17 Surprising American Towns Foreigners Are Dying to Visit
Move over, L.A. and New York. These locales are the real deal.
While cities like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago still remain the most popular destinations among foreign travelers—with New York City topping the list by welcoming more than 13 million international visitors in 2017—travelers visiting from overseas are beginning to take notice of other hidden treasures within America.
These days, the ease and accessibility of modern travel (plus: airports everywhere) has made it possible for foreigners to explore more of what America has to offer—and some of their favorite spots may truly surprise you. So, without further ado, these are the American towns that foreigners can’t wait to visit. One look, and you might be packing your bags, too.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Japanese travelers are especially inclined to visit Fairbanks, Alaska—mostly to view the Northern Lights and go on guided nature tours of the Alaskan wilderness. Apart from Fairbanks, Japanese travelers enjoy visiting the more secluded and beautiful locations like Yosemite National Park in California and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
Waco, Texas, is truly known for one thing internationally—the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame. And, according to the Los Angeles Times, this is exactly the reason why Germans love to visit Waco, to celebrate the old crime-fighting unit of Texas Rangers.
As it turns out, nearly every tourist looking to visit the United States knows a thing or two about Aspen, Colorado—especially Canadians (which, due its snow-peaked mountains and emphasis on winter sports, this should come as no surprise). While they’re in the area, tourists also like to visit Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which contains some of the best skiing slopes in the country.
San Antonio, Texas
Latino tourists are often more prone to seek out those communities within the United States with at least some Latin flair—and San Antonio, Texas, delivers on flair. With more than its fair share of Latin restaurants, museums, and festivals, San Antonio has become a tourist haven for Mexicans, especially.
Asheville, North Carolina
According to the Citizen Times, Asheville, North Carolina, has seen a tremendous boom in international tourism in the past four years, increasing by about seven percent starting in 2014. Most international visitors are traveling from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada, and seek out this underrated location for its mountain boutiques, galleries, restaurants, hiking, and historical sites like the Biltmore Estate.
San Jose, California
According to Team San Jose, a nonprofit that supports tourism in San Jose, California, the city has recently witnessed a spike in its tourism numbers by about 17 percent. Of the overseas visitors that San Jose now welcomes into its limits, approximately 44 percent of those are Mexican, while around 9 percent were from Canada. The birthplace of Silicon Valley just happens to be the place for international tourists to kick back and enjoy multicultural luxury shopping and dining that still manages to be supremely American.
Since 2012, according to the Skift Global Forum, Dallas, Texas, has seen an eight percent increase in international tourism. This influx of international tourists can be attributed to the rush of visitors from Central and South American seeking out American entertainment. International tourists visit Dallas to see where John F. Kennedy was assassinated—and to buy a cowboy hat from Wild Bill’s Western Store.
With the same 8 percent increase in tourism, Tampa, Florida, known for its beaches and impressive shopping and culinary scene, has become a hub for international tourism. Throughout 2017, Tampa enjoyed a record 10.3 million international tourists. In fact, for the second time in three years, Tampa’s Clearwater Beach was ranked the 7th most popular international beach by TripAdvisor, which points to the popularity of Tampa’s beaches among foreigners.
Though Anaheim’s growing rate of international tourism isn’t as impressive as other cities on the list, it does attract a diverse array of tourists through its popular theme parks and convention centers. Tourists from all over the world flock to Anaheim to attend big conferences like VidCon, North American Music Merchants, the Natural Products Expo West, and the OC Auto Show, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Surprisingly, the British are the most frequent international travelers to visit Sedona, Arizona, and the surrounding national parks like the Grand Canyon, Death Valley National Park, and Yosemite National Park. Contrary to popular belief, the British actually don’t mind getting their hands dirty, and would rather take in America’s more hidden outdoor gems like Sedona.
For a state that is often playfully called a “flyover state,” Michigan has begun attracting quite a wide array of international visitors from Germany to China, bringing around two million tourists to the state in 2014—and those numbers are only continuing to climb. As it turns out, Lansing, the capital city of Michigan, has proven to be the epicenter of the state’s international tourism, attracting foreign travelers looking to explore the Lansing River Trail or browse the shops and Midwestern cuisine, says the Lansing State Journal.
Since 2012, Houston, Texas, has seen a 22 percent hike in international tourism—the highest of any other city in the United States. According to the Skift Global Forum, this rise in international travel can be attributed to the greater numbers of leisure and business travelers meeting the demands set by the city’s expanding energy and medical sectors. “Specifically, this has to do with executives coming in to learn about the latest techniques in fracking, underwater drilling. International attendance at most conferences and tradeshows in Houston has also increased to record levels in the last two years,” says Visit Houston’s vice president of international sales and tourism, Jorge Franz.
San Diego, California
According to the Los Angeles Times, San Diego is another popular destination for overseas visitors from Mexico, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and South Korea. Since San Diego is a large cultural center with a strong Hispanic presence, Mexican and Brazilian tourists often see the city as a gateway to American travel, as they are more easily able to overcome the language barrier and enjoy American shops, cuisine, museums, and historical sites.
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
According to WHSV, international tourism (along with domestic tourism) in the Shenandoah Valley, encompassing Western Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, has seen a spike in recent years—and it’s mostly thanks to the development of breweries, wineries, cideries (yes, that’s a thing), and distilleries. Along with plentiful local liquor, the area also boasts incredibly beautiful landscapes in the fall season. One of the most coveted drives in the country is located within this region, called the Highland Scenic Highway, and is visited by thousands of tourists every year looking to witness the dramatic colors of the changing leaves.
Kansas City, Missouri
Beginning in 2016, Kansas City, Missouri, saw its tourism numbers exponentially increase, with 500,000 new visitors touching down in the city, increasing the annual rate by 2.2 percent. Similar to Houston, Kansas City enjoys this expanded tourism due to the resurgence of business travelers. Even though the majority of tourists visiting the city continue to be of European and Latino descent, the city has also begun to enjoy a more varied tourist population, with people also visiting from Asian nations.
Mount Desert Island, Maine
Though exact numbers remain hazy, the entire state of Maine has witnessed a growth in international travel within the last two years. These international tourists are mostly from China, where they are keen to revel in the natural beauty of places like Mount Desert Island (where you’ll find the granite-flecked Acadia National Park), while also feasting on the state’s most iconic cuisine—lobster.
“Each year we recruit guests to lobster festivals, and the itinerary is only lobster eating,” Lily Chen, the product development manager for Sunshine Travel, a travel agency that caters to Chinese-speaking travelers, told the Bangor Daily News. Also, according to Chen, the average Chinese tourist has changed in recent decades, as the idea of “treating oneself” has become much more acceptable. And, as it turns out, this philosophy is incredibly easy to carry out in Maine.
Just last year, the percent of international tourists visiting Savannah, Georgia, jumped to nearly 12 percent, with visitors from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany sustaining the strongest presence. According to Visit Savannah president Joseph Marinelli, this recent interest in Savannah is due in large part to the addition of trendy shopping centers, upscale dining options, and historic hotels and Airbnbs that display the unique culture present in the city. Aside from that, more aggressive commercial campaigns by Visit Savannah have displayed what Savannah has had all along—a mysterious southern charm that is layered in its history and people.