When it comes to places to go and things to do, the USA has pretty much everything and it’s no wonder so many Americans still don’t have passports as there’s no need to travel abroad to find fabulous sun-kissed beaches or fabulous fresh powder to go skiing or snowboarding. When it comes to visiting US cities though, the usual suspects tend to be featured frequently, from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC on the East Coast to Chicago and Las Vegas as you head out West and of course San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego on the West Coast.
However, for this article I thought it would be more fun to choose two regions that whilst popular are not necessarily right at the top of many visitors’ must-see list when visiting America and perhaps offer a more authentic and true-to-life experience and the chance to take to the open road with the wind in your hair.
The Florida Keys
2013 saw Florida celebrating its 500th anniversary, marking its discovery by explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who arrived to claim the land for Spain in 1513.
Today the Sunshine State draws millions of tourists to its shores every year, with most of them heading to the theme park capital of the world, Orlando. But drive a few hours south to the Florida Keys and you’ll discover a more relaxing holiday vibe… and not a cartoon mouse in sight!
The Florida Keys are located to the southwest of Florida and sit on a coral cay archipelago. The northern part of the Keys starts at the south-eastern tip of Florida and are some 15 miles south of Miami. They then arc south and west to the farthest point at Key West and divides the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
At their most southern point, Key West is only 90 miles from Cuba and the Keys in total cover 137 square miles of land mass.
The archipelago which makes up The Keys has over 1,700 islands, many of them uninhabited or forming part of protected nature reserves. But over 40 of these ‘Keys’ are linked by the Overseas Highway, which leads to the quirky town of Key West, the southernmost point in the USA and the final destination for one of the America’s most iconic road trips. So, make sure you have your camera or iPhone at the ready and you’ll find plenty of welcoming places to stay a night or two along the way such as picturesque Little Palm Island Resort & Spa and quaint little Cypress House Hotel in Key West.
Yosemite National Park
The extraordinary natural beauty of this iconic national park in California absolutely has to be seen to be believed and quite literally takes your breath away.
With its waterfalls plunging 1000 ft over the edge of perfectly formed granite cliffs to the crystal-clear reflections at Mirror Lake; days can be lost exploring Yosemite, yet there’s always something new to discover.
Yosemite National Park encompasses 1,200 square miles of mountainous terrain in Sierra Nevada, Northern California. This incredible landscape reaches heights of 13,000 ft at the highest mountain peak and the valley is perched 4,000 ft above sea level. The park is open 365 days a year and with each season comes a whole new lease of life for the Yosemite. If you pick the Spring time to visit, you’ll discover an enchanting period of transition within Yosemite when snow can still be spotted melting from mountain peaks at Glacier Point yet blossom bursts from the trees and deer spring across the fields to escape hibernation.
Driving along the redwood lined Highway 41 you’re transported into a valley of natural wonder. Put the roof down on the car and you’ll drive past the sun flash-dancing through the trees as you wind your way up towards Tenaya Lodge, Yosemite’s luxurious retreat for those who’ve headed to Yosemite to rough it, but without the rough part.
Nestled in the pines just an hour’s drive from the Yosemite Valley hides the entrance the four-diamond resort Tenaya Lodge, the perfect place to wind down after a day of exploration. You have little chance of forgetting that you are in a national park once you step inside, although why would you want to? The dark wooden beams that tower above you, the warming smell of soft leather and the open fireplaces, ablaze with crackling logs, have captured that calming forest feel and created an ambience of mountain perfection.
So whatever your reasons for visiting America, I would recommend renting a car and heading a little off the beaten track and experience this vast continent in way that you’ll remember for years to come.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man On The Ground