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20 top tourist attractions in the USA

Discover the top tourist attractions in the USA, from national-park essentials to iconic structures to must-see streets

Scott Snowden
Edited by
Scott Snowden
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Nobody likes to feel like a tourist in their own country. But let’s face the facts, the top tourist attractions in the USA are popular for a reason. At some point or another we should all hit them up and while it looks like we're going to have a very hectic summer travel season, maybe consider the idea of just packing a car, hiring a caravan or attaching a trailer and taking the family on a trip to see cool stuff that perhaps they weren't previously aware of.

Whether you’re looking for unmissable art, historic buildings and monuments, must-stroll neighborhoods, unusual landmarks or breathtaking national parks, we’ve got you covered.

Don’t miss our guide to the best hotels in America if you need a place to stay on your epic journey. And if you’re looking for a bit more travel inspiration, check out the very best places to visit in the USA right now.   


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Top tourist attractions in the USA

Immaculately maintained by the National Park Service, the National Mall and Memorial Parks feature more than 1,000 acres of must-see monuments, sites and green space. While the Washington Monument towers above all else—quite literally, the city doesn’t zone for buildings taller than the marble icon—the Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial are just as magnificent. Though it will take a full day (or two) to see the National Mall, make sure to set aside some time to peruse through some of Washington DC’s top museums as well.

Situated on the border of New York and Canada, the three waterfalls (Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridalveil Falls) have the combined highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world and their impressive force is nothing short of awe-worthy. A top tourist destination since the 19th century, the unstoppable beauty and charm of Niagara Falls make it a memorable and unique landmark. 

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The oldest corner of New Orleans remains its most charming attraction. Walk down famous Bourbon Street to enjoy jazz, great nightlife and tons of food. While you travel on a streetcar between destinations, pay close attention to the spectacular architecture. And no trip to the French Quarter would be complete without a taste of authentic Cajun grub or a stop to pay your respects in the Cities of the Dead. 

Though she may have been born in France, the Statue of Liberty has become practically synonymous with America and the country’s highest-held values. True, the 151-foot-tall copper monument can be seen up close from aboard the free Staten Island Ferry, but you can also pay your respects in person and even step inside it while on an official tour.

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A cone geyser found in Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful is not quite as predictable as it once was (it won’t erupt exactly every 74 minutes, for example) yet remains as historically exciting. When erupting, the geothermal feature unleashes more than 3,700 gallons of piping hot water. When you’re done marveling at the spectacle, spend at least a full day exploring the rest of the park.

Immortalized in a seemingly endless amount of movies, the Strip’s bright lights, larger-than-life performers and casinos are burned into our collective subconscious. Whether planning on trying your luck at poker or looking to catch a diva’s residency, the Strip is a top destination for all things entertainment and, yes, a bit of debauchery.

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The Getty brings visitors from across the country and around the world to California. The $1 billion facility, designed by internationally-renowned architect Richard Meier, features travertine and white-metal pavilions that highlight the complex’s futuristic frame. Inside, find one of the most exciting collections of art—including Medieval manuscripts, paintings by Van Gogh and Monet, and modern sculptures.

The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum, education, and research complex. Located in the heart of this nation's capital, the National Air & Space Museum is frankly the highlight. Inside, you can see Poe Dameron's T-70 X-wing fighter from the Star Wars sequels, a Lockheed SR71, the Apollo 13 Command Module, The Spirit of St. Louis, the Enola Gay and so very much more. If you're even remotely interested in science, aviation or spaceflight... this collection, which is arguably the greatest in the world, is going to leave you thirsty for more. 

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So, about five to six million years ago, the Colorado River more or less established its route through the Arizona desert. Glacial erosion, together with meltwater runoff and the simultaneous counter effect of the land slowly rising—as the weight of the glaciers was reduced—ultimately resulted in one of the most spectacular natural wonders on our modest, little blue-green planet. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, it varies between four and 18 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of 6,000 feet. There are hotels and restaurants in key locations, but for the most part, you should visit and marvel at how incredible this world is—you know, before we ruin it.

If you’ve always dreamed of working in outer space, this is your chance to see and touch models of space shuttles, rockets, satellites, tools and mission control rooms. The simulators and explorable modules will make you feel like a true astronaut—though if you wonder just how much the experience compares to the real deal, you can opt to meet one of those brave scientists in person at the Astronaut Encounter Theater.

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Perhaps the best example of America’s building prowess in the first half of the 20th century, this dam remains a bewildering feat of engineering and labor. Construction started in 1931 and took five years, 5,000 workers and 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete to complete. Today, you can take a tour of the dam and its power plant to learn more about the facility’s history and amazing features.

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Not only is St. Louis’s premiere attraction the world’s largest arch, but it is also the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. Standing proud at 630ft tall, this metal beauty was built in the mid-20th century as a monument to America’s westward expansion and is meant to signify the connection of the East to the West, honoring the country’s first pioneers. To fully understand this architectural wonder, snag a ticket to the Gateway Arch Tram and ride to the top of the monument.

With more than 400 miles explored, the world’s longest known cave system (by far) is in Kentucky and it welcomes any visitor not afraid of the dark or the damp. See the dramatic passages lined with geological formations that might just inspire your inner explorer during a guided tour by a park ranger. The tours vary in length but they always include historic details about how the cave system was formed and how people and other creatures have interacted with it. After several hours in the caverns, appreciate the beauty of the clear waters and the untouched nature of the area while on a bike ride or canoe adventure.

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As the name might suggest, Fisherman’s Wharf, is so called because of the number of fishermen and mongers who lived in the neighborhood in the late 1800s through the 20th century. Today it offers great views of the bay and fleets of ships with delicious food and delightful shops everywhere you look. Grab some seafood chowder, made with fresh local crabmeat served in a bread bowl, from any of the dozens of local eateries to fortify yourself before hitting the area’s specialty shops.

The awesome Meteor Crater in Arizona is almost a mile in diameter, about 560ft deep and was formed 50,000 years ago by an asteroid just 165ft in length, releasing about 10 megatons of energy upon impact. (To compare, the dinosaur-killing asteroid Chicxulub was six miles wide.) Sometimes called the Barringer Crater, it is believed to be the best-preserved meteorite crater on Earth. Sadly though, despite attempts to make the crater a public landmark, it remains privately owned and as such is not protected as a national monument.

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This formidable fortress in the middle of San Francisco Bay was converted from a lighthouse station to a military prison in the 1870s. However, it found true acclaim after being upgraded to a maximum security prison in 1934, home to the early 20th century’s most notorious criminals. Today, the tiny island is only accessible to the public via a ferry from Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. You should plan to spend about three hours to really soak up the amazing history and during that time a self-guided audio cellhouse tour narrated by former inmates and guards will fill you in on harrowing escape attempts, prison riots and the 19-month-long occupation of the site by Native Americans demanding reparation for broken treaties in 1969. 

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Wedged in between Marina del Ray and Santa Monica, Venice Beach is one of the biggest draws for visitors to Los Angeles. It's firmly established as the bohemian epicenter of Southern California and you won't find a higher concentration of recognizable landmarks from film and TV anyway else in Los Angeles. At weekends, during the summer, it gets pretty packed, but that just adds to the slightly chaotic atmosphere. Street acts add a carnival feel to the proceedings, plus of course, the beach itself is just a few feet away. Try Hinano Cafe for a great burger in a back-to-basics, spit 'n sawdust setting and the newly refurbished Pier House for classic cocktails as the sun sets over the Pacific.

Most Americans know the phrase 'Remember the Alamo' even if they’re not exactly sure what transpired at the 18th-century Spanish mission. Later secularized and used as a fortress, in 1836 the Alamo was the site of a bloody and decisive battle of the Texas Revolution fought between Texas’s early Anglo settlers and Mexico (the latter won). One of the most visited historic sites in the country, today the fort welcomes about three million visitors annually. 

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