While it’s fun to visit iconic cities like New York or San Francisco, or popular destinations like Florida’s beaches or Yosemite National Park, there are a lot more underrated vacation spots to discover in the U.S.! Visiting lesser-known cities or outdoor destinations often means saving money and also not experiencing huge crowds and long lines. Our list has a variety of cities, beaches and places known for their natural beauty to help you plan your next trip that’s a bit off the tourism radar.
This scenic city sits on Lake Champlain in upstate Vermont, near the borders of both New York state and Canada. Although Burlington is the largest city in Vermont, it has a small-town feel that you can experience on Church Street where you will find restaurants, bars and other businesses. In addition to beaches, boating and other activities on the lake, Burlington is also just a short drive from forests and mountains like Mt. Mansfield if you want to get outdoorsy. If you’re traveling with kids, check out the Shelburne Museum, and then get some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which originated in Burlington.
Only about 40 minutes from both Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland’s capital city, Annapolis, sits on the Chesapeake Bay and is known for its historic buildings and being home to the U.S. Naval Academy. You can walk around the academy grounds and visit the free museum. There are tons of historic houses and buildings including the William Paca house and gardens and Hammond-Harwood House. Walk along the water or take a break in Quiet Waters Park.
Breckenridge is a winter sports paradise and at less than a 2-hour drive from Denver it’s a worthy destination if you want a more laidback vacation in the mountains. This former Colorado mining town has a famed ski resort and Nordic ski center, but it also has a charming downtown with buildings dating to the 1800s with restaurants and shops. In summer, it’s a great basecamp for hiking, mountain biking or golfing at the town’s course.
If you want a Midwestern getaway, the city of Cleveland, Ohio is an often-overlooked gem sitting on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Music fans should make the trip to Cleveland simply to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to see all of the memorabilia and exhibits. The Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art are also worth your time. In warmer months you can go out on Lake Erie or enjoy the water at Edgewater Park Beach.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, draws a lot of artistic types and therefore has a thriving arts scene. You will find several art galleries as well as shops selling items handmade by artists and local artisans. And there’s a museum dedicated to the work of artist Georgia O’ Keeffe. Santa Fe’s Pueblo-style architecture also makes it an interesting destination. Most people probably don’t know that you can also go skiing near Santa Fe! The closest ski hill is just 15 miles outside the city and you can find others by driving a bit further. You can see Santa Fe’s Native American history at the Bandelier National Monument, a preserved settlement.
Sitting just 45 minutes south of Salt Lake City, Provo is a picturesque town at the base of mountains and sitting on the shores of Utah Lake. As the home of Brigham Young University, there are a lot of museums to explore if you visit in the winter, including the BYU Museum of Paleontology. But if you came here for some outdoor adventures, you can use Provo as your base to explore. Just outside of Provo is the Sundance Resort, host of the Sundance Film Festival and also a ski resort. For hiking, you can find trails at Mount Timpanogos and also hike to Bridal Veil Falls.
Sandwiched between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Florida can get overlooked when people plan their beach vacation. You can find great beaches here, and also some nature if you need a break from the sun and sand. You can stroll along the oceanside Hollywood Beach Boardwalk and stop at one of the restaurants in between dips in the Atlantic Ocean. Sitting in the southern part of Hollywood is the Oleta River State Park where you can canoe or kayak. Or drive to Flamingo Gardens wildlife sanctuary to see the colorful birds in their natural habitat.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores, Alabama sits just west of the Florida border on the Gulf of Mexico. The town offers everything other Gulf Coast beach towns do, including beaches, an amusement park, wildlife habitats and golfing. You can visit the public beach, or head to the Gulf Shores State Park for its stretch of sand as well as lakes and forests. For kids, there is also an amusement park and water park. Or take them to the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge where you can see sea turtles and other wildlife.
Big Bear Lake, California
A town and lake of the same name, Big Bear Lake sits in the San Bernardino National Forest less than a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles. It’s a natural escape where you can go boating, fishing or hiking in the summer months, and in the winter visit the Bear Mountain or Snow Summit ski resorts. For kids, there is the Alpine Slide, Big Bear Alpine Zoo and Big Bear Snow Play where you can go sledding or just have fun in the snow.
Beer and motorcycle lovers might want to bypass Chicago in favor of this city just 90 miles north on Lake Michigan. Milwaukee is home to the Harley Davidson Museum and also several breweries – both newer craft breweries and classics like Pabst. You can even visit the Pabst Mansion, which was home to Frederick Pabst. The indoor Milwaukee Public Market has many food vendors to please everyone. And whether you are an art-lover or not, you should check out the Milwaukee Art Museum housed in an architecturally stunning building.
Asheville, North Carolina
If you want a trip to a city surrounded by nature and with an iconic estate to visit, Asheville is for you. It’s roughly 3 hours from Atlanta and 2 hours from Charlotte, North Carolina, and would be a great weekend trip. Asheville’s setting in the Blue Ridge Mountains means there are unlimited hiking and camping opportunities in the nearby forests and mountains. The city is also home to the Biltmore, a mansion that was built in the 1800s for George Washington Vanderbilt II and is still the largest privately owned home in the U.S.