The United States of America is a large country in North America, often referred to as “the USA”, “the U.S.”, “the United States”, “the United States of America”, “the States”, or simply “America”. Home to the world’s third-largest population, with over 318 million people, it includes both densely populated cities with sprawling suburbs and vast, uninhabited natural areas.
With its history of mass immigration dating from the 17th century, it is a “melting pot” of cultures from around the world and plays a dominant role in the world’s cultural landscape. It’s home to a wide array of popular tourist destinations, ranging from the skyscrapers of Manhattan and Chicago to the natural wonders of Yellowstone and Alaska, to the warm, sunny beaches of Florida and Hawaii and the deserts of Arizona.
The climate of the continental United States varies considerably across the country due to differences in latitude and various geographic features.
The Southern and South Central portions of the country contain a variety of humid subtropical climates, for which the northernmost terminus is around the Ohio river and environs. This area of the United States has long, hot, humid summers and mild to cool winters on average. The Entire eastern half of the United States often succumbs to very hot weather during the summer with high humidity. In the southern portions of the southern states, a number of tropical-transitional climates are found, with Florida and southern Texas hosting a variety of tropical climates. The Midwest region hosts a variety of climates, from humid subtropical in the southern regions, to a warm temperate regime in the central portions, and a humid continental regimes in the more northerly areas of the region. The entire region is susceptible to extensive amount of very hot, humid weather, and more northerly regions of the Midwest often succumb to bitterly cold temperatures in the winter.
The Plains states range from humid subtropical in swathes of Kansas and Oklahoma, to warm temperate in most of Nebraska and areas of South Dakota, to a rather harsh humid continental climate in parts of South Dakota and much of North Dakota. All border semi-arid and near desert climates that often get searingly hot and alternate between dry and humid for much of the year
The west is largely very hot with mostly mild winters, until you get to the northern mountain regions, where, primarily due to elevation, a variety of colder highland climates exist. Most of the region consists of extremely hot or warm arid climates, with very mild to cool winters. This is an extremely rugged, mountainous region. The west coast contains a variety of hot Mediterranean climates, as well as cooler subtypes of this climate, and an oceanic maritime climate in the northwestern regions. The west coast also contains a variety of subtropical and tropical transitional climes. Parts of Arizona and New Mexico have a monsoon season which lasts from June to September. Frequent training thunderstorms often occur in this area during the summer, which can result in flooding. Dust storms can also occur, caused by downdrafts of a decaying thunderstorm.
Florida contains a variety of tropical climates, with frequent thunderstorms and very high humidity. The climate nears the humid subtropical regime of the rest of the United States the further north in the state you travel. The humid subtropical climate regime is the predominant climate regime of the United States.
The Great Plains are notorious for their tornado season, which lasts from March to June. These severe weather outbreaks can also cause very large hail, damaging winds, and flooding. Severe weather in the Great Plains is often forecast days in advance by meteorologists and reported by local news stations via TV and social media.
Hawaii has a variety of tropical climates.
Central and northern Alaska features subarctic and arctic climates with short mild summers and long very cold winters.
The least variation of climate in the continental United States occurs during the summer, when much of the nation is warm to hot, with average highs from 80/90 F (27-32°C) weather, often reaching 100 F for many days at a time throughout many regions of the country. Desert valleys in the Western United States often see the highest temperatures in the nation, along with many days and sometimes weeks of very dry weather. San Francisco and coastal Washington have the coolest summers in the Western United States excluding alpine regions of eastern California and Colorado. The greatest difference in climate from region to region occurs during the winter season, which is mainly December to February, when temperatures can range from below 0 degrees (-18°C) in the Northern Great Plains, to a much milder 75 (24°C) in the southern regions of the country. Long stretches of below freezing temperatures are common during the winter season across the Northern Midwest and Northern Northeast, getting milder as you travel south, therefore, travelers should prepare to dress accordingly: American weather can be violent and unpredictable
The United States is composed of 50 states, various overseas territories, as well as the city of Washington, D.C., a federal district and the nation’s capital. Below is a grouping of these states into regions, from the Atlantic to the Pacific:
|New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont)|
Home to gabled churches, rustic antiques, and steeped in American history, New England offers beaches, spectacular seafood, rugged mountains, frequent winter snows, beautiful fall foliage, and some of the nation’s oldest cities and towns, in a territory small enough to tour (hastily) in a week. Gilded age mansions, fishing towns, and gothic university campuses adorn the south of the region, whereas the north is dotted with vast mountain wilderness, ski resorts, and cute cabin retreats. The small town environments have managed to maintain a large degree of autonomy for centuries.
|Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)|
Ranging from New York in the north to Washington, D.C., the Mid-Atlantic is home to some of the nation’s most densely populated cities, as well as historic sites, limestone and karst features, montane forest, the New Jersey Pine Barrens and swamps, the Lehigh Valley, the Adirondack and Catskill mountains (in which lie the Finger Lakes, a popular vacation destination and viticultural region), an array of floristically beautiful marshland, the Hogwartsian splendor of West Point Academy amidst the Hudson Highlands, Niagara Falls, and seaside resorts like the Long Island beaches and the Jersey Shore boardwalk, as well as the Victorian quaintness of Cape May and the mobster-haven of days past and current gambling mecca, Atlantic City. Bridging New England and the steamy South, the Mid-Atlantic includes some of the most cosmopolitan areas in the world, as well as small enclaves of American history and natural beauty, including lush river passes, hills, and mountains for activities like hiking and white water rafting. The climate is humid subtropical, albeit with cooler winters than in the south.
South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky,
Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia)
Florida, hosting a variety of tropical climates, is a vacationers paradise, and a popular destination for celebrities, retirees, and spring breakers alike. Here, you’ll find resort destinations, stately homes, blue spring waters, and giant theme parks in the central portion, and white sand beaches on both coasts. Southern Florida and Caribbean-influenced Miami and Key West is home to tropical rainforests and savannas, barrier islands, and warm sandy beaches, while northern Florida is much like the rest of the south, with old, colonial Spanish St. Augustine being a cultural centerpiece of the region. An extremely popular tourist attraction, Florida includes some of the nicest attractions that the United States has to offer and is conveniently located in the Caribbean, facilitating travel to exotic islands. Florida’s collection of tropical jungles, old military forts, space age history and launch sites, blue waters, old and new cities, coral reefs, and exotic wildlife are sure to excite any vacationer.
Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota,
Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin)
The second biggest state in the nation is like a separate country (and in fact, briefly was), with strong cultural influences from its Spanish and Mexican past (with notable German and Czech influences in the northern and Hill Country regions). The state is also a nexus of Southwestern and Southern cultures. The state has a number of notable cities, including San Antonio, with it’s picturesque river walk and old Mexican history, Dallas and Houston, both broad shouldered, sprawling metropolises with gleaming skylines, and Austin, a quirky alternative haven with a countercultural streak. The terrain ranges from southeastern subtropical jungles, sinkholes, and savannas, to the cattle-ranching, ruggedly hilly and river canyon-marked South Plains, to the sandy beaches, tropical flora, and Mexican flavor of South Texas, to the forested mountains, canyons, and hot deserts of West Texas. Explore a mangrove forest, climb a rugged mountain while glaring at alien flora and fauna, unearth Native American artifacts, descend slowly down a river amidst soaring canyon walls, taste the fine wines of the Llano Estacado, familiarize yourself with the medieval character of the Spanish missions (including the Alamo), sample sumptuous Texas barbecue or Tex-Mex cuisine, or lay back on a sun-soaked beach.
|Great Plains (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma)|
Travel westward through this large expanse of steppe and savanna biology, from the edge of the eastern forests, the bordering metropolis of Kansas City, and the Ozark and Ouachita mountains, through the prairies and onto the High Plains, an enormous expanse of steppes (short grass prairies) running all the way west to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, nearly as desolate as in the frontier days. Explore the lunar-like badlands, get comfortable in a wild-west town in the middle of the Black Hills mountain range, behold mountain-side cliff carvings such as Mount Rushmore and Sitting Bull, climb the otherworldly red mesas of Oklahoma, gaze at the bizarre chalk and sandstone formations from Kansas to Nebraska, discover oddities such as grass covered and bright orange sand dunes, chase after animals such as rattlesnakes, coyotes, prairie dogs, and pronghorn antelope, or witness some of the wildest, most dangerous, and most beautiful weather spectacles in the world on a storm chasing tour. The region has down home barbecue, old cattle towns, Native American culture and casinos, as well as a landscape that ranges from surprisingly rugged and breath-takingly harsh, to relaxingly placid and genteel.
|Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)|
The spectacular snow-covered Rockies offer hiking, rafting, and excellent snow skiing as well as deserts, subtropical lowlands, continental highlands, regions of Mediterranean chaparral, wine country, world-class national parks, opportunities to spot megafauna, and some large cities, including the Marijuana and craft-brew haven of Denver, and the luxury options available in glitzy Aspen, among many other famous ski towns and resort areas. The region offers a number of cultural experiences, most notably, the world famous Telluride and Sundance film festivals. This is one of the highest altitude regions on earth, situated atop the vast Colorado plateau. Tourist cities include some of the nicest amenities for hundreds of miles, and some parts of the Rockies are virtually untouched by man – but you can still find villages and towns in all sorts of styles, including old west, native, colonial Spanish, and mountain Swiss. Hot springs, hanging lakes, geysers and geothermal features, glaciers, ancient Native American cliff palaces, red deserts, huge sand dunes, canyons, warmer getaway destinations, these mountain states have it all.
|Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah)|
Heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture, this area is home to some of the nation’s most spectacular natural attractions and some flourishing artistic communities. Although mostly empty, the region’s hot deserts have some of the nation’s largest cities built to embrace the harsh environment, such as Phoenix and college town Tucson, as well as ski-resort Flagstaff, and Sedona, a gorgeous spiritual retreat amidst the red rocks. Las Vegas is a giant resort city home to gambling and shows. Additionally, a strong Native American influence can be felt throughout as this region includes many large reservations and sovereign territorial lands. The food of the region is spicy, and the region is notable for Chile growing in New Mexico. Utah has a number of fascinating sites and cities as the world center of the Mormon religion, giving rise to some palatial cathedrals. The alien landscape of the southwest looks as if it were mars, the creatures that inhabit this region, large and small, are vicious and fascinating, and with endless amounts of soaring canyons, meteor craters, canyon-side cliff dwellings, salt flats and a giant salt lake, white gypsum sand dunes, calderas, extinct volcanoes, ghost towns, lush desert oases, and giant mountains to explore, this region is sure to entertain for days.
Like the Southwest, California has a history under Spanish and Mexican rule and is heavily influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture in addition to massive immigration from around the world. An outdoorsy, health-oriented culture defines the Californian lifestyle. California offers world-class cities, towns rife with Italianate and Mediterranean style architecture, deserts, rainforests, the rugged Channel Islands, world-famous vineyards, including the storied wine country of Sonoma and Napa Valley, geothermal features, picturesque Mediterranean coastlines, pinnacles, chemical lakes, snowy mountains, salt flats, beautiful beaches, and the tallest forests in the world. Northern California (above the San Francisco Bay Area) and Southern California (below the San Francisco Bay Area) are culturally distinct, with Northern California taking cues from the Pacific Northwest, and Southern California taking cultural elements from adjacent Mexico.
|Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon)|
The Pacific Northwest offers outdoor pursuits as well as cosmopolitan cities, including cutting-edge Seattle, a technology hub with a famously vibrant music scene. The terrain ranges from spectacular temperate rain forests, to scenic mountains and volcanoes, to fjords, to Mediterranean-type beaches and coastline, and to sage-covered steppes and deserts replete with psychedelic landscapes of colored badlands and painted hills. The Pacific Northwest prides itself on it’s social progressivism and environmentalism, and the region is rife with opportunities to live out more alternative lifestyles. In minutes, you can travel from a high-tech metropolis to a thick forest or a mountaintop.
One-fifth as large as the rest of the United States, Alaska reaches well into the Arctic, and features desolate wilderness consisting of giant mountains (some of the largest in the world), old Russian heritage, river basins, arctic sand dunes, tundra, massive glaciers, landscapes of ice caves and massive snow. The state has a rich and diverse tapestry of native cultures including Yupik, Inupiat, Tlingit and others. Around 15% of the residents are of native origin.
A volcanic archipelago in the tropical Pacific, 2,300 miles south west of California (the nearest state), laid-back Hawaii is a vacation paradise, as a haven for surfers, U.S. military personnel, volcanologists, and geologists. The state has a notable Asian population that exerts significant influence over the culture of the islands. With beautiful cliffs, canyons, volcanoes, jungles, waterfalls, and beaches with multicolored sand, its definitely a place to unwind, attend a Luau, or join the youthful hula dancers and longboarders in their recreational pursuits. The indigenous Polynesian population are known for being accommodating and fun-loving.
The United States has over 10,000 incorporated cities, towns, and villages. The following is a list of a few major cities that are the most popular. Other cities can be found in their corresponding regions.
- Atlanta – The modern city of the “new south”, Atlanta has powerful Civil War and civil rights-era history to learn from. It was the host city of the 1996 Summer Olympics, and is home to a vibrant art and music scene, particularly as the current epicenter of the world famous hip-hop music culture, and the former home of a vibrant alternative rock music scene.
- Boston – best known for its colonial history and quaint architecture, its passion for sports, and it’s old Irish and Italian heritages. It boasts many renowned universities and is a hub for medicine, scientific research, and the biotechnology industry.
- Charleston – an old colonial city on the South Carolina coast best known for it’s history of slavery and piracy. Known for it’s colorful architecture, it’s strong military tradition, old forts, low country cuisine, and a number of gorgeous old estates and plantation homes.
- Chicago – the country’s third largest city (though still known as “the Second City”), heart of the Midwest and transportation hub of the nation, with massive, ornate early skyscrapers and other architectural gems abutting one of the vast blue great lakes.
- Honolulu – capital city of the state of Hawaii, located on the island of Oahu, this glitzy city on an island has a royal palace within it, and is a popular resort destination with warm sandy beaches, high-end shopping opportunities, nearby tropical rainforests, mountains, and clear blue waters.
- Las Vegas – gambling resort city in the Nevada desert, home to over half of the top 20 biggest hotels in the world; popular for its casinos, shows and extravagant nightlife, as well as it’s surrounding desert wildlife and topography, consisting of red rocks and a palm-tree oasis. The extravagant display of neon is reason alone to check out this monument to sin – the city is nicknamed sin city, after all.
- Los Angeles – the country’s second largest city, home of the film industry, musicians, artists, and surfers, with beautiful mild weather, great natural beauty from mountains to beaches, and endless stretches of boardwalks, skate parks, world-famous shopping districts, and chaparral.
- Miami – attracts sun-seeking northerners, and home to a rich, vibrant, Latin-influenced culture, situated adjacent to tropical wilderness and white sand beaches. Known for it’s distinct Floribbean cuisine and many world-famous nightclubs.
- New Orleans – “The Big Easy” is the birthplace of Jazz, and is known for its quaint French Quarter, delicious Cajun and Creole food, humid subtropical gardens and natural landscape, and a raucous annual Mardi Gras carnival. Having a distinctly Caribbean character, New Orleans is the center of a distinct Afro-European creole culture.
- New York City – the country’s largest city, as well as one of the world’s premiere cities, often described as the capital of the world, home of the financial services and media industries, with world-class cuisine, arts, architecture, and shopping.
- San Francisco – the City by the Bay, featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, vibrant urban neighborhoods, unique Victorian buildings, tall cliffs, LGBT culture, strong Chinese heritage, and dramatic fog. Known as the birthplace of 1960s counterculture, it was the home of the hippie subculture, and a vibrant psychedelic rock music scene.
- Washington, D.C. – the current national capital, filled with major museums and monuments, epic neo-classical architecture, along with multi-cultural communities and historic neighborhoods and suburban main streets.
These are some of the largest and most famous destinations outside of major cities:
- Denali National Park — a remote national park featuring North America’s highest peak
- Grand Canyon — the world’s longest and most visited canyon
- Mesa Verde National Park — well-preserved Pueblo cliff dwellings
- Mount Rushmore — the iconic memorial of 4 former presidents carved into a cliff face
- Niagara Falls — massive waterfalls straddling the border with Canada
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park — national park in the southern Appalachians
- Walt Disney World — the most popular vacation resort destination in the world
- Yellowstone National Park — the first national park in the US and home of the Old Faithful geyser
- Yosemite National Park — home of El Capitan and the famous Giant Sequoia trees
Generally, you must be 25 or older to rent a car without restrictions or special charges. Rental car agencies in some states may be able to rent a vehicle to drivers as young as 21, but may impose a hefty surcharge. The states of New York and Michigan have laws forcing rental car agencies to rent to drivers as young as 18.
Virtually every car from every rental agency in the U.S. runs on unleaded gasoline and has an automatic transmission. Renting a car usually costs anywhere from $20 and $100 per day for a basic sedan, depending on the type of car and location, with some discounts for week-long rentals.
Major car rental agencies found in nearly all cities are Alamo +1 877 222-9075; Atlanticchoice +1 800 756 3930; Avis +1 800 230 4898; Budget (+1 800 527 0700); Dollar  (+1 800 800 4000); Enterprise Rent-A-Car  (+1 800 RENT-A-CAR); Hertz  (+1 800 230 4898); National  (+1 877 222 9058); and Thrifty  (+1 800 847 4389)