This year, you’re going big or you’re going home…and you aren’t going home. America’s most popular travel destinations have so many amazing eateries and awesome local tourist attractions that planning your trip can be overwhelming. When there’s so much you could do in a city, it’s hard to sift out the most authentic experiences unless you have your own destination expert on call. Well, consider us your travel buddy with all the hookups, because we’ve made a list of local recommendations for the country’s most searched for cities.
That’s right—you and fellow jetsetters have been cruising cyberspace, asking about things to do all over the U.S., and we’ve got answers. We tapped into online search data and local insights to bring you the travel recommendations you’re actually looking for. So, once you’ve crossed the essential sightseeing stops off your list, cut through the lines and selfie sticks and check out these local favorites in America’s 12 most iconic places ranked by recent search data.
The biggest, boldest city in Texas kicks off our tour of the most asked about places in the United States. In a city known for 10-gallon hats, tall tales, and larger-than-life personalities, even the local picks can be quite grand. We’re talking live theater under the Texas sky and intergalactic space exploration—no big deal.
- Out and about: Take advantage of Houston’s warm weather and awesome free shows on the lawn at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park. The concerts and theater productions are professionally produced and movie nights are relaxing family fun.
- Signature hot spot: Tour Johnson Space Center and learn about the universe with the experts at NASA. Founded in 1961, this research, training, and mission control station earned Houston the moniker Space City. It’s outer space—need we say more?
- Local flavor: As soon as the wheels hit the tarmac, get ready to eat barbecue. Pinkerton’s Barbecue opened in 2016 and was recently named one of the best barbecue joints in the Lone Star State by “Texas Monthly.” Make sure to leave room for banana cake for dessert! Not a meat-eater? Order the vegan chopped BBQ sandwich at award-winning Green Vegetarian Cuisine and chow down.
11. Las Vegas
While you’ll see the dice-rolling Strip and neon-lit Fremont Street on every Vegas travel guide, we say casinos, ca-shmee-nos. Vegas is a historical city surrounded by outstanding scenery. Explore the magnificent Mojave Desert and stop in at one-of-a-kind small businesses while you glitter in the City of Lights.
- Out and about: Hike the Valley of Fire State Park. Located just 50 miles northeast of downtown Vegas, this area is gorgeous and stark. The red rock formations are swirled with shades of ivory and purple, so take a camera or your art supplies and preserve the moment in vivid color.
- Signature hot spot: Go to a show! This is Vegas, after all. You don’t even have to pay for spectacular sights. Just walk by the Bellagio Fountains at night and be amazed.
- Local flavor: The south side of the Arts District is full of vintage shops with fashions and antiques from Vegas’s glittering past and present. Patina Décor and Tatyana Boutique are just two of the household names on Main Street. Take a break from shopping for a seasonal cocktail at the Velveteen Rabbit.
10. New Orleans
Steeped in mysticism and known for its flamboyant celebrations, the Big Easy slides into the top ten with style. The region is a fusion of many cultures and customs, from its earliest Native American civilizations to Louisiana Creole communities and NOLA’s growing international scene. Wander through the centuries and taste the global influences!
- Out and about: Go bar-hopping through the French Quarter and the Marigny neighborhood. The architecture adds to the whimsical ambiance, and these districts are home to some of the best cocktails in the country. Saint Cecilia donates one dollar from every purchase of their famous craft daiquiris to the nonprofit organization Roots of Music in NOLA. Bless them.
- Signature hot spot: Visit some haunted places, like the spooky Saint Roch Chapel. This chapel stands as a shrine to the patron saint of good health, and townspeople have filled the space with prosthetic limbs. Although the chapel is sometimes closed for upkeep, the grounds and surrounding neighborhood are an eerie experience all their own.
- Local flavor: Eat red beans and rice on Mondays to partake in a delicious Creole custom. Dip into this simple comfort food on what was historically washday. And every other day, eat A LOT of seafood and fresh bayou bites. Blue Crab Restaurant & Oyster Bar sits right on the water!
We don’t have to tell you, but we will: Miami is lively, resilient, sexy, and downright stunning. Spend plenty of time on the sand watching the Atlantic tides come in and out from Miami Beach, but don’t forget to give the inland neighborhoods some love, too. You’ll thank us later.
- Out and about: Go for a morning paddle break in Miami Beach. If you don’t know how to paddleboard, that’s cool. Book a Star Island Adventure Package and take lessons with Miami Watersports Paradise.
- Signature hot spot: Wander through Wynwood. This district may have “arrived,” but it’s still home to up-and-comers, from fashion designers and artists to food truck startups, like the vegan-friendly Della Bowls and coffee slingers Box Cold Brew. Visit during the second weekend of each month and join Art Walk to shop and browse the latest work from Wynwood.
- Local flavor: Hang out in Little Havana. Play dominos at a table in Maximo Gomez Park and dine and dance the night away at the iconic Ball & Chain. Practice your salsa and bachata dance moves!
Oh, the Mile High City. If you’re wondering what to do in Denver for a day, just look around. With endless skies, song-inspiring mountain ranges, and craft breweries known the world over, Colorado’s capital is the perfect place to visit when you want to escape to the great outdoors without skimping on your creature comforts. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a post-hike pint of saison. Just sayin’.
- Out and about: Explore the city’s amazing landscape on your own, or let local experts guide you. An immersive experience like the Rocky Mountain National Park Full-Day Tour by Aspire Tours is a good mix of action and eco-education.
- Signature hot spot: Confluence Park just celebrated a grand re-opening downtown on October 12. Cycling and walking trails, a multi-use plaza, and river access make this a great place to find your chill.
- Local flavor: Lower Downtown is one of Denver’s OG dining neighborhoods. Other districts may be up and coming, but LoDo has staying power and cutting-edge cooking. Denver is known for New American comfort food and craft beer, both of which are plentiful at LoDo’s Freshcraft. They have 25 rotating brews on tap at any given time—bottoms up.
Boston takes over the number 7 slot, which comes as no surprise. Although Hub of the Universe is quite compact, there are plenty of things to do in and around Boston. Whether you crave authentic international eats, want an intimate look at American history, or long for the island life, Boston’s got you covered.
- Out and about: Escape to the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park on Peddocks Island, tour Boston Light on Little Brewster Island (built in 1716), and go to the beach and marina on Spectacle Island. Welcome to Boston’s quiet side.
- Signature hot spot: Wander through history at the Nichols House Museum. Built in 1804, the historic home of famed landscape gardener, suffragist, and pacifist Rose Standish Nichols offers a curated look into the changing times of the 19th century. An old house may not sound “hot” at first blush, but rights for women never go out of style!
- Local flavor: Imbibe in Chinatown. Peach Farm could be called a hole in the wall, and it’s definitely a local favorite. Gather your crew and sample the extensive menu of Chinese family-style dining, especially the seafood.
You wouldn’t be the first person to travel to Seattle on a coffee pilgrimage to the historic Pikes Place Market for a cup of java. Known as the birthplace of one caffeinated green mermaid, Seattle is home to indie coffee shops galore, so don’t even think about ordering a macchiato unless you’re prepared for some straight up espresso and a dollop of foam. Whatever you sip to start your day, add these to your itinerary of things to do in Seattle:
- Out and about: Surround yourself with art. Olympic Sculpture Park is free to the public and in an amazing setting on the downtown waterfront. Each section of the park has a theme, from The Shore to the East Meadow.
- Signature hot spot: Fly through history. Museum of Flight is for tourists and local history lovers alike. Stand in the midst of historical planes in the main atrium, visit the space travel exhibitions, and learn from living history educators.
- Local flavor: Taste the world. South of downtown and near the waterfront of Lake Washington, Columbia City boasts multicultural community vibes and it’s very walkable. Huong Duong is a favorite Vietnamese restaurant, and Bahati Restaurant serves beautiful dishes from both East and West Africa. Why not both?
Take a juicy bite out of the Big Peach. Atlanta may be known as a hub of civil war history, but don’t forget for a second that this is a modern metropolis. Check out the mashup of world-class scientific discovery, progressive performing arts, and some of the best Korean fusion cuisine you’ll ever eat.
- Out and about: Take a tour of “The Walking Dead” filming locations. Yes, that’s somewhat touristy, but locals do it. Because, zombies. Check out the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, which played the part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the show’s fifth episode. The real CDC is located in Atlanta, too, but the folks there are busy saving the world.
- Signature hot spot: Take a late-night spin on Skyview Atlanta for the best perspective of the city lights, including the Fountain of Rings light display in Centennial Olympic Park to the west. It’s one of the best sightseeing places in the city, and a romantic date idea, too.
- Local flavor: Eat, shop, and people watch at Krog Street Market. These nine acres of shops, eateries, and gallery space opened in 2014 and we can’t wait to try everything. Get your hands on some tasty Korean buns or crunchy kimchi fritters at award-winning Suzy Siu’s Baos.
Looking for sunshine all the time? Get thee to Orlando! When you’ve had your fill of theme park thrills, don’t go back to your hotel. Make space in your trip to get to know the other side of Orlando. We’re talking natural waterways, beautiful music, and a burgeoning beer scene that the rest of the country hasn’t caught onto yet (shhh!).
- Out and about: Grab a paddle. On the south side of town, take to the water on a Guided Shingle Creek Kayaking Adventure with the Paddling Center at Shingle Creek.
- Signature hot spot: See a show at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, named after one of Orlando’s beloved benefactors. The season is lined up with traveling Broadway productions and live music, including performances by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.
- Local flavor: Tap into the brewery and beer garden scene in the Mills 50 District. Ten10 Brewing Company conjures up a wide selection of their own beers, ciders, and root beers. And they offer a sandwiches and snack menu, too.
3. San Francisco
We can smell the eucalyptus and sea spray just thinking about the City by the Bay. Everything about San Francisco is unmistakable. Walking the Golden Gate Bridge, visiting the Painted Ladies, and dining in Fisherman’s Wharf are among the top things to do in town, but they aren’t alone. Take in the natural beauty of Northern California and celebrate any season with live music and a night out!
- Out and about: Listen to music al fresco. Each October, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a free 3-day festival in Golden Gate Park. The famous Treasure Island Music Festival is returning to the Bay Area in 2018 after a brief hiatus. They’re keeping the details close to the vest right now, and it’s worth traveling for this true San Francisco experience.
- Signature hot spot: Cross the Golden Gate Bridge on your way to hike through Muir Woods National Monument. According to the forest rangers, morning trips are both quiet and gorgeous, as the woods tend to swell with visitors in the afternoon.
- Local flavor: Get drinks at a secret bar inside a secret bar. Wilson & Wilson is an intimate vintage cocktail bar located inside the inconspicuous Bourbon & Branch on Jones Street. You aren’t seeing double. You’ll receive a secret code when you make your reservation, which you’ll tell the host when you buzz at the door.
2. San Diego
America’s Finest City is more than a nickname. San Diego is a sprawling city with something for every traveler. From a beach-lined coast and a historical harbor to foodie-friendly neighborhoods and gorgeous greenspace, San Diego’s top attractions earn it the second spot on our list. Spend your getaway at these local favorites and you’ll see why we love San Diego so much!
- Out and about: Browse art in the park. Balboa Park is the centerpiece of many of San Diego’s most popular neighborhoods. It’s larger than NYC’s Central Park, and home to more than 17 museums and the San Diego Zoo. Timken Museum of Art is not only a unique collection of European masterworks, it’s also free to the public! Meet today’s top local artists in Balboa’s Spanish Art Village. The colorful stepping stones and brightly painted studios are easy to spot.
- Signature hot spot: Go swimming and snorkeling in La Jolla Cove. The Cove is a relatively small hideaway with calm currents and a no-surfing or paddling policy, so you can swim in peace…and colorful fish are more comfortable joining you!
- Local flavor: Dine on 30th Street. This thoroughfare runs north and south on the east side of Balboa Park, and it’s the place to be to find a wide variety of award-winning and international eats. At the corner with Beech Street, KINDRED is a popular all-vegan and all-rock ’n’ roll cocktail bar and restaurant.
Chi-town isn’t shy about how great it is, and travelers like you have taken notice. More people search for travel recommendations in the Windy City than any other destination in the United States. And each time we’re met with an embarrassment of riches. There are so many great things to do in Chicago that curating an itinerary is a vacation activity in its own right! If you’ve got just a couple days in the city, make time for these attractions:
- Out and about: Take it all in. On the east side of Uptown, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary is a peaceful aviary haven and a gorgeous place to eye guzzle the cityscape. Look to the east and you’ll see Lake Michigan for miles, while turning to the west offers a panorama of the city, including Graceland Cemetery and Wrigley Field.
- Signature hot spot: Stay up late. Open since 1930, Adler Planetarium is the first planetarium built in the U.S., and it’s a local treasure. On the third Thursday of each month, the planetarium stays open extra late for an adults-only cocktail and sky viewing event, Adler After Dark.
- Local flavor: Eat in Ukrainian Village. This small neighborhood is home to one of the city’s best food and drink scenes, especially if you love casual and creative eats and great bars. Get your brunch on or come out for happy hour at Whisk. They serve hearty breakfast favorites, like the Ukrainian Scramble, and comfort food for dinner, like the Ron Swanson burger.
How many of the top 10 will you visit in 2018?
This list is compiled directly from the 50 most asked about cities, according to internet search volume for things to do in each city. We have not altered the order or destinations included on this list in any way.