Best Cultural Destinations
Best Cultural Destinations
Stories about the world's unique cultures & our shared human experience

Insights: United States

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The United States is a big place. How do you narrow down the areas with the cultural experiences that are up your alley? You let BCD help you! Here's our bird's-eye view of some of the locales that have particularly compelling traditions that are uniquely their own. Check out our big picture summary of U.S. destinations with cool cultural offerings; then peruse our ever-growing collection of in-depth articles and interviews with recommendations of places to go and people to meet!

New England, in the northeastern corner of the U.S., is made up of six states, the first of which was settled in 1620 by refugees from England seeking religious freedom. The region in many ways physically resembles the part of the world for which it was named, with its quaint fishing villages and stretches of wilderness. But New England has a character all its own, which is multi-faceted and often contradictory; among some common traits are ingenuity, self-sufficiency, individualism and a strong sense of community. These attributes are reflected in its landmarks, traditions and people, from Motif # 1 in Rockport, MA, the most-photographed building in the U.S.; to the summer Illumination Night festival in Oak Bluffs, on Martha's Vineyard, MA, with its tiny Victorian gingerbread houses and roots in religious revival meetings; the autumn beauty of the cranberry bogs in southeastern MA as they ripen for harvest; and the lifestyles of lobstermen and artists who live side-by-side in Deer Isle, Maine.

On the southern coast of the U.S., the city of New Orleans straddles the Mississippi River 100 miles from its mouth.  Founded by the French in 1718 as a trading port, in the 1760s France ceded Nawlins to Spain, who owned it for 40 years, trading heavily with Cuba and Mexico, and adopting the Spanish racial rules that allowed for a class of free people of color. After being re-sold to the French in 1803, New Orleans then became a part of the U.S. twenty years later as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The city's cultural legacy can be experienced today in its rich musical offerings of blues, jazz, gospel, Cajun and Zydeco. The long-standing Mardi Gras Carnival dates to the very beginning of the city's history and its founder French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville. If you want to avoid the crowds, you can still get a taste of its zesty flavor by visiting Mardi Gras World, the studio of the Kern family, who have been creating lavish floats for the annual parade since the 1930s. The Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame, located in New Orlean's Treme neighborhood, preserves and celebrates the history and the authentic indigenous culture of all individuals who masquerade as Mardi Gras Indians.  The origins of the Mardi Gras Indians are murky, but many trace it to when escaped slaves found asylum with Louisiana tribes.

Santa Fe, the capital of the state of New Mexico in the southwest, was founded in 1610 by Spanish colonists who were creating a "New Spain"; it had previously been occupied for several thousand years by the Tanoan indigenous people. New Mexico became a part of the U.S. in 1848 with a peace treaty that ended the Mexican-American War. In the early 20th century, Santa Fe began to attract archaeologists, artists and other creatives; in 2005, it was designated as a UNESCO Creative City in Design, Crafts and Folk Art.  Santa Fe has a particularly vibrant fiber arts tradition, which can be accessed from "sheep to shawl" by a trail that connects visitors with alpaca ranchers, herbal dye-producers, community spinning mills, artisan studios and weaving co-ops.  With a history as a trading center, Santa Fe is a fitting place for the Museum of International Folk Art, which represent diverse cultures and constitute the largest collection of international folk art in the world. The core collection, donated by museum founder Florence Dibell Bartlett, has grown to over 130,000 objects from more than 100 countries.

If this overview has whet your appetite, click on the link below to access a collection of in-depth stories and interviews to learn more about these cultural gems in the U.S.!

People and Places

People and Places