Experience a City Like a Local
Experiential travel is the hot ticket for learning about history and culture. While it does mean learning about the culture of a place, you don’t have to travel to the far corners of the world if it’s not in your budget.
The U.S. is a vast land; the melting pot status it has enjoyed has created some unique culture not found anywhere else.
We put together a list of eight unique experiential U.S.-based adventures that allow travelers to dive into the many regional cultures in this country.
Photo Credit: Nathaniel KS
Cape Cod and New England may be well known for lobsters, but oysters are also a mainstay for East Coast seafood lovers.
Wellfleet, Mass., is one of the best-kept secrets on Cape Cod, and the Oyster Fest is its annual homecoming and celebration. The 'Fest, held Oct. 13-14, is produced by Wellfleet Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering a greater understanding of the town's shell-fishing industry. The bonus is that the festival itself is free.
Highlights include local cuisine, educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts, children’s activities, live music, road races, walking tours and the Oyster Shuck-Off competition. Of course, there are plenty of beaches and hiking and biking trails as well. For a real treat, you can stay at Chez Sven Bed & Breakfast, a green B&B. The owners treat visitors as houseguests and relish talking about world events and the environment. Tip: There’s a lot of traffic on this particular weekend, so residents recommend staying three nights. $225 a night.
Photo Credit: Wellfleet OysterFest
Durango, Colo., is home to two prominent facilities for Native American studies: the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College and the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum.
Mesa Verde Country, home to Mesa Verde National Park, is the archeological center of America, offering an unforgettable opportunity to see and experience the life of the ancient Ancestral Pueblo Indians. A three-day World Heritage package tour is available (prices vary, depending on time of year) or you can explore the area on your own and stay at the Skye Ute Casino Resort for as low as $130 a night.
Photo Credit: NPS.gov
If you want to learn about the environment and sustainable food, San Francisco and the Berkeley areas are ground zero for what’s happening on the cutting edge of “green.”
Bay Area Green Tours offers fun, educational tours in the Bay Area that highlight sustainable businesses and solutions in action. Participants go behind the scenes, visiting local pioneering, high-impact, immediate models of sustainability. Carbon-free walking tours of downtown range from $35 per person and waterfront tours from $60 per person. Stay in either Berkeley at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza or San Francisco at the Hotel Vitale from $170 a night.
Photo Credit: Bay Area Green Tours
If you decide to embark on the Berkeley and San Francisco green journey, it may put you in the mood to explore some of the coastline toward Southern California to investigate what some environmentalists are doing there for sustainable agriculture.
The El Capitan Canyon grows organic produce in its garden, which is used in the meals served at the Canyon Market & Deli. Guests may take a guided hike to visit the garden and learn about sustainable farming practices as well as feeding the Canyon's herd of llamas and goats. Many other outdoor activities include hiking, beach combing, biking or participating in yoga and stargazing. Rates run from $135 a night for tents and $185 a night for beds.
Photo Credit: El Capitan Canyon
Kansas City, Mo.
Many cities might have barbecue as their claim to fame, but not all of them have their own BBQ Society or the World Series of Barbecue, the American Royal Barbecue cook-off, which will be held Oct. 4-7.
Anytime is a great time to visit Kansas City if you want to experience barbecue culture, as the city boasts many restaurants featuring different types of barbecue. The city also lays claim to one of the birthplaces of jazz and features the American Jazz Museum and many jazz clubs.
If you had a grandparent who served in the military during World War I, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial is the place to gain a world perspective on the “War to End all Wars.” While there, don’t forget to stop by Union Station to take in the architecture. The train station was a main transportation hub for soldiers during World War II. Rates at suburban motels can be had for $99 a night, but the Raphael, a luxury boutique hotel with a view of the Country Club Plaza, is centrally located for $209 a night.
Photo Credit: American Jazz Museum
New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay
If your idea of experiential travel includes not only getting to know the locals but also helping with a problem facing the area, there are many volunteer opportunities in which to do so. One of those is tagging terrapins, a type of turtle, in New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay.
Working from a motorized boat, teams help capture, tag and track terrapins in their rich estuary environment. Participants also monitor turtle nests on marsh island beaches, measure sound disturbance and collect samples and temperature data to determine preferred habitat. Later teams mark and tag hatchlings and determine hatching success. For recreation, choose to canoe in the spectacular Pine Barrens, visit Old Barney lighthouse or snorkel or take a swim at Island Beach State Park. Stay includes catered meals at the Lighthouse Center for Natural Resource Education. The minimum donation is $1,995 a person.
Photo Credit: Go Voluntouring
New York City
New York City isn’t about one culture, but of many. No city best represents the U.S. melting pot than this one. One of the most economical ways to see many sites is by boarding one of those big red double decker buses.
Loop tours can take you to Greenwich Village, Times Square, Soho, the Dakota Apartments, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Apollo Theater, Harlem Market, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Antique Furniture District, just to name a few. An All Loops Tour good for 72 hours can be had for as low as $64 - cheap transportation in the "City that Never Sleeps." If you’re an adventurous soul, hitting the subways is a perfectly fine way to make your way around the city. Hotel rooms are not cheap in New York City, but suitable accommodations can be found for as low as $199 a night. If you want to really want a neighborhood experience, many New Yorkers rent rooms or their apartments while they’re away.
Photo Credit: newyorksightseeing.com
A Ranch Out West
We couldn’t have a true U.S.-based experiential experience without including the cowboy culture of the Old West. In Tombstone, Ariz., visitors will not only find a lot of history to the Old West, but ranches that allow participants to soak in the cowboy heritage.
Apache Spirit Ranch offers horseback riding lessons, trail rides, cowboy cookouts and other Old West activities from $185 a night. If you’re looking for a more rustic experience, Hideout Ranch provides guided trail rides through mountains that the Apache Indians called the "land of the standing up rocks" from $200 a night.
Photo Credit: explorecochise.com
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