Eminently walkable, achingly historic and all in all a splendid town, Boston sizzles with the energy of a huge student population and a thriving local economy. Its cobblestone streets are home to the Freedom Trail, which links dozens of colonial and Revolutionary sites. The heart of the city is the expansive Boston Common, a year-round delight, abutted by the Public Garden. A short walk away are bustling Faneuil Hall and Downtown Crossing - where to get your grub on and where to empty your wallet and fill your shopping bags, respectively. To the west are Landsdowne St, the heart of Boston's nightlife scene, and storied Fenway Park, while across the river in Cambridge lie two of the USA's most famous universities: Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It's possible that Los Angeles is a figment of its own imagination. No other city studies itself so intently - on film, television or in glossy magazines. LA is a monster of a city, a tangle of freeways and sprawling suburbs where anyone without a car is considered intellectually impaired. This is where the American Dream is manufactured, and if you're not prepared to embrace the dream you'll doubtless find LA filthy, irritating, frightening or just plain dumb. But if you long to stand in the footsteps of stars and breathe their hallowed air, you've come to the right place. In this town, chefs are household names and nobodies erect billboard shrines to themselves. LA is a feast of fame-associated sights - cruise Sunset Strip, walk Rodeo Drive or Hollywood Boulevard, be seen on Melrose or Venice Beach, gawk at babes in Malibu or poke your nose through the gates of Beverly Hills. No one does a theme park like the Angelenos: Disneyland is the mother of them all, and Universal Studios turned its back lot into a thrill ride years ago. When the glitz starts coming out your ears, head for the almost-reality of Little Tokyo and El Pueblo de Los Angeles or Pasadena's Huntington Gardens.
Fat old people in Bermuda shorts, street stabbings, Cuban plots, drug dealers, sneakers without socks and an excess of pink - Miami is none of these things. Desperately redefining itself, Miami (and in particular, South Beach) has declared itself the Most Fabulous Spot in the US. As evidence, it cites the recently restored pastel-riot of the Deco District, a friendly neighborhood feel and a fledgling art and culture scene looking for a sunny alternative to New York. And of course there's Miami Beach itself, a glorious stretch of white sand lapped by clear blue water. The heart of all this newfound fashionableness is Ocean Drive, flanked on the east by the city's hippest beach and the west by a string of sidewalk cafes. This is where the late Gianni Versace lived, and his acolytes still throng here to pose waifishly over rocket salad. Miami also has the world's most beautiful swimming hole, the Venetian Pool, one of the world's best zoos and a bunch of expat Cuban elder statesmen playing dominoes in Máximo Gómez Park. In stark contrast with the hedonistic lightheartedness of the rest of Miami, the Holocaust Memorial is one of the most exquisite and moving monuments you'll ever visit.
If New York makes you nervous, you'll hate New Orleans. Others will find that the sleazy touch of danger in the air is what makes this Southern city so compelling. A steamy brew of zydeco, voodoo, gumbo and antebellum ambience, New Orleans grows on you like a strangler vine - you might as well lie back and enjoy it. Most people know New Orleans for its parties, particularly the orgiastic indulgence of Mardi Gras or the year-round bacchanal on Bourbon Street. But if crowds and alcohol poisoning aren't your thing, don't despair. Aficionados of historic architecture will exult in the crowded French Quarter and grandiose Garden District, while those with a hankering to take history home will adore the antique shops of Royal Street. New Orleans has a tendency to bring folks out in a rash of Lestatesque gothic brooding - have a wander among the city's ornate aboveground cemeteries or shed a tear for Jeff Buckley on a ferry cruise of the Mississippi River, then forget your troubles with some crawfish, cool jazz and a mint julep.
They don't come any bigger than the Big Apple - king of the hill, top of the heap, New York, New York. No other city is arrogant enough to dub itself Capital of the World and no other city could carry it off. New York is a densely packed mass of humanity - seven million people in 309 sq miles (800 sq km) - and that's just Manhattan, only a part of greater New York City. All this living on top of one another makes the New Yorker a special kind of person. Although it's hard to put a finger on what makes New York buzz, it's the city's hyperactive rush that really draws people here.In a city that is so much a part of the global subconscious, it's pretty hard to pick a few highlights - wherever you go you'll feel like you've been there before. For iconic value, you can't surpass the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Central Park or Times Square. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's top museums, and the Museum of Modern Art isn't far behind. Bookshops, food, theater, shopping, people: it doesn't really matter what you do or where you go in New York because the city itself is an in-your-face, exhilarating experience.New York's famous hustle and bustle was abruptly cut short on September 11, 2001, when a terrorist attack in the form of two hijacked passenger aircraft razed the gleaming twin towers of the World Trade Center. Thousands of people were killed in the worst terrorist act ever on US soil. New York is currently in a state of shock. Whether this makes way for anger, disillusionment or optimism is yet to be seen. In the meantime, this spectacular city has a great deal of work ahead of it as it tries to rebuild its business district and its confidence.
Independence was declared and the Constitution signed in Philadelphia, one of the USA's most historic towns. The place to start exploring is Independence Hall, where the USA was born amid the debates of the Continental Congresses. On the grounds is the Liberty Bell, an enduring emblem that was coopted by abolitionists as an antislavery symbol. Benjamin Franklin's presence pervades the town, from his home in Old Philadelphia through Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to several city museums, galleries and gardens, to the University of Pennsylvania, which he founded. When you're tired and hungry from all that walking around, hop a cab to South Philadelphia and grab a splendid specimen of Philadelphia's gift to the culinary world, the cheesesteak.
Even people who hate the United States love San Francisco. It has a self-effacing flutter of the eyelids so blatantly missing from brassy New York and plastic LA, an atmosphere of genteel chic mixed with offbeat innovation. This is a place that breeds alternatives: It's the home of the Beat Generation, flower power, student protest and gay pride. One of the country's most attractive cities, San Francisco boasts foggy, hilly streets that provide gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay and its famous bridges. This is a mosaic of a city, a big picture made from the colorful tiles of the Latino Mission, gay Castro, bustling Chinatown, clubby SoMa, hippie Haight-Ashbury and Italian North Beach. Fisherman's Wharf is the epicenter of tourist kitsch and the gateway to Alcatraz, while Union Square is where the classy shoppers congregate.
The City of Washington in the District of Columbia is a far more dynamic, attractive town than most government cities. It has overcome countless challenges, from near-abandonment by Congress after the War of 1812 to the world's highest murder rate in the 1980s, to emerge as one of the USA's top tourist attractions. Monuments to federal puissance, such as the Capitol, Supreme Court, White House and Washington Monument are designed to impress visitors, while such historical structures as the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial and Vietnam Wall are sometimes exultant, sometimes sobering reminders of the past. The nation's capital also boasts one of the world's premiere research organizations, the titanic Smithsonian Institution, all of whose museums are free to the public. And when you're ready for the real Washington, the city behind the federal city, be sure to visit the cultural and culinary attractions of such neighborhoods as Georgetown, Adams-Morgan, Dupont Circle and Shaw & the New U District.A short drive away from the city are Mount Vernon, George Washington's manor, and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's quirky home. Area day trips include numerous Civil War sites and colonial towns, such as Williamsburg and Jamestown.
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