Things to do
Arts and music
Mid-size to large cities often draw big ticket concerts, especially in large outdoor amphitheaters. Small towns sometimes host concerts in parks with local or older bands. Other options include music festivals such has San Diego's Street Scene or South by Southwest in Austin. Classical music concerts are held year round and performed by semi-professional and professional symphonies. Boston, for instance, occasionally puts on free concerts in the Public Park. Many cities and regions have unique sounds. Nashville is known as Music City because of the large number of country artists that live in the city. It's home to the Grand Ole Opry, one of the most famous music venues in the country. Country music is popular throughout the U.S. but is particularly concentrated in the South and rural West. Seattle is the home of grunge rock. Many of the most popular bands are based out of Los Angeles due to the large entertainment presence and concentration of record companies.
America is considered to be the spiritual home of musical theater, and many of the world's most famous musicals have had a run on Broadway in New York at one time or another. No trip to New York would be complete without catching at least one musical on Broadway. Alternatively, for those who prefer classical music, the United States is also home to one of the world's premier opera companies, the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Other well-regarded opera companies include the San Francisco Opera in San Francisco and the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Chicago.
In addition to traditional music concerts, a quintessential American experience is the marching band festival. One can find these events almost every weekend between September and Thanksgiving throughout the country and again from March to June in California. Check local event listings and papers to find specifics. Also notable is the Bands of America Grand National Championship held every autumn in Indianapolis. Those looking to see the best of the best should acquire tickets to the "finals" performance, where the ten best bands of the festival compete for the championship. This event is now held at the Lucas Oil Stadium. Both "street" or parade marching bands as well as "field" or show bands are found at almost every high school and university in America.
The United States has a professional league for virtually every sport, including pillow fighting. America's passion for sports is rivaled hardly anywhere in the world, with the leagues with the world's highest attendance both per game (NFL) and total (MLB) and other leagues that are the best and most popular in their respective sport. Watching a game is a good way to meet and interact with the locals. A few of the most popular leagues are:
- MLB. Major League Baseball is very popular and the sport of baseball is often referred to as "America's pastime" (being one of the most widely played in the country). The league has 30 teams (29 in the U.S. and 1 in Canada). The season lasts from April to September with playoff games held in October. With 30 teams playing 162 games per team per season and the cheapest seats usually $10-20, this is possibly the best sporting event for international travelers to watch. There are also several hundred minor league teams scattered across the U.S.; while quality of the games are lower, prices are cheaper (even free in a few leagues).
- NBA. The National Basketball Association is the world's premier men's basketball league and has 30 teams (29 in the U.S. and one in Canada). The season runs from November to April, with playoffs in May–June.
- NFL. The National Football League, with 32 teams (all in the contiguous USA if you don't count the odd London (UK) or Toronto game or the pro-bowl in Hawaii), is the leading promoter of American football in the world, a sport which has virtually nothing in common with the sport that many other countries call [association] football (Americans know that sport as soccer). It developed from rugby football (before that sport was divided into league and union) and still has some things in common with its cousin from England. It is extremely popular, and the day of the championship game, called the Super Bowl, is an unofficial national holiday. Season lasts from September to December, with playoffs in January ending with the Super Bowl in February.
|"Hockey" vs "Ice hockey"|
In most English-speaking countries, "hockey" is used for a game played on grass and "ice hockey" for the one on ice. In North American usage, however, the former is called "field hockey", while "hockey" alone almost always means "ice hockey" (or, rarely, roller hockey).
- NHL. The National Hockey League is the premier ice hockey league in the world, featuring 30 teams (23 in the U.S. and 7 in Canada). Slightly over 50% of players are Canadians, and another 25% Americans, but the league has players from many other parts of the world, mainly the Nordic countries (primarily Sweden and Finland), Russia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Originally in Northern markets, recent expansions have each major region covered with an NHL team. The season runs from October to April, followed by playoffs that culminate in the Stanley Cup Finals in June.
- INDYCAR. Beginning as the original form of American motorsport in 1911 with the first Indianapolis 500. INDYCAR has since come to be the premier open-wheel racing series in North America. The competition in INDYCAR is known to be closer, faster, and far more dangerous than that of NASCAR. Unlike NASCAR which almost exclusively races on "oval" tracks, INDYCAR competes on a wide variety of tracks ranging from city streets, road courses, to ovals like the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana which plays host to a prestigious race, the Indianapolis 500, where speeds can reach up to a thrilling 240 miles per hour! INDYCAR holds races all across the United States, as well as Brazil and Canada, from March to October.
- NASCAR. Viewed by many as a "regional sport" confined to the more rural areas of the South, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has seemingly broken away from those misconceptions over recent years to become a major spectator sport across the country. While a majority of the tracks still reside in the Mid-Atlantic and South, NASCAR holds races all across the country, beginning with their marquee event, the Daytona 500, in mid-February and ending in late November.
- MLS. Major League Soccer, currently with 20 teams (17 in the U.S. and three in Canada) and expanding to 22 in 2017 and at least 23 in 2018 (with all of the new teams in the U.S.), is the latest attempt to kick start American interest in soccer. While it may not be as popular with the media, MLS is still widely viewed and enjoyed. Foreign travelers can find particularly vibrant and familiar fan experiences in several cities, notably Washington, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Portland, and Seattle. MLS is also emerging as a preferred destination for top players from European leagues past their prime towards the end of their careers, with current examples including Didier Drogba, Kaká, and David Villa.
One rare feature of the United States sports landscape, as compared to that of other nations, is the extent to which sports are associated with educational institutions. In many regions of the country, college sports (either local teams, or those of a large state university), especially in football and men's basketball, enjoy followings that rival or surpass those of major professional teams. (In fact, 8 of the 10 largest stadiums in the world — all seating more than 100,000 spectators — are for U.S. college football teams, and the country's largest arena designed specifically for basketball houses a college team.) The primary governing body for U.S. college sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which has over 1,000 member schools, including essentially all of the country's best-known colleges and universities. The college football season runs from roughly September 1 through mid-December, with postseason bowl games running into early January. The college basketball regular season begins in mid-November and ends in late February or early March, followed by conference tournaments and then national post-season tournaments that run through early April. The NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, popularly known as "March Madness" (an NCAA trademark), is especially widely followed even by casual sports fans. Rowing enthusiasts may wish to watch the Harvard-Yale Regatta, a 4-mile long race held in Connecticut every year between the men's coxed eight rowing teams of naturally, Harvard University and Yale University.
The U.S. association of sports with education doesn't stop at colleges and universities. Many communities take great pride in their high school sports teams, and especially in smaller locales, those teams are a major part of local culture. During the school year (August to May), a high school game can be a great (and cheap) way to meet locals and discover the area in a way many visitors never experience. The most popular sports are usually football and boys' basketball (and to a lesser extent girls' basketball), plus hockey in New England and the upper Midwest. In some areas, a particular high school sport enjoys an elevated cultural position. Examples include football in Texas, basketball in Indiana, hockey in Minnesota, and wrestling in Iowa.
The United States is home to many of the world's most famous golf courses. The most famous is arguably the Augusta National Golf Club, where membership is strictly by invitation only and a very exclusive privilege. The Augusta National Golf Club is the home of the Masters, one of the world's most prestigious professional golf tournaments, and also one of the four majors in men's golf. The U.S. is also home to 2 of the other 3 majors in men's golf, namely the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, which rotate between different golf courses in the U.S. every year. Golf is popular both as a participation and spectator sport, and the U.S. supports several major professional tours:
- PGA Tour. The leading men's tour in the world, although the European Tour is very close in level of competition if not in prize money. Tournaments held throughout the U.S., plus stops in Canada and Mexico, as well as The Open Championship in the UK (one of the four "major championships").
- LPGA Tour. Unquestionably the world's top women's tour. Most tournaments (including three of its five major championships) are still held in the U.S., but the tour now has major championships in the UK and France, plus regular stops in the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and several Asian countries.
- PGA Tour Champions. Run by the PGA Tour, this circuit involves golfers 50 and older. Generally, all PGA Tour stars, and many from other world tours, play here from age 50 to roughly 65, unless unable to for health reasons. One of this tour's five major championships is in the UK, and one regular event is in Canada; the rest of the tour takes place in the U.S.
The United States hosts many tennis tournaments in the ATP and WTA tours, with the US Open being the most prestigious among them, and regarded as one of the four Grand Slams. The US Open is held every year from late August to Early September at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City.
The rodeo celebrates the traditions of the Old West, especially in Texas and the Great Plains.
Festivals and fairs
A few days prompt nation-wide celebrations:
- Memorial Day — commemorates the ultimate sacrifice made by America's war dead. It is not to be confused with Veterans Day (11 November) which commemorates the service of America's military veterans, both living and deceased. It is also the unofficial start of summer—expect heavy traffic in popular destinations, especially National Parks and Amusement Parks.
- Independence Day ("Fourth of July" or "July Fourth") — Celebrates America's independence from Great Britain. The day is usually marked by parades, festivals, concerts, outdoor cooking and grilling and firework displays. Almost every town puts on some sort of festivity to celebrate the day. Large cities often have multiple events. Washington, D.C. celebrates the day on the Mall with a parade and a fireworks display against the Washington Monument.
- Labor Day — The U.S. celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September, rather than May 1. Labor Day marks the end of the summer social season. Some places, such as Cincinnati throw parties to celebrate the day.
Other major holidays like Thanksgiving Day are marked largely by private festivities, but they're not devoid of activities either. On Thanksgiving, New York City and Chicago host famously popular parades, Detroit and many other cities hold races, and many other smaller events fill the landscape, naturally including a recreation of the original Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Many towns and/or counties throw fairs to commemorate the establishment of a town or the county with rides, games, and other attractions. All 50 states have one or more state fairs. Originally these were competitions and shows to promote agriculture and livestock; now they include industrial product exhibitions, concerts, and carnival rides and games.
There are numerous national parks throughout the United States, especially the vast interior, which offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy your favorite outdoor activities, including Recreational shooting, ATV riding, hiking, bird watching, prospecting, and horseback riding. In more urban areas, some national parks are centered around historic landmarks.
- National Trails System is a group of twenty-one "National Scenic Trails" and "National Historic Trails" as well as over 1,000 shorter "National Recreation Trails" for a total length of over 50,000 miles. While all are open to hiking, most are also open to mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping and some are even open for ATVs and cars.