Sometimes the best cities in the US aren’t household names…or even home to major airports. Beyond capital cities and near major metropolises are lesser-known cities, town and villages waiting to be explored. Beauty, history, and charm make many of the most underrated US cities worth a visit in 2023.
From soothing soaks in the hot springs of Hot Springs, Arkansas to uncrowded pristine beaches in Clearwater, Florida to the picturesque ice park and waterfalls in the alpine community of Ouray, Colorado, take the road less traveled to discover these 16 hidden gems across the US.
Two miles east of Biloxi, Ocean Springs is a thriving seaside art community on the coast of Mississippi. Once known for its mineral springs, this underrated US city beckons visitors seeking seaside charm and century-old live oak trees. From powdery white sand beaches to seafood suppers to sundowners from rooftop bars, Ocean Springs has something for every type of traveler. We recommend antiquing in downtown Ocean Springs, which is filled with dozens of antique shops, galleries, and art cottages.
The gateway to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine is located on Mount Desert Island: the second largest island on the eastern seaboard. The town features picturesque ocean cliffs, rocky beaches, glacier-formed lakes, and all the signature charm of New England. The main draw here the 47,000 acres of wild woodland, rocky beaches, private islands, and dusty pink mountain peaks within Acadia National Park, but there are plenty of charming New England B&Bs, shops, and restaurants in and around Bar Harbor.
The eighth largest city in Wisconsin, Eau Claire is a picturesque town nestled along the confluence of the Chippewa River and Eau Claire River. The majority of activity takes place in Downtown Eau Claire, which features public art and murals, farm-to-table fare, and bustling bars. From the Eau Claire Sculpture Tour to the farmers market in Phoenix Park to the funky shops, there’s something for everyone in this underrated US city. Don’t forget to do as the locals do in the warmer months: grab a float and float down the Chippewa River.
Located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado, the alpine community of Ouray, Colorado is an historic community that dates to the late 19th century. The picturesque town of Ouray, AKA the Switzerland of America, is home to the 285-foot Box Cañon Falls, the human-made Ouray Ice Park with 150 named ice and mixed climbs, and the soothing Ouray Hot Springs. Plus, Ouray restaurants are top notch.
Located just south of Silicon Valley, Gilroy, California is known as the “Garlic Capital of the World.” This hugely underrated US city is home to more than 30 wineries and tasting rooms along the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail. There is lots to see and do, including visiting a full-size replica of the Wright Flyer at the Wings of History Air Museum, admiring massive redwoods at Mt. Madonna County Park, and seeing the “Circus Trees” at Gilroy Gardens: living sculptures originally grafted and shaped by horticulturalist Axel Erlandson in the 1920s. From garlic adventures to outlet shopping to fine dining, Gilroy has it all.
Clearwater, as the name suggests, has some of the most beautiful beaches and waters off the coast of Florida. The pristine 2.5 miles of beaches are perfect for sunbathing, water sports, and swimming. Many of the beachfront hotels and bars, along with Pier 60, ring in the nightly sunsets with sundowners and parties.
Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, might be the United States’ smallest capital city, but it’s packed with fun and adventure. Montpelier is populated with dozens of historic 19th-century buildings, including the granite-columned Vermont State House building, and the surrounding Capitol District filled with several art spaces. When in Montpelier, make sure to check out its history museum, visit a maple sugarhouse, sample a maple creemee (soft serve ice cream), and hike in Hubbard Park.
Lively Louisville, Kentucky is a bourbon city offering the world’s only urban bourbon experience. Bourbon connoisseurs can visit 10 distilleries for tours and tastings and sip their way through the Urban Bourbon Trail: a self-guided tour featuring 35 bars and restaurants. In addition to sipping your way through the city, visitors can board the Belle of Louisville—the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in America— and explore the waterfront. Sporting fans can visit iconic Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Derby Museum, plus see where the bats of most Major League Baseball teams are made at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.
The most populous city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls is home to beautiful waterfalls and small town charm. The 128-acre Falls Park is a must-see to admire the falls of the Big Sioux River. Hop on the Downtown Trolley for a hop-on, hop-off historical looped tour of Sioux Falls. Don’t miss photo ops at the Arc of Dreams, a stainless steel landmark sculpture created by Dale Claude Lamphere that spans the Big Sioux River and forms part of SculptureWalk: the largest annual exhibit of public sculptures in the world.
One of the best things to do in New Mexico is to visit tiny hippie town Taos in Northern New Mexico. Drive the 105-mile scenic byway—the High Road to Taos— which spans all the way from Santa Fe to Taos. The tiny underrated US city has many points of interest, including Taos Pueblo: the only active Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. Try rafting in the Rio Grande, tiptoeing across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, or visiting Taos’ 600-acre Earthship Community.
What started as a railroad town in the late 19th century has become Montana’s largest city with a population estimated at 117,116 as of 2020, according to the City of Billings. Located on the Yellowstone River in Southern Montana, Billings, Montana is known as the “City Beneath the Rimrocks,” a sandstone geological rock formation. This underrated US town boasts Montana’s only walkable brewery trail, the 1.5-mile Billings Brew Trail in Downtown Billings.
Nestled in the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs, Arkansas is named for its 47 thermal-water springs. A trio of spas, Quapaw Baths & Spa, the Buckstaff Bathhouse, and the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, offer thermal baths, hydrotherapy, and spa treatments. Stock up on souvenirs like glass jugs of spring water at the Bathhouse Row Emporium. And if you’re a national park lover, don’t forget to stroll through Hot Springs National Park for ancient thermal springs, stunning mountain views, incredible geology, forested hikes, and more.
Welcome to Jackson, Mississippi: an underrated US city with a big, big legacy. Nicknamed the City of Soul because of its perseverance and triumphant spirit, Jackson is famous for its Civil Rights history and deep roots in Blues music. If history is your thing, spend the day at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum or swing by the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center: the first public school for African American students. And for music lovers? From live concerts to historic music markers and record shops, Jackson has plenty of opportunities to celebrate Mississippi’s musical heritage.
If you are planning a trip to Las Vegas, consider passing through Laughlin, Nevada, located between California, Nevada, and Arizona, on the southern tip of Nevada, just 90 miles south of Las Vegas. Situated on the Colorado River, Laughlin is a quieter version of Las Vegas with its desert views and eight glittery casino resorts. The picturesque Colorado River affords opportunities for water sports, evening river cruises, and waterfront dining. This underrated US city is all the glitz and glam of Las Vegas without the crowds and high prices. Live like a high roller for less in Laughlin.
Considered America’s original seaside resort, Cape May is located on the southern tip of New Jersey on the Cape May Peninsula. Victorian-style buildings dot the beautiful beaches and promenades in this picture perfect postcard town. The highly walkable town is best explored on foot or bicycle. After a day at the beach, browse the shops along Washington Street Mall, which is a five-minute walk from the beach. While Cape May can get crowded in the summertime, it’s a year-round destination with special events and activities in each season.
Historically a ship-making town in the 18th and 19th centuries, Mystic, Connecticut is a historic waterfront village that is popular year-round. View the Mystic Seaport Museum, the largest maritime museum in the U.S. and, from May through October, visitors can choose a half-day or sunset cruise aboard the schooner ARGIA, which departs from Steamboat Wharf in Downtown Mystic. No trip to this underrated US city is complete without grabbing a slice at Mystic Pizza, a pizzeria made famous by the 1988 romantic comedy film, Mystic Pizza.