New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood – it’s easy to imagine why these cities make it onto a USA travel bucket-list with their iconic landmarks, high-end restaurants, and (seemingly) unbeatable nightlife. But maybe you’ve already been there, done, that, or are looking to see where the heart of authentic USA beats.
What do Buffalo, Atlantic City, and Albuquerque have in common? They are all underrated cities with great food, history, and culture well worth discovering. We’ve got a list of alternative destinations, ranging from cities to national parks to beaches, for a truly American holiday in the USA.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Recognize Tuco’s lair featured in Breaking Bad? Or notice the secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities from The Avengers? Then, you must be in Albuquerque. The state capital is the new Hollywood, with the production of series and movies constantly being filmed in the city’s backyard. The city’s website Visit Albuquerque’s film location map is a great way to do a DIY tour, so rent a car and start celebrity hunting.
While you’re out cruising, burn some rubber on Central Avenue. This main axe that crosses through the city is also part of Route 66 – you won’t be able to miss the recognizable neon signs and old-fashioned storefronts.
Every year in October, the real stars are the hot air balloons. Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta is a sight to behold – over 500 balloons shaped like dinosaurs, clowns, or even cows can be seen wherever you look. On any other day, grab a seat aboard a Rainbow Ryders balloon, piloted by passionate balloonists.
Those who prefer to stay on ground can enjoy the rustic charm of ranch life – follow the bike path along the I-40 or the Paseo Del Bosque with a break at Old Town Farm. Forget the drive-in, here you’ll find the Bike-in, a bucolic eatery on the ranch, serving homemade salads and smoothies fresh from the garden. If you’re lucky to run into owners Lanny and Linda, their stories about living on the 40-year-old ranch on historic Pueblo Native American grounds might make you never want to leave town.
Recommended Albuquerque hotel: Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town (rates start at $137 per room, per night)Find a flight to Albuquerque
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Although the official nickname for South Carolina is the Palmetto State (in reference to its state tree), some people also refer to it as the Swamp State because of its murky marshes. Situated between Charleston and Columbia, the floodplains at Congaree National Park leave the bottoms of the forests soaked in swamps as the Congaree and Wateree Rovers overflow a few times a year.
By foot, you can take the elevated footpaths through rows of tall bald cypresses or pines that compose what is the largest primary bottomland hardwoods forest in the United States. With trees reaching record-breaking heights, swaying over 160 feet in the canopy, Congaree holds the nickname Redwoods of the East. So before rushing off to Redwoods National Park or Sequoia National Park, hug a Congaree champion.
Recommended Columbia hotel: La Quinta Inn Columbia SE/Fort Jackson (rates start at $88 per room, per night)Find a flight to nearby Charleston
Forget the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and check out the truly golden Sacramento Tower Bridge. From the glistening bridge, stare all the way to the California State Capitol at the end of the Capitol Mall Boulevard. A few yards off the boulevard, you’ll enter 1849 California at the Old Sacramento Historic District. After the announcement that gold had been discovered in the state, thousands of people rushed to California to get their hands on the shiny nuggets.
The Big Four Building, originally occupied by merchants whom later helped found the First Transcontinental Railroad, and the B.F. Hastings Building, today a museum exhibiting artifacts from the California Gold Rush era, are both National Historic Landmarks that testify to the California pioneer life.
Recommended Sacramento hotel: Embassy Suites Sacramento – Riverfront Promenade (rates start at $206 per room, per night)Find a flight to Sacramento
Atlantic City, New Jersey
With casinos all along the waterfront, Atlantic City is an alternative to Las Vegas with extra, sparkly trimmings. When the sun is shining, you’ll have to hunt for a spot on the Jersey Shore beaches, especially in during AC Beach concerts in the summer. But as soon as the sun sets, like moths attracted to the light, the neon signs of the Bally’s or the Resorts Casino Hotel convince passers-by to play their luck on the tables.
Along the 3.7-mile long boardwalk, the city’s nickname as the “Playground of America” resonates with each eye-catching shop and arcade. The heart of Atlantic City’s childhood reminiscence is at the Steel Pier, originally opened in 1898. Ride the roaring roller-coaster or watch the stuffed animals hung on the booths go by with each turn on the Grand Carousel.
Recommended Atlantic City hotel: Resorts Casino Hotel (rates start at $69 per room, per night)Find a flight to Atlantic City
Buffalo, New York
If you’ve ever pondered the absurdity of the dish named Buffalo Wings while licking your sauce-covered fingers, it’s time you visit the city where it all started. Buffalo has gained recognition for its ‘wings’ (which are from chicken and not buffalos, by the way) – grab the original at the Anchor Bar, coated in their original, secret sauce since 1964. Buffalonians also take pride in their Buffalo-style pizza, influenced by the wave of Italian immigration in the 1800’s – Romeo & Juliet’s Caffé is one of the best!
Don’t forget to try Buffalo’s Sponge Candy, a crisp, orange sponge-looking toffee. Since 1947, the family run business Ko-Ed has been making the unique sweet. With your pockets full of candies, follow the Niagara River on a 30-minute drive that leads to the nearby Niagara Falls, the famous waterfalls shared with Canada.
Recommended Buffalo hotel: Hyatt Regency Buffalo (rates start at $179 per room, per night)Find a flight to Buffalo
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
When you hear Florida, you think Miami, right? Well, what if you could get all the Floridian sunshine and parties right outside of Miami without the off-putting prices? That would be Fort Lauderdale. The sun glows with average temperatures of 75°F all year-round, so the beach is always buzzing. Rent a motorboat and let out your inner J.Lo as you cruise by neighboring South Beach. Or summon the adventurer within on an Airboat tour across Florida’s gator-country, the Everglades.
Join the ranks of visitors who come here to boogie without the elitist atmosphere often found in Miami’s nightclub waiting lines. The sophisticates will be sipping on one of the 42 signature Martinis concocted at Blue Martini. But those that want to relive their spring break dancing with the young and beautiful will be at America’s Backyard, an open-air party in Downtown.
And don’t worry about missing out on the Cuban lifestyle here, Juana La Cubana will have you saying “Miami, so what?” after trying what locals call the best tostones rellenos (fried plantain chips filled with spiced meat) and Cuban sandwich in Southern Florida.
Recommended Fort Lauderdale hotel: Gigi’s Resort Fort Lauderdale (rates start at $188 per room, per night)Find a flight to Fort Lauderdale
Providence, Rhode Island
Try to imagine founding father Roger Williams setting foot on the continent in 1636. As one of the original 13 colonies, Providence holds a special spot in America’s heart. To experience the country’s major historic turning points (like the American Revolution and slavery) and understand Rhode Island’s implication in shaping a brand new United States, head to John Brown’s House Museum. Before the home was a museum, notable guests like George Washington used to pop by for tea.
On certain evenings the city’s three rivers of downtown are set ablaze – over eighty braziers of the WaterFire sculpture are lit on the waters, a symbol of Providence’s efforts towards a cultural revival.
Look up! The design of the Daily Planet, fictional working place of the Man of Steel himself, in Superman comics may have been based off of the Industrial Trust Tower. Referred to as the Superman Building, it has been vacant for the past few years, but tours with views of Providence’s downtown and sunset over the WaterFire show are punctually organized. Get them ASAP – they get snapped up faster than Clark Kent can change suits!
Recommended Providence hotel: Providence Biltmore Curio Collection by Hilton (rates start at $145 per room, per night)Find a flight to Providence
Twin Cities, Minnesota
Get the most out of Minnesota by heading for the Twin Cities – a merging of sister cities Minneapolis-Saint Paul. Grab a bite on Eat Street (officially Nicollet Avenue – a 17-block stretch of culturally diverse eateries), pedal along downtown’s bike lanes on a Nice Ride bike (the city is one of the top 20 most bike-friendly cities in the world), and top off the day with a stand-up comedy show at Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy at the Mall of America.
Architecture buffs, behold. Hours can be lost admiring the Weisman Art Museum designed by Frank Gehry, with the architect’s recognizable style of steel waves, before even heading inside to admire collections of American modernist works by Marsden Hartley or Charles Bierdeman.
Up the Mississippi River, the Guthrie Theatre, designed by Jean Nouvel, stands out strikingly with its sleek, navy blue façade and abstract overhang. Known as the Endless Bridge, visitors of the theatre can walk to the edge of the enclosed overhang to admire the best view of the Mississippi River and the Stone Arch Bridge.
Chances of Purple Rain falling over the Twin Cities is slim, but then again, this is the hometown of legendary artist, Prince. Recently opened to visitors, you can discover his estate and studios, Paisley Park, in Chanhassen, a 30-minute drive from Minneapolis.
Fans will get up close to the mixing studios where albums like Lovesexy and The Gold Experience were recorded, rooms where they discussed extravagant costume design, and the VIP tour members will even take a big bite out of Prince’s favorite foods at the NPG Music Club.
Recommended Minneapolis hotel: The Commons Hotel A Noble House Hotel (rates start at $146 per room, per night)Find a flight to Minneapolis