You might be asking “Why would someone want to visit all 50 states?” Everyone knows that there are cool states like New York, California, and Florida. They’ve got the best restaurants, the most exciting museums, and the grooviest things to do. Tourists come from all over the world to see the Statue of Liberty, walk the Golden Gate Bridge, and visit Disney World.
Then there are “boring states” like Delaware, North Dakota, and West Virginia. The people who live in these states are perfectly nice, but there’s nothing to do there. John Oliver even made fun of the idea of North Dakota tourism. When Wayne and Garth visited Delaware in the movie Wayne’s World, they famously had nothing to say about it. No one needs to know how to visit all 50 states.
Well, Internet Stranger, I could not disagree more strongly! Every state has something special, beautiful, and worth visiting. A little over 4 years ago, I decided I would visit all 50 states in only 5 years. I’ve now visited all 48 continental states, so I only have Hawaii and Alaska left. I can honestly say that I have loved every second of the trip. And I’m born and raised in New York City, so it’s not like I’m just an easily impressed person.
In fact, I think taking a trip to all 50 states is such a great idea that I now want to convince as many people as possible to vacation in all 50 states. If you are American, or just really want to know more about the United States, it’s an amazing experience to actually visit every corner of the nation and eat the food and talk to the locals. I promise it will change your impression of this country, whatever that impression might currently be.
You certainly don’t have to visit all 50 states in 5 years. I realize that this isn’t feasible with everyone’s vacation schedule. But I do have a few rules for how to visit all 50 states that I recommend following. Allow me to explain the rules. Then I’ll give you specific advice on how to visit each state.
How to Visit All 50 States: The Rules
1) make it a real trip
You need to spend at least three nights and two days in each state. (Basically a weekend’s worth of time. Just eating a Bojangles chicken and biscuit in the Charlotte airport doesn’t count as seeing North Carolina. I don’t think you can say you’ve visited a state unless you take a real and proper trip there, and that means a weekend’s worth of time.
Spending a weekend in a big city like Los Angeles or San Antonio really isn’t enough time to fully get to know a city, but it is enough time to get a first taste of a place and make you want to come back later. And in a smaller city like Portsmouth, New Hampshire or Rapid City, South Dakota, you’ll have some chill time to wander and ramble. After all, that’s one of the best things about a small city.
2) your hometown doesn’t count
You can’t just live in your home state and say you’ve traveled there. You need to take an actual trip and stay in a proper hotel. Cheaters never win and winners never cheat. Get to know a totally different part of your home state! I left New York City for a peaceful trip along the Hudson River Valley in Upstate New York, and I’m so glad I did.
3) try to visit the us territories
That means definitely Washington DC, and hopefully Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands (poor you, having to go to this beach in St. Thomas). I’ll be nice and say that Guam is outside the scope of this project because it isn’t in North America.
The US territories are loads of fun, but also the residents of the US territories are US citizens. As an American, I want to make sure they are included in anything to do with America.
4) Start From Scratch
It doesn’t count if you’ve been to a state before. Give yourself an opportunity to see each state with fresh eyes. I went to Brown University in Rhode Island, which meant I lived there for three and a half years, but I still needed to take a trip there. Anyway, I don’t think lying on my tummy in my hideous dorm room pretending to write essays about James Joyce really counts as having “been to Providence”.
OK, enough for the ground rules. You’re looking for specifics. And away we go!
How to Visit All 50 States: State by State
I refused to take a trip in my actual hometown, so I went up the Hudson River to see places like Tarrytown, Beacon, and Cold Spring. These hamlets are not the first thing kind of place most travelers think of when they picture New York, and that’s a good thing. The best time of year to visit the Hudson Valley is October because the area goes all out for Halloween. (It’s where The Legend of Sleepy Hollow comes from, after all.)
When you visit New York, you’re going to want to see New York City because it’s the greatest city in the world. But get out of the Big Apple, at least for a day trip. It’s amazing how beautiful the nature in the rest of the state is.
You absolutely cannot visit Louisiana without seeing New Orleans. I mean, I’m sure Shreveport is nice, but do New Orleans first. It’s got the best food, the best music, and the best silver-painted mimes in all the United States.
My favorite time of year to visit Louisiana is December because the restaurants go crazy preparing lavish Reveillon dinners, but you don’t have the nutso crowds for Mardi Gras. Also it’s an easy December/early January trip to pair with our next state…
In Texas, the two best cities are Austin and San Antonio. At least, they’re the two best cities for a non-driver like me. There’s even a convenient train that connects San Antonio and Austin. You can easily visit both Austin and San Antonio in one week-long trip, with a nice detour in the beautiful Texas Hill Country in between.
December and January might not give the best weather in Texas, but a lot of people get time off in late December and early January, so Texas is a good choice in the US for this time of year. The San Antonio Riverwalk goes all out with Christmas Lights. And I was sure glad to be in Austin for New Year’s 2016 because we celebrated with a rock concert/midnight barbecue, and that is the most Austin celebration ever.
Many Floridians don’t consider Orlando to be Real Florida. And many residents of Orlando don’t consider Disney World to be Real Orlando. That’s why I spent my entire long weekend in Florida at Disney World. Got a problem with that, Florida? Then I’ve just got one word for you: BORTLES!
But seriously, especially if you’re traveling with kids or adult geeks, you won’t want to pass on Orlando. But do also spend at least a weekend in Miami, where you can party all night on the beach til the break of dawn.
I visited these next five states together on one summer road trip. (Here I use the term road trip loosely because I cannot drive. But if you can drive, it would make a great Actual Road Trip. But go in the spring or fall, not summer time if you can help it because the heat is oppressive. Also avoid hurricanes.)
Richmond is a charming city, but my favorite place to visit in Virginia is Williamsburg. Where else can you travel back in time to Colonial Williamsburg and travel to other nations at Busch Gardens? Some say Virginia is for lovers, but I say Virginia is for nerds!
North Carolina has quite a few cities worth visiting, especially in the Research Triangle. You’ll have a ball in either Chapel Hill or Raleigh, but I recommend Durham, North Carolina. Here you can visit Duke University, argue about barbecue styles, and see the only baseball team I know of whose mascot is Susan Sarandon.
I strongly recommend Durham for people who are afraid of visiting the South because it’s such a typical college town in so many ways, but you can still find amazing Southern food there.
And here we see the scenic capital of South Carolina, Columbia. (JK, the capital of South Carolina is Columbia, but this picture is of Charleston. I think the entire state of South Carolina would challenge me to pistols at dawn if I didn’t recommend you visit Charleston.) If you splurge on your hotel in only one city in America, let it be in Charleston because their bed and breakfast game is unreal.
The Great State of Georgia‘s capital city, Atlanta, has everything: museums, zoos, botanical gardens, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Jimmy Carter, the busiest airport in the entire world and the finest chili dog in the entire land. The one thing it doesn’t have is very old buildings because the entire city burned to the ground in the Civil War.
If you want a city with even more Southern charm, head down the coast to Savannah. Savannah also has everything: antique ice cream, piles of shellfish, haunted cemeteries, a college of art and design, Forrest Gump impersonators, whole fish served with their heads, and a famous murder house. You can easily drive from Atlanta to Savannah in one trip, or take the glamorous shuttle bus. (Not sarcasm, it’s actually glamorous. There are free snacks.)
PS. You are legally required to refer to it as the Great State of Georgia at all times.
Birmingham, Alabama is very easy to visit from Atlanta. If you have a car it’s just a couple of hours. If you don’t have a car, you can get from Atlanta to Birmingham with an 8 dollar bus ticket. Alabama has quite a few cities worth visiting, especially if you are interested in learning about the Civil Rights Movement.
I chose Birmingham because it’s the biggest city in the state, and it’s the easiest to get to by plane. Plus it has the Civil Rights National Monument, all centered around Kelly Ingram Park, where so many people risked their lives and safety to have the rights that they were entitled to as Americans. Every American should visit Birmingham, Alabama.
Another city every American should visit is Philadelphia. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both written here. Ben Franklin is the town’s most famous son, even though he wasn’t born there. No AMERICA trip is complete without a stop in Philly. Also if you love Very Serious Sports Fans, this is the town for you.
Because I live in New York, I went to Philadelphia as a short trip over Labor Day weekend by bus. I’ve heard rumors that Philadelphia has an airport, but I don’t believe them. Labor Day is an excellent time to visit Philly because everyone leaves for the beach, so you’ll kind of have the city to yourself. Also the weather will be lovely.
But though Philadelphia gets more tourists, don’t ignore Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh. You can visit Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the same trip, but I went to PBG a little later, in early October. Because of Pittsburgh’s famous inclines, you can get amazing views of fall foliage at this time of year.
The best time of year to visit New Mexico is October, so you can see the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. This is really something to check off your bucket list. Ideally you would spend at least a week in New Mexico to see both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but Carlsbad Caverns and oddball magnet Roswell in the southern part of the state are surely worth visiting as well.
I’m sure Kentucky has lots of nice cities, but I don’t see how any of them could top the delightful Louisville. It has bourbon, horse racing…basically everything a growing girl needs. I visited Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri in one two week trip, and I do think it would make a nice road trip. But it’s really cheap to get from Louisville to our next destination by bus.
I truly regret not getting to Memphis during this trip, but Nashville was so much easier to get to by bus. And if you like delicious food, guitars, Cadillacs, and hillbilly music, Nashville is the city for you. I took this trip in the spring, so there was great weather in every city. I imagine Nashville is much warmer in the summer. That’s just science.
Don’t sleep on Mississippi when you visit all 50 states! Jackson, Mississippi, the state capital, has a lot of cultural attractions and potholes, and it’s a great base to explore the state. Vicksburg and Natchez are both excellent day trips from Jackson. You can even visit both in one day. I strongly recommend visiting during Spring Pilgrimage, when the historic homes of Natchez open up for tourists.
I was able to make these day trips because I stole a car and by that I mean that I have cousins in Vicksburg and they drove me around. You’ll need a car to make these day trips, though Jackson is very reachable by airplane.
There’s only one big city in Arkansas, the capital and former home of the Clintons, Little Rock. Little Rock has really taken off in recent years, and the city now has everything from an outstanding purse museum to a cafe with a pet pig for a mascot. Don’t let any stereotypes about Arkansas stop you from paying Little Rock a visit when you visit all 50 states.
St. Louis is not the capital of Missouri. It’s not even the biggest city. But it’s probably the city with the most things to do. There’s a free zoo! Tons of delicious food and beer! And there’s even a city museum that isn’t even remotely a museum! I only wish I’d had more than a weekend’s worth of time to spend in St. Louis. When you visit all 50 states, I suggest spending at least three full days in St Louis
My other regret is that I still haven’t figured out if Missouri is a southern or a midwestern state. I’m going with midwest, but it’s a tough call.
Despite the fact that it was under attack by evil clowns, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Cincinnati. I took a 2.5 week trip around the Great Lakes region one summer, and I hit up Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. It’s pretty to get around most of these states by bus or trains. (I strongly believe the mass transit systems of this country are in desperate need of improvement.
Ohio has plenty of great cities to try when you visit all 50 states, but I really fell for Cincinnati. It has excellent museums for both history and art. It has fab food, and I’m not just talking about Skyline Chili. Finally, it’s within walking distance of Kentucky. So you could easily visit Kentucky on the same trip.
Until South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (probs not how you spell his name) ran for president, the only city in Indiana I could name was the capital, Indianapolis. Unfortunately, Pawnee, Indiana from the show Parks and Recreation does not exist. However, Indianapolis is featured several times on Parks and Rec so you can give yourself a little tour by visiting the Indiana Governor’s office and eating at Ron Swanson’s favorite steakhouse.
Indianapolis is a surprisingly fun city, with friendly people, great museums, and a giant Civil War monument. (It’s not controversial because it’s for the Union soldiers.) Indianapolis is also very easy to get to from Cincinnati by bus, and it’s one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the Midwest. Definitely a Must Visit City.
I wasn’t really sure I wanted to visit Detroit, but I had no choice. As a non-driver, it would have been too hard for me to get to any other city in Michigan. And Detroit is a short train trip from Indianapolis. But boy am I glad I headed to Detroit! It has fantastic architecture, beautiful nature, and an excellent art museum that thankfully did not go bankrupt.
Also the food is amazing, so are the cocktails, and it has one of the prettiest libraries I have ever seen. If that’s not enough, it has the Motown Museum. I guarantee you’ll have a blast if you spend a weekend or more in Detroit.
I feel like I should have visited other parts of the state and not just Chicago. But Chicago is so choice! I don’t see how someone can visit all 50 states and not see our country’s third largest city. It has everything: comedy, architecture, hot dogs, something that calls itself pizza but is not pizza, Ferris Bueller, the Untouchables, “your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimball”.
Now I’m starting to feel like Chicago should just be its own state. I’m sure Peoria wouldn’t mind, would you Peoria? The one downside to Chicago is the weather any time of year but summer. Definitely hit this city up in summer, unless you like being frozen.
Milwaukee is a quick train away from Chicago, but it’s quite different. True, like Chicago it has Great Lakes and excellent museums. But you won’t find the same kinds of skyscrapers that Chicago has. Instead you’ll find adorable German restaurants, a statue to the Fonz, a very different kind of something that says it’s pizza but isn’t pizza, and a delicious something called frozen custard.
Once again, do Wisconsin in the summer, unless you are a hard-core Green Bay Packers fan. And if that’s the case, you really should be living in Wisconsin already.
Minnesota native Prince did not actually coin the phrase “the cold never bothered me anyway”. But he might as well have because Minnesota is freezing during the winter. They actually built skyways in Minneapolis so the stores wouldn’t all go out of business when the temperature drops. I recommend visiting Minnesota in the summer or fall. It pretty much never gets that hot.
I grew up visiting my grandparents in the college town Northfield, so I can recommend many destinations in Minnesota when you visit all 50 states, though I only visited Minneapolis for this blog. Minneapolis’s twin city, the capital St. Paul, is smaller than MPLS, but still completely charming. If you’re a nature lover, don’t miss the chance to go canoeing in the lakes of northern Minnesota. And if you want to hit another state on the same trip, Morehead, Minnesota shares a metropolitan area with Fargo, North Dakota. Bonus! There are no woodchippers in Morehead.
I mentioned that I regret not visiting Memphis, but my second big regret is not checking out Baltimore. Instead, I visited Annapolis, the capital. My stepmother went to college there, and I knew what an adorable city it was. If you love American history, shellfish, Naval Officers, bed and breakfasts, and cute little lighthouses, Annapolis is for you.
I visited Annapolis during Labor Day weekend, and the weather was pretty perfect. But I bet there would be fewer tourists if you went in the fall. My only complaint is that Annapolis is so hard to get to from NYC without a car. I needed to take a bus to Baltimore, then a light rail, and then another bus. That’s crazy! Everyone wants to visit you when they visit all 50 states, Annapolis! Let them love you.
As a native New Yorker, I’m honor bound to hate California and all its works. But I suspended my hatred long enough to visit Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and San Diego…and I actually really liked them. Los Angeles has fantastic food, Palm Springs is gorgeous, and San Diego has my favorite park in the United States. I spent 9 days visiting all three cities, which is a good amount of time to get an introduction.
When you visit all 50 states,, you can visit Los Angeles and San Diego at any time of year because the weather is sickeningly perfect. But only visit Palm Springs during the cold weather months. I went in October, which was a bit early. Best to go between November and March if you don’t want to burn to death in the desert heat.
Speaking of burning to death in the desert, welcome to Arizona! When you visit all 50 states, see sunny Phoenix in any season but summer. I went in April and the weather was hot, but not devastating. I could walk around without praying for an ice cube to fall from the sky and crush me just to put me out of my misery.
Phoenix, Arizona’s capital is a fun city, especially if you like hanging with groovy retired people. But the Must See Attraction is the Grand Canyon. Fortunately there are tours that take you to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix, so you don’t need a car. As a bonus, you’ll get to see the Red Rocks of Sedona and a Route 66 town along the way.
Las Vegas was another one of those places that pleasantly surprised me. I was sure I’d hate it. That it would be full of degenerate gamblers, empty-headed showgirls, and Andy Garcia looking mean. But I met very few gamblers, no Andy Garcia, and some showgirls with plenty of knowledge in their heads.
If, like me, you don’t want to gamble, there’s still plenty to do in Las Vegas when you visit all 50 states,. You can visit natural history and Mob history museums, with or without kids. There’s even a Neon Museum with lights that put the Vegas strip to shame. If you stay at one of the casinos, there will be shows and tasty eats every night until the break of dawn. You really can’t get bored in Vegas!
I visited Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Oklahoma on the same trip, and it was wild to head to Salt Lake City directly after visiting Sin City. After all, Salt Lake City is the center of the Mormon Church, and Mormons aren’t even allowed to drink alcohol or coffee. (I drank a ton of both in Vegas. I also drank a ton of both in Salt Lake City. There are plenty of non-Mormons in Utah’s capital.)
I recommend Salt Lake City if you like nature. There are beautiful mountains and a lovely botanical garden. It’s also a great place to take kids who will enjoy the natural history museum and the historical re-enactments at This is the Place. Just don’t wander around asking people to feed you funeral potatoes. I learned this the hard way.
Colorado is famous for legalizing marijuana, and Denver sort of smells like Mary Jane 24/7. But if, like me, you abstain, you can still have an excellent time eating, drinking, and learning your way through Denver. I visited in the spring and the weather was perfect, though I gathered from the locals that it’s pretty good year round.
If you like nature or skiing, when you visit all 50 states, you should certainly head outside of Denver to places like Vail, Boulder, or Colorado Springs. As for me, I’m satisfied with the green in this weird, alien-bug street art. I’m an urban traveler through and through.
The first thing I think of when I think of Oklahoma is music. Whether you long to run through the streets of Tulsa singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” or you’d rather blame it all on your roots cause you showed up in boots, Oklahoma has some tunes for you. When you’re trying to visit all 50 states, your two main choices for destination in Oklahoma are Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
I chose Oklahoma City because it’s bigger, it’s the capital, and so I could visit the memorial to the Oklahoma City bombing victims. As a New Yorker, I wanted to show my respect. But Oklahoma City is really up and coming. Every local I spoke to said that there are new restaurants and stores every day. So head to Oklahoma City before it becomes too cool to visit!
31) Rhode Island
34) New Hampshire
39) washington state
41) new jersey
42) north dakota
43) south dakota
48) west virginia
And just like I promised, here come the territories! You can visit all 50 states without them but why would you want to?
Up next trip…Hawaii!
Are You Ready to Visit All 50 States?
How many states have you been to? Are there any cities/places I simply must visit? How long do you think it would take me to visit all 50 states on the back of this Longhorn? Please leave your thoughts below!