by Katherine Parker-Magyar: I visited all 50 states by the time I turned 13 — and I’ve been to many of them more than once…
I visited my 50th state by age 13, a result of family cross-country trips from New Jersey to California and back.
I remember watching transfixed as the US unfolded outside my window — from East Coast suburbs to heartland prairies, snow-capped mountains to arid deserts, before we finally reached the Pacific.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that I grew up to become a travel writer, and have constantly revisited these places many times since.
And although every state possesses a singular charm, certain states are simply better to visit than others. Here are 12 of my favorite states to visit:
Hawaii is one of the most beautiful states.
My first choice is America’s 50th state, as well as the 50th US state I visited.
I was only in middle school when I first went to Hawaii, but I remember being absolutely entranced by the beauty of Maui and Oahu.
I’ve since returned to explore Lanai, Kauai, and the Island of Hawaii, and remain more convinced than ever that Hawaii is among the most beautiful destinations on the planet, with its tropical flowers and lush green mountains overlooking an aquamarine sea.
Hawaii is also the most geographically remote island chain in the world, and I certainly feel galaxies away from everyday life the moment I touch down in Honolulu.
Luxury travelers should visit Maui, and honeymooners can bliss out in Lanai. Kauai is for nature-lovers, and Hawaii Island is for adventurers. Culture vultures should consider Molokai, and nightlife aficionados should stay in Oahu.
Whichever island you choose, it’s undeniable you’re in paradise.
Alaska is beautiful and one of the last truly wild places.
My parents first brought me to Alaska when I was 14 months old, and the locals referred to me as “bear meat.”
Alaska feels like one of the last great wild places on earth — and to head north to the Last Frontier is to truly venture into the wild.
I returned a few years ago for a fishing trip to hunt king salmon at Waterfall Resort. Dropping a line into the dark, forbidding waters off the coast of Prince of Wales Island, I’d hear whales surfacing beside our boat, and watch storms roll across distant islands without warning.
Since the island is only accessible via seaplane, I embarked on a 48-hour journey home, crossing the Inside Passage on tiny fishing boats, taking rickety shuttle buses to remote ferry landings, and waiting for hours in the hope that the captain would arrive from the mainland.
Next on my Alaska bucket list? Trekking among the grizzly bears on Admiralty Island and a subzero visit to Sheldon Chalet in Denali National Park — the luxury resort is famous for being one of the best places on earth to see the Northern Lights in the wintertime.
Wyoming is my top mainland selection.
Although Wyoming is third on my list, it’s the state closest to my heart and the place in America that my family returns to year after year.
Known as the Cowboy State, Wyoming is home to both America’s first National Park — Yellowstone — and its most photogenic — Grand Teton, of course. If you question my last assertion, you clearly have not visited Jackson Hole.
The Tetons are the teenagers of the Rocky Mountains, with their jagged peaks not yet worn down by time and erosion, unlike the “middle-aged” mountaintops in nearby Colorado.
There is something absolutely magical about the Tetons, and I’ve yet to behold any other mountain range on earth that can compare to its dramatic beauty — and I’ve trekked in the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Alps.
In fact, the towering Grand Teton is known as “America’s Matterhorn.” The skiing is equally excellent in both places but, thanks to the contrast with the high desert valley, the views in Wyoming are far more dramatic than the Swiss Alps.
California is the most visited state in America, and it’s not hard to see why.
From Palm Springs to Malibu, Lake Tahoe to Napa Valley, the question isn’t whether to travel to California but where exactly to visit.
Whether I prefer NorCal or SoCal is entirely reliant upon which part of the state was the site of my most recent trip.
Whenever I’m in L.A., I convince myself that I’m meant to live this life in a bungalow on Santa Monica (and at The Bungalow in Santa Monica), and whenever I leave San Francisco, I’m convinced that I have left my heart in the Golden City (Marin County, to be specific).
I’ve found that, unless you’re planning to follow Cheryl Strayed’s footsteps along the Pacific Coast Trail, the best way to explore California is on wheels — and preferably over the course of a week or two.
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway allows you to experience NorCal and SoCal while appreciating the beauty unfolding around you. Carmel and Big Sur are, of course, highlights along this road trip that is simply not to be missed.
Maine is as much a state of mind as it is a location in the US.
With the nickname “Vacationland” and the slogan “The way life should be,” it’s no surprise Maine made my list. Who would object to a life of bonfires, sailing lessons, foliage, lobster bakes, rope swings, blizzards, and blueberry pie?
The mountains and lakes of inland Maine are certainly gorgeous, but I recommend the coastal towns — Penobscot Bay, Bar Habor, Portland, Kennebunkport, and Prouts Neck, to name but a few.
I’ve spent summers visiting Maine for as long as I can remember, and it’s remained as enchanting as ever on each visit. I recently embarked on a leisurely journey along the Maine coast during peak foliage and belatedly recognized that Maine is as picturesque in autumn as it is in summer.
My latest trip was just last month, a four-day getaway to Portland, and I was amazed by how much the city had to offer, from the incredible restaurants and boutiques lining the city’s cobblestone streets to the waterfront cocktails at Luke’s Lobster.
And a visit to the L.L. Bean headquarters in Freeport is mandatory, regardless of the season or the destination.
Texas has incredible views wherever you look.
The Lone Star State exudes a feeling of wild independence that’s impossible not to find invigorating — so much so that you unironically purchase a cowboy hat to match your all-denim outfit in an ill-advised attempt to go native. (Speaking from experience.)
I’ve found my travels across Texas to be reliably liberating, whether I’m frequenting the honky-tonks of a remote town in West Texas or perusing the art galleries of downtown San Antonio. Perhaps this is due to the sheer size and scale of my surroundings, since Texas is the largest state on the mainland US.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the views: Great Plains, vast deserts, and rolling hills expand endlessly across the state.
But whether it’s the art scene of Marfa, the live music of Austin, the inviting beaches of South Padre Island, or the glitz and glamour of Dallas, there’s something for every traveler. Order Tex-Mex, attend a rodeo, and catch a Cowboys game in the stadium or at a local bar.
There’s nowhere like New York.
Having spent the majority of my post-graduate life in New York City, I may be biased — but nothing compares to the energy and excitement of this place.
There’s more to New York than Manhattan, which I learned my freshman year as a college student in the Finger Lakes — now an increasingly popular tourist destination upstate (alongside the charmingly rustic Adirondacks and hipster-centric Hudson Valley).
But I’m still partial to a weekend out east, enjoying the mile-long beaches and even longer sunsets on the shores of Long Island.
As for the cocktails served at Bemelmans on the Upper East Side or the Surf Lodge out in Montauk — they’re all the more enjoyable because they’re slightly overpriced. Just like Gatsby’s green light, there’s something about New York that remains eternally out of reach.
I think Florida is incredible.
I spent a week in April 2019 exploring the Gulf Coast via a road trip from Miami, through the Everglades, and up to Sanibel, Captiva, and Little Palm Island, and the journey made me appreciate the sheer range of vacation spots and natural wildlife and diversity than ever before.
Florida often gets dismissed as a retiree’s spot or a gator-infested backwater, and, as a native of New Jersey, I can’t help but sympathize with the burden of a bad reputation. But the cultural coverage of Florida obscures the state’s appeal as a heavenly travel spot.
I grew up biking through the beachside jungle trails of Vero Beach and would return to that same lovely spot year after year, as I believe many regular visitors to Florida do as well.
But there is more to explore beyond your favorite snowbird resort town, and foremost on this list is the Florida Keys, which I think is the closest mainland America has come to a taste of the Caribbean. It’s even nicknamed the Conch Republic.
Book a vacation and watch the days float by on a happy haze of rum cocktails, live music, and island vibes — no passport (and often no T-shirt) necessary.
Just remember to visit the polydactyl cats at the Hemingway Home in Key West — an iconic American landmark, and the only one to house a cat cemetery.
Michigan is my top choice in the Midwest.
My next choice is another of Hemingway’s favorite places: Northern Michigan, or in Midwest parlance, “Up North.”
Though I am a champion of the Midwest in general — nothing beats a road trip across Kansas or Oklahoma — Michigan is my favorite state to visit for the sheer diversity of landscape available to explore.
Although I’d traveled to Michigan with my family over the years, it wasn’t until I befriended two devoted Michigan-lovers in college (trust me, that’s a thing) that I fully appreciated how utterly transporting northern Michigan truly is.
A visit in the summer is to experience a heretofore unknown yet utterly familiar paradise of quaint Americana. Fudge shops abound and horse-drawn carriages remain the primary mode of transport on Mackinac Island and Harbor Point.
My favorite state to visit in the American South is, without a doubt, Louisiana.
Whether I’m making myself sick by overindulging in crawfish boils, staking out the swamp on Bayou gator tours, or taking it a little too easy on a night out in the Big Easy, a trip to Louisiana is pure serotonin.
With Creole, French, Haitian, and Spanish influences, New Orleans is a unique US city. I always recommend venturing beyond Bourbon Street to explore elsewhere in the French Quarter as well the Garden District and Mid-City.
My favorite restaurants in the city are at their peak in the morning hours, whether it’s a jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace or an order of beignets at the Café Du Monde — the line is always worth the wait.
Big skies and even bigger views define the state of Montana.
If you’re looking for breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains and a classic taste of the American West, visit Montana.
The state is home to the biggest ski area in the US (Big Sky) and the best fly-fishing in the nation — as chronicled in Norman Maclean’s classic Missoula novella, “A River Runs Through It.”
Though I’d always loved Montana — and have long considered it among the most romantic states in the US — my trip to Lone Mountain Ranch last fall felt like nothing short of a revelation. I booked a cabin at a luxury ranch in Big Sky with a couple of friends last September in an attempt to cure our growing wanderlust while also respecting pandemic protocol.
Turns out, social distancing comes naturally on a dude ranch, and I credit the entire experience with restoring my sanity.
And although I highly recommend booking the same experience for yourself, do try to leave the West as wild as you found it.
Montana is one of the least-populated states in an increasingly urbanized America. As such, there is a vested interest on behalf of locals and conservationists to preserve Big Sky Country. So be sure to leave nothing but footprints — the safest options for humans and animals alike. Trust me, you don’t want a grizzly rummaging through your campsite.
Rhode Island is the best state for a weekend getaway.
Rhode Island is the best state in the world for a weekend trip — and I’m not just saying that because it’s where I’ve spent summer weekends since childhood.
From Narragansett to Watch Hill, Jamestown to Little Compton, America’s smallest state has an endless array of idyllic beach towns.
I’m partial to Newport, a historic seaside oasis on Aquidneck Island that is famous for being America’s sailing capital.
My ideal day in Newport is always spent out on the water. Visitors can set sail aboard an America’s Cup Charter from downtown Thames.
When back on dry land, I’d get mudslides at Black Pearl patio, overlooking the water with the old salts along Bannister’s Wharf. Next, I’d sip sundowners and catch the sunset from the Adirondack chairs on the sprawling lawn of Castle Hill Inn, before heading out to the Clarke Cooke House for seafood and espresso martinis. I’d cap off the night dancing to Motown up at the Sky Bar (the third level at the Cooke House).
Just remember to dress to impress, as navy blazers and cocktail dresses are the nightly uniforms.