3 hidden gems in the Eastern U.S.
If you've ever visited the Eastern United States (or even if you live here), you've likely made it a point to visit popular destinations like NYC, Boston, D.C., etc. While these cities have a lot to offer, places that can be found off the beaten path might surprise you.
1. Natural Bridge, Virginia
History of the Bridge
This 215-foot high natural landmark is hidden away near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. (For reference, the little orange dot in the first picture is my almost 6-foot tall brother). The area surrounding Natural Bridge is full of history. The Bridge itself is estimated to be between 500,000 and one million years old! George Washington payed a visit here in 1750 and supposedly carved his initials into the side of the Bridge. Those markings are still visible today. 24 years later, Thomas Jefferson purchased the land. Not only is the bridge beautiful to look at from below, but you can actually drive over it as well!
Nearby Natural Bridge Hotel opened in 1965 and is a charming place to stay while exploring the area's attractions. In addition to the Bridge, there are many other sites to see such as the Natural Bridge Caverns. Descend 34 stories into the Earth on a tour which features stalactites, stalagmites, "Mirror Lake" and the "Colossal Dome Room."
If you journey past the Natural Bridge, you'll come across a Monacan Indian Living History Village. Here you can dive into the culture and lifestyle of the Monacan Indians and even talk with Interpreters about how they created things like shelters, and how they harvested crops.
2. St. George Island, Florida
Nicknamed "The Uncommon Florida," St. George Island is a peaceful vacation spot located off the Panhandle. If you're looking for energetic night clubs and all-day beach parties, you'll want to stick to the Sunshine State's bigger cities. However, if you're looking for a relaxing getaway where your days consist of sunbathing and eating ice cream, and your nights involve fires on the beach and stargazing, then St. George is the place for you!
I've had the privilege of vacationing on the island with my family during six summers, and it's something I look forward to all year. Although it's a laid back community, there's still plenty to do such as:
Browse for souvenirs at the many unique shops
Rent a bike and cycle around the island
Grab an ice cream or Italian ice from one of the stands or shops (my personal favorite is Aunt Ebby's. Their cotton candy flavor is so good, if you're into that.)
Sign up for a sunset or full moon climb to the top of the 72-foot SGI Lighthouse for panoramic views of the island
Sit down for a cocktail at The Blue Parrot Oceanfront Cafe
Fun fact: Head to their website any time of the day to watch a live beach cam!
Partake in water activities like kayaking, paddle-boarding or jet-skiing
This vacation spot has so much to offer. It's the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a week in the sun. You may even be lucky enough to see wild dolphins swimming near the shore in the morning, or baby turtles making their way to the waves at dusk!
3. Newfound Lake, New Hampshire
What makes this lake special?
This pristine body of water is nestled away in the Lakes Region of Central New Hampshire. Not only is Newfound Lake one of the deepest in the state, but it's considered to be one of the cleanest lakes in the world! It's fed by 8 springs and boasts twenty-two miles of shoreline. In the summer, the lake is the perfect place to sit back and relax. As a fairly still body of water (other than small waves from passing boats), the sun is able to warm it up to a comfortable temperature, unlike the often chilly Atlantic ocean at East Coast beaches.
Surrounding the lake are charming little cottages that you can rent in the summer. If you're looking to unplug for a while, this is a great place to do so since cell service can be pretty spotty (at least for me it was). In addition to just relaxing by the water, there are several nearby trails for hiking, some of which include waterfalls that you can swim in!
If you wake up early enough, make sure to drive over to Basic Ingredients. This seasonal bakery provides fresh-baked treats and meals to go, as well as souvenir's like T-shirts, hoodies, drinkware and more. I say "if you wake up early enough" because they tend to sell out of their popular baked goods pretty quick.
Attractions to the East
A bit more well-known is Lake Winnipesaukee, about an hour's drive from Newfound Lake. The town of Laconia, which borders Lake Winnipesaukee, has several highlights including Fratello's and Funspot. Fratello's is an Italian restaurant located in a beautiful brick building. Their food and wine are delicious, and they often have live piano music. Funspot Family Entertainment Center is home to the American Classic Arcade Museum, which features one of the largest collections in the world of video games from the 70s and 80s. If you're not into video games, Funspot has plenty more to offer including skee-ball, air hockey, bowling, mini golf and even their own Funspot ice cream shop next door!
If you're looking to explore the road less-traveled in the Eastern U.S., these three destinations are a great place to start. Hidden gems can be difficult to find when you don't know where to look, but luckily, I've already done the hard work for you. All you have to do now is make your way there and enjoy! Happy travels!