With more than 35,000 cities from coast to coast, north to south (including up in Alaska and out in Hawaii, of course), it’s quite a job to choose the best cities to visit in the USA. Our list is made up of American cities whose cultural significance, architectural identity, culinary offerings, diversity, attractions, outdoor public spaces, green areas, entertainment and sports options come together to create a unique destination that folks from across the globe should consider flocking to.
Sure, we cover the usual suspects (they’re usual suspects for a reason, after all) but expect some surprising cities (hello, Milwaukee!) that have garnered the right kind of attention in recent years. Playing host to avant-garde cultural events, festivals for all ages and breeding grounds for some of the most modernly appealing restaurants across the country, these cities join the ranks of New York and Los Angeles, becoming must-visit destinations in the US.
Best cities to visit in the USA
Needless to say: there is no place like New York City. An incredible melting pot of cultures, neighborhoods, languages and personal styles, a stroll down any street in Manhattan is always a fascinating experience. Classic old buildings exist shoulder-to-shoulder with new ultra-modern ones like Hudson Yards, constantly morphing the city’s identity into exciting new molds. When in town, indulge in more than one Broadway show, visit all the museums, stroll around Central Park, eat the best bagels in NYC and drool-worthy haute cuisine you can manage, drink at a speakeasy, catch a Yankee game or a US Open match and start wondering why you haven’t moved here yet.
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After 300 years of existence, New Orleans is in the midst of a renaissance—except for the streets, which are the bumpiest you've ever encountered in a major metropolis. They love to dress up and party here, so put on a wig and mask, hit the French Quarter and the Marigny for fabulous food at the best New Orleans restaurants, grab a to-go cup filled with craft cocktails from one of the city’s best bars, and indulge in the live music for which New Orleans is famous. Then dig deeper by visiting the Bywater neighborhood, home to an intoxicating mix of art and funk with incredible murals on every block, and stop at Bacchanal Wine for a munch, a sip and a song or two.
One thing to remember while here: always look around at the architecture that makes up this one-in-a-million, music-loving city. Festival fun coming up this year include Essence and Voodoo for music lovers and the annual NOLA Film Festival for movie buffs.
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Sun, sand and movies in which the city is often the star make Los Angeles a place the world wants to see in real life. Start at the Hotel Erwin’s rooftop in Venice for an expansive view of the whole city, then explore everything from ocean to mountains. Expect its famous traffic to slow you down when you head to Malibu for a surfing session, stop by the Getty museum, step in the stars’ footprints at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, blow your shopping budget on Rodeo Drive and head south to Anaheim to pilot the Millenium Falcon at Disneyland’s hot new Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge universe.
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One of America’s most beautiful cities, stately Washington, DC just keeps getting better. The National Mall is truly majestic, with the Capitol building glowing at one end, the Lincoln Memorial at the other and the various Smithsonian museums lining each side. See them all (seriously—take a look at our list of the best museums in DC for a start), but plan to spend extra time at the National African American Museum of History and Culture—and make sure to bring some tissues along for the ride.
Beyond politics, monuments and museums, DC has it all, with cool emerging neighborhoods like the Wharf (eat at Officina or Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi there) and Southeast, where the Nationals play baseball and craft beer rules at Bardo Brewing and Bluejacket nearby. Take a look at our guide to where to stay in Washington, DC if you’re planning a visit.
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Charleston is truly one of America’s great metropolises, steeped in the history of the nation while boasting a thoroughly modern attitude toward the arts, culture and cuisine—you just need one quick glance at our list of the best Charleston restaurants to see that. Since around 1670, the architecture—and particularly the churches on every corner—has been enough of a reason to head to South Carolina’s jewel, but the recent uptick in bachelor and bachelorette parties has turned the city into a food and drink haven as well. Water views and hipsters abound at the Pavilion Bar; City Market sells the city’s signature sweetgrass baskets; and dinner at chef Sean Brock’s Husk is a transcendental experience.
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Ah, Vegas. The place that every foreigner cannot wait to visit when seeing America. More lightbulbs in one place than anywhere, more ways to gamble than your wallet can bear, the glitter, glitz, jangling slot machines and flashing lights are the city’s signature, but Vegas is more than just casinos rising out of the desert. Go in December for the National Rodeo Finals, and suddenly it’s a cowboy town; head off the famed Strip to downtown’s fascinating Mob Museum and find out who built this decadent mecca in the first place. Eat at a world-class chef’s world-renowned restaurant (Joël Robuchon, anyone?), drive supercars at 200mph with Exotics Racing and zip out to Red Rock Canyon for a mind-bending desert experience. Whatever you want, Vegas always has it.
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San Francisco, a beautiful city built on massive hills and surrounded by water, is a place that pulsates to the beat of its own drum. Novices are always shocked at how chilly it is here, so pack a heavy sweater at any time of year, and use it while riding a cable car, taking the incredibly creepy and fascinating behind-the-scenes Alcatraz tour (book ahead!) and laughing at the chubby seals at Fisherman’s Wharf. In 2019, don’t miss the Pride Outside Lands Music Festival or the kinky BDSM Folsom Street Fair and grab tickets for both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, coming to the Curran theater in October.
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Things constantly sizzle in Miami, where Latin beats and eats swirl in an Art Deco dream. South Beach is the spot for sunning all day on the white sand and clubbing all night. For a really hot time, stop in at the World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM), and don’t forget to visit our very own Time Out Market Miami too. For true art lovers, Art Basel Miami arrives every December: expect a swirl of creative installations, parties and intellectualism. And 2020 goes off with a bang as Super Bowl LIV descends in February.
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Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, deep-dish pizza and the Cubbies: just three of the wonderful things that put Chicago on the world’s radar. It’s a big city with a friendly vibe that’s got a whole street devoted to drinking and dancing. Hit Rush Street if you’re ready to party until 4am, but save some strength for the summer festivals this city loves to put on, from Taste of Chicago and Pitchfork Music Fest in July to the big daddy of them all, Lollapalooza in August. This oh-so-cold city hunkers down in the winter, unless the Bears are playing football, in which case shirtless guys will brave subzero temps to cheer on their boys at Soldier Field.
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It’s not a myth: San Diego boasts the very best weather across America, with 70F temperatures, low humidity and sunny skies all year round. Add in the beautiful bay and beaches, its famous zoo and the endearing madness of Comic-Con International, the annual Godzilla of comic conventions that brings out cosplay aficionados in droves every July, and it’ll become impossible not to love this quintessential California city. Foodies adore the seafood and Mexican cuisine done to perfection here; gamblers flock to Pachanga and Viejas, the two posh Native American casinos nearby; kids dream of Legoland; and everyone hits KAABOO, the massive music, art, comedy and culinary festival come September.
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You probably didn’t know that Milwaukee holds the world’s largest music festival every year. Summerfest happens for 11 days around July 4, and this pretty city by Lake Michigan goes more than a little crazy. With 11 stages, over 800 bands and close to a million fans rolling through, they're taking advantage of the warm weather in a big way. During the rest of the year, think cheese curds, beer breweries, cornhole tournaments and Packers fanatics, juxtaposed with a gorgeous art museum and the annual Sculpture Milwaukee outdoor showcase all over town (June to October). It’s a vibrant, friendly city that Harley-Davidson calls home—don’t miss their massive museum here.
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History and modernity are joined at the hip in Boston, one of America’s first big cities and still one of its best. It’s the place where federal architecture harkens back to the 1600s, juxtaposed with ultra-modern buildings by Frank Gehry, Walter Gropius and I.M. Pei. Speaking of architecture: be sure to see the Back Bay row houses, usual Instagram fodder that is actually eye-catching and a must-see. To keep in mind: Boston bands together in love for its sports teams and its seafood, from chowder to lobster rolls, a devotion celebrated each summer at the Boston Seafood Festival in August. Basically, a big ol’ New England clambake.
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Ask anyone in America with kids what the best city is and expect a loud “Orlando!” in unison as a response. With theme parks like Universal Studios Florida, Legoland and Walt Disney World, Orlando has been the place for families for generations. And now, with the arrival in late August of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney World, there will be plenty of adults with no kids descending on Orlando as well. The city is ready, with an impressive range of restaurants in Orlando anchored by DoveCote Brasserie and La Boheme, and an equally adult club scene that pays homage all sorts of tunes, from country to hip hip to rock and pop.
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Honky tonks and museums might not seem to go together, but their marriage in Nashville is a strong one indeed. For some drinking and dancing, head straight for Broadway, where Legend’s Corner, Nudie’s and Tootsie’s have been serving up country, blues and whiskey forever. You can start early (10am) and go late into the night (3am) in Music City—if you’ve got the fortitude, of course.
Day drinking not your idea of vacation fun? Start with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and move onto the museums devoted to Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and George Jones; all are right downtown and terrific. See Historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis made countless records, and drive out to the Bluebird Cafe and the Grand Ole Opry. Don’t forget that this is a party town so feel free to visit with a group, rent a barcycle (which is exactly what is sounds like) and roam among the best Nashville bars, singing as you go.
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For a small-town vibe in a big city, St. Louis is the place to be. Settled by Europeans in 1764, this “Gateway to the West” has been the center of America forever. A few musts while in town: a visit to the famous (and giant) Gateway Arch, a walk through the National Blues Museum and a stop at BB’s Jazz Blues and Soup. Clearly, blues and barbecue go hand-in-hand here, with classic BBQ joints like Pappy’s Smokehouse and Sugarfire doing slow cooking with style. Locals are so serious about the cuisine that The Q in the Lou cookoff in September is a hot ticket.
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