Getting to know America, “From sea to shining sea”, as they say, is one hell of a feat. When you have 3,500,000 square miles to cover and over 320,000,000 people to get acquainted with, things get out of hand, fast; that’s not even taking into account the scheduling issues involved with getting to our beloved outliers, Alaska and Hawaii. You could do as Steinbeck did, and travel the perimeter of the country with toy poodle in tow (not to mention writing a semi-non-fiction account of it) — or you could start with 10 destinations we’ve scooped for you already. They’re not all conventional bucket-list spots, but rather a range of party cities, ski towns, outdoor meccas, established treasures and up-and-coming metros. What they all share are enough goings-on, great people and destinations to be worthy of any itinerary. Just don’t forget the always-needed meat sticks.
Santa Barbara, California
A town of 10,000 people at 4,000 feet, Sedona stuns its visitors with its breathtaking red sandstone formations. It’s also a supposed center of spiritual healing, attracting an array of New Age thinkers, fortune-tellers and psychics.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Food, booze and music is the universal equation for a good time, and the Crescent City mastered it centuries ago. Wedged in by the tail of the mighty Mississippi, the port of call attracts millions each year looking to ride the currents of guilty pleasure that spring from the French Quarter’s vibrant sidewalks.
Denver isn’t just good breakfast and a gateway to good powder — or America’s favorite city with legalized marijuana. It’s also a hotbed of killer dining, host to a booming culture scene, and a new destination for startups and venture capital. 300 days of sunshine a year, green space around every turn (parks, that is), and proximity to said slopes doesn’t hurt either.
Providence, Rhode Island
40 miles south of an absolutely barren stretch of I-70 on the Colorado-Utah border sits the unlikely adventure travel capital of the Southwest desert. What Moab, Utah lacks in vegetation it makes up for in the sheer volume of red-rock activities local adrenaline junkies have dreamed up. We came to Moab with one thing in mind: to summit Ancient Art Tower — but our free days were easily filled with stunning hikes in Arches National Park, exceptional sport climbing and bouldering along the Colorado river, and more than few local craft beers and wines.
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Since the 1980s, Beaver Creek has grown into a high-end alternative to Aspen, and a little sister to the city on a slope that makes up Vail. We spent a weekend at the resort to try out the food, drink and slopes.
Key West, Florida
Some people might wonder: Why would a person go all the way to the southernmost point in the continental United States for a fish sandwich? Well, the short answer is that we didn’t go to Key West just for a fish sandwich — we scoped out a hotel, went fishing, drove scooters and jet skis, and drank beer. The long answer is that the hogfish isn’t any old sea critter you can pick up at Whole Foods, and the place that serves it ranks very high on the list of best waterfront bars in America (just behind the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, MA, in this author’s black book).
Park City, Utah
Park City’s reputation as a winter resort is outsized: It was the home of skiing and snowboarding events during the 2002 Winter Olympics in nearby Salt Lake City; it remains the training grounds for the United States Ski Team; and it plays host to the Sundance Film Festival. We came for the latter, but we found an idyllic mountain town where the sun shines almost every day, an un-ironic trolley rambles along Main Street and beautiful women wear leggings and fur vests.