinac Island — a motor vehicle-free island in the heart of the Great Lakes. Stop by the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, which has been mending everything from horseshoes to lawnmowers since the 1880s. They now offer blacksmithing demonstrations to the public. Be sure to get a taste of Mackinac Island’s renowned fudge before you go. Main Street alone has more than six fudge shops to choose from. Try one of these sweet treats from Murdick’s Fudge, the island’s first confectionery, which opened in 1887.
When driving through the sprawling hills of the Ozarks in southwest Missouri, there isn’t much to look at besides the occasional water tower or billboard. However, venturing a little further south will land you in Branson, a small town with a big personality. Originally founded as a country music entertainment destination, Branson is now home to more than 100 live shows. One long-standing act to see is a comedic routine by Yakov Smirnoff, who has been tickling funny bones since 1992 when he purchased his performance hall, Yakov’s Theater. Smirnoff, who escaped former Soviet Russia in the 1970s, found his calling poking fun at his life as an immigrant searching for the American dream.
Perhaps best-known for the Salem Witch Trials, the seaside town of Salem, Massachusetts, is home to all things spooky. Although the days of witchcraft accusations are in the distant past, the fascination with it still remains. During October, the typically small town swells up to host half a million Halloween enthusiasts who come to revel in its eerie history.
Wander the streets in awe of 17th-century buildings, which double as museums. The Witch House, formerly owned by Judge Johnathan Corwin (who spearheaded the trials), is the only remaining building in Salem with ties to that historical moment. You can also wander through Charter Street Cemetery, which has headstones dating as far back as 1673!
On the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island is Kailua-Kona, a town with pristine, black-sand beaches made from pieces of dried lava. However, if you venture out further than the town’s sandy shores, you can find manta rays. The town is one of the only places where you can snorkel or scuba dive right alongside them!
To get a closer look at manta rays, visitors can reserve a night tour out to one of three well-known manta ray feeding spots. By shining a flashlight into the water, snorkelers and divers can catch a glimpse of the manta rays opening their cavernous mouths to gobble up plankton. Manta rays aren’t harmful to people, but be sure to avoid touching them to avoid harming their delicate skin coating.