The must-see places to visit in the U.S. during your lifetime.
From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Grand Canyon, from Times Square to the Hollywood Sign, these are the iconic, bucket list, must-see places in the USA you have to see before you die. Consider this your USA bucket list, packed with all the iconic images ingrained in every American’s mind. We’ve included destinations, signs, and monuments that best represent what America is all about: Beacons of democracy in D.C. and Philadelphia, emblems of excess in New York City and Vegas, and the wonders of nature in our many stunning National Parks. They make up the cultural fabric of the country, and these classic destinations all deserve a spot on your list of must-see places in the United States.
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Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
WHERE: Orlando, Florida
Main Street, USA, here you come!
If anything encompasses the ethos of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, it’s the “It’s a Small World” ride. That same tune represents a certain kind of American dream: one of a land comprising many cultures, welcoming to all. The Magic Kingdom certainly welcomes everyone into its dream world, where Mickey Mouse and Cinderella roam and whirling rides thrill. The whole scope of the American imagination is represented, where every day ends with fireworks and a parade. It’s a pixie-dusted retreat from reality that can’t be missed, no matter your age.
INSIDER TIPMake the most of your visit with Disney Genie+ on the My Disney Experience app, where you can see estimated wait times and have access to exclusive Lighting Lane Entrance bookings (i.e., no waiting in lines!).
The French Quarter
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
Like the confluence of cultures that created it, New Orleans’ French Quarter aesthetic is a vibrant collage of textures: cobblestone corridors, lush courtyard gardens, and storied wrought-iron balcony railings. The city’s rich history and musical heritage are inextricably linked, where you can shop the vibrant French Market, stop in for beignets at Café Du Monde, or liven things up at a rousing jazz performance at Preservation Hall. A spirit of resilient jubilance pervades the French Quarter, making it an American icon you must experience.
INSIDER TIPGet a great view of the French Quarter for free by riding the Canal Street Ferry (a.k.a. Algiers Ferry) to historic Algiers Point. It leaves the terminal on Canal Street—next to the Aquarium of the Americas—every 30 minutes.
WHERE: New York, New York
If you want to be thrust headlong into the frantic heart of excess, consumerism, spectacle, and everything unabashedly American, look no further than Times Square. You’ll join enthusiastic and ecstatic tourists from every corner of the world as you walk through the blaring ads and costumed characters. Snap pictures as necessary, but don’t make the mistake of skipping the M&M’s World to sweeten the experience. This roaring neon hub of humanity truly never sleeps, and it simply must be seen to be believed.
INSIDER TIPDespite the crowds, there are places to sit and relax. Between 42nd and 47th Streets, former traffic lanes on Broadway are now pedestrian-only areas.
Related: Fodor’s New York City Guide
WHERE: Boston, Massachusetts
The Boston Red Sox have played at Fenway Park, the oldest Major League Baseball ballpark, since 1912. Baseball legends Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski all stepped up to bat here. It’s both a vestige of an American golden age, preserved in all its old-fashioned glory and a hub for fans of a quintessentially American sport—and its rabidly supported team.
INSIDER TIPDidn’t manage to nab tickets in advance? Try your luck at Gate E on Lansdowne Street 90 minutes before the game, when a handful of tickets are sold. Or meander the street-fair-esque Jersey Street near the stadium for a taste of the Red Sox Nation spirit.
Related: Fodor’s Boston Guide
WHERE: Keystone, South Dakota
Not only is Mount Rushmore stunning in terms of its sheer scale, it’s also perhaps the boldest embodiment of American ideals in existence and is, without a doubt, one of the best places you must visit in the U.S. It acts as a shrine to democracy, chiseled in the same wild western lands that came to represent the pioneering American spirit. The sculpture features the faces of four iconoclastic U.S. Presidents—including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—each representing the unification and progression of the country’s foundation.
INSIDER TIPFollow the Presidential Trail for excellent views of Mount Rushmore, or walk the Avenue of Flags, which represents each U.S. state, commonwealth, district, and territory, for a different perspective.
WHERE: Taos, New Mexico
These multistory, mud-and-straw adobes have sheltered Tiwa-speaking Native Americans for nearly 1,000 years and remain the largest collection of multistory Pueblo dwellings in the nation. Once believed to be the “Seven Cities of Gold” by the early Spanish explorers, the Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and appears frozen in time, where the legacy of the traditional Native American way of life endures.
INSIDER TIPStep inside the VISIT Taos Visitor Center for Taos Pueblo Art to purchase artisan goods made by the families of the Taos Pueblo, and be sure to try the popular fry bread, which is sold around every corner.
Related: Fodor’s Taos Guide
Pike Place Market
WHERE: Seattle, Washington
When it opened in 1907, Pike Place Market was a riotous assembly where vendors hawked produce and haggled with hordes of customers. Today it is a food lover’s dream and the best representation of American humor and creativity, where —and throw them over the heads of unsuspecting market goers—alongside many restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops (including the flagship Starbucks), and more. Don’t miss the fresh (and inexpensive) blooms of the farmer’s market, as well as the more crafts-oriented corridors of the market.
INSIDER TIPDon’t miss one of Seattle’s weirder hidden gems, the Gum Wall on Post Alley, in Pike Place Market. Thousands of visitors have “left their mark” on the city by sticking their used chewing gum to the wall.
Related: Fodor’s Seattle Guide
Unending wildflowers, soaring California condors, sea otters reclining in kelp beds, ancient forests—it’s no wonder Big Sur is a storied retreat for artists and writers, and one of the top bucket list places to visit in the U.S. There’s nowhere else like it in America, where the undeveloped coastline stretches farther than anywhere else in the contiguous United States. Hike the high ridges for spectacular vistas, including the 875,000 acres of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forests, and make time to relax on the idyllic beach to spot whales and seals in the distant waters. Or enjoy it all from the car on coastal Highway 1 as you pass over the photogenic Bixby Creek Bridge.
INSIDER TIPIf you plan to camp, book every campground you plan to use, and far in advance—most reserve half their site for “first come, first served” on the day, making planning difficult.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is an American icon in that it represents the expansive, larger-than-life ruggedness of the country. Volcanic features and soaring sandstone canyon walls make for awesome vistas, as well as a welcoming venue for year-round adventure. On the floor of this 227-mile-long natural wonder, the wild Colorado River traces a swift southwestern course.
INSIDER TIPThe best free activity in the canyon is watching the vibrant splashes of color on the canyon walls at sunset or sunrise, but it’s worth the ticket price to venture out to the West Canyon to stroll along the glass-floored walkway of the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
Related: Fodor’s Grand Canyon Guide
Miami’s South Beach stretches along the Atlantic like a sandy sculpture garden of bronzed, chiseled bods. Everyone’s on display here—especially at the people-watching mecca that is the Lincoln Road Mall—from the motionless models sunbathing on the shore to the impeccably styled patrons posing in café chairs. Cyclists breeze by under soaring palms that sway gently toward the turquoise water. And at night, the streets are a spectrum of glowing neon. It all makes for quite the aesthetically pleasing tableau of an iconic American beach.
INSIDER TIPFamilies should head to Mid- or North Beach—South Beach tends toward the PG-13 (and above).
Related: Fodor’s Miami Guide
Golden Gate Bridge
WHERE: San Francsico, California
If you stand still on the “international orange”-colored, 1.7-mile long, art deco suspension bridge connecting San Francisco and Marin County when it’s windy, you can feel it sway a bit. The majestic Golden Gate Bridge set the global standard for suspension-bridge design when it was built to withstand high winds and earthquakes. This bridge’s power is palpable as you take in the San Francisco skyline and bay islands from its edge. In afternoons and mornings, the red towers poke out from the mystical, thick fog below.
INSIDER TIPIt takes about 45 minutes to an hour to cross the entire bridge, so plan your day accordingly.
Related: Fodor’s San Francisco Guide
Las Vegas Sign
WHERE: Las Vegas, Nevada
A trip to The Strip can’t end without a picture in front of this kitschy, 50s-style sign. The flashy, diamond-shaped testament to the Vegas spirit is an American icon in primary colors, welcoming all to the city’s hedonistic streets, fun and fast-paced casinos, chilled-out pools, and, of course, the impressive water ballet at the Fountains of Bellagio. There are 10 Best Celebrity Chef Restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip and the 10 Best Buffets in Las Vegas to meet all your food cravings. Expect to feel giddy when it comes into view: That’s when you know your adventure is about to start.
INSIDER TIPPeople will line up to take their picture front and center but just scoot to the right for an equally good picture from a unique angle.
Related: Fodor’s Las Vegas Guide
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
WHERE: Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. has its fair share of iconic American monuments, but if you’re only going to see one of them during a visit, head to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Its stately domed marble roof and commanding columns are instantly recognizable, while its graceful steps overlooking the Potomac make for a lovely lunch or resting spot. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, our third president, and a visionary founding father, Jefferson and his memorial are icons of the American spirit. Go during D.C.’s cherry blossom season in the spring for an extra stunning view.
INSIDER TIPGeneral parking is available on West Basin Drive, on Ohio Drive SW, and at the Tidal Basin parking lot along Maine Ave., SW. Handicap parking is available on Home Front Drive SW, accessed from southbound 17th St.
Related: Fodor’s Washington, D.C. Guide
WHERE: Chicago, Illinois
This 25-acre park is the perfect icon for the truly American city of Chicago, where art, music, and nature come together in one urban space. Cool down at Crown Fountain as giant images of Chicagoans’ faces are broadcasted on the 50-foot-high water fountain, or gaze into the captivating polished steel façade of “The Bean” (officially named Cloud Gate) before making your way to the otherworldly Jay Pritzker Pavilion to witness any number of the can’t-miss concerts held within the manicured grounds. All in all, Millennium Park.
INSIDER TIPTake a free guided tour of the beautiful five-acre Lurie Garden, an urban oasis designed to pay homage to Chicago’s transformation into a bold and powerful city.
Related: Fodor’s Chicago Guide
WHERE: Los Angeles, California
Although the sign was originally used as an advertisement for a housing development back in 1923, over the years, the 50-foot, bold letters of the Hollywood Sign have become the unexpecting symbols of American ambition and glamour. Since the early 1900s, the sign has defined the city and it’s been featured in countless films and TV series from its perch on the Hollywood Hills. The six-mile Brush Canyon trail puts you behind the sign for a great perspective of the city, but it’s still highly illegal to get too close to the sign.
INSIDER TIPCareful if you’re driving up from the residential streets; drivers tend to speed around the blind corners.
Related: Fodor’s Los Angles Guide
Grand Central Terminal
WHERE: New York, New York
Enter Grand Central Terminal from its ornate, East 42nd Street, Roman-triumphal-arch-inspired façade, and you’ll pass under Corinthian columns and soaring arched windows to find an elegant clock for rushed commuters. Grand Central is one of the world’s largest, busiest, and most beautiful stations. Chandeliers glimmer in the waiting room, while in the cavernous main concourse, sleek marble walls support an arched, robin’s-egg-blue ceiling that twinkles with a fiber-optic map of the constellations.
INSIDER TIPTry out the secret “whispering gallery” by the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar downstairs. The acoustics of the arches can cause a whisper from across the entryway to sound like a shout.
Related: Fodor’s New York City Guide
Portland Head Light
WHERE: Portland, Maine
George Washington commissioned the Portland Head Light in 1790 to tower over the keeper’s quarters in Fort Williams Park and beckon ships to land. Also making it an American icon is Edward Hopper’s 1927 painting, Lighthouse Hill, which many might recognize. It’s a truly beautiful and classic lighthouse, with its smooth white stone topped by a black spire against the blazing red roof of the keeper’s quarters, all perched on the romantic cliffs of Maine.
INSIDER TIPTry a classic New England lobster roll from Bite Into Maine, the quaint food truck that parks here.
Related: Fodor’s Portland Guide
Grand Teton National Park
The rugged, snowcapped peaks of the Grand Tetons jut up daringly from the green fields below, with no foothills to soften the ascent. At the highest peak, this mountain range reaches 13,775 feet in elevation, with eight peaks also rising above 12,000 feet. Your best bet for spotting iconic American West creatures at this bucket list location is along the Willow Flats, where you’ll likely see elk, beavers, and bald eagles. This all-American range makes for an unforgettable and awe-inspiring landscape you don’t want to miss.
INSIDER TIPLearn the history of homesteading by visiting the 1890s barns and ranch buildings of Mormon Row or Menor’s Ferry.
Philadelphia City Hall
WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
It took nearly 30 years to construct this architecturally stunning municipal building. When Philadelphia City Hall opened in 1901, the 37-foot-tall bronze statue of William Penn on top made it the tallest building in America. Other buildings have since risen higher, but the city hall remains the largest municipal building in the nation, with more than 14.5 acres. City Hall stands at the geographic center of what is perhaps the city most steeped in American history, a monolith of democracy and locus of municipal and state government, and is an icon of American fortitude you can’t miss.
Related: Fodor’s Philadelphia Guide
Yellowstone National Park
WHERE: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Not only is Yellowstone America’s first national park, but it is home to roughly half of the entire world’s population of active geysers. No other country boasts the span, depth, and width of America’s national park system, and Yellowstone National Park is the crowning jewel of them all. Explore the Grand Prismatic Spring (the third largest hot spring in the world and the largest in the U.S.) or plan your day around a visit to Old Faithful (Yellowstone’s most predictable geyser, where eruptions take place roughly every 50-120 minutes). If you’re looking for things to put on your bucket list, look no further.
Zion National Park
WHERE: Springdale, Utah
President Woodrow Wilson first named this desert expanse a national park back in 1919, making it Utah’s first national park. Today more than 5 million people make the trek out to Zion National Park to explore this outdoor playground. The weather at Zion is something to factor in–rain can make the famous canyons of The Narrows a flash flood warning, so it’s best to visit during spring, summer, and fall. Natural rock arches jut up from the earth in a stunning display of geological wonder. Kolob Arch and Double Pine are among the favorites for many visitors, while Hidden Arch and Jughandle offer amazing photo opportunities.
INSIDER TIPStay close to the canyon floor for a hike through The Narrows, a portion of Zion Canyon that’s only 20 to 30 feet wide in most sections.
Related: Fodor’s Utah Guide
The Grand Ole Opry
WHERE: Nashville, Tennessee
It’s no question why country music fans from around the world flock to this U.S.A. bucket list venue. Not only is The Grand Ole Opry “country music’s most famous stage,” but it’s also often frequently referred to as “the birthplace of American music.” The first show began in 1925 at this venue, and the legacy lives on today as guests can tour the behind-the-scenes action and even catch a live performance.
INSIDER TIPBook a room at The Fairlane Hotel to stay close to the action, as this art-deco boutique hotel attracts many top names playing at the Opry.
Related: Fodor’s Nashville Guide
WHERE: San Antonio, Texas
Originally known as the San Antonio de Valero Mission, this 18th-century Roman Catholic mission played a major role in defining the future of the United States. The Battle of the Alamo lasted 13 days, but the legacy of this little fortress lives on in the nation’s history due to the passion and determination of the men that fought within.
INSIDER TIPToday, visitors can explore the Alamo Church and grounds for free, but for a small fee, the visitor’s center offers a range of interactive tours and audio guides that make this experience really come to life.
Related: Fodor’s San Antonio Guide
Diamond Head State Monument
WHERE: Honolulu, Hawaii
A hike to the top of this 300,000-year-old crater will leave you breathless, and that’s not just because of the 560 feet elevation gain within .8 miles. The views at the crater’s peak are arguably the best in Hawaii, so much so in fact that they were once used as a lookout by the U.S. military to protect the island from attacks. Although they now sit abandoned, bunkers from those military days still remain at the top of Diamond Head State Monument, offering a perfect platform for whale watching for humpbacks during winter months.
INSIDER TIPMake sure to start your hike before 4:30 pm, so you have enough time to make it to the top and back before the gates close at 6 pm.
Related: Fodor’s Honolulu Guide
Garden of the Gods
WHERE: Colorado Springs, Colorado
The vibrant, red rock formations that fill this National Natural Landmark defy geology with their monumental size and artistic shapes. It took more than 300 million years for the elements to carve out the main formations of the Garden of the God’s Visitor and Nature Center, including the Three Graces, the Siamese Twins, and the Kissing Camels. The park is open to the public daily for hiking, biking, climbing, and guided walks with park rangers.
INSIDER TIPHike to High Point near the south entrance to snap a shot of Balanced Rock with Pikes Peak in the background.
Related: Fodor’s Colorado Springs Guide