U.S. travel has a bad rap.
It often gets mixed up in the image of cookie cutter, predictable, overpriced tourist traps. And hey, I’m not saying that these tourist havens don’t exist because they definitely do. And I’m not even saying that some of them aren’t worth visiting, because honestly, many of them are. Tourist hotspots are usually popular for a good reason.
But I do also know that there is a lot more to a state, city, or region than the one thing that everyone associates with it and flocks to. Here are alternatives to of the 11 most visited tourist destination in the U.S.
Instead of visiting Sea World San Diego, check out Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Two hours away from San Diego and the famous aquatic wonderland is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The vast desert is the largest state park in California. It will feel like a world away. The 12 wilderness areas contain miles of hiking trails where you can spot wildlife such as roadrunners, golden eagles, and iguanas. The desert land is home to plant life as well, like cacti and a variety of wildflowers.
Instead of visiting the Las Vegas Strip, check out Fremont Street.
If you’re vying for the famous bright lights and energy of Las Vegas, you don’t necessarily have to visit the Strip. Often compared to Disney World for adults, the strip may be the most popular travelers paradise in Sin City, but it definitely wasn’t the first. Downtown Las Vegas, specifically Fremont Street, put the city on the map more than 100 years ago. You’ll get the feel of the classic, old school Vegas with cheaper drinks, free entertainment, and low limit tables. Besides the legendary, vintage casinos and restaurants, don’t miss the nightly free light show that boasts 12.5 million lights.
Instead of visiting Disney World, check out Miami.
Visiting Disney World is an overload on your senses and whirlwind of activities, just like Miami. Head 3 hours south of the magic kingdom for a vibrant, ethnic experience. Get a taste of the Cuban culture with authentic foods, colorful architecture, art, and music. If child friendly activities is what drove your interest in Disney, check out Miami’s plethora of activities like Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, the Miami Zoo, beaches, parks, and even catch a Marlins baseball game.
Instead of visiting Faneuil Hall Marketplace, check out Boston Harbor Islands.
Millions of locals and visitors stroll through Boston’s bustling Faneuil Marketplace every year. But to escape the crowds without leaving Boston, jump on a ferry and head to the Boston Harbor Islands. There are 34 islands and peninsulas filled with plenty of things to do. The scenery is beautiful with plants, flowers, and historic lighthouses. There’s plenty of ways to enjoy these sites while hiking, camping, fishing, or having a picnic.
Instead of visiting Times Square, check out a food tour of the city.
New York City is one of the best culinary destinations in the entire world. And not that there aren’t good restaurants weaved in between the chains, but to get a true dining experience, you need to set out beyond the neon lights. If you don’t know where to start, try a food tour. Foods of New York offers tours by neighborhood, including SoHo and Chinatown. With City Food Tours, discover specific foods in New York City, the Beer, Cheese, and Chocolate Tour, or Flavors of New York tour.
Read about Six Little Italy Neighborhoods Across the United States and book a flight to New York
Instead of visiting the Memorial Parks in Washington D.C., check out the international neighborhoods.
America’s capital is the most suitable place to take in our nation’s history and spirit, but it’s also fitting that like the rest of the country, the city has an international flare. Similar to the melting pot that is the U.S., Washington D.C. has ethnic neighborhoods and attractions. Little Rome with has the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center and National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Visit the Chinatown Friendship Arch and have a bite of authentic cuisine at a Chinese restaurant. Travel to 16th street to check out the Mexican Cultural Institute, complete with exhibits by Mexican artists.
Instead of visiting the Grand Canyon, check out Red Rock State Park.
The Grand Canyon isn’t the only jaw-dropping site in Arizona. The Red Rock State Park is 286 acres of awe-inspiring views and trails. The park’s mission is to serve as a place for environmental education and offers daily presentations and activities. Besides the unique red rocks, you’ll see a robust plant life and wildlife like mule, deer, coyotes, and bobcats. For a deeper look, take a guided nature walk where you’ll learn more about the history, wildlife, plants, and archaeology of the area.
Check out our Arizona Travel Guide
Instead of Niagra Falls, check out Watkins Glen State Park.
If it’s waterfalls you’re after without the intense crowds, there’s several small falls to enjoy at Western New York’s Watkins Glen State Park. The scenic park may not be the adventure hiker’s dream or attract people from all over the world, but there’s plenty to do. Stone walkways and bridges lead to peaceful, easy to walk trails. Unwind after the trails in one of the areas to picnic or to camp out.
Read our New York Travel Guide
Instead of Navy Pier, check out Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood.
Chicago’s diverse and colorful neighborhoods is what makes the city so unique and full of life. Each neighborhood has something different to offer and is known for something special whether it’s cuisine, the neighborhood’s ethnic influences, or the nightlife. One hidden gem not to be missed is the North Side’s Roscoe Village. The quant area is filled with restaurants, cafes, and shops, and it’s bustling with festivals in summer. The popular Lakeview, Wrigleyville, and Lincoln Park neighborhoods border the area so there’s more than enough to see, eat, and do.
Instead of Fisherman’s Wharf, check out the Cheese School of San Francisco.
California produces some of the best artisan cheeses in the country, and even the world. Taking a class at the Cheese School of San Francisco is an entertaining and educational experience to give you a glimpse into the world of the cheese obsessed. Whether you want to learn how to make cheese, which wines and beers to pair with it, or simply want to see how to truly appreciate and taste cheese, there’s a class for you.
Instead of the Mall of America, check out one of the many museums.
Forget walking around spending your money at the mall with the same stores you probably have in your own town. Save your money and learn something by walking around one of Bloomington and the Twin Cities’ 18 museums instead. From nature, history, art, and science to entire museums dedicated to cars, the Swedish heritage, and the railroad, there’s a lot to learn. Kids from 6 month to 12 years old can enjoy art, science, and music at the Minnesota Children’s Museum as well.
Read 15 of the Best Small, Quirky, and Unusual Museums in the US and let us help you plan a trip around the United States
Photo credits: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Miskatonic, Freemont Street: gnatallica, Miami: infrogmatation, Boston Harbor Islands: Doc Searls, New York Pizza: d, Washington D.C. Chinatown: Ben Schumin, Red Rock State Park: Wendy, Watkins Glen State Park: Kuddlyteddybear2004, Roscoe Village: chrisday71, Cheese School of San Fran: pengrin, Natural History Museum in MN: Buzz Hoffman