Your ultimate guide to the

USA

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The towering skyscrapers of the Big Apple and rippling prairie of the midwest, New Orleans’ swinging jazz bars and the endless appeal of Hollywood, where every waitress is an aspiring model and every busker the next big thing… welcome to our USA travel guide.

 

Get your own slice of the American dream by planning a trip to the country that gave us coca-cola, country music and cowboys, as well as countless other icons besides. Who hasn’t fantasised about hailing a yellow cab after a Fifth Avenue shopping spree or catching a gig at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe?

 

So where to start when planning your American adventure?

 

Here are our picks of the best things to see and do in the USA.

Best way to see the USA

Whether you’re California dreaming or in a New York state of mind, the USA is so sprawling you’ll need to plan your trip carefully.

Find some inspiration with our curated guide of the best ways to see the USA.

Pick your coast – east vs. west

Given that it is a similar size to the whole of Europe, it should come as no surprise that America’s coasts have very different personalities – and are arch rivals in everything from baseball to rap! But which is the coast for you?

New York, Miami and Washington DC are all among the best cities to visit on the USA’s east coast, but there are plenty of lesser known gems to discover too. Fort Lauderdale comes into its own in summer and Savannah, Georgia, oozes historic charm. For culture lovers, the East Coast is difficult to beat.

The sunshiney West Coast is the laid-back little sister, with thousands of miles of wild coastline and creative hubs such as San Francisco and Portland, Oregan, one of the USA’s coolest cities and without doubt one of the best places to visit on the West Coast.

Map your bucket list experiences

There are enough incredible places to visit in the USA to fill a bucket encyclopedia, let alone a humble list. Working out what your priorities are and sticking to them is the key to getting the most from your trip.

A few unmissable experiences include wine tasting in the Napa Valley, singing along to a Broadway show in New York and paying your respects to Elvis Presley AKA The King at his glitzy mansion in Memphis. And of course, climbing the Statue of Liberty has to be one of the top things to do in America.

Make the most of a season’s splendour

The best time to visit the USA depends on what sort of holiday you’re looking for…

Its snow-dusted peaks make Aspen one of the USA’s best places to visit in winter, but we think it might actually be even better in late summer when wild meadows carpet the forests and the literary festival brings colourful characters to town.

With its cobbled fishing villages and yacht club, the island of Nantucket is one of the best places to visit in the USA in July. Read why we think Nantucket might just be the cutest town in the country here. 

And for Autumn colours? Head to West Virginia to see three-quarters of the state cloaked in golden forests.

Best places to visit

From rippling plains to up-and-coming cities and ferocious deserts, we have scoured all 50 states to bring you a taster of the best places to visit in the US of A.

So what are you waiting for? Get planning your trip with our handy geographical guide.

North East

Don your pearls and twin set for a visit to New England, home of modern day America, where white clapboard mansions and marina’s filled with yachts hint that you are in some of the USA’s wealthiest states.

Brisk sea breezes and charming seaside hotels make Martha’s Vineyard one of the best places to visit on the USA’s East Coast in summer, while nowhere does Christmas like New York.
Think ice skating rinks, the lavish Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree and watching fluffy snowflakes fall as you sip a hot chocolate in a cozy deli. Find out why New York is the American capital of culture with our complete New York City guide here.

South

Is any region in America as divisive as the South? The very names Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi on the one hand evoke debutante balls and blue evenings whiled away on the porches of historic mansions, but on the other blood, sweat and violent subjugation.

While learning about the civil rights movement against the backdrop of ex-plantations and rolling cotton fields is still a major reason to visit the South, it is also home to fabulously cosmopolitan cities such as Nashville and New Orleans, where every bar feels like a party.

Wherever you go, a warm Southern welcome is a given…

Midwest

Nature lovers will be in heaven in the Midwest, a landscape of rippling plains and mysterious wildernesses that seem as if they must go on forever.

It’s here, in America’s heartland, that you’ll find the ghosts of legends such as Abraham Lincoln and Al Capone. The Great Lakes are partially in this region (and partially in Canada) and in summer the glassy waters of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan are broken by kakaks, while the surrounding forests are prime hiking territory.

It’s also a stronghold of native American culture, with key sights such as Hiawatha Forest and several tribes still living a traditional lifestyle in Wisconsin.

West

Make like the pioneers and head West, where the deserted moonscapes of Georgia O’Keefe’s New Mexico contrast with the glitz of LA and moody beaches of Oregon.

Being a tech-wizard is more common than wearing flowers in your hair in San Francisco these days, but its creaking trams and colourful wooden houses still make it one of our top 20 places to visit in the USA. For more ideas, check out our list of must visit Southern California hotspots. 

Head even further west and say ‘aloha’ to the dazzling archipelago of Hawaii. Interested in American culture from an island perspective? Time your visit to coincide with these unmissable annual events. 

Top things to do

With its big, bold culture and hugely varied landscapes, America looms large in the imagination of most travellers. Whether your penchant is for sipping mint juleps at Gatsby-esque parties or road tripping Route 66 in a vintage Cadillac, you’ll never run out of inspiring ideas.

Here are some of the best things to see and do in America, no matter which way you’re inclined.

Roadtrips & Nature Experiences

From Jack Kerouac’s On The Road to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in no other culture are road trips so ingrained as the USA. So fill up on coffee and donuts, turn up the radio and set out on one of these great American road trips beyond Route 66. 

With soaring mountains, plunging chasms and everything in between, America is not short of natural wonders. Make the most of Yosemite National Park with our beginners guide or scour Alaska’s elusive inside passage for sea otters and killer whales.

Famous Landmarks & World Class Attractions

One of the top ten things to see in the USA is the Grand Canyon, but there are countless other famous landmarks to explore. During the summer months the 60-foot high faces of American presidents carved into Mount Rushmore are dramatically illuminated at night, while the Statue of Liberty is just one of New York’s many must see landmarks.

If travelling with the family, a visit to Disneyland California is a must. Make sure your planning is on point with our step-by-step guide. 

Skiing & Snowboarding

One of the best things to do in American in winter is hit the slopes and you’ll be amazed by the number of ski resorts on offer. Cosying up in a mountain cabin with a bourbon is the perfect end to a long-day’s sport.

California’s North Lake Tahoe is a winter wonderland of frosted pine forests and fabulous slopes, while Colorado’s Steam Boat Springs is where cowboy culture meets Olympian-quality skiing.

Micro-Cultures – Music, Food and More

Motown, soul, jazz and country – America birthed all these music genres and many more besides. If you’re a music fan looking for cool things to do in the USA, head to Austin, Texas, where 250 live music venues swing every night of the week.

Or make a music odyssey to New Orleans (NOLA to its friends), where the sultry sound of jazz seems to float out of every cellar. The Spotted Cat Music Club is still a must visit.

Discover Seattle’s burgeoning gastro scene with our epic 24 hour food guide or window shop for you dream mid-century home during Palm Springs’ Modernism Week.

Choosing your accommodation

America is a country with wanderlust in its genes, so it’s no surprise that there are an overwhelming number of places to stay.

Have you always fancied checking into a retro motel, or are you more of a mountain lodge type? Does lounging beside a five-star pool appeal? How about a luxurious wellness resort in the desert?

Americans prize themselves on customer service, so wherever you go you can expect smiling staff, sweet treats left on your pillow at night and marshmallow-soft beds. But don’t forget to tip!

Best Hotels in the USA

So, which is the best USA hotel for you? Some things to consider are location, facilities and price.

If being able to walk to the main attractions is important to you, opt for something in the city centre such as the Ace Hotel, which is in the heart of Old New Orleans. If you’re after something unique, why not try a hotel in a heritage building such as Camp Comfort, an abandoned bowling alley in deepest Texas.

You can also get your fix of old-school Americana at the new breed of refurbished motels which are currently sweeping the country. With retro furniture, craft cocktail bars and instagram-perfect fitouts, they are the perfect way to combine value for money with an authentic American experience. Try the Anvil Hotel, The Verb, The Vagabond and the Phoenix Hotel, which is drenched in rock’n’roll history.

Luxury accommodation

If fine-dining, suites bigger than Manhattan apartments, infinity pools and butlers sound up your street, you’re going to love the USA’s luxury hotel offering.

The Grand Dame of American hotels is The Plaza in New York City, which has been setting the standard sky high for more than a century.

With its 1920s facade modelled on a French castle, the Chateau Marmont is as star-studded and glitzy as you would expect from West Hollywood’s most famous hotel.

And if you’re looking to go large in Vegas, you can’t miss the Venetian-Palazzo, an absurdly ostentatious complex with more than 4,000 rooms and several exact replicas of Venice’s most famous landmarks.

Camping

Whether you get a thrill from heading into the wilderness with barely more than a sleeping bag or prefer your camping experience to include a canopied bed and hot bath, there’s no shortage of opportunities to sleep under the stars in the USA.

With its smouldering geysers and hills haunted by elk, Yellowstone National Park is one of the best camping spots in America. Make the most of your experience with our quick list of seven things to do in Yellowstone. 

Joshua Tree National Park is another epic option, with its swathes of desert and arboreal wolves, while Montana’s Glacier National Park boasts 700 miles of hiking trails.

Best places to eat in the USA

Think of American cuisine and burgers, hotdogs and stacks of pancakes covered in maple syrup are probably the first things that spring to mind. But while these classic dishes are all popular (and delicious!), there’s so much more to contemporary American cuisine.

Take food trucks for example, which have exploded everywhere from Oahus to Nashville, and typically combine carefully-sourced local products with avant-garde recipes executed with panache.

America’s food culture has a magpie quality to it, with dishes and recipes borrowed from all over the world. Whet your appetite with our bite-sized guide.

BBQ in the south

On summer evenings the air in southern states such as Arkansas and Virginia is thick with the tantalising smell of barbecues, the backbone of traditional American cuisine.

There are subtle differences in regional styles. In North Carolina, meat is traditionally served with apple cider vinegar sauce and hush puppies because of the quantity of orchards. Memphis ‘cues favour sweet, sticky molasses glaze while Alabama opts for white sauce, made from mayonnaise and vinegar.

So which are the tastiest joints? Try Cattleack Barbeque in Dallas, Lewis Barbecue in Charleston and Snow’s BBQ in Texas.

Deep-pan pizza in Chicago

Cheesier, moister and all together more decadent than its traditional equivalent, deep-pan pizza has been the Windy City’s culinary calling card since the 1940s.
Try it by the slice at The Art of Pizza, phone ahead with your order at Burt’s Place and don’t miss Pequod’s famous caramelized cheese crusts.

Roll up your sleeves, grab plenty of napkins and get stuck in.

Great wine in California

Almost 90% of the USA’s wine is grown in California. All that sunshine, mineral rich soil and a long, proud wine making tradition nourishes a wide variety of grapes.

Head to the northern central coast wineries to try California Chardonnay, the Napa Valley for world-famous Cabernet Sauvignon and the Sierra Foothills for the quintessential American grape, Zinfandel. Alternately, tour them all with a road trip. Here’s our perfect route.

Gumbo, Oysters and Jambalaya in New Orleans

New Orleans’ regional food is like an edible history lesson.

Gumbo is a melting pot of different cultures. The name comes from a West African word, the dark roux sauce is typically French and it pays more than a nod to the Creole cooking of the Caribbean.

Arnaud’s Restaurant does a delicious seafood version and has live jazz most nights.

Gulf of Mexico oysters are notoriously plump and flavoursome. Those at Pêche Seafood Grill are always sustainably sourced. We love ours with a few drops of Tabasco and you can read all about Louisiana’s hot sauce scene here.

When they colonised New Orleans, homesick Spanish settlers tried to recreate paella with local ingredients – and Jambalaya was born. Coops Place is a no frills bar that serves a rabbit version that’s packed with local seasonings.

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