The United States consists of 50 states plus the city of Washington, D.C., a federal district and the nation’s capital. The country also has a few territories, including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Below is a rough grouping of these states into regions, from the Atlantic to the Pacific:
- New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont)
Home to gabled churches, rustic antiques and steeped in American history, New England offers beaches, spectacular seafood, rugged mountains, frequent winter snows and some of the oldest towns in the country – all in an area small enough to visit (hastily) in a week.
- Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C.)
Stretching from New York City north to Washington, D.C., the Mid-Atlantic is home to some of the most densely populated cities in the country, as well as historic sites, rolling mountains, New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the Lehigh Valley and seaside resorts such as Long Island Beaches and the Jersey Shore.
- South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia).
The South is famous for its hospitality, traditional cuisine and musical traditions of blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass and country. This lush, largely subtropical region includes cool, green mountains, agricultural plantations and vast cypress swamps.
North Florida looks like the rest of the South, but the resorts of Orlando, the retirement communities, tropical Caribbean Miami, the Everglades and 1,200 miles of sandy beaches are not.
- Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin)
The Midwest is home to farmland, forests, quaint towns, industrial cities and the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater lake system in the world, which forms the northern coast of the United States. Known for their simplicity and hospitality, the people of the Midwest are a welcoming people.
The second largest state is like a country unto itself (as it once was), with strong cultural influences from its Spanish and Mexican past. The terrain ranges from the swamps of the southeast to the plains and cotton farms of the southern plains to the sandy beaches of south Texas and the mountains and deserts of far west Texas.
- Great Plains (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma).
Travel west through these so-called flat states, from the edge of the eastern forests to the prairies and High Plains, a vast expanse of steppe (shortgrass prairies) almost as desolate as in the days of the Frontier, but still filled with pockets of strange and varied history.
- Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
The spectacular snow-capped Rockies offer hiking, rafting and excellent skiing, but also deserts and a few large cities.
- Southwest (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah)
This region, heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture as well as Native American remnants, is home to some of the country’s most spectacular natural attractions and thriving artistic communities. Although the region’s deserts are mostly empty, there are some large cities.
Like the Southwest, California has a history of Spanish and Mexican rule and is heavily influenced by these civilisations, with a large import of Asian culture, especially cuisine. California offers world-class cities, deserts, rainforests, snow-capped mountains and beautiful beaches. Northern California (anchored by the San Francisco Bay Area) and Southern California (anchored by Los Angeles and also including Orange County, San Diego and others) are culturally distinct.
- Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon)
The pleasantly mild Pacific Northwest offers outdoor activities and cosmopolitan cities. Terrain ranges from spectacular rainforests to scenic mountains and volcanoes to beautiful coastlines, sage-covered steppes and deserts.
Only one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States, Alaska extends into the Arctic and offers mountainous wilderness, including North America’s highest mountain, Denali, and an Alaska Native culture unique to the United States.
A volcanic archipelago in the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2,000 miles southwest of California (the nearest state), Hawaii is a holiday paradise.
Politically, the United States is a federation of states, each with its own rights and powers (hence the name), with laws varying slightly from state to state.
The United States also administers a patchwork of non-state territories around the world, of which Puerto Rico is by far the largest. Other territories include the U.S. Virgin Islands, also in the Caribbean, as well as Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Wake Island and islands without permanent residents such as the Midway Islands in Oceania. As these islands are very different from the 50 states from the traveller’s point of view, they are covered in separate articles. Although there are legal categories for their relationship to the US mainland, these are generally sui generis for each of them and do not affect travellers to any great extent. Where relevant, these issues are dealt with in the individual articles for each territory.
There are more than 10,000 cities, towns and villages in the United States. Below is a list of nine of the largest. The other cities can be found in their respective regions.
- Washington, D.C. – the nation’s capital, filled with great museums and monuments, as well as multicultural communities.
- Boston – known for its colonial history, passion for sports and college students.
- Chicago – the heart of the Midwest and transport hub of the nation, with huge skyscrapers and other architectural gems.
- Los Angeles – home to the film industry, music artists and surfers, with a mild and pleasant climate, great natural beauty, from mountains to beaches, and endless freeways.
- Miami – attracts sun-seeking northerners and is home to a rich and vibrant Caribbean culture influenced by Latin American culture.
- New Orleans – “The Big Easy” is the birthplace of jazz and is known for its picturesque French Quarter and the annual Mardi Gras celebration.
- New York – the nation’s largest city, home to financial services and media, with world-class cuisine, art, architecture and shopping.
- San Francisco – the city by the bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge, bustling neighborhoods and spectacular fogs.
- Seattle – rich in museums, monuments and recreational opportunities and five different climates within 200 miles; also visit the Space Needle.
These are some of the most important and well-known destinations outside the big cities.
- Denali National Park – a remote national park with the highest peak in North America.
- Grand Canyon – the longest and most visited canyon in the world
- Mesa Verde National Park – well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblos.
- Mount Rushmore – the iconic monument to four former presidents carved into a cliff.
- Niagara Falls – the huge waterfalls on the border with Canada
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park – a national park located in the southern Appalachians.
- Walt Disney World – the most popular holiday destination in the world.
- Yellowstone National Park – the first national park in the United States, home to Old Faithful Geyser.
- Yosemite National Park, home of El Capitan and the famous giant sequoias.