For every city that tourists flock to in America, like New York City and Chicago, there are equally diverse and interesting cities, like Portland, Maine, and Little Rock, Arkansas, that get largely overlooked as vacation destinations. If what you’re seeking in a city is art, culture, music, and palpable history, then these cities deserve a chance to show you just what you’ve been missing all along.
From internationally renowned cuisine to shopping districts brimming with life and culture (and copious amounts of refined alcohol, of course), these are the American cities you had absolutely no clue were amazing vacation destinations in their own right. Happy travels.1. Providence, Rhode Island
Where to fly: T.F. Green Airport
As it turns out, Providence is more than just a place to find great seafood—it’s also a hub for international art, music, and culture. Tourists and locals alike will benefit from taking a walk down the picturesque and historic Benefit street, with its sprawling colonial architecture and authentic northeastern shops and cuisine. For a detour from the historic, take in the punk scene that draws music lovers from every corner of the country at places like Scurvy Dog and The Parlour.
What to do: Eat at Oberlin, a restaurant with internationally-renowned seafood and Rhode Island charm a-plenty.
Where to stay: The Dean Hotel will bring warmth and sophistication to your stay in Providence.
2. Tampa, Florida
Where to fly: Tampa International Airport
More often than not, most tourists disregard Florida cities and head right to the sunny coastlines—but this culture haven and palm tree paradise should not be overlooked. Tampa boasts all kinds of fun for the family, like amusement parks, beaches, museums, and local shops and restaurants. To make the most of your stay, don’t miss a visit to Busch Gardens, a large amusement park with some of the country’s biggest and fastest roller coasters. For even more local adventure, pay a visit to one of the many state parks like Al Lopez Park and Hillsborough River State Park that provide just the right amount of scenery for an unforgettable vacation in Tampa.
What to do: Make the trek to Ybor City to experience Tampa’s Latin flavor: cigar stores, clubs, and authentic bars.
Where to stay: For amazing Floridian architecture, book a room at Le Meridian Tampa.
3. Charlotte, North Carolina
Where to fly: Charlotte Douglas International Airport
In recent years, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, has become a hub of delectable cuisine, folk and blues music, and international art. Though Charlotte isn’t exactly known for barbecue, Midwood Smokehouse is singlehandedly making a case for putting this city on the map, with an assortment of amazing sauces and meat cooked over a computer-controlled smoker. For a taste of Charlotte’s music scene, plan a night out at Evening Muse where acts like Shovels and Rope and Avett Brothers found their humble beginnings.
What to do: Whether or not you’re a fan of NASCAR, you’ll find the NASCAR Hall of Fame incredibly interesting, with exhibitions giving a hands-on representation of what it’s like to drive some of the fastest cars in the world.
Where to stay: For some of the best views of the city (from a rooftop pool, at that), stay at Omni Charlotte Hotel.
4. San Jose, California
Where to fly: Mineta San Jose International Airport
Set in the heart of sterile, tech-focused Silicon Valley, San Jose has become an unlikely mecca of international culture and cuisine. From Moroccan to Greek, the international cuisine in San Jose is not to be missed. For authentic Morrocan food (or just really great cuisine in general), try Menara Morrocan Restaurant. To experience the more whimsical side of the city, pay a visit to the Winchester Mystery House trick hallways, hidden staircases, and all things witchy and, well, mysterious.
What to do: Visit one of the many vineyards, like Ridge Vineyards, that make this city a desired destination for winos everywhere.
Where to stay: Enjoy the views of the city from the rooftop bar at Hotel Valencia Santana Row.
5. Salt Lake City, Utah
Where to fly: Salt Lake International Airport
While it may be home to the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City has much more to offer outside of the religious realm. From skiing to world-class dining (and drinking), this city has something for everyone—especially those with an affinity for outdoor fun. Utah’s capital is often considered a gateway to the state’s five national parks: Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, and Bryce Canyon—and visitors to the city would remiss if they didn’t take in the stunning scenery at these parks.
What to do: Immerse yourself in one of the elements that make Salt Lake City one of the more memorable excursions in America—the snow. Go skiing at the Canyons or hop on an inner tube and sail down the snowy hills at Wasatch Mountain State Park.
Where to stay: After a grueling day on the slopes, sit back and relax in the on-site spa in The Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City.
6. Baltimore, Maryland
Where to fly: Baltimore-Washington International Airport
This east coast city often gets overlooked in favor of bigger cities in the area like Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, but the many historical and cultural attractions in Baltimore provide the perfect vacation for every history-minded traveler. Don’t miss a chance to visit Baltimore’s most famous attraction, the National Aquarium, which gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at how the dolphins are trained on site. For art aficionados, the Walters Gallery, which has art spanning over 55 centuries, will be enough to keep you busy for at least a full day.
What to do: For the best view of Baltimore’s harbor and eclectic shops and dining, take a walk along historic Federal Hill.
Where to stay: The Lord Baltimore Hotel provides a winning combination of elegance and history in their rooms and main areas, located in the heart of the city.
7. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Where to fly: Pittsburgh International Airport
Whether you’re a football fan or an art admirer, this city boasts some of the best museums and sports-related fun in the entire country. Pay a visit to the Mattress Factory or Andy Warhol Museum for a taste of the whimsical art that makes Pittsburgh a haven for intellectuals and artists. The s of the city is also a great place to find a nightcap—or adventure—of any kinds.
What to do: Become a part of the local scene by attending a Pittsburgh Steelers game at Heinz Field in the North Shore neighborhood of the city.
Where to stay: Book your room at Pittsburgh’s only historic boutique hotel, The Priory Hotel, within walking distance of Pittsburgh’s famous Strip District.
8. Charleston, West Virginia
Where to fly: Yeager Airport
Perhaps one of the more underrated cities on the list, Charleston, West Virginia, deserves more recognition that it receives. This capital city nestled in the Appalachians keeps the history of its land a part of the present, with vintage bookstores, record stores, and home cooking fit for any traveler looking to understand what makes Charleston so great—and they won’t have to look far.
What to do: The Elk City Historic District is currently undergoing a renaissance of art and creativity, so just a stroll through the district full of shops and galleries should inspire any tourist.
Where to stay: For the best views of the waterfront, stay at the Four Points by Sheraton Charleston.
9. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Where to fly: Albuquerque International Sunport
Nestled in the mountains, about an hour north of Albuquerque, the city of Santa Fe is teeming with art and imagination. The New Mexico State Capitol building boasts a variety of history and art, with over 600 paintings housed in the building. Build your palette with a walk through the downtown area with food fixtures like Joseph’s, the Plaza Cafe, and Izanami.
What to do: Open from October 6 through May 26, El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe seeks to bring the best of the southwest to the city—whether that includes apparel, pottery, or antiques.
Where to stay: For a truly rustic southwestern escape (with chic amenities like an upscale restaurant and bar), stay at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi.
10. Memphis, Tennessee
Where to fly: Memphis International Airport
Officially named the “Home of the Blues,” Memphis boasts streets full of lights and loud music spilling out on to the sidewalks. The best place to feel the pulse of the city is in the Beale Street Entertainment District, which is packed with music venues, restaurants, shops, and other local musts.
What to do: A visit to Memphis would be remiss without a trek through Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley.
Where to stay: Stay at the legendary Peabody Memphis hotel, most famous for its resident flock of ducks.