10 Cities That Seem Boring, But Deserve A Second Look

09/01/2016 11:02am ET | Updated September 2, 2017
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

By Becky Mahan

Let's face it. Both foreigners and Americans are guilty of a bit of flyover state stereotyping, passing over certain parts of the United States for exciting, classic bucket list destinations. But the fact is that the U.S. is a BIG place, with lots to do. The Midwest is not all farmland and plains, the East Coast isn't always crowded and filled with skyscrapers, the West Coast isn't all beach and coffee shops. To help change some of these misguided stereotypes, we rounded up a list of all-American cities that sound dull, but are totally worth a closer look. Of course, the locals who live in these - actually awesome - cities will disagree with that notion, but ask someone from the opposite coast and chances are they'll say the city is nothing but box stores and chain hotels. Here's a quick breakdown of those 10 cities, and why you should consider paying them a visit if you're in the neighborhood...

Photo: Richmond by: rvaphotodude flickr - Courtesy:
Traditionally filled with Old South charm,
is quickly becoming a home for hipsters. Art-loving and eco-minded, some of the best spots in the city are the defunct lofts that have been transformed into art spaces. There's also
, a bohemian art and coffee shop that has earned the title of the city's "best hipster coffee shop," and the city's museum district, known as
, is home to a 1920s theater that plays new release films for just $2. The Village Restaurant is a local landmark and a popular place to grab a bite - and has been since the 50s - but there's also New Zealand beef at
and oyster stew and aged whiskey at
Photo: Grand Rapids by: Jeffrey Hartman flickr - Courtesy:
Sandwiched between glitzy Chicago and gritty Detroit, Grand Rapids is often overlooked - a shame, considering it's quickly emerging as one of the coolest cities in the Midwest. What was once a furniture-making industrial 'burb has become a hip, lively city popular with millennials, from its chic art spaces and galleries, popular theaters, and thriving bars, its downtown is nothing short of energetic. Plus, it's one of the country's best craft beer cities, a reputation that its growing student population loves. Grab a pint at
, sip fine whiskey and wash it down with a massive burger at
, scratch your name into the woodwork at
(while chowing down on a chili dog), and don't miss the annual
competition, which fills over 100 galleries and shops throughout the city.
Photo: Omaha by: BryonLippincott flickr - Courtesy:
Omaha is more than Fortune 1000 company headquarters and office buildings: its bustling downtown offers plenty of shops, bars and restaurants, as well as a historic feel (fancy a horse-drawn carriage ride down the brick streets?) Wander through the
or take in the "Omaha Sound" with a live performance from one of Omaha's emerging indie rock bands at
, pop into one of the many art galleries, or "take a hike" - literally - along the miles of trails 'round the 'burbs.
Photo: Boise by: Boise Metro Chamber flickr - Courtesy:
In otherwise conservative and stereotypically straight-edge Idaho, Boise stands out like a super cool, well-manicured sore thumb. Poke around the North End and you'll think Idaho-ans are tres cool hipsters: sip a beer at the nanobrewery
, then head out for a stroll along the Boise Foothills trails. Elsewhere, the "best breakfast in the city" can be had at
, there's organic produce at the
, and plenty of museums and art galleries downtown.
Photo: Amarillo by: steevithak flickr - Courtesy:
It's a bit kitschy and a lot cowboy, but this Route 66 stop is more than just a roadside attraction. Okay, it's home to one of the country's best roadside attractions (
, where you can spray paint graffiti on old Cadillacs in the ground), but it also has the
, where you can order a 72 oz. slab of steak. Mosey through the bars, cafes, galleries and antique stores on SW 6th Avenue (confusingly referred to as just "Sixth Street"), order organic coffee and craft beer at
, and decide for yourself who has the best barbecue in town.
Photo: Jacksonville by: noidiotsplease - Courtesy:
Both modern and historic, Jacksonville has managed to break free (well, start to) from its large-but-sleepy reputation. While the city still maintains a pretty conservative attitude, you can find culture, art, and fresh air (literally and figuratively speaking) in the trendy Riverside and Murray Hill neighborhoods. In a day, you can sample the beer at microbreweries like
, hang out with a cup of organic beans at
, eat locally-grown rice at a farmer's market, and drop in at a yoga studio in Hemming Park. Oh, and there's plenty to ogle at the Riverside Art Market, and eclectic performances to catch at
in historic
Photo: Bend by: day1953 flickr - Courtesy:
Bend is far from a "nothingville." First off, the city is surrounded by - and filled with - nature...and lots of it. Afternoons can be spent kayaking down Deschutes River or hiking in the foothills, rock climbing further afield at
, or simply soaking up the sunshine in one of the city's many green spaces. But nightlife is plentiful, too: there's a solid restaurant scene (try
), lively bars serving handcrafted cocktails and aged whiskey, craft beer to be had at brand spanking new microbreweries popping up along what's been dubbed the Bend Ale Trail (though check out the oldest one,
), and of course, art galleries and shops that just eek out those classic, laidback Oregon vibes.
Photo: Des Moines by: Phil Roeder flickr - Courtesy:
Des Moines may not lead the cultural renaissance, but it has its own spotlight. Downtown is basically run by foodies, musicians, and artists: harken back to the '80s at Up-Down, an underground video game bar with over 40 retro arcade selections and skeeball, or find plenty of 'tude at
, the city's oldest gay bar. Order a custom burger and beer at the wildly popular
, or taste olive oil and spices at
. Plus, there's
: a nonprofit arts center housed inside an old firehouse, where you can catch a performance on just about ANYTHING (ballet, punk music, trapeze tricks) on every night of the week.
Photo: Provo by: Ken Lund flickr - Courtesy:
The Provo/Orem community is perhaps best known for Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, but the implications of that are that students are injecting fresh, creative life into the neighborhoods. And with that comes hip restaurants serving up student faves like milkshakes, killer burritos, and creative hot dogs - or hangouts like Station 22, which serves up fried chicken and waffles and pork belly sandwiches. There's also the
, comedy performances at
, pottery classes at
, and the whole town is surrounded by the rugged canyon country of Southern Utah. Plus, Provo typically ranks near the top of national polls on the best places to live in the States - betcha didn't know that.
Photo: Sacramento by: Ken Lund flickr - Courtesy:
Contrary to popular belief, California's capital isn't just industry and politics. Sure, its sister-to-the-south,
, claims all the hipster and cultural glory, but Sacramento has its own corners worth poking into. For example, you can spend Sunday mornings at the year-round market across from
, or take a pickling class at Preservation Co. before getting a shave and a drink at
, a barber-shop-and-bar. Mosey around
for antique shops and art galleries, and, of course, don't forget about the 32 miles of the American River Trail, perfect for a leisurely bike ride.'s mission is to help people find great places to stay, eat and play that are perfect for them, famous or obscure, around the corner or across the globe. Find more great recommendations by downloading the mobile app.