The 20 Places Every American Should Visit

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on February 21 2014 5:59 AM

Three weeks ago, we asked International Business Times readers to vote for the places they thought every American should visit. Hundreds of ticked boxes later, we’re back with the top 20 responses to our poll, which make up an alluring collection of natural wonders, manmade marvels and sights of historical pilgrimage. Without any further ado, we bring you the ultimate American bucket list:

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 20 Boston’s Freedom Trail

Boston’s Freedom Trail Boston’s Freedom Trail  creative commons/w4nd3rl0st

Percentage of people who voted for it: 27 percent

Oz has a yellow brick road. Boston’s is red. And while the former may lead you to the Emerald City, the latter will take you on a whirlwind tour through American history. The 2.5-mile red-brick-lined Freedom Trail, conceived by journalist William Schofield in 1951, ushers history buffs to 16 significant sites ranging from the USS Constitution to Bunker Hill and the famed Faneuil Hall. Along the way, visitors are encouraged to summon their inner Paul Revere and gallop to the beat of their own drum.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 19 The National September 11 Memorial & Museum

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum The National September 11 Memorial & Museum  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 27 percent

Delayed, but not diminished, One World Trade Center will finally open for business in 2014 as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The soaring skyscraper will offer tourists the chance to once again climb above Lower Manhattan and survey the city that refused to let an act of terrorism weaken its spirit. Exactly 1,776 feet below, the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will give visitors a way to reflect on the events of 9/11. The facility will not only memorialize the 2,977 people who died in the attacks, but also consider a range of questions and issues arising from that day that continue to define the world in which we live.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 18 Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park

Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park  creative commons/indigoorange

Percentage of people who voted for it: 28 percent

It’s home to what is arguably the most famous bell in the world, the Liberty Bell -- not to mention Independence Hall, the birthplace of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. This veritable time capsule of American history is where “all men were created equal” and “we the people” established justice, insured domestic tranquility, provided for the common defense, promoted the general welfare and secured the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. This one-square-mile park in the heart of Philadelphia is where the United States as we know it began.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 17 The Great Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains The Great Smoky Mountains  creative commons/Photomatt28

Percentage of people who voted for it: 31 percent

With more than 9 million visitors annually, Great Smoky Mountains is, by far, the most popular national park in the U.S. But you wouldn’t know it to visit. This vast tract of land spilling over both sides of the North Carolina-Tennessee border is world renown for its diversity of plant and animal life and the rugged beauty of the ancient Appalachian Mountains. Few Americans realize they’ve got a better chance of seeing a bear in the Great Smoky Mountains than any park out West. Indeed, with a healthy population of about 1,500 black bears, there’s an average of two of these imposing omnivores every square mile.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 16 Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor Pearl Harbor  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 32 percent

Pearl Harbor offers a somber memorial to those who were lost on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Empire of Japan conducted a surprise military strike on the Hawaiian isle of Oahu. More than 350 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes sunk four U.S. Navy battleships, destroyed 188 U.S. aircraft and killed 2,402 Americans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan the very next day, heralding the United States’ official entry into World War II. Today, a floating memorial marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors or Marines killed on the USS Arizona during the attack. Accessible from a visitor’s center back on land, the memorial straddles the sunken battleship and tells the broader story of World War II.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 15 The Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway The Pacific Coast Highway  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 33 percent

Built for the ultimate American road trip, this serpentine stretch of asphalt cuts an eye-popping path above pounding surf and foggy coves from San Diego all the way up to the San Francisco and beyond. Highlights along the way include the verdant valleys of San Luis Obispo, the craggy cliffs of Big Sur and the furry marine mammals of Monterey.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 14 Gettysburg

Gettysburg Gettysburg  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 33 percent

It was July 1, 1863, and the Union and Confederate forces had gathered in Gettysburg for a battle of epic proportions. When all was said and done three days later, both armies lost between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers. The battle would go down in history as both the bloodiest ever fought on American soil and a turning point in the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address that November, meanwhile, would enter the history books as one of the greatest speeches on record. It affirmed the principles of human equality and solidified Gettysburg’s role as an important place of pilgrimage for all Americans.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 13 The Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies The Colorado Rockies  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 33 percent

Anyone who’s ventured west of Denver along Highway 70 knows that it’s a tough stretch to drive. It’s not that the hills are particularly high (though they are) or that the curves are particularly sharp (they are too), but the views are simply so gobsmacking that it’s hard to focus on the task at hand. Colorado was known to give its visitors a Rocky Mountain high long before it legalized the green stuff, and you certainly don’t need any drugs to appreciate how the region is a skier’s dream, a hiker’s paradise and a photographer’s wonderland.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 12 Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park Glacier National Park  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 34 percent

There were as many as 150 glaciers strewn about Montana’s Glacier National Park as recently as a century ago, but warmer temperatures have reduced that number to about two dozen today. Some scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have warned that the rest of the glaciers may be gone by as early as the end of the decade, noting that a glacier-less Glacier National Park will not just lose some of its aesthetic appeal, it will lose melt water that helps sustain a constellation of unique plants and animals. With rugged contours, chiseled valleys and a crystal clear interior, this is one American icon that’s best explored now while supplies last.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 11 Ellis Island

Ellis Island Ellis Island  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 34 percent

What do four out of every 10 Americans have in common? At least one of their ancestors passed through Ellis Island when it was the main immigration station for New York between 1892 and 1954. This facility off the southern coast of Manhattan welcomed a staggering 12 million immigrants to the United States, each of whom filed in line beneath the shadow of Lady Liberty. These days, more than two million Americans return to this mythic isle annually to learn about the experience their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers faced upon arriving in the U.S. as an immigrant.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 10 French Quarter of New Orleans

French Quarter of New Orleans French Quarter of New Orleans  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 37 percent

New Orleans is a place known for funky brass, moody blues and sweet soul, for Creole cooking and beat-throwing bonanzas. Nowhere does this cultural carnival march louder than in the bustling French Quarter, where tourists and locals mix to celebrate the simple joys of kicking back in the United States’ most Caribbean of cities. The French Quarter stretches out along the Mississippi River from Canal Street to Esplanade and finds its rhythm on Bourbon Street, one of the oldest roads in town. Not quite French, nor particularly North American, this grid of sultry New Orleans streets is truly one of a kind.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 9 Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore Mount Rushmore  creative commons/lord lucan lives

Percentage of people who voted for it: 38 percent

Are they emerging from or being absorbed by the mountain? You be the judge at South Dakota’s most popular attraction: Mount Rushmore. The stern-faced granite busts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln rise 60 feet apiece above the Black Hills to commemorate the first 130 years of the United States’ history. Unofficially completed in 1941 when funding ran dry, Danish-American architects Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum never did get to give the founding fathers their full head to waist treatment. However, that hasn’t stopped some 3 million visitors from making the trek each year anyway.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 8 Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge Golden Gate Bridge  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 39 percent

You can almost picture it in your head: The dense silver-blue fog rising above San Francisco Bay to reveal the tangerine glow of the world’s most famous suspension bridge. That first view of the Golden Gate, instilled in any kid who grew up on “Full House,” conjures up lazy days of zigzagging down Lombard Street, clinging to cable cars and traipsing around Fisherman’s Warf. Indeed, it’s come to define the entire city, which bridges down home American charm with unabashed chutzpah -- all while racing toward the future at a bandwidth no other city can compete with.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 7 The Alaskan Wilderness

The Alaskan Wilderness The Alaskan Wilderness  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 39 percent

In American vernacular, Alaska may as well be a byword for wilderness. It’s our 21st century Wild West -- a largely untouched oasis free from noisy cities, sprawling suburbs and the corner McDonalds. This northern outpost may be the largest U.S. state, but it boasts the lowest population density of them all with one-fifth that of its nearest rival, making it the ultimate escape for time travelers in search of the America that was. Think wide open spaces with bears instead of backyard dogs, glaciers instead of highways and fresh air instead of exhaust fumes.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 6 Times Square

Times Square Times Square  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 41 percent

Bold, brash and bawdy, Times Square is the American Dream on steroids. It’s the beating heart of American commercialism and a labyrinthine maze of human beings that’s prone to giving first time visitors disco ball eyes and quivering jazz hands. Unapologetic sensory overload is the aesthetic de jour in this New York City glitter pit, with towering hotels, horn-honking taxis and enough LED lights to ensure the only stars you see are of the movie and television variety. If you’re looking for the Mighty Manhattan of your dreams, this is most certainly it. And, once you land in New York, it won’t be hard to find.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 5 Yosemite National Park

yosemite Yosemite National Park  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 47 percent

IBTimes noted in its list of 14 Destinations for 2014 that California’s mighty Yosemite Valley was the best place for Americans to rekindle their love of U.S. national parks this year as the region celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant. It was 1864 when President Lincoln signed a bill creating the first piece of parkland set aside specifically for preservation and public use. The Yosemite Grant not only set a precedent for the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, but also paved the way for the National Park Service, often called “America’s best idea.”

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 4 The National Mall/Smithsonian Institute

The National Mall/Smithsonian Institute The National Mall/Smithsonian Institute  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 52 percent

It’s America’s favorite mall and it doesn’t even have any chain department stores. Rather, Washington, D.C.’s National Mall is a place of education and remembrance. It’s a verdant green symbol of pride, democracy and defiance against injustice where generation upon generation has gathered to mobilize, reflect and learn about the arts, sciences and humanities. Encased by the free museums of the Smithsonian Institute, this gift to the people has grown in recent years to encompass the broader American experience with new additions like the National Museum of the American Indian and the forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture. You’d be hard pressed to find a better spot to mull over what it means to live in the Land of the Free than this.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 3 Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 60 percent

It was the wild plains of buffalo, bears, wolves and elk and the extraordinary natural art gallery of geysers, hot springs and scorched, bubbling earth that spurred U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant to create the world’s first national park in March 1872 and name it Yellowstone. Conservation efforts here would be replicated the world over, while the name Yellowstone itself would conjure up images of America’s Wild West. Today, it remains one of the most fabled spots on the U.S. map, and a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, who gush over its flora, fauna and geothermal unpredictability.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 2 The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon The Grand Canyon  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 70 percent

It’s one of the seven wonders of the natural world, but it doesn’t need any titles to impress; the numbers speak for themselves. The formidable Grand Canyon is 227 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep, and its walls offer a striking mosaic of geological colors and erosional forms that could put any museum to shame -- particularly when the colors change at sunrise and sunset. Add to the mix a few curtain-like waterfalls, Native American ruins and curious desert-dwellers, and you’ve got yourself a postcard-perfect vacation.

Places Every American Should Visit – No. 1 Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls Niagara Falls  Reuters

Percentage of people who voted for it: 74 percent

It’s neither the biggest nor the tallest. It’s not even the most powerful, but Niagara is certainly the world’s most famous waterfall. Why? This border-straddling cataract is steeped in American mythology. History books offer tales of Niagara’s curious early visitors, often depicted wearing one of two things: a bridal veil or a barrel. Yet, while daredevils may have put Niagara on the map, and while canoodling couples may have kept it there for a time, a reinvigorated Niagara Falls is finally peeking out of the mist. Coming into its own, this new Niagara is a place where nature no longer plays second fiddle to the circus around it.

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