If you are a proud citizen, interested in your country’s social, political and cultural history, or just a serial traveler, there are probably a myriad of possibilities on your list of things to do in the USA before you die. As a huge country with glorious and diverse landscapes, amazing sprawling metropolitan areas and tiny towns, and a fantastically wealthy history, narrowing down the potentials is never going to be easy, but here is my pick of the 50 things to do in the USA before you die. Enjoy!
1 Go Horse Riding in Montana
The scenery of the Swan Valley in Montana seems to echo the Alpine landscapes straight out of the Sound of Music. The state has some of the most unspoiled and beautiful natural areas in the country and it is the ideal place to saddle up and ride out because horse riding in Montana is one of the things to do in the USA before you die. Gorgeous lakes and rivers, flat plains and soaring mountains make the perfect setting for some giddy up.
2 Bungee Jump from the Royal Gorge Bridge
Not for the fainthearted, but you’re only going to do it once. Plus even the most cowardly people have been known to try it once and immediately want to do it again. The highest “legal” bungee jump in the world is from the Royal Gorge Bridge at Canon, Colorado, which stands over the Arkansas River at a height of 1,053 feet.
3 Tour the White House
Not just the home to the President but a symbol of the nation, touring the White House should be on your list of things to do in the US before you die. Totally dripping and oozing with political, social and cultural history, the White House is an experience for every American, and every visitor from overseas who makes it to Washington D.C.
4 Go to the Superbowl
Arguably America’s greatest sporting event, even if you don’t like football, the sheer sense of theater and occasion makes attending one of the things to do in the USA before you die. It’s more than just about the sport too. Superbowls are a real entertainment fest with pre-match and half time spectacles. The 2014 Superbowl and the contest for the Vince Lombardi Trophy is being held at the Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
5 Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the places to go in the USA before you die and the one essential activity while there is to hop on a cable car. Did you know that the city’s cable car system is the only entry on the National Registry of Historic Places that actually moves? Take multiple trips on the cable cars to Nob Hill, Union Station, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf and California Street. Don’t forget to ride to the top of Hyde Street to enjoy a view of the bay.
6 Attend the Grand Ole Opry
You don’t have to like country music to enjoy the sense of occasion of a night at Nashville’s Gran Ole Opry. The stage has hosted many great names in the past, since it opened in 1925, and even if EMD is your thang, you will find your toes a-tapping and you’ll leave feeling desperate to sign up to a line dance class or getting ready to dosey-doe.
7 Pig out at Hershey’s Chocolate World
Chocolate Town – aka Hershey, Pennsylvania – is one of the sweetest places to visit in the USA before you die. You can enjoy the entertainments here, immersing yourself in learning everything about chocolate from the bean to bar, but don’t let it distract from stuffing your face with all those yummy goodies.
8 See the Trees in Redwood National Park
With trees the size of skyscrapers dominating the 133,000 acres, it’s easy to overlook the rest of the amazing landscape of Redwood National Park. But see beyond the trees and you can feast your eyes on spectacular flora and abundant wildlife as well as 37 miles of gorgeous beachfront of the Del Norte Coast.
9 Try Tailgating in Chicago
Many major US cities can boast top flight teams in the country's major sports of baseball, football and basketball, and you can combine superb professional sport entertainment with great food. One brilliant destination for tailgating is Chicago. The food culture of the Windy City is deeply ingrained with ribs, dogs and pizza, so where better to conjoin sport and food in one trip? Tailgate at historic Wrigley Field or Soldier Field and then enjoy a brilliant game. While in Chicago, be sure to visit the sights too.
10 Eat Buffalo Wings in Buffalo
There are plenty of iconic foods to try, but where better than in the actual place they were invented? To visit the home of Buffalo Wings, head to Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. This is the very restaurant where Teressa Bellissimo first served up her delicious chicken wings covered in hot sauce and butter. Buffalo Wings are now served in restaurants all over the world.
11 Visit Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is one of the most well known and most striking monuments. More than 2 million people every year know this is one of the places to see in America before you die. Visit the Blacks Hills of South Dakota to see the carvings of four of the US’s greatest presidents, which tower some 60ft high. And while in the area, make the 17 mile trip to Crazy Horse Memorial, which has been under construction since 1948.
12 Take the Polar Bear Plunge
You probably have to be completely bonkers to go running into icy cold water in the depths of winter, but that’s why it’s one of those things to do in the USA before you die – and probably only ever once. It happens at various times, in various places around the country, where hundreds of people strip off and plunge the freezing waters of lakes, rivers or beaches. In Brandon Beach Missouri, for example, the Polar Bear Plunge happens on New Year’s Day, whereas one of the largest in the US is the Long Beach (NY) Polar Bears Superbowl Splash.
13 Let It All Hang out at Mardi Gras
For two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, the city of New Orleans gets jiggy with one of the most spectacular street festivals in the world. The beautiful areas of the city like Bourbon Street and the French Quarter are alive with parades, masks, music, king cake, cups, doubloons and thousands and thousands of beads. The best way to get the required response to “throw me something, mister” is to bare your breasts.
14 Be a Movie Extra
This will never be one of the easiest things to do in America before you die, but you can have some fun trying. For every casting call for extras for every movie and TV show, there are hundreds, often thousands of applicants, but you never know. You could be among the lucky ones chosen and you get to be on the set and maybe even get a cool costume too.
15 Pay Your Respects at Arlington Cemetery
A stunningly serene setting, Arlington is one of the nationally significant places that every American should visit at least once in their lifetime. It will remind you of the price of freedom and the cost of selfless sacrifice.
16 Make Your Own Wine in the Napa Valley
Head on out to California’s Napa Valley, but don’t just go on a tasting extravaganza. If you’re a fan of wine, take the opportunity to make your own. Press your grapes and see it bottled with your own custom label. While you’re there, tour some of the best vineyards in the country and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
17 Build a Structure at Texas Sandfest
There are some truly remarkable sand sculptures created at the annual Texas Sandfest. So what if you can make but a humble sandcastle; you’ll be amongst master sculptors from all over the globe as they converge to contest the World Championship of Sand Sculpting. And, it will bring back all those memories from days on the beach with your bucket and spade when you were a kid.
18 Ride the Coasters at Ohio Cedar Point
Riding some of the best roller coasters in the world is definitely on the list of things to do in America before you die, and where better to do so than at Cedar Point in Ohio. Designated the Roller Coaster Capital of the World, there are more rides here than anywhere else on earth. Plus, you get fabulous views of Lake Eerie, if you can keep your eyes open long enough to enjoy them.
19 Take a Helicopter Tour over Hawaii
It’s hard to choose a Hawaiian island, but undoubtedly, seeing them from the air is a thrilling experience. The one that offers some of the most incredible aerial landscapes is Kauai. The entire scape is lush and green. Helicopter tours take in the Hanapepe Valley, Mana Waiapuna Falls (near where parts of Jurassic Park where filmed), Olekele and more waterfalls in Waimea Canyon. You’ll then be taken to Bali Hai Cliffs, Hanalei Bay and probably Mount Waiauleale, an ancient volcano, again with more waterfalls, some plunging more than 3,000 feet. Simply stunning.
20 Visit Mark Twain’s Grave
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) might be argued to be America’s most famous writer. His tomb is in Redding, Connecticut, and is marked by a simple headstone, tribute to him and his wife alongside whom he is buried. Next to is a 12 foot granite monument. Visitors to the grave also usually make their way to see Twain’s study in nearby Elmira College, which is the most visited of all America’s literary attractions.
21 Step out on the Grand Canyon Skywalk
Some of the things to do in the US before you die might involve conquering your fears. Don’t let a height phobia make you miss out on one of the most incredible natural sights in the country – the Grand Canyon. The Skywalk extends over the canyon edge so you are literally walking out 70 foot into space 4,000 feet above the canyon. Amazing!
22 Get Spooked at Myrtle’s Plantation
Built in 1796, Myrtle’s Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, is one of America’s most haunted houses. The splendid antebellum mansion is reputed to be built upon an ancient Indian burial ground, but is also haunted by Chloe, a former slave, but apparently she shares the house with at least 11 more ghosts. Today, Myrtle’s Plantation is a bed and breakfast and also holds wedding ceremonies – if you dare.
23 Get Hot and Bothered in Death Valley
With the world’s second highest ever temperature recorded at Furnace Creek in July 1913 (134 F | 56.7 C), the experience of the heat of California’s Death Valley is something you probably only want to experience once.
24 See the View from the Statue of Liberty’s Crown
Ellis Island is one of the places that every American should visit, along with Liberty Island and the statue – one of the world’s most recognizable sights. Although the sight itself is awe-inspiring and the history unforgettable, the visit should definitely be topped off with the 360 degree views from the platform inside the Statue of Liberty’s Crown.
25 Get the Blues in Chicago
There are a great many delights and attractions in the Windy City and it is also one of the world’s biggest hubs for blues music, with many bars and clubs dedicated to the genre. The annual Chicago Blues Festival is the biggest free blues festival in the world and takes place in June over 3 days. If you can’t make it in June, Blue Chicago, Buddy Guy's Legends and Rosa’s Lounge are open all year round.
26 Hike the Appalachian Trail
Running for 2,180 miles between Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, the Appalachian Trail winds its way through some of the nation’s most glorious natural scenery, including more than a few national parks. As the trail is fully marked, you can choose a section that most appeals because few achieve the entire trail in a single season.
27 Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
Since 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge has been an icon. Spanning 1.7 miles and standing 600ft high, the bridge offers amazing views of San Francisco, Marin County, the Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Did you know there are 25,572 strands of wire and 1,200,000 million rivets in the bridge?
28 See the Northern Lights
The Aurora Borealis is one of Mother Nature’s most amazing sights, and it just so happens that one of the best places to see them is also one of the places you should visit in the USA before you die. Denali National Park in Alaska is home to Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in the USA and the park is a wonderful natural attraction.
29 Reconnect with Your Inner Child at Toys ‘R’ Us
Of course you could go to one of the most famous toy stores in the world at F.W. Schwarz, as it has been a fixture in NYC for more than 150 years, but for sheer size, it has to be Toys ‘R’ Us on Times Square. Here you can be roared at by a life size dinosaur, ride a 60ft high Ferris wheel or rearrange the furniture in a 4,000 square foot Barbie dollhouse. You need a week to camp out to see everything the store holds in its 110,000 sq foot of retail space.
30 Catch the Spray at Niagara Falls
One of the places you should visit in the USA before you die also appears on many travelers’ bucket lists. Niagara Falls is instantly recognizable all over the world as well as being a hugely popular honeymoon destination. At its peak, around 5.7 million liters of water thunder over the 173 foot high falls. Stand at the rail and enjoy the spray or get wet on the “Maid of the Mist” boat trip.
31 Ride a Fan Boat in the Everglades
The Everglades is a unique ecosystem in the south of Florida. This national park area known as the “River of Grass” is a wetland of cypress swamps and mangrove forests and is home to flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the States. The unique way to view the wildlife – especially the crocodiles and alligators – is on an air boat trip. Tours are available either as theme park type rides, or more intimate trips with people whose families have called the area home for generations.
32 Free Your Spirit at Burning Man
If just once in your life you want to kick conformity and social convention into touch and embrace self-expression, creativity and community spirit, the one place where everything and anything is done without censure is the week-long party that is the Burning Man Festival. Get together with 50,000 others in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada in August and just let everything go!
33 Shake Hands with the President
For serious bragging rights, one of the things to do in the US before you die is to shake hands with the President. Ensure you’re with someone who can capture a photo of the auspicious moment if you have managed to success fully out-maneuver the crowds and secret service to get to the front and close enough for the important hand clasp.
34 Have a Carriage Ride in Central Park
It’s hard to believe you are in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world when you’re in Central Park. There are more sights to see in the park than you might imagine, from historic buildings like the Boat House, Chess House and Belvedere Castle, monuments like the Strawberry Fields Memorial to John Lennon, icons like Bow Bridge – the site of many movie scenes – the carousel and of course, the zoo. Sit back and enjoy the sights from the comfort of a horse drawn buggy.
35 Ride the X Train
Offering a non-stop party from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, the X Train is the ultimate in rail travel. Available for adults only (21+), the train is a first class experience with sumptuously decorated lounges equipped with flat screen TVs, Wi-Fi and cocktail service or private party cars. Thing is, you’ll have to wait a short while to be able to tick this off your list of must-do things in America, as the service doesn’t begin until 2014, with the inaugural trip planned for January 4th.
36 Go Whale Watching
It doesn’t matter where you choose to go whale watching, the experience of seeing these huge but gentle giants of the ocean is magical. Make sure you choose a tour that abides by conservation guidelines and know when in the season to go for the best chance of spotting a humpback, killer or minke. Whale watching locations in the USA are on both coasts and in Hawaii and Alaska.
37 Eat S'mores in Yellowstone National Park
Yes, you can go camping anywhere, and yes you can eat s'mores anywhere, but why not do it in one of the loveliest places in the US in Yellowstone National Park. The first national park in the world (created in 1872), Yellowstone is home to Old Faithful, the famous geyser. It might be pretty commercialized but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be recognized as one of the things to see in the US before you die.
38 See a Rocket Launch
These things don’t happen every day and since the last shuttle flight took place in 2011, the space program has certainly been cut back. However, the spectacle of seeing a spacecraft of any sort take off is a sight of a lifetime. 2 launches are planned from Cape Canaveral in November 2013 and you can keep up to date with the launch schedule here: nasa.gov.
39 Go Oh La La in the French Quarter, New Orleans
For sheer eye candy, there are very few neighborhoods that can beat New Orleans’ French Quarter. The best time to visit is in April during the French Quarter Festival, when the French colonial townhouses with wrought iron balconies, Creole stilt cottages and antebellum mansions dripping in ivy are all dressed up to the nines to host a series of jazz concerts. Be sure to visit Jackson Square with the neo-gothic St. Louis Cathedral, take a tour of the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park and eat the signature food – beignets.
40 Stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Since 1958, over 2,400 celebrities have been immortalized with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Running between Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, the walk is an amazing homage to the great and good of the visual medium of stage, screen and television. In 2013, 24 more new stars are scheduled to be added including Ron Howard, Helen Mirren, Usher, Jennifer Hudson and James Franco. Check out the Walk of Fame website for details if you want to attend a ceremony.
41 Have the Time of Your Life at Walt Disney World
No one is ever too young or too old to enjoy Disney. And, let’s think about it, isn’t the world of Walt Disney one of America’s greatest and most beloved contributions to global culture? Who hasn’t heard of Disney? Embrace your inner child (it never leaves you – trust me!) with wondrous rides, the daily parade and more things to make you smile in one place than anywhere else on earth. Definitely one of the places to visit in America before you die – and you don’t have to fly halfway around the world to experience something the whole planet dreams of doing.
42 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
If you only visit one American museum in your life, make it this one. Attracting more than 5 million visitors a year, the Met houses nearly 2 million works of art spanning 5,000 years, spread over the most amazing settings, covering 14 acres. Having undergone massive renovation in the past decade, the museum is incredible both in the treasures it holds and the building itself. Not only do you get to see some amazing works of art, but if you head to the roof, you also get some magnificent views of New York.
43 Understand the Birth of a Nation at Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia
As an American, you should understand your sense of freedom – the tenet upon which the nation was built, and nowhere else is this more graphically represented than in the Independence National Historical Park. Visit the Hall where the founding fathers made their Declaration of Independence and drew up the Constitution, and pay your respects to the Liberty Bell. Also in the park is the President’s House, an unofficial memorial to slavery (it’s where George Washington kept his slaves during his visits to Philadelphia).
44 Walk the Boston Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is 16 sites in downtown Boston stretching 2.5 miles between Boston Common and the USS Constitution. The trail picks out many of the most significant sites in Colonial Revolutionary Boston as well as other landmarks (in the battle against slavery particularly) and is also intersected by the Black Heritage Trail. You can easily spend a whole day on the trail because it traverses not only the historical parts of the city but attractions of Modern Boston too.
45 Visit Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
If you’ve been to the Independence National State Park, then another of the things to do in the US before you die is visit the Taos Pueblo. This UNESCO World Heritage Site will imbue you with the spirit of the nation before the arrival of “the white man.” Taos has been a settlement for over 600 years and the original inhabitants of this area – the Tiwa speaking people – who live on a reservation adjacent to the Pueblo still use it for ceremonial rites.
46 Be Awed at Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
Continuing the theme of places of significance in US history, the Gettysburg battlefield is another must visit. The visitor’s center, which cost an astonishing $135 million, exhibits the story of one of the bloodiest battles on American soil. The battlefield landscape is currently being restored to represent how it looked on those 3 fateful days in July 1853. It is a beautiful place with an excellent museum and amazing statuary, monuments and memorials. Stand on Little Round Top, enjoy the view, but remember the 1,600 men that died in a matter of a few hours. (Just a small portion of the 45,000-50,000 men that lost their lives at Gettysburg.)
47 Visit the Civil Rights District, Atlanta
If you are going to visit the most significant sites of US freedom, another essential is the Sweet Auburn district of Atlanta – the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King. The African American Preacher and Civil Rights Leader (who was assassinated April 4 1968, aged 39) is entombed at the very classy National Historic Site where the visitor’s center contains many artifacts and exhibits of the great man’s life. Attractions in the neighborhood include his birth home and the Ebenezer Baptist church which witnessed his baptism, ordination and funeral.
48 Drive Route 66
There’s nothing quite like an American road trip, and as the USA has more miles of paved road than any other country on earth (more than 2.5 million), a route is not easily settled upon. However, the most iconic has to be Route 66, aka Mother Road, aka Will Rogers Highway. Running for nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago, Il. to Santa Monica, Ca., it passes through 9 states in total, stretching out amid some of the most glorious landscapes in the country. Its iconic status is enhanced by the quirky stops all along the route.
49 Ride a Gondola at the Venetian in Las Vegas
You may never get to experience the magic of Europe or especially, the romance of Venice, but there is an experience to be had closer to home. The gondola ride at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas is the next best to the real thing. Of course, as you’re in Vegas, you can enjoy the strip, take in a show, or even have a flutter or two.
50 Tour the National Mall, Washington DC
Capital cities are usually the embodiment of a nation and Washington D.C. is exemplary. Nowhere else in the country has so much historical, social, political and cultural bang in one place than the National Mall. Packed with the most important state buildings, monuments to great people and great events that shaped America, memorials to veterans and individuals and more museums than you can shake a stick at, including the absolutely incredible Smithsonian, the National Mall is one of the most essential places every American should visit.
It was great fun compiling this list of 50 things to do in the US before you die, but I am pretty sure that all of you will have an essential that you think I should have included, so I’m really looking forward to hearing what they are. So come on, ladies – what’s missing?