Coming to America Discover some of the less-trodden cities famed for their natural beauty, music shows, racing events and dining hotspots
WHY is it that we tend to travel to the same US cities? Even I’m guilty of it with at least a half dozen trips to The Big Apple and three holidays in Las Vegas.
On top of that there have been memorable breaks to Chicago (twice), San Francisco, Los Angeles (three times) and Orlando in 2018, with another trip planned for September.
Familiarity is an easy excuse for your next trip stateside but with over 19,500 cities in the entire country, maybe it’s time to start broadening our horizons.
I’m not talking about heading off into complete no man’s land in the hopes of finding a hidden gem. I’m talking about established cities that are just off our radar when it comes to holidays in the US that we need to start planning for.
Boston, Miami, Chicago, NYC, LA, Las Vegas, San Fran and San Diego are all amazing but let’s think outside the travel box. Here are 12 cities to put on your list. Some are recognised, while others are emerging. But each and every one of them has something in common — they are incredible and well worth a visit.
1. Palm Springs, California
As part of my road-tripping honeymoon back in 2006, myself and herself planned a week in the city after a two-week, whistle-stop tour of San Fran, Yosemite and Los Angeles.
The only thing is that we landed into the desert city in the middle of July, while the entire population evacuated due to the summer heat.
July temperatures and last month’s Coachella aside, the city is still worthy of a visit thanks to the giant malls, championship golf courses, mountain ranges and vast array of 4 and 5-star hotels. Where else can you get palm trees and snow-capped mountains in the same view?
It has a bit of a reputation for being a retirement city for ageing Californians but there is so much more than that and is the perfect stop-over for anyone heading to the more popular West Coast cities.
Just aim for off-peak season if you don’t want to melt. Trust me.
2. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Similar to Detroit, Pittsburgh’s ‘bad streak’ seems to be over. Over the last decade, it has transformed from ‘Steel City’ into a trendy cosmopolitan centre where once-abandoned warehouses now house popular concept bars and fusion restaurants.
The Market Square has to be one of the most vibrant hubs in the entire city where art installations and evolving pop-ups keep a focus on what’s new. The city has also reinvented itself as a tech hub, with its very own Robotics Row hosting several tech companies and start-ups.
A trendy dining and nightlife scene has naturally followed.
3. St Petersburg, Florida
Consistently overlooked for nearby Tampa, St Petersburg is a hidden gem on the Gulf of Mexico. All you need to know is that Floridians visit for their own holidays because of the quiet beaches with impossibly soft sand and the chance to watch wild dolphins at play as the sun sets over the horizon.
Fresh seafood, a laid-back vibe and the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive days of sunshine ever recorded combine to make this one of the best beach vacations you can find.
Away from the Instagram-perfect sandy shores, the city also boasts a top-rate craft beer scene where you can even explore multiple brew stops along the brilliantly named ‘Gulp Coast’.
4. Knoxville, Tennessee
OK, OK… so I should really be here telling you about Nashville but three hours east of the country music mecca is the city of Knoxville.
Traditionally it’s a college town, but the influence of Nashville 300km away along Route 40 is evident as a whole host of incredible live music shows have popped up in recent years in very unassuming venues.
Feast on local Southern staples like fried chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens in their own Market Square before heading on to any of countless bars. On top of all that, there is an impressive 300 acres of protected wildlife habitat and natural areas (just minutes from downtown) that provide visitors with a whole host of outdoor activity options, including zip-lining, paddleboarding, hiking and biking. This is the perfect way to explore Knoxville by day.
5. Louisville, Kentucky
If you find yourself in Kentucky’s leading city Louisville, be prepared for a bourbon-filled adventure in what is widely described as a ‘surprisingly eclectic city’.
Don’t leave without trying the Urban Bourbon Trail, which is the best way to enjoy the city’s most famous export (second place is Nicole Scherzinger by the way). Your culinary experience doesn’t have to end with whisky though, as you can also enjoy a wide selection of farm-to-table restaurants and sip home-grown brews at a robust collection of craft breweries.
Make sure to explore the outdoors at an excellent arboretum or aboard the “Belle of Louisville”, the oldest Mississippi River-style steamboat still in operation in the US (it was built in 1914). And if you are lucky enough, time your visit with one of the most famous horse races on the planet, The Kentucky Derby. You can plan for the May 6 event in 2023.
6. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque isn’t just the setting for one of the greatest TV shows of all time, it is also a magnificent destination for all kinds of travellers.
Breaking Bad may not have painted the New Mexican city in the best light for eight dramatic series, but its old town retains Spanish colonial architecture that would wow even the most cynical of tourists.
There are the Sandia Mountains for nature lovers as well as a vibrant city nightlife populated with music bars and fun nightclubs. If you visit during October, you can enjoy the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which is one of the largest hot-air balloon festivals in the world.
7. San Antonio, Texas
Houston, Dallas and Austin all get more airtime and column inches, but San Antonio can easily hold its own among the big boys thanks to its Texan barbecues, Spanish colonial churches and a stunning River Walk.
Beyond the Alamo church (a shrine to Texas liberty after a battle with the Mexican army in 1836), which is easily the city’s biggest draw, there is also San Antonio Missions, made up of four 18th-century churches built during Spanish colonisation.
It’s not all history though. The city’s riverfront has earned its nickname ‘The American Venice’ and by night is the place to be for live music, dancing and bar-hopping.
The food also has a great rep here and is just as good as in the state’s more popular cities (the breakfast taco is legendary).
There is a gigantic open-air market that hosts over a 100 locally-owned shops selling authentic Mexican goods, from wood carvings to painted guitars to candies.
8. Newport, Rhode Island
Ever since I went to a pal’s wedding in this city, I have been waxing lyrical about its magnificence to anyone who will listen.
Four hours northeast of Manhattan (via an obligatory stop-off at Wrentham Village Outlet) or two hours south of Boston, the seaside city on Aquidneck Island is a welcome break from the high-rise landscape of the Big Apple.
Gigantic colonial mansions are on show around the coastline for visitors to wander around and see how the other half lived centuries before. The houses were handed over to the local authorities to create a tourist trap. The dive bars and wooden colonial air bnb options are full of character where memories of a lifetime are made, but you can also stay in ultra-modern hotels if luxury is on the agenda.
9. Saint Louis, Missouri
Like nearby Chicago, which tends to get all the attention, Saint Louis feels like several cities instead of one.
Each neighbourhood, from artsy Cherokee Street to the trendy Loop to the historic downtown, has its own flavour, enriching the experience of locals and visitors.
Of course, you can’t miss visiting its world-famous Gateway Arch, but once you’ve gotten the biggest landmark ticked off, you can head to other attractions like the Missouri Botanical Garden or Laumeier Sculpture Park. For a mix of culture and fun, take a tour of Anheuser-Busch Brewery, where you can taste local beer at a National Historic Landmark.
10. Detroit, Michigan
For a long time, Detroit was the poster child for booming cities that succumbed to globalisation. Known as Motor City for its past as the HQ of American car manufacturing, and later known as the birthplace of the Motown music scene, Detroit’s almost complete economic crash is infamous.
Luckily, the tide has turned for Detroit, which now is one of the country’s more interesting sources of all that’s new and cool. The city offers not only breweries and distilleries but a collection of meaderies serving the rarely sipped drink. And it is gaining a name for itself in the world of street art too in recent years. Spend some time in the shiny downtown area, shop around for alternative souvenirs and rare vinyls, and listen to Motown at underground bars as you discover (or rediscover) a city reborn.
11. Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis is largely known for its famous Indie 500 car race. Many visitors come to witness the achievements of some of the world’s best racers — but it might just surprise you with so much more than cars. The city is perfect for families, as it boasts the largest children’s museum in the entire world, as well as extensive and safe bike paths for tourists of all ages.
Plus many of its attractions veer toward the delightfully unexpected, including museums devoted to topics like percussion and medical history, a memorial library celebrating the literary brilliance of native son Kurt Vonnegut, and one of the country’s best burlesque scenes (I’m not lying).
12. Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore has had its ups and downs throughout history — it’s gone from being one of the East Coast’s most important port cities to a city crushed under its (sometimes exaggerated) reputation for crime. Not helped, of course, by the global success of David Simon’s HBO smash hit The Wire.
But recent years have been kinder to Balmer (as the locals affectionately call it), with a rebirth of trendy restaurants, start-ups and commerce. Stroll through the scenic Inner Harbour, get cultured at the Baltimore Museum of Art and visit Edgar Allan Poe’s former home in this city that deserves another look.
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