We all know how great New York City and Los Angeles are but how many people are applauding the values of the slightly smaller urban areas across the U.S.? From industrial centers like Detroit to the sweet charm of the south, little big cities hold a special place in our hearts. Let's pay them a little attention and tour seven of the best "little big cities" from a student's perspective.
The largest city in Maryland is a quirky seaside city of theater, seafood, and culture. Sports fans will surely want to see an Orioles game at their self-named baseball park. For students of the humanities, don't miss out on the weekend only The Book Thing shop where they literally give away free books to good homes, also visit the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. Other free destinations include the Museum of Art, an excellent institution, and outdoor movies on Broadway Pier during the summer months. While on the coast you'll want to try L.P. Steamer's crab house for sure and crack into some fresh seafood.
Cleveland is the best at no-frills fun, period. Top attractions include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo which is home to over 3,000 animals, and the house from the movie A Christmas Story. West Side Market is the city's oldest market with an eclectic collection of ethnic vendors that has been featured on the Food Network and the Travel Channel. Cleveland is an odd mix of western and northern cultures, making it incredibly charming in a strange and eccentric way. Upscale cultural destinations include the Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and Playhouse Square, the downtown theater district.
Western spunk in a big city package is what you get with Oklahoma's capital city. The entertainment district of Bricktown is the city's most concentrated community for all things fun. From the Chesapeake Energy Arena, where you can catch a Oklahoma Thunder game or see a concert, to the city zoo, Harkins Theatres, and Michael Murphy's Dueling Piano Bar, Bricktown has it all. Historic sites are also in attendance with the Museum of Osteology, the History Center, and tours of the Overholser Mansion.
With the soul of Motown, the industrial ambition of Henry Ford, and the tenacity to withstand the aches of an economic downswing, Detroit is steadily reclaiming its territory as a major tourist destination. As Michigan's largest city, Detroit offers a wide variety of attractions. For sports fans, check out Comerica Park to see the Tigers play or watch the Lions at Ford Field. The Spirit of Detroit monument is a good place to start an iconic tour. From there check out Fox Theatre, Campus Martius Park, the Motown History Museum, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of the finest art museums in the country. For food, tour the restaurants in Mexicantown.
The largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte is the third fastest-growing major city in the country. Besides being the business headquarters for major corporations like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, Charlotte is a cultured metropolis sugared with Southern hospitality. Charlotte is home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame as well as the Charlotte Motor Speedway, white water rafting tours, and Carowinds, an amusement park billed as the "thrill capital of the southeast." Take in some high end shopping at SouthPark, visit the historic Billy Graham Library, see a show at the Blumenthal Performing Arts center, or tour the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
During the Civil War, Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy and the city still retains its historic prestige with monuments, preserved landmarks, and modern cultural centers. There are plenty of historic sites like the Confederacy's White House and the Civil War Museum but if you want to distance yourself from school, sign up for an adrenaline rush at the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience where you can drive a racecar or see a show at Agecroft Hall, an incredible English style Tudor mansion originally built in Lancashire, England during the 15th-17th centuries.
Kansas City is a passionate city of art, jazz, barbecue, Boulevard beer, and sports. As students, you may appreciate free attractions like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Shoal Creek Living History Museum, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Lauded as the "City of Fountains," Kansas City has beautiful areas for walking tours. Spend a day shopping, touring, and dining in the gorgeous Plaza district and then celebrate the end of the school year in the Power and Light entertainment district downtown. Also, while you're in the area you practically have to try the barbecue at Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que which has won world championships and Anthony Bourdain's praise.
These short vignettes can't do these cities justice but I hope it'll give you a taste of what you might be missing. You won't be disappointed with a trip to any one of these destinations.