Leisure in the USA

Updated 2023-10-04 08:51

The United States is a big country with various leisure activities and attractions. Whether you're an avid outdoorsman or a culture vulture, there will be something for you. Although it differs from state to state, you will never be too far away from natural parks, hiking trails, theme parks, national monuments, museums, festivals, and many art and cultural activities. Most states and cities offer endless choices regarding other entertainment, such as dining out, cinemas, and shopping.

Outdoor activities in the USA

Americans love spending time in nature, hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, and biking. The country's diverse landscapes provide various outdoor opportunities, from mountainous regions to coastal areas. Even if you are in a built-up area, there will likely be smaller local reserves, lakes, and recreational areas where people fish, walk, play frisbee golf, and picnic.

If you want to see stunning landscapes and have a more authentic wilderness experience, the  United States is home to many national parks that offer world-class camping, hiking, climbing, and kayaking experiences. In some areas, you can spend the night in a lodge or hut, or camp in a tent or recreational vehicle – or venture further afield on foot as part of a trek. These places are highly protected by the authorities, and strict regulations have been set up to preserve their natural beauty better. For instance, you are subject to a fine if you litter or pollute the site in any way. Regulations and fees are all posted at park entrances. In parks where camping and overnight stays are permitted, reservations are often necessary, and you may have to take precautions around bears and other animals.

Some of the most popular national parks in the United States are:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina): Known for its mist-covered mountains, diverse plant and animal life, and scenic drives, this park is the most visited national park in the US;
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): The iconic Grand Canyon offers breathtaking vistas and geological wonders;
  • Yosemite National Park (California): Famous for its towering granite cliffs, waterfalls, and giant sequoias;
  • Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho): The first national park in the world, Yellowstone is renowned for its geothermal features, including geysers like Old Faithful, as well as its diverse wildlife;
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado): With its rugged mountains, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife, this park offers numerous hiking and outdoor adventure opportunities;
  • Zion National Park (Utah): Known for its towering red rock formations, dramatic canyons, and diverse trails;
  • Acadia National Park (Maine): This park features a rugged coastline, granite peaks, and picturesque landscapes, making it a popular destination for outdoor activities and scenic drives;
  • Glacier National Park (Montana): With its pristine lakes, alpine meadows, and glaciers, this park offers a stunning glimpse into the mountainous landscapes of the northern Rockies;
  • Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming): Adjacent to Yellowstone, this park boasts the impressive Teton Range, serene lakes, and abundant wildlife, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts;
  • Arches National Park (Utah): Famous for its more than 2,000 natural stone arches, this park showcases unique geological formations set against a striking desert landscape.

Most popular amusement parks in the USA

You can choose between various amusement and theme parks in many cities across the United States. California is home to Disneyland, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Florida is known for the massive Disney World and Epcot Center complex, as well as Universal Studios and SeaWorld locations. Six Flags is synonymous with adventurous roller coasters, though they have many family-friendly attractions as well. They have parks in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

Monuments and museums to visit in the USA

If you want to discover the historical and cultural heritage of the United States, there are many places to visit. National monuments and museums are located in many states, with some more popular than others. All the big cities have impressive museums and many art museums and galleries. Other renowned national museums include the Natural History Museum in New York City, the Civil War Museum in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, and the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. The US is home to iconic sites like the Statue of Liberty in New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the National Mall in Washington DC, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and Nevada's Hoover Dam. Depending on where you live or visit, local guides to the city should list the main cultural attractions. For the off-kilter, esoteric, and off-the-beaten path, you can visit Atlas Obscura to see what there is to visit in your region.

Shopping in the USA

The United States is a very popular destination for shopping opportunities, given the general abundance of products, regular holiday deals, and seasonal sales. While you can find department stores and shopping malls in most cities, the more prominent malls and outlet centres are often located in suburban areas. There are also many secondhand shops, antique barns, and other vintage shopping opportunities. Unless you are at a market, haggling is generally not a part of the purchasing process.

Good to know:

The US does not levy a value-added tax on goods. However, most individual states charge a sales tax on all products, usually between 4 to 10%. Currently, five states, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon, do not charge sales tax.

Dining out in the USA

Dining out in the United States is very common, and expats will find many options, from cheap and delicious taco trucks to some of the finest restaurants in the world. Along the coasts, delicious regional seafood is readily available. In the northeast especially, states like Maine and Massachusetts are famous for shellfish and dishes like lobster rolls and clam chowder. Those looking for fine dining will want to visit New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, and San Francisco, which are all home to Michelin-starred restaurants. Vegetarians, vegans, and those interested in restaurants featuring locally and ethically sourced products will want to keep Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, and New York City in mind. Southwestern cuisine, a delicious combination of Mexican, Spanish, and Native American cuisine, can be found all over the states but is at its best in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Watching and playing sports in the USA

Playing, attending games, or watching sports events is a significant pastime in the US major sports leagues like the NFL (American football), NBA (basketball), MLB (baseball), and NHL (hockey), all attracting dedicated fanbases. Whether you go to a bar to watch sports with your friends, join a social league, or make the trip to see big league games in the stadium, there are lots of ways to participate in American sporting culture, and you will find a huge amount of enthusiasm for sports in America and strong communities built up around sporting teams.

Useful links:

U.S. tourism webpage

U.S. National Parks webpage

List of national monuments in the U.S.

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