When most people think of vacation destinations, they probably come up with the usual suspects: beaches, theme parks, and big cities. There’s nothing wrong with those mainstays, but there are definite rewards to be found outside the typical hot spots. From the Mid-Atlantic to the South to the Midwest, you’ll find plenty of wonderful surprises. They’re called “hidden gems” because you have to dig a little bit to find them, and the following places are certainly worth a look.

If You Like College Towns

What is it about college towns? They’re very open, curious places, thanks largely to all the teens and twenty-somethings studying and partying and just generally figuring out what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. If you like that sort of youthful, welcoming spirit, you’ll love Ann Arbor, which is one of the best college towns in America. The city is home to the University of Michigan and its 40,000-plus students. It’s hard to miss Michigan Stadium, more commonly known as “The Big House,” where you and over 100,000 of your closest friends can watch the Wolverines play football against one of their opponents from the Big Ten. If sports isn’t your thing, check out one of Ann Arbor’s famed museums, like the university’s Museum of Natural History. And since a unique city calls for unique lodging, book a room at The Kensington Hotel and steer clear of the cookie cutter chains. It’s the perfect place to stay while you’re absorbing all of the local flavor Ann Arbor has to offer. You’ll find plenty of friendly locals, although it’s probably best not to say anything nice about Ohio State University, just in case.

If You Like Exotic Wildlife

Next time you’re looking to get close to nature, head to Central Pennsylvania. For decades, Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, has been enchanting guests by allowing them access to tigers, zebras, kangaroos, African pygmy goats, camels, and more. And that’s not even including the reptile and exotics habitat. A ride on the open air safari bus is fun for the whole family, while the youngest guests will love visiting (and feeding!) the friendly animals at the petting zoo. The park exists as both a fully operational farm and a zoo with educational exhibits. You can get up close and personal with animals from around the world, including American Black Bears and Burmese Pythons. The park is located just north of Halifax, or about 25 miles from the state capital of Harrisburg. By the time you leave, you’ll feel as though you’ve truly walked on the wild side.

If You Like Fast Cars

Mooresville, North Carolina, is about 30 miles north of Charlotte, with a population of around 30,000 people. But don’t let that fool you, because the city is known as Race City USA for good reason. You see, it turns out Mooresville iis the home base for professional race teams like JR Motorsports (the JR stands for Dale Earnhardt Jr.), Kasey Kahne Racing, and Richard Petty Motorsports. You can go drag racing or ride a go kart, then unwind by strolling through the Memory Lane Motorsports & Historical Automotive Museum or the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame. If it’s related to race cars, then there’s a good chance you’ll find it in Mooresville. Once you’ve quenched your need for speed, check out the city’s restaurants and shopping options, or pick up a winery map and take a trip down one of the nearby wine trails. You’ll truly feel as if you’re living life in the fast lane after a visit to Race City.

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