When it comes to scenery in the West, the hyperbole is usually on point. Awesome. Epic. Once-in-a-lifetime. But what gives Western views extra punch? The sounds of adventure – woosh. splash. clink. – rippling across the landscape. Surfers, kayakers and beachcombers flock to the Western coastline, which stretches from sunny San Diego to the bluffs of central California and on to the rocky, mood-filled beaches of Oregon and Washington. Red rocks, plunging gorges and prickly-pear deserts lure hikers and cyclists to the Southwest and the Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, in the Rockies, the snowcapped peaks offer some of the world's best skiing and snowboarding.
Fish tacos in San Diego, Sonoran dogs in Tucson, trout and bison in the Rockies, green and red chiles in New Mexico and wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Regional specialties are as diverse as the landscapes. One commonality? Chefs and consumers alike are focusing on fresh and locally grown food, a locavore trend that started in the West. This eco-consciousness has also been embraced by wine producers, who are increasingly implementing organic and biodynamic growing principles. And speaking of winemaking, Napa and Sonoma now share the spotlight with Washington, Oregon and central California.
Western cities have distinct personalities. In California there's the hey-bro friendliness of San Diego, the Hollywood flash of Los Angeles and silicon-meets-bohemian in San Francisco. Further north in Seattle, cutting-edge joins homegrown, often over a cup of joe. Rootsy vibes and outdoor fun pair in Denver, while patio preening and spa pampering give Phoenix a strangely compelling spoiled-girl vibe. Artsy, historic Santa Fe is a world unto itself. And then there's Vegas, a glitzy neon playground where you can get hitched in the Elvis Chapel, spend your honeymoon in Paris and then bet the mortgage – all in the very same weekend.
Museums? Save 'em for later. First you'll want to climb a wooden ladder into a cliff dwelling, poke around the ruins of a Pony Express station, or simply join the congregation inside a 1700s Spanish mission. What else is there to explore in the West? Crumbling forts and trading posts. Abandoned ghost towns. Adobe pueblos. A former Titan Missile silo and the town that didn't exist – that's where the A-bomb was designed. Petroglyphs etched onto boulders and cliff faces. Wander historic sites like these for up-close and evocative links to the region's rich, multilayered past.