Dream destinations are places people spend their lifetime trying to get to — and then spend the rest of their life trying to get back to. At these bucket-list places, travelers can feel like they’re at the edge of the world or in the middle of nowhere, like they’ve traveled back in time or even journeyed to another planet.
Though many dream destinations lie overseas in faraway lands, America has plenty of gorgeous scenery and amazing hospitality of its own to offer. Here are a few of the great American destinations that should be at the top of every group travel wish list.
Key West, Florida
Key West, Florida, is the southernmost city in the United States, so far south that it feels more like the Caribbean than America. Key West has long attracted “folks trying to get to the end of the road and not be discovered,” said Jack Meier, sales manager for the Florida Keys and Key West, and that attitude permeates the city’s live-and-let-live vibe. It was home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams and even served as Harry Truman’s winter White House.
Given the city’s setting, it’s imperative that visitors get on or in the turquoise waters. Visitors have a range of cruising options, from small sailing schooners to large catamaran charters; on some, passengers can explore the mangroves or lunch on a sandbar. Groups can snorkel or dive in the living coral reef or see the colorful sea life via glass-bottom boats.
One of the oldest cities in the nation, Key West is home to 600 National Historic Landmarks. At Hemingway’s home, groups can arrange private tours and dinners on the lawn with a steel band, cigar rollers, brandy on the porch and the famous six-toed cats “holding court,” Meier said. At Truman’s Little White House, groups can have dinner on the lawn; parties of 20 or fewer can dine on Truman’s china at his dining room table before retiring to his porch to play cards at his poker table.
“These are destination-specific, history-laden things that you won’t be able to do anywhere else,” Meier said.
The Southernmost House is an oceanfront historic mansion that is the southernmost house in the nation. Although the 1896 inn has only 18 rooms, it can host private events for up to 300 and features a zero-edge pool, a pool bar and hammocks on the beach.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
The White Mountains in New Hampshire are “just a beautiful destination,” said Rachel Manners, director of sales for the Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa. The gentle slopes are covered with trees that blanket them in the best autumn colors. The peak of Mount Washington, however, is anything but gentle: It is commonly known to have the most extreme weather on earth. The peak is one of several in the White Mountain National Forest, but it’s the only one visitors can summit on a cog railway. At the top, passengers can take in views from the visitors center panoramic deck or visit the 1853 Tip Top House.
At Franconia Notch State Park, a 10-minute ride in the aerial tramway’s 80-passenger car brings visitors to the summit of Cannon Mountain, where they will find an observation deck, a cafe, a bar, walking paths and views of Canada on a clear day.
Nearby, historic resorts are landmarks in their own right. The Omni Mount Washington Resort opened in 1902, and the 200-guest-room Spanish Renaissance hotel is a National Historic Landmark. The Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa opened in 1865 and still has the state’s oldest operating elevator and a working farm that pays homage to its heritage.
At the resorts or nearby, guests can take kayak, rafting, zip-lining, snowmobiling and ATV tours. During a moose tour, guides “know where they go, so it’s pretty much guaranteed” to spot a moose, Manners said. Mountain View resort also partners with outfitters to offer dog sledding on property in the winter or “dog rolling” (on wheeled carts) nearby.
Guests can hurl axes at targets during axe-throwing competitions — “one of those things you can’t experience other places,” Manners said. Another activity groups can’t do anywhere else is chicken bowling, in which participants use a frozen wrapped chicken to bowl on the ice rink.