Post updated October 2018
During my #BussingUSA trip last fall, I visited quite a few American cities. From the East Coast to Southern USA and on to the West Coast, I ended up visiting half the nation’s states. My journey was somewhat fast and furious, so I only had a few days in most places to really “get to know” the city. Seeing as I just couldn’t agree on a top 5, I present (in no particular order) my six favourite American cities to you.
New York City
No shock there, am I right? Visiting New York City was always a big dream of mine. When I was in high school I even had an inspiration board with a photo of NYC firmly stuck in the middle. Although I am yet to even write about my time in the Big Apple (bad blogger), I loved it. I am so glad it exceeded my expectations, but I had faith it wouldn’t let me down. My favourite New York moments included our Brooklyn Airbnb apartment, which made my friends and I feel like locals for the week. Even the neighbours always greeted us as we were constantly coming and going to the subway. I enjoyed Happy Hour in Noho and seeing Stomp off Broadway, which came with a Hayley laughing fit for free.
I loved walking in Central Park and seeing the Boathouse. I loved visiting the Brooklyn Brewery and then walking around the corner to the Bowl to see Australian hip hop trio, the Hilltop Hoods perform to an intimate crowd like we were back home. I enjoyed visiting Staten Island for a spontaneous dinner and photographing the city skyline as we returned on the ferry. Although our days were frantic and fast-paced, being in New York City made me feel alive and like I had accomplished something big. Dreams do come true, kids.
I visited this Pacific Northwest city twice during my working holiday in Vancouver, and if I had the chance I would have eagerly gone three or four times. Portland is just an effortlessly cool and cultured place that was so hipster it hurts – a term I find myself using repeatedly in my new home, Melbourne. One of the things I enjoyed most about my time in the city was that it was basically unplanned: we just wandered and waited to see what we would discover.
Portland is the kind of city where you will enjoy getting lost as you might just find somewhere really unexpected, like my friends and I did following my failed navigation attempt. I have listed my top 20 things to do in Portland, but as long as you focus on the beer, bikes and books (oh, and doughnuts) I believe you shall love Portland as much as me.
Chicago was an American city I had no expectations for. My knowledge was limited to pizza, wind and the awesomeness that is the Chicago PD/Fire TV series. But I think the absence of pressure made me easily fall for the city and enjoy my brief two day stint there more. I strolled along Michigan Avenue perhaps too many times. I took my Bean selfie. I did a free walking tour of The Loop and marvelled at Chicago’s beautiful older buildings. I walked around Navy Pier and took in the city skyline.
I had the best pizza of my life (no joke) from Giordano’s. I stayed at a hostel in Lincoln Park, hidden amongst the New York-style brownstones. After my departure on a midnight bus headed to Toronto, I thought that Chicago seemed to me like an underrated American city that hides in the shadows behind New York and Los Angeles. But LA has got nothing on Chi-town in my opinion. Except perhaps no snow…
Seattle is a surprise addition to this list. When I first visited, I liked Seattle but I didn’t LOVE it. I did the (cheap) tourist activities and although I thought Pike Place was cool and the sunsets unforgettable, it wouldn’t have automatically found itself on this list. Take two and I could finally see why so many people adored the Washington State city. The difference was I ventured from Pike Street and visited Fremont as well as Bainbridge Island — two incredibly parallel destinations but excellent in their own right. Fremont was this quirky, hipster area while Bainbridge was a quiet, serene island a short ferry ride away.
I also saw the sunset each night during my second Seattle sojourn. Although the sun was setting around 4:30pm, they were all nonetheless perfect. So make sure that when you visit Seattle you step outside of the city, as I believe this is where the city’s true magic is found.
New Orleans is an individual. It is like the stubborn American sibling/city that walks to the beat of its own unique drum. Although it is difficult to choose a favourite part of the Big Easy, I truly admired the architecture with its European influences. It was like each house was prettier and more elegant than its next door neighbour. I loved the atmosphere in the French Quarter, both during the day and night. I also enjoyed participating in some great extracurricular activities like a swamp tour, visiting Mardi Gras World, seeing a plantation and taking a jazzy brunch cruise along the Mississippi. New Orleans is a city full of history, culture and frivolity. I think it would be a fun and joyful place to call home.
I spent the most time in San Francisco during my 18 months overseas: nine nights in total. By the end I felt like I knew my way around Union Square and could have happily become a local. Unlike my time in Seattle, San Fran and I clicked on my first visit. But I was glad I got the chance to visit again, with friends as well. San Francisco has a lot going on, and it is all good. My favourite parts of the city include walking along the water and visiting the Ferry Building, the cutest sea lions at Pier 39 and then Fisherman’s Wharf. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge was actually fun because you ended your journey in seaside Sausalito.
I really liked the Mission District and Haight Ashbury too. Having so many unique areas in one city is really why I fell in love with San Francisco. From top to bottom and east to west, there is a place for everyone and I don’t know if you could ever possibly be bored.
Okay, they didn’t make it to my list of favourite American cities but I still believe they are pretty awesome. Honourable mentions go to Nashville and Las Vegas: because it’s Vegas and pretty damn unforgettable and Nashville for being saturated in music.
What are your favourite American cities?
I am now turning the tables and asking you what your favourite American cities are and why. I’m interested to know if you agree with my list and which cities you might add or subtract. The United States is obviously huge so I feel very fortunate to not only have had the chance to see all of these amazing cities, but enjoy them in their own ways. I think sometimes people skip the States and head for Europe instead, but America has a lot of great places itself. I hope you get the chance to experience them yourself.