If you’re like us, you grew up loving the unexpected. Pleasantly surprised is your favorite feeling, and we agree. That’s why we’ve embarked on this second-annual roundup in search of places most travelers don’t immediately think of when planning trips. But you should.
These 15 cities fly just under the radar, keeping their awesomeness close to the vest. Some you may know more than others, but all the cities on this list offer many surprising sights and experiences. Not sure which to choose? We’ve highlighted specific interests each location may especially appeal to. For those seeking new choices, here are the best underrated cities to visit in 2018. And if you missed last year’s list, take a look for even more new destinations.
Who should visit? Cyclists
Designated one of the recipients of the first Bicycle-Friendly Community awards, Cary is a haven for those who love to see a new place from atop two wheels, and for cyclists it’s one of the best cities to visit in the USA. Two major bike routes run through town: the Maine-to-Florida U.S. Bicycle Route 1, and N.C. Bicycle Route #2, also called the Mountains to Sea route. For rentals or tune-ups, the best spot is Cycling Spoken Here, a super friendly community shop. Treat yourself to a post-cycle pint at Fortnight Brewing, and stick around to explore all the goods in Cary.
Who should visit? Free thinkers
Bisbee lets its uniqueness shine, and nothing could be more appealing. This Arizona gem is home to lots of free-spirited and quirky hangout spots where colorful locals will give you a warm welcome. Favorites include St Elmo Bar, Old Bisbee Brewing Company, and Screaming Banshee Pizza. Get a taste of local goods and flavors at ultra-charming Café Roka. Oh, and word to the wise: Bisbee throws one heck of party. We recommend B.R.A.T.S. Parade to see funky custom gravity coasters roll through town, and Bisbee Pride is the ultimate celebration of all things open and inclusive.
Who should visit? Lovers of all seasons
If you love a snowy day just as much as a spring morning or a stroll through autumn leaves, Rochester is here to deliver all of the above. Quarry Hill Nature Center is beautiful in any season, whether you’re snowshoeing or stopping to smell spring flowers. Get acquainted with the city on a ride with Rochester Trolley & Tour Company. Come fall, Sekapp Orchard is ripe with apples and hosts family-friendly Pumpkinland. Winter brings WinterFest and SocialICE (Rochester’s outdoor ice bar). Summer ushers in party of the year, Rochesterfest and community-oriented Thursdays on First & 3rd festival.
Who should visit? Wine lovers
The Pacific Northwest grows great grapes, and Walla Walla’s terroir may be the best in Washington. Take your pick of stellar wineries in this region. Our favorites? Charles Smith Wines, Spring Valley Vineyard, Saviah Cellars, Browne Family Vineyards, Woodward Canyon, and Reininger Winery. The soil’s not only good for vines; it also yields the world-famous Walla Walla onion, which is celebrated at the Sweet Onion Festival in July.
Who should visit? Families
Hands-on and educational are part of Fort Myers’ MO, and the city hosts so many ways for young minds to learn and play. The Southwest Florida Reading Festival is perfect for book lovers of all ages, and the Edison Festival of Light celebrates the spirit of invention with parades, music, and science exhibits. Shell Factory & Nature Park gets you up close to critters from the sea and land. Round out the day building castles in the sand, and cap it off with sweet cold treats at Culver’s.
Who should visit? Water babies
Water sports enthusiasts could spend endless hours in Corpus Christi and never run out of ways to explore the spray. New to life on a board? Padre Island Surf Camp is the best place to learn how to ride the waves. Adrenaline seekers love 361KITE to start their journey into kiteboarding. And, if you prefer calm waters, Water Dog Floating Yoga will keep you centered. Waterways are aplenty, from Gulf beaches to coves, including the Laguna Madre, Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi Bay, and Bird Island Basin.
7. Boise, Idaho
Who should visit? Eclectic travelers
Something for everyone is not a myth in Boise. Travelers with varied interests find plenty to satisfy. Feeling foodie? Taste the best of Boise at fresh and beautiful Wild Root Café & Market for breakfast then grab the best burger and fries at green and sustainable Boise Fry Co. for lunch. Hyper local and quintessentially Boise, Juniper is a must for cocktails and dinner. Nature lovers will flourish at Bogus Basin, Boise Whitewater Park, and on the many surrounding hiking trails. Revel in art and culture at Boise Art Museum, the Basque Center, and during the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Who should visit? The musically minded
Coachella who? If you’re sick of the overly scene-y and over-crowded desert festival, Dallas-area music events are the respite you’ve been waiting for. Fort Worth’s Newcomer Fortress Festival is garnering well-deserved attention, and is looking to be one of the best music fests, period. Another option is the excellent HomeGrown Festival, where you can experience local talent. The Deep Ellum neighborhood houses the best live venues, such as Adair’s Saloon and The Bomb Factory, and will be any music lover’s stomping grounds. Attend one of the many events at Good Records, and get introduced to new sounds you can take home with you.
Who should visit? Seekers of wide-open spaces
South Dakota scales up whenever possible. The state just thrives on a large stage, and Sioux Falls is a prime example. The charm may be small-town, but the views are sweeping. Take Falls Park, for instance, a huge outdoor space full of places to sit and let the mind wander as far as the eye can see. Enjoy more great outdoors at Mary Jo Wegner Arboretum and East Sioux Falls Historic Site, nearby Palisade State Park, and neighboring Big Sioux River Recreation Park. Prefer your meals to be as vast as your view? Head to Boss’ Pizza & Chicken to try the Boss Hog 28″ Pizza Challenge.
Who should visit? Foodies
Good food is not only one of the main joys in life, it’s arguably the best part of travel. Madison embodies this notion to its core, making it one of the best cities to visit for good eats. The food most associated with Wisconsin is cheese, and Fromagination serves up the curds of your dreams. Pick up more local delights at the Dane County Farmers Market, or come during the excellent food-centric event, Taste of Madison. Get a taste of everything with Capital City Food Tours, and do not leave town without eating at Graze.
Who should visit? Couples
Natchitoches exudes romance. From the European-style architecture to the scenic downtown river walk and historical Front Street, this city is perfect for strolling hand-in-hand and stopping to smell the roses. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride in summer, and reserve a candle-lit dinner at Maglieaux’s Riverfront Restaurant. Let the thrills and beauty of the Gators & Gardens tour bring you closer. As the Bed and Breakfast Capital of Louisiana, Natchitoches is full of romantic places to stay—we recommend charming The Good House.
Who should visit? History buffs
Worcester has seen America through many iterations from the Revolutionary War and beyond. It celebrates its contributions at places like the Worcester Historical Museum, where you can learn about the political and cultural history through the robust artifacts collection. Mechanics Hall is one of the finest examples of pre-Civil War architecture, where you’ll enjoy an evening of live music. For a historically beloved beverage, go to nearby Tree House Brewing Company, and don’t mind the lines—these brews are well worth the wait.
Who should visit? Friends of the environment
Detroit is seeing a revitalization, and much of that is in the public gardens and green spaces. Enjoy the trees and gardens of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. The natural education programs of the Greening of Detroit are helping the city to find its environmental voice, and you can learn about green living and local food at their Live Love Local Celebration. Spend some time in Lafayette Greens urban garden, and score fresh goods at Eastern Market. For an unforgettable meal, go to Townhouse, where the greenhouse-like setting and twinkling lights enchant.
Who should visit? Scenery sightseers
In every direction from Albuquerque the views are heavenly. See the area on high from the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, and stay for sunset drinks at Sandiago’s Grill at the Tram. On the ground, you can experience all the best scenes of the city on an ABQ Trolley Co. tour. ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden is full of wonders to explore, from exotic plants to majestic creatures. Perhaps nothing is more iconically Albuquerque than hot air balloons, and you can take part with Rainbow Ryders.
Who should visit? Extended vacationers
With saved-up vacation time and a desire to experience a new place, you should consider Oklahoma City top on the list of U.S. cities to visit. The Bricktown neighborhood is a good place to start, with its many shops, restaurants, and pleasing riverfront vistas. See it from the Bricktown Water Taxi. You could spend weeks exploring the galleries, museums, and memorials. For a thrilling afternoon, hit the water with RIVERSPORT Rapids. Make sure you experience the taste of Oklahoma at Tucker’s, where the classic Mother Tucker onion burger will have you returning daily.
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What’re your top USA cities to visit?