California is full of hippy weirdos! Texans are obsessed with guns! Be honest, you know you’ve poked fun at a neighboring and/or rival state at least once in your life and perhaps those jokes have even swelled into full-blown prejudice (Why visit Iowa if you believe it’s nothing but cornfields?). But we’ve traveled all 50 U.S. states and can vouch for the greatness in each. Below are the 12 most ridiculed states and the legit attractions that make each one worth your time.
Arkansas flies so far under the radar that most people barely acknowledge it’s there (which alone is a put down) while others decry it as redneck country. But anyone who dares throw shade its way has got us to go through first. For starters, the Ozark Mountains are insanely pretty and hiding all kinds of otherworldly gems like azure blue lakes, peekaboo waterfalls and craggy rock formations. Then there’s Eureka Springs, a striking and supposedly haunted Victorian town and magnet for both LGBTQ Americans and born-again Christians (and everyone gets along!). There’s also culture galore including Crystal Bridges art museum (made from Walmart cash), the Clinton Presidential Library and woodsy Thorncrown Chapel. You’re a crazy person to skip this gem.
Why does the Beaver State make this list? Because the sight of mustachioed lumbersexuals riding unicycles to work at artisanal crumpet factories in Portland yields a collective eye roll (even from hipsters). Yet Oregon’s beauty often trumps nearby California. Its untamed and unspoiled coastline is easily as pretty as Cal’s HWY1, gorgeous Crater Lake provides a less crowded alternative to Tahoe and the Willamette Valley produces wines as good as Napa. Then there’s Portland. We may make fun, but nothing beats a walk through the International Rose Test Garden in perfect bloom, a Sauvie Island beach day, eating cheap at food carts, and finishing with a heavenly scoop of sea salt and caramel ribbon ice cream from Salt and Straw. Consider us ready to rent our double decker bikes!
The Sooner State is oft ridiculed as a pancake-flat, poor man’s Texas that of late has become earthquake central (623 magnitude 3+ quakes in 2016 alone!). But don’t go underestimating the Sooner State, Yankee! Culture capital Tulsa hums with energy including celebrated attractions like the Woody Guthrie Center and the immaculately landscaped Philbrook Museum of Art. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City‘s Plaza District is where cafes, culture and community converge while the O.C. National Memorial pays elegant tribute to the victims of the 1995 city bombing. Lastly, Route 66 cuts right through the heart of the state offering roadtrippers plenty to enjoy, including Pops 66 Soda Ranch (amazing!), the world’s largest concrete totem pole (whaaaat?!) and retro service stations galore.
#9: West Virginia
Dotted with defunct coal mines, lacking in major metro areas (can any nonresident name a single town in this state?) and heaped in ridicule that comes with being in the heart of Appalachian country, it’s a shame most folks don’t know how pretty West Virginia really is. Charming Harper’s Ferry is drenched in Civil War-era history and its location at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers couldn’t be prettier; Morgantown is a lively university city perfectly situated along the bendy Monogahela River; thrill seekers flock to the haunted Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and to iconic New River Gorge Bridge for a Bridge Day leap; lastly there’s that bizarre Palace of Gold, a self-proclaimed American Taj Mahal that CNN proclaimed one of America’s 8 U.S. religious wonders.
Yes, potatoes are its leading crop commodity and yes it’s hard to get to (direct flights aren’t cheap), but the 43rd state deserves better than its association with the russet. Stunningly gorgeous, a visit to Idaho often begins and ends in Sun Valley where skiers whoosh down black diamond slopes while literary enthusiasts visit the grave of Ernest Hemingway. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve offers a thrilling lunar landscape in Central Idaho and elsewhere nature lovers seek out Hell’s Canyon and Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Ghost towns like Custer and Gilmore abound, while Boise provides a weekend’s worth of distractions including the arty and historic North End, the Idaho Botanic Garden and nearby Old State Penitentiary, and an emerging food scene.
Whenever we play the game where we see how fast we can write down all 50 states, Indiana is the one we always forget. No friend to the roadtripper (sooooooo flat!), the Hoosier State is not without its charms. Indianapolis boasts all kinds of cool areas like historic Lockerbie, bumping Broad Ripple, arty Mass Ave and hipster-ish Fountain Square (you must have brunch at Milktooth). Meanwhile, there’s hip Bloomington, a cool university town that is also home to the excellent indie standup club the Comedy Attic. West Lafayette isn’t nearly as edgy, but does boast the Halloween-striped retro soda fountain and family diner Triple XXX (whose burgers are the best in the state). The Indiana Dunes provide a beachy Chicago escape and we hear the state is home to some big race car thing each May.
We’re sorry-not-sorry for calling you lame if you think a visit to the Magnolia State means a run in with the grand wizard of the KKK. Such are the stereotypes oft misunderstood Mississippi has yet to overcome. Begin with a visit to Clarksdale, a riverfront gem and Mississippi River Delta Blues hub featuring a charming as heck downtown, a blues museum and all kinds of quirky cool lodgings. Press your luck in nearby Tunica, an oddball gaming town featuring a half dozen casinos dotting the river. From there, swing through pretty Oxford, a student-filled charmer with a winsome downtown (check out the super cool Graduate hotel!) before making your way to Tupelo to check out the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum. For Civil War nostalgia, hit up turning point city Vicksburg.
Ever hear naysayers make the claim that Iowa stands for, “I owe the world an apology?” Actually, it’s the rest of us who should apologize. Eastern Iowa is all graceful rolling hills and tucked within them is lively Iowa City, a Big Ten university town bisected by the Iowa River and dotted with lively cafes, bars and other dens of student activity. Nearby attractions include the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library (where the 31st president is buried) and the oft visited Amana Colonies. Elsewhere around the state, traverse the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, kayak and jet ski along the Iowa Great Lakes, fill your gullet with gooey fried foods at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines and relive your baseball fantasies in Dyersville (home to the 100-year-old farm where “Field of Dreams” was filmed).
Lucille Bluth, the tart-tongued matriarch from “Arrested Development” once quipped, “I’d rather be dead in California than alive in Arizona.” A desert mecca for retirees, the state does have its fair share of skeptics. On the other hand, Arizona is unabashedly gorgeous from end to end, including stunning Monument Valley, forested Sedona and oft-photographed Vermilion Cliffs and Antelope Canyon. Meanwhile, there’s tons of charming small towns like Tombstone, Bisbee and Jerome that are alive with Wild West folklore. If that isn’t enough, Route 66 cuts right across the state and includes must-see stops like the Wigwam Hotel in Holbrook, pretty Flagstaff and the mind-blowing Petrified National Forest. Also, we there’s a big hole in the ground tourists find irresistible.
Dorothy couldn’t wait to escape Kansas and perhaps her vision of the state as a dull, black-and-white landscape has stayed with us all these years. That’s too bad. Kansas City boasts all kinds of must-do attractions like homegrown barbecue joints, the Power and Light District and the Negro League Baseball Museum (even if most are located on the Missouri side of town). Meanwhile, there’s crunchy cool Lawrence, the frontier charms of Dodge City and roadside Americana galore including the world’s largest ball of twine in Cawker City, the world’s largest hand-painted Czech egg (no kidding!) in Wilson and one of the largest churches west of the Mississippi in Victoria. Oh, and yes, there’s the Oz Museum and Dorothy’s House and Land of Oz for fan fanatics.
Why does every weirdo who winds up on the news turn out to be from Florida? In truth, we make fun of Floridians because we’re jealous of them. Yes, tackiness abounds and we know that theme parks aren’t for everyone, but consider that Mid-Beach Miami is one of the hottest hangouts in America right now, hotels like the Perry and the NYAH are making Key West cool again and the U.S. city boasting the world’s record for most consecutive days of sunshine in a row is St. Pete (it’s also home to the phenomenal Dali Museum). Even if you hate big cities, the Everglades are untouchable in their pristine beauty, the powdery white sand beaches dotting the Florida Panhandle are pillowy soft and America’s first underwater park is John Pennekamp, a lush, marine life-filled aquatic playground.
#1: New Jersey
Poor Jersey! The Garden State has had just about every insult hurled at it over the years and a certain reality TV show has only hampered its reputation. But there are numerous reasons to love this onetime British colony beginning with its gorgeous 130-mile coastline and the numerous resort towns dotting it including charming Cape May, the retro Wildwoods, LGBTQ-friendly Asbury Park and Atlantic City‘s kitschy cool boardwalk. Let’s also not forget that many New Yorkers flock to Sandy Hook National Recreation Area on weekends; famed immigrant gateway Ellis Island (and nearby Liberty Park) is located in New Jersey; and soaring views of the Manhattan skyline are best admired from across the Hudson River in the towns of Hoboken and Weehawken. Suck it, naysayers!