5 Los Angeles
Ridiculous stereotypes about Los Angeles abound, and many visitors are surprised to discover that the city is nothing like they anticipated it to be. The entertainment industry is king here, but it doesn’t rule alone, and L.A. is a colorful patchwork quilt of diverse cultures, socio-economic strata and lifestyles. There’s a thriving, and very accessible art world; there are the sun-soaked beaches that have appeared in countless films, TV shows and music videos; there’s an amazing local music scene, and on any given weekend you’re liable to find some quirky festival or event happening somewhere in L.A. You just have to seek it out.
4 Las Vegas
A trip to Las Vegas might be as close as some of us will ever get to going through the Looking Glass. Nothing on the Strip is real; it’s all larger than life and designed to amuse, entertain and delight. I can’t think of another place where you can scale a model of the Eiffel Tower, see part of the Titanic, get up close and personal with lions and hitch up with a charming stranger all in one day. While many visitors stay on the Strip and Fremont Street, if you wander further afield, you’ll find intriguing stories. You can wander through a repository of discarded neon signs, see where atomic testing was carried out, and even see remnants of some of Nevada’s ghost towns.
Chicago is a quintessential American city. Do you desire hustle and bustle? Head to the Loop. A slower pace, perhaps? Hop on the L (local term for the rapid transit system, which is elevated through the city) and spend an afternoon in Oak Park, on the outskirts of Chicago, and visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s former studio. Have you ever seen one of the Great Lakes? Lake Michigan’s right over there. Want to totally freeze your ass off? Go in January. The rich cultural heritage and friendly energy of this Midwest city make it a must for visitors to the USA.
2 New Orleans
New Orleans defies description. There’s a very old-world, comfortably worn feel to the city; one that makes you think you’re in the Caribbean or France, not the USA. Many people tend to define New Orleans by Bourbon Street, but that’s like judging an entire country based on one person: it just doesn’t work. Yes, if you want to get wasted, you certainly can. If you make the effort to walk a few blocks over in the French Quarter and lay off the booze, you’ll be drawn in to a completely different sort of magic. Outside the French Quarter, the streets hold more secrets: wandering through the Garden District, seeing the art galleries in Mid-City or viewing the votive offerings at St. Roch Cemetery are all endeavors worth pursuing.
1 New York City
NYC is a contradiction: many claim to hate it, but everyone wants to visit. It’s in more films and television shows than we could ever count, but we’ve never seen enough of it. It’s crowded (think of those clown cars from the circus), it’s expensive (currently, a lot of locals are being priced out of housing) and it’s unbearably hectic. Yet, it will charm you in about five seconds. There’s a lot of history packed into those five boroughs (and do get out of Manhattan; it’s but one piece of a much larger pie), and whether your tastes run to art museums and opera, baseball, haute cuisine or $1 slices of pizza from 2 Bros, you’ll find it here. By the way, locals really don’t call it “the Big Apple.” Follow their lead.
As mentioned, the USA is such a vast and diverse country that these cities truly are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. However, these five tend to be the ones that are referenced the most, written about and filmed the most, and together, they provide a snapshot of the American experience.