While it is common to hear of towns that are overhyped, many of which abound across the breadth of the United States, the United States boasts a fair share of towns that are underrated. Sometimes the reason these towns are underrated is that their chambers of commerce do not promote them well enough. Sometimes it is because they are eclipsed by close rivals who ride on long-established fame. Other times it comes down to the perception of the area these towns are located in. Whatever the case, an underrated town will always be a town worth scoping out. This article reveals the 11 most underrated towns in the Northern United States.
McMinnville, Oregon is a secret hidden in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a stunningly picturesque 150-mile-long valley that is home to more than 500 wineries. McMinnville boasts a population of about 35,100 as well as 20 of Willamette Valley’s first-class wineries. This makes McMinnville a destination that wine aficionados will not want to miss. Sandwiched between the sparkling waters of the Pacific to the east—and both Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood to the west, this bucolic town does not get the hype it should. Yet it boasts numberless exciting draws beyond just sipping varietas. Whether one will want to eat his way within a one-mile radius, explore the many breathtaking vineyards that pack more than just wine, or take part in the second-largest UFO Festival in the United States, McMinnville easily exceeds expectations.
Traverse City, Michigan
Known as “the Hamptons of Michigan,” anyone who has set foot in Traverse City will confess that this Michigan jewel should be on every vacationer’s lips. Boasting a population of about 15,000, Traverse City is known for its phenomenal dining scene, which makes taste buds run wild, numerous picturesque wineries, and a decent number of breweries. Besides, popular events such as the National Cherry Festival, draw more than 500,000 people every year from across the nation—and cement the town's legacy as the “the Cherry Capital of the World.” This festival features incredible air shows, complete with both civilian and military aircraft, fun-filled parades, lots of food, carnival rides, and a shopping bonanza.
New Shoreham, Rhode Island
This Rhode Island secret was established in 1672, more than a century before the Declaration of Independence, and remains the only town on the Ocean State’s Block Island. With a population of only about 520, one of New Shoreman’s claims to fame is that it is the smallest town in the smallest state. But it is not just about its smallness, even if that alone makes it worth exploring. It's all about the petite, little island that encircles it. Amazingly pristine, no less an organization than Nature Conservancy once declared Block Island among the “Last Great Places” —not in the United States—but in the Western hemisphere. In a report that referred to Block Island as New England’s Island of Hope, Nature Conservancy described Block Island as a place of “ethereal quality.” The island boasts pretty beaches, several hiking trails, and some of the most surreal views in the Ocean State.
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
With a population of about 13, 400 Sault Ste. Marie achieves that sweet spot between rustic charm and a suburban feel. The oldest town in Michigan, probably even in the Midwest, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan was established a good 50 years before New Orleans. While many may not understand why this little Michigan gem appears in an underrated list, history buffs will. Secreted in the northeast corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan overlooks the US-Canada border across a Canadian town that surprisingly goes by the same name. Originally a trading post, Sault Ste. Marie’s greatest draw today is the Soo Locks. Connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron, Soo Locks is the world’s largest locking system. Every American should have a look at this man-made architectural marvel that is also the busiest of its kind on the planet.
One will want to check out a Main town that has the audacity to style itself as the “Jewel of the Maine Coast.” This is because the Pine Tree State is chockful of amazing beachfront towns whose stunning beauty is difficult to pit against another. That is the reason Camden’s assertion is a bold one—and worth verifying. Boasting a population of about 3,700, Camden is a small town with big offerings. The Camden Snow Ball, for instance, is the only ski area on the Eastern Seaboard where one can glide down the slopes — while taking in the spectacular views of the ocean—both at the same time. Camden also sits on Penobscot Bay which is not only regarded as among the best cruising bays in the world — but also home to some of Maine's most beautiful coastal scenery.
Invitingly curled up on the eastern shores of Lake Champlain, Burlington is a Vermont gem that boasts a population of about 44,500. One little-known draw to the town is the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, regarded as the oldest state-supported orchestra in the United States. The Burlington Bike Path, one of the most amazing places to stroll on, is another underrated Burlington draw. The town is also home to arguably the tallest filing cabinet on the planet. And sitting right on the waterfront is yet another Burlington gem: ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. This amazing museum features interactive science displays and live animal exhibits. As to Burlington’s downtown, it should be enough to know that USA Today identified Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace as the best public square in America.
Alaska’s capital should not be a surprising entry on a list of the most underrated towns in the United States. Boasting a population of about 32,000, Juneau is often bypassed for Anchorage–and that unfairly — or perhaps ignorantly. Most destinations in the Last Frontier will amaze nature lovers. And Juneau is no exception. With a majestic rainforest just eight blocks
from town, and curvacious mountains at almost every turn of the eye, complete with the spectacular sight of cliff-trodding mountain goats, Juneau easily deserves a spot among the most underappreciated towns in the United States. If one comes at the right time, the colorful burst of wildflowers, the unbelievable expanse of breathtaking icefields, and the many crystal-clear cascading streams — will all be difficult to wrap one’s head around. Interestingly, one of Juneau’s most underrated aspects remains its dining scene.
Ithaca, New York
Anyone who has been to the Finger Lakes, the largest wine-producing region in the Empire State, will agree that this is one of the most picturesque regions in the country. Nestled at the southern edge of Cayuga Lake, one of the 11 lakes that make up the Finger Lakes, sits the charming town of Ithaca, arguably the most vibrant of the Finger Lakes towns. Cayuga Lake is the longest of the New York Finger Lakes and hands-down one of the most magical. Boasting a population of about 31,000, Ithaca is predominantly a college town. That means it is always full of energy and a youthful vibe. While the town is super inviting, with almost all the offerings one can dream of, no one ever visits Ithaca without exploring Taughannock Falls, a stunning wonder whose height is three times that of Niagara Falls.
Hood River, Oregon
Located about an hour east of Portland, on a stretch of road that is among the most picturesque in America, Hood River is a small town that many just cruise past. Yet, boasting a population of about 8,400, Hood River is an Oregon secret worth finding out. The town is curled up on the shores of the Columbia River, and at the mouth of the river that lends it its name. Regarded as the windsurfing capital of the world, Hood River is an outdoor lover’s paradise. The Columbia River Gorge, for instance, is an 80-mile marvel whose basalt cliffs climb up to 4,000 feet above the river’s wide surface. To the south of the city, Mt. Hood defines the sky, its snow-capped peaks glistening from a distance. A visit to Hood River should include a detour to Full Sail Brewing Company, a city highlight that serves delectable food and drinks right by the river.
Clinton, New Jersey
Boasting a population of about 2,800, Clinton is among the most picturesque towns in New Jersey. Clinton’s downtown area, most of which constitutes its charming Historic District, is among the town’s highlights. From the quaint storefronts that line the streets on either side, to the Victorian-style architecture that defines much of the cityscape, to the town’s laid-back feel, Clinton just about checks all the right boxes. But that said, the Red Mill Museum is the centerpiece of Clinton’s attraction. This is a 4-story grist mill located along the South Branch Raritan River. The Red Mill Museum, and all the stunning beauty that encircles it, will leave any first-time visitor in awe. For those who will want to grab a quick bite, options abound, some of which overlook the picturesque Raritan River.
Friday Harbor, Washington
Ensconced in Washington’s San Juan Island — which is world-famous for whale watching — the town of Friday Harbor saves the day for the most northwestern state in the country. Boasting a population of only about 2,900, this Washington gem offers an unhurried small-town feel—amid some of the most stunning sites of nature. With a downtown that is quaint and walkable, defined by historic wooden buildings, Friday Harbor is perfect for those seeking a secluded experience in a setting defined by mind-calming views on every side. Since Friday Harbor sits on an island, a beach experience is always on the menu, complete with all the associated outdoor activities. The town also offers access to historic lighthouses including the Lime Kiln Lighthouse — which happens to be among the best places to spot a whale roaring just above the water.
The Northern United States is a vast region that straddles the country from one end to another. In between this vast expanse, are several towns, some big, some small, which act as windows through which one can get a brief glimpse of what America hides. While some of these towns are overhyped, many do not get the mention they should. From Camden, Maine — which styles itself as the “Jewel of the Maine Coast,”—to Friday Harbor, Washington, whose setting on a gorgeous island defies superlatives, Northern America’s underrated cities are all gems worth exploring.