Best Cities To Visit In The US
New York City. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Disneyland. These are the cities (or theme parks) that come to mind for most international travelers planning their first trip to the USA. And, to be fair, the iconic cities are known and loved for good reasons. They are wonderful places, full of vibrant culture and memorable sites. But they are not the only places to visit in the USA.
A country taking up almost 3.8 million square miles (for comparison, it’s roughly the same size as all of Europe), there is a lot more to see and do than party on the Vegas strip and visit the Statue of Liberty.
Whether you’re visiting the United States and want to avoid the ‘tourist hot spots’ or you’re a local resident planning your next domestic getaway, here are the most underrated and overlooked destinations in the United States to visit.
1. New Orleans, Louisiana
Instead of Las Vegas, Nevada
Known for its dazzling lights, glitzy resorts, and wild nightlife, Vegas is like NYC in that it’s a city that never sleeps. Welcoming around 40 million tourists annually, the desert metropolis is a destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties, company conferences, and international tourists looking to see what all the fuss is about. And while it is true that there is nothing quite like Vegas, there’s another American city stealing our attention—and she’s turning 300 this year.
When most people think of New Orleans, commonly referred to as NOLA, two things come to mind: Mardi Gras and the tragic hurricane disaster in 2005. And while both are true to city—New Orleans is synonymous with the infamous Carnival celebration and 80% of the city flooded during Hurricane Katrina—this southern melting pot has a lot more going for it.
Take the historic French Quarter for example, and lively Bourbon Street. New Orleans is also home to some of the greatest food in the United States, as well as jazz music and numerous cocktails. International tourists may also be surprised to learn sipping adult beverages in public is allowed in the city, similar to Vegas and many European destinations.
New Orleans is eager for visitors, especially as it celebrates its tricentennial birthday. According to staff at the Convention & Visitor Bureau, locals are also excited to show off their city. NOLA has even invested in a major airport expansions and offers nonstop flights between London and Louis Armstrong International Airport.
With only 11 million visitors in 2017, it’s one of the most underrated American destinations for international and domestic travelers, although not for long—The New York Times ranked it the number one place to visit in 2018.
2. Buffalo, New York
Instead of New York City, New York
It’s impossible to replicate a visit to the United States most iconic city, and we definitely hope every international and domestic traveler can visit the Big Apple at least once in their lifetime. Apart from Broadway shows, Times Square, and Central Park, New York City is loved for its diversity, culture, and thriving art scene. Sure, it’s busy and loud at all hours of the day, but that’s one of the things that makes it, well, New York City. Delicious food, buzzing markets, towering buildings, and taxis galore, it’s truly a metropolis unlike any other. That’s why more than 60 million tourists visit every year. So for travelers looking to experience a (much) less crowded and touristy side of New York, there is another city we’d recommend: Buffalo.
Situated near the Canadian border and on the crystal waters of Lake Eerie, the city of less than 300,000 people is unpretentious and welcoming as ever. You can walk into the corner tavern (open until 4 am) and make friends with the locals in minutes.
Here, it’s people, not buffalo, who roam—sans iPhone, too. Slow living and gritty comfort food is the norm, and craft breweries are scattered along the water where locals like to relax together. Boasting Art Deco buildings and growing creative scene, it’s also popular for artists. In fact, one of the city’s favorite attractions, Silo City, is a historic grain complex that’s been revived by the arts community and now serve as a venue for music, theatre, poetry readings, and more.
With few tourists and even fewer chain restaurants, Buffalo has an authentic and organic vibe—the city doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. That’s why, if you want to experience a different kind of New York, we recommend planning a visit to Buffalo. And do it soon: with Tesla opening a factory in the city and millennials moving in, the city is bound to grow (although we doubt the local charm will disappear anytime soon).
3. Oakland, California
Instead of San Francisco, California
One of the most visited cities in the United States, San Francisco is a magnet for international and domestic tourists alike. With its cable cars, bubbling bowls of chowder, and charming row homes, what’s not to love? While San Francisco is definitely a city we hope everyone gets the chance to experience, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the city is also overcrowded and expensive—in fact, it’s the most expensive American city in which to reside.
It’s being called the ‘Brooklyn of the Bay’ and, while Oakland doesn’t have the iconic Golden Gate bridge or the salty smell of the San Francisco wharf, it does offer visitors warmer weather, more than 80 parks (as well as access to the Redwoods), and a thriving art scene. According to Visit Oakland, the city boasts more artists per capita than anywhere else in the United States; it’s also one of the most diverse places in the country. More than 125 languages are spoken in Oakland, and visitors can enjoy food from all over the world, as well as frequent festivals and cultural events.
Moreover, Oakland is easy to get to. With direct flights from major cities in Europe, the city is an accessible and more affordable travel destination than its overshadowing cousin. It may be nicknamed the “bright side of the bay” because of its sunnier weather, but we think Oakland is appealing for more reasons than escaping the San Francisco fog. Check it out for an alternative and down-to-earth California vacation.
4. Houston, Texas
Instead of Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas is the second most visited city in America’s southwestern region, just behind Las Vegas, Nevada. Loved for its live music, creative vibes, and young community, as well as being one of the cleanest and greenest cities in the United States, it’s no surprise that this Texas gem is a favored destination for travelers. About 160 miles east though, Houston is overlooked and often skipped by both international and domestic tourists, even though it’s the largest city in the state and the fourth largest city in the country. And that’s a shame. While Houston doesn’t tout the ‘hip’ label of Austin, the city is cool in its own right.
While Austin might be trending, Houston is enchants visitors with its authentic Texas charm. The city also loves its art, as well as its music. Home to the likes of Beyoncé, Kenny Rogers, and Johnny Nash, there is no shortage of concert venues or live performances.
If you’re searching for exceptional food, whether barbecue, tacos, or tastes from around the globe, Houston’s got that too. The most ethnically diverse metropolis in the USA (yes, it’s even more diverse than NYC and Los Angeles), the food scene in this gulf city is hard to beat. Other favorite attractions include the Space Center, Montrose neighborhood, and the museum district. So if you’re headed to the Lone Star state this year, give Houston a shot. Tourist dollars and numbers are also incredibly useful to the city after Hurricane Harvey last fall.
5. Stanley, Idaho
Instead of Breckenridge, Colorado
If it’s an iconic backcountry mountain experience you’re after, you might be planning a trip to Utah or Colorado. Both states are wonderful and boast some of the most breathtaking wilderness in the United States, but they also attract the most tourists.
Take Breckenridge, Colorado, for example. A popular ski town and summer destination for its rafting, fishing, and hiking adventures, it welcomes more than 3 million tourists each year. While that might seem like a insignificant number in comparison to the other cities on our list, the quaint mountain town is only home to around 5,000 residents. That dreamy escape from the city doesn’t seem so peaceful now, does it? Instead of traveling to the most iconic mountain cities, opt instead for a place like Stanley, Idaho. A minuscule town where less than 100 people live, it’s a lesser-known and equally breathtaking outdoor destination.
Stanley is located at the basin of the Sawtooth National Forest, about a three-hour scenic drive from Boise. A haven for all things camping, fishing, skiing, and rafting, it offers similar activities to those found in Breckenridge, as well as elsewhere in Colorado. And don’t let the size of the town fool you! Charming hotels (including a tiny house resort) and local eateries with homemade dishes are ready to welcome visitors.
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.