A very unique characteristic of the United States is its diversity. From state to state and coast to coast, the variety of landscapes, climates and people have formed this country into a destination where travelers can find a little bit of everything.
A famous lighthouse by the rocky coast? Head to Maine. Maybe you’d rather hike through ancient red rock formations during a trip to Colorado. Perhaps a lively city filled with some of the most celebrated monuments in the world is more appealing. No matter what style of vacation you’re setting out on, the U.S. has a landmark just waiting to be explored.
While some visits to famed national landmarks can be underwhelming, the following five locations live up to their status.
National Mall, Washington, D.C.
A list of the most amazing national landmarks isn't complete without Washington, D.C. — the bustling capital of the United States. If you only have time for one excursion during your trip to D.C., choose to stroll through the National Mall. Its prime, central location will allow you to see this city’s most notable sites during one outing. Don’t believe it? Check out this handy map from the National Park Service.
See the Capitol Building and the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Then walk down to the opposite end of the mall to see the Washington Monument. Continue to see the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, beautifully mirrored by the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Constitution Gardens are among other sites that frame this grassy area.
The best time to visit is during the spring to see the flowers in full bloom against the impressive architecture. An annual National Cherry Blossom Festival is held to commemorate the beautiful start of the season.
Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
The oldest lighthouse in Maine has become a national treasure. The most photographed lighthouse in the U.S., Portland Head Light is located on the southern coast of Maine, nestled onto the rocky cliffside, gazing over the Atlantic Ocean. Situated on 90 acres of recreational space, this lighthouse sits adjacent to Fort Williams Park. Boasting walking trails, beaches, grassy areas, a children’s garden and an arboretum, it’s perfect for a seaside day in the sun.
Try your hand at sunset photography with this backdrop and you’ll soon see why this lighthouse has become so popular.
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, California
Alcatraz Island, the mysterious federal penitentiary, is located about a mile offshore of San Francisco. This National Historic Landmark has had many faces — a Civil War Fortress, a prison, a bird sanctuary and the home of the American Indian Red Power movement are a few of them.
Cruise across the sunny San Francisco Bay to the island and take in the views of the city along the way. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the gardens and wildlife on this island, which is still a prime location to see nesting seabirds up close. Take a guided audio tour through the Alcatraz Cellhouse, where you can appreciate the stark contrast between the dark prison interiors and the sunlit exteriors.
Need more convincing? This site has twice been named the "#1 Landmark in the U.S." by TripAdvisor Reviews.
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Located in Colorado Springs, just an hour south of Denver, is a breathtaking National Natural Landmark known as Garden of the Gods. If it’s your first time visiting, learn how these unique red rock formations formed at the must-see Nature & Visitor Center, the most visited attraction in the Pikes Peak region.
The opportunities for exploration in this stunning park are endless. Take a free guided walk to get to know your way around the area. When you’re ready for a more exhilarating adventure, hop on a jeep tour or rent some mountain bikes. Epic rock climbing is available for the experienced, and there is even a free 5K “Fun Run” offered every Thursday evening. With so much to do, this landmark is perfect for both an afternoon of fun or an extended weekend stay.
Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Florida is home to many world-renowned attractions and landmarks, but among the most unique is NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, located on the Atlantic coast of Florida’s peninsula. Celebrate the rich history of the Space Coast and join in on interactive exhibits, like the Shuttle Launch Experience, or take a tour through the Rocket Garden. End your day relaxing on the soft white sands of Cocoa Beach, one of Florida’s most-visited beaches.
If you’re wondering when to plan your visit to the space center, check out this schedule of upcoming events. If you’ve never seen a rocket soar into space, I highly recommend attending a launch by SpaceX or Boeing. You won’t soon forget it.