The USA is one big country – and that means it’s absolutely jam-packed with bucket list experiences that are distinctly American. From spectacular national parks and road trips, to iconic cities, sporting events and the best food and wine, here are 21 experiences you have to add to your USA travel bucket list.
1. Explore the national parks
No USA travel bucket list is complete without a trip to at least one national park. The country currently has 62 spectacular national parks, all filled with natural wonders, ancient history and amazing wildlife. The most popular national parks are the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
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We also love Bryce Canyon, Joshua Tree, Canyonlands, Redwood, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley and Arches National Park. Whichever national parks you choose to discover, it’s sure to be an experience you’ll never forget.
GET INSPIRED BY: Scenic Parks Explorer
2. Spend a day (or a week!) in New York
The Big Apple certainly lives up to its name, and you could spend weeks exploring all its famous treasures. Don’t forget to swing by the highlights including Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. Then head down to Lower Manhattan where you’ll discover a hub of diverse languages, food and cultures.
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Pick up a slice of real New York pizza, go shopping in Greenwich Village, or watch an incredible Broadway show. One thing’s for sure – you won’t run out of adventures in the city that never sleeps!
GET INSPIRED BY: New York Explorer
3. Drive the iconic Route 66
There’s no better place to get your kicks than Route 66! The most famous road in the country originally ran from 3,940 kilometres from Chicago to Santa Monica through eight different states. A symbol of the American dream, Route 66 is still the road trip to end all road trips today.
You’ll find plenty of outposts to stop and get a taste of all things Americana, from classic motels and petrol pumps to kitsch roadside diners dishing up steaming slices of apple pie.
GET INSPIRED BY: The Trailblazer
4. Discover the glaciers, whales and northern lights of Alaska
Venture off the mainland and you’ll discover the natural wonderland that is Alaska. Explore the spectacular national parks bursting with pristine nature and incredible wildlife, and chase the northern lights, a mesmerising natural phenomenon.
See Denali, the largest mountain in North America and cruise Prince William Sound to see the densest concentration of tidewater glaciers in the world. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled whales, seals, otters, puffins and many more magical creatures in Alaska.
GET INSPIRED BY: Alaska and the Yukon
5. Party in Las Vegas
With a reputation as big as the fortunes many have made (and lost here), there’s no place like Vegas to let your hair down. As the entertainment capital of the world, all you have to do is head towards the neon lights… Then get lost in the glittering casinos, rooftop pools, and incredible shows.
Check out the Elvis impersonators and the drive-thru wedding chapels. Take a walk down the Strip and see the icons like Caesars Palace, the Bellagio and the Venetian. Or swing by the Downtown area to explore the creative Fremont East District.
GET INSPIRED BY: Western Discoverer
6. Explore the treasures of Hawaii
You can’t miss out on the 50th state! This beautiful island is a paradise for surfers, nature lovers, foodies, history buffs and thrill-seekers… and you can even see an active volcano. There are five active volcanoes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and you’ll witness the red-hot bubbling lava up close.
Besides the volcanoes, you can see giant manta rays swimming in the ocean, spot sea turtles on the famous black sand beach, discover Kauai’s magical Tunnel of Trees, visit Pearl Harbour, learn about local farming on Maui, and marvel at Oahu’s spectacular North Shore… The wonders never end in Hawaii.
GET INSPIRED BY: Hawaiian Discovery
7. Listen to live jazz in New Orleans
As the home of jazz, there’s always a reason to party in the Big Easy. This lively city is famous for its rich history, annual Mardis Gras festival and it’s the incredible music scene. It’s always a winner on any USA travel bucket list.
You’ll find funky jazz spots and cosy blues clubs in every nook and cranny of this city, along with amazing bars and restaurants to top off your New Orleans experience.
GET INSPIRED BY: Tastes and Sounds of the South with Jazz Festival
8. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway
Stretching over 1,000 kilometres from Southern California to San Francisco, the Pacific Coast Highway is one epic road trip. Be sure to soak up the sun in the Southern California Beach Communities.
Then hit the road, making stops at Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur to see the iconic giant redwoods towering over the forest floor. This is western USA at its finest.
GET INSPIRED BY: Journey Along California’s Pacific Coast Highway
9. Go to a unique festival
From the Mardis Gras and Jazz Festivals in New Orleans to the famous Burning Man in the desert and the spectacular Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, there are no shortage of festivals to add to your USA travel bucket list.
If you’ve always wanted to experience a festival in the USA, just ask our friendly Trafalgar staff for the best festivals in your favourite destinations.
GET INSPIRED BY: Southwest Native Trails with Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
10. Hit the theme parks
If you love amusement parks, you’ve come to the right place. The United States is a mecca for all things theme park, from California to Florida. Whether you want to hit the magical Disney Parks, Universal Studio’s World of Harry Potter, or the Dollywood Stampede, you’ll find your inner child in the USA.
GET INSPIRED BY: Western Discoverer with Disneyland Resort Extension
11. Soak up the atmosphere at an American sporting event
Whether it’s football, baseball or basketball, the USA goes mad for a sporting event. From crazy mascots to half-time shows, to screaming fans and prancing cheerleaders, a live game in the USA is an exciting experience. Grab your tickets and snacks, and feel the electric atmosphere… you’ll no doubt find yourself cheering along with all other fans.
12. Go wine tasting in California
Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or simply a fan, everyone will love exploring the sunny vineyards of California. From the famous Napa Valley to the lush Temecula Valley, you’ll discover a Mediterranean climate shining down on rolling green hills and some of the world’s best wineries. Spend a few days here and you’ll become a wine aficionado in no time at all.
GET INSPIRED BY: Northern California
13. Feel the spray of Niagara Falls
Pack your raincoat and your sense of wonder – the Niagara Falls is one of America’s greatest natural marvels. You can get up close to this incredible phenomenon with a boat ride to the base of Horseshoe Falls, the largest waterfall of the Niagara.
Get a stunning view of both the Canadian and American sides of the falls, and feel the spray of the thundering water, as 750,000 gallons of water plunge into the gorge every second.
GET INSPIRED BY: East Coast USA and Canada End New York
14. Eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich at Graceland
The United States doesn’t have a royal family – but it did have a king. Elvis Presley was the undisputed King of Rock and Roll and he lived in his Graceland Estate in Memphis, Tennessee, a mecca for music lovers.
Thousands of visitors flock here every year to worship the King and honour him with his favourite meal – a peanut butter and banana sandwich. You can see his private garden and aircraft, and walk through his glitzy mansion filled with tributes to his music.
GET INSPIRED BY: Spirit of the South
15. Marvel at the fall foliage in northeastern USA
There are few things more beautiful in the United States than the blazing fall foliage of northeastern USA. Hop in a car during peak foliage season (usually October) and drive up the scenic byways that wind through farmlands, forests and the Green Mountains. Start in Massachusetts, then weave through Vermont, New Hampshire and finish up in gorgeous Maine.
GET INSPIRED BY: Autumn Colours
16. Eat soul food in the South
If there’s one type of food you have to try in the USA, it’s got to be Southern soul food. They have all the comforting favourites like crispy fried chicken, candied yams, steaming macaroni and cheese, and good old-fashioned banana pudding. The secret ingredient? Lashings of love.
GET INSPIRED BY: Tastes and Sounds of the South
17. Experience the Old West in Monument Valley
As the iconic location for western films like ‘Stagecoach’ starring John Wayne, Monument Valley is just as historic as it is beautiful. You could spend the night among the rich film history at the pioneering Goulding’s Lodge, or experience a Navajo Cookout on the valley floor.
You’ll marvel at the rusty red sandstone towers, then learn about the sacred meaning and history behind this amazing place. Enjoy delicious local specialities and witness a traditional performance from a local Native American. This is one bucket list experience you won’t soon forget.
GET INSPIRED BY: America’s Amazing Canyon Country
18. Discover the unique modern architecture of Palm Springs
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Once the favourite retreat for the design idols and Hollywood stars of the mid-twentieth century, Palm Springs is still a modern architecture oasis. Set in the unique light and landscapes of the California Desert, Palm Springs has inspired legendary designs from the likes of Frey, Neutra and Wexler.
It was also the ultimate hideaway for stars and socialites like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Whether you want to go stargazing, or get a closer look at some of these architectural masterpieces, Palm Springs is a fantastic stop on any USA travel bucket list.
GET INSPIRED BY: San Diego, Palm Springs and Orange County Beaches
19. Drive from Boston to Cape Cod
This incredible piece of the USA is a true bucket list experience. Starting in the historic city of Boston, make your way along the windswept New England coastline, soaking up picture-perfect scenery and fresh seafood on the beach all the way.
See the colourful cottages and farmers’ markets of Martha’s Vineyard and stroll through the Heritage Museum & Gardens of Sandwich, Cape Cod’s oldest town. Be sure to check out the thriving craft beer scene on Cape Cod.
Visit the popular fishing port of Provincetown and go on a whale-watching cruise. Or take a 4WD tour over the sand dunes along the Cape Cod National Seashore. Don’t forget to fill up on lobster rolls and clam chowder!
GET INSPIRED BY: Boston, Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard
20. Get stars in your eyes in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is all about glitz and glamour, and you can’t visit the city without taking a stroll along Venice Beach and the palm-lined Santa Monica Pier, complete with the famous Ferris wheel.
Find your favourite stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and enjoy a spot of people watching on Sunset Boulevard. Check out the mansions of Beverly Hills, or practice your acceptance speech on the steps of the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards.
GET INSPIRED BY: Coastal California and Big Sur
21. See the fish fly at Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is unlike any farmers’ market you’ve ever seen before. It has more performers than it does produce and it’s been a Seattle institution for over a century. See the lively fishmongers literally throw their catch of the day around, and be sure to leave your mark on the gum wall in Post Alley.
GET INSPIRED BY: Scenic Seattle, Portland and Oregon Coast
Have you ticked off any of these experiences from your USA travel bucket list? Let us know in the comments below! Feeling inspired? Take a look at more of our unique American experiences on our USA destination guide.