With everything from mountains to tropical beaches and skyscraper-packed cities, deciding which bit of the US to visit is often the hardest part. To the north, there’s bustling New York and the hipster hangouts of Seattle, while in the west, laid-back LA has glamour to spare. The big surprise, though, is the south which combines old-fashioned charm with slick cities such as Dallas.
The US is the home of the car and, just about everywhere you go, renting one will prove essential. There are some exceptions to the rule, however; among them New York with its comprehensive metro system and northern cities such as Portland, Washington DC, Seattle and Baltimore – all of which have some trams and trains.
Los Angeles and New York might be the main draws but the unkindly nicknamed ‘flyover states’ in between have no shortage of things to see and do. Away from the glitter, beaches and cultural gems of Hollywood, the West Coast boasts everything from rugged Mediterranean-style countryside and seaside towns (California) to rugged desert and shiny casinos (Nevada). Further north, Oregon is without doubt one of the prettiest of all the states and is awash with sleepy vineyards. Seattle too, although chilly in winter, is well worth a visit – not least because of its wealth of top-notch coffee shops.
Further east is Colorado with its dramatic alpine beauty and ski resorts and the Wild West dunes and cactus of Arizona – formerly home to hardened gold prospectors and cowboys. While the gold is gone, the cowboys remain, as do the spectacular Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. Texas has no shortage of places for a city break, with lovely Dallas, chic Austin and sprawling Houston all in the mix, while Florida combines sultry cities such as Miami with the tropical paradise that is the Florida Keys.
Heading north, New York might dominate the brochures but pretty Washington DC has much to offer and is especially lovely in spring when its Japanese cherry trees turn the banks of the Potomac pink. Don’t forget to venture out into surrounding Virginia – its lovely countryside and historic sites are hard not to fall in love with.
A hipster destination to rival the Big Apple, Oregon’s capital Portland is a charming little city with galleries galore and a bustling bar scene. Just as interesting is El Paso, on the US border with Mexico, and the spectacular surrounding desert. Three hours south is Marfa – a mini Venice Beach in Texas with a community of art-loving hippies, chic places to stay and within easy reach of the Rio Grande. Another city regaining its old splendour is New Orleans, now recovered from Hurricane Katrina and back to its bustling best. In the north, Pittsburgh is worth visiting for its cultural treasures as well as its iron bridges, while Baltimore is enjoying a renaissance and combines art deco skyscrapers with a thriving culinary scene.
Like deciding where to visit, choosing what and where to eat in just about any American city can be a bewildering experience. Most states have local specialties, such as crab cakes in Maryland and po’ boys in Louisiana, and plenty of restaurants in which to try them. New York is famous for its delis and Philadelphia for its gut-busting cheesesteaks, while LA is awash with clean-eating organic restaurants and pricy celebrity hubs. On the road, the quality of food can vary, with fast-food chains clustered around what appears to be every intersection. A general rule of thumb is to plump for In-N-Out or Wendy’s, both of which make their burgers fresh, or head to diner chain Denny’s in a pinch.