Read an Excerpt
Introduction by Sophia Dembling
When I told people about the book I was working on, their first question was usually, “What are your criteria for must-see places?” Or, less eloquently,
A fair enough question, to which the answer is: “Sez me.”
I did poll friends and colleagues as well, and got some good ideas there, but what we have here is an entirely subjective collection of American places I think are important or cool or important or quintessentially American.
And who am I to say so? A connoisseur of travel in our glorious 50.
My first view of America was through the windows of a baby blue Plymouth Duster on a cross-country road trip with two girlfriends. I was 19 years old and had barely ever left New York Citywhich, like Los Angeles, both defines America and barely resembles it. I was astonished and awed as much by cornfields as the Rocky Mountains. The solid farmers and stolid farm wives we saw in diners and truck stops were as exotic as unicorns to me. Chicago intrigued me and LA seduced me, and by the time we were driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, with the whole of the nation stretching out to our right, I was madly in love.
I continued the romance on the Greyhound bus, traveling for weeks at a time, crisscrossing the country, staying in cheap motels, with friends, with friends of friends, and once on a gymnasium floor because I stumped into Deadwood, South Dakota the weekend of the enormous Sturgis motorcycle rally. But I was determined to see Mount Rushmore (which I didand have returned since).
I’ve been travel writing since the mid-1980s, and my first published travel article, in The Dallas Morning News, was about taking a tour of the stars’ homes in Nashville. For a while, my friend Jenna Schnuer and I wrote a website called Flyover America, in which we shared our passion for America’s out-of-the-way places.
I love the scale of America. I love her grand places, brash cities, and unabashed kitsch. Her breadth and depth and roadside attractions. I scorn world-traveling Americans who have never explored their own backyardswho have never seen a thunderstorm over Nebraska or the Atlantic pounding the coast of Maine. Who have never eaten grits in the South or salmon in Alaska. Who have never seen the Western art at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Wyoming or the mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida. I’m so passionate for travel in America, I even argue that Las Vegas is a must-see, no matter how highbrow you consider yourself.
America is overwhelming in its size and variety. If you have never traveled it, where do you start? Short-hop weekends are always good for exploring cities and towns. A long weekend in New York City or Savannah can be a nice aperitif. But for serious travel in America, nothing beats the road tripit is the only way to start understanding the nation’s culture and appreciating its geography.
Next time you have vacation time coming, invest it in a long-distance cross-country drive, in any direction. East-west, north-south. It doesn’t matter, there’s stuff to see every which way and I guarantee that you will never see America the same way again.
Naturally, there’s no place or experience in this book that men wouldn’t enjoy as well too. Any American, male or female, who doesn’t make a point of seeing the Grand Canyon is a knucklehead, in my humble opinion. (People from other nations get a pass, but I know they’re out seeing stuff like that anyway because I run into them all the time.)
What I tried to do with this highly subjective list, with the help of other women, is highlight places and activities that enlighten us about American women and their history, allow us to indulge our girly and tomboy sides, hold particular spiritual significance, or otherwise have something to offer women or our understanding of America and the women in it.
You will surely have your own ideas to add to this list, and I say have at it. America is so vast, so diverse, so fascinating, so beautiful100 places is not nearly enough. But it’s a start.