Anyone for a 2022 American road trip? After 20 months of being shut to tourists, the USA is back open for business. Many of us have been anchored to Ireland for the past two years, and for those of us with the travelling bug, it has been tough. So, to get our travelling and adventure juices flowing again, I thought: what better than a good old-fashioned American road trip?
As of November 8th 2021, the USA has opened its borders to tourists. But be warned, to make the trip across the Atlantic you will need to be fully vaccinated, and be able to provide proof of your vaccination status. This article outlines nine of the most iconic places in the US, with a mixture of places I have been, and spots I desperately want to go to. You may have a difference of opinion and feel some other US cities or landmarks should be included in this list – but what do you want me to do, the country is massive!
- New York City
What better destination is there to begin your American journey than the world’s centre of fashion, theatre, food? ‘The Big Apple’ or ‘the city that never sleeps’, certainly leaves a lasting impression. One of my favorite things to do whilst I was in Manhattan was to just walk aimlessly through the never-ending streets for a while. Lose yourself in the melting pot of cultures that is the city: experience the subtle mixture of classic and modern architecture, or take in the city from above on top of the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty or the Rockefeller Centre (to name only a few!). The world-renowned Times Square has the ability to awaken your inner child, as you become mesmerized by the lights.
Once you have exhausted yourself from walking for an eternity (I recommend a comfy pair of shoes), you’ll want to chill. Take in an amazing show on Broadway, the centre of world theatre. Rent a boat to cruise up the Hudson River and witness the Manhattan skyline at its most flattering. If the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced, pulsating city is getting too much, wander into Central Park. The park is a third of the length of the city, and is equally beautiful in summer and winter.
Not to mention, if you are keen to get rid of your savings, New York is one of the shopping capitals of the world. On top of that, the city boasts 28 Michelin Star restaurants, in case you get peckish. Any experience I have personally had in New York City has left me hungry to return. I feel like it is a fitting, well-rounded place to begin our journey.
- San Francisco
Next, we are jetting to the opposite side of the country. Situated on the tip of a peninsula in Northern California is the culturally diverse city of San Francisco. Its No.1 attraction is the Golden Gate Bridge, towering over the bay. The bridge is 1.7 miles (2.7km) long and you can choose to drive, walk or bike across it. Similar to New York, San Fran is a city that demands a comfortable pair of shoes as it has an abundance of steep hills. If you are not feeling the hills, let their famous cable cars transport you around the city.
Whilst walking or ‘cabling’ around the city you’ll have the opportunity to experience the multitude of ethnic groups and beautiful Victorian architecture. The most famous cultural hub is Chinatown, with a colorful array of shops and markets. I know what you are thinking: what about the food? Well, from the Mission District to the Castro you’ll find a range of world-renowned restaurants to satisfy any pallet. At night, have a few drinks and immerse yourself in the city’s bohemian nightlife.
At this stage you may have seen a lot of what the city itself has to offer, but you can venture outside. Take a ferry out to the infamous Alcatraz prison, where you can take a fascinating tour of the historical site. Or go a bit further outside the city to witness the majestic, gigantic redwoods (you’ll never see a tree like it). San Fran appeals to all groups, families, singles and couples.
- New Orleans
So far, we have gone from east to west. Now it’s time to experience the Deep South. New Orleans, or ‘the Big Easy’, is like no other southern city, and is certainly custom-built for any party animals looking to let loose! The city is best known for it’s world-famous Mardi Gras festival. The festival has religious connections, signifying the start of Lent. If you are looking to join the party, it takes place some time in late February or early March, with it being scheduled to take place in 2022 from March 1st.
Perhaps you are not a wild party animal? That’s OK, too. New Orleans harbours strong French and Spanish roots, the result of which is amazing food, with signature Creole and Cajun cuisines. If music is your thing, stroll down through the French Quarter to treat your ears to a soundtrack of buskers and live jazz. Many people consider New Orleans to be the home of jazz and blues in America.
The city is also steeped in history. Take your pick of the World War Two Museum, the African American Museum, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, or St. Louis Cathedral, built in 1718 (the oldest cathedral in America). There is also a mystical history to the city that you can experience through their famous ghost tours. One piece of fairly important advice (at least, I would think): visit ‘the Big Easy’ between December and May to avoid being blown away by a hurricane!
- Grand Canyon
OK, so far we have been consumed by three vibrant cities, and it’s time for a short break from that vibe. The Grand Canyon (emphasis on the Grand!) is engraved into northern Arizona. It is a 2 billion year old rip that was carved by the Colorado River several millions of years ago. Here are the specifics, it is 277 miles (446km) long, 18 miles (29km) wide and a whopping 1 mile (1.6km) deep. It is the deepest and longest canyon in the world.
So what is there to do at this humongous hole? You have the popular South Rim and the less visited North Rim, and if you are up for it (or if you’re crazy) you can go for the rim-to-rim hike. As well as hiking you can go biking, rafting (which is very popular) or mule riding. One of the most famous attractions is the Havasu Falls. The canyon is open all year round, but spring or fall would be the ideal time to go in order to avoid the crowds. It can also be easily done as a day trip from Las Vegas or Phoenix.
This may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Personally, I would be a big fan of the natural wonder and inhaling the enormity of such places. There are more of these places to come on our road trip.
- Las Vegas
We have just witnessed some untouched natural beauty. I think it is now fitting to surround yourself with some UNnatural beauty. Possibly the most unnatural place on the planet, Las Vegas. Situated slap bang in the middle of the Nevada desert, it is a playground for adults and a gamblers paradise. The main street consists of 30 casinos, the most notable being Caesars Palace, MGM Grand and the Bellagio. You can also find impressive replicas of the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower (because, why not?).
The city doesn’t understand the concept of subtlety. Journey, Usher, Sting and Rod Stewart are but a few of the entertainers that headline there on a regular basis. The city has a bottomless supply of entertainment and daytime pool parties. Take in the gravity defying Cirque Du Soleil, or get married on a whim (it’s fine, you can get divorced as well).
If you are looking for a slightly slower paced experience, don’t worry, you can avail yourself of the 55 golf courses Las Vegas has to offer. Educate yourself on the history of this oasis in the desert, by visiting the Mob Museum (I would recommend watching the movie ‘Casino’ also). Whether amazing, or best forgotten, you are guaranteed to leave Sin City with memories made.
- Washington DC
Seeing as you have just been to the capital of debauchery and depravity, it seems right to subsequently venture to the capital of, well, the country. Washington DC is the epicentre of western democracy. It is home to the president, at 1,600 Pennsylvania Ave (the White House), as well as a whole host of historically significant monuments.
DC receives 25 million tourists each year, almost all of them flocking to the National Mall. This majestic tourist destination is two miles long, with the Capitol building (which you may be familiar with from the January 6th siege) at one end, and the Lincoln Memorial at the other. The Smithsonian Museums line either side of the Mall. The close-by area of Georgetown boasts beautiful architecture, which you can observe via a hop-on, hop-off trolley.
To avoid the swell of people, winter and fall are the best times to visit. However, the Cherry Blossom festival, taking place in spring when the trees are in full bloom, is something to behold. The city also knows how to throw a party for the July 4th celebrations.
- Yellowstone National Park
That’s enough cities for now, let’s go to the open plains of the midwest. Sprawling across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho is Yellowstone National Park. 3,500 sq miles of wilderness to satisfy any of you nature enthusiasts. Yellowstone was granted protection in 1872, making it the world’s first national park. But you may be asking what needs protection?
The park is famous for it’s hot springs, geysers and incredible wildlife. The Old Faithful Geyser is the most famous, as it is one of the most predictable geographical features on Earth, erupting every 91 minutes. You may want to be careful when pottering around, taking in the natural beauty, in fact, best do it with a tour guide. Why? Yellowstone is home to some magnificent, but dangerous, wildlife such as black bears, grizzlys, deer, elk, bison and wolves. Best not to forget that you are in their home.
We have to abandon the ‘road’ part of this trip to visit our next destination. Time to leave the mainland and venture to Hawaii, a state that has more of a south-east Asia, pacific islands vibe. It is the newest state in America, having officially joined the county in 1959. It consists of 137 islands and still maintains its unique Hawaiian identity.
We haven’t been to many, if any, beaches so far on our trip. Hawaii certainly has that covered. The idyllic beaches situated on the island of Maui are perfect for relaxing and enjoying the scenery. Take a mesmerizing helicopter ride over the island to absorb the beautiful landscape, or go snorkelling in their fish and coral-rich waters. Maui is also known for its seafood and the amazing sunset and sunrise views from the Haleakala observatory.
To witness Hawaii’s urban environment, you can fly to the island of Oahu, where you will find the city of Honolulu. There is no shortage of history on this island. Visit the Pearl Harbour National Memorial or the Battleship Missouri Memorial. And of course, Honolulu also has beaches that take your breath away. Waikiki is one of the most popular beaches in America, and a perfect place to perfect your surfing skills. Behold the power of the natural world by taking time to witness Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
I really need to go to Hawaii.
- Yosemite National Park
Keeping with the natural environment theme, we go back to the mainland to the climbers paradise that is Yosemite National Park. You will find Yosemite’s glacier carved valleys in California, and it has long been a place where people have flocked to embrace nature. Fantastic advertisements for the park have been the documentaries, ‘Free Solo’ (which won an Oscar), ‘The Dawn Wall’ and ‘Valley Uprising’, all highlighting the park’s rich mountain climbing history. Half Dome, El Capitan, and Glacier Point are your best bet for breathtaking views.
Away from rock climbing, the park has numerous waterfalls, with Yosemite Falls being one of the tallest in the world. If you are keen for a hike around the park you’ll witness Cathedral Lakes and the jaw-dropping Giant Sequoias (redwoods). Where will you stay? Bring a tent and camp if you like, if not, you can do a daytrip from the close-by San Francisco. Don’t forget to learn about the Miwok people, the original inhabitants of the area. You can learn about the people and their culture in the Yosemite Museum and Indian Village of the Ahwahnee.
These nine destinations are only a small taste of what the United States has to offer. However, I feel they are suitable starting points.The world is starting to open up again. Therefore, we need to get back in touch with our adventurous side. Allow yourself to start planning again. It’s always nice to have something to look forward to on the horizon.