The American Southwest is pumped full of potential for new experiences. It’s the ideal place to explore your adventurous side while indulging in a rich culture. There’s a little bit of everything there; national parks, beaches, deserts, and sometimes even snow! Let your wild inner-self out as you explore what America has to offer.
After your done adventuring for the day, be sure to get your fill of everything gastronomic that the southwest has to offer! Think tacos in Austin and fair foods in Santa Monica! Your tastebuds will thank you.
1. Oatman, Arizona
This is a tiny little town in the northwest area of Arizona that boasts an almost stereotypical look into the southwest. The main stretch is not more than 1/8 mile long, but what it offers is unlike any other place; donkeys! They have (domesticated) wild donkeys that roam the streets getting little squares of hay from all the tourists. If you go in summer, there might even be babies! I went there mid-July, and there was one baby donkey and two more on the way due any day.
Even if you’re not a big donkey person, you should still go. It’s a very stereotypical “Western” town, much like you see in the movies. There’s sidewalks made of wood and vintage tin signs everywhere. It’s very much a walk back in time. If you want to get a picturesque Arizona experience, put Oatman on your list!
2. Sedona, Arizona
Sedona is a place that tourists will always flock to, and with reason. All around you is the “red rocks” you see in the pictures. It’s a dream for anyone that has any interest in photography at all. In the winter, you can even find blankets of snow on the ground!
Sedona is a special place. It has a very spiritual base, and many people travel many miles (or kilometers if you are the majority of the world) to find a spiritual and a more personal understanding of one’s self. Meditating among the red rocks and the wildlife is truly a remarkable experience that I recommend to anyone interested in a spiritual trip.
Got a niche for outdoor activities? Sedona is the place to be. There’s everything from hiking, to biking, off-roading, and even swimming. The creeks are stunningly beautiful; crystal clear, cool and refreshing… You can’t beat it! After a day of hiking and swimming, head to the town center to get some prickly pear ice cream! It’s got a delightful sweetness to it.
(Hint: Check out this local’s guide to Sedona for the scoop on all the best hikes, views, food, and more!)
3. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona
If you’re in Arizona, you have to make the trip to the Grand Canyon (although I’m sure that’s why you made the trip in the first place!) If you have to pick between the North Rim and the South Rim, hands down take the extra time to get to the North Rim. It’s a completely different experience.
To get into the park coming from the south, you get to pass the Colorado River while in a beautiful desert area. Within 20 minutes, you’re surrounded by aspens and grass everywhere. To watch the difference in such a short time is a really cool thing to witness. After you enter the park, there are gorgeous meadows where sometimes buffalo roam! Just like the donkeys in Oatman, go in July to get a good view of the baby buffalo.
From there you head to the main lodge where they have fantastic views, little log cabins to rent, and many, many hikes. There’s one hike, .5 miles round trip, that gives a great little view that just about anyone can do. If you want a little more challenge, there are various hikes that start around the lodge that have a much longer distance.
Growing up in Arizona, I have a tendency to take the Grand Canyon for granted. The first time I saw the North Rim, it was a different story. I was truly able to experience the beauty of the Grand Canyon for the first time in a long time. Give yourself that opportunity, as well!
4. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
Organ Pipe is where you’ll get gorgeous Sonoran Desert scenery that boasts some of the biggest cacti you’ll ever see. There are 26 species of cactus, but the Saguaro is the one you’ll see in typical Arizona photography.
Organ Pipe offers horse trails, bike trails, driving trails, and of course hiking trails. There are also campgrounds on site, so be sure to check out the National Park Service’s page for camping there!
What I love about Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is that since it is a national monument, it’s practically untainted by humans. It’s nature in an immaculately pristine conditions that totally warrants your visit.
5. Venice Beach Boardwalk, California
The Venice Beach Boardwalk area is much like Austin, TX in that it’s got some strange people which make for a great time. The street performers alone make the visit out to Venice Beach worth it. There are also some cool street vendors, marijuana “doctors” which is cool to see, and the beach itself. The culture there is immense, and it’s great fun to sit back and let it all soak in.
It can get extremely grounded in the summer when school is out, so I recommend heading there in the spring or fall. The weather will still be great and the people will be fewer.
6. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park is arguably one of the best places to get a “desert view”. The park gets its name from the Joshua trees that grow within the park. They’re quite strange and seem right out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Joshua Tree National Park boasts tons of camping and hiking trails over almost 800,000 acres. The park also offers bike trails and canyon walls for climbing. If you drive about 20 minutes to the top of Little San Bernardino Mountains, you can get a great view of the Coachella Valley.
The park is open year round, but if you head there in the spring you’ll get to see the wildflowers in that grow throughout the park in full bloom! They even have a wildflower bloom report here!
7. Santa Monica Pier, California
Santa Monica is located on the coast of Los Angles and its biggest attraction is the pier. The Santa Monica pier offers just about anything you could possibly want from an American experience; boardwalk games, a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, an arcade, and fair food. It’s essentially an amusement park on a pier.
The charm of the Santa Monica Pier goes beyond just the pier. There are tons of things to keep you busy throughout the area. You can even rent a bike near the pier and ride to Venice beach to get a true California experience.
You should also check out Sidecar Donuts. They have two locations, but having one in Santa Monica really fits with the amusement park theme. Their flavors range from maple bacon to rose geranium and blackberry (their signature flavor that’s made with red wine!) Check out their site here!
8. Austin, Texas
Although Texas is considered more central than western, I had to make sure Austin made the list since it’s nearby!
Austin is a funky city in the heart of Texas. It’s also Texas’ capital! It’s the 11th biggest city in America, so it’s got lots to offer. The vibe boasts youthfulness and just the right amount of edginess.
“Keep Austin weird” is the slogan of the city, and it’s very fitting to say the least. People watching is a must in Austin as the personalities are unique in every way,
Austin offers many things to many people with many different interests. It sits along the Colorado River, so there are many springs and natural pools to cool off in. Barton Springs is arguably the most popular, and to keep with the theme of being different, swimming topless is common there.
If Austin is known for anything, it’s definitely the music (and with good reason!) There are over 250 establishments playing live music on the regular in Austin. If you’re heading to Austin for the music, make sure you visit some of the iconic venues like The Elephant Room and the Saxon Pub. A complete venue guide can be found here thanks to the official Austin Tourism Board!
(Hint: Check out this local’s guide to Austin, it’s like having a buddy guide you around their hometown!)
9. Zion National Park, Utah
I’ve been to Zion many times, but the most recent was a solo trip. I decided to take a few days to myself to hike, think, and just be alone. Although a few things went wrong (car battery died, camp fuel ran out, etc.) it was still so extremely enjoyable. Why? Because I was in this place that took my breath away every single second of every single minute. If you are into hiking, I highly recommend putting this on your America bucket list.
There are hikes for every level, and you’ll get amazing scenery no matter where you go within the national park. A lot of the hikes even have little creeks along the way to cool yourself off at.
While I was in the park, I camped. It was about $20 per night. It’s cheap accommodation for being right there in the middle of it all. Plus it helps maintain the park!
10. Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Utah/Arizona
Paria takes up about 175 miles between Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. It is commonly known for its slot canyons, like that of Antelope Canyon. There are layers of sediment that creates a look unlike any other.
The photographic opportunities are endless here. The Vermillion Cliffs offer waves of color and a sense of simplicity that is easy to capture. Since this area is a National Monument, it offers an unspoiled experience with nature.
Permits are required to hike in the area, but can be obtained at the beginning of trail heads so it’s nice and easy for you! There is also the risk of flash flooding, so do your research before going in the summer and always check the weather before going.
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