Move over New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. You’ve got some competition creeping up on you. When it comes to the best cities in the United States to visit, most people typically head to one of the five or six main tourist destinations. Most first-time visitors to the USA will typically head to either the East Coast or the West Coast. They will hit up the well-known cities, see the iconic sights, and head home with the same photos on their Instagram feed that everyone else has. An East Coast road trip will likely involve a visit to Manhattan, Boston, and Washington DC. While a West Coast trip might include stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
While I understand the allure of visiting the likes of the Golden Gate Bridge or New York’s Times Square, there are so many great cities in the United States that are worth visiting. So if you want to avoid the massive crowds of tourists head to one of these 13 incredible, yet underrated cities in the US that deserve way more tourism than they receive.
Best underrated cities in the US
We asked esteemed travel bloggers from across America and the world to weigh in and share their thoughts on the most underrated cities in the US. Many of the contributors have traveled extensively across the United States and throughout other nations, so it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about what makes a city a great place to visit. If you’re curious to know what our favorite underrated city in the United States is, scroll to the bottom of the page.
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Dorothy – Oz and Other Places
Before moving to Atlanta, I didn’t know what to expect besides warm weather. Since then I have been blown away by all it has to offer. One of the first things I noticed was the trees. Piedmont Park 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 here.
The addition of the Beltline has made the city more walkable and added lots of artwork and bars along the way. To me, however, 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. I actually have friends who live in NYC and still swear by Atlanta’s restaurant scene!
Atlanta also has a rich culture and history. 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 I recommend checking out are the MLK Memorial, Botanical Gardens, College Football Hall of Fame, Georgia Aquarium, Coke Museum, and Center for Civil and Human Rights. Overall Atlanta is a mix of so many things. There’s a thriving music industry, strong business community, interesting museums, beautiful neighborhoods, and delicious food. The fact that you can wear a t-shirt in February doesn’t hurt either!
Caitlyn – Postcards from Cait
Each year, millions of visitors go to Washington D.C., one of the most popular cities in the country. 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 offers 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.
If you’re interested in history, 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 Crab House for a truly authentic crab feast experience, where you can shell the crabs yourself (trust me, it’s more difficult than it sounds). One of my personal favorites is 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!
Sheila – Golden Age Trips
If you are visiting Tennessee anytime soon, do not make Nashville your only stop. Fifty miles northwest there is Clarksville, Tennessee, a town that is transforming itself from a military hub to a city that is emphasizing 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 has even caught the attention of Google, who started building a data center in this city in early 2018.
Kiyoko – Footsteps of a Dreamer
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, there is something for everyone in Cleveland. 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!
Kris – Nomad by Trade
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.
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.
Amy – Out Chasing Stars
Certain stereotypes exist about Texas that I often have to combat when traveling the world. I don’t have a gun and have never been to a cattle ranch. Houston deserves so much more than lame stereotypes. As the fourth largest city in the US, Houston is home to 2.2 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 changes every time I come back home. Being the home for the oil and gas industry as well as space technologies, Houston prospers. Green spaces and art installations are constantly being added to the public spaces. 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.
Sarah – Endless Distances
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, Mid-western town. It is a perfect stop for anyone driving to the Great Lakes, Macinac Island, or Chicago.
There are lots of things to do in Lansing, whether you are looking for family friendly options or a more millennial vibe. Lansing hosts 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 comeback since the 2008 recession. It is now home to award winning 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 Michigan State, one of the largest universities in the USA with a beautiful and sprawling campus.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Stella Jane – Around the World in 24 Hours
When I told my friends I was going to Little Rock, Arkansas, I received a round of depressing and predictable questions like “Why Arkansas?” and “Is there anything to do besides the Clinton Library?” In fact there are a million 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 Cafe are to die for. (Be sure to meet the Root Cafe’s resident pet pig, Thursday.) 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 Sight. Little Rock even has the Esse Purse Museum, which is the only museum I’ve ever been to dedicated to the handbag. Visit and you’ll see there’s nothing little about the fun you’ll have in Little Rock!
Kay – The Awkward Traveller
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 in my opinion, 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 less Big Foot sightings. The Golden Gate Bridge? HAH – 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 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 (I’m SERIOUS) 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! And, randomly, the most strip clubs per capita in the United States. IT’S A WEIRD FRIGGIN PLACE MAN. You just have to experience for yourself.
Rochester, New York
Margie – DQ Travel
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. We stayed in Rochester as a home base to explore nearby places and found it to be a wonderful city on its own, too. The food scene was pretty great, and all restaurants were within walking distance of our downtown hotel.
One of our favorite things to do was to visit the Strong Museum of Play. It is rated one of the top family museums in the country and was a fun place to spend the morning. It houses the world’s largest collection of toys, dolls, and playtime artifacts over the decades. The entire family played games, explored interactive exhibits, and reminisced about our childhood toys on display. I would not hesitate to visit Rochester again if we are in upstate New York.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Megan – Red Around the World
Salt Lake City is overlooked on the majority of Utah road trips. I know I didn’t go myself until I moved to Southern Utah. But when I did, I fell in love and always look forward to going back. So, why go to Salt Lake? Because it’s actually really hip and has tons of hiking 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, really awesome ones) like Publik or Blue Copper Roasters. Head to the City Creek Center, yes, a mall, for an afternoon stroll. The reason I include this is that it has an awesome view of the Mormon Temple and it’s 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. I would recommend staying in Sugarhouse, the neighborhood that Westminster is in, as it’s 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 and relax on the shore of an alpine lake.
San Fernando Valley, California
Honey Reyes – That Damn Honey
As a Los Angeles native, I have moved out of the main city area and relocated to the San Fernando Valley, also known simply as “The Valley”. There is definitely plenty here to see, eat, and experience. One of the best parts about the Valley is the attractions likely are less crowded, have more available free parking, and can be a much more interesting find than locations where everyone else has the same photo.
While obviously being a sacred space, the Malibu Hindu Temple is open to the public even if just for visiting and browsing around. You do not have to be Hindu to visit and you surely won’t feel out of place touring it. This hidden gem is actually on the way to the beach if you’re coming from the hills. It’s easy to miss, but worth turning around for.
Lake Balboa Park is one of the bigger parks in the San Fernando Valley. True to its name, it has a lake in the centre but provides so much more than just that. On any given day, there can be a multitude of birthday parties and photo shoots happening here. I’ve also witnessed people set up an impromptu concert by accident, simply because they chose to play an instrument and others started hanging out nearby, singing and/or dancing along.
Another great option is the Warner Center Park. There are a variety of free events, including concerts and movies, often on a seasonal basis. Food trucks and vendor booths are often present at these events. The concerts are a mix of cover bands and emerging artists. Movies are generally kid-friendly choices, ranging from animated to live action movies.
The Topanga Canyon Overlook is another site that is easily missed, specifically because it is located in the hills of Topanga Canyon Blvd. This is an overlook that has a small parking lot that is rarely be busy. While a beautiful place, my favorite view would always be during and after sunset. This is a great place to view the city lights at night, but for a limited time. The overlook has the same hours as most LA parks, which is sunrise to sunset.
There’s definitely more Southern California has to offer than Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica Beach. While all amazing areas with their own draws, there are plenty of cities surrounding the Greater Los Angeles area to experience.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Melissa – Parenthood and Passports
Oklahoma City is near and dear to my heart, mainly because I’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 it’s unique character, cowboy and Indian American culture, and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, the state is definitely worth exploring. The state capital, Oklahoma City, is a fast growing metropolitan area. With beautiful street art, awesome restaurants and craft breweries, and a lot of things to do, Oklahoma City will undoubtedly surprise you.
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 canal 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.
Have you been to any of these underrated cities in the US? What other awesome American cities deserve more tourism? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.