The Glorious US of A

October 12, 2018

After traveling extensively throughout the world, I will be the first to admit that there are many amazing places around the States that I have yet to explore.  However, I have managed to take several road trips across country, lived in a few cities along the eastern seaboard, and visited many of the major cities.  Although there are plenty of places I still want to explore and cities I look forward to visiting, here are a few of my favorite cities across my beautiful home country ‘Murica. 

 

New Orleans

This notorious city is loud, rowdy, rough around the edges, and one of the most character-filled cities in America. It is where I saw my first NFL game and cheered my favorite team on to victory (Go Saints!!).  Despite Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of the city in 2005, the city has since rallied and rebuilt much of the destroyed properties. Famous for its Cajun cuisine and raucous festivities along Canal Street, this is one of the United States most historical and colorful places to visit.  Several years after I visited New Orleans for the first time, I decided to catch a red eye flight in to NOLA the morning of Mardi Gras to spend 24 hours in the city and join in on one of the world’s most famous Fat Tuesday celebrations. The whirlwind of a day was one of my favorites and despite the reputation that the city has for complete debauchery, which is definitely warranted, the main streets maintained relatively tame compared to any normal weekend in the city. The character, good natured people, colorful Canal Street, and the enticing Cajun food are just a few of the many to visit New Orleans.

 

Highlights of the city:

-Breakfast at Café du Monde and enjoying their world famous beignets

-Cheer the Saints on to victory at a game in the Superdome

-Enjoy a grenade from a plastic cup while wandering the area courtesy of the no open container laws

-Toss beads from the balcony of one of the bars along Canal Street

-Explore the buildings and architecture in the old French Quarter

-Stop at a local restaurant for a spicy Cajun meal or to fill up on Po boys and fried shrimp

-Attend Mardi Gras for the full experience!

 

NYC

With everything that New York City has to offer it is always a great city to explore.  Every time I have visited there has been some new fascinating part of NYC or new activity that always provided a bit of glitter in one of America’s most iconic cities. NYC has something to do any time of year, but is especially magical throughout the holidays when it pulls out all the stops for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.  After numerous trips over the years, a few of my favorites have been:

 

-Attending the New Years Eve celebration in Times Square

-Central Park which is perfect for long runs or casual walks while enjoying a soft pretzel or hotdog street food on sunny afternoons

-Exploring the MET which has an incredible and vast selection of priceless artwork

-People watching in Times Square to catch infamous characters like the naked cowboy and the thousands of tourists with their eyes gazing upwards at the endlessly tall skyscrapers

-Finding street art like the Kelsey Montague 'What Lifts You' wings which adds character to many neighborhoods and is constantly changing

-Bryant Park which is substantially smaller and quieter than Central Park, but equally enjoyable on an afternoon to enjoy a picnic or glass of beer

-Visiting the iconic Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan Bridge

-Walking around the sobering 9/11 Memorial and recognizing this chapter of history that forever changed the nation

-Arriving early at the Today Show and being part of the crowd for the filming of the morning show

-Going for drinks at the House of Yes or wherever the “it” bar is that month

-Exploring the streets that are filled with memorable and famous spots like the Guggenheim, the Flat Iron, Katz's Deli, and the list literally goes on and on..

-Witnessing the lighting of the massive and stunning Rockefeller Christmas tree in the Plaza 

-Eating a delicious New York bagel or slice of cheesecake in front of the Tiffany’s on 5th Avenue

-Hot yoga or yoga with cats at one of the studios hosted by my talented friend Amy (@amy_yogini)

 

Key West 

 

This is by far the smallest city on the list, but it consistently provides a good time with its laid back beach vibes in the day time and rowdy weird nights.  Key West offers both interesting historical places to visit around the city including Hemmingway’s home and the Southernmost point in the United States while also providing some rambunctious drag shows along the popular Duval Street.  My first visit here was a stop on a Carnival cruise which was a relatively calm trip where we explored the island by a little trolley and saw the highlights on a brief tour of the city during an afternoon port call.  

 

The second time I visited was with a group of Marines on a long weekend following the conclusion of a week spent in the field where we returned in the wee hours of the morning after a miserable sweaty hike.  That made us appreciate the time off even more though as we spent the weekend jet skiing, cruising around on our little Vespa’s, and drinking margaritas on the beach while listening to Jimmy Buffet’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere which was actually written about this beach town!  This is a perfect beach getaway to avoid the overcrowded spots of Florida's busier beaches like Miami and to take a vacation from life's worries for a bit. Highlights of Key West:

 

-Drag Shows on Duval Street- 801 Bourbon Bar is an excellent start to a night of debauchery

-Fat Tuesdays alcoholic slushies- located at a few choice cities across the U.S., Fat Tuesdays offers delicious very sweet adult slashes in every flavor and combination

-Take a picture at the Southern Most Point in the U.S. While the anchored concrete buoy is not overly exciting, it marks the furthest point south in the US which is only 90 miles off the coast of Cuba!

-Tour Ernest Hemingway's House and Museum to take an inside peek at the author's home and life

-Get a margarita at the original Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville which is a lively joint in the mix of the small beach shops and restaurants

-Rent a Vespas and cruise the island.  The laid back atmosphere and close proximity of the beaches make cruising the town on a little scooter quite a fun mode of transportation

-Grab a fresh seafood dinner at the Schooner's Wharf Bar which offers live music and great sunset views of the port

 

Las Vegas

The glitzy Sin City has much to offer along its world famous strip.  The enormous glittering casinos, the multi-tiered and star studded clubbing scene and pool parties, the eyebrow raising shows and sold out concerts, endless buffets, the old classic strip, etc.  And that is just along the 4.2 mile strip through the center of town.  One of the best parts of visiting Vegas in my opinion is that it is an easy few hour road trip from some incredible natural landmarks including the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and many more. While the city can certainly be a blast, it is definitely best enjoyed with a group of friends who are looking to paint the town red. Highlights:

 

-Obviously this is one of the premier destinations for gambling and even if you are not a frequent gambler this is a fun place to try your luck and play a few games in the brightly lit and massive establishments

-Watch the water show at the Fountains of Bellagio.  This is the best of one of several free performances on the strip.  It has been imitated around the world and made famous through several moments of fame on the big screen including Ocean's 11 and is quite mesmerizing in person

-The pool parties in Vegas are probably my favorite part about the city. One of the most notorious pool parties in Vegas, a trip to the strip is not complete without a cocktail or two at Hard Rock’s famous pool. My first time to Vegas and Rehab was shortly after my 21st birthday which was an easy selection because it was THE notorious pool party that we had all heard about and has remained my favorite on the strip.

-Catch one of the Vegas performances. Ranging from acrobatics to dance groups, sexy Aussie men, to some of the biggest fights in the world and resident singer performers, there is a show available to entertain any crowd

-Another obvious mention is trying the massive buffets.  They tend to be quite expensive but for the amount and relative quality of food, they can be a good bargain especially since one meal can feed you for the entire day!

-Dance until the sun comes up at one of the trendy clubs.  Although the lines, cover charges, and drinks can be high, it is definitely one of the big experiences in Vegas and there are typically some of the hottest stars in music that make frequent appearances at these parties

 

 

Washington D.C.

Although I have never technically lived in D.C., this city has been the most consistent in my life over the last decade from the end of college to training in the Marine Corps and the frequent visits while living in Virginia Beach. The wide open streets and low city skyline keep the city centered around the National Mall and Memorial Parks which stretch from the Lincoln Memorial down to the Capital building.  The district is filled with outstanding museums (most of which are free), some remarkable memorials commemorating some of the most defining moments in U.S. history, and houses the workspaces of some of the country’s most important and influential individuals. Similar to NYC, there is an abundance of things to see and do around the city so here are just a few of my favorites:

 

-Running in the district especially the National Mall to visit the numerous landmarks of the city.  If you are ambitious and want to see them all, run the Marine Corps Marathon which provides a full tour of DC with crowds of people encouraging you the entire way

-Cheer the Nationals on to a victory.  Catching America’s pastime with a cold beer in hand and the DC skyline as the backdrop is an excellent way to enjoy a Saturday night

-Visit the National Zoo. Another thing to do is visit the DC National Zoo which is also free of charge and welcomes visitors for most of the year

-Embrace the brunch scene on a lazy Sunday afternoon with many one of the many specials offered at restaurants across town 

-Enjoy a cocktail at one of the many rooftop bars. From the rowdy Adam’s Morgan district to the more upscale bars dotting the city, there are numerous places to enjoy drinks with friends while enjoying a view of DC

-Attend the ceremony at 8th and I.  While I may be a bit biased, watching the Silent Drill Team of Marines marching and snapping their rifles in absolute precision is mesmerizing and you feel the strong patriotism resonating throughout the field as everyone proudly stands for the playing of the National Anthem

-Cool off in the summer at the National Gallery of Art museum where weekly jazz nights are accompanied with pitchers of Sangria as everyone relaxes with their feet in the fountain or sprawling out on blankets in the lawn of the Sculpture Garden

-Enjoy a beer or two along King Street in Old Alexandria which is a bit slower paced but very quaint and charming located just across the river

-Catch a performance at the Kennedy Center where shows range from opera to theater

-Visit the Arlington National Cemetery and watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Seeing the rows of bleached white headstones filling the hills is a silent reminder of the many sacrifices it took to make this great nation.

 

 

Chicago  

 

Another of America’s iconic cities that is a beautiful place to explore and offers tourists plenty of options. Nicknamed the “Wind City,” Chicago does not disappoint in delivering plenty of windy afternoons, which most people who have flown through their busy airport can attest to. However, this is consistently rated one of the U.S. best cities to live in for having it all. While many of the attractions are quite famous including the Zoo, the Skydeck in Willis Tower, the mouthwatering food, there are abundant options of activities to keep visitors busy. Every stop through this city has led me to discover new spots and museums, but here are a few top choices:

 

-The famous Art Institute of Chicago museum which consistently offers a rotation of displays and has several beautiful Monet paintings.

-Get your picture with the famous massive cloud a.k.a "The Bean" in Millennial Park 

-Explore Millennial Park which stretches along the main strip of the city and offers numerous gardens and places for picnics 

-Have a drink at Cindy's Rooftop overlooking the city.  Offering one of the best views in town this popular bar has some fantastic strong mixed drinks, but go early as it tends to fill up quickly in the afternoon

-Try a famous Chicago style pizza and hotdog.  Seriously, a trip to this city is not complete without at least eating both of these staples even if you are just passing through the airport

-Check out some of the fantastic museums- my favorite is the Chicago History Museum but there are numerous excellent options throughout the city 

 

Denver

The wild, wild west has a history steeped in lawless rebels and vast vibrant landscapes.  As massive cities have sprung up the atmosphere has greatly changed, but there remains plenty of adventure to be experienced.  Some of the bigger cities like Denver are just close enough to the action to still provide easy access to many of Colorado’s finest activities.  While I would love to go back in winter and try out some of their famous slopes, here are a few of my favorite things to do around the chitin summer:

 

-Hiking God’s Garden- One of Colorado’s most famous trail is through a park aptly called God’s Garden. Located in Colorado Springs only a short trip from the city, are some beautiful rock formations in brilliant hues of orange and red that seemingly glow as the sun illuminates them.  Rock climbers and families alike enjoy this beautiful slice of nature under the wide blue sky out west.  There are numerous trails winding through the formations and several areas that allow the more adventurous to climb up to the peaks.

 

-Red Rocks- an American classic open-air amphitheater that boasts some of the best acoustics and performances in the country is Red Rocks.  Also easily accessible, this stage is located 10 miles from Denver in a beautiful area and surrounded by some of the iconic red rocks that make up the landscape of the western U.S.  Performers from the Beetles to John Denver and Jimi Hendrix have done some of their most memorable concerts on this stage making it a concert-venue legend.  Even when there are no scheduled performances, the amphitheater is filled with tourists getting a glimpse of the notorious site and locals getting there sweat on doing laps up and down the stairs. 

 

-White Water Rafting- Near Colorado Springs just outside Canon City is the Arkansas River which also has Class III to V rapids and traverses through the heart of the magnificent Royal Gorge.  The group was a fun mix of people from all over the country visiting Colorado and we all left completely soaked to the skin and grinning from ear to ear. The combination of scenic beauty along the Arkansas River Valley, the continuous whitewater along the route, and the impressive Colorado mountain terrain, made this quite a memorable rafting experience.  It is no surprise that the white water rafting on the Arkansas River in Colorado is one of the most popular rivers in the country. 

 

-Brewery Tasting- as in many other cities in the U.S., the micro-brewery scene is taking off.  The options are endless with numerous local family and friend owned breweries popping up around the states.  Whether it was the long days of activities in the sun or that the quality was truly superior, some of my favorite brewery tours were around Denver. Offering flights of their best brews, many of the local spots had plenty to give in terms of flavor and variety. Similar to the vast array of beers offered in Belgium, Colorado brought it’s A game with a broad selection of stouts, IPAs, pils, wheat beers, and porters.  This turned out to be nearly a nightly excursion in order to sample as many as possible!

 

Los Angeles 

 A trip around the U.S. is simply not complete without visiting LA.  Even though the city is largely over run by tourists and San Francisco is a much more chill and cultural city to visit, nothing can quite compare to the excitement and glamour of walking down the Boulevard. The perfect sunny weather and potential to spot some of your favorite movie stars makes this a fun if not slightly chaotic city to visit.  Be sure to check out:

 

-The Hollywood Sign- one of the most iconic symbols of the city is the Hollywood Sign proudly displayed looking over the sprawling metropolis.  View it from the Boulevard or hike out to it and get a much better view of LA sprawled out below

-Take cheesy photos with your favorite celebrities’ star on the Blvd- this is one of the States most fun cities to be a tourist in where so many spots and random corners are notorious places easily recognizable from their numerous appearances in films

-Grauman's Chinese Theater- another key location, this famous theater is located on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that is easily accessible. The forecourt of the theater boasts the handprints of some of Hollywood's biggest stars including Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, and Bruce Willis

-Visit the Griffith Observatory for more stunning views of the city and the sign

-Explore the famous Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive

-Take a plunge at the famous Malibu Beach. See what all the hype is about and spend an afternoon at one of the most famous beaches in the States

-Walk around the Santa Monica Pier which marks the end of the 2,448mile long legendary Route 66 highway 

-The Urban Lights Exhibit outside of the Los Angeles City Museum of Art.  This iconic collection of enormous street lights from the 1930s and 1940s has been featured in many films and is quite a fun place to explore!

 

 

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