As people embark on their summer travel, many head overseas for relaxation. According to author Patricia Schultz's new book, "1,000 Places to See in the U.S. and Canada Before You Die," the states offer plenty of options. The best-selling author worked on the book for four years and visited 80 percent of the places in the book.
From family vacations to getaways with friends, Schultz gives recommendations on where you should visit. See some of her suggestions below.
Little St. Simon's Island, Ga. It's called little St. Simon's Island and it's part of the Great Barrier Islands, which run for hundreds of miles off the southeast coast. You can find tons of developed places to play golf and tennis but, little St. Simon's Island is a one-of-a-kind place because it is privately owned and has been kept as a nature preserve. It's completely untouched and looks the way it did 200 to 300 years ago. No more than 30 guests are allowed at a time so it's almost like having the island to yourself. There is an old family estate, which is rustic, but it's amazing to have this pristine island to explore. You can take ecotours and you can horseback ride, canoe and fly-fish. The island is also on a major flyway, so it provides some of the best bird-watching anywhere in North America with more than 300 species.
Romantic River Song Inn-Estes Park, Colo. This special place is the Romantic River Song Inn at the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The hotel is on its own parcel of land with a stream running through it. There are massage tables for couples under a canopy of trees by the stream. So, if you're not in love when you arrive, you may be when you leave. The owners even are qualified to marry you if the spirit moves you. From the hotel, you can venture into the park, which is 400 square miles of Rocky Mountain grandeur.
The Northern Lights, Alaska One of the best places to view the aurora borealis or the northern lights is at Chena Hot Springs, Alaska. The best time is from October to March. If you see this once, you will never forget it. It's a true masterpiece of nature. There are greens and pinks in the sky and it swirls and moves. It is spectacular.
Having children completely changes your travel experience. For parents who are fed up with amusement parks, there are other original options.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, N.M. The International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, N.M., is the largest balloon rally in the world. Picture 700 multicolored balloons lifting off into the sky. It's a 10-day event. Most people get up at 3 a.m. and get to the field at 4 a.m. They are there for the balloons ascent at 5 a.m. It's a party atmosphere. You are encouraged to talk to the balloonists; watching the sky fill with these balloons as daylight breaks is magnificent. Children get giddy, but it's great for all generations. The festival has been going on since 1972 and 80,000 people show up. We all know New Mexico can be hot but this all takes place in October when the temperatures lower.
Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wis. The small town of Baraboo, Wis., was the hometown of the Ringling brothers. They would perform through the fall and summer, but they would winter in Baraboo so it became a real retreat for them. There were seven brothers and the town became known for the circus troupes that would also winter there. It grew to be a showcase for the circus heritage of our country. There are dozens of old wooden, hand-painted circus wagons and old posters and memorabilia. There also are circus troupes that perform under a big tent so the town is just a tribute to our great circus tradition. So for this reason, it's great for kids.
Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla. The Kennedy Space Center in Florida is not just about shuttle launches, which take place only once every two years or so. Throughout the entire complex you have simulated space travel and a g-force simulator that children love. There is a hall of fame for astronauts, who visit regularly, so it's a place that really gets the patriotic juices flowing. There is also an IMAX theater for 3-D space travel, which seems like you're off to the space station. It's educational, but it's also a lot of fun for kids and a wonderful way to teach them about the great beyond.
Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, N.Y. The Mohonk is one of the few mountain houses left from the 1800s, when so many New Yorkers would sail up the Hudson to take their vacation. This place has been owned by the same family since 1869, the Smileys. It is a rambling Victorian lodge with turrets and porches set on a deep glacial lake. It's on 26,000 acres of mountain beauty with hundreds of hiking trails and some of the best rock climbing on the East Coast. The foliage is spectacular in the fall. It has ice skating and an indoor spa and pool in the winter. It's great for groups of friends because there is so much to do. There is a dining room from 1905 with formal waiter service so it's really a throwback to the travel from the Catskills and Adirondacks that really no longer exists.
Surf Diva Surf School, La Jolla, Calif. La Jolla, Calif., is just 15 miles north of San Diego, located just off the Pacific Coast Highway. The surfing there is unmatched. What's great is there is a girl's only surf camp called the Surf Diva Surf School, which makes it great for a group of women traveling together. You can take a crash course for just a few hours or do a week of surf boot camp. Your teachers are some of the best female surfers in America. It's all set in a cove that is one the best spots on the entire California coast. There is also golf for guys and you are close to San Diego and its famous zoo and all the rest the city has to offer.
Rafting the New River & Gauley River, W.V. When people think of white-water rafting, they often think of Colorado or the Salmon River in Idaho but rafters who are really in the know go to West Virginia. It's no secret that the New River and the Gauley River in West Virginia have the best white-water rafting in North America, and possibly in the world. There are insane Class 5 and 6 rapids that will get your adrenaline going for months.There also are more tame rapids for beginners. The best time to go is in the fall when the dam is released and all hell breaks loose. People come from all over the world to raft here.