America’s Most Underrated Cities
In our annual America's Favorite Places survey, we ask T+L readers to dish about their hometowns — the place they grew up or have lived in and know better than anywhere else on Earth. Unlike T+L’s World's Best Awards, which encourages readers to weigh in on travel experiences across the globe, the America's Favorite Places survey is a way for locals to share what their hometowns do best.
Readers ranked their hometowns and cities across a range of categories, from the quality of the pizza to the friendliness of the locals. We also ask if they think their city is wildly overrated, or an overlooked jewel.
Locals from these destinations, which range from the Southwest to the Northeast (but are mostly centered around the nation’s less-traveled Midwest), largely feel like they’ve been overshadowed by neighboring cities, or dismissed as "flyover territory."
Some cities have had a difficult time shrugging off hard times or negative impressions. (One Clevelander wondered in our survey: "when are people going to stop asking, ‘is the river still on fire?’ That was…50 years ago.")
Buffalo and Indianapolis are the only cities on this year’s list of underrated American hometowns that also appeared on last year’s list. Meaning plucky travelers have a lot of exploring to do in 2018.
20. Louisville, Kentucky
Distilleries, excellent restaurants, a strong bluegrass scene – you don’t need to visit on Derby Day to enjoy a trip to Louisville. An arts scene is booming here, too. There’s the 21C Museum Hotel (envisioned by Kentucky art collectors) and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.
19. Phoenix, Arizona
"I don’t think people realize how much culture and diversity Phoenix has," said one survey responder. Others agreed, hypothesizing that travelers assume that it’s "just hot with nothing to do." Even on a scorching day, of course, it’s easy to escape the heat. Phoenix has a number of art museums (like the Heard Museum, which features Hopi kachina dolls) that are perfect for avoiding sweltering afternoons.
18. Columbus, Ohio
When asked if Columbus was an Ohio underrated destination, one T+L reader responded: "I think this is becoming less true…but I’ve never seen it featured in Travel + Leisure..." Congrats, Columbus. You’ve now been featured by T+L.
17. Detroit, Michigan
A handful of Detroit locals think the city has a bad reputation, despite serious redevelopments. But Detroit is quickly becoming known as the nation’s Great Comeback City. If you haven’t been in a few years, you’ll see things have seriously changed. There are new boutique hotel properties, celeb-driven restaurants (like Mitch Albom’s Detroit Water Ice Factory) and non-traditional art sites, like the Heidelberg Project.
16. Tucson, Arizona
Tucson residents lamented how little attention has been given to the city’s thriving food scene. The barbecue, local coffee roasters, and craft brewers were three standouts for the desert city.
15. Cincinnati, Ohio
"Cincinnati has been under-the-radar for quite some time," observed one T+L reader. But locals think it’s the perfect destination for a long weekend getaway, thanks to its collection of art museums and music halls.
14. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Many Philadelphians think the City of Brotherly Love lives in the joint shadows of New York City and Washington, D.C. "We always seem to be an afterthought," said one reader. But even visitors from rival cities won’t be disappointed by Philadelphia’s incredible restaurants and historic museums and monuments.
13. Greenville, South Carolina
"You really don’t hear much about [Greenville] outside this area, which is a shame because there’s so much going for it," said one reader, remarking on the city’s small-town feel, impressive restaurant scene, and outdoor offerings. Of course, some would prefer that Greenville remain quiet. "Yes, it is underrated," another reader agreed. "And I’d like to keep it that way."
12. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
"I often encounter people with the old ‘Rust Belt’ vision of Pittsburgh. Not so. It’s revitalized and refreshed." Stay at the new Ace Hotel in East Liberty and shop at the boutiques lining Butler Street for a T+L Editor (and Pittsburgh native)-approved trip to Pittsburgh.
11. Fort Worth, Texas
A number of Fort Worth residents bemoaned that the city plays "second fiddle" to Dallas. "Dallas overshadows Fort Worth a lot…but the flavor of Texas, the history of Texas, the soul of Texas is in Fort Worth."
10. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
Most Twin Cities residents agree: their hometown is still considered flyover country. And their notorious winters may be partly to blame. "People think it’s the Russian Front," said one reader. But just as many think their winters are one of the biggest selling points. Brave the cold for a vacation full of hockey, winter festivals, and seasonal craft beers.
9. Kansas City, Missouri
Like Minneapolis/St. Paul, many Kansas City residents felt their Midwest location made it too easy to overlook. "Folks don’t happen by," said one. But with design-driven spots like Urban Provisions, locally roasted beans from Oddly Correct, and outrageously good barbecue from an actual, functional gas station, Kansas City is poised to be the next capital of cool.
8. Birmingham, Alabama
If you’re looking for a less busy southern destination, try Birmingham, which has a remarkable number of green spaces and quiet, suburban areas. Don’t miss Red Mountain Park (a 1,500-acre stretch of trees and hills with a 40-foot zip line).
7. Rochester, New York
"Rochester and the adjoining Finger Lakes region are the world’s best-kept secret." Museums, restaurants, art, public markets, wineries — tackling the area in a single trip would be formidable. Get a taste of Rochester by visiting Flight Wine Bar, which serves Rieslings and ice wines from nearby vineyards.
6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee has had a tough time taking the spotlight from Chicago. But according to locals, the city has a lot of the same attractions – festivals, breweries, museums, and multi-cultural restaurants — with less of the hassle and a fraction of the expense.
5. Grand Rapids, Michigan
"Have you heard of Grand Rapids?" one T+L reader asked rhetorically. If you haven’t, here’s what to know: it’s something of a "sleeper hit." Visitors might be surprised to find hip restaurants serving hyper-local produce, a handful of excellent craft brewers (try the Michigan Cherry IPA at Perrin), and a number of museums all within walking distance.
4. Cleveland, Ohio
"Cleveland has grown and evolved so much over the past decade. There is so much to see and love [about] this city!" Sure, there are Cleveland’s classic hits (a Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field; the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame). But the city also has a dizzying array of new restaurants (barbecue at Mabel’s, fresh brews at Saucy Brew Works) and a series of new cycling and walking paths.
3. Indianapolis, Indiana
"After traveling away from Indy a few times now, I’ve really grown to appreciate all of the fun and cool things there are about Indy. It’s more affordable than some other large cities [and] super easy to navigate…" explained one Indy native. "We have quietly become a great foodie, beer, [and] even a cultural event destination," said another.
2. Buffalo, New York
According to our survey, people who call Buffalo home think it’s a wildly underrated city. They say travelers who skip Buffalo are seriously missing out on a beautiful destination with world-class architecture (like seven Frank Lloyd Wright designs). Of course, you can come here on your way to see Niagara Falls, too. Locals just think you should stick around for a while after.
1. Norfolk, Virginia
Even though Norfolk residents still consider the coastal city underrated, this could be the year everything changes for the Virginia hot spot. In addition to being named America’s No. 1 favorite hometown, it also made T+L’s list of 50 best places to travel in 2017. That’s because Norfolk has a flourishing cultural scene, like a mural-covered arts district, and no shortage of new restaurants and breweries. One thing that hasn’t changed? Its seriously underrated waterfront views.