For as long as we can remember, places like New York City and Los Angeles have been glamorized by movies and television as the hottest places in the United States. Where would we be if Sex and the City took place in the midwest? Or if 90210 was an Alaskan zip code? The sheer thought makes our skin crawl.
But when you’re a seasoned traveler who's been there and done that, finding somewhere fresh to discover can feel like a challenge. Luckily, there is no shortage of interesting cities with their own touch of local flavor, historical relevance, and even booming nightlife for you to visit. Whether you’ve already hit the largest must-see cities or you’re looking for a place to travel that won’t break the bank, picking a lesser-known city to visit is the perfect alternative for your vacation.
There’s plenty to discover outside the hustle and bustle of a concrete jungle, from thriving art districts to historic sites to small-town food scenes that just might change your life. For the curious travelers and experienced jet-setters alike, here’s a list of the most underrated cities to visit in the United States.
Mostly known for its history as a major seaport and for being the center of HBO’s The Wire, Baltimore is a charming city often overshadowed by the neighboring nation’s capital of Washington, DC. But if you’re down for a few days of low-key activities and hanging out by the waterfront, there’s plenty to add to your itinerary in Baltimore.
To experience Baltimore as the Marylanders do, start your day with brunch at somewhere like Miss Shirley’s Cafe for a meal freshly sourced by the Chesapeake Bay. You can spend most of your time around the Inner Harbor visiting a number of eclectic shops and boutiques by water taxi or on-foot around the seven-mile Waterfront Promenade that connects the different harbor districts. Some of Baltimore’s most famous attractions can be found here, including the National Aquarium and the USS Constellation, a Civil-War era ship that’s now a National Historic Landmark. Wind down in the evening at Max’s Taphouse with a brew from Maryland’s largest selection of draughts.
For the outdoorsman (or outdoorswoman) in all of us, Colorado is a picturesque place to travel for a refreshing getaway. But if you’d rather avoid the highly populated Denver area, you can head north to Boulder and find yourself in the scenic regions at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Find your way through the rugged rocks of the Flatiron trails to overlook the city from an idyllic Western vantage point, or visit Eldorado Canyon State Park for rock-climbing and hiking among the sandstone cliffs.
If it’s tiny shops, street vendors, and a Saturday morning farmers market you’re looking for, you can get your fix within all four blocks of the Pearl Street Mall, which is also home to some fun public art and tulip gardens in the springtime. As far as good eats go, you can keep it simple at Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery with delicious bar food, or class it up at the farm-to-table bistro Black Cat— wherever you end up, just don’t be tempted by the Rocky Mountain oysters.
Located in the midst of the Blue Range Mountains, Asheville is a quaint little town with a thriving arts scene and beautiful architecture. First on your list should be a visit to the largest home in the United States, the Biltmore Mansion. Spend a whole day on the grounds living the Vanderbilt lifestyle as you take in the grandeur of a 250-room castle, visit the gardens, winery, and Antler Hill Village farm, and grab a bite at one of the six restaurants on the 8,000-acre estate.
Alternatively, you can feel less broke on a trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway winding through the high elevations of the mountains or help Asheville stay weird by visiting one of the eccentric museums downtown, such as the Asheville Pinball Museum, or the Asheville Mystery Museum if you’re up for a good spooking.
If you’re in need of a release from the cold grips of a northern winter, Tucson is the perfect place to be kissed by that sweet, warm Arizona sun. Spend some time getting acquainted with the beautiful desert scenery of Tucson at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This all-in-one zoo, museum, and botanical garden showcases plants and wildlife native to the Southwestern desert region and educates visitors on the endangered species’ of the Sonora Desert.
For Western enthusiasts, a trip to Old Tucson Studios will make you feel like a real life, gun-slinging cowboy as you tour the film set where a number of Westerns were filmed, including a few starring Western film GOAT John Wayne himself. And if you find yourself downtown, be sure to stop by Bird Modern Provisions & Bar for a taste of redefined Southern comfort foods and classic cocktails.
You may be keen on visiting the Eastern coast of South Carolina, but there are sights to be seen further west in the humble city of Greenville, too. Falls Park on the Reedy is the ultimate outdoor destination that serves as a quiet oasis for locals and visitors. Located in the historic West End, a 345-foot pedestrian suspension bridge serves as the vantage point for waterfalls surrounding the downtown area.
If you decide to hop on a carriage ride down Main Street in the morning, you may as well sign up for the Greenville Breakfast Tour, which will take you on a culinary adventure through some of the city’s best breakfast hotspots. Fitness freaks can join cyclists on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which follows an abandoned railroad track linking everything from downtown neighborhoods to wetlands for a true taste of South Carolina’s outdoor beauty.
Wisconsin may be notorious for its cheese, but there’s an enriching culture beyond the dairy veil of one of the most populated cities in the Midwest. Home to the Happy Days gang and an actual bronze statue of Fonzie (unsurprisingly named “Bronze Fonze”), Milwaukee is also known for its role in the history of beer production. The headquarters for beer giant Miller Brewing Company can be found in Milwaukee, along with innumerable local breweries offering tours and educating everyone on the unique past of beer production and the cities involvement in popularizing brewing.
If beer’s not your thing, you might find something interesting at the Harley-Davidson Museum, where you can dive into the 100-plus-year history of the legendary American motorcycle brand. Or stop by the Milwaukee Art Museum, if only to see the outrageous architecture of the building itself. And of course stop by Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub for a basket of traditional local cheese curds, because you’re in Wisconsin, after all.
There’s no chance of running into LeBron anymore, but that doesn’t make Cleveland any less of a great city to spend some time in. Bordering Lake Eerie, Cleveland is full of landmarks dating back to its reign as a manufacturing hub at the turn of the 20th century, including the steamship William G. Mather, which can be found at the Great Lakes Science Center. If you’re still feeling curious, you can stop by the Greater Cleveland Aquarium before switching gears to visit the house from A Christmas Story to feed the movie-geek deep inside.
If your parents ask for pictures from your trip, rest assured that your visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will fulfill the picture quota, with exhibits full of priceless music memorabilia and whatever traveling installation is drawing in visitors this year. When you get hungry, stop by the historic West Side Market to choose from over 100 food vendors for a quick bite to eat over, and over, and over again.
Fort Worth, TX
Feeling like a cowboy hat is a look for 2019? You’ll fit right in when you visit Fort Worth, Texas. A region once home to trading posts for actual cowboys in the 19th century, Fort Worth has evolved into a modern city with an enjoyable nightlife scene and plenty of activities for a full-blown holiday. Get your day drink on with a tour and tasting at Black Eyed Distilling Co., home of the first ever vodka handcrafted from black eyed peas. Alternatively, get your mid-day art appreciation on at the Kimbell Art Museum, which houses original works from legends like Matisse, Picasso, and even Michaelangelo.
When the sun goes down, you can stroll around Sunset Square between bars and restaurants waiting to show you a good time, or have a night out the Texas way in the Stockyards District, lined with Western-style saloons and Billy Bob’s Texas, an indoor rodeo plaza, bar, and arcade rolled into one. Yeehaw!
Kansas City, MI
Known as the City of Fountains, Kansas City, Missouri (not to be confused with Kansas City, Kansas) is a cultural hub for jazz music history and claims more fountains than Rome. Take a scenic stroll between fountains during the day, or wait until the evening when many of them are illuminated to show off their extravagant structure. Learn about the city where jazz legends like Charlie Parker and Count Basie defined their sound at the American Jazz Museum, or visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for the one-of-a-kind architecture and an extensive collection of Asian art.
If you’re heading downtown, the Power & Light District is your all-access pass to shopping, dining, and entertainment, with everything from live performances to high fashion boutiques. Witness the area’s transformation after dark, when neon lights fill the neighborhood.
Visiting Florida for a luxury beach vacation doesn’t have to mean a trip to Miami that leaves you hungover, broke, and sunburnt. Cities like Sarasota litter the coasts of Florida, and offer all of the essentials for a quality beach trip. For a museum trip that’s both elegant and interactive, spend a day at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Walk through the extensive Renaissance museum, take a tour of the waterfront mansion where the famous patriarch of the circus dynasty lived on the waterfront, and have some fun in the circus museum, which includes a full miniature-scale replica of the traveling Ringling Circus setup (or you can keep it simple with a stroll through Mable’s Rose Garden).
No matter where you go in Sarasota, you’re never too far from Siesta Key, one of the top rated beaches in the world, where you can find out what it means to truly relax. Schedule your days just right and you might make it to Marina Jack in time to grab a drink and watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, which never disappoints.