This Is the Most Underrated Travel Destination in Your State
Bet you didn't know these 50 stunning spots were in your own backyard!
America has nearly 20,000 towns, but you wouldn't guess it given how much we talk about a choice few. (We're looking at you, New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.) If you're sick of crowds and overpriced attractions, bypass the biggies and head instead for lesser-known corners of your state. From coastal towns in Connecticut to slope-side villages in New Mexico, these are the most underrated destinations in the United States.
Once home to Truman Capote and Harper Lee, Monroeville—which is about halfway between Montgomery and Mobile—has the distinct honor of being the "Literary Capital of Alabama." Since its designation in 1997, the quaint town attracts a small but well-read crowd who come to see the real-life inspiration behind To Kill a Mockingbird's fictional Maycomb.
Tiny little Talkeetna (population 900) lies at the base of Denali—North America's tallest mountain peak. The historic hippie town, roughly two hours north of Anchorage, is more than a gateway to Denali National Park, though; you don't have to leave town to fish, hike, kayak, or even hit a rowdy bar.
Art galleries, artisanal breweries, and haunted hotels make Bisbee—an ex-mining town in the Mule Mountains—an intriguing Arizona destination. Though the mountain-town-come-art-colony has urbanized in the centuries since its 1880 founding, it's also managed to maintain its original architecture and some 350 historic staircases.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Back in the 1880s, Eureka Springs was Arkansas' second largest city. Early European settlers had spread the word that the area's secluded springs had healing powers, and soon, the town was a premier spa destination. While Eureka Springs only has 2,000 residents today, the Ozark town still attracts visitors with its preserved Victorian manors, a variety of outdoor pursuits, and an annual UFO conference.
San Luis Obispo, California
Dreamy destinations are a dime a dozen in California, but if you've already seen the likes of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Palm Springs, try San Luis Obispo, a Spanish mission town on the state's central coast. In 2010, Oprah Winfrey deemed SLO the happiest city in the U.S. and with quirky attractions like the kitschy Madonna Inn and the 65-foot-long Bubblegum Alley, we can see why.
Though Gilmore Girls' fictional Stars Hollow was built on a sound stage in Burbank, California, the show could very well have been filmed in Essex—a Colonial-era town on the Connecticut River. A quick look around will reveal the circa-1776 Griswold Inn, a main street brimming with Federal-style homes and shops, and a waterfront public park replete with a gazebo.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Breckenridge, Vail, and Aspen may be Colorado's crown jewels, but Crested Butte can hold its own against the big kids. A number of world-class trails crisscross the Rocky Mountain town offering plenty of opportunity for downhill skiing, boarding, and mountain biking. Come spring and summer, the town also lights up as vibrant wildflower blooms blanket the hillsides.
When it comes to Delaware beach destinations, Rehoboth Beach gets the most buzz. Drive 20 minutes north, though, and you'll stumble upon Lewes—a sleepy shore town just minutes from Cape Henlopen State Park. While there are a handful of serene beaches in "The First Town in The First State," you can also head to 2nd Street to check out the shops and restaurants.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Few Florida beach towns fly far under the radar, but Fort Walton Beach—a family-friendly resort community tucked between Pensacola and Panama City on the state's popular Gulf Coast—does a better job than most. Fish the Santa Rosa Sound from the Fort Walton Beach Landing, window-shop the antique dealers downtown, or waste away the day on powdery white sand.
While Augusta is the second-largest metro area in the state, non-Georgia peaches generally know it for two things only: James Brown and the Masters tournament. But the city has a few other tricks up its sleeve including a recently revitalized culinary scene, a handful of craft breweries, and a lengthy riverwalk that hosts a weekly craft market on Saturdays.
Directly across from Maui—on the far northern coast of Big Island—lies one of Hawaii's best-kept secrets: Hawi. The stunningly scenic town is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts as it hugs the slopes of Kohala mountain, but it's great for history buffs, too. Hawi is the birthplace of Kamehameha I—the founder and first ruler of Hawaii.
Hailey isn't called "Idaho's Hometown in the Mountains" for nothing. The town of 8,000, which is just 10 miles south of bigger resort towns Ketchum and Sun Valley, borders the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho's Central Rockies. While you can hike, ski, and BMX right in town, you can also add another stop to your outdoor itinerary—Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve—as it's less than two hours east.
LaSalle has never been a big town, but since the 1930s, the riverfront community has had quite the nightlife. Known as "Little Reno" for its abundance of drinking and gambling dens, little ol' LaSalle attracted visitors from Chicago and the like. You can still grab a pint today in addition to exploring nearby parks and nature preserves like Starved Rock State Park.
Chesterton is an easy hour drive southeast of Chicago—just follow glistening Lake Michigan, and you'll be there in a blink. Once you make it into town, enjoy the slower pace and activities like swimming, horseback riding, and bird watching in Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Park.
Since the 1850s, Decorah has had a large Norwegian population. Today, the community puts on an annual Nordic Fest, which attracts some 10,000 visitors with its traditional food, costume, crafts, and dance. Of course, with bluff-side parks, ice caves, wineries, and historic inns, the town is just as worthy of a visit the other 362 days of the year.
If you're fond of craft beer, small-batch moonshine, or hand-crafted wines and ciders, this small college town—tucked between Topeka and Wichita—will treat you right. Between drinks, be sure to check out Emporia's surroundings, too. The city abuts Flint Hills, one of the only tallgrass prairie ecosystems left in the world.
If you visit Bardstown's official website, the first thing you'll see in the navigation is "bourbon." Kentucky's second-oldest town is trademarked as the "Bourbon Capital of the World" with nine different distilleries, including Maker's Mark, Jim Beam, and Heaven Hill. Between slow sips, visitors would also do well to explore downtown as the entire area has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Abita Springs, Louisiana
Quirky festivals, roadside oddities, and beloved craft beers draw visitors to Abita Springs—about an hour south of New Orleans. Whether you stop by for the whole-town yard sale, the all-you-can-eat crawfish cook-off, a zydeco show at the opry, or a cold glass at the brewery, the tiny town is certain to leave a lasting impression.
It's not hard to find charming coastal towns in Maine, but if you're looking for a locale that's both scenic and tourist-free, things get a bit harder. Cutler is one of the rare exceptions; the Down East fishing village is home to some of the state's most arresting cliffs and dramatic hiking trails, so get there before everyone finds out.
Frederick manages to pack a Public Art Trail, more than 50 restaurants and pubs, and nearly 100 specialty shops into its downtown district alone. Beyond that, the city—which is part of the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area—also has a wine trail, Civil War museum, brewery, and 1920s movie theater, among many other attractions.
North Adams, Massachusetts
North Adams is becoming less and less of a secret everyday, but we'd still say it's underrated. The post-industrial town is nothing if not artsy; it's home to MASS MoCA and, a few blocks over, the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, which was designed by Frank Gehry. Of course, outdoor pursuits are also the Berkshire's bread and butter so you'll find plenty to do on and around the Mohawk Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and Mount Greylock—Massachusetts' tallest peak.
It's a real miracle that Manistee has been able to maintain such a low profile. The town of 6,000 hugs Lake Michigan, after all. A waterfront locale isn't the only thing it's got going for it, either; besides two golden beaches, the town also has more than 180 acres of parkland and a 1.5-mile riverwalk that offers easy access to all of the boutique shops on River Street.
Winona bills itself as the "Miami of Minnesota," and while that might sound like a reach, we can see where the town is coming from. Since it's surrounded on nearly all sides by water—it's sandwiched between Lake Winona and the Mississippi River—canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and river cruising are all but a given. Whatever you do, check out Sugar Loaf, too. The bluff (which is famous not only city-, but state-wide) towers some 500 feet over the lake.
Southern hospitality and antebellum architecture reign in Natchez, a circa-1716 town that rests 200 feet above the Mississippi River. Since it was left all but alone during the Civil War, Natchez still has more than 600 historic homes, churches, and heritage sites. Grab some comfort food and check out Longwood, an ornate, octagonal mansion.
Sleepy Sainte-Geneviève was Missouri's first European settlement, and while it's fair to say that things have changed since 1735, a whole lot has been preserved, too. History buffs come for the town's French Colonial log cabins, Federal-style homes, and Gothic Revival churches—but that's not all there is to do. Hop on the trolley for a tour of town and a ride to one of the county's several wineries.
Fort Benton, Montana
Fort Benton may seem tranquil and slow-moving today, but it was once a buzzing economic center that drew merchants, miners, and settlers with the promise of gold and fur. While both trades have died down in the centuries since, the historic town still charms visitors with the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail and the Fort Benton Bridge, which was the state's first structure to span the Missouri River.
If you're a fan of roadside attractions, Alliance will do you well. The town, located on the western edge of Nebraska's Sand Hills, is home to Carhenge: a replica Stonehenge built from vintage automobiles. That's not where the oddities stop, either; there's also Dobby's Frontier Town, a recreated turn-of-the-century settlement with a one-room schoolhouse, general store, and post office befitting rural 1900s Nebraska.
Eureka bills itself as the "The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road," and when you consider that the next closest town is 46 miles south, that's no exaggeration. The mining community may be small and secluded, but visitors will still be regaled with historic hotels, original opera houses, printing museums, and Mennonite-run delis.
Sugar Hill, New Hampshire
As far as quintessential New England towns go, Sugar Hill—which is perhaps best known for Polly's Pancake Parlor and its annual lupine festival—is the poster child. The best thing to do in the rural Victorian village? Go on a drive, of course. You'll pass a postcard-sized post office, a few sprawling farmhouses, and not much else, leaving you with uninterrupted views of the Presidential, Franconia, Kinsman, and Dalton mountain ranges.
Keyport, New Jersey
Keyport may be called the "Pearl of the Bayshore," but it's still a well-kept secret. While Seaside Heights, Asbury Park, and Atlantic City are teeming with Jersey Shore-style shenanigans, the quaint, Raritan Bay town offers a quieter beach experience, a cute downtown (with diners, farmers markets, and more), and direct views of the New York City skyline.
Ruidoso, New Mexico
As New Mexico's fourth-fastest growing city, Ruidoso—a resort village in the Sierra Blanca mountain range—won't fly under the radar for much longer. Get there before the crowds swoop in to enjoy access to Lincoln National Forest, nearby Ski Apache, and Grindstone Lake Loop, a 6.7-mile hiking trail that boasts Ruidoso's most scenic views.
Phoenicia, New York
Work your way out of Manhattan and into the heart of the Catskills to find Phoenicia—a tranquil mountain town that's a magnet for ex-Brooklynites and artists of all stripes. Between greasy spoon diners, revamped 1940s motels, found-object antique shops, and a whole slew of outdoor adventures, the town gives off major Moonrise Kingdom vibes.
New Bern, North Carolina
Bet you wouldn't have guessed that New Bern was the birthplace of Pepsi Cola, but then again, we'd wager not many know about the town at all. So, here's a primer: North Carolina's second-oldest town is awash in historic sites from Tyron Palace to the Cedar Grove Cemetery. If you're scratching your head for a visual, picture Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook. It's in New Bern that Noah Calhoun (a.k.a. Ryan Gosling) fixes up his antebellum dream home.
Medora, North Dakota
Medora may be home to just 130 people, but there's no shortage of things to do here. The town is situated in North Dakota's Badlands—right at the entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park—so horseback riding, trail hiking, and wildlife watching are just the tip of the iceberg. There's also the patriotic Medora Musical (the "rootin'-tootinest, boot-scootinest show in all the Midwest") and the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Yellow Springs, Ohio
When Yellow Springs was founded back in 1825, settlers sought to create a utopia. Though that didn't quite pan out, the community forged on to become one of the happiest (and hippiest) in Ohio. Today, the village of just 3,500 puts its progressive stamp on an otherwise conservative corner of the state—something visitors can see on a trip downtown as colorful signs, mosaic benches, and LGBTQ flags brighten up brick storefronts.
If you have a penchant for Victorian architecture and (staged) Wild West shootouts, there are few better destinations than Guthrie. The original capital of Oklahoma has more than 2,000 buildings—in Italianate, Romanesque, and Beaux Arts style—that are designated National Historic Landmarks, and the town is fond of all 1880s entertainment be it wagon rides or cattle wrangling.
Sisters is an artsy mountain town with Old West appeal (see: original 1880s architecture). Named for a trio of nearby Cascade peaks, the small community hosts annual celebrations like the Sisters Rodeo, Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, and Sisters Folk Festival. Of course, the Oregon town is also an outdoorsman's dream with close proximity to Suttle Lake and the Hoodoo Ski Area.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
Victorian architecture, skiing, and a prime location in Pennsylvania's Poconos Mountains have earned Jim Thorpe a fun new moniker: the Switzerland of America. Hop aboard the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway for an A+ view of town. You won't regret it.
Little Compton, Rhode Island
Newport may be Rhode Island's most well-known destination, but Little Compton—which is just across the Sakonnet River—makes a compelling argument for itself. Laid out in 1682 by settlers of Plymouth Colony, the tiny town is still packed with 17th- and 18th-century buildings from Quaker meeting houses to one-room schoolhouses. If that isn't enough, there are also walking trails, vineyards, and Civil War-era estate hotels.
Aiken, South Carolina
Just across the border from Augusta, Georgia, Aiken is South Carolina's most equestrian-obsessed town. Thoroughbred training tracks and polo fields are just the start of it, as Aiken hosts two annual steeplechases and seasonal fox hunts in the Hitchcock Woods. The southern town of choice for the Astor and Vanderbilt families, there is, of course, more than horses. Romantic live oak canopies, meandering public gardens, and quaint B&Bs make it an ideal couples' getaway.
Deadwood, South Dakota
It's honestly a miracle that Deadwood has made it to see 2020. The former gold mining town—which was once home to outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers like Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok—has been through three major fires, after all. Today, the entire Black Hills community is listed on the National Historic Register and theater troupes reenact the town's eccentric past.
Whether you like to hike, bike, spelunk, antique shop, or sip cappuccinos in a laid-back cafe, Cookeville is ready and waiting. Located nearly equidistant between Nashville and Knoxville, the town has been dubbed a top fitcation spot for its close proximity to recreational areas like Cummins Falls State Park and Burgess Falls State Park.
Port Aransas, Texas
South Padre Island may be Texas' foremost beach destination, but Port A—just 40 minutes north, on Mustang Island—makes a case for itself with 18 miles of sandy gulf coast beach, cozy seaside glamping bungalows, and a number of annual festivals for everything from whooping cranes to sandcastles. The city is less than four hours from Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, so you can make a multi-stop trip of it, too.
Morgan lies 40 miles north of Salt Lake City in the picturesque Ogden Valley. With world-class skiing and snowboarding (there are five ski resorts within an hour of each other, including Snowbasin), demolition derbies, rodeos, county fairs, ATV trails, and white water rafting, the four-season destination has something to offer everyone.
With the Green Mountains to the east, the Adirondacks to the west, and a prime location on the shores of Lake Champlain, Shelburne isn't hurting for scenic views. Though it's often overshadowed by Burlington, its vibrant northern neighbor, the small town is awash in its own attractions from Victorian B&Bs, breweries, and vineyards to the iconic Vermont Teddy Bear Company.
If you spontaneously surfaced in Culpeper, you'd likely have no idea you're less than 90 minutes from Washington D.C., Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg. The historic, seven-square-mile town—which is nestled in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains between Rappahannock and Rapidan Riversand—is dotted with mom-and-pop shops, antique stores, and highly regarded farm-to-table restaurants.
Port Townsend, Washington
Located two hours northwest of Seattle on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, historic Port Townsend is a real charmer. Once a bustling maritime city—it aspired to be the "New York of the West"—a glimpse of Port Townsend's heyday can still be seen in its pre-World War I architecture and lone Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. For nature pursuits, it's off to Fort Worden State Park where beaches, walking trails, and epic views of the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges collide.
Fayetteville, West Virginia
If you've written off West Virginia given all of its (untrue) stereotypes, think again. Towns like Fayetteville reveal why the state's license plates are scrawled with "Almost Heaven." The quiet Appalachian town, on the western edge of the Allegheny Plateau, is home to the roaring, whitewater New River and the New River Gorge Bridge—what was once the longest single-span arch bridge in the world.
When it comes to weekend trips in Wisconsin, one destination usually edges out the rest. Sure, the Wisconsin Dells is cool and all, but Baraboo—its oft-overlooked sibling—is just as worthy of your consideration. The former headquarters of the Ringling Brothers Circus (and current home of the Circus World Museum) is a recreationist's dream with the glacially formed Devil's Lake State Park and Pewit's Nest gorge.
Tucked between the curving North Platte River and the remote Haystack Mountains, Guernsey is one of Wyoming's most historic pioneer towns. In fact, it is known for its Oregon Trail Ruts: six-foot indentations that were carved—over the course of nearly 30 years—into the area's sandstone ridge by wagon wheels, people, and animals.
And for more jaw-dropping landscapes, don't miss the 100 Destinations So Magical You Won't Believe They're in the U.S.