When I think of planning my next trip, my mind often jumps to well-known destinations – and I’m sure I’m not the only one. New York, Miami, Waikiki, and Los Angeles easily pop up as potential vacation spots. But, many of the best and memorable getaways are to underrated destinations in the USA.
These underrated destinations in the USA span from beach towns to national parks to islands to cultural hubs. As a matter of fact, the only thing that these wonderful locations have in common is that they aren’t given the recognition that they deserve!
Don’t get me wrong — I love visiting popular destinations in the States such as Nashville or Las Vegas. However, I enjoy exploring lesser-known spots for a multitude of reasons. In fact, my bucket list is mostly filled with hidden gems.
In this post, I’ve gathered 14 of the most underrated destinations in the USA that are perfect for your next weekend getaway or longer vacation!
In This Post:
14 Underrated Destinations in the USA
1. Taos, New Mexico
Known as the “South of the Southwest,” Taos, New Mexico is definitely one of the most unique and underrated destinations in the USA. Home to well-preserved Native American architecture and culture, there really is nowhere else like Taos.
Taos is home to around 6000 people so you’ll definitely feel like you have this town to yourself. If you’re not keen on staying in Taos, that’s okay. It’s only about a two-hour drive from Albuquerque so it makes for a fun day trip.
While in this distinctive, culture-filled town, you can take in the adobe dwellings of Taos Pueblo, peek at the many art museums, stroll around the Historic Taos Plaza, and stare at the view from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Don’t forget to watch one of the many epic sunsets!
If you’re into skiing and snowboarding, head to Taos during winter. There are nearly 1,300 acres of skiable terrain here and skiers describe the experience as legendary.
2. Providence, Rhode Island
No one thinks about traveling to Rhode Island. Ever. And that’s such a shame because Providence is quite a gem! Providence is brimming with New England charm and it has a little bit of everything from delicious food, a fun bar scene, and adorable vibes.
As the capital of Rhode Island, Providence has quite a few attractions. You can discover the beauty of Roger Williams State Park, delight in a delicious meal in Little Italy, and enjoy an authentic French dessert from Pastiche.
And if you happen to be in Providence in the summer, you should certainly catch the unique attraction known as WaterFire, when the dozens of bonfires in the center of Providence River are lit.
This East Coast town is beautiful all year round, but fall is an especially beautiful time to visit because of the spectacular foliage. Providence is home to several universities. If you’re after a quieter vibe, summer is the best time to visit since most of the college students will be away.
3. Lanai, Hawaii
Out of the eight Hawaiian Islands, only four get a significant number of visitors: Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. The tiny 140-square-mile island of Lanai has managed to slide under the radar.
Without a doubt, Lanai is definitely worth a visit. In fact, it has something to offer for every kind of tourist. If you’re searching for luxury, you’ll find it there. If you’re after a relaxing vacation, you’ll certainly get it there. The best part is that you can do any activity other major islands offer but without the crowds.
While on this small island of 3,000 people, there are a shocking number of things to do. Discover the otherworldly landscape of Keahiakawela (also known as the Garden of the Gods), hike the 12-mile Munro Trail, visit Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock), check out the shipwreck at Shipwreck Beach, and swim with wild dolphins in Hulopoe Bay.
4. Santa Barbara, California
When people think of taking a trip to California, they think of places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. But most people often overlook the gem of Santa Barbara AKA the American Riviera.
Between Santa Barbara’s laidback beachy atmosphere, the array of tasty restaurants, and the luxurious Spanish-inspired architecture, you should definitely make time for this California beach town.
There are a few things that you must see and do in Santa Barbara. First, you must check out the awe-inspiring views of the city from the Santa Barbara courthouse tower. Then, you need to head to McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams for a fabulous scoop of flavorful ice cream. Will you opt for the traditional vanilla bean or the intriguing banana and salted caramel? Finally, the last must-do activity in Santa Barbara is to watch the pastel-colored sunset while sitting on the gorgeous Butterfly Beach.
5. Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Mexico boasts not just one but two of the underrated destinations in the USA on this list. While Taos is a cultural hub, Santa Fe is a perfect place for art lovers.
Santa Fe is actually the USA’s oldest state capital. It’s also the nation’s highest state capital at almost 7,000 feet. One of the best things about Santa Fe is that you can walk to the main attractions from the town’s central plaza. You won’t be fighting any crowds here!
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is one of the most popular spots to visit in town. And you can also peruse the galleries on Canyon Road, stop by the International Museum of Folk Art, and attend an opera at the Santa Fe Opera House.
If art isn’t really up your alley, you can take part in the festivals in Santa Fe Plaza, visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, and wander around the Santa Fe Farmers Market.
6. Bar Harbor, Maine
Situated along Maine’s coastline, Bar Harbor is often overlooked for the neighboring Acadia National Park. And while Acadia National Park has so many wonderful things to offer, including Cadillac Mountain and Park Loop Road, Bar Harbor deserves a little recognition too.
While in this breezy coastal town, you can take the time to simply relax and unwind. Catch the sunrise from the shore path at Agamond Park, kayak around the coast, take a whale watching tour, and sample many of the delicious blueberry treats.
Bar Harbor ends up being tourists’ favorite New England destination and you’ll see why after visiting. Bar Harbor is home to romance, adventure, and all-around relaxing vibes. It’s one of those places that you’ll want to return to year after year.
7. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
When it comes to underrated destinations in the USA, the Midwest is filled with them. One of the best destinations to visit is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin.
This group of islands within Lake Superior are filled with beauty. Known for its ethereal rock formations and sparkling waters, the Apostle Islands are truly stunning. While there, you can wander into both sea caves and ice caves, kayak between the islands, take a tour of an orchard, and even do a little camping.
There are 21 total islands and you can kayak, hike, paddle, and sail to these islands if you’re up for an adventure. You’ll see tons of lighthouses, farm sites, beaches, campsites, and more.
8. Bend, Oregon
Bend, Oregon is one of the best underrated destinations in the USA for nature lovers. Situated on the Oregon coast, you’ll get to experience both the beautiful blue ocean and bright greenery.
Not only is Bend is an outdoor lover’s playground, but it’s also a fun city just to hang out in. Bend’s beer scene is epic and their food scene is equally impressive. Bend is one of those places that will make you feel relaxed no matter what you decide to do here.
During your time in this amazing town, you can hike to the stunning Tumalo Falls, ski on Mount Bachelor, rock climb at Smith Rock State Park, canoe down the Deschutes River, and go spelunking at the Lava River Cave.
And if all of those nature-based activities weren’t cool enough to pique your interest, you can even climb a volcano at Newberry National Volcanic Monument!
RELATED: 14 Unique Places to Visit in Oregon
9. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The Badlands is arguably the coolest national park in the Midwest. Yet with just over a million visitors per year, it gets only a fraction of the visitors of the more popular parks, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Grand Canyon.
The red-tinted hills of the Badlands contain a unique combination of sandstone, limestone, volcanic ash, and so much more. And there are so many ways to explore this geological wonder. Tackle the Notch Trail, drive the Badlands Loop Road, watch for adorable prairie dogs, and stay for an awesome sunset.
10. Boise, Idaho
Boise, Idaho is one of those up-and-coming vacation destinations. And it certainly helps that the city has something for everyone – from the nature lover to the foodie to the sports fan. So while it might be underrated now, it won’t stay that way for long.
While in Idaho’s capital city, there are quite a few things for you to do. You can take a walk along the Greenbelt, spend a few hours at the cute village of Hyde Park, stop by the Capital City Public Market, catch a BSU football game on the famous blue field, and dine at a craft brewery.
11. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Coeur d’Alene is a quaint little lakeside town situated along the banks of Lake Coeur d’Alene. While Idaho locals appreciate this destination, it’s rare for those from out-of-state to know about it.
While in Coeur d’Alene, you’ll certainly want to make use of the beautiful lake. Boat, jet ski, or sail all around its breathtaking waters. You can also hike the Tubbs Hill Nature Trail, shop on Sherman Avenue, wander around the Kootenai County Farmers Market, and drive along the Lake Coeur d’Alene Scenic Byway.
12. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
So far on this list of underrated destinations in the USA, I’ve included national parks, islands, and even cultural landmarks. With its snowy mountain peaks and bubbling hot springs, Steamboat Springs, Colorado offers a little something different.
While in this adorable mountain town, you can take on just about every winter sport you could imagine. You can ski, snowshoe, snow tube, ice skate, and ice climb.
But if the cold activities aren’t your style, you can head to Strawberry Park Hot Springs instead. This hot spring boasts five natural stone pools, which vary from a warm 107 degrees Fahrenheit to a pool perfect for a polar plunge.
13. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Utah is filled with absolutely stunning national parks. Zion National Park and Arches National Park get all of the attention, but Canyonlands National Park is on par with both. As a matter of fact, Canyonlands National Park is often compared to Arches National Park – just with fewer people.
By far the most popular thing to do in Canyonlands National Park is hike. The Mesa Arch Trail, Druid Arch Trail, and White Rim Trail are some of the most popular trails. But you can also camp, stargaze, mountain bike, and whitewater raft at this amazing national park.
14. Mesa, Arizona
Less than half an hour outside of Phoenix and Scottsdale, it’s surprising that Mesa, Arizona has managed to stay under-the-radar. It also happens to be quite a kid-friendly destination, so you can definitely bring your little ones along on this getaway.
While in Mesa, you can wander around the Desert Botanical Garden, pick oranges at the Orange Patch, spend a day at Golfland and Sunsplash, catch a game at Hohokam Stadium, and pay a visit to the Mesa Arts Center.
What are your favorite underrated destinations in the USA? Let me know in the comments below!
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Disha Smith is the founder of Disha Discovers. She quit her job in 2017 to travel the world to explore new cultures and experience new adventures. She has since been to 95+ countries and counting and has lived in South Africa, Thailand, Croatia, and Australia. She has done all kinds of travel ranging from luxury to budget backpacking, and her mission is to inspire others to discover their own sense of adventure and to help them plan a life full of meaningful experiences through travel.