30 Top Tourist Attractions in the USA

See which American landmarks are worthy of your bucket list.

By Lyn Mettler, ContributorMay 28, 2019
By Lyn Mettler, ContributorMay 28, 2019, at 9:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

30 Top Tourist Attractions in the USA

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USA landmarks

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From national parks to iconic symbols of freedom and democracy, these popular and highly regarded U.S. attractions cannot be missed.

America is a patchwork quilt of many different landscapes, cultures and sights that have been around since ancient times or the country's founding. The U.S. is also filled with superb hiking areas, action-packed cities, thrilling theme parks and more. To help you decide which domestic destinations you should visit, U.S. News created a list of the top things to see and do in the U.S. Read on to learn more about America's greatest attractions.
USA landmarks

(Getty Images)

Statue of Liberty: New York

It's hard to imagine a better symbol of America than the Statue of Liberty. While there are plenty of ways to see the famous lady, a ride on the free Staten Island Ferry is the cheapest. This New York City sightseeing option does not stop at the attraction, though; if you want to go inside, you will need to pay $12 to $21.50 (depending on age) for a Crown Reserve Ticket from Statue Cruises. The ticket includes a cruise to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, as well as crown access. There's also the Pedestal Reserve Ticket option, which only covers entry to the pedestal area and the Statue of Liberty Museum in its $9 to $18.50 per person fee. Buy your tickets in advance, especially during the busy summer months.

From national parks to iconic symbols of freedom and democracy, these popular and highly regarded U.S. attractions cannot be missed.

America is a patchwork quilt of many different landscapes, cultures and sights that have been around since ancient times or the country's founding. The U.S. is also filled with superb hiking areas, action-packed cities, thrilling theme parks and more. To help you decide which domestic destinations you should visit, U.S. News created a list of the top things to see and do in the U.S. Read on to learn more about America's greatest attractions.

Statue of Liberty: New York

It's hard to imagine a better symbol of America than the Statue of Liberty. While there are plenty of ways to see the famous lady, a ride on the free Staten Island Ferry is the cheapest. This New York City sightseeing option does not stop at the attraction, though; if you want to go inside, you will need to pay $12 to $21.50 (depending on age) for a Crown Reserve Ticket from Statue Cruises. The ticket includes a cruise to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, as well as crown access. There's also the Pedestal Reserve Ticket option, which only covers entry to the pedestal area and the Statue of Liberty Museum in its $9 to $18.50 per person fee. Buy your tickets in advance, especially during the busy summer months.

Grand Canyon National Park: Arizona

One of America's greatest natural wonders is the Grand Canyon, a massive canyon carved by the Colorado River millions of years ago. Some of the park's most popular activities include hiking the Rim Trail, taking a mule trip to the bottom of the canyon and whitewater rafting on the Colorado River. The best time of year to visit is in the spring or fall. Both seasons offer milder weather and thinner crowds than summer while avoiding winter's snowy conditions. To enter the park, expect to pay $35 per vehicle or $20 per person if arriving by bike, on foot or via one of several free shuttle buses. Keep in mind, some shuttles only operate during select months.

Walt Disney World Resort: Orlando, Florida

If you're a kid at heart, chances are you'll love visiting Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. This treasured destination, which opened its doors in 1971, welcomes millions of visitors every year. The nearly 25,600-acre property features four theme parks, two water parks, 30-plus resorts and the Disney Springs entertainment area. Magic Kingdom is home to classic rides like Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion, while Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom host an array of popular festivals and offer sections modeled after Disney movies like "Toy Story" and "Avatar." Although Walt Disney World is busy year-round, you'll likely find milder weather and fewer tourists if you arrive in the spring or fall, when school is in session. One-day tickets start at $109 for visitors ages 10 and older.

Zion National Park: Utah

For a truly otherworldly landscape, head to breathtaking Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. This national park is filled with red rocks, canyons, waterfalls and hanging gardens, many of which can be viewed while hiking, canyoneering or horseback riding. Some of the protected area's most popular hikes include the Angels Landing trail (with sheer drop-offs on either side and chains for hikers to cling to) and the Narrows (which involves trekking through a river inside a slot canyon). The park is busiest from March through October, so consider arriving early or using the free shuttle to avoid long lines at the entrance. Admission costs $35 per vehicle or $20 per person entering on foot or via bike.

Space Needle: Seattle

When you think of Seattle, chances are the Space Needle immediately comes to mind. Designed for the 1962 World's Fair (which featured a space theme), the futuristic structure was renovated in 2018 to include the Skyrisers experience (where travelers' feet dangle as they lean over the city) and the world's only rotating glass floor. Less adventurous visitors who want to enjoy panoramic views of the city, Puget Sound and Mount Rainier can take in their surroundings through floor-to-ceiling windows. The 605-foot-tall Space Needle is open every day, and tickets start at $32.50 for adults and $24.50 for children. Exact fees vary depending on the season.

Hollywood Sign: Los Angeles

An icon of America's golden age of movies, Los Angeles' Hollywood Sign is one of the first things you see when flying into the city. Built in 1923, the 45-foot-tall sign was originally spelled "Hollywoodland" to promote a housing development by the same name. In 1949, the LA fixture dropped its last four letters to spell "Hollywood" instead. For incredible views of the sign, hike the West Trail in Griffith Park to its gates or sign up for a horseback riding excursion from Sunset Ranch Hollywood. Other places with phenomenal Hollywood Sign vistas include the Hollywood Bowl Overlook on Mulholland Drive and the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

Las Vegas Strip: Las Vegas

Famous for its plentiful casinos, luxe resorts and superb live entertainment (think: magic shows and Cirque du Soleil performances), this portion of Las Vegas Boulevard brings visitors from around the world looking for fun. Some of the Las Vegas Strip's most popular activities include admiring the Fountains of Bellagio, enjoying a gondola ride on The Venetian Resort Las Vegas' canals, watching the volcano erupt at The Mirage and riding The Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The Strip is also where you'll find the bulk of Las Vegas' can't-miss restaurants, as well as The Shops at Crystals and The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. To avoid uncomfortable daytime temperatures in the 100s, skip a summer trip.

Times Square: New York

Few spots embody the bright lights and hustle and bustle of the Big Apple like Times Square. Times Square is a spectacle thanks to its gigantic illuminated billboards, constant stream of people, plethora of hotels and abundant shops. Portions of this Broadway, West 45th Street and Seventh Avenue intersection are pedestrian-only, so you can enjoy people-watching from tables and chairs. If you want to catch a Broadway show, head to the TKTS booth to score discounted theater tickets. Times Square is also the spot to go to watch the ball drop every New Year's Eve. While the attraction always seems to be busy, summer tends to be especially crowded (and hot). Plan on visiting in the fall, winter or spring when kids are back in school.

Yellowstone National Park: Idaho, Montana and Wyoming

Spread across three states, Yellowstone National Park features more than 2 million acres filled with wildlife and jaw-dropping natural wonders like Old Faithful, Lower Falls and Yellowstone Lake. The park is open year-round and offers different experiences during each season. You'll find the most tourists in the summer, while winter offers more elbow room at attractions because most roads are closed. For in-park accommodations, you'll have your pick of up to nine properties (options vary depending on the season). There are also multiple campsites available. Consider navigating Yellowstone in a recreational vehicle (which you can rent through a company like RVshare), as this allows you to explore before and after the crowds arrive and depart for the day.

Everglades National Park: Florida

In addition to being a national park, the Everglades is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. Within the River of Grass, you'll find the largest stand of old-growth cypress trees on Earth, plus alligators, black bears and ghost orchids. A great way to see this South Florida attraction is to take the 15-mile Shark Valley Scenic Loop tram tour or an airboat tour. You'll also want to save time for visits to Chokoloskee Island, Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe and Hell's Bay. The park is open daily, but keep in mind that the weather is humid and hot (average highs sit in the 90s) during the wet summer season. Entry costs $30 for vehicles or $15 for pedestrians and cyclists.

Pikes Peak: Colorado

Nicknamed America's Mountain, Pikes Peak inspired author Katharine Lee Bates to write "America the Beautiful." Those who want to reach the top of this 14,000-foot-tall mountain, which sits about 30 miles west of Colorado Springs, can do so by hiking, biking or driving on Pikes Peak Highway. During the 19-mile journey to the summit, you'll enjoy fantastic views of lakes, mountains and local wildlife. Once you've arrived, head into the Pikes Peak Summit House to sample some of its world-famous doughnuts made with special high-altitude ingredients. Access to the highway costs $15 per adult and $5 per child or $50 per car. Although the area generally experiences mild weather throughout the year, the summit's temperature is typically 30 to 40 degrees cooler than Colorado Springs, so dress accordingly.

Chicago River: Chicago

To see Chicago's world-renowned architecture and many of its must-see attractions – from The Magnificent Mile to Lake Michigan to the Willis Tower – in a short amount of time, consider exploring the Chicago River. The Chicago Riverwalk is a picturesque spot to enjoy a leisurely stroll, while the riverfront Chicago Architecture Center is the place to go to check out skyscraper models before signing up for a Chicago architecture river cruise. You can also get out on the river by climbing aboard a Chicago Water Taxi or renting a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from companies like Kayak Chicago. Spring and fall are great times to visit Chicago, as the weather is pleasant and crowds are thinner than what you'll find in the peak summer season.

River Walk: San Antonio

One of the most popular tourist attractions in San Antonio is the River Walk. Also called Paseo del Rio, this 15-mile waterway is the largest urban ecosystem in the U.S. You can choose to explore the River Walk, which features various shops and restaurants, on foot or by river barge. The free attraction also offers easy access to other top sites, such as the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Because San Antonio offers comfortable temperatures (averages throughout the seasons hover between the high 30s and mid-70s) and more than 250 days of sunshine annually, you're nearly guaranteed superb weather when you visit.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial: Keystone, South Dakota

Pay tribute to some of America's greatest presidents at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Badlands of South Dakota. This impressive granite landmark features the 60-foot-tall faces of former presidents George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. Hikers won't want to miss the Presidential and Blackberry trails. Meanwhile, families will likely enjoy participating in the memorial's Junior Ranger programs and ranger-led walks. Another popular activity is Mount Rushmore's lighting ceremony, an evening summer event that includes an illumination of the presidents' faces and a ranger talk. To access the memorial, a $10 per vehicle fee applies. For a decreased chance of rain and fog, avoid visiting in May or June.

French Quarter: New Orleans

A visit to New Orleans wouldn't be complete without a stop in the French Quarter. Home to world-famous Bourbon Street, the French Quarter – which was founded in 1718 – is one of the Big Easy's most historic neighborhoods. Local must-dos include savoring a beignet at Cafe du Monde, sampling one of the city's signature hurricane drinks at Pat O'Brien's and enjoying authentic Creole cuisine at Brennan's. The French Quarter also features key attractions like St. Louis Cathedral (the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic cathedral in the U.S.) and Jackson Square (a National Historic Landmark named for its bronze statue of Andrew Jackson). Since New Orleans can get hot and muggy during the summer months, consider visiting in December or January when average highs sit in the 60s.

Golden Gate Bridge: San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge, which has connected San Francisco to Marin County since 1937, is one of the country's most recognized landmarks. It took four years to build this nearly 2-mile-long bridge. While it may look red to the eye, the bridge is painted international orange so it's visible through San Francisco's characteristic fog. The structure has been featured in numerous films, including "X-Men: The Last Stand," the 1978 adaptation of "Superman" and "The Maltese Falcon." To see Golden Gate, you can drive from one end to the other (though there is a southbound toll, starting at $7), join a free walking tour or bike across it. The bridge is especially busy in the summer, so you may want to visit during a shoulder season like fall or spring.

Washington Monument: District of Columbia

Few U.S. structures are as well-known as the Washington Monument. Built in 1884 to honor former president George Washington, this landmark stands more than 555 feet above Washington, D.C.'s National Mall, where you'll find other iconic attractions like the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol. The Washington Monument is the world's tallest stone structure and obelisk. Though access to the top of the monument is unavailable while repairs are made to the structure's elevators, you can admire it for free from the ground. Spring is a wonderful (albeit crowded) time to visit thanks to the National Mall's cherry blossoms. Still, fall offers comparable weather without as many tourists.

Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls, New York

Enjoy one of America's great natural wonders at Niagara Falls State Park and Niagara Falls National Heritage Area in New York state. The best way to see 12,000-year-old Niagara Falls is from a helicopter or Maid of the Mist boat tour. For a different perspective, stay until dark (when the attraction is illuminated) or walk across the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side. Though there are hordes of tourists in the summer, the season's lack of attraction closures and pleasant temperatures in the 70s and 80s make it the ideal time to visit. Niagara is free to check out, but those who purchase a Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass for $35 or $46 (depending on age) can also access area sights like the Cave of the Winds.

Mall of America: Bloomington, Minnesota

Treat yourself to some retail therapy at the largest shopping and entertainment destination in the U.S. Located 10 miles south of downtown Minneapolis, Mall of America features more than 500 shops, 60 restaurants, a miniature golf course and an aquarium, among other amenities. There's also ride-filled Nickelodeon Universe, the largest indoor theme park in the country. After a busy day of shopping or riding roller coasters, unwind at the Radisson Blu Mall of America or the JW Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America. Both hotels are directly connected to the mall for easy access. Like many malls, holidays and weekends are generally when crowds are at their thickest, so consider visiting during the week.

Gateway Arch: St. Louis

Designed and built by architect Eero Saarinen in 1965, the midcentury modern Gateway Arch sits in the Gateway Arch National Park between St. Louis' Old Courthouse and the Mississippi River. Measuring 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide, the stainless steel structure is the tallest man-made monument in the U.S. It stands as a symbol of America's westward expansion. Travelers can take a four-minute tram ride to the top for expansive city and river vistas, but past visitors recommended heading to the arch before noon to avoid crowds. Tram rides start at $12 for adults and $8 for children, with exact fees varying depending on the day and time of year.

Empire State Building: New York

A fixture of the Big Apple skyline, the Empire State Building is a must-see attraction in New York City. Completed in 1930, the skyscraper stands 1,454 feet tall and offers a view of five states (on a clear day) from the top. There are two observation decks: the open-air Main Deck on the 86th floor, which has appeared in many movies, and the Top Deck on the 102nd floor. Consider visiting at night – both observation decks are open daily until 2 a.m. – for sweeping panoramas of the illuminated city. If you'd rather avoid crowds, arrive between 8 and 11 a.m. Standard Main Deck tickets cost $36 for adults and $31 for children.

Road to Hana: Hana, Maui, Hawaii

For an overview of Maui's beauty, drive from Kahului to Hana on the 52-mile Road to Hana. The journey – which typically takes between two and four hours to complete – offers fantastic views of scenic rainforests, waterfalls and plunge pools as you travel around 620 curves and across nearly 60 bridges. If you're in search of even more jaw-dropping panoramas, venture about 10 miles southwest of Hana to Haleakala National Park. Hana itself is a charming town with a black sand beach, a tropical botanical garden and the state's largest Hawaiian temple. Maui's consistently mild climate draws visitors year-round, though fall's thinner crowds make it a terrific time to drive the Road to Hana.

Fort Sumter National Monument: Charleston, South Carolina

See where the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter National Monument in historic Charleston. Shot on April 12, 1861, the fort was occupied by the Confederate States Army for nearly four years during the Siege of Charleston. To get an up-close look at Fort Sumter, you'll need to pay for an excursion with Fort Sumter Tours. Each round-trip boat tour costs $15 to $23 per person (depending on age) and lasts about two hours and 15 minutes. The experience includes time to explore the fort on foot, plus a harbor cruise past the Battery and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Summertime is often hot and muggy here, so consider a spring or fall visit.

The Alamo: San Antonio

Originally founded as a mission in 1718, the Alamo is a symbol of Texas independence and freedom. The historic site is best known for its role in the Texas Revolution, where approximately 200 soldiers defended the property for 13 days against Mexican Gen. Santa Anna and his 2,500-person troop. Many Texas soldiers, including James Bowie and David Crockett, died during the battle. Today, visitors can check out the site before or after exploring other must-see attractions like the River Walk and the Spanish Governor's Palace. Both sit within walking distance of the Alamo in downtown San Antonio. There is no fee to visit the property, but guided tours are available for $10 to $15 per person.

Wright Brothers National Memorial: Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Learn more about the origins of flight at this memorial to Wilbur and Orville Wright, who famously achieved flight here in 1903. At the Wright Brothers National Memorial in the Outer Banks, you can see a full-scale replica of the Wright Flyer and camp buildings similar to those used by the brothers to work on their airplane. The brothers lived in Dayton, Ohio, but conducted many of their flying experiments on North Carolina's beaches due to their privacy, reliable winds and wide-open spaces. Tickets to the memorial cost $10 per adult, while kids ages 15 and younger get in for free. Plan a spring or fall visit to avoid encountering hordes of tourists and paying extra for accommodations during the Outer Banks' peak summer season.

White House: District of Columbia

Built in 1800, the home of America's commander in chief is a top U.S. attraction. While you can walk by the White House at any time, it's also possible to take a free tour of select rooms, including the State Dining Room, the China Room and the East Wing's Blue, Red and Green rooms. You'll need to contact your representative in Congress at least 21 days before your visit to make the request. Keep in mind, spaces are limited and fill up quickly – especially during the summer – so it's best to submit a tour request as soon as possible. If you're unable to secure a spot on a tour, you can still enjoy photo-worthy views of the White House from the surrounding 82-acre President's Park.

Yosemite National Park: California

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Yosemite National Park boasts nearly 768,000 acres of land filled with massive granite cliffs, beautiful waterfalls and towering sequoia trees. Key spots to visit in California's most popular national park include El Capitan (a sheer granite rock that measures about 3,600 feet tall), Yosemite Falls (North America's tallest waterfall) and Tuolumne Meadows (a hiker's paradise with alpine lakes, a river and mountain peaks). Yosemite is beautiful year-round, though crowds are at their thickest during the warmer months. To avoid congested parking lots, use the park's free shuttle service. Admissions cost $35 per vehicle and $20 for every person entering on foot or by bike.

Liberty Bell: Philadelphia

Located just north of Independence Hall inside the Liberty Bell Center, the Liberty Bell is a universal symbol of American democracy and freedom. In addition to seeing the 2,080-pound bell's famous crack, visitors can view this Philadelphia relic's world-renowned inscription, "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof." Also available in the Liberty Bell Center are X-rays that reveal the interior of the bell, as well as exhibits that explain how the bell was used to help end slavery and support women's suffrage and the civil rights movement. There is no fee to see the bell, but travelers will want to arrive early to avoid long wait times on warmer days.

Central Park: New York

A natural escape within action-packed New York City, Central Park holds the distinction of being the first public park built in America. The sprawling 843-acre park features all sorts of landmarks and attractions, including lakes, hiking trails, museums, music venues and a castle. Time your visit for the warmer months to go paddleboating, catch a concert at SummerStage, see the "Imagine" mosaic honoring musician John Lennon and attend a production at Delacorte Theater. If you're a fan of the movie "Stuart Little," be sure to rent model sailboats from Sail the Park to race at Conservatory Water. Boat rentals cost $11 per vessel, but the park itself is free to enjoy 24 hours a day.

South Beach: Miami Beach, Florida

Chic South Beach is a popular place to party and soak up some sun. This Miami Beach hot spot offers a cool vibe thanks to its proximity to stunning art deco buildings housing art galleries, retail boutiques and eateries. When you need a break from sunbathing, people-watching and admiring your surroundings, head to Lummus Park to play volleyball, go rollerblading or ride bikes. Then, check out the area's vibrant nightlife scene. Visiting in the winter is a great way to enjoy some warmth and relief from cooler climes without sharing South Beach's picturesque sand with families, who typically visit in the summer when kids are out of school.
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Lyn Mettler, Contributor

Lyn Mettler is the hotels contributor to U.S. News and also writes about destinations, ...  Read more


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