Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
If anything encompasses the ethos of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, it’s the “It’s a Small World” ride. That same tune represents a certain kind of American dream: one of a land comprising many cultures, welcoming to all. The Magic Kingdom certainly welcomes everyone into its dream world, where Mickey Mouse and Cinderella roam and whirling rides thrill. The whole scope of the American imagination is represented, from the futuristic Tomorrowland to the classic Fantasyland. It’s a pixie-dusted retreat from reality that can’t be missed, no matter your age.
The French Quarter
Like the confluence of cultures that created it, New Orleans’ French Quarter aesthetic is a vibrant collage of textures: cobblestone corridors, lush courtyard gardens, storied wrought-iron balcony railings. The city’s rich history and musical heritage are inextricably linked; jazz, blues, classic rock ‘n roll, and electronic dance music all reverberate from the quarter’s doors. A spirit of resilient jubilance pervades the French Quarter, making it an American icon you must experience.
If you want to be thrust headlong into the frantic heart of excess, consumerism, spectacle, and everything unabashedly American, look no further than Times Square. Throngs of wide-eyed, over-stimulated tourists from every corner of the world walk through the blaring ads and kaleidoscopic signs in awe, cameras in hand. This roaring neon hub of humanity truly never sleeps, and it simply must be seen to be believed.
The Boston Red Sox have played at Fenway Park, the oldest Major League Baseball ballpark, since 1912. Baseball legends Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski all stepped up to bat here. It’s both a vestige of an American golden age, preserved in all its old-fashioned glory, and a mecca for fans of a quintessentially American sport—and its rabidly supported team.
Not only is Mount Rushmore stunning in terms of its sheer scale as a monumental mountainside edifice, it’s also perhaps the boldest embodiment of American ideals in existence. A shrine to democracy chiseled in the same wild western lands that came to represent the pioneering American spirit, the sculpture features the faces of four iconoclastic U.S. Presidents, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
These multistory, mud-and-straw adobes have sheltered Tiwa-speaking Native Americans for nearly 1,000 years, making them a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As though frozen in time, the Taos Pueblo today appears much as it did when the first Spanish explorers arrived in New Mexico in 1540, where the legacy of the traditional Native American way of life endures.
Pike Place Market
Once a riotous assembly where vendors hawked produce and haggled with hordes of customers, Pike Place Market today is a food lover’s dream, where affable fishmongers sell their wares alongside many restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops (including the flagship Starbucks), ethnic eateries, and more. The flower market also can’t be missed, with its cheap and generous arrangements, as well as the more crafts-oriented corridors of the market.
Unending wildflowers, soaring California condors, sea otters reclining in kelp beds, ancient forests—it’s no wonder Big Sur is a storied retreat for artists and writers. Hike the high ridges for spectacular vistas, including the 875,000 acres of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forests, or relax on the idyllic beach, where whales and seals can be seen. Or enjoy it all from the car on coastal Highway 1.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is an American icon in that it represents the expansive, larger-than-life ruggedness of the country. Volcanic features and soaring sandstone canyon walls make for awesome vistas, as well as a welcoming venue for year-round adventure. On the floor of this 227-mile natural wonder, the wild Colorado River traces a swift southwestern course.