“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag
There are great places to see in every state. This is a list of those that many authorities count as the best ones.
Alabama – Gulf Shores – The Alabama Gulf Coast is warmed by sunshine, history, culture, and unspoiled natural beauty. Here can be found 32 miles of sugar-white sand beaches, soothing warm water, and unlimited recreational activities including scenic cruises, dolphin-watching, watersports, and hiking. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have spectacular accommodations and rentals, award-winning restaurants, and amazing events. Visit the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, the Gulf State Park, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, and historic Fort Morgan.
Alaska – Denali National Park – Denali National Park in Alaska is six million acres of wildland, bisected by one ribbon of road. Travelers along it see the relatively low-elevation taiga forest give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America’s tallest peak, 20,310 foot Denali (Mount McKinley.) Wild animals large and small roam unfenced lands, living as they have for ages. Solitude, tranquility, and wilderness await at this beautiful national park.
Arizona – Grand Canyon – Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, is home to much of the immense Grand Canyon, with its layered bands of red rock revealing millions of years of geological history. Viewpoints include Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station and architect Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio, and her Desert View Watchtower. Lipan Point, with wide views of the canyon and Colorado River, is popular, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Arkansas – Hot Springs National Park – Located adjacent to the city of Hot Springs, the hot spring water has been popularly believed for centuries to possess medicinal properties and was a subject of legend among several Native American tribes. Established before the concept of a national park existed, the Hot Springs Reservation was initially created by an act of the United States Congress on April 20, 1832, to be preserved for future recreation.
California – Alcatraz Island – Sitting like a beacon in the middle of the San Francisco Bay of California is Alcatraz Island. Though most prominently known for the years it served as a maximum-security prison, the “Rock’s” history stretches far beyond those infamous days, and its legends and stories continue to find their way into American lore. Today, the island’s facilities are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is open to tours.
Colorado – Rocky Mountain National Park – Rocky Mountain National Park, located in north-central Colorado encompasses 415 square miles of spectacular mountains and forests filled with wildlife, 300 miles of hiking trails, rivers and streams, 600 rustic buildings, and some of America’s most beautiful scenery.
Connecticut – Mystic Seaport – The Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut is the largest maritime museum in the United States. It is notable for its collection of sailing ships and boats and for the re-creation of the crafts and fabric of an entire 19th-century seafaring village. It consists of more than 60 meticulously restored historic buildings.
Delaware – Rehoboth Beach – Delaware’s most visited city, Rehoboth Beach is known for its award-winning boardwalk, unspoiled coastline, awesome hotels, specialty stores, park areas, amusements, beautiful homes, water activities, and some of the finest restaurants anywhere. The Rehoboth Beach Museum explores the town’s history and to the north, Cape Henlopen State Park has dunes and an observation tower from 1941, when the park was a military base.
Florida – Magic Kingdom – The Magic Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida opened on October 1, 1971, as the first of four theme parks at the Disney World Resort. The resort comprises four theme parks including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, two water parks, 27 themed resort hotels, and numerous other entertainment venues. The property covers nearly 25,000 acres. Magic Kingdom, divided into six themed “lands”, is the most popular with some 21 million visitors each year.
Georgia – Savannah Trolley Tour – Savanna, the oldest city in Georgia, was established in 1733 and later became the first state capital. A strategic port city in the American Revolution and during the Civil War, Savannah is today an industrial center and an important Atlantic seaport. Known for manicured parks, horse-drawn carriages, and antebellum architecture, Savannah’s Old Town Trolley Tours allows visitors to discover the city on narrated tours where visitors can hop on and off to visit attractions.
Hawaii – Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial – At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, in Honolulu, Hawaii, visitors learn about one of the most pivotal moments in US history: the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent entry of the United States into World War II. The site marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on USS Arizona during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and commemorates the events of that day.
Idaho – Snake River Scenic Cruise – This popular boat cruise on the Snake River provides visitors the opportunity to admire some of Idaho’s natural scenery as they pass by the 1000 Springs area, Box Canyon Springs, Blue Heart Springs, and other sights. Travelers can listen to narration as they watch for birds and other wildlife along the water.
Illinois – Chicago Navy Pier – The Navy Pier is a 3,300-foot-long pier on the shoreline of Lake Michigan is one of the most visited attractions in the entire Midwest and is Chicago’s most visited tourist attraction. Originally known as the “Municipal Pier”, it opened to the public on July 15, 1916. Today, it encompasses over 50 acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, family attractions, and exhibition facilities drawing nearly two million visitors annually.
Indiana – Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore – Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, now a National Park, stretches along 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana. Here visitors enjoy water activities, hiking and biking trails, bird-watching, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the winter. Historic landmarks can be seen at Bailly Homestead, a pioneer trading post established in 1822; the Chellberg Farm that reflects the challenges of sustainable agricultural success in the sandy dunes; and the Good Fellow Youth Camp, a historic 1940s summer camp. Additionally, the park offers over 400 interpretive programs and ranger-led walks and talks in various locations throughout the year.
Iowa – Amana Colony – This was a utopian society located in the rolling hills of Iowa’s River Valley that was established shortly before the Civil War by a group of German-speaking European settlers who belonged to a religious group. Today, heritage tourism has become important to the economy of the Amana area.
Kansas – Boot Hill Museum – Located in Dodge City, Kansas, this museum preserves the history of the Old West with emphasis on Dodge City. Consisting of several buildings, exhibits include several themes such as the Plains Indians, forts and railroads, buffalo hunters, cowboys, the Santa Fe Trail and more. There are over 20,000 artifacts in the complex, including more than 200 original guns. The Long Branch Variety Show is the longest-running seasonal theatrical show in the nation.
Kentucky – Cumberland Falls State Park – Called the “Niagara of the South”, Cumberland Falls is a natural waterfall that is 65 feet tall and 125 feet wide. The 1,657-acre park is also the home of 44-foot Eagle Falls. Visitors enjoy fishing, birding, boating, camping, horseback riding, and gemstone mining. The park is located 20 miles southwest of Corbin, Kentucky within the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Louisiana – New Orleans French Quarter – Often called the Crown Jewel of New Orleans, the French Quarter is one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods. Founded in 1718, the district includes Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, steamboat cruises, Bourbon Street, old-world architecture, and century-old restaurants. The district as a whole has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, with numerous contributing buildings.
Maine – Acadia National Park – Called the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” Acadia National Park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline, an abundance of habitats, and rich cultural heritage. At 3.5 million visits a year, it’s one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the United States. Visitors enjoy 27 miles of historic motor roads, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads.
Maryland – Assateague Island National Seashore – This protected area on a long barrier island off the coast of Maryland is known for its Atlantic beaches and for trails that wind through marshland, dunes, and pine forest. In the south, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is home to wild Chincoteague ponies, bald eagles, and migratory seabirds. Near Toms Cove is the working 19th-century Assateague Lighthouse.
Massachusetts – Faneuil Hall Marketplace – Located in the heart of downtown Boston, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is adjacent to historic Faneuil Hall and is bordered by the financial district, the waterfront, the North End, Government Center, and Haymarket. It is a well-traveled part of Boston’s “Freedom Trail.” The Marketplace is actually four great places in one location – Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, North Market, and South Market, all set around a cobblestone promenade where jugglers, magicians, and musicians entertain the passers-by.
Michigan – Henry Ford Museum – The Henry Ford is a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex and a National Historic Landmark in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, United States. The 250-acre complex includes the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and Ford Rouge Factory Tour. Particularly interested in the nation’s past, by 1920 Ford was determined to start a museum that would emphasize industrial history and thereby “give people a true picture of the development of the country.” He founded the museum on October 21, 1929.
Minnesota – Mall of America – Recognized as the largest shopping and entertainment complex in the United States and one of the most visited tourist attractions on the globe, the Mall of America receives roughly 40 million visitors a year. The complex boasts more than 520 stores, 60 restaurants, Nickelodeon Universe (a 7-acre indoor amusement park), SEA LIFE Aquarium, a comedy club, world-class gaming and entertainment centers, the LEGO Store, mini-golf and tons of other family attractions and nightlife options. The mall is located in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis.
Mississippi – Natchez Trace Parkway – For thousands of years, people have been using the Natchez Trace, today memorialized as the 442-mile Natchez Trace Parkway that winds its way through the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, providing tourists exceptional scenery and thousands of years of American History. Whether famous, infamous, or anonymous, travelers of the Natchez Trace relied heavily on this wilderness road that meandered through a diverse terrain of swamps, rivers, and rolling hills. The Trace was a road home, a path of exploration, and a link to the growing population of the Old Southwest.
Missouri – Gateway Arch – The Gateway Arch reflects St. Louis, Missouri’s role in the Westward Expansion of the United States during the 19th century. The park is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the West, to the pioneers who helped shape its history, and to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom in the Old Courthouse. Visitors can take a tram ride to the top of the 63 story high arch to see breathtaking views up to 30 miles in all directions, visit the museum with interactive exhibits, and walk through the halls of the old courthouse where ordinary Americans made civil rights history.
Montana – Glacier National Park – Located in the wilderness area in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, the 1,583 square mile national park provides views of glacier-carved peaks and valleys running to the Canadian border. It is crossed by the mountainous Going-to-the-Sun Road and has more than 700 miles of hiking trails. Other activities include backpacking, cycling, and camping. Diverse wildlife ranges from mountain goats to grizzly bears.
Nebraska – Chimney Rock National Historic Site – Chimney Rock is one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks for pioneer travelers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, a symbol of the great western migration. A visitor center houses museum exhibits, media presentations, and other educational materials concerning life on the overland trails. The 325-foot tall spire is located about four miles south of Bayard, Nebraska at the south edge of the North Platte River Valley.
Nevada – Las Vegas Strip – The Las Vegas Strip is a stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard that is known for its concentration of resort hotels and casinos. The 4.2 mile Strip, sits immediately south of the Las Vegas city limits in the unincorporated towns of Paradise and Winchester but is often referred to as being in Las Vegas. Many of the largest hotel, casino, and resort properties in the world are located on the Strip, known for its contemporary architecture, lights, and a wide variety of attractions. It is one of the most popular and iconic tourist destinations in the world.
New Hampshire – Mount Washington Auto Road – Located just 25 minutes north of North Conway, New Hampshire on scenic NH Route 16, the Mt. Washington Auto Road’s unique location in Pinkham Notch provides spectacular views into the Great Gulf Wilderness and the Presidential Mountain Range. America’s oldest man-made attraction, it first opened in August 1861 and was called the Mount Washington Auto Road.
New Jersey – Atlantic City Boardwalk – The seaside resort city of Atlantic City, New Jersey is known for its casinos, boardwalk, and beaches. The Atlantic City Boardwalk opened on June 26, 1870, was the first boardwalk in the United States. The boardwalk is over four miles long, is 60 feet wide and the wood is laid in a herringbone pattern. Lining the boardwalk are casinos, hotels, retail shops, restaurants, and amusements. Stemming from the Atlantic City Boardwalk are several piers. Visitors also enjoy ocean views, surfing, kayaking, windsurfing, and fishing.
New Mexico – Carlsbad Caverns – Located in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park features more than 119 caves that were formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes. Within the caverns, visitors see stalactites clinging to the roof, cave formations, and wide-open spaces as trails follow in the footsteps of early explorers. Above the caverns, several hiking trails provide hiking opportunities to explore the Guadalupe Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert.
New York – Times Square – Located in the Midtown Manhattan section of New York City, Times Square is a major commercial intersection, tourist destination, entertainment center at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Brightly lit by numerous billboards and advertisements, it stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Streets. It is one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions, drawing an estimated 50 million visitors annually.
North Carolina – Blue Ridge Parkway – Connecting the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most important automobile parkways in the United States and one of the most visited National Park units in the nation. The 469-mile scenic parkway makes its way through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina where visitors can see historically significant examples of 19th and 20th-century lifeways, architecture, and industry associated with the people and communities along its path.
North Dakota – Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Comprising three geographically separated areas of badlands in western North Dakota, this park covers 70,446 acres of land. Itis named for President Theodore Roosevelt who first came to the North Dakota badlands to hunt bison in September 1883. During that trip, he fell in love with the rugged lifestyle and the “perfect freedom” of the West. The park provides scenic drives, approximately 100 miles of foot and horse trails, wildlife viewing, and opportunities for backcountry hiking and camping.
Ohio – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a museum and hall of fame that documents the history of rock music and the artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures who have influenced its development. It featuring artifacts from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Blondie, the Doors, U2, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, the Who, the Supremes, Guns N’ Roses, and many others.
Oklahoma – Oklahoma City National Memorial – This memorial honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial stands on the now-sacred ground where those events unfolded. What was once the footprint of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Fifth Street, the Athenian Building, and Oklahoma Water Resources Board are now the Field of Empty Chairs, Reflecting Pool, and Rescuer’s Orchard. The Memorial Museum features, videos, audio tracks, news footage, artifacts, survivors’ experiences, and the subsequent investigation into the bombing.
Oregon – Crater Lake – The cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world and the deepest lake in the United States, Crater Lake was formed 7,700 years ago when a violent eruption triggered the collapse of Mount Mazama. The lake and surrounding park areas offer many recreational activities including hiking, biking, snowshoeing, fishing, cross-country skiing, camping, and fishing. Artists, photographers, and sightseers gaze in wonder at its blue water and stunning setting atop the Cascade Mountain Range.
Pennsylvania – Independence National Historical Park – This National Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania preserves several sites associated with the American Revolution and the nation’s founding history. The 55-acre park comprises much of Philadelphia’s most-visited historic landmarks including Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were adopted, the Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American independence; the First Bank of the United States, Carpenters’ Hall, the site of the First Continental Congress, and more. Most of the park’s historic structures are located in the vicinity of the four landscaped blocks between Chestnut, Walnut, 2nd, and 6th streets.
Rhode Island – Newport Mansions – During the “Gilded Age” of the 1850s to 1900, wealthy tycoons of New York and Philadelphia built magnificent mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. Calling these summer homes, “cottages”, they were built by America’s social and financial elite to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. However, these “cottages” were anything but quaint, in fact, these homes were lavish and no expense was spared in building and decorating them. These summer homes also provided the backdrop for a society centered on sport, fashion and decadent parties. Today, Ten of these properties have been preserved by The Preservation Society of Newport County and are open to the public.
South Carolina – Charleston History Tour – Located just south of the mid-point of South Carolina’s coastline, at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, the historic city of Charleston is the oldest city in the state. Several tours are available including carriage rides, walking tours, bus tours, and harbor cruises. These tours highlight many attractions of the city’s past, including those from the Civil War era, the historical French Quarter, historic churches, monuments, antebellum mansions, and other sites that mark Charleston’s development from an early colonial settlement to the thriving hub of Southern culture that it is today.
South Dakota – Mount Rushmore – This massive sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills region of South Dakota was completed in 1941 under the direction of Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln. The sculpture’s roughly 60-foot-high granite faces depict U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The site also features a museum with interactive exhibits.
Tennessee – Great Smoky Mountain National Park – America’s most visited National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee preserving a rich cultural tapestry of Southern Appalachian history. World-renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, and myriad of opportunities for exploring, hiking, touring, fishing, camping and more.
Texas – San Antonio River Walk – The world-renowned 15-mile San Antonio River Walk is a city park and network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River, one story beneath the streets of San Antonio, Texas. Only steps from the Alamo, the river that is lined with bars, shops, restaurants, nature, public artwork, and the five historic missions can be explored along walking paths or by river barges for a guided tour.
Utah – Monument Valley – Located in southeastern Utah, Monument Valley is an iconic symbol of the American West and the sacred heart of the Navajo Nation. Visitors can enjoy the beauty of the towering sandstone rock formations that have been sculpted over time and soar 400 to 1,000 feet above the valley floor along a 17-mile scenic drive. Escorted tours narrated by Navajo guides are also available as well as hiking and horseback riding.
Vermont – Ben & Jerry’s Factory – Located in Waterbury, Vermont, is the factory of the iconic Vermont-based ice cream parlor chain, known for its creative, cleverly named flavors. Beginning in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont in 1978, their ice cream became so popular it is now distributed worldwide. Today the factory offers a popular 30-minute guided tour that provides a glimpse into the company’s history, manufacturing process, and a sample of one of their euphoric flavors.
Virginia – Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia was the thriving capital of the commonwealth when the dream of American freedom and independence was taking shape. Serving as Virginia’s capitol from 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was the center of government, education, and culture, where important figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Monroe, James Madison, and others who worked to form the new United States. Today, the living history museum which includes buildings from the 17th through the 19th century as well as re-created buildings related to its colonial and American Revolutionary War history.
Washington – Pike Place Market – Seattle’s original farmers market, established in 1907, is the city’s epicenter of fresh produce, specialty foods, and independent businesses. Here visitors find a year-round farmers market, owner-operated bakeries, fish markets, butcher shops, produce stands, and specialty food stores. Within the nine-acre historic district, is also a bustling crafts market, and more than 200 unique owner-operated shops, and more than 80 restaurants that vary from take-out counters to fine dining establishments.
Washington, DC – National Mall – For more than 200 years, the National Mall has symbolized our nation and its democratic values. This 1,000 acres of greenway, in the middle of our capital city, stretches from the foot of the United States Capitol to the Potomac River protecting many iconic monuments and memorials. Across the streets from the mall, but still considered part of it, are a variety of Smithsonian museums and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. With about 24 million visitors a year, it is the top tourist attraction in Washington.
West Virginia – Harpers Ferry National Historical Park – Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet, Harpers Ferry is best known for John Brown’s Raid on the Armory in 1859 and its role in the Civil War. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, consisting of almost 4,000 acres includes the historic town of Harpers Ferry, John Brown’s Fort, a visitor’s center, many buildings that once were part of Storer College, and Civil War battle sites
Wisconsin – The Dells – Comprised of the cities of Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells, the self-proclaimed Waterpark Capital of the World has been a favorite family vacation destination for more than 150 years. An explosion of indoor water parks has turned the Dells from a summer hot spot to a year-round destination where kids can enjoy the seemingly endless supply of fun and games, from go-karts to miniature golf, sideshows to thrill rides. The area also includes boat tours, ziplining, golf courses, mini-golf, water sports, horseback riding, museums, amusement parks, and a casino.
Wyoming – Yellowstone National Park – Yellowstone, the oldest U.S. National Park, attracts some three million visitors every year to experience its many wonders. Located in the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, Yellowstone covers 3,470 square miles, primarily in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Famous for its geysers, hot springs, and free-ranging wild animals, Yellowstone is a seasonal wonder, offering an abundance of activities for all ages and interests!
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, March 2020.