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Remember the early aughts? It was the end of the Y2K crisis and the beginning of the iPod. It was also a time when many American towns and cities were in the midst of revitalization. It’s hard to believe now, but if you rewind to ’01 many destinations we visit today were still off the tourism radar. Just think about it: Bike lanes were scarce, the words celebrity and chef had not yet been strung together and there were no bearded lumbersexuals to pour you a $5 cup of third wave coffee while you ordered up an Uber on your smart phone. In honor of Orbitz’s 15th anniversary, here are 15 U.S. tourist hotspots nobody cared about 15 years ago.

Also: 10 great places to eat in New Orleans.

Brooklyn, Prospect Park, New York, Big Apple


Brooklyn, NY

In the ’90s BK was still primarily the domain of working families and urban pioneers (we’re looking at you Williamsburg) and even by the decade’s end Sex and theCity‘s fab four still bristled at the notion of an outer borough visit. These days visitors love it (and also Queens for that matter). The sidewalks are being strolled by the likes of Anne Hathaway and Lena Dunham, there’s at least a dozen restaurants where it’s near impossible to snag a table and why stay in Manhattan when you’ve got hotels like the Dazzler and Hotel BPM?
cleveland- ohio

Cleveland, OH

Everyone’s lovin’ the Cleve these days! But did people love it back then? A city that was once arguably the buckle of the Rust Belt has only recently come roaring back. The Drew Carey Show gave it some love back in the day and certainly there’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it’s only in more recent years that media outlets have begun singing the praises of the Gordon Square Arts District and the reopening of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Plus, in July the GOP will host its Republican National Convention there.

Prada store in Marfa, Texas

Prada store in Marfa, Texas | Flickr CC: Andy Price

Marfa, TX

If you’ve never been to this teensy Lone Star town you’re definitely out of the insider’s loop. A distant 200 miles from El Paso (the nearest big city), this single-stoplight hamlet in the middle of nowhere doubles as an arts mecca boasting more than a dozen galleries, kickass foods trucks, dive bars, and restaurants (including a late night grilled-cheese parlor) and excellent lodging. Don’t miss the Trans-Pecos Festival, Big Bend National Park, the mysterious Marfa Lights and the town’s marquee art attraction—the Prada Marfa.


DTLA, Los Angeles, Walt Disney, Frank Gehry, California

Los Angeles, CA

Downtown Los Angeles 

Angelenos have long snubbed their compact urban center in favor of sprawling, palm tree-studded enclaves and visitors likewise saw few reasons to pay it any attention. What a difference a decade makes. The Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened in 2003, helped usher in a domino effect of new developments including trendsetting hotels like the Standard and the Ace, the boho cool L.A. Arts District (we love Pie Hole!) and last year’s grand opening of the new Broad Museum.

asbury park- new jersey

Asbury Park, NJ

That’s right, we’re throwing the Garden State some major love. Although Jersey Shore might’ve put the town of Seaside Heights on all our radars and you’d have to be made of stone not to be aware of Atlantic City‘s colorful past (and current troubles), fun and funky Asbury Park deserves props for refashioning itself into a low-key and friendly LGBT alternative to Fire Island and P-Town. The action revolves around the Empress Hotel, Asbury Park Beach and a handful of gay bars. Newsflash: Straight folks are also falling for this lively boardwalk city.

tampa- florida

Tampa, FL 

It wasn’t so long ago that a visit to this Gulf Coast city at best revolved around an afternoon at Busch Gardens, a vitamin D run to nearby St. Pete Beach and little else. But the revitalization ofTampa‘s riverfront (a.k.a. the Curtis Hixon Park and Riverwalk) is at last giving visitors a new place to hangout and play while Seminole Heights is newly awash in trendy bars, restaurants and coffee shops like Ichicoro and Rooster & the Till. Plus, there’s cool places for folks to find local crafts and wares including Indie Flea and Downtown Market.


Portland, OR

Grunge, the tech industry and Sleepless in Seattle breathed new life into the Emerald City in the early and mid-90s, but the quirky charms of Pacific Northwest neighborPortland were slower to come. These days PDX is a bastion for urban cool and a mecca for indie dive bars, food trucks, vintage clothing stores and so much more. Check in at the Jupiter or Hotel deLuxe, grab some vintage knick knacks at S.M.U.T., spend a day of idyll at Sauvie Island and save room for a mind-blowing dinner at Le Pigeon.


Denver, CO

Crickets. That’s the sound you might’ve heard in the Mile-High City two decades ago when it was a big snooze fest. But as West and East Coasters alike discovered the city’s proximity to outdoor activities and promise of sunny skies, the city has become a Rocky Mountain oasis of urban cool. Check out the artisan food market the Source, stay at the Crawford Hotel inside the renovated Union Station and nosh at the family-style gastropub Work & Class. Also, save time for a stroll along hip Broadway and don’t miss dinner at Beatrice & Woodsley.

vieques-puerto rico

Vieques, PR

For decades most of this island-municipality of nearby Puerto Rico (which is a U.S. territory) was owned by the United States Navy and thus closed off to the general public. They departed in 2003 opening up the island in a big way to intrepid tourists looking to get away from the cruise ship masses strolling around Old San Juan and partake in the island’s natural beauty which includes the famous Bioluminescent Bay, miles of unspoiled beaches (including Blue, Secret and Caracas) and fancy hotels like the W Retreat and Spa.

oakland- california

Oakland, CA

High crime, urban blight and few attractions (“There’s no there there,” Gertrude Stein once quipped) kept most Bay Area visitors firmly planted in San Francisco back in the day. But as SF became less affordable, folks found themselves moving east and these days the city has been dubbed Brooklyn by the Bay. Downtown now boasts pricey condos, neighborhoods like Rockridge, Uptown and Piedmont Ave are bastions of cool (have a meal at Hopscotch or Wood Tavern) and the views of SF in some places are priceless.


Houston, TX

Space City is a big, sprawling mess of a metro area with no zoning and a swampy location that makes it boil in summer. It would’ve been low on anyone’s vacation list as recently as a decade ago, but today there’s numerous reasons to give it a second glance including its vibrant art scene, sprawling museum campus, cool hotels such as the Zaza and the Hotel Derek, a high-end food and drink scene exemplified by places like Oxheart, Common Bond and the Pastry War and a downtown that once again feels lively and vital.


Pittsburgh, PA

Steel City was once famously described as “Hell with the lidoff!” Granted that was a very long time ago, but this sleepy city weathered the recent recession well and has emerged as a legitimately cool place to spend a long weekend. An Ace Hotel opened there a few months ago, the Warhol Museum and the Mattress Factory are both cultural gems and if you can’t find enough bars, restaurants (Cure is our current favorite) and funky shops in Upper Lawrenceville to keep you satisfied, there’s just no pleasing you.

Palm Springs, desert, midcentury, Coachella, California, SoCal

Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs, CA

We can already see you rolling your eyes. It’s true, this desert city has long been a popular hangout for golfers, retirees and gays and lesbians, but thanks to Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival the city is officially hip again and a legit weekend getaway for Tinseltown’s cool kids. The Saguaro, Parker, Avalon and Ace hotels are not to be missed and there are all kinds of foodie gems lurking about including Appetito, Workshop Kitchen + Bar, Birba and Rooster and the Pig. Meanwhile, the midcentury vibe is as timeless as ever.


Nashville, TN 

Music City has experienced explosive growth in recent years and thanks to pro-business policies has become a magnet for young professionals. Even as recently as five years ago we would’ve taken a pass if offered the chance to spend more than a day or two here; Nashville is at last coming into its own. Downtown Nashville and the Country Music Hall of Fame remain top attractions but there are also hipster hangouts like East Nashville, a bourgeoning food scene and plenty of live music to be heard in this honky tonk town.

catskill mountains-new york

Catskill Mountains, NY

The Borscht Belt rises again! A midcentury getaway popular among the Jewish community and famous for hosting comedians like Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Woody Allen in their heyday is littered with abandoned hotels—remnants of a long-forgotten era. But lately, the Catskillshave resurged as a weekend getaway for frenzied New Yorkers and now boasts a new generation of hip hotels, restaurants, local bars and of course the jaw-dropping beauty for which the region truly deserves the attention paid to it.

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Tagged: California, Florida, New York, Uncategorized

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Jason Heidemann

Jason Heidemann

Jason is a Lead Content Specialist for Expedia Group, and manages content initiatives across numerous Expedia-owned brands. His work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, the Huffington Post, Chicago Magazine, Passport and many others.

2 thoughts on “15 U.S. tourist hotspots nobody cared about 15 years ago”

  1. While I totally agree about the resurgence of the Catskills, that’s a picture of Mohonk Mountain House, located on the Shawangunk Ridge, south of the Catskills.

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