When I first started traveling out of the country in my early 20s, I remember my father asking why I was so obsessed with seeing the far corners of the globe when there was so much to see right here in the United States.
While I still can’t imagine him not having been as fascinated with the rest of the world as I am, I do think he had it right about how much there is to see in this country. Therefore, I made a conscious decision to spend much of 2018 focusing on the U.S. in my travels.
After crisscrossing the country from New England to New Mexico; from the Midwest to the Mountain States, and from New York to Florida to Texas to California, I have come to more fully appreciate just how much America has to offer the intrepid traveler.
As I write this, my experiences of the past year flash by in kaleidoscopic fashion.
In Rhode Island and New Hampshire, I savored New England seafood in restaurants overlooking picturesque harbors crammed with pleasure craft and fishing boats alike. It was hard to tell which of my senses was the most engaged, as the salty scent of the sea proved the perfect complement to the tangy taste of oysters on the half shell.
Those who think the Midwest is a culinary desert haven’t tasted the local chili in Cincinnati, or tried its newest culinary pairing – biscuits and whiskey.
Could it be an homage to the city’s own homage to the native drink of its neighbor to the south? In case you haven’t driven north in a while, the Cincinnati area’s most recent attraction is the B-Line, an extension of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail?
I thrilled to opera (can one ever fail to be thrilled by the splendor of the Metropolitan Opera House?) and theater in the Big Apple, and I stayed for the first time at a hotel (the Lowell) destined to become a true American Classic. Afternoon tea here is like something out of Edith Wharton’s novel, “The Age of Innocence.” The only thing lacking was Italian footwear and Daniel Day-Lewis (see the movie.)
For theater of a different kind, I marveled as herds of bison fanned out across the prairie in the big sky country of South Dakota. The state’s annual roundup of the shaggy creatures is an even more spectacular show than anything Broadway has to offer.
I finally made it to two events that had been on my bucket list (yes, travel writers have them, too) for a long time. I was there for the dropping of the checkered flag at the 102nd Indianapolis 500. While there, I discovered that Indy isn’t just about fast cars. It has its own Grand Canal a la Venice (winding right through downtown) and the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut still haunts – in a good way – his hometown.
I was also there for the opening of the chutes at the 121st Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming, known as the Grand Daddy of all Rodeos. For anyone who loves authentic cowboy culture like I do, this is a must. Between the Indy 500 and Frontier Days, it is hard to say which one boasted the most horsepower.
But Wyoming boasts more than just bulls and broncs – it retains the “can-do” spirit of the cowboys and cowgirls who conquered the frontier. However, enough of that frontier remains to tantalize dudes from more urban areas.
In Florida, I went off the beaten track in Miami and off the grid in Sanibel/Captiva. Over the years, I’ve been to Miami many times, and like most visitors, went for the beach scene, nightlife. and local color. I know – superficial – right?
This year, I dug a bit deeper and found a city that has an allure beyond the obvious. It has a collection of cultural institutions that can hold their own with those of any city in the country. If you don’t believe me, check out the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
This side of Miami may cause you to forget all about South Beach.
On the opposite edge of the peninsula, I rediscovered a true Florida treasure in Sanibel/Captiva Island. If you’re one of those who think the Sunshine State’s paradises have been lost, a visit to Sanibel’s shell-strewn beaches and Captiva’s manatee habitats will find them regained.
And to completely escape civilization, do like I did and hire a boat to take you to Cabbage Key for a couple of days. The only thing on the island is a rustic inn – but what an inn. After a visit here, you won’t believe anyone who tells you that old Florida doesn’t exist anymore.
I came to where cosmopolitan cool collides with cowboy culture in Texas. Just 30 miles west of Dallas – often described as a southern New York for its high style in fashion and the arts - is Fort Worth, considered by most Texans as the place where the West begins.
If you have any doubt, mosey on over to the Stockyards District for its twice-daily cattle drive through the streets and stop in at Billy Bob’s for some high stepping Lone Star State style.
Finally, I had another chance to renew my love affair with California wines in Napa. This slender valley running through the Mayacamas Mountains has had a rough couple of years with the California wildfires, but thankfully, the grape growers are a persistent lot. I had a chance to salute Bacchus at a number of venues from the cellars at Robert Mondavi and Krug to the iconic Napa Wine Train.
I also spent a few days at one of my favorite places in America – Calistoga, which has the look of a (tamed) Wild West town, but one which offers, in addition to saloons, spas, artisan cheese shops, boutiques wineries, and of course, the famous mineral springs the area is known for.
From hot air ballooning to gourmet dining with incredible scenery, Napa has it all.
In retrospect, I guess my New Year’s resolution is to keep traveling the world, but also to seek out more of the gems this country has to offer. I think my Dad would approve.