The US is full of a diverse set of people, cultures, and landscapes. For this reason, it is possible to experience so much variety when visiting cities across the country. There is so much variety, where do you even begin? I can help with that!
This post breaks down the best US cities to visit, and key points that you should know about each. Each city is listed under its corresponding US region (east to west) and includes details on the city’s characteristics, popular attractions, and, of course, the best food to try.
New England is the easternmost northern region in the US. This region has been known as New England since John Smith (yes, that John) named it so in 1616. Many of the earliest settlers to this region came from eastern Europe, which has given this region a distinct accent, architecture, and cuisine.
1 | Boston, MA
Boston is the largest city in New England, and one of the oldest in the US. Given the age of the city, it has a lot of really cool older buildings from the 17th century and onward and some cobblestone streets to match. Many of the literary greats that you learned about in school lived in or around the city, giving the nickname as the “intellectual capital of the United States”. There is also a great emphasis on the arts and music throughout the city as well.
- The Freedom Trail: Walking this trail will allow you to retrace the steps the US founding fathers took when starting the American Revolutionary War.
- The New England Aquarium: Visit this aquarium to see over 800 different marine animals, including seals, penguins, and sharks.
- Cambridge, Concord, and Lexington: Venture right outside the city to see famous sites from the Revolutionary War and the homes of famous literary greats, like Louisa May Alcott.
What to Eat:
Boston is known for having wonderful seafood, baked beans, and the wonderful Boston cream pie! There are also a lot of great vegan restaurants for those of your veggies out there.
A few restaurants to try include:
- The Warren Tavern – Eat all the classic Bostonian foods at this eatery.
- Panza: Italian food from the North End area, which is similar to Little Italy in NYC.
This region sits below New England, and above the southern US states. It is characterized by large urbanized areas, prestigious universities, and for being the most-affluent region of the country. There are 30 professional sport franchises in this region, and a wide variety of cultures and accents can be found throughout the states in this region.
2 | New York, NY
NYC has an energy that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. There is reason why its been called the “city that never sleeps” – you can find something to do at any time of the day, 24/7 and the pace never slows. It is the most populous city in the US, and likely the most diverse ethnically as well. The city has been denoted by some as the cultural capital of the world due to the emphasis you’ll find on the performing arts, music, cuisine.
- New York One World Observatory: Visit the new World Trade Center building for sweeping view of the city, and visit the nearby memorial to 911.
- The Statue of Liberty: This icon of America is rightfully one of the city’s most popular destinations. Visit the close by Ellis Island on the same ticket to get a better understanding of the life and experiences of early immigrants to the city.
- The Met: See why the Metropolitan Museum of Art is world renowned for its fabulous art collection
What to Eat:
- Lombardi’s: AKA America’s first pizzeria has great pizza pies – simple, yet delicious
- Molly’s Cupcakes: So not exactly a restaurant, per se, but this place as wonderful cupcakes. I try to stop here every time I come to the city.
RELATED: NYC Travel Guide
3 | Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia has held on to a lot of its colonial charm, giving it a feel more similar to New England than others in the Mid-Atlantic. This city is full of history, as are many of the others listed here, mostly due to its role as the original capital of the US and the site where the Declaration of Independence was signed. The city has 67 historic landmarks, and 1 UNESCO World Heritage site, just for reference. The city is also home to the iconic steps from Rocky, which you can run up and down too, if so desired.
- Founding Fathers Historical Walking Tour: See sites such as the Independence Mall, Ben Franklin’s home, the first home of the US Presidents, and more!
- Eastern State Penitentiary: Tour what was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world.
- Segway Mural Tour: If street art interests you, take this tour to see all of the cities best-known murals. They can be found everywhere and are really quite something to see!
Where to Eat:
- Joe’s Steaks: Stop here to get the famous Philly Cheesesteak – No trip to Philly is complete without at least one!
- Beiler’s Doughnuts: So, I’m not a huge doughnut person, but these are everything! Dense and cakey with a variety of toppings – these are just perfect.
4 | Washington, DC
This is the city that I call home, and I love it here! Despite being best known for its political scene, the city is (thankfully) so much more than that. Full of great (and free!) museums, parks, and restaurants, this city is one full of heart. Although it is a big(ish) city, the low skyline keeps it having a smaller town feel than NYC or Boston, for example. The city is home to a diverse population, like many urban areas on the east coast. Unlike many of the other cities, however, there really is no distinct accent here or specific food identified with the city. It’s really just a wonderful mix of everything :).
- Mt. Vernon: Head right outside the city to see George Washington’s estate and learn a lot about the lives of the slaves who kept it running.
- DC Night Monuments Tour: I think that seeing the monuments at night is really the best way to do it (don’t worry, they are all well lit :)).
- Capitol Hill Walking Tour: Really the best way to see the major sites and understand the history if you’re interested in learning about politics in the city, past and present.
Where to Eat:
- Léziz Cafe & Restaurant: Get great Turkish/Mediterranean food here – tapas style!
- Lincoln: If you’re looking for American, stop here for American-style tapas.
- Georgetown Cupcakes: I mean, if you don’t stop here, did you even visit DC?
The Midwest is known as “America’s Heartland”, as it is responsible for the majority of the country’s manufacturing and farming sectors. It is known for friendly locals, low-cost real estate, and a low-stress lifestyle (in general). The states covered in this region go as far north as North Dakota / Minnesota and as far south as Kansas and Missouri. This means the temperatures you’ll find here will vary widely. But some of the most brutal winters in the states happen in the more northern states in this region.
5 | Chicago, IL
Chicago is a beautiful city, which has a distinct look due to it positioning by Lake Michigan and around the Chicago River. Chicago is known for its massive skyscrapers, brutal windchill in winter, and deep dish pizzas. Chicago is a hugely popular tourist destination, and is the second most visited city in the US, after New York.
- Willis Tower: Visit what was once known as the Sears Tower, and the tallest building in the world for 25 years. Here you can stand on “The Ledge” and look down 100 stories at the streets beneath your feet.
- Night River Cruise: Marvel at the architecture that has made the city famous while you travel through downtown on an evening river cruise.
- Gangsters and Ghosts Walking Tour: Walk the Chicago Loop and learn the fascinating history of the gangsters who once ran the streets of the city and those who may now haunt the city too. (Nothing like a good ghost tour, right?)
Where to Eat:
- Bartoli’s Pizza: Stop here to grab a bite of that deep dish pizza the city is so well-known.
- Lula Cafe: For locally-grown food cooked in an artisenal style, stop at this cafe. This restaurant features a vegetarian and vegan options too.
The definition of the south varies according to who you talk to, but for the intents of this post, we’ll say it starts as high up as Virginia and goes from the east coast to as far west as Mississippi. This area is characterized by its slow pace of life, sprawling cities, southern charm, and delicious fatty foods.
6 | Orlando, FL
Orlando, known as “The City Beautiful”, is probably best known as pretty much the mecca for theme parks in the United States. With its very mild winters, it is great for a visit any time of the year. In addition to theme parks, you’ll find good outlet shopping and industrial and hi-tech centers.
- Kennedy Space Center: Learn about the history of the space program and what its like to be a real astronaut at KSC.
- Walt Disney World: Visit the most visited them parks in the world! The parks include the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. (There are 2 water parks too!)
- Universal Orlando: Ride the movies at Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Universal Bay.
Where to Eat:
- Rainforest Cafe: One of my favorite themed restaurants the rainforest has pretty decent food and provides a unique experience to those who dine there. There is one in the Disney Springs area in Orlando.
- Tony’s Town Square Restaurant: Based on the classic movie “Lady and the Tramp”, this Italian spot is one of my favorite restaurants in Disney World. You’ll find this one right off of Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.
7 | Miami, FL
When you think of Miami, you likely think of hot weather, white sand, clear waters, parties, and latin-infused culture. Miami offers all of this, plus great food and beautiful views. Miami has the third tallest skyline in the US, and is a major center for finance, culture, commerce, and media/entertainment.
- South Beach Food Tour: This tour provides a history of the city and takes you to check out the hottest Cuban, artisanal Peruvian, Italian and Jewish comfort foods.
- Half-Day Double Decker Bus and Boat Tour of Miami: Hit all of the city’s major neighborhoods, such as South Beach, Downtown Miami, and Little Havana. Transition then to a boat tour through the lovely Biscayne Bay.
- Everglades National Park Airboat Tour and Wildlife Show: If exploring nature interests you, you can spend some time in the everglades seeing the alligator and other wildlife native to the area.
Where to Eat:
- Versailles: So much of the culture in Miami is influenced by the Cubans who made this city their home. It’s only appropriate that you try at least Cuban while you’re in town, and Versailles is one of the best.
- My Cupcake World: If you have a sweet tooth, check out this place for some absolutely delicious cupcakes!
8 | New Orleans, LA
New Orleans is a great place to experience a very different culture than the rest of the US – its actually pretty similar to Miami in this aspect. You can really feel how this city was impacted by its French and Spanish settlers, and the African slaves who were able to keep more of their culture than others due to different slave laws there. Most iconic is the French Quarter with its beautiful balconies and colorful buildings, and all the wonderful food!
- French Quarter, Cemetery, and Voodoo Tour: Explore the most popular neighborhood in New Orleans, and the neighboring Tremé, and learn all about the history of the city and voodoo culture.
- Ghost Tour: If you like being spooked, explore the city at night and learn all about the haunts that supposedly still roam the streets and buildings today.
- Whitney Plantation Tour: Learn what life was really like for the slaves that lived in Louisiana back in the day.
Where to Eat:
- Muriel’s Jackson Square: For an upscale dining experience you can make a reservation here to try classic New Orleans style food with a bit of a French influence.
- Cafe Du Monde: Get those world-famous biengets here – they never disappoint!
RELATED: 2-Day New Orleans Travel Guide
The southwest is characterized as having influences from both the southern states and the frontier west, and many states in this region have a relatively significant native American influence as well.
9 | Dallas, TX
Dallas is known for being the center of the art scene for northern Texas. There are many art museums around the city, including the Dallas Museum of Art and Nasher Sculpture city. It is also known for its wide variety of high-quality restaurants. Dallas residents eat out 4 times a week on average, which is only less than Houston and Austin within the state.
- Dallas Uptown Foodie Walk: Explore the uptown neighborhood of West Village and learn about the some of the city’s history while you eat delicious food from around the world.
- Dallas and JFK Limosuine Tour: Visit the city’s key monuments and landmarks and then learn all about the circumstances and places involved in JFK’s assassination.
- Dallas CityPASS: Get a discounted ticket for entry to many of Dallas’s top attractions, including the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the Dallas Zoo.
Where to Eat:
- Velvet Tacos: This place has the best tacos you will ever eat. Period. Get tacos inspired by a variety of cuisine, like Nashville hot chicken, tikka masala, and more. I make a point to always stop here whenever I’m in the city.
- Gabriella and Sofia’s Tex Mex: You can’t stop in Texas without tex-mex, and this place is legit.
10 | Houston, TX
Despite being part of the southwest, Houston features one of the most diverse city populations in the country – there are over 90 different languages spoken here! Houston has a lively music culture and a thriving theater scene. Houston is a huge city, both in size and population and spread. The sprawl is real here! In fact, the land area for greater Houston is similar to that of the STATE of Massachusetts!
- NASA Space Center Visit: Visit the Johnson Space Center and participate in a guided tram tour around the site. Experience the many interactive exhibits that could be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
- Houston City Tour (w/ Aquarium): Explore the city of Houston by bus and stop at as many of the landmarks as you’d like. Get access to the city’s aquarium as well.
- Houston City PASS: Save 47% on the city’s top attractions, including the Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo, and the Kemah Boardwalk.
Where to Eat:
- El Real Tex-Mex Cafe: Like Dallas, this city is well-known for its tex mex – this spot is one of the best in the city!
- Gatlin’s BBQ: The city is also very popular for its BBQ, so be sure to check out a place like Gatlin’s before you wrap up your visit!
The Rocky Mountain Region
This region includes those states surrounding the great mountain region, towards the west of the US and north of the south western states. In terms of ethnicity, this region of the US is probably the least diverse, but that is slowly changing in cities like Denver, for example.
11 | Denver, CO
Denver is the largest city in Colorado, and is noted for the beautiful mountains that surround the city. Denver has an active music scene and is known for being a very active/outdoorsy city. Denver has 300 days of sunshine a year, making it a great destination to visit all year.
- Denver Like a Local: Get a private walking tour with a local guide who loves the city and hit up the spots that YOU want to see while you travel.
- Rocky Mountain Explorer Trip from Denver: Head out the city to explore the mountains, including sites such as Bear Canyon Creek and Red Rocks Amphitheater – maybe find some dinosaur tracks along the way too!
- Denver Mile High Culture Pass: Get access to the city’s best attractions for a low price. Visit sites such as the Denver Art Museum, the History Colorado Center, and the Molly Brown House Museum.
Where to Eat:
- Spuntino: For Italian-inspired fare, stop here to be treated to a wonderful dinner.
- Rioja: Grab dinner here for fresh, Mediterrean-inspired cuisine.
The Pacific Coastal Region
The Pacific Coastal Region features those three western-most states: California, Oregon, and Washington. It is noted for the Pacific Mountains that run through the area and a generally more relaxed vibe than the eastern US states.
12 | San Francisco, CA
San Francisco is probably now best known for its proximity to Silicon Valley and the boom that has had on the tech industry there, and the resulting increases in the area’s cost of living. San Francisco does feature some of the weirdest weather in the US, with its cool summers and hot fall, but it is a really interesting place to visit.
- Half-Day Golden Gate Catamaran Cruise and Alcatraz Visit: Visit the notorious Alcatraz prison, once home to Al Capone and sail by the city for impressive views of the skyline.
- Chinatown Culinary Walking Tour: Explore the largest Chinatown outside of Asia to sample foods and learn the cooking methods used for generations.
- Go San Francisco Explorere Pass: You can choose from a variety of attractions, such as Madame Tussauds, the Asian Art Museum, and the Aquarium of the Bay and visit them all for a low price!
Where to Eat:
- Beretta: Eat delicious contemporary Italian food at this cute and cozy restaurant.
- Nojo Ramen Tavern: No trip to SF is complete without a ramen stop, and I loved this one!
13 | Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles brings to mind visions of the beach, celebrities, and probably a theme park or two. LA is the second largest city the US after NYC, but unfortunately it does not have the public transit system that NYC does. So traffic is a given. Don’t let that deter your visit though! LA offers a little bit of everything for those who choose to make a stop here for vacation.
- Disneyland: Now including the California Adventure park and Downtown Disney, it is worth making a stop here if you have kids or are just a big kid at heart (like me :)).
- Universal Studios Hollywood: This park is special because it comes with a tour of many famous movie and TV sets, such as Psycho, Desperate Housewives, and King Kong.
- Hollywood and Celebrity Homes Tour: See classic Hollywood sites like the Chinese Theater and hunt down the homes of your favorite stars from an open-top vehicle.
Where to Eat:
- The Rose Venice: Get local Southern California cuisine with an international influence.
- Mizlala: This restaurant features affordable, Middle Eastern small plates and flavors you won’t be able to get enough of.
RELATED: Disneyland’s Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge
For more ideas on what to do in Los Angeles, check out this 5-Day LA Itinerary!
In Summary | The Best Cities to Visit in the USA
That concludes my list for the best cities to visit in the US. I hope that you have a good idea for which ones are worth your visit! There are, of course, many more, and I’ll keep adding to this list! If you have a favorite city that I haven’t included on this list yet, let me know about it in the comments below!