Mustangs, the Super Bowl, carving faces in mountains – there are some things the Americans do particularly well. To remind you how awesome those 50 states are, we’ve rounded up the best bits for every taste, from well-trodden paths to the up-and-coming ones
Tried and tested: Yosemite, California
You probably read about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s incredible ascent of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite last month, and if you’re thinking “I’ll have a bit of that”, we’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that Yosemite, which celebrates 125 years as a US National Park in 2015, is accessible, easy to get around (for the most part) and every bit as awe-inspiring as you’d hope. Huge granite peaks, gushing waterfalls and forests are spread throughout almost 750,000 acres of sheer drama, and it can be explored by car or bus, hiked on foot or – if you’ve got the skills and nerve – scaled with your bare hands. Which is where the bad news comes in – unless you’re Caldwell or Jorgeson, a free ascent of El Cap might have to wait.
Getting there: BA flies to San Francisco from £580 return. Hire a car to get there under your own steam (around 3.5 hours from San Francisco), or get a train or bus to Merced then take the Yarts bus service to and around the park. ba.com; yarts.com
Up and coming: Minneapolis, Minnesota
According to the American Fitness Index, Minneapolis (along with neighbours St Paul and Bloomington) is the second-fittest city in the US, and not because it has a population of gym bunnies.
there are more than 22 lakes in the metropolitan area alone
This city’s all about the outdoors – there are more than 22 lakes in the metropolitan area alone, and over 10,000 throughout the whole of Minnesota, while mountain biking, hiking and snow-sports in the freezing Northern winter are a big deal here. If you’re handy with a paddle, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in heaven, with canoe and kayak routes that wind across lakes, through forests and along the Mississippi river.
Getting there: KLM offers return flights from £523. klm.com
Tried and tested: Miami, Florida
Think Miami is a parade of pecs and pert bums? Yep, there is all that, but it’s also a world-class hub for art. That’s right, the Pérez Art Museum for contemporary and modern art has put the city firmly on the map. Add to that the annual Art Basel event (a 75,000-strong gathering of arty types and super-wealthy investors) and the cool vibe of Wynwood (over 70 galleries and expert graffiti at every turn), the city is a guaranteed art lovers’ paradise. If the draw of nightlife is too much to resist, head to South Beach, where colourful Art Deco hotels look out over the beachside bars. miamiandbeaches.com
Getting there: BA offers return flights from £725. ba.com
Up and coming: Fort Worth, Texas
Texas does great BBQ ribs, and we are thankful for that too. But behind all those checked shirts and saucy bits of pork, there’s more than a whiff of sophistication. In Fort Worth (tagline: City of Cowboys and Culture) you’ll find museums galore, particularly in the cultural district, where in one swoop you can see modern artwork and Impressionist masterpieces. The district also puts on one of the oldest rodeos in the country. traveltex.com
Getting there: US Airways flies to Dallas from £620 return. Take the Trinity Railway Express for 60 minutes to Fort Worth. usairways.com
The Beach Bum
Tried and tested: Oahu, Hawaii
Powdery sand, bright blue sky, turquoise water, swaying palms – oh we may be guilty of clichés, but that really is your average beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In this case, average also means spectacular – there’s a reason these curves of sand are continually winning beauty awards.
The hardest part is picking which of Oahu’s 100 beaches to chill on
The hardest part is picking which of Oahu’s 100 beaches to chill on: you could gaze at the pristine waters of Kailua, surf the Banzai Pipeline of Ehukai Beach, or lounge with the whole of Yokohama Bay to yourself. A tough choice, indeed, but one we’d be pretty happy to make if it came to it.
Up and coming: Sandy Hook, New Jersey
Preened, beautiful beaches are all very well, but what if you prefer something a little more rugged? New Jersey on the east coast has got it covered, particularly with Sandy Hook – a six-mile spit on the Jersey Shore, loved by Manhattanites swapping city for sand. Forget palm trees, mega yachts and coconut cocktails, New Jersey offers old-school beach towns where it’s all about the amusement park – when you’re not surfing or swimming, you should be playing pinball, challenging kids in the arcade, eating a hotdog or scaring the hell out of yourself on a rollercoaster.
Getting there: Virgin Atlantic offers return flights from £620. Take a 40-minute ferry from Wall Street, New York. virgin-atlantic.com
Tried and tested: New York
Even the most diligent planner can’t get through all the different cuisines on offer in New York. Guidebooks may send you to Katz’s Deli for colossal pastrami sandwiches, or Grimaldi’s for pizza. We love them too, but for something less touristy, head out of Manhattan to the suburb of Queens.
for something less touristy, head out of Manhattan to the suburb of Queens
Here you’ll find the real Chinatown, along with Mexican, Colombian and Nepalese temptations too. Over in Brooklyn, get your fried chicken and waffle fix at Sweet Chick, and for a local neighbourhood bar experience head to the Achilles Heel in Greenpoint – barman Steve is a cocktail whizz and knows his neighbourhood eats. His local pick? The Blue Stove for a pie made of apple, rosemary, blackberry and oat brown sugar crumb. You’ll have to drag us out.
Getting there: Virgin Atlantic offers return flights from £620. virgin-atlantic.com
Up and coming: Oakland, California
California’s brilliant food scene is no great secret, of course, but pockets have still managed to slip under the tourist radar. Until recently Oakland may have been overlooked, but this resurgent, progressive city across the bay from San Francisco is currently riding a wave of hype, not least for its food scene. Try Bocanova in Jack London Square for pan-American food with a waterfront view, or sister restaurant Jack's Oyster Bar & Fish House for excellent, sustainable seafood. Crust-lovers should check out Pizzaiolo’s thin, crispy pizzas on Telegraph Avenue (the potato and pancetta is an icon), while those in search of serious eats should head to James Syhabout’s Michelin-starred Commis. Round the evening off with a visit to Diving Dog Brewhouse, with different styles of beer on rotation across 30 taps, plus home-brews and pop-up food pairings from local restaurants.
Getting there: BA flies to San Francisco from £580 return. Ferries and buses connect Oakland with San Francisco. ba.com
Tried and tested: Austin, Texas
If you like bars, and music, then Austin is your playground. Variety is key, and a visit takes you from honky tonk saloons to sessions of garage rock. For blues-fuelled dance parties head to The Sahara Lounge, where you’ll also find an eclectic mix of Brazilian, funk and swing. Serious music lovers should head over in March for South by Southwest (SXSW), one of the world’s biggest music festivals. This year’s line-up includes rapper 5ive (no, not the 1990s boyband – we were disappointed too) and London-born and bred artist Jessie Ware. You’ll need energy, so get to Hoover’s for chicken fried steak – a Texan staple.
Getting there: British Airways offers return flights from £600. ba.com
Up and coming: Louisville, Kentucky
95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky, and Louisville is the place to drink it; in Bourbon’s Bistro, a city favourite, you can try up to 130 varieties of the liquor. But that’s not all: Louisville music scene is the nuts, and over at Headliners Music Hall you’ll find national and local acts.
95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky, and Louisville is the place to drink it
Don’t leave without a night of local bluegrass – a form of American roots music with banjos and fiddles aplenty. Seems sensible to combine the two, doesn’t it? Well, in September you can – the city will be pairing up with Four Roses bourbon to host a barbecue, bourbon and bluegrass fest at the Louisville Water Tower.
Getting there: US Airways offers return flights from £550. USAirways.com
Tried and tested: Las Vegas, Nevada
If the bright lights of the casinos don’t tempt you, the pool parties will. It may be garish and glitzy, but there’s a reason tourists flock to Vegas – even Prince Harry’s at it, and we all know he likes a good knees-up. Pool party day is Sunday, when the young, and young at heart, frolic in micro-bikinis and tight speedos. If you can’t beat them just join them, but make sure it’s at the MGM Grand’s Wet Republic party. After dark you can indulge in a little gambling session then head off-strip, away from the neon lights to the arts district (yes, Vegas has one), to Bar+Bistro for cocktails.
Pool party day is Sunday, when the young, and young at heart, frolic in micro-bikinis and tight speedos
Don’t linger too long – it’s worth catching a Vegas show, and you can get a piece of Britney (or her music) in her show at Planet Hollywood.
Getting there: Virgin Atlantic offers return flights from £700. virgin-atlantic.com
Up and coming: Savannah, Georgia
Forrest Gump may have painted Savannah as a sleepy southern town, but the oldest city in Georgia is seeing a new lease of life. It’s a hard-drinking kind of place, so start by lining the stomach with burgers at Green Truck Pub before a round or two at Pinkie Master’s Lounge, the diviest of dive bars. Bar-hopping here is easy thanks to the ‘to go’ cup, meaning you can take your drink from bar to bar along River Street. Carry it to Savannah Smiles Dueling Pianos – a raucous bar that’s usually packed with 450 people singing along to piano versions of rock and pop classics.
Getting there: US Airways offers return flights from £540. USairways.com
Tried and tested: Portland, Oregon
Portland is so damn hipster, it even has it’s own website dedicated to the breed – portlandhipster.com. This fiercely proud (and much-mocked) progressive paradise of beards, flannel shirts, coffee, food trucks and fixed-gear bikes is fun, though, so just embrace the vibe. Start with the food trucks (there are more than 600 in the city), and stop by The Dump Truck (smirk) for a bacon cheeseburger dumpling. Coffee is ingrained in the city’s culture, so try Stumptown, a Portland institution, before moving on to Courier Coffee for a taste of the iconic DIY spirit, with macchiatos in mason jars and deliveries on bikes. Their local knowledge is impressive, so tap them up for recommendations.
Up and coming: Detroit, Michigan
Detroit may appear to be a story of sad urban decay, but beyond the city’s graffiti-covered skyscrapers and ‘ruin porn’ (yeah, that’s a thing), the former car production hub is seeing a spirit of revival.
Abandoned buildings and low rents are now luring young creative types keen to restore the city to its former glory
Abandoned buildings and low rents are now luring young creative types keen to restore the city to its former glory – you’ll find them in Corktown, the oldest neighbourhood, where colourful buildings on Michigan Avenue are home to the city’s cool new restaurants and bars. For fun and games try the Offworld Arcade – a bar and arcade in an old school. “There ain’t no party like a Detroit party,” according to rapper Kid Rock. We think it’s time to find out if he’s right…
Getting there: Virgin Atlantic offers return flights from £600. virgin-atlantic.com
Tried and tested: Aspen, Colorado
Aspen has a bit of a reputation. Not a bad reputation, but you do need a fair bit of dollar to keep up with the wealthy Americans knocking about the slopes, which seems a shame considering the stellar skiing opportunities. But with a bit of help (not monetary, just research) you can do Aspen on a smaller budget, and booking into the Molly Gibson Lodge is a good place to start. For cheap eats and large portions head to Little Annie’s Eating House for Aspen’s best burger and beer special, or for lunch on the run try out Big Wrap for tortilla crammed with chicken, salad, cheese – whatever takes your fancy. After a long day on the slopes head to Zane’s Tavern for a pint while you struggle to watch an American sports game through the crowds (which, let’s face it, will go on forever and won’t make any sense to you anyway).
Getting there: BA offers return flights from £580. ba.com
Up and coming: Alyeska, Alaska
Despite a name that sounds like someone ridiculously posh saying “Alaska”, Alyeska is no joke, particularly if – like us – you’re a bit of a powder-hound. Located in the jaw-droppingly magnificent Chugach mountains, the resort is steep and deep, with 16.5m of snowfall a year and 1,610 skiable acres. Those with wide enough skis, deep enough pockets and big enough cojones can seek out fresh powder with cat and heli-skiing, though beginners needn’t spend the day indoors – there’s a dedicated mountain learning centre where you can get to grips with the snow, away from the big and scary stuff. A new, high-speed lift opened last season, giving improved access to
the upper mountain trails.
Getting there: From £1,665 per person for seven nights’ accommodation, including flights and transfers, with Ski Safari. skisafari.com