The great American experience is about so many things: bluegrass and beaches, snow-covered peaks and redwood forests, restaurant-loving cities, and big open skies.
Culture & History
American culture is often described as a consumer culture as a result of the economic growth following 1945, and the expansion of creations like shopping malls. However, the modern US is also shaped by its multiculturalism, which began in the late 1800’s when Irish and European migrants flocked to the country in the thousands. Today, society is respectful of a number of cuisines, languages, festivals and faiths that visitors can experience when traveling across the United States.
Despite its historical suppression, the Native American culture is still alive and thriving throughout the country. This is evident in the far-flung states of Alaska and Hawaii. In addition, the US also boasts an incredibly diverse regional culture. For instance, visitors can see a significantly different way of life from gaudy Southern California to preppy New England and the conservative Mississippi basin.
The Southwest is home to a fascinating array of Native American sites. To learn about America's earliest inhabitants, climb ladders to the ancient cliffside homes of Ancestral Puebloans at Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park. To experience living cultures, visit New Mexico's Taos Pueblo and northeastern Arizona's Hopi nation, or explore the Navajo tribal lands of the Four Corners region: zigzagging through the otherworldly buttes and towers of Monument Valley or scrambling down ladders with a Navajo docent into Canyon de Chelly, where farmers till the land near age-old cliff dwellings.
The USA has made tremendous contributions to the arts. Georgia O'Keeffe's wild landscapes, Robert Rauschenberg's surreal collages, Alexander Calder's elegant mobiles, and Jackson Pollock's drip paintings have entered the vernacular of 20th-century art. Chicago and New York have become veritable drawing boards for the great architects of the modern era. And from the soulful blues born in the Mississippi Delta to the bluegrass of Appalachia and Detroit's Motown sound – plus jazz, funk, hip-hop, country, and rock and roll – America has invented sounds integral to modern music.
On one evening in the US, thick barbecue ribs come piping hot at a Texas roadhouse, while chefs blend organic produce with Asian accents at award-winning West Coast restaurants. Locals get their fix of bagels and lox at a century-old deli in Manhattan's Upper West Side and, several states away, plump pancakes and fried eggs disappear under the clatter of cutlery at a 1950s-style diner. Steaming plates of lobster from a Maine pier, oysters and champagne from a California wine bar, Korean tacos out of a Portland food truck – these are just a few ways to dine à la Americana.
The United States is a melting pot of cultures as a result of the many immigrants that came here from various other countries across the globe. In turn, this makes American cuisine many things, including diverse, homey, original, unique, comfortable, gourmet, spicy, bland, casual, and formal. But most of all, when it comes to American cuisine, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and this country has established several dishes that are considered examples of American food tradition. A myriad of dishes could be listed as American, but there are a certain few that fit the quintessential image of American food.
Whether Memorial Day, July 4th, or Labor Day, families across the U.S. fire up their grills and invite friends for a good old-fashioned cookout, complete with all of the expected traditional American favorites like hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and coleslaw. Of course, there is often a rack of barbecued ribs or chicken and brisket on the grill or in the smoker slow cooking to tender perfection.
Foods born out of "Down South" traditions have become American standards. Whether fried chicken, biscuits, chicken and dumplings, chicken-fried steak and gravy, fried green tomatoes, or shrimp and grits, these dishes are popular from California to Maine. And common at Thanksgiving, cornbread and corn pudding may have southern roots but couldn't be more American. Of course, variations abound, but the heart of these foods remains the same no matter which state you are eating in.
America is the birthplace of LA, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, Boston, and New York City – each a brimming metropolis whose name alone conjures a million different notions of culture, cuisine, and entertainment. Look more closely, and the American quilt unfurls in all its surprising variety: the eclectic music scene of Austin, the easygoing charms of antebellum Savannah, the eco-consciousness of free-spirited Portland, the magnificent waterfront of San Francisco and the captivating French Quarter of jazz-loving New Orleans. Each city adds its unique style to the grand patchwork that is America.
Home to striving artists, hedge-fund moguls and immigrants from every corner of the globe, New York City is constantly reinventing itself. It remains one of the world centers of fashion, theater, food, music, publishing, advertising and finance. A staggering number of museums, parks and ethnic neighborhoods are scattered through the five boroughs. Do as every New Yorker does: hit the streets. Every block reflects the character and history of this dizzying kaleidoscope, and on even a short walk you can cross continents.
Change is afoot in this boom-and-bust city, currently enjoying a very high-profile boom. Amid the fog and the clatter of old-fashioned trams, San Francisco's diverse neighborhoods invite long days of wandering, with great indie shops, fabulous restaurants and bohemian nightlife. Highlights include exploring Alcatraz, strolling the Golden Gate, making day trips to the nearby redwoods, Pacific coastline and Wine Country, and taking at least one ride on the cable car. How cool is San Francisco? Trust us – crest that hill to your first stunning waterfront view, and you'll be hooked.
The Windy City will blow you away with its architecture, lakefront beaches and world-class museums. But it's real lure is its blend of high culture and earthly pleasures. Is there another metropolis that dresses its Picasso sculpture in local sports-team gear? Where residents queue just as long for hot dogs as for some of North America's top restaurants? Winters are brutal, but come summer, Chicago fetes the warm days with food and music festivals that make fine use of its waterfront.
Outdoors & Adventure
This is a country of road trips and great open skies, where 4 million miles of highways lead past red-rock deserts, below towering mountain peaks, and through fertile wheat fields that roll off toward the horizon. The sun-bleached hillsides of the Great Plains, the lush rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, the sultry swamplands of the South, and the scenic country lanes of New England are a few fine starting points for the great American road trip. Veer off the interstate often to discover the bucolic 'blue highways' of lore.
What makes the world's first national park so enduring? Geologic wonders, for one thing, from geysers and fluorescent hot springs to fumaroles and bubbling mud pots. Then there's the wildlife: grizzlies, black bears, wolves, elk, bison and moose, roaming across some 3500 sq miles of wilderness. Pitch a tent in Yellowstone's own Grand Canyon, admire the Upper and Lower Falls, wait for Old Faithful to blow, and hike through the primeval, fuming landscape for a real taste of what is truly the Wild West.
Yep, the rumors are true. The namesake attractions at Glacier National Park are melting away. There were 150 glaciers in the area in 1850; today there are 26. But even without the giant ice cubes, Montana's sprawling national park is worthy of an in-depth visit. Road warriors can maneuver the thrilling 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road; wildlife-watchers can scan for elk, wolves and grizzlies (but hopefully not too close); and hikers have 700 miles of trails, trees and flora – including mosses, mushrooms and wildflowers – to explore.
The Everglades unnerve. They don’t reach majestically skyward or fill your heart with the aching beauty of a glacier-carved valley. They ooze, flat and watery, a river of grass mottled by hammocks, cypress domes and mangroves. You can’t hike them, not really. To properly explore the Everglades – and to meet its prehistoric residents, like the snaggle-toothed crocodile – you must leave the safety of land. Push a canoe off a muddy bank, tamp down your fear, and explore the waterways on the Everglades’ own, unforgettable terms.
The softest, lightest snow you'll ever ski combined with outrageous scenery and every type of terrain imaginable: Western resorts are some of the best in the world. Aspen, Vail and Jackson Hole may sound like playgrounds for the rich and famous, but shredders and ski bums – and copious amounts of powder – have always found a way to keep it real. Launch off a cornice, slalom through trees, grind in a terrain park or face-plant repeatedly while learning to snowboard: one thing's certain, you'll end the day with a snow-encrusted smile.
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