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5 U.S. State Capitals Tourists Always Overlook

By Fiona Mokry
Read time: 4 minutes

Whether the draw is history, sports, nature, or music, famous U.S. capital cities such as Washington D.C, Boston, Nashville, Denver, and Austin attract visitors from around the world. But America reaches far and wide, and the world’s third-largest country by area packs in dozens of fascinating (and fun) capital cities that often go overlooked in favor of those better known. Find out why you should also add these five underrated capital cities to your bucket list of places to visit in the U.S.

Sacramento, California

Aerial view of Sacramento, California
Credit: halbergman/ Shutterstock

When you’re going up against world-famous coastal cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, it’s easy to get overlooked in California. While Sacramento doesn’t have the beaches of the south or the glamor of the Hollywood Hills, California’s state capital does have a lot going for it. Not only is it one of America’s sunniest cities, but Sacramento also offers plenty of fascinating entertainment options for visitors, a vibrant wine and culinary scene, and a bevy of outdoor adventures right at its doorstep.

A visit to Sacramento could entail museum hopping through the historic 19th-century downtown filled with the architecture of the Old West, dining at farm-to-fork restaurants, tasting wine at dozens of nearby wineries, rafting down the American River, or hiking in the nearby Sierra Nevadas.  

Boise, Idaho

Highway leading to downtown Boise, Idaho, with mountains seen in distance
Credit: knowlesgallery/ iStock

Idaho’s location — between the beautiful mountains of Montana, the lush greenery of Oregon and Washington, and the stunning canyons of Utah — means that many people overlook the state. While you may be tempted to write off Idaho as a mass generator of potatoes and not much more, the state capital of Boise is a far cry from just farmlands and fields. 

The city’s skyscrapers compete with the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, a contrast that sums up the duality of life in Boise. Foodies and wine lovers thrive in the tree-lined downtown, dining at award-winning restaurants, sampling microbrews, and exploring the urban wine trail. Meanwhile, finding outdoor adventure is easy. Boise boasts direct access to several nature reserves northwest of the city, which offer hikes of all skill levels, from the novice to the more advanced. If you’d rather stay in the city, the 25-mile riverside Greenbelt provides plenty of space to walk, run, or bike. And after a day of adventure, visitors can relax in one of the many hot springs outside of Boise.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Aerial view of Louisiana State Capitol and Baton Rouge skyline
Credit: Fang Deng/ iStoc

Many people visit Louisiana to soak up the jazz music scene, indulge in Creole cuisine, and celebrate Carnival in New Orleans. With NOLA securely in the limelight, the rest of the state is relatively underexplored and underrated, including the capital city of Baton Rouge — home to the tallest state capitol building in the country.

Sitting just 80 miles northwest of New Orleans, Baton Rouge offers a more traditional view of life in the South. Here, you’ll find a host of museums and landmarks to explore the civil rights movement and the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center to discover the area’s flora and fauna. At night, the city comes alive with collegiate energy because it’s home to Louisiana State University. (Be sure to catch a game while you’re in town.) Join the fun or enjoy a meal at one of the city’s many acclaimed establishments for some authentic Cajun and Creole comfort food. 

St. Paul, Minnesota

Bridge over Mississippi River with St. Paul, Minnesota, skyline seen underneath
Credit: culbertson/ iStock

Maybe you’re fascinated with Victorian architecture or you’re looking to log some water time in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Or perhaps you simply want to splurge on a shopping spree. Whatever your interest, St. Paul has appeal for many types of travelers. Despite all its offerings, this capital city of around 300,000 people is frequently passed up for its flashier “twin” city, Minneapolis. 

Founded in 1854 (13 years earlier than its sister city), St. Paul boasts more Mississippi Riverfront (26 miles) than any other major city. St. Paul also claims a number of other impressive records, ranging from its marble-domed state capitol building (the second-largest in the world) to the second-longest skyway walk in the world (five miles) and the longest strip of preserved Victorian homes in the world on Summit Avenue. And if all else fails, a short drive away is the largest shopping center in the country, the Mall of America

Juneau, Alaska

Waterfront homes with forested mountains in background in Juneau, Alaska, seen from above
Credit: jmoor17/ iStock

Juneau may be one of the most-visited cities in Alaska, but compared to other capital cities in the U.S., it can safely be described as undiscovered. Given its location, Alaska is more rugged and less accessible than most other states, making it the least-visited state in the country. However, those who venture north are definitely rewarded for their efforts. 

Juneau’s quaint downtown sits right on the waterfront and is lined with charming shops, historic buildings, including the bustling Heritage Square. Hike Mount Juneau or take the Mount Roberts Tram up 1,800 feet for the best vistas over the capital and the surrounding Gastineau Channel. Or, make the 20-minute drive to marvel at the Mendenhall Glacier and enjoy more incredible hiking in pristine nature. From Juneau, visitors also have ample opportunities for wildlife activities, from whale-watching tours to bear viewing

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