Early in the beginning stages of The Keen Cosmopolitan, I listed all of the states in the U.S. I have visited or lived in, including those I have been to only at the airport on a layover. I am not counting New York as it is my hometown state or New Jersey since I have worked there several times in my workforce career, but there is something in every state that I enjoy, from something simple as the type of houses that dot the waterfront to something complex as the way that state’s transit systems function. Sometimes, I enjoy going to a state to see what my experience will be compared to what you see on TV or in movies. Nevertheless, there are reasons in every state to visit over and over again, for vacation repeats or the discovery of parts that I may have missed the previous time. Note that I am compiling this list regardless of the amount of visits.
Here are my top 5 states in the United States that I have visited:
Seattle. Enough said. The Emerald City. Buses galore, frequent service throughout most of the day on the major avenues such as 2nd, 3rd, and 4th avenues and the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT). Oh, and also the Starbucks chains, including the first one near the Pike Place Market. It’s a beautiful city with hills that rival some of San Francisco’s, a large zero-emission trolleybus network which is being upgraded as we speak, streetcar lines to be completed soon, and views of the mountains and the bay that are second to none. You can go up and down I-5 and see Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Shuksan, all in the same day and without going deep into the Cascade range. Worth mentioning are the close proximity to the Puget Sound nearby, Lake Union and the much larger Lake Washington. If you are an urbanite that loves a taste of nature, this is worth a visit.
Much of the same appeal as Washington State for nature, but there are more hills and tall trees than its northern neighbor. My main allure is Portland, which is dissected by the Willamette River and is close enough to the Columbia River. The best time to see Portland at its prettiest is in the fall, right as the leaves change colors. During the summer, you have green for miles, but during the months of October and November, all of the yellows, oranges, reds, and light browns come into play and dot the landscape. The Willamette isn’t a mighty river or a super-wide river, but crossing any bridge, road or rail, into or out of town will afford the opportunity to see Portland’s grandeur. Their food is excellent, with mostly ingredients found in nearby Tillikum, Multnomah, and Clackamas Counties and recipes local to Portland. I didn’t get a chance to see the food trucks that dot the streets there, since I don’t recall the food truck craze dating back to my 2012 visit. Nevertheless, my next visit to Oregon shall include at least three of the food trucks, comparing them to my experiences in DC and New York.
Maine is very peaceful, but can be very hot during summer months and very wintry during the winter months. Best time to see Maine? Anytime between April and November. The trees that are local to Maine give off wonderful colors, much like Oregon, and the beaches are a great quiet, immaculate alternative to beaches along the Jersey Shore or the Rockaways. Some are private beaches, with exclusive access to nearby residents who aren’t afraid to call the police to remove scofflaws; others are free to roam, not as clean, but still really comfortable to relax. There’s always the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, where I can go back in time and ride (or even operate) vintage streetcars, trolleys, buses, and subway cars from Boston and New York City. No trip to Maine would be complete without a visit to Mulligan’s in nearby Biddeford, with its delicious but totally inexpensive baby back ribs or steak meals that you must eat at the table (no take-out allowed, you might as well go to their competition). You can eat very well and still spend less than $20 for two people. For a more city feel, there’s always Portland, which has a slew of restaurants for your Maine seafood cravings. My experiences in Maine are from Portland south, so I cannot speak for the entire state. However, I keep going back, and thus makes this state part of my top 5 to visit.
What can’t I say about Texas? When I think of Texas, I think of beef, pork, barbecue, cows, cattle ranches, pickup trucks, huge highways, cowboy paraphernalia, and far-out transit networks such as in Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Oh, and also the accents. Especially Black female Texans. I have my spots in Dallas and Fort Worth that I keep going back to for more. Some of the best beef ribs I ever had were in Fort Worth, near the Historic Stockyards, and the best fried chicken in that corner of the country I had the pleasure to eat was just north of Dallas. For excellent Tex-Mex, you have to know the right spots, such as ChaCho’s in the south of Houston. If you are looking for dessert, Amy’s Ice Cream in Austin and Houston is the absolute best, or for low-fat content, Paciugo’s is delectable. For the train aficionados, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has no shortage of trains, from Amtrak to BNSF to Trinity Railway Express (TRE) and the massive DART light rail system. DART takes me to Babe’s Chicken Dinner, while TRE takes me to Risckey’s BBQ Pit and Steakhouse. For bus action, Dallas and Houston have an equal amount, with Houston being better in the Park-and-Ride bus department (with an all-MCI P&R fleet), though Dallas has more local, crosstown, and feeder routes. Texas goes as far as the eye can see, and no matter where you go or how you go, there’s always more to look forward to. Next on my list is San Antonio, for the Alamo, the VIA bus system, and its downtown nightlife.
California. Where do I even start? The beaches, the transportation, the freeways, the palm trees (though really native to Florida, they are plentiful in southern California), the sunsets, the warm weather, the contrast between northern and southern California, the restaurants, the people. I prefer LA or San Diego beaches over San Francisco beaches, though for sights and attractions for the whole family, San Francisco’s got a slight edge. For the rail lovers, northern California has a bit more passenger rail action than southern California, but Los Angeles and surrounding counties have far more freight activity than northern California, unless you count the East Bay (Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley, etc.). For transit bus action, I prefer southern Cali over Northern Cali, due to different liveries, faster buses, better-performing buses, local and limited routes that run on highways more so than in the Bay Area, though the surrounding counties in the Bay Area have much more exciting commuter bus routes that travel through mountains and across the Golden Gate, SF-Oakland Bay, Richmond-San Rafael, and other large bridges. For eats, there is no shortage of locally-known burger joints such as Fattburger and Whataburger or regional chains such as In-n-Out or Jack-in-the-Box. You can also opt for some Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n’ Waffles, or even try West Coast versions of Denny’s or IHOP which are far better quality, IMHO, than on the East Coast. There is no shortage of transit fans and locals who will surely pull out the welcome mat when it comes to great local eats. I miss the days when every vacation week or every other vacation week would be spent in California. I hope to get back into that tradition starting this year. I might, however, make it once a year or every other year, since I have quite a few other states to visit first that I have wanted to visit. Such include Tennessee, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, and Georgia.