Photos: 10 All-American Must Sees for All Americans

Lists: Flyover America's Sophia Dembling shares the sights that will make you swoon

Walt Disney World

Photo by Sophia Dembling

Disney World is a big, pushy, crazy, commercial endeavor. Like America. Disney inspires mad passion in many, it is among America’s most pervasive exports (what do Tokyo and Paris have in common?) and the park itself really is an astonishing accomplishment.

Ellis Island

Photo by simononly, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

My grandparents, who came to the United States from Poland through Ellis Island, accompany me in spirit every time I visit this remarkable museum about American immigration. Immigration is all of our stories and the voices you hear and read walking through the museum will stick with you long after you forget the artifacts.

Grand Canyon

Photo by John Vetterli, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It’s bigger and more breathtaking than anything your imagination can invent. Can you imagine, way back in the far-off day, hiking along through trees and desert and stumbling upon ... this? I stop by the South Rim for a peek any time I’m in the neighborhood. And the less-visited North Rim is worth the special trip it requires.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas CVB

Yeah, yeah. I know. Am I kidding? But this is a basic philosophical question: Do we travel to see what we want, or to see what is? I subscribe to the latter philosophy. Vegas IS,  like it or not, in a very big way. It’s more quintessential America—it’s big, loud, razzle-dazzle, and unapologetic and, by the way, it’s full of Europeans, who wouldn’t dream of skipping it.

USS Arizona

Photo by Sophia Dembling

My husband and I entered the theater to watch a film about the bombing of Pearl Harbor alongside a mob of chattering teenagers. At the film’s end, the kids’ eyes were red-rimmed and they filed out of the theater silently. We did too. I didn’t expect to be so affected. Most moving: oil still seeping from the wreck, where at least 900 crewmen still rest.



Sophia Dembling

Dallas-based writer Sophia Dembling is co-author of the Flyover America blog and author of "The Yankee Chick's Survival Guide to Texas." She would love to hear your tales of America, so drop her an email.


24 Comments for Photos: 10 All-American Must Sees for All Americans

Julia Ross 11.06.09 | 12:56 PM ET

nice selection and love the Yellowstone photo, Sophia.

Sophia Dembling 11.06.09 | 12:57 PM ET

Thanks! Nice to be back on the Hum!

Alanna 11.06.09 | 1:31 PM ET

Your list focuses on the great natural resources in America, which is one thing I feel that Americans and foreigners forget when traveling.  Thanks for sharing your favorites

TheWordWire 11.06.09 | 1:34 PM ET

I love this list! I’ve been fortunate enough to see quite a few of these places, and I have to say that I agree about Monument Valley. There are so many incredible destinations in the south west, it’s hard to narrow down the must-sees. Another tribal park treasure I’m so glad I didn’t miss: Antelope Canyon near Page, north of the Grand Canyon. Absolutely INCREDIBLE! Thanks for this list—I’m feeling inspired!

Sophia Dembling 11.06.09 | 1:35 PM ET

Antelope Canyon, eh? Don’t know it, it goes on my life-list. Thanks!

Megan Hill 11.06.09 | 1:49 PM ET

Nice list! I’d probably replace Las Vegas and Disney World with Yosemite or the Pacific Coast, but that’s just my bias against neon and marketing :)

Vera Marie Badertscher 11.06.09 | 6:12 PM ET

I have to agree with your inclusion of Las Vegas—and I am so glad that you included the underappreicated Ellis Island.

sightseer 11.06.09 | 9:26 PM ET

Yellowstone is one of my favorite places so far. While riding my motorcycle there, I was amazed at how the terrain and the sights changed so drastically along our route. I can’t waqit for my ride to Glacier next July..

Chris 11.07.09 | 12:32 PM ET

Great list Sophia! I’ve been to 8 of the 10, and Monument Valley and Ellis Island are certainly on my list. I sort of despise Las Vegas, and Disney is not really my thing, but I can’t argue with either of them being on the list. Narrowing all of America down to 10 must-sees is impossible, but it’s always fun to try. :-)

Sophia Dembling 11.07.09 | 12:38 PM ET

I’m not wild for Disney either but the list is not so much about love as it is about sort of quintessential American sights. (Of course, New York City should be on there, too, and maybe Hollywood but in a way, they are barely even America.)

I like Las Vegas under the proper circumstances. (I like going with a group of people—it’s a party.)

Ben Keene 11.07.09 | 8:33 PM ET

Considering the richness of America’s musical history, I’d vote for a stop in Memphis, Tennessee. And if the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, the Stax Museum, and Sun Studios aren’t enough, you can always marvel at the Mississippi.

Helen 11.08.09 | 4:05 PM ET

No kidding? You chose Las Vegas and Disney World over the coast of Maine or Cape Cod or Mt. McKinley or the redwoods or the Grand Tetons? I guess I need to start taking pictures of my top ten.

James L. Moore 11.08.09 | 7:08 PM ET

I like that your list has contrasts and contradictions.  I loathe the existence of places like Las Vegas but coming off of a month-long wilderness journey through the Grand Canyon I will almost always go to Vegas JUST for the juxtaposition and stark contrast.

Sophia Dembling 11.08.09 | 7:34 PM ET

Despite the mention of swooning in the subhead, I wasn’t going for the places of greatest beauty in this list but places that, to my mind, speak to what our nation is. For better or worse, Disney and Vegas are among those. I understand people’s loathing for Vegas. I’ve had some good times there. You just can’t take it seriously. Disney ... meh. Not so much. But still, it’s very, very American in a million different ways.

Bob Thomas 11.08.09 | 10:11 PM ET

Like others I’m not so sure about including Vegas in this context, and instead might think about something like the Inside Passage. However, yours is a great list!

mission dining table 11.08.09 | 10:29 PM ET

This is a great list! I have never been to Grand Canyon but it always takes my breath away when I see it in photos! It is so amazing, so enchanting!

Travel-Writers-Exchange.com 11.09.09 | 11:06 AM ET

Great photos.  The Grand Canyon is a spectacular site to see.  The best way to see it is to hike or take a mule ride.  Don’t forget about white water rafting on the Colorado river.  The picture of the buffalo was breathtaking.  They are larger than life creatures.

tina mccue 11.10.09 | 10:47 AM ET

My husband and I just spent 4 months driving around the US.  We spent time at all but 2 of your must-sees. (the National Mall and USS Arizona)  Our Hawaii time was in Maui.  We took over 3,000 photos and there is no way that we could pick out only 10 best.  America is the most awesome country in the world.  Every American should take the time to explore the wonders that are ours to enjoy.

Grizzly Bear Mom 11.12.09 | 2:13 PM ET

Seeing Ellis Island again brought tears to my eyes, remembering my grandparents’ journey from Germany, and the artifacts others brought over and contributed to Ellis’ museum, like Briget Murphy from Dublin’s wedding veil.  Plan on spending a day there. 

Please come to DC too.  If I hadn’t been here since 1981 I would be awed by what I see.  The White House, Capital Hill, most museum’s and memorials are free.  Please check in advance for what you must do to get in.  (Congressional permission for entry to the White House?, etc.)

Sophia Dembling 11.12.09 | 2:15 PM ET

I haven’t been to DC since (BLUSH!) 1976. My best friend and I went there after we graduated high school. There is a lot I haven’t seen.

Buddy Smith 11.15.09 | 9:29 PM ET

Isn’t The Rock included?. The place is really awesome and spooky, when you walk on the alley where the cells are align side to side you’ll feel like your stuck on another place and can’t get out. You will also experience being placed on a cell for a couple of minutes.

Grizzly Bear Mom 11.17.09 | 1:45 PM ET

You forgot Arlington Cemetary and the tomb of the unknowns.  We have all of these wonderful places because a few paid the price for our freedom.  Regardless of one’s politics, you will be moved by the signt, either to service or work for peace in other ways.

carmel 11.17.09 | 5:18 PM ET

I have been to the States 7 times and Ive seen alot of it but Ive never seen Mt Rushmore or the Hollywood sign and I think you just have to so I will eventually!

Maria 11.27.09 | 5:47 PM ET

Hi Sophia, Enjoyed your photos. Have been to almost all places and agree they make one bullish on being American, really important these days. I recently watched a PBS segment In the Footsteps of Marco Polo. Aside from some astounding footage, a great story line, and a heck of a lot of brazen courage, these intrepid travelers reported that there were overwhelming legions of good folks vs bad during their long trip. In today’s world this was an eye opener, and in my opinion is a compelling reason why people should travel.

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