Honky tonks, hostels and rock and roll: the ultimate tour of the best music cities in the US

Honky tonks, hostels and rock and roll: the ultimate tour of the best music cities in the US

Are you the ultimate music All-Star and wanna get your game on? Maybe you’re a Material Girl who needs an experience rather than another shopping trip? It’s time to Shake It Off and Lose Yourself in the different types of music that these incredible cities have to offer! Grab your guitar, cowboy boots and that song you’ve been yearning to sing, as you take off on a tour of the best music cities in the US.

How to get around the best music cities in the US

If you want to make a road trip out of the best music cities in the US, the good ole Greyhound buses can get you around the country for very cheap. But the downside is that they can take a long time to get where you wanna go. Otherwise, look at car hire companies like Alamo, Avis, Hertz and Budget for a more relaxed and self-tailored journey.

If you’ve got a slightly higher budget and less time, flights around these cities aren’t as much as you probably think. Delta and American Airlines have cheap domestic flights which are worth exploring.

🚦 Stop 1: Los Angeles, California

best music cities in the US, girl jumping by hollywood sign

📸:@giorgiapasquali_

Start your journey in the City of Angels, where music and movies collide. The biggest and best musicians seem to have a pad here, so it’s an ideal spot to see a celeb on the down low. LA also has some of the coolest live music venues where you can watch the next Elton John or Bruce Springsteen be discovered. It’s the best music city in the US to score a record deal with all the major record labels, and it’s also the home of a little place called Hollywood. So, it’s basically where dreams are made.

Major attractions:

Itinerary:

How long to stay: 3-4 days

Day 1:

For movie-musical lovers, it’s definitely worth the splurge on a tour of Universal Studios or Warner Bros Studios. Warner Bros Studios was the filming location for musicals like La La Land, Rent, Annie and My Fair Lady. Personally, I think it’s very la-la lovely.

Classical music lovers need to put the Walt Disney Concert Hall on their list, to see the renowned LA Philharmonic. They run guided and self-guided tours to explore the impressive venue.

In the evening, check what’s playing at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s worth it for the experience alone!

best music cities in the US, los angeles skyline at dusk

📸:@sterlingdavisphotola

Day 2:

Go to the place that attracts travellers like a magnet – Hollywood Boulevard of course! Here you’ll find your favourite artists’ stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so keep an eye out for Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Fleetwood Mac.

You can’t get any more LA than The Viper Room, which is owned by actor Johnny Depp and has hosted nearly every pop and rock artist you can think of, from Maroon 5 to Bruce Springsteen.

Day 3:

Make sure to see some famous LA sights, like the all-important Hollywood Sign, the Griffith Observatory and the fascinating Grammy Museum.

Spend the night at the famous Troubadour venue, which since 1957 has hosted now massive artists before they were famous, like James Taylor and Elton John.

Day 4 (optional):

Disneyland anyone? Discover the colourful world of some of your favourite music and movies. Yes, it can be pricey. But it’s Disneyland, so as Elsa would say, just let it go!

Where to stay:

best music cities in the US, freehand hostel rooftop pool

You’re in Hollywood, you should probably live like a celebrity, right? I can’t think of a better place than Freehand Los Angeles, where bohemian meets luxury, with chic dorms and on-site gourmet restaurants. Plus, there’s a rooftop pool where you’ll feel even more like a star. There are heaps of boho hostels in Los Angeles that you should check out too.

Compare all hostels in Los Angeles

🚦 Stop 2: Austin, Texas

best music cities in the US, girl standing by wall of texas signs

📸:@kellyychang

Everything is bigger in Texas, including music! The capital city’s official motto is “the live music capital of the world,” which sums up what you get when you visit. A hotspot for many music genres like country, blues and rock, any type of music lover will find something here. The city also hosts two massive festivals: South by South West in March and Austin City Limits in October. The city is heaving with famous music bars, clubs and dancing halls where you can not only do some country line dancing, but also fill your belly with some Texan BBQ or TexMex (Texan-Mexican fusion food). Sign me up!

Major attractions:

Itinerary:

How long to stay: 2 days. If you’re visiting when one of their massive festivals are on, consider adding a few extra days so you can experience some of the best live acts in the world.

best music cities in the US, street art on wall in austin, texas

📸: @cosmictimetraveler

Day 1:

When you’ve worked up an appetite, go straight to Threadgill’s, where you’ll find big meals and live music throughout the day and night. This place has historically been a hotspot for travelling musicians and is an important cultural icon to Austin locals.

Get your best friends and best threads, and head for Sixth Street, where all of the city’s best live music bars and venues can be found. Flamingo Cantina is a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ venue for reggae, ska and world music. While San Jac Saloon has an old school, classic western vibe.

Day 2:

Get some cheap vinyl from Waterloo Records, a local institution and a great place to listen to some of your favourite tunes.

If you want an authentic honky tonk experience – a classic Western bar or dance hall – with super cheap drinks and live music every night, look no further than The White Horse. You can even take dancing lessons there, including Texas Two-Step, Swing Dance and Blues Dance.

Make the time to stop by local favourite music clubs Broken Spoke and the Continental Club (named one of the best music clubs in the country).

Where to stay:

best music cities in the US, firehouse hostel bookshelf speakeasy

The hostels in Austin match the city’s eclectic, hip vibe. Firehouse Hostel is a stylish vintage-feel hostel. If you come across a casual bookshelf, all may not be as it seems. Behind it is a secret speakeasy-style cocktail bar! You won’t even have to leave the hostel to soak up Austin’s live music scene.

Compare all hostels in Austin

🚦 Stop 3: New Orleans, Louisiana

best music cities in the US, man playing saxophone in new orleans

📸:@morgpetphoto

As the jazz and blues capital of the USA, this place really oozes coolness. This swamp town can’t get you down! Make a drunken stop at some of the dive-iest bars in the country – they may look very rough around the edges, but they’ll make for a night you won’t forget! You don’t even have to head inside to hear that bluesy sound, as the French Quarter has music spilling out onto its streets. NOLA is home to many famous jazz music venues, that even now aren’t too big for their boots – they’re the best places to hear some classic Southern soul.

Major attractions:

Itinerary:

How long to stay: 3-4 days

Day 1:

If you didn’t walk down Bourbon Street, did you really go to New Orleans? This street is the heart of the city, and it’s where you’re bound to find a party or two. Neon lights and lively music appear in every direction, which is what makes New Orleans one of the best music cities in the US. Jazz fans need to visit Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub for live music every night with no entry fee! Kermit’s Treme Mother in Law Lounge is in the French Quarter and was where the HBO show Treme was filmed. Here you can soak up some of the city’s best blues music, while enjoying some of the best seafood plates in town. Bourbon Cowboy is an excellent honky tonk if you’re here for a party. There’s live country, rock and pop music, cheap drinks and a mechanical bull – what a mix…

Day 2:

To soak up all of the alcohol you drank last night, head straight for Café du Monde (especially if you’re still out on the streets). It’s the home of beignets, French style doughnuts covered in powdered sugar. You’ll need one to fuel all the exploring you’ll be doing!

Now that you’re familiar with the NOLA music scene, why not make a stop at the New Orleans Jazz Museum to learn how this music genre has shaped the city’s identity and culture?

Make sure to watch a performance at the historic Preservation Hall. They’ve been playing live traditional jazz since 1961.

best music cities in the US, new orleans street

📸:@mana5280

Day 3:

See local attractions like Jackson Square and the French Market. Pop into any honky tonks you may have missed and top off your unforgettable stay in New Orleans by visiting the renowned music venue Tipitina’s. Cheers to that!

Day 4: 

An optional stay to experience more of the killer bars and great live music! If you’re in the area on Halloween, the city holds the Voodoo Festival, where major acts like Guns N’ Roses and Post Malone have been known to come to town.

Where to stay:

If you’re a fan of party hostels, then you’re gonna like New Orleans. Auberge NOLA Hostel is loooooved by backpackers and caters to the wild at heart. They’ll give you free parties, plenty of killer activities and free breakfast (because you’ll really need it). The hostel is located in the Lower Garden District, next to the French Quarter.

Compare all hostels in New Orleans

🚦 Stop 4: Atlanta, Georgia

best music cities in the US, girl posing for a picture with skyscrapers of atlanta in the background

📸:@liv.valentino

This music hotspot city is considered a haven for the music genres of hip hop, crunk, R&B, neo-soul gospel and indie rock. It has been called the “hip hop center of gravity” and the “new cultural capital of America.” It deserves a spot on the list of the best music cities in the US because of its sleek, contemporary music vibes! This music city is home to over 300 recording studios, which have attracted hip hop artists from all over the country since the early 90s. Now it’s the go-to spot for music festivals like Shaky Knees and Music Midtown that celebrate the music genres of pop, rock and hip-hop.

Major attractions:

Itinerary:

How long to stay: 2 days

Day 1:

A Cappella Books is a paradise for music history lovers. They have a wide variety of books on the music industry, and they host local musicians to perform at their author readings.

If you fancy yourself a performer and also want some pizza, then stop by Kat’s Café for dinner where you can have a cocktail and a go at one of their open-mic nights. 🎤

For indie rock and alternative fans, see what’s on at 529 in East Atlanta Village. This small warehouse venue has an underground vibe and is ideal for those who want to see some emerging artists in a super cool atmosphere.

Day 2:

If you’re looking for something quirky to do, why not explore the world of Coca-Cola? In Atlanta there’s a massive museum dedicated to the iconic sugary drink and its legacy. I heard it’s pretty Coca-cool.

Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood is a massive outdoor theatre where you’ll be able to catch the big names in music performing their nationwide tours.

best music cities in the US, atlanta skyline at sunset

📸:@ksudu94

Where to stay:

Atlanta Midtown Hostel is a laid-back retreat for the busy backpacker. The homely feeling and social atmosphere is what they’re all about!

Compare all hostels in Atlanta

🚦 Stop 5: Memphis, Tennessee

best music cities in the US, girl standing by i love memphis street art

📸:@serenejoy_

This unassuming music city in southwest Tennessee has a rich blues, soul and rock and roll history. It’s seen a lot of stars throughout its history, but most notably ‘The King’ Elvis Presley called Memphis his home. You can now visit Graceland, his house from when he was mega-famous, where you can wander the halls of his mansion and explore the massive museum dedicated to his memory. In this music city, you can get a taste of the local blues, rock and roll, country and soul scene by spending an evening in one of the impressive music venues along Beale Street.

Major attractions:

Itinerary:

How long to stay: 2-3 days

Day 1:

Elvis hasn’t left this building! Spend the day exploring the musical utopia of Graceland, where you can learn about the life of this pop culture icon. Walk through his untouched house and the massive museum with his famous costumes and memorabilia. This isn’t just a museum, it’s an experience, with Elvis themed restaurants and live performances! You ready to meet The King?

Day 2:

Brush up on your music skills at the famous Sun Studio, AKA ‘the birthplace of rock and roll’. This place is pretty legendary in the country, rock and blues circles, as music icons Johnny Cash, Elvis and B.B King all recorded their music there. You can tag along on their day tours, or if you’re really keen you can record some tunes there!

best music cities in the US, memphis recording service neon signs

📸:@uconrad

Party time! Put your best outfit on and head for Beale Street, where you’ll find the coolest blues, rock and country bars and honky tonks. Some favourites are B.B King’s Blues Club where you can have both a boogie and some delicious Southern BBQ, and Silky O’Sullivan’s, an Irish bar with delicious cocktails, live blues and soul music.

Day 3:

On your final day, wind down by absorbing the history and culture of the area and visit the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which will give you a more detailed understanding of how these genres have framed Memphis as one of the best music cities in the US.

Where to stay:

Hostel Memphis is located in the Cooper-Young neighbourhood in the trendy area of Midtown Memphis. They host nightly events like all you can eat BBQ wings and happy hours, plus they have free breakfast!

Compare all hostels in Memphis

🚦 Stop 6: Nashville, Tennessee

best music cities in the US, girl standing by the bluebird cafe in nashville

📸:@morgogoes

Probably the wildest music city in the US (and personally my favourite on the list), Nashville is a boot-scootin’, whiskey drinking, line dancing, hell of a good time. Basically every country music star has made their name here, from Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash to Keith Urban and Taylor Swift. Let me tell you, country music in this town is sacred, and a visit isn’t complete without stopping by the Grand Ole Opry, where country legends and emerging artists showcase their music for local radio. Savour the mixed music scene by heading down Broadway Street in your finest cowboy boots and hearing it for yourself. Don’t worry If you’re not a country music lover, Nashville also has an emerging indie and alternative scene too. The yee-haw queen of music cities is waiting for y’all!

Major attractions:

Itinerary:

How long to stay: 3-4 days (but in my opinion forever)

Day 1:

The Country Music Hall of Fame should be your first stop in Nashville. Here you can learn about the massive (truly massive) country music industry and its cult following. You can see the costumes, original lyrics, personal items and musical instruments of almost every country music star. In the country music world, being elected into their hall of fame is the highest honour you can get.

On your tour of culturally significant attractions, it’s a must visit to the Ryman Auditorium, the ‘Carnegie Hall of the South.’ In the early days, the venue was originally used for the Grand Ole Opry show, and many artists throughout history have stood on the stage, like Elvis, Dolly Parton, Kings of Leon and even Charlie Chaplin!

Get your cowboy hat on and get over to Broadway! This main street is where you’ll find the biggest and best honky tonk bars in the US. Tootsies Orchid Lounge is essentially sacred ground, where musicians have gathered since it opened in 1960. Willie Nelson scored his first job as a songwriter after performing there. For a wild night, hit any of the bars: The Stage, Honky Tonk Central, Tin Roof, Tequila Cowboy – there are over 32 bars on the strip – can you tackle all of them?

best music cities in the US, girls standing by nashville wall art

📸:@katy_anne

Day 2:

Have a quick walk through the famous (and reportedly haunted) Music Row street where different record labels line the streets.

Head back to downtown Nashville and stop by Hatch Show print, where colourful music posters for artists and performers have been made since 1879.

If you’re a lover of classic country music like me (or just want to know what all of the fuss is about), check out the museums that are dedicated to famous artists like the Johnny Cash Museum, Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and the Patsy Cline Museum. There are A LOT of museums to explore.

Spend a chill night listening to some acoustics at The Bluebird Café. This small and unassuming café next to a hair salon is actually a stepping stone to country music stardom. Songwriters from all over the world come here to perform and get discovered, like Taylor Swift. Look up when their next open mic night is, it might be you up on the stage next!

best music cities in the US, Tootsies Orchid Lounge

Tootsies Orchid Lounge, 📸:@hariprasa000

Day 3:

Walk the hallowed halls of the Grand Ole Opry. You can either join a guided tour or watch one of their nightly radio show performances with a mix of emerging artists and big names.

If you need a break from all the musical attractions, have a walk through Centennial Park, where there’s a replica of the Greek Parthenon. It’s a sight to behold, and you can go in and explore.

Day 4:

If you missed out visiting many of the honky tonks, why not take an extra day to catch up? Nearby town Franklin is also worth exploring. If you’re a Dolly Parton fan and an adrenaline junkie, then boy do I have some news for you. Dollywood is a theme park located in Knoxville’s Smoky Mountains (about a 3.5-hour drive from Nashville) and was created by the legend herself!

🚦 Stop 7: New York City, New York

best music cities in the US, girl standing in new york city

📸:@lau11_

Billy Joel definitely got it right when he sung that he was in a ‘New York state of mind.’ New York takes you over, and its hypnotic mix of pop, classical, folk, jazz and blues make it one of the best music cities in the US. But I challenge you to find a genre that you can’t find in the Big Apple! And who could forget about Broadway, where showtunes are on acid. World-renowned institutions like Radio City Music Hall and the Stonewall Inn are livelier than ever. You could spend months in NYC and still not scrape the surface of their varied music scene, but here are some not-to-miss highlights.

Major attractions:

How long to stay: 3+ days

Itinerary:

Day 1:

New York, New York, it’s a hell of a town, right? Start off your magical time in the concrete jungle by ticking Radio City Music Hall off your list first. This is the home of the world-famous Rockettes dancers. The iconic exterior is also a good spot for an Insta shot! As a musician, if you’ve made it to Carnegie Hall, you’ve made it as an artist. Explore this historic theatre that has hosted the best performers of every genre, including the greats like Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, George Gershwin and The Beatles.

Walk by the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan’s Chelsea district, which is said to be very haunted. This hotel has hosted some of the greatest musicians in history including Patti Smith, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Cher and Jimi Hendrix.

For lunch grab a bite to eat and a quality performance at the famous Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where Broadway’s future stars perform a show around your table.

Check out a show on or off Broadway, you might be able to score some cheap same-day tickets! Hamilton anyone?

best music cities in the US, broadway signs in new york

📸:@dnevozhai

Day 2:

Spend the day in Greenwich Village, a hub for musicians based in New York. Caffe Dante opened in 1915 and has seen a steady stream of local musicians coming to eat ever since. Head in either early in the day, or later at night, because this place is always popping!

No trip to The Village is complete without a visit to the historic Stonewall Inn, a LGBTQ bar that essentially brought gay rights to the US because of the bar’s patrons constant campaigning for equality during the 60s. Spend the night to experience some unforgettable karaoke or a legendary drag show.

Smalls Jazz Club is the place to go for the night to hear local jazz right into the morning.

Day 3:

Make sure you make time for the typical New York attractions. I’m talking Times Square, Rockerfeller Centre, Empire State Building… the list could go on forever! The Strand bookstore is one of my favourite places in the city. Located in the gorgeous East Village, the bookstore contains over 23 miles of books, so you can definitely spend a whole day here if you love books as much as I do.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art MUST be on your list. They have a permanent display of one of the world’s largest musical instrument collections, among other extensive collections like fashion, Egyptian and Asian artefacts.

Where to stay:

best music cities in the US, hi NYC hostel garden terrace

HI NYC Hostel

The hostels in New York provide social retreats from the buzzing city. HI NYC Hostel is located in the stylish Upper West Side, and is complete with a self-catering kitchen, common room with a pool table and even an on-site theatre, so you don’t even have to head to Broadway to experience New York’s famous theatre scene. For the backpackers with a bigger budget, Freehand New York is peak high-hostel living with chic AF private bungalow rooms. It’s also in the stylish Flatiron neighbourhood in Manhattan. Why not live like a Manhattan socialite for a bit?

Compare all hostels in New York City

🚦 Extra pit stops

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Cleveland, Ohio

best music cities in the US, rock and roll hall of fame ohio

📸:@lanceanderson

This impressive glass-pyramid museum dedicated to the legends of Rock and Roll is in the Ohio city of Cleveland. Over 6 levels, you can browse through music memorabilia throughout the ages like Aretha Franklin’s costumes, Kurt Cobain’s guitar and Michael Jackson’s iconic gloves.

Opening times: vary between months, check website

Cost: adults US$28

Motown Museum – Detroit, Michigan

The Motown Museum (AKA Hitsville USA) was founded in 1985 as a tribute to the genre of Motown that launched the global movement. The museum is located in Studio A, where many famous Motown artists recorded their music, and it’s also the former home of artist Berry Gordy Jr.

Opening times:

1st October – 1st May: 10am-6pm Tuesday to Saturday

2nd May – 30th September: 10am – 6pm Tuesday to Friday and Sunday, Saturday 10am – 8pm.

Cost: adults US$15

Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre – Morrison, Colorado

best music cities in the US, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre – Morrison, Colorado

This hippie haven located around Colorado’s stunning red rocks is one of the coolest live music venues in the world. You can see anyone from Thirty Seconds to Mars to Chris Stapleton perform here, and people come from around the country just to hear the incredible acoustics and admire the jaw-dropping natural backdrop.

Opening times: vary, check website

Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum – Owensboro, Kentucky

Wanna learn about the historic Southern music genre that’s beloved by Steve Martin and Kermit the Frog? This little country town in Kentucky is where the International Bluegrass Association was founded in 1986, which is why the museum is located there now.

Opening times: Monday to Saturday: 10am – 5pm, Sunday: 1pm – 5pm.

Cost: adults US$12, students US$8

Birthplace of Country Music Museum – Bristol, Virginia

If you didn’t soak up enough country music in Nashville, why not make the journey to Bristol, Virginia, to see the Birthplace of Country Music Museum? The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum, and shows how the music recordings that began in 1927 in Bristol progressed into the popular genre of today.

Opening hours: Thursday – Saturday: 10am-2pm, Sunday: 1pm-5pm.

Cost: adults US$13, students US$11

Jazz Showcase – Chicago, Illinois

best music cities in the US, musicians playing on the street in Chicago, Illinois

📸:@tjdragotta

Jazz music has also had a big impact on the city of Chicago, and the Jazz Showcase club is where the best and brightest have come to perform since 1947. Come and listen to some sweet, sweet Chicago tunes for the night!

Opening times: shows on Monday – Saturday: 8pm and 10pm, Sunday: 4pm, 8pm, 10pm.

By the end of this mammoth tour of the best music cities in the US, you’ve probably had enough tunes and tequila for a lifetime. Are you ready go? Cause it’s time for a party in the USA!

Have you been to any of the best music cities in the US or is there one you’re planning on visiting? Tell us below!

Begin your own music city tour of the US by  booking through the Hostelworld app!

 

Keep reading:

🌟 Best music venues in the world

🌟 Top USA hostels: live the American dream for less

🌟 Where to stay in New York: a neighbourhood guide

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About The Author

Hayley McKenna

Just another Aussie living in London with travel on the mind. Junior Content Writer and #HostelworldInsider at Hostelworld. I have a bad habit of spontaneously buying cheap flights to random places. I love antique shopping on the weekends. 🌍Favourite place on earth: Nice, France. 🏠Favourite hostel: King Kong Hostel Rotterdam, Netherlands. Keep up with my travels on Instagram: @suitcaseonmysleeve and my blog https://suitcaseonmysleeve.wordpress.com/

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