Thinking of taking a break from work, or just feeling like bringing the family out for a vacation where you can see new sights? Perhaps just far enough for you to leave your stress behind but not too far, cause you don’t wanna take your passport out? The United States of America, being the third largest country by land mass in the world, isn’t short of destinations both cultural and natural for you to visit, and you’re guaranteed to find yourself enthralled with each city you visit.
“But where do I start?” you ask. We’ve compiled a list of the top ten cities you simply must visit here in the United States before you die.
10. Las Vegas, Nevada
Widely known as America’s Sin City, Las Vegas is the most populated city in the state of Nevada. Being located in the semi-arid Mojave desert, the sunny weather year-round means that you can come by and visit anytime.
It can be the perfect vacation spot if you’d like to get away from the snowstorms during the coldest winter months. If you aren’t looking for the high-end hotels and casinos, bars and clubs that line The Strip (though who are we kidding), you can take a quick drive to the Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon for more family-friendly adventure. The hotels here aren’t all out to empty your wallet either; Las Vegas isn’t a destination for just the rich and famous but a variety of people – you can stay in cheap motels for as low as $50 a night to the luxury hotels that don’t usually exceed $300.
And for the more culturally-minded among you, Las Vegas is a one-stop-shop for experiencing the various cultures from around the globe. You could be eating American fast food for one meal and turn the corner to enjoy delightful French cuisine for the next, and that’s not to mention the various attractions that will guarantee your stay at Vegas to never be boring.
9. Sedona, Arizona
Also a quick drive from the Grand Canyon, Sedona is one of the smaller towns on our list. At a population of just over 10,000 people, we doubt many of you have heard of this town, let alone consider it a vacation destination. But Sedona is a beautiful place to visit for those vacations where you just wish to take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. You’re certain to be amazed by the breathtaking red rock formations that the place is famous for, and there’s no better way to be immersed in the crimson than paying a visit to the Red Rock State Park.
There are literally hundreds of hiking trails that criss-cross the neighboring areas, each one anxiously waiting to take you on a timeless adventure that is distinctly unique from the theme park you went to last year. It’s also fun for the whole family, where you can teach your kids the importance of nature conservation and preservation.
But there’s more to Sedona than geology – you can get a taste of the town and area’s history by visiting the Palatki Heritage Site or the Sedona Heritage Museum, or experience the New-Age culture at the crystal shops and art galleries at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, and maybe even visit the infamous ‘energy vortexes’ yourselves to see if they actually work.
8. New Orleans, Louisiana
Next up on the list is the city known for its cajun cuisine, widespread bayous, and last but not least, its Mardi Gras culture – New Orleans. If you’ve seen the Disney animated movie, The Princess and the Frog, you’d know just how vibrant this city is. A city in the Southeastern United States that was originally founded by French colonists, New Orleans exudes an air of its past French culture along with jazzy undertones.
It’s a city of beautiful history, evident in everything from its breathtaking architecture to its many famous cemeteries. It’s also so deeply steeped in European, Caribbean, and African culture that a single visit won’t be enough to give you the full New Orleans experience.We recommend that you visit during the Mardi Gras season, always 46 days before Easter every year. The festival brings together locals and tourists alike to celebrate in colorful parades, vibrant costumes, and incredible music.
Yet if your visit doesn’t coincide with Mardi Gras, you’ll be able to enjoy touring the French Quarter, a fascinating District downtown that houses several beautiful colonial buildings, delicious restaurants, and quirky boutiques and souvenir shops. A trip to the French Quarter – heck, a trip to New Orleans – wouldn’t be complete without taking a stroll through the French Market and immersing yourself in the soul of the city.
7. Portland, Oregon
If you’ve played Oregon Trail before and think Oregon is a sleepy, far off place where settlers in wagons gather, you’ve got the wrong idea. It’s just as metropolitan a region as the eastern seaboard, and you’d be surprised with what the state has to offer.
Portland, the largest city in Oregon, is a port town (duh). Though not as razzle-dazzle as some of the other cities on this list, Portland is far from sleepy. Dubbed the place that ‘young people go to retire’, this city supplies you with nothing short of non-stop fun, both day and night.
After all, with the phrase “Keep Portland Weird” being constantly thrown around by the locals, how could you be bored? It’s a place where quirky is the norm, and it’s a culture that ensures a six-foot muscled dude crossdressing as a cowgirl queuing for Voodoo Doughnuts doesn’t get a second glance.
If you’re into pubs, Portland has a strong beer culture that could almost rival Dublin’s. At least 30 breweries are scattered throughout the city, with a funky range of brews. Beer generally goes for $4 a pint, so you can drink to your heart’s content. Just don’t drink and cycle, even though the city has a major bike lane network that crisscrosses the city which makes cycling a more practical idea than driving.
6. Seattle, Washington
Up from the Northwestern corner of the country, Seattle comes into the list with its air of mystery by virtue of its secluded location, accompanied with grunge music playing in the background. They say that nine months out of twelve, it rains. Yet in its short-lived but lovely summer, Seattle can be a playground for visiting tourists to frolick in.
You can take an elevator ride up the Space Needle, preferably on a cloudless day, to see the city from a bird’s eye view. It’s quite a sight to take in, we assure you. From there, you should be able to catch a sight of the Seattle Great Wheel, the West Coast’s largest Ferris wheel. But what if I want to have the Space Needle in my cityscape photos, you ask? Fret not, for you can get an equally splendid view of Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier, the city, and the Bay from the Sky View Observatory in the western part of the city, 73 floors above the ground.
Seattle is also a haven for indoor and outdoor art and museums, and you can get lost in the richness of the Seattle Art Museum’s Northwest, Pacific Island, and Japanese art. Or you could go over to the renovated Naval Reserve Armory and visit the Museum of History and Industry. Before you know it, you’ll realize your time in Seattle is up and it’s time to go home.
5. Chicago, Illinois
The moment you touch down at O’Hare International Airport, 101 possibilities on how to start your visit will open up before you, spanning from food, to a Children’s Museum, to Rosemont Theatre. And that’s all within a 5-mile radius.
Once you’re out of the vicinity, you can then attend a ball game at the famous Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, in all its roaring glory. For the ones who prefer a quieter vacation, make your way to Lake Michigan and stroll or jog along Lakefront Trail’s 18 miles of paved path with lush green fields on one side and the lake on the other. The Windy City also boasts 26 miles of freshwater beachfront, letting you soak in some sun or dip in the lake on the hotter summer days.
No trip to Chicago is complete without paying a visit to its iconic Navy Pier, a massive playground for entertainment and fun. Hop onto its 150-foot Ferris wheel to get a great view of Lake Michigan and the city skyline, or go to one of its 50 museums ranging from cultural to natural.
4. San Francisco, California
Named after the Co-patron of Italy, St. Francis of Assisi, San Francisco is the cultural, commercial and financial center of Northern California. The Golden Gate welcomes first time or many-time visitors alike to the warm San Francisco Bay, and how better to kickstart your trip here than with a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge? Spanning a mile long, she’s the icon of western United States and is described as “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed bridge in the world.”
San Francisco is home to some of the fastest growing tech companies in the world and is shifting quickly. Neighborhoods are changing, and small businesses are moving out to make way for bigger developers. So if you travel to see a city’s culture, we suggest you visit now before the street art and Latino culture leave for good. Mission district is a good place to start, and don’t forget to try the famous Mission burritos!
Another tourist favorite would be the thrice-weekly farmers market over at the Ferry Building, which bursts into life with both Northern Californian produce as well as delicacies from all Mexico to Asia.
A mile and a half away lies a notorious prison that used to house dangerous criminals such as the likes of Al Capone. Now, it’s a national park that you can take a ferry to and experience a tour of the cells. The last prisoners were transferred off Alcatraz in ‘63, but the eerie aura persists.
3. Honolulu, Hawaii
For the only city on the list that isn’t in the continental United States, Honolulu comes in pretty strong. There are a lot of things to say about Honolulu, in part because it’s so vastly different in climate and culture than any city you’d find in North America. It goes without saying that you’ve gotta try the beaches here for their sun, sand, and surf. Whether your thing is just relaxing with a Mai Tai in hand at a resort on Waikiki, spying on sea creatures under the sparkling clean water at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, or bodysurfing the rough and rugged waves at Makapuu, there’s bound to be a beach to suit your needs.
Honolulu was originally settled by Polynesian migrants before it was annexed by the United States, and this piece of history means that besides the surf culture, the Pacific city has the most dynamic mix of East and West. You can visit and marvel at Buddhist temples in Chinatown, browse through the collections of Asian craft for sale, or spend your whole time exploring the 42-acre Polynesian Cultural Center.
The inland nature is just as attractive as well, from thick jungles that served as the backdrop for the TV series Lost to the majestic shield volcanoes that Hawaii is known for. It’s a whole other world that you can access without needing a passport if you’re traveling from within the United States.
2. Los Angeles, California
Coming in at 2nd place on our list of the top ten cities to visit, comes the City of Angels. Basically, what San Francisco was to Northern Cali (its cultural, commercial and financial center), L.A. is to the Southern area of the state. Being the second most populated city in the entire country, it’d be nearly impossible for you to find yourself bored in here. It’s located in a large coastal basin and surrounded on three sides with mountains almost 2 miles high, so pick a hotel that gives you an ample view of the landscape while you’re here.
Chances are many other tourists to the city are in town for Disneyland, a jam-packed place of fun for the whole family that’d take up the better part of the day. If you’d like something closer to nature, the city boasts the wonders of the exotic Catalina Island and its allure of clear blue waters to go diving, snorkeling and kayaking in. There are also numerous treks that you can undertake in this natural wonder.
And who could forget Hollywood, the home of American film? Take a stroll down the Walk of Fame and try to find all 2,500 stars honoring the giants of our modern culture.
There’s so much that this city has to offer, that an entire article would have to be devoted to it just to tell you everything. It’s a strong contender for the top of our list but was edged out by a small margin.
1. New York City, New York
Finally, to top this list comes New York City in all its shining glory. Regarded by many to be the icon of the United States and the poster boy for Western Capitalism, the glitz, and glamor surrounding this city is all justified.
If you’re here to visit, it goes without saying that Broadway is one of the foremost stops on the list. The prices are sometimes pretty costly and the crowds pressing, but it’s worth it to be in the global center of modern musical.
Then you can take a ferry ride to Ellis Island to see the ever-iconic Lady Liberty up close and in person, or chill in Central Park with the famous local hot dog in your hand. Being the first city in America that many immigrants over the past century have set foot on, New York is the true melting pot of different cultures, races, foods from all around the globe. By just roaming the streets, and looking at the cityscape around, one can sense the spirit of the American Dream well up inside them. The Big Apple is a city for the ages, built by hard work and grit.
These ten cities hardly represent all of the USA, and nor even the slightest bit of it. It’s simply impossible to take in the entirety of a country’s culture in a few trips, especially one as big and diverse as ours. But each of these cities show their unique slice of American culture, and there is no better place to start your travels than here, from sea to shining sea.