Born in the USA: our favorite destinations in Springsteen songs

Bruce Springsteen's songs take you on a journey through the US © Jamie McCarthy / Staff / Getty Images

There's nothing like a Springsteen song to make you want to travel. The lyrics are packed with the pleasures and freedom of the open road, escaping "a town full of losers", and the redemptive magic of a "last-chance power drive.” Though he's forever known as a Jersey boy, Springsteen's lyrics have carried listeners far beyond the boardwalks of the Shore. To celebrate The Boss turning 72 on September 23, we pulled together a list of travel destinations in the US straight from his songs, along with why you might want to visit them. So leave the familiar streets behind for somewhere new with the love of your life or your best buddy by your side.

Aerial view of a city with glass-and-steel skyscrapers on the edge of a river
Head for the iconic sites in Manhattan © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

It’s midnight in Manhattan: New York City

Springsteen's characters weren't rooted in Jersey, like "Magic Rat" who drove "his sleek machine/over the Jersey state line" or Billy and Diamond Jackie who enjoyed a  "boogaloo down Broadway". Like the stars of "Jungleland" and "New York City Serenade", you'll find plenty to do in the New York City.

Travel through Manhattan, where you'll find some of the city's most iconic sites. There's incredible architecture in every direction, like the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and Grand Central Terminal. Don't miss world-class museums – head to the Met for antiquities, the Guggenheim for abstract and contemporary exhibitions, and The Whitney for American greats like Warhol and O'Keeffe. And of course, New York boasts theater-galore, not to mention fantastic live music – try jazz in Harlem if you're craving a Clarence Clemons sax solo. On a budget? Then check out the free things you can do in the city. 

I went out for a ride and I never went back: Baltimore

The opening lines to "Hungry Heart" would have you believe that it’s not worth hanging around in Baltimore, but don't fall for it. There's a vibrant waterfront that plays host to one of the best aquariums in the US, which includes a rooftop rainforest and a re-creation of an Indo-Pacific reef. The American Visionary Art Museum hosts a collection from "self-taught" artists and is a world-class zone of creativity. Check out the food scene too, where you can find anything from fantastic sushi burritos to biscuits and gravy. There's plenty to keep those hungry hearts in town. 

Meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Atlantic City, the largest city on the Jersey Shore, doesn’t have a lot of the Prohibition-era glamour seen in TV series Boardwalk Empire, but there are still many good reasons to visit. You could try your luck in the casinos, or keep to a tighter budget at the amusement arcades on the Steel Pier. There are plenty of spots to chill out along the vast beach, and you won't want to miss a stroll along the atmospheric boardwalk. 

A neat and tidy square with a fountain and several buildings round the edge seen at twilight
Balboa Park is the cultural center of San Diego © f11photo / Getty Images

Southern California, down San Diego way

The protagonist in "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" is hoping to liberate Rosalita from her overbearing parents and run away to "a pretty little place in Southern California, down San Diego way" – and it really is an incredibly beautiful part of the world. In Southern California you’ll find vast desert landscapes, glorious beaches and spectacular alpine areas. San Diego is a laid-back place with a world-famous zoo, and a massive cultural hub at Balboa Park, packed with museums and art galleries. 

4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

Asbury Park experienced a revival in the 2000s with hip restaurants downtown and new property developments beachside, giving it more to its name than simply the Springsteen legacy. But while you’re there, be sure to stop by rock venue Stone Pony where Bruce and other musicians started their careers.

A straight empty road stretches through Badlands National Park, with large rock formations in the distance against a blue sky
Follow the Loop Rd in Badlands National Park © NaughtyNut / Shutterstock

Trouble in the heartland: Badlands National Park

Bruce’s "Badlands" lyrics may be more focused on the struggle to get by than the stunning Badlands National Park in South Dakota, but all the same, consider driving the 40-mile Badlands Loop Rd to see its key sights. Look out for incredible cliffs, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs as you go, then park up to take on one of the impressive hiking trails.

Streets of Philadelphia

The charming city of Philadelphia is packed with street art, superb places to eat (be sure to join the locals for a meal at Reading Terminal Market) and several historic sites. Independence Historical National Park is the spot where the foundations of US government were built, and McGillan’s Olde Ale House is a historic tavern that survived the Prohibition era. Explore Philadelphia Museum of Art, which holds a massive collection of art and architecture from around the world.

A row of 10 Cadillacs with their hoods buried in the earth stretches out. Each one is covered in colorful marks and graffiti 
Make your mark at the Cadillac Ranch © Nick Fox / Shutterstock

Gonna meet down at the Cadillac Ranch

The song "Cadillac Ranch" is dedicated to cars and how we’ll all end up in a junkyard eventually. Cadillac Ranch itself is a massive sculpture off I-40 in a field near Amarillo, Texas, made up of 10 Cadillacs (some literally saved from being junked). They’re all half-buried standing on their ends hood first. The site has evolved over the years as visitors have added scribbles and colors to the cars. Take some spray paint and add your mark when you visit.

Here in Youngstown

Springsteen digs deep into the history of Youngstown, Ohio on his song of the same name, charting its history from the moment a miner first struck ore "back in eighteen-o-three." You can do the same at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, before exploring the broader region – Youngstown is sandwiched between Cleveland to the northwest and Pittsburgh to the southeast, with the Allegheny National Forest to the east. Take your pick of urban cultural offerings, outdoor adventures, or embracing the open road on the Ohio Lincoln Highway Historic Byway, which runs from Pittsburgh through Ohio along the route of America's first coast-to-coast interstate highway.

Here and now: Moab, Utah

On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert

Don’t get caught "chasing some mirage" in the Utah desert like the character in "The Promised Land". Instead, set your sights on Moab, the state’s adventure capital, loved by hikers, bikers, rafters and off-road drivers. Beginner mountain-bikers should try the flat 9-mile Intrepid TrailWestwater Canyon offers some serious white-water rafting with Class III and IV rapids; and hikers will enjoy Fisher Towers Trail, which is particularly beautiful at sunset. 

From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska with a sawed-off .410 on my lap

It's best to not take too much inspiration from the title track to 1982's Nebraska album – it is, after all, a fictionalization of the real-life 1950s killing spree undertaken by teens Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. But the pair's ill-fated ride from Nebraska to Wyoming is prime road trip country, as long as you keep the mayhem to a minimum. The wide open prairies are pure Springsteen fodder, where two lanes can really take you anywhere. Here you can follow in the footsteps of ancient dinosaurs in Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, catch the annual sandhill crane migration, and take in epic starry skies free of light pollution at a Nebraska star party.

This article was first published on September 11, 2019. 

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