Incredible US Cities That Aren't NYC or LA

15 September 2017

So you heart NYC, you’ve done San Fran and you know LA like the back of your hand. Where to next?

Beyond the obvious, most famous USA holiday stops, there are many other dots on the map flaunting all kinds of things to do, see and eat.

Don’t be fooled into overlooking these incredible US cities just because they aren’t NYC or LA.


Portland is one of the USA’s most-loved hipster havens. Its unofficial slogan, which locals love to flaunt, is: ‘Keep Portland Weird’.

It’s not actually weird – just a bit of a free spirit. And for travellers, that makes it interesting.

Portland is the kind of city where you’ll find a boutique in a double-decker London bus, oodles of bike paths and even dedicated skateboarding paths, a colour-coded book shop that’s one of the world’s largest and some very unique museums (a trip to the Peculiarium anyone?).

Portland also hosts its own annual naked bike ride, proudly elected its first female mayor in 1949 and lets pet owners take their dogs inside taverns.

A huge part of the city’s edgy, creative vibe however is portrayed by the plateful. Like it or not, this is a city that will wine and dine you and urge you loosen that belt just a wee bit more while on holidays – with plenty more to do on the side.

Coined “America’s new food Eden” by Time and one of the “best places to eat” in North America by Food & Wine, Portland’s culinary scene is ever-flourishing and innovative, with a strong emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients.

What’s better is that Portland steps up to the plate in a way that every local and passerby traveller can get a taste.
Sure, there are many upscale restaurants and award-winning food joints to try, but you’ll also find artful gourmet creations everywhere from the cute, little character-laden cafes to the countless food trucks roaming the streets.

And of course, where there’s good food there’s good wine – plus, craft beer and fancy coffee too. You’ll be glad to know Portland has more microbrews and brewpubs than any other US city.

New Orleans

New Orleans is popular yet not overrun, with a tribe of fans from afar who swear to ‘one-day’ get there.

Why is it so enticing? It is the whole package. It’s colourful, cultural and thanks to a recent influx of entrepreneurs and luxury offerings, it’s only ever gets harder and harder to say no to.

You can always count on New Orleans to deliver a soul-moving soiree of beats any night of the week, whether it’s your fave music legend or an emerging local talent taking the stage. It is the birthplace of jazz, but also no stranger to blues, opera, zydeco and Cajun music.

In the streets, the city wears centuries of living history on its sleeve – most famously the historic mansions lining St Charles Avenue. It is a visual testament to the melting pot of cultures that gave the city life.

In the food department, New Orleans delivers. The city is famous for its hearty and rustic signature Creole and Cajun flavours. No other city in the USA can be so easily be defined by taste alone.

But so much of New Orleans is simply about soaking up the vibes.

Whether it’s a stroll through the streets or you find yourself in the centre of the action at Mardi Gras, New Orleans is about more than ticking off a ‘list’ of attractions.


It’s the city synonymous with Elvis Presley – a famed musical stop for those venturing into the Deep South.  

Here, it’s all about the rock’n’roll and blues.

Follow the trail of great musicians such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Howlin’ Wolf and Isaac Hayes in the long list of museums and clubs, by day and by night, in song and in story.

A stop at the iconic Sun Studio where countless famous artists have brought their songs to life for the masses is a must, as is a trip to Graceland for a close-up of the Elvis mania.

Second only to the music, Memphis is also famous for its finger-licking good barbeque joints. Think honey-drizzled pepperoni pizza, grits al forno and handmade hot dogs served with that iconic Southern drawl.

Beyond the music and the food, there is still some fascinating non-musical history to discover, gorgeous arts and beautiful Mississippi views around every bend of those winding waters.


Chicago has many nicknames: the “Windy City”, “Chicagoland”, “The Jewel of the Midwest”, “Chi-Town”, “City in a Garden”, the “City of Big Shoulders” and, yes, even more.

One of the best things about a trip to Chicago? It’s one of the world’s leading architecture capitals, so if you like ogling at buildings and streetscapes you’ll just love the mix of glossy modernist structures, 18th-century skyscrapers and special remnants of jazz’s golden age.

Keep an eye out for the Wrigley Building, The Willis Tower, The Jewelers Building and the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower; be sure to catch the view from atop the iconic John Hancock Observation Deck; and don’t miss ‘The Bean’ (which is actually called Cloud Gate) – a sculpture that has become a top attraction and an enduring icon of the city.

For indoors stops, start with the noted Impressionist and Post-impressionist works at The Art Institute of Chicago (of course the exterior is worth admiring too) before taking in the exhibits at the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s ArchiCenter.

Add the many more world-class museums, miles of beaches and many beautiful parks (Millennium Park is a must) and Chicago is one of those unique cities that is as pretty on the outside as it is on the inside.

Washington DC

History is both made and told in no menial way in Washington DC – once famously described as “a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm” by John F. Kennedy.

Despite being the nation’s capital, it’s not often the first USA holiday destination that springs to mind for travellers.

Why go? This political powerhouse is teeming with iconic national monuments and museums that offer fascinating insight into the American story and spirit through time.

A stroll along the grassy lawns of the National Mall is an absolute must; speckled with symbolic buildings, museums, sculptures and memorials, it is the very heart and soul of the USA’s identity.

Washington DC also fosters a leading culinary, arts and entertainment scene.

There’s a myriad of colourful neighbourhoods to explore – each with their own unique cafes, shops and galleries – and once the sun goes down, the city’s theatres, performing arts centres, bars and clubs all come to life.

Yes, Washington DC likes to have a good time too.

Flight Centre

This post originally appeared on Flight Centre Australia.