The United States boasts skylines that dazzle us with soaring skyscrapers, natural wonders and an intriguing diversity of architectural styles. Locals and travelers alike find themselves seeking out the rooftop bars, observation decks and hilltops to enjoy sunny afternoons and stunning sunsets while basking in the incredible city views. With that in mind, we reveal the best skylines in the U.S. and where you can see (and Instagram) them.
New York City, NY
When compiling a list of the best skylines in the U.S., it would be impossible not to include New York City. Travel + Leisure notes that “New York City is arguably the most iconic U.S. skyline, and a popular pop culture choice. Even if you’ve never visited, you’ve likely seen those skyscrapers in movies and T.V. shows, from Manhattan to Gossip Girl.” Rooftop restaurants give visitors a delightful taste of the sights, as do the ferries that cruise around the island. The observation deck at the Empire State Building will provide you with a bird’s eye perspective on this famous city while giving you a chance to experience this incredible landmark. Among the latest additions to the NYC skyline is One World Trade Center, and it offers a view that will truly make you feel like you are on top of the world. As Travel + Leisure explains: “You’ll ascend One World Trade to the 100th-floor observation deck (not even the highest point on the building) for sweeping views of Manhattan, New Jersey, Ellis Island, and, on clear days, the curve of the horizon.” It’s an experience not to be missed.
From the towering Washington Monument to the Smithsonian Institutions, from the United States Capitol to the White House, there is no doubt that Washington, D.C. has one of the most recognizable skylines in the world. Here, it isn’t just about the imposing high-rises, D.C. also offers a sense of mystery, history and elegance that is unforgettable. Are you looking for the best way to see the city’s skyline and experience its grandeur? Travel + Leisure suggests seeing the nation’s capital from the Washington Monument’s “observation deck, topped by the ornamental pyramid, that grants visitors views from all four cardinal directions.” For those who would prefer to experience D.C.’s famous skyline from the ground, schedule a drive along the Potomac in the evening. There is nothing quite like seeing the illuminated monuments as you travel through the city.
Gazing out over Seattle, visitors enjoy both the human-made landmarks and the wondrous natural vision of Mount Rainier. You can see high-rise structures growing atop the hill and the lapping waters of the Puget Sound. It’s this combination that places Seattle on the list of the best skylines in the U.S. Of course, you can’t forget the iconic Space Needle. Not surprisingly, it is this majestic attraction that offers among the best views of the city. Take the elevator up the tower to the observation deck and bask in the sights of downtown Seattle, Mount Rainier and Elliott Bay, as well as the Cascade and the Olympic Mountains. Want to experience the city views while remaining a bit closer to the ground? Coastal Living recommends hiking through Discovery Park. Why? “The 534-acre area has incredible views for a reason: The military once operated Fort Lawton on this site to watch over the city.”
San Francisco, California
While everyone has their favorite views of San Francisco, there are a few images that are iconic: The Golden Gate Bridge, the winding streets, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Transamerica Pyramid are among them. Add in the eclectic architecture and romantic references in pop culture, and you have a city that welcomes nearly 26 million visitors every year. While you have your pick of fantastic views, Coastal Living recommends seeing San Francisco from Angel Island State Park. Referred to as the “Ellis Island of the West,” this park was once an immigration station, a Native American hunting site and a strategic base during the Cold War Years, according to the magazine. However, for skyline hunters, Angel Island State Park offers “spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline and Mount Tamalpais.”
Los Angeles, California
Count Los Angeles among the cities with a rapidly changing skyline. Once known for only having towering skyscrapers downtown, the city’s growing population is pushing residential building into the sky. The downtown has also seen significant change with the addition of new hotels and entertainment venues to complement the vibrant theater, art and sporting scenes. Like New York, Los Angeles has had a starring role in numerous films and television shows. The first glimpse visitors get of the vaunted Hollywood sign is always a thrill. Rooftop restaurants are popping up downtown revealing the beauty of the sprawling city. Griffith Observatory is one of Travel + Leisure’s favorite spots to see it all: “everything from constellations and the moon to the Hollywood Sign.” On a clear day, you can enjoy vistas in every direction, from the mountains, across the city skyline and to the ocean. When you are finished basking in the glow of the city, go into the planetarium to get a stunning view of the stars.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The neon lights of Las Vegas are just the start of the unforgettable sights that confront the senses when you arrive. It’s a rare place that includes replicas of the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, soaring hotels, roaring casinos and thunderous fountains and fireworks all within a few blocks. While the Las Vegas skyline does not carry on for miles, it will undoubtedly get your attention. For those looking for the best vantage point to take in the sights, Travel + Leisure recommends a trip to the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower: “Gain a new perspective from the 1,149-foot-high observation area, an indoor-outdoor space hovering over Sin City. Then partake in adrenaline-inducing activities like the controlled free-fall SkyJump, an 829-foot leap from the tower, or less extreme fun at the SkyLounge on the 107th floor.”
Busy Houston offers a downtown with numerous towers, but rather than clusters, these imposing structures are sprinkled throughout the metro area. From the JP Morgan Chase Tower to the Williams Tower over in the Galleria district, there is plenty to catch the eye. Houston is also blessed with numerous parks and trails that allow you to find some of the best views of the skyline. Those taking the White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail in Hogg Park will be thrilled with the sights, and a picnic on the lush, rolling lawns of Eleanor Tinsley Park will yield a mesmerizing view of downtown.
Atlanta represents an intriguing blend of historical landmarks, beautiful green spaces, a decadent foodie scene and numerous cultural attractions. Some of the city’s tallest structures include One Atlantic Center, Bank of America Plaza and SunTrust Plaza inside Atlanta’s bustling commercial district. However, if you want to get a feel for one of the U.S.’s best skylines, as well as the allure of the city, Travel + Leisure recommends spending time in Piedmont Park. Why? The magazine explains: “Backing up to the skyline of downtown Atlanta, it’s an ideal spot for afternoon picnicking, outdoor concerts, or a simple stroll.”
St. Louis, Missouri
There is no doubt that the extraordinary 630-foot Gateway Arch defines the St. Louis skyline. It’s for a good reason. This arch stands as a symbol of the connection between the western and eastern portions of the United States. As Southern Living explains: “Planted on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, this silvery icon testifies to our unflagging pioneer spirit and good-natured optimism.” While no other structure is close to unseating this famous landmark, the St. Louis skyline also features the historic buildings, including the famous clock tower, that house the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Forest Park and Busch Stadium. In fact, the stadium is one of the best places to see views of the city, according to Southern Living, as the “open-air design offers fans a panoramic view of the downtown skyline and the Gateway Arch.”
Chicago’s distinctive skyline is considered one of its most appealing landmarks. While it does have a handful of extremely tall skyscrapers, including the 110-story Willis Tower (aka the Sears Tower) and the 100-story John Hancock Center, the city isn’t so densely packed with buildings that its diverse architecture gets lost. Its various structures and waterways located off of Lake Michigan remain defined and delightfully recognizable as one of the best skylines in the U.S. Where should you go to see it all? The 103rd floor of the Willis Tower will take you above the clouds. As Travel + Leisure reports, the “observation deck with glass ledges [is] suspended 1,353 feet above Chicago.” On a clear day, you can see sights throughout Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. Don’t forget your camera!