Explore the 11 best places to visit in the USA for first-time visitors, from iconic cities to breathtaking natural wonders 🏔 Plan your unforgettable trip now!
For a first time visitor, the United States can seem overwhelming. With 50 states spanning nearly 3.8 million square miles, there are endless incredible destinations to explore. From breathtaking natural wonders to vibrant big cities, historic sites, and delicious cuisine, the USA has something to offer all types of travelers.
Deciding where to go can be challenging when visiting such a vast and diverse country for the first time. To help first-time visitors plan an epic American vacation, here is an overview of the 11 best places to visit for an unforgettable introduction to the USA.
#1 New York City
New York City, affectionately called the Big Apple, is one of the world’s most iconic cities and likely the first place many first-time visitors plan on visiting. One of America’s major cities and global hubs, New York has much to see and do to keep first-timers busy.
First-time visitors to NYC will want to visit one of the city’s many iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Brooklyn Bridge, and the 9/11 Memorial. Additionally, with over 150 museums, hundreds of live theaters, countless restaurants and bars, vibrant neighborhoods, and excellent shopping, there is something for everyone to enjoy in New York.
While public transportation in New York City is excellent, first-time visitors may want to take a guided bus or boat tour to efficiently see the top sights and get the lay of the land. The famous NYC ferry ride to see the Statue of Liberty is also a must. With so much to do in New York, first-time visitors need at least 5 days to experience the magic of the Big Apple.
#2 Grand Canyon National Park
One of the first national parks in the USA and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Grand Canyon National Park is on almost every first-time visitor’s list, and for good reason. The awe-inspiring Grand Canyon, with its layered red, orange, and yellow rock walls plummeting over a mile down, vividly showcases the power of nature and time.
There are many excellent viewpoints throughout the park. Don’t miss sights like Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, and Lipan Point for fabulous first impressions. First-time visitors can hike down into the canyon along iconic trails like Bright Angel and South Kaibab. The brave can also take a Colorado River rafting trip. With so much natural beauty and excellent hiking, allow at least 2 days to take in this iconic landscapes and diverse attractions.
#3 San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the USA and a popular place to visit first. Known for its iconic landmarks, scenic vistas, cultured residents, welcoming spirit, and mild Mediterranean climate, first-time visitors will fall in love with its charm.
Top attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, the famous cable cars, Lombard Street, and Chinatown are must-visits. Strolling along the Embarcadero waterfront and ferry ride across the Bay to Sausalito or Tiburon are also quintessential San Francisco experiences.
Excellent museums, food, and a vibrant LGBTQ culture add to its delightful allure. First-time visitors should spend at least 3 days enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of the City by the Bay.
#4 Yellowstone National Park
As America’s first national park, the legendary Yellowstone National Park is on most first-time visitor’s bucket lists. Famous for its unique geothermal activity that powers over 10,000 hydrothermal features, visiting Yellowstone is an otherworldly experience.
Don’t miss highlights like Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the shimmering Yellowstone Lake. Spotting wildlife like bison, elk, bears, and wolves in their natural habitat is also a top attraction. With over 900 miles of hiking trails showcasing sweeping vistas, thundering waterfalls, and rainbow-colored thermal pools, visitors need at least 3 days to take it all in.
#5 Las Vegas
Vegas certainly earns its “Sin City” nickname, making it an only-in-America type destination popular with first-time USA visitors. Famous for its bustling strip filled with elaborate casino resorts, vibrant nightlife, world-class entertainment, infinite dining options, and its “anything goes” mantra, Vegas provides nonstop action.
From Cirque du Soleil spectaculars to Celine Dion concerts, ritzy nightclubs and bars to glitzy casinos, Vegas has it all. Don’t miss attractions like the High Roller Observation Wheel, the Fremont Street Experience, and taking in a Broadway-quality show.
Beyond the strip, visitors can also take day trips to Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon tours via helicopter, or hiking in nearby Red Rock Canyon. While Vegas offers excitement 24 hours a day, most first timers will want 2 or 3 days to revel in all Sin City has to offer.
#6 Miami & South Beach
First-time visitors looking for sun, sand, and an exotic vibe will love trendy Miami and glamorous South Beach. Located in southern Florida, Miami offers a sexy, cosmopolitan energy and vibrant Latino culture perfect for a first USA vacation.
Don’t miss experiencing South Beach along Ocean Drive and Lummus Park which beautifully showcases Miami’s iconic art deco architecture. Trendy shops, restaurants, and bars surround this bustling strip. Also tour vibrant neighborhoods like Little Havana for Cuban culture and great cuisine, artsy Wynwood for its famous graffiti murals, and the Design District for high-end shopping.
Nature lovers will also appreciate destinations like the Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park which offer excursions like airboat rides, kayaking, and snorkeling with manatees. Give yourself at least 5 days to soak up the best of Miami and South Beach.
#7 Los Angeles & Southern California
Los Angeles offers iconic attractions and scenic beauty which make it a prime destination for first-time USA visitors, especially from late spring until fall. LA is most famous for Hollywood and attractions like the Walk of Fame, TCL Chinese Theatre, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Brothers Studio.
Nature lovers will also appreciate spots like Griffith Park, Runyon Canyon, and Malibu. Don’t miss LA’s excellent museums including the Getty Center and LACMA. Trendy neighborhoods like Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, and Downtown LA also showcase the city’s vibrant energy and chic culture.
Many first-timers also like to explore beyond LA to other SoCal highlights like theme parks Disneyland and Universal Studios, surf spots like Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, and Venice Beach, or scenic desert destinations like Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, or Death Valley. With endless options, 5 to 7 days allows a good taste of LA and Southern California.
#8 Honolulu & Waikiki
Looking for tropical weather and Hawaiian island adventures? Then be sure to add Honolulu and Waikiki Beach to your first-time USA travel list. As Hawaii’s capital and the island of Oahu’s main city, Honolulu offers the perfect mix of vibrant Polynesian culture alongside urban cityscapes dripping in exotic colorful foliage.
Highlights include iconic Diamond Head State Monument, Pearl Harbor and the moving USS Arizona Memorial, historic Chinatown, hip neighborhoods filled with great eateries like Kakaako, and world-class shopping in Ala Moana. Then relax at the simply stunning Waikiki Beach with views of Diamond Head, first-rate resorts, and renowned sunsets.
Nature lovers can also easily visit attractions like Hanauma Bay, Waimea Bay Beach Park, or Kailua Beach for snorkeling, surfing, stand up paddleboarding, sea turtle sightings, and dolphin watching. With so much scenic beauty and cool attractions, spend at least 5 days on Oahu.
#9 Orlando & Walt Disney World
If your first time traveling to the USA involves kids or you’re a big theme park fan, Orlando is the place for you. As the amusement park capital of America, Orlando offers endless attractions perfect for first-time visitors.
Naturally, the incredibly popular Walt Disney World leads the pack covering over 40 square miles. Its 4 mega theme parks, 2 water parks, countless rides, shows, character interactions will take several days to experience. Nearby Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando offer stellar parks as well.
Beyond theme parks, great outlet malls, fun dinner shows, airboat rides in the Everglades, Kennedy Space Center, eco-tours to see manatees, and relaxing at sandy Atlantic beaches provide ample options for non-park days. With so much to enjoy, first-timers need at least 5 days and ideally 1 week to take it all in.
#10 Washington D.C.
As America’s capital, Washington D.C. is filled with iconic landmarks, moving memorials, and some of the best museums on Earth, making it very compelling for initial USA trips. Must-see attractions include the towering Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, White House, U.S. Capitol, National Mall, Smithsonian museums, and national memorials like the WWII and Martin Luther King Jr. Most of the attractions are concentrated in walkable areas which makes sightseeing convenient.
Beyond landmarks, stellar restaurants, lively neighborhoods like Georgetown which offers great shopping and nightlife, the nearby Chesapeake Bay region, and day trips to places like Shenandoah National Park and Baltimore Inner Harbor provide ample things to enjoy over 3 or 4 days.
Located in America’s heartland on Lake Michigan, the charming city of Chicago makes for a wonderful first USA vacation spot. With its magnificent lakefront cityscapes, acclaimed cuisine scene led by deep-dish pizza and hot dogs, friendly Midwest vibe and energy, and world-class attractions, Chicago delights first-time visitors.
Top sights include the towering Willis Tower and its skydeck views, Navy Pier, the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate “Bean” sculpture, historic Wrigley Field for baseball fans, architectural boat tours on the Chicago River, and the Museum Campus housing the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium. Trendy neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Logan Square, and Wrigleyville are also lively areas to explore.
Beyond the city, side trips to places like Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Dells, Starved Rock State Park, or Indiana Dunes National Park make fun add-ons. With so much culture, nature, sports, dining, and sightseeing, Chicago deserves at least 4 days to experience it properly.
Planning An Epic First USA Vacation
When planning your first ever trip to the United States, deciding where to start can feel overwhelming given the enormous size and diversity of experiences available. East Coast cities like New York and Washington D.C. or national parks like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone are extremely popular with first-time visitors. Iconic California locales including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Yosemite National Park are also top destinations.
Keep in mind that public transportation is limited in much of the USA, so options best explored by car include a Pacific Coast road trip from San Diego to San Francisco or visiting multiple national parks across Utah and Colorado.
No matter what you decide for your first USA vacation, capturing a mix of big cities, natural landscapes, and small towns will give you a good taste of American life and culture. With amazing scenery, welcoming people, loads of entertainment, and delicious eats, the United States is sure to make you fall in love and eager return to explore even more.