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Lonely Planet: The Most Surprising (and Often Neglected) US Cities

Editor’s note: Summer travel is heating up! The following guest post was written by Robert Reid, the US travel editor for Lonely Planet. He will be guest blogging on Savvy for the Summer, helping you find some great ideas of how to get your vacation on this travel season.

Some cities in the US will always be prime-time tourist attractions. The New Yorks, the LAs, the Vegases, the San Franciscos. And they justify their fame. For the penultimate article of Lonely Planet’s 15 Weekends of Summer season, I’d like to pay a nod to five of the most surprising US cities – ones that are sometimes zipped through and given less time as we blaze trails elsewhere. And if you want a free mini-guide to NOLA, we’re giving one away on the Lonely Planet website.


No city has improved more in the past 15 or 20 years that Pennsylvania’s burg with the "h." Steel town doesn’t quite describe what you find in this walkable downtown area of golden bridges, with funicular trains going up the Allegheny mountains and a serious investment in art. There are sculptures across downtown, but the best museums are across Andy Warhol Bridge where you can see the Warhol Museum, huge rotating fish on sticks outside the Children’s Museum and the avant-garde Mattress Factory, built from, um, an old mattress factory.


North of downtown, the Strip District is lined with eateries and bars; big for breakfast is the timeless Deluca’s. Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater is near Ohiopyle, a 90-minute drive southwest.


Long dismissed as just the gateway to the mountains – yes, the mountains! – Denver has never made a better case for sticking around a couple days. They’re easily filled by a visit to the superb collection of Western art at the avant-garde Denver Art Museum. Catch a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre and spend lazy hours in the historic LoDo district, which is filled with good restaurants and bars (Denver takes beer very seriously; the governor rose to fame based on his microbrew credentials). Stay at the Brown Palace Hotel, one of the country’s great historic hotels.

And, yeah, there’s always the mountains.

Read on for more surprising US cities.

Kansas City

Sort of America’s Berlin – a city split into two – most visitors will stick with the bigger Missouri side of KC, which has most of the attractions. The 18th & Vine District has historic links with African-American culture, including jazz, the Negro Baseball Leagues in the days of segregation, and some serious barbecue. Arthur Bryant’s here is a squeaky-doored place where you’re expected to know what you want before standing in line.

Looming to the south are most of the 200 fountains that give KC the right to call itself a "city of fountains." Many are clustered around the Spanish-influenced Country Club Plaza, set up as a high-end shopping area in 1923 (sometimes considered the first-ever shopping center).

Oklahoma City

Twenty years ago uppity Tulsans (with their foreign-language films and art museums) would mock their capital, and folks in Oklahoma City just had to take it. But no longer.

The dusty, wide-open, flat cow-town capital has quietly reinvented itself, by moving its art museum downtown, reopening two historic hotels, rejuvenating an abandoned "Bricktown" area (complete with a San Antonio rip-off canal), adding a dome to the long-undomed capitol, and bringing in a loved NBA team. If you go, linger here – but don’t skip authentic Vietnamese food in the "Asian District" around 23rd Street & North Classen Avenue – a milk-bottle building, once a Route 66 stop, serves of the best bánh mì sandwiches in the Central Time Zone.

For more on Oklahoma’s unexpected charms, here’s my 22 favorite things about it.

Till next time!

Make sure you visit our 15 Weekends of Summer site to download your free itinerary for 48 hours in NOLA! And there’s only two weeks left to enter to win a trip to Napa worth $4,000 — so head there now to make sure you’re in the mix.

Source: Flickr User Kevin Joseph Smith

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