Travel Guide: Eastern United States
By Lance Tinton | Submitted On May 25, 2015
In our guide, we'll cover some of the best examples of where to go in the Eastern US; hitting up cities, historical sites, parks, beaches, and more as we make our way down the coast. A lot of the joy in exploring the United States comes from simply driving through, stopping in lesser known towns and cities and making your own experience. We can't truly capture that here, but these are the places that you have to make a point of stopping in whether you're on a road trip or just flying in.
This is the United States, so we already know the transportation network is comprehensive. Interstate highways make it easy to tackle long trips. I-95 specifically runs down from Maine to Florida and can be used as the main thoroughfare for the East Coast. Of course you always have the option to fly direct into your chosen city and travel cheaply by air within the US. In the Northeast Corridor, travel by train is a viable option with Amtrak servicing Washington DC, New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia fairly comprehensively.
Pretty simple; the further south you go, the warmer it gets. New England and New York experience much of the same weather we get up in Ontario or Quebec, so be careful when taking a long road trip through the north during the winter. As you move down the coast, the weather gets warmer year round until you reach Miami. Keep in mind that Florida and the South can be very humid in the summer.
Where to go in the Eastern US?
It's very close and an easy first stop on any US getaway or road trip. As the birthplace of America, New England is full of history but the natural beauty of the region is arguably an even bigger draw. There's a lot you can see here, so we'll just mention a few places.
The largest state in New England, Maine, features a long, rocky coastline and a wild interior, making it one of the go-to destinations for outdoors types. Acadia National Park, small fishing villages, and the best lobster you'll ever have - Maine offers a chance to get away from it all. If you do crave civilization however, the vibrant city of Portland and popular Old Orchard Beach will hit the spot.
It might be the only state in New England without an ocean coastline, but Vermont more than makes up for it with a gorgeous, rustic interior. Covered bridges, the changing colour of the leaves in fall, and the Green Mountains themselves lend the state a distinct feel and culture. Still, arguably the main reason to visit is for the skiing and snowboarding during the winter, with the state offering the best selection in eastern North America. Major ski resorts include Killington, Jay Peak, Okemo, and many more. There's also a large craft beer market, with loads of different tastes and flavours on offer throughout the state.
The White Mountains in New Hampshire is a great place to visit for hikers, adventurers, and sightseers. The Presidential Range is at the heart, with Mount Washington the most famous (and tallest) mountain in the east. It is infamous for its inclement weather and held the record for fastest wind speed in the world for 76 years. Still, if you can make it to the top on a good day (either by driving, under your own power, or via the famous cog railway), you'll be treated to spectacular views and bragging rights.
You can't visit New England without a stop in Boston. Despite not being that large (24th in the US), Boston has a very big city feel to it. From its famous sports teams to its history as the 'Cradle of Liberty', Boston has always been at the forefront of America. With a great music scene, tons of bars (Irish and sports bar alike), and historical sights such as the Bunker Hill Monument; Boston is a city that deserves to be experienced.
Lastly, be sure to stop by historic Cape Cod (about an hour and half from Boston) to check out one of the top tourist destinations in the Northeast. Boating, fishing, beaches, and a long history of maritime culture make Cape Cod the quintessential ocean getaway in the region. Camp out, stay in one of the quaint towns, or check out one of the many tourist centres; Cape Cod has it all.
New York City
There's no world where New York wouldn't make it on a list of places to see in the US (let alone just the East). It's the biggest city in the country and probably the most important single city in the world. That may sound like hyperbole, but when you're walking through Midtown Manhattan you'll get the same feeling. There's plenty to see and do here. Of course, there are the famous sights such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park, and the new One World Trade Centre but much of the joy will come from exploring the various neighbourhoods and different cultures. Centuries of immigration have turned New York into one of the most diverse cities on earth, making sure there is something for everyone. One thing to keep in mind though, New York can be a very expensive city to visit, so definitely save a bit of cash. Still, there's no better city in which to lose yourself and New York will continue to capture the hearts and minds of visitors and residents alike for decades to come.
While it can often be overlooked due to its proximity to New York, Philadelphia is no slouch itself - it's the 5th largest city in the country. Philly offers a more authentic East Coast city experience, with revitalized regions helping to make it a very livable place. Besides a bustling cultural scene (from music to the arts), Philadelphia, the first capital of the fledgling United States, is home to many famous historical sights and experiences. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are the most well known but many others are worth a look, such as the Franklin Institute (a science museum). While it might not have the allure of New York or Boston, Philadelphia is a worthwhile stop as you make your way down the coast.
No trip down the East Coast is complete without a stop in the nation's capital. Using the (surprisingly large) National Mall as a starting point, you can visit many of the landmarks, buildings, and monuments made famous by countless movies and news reports. The Mall stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capital, with the imposing Washington Monument occupying the centre. Nearby you can find loads of other government offices and buildings, including the most famous house in the world. There's tons of museums to see here, many of them part of the renowned Smithsonian (which are all free). Realistically, there are too many iconic sights to list here but take some time to explore them yourself!
This group of three communities in Virginia offers a great window into the history of colonial and revolutionary America. There's Jamestown, which was the first permanent English settlement in the New World (dating back to 1607). Williamsburg became the capital of Virginia in 1699 (though it would later be moved to Richmond) and grew into an important hotbed of the revolution. Finally, Yorktown was the site of the British surrender to George Washington by General Cornwallis in 1781. You can take a free shuttle between the three, but if you only have time for one stop - make it Colonial Williamsburg. The historic district of the city has been turned into a living museum, and offers a peek into American history from pre-Revolution days onward. Nearby, the capital Richmond has a wealth of historic sites including 'the White House of the Confederacy'. Norfolk, on the coast, is also home to the largest naval base in the world, while nearby Virginia Beach's sunny shores are popular with locals and tourists. Assateague, an island in the Chesapeake Bay, is home to world famous wild horses.
Moving further down the coast, we find ourselves in another city where the past comes to life, this time in Georgia. Savannah is well known for a great number of historical buildings, cobblestone streets, and lush, green parks. Wandering the streets will give you a taste of Southern culture and hospitality in the best possible setting. Visit one of many mansions found throughout the city, take a peek at old warehouses, and be sure to venture down to the waterfront. While the history of the city is enough to bring in tourists, there is a different side to Savannah after the sun goes down. With bars, clubs, and more, the city has no problem dropping the refined exterior to let loose with reckless abandon.
Miami and The Keys
After passing through the state of Florida (which includes Orlando's Disney World and the Everglades) and finally making it to the southern tip, you'll be treated to a city like no other. Miami has a very different feel from the rest of Florida with a huge Hispanic population adding to the cultural makeup of the city (there's actually a Spanish-speaking majority here). Miami is a beautiful and warm city, whose attractive face lends well to the loads of movies and TV shows set there. From Miami Beach to the world famous bars and nightclubs, the area has earned its reputation as one of the globes best party destinations (just know that it often won't come cheap). Not far from Miami lie the Keys, an archipelago that divides the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Mangroves, beaches, and the party atmosphere of Key West especially are all reasons you have to check them out if you've made it this far.
Yes, this isn't a state but it's still part of the US, is geographically 'east', and absolutely worth a visit. The capital and largest city, San Juan, offers an eye-catching mix of the historical (numerous military forts along the coast), the distinctly Spanish or Latin American (the multicoloured Mediterranean style architecture and cuisine), and the modern. A territory of the US since Spain ceded it to them following the Spanish-American War in 1898, Puerto Rico is in the unique position of a Latin American destination that is still considered American. There's plenty more to see on the island, from the beautiful beaches Culebra and Vieques to the jungle and waterfalls of El Yunque.
US Virgin Islands
To the east of Puerto Rico lies another crown jewel in American territorial possessions - the US Virgin Islands. Across the islands, you can get a taste of West Indies culture from the gorgeous white sand beaches, vibrant communities, and famous rum making. There are many minor islands but three mains ones that are usually visited. The busiest is Saint Thomas since it serves as the gateway for both flights and cruise ships. The island is heavily commercialized between the cruise ships and resorts but that doesn't take away from the warm, clear waters and great food. Plus, the distinctive hills and cliffs make quite the first impression. Nearby lies the less travelled Saint John. Since the majority of the island is a protected park, the tourist trappings are much fewer here. Hiking and some of the best snorkeling you can find make this arguably the ideal island for a much more low-key experience. Lastly, Saint Croix (by far the largest island) is well known for its forests, cliffs, mountains, hundred-year-old forts, and rum making.
How much does it cost?
There's no easy answer to this question. Even getting to the United States will vary considerably depending on if you're driving or flying in. If you fly from Pearson, you can sometimes get round trip flights to Boston in the $250-$400 Canadian range, depending on what airline you are taking and when you plan on going. With other destinations, prices will fluctuate as well. Be sure to do your research before you book anything, as there are TONS of options available. If you don't want to fly in, driving and busing are both viable options that could potentially save you money.
Once you're in the United States, daily expenses can range from pretty expensive to very cheap. An average day's budget could run up to $260 with $128 for accommodation and $47 for food. However, while prices like this might be common in cities, you can definitely get by with closer to $100 or even $50 a day if you're frugal. It all depends on what you're doing. Spending a weekend in Miami? You'll probably blow through a lot of cash. If you're taking a road trip or camping out in Acadia, there's the potential to save big. Be warned though, with the current strong US dollar, expect to spend slightly more than you would normally.
Health and Safety
As you know, the United States is a safe country for the most part. There is no nationwide advisory in effect and normal security procedures are recommended throughout according to the Canadian government. Obviously, there are areas of certain cities that are more dangerous but this is all on a case-by-case basis. Violent crime is generally more common in the US than in Canada, so definitely know your area of the city before you start walking around. One specific thing to watch out for is an increase in break-ins (particularly cars), assaults, and pickpocketing around Miami. Use caution within the city and at the airport and make sure your belongings are secure.
All in all, there shouldn't be anything standing in the way of a great trip to the Eastern United States. Use your best judgment and you should be fine. As most of you should know what to expect from the US by now, we don't need to go into much more detail.