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Cities of the American west

US city break destinations - part 2

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Cities of the American west

all four cities profiled on this page can be reached by direct flights from across the USA and also from Europe, Asia and other parts of the Americas. Other cities in the west that are well served by national and international flights include Denver, Colorado, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

2. From Seattle to Las Vegas - north to south


Old state house
    Seattle, showing the Space Needle, and Mount Rainier in the distance
    Thirteen hundred kilometers north of San Francisco,  and just 200 kilometres as the crow flies from the Candian west coast hub of Vancouver,  Seattle, located on latitude 47.61° north, is the most northerly big city in the USA. But being at or close to sea level, and on the Puget Sound, an inlet off the Pacific coast, Seattle enjoys a temperate climate that is unlike that of the other most northerly cities in the USA, such as Minneapolis or Chicago.
    Climate-wise, Seattle, the largest city in the state of Washington, enjoys average summer and winter temperatures similar to London or Paris.
    Founded in 1851, Seattle, like other western cities, is a city that looks to the present and the future, rather than back to the past.  The Seattle metropolitan area is one of the capitals of the US aerospace industry, being the birthplace of Boeing, and the company's main production site. The city is home to a number of companies whose names are familiar worldwide, notably Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks.
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    Seattle's emblematic monument is the Space Needle. Just as the Eiffel Tower was built as a defining landmark for the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1886, Seattle's Space Needle was built in honor of the World Fair held in the city in 1962 . Almost 200 meters tall, it offers visitors breathtaking views from the glass-floored viewing deck, across the Puget Sound to the west and down to the Cascade Mountains to the southeast. Next to the Space Needle is the unique Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, showcasing the amazing glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly.  
     Immediately accessible from downtown Seattle, the city's waterfront offers beautiful views out over Puget Sound. From the Olympic Sculpture Park in the north, it is just over a mile's walk along the waterfront to the ferry terminal at Colman dock in the south. Visitors can spend a full day or more exploring the waterfront, with its ferris wheel at Pier 57, its ships, the Seattle Aquarium, its boutiques, and the Seattle Art Museum, whose collections cover art, artefacts and sculpture from the USA and around the world, including paintings by Monet, Pissarro, Rubens and Fra Bartolomeo.
    A couple of blocks in from the waterfront is  Pike Place Market - a food, arts and crafts market which is one of the oldest and best-known farmers' markets in the USA . A kilometer inland up Columbia St. stands the  free Frye Art Museum, with its collection of modern and contemporary art from Europe and America.
   Unlike other major US cities, Seattle is visited as much for what is around the city, as for what is in it. Among the city's other distinctive attractions is the Museum of Flight, not surprisingly one of the best air museums in North America, and the world's biggest independent, non-profit air and space museum, located 10 km south of the downtown area.
    Between mountains and sea, Seattle is a hub for excursions into the Cascade Mountains, and most particularly to Mount Rainier, 95 km to the south. Mt. Rainier is the highest peak in the state of Washington, and the most distinctive large mountain in the USA. It is also one of the world's potentially most dangerous volcanoes.

San Francisco

San Francisco
San Francisco is a popular tourist destination for visitors from around the USA and the world. Rich in culture, famed for its steep streets, its iconic Chinatown, its historic streetcars, its vibrant life and its high-tech industries, San Franciscio is one of the most distinctive cities in North America. For details on visiting the city, see ►► San Francisco on About-California.com.
    San Francisco is also a popular starting / finishing point for road trips in the American west.  The most westerly of these is the Pacific Coast route that largely hugs the coastline all the way from near Seattle in the north to San Diego in the south. The northern part of this, from Olympia, the state capital of Washington, to Eureka, is the stunning US 101. From Leggett as far as the Golden Gate Bridge, where it rejoins the 101, the coastal journey is on the no less spectacular California Highway 1.
    The coastal route continues south from San Francisco for about 750 km, mostly on California Route 1, parlly on US 101, as far as Santa Monica (Los Angeles area), via Santa Cruz, Monterey (visit the prestigious aquarium), Big Sur and Santa Barbara.

Los Angeles

(Photo top of page) For most tourists, Los Angeles, the fourth most visited city in the USA,  is synonymous with Hollywood. The home of the US cinematographic industry draws in millions of visitors each year, keen to walk in the steps of the stars, and visit the place where dreams are made.
    Dreams are actually made in many locations in and around  LA. Among the most popular locations are the city's theme parks, Universal Studios in the Burbank area close to Hollywood, and Disneyland in Orange County, to the south.
    Yet LA is not just about movies and theme parks. The city has an impressive collection of top rate world-class museums,in particular the Getty museum and the LA County Museum of Art.
    The Los Angeles Metropolitan Area includes five counties, has a population of nearly 19 million (that's about one and a half times the population of Belgium), and the urban area covers some 5900 lm² (2281 sq.mi.).  The distance between Universal Studios in the north and Disneyland in Anaheim is 65 km. Visitors planning to stay in Los Angeles are advised to remember how extensive this city is.
    For more detail on Los Angeles, see ►► Los Angeles on About-California.com.
    As well as being the start or finish of many a road trip on the US Pacific coast, the Los Angeles coastal suburb of Santa Monica is also the starting point - or historically the end point - of another classic American road trip, Route 66. From LA it is also just a 4 hour drive up the interstate to the next city, Las Vegas.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas
    "Vegas" is the most improbable of American cities. It began life as a railroad stop at a small oasis in the middle of the most inhospitable desert area in the USA. Today it is the sixth most visited city in the USA (just after San Francisco) and the American capital of gambling.
    Gambling, in a word, is why Las Vegas' exists.
    Back in the early 20th century, Las Vegas was just a railroad stop, a one horse town in one of the least populated states in the USA, Nevada. In 1929 the USA fell victim to the Great Depression, and the Stock Market crashed, causing a trail of economic disasters across the nation. With little to attract outside investors or economic activity, the Nevada legislature looked for bright ideas to woo money into the state, and they hit the jackpot.  In 1931 Nevada  became the first state in the USA to legalize gambling; indeed, it remained the only state in the USA where gambling was legal, until the 1970s.
    Gambling had always been a popular but generally illegal activity in mining communities. Nevada's law legalized a already existing practice, that would soon bring in big money from all over the USA, particularly from the neighboring state of California. Initially the Nevada city that benefited most from the legalization of gambling was Reno, in the north of the state. Las Vegas only took off as the gambling capital of Nevada and the USA with the arrival of large numbers of laborers brought into Nevada to work on the nearby Hoover Dam project..
    At the same time, Nevada attracted the attentions of mobsters from the east, who saw in Las Vegas  fabulous opportunities to make money legally as well as illegally. Owning and running clubs in the cities of the east, mobsters also brought in singers and music hall acts to provide entertainment and so bring in more gamblers. The city's reputation was established.
    Today the casinos of Las Vegas are no longer controlled by the Mob; the big attractions are run by large hospitality and entertainment companies. Las Vegas is a popular holiday resort, drawing in ordinary people from all over the USA, hoping to win on the "slots" or on the "tables", and go home millionaires. Some do, most don't. The big winners from Las Vegas's gambling industries are the companies that run the hotels and the casinos, and local budgets.
    If Las Vegas has been so successful, it's because its casinos are for everyone and anyone, not just up-market casinos for gamblers in tuxedos. Casino-hotels offer bargain prices on rooms and eating, just to bring in the customers who will then spend spend and spend on the fruit machines and slots.. And the people come – for the gambling, the shows, and the irreality of it all.
    Central to modern Las Vegas is "the Strip", a palm-tree lined north-south boulevard which is not technically in the Las Vegas city limits, but "is" Las Vegas in popular perception and imagery. Drawing in nearly 40 million visitors each year, the Strip stretches almost 7 km from Mandalay Bay to the Sahara via Venice, Caesar's Palace, Paris and the Eiffel Tower, Luxor, a fantasy medieval castle and dozens more mega hotels and resorts.
    In addition to the casinos and shows, another must-do attraction in Las Vegas is the High Roller observation wheel, which in 2023 was the world's highest functioning ferris wheel, culminating at a height of 167.6 meters (550 ft.). It offes fabulous aerial views of the Strip and of the deserts surrounding the city.
    In addition to leisure tourists, Las Vegas is a very popular spot for business conventions and trade fairs.
    The major attractions in the vicinity of Las Vegas are the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the massive reservoir that backs up behind it in the canyon of the Colorado River. In recent years, leisure activities on the lake have been severely disrupted by falling water levels due to global warming and climate change. The sustainability of human activities in much of Nevada has been brought into question by the increasing scarcity of water in this desert area, and in two years from 2020 to 2022, water levels in Lake Mead dropped by over 45 metres (150 ft). For the time being, Las Vegas is inventing itself as the most ecologically sustainable city in the USA, a city where a massive 40% of all water used - including over 90% or water used indoors - in now recycled; but with a rising population and a hotter and drier climate, the city's long-term future is already being questioned by some.

Back to Part 1.  Eastern USA: From Boston to Miami
Continue to part 3Central USA - From Chicago to New Orleans. 

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Photo credits.
Seattle, by Tom Milcovic
Los Angeles by  Linda Zhang.
Las Vegas by Zzim 780

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