A couple takes a carriage ride in front of Historic Dock Street Theater, in Charleston, S.C., which consistently tops the list of the nation's best-mannered cities.
By Travel columnist

Boston is a symbol of Yankee industriousness. Charleston, S.C., personifies the Old South. New Orleans harkens back to days of riverboats. Las Vegas is known for gambling and architectural excess. Seattle exudes the nature of the Pacific Northwest.

What do all of these destinations have in common? They are America’s regional cultural capitals — they allow visitors to drench themselves in different American cultures that make the United States unique.

You haven’t seen the USA until you’ve been to these five cultural hotspots:

1. Boston is the cradle of American independence where the first debates and battles of the Revolutionary War were fought. The Old State House where colonists first protested, Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church, and Bunker Hill where the ragtag America army first fought still stand.

Brick townhouses blend with glass skyscrapers and the city’s feel shifts from upscale shops and bistros in Back Bay, to the tranquil Boston Common, to ethnic bustle in the North End and Chinatown.

In the evening enjoy restaurants like the Union Oyster House, where Washington, Ben Franklin and John Adams ate, near Fanuil Hall, and packed cafes in the North End. Nightlife presents music from 60s folk and avant-garde rock to The Boston Pops orchestra and theater.

2. Charleston, S.C., carefully preserves the delicate atmosphere of the Old South. Large sections of downtown have been preserved, little changed from almost a century ago.

The old market is packed with crafts and art. Carriages clatter down cobblestone streets that wind between elegant mansions along the Battery. Meeting, East Bay and King Streets are lined with fashion shops, antique stores and restaurants like 82 Queen Street or Magnolia’s where upscale southern cooking reigns.

Charleston’s skyline is punctuated by dozens of steeples, a result of religious tolerance not found elsewhere in the original colonies. Here, the first theater built in the United States still hosts plays during the Spoleto Festival when music and dance fill the theaters, churches, clubs, parks and streets of this city.

Just outside of the city, many of America’s most beautiful plantations still welcome visitors. Along the coastline long sandy beaches lure bathers and world class golf courses stretch through dunes and forests.

3. New Orleans is the main port of the Mississippi River. Though founded by the French, much of the “Vieux Carré” architecture is Spanish. On these streets French and Spanish cultures first blended with the pioneering American spirit after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

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The heart of New Orleans is the romantic French Quarter filled with preserved period homes surrounded by vibrant city life. Dixieland jazz, rhythm & blues, classical, Cajun and Gospel music pour out of the bars and restaurants lining Bourbon Street.

The Riverwalk links the city with riverboats and barges in the mist of the Mississippi. The rebuilt warehouse district is laced with art galleries, new museums and high-rise hotels and in the Garden District Victorian houses proudly stand.

Enjoy Creole cuisine, a mix of French, Spanish and African flavors. Jambalaya and gumbo reach their perfection here. Dine with the locals at Galatoire’s or Feelings Café d’Aunoy. New Orleans is where Oysters Rockefeller, Bananas Foster and Shrimp Remoulade were first created.

4. Las Vegas has been called an amusement park for adults. Originally built by and for gambling, Las Vegas today works hard to offer something for every member of the family.

Built in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas, Nevada, has grown from a handful of Mafia-owned casinos to become one of America’s premiere tourist destinations. This town proves that exuberance and excess sells time after time.

Luxor and MGM Grand have become virtual living theme parks. Caesars' Palace, The Venetian and Paris provide facades of European towns complete with cobblestones, canals, changing skies, bistros and sidewalk cafes.

Once the land of cheap buffets, Las Vegas now claims some of America’s top chefs. Dine at Fleur de Lys or aim your winnings at Picasso or Hugo’s Cellar. Entertainment here can not be surpassed. The world’s top entertainers — singers, bands, comics, magicians — all regularly appear here.

5. Seattle is a city originally built by the lumber industry and the Alaska gold rush. Today, Seattle has become one of the world centers of the software industry.

Seattle’s landmark Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Pioneer Square is Seattle’s oldest neighborhood and is now a historic district filled with art galleries, restaurants and web development companies. Pike Place Market is the country’s oldest continually operating farmers market filled with sounds and scents from the sea and the Northwest. Seattle’s waterfront, once filled with miners headed to Alaska’s gold rush, is still a great place for fish and chips or smoked salmon.

Seattle is also the birthplace of America’s cafe culture and the new focus on local microbreweries. It enjoys excellent Washington State wines and the cuisine blends the northwest with Asia in creative combinations at popular dining spots like Wild Ginger and Dahlia Lounge.


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