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As an American citizen with a passion for international travel, I often forget about the prospect of exploration within my own country. So, I rounded up some of the most underrated US cities to inspire more domestic travel both for myself, and my readers! Enjoy!
Table of contents
Contribution: Me! Jade, The Migrant Yogi
While most people have probably heard of Santa Catalina Island (thanks, Stepbrothers!), many are not familiar with its only incorporated city, Avalon. Located in the California Channel Islands, Avalon is the southernmost city in LA County.
Its main draw is tourism, but Avalon offers much more to do than just beaches, water sports, and restaurants. How about a Bison expedition? Zip lining? Rock climbing? Falconry experiences? Overnight camping?
Of course, Avalon also offers things such as golfing and scuba diving. Not to mention the local favorite – Glass Bottom Boat Experience.
On the ferry coming from Long Beach you can see dolphins playing in the water as you approach the island.
While not necessarily a budget destination, Avalon isn’t so expensive it’ll break the bank.
Come explore Avalon and the rest of Santa Catalina Island for a somewhat less conventional California vacation.
Photo & Contribution: Gina, Travel Montana Now
Billings, Montana is often overlooked for its more glamorous neighbors to the west, like Bozeman, Missoula, and Whitefish. But spend some time in Montana’s largest city and you’ll soon see why Billings shouldn’t be an overlooked travel destination.
It’s home to an international airport that is still so small it’s quick to get to the gate and relatively hassle-free.
Once you’re in Billings, you’ll want to check out the downtown area. Here, you’ll find historic sites like the Billings Depot and Moss Mansion plus a burgeoning food and drink scene.
If you’re a beer lover, don’t miss out on doing the Billings Brew Trail. The downtown area of Billings has lots of craft breweries all within walking distance of each other.
Beyond downtown Billings, you’ll find that the outer rim of Billings suddenly has you feeling like you’re in the country and surrounded by farmland. In fact, the northern edge of Billings is lined by the picturesque Rimrocks, often referred to as the Rims. These cliff-like rock formations are great for hikes along the top and even rappelling down the side.
If you’d prefer something less adventurous, go to the Yellowstone Kelly Memorial on the top of the Rims. Here, you can learn more about an important figure in Montana’s history.
Contribution: Kay, The Awkward Traveller
Boise, Idaho is hands down one of the most underrated US cities for travelers! Boise, pronounced Boy-see (not boy-zee) is on the ancestral lands of the Boise Valley Shoshone and Bannock Indigenous tribes. The city is one of the highest-ranked US cities for both safety and walkability!
You will find many things to do in Boise. No matter where you stay in the city, you will never be too far from the action!
Idaho is world-famous for their potatoes. So, first things first, stop by “Boise Fry Company” to try over ten fry variations and ten dipping sauces. Boise is a culinary hub for American cuisine, so check out “Bacon” for breakfast, “Fork” for lunch, and “Eureka!” for dinner! Most of the restaurants are dedicated to locally sourced ingredients as well!
Boise is a surprisingly outdoorsy city, with a large green space called “The Greenbelt”. This is a biking/walking trail following the river that cuts through Boise.
When you’re ready to learn about some of Boise’s culture, visit the Basque Center! Visiting for a longer trip? Head outside of the city – Idaho is surprisingly lush with waterfalls, like Shoshone Falls.
Or you can decolonize your American history with a trip to the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center. Discover the truth behind Sacajawea and America’s journey to the west!
Contribution: Bettina, The Next Trip
Charleston is an adorable city in South Carolina, full of history, Victorian-style houses, and home of great seafood. The city is right on the ocean and bursts with Southern charm. Cobblestone streets, pastel colored houses, and horses with carriages are a standard sight here and bring the quaint city to life.
Charleston’s history is deeply rooted in slave-trade in the 18th century and the city played a major part in the Civil War as it began here. For history lovers, a visit to the Old Slave Mart museum is a must.
The hustle and bustle centers around King Street, which is the heart of the city, filled with independent boutiques, restaurants and bars. The street especially comes to life at night when restaurants open their patios and life music fills the quarter.
Any visit to Charleston would not be complete without walking through the historic French Quarter which was built in 1850. The quarter which used to be the home of French merchants has been beautifully preserved and is the home of the Pink House, built in 1712, and the Old Slave Mart, built in 1859.
A walk through the historic district will lead to Waterfront Park which offers great views of the ocean and makes for a romantic evening stroll. The city’s Southern charm combined with its rich history and great food scene will make for an unforgettable romantic getaway.
colorado springs, co
Photo & Contribution: Cee, Itz a Family Thing
Colorado Springs is oftentimes overshadowed by its sister city, Denver. Known for being home to one of the largest Army bases in the country, Colorado Springs is a hidden treasure.
If you are looking to visit Colorado Spring the most convenient way to get there is flying. You can fly into the city, as there is a small airport. Since the airport is so small there are few direct flights, many people fly into Denver. From there, it’s a two-hour drive down south to Colorado Springs.
This destination is perfect for adventure seekers, families, and solo travelers. There is something for everyone to do in this city.
If you are a nature buff Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, Red Rock Canyon, and Palmer Park will amaze you with the natural views and phenomenal scenery.
Families with kids can enjoy Cheyenne Zoo, Interactive Parks, Dinosaur Museum, and Ghost Town Museum.
Whether you are looking for adventure or just a place to relax, Colorado Springs has just what you are looking for.
Note: If you haven’t tried anything from the Denver Biscuit Company you are missing out. The food here is phenomenal and the portions are huge. The name is a little misleading, it is located in downtown Colorado Springs and is worth the trip.
Contribution: Lissa, Roots Wings & Travel Things
Detroit, Michigan has never been a big tourist destination. However, the incredible revitalization of the city over the last ten years has quietly turned it into one of the most underrated US cities!
Known as the home of the American automobile as well as the birthplace of Motown music, Detroit has much to offer. From beautiful parks like Campus Martius to the Riverwalk to fantastic markets and a bustling foodie scene, there’s so much to see and do in Detroit.
Detroit is well known for its bike paths and bike accessibility as well as it’s street art. The city has brought in popular street artists from all over the world to paint incredible murals throughout the downtown and Midtown areas. Detroit has lots of fantastic museums including the Detroit
Institute of Arts with world renowned exhibits featured year round, the Motown Museum, and the famed Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Just a stone’s throw away from the city is the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation and Greenfield Village in Dearborn. Here, you can ride a historic steam engine back in time. Explore how Henry Ford brought the automobile to America!
Kids will love the summer sandbox at Campus Martius park downtown while parents and adults will love the restaurant and brewery scene in the city. If you’re not afraid of the snow, Detroit is a wonderful place to visit at Christmas time!
grand junction, co
Contribution: Kelly, The Weekend Wanderluster
When people think of Colorado, they usually mean Denver or the Rockies. However, on the west side of the state, Grand Junction is Colorado’s main city in the desert!
Surrounded by mountains and iconic rock formations, Grand Junction offers a different side of Colorado. Bordering the city is an oasis of wineries and orchards.
Some of the state’s best biking and hiking spots are found along these winding desert trails.
In the city, there are a variety of independent galleries and boutiques.
Grand Junction is not the easiest place to get to by air. Only a few airlines fly in from nearby cities and only a few days a week. Therefore driving to Grand Junction, Colorado is your best option if you’re looking for a fun and scenic road trip! From Denver, it takes about 4 hours if you’re driving straight through.
If you’re interested in stopping along the way, check out the towns of Vail, and Aspen. Taking the back road between them instead of the highway will allow you to cross the Continental Divide at Independence Pass (over 12,000 ft).
Grand Junction very much holds that small-town America atmosphere, as it was built on a historic shipping route. For that reason, most of the things to do here are outside of the city core itself.
For breathtaking natural beauty, don’t miss river rafting down the Colorado River, hiking to see the wild horses, or the Colorado National Monument’s scenic Rim Rock Drive. It’s an outdoor-lover’s paradise in a very unique desert setting!
green bay, wi
Contribution: Paulina, Paulina on the Road
Looking for an underrated city that has been regarded as sports heaven? Beer and cheese? Green Bay, Wisconsin is what you’re looking for! Green Bay is definitely one of the most underrated US cities.
This city is also considered as the American DairyLand, simply because Green bay produces 2.37 billion pounds of cheese.
Also, this is a place where you get a variety of beer. Each type of beer has a history of its own, and you would love the taste and aroma coming out from these local brews.
If you are a family person, then the place is your ultimate destination. Green Bay, Wisconsin, has several family attractions like amusement parks, museums, and animal encounters. The city surely knows how to attract people at any time of the year.
The summer and fall are filled with music festivals. The rest of the season is filled with activities like Oktoberfest and Apple picking.
Coming to the historical importance of this city, you will be amazed to discover it. One of the most exciting things to do in Green Bay is to see a Packers game! Go, Pack, go!
Enjoy a delicious cheese and beer tasting that will make you fall in love with the city.
Photo & Contribution: Michele, From Inwood Out
Ithaca gives off the energetic vibe of a college town, and is the perfect destination for hikers, craft beer lovers, and fans of excellent food.
You don’t have to go far to find Ithaca’s natural beauty. The Cascadilla Gorge Trail begins downtown and—after hiking a steep stone pathway past waterfalls and vertical cliffs—connects to Cornell University. Additional scenic hikes are at nearby Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park.
Unwind from a day of hiking with a cold beverage at Ithaca Beer Co. or do a wine and liqueur tasting at Six Mile Creek Vineyard.
For dinner, Moosewood Restaurant serves renowned vegetarian fare. Maxie’s Supper Club & Oyster Bar offers southern dishes and live music. And Just a Taste is a tapas restaurant with menu items sourced from local farms.
Another feature that makes the city worth visiting is Ithaca Commons. The 4-block pedestrian plaza is loaded with boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries. This is exactly the type of gathering place that travelers seek out when looking for the heart and soul of a city. Spend an afternoon people-watching or attend one of the many annual events like the autumn Apple Harvest Festival, or the live summer concert series.
You can get to Ithaca by car or bus. The nearest Amtrak Station is in Syracuse; then catch a bus for the remaining 60 miles.
jersey city, nj
Contribution: Sean, LivingOutLau
New York City is unquestionably one of the most popular places to visit in the United States. Stunning skyscrapers, amazing nightlife, rich history, the “City That Never Sleeps” is the perfect way to start your journey in USA. However, traveling in NYC is not cheap, and a one-week trip can easily set you behind a grand or two. There are a few tricks that will make your NYC trip much more affordable. The best one is undoubtedly staying in one of the most underrated US cities, Jersey City.
Jersey City is an up-and-coming city located in the state of New Jersey. Separated by the Hudson River, Jersey City sits directly across from Manhattan. This allows for easy access to some of the best attractions in NYC. The waterfront of Jersey City is filled with stunning apartments, hotels, and Airbnbs at a fraction of the price in Manhattan. The PATH transportation system allows people staying in Jersey City to reach Manhattan in around 20 minutes.
Travelers can also get a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline at the Liberty State Park. These views are impossible to achieve if you stay in Manhattan itself! The Empty Sky Memorial is New Jersey’s official September 11 memorial. Its unique architecture highlights the existing One World Trade Center.
Though staying in New Jersey might seem like an unusual thing to do in NYC, it offers an experience that cannot be had by staying in the Big Apple!
marco island, fl
Contribution: Me! Jade, The Migrant Yogi
As with many popular Florida destinations, Marco Island has wonderful beaches to explore. What makes Marco Island different? Relative to other Florida tourist destinations, the crowds are sparse and the beaches offer much more space.
Situated in the Gulf of Mexico off Southwest Florida, the warm, tropical waters are perfect for cooling off in the heat.
Try to book accommodation located on the breakwater. This way, you’ll have alligators to watch while you sip some wine or enjoy dinner.
Marco Island has a cinema, a couple of museums, and excellent dining options. Naples and Fort Meyers are both nearby in case you’re looking for exciting nightlife.
If you’re into nature, there are plenty of nature preserves and swamp sanctuaries to keep you occupied.
Watersports are available such as windsurfing and jet skiing, among others.
Sail on the Marco Island Princess for a water-based tour with large meals and idyllic sunsets.
The main draw of this barrier island is that it’s much less densely populated. So, if you’re looking for a tropical destination without quite so many crowds, hit up Marco Island for your next Florida destination.
Contribution: Becca & Mike, MY Travel BF
Situated only about an hour and a half from Chicago, Milwaukee is often overlooked by travelers. However, it’s a great, underrated US city to visit. Milwaukee has delicious local food, is inexpensive, and has tons to do!
Milwaukee is an under-the-radar city that you need to visit now, even if it’s just a day trip from Chicago. Visiting Milwaukee will cost you only a fraction of what other major cities do, so you will have more of a budget to explore the city.
When in Milwaukee, you will want to eat some local food, which includes the sacred Friday Fish Fry—a Milwaukee tradition—cheese curds, a butter burger, and, of course, beer. These may not be famous foods around the U.S., but you will be more than pleased that you tried them in Milwaukee.
The best place to get traditional Milwaukee food is at Lakefront Brewery! Their award-winning beer, fish fry, and cheese curds are outstanding. Plus, you’ll be in a traditional German style beer hall.
If beer is your thing, Milwaukee is perfect for you. Excellent beer in a city built on beer—think Miller, Pabst, Blatz, and Schlitz—for dirt cheap prices. Brewery hop around the city while exploring the various neighborhoods in this underrated city.
Don’t forget to visit the Third Ward, where you can visit art galleries, trendy restaurants, and the indoor Milwaukee Public Market!
Put Milwaukee on your destinations of places to travel to soon!
Contribution: Wendy, The Nomadic Vegan
This picturesque Southern city on the Gulf Coast is often overlooked in favor of nearby New Orleans. But for families, couples or anyone looking for a quieter alternative, Mobile offers many of the same features as New Orleans without all the partying.
These days, it’s part of Alabama, but Mobile was once the original capital of French Louisiana Territory. This French heritage is still visible, both in the architecture and in the local traditions and celebrations.
The most obvious of these is Mardi Gras, which is celebrated for about two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. During this time you’ll experience daily parades as well as masked balls. It’s a family-friendly affair, and the local kids eagerly await their chance to catch beaded necklaces and moon pies that are thrown from the floats during the parade.
Another local tradition is the Azalea Trail Festival, which is celebrated in the middle of March. Local high school senior girls dress up in frilly pastel hoop skirts with matching parasols to play the part of the Southern belle welcoming visitors to the city. Even if you aren’t able to catch either of these local festivals, Mobile is a worthwhile destination at any time of year.
Visit Fort Condé and the USS Alabama battleship to learn about local history, and tour the beautiful Bellingrath Gardens to get in touch with nature.
Mobile is full of great restaurants, and it’s easily reached by car on either I-10 or I-65.
Contribution: Me! Jade, The Migrant Yogi
Nestled somewhere between Boston and NYC, Providence doesn’t get as much love as it should. If you are based in either city, Providence makes a great day trip from Boston OR New York. But this capital city of Rhode Island has a lot to offer visitors in terms of food, history, culture, and events. Definitely be sure to stop at one of the best restaurants in Providence while you’re there!
Providence is extremely walkable, making it a great option if renting a car isn’t your thing (or if you’re not into taking public transportation).
The different neighborhoods of Providence have something to offer everyone. The posh East Side is home to Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, beautiful parks, and of course, the iconic Thayer Street. Come to the East Side to see gorgeous brownstones, take a haunted Providence tour (H.P. Lovecraft was born here and many of his stories are set in the city), or go to a festival at India Point Park.
The hip West End is where you’ll find the best food in the city, speakeasies, and trendy coffee shops. Providence is becoming more and more known for its culinary scene, and the West End is a great place to explore restaurants.
In the summer, Providence is home to many local festivals as well as the well-known Waterfires. Try to make sure you are in the city on a Saturday. Fires are lit along the center of the Providence river, and food trucks and entertainers are set up along the parameter. It’s a perfect date night or event with the family.
Visiting Rhode Island in winter? Providence comes alive with markets and festivals to be enjoyed by the whole family.
If you’re into museums, check out the RISD Museum for your art fix. The Providence Children’s Museum is also a fun option.
Regardless of where your interests lie, Providence will not disappoint. It is undoubtedly one of the most underrated US cities.
salt lake city, ut
Contribution: James, TeamAJTravels
Salt Lake City is best known for two things: Mormons and mountains. The latter provides a picturesque backdrop to the city, and is what attracts thousands of visitors every year. Be sure to visit the nearby snowfields!
You can reach a number of world-class ski mountains in less than 40 minutes from the centre of the city. Solitude, Brighton and Alta ski resorts are all in the same region immediately to the east.
If you want to go a little further, Park City is where you can find a buzzing little town and some of the remnants from the 2002 Winter Olympics. Here, you can take a ride down the bobsled track in a four man sled – it is fun, but also a physical test as you will pull some serious G’s as you fly around the icy corners.
The city itself was originally a settlement for the LDS church (Mormons) and the religious influence remains to this day.
You will find heavy restrictions on the sale of alcohol, bar opening hours and ID requirements. So, if you are foreign make sure to bring your passport out or you will be rejected from most bars!
But outside of that, religion is not as in your face as it’s reputation would suggest. The Temple Square area in the CBD where the main church is located is a very pleasant area to walk around, and no one will be hanging around trying to convert you.
Another claim to fame is that Salt Lake City is where the first franchised KFC store was opened back in the 1950’s. You can see this just off the main freeway that heads south from the CBD.
santa cruz, ca
Contribution: Ale, Sea Salt & Fog
Santa Cruz is a small beach town located in the heart of the Monterey Bay in the central California coast. The town is located less than an hour and a half drive south of San Francisco, and has near perfect cool weather year-round!
While Santa Cruz is best known for its historic beach boardwalk, there’s also plenty of natural scenery begging to be explored. The town shines in its multitude of beaches, water sports, and hiking trails, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
An easy way to see the natural beauty of Santa Cruz is by doing the two-mile, one way walk along West Cliff Drive. This is an easy walk on the cliffs above the coastline below, where you’ll find coves, tide pools, and surfers riding the waves.
To get more dramatic cliffside views, head to the western edge of town, to the Seymour Marine Center. You can walk alongside the cliffs right behind the Center for some of the most breathtaking views in town.
Staying on the west side, drive up to the University of California at Santa Cruz campus to find groves of redwood trees and the hiking trails to access them.
There’s plenty to do and explore in and around Santa Cruz, ensuring entertainment while visiting this underrated California beach town.
Contribution: Eden, Rock a Little Travel
Sedona, Arizona can be considered by many as one of the most underrated US cities. Known for its towering red rock formations and spiritual wellness retreats, Sedona welcomes visitors of all kinds.
One of the primary reasons to visit Sedona is to simply enjoy its natural beauty. Its stunning desert landscape is perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and trail running.
Some of the most popular things to do in Sedona are hiking up Cathedral Rock, enjoying the natural slides at Slide Rock State Park, paying a visit to the Chapel of the Holy Cross cathedral, or visiting one of the city’s many known energy vortexes.
Wellness retreats and spiritual healing opportunities are also widely available. Visitors will find wellness boutiques, healing centers, and yoga studios all over town.
Another widely popular activity in Sedona is stargazing and astrophotography. Due to its prime location amid miles upon miles of desert, the low light pollution makes it perfect for viewing the night sky. In fact, photographers from all over the world visit Sedona due to its official designation as a Dark Sky Community.
Sedona is located about 120 miles north of Phoenix or 30 miles south of Flagstaff. From Phoenix it’s an easy two hour drive with beautiful scenery along the way.
Contribution: Constance, The Adventures of Panda Bear
Located in the suburbs of Phoenix, Tempe, AZ sometimes falls into the shadow of her better known sister. However, Tempe has got a lot going for herself as well, there is literally a little something for everyone. Some of the best things to do in Tempe include visiting Tempe Town Lake, seeing the Arizona State University campus, and exploring the local foodie spots.
Tempe Town Lake is one of the most picturesque places in Tempe. It’s one of the best places to take a stroll around the water in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. You can also take a boat or a pedal boat out onto the lake depending on your heart’s desire. It’s a great spot to do some outdoor activity.
Arizona State University is home to ASU Gammage, a performance venue, and ASU Art Museum. ASU Gammage was designed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and holds various shows throughout the year, such as concerts, performances, and Broadway musicals. ASU Art Museum houses various rotating exhibits throughout the year focusing primarily on Latin and Native American art, however they also have contemporary art and ceramics as well.
Being an international college town, Tempe is known for its diverse cuisines in the city’s “Spice Trail”. Here, you’ll easily find Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indian, and Thai food all along a single street that goes by its official name, E. Apache Blvd.
You’ll love visiting Tempe so much you’ll want to go back again and again!
Contribution: Lyndsay, The Purposely Lost
Just inland from coastal Virginia, Williamsburg is a great city for all ages and all interests. Best known for its role in Colonial history, Colonial Williamsburg is the largest living history museum in the United States.
You can walk around the neighborhood and truly explore what life was like in a prominent 18th Century town. The area is also home to the second-oldest college institution in the United States, the College of William & Mary.
Not only can you explore Williamsburg, but it’s just one city in what makes up the Historic Triangle of Virginia. Jamestown, the first successful English settlement in the United States and Yorktown, a turning-point battleground during the Revolutionary War, make up the other two points on the triangle.
They are accessible by car from downtown Williamsburg and can be easily added to a five-day itinerary of Williamsburg.
Aside from the Colonial history, modern Williamsburg is filled with great local shops and restaurants, as well as amusement parks like Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and Water Country USA, and the Great Wolf Lodge.
With a modern local flair among its rich American history, Williamsburg, Virginia, is an underrated Southern gem, and a great addition to any East Coast road-trip. Truly an underrated US city!