The 20 top tourist attractions in the USA

Discover the top tourist attractions in the USA, from national-park essentials to iconic structures to must-see streets

Visiting popular tourist attractions can often mean navigating long lines and crowds—essentially, a lot of work for an experience that sometimes doesn’t live up to the hype. While some attractions may be a bust, specific landmarks across the United States are well worth the effort. 

The top tourist attractions in the USA span from coast to coast, including iconic buildings like the national monuments in Washington DC, must-stroll neighborhoods like the French Quarter in New Orleans, unique landmarks like the Space Needle in Seattle, or sights within breathtaking national parks.

We have rounded up the top U.S. tourist attractions you should add to your bucket list. In your quest to check them off your list, make a trip out of it and book one of the best hotels in America. And if you’re looking for a bit more travel inspiration, check out the best places to visit in the USA right now.

Top tourist attractions in the USA

1. National Mall | Washington DC

Immaculately maintained by the National Park Service, the National Mall and Memorial Parks feature more than 1,000 acres of must-see monuments, sites and green space. While the Washington Monument towers above all else—quite literally, the city doesn’t zone for buildings taller than the marble icon—the Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial are just as magnificent. Though it will take a full day (or two) to see the National Mall, set aside some time to peruse through some of Washington, D.C.’s top museums.

2. Niagara Falls | New York State

Situated on the border of New York and Canada, the three waterfalls (Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridalveil Falls) have the combined highest flow rate of any waterfall worldwide. Their impressive force is nothing short of awe-worthy. A top tourist destination since the 19th century, the unstoppable beauty and charm of Niagara Falls make it a memorable and unique landmark. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

3. The French Quarter | New Orleans, LA

The oldest corner of New Orleans remains its most charming attraction. Walk down famous Bourbon Street to enjoy jazz, great nightlife and tons of food. While you travel on a streetcar between destinations, pay close attention to the spectacular architecture. And no trip to the French Quarter would be complete without a taste of authentic Cajun grub or a stop to pay your respects in the Cities of the Dead. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Statue of Liberty | New York City, NY

Though she may have been born in France, the Statue of Liberty has become synonymous with America and the country’s highest-held values. True, the 151-foot-tall copper monument can be seen up close from aboard the free Staten Island Ferry, but you can also pay your respects in person and even step inside it while on an official tour.

Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Old Faithful | Yellowstone Park, WY

A cone geyser found in Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful is not entirely as predictable as it once was (it won’t erupt precisely every 74 minutes, for example) yet remains as historically exciting. When erupting, the geothermal feature unleashes more than 3,700 gallons of piping hot water. When you’re done marveling at the spectacle, spend at least a full day exploring the rest of the park.

Photograph: Shutterstock

6. The Strip | Las Vegas, NV

Immortalized in a seemingly endless amount of movies, the Strip’s bright lights, larger-than-life performers and casinos are burned into our collective subconscious. Whether planning on trying your luck at poker or looking to catch a diva’s residency, the Strip is a top destination for all things entertainment and, yes, a bit of debauchery.

Photograph: Smithsonian Institution

7. Smithsonian Museums | Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex. Located in the heart of this nation’s capital, you can explore the National Air & Space Museum, the National Museum Of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, and many more. The best part? It’s all free. The latest addition to the museum line-up, which opened in 2016, is the National Museum of African American History and Culture and is a must-visit. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

8. The Grand Canyon | Arizona

So, about five to six million years ago, the Colorado River more or less established its route through the Arizona desert. Glacial erosion, meltwater runoff and the simultaneous counter effect of the land slowly rising—as the weight of the glaciers was reduced—ultimately resulted in one of the most spectacular natural wonders on our modest, little blue-green planet. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, varies between four and 18 miles wide and has a maximum depth of 6,000 feet. There are hotels and restaurants in key locations, but for the most part, you should visit and marvel at how incredible this world is—you know, before we ruin it.

Photograph: Time Out/Michael Juliano

9. J. Paul Getty Museum | Los Angeles, CA

The Getty brings visitors from across the country and around the world to California. The $1 billion facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Richard Meier, features travertine and white-metal pavilions highlighting the complex’s futuristic frame. Inside, find one of the most exciting art collections—including Medieval manuscripts, paintings by Van Gogh and Monet, and modern sculptures.

10. Kennedy Space Center | Orlando, FL

If you’ve always dreamed of working in outer space, this is your chance to see and touch models of space shuttles, rockets, satellites, tools and mission control rooms. The simulators and explorable modules will make you feel like an actual astronaut—though if you wonder just how much the experience compares to the real deal, you can meet one of those brave scientists in person at the Astronaut Encounter Theater.

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11. Little Havana | Miami, FL

After decades of serving as a home to Cuban exiles, Little Havana has become a must-visit destination in its own right. While out on the town, throw back rum-spiked Caribbean drinks and dance the night away to live rumba and salsa music. The food here is legendary: Cuban sandwiches, Colombian arepas, savory tacos and other Latin American dishes will leave your mouth watering.

Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Hoover Dam | Nevada

Perhaps the best example of America’s building prowess in the first half of the 20th century, this dam remains a bewildering feat of engineering and labor. Construction started in 1931 and took five years, 5,000 workers and 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete to complete. Today, you can tour the dam and its power plant to learn more about the facility’s history and unique features.

Photograph: Shutterstock

13. The Gateway Arch | St. Louis, MO

Not only is St. Louis’s premiere attraction the world’s largest arch, but it is also the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. Standing proud at 630ft tall, this metal beauty was built in the mid-20th century as a monument to America’s westward expansion and is meant to signify the connection of the East to the West, honoring the country’s first pioneers. To fully understand this architectural wonder, snag a ticket to the Gateway Arch Tram and ride to the top of the monument.

14. Mammoth Cave Park | Kentucky

With more than 400 miles explored, the world’s longest known cave system (by far) is in Kentucky and it welcomes any visitor not afraid of the dark or the damp. See the dramatic passages lined with geological formations that might inspire your inner explorer during a guided tour by a park ranger. The tours vary in length but they always include historic details about how the cave system was formed and how people and other creatures have interacted with it. After several hours in the caverns, appreciate the beauty of the clear waters and the untouched nature of the area while on a bike ride or canoe adventure.

Photograph: Courtesy SF Travel

15. Golden Gate Bridge | San Francisco, CA

Name a more iconic bridge—we’ll wait. There’s a reason the Golden Gate Bridge is so famous. With its vibrant international orange color and spanning from San Francisco to the Marin headlines, stands as a symbol of the West. There are countless ways to take in the stunning bridge views: head to a beach (try Baker Beach), head to the new Presidio Tunnel Tops Park, go to a vista overlook, or get up close and personal by crossing the bridge by foot or bike. A trip to San Francisco isn’t complete until you get a picture with the Golden Gate in the background.

Photograph: Courtesy Space Needle

16. Space Needle | Seattle, WA

Like many famous landmarks, Seattle’s iconic Space Needle was built for the World’s Fair, back in 1962 when the theme was “The Age of Space.” Today, it remains one of the most recognizable and photographed landmarks worldwide for its futuristic design. Standing at 605 feet tall, visitors can take an elevator up to the tower’s saucer-shaped top floor with 360-degree views. Recent renovations resulted in a multi-level viewing experience with floor-to-ceiling glass viewing that will make your stomach drop.

Photograph: Shutterstock

17. Navy Pier | Chicago, IL

Clearly, one of the Midwest’s most popular destinations, Navy Pier is visited by roughly nine million people each year. From excellent shopping opportunities to eateries and, of course, Lake Michigan, the destination offers something for everyone. The little ones will be delighted by the Chicago Children’s Museum, while grown-ups should head to the award-winning Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Photograph: Shutterstock

18. Alcatraz | San Francisco, CA

This formidable fortress in the middle of San Francisco Bay was converted from a lighthouse station to a military prison in the 1870s. However, it found genuine acclaim after being upgraded to a maximum security prison in 1934, home to the early 20th century’s most notorious criminals. Today, the tiny island is only accessible to the public via a ferry from Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. You should plan to spend about three hours soaking up the amazing history and during that time, a self-guided audio cellhouse tour narrated by former inmates and guards will fill you in on harrowing escape attempts, prison riots and the 19-month-long occupation of the site by Native Americans demanding reparation for broken treaties in 1969. 

Photograph: Shutterstock/View Apart

19. Venice Beach | Venice, CA

Wedged in between Marina del Ray and Santa Monica, Venice Beach is one of the biggest draws for visitors to Los Angeles. It’s firmly established as the bohemian epicenter of Southern California and you won’t find a higher concentration of recognizable landmarks from film and TV anywhere else in Los Angeles. At weekends, during the summer, it gets pretty packed, but that just adds to the slightly chaotic atmosphere. Street acts add a carnival feel to the proceedings, plus, of course, the beach is just a few feet away. Try Hinano Cafe for a great burger in a back-to-basics, spit ‘n sawdust setting and the newly refurbished Pier House for classic cocktails as the sun sets over the Pacific.

Photograph: Shutterstock

20. Alamo Mission | San Antonio, TX

Most Americans know the phrase ‘Remember the Alamo’ even if they’re not exactly sure what transpired at the 18th-century Spanish mission. Later secularized and used as a fortress, 1836 the Alamo was the site of a bloody and decisive battle of the Texas Revolution between Texas’s early Anglo settlers and Mexico (the latter won). One of the most visited historic sites in the country today, the fort welcomes about three million visitors annually. 

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