The best thing about visiting the US can be summed up in one word: variety. This expansive country contains an incredible number of travel experiences that would take a lifetime to complete – (figuratively) lose yourself among the redwoods, take deep breaths of sea air on glimmering beaches, or discover underground arts scenes in some of the world’s most famous cities.
Whether you’re a nature lover looking for wide open spaces and snow-covered peaks or a culture fiend who wants to lose themselves in museums and galleries, we’ve created a list of the USA’s heavy hitters. Here are the best places to visit in 2023.
1. New York, New York
Best place for art and architecture
A city that looms large in American lore, New York continues to live up to its hype. A global center for art, fashion, finance, music and food, the Big Apple entrances with its diversity. Sip sunset cocktails on luxurious rooftops, mosh at local punk shows, marvel at world-class art in famous museums, or indulge in the best food you’ve ever had at a hole-in-the-wall favorite.
Planning tip: New York has so much to offer, but resist the urge to see it all on your first trip. Break things down by neighborhood or borough, or maybe even by interest.
2. San Francisco, CA
Best for counter-culture
San Francisco contains multitudes, offering an urban travel experience with a distinctly West Coast flavor: take in breathtaking bay views at Golden Gate Park, wander the alleyways of the country’s largest and oldest Chinese neighborhood, pay homage to LGBTIQ+ heroes in the Castro, or dive into cutting-edge art at SFMOMA and a plethora of local galleries.
3. National Mall in Washington, DC
Best for national history
Washington DC’s National Mall represents the center of American political life and distills its cultural history into a two-mile strip of iconic monuments and the country’s most famous museums. The mall contains ten Smithsonian museums – the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of American History, among others – plus landmarks including the National Gallery of Art, the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol building.
4. New England
Best for forest drives
Want to meander on mountain roads beneath brilliant forest canopies and savor tasty lobster and coastal views all in the same trip? New England is the place to be. Explore the quaint villages and cranberry bogs of Cape Cod, snuggle into a cabin in the mountains of Vermont, or dive into all the seafood you can eat in Portland, Maine. And if you visit in autumn, prepare yourself for some of the most spectacular fall foliage in the country.
5. Pacific Coast Highway
Best for West Coast exploration
The Pacific Coast Highway – technically three highways linked together – connects sunny San Diego with moody Seattle, delivering epic West Coast experiences along the 1600-mile journey. Stay at kitschy motels in coastal towns, admire the cliffs of Big Sur, marvel at the tidepools in Oregon, and explore Washington’s Olympic National Park.
Planning tip: Sections of the Pacific Coast Highway run along sea cliffs prone to rockslides. Always check road conditions before setting out in case there are any unexpected closures.
6. New Orleans, Louisiana
Best for foodies and art lovers
There’s no place in the world like New Orleans, we promise. A vibrant cocktail of Indigenous, Caribbean, African, French and Spanish influences, this city possesses a unique magic that keeps people coming back for more. Dive into its legendary Creole cuisine, revel in its lively festivals, and immerse yourself in a world-class music scene – this is the birthplace of jazz, after all.
Planning tip: New Orleans’s coastal location makes it susceptible to hurricanes from June through October, with the most active months being August and September.
7. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Best for Indigenous history and culture
Nicknamed the “City Different,” Santa Fe is rooted in American history while still keeping up with the times. A cultural melange of Indigenous, Spanish and Mexican influences, this city is home to numerous historical sites – like the 400-year-old plaza – and a cutting-edge art culture that features a strong contingent of independent artists and the original Meow Wolf, a game-changing immersive art installation.
8. Chicago, Illinois
Best metropolis for midwestern charm
Chicago contains all the hallmarks of a great American city – excellent food, multicultural neighborhoods, top-tier museums – with a distinctly midwestern twist. Spend your days lounging next to the ocean-like Lake Michigan, catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, or have an evening of laughs at Second City, the launchpad for greats like Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.
9. Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Best for big peaks and winter sports
If you want to see the quintessential mountains of the American West, the Rockies in Colorado should be your first stop. Rocky Mountains National Park is a logical starting point, but in truth, there are so many different ways to access this dynamic mountain range – hit the slopes in ski hubs like Vail, Aspen and Telluride, drive the scenic byways of the San Juan range, or pitch camp in one of the state’s numerous national forests.
Planning tip: Unless you’re from somewhere with similar elevation, it’s likely you might feel the effects of altitude throughout the Rockies; stay extremely hydrated, take your time on hikes, and skip the alcohol.
10. Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina and Virginia
Best for east coast mountains
While the Rockies tend to get a lot of press – for good reason – the US’ oldest mountain range is a must-see. The Blue Ridge Mountains make up the southern third of the Appalachian mountain chain, and the lush forests wrapped around these rolling hills make for incredible blue-green vistas from the region’s many ridges and balds. Dive into the numerous day hikes, cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway, or hike a section of the storied Appalachian Trail.
11. The Everglades, Florida
Best for wildlife watchers
The importance of the Everglades can’t be overstated – this sprawling wetland is an International Biosphere Reserve, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and a national park, thanks to the diverse profusion of flora and fauna that live here. Paddle through the coastal estuaries and camp among mangroves, or whiz through the numerous waterways via airboat. All the while, keep your eyes peeled for wading birds, manatees, and of course, alligators and crocodiles.
Planning tip: For the best experience, come prepared for the elements: sunscreen and bug spray are essentials.
12. Southwestern Utah
Best for geology lovers
If you want to visit one place in the US that sums up the grandiosity of its natural history, southwestern Utah is the place to go. Home to five of the country’s most spectacular national parks, Red Rock Country puts the region’s geological past on display with a dazzling amount of artistic flair. Hike the peaks and valleys of Zion and Bryce Canyon, or marvel at the palette of crimson, ochre and amber in the cliffs and canyons of Capitol Reef and Canyonlands. And if you want a special treat, watch the sun rise over the sandstone masterpieces at Arches.
Planning tip: Large swaths of this region are extremely remote and sometimes lack cell service, both on the road and on the trail. Always share your plans with others and bring plenty of water in case of emergencies.