Hot Travel Destinations for 2021
August 20, 2021
Everyone wants to go somewhere this year, whether it’s a quick weekend getaway to end summer with a bang, a more elaborate fall break trip with kids, or a semi-permanent change of scenery made possible by your ongoing work-from-home status.
A year plus of staying at home has made people stir-crazy and built pent-up demand for travel experiences. If you’re looking for an escape sometime soon, you can’t go wrong checking out one of these 6 hottest domestic travel destinations in 2021.
Greenwood, SC: Relaxed Lake Living
While the main attraction in this picturesque Southern community is undoubtedly the 11,000 acres of recreation-ready water at Lake Greenwood, the town boasts year-round activities and plenty of shopping and dining opportunities for visitors. Here are a few of our favorite things to do when we’re in Greenwood.
Where to Stay
Hands down our favorite place to stay when we’re in Greenwood is the Inn on the Square in Uptown.
Located in an elegantly and thoughtfully redesigned historical building, this full-service boutique hotel is incredibly affordable, offers convenient on-site dining, and is a joy to look at as well. The stunning interior courtyard, in particular, with its draping greenery, off-white walls, and warm wood accents makes it feel like you’re stepping back in time.
If you like golf, the hotel also has packages available at four nearby courses, each offering unique challenges and panoramic views for outdoor enthusiasts. All of the rooms come with luxury linens and modern amenities – and the friendly staff at the 24/7 front desk is always ready to help us make the most of our stay in Greenwood.
What to Do
Make sure to save at least a full day for boating, fishing, and relaxing on Lake Greenwood. This water lover’s paradise is truly breathtaking, and the mild climate in South Carolina makes fishing and boating possible year-round. When we go, we charter a boat with Wuber for a full-day lake tour, but if you’re short on time, they also offer 3-hour tours at a special introductory rate and romantic sunset cruises.
The next day, I like to pop in at Sugar Boutique for a quick look at the new arrivals. (Okay, maybe I occasionally shop all day!) Then, in the evening, we pack a picnic and head to the 25 Drive-In Movie Theater to catch a show under the stars. They offer some pretty good concessions, but they also allow you to get a $20 food and drink permit if you’re trying to eat healthier and want to bring your own.
Of course, this is just a small sample of everything Greenwood has to offer. There are museums and galleries, farms and outdoor markets, and lots of hiking and biking trails. The city also maintains an active events calendar anchored by the South Carolina Festival of Flowers in June, so no matter what time of year you decide to go, you’ll find plenty to do.
Where to Eat
Greenwood has a burgeoning restaurant scene sure to please many diverse palates. When we’re there, we love to eat casual at The Mill House, an amazing and authentic brick oven pizzeria that’s a local favorite. They also have a large selection of cold craft beer to enjoy.
Break on the Lake is another fantastic choice, especially if you like seafood. The made-to-order, always-fresh menu includes everything from bar favorites such as pretzel bites and onion rings to Southern seafood specialties like seared tuna, oysters, and crab cakes. The lakeside views and hand-crafted cocktails aren’t too bad, either!
St. Augustine, FL: Old World Meets New World
Where to Stay
When I travel to St. Augustine, I make sure to book a room at the beachfront Casa Monica Resort & Spa as quickly as possible. Moroccan frescos and tapestries grace the lobby, dining rooms, and guest rooms, lending the space an exotic air. The building itself was first constructed in the late 1800s as the Cordova Hotel, an imposing structure funded by the enterprising Henry Flagler, a railroad engineer and the cofounder of Standard Oil Company. he first visited the area when it was a remote and inaccessible swampland to bring in railroads and quickly got to work putting up hotels and creating the tourist destination we know and love.
Today, the hotel is a balanced blend of old-world Baroque and Spanish architecture that hearkens back to a more refined time and current touches, such as a fully stocked wellness center and a heated pool and hot tub complex. As an added bonus, all guests have access to the private Serenata Beach Club on Ponta Vedra Beach.
What to Do
First, head straight to Whetstone Chocolates and pick up one of their famous frozen hot chocolates to keep you cool as you explore. You won’t regret it! St. Augustine is a great town to poke around for the day, window shopping, people-watching, and monument spotting.
The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is a must-see, as is Old Town St. Augustine. Hop on one of the many convenient trolley tours if your feet are getting tired, but we prefer to walk the streets to get up-close and personal with the fascinating Spanish architecture.
You’ll want to spend at least a day or two at the nearby beaches, but after you’ve gotten good and sun-drenched, be sure to spend some time at the Fountain of Youth. The site claims to be Florida’s oldest tourist attraction, and it’s decidedly cheesy, but you can down a few cups of the famous youth-giving spring water. Every little bit helps, right?
Where to Eat
There’s great food around every corner in St. Augustine, especially if you’re like me and can’t get enough Spanish-, Southern-, or seafood-inspired meals. But if you’re feeling like something incredibly touristy in the best possible way, be sure to hit up the Salt Life Food Shack. Yes, it’s an offshoot of the clothing and retail line, but it’s also really good, reasonably priced, and lots of fun. The restaurant features live music most nights and also offers garden seating and a rooftop bar for those who want to dine outdoors.
For a quieter evening, go to the Costa Brava @ Casa Monica Resort & Spa. The unique setting of distinct worldly charm with the warmth and comfort of Historic St. Augustine. The menu is endlessly creative, featuring fresh and flavorful coastal cuisine with Floridian style combined with Bohemian inspiration. I recommend you start with the calamari and poached pear salad. I had the day boat fresh catch and it was incredible! If you aren’t a seafood fan, they also serve excellent steaks and a lamb duo.
Charleston, SC: Southern Hospitality and Charm
We love Charleston so much, we decided to live here as our permanent residence. Between the historic old-world city and the miles of sparkling white sand beaches just minutes away, it’s an ideal place to make a home. If you’ve never been, you should definitely put it on your domestic travel bucket list. When we’re on a staycation, here are some of the places we make sure to go.
Where to Stay
Whether I’m looking for a quick weekend getaway, a place for family and friends to stay when they come to town, or delicious cocktails with incredible views of the Holy City, The Restoration Hotel is my first choice. It’s right in the heart of everything downtown and is a great place to truly pamper yourself, whether that means enjoying the free lemonade and hors d’oeuvres in the lobby or having a private chef come cook for you in your room.
The all-suite hotel features ample rooms with kitchenettes, bathroom amenities from 1802 Beekman, and gorgeous custom artwork. There are also larger “residence” style apartments available for longer stays. If you’re feeling especially indulgent, order an in-room spa service to complete your stay. Whatever you do, make sure you catch the sunset at least one night at The Watch Rooftop Kitchen + Bar for happy hour.
A competitor to The Restoration Hotel has been sweeping through the southeast in the last few years, however, and Charleston isn’t excluded from this development. The Grand Bohemian Hotel is exactly what its name says it is – immense, splashy, eclectic, and glamourous. The lobby features a full art gallery, and the rooms are stuffed to the brim with rich draperies, elaborate velvet headboards, twinkling chandelier lamps, and, of course, more artwork.
What to Do
I’ve written lots of Charleston travel guides before, including what I’d do for one day in Charleston, how I’d spend a girls’ weekend in Charleston, or even my Ultimate Charleston Travel Guide.
So I don’t want to rehash all of that here, but I do want to emphasize that Charleston has something for everyone. Into military history? Take a tour of the Hunley, a recovered Civil War submarine, then head to Patriot’s Point in Charleston Harbor to climb aboard the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier first commissioned for World War II. Wrap up the day watching the sunset at The Battery, surrounded by old Civil War-era cannons and monuments.
More into long architecture tours and walks down beautiful cobblestone streets? Just step out your front door at The Restoration and head in any direction, making sure to see Rainbow Row while you’re out.
If your preferred traveling style is more shopping than sightseeing, check out the historic Charleston City Market for local souvenirs and other fabulous finds before heading to historic King Street and poking around boutiques and high-end stores like Kate Spade, Anthropologie, and Nordstrom.
Want to spend the day soaking up the sun, catching some waves, or paddling with dolphins? Head out to Folly Beach for the day, or book an entire stay on the oceanfront, and stop by Folly Beach Adventures for all your outdoor rental needs.
Where to Eat
Charleston is home to hundreds of world-class restaurants. The question really isn’t where you’ll eat, but how many places you can get to while you’re here.
For brunch, I love The Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island and The Darling Oyster Bar (their “over-the-top” Bloody Mary features a full crab leg, y’all!). And for everything else, as you probably already know by now, I can’t recommend Leon’s often or loudly enough. The fried chicken is the best I’ve ever tried and the charbroiled oysters are divine.
Savannah, GA: Laidback and Luxurious
Since Savannah is just under two hours from Charleston by car, why not extend your Southern tour for a few more days to explore another historic gem? Like Charleston, Savannah has a rich history but with a quirky charm all its own.
Where to Stay
If you want to stay in the middle of all the action, you can’t go wrong with The Perry Lane Hotel. From the rooftop pool and dining with dramatic views of Savannah to the in-room spa services from Glow Medical Spa, this full-service luxury hotel has thought of everything travelers need to make their stay spectacular. Perry Lane also offers its guests unique, tailored experiences to help them get to know the city more intimately. Book an afternoon tea in the library, a private architectural tour, or a one-on-one session with their fitness professionals at Otium Outside.
The Mansion on Forsyth Park is a distinctive and elevated hotel that takes up an entire block on Drayton Street directly. across from Forsyth Park and its iconic fountain, one of the most picturesque spots in Savannah. Inside this imposing red-brick complex, guests will find sweeping views of the city, rich jewel-toned statement furniture, Poseidon Spa a piano lounge, and several fine dining options.
Rounding out our trio of luxury city stays is The Alida Hotel, nestled along the banks of the Savannah River. This boutique hotel has partnerships with SCAD and with many of the local artisans that call the River District home, and you can see it in the thoughtfully imagined spaces, the residential furnishings, and the custom artwork in the lobby and the guest rooms.
What to Do
Savannah is a fun city to visit because it’s a major tourist city and an eclectic collection of smaller neighborhoods in one. If you’ve never been before, it may be a good idea to start your visit with one of the many sightseeing tours that Savannah offers to get the lay of the land. Whether you choose a carriage tour, walking tour, or water tour, you’ll get a good overview of the history of Savannah and become acquainted with the different districts you’ll want to explore later.
Next, be sure to explore Forsyth Park. The 30-acre public park is located right in the middle of the historic Landmark District, and it’s easy to lose an entire day strolling under moss-draped oaks and lounging by the fountain.
Across the park from The Mansion on Forsyth Park, on the Whitaker Street side, you’ll enter Savannah’s Victorian District, a 50-block neighborhood dotted with boutique shops, cafes, museums, and some of the most stunning architecture you’ve ever seen. The Victorian District is rumored to be the first neighborhood in Savannah, initially designed without the grid pattern Savannah became famous for in order to accommodate trolley cars.
Of course, no trip to Savannah is complete without a day trip to the beach at Tybee Island, located just 20 minutes from downtown. The beautiful barrier island is renowned for its warm waters, gentle waves, and wide, clean, white-sand beaches.
For all of the most Instagrammable locations in Savannah, check out my top 8 photo opp spots in the city!
Where to Eat
Savannah is often called the Hostess City or Hospitality City, and for good reason. When prohibition was decreed in Georgia in 1735, centuries before it became national law, Savannah actually attempted to secede from the state to form its own spirited community. Although that attempt didn’t work, Savannah developed a reputation for being a booze-soaked town even in the driest days, and that same reputation continues today. Savannah is a place that knows how to have a good time – and how to show guests a good time, too.
With that in mind, you may want to check out any of Savannah’s numerous craft breweries or a cocktail hotspot for some light bites and heavy drinking worthy of the city. (Just be sure to use Uber!) Jen’s and Friends is the home of more than 300 martinis, including the popular Rice Krispy Treat martini and the Nerds martini. You’ll want to try them all! Or duck into for cocktails, river views, sunsets, and small plates.
If you’re looking for a full meal, try The Grey, an innovative American and seafood restaurant located in a renovated Greyhound bus station. For dinner, James Beard Award-winning chef Mashama Bailey whips up a seasonal, three-course, prix fixe menu that rotates frequently. Diners can also choose to eat à la carte at the bar. We also love Rhett located at The Alida Hotel. I always start off with the Country Captain Mussels. Then for a large plate, I highly recommend the Roasted NY strip with house fries, bitter green salad, & mushroom sherry gravy.
Amelia Island, FL: Fun in the Sun
Whether you’re vacationing with kids, going on a romantic getaway, or traveling solo, Amelia Island is the perfect place to make some memories. The tranquility of the remote, uncrowded beaches and the wide, outdoor spaces make this island paradise one of Florida’s best-kept secrets.
Where to Stay
With its prime location in downtown Fernandina Beach, its interesting history, and its modern amenities, the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn creates magical moments for its guests. Designed in 1886 by acclaimed architect Robert Sands, the historic building was the first schoolhouse on the island, as its name suggests. After being decommissioned and falling into disrepair, the building was restored to its original glory and turned into a boutique hotel in 2017. The property includes bonus amenities, such as a putting green, a heated pool, and free bike rental. If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Amelia Island and staying at the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn, don’t hesitate! The hotel has only 17 guest rooms and tends to fill up fast!
For a larger, more traditional resort hotel experience, the sprawling oceanfront Omni Amelia Island Resort fits the bill. This opulent resort is located at the tip of the island, offering guests Sweeping, panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. Relax all day on the secluded beach, lounge by one of the pools, indulge in a spa day, or go out for a round of golf. The Omni really does have it all. Though we think you’ll want to explore the entire island, you could have an incredible vacation without ever leaving the resort.
The best deal on the island is the SpringHill Suites Amelia Island. We had a suite with two queen beds and a sofa bed and it was perfect. Very spacious, extremely clean, and located directly across the street from the beach. Plus it is less than a minute drive to Fort Clinch State Park. We love to go shark tooth hunting at Fort Clinch!
What to Do
Since Amelia Island is tucked away between spring break hotspots like Jacksonville and Miami, it’s gained a reputation as a secluded island escape, ideal for families or anyone who prefers rest and relaxation to the party scene.
Naturally, the main attraction here is the beach. Amelia Island has 13 miles of pristine waterfront with half a dozen amazing beaches to choose from. The tourist favorite is Main Beach Park due to its ease of access, restroom and playground facilities, and other amenities. However, we’re also partial to more isolated spots, such as Amelia Island State Park, which is on the less populated southern side of the island. Here you can ride horseback on the beach through a nature and wildlife preserve.
The Fernandina Beach area on the north side of the island is where you’ll want to go if you’re looking for a great round of golf, boutique shopping, dining, and a walkable historic downtown.
Once you’re sun-drenched and tired out from the beach, refresh your spirits and cool down on a guided eco kayak tour of Lofton Creek and the surrounding marshlands. As a barrier island, Amelia has acres of marsh and wetlands to explore, and the overhanging trees and moss combined with the cool water keep the temperature just right.
Where to Eat
When I’m beach living, I’m almost always in the mood for seafood, and almost every restaurant on the island serves at least a few seafood dishes. One of our favorites is Lagniappe. Meaning Creole for “a little something extra,” the restaurant has a French-Creole-inspired menu infused with touches of Southern cuisine from New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah. Their crab cakes and charcuteries boards are second to none.
You also can’t go wrong at Salt, whether you’re eating in the main dining room or splurging for the Dine with the Chef experience and learning a few cooking techniques to take home with you before the meal. Our personal favorite place for dinner is España Restaurant & Tapas. You must order the Gambas Mozambique. It is shrimp sautéed in a spicy coconut milk sauce with fresh cilantro. I dream about this dish. For lunch we adore Timoti’s Seafood Shack. Seriously good prices and the Baja Box is my absolute favorite. It has fresh shrimp (I get mine blackened), over coconut rice with avocado, greens, black bean salsa, and tomatoes topped with tangy cilantro each. While you are in Amelia Island you have to order shrimp. All of the shrimp are local & caught fresh and you can definitely tell the difference. If you are looking for a fun atmosphere and live music, you’ll want to check out Salt Life Food Shack. Such a fun atmosphere.
For my full list of things to do in Amelia Island, check out our family Amelia Island Travel Guide on the blog!
Phoenix, AZ: A Southwest Escape
Where to Stay
Both of my picks for your Phoenix getaway are luxury resort-style hotels, and it’s very hard to choose between them. Whenever we go to Phoenix, I wish we could stay at both!
The Phoenician provides an unrivaled experience, from its palatial guest rooms – some of which walk straight out into the surrounding grounds and gardens – to its dining, golf, spa, and concierge services. The all-inclusive resort also includes a daily resort fee, which entitles guests to additional gratis amenities, including a daily morning yoga class, tennis, bicycle rental, and daily craft beer tastings. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Phoenician, though, is the grounds. Flanked by the shores of Necklace Lake on one end and surrounded by the rich tones of the Sonoran Desert, the resort is anchored by a multi-tiered oasis-style pool with a stunning mountain backdrop.
The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch has some of the largest accommodations I’ve ever seen, such as the 1,200 square foot Casita Suite that has a real wood-burning stove and a rooftop deck to enjoy mountain and water views. Like The Phoenician, the resort features a spa, pool, golf courses with private lessons available, and outstanding concierge services. The 2.5-acre water playground even includes a three-story water slide that kids will love and a real sand beach, all set against the majestic McDowell Mountains and ringed by palm trees and flowering cacti.
What to Do
Adventure is everywhere you look in Scottsdale and Phoenix. The resorts mentioned above are surrounded by 400 miles of hiking trails through some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. One of the best ways to experience the awe-inspiring desert scenery is actually by air. I’ve taken a hot air balloon ride over Phoenix twice, and it’s been some of my best travel experiences to date! Hot Air Expeditions offers a morning hot air balloon ride that includes breakfast and champagne for a luxurious adventure.
The Grand Canyon and Sedona are both an easy day trip from the resorts, and it is possible to do both in one day, but for my money I prefer to set a more relaxing itinerary in Sedona to see the historic downtown and hike through the famous red rocks.
Round out your trip with a wine tour through the Verde Valley.
Where to Eat
Both inclusive resorts have incredible fine dining and casual dining options to choose from, and many visitors prefer to eat at the resorts before heading out to adventure for the day and when they return tired at night.
If you do want to venture out for a dining experience, try FnB for fresh farm-to-table eats or Toca Madera for a fast-casual taqueria.
Looking for more restaurant recommendations? I’ve compiled several of the best restaurants for every occasion in my Ultimate Phoenix Travel Guide!
No matter which of these hot travel destinations you decide to venture out to this year, remember that there are thousands of inspiring and wonderful places in our own country worthy of your time and exploration.
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