If you’re anything like us, you’ve already started gathering ideas on where to travel next year. And while there are plenty of big-ticket destinations worth a spot on your 2021 travel bucket list, we want to call out a few places that may have been overlooked.
Whether you want to discover something new or spread the love (overtourism is real, folks), check out our list of the most underrated U.S. destinations to visit in 2021.
1. Taos, New Mexico
Skiing enthusiasts may have the small New Mexican town of Taos on their radar, but it’s often overlooked for Santa Fe. Come here, and you’ll still get the quirky art scene, snowy slopes, hatch chiles, and jaw-dropping landscapes found in Santa Fe, but at a lower price point and with fewer crowds. Taos is also loaded with active outdoor adventures, culture, and history, including the must-see Taos Pueblo, an impressive UNESCO World Heritage site composed of multi-story adobe buildings. In 2021, Taos Pueblo will host a celebration for the anniversary of the Return of Blue Lake — in which sacred land was returned to the local indigenous people after over 64 years of federal control. Taos’ downtown area is also undergoing a quiet renaissance, with new galleries, boutique hotels, shops, and a craft distillery.
Our Top Pick for a Taos Hotel: El Monte Sagrado
2. Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis has a lot going for it — and 2021 is set to be a big year for the Midwestern city. You can bet there will be big celebrations for the city’s bicentennial, though we’re not sure if anything can beat the excitement surrounding the world’s largest single-day sporting event — the annual Indy 500 car race, which will celebrate its 105th run. Some noteworthy 2020 openings included the new Bottleworks District, a huge mecca for entertainment, food, drinks, and shops; a restaurant from James Beard Award semi-finalist Abbi Merriss; and the Madame Walker Theatre Center, a multimillion-dollar theater honoring the legacy of the first, self-made African-American woman, Madame Walker. (Tip: Keep your eye on Netflix for Madame Walker’s story; she’s played by Octavia Spencer). Plus, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis — the largest children’s museum in the world — has brought back over 15 tons of dinosaur bones from a recent dig in Wyoming and its paleontologist lab will be piecing them together all year long.
Our Top Pick for an Indianapolis Hotel: JW Marriott Indianapolis
3. San Luis Obispo, California
California’s Central Coast is a favorite getaway destination for folks who live in San Francisco or Los Angeles, but it’s often overlooked by other travelers. SLO CAL may seem like a write-off, as it’s easy to assume there’s not much to see and do in the area. However, if you know where to look, you’ll find a laid-back wine country, a health-conscious community, outdoor adventures, and food and drink that’ll take you back to local roots. Paso Robles has over 250 vineyards and 100 tasting rooms, making it an excellent, low-key alternative to Napa Valley. Wine not your thing? Head to Kiler Ridge Olive Farm for an olive oil tasting. Or, book a private foraging tour with Central Coast Distillery, where you’ll search for ingredients, then create craft cocktails that incorporate your bounty. You can also go kayaking in the Morro Bay National Estuary. Here, you’ll learn about the unique ecosystem and get up-close to a floating oyster farm, resident harbor seals, and a variety of birds, including the white pelicans. If you’re in town on a Thursday, be sure to check out the San Luis Obispo Farmers’ Market, which takes over the main strip in downtown SLO and features live music, local BBQ, farm cheese, fresh produce, and the chance to leave your mark on the gummed-up walls of Bubblegum Alley.