The great American experience is about so many things: bluegrass and beaches, snow-covered peaks and redwood forests, restaurant-loving cities and open skies.
It's home to major metropolises like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago and New York City, the names of which alone conjure a million different notions of culture, cuisine and entertainment. Look more closely and the American quilt unfurls in all its surprising variety: the beautiful colors of fall turning New England into a wonderland, the magnificent waterfront of San Francisco and the captivating French Quarter of jazz hot spot New Orleans.
But this is also a country of road trips and big skies, where four million miles of highways lead past red-rock deserts, below towering mountain peaks and through fertile wheat fields that roll off toward the horizon.
Here are the best places to visit on your trip to the USA in 2022.
1. New York City, New York
Home to striving artists, hedge-fund moguls and immigrants from every corner of the globe, New York City is constantly reinventing itself. It remains one of the world centers of fashion, theater, food, music, publishing, advertising and finance. A staggering number of museums, parks and ethnic neighborhoods are scattered through the five boroughs.
Do as every New Yorker does: hit the streets. Every block reflects the character and history of this dizzying kaleidoscope, and on even a short walk you can cross continents.
2. San Francisco, California
Change is afoot in boom-and-bust San Francisco, currently enjoying a very high-profile boom. Amid the fog and the clatter of old-fashioned trams, San Francisco's diverse neighborhoods invite long days of wandering, with great indie shops, fabulous restaurants and bohemian nightlife.
Highlights include exploring Alcatraz, strolling the Golden Gate, making day trips to the nearby redwoods, Pacific coastline and Wine Country, and taking at least one ride on the cable car. How cool is San Francisco? Crest that hill to your first stunning waterfront view, and you'll be hooked.
3. Grand Canyon, Arizona
The sheer immensity of the Grand Canyon is what grabs you at first – a two-billion-year-old rip across the landscape that reveals the earth's geologic secrets with commanding authority. But it's Mother Nature's artistic touches, from sun-dappled ridges and crimson buttes to lush oases and a ribbon-like river, that hold your attention and demand your return.
To explore the canyon, take your pick of adventures: hiking, biking, rafting or mule riding. Or simply grab a seat along the Rim Trail and watch the earth change colors before you.
4. National Mall in Washington, DC
Nearly 2 miles long and lined with iconic monuments and hallowed marble buildings, the National Mall is the epicenter of Washington, DC's, political and cultural life. In the summer, massive music and food festivals are staged here, while year-round visitors wander the halls of America's finest museums lining the green.
For exploring American history, there's no better place to ruminate, whether tracing your hand along the Vietnam War Memorial or ascending the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
5. Yosemite National Park, California
Meander through wildflower-strewn meadows in valleys carved by rivers and glaciers, the hard, endless work of which makes everything look simply colossal. Here in Yosemite National Park, thunderous waterfalls tumble over sheer cliffs, ant-sized climbers scale the enormous granite domes of El Cap and Half Dome, and hikers walk beneath ancient groves of giant sequoias, the planet's biggest trees.
Even the subalpine meadows of Tuolumne are magnificently vast. For the most sublime views, perch at Glacier Point on a full-moon night or drive the high country's dizzying Tioga Road in summer.
6. New England
It's a major event, one approaching epic proportions in New England: watching the leaves change color. You can do it anywhere – all you need is one brilliant tree. But if you're most people, you'll want lots of trees to make this your perfect fall foliage road trip.
From the Berkshires in Massachusetts and the Litchfield Hills in Connecticut to the Green Mountains of Vermont, entire hillsides blaze with brilliant crimsons, oranges and yellows. Covered bridges and white-steeple churches with abundant maple trees put Vermont and New Hampshire at the forefront of leaf-peeping heaven.
7. Pacific Coast Highway
A drive along America's stunning western coastline is road-tripping at its finest. In California, Highway 1 (also called the Pacific Coast Highway), Highway 101 and I-5 pass dizzying sea cliffs, idiosyncratic beach towns and a few major cities: laid-back San Diego, rocker Los Angeles and beatnik San Francisco.
North of the redwoods, Highway 101 swoops into Oregon for windswept capes, rocky tide pools and, for Twilight fans, Ecola State Park, the stand-in for werewolf haven La Push, Washington. Cross the Columbia River into Washington for the wet-and-wild Olympic National Park.
8. New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is always up for a good time. Caribbean-colonial architecture, Creole cuisine and a riotous air of celebration all add to the allure of the Big Easy. Nights are spent catching Dixieland jazz, blues and rock amid bouncing live-music joints, and the city's riotous annual festivals (Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest) are famous the world over.
"Nola" is also a food-loving town that celebrates its myriad culinary influences. Feast on lip-smacking jambalaya, soft-shell crab and Louisiana cochon (pulled pork) before hitting the bar scene on Frenchmen Street.
9. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is an old city with a young soul. On Friday nights, art lovers flock to Canyon Road to gab with artists, sip wine and explore more than 80 galleries. Art and history partner up in style within the city's consortium of museums, and the food and the shopping are first-rate, too. With that turquoise sky as a backdrop, the experience is darn near sublime.
10. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
From Kilauea, the earth's youngest and most active shield volcano, to the massive form of Mauna Loa (30,085ft from base to summit), to the fiery lava cauldron of Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, nothing in the US can compare with the dramatic landscapes of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
Here on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, you can wander forests thick with tree ferns and climb around the crater by day, then at night descend to the Pacific to witness the magical glow and hiss of molten lava pouring into the sea.
11. Portland, Oregon
Are the ’90s still alive in Portland? The characters in the award-winning indie series Portlandia sure think so, and their satiric skits make it clear that this city is a quirky but lovable place. It's as friendly as a small town, and home to a mix of students, artists, cyclists, hipsters, young families, old hippies, eco-freaks and everything in between.
There's great food, music and culture aplenty, plus it's as sustainable as you can get. Come visit, but be careful – like everyone else, you might just want to move here!
12. Walt Disney World, Florida
Want to set the bar high? Call yourself the "Happiest Place on Earth." Walt Disney World does, and then pulls out all the stops to deliver the exhilarating sensation that you are the most important character in the show. Despite all the frantic rides, entertainment and nostalgia, the magic is watching your own child swell with belief after they have made Goofy laugh, been curtsied to by Cinderella, saved the galaxy on EPCOT's new hit roller coaster Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and battled Darth Maul like your very own Jedi knight.
13. Route 66
Launched in 1926 and known as the Mother Road, Route 66, the fragile ribbon of concrete running from Chicago to Los Angeles, was the USA’s original road trip, and it still offers classic, time-warped touring. Motor along past 2000 miles of vintage Americana, stopping to dig into thick slabs of pie in small-town diners and to snap photos of roadside attractions such as Delgadillo's Snow Cap Drive-In, the Wigwam Motel, the neon signs of Tucumcari, the begging burros of Oatman, Arizona and the Gemini Giant, a sky-high fiberglass spaceman.
14. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, the Windy City, will blow you away with its architecture, lakefront beaches and world-class museums. But its real lure is its blend of high culture and earthy pleasures. Is there another metropolis that dresses its Picasso sculpture in local sports-team gear? Where residents line up just as long for hot dogs as for some of North America's top restaurants?
Winters are brutal, but come summer, Chicago fetes the warm days with food and music festivals that make fine use of its waterfront.
15. Rocky Mountains, Colorado
The softest, lightest snow you'll ever ski combined with outrageous scenery and every type of terrain imaginable: resorts in the Western USA are some of the best in the world. The Colorado cities of Aspen and Vail may sound like playgrounds for the rich and famous, but shredders and ski bums – and copious amounts of powder – have always found a way to keep it real.
Launch off a cornice, slalom through trees, grind in a terrain park or face-plant repeatedly while learning to snowboard: one thing's certain, you'll end the day with a snow-encrusted smile.
16. Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park is where the mountains meet the sea. Miles of rocky coastline and even more miles of hiking and biking trails make this wonderland Maine’s most popular destination, and deservedly so. The high point (literally) is Cadillac Mountain, the 1530ft peak that can be accessed by foot, bicycle or vehicle; early risers can catch the country’s first sunrise from this celebrated summit.
Later in the day, after working up an appetite on the trails and beaches, indulge in tea and popovers at Jordan Pond.
17. The Everglades, Florida
The Everglades unnerve. They don’t reach majestically skyward or fill your heart with the aching beauty of a glacier-carved valley. They ooze, flat and watery, a river of grass mottled by islands of trees, cypress domes and mangroves. You can’t hike them, not really. To properly explore the Everglades – and to meet the prehistoric residents, like the snaggle-toothed crocodile – you must leave the safety of land.
Push a canoe off a muddy bank, tamp down your fear and explore the waterways on the Everglades’ own, unforgettable terms.
18. Las Vegas, Nevada
Just when you think you've got a handle on the West – majestic, sublime, soul-nourishing – here comes Las Vegas. Beneath the neon lights of the Strip, this city puts on a dazzling show: dancing fountains, a spewing volcano, its Eiffel Tower. Beneath it all is the seductive charm of the casino, where the fresh-pumped air and bright colors share one goal: separating you from your money.
19. Glacier National Park, Montana
Yep, the rumors are true. The namesake attractions at Glacier National Park are melting away. There were 150 glaciers in the area in 1850; today there are 25. But even without the giant ice sheets, Montana's sprawling national park is worthy of an in-depth visit.
Road warriors can maneuver the thrilling 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road; wildlife-watchers can scan for elk, wolves and grizzlies (but don't get too close); and hikers have 700 miles of trails, trees and flora – including mosses, mushrooms and wildflowers – to explore.
20. Los Angeles, California
A perpetual influx of dreamers, go-getters and hustlers gives sprawling Los Angeles an energetic buzz. Learn the tricks of moviemaking during a studio tour. Bliss out to acoustically perfect symphony sounds in the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Wander gardens and galleries at the hilltop Getty Museum. And stargazing? Take in the big picture at the Griffith Observatory or look for stylish, earthbound "stars" at the Grove.
Ready for your close-up, darling? You will be – an hour on the beach guarantees that sun-kissed LA glow.