Sometimes, the best places to visit are right under your nose. Perhaps you’ve had your heart set on an exotic international vacation or an island getaway. Those can be costly in terms of time and money. To spend less of both, consider visiting one of these overlooked U.S. cities -- you'll have the adventure of a lifetime much closer to home!
1. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Of course, there are the cheese curds, brew pubs, and brats (all fabulous!), but there’s so much more to Milwaukee than its German roots and brewing history. For starters, head to the lakefront, with its gorgeous views of Lake Michigan and paved walking paths. Visit the Milwaukee Art Museum, a gorgeous glassed-in structure featuring a variety of exhibits, a stellar permanent collection, and an incredible gift shop. Go shopping in the Historic Third Ward, with its galleries and boutiques in beautifully restored buildings, or the Milwaukee Public Market. The Harley-Davidson Museum celebrates the century-long history and legacy of the famed motorcycle maker. For a fun dinner in a funky location, head to Brady Street’s Easy Tyger for creative takes on ramen, bao, and other small Asian plates.
2. Portland, Maine
Portland has all the delights of a New England harbor town: a rich history, wonderful beaches dotted with lighthouses, and a terrific port with seafood restaurants and fishing wharves. However, the small city also has a cosmopolitan flair. The Portland Museum of Art is well worth a visit, as is the city’s Arts District, packed with galleries and boutiques. Take advantage of your proximity to the ocean with a whale-watching or lobster-catching excursion, or paddle out to Fort Gorges. The old army base is only accessible by water, but you’ll be repaid with amazing views of Portland Harbor, the Casco Bay Islands, and the city’s most famous lighthouse, the Portland Head Light.
3. Albuquerque, New Mexico
New Mexico’s largest city has much to offer. It all starts in the Old Town, the historic heart of Albuquerque. This part of the city dates to 1706 and features museums and art galleries, historic adobe buildings and homes, and the gorgeous San Felipe de Neri Church. When you’re ready for an outdoor adventure, you can visit the Petroglyph National Monument, which offers terrific hikes in one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America. You’ll marvel at the mysterious designs and symbols carved into the rocks by Native Americans centuries ago. For a high-flying trip above the canyons and rocky terrain, head to the Sandia Peak Tramway. The ski-lift type car will give you incredible views of the desert skies and -- if you go at the right time -- a panorama of colors at sunset. If you’re lucky enough to be in the Land of Enchantment in October, look to the skies for the greatest show of all, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!
4. Kansas City, Missouri
It’s well known for its barbecue and its jazz, but Kansas City is also home to a thriving arts scene, lush parks, and interesting historic sites. No trip to this city would be complete without a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, famous for the giant shuttlecock sculptures out front. Just a short walk from Nelson-Atkins, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art features regularly rotating exhibits, a quirky café, and a fabulous gift shop. Loose Park, with its lake and impressive rose garden, is the perfect place for a picnic and a stroll. Don’t forget to find your groove at the American Jazz Museum, located in the historic 18th and Vine area. Go next door to learn about some of baseball’s most legendary players at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
5. Savannah, Georgia
Many of us know this lovely Southern city, with its antebellum mansions and dripping Spanish moss, from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. You might consider beginning your Savannah vacation by exploring Bonaventure Cemetery, the spot made famous by the book and subsequent film directed by Clint Eastwood. From there, head to the Savannah Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, to see the original city grid, which was laid out in 1733. Some of the homes there date to the late 1700s, as do some of the city squares. Right in the center of the Savannah Historic District is Forsyth Park, with its iconic fountain and farmers market. And don’t forget to get your share of low-country eats -- including shrimp and grits, gumbo, and oyster stew -- at any number of terrific restaurants, including a.Lure.
6. Reno, Nevada
There’s more to Reno, nicknamed “The Biggest Little City in the World,” than quickie divorces and the dubious distinction of being Las Vegas’s little, less glitzy sister. You can’t ignore the casinos, of course: the Atlantis, the Peppermill, and the Grand Sierra, just to name a few. But step out of the hazy air and flashing lights, and you’ll discover a gem of a town. Lake Tahoe, with its alpine splendor that’s worth visiting at any time of year, is only about 20 miles away. Reno’s Truckee Riverwalk is dotted with parks, pubs, restaurants, and boutiques. The Nevada Museum of Art, a dramatic 70,000-square-foot facility designed to look like the striking geological formations surrounding Reno, is well known for its American Western art as well as its photography collection.
7. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Tennessee’s train history is on full display in the town that inspired the ’40s swing hit “Chattanooga Choo Choo” -- you can even stay at the station referenced in the song. The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel is located in the old Terminal Station in the heart of downtown. Right outside is Station Street, a restaurant and bar district with a lively night scene. The Bluff View Art District, with its many galleries, shops, and boutiques, is perched above the city alongside the Tennessee River. For a bit of history with your visit, consider a stop at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, where 100,000 men fought a Civil War battle in 1863. And to really take in the amazing scenery this beautiful town has to offer, head 6 miles south to Rock City Gardens. Located atop Lookout Mountain, these massive rock formations offer incredible hiking backdrops and an incomparable seven-state view.
8. Gulf Shores, Alabama
The town of Gulf Shores, Alabama, has grown from a quiet fishing village to a top beach destination over the past few decades. There’s truly something for everyone here: condominiums and beach houses, the white sand of Orange Beach, glittering blue-green water -- the list goes on and on. Anglers and beachgoers alike will want to check out Gulf State Park, which boasts a 1,500-foot-long fishing pier, poles for rent, and licenses available for purchase at on-site tackle shops. To get up close and personal with the animals that make the Gulf Coast their home, head to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, which protects a wide range of flora and fauna, including sea turtles, beach birds, and the elusive Alabama beach mouse. The Wharf at Orange Beach is a retail and entertainment district that includes shops, cafés, a movie theater, and even a Ferris wheel and zipline. To top off your vacation, consider taking a dolphin-watching cruise, where you’ll be able to spot spinners and bottlenoses frolicking in the surf.
9. Anchorage, Alaska
For a more rugged -- and much cooler -- destination, put Anchorage on your travel list. The great outdoors is the star in Alaska’s largest city, which is set on the Cook Inlet and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Start by stretching your legs on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, an 11-mile path that stretches from downtown to Kincaid Park and features sweeping views of Denali (Mount McKinley) and the inlet. You might even catch a glimpse of a moose along the paved trail. To discover what life in early Anchorage was like, visit the Oscar Anderson House Museum. Anderson, a Swedish immigrant, built this home in 1915, and by his own count was the 18th person to arrive in Anchorage. The home, located downtown, offers a fascinating look into what life was once like in this now-bustling city. Chugach State Park, one of the largest parks in the nation, offers hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and berry-picking opportunities just a few minutes outside of downtown. Treat yourself to the incredible local seafood sublimely prepared at ORSO.
10. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Don’t discount a trip to South Dakota for your next vacation; there’s a surprising amount to see and do in Sioux Falls! Start in Falls Park, where you can explore the stunning falls on the Big Sioux River that gave the city its name. Set on the river are the remains of the Queen Bee Mill, and the Falls Overlook Café offers great sweet treats. Head downtown to check out a variety of cafés, shops, and the Old Courthouse Museum, with its granite pillars, stained glass windows, and more than a dozen large murals. Stroll the SculptureWalk, a year-round outdoor exhibit featuring sculptures of all sizes, shapes, and mediums, and be sure to take in a show at the Washington Pavilion.