View our photos of can't-miss sites across the U.S.A.
SUMMER VACATION IDEAS
20 Places Every American Should See
Think you know America's essential sights? Compare your past trips with our picks for 20 domestic destinations every citizen should visit—from pop culture icons to patriotic landmarks. Consider it your star-spangled bucket list.
Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, Nev.
Glass pyramids. Faux Venetian canals. The 1,148-foot tall Stratosphere Tower. A couple of $100 million daredevil circuses called Cirque du Soleil. They're all part of this neon-lit desert outpost 300 miles from Los Angeles—with a magnetic pull like no other. Every American ends up on the Strip sooner or later, whether for a bachelor party, a girlfriend getaway, a trade show, or simply lured by a shockingly cheap hotel-and-airfare deal. It's the place Americans go to let their hair down (and, okay, gamble). Aside from its new $2.4 billion airport terminal, Vegas's latest attraction is the Mob Museum (a.k.a., the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement), a tribute to the mafia in real life and in pop culture that opened in February 2012. Interactive exhibits are plentiful: Be ready to pose for a police line-up shot (themobmuseum.org).
Photo op: For a sure bet on a clear view of the cityscape, head to the Ghostbar on top of the Palms Hotel and Spa (palms.com).
Insider tip: For a retro vibe, veer off the Strip to the hole-in-the-wall Champagnes Cafe, an old-school bar complete with blood-red wallpaper, bowls of mixed nuts, and a jukebox that plays Frank, Sammy, Dean, and Bing (3557 Maryland Parkway South; 702/737-1699).
Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Wide-open space is a unique inheritance for every American, and Yellowstone is the most dramatic example of what "wide-open space" really means. In 1872, two-million-acre Yellowstone debuted as America's first national park, and visitors began flocking to soak in its hot springs, see elk and bison roam its grasslands, gawk at its geyser known as Old Faithful, and hear gray wolves sound chill-inducing howls at dawn. Amazingly, visitors can get the same thrills today for nearly no cost. For the fullest experience, stay the night. The lack of light pollution in northwest Wyoming's Big Sky country reveals an astonishing canopy of stars that is virtually unchanged from the time of native tribes, fur trappers, and pioneer explorers (nps.gov/yell).
Photo op: Take the Lake Area Elephant Back Loop Trail for a vista encompassing Yellowstone Lake, the Absaroka Range, and the Pelican Valley.
Insider tip: Enter via the less-traveled Silver or East gates for more solitude on the park's roughly 1,200 miles of trail.
Times Square, New York City
Sure, the crowds can be pushy, but Times Square—the stretch of Broadway between Manhattan's 42nd and 47th streets—delivers the most intense straight-up celebration of round-the-clock visual stimulation in the free world. Three hundred sixty-five days a year, it's all lights, cameras, and action. And in summer, when the city sets out a slew of lawn chairs in its pedestrian-only core, you can take a seat and gaze southward, imagining the scene every New Year's Eve when a million revelers watch the ball drop—an all-American tradition for 105 years.
Photo op: Climb the translucent, ruby-red stairs that seem to lean atop the TKTS booth, which sells same-day discounted Broadway tickets at 47th Street and Broadway; it's a great place to snap a photo without hundreds of strangers' heads crowding the shot.
Insider tip: If you see a guy playing guitar in nothing but his underwear and a 10-gallon hat, don't be alarmed—it's just the Naked Cowboy, who makes the rounds here often.
Soaking up country music in its native habitat is an American music experience like no other. Leafy, laid-back Nashville, Tenn., deserves its nickname Music City U.S.A.: It's dotted with twang-accented institutions, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium (with its famous acoustics), and the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly live-audience radio show that has been continuously broadcast since 1925. Go boot-scootin' at one of the countless honky-tonks lining Broadway, where the line dancing is first-rate (visitmusiccity.com).
Photo op: Head to midtown to pose in front of a life-size replica of the ancient Greek Parthenon, which stands in Centennial Park (2600 West End Ave.).
Insider tip: The Bluebird Cafe is a nightly venue that spotlights the best up-and-coming talents in country. Exhibit A: Garth Brooks once performed at this nondescript club before anybody knew his name (4104 Hillsboro Pike, bluebirdcafe.com).