ESTA Travel Blogs

13 Jan

Top 5 landmarks to visit in the USA with your ESTA

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California USA

Highlights of some of the popular monuments, landmarks and tourist attractions that draw millions of ESTA-approved VWP visitors each year


The United States is overflowing with important historical monuments, interesting landmarks and popular attractions. With the US ESTA Visa Waiver Program (VWP), travel to America can be authorized without the requirement for a traditional US travel visa. Have you dreamed of visiting the top US landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, or New York’s Statue of Liberty? For travelers from 39 eligible ESTA countries the VWP allows for flexible stays of up to 90 days and this generous limit means visitors can tour and explore many of the important sites in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, Chicago and throughout the United States. 

For first-time US travelers there is sometimes a question about the ESTA meaning.  ESTA is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The US Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) website explains, “ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Authorization via ESTA does not determine whether a traveler is admissible to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers determine admissibility upon travelers’ arrival. The ESTA application collects biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is recommended that travelers apply as soon as they begin preparing travel plans or prior to purchasing airline tickets.” Once you have your ESTA approval you can turn your attention to the exciting and fascinating sites you want to explore…


Where ESTA authorized travelers from VWP countries most want to visit 

This list would rightfully include dozens of attractions and top US landmarks. Here we focus on a few perennial favorites.

1. Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate National Park

An art deco masterpiece, the bold international orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge reach more than 227 meters skyward, tethered by arcing cables and a 2.7 km suspended span over the fast-moving waters that connect San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. This bridge, considered one of the most famous in the world, is a state-of-the-art engineering design masterpiece. And crossing it is a heart fluttering, once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Ten million visitors make the pilgrimage to this soaring wonder annually. The most interesting way to cross San Francisco’s most iconic structure is by foot or bicycle. Your approved ESTA will allow you to travel to the US, but your wanderlust will propel you to voyage across the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Back on terra firma, the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate National Park is a 55-acre oasis with an extensive display of international flora. More than 9,000 kinds of plants from around the globe: Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, the Andean Cloud Forest, Australia, Chile are showcased in a phenomenal collection of garden displays like the Japanese-themed moon viewing garden, the succulent garden and aromatic the garden of fragrance. The parks serene Japanese Tea Garden spanning five perfectly curated acres will transport you into a graceful green oasis as you gingerly make your way along the stepping-stone paths past pagodas, tranquil koi ponds, over a traditional arched drum bridge to a Zen garden.

Season: Any time of year as weather is the San Francisco Bay area is temperate with daytime highs averaging 12-14 ⁰C from December to February and 19-21 ⁰C from June to October. Though fog can settle in for hours at a time in June, July and August.


2. Statue of Liberty – one of the world’s most recognized landmarks

“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” reads the inscription on the Statue of Liberty National Monument’s base. By 1954 more than 12 million citizens of the world passed by heading to the immigration center on adjacent Ellis Island with their carefully packed hopes and dreams of a new life in the United States. A gift of friendship from France, “Lady Liberty” whose formal name is Liberty Enlightening the World arrive to the shores of New York, where she would welcome so many, in June of 1885. Today 4 million visitors make the brief pilgrimage by water out to New York Harbor to visit this important historical US landmark each year. While Liberty doesn’t draw the crowds that, as example, New York City’s Time Square does (50 million annually), the salt-washed patinaed copper emblem is a poignant symbol of freedom, of dreams, of liberty. 
Tour offerings to Liberty Island include to the statue’s pedestal or up to her crown as well as to the Statue of Liberty Museum. Ellis Island is part of New York Monument Park, a US National Park and many visitors choose to tour both.

Season: Summer is most popular and average day time temperatures range from 25⁰ to 29⁰ C, and in April, May and October they range from 18-22⁰ C.


3. The White House – The United States Capitol

The US Capitol, Washington DC, is the site of The White House (WH) which has served as the home and offices of the President of the United States since its construction period; 1792-1800 when it was the home to George Washington who was the first president of America. It is an eternal symbol of democracy. Presently there are 6 levels encompassing 132 rooms and each presidential administration (often led by the first lady) makes significant décor and spatial renovations here. Visitors will discover that The White House, especially the East Wing open to the public by advance request, is as magnificent as a museum. Décor including fine arts, furnishings and china may be viewed. The China Room features the formal china patterns chosen by each administration for official state dinners. Public tour requests must be submitted to the US Congress in advance. Tours for ESTA-approved international visitors may be requested from their US embassy.

Since it is not easy to tour the White House, many tourists choose instead to explore The White House Visitor’s Center located nearby in the US Department of Commerce building. Filled with 1,600 square feet of exhibits about the architecture, the first families, and White House life, it offers a wonderful look into the world of the Executive Mansion. The visitors center is managed by the US National Park Service.

Season: Since the tours are indoors, visitors can enjoy them all year long. April brings the blooming of the Cherry Blossoms and many visitors choose to visit during this breathtaking time in Washington DC.


4. The Space Needle, Seattle Washington

Visitors from countries eligible for ESTA and the VWP flock to the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Seattle, affectionately known as “the Emerald City,” offers so much to see and do. The iconic Space Needle tops the list of most-visited landmarks. The futuristic tower with its spaceship-shaped saucer and needle-like peak, soaring 184 meters up, dominates the Seattle skyline with 360⁰ vistas out to the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges, Elliott Bay and Puget Sound from the observation deck perched at 160 meters high. Is it the world’s only revolving glass floor that mesmerizes visitors so? Perhaps! The café and wine bar at 140 meters offer classic Pacific Northwest food and wine with the most captivating view.

Season: Seattle has a reputation for being rainy all the time. This is a fallacy, though days are sometimes overcast in the classic northwestern climate way. Daytime highs average 8-10 ⁰C December to February and 19-21 ⁰C from June to September.


5. Navy Pier – Chicago’s most beloved landmark

Reaching deep out over the deep waters of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, circa 1916, has a history deeper than the lake’s waters. Considered by many to be Chicago’s top attraction, this US landmark was constructed as both a recreational and  municipal pier called, Municipal Pier. The dawn of the US involvement in WWI in changed its purpose swiftly and temporarily to support the effort and during this time served as a military barracks and Red Cross station. To honor that, in 1927 it was renamed Navy Pier

Today Navy Pier hosts millions of visitors from Europe drawn to its unique adventures, displays and attractions. The Centennial Wheel, a 60-meter-high giant Ferris wheel, carnival-style rides, a fun house maze and games are exciting fun. Summer brings dazzling twice-weekly fireworks displays over Lake Michigan, lake cruises, architecture river cruises and sailing cruises on the 4-masted schooner, Windy. A world-class children’s museum, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, oodles of eateries and bars, and art exhibits are also at home on the pier. Luminaries including Queen Elizabeth II have visited the US landmark Navy Pier. It is a popular choice for VWP travelers from Europe who have the great city of Chicago on their American adventures’ agenda!

Season: Though the Navy Pier is open throughout the year many visitors prefer warm spring and fall days or the heat of summer to enjoy the local water activities.


American culture and United States history intersect for Europeans visiting America’s attractions with the US ESTA Visa Waiver Program. Since ESTA-approved travel has a flexible 90-day limit touring the myriad interesting and historic landmarks and monuments in the United States can be a leisurely long-distance travel marathon from New York’s Statue of Liberty to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

The ESTA application, as part of the Visa Waiver Program, is a completely digital process and approval is fast so you can start planning to visit the top US landmarks and monuments on your American bucket list. For eligibility or related ESTA questions, visit our guide to ESTA.  And to better understand its reach, read about the Electronic Travel Authorization System eligible ESTA countries now. 

Are you ready to explore some of the most popular tourist draw and landmarks in America? You can begin the authorization process for USA travel with the VWP on the ESTA application page