Summer in the USA

By | Category: Travel destinations

From Thanksgiving to Labour Day, it’s no secret that our cousins across the pond like an excuse to celebrate, and 4 July is no exception. Independence Day is commemorated with fireworks, parades and concerts across America. If you haven’t been able to make it to the USA for the 4 July but are after an authentic American experience this summer, check out the following destinations…

Las Vegas
Las Vegas – the desert town that exploded from a dusty backwater into a fast moving global playground back in the 1930s – has gone decidedly upmarket. Sure the never ending buffets, free flowing drinks and lens friendly reproductions of the Egyptian Pyramids, Eiffel Tower et al are all still present and correct. However Sin City is also revelling in the luxurious side of life thanks to a new new breed of hip hotels (Aria anyone?), fine dining – here’s looking at your Hakkasan – designer cocktails and great golf. The ‘anything can happen’ playground is also much easier to reach these days: there are direct flights to the flashy new McCarran International Airport, only a stone’s throw away from the bright lights of the Las Vegas strip. Just remember: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…


Been to America and never made it to Asheville? That must be righted. Owing to its canny line of unique boutiques, microbreweries, live music scene and ability to serve fab coffee, this laid back North Carolina town has tonnes of charm. Plus time seems to move slower here than in frantic New York or in your face LA.
But don’t just take my word for it: Asheville has  been hailed as an ‘It’ destination by travel bible Condé Nast. Clearly there’s something of a buzz building around Asheville – and not just because of the Biltmore Estate, America’s largest private home and Asheville’s number-one tourist attraction.
Of course you can’t properly visit Asheville without checking out the childhood home of Thomas Wolfe – aka Asheville’s most famous son. For all that, it’s the forthright and fun loving locals who are invariably at the heart of what Asheville has to offer – everyone waves hello and shares a smile on the street. Spend a while with them and you may never want to leave. Or as Wolfe wrote his sister Mabel in 1938: “I have a thing to tell you now: that is you can’t go home again.” Despite Wolfe’s words I did return home, but often think of Asheville. I’ll go back. I hope it’s soon.

Palm Springs
jeep and flowers in Palm springs
Surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, Palm Springs stands for everything we love here at JAT towers: hot weather, fabulous sun tanned bodies and some of the some of the swankiest hotels and bars on the planet…
No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without seeing the homes of the King of Cool and his Rat Pack cronies – and taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the summit of San Jacinto. But the real reason you flock to Palm Springs is to drink designer cocktails and dance to fresh DJ spun tunes around kidney shaped pools until the wee hours. Sure, Palm Springs won’t suit everyone – you either get it or you don’t. But if you do, like me, you can’t wait to return.


Chicago skyline

“Each time I leave, Chicago is tugging my sleeve
Chicago is The Wrigley Building,
Chicago is The Union Stockyard,
Chicago is one town that won’t let you down
It’s my kind of town”

So sang Sinatra back in 1964. Old Blue Eyes wasn’t wrong. Nowhere beats Chicago – both metaphorically and literally (it’s the home of the skyscraper). The Windy City is one of those rare places that looks stunning at any time of year. It boasts art and culture, professional sports (a trip to see the Chicago Cubs play at the charming Wrigley Field stadium should rank high on any Windy City itinerary), world class museums (don’t miss the impressive Field Museum of Natural History that houses, among other artefacts, the largest Tyrannosaurus, ever found), hip hotels and restaurants, plus the sort of energy that only a city has. Little wonder then for many who come, Chicago immediately becomes their favourite American metropolis. Make no mistake: the windy city will, ahem, blow you away.


Old Town Temecula

Temecula Valley may not have previously figured on your mental map –  the likes of LA, Anaheim and San Diego typically top the SoCal sightseeing agenda – but when you get there, it’s hard to see why not.
Only 90 miles southeast of LA and 60 miles north of San Diego, Temecula is Southern California’s premier wine growing region and a good place to disappear for a long, lazy weekend. You’ll find around 40 wineries free of crowds and mercifully, without Napa’s perturbing price tags – after all, the last person you want to be chatting to on your hols, is your bank manager.
Yet while vines and wines do dominate proceedings, Temecula Valley  isn’t just for oenophiles. Much of Temecula’s appeal lies in its heart stopping-ly pretty old town – a beguiling place for camera clad tourists owing to its wooden boardwalks and unique shops.With so much on offer, it can only be a matter of time before Temecula becomes the next Napa so explore, enjoy and get there before everybody else does.

“I’m going back to Charleston, where there is still a little grace and civility left in the world.” So said Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind – the now iconic American Civil War epic – and for good reason. 
Thanks to its postcard pretty painted houses, charming cobblestone streets, carriage rides, cemeteries, cannons, colourful colonial-era mansions and craft markets, Charleston always looks the part. Church steeples (over 400 of them to be specific) – not skyscrapers – dot the skyline making this lovely city one that landscape artists live for.
The most interesting district for visitors to explore is the historic quarter which, unusually for an American city, can easily be negotiated on foot. Night or day, King Street – the beating heart of the old town – has plenty of appeal. 
Shoppers (Charleston was recently named one of the nation’s top 10 shopping streets, so lots of tourists visit simply to shop) will love lower and middle King Street, thronged as they are with enough antique stores and one of a kind boutiques to decimate your baggage allowance.
Want more gravitas? There are many museums and historic buildings to explore including the Aiken Rhett House (an urban plantation offering an insight into antebellum life) and the Nathaniel Russell House. The latter is famed for its verdant English garden and self supporting spiral staircase.

Most visitors to Texas rush to the bright lights and big hotels of Dallas but look through recent travel ‘It lists,’ ‘hot spots’ and ‘must visit destinations’ and one Lone State city emerges triumphant. And it’s not the Big D. 
Rather it’s the state capital, Austin, that is lauded as the most original, fascinating and increasingly fashionable place to holiday in Texas. And in my mind, Austin – a quirky, bohemian island in the middle of uber conservative Texas – is the only place to live if you’re going to relocate to the Lone State. For while there are American towns with more history and culture, no city delivers quite as enticing combination of individualism and sheer fun as Austin.
To get the inside story on the city, try  a tour with Austin Overtures  – experts on all things Austin. Through Austin Overtures,  I discovered places that I might not otherwise have done. I learnt that Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods (and that locals are a tad annoyed that the biggest branch is now in London and not Austin). And I  also got to see the renowned University of Texas (nearly half of Austin’s population has earned a bachelor’s degree or higher), the historic and haunted Driskill Hotel (a local landmark whose guestbook is full of doodles from the rich and famous), the suburb of Rock Round (the home of Dell computers), and beautiful Barton Springs Pool. The latter is the perfect place to beat the heat on a hot summer’s day.

New Orleans
New Orleans2
Louisiana’s favourite city takes some beating when it comes to diversity (the former French colony was given to the Spanish in 1763, until America took control in 1863) and its’ colourful history can be felt in the medley of architectural styles: think trademark Creole townhouses, shuttered windows, Spanish courtyards and ironic ironwork balconies. The South’s foremost city has  resisted the pressure to become the same as everywhere else, or as a slogan I spied on a t-shirt  in a shop targeting tourists near the port put it: “In New Orleans, normal is a setting on a dryer.” For make no mistake: Nola boasts an infectious joie de vivre found in few places on earth.
Of course all this partying will make you hungry. Fortunately food is another part of New Orlean’s pleasures: apply the “never eat what you could have at home” rule and get stuck into good tasting local specials such as beignets, jambalaya, gumbo (magic in a bowl), boudin and crawfish.
Much like Tennessee Williams – who once famously remarked “America has only three cities,  New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland” – I am forever smitten.

Hawaii was declared the 50th US state back in 1959 but, compared to the mainland, it may as well be another country. The difference is largely down to the tropical shirt and rubber flip flop clad Hawaiians themselves– and their love of the three Fs: food, family and fun. Unlike UK or US citizens, Hawaiians don’t ask for more from life than it can give and, as such, smiling faces are evident everywhere from the taxi driver who starts crooning his favourite Bruno Mars track (the music maestro was born in Hawaii) to the supermarket assistant who greets each and every customer with a heart felt “alo-ha!”
But let’s be honest: Hawaii is best known for its beaches. Waikiki is the most famous, with Hanauma Bay– which has a reputation for the best snorkelling – also hogging the headlines. Beyond the beaches, waking early to head out to Pearl Harbor – the target of a Japanese attack that thrust Hawaii into America’s history –  and pay your respects to those who lost their life on the 8 December 1941 at the USS Arizona Memorial is a rite of passage for any visitor. This exotic island chain isn’t easy to get to, being some 2,000 miles from any country, but trust me when I say: you’ll leave happier for for having visited.

San Diego

San Diego Zoo

San Diego is on the standard West coast schedule because –  well it’s worth it. Situated on the southern edge of California, close to the Mexico border, San Diego is where an aviator clad Tom Cruise once gunned his motorbike in Top Gun. It also has sun at times of the year when Europe is under a dark blanket  – but it’s not just sun worshippers like me who are drawn here…
Other assets of this sun kissed city include a world renowned zoo boasting one of the most successful Giant Panda breeding programmes in the world, Balboa Park with its 16 museums, chi chi boutiques, diverse dining and laid back hangouts in the gorgeous Gaslamp quarter and exquisite Spanish architecture. Indeed the Hispanic influence can be felt in every shop and square in Old Town San Diego Historic Park: the currency maybe dollars but in, what is arguably the historic core of the city, you’ll hear salsa and Spanish more often than English.
But it’s the long, white beaches – which have helped earn California’s second largest city the nickname ‘Sandy Ego’ – which are San Diego’s biggest draw. Top spots to stretch out your beach towel include Coronado, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya). 

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