Perhaps the most fulfilling adventure is one where you learn who you are. People discover aspects of themselves over a lifetime, but places often take generations to identify their calling card. A culture grows organically from a place’s surroundings, history and citizens, which is then embraced and expanded. It attracts more people who ‘want in’ on what makes it special, and the result is unparalleled.
Here we’ve selected a few one-of-a-kind US destinations with a penchant for inspiring individuality. They all have a way of attracting travelers looking for something specific within themselves. You’re sure to find an experience as unique as you are.
River Street, Savannah © Sean Pavone / Getty Images
Discover your artistic self in Savannah
Savannah is known as the Creative Coast, and that nickname has proven stickier than the summer air in this culturally rich city.
In many ways, Savannah has been about art and design from its founding in 1734, as James Oglethorpe and William Bull meticulously planned their new settlement – with plenty of embellishments – around a neat grid of central squares. Those squares, framed by massive Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss, have remained the stretched canvas onto which elegant townhouses, antebellum mansions and a local artistic culture have been brushed.
The backdrop has given rise to the oldest public art museum in the South, the Telfair Academy, which now houses a wonderful collection of 19th- and 20th-century American and European works. And the city is also home to one of the most prestigious art schools in the nation – the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), whose contemporary art and design museum has an impressive 4,500-piece permanent collection.
Your happy places: Head to Sulfur Studios to soak in the work of some of Savannah's best artists and artisans, then look for your own visual inspiration in the picturesque marshlands, where seafood, live music and a laid-back vibe await at local favorite Wyld Dock Bar.
Neon signs along Lower Broadway, Nashville © Pabradyphoto / Getty Images
Discover your musical self in Nashville
Nashville has been attracting musicians since the 1920s, lured by the scratchy, static-y sounds of the Grand Ole Opry broadcasting from Ryman Auditorium, the ring of the registers at the songwriting hubs on Music Row, and the rhythm of boots stomping in the honky-tonks.
Twelve bars wouldn’t get you halfway down Lower Broadway, where you can hear live country and bluegrass music carried on beer-perfumed air every day. Robert’s Western World is a cut above the other joints on the neon-clad strip, and it pulls out all the stops for the folks making a pilgrimage.
If country’s not to your likin’, stranger, Music City is also home to Jack White’s record label, Third Man Records. You can get funky at Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar in legendary Printer’s Alley, or mosh with the rockers, rappers, and metalheads at Exit/In. For sophistication, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center can’t be beat for its gorgeous setting and grandiose melodies.
Your happy places: Spend a day with giants from Hank to Reba at the state-of-the-art Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum and be sure to take the add-on tour of Historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton cut some of their most popular records. Then bravely try some cayenne-rubbed Nashville hot chicken at Hattie B’s to turn things up to 11.
Duval Street, Key West © Lisa-Blue / Getty Images
Discover your literary self in Key West
Ernest Hemingway is tied to Key West the way a leather cover is bound to the dusty pages of an ancient novel. The gorgeous Hemingway House was his home from 1931 to 1940, where ‘Papa’ wrote The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and The Green Hills of Africa. He also tended to several six-toed cats, whose descendants can still be seen today. If you’re in town in late July, the long-running Hemingway Days Festival brings plenty of events to the island.
But Key West’s literary provenance runs deeper than just Hemingway. The Robert Frost Poetry Festival, named for the prolific author who wintered on the island from 1945 to 1960, hosts readings, lectures and workshops in mid-April. And the Key West Literary Seminar in January draws top novelists, poets and historians. The price of admission is more prince than pauper, but book signings and presentations are available at the San Carlos Institute.
If you’re up for some Stephen King-level spookiness, the old Fort East Martello Museum has perhaps the most haunted thing in Key West. ‘Robert the doll,’ a child’s toy from the 19th century, reportedly causes misfortune to anyone who questions his powers.
Your happy places: Walk up to – but unfortunately not into – Casa Antigua (31 Simonton St), a former hotel built in 1919. Hemingway and his wife Pauline first checked in there in 1928, fell in love with Key West, and ended up staying two years in the hotel while Hemingway finished his masterpiece A Farewell to Arms. Afterward, head over to the torchlit, carnival-like Mallory Square where you can sip a beer and sample a conch fritter, the island’s go-to street snack.
Mission Bay, San Diego © f8grapher / Getty Images
Discover your athletic self in San Diego
You’ve probably heard that San Diego has North America’s most perfect weather. But that’s just the first reason to get outdoors in ‘America’s Finest City.’ Beautiful hikes abound, and the embarcadero and waterfront along Harbor Drive has manicured promenades perfect for strolling or jogging. Skateboarding was invented, cultivated, commoditized and exported in California, and the city is dotted with skateparks.
Ready to get sporty? Your best bet is Mission Bay, just east of Mission and Pacific beaches. With 27 miles of shoreline and 90 acres of parks, you can try your hand at sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing or kayaking around the coves. Off the coast, divers can explore kelp beds, shipwrecks, and canyons. Or stay on the islands and peninsulas for a game of beach volleyball. Miles of paths crisscross the area – just right for cycling or rollerblading.
Then there’s the surfing. It’s phenomenal, and the SoCal beach scene is famous for it. Every season brings a different kind of current and wind to the coast, so there’s something for everyone from beginner to expert.
Your happy places: They’re everywhere. Just stop into Cheap Rentals, rent bikes and skates ($6/15 per hour/day) or surfboards and wet suits ($12 per day) and get out on the path or the water. When you’re done, George’s at the Cove tops many culinary ‘best-of’ lists. Four separate restaurants come with varying price points.
More places uniquely you
For your cinematic self: Film buffs should head to Marfa, Texas. It’s where Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean filmed the 1956 film Giant, and it has served as the backdrop for There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men. There’s a five-day film festival in May or June. This remote desert crossroads has also become an unlikely pilgrimage site for art lovers thanks to world-class minimalist installations.
For your natural self: Boulder, Colorado was the first US city to tax itself in order to preserve green space and now it’s an outdoor playground. Gaze in awe at the mountain views from the trails surrounding the Flatirons, or climb the varied slopes of the huge and iconic slabs.
For your uninhibited self: The hottest LGBT destination right now just might be Provincetown, Massachusetts, the very last outpost along Cape Cod. What makes it unique is just how open-minded it is, with drag shows and cabaret spilling out to a raucous waterfront scene. Don’t be surprised to stumble onto a nude beach.
For your relaxed self: Stressed? Get pampered at some of the world’s best spas and salons in Palm Springs, California. Chic hotels offer plenty of tranquility and nearby Joshua Tree National Park has been attracting people searching for their inner selves for decades.