14 top-rated, off the beaten path vacation rental destinations

A lot of ink is spilled about the usual suspects when it comes to vacation rental destinations, or even top vacation spots in general. You hear about Florida, people won’t shut up about the South of France, and the picturesque but well-trod areas like Bali or Tuscany. What we’re offering is the ultimate list of up-and-comers, vacation rental destinations that you’ll want to visit very soon before they become completely overrun by everyone who finds out what we’re telling you right now – they are incredible.

We looked at the past 18 months of vacation rental reviews and the average score (1-5) for all our destinations, and we’ve singled out these 14 as the ones you should plan a trip to as soon as possible. Here’s the list of winners and a bit about why they deserve your attention.

Albuquerque, New Mexico – 4.93 avg score

Albuquerque, New Mexico

With the highest average score of all the eligible participants, Albuquerque should be very proud. For a tour of the “true” southwest, you can’t find any better option than Albuquerque. It’s a natural playground with colorful sands, 310 days of clear blue skies, and a whole lot of top-notch golf courses. Love the TV show, Breaking Bad? Tourism has skyrocketed since Albuquerque was the centerpiece of the hit show. Come and visit Walter White’s house, or any number of memorable scenery from the show.

Must-try activity: Hot air ballooning through an accredited company – a view of Albuquerque unlike any other.

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Santa Fe, New Mexico – 4.79 avg score

New Mexico High Desert with Blue Sky and Cumulus Clouds

You thought Albuquerque was impressive with 310 days of sunshine a year? Try 320 days of pure, sweet sun and blue skies for Santa Fe. A melting pot of cultures including Anglo, Native American & Hispanic converge in this pristine outpost. Santa Fe has surprisingly become a hub of art with over 300 galleries and dealers in operation. At an elevation of 7000 feet, you’ll feel on top of the world and completely rejuvenated in the clean, crisp Santa Fe air.

Must-try activity: Museum of International Folk Art has rotating exhibits and thousands of satisfied customers every year. Explore Native American artifacts and art here while learning about local culture.

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Tucson, Arizona – 4.78 avg score

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Another entry on our list in the emerging southwest is Tucson, Arizona. As mentioned in our Albuquerque and Santa Fe entries, Tucson also features a blending of rich cultures and heritages to create an atmosphere of acceptance and diversity. Located in Southern Arizona, Tucson was founded on August 20, 1776 – an event celebrated annually at Tucson’s birthday party, La Fiesta de San Agustín. The University of Arizona supplies tens of thousands of active students to the area, creating a constant buzz of learning and growth. With over 800 miles of bike paths and 350 sunny days per year, opportunity for exercise and activity abound. There’s an aura about this place where the Santa Cruz and Rillito Rivers converge, where five mountain ranges form a protected valley.

Must-try activity: Treat yourself and your family to a day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Get a true feel for the flora, fauna, and history of Tucson and the surrounding areas.

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Louisville, Kentucky – 4.78 avg score

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This charming Kentucky city is much more than “the most exciting two minutes in sports” aka the Kentucky Derby. Baseball fans will love the Louisville Slugger Museum, a celebration of the sport’s legends. The Jefferson Memorial Forest (largest urban forest in the US!) is designated as a wildlife refuge, and the scenic views of the Ohio River alongside Otter Creek Park are not-to-be-missed. In fact, the city of Louisville has over 120 parks that span more than 14,000 acres. Explore the beautiful urban area of Louisville along the city’s waterfront or get out of the city and view the gorgeous countryside that surrounds Louisville, including fence-lined pastures and fields of bluegrass.

Must-try activity: Try zip lining and walking over suspended bridges (among many other thrills) in the dark yet pulse-pounding Louisville Mega Cavern. The humorous and helpful tour guides are worth the price of admission. All ages can enjoy this activity, too.

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Santa Barbara, California – 4.77 avg score

A wine vineyard near Santa Barbara, California.

Santa Barbara is true California. Pristine beaches, picturesque mountains, vineyards producing fine wines, and has even finer dining establishments dotting the landscape. Just a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara offers 300 days of sunshine to its active community members who run, bike, play volleyball and paddle board at any chance. It’s called “The American Riviera” due to the sprawling coastline and perfect climate nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez mountains.

Must-try activity: Visit the Old Mission Santa Barbara and marvel at the intricate design work on both the interior and exterior. Listen to the history of the mission culture in California on a guided or solo tour that takes less than an hour.

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Scottsdale, Arizona – 4.65 avg score

Scottsdale, AZ

Clearly the southwest is a burgeoning vacation rental area as Scottsdale, Arizona joins Tucson, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque as an award-winner. The “West’s Most Western Town” is 184 square miles of attractions, nightlife, and fine restaurants. Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve, in the city’s northern reaches, is the largest urban wilderness area in the United States and features more than 60 miles of trails through diverse and scenic desert terrain. This golfer’s paradise features over 200 courses in Scottsdale and the surrounding areas – not to mention a buzzing downtown that rivals Miami’s South Beach.

Must-try activity: A train set comes to life at McCormack-Stillman Railroad Park that wows the young and the young at heart. Take a real-life train ride and enjoy the merry-go-round, treat yourself to a cold ice cream on a hot day, and check out the massive model train set.

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Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina – 4.65 avg score

Fall colors in the Smoky Mountains National Park

The Blue Ridge Mountains stretch from Georgia (only ninety miles north of Atlanta, but it might as well be on another planet) to Pennsylvania. The name comes from the bluish hue the mountains give off when viewed from a distance. The Blue Ridge range is part of the Appalachian chain and supplies travelers with ample opportunities for hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, and more. You’ll be amazed by the floral and fauna there is to be seen on the trails too. There are friendly locals to be met in two mountain towns along the way: gorgeous Cashiers and unique Asheville. Whether you want to be active (like a zip line tour or paddling down a river) or passive (take a brewery or winery tour) the Blue Ridge area in North Carolina can meet your needs.

Must-try activity: Drive along the entire Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy a scenic view of the mountains as they kiss the sky. You can drive the road for less than 30 miles and see dozens of covered bridges, panoramic views, and more nature and natural wonders.

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Rehoboth Beach, Delaware – 4.56 avg score

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One of Delaware’s most popular resort towns brings us to the middle of our list. This is where DC residents bring their families for vacation, as well as Delaware and Maryland locals who seek the perfect beach trip. Rehoboth Beach is an award-winning, five-star beach with plenty of room for sun bathing, building sand castles and surfing the waves, as well as, dolphin watching, pontoon boat excursions and areas for early morning or sunset runs along the coastline and boardwalk. Access to Rehoboth beach is free of charge so, pack up the beach blanket and sunscreen and hit the sand. Jungle Jim’s and Funland will provide your kids two days worth of endless fun, including bumper boats, a lazy river, water slides, and amusement rides over 50 years old! Rehoboth Beach has become an LGBT vacation hot spot with many gay-friendly and gay-owned businesses in operation too.

Must-try activity: What good would a beach destination be without a top-of-the-line boardwalk full of activities and entertainment? The Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk features endless food stands, plenty of sweet treats, and a gorgeous ocean view. Great for walking and jogging, even active vacationers can enjoy the boardwalk. Grab a t-shirt to commemorate your time in Rehoboth Beach before you leave.

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Port Aransas, Texas – 4.42 avg score

The Gulf of Mexico buffers this relaxing city featuring 18 miles worth of sun-filled beaches. Port Aransas has become a fishing, beach, and resort village, with summer populations sometimes swelling to 60,000 or more. You’ll want to take advantage of the world-class boat excursions like sunset cruises, big game fishing and sailing lessons. A favorite local activity is beach bicycling where visitors rent large bikes for the sand – great exercise and a fun way to explore the area.

With temps over 80 from April through September, you’ll find yourself with plenty to do outdoors no matter when you visit. At Mustang Island State Park visitors can enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and some beach serenity. People of all ages will enjoy visiting the University of Texas Marine Science Institute where display tanks include sea horses, oysters, eels, and other ocean animals. It’s free programs, Explorium and Wetlands Education Center offer an interesting and fun introduction for kids and adults alike to marine life in the Gulf of Mexico and around surrounding waters of Port Aransas. Visitors can enjoy on their own or take a guided tour every Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10:00 am.

Must-try activity: The Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center features a raised boardwalk that makes it easy for visitors to stroll through the area and view a number of local bird species. The site has several viewing scopes, including one at the top of an observation tower for sweeping vistas and prime bird watching. Depending on the season, guests may also see alligators, butterflies, and native plants.

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Teton Village, Wyoming – 4.35 avg score

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Ski lovers flock to Teton Village for downhill thrills and cross-country beauty. True mountain adventurers can head off the beaten path and seek out secret trails in the area that have been undiscovered. Take advantage of all the fun, food, and nightlife in nearby Jackson Hole, and be awed by the vertical competition skiers who tackle Teton Village’s numerous peaks. Swing through in the summertime to experience the lively Grand Tetons Music Festival and all the amenities that the resort offers during the warm season.

Must-try activity: The top billing in town goes to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort that is chock full of riders flying down the slopes in the winter, but a good amount of summer visitors as well. The unique experience of the tram coupled with the wide array of food and drink options makes this resort a fun and comfortable experience for all ages. Any skill level can ski here, but advanced skiers will love carving up the triple black diamond trails here, you’ll really earn those après ski drinks.

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Steamboat Springs, Colorado – 4.35 avg score

Steamboat Springs Ski Resort and Barn

Another destination for ski fans is Steamboat Springs, Colorado. With only 12,000 year-round residents, winter sports lovers pour into the city to shred, party, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. You’ll find more of a down home feel here compared to other glitzier options like Telluride or Denver. Swing by in mid-July to experience the Annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo where 40+ balloons fly over the valley.

Must-try activity: After a long day on the slopes, soothe your aching bones in the Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs, which bring a hot tub like atmosphere to the chilly mountains. The road to get there is a bit bumpy, but well worth the ride. Bring some cash for a snow cone or a massage. After dark, it is 18+ and clothing optional.

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Mammoth Lakes, California – 4.05 avg score

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Another ski destination makes our list – this time in sunny California. Tucked in the valleys of California’s High Sierra Mountains, Mammoth Lakes offers thousands upon thousands of groomed acres and trails for your ski getaway. There’s top-notch ice skating, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing as well. In the summer, fly down those same slopes on a mountain bike, or hike to the peak of a nearby mountain and enjoy the view. Outdoorsmen will also love the golfing, horseback riding, and fishing. This relatively young town welcomes thousands of visitors every year, and since it is located only 30 miles away from the entrance of the Yosemite National Park, you can experience a classic American site without heading too much more off the trail.

Must-try activity: The best hike you’ll take in Mammoth Lakes is to the Devil’s Postpile National Monument. After a short bus ride you’ll take a half mile hike to the area. This natural wonder is well worth the trip – you’ll be sure of that when you see the rock formations and flowing water. Further along you can visit the Rainbow Falls too, another Mammoth Lake must-see.

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Bethany Beach, Delaware – 4.03 avg score

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Delaware simply can not be stopped – our second entry from The Diamond State is Bethany Beach. Walk on the Bethany Beach boardwalk, shop ’til you drop, and listen to the live music. Explore the Bear Trap Dunes while looking out for native birds and tide pools. The surrounding areas like South Bethany and Fenwick Island are also worth your time if you’re visiting. Bethany Beach is home to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, a cruise between New Jersey and Delaware, taking guests from Bethany Beach to Cape May and back. Along the way, you’ll see lighthouses and beautiful Atlantic Ocean views. On Fenwick Island you should visit the DiscoverSea Museum which highlights the maritime history of the Delaware area.

Must-try activity: You’ll be spending plenty of time at the titular Bethany Beach during your stay in the area. The wonderful, clean beach has plenty of friendly locals and fellow tourists about just looking to soak up the sun and relax. Very kid-friendly with bathrooms and snack shops available. Get there early, bring plenty of sunblock and your finest boogie board.

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Cannon Beach, Oregon – 3.93 avg score

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Small in size, but packing quite a scenic punch what Cannon Beach lacks in square footage it more than makes up for in wilderness to explore, sights to photograph, and in heaps of charm. With strict regulations prohibiting the typical influx of chain stores, Cannon Beach retains its small-town feel. With miles of beaches to stroll, plenty of wild animals to view, and a massive sand castle building contest every year, Cannon Beach stands out among the northwest vacation destinations.

Must-try activity: The quintessential scenic spot on the entire Oregon Coast can be found at Haystack Rock. This rock formation marking the shore is worth pulling over and walking alongside. Bring a sweater in case the weather is cold, but DO NOT forget your camera. Shots of this attraction could make a beautiful wall poster or family photo!

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