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Photograph: Unsplash / Luca Micheli

The most beautiful cities in the U.S. to visit right now

Put the most beautiful cities in the U.S. on your domestic travel list and get to know America's pretty side

Written by
Shoshi Parks
Contributors
Jenny Peters
&
Krista Diamond
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From coast to coast, the most beautiful cities in the U.S. prove that this country truly is America the Beautiful. Sure, a long list of things to do throughout the states includes natural wonders, amazing restaurants, and impressive architecture, but you'll find that certain cities have it all plus stunning looks to back it up.

Heavy-hitters like New York and Los Angeles are the most obvious of the bunch. They're picture-perfect melting pots of cultures, unique neighborhoods, top museums, and cutting edge style. But even smaller cities, from California to Florida, are just as lovely. Take Las Vegas and Miami, for example, both of which stimulate the senses with glitz, glamour, and sparkling scenery. Then there’s New Orleans, where every single day is a celebration of culture and music (not to mention fantastic architecture), while cities like Nashville and Charleston offer history and entertainment all wrapped up in a pretty package.

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Whether you’re a museum hopper drawn to a city’s unique past, an urban trend-seeker looking to check out next-gen coffee and record shops, or someone in need of a first-class getaway packed with cool adventures and sweet places to stay, you'll find the city of your dreams in our list of the most beautiful cities in the U.S.

Time Out Market United States

Time Out’s expansive food-and-culture destinations are what happens when your go-to guide to the city’s best restaurants, bars and things to do becomes an actual place. These are the spots we’ve curated with the same fuss, care and curiosity we bring to our editorial—and there’s probably one near you right now.

Most beautiful cities in the US

San Francisco, a beautiful city built on massive hills and surrounded by water, is a place that marches 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 a day-tour to Alcatraz Island, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge or laughing at the chubby sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf

Book a double-decker sightseeing tour.

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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 an eye-catching must-see. From chowder to lobster rolls, Boston also loves its seafood, so be sure to visit the city's best raw bars and lobster shacks while you're in town.

Tour historic Boston on a trolley.

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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 recently the city has become 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.

See the city on a harbor cruise.

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From its emerald parks to the endless views of Puget Sound, Seattle is the crowning jewel of the Pacific Northwest. You'll see it all from the top of the iconic Space Needle—a 360 degree rotating atrium with a glass floor—but don't stop there. Seattle is full of incredible restaurants and world-class museums like the Seattle Art Museum and the Museum of Pop Culture. It's also the home of famed glass artist Dale Chihuly's Garden and Glass. And while the grunge era that put the city on the map is long gone, there are still plenty of excellent music venues to check out including Neumos and the Showbox.

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You probably didn’t know that Milwaukee holds the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest, over three consecutive weekends in June and July. When the massive festival goes down, the 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 (summer/fall). It’s a vibrant, friendly city that Harley-Davidson calls home—don’t miss their massive museum here.

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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, and 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 keep an eye on the iconic architecture that defines this one-in-a-million, music-loving city. 

Go on a New Orleans bus tour.

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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, Rush Street, devoted to drinking and dancing. You can party there until 4am, but save some strength for the festivals this city loves to put on, from July's Taste of Chicago and September's Pitchfork Music Fest to the big daddy of them all, Lollapalooza. 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.

See Chicago architecture on a river cruise.

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No matter where you are in Salt Lake City, the snowcapped Rocky Mountains are never out of sight. They tower over the uber-clean city, a stunning landscape fit for a painting. And while Salt Lake is well-known for its Mormon heritage, there's more to the scene here than meets the eye. Restaurants range from the fine-dining favorite Log Haven to a healthy variety of ethnic and international restaurants. And while alcohol isn't as readily available here as in some cities, it's much easier to find than you think, including at the White Horse and Bourbon House downtown. While there, don't forget to take in a little of the outdoors: hiking, swimming, and picnicking at the Great Salt Lake is a good place to start.

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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. Is 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 and Johnny Cash; 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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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 as you criss-cross L.A. County. Expect its famous traffic to slow you down as you head to Malibu for a surfing session; make a pit stop at the Getty museum, then step in the stars’ footprints at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Blow your shopping budget on Rodeo Drive, then head south to Anaheim to pilot the Millenium Falcon at Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge universe.

Go sightseeing in Los Angeles with a bus tour.

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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 long been the center of America. 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 Soups. Clearly, blues and barbecue go hand-in-hand here, with classic BBQ joints like Pappy’s Smokehouse and Sugarfire that slow-cook with style. Locals are so serious about the cuisine that the Q in the Lou cookoff is fall's hottest ticket.

Go on a St. Louis trolley tour.

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One of America’s most beautiful cities, stately Washington, D.C. 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 various Smithsonian museums lining each side. See them all (take a look at our list of the best museums in DC for a start), but plan to spend extra time at the new(ish) National Museum of African American History and CultureBeyond politics, monuments and museums, D.C. boats some 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.

See DC landmarks on a bus tour.

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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 architecture like those in 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 any 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.

Book a hop-on hop-off bus tour of NYC.

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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 in December offers up creative installations, parties, and intellectualism. 

Book Miami tours and attractions.

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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, and jangling slot machines are the city’s signature perks. But Vegas is more than just casinos rising out of the desert. 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.

Take in the neon on a Las Vegas sightseeing tour.

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It’s not a myth: San Diego boasts the very best weather across America, with 70-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures, low humidity, and sunny skies all year round. Add in the beautiful bay and beaches, a famous zoo and the endearing madness of Comic-Con International, 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 Pechanga and Viejas, the two posh Native American casinos nearby; kids dream of Legoland; and everyone hits up KAABOO, the massive music, art, comedy, and culinary festival.

Enjoy a narrated tour of Old Town San Diego.

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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 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 anchored by DoveCote Brasserie and The Boheme, and an equally adult club scene that pays homage all sorts of tunes, from country and hip hip to rock and pop.

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