The best city breaks in the USA

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 16.07.2019

There are so many great US cities that there's almost too much choice when planning a short break. Whether you want to chase the sunshine, stuff yourself silly, or check out the best local beats, we’ve got it covered. These are the best US cities for a weekend away.

Best for music: Austin, Texas

Austin does a great job of living up to its self-proclaimed title of “Live Music Capital of the World”. It has tonnes of well-renowned festivals, of which South by Southwest (every March) is arguably the most celebrated. Outside of festival times, however, you’ll still find yourself with plenty of choice – the city claims to have more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the world – regardless of whether it’s jazz, rock, blues or country that gets your feet tapping.

United States of America, Texas, Austin, Bourbon Rocks nightclub, people dancing on dance floor lit with coloured lighting, band performing on stage in background

Best for food: New Orleans, Louisiana

There’s no question that New Orleans is one of the most intoxicating destinations in the US – and the city’s spicy Creole cuisine undoubtedly plays a big role in this. From fancy restaurants that give you bibs for their splatter-everywhere BBQ shrimp sauce to dive bars serving fried chicken and jambalaya, with beignets and po’ boys in between, there’s few places that will leave you so happily stuffed by the end of your trip.

Best for beer: Portland, Oregon

The craft beer scene has really exploded in the US in recent years, but with over 65 breweries – more than any other city in the world – Portland is undoubtedly the destination for beer lovers. The city’s dedication to beer can be seen in its “brew ‘n’ view” cinemas where you can sample local ales alongside great food and the latest films. If you’d rather enjoy a drink in more traditional surroundings, then head to one of the many bars – in summer, the patio bars are the place to head.


© Joshua Rainey Photography/Shutterstock

Best for beaches: Los Angeles, California

The sprawling, traffic-clogged City of Angels is redeemed for many visitors by its beautiful beaches – in many places, incredibly wide, long stretches of sand. Even in this busy metropolis, it’s possible to find your own little seaside haven – hit the road, head a little further up the coast and you’ll soon be rewarded for your explorations. It’s hard not to be seduced by LA’s combination of sun and sand, especially at sunset, when the sky can turn rather magical shades of pink and purple.

Best for museums: Washington DC

The country’s capital is home to some of its greatest museums, spanning everything from the history of news reporting to the Holocaust. The world-renowned Smithsonian Institution alone comprises a rather staggering fifteen museums, most of which are free to visit. Highlights include the National Museum of American History, home to the Star-Spangled Banner and George Washington’s wooden teeth, and the Natural History Museum, with its giant squid and Easter Island heads.

USA, Washington DC, Supreme Court, Contemplation of Justice statue

Best for year-round good weather: San Diego, California

It’s hard to beat Southern California when it comes to predictable good weather throughout the year, and San Diego is the epitome of the state’s laid-back charm. Soak up the sun from one of the city’s many beautiful public beaches, or in the historic landscaped gardens of Balboa Park. Best of all, being this close to the Mexican border means that the food is great, and the burgeoning beer scene provides the perfect refreshment for those warm Californian days.

Best for romance: Charleston, South Carolina

Graceful Charleston has a relaxed Southern charm that, combined with its stately architecture, nearby beaches and fabulous restaurants, make it perfect if you’re looking for a romantic trip. If you want to go all out in the romance stakes (and aren’t afraid to be a bit cheesy), book a horse-drawn carriage ride through the oak-lined streets – especially lovely at night when the gas lamps are lit.


© Doubletree Studio/Shutterstock

Best for culture: New York City, New York

There are countless things that the Big Apple excels at, of course, but nowhere else in the States can match it for the variety of culture on offer. Whether you’re looking for a tiny, old jazz club in the Village, world class museums, independent galleries, a quirky new Off-Broadway play or the latest sell-out musical, the City That Never Sleeps is definitely the place to be.

Best for the outdoors: San Francisco, California

Hilly San Francisco boasts one of the most scenic positions in the country, with the eponymous bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Though it’s not one of those cities where you ever feel totally locked in. There are few better places to escape to than the impressive expanse of Golden Gate Park, which stretches from Haight Ashbury to Ocean Beach, and is well worth a good day or two of exploration, on foot or by bike.


© StudioEau/Shutterstock

Best for architecture: Chicago, Illinois

If you have any interest in American architecture, then Chicago is a must-visit. The vast majority of the city’s architecture is remarkably modern due to the devastation wreaked by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Highlights include Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Rookery, Frank Gehry’s futuristic Pritzker Pavilion, and the Art Deco Carbide and Carbon Building.

Explore more of the USA with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Top image © Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 16.07.2019

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