The US Bucket List: 30 things to do in America before you die
USA Travel Special
Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30
From Soul Food to Alaska's fjords, Nicola Brady picks 30 things to do in the USA before you die.
1. Hike into the Grand Canyon
There are countless ways to see the Grand Canyon (pictured above) - you can fly into it on a helicopter, drive up to its edges or kayak deep within its core. But if you have nerves of steel and a couple of days to spare, then hiking down into its belly is a once in a lifetime experience… the original, and still the best.
While you're at it: Check out the lesser-known Antelope Canyon in Arizona - its undulating colours are out of this world.
Do it: Arizona Outback Adventures offers guided hikes. See aoa-adventures.com.
2. Eat a proper New York slice of pizza
Want to start a fight in New York? Strike up a debate about the best slice in the city. It's no secret that New Yorkers love their pizza, and boy, do they do it well - huge slices come fresh from the embers, with a charred, chewy crust and bubbling cheese. You could get fancy, but in my opinion the best slice is one that costs $3, eaten while standing at the counter. Try Joe's Pizza (joespizzanyc.com) in Greenwich Village - it's been a local staple since 1975.
While you're at it: Hit Chinatown for a Dim Sum feast.
Do it: Find package holidays to New York with americanholidays.com and gohop.ie among others.
3. Party at a Honky Tonk in Nashville
Everyone needs to dance with a real life cowboy at some point in their life. And there's no better place to tick this off the bucket list than at a spit and sawdust honky tonk bar in Nashville. It may look like a tourist trap, but this is where everyone heads when they're looking for a good time. Tip the band, take a shot of Fireball (cinnamon whiskey) and grab the nearest guy in a Stetson. You won't regret it.
While you're at it: Take in a show at the infamous Grand Ole Opry.
Do it: Learn more at visitmusiccity.com
4. Take an All-American road trip
Maybe it's the ease of America's wide, open roads. Maybe it's the countless movies we've seen, from Easy Rider to Sideways. Maybe it's the sheer size of the land itself. Whatever the reason, a road trip in the States is unlike a road trip anywhere else on earth. For stunning backdrops, try the Columbia River Scenic Highway in Oregon, the Taos Loop from Santa Fe, or the Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia to North Carolina.
While you're at it: It's the 90th anniversary of Route 66 this year, the perfect time for a trip down the Mother Road.
Do it: Find fly-drive options with trailfinders.ie, americansky.ie, sunway,ie, touramerica.ie and more.
5. Cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge
Instead of merely gazing upon one of the world's most famous bridges, rent a bike and pedal your way over it, from San Francisco to Sausalito. Bar one nasty hill, it's an easy spin, and you'll be rewarded with killer views all the way. San Francisco is uber-expensive, but it's still one of the coolest cities in the States, with an offbeat and laid-back vibe (you just can't shake those hippy roots).
While you're at it: Take a tram ride - it's touristy, sure, but it's got to be done.
Do it: Fly direct to San Francisco with Aer Lingus. See aerlingus.com
6. Stay in the Shaker Village in Kentucky
The Pleasant Hill Shakers were a mysterious folk - a religious community who worshipped through gregarious dance and singing said to have shaken the ground (hence their name). Nowadays, you can stay at in their former dwelling, in bedrooms filled with the most incredible furniture, eat food grown on site and spend your days marvelling at the beauty and history within the grounds.
While you're at it: Take the 'Spirit Stroll' to learn about the souls gone by, while you walk with candle-lit lanterns.
Do it: Nightly rates at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill start at $115/€103. Fly to Lexington via Atlanta with KLM. See shakervillageky.org; klm.com
7. Eat Soul Food in the South
Forget any intentions of healthy eating when you're in the south, and feed your soul with the ultimate comfort food. The king of the table is fried chicken - head to Gus's in Memphis (gusfriedchicken.com) for a meal that will leave you rolling your eyes to the heavens. You'll find BBQ almost everywhere, but tuck into beer cheese in Kentucky and gumbo in New Orleans too.
While you're at it: Check out the International Bar-B-Q Fest (bbqfest.com) in Kentucky.
Do it: See visittheusa.com for more.
8. Drive California's Pacific Coast
It's the road trip to rule them all - a trip along California's Pacific Coast Highway, with the glittering ocean on one side and a constantly changing landscape on the other. You'll pass the vast vineyards of wine country, jaw-dropping views in Big Sur and pretty towns that just beg for a pit stop. Head north for San Francisco, or south to LA… and don't even think about rushing.
While you're at it: Stay at the Post Ranch Inn (postranchinn.com) - a bucket list hotel if ever there was one.
Do it: Find fly-drive holidays at flydriveusa.ie
9. Do the Theme Parks in Florida
For kids, the USA means one thing only. So strap on your Mickey Mouse ears and head for Orlando, winning eternal parental cool points in the process. Hop between the world's best theme parks, from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal to Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Don't ignore the rest of the state, though - Sarasota is an arty, funky haven and the Florida Keys are as gorgeous as they are laid-back.
While you're at it: Drive the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys.
Do it: Find packages to Orlando at sunway.ie
10. Experience the fall foliage in New England
You won't be alone on a leaf-peeping road trip in New England - hoards of people make the trek to see one of nature's most vibrant shows. But there's more than enough autumnal glory for everyone. Start in Boston and make your way through trees and woodlands that glow like a sunset.
While you're at it: Eat lobster rolls from a seaside shack in Maine.
Do it: You can find Fall Foliage routes on discovernewengland.org
11. Take an architecture tour of Chicago
You could endlessly wander the streets of Chicago, your gaze passing between the amazing buildings that fill the city. But if you really want to get a handle on its architecture, then a guided tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation is your only ticket. Their experts will lead you on a tour of the city that will leave no stone unturned… and keep your shoe leather intact.
While you're at it: Take a food tour too, to see beyond deep-dish pizza. Try Chicago Food Planet (chicagofoodplanet.com) for starters.
Do it: Find tours at architecture.org
12. Stay at a dude ranch in Montana
Imagine slowly plodding through the wilderness, past wildflower meadows and towering mountains. The only sound you can hear is the clip clopping of your horse… it doesn't get wilder than this. Montana is known as Big Sky Country for a reason - its wide-open spaces were just meant for a holiday of epic head-clearing proportions. Saddle up at the Triple J Wilderness Resort and you'll be so chilled, you'll forget what Wi-Fi is.
While you're at it: Drive a herd of horses in Idaho. Or try Cowboy College on a cattle ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona (cowboycollege.com).
Do it: An all-inclusive week at Triple J starts at $2,150/€1,885pp. See triplejranch.com, also visitmt.com
13. Cruise the fjords in Alaska
Think of America, and soaring skylines and famous landmarks spring to mind. But what about vast glacial landscapes, mammoth icebergs and striking fjords? All can be found in Alaska. A cruise is the perfect way to take it all in, from the awe-inspiring Sawyer Glacier to old gold rush towns.
While you're at it: Don't miss Denali, one of the most stunning National Parks in the states.
Do it: Royal Caribbean has a seven-night Alaska Sawyer Glacier cruise from €2,335pp, flying from Dublin on September 9. See royalcaribbean.ie
14. Endure an American sports event
At my first ever basketball game, I was witness to a giant bear mascot saluting a war veteran while shooting T-shirts into the audience with a canon. And at any given point, more people seemed to be at the snack bar than in their seats. Such is the utter madness of sports in America. But if your digestive system can withstand the nachos, there's no better way to see sporting legends - Steph Curry (above) and the Golden State Warriors, anyone? - at their peak.
While you're at it: Can't nab a ticket to the Superbowl? Check out local high school games - they're taken as seriously as the big leagues.
Do it: You can find advance tickets for most sports on ticketmaster.com
15. Go rafting in Colorado
Epic rivers pass through towering forests and mountains, topped with pine and spruce trees. Still, alpine lakes are framed with purple streaked peaks and mossy rocks. Yep, the waters in Colorado are the kind that paddling dreams are made of. You can keep things sedate with an ambling canoe trip, or get a dose of adrenaline with some white water rafting.
While you're at it: Get your skis on at Beaver's Creek.
Do it: Find registered adventure companies at colorado.com
16. Visit the volcanoes in Hawaii
It's the birthplace of Obama and the motherland for surfers from all over the globe. But it's also home to one of the world's most active volcanoes. Kilauea is in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, and is one of the few places on the globe where you can get up close and personal with bubbling lava. There are a number of ways to see it - by helicopter, on foot or by bicycle, which is pretty wild considering it's technically been erupting since 1983.
While you're at it: Cool down with a 'shave ice', a refreshing treat that's a local favourite.
Do it: You can find Hawaii holidays on topflight.ie, sunway.ie and americanholidays.com among others. See gohawaii.com for more.
17. See a show on Broadway, New York
Right now, the hottest ticket in town is Hamilton, the story of one of America's founding fathers told through hip-hop. But unless you're an A-Lister (or a lucky winner of the Hamilton ticket lottery) then scoring a seat is unlikely. Worry not - the classics are still lighting up the stage, and for musical aficionados, the allure of Broadway simply can't be beaten.
While you're at it: See an Improv comedy show at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre (ucbtheatre.com) in Chelsea.
Do it: Try for late discounted tickets at tdf.org, or one of the TKTS booths located in Times Square, South Street Seaport and downtown Brooklyn.
18. Go to Burning Man in Nevada
If you spend all summer wistfully pining for the Electric Picnic, then Burning Man is likely on your bucket list. This is the big daddy of festivals, where a creative and temporary wonderland is built in the middle of the desert. There you'll find artistic installations, themed camps and, of course, a giant burning man. A warning - if hugs from strangers don't appeal, you're in the wrong place.
While you're at it: For a more mainstream bash, try Coachella (coachella.com).
Do it: Tickets start at $390/€348. See burningman.org
19. See the awesome Arches in Utah
America is filled to the brim with amazing national parks, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. You probably know more of them then you think - the 59 parks include the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and the Everglades. The Arches in Utah are particularly mesmerising, where sandstone ripples and curves, forming impressive arcs and peaks. Visit at sunset, when the naturally red stone glows in the fading light.
While you're at it: Stay at the Amangiri (aman.com) for a luxury desert break.
Do it: Find out more about this, and all the National Parks, at nps.gov
20. Race up the Rocky steps in Philadelphia
It's nigh on impossible to see the Philadelphia Museum of Art without sprinting up its 72 steps, singing the theme tune to Rocky as you increasingly struggle for breath. It's the 40th anniversary of the movie this year, so you'll likely find someone to spar with when you reach the top. But there's more to Philly than Stallone and cheesesteaks - Lonely Planet voted it the number one city in the US in its 2016 Hot List, and it's the only World Heritage City in the country.
While you're at it: Go on a craft beer trail of the city - they take their brewing seriously.
Do it: Fly direct to Philadelphia with American Airlines. See aa.com
21. Thrift shop in Portland, Oregon
If you watch Portlandia, then you'll know that the dream of the '90s is alive in Portland, the city "where young people go to retire". It's a hipster's paradise, full of coffee shops and organic farm-to-fork restaurants. And, unsurprisingly, the vintage shopping scene in the city is excellent. Check out Xtabay, The Red Light and Magpie, where you can also pick up adorable children's vintage.
While you're at it: Explore the wilderness of the Pacific Crest Trail, à la Cheryl Strayed in Wild.
Do it: See more at travelportland.com
22. Party in New Orleans
If there's a city that knows how to throw a party, it's New Orleans, whether it's Mardi Gras or not. There's always a shindig to be found in the Big Easy, from poky jazz bars to smouldering blues clubs. And if you don't want the party to end, don't fret - bars in New Orleans aren't actually required to close.
While you're at it: Stick to Frenchmen Street - it's where the locals hang out.
Do it: Create a package with audleytravel.com
23. See a space shuttle
NASA may have retired the space shuttle in 2011, but it's still possible to see one of the iconic craft up close. The Space Shuttle Endeavour can be found in the California Science Center in LA, Enterprise is in New York's Intrepid Museum and Atlantis is in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It's likely as close as you'll get to living out your astronaut fantasies.
While you're at it: The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington is a must-see for space enthusiasts.
Do it: See more at californiasciencecenter.org, intrepidmuseum.org and kennedyspacecenter.com
24. See the cherry blossoms in Washington D.C.
Kyoto isn't the only city that bursts into bloom each spring. Every year, the trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. are ripe with cherry blossom, framing the landmarks of the city with a softly beautiful bloom. If you can't align a visit with the blossom, then make like Frank Underwood and visit the monuments at night for a haunting, atmospheric take on the city.
While you're at it: The BBQ joint in House of Cards is sadly fictional; get your comfort food fix at Ben's Chili Bowl (benschillibowl.com).
Do it: You can fly direct from Dublin to Washington with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and United (united.com).
25. Catch some tunes in Seattle
Throw on a plaid shirt and leave your hair unwashed - 2016 marks 25 years since the release of Nirvana's seminal Nevermind album. Seattle is the homeland of grunge, so a good place to start is the EMP museum, home to some rare Nirvana artefacts. But grunge can't be captured in a museum - check out Crocodile Café and The Showbox at the Market for live music.
While you're at it: Drink the perfect coffee (it may be the homeland of Starbucks, but Seattle takes its java seriously).
Do it: See more at visitseattle.org
26. Stay in a cabin in San Juan National Forest
Fancy a taste of the old west? Release your inner cowboy with a stay at Dunton Hot Springs. Deep in the San Juan Mountains, this fully preserved ghost town is strewn with authentic log cabins (with killer interiors), sizzling hot springs and trails that weave through the wilds.
While you're at it: Go horseback riding in the high Rockies.
Do it: Rates start at $700/€625, full board. See duntonhotsprings.com
27. See the other side of Sin City
Sure, there's the stuff we all go for - the casinos, the unabashed flashiness, the 24/7 parties. But there's another side to Vegas… and we don't mean Conor McGregor & Co at the MGM Grand. Start off at Fremont Street, the 'old' Strip, and seek out the nearby street art in the Downtown area (including a motel installation from our very own Maser). Quirky museums and burgeoning alternative cuisine add to the sense of a counterpoint to the Strip.
While you're at it: See the ghosts of icons past at the Neon Boneyard (neonmuseum.org).
Do it: Find holidays at gohop.ie, americansky.ie, clickandgo.com and touramerica.ie among others. See also lasvegas.com
28. Tune into Sun Studios in Memphis, TN
Some buildings have a palpable sense of history within their walls. Stand in Sun Studios, and you'll be in the same spot as Elvis when he first recorded - you can even hold his microphone. And the legend doesn't end with The King - Johnny Cash, BB King and Jerry Lee Lewis also lit up the studio (Lewis even made his mark on a piano key with his cigar). Most follow up with a visit to Graceland, but don't skip Stax Museum for a dose of soul.
While you're at it: Cruise down the Blues Highway. From Bob Dylan's eponymous album to the crossroads where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul, Highway 61 oozes musical history.
Do it: See sunstudio.com for tour details.
29. Be surprised by the City of Angels
Los Angeles is getting a lot of attention this year, and with good reason - the city that's been overlooked as a bland and sprawling mass is one of the best city breaks in the US. Explore the neighbourhoods, hit the beach, take a bite out of one of America's hottest food scenes, and watch the sunset from Griffith Observatory (you can nab a free telescope for a great view of the Hollywood sign, the ocean and the cityscape while you're at it).
While you're at it: Make the most of the city's food trucks - it's next level street food. See also discoverlosangeles.com.
Do it: Ethiopian Airlines flies direct to LA, while Aer Lingus starts its new route in May. See ethiopianairlines.com and aerlingus.com.
30. Enjoy good ol' fashioned Southern Hospitality
One of the fondest memories I have of the States is the first time a man tipped his hat to me and said "Howdy, ma'am" without a trace of irony. Southern hospitality isn't a myth - within seconds of chatting to a stranger on the street, you can easily find yourself invited to Sunday dinner. A trip through one of the lesser known states like Georgia, South Carolina or Mississippi will get you off the beaten track and into the real spirit of America.
While you're at it: Keep an eye out for County Fairs.
Do it: See more at deep-south-usa.com
NB: Prices subject to change/availability.