America truly is a country that has it all, with so much diversity throughout all 50 states. When it comes to food, culture, architecture, and landscapes, there is no place that is like the other, which is what makes this country so special. It’s also what makes this country an epic trip for any first time visitor to the land of the free.
From the bustling metropolitan area of Manhattan to the desert landscape of Arizona, the mountainous region of Yellowstone, the beautiful beaches of California, all the way to the country music city of Nashville—you will always be on your toes throughout your trip. One minute you will be taking a surf lesson in Santa Monica and the next you will be doing the honky-tonk at a dusty warehouse in Nashville. The options are truly limitless.
This itinerary is without a doubt adventurous, as you are fitting in a lot in just three weeks. While I would recommend more time to truly take everything in and not rush from place to place, it is definitely a doable task that will take you to the best places that America has to offer. This itinerary is also based on merely driving across the country with no other form of transportation, so if you wish to take a flight from place to place it would change the timeframe (although that can get very pricey!). Since the country is so large, I couldn’t possibly fit everything into such a short period. But hey, that just means you’ll have to come back, right?
21 Spend a day exploring the Big Apple
What better place to begin your road trip than the city that never sleeps? This energetic city is full of all types of cuisine, vivid nightlife, top of the line shopping, and beautiful park spaces. You will truly never run out of things to do in this bustling haven. You can take a stroll through the urban oasis of Central Park, travel to the top of the Empire State Building to observe the iconic views, take a ferry over to the Statue of Liberty, and experience the bright lights of Times Square. The big apple is the perfect place to catch a Broadway show as well as a haven for art lovers, with both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art providing some crazy good exhibits.
20 Head to the capital city of Washington, DC
A 4-hour drive from New York will bring you to the capital city of Washington, DC. This is a city that is full of history, culture, and art. A trip to the White House is a must-do, with tours available to explore the stunning architecture of the building and history of the US leaders. This city is full of national monuments: the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial, just to name a few. The city also boasts an energetic nightlife, with a ton of restaurants, breweries, and bars to choose from. You can see a lot of hot spots in this city in just 24-hours, by hopping on the metro or bike to make the most of your time.
19 Visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland
The next day, hop in your car and begin the 5-hour drive to Cleveland, Ohio. This spot will just be a quick stopover to break up the journey to Chicago, but it is still worth spending a few hours exploring. A visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a must, an iconic music museum with musical history for generations, famous artefacts from some of the best musicians in the world, instruments, and more.
The museum recognizes the best-known and most influential artists that ever lived, so you’re guaranteed to see a few friendly faces. There are also events and live music held there, so make sure to check in advance who will be performing.
18 Arrive in Chicago, Illinois
Next stop, the windy city! Chicago is a such a unique city, with such a bustling atmosphere while at the same time never seeming too overwhelmingly busy. The city offers a feast for the eyes for architecture lovers, as well as those who love nature spaces to complement the skyscrapers.
Depending on when you arrive here, you may only have a few hours left of the day to spare. However, the nightlife in this city is as bustling as ever, and their famous comedy shows at The Second City are a must-do (where people like Tina Fey and Steve Carrell started out). Make sure to check out one of the many rooftop bars in the city at night to experience epic city views.
17 Explore the Windy City
There is so much to discover in this unique city, so make the most of your time by taking advantage of Chicago’s bike share program, a fun and affordable way to get around town. There are essentially bike stops all over the city to drop off your bike when you want to stop somewhere, and then you can easily hop right back on one whenever you please.
Millennium Park, where the famous Bean sculpture is located, is an epic green space in the middle of the city where you can relax for part of the day before heading to the Navy Pier to ride the Ferris wheel to experience epic views of the city. If you’re keen to shop, head to the Magnificent Mile for upscale shopping and delicious restaurants.
16 Driving day to Mount Rushmore
The next day will require a lot of driving as you make your way to Mount Rushmore. There isn’t a whole lot to stop for on this route, however it will probably be worth it to break up this 13-hour journey. You will pass through Madison, Wisconsin, which although isn’t too exciting of a stop, will be a good place to stop and stretch your legs. You will then be driving across South Dakota in order to make it to the border of Wyoming where Mount Rushmore is located.
There will be a ton of places to stop along the way to spend the night at, or you can switch driving with your passenger and take the whole journey.
15 Visit the iconic Mount Rushmore National Park
You will likely arrive at Mount Rushmore in the early morning, and it is definitely the light at the end of your long drive through the Midwest tunnel. This is by far one of the most famous landmarks in the United States. Take your time here (as I’m sure you’ll be in no rush to leave after that drive) and take in the amazing artwork of the four presidents carved into the mountain. The site also features a museum with interactive exhibits that are worth checking out as well.
Once you are done here, begin your drive to Yellowstone National Park, a 7-hour journey that can be broken up with stops in Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, and Custer.
14 Arrive in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is so awesome that you might find that you want to spend a couple of days here. The national park is full of spectacular stones of the most fascinating colours, and a ton of wild animals grazing in the fields. Bison, bears, wolves, and elk are common species in this area, so hopefully you will be lucky enough to spot one (or unlucky, depending how you look at it).
The park is atop a volcanic hotspot and is home to canyons, alpine rivers, geysers, lush forests, and hot springs. You could probably spend the whole 3-week itinerary exploring this park and not run out of things to see.
13 Visit the super volcano in Yellowstone
Today is the day to explore all that this amazing spot has to offer! The park is home to some amazing geysers (hot springs that boil and send tall columns of water into the air), known as Old Faithful (the world’s most renowned geyser) and Grand Prismatic Spring.
The active super volcano, known as Yellowstone Caldera, which has formed by 3 super eruptions over the past 2.1 million years. There are a ton of hikes in the park if you are up for an adventure, as well as a Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that overlooks the amazingly colourful rock formations.
12 Begin the journey to Zion National Park
The next day you will begin the 9-hour journey towards Zion National Park. You will stop by Idaho Falls, Salt Lake City, Provo, and a few notable national parks.
The Lava Hot Springs is another great place to stop for a dip into the water, or you can stop at Salt Lake City for something to eat. You could find a hotel in the city to stay for a night or camp at either Fishlake National Forest or Dixie National Forest. Both parks are full of nature walks, bird-watching, fishing, waterfalls, and amazing campsites. Not a bad stopover for a 9-hour drive, huh?
11 Hike your way through Zion
Located in southwest Utah, Zion National Park is one of the best places in the US for hiking and offers spectacular valley views that go on for miles. The park provides amazing drives through Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, leading to various forest trails along the river.
The scenic drive is insanely spectacular, with so many stops for photo ops and wildlife spotting along the way. Some spots to check out in the park include Emerald Pools, the Angels Landing hike, the Narrows hike, and Weeping Rock. While the Angels Landing hike is quite steep, the views you are welcomed with at the top are extremely worth it.
10 Get your party shoes on in Sin City!
The next morning, jump in the car and begin the 2 and a half hour drive to none other than Sin City. As you can imagine, this is a city that never sleeps, so you probably won’t either.
The Las Vegas Strip has an endless amount of things to do, and an epic nightlife (to say the least). /visit at a world-famous casino, catch an entertainment show (celebrities often are resident headliners), visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris Vegas (not the real deal, sorry to say), explore one of the many art galleries, or visit one of the many famous pool parties. 24-hours in Vegas is more than enough time to get your fix, believe me.
9 Go celeb-hunting in Los Angeles, California
While a lot of people find this city to be a bit overrated, it’s still worth stopping in for a city to see the main attractions. LA is the city of dreams, so who knows what could happen! The Hollywood Walk of Fame is a chance to see some of your favourite movie stars honoured, or you could go celeb-hunting on one of the many tours.
Got your shopping shoes on? Head to Rodeo Drive for some high-scale names. If you’re keen to spend some time by the ocean, head to Santa Monica for a stroll along the pier, a ride on the famous Ferris wheel, or a hangout by the water.
8 Stop by the famous San Diego Zoo
Located on the Pacific coast of California, San Diego is known for its beautiful beaches, park spaces, and more chilled-out vibe compared to the business of Los Angeles, merely a couple of hours away. The city is home to the famous San Diego Zoo and numerous famous art galleries.
For waterfront views, head to Seaport Village for shopping and walking paths along the coast. Pacific Beach is a good spot to spend the day, being one of the most popular beach destinations in the area. There are a ton of dining options along the coast, nightclubs, cafes, and a plenty of surfing and water sports opportunities.
7 Visit the desert in Phoenix
The next day will involve a 5-hour drive to the desert city of Phoenix, Arizona. This state is known for its year-round sun and extremely hot, dry temperatures. There are a ton of spa-resorts and golf courses in the area, as well as a vibrant nightlife. It might be worth it to check into one of the resorts to get some much needed rest and relaxation from the long journey you have taken thus far. The Desert Botanical Garden is a great place to start off your visit, with numerous types of cacti and native plants.
It’s also worth checking out the nature walks in the area, such as Camelback Mountain, which involves a treacherous climb but welcomes you with panoramic city views at the top.
6 Get your Mex food fix in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is full of history, amazing architecture, and traditional culture running through the veins of the city. It also has, you guessed it, some of the most amazing and authentic tastes of Mexico in the world. This place has a ton of character, and you will feel like you are stepping into the heart of Mexico as soon as you arrive. Some historical spots to check out include Loretto Chapel, Place of the Governors, and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.
The Santa Fe Plaza, a public square in the downtown core, also hosts a ton of markets and events year-round.
5 Driving day to Austin, Texas
The next journey from Santa Fe to Austin will be a long one, with a whopping 11-hour drive. You will probably take a full day to do this unless you are driving overnight, but keep in mind that there isn’t much worth stopping at between these two cities, so it might be best to get it all done as quickly and efficiently as you can.
Once you arrive in Austin, get some much-needed rest and visit one of the amazing restaurants for some grub. If you’re up for it, you can catch a live show before hitting the hay early to make the most of the next day exploring. Austin is known for its eclectic live-music scene, with shows ranging from country to blues, to rock and roll, so make sure you catch one before you leave!
4 Catch a football game in Austin, Texas
Austin is situated on the edge of Lady Bird Lake, surrounded by lush outdoor spaces, hiking trails, boating excursions, and biking opportunities along the Lady Bird trail. Just outside the city, there is a gorgeous natural swimming grotto known as Hamilton Pool, which is ideal for a day trip. You can kick it with the locals and visit a dusty dancehall to do some line dancing, or experience the insanity and sea of orange jerseys of a University of Texas home football game.
Being a city full of breakfast burritos, famous BBQ joints, and pretty much anything deep fried, you will never be hungry in this city.
3 Explore the modern hub of Dallas
Everything’s bigger in Texas, which is why this itinerary has you stopping at two major cities through this awesome state. Dallas, a more modern metropolis city compared to Austin, has free transportation options throughout the city to make the most of your time here.
Head up the Reunion Tower for dinner, a building that features light shows and a 360-degree view of the city. The city is filled with culture, with Dallas Arts District—home to the Dallas Museum of Art, Meyerson Symphony Centre, and the Winspear Opera House. There is also a sculpture centre that exhibits unique pieces from different cultures. Take in all that Dallas has to offer before heading out of Texas!
2 Get your party pants on in New Orleans
Time to head to Louisiana, home to one of the most famous cities in the world—New Orleans. It’s nicknamed the “Big Easy”, namely for its round-the-clock nightlife, abundance of live music, and its overall vibrant atmosphere at pretty much any time of the day. The food here is so unique, reflecting its history with tastes of France, Africa, and America.
Saying that this is an interesting place to stop is an understatement, especially if you are lucky enough to catch the vibrant festival of Mardi Gras, known for parades and extravagant costumes. Bourbon Street is a great place to stay, since it is where all of the magic happens in terms of nightlife and live performances.