Summer is the perfect time to take a vacation—the weather is warm, kids are out of school, and most activities and attractions are open. (Cue the tropical music, road trip vibes, and or whatever else floats your travel boat.) But it’s not always easy to get away; work, finding time to put together an itinerary, and the cost of traveling can all slow you down when you’re trying to plan your escape. Here are some things to consider to help you get started putting that much-needed vacation in motion, and some ideas for top destinations by region—whether you want to stay in your own corner of the country or visit a different one.

What’s your budget?

It’s the least fun part of vacation planning, but also a really unavoidable part, so… what can you afford? Think about what you’re comfortable spending in total, and also remember to take into account any travel points (like from a rewards credit card) you might have available. For example, you might be able to use rewards points toward airfare, hotel stays, or rental cars.

Once you factor those things in, think about the actual cash part—how much can you comfortably spend? If you’re not sure, the 50-30-20 budget rule can be a good guide. It basically says that you should allocate 50% of your earnings to the things you absolutely have to pay, like rent or mortgage payments and utilities. 30% can go toward discretionary (stuff you want) spending, including vacations. And 20% should be put toward savings. So the 30% of your monthly take-home pay is a good place to start when you’re framing out your vacation budget. You may have been saving up for a trip, too, and if that’s the case then you can boost your budget by adding in those savings as well.

Who’s going?

Maybe it’s just you, heading off on a solo adventure. Traveling alone can be a very unique experience. First, it means you can just go—because why put off a trip you want to take just because you don’t have a travel companion? But a lot of times it means having experiences and interactions that you might not have if you were traveling with someone else. For example, if you’re sitting at a cafe by yourself, or checking out a town square, locals seem more likely to talk with you. This can often get you some of the best insider recommendations. And of course, traveling alone is a lot more flexible and less expensive than traveling with others, so there’s that!

What type of trip are you looking for?

The next important thing to consider is what you want out of this trip. Do you want to see something new? Maybe a natural wonder, like the Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore, maybe? Or do you want to explore a new city and all the sights and culture it offers? Maybe you just want to go chill on a beach and not do too much of anything, at all. Do you want to venture far from home, or find cool local trips?

Deciding on the type of trip you want to take will help you figure out whether you can stick close to home, or you need to travel to get to that city, or beach, or state park that you want to see. It’ll also help you determine whether it’s going to be a road trip, or if you’ll need to take a plane or train to get to where you want to go.

Whether you’re looking to stay close to home, or go check out a new region, you have lots of options. If you want to stay really close to home—especially if you don’t have much time or budget to take a vacation, local trips or even a staycation are always good options.

Here are some of the best places to go in each part of our great United States—key attractions to visit and whole cities that have a lot to do and see.


New York City

New York City is iconic across the globe. It’s the city that never sleeps; it’s a global financial hub, a culinary and nightlife Mecca, and also has one of the most significant theater and cultural scenes in the world. 

No trip to the Big Apple is complete without a visit to Central Park. You can check out Bethesda Terrace (you’ll recognize it from countless movies), the American Museum of Natural History, and Belvedere Castle. If you just want to wander the park on your own, all 843 acres of it are beautiful and a great way to spend a day exploring.

The Empire State Building is definitely a sight worth seeing (don’t worry, there’s an elevator, unless you really want to get your steps in), and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a great way to see the iconic Manhattan skyline from a distance. On your way back, head to Chelsea Market—it’s a charming marketplace with a fantastic selection of food and shopping.

Salem, Massachusetts

If a smaller city is more your style, and you enjoy quaint shops, historic architecture, and history, you’ll love Salem, Massachusetts. If you’re into literature, you’ll definitely want to visit the House of the Seven Gables, the site of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous 1851 novel.

On the darker side of Salem’s history are the witch trials of 1692 and 1693. The Salem Witch Trials Memorial is the place to go for all the details and stories of that time.

Fortunately, there are also Salem sights to see for a more lighthearted take on the witchcraft theme. If you happened to see the cult classic film Hocus Pocus, you might remember the Halloween party scene. That was when the townspeople, under a spell cast by one of the Sanderson Sisters, couldn’t stop dancing. That was filmed at the Old Town Hall at 161 Essex Street, which is open to the public and hosts the Salem Museum.

Acadia National Park

If spending your vacation unplugged and exploring nature is your thing, Acadia National Park has spectacular forests, rocky coastlines, and waterways. Its Cadillac Mountain is the tallest peak on the East Coast, and you can go climbing, hiking, and tidepooling all over the park.



Chicago is a happening city with something for everyone. It’s famous for deep-dish pizza, which you can check out at lots of different places, but Lou Malnati’s is the OG, and one of the best. Another famous Windy City food is the Chicago-style hot dog, and SuperDawg is the place to get a fine version of that famous Chi-town link with the traditional fixings.

When you’re not busy eating, you can visit Wrigley Field (even if you’re not into baseball, the tour is really interesting), and the waterfront amusement park at Navy Pier. And don’t miss taking a selfie with the giant, shiny bean known as the Cloud Gate at Millennium Park.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is an incredible sight, and unlike any other monument you’ll see in America. The likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln were carved into the mountain’s face by Gutzon Borglum and for 400 workers from 1927 to 1941. Before that, it was unpresidented. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist!)

Mall of America

The Mall of America is just what it sounds like—the largest shopping mall in the United States. In fact, it’s the largest mall in the Western Hemisphere. It has 520 stores and spans 129 acres. There’s even an amusement park in the mall!


Charleston, SC

Charleston is a wonderful city to visit both for its Southern charm and its top-notch food scene. Many of the streets in its historic areas are cobblestone, and you can tour the city in a horse-drawn carriage.

Taking a ferry ride out to Fort Sumter is a great way to spend an afternoon—you can tour the fort, which is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

One thing about Southern cities is that they all seem to be pretty haunted. Charleston is no exception, so you can take a ghost tour to learn a little history and a little lore.

Charleston also has a fantastic food scene, from traditional Southern fare to the latest haute cuisine. One of the most famous traditional southern spots, where you can dine on the water, is the Marina Variety Store restaurant. Check out the shrimp and grits or a Lowcountry boil to get an authentic taste of Charleston.

Nashville, TN

Nashville is known as ‘Music City’ for a reason. Bluegrass music was invented there in 1945, on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium, which houses the Grand Ole Opry.

If you’re a fan of country music (or even if you’re not), the Opry is legendary, and a place anyone who loves music should visit. You can book a tour, or go see a show—they have them several times a week. If you’re lucky, you might get serenaded by the ghost of Hank Williams, Sr., who’s said to haunt the Ryman. (Don’t worry, he’s friendly!)

The Bluebird Cafe is another Nashville Institution. It’s famous for its nightly lineup of songwriters performing their songs. Artists who started out at the Bluebird include Taylor Swift, Vince Gill,  Keith Urban, Kathy Mattea, Dierks Bentley, and Lady A. Go check out a performance and maybe you’ll see the next Taylor Swift before they’ve hit it big.

If music isn’t your thing, you might want to visit the Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s former estate. It’s open for tours, and there’s a museum on site as well.

The Everglades (Florida)

For a unique nature tour, Everglades National Park in Florida is worth a visit. It’s the largest subtropical wilderness in the US and home to several endangered species that are spectacular to see in their natural environment: the Florida Panther, the manatee, and the American crocodile. You can take guided tours by boat, which is the best way to see everything and also the safest (because crocodiles and panthers…).

The Grand Canyon (Arizona)

Technically, it’s just a really, really big hole in the ground… but the Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the World for good reason. It’s 217 miles long and a mile deep! You can tour the rim, take a donkey ride down into it, or go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, which runs through the bottom of the canyon.



Yosemite National Park is a great representation of California’s natural beauty. It has granite mountains, forests, and even glaciers. If you’re a hard-core climber you might want to take on the rocky face of El Capitan. If you’re a serious hiker, Half Dome is an iconic all-day hike that peaks at the rocky top where you hold onto steel cables to keep from tumbling off the edge. If you go, be sure to apply for a permit in advance, because you’ll need that to be allowed on Half Dome. And if you want a more leisurely visit, there are gorgeous trails and vistas everywhere—including massive waterfalls like Bridal Veil Falls.

San Francisco

San Francisco has starred in countless films, from the Sting to Bullitt to Mrs. Doubtfire. Part of the reason is its stunning backdrop—you can see the ocean, the hilly streets, and the Golden Gate Bridge from most places in the city. You can walk everywhere, or take one of the famous, fun Cable Cars if you don’t want to schlep up all the hills.

The City By the Bay is also home to the Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco Giants if you want to take in a game.

One of the most interesting things to see during your visit is Alcatraz. No matter how many movies you’ve seen it in, there’s nothing like standing there on the Rock, looking back at the San Francisco skyline. Famous prisoners like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly (the real deal mobster, not the rapper) called it home, and at one point the inmates tried to argue cruel and unusual punishment because they could smell the sweet aromas of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory wafting across the water. Be sure to book your tickets in advance; the ferries that take you out there tend to book up fast!

Los Angeles

No trip to California is complete without visiting the LA area. Almost everywhere you go you’re likely to see celebrities. Particular hot spots are the Grove—an outdoor mall that also has a fantastic farmer’s market, movie theaters, and restaurants, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and the Ivy restaurant.

If you head over to Hollywood, you can visit the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where you can find your favorite celebrities’ stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And right next door is the Dolby Theatre, the site of the Academy Awards ceremony each year.

Other essential LA-area activities are Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure, and studio tours. You can go visit film sets and experience all sorts of movie memorabilia and themed rides at Universal Studios, and there are also excellent tours at Paramount and Warner Bros.