American Idols: The Alternative US City Breaks

The mighty United States of America may cover nearly 10 million square kilometres, but how many of us are guilty of glossing over its fascinating cities in favour of [...]

The mighty United States of America may cover nearly 10 million square kilometres, but how many of us are guilty of glossing over its fascinating cities in favour of those old faithfuls like New York and Las Vegas?

The world’s love affair with the USA shows no sign of abating, but while post-corona travel plans the to the States may currently be up in the air, we know that when we do head back over the pond our attention will be turning to America’s underrated gems for an electrifying experience of US culture somewhere new.

There are dozens of exciting US cities that rival the big hitters, that will leave your tastebuds tantalised, your culture barometer maxed out and your urge for discovery firmly quelled. We’ve picked three of our favourites that we can’t wait to explore.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

Known as the birthplace of America and under two hours from New York by train from Penn Station, Philly has plenty to keep you entertained if you fancy a detour from the city that never sleeps.

What to see

  • Head to Independence National Historic Park for a guided tour and see where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted at Independence Hall, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Brush up on your American history at The Museum of the American Revolution. 
  • Take in more than 2,000 years of art history at Philadelphia Museum of Art and embrace your inner Rocky with a race up its iconic steps.
  • See Rodin’s iconic ‘The Thinker’ at the Rodin Museum, home to one of the largest collections of his works outside of Paris 
  • Take a walking tour of some of the cities 4,000 murals; visit muralarts.org to plan your route.
  • Face your fear at the Eastern State Penitentiary, an abandoned prison that’s creepy and fascinating all year long but turns into a scary immersive experience around Halloween.
  • Longwood Gardens may be outside of the city, but worth the drive for what is one of the top botanical gardens in the world.

Where To Eat & Drink

  • You can’t visit without trying a Philly Cheesesteak; fresh, soft and squishy Italian rolls, filled with melted cheese and tender pieces of beef. Campo’s Deli has been serving them up for over 70 years, so they know what they’re doing.
  • One of the most prominent craft beer cities in the world and often referred to as the ‘Best Beer Drinking City in America’; you’ll find a host of historical brewpubs and renowned breweries across the city.
  • Make sure you visit Reading Terminal Market on an empty stomach; it’s one of America’s largest and oldest public markets and offers local food favourites including hoagies, pretzels and Pennsylvania Dutch goodies.
  • We got some tips from a local on their favourite spots to dine out. Head to El Vez for the best nachos in town, Sampan for delicious Asian and its super cool Graffiti bar, the farm-to-table Talulas Garden and for dessert, you can’t beat Franklin Fountain; an old-fashioned ice cream shop and a Philly classic.

Seattle, Washington

It’s easy to be drawn to the beautiful sunshine of LA or the offbeat charm of San Francisco, but edge north into the Pacific Northwest and you’ll be rewarded with this year-round destination and its cornucopia of iconic sights, outdoor recreation, arts and culture, world-class sports and a vibrant and thriving culinary scene.

What to See

  • You literally can’t miss the Space Needle, given it towers over the Seattle skyline at 605ft tall. Don’t miss the world’s first and only rotating glass floor.
  • Discover the work of Washington native and contemporary artist David Chihuly at Chihuly Garden and Glass. You might recognise the iconic glassblower’s intricate work from the central sculpture housed in the atrium of London’s V&A museum.
  • Seattle’s first neighbourhood, Pioneer Square, is a bustling area with beautiful Romanesque Revival architecture as well as trendy boutique shops, chic bars and restaurants.
  • The Museum of Pop Culture is a must-visit, particularly for any music fans. Designed by Frank Gehry, the architecture of the building aims to replicate a smashed guitar, in homage to the legendary musicians that hail from the city.
  • Olympic National Park is home to lush rainforests, mountain peaks, beaches, rivers and hot springs. With activities including hiking, fishing, tide-pooling and camping, it’s an escape to another world.

Where To Eat & Drink 

  • Elliott’s Oyster House has been serving up a fresh catch on Pier 56 for over 40 years. There’s no better spot to enjoy speciality Pacific oysters with wine pairings while watching the world go by.
  • It’s no secret Seattle is famous for its coffee – it was the birthplace of Starbucks after all – but head to Storyville Coffee for some of the best blends in the state
  • A celebration of the food and wine of the Pacific Northwest, The Herbfarm unveils a new, nine-course thematic menu every few weeks to showcase the very best of the region, using ingredients grown in its garden and nearby farm to serve seasonal and unusual cuisine.
  • If visiting in March, make sure that Taste Washington is in your diary; a four-day food fest featuring hundreds of Washington wineries, chefs and restaurants offering tastings, demos, talks and workshops

Denver, Colorado

Lonely Planet named Denver one of its top cities to visit in 2020 and we’re inclined to agree. It’s a cultural playground, not to mention the access point for plentiful outdoor adventures.  

What to See

  • Visit the Golden Triangle Creative District, home to the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum, dedicated to the mysterious life and revolutionary art of a modern master.
  • Easily one of the world’s most phenomenal live music venues, Red Rocks Amphitheatre has hosted iconic performers such as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. It’s worth timing your trip to make a pilgrimage here for a gig you will never forget.
  • Denver has a packed annual calendar of festivals. The Denver March PowWow is one of the largest events of its kind in the country featuring more than 1,500 dancers from 100 tribes. Throughout the year you’ll find everything from the Grilled Cheese Fest to the Five Points Jazz Festival and Denver BBQ Festival.
  • The city has 85 miles of bike trails to explore, not to mention pedal boating on Washington Park, kayaking on the white-water chutes at Confluence Park and plenty of walks to take in that stunning Denver skyline.
     

What To Eat & Drink

  • Opened in 2018, Milk Market in downtown Denver is home to 13 restaurant stalls, three bars and an artisan food market, while Denver Central Market in RiNo, offers farm-to-table cuisine and plenty of seasonable, vegan options.
  • The Great American Beer Festival is hailed as the largest beer festival in the world; representing the biggest collection of US beer ever served.
  • Our local intel tells us RiNo’s Cart Driver is Denver’s home for sharing wood-fired pizzas, fresh oysters, seasonal market plates and cocktails. Señor Bear is a hotspot for Latin-inspired food and drink and The Wolf’s Tailor stitches together Chef Kelly Whitaker’s collaborations and travels through Italian kitchens and Asian night markets.
  • Denver has no shortage of exciting bars. El Five boasts an uninterrupted view of the Denver skyline, Seven Grand houses over 7,000 whiskies and Improper City with its 12,000 square foot patio, is the perfect location for outdoor summer drinks.

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Laurel Waldron
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