Unsung cities full of surprises

Special to The Times

EVERYONE HAS a travel wish list; perhaps yours includes Washington, D.C., or New York City.

But less well-known cities can be equally riveting. Here are 10 underrated cities with unexpected appeal.

1. Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City’s downtown is undergoing a $4.5-billion face-lift that includes a nine-block entertainment and shopping neighborhood. You’ll find Art Deco architecture, public art and a lot of affordable sightseeing. Then you can unwind among friendly locals at one of many renowned barbecue joints.


2. Cleveland

There are tons of family-oriented things to do in this Midwestern jewel on Lake Erie’s south shore. Leave the little ones at home, though, for Cleveland’s main attraction: the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

3. Truth or Consequences, N.M.

Kathy Clark of the town’s Chamber of Commerce describes T or C as “the most outrageous, fun, eccentric, funky 1950s town in America -- with hot mineral water.” Others call it America’s most affordable spa town.

4. Fredericksburg, Va.

Fredericksburg, where George Washington grew up, is a historic town that was at the Civil War’s crossroads and blends Colonial and Victorian influences. History buffs love it.

5. Makawao, Hawaii

Who knew there would be an Old Western town in the middle of Maui? Hawaii’s cowboy town, Makawao, has a main street lined with frontier-style storefronts occupied by trendy boutiques and galleries.

6. Pittsburgh

No longer a steel town (the mills closed in the 1970s), Pittsburgh is clean, vibrant and blessed with physical beauty: three rivers, five huge parks and gorgeous views from just about anywhere. It also has several first-rate museums, including the four Carnegies.

7. Charleston, S.C.

Charleston is the South’s gem and has streets so fresh and clean they almost sparkle. It also has upscale dining and shopping, Ft. Sumter (where the Civil War began), and several military-themed museums


8. Asheville, N.C.

Locals call it the Paris of the South. Its reverence for aesthetics is manifest in well-preserved architecture and the buzzing River Arts District. Visit America’s biggest private residence (George Vanderbilt’s 250-room Biltmore Estate) or take in stunning Blue Ridge Mountain scenery.

9. Davis, Calif.

Intellectual, progressive locals mingle in bustling cafes while others stroll around the tree-lined University of California campus. Take in a performance at the worldclass Mondavi Center (yes, as in the winemaker).

10. Tulsa, Okla.

Tulsa’s on the rise. Its industrial-chic Blue Dome District ends any idea of provincialism, as do its Performing Arts Center (by the architect of New York’s World Trade Center) and its spectacular Philbrook and Gilcrease museums. Best of all, Tulsans make you feel at home.