Let’s face it, America is a big place. In fact, the United States is nearly twice the size of Europe. People sometimes forget that and it’s easy to see why. When people travel to Europe, there’s so much to see and do. Each country in Europe has its own amazing cities and places to visit. So from a traveling perspective, it’s easy to think of Europe as being so much more than the United States, Paris, London, Madrid, Copenhagen, Florence, Athens, Stockholm; the list goes on and on and on. America can sometimes feel empty when it comes to traveling, especially when you shrink it down by state. States like Hawaii, California, and Florida are the most visited. Maybe you can throw New York on that list, but in reality, people are just going to New York City. When you name the cities that rival Europe’s, you really only get a handful: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and maybe Washington D.C. Now back to reality.
America is so much bigger than Europe and that means so many more cities and places to see. With that in mind, we decided to compile a list of popular cities that have flown under the radar in some of the nation’s top states. So put away your ‘I Heart NY’ shirt and get ready to do a little exploring as we present our list of the 20 Most Underrated Towns In Popular US States.
20 Apalachicola, Florida - Oysters And Old Florida
Tourism in Florida is beginning to diversify. While the pristine beaches, tropical weather, and swaying palm trees will always be a staple of the Sunshine State, visitors are beginning to look elsewhere for more unique experiences; places that bring out a different side and beauty to Florida. Apalachicola is one small town that has benefited from the current boom in Old Florida tourism. Located south of Tallahassee at the very tip of the Florida panhandle, Apalachicola is a small fishing town that has garnered a lot of attention for its fresh seafood.
With crab, fish, and shrimp available at the local fish markets, visitors can have their pick at delectable seafood, but Apalachicola is most famous for its oysters. In fact, Apalachicola harvests a majority of the state’s oysters and is considered one of the oyster capitals of the world. As amazing as the seafood is, Apalachicola offers so much more. It’s a quiet town with a relaxed vibe. Visitors have the option of staying in a number of quaint, luxurious inns as well as visiting a number of beaches like the St. George’s and St. Vincent’s Islands. While the town rests at the mouth of Apalachicola Bay, behind it lies Tate’s Hell State Forrest for those feeling more adventurous.
19 Carmel-By-The-Sea, California - A Town For Artists
This interestingly-named coastal town in the middle of California is perhaps one of the most beautiful quaint little towns we’ve ever come across. The setting here is perfect.
Located right on the water just south of beautiful Monterey Bay, Carmel-by-the-Sea has been a chic, boutique-like city since inception. It gives the ambiance of a well-crafted, carefully-designed town with shops and storefronts designed to appeal to the senses.
Everything about this town seems by design and the beauty has an aura of its own. Carmel-by-the-Sea was made for artists. Early on in its existence, it attracted many famous writers, painters, and poets who were inspired by the sea air and the beautiful trees and local fauna. To this day, art is a staple of the city. Hundreds of exquisite art galleries line the famous streets for visitors to come and see. Gorgeous cottages with brick chimneys give Carmel-by-the-Sea a unique flavor that’s enchanting. This city is a hotbed of culture. They hold many art events and fellowships for painters and writers but also have perfect venues for those looking for a nice quiet time in a beautiful city. The downtown area features numerous places for wine tasting including bars and bottle shops.
18 Sleepy Hollow, New York - Spooky And Scenic
Sleepy Hollow can be an incredibly fun and unique time if you know how to play it right. Of all the towns featured here in New York’s upper state, this is perhaps the best one to visit in the fall time. Sure, most towns in Upstate are stunning this time of year. You’ll find a blast of colors, greens, yellows, reds, and oranges littering the cobblestone streets and perfectly complimenting the brick buildings along the old-time main streets. But Sleepy Hollow is famous as being the town where the famous Headless Horseman story takes place. The Headless Horseman captivated people and steeped Sleepy Hollow in a pantheon of horror. The little town on the eastern bank of the Hudson River just outside of New York City has embraced its horror roots and visiting in Halloween will benefit you greatly if you’re looking for a unique experience. The Gothic Lynhurst Castle inspired the vampire story Dark Shadows and tours are available in the morning, which we recommend. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is a major Halloween event where the surrounding area creates an entire park of attractions built entirely out of Jack O’Lanterns. You can see some amazing sculptures and incredible craftsmanship.
17 Corpus Christi, Texas - Spring Break Paradise
People seem to forget that a good section of Texas’ border is coastal. Typically, the thought of traveling to Texas evokes images of cowboys. We imagine ourselves on horseback galloping through rugged terrain in hot desserts. Maybe Dallas comes to mind, or Austin, two of the state’s largest cities, but we rarely think about Texas as a beach state.
Thankfully, places like Corpus Christi exist to remind us that Texas has some lovely beaches right along the warm blue Mexican Gulf.
Located south of San Antonio, Corpus Christi is a water wonderland. It has everything you could want from a coastal town. The metropolitan area is at the foot of Corpus Christ bay. In town, you’ll find some amazing art galleries (Texas seems to have become a big art state in recent years). We also recommend the Texas State Aquarium. Another water-themed visit would have to be the Texas Surf Museum, and you can even check out the harbor bridge. You’ll also find some very good Tex-mex-style food in Corpus Christi in the downtown area. But what really bring people to Corpus Christi are the beaches. Here, you’ll find the world’s longest barrier island in Padre Island. Essentially, Padre Island is a massive narrow stretch of beach and sand surrounded on all sides by the ocean. People love going to Padre Island, especially young people in spring.
16 Skaneateles, New York - Lakeside Style (And That Swanky Aesthetic)
Skaneateles–many people insist it’s pronounced as Scan-ee-at-uh-less, while others maintain it’s Skinny-atlas; we’ll let you be the judge–is a hidden gem on the northern shore of Lake Skaneateles of the Finger Lakes. It’s between Ithaca and Syracuse, but has a unique style that is all its own. Skaneateles is a richer area than the neighboring towns and has an incredibly swanky aesthetic, but it’s that old American charm that makes Skaneateles feel like you’re walking through a painting, a memory of an older America. Right on the lakefront, the main street is full of old-brick buildings and has many boutique shops to visit for shopping. There is also some fine dining here, and some exquisite lakeside seafood can be enjoyed. In this same area, you’ll find the Sherwood Inn, an old classically-built hotel that used to serve as a station for an old stagecoach. Dining here with the beautiful view of the lake just across the road is really a special experience.
The village of Skaneateles is also a very nice area and one that features some gorgeous art galleries. The lake itself is a nice place to visit and has some benches and a pier for you to sit on as you watch the boat during the gorgeous and green summers. You can also seem some beautiful homes across the lake.
15 Galveston, Texas - Everything's Bigger
Further north along Texas’ border, closer to Louisiana, is another beach town that may fall under the radar with travelers looking for a good beach experience. Like Corpus Christi, Galveston, Texas is a coastal gem on Texas’ southeast border along the Gulf of Mexico. And like Corpus Christi, Galveston has some amazing beaches for you to sprawl out on and soak up the sun.
Galveston has seven beaches, so you won’t be wanting for soft sand and warm blue Mexican waves crashing on the shore.
Because it’s situated on Galveston and Pelican Island, the city is a perfect beach town. But don’t underestimate this under-the-radar town. Galveston also has an amazing pier. Pleasure Pier is everything you want in a beach town pier, with rides and food attractions. The city also features the unique Moody Gardens. This structure was built for education and entertainment and has three glass pyramid buildings, each with their own theme. The aquarium one and the jungle one seem to be the most popular, although the entire experience is special. Galveston also has a beautiful historic district full of lovely buildings and homes, but also has another historic district referred to as the Strand where the crowds love to frequent. The city is also home to one of Texas’ most famous waterparks in Schlitterbahn.
14 Dunedin, Florida - Scottish Kilts And Warm Beaches
For a town right on the beach and just outside of Tampa, Dunedin, Florida is a relatively quiet coastal attraction in Florida. But Dunedin is one of the oldest towns on Florida’s western coast and has a tradition that makes it unique among beach towns in the Sunshine State. Its name is derived from an old Gaelic word and the Scottish traditions of Dunedin run strong to this day. So strong, in fact, that the city holds an event once a year called the Highland Games. Even if you don’t time your trip around the Scottish tradition,
there’s plenty of Scottish to go around here. Year-round, you can find Celtic gift shops and museums that showcase the town’s rich Scottish ties and heritage.
And like any coastal town in Florida, Dunedin has some beautiful beaches. With almost 4 miles of pristine waterfront, Dunedin is a great place to go swimming and sunbathing. You’ll find both Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island State Park just off of its coast and both are unspoiled islands that are perfect for visitors. The Causeway is also another great place to go and we recommend renting a kayak when in Dunedin because there are some great sights to see.
13 Santa Barbara, California - Views Of Sunset From The Pier
While Santa Barbara is a coastal town in southern California, north of Los Angeles, there are actually a lot of fun things to do that might make you forget that there is a beautiful beach right there for you. The coastline actually faces southward which is a rare situation for a California coast, but the beaches are still beautiful and incredibly relaxing. But more inland, you will find Santa Barbara’s famous State Street. This is the city’s main avenue where you’ll find most of their boutique clothing stores and delectable restaurants. The street is very scenic as you walk under the beautiful canopy of local trees and fauna that each shop and restaurant has its own unique flavor and aesthetic that makes State Street such a treat to visit. And if you persist down the entirety of State Street, you will be rewarded with the lovely Stearn’s Wharf. There, you can walk out over the water and enjoy some yummy and fresh seafood.
This is also a perfect place to catch that famous California sunset as it dips behind the hills and silhouettes the palm trees. Santa Barbara also has a nice little zoo to visit and a lovely botanical garden full of exotic plants.
12 Gig Harbor, Washington - Gateway To The Olympic Peninsula
The Puget Sound in the state of Washington is one of the most famous, well-known, and iconic attractions in the Pacific Northwest. The deep inlet has become quite a destination to travel for its scenic beauty and marine wildlife opportunities. While many towns claim to hold the title of “Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula,” few towns are as beautiful as the harbor town of Gig Harbor. Gig Harbor runs on a narrow strip of land and is nearly a mile long. It’s long been considered one of Washington’s prettiest harbor towns, and if you come when the weather is nice, you’ll see why. Gig Harbor also acts as a jumping-off point for many sights in Washington and major cities like Tacoma.
One of the best parts about Gig Harbor is the opportunity to go kayaking in the Southern Sound. Not only is this a fun and beautiful activity, but Gig Harbor provides one of the prettiest views of the famous Mount Rainer from the water.
Because of how amazing this view is, Gig Harbor has become quite a place to visit. And because of the growing interest in this harbor town, the area has attracted many topnotch eateries and boutiques.
11 Ithaca, New York - Go Glamping
At the southern shore of Cayuga Lake is a city that is the quintessential image of Upstate New York. Located in the beautiful Finger Lakes, Ithaca is not one of the largest Upstate towns, but it sure does garner a lot of attention for its hospitality and amazing atmosphere. Ithaca is full of delectable restaurants in the downtown area. After you check out the Historic State Theater or the independently-run Cinemopolis, we suggest you go stroll along the main streets where you’ll find some delicious spots. If you really love the food, we also suggest trying the culinary walking tours, a three-hour adventure in the heart of downtown that gives you a taste of the area as well as some of its history. You can also find some guided wine tours just outside the downtown.
Because it’s in the Finger Lakes, Ithaca also has some amazing hikes and trails that you can check out. One thing that makes Ithaca stand out on this list is its famous glamping experiences. Glamping is a growing trend among travelers and involves camping with a luxurious twist. The tents has massive insides that have more amenities than your average camp out. Ithaca is growing famous for its glamping and Firelight Camps is at the forefront of this trend.
10 San Antonio, Texas - Forget The Alamo
Just south of Austin, Texas, San Antonio spent a long time flying under the radar as a U.S. travel destination. That could be partially the fault of the iconic Alamo which is why most people know San Antonio. It’s the attraction that we associate with...well...the Alamo city. So it’s no wonder that it goes under the radar. However, in the last few years, millennials have been discovering the beauty brewing just under the surface and now this town is turning into a real fun destination. There’re a lot of really fun things to do in San Antonio. The museums, for example, are some of the best in the state, if not the country. Many of them have specials deals too if you’re looking to pinch some pennies. Another fun activity is kayaking Confluence Park. It was once an empty lot that was recently renovated into a lovely park, which is a testament to San Antonio’s growing popularity. Yanaguana Garden is also a fun time. Here, you can enjoy playgrounds designed for both adults and children and also catch some neat art shows. But the crown jewel of any trip to San Antonio is the River Walk. One of the most famous in the country, the River Walk is a beautiful setting. Massive trees and bridges shade visitors who walk along the murky green canals. You can ride in boats or walk on the side, but there are plenty of fun shops and great places to eat at here.
9 Encinitas, California - Sunshine, Beaches, And Meditation
Most people traveling down to the very south of California are typically heading to the bright lights of Hollywood or to the amazing beaches and bars of San Diego. But just between the two Californian treasures lies an unspoiled beach town that has all of the beauty of the southern California coast and none of the crowds that tend to ruin the tranquility. Encinitas is actually a world-famous surfing town, although it tends to fall under the radar as a travel destination since it’s tucked neatly between Los Angeles and San Diego. But Encinitas has plenty of the charm that made the golden coast a must-see. The Pacific Coast Highway runs through it and the town exudes a nostalgic air that hearkens back to the old days of California surfing.
One special attraction in this California town is the Meditation Gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship temple where visitors stroll around the garden’s stunning fauna and admire the koi ponds.
The area is well-known. And if you’re looking for a beach while visiting–which we sure you are; you have to when in southern California–we suggest Moonlight Beach which features many amenities for visitors and family. Swami’s Beach is also a good one to visit.
8 Calistoga, California - Birthplace Of California Wine
Napa may have gained international recognition as the wine town that stole the hearts of many who crowned France the king of wine and Sonoma valley just west of Napa has garnered its own recognition for is equally serene atmosphere, but many people forget about little Calistoga to the north. In Calistoga, California, you can get a glimpse of what Napa might have been like nearly half a century ago. The small town still maintains its old west roots while continuing to captivate tourists to this day with its scenic beauty and amazing wine. In fact, Calistoga is where you’ll find the acclaimed Chateau Montelena.
If you like wine and haven’t heard of this place, you need to check it out now. The Chateau Montelena famously won the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting Competition in what is now famously referred to as the Judgement of Paris. The winery’s chardonnay dethroned France, the country many considered to be the supreme king of wines. But Calistoga has more than just wine. The area is ripe with nature trails like the Palisades where you can catch gorgeous views of the surrounding area. You can also catch hot air balloon in Calistoga that are enchantingly beautiful.
7 Lanai City, Hawaii - An Unspoiled Island
The island of Lanai is an interesting subject. The sixth largest of the island chain that makes up Hawaii, Lanai is mostly privately owned by Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle. The remaining land is owned privately or by the state. Since it’s part of Maui County, most travelers don’t think of visiting Lanai. It’s actually the smallest publicly-accessible island, and if you see it from Maui’s western shore, you’ll see that it doesn’t seem like much. Indeed,
Lanai City is the only major hub on the island, but because it’s so small, you’ll find much of Hawaii’s beauty available to you for fractions of the crowds.
Most travelers flock to Maui or Oahu when staying in Hawaii, so the beaches on Lanai are unspoiled. There is a lovely Four Seasons Resort on the southern tip of the island and that’s where you’ll find the lovely Hulopoe Bay and Hulopoe Beach Park. You’ll also find the iconic Puu Pehe or Lover’s Rock just off the tip. The food in Lanai City is awesome, especially the sushi. And if you use the city as your base of operations, you’ll find some amazing red rock hiking in the center of the island.
6 Syracuse, New York - Snowy Armory Square
Upstate New York doesn’t get nearly as much love as it deserves when it comes to the serene beauty of the northeast United States. This city is a lovely town in the winter when the snow falls, and if you love old cities with heavy snow, then Syracuse typically sees more snow than any other American city. Don’t let that stop you from visiting if you aren’t into snow, though, because in the summer and fall, this city gets so warm. The downtown area features the historic district of Armory Square where you will find a dizzying array of bars from Empire Brewery to Daisy Dukes. Syracuse actually has an impressive bar scene with tons of different styles and themes, as well as some delicious craft breweries. You can also find some great bars by Syracuse University and the area just outside of downtown known as Tipp Hill. Syracuse has much of the old beauty of historic America and the beautiful green scenery is lovely to take in while on a hike to one of the man waterfalls or around the enchanting Green Lake. As for food, Syracuse has plenty of great options, especially when it comes to pizza, but we highly recommend Dinosaur BBQ in downtown. Destiny Mall is also one of the largest malls in the country.
5 Amarillo, Texas - Get Your Kicks At The Cadillac Ranch
Amarillo may be one of the quintessential Texas towns. While much of the major cities in Texas such as Austin, Houston, and Dallas are growing each year and becoming more and more like metropolitan hubs, Amarillo remains one of the quieter tranquil places to visit in the Lone Star State.
Located in the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo is one of the most populous northern cities in the state, but still maintains that Old West vibe that makes it so unique to visit. Of course, because you’re in Texas, we recommend getting some steak and BBQ, and there’s no place better for that than the Big Texan Steak Ranch.
This place lives up to the old adage that everything is bigger in Texas. This is a meat lover’s dream and where you’ll find the 72-ounce steak challenge. Amarillo also has some beautiful scenery. The botanical gardens are lovely, but the Palo Duro State Park is where you’ll find the beauty of Texas. The park is home to the second largest canyon in the country and is referred to as the Grand Canyon of Texas. The most iconic attraction in Amarillo, though, is the Cadillac Ranch. This art exhibit is a tribute to the Golden Age of American automobiles and pays homage to Historic Route 66. Ten Cadillacs are buried in the ground and visitors can pick up a spray paint can and add their own personal touch to the exhibit.
4 St. Augustine, Florida - The Ancient City
With a name nickname like the Ancient City, it’s no wonder that St. Augustine, Florida gives off pirate vibes. Originally a port for Spanish vessels on the western coast of northern Florida, St. Augustine can sometimes make you think that you’re a pirate cruising the Caribbean. With so much history in this coastal town, St. Augustine is full of surprises and curiosities. Of everything there is to see here, including the gorgeous Lightener Museum and Fort Mantazas, no trip to St. Augustine would be complete without strolling down the Old Town area and the famous St. George’s street. St. George’s street is steeped in history and decorated that way. Here, you’ll find cobblestone streets and people traveling by horse cart. It’s like traveling back in time to the height of imperial influence in the Caribbean. Fans of this time will find the Colonial Quarter especially interesting as it showcases history from the 16th through the 18th century and even has a museum for each century. The beaches here are as amazing as any beach in Florida, and because of that, there are plenty of water sports and activities to chose from. From diving trips to eco-friendly shows, the water activities here are plentiful.
3 Pagosa Springs, Colorado - Take A Nice, Warm, Dip
Colorado is a great state to visit for those who are looking to explore the great outdoors without getting to far away from the luxurious amenities that we’ve come to know and love while on vacation. The mountain air and crisp water can be perfect for the summer time heat and this is when Colorado sees much of its tourists. Sure, the skiing here is amazing, but the summer time is spectacular. To the south, near the New Mexico border, you’ll find the small, quaint town of Pagosa Springs. Pagosa Springs is surrounded on almost all sides by one of Colorado’s most famous parks in the San Juan National Forrest. This proximity makes for some perfect opportunities to explore, backpack, and even camp. Piedra Falls, Silver Falls, and Treasure Falls are perfect short walks with beautiful views as well as Turkey Creek where you can catch some beautiful wildflowers in bloom. Pagosa Springs has become such a beautiful oasis that it has seen a massive spike in the secondary home market. That’s because not only can you find some wonderful nature, but Pagosa Springs is also home to a world-famous Springs and Spa Resort that’s simply amazing. Another awesome experience in this little town is riding in a hot air balloon.
2 Seaside, Florida - The Perfect Small Town
Seaside, Florida is an incredibly unique town and what many of us would consider the idealized American town. Perhaps that’s what the planners had in mind when developing the idea for the town that has become Seaside. Located to the very east of Florida’s panhandle, along the coast facing the Gulf of Mexico, Seaside is a master-planned community. The original land was privately owned. Therefore, the town was able to design its own building codes.
From that idea, Seaside was born as one of the first cities in America designed with New Urbanism in mind. And if you see the town from the air, you’ll find that its shape has been designed with a specific purpose.
The organization and planning that went into building this beach town wonderland have made Seaside a dreamy place. The streets are beautifully laid out for pedestrians and perfect for bicycle renting. Access to the pristine white sand beach is through one of the main unique pavilions. Each beach access point was designed by a different architect to have its own unique style. Seaside also has some amazing beach-side restaurants and some amazing boutique stores for shopping. This is a town where the old world vibes of community and togetherness mesh splendidly with innovative design.
1 Ojai, California - A Taste Of Easy Living
Just east of Santa Barbara is another lesser-known gem of southern California. Indeed, Ojai, California is really a place you need to see for yourself. It’s a little gem that most travelers never hear about because it doesn’t typically make it to lists about traveling. That’s a travesty because Ojai is a unique city that does things a little differently than other southern California towns and is perfect for people looking to mix things up. One neat aspect about Ojai is that a city ordinance had barred major chain stores from setting up shop in the town. That allows local and family-owned businesses a chance to thrive. This had led to a number of unique boutique shops and dining experiences. It’s also led to a quaint little outdoor bookstore that most visitors to Ojai insist is a must-see for anyone coming to Ojai. Located in the Ojai Valley, this town is right at the entrance to the stunning Los Padres National Park. Here you can hike your heart out on the 1,200 miles of maintained hiking trails. Ojai is also well-known for its tasting. Wine tasting here can be a real treat, but Ojai also features an interesting olive oil tasting experience at the Ojai Olive Oil Company.