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.
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.
What to do in California
- 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.
- 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.
We've collected a list of the best beaches in California, don't forget to visit at least one of them while you there.
Where to stay in California
California — one of the best states in to visit in the USA © Bmstockstudio/Shutterstock
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.
What to do in Colorado
- Visit Denver — one of the fastest-growing cities in America. It's packed with cultural institutions such as the Denver Art Museum.
- 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.
Where to stay in Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park outside Denver, Colorado © Dr. Alan Lipkin/Shutterstock
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.
What to do in Massachusetts
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Cape Cod, a great place to visit in the USA © J.A. Johnson/Shutterstock
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.
What to do in Wisconsin
- 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.
- For a truly American experience, the Wisconsin State Fair. This family-friendly event offers an authentic taste of American agriculture.
Where to stay in Wisconsin
Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin © F11photo/Shutterstock
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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.
What to do in Utah
- 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.
- 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.
Where to stay in Utah
Zion National Park, one of the nation's most beautiful national parks © Calin Tatu/Shutterstock
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.
What to do in Lousiana
- 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.
- 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.
Where to stay in Louisiana
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A paddle steamer on the Mississippi River in New Orleans, Lousiana © f11photo/Shutterstock
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.
What to do in Wyoming
- 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.
- 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.
Where to stay in Wyoming
Grand Teton, Wyoming © Shutterstock
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".
What to do in Washington
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Autumn colors in Mt. Rainier National Park © Mike Peters/Shutterstock
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.
What to do in Hawaii
- 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.
- 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.
Where to stay in Hawaii
Dreaming of hitting the beach? Check out our guide to the best beaches in the United States.
Beach Lava Boulders and Shipwreck view © JMT2064/Shutterstock
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.
What to do in New York
- 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.
- 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.
Where to stay in New York
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Whiteface Mountain, Adirondacks, New York © nyker/Shutterstock
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.
What to do in Texas:
- 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.
- 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.
Where to stay in Texas:
- For a trendy place to stay in Houston: Hotel Zaza. This hotel offers themed suites like the "Casablanca" wrapped around a sleek pool
- For a swanky stay in Austin: The Driskill. Stay here for the opulent marble lobby or the classicly decorated rooms
The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, USA © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
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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