Best places to visit in The United StatesThe United States is a large country, the fourth-largest in the world by area after Russia, Canada and China, with a total of 3.6 million square miles of total land area. The country is divided into 50 states of various sizes, ranging from the very large states of Alaska and Texas, with a combined area of approximately 932,000 square miles, to the very small states of Rhode Island and Delaware, with a combined area of only 4,000 square miles. The sizes of the various states, however, do not always correspond to the population. Alaska, for example, the largest state in the country by area, ranks only 48 in population (731,000), while New York, the third most populous state in the union (19.5 million), ranks only 27 in area (55,000 square miles).
Perhaps one of the greatest attributes of the United States is its amazing geographic and climatic diversity, as well as the diversity of its people. The country stretches from its eastern borders along the Atlantic Ocean to the western coastlines of the Pacific, and from the north where it borders Canada to the south where it reaches Mexico and the Gulf. In between are a variety of environments, from barren deserts and rugged mountains, to sweeping prairies and humid rainforests. There is also Hawaii, a tropical paradise located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; and Alaska, an arctic wonderland situated in the far northwest of the North American continent. Collectively these regions play host to one of the most diverse populations in the world, with people who can trace their ancestry back to places in every corner of the earth.
If you plan to visit or relocate to the United States in the near future you’ll no doubt be amazed by the country’s incredible diversity, particularly in terms of climate, culture, population, lifestyle, and the variety of sights and attractions to see. To give you a small taste of what you can expect upon arriving in America, below we have put together a brief profile of two of its most popular, yet very different destinations: the cities of Houston Texas and San Francisco, California.
HoustonFounded on August 30, 1836 by brothers Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen, Houston is the largest city in the U.S. state of Texas, and the fourth most populous city in the nation (after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago). Houston is the largest city and the governmental seat of Harris County. As of the last census, the city had an estimated population of 2.1 million. Moreover, the entire Houston Metropolitan area, known as the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area, or Houston CMSA, had a population of 5.95 million, a 26 percent increase since 2000, making it the 6 largest Metropolitan region in the United States. The Houston CMSA consists of eight counties: Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller. Collectively this region covers an area of 8,778 square miles, an area larger than the entire state of New Jersey.
Houston is located in the southeastern corner of Texas, not far from the Louisiana border. Its official geographic position in terms of latitude and longitude is 29 degrees 45 minutes north and 95 degrees 22 minutes west, respectively. The climate of Houston, which sits at 43 feet above sea level, consists of cool winters and, hot humid summers. This humidity can be largely attributed to Houston’s close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and its climate is shared by a number of neighboring states in the southern region.
Like most of Texas, Houston is known to be a very conservative city, with the majority of its voters opting with Republican candidates in national elections. Its economy is one of the largest in the United States, so large, in fact, that if Houston was an independent nation it would rank as the world’s third-largest economy.
Houston is a very diverse community; a community in which nearly 90 different languages are spoken. In total there are 92 consular offices located within this huge metropolis, the third highest ratio in the nation. The city is home to more than 500 cultural, visual and performing arts organizations, 90 of which are devoted to multicultural and minority arts, and is one of five U.S. cities that offer year-round resident companies in all of the major performing arts.
Houston is one of the most oft-visited cities in the United States, with its three-airport system serving 49.5 million passengers last year alone, including over 7 million international travelers. Each year, millions of people flock to this multi-cultural southern jewel to soak up a bit of Americana and to take part in its many exciting sights and attractions. Houston is home to over 11,000 restaurants, ranging from award-winning five-star eateries to quaint delicatessens. Its theater district is second only to New York, consisting of more than eight performing arts organizations and more than 12,000 seats. The city has a unique museum district offering a wide range of choices, including art and history museums; the Museum of Natural Science; galleries; a children’s museum and several cultural institutions. Collectively, the number of things to do and see in Houston is simply staggering, including the following popular attractions:
Johnson Space Center
For those looking for an authentic behind the scenes look at the inner workings of NASA, the NASA Tram Tour at the Johnson Space Center in Houston is a must-see when visiting this beautiful city. Highlights of the tour include a glimpse into the astronaut training program for the International Space Station, a look at the development of deep-space missions, and some real-life examples of the latest robotic technologies, which are currently playing an important role in the exploration of Mars.
The Downtown Aquarium in Houston is a great destination for family fun and a blast for anyone interested in the colorful and captivating world of the sea. In addition to the hundreds of varieties of marine life on display, visitors can check out the sunken shipwreck exhibit and the tanks filled with red-bellied piranhas, venomous sting rays and sharks. There are also a number of land-based attractions at this fun-filled park, including Ferris wheel rides for the young and the young at heart; a white tiger exhibit; and a rain forest bursting with colorful bird species. There is even a genuine Louisiana-style swamp, complete with alligators, snapping turtles and spotted gar.
The Houston Zoo is one of America’s largest zoos, with more than 4,500 animals across hundreds of different species. From its recently-opened Galapagos tortoise and jaguar exhibits, to its popular red panda display, the Houston Zoo offers hours upon hours of interactive and educational fun. The petting zoo allows children to get up close and personal with a number of barnyard animals and there are dozens of restaurants and snack stands throughout the park with various treats for sale. The zoo also schedules special “Photo Days” throughout the year, where photogs can take advantage of a variety of light, weather and horticultural conditions when snapping their favorite pictures.
San FranciscoSan Francisco is the fourth-largest city in California and is coextensive with San Francisco County. One of the more popular places to visit in the Golden State, it is located in the northern part of the state between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, situated on a narrow arm of land that embraces San Francisco Bay, the largest land-locked harbor in the world.
San Francisco is located on a small seven-by-seven mile (11 x 11 km) square of land at the tip of a peninsula. It has a population of 815,000 in the city alone, but it is also the center of a metropolitan area of 7.1 million. San Francisco is just one of the cities which make up the entire San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco’s neighbors – municipalities to the east of the Bay Bridge, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and south of the city are all part of separate counties, each with their own governments and local public transportation systems.
The roots of San Francisco can be traced back to Nov 7, 1595, when a Franciscan father who was sailing with Sebastián Rodríguez Cermeño named the bay “San Francisco.” In 1776, the Spaniards established a presidio, or military post, and a Franciscan mission on the end of the beautiful peninsula. In the following year, a little town was founded around the mission. It was called Yerba Buena, Spanish for “Good Herb,” because mint grew in abundance there. In 1846, during the Mexican War, Yerba Buena was taken over by the United States. It was renamed San Francisco in 1847 and became incorporated as a city in 1850.
When gold was discovered in California in 1848, the city's population jumped to 10,000, and it experienced turbulent years until order was reestablished by Vigilance Committees, first in 1851, and again in 1856. Then followed a period of more orderly growth, and the foundations of the great commerce and industry of today were laid.
In 1906, San Francisco experienced the United States’ most devastating earthquake, which together with the horrific fire that followed, nearly destroyed the city completely. The city was rapidly rebuilt, however, and grew quickly as a leading transportation, industrial, and cultural center. In the 1800s, the American explorer and soldier John C. Frémont, known as “The Pathfinder,” named the entrance to the San Francisco bay the “Golden Gate,” and years later, the famous bright orange Golden Gate Bridge was dedicated in May 1937.
The port of San Francisco, covering seven and a half miles of waterfront, is a vital part of the economic and cultural fabric of northern California. The port plays host to a wide range of commercial, maritime, and public activities, and its major shipping terminals serve shipping lines from around the world. The electronics and biotechnology industries are also well represented throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area, with nearly 30% of the worldwide biotechnology labor force and 360 biotech firms located in the region. Because of this, the Bay Area has earned the nickname the “Bionic Bay.” San Francisco is also the banking and financial center of the West and is home to a Federal Reserve Bank and a United States Mint. More than 60 foreign banks maintain offices in this very cosmopolitan city.
San Francisco is the centerpiece of California’s Bay Area and is well-known for its (very) liberal community, hilly terrain, Victorian architecture, scenic beauty, summer fog, and great ethnic and cultural diversity. These are just a few of the many aspects of the city that make it one of the most visited cities in the world, with millions of local and international visitors each year. In fact, tourism is one of San Francisco's largest industries and the largest employer of city residents. In 2012 alone, more than 17 million people visited San Francisco, and visitor spending was $7.6 billion, providing 82,000 jobs.
San Francisco is homes to hundreds of interesting sites and attractions, including Fisherman’s Wharf, Hyde Street Pier, Pier 39 and AT&T Park, home of the reigning World Champions of Major League Baseball, the San Francisco Giants. Other popular attractions in the city include:
The Golden Gate Bridge
The vaulting orange arches, amidst the rocky seascape of the San Francisco Bay, have long made the Golden Gate Bridge one of the West Coast's most enduring symbols and the city's most popular tourist attraction. The bridge's name, "Golden Gate" actually refers to the brilliant reflection of the sun upon the bay's inlet -- just west of the bridge -- rather than the bright orange paint that sets it apart from its mundane sister bridge just to the south, the Bay Bridge. The Bridge is accessible all day, every day by bus, car or bicycle. If you plan to drive, parking is convenient and accessible, and costs about $6. Souvenir shops and public restrooms lie on either side of the bridge.
When visiting San Francisco you simply must make time for the tour to Alcatraz Island, where you can pay your respects to one of the world's most infamous prisons. The menacing buildings are no longer in use (its last inmate left in 1963), but thanks in large part to Hollywood films, such as Birdman from Alcatraz, Escape from Alcatraz, and The Rock, Alcatraz Prison remains a popular tourist stop, attracting over a million visitors each year. The audio tour, featuring interviews with former inmates and guards, is powerful, chilling and quite evocative.
The Mission District
San Francisco’s Mission District has long attracted the city’s young bohemian crowd, but that hasn’t prevented it from retaining its authentic, local Mexican roots and ambience. As the place that actually first introduced the burrito, the Mission District is home to scores of Mexican eateries, ranging from fancy sit-down establishments to delicious-hole-in-the-wall taco stands. With dozens of mural-lined streets, bookstores, boutiques and bodegas, the Mission District is a great neighborhood for resting and relaxing and for escaping the heavily visited tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf. For an excellent view of the city, walk to the nearby Bernal Heights Hill, or check out Dolores Park, the most popular spot for sunbathers on a fogless day.