When it comes to traveling in the United States, there are plenty of popular destinations that come to mind, such as New York City, San Francisco, and Orlando. While most people typically head to one of the top five or six main tourist destinations in the US, there are countless cities throughout the country that are often overlooked.
These underrated cities in the US offer their own unique charm and attractions – often without the massive crowds you’ll experience elsewhere.
While there is no shame in hitting up the well-known cities or seeing the iconic landmarks in the United States, there is a certain allure to the less-traveled path.
This travel guide to the top 15 most underrated cities in the US features bustling urban centers with thriving art scenes and eclectic communities that deserve more attention and appreciation from travelers.
Most Underrated Cities in the US to Add to your Bucket List
Although bustling urban centers in their own right, many of these underrated cities in the United States aren’t necessarily first in line for tourism.
While there is no doubt you have likely heard of many of the places on this list, chances are, unless you live in or near one of them, you haven’t spent a lot of time there.
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Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City is near and dear to our hearts, mainly because we’ve called this underrated US city ‘home’ since 2012. While many visitors to the United States skip Oklahoma all together, the state actually has a lot to offer.
With its unique character, cowboy and Indian American culture, and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, the state is definitely worth exploring. The capital, Oklahoma City, is a fast growing metropolitan area.
Home to some of the country’s best street art, awesome restaurants and a budding craft brewery scene, Oklahoma City will undoubtedly surprise you. In fact, there are a lot of things to do in Oklahoma City that makes it one of the most underrated places in the US to visit.
First time visitors to Oklahoma City will want to check out the Bricktown tourist district. There you will find bars, restaurants, and plenty of entertainment options lining a lovely riverwalk that winds through the red brick buildings which give the district its name.
Another must-visit attraction for any visitor is the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, dedicated to those killed and impacted by the 1995 terrorist bombing in OKC. It is an extremely moving memorial, and one of the most powerful museums I’ve ever visited.
From beautiful urban parks to adventure activities on the river, there are a lot of fun things to do in Oklahoma City with kids, as well. Up for an adventure? Head to OKC Riversport where you can white water raft, kayak, and zipline in the shadows of downtown’s high rise buildings.
This under-the-radar US destination won’t stay that way for long. As the city continues to grow rapidly, word of OKC’s greatness will most certainly get out.
Wilmington, North Carolina
An easy day trip from Myrtle Beach, Wilmington is a great addition to a multigenerational family vacation.
With beautiful beaches, a charming boardwalk by the river, a quaint downtown, and even some up-and-coming hip districts to explore, Wilmington will impress travelers of all ages.
But if visiting Wilmington with kids be sure to visit the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and spend a day at Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park.
You may also want to visit Carolina Beach State Park, where you can learn about and find Venus Fly Traps growing in the wild. These carnivorous plants only grow native within a 100 mile radius of Wilmington.
Of course, there are lots of great museums in Wilmington – like the USS Battleship North Carolina Museum, the Wilmington Railroad Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Wilmington – that are worth touring. You’ll leave with a new appreciation for Wilmington and the underrated city’s southern hospitality.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
New Mexico is perhaps one of the most underrated states, so it should be no surprise that at least one New Mexico city would grace our list of underrated cities in the US.
Although not the state capital, Albuquerque is the largest and most diverse city in New Mexico. Venture to Old Town Albuquerque and you’ll quickly see why this city is worth visiting.
With its southwest, Adobe architecture, art galleries and boutiques, and incredible restaurants serving up plenty of authentic New Mexican food, Old Town is a great place to start your family vacation to New Mexico.
After touring the historic Old Town area head to BioPark Zoo and Aquarium or the Natural History Museum for an afternoon of fun.
Then head up the Sandia Tramway, the longest tram in the United States, to catch the views of the Sandia Mountains as the sunsets.
If culture is your passion, venture to the Indian Pueblo Culture Center or to nearby Bandelier National Monument where you can learn all about the indigenous people who originally settled the exquisite desert state.
Each year, millions of visitors travel to Washington D.C., one of the most popular cities in the country. Yet just a short 40 miles away, Baltimore hides in D.C.’s shadow and often gets overlooked.
Baltimore is an artsy, historic, and fun city full of quirky and charming neighborhoods. Most people who visit Baltimore spend a majority of their time in the Inner Harbor. It’s a great place to spend a few hours, especially for families visiting Maryland with kids.
The scenic Inner Harbor boasts historic ships, shopping, dining, entertainment, bars, restaurants, and many other attractions, including the National Aquarium, Maryland’s largest paid tourist attraction and one of the nation’s top three aquariums.
If you’re visiting during baseball season, head to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the first retro stadium, to catch a Baltimore Orioles game. After the game, grab a drink with the locals at Pratt Street Ale House.
Interested in history? Washington DC is one of the most historical places in the United States, so naturally, Baltimore has its fair share of historic attractions.
Make sure you check out Fort McHenry in the Locust Point neighborhood. This is where Francis Scott Key wrote the U.S. National Anthem during the War of 1812.
If art is your thing, then be sure to head over to the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, right in the heart of Baltimore and home to America’s largest, free annual art festival.
Fells Point is a chic neighborhood with cobblestone streets, galleries, record stores, taverns, fashion boutiques, and live music.
There’s plenty to do and see, but if you do nothing else when you come to Baltimore, you must try some real Maryland crab!
If you’re feeling adventurous, go to a Maryland Blue Crab House for a truly authentic crab feast experience, where you can shell the crabs yourself. Or venture to Captain James Seafood Palace, or “The Boat”, in Canton!
So, next time you’re visiting Washington D.C., make sure you allow yourself some time for a visit to Charm City!
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Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City is overlooked on the majority of Utah and Southwest USA road trips. Many visitors to the state flock to towns like Moab to visit one of Utah’s stunning national parks, like Arches, Canyonlands, or to southern Utah to visit places like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.
So, why go to Salt Lake? Because the capital of Utah is actually really hip and one of the most underrated US cities. Explore Salt Lake is one of the top experiences to have in Utah. And while you won’t find any of Utah’s famous slot canyons in SLC, it still has tons of hiking and unique attractions nearby in case you need to get away.
While you’re there, try and visit one or two of the super cute coffee shops (yes, they have tons of coffee shops despite being the headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Publik or Blue Copper Roasters are just two to try out.
Also head to the City Creek Center, yes, a mall, for an afternoon stroll. It offers an awesome view of the Mormon Temple and it is just super pretty. On that note, check out Temple Square while you’re at it.
If that’s not your style, wander around Liberty Park in Sugarhouse instead. The neighborhood is super nice and very hip.
If you want a break from the city after all of this, find one of the many trails in the neighboring towns and Wasatch or Uinta Mountains, relax on the shore of an alpine lake, visit a real life ice castle, or head to one of the many nearby ski resorts like Park City, Deer Valley, Solitude or Alta.
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Often overlooked and even mocked, Detroit, Michigan has a lot to offer visitors from world-class museums to music history.
One of the city’s top attractions is the Detroit Institute of Arts. It’s home to a massive collection of artwork and famous Diego Rivera murals depicting the auto industry that put the city on the map.
Just outside the Detroit borders, you can find the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The museum contains artifacts and vehicles from various points in American history. The village is a collection of houses and buildings of historic value that were moved from their original locations.
If you’re a fan of the iconic Motown sound, you can tour the original recording studio where many of the classics were brought to life.
Finally, if you’re more into relaxing on a beach, Detroit can offer that too with a visit to Belle Isle, a beautiful island in the Detroit River between Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.
There are numerous picnic sites and fountains, a greenhouse conservatory, one of the country’s oldest aquariums, a golf course, and a beach with a water slide.
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Certain stereotypes exist about Texas. The state likely conjures up thoughts of guns and cattle ranches. But Texas is so much more than those preconceived notions.
As the fourth largest city in the US, Houston is home to 2.3 million people and has the largest land area of any city – there’s lots of room in Texas. What should attract tourists though, is its progress.
Houston is continually evolving. Being the home for the oil and gas industry as well as space technologies, Houston prospers. Green spaces and art installations are constantly added to public areas.
Museums and art centers are prolific – Houston’s Theatre District makes it one of the few cities with permanent resident companies in all major disciplines.
The biggest must-do in Houston requires a rental car but is well worth the effort; Space Center Houston. While space missions are launched from Florida, once they reach orbit, Mission Control is based in Houston.
At Johnson Space Center you can walk along the used rockets, tour space shuttles, and touch a moon rock.
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Little Rock, Arkansas
If you aren’t from the United States, planning a visit to Little Rock may raise some questions. “Why Arkansas?” and “Is there anything to do besides the Clinton Library?”
In fact, there are a plethora of wonderful things to do in Little Rock aside from the Clinton Library – although be sure to stop there for an opportunity to get your picture taken in a replica of Bill’s Oval Office.
Little Rock, like any Southern city, has excellent food. The fried chicken at At the Corner is amazing; the fried fish at the Flying Fish is exquisite, and the sandwiches at the Root Café are to die for.
But don’t pass up Little Rock’s museums.
You can learn about Arkansas’s complicated past at the Historic Arkansas Museum or get inspired by the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Little Rock at the Central High School National Historic Site.
Little Rock even has the Esse Purse Museum, which is the only museum dedicated to the handbag.
Visit the engaging yet underrated city, and you’ll see there’s nothing little about the fun you’ll have in Little Rock!
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Rochester, New York
Rochester is a wonderful city to visit due to its location. It is only 1 1/2 hours away from all that Syracuse and Niagara Falls have to offer. In addition, it is about 45 minutes away from the Finger Lakes wine area.
You can easily stay in Rochester as a base for a day trip and explore nearby places, but chances are you’ll find it to be a wonderful city on its own, too. The food scene is great, and there are lots of restaurants within walking distance of downtown hotels.
One of the best things to do in Rochester is to visit the Strong Museum of Play. It is rated one of the top family museums in the country and is a fun place to spend a morning. It houses the world’s largest collection of toys, dolls, and playtime artifacts over the decades.
The entire family can play games, explore interactive exhibits, and reminisce about the childhood toys on display.
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Many people visit Michigan for the Great Lakes, and skip over the interior of the state. But tucked into the center of the state is Lansing, the state capitol (nope, the capitol is not Detroit!).
This capitol has the resources of a big city but the atmosphere of a small, Midwestern town. It is a perfect stop for anyone driving to the Great Lakes, Mackinac Island, or Chicago.
There are lots of things to do in Lansing, whether you are looking for family-friendly options or a more Gen Z vibe.
Lansing has one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the USA, built in 1871. History buffs can also visit the Michigan Supreme Court for free, or the rare book collection at the Michigan Library.
The Lansing metropolitan area has made a significant comeback in the last decade. It is home to award-winning craft breweries and distilleries, unique bars such as the vintage arcade-themed Grid, and gorgeous coffee shops such as Strange Matter and Blue Owl.
The Greater Lansing area is also home to some of the best small towns in America and to Michigan State, one of the largest universities in the USA with a beautiful and sprawling campus.
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Cleveland, Ohio is so much more than just the hometown of Lebron James, the famous NBA basketball player. It’s also the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Playhouse Square.
Just outside Playhouse Square is one of the world’s largest, permanent chandeliers. It stands 20 feet tall and contains more than 4,200 crystals.
Not into music or plays? That’s okay! You can head over to Tower City to shop until you drop, and then head upstairs to the Terminal Tower Observation Deck to get some great views of the city.
Then, get away from the big-city feel by taking a stroll through the Cleveland Botanical Garden or going for a hike in one of the Cleveland Metroparks.
Regardless of whether you’re into history, science, music, or art, Cleveland is bound to have something that suits your interests.
In comparison to other larger cities, Cleveland is not typically too crowded unless there is a special event going on and isn’t too terrible to drive through.
They also have a relatively extensive public transportation system so it’s easy to get around the city. It’s definitely a place you should be adding to your bucket list, which is why it makes the list of the most underrated cities in the US!
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Although home to one of the busiest airports in the United States, Atlanta is often passed up in favor of the charming city of Savannah, Georgia instead.
But the largest city in the Deep South boasts warm weather, shady green spaces, and lots of culture.
In fact, it’s one of the best places to visit in the United States for history lovers. It was an important part of the Civil Rights Movement and is home to many iconic American brands, like Coca-Cola.
A few additional places to check out in Atlanta include the MLK Memorial, Botanical Gardens, College Football Hall of Fame, Georgia Aquarium, Coke Museum, and National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
There’s also a thriving music industry, strong business community, beautiful neighborhoods, and delicious food. In fact, the most underrated part of the city is the food. You can find plenty of delicious Southern classics, but there’s also amazing Vietnamese, Ethiopian, French food and more.
The addition of the Beltline has made the city more walkable and added lots of artwork and bars along the way. The fact that you can wear a t-shirt in February doesn’t hurt either! Its pleasant weather in winter and spring makes Atlanta one of the best spring break destinations for families.
Be sure to visit Piedmont Park, which sits in the middle of the city and has seemingly endless space for picnics and festivals. From Jazz Fest to marathons to the Ice Cream Festival there’s always something going on there for visitors and locals alike to enjoy.
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Despite its numerous attractions and unique cultural offerings, Louisville, Kentucky is often overlooked by travelers to the United States.
One of the most underrated aspects of the city is its rich history, which can be seen in landmarks such as the Kentucky Derby Museum and the Muhammad Ali Center.
Visit the famed Kentucky Derby then take a ride on the Belle of Louisville riverboat. A National Historic Landmark, the Belle is the only remaining authentic steamboat , which has been in operation since 1914.
Additionally, Louisville is known for its thriving food scene, featuring famous dishes like the Hot Brown and bourbon-infused cuisine.
The city also boasts a vibrant cultural scene, with art galleries, museums like the Louisville Slugger Museum, and theaters showcasing both local and international talent.
Despite all of these incredible features, Louisville remains a hidden gem among American cities, making it an ideal destination for travelers looking to discover something new and exciting.
If you are visiting Tennessee anytime soon, do not make Nashville your only stop. Fifty miles northwest of the birthplace of country music, there is Clarksville, Tennessee.
Clarksville is a city that is transforming itself from a military hub to a metro area that emphasizes art and culture.
Here you can visit a winery (Beachaven Vineyards & Winery), a distillery (Old Glory Distilling Co.), family-friendly museums such as the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, eat delicious food in places like Roux Americajun Restaurant & Bar, and enjoy its beautiful downtown and riverwalk.
Clarksville is also home to Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center, where you are not only going to learn but you will encounter gorgeous views of the city.
If you are into shopping, then you are also in luck because Miss Lucille’s Marketplace has everything you want (probably a few things you didn’t know you wanted), and Journey’s Eye Studio also carries hand-curated items that you probably won’t be able to find anywhere else.
But don’t wait too long to visit because it even caught the attention of Google, which built a data center in this city in early 2018.
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Nestled between moody Seattle and whimsical San Francisco, the city of Portland, Oregon is often overlooked as a tourist destination on the West Coast. But it has all of the great qualities of the other west coast cities, but WEIRDER.
It has the forests of Washington, but they’re packed with waterfalls and witch’s castles and slightly fewer Bigfoot sightings.
The Golden Gate Bridge? Ha! Portland is the city of bridges. And the city of roses. And the city of the biggest used book store in the world.
Okay, Portland…has a lot going on. It can be hard to keep up. There are hexed donut shops, goats doing yoga in the park, and the world’s smallest park is also in Portland!
Portland is so weird, there’s a whole TV show dedicated to its quirkiness – Portlandia.
The city is bustling with naked bike rides (SERIOUSLY) and hipster chic microbreweries that you’ve probably never heard of.
Plus it’s food truck heaven, and I’ve never been to a city with as many vegan restaurants as Portland! IT’S A WEIRD FRIGGIN PLACE MAN. You just have to experience it for yourself.
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Why you should visit underrated cities in the USA
Most first-time visitors to the USA will typically head to either the East Coast or the West Coast, seldom venturing into the middle of the country where so many of these underrated cities in the US are located.
Indeed, the allure of visiting the likes of the Golden Gate Bridge or New York’s Times Square is practically magnetic. But there are so many other great overlooked cities in the United States that are also worth visiting.
So, if you want to avoid the massive crowds of tourists in the major travel destinations, head to one of these 15 incredible, yet underrated cities in the United States that deserve way more tourism than they receive.
Have you been to any of these underrated cities in the US? Or do you have a question about any of the underrated places mentioned? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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This article on the most underrated cities in the US was first written in June 2018 but was updated in January 2024 for accuracy and current information.
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