A Republican political operative recently posed the question on Twitter, “If a foreign friend told you they were visiting America, what five cities would you tell them they need to visit?” I struggled with this question, mightily. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. What I’ve come up with is this list of ten places I would tell you that you have to see. Here’s my list, made up entirely based on my experiences and imagination.
1. New York City- If you only get one bite at the apple, there’s only one choice- the cultural and financial capital of the Western World. There is no more famous skyline. Food? It’s got it all. Sports? Nine top level professional teams. Elite education institutions? Plenty. Fashion? All you could ask for. Culture, theater, classical music? Yep. Pop, rock, and hip hop? Only the best. Old school ethnic neighborhoods? Check. Historic national and international sites? Plenty. There’s a reason we used to bring our new Americans into Ellis Island, we wanted them to know they made the right choice. Nothing compares to the bright lights of the “Big Apple.” Nothing.
2. Los Angeles- I’ve been there exactly one day in my life, and it made quite the impact on me. Yes, I get the criticisms about it being “fake” or that the downtown is uninspiring, but that gets blown away by the cultural star power the city has, and quite frankly the beautiful aesthetic of the place. My day in Santa Monica, Easter in the Pacific, was like something out of a movie. I get that a lot of Americans have opinions about Hollywood, but every foreign visitor should see the cinema capital of the West. You should see the beaches. See the incredible diversity of the region (America’s promise/identity). Again, they have everything you could possibly be looking for.
3. Chicago- I thought about breaking up the three biggest cities in America, but frankly I’m underrating Chicago. Consider it the Midwest’s condensed version of New York. Skyline? Yes. Great food? Yes. Beach front on Lake Michigan? Yep. Sports, universities, and a great musical tradition? Got ‘em. Sure, the New York region has better pizza (😉), but their pizza is good too. Like New York, some of the old ethnic neighborhoods remain, giving them some identity as a city. I still really want to get to Wrigley Field.
4. Colorado- Here’s where my criteria starts to change. I’ve been to Denver once, spending a night there driving back across the country. I crossed the Rockies at night, in a snowstorm, when I several times thought I was going to die. Even at night, the mountains are amazing. Why I put Colorado on this list though is it’s like two three totally different places, all showing off some of America’s natural beauty. West of the Rockies, it’s the west you imagine, rugged and kind of wild. To the East of Denver, you’re in the Great Plains for hours. Then there’s the mountains themselves. I can’t describe them justly, so I won’t. You just have to go see them.
5. Las Vegas- I spent two months exploring Sin City earlier this year. No one’s advice prepared me for it. Vegas is amazing, but honestly it’s a place you need to view from a rooftop, mountain, or plane to appreciate. The Strip is all the glitz and glamour you’ve heard about, especially on a big “fight night” in Vegas. I’d spend my Saturday nights at Aria, Paris, MGM, New York, New York, and many other casinos on The Strip. The thing is, there was always something to do. I did a UFC fight, Hoover Dam, a Golden Knights game, Death Valley, LA, an Aviators (AAA baseball), and a NASCAR race, to name a few things, within a day trip. I met some of the wildest, most amazing people there. I ate prime rib at a small casino for under $11. Don’t get me wrong, I saw some terrible shit too, but the overall experience blew me away. And if city life ain’t your thing? There are mountains, lakes, canyons, and deserts like you’ve never seen before.
6. Philadelphia- Take everything I wrote about New York and Chicago, and tone it down a point or two. Throw in some Wawas. Welcome to America’s biggest small town, where people will greet you with “Go Birds” 🦅 if you seem like you are from there. It’s an old school union town and the cheesesteaks are as good as you’ve heard. Go see a playoff game, Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, Union, or hopefully someday the Flyers, but bring earplugs. We’re bringing the noise. America began here, and we have the historical sites to back it up. You can definitely see characters as diverse as Tony Soprano (but real here) and Jay Z hanging out in Philly. Listen to our talk radio for a good laugh. Study at elite universities. Classical music, art, rock concerts? All here. The “Red Army” hockey team came here just to get beat up. Watch Joel Embiid play as the true MVP or Bryce Harper mash baseballs. Just make sure you respond “Go Birds.”
7. The DMV, aka- Our Nation’s Capitol- If I didn’t tell a foreigner to visit Washington, would I be misleading them? If they have time for seven stops, they need to see what it’s about. What’s a trip to America without the White House, Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, or just the entire National Mall in general. Catch a Nats game, take a cruise on the Potomac, eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl, or get a drink in Georgetown. The city was more alive pre-Covid, but there’s lots to see. Take the next day though and head up to Baltimore. Camden Yards is a must for baseball fans. Inner Harbor both has lots to do, and it’s maintained it’s industrial feel. You’ll find lots of good food and history to explore. Close out your trip in Northern Virginia, where DC keeps moving further and further out. Hopefully they’ll bring back the Clarendon Grill and it’s shows, some day.
8. Atlanta- If there is such thing as a “regional Capitol” in America, Atlanta is it. They hosted the 1996 Olympics. Dr. Martin Luther King’s church lives on today. It’s the great Jimmy Carter’s “home” city. It was the site of so many moments in the Civil Rights movement. Hank Aaron made baseball history there. Coca-Cola and Waffle House are outsized presences there. The SEC football championship is here. The ACC has a presence there in Georgia Tech. Morehouse, Georgia State, and Emory are there. Atlanta is the king of “the New South,” the place to be. It’s definitely worth the visit.
9. Boston- Ok, nobody likes “Massholes,” but hear me out, it’s a cool place. It’s cold, but that’s why they like their “Dunks.” They’re rabid sports fans, hence why I hate them. Besides Harvard, they have more institutions of higher learning than just about anyone. Their Little Italy neighborhood has tremendous food. There’s lots of history to explore. They gave us Bill Burr and Aerosmith. Boston Harbor is a cool site to see. Honestly, their accents are kinda cool. They did give us JFK. And Sam Adams. Ok, I like them.
10. Memphis- Everybody who argues about this one has never been there. Memphis is an authentic Mississippi River town. It’s got the blues music, but more importantly the history- B.B. King, Johnny Cash, and Elvis. Go see Beale Street, you won’t regret it. Good music and great food is everywhere. It’s one of the most fun places I’ve been. It’s wildly underrated.
Honorable mention- Let’s start with Pittsburgh and Cleveland, both of which I love. Milwaukee gets overlooked because of the proximity to Chicago. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but I imagine it to be a bigger, wilder Memphis. Austin and Dallas are on my list, but I’ve never done Texas. Omaha is a lot more fun than you hear. Minneapolis looks fun, but I don’t know yet. I should go see Detroit. Ditto for Nashville. Now that I worked Washington elections, it’s time to see Seattle. San Francisco Bay is a must see for me now. I want to see Yellowstone. Lake Tahoe is a need. My grandfather told me San Diego was the most beautiful place he ever saw.
Ok, go see America.