The Western United States has a wealth of exciting places to visit, and it’s ideal for planning an affordable trip. Mountains? Check. Ocean? Check. Evergreen forests? Check. And in addition to all the natural beauty, it has some wonderful museums, theme parks, and the fascinating epicenter of the entertainment world that includes Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles. Here are some of the top must-see destinations and attractions.


Yosemite National Park is a stunning place to visit, and something everyone should see. Its forests, glaciers, and mountains are some of the most spectacular on Earth. Don’t miss Half Dome if you’re a hiker— it’s an all-day hike that culminates in reaching a peak with cables to hang on to so you don’t go careening off the side. As you plan your trip, you’ll need to apply for a permit ahead of time, because that’s required to climb Half Dome. If you don’t feel up for the commitment of Half Dome, there are plenty of other, less strenuous trails with stunning vistas, as well as waterfalls to see. (Don’t miss Bridal Veil Falls!)

San Francisco

Countless films have used San Francisco as their setting, from Bullitt to Mrs. Doubtfire. And a perfect setting it is, with ocean views, Coit Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge visible from most spots in the city. You can explore on foot, or ride one of the city’s famous Cable Cars to take a load off while you see the sights.

Pro tip: you’ll never hear a local say ‘San Fran’ or ‘Frisco’, so if you want to blend in be sure to call it ‘SF’ or ‘the City’.

The Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco Giants are the local sports teams if you want to do some spectating while you’re in town.

Alcatraz is one of the most interesting destinations in SF, and not to be missed. 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) did lengthy stints there, and the inmates once argued cruel and unusual punishment because they could smell the chocolatey aroma of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory wafting across the Bay into their cells. You’ll want to book your tickets in advance; you need to take a ferry to get to Alcatraz, and they usually fill up a day or two in advance.

Los Angeles

The LA area is another fascinating spot to explore when you visit the Golden State, and it’s even possible to plan an affordable trip. First, there are places where you’re likely to see celebrities, like the Grove—an outdoor mall that has movie theaters, a farmer’s market, and restaurants. And of course Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and the Ivy, a restaurant that’s a favorite celeb hangout.

Head over to Hollywood, to check out Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. There, you can see the Hollywood Walk of Fame and find your favorite stars’ stars there on the sidewalk. The Dolby Theatre is right next door—that’s the site of the Academy Awards.

Other LA-area activities to consider are Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure. You can also 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.

Joshua Tree National Park

You’ve probably heard of Joshua Tree. If you’re old enough, you might remember U2’s record of the same name, inspired by the unique flowering plant for which the national park is named.

Joshua Tree National Park is in the Mojave Desert, about an hour’s drive from Palm Springs in Southern California, so it can be an easy and affordable trip. It’s a dramatic site because of the unique-looking Joshua Trees, and also a great place to go hiking, rock climbing, or offroad driving. With a little planning—and if you bring your own food—Joshua Tree can be an affordable and very memorable place to spend a day or two. While you’re in the California Desert, you can also check out the very unique and artsy manmade Salvation Mountain and the beautiful desert landscapes and slot canyons of Anza Borrego Desert State Park.