Sunday, February 8, 2009

US travel

Marginal revolution posted something right up my alley today: a top five list of places to visit in the US to give the foreigner to most complete experience of America in all its diversity. Having lived in 5+ very different corners of the country and traveled extensively through the rest, comparing subcultures and regions and best travel destinations within the continental US is one of my favorite subjects.

1. New York City. I agree wholeheartedly with Cowen on this one. But I would add to this, take a drive up the Hudson River Valley from there and explore some of the little New England towns on the way. That's the feel of most of the northeast, which you definitely don't get from the city itself.

2. The Grand Canyon, Route 66 in Arizona, and southern Utah. GC and Utah makes number 5 on Cowen's list. Beautiful mountains and woods can be had anywhere, but the Grand Canyon is singularly majestic (but you HAVE to hike down in it), and the many wonderful desert parks across the southwest are unique to this region of the world. A circle around southern Utah and northern Arizona also brings you in contact with Native American, and Mexican/Spanish colonial/missionary culture, and infamous Route 66 kitsch.

3. New Orleans and the Mississippi River Valley/Delta - I haven't been to Memphis, but New Orleans is my third favorite city, so I slightly modified Cowen's #3. I'm less an authority on this region, having only spent three days in the deep south between the Florida panhandle and New Orleans and a few more days in Georgia and the Carolinas, but it's an obvious must-hit on a top 5 list of Americana. Be sure to find the blues and jazz clubs, cajun eateries, and boiled peanuts.

4. Los Angeles and San Francisco - Yes, I'm sort of cheating to include both together, but you really should explore LA, the 101, and SF for a good West Coast exposure. The cities are too vastly different to omit one. Cowen makes a good point that LA is difficult for foreigners to grasp, but that doesn't change the fact that grasping it is crucial to an overall image of the country.

5. South Dakota - This was the best single destination I could come up with that gets you into the northern plains / midwestern whitest-of-the-white-states culture. Get a hearty meal at a local diner, crash a lutheran church potluck, visit Mt. Rushmore, and eat rhubarb pie. Bonus points for visiting at harvest time and going through a corn field maze or to a tractor pull.