Photo by Anubhav Saxena
As an American who hails from what’s generally referred to as a “flyover state,” I get it.
The United States is big; the coastal cities are major and famous; there are only 24 hours in a day. Of course you want to go to New York and LA, Miami and San Francisco. I’m not here to crush your dreams. (Well, not all of them, anyway.)
I’m merely pointing out that, though you may have heard otherwise, there is plenty of culture, diversity, and excitement to be found away from the coast — not to mention, many fully functioning airports. Inland USA only has to be “flyover country” if you treat it that way.
Here are 10 inland US cities worth landing for.
Of course, I have to kick things off with a shout-out to my hometown. It’s often said that Minneapolis has the most theater seats per capita of any US metropolis besides New York; and while the veracity of that statement has been called into question by many, it should still give you an indication of the city’s cultural prowess. It’s home to renowned art museums such as the Weisman, Walker Art Center, and Minneapolis Institute of Art, as well as a heap of performance venues — including the First Avenue nightclub, made popular by none other than Prince himself.
In addition, it’s a great option for outdoor lovers. It’s one of the best, if not the number one, American cities for bicycling, with loads of paths that wind around its many lakes, parks, and water features. Make sure to stop by Minnehaha Falls, and take a walk across the mighty Mississippi River.
And of course, let’s not forget the Mall of America, the largest indoor shopping center in the United States, where you’ll find hundreds of shops, dozens of restaurants, and a fully-equipped theme park (rollercoasters and all). As someone who held a job here in high school and basically considers it hell on earth, I can’t actually recommend you go here — but I am informing you of its existence and leaving you to make your own call. (Just don’t go on Saturday. Trust me. Love yourself.)
For more, see my post on experiences you can only find in Minneapolis.
by Kris from Nomad By Trade
Detroit has had a turbulent few decades, but in recent years, it’s seen development that has led to a much more optimistic outlook for the city. It’s a community in flux, struggling to find a balance between longtime residents and a wave of hipsters and millennials, and now is a great time to come witness the city reinvent itself.
Spend some time mingling with locals on Belle Isle or at Eastern Market. Grab one of the city’s iconic coney dogs, sample some Detroit style pizza, or try one of the new restaurants that have opened recently. For a cozy old favorite, try the Traffic Jam in midtown. There’s plenty of nightlife around the casinos and at Cliff Bell’s, an old jazz bar. When the new arena opens this fall, the city’s four major pro sports teams will be playing within a couple blocks of each other, and midtown will be bustling.
You can soak up some culture at the Detroit Institute of Art — don’t miss the famous murals by Diego Rivera. The Detroit Historical Museum, Michigan Science Center, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History are all within a block as well. You can also visit the Motown Museum, located in the original recording studios of the label that launched the careers of some of Detroit’s most iconic performers. The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village makes for a world-class day trip into the suburbs.
There’s something for everyone in Detroit, and now is the perfect time to visit this Comeback City.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
By Alexandra from The Unrefined Palate
To dive into the heart of America and savor a unique blend of different cultures (and cuisines), consider venturing to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This small city, home to less than 75,000 people, has the most restaurants per capita in the United States. If that doesn’t scream foodie destination, hang with me. You’re at the intersection of Native American cuisine, Mexican fare, and cowboy eats all spiced with an international flair. All this blends together to create New Mexican food, a delicacy proudly served at many of the eateries throughout the town.
Once you finish your gastronomical tour, it’s time to take in the art scene. Santa Fe is home to a very wealthy population, giving a huge platform for the arts to thrive — from vibrant galleries to lively artisan markets. And that’s in addition to the traditional art museums. For a quirky, almost psychedelic twist, venture to the museum Meow Wolf. Hundreds of artists contributed to the final displays, which makes a lot of sense once you walk through. The word “unusual” doesn’t even capture what you’re about to undergo. Let’s just say, no two people will have the same experience here.
Visit Alexandra’s link for a foodie tour of Santa Fe.
by Karen from Wanderlustingk
Pittsburgh is one of the best cities to visit when you’re looking for culture, food, and art. This lively former-industrial hub has transformed itself into an artistic center — with reasonable accommodations, fantastic art museums (like the Warhol museum, dedicated to a Pittsburgh native), unique attractions (such as the medieval-inspired Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh), and incredible neighborhoods.
Pittsburgh’s Strip District is great for exploring, with many local shops and specialties (check out Thin Man Sandwich Shop). The conservatory in the Botanical Garden is quite famous. You can also take a ride on a historic cable car to enjoy the city from above on the Duquesne Incline! Across Pittsburgh, you’ll see the remnants of industrial buildings now converted for other uses, which gives the city a cool post-industrial vibe and visitors a good idea of its unique history.
If you have a car, don’t miss visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous building, Fallingwater (about one and a half hours from the city). If you do go, book ahead and make sure to get a tour of the interior.
Note: in winter, Pittsburgh can be quite cold, so be prepared for some snow!
Raleigh, North Carolina
By Yasmin from Oh, Yasmin Travels
When people think about North Carolina, they normally aren’t expecting everything Raleigh has to offer. The perfect place to cater to every millennial, family group, and the elderly, you can find bundles of what you want to experience in this city!
Start off your day with one of the great coffee & breakfast places, such as Duck Donuts (their donuts are super customizable and not too expensive) or Benelux (for some fancy waffles and coffee). Lunch is even more fun, with some unique burger and sushi combos at Cowfish.
Enjoy amazing art pieces from the NC Art Museum or CAM Raleigh, full of contemporary pieces. If the weather is nice, go on a healthy kick and take a hike through Umstead Park or try paddle boating at Pullen Park. Head over to Hillsborough street and see all the college students run around between classes to various eateries, coffee shops, and more. Get inspired at Cup o Joes (I’m there at least once a week working on some project), or head over to Hunt Library for loud, colorful walls and stairs, as well as state of the art technology!
Salt Lake City, Utah
by Marie-Pier from Cravings of a Wanderher
Salt Lake City offers a perfect balance between urban life and nature. Walking around the city is equally as enjoyable as hiking the trails hidden in the surrounding Wasatch Mountains.
The Utah State Capitol is a great attraction, featuring a magnificent architectural icon and beautiful backyard gardens. Visitors can take themselves on a self-guided tour, using a brochure filled with useful information.
A great place to stop for lunch is Brio Tuscan Grille on South Regent Street. The meals are delicious and the restaurant offers generous portions. For dessert, I recommend buying an ice cream at Farr’s Fresh Creamery. They also serve large portions, especially if you order ice cream cups.
On the other side of the street, there is Temple Square, one of Utah’s most popular destinations, which contains about 20 attractions related to Mormon history — including the neo-gothic style Salt Lake Temple, the impressive Assembly Hall, and the Tabernacle, where you’ll find a 11,623-pipes organ. All attractions are within a short walk from each other, which makes it easy to discover many places in a short visit.
At the end of the day, enjoying a short hike to Ensign Peak is the best thing to do! There is no better place in the city to watch the sunset. From the top, you’ll get amazing views of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake Valley, and the surrounding mountains.
By Maegan from The Wanderlust Dietitian
During our visit to Chattanooga last September, I fell in love. Maybe it was the vibrant hues of the leaves changing, the small-town charm of downtown, or the mountains that beckoned to me. Whatever it was, I yearn to return.
The food is delicious — think Upscale American. I recommend trying out Tupelo’s Honey Café, Community Pie, or Maple Street Biscuit Company. If you enjoy beer and coffee, there are many cafes and breweries to delight in. My favorites were Rembrandts Coffee, Chattanooga Brewing, and Terminal Brewhouse.
The downtown area is gorgeous at sunset, with a panoramic views of the city. Once you have explored downtown, head over to the historic district for river views at The Passage, the Walnut Street Bridge (the longest pedestrian bridge in the USA), and the Choo Choo Hotel. The hotel used to be a train station, and the train cars now serve as sleeping quarters.
Lastly, my favorite part of Chattanooga is the variety of hiking options. There are trail heads everywhere! Lookout Mountain is quite popular, but is swarming with tourists and RVs. We hiked Signal Mountain, instead, and the view from the top was breathtaking! I cannot recommend this city enough, especially for a week-long getaway.
St. Louis, Missouri
by Addie from Addie Abroad
Photo by Joshua Ness
When it comes to Midwestern cities, Chicago always gets the attention, but St. Louis is pretty amazing as well — and it truly does have something for everyone. Beer and baseball may be its top attractions, but St. Louis also has a plethora of museums and a lively restaurant scene.
The city is most famous for its giant silver arch commemorating the beginning of Lewis and Clark’s explorations. Get your feet wet with the most touristy thing possible and take a ride up the arch for great views of the city and the Mississippi River. If the weather is good, you should also take a riverboat cruise!
Without a doubt, the one thing that you MUST do is visit the St. Louis City Museum. The creativity there is beyond belief. With a 10-story slide and a rooftop ferris wheel, it’s definitely not your typical museum!
Especially if you’re taking a road trip down Route 66, St. Louis is one city you definitely shouldn’t miss.
By Jenn from DayTripper
In the bluffs of Southern Minnesota’s river valley is the small town of Lanesboro. As the Bed and Breakfast Capitol of Minnesota, it’s the perfect place to unwind. The town is filled with antique shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Hang out at the general store, or take a tour to the Amish farms to shop their goods.
If you’re like me and can’t sit still, take your bike and hit the Root River Trail. Throughout the day, the town’s population doubles with all the people biking through on this path. The trail is fairly flat and winds through multiple different towns, giving you lots of opportunities for pit stops.
Speaking of the Root River, there are also outfitters in town where you can rent a canoe, kayak or tube. Lots of visitors spend their time just chilling in the water on a hot summer day. Or go to Niagara Cave, a few miles south of Lanesboro, where the temperature averages 56 degrees F (13 C) year round.
No matter what you end up doing, Lanesboro is a great place to escape from the city.
Asheville, North Carolina
By Amy from Two Drifters
Photo from PublicDomainPhotos on Pixabay
Asheville is an absolutely awesome inland spot that attracts lots of visitors every year. Located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, it’s an artsy, liberal-minded city that is quite unique for the South.
Asheville has an amazing vibe that combines bohemia and classic southern. Where else can you visit trendy art galleries, eat grits, and ride a mobile beer bike tour? Other highlights include the Biltmore Estate (America’s largest private home and a swoonworthy estate), hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, discovering one of dozens of cascading waterfalls, and of course, eating Southern BBQ!
Check out Amy’s link for a guide to cheap eats in Asheville.
Thanks to my fellow bloggers for their contributions! If you have a favorite inland US city that’s not named here, feel free to share it with us in the comments.
Note: Photos belong to named contributors except where otherwise noted.