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From major cities to vast national parks, the United States is a collage of different landscapes, cultures, and experiences. Much like the mixture of people from all over the world who inhabit them, each of the country’s 50 individual states has its unique personality, food, and local traditions.
Many first-time visitors to the U.S. are taken aback by the country’s sheer size, which is roughly 40 times larger than the entire United Kingdom, from the bright lights of New York and the voodoo tours of New Orleans to the Kentucky Derby, the United States offers an endless range of choices for every traveler.
This is all part of what makes the USA a great travel destination for virtually any traveler. Whether you’re looking for gorgeous scenery and outdoor activities or the cultural attractions of one of the country’s big cities, it’s possible to find your dream destination somewhere in the United States of America.
Given the many ranges of options that the country has to offer, creating a travel guide to the United States can be a challenging task. While it’d be impossible to provide an overview of all the country’s best cities, attractions, and places, we’ll help you narrow it down by highlighting some of the top experiences each U.S. region offers.
We’ll also provide helpful hints on everything from how to get around to what to remember as you prepare for your trip. So, without further ado, let’s set out on an exploration of the many adventures that await in the USA.
- States Covered in the United States
- Northeastern US
- Southern US
- Best Things to Do in the United States
- 1. Experience New York City
- 2. Visit the Coastal Cities of New England
- 3. Explore the Sites of Washington, DC
- 4. Enjoy the Scenic Beauty of the South
- 5. Take a Trip to the Midwest
- 6. Discover the Unspoiled Beauty of the USA in South Dakota
- 7. Design an Epic Adventure to the Southwest
- 8. Soak Up the West Coast Sun in California
- 9. Enjoy the Culture of the Pacific Northwest
- Where to stay in the United States
- How to Get Around in the United States
- Travel Tips for Visiting the United States
- Overall, the USA is a Safe Trip Destination
- Weather Conditions are Extremely Relative
- Don’t Try to Experience the Entire Country in One Trip
States Covered in the United States
Here is a breakdown of all the countries we’ve covered in the United States by region to help you dive deeper into specific destinations you’d like to visit. Each of these is their standalone travel guide.
- North Carolina
- Puerto Rico
- South Carolina
Best Things to Do in the United States
1. Experience New York City
Many consider the glittering lights of New York City the crowning jewels of the U.S. East Coast for justifiable grounds. With sweeping skylines headlined by the Statue of Liberty, New York City offers an excellent introduction to the cultural diversity you can expect throughout the rest of the country.
Take a tour of Ellis Island, where countless immigrants first entered the country from all over the world, or visit the 9/11 Memorial and One World Observatory. Be sure to catch at least one of the city’s legendary Broadway musicals and experience the magic of Times Square.
You’ll quickly discover that New York City’s boroughs each offer unique gems, from the food tours of Chinatown and Little Italy to the gospel services of West Harlem. Enjoy drinks along a speakeasy tour as you learn about the days of prohibition in New York City or a carriage ride through Central Park.
New York offers so many attractions that many visitors choose a City Explorer Pass, which offers discounted entrance to your choice of over 95 tours and attractions. While in the area, you might even take the chance to explore the beauty of upstate New York along a day trip to Niagara Falls.
From the posh digs of LUMA Hotel in Times Square and hip mid-range options like Graduate New York to highly-rated hostels like KAMA Central Park, New York offers lodging for every budget. No matter what you decide to do throughout your trip, you’ll discover why NYC is one of the most unique cities in the world.
2. Visit the Coastal Cities of New England
Just east of New York State lies that beautiful region of New England, composed of the states of Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Known for its stunning coastal cities and national parks, New England makes for a beautiful destination for outdoor lovers.
Boston, MA, offers plenty of activities for history enthusiasts, such as a tour of the legendary Freedom Trail or a guided historical site-seeing tour. Check out a reenactment of the Boston Tea Party, get a backstage tour of Fenway Park, or learn about the city’s most haunted tours on a guided pub crawl.
Massachusetts is also home to the gorgeous island of Martha’s Vineyard, which lies just south of Cape Cod. If you want to experience one of the most beautiful national parks in the USA, head to Acadia National Park in Maine.
Known for its stunning coastal areas, majestic mountains, and pristine forests, Acadia National Park is a great choice for camping and other outdoor adventures. From small fishing villages to larger cities, the region offers plenty of beautiful trip destinations and is particularly gorgeous during autumn.
Enjoy beautiful harbor views from your private balcony at the charming Grand Harbor Inn in Camden, Maine, or book a stay at The Godfrey Hotel in the heart of Boston’s theater district. No matter which areas you choose to explore, it’s hard to go wrong with a trip to the northeastern coastal cities of the USA.
3. Explore the Sites of Washington, DC
Washington, DC, is situated along the scenic banks of the Potomac River in the mid-Atlantic region of the east coast of the USA. As the nation’s capital and seat of government, the city is packed full of American history, monuments, and incredible museums.
One of the perks of traveling to Washington, DC, is that many of the capital’s attractions are either free or low-cost. Many tourists use the extra cash to sign up for guided tours, which can be a great way to learn about the stories behind the city’s historical sites.
A moonlit tour of the many monuments of Washington DC’s National Mall can be truly magical, though there are also plenty of options during the day. You’ll find biking tours, segway tours, and even themed tours focusing on everything from ghosts to food and street art.
Visit Mount Vernon, the home of the first U.S. President, or take a guided tour of the National Mall and the National Gallery of Art. You’ll also find some of the most incredible exhibits in the world in museums, like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Regarding lodging, pick historic luxury hotels like the Waldorf Astoria or hip and trendy mid-range options like the Kimpton George Hotel. If you can swing it, a stay at the Mansion on O Street is an attraction in itself, as the historic building is lined with secret passages, hidden doors, and unique decor in each room.
4. Enjoy the Scenic Beauty of the South
The Southern states of the USA have a magic all their own – not to mention notoriously delicious food. The South is a massive area of the USA and is home to everything from the striking beauty of the Appalachian Trail and Mississippi River to the legendary country and blues bars of Memphis and Nashville.
If you find yourself in North Carolina, consider booking a room near the Biltmore Estate, America’s largest private residence, which offers incredible tours. The nearby town of Asheville is an artsy community with great craft beer, set amid the breathtaking beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
While you’ll find plenty of small towns throughout the South, bigger cities like New Orleans, Louisiana, have their charm. Renowned as the home of the annual Mardi Gras festival, New Orleans is known for its vibrant music, mysterious voodoo legends, and scenic bayous and wetlands.
Regarding where to stay in New Orleans, you’ll find plenty of beautiful hotels near the French Quarter, such as The Windsor Court or Hotel Monteleone. Another popular trip destination in the southern USA is the great state of Texas, which offers everything from wide open space to large cities like Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin.
Check out the Space Center in Houston, or go for a horseback ride at a beautiful Texas ranch near Waco. Discover the hidden gems of Austin with a local tour guide or catch a Cowboys football game in Dallas, Texas.
5. Take a Trip to the Midwest
If you head north from Texas, you’ll find yourself in a region of the USA known as the Midwest. You’ll find underrated destinations like Kansas City, home to attractions like the SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium, LEGOLAND Discovery Center, and several great art museums.
However, one of the Midwest’s most famous cities is undoubtedly Chicago, IL. The city is known for its colorful history, particularly during the 1920s when it was a haven for mobsters and speakeasies.
Learn about the city’s more infamous history with a Gangsters and Ghosts tour, or tap into your macabre side with a visit to the Medieval Torture Museum. When it comes to food, you shouldn’t miss out on Chicago’s legendary pizza, a regional favorite that is renowned throughout the USA.
Check out the amazing collection of impressionist paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, or explore the city’s incredible architecture. Enjoy the view from the 103rd floor of one of the tallest buildings in the USA or take in a live performance at one of Chicago’s many theaters.
Regarding lodging, the city has an eclectic selection of offerings for all budgets. Stay in a trendy downtown hotel like Hotel EMC2, Autograph Collection, or score a great deal on a suburban gem like Ray’s Bucktown Bed and Breakfast.
6. Discover the Unspoiled Beauty of the USA in South Dakota
If you want to see the USA’s most beautiful, head west towards the rocky mountain regions. While there are plenty of great locations throughout the area, most people agree that the Black Hills of South Dakota offer some of the most stunning national parks in the USA.
When designing your trip to South Dakota, we’d advise honing in on areas west of the Colorado River. That’s where you’ll find some of the most incredible monuments in the USA, such as Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial.
While in the area, consider a jeep safari through fields full of free-roaming buffalo and donkeys on your way to a Paleontological dig site featuring ice-age mammoth skeletons. Or discover some of the most scenic landscapes in the USA with a guided tour of Spearfish Canyon or on a hot air balloon ride over the Black Hills.
The Black Hills National Park service offers great information on the 30 different campsites in Mount Rushmore’s scenic forests. However, many visitors opt to stay in the historic gold rush town of Deadwood, which still looks much like it did during the Wild West era.
You’ll get plenty of great travel stories out of a stay at the historic Franklin Hotel, which still features its own Wild West-style bar and gambling salon. If you’re more in the mood for a resort-style atmosphere, look no further than the Lodge at Deadwood.
7. Design an Epic Adventure to the Southwest
The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular natural attractions in the USA, and for good reason. If you can spend time exploring the canyon, rest assured you’ll be rewarded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the southwest region of the USA.
From guided hikes to helicopter tours and even retro train excursions, the Grand Canyon is one of those destinations that you could easily design an entire trip around. However, one of the Grand Canyon’s perks is that it’s possible to work it into a visit to cities such as Phoenix, AZ, or Las Vegas, NV.
However, if you plan to visit the canyon on a day trip from Vegas, it’s best to plan. Let’s say that Vegas is one of those destinations where it’s incredibly easy to become distracted by the bright lights, delicious food, and huge attractions.
Most tourists who visit “Sin City” for the first time are pleasantly surprised to discover that, while there are plenty of casinos, there is an endless array of options for non-gamblers. The strip features many live performances, from magic shows and comedy acts to musicals, not to mention the priceless chance to have your wedding vows renewed by an Elvis impersonator.
The hotels on the Vegas Strip are so spectacular that you could easily spend an afternoon exploring their interiors. Be sure to take an indoor gondola ride at The Venetian and check out the famous water show at The Bellagio.
8. Soak Up the West Coast Sun in California
California, which sprawls along the west coast of the USA, is home to several major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. While there’s no wrong choice regarding which to choose, be aware that each city has its unique vibe.
As the home of Hollywood, Los Angeles offers plenty of great attractions, including behind-the-scenes tours of movie studios like Warner Brothers and Universal Studios. L.A. is larger than many first-time visitors realize, so a guided tour of the city can be a great way to look at its unique neighborhoods and beaches.
Unlike L.A., San Francisco is much smaller in square miles and has an excellent public transport system. While San Francisco has plenty of great attractions, like Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s also a great choice to schedule a day trip to Napa Valley or Yosemite National Park.
For a unique California experience, consider booking a stay by the beach at Palihouse Santa Monica in Los Angeles or the delightfully quirky Madonna Inn, about midway between L.A. and San Francisco. Nature lovers may want to opt for a trip to destinations such as Black Bear Lodge at Lake Tahoe or Redwoods River Resort & Campground, which is set amid California’s legendary giant Redwoods.
9. Enjoy the Culture of the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest region of the USA is a great choice for unique attractions that will leave you with great travel stories. Seattle is one of the best cities in Washington state, which shares a northern border with Canada.
You can enjoy amazing views from the city’s famous Space Needle or plan a trip to the incredible Chihuly Garden and Glass Ticket there. Be sure to also work in a visit to the Pike Place Market, where you’ll enjoy some of the best freshly caught seafood in the country.
Just beyond the lower state border of Washington state lies the city of Portland, Oregon, which offers an eclectic mix of craft beer breweries, incredible street food, and amazing natural beauty. Take a city tour to get the inside scoop on everything each neighborhood has to offer or sign up for a quirky journey as you explore things like the city’s best coffee and donuts.
Then, of course, there’s Alaska, which might as well be a national park in its own right. Few places in the USA can compare with the natural beauty of sites like Kenai Fjords National Park or the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Spend a few nights in a Seattle landmark at the Gaslight Inn or enjoy the artistic flare of Portland’s Hotel Lucia. If your trip takes you to Alaska, then be sure to check out Alaska’s Capital Inn Bed and Breakfast, which is housed in a historic gold-era mansion.
Where to stay in the United States
Given the size of the USA, it’s no surprise that the country offers thousands of lodging options. While there are plenty of perfect places for travelers from all over the world, here is a list of our top favorites to get you started.
- Waldorf Astoria – Washington DC
- Mansion on O Street – Washington DC
- LUMA Hotel Time Square – New York City, New Yor
- Grand Harbor Inn – Camden, Maine
- Hotel EMC2, Autograph Collection – Chicago, Illinois
- Hotel Monteleone – New Orleans, Louisiana
- The Lodge at Deadwood – Deadwood, South Dakota
- The Venetian Resort – Las Vegas, Nevada
- Black Bear Lodge – South Lake Tahoe, California
- Alaska’s Capital Inn Bed and Breakfast – Juneau, Alaska
How to Get Around in the United States
There’s not always an easy answer regarding how to get around in the USA. Some major cities, such as New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco, have such excellent public transportation options that even many residents don’t own a car.
In other areas, however, you’ll want to rent a car as soon as possible. This is particularly true if you plan to visit a rural area like a national park or certain cities like Los Angeles, California, where relying on public transportation can add hours to any excursion.
Many airports have rental car companies you can visit upon arrival, but if you want to book ahead, you can reserve a vehicle through sites like RentalCars.com. It’s also incredibly important to familiarize yourself with travel safety laws and rules of the road to stay safe.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that because of the country’s sheer size, some states have different laws than others. It’s definitely a good idea to look into how local traffic rules and regulations differ from those in your own country.
For more specific advice on the best transportation options, visit the tourism websites of the area you plan to visit. Most will have detailed breakdowns of their public transport systems and more suggestions on the best ways to get around in the area.
Travel Tips for Visiting the United States
As you’ve likely gathered by now, the United States is an incredibly diverse country with plenty of options for designing the perfect trip. Everything from popular food and music to the landscape and local culture can slightly differ from region to region.
The exciting part is that the United States offers options to suit various interests. Whether you choose to visit a national park or a large city, here’s some advice that can be helpful to keep in mind.
Overall, the USA is a Safe Trip Destination
Despite Americans’ notorious bravado over guns, they aren’t as common as many international tourists assume. While you may see some hunting rifles if you visit the South, it’s quite rare to see someone walking around in public casually holding a weapon.
Most tourist destinations, in particular, tend to be very safe, with the occasional exception of petty crime. Much like any other part of the world, however, using common sense can go a long way toward staying safe on your trip.
Solo female travelers don’t tend to face problems, especially in well-lit, public areas. Like every other country, some cities have areas where you wouldn’t want to venture alone, but they tend to be fairly obvious and easy to avoid.
When in doubt, it’s never a bad idea to sign up for a tour group if traveling alone, especially until you get the lay of the land. And while travel insurance isn’t necessary to visit the USA, being covered in an emergency never hurts.
Weather Conditions are Extremely Relative
There’s never really a bad time to take a trip to the USA as long as you take your destination into account. Weather conditions vary greatly from state to state and sometimes even within the same state.
For example, winter often means no more than occasional “jacket weather” in Los Angeles, California. But if you travel just two hours outside of the city to Big Bear, California, you’ll find plenty of snow every winter, complete with great ski slopes.
The best advice is to look into the climate of the area where you plan to base your trip. While New York City is freezing during the winter, Florida has a tropical climate all year round.
One other thing worth noting is that you may also want to check the weather forecasts of any cities where you have flight layovers during your trip. For instance, if you are traveling during the winter, you may experience less delay if you can book a layover through Texas than in a snowy area like Colorado.
Don’t Try to Experience the Entire Country in One Trip
While it may seem like an odd piece of advice, this one will save you a great deal of heartache. When we say the USA is big, we mean it’s huge.
To drive from coast to coast would take about six eight-hour days, and it would take roughly three months to see the 48 mainland U.S. states alone. In order to get the most out of your trip, our advice is to pick one state or region to enjoy.
The U.S. doesn’t plan to go anywhere soon, so you can always return. In the meantime, explore the major attractions of your chosen area, try new food, and soak up the local culture.
Sign up for some great local tours to discover any hidden gems the area has to offer and don’t be afraid to try new things. We hope this advice has helped you design your journey and wish you a wonderful trip no matter what part of the United States you choose to explore.
- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.