Choosing cool places to visit in the US is not an easy task.
With a country that has 50 states, over 400 national parks, vibrant cities, charming small towns, and endless festivals and friendly people, how do you narrow it down to just a handful?
There are hundreds of places that could have made this list. And there are hundreds of more places in the USA that we haven’t traveled to yet that may find there way to this list next year when we do!
We wanted to create this cool places to visit in the US list based upon our own personal travel experiences.
You follow our blog for a reason – you resonate with our travel style and trust our insights and opinions. We have enough travel experience to ascertain which places can offer you something special.
We wanted to steer away from the places you’d typically find on a list like in New York and its Central Park, San Francisco and its Golden Gate Bridge, Washington DC and its White House and Smithsonian Museums, Grand Canyon and Yosemite.
You all know they are epic experiences in the US and we highly recommend you visit them too.
The following offer small town charm, cultural uniqueness, and stunning landscapes and outdoor adventures you;ll be talking about forever.
You’ll find some of these places close to some big name attractions and destinations so you can easily add them in to your US road trip itineraries. Others are perfect for weekend getaways or longer, more relaxing trips.
We’ve created this list of US destinations in collaboration with our sponsor, Allianz Travel, who want you to have a GREAT vacation and let them take care of your precious investment!
Cool Places to Visit in the US – Cities and Small Towns
I was a little worried coming into Leavenworth that it was going to be kitschy Bavarian imitation tragedy.
I’ve come across a few places before that just haven’t done it well. They’ve turned into massive tourist traps missing a little bit of soul.
But I was pleasantly surprised with Leavenworth.
It’s a tastefully done tourist trap with a lot of soul and plenty of reasons to enjoy a little taste of Bavaria. And of course a few pretzels, bratwurst and steins – you are welcome to wear lederhosen while doing so.
Leavenworth was once a thriving logging village. When that took a turn for the worst, instead of letting it die, the community decided to turn use its beautiful setting to turn it into mini-Bavaria.
In the town, you’ll find Bavarian style architecture that houses restaurants, bars, breweries, cideries and local retail stores.
It’s location at the base of the Cascade Mountains and on the Wenatchee River means its also a hotspot for outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, whitewar rafting or gentle tube floating.
Winter is meant to be a unforgettable experience here with their “Village of Lights” when the village is transformed with over 500,000 Christmas lights, live music, Santa Claus visit and usually a blanketing of snow.
It may only be a three street town, but Gruene Texas oozes historic charm and boot-scooting fun.
The center of community life – back when it was a thriving cotton industry town, and now, that it has been lovingly restored – is the Gruene dance hall.
Since 1878, Gruene Hall has been putting on live music and dance gatherings. Legends such as George Strait, Hal Ketchum, Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett have played and even current superstars like Maren Morris.
There is nothing fancy about this place, which is what makes it one of the coolest places in the US to visit. Bring your copyboy hat and boots, let your hair down, mingle with the locals, and have fun.
You can sit down and listen, dance up the back, or even hang outside in the beer garden. Kids will love the space to paly cornhole or climb some trees.
The streets are filled with boutique and antique stores in old homes, a general store with a soda and ice cream bar, and restaurants.
Watching the colors light up behind the water tower and sunset from your fire pit seat in the Grapevine Winery outdoor garden is something special to enjoy. Even better if there is live music in the background, which in Gruene, is a certainty.
While in Gruene, be sure to explore more of the Texas Hill Country including:
- 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! 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
Raleigh, North Carolina
If you are a new reader, out of all the places in the world we could choose to live, we chose Raleigh. Yes. It’s that cool.
It’s called the City of Oaks for obvious reasons – an urban landscape in the forest filled with trees, parks, and lakes.
Over the last few years there has been an explosion of growth, and with that, a cool influx of modern and local restaurants, breweries, bars and retail stores (many of which have received national recognition!!)
Some of the best chefs in the country have moved in here and restaurants such as Heirloom Brewshop and Benchwarmer Bagels have recently been included on best new restaurants in America and Brewery Bhavana was recently named one of the world’s most beautiful breweries.
I would say that Bida Manda, the Laotian restuarant next door owned by the same Brewery Bhavana family, has the best food I’ve eaten in the USA.
Raleigh is only going to get better!
Check out this post on the best things to do in downtown Raleigh.
With its streets and squares draped in Spanish Moss, its cobblestone riverfront walk, Southern fusion cuisine, elegant and refined homes and dark haunted history, Savannah Georgia would have to be one of the coolest small cities in the USA to visit.
It oozes Southern Charm and hospitality and has received the title of the world’s friendliest city. This USA town is all about relaxation, diving into the mysteries,and appreciating art and culture.
You’ll find abandoned properties reborn into craft breweries and contemporary art museum and cool, local shops and restuarants that can be explored with a drink in your hand, thanks to the cities open container policies.
Yep. Grab your go-cup of alcohol and off you go.
And, if you ever get sick of wandering its squares and streets, there is even the gorgeous and equally charming Tybee island nearby.
Another well-known city in the USA, Boston offers a much different experience to big hitters like New York City and LA.
Boston has historical charm and a fascinating history leading to the US’s independence. The locals here talk funny, are friendly and are sports mad!
On of the coolest things to do in Boston and the US, is to attend a Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Stadium. That is an iconic American cultural experience you will not forget. Head to the Bleacher Bar before it, or doing it fi you want to catch some of the game for free.
We loved the hilarious and informative Boston Freedom Trail walking tour. It’s a fantastic way to learn about the history of the city and America. Also don’t forget cannolis and coffee in Little Italy!
Watch us explore Boston:
I adored our one day visit to Franklin Tennessee.
So easy to do considering it is only about 30 minutes from our favorite city in the USA – Nashville! Next time we visit, I think we’ll extend our visit to the charming Franklin for at least an overnight stay.
If you like history, boutique shopping on a Main street that looks like it’s stepped out of the Instagram feed of the 1800s. You know what I mean – gorgeous old Southern buildings draped in modern couture.
It’s so gorgeous it is known as having one of the best-preserved downtowns in North America.
Not too far from Franklin, is the tiny one dusty road town of Leipers Fork.
This is the place to come for legendary music nights at Puckett’s Grocery. You never know, considering this is the area many famous Country musicians live, you may just see one of them jump on stage for open mic night.
God I love this Nashville, Tennessee region.
New Orleans, Louisiana
This is probably the most well known place on our list.
When you’re talking of cool places to visit in the US, you can’t ignore New Orleans. It’s possibly the most unique, lively and delicious city in the United States.
New Orleans has culture and soul, incredible food and music, history, charm, festival after festival, and all around great people.
You can discover most of it just by wandering around the historic French Quarter, or the charming Garden District. A little further out takes you to the bayous and alligator country and the elegant plantation homes.
With its French, creole and cajun influence, the food will blow your tastebuds away!
New Orleans has plenty of cool festivals to keep you coming back for more. The most famous being Mardi Gras, and yes we proved you can enjoy that with kids! Check our post below to find out how. Christmas is also a great time in NOLA and may offer warm weather.
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the US.
New Orleans Videos
Cool Places to Visit in the US – Natural Beauty and Outdoor Adventures
Sedona Arizona is possibly my favorite place in the USA. It has a beauty and magnetic pull that only a few places in the world possess.
When you drive into Sedona and see majestic red rock formations rising up from a green carpeted valley floor you are instantly bought into the present moment and feel alive. I doubt your troubled mind will bother you until you leave again.
The best way to experience Sedona is to walk amongst its incredible scenery.
Take on the challenge of climbing up some of the rock faces for extraordinary views and to bring in the spiritual power and energy from the Sedona Vortexes. There are said to be four main vortex sites here, which largely contributes to its unique feel good vibe.
You will feel on top of the world in Sedona and like you have entered the gates of heaven, where everything outside seems to fade away from existence.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Those who insist on making Las Vegas a stop on their US road trip, will love the Valley of Fire State Park. It’s an easy day trip from Vegas and will give you that much needed natural respite from the City of Sin.
The Valley of Fire is also small enough to explore in a day with a few short walks and a stunning scenic drive through rainbow colored landscapes and red, pink and white wavy rocks. The most famous (see picture above) can be explored on the Fire Wave Trail.
We also recommend driving in via the North in the Lake Mead Recreational Area. It’s one of the most spectacular drives in the USA.
Video: Valley of Fire State Park
Lake Lure, North Carolina
Lake Lure sits in the Hickory Nut Gorge, surrounded by lush mountain tops and sheer granite cliffs.
In the distance are the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Hickory Nut Gorge with names like Buffalo Head and Sleeping lady.
It’s ancient. Timeless. Connected.
I feel like I’ve lived many lives here and it’s not long after arriving that I slip into Lake Time.
It moves slow and rhythmically like the oars on my stand up paddle board moving across the lake.
Lake Lure in North Carolina is my happy place. My dream is to one day have a lake home here and spend my summers swimming, supping and enjoying the serenity of a quiet life. It’s the place that can draw me away from travel for good.
Dirty Dancing fans will be happy to know parts of the movie were filmed here (the lake lift scene) and there is an annual Dirty Dancing festival where.
Grab your partner and attempt the lift in the lake for trophy glory. Or, just be like me and carry a watermelon in short sprint race.
I also LOVE exploring Chimney Rock State Park.
Video: Lake Lure, North Carolina
Redfish Lake, Idaho
Coming in after Lake Lure, as my favorite lake in the US, is Redfish Lake in Stanley Idaho.
Odds are you haven’t heard of it, which is surprising, but also great. It means you’ll be adventuring to a true hidden gem.
The views of the Sawtooth range framing the spectacular clear glacial waters of this five-mile long lake is mezmerizing. You can relax here on the beach swimming, supping, or kayaking. We took a guided commentary tour around the lake to learn more about it’s unique flora and fauna.
You can hike five miles down to the other end of Redfish Lake (where no cars can go) and then catch the boat shuttle back.
That is on our list of things to do in Stanley when we visit Idaho again and is high on our list for family vacations.
On the main beach area of the lake you’ll find Redfish Lodge which offers full service dining or their Lakeside Grill, which offers burgers and beverages with outside seating next to the lake.
The marina offers motorized and non-motorized rentals, lake tours, fuel, and a shuttle service to the popular trail heads at the far end of the lake.
Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, Utah
I have no doubt on your Utah road trip, you are checking off the state’s big 4. That is the four spectacular national parks in this state full of colorful wows.
You will be passing through Grand Staircase-Escalante, which may not have top level national park status, but it does offer serious wow competition. It is a national monument, and I’m still figuring out the difference.
Welcome 4×4 scenic drives, hidden waterfalls, undulating waves of colorful rocks, and adventurous hikes through narrow slot canyons, endless slick rock and rainbow colored valleys.
The spectacular All-American Road: Scenic Byway 12 runs through here as well as the more rugged Burr Trail.
Two of my favorite hikes on our US road trip were found here: Lower Creek Calf Falls and Spooky and Peek-a-Boo Canyon.
Lower Creek Falls are hidden deep in a sandy canyon and the slot spooky canyons offer a thrilling adventure of climbing, crawling and inching through 12 inch narrow spaces.
Grand Escalante Videos
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Okay, so a popular place to visit in the USA, but it cannot be left off this list as Yellowstone National Park is possibly the most coolest place to visit in the entire world.
I can’t even find the words to describe Yellowstone.
Bubbling hot mud pits, steaming sulphur holes, multi-colored hot springs, geysers shooting off randomly and perfectly timed, grand canyons filled with waterfalls, hot springs you can actually sit in by the side of the river, and an abundance of wildlife roaming around this volatile yet spectacular landscape.
We spent four days and it wasn’t nearly enough to soak everything in.
You’ve probably heard a lot about this supervolcano sitting under the earth’s surface, but you will not understand how cool it is until you are up close and experienceing this geothermal land. There really is no place like it.
Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
Majestic rock spires, the result of hardened ash, lava and debris rise above the winding Crooked River in the high desert.
This is Smith Rock State Park, about 30 minutes north of Bend in Central Oregon.
It’s a destination renowned globally for rock climbing. You’ll enjoy watching the pros scale up the frighteningly steep Monkey Face outcropping. Be warned, the views here will distract you.
With the meandering river and lush green valley below it was one of the prettiest views I’ve seen in America.
There are 12 official hiking trails at Smith Rock State Park, but none are as well known or all encompassing like the 5.5 mile Misery Ridge Loop Trail. It’s only the first 30 minute steep climb up the Smith Rock Tuft that could be deemed miserable.
But, switchbacks will support you and those views make it all okay!
Nearby Bend is also cool with its volcanic history, river for tubing and whitewater surfing, and numerous outstanding breweries.
Big Island of Hawaii
I know Waikiki and the North Shore get a lot of Hawaii airtime, but for me, the cool island to visit was the Big Island of Hawaii.
It may not have the spectacular swimming beaches you’ll find in Oahu, or the relaxed vacation vibe of Maui, but it has volcanoes active with bubbling lava, beautiful waterfalls in the middle of the jungle, green colored beaches and the chance to swim with manta rays in the night!
Does it get much cooler than that?
Big Island of Hawaii Videos
Sand Hollow State Park, Utah
Sand Hollow is a new state park in Utah and it will completely blow your mind.
It’s racing up to the top of the cool places to visit in the USA list due to it’s stunning kaleidoscope colored scenery and action adventures.
This is one of the best places in the country to go quad bike and ATV driving across miles of sand dunes.
The surrounding scenery of red dirt, snow covered peaks, and brilliant blue lake is as satisfying as eating a decadent slice of black forest mud cake. There is just no comparison.
Video: ATV adventure Sand Hollow State Park
Channel Islands National Park, California
Channel Islands National Park is located off the coastline of Ventura California, which is about 70 miles north of Los Angeles.
Expect to find nothing but beautiful beaches, cliff faces, valleys and canyons for hiking, sea caves to explore on kayaks, plenty of sea lions popping their heads up, snorkeling through the kelp forests to snorkel through and tiny island foxes.
The Channel Islands National Park is made up of five islands:
- San Miguel
- Santa Rosa
- Santa Cruz
- and Santa Barbara
The easiest island to visit, and perfect for a one day trip is Santa Cruz. We highly recommend you do the sea kayak tour and pack yourself a picnic lunch to enjoy with the beautiful scenery once you have finished.
This is a side of California you never knew was possible.
Watch our Channel Islands Video:
More Helpful USA Travel Tips
Check out these posts for more travel in USA tips:
- 11 Steps – How to Plan Your Dream USA Trip
- 19 essential things to know before you visit the USA
- 10 Things Australians Should Know When Planning a USA Road Trip
- Tipping in USA – A Guide on How Much to Tip in USA and When
- 10 Exciting Winter Vacations for Families in the USA
- 7 Extraordinary National Parks in the United States you don’t want to miss
- 7 Fantastic US National Parks you may not have heard of
Car and RV Rentals
- Rental Cars.com 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
What would you add to the list of cool places to visit in the US for 2020?