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30 Unexpected U.S. Cities You Need to See

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe really is an oasis. When UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization found this city, Santa Fe was named a Creative City. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the diverse culture found there. Folk art thrives. There’ a huge pull on its Spanish and Native American history, as evidenced by the pueblo-style architecture. Plus, it’s hard to get bored with more than 250 art museums littered around.

Phoenix, Arizona

If you visit Phoenix, go between November and March. The average high temperatures will range from the high 60s to the high 70s. This makes all of the city’s outdoor activities even easier to do. It’s a city full of trails, golf courses, and swimming pools. Wildlife is all around, from cacti as you go about your day to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and national forests all a short drive away. Add in all of the as-seen-on-TV restaurants you know and love and this city really does feel like an oasis, a paradise in the desert.

Louisville, Kentucky

Kentucky has probably never crossed your mind when you consider your dream vacation spots, but that’s only because you haven’t fallen in love with Louisville yet. Louisville is iconic for several reasons, the first being the Kentucky Derby. You never have to go to another horse race, but this event really is something you want to experience. Plus, Louisville’s food scene is amazing. In fact, it’s so good that they’re striving to become a foodie’s paradise. 85% of the world’s bourbon is brewed in Kentucky, so you know you can get a good drink after your meal!

Providence, Rhode Island

You’ve probably heard or Providence, but what do you know about it? Not enough, especially considering Architectural Digest named it “America’s Best Small City,” and GQ called it “the coolest city you haven’t been to.” It’s about as packed with history as it can get. There’s a ton of beautiful historic hotels like Hotel providence and the Dean Hotel, built in 1882 and 1912 respectively. The art scene there is amazing, evidenced by the Rhode Island School of Design. Some highlights include the Performing Arts Center, located in the 1928 movie palace, and the Providence Athenaeum, an amazing library built in 1838.

Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine. “The other Portland.” Ironically, this Northeastern city was founded 200 years before the Oregon city it shares a name with, and because of that, it’s got quite a bit of culture. It’s a walkable city, something that you’re going to need after you eat as much as you will there. Lobster is easily the city’s most popular food, but another treat has garnered recent attention. The Holy Donut is a bakery serving “deeply satisfying, yet healthy, comfort food.” Maine has got to be worth a visit just for the donuts, right?

Boulder, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado sits right under the mountains. They’re so close you could almost touch them. Popular Rocky Mountain parks are only an hour away. For your time in the city, you’ll want to check out their specialty drink scene. They have several fantastic teahouses, including Dushanbe, a hand-built teahouse shipped to Boulder from Tajikistan. Then there’s the beer. Boulder has managed to fit 20 craft breweries in just under 28 square miles. This is not a city you’ll want to miss.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga is home to some of the most approachable outdoorsy things to do for tourists. There are paved and mountain biking trails, rock climbing expeditions, and white-water rafting on the same course used for the 1996 Olympics. Ruby Falls is there too. It’s a 145-foot-tall waterfall located over 1,000 feet underground. If you’re looking for air conditioning, the city has one of the nation’s best aquariums and one of the world's best Guitar factories. This is a city you’d need to visit more than once to get the full experience.

Baltimore, Maryland

Founded in 1729, Baltimore has a lot of history for an American city. This is evidenced by the Washington Monument, historic ships filling the harbor, and 41 different museums. Local markets are more common than supermarkets, so don’t be surprised if you find that the food in the restaurants tastes better than you’re used to. And if you’re looking to be entertained, the National Aquarium and the Hippodrome Theater, a performing arts center founded in 1914, also call this beautiful city home.

Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville is a city that seems to have incorporated the outdoors into the overall culture. There’s a peaceful inner-city park — Falls Park — that features a beautiful bridge going over even more beautiful cascades. North of the city are the Blue Ridge Mountains. The city itself is extremely fond of cycling, as evidenced by the near-50 cycling shops in town. It’s not uncommon to see murals painted throughout the city. If you want something to do, Greenville has its own baseball and hockey teaams.

Anchorage, Alaska

You probably haven’t been planning on visiting Alaska. Understandably so. You rarely hear about it, and it’s not exactly easy to reach. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it, though! The environment there is likely vastly different from anything you’ve ever experienced. The Anchorage Museum focuses on things you’ve probably not seen in museums too much, things like the arctic and native people groups. There’s trails surrounding Anchorage, a great zoo, and an amazing performing arts center. But when it really boils down to it, there are moose, bears, and glaciers. If that’s your thing, this is your city.

Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis has a surprisingly small population — just under 40,000 — considering it was the capital of our country back in the 80s. Well, the 1780s. Today, it’s just the sailing capital of the States, so if that’s your thing, check this city out. Plus, there are some amazing seafood dishes to be found here. If you’re a fan of historical architecture, then Annapolis will also satisfy with over 120 buildings dating back to the 18th century. Add in 200 acres of parkland and you’ve got yourself quite the vacation spot.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Charlottesville has it all. There’s the nearby Shenandoah National Park, the rolling hills, the local vineyards, and the golf courses. Of course, there’s some amazing food options, from donuts to crepes to burgers. Plus, there’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, ranked up there with The Great Wall, Venice, and the Greek Acropolis. It’s Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, a beautiful home that he began designing himself at age 26. It’s truly a sight to see.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Out of all the cities on this list, Albuquerque is the most unique. After all, it does host the world's largest hot air balloon event, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Then there’s Old Town, a near-preserved Spanish colonial villa from the 1700s, featuring adobe buildings and a Spanish church. There’s other history there too. Route 66 is popular, as are the dinosaurs that have been found there, and even the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. There are nationally-ranked culture centers and tours of Breaking Bad filming locations. This city is packed with things to do.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Ann Arbor is both one of our nation’s rising cities and one of its best places to live. It’s easy to understand why. As the name implies, nature is incorporated into every aspect of this well-educated city. They plant 1,000 trees every year, and the 123-acre Nichols Arboretum is truly a sight to behold. There’s 159 parks scattered throughout Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan’s Art Museum, located in town, is one of our nation’s oldest university art collections. Plus, there’s a record store that has been praised by Rolling Stone magazine. What’s not to love?

Northwest Arkansas

For several years now, Northwest Arkansas has been making quite the name for itself. U. S. News has been consistently ranking it as one of the best places to live. The Walton’s (owners of Walmart) have been pouring money into the area to make sure it has the best the world has to offer. There’s an abundance of mountainous trails, art, food, and fun to be had in this quaint little corner of Arkansas.

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville may not seem like much from those who haven’t stepped foot in the city, but it’s becoming increasingly popular. That’s all thanks to Good Morning America calling it one of the most beautiful places to live. Anyone that’s been there can agree that Asheville is truly one of the most breathtaking cities to visit. Even if you aren’t one for scenery, it also has an amazing homegrown food scene and live music.

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St. Augustine, Florida

Forget Miami. Instead, go to the small city of St. Augustine. It claims to be the oldest city in the United States, founded in 1565. It obviously has had a lot of Spanish influence since the buildings look like they came right from Spain itself. One of the best buildings is the Castillo de San Marcos, which was a 17th-century stone fortress. St. Augustine is also home to Old St. Johns County Jail, one of the most haunted spots in America.

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Orcas Island, Washington

Part of the San Juan Islands, Orcas Island is pretty rural, but worth the travel. On top of being absolutely beautiful, there’s a chance you’ll see a whale – which is where the island gets its name. Orcas live on the island year-round, but that isn’t all. Humpbacks, minkes, and gray whales also frequent the little city. Basically, the town is one big photo op.

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Hill County, Texas

Alright, we’re cheating here a little by listing the Texas Hill County as a “city,” but it’s too good to pass up. It stretches across 25 counties but stands out as one of the best places to get wine. In fact, the wine is so good that it rivals wine you might find in Spain, France, and Italy. Some of the grape varieties only found in those countries thrive in this area. So, if you love Cabernets and Tempranillos, this is the place to be.

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Boise, Idaho

Who would want to visit Idaho?! Well, you should. Boise is home to one of the best arts communities in the world, but it doesn’t stop there. There are award-winning wineries and craft breweries where you can time some of the finest alcohol that’s ever touched your lips. Those that love shopping can also find some unique shops that will empty your wallet – in a good way!

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Rockland, Maine

Rockland is great, ayuh (a Mainer’s easygoing equivalent of mm-hm). Since about 90% of Maine is forested, this whole state is perfect for people that love nature, but there’s more to see. Close to Rockland is Bath, which has a great maritime museum. Going back to Rockland, it has a stellar foodie scene that’s growing each month. One of the best places to visit is one of the many farm-to-table restaurants. Did we mention you can get all the lobster you can eat? It’s home to Maine’s Lobster Festival. Delish!

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San Antonio, Texas

Texas has some of the biggest cities in America including Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Left out in the mid is San Antonio, and that’s a shame. The 300-year-old city has some of the greatest histories in the state – remember the Alamo? In addition to this, San Antonio also has plenty of unique, quirky shops and restaurants that will have your stomach grumbling just looking in. What we’re saying is that there’s plenty to keep you busy without having to travel elsewhere.

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Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City may sound boring at first glance, but “The City of Fountains” is far more interesting. Well, that’s what this city is known for. There are incredibly fountains all over this city, but it’s also famous for its delicious barbecue and jazz heritage. Granted, it may not be better than Memphis, but it’s worth checking out for something a little different.

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Savannah, Georgia

Atlanta not sparking your interest? About three hours away is the city of Savannah, and it’s ideal for anyone that loves the arts. Also known as the “Creative Coast,” this city has one of the oldest public art museums in the south, the Telfair Academy. Thanks to the universities in the area, it also has a great nightlife. One of the best places to check out is the laid-back Wyld Dock Bar. 

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Monterey, California

Monterey is home to one of the best aquariums in the United States, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s built on a sardine cannery and has tons of aquatic creatures, including some that children can pet. If you’re really looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, you can even have a sleepover at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Monterey also has tons of history, a great Brewery (Alvarado Street Brewery), and one of the longest-running jazz festivals in the world.

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tourism increased after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, but there are more reasons to visit the city other than football (although that’s a great reason). Aside from that, it’s also a beautiful city for those that love to explore and party. After being called “America’s birthplace,” it’s one of the best places to celebrate the Fourth of July. Naturally, there’s a massive firework display, but the city also has one of the largest free concerts in the country. Finally, Philadelphia is also home to another massively haunted attraction, Eastern State Penitentiary.

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Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is easily one of the most underrated cities in the United States. It’s perfect for people that love the outdoors, thanks to the beautiful red rock formations. It’s rumored that energy vortices exist there, which can heal a person’s mind and body. Other than the landscape, Sedona is incredibly lively with plenty of authentic art and eats. What are you waiting for?!

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Detroit, Michigan

Detroit doesn’t have the best reputation, but it’s been working extremely hard to revive itself from the depths. While there is still a lot of work to be done, the downtown district is becoming a sight for sore eyes. There are new eateries and great art that’s replenished the town. Not to mention, Detroit has always been home to some of the most remarkable architecture in America. In fact, Detroit’s theaters make up the second-largest theater district in America after New York.

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Park City, Utah

Park City is home to the famed Deer Valley ski resort, which is known for its upscale amenities. It’s consistently ranked among one of the best ski resorts in North America. Other than that, Park City has a quaint downtown village that has great bars and prides itself on excellent restaurants. When you’re there, visit The Nelson Cottage, where you can a five-course meal paired with house-made whiskey. 

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Burlington, Vermont

Burlington is the birthplace of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. That’s enough to get most of us there, but what else is there? Unlike much of Vermont, Burlington has the goal of staying updated. It’s quickly becoming known for sophistication and class while staying hip and relevant – a pretty tough combo to achieve. It has an incredibly impressive food culture and promises to create an unforgettable experience.

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