One of the challenges I face as Ambassador is representing to Kiwis who have not yet been there the vast size of the United States and the great diversity of our people, landscape, culture, and politics. I am often surprised when I hear folks discuss America as though it were a homogeneous monolith, as though a nation of almost 350 million people spread across a half dozen time zones — from the Atlantic to the far western Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to below the Equator — could be of one flavor, one template, or one mind. Such a view is a bit nutty, if you stop to think about it.
To highlight the rich fabric of American life and offer ideas for travelers to consider, over the past several months I’ve invited a few of my State Department colleagues to write articles for my blog about their home cities or States, from an insider’s perspective. I started with a two-parter that I drafted myself about Los Angeles and then ping ponged around the country based on which guest bloggers were available, focusing on tourist destinations and places to live that might be of particular interest to Kiwis and Samoans. Quite a few of the places we’ve featured were probably new to you, which is exactly the point.
Thus far we’ve talked, among other things, about the mighty glaciers and wildlife of Alaska, epic bicycle tours across Iowa, glorious rainbows of autumn leaves in New England, leisure resorts and luxury spas in New Mexico and South Carolina, exhilarating and soulful regional cuisines, heritage tours of Virginia, and the exuberant quirkiness of Austin, Texas and Eugene, Oregon. In all, we’ve stopped in 15 of America’s 50 States and 16 Territories and insular Commonwealths. I thought it might be nice at this point in our road trip to review briefly where we’ve been, a bit like looking at photos part way through a long holiday. (Clicking on the title of each blurb below will take you back to the whole original article.)
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My hometown of Los Angeles is immense, dynamic, willful, wildly diverse, explosively creative, and improbably beautiful. A city that revels in its own natural eccentricity and instinctive iconoclasm, it is home to people from more than 150 countries speaking 226 different languages (only about 42% of the population speaks English as a first language). As the epicentre of Earth’s motion picture industry, the City of Angels has a long love affair with imaginative industries; one in every six residents works in a creative industry. The Stevens Institute for Innovation asserts, “There are more artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers, and musicians living and working in L.A. than in any other city at any time in the history of civilization.”
A warm Mediterranean climate draws throngs of visitors and residents alike to our wide sandy beaches throughout the year. Snow-capped mountains, dense forests, wild lakes, and pristine deserts are within easy drive of the city center, providing a wide range of accessible outdoor activities including skiing, fishing, tramping, camping, horse riding, cycling, and just plain luxuriating. Families can head to one of our many amusement parks including Universal Studios Hollywood, Magic Mountain, the Santa Monica Pier, Knott’s Berry Farm, and (of course) Disneyland … shoppers can enjoy our iconic marketplaces including Rodeo Drive, Colorado Blvd., and Fashion Island. It’s not hard to see why more Kiwi tourists already visit L.A. than any other city in America.
SOUTH DAKOTA, by Adrian Pratt
If you are looking for an authentic experience in America’s heartland, South Dakota is for you. Iconic attractions such as Mount Rushmore, the old gambling town of Deadwood, Rapid City … the stunning beauty of the hills and prairies, the wild bison of Custer State Park, a rich Native American culture … extraordinary camping, skiing, hunting, and fishing … Wild West historical sites, relaxed, friendly small town life. Life is slower in South Dakota, but it leaves visitors more time to experience the untamed West of American folklore.
The State possesses a majestic, almost primal beauty. Badlands National Park draws thousands of visitors each year who come to see one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Visitors to the Black Hills Caves can explore a massive network of caverns with striking geologic deposits, or head to Black Hills National Forest to enjoy the cloud-piercing granite peaks and forested mountains that dominate the skyline of western South Dakota. You can tour the ranch country where the visually iconic Kevin Coster movie “Dances with Wolves” was filmed, or visit an array of quirky attractions such as the beloved Corn Palace.
NEW HAMPSHIRE, by Marie Damour
In her guest blog, Marie made the case that New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful States in the Union. It’s a picture postcard kind of place with friendly people, rich history and culture, and a large variety of activities that caters to a multitude of different taste. Mountains, snow fields, rivers, seashore … pristine forests, lakes (and skiing of course, camping, hiking, rock climbing … hunting, fishing, sailing, sleigh rides, dog sledding … the recreational list is almost endless.
The stunning White Mountains are the Granite State’s main attraction, with visitors enjoying both winter and summer sports at Mt. Washington Resort at Bretton Woods. The charming mountain village of Jackson is famed for its fall foliage, covered bridge, and lovely waterfall. The 270 lakes and ponds of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region offer travellers to the State an authentic New England summer vacation. Friendly salt-of-the-Earth New Englanders round out the experience, making the State delightful to explore in any season.
AUSTIN, TEXAS, by Jessica Rowland
Renowned as the Live Music Capital of the World, the city of Austin features year-round performance events including the Austin City Limits Music Festival, South by Southwest, Texas Rock Fest, and the Austin Reggae Festival. For those of us with an appetite, Austin regularly clocks in as one of the world’s top culinary destinations, with a great diversity of choices including the likes of breakfast tacos from Juan in a Million, bib-required BBQ at the Salt Lick, and authentic Mexican food accompanied by pitchers of margaritas at Guero’s Taco Bar.
Art lovers will enjoy the Blanton Museum of Art, the Arthouse at the Jones Center, and the Mexic-Arte Museum – all world class. Outdoor pursuits abound in Austin, with rock climbing at Enchanted Rock, swimming in natural spring-fed Hamilton Pool, and Lake Travis for water sports enthusiasts. Visitors that venture a little further can enjoy the delights of the Texas Hill Country, which surrounds Austin in every direction. And the city has the best municipal motto I’ve ever heard … ”Keep Austin Weird.”
OREGON, by David Edginton
Oregon offers outdoor recreation opportunities that rival any on Earth. In the winter, skiers carve the slopes at Mt. Hood and Mt. Bachelor. Trampers and campers explore the State’s eleven national parks. River rafters head to the Rogue River, with its 56km long run dotted with class 3+ rapids. The Oregon Coast offers visitors the 150m tall sand mountains of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and one of the world’s largest sea grottos in the Sea Lion Caves.
You can finish your day on the coast with a stop at Mo’s Restaurant for some of the world’s best clam chowder. Those looking for a more urban feel can head to Portland for the Oregon Brewers Festival or the annual Rose Parade. Then head south to Eugene for a slice of delicious Track Town pizza while enjoying the city’s annual festival – the Eugene Celebration. An outdoor paradise, with urban sophistication – Oregon has it all.
MAINE, by Sarah Flewelling
Setting foot in Maine is like walking into a fairytale. You will find yourself in the midst of charming coastal towns, enchanted countryside and a host of quirky personalities. The most discerning outdoor enthusiasts can find peace in the massive, uninhabited Baxter Park, highlighted by Mt. Katahdin, where the unchecked woodlands are a hunter’s paradise.
If you’re not into hiking or hunting, head to Sugarloaf Mountain for one of the longest ski runs east of the Mississippi River, or travel to one of the coastal towns to gorge on seafood (or moose burgers), experience some of the best local breweries in America and take a ferry ride to the smaller islands off the coast of Maine. The State is world famous for lobster, and timing your trip around the Lobster Festival is recommended. Maine is one of the last untamed frontiers in America, and its seasons offer a magnificent diversity of activities, festivals and scenery, none of which is to be missed.
NEW MEXICO, by Lynda Hinds
New Mexico is a place where simple activities become rich, life-altering experiences. Arid flatland and cozy forests positioned atop gently rolling hills stretch impossibly far into a distant horizon, where colossal mountains burst forth like craggy giants. Visitors can pay tribute to the past by visiting the home of the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid, or travel along Route 66, known as the Main Street of America. More spirited adventurers may choose to view the world from the seat of a hot air balloon during the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
Those seeking an “out-of-world” experience can head to Roswell, the site of the infamous (yet still unconfirmed) alien landing. If up isn’t so much your cup of tea, travelling below the Earth’s surface in the Carlsbad Caverns rewards all visitors with a magnificent expanse of rock formations. Or you could simply bask in the glory of the sun in the White Sands National Monument, atop great dunes of brilliant white grains.
ARKANSAS, by Dana Deree
Any state that can produce Johnny Cash, Sam Walton, Bill Clinton, and Maya Angelou clearly has something going for it. Arkansas is the perfect blend of interesting people and beautiful places. Among the most extraordinary locations to see are Blanchard Springs Caverns and Mystic Caverns, examples of the many subterranean wonders found in the State. Or stand atop Whittaker Point – an iconic outdoors scene and possibly the most photographed rock in the state. Arkansas’ capital city, Little Rock, is only 50 miles from Hot Springs – a mountain, city, national park, and an unforgettable experience all rolled into one. Arkansas – the Natural State – has it all.
From the heights of Mount Magazine to the otherworldly depths of Fitton Cave, Arkansas’ scenic beauty stands testament to the interaction between the elements. Countless rivers and streams dot the landscape, along with waterfalls, hot springs, mountains, dense forests, and grand scenic vistas. It is an outdoor wonderland, the ideal place to breathe deeply and explore. Well-developed recreational infrastructure and welcoming folks make travel easy.
ALASKA, by Erin Roberston
The word “Alaska” is derived from the Aleut word for “Great Land,” and is a fitting name for a state that includes five different indigenous peoples with eleven distinct native cultures. Such vibrant diversity makes Alaska particularly attractive to visitors seeking to immerse themselves in America’s rich cultural heritage. Your first stop should be the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which offers traditional music & dance, storytelling, totem carving, weaving, and painting.
Denali National Park features an abundance of exotic wildlife for visitors to enjoy, as well as Denali itself – a 20,320ft peak, the tallest in North America. Luxury cruising past calving glaciers, wilderness treks, kayaking with whales … scenic railroad tours through the Yukon, guided Arctic expeditions, blue-water yachting … glacier walks, helicopter tours, dog sledding, the surreal romance of the Aurora Borealis … Alaska has something for everyone.
UTAH, by Chad Berbert
Utah is a land of dramatic landscapes that evokes wonder, awe, and adventure. From world famous desert red rock to the peaks of the Wasatch Range, the diversity of Utah’s geography is both astounding and inspiring. Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks best capture the stunning beauty of the State, affording visitors an enchanting outdoor experience. Alpine enthusiasts will revel in Utah’s 14 world class ski resorts, and can visit a wide range of Olympic facilities from the 2002 winter games held in the State. Utah’s famous Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, and a must see for tourists.
Utah is home to a thriving arts scene, including the world famous Sundance Film Festival. When all the outdoor activity works up an appetite, tourists can sample great food including unique haunts such as Ruth’s Diner, nestled in an old trolley car in Emigration Canyon. History buffs should visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site, which commemorates the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. And don’t miss the Historic Temple Square, the world headquarters of the Church of Latter-day Saints.
HILTON HEAD, SOUTH CAROLINA, by Joe Bergen
Hilton Head Island is the embodiment of Southern grace and charm. A vacation paradise that entices more than 2.5 million visitors a year, Hilton Head is one of America’s premier tourist locales. Golfers enjoy world class sites like Harbor Town Golf Links, site of the RBC Heritage golf tournament. Its warm waters tempt those vacationing with small children to enjoy long, lazy days of summer on the beach, and perhaps spot a loggerhead turtle. The resort town is also home to an extensive network of pathways that stretch for over 150km, ensuring visitors the opportunity to see most of the town from the seat of their bicycle.
Heritage is also on offer in Hilton Head, including Civil War battle sites like Fort Royal, African-American heritage site Penn Center (one of the first schools for freed slaves), and the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. The annual Wine and Food Festival is a must, and no trip to the State is complete without a visit to Skull Creek Boathouse, rated one of the best outdoor bars in America. With culture, history, golf, and beautiful warm water beaches, your family will treasure a Hilton Head vacation for a lifetime.
IOWA, by David Edginton
With its warm hospitality, authentic Americana flavour, and beautiful natural scenery, Iowa is a special place to visit. Natural wonders include the mighty Mississippi River, the serenity of the Iowa Great Lakes region, the rugged Maquoketa Caves, and the Effigy Mounds National Monument. Carnival enthusiasts will love spending long summer days at the Iowa State Fair where they can view the famous Butter Cow, or head north to Cedar Falls for the city’s annual Sturgis Falls Celebration.
Cyclists can test their mettle at RAGBRAI, the oldest, largest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world. Pella Tulip Time and the Amana Colonies highlight the State’s Dutch and German heritage. Those looking for a slower pace can spend time traversing the famed Bridges of Madison County. Of course, no mention of Iowa would be complete without a nod to the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville. A famous line from the movie says it all – “Is this Heaven? No it’s Iowa.”
VIRGINIA, by Corey Crane
If you decide on Virginia for a vacation, be warned that choosing between the State’s numerous and tantalizing options may be quite difficult. Rich in both natural beauty and American Heritage, the State is a veritable treasure trove of attractions and wonders. From Mount Vernon, to Monticello, to historic Jamestown, there are more than 120 national monuments and landmarks – a wealth of destinations that will delight any history buff.
If natural beauty is your draw-card, don’t miss Shenandoah National Park and the amazing Skyline Drive with 105 miles of vistas and more than 70 overlooks. Visitors also can enjoy Luray Caverns, home of the Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument. Sun, sand and surf are the order of the day at Virginia Beach, home of the North American Sand Soccer Championship. Roller coasters, dozens of cafés and restaurants make this the perfect place to tiki tour around. There truly is something for everyone in the state of Virginia, from the historic to the spectacular, and a world of sights and sounds between.
COLORADO, by Libbe Wride
The beauty of this mountainous enclave in America is unquestionable. The State features high plains in the east, adventurous canyons in the west, and the majestic Rocky Mountains in-between. Colorado blends outdoor adventure with urban sophistication. Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to start your adventure, with ample tramping, fishing, camping and a wide range of other activities readily available. Skiing is synonymous with the state, with iconic runs headlined by Telluride, Aspen and Vail among other world class alpine destinations.
Visitors can explore massive sand dunes, or go to Mesa Verde National Park to see the distinctive carved-stone and mud-brick cliff dwellings of the ancient Pueblo civilization. A stop in Denver offers a splash of urban sophistication and high culture. And it’s important to note that the folks in Colorado practice the high art of brewing. The largest breweries in the State include Coors, Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser plant, and the New Belgium Brewing Company. Denver’s breweries combine to make the city number 1 in beer production per capita in America, and number 2 in number of total breweries.
OHIO, by Colin Crosby
Nestled in the heart of the Great Lakes, visitors to Ohio can experience a true slice of authentic Americana. In the summer, beachgoers head to the north shore of Lake Erie and popular spots like Cedar Point Beach, East Harbor State Park, and Headlands Beach State Park – the largest natural sand beach in Ohio. Those seeking adventure tourism experiences travel inland to Hocking Hills State Park in southeastern Ohio, and the wonders of Lake Logan, Cantwell Cliffs and Ash Cave.
Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Centre, Taft Museum of Art and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Centre will appeal to visitors looking for a more urban experience. Families can enjoy a full day’s activities with the kids at the Cedar Point and King’s Island amusement parks, among the best in the nation. Add to that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and you can see why Ohio is a must stop on your next trip to the heartland of America.
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There is a lot more to see and do in the United States, so where would you like to go next?
If you let me know what you are interested in, I will happily find a colleague somewhere in the State Department who can write about the topic from an insider’s perspective. Whether it’s a city, State, ecosystem, outdoor activity, indoor pleasure, culture, cuisine, or special interest, I would be happy to add your suggestion to our American road trip itinerary. I would also welcome guest articles for this series directly from readers, but please contact me first about your interest. (I would particularly like to identify guest bloggers about American Samoa and Puerto Rico.)
Last year approximately 200,000 Kiwis (and many Samoans) visited the U.S. I have not debriefed all of them, but the folks with whom I have spoken seemed to really enjoy themselves. A lot of the first-time travelers, including several reporters and political figures, were positively, warmly, and even greatly surprised by what they saw and experienced. That’s no surprise to me, which is why one of my goals as Ambassador is to increase significantly the number of people from here who travel to the United States on vacation, for business, or to attend college or university.
When considering or planning a visit to the United States, take a look at Discover America, a great source of ideas and information. If you have particular locations in mind for your trip, each of our States and many of our cities have official tourism websites to which you can easily google. You can check out my Travel USA board on Pinterest for ideas if you don’t have a particular holiday or location yet in mind.
As to logistics, see Getting a Visa is Easier than You Think or our official portal on non-immigrant visas to learn just how straightforward it is to get to America. If you are a Kiwi currently studying in a tertiary education institution (or graduated less than a year ago), read my Twelve Month Work and Travel Program blog article to discover a particularly exciting, easy, and potentially very productive way to have a game-changing overseas experience.
Any questions, just ask. And stay tuned for the next stop on our great American road trip.