Discover America’s Best Places for Women
Seeking an unusual place to escape with friends? Want to indulge in a perfect hot spring or mountain retreat? Hoping to gain perspective by exploring women’s history or touring a quirky museum? 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go will both inspire and compel you to hit the road—in a group, with a friend, or solo. Divided into sections such as “Get to Know America,” “Americans’ History,” “Participate,” and “X (Chromosome) Rated,” this guidebook unveils places you’ve never heard of and gives you a new outlook on places you think you know. It illuminates attractions close to home and reminds you why it’s time to plan that special trip far away.
- Get enlightened in California wine country
- Become an outdoorswoman in Colorado or New Mexico
- Hang out with kick-ass Texas chicks
- Explore essential cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, or New Orleans
- Meet tough cookies you should know such as Harriet Tubman and Annie Oakley
- Find America the Beautiful in Yellowstone, Badlands, or Big Bend national parks
- Ride a wild wave in Hawai’i, California, or the Columbia River Gorge
- Comprehend the strength of women who made history
- Bring home the best of American kitsch from Las Vegas, Graceland, or Mount Rushmore
- Lose yourself at goddess sites in Arizona, Hawai’i, or Nashville
- Indulge in women’s art, music, and literature
- Discover where the heart is…and much more
100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go is packed with breezy reviews, insightful advice, and engaging anecdotes sure to set you on your way.
By Sophia Dembling
When I told people I was writing 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go, their first question was usually, “What are your criteria?” Or, less eloquently, “Sez who?”
A fair enough question, to which the answer is: “Sez me.”
I did first poll friends and colleagues and got some excellent ideas from them, but in the end what we have here is an entirely subjective selection of American places I think are important or cool or fun or quintessentially American. Some are of particular relevance to women, some aren’t.
So, who am I to say so? For one thing, I love traveling in the USA, and I’ve done a lot of it. I took my first cross-country road trip with two girlfriends when I was 19 years old. At that point, I had barely left my hometown of New York City—which, like Los Angeles, both defines America and barely resembles it. I was astonished and awed as much by cornfields as mountains. The solid farmers and their stolid wives we saw in diners and truck stops were wondrous as unicorns, and Iowa and Nevada were as magical as Oz. By the time we hit California, with the whole nation stretched out behind us, I was madly in love.
I’ve traveled the country extensively ever since—by car, by bus, by airplane, staying in luxury hotels and cinderblock motels. (Once, by choosing a motel because we liked its neon, my husband and I accidentally checked into a whorehouse.) I’ve been as far south as Key West and as far north as Seattle. (North Dakota, I’ve got my eye on you.)
My first published article in the mid 1980s, in the Dallas Morning News, was about touring the United States by Greyhound bus. My second was about touring the stars’ homes in Nashville. I’ve written for the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and many other newspapers, magazines, and websites. For a couple of years, my friend Jenna Schnuer and I wrote a website called Flyover America, in which we shared our passion for America’s out-of-the-way places.
I love the scale of America. I love her grand places and brash cities, her wilderness and forgotten hamlets. I love her breadth and depth and roadside attractions. I roll my eyes at world-traveling Americans who have never explored their own backyards—who have never seen a thunderstorm over Nebraska or the Atlantic pounding the coast of Maine, never eaten grits in the South or salmon in Alaska, seen real Western art or a jackalope trophy. I’m so passionate for travel in America, I even argue that Las Vegas is a must-see, no matter how highbrow you consider yourself.
After gathering a mess of suggestions, I cast a wide net of criteria to decide among them and which others to add. Some places are no-brainers—New York City, the Grand Canyon, that kind of thing. America’s greatest hits, as it were. And I wanted to include sites related to women’s history. From there, I moved on to sites relevant to the lives of prominent women writers and artists and some of America’s toughest cookies. I included immigrant history because that’s the story of all of us. There are places related to American music and places I consider Americana. There are girly-girl places and activities, adventures, spiritual places, places related to home and hearth, and silly, silly kitschy places. I tried to find a female story in everything I included, but didn’t insist on it. Some places aren’t places so much as activities (surfing, rafting), with suggestions for places to do them.
There is a lot about some states and not so much about others, but I tried to cover as much of the country as I could. I can’t help it if a lot of really important historic things happened in New York and Massachusetts. I tried to include sites so big that you shouldn’t miss them and so small you probably don’t know about them.
And a note about the historical sections of the book: Some of the places included are not much to speak of. One is a mere plaque in a hallway–—nothing to make a special trip for. It’s more if you happen to be in Nashville. But it’s a good story, and here is my thinking on things like that: If we go, they will build it. Tourism has a lot of clout for local economies. If we show interest in women’s history sites, tourist boards and businesses will respond, and the ragtag sites full of fascinating women’s stories will grow, pushing women’s history aboveground.
I have been to the majority of the places in here. Many I visited in the past, others specifically for this book. But in saying every woman should go, I include myself. No matter how much travel I did, I kept finding other must-see places. I just ran out of time. Flat up against my deadline, I remembered Eudora Welty’s home in Jackson, Mississippi. What a bummer that I didn’t have time to go there and had to rely on research. Thank heavens for the interweb, but the photographs made me yearn to see it for myself, especially since I’ve never really been to Mississippi, only through it. Mississippi, I have my eye on you, too.
Naturally, there’s no place or experience in this book that men wouldn’t enjoy as well. Any American, male or female, who doesn’t make a point of seeing Yellowstone National Park is a knucklehead, in my humble opinion. (People from other nations get a pass, but I know they’re out seeing stuff like that anyway because I run into them all the time.)
Undoubtedly, every single person reading this would write a different version of this book. That’s good and as it should be. Truth be told, I second-guessed myself until the manuscript was finally pried out of my hands. If I wrote this book five years from now, it would probably be different. Heck, if I wrote it next week it might.
So what are your must-sees? If you’re so inclined, you can send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it.
See you on the road.
Get to Know America
America the Beautiful
1. Cross-Country Road Trip
2. National Parks
3. Maine Coast
4. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
5. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Flint Hills, Kansas
6. Grand Canyon
7. Storm Watching on the Oregon Coast
8. Pacific Coast Highway, California
9. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i
10. Seward Highway, Alaska
11. Washington, D.C.
12. New York City
13. New Orleans, Louisiana
14. Detroit, Michigan
15. Chicago, Illinois
16. Santa Fe, New Mexico
17. Los Angeles, California
18. Seattle, Washington
19. San Francisco, California
20. Statue of Liberty, New York City
21. Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
22. Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
23. Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming
24. World’s Longest Yard Sale, Michigan to Alabama
25. Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
26. Endangered Historic Places
27. Las Vegas, Nevada
28. Disney World, Orlando, Florida
29. South Beach, Miami, Florida
30. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Florida
31. Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota
32. Junk Food Museums
33. Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
34. Mount Rushmore, Keystone, South Dakota
The American Melting Pot
35. Ellis Island, New York City
36. Angel Island State Park, San Francisco, California
37. Galveston, Texas
38. National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee
39. Salem, Massachusetts
40. Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, New York
41. Susan B. Anthony House, Rochester, New York
42. Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville, Tennessee
43. First Ladies National Historic Site, Canton, Ohio
44. Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts
45. National Historic Sites and Parks Dedicated to Women
Tough Cookies You Should Know
46. Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia
47. Pioneer Women Museum and Statue, Ponca City, Oklahoma
48. Harriet Tubman, East Coast
49. Annie Oakley, Greenville, Ohio
50. Lizzie Borden, Fall River, Massachusetts
51. Brothel Museum, Skagway, Alaska
52. Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
53. Nina Simone, Tryon, North Carolina
54. Kick-ass Texas Chicks
Artists and Writers
55. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
56. Dorothy Parker, New York City
57. Christina’s World, Cushing, Maine
58. Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts
59. Massachusetts Women of the Arts
60. Georgia’s Lady Scribes
61. Georgia O’Keeffe, Santa Fe, New Mexico
62. Willa Cather, Red Cloud, Nebraska
63. Little House on the Prairie, De Smet, South Dakota
64. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio
65. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville, Tennessee
66. American Jazz Museum, Kansas City, Missouri
67. Motown Museum, Detroit, Michigan
68. Stax Museum of American Soul, Memphis, Tennessee
69. Buddy Holly Center, Lubbock, Texas
The Great Outdoors
70. Becoming an Outdoorswoman
71. Gauley River, West Virginia
72. Ride a Wild Wave
73. Take to the Seas (and Rivers and Lakes)
74. Ski America
75. The Iditarod, Alaska
Retreats and Spiritual Escapes
76. The Cloisters, New York City
77. Goddess Sites
78. Lily Dale, New York
79. Kripalu, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
80. Perfect Bookstores
81. Enter the Labyrinth
82. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Kanab, Utah
83. Miraval, Tucson, Arizona
84. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Four Corners Region
X (Chromosome) Rated
Just Kinda Girly
85. Chick Flick Locations
86. Tiffany & Company, New York City
87. Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Collection, New York City
88. Savannah, Georgia
Home & Hearth
91. Napa Valley, California
92. Tenement Museum, New York City
93. Newport, Rhode Island
94. Where Gardens Grow
95. Antebellum Vacation
96. Taos Pueblo, Taos, New Mexico
97. Navajo National Monument, Arizona
98. Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
99. Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington
100. Where the Heart Is
About the Author
Get to Know America
America the Beautiful
1. Cross-Country Road Trip
America is big.
Yes, you know that, but if you have never driven from sea to shining sea, then you don’t really know that.
Travel purists will tell you that the only way to know America is through her blue highways—small roads through small towns, where you can eat at the local diner and buy fruit from roadside stands. And yes, those kinds of drives are bliss, the best way to get an intimate experience of America.
But traversing the entire length of the nation on the Interstates is an education in America as a big hunk of geology.
I love the Interstate system, officially (and a little frighteningly) called The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The Interstates were built not just to move Americans around, but to efficiently move troops and weapons should the need arise.
These are big-picture roads, and that’s one of my favorite things about them. They’re big like America is big. I love the signs that direct you not from town to town, but from great city to great city: SOUTH—MIAMI; WEST—LOS ANGELES. These signs give me the same thrill as an international airport. I love the major interchanges, with underpasses and overpasses cutting through the sky, shuttling us around in our little pods. This is industrial art on a most massive scale.
The Interstates take you past farmland and desert and then plunge you into cities, where suddenly they are battered and rutted and everything speeds up. (Entering St. Louis from the south, on I-44, is among my favorite examples of that—the roads get rutted and confusing, traffic gets thicker, and then there’s that crazy surreal arch, right there.) The Interstates cross rivers, follow railroad routes, weave aggressively through mountains. (Imagine the blasting that had to occur to build those highways. Just imagine.)
It doesn’t matter what route you take, a cross-country trip on the Interstate system is like time-lapse photography. I like going right through the middle, from east to west, so the nation unfolds for me the way it did the first settlers. You watch the huddled hills of the East relax into the Plains, which then start furrowing like a worried brow before the ground heaves and the Rocky Mountains burst from its crust.
I’ll never forget my first cross-country drive with a couple of friends when, after days of hypnotic corn fields, we spotted the first, barely discernible purple glimmers of the Rockies in the distance. “I’ve always wondered,” one friend mused, “how the pioneers must have felt after weeks and weeks slogging across the prairies, then seeing…that.”
My gosh, the Rockies are magnificent—claustrophobic in spots, then so grand and gracious they bring tears to your eyes. When you break through to the other side, the ground flattens again and parches as you reach the jagged western edge of the nation. And then, the Pacific Ocean and exotic lands beyond.
Going north-south is certainly fun, but it doesn’t have the visual impact of east-west. And small road trips are wonderful, of course. I always choose driving if it’s feasible for a trip. Someday, when I have all the time in the world, I’ll take the blue highways across America.
But to take the full measure of our nation, for a wide view of everything America has, of her scale and breadth and splendor, we have our broad, bold, splendid Interstates. God bless ’em.
Places to learn more:
There are roughly 837 gajillion road trip books and movies out there. I am going to suggest just one: Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, by Lillian Schlissel. It’s academic in tone and gripping in content. These are the stories of women who crossed the country in wagons and by foot. You think not being able to find a rest stop when you need it is a road trip hardship? How about giving birth by the side of the road? Burying loved ones? If anything can make you grateful for the Interstates, these stories will.
, who was born and reared in the heart of New York City, discovered her passion for exploring the USA when she was 19 years old, driving cross country with a couple of girlfriends in a baby blue Plymouth Duster.
In the decades following, Sophia crisscrossed the country many times, every which way, by car, by airplane, and by Greyhound bus. She packed up and left New York to move to Texas. She took up travel writing, publishing stories in The Dallas Morning News, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, American Way, Delta Sky, World Hum, and many other publications and websites, including The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2006 and The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2007. Sophia’s other books include The Yankee Chick’s Survival Guide to Texas and The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World.
Sophia lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and an ever-changing cast of canines. She remains avid as ever about exploring the USA.