The Best US Destinations To Visit For Gorgeous Sunset Views

The discussion about which is better to see — sunrise or sunset — is never likely to be adequately resolved, with proponents of both extolling the virtue of one or the other, citing a number of reasons to back up their opinions. Whichever time of light you prefer, what is clear, even without the need for scientific data to back it up, is that many more of us are awake — and free of commitments — during sunset, making it an easier light show to catch. There is also something inexplicably romantic about sunset, indelibly hypnotic because, unlike sunrise, it never quite seems finite. The extravaganza continues to extend just a minute longer, and another minute more, even after the sun disappears, with the sky capturing wisps of life as the planet turns. 

Beyond the amazing array of colors that, to some, speak of the work of a higher power, the awe-inspiring spectrum is very much grounded in science. It is, in fact, light diffused by particles hanging in the air that generates the intense panorama of colors. The United States is blessed with plenty of places where the public can witness an inspirational sunset, and below are some of the best.

Homer, Alaska

A small city that is about a four-hour drive southwest of Anchorage, Homer sits on Kachemak Bay, and is close to Kachemak Bay State Park and Kenai Fjords National Park. It's an extremely easy-going city, placed at the end of the Sterling Highway, and feels like a remote outpost at the fringes of the world. It bills itself as the halibut fishing capital of the world, drawing anglers that prize the opportunity to catch the large, wild, diamond-shaped fish in their brisk waters here. The town with a population of about 5,000 residents is anchored by Pioneer Avenue, a strip with shops, cafes, restaurants, quirky little boutiques, galleries, and lodging, and this is where a winter parade occurs each February. 

Given the wild surroundings, the sunsets here are beautifully natural, with a few spots that really stand out. Above the town, Skyline Drive climbs up to a viewpoint with incredible vistas of the state park and the Kenai Mountains, while an overlook northwest of town, near the Homer/Baycrest KOA Holiday park (and appearing on Google Maps as the "Homer Overlook point") are both stunning places to take in the dusk. A huge favorite with locals and visitors is the glacial spit that protrudes from the town center, a skinny finger of land that terminates in a marina, and that has plenty of places where visitors can look west at sunset.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

A spectacular example of riverine erosion, and beyond that, a truly eye-popping geographic spectacle, the Grand Canyon is a marvel to behold at any time of the day or any time of the year. But at sunset, its spectrum of oranges, reds, pinks, purples, beiges, and browns, seems to take on extra beauty, the dying glow of the sun adding an extra facet of wonder to the variegated rocky bands. You can't go wrong with a sunset here, though perhaps the greater issue is to pick the best place to see one, such is the bounty of choices. 

Mather Point is a winning choice, though it's likely to be busy due to its proximity to the visitor center. This spot is an overlook that gives travelers a handle on the sheer magnitude of the park. Views of the canyons and the Colorado River make Hopi Point another surefire success, while Moran Point lets viewers appreciate the ever-changing parade of shadows over the rock faces, and, on a quiet day, the sound of the river below.

San Diego, California

You can guess from the name of this next location that the views you'll get as the day descends into night are likely to be special. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park comprises two parts, a larger parcel on a hill near Point Loma and the U.S. Navy base, and a long skinny thread that extends up the coast to the west of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, together comprising almost 70 acres of coastal California terrain. 

At the larger part of the park, the views looking west facing the Pacific give you a hint of what sunsets will be like. But to commune with the ocean closer, you can work your way down to the water, with the waves in front and sheer cliffs behind you. It's a striking spot at any time of the day, and visitors have been known to see California gray whales in the waters here. The best areas, though, are along the slender coastal strip further north — there's a hiking track along it — where the views from atop the cliffs are breathtaking, including scenes of natural sea caves, arches, sharp bluffs, indented, eroded coasts, accompanied by the bracing fragrance of cool sea air.

Grand Mesa, Colorado

The name of this mountain hints at the way it looks — huge and level — and Grand Mesa ("mesa" is Spanish for "table") is a titan among flat-top mountains, notable for being the biggest of its type on the planet. To get a sense of its magnitude, consider some statistics — it is hundreds of square miles in size, with sheer cliffs along its edge, and is home to an excess of 300 alpine lakes around its surface. A combination of basalt, sandstone, and shale, the mesa displays the effects of erosion, with the less robust layers underneath wearing away through the continuous action of the area's rivers, leaving the hard surface exposed, seemingly springing up from everything around it. 

There are some fabulous lookouts here for enjoying the sunset, especially along the 63-mile-long Mesa Scenic Byway, including the Land's End Observatory (the observatory no longer functions), with vistas looking west toward Utah. Another option not to be missed is the Land of Lakes Trail, an easy walk that winds up at an open viewing area. At sunset, look out and you'll see vast tracts of forests, lakes (as expected), and a sky of pinks and purples slowly glowing over mountain ranges.

Key West, Florida

While sunsets are usually times that most of us associate with peace, reflection, and taking stock of the day that just passed while looking forward to another one, the sunset in parts of Key West can be a more lively affair. For a festive atmosphere, you can't beat the nightly show at Mallory Square in the southernmost city in the continental United States. With shows by street performers like jugglers, sword swallowers, musicians, and acrobats, Mallory Square is as much a draw for tourists in the evening for entertainment as it is for the sunset spectacle. Expect a loud cheer as the sun finally dips below the horizon. 

For a more low-key endeavor, consider going to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in the island's southwest corner, a peaceful spot devoid of Mallory Square's commercialism and crowds. Key West Bight is also a popular destination for sunset, with boats moored here, and a couple of islands just offshore adding some features to the dusk vistas; it's also full of seafood restaurants, so you can have a bite at the bight after watching the sunset.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii

The top of the top on the island of Hawaii (usually referred to as the Big Island), Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that sits almost in the center on the isle, and is the highest peak here. Such altitude makes it a vertical wonder, but also an incredible location for watching the sun set. A couple of places on the volcano, which tops out at almost 14,000 feet above sea level, make for some of the finest sunset-viewing spots. 

The drive up to the visitors' center via a twisting paved roadway is the easiest option, located at about 9,000 feet above sea level (the altitude can start to get to some visitors here, with less oxygen in the air at this height). From here, travelers will be able to see Mauna Loa volcano in the distance, and an ever-changing tableau of dusk colors enlivening the sky. Visitors should get here early, as parking is limited, and once full, vehicles will be turned away. Adventurers can also drive to the summit, but will definitely need a four-wheel drive car to tackle the gravel road, and the likelihood of being affected by the altitude is much higher (it's also much colder up here). But once you make it, above the cloud cover, you really might feel like you are on the top of the world.

Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota

This state is defined by its thousands of lakes — the state license plate for cars even has "10,000 Lakes" written on it — and this specific lake offers fabulous dusk vistas. With a name that translates to "thousand lakes" from French, Mille Lacs is the second-largest inland lake in the state (the largest is Red Lake), extending over 132,000 acres and 200 square miles, more like a mini-sea than the average Minnesota lake. 

Reachable in less than two hours from Minneapolis, the lake is a popular weekend retreat, especially for anglers keen on snagging some bass, pike, or walleye, and families that enjoy the beaches, swimming, and hiking trails around the lake. The sunsets are phenomenal anywhere along the lake's eastern rim, bits of which form the Lake Mille Lacs Scenic Byway, a 68-mile stretch of paved road that rings the waterway, and allow visitors to pick and choose spots where to stop for sunset.

Glacier National Park, Montana

A huge draw for adventurers and located in the north of the state, near the border with Canada, this park is a land of grand proportions, where the glaciers, high-country fields, the still lakes, and the deep gorges and valleys speak of the mighty machinations of nature over millions of years. There is so much to see and experience here, and with 700 miles of trails crisscrossing the park, visitors have plenty of ways to see it. Numerous perches are great for sunset here, but for some high drama, few beat the majesty of Swiftcurrent Lake. 

A number of hiking trails skirt the lake's edge and standing by the waterfront, looking west, hikers will be able to make out the jagged, conical peaks of Mount Grinnel and Mount Wilbur. As the sun drops behind them, it paints the sky wild blues, reds, oranges, and purples, and the combined effect of the mountains in silhouette, the calm surface of the lake, and the air ablaze in color will really move anyone witnessing this stunning sight.

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

For residents of the northeast of the United States, there is a car sticker that's frequently seen in these parts — it proclaims that "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington," with the name of the mountain in bold, red capital letters. The drive up is no small feat, after all this peak is the highest mountain in the northeast of the country, topping out at almost 6,300 feet above sea level. 

Getting to its summit is a popular excursion, with hundreds of thousands of visitors completing the journey each year, and views from the top, when the sky is free from clouds, extend across the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Canada. Though the auto road to the summit usually closes before sunset for much of the year, at a few points during the warmer months, it is open for sunset drives, an opportunity not to be missed. Note that it can be chilly at the summit, even on a bright summer day, so wrap up accordingly.

Cape May, New Jersey

A beloved summer resort located at the end of a peninsula, Cape May is actually a year-round destination, with a science center, zoo, and aviation museum keeping visitors enthralled during the quieter months. The town, with miles of beachfront and a number of strands of sand to choose from, has a paved promenade that runs alongside the waterfront, a great place for a morning or evening stroll, but not ideally located for sunsets. That said, there are a handful of places that a primed for watching the sun dip below the horizon in Cape May. 

A good start is Sunset Beach, located on the west of the Peninsula, and just north of it, Higbee Beach, with views across Delaware Bay burnished by the fading sun enough to make the heart melt. For an even more memorable vantage point, climb up almost 200 steps to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse, first opened in 1859 and on the National Register of Historic Places. From there, the views of the bay and the surging Atlantic Ocean are sure to make your jaw drop in awe (on select nights, you can go up to watch the stars).

New York, New York

Given that this city is surrounded by water, the opportunities to witness stunning sunsets are almost limitless, from places close to the rivers that slice through the city to elevated perches that take in the stunning scope and skyline of the Big Apple. Some of the finest vistas, however, are clustered around the bottom part of Manhattan and nearby Brooklyn. Many visitors will think of the Brooklyn Bridge for sunset, seen from the pedestrian walkway that dissects through the span, but a much more interesting view of the sun fading is from the Manhattan Bridge. This span's pedestrian walkway is on the southern side of the bridge, and from it, travelers will be able to see the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground, and the sun dropping behind the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan beyond that. 

Over in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade offers a similar view, though it is further south, without the bridges to impede the panorama of skyscrapers and the sun behind them. To get closer to the water, head to the outdoor plaza at the shopping complex Brookfield Place, with the towers of Jersey City visible across the Hudson River. A novel option is also to take the free Staten Island Ferry at dusk. Standing on one of the outdoor decks, if you time it right, you will be able to watch the sun disappear behind the Statue of Liberty.

Newport, Oregon

The littoral edge of this state is a fertile spot for any fans of sunsets, with miles and miles of rugged, wild, green coastline looking out to the Pacific. Choose any of the spots along Oregon's west-facing shoreline, and you won't be disappointed, but the town of Newport has one gem not to be missed. The Yaquina Head Lighthouse, the crowning jewel of the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, is almost 100 feet in height, the loftiest lighthouse in the state, and set at the end of a basalt promontory, making its location seem even more theatrical, like something from a windswept English period drama. 

Though the lighthouse's facilities close before sunset, the natural area has a paved road and hiking trails where visitors can stop to take in the beauty of the sky as it runs through the usual dusky colors. The outline of the lighthouse and the raised headland that punctuate the panorama give the hypnotic array of colors an added echelon of dramatic potency.

Erie, Pennsylvania

Watching the sun fall into Lake Erie is unforgettable at this city situated almost equidistant between Buffalo and Cleveland. For nature lovers visiting here, nothing beats watching the sunset from Presque Isle State Park. A slender peninsula that opens out into a wider area at its terminus has a road that's sure to pull in visitors keen on swimming, or taking to the water in a boat or kayak. There are also cycling and hiking trails, where you can spot migrating avian life and enjoy the chance to get away. 

It's also perfectly placed for sunsets, not least because the park is open year-round until sunset, but because the views west over the lake are uninterrupted, nothing in the way until Canada (it's too far to see, alas, from the water's edge). Sunset spots around the lighthouse and at Presque Island Beach are two good options. In town, for those in seek of a bit more action during sunset, the bayfront district has museums, dining, an observation tower, and a promenade that takes advantage of the water setting.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Close to the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila, in the southwest of the Lone Star State, this area of arid wilderness is a stunning piece of nature. Visitors here will see towering limestone canyons and gorges that have been formed through river erosion, mountains that contrast with the deserts around them, remnants of dinosaur fossils, and terrain where cacti offer signs of life in conditions that seem too hard to sustain anything. The night sky also springs to life when seen from a number of points in the park. 

The Window View Trail refers to the gap between mountain slopes that forms an opening of sorts. It's an easy trail, which is also wheelchair accessible, less than half a mile back and forth, and looks onto peaks that line the Chisos Basin, with benches along the way allowing hikers to sit down and enjoy the glorious sunsets. Sotol Vista, one of the points of interest along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, has a west-facing aspect that takes in the Santa Elena Canyon, and the interplay of light, rock, and shadows at sunset is spellbinding. For a more haunting image, the hill near the Fossil Discovery Exhibit looks onto a series of hoodoos in the west.

Seattle, Washington

Elliott Bay and Puget Sound merge together to flank the west of Seattle, and many points along the edge of the city allow travelers to look at these bodies of water — not just during the stunning sunsets, but throughout the day and night. Alki Beach Pier, in the city's south, has a unique vantage point, letting visitors see Bainbridge Island to the west, Seattle and its skyline to the north and east with a simple turn of the head, different landscapes that benefit from the sunset's changing hues. Further south, Lincoln Park, a bluff with walking trails, has fabulous sunsets, a way to escape the city's distractions. 

But city sleekers can also celebrate the urban setting at sunset by heading to Kerry Park, a tiny slip of greenery that's more a neighborhood hangout than a bona fide tourist haunt. Here, the views of the skyline, including the Space Needle, morph beautifully with the shifting colors of nature at sunset.