The Top Fifty Best Places in the American West (Part 5)
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
Best Places to Visit in the West:
New Best in the West Guide
- Best Aquarium
The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium features the ocean wonders off the California coast in the Monterey Bay National
Wildlife Sanctuary. The many unique exhibits include the three story tall kelp forest
(photo, left, note the swirling anchovy school), an outdoor tidal pool which integrates with the ocean itself, rare sea otters,
plus many hands-on exhibits. The aquarium's locale in the heart of the historic
Cannery Row district (made famous by author John Steinbeck) greatly enhances the experience.
- Kyla Hoffman: This aquarium scene makes me feel I'm literally under water.
- Best Farmer's Market / Street Fair
The fertile valleys of Central California produce some of the world's finest fruits and vegetables.
Every Thursday night the local farmers get to display their wares at the
San Luis Obispo Farmer's Market. The central downtown streets are
closed to traffic, and the vendors move in.
Many of the local restaurants set up booths offering various barbequed treats.
The entertainers ranging from bands to dancers to clowns set up their acts on the side
streets. Add the area's unique diversity - a university community, working-class folks from
the farms, plus tourists and vacationers - and it's quite an experience!
- Best Small City
San Luis Obispo, California, has a lot more going for it than just the Farmer's Market. This is a city that has chosen to limit the growth of malls and strip malls in favor of preserving its lovely old downtown.
With its tree-lined streets and well kept old buildings, the downtown is the heart of the
city's business, shopping and culture. In the evenings and on weekends, the bars, restaurants,
and theaters are all lively. The plaza at Mission San Luis Obispo (photo, right, built 1772)
is the center of cultural events. In an era when so many places are inundated
with congestion and sameness, SLO is a city that stands apart, a place where life feels good.
- Best Road Trip
For those who follow our "North to Alaska - The Ultimate Road Trip" series, you know the Alaska Highway
is my obvious choice. The highway itself runs about 1,500 miles from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska. And then there are all those miles required to reach northern British Columbia. Journeying for weeks and months on rural two lane roads that go on and on is the epitome of a "road trip". It is the feeling that the road never ends. It is the feeling of independence. (Photo right, the home town signs at Watson Lake, the Yukon.)
- Paul Markowski: US Hwy 50 (especially in NV) is very scenic especially for desert lovers!!
- Best Road Trip Not Counting Alaska
One of the best road trip segments is the Pacific Coast starting at San Francisco, following the
Pacific Coast Highway, California Highway 1, to US-101 at Legget, then along Oregon's coast,
around Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and finally finishing at Seattle. My
recollection is one of unhurried, serene beauty. Less congested than southern
California, the route offered the spectacular cliffs on (northern) Highway 1,
small towns, the coastal redwood forests, the beautiful Oregon beaches (photo,
left, Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon), and the wild, unspoiled beauty of Olympic National Park. All trips involving the Pacific coast are near the top of the list.
- Mary Lamphier: Highway 1 north of San Francisco offered a variety of beautiful scenery...
- Most Disturbing Place
In his old "On the Road" series, the late Charles Kuralt called the Little Bighorn Battlefield ("Custer's Last Stand", the "Custer Battlefield") the saddest place he ever visited. When you look at all the open spaces and resources here in Montana, the "Big Sky Country", even in modern day America, it is inconceivable that there wasn't enough room for all. The monument is actually a permanent reminder of a time in history when "ethnic cleansing" was an American pasttime. (Photo, right: the "Last Stand" took place on the hill to the right of the monument.)
- Mark Holloway: Was also disturbed here... the feeling is compounded by the cemetary.
- Most Imposing Historical Monument
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota was created by sculptor Gutzon Borglum to commemorate the first 150 years of American history. The sixty foot high faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lincoln were carved on the white granite cliff over a period of 14 years (1927-41) by Borglum, his family, and a team of 400 workers. In recent years, the park service has redeveloped the area and has built a new trail which gives visitors a much closer look at the imposing sculpture.
- Mary Coak: The most imposing historical monuments are in Washington, DC...
- Best Small-Town Museum
One of my all-time greatest travel surprises was finding an impressive museum in the tiny town of Castle Dale, population 1700, and miles off the beaten path in central Utah. The Museum of the San Rafael is a natural history museum. Its beautiful and modern main hall contains dinosaur skeletons common to the area. Its other rooms contain impressive collections of smaller fossils, mounted contemporary wild life, and excellent prehistoric human artifacts some of them quite rare. How is this possible? The folks who live in this rural area love to be outdoors, hunting and exploring, and being very civic-minded as are many small town people, they made many personal donations of artifacts, fossils, animal pelts, etc. Enough to create a fascinating museum in a most unexpected place.
- George: Ouray County Historical Museum, Ouray, CO. Best collection, well labeled and laid out in wonderful historical building.
- Most Off-Beat Attraction
In the backwaters of western New Mexico,
El Morro National Monument protects a large sandstone monolith with the remains of an ancient pueblo on its top. The massive mesa, known as Inscription Rock, is a striking landmark and has a reliable water supply at its base. It has therefore been a favorite rest stop of travelers for more than seven centuries. The smooth, flat rock slabs have motivated inscriptions starting with the ancient pueblo people, then the Spanish conquistadors, American settlers, and a few modern day contributors. The first dated message was left by Governor Don Juan de Onate, on April 16, 1605. Many interesting inscriptions were left by a U.S. Army expedition on August 23, 1857. These personal mementos from centuries past offer fascinating insights and stir the imagination.
- BEST OF THE BEST and Best Hike and Best Canyon
My favorite place in the American West has been the Narrows of the Virgin River ("Zion Narrows"), the heart and soul of Utah's Zion National Park, since my first trip in September, 1980. The emotional attachment is very strong. The combination of powerful and subtle beauty, the challenge of the trek, and the strong sense of mystery have always made this my "special" place.
Unlike the Grand Canyon which is almost too big to be perceived as a canyon,
the profound nature of the Narrows is easy to perceive. Rocks walls of many
colors soar vertically almost two thousand feet with only a ribbon of a river separating
them. This combines with the delicate beauty of the many springs with their lush
greenery and delicate wildflowers. Occasional wooded terraces provide camping and
The challenges of the hike add to the experience. There is no formal "trail".
You must often simply wade in the river. There are often obstacles to overcome.
It is not a "technical" hike, but the hiker must work very hard to transit the
Narrows. Appreciation grows when you have to work hard for something. And then the
feeling of mystery. The heart of the Narrows is almost like a tunnel: dark,
narrow, winding, and sometimes even foreboding. The anticipation is always there:
what surprise, what new beauty lies around the next bend? It doesn't matter
how many times you've already been there.
- Tom Marusa: Haven't hiked the Narrows but would really like to. The pictures I have seen have just been awesome.
- J. Meyer: I love the Narrows. Something new around every corner, especially the waterfalls after a rain...
Best Places to Visit in the West:
New Best in the West Guide
Travel Planning Service
Call (480) 270-4349 today!
Get the Best of the West for your vacation!
Purchase our Travel Itinerary - Trip Planner
based on our years of first hand experiences. Complete, up to date, in-depth - all in one package! Customized and prepackaged plans available. NEW 2016 UPDATES!
Connect With Us
A mile-by-mile travel guide to Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta & Northwest Territories.
The Milepost has been called the bible of North Country travel since it was first published in 1949.
Buy This Book!
Rocky Mountain National Park Dayhiker's Guide
by Jerome Malitz
A Scenic Guide to 33 Favorite Hikes Including Longs Peak.
Buy This Book!
Adventuring in Arizona
by John Annerino
The authoritative guide to outdoor adventure in the wild and beautiful Grand Canyon State.
Buy This Book!
Cave Creek Rec Area, AZ by Gerald Allen
Saguaro and wildflowers.
Buy This Print!
Search Our Site