In a single lifetime, no traveler could ever be done exploring America. Even if you relegated yourself to just roaming the nation’s cities—setting aside the 50 states’ vast open, unincorporated spaces—there would still always be more to see.
Still, there are a few cities every year that are a bit more worth visiting, either because they’re experiencing some sort of renaissance, they’ve been underrated or overlooked for too long, they’re marking a meaningful anniversary, or they’re so big and familiar that would-be travelers lean too heavily on assumptions when deciding to skip them.
Oakland’s relationship to San Francisco often inspires comparison to Brooklyn’s relationship to Manhattan: It’s the bigger city’s hipper, more relaxed neighbor, where creativity thrives and anything that buzzes tends to get its start. (I’ll refrain from using words like “hipster” and “gentrification” here.)
But Oakland is much more than San Francisco’s happenin’ sidekick. It’s a multi-cultural destination unto itself, with world-class attractions including Jack London Square, Lake Merritt, the Fox Theater, the Oakland Zoo, Children’s Fairyland, Temescal Alley, funky Telegraph Avenue, the Coliseum (where the As play), and Chase Center, the new home of the ascendant Warriors. No wonder almost 4 million people travel here every year.
Most travelers don’t need much convincing that Honolulu is worth their time and money. It’s easily among the very best places to visit in the U.S. But if you’ve been holding off, 2020 is the year to go. With a slew of new flights headed there from all over the U.S., including Hawaiian Airlines’ Boston-to-Honolulu route (America’s longest regularly scheduled domestic segment) and Southwest’s reasonably priced jaunts (book these well ahead—they sell out quickly), the balmy shores of Waikiki are easier to get to than ever.
Never considered visiting Lexington, Kentucky? Time to reconsider. It’s one of the best U.S. cities to visit—especially if you have equestrian leanings. The “horse capital of the world” (thanks to more than 400 thoroughbred farms) is emerging as a prime Southern destination. The hometown of Ashley and Naomi Judd, as well as George Clooney (his mom was a city councilwoman), is also home to 14 of the state’s biggest bourbon distilleries and more than 120 worthwhile restaurants.
In 2020, Lexington will host the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Championships at Keeneland Race Course for the second time since 2015, a year that saw the event’s largest attendance ever. A few months prior, Equitana, the world’s largest equine fair, will be launching its first U.S. event at the Kentucky Horse Park. And all year long, travelers can enjoy previously unavailable access to champion race horses in the form of newly introduced private tours.
Los Angeles, California
There’s a reason that Los Angeles got picked to host the 2028 Olympics—lots of reasons, in fact. It’s a complex, multilayered city full of art and grit, energy and culture. It’s packed with truly inspiring places, from the Griffith Observatory to the Getty Center. It’s got iconic beaches, including Malibu, Santa Monica, and Venice. It’s resilient, and often recovering and rebuilding from major wildfires. In short, it’s one of the best cities in America to visit.
And yes, there are two California cities on this list—but the Golden State turns 170 on September 9, 2020, and is celebrating the milestone by debuting a flurry of big attractions.
In Southern California, that includes a massive new sports and music venue—the 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium—that will serve as home turf for the Rams and the Chargers. It’ll also host the Super Bowl in 2022, the College Football Championship game in 2023, and the Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies. Taylor Swift will inaugurate the arena with concerts on July 25 and 26, 2020.
Orlando is on most kids’ bucket lists, what with Disney World, Universal, and all. And yes, the activity-filled city is one of the world’s best destinations for theme parks. But there’s more to it than that. Whether you’re coming for Mickey and Harry or whether you’re after science and culture, Orlando is one of the best places to visit in the U.S. in 2020.
Let’s start with what’s happening at the theme parks in 2020. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Galaxy’s Edge will have its “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance” ride up and running, and in spring, “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway” will open. Epcot is undergoing a major expansion; its confirmed openings for 2020 include a Mary Poppins attraction, a “Ratatouille”-themed ride, and a new nighttime spectacular called ”HarmonioUS.” A new Disney-themed Cirque du Soleil show is coming to Disney Springs in spring 2020, with tickets already on sale.
Rochester, New York
Rochester—New York’s third-biggest city—is in the midst of a revival. The midsized metropolis on Lake Ontario’s south shore has always been the entry point to the Finger Lakes wine region. But now it’s seeing new levels of growth and revitalization, with more than $950 million being invested in the city’s downtown core, in a successful bid to make this one of the best U.S. cities to visit. Its food and drink scene is booming with new restaurants, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and coffee roasters. These include the new REDD Rochester, by Michelin-starred chef and native son Richard Reddington.
Election years are always interesting in America, and the 2020 election promises to be one of the most dramatic ever. Whether you’re there on election night—November 3, 2020—or in the months leading up to it, Washington, D.C. is the center of it all.
At George Washington’s behest, Frenchman Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed much of the nation’s capital in a way that made it among the best cities in America to visit. He applied European aesthetics to the American notion of all people being equal, strategically placing D.C.’s center of power so that every citizen could access it. He didn’t live to see his vision of “Federal Town” come to life, but D.C. did end up being mostly a faithful replication of his design—National Mall, plentiful parks, and all.
Branson, along with its surrounding Ozark Mountains, promises to be well worth traveling to in 2020 and beyond. It’s been a hidden-gem destination for a while now, but with a slew of new openings and tourist attractions, it’s headed into the mainstream as a first-rate family vacation spot in the American heartland, and one of the best places to visit in the U.S.
Among the region’s coming-soon attractions: Mystic River Falls, in Branson’s Silver Dollar City theme park, is a $23 million water ride that will feature the Western Hemisphere’s tallest drop. The new Aquarium at the Boardwalk will include a jellyfish infinity room, a submarine voyage, and an underwater “mermaid palace.” WonderWorks will debut as a science-themed indoor amusement park with more than 100 interactive exhibits, while Big Air Trampoline Park’s 57 attractions will include a ninja warrior course. The Shepherd of the Hills will add canopy zipline tours, and a range of restaurants will debut in 2020, as well as a new concert hall.
The United States is one of the world’s biggest countries and has literally thousands of cities. Thanks to Hollywood, many of them are world-famous, and from the East to the West coast you’ll find everything from familiar architectural icons to world-class museums, to some “only-in-America” experiences. We have written only about 8 of them, we are sure you have to add more to the list and we are more than happy to hear about your favorite cities in America.