The United States of America may not be the largest nation in the world, but it is certainly the wealthiest and most powerful. It also ranks as the second most visited country among tourists. This should come as no surprise. This land of awesome beauty boasts from “sea to shining sea” every kind of landscape and scenery imaginable. Within its 50 states, you’ll find the Great Lakes of the Midwest; vast prairies of the Great Plains; mighty rivers like the Columbia in the west, the Mississippi in the heartland, and the Hudson in the east; mountain ranges like the Rockies, Appalachians, Blue Ridge, Great Smoky, Cascades, and Sierra Nevada; more than 155 national forests and designated national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite; some of the deepest gorge canyons in the world including the famous Grand Canyon; deserts and dry valleys like the Great Basin, Mojave and the vicious Death Valley – the lowest point in North America at more than 280 feet below sea level; and even tropical paradises like the Florida Keys and the Hawaiian Islands.
But “America the beautiful” is more than just looks. It prides itself on being the great “melting pot”, the “land of opportunity” where immigrants and pioneers of all cultures, ethnicities, and socio-economic status from around the world are welcomed. Since Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World in 1492, millions of American immigrants have followed suit – from the original founders of the Virginia colony, to the Puritan settlers of New England, to the unwilling slaves from Africa, to the French Huguenots of the late 18th century, to the Germans, Irish, Scots, and Italians of the 1800s, to the waves of Asian immigrants of the late 20th century, to the Hispanic political and economic refugees who now comprise the bulk of America’s new faces. This multicultural makeup of America has led to racial conflicts at times, rearing its head in slavery and segregation laws, but overall has given the United States a robust workforce of varied skill sets believed to be a major factor in the country’s economic productivity.
Today, tourists find a United States that is so packed with things to see, do, and experience that grasping and capturing the “gist” of America is simply impossible over the course of one trip. Even American residents find this task difficult to accomplish over a lifetime. Everything can be found in this country: world-famous landmarks like New York’s Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, Washington D.C.’s White House and Washington Monument, Chicago’s Sears Tower, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, Seattle’s Space Needle, or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge; natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Lake Tahoe, Niagara Falls, Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains, Devils Tower, and the Arches of Utah; casino and entertainment hotspots like Las Vegas, Reno, Branson, and Atlantic City; and resort destinations like the Poconos, Adirondacks, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Thousand Islands, Scottsdale, Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, and Orlando’s Disney World.
Individual flair and panache can also be seen in the various cities of America, many of them offering an urban personality not found anywhere else, whether it’s the French colonial vibe of Jazzy New Orleans with its ooze of excess embodied in its Mardi Gras celebrations, the coffee-drinking and grunge culture of Seattle, the energy and innovation that encapsulates Silicon Valley, the laidback surfer lifestyles of Santa Monica and Venice Beach, the glamour and celebrity glitz of Hollywood, the country and gospel scene of Music City Nashville, the Latin Jazz and Cuban flavored air of Miami, and the mellow, hula dancing, go-with-the-flow style of Honolulu and Maui.
The United States is so large geographically and diverse culturally that it is difficult to divide into regions that share similar characteristics. Generally, America is broken up into eight regions: the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic, South, Midwest, Great Plains, and Rocky Mountains. Five states, however, don’t quite fit into any region: California, Texas, Alaska, Hawaii, and Florida.
The Pacific Northwest is comprised of Washington and Oregon, a region of evergreen forests, coastal mountains, snow-capped volcanoes, and above all else, abundant rain. The interior of the Pacific Northwest also features desert stretches and steppes covered with sage bushes. Outdoor pursuits highlight this region’s main lure of tourists.
The Southwest, which includes Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, brings pictures of canyons, mesas, deserts, and awe-inspiring rock formations. A strong Hispanic and Native American influences color this region where some of America’s greatest natural wonders can be found.
Generally, the northeast is known as New England which consists of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. This is a land full of colonial villages and seaside towns, defined by a culture of commitment to education, liberty, and independence.
South of New England along the east coast is the Mid-Atlantic region where urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. are found. Dense cities mixed in with seaside resorts and mountain ski resorts highlight the Mid-Atlantic. In addition to the District of Columbia, five states round out the Mid-Atlantic region: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.
The South is the largest region of America, consisting of 11 states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Florida is also sometimes grouped into the South, which is a region roughly associated with the pro-slavery constituents and confederates during the Civil War. Agricultural plantations, cool mountains, country and gospel music, and old fashioned “Southern hospitality” characterize the South.
The Midwest is centered around the freshwater Great Lakes and the great stretches of rolling farmland southwest of it. Eight states make up the Midwest: Illinois Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. The Midwest is considered the industrial heartland of America, where cars and steel are manufactured. Vast wildernesses of forests, rivers and lakes provide opportunities for hunting, fishing, and water activities.
The Great Plains region is located west and southwest of the Midwest, formed by Kansas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Flat prairies and plains predominate this region, which is known as America’s “Breadbasket” for its agricultural prowess. The Great Plains offer a frontier and “Old West” experience for visitors.
The Rocky Mountains region is just west of the Great Plains and is comprised of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. Spectacular mountains mixed in with a few dry deserts characterize the Rockies, from whence the great outdoors much have got its “Great”. Skiing, mountain climbing, and rafting are among a few of the outdoor adventures that await thrill-seekers.
California offers a bit of everything – sunny beaches, snowcapped mountains, dry deserts, rain forests, and wine valleys. Some of the most culturally rich cities are located in California, including San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Texas, on the other hand, is characterized by cattle ranches and plains in the interior, and Gulf Coast beaches in the south. This “Big” state is home to the quintessential “Cowboy” and “John Wayne” types.
Alaska is even larger than Texas – an arctic wilderness of forests, glacial mountains, and rivers and streams where grizzly bears, wolves, and whales are spotted. Camping, hiking, fishing, mountain climbing, kayaking and skiing opportunities abound in Alaska.
Hawaii and Florida
Hawaii and Florida, however, provide a stark contrast to Alaska. The two states are adored as tropical paradises where tourists can enjoy sandy beaches, surfing, cocktail drinks, and the pampering amenities of vacation resorts.