Travel

Top 15 Hidden American Travel Gems

New York City? Too crowded. Los Angeles? Too much traffic. Chicago? Freezing. Instead of the usual destinations venture out to these underrated cities.

We're all familiar with the allure of snagging a picture in front of a world-famous site. Oftentimes, though, we're left disappointed and wondering if we bought into the hype a bit too much.

Many U.S. cities have industries built around famous sites that can make the whole experience feel a bit commercialized and inauthentic. Travel to the Statue of Liberty, for example, and you'll be bombarded with people trying to sell you tours and trinkets. Go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and you might start to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of people there.

The good news? Some American cities still haven't been discovered by the masses. In the spirit of discovery, we're offering what we believe to be the top 15 American hidden travel gems of 2019. These places may not carry the reputation of a large city, but they offer just as much as—if not more than—those big names.

1. Best Hidden Gem for Barbecue: Killeen, Texas

BBQ in the Summertime

Killeen is located an hour north of Austin, Texas, and filled with top-notch barbecue. We recommend you stop by Petty's BBQ and try the ribs or the pulled pork. And no trip to Texas is complete without a stop at Rudy's Texas Bar-B-Q for a second helping. This barbecue joint is a hybrid restaurant, gas station and grocery store. It doesn't get anymore Texan than that.

2. Best Hidden Gem for Rest and Relaxation: The Ozarks, Missouri

Relax in the Ozarks

The Netflix show of the same name paints the Ozarks as a bleak and barren place, but that couldn't be further from the truth. While the Ozarks region is quiet, we think it's for the better. The area features plenty of mountains and forests to get lost in. If you prefer civilization, you can also find some outstanding waterfront golf courses. Check out a list of available courses here. Personally, we prefer the Cove at the Lodge of the Four Seasons.

3. Best Hidden Gem for American History: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

American History in Baton Rouge

When we think of American history, we typically think of Boston and Philadelphia. But don't underestimate the number of historical events that took place in the South. Baton Rouge itself has had seven flags fly over it during its time:

  • Confederate States of America
  • England
  • France
  • Louisiana
  • Spain
  • United States of America
  • West Florida

We recommend checking out the River Road African American Museum and the West Baton Rouge Museum. Once you're done there, you're only an hour from the world-famous Oak Alley Plantation, so be sure to stop by on your way out of town.

4. Best Hidden Gem for Nontraditional Museums: Lowell, Massachusetts

Museums in Lowell, Massachusetts

If you're the type of person who enjoys spending hours in museums, then put Lowell, Massachusetts, on your bucket list. Start your day by hopping over to the New England Quilt Museum and follow it up by dropping by the Lowell National Historic Park. Once the museums close for the night, be sure to catch a Lowell Spinners baseball game at LeLacheur Park.

5. Best Hidden Gem for a Night on the Town: Savannah, Georgia

A Night Out in Savannah

When you think of Savannah, Georgia, you probably picture tree-lined streets and brisk autumn weather. You're not far off in your thinking, but Savannah is also one of the best places in the country to go to a bar and let loose. Here's the lowdown.

  • For classic cocktails: The Grey
  • Where the locals hang out: The Jinx
  • For cheap drinks: The Rail Pub

We recommend booking a stay in Savannah's historic district so you can be close to the action. A personal favorite of ours is the Kehoe House.

6. Best Hidden Gem for Wineries and Vineyards: Willamette Valley, Oregon

Willamette, Oregon

We're not exactly sure how Willamette Valley is still flying under the radar in 2019. The region features more than 500 wineries, and its pinot noir is very highly regarded. There aren’t many other places in the country where you can enjoy a glass of wine (or two) and then hop on a hot air balloon to enjoy pristine countryside views. Before getting your drink on, we recommend filling up with a meal at Babica Hen Cafe or at The Barberry.

7. Best Hidden Gem for Families: Carlsbad, California

Carlsbad, California

If you're on the hunt for a family vacation, we suggest visiting Carlsbad, California. You can stop by Legoland's massive California Resort or bask in the sun at the Legoland Water Park. If you're trying to save a little bit of money, you can also enjoy budget-friendly water sports at the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. The city sits on the coast, so going to the beach is also an option we recommend. We also suggest driving over to Tamarack State Beach for a nice, relaxing evening of wave watching.

8. Best Hidden Gem for Hunting and Fishing: Winthrop, Washington

Winthrop, Washington

Here's what you'll find in Winthrop, Washington: pristine rivers, a large population of trout and one of the biggest populations of mule deer in the entire country. The fishing is great all year, but if you're more interested in hunting, then we suggest visiting during the fall. That's when the deer population is at its peak. You can choose to camp, but the city also features plenty of wonderful lodging options. We suggest staying at the Mazama Country Inn or the Methow Reservations.

9. Best Hidden Gem for Car Aficionados: Glenn County, California

Sacramento Valley, California

Slow pokes need not apply. If you’re itching for speed and want to get behind the wheel or simply experience motorsports in person, you've got to visit Thunderhill Raceway Park in Glenn County, California. The complex features tracks that can be rented for any motor-related events. There are plenty of events throughout the month, so be sure to drop by and check one out.

10. Best Hidden Gem for Art: Denton, Texas

Denton, Texas

If you live in Texas, you probably already know Denton deserves praise. The city is home to a vibrant art and music scene that rivals even Austin, which is consistently billed as the live music capital of the world. Denton is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and seems poised as a top travel destination for years to come. Here are some of our favorite spots around town:

11. Best Hidden Gem for Beaches: Forks & La Push, Washington

Forks & La Push, Washington

When you picture Washington state, beaches are probably not what comes to mind. But that's exactly what makes Forks & La Push a must-visit locale for 2019. The area, which was popularized by the “Twilight” novels, features 70 miles of protected coastline. It also serves as the perfect spot to hit the beach and get some hiking done, since the area is home to plenty of trails. If you're looking to snag an amazing and unique Instagram picture, we recommend checking out the Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail. We guarantee it'll leave your followers envious.

12. Best Hidden Gem for Kayaking and Diving: Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

If kayaking and diving are your idea of a good time, you'll need to visit the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin. Kayaking in the Apostle Islands is a one-of-a-kind experience, in which you get the opportunity to paddle inside caves and take in the beautiful sandstone shoreline. The good news is that you don't need to be an expert, as there are tours for all experience levels. Once you’re done getting wet, pick up a mountain bike or an ATV and go for some off-road fun.

13. Best Hidden Gem for a Trip to a National Park: Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park is located near the Canada-United States border and encompasses more than 1 million acres. It's not a national park that you often hear about, but we certainly believe it deserves more recognition. There are some iconic lodges you can stay at if you're not one to camp out. We suggest checking out the Grouse Mountain Lodge or the Prince of Wales Hotel.

14. Best Hidden Gem for Skiing: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Not many people know Tennessee is a ski destination, which means shorter lift lines and less-crowded slopes. It's also convenient to get to, as a tram located in downtown Gatlinburg will take you straight to the slopes. Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort is open from December through March, leaving you plenty of time to book a trip for next year. There are slopes for all types of skiers, from beginners to seasoned pros. One of our favorite things about this resort is that it doesn't close as soon as the sun goes down, as all the slopes are lit for skiing in the nighttime.

15. Best Hidden Gem for Charm: Beaufort, South Carolina

Beaufort, South Carolina

South Carolina is filled with charming cities, but many of them have become overcrowded. Thankfully, Beaufort has managed to retain its southern charm. Take a stroll down the scenic historic district, and there will be plenty to see. After all, Beaufort is the second-oldest town in South Carolina. We suggest visiting during the city's Shrimp Fest since it's when the city fully comes alive. The festival typically takes place in early October, but be sure to check the city's website before planning your trip.

Joe Resendiz

Joe Resendiz is a former investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, where he covered public sector and infrastructure financing. During his time on Wall Street, Joe worked closely with the debt capital markets team, which allowed him to gain unique insights into the credit market. Joe is currently a research analyst who covers credit cards and the payments industry. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in finance.

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).