The 49th state has little in common with the contiguous American states down south. Alaska is a vast, sparsely populated, thoroughly untamed wilderness rich in wildlife and extraordinary natural beauty. Not many people take the expensive flight north or drive the magnificent 1,500 mile Alaskan highway, but those who do are drawn by the spirit of adventure and the prospect of uncolonised, open space.
The majority of the population (around 500,000) live in either the capital Juneau or largest city Anchorage, both worth exploring in their own right. The interior town of Fairbanks is your best bet to see the aurora borealis; a natural phenomenon best described as a dancing veil of magical light. Weather wise, the best time to visit Alaska is Jun – Aug when the days are long and warm.
The islands of Hawaii fit most people’s image of tropical paradise, with perfect beaches, great waves and all the trappings of a luxury holiday in the sun. Most visitors arrive and stay in Honolulu, capital and chief resort town of the Island of Oahu.
Venturing to the other islands, though, brings rewards such as the extreme diversity and lush magnificence of tiny Kauai, or the steaming volcanoes of Hawaii (“the Big Island”). Weather is good all year round, although rainfall tends to be higher between December and March.
New York City
They say that if you visit New York City, you see the world. Certainly, nowhere else offers such diversity in such a compact and exciting way – and no other city has the energy and arrogance to make it work so well. NY has outstanding museums, cultural icons such as the Statue of Liberty, and even a vast dose of parkland right in the middle of Manhattan. You’ve got the centre of American commerce sitting alongside Greenwich Village’s community of gentrified bohemia, and you can see Broadway and baseball all in one day.
New England was the site of some of America’s first settler colonies and today is home to Ivy League colleges and charming Boston. But every autumn this weight of history gives way to tones of red and gold as the indigenous trees prepare for winter. It’s a festival of Kodak moments and a truly beautiful and effortless natural spectacle. Peak foliage season is traditionally the second week in October when there is good viewing throughout Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
Known as “the Big Easy”, and pronounced “Nawlins” by locals, this is the regal Queen of the South and the home of jazz, Mardi Gras, and Cajun cooking. New Orleans has a distinctly exotic air about it, created by the spicy mix of European and Caribbean influences, and visitors during festival time – particularly Mardi Gras in February/March – are swept away by the exuberance and unleashed capacity for decadence on the part of participants. During quieter months, the jazz and Cajun/Creole cuisine will seduce you all the same. The area around Bourbon Street and the French Quarter gets most of the visitors.
The fastest growing city in America, Las Vegas is a triumphant celebration of gambling, entertainment and excess. The pyramids here are bigger than Egypt’s, and the lights burn brighter than the sun.
It’s a wonderfully surreal experience to wander The Strip at night and explore the cavernous theme casinos, each a vale of broken dreams, good times and wild nights in Vegas. Main attractions include the Luxor casino, getting married by an Elvis impersonator, and catching a title fight or major concert. Bottom line: have fun and don’t take it seriously. Apart from marriage – that is legally binding.
Many visitors to the USA choose this as their favourite city. San Francisco is certainly picturesque, being spread out over absurdly steep hills against a backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge and often shrouded in mist rolling in from the Pacific.
The city has a lot to offer besides its setting: outstanding cuisine, exciting and distinct neighbourhoods, and a funky, liberal culture quite unusual in many American cities. Highlights include Alcatraz Prison, hippy Haight-Ashbury, the fantastic cable cars and the beauty of Golden Gate Park. The touristic area of Fisherman’s Wharf meanwhile caters to families and visitors seeking more mainstream attractions.
It’s not really a city, more like another world. Home to the glitz of Hollywood, the glam of Venice Beach and the multi-lane madness of the highways. This City of Angels doesn’t reveal its heavenly side easily: but if you spend some time looking, this exciting collection of people and cultures will fascinate and inspire you.
Highlights include magical Disneyland, opulent Beverley Hills, Hollywood Boulevard and the palm-fronted lifestyles of Malibu and Santa Monica. The best way to see the city is by car, as distances between attractions can be great and, besides, in LA you ain’t nothing without some wheels.
Florida is chiefly known for Disneyworld (in Orlando), great beaches and of course, orange juice. While these stereotypes are true, there is a lot more to this energetic, ethnically diverse state.
Linked by an umbilical highway snaking over the sea, Key West sits at the tip of the peninsula enjoying its sunsets and mellow lifestyle. Miami, near the bottom of the mainland, is a gorgeous Latino city with all the palm trees and beachfront you could want. The Everglades National Park, near Fort Myers, is a unique ecosystem and even home to its own species of alligator. The sun shines on Florida’s beaches all year round, with the best resort being a toss-up between Daytona and Fort Lauderdale.
The Grand Canyon
There is a strange paradox to America’s greatest natural spectacle: its sheer size and majesty is simply not possible to grasp in a short visit and consequently many people feel slightly disappointed as they peer over the rim at the canyon floor a dizzying mile below.
To really appreciate it you need to hike down to explore the base or ride the rapids of the Colorado River. Alternatively, take a helicopter ride and get a bird’s-eye view of this astounding natural phenomenon.
Redwood National Park, CA
Enter the forest and you enter another world. The Giant Redwood sequoia trees reach heights of up to 360ft (110m) and their massive basal girths can be large enough to drive a car through.
The canopies tower above, creating a constant temperature and shielding the forest floor from both sun and rain. Your entire sense of physical proportion changes as you feel utterly dwarfed by these majestic giants. Even the most hardened city slicker can’t fail to be impressed.
This is a city built on power and ambition, where government is the local industry and “Old Glory” waves proudly from every rooftop.
The nation’s capital is home to the White House and the incomparable Smithsonian Institute, one of the world’s greatest museums. Many key attractions are centred on the Mall, where there are impressive monuments to Washington and Lincoln as well as the poignant Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial known simply as “The Wall”. Georgetown is the oldest neighbourhood, and the best place for a night out.
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
This park preserves 265,000 acres of wilderness around the magnificent Rocky Mountains. The area contains few roads and no shops, houses or hotels, and is justly regarded as a paradise for lovers of the outdoors and those seeking respite from civilisation.
The main attractions, as you might expect, are hiking, climbing, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The village of Estes Park, 75 miles north of Denver, is the gateway to the reserve and although rather commercialised, it is a good place to pick up supplies and arrange your excursions into the park. Don’t wander in ill-prepared.
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