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.
United States travel resources
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, America 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.
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City focus: 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.
Day tours in the USA
If you want to make the most of your time in the USA it is always suggested that you take part of a city tour. You could visit cities such has New York, Las Vegas or even join one of the San Diego city excursions. Guided tours are always the best way to discover a new city. It can be difficult to visit all the sites in just one trip. Moreover, public transportation can end up being time-consuming and pricey. One smart option to see as much as possible in a short amount of time is to take part of an organized excursion or tour.
These tours are provided by local companies, and can be booked through our partners, Urban Adventures.
Getting to and from the United States
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.
Getting around the United States
If travelling by air, the US hub-and-spoke system of airline routes means that you may have to change planes in Chicago en route from Philadelphia to Seattle. Today, the airfares of the so-called legacy carriers (American, United and Delta), are bested by discount carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. Virgin America is still expanding service to US cities, offering innovative service and good airfares. For Hawaii, check out Hawaiian Airlines for the most complete service and best airfares. For Alaska, Alaska Airlines is your best bet.
For travelling around the US by bus, the coach network operated by Greyhound offers a Discovery Pass for unlimited travel and unlimited stops throughout North America.
Modern, green coaches offer wifi and electrical outlets at each seat.
Amtrak, the national network of trains, is the only way to travel around the country by train and the views are awesome. Buying Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass allows you to cover vast distances at reasonable rates on historical trains such as the California Zephyr. In spite of Amtrak’s poor service and old rolling stock, nothing beats dining on Rocky Mountain Trout in a dining car while crossing the Rocky Mountains.
Car and camper rental
Crossing the country by car or in a camper rental can be a pricey proposition in the US, due to the distances involved — fuel costs rack up quickly.
Also, check your rental agreement’s policy for one-way drop-offs. You may find hefty fees tacked on for not returning your rental to its original pickup location.
Cycling and hiking
If you’re planning to see the States more slowly, the country’s network of roadside bike paths and dedicated hiking trails in national parks make cycling and hiking a popular choice. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors for cyclists and hikers. However, please note that walking or biking on major highways is against the law and completely unsafe.
Top 10 things to do in United States
- Experience New Orleans. We dare you to spend one night of raucous ribaldry in the historic French Quarter.
- Take a road trip. Careen across the Continental US on a modern superhighway system and be amazed.
- Explore Yellowstone National Park. Experience mystical geothermal geysers, mud pots, psychedelically-coloured lakes, grizzly bears and the park’s own Grand Canyon.
- See Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome. Watching a gilded sunrise over this granite crest is a spiritual experience.
- Stay up all night in Las Vegas. With the gambling and the outrageous resorts, shows and clubs in this neon-lit desert, you’ll forget about sleep.
- Drive California’s Big Sur. This stretch of Highway One where the Santa Lucia Mountains collide with the Pacific Ocean affords the most stunning vistas.
- Relax at Miami’s South Beach. Latin Americans and Europeans collide at this multi-cultural fashion scene.
- Drive to Hana. Tackle this challenging, winding drive on Maui’s coastline past lush orchid farms and waterfalls and be amazed.
- Hike the Grand Canyon. Hiking into the one-mile-deep canyon offers views that mere cameras cannot capture.
- Eat crab on San Francisco’s Bay. Cracking Dungeness crab with fresh local sourdough bread with the Golden Gate Bridge in view is the quintessential California experience.
This page by Lenore Greiner.