Are you looking for somewhere new and interesting to book your next travel destination? While each region of the United States has its own crown jewel city or cities, oftentimes smaller, less well advertised cities can fall by the wayside. While some of these cities are not well advertised as major tourist cities, if you are looking for somewhere new to book your next travel destination, be sure to check out this list of six often overlooked travel destination cities in the United States.
1. Portland, ME
Peak Travel Period: May-August
City Size: 60,000/200,000 metropolitan area
Key Attractions: Bars, Amazing Waterfront, History, Nature
Everyone I have ever met who has experienced “The Other Portland” first hand has mentioned how much of a life-changing experience it was. The city actually has more bars per capita than any other city in the U.S., which means there is a watering hole for every personality and mood.
The small size of the city proper means that as long as you are actually staying in Portland, you are never more than a $10 cab ride away from your destination. If you’re looking for something besides alcohol to fill your stomach, Portland also boasts a plethora of restaurants serving a wide variety of food. While there are many fantastic options, I personally recommend Otto’s Pizza.
Beyond everything I have mentioned here, one of the greatest draws of the city is its abundance of history. The city and surrounding areas were battle sites during the Revolutionary War and the city was a key site during the Civil War. To even attempt to go into the deep history of this city here would not do it justice, instead check out the Maine Historical Society’s webpage for more information.
2. Austin, TX
Peak Travel Period: October-May
City Size: 842,000/1,800,000 metropolitan area
Key Attractions: Weird Events, Museums, Music, Food
While Austin may not be the most overlooked city on this list, it definitely does not receive anywhere near the attention it deserves. If you are into arts and culture in any way, Austin is an amazing city that offers unique, often unexpected experiences you will not find anywhere else.
During the few times I have had the pleasure of visiting this city, I have been to an impromptu concert under a large freeway overpassing and saw two members of the Wu Tang Clan perform, and I have seen The Roots play an unannounced concert in the quad area of University of Texas at Austin. I am not a musician and do not make my living as an artist, but the amount of soul and artistic passion that emanates from this city is often overwhelming.
If you are looking for big name acts, there are too many venues in the city that A list singers frequent to call out a select few. Besides, half of the appeal of Austin is that even if you completely plan your trip in advance, so many unannounced events will be going on around you that you will end up abandoning your itinerary anyway.
3. Bloomington, IN
Peak Travel Period: September-May
City Size: 82,000/175,000 metropolitan area
Key Attractions: Unique Restaurants, Cheap Bars, Lots of Festivals
Located in Southern Indiana, Bloomington is about four hours away from Chicago if traveling by car and is home to Indiana University, which is part of the reason it is one of my favorite midwest cities.
Bloomington is host to a variety of restaurants serving cuisine from parts of the world you would be hard pressed to find in even the largest of cities in the United States. Anyetsang’s is an amazing Tibetan food restaurant, Bombay Cafe is my favorite Indian food spot anywhere, and HuHot provides an amazing and unique Mongolian BBQ experience.
Besides restaurants, Bloomington is very big on festivals. The biggest of which is The Little 500, which is a bicycle race that occurs every 3rd week of April and has spawned a sleigh of activities and mini festivals that also surround the event.
4. Nashville, TN
Peak Travel Period: June-October
City Size: 626,000/1,590,000 metropolitan area
Key Attractions: Restaurants, Performing Arts, Music
Nashville is a a river city located in the Northern portion of Tennessee and is a city that surprised and amazed me from my first visit there. Obviously, it is a city that loves its country music and that shows through, but focusing solely on this one aspect ignores much of what Nashville has to offer.
The amount of delicious food available in Nashville is incredible. While you can find many 4-star restaurants serving expensive dishes from around the world in a very nice atmosphere, what Nashville does best in my opinion is Soul Food. My favorite place to eat in Nashville is Monell’s. Besides some of the most delicious food you will ever have, Monell’s doesn’t have individual seating and instead everything is served family style. This makes it one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, because it has led to some of the best experiences I have ever had, and I have made some lifelong friends simply by going to this restaurant.
If you’re looking for a cultured city, with lots to do and many dining and music venue options, Nashville should definitely be on your list.
5. Salt Lake City, UT
Peak Travel Period: May-June, September-November
City Size: 189,000/1,145,000 metropolitan area
Key Attractions: Natural and Architectural Beauty, Festivals and Museums, Skiing
Salt Lake City is a city that is well-known but impossible to truly describe if the person you are trying to describe it to has not been there. It is over 4,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by several mountains, which creates some of the most visually stunning natural sites you will ever see.
If you ever get a sense of deja vu while traveling around the city, it is probably because the city is now a very popular shooting location for Hollywood films, and if you go during January, you will see tons of celebrities as the city is a partial host of the Sundance Film Festival.
Beyond festivals and nature, the Church History Museum is open to the public and is definitely worth checking out. While there is no skiing in the city of SLC, it is also worth mentioning that less than an hour away in Provo you will find what are in my opinion the best mountains for skiing in the entire United States.
6. Sacramento, CA
Peak Travel Period: October-June
City Size: 478,000/2,600,000 metropolitan area
Key Attractions: Night Life, Year Round Events, Culture
Residents of the River City often do a horrible job of advertising the attractions the city has to offer. Any city native will inevitably mention Old Sacramento as one of the chief draws of the city to outsiders, which probably contributes to the bad rap Sacramento sometimes gets.
Over the last decade, Mayor Kevin Johnson has undertaken a massive revitalization effort of the downtown region that makes Sacramento a must see spot. Many of the most popular nightclub owners from San Francisco have been lured to Downtown Sacramento, and you will find clubs such as Dive Bar, and Ace Of Spades that provide extremely unique experiences worth checking out.
Also worth mentioning when it comes to entertainment venues is the Punchline Comedy Club, which often features A List comedians. Be sure to time your visit so that you are in the city during the second Saturday of the month as Sacramento’s 2nd Saturday Event has grown into one of the biggest year round art walks and festivals in the country.
Besides 2nd Saturday, be sure to check out one of the many Farmer’s markets that operate all throughout the city in different locations during different times of the year.