Happy independence day, America! They say it takes leaving home to appreciate the beauty of your own backyard, and in my evolution as a traveler, I’ve found that to be true. There was a time when not a single one of the fifty states seemed adventurous enough to quench my thirst for all things exotic, but over time I’ve come to appreciate the breadth, diversity and awe of all the places I can visit without ever having to crack open a passport. In honor of the USA’s big day, here are my thirteen favorite domestic travel destinations, in no particular order.
1. Martha’s Vineyard
I’ve yet to find a more charming domestic destination than this one. Taking the ferry over to this quaint, chain-store-free island is like stepping back in time. Each of the island’s five towns has a distinct character, and there are endless hidden beaches and backroads to explore. I grew up making annual summer trips to Martha’s Vineyard and now that my family owns a home there we fall more and more in love all the time.
Perfect day: A morning bike ride from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, an afternoon at State Beach, and an evening at Red Kat Kitchen followed by ice cream on Circuit Avenue.
2. New York City
My last permanent American address was in Brooklyn, and it’s hard for me to truly imagine ever settling back down anywhere else in the US. New York City is the measuring stick from which I size up every other city in the world, and there are very few places on the planet in which I feel so alive. How else can one sum up the city that never sleeps?
Perfect day: The best part about New York is that every day can be different, but for fun let’s say – a crazy fitness class, brunch somewhere painfully hip, a few hours strolling across a bridge and amongst some skyscrapers, and sunset on the roof of an apartment building before setting off for a warehouse party in Brooklyn.
3. New Orleans
I’ve got big love for the Big Easy. The live music seeping from every bar, the flavors wafting from every restaurant, the joy of Mardi Gras that lingers throughout the year, the sense of resilience that sits with every resident… damn if this city doesn’t just have soul. Though my sister relocated to Boston and so I no longer have an in-town crash pad to land in, I have a feeling New Orleans hasn’t seen the last of either of us.
Perfect day: A morning wandering the Garden District, a twenty-five cent martini lunch at Commander’s Palace, an afternoon taking in the French Quarter and the evening dancing to a big brass band at The Maple Leaf.
A city on the sea, what more could a girl ask for? With its stunning beaches, bustling art scene, pristine art deco architecture, amazing nightlife, outdoor-loving community and infusion of Latin culture and flavor, Miami is one of my favorite cities in America. Don’t get me started on the low cost of living and the strategic location for flights to Latin America and the Caribbean. I’ve entertained many a daydream about moving here!
Perfect day: Paddleboard yoga on South Beach, an afternoon stroll along the art deco wonders of Ocean Drive, and dinner and drinks in Little Havana, Wynwood Arts District or South Beach, depending on the vibe of the day.
How could this country music lover not list Music City among her must-visit vacation destinations? Nashville hits all marks on the travel trinity of music, food, and Southern hospitality. And yes – I’m addicted to the TV show of the same name.
Perfect day: Whatever my dear friend and Queen of Nashville Kristin Luna tells you to do.
6. The Hawaiian Islands
Naming a whole state is a bit of a cop out, but I just couldn’t choose! Oahu and Maui are the islands I’ve spent the most time on and the likely candidates for ones I’d chose to set up camp if I ever made good on my promise to someday live aloha full time. Hawaii is so much more than honeymooners sipping overpriced drinks aside an exclusive pool. It’s the beauty of the land, the spirit of the ocean, the strength of the culture, and the way you feel when the islanders treat you like ohana.
Maui perfect day: A morning surfing off the Honoappiilani Highway, kalua pig lunch in Paia and an afternoon driving around the upcountry farms
Oahu perfect day: A morning kayaking in Kailua, shave ice for lunch, an afternoon at the Honolulu Museum of Art and a night checking out the hip bars and clubs in Chinatown
7. Las Vegas
Las Vegas is one of those destinations I just can’t seem to quit – and I don’t even gamble! The food, the nightlife, the people watching and the pool parties – there’s simply nowhere in America greater at entertaining. Need a break from the bright lights? Options for day trips are unreal – drive to Valley of Fire State Park, Red Rock Canyon, the Hoover Dam, or Seven Magic Mountains, or just pop up to the hip Downtown.
Perfect day: Spend the day poolside at a party or on a lounger depending on your mood, watch sunset from the High Roller, and then head downtown for dinner, drinks, and a tour of the Neon Museum.
8. The Finger Lakes
I may be biased considering I call Upstate New York my original home (I hail from Albany!) but I’m obsessed with the beauty of The Finger Lakes region. Glamping in Ithaca, glass-blowing in Corning, hiking through Watkins Glen, and wine tasting along the shores of Keuka and Cayuga Lakes – there’s much more to New York State than our famous five boroughs!
Perfect day: Wake up at Firelight Camps, hike down to Buttermilk Falls in the morning, and reward yourself with a trip around the wineries in the afternoon. Cap it off with an Antioxidant Wine Trail Wrap at August Moon Spa!
9. Black Rock City
You may only be able to visit Black Rock City for about a week per year, but the crazy urban planning experiment that takes place in the northern Nevada desert at the end of each August is arguably the most unique, fascinating place in America. Burning Man is more than a festival — it’s a ticket to another planet, no passport necessary.
Perfect day: A Mimosa and Motown Brunch, an Acro Yoga Workshop in a yurt, an art-spotting bike ride around the playa, sunset at The Man, and dancing the night away at a Britney Vs. Madonna dance party at Planet Earth.
10. The Everglades
I’ve spent less time in The Everglades than anywhere else on this list – literally just a day – but I’d be remiss to leave it off considering I think it is one of the most underrated natural wonders in America. Maybe I’ve just read one too many Carl Hiaasan novels, but I’m obsessed with this quirky, wild, untamed corner of the Sunshine State.
Perfect day: A morning riding the Shark Valley bike loop, lunch in Everglades City, and an afternoon on an airboat tour.
11. Myrtle Beach
Everyone has one — that nostalgia filled, guilty-pleasure destination of their childhood. For me, it’s Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to where I’ve pilled in a minivan and made the thirteen hour drive down the coast more times than I can count. Miles of sand, a cooler full of beach snacks and a non-existent to-do list? It’s the perfect low-drama dose of Vitamin D.
Perfect day: A morning at the beach, and afternoon by the pool, and an evening strolling around Broadway at the Beach watching fireworks and enjoying the happy glow of people on vacation.
12. San Diego
San Francisco is a little too cold and Los Angeles is a little too sprawling, but for this newly-minted certified California addict, San Diego is just right (Golden State runners up definitely include both Palm Springs and Disneyland!) I fell in love with San Diego’s charming city’s surfer vibes, dog friendly mood and good-life loving energy — this would absolutely be the city I’d settle in if I ever deflected to the West Coast.
Perfect day: An acai bowl for breakfast and a day at the Ocean Beach dog beach with a four legged friend, capped off with an early dinner in the Gaslamp Quarter and a late-night candlight yoga class in Mission Beach.
13. Lake Powell
Grand Canyon gets all the attention (and for good reason!) but if I had to pick one piece of paradise in this corner of the country it would be Lake Powell — a body of water marked by surreal beauty and surrounded by natural treasures like slot canyons, Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River, and more. Next trip, I’m renting a houseboat!
Perfect day: A morning tour of the slot canyons, an afternoon stand up paddle tour of the lake, and an evening in the hot tub at Wahweap Campground (yes, this lakeside campground has a hot tub and a pool!)
And A Few I Can’t Wait to Get To
The crazy part is how hard it was to narrow down this list – and I’ve only been to 21 of the country’s 50 great states! I’m super enthusiastic about a Colorado River rafting slash Lake Powell houseboating trip, and I have my eye on the Denali Star. I want to hop over to my Martha’s Vineyard neighbor Nantucket, take a dog-friendly road trip to the wineries of Santa Barbara, and go diving in the Florida Keys. Among cities I’m itching to visit, Austin, Seattle, and Portland top the list (along with Denver and Atlanta, which I’ve been to but far too briefly or too young).
Considering my propensity for visiting the same destinations over and over and over again, there’s no doubt that I’ll tick off my “new place” wish list slowly. But man, I can’t wait for all the homegrown adventures ahead.
What’s your favorite US travel destination?
I don’t know why, but I get super excited reading about all these destinations in one list! I’ve not a planned a big US trip because – like you initially thought – more exotic destinations are much better. However, reading your list I’m starting to get a bit of a travel bug itch 🙂
I was also under the impression that the US is not such an exotic location. It seems we were all wrong:)
Me too! (or three?) It’s a pretty cool country after all 🙂
I’ve always known it’s the best place to travel. It’s incredibly diverse and awesomely beautiful. I want to see everything it has to offer. I’ll be 36 states by the end of the summer, and even in those states I have so much else to see. I would rather see and be an expert at my own country than anywhere else.
Thirty six is a ton of states, Tonya! Kudos to you for so thoroughly exploring your own backyard 🙂
Woo hoo, that’s what I like to hear 😉 America is a beautiful travel destination indeed!
Love it! Though you’re definitely missing out on some Midwest destinations! If you ever want to come and explore Cleveland, you let me know. 😉
I will be heading to Chicago and Decatur this summer! That’s Midwest, right 😉
Seattle and Denver are two of my favs – hope you make it there soon. I am dying to go to Austin and New Orleans
Seattle I keep trying for — I’m dying to get there! One of these summers the stars will align 🙂
Seattle is one of my favorites, too. I like Denver. Don’t know if it’s a favorite––yet.
Wow those are some gorgeous pictures! I am going to the States next year and just can’t wait – Starting in New York, hope I’ll reach New Orleans and maybe even Nashville on the way?!
That sounds awesome! I’d love to do a long road trip in the USA someday. So far mine have only been a couple of days, tops 🙂
I’m also in love with Las Vegas! I’m hoping to visit next year as part of a road trip from New Mexico, via the national parks of Utah, and end up in Vegas for a few days. I would love to visit all the states, a bit more of a challenge being from the uk, but I’ll get them all ticked off eventually.
That sounds like an amazing trip, Vicks! The National Parks in Utah have really crept up on my list, hoping to make some magic happen there in the next few years!
Portland/Oregon/the PacNW and New Orleans are my favorites so far, both as (temporary) homes and as destinations that I keep returning to. I also loved hiking Southern Utah, and eating my way through Austin and New York. I have to also give a shout out to my home state, North Carolina, which has beaches, mountains, craft beer and the BEST barbecue all within a few hours’ drive of each other.
I definitely feel like I’m missing out on all the Pacific Northwest fun so far — hopefully that’s remedied soon 🙂
I was too distracted by the cute 4th of July photo of Tucker to read the rest. Will do once my excitement has died down. Such a cute pup!
Ha, I can totally relate, happens to me all the time 😉
My favorite domestic destination by far is Santa Fe! I feel like you would love that destination Alex. Don’t forget the Midwest, omaha has one of the top zoos in the world and a quirky downtown- let me know if you’ll ever need a guide!!!
Aw, thanks Cate! I might just take you up on it someday!
We miss you on Martha’s Vineyard today!!!!! We just discovered Jetty Beach, even closer than State Beach, and it was awesome!
Can’t wait for August!
You should definitely check out Detroit if you haven’t already! I live here and it’s just a beautiful, vibrant city. I never want to leave (except to travel of course 😉 )
I hear so many amazing things about Detroit, it’s totally on my list too!
I hope you get to visit Santa Barbara and the central coast wine region. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful ans serene spots in the U.S. Give us a shoot before you come and we’ll share our favorite spots.
It’s super high on my list — if I don’t make it happen in early fall, it will definitely be a must-do for next summer!
If you’re in Santa Barbara wine country, make sure to go visit the miniature horses (Quicksilver Ranch) and ostriches (Ostrich land), as well as visit the trying-so-hard-to-be-Danish town of Solvang. Also, continue driving up the coast to the amazingly beautiful and underrated Big Sur area!
Another vote for Santa Barbara, I love it! And you know how to get my attnetion — mini horses and ostriches?! I’m in!
The US does have a lot of great destinations that some people tend to forget about, because there’s a whole giant world out there waiting to be explored! But it certainly is a big country with a lot of great places. My list would look a lot different from yours, including many colder places and smaller cities, but you’ve interested me in a few of these places as well 😀
Smaller cities I could get into, colder places not so sure 😛
I love the States – so varied. It mesmerises me that you can drive for under an hour and be in a different landscape. I love that hot mess NOLA but would also add Austin, Texas (baby). Loved it so much we returned the next year to get hitched after SXSW. The Everglades look stunning – a new one to me! Happy 4th.
Thanks Gemma! I just KNOW I will fall in love with Austin, can’t wait to get weird with that city someday.
Yay! Nashville made the list!
I agree with you on most of these (no surprise there), though I *really* need to make it to the Everglades and Lake Powell still. Come with me?
Heck yes! And so excited to have a repeat trip to Tennessee on my hypothetical calendar 🙂
The Rocky Mountaineer is in Canada! I’ve done it, it was amazing. 🙂
Whoops you’re right, I was thinking of the Denali Star — my friend Angie just does so many cool train trips that I want to copy, I mixed them up 😛 Corrected now!
What a great list! We just went to Portland last weekend and loved it!
Jealous — and off to read your post!
Austin is incredible! I think you’ll love it there 🙂
Oh man, I do too! I just have a feeling we are meant for each other!
This list gives me such itchy feet! I’ve only been to GA and FL, and those have mostly been for relaxing family time (and Disneyland of course), I really haven’t done a lot of exploring. San Francisco and NYC are right at the top of my wishlist, and a road trip is the ultimate dream – especially since you did your JUCY trip!
I feel ya, until relatively recently my only US travel was really Florida and Illinois and most of it was for family time. Most of my US travel is still centered around visiting family and friends! But it’s fun branching out and turning those into bigger trips.
We made the list !!!
Duh! I’m just angling for a repeat invitation! 😉
If you haven’t you have to make it to Seward, Alaska and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Two of my personal favorites!
I have to make it to Lake Powell soon. Looks awesome!
I haven’t been to either — thanks for the recommendations!
Yes! Love Carl Hiaasan! His books are total guilty pleasures 🙂 Great list, you’ve certainly seem more of the US than I have! I really need to get out and start exploring the 50 states!
Oh man, me too! Love his stuff! I pick up a new one every time I go to Florida.
I will always have a soft spot for NYC, but to be honest I am dying to go to New Orleans and the surrounding areas. I’m pretty sure I would fall head over heels!
I feel that way about a lot of cities on my wishlist — haven’t been there yet, but feel confident I’d be obsessed with them! I guess when you know, you know 🙂
Yay, glad to see my hometown of San Diego made the list. This post is reminding me of how little US traveling I’ve done. I swear someday I’ll do some traveling in my own country!
It’s crazy how many of these destinations I’ve only hit up in the last few years — US travel has been a recent adventure for me 🙂 It helps having family and friends spread out all over!
Very nice places! Thanks 🙂
You’re so welcome! Happy fourth!
Great list. Consider adding Minneapolis and Stillwater, MN to your future travels – not in winter, of course. Lots of great outdoor hikes, water activities, restaurants and fab music scene.
Thanks for the tips! Sound like my kind of places 🙂
Great list! Several of these are high on my list. D.C. is definitely one of my faves and not just because I live there. There’s so much to do and you can get delicious food from anywhere around the world that is on point. My others would be Napa/Sonoma, Bar Harbor, Maine (all of Maine really), Outer Banks, NC, Miami and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Love the great ol’ U.S. of A!
Wow, your list is so different from mine… and reminds me how big this country is! I’ve been meaning to do a DC visit for years as it’s where my college bestie Zoe hails from. You’re nudging me more in that direction!
I absolutly love this list! I have fallen hard for NYC, Maui and Florida over the years, but as much as I’m itching to return to my staple favourites, there are so many other places I want to explore thanks to your awesome USA posts! I’m dying to see Las Vegas, Martha’s Vineyard and San Diego 🙂
That’s so awesome to hear Amanda! You’ve named a bunch of my faves 🙂 Happy USA travels, girl!
I 100% agree with this list – especially Hawaii! As born/bred East Coaster who loves NYC, I fell hard for the Hawaiian islands.. so much so that the hubs and I lived there for 6 months. Can’t wait to go back for more!!
Oh man, I envy you! Six weeks was my longest stint and it still felt far too short.
Thanks for sharing super amazing travel destination in USA, I really want go Lake Powell, New York City and Miami.
Good choices 🙂 Happy travels!
love tucker, so cute. looks like a good boy. u should set him an instagram account, so your family can post photos of him whenever you are away.
Ha, if only my dad knew what Instagram was 😛 Would love it if he did though!
You need to add Charleston, South Carolina to your list! I went to College of Charleston and stayed for one extra year after graduating. It’s a foodie heaven, has so much history, a handful of beaches, great shopping and art scene. Plus it was just named the best city in the world by Travel + Leisure!
Great list! I’m dying to get to Miami for the first time and to re-visit Nashville.
I have heard amazing things about Charleston! I visited Savannah when I was looking at SCAD and loved it there, but couldn’t quite remember the details well enough to rank it on this list 🙂 I need to see more of the south though, for sure.
Oh wow, such a vast country has so many contenders (and so many places I’m yet to visit).
Unlike yourself, San Francisco and the Bay area was the first place stateside that I fell for.
NYC and Chicago are great cities, whilst I love the leafy charm of New England.
You do national parks so well, and possibly our most amazing time was camping on the shores of Chilkoot Lake near Haines, Alaska watching Grizzlies fish in the river of the same name 🙂
Ah, Alaska does indeed call to me! What an amazing experience — I’d love to see the same someday.
Wow, what a list!! I haven’t been to probably a majority of these places, which is crazy because I’ve visited 41 states and did a 6 week USA road trip this past spring. That just shows how huge and varied this country is! YAY Finger Lakes!! I am an Upstate gal, too (Syracuse born and bred..and living here for the summer), and I just went to Buttermilk Falls this past weekend for the 4th! I went to Watkins Glen for the first time last summer, too. It’s insane to me how many world class tourist attractions are a literal 45 minute drive from the place I was born….what?!? There’s something to be said for exploring your own backyard!
That is amazing… that you’ve been to so much of the country yet still not seen these particular places. You are right, this country is HUGE! What a beautiful land we get to call home.
This encourages me to travel in the states more. I usually focus, plan, and daydream about travelling in other countries, but we have so many unique places to see in our own backyard.
I feel ya! I’m guilty of the same but the last few years has definitely found me singing a different tune.
So many great destinations on there I absolutely love! Plus a lot of places I can’t eait to visit. My personal favorite spot in the states is the Sleeping Bear Dunes area of northern Michigan. 400 ft sand dunes that drop off into clear and pristine Lake Michigan. Plus its a national Park, so you can visit the beach with alcohol. ?
NOW you’re talking my language 😉 So fun, Jessica!
I totally agree with Las Vegas and New Orleans and your suggestions were spot on.
You definitely need to visit Portland, Seattle, Atlanta and Denver!
Thanks Kristen! In New Orleans I had a great tour guide and in Las Vegas… I’ve been more than almost anywhere else on this list, ha!
Good list, but so much more to go! I spent most of my 30’s traveling throughout the states and have covered 49, maybe 50 (Rhode Island is in contention because I can’t remember!) – Colorado may be my favorite state, and I’ve never spent more than a night in Denver…got to get up in the mountains! Although Utah is giving Colorado a run for it’s money on my relo-list…
Road trips are the best, especially when you can bring your pup!
I’m scheming another pup road trip in California for October… fingers crossed all goes well 🙂
Just found your awesome blog!! I’m from Europe, but San Diego will always be my second home after having lived there several times – such an amazing place!
Ah, amazing. I can absolutely see why you’d love living in San Diego. I’ve always felt that that’s where I’d settle down if I ever made the West Coast my home!
New Orleans is one of my absolute top cities I want to visit in the US (along with San Francisco, several places in Alaska, several places in Arizona, and basically all of Hawaii). This is a great list!
Thanks Marni! Alaska and Arizona call to me big time too. I don’t think I’m going to add any new states this year which is a bummer — though I think I will add a new city or two!
Vegas is one of my favorite destinations too even though I don’t gamble.
Vegas has way more to offer.
As you mentioned, High Roller should be on your to-do list if you are travelling to Vegas. I did the night ride, but I also heard that you should really try both. Day and night landscape in Vegas are very different. When it’s dark at night, you can see the Strip with all it’s lights’ hotels, casinos, and night clubs while during the day you can actually see the area surrounding the Strip and learn more about the broader Vegas.
Clubs, shows, buffets, spas are all great amenities in Vegas. However, make sure you keep track of timer and funds in your bank account because it is very easy to lose sense of what is real while having time in Vegas.
Having done the high roller both at night and during the day, I concur! They are both super fun experiences and I’m glad I’ve done them both!
These are all wonderful destinations! I recently visited Miami with my fiance, and it was beautiful and so much fun! Nice overview! Thanks so much for posting this!
I adore Miami… seriously need to get back there soon. Such a fun city! Glad you enjoyed!
This is a great list! I definitely have to say that I agree with you about New York City and Nashville. I wasn’t a huge fan of Las Vegas at first, but after several trips, it is starting to grow on me.
Right now, Chicago has to be my favourite American city that I have visited. It’s like the best of Los Angeles and NYC combined with its charm, beautiful parks, amazing food, vibrant nightlife, and energetic sports culture.
I would also consider checking out some of the other Midwest American cities if you are into craft beer, food or the general “hipster culture.” Detroit, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis have all been exciting visits for me in the past!
Nice! I haven’t been to any of those but Detroit has definitely been on my radar for a while. I keep hearing great things!
Amazing post!! I have never been outside my country but Las vegas is been in my bucket list since long time, whenever I got chance I will definitely explore this wonderful city
You’ll love it! Vegas is a blast… have fun when you finally get there!
What a great list! We’ve visited a few spots on our adventures, too! Last summer was the big island of Hawaii and it was so interesting from a geology standpoint. As the youngest island in the chain there were plenty of spots that were just lava and seem quite barren. Pretty cool to see.
New Orleans is an awesome place I visited recently and loved the Mardi Gras World where they make ALL the Mardi Gras floats. What a cool factory you can visit! Every thing is just enormous and you can see the artists at work.
Love both those places you mentioned — and they couldn’t be more different! The US is so diverse, it never ceases to amaze me.
Awesome list. Im from Canada and have been travelling to the states. I am dying to get to hawaii and to california. So far i have been to new orleans. nyc, vegas and florida. Loved all of them! New orleans had the best food i have ever eaten! Miami was great. I drove down to all the keys. It was gorgeous. Vegas was great. I dont gamble but there is so much other great things to do. I will be going to south carolina in june. I cant wait 😀 then austin and i have one more trip left to plan so we will see 😀
this a great list!!! with awesome tips!! thanks for sharing!!
You’re so welcome — thanks for reading.
This is one of those things I really need to start doing more of. I’ve only been to a handful of places within my own state, let alone across the country.
Thanks for the inspiration Alex!
It’s fun getting to know your own backyard — it always feels like a surprise!
Black Rock City! Gah, I missed burning man this year, I hope i can get there next year!
Oh man, I hope so too! One of these days anyway! I actually have a pretty crazy September for 2018… but I really need to get back for my third Burn! Ahhhh!