Want to learn about things to do in the USA that are uniquely Americana? Then you’ll love this post! Our fellow travel bloggers wrote about some amazing experiences and places they visited in the United States. From New York to Oregon, surely there’s something for you to add to your USA bucket list.
14 Unforgettable Things to Do in the USA
It will sound stupid, but out of all American states, Texas always felt like the most American to me. Mind you, I was born and raised in Russia and first visited the USA at the age of nineteen. So, obviously, that notion is based on countless movies and TV-series like Walker, Texas Ranger with Chuck Norris and the like.
Texas with its ranches, cowboys and cattle roaming freely in the fields, has this true American, down-to-earth spirit that every foreigner is looking for when traveling to the USA. Trying the famous Texan BBQ, therefore, is the most American of all American experiences.
From huge megalopolises like Dallas or Houston to the smallest towns like Lockhart and Lexington, every city in Texas has at least a couple of BBQ joints they are proud of. Texans loooove their BBQ! So much so that Texas Monthly creates The List — The Top 50 BBQ Joints in Texas — which is not unlike a Bible for the meat-lovers.
With 50 options to choose from, where do you start? I suggest Franklin BBQ in Austin that was on the top of The List on multiple occasions. It’s also good to know that the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Barack Obama visited this place. It may take you four hours of waiting in line to get inside the restaurant, but their fatty brisket is worth it!
Yulia Dyukova blogs at That’s What She Had.
Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee
No trip to Memphis would be complete without a visit to Graceland, the home of American Music icon Elvis Presley.
Elvis’ Graceland estate is located on the outskirts of Memphis. By today’s standards, it is a fairly humble property. The main living spaces and the grounds are open to the public. You will see where Presley spent family time, entertained and even the Jungle room where he died. The lower level of the house is dedicated to family treasures including intimate pictures of he and his daughter Lisa Marie.
Elvis and his parents are buried at the Graceland estate. These along with the stables, the racquetball court and swimming pool are all part of the tour.
The Elvis Museum is not to be missed for any self-respecting fan. This massive property houses all things Elvis! There is an exhibit dedicated to his personal automobiles and those used in his movies plus the automobiles he promoted. If you are so inclined, you can view the costumes he wore when performing in addition to his gold and platinum records. This is just the beginning. Also, on-site you will find Elvis’s personal plane, the Lisa Marie, which is open for touring.
Of course, like any museum, you will find gift shops. Additionally, the museum offers three options for dining.
The die-hard fan who doesn’t mind being away from the action of Beale Street and other downtown activities might want to consider a stay at the Elvis themed, Guesthouse at Graceland. This newer 450-room hotel near the estate and the museum caters to his fans. Rooms start around $200/nt.
Susan blogs at The GenX Traveler.
Visiting the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island
The Newport mansions are a collection of spectacular residences built by American billionaires during the Gilded Age. This period is generally accepted to be between 1870 and about 1900. The late 1800s and early 1900s was a time of robust economic growth in the north east U.S. particularly in the utilities, transportation, and real estate sectors. This growth was accompanied by low taxes. It was an age of enormous wealth accumulation leading to ostentatious and conspicuous consumption that makes todays rich appear like paupers.
The very wealthy included the likes of “old money” families like the Astors as well as the “new money” entrants like the Vanderbilts. They competed to showcase their unprecedented wealth which today can be seen in the elegant mansions of Newport, Rhode Island.
The Preservation Society of Newport County offers tours of the mansions. Among the most spectacular of these “cottages” are Marble House, former home of Alma Vanderbilt, The Breakers at Ochre Point and Rosecliff, where The Great Gatsby was filmed.
Talek blogs at Travels With Talek
The Financial District of New York City, New York
Your trip to America would not be complete without a stop at the birthplace of all commerce for the United States. All financial transactions and businesses began in New York City, in the Financial District, and there are still a ton of historical sites to take you back in time. The first settlers from the Netherlands opened up bars to make a living. Fast forward to the 1800s, people from all over the world were coming to NYC to start businesses of all kinds.
Stock trading started on the streets of the financial district under a buttonwood tree. It progressed into the New York Stock Exchange, which is also located next to the Federal Building, complete with a giant statue of George Washington, the first President of the United States. There is also the oldest church in New York, Trinity Church, which was one of the first things that all immigrants could see from their ships as they arrived into the harbor.
While in downtown New York, you can dine at the oldest restaurant in America, Delmonico’s. Before leaving the area make sure you stop at the Trinity Church graveyard to see where Alexander Hamilton, who is considered one of the forefathers of commerce for America, is buried. This walking guide can take you to each historical site, so you can be transported back to the 1800s where American finance all began and still thrives.
Read more of Jet Set and Forget’s adventures here.
Las Vegas, Nevada
One of the best uniquely American experiences you can have is visiting Las Vegas and, in particular, walking the strip. Somehow this relatively small city in the desert has become an icon of utter freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Whatever fantasy a visitor would like to live out, the odds are there is a way to have that experience in Vegas. Want to shoot a machine gun, or drive a race car? Want to dig hole with a bulldozer or jump off a building? You can do it in Las Vegas.
As for me, I was serenaded by a gondolier and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I watched the “Beatles” perform, visited the flamingos, and learned all about organized crime. In typical American fashion, Las Vegas has also taken pieces of the great cities and cultures around the world and recreated small pieces of them to build an over the top city of wonders. Where else can you walk from Venice to Paris and then on to Hollywood in less than a mile? Keep on walking, because Luxor, New York, Rome and Rio are all yet to come! There are so many, I couldn’t make it to them all.
Of course the main focus of the city is on the glitz and the glam, and the romance with lady luck. People from all walks of life and all corners of the globe intermingle to experience the glamor for a while, while most dream of hitting it big. The rags to riches tale is the essence of the American dream, and in Vegas, it is one that everyone embraces, at least for a while! Most of us don’t win, but it is sure fun to imagine it while we play!
Roxanna Keyes blogs at Gypsy with a Day Job.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama
One of the best Americana hidden gems is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. While everybody knows about the NASA headquarters at both the Houston and Kennedy Space Centers, only a handful are aware that there is a third center in northern Alabama. This is where America’s space program was born.
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is an active NASA operations center, and has many impressive artifacts from the U.S. Space exploration program, such as moon rocks and astronaut suits. Don’t miss the highlight of the collection – the Saturn V, a huge replica rocket that was very significant in early NASA exploration. If you have the stomach for it, you can hop on several adrenaline pumping museum simulators, such as the Moon Shot or the G-Force Accelerator. Or, you can watch a film at the IMAX theater inside the museum complex.
Kids will enjoy the “Space Camp” program, where they’ll learn all about space exploration, including training to be an astronaut and learning about the Mission Control center. It is a highly popular program – kids from all over the world attend Space Camp each year.
Halef blogs at The Round the World Guys.
Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico
One of our most memorable travel experiences from our 4-month American Southwest trip is our three days in Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico. Zuni Pueblo is a fully functional town of over 6000 residents, not a replica of what used to be. Our first stop was the Zuni Visitor Center to get oriented and to get a photo pass. Afterwards, we were free to walk anywhere in the Pueblo. This is unusual and unlike anything allowed in other pueblos that we visited.
The Zuni believe that they are one of the oldest Native American Tribes. Halona, the Zuni Pueblo today, is believed to be the oldest consistently occupied Native American Pueblo.
Ceremonial Center of Zuni Life
Zuni is a Native American Pueblo/Reservation where the people uphold their ancient beliefs and traditions coupled with living a modern lifestyle. We were very lucky to witness a Zuni Pueblo dance with full ceremonial costume and chanting; it felt like a step back in time.
A guided tour included Zuni history, visiting various ancient ruins, Zuni legends, and evidence of Zuni ancestors – all very intriguing. A highlight was the guided tour of the Village of the Great Kivas.
Zuni Pueblo Arts and Crafts
The self-guided Zuni Pueblo Art Walk introduced us to the Zuni jewelry, pottery, stone carving, beadwork, art, and people in their daily life – a fascinating education.
Zuni are respected fine artists, stonecutters, jewelers, and crafts people. They are known for their petti-point, needle-point, and especially beautiful silver inlay jewelry. The shops and the artist galleries and studios in Zuni homes are well worth visiting.
Zuni Pueblo Pictures
We were limited by Zuni tribal rules to what and where we could take pictures. Other than photo restrictions for cultural respect, everyone we met was very open and friendly. The Zuni were happy to have visitors, share their history, and answer questions.
Wendy blogs at Adventurous Retirement.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which, so far as I know, is absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.” — President Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt first viewed the Grand Canyon in 1903. He was greeted with endless views of painted cliffs and plateaus — a breathtaking landscape we can still experience today. The Colorado River carves through the bottom of the mile-deep, steep-walled canyon, traveling for 277 miles in northern Arizona. The Grand Canyon was designated a national monument in 1908, and became the nation’s 17th national park in 1919.
Grand Canyon National Park is the second most visited national park in the United States, but despite the crowds, it’s quite easy to find the same solitude that Teddy Roosevelt experienced if you know where to look. Most visitors drive along the canyon’s South Rim, stopping at the view points, snapping photos, and heading on their way. For a more intimate experience, we suggest setting up camp at Desert View Campground and taking some time to explore on foot.
There are no easy trails in and out of the canyon, but if you’re in decent shape and pack plenty of water, we highly recommend trekking a few miles into the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail. This hike offers the best inner canyon views for the least amount of effort, but it’s still a very steep climb back up to the rim. For a more leisurely stroll, check out the Rim Trail, which is a paved, flat trail that runs along the South Rim for 13 miles, from the South Kaibab Trail to Hermits Rest.
The Grand Canyon is certainly an iconic stop, worthy of more than a drive-by visit. If you’ve got time to explore, you’ll be rewarded with a new appreciation for ancient geological processes and the breathtaking beauty of western America.
Tara blogs at Back Road Ramblers.
Keep Portland Weird! (Portland, Oregon)
The slogan “Keep Portland Weird” has become Oregon’s biggest city’s unofficial motto and mantra. Nowhere does Portland’s weirdness manifest better than on its streets. Sample Portland’s weird spirit with these activities:
Find the last of the Tiny Horses
In 2005, a local artist tethered toy horses to historic rings affixed to curbs around the city. Hundreds of Tiny Horses appeared in the ensuing years, part of the Horse Project; today only a few remain. See if you can find them, on a sidewalk or elsewhere, like a birdhouse turned into a Tiny Horse stable in NW Portland.
Pet a superhero pig
Portland may love its pets but only one of them has superpowers. According to her 9-year-old owner, Wonder Woman the Pig’s superpower is “saving people from sadness.” And she’s pretty good at it: when Wonder Woman the Pig snuffles down the street, admirers and skeptics alike feel their tears dry and hearts melt.
Make a wish at a tree
Where other cities have fountains, Portland has a tree. The Wishing Tree is an elm in NE Portland where you can write a wish on a piece of paper and tie it to a branch or leaf. Started by the property owners in 2013, the Wishing Tree hosts hundreds of wishes, ranging from the mundane to the weird. So read the wishes of those who came before you, write down a wish of your own, and visualize them all into existence. Peace.
Peter Korchnak blogs at Where Is Your Toothbrush.
The Cranberry Bogs of Massachusetts
If you have had a chance to drive through coastal Massachusetts, especially Cape Cod, you will have seen many red bogs in the fall. These bogs are where cranberries native to New England grow.
There are a few farms that let you be part of the experience. You will learn about the history of the farming of this fruit. You will also learn about how the fruit is still farmed. Then comes the best part, donning waders and getting into a flooded cranberry bog. If you can’t visit one of the farms, then there are numerous cranberry festivals to attend!
Jamie Italiane blogs at The Daily Adventures of Me.
Clarksdale, Mississippi – The Deep Blues Fest and the Shack Up Inn
Not far from Clarksdale, Mississippi, home of the famous Blues Crossroads where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar, you’ll find the Shack Up Inn. Originally the Hopson Plantation with sharecropper cabins, this is now a sprawling site complete with accommodation, a music venue and a whole array of interesting objects ranging from stray locomotives on a disused railtrack to bottle trees. Here’s Americana in a nutshell, with advertising signs from decades long passed telling a whole social history of times gone by.
We’d arrived in a Mississippi heatwave to enjoy the Deep South Blues Fest. On the Sunday we visited, we’d enjoyed gospel brunch with the Divine Angels, and unwittingly found ourselves the sideshow as the members of the audience who’d traveled the furthest (from the UK) to be there. Afterwards we loitered outside by the sharecropper cabins, listening to a few people jamming before the cigar box blues gig took place. Overhead the sky was full of cotton ball clouds, mirroring the cotton fields beneath. As we wandered the plantation, we realised how lucky we were to hear the blues in its homeplace, and to have come to understand some of its challenging history.Bernadette Jackson blogs at A Packed Life.
The Art Deco District in Miami Beach, Florida
Miami Beach is known for its steamy hot weather, white sand beaches and the iconic Art Deco buildings lining the streets of South Beach. The Miami Beach Architectural Historic District has the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings than anywhere else in the United States, with more than 800 Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern (MiMo) architectural style buildings. They were all constructed in the 1920s and 1930s, when the city marketed itself as a “tropical playground.” Strolling along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue you’ll find the cluster of these pastel pink, blue, and yellow buildings with various geometric shapes and elements like porthole windows, ship-like railings and glass blocks of the Art Deco style.
A great way to see and learn about this historic district and its dazzling architecture is through the walking tour offered by the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), a non-profit group devoted to maintaining the area’s architectural culture and character. The guided 90-minute walking tour, lead by MDPL volunteers, provides a meandering look at the history, culture and a bird’s-eye view of architecture within the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District. The tour is an easy walk through the neighborhood that takes you to the exterior (and sometimes interior) of select buildings demonstrating various Art Deco design elements and styles. The daily tour starts at the Art Deco Museum and Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Drive, departing at 10:30 a.m., with a second tour on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.
If in the area, the Miami Beach Art Deco District tour is must for anyone interested in learning about the city’s history, culture and the elements of Art Deco architecture.
Roslie blogs at Coastlines to Skylines.
Fort Worth Stockyards, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas may not be the first city in the United States that comes to mind when you think of tourist attractions, but if you want to experience cowboy culture in the United States, it is must-visit destination. The city’s Historic Fort Worth Stockyards is the only place in the world where you can witness twice-daily cattle drives through the streets at no charge. Although the Stockyards are now more of a tourist draw, with restaurants, petting zoos, and dance halls, this district of Fort Worth will give you a true taste of the Old West. With cobblestone streets and buildings that have been restored to their early 1900’s western style, the Fort Worth Stockyards stands out as one of the only historically preserved areas of the city.
For those looking to learn more about the areas cattle ranching history, visit the Stockyards museum. The museum is free to enter and provides a brief history lesson on this original stop along the old Chisholm Trail. You’ll learn about the ranching industry and cowboy life as it once was during the western expansion across the United States. You can also tour the stables where you’ll see longhorns, reindeer, and horses. At night, visit Billy Bob’s and learn to line dance in the largest dance hall in Texas.
Melissa blogs at Parenthood and Passports.
Cattle Auctions in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Growing up I couldn’t get enough of cowboy TV shows and movies. I wanted to herd cattle out on the range; I still do. So, when I get a chance to participate in any cowboy-type activity, I’m all in, and in Oklahoma City, I found the most amazing cowboy thing to do. This is the start of the wild, wild west where the wide open prairies feed thousands of cattle. Cowboys still ride the ranges, taking care of their herds, and in the city, they come to sell them. On Mondays and Tuesdays, the auction hall opens. Cowboys and businessmen come from all over to buy lots of cattle, and the best part is that anyone can attend and watch for free. It’s a fascinating, somewhat incomprehensible process, but I sat mesmerized through it. If you find yourself in Oklahoma City, check it out!
Corinne Vail blogs at Reflections en Route.
Listening to Live Jazz in New Orleans
New Orleans is a melting pot of cultures with deep French, African and American roots. The Big Easy is particularly known for live-music venues. Visitors can find live jazz throughout the city every night. Every time we are in town, we make sure to visit Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub, which is considered to be the oldest continually operated jazz club in the city. Fritzel’s is located in a nineteenth century building on Bourbon Street and offers bench seating and unbelievable music.
For two weekends each Spring, the city hosts the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Jazz Fest features musicians on multiple stages from 11 am to 7 pm at the Fair Grounds Race Course and leaves visitors their evenings free to experience the New Orleans night life in the historic French Quarter. Many performers are regulars who return every year to entertain Jazz Fest attendees. Live jazz is an integral part of the New Orleans culture, and visitors can find it not only at Jazz Fest or inside the city’s many nightclubs but also walking around the city from one of the many street performers.
Catherine Swartz D’Cruz blogs at We Go with Kids.
If you’re looking for more things to do in the USA, be sure to check out Part 2 of this series. You won’t be disappointed!
Do you have a USA experience that screams AMERICANA!?
And you might also enjoy these posts:
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- Musical Road Trip Across the USA