In my 20s I travelled solo all over the U.S on a 3-month backpacking trip, staying in hostels or with friends that I’d met on my travels around the world. Unlike places such as Europe and Australia, which are particularly well set up for backpackers, the U.S is a little more difficult to backpack solo, simply because there are less hostels and there’s a lack of public transportation in some places, which means you really need a car to get around. The USA is a vast country and many places are far apart, so sometimes the only option is to fly between them, unless you plan on doing a long road trip. However, it’s still entirely possible to travel the U.S alone and some cities in particular are great for solo travelers.
On my 3-month trip I started on the west coast in Los Angeles and took an Amtrak train to Portland followed by San Francisco. From there I flew to Las Vegas for a few days and then hopped on another flight to Denver. From Denver I flew to Chicago then rode the Megabus to Memphis and Atlanta, finally stopping in New Orleans. For my final leg of the trip I took another Megabus to Austin and stayed with friends. I had the best time and that trip was the first of several trips to the United States.
Now I live in the U.S permanently and I love being able to call this country home. Here’s my list of the best places to travel solo in the USA.
- Austin, Texas
- New York City, New York
- San Francisco, California
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Portland, Oregon
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Los Angeles, California
- Palm Springs, California
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Chicago, Illinois
- Washington D.C
- Miami, Florida
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Tips for Traveling Solo in the U.S
I’ve been to Austin countless times and it’s always such a fun and friendly city to visit, especially if you visit during a festival such as SXSW or Austin City Limits. Since it’s a college town there’s always a party going on in Austin but the city really comes alive during the festivals or days such as St Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. Due to its increasing popularity, hotels can be expensive here on a weekend but there are several more affordable hostel options where you can meet other solo travelers.
Definitely make sure you go for drinks on Rainey Street and listen to live music on 6th Street. And don’t leave Austin without trying Barbecue at a restaurant such as Terry Blacks or Franklin Barbecue. There’s also plenty of nature in Austin too, from swimming in natural springs such as Barton springs or Hamilton Pool, to biking the green belt and paddle-boarding on Lady Bird Lake.
New York City, New York
I live in New York City and I explore on my own all the time. There’s so much you can do here in the city that never sleeps! If you want to make friends, you can pretty much walk into any bar, pull up a stool and before you know it you’ll be deep in conversation with a stranger. If it’s your first time in New York you’ll probably want to hit up all the major sights, such as Central Park, the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Flatiron, Grand Central and Times Square.
Summer is a great time to visit, when all the rooftops are open and everyone is out and about. If you’re traveling solo, Williamsburg Brooklyn is a friendly place to stay, since there are so many restaurants and funky bars with outdoor patios. I lived in Williamsburg for 1.5 years and it was so easy to go bar hopping there on your own. Plus, if you like techno music, there are all sorts of cool venues in Brooklyn such as Brooklyn Mirage and Elsewhere. With such an extensive public transportation system, New York is definitely one of the easiest and best places to travel alone as a female in the U.S.
San Francisco, California
When I visited San Francisco alone I stayed in USA Hostels San Francisco, which is located 3 blocks from Union Square. I spent two days exploring San Francisco’s major sights, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Pier 39, the Ferry Building and Golden Gate Park. San Francisco is very hilly and boasts the “crookedest street in the world”, Lombard Street, which is famous for its eight hairpin turns. I enjoyed walking around the quirky neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury, which was home of the “Summer of Love” in 1967 and today boasts lots of vintage shops, restaurants and colorful Victorian homes.
If you have time, you could also book a tour to visit the famous Napa and Sonoma wine regions, where you’ll visit both big name and family run estates and taste some local wines. The best thing about booking a day tour is you don’t have to worry about driving, so you can have a few glasses of wine and make some friends on the tour.
Philadelphia is another great city to visit solo with plenty of interesting things to do. You can have your photo taken on the Rocky Steps, walk along the waterfront, eat a Philly Cheesesteak at Geno’s and tour Independence Hall, where the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.
In addition to many tourist attractions, Philadelphia has plenty of breweries where you can try craft beers, including Love City Brewing, Evil Genius Beer Company and Philadelphia Brewing Company. My favorite area of Philly is Old City/Society Hill, which has plenty of tree-lined streets with cute brownstones. If you’re traveling solo and short on time, Philadelphia is easy to explore in a day.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans has a really fun hostel called India House Hostel which is incredibly social and known for being a bit of a party hostel. The hostel has a swimming pool, BBQ area, kitchen with courtyard and comfortable common areas, so you can easily make new friends before a night out in NOLA. Bourbon Street is the most famous street in New Orleans and is lined with neon lights and bars selling “Huge Ass” beers and giant cocktails. Frenchmen Street is also another popular nightlife area and is the best place to see live jazz music.
Outside of partying, New Orleans has some fantastic restaurants where you can try creole and cajun cuisine such as gumbo, po-boys, jambalaya and beignets. One of my favorite things to do there is visit the Garden District, which is a leafy green area with mansion homes and beautiful gardens. Tours are also a great way to meet new people – you can book a swamp tour to see the alligators or a ghost tour to visit New Orleans’ most haunted locations.
There’s a famous saying “Keep Portland Weird” because Portland is quirky and unique. Definitely try the legendary Voodoo Doughnuts and visit Powell’s Books, which is the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world. I’d also recommend visiting the Rose Test Garden, which features over 7,000 rose bushes and is the oldest continuously operated public rose garden in the United States. If you want to experience Portland’s weird side, head along to Last Thursday, which is an arts and culture experience that takes place on the last Thursday of every month. Taking place on Alberta Street, Last Thursday features street performers and lots of vendors selling art, crafts and foods.
Need some more ideas? Check out my list of top things to do in Portland.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is fairly small so it’s easy to get around on foot, plus it’s a college town so it’s easy to make friends on a night out. On a weekend the bars are packed and the drinks are cheap – coming from New York I was shocked to pay $5 for a vodka soda! There are so many great things to do in Charleston, such as having your photo taken in front of colorful Rainbow Row or strolling through Joe Riley Waterfront Park. If you want to escape the heat of the city, Charleston also has some great beaches to visit including Foly Beach and Sullivan’s Island.
Not only is Charleston incredibly pretty, it also has a fantastic foodie scene, with plenty of award-nominated restaurants serving seafood and southern cuisine. Husk, Pearlz, Magnolias, Chubby Fish and FIG are all excellent choices. On a hot day, don’t miss the chance to have a cocktail at Citrus Club, which is on the rooftop of the Dewberry Hotel. The views here are spectacular and you can see all over the city.
Los Angeles, California
Despite being spread out, LA can be fun to visit solo, especially if you stay in a hostel or a hotel with a lively pool. In summer there are weekend pool parties at hotels all over the city, including The Roosevelt Hotel, W Hollywood, Ace Hotel, The Standard, The Line and Skybar at The Mondrian. I’ve been to most of them and it’s almost impossible not to make new friends.
When I’m traveling to Los Angeles solo I love to walk along the boardwalk at Venice Beach and people watch – there are so many street performers, skateboarders and things going on. Other great things to do solo include hiking up to Griffith Observatory, walking along Rodeo Drive, visiting the LACMA Urban Light Installation, admiring the paintings at The Getty Museum and enjoying the rides at Santa Monica Pier.
Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs is small, safe and fairly easy to get around on foot, which is why it makes it on my list of top places to visit in the US alone. I love the mid-century modern interiors, boutique hotels, palm trees and stunning desert scenery. Once a playground for the rich and famous in the 1950’s, Palm springs is incredibly popular again, with lots of great restaurants, cocktails bars and art galleries. If you’re a fan of mid-century modern design, definitely visit the Parker Hotel, which boasts a very cool and unique lobby.
The city is also also a gateway for visiting Joshua Tree National Park and festivals such as Coachella. The airport is relatively close to the city, so it’s easy to get in and out if you’re just visiting for a weekend. I’d recommend staying at the Ace Hotel if you’re traveling alone – the hotel boasts a spacious outdoor pool with DJs on weekends, as well as a spa and diner-style restaurant.
Known as “Music City”, Nashville is home to the Country Music Hall of Fame and legendary music venues such as the Grand Ole Opry House. It’s an incredibly fun city with colorful murals and plenty of places to eat and drink (definitely try the hot chicken!). Make sure you visit the Honky Tonk Highway, which is Nashville’s music hub and a great place to immerse yourself in Nashville’s nightlife. Here you’ll find lots of Honky Tonks, which are essentially bars with at least one stage, cold drinks and parties that last all day.
If you want to explore Nashville’s musical history further, pay a visit to the Johnny Cash Museum, where you can learn all about the life of country music legend Johnny Cash. To quench your thirst, you could also hit up a local distillery such as Crosair or a brewery such as Southern Grist or Bearded Iris. Pinewood Social is also a must-do, since it’s a restaurant, a bar, coffee shop and a bowling alley all rolled into one.
I spent five days in Chicago staying at Chicago Getaway Hostel and had such a good time. The hostel has a free breakfast, spacious common areas and organized activities every day of the week, plus there are private rooms in case you don’t feel like sharing a dorm. Summertime is a great time to visit Chicago, when the weather is warm and there are plenty of fun activities such as Movies in the Park! On your visit to Chicago I’d recommend having your photo taken with “The Bean”, visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo (which is free!), sitting on the glass ledge at Skydeck, admiring the view from the John Hancock Observatory and watching the aquatic show at the Shedd Aquarium.
Food-wise definitely make sure you grab a hot dog at the Weiners Circle, where the staff hurl insults at customers on purpose (it’s all for the theater)! I’d also suggest you try Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza, which you can try at Giordano’s. Check out my list of the top 10 things to do in Chicago here.
Washington D.C is home to more than 20 museums, many of which are free and easy to explore alone. The National Air and Space Museum, National Gallery of Art, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, National Archives Building, Smithsonian American Art Museum – just take your pick!
In addition to museums, Washington D.C has quite the foodie scene, with a vast variety of international cuisines from all over the world. You’ll find lots of Southeast Asian restaurants, including Filipino, Cambodian, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Burmese and Northern Thai. D.C is also home to some of the largest populations of Ethiopian and Salvadoran expats in the country, so you’ll be able to find both of these cuisines in the city.
Sushi, ramen, Middle Eastern, pizza, steakhouses – whatever your heart desires you’ll find it in Washington D.C. Make sure you visit the lively and diverse area of Adams Morgan, where you’ll find historic row houses, independently owned stores and a vibrant nightlife scene.
Miami hotels can be very expensive if you’re flying solo and not splitting with other people. That being said, there are several great affordable hostels right on South Beach and many of them have their own pools and bars. Popular hotels in Miami include Freehand Miami, Generator Miami, Beds N’ Drinks, SoBe Hostel & Bar and Rock Hostel. If you like to party, these hostels are great for getting to know people so you won’t be alone for long. Before you know it you’ll have a group of friends to go to the beach with or hit up Miami’s nightclubs with. Beach destinations are great for solo travelers because you can lay on the sand and read a book by yourself without standing out like a sore thumb.
Las Vegas, Nevada
While most people visit Vegas in groups, I’ve actually stayed in Vegas a couple of times solo and I had such a good time! The pool parties in Vegas are always super fun and it’s easy to get chatting to people when you’re having a cocktail or two by the pool. Definitely check out pool parties such as Wet Republic at MGM Grand, Go Pool Dayclub at Flamingo, Drai’s at Cromwell or Encore Beach Club at Wynn/Encore. Plus, the hotels are cheap, so if you’re traveling to Vegas on a budget you can get a good deal even if you’re not splitting the room with someone else. With lots of fast food options and buffets here, you also don’t have to worry about sitting in fancy restaurants by yourself.
Atlanta is quite easy to visit on your own because there are numerous attractions to keep you occupied. I loved visiting the World of Coca-Cola, where you can learn about the history of the Coca-Cola company and visit a soda fountain where you can sample over 100 different beverages from around the world. I had no idea Coca-Cola made so many drinks! If you purchase a CityPass it will also include entry to the Georgia Aquarium, which is one of the best aquariums I have been to.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The final shoutout on my list of the best solo trips in the US goes to Santa Fe, New Mexico. New Mexico’s capital is known for its Pueblo-style architecture and Spanish flair. It’s the highest and oldest state capital in the United States, founded between 1607 and 1610. You can easily explore Santa Fe on foot, visiting New Mexico History Museum, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the Palace of the Governors and the oldest house in the US.
The city is known for its art scene, which you can explore in the galleries on Canyon Road. I’m a huge fan of Japanese onsen (spas) and Santa Fe happens to have a Japenese-themed spa called Ten Thousand Waves, which is located in the forest of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. If you’re looking to relax, you can book a massage or spa treatment there and bathe in their outdoor hot tubs. Food in Santa Fe is usually served with red or green chile and you can find some great restaurants serving things like enchiladas and burritos.
It’s best to go to Santa Fe in summertime as winters there can get pretty chilly, with night time temperatures falling below freezing.
Tips for Traveling Solo in the U.S
Sit at the bar
One thing I love at the U.S is that most restaurants have plenty of bar seating and they often do Happy Hour deals on drinks and appetizers. If you’re traveling solo, sitting at the bar is a great way to meet people, or failing that, you can at least sit and talk to the bartender. This beats sitting alone at a table at dinnertime by yourself.
Consider staying in a hostel
Now I’m in my mid-30’s I rarely stay in hostels anymore but on my first trip to the U.S I stayed in hostels all over and I met plenty of people! Since hostels have their own common areas, bars and often run pub crawls or tours, they offer the perfect environment to meet new people. While it can be annoying to share a room with snoring strangers, some have private rooms so you get the benefits of your own room and yet you can still meet people in the communal areas. Miami has some great hostels if you fancy a beach vacation!
Score last minute hotel deals
If you’d rather stay in hotels then I’d recommend using an app like Hotel Tonight, which offers last minute deals on hotels. I’ve used it a lot in places like New York, LA and Miami and you can get some cheap deals on luxury hotels if you’re willing to book the night before. You can also search and compare hotel deals on sites like Booking.com, Hotels.com and Kayak, or try staying in an Airbnb.
Choose hotels with a pool
When booking hotels on my own I usually look for places that have a pool, a bar or some kind of area where I’m likely to be able to meet other people. The pool is always a great place to make friends!
Book flights well in advance
As a general rule I’d say always try to book flights well in advance as they can get pretty expensive the closer it gets to your trip. Apps like Hopper are great for monitoring the flight prices to tell you whether they’re likely to go up or down. If you live in the U.S then definitely take advantage of air miles cards, since you can use points and miles to get free flights.