The US of A is a big ol’ place. For a weary traveller looking for something new, that makes the far-off-shores of the States a tricky prospect – do you tread the beaten path and play it safe, or head off somewhere new in the hope of finding your own way?
With so many wonderful destinations to uncover, we decided to show off some of the most underrated cities in the US and guide you towards some city escapes that offer fabulous potential (and hopefully, a little bit of something new).
So whether you’re looking for an entirely unique cultural shift, fantastic food, beach-laden beauty or simply a flavour of the great United States, let us guide you through some truly underrated US cities that you should add to your wanderlust list.
Thankfully, with Virgin Atlantic and Delta, you can also get from A to B easier than ever, with the former carrying you to the US and the latter handling any transfers with ease – saves the hassle of booking up multiple flights and worrying about transfers, after all!
New Orleans is a city that unashamedly screams a spirit and culture that is utterly unique and always unbreakable. Continuing its emergence with a vengeance post-Katrina, vibrant is an understatement.
Let us break down some of the unmissable elements that make New Orleans a must-see US city.
Cajun and Creole Cooking
Or, supposedly, “Country food” vs. “city food”. Though don’t hold me to that.
Natives of Lousiana will claim that you can only find true cajun and creole cooking in Lousiana – there’s no way around it. That means that you have to carry the heavy burden of trying as much of it as possible when you visit, however stressful (and delicious) that may be.
The most famous of famous exports include jambalaya, gumbo and po’boys, and that blend of flavours and warming, home-cooked feel is evident throughout many of the dishes you’ll enjoy. Catfish is all the rage of late too, and game-y meats – yes, including ‘gator – are continuing staples. Reams of beautiful restaurants, grills and bistros will show you the way in one of America’s fast-growing favourite cities for good eats.
The Birthplace of Jazz
Well, “birthplace” at the very least.
The city has deeply ingrained musical roots, dating all the way back to the early 1800s and the culture clash between the brass bands and African music. New Orleans’ Creole influence lives ever-strong through its food, but it might even be a little louder in its music (so to speak).
Live music is a must on a visit to the city, but it’s equally inescapable; jazz and music clubs litter the streets, and music festivals for every season are awaiting eager ears. Frenchmen Street is a notorious local hangout, while the French Quarter – and it’s annual April festival – also brings a huge variety of musical delights to the table.
Let’s just say that if New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, it always stayed close to home.
Mardi Gras Takeover
Or, in other words, a fabulous, dramatic mix of both of the above. Festivities run from King’s Day (January 6th) until ‘Fat Tuesday ‘ (Shrove Tuesday for us Brits) and it’s a true and unique taste of the iconic carnival atmosphere – even beyond what you may witness across Brazil.
Big and small parades alike are awash in the streets – seek out a smaller parade to gather the true sense of community across the city – and breeze through street-food and street-liquor like you never have before. Then, naturally, when your head is spinning from delicious food and even more delicious alcohol, stand back and bear witness to some of the most fantastic live music and passing bands you’re likely to hear.
Who knew you could dance while playing the tuba?
Find flights from £701 return – typically flying in from Heathrow (Virgin Atlantic), transferring at JFK and flying into New Orleans (Delta) – that are ready and waiting to delve you into the rich culture of the deep south (prices subject to change).
Denver’s a mountain town with a good heart – and lofty ambition. A cultural reinvention and a touch of urban inspiration have quickly meant that Denver is very much the place to be.
Let us walk you through some of what Denver – and its stunning surroundings – have to offer.
An Emerging Art Scene
The Denver Art Museum itself is famed by local and tourists alike for the collection it offers – particularly as its Native American art collections and Western American art offering are some of the best across the USA (and perhaps even further afield).
However, this is a stark contrast to your typical art museum, and has a smattering of interactive exhibits to keep kids entertained too. Naturally, there is also a healthy selection of other museums – particularly dotted across the Denver downtown – alongside some stunning art exhibitions and neighbourhood street art that show off both sides of the coin.
Denver calls out about its seven distinct art districts, all offering something special in and of themselves.
…an Established Beer Scene
With the Coors brewery front and centre alongside a wide array of micro-breweries, Colorado produces more beer than any other. Denver certainly pulls its weight in that respect.
Should you want to live the Charlie and the Alcohol Factory dream, the Coors brewery is a pretty wonderful destination that is worth a visit – but dozens of other microbreweries offer tours that can guide you through the world of beer.
And, with that culture and industry comes the reward. Denver will introduce you to a wonderful array of brews suited to all tastes, and even the most elite connoisseur will find something new that they’ll want to take home by the kegful.
Beer, naturally, goes perfectly with sports – and with a local NHL, MLB, NBA and NFL team all residing in the great city, you’ll be sure to catch something if a game is on your radar.
Nestling into the Rocky Mountains
Not that we’re saying the city hasn’t got plenty of charm all of its own, but being so close to all the Rocky Mountains have to offer – skiing, camping, rafting, cycling and hiking among them – is definitely an asset.
Rocky Mountain National Park offers stunning natural scenery and a mighty impressive array of activities – alongside the natural allure of nature – to calm the soul and generally inspire.
The National Park itself probably does the best job at summarising – “355 miles of hiking trails, 147 lakes, 77 mountains taller than 12,000 feet” are waiting.
Discover flights from £665 return – typically flying in from Heathrow (Virgin Atlantic), transferring at Minneapolis St Paul’s Airport and flying into New Orleans (Delta) – and catch your own glimpse of that Denver skyline (prices subject to change).
Things take a surprising term for the budget with Tampa – but don’t let that influence you on what it offers as a travel destination.
From true cultural history and insight to the rawest thrill-seeking experiences, a little bit of Florida offers a little bit of everything.
Inevitable Theme Park Exhilaration
Florida is known around the world for its theme parks – the home of Disneyworld isn’t going to be missed by many – but Tampa’s Busch Gardens is a pretty fabulous destination in and of itself, and is hold in the highest regard by many (even compared to Orlando’s finest).
Busch Gardens is more tailored to the thrill-seekers of the world, putting a lot of love into its most intense roller coasters – some of the best around the world. Rides like Sheikra, Cheetah Chase, Kumba and Montu lay dotted all around the park, ready to… well, basically terrify you.
What makes Busch Gardens truly special is the small touches across the rest of the park, and when compared to other theme parks, the massive presence of animals all across the park. Think of your favourite zoo combined with your favourite theme park, and you’re getting close.
Alongside Busch Gardens’ Serengeti Safari experience, you can find Safari Wilderness – 260 acres of Floridian nature. Surrounded almost entirely by swampland, Safari wilderness is a cross between a typical American ranch and an African safari, with herds of game trotting past, birds of prey soaring overhead and unique and rare animals exploring all over.
This is a very exclusive experience, though – you have to book well in advance, and limited numbers of visitors are allowed each day. The whole experience feels a little more tailor made and in-tune with nature, so whether you’ve always wanted to ride a camel, make best buddies with a llama or simply be among some animals you scarcely get to see, you could find a genuinely unforgettable experience waiting for you.
Ybor City – just northeast of downtown Tampa – is otherwise known as ‘Cigar City’, and when you remember that Florida is only ~100 miles from Cuba, this historic neighbourhood makes a whole lot of sense. This area, once thriving with the cigar industry across the early 1900s, fell into disrepair during and after World War II, but has seen a huge revival and is now a wonderfully bright and beautiful entertainment district very much in keeping with its Cuban roots.
The Cuban vibes expands out across much of Florida too, but it has a special place in Tampa. Numerous museums, restaurants and shops hark back to the heritage and are ready and waiting to take you a little bit back in time and a little while over the ocean.
The Columbia Restaurant is something recommended by many, though. As Florida’s oldest restaurant – and the largest Cuban/Spanish restaurant in the world – empanadas, guava-infused sweets and reams of other Cuban staples are awaiting for many hungry and intrigued travellers.
And we haven’t even touched upon the coffee…
Make the most of flights from just £540 return – flying in from Heathrow (Virgin Atlantic), transferring at Atlanta Airport and flying into Tampa International (Delta) – and create a getaway of your own in the sunshine state (prices subject to change).
Set along the riverfront, the city of Cincinnati offers some wonderful views alongside the hustle and bustle of a true American city.
When rolling hills and river views combine with sports and culture to keep everyone entertained, how could you possibly go wrong?
Beautiful and Budget-Friendly MLB
Come on, you knew a US travel guide was going to feature a fair amount of sport. Bear with me, here.
The Cincinnati Reds play in the National League Central Division and play their home games at the Great American Ball Park, seeing some admittedly mixed results in recent years. However the Red’s stadium is famed for its especially family-friendly vibe and highly reasonable prices, making it a much more tempting stop on your tour of the city.
Even in off-season, the stadium is easy to get to from the city and a major landmark in and of itself – with a museum that is also famed for its budget price and massive intrigue.
There’s even a wide variety of craft beer available around the stands; that’s right, you don’t have to have a warm beer and a terrible pie when you watch a sports game.
An Almost Unrivaled Zoo
Continuing the theme of being on-budget but amazing is Cincinnati Zoo. Despite being cheaper than most other zoos around the country, Cincinatti Zoo is unanimously declared one of the best in the country, set to a stunning backdrop, reams of activities and attractions and, of course, a wonderful array of animals to see and interact with.
From baby hippos to polar bears and manatees to ocelots, we’re not talking about your typical city zoo. This is definitely a full day’s worth of adventure, particularly if you choose to indulge in an exploration of the various exhibits, feeding opportunities or conservation exhibits.
Be sure to research the animals that will be around in certain seasons so you don’t miss out, and do your planning beforehand – with extensive map research, of course – to ensure you can see everything you want during your visit (that, and expect a lot of walking!)
Keep an eye out for the festival of lights in the winter, too.
A bustling and growing riverfront scene is home to everything from galleries and parks to shopping and good eats.
This also guarantees some stunning views, particularly as the sun starts to set behind the river while you’re tucking into some world class food or grabbing a drink from dozens of bars stocking the best of local breweries.
Food-wise, Cincinnati’s greatest export is chili, often poured over a hotdog or served up with spaghetti and borne of the Greek-Macedonian influence in the early 1900s. Whether you’re looking at a quick meal in a chain restaurant or a sit-down gourmet feast, you’ll be sure to see this popping up on menus in all kinds of ways.
…. and just so you know, it isn’t a ‘chilli’. It’s a chili – it carries more of a Mediterranean influence, cut-through with cinnamon and is a little looser in consistency (although it does still mostly come with reams of cheese and onions).
Breeze into Cincinnati with flights from just £1028 return – flying in from Heathrow (Virgin Atlantic), transferring at Detroit and dropping into Cincinnati (Delta) – and enjoy a truly unique taste of the Midwest (prices subject to change).
Texas certainly has its stereotypes, and Dallas doesn’t shake them off – it embraces them as much as it sets itself apart. A fantastically fabulous shopping destination, just a matter of miles from the truest of throwbacks to the days of cowboys, the variety is a rather beautiful thing.
Who said you can’t have the best of both worlds?
Forth Worth and Dallas outright are a little further apart than you’d think, so you definitely need to share your time between them. However, it’s massively worthwhile – as between AT&T Stadium, a wide range of historical and art museums and Fort Worth zoo, there’s a whole heap to do.
However, the most fabulous reason to visit Fort Worth is for its Stockyards National Historic District – a wonderful insight into what we’re going to call ‘classic’ Texas. Between the cowboys and the cattle-drives, the historic insight is pretty much unmatched, and there’s plenty of good food, shopping and activities to keep things interesting.
It’d be rude not to go to a steakhouse, right?
Almost Endless Shopping
Dallas officially has more malls per capita than anywhere else in the USA, and that tells you a little something about the massive range and quality of shopping available.
Luxury brands definitely have their place for the one-off big spend or special occasion, but between Downtown, Northpark Centre and Highland Park Village, you’ll find quite the variety. Dallas is also home to Neiman Marcus’ flagship store, which takes pride of place on Main Street (Downtown).
It isn’t all about high fashion either, as there are unique districts dotted around (Design District particularly) that features some stunning jewelry (alongside a contemporary art vibe) as well as an array of vintage stores.
So whether you’re thinking designer of fleamarkets, step up your game in what is, basically, the home of shopping.
A Multitude of Museums
Famed around the world for the JFK Memorial and associated Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas also has a wide variety of other art, science and cultural offerings to take in on a rather insightful trip.
Of course, the memorial to President John F. Kennedy, erected in 1970, is a must-see for visitors to the city – but equally unmissable for those with a flair for all things historical is the Sixth floor Museum, which celebrates the ‘life, death and legacy’ of JFK from the 6th floor window his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, was stationed in (based in the old Texas School Book Depository).
The Dallas Museum of Art is a little more lighthearted, but is given rave reviews for the non-existent price tag and wonderful array of exhibitions – while the Perot Museum of Nature and Science provides a wonderful contrast (and fantastic destination for families).
Touch down in Dallas with flights from just £851 return – flying in from Heathrow (Virgin Atlantic), typically transferring at JFK, Detroit or Atlanta and arriving at Dallas Fort-Worth (Delta) – and don your metaphorical (or literal) cowboy hat (prices subject to change).
And finally, welcome to California – where things are a little more relaxed but in no way less exciting.
Let us show off some of the finer details of the sunny shores of Californ-i-ay.
Relaxing at the Beach
Of course we’re going to mention the beaches. The beautiful weather and beautiful people make for a bright and breezy vibe that is unmistakable, and whether you want to enjoy some quiet sunbathing or a party atmosphere, there’ll be something that suits you right down to the white, sandy ground.
It’s not just the beachfront where you can achieve waterside zen, though – the river front has its fair share of beautiful views and stunning rentals, too.
The food along the shores, if you look in the right places, is bang on budget too – live the locals, as they say…
…Not Relaxing at the Beach
The likes of the Sunset Cliffs or Ocean Beach are the perfect example of, well, *not* relaxing at the beach. The surf in San Diego is borne of the carefree and fun-loving vibe of the city, and even the beginner will find themselves at peace with the waves before long.
This is one of those cities that is obsessed with surfing, so you won’t have to look too hard to find lessons and instructors – and there are dozens of spots and beaches up and down the coast that offer different waves for different styles and caliber of surfer.
Some call it a city with a ‘perennial Spring Break’. it’s certainly that way if you want it to be!
Relaxing with Beer
After all that exercise – or, y’know, falling off a board and getting sand in your ears – you’ve probably earned a drink in one of many drinking establishments across the beachfront, or around the slightly more glamorous downtown.
However, in a similar way to Denver, San Diego has a wonderfully well-reputed craft beer scene, with dozens of breweries waiting to show you around and introduce you to their vast and varied offerings.
This also means that most of the restaurants and drinking establishments you’ll frequent on your time in San Diego will offer up something new and delicious from nearby. From the rookies to the old guards, there’s a brewery out there creating something for every taste, and it’s your job to find your perfect tipple.
Combine that with the stunning street-food vibe – the burgers, burritos and wraps are some of the finest eats you’ll find, restaurant or otherwise – and you’ll find your own piece of fod and drink heaven before too long.
Drop into San Diego with flights from just £1106 return – flying in from Heathrow (Virgin Atlantic), typically transferring at Minneapolis or Los Angeles (LAX) and flying into San Diego (Delta) – and get ready to lean back and take it easy (prices subject to change).
So take your pick, prospective US traveller – and let us know what wonders you find on your way through some of America’s most underrated cities.