When people think of travel destinations in the United States, buzzy places like Miami, New York and Las Vegas often come to mind.
But as many of us have learned, this vast country contains any number of incredible cities and towns worth exploring. Scenic hikes, cultural activities, historic sites and amazing food abound in many under-the-radar locations across America.
And while international destinations have been opening their borders to American visitors, domestic travel remains the preferred option for most people at this stage of the pandemic. (Of course, all travelers need to be mindful of local COVID-19 spread when choosing a vacation spot, and take all necessary health and safety precautions.)
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 17 underrated cities to consider for your next U.S. vacation.
Greenville, South Carolina
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Nestled in the northwest corner of South Carolina, Greenville boasts a vibrant brewery and restaurant scene. The lush city is also a nature lover’s paradise at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, so hiking and biking opportunities abound. And you don’t even have to stray far from the walkable downtown area to get a taste of the landscape with impressive sites like Falls Park on the Reedy.
Hood River, Oregon
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Just an hour from Portland, Hood River is home to some of the best wineries and breweries in the Pacific Northwest. This port city on the Columbia River is also famous for outdoor recreation opportunities set against stunning scenery. Whether you want to try kite surfing, mountain biking, kayaking or hiking, there’s something for everyone.
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Nashville is the Tennessee burg that tends to get the most attention, but don’t sleep on Memphis: “Bluff City” is home to Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum and the iconic Beale Street. Don’t forget to try Memphis-style barbecue and check out the Peabody Hotel’s famous “duck march” for a truly unique experience.
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The historic Mid-Coast town of Wiscasset is filled with charming old homes like the Nickels-Sortwell House, Castle Tucker and the 1790 Tiny House. There are scenic trails for hiking, and of course no trip to Maine is complete without some delicious lobster, which you can find at famous spots like Sprague’s Lobster and Red’s Eats.
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That Cleveland episode of “30 Rock” might have been on to something. In addition to attractions like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Art Museum, the city features impressive street art, famous Polish food and plenty of professional sports entertainment. Fans of “A Christmas Story” can also visit Ralphie’s house, which is now a museum and has been restored to look as it did in the film.
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Bentonville is probably most famous for being the birthplace of Walmart, but the growing Arkansas city offers more than just big-box history. Museum fans can check out the Museum of Native American History, as well as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and its satellite, the Momentary. There are also a number of trails and lakes in the area to get your nature fix.
Des Moines, Iowa
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People flock to Iowa during presidential primary season, but otherwise, the Hawkeye State tends to get overlooked as a travel destination. Still, Des Moines has plenty to offer on the tourism front, from the Iowa State Fair (butter cow included) to the gold-domed Capitol building. And there are plenty of opportunities to experience the region’s strong agricultural tradition at the popular farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants.
Tarpon Springs, Florida
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Florida is full of scenic and interesting destinations, but Tarpon Springs is one that non-locals might not be familiar with. Located just north of Tampa, this Gulf Coast burg is home to the highest percentage of Greek Americans in any U.S. city — and therefore home to some amazing Greek restaurants. Check out the famous sponge docks, as well as local beaches and shops.
Providence, Rhode Island
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Next time you’re planning a trip to Boston, consider visiting Providence as well (or even instead). The capital of Rhode Island has its own fascinating New England history and sites. The downtown area is very walkable, and you can find delicious Italian food on Federal Hill. Don’t forget to hit up the art museum at the Rhode Island School of Design, and if you enjoy stunning visuals, try to time your visit to one of the famous WaterFire evenings.
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If our Instagram feeds are any indication, the pandemic has boosted the popularity of trips to national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton. But don’t forget to check out other parts of Wyoming, like the city of Cody. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a complex of five museums, and Old Trail Town gives visitors a taste of the frontier towns of the 19th century.
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Charlottesville often ranks as a top college town, but the appeal extends beyond the student experience. James Monroe’s Highland and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello are among the many historic sites in “C’ville.” The nightlife scene offers a range of options, and it’s well-situated to explore Virginia’s wine, beer and cider trails.
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Surrounded by multiple mountain ranges, Leavenworth is a Bavarian-style village in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. The picturesque town has a nutcracker museum containing over 5,000 nutcrackers — making it an ideal getaway around the holidays.
Taos, New Mexico
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Avid skiers may be familiar with Taos, but even if that’s not your jam, you’ll find plenty to do in this northern New Mexico town. The historic Taos Pueblo is a popular attraction, and there are a number of notable art museums and galleries. Take a drive around the area to take in the landscape as well.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
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Much like the nearby Florida Panhandle, Alabama’s Gulf Coast features beautiful beaches reminiscent of a watercolor painting. The pristine white sand and hiking trails are ideal for a day in the sun, and in the evening, you can head over to the famous Flora-Bama honky-tonk bar or the Hangout for food and live music.
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
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When you think of Midwest city breaks, Chicago might be top of mind, but consider a trip to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The Twin Cities boast notable art, theater and culinary scenes, as well as plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures. And of course, you can cross off the Mall of America from your bucket list.
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Outdoor lovers might want to consider adding Stanley to their lists. You can challenge yourself with virtually endless hiking trails and fishing adventures. And once you’re all tired out, simply take in the idyllic lake views and relax in the local hot springs.
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Athens isn’t just home to the University of Georgia (and all the SEC football fanfare that comes with it). The “Classic City” is known for its music scene, which has produced iconic bands like R.E.M., the B-52s and Widespread Panic. Travelers can visit famous performance venues like Georgia Theatre and the 40 Watt Club, and explore the downtown’s many bars and restaurants.