The Best-Kept Secret in Every State
Whether you love beach towns, adventure trails, or urban exploration, one of these wildly overlooked cities and towns across America is sure to be right up your alley.
The Shoals of Alabama in the northwest part of the state have a rich history and a vibrant modern-day culture. Each of the region’s “quad cities” boasts its own claim to fame: the musical town Sheffield is home to FAME Studios, where Etta James and Aretha Franklin recorded tracks, while Tuscumbia is Helen Keller’s birthplace, and Muscle Shoals gets a shout-out in the unofficial state anthem, “Sweet Home Alabama.” But it’s the least-known of the four, Florence, that’s arguably the most exciting. It’s considered one of America’s newest and most important foodie towns, and it’s home to a visitor-friendly lion habitat, where you’ll find the University of North Alabama’s live, on-campus mascots, Leo III and Una.
Who it’s for: Foodies and families
By now, you’ve probably read about the wonders of Alaska’s scenic capital, Juneau. But nearby Sitka is considered Alaska’s true hidden gem—and that’s saying a lot in a place famous for its raw natural beauty. In what other U.S. state can you hike through a rainforest peppered with totem poles and watch the sunset behind a dormant volcano? Sitka has a colorful history, too: it became the first capital city when the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. Sitka’s Russian roots are still prominent in the city’s myriad historical parks and museums.
Who it’s for: History and nature buffs
Want to take a walk on Easy Street? You finally can—just make a left on Ho Hum Drive. The whimsically named Carefree is a planned community created in the 1950s by a pair of American entrepreneurs, who marketed it as “a place for gracious living in a desert forest of rare beauty.” Today, the small city just north of Phoenix lives up to its name—and its founders’ vision for a quirky, upscale utopia. Head to Carefree for fine dining, golf, tennis, art museums, spa facilities, and shopping. And don’t miss the world’s largest sundial (it points to the North Star!) or the world’s tallest kachina doll, a traditional Native American craft.
Who it’s for: Free spirits with fat wallets
Arkansas: Eureka Springs
This Victorian resort village was once known as “The Magic City,” and it’s easy to see why. Around the turn of the 20th century, it was believed that Eureka Springs had healing waters, and a reputation for sorcery has stuck with it to this day. This bed-and-breakfast town is now famous for its healing spas, magic shows, and popular outdoor theater. It’s also known for its LGBTQ-friendly community and thrice-yearly gay pride celebrations. Don’t miss the most charming bed and breakfasts in every state.
Who it’s for: The LGBTQ community and the spiritually inclined
California: San Luis Obispo
There are so many high-profile places to visit in the Golden State—Hollywood, the Bay Area, Napa—that it can be hard to identify an off-the-radar spot. But smack-dab in between San Francisco and Los Angeles is a quiet county called San Luis Obispo. Billed as “the happiest place in America,” it encompasses some of California’s prime selling points: wine country, outdoor adventure, pristine coastlines, farm-to-table dining, and a perfect climate. But because it’s relatively far-flung, it feels more serene and less like a scene.
Who it’s for: The low-key
While ski bunnies and film buffs flock to towns like Breckenridge, Vail, and Telluride, take a detour to the relatively undiscovered Salida, a resort town on the Arkansas River. It’s a stone’s throw from another popular town, Aspen, and offers much of the same year-round recreation without all the tourists and fanfare. When you’re not snowboarding, kayaking, mountain biking, or taking a hot-springs plunge, head indoors. Salida’s burgeoning art and restaurant scene and prominent historic district are what truly sets this town apart.
Who it’s for: Outdoorsy creatives
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Much of Connecticut is residential, but the maritime village of Mystic stands apart. Mystic Seaport is essentially a 19-acre museum, and it hearkens back to the area’s 19th century seafaring roots. An adjacent museum and aquarium are among the area’s major attractions, and the cobblestoned Olde Mistick Village is a throwback to a much simpler time. Fresh seafood is abundant in this coastal town, and a haunted tour is the perfect spooky way to end your trip. You’ll also want to check out the 22 most haunted places in America.
Who it’s for: Mermaids and pirates
Delaware: Slaughter Beach
It may be the second smallest state, but Delaware is a giant when it comes to beach towns. Rehoboth Beach is by far its most coveted summer spot, with Dewey and Bethany coming in as close seconds. But if crowds make you crabby, plant your umbrella in the sand at Slaughter Beach instead. This ominously named but perfectly lovely beach has been designated a sanctuary for the swarms of horseshoe crabs that wash up on its shores each year. When you’ve had enough sun and surf, fill up on fresh seafood, then take a trip to nearby Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Discover 12 more East Coast getaways locals want to keep secret.
Who it’s for: Hidden-beach lovers
Florida: St. Augustine
In contrast to state-of-the-art Orlando and other, more commercial parts of Florida, historic St. Augustine, situated between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach, is a quaint city. And when we say historic, we mean it—St. Augustine is the oldest city in America. And though it’s a coastal community, the best parts are inland, where you’ll find cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and horse-drawn carriage tours of the area’s many storied landmarks. This casual and culturally rich little city is family-friendly and famous for its ideal weather. Find out 15 other towns that are great for history buffs.
Who it’s for: Explorers at heart
Georgia: Sapelo Island
One of a series of islands off Georgia’s coast, tiny Sapelo Island is lesser known than counterparts like Jekyll and St. Simon’s Islands, and that’s a good thing if you’re looking for a truly secluded getaway. Sapelo Island has barely any commercial hotels or restaurants, and it’s accessible only by ferry. Once there, you can kayak, hike, bike, and explore to your heart’s content, then head into the historic Hog Hammock community to meet the friendly native Gullah-Geechees, descendants of West African slaves. Find out the other American islands you’ll want to add to your bucket list.
Who it’s for: People who want their privacy