In my blog post about the future of travel, I wrote that in 2020 and 2021, we’re going to see a huge uptick in domestic travel. The U.S. is home to some of the most highly rated bucket list destinations. If you’re itching to scratch your travel bug, it’s a great time to start planning as businesses, National Parks, and State Parks across the country start to reopen for tourism. But what are the best places to visit in the U.S.?
To help you plan the ultimate itinerary, I’ve asked some of the industry’s top travel and lifestyle bloggers about the best places, restaurants, parks, and attractions in their favorite city or state within the U.S.
10 Best Places to Visit in the U.S.
In this post, you’ll find tips for New York City, Joshua Tree, L.A., Grand Teton National Park, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Utah, Colorado, Yosemite, and Hawaii.
Note: When planning trips to any of these destinations, please reference the current CDC guidelines and laws of the local destination.
New York City, New York
New York City needs no introduction. You could spend a lifetime here and still find something new to explore. The city is known for its iconic skyline, restaurants, arts, and vibrant live music scene, just to name a few.
Christine Tran Ferguson is a New York-based travel & lifestyle blogger. She has traveled to over 50 countries around the world with a passion for learning about new cultures and trying new cuisines. When she’s not traveling she shares the best tips on where to shop, things to do, and her favorite cafes in New York. Here are her favorite New York City bucket list experiences:
The Edge is New York City’s newest tourist attraction that recently opened in March. It is the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere and offers 360 views of the city. If you’d like to plan ahead of time, you can purchase tickets through their website. One level above The Edge is the restaurant called Peak. This fine-dining establishment offers breathtaking views, a delicious seasonal menu, and a stylish setting. Be sure to reserve a table prior to your visit.
TOP OF THE ROCK
Top Of The Rock is my favorite place to bring visitors. It has multiple levels for photo opportunities and visitors get amazing 360 views of the city. Head to Bar SixtyFive just a few floors below Top of the Rock and enjoy a delicious cocktail and stunning views.
New York is all about the rooftops especially during summer months. There are many great options all over the city but I recommend exploring Dumbo. Take a walk along the Brooklyn Bridge to Dumbo and make your way to The Rooftop at Time Out Market which offers great views of the Brooklyn Bridge and NYC skyline.
The Vessel, opened March 2019, is one of New York’s newer tourist attractions in the city. It’s located at Hudson Yards with a spiral staircase. The best time to visit is during sunset since it’s located on the west side. After your visit, make your way around Hudson Yards for some retail therapy and dine at Queensyard. Request for seats by the window with views of the Vessel.
‘GRAM-WORTHY RESTAURANTS AND CAFES
New York City is home to countless restaurants and cafes. If you’re looking for some of the most photogenic ones, check out LRoom Cafe, which has unique desserts and glitter lattes. It’s a bit on the pricey side but everything on the menu is unique and fun. If you’re into flowers and beautifully crafted lattes, check out Remi Flower & Coffee. They serve the best-flavored latte and it’s located in a beautiful flower shop. For a truly unique rooftop atmosphere, make a reservation at Serra by Birreria. This fun restaurant changes its decor to fit each season, making it a fun restaurant to visit year-round.
Since New York City has so much to offer…
NYC is one of the best places to visit in the U.S. (I may be a little biased because I live here 😂), so I recruited Selena, a travel blogger & photographer to share more must-see spots in the city. Based between Amsterdam and New York City, Selena is the founder of Find Us Lost and also has some fantastic advice when it comes to planning the perfect trip to New York City.
SEE A BROADWAY OR COMEDY SHOW
Treat yourself to dinner and a show while in the city! In addition to the popular broadway shows, consider off-broadway productions and comedy clubs like the Comedy Cellar, which is known to have famous comedians drop in unannounced.
VISIT CENTRAL PARK
No visit to New York City is complete without a stroll through Central Park. This green oasis in the center of Manhattan is great for people watching and is a quintessential New York spot. For a real treat, splurge on high tea at the nearby Plaza Hotel afterward.
CHECK OUT GAY STREET & THE WEST VILLAGE
The West Village is known to have some of the most picturesque neighborhood streets in the city. Start at the corner of Bedford and Grove St, home to the famous ‘Friends’ apartment, and make your way towards Gay Street. If you’re visiting the city in the summer, be sure to cool off with some homemade vegan ice cream at Van Leeuwen.
GO OUT FOR COCKTAILS
Out of the many iconic bars in New York City, some of my favorite spots include: Please Don’t Tell – a speakeasy that you enter through a phone booth. Gallow Green is the perfect rooftop bar open year-round. If you are a fan of sangrias, be sure to head to Socarrat for sangria happy hour. As for wine and hors d’oeuvres, Terroir is the place to be.
GRAB FOOD AT CHELSEA MARKET
New York weather can be unpredictable — fortunately, Chelsea Market is great for rainy days! This indoor food hall has everything from street tacos and Korean food to French crêpes. Not to mention the neighborhood is filled with great shopping as well.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Located in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park got its name from the famous, distinct trees that are scattered throughout the park. With its ethereal sunrises and sunsets, Joshua Tree is named one of the most magical National Parks in North America.
Michelle Halpern, the founding editor, and photographer behind the women’s travel site Live Like it’s the Weekend, shares her favorite parts of the park. She is currently based in Santa Monica, California where she’s at, for the time being, finally keeping her plant babies alive!
CHOLLA CACTUS GARDEN INSIDE JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
This garden of Cholla Cactus is one of the most unique sections of Joshua Tree National Park that’s quite distinguishable from the rest of the scenery you’ll see throughout the area. It’s a bit of a drive through the park to get to, but worth it to feel like you’re in a real-life Dr. Seuss book!
VISIT PIONEERTOWN AND PAPPY & HARRIET’S
Joshua Tree is one of my favorite girls trip destinations from Los Angeles, and when going there with girlfriends, Pioneertown and Pappy + Harriet’s are a MUST. The old Western movie set of Pioneertown is fun to explore and take photos at as the sun sets, and then I always head down the street to Pappy + Harriet’s for epic BBQ and live music all night.
EXPLORE THE GLASS OUTHOUSE GALLERY
This place is about as typical Joshua Tree (aka quirky) as it gets. Located on the front property of someone’s house, this free-for-all-to-enjoy gallery is made up of the most random bits and bobs — think toilet seats, glass bottles, animal figurines, and even a mini astronaut. It’s an experience!
HIKE TO ARCH ROCK IN JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
This is a great introductory hike in Joshua Tree. It is super easy, suitable for hikers of all levels, and has some cool rock formations along the way — including the trail’s namesake rock shaped in a large arch.
HIDE AWAY IN A STYLISH AIRBNB CABIN
Over the last 5 years, Joshua Tree has become synonymous with a chic Airbnb scene, and you can find everything from luxury design retreats to funky remodeled cabins and airstreams with outdoor soaking tubs under the stars. If you’re planning a trip to Joshua Tree, definitely peruse Airbnb for the best rental options in the area.
DO A SOUND BATH AT THE INTEGRATRON
The Integratron is a UFO-like round structure that hosts healing sound baths in the desert. This has been on my list for ages, but it’s not always open the whole year. Make sure to check dates and book ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss it.
Los Angeles, California
Dreaming of taking a trip down to La-la land? There are many reasons why a visit to Los Angeles should be on anyone’s bucket list. Aside from a visit to theme parks like Universal Studios and the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles offers a lot more for travelers seeking adventure, good eats, and a little retail therapy.
Ryan and Samantha are a Los Angeles based travel couple who are constantly searching for the prettiest beaches and best smoothie bowls around the world. They are dedicated to helping others create memories they’ll cherish forever through their curated travel guides, photography tips, and free classes. Here are their favorite things to do in the city of Angels:
SANTA MONICA PIER
Hang at the beach, stroll down the pier, and ride the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier. Not only does it have incredible views of the coast, but you’ll also feel like a kid again with all of the arcade games, roller coasters, and funnel cakes.
Get the ultimate LA restaurant experience at Cafe Gratitude. All of the meals are plant-based using locally-sourced ingredients and each menu item has its own mantra to help you set your intention for the day. Go for brunch and get the buckwheat pancakes with coconut cashew whipped cream.
Take in the best views of the city from the Griffith Observatory. It really is as magical as it seems in La-La Land, and what better way to experience LA than with a visit to an iconic movie location? The Griffith Observatory is free to visit, but parking is limited and costs $10 per vehicle.
EL MATADOR STATE BEACH
Drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to El Matador Beach in Malibu. With incredible rock formations and stunning views from the top, it’s easily the prettiest beach in Los Angeles and the perfect place to spend a day relaxing in the sun.
HIKE THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN
One of the best parts of LA is the weather, so enjoy it while hiking to get an amazing view of the city. Plus, the Hollywood Sign is iconic, so it’s the perfect adventure for a photo op too.
SHOP ON ABBOT KINNEY
Abbot Kinney is the most famous street for shopping in Venice. It’s lined with palm trees and has all the best stores and restaurants. Be sure to grab an ice cream from Salt & Straw to enjoy as you’re shopping.
Want to add more to your Los Angeles bucket list? Here is their roundup of the most Instagrammable spots in L.A. and here is their guide to a weekend in L.A.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Just south of Yellowstone National Park lies the lush valleys, mountains, and lakes that make up Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton offers nature lovers, adventure seekers, and road trippers plenty to explore in the park’s beautiful landscapes.
Renee Hahnel is a photographer, blogger, and author based in Seattle. She’s traveled to all 59 National Parks in the United States and the one that comes out on top for her? Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. It’d make a perfect place for your next U.S. road trip.
GO FOR A PADDLE
Jenny Lake is one of the many gorgeous lakes that are nestled up against the Tetons. These lakes are fed by snowmelt which means they are very cold (even in summer), so my favorite way to experience them is by watercraft. There are a range of rental options for canoes/kayaks at the lake, or bring your own to save some cash!
HIKE CASCADE CANYON TO LAKE SOLITUDE (for the adventurous)
This is one of the most beautiful hikes in the world, but one aimed at the more seasoned hiker. The roundtrip hike to Lake Solitude is around 16 miles and requires about 2400 feet of elevation gain, but the view looking back on the Grand Teton when you arrive at the lake is a sight you will never forget.
SPOT SOME WILDLIFE
Wildlife is abundant in Jackson Hole, and you would be pretty unlucky to not even accidentally stumble across some combination of bear, elk, moose, or bison on your travels. To up your chances, try taking a drive at dusk or dawn around Grand Teton National Park when the animals come out of their midday slumber. Gros Venture Rd is a good one for spotting bison, and Moose-Wilson Rd can be great for spotting moose.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE ROADSIDE PULLOUTS
One thing that you’ll notice when exploring the Jackson Hole area is the different shape that the mountains take on depending on how far north or south you are. Take advantage of the many roadside pullouts in Grand Teton National Park to snap some photos. Some of my favorites are Snake River Overlook, Blacktail Ponds, and Oxbow Bend.
EXPLORE THE TOWN OF JACKSON
Jackson is a bustling tourist town but has managed to still keep some of its original charm. Located a short drive from Grand Teton National Park, Jackson offers a large variety of dining options, as well as a mix of local and high-end shopping opportunities. One of our favorite things about the Jackson Hole area is being able to spend the day in the national park, and end it in town with a delicious meal!
EAT DINNER AT TETON THAI
One of our favorite things about the Jackson Hole is the combination of good food and incredible views. Teton Thai is situated right next to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and offers delicious, modern Thai cuisine with a view that can’t be beat.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Welcome to Vegas, baby! This little oasis in the desert is truly a “choose your own adventure” kind of town. Whether you want to lay poolside with frozen margaritas, take in the bright lights of The Strip, or explore off the beaten path, there is something for everyone here.
Alex Porterfield is a New York City lifestyle and travel blogger originally from Las Vegas. Here are her top 6 recommendations for your next Sin City getaway:
SEVEN MAGIC MOUNTAINS
This art installation is about a 30-minute drive south of The Strip. It is a fun little getaway for those perfect Instagram photo ops. I recommend getting there before 10 am to avoid crowds and bring an extra pair of shoes because the dust out there will stick to everything!
BRUNCH AT MON AMI GABI
This chic french bistro at The Paris Hotel offers delicious food and amazing views of The Bellagio fountains right across the street. Be sure to ask for a table outside for the best views or head up to The Eiffel Tower viewing deck after your meal!
RED ROCK CANYON
If nature is more your thing, then you must escape to Red Rock Canyon for a hike and some fresh mountain air, just 30-minutes west of The Strip. Alternatively, there is also a one-way 13-mile scenic drive that you could take.
Learning about some of the most iconic neon signs that used to light up The Strip is a great way to immerse yourself in Las Vegas history. If you’re visiting in the summer months, I recommend avoiding the mid-late afternoon tours at the Neon Museum, since the museum is outdoors and temperatures can hit triple digits.
THE HIGH ROLLER
Seeing the bright lights of Las Vegas never gets old, but having an amazing vantage point at 550 feet above the city is simply unbeatable. You can even upgrade your High Roller tickets to the “Happy Half Hour” ticket for an open bar in your cabin. I recommend going at night so you can catch all the bright neon lights of Las Vegas.
THE CHANDELIER LOUNGE
This bar inside The Cosmopolitan has a two-story crystal chandelier installment that drapes around the lounge and is absolutely breathtaking. This is such a chic spot for photos and cocktails, and a great place to start your night out on the town!
San Francisco, California
San Francisco was once a popular stomping ground for many writers of the Beat generation. Today, it is the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California. San Francisco is always a great idea but be warned – the summers are unusually cold and an infamous resident known as Karl the fog may just swallow up some of the city’s best views, including the Golden Gate bridge.
Catarina is a San Francisco-based digital marketing expert, online entrepreneur, afraid-of-flying frequent flyer, self-taught photographer, luxury travel content creator, and champagne lover. Here’s a list of her must-sees while in San Francisco:
WATCH THE SUNSET FROM BATTERY SPENCER
Have you even been to San Francisco if you haven’t seen the Golden Gate Bridge? Probably not. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the modern wonders of the world and the best view of the bridge (particularly at sunset) is from Battery Spencer. So head there about an hour before sunset and soak in the views.
Pro-tip: bring a jacket — it’s VERY windy and cold up there.
RIDE THE CABLE CAR
Another must-do in San Francisco is riding the cable car. Trust me — it’s so fun and a great way to go up and down the hills of San Francisco while seeing the city. My favorite route starts at Union Square and ends at Ghirardelli Square, two places you’ll probably end up visiting anyway during your time in the city. The lines can be long, but they move fast and it’s so worth it!
SEE THE CITY FROM ABOVE AT TWIN PEAKS
Twin Peaks is the highest point in San Francisco and offers breathtaking views of the city. I highly recommend watching the sunrise from up there.
Pro-tip: microclimates are a THING in San Francisco, so check the weather forecast for Twin Peaks before heading there and bring a jacket. It’s often covered in fog, even if it’s sunny everywhere else.
WALK (OR DRIVE) DOWN LOMBARD ST
Lombard St is famous for its steep one-block section with 8 hairpin turns. It’s one of the most crooked streets in the world and passes by gorgeous Victorian Mansions. Visit during spring or summer to see its gardens in full bloom.
EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH CHINATOWN
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, as well as the oldest in North America. It’s my favorite neighborhood to explore in San Francisco. There are so many amazing places to eat (think dim sum heaven) and things to see.
Pro-tip: if you’re into tea, you can taste an almost infinite amount of tea at one of Chinatown’s many tea shops.
WALK AROUND THE PALACE OF FINE ARTS
One of my favorite places for a stroll or an afternoon picnic, the Palace of Fine Arts is an extravagant neoclassical faux palace surrounded by a pond full of white swans, ducks, and many aquatic turtles.
Utah is known for having the best snow on earth. Home to 5 of the most bucket list worthy national parks, also known as the Mighty 5, Utah’s red rocks and impressive arches do not disappoint. Without a doubt, Utah is one of the best places to visit in the U.S.
Mel Vandersluis is a content creator and travel photographer from Montreal Canada. Here are some of her favorite spots in Utah:
FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST, PANDO
Pando is the world’s largest organism! It’s a forest full of male quaking aspen trees and apparently has one massive root system beneath it. They’re some of the most beautiful trees I’ve ever seen.
Known for an ideal photoshoot spot with beautiful sand dunes.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
One of the top National Parks in America. It’s home to over 2000 natural sandstone arches.
BONNEVILLE SALT FLATS
A must-see if you’ve never seen salt flats before! It is a densely packed salt pan in Tooele County in northwestern Utah.
MYSTIC HOT SPRINGS
An outdoor spa if you will. Natural hot spring water flows into several of these picturesque bathtubs. Be careful they can get REALLY hot!
To the east of Utah is the Centennial State, also known as Colorado. The state offers a vivid landscape in its forests, canyons, and of course, the Rocky Mountains.
Hannah Rheaume is a travel and outdoor photographer, yoga teacher, and podcast host. You’ll find her in the mountains or on a trail, always seeking adventure and connection, and she’s sharing her top recommendations in Colorado:
GARDEN OF THE GODS
The sandstone rocks in Garden of the Gods date back to 300 million years ago painting a vivid picture of Earth’s history. There are 15 miles of trails of varying grades each providing you with a beautiful glimpse into the lives of the beings that once called this location home.
Hike to Royal Arch in Chautauqua Park
Over the course of climbing 1,492 feet and a distance of 4 miles, you end up at the most beautiful rock formation, literally an arch made of two separate rocks! This trail is open year-round and provides stunning views of the front range.
Pro-tip: it’s an epic sunrise spot.
Road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park
About an hour from Boulder is the STUNNING Rocky Mountain National Park, you guessed it, home of the Rocky Mountains. Spots you can’t miss in RMNP: drive along the 50 mile Trail Ridge Road, hike to Emerald Lake (don’t miss the nature walk around Bear Lake) and picnic at Sprague Lake.
Hanging Lake Hike
Located in Glenwood Springs, this 3-mile trail climbs 1,135 steep feet leading you to a turquoise lake surrounded by waterfalls and lush forest. Due to its popularity, permits are required and can be purchased at the visitors center from which you’ll shuttle to the trailhead where there are restrooms (I recommend using them as it is the only one). I promise the views are worth the work!
These luxury tents in Westcliffe, Colorado goes down as one of my favorite stays! With unobstructed views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, stay in the Westcliffe area to explore the 200 miles worth of hiking trails, 54 alpine lakes and simply revel in the hidden beauty this area has to offer; or use it as the jump-off point to road trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Yosemite National Park, California
If you’re chasing waterfalls, towering granite monoliths, and ancient sequoias, Yosemite is the place to be. You could spend an entire month in the park and still have lots to explore. A 4-hour drive away from San Francisco, Yosemite the perfect spot for a summer getaway.
Clare Yeo is a travel blogger and digital nomad. She lived in 5 major cities prior to hitting the road full-time. Here are her must-sees in Yosemite:
This is the most iconic viewpoint in all of Yosemite. You can see El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and of course, Half Dome. This viewpoint requires no hiking and is accessible by car. Try to get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and any parking issues.
Glacier Point offers breathtaking views of the high country and Yosemite Valley. From here, you’ll e able to see Half Dome along with 3 waterfalls. This road is closed for the winter due to icy conditions and it usually opens up in late May.
This Sequoia grove in the southern part of Yosemite will make you feel like you’re walking amongst giants. This area offers several hiking trails for different difficulty levels, from the Big Trees Loops being the easiest (and wheelchair accessible) to the more difficult Mariposa Grove trail.
One of the world’s tallest waterfalls, it is actually made up of 3 separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. You can catch the falls anywhere from November through July, with the peak being in May. There’s also a one-mile loop trail that begins at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall. If hiking isn’t your thing, don’t worry – you can catch some spectacular views of the falls from several spots, including Yosemite Village.
If you can time your visit just right, there’s a phenomenon that occurs in February where the sunset illuminates the falls and turns it bright orange. It’s an illusion that makes the waterfall appear as if it were fire dripping down the side of El Capitan.
This two-mile hiking trail ranges from easy to moderate. You can stick to the paved trail, or hike the entire loop which gets a little harder to navigate. Mirror Lake is what’s left of a large glacial lake that once filled most of the valley in the last Ice Age.
No “Best Places in the U.S.” list would be complete if Hawai’i wasn’t on there. Its stunning beaches, lush green mountains, and volcanoes make the 50th state a hot destination that can be found on everyone’s bucket list.
Elana Jadallah is a photographer, slow traveler, business mentor and environmental advocate living on the big island of Hawai’i.
Here are her favorite things to do there:
Explore the town of Hawi
Pronounced hah-vee, this is a little artisan town tucked up on the northern coast of the island. It’s a drive north from the mainstream – calling to the creatives and artists. Colored buildings line the street and you will see small shops, smiling faces, and a few quiet places to stop and grab a bite. I recommend Sushi Rock! Go to the Pololü Valley lookout while you’re up there, it’s a gorgeous view.
Visit a coffee farm
One of the most amazing parts about The Big Island is just getting lost in it. Talk to the locals, find hidden treasures, stay off the beaten path, hike into a beach with a book, and just let the beauty soak in.
Go to a black sand beach
Thinking back to my very first time on the Big Island before we lived here, I remember the striking nature of the black sand being one of the most unique and captivating things we experienced! My goodness, to someone who’s never seen black sand, it’s so different and exciting! Watching the contrast of the white foam waves kissing the black sand over and over is mesmerizing. Punalu’u is a beautiful black sand beach that is worth a visit!
Explore local food made with farm-to-table or farm-to-glass ingredients
Two of my favorite spots in town are Ola Brewery and Da Poké Shack. Both are serving up island flavor and we love them! Ola Brew has a mission of encouraging growth of the agricultural economy here in Hawai’i by purchasing local ingredients and incorporating them into beers and ciders – how could you not love them? Plus, their beers and ciders are DELICIOUS! And if you love poké or want to try it for the first time, I definitely recommend this local joint! They have awesome recipes, it’s right in town and you can take it to the beach if you want to have yourself a little picnic!
Learn about Hawaiian history
Hawai’i is so special because of the beautiful, rich traditions and culture. The Hawai’i we experience today is wildly different and learning the history while you are here will deepen your appreciation and respect which is so important. When you’re on the big island, drive down the windy highway into lush south Kona and visit Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (also known as the City of Refuge). This historic spot is a treasured piece of Hawaiian history, an opportunity to step back in time. These sacred grounds are a remarkably preserved sanctuary of Hawaii’s past and a wonderful place to explore.
For a full list of Elana’s favorite local spots all around the island – check out her Big Island Travel Guide.
More Places to Visit in the U.S. Moving Forward
The pandemic has definitely thrown a lot of travel plans off track in 2020. Thankfully, the United States is such a vast country that offers lots of different experiences and sights. Looking for a few more places to travel to? Some of my personal favorite destinations and experiences in North America include visiting Captiva (Florida), hiking in the greater Seattle area, and the Florida Keys.
There’s so much to explore within the United States, so where will you head to first?
Keep in Mind
When planning trips to any of these destinations, please reference the current CDC guidelines and laws of the local destination.