Discover hidden jewels in the United States that tend to be overlooked by tourists. While larger cities such as New York and Los Angeles draw large crowds, numerous lesser-known cities offer unique experiences just waiting to be discovered.
These underappreciated destinations have a lot to offer, from thriving cultural scenes to magnificent natural settings. In this blog, we'll show you 12 such cities that should be on your bucket list. Prepare to go off the usual road and discover the variety and original appeal of these hidden American treasures.
1. San Antonio, Texas
A travel enthusiast on a popular forum praised San Antonio as the exemplary epicenter of Texan and Mexican cultural fusion. It stands as Texas' historical and cultural heart, seamlessly blending the two vibrant heritages into a culinary delight. San Antonio, one of the state's oldest cities, boasts atmospheric ruins, including the iconic Alamo.
Furthermore, its city center welcomes pedestrians with open arms, highlighted by the picturesque Riverwalk and the charming La Villita, making it an inviting destination for those seeking a rich tapestry of history, culture, and delicious cuisine.
2. Portland, Maine
Portland, Maine, nestled along the gorgeous coast, invites with its coastal charm, highlighted by iconic lighthouses, wonderful seafood, and a wealth of historic buildings. The city's waterfront, which has been a center of activity for years, continues to be a mesmerizing focal point.
Stroll around the Old Port district, where a charming mix of stores, restaurants, and art galleries occupy well-preserved historic structures. For a traditional taste of Maine's famous lobster, visit one of the many seafood restaurants or the Portland Lobster Company, where you may savor this delicacy in a relaxing, outdoor atmosphere.
3. Madison, WI
Madison, Wisconsin, stands out as one of the United States' coolest yet underrated cities. Nestled on an isthmus, it's encircled by picturesque lakes, making it an ideal summer retreat for water enthusiasts. If biking is more your style, don't miss renting a bike to explore the scenic Monona Lake Bike Loop.
As part of America's Dairyland, Madison offers a delectable food scene, from classic supper clubs like the Tornado Room to a quest for the city's finest cheese curds, promising a memorable culinary adventure.
4. Saratoga Springs, New York
Within its quaint confines, this petite city unleashes a vibrant blend of excitement and amusement. The famed Saratoga Race Course, its crown jewel, intrigues viewers each summer with dazzling displays of speed and agility courtesy of gorgeous thoroughbred horses.
Saratoga Springs, on the other hand, is not a one-trick pony. It is proud to display magnificent Victorian architecture, natural mineral springs that promote relaxation, and a vibrant artistic scene that never fails to inspire. When hunger strikes, savor farm-to-table pleasures in the city's exquisite eateries, ensuring that every visit is a multisensory treat.
5. Omaha, Nebraska
While not the typical go-to destination in the USA, Omaha, Nebraska, reveals a hidden treasure trove of attractions and encounters. Its vibrant music scene takes center stage, boasting an eclectic array of venues and festivals spanning indie rock, jazz, and blues.
The acclaimed Maha Music Festival, an annual extravaganza, elevates Omaha's status by attracting both established and emerging artists from across the nation, making it a must-visit for music enthusiasts seeking distinctive and unforgettable experiences.
6. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque, tucked away in the less-explored areas of New Mexico's Southwest, often goes unnoticed by visitors. Its hidden jewel, dubbed “The Duke City” in honor of its Native American past, has a passionate commemoration of its heritage through several museums, galleries, and citywide events.
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre, a window into the rich history and traditions of New Mexico's 19 Pueblo nations, is one of the city's most underappreciated attractions. Albuquerque emerges as one of America's most underestimated and rewarding locations as a result of its intriguing cultural offerings.
7. Greenwich Connecticut
A mere 45-minute train journey from Grand Central Station unveils Greenwich, Connecticut – a picturesque city that combines small-town charm with urban convenience. Surprisingly diverse for its 62,000 population, about 25% of residents hail from beyond the United States, with nearly 29% speaking languages other than English, as per U.S. Census data.
Summers in Greenwich come alive with polo matches at the Greenwich Polo Club, drawing enthusiastic crowds. Stay at the waterfront, pet-friendly Delamar Greenwich Harbor, complete with a spa and an award-winning French restaurant. And don't forget to shop for unique souvenirs at family-owned gems like Richards, Betteridge, and Hoagland's of Greenwich. For more off-the-beaten-path destinations, explore our list of underrated travel gems.
8. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina's secret treasure, emerges as a complex mixture of natural splendor, cultural charm, and unique interactions. This community, snuggled in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, caters to a wide range of tastes.
Asheville is known for its breathtaking mountain panoramas, which may be seen from a variety of vantage points throughout the city. Dive into the charm of the legendary Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic highway that reveals dazzling views of mountains and lush forests, offering an appealing backdrop for your vacation.
9. Missoula, Montana
Missoula, Montana, may house the University of Montana and boast top-notch NCAA Division football courtesy of the Montana Grizzlies, but its essence surpasses that of a typical college town. With a population of 72,000, it's a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Surrounded by seven wilderness areas and nestled at the confluence of three rivers, Missoula beckons with world-class trout fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking, and more – all just moments from the city center.
Downtown Missoula is in the midst of a significant renaissance, with substantial investments fueling the growth of Marriott hotels, restaurants, and breweries. For a true Montana experience, venture 30 minutes outside Missoula to The Resort at Paws Up, offering cattle drives, glamping, and al fresco feasts in scenic fields.
10. Des Moines, Iowa
Des Moines, Iowa, tucked away in the heartland of America, is a hidden treasure. Dubbed “the Hartford of the West” for its financial and insurance industry, Des Moines goes beyond numbers. The city unfolds as a cultural hub, boasting captivating attractions like the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, showcasing monumental works by Picasso, Chihuly, and Henry Moore.
Equally enticing is the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, a must-visit with a million plants on perennial display. Beyond its financial prowess, Des Moines offers a vibrant world of art and natural beauty.
11. Wichita, Kansas
Wichita, Kansas, known as the “Air Capital of the World,” has a rich aviation history extending back more than 140 years. This title is inspired by Walter Huxman's pioneering vision, which resulted in the construction of one of the world's first airports in 1919. During WWII, Wichita's critical edge in air transport drew additional aircraft manufacturers, cementing the city's position.
Today, aviation lovers may visit McConnell Air Force Base Museum to see classic aircraft like the B-29 Superfortress Fifi or interact with interactive displays at the Exploration Place science museum, offering an exciting voyage through the skies' history.
12. Reno, Nevada
Reno, often living in the shadow of its flashier neighbor, Las Vegas, holds its own as a captivating destination. Dubbed “The Biggest Little City in the World” for its compact size and abundant entertainment, Reno offers a distinctive charm that's often underrated. Downtown Reno stands as the center of its attraction, with an array of casinos, bars, and dining establishments.
Its historic district adds a nostalgic touch, featuring transformed vintage buildings housing charming boutiques and eateries, making it a treasure trove for those seeking a more intimate and authentic Nevada experience.
Underrated U.S. Cities to Visit
In conclusion, these 12 underrated U.S. cities present a wealth of diverse and captivating experiences that often go unnoticed by tourists. While major destinations draw the spotlight, these lesser-known gems offer cultural richness, natural beauty, and unique attractions.
Travelers who venture beyond the usual tourist spots will find themselves rewarded with memorable journeys and a deeper appreciation for the hidden treasures of the United States.
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I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.