USA’s Most Underrated Cities
You've probably already been to New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Do you ever wonder where else it'd be worth visiting? This time I worked with fellow travel bloggers to introduce you to the most underrated cities across the U.S.
Photos by: @memphistravel
Put on your blue suede shoes and board a plane – to Memphis.
Where do we start with this underrated city? Would it be the glitz and glamor of Elvis’ house, the prestige of Sun Records, Reverend Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle, or the ducks? Oh, the ducks. What is not to love about Memphis? And I haven’t even mentioned Beale Street yet!
Memphis has a dark and dingy name for itself and it is known to have some rough areas, but it is worth looking past all of that to spend a few days there for yourself and see what Marc Cohn sang about all those years ago.
A visit to Beale Street is a must. You could spend hours listening to the many street performers pumping out the sweet sound of foot tapping soul music while sipping on an ice cold drink. Next up is a visit to Graceland to see the King’s relics, you will no doubt be ‘all shook up’ after seeing Elvis’ car collection and stepping foot on his private airplane. Have you ever heard of the million-dollar quartet? Well, you will be able to stand exactly where they stood when you visit Sun Records Studio, known for making the likes of BB King, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis famous. To get a good taste of religion from the south, Rev Green’s Gospel Tabernacle is an amazing place to spend a Sunday morning, with halleluiahs and people rejoicing in the aisles, it will leave you breathless. The Civil History Museum and Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination spot are just around the corner too, also not to be missed.
Lastly, the ducks. No trip to Memphis is complete without making a timed visit to the Peabody Hotel to see the ducks (yes, quack quacks) make their grand daily appearance as they strut through the crowd toward their bathing place – the indoor fountain in the middle of the hotel!
So, when are you going to take a walk in Memphis?
Some people think of Richmond, Virginia as just a college city, but this eclectic city has so much to offer. The best part? You can actually live in a city but for the fraction of the cost here, which is what entices people to stay.
For history and museum lovers, you can check out the State Capitol, the Science Museum of Virginia, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). Each month, the city hosts the event “First Friday” which includes open art galleries, exhibitions, and pop-up vendors along Broad St.
For those who prefer to be outdoors with nature, there’s Brown’s Island and Belle Isle which are small islands that lie in the James River. The Lewis Botanical Garden is a place that was declared by USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, and the Travel Channel as one of the top gardens in the U.S. During the winter, they hold the Christmas GardenFest of Lights where the place is lit up by spectacular displays. Maymont Park is a large estate and public park where you can explore the Japanese Garden, Italian Garden, and Arboretum. It’s a beautiful place to explore or have a picnic, especially during the Springtime.
Shortpump Mall is where you can eat, drink, dine, and shop for the major brands all in one spot. If you’re more into boutique and one-of-a-kind stores, Carytown is the charming area to hit up. A locals favorite there is Can Can Brasserie which serves French-style food.
When it comes to food, the list of places to hit can be never-ending. However, here are a few key places worth checking out: 821 Café – classic American food and craft beer
Black Sheep – a sandwich shop that was featured on Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food”, Buzz and, Ned’s – barbeque, Edo’s Squid – a hole in the wall Italian place, Mama J’s Kitchen – good ol’ southern comfort food, Pho So 1 – Vietnamese Noodle Soup, The Village Café - popular amongst locals and students; it was featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”
For events and activities, look no further than Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The campus is dispersed around central Richmond. There you can catch their annual Intercultural Festival performances and cultural dances, work out in the massive renovated gym which comes with a rock climbing wall and a pool, and participate in adrenaline activities by joining their Outdoor Adventure Program. Also nearby is the Richmond Ballet and the popular Landmark Theater. I saw the “Lion King” Musical there for only $25. My friend saw “Wicked” and Lady Gaga for only $40 each!
MORE ON RICHMOND, VA
COLLAB BY: Brooke Matta
Blog: Upbeat Atlas
Richmond, Virginia is a city steeped in history. It was the site of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, a regular stomping ground of Edgar Allen Poe, one of the first cities to implement the electric streetcar, and the former home of Pocahontas. Although Richmond is a history buff's playground, it has something special for everybody. The city offers an abundance of parks, museums, murals, and notable landmarks. One of its most beautiful streets, Monument Avenue, is the only street in the entire country that’s designated a National Historic Landmark. Richmond’s location along the James River also offers countless outdoor activities, including urban river parks and a set of class IV white-water rapids!
Once you’ve worked up an appetite seeing everything Richmond has to offer, you can join fellow foodies at one of the city’s many outstanding restaurants. From Spoonbread Bistro’s Southern-French fare to Stella’s healthy meze plates to Nota Bene’s Italian classics – you’ll find something to impress even the harshest food critics. In addition to having a lively restaurant scene, Vinepair voted Richmond the #1 Beer Destination in the World for 2018. The city’s beer culture is over 150 years old, and there are currently 30 craft breweries to drool over.
If you like planning trips around events, then you’re in luck – Richmond has special events nearly every weekend from early spring to late fall! The Monument 10K attracts 40,000 participants annually, as well as hundreds of local fans and businesses. Dominion Riverrock is the nation’s largest outdoor sports and music festival, featuring three days of events that celebrate the great outdoors. Of course, the world’s #1 Beer Destination also has a National Beer Expo, intended to educate and inspire attendees with over 200 craft beers.
Although Richmond may sound like a world-class city, it’s managed to stay under the radar and remains fairly unknown. Due to high rates of crime during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, some people still (falsely) stereotype it as dangerous. All it takes is one trip to Richmond for most people to get hooked, and plan their return trips as soon as possible!
Collab by: Joss Hooren
Blog: Little Green Globetrotter
Instagram: Little Green Globe Trotter
Pinterest: Little Green Globe Trotter
Despite being Maine’s most populous city, Portland has managed to sidestep the concrete jungle take over and has clung on to its Victorian charm, Colonial gems, and Greek Revival splendor. A picturesque city that oozes creative yet sophisticated culture, Portland is an art-lover’s paradise. The first Friday evening of every month is dedicated to artistic talent, both homegrown and from afar. Tour the city’s many galleries, museums, downtown shops, and alternative venues between the hours of 5 pm and 8 pm free of charge on the First Friday Art Walk.
Photos by: @portland_maine
Built on a peninsula jutting into the island-speckled Casco Bay, you are never far from the ocean (or a lighthouse!) in Portland. Take in the views from the Eastern Promenade, soak up the sun at one of the many local beaches, and try your hand at surfing, kayaking and paddle boarding.
If you’re looking for a balance between beach- and mountain-life, Portland is the ideal base! Just two hours from skiing, hiking, moose-watching and romantic log cabins in the stunning White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, and a worthwhile three-hour drive to Acadia National Park further up the Maine coast. Here, on Cadillac Mountain, from October to March, you can be the first person in the United States to see the sunrise!
Portland is also a great foodie city, with numerous restaurants for every budget, trendy cafés and delicious bakeries, which cater effortlessly for all dietary needs. The city is famous for its lighthouses and its lobster boats, so if you like shellfish, you can’t go wrong with fresh Maine lobster! Portland is the perfect location to answer the big New England question: are lobster rolls better hot or cold???
Collab by: Adam Overby
Whitefish Montana is this vibrant little mountain town nestled between Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake & Big Mountain Ski Resort. Millions of people every year travel to this iconic vacation destination to see its magnificent beauty & mountainous landscape. Surrounded by world-class fishing in every creek, river, stream & lake fisherman flock from around the globe. Thousands of miles of trails attract hikers, bikers, ATVs, snowmobiles & anybody else that wants to be in the great outdoors.
The vibe and pulse of Whitefish Montana is active, modern, genuine & neighborly. From antiques to waterparks if you can’t find it here you didn’t look hard enough. On Sundays & Mondays, you can play No-Limit Poker at the Remington Bar, or you can play 2-5 Limit Poker any day of the week at the Bulldog Saloon. Spend all day walking up & down main street shopping for clothes, gear, souvenirs or art. Visit the local ice arena to join an adult league, watch youth hockey or sign up for open skate. Inhale a yoga session at the Yoga Hive, or rent jet ski’s and whip around the 25th largest lake in America. There are two theater companies, and a brewery right downtown to give you even more options.
Make your way to Columbia Falls and spend the day at Montana’s largest waterpark, or go ziplining right outside of Glacier. Take a fly fishing lesson, or sign up for a whitewater raft tour. Go dancing at Caseys on Main Street, or head up to their rooftop bar and sip martini’s as you watch the sun set into the mountains. The only thing Whitefish Montana doesn’t have is indoor skydiving or surfing, but I’m sure it's on the way.
Most people tend to drive straight through Lincoln, Nebraska without giving it a second thought. However, this is not your typical city in the middle of nowhere. Lincoln is your quintessential college town that has revamped itself significantly over the last few years. It is also one of the best places in the country to be on a College Football Saturday. The city becomes flooded with residents from all over the state in a ‘sea of red’ to pack Memorial Stadium where 90,000+ fans cheer on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team. The Historic Haymarket District, especially The Railyard, is the place to be on a Saturday which has experienced a big revitalization since the new arena opened here in 2013.
When the football team isn’t playing that Saturday, it’s worth checking out the State Capitol building which dominates the Lincoln skyline and stands 400 feet high. It's one of three skyscraper state capitol buildings in the country! Visitors can get a free tour of the building here and don’t forget to head to the top for the best views of the city! If you want to learn more about the state, check out the Nebraska History Museum in downtown Lincoln and Morrill Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Lincoln Children’s Museum is also a great stop for families. If you are looking for more quirky attractions, Lincoln is home to the National Museum of Roller Skating and the International Quilt Museum which is home to the world’s largest collection of quilts!
Since it’s a college town, Lincoln has a good nightlife scene on the weekends. My favorite places to grab a drink in Lincoln are Longwell's, a sports bar in the Railyard with an extensive craft beer selection, Barrymore’s, a great speakeasy with delicious Moscow Mules, and Starlite Lounge, a 60’s themed basement lounge complete with comfy couches and a variety of delicious martinis! Speaking of drinks, Lincoln is home to NINE craft beer breweries with the most popular ones being Blue Blood, Empyrean and Zipline!
Another thing that is great about Lincoln is the variety of excellent ethnic restaurants. My favorite places to go are The Parthenon (Greek), Blue Orchid (Thai), The Oven (Indian), Ajora Falls (Ethiopian) and Blue Sushi (Japanese). If you are looking for more American style fare, I recommend eating at Misty’s (steak), Bison Witches Deli (sandwiches), Phat Jack's (BBQ), The Green Gateau (vegetarian/ vegan-friendly) along with LeadBelly or Honest Abe’s (burgers and more).
Seattle gets a bad rap for being the city that always rains. That’s true to some extent and it is one reason tourists often overlook the city as a place to visit.
It is when the clouds clear and the sun peaks over Mount Rainier that the sparkling green Seattle dreams are made of emerges. Surrounded by mountains and water, the city is an adventurer’s paradise. Drive an hour in any direction and you’ll find hiking trails, ski slopes, sailing or kayaking. Within the city are green spaces connected by biking and walking trails, delicious coffee, and an incomparable craft beer scene.
Get in touch with your inner child by flying a kite in Gas Works Park. While there, take in the sweeping Seattle skyline across the bay, which includes a stellar view of the iconic Space Needle. Walk or ride a LimeBike (Seattle’s bike share program) along the Burke Gilman Trail to the Fremont Brewing Company and enjoy an Interurban IPA in their beer garden. Once your beer is finished, take a short walk up Stone Way for dinner at The Whale Wins, a Northwest-inspired restaurant featuring the best cuisine from local beaches, gardens, and farms. If you’re feeling kitschy, walk a few blocks west to take in the Fremont Troll under the Aurora Bridge. Or for a cozier end to your evening, grab a cocktail at Hazlewood in nearby neighborhood Ballard.
The ideal time to visit this under-rated city is between May-September when the days stretch well into the night and outdoor activities are at their peak.
Grand Rapids, Michigan oozes with Midwest hospitality and packs all the punch of a big city with a small town feel— all without breaking the bank. It has been voted Beer City USA, named Best Beer Town and Best Beer Scene by USA Today, and has made several up and coming/under-rated food scene lists as of lately. Home to over 80+ breweries, it’s the perfect place to sip a few pints on the Ale Trail paired with outstanding food from a variety of highly rated restaurants while you experience all the city has to offer along the way.
Often called Chicago’s little sister, Grand Rapids is home to award-winning restaurants, breweries, and distilleries, a professional symphony, ballet, theater scene, and sports teams (hockey, baseball, and basketball), not to mention great concert venues bringing in top acts from around the country. There’s always something fun and interesting going on in town! For a full list of what’s going on, where to eat, and what to see while in Grand Rapids, visit www.grnow.com or www.experiencegr.com.
Grand Rapids will surprise and delight you with authentic and unforgettable experiences around every corner. It is worthwhile to take some time exploring all it has to offer.
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI
Collab by: Roxanna Keyes
Blog: Gypsy With a Day Job
Photos by: @explorestlouis
St. Louis, Missouri seldom comes up on any world travelers list of cities to visit. Sports fans know about Cardinals baseball, and others know about the Gateway Arch, and that is about as far as outsider knowledge goes. Midwesterners are fine keeping St. Louis as their own secret go-to destination. They visit this fabulous city often, with little traffic, and a very tight budget.
St. Louis has a huge role in American history. Known as the Gateway to the West, that is exactly what St. Louis was for a century, making it possible for the westward expansion. This role made it one of the 5 most lag cities in the country at one time, the first US city to host the Olympics, and only the second to host a World’s Fair. This legacy leaves behind a plethora of fabulous sites and things to do. In fact, St. Louis boasts more free things to do than any other US city outside of Washington DC.
Any first time visitor to St. Louis should start with the Jefferson Expansion Memorial National Park, or in simpler terms, the Arch. The is the city centerpiece, with a host of available activities, including going to the top of the Arch, horsedrawn carriage rides, steamboat rides, and learning about landmark lawsuits, such as the Dred Scott case, which took place in the Old Courthouse. From there, the historic old town, at Laclede’s Landing, or all of the hoopla associated with Cardinal’s baseball, is within walking distance.
For culture lovers, world-class museums. Two of the most widely recognized are City Museum, built entirely of repurposed materials by local artists, is a pleasure for adults and children, and The National Blues Museum celebrates this unique brand of southern American music. The city also boasts the World Chess Hall of Fame and the International Photography Hall of Fame. Of course, the city’s brewing history cannot be overlooked. Both renowned breweries, such as the Anheuser-Busch, and smaller local brands, such as Schlafly Bottleworks, offer free tours and tastings for beer lovers.
All of this is only the beginning, as St. Louis is home to dozens of other fabulous things to do. The world may keep on passing St. Louis by. Either way, it will continue to be a go-to city for Midwesterners!
Collab by: Katie Minahan
Blog: Just Chasing Sunsets
Pinterest: Just ChasingS
It was a dark, cold, winter’s night as I stood at the window of the Marriott Hotel in Downtown Detroit looking down on to the empty Jefferson Avenue. One thought crossed my mind. I could never live here. Flash forward one year and I am packing up my things and moving to Detroit. With good reason, Detroit gets a lot of bad press and I am not ignorant of the problems facing the city. Yet after six years of living there, I discovered Detroit is more than what you see in the news.
Detroit has a thriving art scene, beautiful music, successful sports, thriving local businesses and most importantly for this foodie an amazing food scene! I used to love a summer Saturday spent on my bike riding from eatery to eatery. Here’s one of my favorite routes: In the morning start at Avalon Bakery on Willis in Midtown for a JAB sandwich and their date bar. Then, hop on your bike and ride along Woodward, toward the Riverfront, passing all of the stadiums, stopping at Grand Trunk Pub for a local craft beer. Ride along the riverfront until you get to the Dequindre cut and ride up the newly paved bike path to Eastern Market for the Bismark pizza at Supino’s pizza. In Eastern Market, you can pick up fresh local produce on your way to Detroit City Distillery, a delicious craft cocktail bar. In the evening, check out who’s playing at live music venues such as The Magic Stick, The Old Miami, Cliff Bells or Jack White’s shop, Third Man Records. If you are willing to look beyond Detroit’s image you will find a city with grit, drive, and delicious food determined to rise.
What did you think of this collaboration? Have you been to any of these cities? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!