Itinerary Ideas for First-Timers to the United States- East Coast

As an American who has visited all but 8 of the states in the United States, take it from me, the US is a huge country. The entire continent of Europe is roughly the same size as the United States, to put things into perspective. Imagine driving from one end of Europe to the other end or even half of Europe in a week or two. That’s crazy, right? But yet some people come to the United States for the first time with the intention to drive across the United States, only to wind up spending most of their time in the car. There’s got to be a better way.

Here are some of my recommendations for a week-long itinerary in the United States, east coast only. If you have more than a week, add on days to either or both destination, according to your interests.

1) For the city-lover:  begin in New York City. With a population of over 8.6 million people, New York City is definitely a city with a lot to do and see. I’m not going to give recommendations for things to do and see in New York City, but I recommend staying here 4 or 5 days, depending on what you want to see and do. The noise and traffic can be a bit much for some people, so if you know you prefer to move on to a smaller area, I’d cut the time spent in New York to 3 days but wouldn’t go any less than that.

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Statue of Liberty- book your ticket several months in advance if you want to go to the top!

If you are a history buff, you can fly, drive a rental car, or take a train to Washington, D.C. There is an Amtrak train that will get you there in an hour less than it takes to drive (3 hours via train vs. 4 hours driving) and flying isn’t any faster, so I would recommend taking the train. Parking in both New York City and Washington, D.C. is expensive and difficult to find, not to mention the headache of simply driving in these hugely congested areas.

I suggest spending 2 or 3 days in Washington, D.C. As in New York City, public transportation is the best way to get around. The metro in Washington, D.C. can take you to the Smithsonian museums quickly and easily. I highly recommend spending time at the Smithsonian Museums, which are made up of 19 museums, galleries, gardens, and a zoo, all of which offer free admission. There are of course also the monuments and memorials you can admire on the National Mall. Most of the monuments and memorials are free or have a nominal fee. Check online to see if you need a ticket and if so buy it in advance.

2) For the history and nature-lover:  begin in Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is considerably smaller both in land mass and population than New York City and may be an easier transition for some people, especially those that don’t like large crowds. Boston has around 700,000 people but still has plenty to do and is also a great choice if you enjoy history. Again, I would recommend just using public transportation and walking to get around Boston. Although you could easily spend more time in Boston, 3 days would be a good amount to see the highlights.

From Boston, rent a car and drive up the coast to Maine. It’s a pretty long drive, at about 4 hours, 45 minutes. If you want to break up the drive, stop at Portland and spend the night here. Portland is full of great restaurants and nice places to stay. Your ultimate destination will be Bar Harbor, home to Acadia National Park. You could easily spend a week just in Acadia National Park, but if you’re only spending a week total in the US, you’ll have about 4 days here if you spend 3 days in Boston. You could also fly from Boston to Bar Harbor in about an hour, but honestly, the drive along the coast from Boston is worth it in my opinion.

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The beautiful coastline of Maine

3) For a beach experience and party scene:  fly into Miami, Florida. Miami is famous for its beautiful beaches, great food, and bar scene. If you like to hang out at the beach all day and party all night, Miami is the spot for you. Everglades National Park is also nearby if you want to take a ride through the Everglades in an airboat for a unique experience. Spend 5 days in Miami before heading to your next destination, Key West.

Key West is about 3 1/2 hours by car from Miami, although it could take longer if you stop at the many other little “keys” along the way. You can fly from Miami to Key West in 45 minutes if you are in a hurry, but if you want a memorable road trip, drive the Overseas Highway across a 113-mile chain of coral and limestone islands connected by 42 bridges, one of them seven miles long. Key West has a laid-back kind of feel, which may be a relief after the more upbeat party scene of Miami. Chill at the beaches and bars in Key West for 2 days before heading back home.

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One of many gorgeous sunsets we saw while in the keys!

4) To skip the bigger cities for a smaller-town feel:  fly into Atlanta, Georgia. Although Atlanta is a fun town and you could spend a few days here, for your first time to the United States, I suggest renting a car and driving the roughly 4 1/2 hours to Charleston, South Carolina. You could also fly into Charleston but flights from Europe will be cheaper if you fly into Atlanta. If you don’t have a driver’s license or can’t rent a car, by all means fly into Charleston instead. Charleston has consistently ranked number one city by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, and for good reason. Charleston is a foodie destination, has beautiful beaches with soft, powder-fine sand, is full of historical sites, and has quaint bed & breakfasts as well as the usual hotels and Airbnb offerings. Spend 5 days in Charleston before moving on to your next destination, Savannah, Georgia.

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Powder white, soft sandy beach in the Charleston area

It’s about a 2 hour drive from Charleston to Savannah. To me, Savannah is like the little sister to Charleston, in many ways. Savannah is a foodie destination, has beautiful beaches at Tybee Island, has many fun historical sites, all of which Charleston has, but Savannah hasn’t quite reached the level of “stardom” that Charleston has, for some reason. I suggest spending 2 days in Savannah before heading back and flying back out of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, about 3 1/2 hours away by car.

Those are my top east-coast destinations for first-timers to the United States. There are of course many more but I had to draw the line somewhere!

What about my American east-coasters? What east coast travel destinations would you recommend to first-timers coming to the US?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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My First Visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Museum

Although I’ve been to New York City many times over the years, I had never been to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island Museum until recently. Various reasons come to mind as to why I never went to either place before.  On my first visit to New York City I had the intention of going but just missed the last ferry there (this was well before the 911 tragedy so you could just walk up to the ferry terminal, pay, and get on a ferry if there was space). On subsequent visits to the city, either there wasn’t time to see the statue or there were no slots available for the pedestal or crown online when I tried to buy tickets.

When I was planning things to do for a racecation to Morristown, New Jersey where I was going to be running a half marathon in my 40th state, I was happy to find out I could take a ferry from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. I immediately booked our tickets. Even though tickets to the crown were sold out five months in advance, I was able to get tickets to the pedestal so I was grateful to at least get that.

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The day of our tour, it was hot and sticky.  We had tickets for 10:00 in the morning so we left our hotel room with the intention of getting at Liberty State Park between 30 minutes and one hour in advance, depending on traffic. When we got there, we had to stand in a long line to go through security screening so it was good we had allotted plenty of extra time.

Finally we boarded the boat and took the short ride to Ellis Island Museum. You have the option of staying on the boat and just going straight to the Statue of Liberty or spending some time at the museum before heading to the statue. We like museums so we got off and spent some time exploring all three floors.

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Ellis Island Museum is full of photos and stories from immigrants seeking a better life in America. There are artifacts including clothing, books, and other personal items many people took with them for the long journey from their home countries. You can walk through the steps the immigrants had to go through upon their arrival at Ellis Island. You can see the sleeping areas, rooms for health inspections, a room that looked like a court room, and others. Audio tours are also available in nine languages.

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As I said earlier, we ended up going through all three floors of the museum. We also had lunch at the cafe, which was over-priced but the food was pretty good at least. The day we were there it seemed like just about half the school kids in the area must have been there on a school field trip so it was crazy busy but maybe it’s always like that. We spent a couple of hours here before we went outside to wait for the ferry for the Statue of Liberty.

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When you see the Statue of Liberty from a distance it seems much smaller than it really is. Finally, we got off the ferry and walked around the base of the statue. If you can’t get tickets for the pedestal or crown, you can walk around the base. It’s beautiful to just walk around and admire the views. A word of warning, though if you don’t like crowds. The ferries are crowded, Ellis Island Museum is crowded, and walking around the base of the statue is crowded. The crowds thinned out in a few places around the pedestal but that’s it.

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The views of the Manhattan skyline and the water surrounding the statue were nice. We got a ton of photos from the pedestal. I’m sure the views are even better from the crown. Next time I’ll just have to get tickets at least six months in advance for the crown or figure out when the off-season is, if there is such a thing. I’m glad I finally got to visit Ellis Island Museum and the Statue of Liberty. It was a fun and history-filled day!

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There are many options for tickets through Statue Cruises but all include the ferry from either Battery Park in New York or Liberty State Park in New Jersey and all tours include access to Ellis Island Museum and an audio tour. Prices increase for crown, pedestal, or hard-hat areas. Book as far in advance as you can because spaces especially for the crown are limited and sell out months in advance.

More information can be found on the National Park Service page here.

Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon, New York- 30th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New York was my 30th state.

A funny thing happened to me on my way to the Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon. Only it wasn’t really funny but at least now I can look back at it and while I’m not laughing at least I’m not as upset as I was then.

So first the drama that happened on the way to the race and then the specifics.  My husband, daughter, and I took a taxi to the race start and when I got in I told the driver we were going to the National Tennis Center (our hotel was nearby also in Queens so I knew it should only be short ride).  He nodded his head and we took off.  After about 10 minutes I realized he was circling around Corona Park, where the National Tennis Center is, but it was obvious he didn’t know exactly where to go.  I looked at my watch and it was 10 minutes before the race start.  I started to panic as I watched the minutes ticking away and we still weren’t there.  Finally I told my husband I just wanted to get out, so I told the driver to just pull over right where he was and let us out.  I just blindly ran in the direction I thought the race start should be (based on the race website) and made it to the start with a couple of minutes to spare.  I was furious that I was almost late to the race start because the taxi driver didn’t look up the directions and pretended to know where he was going, but I tried to channel that into positive energy and ended up running a good race and enjoying myself.

The state of New York has no shortage of marathons or half marathons.  There are at least two half marathons in every single month of the year and a marathon in every month except four.  This may make it difficult to decide which one to do if you’re only going to run one in each state, like me.  However, I always knew my half marathon in New York would be in New York City.  I had been to New York City before and typically I like to run races in new cities, but honestly, I was just looking for an excuse to go back because I had so much fun the previous times I had been there.

It did occur to me that the weather can be temperamental in New York City in March but I thought I would take a chance and hope for the best.  Fortunately the weather for the race was a bit chilly and windy but at least it didn’t rain so overall it was pretty good.  Later in the afternoon the day of the race, a storm blew in and it was freezing and raining, so things could have been much worse.

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Typically I tend to choose races that are off the beaten path at least a bit and since this race was entirely through Queens and no other boroughs, it gave me a glimpse into another part of New York City I had not experienced previously.  Like most first and even second time visitors to the great city, I had stuck to Manhattan and had not ventured out much beyond that.  This gave me and my family an opportunity to see things such as Flushing Meadows Corona Park, New York Hall of Science, Queens Museum, and Queens Botanical Garden. There’s even a small zoo in Queens although we didn’t go there.

This was my daughter’s first visit to the Big Apple so of course we also went to the Empire State Building, American Girl Doll Store, Metropolitan Museum of Art , Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York Public Library, the iconic American Museum of Natural History (one of my favorites), and the Guggenheim Museum. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a tour to see the Statue of Liberty (I didn’t make reservations far enough in advance) and of course there were other things we missed as well, but we squeezed in as much as we could in a few days after the half marathon- no way I was doing all of that walking before the race.

From my post-race notes:

“Ran through Corona Park in Queens, which is relatively scenic and has a glimpse of Manhattan at one point.  Course had two double loops, was very flat with only “hills” being bridges.  Very good volunteer support along course.  Was very windy and overcast with temps in the low 30’s at start and mid 30’s at finish.  Had been dealing with a strained hamstring which caused back of knee pain in the 2 weeks prior to race, but thanks to a massage 3 days before the race was able to run at good pace with no pain.  Finished in 2:02, my goal time.  HUGE medal, technical shirt, and plenty of post-race snacks and beverages.”

The race for 2016 was cancelled and it’s not clear whether it will be brought back for 2017. However, like I mentioned earlier, there are many others to choose from with more than 10 just in New York City alone throughout the year.

Here is the link to the race series: 13.1 series

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