Landscapes and legends draw adventurers to the West, where a good day includes locavore dining, vineyard wine-sipping, cowboy history and outdoor fun.
Museums? Save 'em for later. First you'll want to climb a wooden ladder into a cliff dwelling, poke around the ruins of a Pony Express station, or simply join the congregation inside a 1700s Spanish mission. What else is there to see? Ancient petroglyphs. Abandoned mining towns. A former Titan Missile silo. Wander historic sites like these for up-close and evocative links to the region's not-so-long-ago past.
Western landscapes are certainly inspiring, but it's the sound of adventure – splash! whoosh! kathunk! – that gives the scenery its punch. Surfers and beachcombers flock to the western coastline, which stretches north from the sunny shores of San Diego to the bluffs of central California and on to the rocky, mood-filled beaches of Oregon and Washington. Red rocks, plunging gorges and prickly-pear deserts lure hikers and bikers to the Southwest, where the biggest wonder is the 277-mile Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, in the Rockies, skiing, ice climbing and mountain-biking never looked so pretty.
Grapes, Green Chiles & Going Local
Famous local dishes include fish tacos in San Diego, Sonoran dogs in Tucson, steak in the Rockies, green chile sauces in New Mexico and wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Regional specialties are as diverse as the landscapes. One commonality? Chefs and consumers alike are focusing on fresh and locally grown food, a locavore trend that started in the West. This ecoconsciousness has been embraced by wine producers, who are increasingly implementing organic and biodynamic growing principles. And speaking of winemaking, Napa and Sonoma now share the spotlight with Washington, Oregon, central California and Arizona.
Western cities have distinct personalities. In California there's the hey-bro friendliness of San Diego, the Hollywood flash of Los Angeles and the bohemian cool of San Francisco. Further north in Seattle, cutting-edge joins homegrown, often over a cup of joe. Cosmopolitan chic meets plucky frontier spirit in Denver, while patio preening and spa pampering give Phoenix a strangely compelling spoiled-girl vibe. And then there's Las Vegas, a glitzy neon playground where you can get hitched, spend your honeymoon in Paris and then bet the mortgage – all in the very same weekend.
Why I Love Western USA
By Amy C Balfour, Author
After taking the Virginia bar exam in the 1990s, I drove west to clear my head and have some fun. My first glimpse of the Grand Canyon (not including a first look as a toddler) came after a mad dash from my car to Mather Point. I've been hooked on the West ever since. I subsequently spent seven years in Los Angeles, using the city as a launchpad for exploring Western beaches, deserts, mountains and some truly glorious national parks, not to mention lots of great restaurants. The West is a special place, worth an extended visit.