North American One-of-a-Kind Destinations

The Canadian Rockies, the South, and the state of Massachusetts offer a feast of historical and cultural traditions, food, architecture, and art for the curious traveler.

view of downtown Vancouver B.C. from Stanley Park, image

From Stanley Park, you can take in a stunning view of downtown Vancouver, B.C.

Harvard Square in Boston, Mass., image

Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.

French Quarter, New Orleans, image

Wrought iron balconies are typical in New Orlean's French Quarter.

Canadian Rockies: Grizzlies, Glaciers, and Peaks
Vancouver is the point of departure for a rail journey through the Canadian Rockies. Before you catch the train, visit Stanley Park, Canada’s urban rain forest; the 17th-century Gastown neighborhood; Chinatown and the city’s waterfront; and Granville Island’s Public Market, the place Vancouverites shop for fresh produce and seafood.

On your journey, you’ll want to gaze out from a domed observation car that offers 360-degree views of thick green forests, glacier-fed Pyramid Falls, the magnificent Albreda Icefields and Mount Robson, Canada’s highest peak.

The town of Jasper, once a fur-trading outpost, is now a stopping point for visitors. See nearby Maligne Lake, the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, and join a naturalist for an educational nature walk.

Along the Icefields Parkway, water thunders over Athabasca Falls. You can take a ride across glacial ice at the Columbia Icefield. Keep count of how many black and grizzly bears, elk and furry marmots you spy en route.

The historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, aka the Castle of the Rockies, promises a casual but upscale stay. Surrounded by forest, the remote hotel becomes the perfect base for a float trip on the Bow River, riding the gondola to Sulphur Mountain’s summit or visiting Banff. Before reaching Calgary, the end of the line, stop to see buffalo and play a game of horseshoes at a local ranch.

Massachusetts: Pilgrims, Patriots, and Lobsters
The best way to grasp Boston’s early history is by walking the Freedom Trail. On the 2.5-mile itinerary, you’ll encounter 16 sites, many of them red-brick buildings, where events of national significance took place before and during the American Revolution. At stops like the Old South Meeting House, the Boston Massacre site and Paul Revere’s home, visitors gain a sense of the look and feel of the town when colonists launched their rebellion.

Encounter more history across the river in Cambridge, at Harvard, the oldest university in the country. On Massachusetts’ Atlantic coast, Plymouth is the site where visitors pay homage to the Pilgrims. Discover how they lived at Plimoth Plantation, a re-creation of a 17th-century village. A replica of the Mayflower also helps evoke the era.

Cranberry bogs, a common site in Massachusetts, are a reminder of Native Americans’ role in introducing the fruit to the colonists. Visit a bog to learn how cranberries are harvested.

For 400 years, fishermen have trolled the waters from Salem to Cape Cod, netting quantities of oysters, clams, lobsters and cod. You can see signs of the region’s maritime history, notably in Chatham and Hyannis. Fishermen and whalers also sailed from Martha’s Vineyard. The island’s Victorian homes, once owned by sea captains, sport gingerbread-style details and widow’s walks.

The South: Jazz, Gullah, and Grits
Rich in things that look, taste and sound good, the South attracts visitors like grits do butter. But to appreciate the range of cultural and regional influences, compare and contrast a few Southern cities.

Visit the stomping grounds of famous New Orleans native son Louis Armstrong. You’ll roam the French Quarter, bite into a muffaletta for lunch and attend a concert by the Louis Armstrong Society Jazz Band.

It would be a sin to diet in New Orleans. Jambalaya, gumbo and bananas Foster are only a few of the dishes that blend French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Native American and African cuisine.

Paula Deen put another food capital, Savannah, on the culinary map with homecooked fried chicken, collard greens and peach cobbler. Between meals, visit some of the city’s historical homes on leafy squares and Fort Pulaski, a Civil War site.

Farther up the East Coast, in Beaufort, S.C., you’ll hear Gullah spoken by descendents of slaves who have preserved some of their African linguistic and cultural heritage. In Charleston, take a carriage ride through the historic downtown district and stop in at Charleston City Market to seek out arts and crafts, including handwoven sweetgrass baskets.

Please contact your AAA Travel Counselor or go to AAA.com/offices to find one near you.

Photography courtesy of Zotium/Wikipedia (Vancouver); Chensiyuan/Wikipedia (Harvard); National Registry of Historic Places/Wikipedia (French Quarter)

This article was first published in May 2012 in Traveler. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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