Over the spring and summer, I embarked on a bucket list trip: traveling across the US. I started in upstate New York, made my way down south, went west and then back up the coast all the way to Canada. Basically a big U shape loop of the US.
I’d been to the US once before in 2015, but only did a quick trip to NYC and Washington D.C. Although I loved it, it wasn’t exactly a cultural immersion experience. So I kept dreaming of going back and visiting a few places that seemed particularly cool. As a Dutch citizen I qualified for the ESTA visa waiver which allowed me to travel for 90 consecutive days in the US, without having to apply for a tourist visa. 90 days seems like a lot, but the US is huge and travel can be slow. Especially when, like me, you want to limit air travel (for all the obvious environmental reasons). Sadly, I ended up not having enough time to tick off every single one of my dream destinations and had to skip Chicago, Boston and Colorado.
I visited a lot of places during my 3 months in the USA. Some didn’t quite live up to my dreams, but others pleasantly surprised me. Obviously, the US is a big country and a huge diversity in destinations. As much as I hate picking favorites, I managed to boil it down to my 5 top places to visit in the US and put them in alphabetical order. If you’re planning a trip to the USA, these are a few destinations I think you can’t miss:
To me, Austin is not just the capital of Texas. It’s the capital of cool. From me the moment I got off the bus in Austin, I felt at home. It’s a vibrant, hip and young city. Their town slogan is so on point: “keep Austin weird”. It’s such a versatile city as well!
It’s sporty and outdoorsy, everyone goes paddle boarding and kayaking on the Colorado River which runs through the city, or hiking in the parks on the outskirts of town. There are tons of cute shops and markets, especially amazing vintage and thrift stores. The architecture in Austin ranges from beautiful colonial architecture like the Texas State Capitol to colorful retro bungalows.
Austin offers every type of nightlife, from laid back dive bars to the crazy “Dirty Sixth”. And of course with amazing live music everywhere!
But perhaps the best thing about Austin is the food scene. Gorge yourself on incredible Texas BBQ and food truck taco’s.
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo was such a huge surprise! I’d only ever known Buffalo for the wings and the Niagara Falls. And although those are two things you should definitely do in Buffalo, this city in upstate New York has so much more to offer! I feel like upstate New York is such an underrated destination, but it has a ton of cute and cool cities like Buffalo and Ithaca. Forget all the tourists that come to see the waterfalls, because Buffalo is actually super hip and cool!
Downtown Buffalo has some amazing Art Deco architecture. Allentown and Elmwood are hipster neighborhoods with cool coffee shops, vegan restaurants and tons of great street art. Buffalo also has a few beautiful parks and lots of fun community activities.
I have wanted to visit Nashville ever since I started watching the guilty pleasure show of the same name. Country music is surprisingly popular in the Netherlands and I’m a big fan! So of course Nashville was a must-visit on my trip to the US. It doesn’t get much more American than country music right?
Even after watching the TV show “Nashville”, the city was really different from what I expected. Much smaller and much less glamorous. Really, it was a lot like other cities. Not to say that Nashville isn’t fun! I had an absolute blast and there is so much to do and see there.
I learned about US and Tennessee history and about country music in Nashvilles museums. I explored the hipster side of Nashville in 12th South and Salemtown. Of course, I got a little country and had a few drinks on Broadway and listened to a LOT of live music.
New Orleans, Louisiana
My absolute favorite place I visited in the US was without a doubt New Orleans. Maybe it’s the beautiful architecture, the rich history and culture, the fun nightlife, the European feel, the Southern hospitality or the incredible food. But it’s probably the combination of all those things.
From the French Quarter to the Garden District, New Orleans is breathtakingly beautiful. It has an incredibly interesting history, that’s still very much alive. Cajun and creole influences are everywhere in New Orleans. Especially in the food. New Orleans is foodie heaven with Louisiana southern comfort food classics, BBQ and creole and Cajun spicy dishes.
To me, the people really make NOLA what it is. They are kind, welcoming, resilient and love to have fun. Life may not have always been easy here, but it is always celebrated. And celebrate they do! New Orleans is known as a party town (and it is), but it has a lot of facets. Between the fun trashiness of Bourbon Street to the traditional Jazz bars, every night feels like Mardi Gras!
Where to stay: Auberge NOLA is not just the best hostel in New Orleans, but in the whole country. I’m biased because I worked there, but I wouldn’t have stayed for a month if it wasn’t amazing. The location is perfect, in the beautiful Garden District and just a streetcar ride from the French Quarter. The staff at Auberge NOLA turn every day into Mardi Gras, so be prepared to have a lot of fun and meet cool people. It’s also the cleanest and most comfortable hostel I’ve ever stayed in!
At the start of my trip, I never thought Seattle would make this list! And to be fair, I went back and forth plenty of times whether I should choose San Francisco instead. But in the end I felt like Seattle deserved this spot, simply because it surprised me so much. It’s such a cool city!
Seattle is up-and-coming and rapidly evolving as a city. It is a city of nature and culture, food and art. To me, it perfectly represents a new generation of America: young, hip, modern, diverse and liberal. All the best things of the Pacific Northwest, without the pretentiousness of Portland. It offers a contrast to the old, colonial charm of the East Coast, but has a charm all of its own.
These are the five cities I loved most in the US. But it’s such a big country with lots of diversity. What are your favorite cities to visit in the US? Did I miss your top picks? Let me know in the comments which you would add!
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