What better way to see a city than from the very top? With views that stretch on for miles, sky-high observation decks and scenic points allow you to experience America’s cities in a uniquely thrilling way. Of course, there’s more than just the vistas—heart-racing activities, rotating restaurants, and picture-perfect garden terraces round out the offerings. For incredible views of America’s cities, head to these ten breathtaking spots.—Zachary Laks
The Skydeck at Willis Tower
WHERE: Chicago, Illinois
An emblem of the Chicago skyline since 1973, the Willis Tower (née the Sears Tower) was the tallest building in the world for more than twenty years, until 1999, when the Petronas Towers in Malaysia rose above it by thirty-three feet. In 1974, the Willis Tower’s Skydeck debuted on the 103rd floor at 1,353 feet and has remained one of Chicago’s top attractions ever since.
On a clear day, you can glimpse Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan on the horizon. In 2009, the Skydeck underwent a major renovation, installing retractable, all-glass balconies, which extend four feet from the façade of the building, providing an intense rush of adrenaline as you look straight down at the city below.
Admission: Adults: $19.50; children ages 3–11: $12.50; children under 3 are free.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Chicago Travel Guide
One World Observatory
WHERE: New York, New York
Towering over New York City’s Financial District and rising above the hallowed ground of the 9/11 Memorial, the new One World Trade Center stands as the fourth-tallest building in the world and the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.
Opened in 2015, One World Observatory achieves the city’s most sought-after feat: delivering the most breathtaking view of the five boroughs and beyond. The experience begins with a game-changing elevator ride, where immersive video walls display a visual history of the surrounding land from 1500 to present day in less than a minute. Once you arrive at the top, prepare to be swept away by the incredible views so expansive you can see the curvature of the earth.
Admission: Adults: $32; seniors: $30; children ages 6–12: $26; children under 3 are free. (Prices differ for non-standard access.)
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New York City Travel Guide
WHERE: Seattle, Washington
An iconic Seattle landmark that has anchored the downtown skyline since 1961, the Space Needle has made a name for itself with its hovering white disk sitting 520 feet above the city. Built as an observation tower for the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle remains a must on any visit to Seattle.
Three open elevator shafts provide thrilling views in glass-walled cars on the ascent. Once you’ve arrived at the main observation deck, head to the outdoor, open-air deck where glass panels that reach up to the torso give gawkers the perfect photo opportunities through the protective cable netting. The view stretches far beyond the Seattle skyline, with sweeping outlooks of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains and Mount Rainier.
Admission: Adults: $18; seniors: $16; children ages 4–12: $11. (Prices differ for non-general admission.)
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Seattle Travel Guide
City Hall Tower & Observation Deck
WHERE: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
An underappreciated gem for visitors and locals alike, City Hall Tower & Observation Deck is one of Philadelphia’s only official viewing decks, showing off the city’s historical and robust downtown architecture. The viewing perch sits about 500 feet above the city grid, at the base of the iconic William Penn statue. Once atop City Hall, visitors are treated to a 360-degree outlook of Philadelphia, including views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the twelve miles of Broad Street, one of the country’s longest completely straight avenues.
Admission: Adults: $6; seniors, students, youth, and military: $4; children under 3 are free. (Prices differ for the interior tour.)
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Philadelphia Travel Guide
Portland Aerial Tram
WHERE: Portland, Oregon
There’s no better way to see the City of Roses than onboard the Portland Aerial Tram, a silver pod that floats through the sky. In operation since 2006, the tramway was built to transport commuters from the city's South Waterfront district to Oregon Health & Science University. Operating as only the second commuter aerial tramway in the U.S., upward of 3,300 people rely on it as part of their daily commute. Upon completing the three-minute ride up, a viewing deck welcomes visitors with expansive views of Portland and on clear days, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens.
Admission: Round-trip fare: $4.50
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Portland Travel Guide
WHERE: St. Louis, Missouri
A modern marvel that defies physics with its unique curves and futurist architecture, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis caught the attention of the world when completed in 1965. Just off the Mississippi River, the signature landmark is the world’s tallest arch and the tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere. The fun starts with the ascent to the top, as visitors board the five-person tram pods and are treated to an inside view of the massive structure from two windows in the doors. From the apex, visibility reaches up to thirty miles on clear days, with sweeping views of downtown St. Louis, the Mississippi River, and Illinois.
Admission: Adults: $10; children ages 3–15: $5.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s St. Louis Travel Guide
Flags Over Texas Observation Deck
WHERE: San Antonio, Texas
Spend some time in the clouds at the Flags Over Texas Observation Deck inside the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas. Erected to celebrate the World's Fair in 1968, the monolith was revitalized in 2006, ushering in a re-conceptualized attraction with the new observation deck, a 4-D film experience that tells the story of Texas, and fine dining at the slowly revolving Chart House. The observation deck provides the best views of downtown San Antonio and sprawling Texas land that stretches to the horizon.
Admission: Adults: $10.95; seniors and military: $9.95; Children ages 4–12: $8.95; children under 3 are free.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s San Antonio Travel Guide
WHERE: Dallas, Texas
A dazzling orb that holds court in downtown Dallas, the Reunion Tower adds geometrical harmony to the urban skyline. Built in 1978 as part of the Hyatt Regency Dallas, the 561-foot structure has served multiple purposes throughout the years, most recently reconfiguring its observation deck in 2013. The 360-degree views from the GeO-Deck are enhanced by interactive screens detailing the history of Dallas and help to identify the many distant sights.
If you’re looking to make a night out of your visit, make reservations ahead of time at Wolfgang Puck’s highly regarded Five Sixty, the tower’s dining attraction, while the more casual Cloud Nine Café serves a no-reservations-required lunch.
Admission: Adults: $16; seniors: $14; children ages 4–12): $8. (Prices differ for non-general admission.)
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Dallas-Fort Worth Travel Guide
WHERE: Los Angeles, California
High on the hills of Brentwood, Los Angeles, the modern Getty Center is a hub for culture, nature, and remarkable views of the city. Completed in 1997 by The J. Paul Getty Trust, a fund set up by the oil tycoon, the trust has grown to become the world's largest philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts.
An exquisite permanent collection onsite includes Van Goghs and Gauguins, as well as sprawling gardens where 500 varieties of plants add to a majestic atmosphere. But the splendor of the Getty Center comes second to its first-class view of Los Angeles, as viewing decks, terraces, and gardens give way to limitless vistas of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and Los Angeles.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Los Angeles Travel Guide
Point State Park
WHERE: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
A public park with the best views in town, Point State Park, at the confluence of downtown Pittsburgh’s three rivers, is an essential stop on any visit to Pittsburgh. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the thirty-six-acre state park welcomes more than three million visitors a year to marvel at the sight of downtown Pittsburgh, including views of Heinz Field, the Duquesne Incline, and PNC Park. Don’t miss the newly restored fountain at the head of the Ohio River. It’s so powerful that its jets can rocket water up as high as 150 feet.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Pittsburgh Travel Guide