Somehow it’s already March; a fact that still puzzles me to be honest. However, this is when people are planning their trips for the year or that quick getaway this spring. Since I’ve done a lot of US exploring in recent years, I thought I’d share some of my favorite places around the country that are fantastic to visit, no matter the time of year really.
I have to start with my hometown for a variety of reasons. This is one of the few seasons when the temperatures aren’t too extreme and the cool mornings and nights are a great time to walk around town. The main draw to DC in springtime though is of course the famous cherry blossoms. They are notoriously hard to predict though, their emergence dependent on any number of factors, but especially winter weather. Even if you aren’t here for the peak dates, it’s still a great time to see the city, as long as you’re here before May when the large school crowds begin their invasion. Our nation’s capital, all of the important monuments and memorials are found here, many of which line the beautiful National Mall. Also along the Mall are some of the best museums in the world, the always free to enter Smithsonian Institution museums that cover everything from American History to Air and Space and some smaller, more unusual ones as well. But we’re not just about museums and monuments, in recent years the city has seen a shift in demographics and old neighborhoods have come back to life. Explore new restaurants and bars in Barracks Row or head to Georgetown to do some high-end shopping. DC is also well located, an easy drive, bus or train ride from Philadelphia and New York so there’s really no excuse NOT to visit the capital city region.
In recent years, Detroit has become famous around the world as the city that went bankrupt. The city where entire neighborhoods were left in ruin, neglected and teeming with blight. That’s honestly all I knew about the Motor City before my first visit, and that’s part of the problem. Almost everything we see on the news, in magazines or even on travel blogs is obsessed with Detroit’s so-called ruin porn. Sharing the photos of these houses and city blocks that have been left to rot has been all the rage. Because of that, not many people know the real story of Detroit. That no, the city is not a burning pile of rubble. That Detroit is actually a great place to visit and I imagine to live, and that fact more than anything else surprised me the most. Great museums, delicious food and other fun diversions all come together to make Detroit a fun and, I think, an important city to visit.
Spending extra time in the idyllic community of Santa Fe was one of the best decisions I made driving along Route 66, and my time there was just as incredible as I had hoped. Staying at the incomparable La Posada de Santa Fe, the luxury hotel’s service and location in the city made exploration easy and fun. With a history that goes back more than 400 years, Santa Fe is totally unlike any other city I’ve visited. Every building seems to be made out of adobe and there’s a certain international flair that shines just out of sight. It’s a famously artistic and liberal enclave in the state, most of which is rural and somewhat disconnected. Santa Fe though felt more like an expat community in Mexico or elsewhere, its Spanish heritage also embraced and on full display. Walking through the center of town, the weather was perfect and the crowds of people out and about reflected that. A small stage was set up in the town square, and scores of people were camped out with picnic baskets enjoying the afternoon. This ease of living is what I remember most about Santa Fe, and I immediately saw it as a place where I could spend a lot more time and even live.
The Pacific Northwest is one of my personal favorite areas of the country and I think a great spot for anyone to visit. Seattle in particular is a fantastic option because there’s so much to see and do both within the city limits and just a short drive beyond. Like any city, just walking around Seattle is part of the fun and a visit to the touristy but enjoyable Pike Place Market rewards folks with fresh fish and the original Starbucks. I love quirky museums and Seattle has plenty of those like the Museum of Pop Culture. Great daytrips include Mount Rainier, San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula and once you’re back in town the food options all around town are plentiful with a little something for everyone. I think of the Pacific Northwest as America’s fun-loving, outdoorsy side and it’s an important aspect to our personality about which everyone should learn more.
New Orleans (After Mardi Gras)
Not unlike DC, time of year matters when you visit New Orleans as the warm evenings of the spring can quickly turn into sultry humidity filled nights with short or little notice. New Orleans is one of my favorite American cities, but not for the reasons you might think. Known far and wide as a party city, there is so much more to the city and it is for those reasons that I love it. Visitors though must take the time to experience the various neighborhoods of New Orleans. Although I love the French Quarter, I think it’s critical for visitors to also leave the French Quarter. I’m not saying that the Quarter should be avoided, far from it; no I’m saying though that you have to plan some time to explore other neighborhoods as well. New Orleans is a very old city by American standards and as such, has the scars of history marked all around. It’s your job to discover them, so be sure to visit a neighborhood close to the French Quarter, like the Faubourg Marigny. Once a rough and tumble part of town, it’s now come back into its own again and today you’ll find hispters instead of drug dealers and art galleries instead of houses of ill-repute. It’s a colorful and exciting part of town and should not be missed.
If you’ve never been to Denver before, absolutely spend some time visiting the well-known spots in and around the city. It’s a gorgeous place that’s popular for a reason. But then, try to delver a little deeper and get to know its neighborhoods as well. Denver has seen incredible population growth in recent years, thanks to the famously sunny weather, great natural escapes and a whole host of other factors. This means that the city I visited just a few years ago looks nothing like the Denver of today. Entirely new neighborhoods have popped up out of nowhere, reclaiming areas of town long neglected and forgotten. One of these in particular was a highlight of my visit, the River North Art District or RiNo. Driving around, the shops and cafes were quirky and eclectic; artisanal everything, record stores and taco trucks. It was hipster heaven, and the center of this reclamation is the market known simply as The Source. Housed in an iconic 1880s ironworks building, the goal of The Source was to create for residents of Denver what folks in Seattle or San Francisco enjoy; namely a world class food hall. One stop shopping for the best meats, cheeses, breads, coffees, beers and more was the idea, but the industrial RiNo location at first drew a lot of skepticism. No one knew if the concept would work, but visiting on a busy weekend afternoon I could tell immediately that not only was The Source succeeding, it was flourishing.
What cities would you add to this list?