Oh the USA. How we love thee! We love that there is such diversity in your cities. And such character in your towns. Such majesty in your national parks and forests. Beauty on your coastline. History around every corner. Achievement. And loss. Innovation and tradition. Then there is the wildlife, from bald eagles to bison, coyotes to cougars, moose to marmots. And who can forget the variety of sporting events?. There is something for everyone in the USA. To pay tribute to America, we have collated 10 amazing US cities that we adore.
New York, New York
Take us back – every time we hear Frank Sinatra’s hit, New York New York, it makes us want to jump on a plane and head to the city that’s so good they named it twice. There are so many things to see and do, but here are five experiences not to miss.
Central Park: Start with a wander around Central Park where the sights and sounds are all amazing. Highlights include Strawberry Fields- the iconic tribute to Beatle John Lennon, Belvedere Castle that sits on Vista Rock and Central Park Zoo. The park is home to scenic hills, meadows, playgrounds, skating rinks, ball fields, and many well-known attractions. We also cannot resist the squirrels. So cute!
Get a Bird’s Eye View: Jump in a helicopter for a sky-high view over New York – you can see Manhattan’s most iconic sights, from the Empire State Building to Central Park and even catch a glimpse of the majestic Statue of Liberty. For a lower view, stroll along the High Line.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: A gift of friendship from the people of France to the US, the iconic memorial is a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886. There’s a new Liberty Island Museum.
9/11 Memorial: Such a poignant memorial paying tribute to all those who lost their lives in the 9/11 tragedy. Wander around the memorial and visit the museum home to curated artifacts, artworks and personal accounts.
Empire State Building: For bird’s-eye city views and knock out panoramas, the Empire State Building is a must visit including the 82nd floor observatory and the second-floor interactive museum that charts the building’s story from construction.
Where to Stay: The brand new Aman New York opens later this year. Then there’s Kit Kemp’s beautiful Crosby Street Hotel and The Whitby Hotel, The Ritz Carlton, The Langham, Mandarin Oriental.
Where to Dine: Crown Shy, Rezdora, Oxomoco
There’s something about this historic and hip city of Boston that makes you want to return and extend your stay each time.
Maybe it’s the intriguing history that appeals. It’s where the pilgrims landed on the Mayflower in 1620 and home of the Great Boston Tea Party, a political protest that occurred on December 16, 1773.
As well as history, it’s a sports buff haven with Fenway Park, home of the famous baseball team, the Red Sox. The Boston Marathon is also a big drawcard.
Fenway Park: The historic baseball park has been the home of the famous Red Sox since 1912. Sign up for the tour where you will learn about such things as the Green Monster, a nickname for the green painted left-field wall. Hear about the famous Red Sox players including Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and Carl Yastrzemski. You can also see the collection of more than 170,000 stadium artifacts and 150,000 photographs.
Faneuil Hall: So much history here – the marketplace and meeting hall opened in 1743. It is sometimes referred to as the cradle of liberty because of the historic speeches by Boston founders, Samuel Adams and James Otis. Today, it’s home to great food stalls, Quincy Market and street performers. It is part of Boston’s historic Freedom Trail.
Harvard University: Head to this famous university and do a tour with a student for a glimpse of college life. Check out the old buildings at Harvard Yard and Harvard Square and learn about the school’s storied past.
Boston Common: Dating from 1634, Boston Common is the oldest city park in the US. Highlights include the famous Swan boats that have been gliding across the public lagoon since 1877. Don’t miss the famous bronze ducks and ducklings. It’s based on Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book written in 1941 about the duck family that makes its home in Boston’s Public Garden.
Freedom Trail: Learn about Boston’s colourful history on the 4km Freedom Trail that winds through the city. The Trail takes you to 16 locations significant to the history of the USA. Marked largely with brick, it winds between Boston Common to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown.
Where to Stay: The Langham Boston, Mandarin Oriental Boston, Four Seasons, The Lenox Hotel.
Where to Dine: Menton, No. 9 Park, Craigie on Nine, Saltie Girl
Philadelphia was on my list to visit as my son spent six weeks there on a school exchange. We went and visited his host family a couple of years later, and enjoyed a wonderful few days seeing the sights – with locals as the tour guides. There is a lot to see in this fascinating and historic city. In fact, in 2019, 46 million people visited Greater Philadelphia. As I said, there is a LOT to see. Top of the heap on my visit was Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, followed by the Constitution in 1787. Interesting fact – there have been 27 amendments to the Constitution. We stopped by the Liberty Bell, which might be cracked but still gets its message across thanks to this inscription: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
We visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of several museums along the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and ran (well, not all of us ran) up the stairs in front of it. They are known as the ‘Rocky’ stairs, as they featured in the famous movie starring Sylvester Stallone. There is also a statue of Rocky at the bottom of the stairs.
We dined on Philly cheesesteaks – the best two in the city are found at Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks, admired Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River and ventured out of town to experience the Amish communities in Lancaster. I still use the items I bought from the various shops.
Next time we visit, I will go to the Museum of the American Revolution, former prison Eastern State Penitentiary, and go back to Independence National Historical Park, to delve deeper into The Constitution now that I have seen Hamilton and know all about the role Alexander Hamilton played in framing it.
Where to Stay: The Rittenhouse, The Element and The W.
Where to Dine: Geno’s Steaks, Bridget Foys, Parc and Ralph’s.
New Orleans, Louisiana
There is no city in the USA like New Orleans. It goes by the name of the Crescent City, the Big Easy or NOLA (which stands for New Orleans Louisiana), but whatever you call it, New Orleans is one big, beautiful, mishmash of a place. Interesting fact – Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana off Napoleon for a staggering $15million in 1803. It is a cultural hotpot with so many different faces. From the elegant historic façades of the French Quarter to the Garden District, Treme, Fauborg Marigny, and then there is the mighty Mississippi itself, which was the reason this place was ever settled.
The French Quarter, or Vieux Carre, consists of 13 blocks on the Register of Historic Places. It doesn’t take long to get used to stepping around musicians on the well-walked footpaths of Royal Street, which is where most street musicians play. There are banjo pluckers, brass bands, violinists, sax players and just about every other kind of instrument imaginable. Then there is the music indoors as well.
Bourbon Street has some wonderful clubs including the iconic Preservation Hall, which was established in 1961 to protect, preserve and honour traditional New Orleans jazz, and Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse. The people-watching as you stroll down the street is almost as entertaining as the music. Especially if they have been drinking beverages such as the bright red Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s or the Hand Grenade served up at the Tropical Isle.
Frenchman Street is where the locals go for their music, and their slightly less colourful drinks, with small places like Snug Harbor, the Spotted Cat, d.b.a and Apple Barrel offering a constant stream of top-shelf jazz performers late into the night.
If you want to dine in the footsteps of celebrities, choose Antoine’s in St Louis Street, or Brennan’s. Tennessee Williams went to Brennan’s every day for a breakfast of eggs, grits and Bananas Foster accompanied by a jug of martinis.
There is so much to see and do in New Orleans. Sign up for a walking tour or a bike tour around the city to learn about legends such as Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. Ride a tram through the Garden District, visit the National World War II Museum and cruise up the Mississippi on a paddle steamer. Do a cemetery tour to St. Louis Number 1 and Lafayette Number 1. Also head out of town to visit plantations along the Great River Road such as Laura and Oak Alley, and do a swamp tour with Cajun Encounters to get eye-to-eye with some ‘gators, wild boar and raccoons.
One thing that is a must – bite into a beignet. While most tourists opt to visit Café Du Monde at Jackson Square, I love Café Beignet in Royal Street.
Where to Stay: The Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette, The Roosevelt, Soniat House
Where to Dine: Brennan’s, Antoine’s, The Courtyard of the Two Sisters, Compère Lapin
Boise, the capital of Idaho, is one of those places that makes you fall in love with it straight away.
It has so much green space that it is known as the City of Trees. It also has a lot of history, and is easy to walk or ride around.
One place we love is the Boise River Green Belt. We hire electric scooters that are placed conveniently around the city, and explore a slice of the 40-kilometre long trail.
It is so pretty alongside the river, cottonwood trees drop fluffy cotton balls like snow. The track gives access to several of Boise’s gorgeous parks. We come across a pair of deer, the moving Idaho Fallen Firefighters Memorial Park, a memorial to Ann Franks and watch some serious white water rafters tackling the waves at the Boise Whitewater Park by the Greenbelt.
We see where the wagons drove through on the Oregon Trail, visit the old Idaho Penitentiary, which is said to be haunted. The tour is fascinating and we find out that it hosted four Australian “guests” during its many hard years. It is quite creepy going into the cells.
In town, we admire the stunning Capitol building – the only one in the US heated by geothermal heat – and also love the view up to the Capitol from the Old Boise Train Depot.
The city has a rich thread of Basque culture, with the Basque block brimming with Basque restaurants such as Bardenay, and the home of the Basque Museum. Boise also has the Jaialdi Basque Festival, the world’s largest celebration of Basque culture, next held in July 26-31, 2022. Another big event is the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, held in September.
Our last stop is the World Center Birds of Prey, home of the Peregrine Foundation, where we learn about how the peregrine falcon was saved from extinction, and see the world’s biggest falconry archive.
Where to Stay: Hotel 43, The Inn at 500, The Grove Hotel
Where to Dine: Telaya, Chandler’s Steakhouse, Bardenay
Nashville was so much more than I imagined it would be. No wonder it is known as the Music City. I hankered to go to Nashville after watching the TV show of the same name and loved visiting The Bluebird Cafe, The Ryman and the Grand Ole Opry. To get into the history of Nashville’s music credibility, visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum with its cleverly designed exterior. It looks like bass-clef from the air and the windows replicate a piano keyboard.
Inside, it contains a treasure trove of country music history – highlights for me are Elvis’ Cadillac with its diamond-encrusted exterior, Taylor Swift’s tour bus where you can actually record a song.
Don’t miss the actual Hall of Fame in the Rotunda, then head over the road to see the Walk of Fame. Book in for the tour of RCA Studio B, where Elvis’ spirit is so strong. Sitting in the studio where he recorded so many hits, with the piano still there is spine-tingling. Especially when the lights are turned off and Are You Lonesome Tonight started playing. It was a special moment.
Inside, it contains a treasure trove of country music history – highlights for me are Elvis’ Cadillac with its diamond-encrusted exterior, Taylor Swift’s tour bus where you can actually record a song. Another place that has helped the careers of people like Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and Carole King, is the Bluebird Café, a nondescript building tucked in a small suburban shopping strip. You’ll have to book ahead and it is hard to get in – but worth it!
I also loved the lively Broadway area with its live music and Honky Tonks, the life-size replica of the Parthenon, the views over the Cumberland River, the street art, The Fisk Museum and the beautiful Belle Meade Mansion, with a history in breeding thoroughbreds, making wine and now bourbon.
Where to Stay: Renaissance Nashville, The Hermitage, The Hutton, The Noelle
Where to Dine: Hattie B’s, The Catbird Seat, Husk
The stunning city of Chicago often known as the windy city, is nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The city is also known for its stunning range of architecture – Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright left their mark here. It also has a great art scene and fabulous museums.
Sports lovers are well catered for with the Chicago Bears in American football, the Chicago White Sox and Cubs in baseball, and the Chicago Bulls in basketball.
Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs, was built in 1914 and is the second-oldest Major League Baseball park in the US, second only to Fenway Park in Boston. Ballpark tours are conducted in-season, when you can visit the press box and field, as well as the dugouts if there is no game that day.
Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean”, is one of Chicago’s most popular sights. The monumental work of art anchors the city’s downtown park, reflecting the city’s famous skyline and the surrounding green space. Here’s everything you need to know about The Bean, including where it came from and where to see it.
Museum of Science and Industry
At the north end of Jackson Park is the Museum of Science and Industry, founded in 1933, and arguably the most impressive museum in Chicago. It is devoted to the application of natural laws in technological and industrial development.
Learn about Chicago’s colourful history and how it became named as “the city of architecture” with exhibits about its many diverse neighbourhoods, housing types, leading architects and current projects.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Founded in 1879, this is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the US. It features more than 300,000 iconic works such as Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic.
Where to Stay: The Langham Chicago, The Peninsula, Four Seasons.
Where to Dine: Lulu Café, Tzuco,Venteux
Washington, District of Columbia
This city, named after George Washington, the first President, is awash with monuments, museums and galleries. The National Mall is unmissable. This is America’s most visited national park, with centuries of history represented in the sombre and beautiful monuments along the three kilometre stretch. It runs from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial. See the Washington Monument obelisk built to honour George Washington and the imposing Lincoln Memorial with its 36 marble columns, and the statue of the man himself, sitting in contemplative pose. Take time to read the words of the Gettysburg Address etched in the wall, as well as the views over the Mall and the Reflecting Pool. Then there is the memorial to Martin Luther King, making sure we never forget his I Have a Dream speech so passionately given at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. Also, see memorials to Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, various war memorials, museums, galleries and of course, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. You can do tours here on bikes and Segways, and there are night tours too.
One of my favourite places, and perhaps the most surprising, is the Library of Congress, which dates back to 1800 and is the oldest federal cultural institution in the USA. It is the biggest library in the world, with 164 million items on approximately 1,350 kilometres of bookshelves. Highlights include the Thomas Jefferson library, the stunning Great Hall, the Waldseemüller map found in 1507 in Bavaria – the first map to show the word ‘America’, the Gutenberg Bible and the reading room. There are also handwritten speeches by Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln – all of which you can see online including letters from George Washington. You can read the now digitized collections of 23 early Presidents. From here, walk through the tunnel to the Capitol and do a tour of this iconic building which includes the Crypt, the stunning Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall. Take time to watch the fascinating movie, Out of Many, One. Take time to visit the National Archives Museum, where you can see the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Venture across the Potomac for a sobering visit to Arlington Cemetery, the Pentagon and the Pentagon 911 Memorial. A little further afield, visit Mount Vernon. Visitors today not only can pay their respects to the founding father of America, but also can see what life was like in an 18th-century plantation, browsing through the house itself, the spectacular grounds and gardens, the distillery and gristmill, the many outbuildings, and most importantly, the tombs where George, his wife Martha, and family members rest in peace.
Where to Stay: The Hay-Adams, The Jefferson Hotel, Four Seasons
Where to Dine: Minibar, Masseria, Blue Duck Tavern
Las Vegas, Nevada
There’s nothing like the bright lights of Las Vegas and those spectacular shows. It’s billed as the entertainment centre of the US and known for its mega casino-hotels with stunning architecture, fountains galore and even a Venice look-alike canal. The Paris Hotel boasts it’s own Eiffel Tower. Settled in 1905, it was known as Sin City, but these days it hosts huge conventions and has a great buzz. Book ahead for shows.
Check out Some Quirky Museums
Visit the Mob Museum for everything you have ever wanted to know about the mob! It’s a fun look at how life was in the real Sin City days. It’s ironic it’s located in the old federal courthouse and post office. A few years ago an amazing speakeasy was added to the Museum. The Underground is accessed by a The Neon Museum showcases some of the retired neon strip signs from hotels along the Strip.
Fancy a Fountain and Bird’s Eye View
The Bellagio Fountains are an attraction in themselves and have starred in many films and TV series. They dance every 15-30 minutes to a different tune. The High Roller wheel provides an excellent birds’ eye view over Las Vegas.
Zip away on a Grand Canyon helicopter tour including Hoover Dam. The steep-sided Grand Canyon carved by the Colorado River is a spectacular site. There are lots of hikes and a geological museum. It’s an unforgettable sight as you land in the bottom of the canyon.
The Stratosphere Tower
Heart-pounding thrill rides are on offer including the SkyJump, Big Shot, X Scream, and Insanity. The views are vest from the Skypod and the Top of the World Restaurant is great for a bite to eat with a spectacular view.
Book a Show
Las Vegas is the home of entertainment and you’ll have a chance to see stars performing and the latest shows. Cirque du Soleil has draw-dropping productions and there’s magic and tribute shows,
Where to stay: Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace and The Venetian.
Where to eat: Mizumi, Bazaar Meat by Jose Andrez, Bardot Brasserie.
San Francisco, California
Known as one of the most beautiful cities in the US, San Francisco is a fabulous place to visit with its iconic Golden Gate Bridge spanning the Golden Gate Strait.
It is also a foodies heaven with fabulous restaurants and eateries and great public markets.
San Francisco is famous for its cable cars that as they go up and down the steep hills. They star in movies, series or even postcards.
The infamous prison has featured in movies and songs. In 1972 it was taken over by the National Park Service, and it is now a popular tourist attraction. The prison housed some of dangerous offenders including the mob boss, Al Capone. Set in the middle of San Francisco Bay, it was almost impossible to escape from and was considered the highest security prison in the US.
Golden Gate Bridge
Try walking or cycling across the bridge to get a real feel of the size and beauty of the bridge. The views while crossing the bridge are stunning and provide plenty of photo opportunities.
Learn about the history, science, and engineering of the Bridge’s construction through interactive and stationery exhibits.
This is the place that invented the Fortune Cookie that has become a part of Chinese meals across the world. Walk through the streets and local markets before trying some of the best Chinese food in the world. The area is very well known for Peking Duck and a variety of dumplings. Try the egg tarts at the Golden Gate Bakery for a unique San Francisco experience.
Ferry Building Marketplace
This is the top attraction for foodies in the city. The building acts as a public food market that is home to a number of small food stores, restaurants, and snack stops. You will find food from all around the world in this market.
Referred to as a hands-on learning laboratory, children and adults alike will learn something at the Exploratorium. The museum has over 600 interactive exhibits across a wide range of subjects from ancient history, to science, and the universe. Plan to spend at least a full day here to get the most out of the exhibit.
Where to Stay: Ritz Carlton, Fairmont San Francisco, Taj Campton Place, The Handlery
Where to Dine: Nopa, Italian Homemade Company, Foreign Cinema