From national parks to iconic symbols of freedom and democracy, these popular and highly regarded U.S. attractions cannot be missed.
1. Grand Canyon, Arizona
One of America’s greatest natural wonders is the Grand Canyon, a massive canyon carved by the Colorado River millions of years ago. Some of the park’s most popular activities include hiking the Rim Trail, taking a mule trip to the bottom of the canyon, and whitewater rafting on the Colorado River. The best time of year to visit is in the spring or fall. Both seasons offer milder weather and thinner crowds than summer while avoiding winter’s snowy conditions. To enter the park, expect to pay $35 per vehicle or $20 per person if arriving by bike, on foot or via one of several free shuttle buses. Keep in mind, some shuttles only operate during select months.
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
Spread across three states, Yellowstone National Park features more than 2 million acres filled with wildlife and jaw-dropping natural wonders like Old Faithful, Lower Falls, and Yellowstone Lake. The park is open year-round and offers different experiences during each season. You’ll find the most tourists in the summer, while winter offers more elbow room at attractions because most roads are closed. For in-park accommodations, you’ll have your pick of up to nine properties (options vary depending on the season). There are also multiple campsites available. Consider navigating Yellowstone in a recreational vehicle (which you can rent through a company like RVshare), as this allows you to explore before and after the crowds arrive and depart for the day.
3. Manhattan, New York
Manhattan is one of New York’s five boroughs and is what people most often think of when they picture New York City. It’s familiar skyline and sights have been featured a thousand times on screen. Walk in the shadow of the skyscrapers, picture the Statue of Liberty, see a Broadway show , climb the Empire State building, stroll Central Park, window shop on 5th Avenue or stagger around a museum.
4. Niagara Falls, New York
Enjoy one of America’s great natural wonders at Niagara Falls State Park and Niagara Falls National Heritage Area in New York state. The best way to see 12,000-year-old Niagara Falls is from a helicopter or Maid of the Mist boat tour. For a different perspective, stay until dark (when the attraction is illuminated) or walk across the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side. Though there are hordes of tourists in the summer, the season’s lack of attraction closures and pleasant temperatures in the 70s and 80s make it the ideal time to visit. Niagara is free to check out, but those who purchase a Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass for $35 or $46 (depending on age) can also access area sights like the Cave of the Winds.
5. The Golden Gate Bridge, California
The Golden Gate Bridge, which has connected San Francisco to Marin County since 1937, is one of the country’s most recognized landmarks. It took four years to build this nearly 2-mile-long bridge. While it may look red to the eye, the bridge is painted international orange so it’s visible through San Francisco’s characteristic fog. The structure has been featured in numerous films, including “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the 1978 adaptation of “Superman” and “The Maltese Falcon.” To see Golden Gate, you can drive from one end to the other (though there is a southbound toll, starting at $7), join a free walking tour or bike across it. The bridge is especially busy in the summer, so you may want to visit during a shoulder season like fall or spring.
6. Kilauea, Hawaii
Kilauea is the most recent of a series of volcanoes that have created the Hawaiian Archipelago. It is a very low, flat shield volcano, vastly different in profile from the high, sharply sloping peaks of stratovolcanoes. Kilauea is one of the most active volcano on the Earth, an invaluable resource for volcanologists. Thirty-three eruptions have taken place since 1952, not including the current eruption which started on January 3, 1983, and is still ongoing.
7. Florida Keys, Florida
The Florida Keys are a 120-mile long chain of tropical islands curving around the base of the Florida peninsula, connected to the mainland by a series of bridges. The most spectacular bridge, the Seven Mile Bridge in the Lower Keys, has been frequently used as a location for films including True Lies and Fast 2 Furious. US Highway 1, the “Overseas Highway” runs from Key Largo, Islamadora, Marathon, Lower Keys and finally to Key West, the most distant and most famous island.
8. The Vegas Strip, Nevada
Famous for its plentiful casinos, luxe resorts and superb live entertainment (think: magic shows and Cirque du Soleil performances), this portion of Las Vegas Boulevard brings visitors from around the world looking for fun. Some of the Las Vegas Strip’s most popular activities include admiring the Fountains of Bellagio, enjoying a gondola ride on The Venetian Resort Las Vegas’ canals, watching the volcano erupt at The Mirage and riding The Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The Strip is also where you’ll find the bulk of Las Vegas’ can’t-miss restaurants, as well as The Shops at Crystals and The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. To avoid uncomfortable daytime temperatures in the 100s, skip a summer trip.
9. Denali National Park And Preserve, Alaska
The Denali National Park and Preserve is located in Interior Alaska and contains Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. The word “Denali” means “the high one” in the native Athabaskan language and refers to Mount McKinley. In addition, the park protects an incredible wilderness area that contains grizzly bears, caribou, moose, wolves, and numerous other creatures.
10. White House in Washington D.C.
Built in 1800, the home of America’s commander in chief is a top U.S. attraction. While you can walk by the White House at any time, it’s also possible to take a free tour of select rooms, including the State Dining Room, the China Room, and the East Wing’s Blue, Red, and Green rooms. You’ll need to contact your representative in Congress at least 21 days before your visit to make the request. Keep in mind, spaces are limited and fill up quickly – especially during the summer – so it’s best to submit a tour request as soon as possible. If you’re unable to secure a spot on a tour, you can still enjoy photo-worthy views of the White House from the surrounding 82-acre President’s Park.
11. Yosemite National Park, California
UNESCO World Heritage-listed Yosemite National Park boasts nearly 768,000 acres of land filled with massive granite cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, and towering sequoia trees. Key spots to visit in California’s most popular national park include El Capitan (a sheer granite rock that measures about 3,600 feet tall), Yosemite Falls (North America’s tallest waterfall), and Tuolumne Meadows (a hiker’s paradise with alpine lakes, a river, and mountain peaks). Yosemite is beautiful year-round, though crowds are at their thickest during the warmer months. To avoid congested parking lots, use the park’s free shuttle service. Admissions cost $35 per vehicle and $20 for every person entering on foot or by bike.
12. Walt Disney World, Florida
If you’re a kid at heart, chances are you’ll love visiting Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. This treasured destination in one of Florida’s top vacation spots opened its doors in 1971 and welcomes millions of visitors every year. The nearly 25,600-acre property features four theme parks, two water parks, 30-plus resorts and the Disney Springs entertainment area. Magic Kingdom is home to classic rides like Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion, while Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom host an array of popular festivals and offer sections modeled after Disney movies like “Toy Story” and “Avatar.” Although Walt Disney World is busy year-round, you’ll likely find milder weather and fewer tourists if you arrive in the spring or fall, when school is in session. One-day tickets start at $109 for visitors ages 10 and older.
13. Sedona Red Rock Country, Arizona
A two-hour drive north of Phoenix is Sedona, Arizona. Sedona isn’t a big city, but it is a major tourist attraction in the USA thanks to its gorgeous red rock landscape. Known as Red Rock Country, this region is an outdoor lover’s dream. Countless canyons, creeks, and paths encourage outdoor activity, with Cathedral Rock Trail being one of the local favorite hiking spots. One of the most interesting spots in Sedona combines the new with the old, with the contemporary Chapel of the Holy Cross built right into the side of the red rocks themselves.
14. French Quarter, New Orleans
A visit to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without a stop in the French Quarter. Home to world-famous Bourbon Street, the French Quarter – which was founded in 1718 – is one of the Big Easy’s most historic neighborhoods. Local must-dos include savoring a beignet at Cafe du Monde, sampling one of the city’s signature hurricane drinks at Pat O’Brien’s, and enjoying authentic Creole cuisine at Brennan’s. The French Quarter also features key attractions like St. Louis Cathedral (the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic cathedral in the U.S.) and Jackson Square (a National Historic Landmark named for its bronze statue of Andrew Jackson). Since New Orleans can get hot and muggy during the summer months, consider visiting in December or January when average highs sit in the 60s.
15. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Located less than an hour-and-a-half from Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Utah’s smallest national park (and one of the 10 smallest in the Nation, in fact), is without a doubt one of the most extraordinary places on Earth. Here, amidst the dazzling, multicolored limestone, you will find the largest concentration of hoodoos in the entire world. Hoodoos are vertically-shaped spires of rock that acquire their shape through a particular form of erosion involving rainwater’s ability to dissolve combined with something called frost wedging. This natural phenomenon has also created fins, windows, and slot canyons all across the area. Bryce is truthfully not a canyon, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s actually a collection of amphitheaters (as they’ve been named) that have been carved naturally into the limestone over countless years.
As the name suggests, Carlsbad Caverns is a collection of over 115 caves. Located in southern New Mexico, these caverns are carved from limestone, and it is possible for visitors to descend more than 900 feet (275 meters) below the surface of the earth on a guided tour. The largest single cave chamber in all of North America is found here and is known as the Big Room. Within the room itself, visitors can set off on a 90-minute walk exploring the incredible underground environment.
17. River Walk, Texas
In the city of San Antonio, Texas, there are few attractions more appealing than the River Walk. Also known as the Paseo del Rio, the River Walk is a network of walkways lining the San Antonio River. Reserved for pedestrians, the revitalized area is packed with fascinating architecture, lush greenery and water views. The River Walk is a hub for dining and culinary exploration in this Texan city. It is possible to dig into Tex-Mex cuisine, upscale French fare, and everything in between in this one easily navigable destination.
18. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina is the Great Smoky Mountains, National Park. The park is the most visited in the entire country, thanks in large part to its enormous size and its incredible scenery. Visitors can hike through old-growth forest, spot hundreds of species of birds, and check out the two visitor centers. Hikes can also wind through trails that lead to the waterfalls of Laurel Falls and the vistas of Clingman’s Dome.
19. Venice Beach in Los Angeles
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a trip to Venice Beach. Its canals and beaches are spectacular, but the biggest hit is undeniably the Venice Beach Boardwalk. This is a truly entertaining spot where street performers juggle, dance, sculpt and sing for passersby. Shop for souvenirs, grab a refreshing drink and bring some small bills for a stroll on the boardwalk. After stopping to admire a live performer, many visitors tip a dollar or two to show appreciation.
20. Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Keystone, South Dakota
Pay tribute to some of America’s greatest presidents at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Badlands of South Dakota. This impressive granite landmark features the 60-foot-tall faces of former presidents George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. Hikers won’t want to miss the Presidential and Blackberry trails. Meanwhile, families will likely enjoy participating in the memorial’s Junior Ranger programs and ranger-led walks. Another popular activity is Mount Rushmore’s lighting ceremony, an evening summer event that includes an illumination of the presidents’ faces and a ranger talk. To access the memorial, a $10 per vehicle fee applies. For a decreased chance of rain and fog, avoid visiting in May or June.