50 U.S. Attractions to Cross Off Your Bucket List

Your road map to hidden gems, cherished natural wonders and iconic monuments across America.

By Liz Weiss, Staff Writer |Sept. 8, 2017, at 1:43 p.m.

50 U.S. Attractions to Cross Off Your Bucket List

Slideshow

Tick off these life-changing places and landmarks.

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It's time to pack your bags and discover beautiful and awe-inspiring places across the country. From lesser-known national parks with alpine lakes or desert scenery to postcard-worthy natural wonders such as Carmel-by-the-Sea's craggy seaside cliffs and Sedona's crimson rock formations, America's landscapes are nothing if not enchanting. And the beauty of America is its vast diversity – from small mountain towns rich with captivating natural wonders to urban metropolises with world-renowned museums, monuments and cultural scenes. Here are 50 one-of-a-kind attractions to satisfy your wanderlust.

The French Quarter: New Orleans

The French Quarter: New Orleans

Potted plants in balcony of building at French Quarter, New Orleans

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With its infusion of cultural influences, rich heritage and iconic Jazz venues, New Orleans' French Quarter is a must for any worldly traveler. You can admire subtle French details, including lovely courtyard gardens and iron balcony fixtures, along with world-renowned landmarks, such as the Cabildo and William Faulkner House. Plus, you can join the fray on Bourbon Street, or for a more upscale experience, savor a cocktail at Carousel Bar & Lounge in the Hotel Monteleone, a famous 25-seat bar that's hosted Ernest Hemingway and Faulkner, among other literary luminaries. Another must-do: Watching jazz legends perform at much-loved venues, including Preservation Hall and the Spotted Cat Music Club, located nearby in the hip Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.

Tahoe Rim Trail: Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Tahoe Rim Trail: Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

A man mountain bikes beneath the moon on the Tahoe Rim Trail in California.

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Navigating the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail isn't for the faint of heart, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime bike ride, says Alex Howard, managing editor of travel publisher Lonely Planet. It's a painful trek up the challenging ridges of the Lake Tahoe Basin, but visitors are granted sweeping vistas of the area's dramatic cliffs and emerald waters, not to mention the imposing Sierra Nevada in the backdrop. A personal favorite mountain biking experience for Howard, the rim trail is a must-do for globetrotters in search of spellbinding scenery. Don't forget to stop and look at the sublime high-altitude Nevada desert views facing east and the lake to the west. Not into mountain biking? Embrace the alpine scenery on a hike or horseback ride.

Pike Place Market, Seattle

Pike Place Market, Seattle

Neon Public Market sign at sunset

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The iconic neon sign and lively, jampacked stalls brimming with fresh fish, produce and colorful flowers are just a few key recognizable characteristics of this well-known market. Discerning foodies and avid globetrotters flock here to check out the area's coffee institutions (including the first Starbucks location), unique bakeries and butchery shops and Emerald City gems – from vinyl records to local crafts, ranging from kitchenware to pottery to jewelry. After perusing the stands, grab picnic supplies from Beecher's Handmade Cheese or Le Panier patisserie for a meal along the downtown waterfront with views of Puget Sound, or for a more leisurely affair check out Café Campagne, a French bistro. You can also opt for a food-themed tour, if you'd rather make your way around the market with a pro.

Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney World, Buena Vista, Florida

Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney World, Buena Vista, Florida

English-Irish boy band The Wanted performs 'Santa Claus is Coming To Town' while taping the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade TV special December 6, 2013 at the Magic Kingdom park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida

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Dazzling fireworks shows. Character meet-and-greets. Whizzing around on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Climbing into the Swiss Family Treehouse. Magic Kingdom is the place for embracing Disney's pixie-dusted charms. When you're not spinning around classic rides, you can check out elaborate parades, book a memorable meal at Cinderella's Royal Table or even snap photos with beloved characters like Ariel and Tinker Bell at top sights throughout the park. Best of all, with your FastPasses (or FastPass+ if you're staying at a Walt Disney World-affiliated hotel), you can reduce your wait times at top Magic Kingdom attractions.

Badlands National Park: South Dakota

Badlands National Park: South Dakota

The morning glowing light over the Badlands in South Dakota.

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With ochre-tinted buttes, graceful spires and fossil-rich landscapes, Badlands National Park, in southwest South Dakota, entrances visitors with its ethereal vistas. "Everyone heads to Yellowstone or Kauai, [Hawaii], but the Dakota Badlands inspire in their own way," says Amy Alipio, senior editor at National Geographic Traveler. "Whether at Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, or Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in North Dakota, these places capture the wide open spaces America is known for, enlivened by geologic formations that can be as colorfully striped as a Scottish tartan," she explains. Soak in the scenery along the two-lane state Highway 240 Badlands Loop Road, off Interstate 90, which snakes past dramatic ridges, spires and prairies. If you would rather hike, the Notch Trail offers staggering vantage points from a ledge peering over the White River Valley.

Fenway Park: Boston

Fenway Park: Boston

Red Sox Game at Fenway Park

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An American icon, Fenway Park has attracted Major League Baseball fanatics since its opening in 1912. Like other historical landmarks in Beantown (hat tip: check out the cluster of legendary attractions sprinkled across the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail), Fenway Park boasts an intriguing and long-standing legacy and unique architectural structures. The 37-foot-high wall (or the Green Monster, as the locals call it), is a standout. Among other heavy-hitters, David Ortiz, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams all played here, and you can retrace their steps easily thanks to the park's well-preserved dugout. For a baseball – and history – lesson, consider taking an affordable $20 Fenway tour on a non-game day. Or, take in a game at the beloved ballpark, and you may even be convinced the infamous 1919 "Curse of the Bambino" – when the team sold Ruth to the rival New York Yankees – is finally over.

Powell's City of Books: Portland, Oregon

Powell's City of Books: Portland, Oregon

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Bookworms flock to this 68,000-square-foot institution for good reason. One of the largest independent bookstores on the globe, Powell's not only supplies rare and first-edition copies of prized novels, but it also hosts a variety of distinguished authors for regular readings. The literary powerhouse even features separate rooms catering to different bibliophiles' interests, like the Rare Book Room. Once you've perused Powell's well-stocked shelves to pick up a novel, cookbook or other gem, grab a coffee or a bite from one of the nearby street food vendors at the Alder Street Food Cart Pod or get a sample of Portland's distinguished craft brew scene at BridgePort Brewpub.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: Florida

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: Florida

Christ of the Abyss statue in the Florida Keys.

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The epic 113-mile drive along U.S. Route 1 (also known as the Overseas Highway), through the Florida Keys is a must-do for beach and nature lovers. And this park – located at mile marker 102.5 – is a can't-miss stop for those looking to take in a dizzying display of coral and tropical fish. Recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, the park boasts the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. Take your pick from scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing and glass-bottom boat tours, among other outdoor pursuits. Once you've checked out the park's offshore reefs and mangroves, then venture to other famous attractions in the Keys, like Seven Mile Bridge.

Millennium Park: Chicago

Millennium Park: Chicago

Millennium Park and the Cloud Gate sculpture, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, North America

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Chicago, with its beautifully designed museums and architectural gems, has long lured culture vultures with an eye for art. "Chicago is like an open-air candy store for architecture buffs," Alipio says. A great way to get a fresh perspective of the Windy City's glass-and-steel grandeur is on an architecture cruise. "The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a bunch of tours, including a cruise along the Chicago River, that show off the city's striking skyscrapers and historic buildings," Alipio adds. But no trip to Chi-Town is complete without snapping a photo at The Bean or exploring the fascinating art and architecture across Millennium Park's nearly 25-acre green space, including the Lurie Garden and the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

Golden Gate Bridge: San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge: San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, USA

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When you picture the City by the Bay, images of this iconic suspension bridge, which connects Marin County and San Francisco, likely come to mind. As Alipio puts it: "The instantly recognizable Golden Gate Bridge is not only beautiful, but also frames an ocean of travel possibilities just beyond." The bridge, which was built during the Great Depression, boasts an art deco exterior with its red-orange towers looming over the bay. Capture picture-perfect photos from Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point or Point Bonita Lighthouse. Other idyllic spots for shutterbugs include Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Promenade. After soaking in the scenery, make your way to the tourist-heavy Fisherman's Wharf to take in the lively atmosphere of Pier 39.

The Big Duck: Long Island, New York

The Big Duck: Long Island, New York

The Big Duck, Flanders, North Fork, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, USA.   A well-known Long Island landmark as well as a specific style of roadside architecture. Built in 1931, Riverhead duck farmer Martin Maurer and his wife Jeule decided to construct a giant duck-shaped duck shop to sell Peking ducks they raised to passing motorists. Measures 30 feet from beak to perky tail, 15 feet from folded wing to folded wing, and 20 feet from its base to the top of its head.

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"The U.S. is full of oversized roadside kitsch that's just fun to Instagram, like the towering pistachio nut in Alamogordo, New Mexico, or the giant cowboy boots in San Antonio, Texas," Alipio says. Her favorite is the Big Duck located on Long Island. "It’s a beloved duck-shaped building that has become an unofficial gateway to the blue-chip Hamptons," she explains. Recognized on the list of National Register of Historic Places, the snow-white duck is 20 feet high and is decked with unique accents, like eyes filled with Model-T Ford tail lights. Rising over Reeves Bay in Flanders on Long Island, the Big Duck also boasts a holiday light display in winter.

Griffith Park: Los Angeles

Griffith Park: Los Angeles

Los Angeles Sunrise

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Stretching across 4,210 acres, Griffith Park offers an ideal perch for soaking in the LA basin and urban sprawl from its location on Mount Hollywood. Outdoorsy types will appreciate its diverse horseback riding and hiking trails – including a trail to the Hollywood Sign – and culture vultures will love the Griffith Observatory, which offers amazing views. "La La Land" lovers should make their way to the planetarium for Hollywood-worthy backdrops, then visit Cathy's Corner near Mt. Hollywood Drive to retrace the steps of Mia and Sebastian's enchanting dance sequence to "A Lovely Night." After taking in cinematic views, make your way to the on-site LA Zoo.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: North Carolina and Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: North Carolina and Tennessee

 Sunset at the Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains.

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Stretching across North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts outdoorsy types with its sublime mountain scenery and beautiful old-growth forests. But a major draw in this prized national park is the synchronous natural fire display, Alipio says. In late May or early June, you can witness 19 different types of fireflies flashing in harmony with bright bursts of color against the dark night sky at the Elkmont Campground. The spectacle occurs as the insects attract prospective mates with their flashing hues in unison. The only catch: Because of the event's popularity, there's a lottery system. If you miss the event, you can still enjoy wildlife-watching and recreational activities such as horseback riding and white-water rafting.

The North Rim: The Grand Canyon, Arizona

The North Rim: The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Toroweap Overlook on the north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

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Nothing captures the grandeur or natural splendor of the country's prized national parks quite like the Grand Canyon, with its staggering buttes, rust-colored rock formations and dramatic gorges. However, with 5 million visitors each year, you'll need to be selective about how you spend your time at the park. The North Rim offers particularly photogenic areas, including Marble Canyon and Bright Angel Point, along with fewer tourist crowds than the tourist-heavy South Rim. For the best vantage points, make your way to Cape Royal Trail, where you'll find Angels Window, an impressive natural arch that yields mesmerizing angles of the Colorado River.

Red Rocks State Park: Sedona, Arizona

Red Rocks State Park: Sedona, Arizona

Red Rocks State Park in Sedona, Arizona.

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Sedona attracts nature lovers with its desert landscapes, surreal red rocks and enchanting vortexes, places where the earth's energy is reportedly amplified and wellness-seekers can find spiritual awareness and healing. This sprawling 286-acre preserve is an ideal place to observe Sedona's famous red buttes and sweeping vistas along colorful trails. A few highlights include Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock off state Route 179. Trek along the park's 5-mile collection of trails to take in a mosaic of red rock and desert vistas in Oak Creek Canyon. For a unique perspective, join an expert-guided full-moon hike to gaze at the park's bright spires and distinct formations casting a fiery glow as the sun drops and the moon rises. Alternatively, bike, raft or take a hot air balloon ride to marvel at the scenery.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, California

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, California

Carmel River Beach Park offers a panoramic view of Point Lobos in Carmel California.

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To reach this rugged coastal reserve, you'll visit charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, an oceanside village with boutique shops and low-key cafes that's tucked between Monterey and Pebble Beach. Once you arrive at the reserve, you'll be surrounded by striking rock formations and inviting trails peering over the dramatic cliffs. Wildlife lovers can also catch sight of sea lions, otters and dolphins, among other fascinating species. Tackle Cypress Grove Trail to gaze over wind-swept cypresses. Afterward, continue south along the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur, for spine-tingling bends along craggy cliffs that yield breathtaking coastal vistas.

The Tidal Basin: Washington, District of Columbia

The Tidal Basin: Washington, District of Columbia

Washington DC, USA at the tidal basin with Washington Monument in spring season.

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Our nation's capital has no shortage of marbled memorials and monuments. Standout attractions, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, are conveniently located along the 2-mile-long Tidal Basin. From the Tidal Basin, you'll also want to make your way to the National Mall to check out the reflecting pool, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, particularly in early spring, when a canopy of pink cherry blossoms blanket the Tidal Basin, Alipio says.

South Beach: Miami Beach, Florida

South Beach: Miami Beach, Florida

south beach from the air - miami

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It's hard to resist the eye-catching art deco architecture along Ocean Drive in South Beach. Neon lights, buzzy clubs and a sea of pastel hues make the iconic boulevard instantly recognizable. After admiring the 1930s-inspired buildings, enjoy quintessential South Beach experiences, including sunbathing (and people-watching) along the 10-mile palm-fringed South Beach or joining the late-night revelry at vibrant VIP clubs and lounges. If you're not a night owl, check out the open-air Lincoln Road Mall or head to the Art Deco Welcome Center and Museum to take a self-guided tour (or tag along on a walking tour) to brush up on the area's famous architecture.

Central Park: New York City

Central Park: New York City

Aerial view of Central Park, Manhattan, New York.

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When you need a break from admiring Manhattan's gleaming skyscrapers, world-class museums and vibrant neighborhoods – or you simply need a respite from the concrete jungle's frenetic energy – follow city-dwellers to Gotham's favorite green space. Occupying 843 acres, Central Park offers activities for all visitors, whether you want to stroll past lovely fountains, gardens and sculptures, row a boat or even ice skate. A few can't-miss spots include Strawberry Fields, an area dedicated to legendary singer-songwriter John Lennon, the Shakespeare Garden, which features unique flora and fauna such as cowslip, primrose and lark's heel and famous quotes for the playwright, and the Wollman Rink, which transforms into a skating rink come winter.

Las Vegas Strip: Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip: Las Vegas

The Las Vegas strip at sunset.

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America's Playground lures high rollers with its glitzy hotels, neon-lit fountains and nonstop entertainment, and the best place to soak in Sin City's frenetic sights and sounds is along the Strip. With a mini Eiffel Tower, a nightly fountain light show, a sphinx and a replica Venetian canal – among other eye-catching sights – there are plenty of points of interests to catch your attention. The best way to experience the 5-mile-long boulevard is on foot. Consider checking out the action at night, when the glowing skyline offers a stark contrast to the dessert backdrop and you can head to The Mirage to catch a memorable "volcano" smoke, fire and lava spectacle, beginning nightly at 8 p.m.

Niagara Falls: New York and Ontario, Canada

Niagara Falls: New York and Ontario, Canada

Niagara falls

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If you're in search of an amazing natural phenomenon, you can't skip visiting Niagara Falls, Howard says. Yes, the area is filled with tourist kitsch, but with water plummeting at 41 miles per hour, viewing the misty falls is an inspiring experience, he adds. While some of the best vantage points are on the Canadian side of the border, a great way to take in the three falls – Bridal Veil, American and Horseshoe – in all their glory is on a Maid of the Mist boat tour. Visiting Niagara Falls State Park (on the U.S. side) is also a must. Check out the Cave of the Winds or the Niagara Falls Observation Tower for wind-swept vistas.

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area: Colorado

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area: Colorado

First autumn Snow on Colorado's Maroon Lake at first light

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For sublime scenery (and picture-perfect perches for capturing the Colorado Rockies' imposing peaks), Maroon Bells is the place to go. The arresting high-altitude nature reserve offers a variety of hiking trails, including the 26-mile Four Pass Loop, which winds past alpine lakes and ascends over four mountain passes. Appealing to wildlife lovers and avid hikers alike, Maroon Bells' two peaks ascend over 14,000 feet and offer some of the most beautiful vantage points in all of Colorado. Best of all, the area is within easy reach of Aspen, making it a must for any visitor

Balboa Park: San Diego

Balboa Park: San Diego

Balboa Park Atrium at dusk

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This sprawling 1,200-acre park is a destination unto itself with the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, 17 museums and a wealth of fountains, gardens and performances year-round. The star attraction here is the San Diego Zoo, where visitors can catch sight of more than 3,700 endangered animals, from a giant panda to penguins to koala bears. A hallmark of this laid-back Southern California city, the zoo is recognized as one of the world's best. You could devote an entire day to admiring the zoo's fascinating creatures or checking out the safari park in Escondido – home to gorillas, zebras and elephants – but if you need a break, check out the art on display at the Spanish Village Art Center or make your way to the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

Grand Prismatic Spring: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Grand Prismatic Spring: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

USA, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring

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With its kaleidoscope of colors – from vibrant aquamarine shades to bright orange, crimson and yellow hues – this natural wonder in the Midway Geyser Basin is one of the world's most stunning geological features. The brilliant spectacle of color is formed from pigmented bacteria that thrive in the mineral-rich spring water. For unparalleled views, stroll along the Grand Loop. And don't ignore the other must-see attractions in the Lower Geyser, including Old Faithful and Excelsior Geyser.

Times Square: New York City

Times Square: New York City

Times Square in New York.

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Sure, Times Square packs sensory overload with flashing neon lights, honking horns, swarms of tourists and a frenzy of activity at all hours of the day, but it also captures the brash, colorful spirit of New York City and is a must for any first-time city visitor. Street performers and bright billboards jockey for your attention. Even if you can't grab tickets to a Broadway show, you're sure to be entertained in this consumerism mecca. For a one-of-a-kind experience, plan a New Year's Eve trip to watch the glittering ball drop into a sea of confetti. And if you're craving a little more Zen, join a Solstice in Times Square event in June, when yogis the world over practice together.

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon Amphitheater: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Morning sunlight over the amphitheater at Bryce Canyon viewed from Inspiration Point.

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Otherworldly rust-colored hoodoo rock formations are on full display at this popular national park. Embark on the Rim Trail for jaw-dropping views of the amphitheater. Postcard-worthy angles of the intricate spires can be found at Inspiration, Bryce, Sunrise and Sunset viewpoints. Other worthwhile treks include the Navajo Loop and the Queens Garden Trail, which also offer captivating views of the spiky, pinnacled formations. Arrive early or late in the day to beat the crowds and catch the dizzying array of gold, orange and crimson hues in beautiful natural lighting. Beyond the amphitheater, you can explore of the park's splendors with a ranger-led program, a moonlit guided stroll and even seasonal telescope stargazing.

Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road: Glacier National Park, Montana

Female hiker on narrow highline trail stands on overlook with arms outstretched, looking down on going-to-the-sun road not far from Logan pass in glacier National Park, Montana, on partly cloudy summer afternoon.

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Glacier National Park is renowned for its spectacular alpine scenery, magnificent glaciers and dizzying collection of natural features, from lush forests to cascading waterfalls. There's no denying the park's natural beauty as you cross the Continental Divide at Logan Pass to embark on the scenic 52-mile drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Though the road is closed in winter, when the snowcapped landscape makes for difficult driving conditions, in summer and fall, you can embrace the emerald alpine lakes below and take breaks at must-see spots like Wild Goose Island Lookout for the perfect photo op.

Na Pali Coast: Kauai, Hawaii

Na Pali Coast: Kauai, Hawaii

Kalalau lookout over the Napali coast from the Kokee State Park, Kauai, Hawaii.

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Kauai's coral reefs, craggy cliffs and rugged trails attract those with an eye for beauty and a zest for adrenaline-infused adventures. There's no better way to take in Kauai's natural charms than along its most iconic coastline. Along the 17-mile Na Pali Coast, you can zigzag past waterfalls, beaches and lush emerald cliffs. For a sense of the shoreline's jagged ridges and imposing 3,000-foot peaks and deep valleys, admire the coastline from below by kayak from Haena Beach Park. Or, if you're feeling more intrepid, hike along the Kalalau Trail, an arduous 11-mile journey with challenging uphill inclines and rugged terrain that yields breathtaking coastal views.

Garden of the Gods: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Garden of the Gods: Colorado Springs, Colorado

USA , Hawaii, Lanai, Garden of the Gods, Red dirt road and 4x4

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An assortment of spiraling red sandstone rock formations that are nearly 300 million years old, the 1,367-acre Garden of the Gods is a sight to behold. The jagged outline of Pikes Peaks looms dramatically in the distance of these rust-colored monoliths, which have been sculpted to form ethereal-looking structures and given names that reflect their distinctive shapes, such as the Kissing Camels and the Three Graces. One of the most renowned pillars is Balanced Rock, which as it's name suggests, is a monumental rock with a jagged frame that's artfully stayed in place over time. Check out the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center to learn about the mysterious rocks and join a guided nature walk.

Historic District: Charleston, South Carolina

Historic District: Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina, USA in the French Quarter.

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With its Spanish moss, historic architecture, coastal scenery and graceful antebellum mansions, Charleston oozes Southern charm. And there's no better place to get a sense of the city's surroundings than the historic district, where gas lamp-lined streets, cobblestone corners, horse-drawn carriage rides and storied buildings reflect a variety of architectural periods, from art deco to Italianate. Take some time to explore can't-miss museums, galleries and boutiques. Then, visit Charleston City Market for a sweetgrass basket – a must-have souvenir – before checking into one of the upscale and iconic hotels in the area, including Wentworth Mansion and Planters Inn.

Canyon Road: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Canyon Road: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Canyon Road art district in Santa Fe

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A must-see for any art lover, Canyon Road brims with contemporary art treasures across more than 100 galleries. Yet there's even more to soak in here, with traditional adobe architecture and authentic Native American crafts, jewelry and galleries showcasing pieces in all mediums and styles – from photography to woodcuts and sculptures. And with its picturesque setting, with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising in the backdrop, the half-mile-long stretch is unlike any other. Breaks from admiring the area's beautiful art and cultural gems can include shopping, unwinding in the lovely gardens near El Zaguan, checking out local bookstores or grabbing a bite at a renowned spot like Geronimo Restaurant.

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

Tunnel View of Yosemite Valley with El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.

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El Capitan – the imposing 3,000-foot granite rock etched into the Yosemite Valley – is a prized and bucket list-worthy national park attraction, Alipio says. Located across from Bridalveil Fall, the iconic cliff can be seen across the Yosemite Valley. When you're not admiring the smooth face of El Capitan (or catching sight of daring climbers and mountaineers scaling the surface), check out more spectacular natural attractions, such as Half Dome, Glacier Points and the John Muir Trail.

Grand Teton National Park: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Lake Magic at Jackson Hole in Wyoming

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Experience Grand Teton's spectacular mountain scenery, punctuated by rugged trails, snow-covered peaks and reflective alpine lakes on a trip to remember. Whether you want to mountain climb, cross-country ski, bike, boat or horseback ride, there's an outdoor activity calling your name. You can also join ranger-guided hikes or enjoy wildlife-viewing, with fascinating species, such as bison, moose and coyotes along the way. Prime lookout points can be found in the Jenny Lake District. Strap on a pair of hiking boots, and join a guide on the Inspiration Point Hike for lovely vistas.

Forsyth Park: Savannah, Georgia

Forsyth Park: Savannah, Georgia

Historic Savannah GA

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For the nature or history lover, Savannah beckons with its Spanish moss-covered gardens, historic homes and antebellum architecture. And the top place on your itinerary should be the 30-acre Forsyth Park, which hosts popular events like the Savannah Jazz Festival and displays noteworthy sculptures and memorials, along with the world-renowned Forsyth Park fountain. After checking out the park's memorials, which include sites commemorating the Spanish-American War, and admiring the 300-year-old Candler Oak Tree, check out other historic attractions, such as the Bonaventure Cemetery and the Mercer Williams House, known for its role in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

Smithsonian Institution Museums: Washington, District of Columbia

Smithsonian Institution Museums: Washington, District of Columbia

The opening day of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. in Washington, DC on September 24, 2016.

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Aside from high-profile politicians and iconic memorials, the nation's capital is chock-full of cultural and artistic treasures, including the Smithsonian's collection of 19 museums. With free entry, it's hard to resist the district's standout cultural and educational institutions, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Air and Space Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum. Whether you want to attend lectures, performances or tours, there's plenty of ways to experience Washington's beloved museums. Kids can even fulfill a "Night at the Museum" fantasy – complete with an IMAX film feature, crafts projects and sleeping bags – during the "Smithsonian Sleepovers" series at select D.C. museums in the summertime.

Hidden Valley: Joshua Tree National Park, California

Hidden Valley: Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree with Milky Way

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With jaw-dropping desert scenery, prickly Joshua trees and distinct boulder rock formations, Joshua Tree National Park mesmerizes visitors with its eye-catching landscapes. With two unique desert ecosystems – the Colorado and the Mojave – the park offers varied scenes, from Joshua trees framed by giant boulders and candy-colored desert sunsets in Hidden Valley to the cholla cactus- and ocotillo-filled Cholla Cactus Garden. Beyond the Hidden Valley, another must-see area is Keys View, where you can take in sweeping vistas of Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault and the Santa Rosa Mountains, granting picture-perfect photo ops.

Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii

Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii

Black sand beach, Waianapanapa State Park, Maui, Hawaii

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Gazing at the magnificent waterfalls, craggy cliffs and black-sand coastline along the 52-mile Road to Hana is practically a rite of passage when visiting Maui. With hair-raising turns and spellbinding lookouts, you'll want to carve out plenty of stops and spring for a four-wheel-drive car. Highlights include the 25-acre Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden, which you might remember as a setting backdrop in Jurassic Park, and Waianapanapa State Park, where distinct natural attractions such as sea caves and black-tinted beaches abound. Start your journey in Kahului and finish in the town of Hana, a remote area with few visitors and lush landscapes filled with tropical greenery and breadfruit trees.

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre: Morrison, Colorado

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre: Morrison, Colorado

Creation rock at the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheater in colorado which hosts many music acts as well as easter services.

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Sandstone cliffs, rugged hiking trails and ochre-hued buttes are just a few draws of Red Rocks Park, situated roughly 16 miles west of downtown Denver. Another top enticement is the open-air, high-altitude amphitheater, which offers a striking setting and excellent acoustics. A variety of acclaimed bands have performed in the 6,450-foot venue, including U2 and the Beatles. Plan a visit to Red Rocks to catch a show to remember and stick around for the area's fascinating geological attractions and scenery along the Trading Post Trail, a 1.4-mile route that passes by valleys, a meadow and unique rock formations.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York City

USA, New York, New York, couple siteseeing

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With world-renowned galleries, museums and art and theater enclaves, the city that never sleeps is an art lover's playground. And there's no better place to get your culture fix than the Met. Peruse galleries brimming with masterpieces of legends such as Renoir, Van Gogh, Goya, Cézanne and Degas. The first floor's impressive collection showcases an eclectic range of pieces, from ancient Egyptian art to Greek and Roman works. While you won't be able to take in all of its splendor and extensive collections in one day, carve out time to explore must-visit highlights, like the Temple of Dendur.

The Narrows: Zion National Park, Utah

The Narrows: Zion National Park, Utah

The Narrows at Zion National Park

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If your perfect bucket-list includes hitting scenic hiking trails, it's hard to rival the otherworldly landscapes in Utah's Zion National Park. The Narrows, a sandstone gorge surrounded by 2,000- to 3,000-foot-high imposing crimson- and rust-tinted vertical canyon walls and the Virgin River, abounds with spectacular vantage points and unique geological features, including hanging gardens and natural springs. The 16-mile trek from the trailhead at Chamberlain's Ranch can be arduous, but the awe-inspiring views are unrivaled. An easier way to reach the Narrows is from the Temple of Sinawava, about a 10-mile trek. Arrive in late spring or early summer, when the water levels dip and the weather is optimal; check current conditions before you go.

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park: West Virginia

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park: West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

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"The Appalachian Trail really is the mother of all hiking trails," Alipio says. "Sections of it are very accessible to even the most hike-averse travelers," she adds, highlighting a section that loops through Harpers Ferry that's about the trail’s halfway point and where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is headquartered. The park features nearly 20 miles of hiking trails with diverse landscapes, from historic battlefields to rolling mountain backdrops. Take your pick from hiking, kayaking, rafting or zip lining, among other pursuits, along the trail. After embracing the great outdoors, head to the charming West Virginia town for a leisurely coffee at Lost Dog Coffee or a memorable meal the Bavarian Inn.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: Nashville

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: Nashville

Nashville Country Music Hall of Fame

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If anywhere captures the rich musical history of Nashville, it's the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Here, you'll find a vast collection of music artifacts from around the globe. Admire gold and platinum country records lining the walls and the wealth of plaques on display paying homage to stars such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. Other artifacts include songbooks, photographs, costumes and even historical cars (think: Elvis Presley's iconic gold Cadillac). You won't want to skip checking out Studio B, where legendary hits were recorded, from "All I Have to Do Is Dream" by the Everly Brothers to "Jolene" by Dolly Parton.

Independence Hall: Philadelphia

Independence Hall: Philadelphia

Independence Hall National Historic Park Philadelphia at twilight

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There are plenty of must-visit historical attractions in the City of Brotherly Love to pique your interest, from the Liberty Bell to Rittenhouse Square, but a can't-miss place for any history buff is Independence Hall. At the Georgian-style building, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were deliberated and signed, and today you can tag along a guided tour and check out the Assembly Room. To continue your knowledge binge, brush up on the history of Liberty Bell; then, admire the memorial of unknown soldiers who served in the American Revolution and George Washington at Washington Square.

The Statue of Liberty: New York City

The Statue of Liberty: New York City

Statue of Liberty in New York

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A legendary 152-foot New York City landmark, the Statue of Liberty has stood as a beacon of freedom for all Americans since 1886. Of course, you can take in the instantly recognizable statue gracing the skyline from a variety of spots across the city, but for a closer angle, you'll want to book tickets with a ferry operator offering tours to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. Just remember to book an e-ticket to skirt the long lines and arrive early for a pain-free security screening. For fewer tourist crowds, take in Lady Liberty from the High Line, the sprawling landscaped park occupying an abandoned rail track across the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: Hawaii

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: Hawaii

First light at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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Kilauea, an epic 4,000-foot active volcano that's been erupting continuously from its East Rift Zone since 1983, is jaw-dropping from a variety of angles, Howard says. Start your trip at the Jaggar Museum or the Chain of Craters Road, or if you're feeling brave, drive or walk along the challenging 11-mile Crater Rim Trail, where you can wind past the Kilauea caldera and meander through verdant rain forest and desert landscapes. You can also join free ranger-led programs, which include guest presentations and junior programs catering to younger visitors ages 7 to 12. The imposing volcano is striking, particularly at night, when the fiery molten lava stands in stark contrast against the sky.

Redwood National Park: California

Redwood National Park: California

Looking up at the redwood trees at Muir Woods in San Francisco.

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Even if you're not an avid hiker or nature lover, it's hard to resist the splendor of the giant, 350-foot-tall sequoia trees spanning Redwood National Park. The park boasts over 200 miles of trails to pick from, but an ideal way to experience the tall trees on a quick getaway is along the 9-mile Coastal Drive, a narrow and picturesque route that winds past unrivaled Pacific Ocean lookout points, the Klamath River and redwood groves. Along the Coastal Trail off U.S. Highway 101, take a break at Crescent Beach Section to enjoy a picnic area and admire Sitka spruces and the occasional Roosevelt elk. Another must: the Fern Canyon Loop Trail, which offers striking coastal vistas and old-growth redwoods.

Cadillac Mountain: Acadia National Park, Maine

Cadillac Mountain: Acadia National Park, Maine

Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

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The chance to catch an envy-inducing sunrise from the 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain – the tallest point along the Eastern Seaboard – is a main draw for visiting Acadia National Park. Plan to visit between October and March for an especially memorable sunrise – and the first view of the sun rising across the country. A top way to take in the scenery is along the 27-mile Park Loop Road, which weaves past Sand Beach, Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond and Cadillac Mountain. Carve out some time for a leisurely picnic, explore other notable places in the park, such as the Precipice Trail and Thunder Hole, and embrace the natural surroundings in all their grandeur along Acadia's car-free carriage roads.

Mendenhall Glacier: Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier: Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier, located outside of downtown Juneau in Alaska

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Mendenhall Glacier in southeast Alaska, just outside of downtown Juneau, lures visitors looking to catch sight of Alaska's icy attractions and vast wilderness. Brush up on the history of the glacier at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which offers a film and exhibits highlighting how climate change has impacted the melting and retreating natural wonder. The glacier – unlike others in Alaska – is uniquely accessible to visitors along a variety of nature trails. The East Glacier Loop Trail offers a scenic route, and some trails even meander past imposing waterfalls and impressive creatures, from porcupines to black bears to sockeye salmon.

Waikiki Beach: Oahu, Hawaii

Waikiki Beach: Oahu, Hawaii

Hawaii, Oahu, Honolulu, Waikiki Beach

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Oahu is known for its gorgeous sands and famous surf culture, and there's no better place to embrace the aloha spirit and perfect your wave-skimming (or bodyboarding) skills than Waikiki Beach. With Diamond Head crater in the distance and a bounty of top-tier hotels, including the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, fringing the legendary shorelines, it's easy to enjoy a mix of activity and relaxation, as you lounge along the sands, snorkel in coral-filled waters or ride the waves. Hans Hedemann Surf School teaches the art of surfing, bodyboarding and stand-up paddleboarding, plus it offers variety of rental equipment – think: short boards, snorkel gear and even bikes.

Alcatraz Island: San Francisco

Alcatraz Island: San Francisco

Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay.

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Aside from walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and visiting the bustling Ferry Building Marketplace, touring Alcatraz Island is a must for any first-time visitor to the City by the Bay. Perched on a small, craggy isle in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz (or, simply, "The Rock" to those in the know) was formerly a prison that included some of America's most nefarious criminals, from Al Capone to Alvin Karpis, and today you can retrace the area's history on a guided audio tour. Ferries operated by Alcatraz Cruises depart from Pier 33; booking reservations in advance is recommended by the National Park Service.

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Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of experience covering the travel industry, Liz has covered a diverse set of topics to help readers make smarter travel decisions and plan better trips. In her current role, she edits a range of consumer-facing topics, including personal finance, retirement, health, wellness and education. Previously, Liz was the Travel Editor for Consumer Advice, where she wrote and edited features and slideshows and managed the En Route travel blog. She graduated with a bachelor's degree from George Washington University. You can follow Liz on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at eweiss@usnews.com.

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