Forget the boxed chocolates and fancy rings — the ultimate aphrodisiac for lovers is travel. According to a survey commissioned by the US Travel Association and conducted by Edge Research, couples who vacation together report happier and healthier relationships than home-bound twosomes.
These findings don’t bode well for couples in the biggest cities in the US, where travel became rarer than a red diamond this past year. As densely populated areas like New York and Los Angeles went into lockdown, significant others became two-person quaranteams forced to cancel their away games and play at home instead. But as vaccines roll out and the catalog of Netflix-and-chilling content nears its end, the desire to take the team elsewhere is mounting. Planning a couple’s vacation is the new hands-free version of foreplay.
Luckily, people living in the country’s most populous metropoles are within driving distance to the most desirable destinations for romantic retreats in the US. Leaving the big city for one of the following small-town getaways nearby can be done safely, meaning you and your partner can finally start planning the romantic release you’ve been craving all year.
Note: Make sure you follow CDC guidelines before taking a trip. There’s nothing less sexy than being irresponsible and unprepared.
1. Woodstock, New York
New York City packs 27,000 people into every square mile, making it the most densely populated city in the US. If you and your partner haven’t spent the pandemic spooning out of necessity in a pint-sized apartment, you likely need solitude from the strangers swarming together outside. As a result, space is the hottest fetish for lovers in this urban jungle, and there’s no better place to find some than the nearby Catskill Mountains.
Woodstock is a sleepy bohemian town at the epicenter of the region. While couples can spend an entire trip strolling hand-in-hand from Tinker Street to Mill Hill Road while perusing local boutiques, what makes Woodstock ideal is its proximity to other outdoor excursions and equally adorable villages. The hike to Overlook Mountain is only a 10-minute walk from town, but with a car, you can also drive 40 minutes north to Kaaterskill Falls (New York’s highest cascading waterfall) or 30-minutes south to the Mohonk Preserve (a protected area with 85 miles of trails). Nearby destinations like uber-artsy Hudson, hippy-dippy New Paltz, and up-and-coming Kingston boast enough galleries, antique shops, and tasty dining options to keep even the antsiest New Yorker occupied for a long weekend.
But good things don’t always come to those who hustle, and sometimes the best thing a couple can do when they leave NYC’s busy streets is slow down. Whether you curl up in a rustic cabin (like this one on Airbnb) or order your meals in bed at The Herwood Inn (a queer-friendly hotel in the center of Woodstock), the Catskills gives New Yorkers the space needed to appreciate life’s simpler things.
Driving time from New York City: 2 hours
2. Big Sur, California
Between San Francisco’s tech bubble and LA’s camera crews, California’s big-city couples need a place where they unplug from their screens and recharge with each other. Big Sur is the answer. No Instagram filter can match the raw beauty of the Santa Lucia Range or the rugged Pacific coastline, and even if one could, you’d have a hard time using it. Cell phone service is limited in Big Sur, and the only connection you’re likely to find is the one you make with your partner.
For Los Angelinos driving north, the road trip along California’s famed Pacific Coast Highway is half the fun. Stops in tiny towns like Ventura, Solvang, and San Luis Obispo are delightful detours from the dizzying coastline. Folx from the Bay Area have a shorter, though no less scenic, drive along Monterey Bay and over the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. Once in Big Sur, plan on putting your phones away so you can focus on the essential things, like soaking in the Esalen Hot Springs, searching for purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach, and taking a coastal hike to sites like McWay Falls — an 80-foot cascade that pours onto the beach below.
Couples craving an uninterrupted break from technology should splurge for a luxury bungalow at Post Ranch Inn, where the absence of an in-room phone and TV will ensure you focus on what matters most: the Pacific Ocean views (and each other, of course).
Driving time from the San Francisco Bay Area: 2.5 hours
Driving time from Los Angeles: 6 hours
3. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
If you want to shake up your relationship, try shaking up your perspective — literally. For Chicagoans sick of quarantining with their significant other in the Windy City, drive 45 miles along the southern edge of Lake Michigan until you reach Indiana Dunes National Park. Here, with your city’s skyline glittering in the distance, you’ll find the space necessary to remember what it is you love about your hometown and the life you built there together.
The park’s expanse of forests, wetlands, beaches, and prairies is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the US. It’s also one of Indiana’s most popular destinations: Nearly 3.5 million people visit annually to partake in outdoor activities. Summer is ideal for hiking around rolling dunes, black oak savannas, and fields of wildflowers. Winter draws smaller crowds but is no less idyllic for travelers interested in snowshoeing or cross-country skiing around roughly 50 miles of groomed trails.
Staying in an Airbnb like this colorful Michigan City retreat might be a welcome respite from a drab city apartment. The Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast in Valparaiso — equipped with whirlpools and fireplaces — is a slightly more expensive way to spoil yourselves. For those feeling homesick while staring at Chicago’s skyscrapers, don’t worry — at only an hour’s drive away, getting home couldn’t be easier.
Driving time from Chicago: 1 hour
4. Fredericksburg, Texas
European borders might be closed for most Americans, but Texas-based couples dreaming of foreign lands are still in luck. Fredericksburg, a historic tourist town founded by German immigrants in the 19th century, blends Tuscany’s wineries with Munich’s oom-pah-pah to create a quirky escape with old-world flair.
Deutsch-style bakeries, beer halls, and bistros line Main Street, where most businesses beckon guests with signs that say “Willkommen.” Vino connoisseurs can sample local varietals at over a dozen wineries along Fredericksburg Wine Road 290. For something distinctly Texan, grab some biscuits at Emma + Ollie bakeshop before exploring nearby Enchanted Rock, a pink granite mountain located 17 miles north of town. Biking the 13-mile Willow City Loop is also a worthy outdoor adventure; if you visit in springtime, wildflowers like the Texas bluebonnet will be out in full force.
While Fredericksburg makes a doable day trip from most nearby cities, overnighting is recommended. The town is like a finely-aged syrah — big, bold, and liable to get you too drunk to drive home. If you’re looking for a hip place to nurse your hangover, try Contigo Ranch, where you and your partner can unwind in a private cottage equipped with an outdoor porch overlooking the bucolic property.
Driving time from Houston and Dallas: 4 hours
Driving time from Austin: 1.5 hours
Driving time San Antonio: 1 hour
5. Sedona, Arizona
The millennial catchphrase “good vibes only” takes earthly form in the red-rock monoliths of Sedona. Here, spiritual “vortexes” attract new-age health and wellness buffs who believe the area’s cosmic powers lead to mind-altering experiences. But don’t worry — Sedona isn’t only for crystal-carrying mystics. Between an abundance of lux hotels and spas, a vibrant art scene, and access to outdoor activities like hiking and biking, a trip to this desert Elysium makes for a rejuvenating romantic refuge.
If you’re in search of metaphysical healing, head to the vortex at Cathedral Rock — a challenging hike leading to impressive views of the rust-colored landscape. If you want to kick back and go with the flow, try Slide Rock State Park, where the erosion of a sandstone river bed creates a natural 80-foot water slide. For locally made goods and grub, peruse the crafts at Tlaquepaque — a shopping center resembling a Spanish-style village. Couples curious about the trajectory of their relationship may get a kick out of Center for the New Age, where psychics can give you a 30-minute reading for under $80.
Sedona is an excellent day-trip from Phoenix, but hotels like Enchantment Resort and L’Auberge de Sedona (check out its private outdoor showers), make overnighting in this epicenter of good energy worthwhile.
Driving time from Phoenix: 2 hours
6. St. Michaels, Maryland
Whether you’re tired of politics in Washington, DC or falling out of brotherly love with Philadelphia, waterfront towns in Maryland and Delaware give people from the mid-Atlantic’s biggest metropoles a place to rest and relax. The boardwalks in Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City usually attract the most attention, so couples looking for something low-key should try St. Michaels — a quaint fishing village on the Chesapeake Bay.
Seafood is the star of the local food scene, and if you want to make your getaway a steamy one, indulge in the region’s favorite delicacy — oysters. This supposed aphrodisiac is usually celebrated by the locals every October during OysterFest, but you can still slurp shellfish throughout the year at Awful Arthur’s.
The waterfront and main drag can be explored in half a day, leaving plenty of time to kayak nearby waterways, investigate local history at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, or enjoy a seaside view from a bed and breakfast (try the Victoriana Inn). If you visit between spring and fall, don’t be surprised to find other couples enjoying a romantic escape. St. Michaels is a popular wedding destination, and in high season, newlyweds head to the aptly named Honeymoon Bridge to commemorate the event.
Driving time from Washington, DC: 2 hours
Driving time from Philadelphia: 2.5 hours
7. Jekyll Island, Georgia
An hour north of cement-swamped Jacksonville and an easy drive east from sprawling Atlanta lies Jekyll Island — a former Golden Isle retreat for Golden Age elite like the Rockefellers and the Carnegies. Although the business tycoons have long gone, the tranquility that initially attracted them to the area remains (as do a few of their extravagant “cottages”).
Unlike nearby Hilton Head Island, Jekyll Island only allows development on 35 percent of its land, saving the area from feeling like a congested tourist trap. Dense forests filled with live oaks swimming in Spanish moss stretch toward an uninterrupted beachfront, where you’ll find the bleached skeletons of dead trees along the oft-photographed Driftwood Beach.
If you’re looking for local attractions, check out the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (an education and rehabilitation facility for the endangered animals), the Wanderer Memory Trail (dedicated to the roughly 500 enslaved Africans smuggled here illegally in 1858), and the 250-acre Historic Landmark District. But don’t worry if you don’t get to it — between gator spotting at Horton Pond and lounging along dunes at Glory Beach, there’s plenty of people-free outdoor activities that couples can enjoy alone.
Driving time from Jacksonville: 1 hour
Driving time from Atlanta: 5 hours
8. Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Denver is one of the best cities in the US for outdoor-adventure addicts. Proximity to the Rocky Mountains means locals are only a short skip away from some of the best hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and camping in the country. But sometimes romance isn’t about mounting 14-ers and roughing it in the wild — sometimes it’s about rewarding one another with relaxation.
Glenwood Springs, a scenic three-hour drive from Denver, is the best place for couples looking to indulge. The town is home to three natural hot springs attractions where you can spend an entire weekend kicking back in steamy pools while enjoying views of rugged mountains. Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves and Iron Mountain Hot Springs are both worth a visit, but Glenwood Hot Springs is the local favorite. Not only has it served the public since 1888, making it the oldest business of the three, it’s also the largest. With a main pool that’s over 400 feet long and 100 feet wide, there’s plenty of space to get a little alone time underwater. (If you want extra-special alone time, book yourself a room steps from the pool.)
Once you’re both properly pruned from a therapeutic soak, take the shuttle from Glenwood Springs to Hanging Lake, a 1.2-mile hike that leads to a turquoise pool fed by Bridal Veil Falls. If Mother Nature could pick a spot for you to propose to your partner, this would be the place.
Driving time from Denver: 3 hours