In our 12 years together, my wife and I have been fortunate enough to do quite a bit of traveling. Being from Georgia, we’ve certainly seen most of the Southeastern U.S., but there have also been two cross-country road trips, as well as a few vacations which took us away from our native region. I’ve seen and experienced more than I ever thought someone who grew up in a small Southern town would.
From our ever-growing list of destinations, I’ve chosen my ten favorite U.S. cities we’ve visited. Whether we spent a week in a given city, or just had one night there, each one was memorable. For each city, I’ve included the thing I enjoyed the most, as well as the best food I had the opportunity to sample. Here they are, starting with #10:
10. St. Augustine, FL: Located on the Atlantic coast of Florida, St. Augustine is best known as the “Nation’s Oldest City.” Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, it is a treasure for fans of Spanish architecture; especially the Castillo de San Marcos, which is the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S.
Must see: Fort Matanzas National Monument. My most vivid memory of St. Augustine is of taking the ferry to this fort, and then having to cut our visit short due to the approach of a severe thunderstorm. Just before leaving, I snapped a photo of the view from one of the fort’s windows. It turned out to be the best one I’ve ever taken.
Eats: The Conch House. Sitting in a grass hut out over the water, eating oysters and drinking beer: my idea of a good time.
9. Savannah, GA: Located on the Savannah River, and just a few miles from the ocean, Savannah is beautiful. Despite living our whole lives in Georgia, neither of us had ever been to the city before visiting in 2004. River Street, where the old cotton warehouses have been converted to shops, restaurants, galleries, and more, is the best place to start exploring.
Must see: Ghost tours. Given its nickname, “America’s Most Haunted City,” Savannah obviously offers many different paranormal tours. I would recommend the Hearse Tour, which takes you around the city and through a cemetery in a modified hearse.
Eats: The Breakfast Club. Located on nearby Tybee Island, this restaurant served one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. Try the “Grill Cleaner’s Special.” You won’t need to eat again that day.
8. Los Angeles, CA: The “City of Angels” offers way too much to cover in this limited space. Suffice to say that from Hollywood, to Chinatown, to East L.A., there is something for everyone. And yes, the traffic is as crazy as they say.
Must see: Venice Beach. There is a three mile beach here, but most people flock to the boardwalk, where on one trip I observed the following: a rollerblading guitarist, a man standing on a stool in his underwear and holding two rubber snakes, people working out at Muscle Beach, and several people who tried to convince me to visit their medical marijuana dispensaries.
Eats: Mel’s Drive-in. After a night out on the sunset strip, there is nothing like a little comfort food. Turkey and stuffing with lumpy potatoes and gravy. Delicious!
7. Austin, TX: Home to the University of Texas, Austin is famous for its music scene, with festivals like Austin City Limits, and South by Southwest. But there is plenty more to see. Start on Congress Avenue to check out plenty of music venues, bars, and restaraunts.
Must see: Barton Springs Pool: A public swimming area in Zilker Park filled by a natural spring, the pool maintains a temperature from 68-71 degrees year round. Ultra cool!
Eats: Snack Bar. Contrary to its name, this restaurant located near the Austin Motel offers locally grown, ethical foods and craft beers. On our visit, I had the falafel with tzatziki sauce. We’ll definitely hit this place again on our next trip!
6. Sedona, AZ: Okay, I admit, with a population of only around 10,000, Sedona is more of a town than a city. But it is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The glorious red rock formations are nothing short of spectacular. Located just South of Flagstaff, this hamlet is worth going out of your way for.
Must see: Scenic Airport Road Overlook. We stumbled upon this awesome lookout point by accident while driving around Sedona. We climbed a rock formation during the afternoon, and then drove to the top that evening to watch the sunset. Unforgettable.
Eats: The Coffee Pot. Named for the famous rock formation which sits in the background, this popular dining spot offers 101 different omelette choices, plus a wide array of other options. The club sandwich is excellent!
*I was going to mention another Sedona favorite, Mago Café, but upon visiting their website, I found that it is no longer in operation. What a shame.
5. Charleston, SC: Located at the point where, according to local lore, the Cooper and Ashley Rivers join to form the Atlantic Ocean, Charleston has long been a favorite destination of mine. The “Holy City” has everything you’d expect from an old, Southern city, and plenty that you wouldn’t.
Must see: U.S.S. Yorktown. This aircraft carrier, which served in World War II and Korea, is a history buff’s dream. Everthing from military planes to living quarters are available for viewing. Be warned though, it is HOT in the summertime.
Eats: Jestine’s Kitchen. Best fried chicken ever!
4. San Diego, CA: Located just miles from the Mexican border, San Diego is a southern California jewel. Nicknamed “America’s Finest City,” few places offer as much beauty and culture. (I admit, since we lived in San Diego for a year, I’m cheating a little on this one).
Must see: Balboa Park. Home to the San Diego Zoo, this huge park has hiking trails, museums, and recreation areas. But for me the best part is the trees, which are straight out of a Dr. Seuss story.
Eats: Mama Testa. This taqueria, located in Hillcrest, quickly became my favorite place in San Diego upon sampling the Mividita: catfish tacos topped with Mexican coleslaw and queso fresco. Don’t miss out!
3. Santa Fe, NM: We only had the chance to spend one night in Santa Fe, but we made the best of it, heading downtown to watch dancers, musicians, and other street performers. It is a gorgeous city, with its adobe, pueblo style construction setting it apart from any other place in the country.
Must see: Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Visit this huge church built in the late 1800’s at night when the lights give it an almost orange glow.
Eats: Tia Sophia’s. Juevos Rancheros with green chilis. Trust me on this one.
2. New Orleans, LA: While there are several Southeastern cities on this list, New Orleans is king. Spend a night out in the French Quarter and try to deny this claim. From street cars to food to historic homes and buildings, “The Big Easy” has it all.
Must see: Cemeteries. There are a number of old, historic cemeteries full of above ground masoleums in the city. Try St. Louis or Lafayette #1 for starters.
Eats: Mother’s. For me, it begins and ends with the Ferdi Special: a po’ boy sandwich full of baked ham, roast beef, gravy, and debris (beef that falls into the gravy during cooking). Absolutely incredible!
1. New York, NY: For sheer excitement, nothing can top “The Big Apple.” We visited for the first time for a friend’s wedding, and had the time of our lives. Skyscrapers, massive bridges, Little Italy, Chinatown, Statue of Liberty; the list goes on and on.
Must see: Empire State Building. The grandaddy of all skyscrapers. One of the all time highlights for me was standing on the observation deck and seeing…everything!
Eats: John’s Pizzeria. Located on Bleecker Street in the West Village, we stumbled upon this place by accident and decided to try it out. I’ve never been so happy with a decision. Brick oven pizza so good you’ll be glad they only sell it as a whole pie.
There you have it, my current favorite cities in the U.S. Of course, the list is subject to change, as there are many more places to see (Chicago, Seattle, and San Fransisco currently top my wish list). Should you find yourself in the vicinity of one of the cities I’ve mentioned, do yourself a favor and check it out. There is nothing like discovering a new place for the first time!