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10 vintage vacation destinations still worth the trip

Here’s a toast to summer and the realization that sometimes things are classic because they don’t go out of style.


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Posted on Feb 9, 2017   Updated on May 25, 2021, 1:00 am CDT

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With so much of our lives spent online, it’s necessary to remind ourselves every now and then to get out and enjoy the world.

Used to be, summer meant the classic American road trip: kids loaded in the car, swimming holes, and taking in the impressive natural variety of the U.S. Now it seems we’re more likely to spend summer watching Netflix or wasting our time on Reddit.

The good news is those vintage vacation destinations still exist—and they are as spectacular as ever. Below are our favorite classic trips that are just as worthwhile today as they were when your parents were escaping on the open road. So here’s a toast to summer and the realization that sometimes things are classic because they don’t go out of style.

1) Route 66

The granddaddy of all road trips has lured intrepid travelers west since the days of the Dust Bowl. The original highway stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles ran across eight states on its way to the ocean and spawned an entire culture of roadside attractions and on-the-road aesthetic that grew alongside America’s automobile infatuation. Though officially decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985, the route is still largely traceable for those easy riders looking to take the truly vintage road trip.

Photo via  Keoki Seu/Flickr

2) Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls may be the classic, classy American tourist site—a prime destination for honeymooners and families alike. Serving as border between the U.S. and Canada, the New York falls have been a must-see vacation spot in North America since the 1700s, and their impressiveness remains every bit intact today. You can still take a Maid of the Mist cruise around the falls as you could in the mid-1800s, but the best experience is always to be discovered by hiking through Prospect Point Park and the surrounding state park.

Photo via scarlatti2004/Flickr

3) The Grand Canyon

There is no natural wonder in the U.S. more spectacular than the Grand Canyon. Winding over 270 miles long and reaching depths of over a mile, the Arizona canyon carved by the Colorado River reveals a kind of geological history of the continent not found anywhere else. In addition to the sheer awe that the Canyon inspires, it’s also thriving with Native American culture and history. And with Las Vegas just a day trip away, the Grand Canyon is an accessible, not-to-be-missed favorite.

Photo via neutralSurface/Flickr

4) Disneyland

Disneyland set the bar for amusement parks—the kind of place where you can get lost and be amazed no matter your age. While its sister resort in Florida, Disneyworld, may draw bigger crowds, nothing can replace the feel of the California original, which has been welcoming fans from around the world since 1955. Aside from the nostalgia of Disney that can make anyone feel young again, the park’s attractions remain as novel and relevant today as it was for your parents and grandparents.  

Photo via  Darryl James – White Sheep/Flickr

5) Blue Ridge Parkway

The beauty of the Appalachians is unrivaled, simultaneously subtle and majestic. While the full range extends from Alabama all the way to Canada, the Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina and Virginia may be its most stunning stretch. Construction of the Parkway began as part of the New Deal in 1935, though it would continue for over half a century longer. The drive covers over 450 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park, and it’s become one of America’s great signature roadways.

Photo via road_trippers/Flickr

6) Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is considered the first national park in the world, designated in 1872 to the nearly 3,500 square miles of land in Northwest Wyoming and patches of Montana and Idaho. It’s easy to understand why the area has garnered so much acclaim, with spectacular wildlife and geography that is rarely matched. It remains one of America’s most treasured natural sanctuaries over the years, and the park’s numerous geysers, including Old Faithful, are among the most famous geothermal features accessible to tourists.

Photo via riptheskullFlickr

7) Florida Keys

The archipelago extending from Florida’s tip has endured an almost mythical reputation, especially in the eclectic and vibrant cultural endpoint of Key West. But the entire 127-mile stretch of bridges and roads that make up the “Overseas Highway” of Route 1 across the Keys has offered visitors an amazing drive since 1938. Between Key Largo and Key West are opportunities for some of the best coral reef diving in the nation and exceptional beaches, courtesy of the surrounding Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

Photo via  breefriendlyFlickr

8) San Diego Zoo/SeaWorld

There are a number of high-quality zoos across America that we love, from the amazing Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio to St. Louis’s impressively curated menagerie. The San Diego Zoo still reigns supreme, however, as the classic zoo (created in 1916) that retains its charming heritage while also continuing to grow and impress with its collection of exotic animals, including their world-famous Panda exhibit. Add in the original SeaWorld, opened in 1964, to your animal weekend and you’ve got the perfect one-two combination of a vintage vacation with real bite.

Photo via Wikipedia

9) Badlands

A drive through the Badlands is a surreal experience. Though the official Badlands National Park sits in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, the region can be extended across both Dakotas and even into Wyoming and Nebraska. The sheer desolation of the canyons and terrain is extraordinary and eerily beautiful while also providing a rich cultural history of Native American and westward homesteader artifacts. There is a reason the area has had such a fascinating hold on the American imagination over the decades, one that must be experienced to be understood. Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills only add to the area’s attractions.

Photo via Wikipedia

10) Martha’s Vineyard

The island just south of Cape Cod, Mass., has been the northeast’s premier summer getaway for decades, and it hasn’t lost any of its charm. If quaint lighthouses, brightly colored cottages, and perfect summer beaches are more your style, there are few places as distinctly, and classically, American for your vacation. And while the Vineyard may still carry the aura of celebrities and the affluent, its relaxed environment and friendly atmosphere makes the town wonderfully cozy.

Photo via jjamal7/Flickr

Honorable Mention: Washington. D.C.

Our nation’s capital should be a requisite journey for every American, and not simply because it’s the seat of U.S. government. The array of free museums can keep visitors engaged for days, and the monuments and landmarks remain some of the most famous and affecting in the country. And what better place to spend the Fourth of July than watching the spectacular fireworks display on the National Mall? The robust mix of attractions, history, and vibrant culture continues to lead generations to make the pilgrimage to D.C.

Photo via JWPhotography2012/Flickr

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*First Published: Feb 9, 2017, 3:30 pm CST