Looking for things to do in the United States that are the quintessential soul of Americana? Look no further. We asked our fellow travel bloggers what they considered to be top things to do in the United States and they did not disappoint. From sea to shining sea, Boston to Los Angeles and places in between, there is something here that you will want to see.
12 Extraordinary Things to Do in the United States
The Hollywood Sign and Griffith Park – Los Angeles, California
Located in Griffith Park, the Hollywood Sign remains one of the most popular sites in Los Angeles. Visitors from around the world who have seen this sign in a movie or television show make the effort to view it either up close or from a distance.
If just viewing the sign interests you, then find your way to the Griffith Park Observatory and you’ll have decent views from the parking lot. But for those wanting to get closer, and get some exercise, then put on your hiking shoes. The most popular hike to the sign starts at the same parking lot and is well marked. Unfortunately, even at the conclusion of the hike, the sign is off in the distance, so don’t expect to get close enough to touch it. For those wanting to get closer to the back of the sign, the Canyon Drive Trail delivers both great views and a physically challenging hike.
Griffith Park is also a great place for movie buffs since hundreds of films and televisions show have shot scenes somewhere within the 4,200 acres. Both Rebel Without A Cause and La La Land shot scenes at the observatory. The Bat Cave is located on park grounds and Jurassic Park had scenes here.
The park is also home to the Los Angeles Zoo and many other attractions, so if you’re coming to the City of Angels, plan to spend a day here.
Wendy Lee blogs at Empty Nesters Hit the Road.
Harlem, New York
Harlem, in upper Manhattan was originally settled by the Dutch who named it after Haarlem, an area in The Netherlands. Today, Harlem is the quintessential trendy New York neighborhood, a vibrant, eclectic place full of jazz clubs, trendy restaurants, amazing architecture and U.S. history…and a great example of classic Americana.
One of the must-do activities in Harlem includes a visit to the famous Amateur night at the Apollo theatre. Many of the greatest African-American artists have passed through The Apollo Theater since it opened in 1941; Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Luther Vandros, The Godfather of Soul James Brown and Gladys Knight to mention a few. The theater’s fortunes rose and fell along with the neighborhood but it still remains one of New York’s great art venues. Amateur Night happens most Wednesday’s and is a must for any visitor.
Harlem is also one of New York’s great dining destinations. Two classic favorites are Sylvia’s Restaurant for authentic home cooking and Red Rooster. Red Rooster, named after a legendary Harlem speakeasy, is owned by Chef Marcus Samuelsson, cookbook author, winner of many prestigious awards and guest chef at the White House. His newest restaurant venture is Streetbird , for fried chicken like you’ve never tasted.
Talek blogs at Travels with Talek
The Grand Ole Opry – Nashville, Tennessee
One of the most uniquely American experiences I can think of is exploring the country music scene in Nashville, Tennessee. While the honky tonks on Broadway are certainly a good start, I think the most special experience you can have is going for a show at the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry runs three shows a week and is the longest-running live radio broadcast program in United States’ history, debuting in 1939 and never stopping.
The Grand Ole Opry combines humorous banter between the host and guests, live music, and finally a headlining band. To be a member of the Grand Ole Opry is considered “making it” in the world of country music, and musicians such as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Reba McEntire have graced its stage.
One of the other great things about visiting the Grand Ole Opry is that you can take a backstage tour afterwards, where you can see the ornate dressing rooms and learn about which stars got ready where. Getting to go backstage was definitely one of the highlights of my Opry visit. In short, visiting Nashville and not going to the Opry is like visiting New York without seeing a Broadway show – simply a shame!
Alison blogs at Eternal Arrival.
Kansas City Barbeque
While every region of the United States has its own “brand” of barbeque. Kansas City’s name has been synonymous with slowly smoked meat slathered in spicy sauce for more than a century. So when you visit the Barbeque Capital of the World, you absolutely must try its tender chunks of beef, pulled pork, and saucy ribs.
Fun Fact: Over the course of American history, there have been more than five accepted spellings for this cooking style. Today the debate boils down to spelling the word with a “c” or a “q” and this cowtown generally aligns with the Kansas City Barbeque Society and uses a “q.”
Kansas City’s legendary barbeque got its start more than a century ago with Henry Perry. Considered the father of Kansas City barbeque, the Memphis native started selling slabs of ribs on newspaper pages from an early 20th century food truck to workers in Kansas City’s Garment District. Today there are literally 100 barbeque joints to choose from!
Some of the most popular barbeque joints include Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, Q39, and Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. If you visit Kansas City in the fall, be sure to experience the American Royal. Touted as the largest barbecue competition in the world, its nickname is the World Series of Barbeque. Barbeque with a baseball reference? Talk about a truly American experience!
Sage Scott blogs at Everyday Wanderer.
Walking the Golden Gate Bridge
If you’ve seen a few Hollywood movies, you have seen the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. It is the iconic orange bridge that leads movie goers into a grand entrance. For me it is the exit from the protected Bay Area, out into the vast Pacific Ocean. But more famously, this is the gateway into the Golden State of California and the vibrant San Francisco Bay Area. For generations fortune seekers have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, arrived in San Francisco, thrived and made the great state of California their home.
Today let’s talk about walking on the bridge. Every visitor to San Francisco will drive over the bridge and some will walk. There is a reason.
I have been over our Golden Gate Bridge more times that I can count, but each time the overwhelming feeling of awe takes my breath away. Each time I try to capture the emotion and each time the picture doesn’t do justice.
The bridge is enormous and beautiful beyond words. It’s like a grand musical instrument where the great orange cables are strings held in place with sturdy support that shapes them into waves. The frequencies from the strings play music to my heart.
If you visit San Francisco, do make it a point drive over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco towards Sausalito. At the end of the bridge, park on the right. At any given point in time there will be hundreds of visitors getting their perfect pictures with the bridge. If you’re lucky you’ll have the right amount of fog for a romantic scene. If not, get a seat or walk around, the fog will change and you’ll see dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city of San Francisco, Alcatraz island and sailboats.
If you have an hour or so, walk over the Golden Gate Bridge. Feel your presence in pure magnificence, feel the cool fresh air and have a wonderful day.
Jyoti blogs at Story at Every Corner.
The Bald Eagle of the United States
The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States. Its symbolism can be seen in artifacts, monuments, and texts throughout the country’s history, including on the national currency and the President’s official seal. Bald eagles are known for their strength, independence, and majesty, some of the components on which the tenants of the United States were built. Most importantly, bald eagles have been used in association with authority and government power since ancient Roman times, and to the founders of the United States, it seemed the most apt bird to use as the national symbol.
Bald eagles are found only in North America and can be seen in pockets of the United States throughout the year. But, the best time to see them is in winter along coasts and rivers. There are a handful of fantastic locations to see bald eagles nesting, soaring through the skies, and swooping down to rivers and lakes to catch fish.
Alaska has the largest population of bald eagles than anywhere in the United States, with over 30,000 individuals found throughout the state, especially on the southeast coast, such as the Chilkat River. Washington State also has some of the largest eagle nesting sites in the country, such as Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and the Skagit Wildlife Area in the Skagit Valley. The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay shores boasts one of the highest concentrations of eagles on the east coast of the United States, though the numbers don’t compare to those out west.
Keep your eyes toward the sky, and listen for the bald eagle’s distinctive high-pitched, whinnying call, in search of the United States’ national bird and symbol!
Christa Rolls blogs at Expedition Wildlife.
The Freedom Trail in Boston, Massachusetts
It’s hard to imagine anything more iconically American than the Freedom Trail in Boston.
Made up of 16 historic sites linked by a 2.5 mile walking trail denoted by bricks, Boston’s Freedom Trail takes visitors past incredible pieces of history linked to the American Revolutionary War.
Highlights include Paul Revere’s house, the site of the Boston Massacre, the Boston Common, the Old South Meeting House (where the Boston Tea Party was organized), Faneuil Hall (where several speakers, including Samuel Adams, spoke out against British rule), the Granary Hill Burying Ground (the final resting place of several well-known patriots, including the 5 victims of the Boston Massacre and 3 signers of the Declaration of Independence), and the Old State House (the seat of colonial government and later state government).
In addition to the historic sites on the trail, the walk itself is a delightful way to experience Boston, winding past some of Boston’s most famous sites and iconic neighborhoods, such as the beautiful North End.
Though the Freedom Trail can easily be walked in a day, it can also be savored over a longer period of time–especially be history buffs who want to duck inside each site!
Though some of the historic sites on the Freedom Trail do charge a small entrance fee, the trail is free to walk.
Kate Storm blogs at Our Escape Clause.
The Route 66 Road Trip Across America
A great American experience is driving Historic Route 66! This 2451 mile road trip stretches across 8 US states, starting in Chicago, Illinois and travelling through Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona before finishing up in Los Angeles California. As you travel across the country you’ll enjoy the changing landscapes of America.
The route has a lot of history and a lot of unique attractions that’ll grab your attention! With the introduction of Interstate travel, Route 66 and the old towns that sat along the road, began to lose business as travellers opted for the faster travel option. Many location and businesses suffered, closing up and turning into ghost towns. However, there were others that fought to get people to leave the Interstate and head back into town to eat in their restaurants and stay in their hotels.
Route 66 travellers will be greeted with giant blue whales, giant rocking chairs, restaurants that serve over 700 varieties of soda (Pops 66 Soda Ranch), natural wonders such as Meteor Crater and quirky accommodation options where you can even stay in a wigwam! Make sure you stop and talk to as many people as possible, they all have amazing stories to tell!
From Route 66 you can easily make side trips to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon or drive a longer branch of Route 66 which passes through Santa Fe (New Mexico).
At the end of the trip you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something huge!
Kylie Neuhaus blogs at Between England and Iowa.
Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls is a major American summer vacation destination. A trip to Niagara wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the Maid of the Mist boat tour. Versions of this boat ride began in 1854, so it has been a long-time family tradition. Upon entering the Niagara Falls State Park, guests will park in Parking Lot 1, located at Prospect Point. Hold on to the ticket in case you move your car to another parking area to avoid paying twice. Enjoy the observation deck first since you’ll be wet after the ride. The Observation Tower’s deck hangs above the whitewater below, providing gorgeous views of the falls. An elevator transports visitors to the base of the American Falls to board their Maid of the Mist boat. Guests are issued blue plastic ponchos but anyone who thinks they’ll keep them dry is sorely mistaken!
This twenty minute ride is guaranteed to drench the entire family. The boat trail passes the American and Bridal Veil Falls before turning around in front of the Horseshoe Falls. The sound is deafening! The boats make a slow turn and wait for a few minutes so that guests can get the full effect of the power of the Horseshoe Falls. Bring a change of clothes if you have plans to do anything else that day. Expect long lines, especially during the height of summer vacation and the middle of the day. But there’s a reason everyone is smiling in those photos although they’re completely drenched!
Annick Lenoir-Peek blogs at The Common Traveler.
The Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York
A visit to the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York is one of the most unique travel experiences you will ever have in the USA. Storm King is an outdoor sculpture museum and is spread over hundreds of acres of woodlands, open meadows, and rolling hills. It houses more than 100 pieces of modern and contemporary art; all open to the elements of nature. The sculptures stand in stark contrast against the landscape yet in perfect harmony with it.
The beauty of Storm King in Fall is unparalleled. Apart from the majestic sculptures, you can view some breathtaking fall colors. Storm King also makes for a great summer destination. The entire park is painted green and the clear, blue sky on top just adds to the beauty. You can roll around in the meadows, have a picnic at the café, and even spot a deer or two.
Admission is $18 for adults, $8 for kids above 5, and free for children under 4. The park is closed during winters and a few other public holidays.
If you are looking for a museum that gives you both the beauty of nature and art, then Storm King is the perfect place for you.
Soumya Gayatri blogs at Stories by Soumya.
The Tunbridge Fair in Tunbridge, Vermont
Growing up in Vermont in the 1970s, everyone knows about the annual Tunbridge Fair. Many of my classmates take time off from school. They get their livestock ready to show. They care for their animals there and even sleep at the fair. I imagine how much fun it would be to live there too. Instead of watching television in the evening, do you go on the ferris wheel? Instead of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, do you have sausage and peppers for dinner with cotton candy for dessert?
I ask my parents to take me, and my mom immediately says no. “It’s rough at night. People get drunk, there are lots of fights. It’s not a place for kids.” My dad starts to talk about the “girly tent” they used to have back when he was a teenager before my mom cuts him off.
Thirty years after I asked my own parents to take me, I visit the fair. When I arrive, despite what my parents said, it is nothing like Pinnochio’s Pleasure Island. Instead I find rides and greasy fair food. I find pig races and a demolition derby. I find elderly Contra dancers dancing to old folk music. In one barn, sap is boiling to make maple syrup, and in another, this year’s prize zucchini sits next to the biggest pumpkin I’ve ever seen. Pies with blue ribbons on them sit across from handmade patchwork quilts made with scraps of calico.
And in the barns, there are my classmates’ children. They are brushing their pigs, mucking out the barn, and they are walking their cows down to the river for a bath. And I realize that this is what the fair has always been. What you think of it depends on where you choose to look.
Todd Tyrtle blogs at Go Outside Today.
Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah
Hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park is one of the most unusual experiences anywhere in the world and, to my knowledge, unique to the United States. Where else in the world can you hike through a narrow slot canyon where the canyon walls are 20 feet wide and 1,000 feet high – in a river? Zion National Park is one of America’s most dramatic national parks, and The Narrows is the jewel in its crown. Some sections of the canyon have a narrow path beside the river; however, for most of the hike, the river cuts directly through the canyon walls.
The start is fairly easy; the canyon is about 60 feet wide and the river about knee high. Then, as you slowly criss cross the river, always looking for the easiest route, balancing on the pebbly bottom and braced against the current, the canyon walls start to get closer and the river deeper. The incredibly narrow Wall Street section is worth the effort to get to, and makes a good turning back point. If you go early in the morning, there is a good chance you will have the canyon to yourself for most of the day. It’s possible to do the hike one-way, with overnight camping, but the in-and-out day hike is the most popular option. The United States has many incredible national parks, and many awesome hikes, but this is one of the very best of them all.
James Ian blogs at Travel Collecting.
Disney World in Orlando, Florida
Visiting Disney World is a great way to inundate yourself with Americana. Mickey Mouse is known around the world, and he got his start right in the US. Though Disneyland in California was the original park, with four theme parks, two water parks, a shopping and nightlife district, and more than 30,000 hotel rooms, Disney World is the ultimate place to immerse yourself in all things Disney. A visit to Disney World has a little something for everyone. Kids will love the characters, rides, and atmosphere of the parks. Adults will love all of those things, plus the amazing snacks, desserts, and alcoholic beverages that are an essential part of a trip.
The Magic Kingdom is home to the classic Cinderella Castle and themed lands ranging from Fantasyland to Frontierland. Epcot has two sections – Future World with rides like Mission: Space and Test Track, and World Showcase, which features pavilions representing different countries around the world. Hollywood Studios has some of Disney World’s biggest thrill rides and the brand new Toy Story Land. Animal Kingdom is home to the ever-popular Pandora land that comes to life at night and other animal focused attractions.
You can also time your visit for one of Disney’s seasonal events like Epcot’s amazing Food and Wine Festival, the Halloween parties, or the Christmas season or plan a visit around one of the runDisney races that are held at various times throughout the year. Whenever you go, you’re sure to come home with loads of memories, character photos, and mouse-shaped souvenirs.
Kris blogs at Nomad by Trade.
But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget to read Part 1 in this series things to do in the United States. In the meantime, check out these posts about some of our other favorite places to see and things to do in America. Which is your favorite Americana experience?