Plano, TX,
05
August
2016
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07:24 PM
America/Chicago

Off the Beaten Path: 7 Alternatives to Most Popular U.S. Travel Destinations

First published August 2, 2016 by Australia's ESCAPE digital magazine. Photo credits in original article.

If you’ve ‘done’ America’s famous tourist sights, events and big cities or just want to get further under the skin of this fascinating country, try this list of offbeat alternative experiences.

Travel membership company WorldVentures has come up with seven alternatives to America’s well-trodden tourist paths that will let you see the real heart of the country and culture in all its glory.

1. Swap Disneyland for Silver Dollar City

Just South of Springfield Missouri (more on that later) you’ll find a little town called Branson. Nestled in the beautiful Ozark Mountains the town — whose idyllic setting and down-home atmosphere inspired the long-running TV hit The Beverly Hillbillies — may seem an unlikely setting for a major theme park.

In fact, the town has become something like the Anaheim or Orlando of the mid-west and while you’re unlikely to spot another Australian in the queue you can certainly get your thrills here.

Foremost among the attractions is the Silver Dollar City theme park. An 1880s-themed wonderland of more than 40 rides, attractions and shows including Outdoor Run, the world’s “most daring wood coaster”.

It’s frontier Americana at its best and one of the many shows features the iconic and unmistakably American, Harlem Globetrotters. There is also an adjoining waterpark and a spectacular 500-foot-deep cave to explore.

For those of a gentler persuasion, a paddle wheel cruise aboard the Branson Belle might appeal. The Belle’s majestic three decks allow plenty of room for you to enjoy the views of the lush Ozark Mountains across the turquoise waters of Table Rock Lake.

It’s frontier Americana at its best and one of the many shows features the iconic and unmistakably American, Harlem Globetrotters. There is also an adjoining waterpark and a spectacular 500-foot-deep cave to explore.

For those of a gentler persuasion, a paddle wheel cruise aboard the Branson Belle might appeal. The Belle’s majestic three decks allow plenty of room for you to enjoy the views of the lush Ozark Mountains across the turquoise waters of Table Rock Lake.

2. Trade Nashville for … yup Branson, Missouri

As well as being a thrill seekers delight, this rugged Ozarks outpost bills itself as the “Live Entertainment Capital of the World.” While someone clearly forget to tell the rest of the world it’s true that this little town boasts dozens of theatres hosting permanent shows and touring acts with a distinctly country and western feel.

Whether at Roy Clark’s Celebrity Theatre or Dolly Parton’s Wild West-style Dixie Stampede there is a show for everyone.

Nashville might be better known around the world as the capital of country music but Branson delivers for sheer fun and its family-friendly vibe.

3. Replace the Indianapolis 500 with Night Racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, Tennessee

The Indianapolis 500 might be more famous but purists hail the Bristol Motor Speedway as the most exciting stop on the NASCAR circuit. Dubbed the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” and the “last great colosseum,” races here are always thrilling with intense crashes and hair-raising close encounters abounding on the tight circuit.

The Bass Pro Shops NRA night race takes place in late August and attracts fans from across the country who come for the unique festival like atmosphere of barbecues and concerts that take place in the campsites surrounding the track.

While in the area get a dose of down home America. You can try fishing for big mouth Bass, visit the home of former President Andrew Johnson or the historic fort where the “Overmountain Men” gathered before marching to an important victory in the American Revolution of 1776.

4. Trade the Macy’s Parade for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

It’s Albuquerque, New Mexico’s defining event. Hundreds of hot air balloons cover the crystal-clear desert skies. Unlike New York’s decidedly crowded Thanksgiving Day Macy’s Parade, you won’t need to fight hundreds of thousands of people to get a great spot.

The Balloon Fiesta attracts more than 500 balloons each year, making it the largest hot air balloon festival in the world. The festival’s launch area is roughly the size of 54 connected football fields and adjoining music events mean this is so much more than watching a passing parade.

Once the festival is over Albuquerque makes a great home base for exploring the desert sites and Native American culture. Fans of the cult TV show Breaking Bad can take a three-hour location tour in an RV just like the one on the show.

5. Swap San Diego Zoo for ZooAmerica in Hershey Pennsylvania

San Diego Zoo is rightly regarded as one of the world’s finest zoos and attracts visitors from all around the globe. However, there is nothing uniquely American about it. Opening in 1978, ZooAmerica exclusively features exhibits of animals native to North America, with natural habitats recreating five unique American habitats including Southern Swamps and Big Sky Country.

Even better the Zoo is located in a town bursting with uniquely American attractions. Hershey is also known as “chocolate town” after the eponymous Hershey chocolate company. You can visit the factory and create your candy bar before entering the chocolate inspired theme park featuring 13 roller coasters, a water park and characters based on the company’s chocolate bars.

For an altogether different slice of culture nearby Amish communities in Lancaster Pennsylvania and the Civil War battlefields of historic Gettysburg beckon.

6. Replace Las Vegas for Atlantic City

While it’s hard to compete with Vegas for sheer scale, Atlantic City offers many of the same sinful pleasures as its better known cousin. Gambling check, subsidised hotels check, all you can eat buffet check. Shopping, spas, shows, yes those too.

What makes it different is access to the ocean and the famous Boardwalk. Walking here is a pleasure and the people watching far more interesting than in Vegas. Fans of Jersey Shore will enjoy the unique local dialect and regional treats such as Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy make Atlantic City a viable alternative to Las Vegas, especially for travellers already on the East Coast.

7. Trade Texas BBQ for Ribtoberfest in Norfolk, Virginia

The slow and low American BBQ movement has been taking Australia by storm. Most hipster foodies looking for their fill of smoky pulled pork and ribs would head straight to the deep Southern States of Texas or Louisiana but it’s Norfolk Virginia which is staking its claim to being the capital of ribs.

Norfolk was originally established in the 1600s as a British colonial territory. Today, the pedestrian-friendly town houses the largest naval base in the world and the greatest gathering of mouth-watering barbecue ribs on the planet — Ribtoberfest.

Just like its German inspiration, craft beer runs freely and you can also taste local bourbons from artisan small producers. Strangely the event is held in September not October.

Once you’ve sated your appetite there is plenty of American history to be soaked up in the surrounding area. Virginia is the oldest of the 13 original colonies and houses many historic colonial, revolutionary and civil war landmarks.