The Most Underrated Travel Destinations in America for This Summer and Beyond

Travel's back, but so are the crowds. From surfing to street partying, these are our favorite off-the-beaten-path options.

July 2, 2021 7:00 am
Montauk surfing
Everyone's started flocking to the usual spots again. Here's a collection of underrated American destinations to hit up instead.
Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images

City stereotypes aren’t all smoke and mirrors. New York really does pack 40 theaters into five square blocks. Austin smokes a helluva brisket. And you can’t walk a mile in Denver without passing a dispensary.

But following the masses on your next long weekend isn’t just narrow-minded: it also tends to be more costly and crowded. It’s like waiting six minutes to spend $10 on an airport Heineken: they’ve got you right where they want you, and charge accordingly.

With the country open for business again, you know the well-trodden spots are going to be more crowded than ever. In the spirit of discovery, then, we’d like to propose a variety of alternative American destinations: a series of locales that serve up a particular amenity (say, live music) just as well as their more ballyhooed counterparts.

From touring wine country in Oregon to surfing on Long Island to wigging from an open container in a Southern city that isn’t New Orleans, find our favorite unsung destinations below.

San Luis obispo
Absurd views and mouthwatering tri-tip. It’s impossible to screw up in SLO.
Mimi Ditchie Photography/Getty Images

BBQ: Instead of Austin, TX, head to … San Luis Obispo, CA

SLO is a sleepy Cali coastline tri-tip grilling haven (triangular pieces of beef cut from the sirloin, grilled on the edges to a dark crust) and a welcome change of pace from the Southern BBQ scene … Head to Old San Luis BBQ Company for tri-tip sliders … Run it back with a tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill (or grab an ABC burger) … If you’re still hungry try Rib Line or Mo’s Smokehouse … Oh and the views shouldn’t be too bad, either.

Coffee Culture: Instead of Seattle, WA, head to … Ann Arbor, MI

Someone ring up Jerry Seinfeld: college towns are java wonderlands … Seek out Black Eye Diesel Coffee for beans from Michigan roasters … Literati Coffee for a poetry reading alongside your espresso … Comet Coffee for some epic pour-over … Or Shinola Cafe, a basement hideaway under the leather and watchmakers’ local outpost … And you’ll stay at the Graduate Hotel, home of — you guessed it — Poindexter Coffee.

Live Music: Instead of Nashville, TN, head to … Jackson, MS

Reintroducing The City of Soul … First, head to Duling Hall, a stained-glass elementary school turned concert venue, for country, blues and jazz … Hungry? Try Hal & Mal’s for bites and honky-tonk in a multi-roomed setting … More of a festival guy? Cathead Distillery hosts one every summer … And there’s also Spacecamp for some alternative rock tunage.

Over the last decade, Asheville has turned into one of the most exciting food scenes on the East Coast.
Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

Gastronomy: Instead of Portland, OR, head to … Asheville, NC

Welcome to the Southern stopover everyone should be talking about … Sovereign Remedies serves up dishes from local farmers/foragers, from jalapeno pig ears to shrimp sausage … Cúrate’s an old bus depot that now churns out mouthwatering Spanish tapas … Biscuit Head’s got you covered on, uh, biscuits (and fried chicken) … And try Wicked Weed, Asheville Brewing or Hi-Wire Brewing for craft beer.

Lake Life: Instead of Minnesota, head to … Idaho

Minnesota’s the Land of 10,000 Lakes and New York’s got George and Placid, but believe it or not, there’s plenty of freshwater fun to be had out in Idaho … Book a summer cabin at either Hill’s Resort or Elkins in Priest Lake … Then visit Lake Pend Oreille, the state’s largest and the nation’s fifth deepest (100+ miles of its shoreline is rugged mountains) … Spend a couple nights at Redfish Lake, situated at the base of the Sawtooth National Rec Area … And don’t forget C.J. Strike Resevoir for watersports galore.

The Performing Arts: Instead of New York, NY, head to … Louisville, KY

Louisville offers more than just baseball bats … Start at the Actors Theatre, which has been around for 55 years and puts on 30 shows a year, while also hosting an ace apprentice program … The Humana Festival of American Plays is approaching its 45th year in operation (three previous plays have won the Pulitzer Prize) … Other notables: Louisville Theater for Broadway shows and Kentucky Center for the Arts for plays, comedy specials and concerts.

Santa Fe
Santa Fe has a sprawling backyard, ideal for hiking, mountain biking and skiing adventures.
Image by Erik Pronske Photography/Getty Images

Outdoor Adventure: Instead of Boulder, CO, head to … Santa Fe, NM

Fuel up with a world-renowned breakfast burrito and get going. Plan a six-mile out-and-back hike to the summit of Atalaya Mountain … Snap some shots of volcanic cinder cones along the Petroglyph National Monument … Bike through Carson National Forest on the South Boundary Trail … Hitch a cycling tour with Taos Bike Tours while you’re at it … And once the temp drops, hit up Ski Santa Fe for some New Mexican pow pow.

R&R: Instead of Scottsdale, AZ head to … The Ozarks, AR/MO

It’s hard to relax when Arizona wants half of your bonus. Instead, try the Ozarks, starting with Beckham Creek Cave, a private lodge built into a mountainside with 260 acres of wilderness to explore … Then stay the weekend at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, MO, soon to boast courses designed by Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods … You can also mix meditations and massages at Spa Shiki or Old Kinderhook.

Race-Car Driving: Instead of Indianapolis, IN head to … Sacramento Valley, CA

No more tailgates! Time to get behind the wheel yourself … Check out Thunderhill Raceway Park in Glenn County, California. It can be rented out for racing, drifting, go-karting, driving schools, commercials, weddings, you name it … The city also hosts a pretty cool lights festival when there aren’t cars on the road.

Washington state
You can catch pink and Chinook salmon in the Lower 48. Set up base camp in Washington State.
Nik Wheeler/Getty Images

Salmon Fishing: Instead of Alaska, head to … Washington

It’s tough to replicate Alaska’s legendary salmon fishing, but Washington gives the Lower 48 a fighting chance … Head to Neah Bay in July for Chinook salmon up to 50-lbs, and to Skagit River in September (on odd years) to catch pink salmon … Washington newbs should stay at the Sun Mountain Lodge to enjoy an array of outdoor fun.

Street Parties: Instead of New Orleans, head to … Savannah, GA

One of the few places in this puritanical country with relaxed open-container laws — so long as you remain in the Historic District and keep your drink in a plastic 16-ounce cup, you’re good to go … Head to the city for one of its many Irish celebrations (Irish Festival, Greening of the Fountain, St. Pat’s) … Or, for traditional indoor drinking, visit dive bar The Rail Pub or Treylor Park.

Surfing, Brah: Instead of Southern California, head to … Montauk, NY

Welcome to The End, perfect for all manner of surfer, from barneys to bros … Head to either Ditch Plains Beach for some reliable waves or to Terrace to avoid the crowds … Stay at The Crow’s Nest for laidback digs and/or stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Montauk … Hawk a longboard or beach cruiser into town and pick up some grub at The Hideaway (Mexican, BBQ, seafood) or Herb’s Market (fried chicken).

Burlington has a relaxed, college-town feel with joint-worthy views around every corner.
Walter Bibikow/Getty Images

Weed Haven: Instead of Denver, CO, head to … Burlington, VT

Rejoice, Vermont has joined the list of legal states (so long as you avoid smoking on Lake Champlain, in public parks, etc.) … Book a stay at the Mt. Philo Inn, a “Bud and Breakfast” just 30 minutes outside of downtown Burlington … Visit the Champlain Valley Dispensary for provisions … Spend an afternoon biking the Burlington Path … Meet your appetite with a pastry or two from August First.

Wine Country: Instead of Napa Valley, CA head to … Willamette Valley, OR

A 150-mile valley packed with more than 500 wineries, Willamette is a slice of Pinot noir paradise … Spend a few nights at the Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard or the equally well-appointed Atticus Hotel … Visit three to four wineries on an exclusive tour with Backcountry Wine Tours … Check out the preposterous waterfall in Silver Falls State Park to extend the whole “pouring” theme.


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