You’re ready to head off on your vacation, armed with a checklist of the “must-see” places.” But each state has such an embarrassment of riches, it’s almost impossible to see everything that’s worthwhile.
Don’t finalize your plans until you consider this list of both well-known and easy-to-miss sights to make sure your tour is complete.
Alabama: U.S. Space & Rocket Center
The National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and NASA’s space centers in Houston and Florida get all the attention, but space buffs find hidden jewels at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
There visitors can marvel at an array of rockets, watch 3-D space films and peruse space-centered exhibits — including one that gives a feel for what it’s like to live and work in space.
Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve
This national park is named after 20,310-foot Denali, North America’s highest mountain. The peak had been dubbed Mount McKinley in 1917 to honor President William McKinley, but efforts long sought to return to the name natives had for the peak. The name Denali (meaning “The Great One”) was restored in 2015.
Denali National Park comprises 6 million acres of natural beauty.
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Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is up to a mile deep — down to the twisting Colorado River — and up to 18 miles wide in places along its 277 river-mile length. The canyon is filled with some of the most interesting geographic formations in the world.
Visit the South Rim any time of the year, and take in the North Rim during warmer months — it closes for the winter until May 15. The two different views are equally awe-inspiring.
Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park
Guests continually flock to “The American Spa” of Hot Springs National Park to take a dip in its soothing, therapeutic thermal waters. Take time to hike through the lush natural surroundings, too, and pay a visit to the historic city of Hot Springs. The park surrounds part of the city, making it one of the more accessible national parks.
California: Hollywood sign
The state holds plentiful natural wonders, so this choice may spark debate. But you need to see the world-famous Hollywood sign in Los Angeles at least once.
The sign read “Hollywoodland” when the 43-foot-tall letters were erected in 1923 as an advertisement of sorts for a real estate development. The “land” later disappeared, and the sign became its own tourist attraction.
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Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park in the southwest part of the state offers a spectacular view into the culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived in the area from 600 to 1300 A.D. The park encompasses close to 5,000 known archaeological sites — including the must-see Cliff Palace, the park’s largest cliff dwelling.
Connecticut: Yale University
Even if you’re decades beyond formal education, if you’re in Connecticut, you’ll want to stop in New Haven and tour Yale University.
Guides give the history of the university’s magnificent architecture and landmarks. Also, they discuss some of Yale’s most famous alumni — including inventor Eli Whitney, child care and parenting expert Dr. Benjamin Spock and four of the past six U.S. presidents.
Delaware: Nemours Estate
One of the most opulent homes of the wealthy du Pont family — owned by American industrialist and financier Alfred I. du Pont — is the 3,000-acre Nemours mansion and gardens in Wilmington. The late 18th-century French-styled mansion has 77 rooms and the largest formal French gardens in North America.
Florida: Kennedy Space Center
If you visit Kennedy Space Center in Central Florida on the right day, you can see a rocket launch. But even if you go at another time, you’ll have more than enough to do as you visit the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Rocket Garden and more.
Georgia: Savannah’s oak trees
Visit Savannah and just take in the natural beauty, including the 100-plus-years-old oak trees that are a highlight of the city and surrounding area. You’ll find plenty just by driving around, or you can take a formal tour and learn how they became such an integral part of the area’s history.
Hitting the road soon? Check out: “The Best Roadside Attraction to Check Out in Every State (and D.C.).”
Hawaii: World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument
Of course, you’ll frolic in the ocean and on the sand when you’re on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, but don’t miss the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Honolulu.
Some 1.9 million people visited in 2017 alone to pay their respects to those killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces, remember the Japanese-Americans interned during the war and honor other heroes. You’ll need reservations to visit other sites including the USS Arizona Memorial, which was built over the remains of the sunken battleship and marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on that ship.
Idaho: Sun Valley
Sun Valley residents boast that the resort city has the world’s best ski resorts, but its gorgeous landscape is also perfect for biking, hiking, golf and other outdoor activities in seasons other than winter. Shop, dine and otherwise enjoy the area before the snow falls.
Illinois: The Lincoln Tomb
The Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site in Oak Ridge Cemetery is the final resting place of President Abraham Lincoln; his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln; and three of their four sons. The site, located in Springfield, also includes the public receiving vault where Lincoln’s final funeral services were held.
Indiana: Covered bridges
Those covered bridges made famous in art and movies still exist in many places in rural Indiana. Check out Wikipedia’s listing of covered bridges to find the ones closest to where you’ll visit, or just head right to Parke County. Also known as the covered bridge capital of the world, it’s home to 31 covered bridges and the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival.
Iowa: Grotto of the Redemption
The “Grotto of the Redemption” in West Bend comprises nine different grottos, and each man-made cavern displays a scene in the life of Jesus Christ. The religious shrine — which has been described as the “Miracle in Stone” — was the vision of a German-born local priest and built over 42 years beginning in 1912.
Kansas: ‘Keeper of the Plains’
Ever since 1974, the “Keeper of the Plains” crafted by a Native American artist has stood watch at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers in downtown Wichita.
The 44-foot steel sculpture was erected in honor of the United States’ bicentennial. It also marks an area that is sacred to Native Americans and home to the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
Kentucky: Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
Even if you’re not a sports fan, you need to visit The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory to see the 120-foot-tall bat outside. It’s the world’s largest.
Then go ahead and step inside. You’ll discover the history of those famous bats and even see how they’re made. And don’t miss the 17-ton “Play Ball” sculpture of a baseball glove — which you can climb on.
Louisiana: French Quarter
Everything you’ve heard about the always party-ready French Quarter in New Orleans is probably true. Music, refreshments, shopping, food, street artists, horse-drawn carriage rides, ghost tours — the district is like nowhere else in the world. You could likely spend a week or more just in the Quarter, as locals call it, and not hit everything.
Maine: Bar Harbor
Rocky coasts, granite cliffs, lighthouses, picturesque streets and world-class seafood are among the reasons the town of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island is a perennial destination for those who love New England.
Just don’t get so caught up in town that you don’t take time to hike, climb or bike in nearby Acadia National Park — aka the crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast.
Maryland: National Aquarium
Do you think that if you’ve seen one aquarium, you’ve seen them all? If so, get ready for a surprise at the world-renowned National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. This is a world-class aquarium and conservation pioneer that cares for animals ranging from dolphins to pythons and bats.
Massachusetts: Ralph Waldo Emerson House
The home of the renowned philosopher, poet and lecturer sits on a residential street in Concord. When you take a break from touring the Revolutionary War sites in the area, take a drive over and see where Emerson read, wrote and worked.
Michigan: ‘Monument to Joe Louis’
An array of luminaries started in Detroit, including heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, known as the “Brown Bomber.” When you’re in the city, look for the 24-foot-long arm-and-fist “Monument to Joe Louis” sculpture by artist Robert Graham at the intersection of Jefferson and Woodward Avenues. Dedicated in 1986, locals call it “The Fist.”
Minnesota: First Avenue
First Avenue in Minneapolis is one of the most iconic rock clubs in the United States, a venue for countless renowned musicians but perhaps most known as the launching place of late rock icon and Minnesota native Prince. As a writer for the Minneapolis StarTribune wrote:
“Paisley Park will forever be known as the place where Prince resided and died, but First Avenue is truly where Minneapolis’ newly deceased rock icon came to life.”
Mississippi: Elvis Presley’s birthplace
Most people connect Elvis Presley with Memphis, Tennessee, where he built the stately mansion he dubbed Graceland, but he was born and spent his early years in nearby Tupelo, Mississippi. You can drive by his childhood home or take a formal tour of all the important sites from his early years.
Missouri: Gateway Arch
You can’t visit Missouri without traveling to St. Louis to view the 630-foot-high Gateway Arch, which was constructed along the Mississippi River as a monument to President Thomas Jefferson’s vision and St. Louis’ role in the westward expansion of the U.S. The nation’s tallest man-made monument is hollow, housing a tram system that carries visitors up to an observation deck.
Montana: Glacier National Park
The National Park Service calls Glacier National Park the “Crown of the Continent” because on its rocky heights are the headwaters for streams and rivers that flow out across the rest of the continental United States.
Depending on the time of year you visit, activities include fishing, cross-country skiing, biking and hiking more than 700 miles of trails.
Nebraska: Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park
William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was one of the most well-known characters in the Wild West. Visitors to his North Platte estate, now a state historical park, can see where he lived and worked.
Nevada: Las Vegas Strip
Sure, there are millions of things to experience in Nevada, but everyone should see the famous Las Vegas Strip at least one time. You’ll find shops, restaurants, world-class casinos and even museums like Madame Tussauds. And, believe it or not, a lot of the attractions in the hotels are free.
New Hampshire: Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse
You just can’t visit New England without taking in at least one of the region’s many lighthouses. The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle is historic, beautiful and tourist-friendly — being New Hampshire’s only mainland lighthouse.
New Jersey: Cape May
Yes, New Jersey is home to Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore, both tourist draws. But those who love architecture and history will especially enjoy historic Cape May, a city that boasts a wealth of historic homes. You can soak in the history from your car or take one of the many tours offered.
New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns
Think of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park as the premiere spot for exploring caves in all their glory.
Its 119 caves boast an array of beauty and wonders — perhaps none more famous than the bat colonies that inhabit them. People come from around the world to watch as anywhere from 200,000 to 1 million bats fly out of the caverns each evening.
New York: Statue of Liberty
There are millions of things to see in the Empire State, but most visitors invariably think of New York City when they plan their trips. From there, you can also take a ferry ride across New York Bay to the Statue of Liberty National Monument on Liberty Island.
“The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World,” a gift of friendship from the people of France to the U.S., was dedicated in 1886 and deemed a national monument in 1924. Seeing it and going to nearby Ellis Island — which served as a U.S. immigration processing center from 1892 to 1954 — is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
North Carolina: Biltmore Estate
A 250-room French Renaissance château, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville is one of the most enduring landmarks of the late 19th century’s Gilded Age, an era of industrialization and rapid economic growth for America but also a time of abject poverty and economic inequality.
The home built by George Vanderbilt, whose family still owns the property, now contains high-end lodging, restaurants, a winery and shopping.
North Dakota: Fort Union Trading Post
The Fort Union Trading Post on the upper Missouri River was vital between 1828 and 1867, when the commercial operation established by real estate mogul and investor John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Co. facilitated trade in buffalo hides and other furs for goods imported from other lands. This made it the most important fur trading post on the upper Missouri River.
Ohio: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Sure, you’ll see memorabilia and exhibits at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but don’t forget to check out the calendar for live music, too. A must-see for any music lover.
Oklahoma: Philbrook Museum of Art
The historic home of American petroleum businessman Waite Phillips is an art museum. The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa hosts pieces from artists throughout the world, as well as Native American artists. The museum also holds events and offers tours of its elaborate gardens.
Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park is widely recognized but not as heavily visited by tourists as many other national parks.
The Outdoor Society says the lake, formed when a volcanic eruption collapsed a mountain, is “surrounded by beauty in every direction.” That’s especially apparent if you stay at Crater Lake Lodge, which is 1,000 feet above the lake and offers unparalleled views of the peaks of southern Oregon’s Cascade Range.
The lodge opens May 18 for the season.
Pennsylvania: Independence Hall
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful historic site than Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Now a national historic park, it is where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted.
Rhode Island: Homes and mansions of Newport
Newport is a study in contrasts with quaint historic homes and opulent mansions.
Drive around the area to soak up the history and see the privately owned historic homes. Then book a tour so you can see the mansions. Don’t miss The Breakers, once owned by the Vanderbilt family. The Preservation Society of Newport County has described it as “the grandest of Newport’s summer ‘cottages.'”
South Carolina: Rainbow Row
Sure, you can tour mansions and historic sites in Charleston, but don’t forget to take a walk down Rainbow Row. There you’ll see historic row houses painted the colors of the rainbow.
South Dakota: Mount Rushmore
Don’t miss the historic sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Mount Rushmore, a national memorial, is a must-see.
Elvis Presley’s Graceland home, located in Memphis, is still open for tourists. The offerings have expanded in recent years, with the addition of a state-of-the-art museum, entertainment and retail complex honoring the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, known to most as just “The King.”
Texas: The Alamo
The Alamo, a historic mission in San Antonio, was the site of a major battle during the Texas Revolution, during which the Texas defenders were decimated by Mexican forces. It’s stunning to stand inside the small structure and think of the men whose courageous stand prompted others to fight for Texas.
The Alamo is also part of the San Antonio Missions, a region that encompasses four other missions, among other sites. In 2015, the San Antonio Missions was designated a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Utah: Arches National Park
More than 2,000 natural stone arches populate Arches National Park in southeastern Utah, near the city of Moab. The geographic oddities, including “Delicate Arch” (seen above), are one-of-a-kind sites that keep visitors returning to the red-rock wonderland year after year.
This Georgian Revival mansion in Manchester was the summer family home of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of President Abraham Lincoln who survived to adulthood. Hildene went on to house other Lincoln descendants until 1975.
Virginia: George Washington’s Mount Vernon
George Washington’s Mount Vernon, home of America’s first president, now features tours and other activities. The grounds also boast buildings with multiple exhibits and displays, plus elaborate gardens. Don’t miss the tombs and the fully functioning reconstructions of Washington’s gristmill and whiskey distillery — one of the nation’s largest whiskey distilleries in 1799.
Washington: Public Market Center
The Public Market Center — more commonly referred to as Pike Place Market — is arguably the most famous farmers market in the U.S.
The sprawling complex overlooking Seattle’s oceanfront features an array of restaurants and vendors selling fresh veggies and fruit, artisan foods, bouquets of fresh-cut flowers, unique hand-crafted goods, art and clothing. It’s also home to the original Starbucks cafe, at 1912 Pike Place.
West Virginia: New River Gorge
West Virginians boast that whitewater rafting is better in their state than anywhere else in the country. A ride down the New River, especially in the spring, may well convince you they’re right.
Even if you’re not into rafting, the New River Gorge National River offers nature tours and lush hiking paths.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Dells
Whenever you mention visiting Wisconsin, locals usually say you need to visit “the Dells.” Perhaps that’s because the city of Wisconsin Dells, on the Wisconsin River, boasts an array of theme parks and activities and calls itself The Waterpark Capital of the World.
But there are an equal number of natural attractions — including the Dells of the Wisconsin River, a five-mile gorge whose name comes from the French dalles, or narrows. Those who enjoy the river say visitors must see the area’s sandstone cliffs.
Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is perhaps best-known for Old Faithful Geyser, but don’t miss the hot springs.
No, you can’t go in these hot springs — as some visitors tragically learn, they are deadly. But boardwalks like those along Mammoth Hot Springs allow you to get close to the remarkable colored water and pass through clouds of steam drifting off them.
What’s the one place you would recommend travelers visit in your state? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
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