Landscapes and legends draw adventurers to the West, where a good day includes locavore dining, vineyard wine-sipping, wildlife-watching, Native American history and outdoor adventure.
Western USA gives depth and beauty to the American wild. The landscapes here are stunners, from the high Rockies to the dramatic coastline, from the Great Plains' hypnotizing big-sky horizons to Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Some of America's most iconic animals animate the wild, including grizzlies, wolves, elk and bison. Elsewhere, surfers, kayakers and beachcombers flock to sunny San Diego and the rocky, mood-filled beaches of Oregon and Washington. Red rocks, plunging gorges and prickly-pear deserts lure hikers and cyclists to the Southwest and Grand Canyon. Over in the Rockies, snowcapped peaks offer world's-best skiing and snowboarding.
Grapes, Green Chiles & Going Local
Fish tacos in San Diego, Sonoran dogs in Tucson, trout and bison in the Rockies, green and red chiles in New Mexico and wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest: regional specialties here 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. Wine producers have embraced this eco-consciousness in an industry where Napa and Sonoma increasingly share the spotlight with Washington, Oregon and central California. And then there's the proliferation of microbreweries who understand that for people out West, small means beautiful.
Western cities have distinct personalities. In California there's the hey-bro friendliness of San Diego, the Hollywood flash of Los Angeles and silicon-meets-bohemian in San Francisco. Further north in Seattle, cutting-edge joins homegrown, often over a cup of joe. Rootsy vibes and outdoor fun pair in Denver, while patio preening and spa pampering give Phoenix a strangely compelling spoiled vibe. Artsy, historic Santa Fe is a world unto itself. And then there's Vegas, a glitzy neon playground where you can get hitched in the Elvis Chapel, spend your honeymoon in Paris and then bet the mortgage – all in the same weekend.
Climb a wooden ladder into a cliff dwelling, poke around the ruins of a Pony Express station, contemplate where Native American tribes drove buffalo herds over cliffs, or simply join the congregation inside a 1700s Spanish mission. What else is there to explore? Crumbling forts and trading posts. Abandoned ghost towns. Adobe pueblos. Petroglyphs etched onto boulders and cliff faces. Wander historic sites like these for up-close and evocative links to the region's rich, multilayered past. And excellent museums? Western USA has them, many of them, in abundance.