Wham Bam, Thank You Uncle Sam

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America represents such an overwhelmingly vast patchwork of often wildly disparate possibilities for the prospective visitor that deciding where to start really can be an intimidating prospect. In the end it probably comes down to what you want from your visit because this epic nation really does have it all.

The multiplicity of subcultures crammed into this vast land means that even a single state can offer as much variety as some countries can muster in their entirety. Take California, a state which contains within its boundaries such remarkable diversity, both cultural and physical, that a thorough tour taking in everything from the arid deserts of the south to the brisk, verdant terrain bordering Washington State might not feel too dissimilar to a round the world trip.

Weve compiled a summary of three of our favourite cities in the hope of providing some sort of entree into this mind bogglingly varied nation:

San Francisco
There can be few more immediately pleasant cities to visit than San Francisco. With its picturesque bay views (completed, of course, by the imposingly iconic Golden Gate Bridge), its pleasingly relaxed vibe and the fact that, particularly when compared with the inaccessible sprawl of LA, San Fran is surprisingly compact and easy to take in, its not hard to see why Baghdad by the Bay is such a popular tourist destination.

In fact San Francisco is pretty close to being the complete package, combining natural beauty, diverse period architecture, an idiosyncratic cultural scene and an intriguing history, and all with an easy grace that it is hard not to be charmed by. The city is not short of big draws the aforementioned Golden Gate Bridge, the ever popular Alcatraz tours and the tourist magnet that is Fishermans Wharf but once youve got these out of the way youll find that San Franciscos real magic is best experienced away from this altogether too frantic tourist trail.

Think of Miami and one thing inevitably springs to mind partying. And yes, however reductive a summary of this citys many redeeming qualities it may be, there can be no denying that Miami has long been, and continues to be, party central.

Nestled at the south east tip of Florida, Miami is the sun dazed repository for all of Americas most gaudily decadent and downright hedonistic inclinations. There really is nowhere better suited to letting your hair down and revelling amidst a hazily glamorous mirage of cool Art Deco architecture, unabashedly brazen displays of wealth and the feisty rhythms of Latino culture.

Miami is, unapologetically, a good time city and whilst at times the stark juxtaposition of beautiful people spending a lot of money with the genuine poverty that often accompanies recent immigration might be hard to take, thats Miami for you a sultry, vibrant melting pot surrounded by swampland and ocean that might be a bit, well, crazy but remains a vital and utterly unique expression of the American dream.

Washington, DC, the home of US government, is a fascinating city and a must-see for anyone interested in politics and the progenitors of American democracy. Many of the places of interest are free, including what must surely be the first stop for any visitor to DC - the White House. The tours operate every day except Sunday, and bookings must be made well in advance.

The Smithsonian is a remarkable achievement, comprising sixteen museums including the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur and wild animal exhibits are a perennial favourite with children of all ages. As well as free admission, all of the Smithsonian museums are linked to the metro system, ensuring that budget travellers can still have a real experience in the city without spending too much.

The National Zoo is hugely popular with children, and is also linked to the metro. It's newest addition, baby panda cub Tai Shan, is sure to be a huge draw for the Zoo - another attraction which the city offers free of charge. Washington DC offers a genuinely educational experience for all who come to visit.
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