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The US is a vast country consisting of 50 states, 5 territories, 326 Native American reservations and other minor possessions in addition to a federal district - Washington, DC - which also happens to be its capital. About 86% of its land is contiguous and colloquially known as ‘the mainland’. It is the third-largest country in the world, by both area and population. To the north, it is flanked by Canada and to the south, by Mexico. On the east and west coasts, it meets the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, respectively.
Whether you visit to trace its fascinating history, savor its metropolitan tastes or be lost in its great wildernesses, you are in for a life-changing adventure. Driving in the US is a must-do, with endless highways, scenic roads and landmarks to explore. You can book your USA car rental in advance with Enjoy Travel. It’s impossible to list out everything you can do while in the US, but here is a list of the most iconic sights – and foods – you should definitely give a shot!
Guide to the US
The history of the United States is long and varied. The paleo-Indians migrated to the continent around 12,000 years ago and settled all over the nation. When the first European settlers arrived, they found flourishing First Nation (also known as Native American) tribes all across the nation, before displacing them by force. The United States of America, also known as the USA or simply US, was born in 1776, when the Founding Fathers led a revolution against the British Empire which owned thirteen colonies in North America. Following the revolution, America went through multiple transitions that changed it from a remote agricultural country to the economic and military superpower that it is today. Since then, it has been involved in a number of wars, including a Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Cold War.
The country has contributed to the growth of every recognized field – from medicine to music. Since it originated as a country of immigrants, it has evolved a blend of cultures that retains its European, Asian, African and indigenous roots while also projecting a pan-American identity.
Climate & Geography
As you journey from one end of the country to another, you’ll find a range of climatic zones. The eastern coast and the deciduous forests further inland get progressively more temperate, with cool winters and hot summers. The northern part of the Great Plains, one of North America’s main geographic regions, has a humid continental climate, with four distinct seasons and extreme temperatures.
To the southwest, you’ll find some of America’s most famous deserts, and the climate is mostly dry and hot – except on the Californian coast, which has wet winters to counteract the summer heat. The northern state of Alaska, of course, is mostly in the Arctic zone, with a touch of oceanic climate (mild summers, cool winters) in its southern regions. The Pacific Northwest, too, experiences oceanic climate. Hawaii, the Gulf States, the South Atlantic, as well as the Caribbean and Pacific territories all fall within the tropical zone. On the whole, the US has four seasons: winter (December to February), spring (March to May), summer (June to August) and fall (September to November).
Some of the country’s major geographic features include the Great Plains in the interior, Rocky Mountains to the west, Appalachian Mountains near the northeastern border (close to Canada’s Great Lakes), arid desert regions in the southwest, and the snows of Alaska. The highest peak in the whole of North America is Alaska’s Mount Denali, while the lowest point is California’s Death Valley. From north to south runs the Mississippi-Missouri River system, the fourth longest in the world.
What to visit in the US?
See the Grand Canyon
To begin your journey in the US, visit the Grand Canyon, one of the world’s foremost natural wonders. This magnificent geological formation, created by the Colorado River basin, showcases millennia of both natural as well as human history. Not only can you marvel at the gleaming walls of rock as you balance on a tumbling kayak, but you can also spend time exploring the Grand Canyon National Park and learning about the history of the area’s First Nation tribes. If you’re on a journey of self-discovery and reflection, visit the more remote North Rim of the park. If you’re just here to spend time with family and friends, you’ll want to see the South Rim. Spend as much time as you can exploring the gorges, taking helicopter rides, sailing down the Colorado River, and looking down from the Skywalk – a glass bridge that hangs over a drop of over 150 metres. Also, keep an eye out for coyotes and mountain cats!
Discover Natural History
Nature and history lovers should definitely spend a day at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History! This massive museum, which houses over 126 million exhibits, might be familiar if you’ve watched Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum. Here you can find skeletons and reconstructions of everything from dinosaurs to insects and from mammals to meteorites. In addition to flora and fauna, the museum also offers tributes to past human civilizations such as Egypt, Rome and the Inca. It isn’t possible to see everything in a single day, so plan your route through the museum’s galleries – spread over three floors – carefully. Three of the most famous exhibits on display are the African Bush Elephant, the Hope Diamond and the Allende Meteorite. To really appreciate how small our species is, take a picture of yourself next to Phoenix, a life-size model of a North Atlantic Right Whale!
Explore Yellowstone National Park
Another must-visit destination for anyone who loves the great outdoors is the Yellowstone National Park. Not only is it home to a variety of beautiful species – bison, grizzly bears and elk, to name a few – but it is also special because it is situated on top of a supervolcano. Head over to the park to spend some time appreciating the sheer power of the earth’s core and witnessing the micro-eruptions of the 50-odd natural geysers spread across Yellowstone. The most famous of these is Old Faithful, so named because it erupts at almost perfectly regular intervals. There are also several ponds of sulphur that are beautiful to look at, with their blue and green hues sparkling in the sunlight (though you wouldn’t want to dip your toes in those!
Spend a day at Niagara Falls
How about seeing one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls? Niagara Falls, located on the border between Canada and the US, is actually a set of three waterfalls – Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil Falls. The tallest of these is American Falls, which stands proud at 180 feet. Since 1951, jumping over the falls has been illegal, but you can still experience their wonder by signing up for the Maid of the Mist boat tour, which goes directly under the collapsing sheet of water. The Niagara Falls State Park is the country’s oldest state park, and is complete with guided tours to let you experience the waterfalls at their finest. Plan to spend at least half a day here.
Spot the stars in Hollywood
America is often regarded as the most culturally impactful country in the world. A large reason for this is its movie industry, Hollywood. To visit the centre of all the cinematic action, fly to Los Angeles, California, and take a walk down Hollywood Boulevard. Starting from the western end of the city, in the Hollywood Hills West district, it runs through the heart of the city, taking you through plazas filled with the landmarks frequented by movie stars. Whether you’re drawn to the stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame or to the world-famous Dolby Theatre – where the Academic Awards ceremonies have been held since 2002 – it’s quite possible you’ll run into someone from the big pictures! On the nearby Mount Lee, you can see the giant Hollywood Sign, which appears in a number of pop culture references. No trip to the US is complete without a scenic photograph of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The statue, dedicated by France to the US in 1886, depicts Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty, breaking free of her chains (a nod to President Lincoln, who legally abolished slavery). In one hand, she raises a torch, and in the other, she clutches a tablet inscribed with the date of American independence. If you want to ascend the statue and look out over New York City, you’ll have to make reservations in advance, because only 240 visitors are allowed to climb the stairs to the Libertas’ crown each day.
Visit the Kennedy Space Centre
Next, lose yourself in the wonders of the cosmos and human innovation at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. The KSC isn’t just any one of NASA’s ten field centres – it’s the site that managed launch operations for the Apollo mission, which put the first man on the moon in 1969. Today, it manages NASA’s robotic and commercial crew missions. The visitor’s centre has a whole host of attractions for you to admire, including the Apollo/Saturn V Space Centre, an Astronaut Memorial, the retired Space Shuttle Atlantis, and a replica of the Hubble Space Telescope. To get a sense of what it feels like to be an astronaut, sign up for the Shuttle Launch Experience, a tour that simulates zero gravity and takeoff.
Drive to Hoover Dam
After conquering space and taming rivers, drive through the dusty deserts at the Arizona- Nevada border to behold the sight of the Hoover Dam. Built over the Colorado river to create Lake Mead, this architectural marvel, originally called the Boulder Dam, offers a great example of humanity harnessing the power of nature. Take a tour of the dam with the Bureau of Reclamation, which will do a fabulous job explaining exactly how controlling the outflow of water helps generate hydroelectric energy. You can also spend some time taking pictures of the nearby Hoover Dam Bypass. The area is quite hot, owing to the geographical location of the dam, so take some sunscreen and water with you!
Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge
A second great feat of engineering is the Golden Gate Bridge. This bridge, stretching over the strait called the Golden Gate, connects San Francisco to Marin County. At a height of 67 metres and with a length of 1970 metres, it was the world’s tallest and longest suspension bridge at the time of its construction (1937). Take a stroll or bike along its walkway and bask in the rays of the evening sun. Painted with a hue called international orange – most commonly used in the aerospace industry – the Golden Gate is particularly beautiful on foggy days, when its towers glow like coals in the mist. San Francisco City Guides, a non-profit organisation, conducts free tours of the bridge on Thursday and Sunday, so time your visit accordingly! If you’re lucky, you might get to see whales in the waters under the Golden Gate.
Eating out in the US
Since the US is such a big melting pot of cultures, it’s no surprise that its cuisine is drawn from European, Asian, African-American & Hispanic roots. To really get a sense of what it is that Americans value in food, you’ll have to spend a considerable amount of time trying out different restaurants across the country – something that can only be done on an extended trip. That being said, here’s a list of quality restaurants that will give you a sense of what to expect.
Any visitor to Philadelphia cannot possibly hope to leave the city without having tried their famous Philly Cheesesteaks. It’s a good ol’ fashioned grilled steak embraced by a fresh bread roll and smothered in cheese, caramelized onions, and other condiments like ketchup and mustard. The most famous cheesesteak joints have to be Geno’s Steaks and Sonny’s Famous Steaks. While you’re in New York, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer selection of restaurants. It almost feels sinful to have to choose one, but we give the prize to Gabriel Kreuther, known to serve some of the best Alsatian (from Alsace, France) food in the country. Chef Gabriel Kreuther boasts multiple awards; including two Michelin stars. When you drop by, help yourself to some canestri pasta, Alsatian country sausages and mille feuille! Although New York is synonymous with their famous thin-crust pizza, we’re going to direct you to something better- Frank Pepe’s in Connecticut, New Haven. Serving authentic Napoletana-style pizza, a visit to Frank Pepe’s has often been likened to a pilgrimage.
Sometimes, a place’s fast food can tell us as much about the culture as its fine dining can. Taco Bell made its debut in California. Since 1962, it has been serving tacos, burritos, quesadilla and a whole host of other ‘Cali-Mex’ dishes, a sibling of the Tex-Mex food genre. On the other end of the price spectrum, we have Atelier Crenn. Founded by the chef Dominique Crenn in 2011, Atelier Crenn in San Francisco is a three-Michelin-starred premier restaurant that offers modernist French cuisine. Balancing aesthetic and gustatory value, Crenn’s dishes are mostly seafood-based. Try the spiny lobster and the geoduck tart with oyster sauce. Thank us later. From California, take a road trip to Colorado for the renowned Tocabe in Colorado. “Food should tell a story,” says the landing page on Tocabe’s website – and this, essentially, is the driving principle underlying the restaurant’s menu. As one of the few major places where you can eat authentic Native American food, Tocabe prides itself on its Osage Nation heritage and seeks to use food to educate its customers on Native history. Its most popular dish is the Shredded Bison, served with a variety of bean-based toppings and Osage Hominy salsa.
G’s Jamaican Quisine in Kansas City has been blessing visitors with beef patties, jerk chicken, rice and peas and curry shrimps that are, by all local accounts, the stuff of legends. According to the Buzzfeed community, this is one of America’s top 30 black-owned restaurants – and it’s not hard to see why. Drive northwards from Kansas City to reach Chicago, the Windy City. Being one of the country’s top-rated restaurants, Alinea is rather heavy on the pocket. However, as anyone who has had the pleasure of dining here will tell you, eating here isn’t the sort of experience you can ever forget. Alinea offers three culinary pathways: the Kitchen Table, Gallery Menu, and Salon Menu, each of which is an intimate adventure with the subtlest gustatory nuances.
Yearning for some spice? Himalaya’s in Houston serves Indian and Pakistani dishes that will spirit you away to south Asia. The restaurant sells several kinds of kebab, roast chicken, beef, daal (lentils), sabzi (vegetable fry) and gravy. The proprietor, Kaiser Lashkari, is especially proud of the ‘hunter beef’ – a smoked delicacy that sits perfectly with the standard Texas palate. Critics also recommend the Hyderabadi chicken hara masala. If you’re down in New Orleans, Louisiana, then it would be a sacrilege to miss out on the city’s culinary holy grail: po’ boys. Short for ‘poor boy’, what started out as a humble lunchtime sandwich for dock workers and laborers has since been elevated to a dish that people from all over the world come to eat. Much like the philly cheesesteak, the po’ boy is a huge roll of French bread (a nod to French colonial influence on the city) stuffed with roast beef, shrimp or fried catfish. The best po’ boy place is arguably Adams Street Grocery, an unassuming hole-in-the-wall serving generous portions on freshly baked Dong Phuong bread. They serve takeout only, which doesn’t seem to deter the Tulane University students next door one bit.
Transport in the US
America has over 5,080 airports that are open to the public, the busiest of which is the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta (ATL). International tourists tend to fly into major cities such as Detroit, New York, San Francisco, Chicago or Utah. Within the country, short-distance travel tends to be by road, while long-distance travel is largely flight- or railroad-based. Public transport has been heavily invested in, but isn’t always efficient – which is why most Americans prefer to travel by car or taxi, rather than by bus.
Some of the most popular rental car agencies include Hertz, Budget, Enterprise, Alamo and Dollar.