12 best places to visit in the USA: From East to West | Finder

12 best places to visit in the USA

Discover why the USA is home to some of the best cities in the world and see how they’ll impress you.

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The US is a country that spans from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans, is made up of more cultures than you can count and is home to many of the world’s most famous cities.

Los Angeles is where stars are found; New York City is where Broadway was born; Seattle is where startups begin; and Las Vegas is where entertainment pushes its boundaries.

There are many cities and national parks to visit – so many that we could go on forever with this list. But we have narrowed it down to help you discover the must-visit cities for their culture, food, liveliness, atmosphere and more.

Plus, we share a few national parks with nature so incredible you won’t want to leave.

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Best places to visit in the USA

1. New York City

New York City plays the role of the capital of the world with a new country or culture represented in each neighbourhood. It’s this diverse mix among the world-famous skyscrapers that make this city one of the top places to visit in the world. A culinary capital, a fashion trendsetter, a highlight of the art world and a night owl’s paradise, the Big Apple is entertainment, culture and history combined to create one of the world’s greatest cities.

  • Best for: Shopping, art, food, drinks, nightlife and architecture
  • Where is it? New York City is in the north-eastern US. There are no direct flight options available from Australia and the shortest flights include one stopover though cities such as Los Angeles and Dallas. Internally, a flight from Los Angeles takes five hours, and from Miami, it takes three hours. A flight from Chicago is two hours, and from Seattle, it’s five hours.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: See the Statue of Liberty, watch a show on Broadway, explore Brooklyn, stroll through Central Park and visit Times Square.
  • How long do I need? 4-7 days.
  • Recommended tour: See New York in a day on a guided sightseeing tour where you’ll have photo ops and learn the history of the people on Ellis Island, see the NYC skyline, the 9/11 Memorial and take a harbour cruise.

2. Los Angeles

Los Angeles (LA) is where dreamers go to experience riding through streets lined with palm trees and gazing at the stars in the night sky while walking the streets. It might be a major city, but it’s closely tied to Mother Nature, which is just kilometres from the city centre.

The Hollywood sign looms over a city that’s packed with entertainment related to show business. Architecture from around the world only adds to LA’s already cool streets and the culinary scene is one of the best in the country, if not the world. In a nutshell, LA is New York City’s cooler and more laid-back cousin.

  • Best for: Shopping, beaches, nature, entertainment.
  • Where is it? Los Angeles sits on California’s coast in the south-eastern US. Flights depart daily from Australia with direct options from Sydney taking under 14 hours. Internally, a flight from New York City is 5 hours, and from Miami, it’s 5.5 hours. A flight from Seattle takes 2 hours and 40 minutes, and from San Francisco, it takes 1.5 hours. A bus from Las Vegas is 5.5 hours, and from San Francisco, a bus takes 8.5 hours.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Stop by Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier, cruise down Rodeo Drive, take a studio tour, see the Hollywood Walk of Fame and see the sights from Griffith Observatory and Griffith Park.
  • How long do I need? 3-6 days.
  • Recommended tour: A six-hour Los Angeles city tour will take you to star-studded neighbourhoods, the Hollywood sign, the top beaches and more.

3. Las Vegas

Las Vegas is an entertainment hub in the middle of the desert. It’s a strange yet appealing city that pulls in visitors from around the globe who want to experience the glitz and glam that you can only find in Las Vegas.

This busy city dazzles people with its shining lights, luxury hotels and replicas of world-famous icons along the Strip. It’s where people go to gamble and dance the night away and to be entertained by numerous singers as well as by DJs and Cirque du Soleil. It’s also a place to experience eating in restaurants run by celebrity chefs.

  • Best for: Nightlife, casinos, shows, food and drinks.
  • Where is it? Just inland of California, Las Vegas is in the south-western US in the desert state of Nevada. Indirect flights from Australia depart daily and can take as little as 17 hours. A flight from New York City is 5 hours, and from Miami, it is also 5 hours. A flight from Los Angeles takes 1 hour. A bus from Los Angeles is 5.5 hours.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: See a show, visit Caesars Palace and the Forums, watch the fountain show at the Bellagio, experience the nightlife and explore the hotels along the Strip.
  • How long do I need? 3-4 days.
  • Recommended tour: Experience Las Vegas at night on a Big Bus Tour as you get a tour of the Strip, learn about the top Las Vegas attractions and enjoy the Fremont Experience in downtown Las Vegas.

4. Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a sight that cannot be missed. It’s hard to describe the sheer size and spectacular views from the height of the canyon from pictures or through words, so it’s bound to impress you once you visit this national park.

The Colorado River runs through the canyon and has been carving its way through the canyon for the past one billion years. Explore this great site and find incredible rock formations, geological sites and stunning waterfalls.

  • Best for: Scenic sites, hiking, white-water rafting.
  • Where is it? The Grand Canyon is in northern Arizona in the south-western US and is inland from California. It is typically visited on a day trip from Las Vegas. Driving from Las Vegas takes four hours. Alternatively, Phoenix, which has the closest major airport to the Grand Canyon, is also a four-hour drive. The closest airport is in Flagstaff which is an 80-minute drive away. A train also serves the Grand Canyon South Rim from Williams, Arizona.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Walk the South Rim trail, take a scenic helicopter flight, see Havasu Falls, go river rafting and check out the Grand Canyon Village.
  • How long do I need? 1-3 days.
  • Recommended tour: Explore the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas with a stop at Hoover Dam before walking along the South Rim to scenic spots such as Mather Point and watching the sunset over the south-western desert.

5. San Francisco

San Francisco is a hilly city with one of the most iconic images of the USA: the Golden Gate Bridge. This city refuses to be overshadowed by its large neighbour, Los Angeles. Its stylish Victorian homes line the streets and it’s where all foodies should go since the city has the most restaurants and farmers’ markets per capita than anywhere else in North America.

Fog may roll in at any time, but it never affects the whole city. San Francisco loves the new and embraces everything with good grace, making this city a highlight for all types of travellers.

  • Best for: Foodies, history, nature, iconic sites.
  • Where is it? San Francisco is along California’s west-central coast in the south-western US. Non-stop flights operate out of Australia on United and Qantas and can get you there under 14 hours from Sydney. Internally, it’s a 75-minute flight from Los Angeles, a 6-hour flight from New York City, a 90-minute flight from Las Vegas and a 2-hour flight from Seattle.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: See the Golden Gate Bridge, check out Fisherman’s Wharf, visit Alcatraz, ride a cable car and explore the Mission District.
  • How long do I need? 4-7 days.
  • Recommended tour: Do a San Francisco city tour with a visit to Alcatrazwhere you’ll get to see the city’s top sites, pass through the best neighbourhoods and have a local explain the cultural and historical landmarks.

6. Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is an unspoiled paradise of natural wonders in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The park may have four million visitors a year, but it’s still somewhere for explorers to wander into the mountains, hikers to marvel at the forested trails and nature lovers to find waterfalls without major crowds.

All it takes is a look up to see the splendour of the country’s third oldest national park while hiking the towering mountains to be impressed.

  • Best for: Scenic sites, hiking, climbing.
  • Where is it? Yosemite National Park is along California’s central/north eastern state border. Driving from Los Angeles takes 4 hours and 45 minutes, and driving from San Francisco takes 3.5 hours. Yosemite International Airport is the closest airport, which is a 75-minute drive from the southern park entrance. Train and bus combinations are also available from San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and other Californian cities.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Take in the views of Yosemite Valley, check out Glacier Point, hike Half Dome, see the giant trees in Mariposa Grove and see Tunnel View Outlook.
  • How long do I need? 2-5 days.
  • Recommended tour: If you only have one day to explore Yosemite, take a full-day excursion from San Francisco to see the park’s most scenic sites such as the continent’s five highest waterfalls, Half Dome, El Capitan and more.

7. Miami

People are drawn from all over the world to Miami’s shores to experience the electric city. Its white sand beaches with crystal blue waters are just one of the city’s highlights though, the art deco styled buildings and the eccentric nightlife are two more. Colourful 1930’s architecture decorates the streets and sleek lounges, rooftop bars and clubs set the city dazzling at night.

Between shopping, the beaches and drinking, you’ll have to make room for the food which mixes cuisine from around the globe.

  • Best for: Beaches, shopping, nightlife.
  • Where is it? Miami is in south Florida along the states east coast in the south-eastern US. It’s a three-hour flight from New York City and a two-hour flight from New Orleans. It takes more than five hours to fly from Los Angeles or Las Vegas.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Chill out in South Beach, take an art deco tour, explore Little Havana, experience the nightlife and see and shop down Ocean Drive.
  • How long do I need? 2-5 days.
  • Recommended tour: Experience this city first-hand on a Miami city tour which takes you to Little Havana, the city’s best beaches and more in a three-hour tour.

8. Honolulu

Honolulu is the gateway to the Hawaiian Islands and offers an extremely different taste to the rest of the country’s states. Honolulu welcomes you to the Polynesian-influenced islands where crescent white sand beaches are backed by swaying palm trees and high-rise hotels.

The neighbourhood of Waikiki is where food, shopping and entertainment can be found but take a step outside the tourist hot spots and you’ll find the authentic side of Hawaii where culture differs and unique tastes that never reached the mainland can be found.

  • Best for: Beaches, history, relax holiday lovers.
  • Where is it? Honolulu is on Oahu Island, which is off the western shores of Mexico. From Australia, you can fly direct to the island with local carriers such as Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia. International carriers that can take you there direct include Hawaiian Airlines. Flight time is around 10 hours from Australia’s east coast.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Relax on the beaches, hike to Diamond Head, explore Waikiki, visit the USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbour) and try the local cuisine.
  • How long do I need? 5-10 days.
  • Recommended tour: Experience a customised private tour, so you can explore Honolulu like a local. Meet locals, have the best spots pointed out to you and have a local show you more than just the top sites of the city.

9. New Orleans

New Orleans is much more than Mardi Gras, the event that has become known around the world. Visit outside of this festival period and you’ll still get to explore the vibrant culture of the city that is a melting pot of African, American and French cultures and cuisine.

Experience the round-the-clock nightlife, see how much music influences this city as a way of life and watch the history as you walk through the streets.

  • Best for: Culture, food, nightlife, music.
  • Where is it? New Orleans is along the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana in the south-central US. A flight from New York City takes 3 hours, and a flight from Miami takes 2 hours. A flight from Las Vegas will take 3.5 hours and one from Los Angeles will take 4 hours. Trains and buses connect New Orleans to other destinations around the country.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Explore the French Quarter, see Mardi Gras World, join a swamp boat tour, try the unique food and listen to live music.
  • How long do I need? 2-7 days.
  • Recommended tour: Take a New Orleans bike tour and discover the city with a local guide who will take you to the top neighbourhoods, gardens, a cemetery and more.

10. Yellowstone

Yellowstone is a site to behold with land that is spread across a volcanic hot spot. This national park teems with wildlife, geysers (home to 60% of the world’s geysers), natural hot springs, rivers and forests.

Hundreds of animals roam through the lands across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, including wolves, bears and bison. The intense colours of the geysers mixed with the abundant wildlife make this national park a place that is just begging to be explored.

  • Best for: Wildlife, nature, hiking.
  • Where is it? Yellowstone National Park is primarily in the state of Wyoming in the north-western US and is inland of Oregon and Idaho. The closest airport to the park is Yellowstone Airport which is a 3.5 hour flight from Seattle, 3.5 hours from Los Angeles and 9 hours from New York City. Buses bring visitors to close-by towns, but it is best to drive.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Visit Old Faithful, see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, stop by Grand Prismatic Spring, spot wildlife in Hayden Valley and visit the Mammoth Hot Springs.
  • How long do I need? 3-5 days.
  • Recommended tour: A Yellowstone National Park full-day guided tour will take you to the park’s highlights to see wildlife, the Grand Canyon Falls, Old Faithful and more.

11. Seattle

Seattle is a city that pushes its limits and demands everything local.

When it comes to technology or cuisine, it accepts anything and this is made apparent from the number of micro-businesses, ranging from breweries to cafes, that pop up all over the city.

To truly get a feel for this city, one must explore the unique range of neighbourhoods. Seattle, though a tech city, is lucky to have plenty of parkland within the CBD as well as forests, mountains and rivers just outside the city.

  • Best for: Foodies, nature, art.
  • Where is it? Seattle is in the state of Washington, the most north-western state of the US. Seattle is a 6-hour flight from New York City. A flight from Los Angeles takes 2 hours and 40 minutes, and one from Miami takes 6.5 hours.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Visit the Pike Place Market, see the art of Chihuly Garden and Glass, learn about history in Pioneer Square, see new views in the Space Needle, explore nature and visit Mt. Rainier.
  • How long do I need? 2-3 days.
  • Recommended tour: See Seattle in one day on a tour of attractions such as Pioneer Square, Space Needle, Pike Place Market and more.

12. Chicago

Chicago has more to offer than meets the eye with its towering skyscrapers and big-city appeal. This “Windy City” is full of street art and museums and in the summer becomes packed with festivals, particularly music festivals.

If you ever need a break from gazing at the abundance of unique architecture, hop into a restaurant to try some Chicago deep dish pizza or watch a sports game as it’s basically a rite of passage in Chicago.

  • Best for: Architecture, art, food, sports.
  • Where is it? Chicago is along the south-western shores of Lake Michigan in the state of Illinois in north-central USA. A flight from New York City takes over two hours, and a flight from Los Angeles takes four hours. A flight from Miami takes more than three hours.
  • Top 5 things to see/do: Take a Chicago River Architecture Cruise, visit Millennium Park, check out the Art Institute of Chicago, stop by Wrigley Field and see the views from the Skydeck.
  • How long do I need? 3-5 days.
  • Recommended tour: The Welcome to Chicago tour will have a local show you the best sites and show you around the top neighbourhoods.

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