For Condé Nast Traveler, by CNT Editors and Ashlea Halpern.
What makes a city underrated? To start, it can't have its own TV show. (Sorry, Portland. You too, Philadelphia.) Sometimes, it takes a wedding or a business trip to bring us to different parts of the country, but these American cities—from Athens, Georgia to Boise, Idaho—make great destinations unto themselves. We love them for their dining and microbrew scenes, cultural attractions, or just that under-the-radar charm.
1. Birmingham, Alabama
Despite Jefferson County’s $4-billion bankruptcy filing in 2011, eager developers have poured money into Birmingham. The goal? Recapture a bit of that old Southern magic. Railroad Park, a 19-acre green space downtown (pictured), helped kickstart the revitalization (to the tune of $25 million). Regions Field, an 8,500-seat minor league baseball stadium, opened in the spring of 2013, then came the $7 million renovation of the century-old Lyric Theatre. And let’s not forget the Pepper Place Complex, seven buildings totaling 227,000 square feet that once housed the Dr. Pepper Syrup Plant and Bottling Company. Today it’s home to a design center, theater, restaurants, shops, galleries, and ’Bama’s largest farmers market. —Ashlea Halpern
Related: The Most Beautiful Towns in America
2. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Steel City has officially pulled itself out of the industrial dark ages and morphed into a bonafide tech town: Google, Apple, and Uber have all set up offices here. The creatives have followed, and why wouldn’t they? The art scene is robust, with Renaissance paintings at the Frick, immersive installations at the multi-site Mattress Factory, and pop art for days at the Andy Warhol Museum. More than a dozen riverfront projects are in the works, making an already biker-, jogger-, and picnicker-friendly town even more habitable. Plus, the food is as good as anything you’d find in New York City, from the crispy scrapple breakfasts at The Vandal (pictured) to beautifully-plated pintxos at Morcilla. Smallman Galley is another must-visit. The food court doubles as a restaurant incubator, helping talented chefs create sustainable businesses, Silicon Valley-style. —Ashlea Halpern
3. San Antonio, Texas
It may be the Alamo that first put ol' San Antone on the map, but it’s the shiny new Briscoe Western Art Museum, recently expanded River Walk, and ever-evolving Pearl District that are earning the stripes these days. That last one is a 16-block, 23-acre brewery complex turned multi-use campus. It houses an oyster bar, third-wave coffeeshop, bakery, craft brewery, charcuterie house, high-end kitchenwares boutique, the only Culinary Institute of America campus outside of New York and California, and the uber-hip Hotel Emma. Add to that scores of historic Spanish missions and the best puffy tacos on the planet and it’s like, "Austin who?" —Ashlea Halpern
4. Salt Lake City, Utah
So what if the city has some unusual drinking laws (any beer over 4% ABV, for example, is classified as liquor and policed accordingly). It also has miles of protected bike lanes, excellent hiking trails in Cottonwood Canyon and Mill Creek Canyon (the latter of which is dog-friendly on odd days), an architecturally magnificent public library, and a vibrant LGBT community (not to mention a lesbian mayor). Disappear into the Red Butte Garden & Arboretum for sweeping views of the mountains and Great Salt Lake, observe a weekly rehearsal of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or headbang with a heavy metal bowling league at Bonwood Bowl. SLC has got it all. —Ashlea Halpern
5. Raleigh, North Carolina
It would take a week of eating out just to check off every Ashley Christensen restaurant in Raleigh. From the retro-modern Poole’s Diner (pictured) to the down-homey Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, the chef has put her stamp on the capital food scene like no other. Decent grub isn’t the only reason to fall in love with this leg of the Research Triangle. CAM Raleigh puts on fearless contemporary art shows. Craft breweries like Full Steam and Trophy Brewing give Asheville’s established suds market a run for its beer dollars. And the shopping in the city is ace: You’ve got Lumina for rustic-cool menswear, Port of Raleigh for sleek Japanese and Scandinavian housewares, and Raleigh Denim Workshop for perfect-fit jeans, sewn right there in the shop. —Ashlea Halpern
See the rest of The Most Underrated Cities in the U.S. on CNTraveler.com
More from Condé Nast Traveler: