Bust out of your vacation rut
Instead of Las Vegas, visit Palm Springs, CA
When it comes to a desert oasis heavy on glitz and glamour—with a healthy dose of old-fashioned kitsch thrown in—Sin City has a competitor in Palm Springs, where pools, palm trees, and mid-century mansions converge. The city's cool factor jumps each April as scenesters from around the globe descend on nearby Indio for the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival. And while it's tough to compete with Vegas when it comes to gambling, Palm Springs is no slouch, with six casinos in the relatively small region. Stay at one of the serene monochromatic rooms at Alcazar, a 34-room property that's part of a burgeoning Palm Springs institution run by Tara Lazar, who also owns chic eatery Birba and locally-beloved brunch spot Cheeky's.
Instead of the Grand Canyon, visit Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument would have an easy time slipping into disguise as the Grand Canyon—except for one not so small detail: crowd size. While the Grand Canyon topped a whopping 4,400,00 visitors in 2012, Colorado National Monument saw only about one-tenth of that. Camping and hiking are available year-round, or try the scenic 23-mile drive along the area's Rim Rock. Plus, a trip to these parts puts you in good position to sample one of the surprising number of wineries in the area. In less than 15 years in business, Grand Junction's Two Rivers Winery, just 30 minutes from Colorado National Monument, has managed to rack up over 60 awards for its pours.
Instead of New York City, visit New Orleans
Taken one too many bites out of the Big Apple? Try switching it out for the Big Easy. The two might not seem like an obvious match, but if there's one place that can match the lively, often frenetic energy of NYC, it's NOLA—the birthplace of jazz and the home of Mardi Gras. Get your culture fix with a visit to Lafayette Cemetery and the artsy Warehouse District, just south of the French Quarter. Foodies can chow down on classics like jambalaya or beignets on Bourbon Street, or opt for less-heralded areas such as local hotspot Freret Street—stop by buzzed-about Dat Dog for crawfish sausages and other regional twists on the classic hotdog. And New Orleans is making a name for itself in some other areas that New York is more traditionally known for, namely shopping and sports. The Riverwalk outlet center is getting a major facelift for a 2014 reopening, and the the recently rebuilt Mercedes Benz Superdome hosted the Superbowl earlier this year, and will welcome the NBA All-Star game next year.
Instead of Miami, visit San Juan
Miami has cemented its status as a nightlife capital, but there's no doubt it's learned a thing or two from Havana and San Juan, the original Caribbean party towns. While a Havana trip still involves a considerable amount of red tape, San Juan is technically a domestic vacation spot, making it—and its legendary salsa clubs, like the must-visit Nuyorican Café—accessible without renewing your passport. Round-trip flights from New York to Puerto Rico's capital start just under $300—only a slight increase over the $250 average NYC-to-Miami fare.
Instead of a classic road trip, drive the music route
There are few experiences that capture old-fashioned Americana better than a cross-country road trip, but there's a fine line between just enough and too many kitschy roadside attractions. To add a fresh twist to your itinerary, try a themed road trip. A rock odyssey could kick off at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and wind its way through Detroit, Kansas City, MO, Austin, TX, and New Orleans before wrapping up in Nashville, TN, aptly nicknamed "Music City." Create a curated soundtrack for your voyage with Songza, a music "concierge" app that picks tunes based on criteria like your mood or the city you're in.
Instead of Washington, D.C, visit Baltimore
D.C. is home to a lion's share of national icons, but just north of the the capital city is Baltimore—the under-the-radar birthplace of its fair share of historical places. From the original Washington Monument to Fort McHenry, which moved Francis Scott Key to pen "The Star-Spangled Banner," a surprising chunk of America's foundation was laid down in so-called "Charm City." You can even sleep in a piece of history with a stay at The Brexton Hotel. Located in the historically posh Mount Vernon neighborhood, it was the home of Wallis Simpson—who would later have a controversial reign as Duchess of Windsor—at the end of the 19th century. (Rooms start at about $170/night.)
Instead of Hawaii, visit Santa Cruz, CA
Given the Aloha State's storied reputation as breezy, balmy paradise, any comparison is likely to stir up a skeptic or two. But unpretentious Santa Cruz, nestled just south of the Bay Area, stands up to the challenge with its rugged coastal landscapes. Yes, Hawaii's got volcanoes, but Santa Cruz has 1,800-year-old redwoods—and is within arms reach in any direction of stunning scenery courtesy of central California's plentiful state and national parks. Plus, the city's reputation is unrivaled among wave-seekers—Surfer magazine has called Santa Cruz the top surf town in the country, edging out Hawaii's Haleiwa at number two. In that spirit, stop by the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, housed in a picturesque brick lighthouse, to delve headfirst into the local surf history and culture.
Instead of Los Angeles, visit Vancouver, BC
SoCal's brand of casual cool can be found north of the border, too. Urban yet outdoorsy, trendy yet laid-back, Vancouver nails more than a few of the seeming paradoxes that lend L.A. so much allure. Rodeo Drive? Meet Robson Street. Venice Beach? Try sun-bronzed Kitsilano. Vancouver, which has earned the nickname "Hollywood North" for its noted film industry, can even match a piece of Disney's California Adventure with its new, 4-D FlyOver Canada attraction. Take a virtual airborne trip across the country's landscapes with a half-hour, $19 ride at waterfront promenade Canada Place.
Instead of Costa Rica, visit Samaná, Dominican Republic
Long known as a prime eco-holiday destination, Costa Rica earns grumbles on occasion from visitors lamenting its imminent overdevelopment. Those travelers might want to take a detour to Samaná, a small city on the northern peninsula of the Dominican Republic. It's experienced growth in recent years thanks to a new international airport and newly-debuted flight routes direct from New York via JetBlue, but Samaná is still home to sprawling tracts of undeveloped land. In other words, now's the time to grab a spot on one of its many white sand beaches. Spacious rooms at The Bannister Hotel—a catamaran ride across Bahia de Samaná from scenic Los Haitises National Park—start at about $160 per night.
Instead of Orlando, FL, visit Asheville, NC
Orlando might seem like the dream family vacation destination, but kids and adults often have very different ideas about what makes a place the happiest on earth. For a change, try Asheville, NC, a funky retreat with charms that appeal to grown-ups and little ones alike. Hiking the Appalachian Trail for prime views of the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountain ranges is a must-do, as is touring the meticulously manicured grounds of the 118-year old Biltmore Estate—perhaps known to youngsters from its appearance in 1994's Richie Rich. You can even take part in a family-friendly taste of Asheville's edgy music scene with a public drum circle dance held in the city's Pritchard Park every Friday night. Kids can load up their picnic baskets with finds from the popular Western North Carolina Farmer's Market, held seven days a week.