The USA is such a diverse country, in terms of both cultures and landscapes. On one hand, there are pristine beaches in California and on the other, there are icy glaciers in Alaska. No matter where you’re from—whether it’s one of the states or another country—you’re bound to find a place in the USA that has what you’re looking for. The country is filled with countless attractions across its 50 States (and one federal district). It can be a bit daunting to plan a day out or vacation when there are so many options. Where should you even begin? How will you know what’s worth visiting and what you should skip? TripAdvisor makes planning a bit easier, thanks to its rankings of attractions, which are based on honest reviews by regular people. There are even honors, such as the Certificate of Excellence, awarded to the very best attractions to help set them apart.
We scoured TripAdvisor to find the most highly rated (4.5+) sites and tours across the country, so you don’t have to do any work. They range from historical monuments to natural wonders and theme parks. There’s something for everyone on this list—from the most physically active tourists to the foodie. Although the prices for some of these attractions may not be the cheapest, they’re totally worth every dollar. Here’s to an amazing trip!
25 Hearst Castle, California
Hearst Castle is a lavish estate perched atop a California hill. It contains over 50 bedrooms, an outdoor pool, an indoor pool, a tennis court, a wine cellar and rooms bigger than some houses! Each room has something special to see and there is rare artwork scattered across the castle. There are several tours available to the public and they are each worth the money!
This is a must-visit attraction, any time of the year. On warm days, the gorgeous gardens are perfect for strolling and taking photos. During the holidays, the castle is lit up and covered in festive décor. Even when it rains, the fog creates a notable ambience. If you enjoy architecture, history or all things opulent, start planning your visit to this castle now.
24 Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the most famous natural landmarks in the world. It is widely believed to have been carved by the Colorado River and other geologic processes five to six million years ago. The vivid red hues of the rock layers are due to the presence of minerals and oxidation.
There are numerous hiking trails for those who enjoy being active and don’t mind a challenge. There are also tours by helicopter, jeep, raft and mule. It doesn’t matter which method of exploration you choose, you’ll still be able to soak up the spectacular views offered by this natural wonder.
23 One World Observatory, New York
The World Trade Center towers and the lives lost in 2001 will forever remain in our hearts. To pay homage, the One World Observatory was created. At 1,776 feet tall, it is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. So, you can imagine just how spectacular the views from the top will be. You can also bet that the lines will be long! If you're looking to skip the line, expect to pay about $45 per ticket. TripAdvisor users acknowledge the fact that it's pricey, but most state that it's amazing to have a 360-degree view of New York. There is also a fun iPad option which allows you to identify buildings.
22 Mauna Kea Observatory, Hawaii
If you’ve ever wanted to be close to the stars, but can’t afford a trip to space, a trip to Mauna Kea may satisfy your desires. The summit stands over 13,000 feet above sea level and its clear skies allow you to see countless stars, including shooting stars. You may even be able to spot a space station! The observatory is home to some of the world’s largest telescopes and the guides are happy to point out objects of interest in the sky. Even the journey to the observatory is an adventure and will require a vehicle with four-wheel drive.
21 Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Unless you reside in or near Oregon, you’ve most likely never heard of Multnomah Falls. But, at 611 feet, it is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. It’s also one of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ll ever see. The Benson Bridge allows visitors to view the waterfall’s second and top tiers up close. Just remember to bring a raincoat because you’ll definitely get wet!
The great thing about this waterfall is that it never dries up, thanks to a continuous supply of water from an underground spring. It’s worth the visit for the panoramic vistas and makes for a romantic date or adventurous day out.
20 The High Roller, Nevada
Many of the world’s major cities have a Ferris wheel which provides tourists with incredible views. But, Vegas does it bigger and better, as expected. The High Roller is very high up over the city and rotates for 30 minutes per ride. What makes it unique compared to other Ferris wheels is the fact that you can purchase beverages to enjoy during your ride. On top of that, you’ll receive one of the best views of Las Vegas, with all of its lights and fun buildings. Although it can be a pricey attraction (especially if you’re purchasing drinks), it’s typically a highlight for tourists.
19 Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise, Hawaii
There are so many water activities to do when in Hawaii. One of the best is snorkelling because it’s active and you really get to see wildlife as closely as possible. Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise is rated highly by TripAdvisor and it’s easy to see why, despite minimum costs of $132 per person. This cruise includes a pickup from your hotel to the Kewalo Basin Harbor, where you’ll board a catamaran. On the way to the snorkelling spot, you have a good chance of seeing dolphins and whales. Once at the snorkelling spot, you’ll be swimming alongside sea turtles and tropical fish. Drinks and a meal are also provided during mid-day tours. Now that’s a true Hawaiian vacation adventure!
18 Disneyland California Adventure Park, California
Disneyland is labelled as the happiest place on Earth, so of course it’s worth every dollar! The theme park is filled with fun rides, such as Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight and Jungle Cruise. It’s also home to all your favourite Disney characters, giving you the opportunity to meet them, take photos with them and get their autographs. On top of that, Disneyland puts on spectacular musicals, and light shows, which are entertaining for the entire family.
Disney’s employees, called cast members, go above and beyond to ensure that every visitor has a magical experience at the park. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, you’ll receive free buttons and if it’s your birthday, you’ll receive free desserts or a chance to take part in a show.
17 Statue of Liberty, New York
It isn’t a trip to New York until you’ve seen the Statue of Liberty up close and in person. One way to get a good view of the famous monument is by ferry. An even better way to experience the monument is to upgrade your ferry tickets to include going up Lady Liberty’s crown. These tickets cost $21.50 per adult and must be purchased months in advance. You must also be able to climb 393 narrow steps to access the crown. Sounds like a lot of work and money, but the view of Manhattan from the crown is unbeatable. A guided tour of the statue may cost a bit more, but it is inspiring and you’ll learn about the history of the Statue of Liberty. You’ll also have a tour guide to help take photos of you and your family or friends.
16 Monterey Bay Aquarium, California
Unlike many aquariums, Monterey Bay Aquarium is huge and takes more than just a couple of hours to explore. The jellyfish exhibit is often cited as one of the best, with its large tank holding dozens of mesmerizing jellyfish species. The adorable sea otters and penguins are also visitor favorites. The exhibits are all designed to be an interactive learning experience for individuals of all ages. There are even feeding times during which you can speak to the feeders. Although the aquarium’s admission price is higher than the average museum price, you’ll get your money’s worth because this is a world-class aquarium!
15 River Walk Boat Tour, Texas
The River Walk improves and expands every year, with the addition of new restaurants and stores. One thing remains constant is the riverboat cruise, which takes you on a journey through the colorful and upbeat area. There are options ranging from simple narrated tours to private dining tours. It’s a must-do activity if you’re ever in the area and it is one of the closest experiences to feeling as though you’re in Venice while still in the USA. The holidays are an especially lovely time to visit, as the trees lining the river are draped in lights. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it?
14 Kennedy Space Centre, Florida
If you’re a space enthusiast, a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre is mandatory. Even if you’re not a space enthusiast, you should still check this place out. Only here can you see the real space shuttle Atlantis, meet a NASA astronaut (or even dine with one) and touch a moon rock—all under one roof. You can also expect to experience what it’s like to be in space in the zero gravity chamber, become emotional in the Hall of Heroes and leave with so much more knowledge than you arrived with. There's so much to see and experience at the Kennedy Space Centre that you can spend an entire day there. It’s not hard to understand why the general admission tickets are over $50 (to us, that’s a steal).
13 Hoover Dam, Nevada
The Hoover Dam can be found on the border of Nevada and Arizona, impeding Lake Mead. It is the highest concrete arch dam in the USA, standing at 221 meters. Some TripAdvisor users would go so far as to call Hoover Dam the eighth world wonder. Indeed, it is a very scenic site. There are several tours of the dam, starting at $15 and going up to $110 per person. It all depends on how much you want to see. Some tours allow you to tour the power plant, while others take you several hundred feet underground through the tunnels. Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed to be amazed by this engineering marvel.
12 Universal Studios, Florida
Many visitors claim that Universal Studios is better than Walt Disney World and that may be true for older visitors or those more interested in thrilling entertainment and Harry Potter. Universal Studios is filled with innovative rides, including 3D ones such as The Amazing Adventures of Spider–Man and Transformers: The 3D Ride. It also contains The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is every fan’s dream. There is a recreation of Hogwarts, housing the area’s most popular ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. There’s even a life-sized Hogwarts Express, recreations of the Hogsmeade shops and the opportunity to try legit Butterbeer!
11 Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is the world’s first national park and one of the most stunning, too. It contains a combination of natural sites, such as mountain peaks, canyons, lakes, alpine forests and even a geyser. If you’re a wilderness explorer, this may be the only place you ever need to visit. Thanks to its incomparable landscape, there are so many activities to do in Yellowstone National Park, including rafting, horseback riding, hiking and mountain climbing. Of course, the park is also filled with animals (bison, elk and foxes), so you can spend lots of time looking out for them. Although it might put a bit of a debt in your wallet, we’d recommend spending a few days by renting a lodge, if you want to make the most of your trip.
10 Balboa Park, California
Balboa Park is 1,200 acres of fun in the San Diego sun. It is actually free to enter the park and walk along its paths to admire the gardens and vegetation zones. There are also free activities in the summer (such as free movie nights) and food trucks. It will, however, cost you to visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo, as well as the museums in the park. On that note, there is no shortage of museums in this park, as it holds a total of 17! Many are art museums, but there are some focused on history, minerals and vehicles. The San Diego Zoo is perhaps the highlight of the park. It houses over 650 species of animals and costs $54 per adult.
9 Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas
Who doesn’t dream of digging up some dirt, only to find a diamond worth thousands of dollars? You may actually be able to make that dream a reality at Crater of Diamonds State Park. The 37-acre plowed field is one of the only places in the world where the public can search for real diamonds in their original source and keep them! The area sits atop a volcanic vent where diamonds were formed during an eruption hundreds of millions of years ago.
According to ABC News, over 400 diamonds were discovered in 2017. Admission is only $10, so even if you don’t strike a diamond, you’ll still have some fun in the sun.
8 Savannah Historic and Secret East Side Food Tour, Georgia
With the rise of social media came a rise in the foodie population. Maybe you loved food before then, but you’ve got to admit that you’ve paid more attention to food since you started sharing food pics with all your friends. So, to fulfill a foodie’s dream day, why not go on a food tour? The Savannah Food Tour allows you to sample food from six eateries, while learning about the history of the district and mingling with a small group of people. The food is reportedly delicious and are twists on Southern classics. Some examples include peach cobbler waffles and pimento cheese croissants. Need we say more?!
7 Hershey World and Hersheypark, Pennsylvania
Hershey World should be on every sweet tooth's bucket list! The center was opened as a replacement of the Hershey chocolate plant tour and has five main attractions. You can learn how chocolate is made by taking a 30-minute narrated tour featuring animatronic cows and holographic images. You can also indulge in free samples or delicious baked goods at the bakery. But, the absolute must-do is the Hershey Trolley Works tour, which takes you on an educational journey to Milton Hershey’s birthplace, the original chocolate factory and Hersheypark.
Speaking of Hersheypark, it’s nearby and is the perfect place to spend the rest of your chocolate-filled day. The theme park has 14 roller coasters and lots of Hershey’s characters.
6 Chihuly Garden and Glass, Washington
The Chihuly Garden and Glass has been taking visitors’ breath away since it opened in 2012. It features the colorful and unique works of art by Dale Chihuly. There are eight galleries holding incredible glass structures and a 40-foot tall glasshouse with a suspended installation. The natural sunlight bounces off of this installation, creating new perceptions every so often.
There is also a garden on site, but it’s not your typical garden. Though it does contain plants and trees, the main eye-catching objects are the four glass sculptures. Even the gift shop offers great glass items. Overall, the attraction can best be described as magical.
5 Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise, Alaska
Cruises aren’t just for tropical locations! The Kenai Fjords National Park Tour takes guests on a cruise through glaciers and the remote Alaskan islands. The tour guides narrate the journey, teaching you about the park and all its wonders. You’ll see seals, penguins, mountain goat, sea lions, puffins and—if you’re lucky—whales (or even a couple of bears!). Everything from the animals to the glaciers and rock formations is stunning. This is one trip that you won’t forget.
The cruises typically depart from Seward and begin at $90 and go up to $224, depending on the length.
4 Albuquerque Balloon Festival, New Mexico
Each year in October, the skies of Albuquerque are filled with hundreds of magnificent, colourful hot air balloons during the International Balloon Fiesta. It is a sight that everyone should see in person (the photos don’t do it justice!). Not only will you see regular hot air balloons, but you’ll see specially shaped ones, too. Just imagine standing in a huge field filled with food vendors and thousands of people, while music is playing. Then, imagine seeing hundreds of balloons launched at the same time. Sounds amazing, right? If that isn’t enough to impress you, there are also laser light shows, fireworks and various competitions.
3 Mount Rushmore Tour, South Dakota
Mount Rushmore is one of the most famous symbols in the USA. The mountain sculpture features 60-foot faces of former U.S. leaders. It is quite hard to navigate the roads on your own and take in all the sights. So, a tour is recommended. On the tour, you’ll have a tour guide, meals and time to explore the mountain and surrounding park which contain all kinds of amazing wildlife. The tours start at about $130, so you should start saving up. This may be your only opportunity to take a selfie with former leaders, after all.
2 Grand Teton Wildlife Tour, Wyoming
You may have been under the impression that you must visit Africa in order to go on a wildlife tour. But, you’re mistaken. You can go on a safari adventure in Grand Teton National Park. While you won’t see any lions or zebras, you will see moose, bison, elk, coyotes, eagles and so much more. And you can do so in an open-air safari-like vehicle, too. The tours run through all the seasons and start at $110. It’s worth it to see such majestic animals roaming around in their natural habitat and so close to you.
1 Alcatraz Day Tour, California
Alcatraz is legendary. The infamous high-security prison held some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Although Alcatraz stopped running as a prison in 1963, there are now tours available for those interested. For about $40, you can enjoy a round-trip ferry ride and the award-winning Cellhouse audio tour. During the latter, you’ll hear stories about life in the prison from former inmates and you’ll be able to picture yourself in the solitary cells. Sounds eerie, but not all is dark on Alcatraz. There is also a historic garden which you can see for no additional cost.
Sources: tripadvisor.com, abcnews.go.com