Grand Canyon National Park
Look out over millions of years of history.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Top 15 Destinations Worth Exploring in the Land of the Free

Explore Varied Landscapes and Storied Locales

One of the top countries to visit in the world, the United States attracts millions of visitors every year who are intent on exploring all 50 states and all they have to offer. From tropical beaches to cities full of skyscrapers to icy glaciers, there are so many different kinds of vacations to be had.

No matter where you go in the United States, you’ll find opportunities to enjoy the unique history, culture and natural landscapes that make up the foundation of this great country. If you’re looking for ideas on where to visit next (or on your first trip), pull up your favorite travel booking site and take a look at our list of the best places to visit in the USA.

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

With 4.5 million visitors a year, there’s no question that Grand Canyon National Park ranks as one of the best vacation spots in the US. Just standing at the edge of the South Rim can be life-changing as you look out over millions of years of history, formed into massive colorful layers of rock.

Aside from taking a guided or self-guided tour along the rims, there are donkey rides into the canyon, helicopter flybys and jeep safaris. Plenty of lodge-style accommodations are available in the area, but for a cheaper, more immersive option, try camping at the bottom of the canyon.

Before you leave, be sure to visit Grand Canyon Village, home to the historic El Tovar Hotel where you can dine with a view of the canyon at sunset.

Palm trees on a grassy coast with a pink and purple sunset.Explore the beautiful black sand beaches created by the world's largest dormant volcano in Haleakala National Park.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Maui, Hawaii

Maui isn’t as popular as Oahu, which means you can relax away from hordes of tourists and overpriced meals. There are still plenty of things to do here whether you decide to stay in a luxury beach resort or a quaint tropical Airbnb home.

Take a drive on the Road to Hana where you can pick up fresh-squeezed juice along the way while enjoying views of waterfalls and rainforests. Haleakala National Park is home to the world’s largest dormant volcano, which has in turn created beautiful black-sand beaches in the area.

As with any island destination, Maui also has plenty of sunbathing, surfing and snorkeling opportunities in addition to an array of rich cultural experiences like luaus and hula dancing.

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The Washington Monument sticks up out of purple trees on the edge of a lake.All memorials are free and open to the public.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Washington, D.C.

While Washington, D.C. has plenty to offer history buffs and political enthusiasts, it’s also one of the overall best cities to visit in the USA. There are 14 different museums on the National Mall that are free to visit and cover a broad range of interests from fine art to air and space.

All of the memorials like the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial are free and open to the public. Free tours are even available of the White House and U.S. Capitol building, but reservations have to be made at least 21 days in advance through your Congressperson or home country’s embassy in Washington, D.C.

You can also see a performance at Ford’s Theatre where President Lincoln was shot, visit Arlington National Cemetery or see the giant pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

A waterfall rushes into a rock canyon, the sides of which are covered with pine trees.There's so much to be explored in Yellowstone.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Yellowstone National Park, WY, MT and Idaho

A popular vacation spot for both U.S. nationals and foreign tourists, Yellowstone National Park has something for everyone. Old Faithful attracts the most visitors with eruptions every 60 to 110 minutes, but there are many geysers and hot springs inside the park.

Hayden Valley has some of the best wildlife viewing where you can see bison, grizzly bears and many different species of birds up close and personal. Hiking and fishing are popular activities at Yellowstone as are horseback riding and cycling.

If exploring the park by horseback sounds interesting to you, you should consider booking a stay at a nearby dude ranch. Many run programming that’s suitable for the whole family. Plus trying your hand at something new is a great way to encourage family bonding.

There are nine lodges in the park, but backcountry camping has become a popular preference for those wanting a uniquely isolated experience in the wilderness.

No matter how you choose to experience Yellowstone, make sure to book your activities and lodging well in advance as space can fill up pretty quickly.

Waves rushing over the rocky shore with the sun setting on the horizon.Simply driving along the coast of Big Sur will give you plenty to do as you stop every so often to take in the views.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Big Sur, CA

Located on one of the most scenic drives in the world, Big Sur has been a popular vacation destination in California since the 1960s. There are many breathtaking views along the road where motorists can stop for photos or just admire the landscape as they drive to one of the isolated beaches or waterfalls in the area.

On Big Sur Beach, you might find harbor seals or sea lions basking in the sun. A number of state parks and nature preserves dot the area, making it a prime location to do a little soul searching.

In fact, many people come here for spiritual retreats among the wilderness at the Esalen Institute or the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Only a few restaurants and lodges exist in the area, but many of those that do are worth visiting for their spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

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A sailboat out on the ocean, the purple sunset staining the water with its lavender hues.Life on the water doesn't get any better than this.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Key West, FL

With constantly pleasant tropical weather, The Florida Keys attract visitors year-round. Key West has some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the area that are accessible for viewing by snorkeling, diving, or glass-bottom boat tour.

There are also plenty of beaches and oceanfront dining, perfect for enjoying a margarita during the spectacular sunsets. Key West has been home to many notable people including author Ernest Hemingway and former president Harry S. Truman.

Both men left behind houses that are now museums open to the public. Aside from touring interesting buildings and the historic Old Town area, no trip to Key West would be complete without a photo in front of the Southernmost Point buoy that marks its designation as such in the continental U.S.

Three horse and carriages waiting beside the sidewalk out front of a historic church with a civil war statue out front.Whether you're there for Mardi Gras or not, New Orleans makes for the perfect vacation with its lively nightlife and cultural influences.Photo Credit: Getty Images

New Orleans, LA

While New Orleans is best known for its Mardi Gras celebration in February, you can learn about this cultural institution any time of the year (while avoiding the crowds) at a local museum — Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World.

Even when the week-long festival isn’t going on, there are plenty of things to do in New Orleans. The city has a vibrant nightlife scene in the French Quarter and on Frenchmen Street where tons of jazz clubs, bars, restaurants and dance clubs can be found. During the day, the French Quarter’s beautiful historic buildings like St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo are worth taking the time to explore.

Even the city’s cemetery has daily tours due to some famous residents residing there such as musicians, pirates and even a legendary voodoo queen. If you’re traveling with children, don’t miss the Audubon Nature Institute, which houses a zoo, aquarium and IMAX theater.

Boats cruising by the Statue of Liberty with the city in the background.There are an endless number of things to do in the Big Apple, whether you like shopping, theater, food, history, art or all of the above!Photo Credit: Getty Images

New York City, NY

There are so many things to do in New York City that even if you lived there it’s nearly impossible to experience everything the city has to offer. As such it’s one of the top places to visit in the US because there’s always something new to enjoy.

Obviously a visit to some of New York’s most iconic landmarks is a must, which includes Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, 9/11 Memorial and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nothing compares to seeing a play on Broadway or catching a concert at Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.

For a unique perspective on the city that few others will glimpse, take a NYC helicopter tour! You’ll get a wonderful overview of all the sites you can visit later on while on foot.

Sampling all the deliciously diverse food is a must along with having a slice of New York-style pizza or a water bagel from a Jewish deli. And finally, if you come during Christmas, New York transforms into an even more magical experience with ice skating at Rockefeller Center and festive holiday windows on Fifth Avenue.

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Eating Your Way Through the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia

This guide of things to do in Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia focuses on all of the great food and drink experiences you can have in the region!

Rocky sandstone edifices in the Garden of the GodsThe strange beauty of the Garden of the Gods will sweep you off your feet.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Garden of the Gods, CO

Pikes Peak may be the more well-known attraction in Central Colorado, but there’s a site that’s even more dramatic than the highest summit in the Rocky Mountain’s front range. It’s Garden of the Gods, a collection of upthrust limestone and sandstone slabs that rise from the ground in great towers. The area got its name when a 19th-century surveyor exclaimed, “Why, it is a fit place for the gods to assemble!”

Indeed, there’s something both dramatic and eerie about the reddish slabs, particularly at night when flocks of small birds fly in and out of their nests in the monoliths. There’s more to do than just enjoy the scenery, too. Garden of the Gods is a public park, and it contains 15 miles of walking trails. Enjoy electric-bike tours or tour the park on horseback.

You can also try your hand at rock climbing, although you’ll need to complete a registration form. (Various local outfitters can give you lessons.) Finally, there’s the onsite Nature Center, which provides perspective on the area’s history and why it’s one of the best vacation destinations in the USA.

Vineyard in OregonWillamette Valley is known for its lush vineyards and picturesque landscapes.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Willamette Valley, OR

Pioneering Americans eager to start over flooded from the United States’ east coast to Oregon during the 19th century. Today, much of the state’s pioneering occurs in the Willamette Valley, an absolutely gorgeous 150-mile-long stretch of low-lying land southwest of Portland, OR, where vintners ply their trade.

Many know about the Willamette Valley due to its reputation as a wine-producing region. And, yes, its rolling meadows studded with vineyards that are, in turn, backdropped my snow-capped mountains make for wonderful travel.

Some of the nation’s best pinot noir comes from this area, and you can make an entire trip out of finding your favorite, tiny vineyard. After all, there are about 500 of them sprinkled over the area.

However, there’s plenty to like even if you’d really rather not imbibe. Enjoy a bike ride on one of the paths that runs by the Willamette River. Go fly fishing or rafting on the McKenzie River. Brush up on your Northwestern history in Salem, the state’s capital. And then there’s always Portland, which boasts an amazing foodie scene.

Trail through the woods with lake in distanceHiking even just a section of the Appalachian Trail will give you an appreciation for the gorgeous backwoods scenery in the US.Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME

Calling it a hike hardly does it justice: The Appalachian Trail gives travelers an unparalleled window into the character of the rural Eastern United States. It just happen to be that they get it while on foot.

Starting in The Peach State, the Appalachian Trail travels through 14 different states over its 2,200-mile length. With plenty of planning, an excellent selection of lightweight gear, and an epic measure of stamina, thru-hikers manage the whole thing at a single stretch.

What do they see? Shadowy stretches of woodland trail. Wind-swept, open-air ridges. Crude lean-tos designed to keep off the worst of the elements. Soaring (at least for the east coast) mountain peaks.

This journey of some 5 million steps is also rife with wildlife, everything from the common muskrat and red fox to bobcats and black bear. Then there are the trail angels, kind souls who take it upon themselves to refresh weary hikers with food at drink at random stops.

Of course, few can manage a hike that incredibly long. Still, you can enjoy plenty of short sections of one of the best trails in the world over the space of a week or even a single day. Good options include Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee), Nantahala Mountains (North Carolina), Blue Mountains (Pennsylvania) and Anthony’s Nose (New York).

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Bridge running along coastline with ocean in backgroundRocky Creek Bridge along Highway 101 shows off just some of the stunning scenery you'll see along the way.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Route 101, Los Angeles, CA to Turnwater, WA

What the Appalachian Trail does for America’s east coast, Route 101 does for the west. There’s one big difference, though: this stretch of highway is strictly an automotive affair.

Originally built in 1926, Route 101 spans three states and more than 1,500 miles. Musical acts such as Depeche Mode, Phantom Planet and Social Distortion have given lyrical nods to the highway and for good reason. It’s one of the most beautiful roads in the nation.

However, that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to drive the whole thing. The starting point is strictly practical, a road designed to get Southern California commuters where they need to go.

Other parts, though, prove absolutely breathtaking. While traveling through Northern California’s Humboldt Redwoods State Park, detour off the current Route 101 onto State Route 254 (which is actually a historic section of the famous highway) for a redwood-roofed drive.

An Oregonian section from Cloverdale to Pacific City features gorgeous ocean views. And the section that runs by Washington’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is worth a stop simply to experience its multitude of marine wildlife.

Chicago River with skyscrapers all around and boats on waterTaking a cruise down the Chicago River is one of the best ways to take in the beautiful buildings in the city.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Chicago, IL

New York has been considered the quintessential American city for ages, and for more than 100 years, the Big Apple has enjoyed rubbing Chicago’s nose in it. In 1952, a bitter New York journalist named A.J. Liebling lampooned Chicago as The Second City. The name stuck.

Fortunately, its current-day reputation has far outstripped the moniker. World-renowned restaurants. Amazing museums. Astonishing architecture. Arts galore. Unmatched shopping. Honestly, it’s hard to know where to start when it comes to Chicago, one of the best US cities to visit.

An architectural boat tour is never a bad way to begin. Growing increasingly popular in recent years, these docent-guided tours provide you with the history behind the iconic buildings framing the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. From there, consider visiting iconic Navy Pier and famous museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry.

When you’re ready to rest your weary head, head to any of the city’s excellent hotels. Luxury options include the Waldorf Astoria, the Langham and the Peninsula Chicago, while Hotel Versey and Freehand Chicago are a little easier on the wallet.

Not to be outdone by New York, Chicago also stages plenty of Broadway plays at venues such as the Oriental Theatre, the Cadillac Palace Theatre and the CIBC Theatre.

Oh, and before you leave, make sure to visit The Second City, a comedy troupe that has owned Liebling’s nickname while launching the careers of notables such as Alan Arkin, Peter Boyle, Chris Farley, Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

Church and buildings in foreground with coast in backgroundMackinac Island is the place to go if you dream of a quiet and quaint getaway.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Mackinac Island, MI

If you happened to see the 1980 Christopher Reeve film “Somewhere in Time,” you probably remember the stunning Victorian hotel in which it was set. That was the aptly named Grand Hotel, which has existed for more than a century on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. The best part? You can stay in it today.

That edifice isn’t the only anachronistic part of the island. Due to a long-running ban on automobiles, setting foot on Mackinac Island really is like stepping back in time — in the best possible way. Travel + Leisure dubbed it the world’s friendliest island in 2015 and also called it “the embodiment of the American family vacation.”

Why? Well, around 80% of the island is parkland and the ban on cars means you’ll have plenty of opportunity to hike, bike and camp to your heart’s content. The downtown area looks as though it was plucked straight out of the 1950s with little white-paneled shops schlepping fudge, pancakes and burgers.

Then there’s the surrounding environment itself. Staying on Mackinac Island, you’ll understand why Lake Huron is one of the Great Lakes. Turquoise waters dotted with watercraft and bombed by birds seem to recede forever. It truly represents the American Midwest at its most breathtaking. No wonder it’s considered one of the most beautiful places to visit in the US.

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Marsh at sunsetThis marshland just outside of Charleston is quintessential South Carolina Lowcountry scenery.Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Lowcountry, SC

To understand the American Deep South, you need to visit South Carolina’s Lowcountry. This marshy coastal region boasts a landscape both beautiful and a bit daunting. At least it must’ve been for the original inhabitants.

Ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Alligator-populated swamps studded with reeds. Muddy banks graced with some of the world’s most beautiful sunrises. You can imagine the challenges that settlers faced, and if you visit Charleston, SC, you’ll learn more about them.

One of the oldest travel destinations US, Charleston has historical sites that tell the story of American military conflicts, religious toleration and slavery.

Nature lovers will also enjoy the myriad of outdoor activities available. Kayak along the Edisto River, which is America’s longest blackwater (i.e., flowing through a wetland) river. Take a natural history tour on a pontoon boat. Stroll the grounds of an honest-to-goodness plantation. Drive the backroads as emerald light dapples through the canopy above you.

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