The Most Underrated US Destinations That Are Better Than Any Classic Big City

When it comes to choosing the next spot for your family vacation or for your weekend girls’ trip, the United States has a lot of different destinations to offer.

While you could choose to hit one of the more obvious big cities, there are plenty of U.S. destinations that offer just as many perks as the major spots, with the charm of having fewer tourists around.

You might not even realize all the amazing places you have to visit close to your home!

Mackinac Island, Michigan

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Photo Credit: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Did you know that Michigan’s Mackinac Island doesn’t allow cars? If you’re looking for a change of pace for the day, Mackinac is the perfect place to relax and enjoy on foot, bicycle, or even on horseback. The Grand Hotel and Fort Mackinac (the oldest building in Michigan) are just two of the many attractions on the island.

San Antonio, Texas

san antonio riverwalk shot
Photo Credit: Flickr / Ted Thompson
Photo Credit: Flickr / Ted Thompson

You might want to visit Dallas or Austin while in Texas, but don’t write off San Antonio before you get there! Take a scenic boat ride along the San Antonio Riverwalk, explore the Alamo, and visit some of the shops or restaurants in between.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Photo Credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo Credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Don’t knock it until you actually get there, because Pittsburgh has a lot more to offer than you might think. While everyone else is flocking to Philadelphia or Hershey, you can catch a Steelers game, visit the Andy Warhol Museum, and try out some great local restaurants.

Solvang, California

solvang santa barbara california wine country
Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images
Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images

Known as the Danish Capital of America, Solvang looks like a little piece of Europe has been dropped in California. An old settler’s town, it’s an easy day trip from Los Angeles where you can fill yourself with Danish pastries and maybe some wine.

Asheville, North Carolina

biltmore estate asheville north carolina
Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images
Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images

Nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has something for everyone. You can explore the Biltmore Estate (the largest privately owned home in America), visit art galleries or great restaurants downtown, and explore the outdoors that surround the city.

Waipio Valley, Hawaii

waipio valley hawaii
Photo Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images
Photo Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images

Located on Hawaii’s Big Island, Waipio Valley is easily one of the most stunning valleys on the Hawaiian Islands. You can explore black sand beaches, frolic with wild horses roaming the fields, or hike inland towards the waterfall. Waipio is considered a hiker’s paradise and is an easy drive away from Kona and Hilo.

Devil’s Tour, Wyoming

wyoming devil's tour
Photo Credit: Flickr / Amy The Nurse
Photo Credit: Flickr / Amy The Nurse

It’s a bit out of the way, but if you’re looking to recreate the birth of Simba in The Lion King, Wyoming’s Devil’s Tour seems like a pretty good spot to do it. The formation stands at more than 1200 feet tall and is an easy side trip option for when you’re driving to Mount Rushmore.

Mobile, Alabama

mobile alabama mardi gras celebration
Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

If you’re looking for a less crowded version of New Orleans, Mobile is the place to be. It’s like a miniature, more family-friendly version of New Orleans. Mobile is home to the oldest Mardi Gras tradition in the United States and has plenty to keep you entertained year ’round.

Orcas Island, Washington

orcas island washington state
Photo Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

You’ve got whale watching, you’ve got hiking and biking, and you’ve got crystal clear waters and amazing beaches, all on Washington’s Orcas Island. The largest of the state’s San Juan Islands, Orcas Island has enough beauty to make you never want to put your camera down.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

colorado sand dunes park
Photo Credit: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Leave the snow for everyone in Boulder, and say hello to the sand! Featuring the highest sand dunes in North America, Great Sand Dunes National Park is like America’s giant sandbox for adults. The tallest dune towers at 750 feet high, and the park offers amazing views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

wisconsin apostle islands
Photo Credit: David Underwood/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo Credit: David Underwood/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

More than just one destination, Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands is a group of 21 islands that have beaches, lighthouses, shipwrecks, and sea caves to explore. While it’s enticing in summer, thanks to the unusual rock formations of the islands, the winter is a spectacular time to visit too.

Knoxville, Tennessee

knoxville tenneessee market square
Photo Credit: Flickr / Sherri M. Duncan
Photo Credit: Flickr / Sherri M. Duncan

While you might think that Nashville is the place to experience the music scene in Tennessee, Knoxville can give Music City a run for its money. Knoxville is a more laid-back town, often referred to as “Austin without the hype,” and the downtown area is full of restaurants and bars to keep you entertained and well-fed.

Yachats, Oregon

yachats oregon coastline
Photo Credit: Frazer Waller/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Frazer Waller/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Even many Oregonians haven’t experienced the sleepy coastal town of Yachats, with its dramatic coastlines and gloomy skies. The seafood comes fresh from the boat every day, the entire town is dedicated to ethically and sustainably sourced food, and it’s only a few hours from Portland.

Columbus, Ohio

downtown columbus ohio Capitol Square
Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Predicted to be the next hipster city by National Geographic after influxes in cities like Brooklyn, Portland, and Austin, Columbus has more than you’d expect. There’s the massive Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the Short North arts district, and the historic German Village.

Portland, Maine

portland maine bug light lighthouse
Photo Credit: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Ah yes, the lesser Portland… It must be hard living in the shadow of Portland, Oregon, but this Maine city is also worthy of being the main attraction. A city full of unique restaurants and a destination for all craft beer enthusiasts, Portland is a quaint, walkable travel spot with tons of classic New England charm.

Letchworth State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park lower falls gorge
Photo Credit: Flickr / Ryan Hallock
Photo Credit: Flickr / Ryan Hallock

The most striking features of Letchworth State Park are the three large waterfalls on the Genesee River. The Genesee runs through the park in a gorge so deep its sides rise up to 600 feet in some places, which is why the park is sometimes called the Grand Canyon of the East.

Providence, Rhode Island

providence downtown rhode island
Photo Credit: Flickr / Tony Kent
Photo Credit: Flickr / Tony Kent

You know that Providence is there, but it’s frequently skipped over by tourists heading to bigger and better Northeast cities like Boston. A great downtown area with food, shopping, and breweries, and a bonfire show that lights up the city’s rivers should be enough to convince you to stop there.

Alaska National Parks, Alaska

redoubt volcano lake clark national park
Photo Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Considering it’s a bit of a trek to get there, it’s understandable that Alaska in general is an underappreciated destination in the U.S. Until you actually experience the beauty of Lake Clark National Park or the rest of the nature the state has to offer, you won’t realize what you’ve been missing.

Greenville, South Carolina

greenville south carolina falls park downtown
Photo Credit: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Another “ville” in the Carolinas, Greenville is the perfect place to go if you’re looking to gain 10 pounds on your vacation. Over the years, Greenville has done away with chain restaurants or fast food joints, swapping them out for more than 120 locally owned restaurants, most of which can be found within a 10-block area right at the heart of downtown,

Culebra, Puerto Rico

culebra puerto rico
Photo Credit: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Okay, so it’s a territory and not technically the U.S. proper, but it’s still technically a part of the U.S., so Culebra can still be at the top of your list for destinations to visit when deciding on your next beach vacation, even though it’s in Puerto Rico.