The Most Overlooked Travel Cities in America

Providence, Rhode Island Skyline

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Providence, Rhode Island Skyline
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

Hidden Charms

The United States is full of interesting destinations, but some cities just seem to hog all the buzz. Big-name draws such as New York, Washington, New Orleans, and San Francisco have world-class sights — and massive numbers of tourists to go with them — but we've looked around to find cities large and small where travelers can happily fill a weekend or more without battling the crowds. 

Related: Small Towns to Visit Across America

Beaufort, SC
Deborah McCague/shutterstock

Beaufort, South Carolina

About halfway between Charleston and Savannah, Beaufort offers a lot of the charm visitors seek without quite as many crowds. Fodor's praises the town's thriving arts scene and picturesque historic district, where trees abound. Movie buffs can find locations from films including "Forrest Gump," "The Prince of Tides," and more. 

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Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
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Beaufort, South Carolina: Don't Miss

Nearby Hunting Island State Park is South Carolina's most popular for good reason. You'll find all the best of the state's low-country landscape, including marshland, a saltwater lagoon, and 5 miles of stunning beaches. For a bird's-eye view, scale the Hunting Island Lighthouse, the only one in the state that's publicly accessible.

Salem, OR
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Salem, Oregon

If hipster haven Portland isn't quite your scene, Salem and the Willamette Valley are ready and waiting — especially for wine lovers. There are more than 700 wineries sprinkled throughout the region, which is especially known for its pinot noirs. Salem also has a thriving craft-brew scene. Plenty of hiking and waterfalls await just outside the city.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Salem, Oregon
Duluth, MN
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Duluth, Minnesota

This gem on Lake Superior in northern Minnesota has tons to offer the active traveler: hiking, mountain biking, and, soon, even ice climbing at a downtown park. Hop on the North Shore Scenic Drive to take in the wilderness and rugged coastline north of town, or head up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a true taste of solitude — though you may spot a moose or two.

Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Duluth, Minnesota
Knoxville's Market Square
Knoxville's Market Square by Brandon Bartoszek (None)

Knoxville, Tennessee

Immediately bypassing Knoxville for garish, tourist-packed Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge is a mistake. This laid-back college town has been branded "Austin without the hype," and visitors will find a surprisingly robust music scene. Downtown, be sure to explore Market Square and nearby Old City for the best selection of bars and restaurants. And check out the 1,000-acre Urban Wilderness, which has plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails, before heading south to the Smokies.

Ijams Nature Center

Knoxville, Tennessee: Don't Miss

Knoxville's outdoorsy reputation is on full display at the 315-acre Ijams Nature Center, just southeast of downtown. Rent a stand-up paddle board to explore Mead's Quarry (be sure to look for the freshwater jellyfish) or take in the views from the Tennessee River boardwalk. Feeling more adventurous? There's an aerial adventure course high in the trees with zip lines, rope climbs, and other obstacles.

Columbus, OH

Columbus, Ohio

The secret might be out about Columbus by now: National Geographic says it's next in line for a hipster influx after Brooklyn, Portland, and Austin; it was one of Money's "Best Big Cities" in 2016. Two can't-miss neighborhoods include the thriving Short North arts district and charming, historic German Village. Just outside the city there's the massive Columbus Zoo and Aquarium — considered one of the nation's best zoos.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio: Don't Miss

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens east of downtown Columbus is one of the city's marquee attractions for good reason. Highlights include an innovative children's garden, a grand glass palm house, outdoor gardens, and a stunning permanent exhibition of glass artist Dale Chihuly's vibrant, free-flowing pieces.

Providence, RI
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Providence, Rhode Island

Visitors to the Northeast often go straight to Boston for its historic sights, but Providence has enough going for it that Travel & Leisure readers once even voted it "America's Favorite City." Ample food, shopping, and local brews are all packed into a charming, walkable downtown. Highlights include WaterFire, a bonfire show that lights up the city's rivers.

The Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art in Providence, Rhode Island

Providence, Rhode Island: Don't Miss

For art lovers, no visit to Providence is complete without a stop at The Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art. Its 100,000-object collection include ancient Greek and Roman art; 18th and 19th century American works; Asian and European collections; contemporary works; costumes and textiles; and more. 

Greenville, SC
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Greenville, South Carolina

Under-the-radar Greenville has become a foodie haven in the past several years, trading in chain restaurants for local fare. In fact, you'll find 120 locally owned restaurants in a 10-block area downtown, according to Southern Living. Hop on one of the downtown trolleys when you're too stuffed to move, or walk off the calories at Falls Park on the Reedy, a downtown oasis filled with trails, flower, public art, waterfalls, and more.

The BMW Performance Center in Greenville, South Carolina
Verlaine A./Yelp

Greenville, South Carolina: Don't Miss

The BMW Performance Center in neighboring Spartanburg is the closest it gets to nirvana for car enthusiasts. Get behind the wheel of a shiny BMW for a quick spin, or come for a full-fledged one- or two-day driving school, learning skills like how to recover from slides on wet pavement. Of course, you'll also get to drive fast — really, really fast.

Related: You Can Drive an Exotic Sports Car at These Racetracks

Twin Falls, ID
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Twin Falls, Idaho

There's no need to head to tourist-packed Niagara to see an impressive waterfall. Twin Falls' Shoshone Falls are even taller, and travel costs are lower. Venture along the Snake River Canyon Rim Trail for spectacular views — you may even see BASE jumpers plummeting from Perrine Bridge — or grab a kayak and paddle the river below.

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

Twin Falls, Idaho: Don't Miss

Twin Falls is a great base for exploring some of Idaho's abundant natural wonders. It's just 90 miles from Craters of the Moon National Monument, an otherworldly landscape of lava fields and caves formed by volcanic eruptions between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago. Also close by is the City of Rocks National Reserve, a paradise for hikers, climbers, and history buffs who want to explore the history of wagon trails and Old West settlement.

Related: National Monuments Everyone Should Visit at Least Once

San Antonio, TX
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San Antonio

Fast-growing San Antonio has long labored in the shadow of its hip neighbor, Austin, but is well worth the detour even when skipping the famous Alamo. Try the shops and restaurants in the Pearl District, formerly a massive brewery complex, which can be reached via the newly expanded city River Walk. Tired feet? Hop a river taxi.

Related: Tourist Traps That Locals Still Love

The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

San Antonio: Don't Miss

The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park connects four gorgeous 18th century Spanish missions along a 10-mile hiking and biking trail that follows the San Antonio River. Rangers offer free tours at all four missions. Unlike the Alamo, these missions are active churches that hold Sunday Mass; one, San Jose, holds a unique mariachi service that's a big tourist draw.

Flagstaff, AZ

Flagstaff, Arizona

Tourists making a beeline for the Grand Canyon often overlook Flagstaff, but this small city shouldn't be overlooked. Regularly named one of America's best college towns, Flagstaff and its Historic Railroad District is well worth a wander. Nearby Walnut Canyon National Monument offers a less-traveled alternative to Mesa Verde for travelers hoping to see ancient cliff dwellings. Stargazers should stop in at Lowell Observatory, home of the $53 million Discovery Channel Telescope.

Related: Great Places for Off-Roading Adventures in the U.S. and Canada

Lava River Cave in Flagstaff, Arizona
Lava River Cave in Flagstaff, Arizona by RightBrainPhotography (CC BY)

Flagstaff, Arizona: Don't Miss

Amateur spelunkers can enjoy an adventure by hiking into the Lava River Cave, a highlight of the massive Coconino National Forest that surrounds Flagstaff. The mile-long cave was formed after a volcanic vent spewed lava here roughly 700,000 years ago. Bring a few light sources to explore, and consider pants and a warm jacket — it's in the 40s inside, even in the summer.

Rapid City, SD
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Rapid City, South Dakota

Rapid City, perched on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest, is a natural hub for visiting some of South Dakota's most popular attractions. Badlands and Wind Cave national parks are only an hour away; Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial are even closer. In Rapid City itself, visit the bronze sculptures of U.S. presidents along Main and St. Joseph streets, then stop at Firehouse Brewing for a local beer.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Rapid City, South Dakota: Don't Miss

Though nearby Badlands National Park gets top billing, Custer State Park just outside Rapid City has some of the most gorgeous scenery in the state. It stretches for 71,000 acres, giving visitors the chance to fish, hike, ride, climb, bike, swim, and more. Frequent programs include adventure hikes, bison talks, and wildlife caravans. You can even cap off your day with a show at the Black Hills Playhouse right in the middle of the park.

Louisville, KY
Thomas Kelley/istockphoto

Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville is a lot more than horses these days. Fodor's praises the "unexpectedly hip scene" in a number of neighborhoods including NuLu, or New Louisville, which boasts eclectic shops and farm-to-table restaurants. You don't even have to head to the countryside distilleries to sample the region's best bourbon anymore: Grab a nightcap on the city's Urban Bourbon Trail, where dozens of bars have anywhere from 50 to 170 varieties at the ready.

Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in Louisville, Kentucky
Tony C./Yelp

Louisville, Kentucky: Don't Miss

Pay homage to one of Louisville's most famous non-bourbon exports at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. You can't miss it — outside there's a 120-foot-tall baseball bat, a scale replica of a bat used by Babe Ruth. Visits include a guided half-hour factory tour and a museum full of baseball memorabilia. You may even get to hold bats used by icons such as Mickey Mantle or Derek Jeter.

St. Louis, MO

St. Louis

Once proclaimed the "most overlooked city to visit," by Thrillist, spread-out St. Louis remains a city of dense, attractive neighborhoods and world-class attractions including the St. Louis Zoo and Missouri Botanical Garden. Downtown is also undergoing a revival, with new developments such as Ballpark Village, next to Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals play ball.

Forest Park in St. Louis

St. Louis: Don't Miss

Site of the 1904 World's Fair, 1,300-acre Forest Park can hold its own against New York's Central Park any day. It's home to big-time attractions such as a zoo and the St. Louis Art Museum, but there are plenty of smaller-scale delights including the iconic Art Deco Jewel Box greenhouse, paddle boating, and plenty of biking and walking trails. Not too far southeast of the park is the hip Grove neighborhood, with shops, bars, and restaurants.

California State Railroad Museum

Sacramento, California

In a state packed with tourist meccas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, Sacramento will never get top billing, but there's still plenty to see. The Old Sacramento Historic District is a charming, kitschy window into the city's Gold Rush past, and the California State Railroad Museum is a train buff's delight.

American River in Sacramento

Sacramento, California: Don't Miss

Lots of outfitters offer rafting trips on the American River, which flows through Sacramento. Many are based in the Coloma and Lotus areas about an hour from the city — this is where you want to go to see some actual white water. Closer to town, companies such as American River Raft Rentals offer gentle floats suitable for the entire family.

Thorncrown Chapel
Thorncrown Chapel by Mike Beauchamp (None)

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Victorian architecture in Arkansas? You'll find it in Eureka Springs, which has a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places that can be explored on a trolley or even by horse-drawn carriage. Other can't-miss sights: the stunning glass Thorncrown Chapel, exotic-cat haven Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, and Ozarks scenery all around.

Haunted Eureka Springs in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs, Arkansas: Don't Miss

If you're into the paranormal or just really love a good ghost story, you're in luck. Eureka Springs has a bit of a reputation for haunted hot spots. The most notable is the 1886 Crescent Hotel, which runs nightly ghost tours — apparently, the ghosts are angry after being swindled out of their cash (and lives) by a doctor who once ran a fraudulent cancer clinic here. Haunted Eureka Springs tours take in even more spooky sites. 

Related: The Most Haunted Hotels in America

Baltimore, MD
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A firmly blue-collar past has given Baltimore a bad rap, but now it's "the coolest city on the East Coast," according to Travel & Leisure. While the Inner Harbor boasts top-shelf attractions including the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center, try exploring character-filled neighborhoods including hip Hampden and historic Federal Hill. 

Related: The Best Things to Do in Baltimore

American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore

Baltimore: Don't Miss

Check out the American Visionary Art Museum, a quirky tribute to the self-taught artist in all of us. Instead of the works of practiced masters, you'll see what results from spontaneous bursts of creativity by a range of people. Highlights of the permanent collection include the colorful 55-foot Giant WhirliGig and a family of robots made out of recycled materials and found objects.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Overshadowed by the likes of Denver, Boulder, and Aspen, Glenwood Springs has its own brand of adventure to offer visitors. Boulder Weekly calls it a "true multi-sport mecca" that is more family-friendly than other Colorado hotspots with its beginner-friendly skiing, whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, and more. Once you're too tired to move, go soak in the mineral water at Glenwood Hot Springs Pool.

Hanging Lake in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Glenwood Springs, Colorado: Don't Miss

A short drive east of Glenwood Springs just off Interstate 70, Hanging Lake is a National Natural Landmark well worth the short but steep trail you'll need to follow to see it. The payoff is the view of the lake at the end: clear waters, hanging plants, craggy cliffs, and plenty of breathtaking waterfalls. Avoid the crowds by going in the early morning or late afternoon, or saving your trip for midweek.

Related: Stunning Photos of Iconic Landscapes in the American West

Portland, ME
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Portland, Maine

Maine is better known for its rugged coastal beauty, but there's plenty to recommend a stopover in its biggest town. Portland is becoming a bit of a foodie hotspot, Fodors notes, with a restaurant and bar scene befitting a much larger city. Explore the views, parks, and Victorian architecture along the Eastern Promenade, or grab a microbrew at an Old Port pub before heading up the coast for some lighthouse-spotting.

Casco Bay Lines Ferry in Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine: Don't Miss

Go island hopping by taking the Casco Bay Lines ferry out of Portland. It stops at a half-dozen scenic Casco Bay islands year-round and also offers scenic tours including sunrise, sunset, and moonlight cruises. You can also take the Mailboat Run, which lets tourists tag along as the boat delivers mail and freight to islanders. 

Related: Scenic Ferry Rides You Can Take

Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, West Virginia

Lewisburg, West Virginia

The shops and restaurants in charming Lewisburg will banish any persistent West Virginia stereotypes. Catch a show at historic Carnegie Hall, but be sure to leave enough time for big-time attractions nearby such as the Lost World Caverns, where you can take a four-hour underground adventure tour.

The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

Lewisburg, West Virginia: Don't Miss

Down the road at the luxurious Greenbrier Resort, you don't have to pay the steep price of staying overnight to get a taste of this sweeping property and its colorful Dorothy Draper decor. There are daily resort history tours, activities ranging from paddle boarding to falconry, carriage rides, and much more. You can even explore the resort's most unique claim to fame, a formerly classified Cold War-era bunker meant to house the U.S. government in the event of nuclear war.

Related: Some of the World's Most Iconic Hotels