When it comes to planning a vacation in the U.S., people so often come up with the same old choices (think: New York, Las Vegas, and Orlando). Understandably, the varied combination of architecture, culture, nightlife, theme parks, and big city buzz all contribute to their popularity. But why not buck the trend and head somewhere a little more original? Ahead, we compiled eight of the most underrated, often overlooked destinations around the country. Despite flying under the radar, each destination on this list has plenty of reasons to lure you down the path less trodden. These hidden gems, diamonds in the rough, and well-kept secrets -- ranging from small towns to lakeside locales to big cities -- are all places you should keep in mind for your next domestic trip.
When a city is labeled underrated as often as Baltimore is, it might seem like people are actually coming around to the idea of frequenting it. But Baltimore is still somehow not getting all the love that it should. Like many other U.S. cities, Baltimore has its problems. That being said, it still has so much going for it. “Baltimore was credited as being the founding site of multiple faiths’ formal or initial organizations in America,” says Elizabeth Avery of Solo Trekker 4 U. According to Avery, it was also one of the major points of entry for immigrants coming to America, which created a vibrant international culture. “Think of sights like the B&O Railroad Museum, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, and the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum,” she says. In addition to the historical sights, areas like Little Italy and Station North have upped the city’s eating and drinking game, with micro-breweries, farm-to-table eating, and some of the best pizza around — try Isabella’s Brick Oven.
2. Murphys, California
Ideally located near San Francisco, Sacramento, and the East Bay area, Murphys is a small town making a lot of noise. And that noise is probably coming from all that grape stomping that’s going on in a place people are calling the next Napa. “We’re home to a growing wine country that rivals the ‘old days’ of Napa, when it wasn’t so commercial and expensive,” says Chris Parker of Courtwood Inn and Wine Tasting Tours. The historic Gold Rush town is a step back in time, a place to visit if you wished you’d seen what Napa was like before it became the ultimate California wine destination. The town is home to some great shops and restaurants — not a fast food joint in sight — and the beautiful surrounding landscape is completed by the nearby Calaveras Big Trees State Park, which is a little way up Highway 49.
Houston has the oil money and Austin has the hipsters, but Fort Worth is the “City of Cowboys and Culture,” which means it’s a must-visit in Texas. For a big city with a small-town feel, Cowtown, as it’s called, is the answer. Folks from Fort Worth have a strong sense of pride about their city and it’s hard to argue with their insistence of its charm. The seven distinct districts provide something for everyone. “You can experience true American Western culture in the Stockyards National Historic District,” says Mitch Witten. “There’s the world’s largest honky tonk at Billy Bob’s Texas and the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive, the Fort Worth Herd.” And while there’s plenty of authentic cowboy culture to get involved in, the city has huge foodie appeal as well. Eat at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and then explore the city with an ulterior motive by way of the Fort Worth Ale Trail, a tour that takes you to a selection of nine craft breweries across the city.
Sure, Seattle is great, but when you’re tired of looking at Mount Rainier and want to actually experience it, head to Tacoma, the closest major city to the Pacific Northwest icon. Industrial, but welcoming, the city has an authentic, down-to-earth feel to it. With a big craft distillery scene, great food at places like The Red Hot (peanut butter hot dogs, anyone?), a fine tribute to vintage cars at LeMay, America’s Car Museum, and some excellent kayaking opportunities along the downtown waterfront, Tacoma is rife for exploring. And the best part, according to Kate Buska of Provenance Hotels, is “it’s still ‘undiscovered.’ Tacoma is a more relaxed version of Seattle and Portland — and embodies more of what made those cities so special when they first started to get the nation’s attention back in the 1990s and 2000s. I’m a huge fan.”
5. Berks County, Pennsylvania
Home to one of America’s poorest cities (Reading), Berks County in Pennsylvania isn’t the first place most people would think about vacationing. But the county and its towns have a surprising amount going for them. If you want authentic American charm with plenty of historic and beautiful natural attractions, this is a great place to visit. From the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles to Pennsylvania’s greatest natural attraction, the Crystal Cave, there is a whole list of quirky attractions to see. Factor in Reading’s famous Pagoda and the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, a combined 131-seater theater, glassblowing facility, dance studio, art gallery, and ceramic studio, and you’ll start to question why you haven’t visited before. Oh, and did we mention Shartlesville has , the largest miniature village in the world?
With white-sand beaches, unique coastal communities like Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis, and great paddleboarding and kayaking in the ranging waterways, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is ready for its comeback, according to Erin Kenna from Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast. “The region is experiencing a true travel renaissance, but one thing remains the same — its laid-back, coastal charm.” Since Hurricane Katrina, the rebuilding has brought the area back stronger than ever. In addition to the beaches and arty waterside towns, there’s the wild, old-world charm of the city of Biloxi — a great base from which to explore. Get a feel for the city’s musical obsession by staying at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and sample its foodie culture at the annual Seafood Festival before discovering the rest of what the Mississippi Gulf Coast has to offer.
How, you ask, can Athens, Georgia be underrated when it was the birthplace of the legendary B-52s? It beats us, but the college town has kept it so real over the years that it’s predominantly those hip, in-the-know types who have chosen to make the artsy, music enclave their home. These days, it’s less “Rock Lobster” and more gourmet lobster roll. Go on and enjoy the buzzing music, the tasty fried chicken at Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods, and the 80 bars spread across the downtown area. Next time you want a cool vacation spot that isn’t Brooklyn, Portland, Chicago, or Austin, pick Athens for a good time.
8. Bowling Green, Kentucky
It’s true that we’d visit for the name alone, but Bowling Green in Kentucky has more than a sweet moniker to attract visitors. Just an hour north of Nashville, Bowling Green lies deep in south central Kentucky’s Cave Country, which makes it an ideal destination for outdoor adventurers and active families. In the city, you can catch a ball game at the Bowling Green Hot Rods stadium, indulge your inner petrol-head at the National Corvette Museum, or take the Lost River Cave tour, Kentucky’s only underground boat tour. Best of all, and the main reason to visit according to Lindsay Stein at Decker Royal, is for the nearby Mammoth Cave National Park. Home to the world’s longest-known cave system, the park offers tours, hiking trails, and great biking for those looking for an outdoorsy vacation.
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