From baseball games in Chicago and live jazz in New Orleans, to riding rollercoasters in Florida’s theme parks, consider this your essential USA bucket list.
The USA is chock-full of iconic experiences that beckon travellers to visit from all corners of the world. Whether it’s driving along Route 66, being spellbound by Disneyland magic in Anaheim, or wine-tasting in the Napa Valley that ignites your wanderlust, this is the ultimate list of everything you should see in the USA at least once in your life.
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1. Take a world-famous road trip (with plentiful pit stops)
There’s nothing more quintessentially North American than a road trip. Whether it’s driving across great stretches of desert highways or down legendary routes past forested mountains, a road trip is one of the best ways to enjoy an in-depth discovery of the USA. The best of the best? Route 66 with its colourful history and classic Americana pitstops tops the list. Its longest stretch traverses Oklahoma where you’ll find roadside diners, retro-style museums and eclectic attractions.
The Highway 1 to Big Sur trip along the breathtaking California coast is an absolute must for eye-popping panoramas, whereas the Pacific Coast Highway, beginning in the northwest corner of the country, will gift you with vistas of moody grey surf, temperate rainforests and moss-covered boulders.
In addition to the iconic routes is the experience itself: stock up on gas station snacks, crank up the volume on your curated road-trip playlist and make photo stops at every picturesque viewpoint along the way (there will be many).
2. Home run: catch an epic sporting event
Anticipation crackles like electricity in the air before the roar of the crowd erupts. Whether you’re a fan or not, attending a live sports event is your fast-tracked ticket into the heart of the local culture. In Chicago, catch a baseball game at the historic Wrigley Field, built in 1914 and home to the Chicago Cubs major league baseball team for over a century. In Boston, the annual marathon has been held on Patriot’s Day (the third Monday in April) since 1897, making it the world’s oldest annual marathon.
If you’re lucky enough to be travelling through the USA in February, duck into any sports bar to watch the Super Bowl for a truly unforgettable football game and half-time show. If you’re in Los Angeles, a Lakers NBA basketball game is well worth a watch. During winter, head to Minnesota, the hockey capital of the USA, for an exhilarating ice hockey match.
3. Step back in time & celebrate Native American culture
There’s history everywhere you look in the USA. Learn about Native American history and culture at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC or New York City. Witness a Fourth of July Powwow in Cherokee, North Carolina, where Native American music, dance, food and celebrations can be enjoyed. In Florida, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum hosts the annual American Indian Arts Celebration which showcases the art, music and dance of the Seminole, South-eastern and other American Indian tribes from across the USA.
Each year in Las Vegas, the Indian National Finals Rodeo takes place, with contestants from 75 tribes competing for a hefty prize of US$1 million. This fierce competition celebrates horse culture and ranch lifestyle in Indian Country.
4. From New Orleans to Graceland, immerse yourself in music history
The southern states pulse with the soulful tunes of country swing, sultry blues and jazz bops. From Louisiana to South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee, this rock ‘n’ roll region is the birthplace of some of the nation’s greatest musicians. Take a walk down New Orleans’ Frenchmen Street where jazz musicians stand in the middle of the road or lean over balcony rails, captivating passersby with saxophones, trumpets and trombones.
Elvis fans find themselves in Memphis, following the tunes of ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’ to Graceland, the legend’s former home and final resting place. See Elvis’ famous costumes, personal mementoes and collection of gold and platinum records.
If you’re a fan of Motown, jazz, blues and gospel, the music heritage of Detroit is beyond comparison. The city’s music culture was born during construction of Orchestra Hall in 1919, right when jazz was about to take the nation by storm. Since then, the hall has hosted the likes of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington.
5. Go wild at the world’s biggest & best theme parks
Having fun is serious business in the USA. It’s here you’ll find some of the best, most exciting theme parks on Earth. Take the kids along to Disneyland in Anaheim, which is celebrating 100 years of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Witness the Wondrous Journeys show, a marvellous night-time lighting display splashed upon the walls of Sleeping Beauty Castle and Main Street.
Fans of Harry Potter, the Simpsons or Despicable Me, set course for Florida, home of Universal Studios. Fun is boundless and comes in all forms: meet your favourite movie characters, enjoy splashy fun at the waterpark, embark on exhilarating multi-dimensional rides, hold on tight on heart-racing rollercoasters, and walk through Diagon Alley where you can purchase your own wand and pint of butterbeer.
Hailed a must-do experience in the Smokies, visitors flock to Tennessee to enjoy the 50 world-class rides, award-winning dining and wacky waterpark at Dollywood. Aside from theme park thrills, the surroundings are simply stunning: picture lush green forests and hazy blue mountains.
6. Coachella calling: experience a spectacular parade or festival
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Coachella. This world-famous music festival is held in the Californian desert and finally, after a two-year hiatus, it’s back for 2023. Big-name artists including Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean and The Chemical Brothers are just the tip of this year’s line-up. When you’re not swaying to hypnotic beats, kick your feet up in a hammock at the camp lounge, feast on tasty treats at the pop-up food vendors or head to the activities tent for dance competitions, video games and more.
Once a year, the Nevadan desert transforms into Burning Man, a makeshift city that’s a centre for celebrating art, radical self-expression and creativity. It’s brilliant, it’s bizarre. Cash won’t get you far here, you’ll need to bring everything you’ll need (food and water) to survive over the next eight days and leave nothing behind. Expect dancing in the desert, wild costumes, art installations and live music.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is a locally loved tradition that fills the streets of Manhattan to the brim. Giant balloons, music, marching bands, cheerleaders and floats are a feast for the eyes and ears.
7. Wine not go on a vineyard-hopping adventure?
California is blessed with endless sunshine and varied topography, resulting in varied terroir and globally renowned drops. Fans of a good cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay may rejoice – these varieties are in abundance here. You’ll also find a wide array of traditional European vines including pinot noir, merlot and syrah. Napa Valley is home to more than 450 wineries, most offering visits and tastings. While Napa Valley often steals the limelight, Sonoma is where Cali locals go for sun-kissed picnics among the vines and award-winning tipples.
Head north to Oregon where the Willamette Valley is home to rolling hillsides, historic towns and most importantly, craft wineries. More than 250 wineries produce award-winning pinot noir that’s been harvested from small-scale vineyards, while top-notch restaurant meals are crafted using ingredients grown right onsite.
Take a full-day wine tour from San Francisco to Sonoma and Napa Valley.
Ready to explore the USA for yourself? Check out our handpicked USA deals here.
For more USA inspiration, read Icons of the USA: 5 Legendary Landscapes You Need to Experience.
Feature image: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico. ©VisittheUSA.com