United States of America

Monument Valley, Arizona USA by CC user tango- on Flickr

Introduction

For a country that was settled by Europeans little more than 400 years ago, and populated by widely scattered nomadic tribes for thousands of years prior, the United States of America has certainly come a long way in such a short time. Boasting the world’s third largest population, the world’s fourth largest land mass, and the most powerful economy and military on the face of the planet, America is one of the world’s leading superpowers.

With a pervasive culture that penetrates nearly every corner of the civilized world, and a natural makeup that spans almost every climate and landscape type, it lends itself very well to the international tourism industry. Indeed, nearly 70 million people passed through customs to visit the United States of America in 2013, second to only France.

This was in spite of the well-broadcasted hassles of post 9/11 security, which includes onerous visa requirements for many nations, and aggressive interrogation tactics by some border guards that often catch many travelers by surprise. Once one successfully clears this hyper aware element of the U.S. security apparatus though, America has an overflowing buffet of rewarding travel experiences that will leave just about any traveler thoroughly satisfied with their visit to this very friendly and perpetually extroverted nation.

Just be sure not to fall into the trap of trying to see everything that this nation has to offer in one trip, as this country, like its neighbour to the north (Canada) is unfathomably large. Instead, it is best to focus on a particular region or two, and on a specific set of interests (museums and foodie tourism, for example) in order to ensure that your time here is spent savouring the amazing attractions and experiences that this nation has to offer, instead of rushing around in a stressed mess on traffic choked interstates trying in vain to tick off every box on your list.

The world often views the U.S.A. through the lens of various stereotypes, many of which are gross exaggerations, with some being simply untrue in many places. When you make the decision to travel here, many of these misconceptions will melt away in the ever-present smile of many strangers who will surprise you with their willingness to help you discover the nation that they view as the greatest place on Earth.

They may admit that it isn’t a perfect place, but there’s no place else in the world that they would rather be. Spend a few weeks (or a few months here), and you’ll finally begin to understand the factual basis behind these proclamations, instead of dismissing them out of hand as patriotic nonsense. That is, after all, why we travel.

Currency: U.S.Dollar

Languages: English (official), Spanish

 

Empire State Building by CC user ekilby on Flickr

What To Do

A popular place for many visitors to the United States to start is on the Eastern Seaboard. While it is tempting to simply fly into New York City, we recommend starting your adventure in America in Boston, as doing so will avoid of backtracking after visiting this fundamentally important centre with regards to the history of the USA.

It was innearby Cape Cod that the Mayflower came ashore in 1620, after rough early winter weather forced their ship to seek shelter in the area instead of pressing on to Virginia, where an establish British colony already existed. They opted to set up a colony here instead, with the settlement that would become Boston being signed into existence in 1630.

Here, in this complex place that former governor John Winthrop called “The Shining City On The Hill”, some of America’s most dramatic events in its tumultuous history played out against the backdrop of places like Faneuil Hall, where patriots like Samuel Adams delivered speeches promoting independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britain, and the Old State House (the oldest building in the city), where a massacre of unarmed civilians took place in 1770 at the hands of British soldiers on King Street.

After soaking up some essential American history in Beantown, spend some quality time in New York City, which is one the world’s largest cities, and as a indirect consequence of this, it is also one of its most multicultural. Admire the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of American freedom,from the Staten Island ferry if you’re traveling on a budget, or take a trip to Liberty Island and ascend to its crown to get a unique view of the iconic NYC skyline.

One atmospheric view that simply mustn’t turn down when in New York City is one that can be had from the Empire State Building, the 103 storey skyscraper that was the tallest in the world for many years, and was the tallest in New York following the attacks on 9/11, before being passed again by the World Trade Centre’s replacement, 1 World Trade Centre in 2012. In spite of this, its art deco construction has made this building an icon throughout its lengthy history.

Pay your respects to the victims of the aforementioned terrorist attack at the deeply touching memorial at Ground Zero, then end your time in New York on a high by attending one of many award winning stage shows on Broadway. Alongside London, NYC is one of the foremost cities on Earth for the performing arts, so set aside any prejudices against seeing plays and go experience one here – if a Tony awarding winning performer can’t win you over, nothing will!

The White House by CC user bigberto on Flickr

Moving on down the Eastern Seaboard, go and pay the President a visit in Washington DC, where most of the vital elements of the American government can be found. Start your time here by brushing up on this nation’s active and exciting history at one of the many amazing museums at the National Mall, then stroll by gaudymonuments dedicated to the memory of presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, as well as the massive obelisk that comprises the Washington Monument. It symbolizes the gratitude and pride of a nation towards its first president, George Washington, who fought against and outflanked the British en route a hard earned independence from the British empire.

The sights here that you’ll be most eager to see though will be none other than Capitol Hill and the White House. Being home to America’s government and the American president respectively, they represent the hilt of power in this nation. The iconic dome of the Capitol has inspired the design of other government buildings throughout the world since its inception, and the White House serves as the home of the President, as well as the place where he conducts his responsibilities, and where he addresses the nation at times of importance and emergency.

At this time, you may choose to head inland towards the nation’s heartland. If you do, be sure to include Chicago, America’s third largest city, in your itinerary. It was here where the skyscraper was born, and with a mix of cultures that rivals NYC, its coastal rival, it is home to an unimaginable variety of food born right here on its very streets (see the section on American food further down the page for more on this).

It was here where the blues and jazz were born, so take the time to take in a performance at its many clubs. Some of the finest luxury shopping in the country can also be found along the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, while those looking to glimpse impressive architecture need only walk around the downtown core, as the art deco buildings the went up after the Chicago Fire of the 19th century, and the uber-modern ones that continue to crop up in the present day will make the urban enthusiast squeal with delight seemingly at every turn.

Heading south from here, make your next stop in Nashville, which ranks as the present day centre of another American-pioneered genre of music. Country musicians flock here like actors/actresses move to Los Angeles, seeking to make their star-studded dreams come true.

Here, the Country Music Hall Of Fame will fill you in on the rich past of this honky-tonk brand of musical expression, the Grand Ole Opry shows off present day talent on its vaunted stage, and those fighting in the trenches to get noticed bust their butt in the many clubs around town, making for a fun nightlife scene in this Southern urban hub.

Clearwater Beach, FL by CC user superwebdeveloper on Flickr

After trudging through the steamy South, getting to the refreshing sea breezes and white sand beaches of Florida will be your just reward. Being the home base for countless winter weary northerners and Canadians through that cruel season, there will be plenty of other travelers and expats that will share your sentiment. From the serene beaches of the Gulf Coast, to the star-studded and action-packed scene of Miami, there’s an ocean side getaway in this well-loved state with your name on it.

If you have a family in tow on your travels, the central parts of the state is home to Orlando, which reigns as one of the world’s biggest hubs for amusement parks. Headlined by the one and only Walt Disney World, this city and its vicinity is home to other attractions such as Seaworld, Universal Studios, and Wet N’ Wild, making this place one of the best places in the world to plan a family holiday.

Heading across the lower tier of the country towards California from Florida is often a favoured road trip, as it takes in many fascinating states and cities. The latter includes places such as New Orleans, one of the few regions within America where a French culture holds sway over the populace.

While everyone here does speak English, their French heritage is apparent in their joie d’ vivre (love of life), as unique dishes, an exquisite Old Quarter, and a blowout week of decadent partying leading up to the start of Lent (Mardi Gras) has made this place famous among revellers young and old.

In the wide expanse of Texas, a unique cultural identity is present. For a brief time between its secession from Mexico and joining the United States, it was its own sovereign republic, a fact that is often touted by locals that revere the Texan flag as equally as they do the American flag.

A historical site that lies at the core of the Texan identity can be found in the interior city of San Antonio, as a spirited yet ultimately hopeless battle was pitched against Mexican forces at the Alamo in 1836. The brave sacrifice these men made (nobody survived) became a rallying point for Texan forces in the years ahead, which inspired them to victory in the Texan Revolutionary War just months later.

Mount Rushmore by CC user liz on Flickr

While some choose to cross America via the south as we are in this guide, many others choose the northern route. Along the corridor of I-90, the iconic faces of Mount Rushmore pretty much rank as a mandatory stop for travelers who have not gazed upon this wonder of Americana for the first time. Carved from the granite of the Black Hills, they feature the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, all presidents which oversaw momentous events in the history of the nation when they each held office.

Turning our attention back to the south, your drive will take you through scenic, but also featureless portions of desert that can be maddening at times. At the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in southwest Nevada though, Las Vegas rose from these thirsty lands in the early 20th century to eventually become the Entertainment Capital of the World.

If the kids get to indulge in Disney World, this is your equivalent as an adult, as this bright and glitzy city boasts stage shows, indulgent restaurants, nightlife that rages until the sun comes up, and of course, gambling of all sorts and variants, from sport betting to slots, blackjack to poker.

If you managed to avoid going broke in Vegas, continue on to Los Angeles, where the stars of Hollywood, and numerous opportunities for surfing await you. The Walk of Fame lines Hollywood Blvd for 15 blocks and Vine Street for 3, honouring over 2,500 stars that have made their name in this town, where far more hopefuls end up as pool cleaners or servers rather than headlining the latest blockbuster flick.

Along the coast of Los Angeles and Orange counties lie some of the most famous surf breaks in the U.S.A. Of all of these, the waves of Huntington Beach, or Surf City USA has the highest profile scene, so if you have the moves, head down here. If you don’t, it’s still tons of fun to watch the masters thrash the swells with skill and style.

Golden Gate Bridge by CC user groundzero on Flickr

Further up the Californian coast lies the dramatically beautiful city of San Francisco, a place defined by its left-leaning culture, its rebirth from one of the most devastating earthquakes in American history, and its current status as a hotbed for the cutting edge of developments in computer and internet technology.

Photographers will love the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, a classic suspension bridge that combines with the rugged topography surrounding it and the fog banks that frequently roll in from the Pacific to create endless variations of visual art for those that seek to capture its likeness.

San Francisco is also well noted as having one of the most open and accepting attitudes towards members of the LGBT community, dating well back into the 1960’s, when Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in American history. The Castro is considered to be one of the most gay-friendly neighbourhoods in the world, which countless classic theatres, bookstores, speciality shops and more that specialize on all things LGBT.

Situated 2,500 miles southwest of San Diego, the state of Hawaii was the last state to join the union in 1959. Here, visitors can relax on perfect beaches, hike through ancient rainforests, scale and look into the fiery abyss of active volcanoes, and engage in a lively luau dance, all without having to clear foreign customs (if you’re an American, that is!)

Columbia Glacier, Alaska by CC user nomadic_lass on Flickr

Joining the union alongside Hawaii was Alaska, a massive territory that separates Canada from the eastern frontier of Russia. Spanning 1/5 of the total area of the United States, it boasts a coast filled with glacier choked fiords, temperate rainforests, massive peaks that house the highest peak in North America (Mount McKinley) and abundant opportunities for uncrowded heli-skiing.

While you get in these cultural attractions on your epic journey across the USA, don’t forget to drop in on some its many outstanding national parks. The first one in the country was Yellowstone National Park, which protects the mountains of the Grand Teton Range, geysers like Old Faithful, and breathtaking waterfalls from aggressive commercial exploitation.

In the Pacific Northwest,Olympic and North Cascades National Park also protect mammoth mountain ranges that offer many chances for trekking by mountain junkies, while the iconic Grand Canyon should not be missed by visitors to Arizona, as the deepest river canyon in the world plunges 7,000 feet (more than a mile) the turbid rapids of the Colorado River below.

Yosemite National Park by CC user naturesdawn on Flickr

Rock climbers should make time in their schedule for Yosemite National Park, braving the crowds of one of the busiest parks in the country for the exposed rock faces of Half Dome. Those that don’t fancy hanging off a vertical slope with only a nylon rope protecting you from certain death can still hike to its peak using via ferrata cables, making only slightly less in peril than the prior method of ascent.

The busiest park in the entire country is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a protected area that protect the older but subtly beautiful Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Peaks that reach up to 6,600 feet are covered by leafy hardwood trees, which blaze with colour in the fall, and make for rewarding and accessible hikes through much of the year, all factors that drive upwards of 10 million people to visit it each year.

Clam chowder by CC user hinnosaar on Flickr
What To Eat

Being a nation of vast distances and equally large cultural differences, American cuisine varies greatly from region to region. While many favourites can be found nationwide via many fast food chain and quick serve restaurants that America gave birth to in the car and convenience culture that emerged after the Second World War, the best of each should be sought out in the home of their conception.

In New England, the sea has given rise to the Lobster Roll, which was conceived in the 1970’s along the roadsides of Maine. By taking a deluxe hot dog bun and stuffing it with lobster meat coated in mayonnaise, they created a summer time classic that has long drawn vacationers from Massachusetts and points south to this idyllic holiday hotbed.

Back in Boston, New England Clam Chowder and Baked Beans have grown and evolved into staples of many a Down Easter’s dinner table over the years. The New England dishes integrity is enshrined in law, as using tomatoes in the northeastern version of clam chowder is officially illegal. Instead, a milk or cream based broth is used, with clams, potato and onion comprising the main ingredients.

Baked Beans are a labour of love for cooks here, as the long cooking time, combined with sweet sticky molasses creates a flavour that has made a favourite comfort food for many locals in this part of the United States.

Chicago deep dish pizza by CC user hinnosaar on Flickr

Though pizza has its origins in Italy, immigrants brought this well-loved dish over with them when they came to America. While traditional pizza tends to have crust as thin as paper, American variants of this dish have resulted a giant pie that adherents fold in order to eat efficiently (NY style pizza), while Chicago deep dish pizza has a thick crust that is formed into a high wall that permits the piling on ingredients like cheese, copious amounts of tomato sauce and meat, and others, creating an experience that will leave you in heaven, either figuratively or literally!

While we’re on the subject of heart attack inducing meals, the Philly Cheesesteak should occupy a prime spot on your to try list before leaving the mid-Atlantic region. As suggested by its name, this sandwich was birthed in the city of Philadelphia, where back in the early 20th century, a submarine sandwich roll was toasted, and filled with fried beef, onions and cheese for the first time.

Another classic quick serve food credited to America is the hot dog, and throughout the land, variations on this tube of processed meat encased in a small bun are plenty. Iterations worth noting are the Coney Island dog, made throughout the Midwest (not New York as you might think) by pouring real chilli and diced white onions on a standard hot dog, and the Chicago style dog, which comes fully dressed in a poppy seed bun, with white onions, relish, mustard, tomato slices, dill pickles and peppers topping the all-beef frankfurter. There is NO ketchup on these dogs, and to suggest otherwise to your vendor is akin to heresy!

Southern BBQ by CC user southernfoodwaysalliance on Flickr

Across the American South, the cooking of meat, especially that of pork, is akin to a religion. Southern BBQ transcends what you know of the art, eschewing a brief dance with the grill in favour of a slow cooker that gradually brings out the flavour of the meat, with the occasional addition of wood smoke to the process to add additional character. Across the South, techniques, sauces, and meats vary greatly, so if you’re a devoted carnivore, your time here will be well spent.

In New Orleans, the mix of French and Spanish culture gave birth to Jambalaya, as paella met local foods and techniques to become a dish that binds all of Louisiana. Red jambalaya, made primarily in the city, involves tomatoes, while Cajun jambalaya, made in the bayous outside the Big Easy, do not make use of this ingredient … an important distinction to remember!

Inside-out California Rolls by CC user sql_samson on Flickr

In California, the increased immigration of Japanese to the Golden state in the aftermath of World War II led to the introduction of its world renowned cuisine to the region. This included sushi, and in time, a hybrid variant of this raw fish treat emerged, as the California Roll was born. Resembling a typical sushi roll, only inside out, with crab meat and avocado being the distinctive ingredients in its mix.

On Hawaii, the high proportion of those of Asian ancestry, combined with the American trend of quick serve food in the last half of the 20th century has given rise to a dish unique to this island state, as the Hawaiian Plate Lunch appeared on its culinary scene in the years following the end of the plantation economy, as similar meals were served during those times.

It consists of a couple scoops of white rice, potato salad, and an entree that varies in accordance with the restaurant in which it is prepared. Ahi tuna, salmon, Kalua pork, and even spam are just a few of the different choices available.

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