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Wall mural street art in Denver, Colorado

9 Must-Visit Cultural Hot Spots in the USA

Experience the Hearts of the American People

Within the borders of the United States there exists hundreds, if not thousands, of versions of America--each contributing an essential piece of the ever-evolving whole. If you’re like most modern travelers, you don’t just want to see the sites of a place--you want to experience it like the people who live there. Art, culture and music help to paint a picture of a place’s people, and if that sounds like something you’re into, you’ll find no shortage of it in this list of America’s 9 cultural hot spots.

Sunrise behind the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

1. Washington, D.C.

While some US destinations are undergoing a modern cultural evolution, others continue to build upon a deeply rooted past.

For example, a trip to Washington, D.C. offers a glimpse into the modern-day lives of people who make the wheels of government move forward-- just like those who helped establish the Nation’s capital in 1790. On a trip to DC today, you’ll get to see some of the oldest and most important buildings in the country, such as The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol. Alongside these establishments, you’ll find the many museums and exhibitions that represent the cultural uprisings, revolutions and many influences that have always been part of the American Narrative, as well. For a shortlist of those places, start with the National Portrait Gallery, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Another destination that bridges history and culture is one of America’s oldest cities: Charleston, South Carolina.

Founded in 1670, this coastal city is an Instagrammers dream, complete with quaint cobblestone streets, Antebellum architecture and a unique southern-coastal city vibe. History runs deep in Charleston, which laid the backdrop for much of the Revolutionary War and America’s Civil War, which ended with the Union’s capture of Charleston. Today, Charleston is known for its relatively progressive population, burgeoning arts scene and world-class food and drink offerings. A city best explored on foot, Charleston’s coolest galleries can be found on Broad Street, its top restaurants are on East Bay Street, the shopping mecca is on King Street and historical buildings abound in places like Chalmers Street and Church Street.

Castillo de San Felipe del Morr on the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico

3. Puerto Rico

Further South, dive into the Caribbean with a trip to Puerto Rico.

This island offers a cultural experience all its own, combining indigenous, Spanish and Caribbean influences that produce rich and vibrant forms of dance, music and cuisine. Visit La Placita, for fresh fruits and veggies by day, and some of the best dancing on the island by night. Puerto Rico is also known for its many festivals, stunning carribean landscape, delicious cuisine and historical imprint. You can experience all of the above in Old San Juan, where you’ll walk the beautiful and colorful streets of the old town, a National Historic Site complete with buildings dating back to the 16th century. While there, explore the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, also known as “El Morro”-- an epic citadel built between the 16th and 18th centuries that overlooks the San Juan Bay.

The La Quinta Resort & Club in Palm Springs, California

4. Palm Springs, California

Other US destinations pride themselves on their modern cultural identities that fuse idiosyncrasies of the inhabitants with quirky features of the area.

In Palm Springs, for example, what was once a retirement community, is now renowned for its mid-century architecture and trendy arts scene. Nine cities make up the Greater Palm Springs area, which is home to plenty of art and architecture festivals, as well as many public art installations and murals. Adding to the cultural offerings of the area is the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which usually brings immersive music and creative experiences to the Coachella Valley during two weekends in April, though in 2020 the festival will take place in October.

View of Mount Hood over the Portland, Oregon, skyline

5. Portland, Oregon

Further north in Portland, Oregon, the city‘s mantra makes the plea to “Keep Portland Weird,” and offers a unique mix of the edgy, earthy and eclectic, comprising communities that are big on cycling, coffee, progressive ideas and punk music.

In Portland, you’ll find plenty of art at the Portland Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Craft, as well as iconic music venues such as the Aladdin Theater and the Crystal Ballroom. Another distinctly Portlandic feature is the bike-friendly attitude of the city. With its dedicated bike lanes and many biking loops, you can see the city on two wheels via the Sellwood Bridge Loop, the Big Eastside Loop and many others.

Sunset over the canyons of the Navajo Nation

6. Navajo Nation, Arizona

Native American history and culture is woven into just about every area of the United States, and comprises many different tribes and diverse lifestyles, art forms and beliefs.

Today, the largest indigenous area in the United States is the Navajo Nation, located in parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, and covering 71,000 square kilometers. Visit the Navajo Nation for exposure to history that goes back to prehistoric times, as well as the stunning natural landscape of the area. Visit the red-sand desert of Monument Valley, see the picturesque sandstone buttes throughout the area, and learn about Navajo traditions, art and culture at the area’s archeological sites and cultural tours.

The French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana

7. New Orleans, Louisiana

In the southern region of the US, lies a coastal city with a culture all its own.

For one of the most culturally rich experiences in the country, plan a trip to New Orleans. Known for jazz music, Creole cuisine, a unique dialect, multicultural roots and of course, the world-renowned Mardi Gras Festival, New Orleans is a city with a lot to celebrate. Mardi Gras, whose spirit can be felt year round, happens in earnest throughout February and March, during which time you can visit parades and balls organized by local “Krewes,” or social-cultural groups known for their distinctive Carnival flavors. A cultural tour of the area should also include a sampling of the New Orleans cuisine, made up of favorites like the po-boy sandwich, king cake, gumbo and the fried French pastry known as a beignet.

Wynwood Walls, a collection of murals in Miami, Florida

8. Miami, Florida

In southern Florida, one city stands out as a cultural center distinct from the rest of the state.

Miami exists as the state’s center for Latin culture, commerce and arts. Though Miami is part of the United States, some refer to the city as the Capital of Latin America, owing to the historic Latin population and Cuban-American plurality that helps define the city. Visit Miami for a taste of Cuban cuisine and culture, plus a tour through the city’s ever-blossoming arts scene, which can be seen at the popular Wynwood Walls and during the art festival, Art Basel Miami. The main part of Miami is on the shores of Biscayne Bay, where world-famous Miami Beach and South Beach can be experienced, along with the quintessential Miami vibe that goes along with them.

View of the Manahattan Bridge from Brooklyn, a burough of New York City

9. New York City, New York

Art, culture and just about everything else abounds in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country: New York City.

The five boroughs have welcomed inhabitants from all over the world since the city’s founding in the 1600’s, and the imprints of those immigrants are exactly what make New York City what it is today. The vibrant neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little Italy are great examples of New York’s cultural cross-section, but that’s not all. In Uptown, you can visit the historically African-American neighborhood of Harlem, and over in Queens you can experience the Greek history in Astoria, a neighborhood that today enjoys a highly multicultural population. For Polish food, head to Greenpoint in Brooklyn, or see the Russian influence in Brighton Beach, otherwise known as Little Odessa. In midtown Manhattan, you can stroll through Koreatown, and in Jackson Heights you’ll find Little India, where you can enjoy traditional curries and visit Bollywood music shops.

Arts and culture represent the always astonishing output of humankind’s ingenuity. Just as each person is unique, each US destination offers an experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere, defined by the fluid movement of the people who have made a home here over the years. Come see the many varied versions of the United States for yourself!