From sea to shining sea, the United States is home to a diverse landscape — both culturally and physically. Spending months traveling across its vast landscape gave me a deep appreciation for all my country has to offer.
After traveling 13,000 miles across the continental United States this spring (and more, if you count my previous road trip in 2006), I wanted to share some of my favorite destinations in the United States with you. I’ve already talked about my favorite restaurants and lessons learned, so it only seems proper to end the road trip posts with my favorite 28 destinations – cities, parks, regions, you name it!
(Note: This list is based only on where I myself have been. There are a lot more incredibly breathtaking places — like Yosemite or Hawaii — I haven’t explored yet, which is why you don’t see them on this list!)
Gritty, industrial, and a bit run down, Memphis appears like its best days are behind it, but don’t let the rough exterior fool you — the city is still home to some killer food and a vibrant blues music scene. Additionally, there’s Graceland (Elvis’s home) for fans of the King, a big waterfront for walking, and the phenomenal, detailed, and moving Museum of Civil Rights (it’s huge, so don’t rush it!). I enjoyed the city more than I expected and was disappointed when I had to leave. To use a cliché, it’s a hidden gem!
My new home (surprise! I moved to Austin!), and every visit here makes me love it more and more. The warm weather, the lively honky-tonks and live music, funky house bars on Rainey Street, amazing hiking and biking trails, and tons of outdoor activities… Austin has it all. Thanks to everything from the growing food truck population to the flagship Whole Foods store with the incredible salad bar (grilled pineapple!), I eat — and eat well — nonstop. The Austin campus of the University of Texas provides a youthful vigor to the city, and its liberal attitude attracts a diverse and eclectic population. In short, you can’t skip Austin, because if you do, I’ll find you and drag you there.
New Orleans is a city with soul. It’s seen some hard times, but it lives on with a zest for life unmatched by most places. It has a rich and long history and is filled with scrumptious French-inspired Creole and Cajun food, live jazz music, street performers, and an appreciation for all the temptations of life. Life is lived well here in the Big Easy. You don’t come here to relax – you come here to indulge! In my opinion, New Orleans one of the most eclectic and vibrant cities in the United States.
For more travel tips on New Orleans, check out this post on how to spend 4 days there.
Asheville is Portland in the North Carolina mountains: full of tasty craft beer, food, and hipsters. I liked the area a lot, including its proximity to some wonderful and scenic mountain hikes such as the Carolina Mountain Trail. Moreover, the town has a lot of parks for those wanting something closer — and be sure to check out the Ashville Botanical Gardens near the university campus. The beautiful Smoky Mountains are a short drive away, and the gigantic Biltmore estate, the largest privately owned home in the US and once home to George Vanderbilt, is on the outskirts of the city. If you’ve ever seen Downton Abbey, that’s what the house is like! (And, if you haven’t, you should! The show is addicting!)
The Pacific Coastal Drive
The drive up the Pacific Coast is considered one of the most scenic in the world. I have to agree. I didn’t travel the whole coast, but the portion I drove (San Francisco to Portland) was incredible: sheer cliffs, forests descending to the shoreline, miles of beaches, and giant redwoods. It’s jaw-dropping all the way. Be prepared to make slow progress, as you’ll be pulling over frequently to stop, hike, and admire the view. I especially liked Bandon and Coos Bay, Oregon and Mendocino, California.
Redwood National Park
Along the Pacific Coast is Redwood National Park, a large expanse of giant redwood trees filled with picnic areas, places to camp, and miles upon miles of hiking trails. Trails range from easy to strenuous, and there are many loops that head out to nearby beaches. It’s utterly beautiful, awe-inspiring, and humbling in every way.
Glacier National Park
Even though I visited when most of the park was still closed (it was too early in the year and there was still snow around), I was still stunned by the area: gorgeous snow-topped mountains rising high into the sky; a beautiful, still lake in which to admire those mountains and large glaciers; and hiking trails galore. It was the most mind-blowing place I saw on my trip, and I can understand why everyone raves about it. I can’t recommend a visit there enough.
For more travel tips on Canada, check out this detailed planning guide.
The mile-high city (not least because marijuana is legal there), Denver has a mix of outdoor ruggedness and big-city living. It has a huge craft beer scene, excellent restaurants (including, Sushi Sasa, one of my favorite sushi restaurants in the world), a large international airport with lots of connections, and proximity to the mountains (and the Republic of Boulder). It’s clean, and the locals are incredibly friendly. There are few cities in the US I want to live in, but I love Denver enough to say that it’s one of them.
When the weather is nice, I don’t think there’s a better city in the United States. Set on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago has world-class food (try the deep dish, sushi, and hot dogs), the fun and kitschy Navy Pier, Millennium Park with its famous bean-shaped statue, a kick-ass aquarium, and iconic architecture (be sure to take an architecture tour). And once the winter deep freeze is over, Chicagoans burst out of their homes to enjoy the summer weather, so there’s positive, happy vibe emanating through the city. Take advantage of it.
For more travel tips on Chicago, check out this detailed planning guide.
New York City
The city that never sleeps. ‘Nuff said. You can’t go wrong here.
For more travel tips on New York City, check out this detailed planning guide.
I was most surprised by this Mississippi city. I didn’t know anything about it, but Natchez was recommended as a place to see historic 19th-century homes, built by isolated plantation owners wanting to get away in the summer and interact and socialize with each other. As cotton became king, the houses became ever larger and more elaborate. Now, they are historic monuments, and you can tour them while enjoying a view of the Mississippi River. It’s far off the beaten path — and my favorite discovery from my last road trip.
For more travel tips on Natchez, check out this post on my explorations there.
Sitting on Georgia’s coast, Savannah escaped the wrath of the Civil War, allegedly because Sherman thought it was too pretty to be destroyed. With streets lined with Spanish moss–covered trees, large and inviting parks, and a bustling waterfront, Savannah is wonderful place to experience the slow pace of the Old South. I had visited this city many, many years ago, but its beauty, Southern comfort food, and tranquility stuck with me over the years.
Words can’t accurately describe how incredible the Grand Canyon is. It’s breathtaking in so many ways —its sheer size, fantastic depth, red hues, and striking vistas. Most people simply stand at the edge of the canyon and look out across it, but its true size and beauty are best appreciated with a hike down to the bottom. Make the time to hike down to the Colorado River, hike the less visited trails, spend the night, and hike back up for sunset.
For more travel tips on the Grand Canyon, check out this post on hiking it.
A little bit country, a little bit tech, Nashville is one of the fastest-growing cities in the US and rightly so. It’s got a wonderful music scene (duh), a growing cocktail bar scene, and some down-home Southern restaurants. There’s not a lot of “touristy stuff” to do here, but what make this city one of my favorites are the music, the food, the wildly friendly and happy people, and the positive energy the city seems to exude. When you’re here, plan to spend a few hours at the Tennessee State Museum. It goes into great (though sometimes very one-sided) detail about the state’s history, but it’s more exciting than you might think.
Food of every nature, hipsters, high tech, and a diverse population make San Francisco one of my favorite places to visit. Additionally, it’s close to some wonderful national parks, like Muir Woods, where you can escape the city and go hiking amid giant trees. This city is changing fast (for good or ill) and I’m always looking forward to my next visit. San Francisco has so much to do that you need at least four days to really appreciate it. The city is one of the cultural centers of the United States and not to be missed.
For more travel tips on San Francisco, check out this detailed planning guide.
White sand beaches, Cuban food, wild nightlife, gorgeous people, and amazing warm weather — what’s not to love about Miami! I don’t think I could ever live here, but for a weekend of fun in the sun, Miami is perfect.
For more travel tips on Miami, check out this detailed planning guide.
Forever warm and sunny, San Diego’s weather creates a permanently happy population that’s friendly and outgoing and that loves the outdoors – from hiking, days at the beach, or running….and they are always happy to show people their city. The downtown Gaslamp area — as well as the famous Pacific Beach — is full of trendy seafood restaurants, bustling bars, and some seriously life-changing taco stalls. I love San Diego.
California Wine Country
California is home to some of the best wine in the world, and a visit to the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions will reward you with some fine dining in addition to the wine. Take the short trip from San Francisco and learn to appreciate wine! Tip: Sonoma is cheaper than Napa.
For more travel tips on California Wine Country, check out this post on how to visit Napa Valley on a budget.
Though the water level of the lake, as well as the flora and fauna around it, is sadly depleted due to the California drought, Lake Tahoe is still nonetheless impressive and beautiful. Ringed by tiny mountain communities, this is a terrific place for hiking and boating in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Anywhere in Montana
A lot has been written about how stunning Montana is, but it’s all wrong. It’s even better than words can describe. It’s the most crazy beautiful state I’ve ever been to, filled with wondrous mountains and hills as far as the eye can see. The people are super cool, welcoming, and outdoorsy, too. If I had to pick a favorite state, it would be Montana. I just love Montana.
The capital of the United States is a vibrant, international city, and that’s what I love about it. It’s second only to NYC in diversity of people and food (which is to be expected with so many people from international aid organizations and embassies). You hear a million accents in this town! Throw in the free Smithsonian museums, lots of parks, a riverfront for strolling or running, and some historic government buildings and monuments, and D.C. becomes one phenomenal place to visit, relax, eat, and drink!
For more travel tips on Washington D.C., check out this detailed planning guide.
I spent a lot of summers on the Cape, since it’s where New Englanders escape for the summer. You’ll find plenty of small beach towns along the coast (Provincetown and Hyannis being the most famous but I also love Chatham, Falmouth, Wellfleet, and Brewster). If you’re looking for seafood, beaches, boardwalks, and hat perfect family vacation, visit the Cape!
I may be biased because I grew up here, but I love Boston and cherish my visits home. Boston rocks (Go Red Sox!). It’s historic (founded in 1630), smallish, easy to get around, and filled with awesome and loyal people. It’s home to a ton of activities, like the Freedom Trail and Faneuil Hall, the JFK Museum, and the Boston Commons and Public Garden, as well as some of the best Italian and seafood restaurants in the country. Be sure to eat at Zaftigs for the best brunch in the city! It’s wicked!
For more travel tips on Boston, check out this detailed planning guide.
Vegas, baby, Vegas! A lot of people are turned off by the bright lights and gambling, but Vegas is much more than the casinos, expensive clubs, and hotels on the famous Strip. There’s incredible hiking nearby at Red Rocks National Park, a growing art scene, a booming tech scene thanks to Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, and lots of concerts and shows. Get off the Strip, explore the real Vegas (because technically the Strip is located in Paradise, NV, not Las Vegas), and see why people decide to live here.
For more travel tips on Las Vegas, check out this detailed planning guide.
Portland is incredible. I would move there if it had a bigger airport with better connections. Here you’ll find an impressive food truck scene, cool bespoke bars and cocktail lounges, a craft beer scene that’s religion to residents, relaxing parks (including a peaceful Japanese garden), a vibrant art scene, and hiking in the nearby mountains. Portland is just an awesome city, especially in the summer when the weather is perfect and there are festivals and events galore, like the World Domination Summit and the Portland International Beerfest.
For more travel tips on Portland, check out this post on the city.
Home to a little business called Starbucks, it also boasts an exciting downtown, fresh fish, authentic Asian food, art museums, and funky nightlife. In historic Pioneer Square, you can go on an underground tour of the city’s ruins (a hella cool experience). Moreover, you’re right on the water and, weather permitting, can head out onto Elliott Bay to explore some little islands. Seattle is just a cool city. There’s always something to do there, it’s techy, and everyone is relaxed. Plus, there’s craft beer and coffee — what’s not to love about that!
For more travel tips on Seattle, check out this detailed planning guide.
Tucked away in western South Dakota, this town was famous during the Old West days, noteworthy enough to be the focus of an HBO series. Sort of kitschy and re-created, it’s nonetheless a very cool place where you can experience a taste of the old frontier days. It’s also conveniently located near the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore.
I really loved this city, which features some of the world’s best BBQ, a lively downtown, and cutting-edge technology like Google Fiber. There’s also a detailed and enlightening jazz museum here, as well as the eye-opening Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (that was the actual name; I’m not being racist). I wish I could have spent more time, but that’s just more reason to come back.
The United States is filled with too many “must sees” places to list in a single blog post. After all, the country is home to over 350 million people and covers 3.8 million square miles. I’ve only seen a fraction of it in my life, and it beckons me to do more. But for those looking for a starting point for where to go and what to see, this list should point you in the right direction.
Just be sure to turn off the highways, head to the small towns, and discover some favorites of your own.
For more travel tips on U.S. Travel, check out these blog posts: