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Is it a dream of yours to travel more in the US? If so, I’ve put together this huuuge USA bucket list travel guide. It includes all the US states that we visited during our three-month road trip of America and the best things to do in each US State. We travelled from New York to Key West in Florida, across the South and then up the West Coast to Vancouver, BC. All that to say that this USA bucket list covers a lot of ground! Of course, there are plenty of states we didn’t get around to visiting this time, and I could easily extend this to more than 100 places to visit in the USA, but this is a pretty good place to start for some ideas of fun things to do in the USA.
USA Bucket List Travel Guide
Our three-month USA road trip took us to the following states and here are some of the best things to do in each one of them. Have I missed your absolute favourite thing to do off my North America bucket list? Let me know in the comments below!
New York State
When it comes to New York, most people only think of Manhattan. And while visiting New York City is definitely a highlight and one of the places to visit in the USA that most people want to tick off, there are a few other things you shouldn’t miss either!
1. See Niagara Falls at sunrise
Our first stop in the US was Niagara Falls since that’s where we crossed the border! It was a freezing cold morning in early March, but the sunrise was spectacular. This was the second time I visited Niagara Falls (the first being in summer) and it can’t fail to amaze you!
While I think the Canadians get the best side of Niagara Falls, you can see the waterfall from both countries so if you’re in New York State then make sure to head up here.
2. Visit Buffalo
We stopped in Buffalo after our trip to Niagara, mostly for some lunch! After a walk around the city (where we found some actual buffalo grazing), we headed to Anchor Bar which claims to be the place that created buffalo wings as we know them today. They were delicious!
3. Climb (well take the elevator) to The Top of the Rock
The Empire State Building might be the first place that pops into your head if you’re looking to get an iconic view of New York City from up high. But personally, I think going to the Top of the Rock in the Rockefeller Building is the place to go for the best view of New York City. You can see Central Park and The Empire State Building too which are both must see US landmarks.
4. Take in the buzz at Times Square
How can you visit New York City (especially if it’s your first time) and not visit Times Square? Sure, it’s touristy and insanely busy but it’s got to be done.
5. Take a wine tour in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State
If you’re spending more time in Upstate New York, then how about spending a weekend in the Finger Lakes Region and going on some tours of the vineyards up there. The finger lakes are a beautiful area of New York and there’s some really great wine to be found up there too!
Pennsylvania is one of the original 13 colonies of the United States and is known for many things including its forests and big cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
6. See the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
Did you know that Pennsylvania has its own (albeit much greener) version of the Grand Canyon in Arizona? Just south of Ansonia, the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon is best viewed from the Leonard Harrison State Park overlooks.
7. Ride the incline to the top of Mount Washington
Enjoy a panorama of Pittsburgh and the 3 rivers in the city by riding the Duquesne Incline. The 140-year-old Incline takes you to an observation deck with the most beautiful views of the city and it’s an absolute must in Pittsburgh.
8. Eat Philly cheesesteak sandwiches
Don’t pass by Philadelphia without tucking into a Philly cheesesteak for lunch. It’s just one of those American things you have to try!
The most densely populated state in the entire country, New Jersey was known to me simply for Jersey Shore (so not for the best reasons). It’s also known as the “Diner Capital” of America with 525 diners. But there are also beautiful beach resorts and great food. Add it to your list of USA places to visit now.
9. Visit Atlantic City
Out of season, this place is almost like a ghost town (well it was when we visited, but in the summer this place is heaving. Whenever you visit, take a stroll down the Atlantic City boardwalk which is the longest boardwalk in the world!
10. Go kayaking in the Hudson
In the summer months kayaking on the Hudson is completely free and offers a great afternoon of fun. The Hoboken Cove Boathouse offers kayaking and paddleboarding from the end of May to September.
When thinking of places to visit in America, Delaware, is unlikely to be at the top. While small, the first state as it’s known still has plenty going for it. If you’re a NASCAR fan I’m sure you know all about it, but if not then check out these few things to do there.
11. Watch a sunset from The Point at Cape Henlopen State Park
It may be the only state without any sort of National Park units, that doesn’t mean it’s not got beautiful areas. The Point at Cape Henlopen State Park is unique as it’s here that Delaware Bay is separated from the Atlantic Ocean and curves in such a way that the sun sets directly over the water even though you’re on the east coast. It’s the perfect place to watch a sunset in Delaware.
12. Take a walk on the Rehoboth boardwalk
Rehoboth is Delaware’s most visited city and is known for warm sunshine, sandy beaches and ocean breeze. Walk the boardwalk with some tasty snacks and take in the views.
Sometimes called “Little America” because Maryland has all types of terrain from mountains to sand dunes, Maryland is also known for fishing. The state produces the most blue crabs in the US and Marylanders are known for dousing their crabs in copious amounts of Old Bay or Chesapeake Bay seasonings.
13. Eat a dozen steamed crabs
Given what you learned above, you’ve got to try the crabs in Maryland. Maryland style crabs mean they’re steamed and served with some ice-cold beer. Oh, and one other thing, you need to eat a dozen of them to do it properly!
14. Paddle the Everglades of the North
They call Blackwater the “Everglades of the North” and here you can find all sorts of species of birds. It’s not just birds though, you may even see dolphin as you paddle along these waters. All of this makes it one of the special places to go in the US.
15. Find the wild ponies of Assateague
Assateague State Park is a magical place where the wild ponies roam. This wild area is perfect for camping, swimming, fishing and exploring. Whether you’re short on time and just take one of the scenic drives, or have longer and camp, make sure Assateague is on your list!
Virginia is known as “the birthplace of a nation” as Jamestown was the first English settlement in the U.S. There’s also a whole load of scenic driving in this state.
16. Explore Great Falls Park in Virginia
Great Falls Park in Northern Virginia is just 15 miles away from Washington D.C. The Potomac River churns with waterfalls and rapid. The River Trail offers spectacular views from the rocky cliffs at the edge of the river and along Mather Gorge.
17. Drive Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the heart of Virginia’s the Blue Ridge Mountains. The scenic drive covers 469 miles and has some of the most impressive mountain views in the world.
You can drive the Blue Ridge Parkway north out of the Roanoke Valley and into Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive or south toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. Whichever part you drive it’s a must see destination in the USA.
18. Chesapeake Bay – Tunnel Bridge
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is a 17.6-mile bridge-tunnel crossing at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the Hampton Roads harbour, and nearby mouths of the James and Elizabeth Rivers in the American state of Virginia.
It’s definitely an unusual type of road to drive and can be scary at times since there are minimum speeds and huge trucks charging up close behind you!
Famous for the First Flight (and the motto on the state’s license plates), North Carolina was actually one of my favourite states along the east coast of our road trip. There’s the beautiful Outer Banks region Great Smokey Mountains National Park too.
19. Visit the Outer Banks
The Outer Banks is known are a series of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina that span 100 miles of coastline. As you might expect, there are loads of beaches here, there are wild horses, and plenty of lighthouses too which all have their own style. Take a couple of days to drive down the Outer Banks and explore the islands and lighthouses. Ocracoke was one of our favourite stops.
20. Go to the Wright Brothers Memorial
Stop off in Kitty Hawk and visit the Wright Brothers Memorial. This was under construction in 2017 when we were doing our USA road trip, but should all be finished now! It’s on the land that the Wright Brothers took flight in their aircraft and it’s amazing to learn about how planes came to be.
21. Jockeys Ridge State Park
I have such fond memories of Jockeys Ridge State Park. Perhaps because it was the moment, we felt a little bit of warmth (after a month or so of freezing temperatures), or just because it was so beautiful. Either way, it was one of my favourite places in America to visit.
We parked up and scrambled over the sand dunes to watch a beautiful sunset and see the ocean rolling in and out. Definitely stop here!
22. Great Smokey Mountains National Park
The forest along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee is home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.
South Carolina is the nation’s leading peach producer east of the Mississippi River and has some beautiful cities you need to explore!
23. South of the Border
First things first, if you’re coming from the north, or travelling north, you’ve got to stop off at South of the Border. This crazy roadside attraction is huuuuge and is full of gift shops, firework shops, restaurants and massive statues too. It’s a fun place to stop off at while on a road trip of eastern USA.
24. Visit Charleston
With a rich history, Charleston has to be one of the most culturally interested and beautiful cities in the US to visit. It doesn’t hurt that there’s delicious southern cuisine to be found here either.
Known as the peach state, Georgia is also the country’s top producer of pecans and peanuts. Home to the city of Atlanta, Georgia is an interesting state to visit, here are some of my top things to do in Georgia.
25. Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island is an island just off the Georgia mainland is nowadays it’s famous for its sea turtles and beautiful beaches. Home to Driftwood beach (it’s not hard to see why it’s called that), Jekyll Island also has a great sea turtle rescue centre. As a visitor you can learn about how they help rehabilitate the turtles and, if you time it right, watch the turtles be fed and find out more about them.
Definitely the prettiest city we visited during our road trip, Savannah, GA, is well worth a visit. It’s full of history and culture and the buildings here are beautiful. If you’re looking for more things to do in Savannah, check out this list of things to do!
Atlanta is the most well-known city in the state of Georgia and there are plenty of things to do here. You could visit the World of Coca Cola (which was invented here), see the 1996 summer Olympics site and visit the birthplace of Martin Luther King at the Museum of Civil and Human Rights.
Florida is famous for its amusement parks, oranges, great weather and the Kennedy Space Centre. There are so many fun things to do in America’s state of Florida. Here are a few highlights of a trip to Florida.
28. Watch a rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Centre
We timed a lot of our drive down the east coast of the USA to make sure we could be at the Kennedy Space Centre in time to watch a SpaceX launch and we managed to make it! Watching a rocket launch was such a cool experience and even more so that it was the first time a rocket was re-used.
There aren’t many places in the world you can experience this and so a rocket launch is definitely one of the top things to see in the USA.
29. Drive the Florida Keys to Key West
Of all the places to see in America, the drive down to Key West from Miami is one of the most beautiful! You’re surrounded by ocean on either side and there are so many places to stop in the Florida Keys along the way. Catch a sunset in Key West and paddle in the ocean – you’ll love it here.
30. The Everglades National Park
Our morning spent exploring the boardwalks in the Everglades was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip. We didn’t do the organised airboat tours (they’re pretty bad environmentally and ethically) and went our own way. You can see our self-guided Everglades tour here.
Miami’s beaches are world-famous and for good reason. But it’s not all about the beaches. Visit Coconut Grove and Little Havana or go out partying if that’s more your scene.
We didn’t spend long in Alabama, we more or less drove through on the way to New Orleans. But if you’re planning to have a little while longer here are a couple of things to do in Alabama.
32. Mobile, Alabama
Did you know that Mardi Gras began in Mobile, Alabama? The original capital of French Louisiana, Mobile began Mardi Gras celebrations in 1703 and offers a great child-friendly version of the celebration. The whole city dresses up in the purple, green and gold Mardi Gras colours and the parades are fantastic.
33. The Gulf Shores
Primitive camping (wild camping) is allowed along Alabama’s Gulf Shores at Petit Bois and the National Park Service-owned portion of Cat Island. It’s a great way to relax and listen to the soothing sounds of the ocean. During the day you can also try out stand up paddleboarding on the Gulf.
Home to many famous people, Mississippi is nicknamed the “Magnolia State” because of its beautiful magnolia trees. Jackson, the state’s capital and largest city is known as the “Crossroads of the South” and Mississippi residents are called “Mudcats,” after the catfish found in the state’s streams. Here are a few things to do in the state of Mississippi.
34. Drive the Mississippi Great River Road
Hit the road and experience Mississippi River attractions, small towns, and historic properties as you road trip across Mississippi on one of the best scenic drives in America. The Great River Road runs the length of the United States following the winding Mississippi River and where better to follow the river than in the state that gives it its name?
35. See Elvis Presley’s Birthplace and the Elvis Presley Museum
The town of Tupelo is where Elvis Presley was born and you can visit his childhood home, view murals, a statue, and a story wall featuring memories shared by his childhood friends. The Elvis Presley Museum has even more memorabilia on this famous singer!
One of the must go places in the USA is Louisiana. Louisiana is known for its many festivals such as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Voodoo Experience and its most famous, Mardi Gras. It’s also famous for its delicious southern comfort food!
36. French Quarter in New Orleans
New Orleans’s French Quarter is the historic heart of New Orleans. It’s known for its vibrant nightlife, colourful buildings, jazz clubs and parties along Bourbon Street and Cajun eateries. There are also some quieter streets which lead to the French Market, with gourmet food and local crafts, and Jackson Square where street performers entertain in front of soaring St. Louis Cathedral. It’s the perfect place to wander around.
If you’re there near Mardi Gras make sure to stick around for the celebrations as they’re some of the best things to see in the USA.
37. Food tour in New Orleans
The city of New Orleans is home to some delicious food and there are so many foods to try in New Orleans. The best way to do it is to take a food tour so that you can put the hard work of working out where to go on a local. Go hungry!
Texas is known as the “Lone Star State” and is famous for BBQ, rodeos, hot temperatures and live music. It’s a fun state and it’s true what they say; everything is bigger in Texas – add it to the list of places you must visit in the US now.
This fun city is the homeplace of Whole Foods, has beautiful hiking trails along the river and is one of the few cities in the south of the US I could picture myself living in. Check out my list of things to do for first time visitors to Austin, as well as these delicious Austin food trucks!
39. Eat BBQ
Sorry vegetarians and vegans, Texas is the place for BBQ food. We tried several places throughout Texas and had a great time at each one. Our favourite was Jackson Street BBQ just across from the Houston Astros stadium. Chowing down here is one of the many cool things to do in the US.
40. Go hiking in the desert
Enchanted Rock offers a great introduction to hiking in a desert landscape. This huge rock seems to appear out of nowhere and once you get to the top you get some pretty impressive views!
Miles and miles away from anywhere, the artsy town of Marfa was made famous due to celebrity visits. Their visits here put Marfa on the map and many American bucket lists too. There are some fun shops here, lots of art and the mysterious Marfa lights. Just what are they?!
Famous for the best Mexican food, the balloon fiesta, the birth of the nuclear bomb, wine, and Breaking Bad, New Mexico is a great addition to a USA road trip bucket list.
Albuquerque came on my radar thanks to Breaking Bad and when we were driving through New Mexico we just knew we had to stop there. We made our own tour of Breaking Bad film locations and had great fun exploring the city that way.
If you’re in the city in October, you should definitely check out the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta where hundreds of hot air balloons take to the skies.
43. Explore the towns of Santa Fe and El Paso
I loved the town of Santa Fe in New Mexico. The buildings were different from anything we saw during our road trip. We also liked exploring El Paso taking a scenic drive and visiting the Border Police Museum which was actually one of the best museums I’ve visited. It sounds strange but it’s free and has so much interesting information!
44. White Sands National Park
Designated a national park at the end of 2019, White Sands was recommended to us by a man in a Walmart Car Park. We’d never heard of it before but were so glad he told us about it. White Sands is famous for its white gypsum sand which doesn’t get hot under the sun. You can explore the sand dunes and learn about desert life in the visitor centre.
Now that it’s a national park I’m sure it’ll only get busier so add it to your must see places in America and try and go soon!
Colorado is well known for its mountains and forests, if you’re a nature lover you’ll love it here. It’s full of so many fun things to do in the US.
45. Photograph the Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park is famous for the dunes which can rise to a height of 750ft off San Louis Valley floor. It’s in one of the most remote areas of Colorado and is a beautiful place to photograph. If you visit, go 23 miles north to Joyful Journey Hot Spring Spa and relax after hiking the sand dunes.
46. Go skiing in Colorado
Colorado is America’s unofficial winter sports capital and the undisputed number one destination in the US for skiing and snowboarding. In Colorado, you’ll find longer ski seasons and better snow than anywhere else in the US.
There’s something for all ski abilities in Colorado which is home to some of the biggest and most well-known resorts in the world such as; Vail, Aspen, Telluride, and Breckenridge.
If it’s not winter when you visiting, it’s still worth heading up to these resorts for hiking and mountain biking or just taking in the views from a gondola.
Utah is one of the states I would return to in a heartbeat. It’s so beautiful and we only saw the southwestern corner of it! There are loads of National Parks and they’re all so different despite being so close to each other! If you’re an adventure lover then Utah is one must visit in the USA for you.
47. First the Utah Mighty 5 National Parks
Utah’s Might 5 are the following 5 National Parks: Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion and Capitol Reef. All 5 have different landscapes and they’re all beautiful. You can visit Arches and Canyonlands in one day if you’re pressed for time, and the others can be added in within a week road trip in Utah. All these National Parks in Utah as worthy of being must-visit places in the USA.
Check out my guides to these Utah National Parks below:
- Bryce Canyon guide
- Zion National Park guide
- A guide to Canyonlands National Park
- Arches National Park complete visitor guide
48. Go to Salt Lake City
The most populous city in Utah, Salt Lake City is laid back like Seattle but, unlike the Pacific Northwest, it’s sunny! There’s sunshine, mountains, culture and entertainment making it a great city to visit.
The Grand Canyon State! Arizona is famous for this huge canyon and the desert but also for the city of Phoenix and the town of Scottsdale which is great for adventurers. Here are some places you can’t miss in Arizona.
49. The Grand Canyon
One of the must see places in the USA is The Grand Canyon! The South Rim is a less touristy than the west entrance, and the north even less so but it’s harder to get to. Check out my guide to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim to find the best views and hikes!
50. Antelope Canyon
Chances are you’ve seen this place all over Instagram so it’s probably near the top of your “what to see in the USA” list. This magical slot canyon in Arizona is incredible to see. Whilst it’s super busy (you wouldn’t believe the crowds), I still think it’s worth visiting Antelope Canyon.
51. Horseshoe Bend
Close to Antelope Canyon is Horseshoe Bend which is also super busy. Go early to check this out with fewer crowds (but there’ll still be plenty) and gaze in awe at this beautiful spot.
52. Havasu Falls
If you’ve managed to get permits to hike to Havasu Falls, lucky you! This waterfall is almost an unbelievable colour and well worth the hike to get to it. Hiking here is one of the top things to do in the USA for sure! I haven’t been here yet but it’s on my United States bucket list for sure.
Nevada is the gambling and entertainment capital of the United States thanks to the city of Las Vegas. It also produces the most gold in the US and has the richest known silver deposit too.
53. Las Vegas
In some ways the excess you’ll find in Las Vegas is awful, but this strange city won me over. It’s one of those things to see in American that you just can’t miss.
I was expecting to hate it but found myself enjoying our couple of days here and just accepting it for what it is. Las Vegas is expensive but you can still find free things to do in Las Vegas too.
54. Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam is an incredible feat of engineering and one of my top things to do in America if you’re looking for something a bit different between Vegas and California. You can take tours inside the dam which I’d recommend doing to learn about the building process and how it works.
The huge state of California is known for many things. You may hear it referred to as the Land of Milk and Honey, The El Dorado State, The Golden State, and The Grape State. There are more than 17 million gallons of wine each year and there are so many national parks to discover. There are mountains, beaches, forest and desserts and the state is worthy of its own 3-month road trip! Here are some of the highlights.
55. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
The city of San Francisco grew on me and it’s hard not to admire the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge. For fun and free things to do in San Francisco, check out this post, or have a look here for some ideas on where to get the best photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. It will definitely make it to your what to see in America list if it hadn’t already.
56. Redwood National Park
On many peoples’ bucket list places to visit in the US are the redwoods. In northern California, the Redwood National Park is home to some giant trees but they’re pretty far from any major city. If you’re not travelling that far north you can see redwoods throughout the state and at the John Muir memorial not far north of San Francisco too.
However, visiting Redwood National Park is well worth it if you’re heading that way as the trees here are insane!
57. Death Valley
STILL wondering what to do in America? I loved our quick visit to Death Valley National Park. The scenery here is beautiful and the park was so quiet when we visited! One of my favourites recommendations when it comes to places to see in the USA.
58. Mammoth Lakes hot springs
There’s a lot of geothermal activity going on near Mammoth Springs and that means that there are a lot of hot springs to be found in the wild. There are also some areas which are too hot to soak in, but you can visit them and look from the side-lines. I hadn’t heard of this area before we stumbled across it but now it’s one of my best things to see in America.
59. Yosemite National Park
A visit to California isn’t complete without seeing Yosemite National Park. I’d even go as far as to say it’s a must do in America. This is one of the most popular National Parks in the US for a reason as the valley is incredibly beautiful. Make time for a hike or two to get away from the worst of the crowds and truly appreciate the beauty.
60. Big Sur
Driving along HWY1 and Big Sur is absolutely beautiful. I think this drive, along with the Florida Keys, is one of the best things to do in the USA.
The coastline is dramatic, and the colour of the ocean is stunning; without a doubt one of the most beautiful places to see in the United States.
The picturesque state of Oregon is famous for its many microbreweries and outdoor, chilled out west coast lifestyle. There are mountains, volcanoes, beaches and more. Here were two of our highlights
The fun city of Portland is ideal for a couple of days of exploring. There are a great coffee and food scene, the wonderfully large Powell’s Bookstore is somewhere I could spend days, there are great views of Mt Hood and then there are all the independent stores to explore too.
62. The beautiful coastline
Oregon’s Coastline is stunning and one of the best things to do in America. We had the best time driving along it and stopping off to see the natural bridges, beaches such as Cannon Beach and the tide pools and whirlpools too. I highly recommend taking the coastal road over the highway if you’re in the area!
Washington, just over the border from where I live now, is another state in the Pacific Northwest. And, like Oregon, it’s also one of my favourites mostly due to how beautiful the natural scenery is. There’s Mt Baker, the stunning Cascade Mountain Range, the cool city of Seattle and even the small town of Bellingham is great!
63. Mt Rainier
Mt Rainier National Park is home to (you guessed it) Mount Rainier! Mt Rainier was one of my favourite National Parks for the way the light lit up all the mountains. Plus, it was the first time we saw a bear! I have a few guides to Mt Rainier you can read below:
64. The North Cascades National Park
When it comes to what to do in the USA, hiking and getting outside is always top of my list. The North Cascades Mountain Range is where the PCT begins to come to an end (or a start) if you’re beginning from the north. It’s just a few hours away from Seattle and is also home to Mt Baker ski resort and wilderness area. There are vibrant blue lakes, SO many mountain peaks and plenty of wildlife.
Besides Vancouver, Seattle is one of my favourite cities. It’s a must for an American road trip as so many things started here. It’s the home of Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks started here. There’s the awesome Pike Place Market, the gruesome gum wall, and so many cool places to explore in this city.
What would you add to a ‘must see USA’ list?