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Travel the USA and encounter the extreme, from southern painted deserts to northern Alaskan glaciers, to the West Coast’s mystic redwoods. You may marvel at Yellowstone Park’s ancient geysers one day and crack a fresh-caught crab on San Francisco’s Bay on another. But it might be a challenge to fit it all into one trip.

The USA shares the North American subcontinent with another former British colony (Canada) to the north, and with Mexico and Central America to the south. The continental US consists of 49 contiguous states plus Hawaii and Alaska, which are all worth a visit.

Diverse and vast, US geography ranges from the Arctic to the tropics, with granite mountains, grass prairies and painted deserts in between. And continental US offers the most geographical extremes; the lowest spot is 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level in Death Valley’s Badwater Basin and the highest point is Alaska’s 20,320-foot high (6,194m) Mount McKinley.

Culturally, the USA is ethnically and racially diverse. Amish buggies clop down country roads in middle America, hipsters populate Portland and Seattle coffeehouses and sophisticated San Franciscans hatch the latest Internet innovations. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles-based film industry exports US popular culture to the world.

San Francisco

San Francisco takes pride in its rough-and-tumble Barbary Coast history from the 1849 Gold Rush. Back then, rough-and-ready privateers, ladies of the night and fortune seekers landed on the muddy wharves to seek their fortunes in the gold fields of the nearby Sierra foothills.

Today, a different kind of fortune-seeker populates the city. Dot-com hipsters frequent the trendy South of Market area and the investment bankers who fund them crowd the Financial District. Meanwhile, the intense cacophony of the cable cars’ bells punctuates the foggy air as these moving historical monuments rattle up and down steep streets.

In Golden Gate Park, the century-old Japanese Garden stands near the sustainable architecture of the California Academy of Sciences, the greenest natural history museum on the planet, which houses a planetarium, an aquarium, and more underneath a living roof. Stretching 70 miles north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Golden Gate National Park is an 80,400-acre greenbelt along the Pacific Ocean. Here you’ll discover trails to ancient redwoods, historic landmarks, rocky shorelines, lush coastal wilderness, and stunning vistas.

Getting to and from the USA

You can enter and leave the US by foot, road, air or water; however you enter, expect tight security on arrival. Most international flights arrive in the international airports of New York City and Los Angeles. From your arrival airports, connecting flights can transport you to your destination — check out budget airlines such as Southwest or JetBlue to make your final destination.

To and From the Airport has the rundown on getting you from the airport to the city. Frequent Flyer Masters learn to earn their miles fast, and get free flights around the world.

There are several cruise ship harbours in the US; the main ports are located in Los Angeles, Miami, and Seattle. In the north, many ferries ply the waters between the Canadian and US borders on both West and East coasts and on the Great Lakes.

Most border crossings on the Canadian and Mexican borders are by car or foot. Give yourself enough time to make your crossing as security when entering from Mexico or Canada will be tight.

These days, you must enter the US with the proper documentation and a valid passport whether entering by air or across a border — tourist cards are no longer allowed. It doesn’t matter if you enter through Canada or Mexico, or fly in from another country: visa entry requirements remain the same.

USA travel resources

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This page by Lenore Greiner.