USA destinations

about The great American experience is about so many things: bluegrass and beaches, snow-covered peaks and redwood forests, restaurant-loving cities and big open skies.

Bright Lights, Big Cities

America is the birthplace of LA, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami, Boston and New York City – each a brimming metropolis whose name alone conjures a million different notions of culture, cuisine and entertainment. Look more closely, and the American quilt unfurls in all its surprising variety: the eclectic music scene of Austin, the easygoing charms of antebellum Savannah, the eco-consciousness of free-spirited Portland, the magnificent waterfront of San Francisco and the captivating French Quarter of jazz-loving New Orleans. Each city adds its unique style to the grand patchwork that is America.

On the Road Again

This is a country of road trips and great open skies, where 4 million miles of highways lead past red-rock deserts, below towering mountain peaks and through fertile wheat fields that roll off toward the horizon. The sun-bleached hillsides of the Great Plains, the lush rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, the sultry swamplands of the South and the scenic country lanes of New England are a few fine starting points for the great American road trip. Veer off the interstate often to discover the bucolic 'blue highways' of lore.

Food-Loving Nation

On one evening in the US, thick barbecue ribs come piping hot at a Texas roadhouse, while chefs blend organic produce with Asian accents at award-winning West Coast restaurants. Locals get their fix of bagels and lox at a century-old deli in Manhattan's Upper West Side and, several states away, plump pancakes and fried eggs disappear under the clatter of cutlery at a 1950s-style diner. Steaming plates of lobster from a Maine pier, oysters and champagne from a California wine bar, Korean tacos out of a Portland food truck – these are just a few ways to dine à la Americana.

Cultural Behemoth

The USA has made tremendous contributions to the arts. Georgia O'Keeffe's wild landscapes, Robert Rauschenberg's surreal collages, Alexander Calder's elegant mobiles and Jackson Pollock's drip paintings have entered the vernacular of 20th-century art. Chicago and New York have become veritable drawing boards for the great architects of the modern era. And from the soulful blues born in the Mississippi Delta to the bluegrass of Appalachia and Detroit's Motown sound – plus jazz, funk, hip-hop, country, and rock and roll – America has invented sounds integral to modern music.

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Epicenter of the arts. Architectural darling. Dining and shopping capital. Trendsetter. New York City wears many crowns, and spreads an irresistible feast for all.

Nexus of the Arts

The Met, MoMA and the Guggenheim are just the beginning of a dizzying list of art-world icons. You’ll find museums devoted to everything from fin de siècle Vienna to medieval European treasures, and sprawling galleries filled with Japanese sculpture, postmodern American painting, Himalayan textiles and New York City lore. For a glimpse of current and future greats, delve into the cutting-edge galleries of Chelsea and the Lower East Side, with their festive opening-night parties (usually Thursday night if you want to join in), or head to new frontiers in Brooklyn and Queens.

Urban Wanderers

With its compact size and streets packed with eye candy of all sorts – architectural glories, Old World cafes, atmospheric booksellers – NYC is a wanderer’s delight. Crossing continents is as easy as walking a few avenues in this jumbled city of 200-plus nationalities. You can lose yourself in the crowds of Chinatown amid bright Buddhist temples and steaming noodle shops, then stroll up to Nolita for enticing boutiques and coffee tasting. Every neighborhood offers a dramatically different version of the city, from the 100-year-old Jewish delis of the Upper West Side to the meandering cobblestone lanes of Greenwich Village. And the best way to experience it is to walk its streets.

The Night Is Young

When the sun sinks slowly beyond the Hudson and luminous skyscrapers light up the night, New York transforms into one grand stage. Well-known actors take to the legendary theaters of Broadway and world-class soloists, dancers and musicians perform at venues large and small across town. Whether high culture or low, New York embraces it all: in-your-face rock shows at Williamsburg dives, lavish opera productions at the Lincoln Center, and everything in between. This is a city of experimental theater, improv comedy, indie cinema, ballet, poetry, burlesque, jazz and so much more. If you can dream it up, it’s probably happening.

Culinary Capital

There’s never been a better time to dine in New York. It's a hotbed of seasonal and locally sourced cuisine – with restaurants growing vegetables on roof gardens or upstate farms, sourcing meats and seafood from nearby sustainable outfits, and embracing artisanal everything, from coffee roasting and whiskey distilling to chocolate and cheese making. Bars have also taken creativity to new heights, with pre-Prohibition-era cocktails served alongside delectable small plates – indeed, gastropubs are some of the most creative places to eat these days. Of course, you can also hit a gourmet food truck or dine at one of the city's 75 Michelin-starred restaurants.

Brooklyn

Forget Times Square and the Statue of Liberty – if you want to see the real New York, you need to head to Brooklyn. These days, the name is shorthand for 'artsy cool' the world over, but there's far more here than hipster stereotypes. This sprawling borough (more than three times the size of Manhattan) is actually home to some of NYC's most interesting, historic and culturally diverse neighborhoods, with singularly fantastic dining, drinking, shopping and entertainment options – not to mention some of the best river views in the five boroughs.

Sights

Brooklyn

Though not blessed with the sheer number of sights that Manhattan has, Brooklyn does have more than a few interesting museums, parks and gardens that make for excellent visits. But some of the best sights in Brooklyn are the neighborhoods themselves, many of which are perfect for casual strolling – you can get a feel for local life, admire 19th-century brownstones, pop into eclectic shops for a browse, and indulge in food and drink at Brooklyn's wealth of great restaurants and bars. Also unbeatable are the views of Manhattan from numerous vantage points along Brooklyn's shores.

If Brooklyn were its own city, it’d be the fourth largest in the US by population – with more than 2.6 million residents, it's bigger than Houston, Philadelphia and Phoenix. Sprawling over an area of 71 sq miles, Brooklyn is essentially split in two transport-wise, with one set of subway lines servicing the northern half of the borough, and another set traveling to points south. So if you think you can see all of Brooklyn in a day, think again.

If you're just going for a day trip, it's best to pick one neighborhood or section and stick to that. The waterfront area of brownstone-studded Brooklyn Heights offers lots of history and great Manhattan views (and an easy ride from Manhattan). Fans of vintage amusement parks and beachside strolls should head to Coney Island. For the night owls, the trendy enclave of Williamsburg lies just a single subway stop from Manhattan and is loaded with bars, restaurants and live-music venues. Prospect Park is just as magnificent a green space as Central Park (and only slightly smaller), and many of the residential neighborhoods surrounding it are great for architectural walks and cafe-hopping.

There are some areas of the borough that can get a bit sketchy, though, so if you're planning to explore off the beaten path on your own, ask around first.

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In general, expect high prices and small spaces. Room rates waver by availability, not by any high-season or low-season rules. Of course, you'll pay dearly during holidays. Accommodations fill up quickly, especially in summer and December – when visitors flock to the city to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree light up – and range from boxy cookie-cutter chains to stylish boutiques.

No Manhattan neighborhood has a monopoly on one style and you'll find better-value hotels in Brooklyn and Queens; Long Island City has an increasing number of bargain designer hotel options with killer Manhattan views. A few B&Bs and hostels are scattered throughout the city.

Sleeping in Brooklyn

A short train ride across the East River and you’ll find bigger and (sometimes) brighter rooms – and a lot more bang for your buck. Downtown Brooklyn and Williamsburg are home to a number of brand-new and often quite chic hotels, while small B&Bs in classic houses can be found in residential areas such as Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Ditmas Park.

Note: The borough covers more than 70 sq miles and transport between its neighborhoods can be a challenge, so pick an area (ie northern or southern Brooklyn) that offers the best proximity to the sights you're most interested in seeing.

Entertainment

Actors, musicians, dancers and artists flock to the bright lights of the Big Apple, hoping to finally get that big break. The result? Audiences are spoiled by the continual influx of supremely talented, dedicated, boundary-pushing performers. Like the song goes: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

Eating

From inspired iterations of world cuisine to quintessentially local nibbles, New York City’s dining scene is infinite, all-consuming and a proud testament to its kaleidoscope of citizens. Even if you're not an obsessive foodie hitting ethnic enclaves or the newest cult-chef openings, an outstanding meal is always only a block away.

Drinking & Nightlife

You’ll find all species of thirst-quenching venues here, from terminally hip cocktail lounges and historic dive bars to specialty taprooms and Third Wave coffee shops. Then there’s the legendary club scene, spanning everything from celebrity staples to gritty, indie hangouts. Head downtown or to Brooklyn for the parts of the city that, as they say, truly never sleep.

Shopping

Not surprisingly for a capital of commercialism, creativity and fashion, New York City is quite simply one of the best shopping destinations on the planet. Every niche is filled. From indie designer-driven boutiques to landmark department stores, thrift shops to haute couture, record stores to the Apple store, street-eats to gourmet groceries, it’s quite easy to blow one's budget.

Flea Markets & Vintage Adventures

As much as New Yorkers gravitate towards all that’s shiny and new, it can be infinitely fun to riffle through unwanted wares and threads. The most popular flea market is the Brooklyn Flea, found in different locations on different days, April through October. Another gem is Artists & Fleas, with scores of vendors. The East Village is the city’s go-to neighborhood for secondhand and vintage stores – the uniform of the unwavering legion of hipsters.

NYC Icons

A few stores have cemented their status as NYC legends. This city just wouldn’t quite be the same without them. For label hunters, Century 21 is a Big Apple institution, with wears by D&G, Prada, Marc Jacobs and many others at low prices. Book lovers of the world unite at the Strand, the city’s biggest and best bookseller. Run by Hassidic Jews and employing mechanized whimsy, B&H Photo Video is a mecca for digital and audio geeks. For secondhand clothing, home furnishings and books, good-hearted Housing Works, with many locations around town, is a perennial favorite.

Sample Sales

While clothing sales happen year-round – usually when seasons change and old stock must be moved out – sample sales are held frequently, mostly in the huge warehouses in the Fashion District of Midtown or in SoHo. While the original sample sale was a way for designers to get rid of one-of-a-kind prototypes that weren’t quite up to snuff, most sample sales these days are for high-end labels to get rid of overstock at wonderfully deep discounts. For the latest sample sales, check out NY Racked (http://ny.racked.com/sales). Consignment stores are another fine place to look for top (gently used) fashions at reduced prices; label hunters find the Upper East Side prime territory with standouts like Michael's.

Travel with Children

New York City has loads of activities for young ones, including imaginative playgrounds and leafy parks where kids can run free, plus lots of kid-friendly museums and sights. Other highs: carousel rides, puppet shows and noshing at markets around town.

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Ruggedly good looking, deeply creative, with a sunny disposition to boot…if LA were on Tinder, the app would crash.

Natural Beauty

Envy is an ugly thing, New York. While your denizens spend their time sniffling and throwing shade in the snow, Angelenos are busy riding waves, tying up their hiking boots and counting their copious blessings. Think about it: in how many megalopolises can you gallop across rugged mountains just nine miles from City Hall? Despite its heaving head count, LA is a city indelibly tied to mighty Mother Nature. Here, dense, vibrant neighborhoods back onto golden beaches, city streets lead up to flower-carpeted hillsides, and huge, deep-blue skies are an IMAX screen for lingering sunsets made to pierce your heart.

Creative Overload

Dreams are serious business in La La Land. Home to Hollywood, this is a city where fantastical thoughts are encouraged; a place gleefully wrapped in endless layers of modern legend and mythology. Every year countless small-town dreamers pour onto its streets, itching to share their tales with LA and the world – on screen and stage, in lyrics, or on the whitewashed walls of galleries. The end result is an electrifying whirlpool of creativity: edgy art spaces, cult-status rock venues, acclaimed concert halls and thought-provoking stages, all fueling a city addicted to the weird, the wonderful and the downright scandalous.

Architectural Riches

LA's obsession with creative expression extends to its stucco and mortar. After all, this is where movie palaces look like Chinese temples and ancient Egyptian tombs, where concerts halls twist and curve like steely cartoon characters, and where soda bottling plants look like landlocked ocean liners. Indeed, LA celebrates architectural diversity with astounding gusto. From storybook Hollywood abodes and Silver Lake modernist prototypes, to downtown theaters channeling the Palace of Versailles, no other American city delivers such a thrilling mash-up of architectural styles, statements and role models…often on the very same palm-studded street.

Food & Drink

So which really has the better food scene: LA or SF? While the latter may claim more Michelin stars, LA packs one heck of a culinary punch. It's here that you'll find California's best tacos, the country's most authentic Korean and one of the nation's biggest concentrations of vegan restaurants. And when it comes to imbibing, SF best take a cable car home. From dirty martinis in a basement power station, to craft brews in a steampunk bowling alley, LA has a knack for turning humble drinking sessions into otherworldly adventures worthy of a toast or three.

Activities

Despite spending a lot of time jammed on freeways, Angelenos love to get physical. Theirs is a city made for pace-quickening thrills, with spectacular mountain hikes, one of the country's largest urban nature reserves and surf-pounded beach. Add to this almost 300 days of sunshine and you'll forgive the locals for looking so, so good.

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From rock-and-roll Downtown digs to fabled Hollywood hideaways, LA serves up a dizzying array of slumber options. The key is to plan well ahead. Do your research and find out which neighborhood is most convenient for your plans and best appeals to your style and interests. Trawl the internet for deals, and consider visiting between January and April, when room rates and occupancy are usually at their lowest (Oscars week aside).

Eating

Bring an appetite. A big one. LA's cross-cultural make up is reflected at its table, which is an epic global feast. And while there's no shortage of just-like-the-motherland dishes – from Cantonese xiao long bao to Ligurian farinata – it's the takes on tradition that really thrill. Ever tried Korean-Mexican tacos? Or a vegan cream-cheese donut with jam, basil and balsamic reduction? LA may be many things, but a culinary bore isn't one of them.

Drinking & Nightlife

Whether you're after an organic Kurimi espresso, a craft cocktail made with peanut-butter-washed Campari, or a saison brewed with Chinatown-sourced Oolong tea, LA pours on cue. From post-industrial coffee roasters and breweries to mid-century lounges, classic Hollywood martini bars and cocktail-pouring bowling alleys, LA serves its drinks with a generous splash of wow. So do the right thing and raise your glass to America's finest town.

Need to Know

Many bars in LA will require proof of age upon entry, no matter how old you look. Always take your driver's license or another former of official photo ID, or risk being refused entry.

Entertainment

Fancy DJ sets in the company of Cezanne? Hollywood classics in a Versailles-inspired theater? The City of Angels has your back. After all, this is America's entertainment powerhouse, home to iconic concert halls and arenas, lauded comedy and jazz clubs and some of the country's most famous sporting teams. And let's not forget the city's best-loved art form, cinema, celebrated daily in some of the world's most extraordinary movie palaces.

Shopping

Consider yourself a disciplined shopper? Get back to us after your trip. LA is a pro at luring cards out of wallets. After all, how can you not bag that super-cute vintage-fabric frock? Or that tongue-in-cheek tote? And what about that mid-century-modern lamp, the one that perfectly illuminates that rare, signed Hollywood film script you scored? Creativity and whimsy drive this town, right down to its racks and shelves.

Travel with Children

Los Angeles is sometimes touted as not especially child friendly, and looking around Rodeo Dr or the Sunset Strip, you might think that young Angelenos have been banished to a gingerbread cottage in the woods. In reality, LA offers a plethora of child-friendly attractions, from theme parks to interactive museums.

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Grab your coat and a handful of glitter, and enter the land of fog and fabulousness. So long, inhibitions; hello, San Francisco.

Outlandish Notions

Consider permission permanently granted to be outlandish: other towns may surprise you, but in San Francisco you will surprise yourself. Good times and social revolutions tend to start here, from manic gold rushes to blissful hippie be-ins. If there's a skateboard move yet to be busted, a technology still unimagined, a poem left unspoken or a green scheme untested, chances are it's about to happen here. Yes, right now. This town has lost almost everything in earthquakes and dot-com gambles, but never its nerve.

Food & Drink

Every available Bay Area–invented technology is needed to make dinner decisions in this city, with the most restaurants and farmers markets per capita in North America, supplied by pioneering local organic farms. San Francisco set the gold standard for Wild West saloons, but drinking was driven underground in the 1920s with Prohibition. Today, San Francisco celebrates its speakeasies and vintage saloons – and with Wine Country and local distillers providing a steady supply of America's finest hooch, the West remains wild.

Natural Highs

California is one grand, sweeping gesture – a long arm hugging the Pacific – and the 7-by-7-mile peninsula of San Francisco is a thumb pointed optimistically upwards. Take this as a hint to look up: you'll notice San Francisco's crooked Victorian rooflines, wind-sculpted treetops and fog tumbling over the Golden Gate Bridge.Heads are perpetually in the clouds atop San Francisco's 43 hills. Cable cars provide easy access to Russian and Nob Hills, and splendid panoramas reward the slog up to Coit Tower – but the most exhilarating highs are earned on Telegraph Hill's garden-lined stairway walks and windswept hikes around Land's End.

Neighborhood Microclimates

Microclimates add magic realism to San Francisco days: when it's drizzling in the outer reaches of Golden Gate Park, it might be sunny in the Mission. A few degrees' difference between neighborhoods grants permission for salted-caramel ice cream in Dolores Park, or a hasty retreat to tropical heat inside the California Academy of Sciences' rainforest dome. This town will give you goose bumps one minute, and warm you to the core the next.

Activities

San Franciscans love the outdoors, and their historic conservation efforts have protected acres of parks, beaches and woodlands for all to enjoy. This city lives for sunny days spent biking, skating, surfing and drifting on the Bay. Foggy days are spent making art projects, but nights are for dancing and Giants games.

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San Francisco hotel rates are among the world’s highest. Plan ahead – well ahead – and grab bargains when you see them. Given the choice, San Francisco's boutique properties beat chains for a sense of place – but take what you can get at a price you can afford.

Eating

Other US cities boast bigger monuments, but San Francisco packs more flavor. Chef Alice Waters set the Bay Area standard for organic, sustainable, seasonal food back in 1971 at Chez Panisse, and today you’ll find California’s pasture-raised meats and organic produce proudly featured on the Bay Area's trend-setting, cross-cultural menus. Congratulations: you couldn’t have chosen a better time or place for dinner.

Drinking & Nightlife

No matter what you’re having, SF bars, cafes and clubs are here to oblige. But why stick to your usual, when there are California wines, Bay spirits, microbrews and local roasts to try? Adventurous drinking is abetted by local bartenders, who’ve been making good on gold-rush-saloon history. SF baristas take their cappuccino-foam drawings seriously and, around here, DJs invent their own software.

Shopping

All those tricked-out dens, well-stocked spice racks and fabulous ensembles don’t just pull themselves together – San Franciscans scour their city for them. Eclectic originality is SF’s signature style, and that’s not one-stop shopping. But consider the thrill of the hunt: while shopping, you can watch fish theater, make necklaces from zippers and trade fashion tips with professional drag queens.

Travel with Children

San Francisco has the fewest kids per capita of any US city and, according to SPCA data, about 10,000 more dogs than children live here. Yet many locals make a living entertaining kids – from Pixar animators to video-game designers – and this town is full of attractions for young people.

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Steely skyscrapers, top chefs, rocking festivals – the Windy City will blow you away with its low-key cultured awesomeness.

Art & Architecture

It's hard to know what to gawk at first. High-flying architecture is everywhere, from the stratospheric, glass-floored Willis Tower to Frank Gehry's swooping silver Pritzker Pavilion to Frank Lloyd Wright's stained-glass Robie House. Whimsical public art studs the streets; you might be walking along and wham, there's an abstract Picasso statue that's not only cool to look at, but you're allowed to go right up and climb on it. For art museums, take your pick: impressionist masterpieces at the massive Art Institute, psychedelic paintings at the mid-sized Museum of Mexican Art or outsider drawings at the small Intuit gallery.

Chowhounds' Delight

Loosen your belt – you've got a lot of eating to do. On the menu: peanut-butter-and-banana-topped waffles for breakfast (at Stephanie Izard's Little Goat), pork-shoulder posole for lunch (at Dove's Luncheonette) and fine dining on foraged foods for dinner (at Iliana Regan's Elizabeth). You can also chow down on a superb range of global eats from Vietnamese pho to Mexican carnitas, Polish pierogi and Macanese fat rice. Still hungry? Order a late-night deep-dish pizza.

Sports Fanatics

Chicago is a maniacal sports town, with a pro team for every season (two teams, in baseball's case). Watching a game is a local rite of passage, whether you slather on the blue-and-orange body paint for a Bears football game, join the raucous baseball crowd in Wrigley Field's bleachers, or plop down on a bar stool at the neighborhood tavern for whatever match is on TV. Count on making lots of spirited new friends. Should the excitement rub off and inspire you to get active yourself, the city's 26 beaches and 580 parks offer a huge array of play options.

Rollicking Festivals

Chicago knows how to rock a festival. Between March and September it throws around 200 shindigs. The specialty is music. Blues Fest brings half a million people to Millennium Park to hear guitar notes slide and bass lines roll, all for free. During the four-day Lollapalooza mega-party, rock bands thrash while the audience dances in an arm-flailing frenzy. Smaller, barbecue-scented street fests take place in the neighborhoods each weekend – though some rival downtown for star power on their stages (oh, hey, Olivia Newton-John at Northalsted Market Days).

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Chicago's lodgings rise high in the sky, many in architectural landmarks. Snooze in the building that gave birth to the skyscraper, in one of Mies van der Rohe's boxy structures, or in a century-old art-deco masterpiece. Huge business hotels, trendy boutique hotels and snazzy hostels blanket the cityscape too. But nothing comes cheap…

Activities

Chicago offers plenty of places to get active via its city-spanning shoreline, 26 beaches and 580 parks. After a long, cold winter, everyone dashes outside to play. Top marks go to the 18-mile Lakefront Trail, prime for cycling and running. Meanwhile, Lake Michigan and the Chicago River provide loads of paddling possibilities.

Eating

Chicago has become a chowhound's hot spot. For the most part, restaurants here are reasonably priced and pretension-free, serving masterful food in come-as-you-are environs. You can also fork into a superb range of international eats, especially if you break out of downtown and head for neighborhoods such as Pilsen or Uptown.

Drinking & Nightlife

Chicagoans love to hang out in drinking establishments. Blame it on the long winter, when folks need to huddle together somewhere warm. Blame it on summer, when sunny days make beer gardens and sidewalk patios so splendid. Whatever the reason, drinking in the city is a widely cherished civic pastime.

Entertainment

From the evening-wear elegance of the Lyric Opera to pay-what-you-can storefront theaters and quirky magic lounges, Chicago puts on an impressive slate of performances. Improv laughs and live music spill out of muggy clubs and DIY dive bars nightly. Chicago’s spectator sports might just have the most rabid fans of all.

Shopping

From the glossy stores of the Magnificent Mile to the indie designers of Wicker Park to the brainy booksellers of Hyde Park, Chicago is a shopper’s destination. It has been that way from the get-go. After all, this is the city that birthed the department store and traditions such as the money-back guarantee, bridal registry and bargain basement.

Specialties

Music is big. Independent record stores flood Chicago’s neighborhoods, supported by the thriving live-music scene in town. Vinyl geeks will find heaps of stacks to flip through. Vintage and thrift fashions are another claim to fame. Folks here don’t throw out their old bowling shirts, pillbox hats, faux-fur coats and costume jewelry. Instead, they deposit used duds at vintage or secondhand stores, of which there are heaps. Art- and architecture-related items are another Chicago specialty.

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Sun-kissed beaches and art-deco beauties make an alluring backdrop to Miami’s other charms – a burgeoning arts scene, creative cuisine and blazing nightlife.

Architectural Jewel Box

Even if there was no beach, Miami would still have undeniable allure. The gorgeous 1930s hotels lining Ocean Dr are part of the world’s greatest collection of art-deco buildings. Tropical motifs, whimsical nautical elements and those iconic pastel shades create a cinematic backdrop for exploring the streets of Miami Beach. Of course, you don’t have to see these architectural beauties at arm’s length. Lavishly restored, Miami’s art-deco and mid-century modern hotels are also the playground for locals and out-of-towners alike, with sunny poolside terraces, artfully designed dining rooms and plush nightclubs.

Creativity, Miami Style

Chalk it up to Miami’s diverse population, or perhaps its love of always being on the cutting-edge. Whatever the reason, creativity is one of the great hallmarks of this city. From art and design to global cuisine, Miami remains ever on the search for bold new ideas, which manifest themselves in surprising ways. You’ll find brilliantly inventive chefs blending Eastern and Western cooking styles, sustainably designed buildings inspired by South Florida ecosystems and open-air galleries where museum-quality artwork covers once derelict warehouses. The one constant in Miami is its uncanny ability to astonish.

Nights in the City

When the sun sets and the brilliant colors of a South Florida sunset fill the sky, that’s when the best part of the day begins for Miami’s party people. By moonlight, all the magic of the city unfolds, in its salsa-filled dance halls, swanky candlelit lounges, and rooftop bars with sweeping views over Biscayne Bay and the glittering city skyline. While there’s plenty of bling on display, Miami has something for all, from backyard bars full of indie rockers to hidden dens of debauchery concealed behind neon-lit taco stands.

The Great Outdoors

Few cities are as blessed as Miami when it comes to natural beauty. Sparkling shores lapped by aquamarine waters set the stage for a memorable array of adventures, from sunrise strolls along peaceful stretches of Mid-Beach to scenic paddles in search of manatees off Virginia Key. You can look for colorful bird species while walking the trails of Oleta River State Park, or simply enjoy some downtown greenery while lounging in Bayfront Park. With year-round sunshine, and a love for celebration, the open-air is also where Miami’s biggest parties unfold – whether at massive music and dance festivals or the neighborhood fiestas that pack Miami’s cultural calendar.

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Sleeping

Miami has some alluring lodging options – and for some travelers, it's a big draw to the city. South Beach has all the name recognition with boutique hotels set in lovely art-deco buildings, but there are plenty of other options in Miami – from Downtown high-rises with sweeping views and endless amenities to historic charmers in Coral Gables, Coconut Grove and other less touristy neighborhoods.

Activities

Miami doesn't lack for ways to keep yourself busy. From sailing the teal waters to hiking through tropical undergrowth, yoga in the parks and (why not?) trapeze artistry above the city's head, the Magic City rewards those who want an active holiday.

Eating

Miami is a major immigrant entrepôt and a sucker for food trends. Thus you get a good mix of cheap ethnic eateries and high-quality top-end cuisine here, alongside some poor-value dross in touristy zones like Miami Beach. The best new areas for dining are in Downtown, Wynwood and Upper East Side; Coral Gables has great classic options.

Travel with Children

Between all the boating outings, water-related theme parks, swimmable cenotes and snorkeling on shallow beaches kids stay thoroughly entertained in Quintana Roo. What's more, you'll rarely have problems finding accommodations and dining options for the whole family, especially when staying in the larger tourist centers.

Entertainment

Miami’s artistic merits are obvious, even from a distance. Could there be a better creative base? There’s Southern homegrown talent, migratory snowbirds bringing the funding and attention of northeastern galleries, and immigrants from across the Americas. All that adds up to some great live music, theater and dance – with plenty of room for experimentation.

Shopping

Temptation comes in many forms in Miami. For shoppers, this means high-end fashion, designer sunglasses, vintage clothing, books, records, Latin American crafts, artwork, gourmet goodies and much more. You'll also find sprawling air-conditioned malls where you can retreat when the weather sours. No matter where you shop, you'll find good restaurant options along the way, as dining is an important part of the whole shopping experience.

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An oasis of indulgence dazzling in the desert, Vegas' seduction is unrivaled. The Strip shimmers hypnotically, promising excitement, entertainment, fortune and fame. Seeing is believing.

Entertainment

There are few places outside London, Tokyo and New York where you're this spoiled for choice when it comes to A-list entertainers and big-budget stage shows. Seasonal casino residencies by the megastars of the music world range from the likes of Celine Dion (still going strong), Elton John, the Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin to the superstar DJs of the EDM (electronic dance music) universe, Calvin Harris, Carl Cox, Steve Aoki and Tiësto. Top that with seven enthralling Cirque du Soleil shows, the mesmerizing Blue Man Group and magicians Penn & Teller, and you've got a pretty full schedule.

Dining

The volume and concentration of the Strip's celebrity chefs, hatted fine-dining restaurants and America's favorite food franchises is hard to fathom: it's impossible to sample them all, in terms of time taken to savor the spectrum of flavors and the depth of the average visitor's wallet. If you're a foodie on a pilgrimage, we suggest you do your research and narrow your selection before you arrive, lest you be overwhelmed by the scope of what's on offer, or unable to secure a reservation in the short duration of your stay. Make sure to save room for dessert!

Nature Almighty

In this 24/7 city where it's possible to spend your entire visit within labyrinthine indoor worlds where artificial lighting mimics day's passing into night, many visitors won't wander far from their expensive accommodations, lavish pool bar, mesmerizing casino floor, or even come off the dance floor for air. The wise and well-informed, however, (that's you!) will venture off the Strip to experience the spectacular scenic beauty surrounding Las Vegas ('The Meadows'). Forged by tectonics, carved by the wind and sun baked, vast canyons and playa, epic mountains and alpine forests beckon you trade humanity's distractions for nature's warm embrace.

Luxury Hotels

Those who enjoy life's finer details flock to Vegas to lap up the luxuries of the world's biggest and boldest high-end hotels. With price tags hovering around $300 per night for a sumptuous standard room at Encore, Cosmopolitan or Delano and starting at $1000 per night for a decadent SkyLoft at MGM Grand, $3500 for a Sky Villa at Aria then skyrocketing to a reputed $35,000 for the privilege of occupying Nobu Hotel's exclusive Nobu Villa, Vegas' 120,000-plus hotel rooms offer something for every possible taste, ranging in quality and style from the sublime to the ridiculous.

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Sleeping

With over 150,000 hotel rooms and consistently high occupancy rates, prices in Vegas fluctuate constantly. Sometimes the best deals are found in advance; other times, at the last minute. As a general rule, if you find a good price on a place you love, nab it. Decent rooms Downtown start from as low as $29, while the swankiest digs on the Strip can fetch upwards of $10,000 per night!

Eating

The Strip has been studded with celebrity chefs for years. All-you-can-eat buffets and $10 steaks still exist, but today's high-rolling visitors demand ever more sophisticated dining experiences, with meals designed – although not personally prepared – by famous taste-makers. Flash enough cash and you can taste the same cuisine served at revered restaurants from NYC to Paris to Shanghai.

Drinking & Nightlife

You don't need us to tell you that Las Vegas is party central – the Strip is ground zero for some of the country's hottest clubs and most happening bars, where you never know who you'll be rubbing shoulders with. What you might not know is that Downtown's Fremont East Entertainment District is the go-to place for Vegas' coolest non-mainstream haunts.

In Vegas a lot of drinking takes place while blearily staring down slot machines and gaming tables. Yet the Strip's casinos, not to mention countless other nightspots around the city, offer plenty of diversity when it comes to drinking. With hundreds of places in which to imbibe and party around the clock, you'll never be left out to dry.

It's time to lay the cards on the table about one thing: the vast majority of Sin City's bars are smoke-filled. Antismoking laws banning cigarette, pipe and cigar smoking in bars that also prepare food are viewed with disgust, disdain and indignation by many locals. When in doubt, don't light up without asking the bartender if it's OK first.

Shopping

Surprisingly, Vegas has evolved into a sophisticated shopping destination. International purveyors of haute couture on the Strip cater to cashed-up clientele, whether it's catwalk fashions fresh off the runways, diamond jewels once worn by royalty or sports cars. But Sin City is still the kind of place where porn-star-worthy bling, Elvis wigs and other tacky souvenirs fly off the shelves.

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The USA’s capital teems with iconic monuments, vast museums and the corridors of power where visionaries and demagogues roam.

Museums & Monuments

There’s nothing quite like the Smithsonian Institution, a collection of 19 behemoth, artifact-stuffed museums, many lined up in a row along the Mall. The National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Reynolds Center for American Art & Portraiture – all here, all free, always.Alongside the museums, Washington’s monuments bear tribute to both the beauty and the horror of years past. They’re potent symbols of the American narrative, from the awe-inspiring Lincoln Memorial to the powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the stirring Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.

Arts & Culture

Washington is the showcase of American arts, home to such prestigious venues as the National Theatre, the Kennedy Center and the Folger Theatre. Jazz music has a storied history here. In the early 20th century, locals such as Duke Ellington climbed on stages along U St NW, where atmospheric clubs still operate. Go-go (an infectiously rhythmic dance music) and punk also have deep roots in DC.The city hosts several adventurous small theaters, like Arena Stage and Studio Theatre, that put on works by nontraditional writers. Busboys & Poets' open-mic nights provide another outlet for progressive new voices.

Political Life

The president, Congress and the Supreme Court are here, the three pillars of US government. In their orbit float the Pentagon, the State Department, the World Bank and embassies from most corners of the globe. If you hadn’t got the idea, power is why Washington emits such a palpable buzz.As a visitor, there’s a thrill in seeing the action up close – to walk inside the White House, to sit in the Capitol chamber while senators argue about Arctic drilling, and to drink in a bar alongside congresspeople likely determining your newest tax hike over their single malt Scotch.

History

A lot of history is concentrated within DC’s relatively small confines. In a single day, you could gawp at the Declaration of Independence, the real, live parchment with John Hancock’s signature scrawled across it at the National Archives; stand where Martin Luther King Jr gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on the Lincoln Memorial’s steps; prowl around the Watergate building that got Nixon into trouble; see the flag that inspired the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ at the National Museum of American History; and be an arm’s length from where Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre.

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Sleeping

Many DC lodgings are imbued with history that few other American cities can match: when rooms here are called the ‘Roosevelt suite,’ it’s because Teddy actually slept in them. The best digs are monuments of Victorian and jazz-era opulence. Groovy design-driven hotels, straightforward chain hotels, B&Bs and apartments blanket the cityscape, too. But nothing comes cheap…

Seasons & Prices

The high-season apex is late March through June (cherry blossom season and school-group visiting time). September and October are also busy. Book well in advance if traveling during these months. Prices are lowest in August, January (assuming it’s not an inauguration year) and February. Rates on weekends (Friday and Saturday) are typically less than on weekdays.

Hotels

More and more hotels are joining the pack, rising up at a particularly rapid pace around downtown, the White House area, Capitol Hill and southwest DC. All big-box chains have outposts (usually several) here. Hip, design-savvy hotels abound, as do uber luxury hotels catering to presidents, prime ministers and other heads of state.

Activities

DC residents are active types, and the city provides a surprising amount of parkland for everyone to play in. Miles of trails crisscross the area, offering top-notch hiking and cycling opportunities. Meanwhile, the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers cut through the District and provide loads of paddling possibilities. It's easy to get outside and take advantage of it all.

Eating

A homegrown foodie revolution has transformed the once-buttoned-up DC dining scene. Driving it is the bounty of farms at the city's doorstep, along with the booming local economy and influx of worldly younger residents. Small, independent, local-chef-helmed spots now lead the way. And they're doing such a fine job that Michelin deemed the city worthy of its stars.

Drinking & Nightlife

When Andrew Jackson swore the oath of office in 1800, the self-proclaimed populist dispensed with pomp and circumstance and, quite literally, threw a raging kegger. Folks got so gone they started looting art from the White House. The historical lesson: DC loves a drink, and these days it enjoys said tipples in many incarnations besides executive-mansion-trashing throwdowns.

Shopping

Shopping in DC means many things, from browsing funky antique shops to perusing rare titles at secondhand booksellers. Temptations abound for lovers of vinyl, vintage wares, and one-of-a-kind jewelry, art and handicrafts. And, of course, that Abe Lincoln pencil sharpener and Uncle Sam bobblehead you’ve been wanting await…

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