We all know the classic US travel destinations. The ones that have been sung about for years. The art scene of New York. The glamour of Los Angeles. The eclectic charm of San Francisco. These famed cities often grace the tops of bucket lists, and with good reason. But what about all the other sweeping corners of the US? The hidden gems? There are just so many of them. And they often go missed, not because they aren’t equally beautiful and interesting, but because they simply don’t get the publicity that other more common tourist destinations get. Not only that, but some of these destinations offer unparalleled natural beauty and/or fascinating cultural experiences at a lower cost than your big ticket destinations. Gotta love the underdog!
This list delves into some under-the-radar and unique US travel destinations that are just waiting to be explored. We aren’t talking just cities here. The US also has some truly breathtaking natural havens that you may not have heard of, as well as some delightfully charming and historical little towns. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look at some spots you may want to avoid in the US, when planning your next trip. I hope you’re ready to start planning your next trip to a totally hidden gem, because you are definitely about to fall in love with one (or all ten) of these destinations.
20 Assateague Island, Virginia and Maryland
Are you a horse lover? Or just a lover of mystical destinations? If so, Assateague Island is the place for you. 300 wild horses roam the beaches of this magical island. According to folklore, the horses arrived here in the 18th century, after a shipwreck off the coast of Virginia. They have continued to call the island their own ever since. Scenery and wildlife lover? The northern two-thirds of the island is in Maryland while the southern third is in Virginia. The Maryland section contains the majority of Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park. The Virginia section is home to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Assateague is known for its numerous marshes, bays and coves, including Tom's Cove. This island is well and truly a wildlife lover’s paradise.
19 Fredericksburg, Texas
Fredericksburg is a historical haven. It was founded in 1846 by German settlers and is a great place to go to learn about Texas - German history. Fredericksburg's German roots are richly celebrated through numerous German heritage events throughout the year (and a pretty memorable Oktoberfest, while we're at it!) The region is well reputed for wine tours and there are many scenic wineries to choose from. Pair that wine with a traditional German feast of sausages, schnitzel, and apple strudel at one of the many charming eateries. For the history buffs in the crowd, consider visiting Vereins Kirche Museum and Pioneer Museum Complex for a deep dive into the rich history of this delightful little town.
18 Black Hills and the Badlands, South Dakota
What adventure enthusiast doesn't want to go to a place with the word "Badlands" right in the title? The rugged beauty of the Badlands attracts visitors from every corner of the planet. Consider trekking through the National Park where you will have the opportunity to see bison, prairie dogs, black- footed ferrets and bighorn sheep grazing in their natural habitat. Although you can no longer see them today, this region also used to be home to saber- toothed cats. COOL. While you’re in the region, make sure you take a trip to the Black Hills to behold the giant faces of historical US Presidents carved into the side of Mount Rushmore.
17 Grand Marais, Minnesota
Grand Marais is a small town filled with big intrigue. In a Census taken in 2010, the population was determined to be 1,351. It is situated far up on the North Shore of Lake Superior and is very popular as a tourist town in the summer and winter. Some local points of interest are the historic Naniboujou Lodge and Artist’s Point, a harbor with lighthouse. Grand Marais is also quite famed for being a trendsetter and boasts some pretty wacky festivals, including "Moose Madness", a family-focused celebration of all things moose and "Hygge" festival, a celebration of winter coziness. In 2015, it was voted “America’s Coolest Small Town” by Budget Travel. We can see why!
16 Beacon, New York
If you're in search of more of a quaint vacation, try Beacon New York (which is, truly, a *beacon* for the laid-back traveler). Beacon is a small city which hugs the Hudson river in Southwestern Dutchess County. Beacon was once a factory town but now boasts a robust arts and culture scene, including ample antiquing for the hipsters in the house. Head to Main Street for a day of gallery hopping, shopping (in cute, indie shops of course) and a visit or two to the town's many hand-blown glass studios. Be sure to leave an hour or five for “Dia: Beacon”, an old factory that has been transformed into a beautiful contemporary art museum. Looking for an eclectic small town culture dive? Beacon's got you covered.
15 Camden, Maine
Camden is a town on Penobscot Bay, in Maine’s MidCoast region which is dotted with absolutely adorable buildings painted in every colour of the rainbow. Camden is a seaside town that is full of as much New England charm as it is delicious seafood. For those who feel like exercising more than just their appetite, a hike up impressive Mt. Battie will earn you panoramic views of both Penobscot Bay and Camden Harbor. Feeling a little lazy but still want to see the sights? Head over to Camden Snow Bowl for one of the most beautiful and scenic chairlift rides of your life!
14 Door County, Wisconsin
Door County is just about as interesting as it's totally unique name. It's nicknamed the "Cape Cod" of the Midwest, and with good reason. Door County is not just one community but in fact, nineteen, which are bookended by Lake Michigan on one side and Green Bay on the other. Each of the nineteen communities offers a unique travel experience, and they are all easily navigated between. Head to (aptly named) Forestville for some outdoor adventure or Egg Harbour for golf and fine dining. Fan of cherry pie? You're in the right place. Door County charmingly boasts 2,500 acres of cherry orchards.
13 Northern New Mexico
Northern New Mexico is a land of magical and surreal landscapes, heartwarming spiritualism, rampant creativity and immense cultural diversity. At its center is Santa Fe, a hip city that's overflowing with cultural nuance. Outside of Santa Fe, there’s something for everyone. Feel like relaxing? Consider traveling to Taos for a soak in the gorgeous Manby Hot Springs. Feeling quirky? Check out Taos Pueblo and take a tour of the otherworldly Earthship Community - a collection of eccentric homes created by a community of diehard recyclers. Northern New Mexico is star-studded with “new agey” delights. And we mean “new agey” in a very, very good way.
12 Lake Charles, Louisiana
When I say Louisiana, you say New Orleans. But, there is certainly more to the State than this notorious (and delightful) party town. Lake Charles is one such highlight. Lake Charles is located in Southwest Louisiana and boasts a Mardi Gras Museum which explores the history of the iconic festival through cultural information and colourful costumes. You can also head to the 1911 Historic City Hall Arts & Cultural Center which features local art and a rotation of traveling exhibits. Another informative arts centre in town is the Imperial Calcasieu Museum which is guarded by the giant photo- friendly and centuries- old Sallier Oak tree. If you are a fan of all things art, you will definitely be a friend of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
11 Athens, Georgia
And when I say Athens, you say Greece. However, there’s another Athens in town. Athens, Georgia is about an hour and a half away from Atlanta and boasts musical prestige, an impressive craft beer scene and, of course, UGA football fanaticism. So, basically, it’s got something for everyone. In the 1980s Athens got on the map for being home to a handful of "way cool" bands including REM, the B52s and Widespread Panic. These days, the charming Victorian- era downtown is a hit for craft beer lovers, with the Copper Creek Brewing Co. leading the charge on unique and refreshing libations. Athens is a great choice for all things fun and promises an upbeat and well-hydrated travel experience.
And now for some cities in the US that you may want to steer clear of, for now, anyways...
10 Avoid: St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis makes the list due to some pretty shockingly high crime rates, which naturally deters many travelers. The risk of becoming a victim of a violent crime here is approximately 1 in 53 (if you can believe it) and property crime is as high as 1 in 10. The high crime rate is mostly due to a shrinking economy, with droves of longtime residents abandoning ship for livelihoods elsewhere. If you don't mind the high crime rate, however, Saint Louis is undergoing some revitalization projects to its historic neighbourhoods to attract new investments to the city and the beautiful nearby wine country.
9 Avoid: Reno, Nevada
Reno, Nevada has been called Las Vegas's sad little brother (harsh!) So, Vegas fans and non- Vegas fans... tread lightly. Reno has a robust gambling scene and is a city of lights in its own right (though most of them are neon). Unfortunately, Reno is also struggling with some economic issues including layoffs, employment cuts and a plummet in real estate costs. Despite this, Reno residents too are trying to bring new fervour to the town with revitalization projects like “The River Walk”, which is a water and sculpture path built in the middle of the once extremely run- down downtown.
8 Avoid: Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland was once nicknamed "the mistake by the lake" after a scathing review by Forbes which detailed it as a truly miserable city. Cleveland is notorious for brutally frigid and unpredictable winters and a frighteningly high crime rate. It has also seen 71, 000 residents pick up and leave for greener pastures over the last 5 years. That being said, Cleveland (like any place, really) still does have its perks, and a lot of them fall under the arts and culture umbrella. It features some impressive cultural attractions including the Progressive Field and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Orchestra.
7 Avoid: Camden, New Jersey
Not to be confused with Camden, Maine (above). This Camden is probably not a place you want to take a relaxing vacation. It unfortunately scares away a lot of the tourism it would otherwise attract due to an extremely, extremely high crime rate (we are talking a 1 in 36 chance of falling victim to a violent crime and a 1 in 11 chance of falling victim to property crime). The crime rate of Camden is about 8 times that of the national average. Furthermore, it has suffered recent police cuts and extremely high unemployment rates, making it a city you don't want to visit and probably don't want to live in, while you're at it.
6 Avoid: Hazard, Kentucky
Despite being called "Hazard", Hazard, Kentucky is not known for high rates of violent crime. In fact, you'd be more likely to die of boredom in this small town. Allegedly, the only recreational thing to do outside the house in Hazard is go bowling. Which is fine, if you're really into bowling. If you're looking to do some sightseeing, the only thing you may catch a glimpse of is a pretty sizeable Walmart Supercentre. Unfortunately, due to its small population, Hazard hasn't really done much to build up any credibility in terms of arts, culture or any sort of recreation, and it also has little to offer in terms of sightseeing. So, if you're looking for a fun and intriguing vacation, we definitely recommend steering clear of this little town!
5 Avoid: Delaware
It might seem harsh to relegate a whole state to the "do not visit" list. However, Delaware is pretty small, with only three counties in the whole state. Due to its small size, it has very, very few claims to fame in the culture department (apart from allegedly being where Aubrey Plaza got her start). Sports fans don't have much to look forward to either, as Delaware has no pro sports whatsoever. It's also pretty corporate. Delaware is home to mile after mile of half empty offices. A census determined that it does, in fact, have more registered corporations than actual living breathing people. So, if your idea of a good vacation is going to sit in a cubicle, then Delaware would be a great choice. If not, cross it off the list.
4 Avoid: Lubbock, Texas
Lubbock just doesn’t have much to offer. Period. In a large Real Estate study that was recently conducted, it ranked as the absolute most boring city in all of America. It has very little to offer in the way of arts and culture, with its music venues falling even shorter. It also ranked dead last on the list for dining options. However, Lubbock did redeem itself in the nightlife category, ranking middle of the rung. So, if you are after a fun night out, with little care towards art, culture, music or fine dining, this may not be the worst destination for you!
3 Avoid: Chicago, Illinois
Chicago pops up on many lists of least popular US cities, despite also having some diehard fans (you know, like the people who call it "Chi- town"). It is the third most populous city in the US but also happens to have the highest murder rate. Chicago also suffers from high unemployment rates and a lot of private property foreclosures, as of late. It may be more fairly argued that Chicago is a place you *may* want to visit, but probably don’t want to live. It does, in fact, boast a vibrant and diverse nightlife and music scene that stretches out over 29 stunning miles of lakefront and a beautiful 15-mile public beach. Also, who doesn't want to get a picture with that cool giant bean?
2 Avoid: Poughkeepsie, New York
Poughkeepsie, NY struggles with a tanking economy and some truly miserable weather. Poughkeepsie only sees 165 days of sun a year, compared to the US national average of 205. It is also a bit grey in terms of its recreational offerings with shockingly little to do in terms of arts, culture and sporting activities. In fact, Poughkeepsie may be best known for Gene Hackman’s famous “Pickin’ your feet in Poughkeepsie” diatribe in “The French Connection. So, in other words, if you're interested in taking a nap, or thirty, in your hotel room, Poughkeepsie may be a great pick. If not, we'd suggest some of New York's more exciting alternatives.
1 Avoid: Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage spends a fair bit of daytime in darkness and is home to a bunch of nearly impassable roads. It sees extremely cold temperatures and a shockingly high crime rate. Unfortunately, an offshore oil spill of an oil tanker owned by Exxon Shipping Company many years ago has also resulted in 1,300 miles of sullied shoreline. While the spill was a long time ago, some of Anchorage's beaches remain oil slicks, and we're guessing lying in the middle of a black tarry mess is probably not your idea of a "day at the beach". If you are interested in visiting Alaska, Denali National Park may be a better and more scenic bet for you!