You could spend a lifetime exploring the USA and still not see it all. The world’s third-most populous country offers every imaginable opportunity for travellers. When planning a trip, it helps to have a game plan. Here is our guide to the best states to visit while travelling in the United States. Don’t forget to apply for your ESTA USA on time: this travel authorization is compulsory to enter the United States.
This article is inspired by our Rough Guide to the USA — your essential guide for travelling in the United States.
1. California — The Golden State and one of the best states in the USA
With rural villages, large cities, towering mountains, and ocean beaches — you can discover every bit of America within the borders of California. The Golden State offers travellers gorgeous views paired with some of the best year-round weather in the country.
- Visit one of California's major cities. California has so many great cities to visit, it's far from possible to mention them all here. Take a stroll down the Santa Monica Boardwalk in Los Angeles, or enjoy the entertaining chaos of Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. Enjoy immaculate beaches in San Diego or visit the annual Comic-con. Take a cable car down the steep hills of San Francisco, or walk across the iconic Golden Gate bridge — and don't forget to sample the local sourdough.
What to do in California
- Go on a road trip. For one of the best drives in the world, cruise along the Pacific Coast Highway. Drive the entire coastal stretch of this beautiful state, from Southern California to breathtaking Muir Woods. Or head inland to taste some of Earth’s finest wine in Napa Valley.
- Visit one of California's many parks. Go to the south to see the vast sands of Death Valley national park and the distinct foliage of Joshua tree national park. Or head north to the mountain-rimmed Lake Tahoe and the jaw-dropping Yosemite national park. One of the most beautiful state parks in the USA - Emerald Bay State Park - is also worth your attention.
We've collected a list of the best beaches in California, don't forget to visit at least one of them while you are there.
2. Colorado — The Centennial State
Progressive and increasingly multicultural, Colorado is one of the best states to visit in the USA. Known for its unparalleled natural beauty and liberal city centres, Colorado is not to be missed.
- Visit Denver — one of the fastest-growing cities in America. It's packed with cultural institutions such as the Denver Art Museum.
What to do in Colorado
- Take a dip in the natural hot springs. Colorado springs is known for being one of the best places to visit for those in need of a thermally-heated dip.
- Go on outdoor adventures. Explore the hiking trails of Rocky mountain national park. Discover the ancient dwellings of Mesa Verde national park. Or find yourself in the towering sand of Great Sand Dunes National Park.
- Ski in Aspen. When many think of Aspen, they think of some of the best skiing in the country — and for good reason. Beyond hitting the snow, Aspen also offers boutique shops and top-notch festivals.
- For a classy but family-friendly stay in Denver: the Oxford Hotel. This historic hotel is centrally located and offers stylish rooms.
- For a romantic getaway in Aspen: St Moritz Lodge in Aspen. A short walk from downtown, and with a heated pool onsite.
- Find even more places to stay in Colorado
Where to stay in Colorado
3. Massachusetts — The Bay State
Although it's been over 400 years since the first settlers landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the state remains as integral to the fabric of American life as ever. In terms of historical significance, it's undoubtedly one of the best states to visit in the USA.
- Visit Boston, one of America’s oldest cities. Today it's a thriving and cutting-edge coastal metropolis. Go to a local sports bar to watch a Red Sox baseball game, and grab a beer from of the many renowned local craft breweries.
What to do in Massachusetts
- Explore the windswept coastal beauty of Cape Cod. This area is home to iconic island retreats such as Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Cape Cod offers an endless assortment of charming small towns such as Provincetown.
- Enjoy the fall foliage. Many Americans flock to the east coast each year for a "leaf-peeping tour". The local trees turn brilliant colours in the autumn and are worth travelling to see.
- Best for couples: Land's End Inn in Provincetown. This turreted house is extravagantly decorated and many of the rooms have sweeping ocean views. A truly original and special place.
- For luxury: Hotel Commonwealth in Boston. Old-world charm paired with modern decor makes this a top choice in Boston's luxury hotel scene.
- Check out more places to stay in Massachusetts
Where to stay in Massachusetts
Ready for your trip to the United States? Don't miss our guide to the 20 foods you absolutely must try while in the US.
4. Wisconsin — The Badger State
To truly 'get' the USA, you must experience all of its regions. And while the Midwest isn’t high on most international traveller’s agendas, it's as essential to understanding America as New York City or Washington DC. Long known for cheese and beer, Wisconsin is about as American as you can get.
- Visit lake Michigan and Superior. Get out of the cities to enjoy a true slice of Americana by fly-fishing, hunting, or snowmobiling in small towns like Eagle River. Or, relax lakeside with a cold drink in hand at resort communities like Door County.
What to do in Wisconsin
- Visit Milwaukee — home of Harley-Davidson and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Take a tour of the city's many breweries. Or take the family on an exciting scavenger hunt through Milwaukee.
- For a truly American experience, the Wisconsin State Fair. This family-friendly event offers an authentic taste of American agriculture.
- Best for city stays: Hyatt Regency Milwaukee. Comfortable and affordable room located right in the middle of downtown.
- For beer lovers: The Brewhouse Inn & Suites. Located inside the Pabst Brewery, this hotel is any beer aficionado's dream.
- Check out more great places to stay in Wisconsin
Where to stay in Wisconsin
5. Utah — The Beehive State
Utah is home to some of the biggest and most beautiful landscapes in North America. With brightly coloured canyons and thickly forested mountains, Utah is one of the best places to visit in the USA.
- Visit Salt Lake City. SLC is one of America’s more underrated mid-sized cities, boasting a booming contemporary food and drink scene paired with spectacular mountain scenery.
What to do in Utah
- The Big Five. Near St. George, one can find five of the most spectacular national parks in the United States — including Zion National Park and Arches National Park. Here one can find some of the most iconic hiking trails in the entire country. From here, road trip south to Arizona to see the Grand canyon national park.
- Go skiing. The gorgeous mountain town of Park City, located by Salt Lake City, is the state’s premier ski community. It also plays host to the star-studded Sundance Film Festival.
- Best for family adventures in St George: St George: Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel. A charming chain hotel with comfortable rooms, close to the national parks.
- Best for city stays: Salt Lake Plaza Hotel at Temple Square. A comfortable and clean stay in Utah's Salt Lake City downtown area.
- Find more places to stay in Utah
Where to stay in Utah
6. Louisiana — The Bayou State
No exploration of America is complete without a visit to the culture-packed American South, and the swamps of Louisiana are no exception. Visit the Bayou state for its distinctive offbeat charms and some of the finest food and drink in the country.
- Enjoy Louisiana's distinctive, spicy Creole cuisine. Creole food is a rich blend of French, Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisine, mixed up with a host of other influences including Native American, Italian, and German.
What to do in Lousiana
- Celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans' French Quarter. The Crescent City brims with a sense of life and diverse culture that is impossible to replicate anywhere in the world. This is most famously (and flamboyantly) brought to life during Mardi Gras.
- For a family day out: take a swamp tour. Watch out for alligators lurking in the ghostly, cypress-clogged bayou.
- For celebrating Mardi Gras, The Royal Sonesta New Orleans. Located in the historic French Quarter on Bourbon Street, this is the best place to stay during the Fat Tuesday celebration.
- Best for families in New Orleans: Hampton Inn Downtown/French Quarter Area. Spacious rooms in a central location.
- Find more accommodation in Louisiana
Where to stay in Louisiana
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7. Wyoming — The Cowboy State
Pronghorn antelope all but outnumber people in wide-open Wyoming, the least populous state in the US. This is classic cowboy country — replete with dude ranches, rodeos and country music halls.
- Discover the national parks. Grand Teton national park is known for its rugged mountains. Meanwhile, Yellowstone national park is the nation's oldest national park, and most popular. You won't want to miss this otherworldly site.
What to do in Wyoming
- The city of Jackson. Crammed with boutiques, art galleries, old west bars, and excellent restaurants, Jackson is worth a visit. You won't want to miss the Jackson Hole Rodeo for a day of family-friendly western kitch.
- Find fossils. Wyoming is known for being one of the "dinosaur hot spots" of the world. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is a great place to see the state's findings.
- For your Yellowstone adventure: Elk Horn Lodge. Cabins are centrally located in Cooke City, right outside of Yellowstone national park.
- For your skiing adventure: Snow King Resort in Jackson. An affordable, family-friendly ski resort that is also lit for night skiing.
- Check out even more accommodations in Wyoming
Where to stay in Wyoming
8. Washington — The Evergreen State
The pacific north-west is known for its rich natural beauty and heavy rain that sweeps in from the pacific. Smothered with dense forests of fir, cedar, and cypress, Washington really is the "evergreen state".
- See jaw-dropping views. Take a drive through the Cascade loop. This series of highways pass pristine alpine lakes and snow-capped peaks. Or visit Mount Rainier national park, one of Washington's most visited tourist attractions.
What to do in Washington
- Visit Seattle — known as the "Emerald City" and the home of grunge rock. Enjoy street entertainment and delicious seafood dinners at the lively Pike Place market. Or spend the afternoon at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) — a funky and fun museum of music and more.
- Ferry to the San Juan Islands. With charming towns, culinary treats and the chance to see the resident killer whales, the San Juan islands are one of the best places to visit.
- For Seattle: Staypineapple. Hip boutique hotel with a bright, pop art theme located in downtown Seattle.
- For San Juan Islands: Orcas Hotel. A vintage victorian Inn and the best place to stay in the San Juan islands. With cosy rooms and luxurious suites right on the water's edge.
- Find more places to stay in Washington state.
Where to stay in Washington
Ready to explore the natural sites of the US? You won't want to miss our guide to the best places to embrace the great outdoors in the United States.
9. Hawaii — The Aloha State
With towering volcanoes, palm tree-lined beaches, and glorious cliffs — the Hawaiian islands are understandably a popular tourist destination. Despite its isolation, Hawaii boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and is one of the best states to visit in the USA.
- Tropical beaches. Hawaii is known first and foremost for its beautiful beaches. Learn to surf at Waikiki Beach in Oahu, or sip a cocktail under the palm trees at Lumahai Beach, Kauai.
What to do in Hawaii
- Explore the power of Hawaii's volcanoes by visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island. Specifically, a hike around Kilauea Caldra, the most impressive crater in the park.
- Take a walk along the oceanfront streets of Lahaina, Maui. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Lahaina is one of Hawaii's prettiest communities.
- For something with character: The Royal Hawaiian. This hotel, established in the 1920s, is one of Waikiki's best-loved landmarks. Affectionately known as the "Pink Palace" and located directly on the beach.
- For a comfortable resort: King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel. Rooms at this veteran resort hotel are comfortable and feature picturesque views of the ocean.
- See more accommodation in Hawaii.
Where to stay in Hawaii
Dreaming of hitting the beach? Check out our guide to the best beaches in the United States.
10. New York — The Empire State
New York is home to America's most celebrated and most populous city. The words "New York" are bound to bring to mind soaring skyscrapers and congested streets. However, you won't want to miss the surrounding area of this state. New York remains one of the best states to visit in the USA.
- Visit New York City, one of the best cities in the US. There is no end to what there is to do in this iconic city. Take a stroll through Central Park. Visit one of the many world-class museums, such as the Metropolitan museum. Or take in the views from the top of the Empire State building.
What to do in New York
- Visit the massive Niagra Falls. Take the Made of Mist boat trip, or visit the Cave of the Winds and stand close enough to feel the spray from these majestic falls.
- Visit the Adirondacks. This area is a vast and rugged alpine wilderness offering superb skiing, fishing and hiking trails. This is also a great place for mountain biking.
- For a hip hotel: The Jane in NYC. This hotel offers rooms inspired by ship cabins (as the building was originally in 1908 built to accommodate sailors.
- For a stylish stay: Arlo Soho. Enjoy the comfortable rooms and sweeping views from this hotel's rooftop.
- For more ideas on where to stay, don't miss our guide to the best areas to stay in New York City.
Where to stay in New York
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11. Texas — The Lone Star State
When one thinks of America, they are sure to think of Texas. One of the largest states in the country and home to a great amount of geographical diversity. Culturally, the lone star state stands proudly apart from the rest of the USA.
- Spend time in San Antonio. History buffs will want to visit the Alamo, which lies smack in the centre of downtown. Art lovers will want to see the McNay Art Museum, with its striking collection and otherworldly architecture. Don't miss the San Antonio river walk for hip places to eat and shop.
What to do in Texas:
- Take a trip to Houston. Although a car is recommended when visiting, this vast city has a lot to offer. Don't miss the Space Center Houston or the Big Thicket National Preserve.
- Get "weird" in Austin. Austin has a reputation for being different from its neighbouring cities. You'll find here a laidback, progressive city with a thriving arts community.
Our list of great places to visit in the United States could truly keep going, but for now, we will leave you with our top 11 states. Ready to visit the USA? Check out the Rough Guide to the United States. Read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit and best things to do in the US.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to the US without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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