The 14 Most Underrated U.S. Travel Destinations to Visit Now
Looking for the perfect getaway? Skip the crowded, overpriced hot spots, and head to one of these under-the-radar gems instead.
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Unique vacations you’ll love
If it feels like everyone’s traveling right now, that’s because they are. A recent survey by TripIt found that a whopping 85% of respondents planned to travel this fall, mostly within the United States, which means the big destinations are going to be packed. Sure, the hot spots are hot for a reason, but who wants to deal with crowds and jacked-up prices? That’s where this list of the best underrated travel destinations comes in. In fact, airlines like Frontier offer unlimited flight passes to make it easier than ever to travel to underrated destinations. These U.S. cities have loads of charm and interest but a lot less hassle, and that will come in particularly handy if you can only escape for a mini vacation or weekend away.
Plus, there’s something to be said for discovering a cool new place and stepping out of your comfort zone. According to a new poll by Talker Media, nearly three-quarters of respondents said that’s the whole point of vacations—and that those who aren’t willing to go somewhere new are missing out. Well, whether that “somewhere new” entails kicking back at the beach, eating your way through a charming historic town or exploring the great outdoors, we’ve got the perfect ideas for affordable family vacations, girls weekend getaways, romantic weekend trips and everything in between.
How we chose the best underrated destinations in the United States
To pull together our list of the best underrated destinations in the country, we consulted travel professionals, scoured online reviews and then cross-checked our picks with travel sites. The Talker Media poll also revealed some excellent suggestions from their respondents. The vacation spots on this list may not be the ones that get all the glory and attention, but we think you’ll love them anyway. Want to head overseas? Head to this roundup of the most underrated travel destinations in the world.
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Asbury Park, New Jersey
If you love the idea of the Hamptons or Nantucket but you’re looking for something a little more low-key, head south to Asbury Park in New Jersey. You’ll find a funky boardwalk dotted with independent restaurants and shops, wide sandy beaches and a cool music scene, making this East Coast beach destination a magnet for trendsetters and locals alike. Even better? It’s an affordable and quick trip for anyone in the Tri-State area, and there’s plenty to do here even when it’s not summer, since there’s a year-round music, bar and dining scene.
Don’t miss: The Stone Pony, beloved for decades as the spot where Bruce Springsteen got his start, is a must-visit for music lovers. In the summer, the venue also puts on huge outdoor concerts, hosting well-known bands like the Black Crowes as well as cool up-and-comers.
Where to stay: You can’t go wrong with the Asbury Hotel, located just two blocks off the beach and the boardwalk. Once a Salvation Army building, the renovated, eclectic lodging combines fun outdoor spaces—including a giant pool with multiple bars, an alfresco movie theater and a rooftop cocktail lounge—and comfy rooms for an affordable stay with plenty of style.
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Voted in the Talker Media travel poll as the top underrated travel destination in the United States that people want to visit, this Southern gem is one of the most charming small towns we’ve ever seen. It’s also a great off-season travel destination, especially in the fall, when you can beat the heat and the crowds, and you’ll have the cobblestone streets and culinary delights almost all to yourself. Chock-full of history, Savannah has a romantic, hauntingly beautiful vibe—fitting, since some people say it’s America’s most haunted city—but it also has plenty of shops, music and rooftop bars to keep you entertained.
Don’t miss: Make time to visit City Market, an open-air marketplace filled with restaurants and boutique art galleries. Also take a leisurely stroll through Forsyth Park, 30 acres of greenery in the heart of Savannah’s Historic District.
Where to stay: The Perry Lane Hotel, a boutique property right in the center of Savannah’s Landmark Historic District. While it is centrally located and boasts terrific service, arguably the coolest thing about it is the swanky rooftop pool.
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Named one of Food & Wine‘s best up-and-coming cities for food lovers, the “City of Trees” is also a perfect destination when you’re looking for a quick getaway where you can enjoy the great outdoors. Hikers and bikers have almost 200 miles of trails to explore in the foothills just above Boise, and they’re anchored by trailheads right in town. You can also check out any of the 104 parks in the city, or hop on a bike to visit beer, wine and cider tasting rooms located near Boise’s Greenbelt, a 25-mile trail along the Boise River that goes right through the city.
Don’t miss: There’s no need to travel overseas to get a taste of Basque culture—Boise has the largest Basque population in the United States. Downtown, you’ll find an entire city block dedicated to this Spanish culture, with plenty of romantic restaurants where you can sample tapas and regional Basque wines.
Where to stay: The Riverside Hotel is nestled right on the Greenbelt. It’s an affordable yet cool option that boasts a free breakfast and large pool.
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A seaside community located 30 miles north of downtown San Diego and an hour south of Anaheim, Carlsbad is an under-the-radar city that’s a good alternative for a SoCal city getaway. It’s also a terrific option for families reluctant to deal with the crowded theme parks in Anaheim, since it’s the home of Legoland California. Considering a road trip with a beachy destination? Carlsbad’s also got you covered there, with seven miles of uncrowded beaches along the Pacific Coast.
Don’t miss: The SoCal weather is great year-round, including in the fall, but plan a return trip in May so you can see the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch—nearly 50 stunning acres of giant ranunculus, which bloom for only six to eight weeks each spring. In May, you’ll also get to check out the Carlsbad Village Street Faire, the largest one-day street fair in the country.
Where to stay: For quintessential Southern California beach vibes in this underrated travel destination, book a room at the Hilton’s Cassara Carlsbad, which offers multiple pools, a splash pad for little ones and shuttle service to the Flower Fields.
Fort Worth, Texas
The 13th-largest city in the country and the third fastest growing, Fort Worth is emerging from the shadow of neighboring Dallas and gaining national attention for its modern interpretation of Western culture. Known endearingly as “Cowtown,” Fort Worth feels much more like you’re in the Great American West of lore than the more urban-feeling Dallas, and it’s definitely one of the more unique vacations in the U.S. It even has a ride-in movie theater, where you can bring your horse instead of your car! That said, your car will come in handy if you want to make Fort Worth a stop on a larger Texas road trip.
Don’t miss: The Stockyards National Historic District, which pays homage to the city’s cowboy past. Visitors can watch cowboys lead a herd of Texas Longhorns down the main street twice a day, as well as explore the ample Western-inspired attractions. Make sure to check out a rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum and have a drink at Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky-tonk.
Where to stay: Check in to the rustic but luxe Hotel Drover, an Autograph Collection hotel located in the Stockyards. It sports a spacious “backyard” with a pool and hot tub, private cabanas with crystal chandeliers, fire pits for roasting s’mores, and lawn games and live music.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Instead of heading to blustery, overly busy Chicago, consider this Midwestern gem. Start the day by renting a canoe, kayak or paddleboard to explore the Grand River, which weaves through the charming city, to soak up the last few days of warm weather. Once the weather shifts, you can still visit the beautiful Frederik Meijer Gardens, a botanical garden and sculpture complex, and walk down Wealthy Street for one-of-a-kind boutiques, bakeries and restaurants. A stroll through the Heritage Hill neighborhood is also a must to marvel at some gorgeous architecture.
Don’t miss: Known as Beer City, USA, Grand Rapids is home to more than 40 breweries along the Beer City Ale Trail—all within a 30-minute drive of one another. (Please remember to have a designated driver.) Sample beer from Founders, City Built Brewing Company and Harmony Hall, among others.
Where to stay: For a convenient and budget-friendly option in the heart of downtown, opt for the contemporary JW Marriott Grand Rapids. It boasts spacious guest rooms, a new spa, the standout French restaurant Margaux and the Jdek patio, where guests can enjoy craft cocktails, small bites and picturesque views of the river.
With an architecturally stunning downtown, trendy lakeside neighborhoods and outdoor adventures around every corner, Duluth is a great alternative to busier Midwestern towns such Minneapolis and Chicago, or even Denver in the west. Outside magazine and the Washington Post named it one of the country’s best cities for outdoor adventures, and mountain biking, in particular, is a big draw here. But from museums to boat tours to ballgames, there’s no shortage of attractions to explore in this underrated U.S. travel destination.
Don’t miss: Is there a train lover in your travel group? Take a ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad for fabulous views of Lake Superior, the downtown skyline and the Northwoods. Follow up with a visit to the iconic Lake Superior Railroad Museum.
Where to stay: Solglimt, a boutique property in Canal Park, is Duluth’s only eco-friendly waterfront bed-and-breakfast. Its green policy includes solar panels, nontoxic cleaning supplies and locally sourced food. (The scraps are composted for the inn’s gardens!)
Skip the busy city of Atlanta, and try this underrated travel destination instead. The Southern gem offers the kind of cool public art, unique shopping and elevated dining you’d expect in a city. In fact, it boasts 120 locally owned restaurants, including seven helmed by chef Ouita Michel, who’s been nominated for numerous James Beard awards. But Lexington has even more going for it with some unique features—namely, its easy access to the great outdoors and more than 400 horse farms.
Don’t miss: Soar 185 feet above the ground on a zip-line canopy tour with Boone Creek Outdoors, and you’ll be treated to tremendous views of the Boone Creek Gorge and the surrounding forest. Or bike along the majestic limestone cliffs cut by the Kentucky River on the Kentucky River Palisades Trail.
Where to stay: After a full day of exploring, retreat to Lexington’s Elwood Hotel & Suites to unwind. You’ll be surrounded by hand-painted artwork, cozy finishes and rural charm.
Estes Park, Colorado
Have your heart set on Vail or Aspen? You’ll get plenty of adventure and mountain-town vibes at Estes Park, Colorado—without fighting the crowds or burning a hole in your wallet. The base camp to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), this laid-back town is surrounded by majestic mountains and abundant wildlife, and it’s the perfect jumping-off spot for exploring the national park. In fall, see the golden aspens; in winter, go cross-country skiing; and in spring, try fly-fishing, mountain biking and hiking.
Don’t miss: Take a tour with Wildside 4×4, which offers on-road and off-road options and great wildlife photo opportunities in RMNP. It’s a unique way to see the park in any season (yes, even in the winter with snow), and there are opportunities to get out of your vehicle to see waterfalls and wilderness up close.
Where to stay: With more than 860 acres bordered on three sides by RMNP, the YMCA of the Rockies offers expansive views, miles of trails and a variety of family-friendly activities. It’s basically camp for families! The family cabins are especially popular for multigenerational getaways, and a multifamily vacation here can actually cost less than staying home.
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New York City threw major shade at Cleveland last year with a mean viral tweet that read: “A gloomy day in New York City is still better than a sunny day in Cleveland.” People quickly came to the defense of this under-the-radar city, pointing out the multiple ways Cleveland is, well, cool. Sure, there’s no place like the Big Apple, but you’ll be surprised by just how much there is to do here, which is exactly why it landed on our list of the best underrated travel destinations in the country.
Just like New York, there’s a natural history and modern art museum, a museum of contemporary art, a zoo, destination dining spots like Little Italy and even a world-class orchestra. But unlike New York, you won’t get turned away because of overcrowding—or turned off due to exorbitant pricing. For example, the Cleveland Contemporary Art Museum is free, while the Whitney Museum in Manhattan costs $25 per person.
Don’t miss: Oh, and did we forget to mention the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? This is the place to be if you’re a music lover. Explore six floors of music history, including neat interactive exhibits, in a place unlike any in New York.
Where to stay: The Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Arcade is built inside the old Arcade shopping center, so a stroll to your room feels like walking through a historic department store. It’s also within walking distance of all the big attractions, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the East 4th Street entertainment district and Progressive Field.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
The Appalachian Trail goes right through this tiny town in West Virginia, named the third most popular underrated U.S. vacation destination travelers want to visit in the Talker poll. While best known as the site of the John Brown raid and three Civil War battles, Harpers Ferry is also a stunning destination in the fall. Bordered by the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, it’s the perfect place to peep the gorgeously colored fall foliage blazing along the river trails in the fall. And any time of year, you can walk in the footsteps of history at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Overall, it’s a great alternative to Baltimore and Washington, D.C, which are located about 90 minutes north.
Don’t miss: Lace up your hiking boots for scenic views on free and fabulous hikes. The Loudoun Heights Trail provides views of the Shenandoah Valley, especially beautiful in autumn, and the Maryland Heights Trail is an easy-ish five-mile loop with vistas of Harpers Ferry.
Where to stay: The centrally located Clarion Inn is just a few minutes from the national historical park and has a restaurant, game room and pool.
Greenville, South Carolina
The city once known—quite fittingly—as Pleasantburg is an ideal spot for anyone looking for a Southern-style spring break destination without the crowds or high prices. As in the bustling cities Asheville or Charleston, though, you’ll find plenty here to keep you busy, including art and history museums, a zoo and a minor-league baseball stadium. There’s also a 32-acre park and natural waterfalls, a concert arena and access to a 20-mile-long bike trail.
Don’t miss: Main Street is the central hub of activity in Greenville, with more than 120 locally owned boutiques and restaurants. Head to Pomegranate on Main to sample authentic Persian cuisine, or to Halls Chophouse for farm-to-fork Southern dishes and incredible water views of the Reedy River.
Where to stay: The Hyatt Regency Greenville is located just steps from Main Street, as well as close to family-friendly attractions including the Children’s Museum and the Greenville Zoo. It also has an outdoor pool and loads of flexible meeting space, in case you need to combine work with pleasure for part of your stay.
Reno is a prime example of a second city’s rise to fame, and it may be in the proverbial shadow of Vegas, but we think it’s one of the best travel destinations in the U.S. You’ll find plenty of gambling and entertainment here, but unlike Las Vegas, you won’t be bombarded by crowds. Plus, if you can pull yourself away from the blackjack table, you can enjoy the great outdoors at stunning Lake Tahoe, which is less than an hour’s drive away.
Don’t miss: Set aside some time to walk around the Riverwalk District, where you can grab a bite on one of the many patios overlooking the water. Or follow the locals to the Wingfield Park Amphitheater for free outdoor entertainment and great people-watching.
Where to stay: The Peppermill Resort Spa Casino offers a full array of entertainment in one place. We’re talking nine award-winning restaurants, 15 bars, two geothermally heated swimming pools, live performance venues, a casino and a spa!
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Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole makes our list of the most underrated travel destinations for being the gateway to Grand Teton National Park. Often overlooked by visitors in favor of neighboring Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, it’s a special destination in its own right. You can take a self-guided drive to spot wildlife, including elk, bison, bear and even massive moose (but remember to stay in your vehicle and take photos from there). And Jackson Hole is a charmer of a town that you’ll love returning to at the end of the day. It has a lovely town square with plenty of Old West charm, like an arch of antlers framing the entrance to the area and stagecoach rides.
Don’t miss: Over the years, artists have been inspired by the natural surroundings and wildlife in the Jackson Hole area, and you can explore their work (and maybe get some inspiration of your own) at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.
Where to stay: The Lodge at Jackson Hole offers a luxurious but affordable Western setting right in the heart of the downtown area. Enjoy a breakfast buffet included with your stay before heading out for a day of hiking, followed by a relaxing massage at the spa.