Go Coast to Coast Across the United States

The third largest country by size in the world, the U.S. is a nation of staggering natural, geological, and cultural diversity

United States Information and History

The United States of America, the third largest country by size in the world, is a nation of staggering natural, geological, and cultural diversity. Occupying the middle portion of the North American continent, the country's varied landscapes run the gamut from tropical beaches in Florida to alpine peaks in the Rocky Mountains, from rolling prairie lands and barren deserts in the West to dense wilderness areas in the Northeast and Northwest. Interspersed throughout are some of the world's largest lakes, deepest canyons, mightiest rivers, and most populous cities.

Though a relatively young nation, the United States has enjoyed a meteoritic rise in global importance since declaring independence from Britain in 1776. Advances in the past hundred years in particular have established America as a world leader economically, militarily, and technologically.

The U.S. is generally divided into six large regions: New England; the mid-Atlantic; the South; the Midwest; the Southwest, and the West. Though loosely defined, these zones tend to share important similarities, including climate, culture, history, and geography.

New England hosted some of the first settlers in the New World. These intrepid travelers left Europe, mainly England, in search of religious freedom. Their thrift and ingenuity created an intellectual, cultural, and economic epicenter in the region that lasted nearly 200 years. Visitors flock to the states of New England—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont—for, among other things, a dose of American history and for the world-famous explosion of colors from the region's fall foliage.

The mid-Atlantic region includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. These 19th-century industrial powerhouses attracted millions of European immigrants and gave rise to some of the East Coast's largest cities: New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. They're also home to some of the most picturesque scenery in the nation, including the ancient peaks of the Appalachians and the tranquil Chesapeake Bay.

The South comprises Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. This most distinctive of U.S. regions took decades to recover from the devastation of the Civil War. But over the past half-century, a so-called New South has emerged, supplementing its agricultural base with modern manufacturing and industry and attracting a flock of transplants and retirees to its mild climate, laid-back lifestyle, and varied landscapes.

The American Midwest is perhaps most difficult to define culturally and geographically. Home to the Great Lakes and much of the mighty Mississippi River, the highly fertile soils in the Midwest make it the country's agricultural epicenter. Dubbed the "nation's breadbasket," the region comprises the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Starkly beautiful landscapes define the America Southwest. A land of prairie and desert, the Southwest is made up of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, although parts of neighboring states are often considered part of this region. The Southwest is home to some of the world's great natural marvels, including the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns, and many manmade wonders as well, like the ruins of the Chaco culture.

The American West, home of rolling plains and the iconic cowboy, epitomizes the pioneering image of the United States. But this region is a profoundly diverse one, ranging from endless wilderness to barren desert, coral reefs to Arctic tundra, Hollywood to Yellowstone. The states of the West include Alaska, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Industry: petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics.
Agriculture: wheat, corn, other grains, fruits; beef; forest products; fish.
Exports: capital goods, automobiles, industrial supplies and raw materials, consumer goods, agricultural products.

United States Flag and Fast Facts

Washington, D.C.; 4,190,000
9,826,630 square kilometers
(3,794,083 square miles)
English, Spanish
Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish
U.S. dollar
Life Expectancy
GDP per Capita
U.S. $36,300
Literacy Percent

U.S. States

The tranquil pace of life in Monroe County, Alabama, has nurtured some notable literary figures. Harper Lee and Truman Capote have called the county home.


Katmai National Park and Preserve is home to more than 2,000 brown bears. In July and September they are often seen feasting on the world's largest sockeye salmon run.


Some 800 years ago Wupatki was a large, thriving pueblo community. Thousands of Native Americans lived in the area within a day's walk of one another.


The panoramic view from Petit Jean Mountain encompasses the Arkansas River. Legend says that the summit is the resting place of Petit Jean—a faithful fiancée who accompanied her explorer beau to the New World in the guise of a man.


A cruise ship glides easily under the Golden Gate Bridge. At its center the suspension span is some 265 feet above the average high-water mark.


Nearly one million visitors a year marvel at the towering red sandstone formations of this Colorado Springs city park. The Utes used the area as a winter campsite some 10,000 years ago.


Mystic Seaport is a re-created 19th-century port village and maritime museum. Popular attractions include a replica of the slave ship Amistad.


You're never far from the water in Delaware. Black locust trees shade a riverside walkway on a hot summer afternoon in New Castle's Battery Park.

The beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore reaches 160 miles from Mississippi to Florida's Santa Rosa Island. Many of these beaches sustained severe damage during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.


An avenue of oaks and Spanish moss leads visitors to the ruins of Wormsloe—the estate of Noble Jones. Jones, one of Georgia's first settlers, was a physician, carpenter, constable, Indian agent and a member of the Royal Council.


Kauai's Na Pali coast is a breathtaking array of cliffs, waterfalls, and steep narrow valleys plunging to the sea. Access to the roadless area is by boat or via a rugged hiking trail.


A cowboy leads an old fashioned cattle drive in Lemhi County, Idaho, where ranchers still fatten their cattle on the public lands of the open range.


Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created the urban oasis of Chicago's Jackson Park. The "Golden Lady" sculpture is a remnant of the World's Fair, which was held on these grounds in 1893.


Monument Circle is the hub from which Indianapolis's streets stretch like spokes—a fitting symbol for the home of the Indy 500 auto race.


The capitol's glittering dome can be seen for miles around Des Moines. The steel-and-brick construction is gilded with 23-karat gold leaf.


Buffalo still roam the Kansas prairie. An estimated 50 million bison once lived in North America, but by 1900 they had been reduced to under 1,000.


Calumet Farm is the stuff of Kentucky horse country legend. During its glory years from 1932-82, Calumet horses captured eight Kentucky Derbies and two Triple Crowns.


Nightfall in the French Quarter means music, lights, and laughter. Unlike most of New Orleans, the historic district survived Hurricane Katrina relatively unscathed.


The Pemaquid Point Lighthouse has kept watch over a picturesque stretch of Maine coast since 1835. It was the first Maine lighthouse to become fully automated—the last keeper left in 1934.


A man leaps from piling to piling above the waters of the Chesapeake Bay—one of the world's great marine estuaries.


Historic Boston Harbor has been bustling since America's colonial period.


The Grand Haven Lighthouse shines across the waters of Lake Michigan—the only Great Lake that lies completely within the United States.


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a paddler's paradise. Some 1,200 miles of motor-free water trails span the lakes and rivers of this million-acre wilderness.


A steamboat shines as a glowing reminder of the paddle-wheeler's 19th century heyday. Modern Mississippi River steamboats trade only in nostalgia—but the river remains one of the world's busiest commercial waterways.


The stainless-steel Gateway Arch towers some 630 feet above Saint Louis—symbolizing the city's legacy as the gateway to the American West.


Montana's Square Butte appears much as it did when Meriwether Lewis used it as a navigational landmark on his epic journey of American exploration.


The sky dominates Nebraska's prairie landscape—and provides the perfect canvas for some awe-inspiring rainbows


A 1972 Cadillac is an ideal vehicle for sampling a distinctly American pleasure—cruising the Las Vegas Strip.

New Hampshire

Placid Echo Lake is a popular draw for tourists, fishermen, and other visitors to New Hampshire's Franconia Notch State Park. Many notable 19th century painters captured the lake on canvas.

New Jersey

Atlantic City is known for gaming, but visitors also enjoy a sparkling coastline of sand and surf. America's oldest beach patrol safeguards swimmers.

New Mexico

The "Santa Fe Style" blends Spanish Colonial and Indian Pueblo architectures. The result is a distinct look that's popular in the city and throughout northern New Mexico.

New York

The Empire State Building rises majestically from the heart of Manhattan. The building's 86th floor observatory, 1,050 feet above the street, has dazzled visitors since 1931.

North Carolina

The scenic Cape Hatteras Light is America's tallest lighthouse. The beacon safeguards waters that were once known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" because of dangerous currents, shoals, and storms that sank many a ship.

North Dakota

North Dakota's rugged badlands and prairie landscape left a permanent mark on the man for whom the park shown here was later named. "I would not have been president, had it not been for my experience in North Dakota," wrote Teddy Roosevelt.


More than half of the Buckeye State is farmland, but the fast-growing capital is one of the country's 20 largest cities.

Powerful storms deliver heavy rain and whipping winds to the wide open spaces of the Southern Great Plains. This thunderstorm delayed the winter wheat harvest near the tiny town of Fort Supply.


Oregon's rocky Pacific coastline is a scenic gem with a strategic advantage. The state's Pacific Rim location has fuelled a thriving Asian trade.


Horsepower means just that in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, home to many Amish communities. The Christian group adheres to the simple lifestyle of an earlier age.

Rhode Island

The sun sets on another glorious day of sailing in Newport. The picturesque county is one of America's premier yachting centers.

South Carolina

Middleton Place Plantation's graciously landscaped gardens are the oldest in America and among the most distinguished. The garden terraces, ponds, vistas and footpaths continue to enchant visitors as they have since 1741.

South Dakota

The great granite likenesses of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln stare impassively at South Dakota's Black Hills.


Great Smoky Mountains National Park is world-renowned for its biological diversity—as many as 100,000 different species may live in its streams and forests.

Cowboy culture is king in the Lone Star State, but today's Texans are increasingly urban. Cities like Dallas and Houston are experiencing booming growth.

A balloonist soars above the snow-covered peaks of Mount Timpanogos and the Wasatch Range. The mountain's profile is said to resemble a sleeping woman.


Vermont's fall colors and bucolic country scenery draw "leaf peepers" from around the world. The state is a leader in forest and farmland conservation efforts.


Thomas Jefferson designed Virginia's stately "Temple on the Hill" capitol building


Tipsoo Lake mirrors the snowy bulk of Mount Rainier. The active volcano centers a national park replete with flowery subalpine meadows and old growth forests.

West Virginia

West Virginia's New River Gorge Bridge was the world's longest steel-arch bridge (Shanghai's Lupu Bridge took the title in 2003). It opens to pedestrians once each year on "Bridge Day."


Badger State farmlands dominate the dairy industry—ranking at or near the top in production of American milk, butter and cheese. Such products are heartily enjoyed by the many Wisconsinites of Scandinavian and German descent.


The Teton Range is a rugged 40-mile-long mountain front towering some 6,000 feet above the valley floor. The area is arguably the center of American alpinism.

U.S. Cities

For a sprawling city with the nation’s ninth-largest metro area, Atlanta is surprisingly lush with trees—magnolias, dogwoods, Southern pines, and magnificent oaks. Its mix of antebellum architecture and sexy glass high-rises reflects the paradox of the place; Atlanta is an ever-evolving city, honing her identity as she grows. Though steeped in Civil War history and a devotion to Southern hospitality, Atlanta is also a hotbed of upscale shopping, creative cuisine, and an exploding arts scene. Locals are passionate about college and professional sports, but also about foie gras, collard greens, and pecan pie. Neighborhoods like trendy Virginia-Highland and upscale Buckhead share cultural space with alternative Little Five Points and East Atlanta Village. The heart of the southeast has a captivating intersection of liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites. New attractions—the Georgia Aquarium, Atlantic Station, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, and the recently redeveloped World of Coca-Cola—show that Atlanta, ever re-defining itself, has no plans to rest on its laurels.


Poet Carl Sandburg immortalized Chicago as the “City of the Big Shoulders,” paying tribute to Chicago’s formative brawn. The self-made, industrious town rebuilt after a devastating 1871 fire, nurturing new styles of architecture and distinct flare for innovation. A green apron of lakefront parks buffers the city’s 29 miles (47 kilometers) of Lake Michigan shoreline from which 77 neighborhoods unfurl westward spanning the downtown Loop, the elegant Gold Coast, the bohemian Wicker Park, and deep ethnic pockets such as Chinatown. The combination of grit and grandeur here is somehow purely American. Loving Chicago, said author Nelson Algren, is “like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.”

Big D, as Dallas has been called for half a century, was built in the 19th century on the fruits of oil and cattle businesses, making it a comparatively young city. Dallas owes its boom in recent decades to the banking, electronics, fashion, and motion picture industries, and it’s not shy about strutting its glitzy stuff, either. You’ll readily find this giant on the plains of North Texas a place that loves to have fun, what with serving as birthplace to the frozen margarita machine and boasting more shopping centers than any other urban American center. Now the ninth-largest city in the nation, it flings its arms north toward Oklahoma, east to Louisiana, south toward the fabled Texas Hill Country, and westward toward Fort Worth, the other half of the metropolis called the Metroplex. Although there is a burgeoning light rail system called DART and the city’s center offers a few places to get around on foot, you’ll need wheels to fully explore this Texas sprawl.

Las Vegas

Believe it or not, Las Vegas is almost all grown up. Gone are the days when dingy casinos, cheap steaks, penny slot machines, and topless shows were all “Sin City” offered. They say, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But you don’t need an alibi—or an excuse—to visit one of the country’s fastest growing metropolitan areas. Even for those who don’t gamble, this artificial desert oasis whimsically caters to all tastes, with outrageous nightclubs, luxuriant spas, superstar chefs’ restaurants, bling-bling boutiques, skyscraping thrill rides, and even educational museums and wildlife preserves. The Strip featuring glam casino resorts is the city’s spine, while old-school downtown still captures a vintage Vegas vibe.

Los Angeles

“Welcome to the Jungle,” famously sang the band Guns N' Roses. Situated on a wide, dry plain speckled with canyons, mountains, rivers, and beaches, vast and beautiful Los Angeles, California, is anything but a jungle in topography. And even though some jungle-like qualities can emerge, such as during rush hour on the 405, to a visitor the city is a sunny, friendly place, filled with its own rich lore—stories that range from the days of the Spanish missions to the latest gossip about Hollywood stars. History oozes from the streets and buildings of L.A. All you need do is look around and listen.

New York

Everything changes in New York, and nothing does. Maestros still wield batons at Carnegie Hall, and lunch at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal is always a good time. You can’t find a cab in the rain, but you can always get a bagel with a schmear. Yet the city that never sleeps keeps evolving. Plays open and close. Restaurants come and go. New neighborhoods blossom. In Chelsea, the old Barneys store is now the new Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art. High-heeled fashionistas have replaced white-aproned butchers in the Meatpacking District. Such churn keeps the more than 8,200,000 New Yorkers on their toes even as it makes them appreciate the old favorites all the more. New York remains one helluva town.


Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag in Philadelphia. Today the city is a rich and diverse quilt bringing together 152 distinct neighborhoods, weaving the silks of Society Hill, the blue collars of Fishtown, and the tweeds of Chestnut Hill with the sequins and feathers of the Mummers, who strut down Broad Street in a traditional New Year’s extravaganza. Visitors expect to find history here and they do, at such landmarks as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the house where Betsy Ross stitched the original stars and stripes. In recent years, a vibrant tapestry of restaurants, art, and entertainment has unfurled in yuppified Manayunk, up-and-coming Northern Liberties, and Center City, the beating heart of downtown.

San Diego
The first European settlement on the West Coast, now America’s eighth-largest city, San Diego no longer chooses to be defined solely by 70 miles (112 kilometers) of beaches, supreme weather, a forward-leaning zoo, or its naval history. Though denizens still cling to a pair of flip-flops, in the past decade the city’s economy has been boosted by biotech and telecom industries—the influx of high-paying jobs produced an incursion of talent and fresh perspective, allowing the city to blossom culturally, with money filtering into the arts and helping the dining scene flourish. Downtown’s revitalization has been most dramatic, originating in the Gaslamp Quarter, followed by a new ballpark in 2004 and block after block of restaurants, hotels, and condos, turning the city into a major convention destination. But the city’s finest asset, its outdoor recreation areas, thrive close by and are a top attraction for those who invest the time to discover them.

San Francisco

A mosaic of colorful, distinctive neighborhoods, San Francisco, California, is a city of trend-setting high fashion and famous postcard views. Within this seven-by-seven-mile metropolis—which perches on a peninsula amid 43 hills—you’ll find ethnic enclaves such as the Mission District, leafy parks like the Presidio and Golden Gate, tony residential areas such as Nob Hill, and the gleaming office towers of the Financial District. Over the years, this supremely tolerant city has welcomed the Irish, Latinos, Chinese, hippies, gays, and dot-commers. “It’s an odd thing,” said Oscar Wilde, “but anyone who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco.”


Nestled between Puget Sound and Lake Washington and bordered by the snow-capped Olympic and volcanic Cascade Mountains, Seattle offers a wealth of outdoor adventures, from kayaking to rock climbing. But this fleece-loving city that launched the grunge music movement and a national espresso craze is no backwater. Home to innovative companies including Amazon.com and Microsoft, Seattle supports world-class cultural institutions—the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet—and award-winning theater troupes. And with distinctive neighborhoods on seven hills, the Emerald City boasts diverse attractions, from Old West saloons and high-tech hotels to trendy boutiques and a 100-year-old public farmer’s market.

United States Features
1 Video: Hawai’i
Beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, and a rich, diverse culture make Hawai’i a visitors’ paradise

2 Alaska

Katmai National Park and Preserve is home to more than 2,000 brown bears. In July and September they are often seen feasting on the world's largest sockeye salmon run.

Alaska Information and History

In 1867 Secretary of State William H. Seward paid Russia 7.2 million dollars for a huge region derided as "Seward's Icebox." Today this land of overwhelming beauty, abundant resources, and few people is a battleground between conservationists and energy and mining interests. More than a third of the mineral-rich state is forested; a quarter is set aside as parks, refuges, and wilderness. Fisheries teem with salmon, halibut, and shellfish. Alaska natives, who number some 100,000, administer 13 regional corporations established under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Industry: petroleum products, state and local government, services, trade, federal government.
Agriculture: shellfish, seafood, nursery stock, vegetables, dairy products, feed crops.

3 Video: Black Canyon
Overshadowed by its more famous cousin, Grand Canyon, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park holds rare sights for a lucky few visitors.

4 Places of a Lifetime: Washington, D.C.
Today’s Washington is a capital of interconnected neighborhoods and identities, a quixotic place of grand boulevards and marbled monuments.

Designed by an idealistic Frenchman, constructed (largely by slave labor) upon dredged marshland, named for a fledgling nation’s founding father, and established as the seat of the U.S. government, Washington, D.C., is a fitting Main Street for an upstart nation. Today’s Washington is a capital of interconnected neighborhoods and identities, a quixotic place of grand boulevards and marbled monuments seaming into age-worn cobblestone streets and gossiping-on-the-front-stoop neighborliness. At the heart of this so-called “capital of the free world” is a small town far more romantic than most politicians would admit.

5 Hallowed Ground

The Nation's Cemetery
No land in America is more sacred than the square mile of Arlington National Cemetery.

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