When planning a first visit to the United States, a conventional itinerary is tempting. Look over these alternatives for a more unique experience.
Many first time visitors to the United States confine themselves to the most highly visited destinations: New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C. While we love the idea that you’re planning a first visit to USA, we’d like to plant a seed of inspiration as you make your plans.
Why not consider lesser-visited alternatives in the United States? The pros to this approach are many: you’ll get to experience a more authentic slice of life off the beaten path in America, you may be able to stretch your budget, avoid the stress of crowded locations, and have a more relaxing time overall.
Tip: Non-U.S. citizens require an ESTA, which stands for Electronic System Travel Authorization. This electronic authorization is purchased prior to your departure, and transport companies will check your passport on the database to make sure you have it.
1. An Epic Road Trip is Perfect for a First Visit to USA
It’s not a big exaggeration to say the United States is the birthplace of the epic road trip. The most comprehensive interstate network in the world will take you quickly to regions you might not have considered, and scenic byways abound.
A road trip is the most up close and personal way to create an in-depth experience for your introduction to the United States. It just might whet your appetite for a return visit to places you encounter along the way.
Consider one of these favorite road trips in the Continental U.S.:
- Route 66 west from Chicago to Los Angeles (plan on a couple of weeks to do this itinerary justice)
- Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco (spend 3-4 days long this route)
- the Great River Road from Minnesota south to New Orleans (budget 5 to 6 days of travel with overnights in Dubuque, St. Louis, and Memphis).
2. Alaska Cruise Has the Wow Factor for First Time Visitors to the United States
A little less DIY, but no less epic, an Alaskan cruise will have the wow factor nature enthusiasts seek, with the convenience of onboard amenities and entertainment. Couple these aspects with not having to unpack and transfer for the duration of your holiday, and you’ve got a winner.
Alaska boasts some of the most spectacular scenery the United States has to offer. Consider a cruise itinerary that not only covers the Inside Passage, but also takes you up to the Kenai Peninsula near Anchorage.
From port in Seward, you could hop a scenic train up to Anchorage and Denali (Mount McKinley), the highest point in North America at more than 20,000 feet.
Memorable stops along the Inside Passage include Juneau – the only state capital inaccessible by road, and Ketchikan, with its world largest collection of indigenous totems.
Everyone we know who has taken an Alaska cruise would do it again. These are a great value and will reward you with lifetime memories.
3. Visit Boston for Revolutionary Context
As the “Cradle of American Liberty,” Boston is a fantastic choice for history lovers. Learn and experience the factors that led to the American Revolution by walking the 2.5 mile Freedom Trail, which takes you past landmarks and popular meeting house, Faneuil Hall, which has been transformed into a bustling marketplace.
Founded in 1630, Beantown, as it is known for the tasty molasses-baked dish, was the future United States’ largest city until the mid-18th century. Today it is a lively port, educational and technical hub of New England.
Don’t miss Boston Common – the oldest public park in the country, and the Boston Public Garden, right next to the Common. During baseball season, you’ll want to take in a game at Fenway Park.
On the waterfront, the stately U.S.S. Constitution – “Old Ironsides” – is the oldest commissioned active warship in the world with an adjacent museum full of artifacts. Pair your visit with a stop at one of the waterfront seafood restaurants for some “lobstah” rolls and you’ll be set.
4. Get Your Cowboy on in Denver
Don your cowboy boots and kick up a storm in the Mile High City, gateway to the Old West. Originally founded in the mid-19th century at the height of the Pikes Peak gold rush, today’s Denver is a welcoming metropolitan destination located just east of the Rocky Mountain range.
You’ll want to hang out in Larimer Square, the original site of the pioneer gold rush camp, now transformed with stylish eateries, nightlife and shopping. Nearby, the 16th Street Mall is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare with window-shopping and people watching from the street or the hop-on, hop-off free shuttle.
Denver wouldn’t be Denver without Coors, so you’ll want to visit the Brewery and perhaps Coors Field along with 49,999 other baseball fans. Or, take in a Broncos game at Mile High Stadium with more than 75,000 NFL aficionados.
Denver’s Union Station is an impressive transformation housing trendy eateries and watering holes. Don’t miss the historic Crawford Hotel here, or in the alternative, try a stay at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa, dating from 1892.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the Denver Botanic Gardens, with over 50 gardens on more than 20 acres. History buffs shouldn’t miss the Victorian-era Molly Brown House – you’ll remember her as the “Unsinkable” Kathy Bates character in the movie, “Titanic.”
5. Experience Southern Hospitality in Charleston
For those who yearn for cobblestone streets and antebellum atmosphere, Charleston, founded in 1670, delivers. Charleston’s history includes pivotal influence in the American slave trade, a major role in the Golden Age of Piracy, and the first shots fired in the 19th century Civil War.
Nowadays, both Conde Nast Traveler and Travel and Leisure have designated Charleston as one of America’s friendliest cities. Additionally, it was named “most hospitable” by Southern Living magazine, and “world’s best” by Travel and Leisure.
Visitors will want to stroll among the beautiful mansions in the Battery District overlooking the harbor near Waterfront Park. At the harbor’s mouth, Sullivan’s Island provides historical context for the slave trade and Civil War eras, as well as the brief residency of poet Edgar Allen Poe, who was stationed at historic Fort Moultrie on the island.
You may want to enjoy a day trip at the beach on Isle of Palms or Folly Beach, or schedule a round of golf on Kiawah Island. Don’t miss the enormous, almost-400 year old Angel Oak Tree on Johns Island.
Charleston is known for its outstanding food and craft beer scene. Make sure you schedule time for a specialty tour geared toward foodies and beer lovers, or visit one of the several local farmers markets such as the Pacific Box and Crate market, or the one on Johns Island.
We hope our ideas have inspired you to consider one or more of these alternative destinations in the United States for a first time visit. Each has a wealth of history and activities to reward your trip.