Of all of the cross-country road trips you can take in the world, there probably isn’t one more iconic or exciting as the Great American Road Trip. Perhaps it’s the country’s sheer size that makes it so exciting to explore, or maybe it has more to do with the rich diversity and history of the young nation that produces so many unique landmarks to choose from. In either case, east to west or west to east, when you’re traveling across America, there are plenty of landmarks to choose from. And you want to get it right because seeing these places on your tour of the states is like an interactive lesson on America’s history and why this country is the way it is to this day. There are the more historical landmarks found in the nation’s capital or in Pennsylvania to the artistic wonders of Chicago, as well as the serene beauty of mother nature’s hand. And there are those that pay tribute to American tragedies.
Man-made or natural, America has a breathtaking view for everyone. Then there are the more modern landmarks that capture the essence of the American dream or places like New York and California that have a little bit of both. In any case, landmarks are a must for any American road trip and this list has you covered. So if you’re feeling free and brave, then buckle up for this list of 20 American Landmarks to See on Your Cross-Country Road Trip.
20 Statue Of Liberty, New York - No American bucket list is complete without it
America is a big place and with each state comes with its own unique way of life and culture. Many of the American landmarks on this list represent the states or areas they occupy, but none perhaps embodies America in its entirety more than the great Statue of Liberty. This 300-foot stature in the upper Hudson Bay was a welcoming image to immigrants traveling from Ellis Island. On the incoming shops, these weary travelers saw the Roman goddess of Liberty with her torch and her tablet with the country’s day of independence inscribed on it, and they knew at last that they had arrived in the land of the free and the home of the brave. No American bucket list is complete without taking a ferry to this national treasure.
19 Yellowstone National Park - America's First National Park
There are many great national parks in the United States. Arcadia, Zion, Yosemite—the list goes on, but you understand the point. So, how then do you decide which park to see on your American road trip? Well, if you have to pick just one, and we imagine you do if you’re going to travel cross country and see as many landmarks as you can, then we have to go with Yellowstone. What makes Yellowstone the special pick? Well, Yellowstone was the nation’s first national park, so it represents everything special about national parks and acts as the standard for all other parks. From the hiking and camping, all the way to the geysers, wildlife, mudpots, and colorful hot springs, there are enough things to do in Yellowstone to warrant a nice long trip.
18 The Alamo, Texas - And Don't Forget It
Even if you don’t remember the Alamo, it’s one of the most important pieces of American history in the south of the country and one of the most symbolic of America’s ideals. As the story goes, a group of fewer than 200 men (Texan volunteers) held the Alamo against a force of thousands of Mexican soldiers. This was at a time when Texas was a contested territory and these men held out as long as they could before ultimately falling to the Mexican army. The Alamo stands as a testament to the strength and courage to stand against all odds and is worth seeing in person.
17 The Freedom Trail, Boston - The Path To American Independence
While there are plenty of landmarks that celebrate America’s inception and subsequent independence, none perhaps educates us more than Boston’s 2.5-mile-long Freedom Trail. While the Statue of Liberty ushered in immigrants from the Atlantic and both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were adopted in Independence Hall, the Freedom Trail pays homage to the earlier struggles and movements of the nation’s birth. It starts in Boston Common, a park in the center of the downtown area, and winds its way to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. In all, the trail includes 16 historical sites all rich with history and significance.
16 The Space Needle, Washington - Overlooking The Pacific Northwest
One of the tallest structures west of the Mississippi, the Space Needle in the heart of downtown Seattle is one of the iconic landmarks of the great Pacific Northwest. Built in 1961 and standing at nearly 600 feet, the Space Needle acts as an observation tower for the surrounding area where you’ll catch beautiful glimpses of Elliot Bay, the Cascade Mountains, and both Mount Rainier and Mount Baker. The Space Needle also has a restaurant that revolves around the top as you eat. The SkyCity, or often known as the Eye of the Needle, is a really cool experience for those visiting the Space Needle.
15 Independence Hall, Pennsylvania - Where The Founding Fathers Gave Birth To America
For all of the great American landmarks across the country, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania perhaps wrongfully tends to fall under the radar. If you are doing a road trip across the United States, though, visiting this landmark is a must. Independence Hall is where both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were both adopted by some of the nation’s greatest thinkers and the founding fathers of the United States of America. The history alone is reason enough to visit this place, but the building itself is a good representation of the architecture of its time and a great chance to see the red brick firsthand, a Georgian-style of the original colonies.
14 Hoover Dam, Nevada - The New Deal
A testament to America’s endurance even during the bleakest of times in the country’s history, the Hoover Dam is one of the greater feats of construction in the nation’s relatively young history. Built during the Great Depression as a way to stimulate the economy and create jobs, the dam was built in 5 years at the cost of many lives. It stands today as a source of power, water storage, and flood control for the local area. The view of this modern engineering marvel is quite breathtaking, and including this on your itinerary puts you in close proximity to Las Vegas nearby.
13 The Mississippi River - Always Its Own Way
This was a tricky one to include on the list and one we think tends to get skipped over on such road trips just because of sheer logistics. But, people see the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone and there’s no way to properly see those two in their entirety when you’re on a road trip. The Mississippi River is one of the most important pieces of American culture and history. But because of its length, it’s hard to figure out how to see it. Nearly 2,300 miles and touching almost 31 states, this river isn’t a joke. For all of the great places to see, some of the most recommended places are Oxford and Tupelo in Mississippi. It really depends on where you are and how you plan on traveling across the country which is convenient.
12 Mount Rushmore, South Dakota - Presidential Pantheon
Mount Rushmore might have had one of the largest influences in cultural discourse out of the landmarks featured on this list. When discussing the masters of their given fields, we tend to phrase is something like “Who goes on the Mount Rushmore of such and such field?” In actuality, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore wanted to use famous western heroes, but Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Lincoln provided more mass appeal, and so now, you’ll find this iconic landmark in Black Hills, South Dakota. The project took nearly 15 years to complete and the craftsmanship for its time is truly unrivaled.
11 Times Square, New York - The Corporate Grand Canyon
What might be the commercial landmark of the country–the Corporate Grand Canyon if you will–Times Square is a dizzying display of neon advertisements, Broadway shows, and a center for the entertainment industry. While it’s technically a pedestrian road, it might be one of the most heavily-trafficked pedestrian roads in the world. People flock here from all over the world to see the massive signs and billboards advertising the world’s largest brand names and the next big Broadway show. It’s easy to find yourself walking with your head up towards the sky as the whole street is illuminated in commercialism, but there’s plenty of stores and attractions to visit here like 30 Rockefeller Plaza where you’ll find the ice rink and Christmas tree in the winter months.
10 Cloud Gate, Illinois - Bending Ball Of Liquid Metal
While the Cloud Gate in Chicago might be better known simply as “the Bean,” this landmark in the heart of the city is one of the more modern and intriguing entries on this list. Designed by famous artist Sir Anish Kapoor, the Cloud Gate resides in the famous Millennium Park and was constructed in 2006. A modern feat of designer ingenuity, this structure is a stainless steel bean meant to evoke liquid mercury. The rounded shape distorts the Chicago skyline and provides a perfect photo opportunity. Many thought the project would be impossible because it had many delays, but in the end, the Cloud Gate has become an iconic piece of American art.
9 Pearl Harbor, Hawaii - A Date Which Will Live In Infamy
What is typically left off of American Road Trip itineraries is the islands of Hawaii. Sure, the islands are a 6-hour flight from the west coast of the country, but it’s part of the United States and an important piece of its history. The attack on Pearl Harbor was what pulled the U.S. into World War 2 and ultimately what swung the tide for the Allies. The attack was devastating, and America lost many lives. The memorial over the USS Arizona now pays tribute to those fallen and acts as a reminder of the harsh realities of war. Pearl Harbor is just outside of Waikiki on the island of Oahu and is an important landmark in America.
8 Puget Sound, Washington - Gateway To The Pacific Northwest
The most iconic landmark in the great Pacific Northwest might be Seattle’s iconic Space Needle, but locals perhaps tend to favor what has come naturally from the splendid beauty of this area and its local climate. The Puget Sound makes the Pacific Northwest what is it today in terms of being considered a nature-heavy place to travel. The complex estuary acts as a gate to the area and provides visitors with an array of water-based activities including kayaking. Here, you’ll find the quaint town of Gig Harbor, Washington which we featured on a list of the most underrated towns in America.
7 Lake Tahoe - Keeping It Blue
One of the deepest fresh water lakes in the country, Lake Tahoe is one of the premiere alpine destinations not only in California/Nevada, but in the entire United States. People from all over the world come to Lake Tahoe to see this incredibly blue water. In the winter, it’s one of the ultimate ski and snowboarding experiences with a number of quality ski resorts to choose from. And in the summer, Tahoe is one of the best outdoor vacation destinations around. From scenic, small-town beauty in the North Shore to fun nightlife and casinos in the South, Lake Tahoe is a great experience for anyone at any age.
6 National Mall, Washington D.C. - Landmarks Of The Capital
It was difficult coming up with just one landmark in the country’s capital. It seems that everywhere you go, you’ll find another landmark memorializing the country’s rich history. But thankfully, a majority of Washington’s major attractions are in the same area and fall under the umbrella of the National Mall. The National Mall includes a stretch of land that features the iconic Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, as well as the beautiful reflecting pool that rests in between. You can also find the Constitutional Garden and the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.
5 Hollywood Sign, California - Welcome To La La Land
There is certainly a pantheon in the American eye of the greatest landmarks in across the vast country. We’re talking about the top three or five landmarks you might find on a child’s map of the country, the ones that define the American culture and its great history. There is none perhaps that defines the ever-changing landscape of the American dream as the Hollywood sign in La La Land. What was once an advertisement for Los Angeles realty has now become a global icon portraying the glitter and glamour of the movie industry. You can hike up close enough to catch a picture of the front, but there’s another hike that vies you a view of the city from the sign’s point of view.
4 Gateway Arch, Missouri - The Western Expansion
On the famous Mississippi River, you’ll find the wonderful city of St. Louis. St. Louis is home to the world’s tallest arch in the Gateway Arch, designed by the architect Eero Saarinen in 1947 and constructed in 1963. The weighted catenary arch is the tallest monument in the western hemisphere and Missouri’s tallest accessible building. For all of its physical feats and accomplishments that have made it such a dazzling and magnificent monument, the Gateway Arch’s purpose is perhaps even more compelling. The Gateway Arch was designed to honor America’s great western expansion. When Thomas Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase from Spain, he not only acquired a massive chunk of land that would become the mid-west states of America, but he ushered in an area of unheralded western expansion.
3 National September 11 Memorial And Museum, New York - We Remember
The attack on the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001 sent a shockwave through the country and the rest of the world. When those planes crashed into the Twin Towers, nearly 3,000 lives were lost and the state of the nation would never be the same. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is one of the newest landmarks in American history, but it may perhaps be one of the most important as it acts as a reminder of how fragile life can be. Amidst the hustle and bustle of New York City, a place that never sleeps, the memorial can be a somber experience as the silence settles down on you. The two recessed pools that mark where the towers once stood run water year-round and display the names of those who lost their lives that tragic day. The names are a sobering reminder of just how much was lost.
2 Golden Gate Bridge, California - Gateway To The Golden Coast
If the Statue of Liberty ushers in the weary travelers of the Atlantic and beckons them to American and the Gateway Arch beckons the great westward expansion, then surely, the Golden Gate Bridge is the gatekeeper to America’s lovely western coast. The suspension bridge which connected San Francisco with its northern neighbor in Marin acts as the first sight for boats coming in from the Pacific. The vermillion orange hue of the bridge has become an internationally-recognized structure and a wonder of the modern world. The color is maintained and touched up throughout the year to keep it bright and visible to both visitors and boats alike.
1 Grand Canyon, Arizona - A Natural Wonder
There are fewer natural beauties and wonders more breathtaking than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This deep canyon carved by the Colorado River over the centuries has become one of the most iconic and famous natural wonders in America and represents the Old West and scenic beauty of America pre-colonization. But the Grand Canyon is nearly 300 miles long, so it’s incredibly difficult to see this wonder in its entirety. Luckily, the park is divided into easily navigable sections, and each section has its own splendors to behold. For example, the Horseshoe Bend in the eastern section is one of the best views of the river in the park.