On any given day, the US cultural calendar is jam-packed with events, activities and openings, from parades and festivals to exhibits, plays, hotels and more.
Though the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is keeping travel plans in flux, the US has finally reopened to vaccinated travelers, so this year could be a great time to plan a trip. Here's what's going on from month to month, so you can pack the most into your visit.
Utah’s Sundance Film Festival was originally intended to be in-person in Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance Mountain Resort January 20 to 30, however the festival has announced it will now be online.
Read more: The best time to visit Salt Lake City
But if you’re in the vicinity of Utah, the state’s slopes are some of the country’s best, and whether you’re a novice skier or a semi-pro, there’s no time like January to check them out. Other activities in this winter wonderland include snowboarding, tubing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even stand-up paddleboard yoga classes – in a crater.
In 2022, the Lunar New Year falls on February 1, and in Chinatowns across the country, there are festivities planned to welcome in the Year of the Tiger. After last year’s hiatus, San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade – an event dating back to the 1860s, the largest of its kind outside of Asia, per the tourism board – returns on February 19. There will be COVID-19 protocols in place for staff, volunteers and members of the parade, who must be fully vaccinated and masked to participate.
Read more: First time Mardi Gras: top tips for New Orleans' biggest party
Mardi Gras was a reimagined affair in 2021, with homes decorated to resemble floats and scavenger hunts for beads and other throws instead of in-person gatherings of any kind. In 2022, however, the parades will be back, New Orleans's mayor confirmed in late December – albeit with shorter routes due to “overstretched first responders,” per NOLA.com. A few krewes are set to begin rolling in January, but the bulk of the action is in February with parades throughout the month, culminating in Fat Tuesday on March 1.
March boasts some marquee events – St Patricks Day on the 17th, marked with giant parades in New York, Boston and Chicago; the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, this year scheduled for March 11 to 20; and the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC, normally peaking around the end of the month.
Read more: Exploring Austin: can't-miss sights during SXSW (or anytime)
With warm days offering a respite from still-blustery conditions in other parts of the US, Florida is a go-to winter destination for snowbirds across the globe, and in March 2022, several new attractions and amenities are coming to the state. In Orlando, there’s Disney World’s hotly anticipated Star Wars-themed hotel, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser – an immersive, all-inclusive experience on the starship Halcyon, slated to open March 1.
Read more: Disney reveals first images from inside the immersive Star Wars hotel
In other theme park news, a rollercoaster – billed as North America’s tallest hybrid coaster and the world’s fastest and steepest – is set to debut in March at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Called Iron Gwazi, it will reach heights of 206 feet with a 91-degree drop, hitting top speeds of 76 miles per hour.
Ready more: How to avoid Florida's crowds: a year-round guide
For other out-of-this-world entertainment, head to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, where a 50,000-square-foot, multi-level attraction called Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex blasts off this month. You’ll find space-flown artifacts, plus full-scale models and replicas; interactive displays on satellites and space probes; an “airport of the future” where you can take a journey by way of a 4D flying theater, and a rooftop venue for launch and landing viewings as well as special events.
2021’s virtual race was delayed by six months, but the Boston Marathon returns this year to its springtime schedule, welcoming runners from around the world on April 18. The 2022 race will have a field size of 30,000 participants, and all athletes must be fully vaccinated to participate, the Boston Athletic Association announced in November.
Read more: Run the world: the best marathons for 2021/2022
A giant Native American powwow featuring music, food, crafts and the crowning of Miss Indian World, Albuquerque’s Gathering of Nations takes place April 28 to 30. Browse the Indian Traders Market, check out the Horse & Rider Parade, and catch one of the 3000 traditional singers and dancers scheduled to perform.
Read more: 8 places to honor Native American heritage in the US
At the end of the month, it’s back to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, a two-weekend event featuring world-class music from local musicians and internationally known acts alike, this year slated for April 29 to May 8.
Up in Memphis, the Beale Street Music Festival takes over the fairgrounds from April 29 to May 1, a change of scenery due to construction at its usual venue, Tom Lee Park. The recently announced lineup includes heavy hitters like the Foo Fighters, Lil Wayne and the Smashing Pumpkins.
Read more: Memphis day trips that celebrate the state's musical roots
Commemorating Mexico’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo is more of a phenomenon in the US than it is south of the border, with rowdy festivities that seem far removed from a holiday that pays tribute to Mexican resilience and strength. For a more culturally conscious experience, consider the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Corona, California, on May 7, a community-focused fiesta with a parade and fundraising efforts that go toward local scholarships.
New York is a great place to be in springtime, and this season sees the opening of a new luxury hotel in Manhattan. On West 28th Street, the 250-room Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad, is a new build with sweeping views of the city, especially from the rooftop bar, which, like the property’s other eateries, comes courtesy of chef José Andrés.
Read more: Best neighborhoods in New York City
From there, it’s one block east and a straight shot up Fifth Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the second part of the Costume Institute’s exhibit, In America: An Anthology of Fashion, opens in the American Wing on May 7. As with other indoor venues in the city, proof of vaccination is required for entry, and as of late December, the museum’s capacity is limited, so be prepared to wait to get in.
On the other side of the country, San Francisco is getting 14 acres of new national parkland, built on top of the Presidio Parkway highway tunnels. From the team behind NYC’s High Line, the Presidio Tunnel Tops will open this month, with paths and gardens as well as picnic grounds, a nature center, a plaza with concessions, a “natural playscape”, and scenic overlooks offering views of both the city proper and the Golden Gate Bridge – just in time for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s 50th anniversary later in the year.
Read more: The first timer's guide to San Francisco
Events are busting out all over this month, with music fests and Pride celebrations taking center stage. San Francisco’s Pride – happening this year on June 25 and 26 – is perhaps the country’s most popular, but there are big turnouts in New York and Chicago as well, with marches and parades in both cities scheduled for June 26 and other activities slated for the days prior.
In Tennessee, Nashville’s CMA Music Festival is slated for June 9 to 12, and Bonnaroo is set for the following weekend, about an hour southeast of the state capital in Manchester. Lineups are yet to be announced, but expect plenty of bold-faced names headlining both.
In early June, the Chicago Blues Festival – one of the biggest free blues fests in the world – descends upon Grant Park, while in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the 49th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival is scheduled for June 16 to 19.
Read more: This is the best time to visit Chicago
On June 18, when the Mermaid Parade rolls through New York’s Coney Island, hundreds of scantily clad merpeople will take to the neighborhood’s aptly named ocean-oriented streets for a kitschy, artsy extravaganza dating to 1983.
The next day, look for Juneteenth celebrations across the country. A new federal holiday as of 2021, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, June 19 marks “the final enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas – the last Confederate state to practice slavery – in 1865,” Travis Levius writes for Lonely Planet. “[It’s] been a significant holiday for many Black Americans for over 155 years and is often celebrated with cookouts, festivals, church events and storytelling.”
Read more: Juneteenth celebrations around the USA
The Fourth of July is summer’s marquee holiday, and there are big bashes from coast to coast, in major metropolitan areas and tiny towns alike. In DC, the National Park Service hosts a spectacular fireworks display on the National Mall, beginning at 9:09pm and launching from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Snag a spot on the mall near the Washington Monument or the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, or head across the Potomac to the Iwo Jima Memorial, which offers a good vantage point.
Read more: The best Fourth of July celebrations around the US
Later in the month, San Diego’s international Comic-Con is July 21 to 24, and in addition to the usual slate of panels and screenings, attendees will be able to check out the new Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park, a three-floor, 25,000-square-foot display with a 4K theater and rotating exhibits dedicated to comics, graphic novels, and pop art. Phase one of the museum opened this fall, but the grand opening is in July, when fans flood into town for the convention.
From July 28 to 31, the Lollapalooza rockstravaganza touches down in Chicago’s Grant Park. 2022 lineups are TBD, but last year’s headliners included Miley Cyrus, Tyler, the Creator, Journey, Post Malone and Megan Thee Stallion.
With summer in full swing, there’s plenty of action to be had on the country’s beaches and waterways. Looking to get off the sand and onto the water? In the Pacific Northwest and in the northeast, it’s a prime time for whale-watching: Though you can see orcas, gray and humpback whales frolicking in the Puget Sound, off the coast of Seattle, year-round, summer months are a great time to see them in the San Juan Islands. Whale-watching tours cater to both destinations, but you can also look for the marine mammals from Alki Beach in West Seattle, not far from downtown.
In Maine, the season begins in mid-April and runs through October, with humpbacks, finbacks, pilot and minke whales passing through on a regular basis. Whale-watching cruises are common up and down the state’s coast, and you can spot the massive creatures from the shore as well. (Bring binoculars.)
Read more: 10 best places to visit in Maine
For a change of scenery, head to the Midwest for the Iowa State Fair, coming to Des Moines August 11 to 21. Attractions include livestock shows, country music, and a giant cow sculpted in butter, but the eats are possibly the main draw. Try one of the 69 available foods on a stick, from jalapeño corn dogs and popcorn balls to apple pies and funnel cakes.
The country begins cooling down this month, but there are still gloriously sunny, warm days to be had, especially out west. After a two-year hiatus, Burning Man returns to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert with a renewed focus on sustainability and inclusivity. This week-long happening – an experiment in temporary community – welcomes tens of thousands of artists and civilians each year, peaking on September 3 when the titular stick man catches fire.
Read more: The playa provides: First timers guide to Burning Man
In New Mexico, the 2022 Santa Fe Fiesta features two major events: the Historical (aka Hysterical) parade on September 11, with marching bands, mariachi, floats and more; and the pet parade the day before, in which hundreds of animals and thousands of kids – both in costume – take to the city streets.
Read more: 13 of the best things to do in Santa Fe
Back east, in Bardstown, Kentucky – the self-described bourbon capital of the world – the 31st annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival is set to take place September 14 to 18. With happy hours, barbecue dinners and educational talks from master distillers as well as sampling events and a charity auction featuring rare and hard-to-find bottles, it’s five days of boozy fun for the 21-and-older set.
Up north, the leaves are changing colors, but down in Key West, it’s shoulder season, and the days are sunny and warm. Originally created in 1979 to draw visitors to then-deserted Duval Street, today Fantasy Fest pulls in thousands of attendees for a “10-day party in paradise for grown-ups.” This year’s fete has the theme “Cult Classics & Cartoon Chaos”, and it takes place October 21 to 30.
Read more: Which island in the Florida Keys is best for you?
Closing out the month is Halloween, a Very Big Deal in cities like New York, LA, and San Francisco, where costumed revelers hit Sixth Avenue, West Hollywood and the Castro, respectively, to celebrate in glorious fashion. For more quaint but also more copious festivities, head to Massachusetts – home of the 17th-century witch trials – for Salem Haunted Happenings, an annual monthlong event that includes a parade and a street fair, plus costume balls, haunted houses, scary movies and ghost tours.
As the days grow shorter, the nights grow longer and the urge to hibernate grows stronger, it's no wonder eating is involved in this month's key events. Taking place on the fourth Saturday of the month with a giant meal as its centerpiece, Thanksgiving is the big one, and on November 24, Broadway performers, floats, marching bands and dozens of giant character balloons commandeer the New York City streets for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (It’s televised, but if you can get there in person, make time for a trek the night before to the Upper West Side, where you can watch the balloons being inflated.)
On a smaller scale, this month also plays host to Wurstfest, a 10-day celebration of the sausage in New Braunfels, Texas. Held rain or shine, this Bavarian jubilee has been around since 1961, and attendees don traditional dress (dirndls, lederhosen and silly hats, per the event website) to catch polka bands and yodelers, drink beer and eat plenty of the titular stuffed meat.
There are also Día de Muertos events across the country on November 1 and 2, in which Mexicans and people of Latin heritage remember and reunite with their dearly departed, marching in parades, setting up ofrendas with food, drink, flowers and photos of the dead.
Read more: 9 US cities that do Día de Muertos right
In most years, December sees the kick off of Colorado’s ski season, but in 2021, many resorts had to delay opening due to lack of snow, so it’s hardly a sure thing – a trip out west may still be in order, but you’ll want to check the weather reports before you book.
Prefer sun to snow, and indoor activities to outdoor adventures? Make time for Art Basel Miami Beach, a branch of the international contemporary arts fest, featuring pieces from world-famous and emerging artists shown at galleries from five continents, plus exhibitions and events all over town. In 2022, it’s slated for December 1 to 4.
On December 1, New York’s holiday season commences with the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree – a tradition dating to 1931. The tree remains lit daily through New Year’s Eve, and the plaza stays packed as a result. It’s a magical time in the Big Apple, full of glitzy window displays, holiday shows, opportunities for ice skating and more.
Read more: 12 things to know about spending the holidays in NYC
The year draws to a close with New Year’s Eve, and while the festivities are epic in New York and Las Vegas, some of the country’s best celebrations are in less expected locations. Take Hawaii: There are fireworks displays on Kauai, Maui, the Big Island and Oahu, the latter of which hosts Roman candles, sparklers and rockets over Waikiki Beach as well as Honolulu’s famed Party of the Year – an all-out event at the Aloha Tower with rides, food trucks, DJs and live music leading up to midnight.
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