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Ten Under-the-Radar Experiences in America

Our 'Real Holidays Recommends' selection is a curated list of interesting and unique sights, which certainly aren't of the tick-box variety.

America – Real Holidays Recommends

When we travel to new places, it can be hard to scratch beneath the surface. Read on for our ‘Real Hols Recommends’ suggestions to discover under-the-radar experiences in the USA which will allow you to connect more deeply with your environment. Curated by the team, see America in a whole new light.

    Wacky Art and Airstreams in Marfa, Texas

    In a place where ‘mañana manifesting’ is a way of life, Marfa in West Texas is a slow-pace destination where over the years, creativity has flourished unbidden, and a parallel lifestyle ethos has grown up around it, supporting Marfa’s network of artists, alternates and creatives. El Cosmico camp is one such place, a collection of air stream campers, architectural casitas, yurts and tepees, furnished in a retro, homespun style that encourages non-action, and the timely wait for imaginative endeavour, preferably in a hammock.

    This is the perfect pitstop to explore Marfa itself – a small, laid-back town with an internationally acclaimed art scene. Put on the map by New York minimalist artist Donald Judd in the 70s, who scattered his vast concrete boxes around the dusty desert landscape, since then it has become a mecca for emerging talent and off-grid bohemians. Today browse the galleries that demonstrate a vast range of artistic medium. A place to feel inspired, and bring out your inner artist.

    Wildlands Trekking in Yellowstone, Wyoming

    With half of the planet’s gushing geysers in this one place, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is a geological paradise dotted with mud pools, hot springs, deep calderas, petrified forests and steam vents found amid soaring peaks, plunging waterfalls, pristine rivers and abundant wildlife. In short, it’s an incredible place for hiking.

    There are many different pathways to explore on foot, and a guided hike will bring the natural vernacular to life. You can even undertake two- or three-days hiking, camping overnight in remote spots, allowing you to appreciate sunrise and sunset in the park as well as hiking around Grebe Lake and up to Observation Point. The Bechler River Valley hike takes you through Yellowstone’s remote backcountry and to spurting geysers, hot springs and lakes where you can swim and pick berries by the shore.

    Get to Know Dolly at Dollywood, Tennessee

    If you’re a fan of fun, theme parks and Dolly Parton, then Dollywood in Tennessee will thrill and inform you in equal measures. Owned by country music singer and cultural legend Dolly Parton, Dollywood is backed by the Great Smoky Mountains where Dolly grew up – a place of natural wonder that she cites as being a constant inspiration.

    Dollywood itself is a unique collection of family-friendly rides and attractions, musical entertainment and seasonally themed events which make for a great day of wholesome all-American fun. Dolly fans will be drawn to the Dolly Parton Experience (opening spring 2024) which tells Dolly’s story in an immersive way, with interactive insights into her iconic career and signature style plus performances in the Dream Song theatre.

    Experience Mardi Gras and Jazz in New Orleans

    Characterised by a unique cross-cultural and multilingual heritage, New Orleans is world-renowned for its music, Creole cuisine, distinctive dialect and its annual festivals, most notably Mardi Gras. Widely regarded as the birthplace of, and the best place to hear jazz, New Orleans boasts a colourful musical heritage which spans many genres and styles which you can catch listening to street performers or in venues in live performances of traditional jazz, blues, reggae and rock.

    The annual extravaganza of Mardi Gras is a spectacle that you won’t forget. Occurring every year from the sixth of January and culminating with the most action on the weekend before ‘Fat Tuesday’, Mardi Gras is made up of hundreds of decorative floats that roll through town, each offering a different take on the specific theme for that year. Masks, costumes, music, rituals, marching bands and dancing revellers are at every turn making Mardi Gras one big party – and everyone’s invited.

    Float Your (House) Boat on Lake Powell, Utah

    Located in red-rock country of desert state Utah, Lake Powell is a reservoir sculpted around smooth wave-like boulders, its calm mirror-like water creating an incredibly scenic spot of natural beauty. One of the best ways to experience Lake Powell is by staying on a houseboat for a few days, or even a week, exploring the lake’s narrow channels, high canyon walls and secluded sandy bays.

    On board you have everything you need for your boat trip including a well-equipped kitchen, comfortable cabins and a sound system. Depending on your itinerary you might drop the anchor for fishing or paddleboarding, swim to the beach for sunbathing or come ashore to hike the canyons to scenic viewpoints. In the evenings, moor up in a peaceful part of Lake Powell and watch as a million stars prick the sky.

    Art and Opera in Sante Fe

    The capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe, is one of America’s oldest and most historic cities, set against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Characterised by low-rise adobe buildings and colonial architecture, it was founded by Spanish missionaries in 1610. Today, Santa Fe is a burgeoning hotbed of arts, culture, galleries and museums. Once the home of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is dedicated to her work on American Modernism with several rooms showcasing her eighty years of artwork including watercolours, charcoal drawings, pastels, oil paintings and sculptures.

    Over the summer, Santa Fe comes to life with the Sante Fe Opera season, which takes place in an opera house on a 200-acre ranch which was built in the 50s. Every year, the Santa Fe Opera company puts on a festival from June to September with a roster of classic opera including Verdi’s La Traviata and Mozart’s Don Giovanni as well as groundbreaking new modern works. Join locals for a ‘tailgate’ picnic or book in for a preview dinner that includes a talk on the opera in performance that evening.

    Playing Cowboys in the Wild West of Arizona

    Head north out of Phoenix in Arizona to Scottsdale, a city on the frontier of a rugged desertscape made up of wind-sculpted peaks, rocky valleys and giant cacti. With thousands of years of heritage, this is the place to tap into Wild West-style traditions formed by the ancient Indian community of Hohokam, who lived in Arizona from as far back as 1,000 BCE to the cowboys, ranchers and farmers that followed in the late 1800s.

    With many ways to explore the desert, take a horse ride through scenic trailheads; live in a rustic cabin by the Salt River, tubing down the river by day and stargazing by night or head to a working ranch to help round-up the cattle, learn horsemanship and enjoy a cowboy cookout. For longer adventures, consider following the Apache Trail through the Superstition Mountains, stopping at a ghost town and finishing on a steamboat on Canyon Lake.

    Williamsburg Foodie Tour

    Coming to New York means being overwhelmed by a riot of tastes and flavours in America’s gastronomic capital from streetside bagels to cutting edge cuisine in trendy bistros. If you’re a foodie with limited time, consider a food tour with a local to get you straight to the tastiest morsels.

    This food tour in Williamsburg takes you on a culinary odyssey around Brooklyn’s best bites. A vibrant, artsy neighbourhood, enjoy fabulous views of the New York skyline alongside creative street art as you sample a range of Williamsburg’s culinary offerings. Start at a Polish bakery before heading on to Mable’s Smokehouse, a bagel bar and pizzeria, not forgetting a taco stop too. With your expert guide, visit a social impact café, where 40% of proceeds go towards feeding communities in need, a worthy cause to shine a light on.

    Colorado’s Natural Amphitheatre

    Where music and nature collide with startling effect, the natural amphitheatre at Red Rocks Park near Denver in Colorado is an unusual experience in uplifting surroundings. Cradled between the rocky red boulders, a natural amphitheatre is clasped by cliffs creating incredible acoustics. Taking advantage of this natural phenomena, a one-of-a kind venue has been created where big bands have performed alongside day-to-day yoga classes, theatre shows, live music concerts and movie screenings. It’s certainly worth booking in to one of these unique performances.

    We’d also recommend spending the whole day at Red Rocks, exploring the hiking trails around the geological rock formations, joining in with a yoga class or enjoying sweeping views all the way to Denver. Drop into the Performers Hall of Fame to see which famous names have performed here including The Beatles and U2. As the sun starts to set, savour a cocktail from the bar and take your seat in the amphitheatre for a memorable show

    The Land of Lincoln in Illinois

    Known for abolishing slavery, America’s 16th president Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield, the capital of Illinois (and later – a stop on the famous Route 66), for many years, working as a lawyer that earned him the nickname ‘honest Abe’ right up to 1861 when he became president.

    Follow Lincoln’s footsteps in Springfield, a man whose life was cut short when he was assassinated aged 56, just five years into his presidency. You can view his home, law offices and the Lincoln Depot where he famously gave a speech before boarding the train to Washington. You can also visit Lincoln’s tomb and the interactive Lincoln Presidential Library which correlates Lincoln’s life with the American Civil War. Springfield is also home to classic American diners and is a popular stop on Route 66; every September thousands of classic American cars roll into town for the Route 66 Mother Road Festival.