21 Mind-Blowing Trips of a Lifetime

From Arizona to Zambia, our list of the world’s most amazing places includes awe-inspiring natural wonders and not-to-be missed travel experiences. Pack your bags for these mind-blowing escapes.

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US Virgin Islands

US Virgin Islands

A Caribbean vacation isn't out of reach without a passport if you stick to the US Virgin Islands: St. John, St. Croix and St. Thomas (pictured here). Since they're US territories, a driver's license or birth certificate will suffice. 960 1280

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Vieques, Puerto Rico

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Another option in the Caribbean is Vieques, a small island that lies about 8 miles east of Puerto Rico. Along with the Puerto Rican mainland, it is a United States commonwealth with a strong Spanish influence. 960 1280

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Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebra, another island municipality of Puerto Rico, offers some of the Caribbean's most serene beaches. 960 1280

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Not to be overshadowed by its islands, Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, is steeped in Spanish heritage and culture without sacrificing waterfront sunsets. 960 1280

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Whistler, British Columbia

Whistler, British Columbia

Have your sights set on a Canadian ski vacation? You can hit the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb, but not without restrictions. First, you'll need to travel by land, and second, you'll need either an enhanced driver's license or a US passport card. These travel documents were created in conjunction with changes to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that took effect in 2009.  960 1280

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Key West, Florida

Key West, Florida

Who says you can't find an island paradise in the continental US? Just off the coast of Florida, Key West is the southernmost city in the country and is unlike anywhere else. 960 1280

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Guam

Guam

Guam is the westernmost US territory, and while it's known for its military base, it's also one of the leading tourist destinations in the Western Pacific. This tropical paradise features beach clubs, luxurious accommodations and world-class golf courses. 960 1280

DuReMi, flickr  

Hawaii

Hawaii

Of course, if you want to be on an exotic island far, far away, your first thought should be of Hawaii and the islands of Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai and Maui. 960 1280

Rhiannon Taylor  

American Samoa

American Samoa

You can also experience the heart of Polynesia and Samoan culture in the 5 volcanic islands that make up the territory of American Samoa. 960 1280

Walter Spina/iStock/Getty Images  

Swains Island, American Samoa

Swains Island, American Samoa

If you're feeling adventurous, travel to Swains Island in American Samoa, one of the territory's 2 atolls (coral islands) halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. 960 1280

Wikimedia Commons  

Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

Your last option for a tropical vacation without a passport is Saipan, one of the 14 lush Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth. The Micronesian paradise has been called "America's best-kept secret." 960 1280

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Colosseum

Colosseum

Rome's most enduring icon is undoubtedly the Colosseum. 960 1280

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Colosseum

Colosseum

Built between A.D. 70 and 80 A.D., it was in use for some 500 years and held nearly 50,000 spectators.
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Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Peru's Machu Picchu is thought to have been a sacred center for the nearby Incan capital of Cusco. 960 1280

Vitmark / iStock / Getty Images  

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

A close-up of the living quarters of Machu Picchu, built at the peak of the Incan Empire in the mid-1400s, shows the advanced tiered construction and stone architecture.
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Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

The genius and adaptability of Mayan culture can be seen in the ruins of Chichen Itza, on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. 960 1280

Robivamos / iStock / Thinkstock  

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

The most familiar ruin at the site is El Caracol? This sophisticated astronomical observatory.
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Carlos Delgado [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  

El-Deir Monastery

El-Deir Monastery

Structures carved into stone and the El-Deir monastery helped Petra, Jordan earn its fame. 960 1280

Reynold Mainse / Design Pics / Perspective / Getty Images  

El-Deir Monastery

El-Deir Monastery

El-Deir, built during the first century, is the second most visited building in Petra.
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Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is actually a succession of walls spanning approximately 4,000 miles. 960 1280

topgold via [CC BY-SA 2.0]  

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is the world’s longest manmade structure.
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Georgio (Own work (Photo personnelle)) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons  

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Agra, India's Taj Mahal is a mausoleum commissioned for the wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. 960 1280

Turtix / iStock / Getty Images  

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

The Gateway to the Taj Mahal rises nearly 100-feet high and separates the gardens from the forecourt.
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Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

The Christ the Redeemer statue has loomed over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from upon Corcovado mountain since 1931. 960 1280

Christian Adams / Getty Images  

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer

The Art Deco-style Christ the Redeemer statue lights up the sky.
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Otavio Campos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  

Fire Island Lighthouse
Fire Island, NY

Fire Island, NY

Fire Island, a barrier island parallel to Long Island, NY, is a popular summer vacation destination. Accessible by shuttle ferries, water taxis and private boats, the island is free of motor vehicles, so many visitors get around the island by walking or biking. During the summer, the 32-mile-long island is popular for surfing and sailing. However, many people enjoy visiting the National Seashore during the off-season to explore Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven and the Sunken Forest, or to collect seashells along the shore.  960 1280

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Marco Island, FL

Marco Island, FL

The unspoiled beaches and lush, tropical surroundings of Marco Island -- the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands -- attracts visitors to Florida’s Gulf Coast year-round. Find respite on one of the island’s white sand beaches, spot dolphins and manatees on a boat tour, or go shopping at the Esplanade.  960 1280

Photolibrary / Getty Images  

Amelia Island, FL

Amelia Island, FL

Amelia Island, Florida’s northernmost barrier island, is a picturesque seaport community popular for outdoor recreation enthusiasts of all ages. During the day, explore 13 miles of beautiful, white sand beaches, go kayaking in the island’s scenic waterways, or hop aboard a river cruise for views of Floridian wildlife like dolphins, manatees and alligators. At sunset, go horseback riding on the beach. Amelia Island is one of the few beach-horseback riding opportunities in the US. Before you go, dine at the family-owned and operated Crab Trap in Fernandina Beach for fresh, locally-caught seafood -- a historic downtown landmark for more than 30 years! 960 1280

Moment Open / Getty Images  

Anna Maria Island, FL

Anna Maria Island, FL

The pristine beaches and turquoise blue waters of Florida’s Anna Maria Island beckon both locals and travelers to this small island paradise on the Gulf Coast. Catch a ride on the free Anna Maria Island Trolley that travels between the island’s 3 cities -- Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria. Soak up the sun at Bean Point -- a secluded beach and local favorite in Anna Maria -- before dining at the historic Rod & Reel Pier restaurant.  960 1280

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Block Island, RI

Block Island, RI

Located just off the coast of Rhode Island is a haven where locals and tourists escape for ultimate serenity. Block Island, RI, is comprised of 17 miles of pristine beaches, wildlife preserves and hiking trails, in addition to historic inns and lighthouses. New Shoreham -- the smallest city in the smallest US state -- is also located on the island. 960 1280

Block Island Tourism Council  

Santa Catalina Island, CA

Santa Catalina Island, CA

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a Catalina Island, CA, getaway. A true West Coast paradise, Catalina Island is situated just off the coast of Southern California. Hop aboard a ferry for an hour-long ride to the island, or take a 15-minute helicopter ride. Once on the island, go parasailing to see the island from a different perspective, zip 1,100 feet over the island and descend onto the beach on a zip-line eco tour, or sleep under the stars at one of the designated campgrounds. With a variety of activities and accommodations, the island is great for couples and families looking for an island escape, even if it’s just for the day. 960 1280

Santa Catalina Island Company  

Chincoteague Island, VA

Chincoteague Island, VA

Escape to Chincoteague Island -- Virginia’s only resort island -- located 3.5 hours from Richmond, VA. The small, 7-mile-long island is a fishing village famous for its oysters and clams. Visit in July to watch a herd of 150 wild ponies swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island in the annual Pony Swim. 960 1280

Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce  

Galveston Island, TX

Galveston Island, TX

Located an hour’s drive from Houston, Galveston Island, TX, is a popular vacation destination chock-full of beautiful beaches, historic architecture and a variety of family-friendly attractions and accommodations. Get wet ‘n’ wild at Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark or experience 242 acres of attractions at Moody Gardens. 960 1280

Kenny Braun  

Hilton Head Island, SC

Hilton Head Island, SC

Whether you’re looking to enjoy a few rounds of golf at one of the island’s 30 golf courses or to relax on the 12-mile stretch of white-sand beach, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina has it all. One of the largest islands on the East Coast, Hilton Head is a popular, family-friendly resort area with an abundance of activities to choose from, including water sports, outdoor adventures and museums. 960 1280

Hilton Head Island Visitor & Convention Bureau  

Key West, FL

Key West, FL

Experience the culture, history and charm of the small, 3.5-mile-long island of Key West, FL. A part of the Florida Keys, Key West is located at the southernmost point in the contiguous US, only 90 miles from Cuba. Explore Old Town Key West and the former home of famed author Ernest Hemingway, hit the water on a jet ski for a tour around the island, or watch the sunset from Mallory Square. 960 1280

Casa Marina Resort  

Mackinac Island, MI

Mackinac Island, MI

Picturesque Mackinac Island, MI, is situated in Lake Huron between the state’s upper and lower peninsulas. A great destination for the outdoorsy and adventurous, Mackinac Island has more than 70 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore. Meander through Historic Downtown to view beautiful, 18th-century architecture and to tour Fort Mackinac -- the oldest building in Michigan -- along with other historic sites. 960 1280

Mackinac Island Tourism  

Martha's Vineyard, MA

Martha's Vineyard, MA

A true New England getaway, Martha’s Vineyard, MA -- located 7 miles off the coast of Cape Cod -- lures travelers to its shores with its history, charm and natural beauty. Meander through the historic districts of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. Tour the Vineyard’s 5 lighthouses, or find respite on one of the island’s 19 scenic beaches. Avoid crowds of tourists and travel here from October to May when prices also tend to be less expensive. 960 1280

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce  

Mount Desert Island, ME

Mount Desert Island, ME

Crashing waves and rocky coastlines meet lush, evergreen forests and granite mountaintops on picturesque Mount Desert Island, ME -- the second largest island on the East Coast. Home to Acadia National Park -- the first National Park east of the Mississippi River -- and Bar Harbor, the island welcomes millions of visitors each year. Explore more than 120 miles of hiking trails, go white water rafting or spot moose on a wildlife tour. Keep in mind, the average temperature on the island is only 67 degrees during the summer, so bring a jacket. 960 1280

E+ / Getty Images  

Nantucket, MA

Nantucket, MA

Nantucket Island, MA, may be small but it’s so full of character. With cobblestone streets, historic cottages and quaint shops and restaurants, the “Faraway Land” -- as it was referred to by Native Americans -- provides visitors of all ages with the perfect New England getaway. Meander through downtown’s historic district, charter a boat for a day of fishing, or watch the sunset on popular Madaket Beach.  960 1280

J. Coutre  

Ocracoke Island, NC

Ocracoke Island, NC

A part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Ocracoke Island, NC, is a small fishing village only accessible by ferry, private boat or plane. The island’s 16 miles of pristine, undeveloped beaches -- protected by the National Park Service -- offer a peaceful escape to travelers willing to make the trip. Explore the tree-lined streets and 1880s architecture of Ocracoke Village and the Ocracoke Lighthouse -- one of the oldest lighthouses still in use in the US. 960 1280

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Orcas Island, WA

Orcas Island, WA

Lush forests, placid lakes and beautiful, craggy shorelines await the outdoorsy and adventurous at Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington. Stroll through some of the island’s charming waterfront villages, hike the miles of trails in Moran State Park, or go on a wildlife or marine life tour to spot bald eagles or Orca whales.  960 1280

San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau  

San Juan Islands, WA

San Juan Islands, WA

The San Juan Islands, located just off the coast of Washington, represent the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer -- lush forests, quaint fishing villages and scenic waterways. A top whale-watching destination, the island is best visited from mid-April to October when whale sightings are most popular, and when the weather is perfect for outdoor adventures.  960 1280

San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau  

Sanibel & Captiva Islands, FL

Sanibel & Captiva Islands, FL

Located off Florida’s Gulf Coast, the sister islands of Sanibel and Captiva offer travelers a tranquil, tropical escape year-round. The beautiful, shell-strewn beaches on both islands rank among the top destinations for shelling, and provide the perfect landscape to sit back, relax and watch the sun set. The island’s pristine, turquoise blue waters are also great for offshore fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving.  960 1280

Grand Affair Photography  

Sea Island, GA

Sea Island, GA

For a 5-star luxury island getaway, visit Sea Island, GA. Part of Georgia’s Golden Isles -- which includes St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons and Brunswick -- Sea Island is only 75 miles south of Savannah, GA. Book a room at the island’s internationally acclaimed Sea Island Cloister Resort, play a round (or more) at one of the 3 championship golf courses, or melt the stress away with a day at the lavish Spa at Sea Island.  960 1280

Sea Island Acquisition LLC  

St. Simons Island, GA

St. Simons Island, GA

Moss-draped oaks, centuries-old historic sites and charming shops and restaurants line the streets of St. Simons Island, the largest barrier island in Georgia’s Golden Isles. Tour St. Simons Lighthouse -- a working lighthouse built in 1872 -- tee off at one of the three 18-hole championship golf courses, or stretch out on East Beach -- perfect for sunbathing, windsurfing and more. 960 1280

GoldenIsles.com  

Mustang Island, Port Aransas, TX

Mustang Island, Port Aransas, TX

Just across the bay from Corpus Christi, TX, Mustang Island is a small island community with 5 miles of coastline perfect for sunbathing, fishing, camping and more. With one of the highest bird counts on the Gulf Coast, it’s also a popular destination for avid birdwatchers. Visit in February for the annual Whooping Crane Festival to get a close-up view of the endangered bird species.  960 1280

Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images  

Shelter Island, NY

Shelter Island, NY

Located on the eastern end of Long Island, NY, Shelter Island is a quiet island with secluded beaches and one of the richest nature preserves in the northeast. Go boating, sailing or fishing along the island’s 17 miles of coastline, ride a bike to secluded Shell Beach, or explore the miles of trails in the Mashomack Preserve -- a nearly 2,100-acre preserve that makes up 1/3 of the island.  960 1280

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Photos

Louisiana, Oak Alley Plantation

Louisiana, Oak Alley Plantation

By the banks of the Mississippi River stands Oak Alley Plantation -- so named because of the double row of 300-year-old oak trees that sit alongside each side of the path leading to the mansion. Designed in the spirit of French Creole architecture, the plantation home was built between 1837 and 1839 for a wealthy sugar planter of the day. 960 1280

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Delaware, Caesar Rodney Statue

Delaware, Caesar Rodney Statue

This statue of Delaware’s most cherished patriot stands in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. On July 1, 1776, Caesar Rodney rode horseback to Philadelphia -- the very next day, the American lawyer and politician from Dover, Delaware, cast a crucial vote that paved the way for the passage of the Declaration of Independence. 960 1280

Joe del Tufo/Delaware Tourism Office  

Pennsylvania, Liberty Bell

Pennsylvania, Liberty Bell

This iconic symbol of American independence carries the words, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Historians believe the copper bell was one of many bells rung to mark the public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. 960 1280

Robert & Pam, flickr  

New Jersey, Atlantic City

New Jersey, Atlantic City

The Atlantic City Boardwalk was the first boardwalk in America. It opened in June 1870 to help hotel owners keep sand out of their lobbies. Today, the boardwalk lures many visitors on the way to one of the area's many casinos… and to a confectioner's stand for the boardwalk’s famous salt water taffy. 960 1280

Walter Bibikow / The Images Bank / Getty Images  

Georgia, Ebenezer Baptist Church

Georgia, Ebenezer Baptist Church

A great leader was born here. Before he ever became America’s leading civil rights leader, Martin Luther King’s moral conscience was shaped at Ebenezer Baptist Church. 960 1280

Judy Baxter, flickr  

Connecticut, Mystic Seaport

Connecticut, Mystic Seaport

The Mystic Seaport was one of the first living history museums in America, having opened in 1929. Spanning nearly 20 acres, the museum showcases a recreated 19th-century coastal village with more than 60 historic buildings, as well as a collection of historic ships -- including four that are National Historic Landmarks. 960 1280

Connecticut Office of Tourism  

Massachusetts, Plymouth Rock

Massachusetts, Plymouth Rock

Legend has it that the Pilgrims first landed upon a boulder -- it came to be known as Plymouth Rock. That enduring symbol of America’s early history now sits under this granite canopy, built in 1921, at Pilgrim Memorial State Park. 960 1280

Kenneth C. Zirkel / Photodisc / Getty Images  

Maryland, Fort McHenry

Maryland, Fort McHenry

The star-shaped Fort McHenry was built to defend the port of Baltimore against enemy attack. That moment came in September 1814 when the British continuously bombarded the fort for 25 hours. American forces successfully defended Baltimore Harbor -- a move that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 960 1280

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South Carolina, Fort Sumter

South Carolina, Fort Sumter

In the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter. They fired continuously for the next 34 hours, setting off the Civil War. It would take nearly four years for Union forces to regain control of the fort. 960 1280

Harry Alverson, flickr   

New Hampshire, Mt. Washington Cog Railway

New Hampshire, Mt. Washington Cog Railway

In 1857, a man named Sylvester Marsh was climbing New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington when he got the idea to build a railway up the mountain. He put up $5,000 of his own money to fund what would become the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway. Today, the Mt. Washington Cog Railway is the second steepest rack railway in the world, behind Mt. Pilatus Railway in Switzerland. 960 1280

NH Division of Parks and Recreation  

Virginia, Monticello

Virginia, Monticello

Monticello stands as an enduring symbol of America’s third president and his genius. Thomas Jefferson designed his Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Virginia, to embrace both old and new thinking: classical features such as pedimented porticos, mix with sophisticated interior spatial organization and low elevation, borrowed from 18th-century Parisian townhouse designs. 960 1280

Tony Fischer, flickr  

New York, Statue of Liberty

New York, Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was the first landmark that many immigrants to the United States saw as they approached New York Harbor. A gift from the people of France, the iconic figure represents the Roman goddess of freedom. In one hand she bears a torch, in the other a tablet upon which is inscribed the date of the Declaration of Independence. 960 1280

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North Carolina, Wright Brothers Memorial

North Carolina, Wright Brothers Memorial

Steady winds lured Ohio brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, between 1900 and 1903. Their vision was to fly a heavier-than-air machine. The Wright Brothers National Memorial marks that successful effort -- attained on Dec. 17, 1903, following three years of trial and error. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Rhode Island, Breakers Mansion

Rhode Island, Breakers Mansion

When American millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt was looking to build a summer home, he got his wish with The Breakers. Built in 1893, the 70-room mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, sits on 13 acres of land overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It came with a cool price tag: $12 million (today, the equivalent of $335 million). 960 1280

Wally Gobetz  

Vermont, Camel’s Hump

Vermont, Camel’s Hump

The distinctive silhouette of Camel’s Hump stands in the background of this rural scene. The third-highest mountain (and highest undeveloped peak) in Vermont, Camel’s Hump is part of the Green Mountain range. It’s also featured on the state quarter. 960 1280

jdwfoto / iStock / Getty Images  

Kentucky, Kentucky Derby

Kentucky, Kentucky Derby

Every first Saturday in May, Louisville, Kentucky, is home to the “Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.” The Kentucky Derby marks the annual stakes race for 3 year-old thoroughbreds, which race around a 1 1/4-mile track. The tradition began in May 1875, when the first Derby was held before a crowd of 10,000 people. 960 1280

kentuckytourism.com  

Tennessee, Ryman Auditorium

Tennessee, Ryman Auditorium

The Grand Ole Opry was born here. First opened as a church, Ryman Auditorium was later used to broadcast the famed country music stage concert series from 1943 to 1974. In subsequent years, Ryman fell into disrepair, until performances by country singer Emmylou Harris here sparked renewed interest in the space. Today, the 2,362-seat live performance venue hosts a variety of music performances. 960 1280

Tennessee Dept. of Tourist Development  

Ohio, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Ohio, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

The quiet shores of Ohio’s Lake Erie are home to rock ‘n' roll’s biggest celebration: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Located in Cleveland, the museum preserves the work of rock’s most influential artists and producers through exhibits that span five floors -- the museum’s third floor showcases the Hall of Fame and includes a wall with all the inductees’ signatures. 960 1280

Ohio Office of Tourism  

Indiana, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indiana, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

In 1905, Indianapolis businessman Carl Fisher envisioned building a speedway to test cars before they went to market. Four years later, ground was broken -- and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was born. Since that time, the speedway has been the site of 248 automobile races -- and sees crowds of more than 400, 000 people in what is the world’s highest-capacity stadium facility. 960 1280

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photography  

Mississippi, Blues Trail

Mississippi, Blues Trail

There’s just something about Mississippi -- more blues singers have come from state than all the other Southern states combined. The Mississippi Blues Trail, which extends from the border of Louisiana into southern Mississippi (and beyond, into Memphis, Tennessee, and Chicago) honors many blues legends, such as B.B. King. Follow the trail to Tupelo, Mississippi -- the birthplace of Elvis Presley. 960 1280

Louis Quail, Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images  

Illinois, Willis Tower

Illinois, Willis Tower

When the 108-story Willis Tower was completed in 1973 it became the world’s tallest building -- a distinction it held for 25 years. Today, the skyscraper still stands as the tallest building in America. More than 1 million people visit its observation deck each year, taking in views of the Chicago skyline. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Alabama, The Selma Bridge

Alabama, The Selma Bridge

Visitors walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Built in 1940 -- and named after a former Confederate brigadier general -- the arch bridge later became the site of Bloody Sunday, the day in March 1965 when 600 civil rights marchers were attacked by police with billy clubs and tear gas. 960 1280

Stephen Saks / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images  

Maine, Portland Head Light

Maine, Portland Head Light

In 1787, George Washington ordered the construction of this lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Two people had died that same year in a shipwreck, a tragedy heightened by the lack of lighthouses on Maine’s rocky coast. Today, the lighthouse remains a towering beacon, standing 80 feet above ground. 960 1280

EJ Johnson Photography / iStock / Thinkstock  

Missouri, Gateway Arch

Missouri, Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch celebrates America’s westward expansion. At 630 feet (taller than the Washington Monument), it is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. The monument opened to the public in 1967. An accompanying underground visitor center opened in 1976. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Arkansas, Buffalo National River

Arkansas, Buffalo National River

Flowing nonstop for 135 miles, Arkansas’s Buffalo National River is one of the last undammed rivers in the lower 48 states. It was named the first National River, under the oversight of the National Park Service, in 1972. The river is popular for fishing, canoeing and camping; it’s also a great place to take a summertime plunge. 960 1280

Wesley Hitt / Getty Images  

Michigan, The Henry Ford Museum

Michigan, The Henry Ford Museum

Discover America’s entrepreneurial spirit at The Henry Ford, a large indoor-outdoor history museum complex in metro Detroit. Opened in 1929 -- on the 50th anniversary of the lightbulb’s invention -- the museum’s exhibits span historic artifacts (such as Thomas Edison’s laboratory) to classic Americana like these famous double arches. 960 1280

Collections of The Henry Ford  

Florida, Kennedy Space Center

Florida, Kennedy Space Center

Midway between Miami and Jacksonville, Florida, dreams of outer space take flight. The Kennedy Space Center has been the launch site of every U.S. human space flight since 1968. At the KSC Visitors Complex discover the thrill of takeoff with a Shuttle Launch Experience, a motion control ride that simulates a shuttle launch. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Texas, The Alamo

Texas, The Alamo

The Alamo is the most enduring symbol of Texas independence. In 1836, Mexican forces waged a 13-day battle on the grounds of a former church. In the end, Mexican forces killed 190 men, including frontiersman Davy Crockett. Soon the battle cry “Remember the Alamo” led Texas forces to victory at the battle of San Jacinto -- a move that secured Texas’s independence. 960 1280

DC Productions / Photodisc / Thinkstock  

Iowa, High Trestle Trail Bridge

Iowa, High Trestle Trail Bridge

Take in the awe-inspiring view of the Des Moines River Valley from the High Trestle Trail Bridge. The bridge is located in central Iowa near the town of Madrid, and is the centerpiece of a 25-mile trail that runs from the cities of Ankeny to Woodward. At 2,300 feet long and 13 stories tall, it is the fifth largest trail bridge in the world. 960 1280

Iowa Tourism Office  

Wisconsin, Taliesin

Wisconsin, Taliesin

Taliesin, located near Spring Green, Wisconsin, was the summer home of the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was where he designed the architecture of Fallingwater and the Guggenheim, among others. 960 1280

Toy Dog Design, flickr  

California, Golden Gate Bridge

California, Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge has been called the most “beautiful bridge in the country, if not the world.” So just why isn’t the bridge golden? The term “Golden Gate” actually refers to the Golden Gate Strait, which is the entry point to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. As for the bridge’s color -- it’s International Orange, a color that’s often used in the aerospace industry to distinguish objects from their surroundings… in the bridge’s case, visibility on foggy days. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Minnesota, Headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itacsa

Minnesota, Headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itacsa

At Lake Itasca in Minnesota, the Mississippi River begins its flow toward Louisiana. The Mississippi’s headwaters are surrounded by the picturesque woods of the Itasca State Park. 960 1280

Explore Minnesota Tourism  

Oregon, Crater Lake

Oregon, Crater Lake

Distinguished by its clarity and deep blue color, Crater Lake in southern Oregon has a violent past. A caldera lake, it was formed when the volcano Mount Mazama collapsed. 960 1280

Shippee / iStock / Thinkstock  

Kansas, Dodge City

Kansas, Dodge City

“Get out of Dodge” -- that popular phrase owes its origins to the wild frontier town of Dodge City, Kansas. The town’s roots stretch back to 1871, when a rancher built a sod house in the area to oversee his cattle operations. Soon the town grew – and so did the violence. Wyatt Earp, one of the toughest and deadliest gunmen of his day, became marshal of the town in 1876 -- with gun-slinging exploits that earned the town national attention. 960 1280

Jupiter Images / Photos.com / Thinkstock  

West Virginia's 150th

West Virginia's 150th

The Mountain State marks its 150th anniversary in 2013. In June 1863, at the height of the Civil War, an expanse of land in the Appalachian Mountain range broke away from the state of Virginia, becoming the only state to form by seceding from the Confederacy. Among West Virginia’s must-see sites is the New River Gorge, a 3,030-foot-long steel arch bridge near Fayetteville, West Virginia. 960 1280

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Nevada, Las Vegas Strip

Nevada, Las Vegas Strip

The Strip -- a lot of action happens along this 4.2-mile stretch of Vegas. The Strip runs from Sahara Avenue to Russell Road, with famous resorts and casinos, plus 15 of the world’s 25 largest hotels, in between. 960 1280

TravelNevada, flickr  

Nebraska, Chimney Rock

Nebraska, Chimney Rock

“Pack your wagon” and discover one of the wonders of the West. At 4,226 above sea level, Chimney Rock in western Nebraska is visible for miles -- which is why it was the perfect landmark for pioneering travelers on the Oregon Trail. In fact, it was the landmark mentioned most frequently in journal entries by travelers of the day. 960 1280

Steve Cornelius, flickr  

Colorado, Colorado National Monument

Colorado, Colorado National Monument

Millions of years of erosion went into making the vibrant, orange, slick walls and canyons of Colorado National Monument. Spanning 20,500 acres, the monument is composed of deep canyons that cut into sandstone and granite in the desert on the Colorado Plateau. Red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and coyotes live among the juniper forests on the plateau. 960 1280

Mtcurado / iStock / Thinkstock  

North Dakota, Painted Canyon

North Dakota, Painted Canyon

In September 1883 future U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt visited the North Dakota Badlands to hunt bison. He soon fell in love with the “perfect freedom” of the West. Discover this world of flat desert mixed with petrified wood and rock formations at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park --  its Painted Canyon Overlook offers visitors unparalleled vistas in a myriad colors. 960 1280

North Dakota Tourism  

South Dakota, Mount Rushmore

South Dakota, Mount Rushmore

In 1923 South Dakota historian Doane Robinson envisioned carving the likenesses of U.S. presidents into South Dakota’s Black Hills region. It took 14 years and 400 workers to complete Mount Rushmore, with the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln intricately carved into the granite. Today, Mount Rushmore is South Dakota’s top tourist draw. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Montana, Wild Goose Island in St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park

Montana, Wild Goose Island in St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park

St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park features a small island in its center called Wild Goose Island. Folklore surrounds its name -- the story goes that two young lovers met on the island where they were turned into geese… and so given the chance to stay together forever and flee their disapproving tribes. 960 1280

CoyStClair / iStock / Thinkstock  

Washington, Space Needle

Washington, Space Needle

Seattle’s Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. It features an observation deck at 520 feet and a rotating restaurant (at 500 feet) that offers diners 360-degree views of the city. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Idaho, Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Idaho, Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Middle Fork of the Salmon River spans 110 miles, and includes 300 ratable rapids and six natural hot springs, making it a popular whitewater rafting destination. 960 1280

ROW Adventures  

Wyoming, Old Faithful

Wyoming, Old Faithful

Two-thirds of the world’s geysers are located at Yellowstone National Park -- among the park’s 300 geysers, Old Faithful is its most famous. In 1870, Old Faithful became the first geyser in Yellowstone to be named, earning its name due to its predictable eruptions every 91 minutes. 960 1280

Adam Long Sculpture / iStock / Thinkstock  

Utah, Salt Lake Temple

Utah, Salt Lake Temple

The largest Mormon temple, Salt Lake Temple took 40 years to complete. The cornerstone was laid by Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church and founder of Salt Lake City. 960 1280

Thinkstock   

Oklahoma, Oklahoma City National Memorial

Oklahoma, Oklahoma City National Memorial

The Oklahoma City National Memorial honors all who were affected by the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The memorial includes a reflecting pool, field of empty chairs, survivors’ wall and survivor tree. The eastern gate, seen here, represents the last minute of peace before the bombing. 960 1280

Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images  

New Mexico, Chaco Culture National Historical Park

New Mexico, Chaco Culture National Historical Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico contains the most expansive collection of ancient pueblos and ruins north of Mexico. 960 1280

Alberto Loyo / iStock / Thinkstock  

Arizona, Havasupai Falls

Arizona, Havasupai Falls

In the midst of the Arizona heat, Havasupai Falls offers a relaxing swimming hole -- making it the perfect place to cool off in the Grand Canyon. 960 1280

Thinkstock   

Alaska, Denali

Alaska, Denali

The highest mountain peak in the United States, Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) is regularly climbed with 58 percent of climbers reaching the top. 960 1280

Thinkstock   

Hawaii, USS Arizona Memorial

Hawaii, USS Arizona Memorial

Situated on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, the USS Arizona Memorial straddles the sunken hull of the battleship, marking the final resting place of 1,102 soldiers who were killed on that fateful attack that led to the United States’ involvement in World War II.   960 1280

Slobo / E+ / Getty Images  

Key West

Key West

A beach lover’s heaven, Key West is one of the most enchanting of the 1,700 islands that make up the Florida Keys. It’s also the southernmost city in the continental US. 960 1280

Ed Schipul via Flickr Creative Commons SA 2.0, cropped and color corrected  

Key West

Key West

The beaches in Key West are ideal for swimming and snorkeling, and fishing is allowed off the piers at most beaches. Enjoy these activities at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, Florida’s southernmost state park -- and one of its most beautiful spots -- that’s home to wide stretches of sand and tranquil waters. We recommend renting a 2-person, glass-bottom kayak if you’re looking for a fun but romantic escape. 960 1280

Katja Kreder/ AWL Images/ Getty Images  

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

One of America’s finest white-sand beaches, Clearwater Beach spans a narrow, 3-mile stretch of the Pinellas Peninsula on the Gulf Coast. Clearwater’s proximity to Tampa offers visitors ample activities to enjoy, including beach volleyball, parasailing, a dolphin-watching cruise and a fun fishing excursion. 960 1280

Image Source/ Getty Images  

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

Piers are a Florida shore staple, and Clearwater Beach is no different. Walk to the end of the famed Pier 60 to take in one of the state’s many beautiful sunsets, whether it’s the one in the sky or the daily festival of the same name, which is held 365 days a year. 960 1280

Matthew Paulson via Flickr Creative Commons NC ND 2.0, cropped and color corrected  

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island

Known as one of the best shelling locations thanks to the abundant seashells that wash ashore from the Gulf of Mexico, Sanibel Island attracts collectors from all over the world. 960 1280

Gregory Moine, flickr  

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island

With a small population of locals, along with breathtaking, clear-blue waters and immaculate white-sand beaches, Sanibel Island offers a fun and relaxing vacation for families and couples alike. 960 1280

ziggymaj / E+ / Getty Images  

Captiva Island

Captiva Island

Just north of its aforementioned sister island, Sanibel, Captiva Island is a tropical paradise right here in the United States. It offers some of the best fishing and boating in Florida. 960 1280

Jeff Self via Flickr Creative Commons NC ND 2.0, cropped and color corrected  

Captiva Island

Captiva Island

The blue waters and white-sand beaches of Captiva Island stretch into the horizon. So we recommend watching a spectacular sunset at the end of Captiva Drive. But before the sun sets, go boating down the waterways of the island to see local wildlife, including dolphins, crocodiles, blue herons and many different species of colorful birds. 960 1280

Pete Markham, flickr  

Palm Beach

Palm Beach

The easternmost town in all of Florida, Palm Beach is lined with its namesake majestic trees and loaded with beautiful beachfront properties, high-end hotels and sprawling resorts. 960 1280

Simon Morris via Flickr Creative Commons NC 2.0, cropped and color corrected  

Palm Beach

Palm Beach

This 16-mile-long, half-mile-wide island is the epitome of wealth and extravagance. In times past, it served as the winter home to the Vanderbilts, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and other millionaires. True to form, the town still features some of Florida’s finest hotels, restaurants and shops, as well as beautiful beaches. Perched next to the Gulf Stream, this beach town also enjoys the extra benefit of warm blue water and gentle breezes. 960 1280

Panoramic Images/ Getty Images  

Siesta Key

Siesta Key

Situated between Roberts Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, just a short distance from downtown Sarasota, Siesta Key is as laid-back and enjoyable as any beach you’ll find in Florida. 960 1280

Thomas Orger via Flickr Creative Commons NC ND 2.0, cropped and color corrected  

Siesta Key

Siesta Key

Spend the perfect family vacation in Siesta Key, a barrier island off Florida’s central western coast that boasts beachside picnic areas and playgrounds. Go shell collecting, kayaking or hop on a catamaran for more active pursuits. For adults who want a more low-key experience, spend a candlelit dinner at a restaurant or rent a cozy cottage for a romantic getaway. 960 1280

Mike Miller, flickr  

Naples

Naples

Located in southern Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, Naples offers phenomenal fishing experiences along the pier, top-notch outdoor restaurants and fun — but difficult — golf courses. 960 1280

Marcus Andersson via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0  

Naples

Naples

Watch the rolling waves and gaze at the mansions that line some of Naples’ most popular beaches along 12th Avenue South. For a family looking to camp out on the beach for the day, we recommend heading a few miles north of Old Naples to Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. Food stands and on-site rentals for umbrellas, kayaks and snorkeling gear are available nearby. 960 1280

Getty Images  

South Beach

South Beach

Take a dip in the crystal-blue waters of Miami’s South Beach, an international playground that offers non-stop nightlife, high-end shopping, luxurious boutique hotels and unique Art Deco architecture. This man-made beach is perfect for early morning runs and topless sunbathing. 960 1280

photosvit/ iStock/ Thinkstock  

South Beach

South Beach

Take in a beautiful sunrise accompanied by blue skies and colorful clouds as you walk along one of the world’s most renowned beaches. 960 1280

ventdusud / iStock / Getty Images Plus  

Delray Beach

Delray Beach

Each year, nearly 1 million people visit family-friendly Delray Beach to enjoy the 2-mile-long beach that’s ideal for fun beach activities, including sandcastle-building. Take a break from the beach and hit nearby Atlantic Avenue, lined with boutiques, seafood restaurants and the luxurious Seagate Hotel and Spa. 960 1280

ddmitr/ Moment Open/ Getty Images  

Delray Beach

Delray Beach

From sailing and surfing to snorkeling and paddleboarding, water-sport lovers are in for a treat when visiting Delray. 960 1280

Visit Florida / Pete Cross via Flickr Creative Commons NC ND 2.0, cropped and color corrected  

Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach

Relaxing is easy on Atlantic Beach: Sand as soft and white as sugar, brilliant sunshine and azure waters abound. And while Atlantic Beach has heaps of small-town charm, it’s also just a short drive from Jacksonville, making it convenient for day-trippers and vacationers who want a short airport-to-beach commute. 960 1280

By AndrewAvitus (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach

History buffs can learn about the development of the Atlantic Beach and neighboring Jacksonville beaches at the area’s Beaches Museum and History Center. After spending the afternoon strolling the shores, head to Beaches Town Center’s pedestrian-friendly cobblestone streets and check out the town’s restaurants, galleries, boutiques and frequent special events, including live music and the monthly North Beaches Art Walk, held on the third Thursday of every month. 960 1280

By Ebyabe (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis

Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis

From its summer music fest to its holiday flower and train shows, the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis hosts many annual events. But the garden easily stands on its own, with 79 acres of beautiful displays that include a 14-acre Japanese garden, garden founder Henry Shaw's original 1850 estate home, and one of the world's largest collections of rare and endangered orchids. 960 1280

Missouri Botanical Garden  

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA

Southern charm abounds at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, VA. Its stunning classical domed conservatory houses an orchid collection, as well as an annual butterfly exhibit (Memorial Day weekend through mid-October). A giant accessible tree house is part of the garden’s interactive children’s area. And in the winter, the garden dazzles with an annual display of more than half a million lights. 960 1280

Don Williamson Photography  

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, OH

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, OH

Large greenhouses make visiting Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, OH, easy year-round. The conservatory houses more than 400 species of plants in environments that include desert and rain-forest habitats. Seasonal displays of blooms, from colorful bulbs to varieties of conifers and grasses, span the outdoor gardens. There is also a unique glassblowing pavilion for demos and classes. 960 1280

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens  

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

You’ll quickly dispel any notion of a lifeless and colorless desert landscape when visiting the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. With a distinct mission of focusing solely on desert plants, the garden’s 145 acres showcase more than 50,000 plants, including a unique collection of cacti. The garden is great to explore year-round, but spring is especially popular for the annual butterfly exhibit and wildflower blooms. 960 1280

Desert Botanical Garden  

ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden, Albuquerque, NM

ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden, Albuquerque, NM

Located in Albuquerque, NM, on the banks of the Rio Grande, the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden has 36 acres of gardens to explore along more than 1 1/2 miles of paths. Two popular exhibits are the Japanese garden, which was designed by noted landscape architect Toru Tanaka, and the children’s garden, which is guarded by a 14-foot topiary dragon. The BioPark also includes a zoo and aquarium. 960 1280

ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden  

United States Botanic Garden, Washington, DC

United States Botanic Garden, Washington, DC

One of the oldest botanical gardens in North America, the United States Botanic Garden was established by Congress in 1820. Located adjacent to the Capitol, this small garden packs a big punch. A conservatory and 2 outdoor areas display a collection of some 65,000 plants, including rare finds such as ferns that date nearly as far back as the garden’s founding. Like at the nearby Smithsonian museums, admission is free. 960 1280

United States Botanic Garden  

San Francisco Botanical Garden, San Francisco

San Francisco Botanical Garden, San Francisco

It’s all about the San Francisco Botanical Garden's magnolias from mid-January through March. During this time, nearly 100 rare magnolias erupt in vibrant pink and white flowers. If you miss the magnolias, you can still feast your eyes on a towering redwood grove and rare cloud forest plants. The garden is located in Golden Gate Park, which is also home to a Japanese garden and flower conservatory. 960 1280

FarOutFlora, flickr   

Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta

Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta

Take a 600-foot-long canopy walk among the branches of oaks, hickories and poplars while looking down on native azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, perennials and bulbs. That’s just one of the fantastic ways to experience the Atlanta Botanical Garden. There is also an orchid center, which has the largest collection of orchid species on permanent display in the US; a garden pond filled with aquatic plants; and a children’s garden with fountains, sculptures and fun exhibits on botany and ecology. 960 1280

Deborah Dimond, flickr  

New York Botanical Garden, New York City

New York Botanical Garden, New York City

You’ll find this 250-acre oasis in the middle of the Big Apple. The New York Botanical Garden's historic, Victorian-style glass house provides a world tour of 11 distinct plant habitats, including a tropical rain forest and desert environments of the Americas and Africa. Two of the garden’s major events are its spring orchid exhibit and its winter train show. 960 1280

Lorraine Boogich/ iStock/ Getty Images  

Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL

Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL

Spanning 26 gardens and 4 natural areas, the Chicago Botanic Garden draws about a million people annually. At nearly 400 acres, it is one of the largest botanical gardens in the US. And its collection of 185 bonsai is one of the best public displays of the miniature masterpieces, with works by bonsai master Susumu Nakamura. Considered a living museum, the garden also does groundbreaking plant conservation research. 960 1280

Dawn Demaske/ iStock/ Getty Images  

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, FL

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, FL

Southern Florida’s climate makes for year-round growing at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden near Miami. Among its gems are rare exotic fruit species, including mangosteens, cacao and vanilla orchids. The 83-acre garden also has a butterfly conservatory that showcases almost 3,000 exotic butterflies. Visitors can watch them hatch and be released into the conservatory. 960 1280

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden  

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, Dallas

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, Dallas

Dallas is known as the city that does it big, and the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden doesn’t hold back. Its spring flower fest is the largest in the Southwest, featuring more than 500,000 blooms, and in the fall, the garden becomes a pumpkin village, with over 50,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash. The 8-acre children’s area includes more than 150 interactive games and a 20-foot-high waterfall. 960 1280

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden  

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