United States Holiday Planning Guide
More than just a country of car-packed streets seen in TV shows and movies, the United States of America is a complex and diverse home to over 300 million people living in a wide range of landscapes and climates. From its big-city skyscrapers to its sprawling natural parks, the country's ''melting pot'' combines many ethnic groups that share a strong sense of national identity despite their cultural differences. A country of road trips and big blue skies, the United States harbors orderly cities filled with restaurants, parks, and museums, as well as pristine natural areas teeming with native plant and animal life. To see as much as you can of this diverse land quickly, create a United States itinerary including some of the more than 6 million km (4 million mi) of highways leading through deserts, mountain passes, fertile fields, and giant urban centers.
Places to Visit in United States
Regions of the United States
New England: A picturesque destination for a relaxing United States holiday, this region draws visitors with its gabled churches, pristine beaches, rugged mountains, and some of the country's oldest towns, all packed into an area easily explored in the space of a week.
The Mid-Atlantic: Home to some of the nation's biggest cities, the Mid-Atlantic also offers historical sites, rolling mountains, and family-friendly seaside resorts.
The Midwest: The sprawling Midwest contains busy industrial cities and vast farmlands, along with the largest system of freshwater lakes in the world, providing plenty of United States vacation ideas for active travelers.
The South: Known for its hospitality, cuisine, and music, this subtropical region contains lush mountains, vast swamps, long beaches, and lively coastal cities.
The Great Plains: To experience the tranquility and rolling grass-prairie landscapes virtually unchanged since the frontier days, explore the wide expanse of the Great Plains.
The Rocky Mountains: Encompassing areas still largely unspoiled by mass tourism, the Rocky Mountains offer countless opportunities to hike, raft, ski, and snowboard amidst dramatic natural beauty.
The Southwest: Influenced by Native American, Spanish, and Mexican cultures, this region serves as home to some of America's best-known natural attractions and lively artistic communities.
The Pacific Northwest: Encompassing forests, mountains, coastlines, and deserts, the Pacific Northwest offers an abundance of outdoor pursuits, making it one of the most popular destinations for tours of the United States.
Popular States in the United StatesFlorida
: While the northern part of the state resembles the rest of the South, central and southern Florida have their own unique appeal, boasting some of the world's most popular resorts, beaches, theme parks, and wilderness areas.California
: Home to nearly 40 million people, California remains one of the most popular places to visit in the United States, featuring giant cities, lush rainforests, snowy mountains, and soft beaches.Alaska
: Known for its remote, mountainous wilderness, Alaska features a patchwork of native cultures and offers plenty of chances to enjoy some of the world's least-spoiled natural areas.Hawaii
: Among the world's favorite destinations for a United States holiday, Hawaii offers a laid-back atmosphere and diverse landscapes that include sun-kissed beaches and rugged natural trails.Central Florida
: The second-largest American state, Texas feels like a country in and of itself, where swamplands, cattle ranches, mountains, deserts, and sandy beaches draw a growing number of foreign visitors.
Cities in the United StatesNew York City
: An agglomeration of vastly different cultures from around the world, this city of eight million features a famous skyline and some of the most recognizable buildings on the planet--plus some of the finest in cultural attractions in the United States.San Francisco
: A top destination for United States vacations, San Francisco stands apart from virtually any other American city with its charming hills and eclectic mix of Victorian and modern architecture. Explore the distinct neighborhoods filled with world-class restaurants, shops, and museums.Las Vegas
: This "Entertainment Capital of the World" sits in the middle of the desert, where glitzy hotel-casino complexes line the avenues and offer shopping, dining, gambling, and nightlife.Washington, D.C.
: America's capital city, Washington, D.C. boasts a long list of famous monuments, memorials, and public museums, along with many modern shopping and dining options.Honolulu
: Hawaii's largest city, this fast-paced urban center manages to retain much of its relaxed atmosphere and traditional culture, which make it a hugely popular place to visit in the United States.Chicago
: Sprawling and vibrant, Chicago serves as the hub of the Midwest, offering top-notch theaters, shops, museums, galleries, and restaurants.Boston
: A great choice for sightseeing in the United States, Boston remains the largest and most influential city in New England, boasting a huge selection of historical sites, museums, and shops.Miami
: America's tropical urban center, this lively metropolis offers arguably the best nightlife scene in the country, epitomized by a mix of innovative clubs and oceanside bars.Los Angeles
: Known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, Los Angeles boasts world-class art galleries and offers easy access to surrounding mountains, forests, valleys, and beaches.
Things to Do in the United States
Popular United States Tourist AttractionsCentral Park
: A big attraction in a big city, this park offers plenty of shady places for recreation and relaxation, including a zoo, carousel, skating rink, theater, and several fountains and landscaped gardens.Bellagio Fountains
: This massive water feature charms onlookers with its choreographed performances, set to changing light effects and original music by renowned artists.Top of the Rock Observation Deck
: One of the most popular tourist attractions in the United States, this observation deck provides unobstructed 360-degree views of many of the Big Apple's iconic buildings. Magic Kingdom Park
: Nearly 20 million visitors flock to this theme park each year, drawn by six magical lands filled with roller coaster rides, games, jungle cruises, and train adventures.Alcatraz Island
: Once home to an infamous maximum-security penitentiary, this small island now serves as a national park, offering guided tours of the old prison's facilities and protected natural areas sheltering night herons and western gulls.Universal's Islands of Adventure
: A hugely popular United States attraction, this theme park features several distinct areas, offering train rides and interactive live shows with popular superheroes and cartoon characters.Walt Disney World Resort
: Four theme parks, two water parks, five golf courses, and a sprawling shopping area make this entertainment complex the largest vacation resort in the world.The Metropolitan Museum of Art
: A frequent addition to many United States itineraries, this museum houses a vast collection of over two million works of art, including masterpieces by Whistler, Sargent, Rembrandt, and Vermeer.SeaWorld Orlando
: Blending elements of a theme park and marine life zoo, this vast complex offers interactive deep dives, roller coaster rides, and live shows with trained dolphins.The High Line
: A much-needed breath of fresh air above the crowded city streets, this elevated park features gardens, birdhouses, benches, and cafes with views of the Hudson River.
Planning a United States Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in the United States with Kids
You're spoiled for choice when it comes to a family holiday in the United States. You can head for the majestic national parks in California
or the Southwest, and then explore nearby cities and towns. Alternatively, base your trip in one of the larger metropolises like New York City
, San Francisco
, or Boston
, which offer a diversity of kid-friendly attractions to fill entire days.
If you wish to add a bit of magic to your great American adventure, don't miss one of the country's famous theme parks, like Magic Kingdom Park
and Walt Disney World Resort
. For a beach vacation in the United States, you can opt for the far-flung Hawaii
, the resorts along the Mid-Atlantic, or the iconic coast of New England. Of course, the warm waters of the Florida
coast draw beach-going families year-round.
Things to Do in the United States with Kids
If your United States itinerary has you in a city for a few days, balance visits to museums and historical sites with trips to a local park--Central Park
or Boston Common
, for example, make great places where kids can blow off some steam. Learn about the animal kingdom at the celebrated San Diego Zoo
, and visit other educational sites popular with both children and their parents, such as USS Midway Museum
and Alcatraz Island
If you want to spend time outdoors, explore the country's protected natural areas, like Grand Canyon National Park
, or get your hands dirty and discover what's left of the Wild West at a cattle ranch in Texas
. For skiing fun in the winter and hiking adventures in the summer, visit Colorado
, a place so naturally beautiful it inspired the opening lyrics of the song "America the Beautiful."
Tips for a Family Vacation in the United States
When planning your kid-friendly United States vacation, remember that this country spans six time zones and encompasses varied landscapes that include snow-covered mountains, desolate deserts, and tropical beaches. Try to pick activities and places suitable to your family's interests, and plan your outdoor adventures with the local weather in mind. Unless you want to spend your entire vacation on the road getting from one distant place to another, focus on a few destinations and leave plenty of time for short day trips. Add a few big cities to your tour of the United States if you want quick access to major airports and popular attractions, but don't forget that smaller towns provide a chance to discover the local culture at a less-hurried pace more suited for families with kids.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in the United States
Cuisine of the United States
Few places in the world offer so many different dining options as the United States, prompting many people to visit the country for the sole purpose of experiencing its unique food culture. Though you can choose from thousands of fast food, take-out, and ethnic restaurants, remember that small diners offer you a chance to enrich your United States trip with a more casual atmosphere and inexpensive yet hearty dishes. Food trucks are a growing phenomenon, perhaps most famously in Los Angeles
, where you can try everything from simple sandwiches to gourmet dishes prepared by renowned chefs. Chicago's
deep-dish pizza remains a crowd-favorite, while New York City
offers outstanding cheesecakes and corned-beef sandwiches. In the South, be sure to sample regional dishes like grits, deep-fried catfish, and gumbo, and when in the Pacific Northwest and New England, the local seafood is superb.
Shopping in the United States
The Unites States remains one of the world's top shopping destinations, boasting a lengthy list of well-known self-service supermarkets, chain stores, factory outlets, warehouse club stores, and modern shopping centers. Visit any of the country's big cities to choose from hundreds of department stores, offering everything from inexpensive clothing and accessories to designer furniture, state-of-the-art electronics, and branded jewelry. For the ultimate buying experience at the largest indoor shopping complex in the country, add Mall of America
to you United States itinerary. If giant shopping centers aren't your thing, try bargaining for used goods at garage sales and flea markets, usually held on weekends all across the country.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to the United States
History of the United States
The first inhabitants of North America arrived from Siberia nearly 15,000 years ago. Some of those early cultures developed advanced agricultural and architectural skills, but the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century resulted in the decline of the native populations. To learn more about the continent's early history, include places like La Brea Tar Pits & Museum
and The Field Museum
in your United States itinerary.
European settlers continued to conquer North America over the next two centuries. The continent's first elected legislative body came into existence in 1619 in Virginia. This assembly established important precedents for the democratic processes that would develop throughout the 13 British colonies, eventually forming the basis for the United States of America. Discover the life of early settlers at one of the country's living museums, like Plimoth Plantation
American colonists declared their independence on July 4, 1776, when the 13 original colonies openly broke their allegiance to the British crown. The resulting American Revolutionary War became the first successful colonial war of independence fought against a European power. Britain recognized the newly formed country's independence in the peace treaty of 1783. A few years later, American states ratified a new constitution and reorganized their federal government into three branches. George Washington, the hero of the Revolutionary War, became the country's first president. You can enhance your United States tour by exploring historical sites in Philadelphia
, the birthplace of the American democracy. Consider visiting attractions like Independence Hall
and Valley Forge National Historical Park
for more insight into the nation's origins.
Americans expanded westward during the next few decades, which caused a series of wars against Native American tribes. Monuments like Crazy Horse Memorial
pay tribute to the bravery--and suffering--of the Native Americans. Civil war broke out in 1861, when southern slave states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. By 1865, the Confederacy was defeated, slavery abolished, and federal power significantly increased.
Over the next few decades the country quickly industrialized, helped greatly by the massive influx of immigrants from around the world. In the 20th century, America took part in both world wars, emerging as a major economical, political, and cultural power. Despite the challenges of the 21st century, the country remains a "melting pot" of cultures and continues to play a major role in global affairs. Create an unforgettable United States holiday by visiting the nation's big cities and stunning natural wonders, like Yellowstone National Park
and Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Customs of the United States
Most visitors to the United States find the country's social customs relaxed and the locals friendly and tolerant. Make a good impression during your United States tour by greeting people you meet for the first time with direct eye contact, a firm handshake, and a warm smile. Show respect by leaving about an arm's length of personal space between yourself and others, but don't be surprised or offended by the American readiness to chat with strangers at parties and other social gatherings. Dress appropriately for the occasion, and prevent uncomfortable social situations by avoiding conversations about sensitive subjects like religion or politics.
Holidays & Festivals in the United States
Try to plan your United States vacation with local events in mind, but remember that national public holidays generally mean closed banks, post offices, and museums. The country's biggest holidays include New Year's Day, Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day (the first Monday in September), Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November), and Christmas (December 25). Many small towns host summer fairs, offering rides, games, and local foods.
United States Travel Tips
Climate of the United States
The United States includes a number of geographic regions, each with its own distinct climate. The northern and central sections offer mostly temperate weather, while the deep southern regions and the areas along the Gulf Coast feature a subtropical climate. Much of California offers Mediterranean weather, while arid deserts affect large sections of the Southwest. When planning your United States holiday, keep in mind that the majority of the country enjoys high temperatures between June and August. This is also one of the busiest travel seasons, with big crowds and higher prices in most tourist resorts. If you prefer a quieter vacation, plan for autumn, when much of the country enjoys milder weather and spectacular seasonal colors. If visiting in winter, keep your eye on the local weather reports, as winter storms in several regions can create dangerous driving conditions and disruption in air travel.
Transportation in the United States
Due to its size, the easiest way to tour the United States is by car. The country seems tailor-made for road trips, its vast network of highways including a staggering 6.4 million km (4 million mi) of public roads. No wonder, then, that America remains one of the world's largest automobile markets, with the average citizen spending just under one hour driving every single day. If statistics can't convince you to get behind the wheel, consider traveling between America's big cities by plane. Air travel is the easiest way to hop across the country, allowing you to journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast in mere hours. If you're not in a rush and have less ground to cover, intercity buses provide a slower but more affordable option, and railway lines take you through some lovely landscapes--though not at the speeds one might expect in Europe or elsewhere.
Language of the United States
While the United States has no official language, English is the most commonly spoken language of the United States. Many communities also speak Spanish, French, and various Native American tongues. Don't be surprised to hear a number of distinctive accents and dialects on your United States trip, as different regions continue to speak English with noticeable differences in pronunciation. Expect to see road signs in English only, though a growing number of tourist attractions include information displays in other languages as well.
Tipping in the United States
Make your United States holiday a pleasant experience by remembering that most Americans view tipping as more than just an optional sign of appreciation. In much of the service industry wages are relatively low, with the expectation that gratuity will supplement a worker's income. Therefore, tip 10 to 20 percent at restaurants, and 10 to 15 percent at bars. Always tip taxi drivers, valet parking attendants, and hotel staff, unless you feel the services provided were outrageously bad.