20 for 2020: US cities and places you must see

This year is a big one for America – across the nation, 2020 represents a landmark for many American societies and cultural movements. All of which means you can expect to see some historic celebrations happening up and down the country throughout the year.

Here’s our pick of the places you should add to your itinerary, along with a few of the special celebrations.

The Mayflower ship in port

1. Mayflower in Massachusetts

In 2020 it’ll be 400 years since the Mayflower set sail from these fair isles of the UK, landing in what would become Provincetown in 1620.

History buffs will be commemorating the occasion with events throughout the year, including a visit from the magnificent Mayflower II to Provincetown Harbour in September. Come for the history, stay for scenic Cape Cod.

2. Maine Bicentennial

The state of Maine made its break for independence – from the state of Massachusetts – 200 years ago.

The state’s bicentennial celebrations will include a parade, a four-day weekend full of local historical events, and the Tall Ships Festival, which will bring Maine pride to ports along the coast.

3. Bison in the Badlands

An hour east of magnificent Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Badlands National Park is bringing back one of the Great Plains' most famous inhabitants: the bison.

Come check out the serene surroundings of the Badlands and keep your fingers crossed to catch sight of the roaming herds.

4. Making the Met in NYC

One of New York’s best-loved institutions is also celebrating a huge milestone in 2020, as the Metropolitan Museum marks 150 years of existence.

The millennia-spanning collection sets ancient civilisations alongside modern masterpieces from around the world. The pieces that put the Met on the map will also be on display. Take some time out from the Big Apple’s hustle and bustle to discover a treasure trove of art and culture.

5. Kentucky Derby

Also rapidly approaching 150 years of its existence, the world-famous Kentucky Derby Festival attracts the very best racing talent to Louisville for two weeks of events. Even if you can’t get to the big race itself, Louisville has a lot going on in and around the iconic Churchill Downs during the festival. Enjoy fireworks displays, steamboats, balloons and more.

6. Fight nights in Florida

The world of pro wrestling takes over Tampa Bay in April, with the 36th instalment of WWE’s Wrestlemania from the Raymond James Stadium.

Aside from the annual extravaganza featuring the world’s biggest wrestling superstars, a whole host of other ring-shaking activities are planned. Catch the fan convention Axxess, and a Hall of Fame event to honour the biggest names of the past.

7. Llamas doing laps

When you think about legends of track and field, not many of them have four legs – but the humble llama has become an icon in Knoxville, Tennessee for this very reason.

The annual Great Llama Race, held this October, will see local llamas teaming up with schools and celebrities to race for charity. It’s a great day out for the whole family – and for a great cause.

8. Pride of Los Angeles

Los Angeles hosted the world’s first official Pride Parade in 1970, so for 2020, you can expect an extraordinary event to make the 50th anniversary.

Performances from Years & Years and Meghan Trainor headlined last year’s festivities. You can expect the same level of earworm-inviting tunes from big names in 2020 across a variety of music and entertainment stages.

A view across a lake, surrounded by mountains, in the Rocky Mountains National Park, USA

9. A hike in the Rockies

The American Hiking Society celebrates National Trails Day each June with a series of events designed to get more people to explore the Great Outdoors.

By far the most popular trails according to the AHS is Emerald Lake, found in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. Suitable for beginners while holding enough visual rewards for the most seasoned hikers, Emerald Lake is nestled in the spectacular Flattop Mountain, marking the end of a three-mile hike from the equally endearing Bear Lake.

10. Mission to Mars, 2020

An upcoming NASA mission promises to take science geeks for an out-of-this-world experience, as the hunt for life on Mars continues in 2020. A new rover is scheduled for launch in July and should to hit the red rock by February 2021.

For a taste of space adventure, visit Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Here, you’ll find out all about the planned mission and celebrate the achievements of the men and women who have slipped the surly bonds of Earth before.

11. Aloha, Honolulu

Two major US airlines have announced they’re starting more flights to Honolulu, which means it’ll soon be easier than ever to reach the hallowed Hawaii.

This sun-soaked paradise has only ever been a hop, skip and jump off the Pacific coast, but soon there’ll be even more chances to sample luxurious luaus and inspiring landmarks. Diamond Head, the dormant volcano which towers over the rest of the island is a must visit. Hop over to Hawaii for an experience like no other.

12. All-new in Orlando

As the theme park capital of the US, Orlando has always occupied a space on the kids’ must-see lists. Heading into 2020 there are even more reasons to visit the city’s biggest tourist attractions.

At Disney Hollywood Studios, prepare to take the fight to the First Order with the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride. Meanwhile, at Epcot, serious changes are afoot with the unveiling of a new Mary Poppins-themed attraction and a ride featuring favourites from Pixar’s Ratatouille.

13. Spring in the Smokey Mountains

US National Parks are a great place to stop and smell the flowers. And when spring comes the landscape is filled with beautiful blooms. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, where 10,000 species of flora and fauna arise to greet the warmer weather.

Celebrate the arrival of springtime in the Smokies with the Wildflower Pilgrimage - a programme of walks and talks designed to get you in touch with your inner naturalist. The iconic Appalachian Trail passes through the park, too, allowing you to follow in the footsteps of pioneering travellers.

14. SXSW – Austin, Texas

SXSW (South by Southwest) is the annual conference and festival that brings together the brightest minds and burgeoning musical talent to Texas. Originally an independent music festival, through the 1990s SXSW added film luminaries, tech titans and creative talents to its expanding programme of events.

These days, SXSW showcases up-and-coming bands alongside cutting-edge tech displays and lectures from the biggest names in entertainment. Grab your tickets and meet like minds in the welcoming Texan arms of Austin.

15. Chicago’s Magnificent Mile

Get your shopping and sightseeing fixes at one of the States’ best-known shopping districts, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, where big department stores sit alongside some of the city’s most famous landmarks.

With a whole host of stores and over a million square feet of shops to explore, the Magnificent Mile is one of the Windy City’s must-see sights. Grab a bite to eat and sample the bustling atmosphere or discover historical places of interest like the old Wrigley Building and several of the world’s tallest structures.

16. Grand Canyon and Phoenix

Combine your trip to one of the States’ most legendary landmarks with a scenic drive south to Phoenix, Arizona.

The Grand Canyon National Park is, quite simply, an awe-inspiring place. Overlooking the Colorado River, the colourful cliffs on either side evoke powerful images of the planet’s changes throughout its long and storied history.

A warm welcome awaits in Phoenix, with its Desert Botanical Garden providing the backdrop for a quaint, quiet stroll. There’s also a wide variety of spa resorts to rest and recover from your adventures at the Grand Canyon.

17. Philly’s Love sculpture

What better way to celebrate the City of Brotherly Love than with a statue that declares it loud and proud? In Philadelphia’s Love Park, a sculpture based on pop art pioneer Robert Indiana’s original print sits on top of a plinth overlooking the plaza.

The park, dedicated originally to President John F Kennedy, became one of the region’s best-known skateboarding spots before being redeveloped in 2016. Now happy couples-to-be can pay a few bucks and book 30 minutes beneath the Love sculpture to tie the knot.

18. Doo Dah Parade, 4 July in Columbus

Add some surrealism to your Independence Day celebrations in Columbus, Ohio, with the long-running Doo Dah Parade – a celebration featuring bizarre costumes, quirky floats and more. An offshoot of the original Pasadena parade, the annual event marches through the Victorian Village and Short North districts of downtown Columbus, spreading absurdity along the way.

Take your place along the route for an unusual way to celebrate 4 July, or head to the block party featuring live music, great food and drinks, and much more.

An installation showing a section of banked racing circuit, with a number of racing cars on it

19. NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte

One of Charlotte’s most fascinating attractions is the home of the world-famous NASCAR Hall of Fame. Here you’ll find displays and driving demos dedicated to the sport’s biggest names throughout history.

Days of Thunder celebrates 30 years since its release, so why not mark the occasion with a visit to the place where it all began?

Elsewhere in Charlotte, you can find two major-league sports teams plying their trade: The Panthers of the NFL and the NBA’s Hornets.

20. Coachella Festival

About 20 miles east of Palm Springs, the world’s biggest musical talent gathers in the Coachella Valley desert for a music festival so epic, it has to take place over two weekends.

With recent headliners including Lady Gaga, Radiohead and AC/DC, you can be sure of a diverse line-up to suit any music tastes. Coachella is also one of the country’s leading visual arts festivals, with installations and sculpture from the world’s visionary artists.

If you want to extend your road trip, San Diego is just three miles away. Why not drive into a city whose Mexican-infused vibe combines brilliantly with laidback Californian culture?

Want to start your USA trip now? Find about US car hire and get inspired with our USA road trip planner.