Best Places to Visit in the USA
Looking for inspiration for your next vacation? Let the 2020 list of the best places to visit in the United States be your travel muse for the year.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the following destinations are the most spectacular in America, based on editor feedback, reader votes and expert opinions on attractions, restaurants, lodging and more. Most of the selected destinations are “world-renowned for their natural beauty and plethora of outdoor activities,” says Christine Smith, travel editor at U.S. News. You'll also find cities known for their culinary scenes and cultural offerings, and small towns packed with charm and history.
Find out if your favorite U.S. destination made the cut — and start adding new places to your bucket list ASAP.
25. Sedona, Arizona
Welcome to the land of low humidity, rich red-rock formations and tons of outdoor recreation. You can do everything from mountain biking to hiking to swimming in Sedona, located in central Arizona just south of Flagstaff.
Plus, the desert terrain is exceedingly beautiful (you’ll see Instagram-worthy views in just about every direction) and there are tons of spas to help you relax. If you’re a movie aficionado, you’ll be happy to know that movies like “3:10 to Yuma” and “Midnight Run” have been filmed here.
24. Miami, Florida
There’s such a diverse array of things to do and see in Miami that you’ll never get bored — beaches, historical buildings, delicious restaurants, art museums and nightlife abound in equal measure.
Of course, the weather in the Magic City is great too, with average temperatures hovering between 74 and 88 degrees (U.S. News also notes that it’s the perfect place to visit in January, when many other parts of the country are blanketed in snow and ice).
The city has been shaped by many different cultures, most notably Cuban — there’s even a Little Havana neighborhood here, where the Cuban sandwich is a must-try.
23. Seattle, Washington
Though Seattle often gets a bad rap for being cloudy or rainy all the time, U.S. News points out that this city actually gets less annual precipitation than New York or Boston. Maybe Seattleites tell people it rains all the time so they can keep their lovely destination to themselves.
The city is, after all, home to world-class arts and culture, outdoor recreation, history and diverse neighborhoods. And it’s a top pick for foodies too, thanks to its craft beer scene, food markets and notable coffee shops (Starbucks, anyone?).
Puget Sound, Lake Washington and the Olympic Mountains surround Seattle, which means there are impressive views nearly everywhere you look.
22. Aspen, Colorado
Come for the skiing, stay for the world-class restaurants, shopping and art galleries.
Not into snow sports? Aspen is also a joy to visit in the summer, with tons of hiking and biking trails. And let’s not forget how lovely it is in the fall, as well, particularly at sites like the Maroon Bells, an Instagram-worthy spot with mountains reflected in a “clear blue mountain lake” (to quote a poetic lyric penned by John Denver, who called Aspen home for nearly 30 years).
With posh resorts like Viceroy Snowmass, Hotel Jerome and The Little Nell, you may not want to leave your room when you visit — but trust us, you should definitely get out and explore this winning mountain town.
21. Chicago, Illinois
If you love pizza, hot dogs or Italian beef sandwiches, be sure to book your next weekend getaway to Chicago. This food-obsessed city takes these popular hometown dishes very seriously, so you won’t be disappointed.
You’ll also want to explore the Windy City’s architecture via a river cruise and check out its many diverse neighborhoods, including Pilsen (home to a vibrant Mexican scene), Logan Square (once scrappy, now hipster), Chinatown (among the best in the U.S.) and Lincoln Park (an arts and culture hub).
The country’s third-largest city has plenty of shopping as well, plus some impressive skyscrapers like the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center, both among the tallest buildings in the world.
20. Big Sur, California
Take a cruise along the famous Highway 1 to this eclectic town in the heart of the California coastline. Hikers will want to explore the coastal trails that offer Instagram-worthy views of the Pacific Ocean at practically every turn.
A stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a must. Here' you'll see McWay Falls, which falls 80 feet into the ocean, as well as 300-foot redwoods that make this area particularly one of a kind.
Oh, and don't miss Big Sur River Inn, where you can sit in Adirondack chairs located literally in the Big Sur River, giving you the rare chance to dip your toes in the water while sipping on a microbrew.
19. Boston, Massachusetts
In this city where Puritans established colonies in the 1600s, Paul Revere set out on horseback to warn of the coming of the British troops and the Sons of Liberty protested high taxes by dumping tea into the harbor, history is everywhere.
But make no mistake: Boston is also a modern city through and through, with a culture all its own. Cheer alongside some of the most impassioned sports fans on earth at a Boston Red Sox game, chow down on New England clam chowder and oyster shooters, and stroll cobblestone streets past distinguished brownstones.
Be sure to visit the Museum of Fine Arts - Boston and the Paul Revere House for some arts and culture, and don’t forget to enjoy one of Boston’s urban parks, like the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, for a breath of fresh air.
18. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Antler decorations are everywhere in Jackson Hole, a rugged-meets-posh mountain town with a cowboy Western vibe.
During the winter months, hit the slopes at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort or Snow King Mountain Resort and take a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge, where thousands of elk spend the winter. Then, warm up with a cup of hot cocoa, a staple at local restaurants and cafes.
In the summer, take a stagecoach ride around downtown and enjoy the local haunts, including a wonderful collection of taprooms and brewpubs. As a bonus, Jackson Hole is a wonderful home base for exploring Grand Teton National Park, just minutes away, as well as Yellowstone, about an hour away (Both are listed later on this list)
17. San Diego, California
There’s so much more to San Diego than sunshine and beaches — though those are two very good reasons to visit this coastal California city.
When you get tired of the 70 miles of coastline here, head to the world-class San Diego Zoo or catch a show at La Jolla Playhouse on the University of California San Diego campus. Or make a trip to Balboa Park, which features enough museums — exploring everything from natural history to automobiles to flight — to fill an entire vacation.
Fresh fish tacos and the famous California burrito, stuffed with French fries, ensures you’ll never go hungry as you take in all this city has to offer.
16. Kauai, Hawaii
Want to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life for a while? A trip to Kauai, aka the Garden Island, is just what you need.
Hawaii’s oldest island has a laid-back, easy-going vibe (there are only two major highways) and some of the most gorgeous vistas in the world. You won’t find any skyscrapers, because the island requires all buildings to be shorter than a coconut tree, and spectacular nature abounds.
Listen for bird calls while roaming through the rainforest, lay out on a sandy beach or take a selfie in front of a waterfall. Among a bounty of attractions, the Napali Coast, famously featured in “Jurassic Park,” and colorful Waimea Canyon are particularly enticing.
15. Bar Harbor, Maine
Looking for national park adventure and that quaint New England small-town charm? Bar Harbor is your spot then.
It's considered the gateway to Acadia National Park and all it has to offer, but then back in town you can count on cozy B&Bs and waterfront dining to round out a fun-filled getaway. During the summer, don't forget to take a boat tour to witness the several whales that call these waters home.
14. Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
In 1871, Mark Twain wrote of this alpine lake surrounded by granite peaks, “As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface, I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”
Not everyone can describe the lake so poetically, but they can surely appreciate its beauty in equal measure. Many think of the lake as a wintertime retreat, and indeed it’s home to world-class skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tubing, snowmobiling and sleigh rides in the cold season. But it’s equally enticing in the spring, summer and fall, when it’s an ideal spot for paddleboarding, kayaking, hiking and gondola rides.
Plus, nature isn’t its only selling point; the lake is located along California’s border with Nevada, and on the Nevada side offers legal gaming in splashy casino-resorts.
13. Moab, Utah
Moab puts you up close and personal with not one but two national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. But that's not all, summer visitors will love rafting down the Colorado River, mountain biking or participating in Jeep tours.
Come winter cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities. Needless to say, it's no surprise why this year-round destination made it into the top 15.
12. Washington, D.C.
Everyone should visit our nation’s capital at least once in their lives, right? So it’s no surprise that Washington, D.C. is a top vacation destination.
If you love to get around on foot, a trip to D.C. will be right up your alley — you can walk all along the National Mall, stopping along the way to check out national treasures like the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol Building, not to mention a bevy of free Smithsonian museums (the newly opened and powerful National Museum of African American History and Culture is a must).
Plan a long trip, because there’s a lot to see here — and we haven’t even mentioned this city’s diverse neighborhoods, farmers markets and impressive restaurant scene.
11. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Wyoming may not immediately come to mind when you start thinking of vacation destinations — but it should. After all, the state is home to Grand Teton, one of America's best national parks, known for its craggy, snow-capped peaks, gorgeous wildflowers and crystal-clear lakes.
Keep your eyes peeled for all the wildlife roaming the park's 500 square miles, including bison, antelope, moose, black bears and hundreds of species of birds. The Snake River, which flows from nearby Yellowstone into Grand Teton’s Jackson Lake, is ideal for kayaking, canoeing and fly fishing.
And we haven't even mentioned the park's namesake and highlight feature: the 40-mile-long Teton Range, the youngest range in the Rocky Mountains.
10. Zion National Park, Utah
The terrain of Zion is so diverse that it’s hard to believe it’s all contained within one national park. Forests, canyons and desert landscapes can all be found in this natural wonderland spanning nearly 150,000 acres.
On the park’s east side, you’ll find iconic red sandstone sites like Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. The less-trafficked west side is ideal for hiking, especially near Kolob Arch (the world’s second-longest arch) and along The Subway, a challenging, permit-only route that takes you through a narrow tunnel.
If you plan to camp at Zion, be sure to make your reservation as early as possible, as campsites tend to fill up fast.
9. Honolulu, Oahu
As U.S. News notes, you don’t have to choose between a vacation on the beach or a trip to the city — Honolulu has a little of both.
The city’s Waikiki Beach is where revelers go for days spent lying on the shore and nights spent sipping mai tais. It’s crowded here, but as U.S. News reports, is less so from mid-April to early June and between September and mid-December. To beat the crowds, you can also venture out to quiet Lanikai Beach in Kailua, about a 40-minute drive away.
For a bit of history, visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial, site of the surrender of Japan to end World WWII, and Iolani Palace, the only former royal palace on U.S. soil.
8. New Orleans, Louisiana
Did someone say beignets and coffee? Crawfish etouffee? Jambalaya? Po’ boy sandwiches? Say no more.
New Orleans has some of the most distinctive and flavorful foods around, with Creole cuisine reigning supreme. Plus, it’s home to seriously awesome live music, ranging from jazz to blues to rock-and-roll.
Even if you can’t visit during Mardi Gras, you’ll still get to see the world-famous Bourbon Street in action, with people partying late into the night. The French Quarter is full of history, with some buildings dating back to the 18th century.
7. San Francisco, California
The City by the Bay has of late become defined by its tech scene, as behemoths like Twitter, Google and Uber have moved in. But make no mistake: It remains so much more than a ritzy tech mecca.
A true melting pot, San Francisco is home to a wonderful mix of ethnic neighborhoods, including Chinatown, Japantown and North Beach (the city’s version of Little Italy).
For history, Alcatraz Island remains a tourist trap that’s well worth getting trapped in, thanks to the fascinating stories it has to tell about prisoners and their escapes. And of course, there’s the city’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge, which you can snap photos of from the Presidio or walk across to take in skyline views.
Plus, the dining scene here is exemplary; in addition to a thriving food-truck scene, the city has 75 Michelin stars to its name, more than any other city in the U.S. besides New York. Which brings us to No. 6 on the list...
6. New York, New York
You will never feel more alive than you will in New York, a city where the action never stops and you won’t ever want it to.
Catch a Broadway show starring an A-list star, mingle with artsy types in Greenwich Village, do the obligatory tourist thing in the illuminated Times Square and get a workout exploring the immense Metropolitan Museum of Art (its size? 2.2 million square feet).
Always on the cutting edge, the city’s newer attractions include the High Line, an elevated park perched high above the city, and Hudson Yards, a truly mega mega-mall along the Hudson River.
5. Glacier National Park, Montana
Take a deep breath of fresh air — you’re at Glacier National Park, surrounded by hundreds of lakes, waterfalls and mountains. The sheer size of the wilderness contained within this park is breathtaking, with more than 1 million acres to explore.
If you love to hike, you’ll want to hit up the Trail of the Cedars or Grinnell Glacier. Keep your camera handy, as you’re likely to see beavers, grizzles, bighorn sheep, lynx, elk and hundreds of different types of birds.
Have a car? Carve out two hours to drive along the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, which winds its way past some of the park’s most stunning sights.
4. Maui, Hawaii
Hawaii’s third destination on the list (yes, the state is just that amazing), Maui promises the perfect mix of off-the-beaten-path adventure and on-the-beaten-path infrastructure.
Outdoor recreation doesn’t get better, from snorkeling past slow-going sea turtles, to golfing along the sea, to hiking past lava tubes and waterfalls. If you love fish and fresh produce, then you’ve come to the right place, as Maui’s restaurants are all about refreshing dishes made with local ingredients. And the resort scene, especially near Wailea and Kaanapali Beach, is second to none.
Want to beat the crowds in this paradise beloved by many? U.S. News travel editors recommend visiting in April, May, September or November — you’ll get better deals and see fewer fellow tourists.
3. Yellowstone, Wyoming
When our first national park was established in 1872, the protection act signed by Ulysses S. Grant stated, “The headwaters of the Yellowstone River…is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale…and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Nearly 150 years later, the park remains a “pleasuring-ground” that benefits millions yearly. And, while its geysers are undoubtedly its most famous feature, it offers so much more than that. Select from hiking trails spanning more than 900 miles, take a scenic drive and watch for wildlife like bison, grizzlies, elk, wolves, lynx and badgers.
Be sure to bring your camera or your plein air painting kit, because Yellowstone’s mountainous peaks, rainbow hot springs, green forests and crystal-clear lakes are sure to inspire you. The park is so extensive — 2.2 million acres — that while it’s mostly located in Wyoming, parts of it expand into both Montana and Idaho!
2. Yosemite, California
Though Yosemite is massive at roughly 1,200 square miles, most visitors spend their time in an 8-square-mile area that’s home to Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point and enough hiking trails to fill many days’ worth of exploration.
Half Dome and El Capitan — rock formations reaching elevations of 8,839 and 7,569 feet, respectively — are particularly coveted by hard-core climbers, for both their challenging terrain and the staggering views they offer from the top. If you’re not a pro but looking to improve your skills, you can take a climbing lesson or go on a guided tour led by an experienced local outfitter.
Big crowds are common in this magnificent park, but you can find a little peace and quiet at Yosemite if you visit in May or September.
1. Grand Canyon, Arizona
The 277-mile long Grand Canyon is truly awe-inspiring — when you stand on the rim and look out over the canyon, forged by the Colorado River over millions of years, you’ll be amazed at the power of nature.
If you’re an adventure junkie, there’s plenty to keep you busy, including overnight backpacking trips down to the canyon floor. This well-rounded destination “offers incredible scenery and ample opportunities to go hiking and whitewater rafting” as well, U.S. News’ Christine Smith tells “Far & Wide.”
No doubt this park will be topping many best-of lists for centuries to come.