It was sponsored by a travel company.

Travelers from all walks of life want to go to the U.S. to chase the American Dream. It's not easy to choose a cool place to visit in the US.

With a country that has 50 states, over 400 national parks, vibrant cities, charming small towns, and endless festivals, how do you narrow it down to just a few?

We come in that way.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

There are hundreds of places that could have made this list, but we haven't traveled to many of them yet.

This list of cool places to visit in the US is based on our own travel experiences and recommendations so you can plan an itinerary that combines all the best parts of America.

You won't find typical tourist destinations such as Miami Florida and Universal Studios on this list. The focus has been on small town charm, cultural uniqueness, and stunning landscapes and outdoor adventures.

We've tried to keep it as authentic as possible, even though there will be some icons in the USA.

We collaborated with our sponsor, Allianz Travel, who wants you to have a great vacation and let them take care of your money.

How We Chose Cool Places to Visit in the US

New York and its Central Park and San Francisco and its Golden Gate Bridge are places that we want to steer away from.

Washington DC, the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument are not included in the list. We didn't go to the Grand Canyon National park.

What's the reason? They don't need to. We recommend all travelers to visit the US's epic bucket list attractions, but we wanted to highlight the hidden gems in this list.

You can easily add these places to your US road trip itineraries if you know where to look. It's perfect for weekend getaways or longer vacations.

The list will be organized by cities and small towns and then national parks. You can pick places based on what you like to do.

Best Cities and Small Towns to Visit in the US

The small towns and cities will be the first to be listed. The places we felt gave an authentic American experience to travelers have interesting cultures.

1. Leavenworth, Washington

One of America's hidden gems is what we're going to start with. I was a little concerned that it would be a kitschy tragedy.

I was surprised by it.

Leavenworth Washington cool places to visit usa
Leavenworth Washington

It is a tourist attraction with a lot of soul and a small taste of Germany. You are able to wear lederhosen while doing so with a few pretzels, bratwurst, and steins.

The village used to be a logging village. The community decided to turn it into a mini-Bavaria after it took a turn for the worse.

It has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Washington.

The town has restaurants, bars, breweries, cideries, and local stores.

It is located at the base of the Cascade Mountains and on the Wenatchee River, which makes it a great location for whitewater rafting, hiking, and tube floating.

When the village is transformed with over 500,000 Christmas lights, live music, Santa Claus visit, and usually a blanketing of snow, winter is supposed to be an unforgettable experience.

  • Where to stay: The Blue Elk Inn is a beautiful bed and breakfast in Leavenworth that offers rural cabin vibes despite being a short walk from the town. See reviews and prices here.

2. Gruene, Texas

One of the best small towns in America is Gruene Texas, which is only a three-street town.

The Gruene dance hall was the center of community life when it was a cotton industry town.

Gruene Hall, Texas Hill Country
Gruene Hall, Texas Hill Country

Live music and dance gatherings have been held at Gruene Hall since the 19th century. Willie Nelson, Hal Ketchum, and George Strait are just a few of the legends who have played.

It's one of the best places to visit in the US because it's nothing fancy. Bring your copyboy hat and boots and have a good time.

You can even hang out in the beer garden. There is a lot of space for kids to play.

You should visit more of the Texas Hill Country while in Gruene.

  • Climb to the top of Enchanted Rock.
  • River tubing the Guadalupe or Comal River
  • Guitar picking and country music under a 500-year-old oak tree in Luckenbach.
  • Visit the wineries! Texas Hill is wine country, and there are more than 30 wineries off-the-beaten-path between Johnson City and Fredericksburg. I definitely want to come back for that sans kids. Here is a wine tour you may enjoy!

There is a general store with a soda and ice cream bar on the street.

Watching the colors light up behind the water tower and sunset from your fire pit seat is a special experience. It's even better if there is live music in the background.

  • Where to stay: The Gruene Mansion Inn is a great bed and breakfast in Gruene. It’s full of rustic Victorian elegance and B&B style. See reviews and prices here.

3. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh has been included on a list of cool places to visit in the US for a long time.

Raleigh was the place we chose to live if you were a new reader. It's that cool.

The City of Oaks is an urban landscape filled with trees and parks.

Downtown Raleigh, NC
Downtown Raleigh

In the last few years, there has been an explosion of growth, and with that, a cool influx of modern and local restaurants, bars, and retail stores.

Brewery Bhavana was named one of the world's most beautiful breweries and some of the best chefs in the country have moved here.

The best food I have eaten in the USA has to be at the Laotian restaurant next door.

The gateway to some of North Carolina's stunning nature sites is Raleigh. It is worth a stop on an east coast road trip.

4. Savannah, Georgia

With its streets and squares draped in Spanish Moss, its cobblestone riverfront walk, Southern fusion cuisine, elegant and refined homes, and dark haunted history, it would have to be one of the cool small cities in the US.

The title of the world's friendliest city has been given to it. The USA town is all about relaxing and enjoying art and culture.

Savannah Georgia cool places to visit usa
Forsyth Park. Savannah

Thanks to the city's open container policies, you'll find abandoned properties reborn into craft breweries and contemporary art museums, as well as cool local shops and restaurants.

Yes, that's right. Take your go-cup of booze and leave.

If you ever get tired of wandering its squares and streets, there is also Tybee island nearby.

  • Where to stay: The Drayton Hotel is located in downtown Savannah which is the best place to stay for first-time visitors. It’s modern and contemporary design makes for a really comfortable stay. See reviews and prices here.

5. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Public Gardens
Boston Public Gardens

Boston has a different experience to big cities like New York City and Los Angeles.

Boston has a fascinating history and is a great place to visit. The locals are friendly and have fun.

One of the best things to do in Boston and the US is to go to a baseball game. You will not forget that. You can catch some of the game for free at the Bleacher bar.

The Boston Freedom Trail walking tour was great. It is a great way to learn about the history of the country. Cannolis and coffee can be found in Little Italy.

  • Where to stay: A stay at the Liberty Hotel in Boston should be on everyone’s bucketlist. It’s a luxury five-star hotel with all the bells and whistles. See prices and reviews here.

6. Franklin, Tennessee

MAgpies Downtown Franklin Tn
Main Stree, Franklin

We spent one day in Franklin, Tennessee.

It's so easy to do since it's only 30 minutes from our favorite city in the USA. We will extend our visit to the Franklin for at least an overnight stay next time we visit.

Main street has boutiques that look like they stepped out of the 1800s. The old Southern buildings are draped in couture.

One of the best-preserved downtowns in North America is it.

The small town of Leipers Fork is close to Franklin.

There are legendary music nights at this location. It is possible that one of the famous Country musicians will jump on stage for an open mic night.

I love this area.

  • Where to stay: The Harpeth Hotel is in downtown Franklin and its a pretty swish boutique hotel by Curio Hilton. Check prices here. Another great option is Alfred at the James. This is a fantastic affordable apartment option in The Gulch area of Nashville. We loved our stay here. Check more reviews and current prices here. 

7. New Orleans, Louisiana

Jackson Square New Orleans LA
Jackson Square, New Orleans

We think this is the most well known place.

New Orleans is one of the cool bucket list places to visit in the US because of its laid-back spirit. It may be the most unique, lively and delicious city in the US.

New Orleans has a lot to offer, including culture and soul, incredible food and music, history, charm, festival after festival, and all-around great people.

The French Quarter and the Garden District are good places to start discovering it. You can go further out and see the elegant plantation homes.

If you're interested in learning more about black history in America, you can take a Plantation tour.

New Orleans' food is one of the reasons it is one of the best places to eat in the US. The food is influenced by French, creole, and cajun culture.

There are a lot of cool festivals in New Orleans. We proved that you can have fun with children. It is a great time of the year in New Orleans.

New Orleans is a great place to live in the US.

  • Where to stay: The Whitney Hotel is an affordable, spacious accommodation option within walking distance to many places in New Orleans. We enjoyed our stay at this hotel. Check room rates here. 

8. Chicago

Chicago is one of the most amazing places to visit in the US for people who want to see big cities. Chicago is not like New York or Los Angeles in that it is not overwhelming.

The city of Chicago is known for its art, architecture, and design. On St Patrick's Day they turn the river green and it doesn't harm the environment.

St Patrick's Day Green Chicago River (1)
St Patrick’s Day, Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the examples of the city embracing the arts. The original The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai is held in the Museum and is one of the greatest paintings of all time.

There is a restaurant on the top floor of the Space Needle that gives you a panoramic view of the entire city.

A popular sculpture in Millennium Park is 'The Bean'.

Chicago is one of the best places to find unique experiences in the US.

  • Where to stay: For a great place to stay, you can never go wrong with a Four Seasons. This is a luxury hotel in the best area of Chicago, perfect for exploring. See prices and reviews here.

10. San Francisco – Alcatraz Island

The Golden Gate Bridge, steep roads, and colorful buildings are some of the highlights of San Francisco. It is also home to a unique attraction called The Rock.

2 km off the coast of San Francisco, is the maximum security federal prison known as Alcatraz. It would be difficult for prisoners to escape since they would need to swim a long distance through the storms.

water with an island in the background
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

The island is still a popular tourist destination despite the prison closing in 1963. There were more than 300 inmates in this location. No prisoner wants to be sent there and the conditions were bad.

You should book your ticket before you go to avoid long lines.

Cool Places to Visit in the US: National Parks and Beaches

These are the best places to visit in the US if you like nature.

11. Sedona, Arizona

Airport Mesa Vortex
Airport Overlook, Sedona, Arizona

There is a place in the USA that I like the most. Only a few places in the world have the magnetism of it.

You feel alive when you see the majestic red rock formations rising up from the valley floor. Your mind won't bother you until you leave again.

One of the best ways to experience the area is by walking. The area can be explored on a Jeep tour.

Take on the challenge of climbing up some of the rock faces for amazing views and to bring in the spiritual power and energy from the sedona vostroes. The feel-good vibe is due to the fact that there are four main sites here.

You will feel like you have entered the gates of heaven, where everything fades away from existence.

  • Where to stay: Best Western Plus Arroyo Roble Hotel & Creekside Villasis situated in uptown Sedona. The location is perfect and the Creekside Villas will only enhance your Sedona vacation. Check current prices here. 

12. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

valley of fire state park nevada

The Valley of Fire State Park is a great place to stop for gas on your US road trip. It is an easy day trip from Vegas that will allow you to get away from it all.

The Valley of Fire is small and can be explored in a day with a few short walks and a scenic drive. There is a trail called the Fire Wave Trail.

We recommend a guided tour to Valley of Fire if you want to take a break from casinos while in Vegas.

It's a good idea to drive through the North in the Lake Mead recreational area. It is one of the best drives in the US.

  • Where to stay: You can camp at Valley of Fire state Park or Lake Mead. Otherwise, we recommmend Harrahs in Vegas as a good mid-range hotel with ideal location on The Strip. Check current prices here. 

13. Lake Lure, North Carolina

The lake is surrounded by mountains and cliffs.

There are names like Buffalo Head and Sleeping lady in the distance.

It's old. The time has come for something that is timeless. It's connected.

The Lodge on Lake Lure
Lake Lure from above

After arriving, I feel like I have lived here many times.

Like the oars on my paddle board, it moves slowly and rhythmically.

Lake Lure in North Carolina is where I like to live. My dream is to one day own a lake home here and spend my summers swimming in it. It is the place that can stop me from traveling.

There is an annual Dirty Dancing festival there, as well as parts of the movie being filmed there.

You should grab your partner and try the lift in the lake. I carried a watermelon in a short race.

I love going to the state park.

14. Redfish Lake, Idaho

Redfish Lake is my favorite lake in the United States. Lake Michigan is one of the five great lakes in the US but we promise you hidden gems.

You will be going to a true gem without it being spoiled by tourists if you haven't heard of it.

Redfish lake idaho cool places to visit in the US
Redfish Lake, Idaho

You can see the clear waters from the nearby glaciers from the Sawtooth range. The five-mile lake is a great place to relax on the beach, swim, or kayak. We took a tour of the lake to learn more about it.

You can catch the boat shuttle from the other end of Redfish Lake, where no cars are allowed. Horse riding through the Sawtooth Mountains is a good alternative to hiking.

On the main beach area of the lake, you can find Redfish Lodge, which offers full-service dining, or their Lakeside Grill, which offers burgers and beverages next to the lake.

There is a shuttle service to the popular trailheads at the far end of the lake.

Stanley is said to be the most cold place in the USA. Redfish Lake is a great place to go for a summer vacation.

15. Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, Utah

On your Utah road trip, you are looking at the state's big 4. There are four amazing national parks in this state.

Slot Canyons, Utah
Spooky and Peek-a-Boo Canyon

The Grand Staircase-Escalante is not a top-level national park, but it does offer a lot of competition. I don't know if it's a national monument or not.

44 scenic drives, hidden waterfalls, undulating waves of colorful rocks, and adventurous hikes through narrow slot canyons are welcome.

The All-American Road: Scenic Byway 12 runs through this area.

Lower Creek Calf Falls and Peek-a-Boo slot canyon are two of my favorite hikes.

The Lower Creek Falls are hidden in a sandy canyon and the slot spooky canyons offer a thrilling adventure of climbing, crawling and inching through narrow spaces.

  • Where to stay: A great place to stay nearby is the Slot Canyons Inn Bed and Breakfast. It’s affordable, cozy and well located for those who like hiking. Check here for current prices.

16. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Okay, so a popular place to visit in the USA that can't be left off is the national park. It is one of the best places to visit in the world.

If you are a nature lover you will love exploring the most beautiful places in the US all within a short distance of each other.

Yellowstone National Park - cool places to visit in the USA
Grand Prismatic Spring

The last place we visited on our USA road trip was this area and we felt like we finished our trip with the best experiences. They said to save the best for last.

I can't think of a word to describe the place.

There are hot mud pits, steaming sulfur holes, geysers shooting off randomly and perfectly timed, grand canyons filled with waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife roaming around this volatile yet spectacular landscape.

It wasn't enough to soak everything in. It's recommended that you spend at least 7 days in the park.

You will not understand how cool this supervolcano is until you experience it firsthand. There is nothing like it.

The cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome are some of the best rock climbing spots in the world.

  • Where to stay: To really experience Yellowstone, we recommend staying in the national park. There are plenty of campsites, but make sure to reserve in advance. Or, for more upmarket lodging, historic Inn on the Creek Hotel, and is centrally located to most of the park, and very charming. See reviews here. 

17. Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Misery Ridge Trail, Smith Rock State Park
Misery Ridge Trail, Smith Rock State Park

The rock spires are the result of hardened ash, lava and debris rising above the river.

Smith Rock State Park is located in central Oregon.

It is a well-known location for rock climbing. The pros scale up the Monkey Face outcropping, which is frightening. The views here will affect you.

It was one of the prettiest views I have ever seen in America.

The Misery Ridge loop trail is one of the 12 official hiking trails at Smith Rock State Park. The first 30 minute climb up the Smith Rock Tuft could be described as miserable.

The views that you have will make it all okay.

Nearby Bend has a volcanic history, a river for tubing and whitewater surfing, and many outstanding beers.

  • Where to stay: You can camp at Smith Rock State Park. Walk in tent camping only. The boutique eco-friendly Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend provides a free airport transfer service to Redmond Municipal Airport.

18. Big Island of Hawaii

Family Travel Blog Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Big Island Hawaii (1)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Big Island Hawaii

I know Waikiki and the North Shore get a lot of Hawaii air time, but I prefer the Big Island of Hawaii.

It has volcanoes active with bubbling lava, beautiful waterfalls in the middle of the jungle, green colored beaches and the chance to swim in the night.

Is it cooler than that.

You won't find anything like this anywhere else in the world. There are lava caves and lava forests, as well as black sand beaches.

One of the most amazing places to visit in Hawaii is this island, which has been sculpted by volcanic activity.

  • Where to stay: Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa was a great place to stay. We love the location of this hotel right on the edge of the water in popular, Kona. They have a beautiful pool with sunset views and a fantastic restaurant. Rooms were spacious. Check current prices here. 

19. Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

Sand Hollow State Park

There is a new state park in Utah called Sand Hollow.

It is racing up to the top of the cool places to visit in the US due to its stunning scenery and action adventures.

One of the best places in the country to ride a quad bike and ATV is here.

The scenery of red dirt, snow-covered peaks, and a brilliant blue lake is just as good as eating a slice of black forest mud cake. There is nothing to compare.

You can take a road trip to Zion National Park from Sand Hollow State Park.

  • Where to stay: The Desert Garden Inn offers free WIFI, parking, a pool with a view and a hot breakfast. It’s great for families and they allow pets.

20. Channel Islands National Park, California

If you want to visit somewhere off the beaten path, the Channel Islands are a great place to go.

The Channel Islands National Park is located about 70 miles north of Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway.

In a state as popular as California, this is the least visited of the national parks.

Kayaking at Channel Islands National Park, California
Kayaking at Channel Islands National Park

Expect to find beautiful beaches, cliff faces, valleys and canyons for hiking, sea caves to explore on kayaks, plenty of sea lions popping their heads up, and small island mammals.

There are five islands in the Channel Islands National park.

Santa Cruz is the ideal island for a one-day trip. If you do the Island Packers Boat tour to Santa Cruz Island, we recommend you pack a picnic lunch to enjoy while you are there.

It isn't quite the rugged coastline you get of the Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea Beach, but it's peaceful. It's a side of California you don't know about.

  • Where to stay: We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel. As one of the Ventura Beach hotels, it has prime beachfront location and some of the rooms have ocean views.

21. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is a list of the best places to visit in the US with the most famous nature spot. You can't skip the mysteries of the Great Smoky Mountains for nature lovers.

Tennessee and North Carolina are part of the mountain range. The fog gives them their name.

Newfound Gap, Smoky Mountains National Park

The USA's largest salamander, the hellbender salamander, is found in this area, but their numbers are declining, so you would be very lucky to see them.

You can't describe the beauty of these mountains, they have to be seen to be believed.

You can find more than 150 official trails if you are a hiker. You can take a self-guided driving tour of the national park if you don't want to hike.

  • Where to stay: We stayed at Old Creek Lodge in Gatlinburg. It was comfortable and clean, but basic. I was drawn to the views of the river/creek from the small balcony, plus it’s affordable for the area. You can check them out here.

Before You Go

There are 21 of the best places to visit in the United States. There are a lot of hidden gems in the country that you might not know about.

I hope you find a few places that interest you and that this guide will help you plan your trip.

More Useful USA Travel Tips

Before you embark on your American Dream adventure, be sure to check out the guides for more travel in the USA.

Car and RV Rentals

Do you need a car to get somewhere? Some car and RV rentals are recommended by us.

  • Rental is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Avis, Hertz, Dollar etc.
  • RVShare is an option for renting a motorhome, caravan or camper on your US road trip  – See what RV rentals are available

Travel Insurance

The post is sponsored by a travel company and we have received financial compensation as ambassadors.

What would you add to the list of cool places to visit in the US for 2020?