While the rest of the world may venture to the top of spires like the Eiffel Tower and Burj Khalifa to take in the ether, some of America’s best observatories rest on the shoulders of concrete giants that offer visitors more than just scenery.
Picture yourself suspended in a glass box more than 1,000 feet high, seemingly floating in space while you gaze across an effervescent metropolis. Imagine ascending to the highest point of New York in under a minute or pendulously spinning on a ride in the world’s gambling capital.
Whether you want to marvel at vast concrete jungles, dine in the sky or bliss out while gazing into the tangerine abyss, America’s most popular observation decks are just one quick elevator ride away.
Hovering an impressive 1,353 feet above the Windy City, Skydeck Chicago holds the record as the highest public observation deck in the country. Located on the 103rd floor of downtown’s historic Willis Tower, the Skydeck attracts more than 1.7 million visitors annually looking to view Chi-town’s magnificent and vast architectural wonders. Take a break from eating deep-dish pizza and step out onto The Ledge, a glass-bottom box that extends more than four feet from the Skydeck, making it an Instagram destination that would give even Ferris Bueller FOMO.
Tickets: Adult ages 12 and up: 28-35 dollars. Youth ages 3 to 11: 22-26 dollars.
Skydeck Chicago, 233 S. Wacker Drive, Chicago, Ill. (312) 875-9447
One World Observatory
Completed in 2014, Manhattan’s One World Trade Center serves as both a memorial to the past and a bold technological masterpiece forging ahead into the future. Sightseers flock to the One World Observatory via SkyPod elevators that ascend 102 stories in just under 50 seconds. After taking in the likes of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, head to the ONE Dine restaurant for dinner and cocktails with a view.
Tickets: 38-68 dollars.
One World Observatory, 117 West St., New York, N.Y. (844) 696-1776
Situated in the heart of Seattle Center, the Space Needle was erected for the 1962 World’s Fair and has retained its intergalactic, midcentury charm nearly 60 years later. While the building looks like George Jetson and Don Draper designed it, the newly renovated observation deck offers guests an elevated and luxe view of the Pacific Northwest. The ultra-modern viewing area boasts sleek glass benches and the world’s first and only revolving glass floor, giving visitors the option to take in 360 degrees of views without moving a muscle.
Tickets: Regular ages 13-64: 35 dollars. Youth ages 5-12: 26 dollars. Senior ages 65+: $30.
Space Needle, 400 Broad St., Seattle, Wash. (206) 905-2100
Grand Canyon Skywalk
Nestled along the westernmost edge of the Grand Canyon, the Skywalk glass bridge towers a whopping 4,000 feet in the air and extends roughly 70 feet over the West Rim. Built in 2007, the horseshoe-shaped walkway is located on the Hualapai Indian Reservation and is still maintained by the tribe today. Tourists can take in the vistas of one of the world’s seven wonders before learning about the history of the Hualapai tribe in the Skywalk visitor building. Thrill-seekers flock here to zipline 3,200 feet along a side canyon for a bonus adrenaline rush.
Tickets: 59 dollars.
Grand Canyon Skywalk, 808 Eagle Point Road, Peach Springs, Ariz. (928) 769-2636
Empire State Building Observatory
A vacation to New York City isn’t complete without taking a trip to the top of the Empire State Building and pretending like you’re either Deborah Kerr in “An Affair to Remember,” Meg Ryan in “Sleepless in Seattle” or my favorite leading lady, King Kong. The iconic landmark boasts observatories on the 86th and 102nd floor, and while the latter may be higher, the former features an impressive open-air promenade. On a day with clear skies, sightseers can marvel at breathtaking views of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and of course, New York.
Tickets: Adult: 42-75 dollars. Child: 36-69 dollars. Senior: 40-73 dollars.
Empire State Building Observatory, 20 W. 34th St., New York, N.Y. (212) 736-3100
SkyPod at the Strat
Las Vegas is known for many things, but subtle attractions are not one of them. Ornately luxurious casinos, endless and extravagant buffets — everything you find on the Strip is deliberately over-the-top. That includes SkyPod at the Strat. Formerly known as The Stratosphere, the behemoth tower has indoor and outdoor observation decks that showcase the Strip’s neon lights. If this is up your alley, Chapel in the Clouds allows you to exchange vows 800 feet up. The Strat also offers thrill-seekers the chance to enjoy four rides, including Insanity, a spinning ride that dangles passengers on the edge of the tower.
Tickets: 30 dollars.
The Strat SkyPod, 2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, Nev. (800) 998-6937
Top of the Rock
Manhattan’s Top of the Rock observation deck is the quintessential New York tourist destination, perched atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It’s not the highest observatory in the Big Apple, but the scenery from the Top of the Rock is stunning, with unparalleled views of Central Park, the Empire State Building and, if you’re lucky, Seth Meyers. After taking in the sweeping vistas, stop by the #NYCFiltered exhibit and marvel at the colorful stained-glass art.
Tickets: 35-95 dollars.
Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. (212) 698-2000