Quick. Name five of the busiest tourist towns in the US. Got it? Now, try to imagine how those cities looked years ago, before the influx of tacky souvenir shops and overcrowded buses, when mom and pop stores still adorned the main streets and where a familiar face greeted you at every corner.
Nice image, huh? Well, that ideal mix of small-town charm and hometown hospitality can still be found in communities throughout America. The following five US cities are already regional gems but they are set to pounce onto the national travel scene. So hurry and hop on the bus - you'll want to get there fast, before someone lets the word out.
Often overshadowed by The King's Graceland or Nashville's Star, Chattanooga, Tennessee is ready to prove to the nation it has more to offer than its famous choo choo. Although the 100-year-old train never left the depot, visitors can stay in the remodeled Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn, where the train depot serves as the hotel lobby and a dining car is, well a diner. Guests can tour the rear gardens and explore the original Chattanooga Choo Choo or request a room in one of the refurbished Victorian train cars.
Antique trains and chain hotels not your thing? Then head to Lookout Mountain where visitors can see seven states from the top of Rock City, venture deep into a cave to see the Ruby Falls 145-foot underground waterfall, or peer into the valley from the high cliffs at Lover's Leap.
Dry Tortugas, Florida
Ponce de Leon passed through these islands in 1513, but their remote location and limited transportation options keep many modern travelers at bay. Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of seven islets that are set 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. Totaling a combined 40 acres of sand, the islands are surrounded by 67,000 acres of the most varied underwater coral reefs in the United States, where the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean ecosystems collide.
Fort Jefferson, the largest handmade brick structure in the coastal US, took more than 30 years to build, rendering it obsolete upon completion. Instead of leaving a 16 million brick fort futile, the federal government converted it into a Civil War prison that housed more than 2,500 prisoners and four men convicted of compliancy in the Lincoln assassination. Both day trips and overnight camping trips can be arranged from Key West.
San Antonio, Texas
Mark Twain tagged San Antonio as one of America's most outstanding towns, but even in Texas it is a distant third to Lone Star super cities Houston and Dallas. Standing proudly as the icon of Texas independence, San Antonio is home to the nation's oldest surviving cathedral, a romantic river and a burgeoning art district.
San Antonio's most notable symbol is the Alamo mission, where a costly battle took the lives of southern heroes Jim Bowie and Davie Crockett. Today the Alamo stands, much smaller than most people envision, as a memorial to the men who died fighting against the much bigger, and stronger Mexican army.
Nearby, the cobbled streets of the Paseo del Rio line the San Antonio River where guests can enjoy the soothing sounds of mariachi bands at the area's eclectic restaurants and bars. No visit to San Antonio is complete without visiting Old Tex, a longhorn with a horn span of over 8 feet who presides over the 120-year-old Buckhorn Saloon and Museum.
What if there was a place you could go skiing in the mountains, take a morning hike across a mesa, relax with an afternoon boat ride and visit ancient Indian campgrounds all in one weekend? Sound enticing? Then, you need to visit southwest Colorado's best-kept secret. Home to the Black Canyon National Park Montrose claims to be the Colorado people dream about.
And apparently, people have been dreaming about Montrose since long before the west was won. The indigenous Ute people were discovered in Montrose when European settlers entered Colorado in 1776, and remnants of their former glory are sprinkled throughout the area. The Ute Indian Museum was established on the homestead of the famous Ute leader, Chief Ouray. The museum grounds include the Chief Ouray Memorial Park, the tomb of his wife, Chipeta and a native flora garden.
Located in the heart of Amish country, Intercourse, Pennsylvania offers travelers an opportunity to step back in time and reflect upon the simple life. Guests can ride through town on a horse-pulled buggy, where naturally-powered windmills dot some of the country's oldest streets. Later, they can select fresh fruit at one of the local farmers markets or stroll hand-in-hand through one of Lancaster County's covered kissing bridges.
The Amish Experience, located on Route 340 just outside of Intercourse, Pennsylvania is the largest interpretive Amish touring center in the county. Buses transport guests to Amish farms where they can tour the only designated Heritage Site Amish House. The Amish people are involved in the agriculture industry in the area and live harmoniously the other citizens in and around Intercourse.