In a nation as large as the United States, it is no wonder that many great cities may slip below the radar of even a seasoned traveler. There are too many little-known urban gems across the country to list here. But these six cities have lots to offer, without lots of tourists. The next time you’re passing through one of them, why not take a day or two to stop and check out the scene?
Little Rock, Arkansas- A gorgeous riverfront park, the Bill Clinton Presidential Library and vibrant nightlife are but a few of the many reasons to check out this below-the-radar Southern gem. If you’re there in late may, don’t miss Riverfest, the state’s largest music festival.
When you’re hungry in Little Rock, don’t miss the Whole Hog Cafe, home to some of the best barbeque anywhere. In fact, they’ve got the world championship trophies to prove it. When you’re sleepy, head for the Capital Hotel, the city’s best.
Providence, Rhode Island- There’s a renaissance afoot in Rhode Island’s capital and largest city. Once known as a gritty, obscure town living in Boston’s shadow, Providence has become something of a hip destination of late. Arts and culture abound– you could spend all day checking out the six-story Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art alone.
When Travel & Leisure named Providence the nation’s number one city for foodies in 2012, it may have surprised San Franciscans, New Yorkers and Bostonians, but locals certainly knew what the magazine was talking about. Try Gracie’s, Al Forno, Los Andes, or Nick’s on Broadway. After dinner, check out Providence’s lively bar scene. Two of the best watering holes are The Avery and, just down the street, E&O Tap, a rowdy dive scene with an impressive selection of beers on tap.
Detroit, Michigan- Detroit gets an awful lot of bad press. It’s been that way for the better part of the past 50 years now, as once-mighty Motown has fallen mightily, losing more than half of its population to white flight and other out-migration as its industrial base has been eviscerated by offshoring and other harsh economic realities.
But that doesn’t mean you should stay away from what was not too long ago America’s fourth-largest city. When the city recently hosted the U.S. Social Forum, the motto was “Another Detroit Is Possible.” And that other Detroit is more than just possible, it’s on display in a flourishing arts scene, the nation’s most prolific urban farming experiment, and a revitalized core than features great dining, shopping, sports, entertainment and nightlife.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania- There’s good reason why Pittsburgh’s perennially at or near the top of so many “most livable” lists. The grime and gloom of the steel city’s industrial past, when it was sometimes called “hell with the lid off,” are long gone. The world-class educational and cultural institutions remain, as do all the sports and the unpretentious dining and bar scene.
A city of neighborhoods, melting pot Pittsburgh is sure to please just about everyone. Check out the Strip District for great eats and eclectic shopping, or trendy Lawrenceville to get your art on. And no trip to Pittsburgh is complete without a visit to Bloomfield, the city’s “Little Italy,” where Fazio’s still reigns supreme for cheap, delicious pizza.
El Paso, Texas- The days of jaunting over the Rio Grande into Cuidad Juarez may be over, or at least on hold, but there’s plenty to see, do, eat and drink on the Texas side of the border. Western history buffs will love the Billy The Kid Festival , which takes place every June, while the somber yet beautiful Dia De Los Muertos celebration right after Halloween is a graceful example of the city’s Mexican heritage.
Mexican and Southwestern flavors abound in El Paso. There are more killer taquerias and taco trucks than you can shake a tortilla at, some of the best being L&J Cafe, Tacos El Charly and Tacos El Toro Bronco. For unforgettable tamales, head to Mamas Tamales on the Eastside. For some of the best steaks in the country, get out of town– literally– and make for the world-famous Cattleman’s Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs Ranch. Well worth the half hour drive from downtown!
Jacksonville, Florida- Florida’s largest city in both size and population is a mystery to even other Floridians, most of who– if they venture there at all– just pass through on I-95. But this sprawling city has lots to offer, from some of Florida’s most pristine beaches to fishing, boating and other water sports on the St. Johns River to a growing restaurant and nightlife scene. Try Sunday brunch at the hip Restaurant Orsay in Avondale– this place would be right at home in the California Wine Country.