Lonely Planet Writer

10 underrated US cities

baltimoreWhen it comes to American cities, travel articles and deals often focus on just a few major destination cities over and over: New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas — and don't forget New York. But the US is vast and dotted with cities of all shapes and sizes, so what are travelers missing?

Inspired by a discussion on the Thorn Tree forum about underrated places in the US, we posed the question on our Facebook page: Which US cities are underrated as travel destinations and deserve more attention?

Many more than 10 cities were suggested, so we've picked 10 community suggestions with compelling supporting arguments:

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

When travelers think about New Mexico, Santa Fe probably springs to mind as the top destination. But what about Albuquerque, the largest city in the state, not to mention the place where nearly all visitors fly into? Jason S. provided a list of reasons not to overlook Albuquerque: "Adobe architecture, the Spaceship House, an Owl Diner, petroglyphs, good museums, excellent food, the Sandia Mountains, the Kimo Theater and downtown, good places to hang out, a good music scene, lots of preserved architecture from the 1950s, interesting festivals, the New Mexico State Fair, interesting neighborhoods (Barelas, the South Valley), and good possibilities for day trips (hot springs, lava flows, hiking, El Mapais, Santa Fe, Truth or Consequences, Acoma Pueblo). It's also friendlier and less pretentious than Santa Fe." Add to this the opportunity to travel on the world's longest aerial tramway and the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, and Albuquerque sounds like a sure bet.

2. Salt Lake City, Utah

While one person mentioned that watching Big Love had scared them away from visiting Salt Lake City (don't believe everything you see on TV), several people defended the Utah capital. "A lot of people have laughed at me for saying so but I always say if you haven't been there, don't talk about it," said Jason S. Teri H. agreed, "Salt Lake is absolutely amazing. The mountains are majestic, it's minutes from the famous Salt Flats, the scenery is breathtaking. And, it's only hours from my favorite National Parks: Capitol Reef, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon. Love, love, love Utah."

Fresh snow on the Wasatch Mountains near viewed from Salt Lake City

3. Cleveland, Ohio

"Cleveland, Ohio! Great park system, miles and miles of bike trails. Interesting neighborhoods, great art museum (free admission), and friendly people," recommended Bob C.

He isn't alone in this opinion, Ian Hunter certainly agreed when he wrote the song (and unofficial Cleveland anthem) "Cleveland Rocks", and Lonely Planet's US Travel Editor Robert Reid is also in the Cleveland fan club and recently listed 9 reasons to visit the the Rock n' Roll capital of the world (or 9 reasons LeBron should stay in Cleveland).

4. Spokane, Washington

"Spokane, Washington...world's biggest Radio Flyer wagon - it's a must see," said Tyler B.

The world's largest Radio Flyer wagon, Spokane

If that's not reason enough to visit Spokane, the birthplace of Father's Day and home to the 1974 World's Fair, Riverfront park also features a hand-carved 1909 carousel complete with clown-mouth ring toss, and who can possibly resist that?

5. Los Angeles, California

Underrated? LA? The city where inflated egos fuel the economy? "LA is a puzzle," explained docbrown on Thorn Tree, "because it's both underrated and overrated at the same time, but usually by different people (or the same person at different times of their life/day)."

Thorn Tree member mrpenney agreed and provided quick summary of Los Angeles perception:

"Foreigners overrate LA.
Americans not from California underrate LA.
Californians not from Los Angeles GROSSLY underrate LA.
Angelenos GROSSLY overrate LA."

Tendency to underrate or overrate Los Angeles

Logically, this excludes anyone who has ever heard of Los Angeles from having an accurate estimation of the city. Go for yourself and see what you think, it's guaranteed to be wrong.

6. Seattle, Washington

Seattle was another popular choice. Seattle fan Doyel K. defended the Emerald City: "It has the best of nature, cruises, sailing, hiking, beach and coffee. People are amazingly friendly. The architecture is modern and funny. It has got good transportation for navigation. One never gets bored here. There is always something to do. The rain is usually a spoil-sport, but summer months are bliss." If the rain does spoil your plans, never fear because finding a coffee shop to warm up in is hardly a challenge in this java-crazy city.

7. Buffalo, New York

Buffalo often gets a bad rap: it's cold, it's industrial, and it's cold. But this doesn't stop people from loving it. "I second Buffalo," said Melissa N. "Lakefront, Frank Lloyd Wright, great galleries, tons of little quirky things, pretty parks, festivals, and some areas (like Elmwood Ave.) with a great vibe. Plus, it's convenient to Niagara Falls." Don't forget this is also the birthplace of Buffalo wings (hence the name).

8. Portland, Oregon

Neisha S. had plenty to say in support of Portland: "Bikeable city with a rainforest and hiking trails in the middle of the city, great beer, coffee and food, 1 hour to year-round skiing, 1 hour to wine country, 1.5 hours to the ocean and the gorgeous Oregon Coast." April D. agreed, "Portland, OR TOTALLY. Awesome city, and Mt. Hood is like 15 min away!"

Portland is also the unofficial beer capital of the US, included in our recent best beer cities in the world poll, although it should be noted that two other often-overlooked cities Asheville and San Diego are challenging this title.

9. Charleston, South Carolina

Several people mentioned Charleston, South Carolina as an unjustly overlooked destination in the US. "Gorgeous town, awesome antebellum houses, and some of the most fascinating and historic cemeteries I've visited," said Julianna K.

"It's a whole different America, but one easily on par with the big destinations up north and out west. Charleston has beautiful architecture and bustling city parks, a lovely waterfront, eclectic shopping on King Street, and is one of the best restaurant towns in the country," said boulevardofdef.

Oaks draped with Spanish moss in Charleston

10. Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore: remember that place you blew by on your way to New York or DC? "Baltimore is worth a day trip from DC, at least the inner harbor, the aquarium, maybe a museum, a game at Camden Yards, crab cakes for dinner, and you've had yourself a great day." suggested mrpenney.

Three out of 10 cities on this list are in the Pacific Northwest. If you haven't been giving the Pacific Northwest the travel attention it deserves, download the Pacific Northwest Grand Tour, a free trip itinerary from Lonely Planet's upcoming USA's Best Trips: 99 Themed Itineraries Across America (available September 2010) and start planning your trip!

What other US cities deserve more attention from travelers?

[Photos: Baltimore harbour by David Davies, Fresh snow - Salt Lake City by jotor, Oaks with Spanish moss by Bill Swindaman]