America the beautiful: 3 breathtaking destinations to explore this summer


I’ve traveled all over the world, yet the United States’ 3.8 million square miles constantly surprises me with how gorgeous – and varied – the country’s natural landscape is. Both the East and West Coast have natural wonders that make for a perfect getaway without having to get out a passport. For example:

Acadia National Park: Located on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, Acadia National Park is nearly 50,000 acres of natural beauty. This easily accessible park, which borders the quaint town of Bar Harbor (one of my favorite places in the U.S.), has miles of carriage roads perfect for wandering and cycling. The 27-mile park loop road offers spectacular vistas and miles of Maine’s famous rocky coastline. Cycling this hilly road is one of the biggest physical challenges I’ve ever taken up, but the views make it well worth it.

The highest point in the park is Cadillac Mountain. Its 1,528-foot peak sees the first sunlight in the United States. Sunrise there is spectacular, but bring a blanket and a thermos of coffee – even in August, the morning air is quite chilly. If getting up early isn’t quite your idea of a good time, sunset on the mountain is just as beautiful (but a little bit more crowded).

Florida’s Gulf Coast: I grew up in Tampa and definitely have a bias toward Gulf Coast beaches. Who can blame me? The white, powdery sand is consistently ranked as some of the country’s best. But the best thing about the Gulf Coast is that every evening has a magnificent sunset.

St. Pete Beach is just down the coast from Clearwater Beach, but isn’t as busy. Set up camp at Caddy’s On the Beach for the day – they are open for breakfast and will bring your Bloody Mary’s right to your lounge chair. A little further south, Sanibel Island is one of America’s best beaches for shelling (get out at dawn for the best selection), and the small town of Captiva, with its numerous vacation home rentals, makes the perfect home base for a Gulf Coast vacation.

Phoenix, Arizona: The other places on this list are lush, green East Coast locations, but that doesn’t mean that the dessert isn’t just as beautiful. The first time I visited Phoenix, I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the surrounding dessert was.

While it’s not the same as the greens and blues of America’s coast, the Arizona desert’s endless shades of red offer a totally different yet very accessible beauty. Within the Phoenix metro area, there are almost a dozen mountains and buttes, perfect for day hikes and manageable even for a beginning hiker. One of the best things about the American Southwest? The sunsets almost always paint the sky unbelievable colors.

Christina Saull is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and photographer with a travel blog My View from the Middle Seat. Follow her adventures on Twitter at @MiddleSeatView.