By the end of my career break trip through the former Soviet Union, I had visited 38 countries. By contrast, I have been to only 22 states in the United States – in many cases, just to a single city for a weekend or less.
So now that I am home, I thought I’d start to focus more on exploring my own amazing country. While I often marvel at natural wonders overseas, I often forget what I have right here at home – places like the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park. And while I enjoy the museums and architecture and art fairs in other countries, I often overlook that fact that we have a lot of the same incredible sights and experiences in many cities within the United States.
I picked up a Lonely Planet guide to the USA and it was a shocking reminder at how little I know and appreciate about this country. It also provided a good dose of inspiration to create an “All-American Travel Bucket List” of what I would like to see and do the most. So in no particular order…
New York City
I have been to New York nearly a dozen times, but there is still so much in the city left to see. I still need to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, as well as Rockefeller Center, the Bronx Zoo and the new Yankee Stadium. I visited the World Trade Center site a year after 9/11 but I want to go back to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum once it opens next year (the memorial site is already open). I also want to check out the High Line, a stretch of parkland created on abandoned train tracks elevated three stories above the city.
This is another city I have visited several times, including as recently as early March. But there is still a lot I want to see, including the National Museum of American History, the Newseum and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In an attempt to expand my appreciation of American history – and my own family’s history – I would love to spend a week or more in Virginia. I would start with Mount Vernon, followed by the historic triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Then, I would head to Halifax and Staunton, the area from which my mom’s side of the family hails, to research a bit more of my family history.
When I asked a couple weeks ago about potential weekend destinations, a couple people suggested Memphis. Looking into it more, I found a list of things to see or do there, including the National Civil Rights Museum, the Peabody Ducks March, the Memphis Zoo and, of course, Graceland.
Atlanta has a lot that interests me, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site, the Georgia Aquarium (the world’s largest), the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Atlanta Zoo. And of course, a visit wouldn’t be complete without taking a tour of the CNN Center in an attempt to come face to face with Anderson Cooper. I hope my friend Ali can give me some good tips for a visit!
St. Augustine, Florida
I have to confess, until I skimmed through my Lonely Planet guide, all I knew of St. Augustine was a horrible experience travel blogger Angie Orth had at a motel in town. Now that I know it was founded in 1565 and is the oldest city in the United States, I am totally intrigued. I want to check out its historic houses, the Spanish Quarter Museum and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
Despite living in Minnesota the first half of my life – and despite the fact that my dad briefly went to college in South Dakota, I have never been. I think I would need at least a week to do the state justice, visiting everything from the likely very cheesy Corn Palace and Wall Drug to the natural wonders of he Badlands and the Black Hills.
Phoenix, Scottsdale and Sedona are all on my list in Arizona. I would love to check out Old Town Scottsdale, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Taliesin West, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park and all of Sedona.
I have never given much thought to New Mexico, although my good friend Laura grew up there. But after reading about Albuquerque and Santa Fe, both are must-sees for me. In Albuquerque, I would like to visit the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the Petroglyph National Monument, as well as ride the Scandia Peak tramway.
I think I would enjoy just wandering around Santa Fe, the second oldest city in the United States, the oldest state capital and the highest state capital. It has a plethora of museums and galleries, different festivals throughout the year and is a jumping off point for the Pecos Wilderness and Santa Fe National Forest.
San Francisco, California
Last, but certainly not least is San Francisco. Yes, I almost took a job there, but I have never really spent much time in the Bay Area. Crazy, right? With several friends in the Bay Area, I really need to get out there for a visit. My sightseeing list includes riding a cable car, visiting the Asian Art Museum, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown and Alcatraz.
Hiking has been one of my favorite activities while traveling, from Peru’s Inca Trail to the Stolby Nature Reserve in Russia to the Chatkal Mountains in Uzbekistan. But I haven’t really been hiking in the United States. With dozens, if not hundreds, of national parks, great hiking opportunities abound. Tops on my list are some of the most famous – Yellowstone, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, as well as the big one – the Grand Canyon.
I know I’ve left out a lot of great places.
I grew up just outside of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and currently live in Chicago, so those aren’t on the list. I have also done the tourist thing in Boston, New Orleans, San Diego and Seattle, so while I love those cities, I’ll probably travel elsewhere first. Likewise with Denver, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Antonio.