Dawn patrol with your surf buddies. Sipping rosé by the pool. Kayaking before sunset. Wearing tennis whites all weekend.
Whatever your definition of summer, Labor Day weekend is technically the end of the season. And while we are very sad about this situation, celebrate the final days in style and scope out these underrated LDW getaways.
To ring in the final days, I asked a panel of experts for their favorite spots that fly under the radar. From travel bloggers with kids to photographers who fly solo, they have the best destinations for whatever adventure you’re planning. Because no matter what your summer style is, no one likes a crowd.
Travel style: adventuring alone
Based in Los Angeles, Laura Austin travels the country for her gig as a professional photographer and writer, so she’s familiar with off-the-beaten path destinations. The queen of solo road trips, Austin recently released this book about traveling alone. Follow her on Instagram.
- Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz has it all… a charming town with tons of character, dramatic rocky coastline, beautiful beaches and a short drive to dramatic redwood forests of Big Sur. There’s a little something for everyone in this collegiate town.
- White Sands, New Mexico
White Sands National Monument is a very surreal place to visit. The rolling pure-white sand dunes that stretch as far as the eye can see create an other-worldly landscape to get lost in. Definitely bring your camera.
- Canyonlands National Park, Utah
The Moab area in general is absolutely incredible. There are so many different beautiful things to see in a relatively small radius. But I would consider Canyonlands the hidden gem of the area. The views of the spiderweb-like canyons below from simply by pulling off to the side of the road are breathtaking.
Travel style: exploring like a local
The founder and CEO of hit travel website Localeaur, millennial Joah Spearman is a cosmopolitan man. The platform relies solely on local’s recommendations for activities like date nights or biking routes, so Spearman is in-the-know about the best LDW destinations, as well as fun activities to pass the time after you arrive. Follow him on Instagram.
New England has some of the coldest winters in the country so heading up to Portland during Labor Day is a good time to enjoy the city before the wintry months arrive. I took my mother here last summer and we had a wonderful time exploring Peaks Island, checking out Portland Head Light and eating some delicious lobster rolls. Bonus: it’s only a two-hour drive from Boston.
Believe it or not, Seattle locals are currently complaining about the lack of rain this summer, but don’t be fooled: the city is a good Labor Day hang. Between the end of baseball season (Mariners), middle of soccer season (Sounders) and beginning of football season (Seahawks), there’s plenty of sports to catch this time of year not to mention all the great local coffee, food and outdoor activities to enjoy.
Last year, I went on a 35-city nationwide road trip and the number one city I fell in love with was Columbus. The quality of life here is pretty hard to beat from what I’ve gathered from visiting the city two more times since last spring, from the educated and open community to the emerging art and food scene. As a visitor, I’d highly recommend you check out the Pizzuti Collection, a small but impressive modern art gallery. Make an evening of it in the Short North part of town where the city’s nicest hotel, The Joseph, is located.
Travel style: outdoor activities with kids and family
The Makepeaces, the Australian family behind the YTravel Blog, have built a huge online community around their family travel tips and style. Currently on their first year of a three-year long road trip, the family is very familiar with the US as they are crowdsourcing their way across America. They’ve perfected family travel and have some great ideas for adventuring with all-ages in tow. Follow them on Instagram.
Knoxville is a student town so has plenty to offer in terms of activities, attractions and great food and craft brew. Don’t miss the weekly farmer’s market. It has a diverse range of local Tennessee products from delicious local food and coffee, to artisan crafts and much more. With a vibrant community atmosphere, it’s a nice way to kick off your weekend!
While the crowds are gathering in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can be enjoying a similar foresty bliss at the Ijams Nature Centre in Knoxville. Ijams features 10-miles of trails, rock formations, lakes and stunning overlooks and is a much-loved sanctuary away from the city by the locals and visitors.
Just down the road from Ijams Visitor Center is the tranquil and beautiful Mead’s Quarry, where you can go canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. We love all the kid-friendly activities there!
Only an hour from Raleigh, Kerr Lake stretches across the border into Virginia and is the largest lake in the state. It’s a great destination for those who want to escape the chaos and relax in nature. You won’t find crowds here like at more popular North Carolina beaches, but you’ll still get all the fun water activities.
Find a camp site in the pine forest on the shore of the lake and spend your days swimming, kayaking, tubing and knee boarding. Lap up the stunning sunsets and enjoy cooking s’mores under a glittering sky.
Travel style: soaking up the cultural hot spots
Founder of the popular expat website and forum, ILuv2GlobeTrot.com, Nicole Brewer is an American teacher living in Niwza, Oman. After living abroad for many years, when she is stateside, she makes sure to explore the good old US of A. Follow her on Instagram.
9. Detroit, Michigan
I would be remiss to not recommend my hometown of Detroit. I know it’s not a typical travel destination, but it has made a dynamic transformation in the past couple of years. Downtown Detroit is chock full of new restaurants, hotels and museums such as the Detroit Institute of Arts. I highly recommend a visit to the The Heidelberg Project as well. The massive art installation represents the spirit and resilience of the city.
10. Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is a quaint, walkable city which is great for a family getaway during Labor Day weekend. Check out hot spots like the Historic District and Forsyth Park. If a walking tour isn’t your speed, try the hop on/hop off trolley tours. I visited Savannah with my mom a few summers ago and we had a fabulous time.
Travel Style: luxury getaways for couples
Based in Washington, D.C., Christina Saull is dedicated to luxury travel. With her husband in tow, they explore the best-of-the-best, sans kiddos. Or as she calls it, Dual Income, No Kids – D.I.N.K. Follow her on Instagram.
11. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Yosemite, Yellowstone and Acadia might get all the love (and the crowds!) but America is dotted with National Parks which fly under the radar, making them perfect for a Labor Day getaway. Running the length of western Virginia, Shenandoah National Park has a little bit of everything. Accessible day hikes range from an easy stroll to lung busting: popular moderate hikes include Hawksbill Mountain and Jones Run Falls, but for a challenge tackle Old Rag. Stop at a ranger station, pick up a hiking map and ask the ranger on duty about their favorite hike in the area.
Adrenaline junkies will enjoy rappelling tours, while families can relax floating down the Shenandoah River in a canoe. Stay on the north end of the park in Virginia horse country at the luxury Salamander Resort or head south down Skyline Drive to the Iris Inn in Waynesboro. The best part about the park is its accessibility to all the towns that dot the Blue Ridge Mountains, including the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson (Staunton), a college town (Harrisonburg) and many of Virginia’s wineries and breweries. If that piques your interest, check out the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail.
12. West Seattle and Bainbridge Island, Washington
West Seattle feels more like the Jersey Shore with a beachfront promenade, complete with fish and chips restaurants. Try Spud Fish and Chips, which has been there since the ’30s. The Washington State Ferry System is easily accessible from Seattle’s downtown core and runs on a regular schedule to both West Seattle and Bainbridge Island, unique destinations worthy of a trip to explore.
Bainbridge Island, 45 minutes by ferry, is an idyllic town with a traditional Main Street. Travel lovers should pop into The Traveler bookstore where all they sell is travel narratives, guidebooks and maps. Lunch at the Harbour Public House affords a lovely view of the marina.
13. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
Minnesota’s Twin Cities get a bad rap, probably because average temperature is 21 degrees in January. But from June to September, they shine. Baseball lovers can take in a Twins game at Target Field or, for an equally fun but more budget conscious atmosphere, at the St. Paul Saints minor league stadium. Saturday morning should be spent at the Minneapolis Downtown Farmers Market before sipping a giant Bloody Mary at Hell’s Kitchen. The Walker Art Museum has a larger than life outdoor sculpture garden, including one very large spoon. Visit on a sunny afternoon to enjoy all this awesome arts space has to offer.