We often think we know a place through what we see in the movies, on TV or through advertising. But experiencing a place strictly through the media is never a substitute for actually being there. Yet the famous images we see on the big screen can peak our interest like nothing else, so it's no wonder that the USA remains one of the most visited countries on the planet.
With its world-renowned arts and entertainment, natural beauty and loads of history, this really is the land of diversity.
Here we look at the top 10 American experiences you need to add to your travel list. But be aware, one visit to the States will never be enough!
1. Be a local in Central Park
Located in the heart of Manhattan, Central Park is a destination onto itself. You'll feel like a local in no time as you stroll along its picturesque footpaths. Better yet, hire a bicycle and ride the winding trails as you pass historic sculptures and scenic waterways. Stunning city back drops surround you in every direction and stop at a street food vendor for a hotdog or warm pretzel.
2. Follow the music trail
The American music scene is as foot taping and contagious as it is diverse. The three genres that have a particularly American flavour, with deep seeded roots in the country's culture are the Blues, Country and Jazz. Sing the blues in Chicago in an intimate, lamp lit lounge in Chicago or at a lake shore festival, or head to the country capital of Nashville and visit the guitar shaped Country Music Hall of Fame or wonder through the many honky-tonk bars on Broadway. If jazz is your scene then New Orleans is the place for you. The many historic venues here lay testament to the importance of music in this Southern Bayou city.
3. The monuments and museums of Washington D.C.
Rich in culture and history, there's no better place in which to experience the American story than in Washington D.C. World renowned museums, famous landmarks and imposing Romanesque buildings all provide a unique glimpse into U.S. history and its government. And the best part is, almost every museum and monument is free. Stroll down the lovely National Mall and explore the iconic halls and exhibits of the Smithsonian or National Air and Space Museum, or take in the wide vista and the Lincoln Memorial or from the top of the Washington Monument - and all at no cost.
4. Civil War battlefields
The American Civil War of the 1860s was a seminal moment in American history. At war's end, the country was reunited and slavery was forever abolished, but at great cost. There are many historic battlefields that pay homage to this history, from Gettysburg and Antietam, to the smaller, but equally hard fought campaigns in places such as Franklin, Tennessee, just 20 minutes south of Nashville. Explore the Carter House and Lotz House, where cannon and bullet fire remain a visible reminder of the carnage and brutality that went on just outside the walls of the family homes.
5. See a ball game
Americans are mad about sports. Few industries or businesses can generate the excitement and revenue that a sports franchise can, but after more than a century, baseball remains one of the most popular games. Some stadiums date back to the early 1900's such as Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston (both opened in 1912) with the modern and gigantic Dodgers Stadium holding the largest capacity with space for 56,000 fans. Grab a hotdog and a beer and cheer along with the crowd as you soak in the festive atmosphere.
6. The Grand Canyon
For a natural landmark to be visible from space, it has to be BIG, so it's certainly no exaggeration to call this immense attraction, the Grand Canyon. The sheer size of this natural wonder is eclipsed only by its beauty, and nothing can really prepare a person for the astonishment factor when laying eyes on the canyon for the first time. There are several ways to take in the canyon's great beauty. Try a helicopter tour from Las Vegas or take a walk on the glass floor Skywalk for a truly invigorating experience. Ride a mule to the bottom of the canyon, camp on the cliff tops or simply gaze over the colourful landscape from one of the many lookout points.
7. Chicago Architecture Tour
Did you know that Chicago is the birthplace of the modern skyscraper? The Home Insurance Building was constructed in 1884 and is considered to be the world's first skyscraper. The Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise, aboard Chicago's First Lady river-cruise boat, takes you on a fascinating journey through the heart of the city's magnificent downtown as the boat winds along the great Chicago River. Enjoy listening to the fascinating stories of over 50 striking buildings which today are greatly admired for their beauty, style and trend setting features. The leisurely cruise is narrated by local historians and certified guide. You won't want to forget the camera on this excursion!
8. Dine and wine in Napa Valley
Known around the world for its rolling hills and fertile lands, the Napa Valley produces some of the world's best wines. Follow the many hillside trails as you visit cellar doors for a wine tasting and behind-the-scenes winery tours. Not into wine? Napa is foodie's dream too. From cellar doors to oven doors, the natural beauty coupled with fine wines and scrumptious food is simply too much to ignore.
9. Ride the 42 bridges to Key West
If you enjoy a leisurely sightseeing drive, then one of the most famous is the route to Key West, Florida. This great American road trip stretches over 42 bridges on its way to the peaceful seaside town of Key West, the southernmost point in the continental U.S., and just 90 miles from Cuba. At 7 miles long, the longest bridge on the way to Key West, was an engineering feat. Watch the sea colour change from deep blue and emerald green to aquamarine in just a short space of time on this impressive seaside drive.
10. Theme Parks
Who doesn't want to visit a place known to be the 'happiest place on earth'? While Disneyland is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, America plays host to countless theme parks across the country. Five of the top ten tallest roller coasters are located in America, and each of them will have you twisting and turning at dizzying heights. For a fun day at the amusement park, try one of the many Six Flags parks, Ceder Point, Universal Studios, Dells Water Park and Knotts Berry Farm. These are just some of the thrill seeking venues on hand for a heart-stopping good time.