Gulf Coast & South Texas
America's 'Third Coast,' as it's dubbed itself, is a place of many contrasts. The mellow beach town scene of Port Aransas is a sea of calm compared with the frenetic hedonism of South Padre Island, for one. Yet there is also much that is the same. At both Aranasas National Wildlife Refuge and Padre Island National Seashore, you can get lost in nature.
Take the best bits of the Deep South – friendly ('howdy y'all!') people, a molasses-slow pace, oak-lined roads and fried green tomatoes – then add sugar-white beaches, clear natural springs and bountiful seafood and you're beginning to conjure up the magnificent, diverse and highly underrated Florida Panhandle: so overlooked in the bigger Florida picture that we almost want t.
More, more, more – Michigan is the Midwest state that cranks it up. It sports more beaches than the Atlantic seaboard. More than half the state is covered by forests. And more cherries and berries get shoveled into pies here than anywhere else in the USA. Plus its gritty city Detroit is the Midwest's rawest of all – and we mean that in a good way.
With one foot on either side of the Continental Divide and granite behemoths in every direction, Colorado’s northern mountains provide a glimpse of the top of the world. Here, the northern Rockies make an irresistible call to mountain-lovers, regardless of whether the season calls for climbing them in hiking boots or shushing down them on skis.
Moss-draped oaks. Stately mansions. Wide beaches. Rolling mountains. And an ornery streak as old as the state itself. Ah yes, South Carolina, where the accents are thicker and the traditions more dear. From its Revolutionary War patriots to its 1860s secessionist government to its current crop of outspoken legislators, the Palmetto State has never shied away from a fight.
Most people think of the state's south when conjuring images of Florida's famed beaches, which may be why the eastern half of the Gulf Coast has been dubbed the Forgotten Coast. The name is apt for the entire shoreline here, unless you're local and already familiar with the region's magical beauty.
All right, time for your Ohio quiz. In the Buckeye State you can 1) buggy-ride through the nation's largest Amish community; 2) lose your stomach on one of the world's fastest roller coasters; 3) suck down a dreamy creamy milkshake fresh from a working dairy; or 4) examine a massive, mysterious snake sculpture built into the earth. And the answer is…all of these.
Everything you've seen on TV, from the McMansions of Real Housewives of New Jersey to the thick accents of The Sopranos, is at least partially true. But Jersey (natives lose the 'New') is at least as well defined by its high-tech and banking headquarters, and a quarter of it is lush farmland (hence the Garden State nickname).
Breckenridge & Summit County
Home to four big-time ski resorts, the Blue River, and historic Breckenridge, the aptly named Summit County is close enough to Denver for a day trip but far enough away to feel like you've truly escaped the Front Range sprawl. In summer, cyclists enjoy the endless miles of paved bike paths that connect the major towns, while boaters take to the enormous Dillon Reservoir.
The state revs up around the Indy 500 race, but otherwise it's about slow-paced pleasures in corn-stubbled Indiana: pie-eating in Amish Country, meditating in Bloomington's Tibetan temples and admiring the big architecture in small Columbus. For the record, folks have called Indianans 'Hoosiers' since the 1830s, but the word's origin is unknown.
History suffuses Alabama, a description which could be true of many states. But there are few places where the perception of said history is so emotionally fraught. The Mississippian Native American culture built great mound cities here, and Mobile is dotted with Franco-Caribbean architecture.