The USA is full of amazing cities that seem to not get the recognition they deserve. When we were living in our old Volkswagen Westfalia van we travelled with little to no plan. This meant that we also had little to no expectations about the cities we visited. It took us a while to slow down and get a feel for the top US cities that we were driving through.
When we head towards a destination I couldn’t tell you if it was going to take us the 8 hours google maps says or 8 days. Truthfully, I couldn’t even tell you with any sort of certainty that place is even where we would end up.
This way of living has made it so that every day, and every city, is a complete surprise.
Sometimes that bites us in the butt and we end up in cities like Stockton without even realizing it. Other times, we find these amazingly vibrant cities that we never would have expected.
This has allowed us to be completely and totally surprised with a lot of cities. Keeping in mind that we aren’t the biggest city people, our list of the top cities may surprise you.
Kansas City, Missouri
Perhaps it was our pure ignorance that associated Kansas with wheat fields and more cows than people. Ok, that isn’t entirely true. Kansas is one wheat field after the next but Kansas City is a surprisingly young vibrant city.
For those who have traveled through the middle states in America you are well aware of the massive nothingness that is there. That may be why we so quickly fell in love with the young vibrabt vibes of the city.
The city is like a mirage in the desert. Moving from east to west driving through the states changes from forests with no large cities to wheat fields – until you reach Kansas City. It’s streets are tree-lined, restaurants are lit with glowing lights and their transportation system is green and amazingly maintained.
This city is incredibly urban with modern architecture, a great Italian district and an incredibly artsy feel. The vibe of this city is upbeat and artsy.
Driving through on a Thursday night we were pleasantly surprised with how lit up the city was. With string lights hanging from tree to tree and the downtown streets full of hundreds of people enjoying the bars and nightlife, the city felt energetic.
Ok, ok, so this one isn’t a huge surprise. If you know anything about us you know we LOVE Colorado. The laid-back, health-conscious vibes combine with the mountains, rivers, and hot springs to create a truly magical place.
Sure, Denver is nice, beautiful even, but head a little way north and you get to Boulder. It is a much smaller city while still having everything you could want and need.
With hundreds of awesome parking and camping pull-outs, this area is just one big outdoor playground.
Boulder is tucked into a beautiful canyon with winding rivers and areas for the best rock climbing, slacklining, kayaking, and biking. If you are an outdoor lover you will be very pleasantly surprised.
The drive to go anywhere north or west of Boulder is insanely beautiful with winding roads with endless gorgeous scenery. You feel tucked away into another world. If you are an outdoorsy person Boulder is the place you want to add to your bucket list.
Admittedly, the city here isn’t much to write home about. Sure, it has nice shops with that great forward-thinking Colorado mindset, but the landscape surrounding this city is where it is really great.
Myles and I had a great experience at University so the young vibrant Uni vibe of this city really resonated with us. Taking a tour through this University you see all the beautiful brick buildings mixed in between endless walking trails and water features.
Throughout the town are old buildings with beautiful architecture situated right along the lake. The streets are full of people playing road hockey and beer pong. For a cool way to see the city hop on a beer biking tour. Basically a mobile bar, this pedal bike holds roughly 20 people and tours you through the city drinking along your route.
We were there in the summer and it was beautiful. Nights were long and sunny with people playing on the lake and soaking up the sun.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Utah has quickly become my number one favourite state in America. Weird, because previous to visiting here I couldn’t name 3 cool things about it: Zion, Moab and …..
The drive south to Salt Lake City was full of so many colours. We were ‘oohing” and “aaahing the entire drive – there was always something catching our eye. Almost every field or patch of grass is flooded with beautiful wildflowers giving it the most beautiful array of colours.
There are a few hidden gems around the city. The Homestead Crater combines two of our favourite things: Hot Springs and scuba diving. You can soak in the water or rent a snorkel and take a look under the water.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are another great place in Salt Lake City. The fastest cars come to this alien-looking place to prove their top speed. It can even look like you are walking on water at times as the flats glisten.
There are tons of lakes and rocky canyons around making this an excellent place to go with dogs or on a road trip. Given the extremely hot temperatures (we were sitting in 38 degrees almost every single day) the many water features were godsends.
The city itself is beautiful and is sandwiched between a mountain range and the salt lakes. Be careful if you drive though, the roads are horrible. Our car bottomed out a few times on potholes and speed bumps.
It’s no secret that California is one of the most beautiful states in the USA. Monterey is a small town on the coast of California just south of San Francisco. You are able to pull off the road and sit feet from the beach. Waves crashing all around you, pelicans on the rocks and old Victorian-style inns add to the charm of this place.
The shops downtown are situated along the water and have been built along one strip making it easy to park and walk around. There are loads of jewelry stores and restaurants where you can enjoy a nice meal with a view.
Pro Tip: The Fisherman’s Pier is a great place to go if you love animals. If you go to the very end and peer under the walkway you will see some of the fattest sea lions ever. They love sunbathing on the support beams and will greet you with a grunt.
Just a short drive south (literally one exit on the highway) is a little place called Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s like a land straight out of a fairy-tale. Streets don’t have names, house roofs are made from wood and have intricate designs and fences are made from sticks. The beaches are also out of this world.
White sandy beaches seem to always be a stone’s throw away. The entire beach along the shore is this beautiful white sand only seen in movies. Keep in mind the water is cold. There are people surfing but are wearing wet suits.
All of the places on this list were complete surprises to us. I am sure as we keep exploring this beautiful Earth our lists will forever change but for now, these are our top spots.
Have you been to any of these cities? Let us know what you thought of it in the comment section below.
Like it? Pin it!
Such a great list! Madison, WI was so fun and I’m glad you highlighted some great cities.