From BBQ to Polka: America's 'Capitals of the World'

Unique "Capitals" Around the U.S.

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Unique "Capitals" Around the U.S.
Cheapism; Yelp; iStock

Capital Cities

In addition to well-known state capitals like Austin, Texas and Atlanta, the U.S. is also home to a treasure trove of underrated "capital cities." Celebrated for their unique cultural, historical, or culinary contributions, these (typically) smaller towns have rebranded themselves as must-visit destinations for everyone from foodies and history buffs to amateur photographers and music fans. 

From the smoky barbecues of Lexington, North Carolina, to the lively polka beats of Cleveland, here are 12 unique "capital" cities across the U.S. that are worth a visit.

bright orange naval oranges on tree

1. Santa Paula, California

Known as: The Citrus Capital of the World

Located in Southern California, Santa Paula is a charming small town that's renowned for its vast citrus groves. The town's climate and fertile soil create ideal conditions for growing oranges, lemons, and avocados, making it a crucial agricultural hub in the state. Visitors are also encouraged to visit the California Oil Museum and take part in the Citrus Festival (every July) to celebrate the area's rich agricultural heritage. 

The town's picturesque landscapes, quaint cobblestone streets, and historic downtown all add to its charm, making it a delightful destination for visitors. 

Bavarian couple in traditional outfits at Beer Fest dance

2. Cleveland, Ohio

Known as: America’s Polka Capital


Cleveland, Ohio, boasts the vibrant title of "America’s Polka Capital," as a nod to its strong Eastern European heritage and lively music scene. Polka music has deep roots in Cleveland's cultural fabric — with many local bands and dance groups keeping the tradition alive. The city hosts numerous polka festivals and events every year, attracting enthusiasts from all across the country, and even boasts a Cleveland Polka Association.

Visitors can immerse themselves in authentic tunes at events Cleveland's Oktoberfest and by visiting the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum in nearby Euclid. 

Four Horses & A Pond

3. Marion County, Florida

Known as: The Horse Capital of the World

If you're a fan of horses, then you must visit this unassuming Florida town. Known as the "Horse Capital of the World" Marion County is home to over 600 thoroughbred farms and has produced numerous champion horses. Visitors can explore the Ocala National Forest to enjoy scenic horseback riding trails, learn about the state's thriving equine industry, and tour the breeding and training facilities. 

Marion County's equestrian culture is also celebrated through events like the Ocala Breeders’ Sale and the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit horse shows.

Barbecue Festival, Lexington, North Carolina
The Barbecue Festival

4. Lexington, North Carolina

Known as: The Barbecue Capital of the World

Move over Arby's, because Lexington, North Carolina clearly has the (better) meats. Claiming the title of "Barbecue Capital of the World," the city attracts droves of visitors eager to try its smoky, flavorful dishes. The town’s barbecue joints, such as Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center, offer a wide array of its famous slow-cooked, smoked meats that keep barbecue aficionados coming back for more.

Lexington-style barbecue is characterized by its use of a tangy, tomato-based sauce and traditional cooking methods. 

Related: 8 Regional BBQ Styles That Will Make Texans Faint

Cody Wyoming Rodeo
Patrick D./

5. Cody, Wyoming

Known as: The Rodeo Capital of the World

Celebrated as the "Rodeo Capital of the World," Cody, Wyoming offers an authentic taste of the American Wild West. Founded by the legendary Buffalo Bill Cody, the town hosts nightly rodeos during the summer to showcase thrilling events like bull riding, barrel racing, and steer wrestling. The Cody Stampede Rodeo, held annually around the Fourth of July, draws top rodeo athletes and enthusiasts from all over the U.S. 

Visitors are also encouraged to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which features museums dedicated to Western art, firearms, and Native American history.

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Hartford, Connecticut Skyline

6. Hartford, Connecticut

Known as: The Insurance Capital of the World

Dubbed the "Insurance Capital of the World" Hartford, Connecticut, is home to major insurance headquarters, including Aetna, Travelers, and The Hartford — all of which contribute to the city's economy by providing jobs and career opportunities. Hartford's insurance legacy, which dates back to the early 19th century, has helped shaped its financial landscape to foster a strong sense of community.  

Related32 Ways to Save on Life Insurance

DiMeo Blueberry Farm, Hammonton, New Jersey
Daisy C./

7. Hammonton, New Jersey

Known as: The Blueberry Capital of the World

Known as the "Blueberry Capital of the World," Hammonton's history is rooted in agriculture. The town's fertile soil and favorable climate have made it an ideal location for blueberry cultivation since the early 1900s. Today, Hammonton celebrates this heritage with the annual Red, White, and Blueberry Festival, which offers a variety of blueberry-themed foods, live music, and family-friendly activities. 

For food enthusiasts, a visit to Hammonton offers a delightful experience with its fresh, locally grown blueberries available at numerous farm stands and markets, as well as in creative dishes and cocktails at local eateries and bars.  

Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, California

8. Gilroy, California

Known as: The Garlic Capital of the World

Gilroy, California, is celebrated as the "Garlic Capital of the World," a reputation it has cultivated thanks to its extensive garlic production that dates back to the early 20th century. The region's ideal growing conditions, including its Mediterranean-like climate and fertile soil, have made it an ideal location for garlic farming. Each year, the town hosts the famous Gilroy Garlic Festival, which features a wide array of garlic-infused foods, cooking competitions, and live entertainment. 

Food and history enthusiasts will find Gilroy a hidden gem — complete with restaurants and markets offering everything from garlic ice cream to savory dishes.

National Mustard Museum, Middleton, Wisconsin
Meghan H./

9. Middletown, Wisconsin

Known as: The Mustard Capital of the World

This small Midwestern town is known for its long-standing mustard production and unwavering love for the condiment. It all began in 1986 when Barry Levenson, disheartened by the Red Sox's World Series loss, found inspiration in an all-night supermarket's mustard aisle. The mustard "spoke" to him, leading him to create the National Mustard Museum. Levenson was serving as the Wisconsin assistant attorney general at the time. 

The museum now houses a vast collection of mustard varieties and explores its rich history and cultural significance. Each year, Middletown also hosts the Mustard Day Festival, an event filled with mustard-themed activities, tastings, and live music.

Bridge City (Louisiana) Gumbo Festival
Steve I./

10. Bridge City, Louisiana

Known as: The Gumbo Capital of the World

This riverside spot near New Orleans is renowned for its annual Bridge City Gumbo Festival, an event that draws in thousands of visitors. The town's deep-rooted culinary heritage reflects its love for gumbo — a rich, flavorful stew that is a staple of Cajun and Creole cuisine. At the festival, visitors can savor a variety of gumbo recipes, from seafood to chicken and sausage, each showcasing the rich and hearty flavors of the dish. 

Bridge City's celebration of gumbo offers food enthusiasts an authentic taste of Louisiana's culinary traditions, making it a must-visit destination for those eager to experience the essence of Southern cuisine. 

pearson farm peaches, fort valley, georgia
Helen K./

11. Fort Valley, Georgia

Known as: The Peach Capital of the World

Celebrated as "The Peach Capital of the World," this town in Georgia is known for its prolific peach orchards and rich history of peach cultivation. The town's warm climate and fertile soil provide ideal conditions for growing some of the juiciest and most flavorful peaches, making Fort Valley a key player in Georgia's peach industry. Each summer, the town hosts the Georgia Peach Festival, attracting visitors from all over the U.S. with its peach-themed foods, live music, and family-friendly activities. 

Fort Valley also offers fresh, locally grown peaches that visitors can buy at numerous farm stands and markets, as well as in creative dishes at local eateries. 

hunter sits in the shelter and lures the ducks

12. Stuttgart, Arkansas

Know as: The Duck Capital of the World

Nestled in the heart of the Arkansas Delta, Stuttgart's fertile fields produce some of the highest-quality rice in the U.S., making it a cornerstone of the nation's agricultural landscape. The town also attracts duck-hunting enthusiasts who are drawn by the rich wetlands that host thousands of migrating waterfowl each year. 

The annual World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest and Wings Over the Prairie Festival celebrate this unique heritage with duck-calling competitions, parades, and a lively carnival.