Posts Tagged With: Alaska

Mike’s Top 10 Must-See Cities In The United States

Mike's must-see U.S. cities


I have been to most of the 50 states that comprise the United States of America – 49 of them to be exact – with Alaska the only one I’m yet to visit. I missed dozens of chances to visit Alaska when I lived in the state of Oregon, from which there were several daily flights to Alaska. So now Alaska tops my list of places I must visit in the United States. I will get there in due course.

Because of my having been to 49 of the 50 states, I am often asked which is my favorite or which ones are worth a visit. My simple answer is all of them – every state has something unique to offer. Some states, of course, have more to see and do than others and even more important, some welcome tourists and outsiders with open arms. In other words, the people are super friendly and welcoming.

The second question I get asked most is which American cities are the best to visit. Again, every city is different. But I do have my own Top 10 list of favorite U.S. cities and I often suggest they are not to be missed. Since everybody from Lonely Planet to  Conde Nast have been producing lists of places to visit, why not me? 🙂 So here’s my list, of Top 10 U.S. cities to visit, in order of which you should try to visit first. I have spent a great deal of time in all these cities, and so I know them from fairly to very well. (click on the links on the corresponding links for more about each city). So drum roll, the cities in the United States not to be missed are:

New York, New York: So nice, they named it twice

New York, New York: So nice, they named it twice

1.  New York  – New York City is the largest city in the United States – with 8 million people chasing after something. It is my hometown, so you might say I am biased in my assessment of New York being the greatest city on Earth. I have been to cities large and small on every continent (except Australia – getting there!) and I am yet to experience a city like New York. Paris may be the most visited city on Earth but it does not hold a candle to New York and what New York offers. New York is indeed a city that never sleeps. You can do anything you want in New York at any time of day or night: Feel like going to a party at 10 in the morning? There’s one just getting started. Feeling sick from all that alcohol you’ve consumed? There’s a 24-hour drug store. Had a fight with your girlfriend at 2 in the morning and want to buy her flowers at 3 a.m.? There’s the florist selling flowers at that hour. Feel like breakfast at any hour of the day? You got it. Want to see a show? No problem. On and on. The city brims with excitement. And there’s so much free stuff happening in the city, it’s amusing to me that people say New York is expensive. It is to tourists who don’t do their homework – or know a local connected and in-the-know. The excitement from people chasing after something in New York indeed never stops.

2.  Washington, D.C. – The nation’s capital, it’s packed with things to see and do year-round. Washington boasts monuments that are a must-see; cool neighborhoods with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes; and like New York, people from all over the world. It is also the nerve center of politics. Your embassy is highly likely somewhere in Washington. As a teenager, I spent summers  in Washington, staying with an uncle and other relatives who live there. And as an adult, there always seemed a reason to return to Washington, either for work or for pleasure, sometimes both.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

3.  San Francisco – One of America’s most beautiful cities. Also one of its most progressive and easy-going. It’s home to the famed Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars that roll along its hilly streets.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

This city by the bay is definitely my favorite in terms of the cool, kick back, light ’em up vibe. Not far from the city you can see giant sequoia trees, trees so massive in size they boggle the mind. I always enjoy getting back to San Francisco, but mostly in summer as the city tends to be foggy and damp and cold come winter.

4.  Chicago – I used to go to Chicago only for conferences or other job-related reasons. Then during one of those conventions, I decided to stick around and actually see the city. It was summer and so I rented a bicycle and off I went. That’s when I gained a real appreciation for Chicago. Lots of outdoor activities, the lakefront beaches, the thriving neighborhoods; a bustling center, great restaurants! Once, I even decided to spend a winter in Chicago for the sheer experience. The Windy City lived up to its reputation, with temperatures dropping to below freezing and lots of snow falling and I loved it. Bundle up in winter and you should be fine. There are enough cafes to keep you warm. Take a trip to the top of what until recently was the tallest building in the United States – the Willis Tower – for spectacular views.

My kind of town...Chicago!

My kind of town…Chicago!

5.  Seattle – I will never forget this: I was driving from Vancouver, Canada, back to Portland, Oregon, and when I reached Seattle at a point on Interstate 5, my jaw dropped. Before me was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen: The City of Seattle. It was striking, with snow-blanketed volcanoes looming large, the harbor, the gleaming buildings, the city lights. I felt as if I needed to share this picturesque moment with someone, so I got on the phone and called my friend Teresa to describe what I was seeing. Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, is a great city with lots of indoor and outdoor activities. It’s just a few hours drive to Vancouver, Canada, and a pleasant ferry ride to Victoria, Canada. It’s home to many hi-tech companies, including the behemoth Microsoft. The people of Seattle, as Pacific Northwestern folk tend to be, are among the most friendly and helpful and polite in the United States. Bring your walking shoes and take a trip into the woods or up a mountain. Mount Rainier is mesmerizing – an active volcano so close to the city – is worth seeing.



6.  Portland – Ah, Portland. No, not Portland, Maine, but Portland, Oregon. This city is the most civil I’ve ever lived in in the United States, though some complain it has changed somewhat with the influx of the not-so-civil Californians 🙂 Still, Portland is a well-run city, a mini version of Seattle. Portland is also neighborhoods with shops and cafes.

Downtown Portland

Downtown Portland

Coffee fuels this town (as it does Seattle). And microbreweries. The city has a thriving nightlife, and a healthy rotation of monthly happenings. During the Rose Festival the city is even more alive. Have a stroll along Waterfront Park, or take a drive to Multnomah Falls for  a nice hike. The city blends urban and nature well, with the largest urban forest in the United States, Forrest Park. I love Portland. I spent nearly 10 years living there and will always consider it my second hometown. On clear days, stare at Mount Hood. Everyone does.

7.  Miami – Oh Miami. First of all, let’s get one thing straight: There is Miami and there is Miami Beach. The two are different cities that tend to be lumped together, but they couldn’t  be more different. One – Miami Beach – is on a barrier island where the famed South Beach is located. Miami – the larger – is on the mainland and home to Little Havana and Little Haiti. Together, they are one gigantic thriving metropolis focused on fun, fun, fun. People come here for the weather, the beaches, the parties, the nightlife. You come to Miami/Miami Beach to let the good times roll. Miami/Miami Beach is definitely a playground for grown ups, with exposed hot bods everywhere. Try to connect with a local to find the bargains or learn where the best places are to not overspend. Drinks here are outrageously expensive, if you don’t know where to look. Enjoy the sun! And bring your Spanish to this heavily Latin city. It helps.

8.  New Orleans – Let’s not talk about New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Wow-wee! Suffice to say it’s an anything goes, alcohol-fueled, sexy party. The French Quarter is where it all happens. There’s great music here, including some of the best jazz you’ll ever hear. And the food is uniquely New Orleans. Gumbo, anyone?  I love the architecture in the French Quarter. And the uninhibited nature of things. I think I’ve seen it all here. If The United States had an Amsterdam, New Orleans would be it. Or would that be San Francisco? 🙂

The madness of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter

The madness of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter

9.  San Diego – A quick dash to Tijuana on the Mexican border, San Diego is a nice city with nice weather and perhaps some of the nicest people in California. I’ve made several trips here and I always felt relaxed in the city. It doesn’t have that hustle and bustle that other U.S. cities have. Or at least I’ve never sensed it. Come enjoy its beaches, its restaurants and its chilled nightlife. One of the few places in the United States you can actually swim in the Pacific Ocean and not feel you will freeze to death.

10. Los Angeles – Okay, anybody who knows me knows that I have little love for Los Angeles. It’s my least favorite large cities in the United States. I’ve never been impressed with the city, with its congested highways and smoggy air. Take away Hollywood and L.A. is even less impressive. But one year I saw L.A. with locals and I was more in tune with the city that I had ever been. There were a few cool bars without the pretentiousness that permeates this city. And I actually felt a new appreciation for the city. But it remains low on my list but still worth a visit because, after all, how can you deny Venice Beach? Or Santa Monica? Or several other sites and sounds of the city worth experiencing. Just good luck getting there with the traffic.

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Something To Think About

Randy Brameier lived 13,904 days. He died 14 years ago at age 38. Diabetes gradually overtook him.

He was a friend and colleague. We would leave the office at least twice a day to go on “jaunts” to buy coffee and snacks or lunch, but the underlying purpose of our walks was to talk about and clear our minds of the insane things we had been working on that particular day as news reporters in New Jersey shore (United States) towns with ample crazy news. Randy had his serious side, but also a great sense of humor and he could make light of a bad situation like no other. We would laugh when we really should have been shaking our fists and cursing the planets.

“What we have is a failure to communicate,” was his favorite saying around the office. It seemed our bosses were always failing to communicate. Randy used the “failure to communicate” line in the face of challenge and adversity brought on indeed by a failure to communicate. After so many failures by the head office, what else was there to do but make light of the repeated missteps.

As I’ve stated here before, hours and hours spent traveling on a bus leads to hours upon hours thinking about the mundane, but sometimes about life. What should I do? Where should I go? Should I return home to find another job in journalism? Should I settle down? Should I just plain settle? Am I doing the right thing? Should that guy really be wearing yellow? Questions, questions.

When I recently saw the above poster on the Internet as I sat on a bus at work picking up a weak wi-fi signal, Randy came rushing back into my brain. As if it were yesterday I could hear him saying his classic failure to communicate line. Made me smile. But then I paused to examine the content of the poster, oddly placed on some Malaysian website written entirely in Malay except for the words on the poster: “Your Failures Do Not Define You.”

I’m not sure Randy would have run with this particular mantra. He was too much of a wisecrack to go around reciting such hefty prose. But then the whole notion of failures in life hurled my cluttered brain toward a conversation-turned-debate I had earlier in the week with a friend.

We were chatting via Skype. When we began to discuss turning points in our lives, I didn’t think it would be such a big deal when I told her “I love my life.” Her expression quickly changed and she responded that it was alright to love my life, but to voice that sentiment was not okay. She argued that it amounted to crass bragging and was insensitive to others whose lives aren’t going so well. Ohhh-kaaay!

I don’t claim to be Mr. Sensitivity, but I’m far from insensitive when it comes to the downtrodden. Been there myself, after all. I know a thing or two about being down and out. But how is expressing one’s happiness wrong?

After a volley of exchanges on the subject we agreed to disagree and moved on. (Hmmm…maybe I should have said I hate my life and gone for the sympathy).

In life we are pleased when we are doing what makes us happy. One of the things that makes me extremely happy is travel. My love of travel came at a very young age. I was always drawn to maps and could study them for hours. Geography was my favorite subject. It still is.

So now that I am fulfilling one of my life’s dreams – to travel around the world – I can truly say I love my life. Not that I didn’t love it before. I’ve been blessed with experiences few can claim: Visits to all but one of the U.S. states – Alaska get ready for the celebration of my arrival – travel to all but two continents – Australia and MAYBE Antarctica here I come. Meeting some incredible people worldwide, with more ahead.

Now I realize that there are countless others who would love to do what I’m doing, at least so they tell me, but because of circumstance and happenstance they can’t – or won’t.

Randy’s life was short. Jon Chamber’s life was short. Gayle Westry’s life was much too short. The list of peers who have died young is too long. Their brief time on Earth serve as a reminder that life is too short and there’s much to be seen and to be done. Follow your heart. If you like to cook, cook. If you like to climb, climb. Fulfill your dreams! A don’t fail at communicating to yourself and to others what makes you angry, sad, but above all, happy. And recognize that indeed your failures do not define you. Dust yourself off and next time around do for you that which makes you stand up and say I LOVE MY LIFE!  There is no greater feeling.

For me, it’s the love of travel. Or a simple matter of remembering an old friend.


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