Beyond The Headliners: America’s Best ‘Second Spots’

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America is like a huge music festival. It’s got the headliner cities: the big name acts that hog the limelight. So too, a whole bunch of support slots: those awesome, yet slightly under the radar acts than no doubt deserve just as much attention as the big names.

There really is something for everyone in the United States – if you’re done with the tried and true, check out our lineup of some of the best ‘off the beaten’ capitals, landmarks, cities and towns and mix up your next American adventure in style.

Louisville, Kentucky

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Gateway to the must-visit Kentucky bourbon trail, home to a burgeoning art and culture scene, there’s a whole lot going on in Louisville these days. Culture buffs will get their kicks at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft and the 21C Museum Hotel, while foodies will be satiated by one of America’s most highly regarded and exciting food scenes.

Relish in the city’s delicious smoked meats, glorious small batch whiskeys, and all-out sweet southern vibe (whether its Derby time or not).

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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There’s a relaxed charm to this old steel capital: once a hotbed of industry, Pittsburgh today is having its moment as a thriving tech hub, and an affordable alternative to other American buzz-spots like Brooklyn, San Fran and Portland.

Pittsburgh is, if nothing else, a beer city, and craft brew boffins will be in sudsy heaven here amongst the city’s more than 30 breweries. Featuring historical buildings, a rich multicultural history, and a happening nightlife scene, Pittsburgh gets the thumbs up. (Remember, it’s a Pittsburgh cheesesteak here, folks. Don’t get it wrong like I did, or they’ll chase you outta town).

Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota

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The Twin Cities have always been a sweet hub; as much as their virtues have blossomed in recent years, St Paul and Minneapolis have managed to keep their under the radar status pretty well in check, which is super for those who recognise how awesome the place is.

Whether it’s the world-class music and theatre scene (third only to Los Angeles and New York), its sweet nightlife, the colossal Mall of America, or the fact that you’re surrounded by 10,000 lakes (who’s counting?), the Twin Cities make for the perfect Midwestern city escape.

Pro tip: If you have time, take a road trip north to Duluth, Bob Dylan’s hometown, and a much deeper taste of the Minnesotan Northwoods experience

Eugene, Oregon

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As Portlandia diehards know all too well, Portland is the only place to be. But Oregon (and by virtue, the Pacific Northwest) is a pretty awesome part of America, and the state’s number one, third wave coffee-laden hipster hub isn’t alone in dishing up the goods.

For an alternative take on the Oregon experience, head for Eugene: a thriving university town, with happening outdoor, arts and farm-to-plate dining scenes. Framed by the impressive Spencer Butte skyline, an hours drive from the raging Pacific Coastline, this ones for the outdoor lovers. If nothing else, there’s also decent proof that Portlandite Matt Groening based The Simpsons on Eugene – grounds alone for a pilgrimage)

Austin, Texas

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By now you probably know all about Austin: home of Austin City Limits and SXSW, two of the best and most revered music festivals in the world. But there’s more than rock’n’roll to keep you coming back to Austin in the festival off-season. BBQ for one thing: the smoked brisket here is some of the best in the meat-loving nation.

The liberal vibe, low cost of living, ability to freely wander the streets in bright red cowboy boots, and occasional Willie Nelson sighting ought to seal the deal – get to Austin, and git ‘er done!

Albuquerque, New Mexico

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Though Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner put Albuquerque on the map decades years ago, New Mexico’s capital has carved a new name for itself these days, and the rampaging success of Breaking Bad has a lot to do with it.

Having said that, Albuquerque’s unique desert vibe has been revered much longer than since Walter White came to town. Ample sunshine, dusty southwest air, craft beer and a litany of food trucks ought to put this A-town on your A-list.

Anchorage, Alaska

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Alaska? Why not eh? If you happen to be a fan of glaciers, extensive national parkland and the common moose, then this Alaskan hub has your number well and truly covered.

September through April make for particularly spectacular months here, as you’ll be able to experience the mystifying emerald dance of the Northern Lights in the night skies. Pack your woollies!

Boulder, Colorado

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Denver and Aspen might get the wrap for “must-see” Colorado hot (or rather, cold) spots, Boulder holds its own in the shadows as one of the state’s very best.

Offering an eclectic array of great music venues, vintage boutiques, abundant craft breweries and cost cafes, this city can’t help but impress. Poised at the foothills of the dramatic Rocky Mountains, the vibe here is pretty darn special – little wonder it’s been voted one of the nation’s happiest places time and time again.

(Lead image: Rocky Mountains, Colorado, Skeeze / Unsplash)