You could argue that Europe still doesn’t quite get the United States. You can see it in the way we travel. New York. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Big cities, famous sights and Hollywood – that’s what we tend to focus on. But that isn’t really America; it’s just part of it. Some would argue the least authentic part.
This is a huge country, and more often than not the places we fly over are invariably some of the most interesting: Midwestern industrial hubs reinventing themselves through art and culture; Southwestern border towns blending Spanish, Indigenous and Mexican heritage; New England enclaves where the aristocracy of the Gilded Age once thumbed their noses and flexed their wallets in glittering Italianate piles to rival any in Europe. There are 50 stars on the flag for a reason. Limiting yourself to a handful of states has never made much sense.
We can’t help but think that a tiny amount of snobbery – innate in all of us – comes into play. For example, most wouldn’t hesitate to seek out some medieval French hill town, far from the big city; Instagram posts declaring it to be the new ‘this’, the next ‘that’ would inevitably follow. Why doesn’t the same apply to the USA? In many cases there is just as much history, art and culture as you’ll find in some European backwaters.
There are colonial towns, Pueblo adobe villages, pioneer tales, revolutionary battlefields – heck, Hawaii even had its own monarchy. There is plenty to see and a wealth of stories to discover; it’s just that more often than not we only seem to accept the US for its national parks or its metropolises. Why not the rest of it? The details in between are often far more juicy.
The Northeast is the perfect example. There are many different states within easy reach of heaving New York City, from tiny Rhode Island, where towns like Newport dazzle with 19th-century mansions, to history-rammed Massachusetts, where you might explore the ‘witch country’ around Salem, to the spruce forests and rocky coast of Maine. Any would make a fascinating detour for a few days. There are stories on top of stories here.
Then there are those cities that demand your attention. The Deep South is full of them. Complex places, like Charleston and Savannah, where the horrors of the slave plantations funded antebellum towns as delicate and fragile as they are beautiful; and where museums and institutions have finally started to ask the right questions and bring to light the tales of those left out of the history books. It’s the same for those cities where the dawn of the Civil Rights movement met with such fury and resistance; now their troubled backstories are part of what makes them special, as visitors trace trails that narrate a difficult past.
In the West you’ll find plenty of towns where Indigenous heritage is more pronounced than that of the European colonists who took the land. There is nuance; the kind you find in a huge country that is more like 50 nations under one banner. Sure, in places like Anchorage, glaciers and grizzlies tend to be the focus. But the Alaskan city is more than just a jumping-off point – it has its own fascinating sights and vibrant Indigenous culture.
It’s time to reassess how we look at the USA. You might find that it opens the doors to more destinations than you could visit in a lifetime, but that’s rather the point: there are 50 stars and they all deserve a chance to shine.
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Urban Escapes in the West
Urban Escapes in the South
Urban Escapes in the Midwest
Urban Escapes in the Northeast