When it comes to DJs and influencers, travel hacks and destinations are the name of the game. From playing to the masses across the globe to jet-setting to some pretty Instagram-worthy locations, you can’t go wrong taking some inspiration and recommendations from the people behind the boards.
While international travel is plenty alluring this time of year, there’s something about staying domestic during the North American summer that just makes sense. Especially after the pandemic reawakened Americans to the glories to be found closer to home. So we picked the brain of 15 globally recognized DJs, producers, and travel influencers to reveal their “most underrated” American towns and cities to make a trip to this summer.*
*Warning: Some of these towns are very mainstream so treat the word “underrated” with a grain of salt.
Riot Ten (@riottenmusic): Portland, Oregon
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Forbidden Kingdom (6/10), Beyond Wonderland (6/18), Lost Lands (9/23)
I think I’m going to have to go with Portland for this one. I’ve been there probably 5-6 times now and I have to say it’s definitely one of my favorite cities in the US. I’m a big fan of sushi and with Portland being in the PNW, the fish is some of the best I’ve ever had. Portland has a pretty large Asian community as well and I’m a big fan of pho & ramen, so you know I’m in heaven whenever I go. It also has this Japanese Garden that’s really beautiful. It’s an absolute must-see in my opinion.
On top of all of that, the crowd in Portland consistently goes hard. I am always excited to visit Portland and its food, crowd, and landmarks. It never disappoints!
Loren Gray (@loren): Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
As someone who loves being outdoors and hiking, Jim Thorpe is the perfect destination for a summer visit. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I spent many summers here, hiking to waterfalls, going to museums, and shopping in town. The Harry Packer mansion (the architectural inspiration for Disneyland’s haunted mansion ride) is beautiful and open for reservations if you want to spend the night. The waterfalls are completely breathtaking to hike up to, and you can even white water raft in nearby lakes.
One of my favorite places to dine is a restaurant overlooking the mountain called Roadies, with great pub fare food and live music.
a.k.a. skips (@quackhouse): Boise, Idaho
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: To Be Announced
I actually think Boise, ID is criminally slept on. The creative culture is thriving and I feel an exciting energy around DIY spaces and events in particular when I’m there. My friend Street Fever (@streetfever) does a party called OIL (@oil.move) that absolutely demands a visit, and AI Studios has a location there with an art space and jewelry manufacturing as well.
For restaurants you can’t miss: KIN, which also has a music/theater/art venue called piKINic as part of their set of three concepts.
Chloe Caldwell (@bychloecaldwell): Carlsbad, California
Maybe I’m biased because I just moved here, but I definitely think that Carlsbad, California is an underrated travel destination in the United States.
It’s located /north of San Diego, about 30 minutes from downtown and it is the cutest beach town without all of the crowds and bustle of downtown San Diego.
If you’re looking for the best place to stay, surprisingly, the Best Western Plus is actually so nice and it has a beautiful view of the ocean with a top deck that has chairs where you can watch the sunset.
One of my favorite places to eat is Blue Ocean Sushi and I also love Taste of the Himalayan, which is authentic Himalayan food. It is so delicious. I especially love the curry options.
As far as fun activities to do in Carlsbad, California, it is the ultimate beach destination with a surplus of outdoor activities from kayaking and surfing to just hanging out at the Carlsbad State Beach and hiking. You’ll also find a ton of really cute shopping boutiques and thrift stores, which is fun to explore in between dining and going to the beach.
Of course, the best time to visit any beach town is spring and summer. It does get crowded. But fortunately, it is a little bit of an oasis from downtown San Diego with fewer people and it’s just easier to find parking and get around.
CHYL (@itschyl): Charleston, South Carolina
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Hard Summer (8/5), Hulaween (10/26)
I’d have to say Charleston, SC was an absolute pleasure to visit! I’d never really heard much about the city before visiting and it was quite a surprise to see the liveliness and quaintness of this city. The cobblestone streets, pastel-colored houses, and nicely-groomed horses bring so much life to this adorable city. I was also pleasantly surprised by how fresh the seafood was. If you do vision, make sure to try out the oysters and the shrimp and grits. Absolutely outstanding flavors!
We walked through the French Quarter which was beautifully preserved and filled with live music. Also, everywhere we went, we were greeted by nice and warm hospitality. The city’s Southern charm combined with its rich history definitely makes it an unforgettable experience to visit.
Tones (@tonesmusic_): Sedona, Arizona
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Groove Cruise 2024
I would say Sedona, AZ. Most people don’t think of Arizona for summertime because of the heat. But Sedona nighttime lows in the summer average in the cool mid 60s, nearly 25 degrees cooler than the Phoenix average. The place is extremely spiritual with red rocks everywhere, it feels like you’re in a dream. Walt Disney would spend substantial amounts of time there and modeled several Disneyland rides around the landscape.
In terms of places to eat, Mariposa in Sedona has beautiful views and a world-renowned chef. For unique food, including a peach pizza, go check out Hideaway House as well.
In terms of activities, go hike Devil’s Bridge and see trees whose trunks are totally twisted around due to the vortex energy. Go get your aura read while you’re there, and some of the most beautiful stars you’ve ever seen at night.
Mikala Lugen (@mikalalugen): Buffalo, New York
I feel like whenever I tell someone that I’m from Buffalo, they automatically assume how cold it is. Let’s be real here: obviously Buffalo is pretty cold in the winter thanks to our neighbor Lake Erie. But many people don’t understand that Buffalo and Western New York as a whole has an amazing summer season!
Because it sits right on Lake Erie, Buffalo becomes an amazing destination for spending time on the water. You can spend all day at Buffalo RiverWorks, the city’s premier waterfront, boating, sports bar, and music and entertainment destination. Located right on the banks of the river in the industrial district, the city has put millions of dollars into this over the years and has become an amazing addition to the city. You can rent a kayak, stand up paddleboard, hop on the Buffalo Tiki Tour, rock climb one of the sheer walls of the grain silos, watch a roller derby bout, and sip cocktails on the water with free live music. There’s also Canalside, another beautiful part on the waterfront that is right in the heart of the city. It hosts hundreds of events throughout the year, many of which are free or low cost including concerts, festivals, and summer fitness classes, and you can also get on the water with a kayak, paddleboard, or boat here too.
Of course, Niagara Falls is very close by, everyone should come here at least once in their life!
For some amazing Western New York hiking, I highly recommend going to what is considered “The Grand Canyon of the East” at Letchworth State Park. My personal favorite is also Griffith Sculpture Park, where you get stunning views of Buffalo’s rolling hills as you find peace and serenity walking among sculptures in the woods.
You can’t go to Buffalo without having some chicken wings. Sorry to all you ranch lovers out there – the only correct way to eat chicken wings is with blue cheese. Get some from the iconic Anchor Bar on Main Street or at Duff’s Famous Wings.
Keys N Krates (@keysnkrates): Asheville, North Carolina
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Washington D.C.’s Flash (9/23), Salt Lake City, UT’s Soundwell (10/5), and Portland, OR’s 45 East (10/6)
We discovered Asheville on our first U.S. bus tour. At that point, we were very used to waking up in different cities/towns (or sometimes Walmart parking lots). I remember waking up in Asheville and walking out of the tour bus onto Biltmore Ave, which felt like the main drag of that immediate area, and thinking, this town seems really great. I got the immediate impression that there was fun stuff to check out (art, food, music), but it also felt secluded, surrounded by nature and a bit of a hidden gem. My hunch checked out; we learned the MOOG factory is there, there’s a ton of cool art galleries and we were surrounded by The Blue Ridge Mountains.
And then there is the Orange Peel, the 1050-cap-simple-rectangular room that felt almost like a barn house. It became one of our favourite venues in the U.S. to play shows at. For whatever reason, the energy of the crowds there was always unmatched, and every show there (we’ve done around three now) just felt like a chaotic sweaty debacle in the best way possible. I’d like to think it was just us, but it definitely felt like that room had its own magic.
I still feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of what’s great about that town. I’m sure “current-day us” would go on hikes and hit galleries and those botanical gardens, but “mid-2010s us” were tour bus sloths who basically just walked to whatever was around the tour bus, regardless of how great a city was. I would typically do a 15-minute walk to Liberty Coffee and have a pre-show bite at the brewery (Wicked Weed) right next to the venue.
Our second time in Asheville, we got invited to the MOOG factory to see the place and do a taping of us performing one of our songs just using MOOG gear which was really fun. They were super kind to us there. As producers, we were in hyper-geek-out mode, and they were amazing hosts. That was super memorable.
Anabel Englund (@anabelenglund): Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Utah Pride (6/2), Sunbar Nightclub (6/3), The Midway (7/1), Global Dance Festival (7/21)
Lake Geneva is a place I have gone to every summer since I met my husband. There are no direct flights into this small town so the only two options are either fly to Chicago O’ Hare or Milwaukee Airport and then drive from there to wherever you are staying. I will say you will pass a lot of cornfields! The air there is clean & dense like it’s made of melted sugar & as the sun starts to set you see fireflies rising up from the grass. The lake is spring fed & crystal clear. When you jump into the water with sun kissed skin it feels like a holy experience. Our favorite place to eat breakfast is at this old diner called Daddy Maxwell’s. It is simply the best with its familiar waitresses & regulars. Make sure to pull out some money before dining because it’s a cash only establishment. There are endless amounts of things to do on or around the lake. You can walk/bike/run around the whole thing (21-26 miles.) You can do all kinds of water sports like skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, or even just cruising around listening to music with friends catching up and enjoying the sun together. Needless to say, when it’s time to head to my next destination I am never ready to leave & am already planning my next trip back.
KHIVA (@khivamusic): Denver, Colorado
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Cervantes Ballroom (7/1)
While I would by no means consider myself the authority on spots to hit here, I have probably had more ‘in depth’ visits to Denver than a lot of US cities. For many reasons, I think it can hold its own in the ring with more ‘notable’ destinations like say, NY or SF. Truly, it seems like there is always something going on and if you’re like me (a sun-worshipping lizard) a clear summer day in the Mile High City is such a good opportunity to bounce between spots and try a little bit of everything.
One thing I love about Denver is all its cool ‘food halls’ that have become rightfully popular over the years. I’ve had great times at Denver Central Market, Denver Milk Market, Edgewater Public Market, and Avanti Food Hall. I love a chance to hit Konjo for Ethiopian food at Edgewater! I’ve personally really enjoyed hot spots such as Denver Biscuit Company and Watercourse over the years and especially living where I do in New York, it’s just not the type of food/restaurants I have a lot, so it’s quite different. I feel like Denver has its own version of every type of cuisine and spins it into its own genre of comfort food. One culinary aspect of Denver I love is all the little mom-and-pop Mexican spots!
Sometimes it feels more difficult to find inner-city activities that aren’t totally food or drink-centric, but Denver seems to have a pretty cool array of interesting things. I’m not a huge gamer, but I do love pinball, so I really enjoyed hanging out at 1UP Arcade Bar on Colfax. I love all the old-school machines and their wicked art! I haven’t been yet but a friend invited me to check out the Church of Cannabis, which apparently has an awesome new light show of sorts, so I am very stoked to visit this one! There is, of course, the new Meow Wolf, which also is hosting a lot of shows!
Of course, this list would not be complete without mentioning the rich and wonderfully incessant stream of musical entertainment happening in the city. Shameless self-plug here, but I am so excited to have my biggest headline to date happening at Cervantes on July 1st, so that’s incredibly exciting, but I l also have time to stay afterward for a few days and get in on the buzz that is July 4th! I’ve got a lot of friends either based in the city or passing through, and you know there’s bound to be a cool show happening somewhere. I haven’t been to the Black Box in a while, so I’d love to see what’s going on and catch up with some friends where you know the sound, music, and vibes are on point!
Overall, I just love to be outside and experience food, culture, art, and music, and Denver ticks so many boxes — making this a great summer destination. If you have time and transport, getting into nature is no doubt a huge bonus of its location. On this trip, I am trying to hit some of the places in this list, but never underestimate the power of a good hotel with a pool to come back to after a full day of festivities!
BKRLYN (@brklynmusic): Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Splash House (TBD)
Being able to tour in Hawaii was incredible and definitely is the ultimate summer vibe. We landed in Honolulu and stayed in Waikiki Beach. We stayed at a resort and an Airbnb and truly experienced the best of both worlds.
If you prefer hotels, The Outrigger Resort was nothing short of perfection with luxurious shopping, food, and amenities. Surrounded by beautiful beaches and lots of options for anything tourism. If you are into nature and sightseeing we definitely recommend Diamond Head state park. If you are a beginner, Waikiki Beach is a perfect place to learn with long rolling rides. We recommend any shopping at the Royal Hawaiian Center Mall which is within walking distance from the resort. For nightlife experience, we had a blast performing at The Republik which is one of our all-time favorite venues in the United States.
Our favorite was definitely the Airbnb which was tucked away in the green hills overlooking the beaches. It was a different experience because it was a step away from all the tourism but still close enough to get in the mix. Highly recommend renting moped scooters as means of transportation. Which allowed us to see and experience more of a local vibe with great recs from our host. One of our favorite things to do is take the mopeds up and down the coast at sunset. Absolutely breathtaking and we made sure to do that every night. Our favorite local poke spot was called Five Star Poke. And definitely have to take a tour of the dole plantation to try the legendary “Dole Whip”. And if you can visit the island during the 4th of July celebrations, do it. The highlight of our experience and the best recommendation we can give is renting a boat or catamaran and sailing just off the coast to catch the sunset which is followed by multiple fireworks shows as far as the eye can see up and down the coast.
Two Friends (@twofriends): Charleston, South Carolina & Cleveland, Ohio
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica (6/12), Skyla Credit Union Amphitheatre (6/22)
I’m gonna have to say Charleston, South Carolina. We have played there a few times in the summer and it is just so beautiful. We did 4th of July pool parties back-to-back out there last summer and they were two of the craziest shows the whole year. We’re coming back there at the end of June and we’re definitely looking forward to that one. It’ll be all outdoors, on the lawn, with great summer vibes as the sun goes down and the music plays all night. -Eli
I’m gonna go with Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland can sometimes get a bad rap, but that place is amazing, especially down by the water. It’s so lively, there are so many cool places. We’ll also be there on our tour in June and honestly, it’s a vibe. There are a lot of fun things to do and people are just ready to go. -Matt
juuku (@juuku_): Joshua Tree, California
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Hakkasan (6/23)
Just got back from a trip to Joshua Tree and it was one of the most rejuvenating experiences I’ve had in a while. I went to Hidden Valley, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Keys View. There are so many good eats like Crossroads Cafe, Joshua Tree Coffee, JT Country Kitchen, and Sky High Pizza. This place is really dog friendly so I brought my two pit bulls with me (just make sure they stay hydrated). Downtown Joshua Tree is great at night for bars/breweries. One of my favorite aspects of the town was seeing the Joshua Trees themselves. It was my first time seeing them in real life and they were so peaceful and serene. I also loved how relaxing and tranquil it was being in the desert- it’s perfect when you want to remove yourself from everything for a few days.
UnderLux (@underluxmusic): South Boston, Massachusetts
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: Denver (TBD)
My underrated summer destination for all those who haven’t been to the wonderful coasts of New England – where I spent most of my life – is Southie (South Boston).
I would always start my days by hitting the local PS Gourmet Coffee shop for a bacon egg and cheese breakky sam on a poppy seed bagel. They have about 35 different flavor choices for coffee so I would always switch it up to keep things fresh.
The next stop is a quick walk over to M street beach. The water quality is questionable but the vibe quality is exceptional. Plenty of music and beach games and people bonding over iced coffees as they sweat out their hangovers. From there, it’s an easy walk to Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar for some fresh oysters and my personal favorite, the coconut margs. Across the street Lincoln Tavern is always packed but worth it if you can brave the line and can get a table with friends. Alternatively, make a friend who has a roof deck and head there to cap the day off with a nice sunset. Then it’s time to hit the clubs. Royale used to be a personal favorite of mine. The Middle East in Cambridge will always be dear to me as the first venue I played, and then Bijou and Venue and Icon are all solid clubs to hit. My good friends still hold down the fort at Big Night Live and open up for some phenomenal acts from all over the world.
Catch me playing next in my new hometown of Denver. The announcement coming soon! Enjoy your summer and stay safe and cool!
Mxmtoon (@mxmtoon): Oakland, California
Featured Upcoming Tour Dates: The Greek Theatre (7/20); Frost Amphitheater (7/23); Central Park SummerStage (8/3)
My personal choice for the most underrated American town for the summer would be Oakland, California. It’s totally biased because that’s where I grew up but I choose it for good reason.
If you’re looking to visit California and don’t want to commit to LA’s high heat and traffic all the time but you’re also not sure about San Francisco and how chilly it gets along with all of its hills, Oakland is the place for you. It’s a perfect middle ground for all of those things – we have incredible nature and hiking trails along all the regional parks nearby. We also have incredible food. My favorite place to go is over on Telegraph Avenue, it’s called Cholita Linda and it’s really delicious Cuban food.
I hope more people come to visit Oakland because it’s my favorite city in the Bay and I think it deserves a little more love.