9 U.S. Cities That Don't Get Enough Love From Travelers

Check out these underrated towns and cities to help you get out of a travel rut and maybe have the best time ever on your next trip.
Updated May 8, 2024
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Plane tickets are pricier than ever, so maybe you're wondering how you can travel more to fun and unique destinations. After all, you want to avoid wasting money on a place that might not live up to the hype, yet you don’t want to go to the same old places again and again.

While experiencing places like San Francisco or New York is fun, they can also be costly and full of tourist markups. But America is filled with little towns and lesser-known cities that make getting off the beaten path both fun and easy to do. 

Add these cities to your weekend getaway list and start making travel plans.

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Salem, Massachusetts

Destination Salem Picture of historical house and garden in Salem, Mass.

You may remember Salem from history class, but this little town about an hour north of Boston isn’t just about witches, although they do feature them prominently. 

One of the oldest in America, the city offers many different historical walking or trolley tours where the witch trials feature heavily. Salem also has a robust maritime history component, as it is the birthplace of the National Guard and features ship replicas from the 1620s.

If Halloween is your thing, grab one of the top travel credit cards and visit in October! Check out the Haunted Happenings Festival, try the delicious restaurants on Pickering Wharf, and see the Peabody Essex Museum. As a world-renowned art museum with an impressive international collection, it’s also been in operation for more than 220 years.

Duck, North Carolina

OuterBanks.com Photo of pier in Duck, NC

Besides having a cute name, Duck offers an amazing beach-town experience without the crowds and hassle of larger resort towns. 

Duck sits on the outer banks of the North Carolina coast and only has a population of just over 700, so it retains a small-town feel, including a mile-long boardwalk with waterfront shops to explore, and golf carts for rent to help you get around town.

Gorgeous beaches and fun shops and restaurants make this a great place to relax for a few days, or even your whole vacation. Duck also makes a wonderful home base for visiting the rest of the outer bank islands, including Roanoke Island, or the town of Kitty Hawk — of Orville and Wright airplane fame — just slightly south.

Livingston, Montana

City of Livingston Official Facebook Page Photo of downtown livingston with mountains in the distance

Livingston is a delightful town and an excellent spot to experience real, western life from the turn of the 20th century. It sits just north of Yellowstone National Park, right on the Yellowstone River.

It makes an interesting place to spend some time for a meal and a look around after exploring the great outdoors. Besides being right next door to the world’s first national park, Livingston has a historical component that includes the restored Livingston Depot. 

If you have a family member who loves trains or Western history, give this town a try as you come into or out of Yellowstone.

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Hanover, New Hampshire

Hanover Conservancy Official Facebook Page Photo of lake in Hanover with deer and sunrise

Hanover is home to Dartmouth College, and the campus is full of interesting little spots to explore, especially during the fall when the trees change color. 

During the spring and summer, you can investigate part of the Appalachian Trail, and if you happen to be there during winter, there are plenty of skiing options.

Hanover also has lots of four- and five-star B&Bs; and restaurants for you to try, like Lou’s Bakery, a classic American Diner. There are many hotel and inn options, so be sure you book your lodging using the best hotel credit card to get cash back or points to use on future adventures.

Hilo, Hawaii

Google Street View Waterfalls in Hilo Hawaii

Ok, Hilo probably won’t make it on your best road trip list, but if you’re headed to Hawaii, make sure to spend some time in Hilo when you arrive. 

This city is on the northeast side of the Big Island, about 45 minutes north of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and gets overlooked by the usual tourist crowds.

Hilo has beautiful waterfalls, rainforests, and hiking trails, but if you get tired of the natural beauty (although who would get tired of the rainbow falls?), check out the Hilo Farmers Market for some delicious local cuisine, fresh produce, and handmade crafts.

Okoboji, Iowa

Vacation Okojobi Aerial shot of Okojobi bay

Iowa might not be your first thought for epic vacations, but Okoboji is a hidden gem tucked into the Midwest. Ninety minutes from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and just south of the Minnesota state line, Okoboji is a small town of just over 750 people. 

It sits on the southwest edge of West Lake Okoboji, which makes up part of the Iowa Great Lakes region, along with eight other lakes.

You can relax on the sandy beaches, boat, or waterski during the summer, and ice fishing is popular once the lake freezes over in the winter. If you're looking for something a little more interactive, check out Arnolds Park, an amusement park that also features live music and concerts during the summer.

Alliance, Nebraska

Deb Arnez/History Nebraska Photo of carhenge in nebraska

While it might not initially spring to mind as an incredible vacation destination, you have to love a state whose slogan is, “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” And while there is a lot of farmland and cattle — lots of cattle — there is also a lot to do.

For example, the small town of Alliance is just an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Scottsbluff, or four hours from Denver, Colorado, and boasts one of the coolest roadside attractions you’ll find: Carhenge.

A replica of England’s Stonehenge, but made entirely out of vintage cars spray-painted in various colors, Carhenge makes a great day trip if you’re in the area and is one of those spots that’s hard to describe, so you just have to experience it first hand.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis Official Facebook Page A photo of the bay in st. louis

Bay St. Louis sits right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and, in 2020, was named one of the best places to live by Mississippi Magazine.

You can spend time at one of the many art galleries or antique shops in town, or hang out on the beach and enjoy what the Gulf of Mexico has to offer — just watch out for jellyfish that wash ashore during certain times. There are opportunities for fishing or boating, as well as opportunities for fresh seafood at gulf-front restaurants.

Nearby Gulfport, Mississippi has great golf courses with views of the Gulf as you play, and the vibrancy and zest of New Orleans is only about an hour away, which makes it a perfect day trip from your Bay St. Louis home base.

Bowling Green, Kentucky

Lost River Cave Official Facebook Page photo of entrance to lost river cave

Motorheads have got to check out the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, and can even pay to ride around the museum grounds in one of the classic cars. 

Visit the Motorsports Park next door for some fun go-karting or, for the car lover in your life, purchase a whole Corvette Experience that lets you drive a Corvette around their race track. That’s a pricey option but well worth it to cross it off of the bucket list.

Outdoor lovers will enjoy exploring the beautiful scenery, including the Lost River Cave. This non-profit open space contains a seven-mile-long cave and more than 72 acres to explore by foot or get an aerial view from the zip line course. Take a guided boat tour through the cave and learn more about the history and natural wonders of the area.

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Bottom line

emperorcosar/Adobe Hawaii, Rainbow Falls in Hilo

You can still find ways to be a budget traveler. Look into ways to cut car costs so that a road trip is not wallet-draining or earn miles and travel more with a top travel credit card. The real hard part will be deciding where on this list you want to go.

Don’t sell these nine cities short — they have a lot going for them and can add a lot of character to your next vacation.

There’s something for just about everyone out there, so whether you just pass through on a day trip, or stay for a whole week, make sure that you include time to get off the beaten path and enjoy the more underrated side of travel.

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Kate Daugherty Kate Daugherty is a professional writer with a passion for providing others the head start they deserve on their financial journeys. Largely self-taught, Kate relied on books, blogs, and trial-and-error to learn how to budget and save for the future, all while working to pay back about $15,000 in student loans.

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