A few years ago I noticed that while I love traveling the world, I have comparatively spent very little time exploring my own country. That’s a shame really, there is so much to see and experience in the U.S. that it would take many lifetimes to do it all. So I made a pledge to try to add in a little more domestic travel to my yearly calendar, and so far the results have been great. Visiting cities and even states that hadn’t especially appealed to me, I have always left with a greater appreciation for them. More than just an appreciation though, I’ve loved every trip I’ve taken so far around the U.S. and I’ve discovered communities and regions that are just a lot of fun to explore. So today I want to share some of those cities that most impressed me and which might surprise you. They don’t normally rank on any top ten list but, as I discovered, they all have a lot to offer to just about any kind of traveler.
Cleveland has made great strides in recent years reimagining the downtown core and presenting experiences fun for locals and visitors alike. Staying in the centrally located and recently remodeled Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, it was the perfect base from which to visit important sights like the new Public Square and of course the incredible Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Days could be spent exploring this comprehensive museum, as well as the other sights located along the Lake Erie waterfront. If you have a car, be sure to also explore Cleveland’s neighborhoods where you’ll discover great food, like at the Polish eatery Sokolowski’s, and even the real house used in the holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” Cleveland has a lot to offer, you just have to know where to look.
Cities of Southwest Louisiana
While there’s a lot to see and do in Southwest Louisiana, I’ve added it to this list for one reason – the food. Frankly, all of Louisiana is known for its cuisine, but the southwest part of the state takes this obsession to an entirely new level. Comfort food is the name of the game here, including boudin, cracklins, doughnuts, and more. But fine dining is also well represented and there are many restaurants featuring creative menus by new and daring chefs. Visitors should try the boudin in Lake Charles, stop by The French Press in Lafayette and spend a few days in Baton Rouge, including a mandatory stop at Tiger Deaux-nuts for the addictive Boudin Egg and Cheese Sandwich.
Corning, New York
The de facto capital of the Finger Lakes thanks to its size and history, I quickly realized that an entire trip could be spent exploring what has often been called one of America’s Best Small Towns. What attracts most people, at least originally, is the world-renowned Corning Museum of Glass. Established in 1951 as a gift to the world by Corning Glass Works, the massive Museum of Glass would take days to fully experience, from learning about the history of glass through the ages to admiring the modern art in a newly designed gallery. Visiting the Corning Museum of Glass is also very much a hands on experience though, and guests can get creative with glass in any number of ways, including working with a glass artist to produce their very own piece to take home.
In recent years, Detroit has become famous around the world as the city that went bankrupt. The city where entire neighborhoods were left in ruin, neglected and teeming with blight. That’s honestly all I knew about the Motor City before my first visit, and that’s part of the problem. Almost everything we see on the news, in magazines or even on travel blogs is obsessed with Detroit’s so-called ruin porn. Sharing the photos of these houses and city blocks that have been left to rot has been all the rage. Because of that, not many people know the real story of Detroit. That no, the city is not a burning pile of rubble. That Detroit is actually a great place to visit and I imagine to live, and that fact more than anything else surprised me the most. Great museums, delicious food and other fun diversions all come together to make Detroit a fun and, I think, an important city to visit.
This is one city that certainly was never on my radar of top places to visit. But then I found myself there for a couple of days and decided to make the most of it. What I discovered was a city with a lot to offer and one in which I had a great experience. Staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas I ate some great food and visited popular sights like the Reunion Tower GeO-Deck and George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum, but it was a visit to a very special museum that I enjoyed the most. The Sixth Floor Museum is located in the very building where Lee Harvey Oswald fired those far too impactful bullets (formerly the Texas School Book Depository) and the museum tells the story of the JFK assassination expertly. Using photos, film, narration and interactive displays, this thorough and very well researched museum takes guests through the turbulent era of the early 1960s, the events that led to the President’s assassination and ultimately the murder itself, along with the impact Kennedy’s death had on the world. Standing there in the same position as Oswald once stood, looking out across at Dealey Plaza was an eerie feeling, it brought the event to life in a way that has always been hard for me, since I wasn’t alive in 1963. I can’t recommend this museum strongly enough, it really is just that good.
The last time I was in St. Louis I was ten, so on a recent visit I had to start all over again as a tourist. The day I spent traipsing around town though was fun, a lot more fun than I expected to be honest and here’s why. St. Louis is one of those lovingly underrated cities that has a lot to offer visitors, but not everyone seems to know that. Starting off my day looking across the city from the top of the Gateway Arch, one of the country’s most recognizable symbols, was the perfect way to survey what lay around me and get excited for a day of exploration. Most of my day though wasn’t spent at famous landmarks, it was enjoying the rich museum culture found all around St. Louis. The quirky City Museum was highly recommended, and even after visiting I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but there’s no doubt it’s unusual. I suspect that it’s geared more towards kids, but adults will also enjoy this artist’s dream come to life. One of the newest museums in town though has quickly become one of the city’s most popular – the National Blues Museum. Sharing the rich culture and history of this very American style of music, even though I’m not a fan of the genre myself, I couldn’t help but be drawn into this very well executed museum conveniently located in the middle of the downtown. My final museum stop was my favorite, the Missouri History Museum, thanks to a special exhibit that is ongoing until the middle of 2017. Route 66 runs through St. Louis and Missouri, so it only makes sense for the museum to share the incredible history of the Mother Road. I’ve long wanted to drive Route 66 and experiencing this amazing exhibit only further fueled my wanderlust. Add in some BBQ, fried ravioli and provel cheese pizza, and this is the perfect way to spend a busy but fun day in St. Louis.
What cities have surprised you?