Thank you to my travel blogger friend Nathan for this US destination list to inspire our next trip to America.
The "I Dreamed Of This" Top 5 U.S. Travel Destinations
by Nathan Allen
It is known that my favorite place in the world is El Nido in the Philippines… but I thought it would be fun to do a "top 5" list for my home country, the U.S.! It is a beautiful and diverse country that I had the pleasure of exploring quite a bit before I journeyed overseas.
So are you ready? Here we go!
5. Death Valley, California
Don't let the name throw you off – In my opinion there is actually quite a romantic quality in the vastness of the desert. Death Valley is a fascinating place; It boasts the lowest point in the western hemisphere (282 feet below sea level), the hottest recorded temperature in the world (134 degrees F., or 56.7 degrees C.), snowy peaks up to 11,043ft (3,366m), picturesque valley views, spring wildflowers, sand dunes, and a variety of wildlife including coyotes, wild burros, and the iconic desert roadrunners.
Best Views: In my opinion, Dante's View and Father Crowley Point (on highway 190) are the most scenic.
Best Food and Drink: Panamint Springs Resort on highway 190. This oasis in the desert has great food, over 100 American craft beers (plus a few on tap), and plenty of good company. You can likely save money by staying in the rooms behind the restaurant, but keep in mind that "resort" takes on a new meaning in the wild west. It's got plenty of rustic charm, though. Campgrounds and RV sites available as well.
Things To See: Keep an eye out for the peak wildflower bloom, usually in March each year. The stunning Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are quite accessible, but for a less crowded adventure you can hike out 4 miles to the Panamint Springs Dunes. It's worth the trip! Inquire at the resort. "Scotty's Castle", "The Racetrack", and "Badwater" (lowest point) are a few other attractions that tourists love.
Tips: As you might expect, the summer months of July and August are extremely hot. Bring plenty of water, and make sure your car can handle the stress! I find May to be a great time to travel, it's just warm enough to get a feel for the desert heat, but not too unbearable. Daytime temps in winter average at 65 degrees F., though it can get down to freezing at night, so keep that in mind if you're camping!
4. New York City, NY
NYC is a place everybody should try to experience at least once in their lives. The entry point for thousands of immigrants over the years, it is a melting pot of different cultures from around the world. Take a walk in famous Central Park, catch a show on Broadway, or take photos of sparkly and bustling Times Square. There is much to do in "the city that never sleeps".
My favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan are the West Village and "Alphabet City". Of course, being a huge jazz fan has a lot to do with this…but even if you're just looking for great bars and restaurants without the jazz, you can't lose. In the West Village, the jazz hot spot "Fat Cat" is a late-night jam session and gaming heaven! Some of the best musicians in the country come and jump in after each set. The bar serves great craft beer on tap, and the patrons play table tennis, shuffleboard, billiards, chess, and even Scrabble. $3 cover charge. It's hard to pull me away from this place! The club practically takes up an entire block underground, but you'd never know it by the unassuming street entrance. Grab a late-night slice at nearby Bleeker Street Pizza on your way back to the hotel!
In Alphabet City there are a wide variety of places to eat and drink. A very unique experience is going to see the traditional jazz (30s and 40s) jam session each Tuesday night at Mona's on Ave. B. They start at 11pm, so be prepared for a late night! Get there at 9pm or before if you want to try to find a seat at the bar. These players are incredible, and there's really nothing like it. The Blind Barber is a nearby speakeasy-type cocktail bar where you can actually get your hair cut as well! If a massive beer selection is what you're after, head to DBA on the other side of Thompkins Square Park (also worth visiting on it's own!)
Tips: You can't buy a full day-pass on the subway, but if you have time, a week pass will save you a lot of money and get you everywhere you need to go. Spring is a beautiful time to visit, because all of the trees are bursting to life after the cold winter. Fall tree-colors might be even better because of the striking reds, oranges, and yellows that line the streets at that time.
Head to Brooklyn for a more "hip" experience, and what's left of the "old" New York. In general, the whole New York area is much more safe, clean, and friendly than it's ever been.
3. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
It is very tempting to mention spectacular Yosemite instead, but most people know about it already. Crater Lake is not as well known, and has equally stunning scenery (though on a smaller scale). When I first arrived at the rim of the crater, I'll never forget seeing "Wizard Island" rising up from the deep blue waters of the lake! The crater is a caldera formed after a massive eruption between 6,000 and 8000 years ago. The lake has no water running in or out of it, and is just a product of precipitation and snow melt. It is the deepest lake in the U.S., with some of the purest and clearest water as well. The highest recorded visibility in the water was an incredible 142 feet down!
Winter is a beautiful time to go because of the snow, though you should make sure you have a car or truck that is capable of handing the journey. During the summer, many people like to hike down the steep one-mile Cleetwood Cove trail and see the clear water for themselves.
2. San Francisco, California
The "City By The Bay" is, in my opinion, the most beautiful in the U.S. Famous for the Golden Gate Bridge, its nearly 50 hills, and foggy weather, there is a lot to see packed into a small peninsula along the California coast. The city sprang up overnight during the gold rush of 1849. Over the next few years it became the epitome of the "wild west". Lawlessness and corruption ran rampant, but eventually a sense of peace and order prevailed. The city's diverse residents and policies made it a hotbed for liberal activism in the 60s. Artists (con and otherwise) have flocked here for years. If the cool weather is too much for you, head to sunny Portrero Hill or the Mission district.
Points of interest are Pier 39, Grace Cathedral (Nob Hill), Coit Tower, Lombard Street, Haight Street, Golden Gate Park, and Ocean Beach.
Best Pizza: Little Star Deep Dish
Best Burrito: El Faralito in the Mission
Best View: Twin Peaks
Top Rated Activity: Walk up Market street from Embarcadero, then up through Chinatown on the way to Little Italy and North Beach.
Tip: Don't call it "San Fran". Locals will never let you hear the end of it!
1. New Orleans, Louisiana (A.K.A. NOLA) – USA
I seem to have a thing for "melting pot" cities, and New Orleans is no exception. The confluence of French, African, and native cultures created something quite unique here – there's nothing like it in the U.S. The air is humid and heavy. The city is overflowing with a vibrant, soulful energy. The French architecture is beautiful, and the voodoo history is fascinating. If it's not obvious already, I am a big fan of traditional jazz – a uniquely American art form. There is a lot of musical history here.
Soul Food: I've been away for a few years, so do some research and find the best place to sample some Cajun cuisine. Collared greens and alligator are a MUST!
Cafe Du Monde – A very old open-air French cafe serving chicory coffee and mouth-watering beignets (doughnuts). It's a NOLA institution.
Jazz: Walk along Bourbon Street and avoid all the tourist-traps. Pop into Fritzel's Jazz Pub. I had my mind blown by the musicians here on many occasions. For another authentic NOLA experience, head to Preservation Hall and catch a show.
Frenchman Street: If you want to experience the city more like a local, head over to the bars and restaurants on Frenchman Street.
Tip: As with anywhere you travel, be street smart.
Thanks to Our Awesome Planet for the feature!
Nathan Allen is a full-time traveler who started the travel blog "I Dreamed Of This" (www.idreamedofthis.com). He most recently documented a year living in and exploring the Philippines. You can follow him by "liking" the FB page: www.facebook.com/idreamedofthis , or adding @idreamedofthis on Instagram and Twitter.