The United States has so many unique attractions, from coastlines to big cities, that deciding which ones deserve to be considered the greatest in America is difficult. To identify the greatest places to visit in the United States, U.S. News analyzed a range of characteristics, including attractions, accommodations, and dining options, as well as votes from thousands of travelers. Use this list to plan your vacation, then comment in the below to help shape next year’s list. If you’re looking for a somewhere to stay, check out the Best Hotels in the United States.
1. Grand Canyon
Plan a vacation to Grand Canyon National Park to see some of the most awe-inspiring sights America has to offer. The Colorado River runs through the 277-mile-long canyon, making it a popular whitewater rafting destination. The Arizona park is also a great place to go hiking, with trails like the Bright Angel and North Kaibab. You’ll feel little in comparison to the Grand Canyon’s towering rock formations and sweeping panoramas, no matter how you spend your time there.
A vacation to California’s Yosemite National Park is all about reconnecting with nature. Spend your time exploring Cathedral Lakes, the Mist Trail, and other popular pathways, or visiting famous locations like Half Dome and Glacier Point. You’ll also want to set aside some time to marvel at Yosemite’s many waterfalls, including the towering Yosemite Falls, which is one of the world’s tallest waterfalls. If camping isn’t your thing, consider taking a day excursion from San Francisco, Sacramento, or Lake Tahoe.
More than 900 miles of hiking trails, as well as a variety of natural wonders such as steaming geysers and bubbling hot springs, are available in America’s first national park. In addition, animal lovers will enjoy learning about local species at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Spend a few hours traveling through the Hayden and Lamar valleys if you’d prefer look for wild animals inside the park, which spans portions of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Yellowstone National Park’s resident bison, wolves, and grizzly bears consider both places to be safe havens.
Maui’s gorgeous beaches and lush parks provide plenty of opportunity to unwind. You can spend your days cruising along the Road to Hana, flying above the Hawaiian island in a helicopter, or lounging on the black sands of Waianapanapa State Park, appreciating the landscape. Sign up for a snorkeling excursion if you’d prefer stay cool than tan. Previous visitors recommend making the trek to Haleakala Observatory to catch a sunrise or sunset for an unforgettable experience. It’s a must to try Maui’s fish, but don’t forget about other island delights like haupia, a creamy coconut custard.
5. Glacier National Park
This Montana national park is known for its glaciers, but it also has over 700 lakes, two mountain ranges, and numerous waterfalls. The park’s mix of accessible trails like Rocky Point and hard routes like Grinnell Glacier and the Highline Trail make hiking the most popular sport for visitors. In the summer, the area is ideal for canoeing and fishing, and in the winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Wild animals such as moose, bears, and elk are very regularly seen here.
6. New York City
Known for its diverse cultural scene, the Big Apple boasts so many things to do that it puts most of its U.S. peers to shame. Whether you choose to spend the day perusing The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibits, catching a show on Broadway or trying the city’s famous pizza, chances are you’ll never find yourself feeling bored here. When you need some respite from the city’s busy street life and soaring skyscrapers, retreat to scenic Central Park or the artsy High Line
7. San Francisco
Diverse ethnic groups and numerous social movements have shaped San Francisco’s culture. Exploring the City by the Bay’s neighborhoods on foot or by cable car is the greatest way to acquire a sense of its personality. From the Mission to the Castro, you’ll find a diverse range of stores and cafés serving practically every cuisine. Take a fast boat journey to Alcatraz Island for a history lesson, or relax on a picnic blanket at Mission Dolores Park. Wearing a solid pair of walking shoes can help you prepare for the high slopes.
8. New Orleans
Few American cities have cultures as distinct as New Orleans’. New Orleans has a distinct identity, with influences from the Caribbean, Europe, and other places. History buffs will enjoy sights such as the National WWII Museum and the New Orleans African American Museum, while music fans will enjoy the city’s strong jazz, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll scenes. Between tours, foodies can indulge in gumbo, beignets, and po’boys. After you’ve had your fill of delicious food, explore Bourbon Street’s nightlife or join up for an evening ghost tour.
9. Zion National Park
Awe-inspiring panoramas are available everywhere you turn in Utah’s Zion National Park. For some of the best views, hikers recommend trekking the Angels Landing trail, which is full of challenging switchbacks and thrilling heights. Other traveler favorites include the easy Pa’rus Trail and the more challenging Narrows, which takes hikers through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. No visit would be complete without going canyoneering, which combines rappelling with swimming and hiking.
10. Honolulu – Oahu
Oahu features a nice balance of urban and beach environments. And with pleasant weather year-round, there really is no wrong time to visit this Hawaiian paradise. Waikiki Beach promises to please, but be forewarned: There’s a good chance a barrage of tourists will greet you. For extra elbow room, head to more secluded options like Waimanalo Bay Beach Park and Kalama Park. Before leaving, carve out some time for visiting Honolulu naval sights like the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
Nicknamed the Garden Island, Kauai relies on its immense natural beauty to stand out from other Hawaiian Islands. To drive this point home, Kauai limits the size of all of its buildings to no taller than a coconut palm so locals and travelers can enjoy excellent views from the island’s pristine beaches. Visitors will also discover lush areas like Koke’e State Park and Wailua River State Park when they venture inland. Kauai’s distance from the mainland and abundance of high-end hotels make it a pricey destination to visit, so book your flights and accommodations well in advance
12. Grand Teton National Park
In Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming’s snow-topped Teton Mountains rub elbows with the Snake River, Jackson and Jenny lakes, wildflower fields, swamps and more. Trekking to scenic vistas like Inspiration Point and Phelps Lake Overlook are common ways to take in the park’s natural beauty, but if you’re looking to exert less energy, explore the region by car or boat. Don’t focus too much on the horizon, though, as moose, elk, bears and bison all call the park home and occasionally wander near visitors.
13. Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital has a lot going for it. Fill your days with visits to iconic landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Plus, the city’s plethora of Smithsonian museums gives you plenty to do on rainy or hot days. When the weather cooperates, explore some of D.C.’s green spaces, such as the U.S. National Arboretum and Rock Creek Park. A stroll along the Georgetown waterfront is also a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. And don’t forget to check out the city’s lively restaurant and bar scene in areas like the U Street and H Street corridors.
14. Lake Tahoe
Known for its stunning clear water, North America’s largest alpine lake beckons to active travelers year-round. Winter draws skiers and snowboarders in droves to the slopes at Lake Tahoe’s numerous resorts, while summer is ideal for hikes, scenic drives and lake activities like kayaking and boating. There are also many area golf courses for those looking to work on their game. For an active vacation with a twist, trek one of the California and Nevada region’s beer trails or sign up for an outdoor aerial fitness class.
Thanks to its location in eastern Utah, Moab makes it easy for travelers to visit not just one, but two national parks – Arches and Canyonlands. When you’re not marveling at the parks’ otherworldly red rock formations, explore downtown Moab – which features a charming array of cafes, shops and food trucks – or sign up for a rafting trip on the Colorado River. Mountain biking, Jeep tours, and even cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are all popular to-dos while in Moab. Plus, since the town sees less than 10 inches of rainfall each year, it’s the ideal backdrop for outdoor adventure.
16. Bar Harbor
Considered the gateway to Acadia National Park, this town on Maine’s Mount Desert Island provides a great home base for exploring the park. Along with its cozy bed-and-breakfast accommodations, Bar Harbor also boasts delicious waterfront dining and locally owned shops showcasing unique Maine souvenirs. When you’re not trekking through the national park, join a boat tour – the waters surrounding Mount Desert Island are a popular feeding ground for whales in summer.
17. San Diego
San Diego appeals to many different kinds of vacationers. The city boasts a variety of activities, ranging from hiking in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve – which sits just north of the city – to surfing at Mission and Pacific beaches. Foodies won’t want to miss the city’s central Gaslamp Quarter, which features a variety of bars and restaurants serving fresh seafood, authentic Mexican cuisine, craft beer and more. Other must-dos include wandering around museum-filled Balboa Park, taking a quick ferry ride to Coronado Island and watching the sun set in La Jolla.
18. Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole’s isolated location in western Wyoming attracts outdoorsy types in droves. Bordered by Grand Teton National Park and national forests, Jackson Hole boasts an assortment of ski slopes and hiking trails, as well as areas for fly-fishing, mountain biking, paragliding and more. For a more leisurely activity during the warmer months, head to Jackson Hole’s Town Square, which offers shops, art galleries, bars and restaurants, plus Wild West-themed reenactments on select summer evenings.
The Massachusetts capital offers activities for all types of travelers. The 2 ½-mile-long Freedom Trail, which connects Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Monument, offers a terrific overview of the city’s rich history, while Fenway Park is a must-see attraction for baseball fans. What’s more, Boston is home to numerous pubs, food markets and shopping thoroughfares, as well as top-notch universities known for their charming architecture, picturesque green spaces and wicked smart students.
The Windy City’s architecture, cuisine and museums make this Midwestern locale an excellent option for travelers with varying interests. Be sure to stuff your face at least once, whether it be with a Chicago-style hot dog (sans ketchup), an Italian beef sandwich or a slice of deep-dish pizza. Then, snap some pictures in front of Millennium Park’s iconic “Bean” sculpture, check out the Art Institute of Chicago’s top-notch collections or go on an architecture river cruise. If you plan on visiting in winter, pack your warmest attire and head to Maggie Daley Park to go ice skating.
21. Big Sur
Although this California coastline isn’t made for swimming, Big Sur is the place to go for Instagram-worthy photos. Some of the best views of the jagged rocks and turquoise water can be found at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Pfeiffer Beach, but those looking to relax can head to Sand Dollar Beach. Meanwhile, hikers can explore the trails that crisscross Andrew Molera State Park, which spans 4,800 acres. Travelers who are just passing through Big Sur will want to pull over by historic Bixby Bridge to snap a quick picture of the scenery.
This luxe Colorado mountain town offers world-renowned ski slopes, high-end boutiques, trendy restaurants and a see-and-be-seen atmosphere. In addition to the downhill slopes available at Aspen Snowmass, there are plenty of Nordic trails in the area for those looking to go cross-country skiing. While skiing is the primary activity of choice for most visitors, travelers can also choose to spend their vacation hiking the beautiful twin peaks of the Maroon Bells or exploring (either by car or bike) the 20-mile Independence Pass. Before leaving, hop on Aspen’s gondola to enjoy panoramic mountain vistas.
Outdoorsy types will love vacationing in Sedona. Home to towering red rock formations, ancient cliff dwellings and supposed energy vortexes, this Arizona town features a multitude of postcard-worthy landmarks accessible by various hiking trails. Many of Sedona’s trails also permit mountain biking, while the area’s red rocks attract climbing enthusiasts. After an active day outside, travelers can retreat to one of the town’s award-winning spas or wellness centers, where they can tap into Sedona’s spiritual side during a treatment, yoga session or healing ritual.
Seattle may be known for its consistently soggy weather, but this city in the Pacific Northwest has plenty to offer travel buffs. First things first, grab a coffee. (Seattle is the undisputed epicenter of this popular beverage and is home to Starbucks’ world headquarters.) After getting your caffeine fix, enjoy the city’s laid-back aura. Spend your stay mingling with locals and tourists at Pike Place Market, then head southeast of the city center to hike Mount Si’s trails. Or, get a dose of Seattle’s art scene while perusing the exhibits at the Seattle Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
Travel to this South Florida city to experience a melting pot of cultures. The vibrant food and nightlife scenes are worth the trip alone, so grab a frita (a Cuban-style hamburger) in Little Havana before dancing the night away in one of the city’s countless clubs. If you’re not a fan of clubbing, don’t fret: Miami offers a variety of museums filled with exhibits about the city’s unique art, history and culture; some visitor favorites include the Pérez Art Museum Miami and The Bass. Plus, the city sits close to the famous sands of Miami Beach.
26. Outer Banks
North Carolina’s Outer Banks region features 200 miles of barrier islands. History enthusiasts will appreciate snorkeling and scuba diving the roughly 3,000 shipwrecks offshore, as well as wandering around the site of the Wright brothers’ famous first flight. Meanwhile, beach bums can lounge on the Outer Banks’ beaches and admire the lighthouses that tower above them. When it’s time to eat, head to one of several seafood restaurants to savor local specialties like Hatteras-style clam chowder and raw oysters.
Savannah is one of the best destinations the South has to offer thanks to its old-world charm, tasty cuisine and plethora of historical attractions. In this Georgia city, you’ll find restaurants that serve everything from fried green tomatoes to biscuits and gravy. What’s more, Savannah’s absence of open container restrictions means you can take a drink to go to sip as you wander around the Historic District. When you’re not strolling beneath Forsyth Park’s Spanish moss-draped oak trees, learn more about the city’s past during a trolley or horse-drawn carriage tour.
28. Las Vegas
Sin City astounds travelers with its bright lights and its smorgasbord of offerings. Whether you choose to spend your trip testing your luck at its casinos, enjoying the highly regarded buffets or relaxing at extravagant spas and chic pools, Las Vegas offers something for everyone. Though the bulk of Las Vegas’ can’t-miss activities and attractions are available on the Strip, travelers hoping to avoid the area’s thick tourist crowds can venture outside the city to go hiking or sightsee via helicopter.
29. Charleston, SC
Beautiful architecture, relaxing beaches and plenty of Southern charm are the defining elements of Charleston, South Carolina. Start your day in the Battery, where you can catch an incredible sunrise over the city’s harbor. Then, check out the city’s historical sites and museums, including the Civil War-era Fort Sumter and the McLeod Plantation Historic Site. Once you’ve worked up an appetite following a busy day of sightseeing and exploring the city’s picturesque streets, savor some of Charleston’s mouthwatering low country cuisine at a local restaurant. Must-try dishes range from fried catfish to shrimp and grits.
30. Steamboat Springs
Sitting in Colorado’s Yampa Valley, Steamboat Springs beckons to adventurous travelers in search of an abundance of outdoor pursuits. Summer visitors can hike or bike the Yampa River Core Trail, or spend an afternoon fishing, kayaking or tubing, while winter travelers can explore Steamboat’s nearly 3,000 skiable acres. No matter the time of year, a long soak in Strawberry Park Hot Springs is a relaxing way to rest weary muscles after a day on the trails or slopes.