Detroit Skyline, Detroit, Michigan, USA (photo via SolomonCrowe / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Detroit, Macon, Cleveland—do these cities come to mind when planning a vacation? They’re probably not on your bucket list as, outside of their own state, they’re not widely known as tourist destinations. Some may have even received unfair, negative press, which tends to affect a traveler’s perspective for decades. These cities have so much to offer in terms of American history and cultural milestones, as well as tragedies and triumphs that helped shape the ever-changing character of our country.

Detroit will teach you about the rise and fall of the automobile industry, as well as its funky record of Motown’s musical creations. Better understanding the troubled economic history of this beautiful city will help to also explain its triumphs in rising above that history.

You will be introduced to new industries and start-ups, which are trying to revitalize the city center and bring new creativity and economic success into the area. The Motown Museum, also known as Hitsville USA, is a must-see memory located in the same house that Berry Gordy helped create musical magic. Take a walk on the Detroit Riverfront for people-watching, world-class sculptures and panoramic views of Detroit’s skyline.

Hitsville U.S.A., Detroit

Check out the Heidelberg Project, which has transformed a blighted urban area into an outdoor art installation. The pride this display instills in Detroit’s east side neighborhood is obvious and worth a walk along blocks of vacant “lots of art” and transformed abandoned houses.

Back in the city, visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, where the famous Diego Rivera murals line all four walls of what was once a garden courtyard. Detroit’s history is depicted referencing industry at the Ford Motor Company in twenty-seven panels. The murals have seen their share of controversy, over the years, but their integrity and sustainability keep them in the forefront of important Mexican mural art.

Macon, Georgia, “Song and Sound of the South,” shares yet another musical saga in Southern rock and roll. The Allman Brothers spent many of their early creative years in this town and their home, The Big House, has become a museum dedicated to their legacy. The mansion is full of Allman memorabilia, music and cool vibes.

The Big House, the Allmon Brothers' previous home and now museum

Another musical legend, Otis Redding was born in Macon, memorialized with a statue at Gateway Park on the Ocmulgee River. Discreetly hidden speakers fill the area with strains of “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” along the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

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The Tubman African American Museum touts itself as “the largest museum in the nation dedicated to educating people about the Art, History and Culture of African Americans.” Created in 1981 in an old warehouse, the museum was named for Harriet Tubman, responsible for facilitating the freedom of hundreds of slaves. Not only does this gallery showcase African American art, but it also educates the visitor on the history of a culture with deep roots in this region.

Of course, diverse choices in Southern cuisine abound in this town. Who would guess that Macon would provide an English steak-house? The Downtown Grill offers everything from Grit Fritters to Maple Leaf Duck Breast. For a dose of Southern barbeque, head to Finchers BBQ, open since 1935. Nu-Way Weiners had its start as a hot dog stand on Cotton Avenue in 1916. The word “wiener” was unintentionally misspelled on the original sign but the owners decided to go with the error and retain the misspell. Check out local columnist Ed Grisamore’s frank discussion of the dachshund sandwich in his book “There is More than One Way to Spell Wiener.”

Cleveland is another city with a rich musical background that might not be on your travel playlist. Home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this city also boasts football, basketball and baseball teams, making it a sports mecca with the Pro Football Hall of Fame just down the road in Akron. If you are a fan of the movie “A Christmas Story,” you will delight in the original house turned museum. A family can even book an overnight stay at this beloved Bumpus House, however, no hound dogs allowed.

Again, food and spirits play a big part in Cleveland’s culture. Consider Slyman’s Restaurant, “Home of the Biggest and Best Corned Beef.” Or try a Polish Boy, not the southern staple Po’ Boy, but a kielbasa sausage on a bun, covered with coleslaw, French fries and BBQ sauce. Sounds like a year’s worth of Weight Watchers points. For creative brews head to Masthead Cleveland Brewing Co., with its taproom located in an original automotive dealership building erected in 1921.

Cleveland Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Art Deco architecture can be found throughout the downtown area. The Hope Memorial Bridge, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is a stunning example, showcasing the Guardians of Traffic, carved into four massive stone pylons. The AT&T Huron Road Building is said to be the inspiration for the iconic Daily Planet skyscraper of Superman fame. Shopping for groceries will lead you to the exquisite Cleveland Trust Rotunda Building, current home to Heinen’s Grocery Store. You will find yourself looking upward at the stained glass dome, eighty-five feet high, while shopping for the evening meal.

Past negative perceptions are just that, in the past. If you open your eyes and hearts to a city in rebirth, you will understand why it has such a rich and sustaining history. Our country’s cities, both big and small, offer too many opportunities to pass up because of one adverse incident or timeline.