6 Hidden Travel Gems Off the Beaten Path

PHOTO: Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell, MA
Lesley McElhattan/TripAdvisor

Sure, you came to Orlando for the theme parks, and you've enjoyed the roller coasters and fireworks. But after a few days, you're ready for a break.

Or perhaps you've spent a few days partying in Las Vegas and need to get away from the yard-long margaritas and noisy slot machines. What you need is an easy day trip that's a complete contrast to the rest of your vacation.

So we've put together a list of "hidden gems" within easy driving distances of some major destinations. Enjoy!

PHOTO: Bok Tower Gardens, Wales, FL
Lesley McElhattan/TripAdvisor

This serene garden about an hour's drive from Orlando is a favorite of TripAdvisor travelers. Not only is it "one of the best kept beautifully landscaped gardens I have ever visited," as one visitor put it, there's a 60-bell carillon with daily afternoon concerts. "Walking through the gardens and grounds is a delight with the carillon playing in the background and all of the many native plants and trees as our companions. A picnic here is sheer delight," another TripAdvisor traveler wrote.

PHOTO: Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell, MA
Lesley McElhattan/TripAdvisor

Learn about the grittier side of New England history at the Lowell National Historical Park, about 45 minutes from Boston. Several exhibits and programs bring Lowell's mill town past to life. "There are canal boat rides that demonstrate the lock system, an actual mill re-established to show the textile machinery in action, and museums with exhibits about the 'mill girls' who worked in the industry, about the various immigrant populations that have flocked to Lowell over the centuries and into the present, etc. It's history presented in an enjoyable and meaningful way."

PHOTO: Illinois Railway Museum, Union, IL
Lesley McElhattan/TripAdvisor

"This isn't a place where you just go and look at rail cars," one TripAdvisor traveler wrote of this attraction about an hour from the Windy City. Here, "You get to ride them on either the five-mile mainline or the trolley loop around the campus." Another wrote, "If you love old trains, this is hands down the best place in the country to visit the era of the steam and diesel railroads." Also, if you're a parent with a kid who can name every single Thomas train, "The Thomas weekend is always a great time."

PHOTO: Oatman Stables, Oatman, AZ
Lesley McElhattan/TripAdvisor

You can't get much farther from the Strip than Oatman Stables. It's about a two-hour drive, but visitors say it's worth the trip. "It was a remarkable experience. Such a different place. The town suffered very little development since it was established, the buildings are pretty much in the shape as they were when the town was built. It was history in plain sight." You can also see "the hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon night," feed friendly wild burros (they like apples and carrots) and even pan for gold.

PHOTO: Bulls Island Ferry, Awendaw, SC
Lesley McElhattan/TripAdvisor

If you're craving some solitude and an opportunity to spend time in nature, make the 1.5-hour trip from Myrtle Beach to Awendaw and catch the Bulls Island Ferry. Your reward: "Seven miles of beach full of sun, sand, shells and privacy," in the words of one TripAdvisor traveler. Others reported "sightings of over 100 bird species" on the island and of dolphins on the ferry ride. A few tips from other reviewers: If you bring a bike, you can "cover more of the island in one day," and, "There are bathrooms in only one location on the island, not too far from the ferry dock, but no other services, so bring water and snacks or lunch."

PHOTO: Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA
Lesley McElhattan/TripAdvisor

The Wyeth family occupies a unique place in U.S. art history, and here at Brandywine River Museum, a 45 minutes' drive from Philly, you can see works from "N.C., Andrew, and son Jamie … all represented in a wonderful collection." Visitors can also "take short van trips to see the house and studio where N.C. Wyeth lived and worked and where Andrew Wyeth grew up." Furthermore, the building itself ("an old mill right on the river") and the surrounding property are beautiful. "Walking outside was like stepping into a painting," one TripAdvisor traveler wrote.

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