First base, second base, third base, and fourth base traveling the USA

Jan 5, 2011 (Updated Jan 24, 2011)

The Bottom Line This itinerary for traveling the United States identifies four cities which are good as bases when traveling the United States.

This itinerary is for Overseas (or American) travelers who want to see as much as possible of the most interesting sights in the United States without spending too much time and money and by following a simple plan I call it the “Four Bases Itinerary”. This four base itinerary is loosely based on a baseball theme but for practical reasons I am calling the Home Plate fourth base (thanks Adrienne).

I am originally from Sweden. However, I've traveled quite a bit in the US. In 1987/1988 I visited the United States for the first time in my life. I came as an exchange student and I stayed for nearly a year. During that year I traveled six times across the United States and Canada. During the summer of 1988 I bought a car for $250 and I drove across the United States from coast to coast and back with my brother and a friend. I moved back to Sweden, came back for graduate studies, moved back to Sweden again, and finally settled in the US in 1996. During those early years and since 1996 I have traveled even more extensively in the United States. I've been to 40 states. Therefore I feel ready to create this "Four Bases Itinerary". Unfortunately I have not been to the North West so I am going to have to skip that part of the country.

Overview of the Four Bases Itinerary

The United States is a big country with a lot to see. It is as big as all of Europe (actually bigger) including Russia (European Russia). In my estimate it has somewhere between 50-100 very interesting cities, hundreds of amazing natural wonders and beautiful national parks, dozens of incredibly fun theme parks, thousands of monuments, historic places, and tourist attractions. You simply cannot see it all, so you have to select. In addition the large distances make it hard to see “most” of the USA.

One way to that is to pick four interesting cities, which are surrounded by a lot of interesting attractions that are not too far away from the selected city. Then you fly to these cities (or drive) and use them as a base for visiting a selection of surrounding attractions. I should say that with “drive” I only mean driving between pairs of cities that are not too far away. If you drive between all of my selected base cities you are going to drive for hundred’s of hours and it partially defeats the purpose of picking four base cities.

You can rent a car and drive to the attractions nearby a base city and then go to the next base. The four cities I picked are relatively easy to get to, and they are surrounded by lots of interesting destinations of various kinds, natural wonders, theme parks, tourist sights, etc. Four cities does not cover everything (for that you need several dozen base cities) but the four cities I picked are interesting destinations in themselves and are surrounded by so many interesting destinations that you cover a good portion of the best of the USA.

I would like to make clear that I did not pick these four cities because I think they are the best tourist attractions in the United States. I picked them because they are good bases for seeing interesting tourist attractions within a 200-300 miles radius. The kind of tourist attractions I am focusing on, are those that I enjoy and those that most of Swedish friends and Swedish relatives enjoy, particularly young people. That includes natural wonders, cool inner cities, fun theme parks, beaches, technological wonders, historical places, and monuments, etc.

To give an example of how I was thinking; I did not pick Chicago. I love Chicago, and Chicago offers a lot, but there are not a lot of super cool tourist attractions within a 200 mile radius of Chicago (outside of Chicago). I did not pick Hawaii or Honolulu even though I love Hawaii, because everything nearby Honolulu/Hawaii is Hawaii. I did not pick a city in Alaska. Alaska has a lot of natural beauty but it is far away from the rest of the continent and it is very spread out (also I have not been there). I could go on, but let me instead state the four cities I picked.

First Base for Traveling the USA - New York City

New York is, in my opinion, the most interesting city in the United States and it is not too far from New York to Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Washington DC, Providence, Boston, and the beautiful New England east coast. If you are willing to take a longer trip you can also drive to the Niagara Falls.

New York City is the largest city in the United States. It has more than eight million people in the city center and more than 20 million people in the metropolitan area. This is considerably more than any European city. I decided to add the statistics to support that statement, but it is unimportant. Wikipedia-metro: New York 19.75M, London 12.85M, Paris 11.8M, Moscow 15M. Wikipedia-urban: New York 20.61M, London 12.85M, Paris 11.8M, Moscow 13.675M, Istanbul 13.135M (not European per se). The administrative area (sometimes called city proper) is often not a good indication of actual size.

Manhattan, one of New York’s five boroughs features a forest of several thousand sky scrapers as well as many famous museums, entertainment venues, and attractions; the Metropolitan Museum, Broadway, Empire State building, the UN building, Times Square, Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Harlem, and much more. Another thing that makes New York special is the mix of all the ethnic groups and all the ethnic neighborhoods they form (little Italy, Little China, little Spain, etc).

Below I have listed the distances to a few highly interesting cities not too far from New York City.

Philadelphia - 94 miles (less than two hours drive) - Philadelphia is a large historic city and a cultural center featuring many historic places and museums. Philadelphia was the capital of the United States while Washington DC was being built.

Atlantic City, New Jersey - 126 miles (two hours and twenty minutes drive) - Atlantic City is located on Absecon Island on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Gambling is legal in Atlantic City making it a mini Las Vegas. It features cool hotels, beaches, shopping, and fine dining.

Providence, Rhode Island - 180 miles (a bit more than three hours drive) - Providence, Rhode Island is a historic city, renowned for its dinging, and the beautiful archipelago nearby.

Boston - 217 miles (four hours drive) - Boston is a large city located by the beautiful New England coast. Boston is also a historically an important city. It has a beautiful harbor and is renowned for its sea food restaurants and educational institutions.

Washington DC - 230 miles (a bit more than four hours drive) - Washington DC is the political capital of the world and features an enormous amount of world famous (and often beautiful) buildings including the Capitol, Library of Congress, the White House, Pentagon (well outside), and all the Departments, etc. However, Washington DC also features an incredible amount of monuments, memorials and museums, especially the Smithsonian Institution with its 19 very large and spectacular museums all with free admission.

Getting to First Base

Since New York City is such an important world city you can get to New York City from many European cities and world cities. For the same reason you can find a lot flights to many other American cities from New York for a decent price if you book early enough.

Second Base for Traveling the USA - Orlando

Orlando Florida is without question the theme park capital of the world. Not only does it host Disney World, which is the world's largest theme park resort, but many other theme park resorts, theme parks, and amusement parks as well, including Universal Studios Resort, Sea World, Discovery Cove, Gatorland, Wonder Works, Wet'n Wild, the Holy Land Experience, and much more. Disney World features six large theme parks, downtown Disney, 24 on-property hotels, and more. The Disney theme parks are Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon (the most visited water park in the world), and Blizzard Beach (water park). In addition Orlando is nearby many wonderful Florida beaches, Cape Canaveral (NASA), you can swim with Manatees in Crystal River, and there are other tourist cities nearby like Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Daytona.

Below I have listed the distances to some highly interesting destinations not too far from Orlando, Florida. I am mentioning something about a few of the destinations (some intentionally left blank, you can look them up).

Cape Canaveral - 55 miles (less than one hour) - Cape Canaveral is the location of the NASA Kennedy Space Center. This is where the space shuttle and various space rockets are launched. You can tour the facility and see various space related memorabilia and if you are there at the right time, perhaps a launch.

Daytona Beach - 55 miles (less than one hour) - Daytona Beach is the principal city in the so called Fun Coast region of Florida. It features a lot of nice beaches but also a lot of entertainment and night life. Every year hundreds of thousands of bikers meet here for Biketoberfest, and the city host NASCAR races, Daytona 500, and bike races.

Busch Garden Amusement Park and Adventure Island, Tampa Bay - 84 miles (less than one hour) - Busch Garden is an African-themed animal theme park located outside Tampa. Adventure Island is a water park.

Tampa - 85 miles (one and a half hour drive)

St. Petersburg - 106 miles (less than two hours)

Miami - 239 miles (three hours and forty five minutes)

Getting to Second Base

The distance from New York City to Orlando is "only" 1,083 miles (1,743 kilometers), which takes about 17 hours to drive. It is doable and there is a lot to see along the way (Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Savannah, Jacksonville, other cities and many beaches). However, 17 hours is still long enough that you may want to fly there (coming from overseas).

Third Base for Traveling the USA - Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a world famous casino and gaming center but it is also a booming city filled with interesting and spectacularly designed hotels and entertainment venues. I selected it as a base because it is such a unique and interesting city in itself and because it is not far from some really spectacular natural wonders. One of those natural wonders is Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon is an enormous, very deep and steep-sided gorge that was created by the Colorado River over a six million year period. The Canyon is 446 kilometers long (277 miles long), 6.4 to 29 kilometers wide (4 to 18 miles wide) and 1.83 kilometers deep (over a mile deep) at its deepest point. Grand Canyon is so large that it all depends on where long the Grand Canyon you go, how far you will have to drive.

Below I have listed the distances to some highly interesting destinations not too far from Las Vegas, Nevada. Again, I am mentioning something about some but not all of the destinations.

Hoover Dam - 25 miles (half an hour) - A large famous dam.

Grand Canyon West - 121 miles (two and a half hours) - Grand Canyon West is located in the Hualapai Indian reservation. It features a sky walk, which allows you to walk out over the Grand Canyon and look down through the glass floor thousands of feet below.

Zion National Park - 166 miles (two hours forty five minutes) - Zion National Park is one most scenic National Parks in the United States.

Death Valley National Park - 168 miles (three hours)

Grand Canyon, south rim - 277 miles (four and a half hours) - the south rim is probably the most spectacular part of the Grand Canyon but it is further away.

Getting to Third Base

The distance between Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada, is 2358 miles (3,794 kilometers), which would take a bit more than 35 hours to drive. It could be worse (on the US continent) but it is still quite far and you may want to fly. However, Las Vegas is a very popular destination and finding airline tickets is easy.

Fourth Base (Home Plate) for Traveling the USA - Los Angeles

Southern California like Florida is a really hot tourist destination in the US, so Los Angeles (or perhaps San Diego) seems to be a good choice as a fourth base. Los Angeles has the second largest Metropolitan in the United States with 18 million people. Los Angeles has a lot of beaches, theme parks (Disney Land, Universal Studios other location), amusement parks (Knott's Berry Farm, Magic Mountain), and this is where Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive and the Santa Monica Pier and the Venice Beach Board Walk are located. Unlike New York City Los Angeles is spread out and surrounded by mountains.

Southern California (and central California) features many interesting destinations. Below I have listed the distances to some highly interesting destinations not too far from Los Angeles, California. Again, I am mentioning something about some but not all of the destinations.

Huntington Beach - 35 miles (45 minutes)

Newport Beach - 44 miles (50 minutes) - A very plush upscale beach and beach community.

Lego Land in Carlsbad - 87 miles (one and a half hours south) - A large Lego themed theme park with many large and impressive Lego constructions, 50 rides and lots to do for kids.

Sequoia National Park - 225 miles (7 and a half hrs) -

San Diego - 121 miles (two hours) - San Diego is large city famous for its beaches, Spanish influence, and theme parks and amusement parks including San Diego Zoo (the largest Zoo in the US), San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Sea World, and Belmont amusement park.

Tijuana, Mexico - 135 miles (two and a half hours)

Highway One - drive north towards San Francisco along the rocky California coast on this incredibly scenic road.

Getting to Fourth Base

The distance between Las Vegas and Los Angeles is only 271 miles, which takes a bit more than four hours, so this is probably a distance you could drive (unless you have to return the car to Las Vegas, chose the right car rental agency). Since Los Angeles is such a big and important city you could probably fly directly back from Los Angeles to Europe even if you came to New York. This is what my brother and a friend of mine did when we toured the US during my year as an exchange student (I did not fly back right away).

What is the fifth base?

As I said you could add more bases if you wish. You could also remove one base (Las Vegas) and use Los Angeles as a base for visiting Las Vegas and the surrounding National Parks and Monuments. However, there are also many interesting places in the United States that you will miss by following this plan. For example, Yellowstone National Park, which sits on top of a super volcano. Therefore it features 12 times more geysers and hydrothermal features than Iceland. A third of all geysers in the world are in Yellowstone National Park. For visiting Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, the Rocky Mountains and Wyoming you could use Jackson Hole as a base.

New Mexico is a state with a lot of very interesting natural wonders, including the snow white desert (White Sands National Monument), the Carlsbad Caverns, and much more. Albuquerque, New Mexico could function as a base for New Mexico. San Francisco could function as a base for Northern California, San Antonio for Texas, Honolulu for Hawaii, Seattle for the North West, and Anchorage for parts of Alaska, etc. You can think about this.

Final Words

The United States features an incredible amount of interesting tourist destinations; interesting cities, fantastic theme parks, natural wonders, as well as historical sights. The four bases itinerary for traveling the United States is intended to help provide ideas when planning a trip to the United States. It is roughly an attempt to optimize the number of highly interesting tourist destinations within a reasonable budget and time duration. I hope it helps.

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