United States Travel Guides
From balmy beaches to winter wonderlands, from lunar desert landscapes to mighty Redwood forests, California offers something for the entire family. You can stand among trees 1,000 years old, fly a Chinese kite in Golden Gate Park, ride the rapids where gold was discovered in Gold Country, get your picture taken with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, people-watch at Venice Beach, pet a baby cheetah at the San Diego Zoo, take a ride under King Kong at Universal Studios, or tour Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
These enchanted tropical islands are an ideal place to relax and have fun with the whole family. Kids love the beach, the luaus with fire dancing, swimming with dolphins, learning to surf and spotting rainbows.
America’s 24-hour playground provides days of entertainment for the young and young at heart. Hotels on The Strip are astounding virtual worlds which resemble different places and times, complete with their very own amusement parks, wave pools, zoos, wonderlands and even a manmade volcano. Comedians and pop stars regularly perform, while free circus acts and Elvis impersonators abound in this capital of fun.
Mall of America
The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota is the largest mall in the country. Not just a shopping centre, this massive mall provides amusement rides, games and kids activities, along with more than 500 stores, 50 restaurants, 14 movie theatres and 7 nightclubs. Many tourists make this mall their prime holiday destination, embarking on a whole new idea of ‘shop ‘til you drop’.
Taking the train is a wonderful way for the whole family to see the United States. Amtrak is great for long journeys, such as its California Zephyr route, travelling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country where there are no vehicles or roads. For more information, visit www.amtrak.com
Shorter excursions can be enjoyed on classic steam trains. The historical Skunk Train is an old family favourite with scenic routes north and east of San Francisco. Visit www.skunktrain.com for more information. Some more fantastic excursion steam trains are Roaring Camp Railroad (California), Heber Valley Railroad (Utah), Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (Colorado), Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad (New Mexico), Blue Ridge Scenic Railway (Georgia), Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (Maryland) Wilmington & Western Railroad (Delaware).
The San Diego Zoo in San Diego and the National Zoo in Washington DC are among the top zoos in the world. Vast open spaces, rivers and lush gardens recreate the animals’ natural habitats where they can be seen behaving as they would in the wild. These zoos host special events and activities geared towards education and animal interaction. They are leaders in animal care, science and sustainability. A fantastic experience for the whole family. For more information visit www.sandiegozoo.org and www.nationalzoo.si.edu
The vast expanses of wilderness, mountains, forest, canyons and coastlines of the United States allow for a wide range of outdoor activities. From trekking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, white water rafting through the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River, canoeing down the mighty Mississippi River, fishing on the Great Lakes, sailing in Florida, diving in Hawaii to skiing in the Rocky Mountains, every activity can easily be arranged. Hiking trails are well marked and maintained. The country’s national parks are an excellent place to start. For more information, visit www.nps.gov.
For a real American experience, go see a baseball game. Often called ‘the nation’s pastime’, baseball is an important part of the US psyche. Games are frequent and tickets for regular season games are readily available and can be relatively cheap. Top places to see a game are at New York’s lively Yankee Stadium and San Francisco’s AT&T Park stadium, located right on the bay with stunning views.
American football tickets during the September to January National Football League season can be expensive and hard to come by. Many people opt for the popular college games instead.
College basketball also draws crowds, although it’s not as popular as professional games in the National Basketball Association (NBA), whose season runs from November to June.
The US Open is the country’s most popular tennis competition, held in New York from late August to early September. Tickets go on sale in June.
The heart of horse racing is in the State of Kentucky. The most important races of the year, the Bluegrass Stakes and the Kentucky Derby (on the first Saturday in May), are run at the Churchill Downs racecourse in Louisville, Kentucky. There are also major tracks in New England.
Rodeos, a legacy of America’s cowboys, are frequently held in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and throughout the western States. Las Vegas hosts the exciting National Finals Rodeo each year in December.
The USA offers some of the world’s best skiing, particularly in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. The Rocky Mountain States are exceptionally good for downhill skiing, the best resorts located in Aspen, Big Sky, Jackson Hole and Vail. In the Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the major ski destination. Cross-country skiing is also well catered for, with backcountry ski lodges scattered around mountainous areas along both coasts and in the Rockies. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming are also good destinations for cross-country skiing. Snowboarding is also popular, with plenty of ski resorts providing half pipes and board rental.
American’s are passionate about golf and there are a high number of exquisite courses throughout the country. For details on courses, fees and competitions, visit the United States Golf Association (USGA) at www.usga.org
One of the activities that embodies US sport is surfing, and Hawaii, with its legendary winter waves remains one of the world’s most famous surfing destinations. California also has some great breaks outside Los Angeles in Malibu and further south to San Diego.
Diving and snorkelling are particularly good in Hawaii, California and Florida. Other popular water activities include sailing, windsurfing, and kayaking.
The Willamette Valley is so full of wonderful wineries it is beginning to get overwhelming to most people. Taking an Oregon wine tour with me and make the most of your visit by planning an interactive, private custom wine tour with an expert from Oregon Wine Tour and Tasting.For more information please visit A Great Oregon Wine Tour in Portland.
There are also many types of bars, ranging from the smart cocktail lounge, cafe-style, high saloon style bars and imitations of English pubs to the regular bar. Generally speaking, waiter/waitress service costs more. Drinking laws are set by the individual States, counties, municipalities and towns, although traditionally closing time in bars is between midnight and 03:00. The legal age for drinking also varies from 18 to 21 from State to State and the laws on the availability of alcohol run from New Orleans’ policy of anytime, anywhere and to anyone, to more conservative cities such as Salt Lake City, Utah, where drinking is strictly prohibited.
Tipping is widely practiced as service charges are not usually included in the bill and waiters depend heavily on tips for their income. Waiters generally expect 15 to 20 percent, as do taxi drivers and hairdressers.
Overwhelming variety, late opening hours, competitive prices and an abundance of modern goods typify US shopping. Many people enjoy shopping for bargains at factory outlets, flea markets and end of season sales in the big shopping malls. If it’s up-market shopping you desire, head to New York’s Fifth Avenue or Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive for the ultimate in luxury goods and service.
Malls are a popular and convenient way of shopping. They consist of a cluster of various shops in one large building. The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota has more than 500 specialty stores, 50 restaurants, 7 nightclubs, 14 movie theatres as well as amusement rides, games and activities, making it the largest mall in America.
Factory outlets or outlet malls usually offer discounted merchandise with slight manufacturing flaws and leftovers from the last season. Their merchandise is always discounted 20% to 70% below department store prices, but if you take advantage of the end-of-season sales at department stores, you can sometimes get good bargains. While department stores are usually located in city centres, many of the major outlet stores are located in the countryside or on the outskirts of major cities.
Department stores such as Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom’s, Marshall’s, and more offer high quality merchandise, well known brands and the latest fashions. They frequently have seasonal sales with great discounts, such as the end-of-summer sales in July and August, Thanksgiving Day sale in November, and huge post-Christmas sales from 26 December through mid-January. In February, all the winter merchandise goes on sale.
Sears and JCPenny's are two large national chains with stores across the country. They do not offer high fashion merchandise or prestigious brands. Instead, they feature good quality at affordable prices. They are well-known for their selection of children's clothing, home appliances, and house hold and gardening goods. Less expensive department stores such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target and Caldor offer good quality products at affordable prices as well as lower quality items at very low prices. These are large discount chains that can be found all over the country.
Flee markets are wonderful places to bargain hunt. They are usually held in large parking lots on weekends, or along popular city streets. They offer an array of goods from antiques to auto parts, funky junk to fancy jewellery. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
With the exception of flea markets, a sales tax is applied to most items in most States and is not included on the price label. Sales tax can be anywhere from 3 to 15 percent, depending on the State. Some States, like New Jersey have no sales tax at all.