Cities

Cities

Road trippin’ is also about choosing cities to visit. No city can claim to define the USA, so why not try to visit as many cities as possible. I prefer a trip to be a mix of big cities and small towns, which you’ll see when you check out my  City Shots Photo Gallery.

I love to come across lesser known cities and experience the unexpected, although it doesn’t always have to be spectacular. Actually, it fascinates me to see regular stuff like decorated water towers, patriotic murals, and even worn-out strip malls. I also like to be puzzled, for example, why is it that tiny towns often have a Subway restaurant? Where I’m from, a city needs to be pretty big to host such a chain restaurant. But hey, that’s what I love about the USA, its way of being different.

Now, since I haven’t been to all 50 states yet, some parts of the country aren’t represented in the lists below. I’ll make up for that sooner or later. These are the cities I think deserves a mention and a visit during a road trip.

My 10 Awesome Cities

  • Omaha (Nebraska). What’s must-see in Omaha? I’d say the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge over Missouri River. It’s the longest pedestrian bridge to link two states for walking and biking. 3,000 ft long and with a walkway 15 ft wide, visitors really get a cool bridge experience. During my day in Omaha, I spent most of my time outdoors. I like city parks, and Heartland of America Park is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. It also has a spectacular fountain light show. Downtown is vibrant, and I enjoyed the Old Market District. It seems to be a lively quarter with shopping, dining and nightlife. Omaha is definitely a city I’d like to visit again.
  • Santa Fe (New Mexico). My best memory of Santa Fe is the Plaza. It’s the heart of downtown, a real town square with markets and events. Santa Fe is a walkable city and cozy in every way. There are hundreds of galleries and plenty of restaurants to explore. The city has a distinctive architectural style with low-slung buildings built primarily in the Spanish Pueblo and Territorial styles. I love how the city laws say that new buildings in the historic district have to fit with the old architectural styles. Don’t miss the landmark Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Also, the Santa Fe Railyard is a new and cool must-see district.
  • Nashville (Tennessee). Hee Haw! Nashville is the Country Music Capital of the World. Country is big here, but other genres thrive as well. Nashville has more than 150 live music venues throughout the city. Officially, the city market itself as The Music City. What really strikes me is the bustling vibe found particularly on Broadway. Even during daytime, you can walk into a honky tonk bar and listen to great music often free of charge. Where to go? Try ‘em all, but to mention a few: Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Honky Tonk Central. For an extraordinary museum experience, go to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. I also went to a country concert at the legendary Grand Ole Opry. Before leaving town, take a look at the Batman building, officially the AT&T Building. It’s a 33-story skyscraper that really looks like the mask of Batman. Oh, don’t forget the Walking Bridge in downtown for an alternative view of the city skyline. South of Nashville in the city of Lynchburg, the Jack Daniel Distillery is a must-see attraction. I remember the guided tour as quite funny and very interesting. The story of the oldest registered distillery in the USA is truly fascinating.
  • Albuquerque (New Mexico). The Breaking Bad city is a lot more than just a TV location. Historic Old Town is the heart of Albuquerque. Founded in 1706, Old Town is charismatic with its Pueblo-Spanish style architecture. Here you can stress down, stroll the Plaza, eat and shop. Take your time to enjoy the galleries and museums. The Rattlesnake Museum is the kind of museum I like. It features so many artifacts, memorabilia, and actually the largest collection of different species of live rattlesnakes in the world. The San Felipe de Neri Church is also worth a visit. It’s the oldest building in the city and picture-postcard perfect. Albuquerque is also part of Route 66. The route goes through the city, officially as Central Avenue. In the mood for food? Go for the carne adovada burrito at Frontier Restaurant. If that isn’t enough, try a foot long chili dog at Central Avenue’s Dog House. It’s yummy all the way down to your tummy.
  • Asheville (North Carolina). Y’all, it’s beer time! Asheville serves some of the best beer in the country. After a day in the Blue Ridge Mountains, my friend and I ended up in Asheville. The area is home to more than 20 craft breweries, so we went out to try some locally brewed beer in the funky downtown. Was it good? Yes, tasty and worth the reputation. You should give it a try, if you’re into craft beer. Where to go? Try Tupelo Honey Café, they also serve flavorful Southern food, you know with buttermilk biscuits on the side. Grab your next beer at the Bier Garden and the last one at Thirsty Munk. In the morning, Jerusalem Garden Café is great for breakfast.
  • Sedona (Arizona). Sedona seems like a place of endless opportunities. I’ve been there winter and summer and I find it beautiful anytime of the year. There are plenty of trails for hiking and mountain biking. The area is blessed with an abundance of red rock buttes, monoliths, and spires. Some also come to Sedona to experience the vortex energy centers. I’m not sure if I sensed this vortex phenomenon, but I felt rejuvenated simply by spending time in Sedona. Even the food is phenomenal, and I know because I went for a big bite at the Cowboy Club. My bonus for you: Watch live webcam from Sedona.
  • Denver (Colorado). With Rocky Mountains as backdrop, the Mile High City is a genuine can’t-miss destination. If you’re a fan of people-watching, then you’ll love the 16th Street Mall in downtown. It’s pedestrian friendly and packed with shopping, restaurants, and attractions. Another thing I remember about Denver is public art. I noticed all kinds of murals and fanciful sculptures. At Colorado Convention Center I found myself next to the 40 ft tall Blue Bear, a sculpture with the official name “I See What You Mean”. Next time I’m in Denver, I would love to experience the outdoor music venue Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
  • Atlanta (Georgia). My friend and I had two days in this Southern city, and we mostly did the touristy stuff like CNN, Coca-Cola, and the Centennial Olympic Park. The tour of CNN’s Atlanta headquarters is fascinating, and you can ride on the world’s tallest free-standing escalator. Nearby is the World of Coca-Cola, an interesting attraction, especially if you’re a soda addict. I also had to check out the world’s largest drive-in restaurant, The Varsity. I won’t say it’s the best chili dog that I’ve ever had, but it was a fun foodie experience. Before leaving Atlanta, we decided to kill time and shoot some rounds at Stoddard’s Range and Guns.
  • Salt Lake City (Utah). I really like this city, probably because people here are super friendly. The walkable downtown’s major attraction is Temple Square with all its Mormonism. Only Mormons are allowed inside the gorgeous Salt Lake Temple, but there’s so much else to see and do. There are two visitor centers and friendly staff you can ask. It’s possible to get into multiple buildings. I told a guide that I would love to photograph the Temple from above, so I was directed to the Church Office Building, headquarters of LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons). Here I was personally guided by an elderly woman who knew quite a bit of facts. From the 26th-floor observation deck I was able to gaze out over the Salt Lake Valley and to capture some cool photos of the Temple. I also went to the huge LDS Conference Center and met another guide for a personal tour. The Conference Center can seat 21,000 people, which truly amazed me. Be sure to make it to the top of the building for a great view of the city. The nearby City Creek Center is a lovely place with lots of stores and restaurants – great for relaxation. I went for a late afternoon hike just outside the city. The Desolation Trail is a climb of nearly 1,300 ft on long gradual switchbacks, and the overlook offers a spectacular view.
  • Las Vegas (Nevada). I’m not a gambler, but I love the extravaganza of Sin City. There’s something magic about Vegas that makes me keep coming back. Since I’m a foodie, I obviously love the never-ending buffets. I’ve stayed at Excalibur, New York New York, Palace Station and even a motel. Las Vegas hotels are cheap so don’t go for motel. If you want to photograph the famous Las Vegas sign, get there early to beat the crowd, unless you want to stand in line and see wedding couples in front of a sign. Need a break from The Strip? Take a hike in Red Rock Canyon; it also gives you an exceptional view of the city. Don’t forget the Fremont Street Experience in downtown (the Strip is not downtown).

5 Small Favorites

  • Truth or Consequences (New Mexico). I’m obsessed with maps and odd city names. Now, try to imagine my reaction when I looked at a map of New Mexico and found out there’s a city named Truth or Consequences. Yep, I had no choice but to swing by this city when I was road trippin’ in the Southwest. This small resort town is also known as “T or C”, but what’s the story? In downtown I found the Geronimo Springs Museum. Here they told me that the city got its name in 1950 from a popular game show on NBC Radio. It was actually to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the radio show, and the residents voted in favor of the name change. Before 1950 the name of the city was Hot Springs. Walk around and you’ll see why. There are a lot of spas and bathhouses because of hot springs. I also noticed a lot of colored buildings. It’s a pretty comfy town.
  • Butte (Montana). Butte is one of those boomtowns of the American Old West that developed into a real city. The vintage architecture is what struck me the most and of course the tall, black steel structures dotting the landscape and skyline. These headframes stand over the closed mine shafts and are remnants of the city’s rich mining history. Another attraction is the Berkeley Pit, a former open pit copper mine. It is filled with heavily acidic water. Also visible is Our Lady of the Rockies, a 90-foot statue that sits atop the Continental Divide overlooking the city. In the U.S., only New York’s Statue of Liberty is taller. If you’re road trippin’ in Montana or the neighboring states, don’t miss out on Butte – the city once known as the “Richest Hill on Earth”.
  • Taos (New Mexico). I decided to include Taos in a road trip when I found out about the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, because I have a thing for bridges. Then I read about the mysterious “Taos Hum”, a low-frequency buzz and a constant annoyance to those who can hear it. So basically, a bridge and a hum brought me to Taos. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and the high desert scenery simply made the trip. About the hum, well I was not able to hear any hum, but the somehow paranormal phenomenon is still a great story. Taos is also an art colony which you’ll notice when you walk the streets. It’s claimed that Taos has more artists per capita than any town in the world. Enjoy and take your time to relax at Taos Plaza. It can’t get any cozier. When in Taos, remember to see the Taos Pueblo with its distinctive adobe buildings. They have been continuously inhabited for over a 1,000 years. It only seems fair that the ancient pueblo has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Moab (Utah). Known as the adventure capital of the U.S.A, Moab is hard to miss. During my two-day visit I got caught up at Arches National Park and did not really have the time to fully explore the city itself. I’m sure there will be a second visit in the future. I also want to hike in the nearby Canyonlands National Park, and I want to bike the famous Slickrock Trail. I might also sign up for some climbing. It’s my dream to climb the awesome Ancient Art in Fisher Towers.
  • Escondido (California). To be honest, Escondido isn’t the most obvious city to visit in Southern California, but I’ve lived there and I really like “Esco”. The city is nestled inland between Los Angeles and San Diego on the I-15, so it’s easy for you to stop by. If you’re into the outdoors, head to Daley Ranch. This rugged area was my local playground with lots of trails for mountain biking and hiking. Also take a look at the charming historic downtown centered on Grand Avenue. Here you’ll find fancy restaurants, unique shops and frequent events like the Art Walk and the Cruisin’ Grand with 400 to 500 vintage cars on display. It runs every Friday from April to September. East of the city you’ll find San Diego Zoo Safari Park and San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, a reminder of the Mexican-American War. Hungry? Grab some delicious Vietnamese food at Pho Saigon Express.

The 6 Big Ones

  • New Yor City (New York). The Big Apple – I’ve only had a tiny touristy bite of this glorious city. Yep, I’ve spent time at Times Square, paced my way through Chinatown, looked at money-making men and women on Wall Street, and walked the Brooklyn Bridge. The coolest attraction so far was the tour to the top of the Rockefeller skyscraper. The view is amazing in all directions. Sure, Central Park is nice too and is home to a lot of history. I found the Strawberry Fields memorial. This place is laid out in memory of John Lennon. He was murdered directly across the street in front of his home, the Dakota building. NYC is also home to the United Nations Headquarters. I bet you’ve seen the iconic building in the news. Go for it if you’re into world politics. All the walking around can make one very hungry. You’ll find street food everywhere. Grab a dollar hot dog or a pizza slice, or if you need to relax a bit more, take a seat at Big Daddy’s for some mouthwatering diner food.
  • Los Angeles (California). Patience is a must when visiting LA. Why? Urban sprawl and bumper-to-bumper traffic is why. That being said, I love LA. The countless neighborhoods and attractions make LA to a traveler’s heaven. If you’re into adrenaline stuff like me, head to Azusa and join the guys who can take you bungee jumping from the Bridge to Nowhere. For a fully adrenaline-charged theme park experience, head to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. You can slow down in the lesser known Los Angeles Plaza Historic District, or drive down to easy breezy Laguna Beach. Go see and get a tour at the Crystal Cathedral located in Garden Grove. Don’t forget the awesome skyline views from Mulholland Drive, Griffith Park, and the Getty Center. Eat your burger and fries at In-N-Out Burger, a genuine burger chain founded in LA. Did I forget something? Right, the super touristy stuff like Disneyland, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Been there, done that.
  • Chicago (Illinois). Known as the Windy City, Chicago is beauty, charm, and must-see. The downtown area is encircled by elevated train tracks and therefore known as the Loop. Walk the streets, feel the vibe, hop in for a deep-dish pizza. Don’t forget to look up. Chicago has a magnificent skyline. Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower, is one of those skyscrapers you have to visit. Get up to the observation deck on the 103rd floor and enjoy the outstanding view.  When you’re down at ground level again, head to Millennium Park and the stainless steel structure Cloud Gate, also known as The Bean. Use the reflective surface to shoot some fun photos. Navy Pier is another main attraction, a real tourist hot spot with shops and restaurants. In fact, food matters here in Chicago. Even McDonald’s has been made into a popular tourist attraction. Their flagship restaurant in downtown, the Rock N Roll McDonald’s, has a cool rock ‘n’ roll exhibit. Check it out.
  • San Francisco (California). This city is so cool, and unlike many major American cities, San Francisco can be explored by foot or on a bike. On rental bikes, my friend and I challenged the steepest streets in downtown, and we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge as well. We also followed the crowd to Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, and Chinatown. It’s all very touristy, but nonetheless very interesting. So was the morning ride with one of the iconic cable cars. Hungry? Lori’s Diner in downtown serves solid American food. What else can you do? Take a short drive to Point Reyes National Seashore. As you know, San Andreas Fault runs through the San Francisco area, but Point Reyes north of the city is where you can see how earthquakes are able to rip apart a landscape. Silicon Valley is the place to go for fun photo-ops. We went to the headquarters of Facebook, Google and Apple. Somehow we managed to catch the attention of security at all three places. The Facebook guy didn’t seem happy to have us hanging out at the famous like-sign, but we got our photos and were escorted out of the area without any drama.
  • Washington D.C. Some might say that D.C. is all about world-famous monuments, memorials and museums. And I think they’re right. Let’s just recap what’s there to see: The White House, National Mall with Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and of course the U.S. Capitol. I spend a whole day in the city with a friend. My best advice is to sign up for the Capitol tour and enjoy that you can get inside the famous and enormous building. We also made a spontaneous visit to Library of Congress; truly a fascinating place. Standing in front of the White House is like watching the news, just without a remote in hand. Good food is essential and we got it at Ray’s Hell Burger, famed for the visit of president Obama with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. We totally forgot to eat a Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is said to be a landmark restaurant in D.C.
  • San Diego (California). San Diego was my urban playground for three years during my stay in Southern California. So where did I spend my time? Balboa Park, because it’s a unique city park. Old Town, because it’s the birthplace of California. Gaslamp Quarter, because it’s the epicenter of downtown. Also, Little Italy is cozy and has some nice galleries. I went to the Embarcadero for relaxation and Seaport Village for a fun place to shop and eat. If you want something extra of San Diego, head to Cowles Mountain for a great fitness hike and see if you can keep up with the tough Marines on the trail. When you get to the top, you’re granted a panorama view. For skyline views, head to Cabrillo National Monument or Coronado Island. If you want to see the skyline at night, Harbor Island Dr by the airport is the perfect spot. I’ve had delicious food at so many locations, though, let me just mention one restaurant: San Diego House of Blues. Here you’ll get tasty food and great music on the side. When it’s time to get real touristy, go to SeaWorld and have some splash fun with Shamu, the celebrity killer whale. For shopping, downtown’s Horton Plaza is something to consider because of its spectacular architecture.

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