The mainland of the US stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and shares borders with Canada and Mexico. The country is filled with large, multicultural cities and diverse natural areas that make it an excellent vacation destination. Because of its well developed infrastructure, traveling from one area to another is relatively easy. Backpacking is one of the best ways to really get to know the people and places of the US. Below is a list of 4 itinerary options, depending on the amount of time each traveler has.
4. 2 months - Road trip from Los Angeles to Miami
The automobile has played one of the biggest roles in shaping the current American lifestyle and travelers can take part in its car culture by taking a road trip from Los Angeles, California to Miami, Florida.
This 2,733-mile journey has a number of interesting attractions along the way and is definitely worth spending 2 months exploring in order to take it all in. Visitors should rent a car in Los Angeles and spend the first week here. Some great places to check out are: the beaches and pier of Santa Monica, the unique personalities and street art along Venice Beach, the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, the Grand Central Market, Chinatown, the Getty Center museum, Malibu, and Mulholland Drive through the Santa Monica Mountains.
From LA, drive the 4 hours to Las Vegas, Nevada. Here, visitors can spend a couple days exploring the Strip with its casinos and luxurious hotels. This city is famous for its nightlife and gambling. The best part is, it is only a 4 hour drive to the Grand Canyon, one of the largest canyons in the world. About 4 days can be spent here, camping, whitewater rafting, hiking, and viewing the night sky.
From the Grand Canyon, roadtrippers should head south of Flagstaff, Arizona to Historic Route 66, the most famous and unique highway in the country. Today, some parts of this highway overlap with the interstate system. This highway takes travelers through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and is worth spending a couple of weeks exploring. In Flagstaff, the itinerary includes: the historic downtown district, The Spur Motel, and the Dean Eldredge Museum. Heading east, some other Arizona stops along the way are the: Canyon Diablo ghost town, Apache Death Cave, the Jack Rabbit Trading Post, the 1912 Meteor site, and the Petrified Forest National Park.
In New Mexico, the road trip includes the: El Morro Theater near Gallup, Zuni Pueblo, the New Mexico Mining Museum, remains of the Whiting Brothers’ Gas Station, Acoma Curio Shop, and Dead Man’s Curve. A few days should be designated to explore Albuquerque and Santa Fe as well.
From Santa Fe, New Mexico, the trip takes explorers to Interstate 40 and into Amarillo, Texas. From here, head southeast to Austin and San Antonio. These cities offer the chance to check out an independent music festival, an NBA basketball game, Spanish missions, and to escape the heat tubing down one of the rivers. It takes about 8 hours to drive from San Antonio, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana.
This unique city deserves at least one week of the trip. Some of the highlights here include: the French Quarter, St. Louis Cathedral, Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium, Bourbon Street, New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, Lafayette Cemetery, St. John’s Bayou, National World War II Museum, and Magazine Street.
Next up is a roughly 5.5 hour drive to Tallahassee, Florida. Tallahassee is a great city to include on a cross-country trip. It has some excellent museums, zoos, restaurants and parks. Additionally, this city is located near the Apalachicola National Forest, which makes for a great way to get out of the urban setting for a few days of hiking and camping.
For the final leg of this journey, drive east to Jacksonville for the start of a beach road trip. Head south to St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in the country, and check out the Castillo de San Marcos. Further south is Palm Beach, the Kennedy Space Center, and Daytona Beach (where driving on the beach is permitted). From Palm Beach, Miami is just 63 miles away. This city is famous for its nightlife, beautiful beaches, and shopping centers. The last few days of the trip should be reserved for a trip to the Everglades National Park, home to the Florida panther, manatee, and American crocodile.
3. 1 month - Seattle - Portland - San Francisco - Chicago - Philadelphia - New York
This 1 month itinerary includes roughly 5 days in each of the following cities: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City.
This trip starts in Seattle, Washington, the heart of the Pacific Northwest. This city is home to the original Starbucks and offers a ton of activities. From the top of the Space Needle, visitors can get a 360° view over the city, mountains, and bay area. Other attractions here and nearby include: the Underground Tour, Pike Place Market, Waterfront, Experience Music Project Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
From here, tourists can hop on the train to Portland, Oregon. The trip takes about 3.5 hours and upon arrival, visitors find themselves right in the middle of downtown. This area is a great place to check out Chinatown, the Waterfront Park along the Columbia River, and the shopping district of Knob Hill. Powell’s Books is located here as well. This establishment takes up a whole city block and has 3 floors filled with books, making it the largest independent bookstore in the US and the perfect spot to grab a coffee and settle in for some reading. From Portland, a day trip to the Columbia River Gorge is a must. The drive takes around 1.5 hours and the area is perfect for hiking due to its beautiful scenery and numerous waterfalls, the most famous of which is Multnomah Falls.
The next stop is San Francisco, California, easily reached by flight. This city is jam-packed with fun activities, including: Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street (the most crooked street in the world), Chinatown (the largest in the world, outside of Asia), Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Cable Car.
From San Francisco, fly to Chicago, Illinois for a taste of the midwest. Chicago, also known as the Windy City, is located on the shore of Lake Michigan. Here, visitors can take a walk or ride a bike down Lake Shore Drive, which offers views of the lake and the city skyline. Other things to do include: going on a boat tour, eating Chicago-style deep dish pizza, visiting the top of the John Hancock building, and taking in the exhibits at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
From Chicago, a 2-hour flight to Philadelphia is next on the agenda. Five days in this city gives tourists a chance to check out some of the most important historical sights in the country as well as the homes of some famous figures. These attractions include the: Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House, Masonic Temple, Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site, and Franklin Court.
The trip finishes on the east coast in New York City. A 1.5 hour train ride from Philadelphia has tourists in the Big Apple, which is one of the most famous cities in the country. Here, visitors can take in the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, and the Empire State Building. Shoppers will love Fifth Avenue, while theater lovers will enjoy spending an evening or two on Broadway. Other great attractions include Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Radio City Music Hall.
2. 3 weeks - San Francisco - Chicago - New York - Washington, DC
With 3 weeks to go backpacking across the US, travelers can fit in a 5 day visit to 4 of the most important cities in the country: San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. The itineraries for San Francisco, Chicago, and New York can be found under the 1 month itinerary section. This trip begins by flying into San Francisco. Once finished here, tourists will take a flight to Chicago, spend 5 days, and take a flight to New York. From NYC, a 3 hour train ride will have visitors in Washington, DC, the capital of the nation.
With 5 days in Washington, DC, visitors can cover a lot of ground. The first day is best spent on the National Mall, which has some of the most famous monuments and museums in the country. Visitors have a choice among the National Museums of: American Indian, Natural History, American History, African Art, and Air and Space. The most important monuments include the: Washington Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Franklin Roosevelt Memorial. Other great places in DC include the International Spy Museum, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and Arlington National Cemetery.
1. 1 week - San Francisco and New York
Only 1 week in the US gives just enough time to spend 3 days on each coast, San Francisco in the west and New York in the east. The morning of Day 1 in San Francisco should be spent on a cruise to Alcatraz Island, which passes under the famous Golden Gate Bridge. After returning, walking around Fisherman’s Wharf and grabbing lunch is a great option, followed by an evening on a cable car before getting off at curvy Lombard Street. Day 2 includes stops to Chinatown in the morning, an afternoon picnic at Alamos Square, and overlooking the Painted Ladies houses which were made famous by the TV sitcom Full House. The final day in this city is best spent checking out the California Academy of Sciences and the Aquarium of the Bay.
A 5 hour flight has visitors in New York City, where the first day should be spent walking around Central Park and checking out some of the museums located here including the Rose Center for Earth and Space, Museum of the City of New York, and the Jewish Museum. Times Square is best visited at night when all of the lights are on. On Day 2, the itinerary includes an early afternoon trip to the Statue of Liberty and an evening show on Broadway. The best way to spend the final day in NYC is to catch a game at Yankee Stadium in the afternoon and listen to some live music in West Village that evening.
About the Author
Amber is a freelance writer, English as a foreign language teacher, and Spanish-English translator. She lives with her husband and 3 cats.
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