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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 City—which, 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 did—and 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 backyards—who 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 trip—it 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 beautiful—100 places is not nearly enough. But it’s a start.
Women Make History
Ellis Island, New York City
Galveston Island, Texas
Angel Island, California
Upstate New York
Statue of Liberty, New York City
Esther Hobart Morris statue, Cheyenne, Wyoming
Nashville site (Wyoming statue)
Statue of Liberty, New York City
Harriet Tubman, Maryland, Delaware, New York State
Rosa Parks Museum, Montgomery, Alabama
National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis
Women in Flight, Atchison, Kansas; Oklahoma City
Annie Oakley (Cody, WY, Fort Worth, Ohio);
Nellie Bly, Newseum, Washington DC
Lizzie Borden Bed &Breakfast Fall River, Mass.
Brothel Museum, Skagway, Alaska
Texas (Hallie Stillwell, Cowgirl Hall of Fame, others)
Artists and Muses
Orchard House Louisa May Alcott, Concord, Massachusetts
Massachusetts (Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum)
Zora Neale Hurston Museum, Eatonville, Florida
Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC
Little House on the Prairie, De Smet, South Dakota
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville, Tennessee
Willa Cather State Historic Site, Red Cloud, Nebraska
Nina Simone’s hometown, Tryon, North Carolina
Christina’s World house, Cushing, Maine
Dorothy Parker’s stomping ground, New York City
Movie sites (Various)
Native American artists?
Stax Museum and Motown Museum, Memphis, Detroit
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland
Girls Will Be Girls
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park,
Tea with the girls Plaza Hotel, other cities?
Do lunch (Four Seasons NY, other citites?)
Met costume collection, New York City
LA Fashion Institute
First Ladies Exhibit, First Ladies Library, Washington D.C.
Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn.
Tiffany’s, New York City
Garden Club towns (Jefferson, Texas, others?)
Neiman Marcus, Dallas, Texas
Antiquing - Round Top and others
World’s Longest Yard Sale
Rock star pilgrimages
Retreat, tranquility and spiritual pursuits
Lily Dale, New York
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary Kanab, Utah
Miraval, Tucson, Arizona
Monument Valley, Four Corners
Northern California coast
Kripalu, Stockbridge, Mass.
Cat Yronwode's hoodoo shop and the world's smallest church
Grand Canyon Arizona
Becoming an Outdoorswoman
National Parks - Yellowstone, Yosemite
Skiing Lake Tahoe, Jackson Hole
Rafting the Gauley West Virginia
New York City
Home & Hearth
Bad Food museums
Canyon de Chelle, Arizona
Newport, Rhode Island
Pike’s Place Market, Seattle, Washington
Tenement Museum, New York City
Hearst Castle, California
Architecture tours (Phoenix, Chicago, Savannah)