Looking for some place new to explore? Have you done L.A., San Francisco and San Diego to death? The wide-open West offers plenty of sleeper cities reborn and ready for your perusal.
The state’s Capital is no longer the ugly, boring stepsister to sassy San Francisco. Much more than just a drab political center, Sacramento has transformed into a thriving bastion of food, culture, business, shopping and lodging. Billed as the self-proclaimed “farm-to-fork” capital of the U.S., an abundance of local farmland plus an exciting food scene makes it a new dining hot spot. Tour the California State Capital and visit Old Sacramento State Historic Park with 28 acres of restored Gold Rush-era buildings, shops and restaurants. Bicycle along the American River Parkway and tour the California Museum, dedicated to telling the history of California and its influence on the world, including a California Hall of Fame exhibit to honor legendary Californians who’ve made their mark on history. And get in on the surge of wineries in the area, where the tastings are still free.
Denver isn’t just an airline hub and a base for venturing out to winter ski resorts. It’s a beautiful city to visit in the spring and summer, anchored by famous Pike Place Market and enlivened by a number of charming, reinvented city neighborhoods. Get a lay of the land by biking the smooth Platte River bike trail, with a Rocky Mountain backdrop that ventures 28 miles near cafes, botanical gardens and plenty of parks for rest stops. Dine in the historic South Pearl foodie neighborhood, on charming patios or in a restored Victorian home. Walk the Denver Botanic Garden working farm, or take in the Art District on Santa Fe Drive, with galleries, a museum and restaurants.
Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake’s conservative Mormon roots have hardly made the town a hotspot for the hip and happening. But this city has undergone one of the most extensive redevelopment projects in the U.S. and “the new Salt Lake” is alive with restaurants – and bars – thanks to relaxed liquor laws. A downtown area small enough to explore on foot features a Westside Warehouse district thriving with boutiques, galleries and restaurants, a redesigned Salt Lake Art Center with an artist-designed 18-hole mini golf course, and nearby City Creek Canyon for mountain biking.
Everybody has heard of the avante garde charms of Portland. But how many people actually plan a vacation here? Head to Portland for a funky foodie weekend. It’s all about artisanal, locally grown, organic food and beverages, with 600 food trucks and carts and cutting-edge restaurants. Start at Distillery Row for bars serving craft spirits made from organic and local ingredients, or hit one of the cities’ dozens of microbrewies. Finish with a local coffee at the city’s endless array of local coffee shops.
Stunning sea and mountain views, good coffee in the morning and island-hopping opportunities not often found in the continental U.S. Those are just some of the reasons to spend time in Seattle. And since Seattle is famous for its rain, why not just accept it and plan and trip during the winter off-season, when hotel rates are cheaper? You can enjoy a rainy day in the original Starbuck’s, or in Nordstrom’s flagship store. Head to the top of the Seattle Space Needle, for 360-degree views from 529 feet above sea level. Check out Pioneer Square,Seattle’s original downtown dating from the 1800s, or head out to Medina, WA to try and get a glimpse of Bill Gate’s 66,000 square-foot home on the eastern shore of Lake Washington.
Bring your bike or rent a bike in this two-wheel-crazy state capital. Here you’ll find 22 miles of paved bike paths, 180 miles of on-street bike lanes, and 130 miles of mountain bike trails. After you bike, head to a local brewery like Payette. Start your next day by learning to paddle board or kayak on Quinn’s Pond, or rafting the Payette River. Grab some culture at Boise Art Museum and Idaho Botanical Garden.