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One of the best things about travel is new discovery – and there are plenty of places to discover in the United States! While America’s big cities, famous beaches and most popular national parks are magnets for tourists, we know it is worth it to get off the beaten path.
Coast to coast, there are nearly 20,000 cities, towns and villages in the USA, offering ample opportunities for travelers to seek out lesser visited locales. For a little inspiration, we’ve rounded up our Top 15 Underrated Places to Visit in the US this year!
Why Visit Underrated Cities in USA?
Top US destinations – like Las Vegas, New York City and San Francisco – will always intrigue tourists. That said, there are some fantastic reasons for travelers to visit underrated cities in the United States of America as well.
Contending with tourist crowds can put a damper on any trip – so why deal with it? One of the best things about going to underrated vacation spots in the USA is escaping the constant crowds!
Furthermore, many of the top tourists spots in the US – especially some of the country’s best parks, like Glacier National Park – are pushing to the limits of being over-touristed. The environmental impact is reason enough for eco travelers to find alternate destinations.
Highly touted tourist destinations are often over-hyped – leaving travelers with big expectations quite disappointed by the end of the trip. You can blame social media and Instagram for the crazed competition…or you can get outside of the box and seek out underrated US cities to visit. If you are anything like us, you might get swept up in surprise by how much unknown destinations have to offer.
Pro Tip: Regardless of your next destination, we find that managing expectations is the key to a good trip! Whether you are traveling to one of the top places to visit in the US or are making a trip to one of the best unknown vacation spots in the United States, setting realistic expectations for your trip is key.
Another one of the benefits of making a trip to underrated places to visit in the US is that the destinations are often cheaper. The cost of transport, accommodations and activities can all be significantly lower than in major US cities.
We will admit, however, that we think it is possible to travel anywhere on a budget – even NYC on a budget is possible! For more tips on budget travel, sign up for our step-by-step guide (and get a free Vacation Budget Planner, too!).
Our biggest reason for traveling to underrated cities in the US is the renewed sense of discovery. When you explore lesser-visited destinations, you are not following in the footsteps of millions before you; you are making your own path.
Rather than tackling a city with a checklist, you can let your creativity and curiosity lead the way to hidden gems in the most underrated destinations USA!
15 UNDERRATED PLACES TO VISIT IN THE US
Ready to book your next trip to an underrated US travel destination? Our list highlights our picks for the top underrated cities in the US IN 2023!
#1 Spokane, Washington: Underrated US Cities to Visit
Spokane tops our list as one of the most underrated cities in the US for a vacation. In fact, when we visited, we were astounded by the city.
With an abundance of nature, a historic downtown and fabulous craft beer, Spokane ticks all the boxes of a fantastic destination. As a bonus, the city is incredibly easy to get around on foot and the Gonzaga University campus fuels a youthful and fun vibe.
Visitors will not want to miss the city center Riverfront Park and the beautifully cascading waterfalls that tumble right through downtown. The well-preserved historic neighborhoods and art installations are other top Spokane sights.
Plan your trip to Spokane, one of the most underrated US cities to visit, using our guide: The Best Things To Do in Spokane.
#2 Florence, Oregon: Underrated Vacation Spots USA
Many people have never even heard of Florence, Oregon – which is why it ranks as one of the best unknown vacation spots in the US!
Located on the Oregon Coast and boasting a population of just 9,000 residents, Florence is somewhat of a sleepy town, but that is all part of the charm. The historic Old Town is nestled along the Siuslaw River and the main street is lined with locally owned restaurants and shops.
Where Florence extends to the Pacific Ocean, visitors will find one of the most underrated US beaches as well! While the weather is often too cool for sunbathing or swimming, the wide, flat beach is perfect for long walks and whale spotting – and excellent Florence hiking trails take you through dense forests and along pleasant creeks and lakes.
Find out what to do in Florence, OR – one of the most underrated towns in the US – in our blog post: Things To Do in Florence, OR.
#3 Columbus, Ohio: Underrated Cities in US to Visit
Although one of the most populous cities in the United States, Columbus still makes our list of underrated places to visit in USA. It seems people truly enjoy living there, but travelers skip it in favor of other destinations. Perhaps I am biased because I grew up in the Columbus suburb of Dublin OH, but all the more reason why I know how much it has to offer travelers!
The best neighborhoods to explore are quaint German Village, the hip Short North Arts District and The Ohio State University campus – all of which feature heaps of unique shops and local eats.
On sunny days, travelers can get in touch with nature at one of the best Columbus parks or visit the famed Columbus Zoo. When the weather is foul, it is the best time to check out the city’s museums, like COSI (an interactive science museum that kids are guaranteed to loved!) or the engaging Columbus Art Museum.
Read about our favorite activities and find out why it is one of the must-visit places in US in our blog post, Things To Do in Columbus!
#4 Morro Bay, California: Underrated Travel Destinations USA
We were introduced to Morro Bay, one of the most underrated places to visit in California, on our drive down the West Coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles – and we were not disappointed!
Unlike other top beach cities in California, like Malibu and San Diego, Morro Bay exudes a quiet and quirky community vibe. Morro Bay is nestled along the Central Coast, not far from the famous Hearst Castle, hip San Luis Obispo and the popular wine town of Paso Robles – and it’s the perfect place to base yourself for a relaxing vacation.
While Morro Bay is one of the underrated beaches in the US, there are a few distinct features that make it an absolute gem! First, there is Morro Rock – a huge volcanic monolith perched just offshore that welcomes an array of wildlife – from sea lions to otters to birds. Second, being a fishing village, there is seafood…really, really good seafood.
However, those are just two reasons to visit Morro Bay. Hiking, surfing, kayaking, golfing, boating and just kicking back also attracts visitors!
Find out how Morro Bay fits into a Cali Coastal Trip in our blog post, Driving the California Coast.
#5 Missoula, Montana: Underrated Cities to Visit in US
Ranking as the hippest destination in Montana, Missoula is a fun place to visit for live music, good times and outstanding nature. Nevertheless, Missoula remains one of the most underrated cities in the US.
A perfect stop on a Montana road trip or a fabulous destination all on its own, Missoula offers up a historic downtown, a beautiful campus, a few fantastic foodie haunts and excellent locally-produced craft beer.
Use the tips in our blog post, Things To Do in Missoula, to plan your trip to one of the most beautiful places to visit in the US!
#6 Vancouver, Washington: Best Unknown Places to Visit in USA
One of the most underrated places to visit in the US, Vancouver just doesn’t get a fair shake. The easy-going city sits in the shadow of its uber hip neighbor, Portland – located just 10 miles south across the river.
To be honest, we only discovered Vancouver by accident…and then promptly fell in love with the city. With a cool mix of modern and historic sights, VanWa is a fun and easy place to explore on foot.
Vancouver fosters a small-town atmosphere but boasts a few big attractions. The inviting Waterfront Park, the historic Fort Vancouver and heaps of local Vancouver craft breweries are top reasons to visit for a quick weekend. However, the nearby nature – at Vancouver Lake and the Columbia River Gorge – are reasons to stay even longer.
Ready to travel to VanWa, one of the top underrated vacations spots in US? Use our guide to the Best Things To Do in Vancouver.
#7 Flagstaff, Arizona: Underrated US Travel Destinations
Arizona has long been a tourist destination, but Flagstaff flies under the radar as one of the most underrated places to travel in the US.
Living in Phoenix for many years, Flagstaff was one of our favorite city escapes. The lush nature, diverse terrain, cooler temperatures and fresh mountain air beckoned us on hot summer weekends.
The city provides a fantastic base for an array of regional activities – like visiting the Grand Canyon, peering into Meteor Crater and hiking in Sedona. Downtown Flagstaff has a lot to offer visitors as well; from breweries, cafes and crafts all wrapped around a historic setting.
Find out the Top Things To Do in Flagstaff, AZ!
#8 Indianapolis, Indiana: Best Unknown Vacation Spots in US
Indianapolis might be one of the most underrated vacation spots in the US, but it should be on your list! The classic midwestern city has a few unique activities and is a great base for exploring more of Indiana – which is one of the most underrated states to visit in the USA.
Of course, Indianapolis’ biggest attraction is the annual Indy 500 – but there is so much more to the city than a single car race. Visitors can hop on bikes to discover the Cultural Trail or simply take a stroll along the Central Canal walking path in the heart of Indianapolis. Foodies will want to pop into the Indianapolis City Market or try one of the stellar restaurants on Mass Avenue.
Unlike nearby Chicago, Indianapolis is not known for grand architecture, however, the revitalized Bottleworks District – an old Coca-Cola plant – is a hub of urban activity.
Read our Complete Guide to Indy!
#9 Rapid City, South Dakota: Least Crowded Vacation Spots in USA
When it comes to the best underrated vacation spots in the US, Rapid City certainly fits the bill – especially for fans of the great outdoors.
Visitors who opt to vacation in Rapid City will find that it is ideally located within reach of several magnificent sights – including a few of the most famous spots in America. Top nearby attractions include the incredible Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, the lush Custer State Park and the awe-inspiring Badlands National Park.
While the city itself is one of the unknown places to visit in USA, travelers will find an abundance of artworks. The street corners are decorated with life-size bronze statues of all the US presidents and art museums feature historic and modern works from regional artists.
Need more tips for US vacations? Check out our list of the Top Weekend Destinations in the USA!
#10 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Most Underrated City to Visit in US
Philadelphia is one of the most underrated places in America! Filled with historic sights, fascinating museums and classic eats, travelers could easily spend a week or more exploring the vibrant city.
To be fair, American history buffs have long been in on the secret about Philadelphia. The city was the site of numerous events that shaped the USA – and Independence National Historical Park is where visitors can learn about US history.
However, there is so much more in Philly than the past. The city has several fine art museums – and there are art installations (like the famous LOVE sculpture) and art murals found throughout Philly. Furthermore, the food scene is spectacular…and no visitor should leave without trying at least one classic Philly Cheesesteak!
Get specifics on more things to do in Philly in our Philadelphia Itinerary.
#11 Covington, Kentucky: Underrated US Vacation Spots
Covington, KY is one of the most underrated cities in America. Covington lays south along the Ohio River – just a stone’s throw from Cincinnati, OH – and goes unnoticed by far too many travelers in our opinion!
Covington, which originated as a German settlement in the 1800s, is steeped in history and much of that past remains intact. The strong ties to its German past – as well as wonderfully preserved neighborhoods – are just a couple reasons why Covington ranks as one of the interesting and off-the-beaten-path places to travel in US.
What is really astounding about the city – and the reason we rank it as one of the top underrated US destinations – is the exciting Covington culinary scene. The city is home to an incredible array of restaurants serving up everything from southern comfort classics to international fusion fare. To top it off, one of the region’s best craft breweries sits right in the heart of Covington.
Read more Things To Do in Covington to find out why it just might be the most underrated city in the US for a trip!
#12 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Underrated Places in the US
Pittsburgh, PA, which has long been known as an industrial city, doesn’t get the fanfare it deserves as a tourist destination. Pittsburgh has come such a long way from its steel-producing past that it now ranks as one of the most underrated places in the US for a vacation.
Boasting both historic and modern attractions, numerous professional sports teams and incredibly diverse and interesting neighborhoods, Pittsburgh is one of the absolute best places to visit in USA!
Top tourist attractions are the city’s museums – like the Heinz History Center and the Andy Warhol Museum. However, what we liked best about visiting Pittsburgh were the excellent eateries and shops in the hip and buzzing Strip District.
Find out why Pitt ranks as one of the most underrated American cities for travelers in our article, Things To Do in Pittsburgh.
#13 Newport, Rhode Island: Hidden Gems in the US
A quintessential New England coastal town, Newport, RI ranks as one of the most beautiful underrated places in the US for a vacation.
The quaint downtown features cobblestone lanes, boutique shops and fantastic eateries – and a gorgeous harbor that hosts bobbing boats. Visitors can drive, pedal or trek along the shoreline, taking in the epic sea views while inhaling the salty sea breeze. There are sights along the way, too, like the historic Castle Hill Lighthouse and the opulent mansions that are perched on the coast (and are open for tours!).
Ferries from the Newport Harbor take passengers from the bustling port to picture-perfect Block Island – or travelers can explore the nearby classic coastal communities that make the entire region so unique and one of the best hidden gem vacation spots.
#14 Santa Cruz Island, California: Off the Beaten Path Vacations
Travelers looking for vacation spots with no tourists will certainly find the appeal in Santa Cruz Island. Part of the Channel Islands National Park off the Central California coast, Santa Cruz is one of the best secluded vacation spots in the US.
Unlike crowded US National Parks – like Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone – Channel Islands NP is one of the least visited national parks in the United States. In fact, it’s one of the best places to go on vacation for a primitive camping experience.
Hiking is a top activity on Santa Cruz Island – as well as wildlife spotting, swimming, snorkeling, diving and kayaking. However, keep in mind that secret getaways to Santa Cruz Island require some trip preparation – as there are extremely limited services on the remote island.
#15 St. Augustine, Florida: Underrated Destinations in USA
St. Augustine, which is situated on the northeast Florida coast, is one of the most underrated places to go on vacation in the US. Staking claim as the Oldest City in the United States (it was settled 55 years before the Pilgrims arrived), the city boasts a fascinating history…and a fantastic beach, too.
What makes St. Augustine one of the most unique vacations in the US is the historic Spanish colonial architecture and the iconic Fountain of Youth. Visitors can stroll down the pedestrianized St. George Street, explore the Colonial Quarter, visit an old Spanish fort or simply sit back and relax on the white sand beach.
Additionally, the regular line up of fun community events – from culinary celebrations to music festivals – contribute to St. Augustine being one of the best vacation spots in the United States.
Top Travel Tips for Underrated Vacation Spots USA
Ready to start planning your trip? We have a few final tips that will make planning your travel easier!
Organizing Trips to Best Cities to Visit in USA
As you begin to plan vacations within the United States to underrated destinations, you will need to keep track of your research and reservations. We recommend using a travel planner – like our Trip Planning Printables – to help you stay on top of all the trip planning details!
The underrated places to visit in the USA that we recommend can all be reached by plane (except for the Channel Islands!). Before buying planes tickets for your trip, make sure you read our guide to Booking The Best Flights for our top advice on getting the best fares.
One of the best things about traveling to underrated cities in the US is that accommodations are often less expensive than in big cities – like Boston and Seattle. Use our tips for Booking the Best Hotels to find accommodations that suit your needs and fit your budget!
Reserve Rental Cars
While most of the underrated US travel destinations we featured can be explored without a car, you will need a car for any exploration beyond the city center. Use our Top Tips for Rental Cars to book a car at the cheapest rate!
Top Packing Tips
Once you have nailed down the details of your trip, it’s time to start packing your suitcase! We know that packing is not the most fun part of any trip, so we offer our best advice to make the packing process a little bit easier on our Packing page. Need a packing checklist? Get your FREE Packing Checklist here!
Planning a Winter Getaway? Excellent! We have heaps of suggestions in our article, Top US Winter Travel Destinations!
Looking for the Best Secret Vacation Spots in the World? Check out these choices in our blog post, Most Underrated Destinations Worldwide.
We Want To Know: What destinations would you add to our list of underrated places to visit in the US? Do you have any tips on unknown places to visit in the US? Tell us in the comments!
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