Student life is more than just sitting in the classroom—sometimes the best way to learn is to experience new places. Whether you’ve lived in the United States your whole life or you’ve come to study abroad for a year, the country offers plenty of incredible travel destinations to check out. Now is the time to make the most of your experience as a student and see the sights!
Maybe you've already visited some of America's top attractions, or maybe you're just tired of the same places getting all the attention—either way, there are lots of alternatives to popular destinations like Los Angeles and New York City. These are our top picks for must-see underrated travel destinations in the United States:
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Most students hit up LA or San Francisco as their chosen Californian destinations, but the lesser-known city of Sacramento offers beautiful waterfront architecture, entertainment and history without the crowds. Visit the state Capitol building and the Railroad Museum to learn about California’s gold rush history, or wander through the Sacramento Zoo. Once recognized as the most diverse city in the country, Sacramento is home to a culturally rich urban scene that you won't want to miss.
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is known for its famous Gateway Arch, but not many people realize the city is a goldmine for outdoor activities. Nestled at the crosspoint of two of America’s greatest rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi, the city’s best sightseeing involves being out in nature. Paddle a canoe down one of these majestic waterways, take a tour through the famous Missouri Botanical Garden, or watch the wildlife in Lone Elk Park and Forest Park. When you're done exploring, head downtown to the museums and restaurants. The versatility of St. Louis makes it one of the best underrated cities for students to visit.
San Antonio, Texas
Rich in history and culture, San Antonio is a must-see travel destination in the heart of Texas. One of its most unique attractions is the River Walk, or El Paseo del Rio. Walk alongside the 15-mile urban waterway and stop by the shops and historic sites, or hop on a river barge and float peacefully through the downtown area. Don’t forget to see the San Antonio Missions and the Alamo! The city gives off a relaxed, comfortable vibe, making it a great place to relax and take in the sights.
Twin Falls, Idaho
If you've ever thought that Niagara Falls might be overrated, Twin Falls, Idaho is the place for you. Sometimes called "the Niagara of the West", Shoshone Falls is a 212-foot waterfall that leaves visitors awestruck. As if that weren’t enough, another 200-foot waterfall, Perrine Coulee Falls, is just around the corner. Walk or bike the Canyon Rim Trail toward the incredible I.B. Perrine Bridge for spectacular views. Unlike their eastern counterpart, these falls generally aren't swarming with tourists. From kayaking and mountain biking to base jumping and zip lining, there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied. Whether you're extra adventurous or just in search of gorgeous views, Twin Falls is worth a visit.
Providence, Rhode Island
If you’re into period architecture, you’ll love Providence, Rhode Island. The capital city of America’s smallest state is lined with Art Deco, Beaux-Arts and Victorian-style buildings, including the very first shopping mall in the United States, built in 1828. If you stop by the Rhode Island School of Design, you'll find an art museum that’s certainly worth your time. Take an open-air boat ride on the Moshassuck and Woonasquatucket Rivers or experience Waterfire in the evenings, when the Rivers are scattered with bonfires. For the full historical experience, head to Benefit Street’s “Mile of History” and traverse through centuries of historical architecture. What better way to learn about American history?
Settled at the westernmost tip of Lake Superior, Duluth, Minnesota is a prime location for nature, dining, and the peaceful atmosphere surrounding America’s Great Lakes. Watch a lakeside sunset and explore the Great Lakes Aquarium or Lake Superior Railroad Museum. Hiking, biking and boat tours offer a variety of ways to explore the city. It’s even possible to hike to Canada on the Superior Hiking Trail! When you've had enough adventure for the day, you can finish off your trip with a restaurant dinner near the harbor, watching the ships glide into port. Whether you're from the U.S. or an international student, you'll love this lakeside city.
The Grand Canyon is usually the top tourist spot in Arizona, but Sedona is a stunning alternative. Hike through Red Rock State Park and visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an incredible architectural cultural site built into the rock itself. You can check out the Palatki Heritage site, with its many pictographs left behind by the Hopi indigenous tribe, or take a trip to Slide Rock National Park for natural waterslides. Verde Valley wine country is just around the corner, and visitors can even take a trip to the well-known Antelope Canyon. The desert sunsets alone make it worth the trip!
The seaside town of Camden, Maine offers visitors a gorgeous glimpse of coastal New England. Have a picnic with a view at the top of Mount Battie, book a public or private boat tour of Penobscot Bay on the Schooner Suprise or check out the hiking trails on the Fox Islands. Scenic drives and strolls through quaint New England architecture are the perfect way to relax and explore this coastal town. If you're a seafood lover, you'll be right at home—not only are the dishes incredibly fresh, but you can dine with an ocean view. Though it might not be at the top of everyone's bucket list, this northern city is not to be underestimated.
Ithaca, New York
New York City is iconic but infamously filled with tourists, so head upstate for something more peaceful. Nestled at the tip of Cayuga Lake, Ithaca, New York is home to the prestigious Cornell University. Visit the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art or explore the surrounding canyons and waterfalls along beautiful hiking trails. Ithaca is known for its many gorges, but the city center is just as beautiful as the nature surrounding it. Colorful street art and great local food create a complete cultural experience. Visit the farmer's market or participate in the Ithaca Science Center's Sagan Planet Walk as a unique way to learn more about the solar system. Ithaca is a hidden gem and the perfect destination for students.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the tourist-packed New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama is the place to go. With the same French colonial architecture, wrought-iron balconies and trees draped with Spanish moss, it’s actually home to the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. Filled with music and color, museums and seafood, Mobile is never dull. Even if you miss Mardi Gras and the springtime Azalea Trail Festival, parades and festivities continue year-round! Visit for the food, the culture, and the underrated beauty of this southern town.
As travel restrictions ease and making plans becomes easier, consider visiting some of these outside-the-box destinations. Make this the summer to steer clear of tourist traps and go someplace out of the ordinary. Who knows what other unique experiences you might encounter along the way?
Have an underrated travel destination to add to the list? Let us know in the comments!