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30 best things to do in the U.S. before 30
Making the most of being a 20-something
Sleeping on a lumpy twin bunk bed in a European hostel, attending a Vegas foam party, and going barefoot at an outdoor music festival—when you’re a 20-something, these types of adventures usually get the green light. Once you hit the big 3-0, though, your travel game will probably change. Sure, you can be that one “experienced” partier wearing a glow stick necklace at Burning Man. But we would lovingly suggest you get that out of your system now. Other travel activities are appropriate at any age, but it’s still pretty cool to accomplish them at least once before your 401K plan ranks higher than your travel fund. In no particular order, here are 30 travel adventures around the U.S. we think you should have before you turn 30:
- Run a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon
Strap on a new pair of running shoes and collect some serious marathon bling at a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon! These events take place across the country, in cities like San Diego; Washington, D.C.; and Las Vegas. Run the one in Sin City before you turn 30—you can hit up the club afterward instead of retreating to an ice bath.
- Attend Coachella
In your 20s, a few days in the desert wearing flower crowns and short shorts and discovering new indie bands is fun. At a certain point, you may long for musical events with assigned seating and less free-flowing inhibition. Visit the festival before you turn 30, when you will no longer recognize the band list so it may as well be a Stefon sketch on SNL (“The newest Coachella lineup has everything: Haunted Tornado, Zombie Cummerbund, Time Traveling Squirrels, and Cyclops Lollipops.”).
- Climb Half Dome
Yosemite National Park is renowned for its hiking, and the piece de resistance is Half Dome. Reserved for fit and experienced hikers, climbing this monster with youth on your side is a wise decision. Even if you go on to accomplish the feat many times in years to come, it makes for a pretty special memory in your 20s!
- Eat Rocky Mountain Oysters at Testy Fest
While you’re riding the last gasp of your teenage invincibility, try eating something way out of your comfort zone. Rock Mountain Oysters, for one. If you need some moral support, the folks at Testy Fest in Clinton, MT are happy to supply it (along with a side of ranch).
- Race an Exotic Car at the Auto Club Speedway of California
If there was ever a time to speed around a track behind the wheel of a Ferrari or Lamborghini (aside from when you’ve just won the lottery), it would be before you find yourself parking a minivan in the garage. Do 24 laps at the Auto Club Speedway of California in Southern California, or test an exotic car in Vegas.
- Jump Off Havasupai Falls
Sometime between college graduation and your first mortgage payment is the perfect time to do a running backflip off these famous falls in Arizona. Jumping into the teal water at the bottom of the cliff isn’t practical, but it sure is cool.
- Camp in Denali National Park
Spanning 6 million acres of Alaskan wilderness, Denali National Park isn’t your average KOA campsite. The entire park only has one road, and you won’t find a single marked trail. Grab your buddies and visit while you don’t have to worry about grizzly bears eating your young.
- Take an Epic Tour of the Grand Canyon
Vegas isn’t going anywhere, but your chutzpah for adventurous tours of an open canyon may. Next time you’re in Sin City, see the Grand Canyon by sky, foot, and water. Helicopters, glass-bottom bridges, and boat rides down the Colorado River…Oh my!
- Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge
Nothing is more iconic in the San Francisco skyline than the Golden Gate Bridge. The City by the Bay is a magnet for young people, with tons of nightlife and shopping. Reserve an afternoon in the city for biking across the Golden Gate Bridge while you’re in San Fran, and you’ll be rewarded with views you’ll never forget.
- Get the VIP Treatment in Vegas
Try as you might to party until the sun comes up once you’re on the other side of 29, sometimes your body says: No thanks, I need sleep. Sign up for a VIP night club tour while the recovery time is reasonable.
- Write a Novel During NaNoWriMo
Writing an entire book before you hit 30? A lofty goal indeed, but one worth pursuing. Of course, your best work may come decades later—but get one draft done while there are fewer plates spinning. Need some inspiration? Attend the Night of Writing Dangerously write-a-thon and bang out a few chapters in one evening!
- Live in Austin, Texas
Austin is fun for a weekend, but it’s even more of a kick to stay a while…a few years, even. Not only is Austin highly rated as one of the best cities to find a job (making your post-college career hunt easier), but it has a higher-than-average number of citizens between ages 21-24. Spend your weekends at music festivals (SXSW, for instance) and at the Hamilton Pool Preserve.
- Surf the North Shore of Hawaii
The best surfers in the world took to the board when they were but wee grommets. Whether you’re one of these seasoned experts or you want to learn while you can still handle a few spills, Hawaii’s North Shore is the place to be. Take a quick surf lesson if you need it, or jump right onto an oncoming wave.
- Watch the Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain boasts more than just a namesake luxury car: It’s also the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise every morning. Between October and early March, you can camp in nearby Blackwoods Campground, stay up all night trading campfire stories with your mates, and then make your way to a primo sunrise viewing spot.
Viewfinder Tip: If you don’t want to camp out to see the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, spend the night in Bar Harbor (home to some of the best lobster dinners on the planet).
- Go to Comic-Con
It’s good to see your childhood comic book heroes while you’re still young enough to qualify as a fangirl or fanboy. Fanman just doesn’t have the same ring to it. After MARVELing at your favorite characters in person, party in downtown San Diego at the Hard Rock Hotel’s rooftop bar or get tapas at Sevilla.
- Party at Mardi Gras
Ain’t no Mardi Gras like a real N’Awlins Mardi Gras. You won’t want to earn beads forever (or drink a yard-long cocktail, for that matter). Visit New Orleans to experience the annual celebration on Bourbon Street at least once before more modesty kicks in.
- Dine at The French Laundry
We hope you have plenty of good food in your future, but you should get at least one fine dining experience under your belt while you’re still in your 20s. As practice, if nothing else. Get a perfectly plated meal at The French Laundry, a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Yountville, CA, and you might be motivated to get an MBA and keep eating like this forever.
- Rock Climb in Joshua Tree National Park
While you still get a thrill out of sending your mother texts that shock her, go rock climbing in Joshua Tree and abseil off a few boulders. It’s also good to do it while you’re young because, well, it’s strenuous and requires a fair amount of inhibition.
- Road Trip Down Route 66
Pack your bags and a cooler full of icy (non-alcoholic) beverages, and travel down the iconic Route 66 in the southwestern U.S. You have nothing going on but the rent and a summer off from college, and the famous freeway has its own song, for crying out loud. Visit hospitable towns along the way, like Tucumcari, NM, where karaoke and barbecue are just a few of the ways you can kill time during your pit stop.
- Visit a Quintessential Small Town
Small towns with lots of charm and wrap-around porches can be appreciated at any age. And places like Stockbridge and Newburyport, MA are chalk full of both. Visit while you’re young, and you will find an atmosphere perfect for contemplating your life plan and growing to appreciate the softer side of life. Look at you, adulting and stuff.
- Drive Up Highway 1
Route 66 isn’t the only famous road trip in town. Highway 1 in California makes for a great driving vacation with your best friends. Stop and spend gloriously lazy days at the beach along the way, and make sure Big Sur is one of your pit stops. Not only is there plenty of hiking here, but you can go scuba diving off the rugged coast at Jade Cove or Limekiln State Park.
- Eat at Hattie B’s
If you find yourself in Nashville, stop for a bite (or two, or 15) at Hattie B’s. They say the chicken is hot, and they’re not lying. While your body can still handle a plate of sizzling tenders without a punishing round of heart burn, eat up.
- Ride the Wicked Twister at Cedar Point
Get twisted in a decidedly wicked fashion at the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, OH. As of 2015, the Wicked Twister ride was the tallest and fastest inverted roller coaster on the planet. So get on that before 450-degree spirals sound like something only “kids these days” would be up to.
- Raft the Arkansas River
Paddling voraciously through ivory-capped waves as the mist of the Arkansas River splashes across your sunglasses: Sound like fun? This white-knuckle ride is not for the faint of heart or the weak of lumbar. Sign up for a half-day rafting adventure outside Denver at least once before the big 3-0, and learn why it’s America’s most popular river!
- Backpack the Pacific Crest Trail
The PCT isn’t your grandma’s nature trail. The entire path spans from the U.S.’s southern border all the way to the Canadian one. You don’t have to go full “Wild” and hike the thing solo, but conquering a portion of it is a pretty cool story to have going into your 30s.
- Experience Nightlife in South Beach
SoBe or not SoBe. If you’re in Miami, the answer is clear. Party in South Beach while you still have those chiseled abs to show off and don’t care who knows it.
- Attend a Game at Fenway Park
When the Sox are in town, Fenway gets wicked excited. Join the Red Sox Nation for a night, drink a few Natty Lights from a paper bag, and party with the locals after the team brings home a “W” in the Green Monster. You’re only young and willing to put on a fake Boston accent for a few hours once—don’t blow it.
- Sing Live at Arlene’s Grocery
You can sing karaoke at your neighborhood watering hole any time, but it’s not every weekend you can do it with a live rock band as back-up. If you’re on the Lower East Side in NYC, get up on stage and release your inner David Bowie. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from coming back for more, but the earlier in life you can get initiated into the proud club of Arlene’s Grocery singers—the better.
- Visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
You have plenty of years ahead of you to fill out your regular passport. We say you spend three days of your youth getting your Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport stamped. As the sage John Mayer once sang: “Whiskey, whiskey, whiskey/Wake up, shake it off/And repeat.” It’s easier to live the lyrics to fruition with a strong metabolism and stomach of steel, so make your way to Louisville soon.
- Trek Matanuska Glacier
While a 10,000-year-old glacier will take your breath away at age 25 or 75, an all-day trek across one might not always seem within reach. You’re young, you have a zest for adventure, and the thought of seeing how far a glacial crevice extends doesn’t freak you out. Click into some crampons and have fun!
What’s on your travel bucket list?
Header photo via Pete Markham
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