From sea to shining sea, the U.S. boasts a rich variety of landscapes and world-famous tourist destinations — just as well for the 61% of Americans who plan to vacation within the country this year.
But many of America’s iconic attractions can fall into the trap of being… well, tourist traps, marked by heaving crowds, long lines and bank-breaking admission fees and gift shops. Some are just downright disappointing in person. Sure, these well-known spots are worth ticking off the bucket list someday — but what hidden gems across the country could you be missing out on while you’re standing in line?
With this in mind, HawaiianIslands.com went in search of the little-reviewed but highest-rated museums, landmarks, parks, gardens and historic sites to be found in every U.S. state and major city.
What We Did
Based on their average rating, we went in search of the top five highest-rated attractions within each state and five major cities that have fewer than 100 (but at least 25) publicly available reviews. We could then isolate the highest-rated attraction of a certain type (e.g., parks and gardens) within each state.
- New York’s best hidden gem is Bill’s Place (an average 4.93 rating), a jazz club in Harlem
- Boston’s top hidden gem is the Little Brewster Island and Lighthouse (an average 4.86 rating), the oldest lighthouse in the United States
- California’s overall top hidden gem is the Consulate Of The Republic Of Slowjamastan in San Diego (an average five-star rating), the office of the Sultan of the micronation of Slowjamastan
- In Hawaii, the top hidden gem attraction is the Hamakua Chocolate Farm (an average five-star rating), a cacao farm in Papaikou
Which Is the Top Hidden Gem Tourist Attraction in Your State?
Every state has a hidden gem that outshines the rest. We’ve mapped the tourist attraction in each state that’s received the highest average rating across a low number of reviews, ranging from unique museums, galleries and experiences to farms, ranches and spots of breathtaking natural beauty.
If taking in beautiful nature is your thing, the Dauphin Island Marina in Alabama (average five-star rating) or the River Bend Overlook in North Dakota (4.88) are both lauded online by tourists gone before. If you’re more into art, head to Wisconsin’s top hidden gem Raven’s Wish Gallery (4.97), which showcases the mixed medium creations of over 70 artists and offers “something for everyone.” For vacationers looking for an adrenaline-packed experience, several shooting ranges make our map, from Get Your Shoot On! in Idaho (4.92) to Aspen Shooting in Colorado (five stars).
Micronations and Chocolate Farms Among the Country’s Top Hidden Gem Tourist Attractions
A 2021 poll found that one of the top bucket list items for Americans is to travel to an exotic location. Budget and PTO restrictions mean that (for most people) far-flung destinations just aren’t on the cards for the next vacation, so it’s a good thing the U.S. is packed with so many wonderful things to see and do. Indeed, for the rest of the world, the U.S. promises endless opportunities for adventure — likely why it’s the third-most visited country, receiving some 79.3 million starry-eyed sightseers each year.
If you’re already here, you may have already seen the Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge; you might even live just around the corner. So where exactly can you go in the U.S. that’s off the beaten track but guaranteed to still offer an amazing experience? To find out, we explored the tourist attractions in each state with fewer than 100 reviews on Tripadvisor but glowing average ratings. Use our interactive below to discover the top hidden gem in your state.
Perhaps one of the more unusual hidden gems on our map is the Consulate Of The Republic Of Slowjamastan in San Diego (average five-star rating). Founded in 2021 by slow jam DJ Randy Williams, the micronation of Slowjamastan spans just 11.07 acres of desert land on State Route 78. Arrive at the Consulate and you may just be greeted by the Sultan (uh… Randy) himself; as one reviewer writes: “he not only greeted me but handed me the most amazing taco I have ever had and some Mexican candy!”
In Hawaii, the top hidden gems include farms and areas of wildlife and nature. At the very top of the state’s ranking is the Hamakua Chocolate Farm (an average five-star rating), a cacao farm where visitors can take part in chocolate making and tasting. One reviewer gushes: “During our weeks in Hawaii, we saw whales, swam with turtles, sailed and looked into the caldera [of] a volcano. After all of that and more, the tour of Hamakua farm still may have been our favorite thing we did in our entire trip.”
From Jazz Clubs to Lighthouses… The Best Hidden Gems in Every Major City
With so many important historic and cultural landmarks to visit, it can be overwhelming to plan a vacation to one of America’s major cities. But what if you ditched the guidebook and went hunting for some hidden gems just around the corner? You might just find some authentic slices of the real city.
In New York City, for instance, you could skip out on the Empire State Building and take a trip instead to Bill’s Place, the Big Apple’s top hidden gem, with an average rating of 4.93. Located in Harlem, this B.Y.O.B. speakeasy-style parlor offers an “amazing jazz performance” by saxophonist Bill Saxton. Music fans will especially appreciate that legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday was discovered here.
Over in Boston, the Little Brewster Island and Lighthouse takes the crown as the city’s top hidden gem, boasting an average rating of 4.86. You can get your fix of history here at the first-ever lighthouse to be built in the United States, but be sure to plan your visit; as one reviewer writes: “Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get to see this Lighthouse! There [are] limited dates, limited days of the week, limited hours, and limited cruises. BUT. Once you get through all the obstacles, this is just a great place!”
Surf and Pinball Museums Among the Country’s Top-Rated Hidden Gems
There’s no doubt about it; museums and historical sites are popular attractions. Indeed, according to the American Alliance of Museums, “more people visit art museums, science centers, historic houses or sites, zoos, or aquariums than attend professional sporting events.” So focusing on museums in particular, which in every state can claim the crown as the top local hidden gem?
The museums across our map cover a range of subjects, from important human history — like the “incredibly moving” Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama (a 4.93 average rating) — to inventions, like the Museum of Radio and Technology in West Virginia (4.91).
Some are dedicated to niche human interests: take Bruce Snake Gabrielson’s Surf Art Gallery and Museum in Maryland (4.94), a free museum that showcases artifacts from the world of surfing collected over 60 years by the surf legend owner. “Bruce is THE MAN!” gushes one visitor. “Authenticity is tough to find these days. You’ll find it here.” Meanwhile, Pinball is the name of the game at the Appalachian Pinball Museum in North Carolina (4.89), where $12 is all you need for an afternoon of playing.
An Octagon-Shaped House Is New York’s Top Historical Site Hidden Gem
Like museums, historical sites are top vacation destinations, with more and more people visiting in recent years. But look past world-famous sites, like Ellis Island in New York, and you’ll find lesser-visited but no less wonderful hidden gems, like the Armour-Stiner Octagon House (an average rating of 4.90) in Irvington. Built in 1860, this domed, octagon-shaped building is located just a stone’s throw from Sleepy Hollow. “A true trip to the two previous centuries,” writes a reviewer. “Amazing experience.”
Other hidden gems across our map include old jailhouses, birthplaces of notable people and ancient artifacts, like the 1,000-year-old McKee Springs Petroglyphs in Utah (4.70). “This was an incredible stop on a family vacation,” writes a reviewer. “You can get close enough to touch them (but please don’t) and you can really see the work it took to make them.”
Art and Nature Combine in Some of the Country’s Top-Rated, Lesser-Reviewed Parks and Gardens
Research has shown that spending time in nature can boost our physical and psychological well-being. It’s a good thing, then, that the U.S. has so much nature to explore, boasting 63 national parks and endless beaches, meadows, rolling hills and mountainous vistas. Whichever state you’re in, you don’t have to travel far to find gorgeous parks and gardens — but which of those off the beaten track are the best of all, according to reviewers gone before?
Top hidden gems across our map include parks that mix nature with art, like the Bedrock Gardens in New Hampshire (an average rating of 4.87), a 20-acre garden showcasing rare plants and flowers, meandering trails and whimsical sculptures. “A truly magical and refreshing garden,” writes a fan. Similarly, Origami in the Garden in New Mexico (4.89) is a private garden on the scenic Turquoise Trail that features “breathtaking” large origami sculptures by local artists.
Murals, Stone Lions and Horse Hospitals Among the Best Hidden Gem Landmarks in the United States
Rich with historical significance and often great for Instagram, landmarks are another must-visit attraction on vacations. Hidden gems in this category across the U.S. include churches, monuments and a fair few murals, like the Route 66 shield mural (an average rating of 4.88), one of several sprawling art pieces to be found around the quaint town of Pontiac, Illinois.
Virginia’s top hidden gem landmark is Scotch and Soda, a pair of stone lions that flank the steps of a Norfolk mansion and one of only two attractions on our map to receive an average five-star rating. Stop by on a special occasion and you might even see them dressed up. Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Kentucky is the other five-star rated attraction, the oldest private veterinary practice for horses in the world. “If you’re interested in the extraordinary care that is given to sick or injured horses,” writes one reviewer, “you will be fascinated on a tour of the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.”
What’s Hiding Our Hidden Gems?
Our analysis has revealed a range of top-rated hidden gem attractions across the country, but just what makes them so hidden? Some just aren’t particularly easy to find unless you know what to look for, like Bill’s Place in New York, about which one reviewer writes: “It’s still hidden like a speakeasy … [It’s] simple to use Google Maps to get to the address, but we weren’t sure which door to try (hint, it’s the giant red one near the entrance).”
You might not be able to see the attraction from the road. One of Illinois’ top hidden gems, the Weber House and Garden, is “hidden from view behind lush foliage,” and visitors need to ring the intercom to be welcomed into the English-style house and garden beyond. “It would be very easy,” ponders a reviewer, “to drive down this street for years and never know what is hiding behind the leafy fence surrounding the property.”
Others — like Boston’s top attraction, the Little Brewster Island and Lighthouse — require ditching the car and making a separate journey (by ferry, in this case) that might not always be running, so extra planning is required for a visit. Either way, it seems online reviews are a great way to discover these wonderful attractions, find out how and when to visit and share your experience once you’ve been.
To uncover hidden gem tourist spots across America, we found the highest-rated attractions in every state with 100 or fewer (but at least 25) Tripadvisor reviews.
After filtering out less relevant categories of attractions on Tripadvisor (such as tours and classes), we were left with 14,103 attractions that hit the review thresholds across the 50 states.
Using the review breakdown on each attraction page, we calculated a precise rating for each attraction. We then isolated the highest-rated attractions overall and for select categories (museums, parks & gardens, historic sites and landmarks).
We repeated this process with five major cities to unearth the hidden gems in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.
The analysis of this data is accurate as of October 2023.
Ballard, J. (2021). What are the top items on Americans’ bucket lists? yougov.com
American Alliance of Museums. (2023). Museum Facts & Data. aam-us.org
National Park Foundation. (2023). How Many National Parks are There? nationalparks.org
|This is an independent publication and has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved by Tripadvisor, Inc.|