One’s a little bit jazzy, and one’s a little bit rock and roll. One’s got over 100 barbecue joints and a history that spans just as many years; the other hosts the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, the largest pork-smoking contest on the planet. Memphis favors the pig shoulder; Kansas City simply doesn’t discriminate, smoking everything from beef to mutton and sometimes fish over a blend of wood while grilling everything else. They plate up their burnt ends. That’s the KC trademark.
Hostels these days are a far cry from the soiled sheets on creaky bunk beds, stark walls, 30-second shower timers and complimentary breakfasts of dry toast. There are buzzwords for budget accommodation that just didn’t exist 10 years ago, phrases like, “luxury hostel” and “designer hostel,” describing places that look closer to boutique hotels than just a place to crash for the night.
Much has been made about the sheer diversity of the land in the United States, but few ever really venture wide enough to get the full extent of it. Island towns, jagged mountains, craggy canyons, shimmering coasts and a rainbow of different tree types are all sitting pretty on one chunk of North America. And with all of the unique aspects of each state come its own scope on history – some areas were settled by the Germans which indelibly mark a distinct Bavarian architectural sensibility; some by the Spanish and now boast an otherworldly culinary style. Some are simply all-American and have buildings left over from the War of Independence and have witnessed the march of progress and of presidents. Most are not often the go-to destinations for tourists, as evidenced by the distinct lack of blocks oppressively packed with long concrete towers or luxury hotel chains or celebrity chef restaurants. All are worth a stop, if not a true arrival and a wander around. So for true wilderness excitement and a totally different perspective on the story of America, check out these 18 hidden travel gems in the United States.
Saskatchewan’s capital is also its commercial, cultural, culinary and touristic heart; a city that’s loaded with interesting historical sites, creative restaurants, enticing museums and family-friendly attractions. In appearance, Regina is not far from the American prairie cities to the south, and the abundance of metropolitan greenery is an oft-noted feature of first-time visitors here. Popular attractions include the RCMP cultural centre, which explores the regional history of Canada’s iconic, red-coated mountain police, and the historic and magnificent governmental buildings, from the elaborate Legislative Assembly to the Government House, designed in the Italianate style. Regina is easy to get to too, sitting just a two-hour drive from the U.S.-Canada border and served by its own airport, the Regina International.
Lake County has something of a dual character, divided as it is between touring city-goers set on exploring the metropolitan heartlands of Chicago and more laid-back nature tourists in search of Lake Michigan’s quieter beach fronts and small-town charm. It’s a dichotomy that has left Lake County with a real cascade of different activities, ranging from the family friendly nature parks that pepper its outskirts, to the Chicagoan chain restaurants and sprawling theme park at Six Flags. In the winter there’s also plenty of scope for outdoor sports, with snowshoeing and skiing popular across Lake County’s backcountry. The region itself has great connections with Illinois’ capital that sits just under an hour’s drive away to the south, and is also served by Greyhound routes out of the city. There are also a number of nearby Amtrak stops, but these only tend to go as far as the suburban drop-offs within Chicago’s city limits.
Grand Island, Nebraska is nestled on the banks of the Platte River Valley, a site which has become famous for its place on the migration route of no less than 80% of the world’s Sandhill Crane population. Every year thousands of visitors come to wonder at the majestic oscillations of wave after wave of birds heading southwards to the warmer territories of Florida and the Gulf, a phenomenon that has been hailed by National Geographic as one of America’s most fascinating migrations. But, while birdwatchers have long been Grand Island’s biggest touristic group, a newfound cultural impetus is slowly but surely transforming it into a family friendly stopover on the way through Nebraska, complete with historic museums and water parks. What’s more, in late summer Grand Island now plays host to the 11-day State Fair, an all-round celebration of the arts, sports and Nebraskan culture; definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in town.
Once an old mining town on the very frontiers of Crow Indian territory, Red Lodge, Montana is now one of the most popular stopovers on the way through to the Yellowstone National Park. Set amidst the majestic foothills of the Beartooth Mountains, even the drive in and out of town is sure to impress. Expect panoramas of snow-tipped peaks and steep alpine valleys, along with a healthy array of all the concomitant outdoor activities, from skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, to hiking, biking, fishing and golf in the summer. Red Lodge itself is also home to a number of surprising little points of interest that make it worthy of more than just a one-night stay. Visitors enjoy a selection of quirky cafés and traditional eateries, along with a laid-back, chilled-out mountain vibe that’s often a welcome relaxation before delving into the drama of Yellowstone in the west.
Though it’s in San Diego County, only an hour outside of San Diego, the small town of Julian has a very different feel than most of Southern California. Its historic Main Street is lined with small shops and bakeries, and its mountainous landscape — whose cool air is a welcome relief from the SoCal heat — is dotted with gold mines. Evidence of Julian’s history as a boomtown can best be seen at the Julian Pioneer Museum or by taking a tour of one of the old gold mines just outside of town. The other big draw to Julian is its famed apple pies. Different bakeries around town make various claims as to who makes the best pie, but, of course, there’s only one way to find out. Visit Julian during Apple Days, the annual apple harvest, for an even more special experience.
Springfield sits on that curious cultural confluence between Wild West and American South. It’s a town loaded with traditions, heritage and history, deriving character from a real kaleidoscope of backstories, each with their own distinct flavor. Today it stands as something as a less-touristy option in southwest Missouri, offering families and individual travelers an array of interesting activities, from wine tasting excursions to tours of old Civil War battlefields. There’s also a number of natural sites worth seeing here, like the vast Fantastic Caverns, America’s only complete “drive-thru” subterranean experience. In recent years there’s also been something of a renaissance going on in downtown Springfield, and a new lease of life is evident in its array of quirky retail outlets and burgeoning gastronomic line up.
Charleston, West Virginia, is a state capital with a difference. Far removed from the hustle and bustle of North America’s other major metropolises, this laid-back, chilled out town is nestled amidst the rolling Appalachian foothills at the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha Rivers, a place where country traditions die hard and cultural pursuits reign supreme. The city is also one of America’s most accessible, occupying a convenient spot on the intersection of no less than three interstate highways that pave the way to Columbus and Pittsburgh among others. Charleston itself has become something of a hub for performing artists and traveling theater troupes too, and visitors should expect a quirky and experimental art scene with a cutting-edge gastronomic line up to match.