USA
List 04 July

5 things you never knew about the USA

As the USA celebrates its independence with a day of fireworks, patriotism and beer; we highlight a few things the country has to offer

Often laughed at for ignorance of world affairs and the fact that around 60% of Americans don’t own a passport, the States is a massive country that has masses to offer the visitor. We highlight a few activities and sights and ask, are you just as ignorant of what the States has to offer as Americans are accused of being about the rest of the world?

1. You can see New York for free

Big and brassy, the Big Apple is the highlight for many visitors to the US. But it's also the place that will take the biggest bite out of your budget. Fear not! There are plenty of opportunities for making your dollar stretch further. A great introduction to the city, and one way to see a different side of it, is with a free city tour with a native New Yorker. Or you could catch the free ferry to Staten Island from Lower Manhatten that passes close to the Statue of Liberty.

New York can feel familiar, even if you’ve never been before. But like any big city, and they don’t come much bigger, visiting can be a truly isolating experience. If you’re there for a stop-over on a longer haul flight or if you’ve just got a day to kill, you can still see a great deal and get a good feel for the place. One idea is to ride the A train, the subway line that runs north to south.

Some other ideas:

2. Stargazing's not just for Hollywood

With its large size, the States doesn’t have the same levels of light pollution that a lot of Europe suffers from. Why not combine a visit to one of the great National Parks mentioned in number 4 below with a touch of star gazing?

The Bortle Dark Sky Scale rates skies from one to nine, with one being the darkest. The Natural Bridges National Monument has a rating of two and boasts some of the darkest skies in the United States.

The area uses 13-watt fluorescent light bulbs that prevent stray light from interfering with the natural landscape. A glimpse of the Milky Way in the park is a surreal sight revealing, according to stargazers, an 'intricate river of light'.

A couple of other stargazing locations are listed in our article:

3. OK, so one you probably did know about – surfing

Wanderlust regular Alastair Humphreys rates the coastlines in the US as some of the best in the world.

“Northern California reminded me of South Africa," he says. "The coastline was very similar to the Wild Coast. I was on Route 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway, hugging the coast on a winding, hilly, cliff-edge road through glowing fields of flowers. It was the kind of spectacular road that you see on car adverts on TV.”

Hawaii had a similar impact.

"Thousands of miles from a mainland I watched shimmering, towering waves roll slowly yet unstoppably towards me," says Alastair. "Their untroubled ride across swathes of ocean comes suddenly to an end as they peak, curl, and crash on the shore of Kauai island. Not for the first time in my life I wished that I could surf."

There aren’t many more iconic activities of Hawaii and California than surfing. If you’re looking for a place to learn, check out our articles:

4. They invented National Parks

There are 391 areas under the protection of the US National Parks Service, covering nearly 350,000 sq km including the world’s first designated national park, Yellowstone, established in 1872.

These National Parks range from the biggies – Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Arches – to gems that are little-known to outsiders: try the deer-grazed Cuyahoga Valley NP, just outside Cleveland; the Californian outpost of Channel Islands NP; or the ‘Grand Canyon with a roof on it’ Carlsbad Caverns NP in New Mexico.

If you plan to visit a few, the US$80 National Parks Pass is valid for two people and pays for itself if you go to four parks in a year.

America is the land of the automobile. Or is it?

Amtrak’s trains are experiencing a renaissance as fuel prices rise. The network is extensive, cutting tracks from New Orleans to San Francisco, Chicago to LA, Washington DC to Montréal and many more.

Coaches are comfy, with reclining seats that make overnighting a breeze (though sleeper cars are available, too). There are also convivial bars and panoramic viewing cars, so you can watch peaks/bayous/prairies roll by.

And with ‘thruway’ buses to take you where trains don’t (e.g. Yosemite and the Grand Canyon), you can plot a course across the whole country. Perfect.

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