10 U.S. Destinations Every 20-Something Should Have on Their Bucket List

written by LAUREN HARANO
Source: Unsplash | Muzammil Soorma
Source: Unsplash | Muzammil Soorma

Your 20s are perhaps one of the most pivotal, confusing, and exciting times of your life. From establishing a career to navigating relationships and everything in between, there’s no other decade that’s quite as defining. And, with that being said, there’s also no other decade when a vacation is quite as needed. Whether you’re looking for the perfect place to escape with your best friends or you want a solo trip to rest and reset, there are tons of places to visit in your 20s that don’t require leaving the country. From the busy streets of iconic cities to the untouched beauty of the great outdoors, we curated a list of the 10 best U.S. destinations every 20-something should have on their bucket list. What’re you waiting for?

1. New York, New York

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Take it from both a New York City resident and a world traveler: New York is one of the best cities on the planet. For starters, the energy is unmatched. You can practically feel it in the streets, thanks to the countless people, shops, restaurants, and sights around every corner. With so many things to do at all hours of the day, the possibility of being bored is slim to none, making New York one of the best places to visit in your 20s.

Upon arriving, you’ll be met with a dizzying array of activities and attractions. From iconic landmarks to world-class museums (the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art are both musts), there’s no shortage of things to fill your itinerary. As for the foodie scene, New York has got it all. You can (and should) eat your way through the city’s diverse neighborhoods, sampling everything from traditional New York-style pizza to international cuisine served up by acclaimed chefs. There’s also incredible shopping all over the city, including beloved stores in SoHo and cute boutiques uptown.

And, of course, no visit to the Big Apple would be complete without experiencing its nightlife. You’ll find an endless array of bars, clubs, and live music venues to explore into the early hours of the morning. Plus, meeting people is pretty much guaranteed, which means if you’re looking to expand your network or connect with new friends, New York is the place to do it. Need we say more?

Where to stay: Sanctuary Hotel (from $144 a night), Soho Grand Hotel (from $218)

2. San Diego, California

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If you’re planning a solo trip, look no further than San Diego, California. Less than two hours south of Los Angeles, this beachside city is laid-back, relaxed, and soaked in sunshine. From its sprawling beaches and countless outdoor activities to its cool cultural attractions and thriving craft beer scene, San Diego is the perfect place to explore in your 20s.

Here’s the scoop: One of the main draws of San Diego is its breathtaking coastline, which has some of the most beautiful beaches in California. Catch some waves in Pacific Beach, soak up the sun in La Jolla Cove, or explore the tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument—each spot is sure to take your breath away. Plus, San Diego beaches tend to be relatively empty in the fall, winter, and spring, so if you’re hoping to beat the crowds, the off-season is the best time to visit.

Further inland, the city boasts great neighborhoods like the historic Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy, which offer tons of delicious dining options, trendy bars, and live entertainment. For those who want to dive into the culture, San Diego’s Balboa Park is a must-visit destination. It’s home to numerous museums, gardens, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo, all of which are fun to check out alone or with friends. With its perfect blend of beaches and things to do, San Diego is a dreamy destination for anyone who wants to adventure on the West Coast.

Where to stay: The Wayfarer San Diego (from $211 a night), Orli La Jolla (from $280)

3. Cody, Wyoming

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Source: Unsplash | Jacob Stone

For those who want to enjoy all that nature has to offer, Cody, Wyoming, is one of the best places to visit. Named after the legendary showman Buffalo Bill Cody and located right in the heart of the American West, this town was built on cowboy culture. Outdoor enthusiasts will find no shortage of things to do, with opportunities for hiking, fishing, horseback riding, biking, and wildlife sightings in every direction. Shoshone National Forest and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area have endless trails to explore, while the North Fork of the Shoshone River provides prime fishing spots. Plus, Cody is close to Yellowstone National Park and the Bighorn Mountains, making it the best spot for adventurous groups.

With its wild history, gorgeous landscapes, and abundance of outdoor activities, Cody is one of the best places to visit in your 20s if you want to step back and unwind. From adrenaline-pumping adventures (read: white-water rafting) to quiet moments in nature (think sipping coffee by a river), this Western escape offers something for everyone.

Where to stay: The Cody Hotel (from $114 a night), Chamberlin Inn (from $117)

4. Chicago, Illinois

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The “Windy City” has quickly become one of the most popular places to visit in the U.S., thanks to its diverse neighborhoods, flourishing culinary scene, and fun nightlife. Perfect for group trips, the city offers all kinds of things to do, from exploring world-class museums like the Art Institute of Chicago to hopping on an architectural boat tour along the Chicago River.

For those who prefer to check out the food scene, Chicago is basically a haven for food enthusiasts. And we’re not just talking about deep-dish pizza or Chicago-style hot dogs—the city’s food options are as varied as they are delicious. Visitors can sample cuisines from around the world in neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy or try gourmet dining experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants (Ever in West Loop and Moody Tongue in South Loop are both incredible). Plus, neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, and the West Loop have cool boutiques, trendy bars, and funky going-out spots that anyone in their 20s is sure to enjoy.

Where to stay: citizenM (from $129 a night), The Hoxton (from $174)

5. Portland, Oregon

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Source: Pexels | Michael McGarry

Quirky, outdoorsy, and ever-changing, Portland, Oregon, is a must-visit in your 20s. Surrounded by forests, rivers, and mountains, the city has endless opportunities for those who want to embrace the great outdoors. Visitors can spend an afternoon in Washington Park and stroll through the Japanese Garden or hike along the trails of Forest Park, which is the largest urban forest reserve in the United States. On top of that, the city is right next to the Columbia River Gorge and the Oregon Coast, both of which are perfect for scenic drives, waterfall hikes, and quality time outside.

Beyond its natural beauty, Portland has a thriving art and cultural scene that celebrates creativity and individuality. The city’s numerous art galleries, theaters, and performance venues highlight local artists and musicians, while its diverse neighborhoods (like the Pearl District and Alberta Arts District) are filled with vibrant street art, independent boutiques, and artisanal shops. As for food, Portland is known for its farm-to-table cuisine, craft breweries, and food carts that serve up just about everything. Don’t miss the delicious creations at Voodoo Doughnut, and take some time to sip coffee at one of the city’s many cozy cafes. Pro tip: Come here with someone who isn’t picky and enjoys scenic drives.

Where to stay: Sentinel (from $115 a night), The Nines (from $175)

6. Savannah, Georgia

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Dreaming of a girls’ trip? We’ve got just the place: Savannah, Georgia. With its cobblestone streets, historic squares, and romantic architecture, this Southern town is like a charming escape into the past. The city’s well-preserved historic neighborhoods comprise one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States. Visitors can wander through 22 picturesque squares dotted with moss-draped oak trees while admiring gorgeous mansions and churches that line the streets. A stroll along the Savannah Riverfront offers dreamy views of the water, while River Street has bustling shops, galleries, and restaurants housed in restored cotton warehouses. For those who want to learn more about the city, check out museums like the Owens-Thomas House and the Telfair Museums for a dose of art, history, and architecture.

And what would a girls’ trip be without good food? Traditional Southern dishes like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, and low-country boil can be found at countless restaurants throughout the city. For those with a sweet tooth, nosh on some of Savannah’s famous pralines (try River Street Sweets and Savannah’s Candy Kitchen). Plus, no visit to Savannah is complete without sampling its signature cocktail, the mint julep, or enjoying an afternoon tea at one of the city’s cute tea rooms. With so many things to see, do, and eat, this Southern town should be on everyone’s must-visit list.

Where to stay: Thompson Savannah (from $200 a night), Hotel Bardo Savannah (from $348)

7. Miami, Florida

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Source: Unsplash | Muzammil Soorma

Welcome to Miami! With sun-kissed beaches, a busy nightlife scene, and some of the best restaurants in the country, this Florida hotspot is great for all kinds of vacations. For those who want a traditional Miami experience, staying in South Beach is the way to go. Glamorous high-rise hotels line the white-sand beaches while day clubs and pool parties can be heard from the water. Top-rated restaurants are found in every neighborhood, from Uchi in Wynwood to Casa Tua Cucina in Brickell and everywhere in between. As for the going-out scene, dance clubs are dotted throughout the city, offering party-goers a plethora of options.

And, of course, there’s also the mellower side of Miami. For those who want to kick back and relax at the beach, just bring a towel, and the beach is yours! In terms of food, there are delicious local spots like Joe’s Stone Crab and Esquina Mexicana that serve mouthwatering dishes without big price tags. Whether you want to hit the dancefloor with your besties or soak up the sun in peace, this Florida beach town can give you the best of both worlds.

Where to stay: Hotel Trouvail (from $144 a night), 1 Hotel South Beach (from $495)

8. Charleston, South Carolina

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There’s a reason Charleston, South Carolina, always makes lists of top places to visit: It’s just that good—especially for 20-something travelers. Here, visitors can embrace historic charm, culinary delights, and Southern hospitality everywhere they turn. Within the historic district, meander along the Battery and explore iconic sites like Rainbow Row, which is a row of pastel-colored houses dating back to the 18th century. To dive into the city’s fascinating history, take a historic tour from the comfort of a carriage or (if you’re brave enough) sign up for a nighttime ghost tour.

For the foodies, Charleston offers traditional low-country favorites like shrimp and grits, she-crab soup, hush puppies, and so much more. Don’t miss award-winning restaurants like Husk (which is housed in a restored 19th-century mansion) and Hank’s Seafood Restaurant (often called the best seafood joint in the city). Local markets like the Charleston City Market and seasonal farmer’s markets are filled with fresh fruit and veggies, sweetgrass baskets, and other cool treasures. Plus, a day at Folly Beach or Kiawah Island is always in close reach for those who want to bask in the water. The only question we have is: What doesn’t Charleston have?

Where to stay: The Vendue (from $281 a night), Emeline (from $287)

9. Austin, Texas

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Source: Unsplash | MJ Tangonan

Giddy up! Austin, Texas, is one of the buzziest cities in the U.S. right now—and for good reason. Known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” this town is fun for everyone in their 20s. Music lovers can check out iconic spots like the Continental Club, Mohawk, and ACL Live while catching performances ranging from blues and country to rock and indie and more. Austin is also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, thanks to its abundant parks, trails, and waterways. Visitors can hike or bike along trails by Lady Bird Lake, paddleboard or kayak on Barton Springs Pool, or take a dip in the natural swimming holes of Barton Creek Greenbelt.

For travelers who want a bit of adventure, nearby Hill Country has rock climbing, zip-lining, and wine tasting. (Definitely venture out here if you’re traveling with a group—it’s worth it!) What’s more, Austin’s food scene is too good to miss, featuring Texas barbecue, Tex-Mex, fusion cuisine, and food trucks serving up all kinds of bites. Check out acclaimed restaurants like Franklin Barbecue and Veracruz All Natural, or sample a variety of flavors at one of the city’s many food festivals and markets. Whether you’re heading here solo or with a big group of pals, Austin will have enough activities to keep you busy for days.

Where to stay: The Loren Hotel (from $201 a night), The Otis Hotel Austin, Autograph Collection (from $204)

10. Honolulu, Hawaii

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Source: Unsplash | AussieActive

Taking time for yourself in your 20s is one of the most important things you can do. And what better place for some alone time than Honolulu, Hawaii? One of the most beautiful places in the world, Honolulu is the perfect destination to escape and unwind. For an idyllic day outdoors, soak up the sun on Waikiki Beach, where you can surf, paddleboard, or simply relax on the golden sands. Beyond its coastline, Honolulu also features historical landmarks worth a visit, including the Pearl Harbor Memorial and Iolani Palace, which is the only royal palace in the United States.

Oh, and did we mention that the food is amazing? Here, you’ll find a fusion of Hawaiian, Asian, and international flavors. Visit one of the many restaurants, food trucks, or markets for fresh seafood, tropical fruits, and traditional Hawaiian dishes like poke and plate lunches. Our advice? Spend the day relaxing at the beach, eating fresh seafood, and enjoying some time to yourself.

Where to stay: Hotel Renew (from $126 a night), Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club (from $147)