In honor of the birthday of our great nation, we thought we’d pay tribute to its many fine sights. As we peruse guidebooks looking for the best each country has to offer and as we beg friends, family, and even strangers for their top suggestions of what to do in the countries they’ve visited or lived in, we’ve stopped a few times to wonder how would we answer that question ourselves. If someone was coming to the U.S. for the first time and they wanted to know the top ten things they should do (without regard to time or money restraints), what would we suggest?
Here’s where we’d suggest a visitor to our country start.
10. Vermont. An odd choice to begin with but surely one of America’s best kept “secrets.” As they say, Vermont is what New England used to be. Visit the only kingdom in America (the region known as the Northeastern Kingdom), which is further claimed as what Vermont used to be. The pioneering American spirit remains strong here. Marvel at Lake Willoughby nestled in mountains, head to the Lake Champlain (the “sixth” great lake) and its many islands, and for laughs, tour the iconic Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory (free sample included).
9. Attend a solidly American sporting event. Catch a game of baseball at Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. Brave the cold and the cheeseheads in Green Bay. Join the drunken herds in the infield of the Indy 500. Or don your best hat and bet your bucks at the Kentucky Derby.
8. Hawaii. The last state is also one of the most fascinating. It’s obviously well known for its gorgeous beaches, great golf courses, rainforests and waterfalls, and overall relaxing atmosphere, so enjoy those to the fullest. But also venture to the island of Kauai to immerse yourself in the native Hawaiian culture. Head to the Big Island and hike out to mere feet from an active lava flow, or climb to the top of Mauna Kea and gaze at one of the clearest views of the heaven’s available on earth.
7. Denver, Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Home to world class skiing. Not winter? Make that world class mountain climbing. Gorgeous scenery abounds at every turn, but especially at Red Rocks, Garden of the Gods, and in southwestern Colorado, the cliffside Native American ruins at Mesa Verde. Throw in river rafting, rock climbing, snowmobiling, and so on, and the area holds many more outdoor experiences than any one trip (or less than a lifetime) can handle.
6. Go a state fair, preferably in the midwest. There’s something quintessentially American about a state fair. Livestock shows and rodeos. Sculptures made of butter or cheese or other perishable products. Quilts and homemade pies and the state’s largest watermelon. Funnel cakes and midway rides, country music stars, and racing pigs. What’s not to love?
5. Alaska. Now, this is one we ourselves haven’t yet been to, but it’s at the top of our list, and it just seems too amazing to leave off. Sail among glaciers, watch grizzlies gorge themselves on salmon, see the Northern Lights dance across the sky, spot whales surfacing in the icy water, scale the nation’s tallest peak. It’s a fantastic landscape, completely different from that found in the rest of the U.S.
4. Washington, D.C. No city has more monuments per square foot than DC. Steep yourself in all the political history you can handle, visit the Capitol, the National Archives, the White House. Throw in a fantastic array of free museums catering to every taste (and plenty more cool ones you can pay for) and you’re easily entertained for days.
3. The Grand Canyon. It’s the classic American vacation, the veritable pilgrimage every American makes, peering over the South Rim at the vast landscape. But go beyond that, make the effort to head down to the Colorado River, you know, the thing that carved that giant hole. Hike up side canyons to waterfalls. Examine the layers of rock you pass as you climb back out. It’s a marvel for good reason.
2. Drive Highway 1. Explore the best of the Golden State from this famed roadway, passing some of the most magnificent stretch of coastline in America. See movie stars and elephant seals, towering redwoods and the cliffs of Big Sur. Take some time out to explore Los Angeles, and then hop on a street car to check out the city of San Francisco.
1. New York City. There isn’t another place like it in the world. Stroll through Central park, shop in SoHo, write in your journal in Greenwich Village, eat in one of the many ethnic neighborhoods, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, take a ferry ride out and around the Statue of Liberty, peer out at it all from the Empire State Building, tour the Met or the MoMA, and just walk, walk, walk until you can’t go another step.
That would be our top ten recommendations. What are yours?