Dirty, dangerous or downright boring: there’s plenty of reasons a destination gets booted off travelers’ radar. Some cities deserve the no-go status. Others are just passing through an awkward stage. And meanwhile, they grow quietly, outside the glare of flashing cameras and the crackling of tour guides’ megaphones—kind of like an acne-ridden teenager who stays home on prom night.
But behind that closed bedroom door, something incredibly cool is brewing in these nine underrated US destinations. These cities don’t just offer offbeat experiences for lower prices and less hassle than their more popular counterparts. Some places serve as fascinating, if somber, lessons in history; others are bursting with artistic energy. But all these places tell a story—one that is inconvenient, undervalued or unmarketable.
They also go to show what happens when anything—be it a city or a person—is allowed to develop outside the mainstream. In a country of every-increasing mega-malls and corporate chains, these cities have a distinct identity. And a whole lot of local love.
Detroit has had a rough road. Once regarded as the pride of the nation, the capital of its car-making prowess, the city’s decent has been directly in line with the decline of the American automobile industry. A sky-high homicide rate and plummeting population leave most to assume that the city has been abandoned to criminals and drug dealers.
But while Detroit does have a certain bombed-out, abandoned feel, there’s also a great deal of history—and the potential for new beginnings. On the one hand, there’s the Motown Museum, Hitsville USA and the Wright Museum of African-American History, tracing the cultural and artistic past of the city. Then, if you look beyond the scruffy façade, you’ll see the first signs of new life: vacant lots being taken over by guerilla gardeners, warehouses filled by bohemians, abandoned buildings photographed by urban explorers. Heidelberg Project, the work of local street artist Tyree Guyton, is a perfect example of revitalization in the face of blight, and of the potential of Detroit.
Exploring Detroit is like looking into the heart of America. The artistic legacy of Motown, the remnants of industry and profit, the struggles with racial tension, even its seemingly bleak present state: it all makes a powerful statement about the current state of America, and the ripe potential for rebirth.