The Best Damn Thing in Every State
In this divided time in America, it's important for us to celebrate the good things. And while we have occasionally been known to tease states for their quirks and shortcomings (and horrifying traditions), it all comes from a place of love.
With pride in our hearts and unity on our minds, we set out to identify the very best thing in each and every of these United States. We're talking about great people, legendary food, singular sporting events, and some of the most breathtaking sights the planet (no full-on cities though, that's just too easy). Hold your head high, America. Yeah, even you Florida… and sorry in advance for teasing you again. Again, it's all love.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide
If you're a fan/Alabaman, then 'Bama's Crimson Tide isn't just a football team. It's a way of life, and the tailgate culture alone is the stuff of legend. If you're not a fan/Alabaman, chances are your football program has been systematically destroyed by the team at some point. Which is to say, the Tide gives everybody an excuse to drink on a Saturday morning. That's worth celebrating, whether you roll with the Tide or get rolled by it.
Alaska: Grizzly bears
Go ahead, name the best animal. If you didn't answer "bear," you answered wrong. And which kind of bear is best? Apologies to The Office, but it's the grizzly bear. You know which state has roughly 20 times more grizzly bears than the rest put together? Alaska. And sure, maybe we're using the grizzly bear as a bit of shorthand representing Alaska's overall untamed majestic wilderness, complete with wolves and moose and (for now) glaciers, but don't complain about that, or you might make the bears angry.
Arizona: The Grand Canyon
While we'll always have a special place for Amy's Baking Co., it's kind of hard to pick anything that isn't the world's greatest, most scenic hole in the ground. Luckily, it's also one of the world's most gorgeous holes in the ground, too, and justification for generations of hostile American family road trips. Many a Griswoldian father has been loathed for dragging his kids to this donkey-infested wonder. And many a nostalgic adult has thanked him for it 10 years later with their own kids packed into a car.
Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park
Sure, the hot springs here have been known to occasionally deliver less-than-pleasant odors, but anyone doubting the significant drawing power of this place should know that it's been a national park since before America even invented national parks -- Congress designated it as federally protected back in 1832. Of course, Native Americans were hip to the rejuvenating powers of the springs long before that, but such is American history. In later years the park area was expanded with miles of scenic trails, in case healing in geothermal baths isn't really your bag.
California: The Pacific Coast Highway
Look, California's big. Really big. From San Diego to Shasta, there's so, so much to see. Luckily, the Cali-spanning PCH happens to be the most scenic stretch of road in the country, and has become the essential road trip if you want to throw the top down and see everything from Malibu to Big Sur, the Redwoods, and beyond. No other stretch of road combines such scenic beauty and pants-shittingly twisty driving with such invigorating delight. It's been immortalized in song, film, TV, books, and everything in between largely because it shows you everything great about the Golden State. Yes, even In-N-Out Burger, which tastes as good among the SoCal bohemians as it does in Steinbeck country.
Colorado: Being high
From the tingling anticipation as you make your way up a ski lift to the rush-off accomplishment as you bag your first 14er, Colorado's incredible topography affords -- oh, OH you thought we meant… well, yeah, sure, there's that, too. Pro tip: Enjoy multiple forms at once at your own risk.
Connecticut: UConn basketball
Many Connecticut sports fans never quite recovered from the loss of the Hartford Whalers, which left the state without any major professional sports teams. Perhaps you're about to get angry because Connecticut DOES have a pro team, the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA. You would be correct in that statement, hypothetical argumentative Connecticut sports fan, but we all know the real reason women's hoops disproportionately thrives there has to do with the spectacular, unparalleled dominance of the UConn basketball team, whose winning streak has climbed past 100 games and is still rolling as of figurative press time. It's enough winning to almost make you bored. Almost.
Oh yeah, and sometimes the men are pretty good, too.
Delaware: Dogfish Head
It's one of the finest, most prolific, most respected craft breweries in the country, from its 90-Minute IPA to its World Wide Stout to its experimental one-offs. Few true craft beers are on as many shelves, and few brewers have turned as many Americans on to the world beyond the fizzy yellow stuff as Sam Calagione while still remaining independent. That, and the only other thing we could think of was "that one joke from Wayne's World."
Florida: The news
There's a lot to celebrate in Florida: the gorgeous beaches, the prime retirement communities, the unique Cuban-American culture, and the Happiest Place on Earth among them. But thanks to the news, Florida remains a constant source of delight for the entire country. From gator-wrestlin' mishaps to strip clubs offering flu shots, naked people getting Tasered, and so, so many insane freeway chases, there's no news like Florida news. Does it contribute to the state getting an unfairly bad rap? Sure. But it sure is nice to look at America's wang and realize life isn't so crazy. Unless you live near the Everglades, in which case, holy shit, life is pretty crazy, and it's about to get crazier when that dude in the gorilla suit pulls up in an ice cream truck/mobile meth lab and asks for a bite of your face. Tune in at 11!
Georgia is the home of fish and grits and all that pimp shit, but looking at the roster of Georgia-bred rappers who have fundamentally changed the course of music over the past few decades (and still continue to do so) shows that Georgia's contribution to music deserves a place alongside Tennessee's. Outkast (reunion, please!), Luda, 2 Chainz, Future, B.o.B, Migos, T.I., CeeLo, Killer Mike, Lil Jon (yeeeeah!), Young Jeezy… if that doesn't say enough, watch two episodes of Atlanta and you'll realize that Georgia's contribution to music culture is so much more than Dirty South. It's a way of life that's proved contagious.
Oh, sure, we could have gone with Tiki drinks, the rich Polynesian culture, the delicious seafood, SPAM musubi, surfing, Don Ho, that big guy who sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with the voice of an angel, or volcanoes. But guess what? All of those things are best enjoyed on any of Hawaii's beaches, all of which could be considered among the world's best. Actually, maybe chill on the SPAM stuff. (Just kidding, it's great.)
Idaho: Lake Coeur d'Alene
What, did you think we were gonna go with potatoes or truck nuts? Lake Coeur d'Alene is one of the most breathtaking mountain lakes in the US, an unexpected sight for any cross-country road trip highlighted by crystal waters and a shoreline dotted by cliffs and pines. The namesake city's pretty nice too. Might we recommend following up a day at the lake with a burger from the iconic Hudson's and, perchance, a sighting of OJ's nemesis Mark Fuhrman, who retired to the mountain town? If it's cold, he might have some gloves…
Illinois: Lake Shore Drive
Some Chicagoans might dispute this assessment during rush hour or a snowpocalypse, but there's something inarguably perfect about driving on LSD (acronym not drugs) on a clear summer day, the blessedly undeveloped lakefront (thanks Daniel Burnham!) welcoming sunbathers and volleyball players to one side as the architecturally stunning skyline looms over you to the other. It's a sight that can make even the most jaded Chicagoan pause for a second to count blessings and hum some Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah.
Indiana: The Indianapolis 500
Sure, at its core, the Indy 500 is a race. Granted, it's a race of unparalleled historical significance that basically started American motorsports as we know it and blossomed right alongside this country's love affair with the car, but fundamentally it's a bunch of cars going incredibly fast as a bunch of onlookers enjoy the sights, sounds, and alcohol. But if you've ever attended one you know it's bigger than that. There's a mystique to it, a nostalgia percolating just below the surface that you just don't get at the many other races that have proliferated since. There's also a guy standing in front of you whose shirt says "By the time you read this, I farted." It's all part of what remains the official engine rev that lets America know summer is upon us. Who wants milk?
Every four years, Iowans gather with neighbors to leave the rest of the country slightly confused as to exactly what they're up to as they prepare to make people like Mike Huckabee and Dick Gephardt think they might actually be president. Fine, sometimes they get it right, too. Either way, it's become a big part of our democracy, much like a big piece of fried pork tenderloin crammed into an adorably tiny bun.
Kansas: Joe's Kansas City BBQ
It's tough on the Kansas side of Kansas City. First they put the bulk of your namesake city across the border in a different state, and THEN your iconic barbecue joint is confusingly named for a THIRD state and thus no one wants to give you credit for having some of the most incredible ribs on the planet. Luckily the artist formerly known as Oklahoma Joe's is now Joe's Kansas City BBQ and all is right in the world. Although there was never anything wrong with the ribs.
There's a common misconception that true bourbon legally MUST come from Kentucky. That's not true (though it does have to be made in the US). However, it is indisputably true that Kentucky continues to turn out the vast majority of America's bourbon (and the vast majority of America's really, really good bourbon). Even if you don't fancy yourself much of a fan, spend a couple of days touring the different distilleries and you'll be hard-pressed not to walk away with a deeper appreciation for the one spirit that, more than any other, truly belongs to the USA. Especially after you house that box of chocolate-covered bourbon balls you purchased at the gift shop. Here, chase them down with a mint julep!
When you're the birthplace of one of America's most important musical forms, it's hard to hold up the virtues of po-boys and Cajun culture on the same scale. Mardi Gras? Consider it the greatest jazz fest in the country. But beyond the beads, Louisiana jazz can be found in basically every corner of NOLA and beyond, and over the course of the century it's seeped out and become part of the global soundtrack. That it's still practiced and appreciated in its essence where it was born, though, is a testament to its place in the state.
Apologies to the many fine literary efforts of Stephen King and the distinct, "I'm not really sure if I like this... what is this?" flavor of Moxie, but there really wasn't anything else to consider here. Sure, you can get yourself a quality lobster roll further inland if you're willing to sign away the rights to one of your kidneys or children. However, there's no substitute for picking up a perfectly cooked crustacean that some grizzled lobsterman caught that morning, knowing you paid SO much less than those suckers from elsewhere, and enjoying it with some steamers on a back porch during a summer sunset chased with a cold beer. Or a Moxie, if you're weird.
Maryland: Blue crabs
It's the battle of states starting with "M" that have a crustacean specialization! Luckily in this battle everyone wins. In this case, if you're in Maryland and you're winning it means consuming an irresponsible number of crabcakes. And crab soup. And whole crabs you meticulously took apart by hand like a hungry monster. No one will ever ask you why you smell like Old Bay and look deliriously happy. They'll just know.
Massachusetts: Cape and islands
Despite the fact that great white sharks have also found the splendor of Cape Cod's beaches too enticing to pass up, Massachusetts' childhood rat tail still remains THE rhinestone-bejeweled Sox cap in the bleachers that are the Bay State. Extending that air-tight analogy, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket are those even fancier caps with leather brims where you're like, "Who buys those?" even though deep down you have to admit they're pretty damn handsome. But regardless of your social status, everyone's ultimately just looking to drink enough Sam's Summer to believe they're channeling Neil Diamond with uncanny precision while butchering "Sweet Caroline." Also, the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis has ample parking.
Michigan: The Great Lakes
3,288. That's not just the number of coney joints in the greater Detroit area, it's also the number of miles of shoreline in Michigan. And while some of the lakes are just pretty good (lookin' at you, Lake Fenton!), most of that shoreline bumps up against Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan, which are actually pretty Great. Placid waters/ Sandy beaches. Petoskey stones. Pictured Rocks. The peninsular beaches of Michigan are among the country's finest places to catch a sunset, and some of Michigan's other great things -- MoTown, hot dogs, pasties, and beer – are made infinitely better when enjoyed on a dock or a boat to the gentle splash of waves.
Minnesota: Prince (still)
RIP. Also, game. Blouses.
Mississippi: The blues
So, are we saying that we would have no rock 'n' roll were it not for the pioneering bluesmen of Mississippi? Yes, Jimmy Page, we are (thief). And are we saying that you still would be hard-pressed to find better underground blues embedded in a state's bloodstream? Yes, Dan Aykroyd (poser). Yes we are. It was born here. And it's still the best here, served with a side of cracklins for good measure.
Missouri: Lake of the Ozarks
When you're a landlocked state, sometimes you have to be resourceful. Lake of the Ozarks is man-made and massive, a bending, serpent-shaped reservoir created from the Osage River with so many jagged inlets that its 1,150 miles of waterfront trump the California coastline. So much space means there's something for everyone. If you want a quiet day fishing, that's an option. If you want to drink all day among hundreds, if not thousands of boats doing the exact same thing with the distinct possibility of witnessing some nude people doing unspeakable things on a Jet-Ski, may we suggest Party Cove?
Montana: Glacier National Park
If Ansel Adams somehow made a bouillon cube of all of his nature photography, it'd probably look like Glacier. The national park is like pure Big Sky distillate, a panoramic look at everything that is breathtaking about one of America's most beautiful – and isolated – states. We had a joke here. Then we remembered that time we saw mountain goats and bears and kayaked a glacial lake that looked like a liquid mirror with the Rockies in the background. Then the acid wore off and we booked a trip to Glacier to see if all that was real.
Nebraska: Indian Caves
Yes, Nebraska is topographically challenged to the point that you might be able to see the curve of the Earth from Omaha if it weren't for all the chaff blocking your view. But Indian Caves is a testament to what happens on the subterranean side of things, a place where you can experience the state's best camping and ancient cave etchings that have been captivating explorers and spreading unverifiable legends for thousands of years before a restaurant in Omaha claimed to have invented the Reuben.
Nevada: Doing illegal things legally
Sure, other states have their riverboat casinos and what have you, but comparing any of those to Las Vegas is like comparing that one time you straight-up won $20 on a video poker machine at a sad dive bar to Ocean's 11. There's just something about placing a bet on a bunch of NFL games and then watching them on a bunch of enormous screens in a sports book while you mainline Bloody Marys because you went to sleep 45 minutes ago that just doesn't compare to placing phone bets with your cousin's friend with the shifty eyes and the soul patch.
Also, there's the sex stuff, if that's your thing.
New Hampshire: Lake Winnipesaukee
Because it's one of the better lyrics in Adam Sandler's "The Turkey Song." Because What About Bob? was set there. Because it's dotted with tiny islands that make you feel like a seafaring explorer. Because your friend from Tufts Chad's parents had a lake house up there and they were generally chill about you going up there to party. No, not Manchester Chad. Portsmouth Chad.
But mostly it's just because it's sneaky beautiful and nonstop fun to say. Thanks for the invite, Chad!
New Jersey: Bruce Springsteen
The Garden State has been fertile enough to birth a (gym, tan) laundry list of American treasures: Frank Sinatra, Shaquille O'Neal, Jack Nicholson, Whitney Houston, Buzz Aldrin, the light bulb, air conditioning, and Meryl Streep. (Nope, I didn't forget about Job Bovi Jovi.) But there's only one person universally regarded as "The Boss," apologies to Tony Soprano. Bruce Springsteen has been Jersey's interstate ambassador since he greeted the nation from Asbury Park in the winter of '73. He crafted a leather jacket-wearing, tramps-like-us New Jersey bravado that took us out of the smothering shadow of Manhattan's skyline and into popular culture. He's had more comebacks than a 4am pork roll in a queasy digestion track. Bruce single-handedly guided our state through the dark abyss of the Jersey Shore years with graceful aplomb. And -- on a truly serious note -- he was most visible, and most endearing when he was alongside us in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, helping us heal with his songs and his well-documented compassion for his fans. He loves Jersey. And his love is as contagious as a Rutgers frat house. Not just for outsiders, but for locals, too. He made every New Jersey resident proud to call this often trashy, always mercurial place home. If he taught us nothing else, it's that New Jersey might not be a beauty, but hey, it's alright.
New Mexico: Green chile
Yeah, yeah, blue meth and science and aliens and all that. But green chile isn't just on the plates of half the dishes in New Mexico, it's now beloved across the US. Colorado claims it too, but the greatest Tex-Mex topping in the world actually originated in New Mex. It's a staple of burritos and omelets and everything in between. Oh, and it's so effing delicious that it manages to supersede even the one who knocks (whose kid loves it with breakfast!).
New York: The Statue of Liberty
Fine, technically it sits on New Jersey land, but there's no denying, deep down, Lady Liberty belongs to New York. If you've ever seen the Statue of Liberty -- either as a blip on the horizon off the southern tip of Manhattan, or after a two-hour boat ride with a gaggle of tourists saying they "had no idea it would take this long" in 200 languages -- you wouldn't be offending American sensibilities by calling the old copper lady a little underwhelming in person. The statue's tangible majesty doesn't translate in the flesh, especially compared to the sea of skyscrapers in front of it. But like most truly important things, its value doesn't rely on the physical. France gifted us the ol' girl in 1888 as a reminder of our own independence. It served as an oxidized, sea-green beacon of hope to the tidal wave of tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free by coming to America. Lady Liberty represents the Empire State better than anything, and this is a state that also claims Buffalo wings, the Yankees, Central Park, Niagara Falls, and some of the world's greatest architectural wonders. The Statue of Liberty has long served as a symbol of the values our country was founded on. And hopefully, it always will.
North Carolina: Michael Jordan
If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you after winning six NBA championships elsewhere to purchase the local NBA team and restore its rightful insect-based team name, it's Michael Jordan. The Tarheel State has produced countless iconic college hoops moments, but it's only produced one MJ.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North Dakota, when not being depicted as bland and uninspired, is generally cast in a bad light. Whether it's fiction (wood chippers!) or real life (spraying displaced indigenous people with fire hoses in sub-Arctic temps for protecting their sacred land), the spotlight's seldom kind to NoDak. But there's also a place where the buffalo roam without being threatened with residual tear gas exposure, and that place is Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Named for the Bull Moose himself, it's perhaps the most underrated NPS area in the US, a prairie companion to the Badlands known for its diverse wildlife. For real, between the bison, horses, coyotes, bighorns, turtles, and other creatures, it's basically like Noah's Ark in here. Except, you know, Noah was Teddy Roosevelt, so he probably killed all those things before designating it as a place where you can't do that.
Ohio: LeBron James
Coming up as a young superstar, he was a symbol of hope to what the ravaged state could be. Burgeoning and strong! Flush with good skin and bulky muscles! Then he left and people burned his jersey in the street. When he got bored with hanging out with his good friends and enduring all that sun and ocean in Miami, he looked north and plainly came home. The most incredible part about James' return: Ohioans took him back! With open arms! All was forgiven! It was like he never left! It never mattered: Ohio has had other sports superstars come through the ranks of the Browns, the Indians, and Cavs, but none of them will ever be LeBron James. All Ohio ever wanted was for the rest of the country to take it seriously.
Oklahoma: Onion burgers
Talk to someone from Oklahoma and they'll speak in highly reverential tones about two things: some crazy Garth Brooks concert experience they had that seems to stretch the boundaries of plausibility -- there's no way "Friends in Low Places" has TWO secret verses -- and onion burgers. And look, we can all agree "Callin' Baton Rouge" is amazing live, but not as amazing as the Depression-era Sooner State invention that changed the burger game in ways most Americans don't even realize. Just go to El Reno and tell them Thrillist sent you. They may or may not know what that means, and they aren't going to hook you up or anything, but the burgers are really, really good.
We could have just gone with "nature" and been right. Or picked one natural feature, though that sells it short considering Oregon has everything from deserts to rainforests, mountains, gorges, canyons, mountains, an incredible shoreline, and a gigantic lake made from a collapsing volcano. But one thing all those areas have in common is that they're all right next to great breweries. More than 260 breweries populate the Beaver State, after all, and they're some of the world's best. Hell, a majority of the hops that go in beers, from micro to macro, come from Oregon, and this is the home of the amped-up IPA craze. There's a beer for any occasion. And let's face it, whether you're snowshoeing around a frozen mountain lake or posing for a selfie in front of the house from The Goonies, knowing there's a great (or at least a pretty good) brewery within spitting distance -- regardless of elevation, climate, or geographical politics -- is pretty damn comforting.
While Pennsylvania might currently be known as the state with the worst sports fans and the best sandwiches, it was once the breeding ground for American democracy, and ground zero for our founding fathers to, um… found. When you walk into Independence Hall, you might feel a sense of reverence normally reserved for cathedrals. There's a quiet solace in there that no fourth-grade field trippers can ruin. Pennsylvania -- a state divided between blue and red, Eagles and Steelers, Wawa and Sheetz -- has played a more prominent role in our country's pursuit of freedom and unity than any other. Both the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution were drafted and signed in Philly. And the Liberty Bell, though cracked (and not by the hands of an intoxicated Flyers fan), remains a symbol of the freedom Pennsylvania helped our country achieve, despite being unable to make freedom literally ring. At the end of the day, cheesesteaks and handcrafted furniture are nice, right? Well, the Bill of Rights -- though inedible -- is better.
Rhode Island: The Newport Cliff Walk
Rhode Island is small. The gargantuan, castle-like, Gilded Age mansions that line 3.5-mile Cliff Walk are not. Also impressive: the jaw-dropping views of rocky New England coastline you'll encounter during said walk that will make you say to yourself, "If I were a 19th-century robber baron, I too would have constructed my stupefyingly large, Downton Abbey-esque residence here." It's an afternoon stroll that gives you a wholly unique look at a different slice of America. Enjoy it with a few sips of Del's Frozen Lemonade and you're experiencing peak Rhode Island.
South Carolina: The Charleston Historic District
There's a lot to love about South Carolina -- all that Spanish moss, the Lowcountry BBQ, the giddy joy you get when you hear somebody say "go Cocks" -- but it's also a state rich in history. Not purely happy history, mind you, but that doesn't mean you can't get some glimpses into the dark legacies of America without some beauty. The Charleston Historic District gives you just that. Ninety-seven of the properties in this section of Downtown are on the National Register of Historic Places, after all, including the Federal period homes of Broad St and the incredible, super-old-school bars and restaurants on King. The St. Michael's Episcopal Church has been in service since 2752, and the County Courthouse has been doing justice (and injustice) since 1792. There's even a French Quarter here chock-full of gas-lit alleys. It's like going to a historic reenactment site, but without all the corny shit and faux blacksmiths.
South Dakota: The Badlands
South Dakota gets a bum rap. OK, that mostly applies to the western side of the state. If you're driving across America from right to left, hitting the Badlands is like entering the real gateway to the West (suck it, St. Louis), a place where the rolling prairie suddenly becomes something far more alien and the Wall Drug signs suddenly stop. The place looks like Mars, if Mars were streaked with the guts of prairie dogs smashed by 18-wheelers and motorcycles, with towering rock formations, ancient fossils, and carved crags creating a breathtaking sight that comes out of nowhere before opening up to the majesty of the Black Hills… and Wall Drug. That's right. You finally made it. Get an open-faced beef sandwich and some free ice water. You've earned it.
Tennessee: Music history
Between Memphis and Nashville, the Volunteer State's contributions to America's musical heritage are too numerous to cover comprehensively in this space. Stax Records. Sun Studio. The Grand Ole Opry. Graceland. Dollywood. Whatever house Justin Timberlake was born in. No state has done more to comprehensively change the way America sounds today. The fact that you can pair that soundtrack with medically irresponsible quantities of ribs and hot chicken is just a bonus.
There's a reason barbecue aficionados from all over talk about Texas brisket with an almost religious reverence. It's the easiest major protein in the American barbecue canon to screw up, and arguably the most transcendent when it's executed at its highest level. That's not to say that there aren't pitmasters from elsewhere making an honest effort to do it justice here and there, but it's an entirely different game in Texas, a game that more often than not ends with you making undecipherable guttural sounds while some perfectly harmonious amalgam of fatty beef and black pepper dances on your taste buds.
Utah: Arches National Park
Jello-O and Salt Lakes are great and all, but come on. The sandstone arches and natural land bridges that populate this national park are the stuff of scenic legend and James Franco dismemberments (OK, fine, that was Canyonlands… that's nice too). So, yeah, don't get lost. It's pretty easy when you're looking up in awe the entire time and realizing that Mother Nature would have made a hell of an architect.
Vermont: Maple syrup
Virginia: Shenandoah National Park
As if it wasn't enough that Virginia's 200,000 acres of stop-you-in-your tracks beauty already boasted impossibly serene hikes, waterfalls that look at you and demand to be Instagrammed, and one of America's must-see scenic roads in the Skyline Drive (try it in the fall, for real), these days the park is now within spitting distance of numerous excellent breweries and wineries. You know, in case too much proximity to nature drives you to the bottle.
Washington: Puget Sound
Short of seeing Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix sharing tossed salad and scrambled eggs over coffee in the Space Needle while watching Twin Peaks, there's really nothing that encapsulates a vision of the Pacific Northwest quite like the Sound. Not just because it butts up against the cityscapes of Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Everett, making for a surreal contrast to the skylines. Not just because there's nothing quite like seeing towering Mount Rainier reflected in the waters as you ferry to an island community in the winter. It's all those things combined, a saltwater body with a freshwater feel that makes a huge part of Washington feel… well, like Washington.
West Virginia: New River Gorge
For 364 days out of the year, West Virginians occupy their time with backwoods activities that sometimes involve eating squirrels (not that there's anything wrong with that!). But one day in October -- the aptly named Bridge Day -- they toss themselves off a big-ass bridge overlooking the New River Gorge for shits and giggles. It's an event that draws about 80,000 extreme-sports enthusiasts and onlookers annually, but it's only one of the reasons the New River Gorge is the best of West Virginia. See also: the gorgeous views of a river winding around monolithic rock formations like Endless Wall and Junkyard Cliff. In terms of potential last things you will ever see, the gorge is pretty spectacular.
It's not that other states lack dairy products. It's that no other state embraces them with the gusto of the Badger State. It's one thing to produce some of the nation's favorite cheeses, it's another to stare at a pile of squeaky cheese curds and say to yourself, "We should batter and fry those suckers and then dip them in ranch." It's one thing to enjoy the simple pleasures of a cheeseburger. It's quite another to say to yourself, "This would be better if it was drenched in melted butter." And it's not like they're doing any of this to show off. Wisconsin is a place that understands simple, universal truths. Dairy fat is good. Pork fat is good. Beef fat is good. Enjoying them all in concert with a cold beer is the simplest path to happiness.
No national park offers up quite the range of different geographical oddities and wonders as Yellowstone does. Fart-scented sulfuric pits? Yep. Geysers with the timing of a Swiss watch, towering waterfalls, majestic lakes, mountains, prairies, and canyons? Yep. And yeah, Old Faithful and the old lodge draw tourists quicker than Mickey fighting Goofy at Disney World, but that just means they're distracted from the good stuff. All you need to do is choose a road or path and wander. Around each curve you'll find something else to make you think you're on another planet. And just when you think you're done, you emerge into the Tetons if you keep heeding that whole "go west, young man" thing.
Andy Kryza is a senior editor who frequently dreams of Lake Michigan sunsets accompanied by Oberon and Koegel's hot dogs. Follow him to Antrim County daydreams @apkryza.
Deputy features editor Matt Lynch really did see that shirt at the Indy 500. Follow the happenings in Chicago @MLynchChi.