18 Best places to visit

The United States is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world and some of the most recognizable icons on the planet. Many of the top attractions in the United States are bucket list destinations, drawing visitors from around the world.

Compiling a list of places to see is step one. But keep in mind, given the size of the United States, most people plan their trips to a specific region, be it the East Coast, the Southwest, the beaches of Florida or California, or outlying regions like Hawaii and Alaska.

You may want to see the city sights, or head out to the top parks and natural areas in the US. In some cases, you can easily combine the two if you plan a day trip or two.

Plenty of options await you, with incredible sights sprinkled across the country. For anyone in the enviable position of having unlimited time and resources, these are the top attractions to include on your US itinerary.

1. Grand Canyon

This incredible natural attraction is one of the most visited places in the United States. Carved out by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon cuts deep into the landscape, creating dramatic cliff walls and ledges. Visitors standing on the rim of the canyon can see down to the canyon floor a mile below, and look out over the ridges and cliffs that run as far as the eye can see.

The South Rim, about 4.5 hours by car from Las Vegas, is the most visited section of Grand Canyon National Park. This is where you'll find a large visitor center, regular bus service along the Rim in the high season, and a walkway that runs along the canyon with numerous viewing points and platforms. Several wonderful hikes, including the Bright Angel Trail, leave from here.

The Skywalk, a glass bridge leading out over the edge of the Grand Canyon is another popular attraction. It is located at Eagle Point, on the West Rim. This area is about a four-hour drive from the South Rim, but usually less than a 2.5-hour drive from Las Vegas. If you are planning a day trip from Las Vegas, this area is a good option

The North Rim, which also has lookout areas, provides a different perspective. This section of the park is less visited and has limited access from November to May due to snow and winter conditions.

2. Niagara Falls

Situated along the Canada-US border, Niagara Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in the world. The water from Lake Erie flows into Lake Ontario over these massive waterfalls, known for the great quantity of water that is constantly tumbling over the vertical drop.

Niagara Falls is actually a set of three falls: It consists of the largest section, known as Horseshoe Falls, with a drop of 187 feet; a second section on the American side of the river, known as the American Falls, with a drop of 89 feet; and a much thinner section located next to the American Falls, known as Bridal Veil Falls, with a drop of 78 feet.

Views are good on both sides of the river, but the Canadian side gives a very different perspective and is worth a visit if you don't mind crossing the border into Canada.

Summer is the most popular time to visit Niagara Falls, when the weather is warm, gardens are in bloom, and wandering around is pleasant. Winter provides a unique opportunity to see the snow-covered shores and ice-covered railings, street signs, and trees. It's truly a winter wonderland.

On clear days, the plume of mist rising from Niagara Falls can be seen from as far away as the CN Tower in downtown Toronto, Canada, on the opposite shore of Lake Ontario.

3. Statue of Liberty

A universal symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty is America's most familiar icon and the largest statue in the world. Standing proudly in New York Harbor, visitors can admire the statue from various points around the city, particularly Battery Park, or take a ferry right to the statue.

For people who plan to go out to the statue, options include grounds tickets, pedestal tickets, or crown tickets, which allow different levels of access to the site. One of the best options is to take a sightseeing tour and see both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. A popular tour is the Skip-Line Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Tour + Pedestal Ticket Upgrade, which will remove all the complexity of visiting this sight.

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm

4. White House

The White House is the official residence of the President of the United States, and should be on the top of your list of things to see in Washington. This historic structure has been the home of every president except George Washington. Lafayette Park is on the north side of the White House; beyond is a pedestrian-only zone, full of interesting characters, and an excellent spot to get a great photo.

It was originally built by James Hoban in 1792 and, after being burned down by British forces in 1814, was rebuilt in 1818. Tours of the White House are free, but reservations must be made a minimum of three weeks in advance. Strict security rules are always in effect.

Official site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/

5. Walt Disney World Resort

This mega amusement park in Orlando is the top family attraction in America, and has been catering to both young and old for decades. Opened in 1971, Walt Disney World has managed to maintain its relevance and its allure for children and even many adults throughout the years.

Walt Disney World Resort encompasses not only the various theme parks, it also includes water parks, Downtown Disney with shopping and theaters, and much more, from fine dining to golf. This is a place where you can spend a day or a week.

If you feel the need for a bit of sand and surf, the beaches of Florida's Atlantic coast are only an hour away.

6. Waikiki

Home to the most popular beach in the Hawaiian Islands and possibly the most famous beach in the Pacific, Waikiki has been a tourist destination for over a century. Today this area is a cross between tropical paradise and modern city.

Relaxing on this beautiful stretch of sand with palm trees blowing in the wind will certainly let you know you are in the tropics, but the high-rise buildings and busy street in behind are a reminder that you are not far from civilization. Shopping, dining, surfing, and sunbathing are all part of what makes this small section of Oahu so popular with tourists of all ages from all parts of the world.

7. Las Vegas Strip

Walking along the Las Vegas Strip, the main street leading through the city past the mega resorts, is like strolling through an amusement park for adults. Recreations of the New York skyline, the Eiffel Tower, the canals of Venice, and many more foreign sites line this famous street.

Beginning at one end with the Luxor Hotel, designed in a pyramid shape, a walk down the street will reveal an erupting volcano and dancing fountains, while inside the resorts are all kinds of oddities and entertainment. Many of the best things to see and do in Las Vegas are sights that can be seen for free.

One of the main attractions in Las Vegas is the constant lineup of shows. World-famous singers looking to settle down turn to Las Vegas as a home base, where they perform regularly. Unique performing groups from magic to comedy and acrobatics can also be found here nightly.

When you've had enough of the nightlife and city lights, you can still explore the nearby attractions on a day trip from Las Vegas. See nearby Death Valley National Park, Hoover Dam, or Valley of Fire State Park. Explore the desert on hiking trails around Las Vegas, some of which are just minutes from downtown.

8. Yosemite National Park

One of America's most loved parks, Yosemite National Park is one of the best places to visit in California, particularly for nature lovers. Famous sights, like the incredible granite domes of El Capitan and Half Dome, have to be seen in person to fully appreciate their grandeur. The massive waterfalls that tumble off sheer cliffs from mountain snowfall or sudden summer rainstorms are another of the park's highlights.

Yosemite National Park is full of activity-based things to do that include hiking, climbing, walking, and horseback riding. Hiking trails in Yosemite lead to some of the most scenic areas and are a good way to escape the crowds at lookouts.

For those less inclined to be physically active, the sheer natural beauty of Yosemite can be enjoyed from a picnic table over a leisurely home-packed lunch. You can also see the highlights on a driving tour through the park.

9. Golden Gate Bridge

Arching across San Francisco Bay, joining San Francisco and Marin County, the Golden Gate Bridge has been a California icon since it was built in the 1930s. Contrasting with the blue water, the bridge's orangish-red color is an aesthetic accent that brings a unique quality to the city.

It also has a unique presence when it's shrouded in fog with just the peaks of the main towers projecting through the low-lying cloud. The bridge is approximately two miles long and part of Hwy 101 or SR 1. If the day is clear, one of the best viewing spots is on Conzelman Road, located in Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

10. Times Square

Bustling Times Square, famous for its flashing billboards, New Year's Eve count down, and constant throngs of people, lies at the heart of Midtown Manhattan. This intersection, in normal times, is really about the energy one feels when standing on the corner as taxi cabs rush by and lights flash overhead, rather than any individual site on the square.

While it is an interesting place to visit during the day, it is probably best seen at night to experience the full impact.

11. Freedom Trail in Boston

Boston's Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile walking route that leads past some of the city's most important historical attractions. A line of red bricks, inlaid in the sidewalk marks the route, making it an easy way for tourists to find their way around.

Information on the trail and the sites can be found at the Visitors Center in the Boston Common, which is a good place to start your tour. Sites along the Freedom Trail include the State House, Old State House, the Old Granary Burying Ground, Old City Hall, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, and many more.

12. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is home to a huge ancient volcano, which has resulted in a dramatic landscape and awesome natural phenomena. Geysers and hot springs, along with incredible waterfalls along the Yellowstone River are just some of the attractions drawing in huge numbers of tourists each year.

The park, the oldest national park in the USA, is also home to all kinds of wildlife, with free-roaming bison, bighorn sheep, antelope, black bears, and grizzly bears.

The park is also a wonderful place to camp, with a total of 12 Yellowstone campgrounds containing 2,000 sites.

13. San Antonio River Walk

San Antonio's River Walk is a beautiful location and a great place to spend some time, whether you are looking for a place to wander, enjoy a meal, or look for souvenirs. Stretching along the San Antonio River in the heart of the city, this pedestrian area is lined with restaurants and outdoor dining areas, with everything from casual to fine cuisine.

Small boats meander along the river and scenic arching bridges complete the tranquil scene. Large old trees drape over the river and walkway providing shade. The River Walk also features a variety of entertainment, with occasional live music and seasonal events.

Official site: http://www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/

14. Kennedy Space Center

For those who have ever dreamed about what it would be like to blast off into space, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center is a must-do. The spacecrafts of NASA along with the history of space exploration make for an entertaining and educational experience. This is a popular attraction with all ages and one of the top things to do in Florida.

You may think that your visit will be a quick one; see a few spaceships and then head on your way. However, many people are surprised when they become fully engrossed in their visit and end up spending most of the day at the center.

Things to see include the rocket garden, the real Space Shuttle Atlantis, the Heroes and Legends exhibit, and the Journey to Mars exposition, along with many others.

Official site: https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/

15. St. Louis Arch

This famous "Gateway to the West" in St. Louis is both symbolic and eye-catching. Rising above the city, gleaming in the midday sun and illuminated at night, the arch can be seen from miles away on the otherwise flat surroundings.

It was built in the early 1960s and stands in Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park. Elevators offer easy and scenic transportation to the top of the arch where visitors are treated to great views out over the city and surroundings.

Official site: https://www.gatewayarch.com/

16. Glacier National Park and the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Montana's Glacier National Park offers some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the United States. Mountains, lakes, glaciers, valleys, and waterfalls combine to form a spectacular alpine landscape.

One of the best ways to truly appreciate the terrain is from the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. This narrow road, hugging the mountain side as it winds its way up and over the 7,747-foot Logan pass, opened in 1932.

Due to the elevation and climate, the road is only open during the summer months. The sights along this road are superlative, and you'll likely find yourself stopping at handy pullouts to soak it all up.

Glacier National Park also has some unique historic lodges, including the East Lodge, with it's huge timbered interior. The park is also a top hiking destination in the state. Hiking trails lead to wonderful alpine vistas if you're willing to put in a bit of effort.

The park is relatively isolated, so most people plan to visit for a few days. Accommodation is available in the historic lodges and hotels in West Glacier, and if you feel like camping in Glacier National Park, 13 campgrounds are available.

17. Mount Rushmore National Memorial

If you find yourself in South Dakota, don't miss a chance to see Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Towering above the surrounding forest are the faces of four US Presidents: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt.

This incredible achievement was created by one man, John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, and upon his death, finished off by his son Lincoln. The hard work of carving giant heads out of stone started in 1927 and continued on for many years until its completion in 1941.

The national memorial is a popular attraction, especially in the summer. Try to plan to arrive early in the day to avoid the crowds.

18. Sedona's Red Rock Country

Just a wonderfully scenic two-hour drive from Phoenix, this small city has quickly become one of Arizona's top places to visit.

Its beautiful setting, in among the red rocks, makes it perfect for a day trip from Phoenix, but it makes an even better vacation destination. Plan on spending at least a night or two to enjoy all Sedona has to offer. The town has some fantastic restaurants as well as spas and luxury resorts in and around town.

Sedona has a bit of everything when it comes to keeping busy: fantastic hiking, mountain biking, and camping, all coupled with a quirky vibe that makes a trip here fun for everyone.

Sedona is a year-round destination, but is especially popular in the spring, when the trees burst into bloom and you get the occasional desert rain storm.

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