The US is a diverse playground for solo travellers, whether you want to hike craggy canyons, drive through big landscapes, or explore a skyscraper-crowned metropolis. But a city is an particularly appealing place to kick off a wider trip, dropping you straight into a convivial scene with plenty of sights, tours and opportunities to meet people.
We’ve all heard about the highlights of New York, LA and Las Vegas, but other starting points are less trodden by solo female travellers, despite being more manageable, friendlier and cheaper than the biggest hitters.
What to look for in a solo-friendly US city? A compact city centre or several small, walkable neighbourhoods add atmosphere and enable you to explore on foot. A decent safety record is another priority – the US is relatively safe in general, but crime is a reality in all big cities, and some have better stats than others. Lastly, look for a relaxed food and drink scene, rich arts and culture, and low-key, affordable accommodation.
Read more on USA travel:
When you’re a committed city-dweller but love the great outdoors, what’s a woman to do? Well, head to Boulder, for a start – the Colorado city that’s swathed in nature, with hiking and cycling trails and rock climbing havens on your doorstep. This is a thoroughly modern American city with hipster coffee shops, a food truck park and must-visit farmer’s market – but groups of adventure enthusiasts regularly strike out into the State Parks, lakes and mountains just outside for a breath of fresh air. It’s a great mix of sociable, safe and welcoming, with craft beer clubs and live music nights if you want to cross over with other solos, and peaceful nature trails if you just want to be with yourself.
Get there: Lufthansa and United both fly direct from London to Denver, from where it’s a 40-minute drive to Boulder.
Flight time: Around 10 hours.
Never heard of Huntsville? You wouldn’t be alone. But this far-south city, 115 miles south of Nashville, was named the best place to live in the USA in 2022. Women doing a solo trip can experience the thriving social, dining and shopping scene which sprang up around tech companies that settled here – Lowe Mill Arts centre is your first stop for art and live music, while Downtown is food central. Take to parallel Jefferson and Washington Streets for barbecue, seafood, Mexican and superb cocktails. Historically, this was a big base for NASA, so STEM fans will enjoy visiting Marshall Space Flight Center; you can chat to the retired space engineers who volunteer there.
Get there: British Airways flies direct to Nashville, two hours’ drive away.
Flight time: Nine hours.
San Diego, California
Los Angeles and San Francisco may get the majority of column inches, but think of San Diego as their more chilled-out beachfront sibling. It’s famously safe, stacked with nightlife, and eminently LGBTQ+-friendly – Downtown and Pacific Beach are the cool neighbourhoods the younger crowd tends to stay in. Take to the water to meet new people: book on to a group surf lesson, whale or dolphin watching excursion, or a kayaking tour of La Jolla sea caves, or just enjoy being surrounded by greenery in the 1,200-acre Balboa Park.
Get there: British Airways flies direct to San Diego from Heathrow.
Flight time: Around 11 hours.
Charleston, South Carolina
Clapboard houses, tree-lined avenues, painted shutters, chocolate-box churches – this South Carolina city is pretty as a picture. And it’s relaxed, friendly and fascinating to wander, too. Stay Downtown, the walkable centre of the city’s historic architecture, venturing out for raved-about dinner along Lower and Upper King Streets. Joining a guided tour can help you dig into the history of this southern stunner. Much of Charleston’s vintage splendour was built on the back of slavery – don’t leave without learning about it at the Old Slave Mart museum.
Get there: There are currently no direct flights from the UK to Charleston – connect in Atlanta or New York with the likes of Delta, Virgin or British Airways.
Flight time: 10-14 hours.
This petite southwestern desert town is one for free spirits and adventurers. Supposedly infused with mystic energy, it’s a centre for alternative spas and healers, where you can have your chakras realigned before hiking into red-rock wonderlands with huge rock formations and views for miles. Affordable guesthouses and motels make for quirky bases where you’ll likely meet other healing-curious folks passing through, eager to make use of the region’s famed “vortexes”. In the rocky landscape all around, you’ll find more earthly pleasures visiting soothing hot springs and going kayaking or rafting on nearby waters.
Get there: American Airlines flies direct to Phoenix, Arizona, a two-hour drive from Sedona.
Flight time: Around 11 hours.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The city best known for spring’s Mardi Gras festival is a joy year-round – and incredibly welcoming to solo travellers. In fact, you’ll find it far mellower and slower paced outside of the bead-hurling February to March festivities. With a beautiful, compact old town to stroll (the French Quarter), as well as several satellite neighbourhoods to venture to for great food, culture and sightseeing, it’s a pleasure to discover on foot. Almost European in its quaintness and French influence, NOLA (as the locals call it) is one of the best places to get into Creole and Cajun food – check out the city School of Cooking – listen to live jazz, and learn about voodoo (take the free walking tour).
Get there: British Airways’ direct link to New Orleans hasn’t returned since the pandemic; fly via Charlotte, Dallas or Washington DC with any number of transatlantic airlines.
Flight time: 12-14 hours.
The US capital manages to be hugely well known, without really being on America’s tourist trail. But it’s got tons to keep a solo traveller occupied, from historical, political and as-seen-on-screen tours to its own cherry blossom season (end of March into early April). Cool hotels like Eaton encourage mingling and community, while affordable sightseeing includes free walking tours, self-guided audio tours and free landmarks, from the Lincoln Memorial to Smithsonian museums. See the White House and the Capitol Building, then head to one of the city’s 14 food markets for an informal bite with a side of people-watching.
Get there: Virgin Atlantic and British Airways both fly direct from Heathrow.
Flight time: Around eight hours.
Set on the world-famous Waikiki Beach, this coastal capital is arguably the most touristy bit of the wild, remote Hawaiian islands. But for the solo traveller, that means a fully fleshed-out city with museums to explore, shopping streets to browse and cafes and restaurants to suit every budget. The teenage home of President Obama was also ranked the US’s safest city in MoneyGeek’s 2023 report. To see more of its island, Oahu, hop on the 55 bus from the city heading east, which circles around the east and north coasts, taking you to key sights and beaches for just a couple of dollars. Or just stay in town and stroll the surf-heaven sands of Waikiki, hiking up to Diamond Head, visiting the excellent Bishop Museum, and eating banana pancakes in its beachside cafes.
Get there: The quickest way to fly is via LA (British Airways, Virgin, Delta) and then on to Honolulu (Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska, United).
Flight time: Around 16-20 hours.
Texas’s business capitals Dallas and Houston are better known, but alternative, hipster-magnet Austin is a rare find for women flying solo. Guided tours of the city’s sights, parks and active pursuits make it easy to find friends, while quality hostels and budget hotels start from just £70 per night. Must-dos in town include seeking out some live music (Austin’s known nationwide for its band scene and venues); trying the local barbecue joints; and, in the warmer months, cooling off in the city’s premier swimming spot, Barton Springs.
Get there: British Airways flies direct to Austin from London.
Flight time: Just over 10 hours.
Seattle, Washington State
Not only did the Solo Travel Safety Index find Seattle to be the world’s safest city for solo travellers in 2023, this city’s sights and food scene have been delighting its visitors for years. Bucket-list food markets mean informal dining in the city centre, while group hiking tours into Mount Rainier National Park mean you can get an easy, nourishing nature fix. Zoom up the iconic Space Needle building for prime views of the city, then try some of the state’s increasingly lauded wines at a winery outside of town. Stay Downtown or in cool Belltown to be closest to the best eats.
Get there: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both have direct flights to Seattle from Heathrow.
Flight time: Around 10 hours.
Curious about the Wild West? Here’s why New Mexico should be your next US trip
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies