– This post was written by Liam McGarry –
Writing your USA Bucket list? Nowhere on Earth has a diversity of cultural experiences like the United States. From renowned natural wonders to historic landmarks and pop-culture pilgrimage sites, completing the all-American bucket list is an opportunity to delve into the soul of a nation.
It might be called the Land of the Free, but ticking these incredible American experiences off your list won’t come cheap. You’ll have to play the long game if you’re planning to complete your USA bucket list, but that’s part of the fun!
First discover 2020’s fan favorites you ought not to miss on your epic journey around the United States, then read up on some unmissable bucket list experiences.
Fan favourites to add to your USA bucket list
Each year we look to our online reviews to uncover the world’s favourite experiences as part of the Remarkable Venue Awards. This year we combed through 750,000 customer reviews to find the best museums and attractions around the world. Here are the winners and nominees: the top-rated museums and attractions in America which make the perfect addition to your US bucket list!
Most Remarkable Venues in the USA
1. While away the hours at the Museum of Modern Art
“Very enjoyable, we got in quick and spent a good two hours exploring. Lovely exhibits and so much to look at. Was a fun experience!” – Christian, United States.
The Museum of Modern Art has long been one of the world’s premier art institutions and a must for New York culture hunters, but after a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2019, the experience is even more impressive.
With 40,000 square feet of new gallery space, even more of MOMA’s enormous collection of modern art is on show, and the way the museum is enjoyed has been carefully considered.
MOMA houses some of the world’s most famous paintings, including Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory, Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, and Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans.
2. See what lies beneath at New England Aquarium
“The entire Aquarium is mesmerizing. One of the best I’ve been to. Definitely recommend making a trip here if you’re in or around Boston.” – Sarah, United States.
One of Boston’s most visited tourist attractions, New England Aquarium is a top Aquarium in the US, and a must for the bucket list if you’re travelling New England and fascinated by the ocean.
Right on the waterfront, the aquarium is home to over 8,000 marine marvels, and boasts a huge, 200,000-gallon central tank teeming with underwater life. There are sharks, seals, penguins, jellyfish, and even a turtle named Myrtle.
With a dedicated focus on blue-planet preservation, New England Aquarium bills itself as a “major public education resource for the region.”
3. Touch the sky at 360 Chicago Observation Deck
“Amazing, grandiose, spectacular, unforgettable!” – Angel, United States.
It might sound odd that a 100-story building can be one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets, but we’ve got a feeling 360 Chicago Observation Deck is going to be high on USA bucket lists in years to come.
Visitors can ride one of the fastest elevators in the country up to the spacy observation deck. With other high-rise attractions that’s pretty much as good as it gets, but at 360 Chicago you’re in for an interactive experience. Immerse yourself in the city’s rich history as you gaze down upon the city, out to Lake Michigan, and far beyond.
For thrill seekers, there’s the opportunity to hang over the edge of the skyscraper and peer down on Michigan Avenue at a 30° angle by riding TILT, Chicago’s highest moving experience.
4. Pore over masterpieces at Art Institute Chicago
“Remarkable! It was my first time ever going and I absolutely loved it. I will definitely be back!” – Maryann, United States.
One of the largest art museums in the USA, the Art Institute of Chicago is bulging with masterpieces. Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne – the list of masters featured in this Windy City culture hub goes on and on (and on).
If you’re impressed by the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist eras, there aren’t many better museums to get your fix of Paris’ world-changing art movement.
And for something really appropriate to go with your USA bucket list, the museum is home to American Gothic, Grant Wood’s iconic, satirical depiction of rural America, which has been replicated and rehashed endlessly over the years in pop culture. Not bad, considering it only won 3rd prize in the Art Institute competition for which it was entered.
Best Attractions in the USA
5. Navigate an Ocean at Aquarium of the Pacific
“I loved seeing all the different sea creatures and learning more about their habitat. My personal highlight was that you were allowed to touch some of the rays and sharks!” – Rabea, Switzerland.
Almost 2 million people explore Los Angeles’ Aquarium of the Pacific every year. And that’s not just down to its abundance of sea creatures.
They’re all there – 12,000 animals whose natural habitats can be found all around the Pacific Ocean, both in its back garden and further asea.
But in 2019 the aquarium showed just why it’s considered one of the most innovative and forward-thinking attractions in America. The Pacific Visions wing is a 290,000-square-foot addition to its already vast site, and this sustainably built structure encourages visitors to tackle environmental issues affecting our planet.
6. Enjoy thrills and spills at Island H2O Live
“Very fun and family oriented! Would definitely recommend this place, and we’re definitely coming back.” – Tara, United States.
Where ordinarily water is the enemy of cameras and photos, Island H2O Live in Kissimmee allows adventurers to have all the fun of a water park, with added selfie laughs that won’t waterlog your motherboard!
Do it for the ‘Gram… literally! Stream yourself hurtling down slides and rides. You know what they say: “Photos, or it didn’t happen”, and your techy wristband will ensure all your hilarious pics are etched in digital history forever. With rides like Follow Me Falls, Hashtag Heights, and Reply Racers, this is very much a 21st-century addition to your American bucket list.
7. Go wild at Zoo Miami
“Amazing! A great time and the day was beautiful. Got to see Ron Magil 😁😎” – Tony, United States.
Consistently voted one of the best zoos in America, Zoo Miami is a must if you’re looking for a day’s wild entertainment in Florida.
Grab your safari get-up (optional), put on your best Steve Irwin voice (also optional), and explore the 750-acre animal park’s simulated ecosystems at your leisure. Noah himself would be impressed by the diversity of animal life on offer, from inquisitive meerkats, to prowling Sumatran tigers and powerful one-horned Indian rhinos.
Zoo Miami also boasts a thriving botanical collection, with more than 1,200 trees providing shade and decoration.
8. Discover our blue planet at The Florida Aquarium
“It was an amazing experience. Every member of my family enjoyed their time there. I would suggest the aquarium to anyone!” – Bradley, Bahamas.
The Florida Aquarium is officially one of the best aquariums in the world. The Tampa water world takes you on a journey that begins with just a drop from the region’s freshwater springs, through the Florida Keys, and out into the vastness of the world’s oceans.
There are over 9,000 animals: Jellyfish, turtles, sea dragons, sharks, starfish and so many more. It’s not just the residents which make Florida Aquarium a must for your US bucket list travel plans. It works on a number of conservation initiatives overseas and in it’s own back pond with a mission to protect our blue planet for generations to come.
Best Museums in the USA
9. Relive military history at USS Midway Museum
“Great. Loved the volunteer that explained everything so clearly and with so much passion. So grateful for them, and to hear their experiences.” – Miguel-Angel, United States.
If military history is your thing, there aren’t many USA museums that provide as authentic an experience as the USS Midway Museum.
Board the longest-serving US aircraft carrier and sit in the cockpit of restored aircraft. You can explore the entire ship, from the sleeping quarters to flight control, tuning in to a fascinating audio guide narrated by soldiers and naval officers who actually served on board before the ship was retired in 1992. There’s even a white-knuckle flight simulator if you want a life-like experience of the “floating city”.
What makes the USS Midway Museum really special is its staff, who are all hands on deck to make sure you get the most out of your Midway experience.
10. Go back in time at Houston Museum of Natural Science
“It is a wonderful Museum. All the staff were friendly and helpful, the dinosaur exhibit is awesome and the gem display was very well presented. I like the way you walk around going through all the periods of Earth until you show up at humans hunting mastodons!” – Ralph, United States.
Natural history museums are the coolest, aren’t they? Huge old spaces exhibiting the remnants of life on Earth through the ages. Houston’s Museum of Natural Science might not get the recognition of its peers in London and New York, but it’s one of the hidden gems in the US.
There are sparkling rare gems and pre-Columbian gold. The museum keeps Egyptian sarcophagi and dinosaur skeletons. You can travel back to the Cretaceous Period and see the dinosaurs flesh ’n’ all on Geovator, an immersive ride that takes you beneath Houston and back in time. Watch out for meteors!
11. Bring science to life at California Academy of Sciences
“Such a fun experience. Our 3-year-old has a blast. There’s so much to see and do. We spent a solid 4 hours touring the museum and still didn’t cover everything.” – Andrea, United States.
The only place in the world with a rainforest, a planetarium, and an aquarium all under one roof, the California Academy of Sciences is a living, breathing experience, and a must for your USA bucket list if you’re in San Francisco.
There are endless attractions. Highlights include the deepest coral exhibition on Earth, the fish-filled Philippine Coral Reef, plus a four-storey rainforest. The Shake House allows you to experience the tremble of San Francisco’s famous Earthquakes, without the sense of impending doom. There are also 40,000 incredible creatures to gawp at including Claude the dreamy albino alligator and anacondas who would crush your bones in a beat of their icy hearts.
12. Dig for knowledge at The Field Museum of Natural History
“Fantastic! Courteous, friendly staff. Awesome exhibits!” – Kim, United States.
Over on the east coast, there’s an equally treasure-laden house of history in Chicago: The Field Museum of Natural History. If you’re in the Windy City this is a fine addition to your list of USA museums.
Stand toe to claw with the biggest T. Rex ever discovered, and marvel at a Titanosaur, the largest species of dinosaur ever excavated. If you preferred dinosaurs before science decided they were feathered and birdlike, there’s lots more to be discovered.
There’s an Egyptian exhibit, a hall devoted to Chinese history that’s full of ancient artifacts, and areas delving into the history of indigenous peoples from all over the globe. See dazzling gemstones, Incan gold, and even colonies of creepy crawlies!
Best Landmarks in the USA
13. Go for a spin on the LINQ High Roller
“Breathtaking views. I recommend going right before sunset. It was so beautiful!” – Monica, United States.
Fairgrounds are an American tradition, and what’s a fairground without a Ferris wheel? Everything’s bigger and better in Las Vegas, so it’s no surprise that the biggest Ferris wheel on Earth is in Sin City..
The LINQ High Roller rotates to a peak of 167-meters, from where you can take in the Las Vegas Strip and its dazzling parade of casino-hotels, as well as gazing out to the mountains of plains of Nevada over yonder. Las Vegas from the sky at sunset? Now that’s one for your American bucket list.
14. Look way, way down from One World Observatory
“Amazing views! Great multimedia experience. As a wheelchair user I was impressed by the attentiveness and efficiency of the staff in helping to navigate me and my family through the various levels of the experience.” – Alexander, United States.
Measuring at a whopping 541-meters tall, the One World Trade Center is the tallest skyscraper in New York City. Short of going on a helicopter ride, the 100-floor-high One World Observatory is the highest lookout point in the city!
It’s not just the incredible 360° views, although gazing out upon the bustling Big Apple from a three-floor observatory is an obvious highlight. Visitors are treated to a time-lapse history of the city in the elevator on the way up. Get a projected birds-eye view of the ground below by taking the Sky Walk, and try some new-age technology with an augmented reality experience.
15. Climb the world-famous Empire State Building
“It was amazing, I enjoyed it so much. The staff were the best!” – Calvia, United States.
She might not be the tallest anymore, but the Empire State Building is still one of the most recognized landmarks in the world. This Art Deco needle, which has taken pride of place at the heart of NYC since 1931, is on the USA bucket list of travellers around the world.
From the moment the uniformed ushers show you in, the building has that classic feel. From two observation decks you can look down at Manhattan and far beyond – on a clear day you can see out to six states! Plus, on the way up to the top of this legendary USA bucket-list location there’s special exhibits detailing the building’s past.
16. Get up close and liberated at The Statue of Liberty
“Everything was more than perfect! Safety, fun, wonderful memories, those are the three things that describe my experience.” – Sofia, United States.
You can’t miss New York off your US bucket list, and it wouldn’t be much of a list if it didn’t include at least a good long stare at America’s flame carrying, shackle-breaking, badass Great Lady.
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s copper whopper has been enlightening the world from Liberty Island since 1886, and has been a highlight of USA bucket-list travel for many decades.
There are plenty of ways to experience this American icon. Cruise out and see the Mother of Exiles from the water, take a guided tour of Liberty and Ellis Islands with access to the heady crown platform, or beat the crowds with an early access ticket. Whichever option you choose, you’ll come away a little more cultured!
Best Onsite Experience in the USA
17. Board the Titanic Museum Attraction
“Amazing. Oftentimes museum exhibits can be hokey but this one was brilliantly done. The Boarding Pass you are given, with an actual passenger’s name, was very interesting.” – Anonymous
What? Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, isn’t on your US bucket list? Maybe you’ll think again after reading about the Titanic Museum Attraction.
The story of the ill-fated cruise liner still fascinates, over a hundred years on from its tragic sinking. The Titanic Museum Attraction transports visitors back to 1912 to feel just a fraction of the luxury, and the terror, experienced by those on board.
Descend a spiral staircase like Kate and Leo did in the movie. Feel the cold of an iceberg and shift coal like the unsung boiler room shovelers did all those years ago. With over 400 authentic Titanic Artifacts, this is one of the most impressive history trips dedicated to the famous ship.
18. Explore Hawaiian ocean culture at Maui Ocean Center
“Very interesting and informative. We got to do the visit and then took a snorkel tour, so we already knew the fish and their behavior! It was awesome.” – Josyane, Canada.
There’s an intrinsic connection between Hawaii and the sea. At the ever-popular Maui Ocean Center you’ll discover how local people and animals have lived side-by-side for millennia.
Sure, there are the usual cast of incredible marine creatures: sharks, turtles, crabs, and loads more. But it’s much more than just your average nose-to-glass aquarium.
Don some 3D glasses and swim with magnificent humpback whales in a state-of-the-art exhibit. Take advantage of around 20 daily presentations, and marvel at the 750,000-gallon Open Ocean exhibit.
19. Admire natural oddities at the Las Vegas Museum of Natural History
“Wonderful! Friendly staff, beautiful exhibits, and clean environment. Dr Steve Rowan was very accommodating…it was so exciting to meet a Paleontologist and discuss local finds!” – Anonymous.
There’s no gamble involved in visiting the Las Vegas Museum of Natural History. You’re guaranteed a fun and educational time.
Trace the history of the natural world from the dawn of time. There are fossils and animatronic dinosaurs, including an Ichthyosaur who swam in Nevada’s waters during prehistoric times. See glow-in-the-dark gemstones, scan a replica Egyptian mummy, and admire a whole load of living exhibits at the Smithsonian affiliated museum.
20. Find a world of Godly intrigue at the Museum of the Bible
“This was one of the best museums that I have ever visited. I am returning for a second day. Amazing!” – Nathan, United States.
Experience an interactive tribute to the best-selling book of all time. Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi’s acclaimed debut novel A Shore Thing has got its own museum! No. No, wait. It’s the bible. Get ready to experience the Bible in Washington D.C.
The Museum of the Bible has seven floors to explore, detailing all facets of the Good Book, from the effect it’s had on the world to the origins of its famous stories.
There are state-of-the-art exhibits and virtual reality journeys which put you at the heart of the biblical action. There’s even a flying cinema experience to show you the religious sites around the Capitol!
Award-winning venues to add to your bucket list
In addition to rounding up the best-rated museums and attractions, we also went on the hunt for the best hidden gems and the most innovative venues of 2020. Judged by a panel of tourism experts, here are the winners of Best Hidden Gem in the USA and Most Innovative Venue in the USA.
Best Hidden Gem in the USA
“ARTECHOUSE connects progressive ideas, artists and audiences to stimulate innovation and creativity. We believe in the power of art, science and technology to change the world for the better and are on a mission to empower the creation of new, experiential and exploratory art forms that make an impact.”
What started out as the nation’s first digital art space, is now a home, online and offline, for technology-driven art innovation. ARTECHOUSE is a futuristic museum of spectacular technological art where art and science collide! The museum presents an amazing opportunity to immerse your senses in mesmerizing exhibitions.
Most Innovative Venue in the USA:
22. The Mob Museum
“The Mob Museum worked tirelessly to create a museum environment that carefully considers personal well-being within the new realities of public engagement.”
Get a different view of American history at the Mob Museum through an interactive journey, and tales about the birth of the mob and its battles with the law via exciting, multi-sensory exhibits! During the pandemic, the Mob Museum worked especially hard to make its premises safe and welcoming for visitors. They did this through wellness screenings for guests, staff and vendors upon entry; limiting capacity to a third of their usual capacity; requiring visitors to wear face masks; modifying their exhibits to better manage their guest flow, and a limited-time offer of a free souvenir face mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer for every museum visitor!
More Unmissable Experiences For Your USA Bucket List
23. Hike to the Hollywood Sign
Is there a more well-known sign anywhere in the world? The giant letters hammered into the side of Mount Lee in Los Angeles have long symbolized the grandeur and razzmatazz of Hollywood. Have you really been to the USA if you haven’t taken a selfie with the Hollywood Sign in the background?
There are plenty of ways to see the sign. Hell, you can see it from Hollywood Boulevard. But to get a true sense of the sign’s history and mooch about the local area, a guided tour of the surrounding Griffith Park is a great option.
24. Name the presidents at Mount Rushmore
Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt… dang it, who’s the other one?
Carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills, the faces of four of America’s most revered presidents are lit up by the South Dakota sunrise every day.
In 1927, armed with jackhammers and a whole load of dynamite, Gutzon Borglum and an army of helpers set about creating a mountain monument that would go on to become an icon, attracting over 2 million visitors every year.
Celebrating men who symbolize the birth, growth, development and preservation of the nation’s first 150 years, Mount Rushmore is entirely unique. Giant rock-face effigies aren’t bestowed upon everyone who takes the hot seat in Washingt… George Washington. Eureka!
25. Trace African American history in Washington D.C.
When President Barack Obama opened the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. back in 2016, he remarked that the story the museum tells is “…one of suffering and delight; one of fear but also of hope; of wandering in the wilderness and then seeing out on the horizon a glimmer of the Promised Land.”
It’s the largest of the Black History Museums in the US, with exhibits detailing all aspects of the Black experience across 500 years. From the advent of slavery to the civil rights years, and from the pioneers of sport and music to the Black Lives Matter Movement, the NMAAHC is a living encyclopedia of African American history. It’s an absolute must for your USA bucket list.
26. Discover America’s immigration history on Ellis Island
It’s thought that around 40% of Americans had an ancestor who sailed past the Statue of Liberty and arrived for processing at New York’s Ellis Island. This 27-acre inlet is an important landmark. Somebody brought the idea of pizza on those ships, after all!
You can’t understand the social and cultural history of the US without understanding where its people came from. The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration tells the story of dreamers across a 500-year timeline, through photographs, exhibits, and authentic artifacts.
27. Marvel at the Grand Canyon
It’s not called the Totally Missable Canyon or the Distinctly Average Canyon. It’s called the Grand Canyon, and it’s for a reason. There’s arguably nothing more worthy of a place on your USA bucket list than this, the most impressive hole on Earth.
Grand Canyon National Park, which celebrated its centenary year in 2019, hosts millions of people every year, all looking to feast their peepers on the 277-mile long valley of other-worldy red cliffs carved out by the Colorado River.
It’s not just about the most popular viewpoint from Mather Point on the South Rim. The Grand Canyon National Park covers over a million acres of Arizona. There’s a wealth of guided tours, cycling paths, hiking trails, kayaking excursions, camping areas, star-gazing trips, and so much more.
28. Feel the spray of Niagara Falls
If you’ve got a Canada bucket list, you can kill two birds with one stone at Niagara Falls. Straddling the border, the famous falls are undoubtedly one of the United States’ most impressive natural wonders.
As much as 3,000 tonnes of water cascade over the falls every second, which makes for quite the spectacle whichever way you choose to experience this remarkable site.
You can don a poncho and ride the famous Maid of the Mist boat into the spray. Or maybe choose to take a Journey Behind The Falls and stand just meters from the plunging water. You can also take a wild ride over the Niagara River on the Whirlpool Aerocar. There are hiking trails, lookout points, guided tours and loads more ways to experience this iconic bucket-list location.
29. Go starry-eyed at the NASA Space Centre Houston
If you’re the kind of person who writes a bucket list, then chances are you’ll find the idea of exploring outer space pretty neat. And there isn’t a visitor attraction this side of Andromeda with as much galactic intrigue as Houston’s Nasa Space Center.
Visitors can see original shuttles and space suits, and take a tram ride around the Johnson Space Center, where astronauts do their training and Mission Control keeps an eye on things from the comfort of oxygenated Planet Earth. You can even step inside a replica shuttle!
30. Explore Yosemite National Park
Describing the experience of camping in Yosemite National Park, former US president Teddy Roosevelt once said: “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man. A grove of giant redwood or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.”
Assuming Teddy didn’t eat the wrong mushrooms, that description alone should earn Yosemite a place on your USA bucket list? Yosemite National Park is vast, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy its rugged splendor.
Go solo and hike its many trails, seek out epic formations like El Capitan, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Pothole Dome, or take guided tours to really get a feel for this immense corner of the great outdoors.
31. Soak up the jazzy atmosphere in New Orleans
If you’ve been to New Orleans, then you’ve probably already strolled through the French Quarter, following your ears from one jazz club to the next. If not, there’s no way you can miss this off the bucket list.
New Orleans is the true birthplace of jazz, and nowadays it attracts bebop fans and renowned artists from around the world.
32. Devour a Philly cheesesteak
Okay there are no rules as to how you have to eat the Philadelphia Cheesesteak. You can politely consume this Philly legend with a knife and fork if you prefer. But we would advise just getting stuck-in to the juicy, steak-slathered bun. There’ll be napkins to sweep up any loose onions or dripping cheese.
33. Visit the Stonewall Inn in New York
Walking down Christopher Street, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Stonewall Inn was just another bar. But the Lower Manhattan tavern is the historic birthplace of the gay liberation movement in the United States.
The Stonewall Riots of 1969 were a spontaneous, four-day uprising of Greenwich Village’s LGBT community, prompted by constant police raids and bullying (serving alcohol to gay men and women was illegal). This resistance at Stonewall Inn is widely considered to have paved the way for gay rights in the United States.
Swing by for a swig of the Stonewall Inn IPA, or stay for one of their special events, and feel the prestige of a landmark that was dedicated part of the Stonewall National Monument in 2016.
34. Walk the Freedom Trail in Boston
Few places tell the story of the United States’ beginnings better than Boston. It’s been dubbed the ‘birthplace of the American Revolution’, as many of the Revolutionary War’s historic events occurred there. In 1951 the Freedom Trail was created to link 16 of the city’s most historic sites, and the 2.5-mile walkway has become one of the USA’s top historical attractions.
Wander on your own or book a guided Freedom Trail tour to visit Bunker Hill, the location of one the war’s most famous battles; Boston Common, training ground for the British Red Coats; Paul Revere House, the authentic former residence of the famous American Patriots, and more fascinating sites.
35. Scale Seattle’s Space Needle
Seattle is famous for coffee, grunge, and an enormous tower with a spaceship-shaped observation deck on top. You can drink coffee and rock out to Nirvana any time, but a visit to the Seattle Space Needle is definitely one for your US bucket list travel plans.
A whopping 600ft above ground, gazing out from the top of this cloud-piercing Washington wonder allows you to take in awesome 360° views. Scan the horizon for Mount Rainier, the islands of Puget Sound, and the Cascades and Olympic mountain ranges.
36. Batter up and catch a ball game
Soaking up America’s pastime is the most traditional way to experience American sports.
Whether it’s New York’s Yankees, Boston’s Red Sox, or LA’s Dodgers, grab your enormous foam finger, leave room in your belly for hotdogs, and settle in for the game. The baseball season runs from April through October, and tickets for regular-season match-ups are usually pretty easy to come by.
37. Gawp at the trees in Redwood National Park
If you’re reading this thinking “how can trees be exciting?” then you obviously haven’t seen these trees, and evidently you never watched Lord of the Rings.
This giant organic arboretum is home to wise-old trees, some of which are on their way to being 2,000 years old. The most famous of them is literally called Big Tree, and measures over 300-feet tall.
One of the best areas to explore is Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a 2km loop with tranquil pathways and hollowed-out stumps in still-living trees. But it’s not just the trees. Redwood National Park hugs the coast of California and there are beach walks and whale watching opportunities that’ll make bucket-list adventure all the more rewarding.