While flying across the world to a tropical hideaway, romantic European city, or adventure-filled destination is always an incredible time, the truth is that you don’t need to go far to have a memorable travel experience. The United States contains multitudes for lovers of adventure, food, culture, and wild spaces. From Southern hotspots where barbecue joints and live music thrive to Midwest locations where the food scene takes center stage to West Coast favorites that offer quintessential tourist attractions, there are myriad places to explore across the country.
To find out which U.S. destinations you should add to your spring and summer travel plans, we asked travel writers and influencers to share their absolute favorite cities in the U.S. Check out their picks below, clear your calendar, and start booking those domestic plane tickets.
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EDITOR’S PICK: STEVE BRAMUCCI (@steve_bramucci) — BEND, OREGON
Bend, Oregon is literally “adventure town, USA.” It’s been named to all the hotlists by all the outlets that cherish rock climbing, mountain biking, river surfing, and hiking — many of them more than once. But it’s not just adventure that Bend specializes in. This is Oregon, after all. There’s also a whole lot of beer and cheffed-up food to be had. Plus some great whiskey, if you know where to look.
Weed is legal. Mushrooms are decriminalized. A river slurps and bumps through downtown. Mountains line the horizon. Everyone is sunkissed and fit. There’s a preponderance of beards, but that can be forgiven. The last Blockbuster on earth opens every morning at 10:30 am sharp.
“This,” a friend who recently moved from Portland to Bend told me last summer as we freaking paddle boarded on the Deschutes River from one free concert to another, “is the best place to live in the country.”
The next day, the same friend took me crashing through the underbrush on mountain bikes. But not like, the sucky part of mountain biking, where you have to upkeep a bike and pedal uphill for a few hours. We did the fun part — in which the shuttle and rental service Cog Wild gave us bikes, motored us to the base of Mt. Bachelor, then sent us on our way to speed recklessly downhill. It was an absolute blast. And made me feel way less bad about housing nine of the 12 pretzel bites pictured below and then slurping down the “beer cheese” about an hour later at Cascade Lakes Brewing Co.
The brewery — I found by drinking beer at 11 am, which is very common in Bend — is also home to a fruity/piney Hazy IPA that was the purest distillation of “Cool Mountain Town” in liquid form I’d ever tasted. Though, to be fair, the town has a lot of breweries competing for that title.
“Seriously… what more do you need?” that same paddleboard friend asked on the last day of my trip, when he made his pitch for me to move to town. This time, we were lined up on an island in the Deschutes River, waiting to surf the town’s famous standing wave. And the question got me thinking. What more do I need?
Well, music, of course. And Bend has massive acts coming through the (annoyingly named) Hayden Homes Amphitheater, which sits alongside the river. Since this is Oregon (dream of the ’90s, etc.), the summer lineup is sure to include a few 1997 H.O.R.D.E. Fest acts plus some combination of Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, and John Mayer — which is… kinda my sweet spot, honestly.
“Oh, you have the Verve Pipe on the same bill as Eve 6? TAKE MY MONEY.”
There’s also a totally free concert series that runs the whole summer long. It’s called Munch & Music, which sums the weekly event up pretty neatly — it’s a whole load of food trucks paired with bands fronted by people who still wear Tevas. You want a proper party? For a small(ish) mountain town, Bend has three clubs — Velvet Lounge, Astro Lounge, and SEVEN — along with a whole heap of bars. Better still, these options are tightly crowded together. No monster Uber rides here, you can walk almost anywhere in the downtown area.
“I’m telling you…” my (clearly brilliant) Bend transplant buddy said as we listened to yet another live band at yet another cluster of food trucks, eating one of the most decadent burgers I’ve ever tasted, from Waygu Wagon.
He didn’t need to finish the sentence, I was sold. Thirty years of visiting Bend on vacation with my family plus a few recent trips to see it in its current boom phase have me convinced — it’s the best place to be in the country. I’ve already booked myself back at the vintage-y roadside motor inn-feeling Campfire Hotel for summer ’22.
JOE SILLS (@joesills) — MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
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There’s an energy in Memphis that feels rare in America. Stroll through its neighborhoods, dance in its nightclubs, or post up in a Memphis dive bar and you can almost feel the city breathe. The city’s modest skyline rises over the banks of the Mississippi River, an oasis of creativity that fostered the early beginnings of a sound that changed the world.
When the blues sprang from the flat, humid farmlands that often surround the river’s floodwalls, musicians came to Memphis to make their break. Later, rock and soul genres took that legacy and ran with it. While tourists can certainly get their fill of music history in the city—see the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Blues Hall of Fame, Rock N’ Soul Museum or Sun Studios — a recent renaissance means Memphis is once again out-punching its weight as a global source for creativity.
Slide onto a sofa at Central Station on any weekend night, and you’re likely to mingle with modern hip-hop legends, producers, and disc jockeys. Soak in a Mississippi River sunset from Beck & Call’s rooftop lounge, and you’ll be surrounded by murals of modern Memphis icons like Yo Gotti, Justin Timberlake, and Valerie June.
In a time when many American cities can feel like an extension of one, homogenous apartment complex, Memphis is still defiantly authentic. Its people come with no pretense. Its skyline comes with little luster. The city needs no marketing gimmick because it remains as real as the raw emotions that reverberated through its record studios decades ago and changed the world around us today.
SOJOURNER WHITE (@thesojournies) — MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN
I’d say my hometown — Milwaukee. I know it’s not a city that a lot of people think about, but I can give a few reasons why it’s great. And maybe I’m biased. Summer is the sweet spot. I grew up in Wisconsin, but I’m not a big fan of winter. So summers in Milwaukee are my favorite time of year to be at home. Number one, because there are so many festivals. We have a festival for everybody and everything.
There’s Summer Fest, which is a huge music festival that’s there every summer. But then we also have Black Arts Fest, German Fest, Polish Fest, Pride, Mexican Fiesta. There are literally so many festivals for people of all backgrounds, which is representative of how diverse the city is — even though people don’t know that. There are pockets of different communities across Milwaukee. So I think that comes out the most through our summer festivals. You’re able to see that on display.
As far as things to do, I would say again to focus on summer things because that’s when I explore the most. There are boat cruises you can do, paddle-boating, going to the lakefront is a real big thing. The other big thing you do in Milwaukee is eat. It’s a really great food city so there are tons of things to eat.
If you want a food truck park you can go to Zócalo Food Park. If you want Jamaican food Uppa Yard is my favorite Jamaican spot in the city. If you want some soul food, Daddy’s is always a good choice. If you want Spanish-Portugese food you can go to Amilinda. If you want Indian food, I love India Garden or Cafe India. I could go on and on about the food, but there’s just much to explore. The Southside is predominantly Spanish-speaking, so there’s tons of great Mexican restaurants. Guanajuanto is one that I’ve been to.
Food is one of the reasons I love Milwaukee, and it’s affordable. Everything’s not going to cost $25 or $30 for you to have a really good meal. It’s not an overpriced city, so I think it’s in that really good sweet spot of being one of my favorite cities. It’s accessible for people who are visiting.
ESTHER SUSAG (@estherelsewhere) — ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA
My favorite city in the U.S. is St. Paul, and yes, I am biased! I just love the gorgeous summers and falls there with the beautiful lakes and parks. Everything is so accessible, you can get the city vibe, and then five minutes away there’s a gorgeous park with a huge waterfall in it. There’s always something to do. With over 10,000 lakes, boating, fishing, and just being on the water is an amazing thing to do in St. Paul and right outside of the city.
The food scene is unbeatable and filled with variety. Some of my favorites are La Grolla, Red Cow, and Meritage. On top of our food scene, we also have great bars, breweries, and pubs. Seriously, St. Paul is a hidden gem!
CHLOE CALDWELL (@chloeicaldwell) — SAN FRANCISCO
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San Francisco continues to prove itself as one of my favorite U.S. cities. It’s an all-around colorful city, from the buildings (you’ve gotta visit the iconic Painted Ladies — the setting for Full House!) to the people and lively culture. I love spending time here as there’s always something to do. I especially love visiting for the annual Outside Lands Music Festival — it’s an absolute blast and a must for any avid festival-goers on the west coast.
What I love most about San Francisco are the accessible parks and outdoor spaces. Whether you explore Golden Gate Park, take a stroll through Presidio National Park, which offers 24 miles of hiking trails and 25 miles of bikeways, or have a boozy picnic at Mission Dolores Park, there’s plenty of space to spend time outdoors amidst the busy city lifestyle buzzing around you (just make sure to bring a jacket!).
I recommend spending an afternoon in the Marina District. Here, you’ll find views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and sailboats cruising through the bay. This area also has a ton of trendy bars and restaurants. I love Wildseed, a fully plant-based restaurant that’s downright delish. Order the polenta cakes and spicy sausage pizza, along with the elderly fizz cocktail (trust me, you won’t regret it).
NICOLETTA DARITA DE LA BROWN (@vida.magica.love) — BALTIMORE, MARYLAND
Baltimore has a very special place in my heart. There are people that I love with my whole being that are here, my studio practice is based here, my children are being raised here. I’m from New York, I’m a New Yorker, but Baltimore is home.
As an artist, I want people to come here and absorb the art and meet the people who make beautiful things, but I also want people to come and explore and enjoy the food and the culture. If you come to Baltimore, you definitely need to eat. I would suggest seafood. I’d check out Clavel. I’m Latinx and I love the ceviche at Clavel. The ceviche at Clavel is everything.And the restaurant is minority-owned and family-owned.
I would also check out Home Maid. The brunch at Home Maid is crazy. Also the mixologists and the drinks there are insane. So I would definitely try some of those delicious Southern comfort options but with a twist. It feels a little speakeasy-ish.
Also, I would check out Mount Vernon Marketplace. One of my friends Chyno, The Blue Bearded Foodie, put me onto the colossal crab sandwich, which is insane. If you come to Baltimore, you should probably have blue crab of some kind. This sandwich is definitely an Instagram moment, but it’s also genuinely tasty. When I go to Mount Vernon Marketplace, I always check out Fishnet. It’s woman-owned, black-owned, and the food is so good. Everything is super fresh. When I’m in the mood for seafood, I’m going to hit up Fishnet for sure.
When I do a staycation and want to treat myself, I’ll stay at The Ivy Hotel. It’s a boutique, private hotel. It’s black-owned, it’s insanely luxurious, and it feels super special. You can barely even find the front door — it’s one of those places you gotta know to know. The Ivy Hotel is super posh, it’s super luxe. It’s beautiful. You feel like when you’re walking down the hallway Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, or some other iconic figure is about to pop up. It’s one of those moments when you want to put on a gown and have tea.
The bathtubs there are insane and I’m obsessed with bathtubs. So The Ivy Hotel is a must.
I also will spend the day at Harbor East. I love being by the water. I’ll go shopping, I’ll dance by the water, I will look at the harbor and just remind myself of everything that’s bigger than me and feel deeply connected to so much. Those are my top tips for Baltimore. Definitely come to visit Baltimore, eat some amazing seafood, and support small local businesses.
KAYLA KANE (@kaylakane) — NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
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My top favorite city in the U.S. is New York City! Although it might sound cliche, NYC is its own world that never sleeps. I travel to New York a few times a year because of its fabulous events and bustling atmosphere. If you are a person that thrives in chaos like me, you will definitely want to put a trip in the books for 2022.
Love the arts? Stop by the many famous museums, theatres, or galleries. You’re a foodie? There are hundreds if not thousands of restaurants to try. Some of my favorites are Paesano in Little Italy, Ralph’s Coffee Shop, Boucherie, and Zazzy’s Pizza. I also always hit up Mr. Purple on the Lower Eastside, as well as the Soho area for shopping. The best part in my book is with the subway its so easy to get to your next destination without breaking the bank.
New York City will forever in my heart be my favorite place to visit all year round.
JEREMY FOSTER (@travelfreak) — SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
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For the outdoorsy among us, Salt Lake City, Utah may very well be one of the best cities in the United States. With the Wasatch Mountains as a backdrop, you never feel like you’re far from the mountains — and the fact is, you’re not. SLC has all the city amenities and you’re only a few hours from many of the best National Parks in the US, meaning a Utah road trip is never out of the equation. Rent is affordable, you’ve got winter sports just up the road in Park City, and a film festival every year, to boot.
Literally, what more could you need?
CHLOE CALDWELL (@chloeicaldwell) — LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
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Okay, I had to include two entries because I couldn’t leave out my beloved hometown of Los Angeles. While many aspects of LA are far less glamorous than they appear in the movies that are filmed here and the traffic is downright brutal, this city truly has something for everyone. With West Hollywood’s eclectic food scene, the endless sunshine of Venice Beach, the cliché tourist attractions in Hollywood, and everything in between, I firmly believe LA is somewhere that every kind of traveler should visit at least once.
Every neighborhood in LA offers its own unique charm, so you can spend time exploring each corner of the city and never run out of things to do. No matter where you end up, visiting the beach, hitting a rooftop bar (High Rooftop Lounge and E.P. & L.P. are my favorites!), eating a burger and animal fries from In-N-Out, and visiting one of the many museums are all a must while you’re in town.
ZACH JOHNSTON (ztpwhiskey) — NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
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Music City is always a good time. Nashville is a very neighborhood-based city, meaning you can go out to a different neighborhood each day/night you’re in the city and have a different vibe and time in each spot. Looking for a college scene? Hang out on Broadway and West End Ave. right next to Vanderbilt University. There’s a dope Santa Fe Taco Co. up there that’ll fill you up on crunchy and soft tacos before your night out. If you’re feeling saucy, there’s also a Hattie B’s Hot Chicken outlet a little further down on Broadway. If you’re brave, try the Cluck You heat level. Be ready for a long stretch of insane heat. To recover, head over to Hopsmith Tavern for a long list of local and national craft brews that turns into a party atmosphere after the sun sets. Once you’re re-set after that hot chicken, hit up Winners (right next to Hopsmith on Division) for a night out dancing, drinking, and (likely) hooking up.
And look at that, a whole night out and we’ve only hit one neighborhood. At some point, you’re going to have to hit downtown and the honkey tonks on Broadway. Yes, a lot of them are very touristy. Just go with the flow, enjoy the $5 Jack and Cokes, and give yourself into the live bands and revelers. You will have a good time.
For a little more upscale time, head to Germantown. The whole vibe is reconstructed warehouses and brick garages with higher-end restaurants, beer bars, and cocktail stops. Grab a slice from 312 Pizza when you get there and then just bar hop all night. Monday Night Brewing, Neighbors, and Mother’s Ruin are all must-stops on any night out.
Naturally, there’s so much more than just partying in Nashville. You can hit the numerous country music museums and sites. The Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline museums are a must. The Country Music Hall of Fame is a great way to walk off your hangover. Then there’s the whole Grand Ole Opry scene just north of downtown.
Finally, you should probably hit up some distilleries for that sweet, sweet Tennessee whiskey. Corsair Distillery is centrally located and worth stopping in if you’re looking for something out of the norm. Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery up in Watkins Park is worth the Uber ride up there. You’ll be greeted by a whole scene of whiskey lovers diving into one of the country’s hottest whiskey lines right now. Just make sure you book your tour ahead of time and don’t sleep on the cocktail bar in the main tasting room.
Finally, there’s one of the coolest places in whiskey today, Nashville Barrel Company. The tasting room is small but full of some of the best barrel picks from both huge names in whiskey (Fred Minnick and Nate Gana to name a few) and whiskey clubs from all over the country. The team at the bottling house has some seriously deep knowledge and provides a ridiculously welcoming atmosphere. And hey, if you have some spare change, you can pick your own barrel and take home 200 bottles of the truly good stuff. Trust me, the barrels at NBC are the prime cuts. Plus, you’re sure to make a new friend or two at the tasting bar.