The hidden gems, luxury resorts, and vibrant downtowns filled with history and culture are often found when you look beyond the typical US summer vacation destinations. They’re the places that no one else in your family has experienced — the cities you get to share with others, instead of others sharing with you. Today, we at Urban Design Associates wanted to share a few of these hidden gems we’ve come across. They are full of entertainment, culture, cool architecture, and so much more. Here are some of the best summer vacation spots you need to visit.
Flagstaff is a four season hub of activity where an eclectic mix of small town charm meets endless outdoor adventures. It’s a common getaway for us Phoenix architects because it’s close by and so much cooler in the summer months. Plus, if you miss seeing snow, Flagstaff is a great place to be.
The city is so much more than cool weather, Northern Arizona University, and winter recreation though. It has 8 golf courses with breathtaking views, resorts that allow you to relax under the stars, and lush forests that help you forget the bustle of city life.
When you’re exploring the historic downtown, you feel like you’re living in the past. Walking down the streets lined with sandstone brick buildings that were built in the 1890s is something you just can’t see in the Valley. Even the “newer” downtown structures were built almost 100 years ago in the 1920s and 1930s. All of them are in wonderful shape too, as Flagstaff takes pride in preserving its heritage.
Architecturally, many of the historic buildings feature stucco friezes and some stand out in the cityscape more than others. The 1888 Babbitt Brothers building, the 1926 train station, and the Weatherford Hotel are all must-sees.
The train station in particular serves as a visitors center and highlights how the train system put Flagstaff on the map. It is one of the most prominent landmarks in the city and hard to miss with its Tudor revival design.
You should also check out Santa Fe Plaza. It lies across the road and a few hundred yards east of the train station. You’ll see a bronze sculpture of a railroad worker known as “Gandy Dancer” and an old locomotive to showcase how the station and its workers helped make Flagstaff prosper.
If you’re interested in seeing another charming building, check out the Church of the Nativity (now known as the Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel). The gothic chapel was built in 1888 and stands out as one of the few gothic structures in the city. The church is primarily built with dark stone, though what draws the eye are the light tall reaching spires and singular bell tower in the back. The church’s exterior walls are also adorned with numerous statues and gargoyles.
Over the years, the exterior decorative concrete has severely decayed. Interior water damage and aging stained glass windows also require immediate and long-term repair. It’s a must-see before the building is either revived, or condemned.
Providence, Rhode Island
Don’t overlook Providence, Rhode Island. Providence is full of design shops, craft stores and galleries, and is nationally-recognized for its food. With nicknames that include The Renaissance City and The Creative Capital, this vibrant area mixes art and history like we’ve never seen.
If you can pull yourself away from the bustling shops and amazing restaurants, then take a stroll through the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. It is New England’s largest public indoor display gardens—with indoor and outdoor gardens that include five greenhouses, a rose maze, and 150+ different types and varieties of plants. You’ll be immersed in so much beauty that you’ll forget you’re in the country’s smallest state. Just be sure to bring your camera!
With that history, comes a fair share of cool architecture. We recommend visiting the Graduate Providence. The Graduate, formerly the Biltmore Hotel, is bursting with history and Wes Anderson-style charm. Designed by Warren and Wetmore (yes, the same firm who built Grand Central Terminal in New York City) in the Beaux-arts style, the hotel first opened in 1922.
If Portland isn’t quite your scene, then Salem, Oregon might be the perfect vacation spot for you — especially if you love wine. There are more than 700 wineries sprinkled throughout the region, which is especially known for its pinot noirs. Salem also has a thriving craft-brew scene.
If you prefer the outdoors, then Salem has plenty of hiking and waterfalls just outside the city. Salem is also noted for its gorgeous gardens and flower nurseries. In April, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm explodes into bloom in April and Schreiner’s Iris Gardens is at its most vibrant in May. Additionally, the 90-acre Bush’s Pasture Park is beautiful any time of the year.
Or, if you’re like us and love the history of the city and its architecture, then you’ll need to see the Oregon State Capitol. It is the third reiteration of the building — the previous two burnt down — and glows against the horizon. Both the interior and exterior boasts marble facades that need to be seen to be believed. You can also climb up 121 spiral steps to admire a statue that represents the spirit of Oregon’s early settlers.
The grounds outside the capitol have breathtaking artwork as well. If you’re not in the mood to hike, these grounds are one of the best views in Salem. There are numerous fountains, state trees, and state flowers planted all around the building.
Or if you love museums, the Deepwood Museum & Gardens is a must-see. It is in a charming Queen Anne Victorian Home that was built in 1894 as well! The estate stands on about 4 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and nature trails that offer breathtaking views of downtown Salem. It’s a very popular wedding venue for the area, though, so plan ahead!
There you have it! These three underrated cities have something for everyone, from food to history, you and your family will love them. Enjoy and safe travels!