Our Dollarwise Travel Guide to Charming, Beautiful, & Historic Places All Around the U.S.
UPDATE: September, 2021: I originally wrote this post pre-pandemic, to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. I thought it would be fun to republish it now for "armchair travel" from home during Covid, when we're all staying home more and/or not traveling in-person at all, which is a good time to plan a future trip!
Should you travel in person, please check the latest Covid travel advisories and be safe!
Because this was written quite some time ago, and businesses have also closed during the pandemic, alas, some of the links might no longer be active, sorry. Also, some photos are from my paper scrapbooks in pre-digital camera days so they are muddied a bit, but still memorable.
Unfortunately, I had a back-end software problem when updating this older post and there are some glitches that I've been unable to fix. My apologies!
Also, venues change their photography policies all the time so be sure to check websites for current photo policies should you ever visit any of these places in person. Enjoy! Kathryn :)
1. Downtown Providence, RI. We loved staying at the beautiful and historic Edgewood Manor. And Providence is a beautiful town to just take a drive around.
2. Cannery Row, Monterey, CA. Literary roots of John Steinbeck. We took a bus tour from San Francisco down the coast highway on the famous 17 Mile Drive and this stop was included. Gorgeous area!
3. Thorncrown Chapel, Bella Vista, AR. Beautiful online pix of this inside/outdoors chapel in the woods where we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary.
4. Catalina Island, CA. We loved staying at Villa Portofino with its rooftop deck overlooking the beautiful turquoise harbor.
5. Downtown Eureka Springs, AR. Charming downtown in the beautiful Ozark Mountains.
6. Air Force Cadet Chapel, Colorado Springs, CO. A really beautiful and unique structure.
7. Dana Point Harbor, CA. We loved relaxing at Blue Lantern Inn, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, when we lived in CA. Room 302 has an amazing view!
8. La Jolla, CA. We have enjoyed many fun outings in this charming and now world-renowned seaside village with its beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline. At one time, we also attended the charming sea-view St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church there since we lived in the area.
9. Stonington, CT. Home of author Alexandra Stoddard, who personally invited us to attend one of her Happiness Weekends at the beautiful Inn at Stonington in 2006, and we loved our trip to this charming seaside village and the surrounding CT area. And what fun to visit in person the cottage where she lives that she writes about in all her lovely books.
10. Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort, Tucson, AZ. We had a lovely lunch here in their white-tablecloths-and-big-menus restaurant with its gorgeous desert view, and we also enjoyed all the old black and white historic photos. Was once a girls' school. Lots of Tucson history here!
11. Ojai, CA. The view from our room at the Retreat Center was gorgeous. Peaceful and beautiful place. Downtown Ojai is charming.
12. New York City, NY. I was a mother's helper/nanny in a New York City suburb in 1977 and I fell in love with NYC! My husband Steve and I have been back there a couple of times to enjoy it together. We love the small neighborhood bistros all over the city. One of my favorite NYC books is 50 Places to Find Peace & Quiet in New York and I still have a hankering to visit The Library Hotel there someday. (Having worked in several libraries and loving travel, I LOVE what a clever concept they combined!)
13. Solvang, CA. A charming CA small town with European-Danish heritage. Adorable. Sadly, we were on vaca in that area when 9/11 happened so we did not spend as much time in this cute town as we had hoped to do but we thought it was so cute!
14. Lavender Bistro, LaQuinta, CA. My fave restaurant in the whole U.S.! The patio is amazing! We went there at Christmas and dressed up in lavender for fun. Oozes charm. :)
15. Mission San Luis Rey Retreat, Oceanside, CA. Beautiful grounds and gardens and a holy spiritual place. We watched the Mission evolve into its beautiful gardens over the years and we loved attending several retreats there.
16. Belle of Brownville Riverboat Cruise, Omaha, NE. A fun hometown-style city river cruise but I don't know if it's still in business or not.
17. Old Market, Omaha, NE. We lived in Omaha for many years in the 80's and 90's and always enjoyed Old Market for its charm and history. Our fave two restaurants are still there! V Mertz and M's Pub.
18. Cardiff by the Sea, CA. We lived here for several years and enjoyed the easy-going small village charm and beautiful SoCal surfing beaches. Our favorite bistro there is Trattoria Positano.
19. Cabrillo National Monument, Pt. Loma, CA. A most beautiful view of sunny SoCal!
20. Tonto National Forest, AZ. One of my favorite places in Arizona since we moved here in 2018. Peaceful, green, quiet, lovely desert cactus, plus colorful flora in the springtime.
21. Smith Falls State Park, Valentine, NE. We lived here as newlyweds and often "inner-tubed" down the Niobrara River. Great fun when you're young!
22. Pawley's Island, SC. Such a lovely sunny place! We took a driving trip from Omaha, NE to Florida in the 1990s and this was one stop of many that we absolutely loved.
23. Sanibel-Captiva Islands, FL. We also absolutely loved both of these FL sister-islands when we visited FL one January in the 1980s. Magical! We stayed here when it was the Sundial Beach & Tennis
Club but it has been totally remodeled, renamed, and "upscaled" now and is much more luxurious than when we were there.
24. Jackson Hole, WY. Steve's first banking convention as newlyweds in 1980. We rented bicycles and I almost crashed going way too fast down a mountainside and could have died as a new bride. Ooops! Jackson Hole has become very popular now with the uber-wealthy, but it was small, charming, and quiet when we were there.
25. Idyllwild, CA & outdoor Episcopal church in the pines. Cute little mountain-pines town in the San Jacinto Mountains and the tiny "outdoor church" is so special. We stayed at the quaint Strawberry Creek Inn. We love to drive around and I take pix of Episcopal Churches on vaca, especially the ones with the red front doors.
26. Mystic, CT. A beautiful charming waterfront town and area in the northeast U.S.
27. Muir Woods, CA. We visited here when in our 20s and of course, we loved those amazing TALL trees!
28. Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. An adorable little seaside town filled with charming historical cottages and beautiful California weather and coastline!
29. San Francisco, CA. We loved the iconic trolley, Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, the "crookedest street," outdoor flower markets, The Japanese Tea Garden, and all the wonderful restaurants.
30. Keys Creek Lavender Farm, Valley Center, CA. A beautiful little lavender farm in Southern California. Peaceful.
31. Santa Barbara, CA. We stayed at the historic Simpson House Inn and we enjoyed the iconic Andersen's eatery too, especially their charming outdoor patio.
32. Sherman Gardens, Corona del Mar, CA. A beautiful SoCal garden "day trip." We both loved it. Nice gift shop too.
33. Cabbage Key Island, FL. Pretty little island famous for its unique and funky "dollars restaurant." Clever and fun cottage.
34. Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego, CA. Beautiful gardens/grounds and historic lovely inn where we enjoyed lunch on the patio when we lived in SoCal.
35. The Willows Inn, Palm Springs, CA. I was gifted a stay here for our 30th wedding anniversary to write a magazine article about The Willows as a wedding venue, and with its dining-room view waterfall, Hollywood-esque history, and beautiful antiques -- all set into the mountainside, it's a gorgeous and unique property and setting.
36. Cliff Walk, Newport, RI. Jackie Kennedy life history in this beautiful area. Beautiful mansions and gorgeous walk by the water.
37. Siesta Key Beach, FL. Voted a best beach on many sites and I still blissfully remember the soft white sand in my toes!
38. La Jolla Secret Garden Tour, CA. Every May for many years we attended the beautiful seaside garden tours in the village of La Jolla when we lived in San Diego County.
39. Marriott Resort, Palm Desert, CA. Love the unique indoor boat rides! We enjoyed Christmas vaca lunch here over the years, but we never stayed in this hotel.
40. Marriott Camelback Inn, Scottsdale, AZ. We have not stayed here overnight but we love to have lunch on the patio overlooking the golf course and near the beautiful water features and gorgeous desert flora and cactus.
41. Author Willa Cather's home, Red Cloud, NE. Now a national landmark and really fun to visit as a fan/student of her books when I was in college.
42. Sarasota, FL downtown and bay front. There's also a beautiful Episcopal Church in that area too. See the red doorPrettiest little bay front in a charming little FL seaside town!
43. Roger's Gardens, CA. The most beautiful retail garden center I've ever visited across the U.S.! Seriously.
44. Balboa Island, CA. A fun and charming SoCal island with adorable cottage-style homes that cost well over a million $ now, or more. Gulp!
45. Estes Park, CO. A beautiful place in the mountains of Colorado. Beautiful pix.
46. Walden Pond, Concord, MA. We visited here on a trip to Boston in the 1980s and thus began my lifelong interest in simpler living as the pace of life and size of homes in the U.S. increasingly grew bigger and faster.
47. Savannah, GA. We stayed at a beautiful historic inn overlook Forsyth park. Love this city!
48. Charleston, SC historic downtown. We stayed in a beautiful inn here (no longer open) and we absolutely loved all the charming historic homes and inns in this area.
49. Mt. Rushmore, SD. Since we both grew up in South Dakota, we visited here as kids and were mesmerized by the size of the faces in the mountains!
50. Great Smoky Mountains, TN. We visited here in our 20s and loved the purple haze that covers the gorgeous mountains. It really does look purple! Gatlinburg was especially fun at that time in our young lives.
51. Arizona Biltmore Resort, Phoenix, AZ. We had lunch on the patio at Christmas after we moved to AZ, and we were serendipitously treated to a tour of the historic photo room. An iconic historic desert landmark and very beautiful grounds.
52. Prescott, Arizona. The historical downtown is so charming. Loved our day trip there a couple of years ago, pre-pandemic. Here it is ...
53. Four Seasons Resort Aviara, Carlsbad, CA. We stayed here for a bank conference for Steve's job years ago. Beautiful upscale coastal SoCal.
54. Hotel Laguna Beach, CA. We loved having lunch on their seaside patio directly overlooking the Pacific Ocean whenever we took a day trip to Laguna Beach. SoCal historic charm at its best.
55. Dubuque, IA. A pretty little Iowa river town where we stayed at one of their lovely inns.
56. Brockton Villa, La Jolla, CA. One of the prettiest bluff-top views of the Pacific Ocean from this historic and iconic charming SoCal restaurant.
57. Britt Scripps Inn, San Diego, CA. We stayed here when it was an inn open to the public, but it's now been changed to weddings-only and renamed Britt Scripps Manor. I was later hired to write this article about the inn for a national decorating magazine. Lots of San Diego downtown history here from a genteel time gone by.
58. The Elms Hotel & Spa, Excelsior Springs, MO. We spent a relaxing 4th of July around the pool at the Elms in the late 1980s. (I think it was then if I remember correctly now), but at that time it was a sleeper that had fallen into disrepair. Now it looks like it's been gentrified and upscaled. And it has quite a history of survival and economic redemption since being built in the late 1800s. We remember fondly attending the little stone Episcopal Church across the street and it's still there and open.
59. Hotel Del, Coronado Island, CA. An icon in SoCal and rightly so. The beach has often been voted one of the best in California and the whole U.S. and it's stunningly gorgeous with powder-soft sand. The shops are charmingly beautiful, (and yes, uber expensive so we didn't shop there in all honesty), and having their yummy Tortilla Soup and an iced tea on the Hotel Del terrace was something we loved to do when we lived in SoCal.
60. Villa Royale, Palm Springs, CA. Utterly Euro-style charming when we stayed there several times years ago. Was magical at Christmas. It has been all redone now to be more "hip."
61. Winter Park, FL Downtown. We loved this charming little downtown with its lovely shops, green space for concerts and art venues, and beautiful historic homes surrounding the quaint downtown. My favorite place was the Bistro on Park Avenue but it appears closed now. :(
62. Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ. A beautiful and unique tribute to the flora and fauna of the Arizona desert. Gertrude's was a fun terrace dining venue we enjoyed, and their gift shop is large and lovely.
63. Seal Beach, CA. An adorable SoCal town/village with quaint shops. We stayed at a beautiful charming inn there in the 90s (now closed) and later went back there on a day trip.
64. Mendocino, CA. We took a day trip to here from one of our San Francisco trips. One of the most beautiful areas and small towns in the U.S. I've ever seen! Absolutely beautiful! See what I mean?! The drive from San Fran is heavenly -- rural coastal beauty. And the little downtown is filled with charming shops and inns.
65. Old Towne Orange, CA. This is a charming little town in Southern California with quaint cottage homes and beautiful flowers in the yards. Really fun to walk through the antique shops there. Houses/cottages cost A LOT there now.
66. Bella Vista & Eureka Springs, AR. Bella Vista means "beautiful view" and the views in this Ozark mountain area in northwestern Arkansas are indeed that. Bella Vista was a retirement village when we bought a timeshare there in the 90s, but now it's full of families. Quaint and charming Eureka Springs, just down the road a bit is an adorable mountain town that draws visitors from all over and we loved going there for a day and staying in a B&B.
67. Old Town San Diego, CA. Old Town is a beautiful historic area in downtown San Diego. We especially enjoyed visiting charming Heritage Park there when we lived in the area and we stayed at a beautiful inn there. (No longer an inn.)
Our first car trip together was our honeymoon in 1980, 41 years ago ...
Our hotel "honeymoon suite" cost us $16.96 in 1980! (A.k.a. not very fancy.) And our first romantic honeymoon dinner fortune cookie read:
"This person's love is just and true; you may rely on it."
That has been true on both accounts. :)
I hope you enjoyed our charming and historic travel tour. We had planned to log our 70th inn trip in 2020 for our 40th wedding anniversary, but the pandemic nixed that idea, so we are looking forward to "Inn 70" in the future and will try and find a really unique/special one since it's number 70!