If you're don't like the typical tourist attractions or crowds on your holiday vacation, travel guide publisher Fodor's has just come out with a list of some of most underrated destinations in North America, ranging from Chattanooga, Tenn., to the Black Hills of South Dakota, to Oaxaca, Mexico.


Melisse Gelula
Associate Editor,
Fodor's Travel Publications

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Melisse Gelula, associate editor with Fodor's Travel Publications, explains in today's Meet the Street the merits of some of these roads less traveled, and how much you can expect to save by choosing them.

TSC: Two particular cities on your list of the "10 Most Overlooked and Underrated Destinations" are unusual choices for a vacation: Tulsa, Okla., and Chattanooga, Tenn. What's shaking in those cities?

Gelula:

They're not the first places that come to mind when we think of vacations, but our editors and writers, who travel the world, stumbled on these locations and found that they're unique enough, and offer historic and cultural opportunities you don't find everywhere.

Chattanooga was chosen as our top family destination because of all the kid-friendly activity there; one of which we recommend is visiting raccoon caverns. The caverns are walkable. You can crawl through them as well, with a miner's lamp they'll give you. They really are cute for families.

Known for the Chattanooga "choo-choo" railway, the terminal is now a hotel, where you can stay in an authentic parlor car.

Tulsa is a really surprising city because it's surprisingly sophisticated, thanks to the oil barons who built it up and left buildings as namesakes. There's a surprising amount of beautiful, art deco architecture in downtown Tulsa. As well, Tulsa may be the smallest American city with its own ballet, opera and symphony.

Oaxaca, Here We Come
Fodor's most overlooked and underrated travel destinations *

Bahia Honda Key and Big Pine Key, the Lower Florida Keys

The Black Hills and the Badlands, western South Dakota

Chattanooga, Tennessee (top family destination)

Dominica, Caribbean (top value destination)

Durango and Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Oaxaca, Mexico (top budget destination)

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Quebec City, Canada

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Willamette Valley and wine country, Oregon (top romantic destination)

* In alphabetical order

TSC: What kind of an experience could a traveler expect to have off the beaten path, and how much can they expect to save?

Gelula:

These destinations are a breath of fresh air in that the tourists have not flocked there yet. You are not going to see the crowds, which is nice. And the hotels, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts are not as well acquainted with just how much money people are willing to spend. The dollar goes a lot further in these destinations. In other words, it's a lot more economical to visit the Willamette Valley in Oregon, on our list, rather than the Napa Valley in California.

And all of the locations we've chosen are on our list for their natural beauty, as well as historic and cultural significance. So you should find these to be beautiful locations where there are interesting things to do and learn. The Willamette Valley, for instance, has some gorgeous historical inns and secluded private cottages, and for that reason was chosen as our top romantic destination.

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And whereas the peak rates for rooms in the Willamette Valley are around $175, those are the

starting

rates for rooms in Napa Valley.

TSC: Aren't some of the better-known destinations in the U.S. cheaper now, given the overall downturn in tourism? If so, why should travelers seek out some of these lesser-known places?

Gelula:

While it is true that many hotels and restaurants have lowered their rates, we do know that people are traveling closer to home, and U.S. travel destinations might be capitalizing on this higher demand. So it does make sense to look into some of these less expensive, out-of-the-way places.

TSC: What are some of the highlights of Durango and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado?

Gelula:

In the shadow of Denver and Aspen, near the Four Corners

of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, Durango and Mesa Verde are absolutely gorgeous areas with an Old West sense about them. They are also known for their ancestral dwellings built right into cliff walls. They are amazing to see, and you can tour those.

The inns in the area have gorgeous views of the Mesa Verde mountains. And there's an historic, narrow-gauge railroad in the area that was once used for mining, that you can now take trips on. Because it's narrow-gauge, you can really get deep into the canyon, tightly hug walls and go over rivers. It can be an exhilarating trip, and after Sept. 11, many Americans have a renewed interest in going to historic places as well as national parks.

TSC: Which locations do you find the most compelling?

Gelula:

The two I am really compelled by are Oaxaca, Mexico, and Dominica, which is a really overlooked place in the Caribbean. Both of these were chosen because they are good budget or value trips. A lot of Americans are familiar with Mexico as a good beach destination, but the city of Oaxaca is quite a different destination. It has some world-class museums, and the town is really colonial, very easy to walk around, with gorgeous fountains and plazas. And the price is really right in Oaxaca. You can have fabulous meals for as little as $10.

Dominica is a great beach trip. It's an island in the lesser Antilles, and while it costs as much as the plane fare to another Caribbean island might, you really do save once you are on the island. As opposed to St. Bart's, where it's typical to pay $300 or more a night, on Dominica you can stay in a unique rainforest villa for less than $100 a night. In addition to having beaches, it's a volcanic island with a boiling lake, and hot springs on a lot of the hotel properties. There's extraordinary scuba diving among craters and rare fish.