America is the land of opportunity that is for sure – especially when it comes to places to visit. There is so much to see, every state having its essential criteria of ‘must visit’ venues and destinations. I’ve viewed many of them personally, and all are equally appealing.
I can see how confusing it must be for a tourist who has never been here to decide where to visit first. I want to help you narrow down your choices when you come to the States, so I have picked a bunch of my favorite destinations – 10 to be exact. Some of these you will probably recognize right away, especially when it comes to the larger cities. However, have you ever given yourself a second to work out the kind of venues you need to see within those locations to give you a real taste of America and that particular state or city?
Within this list, I have attempted to incorporate a variety of different landscapes, from the glittering, gorgeous glaciers of Alaska and the riveting forms of the deep red rock in the Grand Canyon, to the sand-sinking beaches of Hawaii and the sheer scale of the lush forestry in Seattle. Every location mentioned here has its historical attractions, and I’ve attempted to include those, as well as give the nod to the latest contemporary venues. All are worth a visit, in my opinion. See if you agree:
A land of breathtakingly beautiful snow-capped mountains, green pastures, icebergs, and magnificent sea-life, Alaska is a ‘must-see’ destination. No-where else has such pure air and a clear horizon on a bright winter’s day. Visitors to this terrific, uppermost part of America should undoubtedly spend time in the world heritage site known as Glacier Bay National Park. Featuring stunning whales, grizzly bears, and snow leopards, the fabulously remote land also offers secret coves and hidden harbors in which to lose yourself (if only, mentally).
Visit the historic town of Skagway, where aesthetically, it is possible to step back into the 19th century and the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. Seven blocks of streets re-create original shop fronts, restaurants, and saloons – most built to benefit the 40,000 men who pounced on the area during the gold rush, via the famous Chilkoot Trail. Take the tourist’s White Pass & Yukon Route railroad to the 2,885 feet White Pass and the border between the US and Canada. En-route there are spectacular sights to spot, such as Dead Horse Gulch and Bridal Veil Falls.
The capital of Massachusetts and the home of the top-ranking University known as Harvard, Boston is famous for its educational institutions, sea-faring harbor and quaint, small-town feel (even though it’s a large city). Take a relaxing boat trip out to some of the 34 islands dotted around the town or go wonder at the magnificent architecture on Copley Square – otherwise referred to as ‘The Athens of America.’
Get a real taste of typical America by visiting a Red Sox game. The great baseball team has played at Fenway for more than a century now – and they are still knocking down the opposition. Book lovers will be in awe at the sheer number and variety of book stores in atmospheric Harvard Square and can peruse them at their leisure in one of the many cafes located there.
Mention the name Chicago, and instantly, one thinks of The Mob and Prohibition. Then there’s the windy streets and freezing winters. However, there is also the Millennium Park Campus, where there are free outdoor film and music festivals during the long hot summer months.
Then there are the fabulous shores of Lake Michigan and the stunning waterfront itself. Luxury shoppers will love Michigan Avenue’s ‘Magnificent Mile’ with its designer stores, while art lovers can’t fail to be impressed by the galleries. A top treat is to peer at the whole of Chicago and beyond from the Willis Tower SkyDeck. This 103-story commercial building is the tallest in the Western Hemisphere and sways on those famously windy days the city often experiences.
A beautiful tropical paradise, Hawaii, consists of eight islands (six of them belong to Aloha). Each one boasts stunning white sandy beaches – all of which are open to the public – as well as towering mountains and plunging valleys. Known as a celebrity haven, in Hawaii, it is possible to find yourself lying on the beach alongside a movie star or singer. A snack of fresh pineapple is the perfect refreshment here; find it by signing up to one a Maui Pineapple Tour where you can taste the fruit a mere second or two after being plucked from its tree.
Famously known for starting the surfing trend, Hawaii’s Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu and the white sandy beaches at Lahaina in Maui are the locations tourists should head for if they fancy trying out the sport themselves. People often refer to Oahu as the ‘Heart of Hawaii’ thanks to its bustling town center, upmarket shops, and first-class restaurants.
Colorful Ocean Drive and nearby Collins Avenue is reason enough for tourists to visit Miami, especially if, like me, they are big Art Deco fans. Die-hard architecture fans can take it a step further by popping into the Art Deco Welcome Center for free tours of this district (which also officially counts Fifth Street and 23rd Street as part of the attraction. There are, in fact, more than 800 examples of Art Deco architecture and art here. There are also plenty of bars where you meet people and evenings which go on until the early hours. Other things to love about this party-city include the non-stop Latina music and the guaranteed year-round sunshine.
For those who like to see greenery and embrace nature while they’re away from home, the nearby Everglades is perfect. There it’s possible to sail through the Mangroves and catch many exotic birds, animals, and plants up-close (not too close though – there are alligators around). Miami isn’t too far from the Florida Keyes either – and where book lovers will be able to visit the home of Old Man and the Sea author Ernest Hemmingway.
The city of jazz, dancing, singing, carnivals, and sheer fun, New Orleans is eccentric – in one of the best ways possible. Known as ‘the Melting Post of America,’ the city’s residents have Caribbean, African, German, Irish, and even Spanish routes. And that’s clear to see in the fantastic food on offer (boiled crawfish anyone?). For a pleasant and meandering piece of sight-seeing, jump on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. All rickety varnished wooden seats and old adverts, it’s like taking a trip back in time – only it’s the contemporary Garden District New Orleans you see out the window.
A visit here during the lead up to Mardi Gras (towards the end of Feb) is to party for two whole weeks. During this time you can meet hundreds of new people – and while in a fancy dress. If all that partying leaves you seeking solitude and a touch of nature, then it’s possible to embark on one of the many swamp tours outside the city. That means the possibility of spotting exotic birds and plants, as well as alligators!
Love or loathe the idea; New York is the busiest and fastest city in the Western World. Just visit Times Square during the summer months, and you will find tourists from all over the globe. It’s iconic, and it is usually the first place first-time tourists to America head for. There are so many iconic landmarks to tick off – the Staten Island Ferry terminal, Empire State Building, and Ellen’s Stardust Diner.
There is also skating in front of the Rockefeller Centre in winter, giving remembrance to the thousands of individuals who lost their lives at the Twin Towers Memorial, and the artisanal new Chelsea Centre and restaurants in the city’s Meat Packing district. Then there is the former railway line on Manhattan’s west side, running from Gansevoort Street at the south end to West 34th Street at the north end. Sitting several stories above ground level, it is now what the authorities refer to as ‘linear park.’ In other words, its somewhere to take a bit of ‘time out’ for quiet, as well as a new look at the city itself.
The 9000 feet long Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic wonder, while a ride on the city’s hill street trams is just something that you must experience at least once in a lifetime. Of course, San Francisco is also home to many an IT start-up, as well as the former home of that most infamous of prisons – Alcatraz – which sits serenely 2.5 miles offshore of the Bay.
One of the biggest attractions in downtown San Francisco is Chinatown. An area that developed during the mid-19th century Gold Rush, it’s a vibrant, exciting area of the city and much loved by residents and tourists alike. Other reasons to like San Francisco is because the people are so friendly and laid-back (they can afford to be – they have beautiful weather all year round). Sure, there is some mist, but it’s a minor irritation when there’s so much to admire. One thing is sure – you will never want for a particular cuisine in San Francisco; not with more than 4,500 restaurants to choose from – there just has to be something that appeals to the taste buds!
Sitting on the Puget Sound in the North West of America in Washington State, Seattle is home to Amazon and other tech giants. However, it also has high cultural capital (having spawned the Grunge music scene back in the day) and inspired many artists.
Woodinville in the Cascade mountains offers more than 100 wineries, many of which are worth a visit. Back in the city, the Seattle Space Needle sits 605 feet above the ground, takes 42 seconds to reach the top, and is an excellent spot for city sight-seeing. Another Seattle city specialty is the quality of its fish and seafood in general. The Chowder is worth a try, as is the city’s savory biscuits and gravy combo. Meanwhile, burn off all that food by partaking in some snowsports. It’s a frequent past-time in this city of outdoors enthusiasts.
The Grand Canyon
This collection of natural rock, believed to have been formed around 70 million years ago, sits in the state of Arizona. Tourists can visit via a day trip from Phoenix or Las Vegas. The South Rim of the Canyon tends to be the most popular area to visit (the north being far wetter and more inaccessible much of the time).
There is also a village in the Grand Canyon where you can take a train for 64km through forests and meadows to Williams in Arizona. Other means to see the Canyon’s include helicopter flights and river rafting. Regardless of which route tourists take, it’s all incredibly stunning.
Some of the States and cities I missed out.
There are, of course, plenty of other fabulous US destinations for tourists to marvel over. The political heart of the country in Washington, DC, is well worth a visit. Further up the coast in New England, there are the holiday destinations of the rich and famous at Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Rhode Island, and the Kennedy family’s old playground in the Hamptons.
Other southern resorts where it’s possible to have an equally fabulous time include Texas, where you can watch bareback horse riding and attempt to spot the real-life JR Ewing in the Oil district. Like Texas, the Bluegrass state of Kentucky boasts impressive horse farms, as well as beautiful old Southern Mansions. Then there is the bourbon. And for those who enjoy being underground, Kentucky boasts the world’s largest network of caves – 400 miles worth to be exact. What’s your America going to be?