Top U.S. State Capitals to Visit

Most lists of amazing U.S. cities to visit are filled with the same old names, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Although these destinations are popular for good reasons, sticking to the same spots is an easy way to miss out on some other diverse urban experiences that the country has to offer. Specifically, there are some underappreciated state capitals that represent the best and brightest of the states they call home. With that in mind, we rounded up the top six U.S. state capitals to check out, from Sacramento to Providence and Austin to Juneau

Juneau, Alaska

Bernard Sprag/Flickr

Bernard Sprag/Flickr

With road trips off the table, you’ll have to get to Juneau by boat or plane, but once you arrive, you’ll be in for a treat. The city is surrounded by steep mountains on one side and water on the other, and is famous for its foodie scene. Seafood is big here, thanks to the easy access to some of the freshest catch in the country. Try Tracy’s King Crab Shack and The Rookery Cafe. Explore the charming downtown area and take the tramway 1,750 feet up to Mount Roberts for some top-notch alpine hiking trails. Just keep in mind that cruise ships are ever-present during the warmer months, and tourist numbers swell. 

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Sacramento, California

Franco Folini/Flickr

Franco Folini/Flickr

With plenty of breweries, coffee roasters, and indie stores, you can see why more people are singing the praises of Sacramento, one of California’s underappreciated gems. Between the tasty culinary scene, the charming old town near the Sacramento River, the Crocker Art Museum, and Capitol Park, there’s lots to keep you occupied here. Walk around Auburn’s Old Town Foothill Farmers’ Market, take a riverboat tour, or ride bikes around Midtown, a neighborhood that’s brimming with boutiques, bars, and restaurants.

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Austin, Texas

Earl McGehee/Flickr

Earl McGehee/Flickr

Aside from South by Southwest, an awesome film, music, and tech festival, Austin is still one of the country’s hippest cities. With a warm climate year-round, it’s the ideal place to visit for outdoor eating, drinking, and hiking. If you like barbecue and Mexican food, then Austin is the place to go. Ribs at Kerlin BBQ and traditional Mexican fare at Sazon should be on your list. There are also a number of stellar independent breweries, plus a buzzing music scene, excellent parks, and great galleries like The Contemporary Austin. 

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Montpelier, Vermont

Bob P. B./Flickr

Bob P. B./Flickr

With a population of around 8,000, Montpelier is the smallest state capital in the country. Plus, its gorgeous natural surroundings (it’s located close to the banks of the Winooski River and in the foothills of the Green Mountains) makes it feel even smaller. Relatively peaceful compared to its rivals on this list, this picturesque Vermont destination has plenty of New England charm. Hiking trails run out of town for active excursions (try the Camel’s Hump, which comes with awesome views), independent movie theaters like The Savoy show arthouse films, and farmer’s markets offer fresh produce used in the flourishing farm-to-table dining scene. There are also plenty of other quaint and quirky things to do, starting with brushing up on your Vermont history at the aptly named Vermont History Museum. 

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Providence, Rhode Island

Heather Katsoulis/Flickr

Heather Katsoulis/Flickr

Much more than a college town catering to students, Providence is the perfect spot for combining a foodie-focused getaway with outstanding New England charm. North (from former Momofoku alumni), Birch, and The Malted Barley are all must-visits. Aside from food, the city has some great architecture and a distinct artsy vibe. The Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art is a great place to marvel at a diverse collection that spans thousands of years of creative endeavors. Try to time your trip with one of the city’s many WaterFire lighting events, when flaming braziers fill the waterways in a huge -- not to mention, beautiful -- public art event. 

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Nashville, Tennessee

Rain0975/Flickr

Rain0975/Flickr

Blessed with Southern hospitality, a cool hipster vibe, and a dedication to preserving its history, Nashville is the type of city that caters to different tastes. Given that the place is filled with things to see and do, time will have to be carefully divided between visiting historic cultural attractions, eating and drinking, and listening to music. No trip to Nashville would be complete without visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, eating at Jack’s Bar-B-Que, and drinking (and listening to country music) at Robert’s Western World. There’s also plenty of outdoorsy action. Percy Priest Lake, Montgomery Bell State Park, and Cheekwood Estate & Gardens are just a few places to breathe in that Southern air.

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