The coronavirus pandemic has canceled a lot of things, but your summer vacation doesn’t have to be one of them.


Social-distance-friendly travel options are in high demand as the COVID-19 pandemic approaches the six-month mark. And as the summer travel season winds down, now is an ideal time to plan a getaway to destinations offering outdoor dining and shopping opportunities.  

Touristy locations are working tirelessly to welcome guests to outdoor shopping and dining experiences and some are even introducing other experiences that can be had at a safe distance.

Here are four destinations to consider so you can experiences outdoor strolling, dining and exploring.

Asheville, North Carolina

Capturing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is conveniently located in the center of the Eastern Seaboard. Asheville is known natural attractions, and hiking trails, so consider a lesser-known path offering the chance to explore the mountain landscape with solitude on a trail less traveled. Asheville’s Hike Finder tool helps trekkers choose trail experiences based on features, difficulty, views, and travel time. 

Asheville is gaining attention as a small but exciting hub for culinary creativity where Appalachian food traditions and artisan goods blend together. Asheville’s collaborative food community offers guests a variety of dining options.

Asheville, North Carolina, is nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounded by close to one million acres of wilderness areas and parks, including the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. (Photo: Explore Asheville)

Picnicking is a popular trend here. While restaurants slowly open with safety in mind, one trend that is here to stay is the increased array of gourmet take-out offerings perfect for a multicourse picnic packed with local flavor or a cook-it-yourself meal for your rental, campsite or scenic day-trip.

For travelers who want to dine, Asheville’s 250+ independent restaurants offer outdoor dining in the form of sidewalk tables, in courtyards and rooftop areas with fire pits and views of the mountains. Some notable spots to dine outdoors include Smoky Park Supper Club and The Montford.

To shop outside, the south end of the Grove Arcade is home to the Grove Arcade Makers Market an outdoor bazaar with stalls filled by artisans selling their crafts. Here you’ll find handmade jewelry, paintings, clothing, bath products, musical instruments, terrariums, and local honey.

Walkable downtown puts Asheville’s culture on full display. Wear your mask (required in North Carolina) as you stroll sidewalks and explore shops in historic buildings. Streets are dotted with art and craft galleries, boutiques, outdoor dining, nifty shops featuring used books, records, locally-made jewelry and more. 

After exploring the city, settle in at Kimpton Hotel Arras in the heart of walkable downtown with mountain views.

Bar Harbor, Maine

The epitome of New England charm and a quintessential waterfront destination, the picturesque outdoor strolls and al-fresco dining that Bar Harbor is worth a visit. This destination is within driving distance of many states also has an airport for visitors beyond driving range.

Capture the fresh air of the town while enjoying the Bar Harbor Shore Path, a level walking path extends along the shore, allowing for scenic views of the sea at a leisurely pace. It also offers a historical glimpse of the town, running along the Bar Harbor’s gorgeous summer cottages.

Bar Harbor, Maine, puts you close to Acadia National Park, Frenchman’s Bay and the Porcupine Islands. (Photo: Dobbs Productions and Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce)

One stop along Shore Path is the Terrace Grille, an outdoor dining experience offering ocean air, stunning views and fresh seafood fare. (But if you’re going, keep in mind the restaurant’s season ends on Oct. 27.) Another outside dining pick is Side Street Cafe where guests dine on an umbrella-lined porch and sip on their seasonal margaritas and other local offerings.  (Be aware: A state mandate requires that masks be worn, including while waiting outside and walking to your table.)

One lodging option to consider is the Bar Harbor Inn, an iconic spot overlooking the Frenchman Bay and Porcupine Islands with easy access to shops, art galleries and dining.

After a restful night, browse through the Eden Farmer’s Market where shoppers can find Maine maple products, prepared foods or pick up a locally-sourced gifts.

Bloomington, Indiana

The Midwest is such a friendly and genteel part of our country, and Bloomington is within six hours of most major Midwest cities. Bloomington is ideal for summer and autumn road trips, and has something for everyone from families to retired couples, plus it’s great for getaway with your friends. Bloomington is also home to the gorgeous campus of Indiana University.

To learn more about the city’s architecture and history, or to experience a healthy and interesting walk, Bloomington’s historic districts are easily accessible. There are 13 historic walking tours available to explore – each highlighting the architecture and history of Bloomington, the state’s limestone capital.

For a nostalgic night out, Bloomington is home this treasure: the Starlite Drive-in Theater. Spend an evening safely in your own car and enjoy the cool air. Be sure to check Starlite’s Facebook page for the most up-to-date information and see what movies are coming to their screen.

A scene from the vibrant dining and shopping offerings in downtown Bloomington, just steps from Indiana University. (Photo: Visit Bloomington)

Bloomington’s restaurants and bars are on board with social distancing goals, and offer patio seating and the retail shops ready for shoppers. Be prepared to wear face masks, call ahead, and be flexible as operating hours and capacity may change frequently. Enjoy outdoor dining at the Uptown Cafe, which offers an extensive menu with great specials, or Social Cantina, which boasts outdoor seating and amazing guacamole and several flavors of handcrafted margaritas. Or, if beer is more your style,  sip on craft brews in the beer garden at Big Woods Bloomington.

Bloomington also boasts wide-open spaces, with plenty of socially distanced adventures to choose from, attracting cyclists, fishers and birders. One place, Lower Cascades Park, has a fully-accessible playground (though it is currently closed due to the pandemic), two limestone shelter houses, as well as picnic areas and a paved trail. For more outdoor fun, plan a visit to Monroe Lake, where enthusiasts can rent a kayak and spend a day on the water.

Another outdoor gem is the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market, held every Saturday, April through November.

Two great hotel picks in Bloomington are the Graduate Bloomington and Hyatt Place. Both hotels put guests in the center of the dining and shopping action of the town.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Located on the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel-by-the-Sea features hidden nooks and charming courtyards among the storefronts lining its picturesque streets. The European-style village is home to a robust arts scene, and stunning sunsets at Carmel Beach. (Photo: Michael Troutman/DMT Imaging via

Nestled along the Pacific Coast, Carmel-by-the-Sea boasts whimsically-styled homes and a beachy vibe as well as charming art galleries, culinary hot spots, and boutiques.

Retail shops are open for walk-in customers with safety protocols in place. Visitors must wear a facial covering and practice social distancing. Carmel-by-the-Sea is known as a premier shopping destination for tourists and locals alike. With options ranging from local boutiques, outdoor malls, antiques, candy shops and more, Carmel-by-the-Sea has over 150 options to choose from – within just one-square mile. A majority of the shops are located on Ocean Avenue, a stone-paved road leading shoppers directly to beautiful Carmel Beach.

Of the many great shopping options to choose from, a few notable highlights include Carmel Plaza, an outdoor, pet-friendly shopping plaza on Ocean Avenue and Mission Street with more than 35 stores and boutiques, fine dining, and more surrounding an open-air courtyard with cozy seating areas, outdoor fire pits and gardens.

Consider the historic Normandy Inn as your home base while visiting. For travelers who would prefer to minimize contact with people outside their group, the hotel offers private cottages with three bedrooms and full kitchens that can accommodate up to six people. 

Restaurants are open for outdoor dining, takeout or delivery services with safety protocols in place. Restaurants in Carmel-by-the-Sea benefit from their access to fresh seafood. Some favorites include Flaherty’s Seafood Grill, with an outdoor patio ideal for social distancing and Village Corner, which provides an all-day menu  that highlights the Central Coast’s farm-to-table dining ethos. The restaurant offers vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Beyond dining and shopping, there is a variety of outdoor recreation options, including biking, kayaking, scuba diving, surfing and golf courses in the area have also reopened. And for those who like to vacation with their fur children, dogs are permitted off-leash at Carmel Beach.


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