Many people have a list of places they’d like to visit before they move on to the next world; here are a few American suggestions of my own.
For conversation’s sake, I have avoided the obvious targets, but a stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge or a trip up the Empire State Building is still definitely worth it.
Though we are lucky to live in a beautiful country, I have mostly focused on smaller, manmade sites, simply because a catalog of pretty American places could stretch on forever.
This list is admittedly subjective, but comes from 30 years of professional wandering. Some places are more well-known than others, but all share a sense of tranquility and wonder.
And since I review small boutique hotels for a living, I have included nearby recommended places to stay. Happy travels!
1. San Francisco de Asis Church, Rancho de Taos, N.M.
Famously painted by Georgia O’Keefe and described by her as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards,” this handsome adobe mission a few miles outside of Taos Pueblo yokes together a staggering five centuries of North American history.
Harper hotel: Casa de las Chimeneas, Taos.
2. Whaling Museum, Nantucket, Mass.
At its whaling peak during the first half of the 19th century, the small island of Nantucket had 88 ships scattered across the oceans. The Whaling Museum is wonderfully evocative of this era (plenty of scrimshaw and rusty harpoons), and out-of-season Nantucket Town, with its Greek Revival mansions and cobblestone streets, is equally enchanting.
Harper hotel: The Wauwinet.
3. Battery District, Charleston, S.C.
The historic Battery District of Charleston, South Carolina, home to dozens of stately antebellum mansions, is one of the prettiest U.S. neighborhoods I’ve ever explored. Follow the promenade along the shores of the Charleston peninsula; Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, sits broodingly across the Cooper River.
Harper hotel: Planters Inn.
4. Madison Valley, Montana
Montana’s Madison Valley, which runs between the Madison and Gallatin ranges down to West Yellowstone, is magnificent Lewis and Clark territory. This is unspoiled land, vast and uncompromising — everything you hope Big Sky Country will look like.
Harper hotel: The Lodge at Sun Ranch.
5. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Housed in a charming Venetian-style palazzo, this gem of a gallery displays works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Whistler and Sargent. It’s small enough to tour in an hour or so, and you can spend the rest of your time enjoying the sunny, flower-filled courtyard. And if your name happens to be Isabella, you get in free.
Harper hotel: XV Beacon.
6. The Four Seasons Restaurant, New York City
If you had to choose only one restaurant in New York City to visit, this would be the one. The city’s prettiest dining room was designed by architects Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, and astutely hasn’t been touched since its introduction in 1959. The Pool Room is a study in muted sophistication, despite some of the outsized egos at the tables.
Harper hotel: The Lowell.
7. The Rothko Chapel, Houston
This small, non-denominational chapel located just off the Menil gallery in Houston’s Museum District seems unassuming at first, but spend some time surrounded by the 14 mysterious paintings by Mark Rothko, and it may start sinking into your skin.
Harper hotel: St. Regis.
8. The Huntington Gardens, San Marino, Calif.
Huntington did quite well in railroads, and he’s left us with a wonderful afternoon escape just outside of Los Angeles. After admiring some of the spoils of his industry — a Gutenberg Bible, a Shakespeare folio, Thomas Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” — venture out into the superb botanical gardens, home to dozens of unique environments: an almost eerily authentic Japanese garden, a lily pond straight out of a Monet painting, and an entrancing collection of cacti.
Harper hotel: Hotel Bel-Air.
9. Robie House (Frank Lloyd Wright, Chicago)
The Robie House, the world’s first modern home, was designed in 1908 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and still seems startlingly contemporary 100 years later; with its broad horizontal lines and sleek art-glass windows, it looks like a modernist yacht. Wright himself showed up to protest the planned demolition of the house (it was to be replaced by a seminary dormitory) at the ripe old age of 90.
Harper hotel: Four Seasons.
10. The Oregon Coast
Highway 101 along the Oregon Coast swerves through 360 miles of jagged cliffs, rocky outcrops, sweeping dunes and temperate rain forests. The coastline lacks deep harbors, so there are no large cities here — just old logging towns, fishing villages and the occasional artist colony. And the entire coast is public land, which makes for excellent picnic opportunities in rugged and remote spaces.
Harper hotel: The Stephanie Inn, Cannon Beach