The Most Underrated City in All 50 States
You want to make someone happy? Just exceed their expectations. You know this if you've ever been gifted a 65-degree day in February, or gotten real maple syrup at a pancake diner, or let your kid pick a movie that turns out to be a masterpiece (seriously, Paddington 2?!). Stumbling across a thing, or a place, that turns out to be waaaay better than you thought gives you a zot of static-electric shock. And you now know a secret that you can dole out to friends.
So to find the treasure hiding in plain sight, we put the question to dozens of writers: What are the underrated cities and towns to visit across America? Some turned out to be obscure, locally beloved pipsqueaks; some turned out to be college towns with more to offer than just tailgating and dive bars; some turned out to be beach getaways or mountain hideouts; and at least one turned out to be the 16th-biggest city in the whole damn country. Here, America, are your underdogs. Learn them well -- they're going to make you happy, once you inevitably go to every one of 'em.
As is often the case in the Deep South, the cultural reputation of Montgomery is overshadowed by its fraught racial past. But when the city takes the opportunity to lay claim to its complex history rather than deny it, that honesty also becomes the fabric of its culture. So yes, while Montgomery boasts historical landmarks like the tiny First White House of the Confederacy, it answers with the estimable Civil Rights Memorial & Center, featuring a commemorative wall by the same designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC.
Music fans of all backgrounds will find the Hank Williams Museum flat-out charming; it’s a five-minute walk from there to the Double A-affiliate Biscuits baseball stadium. The Old Cloverdale neighborhood between Huntingdon College and Alabama State University boasts tree-laden yards just off Fairview Avenue, plus a quaint strip of diverse eateries and watering holes like Leroy, alongside art galleries and an indie movie theater of local legend, the Capri. Despite its 200,000-plus population, Montgomery’s city sights are so easily navigable it feels more like a burgh than a bustle. -- Natalie Elliott
Jutting out at the edge of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is Homer, the Cape Cod of the Last Frontier. Homer rocks a hell of a beach scene -- the 4.5-mile-long Homer Spit, a green tendril of land reaching into the bay, is home to a Coney Island-esque boardwalk popping with scoop shops, trinket stores, a historic ship graveyard and expansive public beaches, where glacier-covered mountains reflect in the bay waters lapping against the sand. The town also rocks a fruit winery with a tasting room, two notable independent bookstores (Homer Bookstore and Old Inlet Bookshop), an impressive range of dining options and a solid collection of dive bars. Wander into the Salty Dawg Saloon, where drinks are dangerously cheap and served until 5am. -- Melissa Kravitz
Southeastern Arizona’s Mule Mountains provide out-of-towners the freedom to set out on cactus-dotted hiking trails and discover old copper mines. The thrill of discovery, er, peaks when happening upon Bisbee, a mining-town-turned-arts-colony tucked into the desert. Explore Old Bisbee for a history lesson and museum tour as you travel on foot up Main Street to Tombstone Canyon. Next, browse the countless art galleries, studios and bungalow-style houses that pepper the Warren District. Stop at Mimosa Market, a 100-year-old neighborhood grocer that has mastered the craft of sandwich making. Spend the night at the Calumet and Arizona Guest House or opt for an eccentric sleeping habitat, perhaps a retro Airstream or vintage bus at The Shady Dell. In January, for the first time, this little town’s formidable LGBTQ community opened a permanent Downtown home; find your way to Bisbee in mid-June for one of the most renowned small-town Pride parades anywhere in America. -- Lauren Reichert
Arkansas: North Little Rock
Little Rock, the state capital and only Arkansas city anyone from the coasts knows, is named for an actual rock that juts over the Arkansas River. Just across the water from la Petite Roche sits the forever-overlooked sibling with a name that sounds more like a neighborhood (cf. west Little Rock) than a municipality. This town of 62,000 has no more ego than you’d expect from a place that sits in Little Rock’s stubby shadow. And yet North Little Rock, aka Dogtown, is the go-to for some of the best of what the area has to offer: big touring acts and monster truck rallies and March Madness and so on at Verizon Arena; excellent riverside cycling paths on the Arkansas River Trail; the riverside home field of the Triple-A Arkansas Travelers, famous for their delightful “horrible possum beast” mascot; and a super-chill arts and entertainment district in Argenta (the town’s original, more melodious name). The best reason to stop north of the river might be the new home of one of the state’s oldest breweries, Diamond Bear, that began in a former car dealership in Little Rock and moved north when it needed to stretch its legs and become a full-blown alehouse. -- Sam Eifling
When you’re an inland city in the state with America’s most dramatic coastline, you’re bound to get a little ignored. But Sacramento has used its geography to its advantage. First, it’s made itself one of the most bikeable cities in America, where rides along the American River run into wine country and back through the El Dorado foothills. Sacramento also embraces its role as an agricultural center, transforming from a cow town to a city where even small restaurants visit farms weekly to craft their menus from what’s in-season. The result is an underappreciated food city where farm-to-table is taken literally. It’s also a scant 90-minutes from San Francisco to the west and Lake Tahoe to the east, and under an hour to Napa and Sonoma. Sacramento may not be the California dream people imagine, but as the Bay Area prices out the masses, Sacramento is primed to grow into the state’s next great destination. -- Matt Meltzer
Colorado: Buena Vista
Two hours southwest of Denver hides this artists’ hamlet boasting the amenities of a mid-sized ski town without the crowds or the prices: hot springs, galleries, cute restaurants. Proximity is one of the biggest draws, as you're right next to places like Leadville and Salida with their historic mine tours and cultural events and hyper-specific historical societies based around trains or pioneering. You're central to any number of white water rafting adventures of gold panning events or to the major Colorado cities. But ultimately, no major attraction here is beckoning visitors. And that gives you the breathing room to just enjoy Buena Vista. Mountain paths link the town to remote cabin villages, fishing preserves, and everything you would want from a Colorado adventure in nature. If you have a family that wants to unplug or if you have a novel you intend to finish: this is the Colorado you want to hunker down in. -- Brock Wilbur
Pretty much every Hollywood vision of Connecticut involves Yale students rowing a quick mile before genteelly sipping bourbon cocktails at an a cappella concert -- meanwhile, Hamden is one town away from New Haven, and somehow worlds different. It keeps the urban trappings that make New Haven so evocative (incredible pizza at Olde Word Brick Oven Pizza and DiMatteo's; cozy New England architecture; a collegiate atmosphere courtesy of Quinnipiac) and combines that with a rural charm -- Hamden has a ton of nature for people to explore, from the miles of trails around the impressive Sleeping Giant to the crown of rivers and lakes that dot the town. The Space, the latter-day centerpiece of Hamden's scrappy music scene, has recently found new life as the Space Ballroom, and will continue the town's long tradition of giving local and touring musicians a place to express themselves. You may even find an a cappella concert or two, if that's your speed. -- Adam Lapetina
Delaware: Delaware City
It’s tempting to put the whole state of Delaware on this list. Most people know the First State best as a brief highway interlude between New York and DC (seriously, someone in this office suggested a favorite rest stop for this story). But if we’re talking about a town even true blue Delawareans are sleeping on, it has to be Delaware City.
Sitting right on the water, where the C&D Canal meets the Delaware River, this town of 1,700 revels in a wealth of history. Stroll along the canal through the city’s quaint streets, among preserved historical buildings dating to the 1820s, plus plenty of antique shops and restaurants. A short ferry ride across the river will take you to Fort Delaware, a Civil War military prison where you can dig for treasure and get a tour from costumed reenactors. Then, relax: Battery Park is a particularly pretty waterfront spot to chill after a stop at the town’s old timey ice cream parlor. Across the canal, you can visit Fort Dupont State Park for a hike. Stop into Crabby Dick’s for some of the Chesapeake Bay’s finest crabs and head over to Lewinsky’s on Clinton for a craft brew and some live music. The city even boasts a vintage baseball team: the Diamond State Baseball Club, which plays games every spring if you want the authentic Field of Dreams experience, sans cornfields. -- Alex Garofalo
Florida: Fort Walton Beach
Despite your average Floridian’s natural propensity for dishonesty, one thing we do not lie about is the beauty of our beaches. It would be hard to call any “underrated,” but the beaches in this quaint panhandle town seem to get forgotten when talking about the state’s best. The white sand dunes and emerald water of Okaloosa Island will induce endless Instagram envy, and windsurfers know Fort Walton as the best spot on the Gulf Coast. Tourists haven’t caught on to this small, Southern beach town, which means more daily-caught seafood for you. Hit the daily specials at The Gulf or Old Bay Steamer, fresher even than stuff you’d find for triple the price in Miami. -- Matt Meltzer
Augusta may be famous for (cue Jim Nantz voice) the Masters, a tradition unlike any other, as well as (cue James Brown voice) hardest-working favorite son James Brown, RIP. But the city of 200,000 is looking strong like a new hotspot, with a cybersecurity-funded future (and the 10,000 people it’s going to bring). A restaurateur named Sean Wight has been adding stellar restaurants over the past decade, including cocktail-driven eatery Craft & Vine, locally farmed burger joint Farmhaus, and the romantic Frog Hollow Tavern. Live music at Sky City brings an energetic crowd and a wide variety of audio entertainment, whether that’s funk, ‘90s R&B, or acoustic folk. The Riverwalk lets you stroll and sightsee Downtown from the edge of the Savannah River, and you can find contemporary southern art at the Morris Museum, which is free on Sundays. And since you’ll need beer, you’ll find it at both Savannah River and Riverwatch; enjoy a few before going out into nature at Phinizy Swamp to peep turtles and gators. It really does feel like nothing else. -- Mike Jordan
The paradox of visiting Hawaii is, of course, visitors have crowded out the authentic Hawaiian experience. The tourists haven’t Waikikied the entire state, though. Look to the far eastern shore of Big Island, some of the youngest new soil on the planet, still burbling up out of the Pacific. Mostly overshadowed by the famed, five-star luxury resorts on the island’s west coast, sleepy Hilo is Hawaii without the tourists. Rub elbows with locals as you shop for locally grown produce at the farmers market, stroll along the quaint shops and museums of the aging waterfront, eat freshly caught poke, or marinated raw fish served over warm rice, at a bayside fish market. Then snorkel in a glassy lagoon protected from the big waves by a coral reef barrier.
You won’t find the idyllic white (or even black) sand beaches of elsewhere on the island, but you will find locals casting fishing lines in the bay and strumming ukuleles to the beat of the palm trees swaying above. Hilo’s hostels will cost you a fifth of what you’d spend at a resort, and yet still put you an hour from Volcano National Park, with its constantly erupting Kilauea volcano, or the breathtaking, rain-forested Hamakua Coastline, just west of town. -- Marco Garcia
Never short on scenery, Idaho, but few notice this absolute smokeshow small town set on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. Sandpoint sits in between three towering mountain ranges, and is a short way from Schweitzer Mountain Resort, the unheralded little brother of Idaho skiing that doesn’t get near the masses of Sun Valley. The resort has challenging mountain bike trails, but you can also traverse the Gold Hill Trail for some panoramic views of the lake and the town on its shore. If manmade thrills are more your style, Sandpoint is also home to Silverwood theme park and the Boulder Beach waterpark, plus the best haunted house in the state if you go around Halloween. -- Matt Meltzer
The case to be made for visiting Carbondale, and southern Illinois as a whole, is that it’s the polar opposite of the big-shouldered metropolis up north. Carbondale is a Podunk college town with the feel of Bourbon County. Take advantage of the multiple wine trails, Cache River wetlands, and Shawnee National Forest, home to the Garden of the Gods and vistas unmatched anywhere else in the state. Speaking of: Carbondale had a total (if cloud-obscured) view of the 2017 eclipse -- and will also get to see America’s next total eclipse, in 2024.
At night, stop in neighboring Murphysboro for 17 Street Barbecue, where champion pitmaster Mike Mills has been working his cherry and applewood-smoked magic on baby back ribs for more than 20 years. Count on catching a live show at Carbondale’s Hangar 9, a dual-level bar with a musical legacy rooted in bluegrass and rock acts pouring through. The spot is modeled after an old airplane hangar that burned down and rebuilt -- because who needs an airport when you can have a kickass concert venue and beer garden? -- Sean Cooley
Columbus is already something of a known quantity in certain circles, specifically the kinds of circles where names like I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, and Robert Venturi elicit tremendous excitement -- architecture circles, i.e. And while Columbus is best known for a level of architectural interest (mid-century modern, especially) that far outstrips anything one could reasonably expect from a mid-sized city just south of Indianapolis, it's also come a long way in recent years as a place to eat and drink in between the time you spend admiring all that aesthetic beauty. Henry's Social Club has an attention to design befitting its home, and a menu sporting cod beignets and kimchi pork buns befitting a much larger metropolis. 450 North Brewing is a must for fans of beer, pizza, or both. Of course, they've had a national treasure of an ice cream shop and soda fountain in Zaharakos for well over a century, so things have always been pretty damn good. -- Matt Lynch
Iowa’s oldest city, the “Masterpiece on the Mississippi,” Dubuque earns the nickname for its gorgeous riverfront scenery. How gorgeous? Let’s just say when George R.R. Martin was an English and journalism professor at Clarke College back in the 1970s, the city’s natural features inspired a little book series called Game of Thrones! Living in a house in Dubuque’s flats, the isolating winters in Iowa were when Martin would take notice of the bluffs freezing over, the blueprint for what would be the giant ice wall on the northern edge of Westeros.
There are plenty of winter land activities open to you, including snowshoeing the old Spanish mines of the Calcite Trail or snowboarding nearby Sundown Mountain. In warm months, take a sunset riverboat cruise up the Mississippi for views of Dubuque’s revitalization efforts around the Warehouse District. Follow it up with a taproom crawl through the Millwork District, including stops at Jubeck Brewing and Hawkeye bar, and be on the lookout for offerings of Toppling Goliath, makers of six of BeerAdvocate’s top-rated 100 beers. -- Sean Cooley
The biggest city in Kansas sees little of the spotlight that shines on brawnier, Missourier Kansas City. But don’t sleep on the riches here: at least 33 museums, a Gallery Alley, timeless live music hangouts, nine authentic brewpubs, and in a rarity for Middle America, a half-dozen gay bars (possibly the Sunflower State's entire total). Urban art and Wichita State University set a backdrop for non-discrimination: what Durham is to North Carolina and Austin is to Texas, Wichita is to Kansas.
Historic Old Town now has 100-plus thriving businesses on brick-lined streets showcasing an anthology of mid-1800s converted brick warehouses, antique lamp posts, Coleman’s founding factory, and swank condos. You can sense the city’s rough-and-tumble cowboy history winking at today’s style-conscious happy-hour revelers. Outdoor music festivals include Riverfest (a nine-day country music-ish party) and Vortex (twang meets progressive). The 15 years-strong annual Tallgrass Film Festival is, like so much of this town, big, pretense-free, and criminally overlooked. -- Bruce Northam, American Detour
This time of year, the only thing people know about Lexington is that there seem to be a disproportionate amount of die-hard college basketball fans who claim to have been there. But the home of the University of Kentucky has bred the kind of creativity that brings big city stuff to a midsized metro. Last year Lexington opened Kentucky’s first food hall at The Barn, and this year will welcome the state’s first woman master distiller when Marianna Barnes and Castle & Key open their doors. The Distillery District, a once-blighted industrial landscape, has reopened as a nightlife district and will welcome the return of the James Pepper Distillery this year. Of course, there are also the scenic tours of nearby horse country -- Keeneland is Lexington’s cozier, comfier answer to Louisville’s Churchill Downs. Stop by some of the city’s eight craft breweries and you, too, will swear you can see the glint of blue in the grass that makes the rolling countrysides here some of most gorgeous in America. -- Matt Meltzer
Louisiana: Baton Rouge
People who’ve visited the home of LSU for a football game usually come back saying something along the lines of “Well, at least the tailgating was good.” Which is selling the Louisiana capital a lot short. Yes, a game weekend here is one of the great American football experiences, but it’s also a city steeped in music history and home to one of the oldest blues festivals in the country. If you’re not there for the festival, head to Teddy’s Juke Joint, a hot, remote blues bar that’s as much a cultural experience as it is entertainment. The food scene might not be New Orleans, but it’ll inch a little closer when Jay Ducote opens an entire food hall here later this year. You’ll also find Southern barbecue as good as anywhere outside Texas at Smokin’ Aces, and fresh gulf seafood at Tony’s Seafood Market. So if you find yourself here for a game, do yourself a favor: Stick around a few extra days and see why this city is a lot more than just the home of Death Valley. -- Matt Meltzer
While Maine’s coastline is a popular source of calendar-ready lighthouses and yacht rock enclaves, we’d implore you to head inland to hit up the fully repurposed mill town of Lewiston and its sister city across the Androscoggin River, Auburn. Bridging the two is, well, a bridge, adjacent to the Great Falls riverwalk, prime real estate for viewing Liberty Festival fireworks or the annual Great Falls Balloon Festival.
You can skip on L.L. Bean, not just because they’ve lifted their legendarily forgiving return policy, but because you’ve got local vendors to shop at like Quoddy, a four-generation Maine cobbler that makes custom designed, hand-stitched moccasins. You’d be remiss to not try one of Maine’s signature desserts, the whoopie pie, at the spot where it was created, Labadie’s Bakery. With a recipe having migrated from the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, what sets the New England whoopie pies apart is the use of Marshmallow Fluff in its frosting filling between a pair of dense spongy chocolate cookies. -- Sean Cooley
What was once a sleepy bedroom community to both Baltimore and DC is now on the cutting edge of Maryland’s farm-to-table food scene. You can thank Bryan Voltaggio, a Top Chef alum from here. He opened Volt more than a decade ago, which attracted other top chefs, as well as brewers and distillers. Today, Frederick is home to a large crop of vegan restaurants -- whether it’s breakfast (Glory Donuts), lunch (Hippy Chick Hummus), or dinner (The Orchard) -- and Maryland's largest brewery in Flying Dog. In the tasting room, you can sample the brewery’s nine year-round brews as well as seasonal offerings. Oh, and about those distillers: That lineup is out of control, with McClintock Distilling, Tenth Ward Distilling Company, Dragon Distillery, and MISCellaneous Distillery now open for business. -- Tim Ebner
It's probably easier than most for a city nicknamed "Wormtown" to qualify as underrated. But in an area full of quaint towns each trying to out-quaint each other, Worcester is a breath of... well, if not fresh air, certainly heady air. Massachusetts's second-largest city has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance lately, as it refocuses on urban green spaces (it has one of the nation's first-ever public parks!), its thriving music scene, and bringing in top beer and food talent. The city's got a ton of excellent bars, breweries, and gastropubs (as well as some of the dimmest and most fascinating dives in New England). The food scene isn't far behind, with new places like BirchTree Bread Company popping up all the time. Don’t overlook the classics here -- George's Coney Island and Regatta Deli are still the top lunch destinations in the city, and nobody in Worcester will let you forget it (or that sandwiches are called "grinders" -- under penalty of stink-eye). -- Adam Lapetina
The vast shores of Michigan are dotted with incredible (and very, very rated) beach towns from the palm all the way up to Copper Harbor, but for whatever reason, the small, idyllic little beach town of Manistee falls off the collective radar. It's a damn shame... for the city's status, not for those who have long clandestinely flocked to the little town to explore its vast public beaches. It has everything a quintessential Lake Michigan town demands: Cute little downtown area with good restaurants and a ton of mom & pop shops? Yes, with the Ramsdell Inn, Bungalow Steak & Seafood, and an assortment of tiny diners elevating the scene. A spankin' new brewery? Naturally -- this is Michigan, after all, and North Channel is now pouring its wares downtown. A solid riverwalk from said downtown to the lake, leads to seemingly endless and pristine beaches that avoid the flood of tourists. A nice community theater? Yes, Mom. Yes there is. It's a quintessential lake town, after all. Just don't tell anybody. -- Andy Kryza
When people head to Minnesota in one of the three months that aren’t winter, the Twin Cities are the obvious choice. But don’t sleep on Duluth, which packs everything great about Minnesota, except for the giant ball of twine. You can stroll the charming Leif Erikson Park where there is, of course, a Viking ship. From there it’s a short walk from the rustic Pickwick, founded in 1914, and better food than you’re probably expecting from a city further north than Toronto. In the Lincoln Park area, at Duluth’s Best Bread, you’ll find monster cinnamon rolls befitting dessert for breakfast or vice versa. From there, you’re not far from Bent Paddle, one of the best breweries in Minnesota. Its beer is brewed with water from Lake Superior. Drinking from a Great Lake and not getting sick? Congrats, you’re now an honorary Minnesotan. -- Dustin Nelson
As the oldest continually inhabited settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley, 300-year-old Natchez is a surprisingly charming place for a romantic getaway. The city has the country’s largest collection of antebellum homes: more than 600 were spared from burning during the Civil War because they were occupied by Union sympathizers. Many of them are now B&Bs, giving the city the feel of a humid, Magnolia-filled Vermont. The sheer concentration of historic homes is more impressive than even Charleston or Savannah, and though you won’t find near the number of tourists here, you’ll still find rich Southern food at Carriage House, helmed by New Orleans chef Bingo Starr. Natchez also fashions itself the biscuit capital of the world, a completely unofficial title but a perfect excuse to indulge. Natchez also has the Old South Winery, where you can learn why Southerners adore muscadine wine, and Natchez Brewing Company not far from Downtown. Plus plenty of serene backwater canoeing to burn off at least, like, half a biscuit. -- Matt Meltzer
Though it sadly lacks a Krusty Burger, the largest Springfield in the country is a low-key cool college town where good restaurants, the arts, and a young population almost make you forget its biggest tourist attraction is a Bass Pro Shop. The home of Missouri State University has a charming downtown lined with surprisingly great eateries like Black Sheep Burgers and Flame. After dinner you can peruse art galleries or take in a show at the Springfield Contemporary Theatre, which produces avant-garde plays in the middle of flyover country. Then, of course, there is the Disneyland for anglers that is Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, a mind-blowing marketplace of fishing, camping, and recreational gear. It’s now attached to the Wonders of Wildlife, the greatest re-creation of the earth’s ecosystems you’ll find under a roof. Springfield's also a quick shot to the theme park and casino mecca of Branson, so you can ride coasters and play poker all day then retreat to the third-largest city in Missouri at night. -- Matt Meltzer
Just a stone’s throw from the sprawling, 40,000-person-deep metropolis of Bozeman, the iconic Murray Bar has long made Livingston a destination for nationally known country acts looking for a place to stay and play. But there’s so much more to this classic Western oasis set among endless ranches and mountains capes. Livingston is a gateway to Yellowstone, home of some of the best steaks in the known universe at places like the Stockman and Rib & Chop House, and generally rife with the sorts of experiences and characters you find only in oil paintings at old saloons. The shadow of Emigrant Peak looms large, beckoning visitors to explore the vast hills and rivers. This is basically what you’re envisioning when you close your eyes and think of an ideal Montana small town. And that Murray Bar is pretty damn sweet, too. -- Andy Kryza
Though it doesn’t have it as an official nickname, we’ll go ahead and bestow it here: Alliance is the roadside attraction capital of America. For a city its size (8,400 souls) it boats more visit-worthy attractions than anywhere. Start with Carhenge, a 96-foot sculpture where 39 vehicles are planted grills-down in the sand, painted grey to look like the original Stonehenge. You’ll also find Dobby’s Frontier Town, a stretch of preserved buildings from Nebraska’s frontier heyday, as well as the ghost town of Antioch where you’ll see the remnants from city’s era of Potash mining. Once you’ve seen the eerie history, relax and enjoy a movie at one of only two drive-in movie theaters in Nebraska, a serious dose of nostalgia in the expansive western part of the state. -- Matt Meltzer
By many measures, Reno is already properly rated as a quintessentially funky Western gold-rush berg that made its fortunes by pioneering easy divorces and legal gambling. It feels shaggy and weird and warped, like a version of Vegas that sells plasma to buy scratch-off tickets. The town still rocks $9.99 surf-and-turf specials and $5 minimum blackjack tables and a pop culture identity rooted in Reno 911 and "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."
Yet you can definitely roll upscale here; the Peppermill resort in town boasts one of the biggest, plushest casinos in the country. Or tilt avant-garde bohemian. Three decades of Burning Man getting lit in the nearby Black Rock Desert has allowed Reno to bank a wealth of artistic talent and works that now permeate the downtown and Nevada Museum of Art with fierce urban beauty. Scope the proliferation of world-class murals, many on such humble canvases as pay-by-the-week motels and downtown parking garages and 24-hour bars. Less than an hour's drive from America’s largest alpine lake in Tahoe, set in the high desert, flanked by the Sierra Nevada, Reno and its art celebrate themes of nature, native peoples, cowboys, and psychedelics. The place is a flat-out trip. -- Sam Eifling
New Hampshire: Peterborough
Unless you’re an avid turkey hunter, you might not be intimately familiar with Peterborough. That’s a shame! It means you’ve missed out on a classic New England hamlet and have yet to view the glory that is the Yankee Siege II trebuchet chunking a pumpkin nearly 3,000 feet. Rectify the situation with a stay at the Little River Bed & Breakfast. Kayak around MacDowell Dam, see shows at the artist colony where Thornton Wilder authored “Our Town,” and eat pastrami sandwiches while catching live music at Harlow’s Pub. Most importantly, carve out time to hike up Mount Monadnock, one of the most hiked mountains in the US. Along the way you'll find hidden pockets of beauty in the form of waterfalls and rock formations, with one of several of New Hampshire’s mini Stonehenge formation among them. -- Sean Cooley
New Jersey: Red Bank
Take the hair gels, tanning oils, and Jaeger/Red Bulls you associate with "Joisey" and toss that 'ish down the toilet. Garden State locals know Red Bank as a low-key small town with big-city cool. You'll find world-class restaurants (Teak! Char!) alongside tiny seafood shacks. You'll hop from dive bars where the PBRs flow like water to bona fide nightclubs you’ll pump your fists (some Jersey stereotypes remain, happily) to a bustling reggae club. And you’ll do it all quicker than you can say "Bon Jovi is overrated."
This easy weekend trip between NYC and Philly is a veritable Swiss Army Knife of recreation. Spend the night at the palatial Molly Pitcher Inn, overlooking the Navesink River. Visit Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, hometown boy Kevin Smith's comic book store. Go to Carlo's Bakery, and gaze at the glazes and the cake (boss). Catch a show at the Count Basie Theatre, the venue fit for a 1920s gala and named after (yet another) hometown hero. Oh, and if you don't think Bon Jovi is overrated, you can visit his community dining restaurant, Soul Kitchen. After all, it's your life. -- Wil Fulton
New Mexico: Albuquerque
Boy, you have ONE LOUSY SHOW about crystal meth, and all of a sudden you’re some sort of desert wasteland full of junkies and drug-fronting chicken joints. Forget you ever saw an episode of Breaking Bad and you’ll be floored by what Albuquerque DOES offer, like the chance to kayak through town along the Rio Grande, and one of the world’s most visually striking festivals during the annual Balloon Fiesta. It’s also an undercover craft beer mecca, boasting a brewery district with more breweries per capita than even Portland. The Southwestern influence also gives ABQ an impressive food scene, with spots like El Pinto and the James Beard Award-winning Mary & Tito’s Café. To burn it all off, hop on the Sandia Peak Tramway and head out to the mountains for biking, skiing, and spectacular views. -- Matt Meltzer
New York: Ithaca
Most New Yorkers will tell you “upstate” begins immediately north of the Bronx, and most upstaters will tell you that you’re not really upstate until you hit Rochester. But much of the country neglects the sprawling space between. To wit: Ithaca. An hour south of Syracuse, Ithaca is rarely associated with much beyond its elite college campuses. Downtown is paved with pedestrian walkways lined with local shops and restaurants (eat at the esteemed Moosewood Restaurant), the commons play host to year-round concerts and festivals (visit for Chili Fest), and beyond the requisite shady collegiate dive bars, there’s an actual nightlife scene.
Ithaca’s also edged in on one side by the spectacularly hikeable gorges and waterfalls (and wineries) of the south shore of Cayuga Lake. On the other side, you’ll find the Namgyal Monastery -- a wide, regal building that resembles a gargantuan sandcastle. As the “North American Seat of the Personal Monastery of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” the place is home to hundreds of practicing Tibetan monks. Beyond its roster of public workshops, courses, and retreats, the Buddhist community is a thoroughly functioning part of Ithaca culture, hosting festivals, prayer ceremonies, and discussions downtown. At the biweekly farmers market, you’ll see wandering monks flanked by students in Cornell sweatshirts and jaunty, Finger Lake-bound hikers. It’s the farmers market trifecta. -- Eliza Dumais
North Carolina: Duck
Far from Asheville’s buzzy beer meccas, Tobacco Road’s college hoops asylums, and Charlotte’s NASCAR blitzes, you can saunter up to the Outer Banks’ sleepy town of Duck. There you’ll find the amenities of an East Coast Spring Break destination minus the crowding and chain restaurants. The remote drive alone will reward travelers with a weekend of secluded peace and quiet.
You can get in some reasonable surfing, tour the barrier island along bike paths, or channel your inner Wright Brother and attempt some hang gliding at Jockey's Ridge State Park ( sandboarding makes a calmer alternative). You have options for downhome seafood shacks like the shrimp and grits at Roadside Bar & Grill, conveniently located across Highway 12 from their central park where outdoor concerts are routine summer events. You’ve also got upscale oceanside troves like The Blue Point. Come for the oyster bar and pistachio-encrusted seared scallops, stay for the waterfront views. -- Sean Cooley
North Dakota: Devil's Lake
Though pretty much anywhere in North Dakota even mildly fun could be considered “underrated,” this lake town in the northeastern part of the state is a scenic, historic gem few have ever heard of. The tiny downtown boasts 20 national register buildings in three square blocks, all built between 1884 and 1915 and brimming with shops and cafes. Outside town, you’ll find some of the most unheralded fishing in the country, where 10-pound pike and mount-worthy walleye are plentiful all summer, and serene ice fishing dominates the landscape in winter. Devil’s Lake is also home to Fort Totten State Historic Site, a reputedly haunted fort with a historic inn where guests regularly report ghost encounters. Go around Halloween, and you’ll get to visit one of the most unique haunted houses in America where the entire fort is turned into a spooky attraction. -- Matt Meltzer
Kent is best remembered as a catalyst for nationwide campus protests in 1970, after shootings at Kent State University left four students dead at an anti-war demonstration. Yet today the city merits recognition beyond its counterculture roots. In the past decade, its downtown has been completely revamped with new shops and restaurants, plus a truly kickass selection of dive bars catering to a student population 40,000 deep. People come from around the world to teach at the university, making Kent surprisingly diverse for a small Ohio town. It still manages to maintain the quirky hippie vibe it’s long been known for -- there’s a potentially-haunted Masonic Temple, an apple orchard, and a blowout annual Harry Potter festival that attracts thousands of people. Don’t leave without stopping by Ray’s Place for the famous MOFO Burger. -- Maddie Bensinger
Is Tulsa underrated in Oklahoma? No. But it is underrated, if it gets rated at all, by anyone whose knowledge of the States stops at the coasts. Spend a weekend in Tulsa, and I guarantee you’ll stop making flyover country jokes -- the town has a boatload of oil cash it’s spent on actually cool stuff, like the Philbrook and Gilcrease Museums, a ballet, opera, symphony, and a sprawling new riverfront park called the Gathering Place set to open this year. You’ll stroll past a surprising amount of art deco architecture, as well as students from the city’s namesake university who lend Tulsa a more creative vibe than you’d expect. Tulsa’s also big on beer, with Dead Armadillo and Prairie leading the local brewery charge. The scene is best experienced at the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day festival, one of the country’s largest. -- Matt Meltzer
Oregon loves it some mountain towns, as evidenced by the mammoth growth in the population of Bend. But further down the winding, mountainous, heavily forested road lies Sisters, with its weird Old West aesthetic that feels a world apart from the rest of Oregon’s beloved small towns. The downtown is endlessly walkable, with rancher-approved restaurants like The Gallery coexisting with more upscale fare at Lakeside Bistro, plus good drinkin’ spots like Three Creeks Brewery and the sprawling patio of Takoda’s. But the real draw is the natural splendor that surrounds the friendly, Rockwellian little town: Sitting at the base of the Three Sisters mountains, it’s a stone’s throw from lakes, forests, rock-climbing destinations, and some of the best camping in Oregon. Oh, and it has a great annual rodeo, if that’s your thing. -- Andy Kryza
Pennsylvania: New Hope
The Keystone State is, essentially, a tale of two cities: Pittsburgh in the west, and Philly in the east -- separated by the Wawa/Sheetz line, naturally. Somehow Pennsylvania’s most underrated locale, a town of 2,500, sits outside this continuum, barely in the state at all. Straddling New Jersey on the Delaware River, New Hope has long had a thriving arts community, a diverse bar and restaurant scene, a vibrant LGBTQ community, and enough antique shops and vintage stores to make anyone's grandma feel like Indiana Jones in a sunhat. You want culture? The Bucks County Playhouse is one of the main feeders that bring small-town talent to Broadway -- a veritable Triple-A affiliate of New York's theater scene. You like eclectic food? Try finding a better creole restaurant anywhere outside of NOLA than Marsha Brown's (situated inside a refurbed church, for good measure). Hankering for some quaint, small-town romance? There are B&Bs on almost every corner, winding streams and mini-waterfalls lining the streets, and more ivy-festooned stone buildings than a Cornell brochure. We named New Hope as PA's best hippie town -- which it is, of course. But it's so much more than that. And if you need a single moment to crystallize and prove that point, take in their legendary Pride Parade in May. -- Wil Fulton
Rhode Island: Warwick
With the college-city partying of Providence and the storied mansions of Newport, many forget that during the first half of the 20th century, Warwick was the bourgeoisie summer home destination of choice. While no longer a luxe locale, it’s still all the seaside relaxation you’d expect in Rhode Island. Warwick is a collection of 30 small villages each with its own character, making visits here seem to last longer as the experience from block to block changes so drastically. Together they pack a ridiculous 39 miles of coastline, with plenty of spots to rent a boat and get out on the water, or just to flomp onto beaches that are low-key among New England’s finest. A day on Oakland Beach looking out into Narragansett Bay is one of the most beautiful ways you can spend a summer afternoon. -- Matt Meltzer
South Carolina: Folly Beach
Beaches throughout the Carolinas get their share of acclaim, but few ever mention the closest beach to Charleston as one of the top coastal towns in the region. This laid-back, bohemian enclave supports a surprisingly rich surf scene, adding to the general California vibe of the place. Make sure to stop in to Bert’s Market, a 24-hour munchies mecca whose motto is “we may doze, but we never close.” Folly Beach is also full of the marshlands and lighthouses that epitomize the finest of the Carolina coast. Head to Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, where you might spot loggerhead turtles as you look out at the Morris Island Lighthouse and the ocean beyond. -- Matt Meltzer
South Dakota: Custer
At 2,000 or so people, Custer ain’t exactly sprawling. But this tiny little Western town pulls well beyond its weight, with steakhouses, saloons, and even a weird Bavarian inn representing one of the more robust (per capita, at least) food scenes west of Sioux Falls. But where Custer really stands out is its centralized location amid some of the most beautiful scenery in the West -- and we’re not talking about the unfinished visage of Crazy Horse being blown into a nearby mountain. It’s the gateway to the Needles Highway, whose massive rock spires and reflective lakes give Highway 1 a run for its money as the best road to drive in America. If you’re planning a scenic adventure in the wilds of SoDak -- and you really should be at some point -- it’s the perfect home base, near Spearfish Canyon, Sturgis, Deadwood, Lead, and only a few hours from the Badlands. And for a town so small it offers more than its share of options to keep you entertained if you decide to just chill in town. -- Andy Kryza
Consider this hamlet on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park the epitome of everything wonderful about Tennessee, plus a dang ski resort in Ober Gatlinburg, one of the southernmost in the country. About 35 miles outside of Knoxville, Gatlinburg soon enough warms up for hiking, fishing, camping, and a truly impressive moonshine culture -- check out the Doc Collier Moonshine Distillery or the Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery for flavored moonshine you can't get anywhere else. Carb-load at the Little House of Pancakes then take a short drive to the neighboring town of Pigeon Forge, where you can visit Dolly Parton’s amusement park, Dollywood. You’d have to go clear across the state to Graceland to revel in a more iconic Tennessee music playground. -- Daniel Fishel
Texas: Fort Worth
People outside Texas generally regard Fort Worth as the last two letters in the Dallas airport code. But Big D’s country neighbor is a lot more than cowboys, FWIW. You’ll have a blast in the Stockyards the odd Old-West historic district that doubles as a nightlife and dining destination. You’ll also find one of the most underrated zoos in the country, where the "Texas Wild!" exhibit takes visitors through every landscape in Texas (and has a shooting gallery). Did you know the only original Michelangelo in the Americas is in Texas, at the Kimball Museum in Fort Worth? (Texans do.) And during the summers, the city is also home to the Rockin’ the River festival, where bands perform on waterfront stage as the crowd floats by in inner tubes, effectively combining two of the great American summer traditions -- tubing and festivals -- in one big free event. -- Matt Meltzer
A century ago, this little mountain town was the connecting point for railroads going from east to west, and was filled the sort of drifters, grifters, and prostitutes who have since made Florida famous. The ghosts of those outlaws persist in Ogden, where the 25th Street main drag is lined with neon-lit bars and clubs, including the Beatles-themed City Club and an underground speakeasy at Zucca Trattoria. As the city has grown, Ogden’s opened restaurants doing creative things with local meats like Hearth on 25th, making the best yak meatball sandwich you’ll ever find. Ogden sits smack between two of the state’s best ski resorts -- Snowbasin and Powder Mountain -- both quilted in famous Utah powder but without the Park City scenesters. Ogden is still the rowdy little brother to its buttoned-up neighbors, but that’s exactly why it’s the most fun city to visit in Utah. -- Matt Meltzer
While Smuggler’s Notch and Stowe are Vermont’s de facto ski resorts, Jay Peak’s epic terrain is a true gem of Northeast skiing. At the most northerly portion of the Green Mountains along the border of Quebec, more often than not you’ll have a clear view of Montreal from the summit. You’ll be as likely to hear French accents as a logger talking up his John Deere “tractah.” You’ll also likely have a fresh dump of powder to play in, Jay Peak being the snowiest mountain (380 inches of snowfall per year) in the nation’s snowiest state. Board Vermont’s only aerial tram, then navigate the speed demon chutes off the peak, gnarly tree-dodging mogul runs, and serene glades.
Making the winding trek northbound to Jay will bring you through the majestic Northeast Kingdom ripe with leaf-peeping sites (a cottage industry in the autumn), sugar shacks, and even the occasional log cabin Alpaca farm. If you’ve left the region without sampling some sugar on snow or a maple creemee, you’ve done it all wrong. -- Sean Cooley
This hippie town set atop the Blue Ridge Plateau is the state’s best outdoor recreation destination outside Shenandoah, with hiking, biking, and camping in the nearby Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve. It houses 40 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which during the fall boasts a whole lotta eye-pleasing foliage but few tourists. This happens to be Virginia wine country, so hit either the Villa Appalaccia and Chateau Morrisette for fantastic food paired with the state’s best vino. Music lovers should swing though the Floyd Country Store for weekly performances and jam sessions; Floyd is also a stop on Virginia’s Crooked Road music trail, and home of the Blue Ridge Music Festival. -- Matthew Meltzer
Washington: Orcas Island
Nobody’s knocking the natural beauty anywhere in western Washington, but few visitors ever make the trek north of Seattle to Anacortes and across Puget Sound to Orcas Island. This U-shaped island shares a name with the killer whales who frolic nearby is the ultimate Northwest escape, a place where sharp evergreen mountains reflect off deep blue water, and days are spent hiking through thick forests to waterfalls at Moran State Park. Bike the roads here and you’ll find artists’ studios dotting the highway, as the island has become a sort of refuge for creative types escaping the Seattle noise. It’s hard to get to, and that’s exactly why it has managed to maintain that isolated island feel: Even in the summer, restaurants aren’t packed and bed and breakfasts are easy to book. As Amazon slowly swallows the city nearby, people find their way here to feel the true forest. -- Matt Meltzer
West Virginia: Fayetteville
The word “Appalachia” too often conjures up moonshine and poor dental care, when it should make you think of nature -- the same breed of raw, majestic, and treacherous outdoor recreation that draws people to Colorado and Oregon. West Virginia’s got loads of the stuff, and Fayetteville, just outside the New River Gorge, is the ideal home base for rock climbing, mountain biking, and the best whitewater rafting in the east. The town’s full of some 2,800 creative, nature-loving types who’ve set up spots like Ridge Brewing and the Secret Sandwich Society, where you’ll find combinations of stuff on bread you’d never have thought of but love anyway. A swell time to visit is during Bridge Days, when hundreds of BASE jumpers leap off the New River Gorge Bridge while nearly 80,000 people gawk. -- Matt Meltzer
Nestled just far enough south of Milwaukee and just north enough of Chicago, it would’ve been easy for Racine to grow up as a ho-hum commuter town. Yet the city has found a way to carve out its own identity through architecture and highlighting natural beauty. A quick spin around this town of 77,000 will take you past several iconic Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, including the Thomas Hardy House, the Keland House and, most importantly, the Johnson Wax Headquarters, which offers tours and features some of his most inspired work. The town also has great beaches that let you cut the summer heat with Lake Michigan’s sea-like chill, and the bucolic Wind Point Lighthouse and its grounds make for an ideal picnic spot. The food, here, too is surprisingly worldly -- large Danish and Mexican populations have seen to that. The Kringle Capital of America also rocks dive bars in a way that only Wisconsin can. -- Erik Helin
Basically the last sign of civilization before hitting the east entrance of Yellowstone, all Cody needed to become a necessary stop was a gas station and a Honey Bucket. But since its founding in 1896, Cody’s blossomed into something of a perfect tourist town. Yeah, there’s goofy stuff like gunfight reenactments and a big ol’ Buffalo Bill Cody museum, but the influx of visitors to this windswept riverside city also supports a terrific food and drink scene. Dine at the historic and charming Irma Hotel (founded by Buffalo Bill himself) or the cowboy-friendly Cassie’s for some classic steakhouse action, best followed with a trip to Pat O’Hara Brewing. What’s more, people in Cody are super friendly. Maybe it’s the air. Or the fact that Cody, for a certain breed of outdoors enthusiasts, might be heaven on earth, only with gunslingers instead of angels. -- Andy Kryza