When the delay of a new Ford Roadster stranded Ernest Hemingway in Key West in 1928, the writer developed a near instant obsession with the then-remote Florida fishing village. Its easygoing charm and crystal waters offered hard-to-come-by inspiration in the dark days of the Depression; plus, Papa loved his fishing. During the three-week layover, he polished off the last of A Farewell to Arms; and a few years later, after he and his cats had become a more permanent fixture, he immortalized the town in his hard-luck tale of a boating captain gone wrong, To Have and Have Not. Eventually, of course, word got out and by the 1950s, Hemingway's secret refuge went mainstream.
His wasn't the only spot whose pull would later draw the crowds. Take the just-budding glamour of Joan Didion's mid-century Honolulu (the beginning of a decades-long fascination with Hawaii at large, a lost paradise, in her mind at least, whose evolving contradictions—Vietnam, commercialization—she chronicles in In the Islands). Then there was Aspen's countercultural moment in the 1970s, followed by Nantucket's easy money eighties boom, followed by Santa Fe's Ali Macgraw-fueled nineties rise (a back-to-the-land shift that was really just a replay of Georgia O'Keeffe's discovering Taos 65 years earlier).
These days, that list also includes a new crop of travel constellations: Marfa, Montauk, Tulum, Ojai. So what's next? Is there anything left to be discovered? And what sort of special sauce will flavor the oases of the future? In the age of Instagram, these are curious questions—especially if travelers are looking to get lost in a lesser-known spot. To divine the next frontier of great American destinations, we consulted a network of trusted tastemakers—and our own internal maps. The resulting five hideaways deliver on the qualities this moment's travelers are jonesing for the most—well-being via cultural capital, a sense of undiscoveredness and a lot of heart and soul.
TODOS SANTOS, MEXICO
An hour north of Cabo, on the Baja peninsula, you'll find this coastal village—whose name translates to All Saints—at the base of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. The landscape is remote and rugged, the swells large and surf-ready. A mix of surfers, fishermen and yogis imbue the place with a spirited eccentricity that recalls the stardust of earlier peak spots like Tulum. All but abandoned by the 1840s, it's now enjoying newfound prosperity thanks to an emerging art scene and a spate of new boutique hotels such as Hotel San Cristobal, the soon-to-open beachfront jewel from Liz Lambert's Texas-based hotel group, Bunkhouse (El Cosmico, Hotel Saint Cecilia).
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WATCH HILL, RHODE ISLAND
For a long time, this pedigreed beach town was a summertime colony that tony Rhode Islanders kept to themselves. Today, however, it's no longer members-only, and the private clubs have given way to a more democratic selection of bars, restaurants and shops. Visitors still mostly rent cottages—which contributes to the enduring low profile of the place—or post up at the Ocean House, one of just two remaining hotels, which shed its fallen angel status in 2010 after a big time renovation. Either way, the draw to Watch Hill is her end-of-the-road, seaside-hamlet vibe. Towels spread along Carousel Beach, yachts and sailboats bob in Watch Hill Cove, and vacationers wave the 20-plus miles across Long Island Sound to the more-crowded Montauk.
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Sure, Savannah outranks these other destinations in size and age, but that just makes its emergence all the more noteworthy. It all started with the Savannah College of Art and Design, which has methodically restored a huge swath of blighted downtown buildings and ensured an annual infusion of youthful vigor and big ideas. The chefs—Hugh Acheson, Mashama Bailey—came next, shedding the white tablecloths and fried green tomatoes that had come to define the local flavor. After that, it's just a matter of time before the sister town to Charleston gets her day in the sun.
"I always think people follow artists, and this is a town rooted in creativity, art and history. One of the most cathartic things you can do in Savannah is to simply wander the squares." - Benjamin Towill, restaurateur
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BEACON, NEW YORK
Pete Seeger's outspoken environmental activism helped put this blighted postindustrial Hudson Valley town on the map in the early aughts. Then came an outpost of the New York City neo-art-gallery Dia. Coupled with a population of land-hungry New Yorkers in flight, the formula was ripe to transform Beacon into a high-minded weekend retreat, part Woodstock, part Williamsburg. Today, there are polished coffee shops, reinvigorated stretches of retail and, the rarest of all upstate commodities, affordable (by NYC standards, anyway) properties still for sale.
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JOSHUA TREE, CALIFORNIA
Venture a hundred miles east of Los Angeles to reach the high desert hub of Joshua Tree, the Earth Mother antithesis to manicured Palm Springs. Made famous by the National Park and Gram Parsons, and, more recently, photogenic locations like the Pioneertown and the Station (both favorites among magazine editors), the expansive landscape here, peppered with endless wild-armed Joshua trees, is home to a cross-section of artists, rock climbers, drifters, healers and designer types. Their common trait: A deep connection to the desolate beauty of the Mojave.
You have to scratch below the surface in the desert. But once you do, it's always unfolding, offering beautiful rewards. - Jay Carroll, designer, Wonder Valley