Planning a trip to the United States and looking for sightseeing tips inspired by your favourite films? Based on my own travel experiences on three cross-country trips through the USA in 2011, 2015 and 2017, here is my ultimate USA Bucket List for film fans…
1. Be in awe at the Grand Canyon
Seeing the Grand Canyon on screen or on pictures doesn't do it justice. It's much more impressive in real life! This is the place to reload your batteries by soaking up the incredible nature. You can also learn a lot about the indigenous people, the Native Americans, that have lived here in harmony with nature for thousands of years.
Literally all West Coast group tours include a stopover in both "Sin City" Las Vegas (see point 3) and the Grand Canyon as it's an easy drive between the two of them. Alternatively, you can take one of the many day trips offered from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon.
Chilling out at the Grand Canyon
On the other side of the USA, check out the Niagara Falls. It's an equally impressive natural phenomenon found only in the USA (and Canada for that matter as the Niagara Falls are located in both countries).
2. Pay tribute to the Statue of Liberty in New York
A must-see on every New York City visit is America's famous Statue of Liberty.
Of course, as one of America's most famous symbols (especially for the millions of immigrants that came to the United States for a better life), Lady Liberty can be seen in dozens of films.
The Statue of Liberty was, for example, the first "American thing" that Kate Winslet aka "Rose Dawson" saw after she survived the sinking, but had lost her beloved Jack in Titanic (1997).
Visiting the Statue of Liberty is easier and cheaper than you might think. A ticket for the The Staten Island ferry, which also takes you to the former immigration port Ellis Island and its fantastic museum, currently costs only 23.50 US Dollars return for adults.
Tickets can be conveniently booked on the Statue Cruises Website. Just remember to book your ticket in advance and to arrive early because it gets very crowded here every day (especially if the weather is nice). Even if you reserve your ticket online, you probably have to queue for picking it up.
Read more about things to do in New York City in my NYC travel posts!
3. Party the night away in Las Vegas
From The Hangover (2009) to What Happens in Vegas (2008) and Last Vegas (2013) – there have been dozens of films that have been at least partly shot in "Sin City" Las Vegas. And most of them were, of course, about partying and gambling.
It is definitely an experience to see this "giant playground for adults" for yourself. I have been here on two guided group tours with Contiki and Intrepid. I found this the best way to explore this city as Las Vegas really is a place you would rather want to explore with a group than on your own.
Just a word of warning: The drinks that the waiters serve in Las Vegas are really strong as they usually mix in more alcohol than soft drinks. So unless you don't want the real-life experience from The Hangover (2009), take it easy on the drinks.
4. Take a photo with THOSE FAMOUS LETTERS…
… and walk in the footsteps of the stars on the HOLLYWOOD Walk of Fame in Los Angeles.
Visiting the famous "Hollywood Sign" is a must-do for film fans. Read more about Los Angeles for film fans in my travel post When in Hollywood – Four Must-Do’s for Film Fans or in my film review for La La Land (2016).
5. Trace your favourite Film Locations on a Film Locations Tour in New York City, Boston or Chicago
New York City's Central Park is the most used filming location in the world!
In these cities, specialised film location tours let you trace your favourite movie's filming locations while giving you a good overview of the city or neighbourhood at the same time.
6. Walk or bike over the famous Bridges
The Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most famous bridge of the United States, although the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City comes pretty close. Therefore, it's not surprising that both have featured as beautiful backgrounds in several films.
The Golden Gate Bridge can, for instance, be seen in The Internship (2011). One of my favourite American comedy movies of all times tells the story of two unemployed salesmen in their 40s who join the young interns in the Silicon Valley techie scene just outside of San Fransisco in the hopes of securing permanent jobs at Google.
Me at the Golden Gate Bridge
To see the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, I thought it was best to rent a bike. This way, you can independently visit many highlights of the city.
On my most recent visit to New York City, I joined the 911 Memorial and Brooklyn Bridge Night Tour by Free Tours on Foot to see the beautifully illuminated memorial and the Brooklyn Bridge at night. Furthermore, I also took a daytime tour by bike, which was an included activity of my New York Pass.
Read more about my Brooklyn Bridge bike ride in my travel post Brooklyn at its Best – 7 Sightseeing Tips for Film Fans
7. Travel back in time at the old plantations in the South
The Oscar-winning period drama 12 Years a Slave was shot in and around New Orleans in the deep South of the USA (namely on the Felicity, Bocage, Destrehan, and Magnolia plantations), which was the stronghold of slave trading back in the day.
Up until today, you will find many of the old plantations here. Most of these can be visited on day trips from New Orleans. For the most flexibility, it's best if you have a rental car as it's obviously a very rural area and the plantations are very spread out. But you can also go there on a guided bus tour.
Oak Alley Plantation near New Orleans
This blog post gives a good overview of all the plantation tours available around New Orleans, Louisiana. On my visit in 2015, I went to Oak Alley Plantation, which has served as a filming locations for one of the best vampire-film ever made: Interview with the Vampire (1994). For 69 US Dollars return, you can get there on a guided bus tour with Gray Line.
8. Indulge in some American comfort food!
When I was travelling in the past, I never thought about joining a food tour to explore a new city. I always assumed it was too expensive and that I couldn't eat most of the food anyway because I'm a vegetarian. But on my recent trip to the United States and Canada, I discovered that there are indeed some great food tours that cater both for special dietary needs (e.g. vegetarians like me) and allow money-conscious travellers to stay on budget.
Read more about the 3 Food Tours in the USA and Canada you absolutely have to try in my "Eating my way through North America" post.
Other typical American food to try include a traditional Texas Barbecue (for the most brave to the Steak challenge at the Steak House in Amarillo such as Barbra Streisand did in The Guilt Trip), the Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago, the "chocolate chili" in Cincinnati or delicious Mexican-American fusion food in New Mexico.
My absolute favourite, however, is the Cheesecake Factory chain, which can be found all over the US.
9. Take a Road Trip along the Route 66
Want to experience one of those fun American road trip movies such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006), On the Road (2012) or We're the Millers (2013)? Then, the Route 66 is the best place to go (or to drive in this case).
Starting in Chicago and ending on the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, the route will take you past some of the most famous and incredible American landscapes, such as this road in Utah featured in the final scene of Forrest Gump (1994).
The "Forrest Gump road" in Utah
If you don't have a (rental) car, just join one of the West Coast group tours, such as the Grand Southern by Contiki to pass by the "Forrest Gump road".
10. Relax (or party) at the Beaches
If you want to party like Selena Gomez and her "gals" in Spring Breakers (2012), or just chill out by swimming in the always warm sea, you should head to the "Sunshine State" Florida. The sea in Miami is beautiful all year round. My photo was taken in mid-November!
Chilling out in Miami
Another great place for beaches is the American sunshine state of California (too many films to list here, you know the drill!), but one of them is the Apple TV series Physical (2021-) filmed in and around San Diego.
Unless otherwise credited, all photos by © Sonja Irani | filmfantravel.com