Awesome Vacations in All 50 States
If you could visit one thing in every state in the U.S., what would it be? That’s the challenge we took on, and here are our recommendations, just in time for the summer travel season. Happy trails!
Slide show text by Robin Dalmas and Amy Swanson, Bing Travel; photo editing by Connie Ricca
50 Awesome Vacations: AlabamaHey kids: Want to lift off at 4Gs, do a real moonwalk, build your own rocket or work in a space station simulator? Children ages 9 to 11 can sign up for a week of Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. Focus on the space track, with extensive Mars training, the aviation track, with fighter pilot skills, or the robotics track, where you design and program the ultimate robot.
50 Awesome Vacations: AlaskaMassive humpback whales are relatively easy to spot from the Alaska Marine Highway, the state’s ferry system or a cruise ship. Smaller cruise lines such as Cruise West will even stop the engines and let you watch the behemoths slap their giant tails on the water. On cruise lines with larger ships, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, you might spot them in the distance from the glassed-in health spa.
50 Awesome Vacations: ArizonaVisit the annual Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture, scheduled for Aug. 7-8 at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, to see art from Arizona’s 22 different Native American communities. More than 60 artists will demonstrate jewelry, painting, pottery and weaving techniques. You can also commission jewelry at artists’ studios. Lydia Sakiestewa, for example, produces custom-made Hopi inlay silver jewelry at her studio at Sakiestewa Plaza in Phoenix.
50 Awesome Vacations: ArkansasThe Buffalo River Trail in the Ozark Mountains is 37 miles long and runs from Boxley Valley to Pruitt. The trail rewards the hiker with million-dollar vistas of the river, homesteads and historic cemeteries. Look for wildlife, too. More than 400 Rocky Mountain elk live in and around Buffalo National River. In the early 1980s, elk were relocated to the Buffalo River region to replace an eastern elk subspecies that was killed off in the 1800s.
50 Awesome Vacations: CaliforniaDrive Highway 1 along the coast to visit Big Sur, a scenic area popularized by writers and artists including Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac. Orson Welles and his wife at the time, Rita Hayworth, bought a Big Sur cabin during a trip down the coast in 1944. The property is now the location of the popular Nepenthe restaurant. Big Sur has nine state parks, including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where a waterfall plunges directly into the ocean.
50 Awesome Vacations: ColoradoGold was initially discovered at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, about 60 miles north of Pikes Peak. Is there still gold in them thar hills? Find out at one of Colorado’s 11 gold and silver mine tours. At Country Boy Mine in Breckenridge, for example, your tour guide will teach you how to pan for gold in Eureka Creek.
50 Awesome Vacations: ConnecticutThe sea has been the lifeblood of the town of Mystic since it was founded in 1654. Though the days of the mighty sailing ship are largely past, they live on at Mystic Seaport, the nation’s largest maritime museum. Besides serving as home port for a number of historic tall ships, Mystic Seaport features a reconstructed fishing village, a maritime gallery, a research center and a shipyard. And to help build the next generation of sailors, Mystic Seaport also offers sailing lessons for all ages.
50 Awesome Vacations: DelawareThe Hagley Museum in Wilmington and its outdoor park setting can lull you into serenity as the gentle Brandywine River flows past rose-covered fences, and ducks waddle by with ducklings in tow. The peace belies a violent past, however. This is the birthplace of the DuPont Co. in America, whose first product was black gunpowder. Death and injuries from explosions were a common byproduct for the leading supplier of black gunpowder to the U.S. government.
50 Awesome Vacations: FloridaUniversal Orlando's new mini-park, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, opened recently to great fanfare. The 20-acre park brings the Harry Potter books and movies to life with reproductions of the fictitious village of Hogsmeade, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the Hogwarts Express train. The park's marquee ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, takes guests on a flight through Harry's life, including encounters with Dementors and a dragon.
50 Awesome Vacations: GeorgiaIt’s said that during the Civil War, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman spared Savannah from destruction because he was so taken by its beauty. Whatever his reason, the city is indeed gorgeous — and it’s one of the South’s few major cities with its antebellum architecture still intact. A tour of Savannah’s many historic homes is a must; some of the notable ones include the Spencer Woodbridge House, the Greene House, the Owens-Thomas House and the Mercer Williams House.
50 Awesome Vacations: HawaiiLike biking, but hate pedaling? Bicycling down Maui’s Haleakala volcano is a sublimely beautiful adventure — and no elevation gains are required. Several companies offer bike tours on Haleakala, both guided and unguided, that transport you to the crater and then let you head down on your own two-wheeled power. The views are breathtaking; you’re likely to see the neighboring islands of Molokai and Lanai. For the best experience, take one of the popular early-morning tours that get you to the summit in time to watch the sun rise over the crater’s rim.
50 Awesome Vacations: IdahoThe Coeur d’Alene resort is one of a kind. The towering building overlooks the cobalt blue waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene. Book a deluxe or premier room with a perfect waterfront view. For a special treat, the Hagadone Suite boasts its own glass-bottom swimming pool, wet bar, fireplace, two large balconies and an indoor and outdoor hot tub.
50 Awesome Vacations: IllinoisOf all the ballparks in Major League Baseball, few have a cachet that can match that of Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The home of the Cubs (the “Friendly Confines” to Chicagolanders) has seen some of baseball’s most memorable moments, including Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series. Although the ivy-strewn brick edifice has had night games since lights were installed in 1988, Wrigley Field is best enjoyed in the daytime. For a unique experience, you can also watch the game from one of the park-sanctioned rooftop viewing areas atop neighboring buildings.
50 Awesome Vacations: IndianaHave you ever wondered what it’s like to travel at the ridiculous speeds attained by Indy 500 drivers? You can find out at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The racetrack has events throughout the summer where you can zoom at up to 180 mph in an IndyCar Series vehicle with a veteran driver at the helm. There are also motorsports courses available for youth and adults. And even though this year’s Indy 500 was in May, there are more races happening this summer for those who prefer just to be a spectator.
50 Awesome Vacations: IowaJohn Wayne has been gone for more than 30 years, but The Duke still lives large in our popular consciousness — in fact, he’s the only actor to place on Harris Interactive’s list of America’s favorite movie stars every year since the survey began in 1994. Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, and the four-room house where he took his first breath is open to the public. The house has been restored to what it would have looked like when Wayne was born in 1907, and many of his family members have been known to stop by.
50 Awesome Vacations: KansasDuring the latter half of the 19th century, Fort Hays in northwest Kansas was one of the U.S. Army’s most important frontier outposts, serving as home base for notable regiments such as some of the first Buffalo Soldiers. The Fort Hays State Historic Site brings the fort’s military and pioneer history to life, with features such as the original blockhouse and guardhouse, officers’ quarters and native artifacts from the tribes that first called this land home. Make sure to visit the herd of buffalo that has been maintained here for almost 60 years.
50 Awesome Vacations: KentuckyIt’s no surprise that the state that hosts the Kentucky Derby is head over heels for horses, and it would love to make you feel the same way. Facilities around the state feature horseback lessons and riding trails, but if you really want to get to know horses, visit the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Besides offering courses in all manner of horsemanship, the park includes a horse museum and a library and research center. The park even has full-service camping, so you don’t have to be separated from your new equine friends even at night.
50 Awesome Vacations: LouisianaLafayette — about 50 miles west of Baton Rouge — is Cajun central, and there’s no better place to do some serious Cajun-style eating. You must sample crawfish here (according to Louisiana’s tourism department, crawfish are a freshwater species and unaffected by the recent oil spill), along with spicy boudin sausage, gumbo, jambalaya and “cracklin’,” or pork rinds. Some of the city’s notable eateries include Prejean’s, Randol’s Restaurant and Hub City Diner. Lafayette is also a great destination for music and dancing to help you work off the extra calories you’ve consumed.
50 Awesome Vacations: MaineSure, you’ve heard of Maine’s famous lobster — but how would you like to catch your crustacean yourself? Take a guided lobster-fishing excursion with a company such as Lucky Catch Cruises, which teaches its guests about lobsters, their behavior and conservation during 90-minute cruises into Casco Bay, off the coast of Portland. Once you get off the boat, you can take your lobster across the pier to the Portland Lobster Company and have it turned into dinner on the spot.
50 Awesome Vacations: MarylandThe National Aquarium in Baltimore attracts 1.6 million visitors annually to see its dolphin display, rooftop rain forest, ray pool and multiple-story shark tank. Its newest exhibit, Jellies Invasion: Oceans out of Balance, displays nine species of jellyfish. Be sure to visit the aquarium’s Immersion Theater, which offers a 20-minute movie presentation that includes a 3-D film and special sensory effects such as mist and wind.
50 Awesome Vacations: MassachusettsCape Cod is justifiably famous for its beaches. Indeed, the hook-shaped cape is practically one big beach, so you may find yourself wondering which one to visit. Our recommendation: Sandy Neck Beach Park, which looks out onto Cape Cod Bay between the towns of Sandwich and Barnstable. The six-mile-long beach is the longest in the area, and it’s perhaps the loveliest as well. If you’d rather ride than swim, sunbathe or beachcomb, Sandy Neck is open for four-wheel driving by permit.
50 Awesome Vacations: MichiganMotown Records didn’t just produce an abundant array of great songs ("Stop! In the Name of Love," "My Girl"); the company was also one of the most significant developments in 20th-century music, helping racially integrate pop culture. Motown’s history is on display at Detroit’s Motown Historical Museum, housed in the small property that served as the company’s first headquarters — dubbed Hitsville USA by Motown founder Berry Gordy. Exhibits include Motown’s original recording studio and its equipment, clothes worn by performers such as The Supremes and The Temptations, sheet music and more.
50 Awesome Vacations: MinnesotaSince Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” any trip here should include a pilgrimage to at least a few of them — preferably by canoe, the transport used for centuries by the region’s native tribes. The state has more than 30 “water trails,” designated scenic routes traveling thousands of miles along Minnesota’s waterways. One of the best places to go paddling is the 155-mile Lake Superior Water Trail, which hugs the Lake Superior shoreline in Minnesota’s Northwoods.
50 Awesome Vacations: MississippiIf you’re a fan of the blues, the city of Clarksdale is calling. The Mississippi Delta has been called “the land where the blues began,” and Clarksdale, in northwest Mississippi, figured prominently in the development of the musical genre. These days it’s one of the epicenters of the blues world, and its Delta Blues Museum is a must-see for blues-lovers. You should also visit historic sites such as Muddy Waters’ cabin and the Riverside Hotel — and, of course, take in live blues.
50 Awesome Vacations: MissouriThe Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis is large and spectacular enough to keep a garden lover occupied for an entire day. Stroll through collections of orchids, Chinese flora, a children’s garden, medicinal plants, an herb garden, a tropical garden and more. Through September, check out “Jurassic Dark.” Wander through the Climatron tropical rain forest to see lifelike dinosaurs including a T. rex, Heterodontosauruses and birdlike Bambiraptors.