Mackinac Island, Michigan
Visitors to Mackinac Island in the Straits of Mackinac (pronounced MACK-in-naw), between the Upper and Lower peninsulas about 285 mi/460 km north of Detroit, can step back in time. Autos may have made Michigan's fortune, but they're banned from this island—horse-drawn carriages, saddle horses, bicycles and walking are the only means of transportation.
This island becomes even more like the 1800’s in the evenings; The streets are dark and largely empty, and the utter quiet is broken only by the occasional sound of clomping hooves. An overnight stay will also give you more time to see the island's sights.
Fort Mackinac is a restored military outpost from the 1700’s (it once belonged to Britain) with 14 original buildings. Costumed staff provide musket- and cannon-firing programs, dramatic re-enactments and craft demonstrations.
The Grand Hotel (as its name suggests) is the island's grande dame, an immense white structure built in 1887 (it looks something like a white battleship beached on a high hillside). The huge, 660-ft-/200-m-long veranda has become such a popular attraction that the hotel charges non-guests for the privilege of sauntering on it. Each September, the hotel hosts the Labor Day Jazz Festival.
Because it's only 8 mi/13 km in circumference, a bike or horse ride around the island's flat coastal road is quite manageable, and it will take you past several sights. Arch Rock is a natural rock formation that frames an incredible view of the straits and the Upper Peninsula town of St. Ignace. You'll also be treated to fine views of the soaring Mackinac Bridge on your way around the island.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The rich cultural heritage of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is apparent everywhere—from the Native Americans selling goods on the Plaza to the Hispanic influence of its chili-flavored menus and the still-entrenched feel of the Wild West. The adobe buildings of Santa Fe line its twisting streets, and in the late afternoon sun they seem luminous.
The sharp colors, spectacular sunsets and distinctive feel of Santa Fe have drawn artists from all over the world, including the fabled Georgia O'Keeffe. It's a friendly city that offers the traveler great restaurants, excellent museums and lots of galleries full of fine art. There's a vibrant outdoors community, too, making Santa Fe a popular destination year-round for mountain biking, hiking, fishing, skiing and snowboarding.
By far the best way to see Santa Fe is on foot, as the main downtown area is very compact in size. The Plaza is where you should begin exploring Santa Fe. Once teeming with traders, farmers, produce and livestock, the Plaza used to encompass many more blocks than it does today, as well as, The New Mexico History Museum and an outdoor marketplace for Native Americans selling jewelry and crafts.
New Orleans, Louisiana
It has been said that New Orleans, Louisiana, celebrates indulgence like no other U.S. city; its reputation for feasting and revelry, especially during Mardi Gras, is legendary. After Hurricane Katrina, the city rebuilt with fervor and tourism is flourishing. New restaurants, hotels and attractions draw millions of visitors to the city each year. Visitors to New Orleans' Central Business District, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, the Garden District and uptown along St. Charles Avenue and Magazine Street will find a city alive and thriving.
In this city, synonymous with resilience and rebirth, it takes more than a hurricane or an oil spill to make New Orleanians lose their appetite for fun, food and merriment.
New Orleans is an extraordinary city, and with its unique culture and history, it has long enchanted a wide variety of visitors with a yearning for the romantic, the spiritual, the beautiful or the offbeat. (In what other U.S. city would a voodoo priestess be buried next to the mayor's family, or funerals be celebrated with a jazz band and a processional?) That magic feeling is stronger than ever, a calling card to a city with a spirit too beautiful to ever break.
The combination of water, hills and lush greenery in a mountain setting on the shores of Puget Sound make Seattle, Washington, one of the most beautiful urban areas in the U.S. With its efficient bus system, growing light-rail network and compact downtown district, Seattle is also user-friendly.
Seattleites have plenty to brag about: There's the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, plus the Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders FC sports teams. There are fine restaurants, good museums and vigorous arts and music scenes.
Even Seattle's infamous rainy winter weather has a good side. All that rain helps make Seattle the evergreen "Emerald City" and produces wonderful flowers. And Seattle is where Starbucks got its start, in 1971, at Pike Place Market.