Swap this for that: The most underrated cities to visit in the USA

  • Brooke Saward
  • USA
  • Jan 13, 2016
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There’s no denying the popular coastal cities in the USA are well worth the visit, but what about those cities you don’t hear so much about? What about venturing beyond popular Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York to uncover “the rest” of the United States? Some of my best adventures in the USA have been outside the big cities in smaller (and often lesser known) cities that completely surprised me having heard very little about them coming from outside the USA, so if you too are looking for a more authentic experience outside the hustle and bustle, here are some cities to swap for!

Charleston, USA

Charleston, South Carolina 

I can’t even begin to describe how much I love the Carolinas, especially the crowning jewel – Charleston in South Carolina. A few years ago I had never heard about Charleston, but when I saw a few friends travel to South Carolina specifically to visit this charming little city, I realised I was falling behind. While the capital city of South Carolina (Columbia) might be an obvious starting point, you really should make a beeline for this stunning and full of southern charm town.


Santa Barbara Four Seasons

Santa Barbara, California 

Many travellers come to California and see only Los Angeles. If they’re lucky, they’ll also swing a visit to San Francisco in the North and perhaps a short stay in San Diego down south. But what else is there to see? Plenty! If you’re renting a car (nearly a necessity in the USA), be sure to make the drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco an adventure in itself. Just North of Los Angeles is the gorgeous city of Santa Barbara, which feels as if you have stepped back in time to Hollywood’s golden era.


ChrisLitherland BourbonSt, New Orleans

via Chris Litherland Wikicommons

New Orleans, Louisiana

Nowhere does it like they do in Louisiana. The French influence is striking and has stood the test of time, but it is the combination of gritty bars and clubs with passionate locals who love their town (and LOVE jazz) that make this city so unique. Be sure to stay a few days to really get a feel for the place… and fit in as many beignets as your pants will allow.


Austin, Texas

via Forbes

Austin, Texas

Though not really overlooked, the city of Austin (the state capital) really must go mentioned as Texas is a whole different experience in itself and really shouldn’t go missed as a whole. Austin prides itself as the “live music capital of the world” and rightly so, this city is an absolute mecca for musicians looking to break into the industry (and those who already have). This is also a very green city giving it a unique feel unlike any other in the country… it just has a certain allure that cannot be explained until experienced.


Sedona Arizona

Sedona, Arizona 

Three words: Arizona road trip. This was by far my favourite experience in the USA thus far, jumping in a rental car in the South of the state (Phoenix) and driving as far North as possible, crossing over into Utah. Just a couple hours outside of Phoenix was the ultimate trip highlight: Sedona. This gorgeous small city is filled with red rock, stellar sunsets, great cuisine with plenty of restaurants and sooooo many great hikes. Sadly we only had a couple of days here but I would have gladly spent a week in Sedona!


San Antonio

via Tripadvisor

San Antonio, Texas

Another great highlight in Texas and a COMPLETE(ly) different experience can be found in San Antonio, a south central city in Texas with a strong colonial history and today full of vibrancy. The river running through the middle of the city is an absolute highlight and offers a different experience both day and night.



St. Augustine, Florida

Just a stones throw from Jacksonville and a mere 1.5 hour drive from Orlando, St Augustine is often overlooked but should not go ignored. With stunning Spanish architecture to convince almost anyone they are no longer even in the US, this is a great little getaway city for a good ol’ dose of European influence with a great vibe. Be sure to take a wander down St. George street promenade to meander through the little boutiques and quaint cafes.


Minneapolis via truelane

Instagram: truelane

Minneapolis, Minnesota

I can’t quite think of a city that appeals to me more than Minneapolis. Although it resembles a mini New York, it comes without the tourists and with much more of a small town feel. Check out the instagram linked above for an array of great coffee shops and boutiques to pass your time in, if there’s anyone who has convinced me I need to make my way to Minnesota its Chelsea!


Svannah, Georgia via Instagram

Instagram: @whimseykel

Savannah, Georgia

Although Atlanta is the capital of Georgia (and should also be visited), the small town southern charm is to be found in the city of Savannah, located on the coastline of Georgia right before you hit South Carolina (separated by the Savannah River). Full of history every which way you turn, you can’t not enjoy a visit here to walk through the cobblestone alleyways and lush green parks.


Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California

If you’re looking for a little getaway from the hustle and bustle of New York, another great road trip to make is a short 1.5 hour drive inland to Palm Springs; a desert oasis. Although it attracts somewhat of an older clientele nowadays, that only adds to the allure of getting away, kicking back, and spending a few days poolside in the hot lush atmosphere that California is so well known for.


Do you have any to add? Where are your all time favourite cities in the USA!?

Brooke Saward

Brooke founded World of Wanderlust as a place to share inspiration from her travels and to inspire others to see our world. She now divides her time between adventures abroad and adventures in the kitchen!



  1. thebronzeddoll@gmail.com'

    Liz Lopez

    January 28, 2016

    San Antonio and Palm Springs are definitely on my list of US cities to see!


  2. caitlynleggett@hotmail.com'


    January 20, 2016

    haha i picked up on that too @Susan Harris. New York is a long way from Palm Springs. Great list!

  3. sberry@securespeed.us'

    Stephanie Berry

    January 20, 2016

    Enjoyed reading your list. Now I want to visit Sedona. Someday you should check out Portland, Maine (summertime preferably). It’s a fun little city filled with restaurants. It’s right on the coast with a number of islands a ferry ride away. It has a nice New England charm.

  4. rachelkaplan.a@gmail.com'


    January 18, 2016

    Though I currently live in Chicago, my home is in Minneapolis and I could not agree more what a wonderful city it is to visit. Tons of nature, beautiful lakes, a bustling downtown area, diverse neighborhoods, and a foodie’s dreamland! Was so excited to see it on this list.

  5. mollyebond@gmail.com'


    January 18, 2016

    I’d add two more Southern towns to this list – Athens, GA & Asheville, NC. Athens has an amazing music scene (think home of the B-52s and REM), Asheville has a great-outdoors-scene, and both have incredible food and drink cultures. I definitely endorse Charleston and Savannah though. Great list!

  6. sarah@globalgal-sarah.com'

    Sarah Attaway

    January 15, 2016

    I just moved from Charleston last June after living there for 5 years! It’s such a spectacular city. Such great restaurants, history, shopping, beaches! The list keeps going! It’s such a charming city. I’m glad you were able to visit!

  7. macieglasgow@gmail.com'


    January 15, 2016

    I think this is a fantastic list of places to travel but I would not call any of them underrated. Almost all of them are huge tourist destinations.

  8. cause.its.just.my.life@gmail.com'

    Carina @timestowander

    January 15, 2016

    I completely agree with Santa Barbara. When we did a roadtrip this summer we only had one afternoon there and I was beyond disappointed about that, as I would´ve loved to stay longer. It felt like a Californian city from the movies and is so pretty and not as crowded as LA or San Francisco.
    I also loved NOLA. There is Jazz everywhere and yes, it´s a special city. I wrote about my stay there a few weeks ago.
    As another suggestion you should go to the lower Peninsula of Michigan. There are lots of cute little towns along the coast of Lake Michigan and the beach and dunes are gorgeous.

    xx from a German currently living and working in Spain!

  9. molly.j.mcilvaine@gmail.com'

    Molly McIlvaine

    January 15, 2016

    Love this list. Grew up in LA but love seeing other parts of the country. I also went to school in Santa Barbara and love that city! And great wine tasting is just over the Santa Ynez mountains in Los Olivos. I would definitely add Boston to the list! It’s got that big city vibe but without the hustle of New York. Boston is noted to be the most “European” city in the U.S. and I get the same feeling every time I’m there.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. sdr6878@gmail.com'


    January 15, 2016

    Put Boulder, CO on your list and also head up to Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park (a two hour drive).
    I totally agree with your charleston and savannah recommendations. So much history and charm and it’s really too bad more tourists outside of the US don’t visit. Also, Washington DC is pretty amazing – must go to Monticello while there.

  11. ArianaWaldrep@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    Wilmington, NC is amazing and so is Boone, NC! I may be slightly partial because it’s my home state but they are beautiful places with a lot to offer! Also, Sanibel, Florida is my home away from home, I LOVE it there. Wonderful post!! OBSESSES with this blog!

  12. justhambrittany@gmail.com'

    Brittany Justham

    January 14, 2016

    Seattle, Washington! Seattle is such a beautiful city with not only a big city, but also mountains and ocean as well. There are so many fun things to do in this wonderful city. It’s a COMPLETELY different city feel from most other major US cities, different from California because of the constant rain, but not as busy as eastern US major cities.

  13. steph.gregerson@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    I’m from Minnesota and even though I live right outside of New York City, I tell everyone what a great place the Twin Cities are and how underrated they are. I’m hoping to visit Santa Barbara and Palm Springs this spring 🙂

  14. adventureatwork@gmail.com'

    Claire Wang

    January 14, 2016

    I would also highly recommend Boston, my hometown! Or home city. It is full of historical sites (as it’s one of the oldest cities in America), stunning architecture, trendy cafes, and everything in between.

  15. GENNEAN.blog@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    I would LOVE more in-depth posts for Charleston and Savannah… my friend and I are heading there to Charleston for a long weekend in April with a day trip planned to Savannah!

  16. SarahB94@web.de'


    January 14, 2016

    OMG my hearts makes a jump!! You put Minneapolis on the list! That’s were I used to live in the United States. Love it! Also great for all the shopaholics to go to the Mall of America! Or to visit St. Paul to check out the Summit Avenue with all the ancient buildings! I’ve also been to both cities in texas that you mentioned and I really enjoyed San Antonio since it resembles Europe!

    Kind regards,
    Sarah from a passport can get you everywhere

  17. Lauren@atipsygypsylife.com'


    January 14, 2016

    Ugh I loved New Orleans so much I had to move there after college… Ain’t nowhere like it!

    I’d highly recommend visiting my hometown, Saint Petersburg, Florida! Never realized how amazing it is until I started traveling….

  18. 30sisthenew20s@gmail.com'

    Gabi @ Books & Trips

    January 14, 2016

    I’ve only been to Austin and I loved it! A great small town feel, very green, very artsy, full of cafes & restaurants and places to see bands playing live. Plus, it’s home to the largest urban bat colony in the world! It’s certainly worth a trip!

  19. hannah.l.harding@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    I have one to add! Branson, Missouri. I live in the Midwest, and most everyone I know goes regularly to Branson on vacation. There are a whole lot of shows, plus Silver Dollar City is a big attraction. SDC hosts festivals throughout the year, my favorite being World-Fest. It’s the largest international festival in the US.

  20. stephieboyd358@gmail.com'

    Stephanie Therese

    January 14, 2016

    These are great cities! I’m a Michigan native, and so I have a few cities in Michigan to add to this list and recommend to you! Firstly I would add Traverse City, MI and the surrounding areas, including Leland, Fishtown, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes – the northern parts of Michigan are absolutely beautiful! I’d also add Grand Rapids, MI, which is an exciting, hopping city – I’ve known a lot of people around my age (college aged) who have lived there and totally loved it! Lastly I would also add Holland and Grand Haven, which are right near each other on the west side of the state – both have a lot of adorable charm to them!

  21. wilcoxwrites@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    Nice list! I think you meant to refer to Los Angeles in the paragraph about Palm Springs, rather than New York City. It’s definitely not 1.5 hours from NYC!!

  22. jeanetteseflin@hotmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    Wow! so much to see in that country! I have only been to Los Angeles, Chicago and San Diego but Austin is defenitly on top of my list to visit!

  23. charactersandcarryons@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    I’ve heard so many good things about Charleston and can’t wait to visit. I love Austin, Santa Barbara and New Orleans, such cute and amazing places!

  24. camillemariemola@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    Anna, I totally agree about Philly! I work in Philly, and it’s the perfect mix of old and new!

  25. pat.navymom@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    Cities are not the all. MUST see, memorable forever smaller aNiagara Falls, NY; Keystone, SD; Pacific Palisades, CA; Jackson Hole, WY; Lava Floes, Oahu; Rocky Mts., CO.

  26. 66annabella99@gmail.com'


    January 14, 2016

    I love Philly, it is a lot smaller then New York, but gives you that feel of a big city in a smaller size, not many tourists, absolutely beautiful place!

  27. amandapescadora@gmail.com'


    January 13, 2016

    Awesome list! A few of these places ghave been on my Bucket list for quite a while – with new ones added right now 😉

    However, I think you could include another East-Coast place like Annapolis, MD!(?)

  28. susannamolson@att.net'


    January 13, 2016

    YAAAY! Being from the South and having taken many road trips across the country, I wouldn’t consider these cities too far off the beaten track. Still, they are all fantastic places to visit! You are right that Charleston, S.C., is truly a gem! It makes for a perfect romantic getaway.

  29. theresadelaney@live.com'


    January 13, 2016

    It’s not an Arizona road trip if you don’t include Tucson! Sedona is gorgeous, no doubt about it, but Tucson’s culture, cuisine and history make it well worth a visit.

  30. lvmills@gmail.com'

    Laura Mills

    January 13, 2016

    Nashville is my favourite!!! Tennessee is a great state to visit! Also Carmel-by-the-Sea in CA.

  31. susansharris@gmail.com'

    Susan Harris

    January 13, 2016

    I think you made a typo in the Palm Springs section. New York is a little farther away than that!
    I enjoy your blog very much! Thanks for keeping it up!

  32. rebecca.dargay@gmail.com'


    January 13, 2016

    Yay! It’s great to see Minneapolis on this list! I’ll be in Orlando next week and St. Augustine will need to be added to our itinerary now. Love your blog, thanks for all you do! 🙂

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