While America’s glitziest cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco) are often cited as the country’s best, plenty of other quirky, historical, and charming places across the U.S. are often overlooked. Here are 15 of the most underrated American cities that deserve some recognition and a few more visitors.
Drive two-and-a-half hours south of Anchorage, Alaska, and you’ll stumble across the tiny town of Seward. Easily overlooked, Seward is nestled in prime location — right between majestic, snow-capped mountains and a temperate rainforest.
With only 2,600 full-time residents, Seward is sleepy and friendly in character, but also offers boundless opportunities for outdoor activities. Go kayaking, fishing, wildlife-viewing, or zip-lining through the treetops. Seward is the place from which to explore all that Alaska has to offer.
Visit Boise once, and it may be an accident. Visit twice because you realize it’s a destination. Located on the banks of the Boise River, this city is home to a slew of outdoorsy residents who enjoy running, kayaking, surfing, and fishing.
In this up-and-coming city, architecture enthusiasts will be wowed by the ornate 19th-century buildings that lie in close proximity to towering skyscrapers. With craft beer, independent record stores, and walls of outdoor murals, Boise may be the new seat of Northwest hospitality.
Des Moines, Iowa
Skeptics of Iowa’s virtues may be quick to reduce it to a single word — “corn” — but its capital city is so much more than its premiere agricultural export. Only a day’s drive from Chicago, Des Moines may even be America’s new hipster capital. That’s right; according to The Oregonian, Des Moines has taken Portland’s place. Trendy restaurants and local breweries aside, Des Moines is also the seat of one of the best farmers’ markets in the country, which stretches for blocks and features produce and products from nearly 60 counties. Are you an art lover? Des Moines has that as well — the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the Des Moines Art Center are both easily accessible and well stocked.
If you like bourbon, music festivals, college basketball, and limestone-rich water, you’ll love Louisville, Kentucky! Admittedly, that last one is a little odd, but Kentucky’s calcium-rich limestone makes for smooth water and even smoother bourbon. A bustling city located on the Ohio River, Louisville is a hop, skip, and a jump from nearby major cities like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, and Atlanta. And, if leaving for the weekend isn’t your style, consider staying in town — you’ll have plenty to do, what with the abundance of music festivals, unique places to eat, and quirky weekend markets. If you do decide to visit, embrace your inner Kentuckian and pronounce it “Loo-a-vul.”
If traveling in comfort is a priority for you, consider visiting Portland, Maine — which was voted the #1 coziest city in America in 2016. Rustic charm aside, Portland is an up-and-coming city with an easily walkable downtown area (the Old Port), an impressive litany of new restaurants (including James Beard-nominated Fore Street and Honey Paw), and some of the best lobster rolls you’ll ever eat (stop by J’s Oyster). Visitors to Portland can access both Chebeague and Peaks islands, which act as the perfect getaway on a hot summer’s day. Portland’s fresh air, booming art scene, and legendary potato doughnuts make this town a must-visit.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Grand Rapids is also known as “Beer City USA,” so if that’s not enough to pique your interest, we don’t know what is. From ascending to beer heaven at GR’s many craft distilleries to hitting the snowy slopes for skiing, snowboarding, or tubing, Grand Rapids offers it all. Explore the beautiful old neighborhoods of Heritage Hill, spend the night at a cozy bed and breakfast, visit the Meyer May House (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), check out the Grand Rapids Art Museum, wander through the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, and stroll across the Grand River for unbelievable views of the city and beyond.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City is the home of gut-bustingly good barbeque, lightning fast public WiFi, a stellar symphony orchestra, and Paul Rudd. Sports-centric KC is home to teams like the Chiefs, Royals, and Sporting Kansas City, so if you’re in town, be sure to catch a game! Consistently rated one of the best places in the nation to live and work, Kansas City is awash with art museums, fine dining, and the most fountains per city in the country (second in the world only to Rome). There’s no doubt about it: Kansas City is a beautiful place to call home. One glimpse of the skyline at sunset will confirm it.
Located smack-dab in the middle of the country, Omaha is a bustling center of unexpected surprises. Inexplicably the home to one of the largest per-capita groups of billionaires in America, the largest indoor desert in the world, and 100 acres of museum gardens, there’s more to this city than meets the eye. Visit the Omaha Wildlife Safari Park, stroll across the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge to ogle the city’s skyline, spot President Gerald R Ford’s childhood home, or see the birthplace of Malcolm X. You can also explore the rolling Nebraska countryside at Bellevue Ranch and enjoy the banks of the Missouri River from Lewis and Clark Landing. But no matter where you go, you’ll find unexpected beauty and a sense of community in this Nebraska city.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Located against the stunning backdrop of the Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque offers plenty of unique cultural and outdoor experiences for those who visit. Situated only one mile above sea level, the city (and surrounding area) is the perfect location from which to explore both desert and forest. Albuquerque offers boundless hiking opportunities and its wide blue sky acts as the backdrop for its most famous attraction — an annual hot air balloon festival held in early fall. Visit Albuquerque’s Old Town, which has been influenced by 300 years of Native American and Spanish culture, as well as the Church of San Felipe de Neri and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. For views of the city as a whole, take the three-mile long tramway that runs along the Sandia Mountains and enjoy the epic view of the Land of Enchantment.
Rochester, New York
Often eclipsed by the state’s more famous southern city, NYC, Rochester is a northern destination that acts as a gorgeous gateway to the Finger Lakes Region. With over 12,000 acres of beautiful parkland and nearly 100 wineries, Rochester is a hub for both outdoor and cultural recreation. And while the city offers a host of activities in its great outdoors, it’s also known as the “Festival City” because of its wide variety of weekend music festivals between spring and fall. There’s no dearth of activity during the wintertime though, as music and art moves indoors and the snowy landscapes of the Finger Lakes become the ideal location for skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating!
Ohio’s capital boasts so many sights and activities, you may not even have time to see its famed statehouse building while you’re there. If you’re an outdoorsy individual, this city provides the perfect opportunity to explore various bike trails, wildlife preserves, and gardens (such as Downtown Topiary Park, the Park of Roses, the Inniswoods Metro Gardens, and the Franklin Park Conservatory). Or, if retail therapy is your thing, Columbus’ Easton Town Center and North Market are for you. The Columbus Zoo is one of the largest in the world, and one of the best in the country, so be sure to pop in for a visit. This variety of activities, in conjunction with its booming food scene, makes Columbus one of the best cities in the Midwest.
No longer an industrial steel city, Pittsburgh has bloomed in recent years thanks to the influx of young students at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, the cultural offerings sponsored by steel maven, Andrew Carnegie, and an emerging food scene. The city’s position at the confluence of the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers makes for a unique view of the city sprawl beyond, and Duquesne Incline is the perfect locale for sightseeing.
Heinz History Center has quirky offerings — with pieces from the French and Indian War, as well as relics from the Heinz Ketchup legacy. The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are a respite from Pittsburgh’s cold winters and the Carnegie Science Center and Andy Warhol Museum are both worth visiting, too.
Fort Worth, Texas
Fort Worth is unique because it has the best of both worlds — home to Texas charm and cowboy culture, it also has sophisticated cocktail lounges, world-class museums, and a burgeoning food scene. Stop by the Stockyards at 11:30 a.m. or 4 p.m., and you’ll see cowboys on horseback herding long-horn cattle through the city streets. The world’s biggest honky-tonk bar (Billy Bob’s) has been graced by greats like Willie Nelson, and patrons can enjoy live music after they attempt to stay atop a bucking (mechanical) bull. But if art and architecture is more your speed, check out the Modern Art Museum, which features pieces by Francis Bacon, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol. The Kimbell Art Museum is also home to a Michelangelo, and other works by Cezanne, Rembrandt, Matisse, and El Greco. Or, if you’re looking for a museum with a distinctly Texan feel, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame offer an adventure to a bygone era.
Named after the area’s native Spokane tribe meaning “Children of the Sun,” this city in Washington state is deeply reverential of its rich Native American roots. Visit Manito Park and Botanical Gardens, where you can view traditional European gardens, a tropical conservatory, rose bushes, picnic areas, and recreation spaces. Hikers rejoice! Mission Park is home to hundreds of trails of varying difficulty, and skiing is offered at nearby Silver Mountain. The Spokane Region is also home to art galleries, unique shopping opportunities, famed antique stores, and a host of fantastic live performances. While Spokane is beautiful year round, a visit during the autumn months will yield gorgeous views of the surrounding wilderness in its fall glory.
Milwaukee graces the waterfront of Lake Michigan and has a long history of European architecture, beer-brewing, and outdoor recreation. Take in the view of the water and enjoy a flight of beers at the Lakefront Brewery, one of the best in the city. Then, explore the dazzling mansion of one the most influential figures in the beer world, Frederick Pabst.
Be wowed by the ornate architecture of the Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee City Hall, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Visit The Pabst Theater for a host of music, dance, opera, and comedy performances, and be sure to explore all of the activities that Lake Michigan affords!