Nov. 12, 2011 -- If you need to get away from it all this holiday season, take your stressed-out self to a place where life is a bit less complicated. Real Simple Magazine's managing editor, Kristin van Ogtrop, discusses with Sarah Sekula for USA TODAY some spots in which to decompress.
Block Island, R.I.
Block Island can be defined by what it lacks: There are no stoplights, no McDonald's, no Holiday Inns. Instead, the town of fewer than 1,000 year-round residents "is a landscape of freshwater ponds, rolling green hills and dramatic 250-foot bluffs," van Ogtrop says. In winter, Block Island becomes an artists' community. 800-383-2474; blockislandinfo.com
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
It's not uncommon at Shaker Village to see a pair of oxen laboring in the field or a blacksmith in period clothing shoeing a horse. It's a delightful step back in time and "a testament to the simplicity of the Shaker lifestyle," van Ogtrop says. "Plank-and-stone fences lace together nearly 3,000 lush bluegrass acres where a community of Shakers once lived, worked and worshiped." 800-734-5611; shakervillageky.org
The town is "a veritable showcase of historic buildings, including a well-stocked general store, a famed cheese company and a working blacksmith shop," van Ogtrop says. Down a tree-lined road and past a covered bridge is the Grafton Inn, one of the USA's older operating inns. The white-clapboard getaway invites travelers to "follow in the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling, who honeymooned here," says van Ogtrop. 802-828-3237; vermontvacation.com
Finger Lakes, N.Y.
For an up-close and intimate shore-side getaway, van Ogtrop likes the Finger Lakes region. "Of the 11 glacial lakes clustered there, Y-shaped Keuka is said to be the prettiest, and the adjacent state park offers hiking, boating, fishing, and views of the rolling, vineyard-dotted hills," she says. 888-408-1693; FingerLakesTravelNY.com
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is home to glacier-chiseled peaks that rise 7,000 feet above the floor of Jackson Hole Valley. You can picnic in aspen groves, where elk graze and bald eagles soar, or check out a ranger program to learn how American Indians used porcupine quills and grizzly claws for artwork, says van Ogtrop. 307-739-3300; nps.gov/grte
The Willamette Valley
Covered bridges and pastoral picnic spots abound in the heart of Oregon's agriculture country. Rural byways are dotted with picturesque barns, hazelnut orchards and vegetable gardens. Plus, van Ogtrop says, some 200 vineyards flourish in the valley. 800-547-7842: traveloregon.com
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes Station, Calif.
"The 30-mile stretch of rugged Marin County wilderness draws hikers, whale watchers, solitude seekers and birders," van Ogtrop says. Whale watching is prime from December to March, and elephant seals populate the beach near Chimney Rock from December through April. "Make an alfresco lunch of barbecued oysters, a local delicacy, from the Hog Island Oyster Company," van Ogtrop suggests. "And catch an unforgettable sunset in Muir Beach." 415-464-5100; nps.gov/pore
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The region consists of more than 1 million acres, including 1,200 miles of mapped canoe routes. You won't find any roads, and with more than 1,000 lakes, rivers and streams to explore, a paddler's sense of isolation and timelessness remains intact, van Ogtrop says. "Head to Ely to rent gear for canoe-and-camp outings, or book a trip with Williams and Hall Outfitters, who will fly you deep into the backcountry," she says. exploreminnesota.com
The town is an ideal place to sail among silver salmon, climb up rocky trails, photograph puffins and stop to smell the wildflowers. It's easy to spot humpback whales, which have been known to swim within 10 feet of the shore, van Ogtrop says. You can also arrange a wildlife-viewing cruise past the glaciers at nearby Kenai Fjords National Park, or kayak in Resurrection Bay, watching for black bears and bald eagles, she adds. 907-224-8051; seward.com
The buildings on this rural island are no taller than a coconut tree. Fishing for your dinner is common. And the central town of Kaunakakai has not changed much since the early 1900s. It's "a lush, untouched oasis, devoid of even a single traffic signal," van Ogtrop says. "You'll feel light-years away from the sunburned crowds of Waikiki (not to mention home)." 800-800-6367; molokai-hawaii.com