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The U.S. covers a large geographic area and couldn’t be more diverse in terms of people, landscapes, and things to see. For international travelers, planning a visit to the United States can be very overwhelming, and it’s impossible to see it all in just one trip.
Every city and state has something unique to offer, but there are a few key places that are must-visit spots for first-time tourists. From coast to coast and everywhere in between, these are some of the best places to visit in the USA to get a sense of the country’s rich history, diversity, and energy. So if you’re looking for a starting point to explore this vibrant country, start with these interesting places. Each city has a unique culture, cuisine, and attractions to indulge your curiosity, keep you engaged, and inspire you to keep traveling.
One of the most unique and hippest cities in America is Portland, Oregon, and this Pacific Northwest destination always keeps you on your toes. Portland is a craft beer lover’s dream because there are so many local brewers doing amazing things here. It’s also a great city to visit if you enjoy food trucks, mom & pop shops, quirky festivals, farmer’s markets, interesting characters, and farm-to-table food. Take some time to explore Portland’s funky neighborhoods, and then head just outside of town for great hiking, mountain biking, and water sports. Some of the best outdoor spots to check out are Mount Hood, Forest Park, and the International Rose Test Garden.
Located in Northern California along the Pacific Ocean, this bayside city is a wonderful place to visit for travelers coming from near and far. San Francisco enjoys a beautiful location and is known for its top-notch restaurants, outdoor recreation, and vibrant arts scene. There are lots of local festivals in this hilly and postcard-perfect city, and some of the best places to shop are located here too. No matter what time of the year you visit San Francisco, you’ll likely be greeted with pleasant weather that stays pretty consistent throughout the year. Top attractions include Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge and Park, Haight-Ashbury, and Pier 39.
New York City has been celebrated in so many books, movies, and television shows that it’d be a shame not to see what it’s like for yourself. It is the center of the universe in so many scenes – arts, culture, finances, business, and politics. New York City is a place that changes you once you visit, and it’s packed with iconic landmarks. Some of the country’s best art and history museums are here, and it’s known for having the best pizza in the country. Top attractions not to be missed include the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and Central Park.
For fun in the sun and one of the best nightlife scenes you’ll find anywhere in the country, head to Miami, Florida. The weather in Miami is one of the best reasons to visit, as it stays warm year-round than pretty much anywhere in the country. There’s a beach for everyone in Miami – ones for people-watching, mingling with singles, and family-friendly ones too. Top things to do in Miami are water sports, like jet skiing and boating, and shopping at Lincoln Road and Aventura Mall. There are strong Cuban and Haitian influences here, so visit the ethnically diverse neighborhoods to learn about their cultures and try their delicious cuisine!
“The Big Easy,” as New Orleans is affectionately called is the perfect place to visit if you love good food, jazz music, and a fun party scene. Bourbon Street is the main attraction for partying, but Frenchman Street is the place to go for restaurants and live music and Magazine Street in the Garden District is a great place to shop. It’s also fun to go on a swamp tour during your visit to see the bayou and alligators safely from a boat. New Orleans is also known for its historic cemeteries, so consider taking a cemetery tour to learn more about the legendary people buried here. For a little peace and quiet, spend some time in City Park or Audubon Park.
Although much of the Midwest gets overlooked by first-time travelers to the U.S., Chicago, Illinois stands out among all Midwestern destinations. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, so spend some time in each one to learn about the diverse cultures that call these places home. There’s a vibrant arts and indie music scene here so catch a performance from a local band or a small gallery that showcases local up-and-coming artists. There are also big theaters here that host Broadway musicals and Second City is the legendary comedy venue in the city. To get outside and active, head to the Lakefront Trail along Lake Michigan for a jog or bike ride, or just relax on North Avenue Beach or Montrose Beach.
If you think that all of Texas is one big stereotype about cowboy boots, 10-gallon hats, and cattle ranching, then add Austin to your U.S. travel list. This Texas city is unlike anywhere else in Texas and offers an exciting live music scene, lots of music and craft festivals, and access to some of the most beautiful nature in the south. Austin is also the gateway to over 14,000 square miles of Hill Country, which is full of vineyards and wineries that you can visit for tastings and tours.
The famous city of Las Vegas provides an experience that really can’t be compared to anything else. It’s the entertainment capital of America with themed casinos, live performances, and a posh nightlife scene to keep you entertained every minute of the day and night. You can find food, shopping, and fun at Downtown Container Park, learn about Vegas’ history at the Neon Museum, and indulge in luxury accommodations that’ll make you feel like royalty. With so many things to do in Las Vegas, you could never be bored.
One of the best places to learn about American history is in the East Coast city of Boston, Massachusetts. A great way to kick off your exploration of Boston is to take a historic walking tour along the Freedom Trail. The downtown area is compact and walkable. There are also lots of museums to see here, including the Children’s Museum, the New England Aquarium, and The Museum of Science. Newbury Street and Charles Street are great places to shop, and Hatch Memorial Shell hosts free concerts and movies in the park in the summer.
Denver used to be a quiet mountain town, but it has since become a bustling gateway city for outdoor recreation and snow sports. Denver is also known for its huge craft beer scene, and there’s nothing better than watching a live concert at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater. Nearby towns, like Golden and Boulder, are definitely worth checking out too. Rocky Mountain National Park is a dramatically scenic place to hike and camp in the warm seasons and perfect for snowshoeing in the winter.
Located in the far northwestern corner of the U.S., Seattle, Washington has lots to offer first-time visitors. The Space Needle is the iconic landmark of Seattle and offers incredible views of the city from the top. This is the place to be if you love coffee, and there are lots of indoor and outdoor museums worth checking out too. You can hop on a ferry to check out the nearby islands off the coast of Washington for a quick and relaxing getaway.
While many of the places on this list are big cities, America is also known for its mid-sized towns and small villages too. While we’ll save the small towns for another list, Asheville, North Carolina belongs here because of its growing, exciting, and friendly vibe in the Appalachian Mountains. You can join an outdoor yoga class in Pack Square Park, play unlimited games at the Pinball Museum, and sample local brews at the city’s many craft beer breweries. Head just outside of town to drive along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and check out the nearby hiking trails.
Yellowstone National Park is America’s first national park and a unique place to visit with lots of different landscapes to explore. The park has geysers that shoot water a hundred feet in the air, hot springs, waterfalls, and hiking trails. It is about 3,500 miles in size and is one of the largest national parks in the country, spanning sections of three states – Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The park is unlike anywhere else on earth and makes up approximately 50 percent of earth’s hydrothermal features. Avoid the summer season if you want to beat the crowds. If you’ve been to the park before, experience it from a new perspective by going on a horseback riding tour, biking through the park, or camping overnight.
With its iconic red rock formations, Sedona is a stunningly beautiful place to visit in the U.S. The area is known for its healing vortexes and spiritual energy that lends itself well to meditation sessions and yoga retreats. This part of Arizona is a great place for hiking, camping, biking, and taking tours. There is a vibrant town center here as well that offers art galleries, boutique shops, metaphysical stores selling crystals, and top-notch restaurants.
Adventurous travelers love spending time in Telluride, Colorado because of all the great outdoor recreation here. There is the legendary ski resort to get some runs in during the winter and also lots of hiking trails to explore when the weather is warmer. It’s a picturesque mountain town in Colorado with year-round fun, such as gondola rides, fly fishing, river rafting, and off-roading. The sky is the limit with how adventurous you can be with a trip to Telluride!
Zion National Park is an impressive national park that is an epic place for outdoor adventure. It is in the southwestern corner of Utah and offers climbing, camping, backpacking, and hiking. The park features an impressive canyon that is about 2,000 feet deep. There are areas in the canyon to hike along the lower floor and even swim in the river. Also, there are natural rock arches in the park, namely the Crawford and Kolob arches as the two most famous ones.
The northern New Mexico town of Taos is a Southwest destination that shouldn’t be missed. It is a hub for arts and culture, with lots of galleries and events in the area. It is also worth visiting the Taos Pueblo, which has numerous, multi-storied adobe dwellings that are still inhabited by the indigenous people. Taos has an excellent ski resort for winter fun in the snow and lots of hiking trails to soak up the incredible scenery during other times of the year. Other sights to see here are the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and the Earthship off-grid community.
Just outside of Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine is a top place to visit in the USA. This is a beautiful coastal town known for lobster and yachts. It is a quaint and friendly town with bed and breakfast accommodations, forests for hiking, and opportunities to get out on a boat for a tour. It’s fun to visit Bar Harbor during the Fourth of July holiday for a bit of festive, American fun. Mount Desert Island, the Shore Path, Ocean Trail, and the Schoodic Peninsula are some of the top things to do when you are in this part of the state.
Moab is a hub for outdoor recreation in Utah and is known for its red rock cliffs and many outdoor tour companies. This is a place where you can go hiking, mountain biking, climbing, off-roading, canyoneering, and horseback riding. It is near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, so it is possible to visit both of these iconic places when you make Moab your home base. Moab also has a cute downtown area with shops and eateries, plus some festive seasonal events with a small-town vibe.
The Oregon Coast is unlike other parts of the state and a real place of beauty in the Pacific Northwest. In the Cannon Beach area, you can enjoy oceanfront lodging, casual walks along the beach, and inspiring scenery at Haystack Rock and elsewhere along the shore. You can walk for miles and miles along the waterfront to get away from the crowds. Cannon Beach is also an artsy place with some great galleries and fine-dining restaurants.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most famous American national parks and a popular place among tourists. You can visit the more-crowded South Rim year-round, while the North Rim offers a more secluded and quieter experience between May and October. You can walk along the rims of the canyon or head down to the canyon floor to feed your adventurous side. The Colorado River runs through the canyon and is awesome for whitewater rafting. There are also helicopter tours that you can take over the Grand Canyon and camping accommodations.
St. Augustine is a lovely coastal city in Florida that is filled with history and next to pristine beaches. It is considered to be the oldest city in the U.S. and has a history that dates back around 500 years. Some top sights to see in town are the Fountain of Youth, City Gates, Spanish Quarter, and St. George Street. There are beaches nearby, including Crescent Beach with its long and wide stretch of white sand and Anastasia State Park with lots of watersport adventure opportunities.
For a lively arts scene, a college town vibe, and four seasons of outdoor recreation, plan to visit Burlington, Vermont. Burlington has a strong bike culture and even a bike ferry that you can take to get from one part of town to the next as you are out exploring. You can check out the Church Street Marketplace for specialty shops and national retailers, join exciting events like the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, and get some exercise at Burlington Waterfront Park that connects to the Lake Champlain islands. There’s also an exciting craft brewery scene in Burlington, which is good to know if you love good, local beer.
For a true taste of southern charm and hospitality, make a point to visit Savannah, Georgia, Savannah is filled with lovely outdoor squares that sit under the hanging Spanish moss. It is a place where you can experience coastal cuisine and classic cocktails, as well as a place where you can indulge your paranormal curiosity with haunted tales and ghost tours around town. On a trip to Savannah, you can take tours of historic mansions, sign up for a southern cooking class, and sip drinks on rooftop bars and lovely views. It is a very pedestrian-friendly city and perfect place to wander around without a set agenda. Meanwhile, you can get outside of town to do some hiking at Skidaway Island State Park, which also offers camping.