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The only iconic American sites worth your time

By Nina Willdorf
January 12, 2022
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Courtesy <a href="http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_Four-Corners-Monument/photo/2248141/21864.html">altea/myBudgetTravel</a>

One of my favorite childhood travel memories is of getting into an awkward downward dog at Four Corners—the place where New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah meet in a tidy point (navajonationalparks.org/fourcorners, $3). My sisters and I had to wait our turn for the privilege but it was well worth it—if only for the requisite silly photo opp. Meanwhile, back at home in San Francisco, if you asked us to wait on line for OUR local tourist attraction, the lame outdoor mall known as Fisherman's Wharf, you would have been out of luck. Waste. Of. Time.

We're looking to do a story on iconic American sites in an upcoming magazine issue, sifting the time-wasters from the totally worth-its. A blatantly unscientific, informal poll in the office today has delivered this info:

Hoover Dam: Go for it! (Surprisingly interesting…)

Mt. Rushmore: Skip it! (Long lines; after immediate impact, the neck craning doesn't deliver.)

Niagara Falls: Go for it! (Thundering awesomeness…)

Times Square: Skip it! (We'll tell you better spots in the December/January of the mag.)

We realize we're treading on risky ground here. Things could get heated. You're very likely to disagree with our unscientific, informal poll above. We're counting on you to do just that—and then tell us places you wish you'd skipped, and why.

MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL:

8 Places Every American Should See

59 Jaw-Dropping Roadside Attractions

National Parks (Minus the Crowds)

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Inspiration

Rome: Coffee prices are rising

Espresso drinkers in Rome should prepare for a jolt of another kind. The inflated price of coffee beans has increased the likelihood that local caf&eacute;s will hike up prices before the new year, according to a report in the Italian daily paper Corriere della Sera. Coffee futures broke the $2-a-pound level for the first time in 13 years earlier in October, and coffee makers have already begun communicating the upcoming increase to businesses in Rome. Prices are currently around &euro;0.80 ($1.10) for a cup of espresso, but experts predict an increase of about &euro;0.20 ($0.28) cents to a new price of &euro;1 ($1.38) in Rome, where caf&eacute; owners have so far managed to keep coffee prices comparatively low. In cities like Milan, the Italian hub of luxury, you can easily be charged between &euro;1 to &euro;1.50 ($2.07) at the bar. I checked with the staff at Rome's La Bottega del Caff&eacute; (Piazza Madonna dei Monti, 5, 011-39/06-474-1578). They said they will definitely be compelled to raise prices, though they don't know by how much yet. Last time they raised prices was in 2008 when an espresso went from &euro;70 ($0.97) to &euro;80 ($1.10). Some bar owners interviewed by Corriere della Sera said they only plan to up the cost of coffee served tableside and not the quick cup you drink standing at the bar. Most Italians on their way to work in the morning sling back coffees standing up and don't take more than a minute or two to drink a cappuccino. At La Bottega del Caff&eacute;, coffee at the bar currently costs &euro;0.80 ($1.10) compared to &euro;2 ($2.76) at the table. Watch this video clip for tips on how to order coffee like a Roman. On my way to a meeting last week, I stepped into a bar near the Vatican called La Bottega di Raffaello (Via dei Corridori, 42), which has started serving American-style coffee to go. An American coffee costs &euro;1 ($1.38). If you have ever been to the Eternal City, you would know that this kind of Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts coffee is a serious anomaly. I personally think that the traditional Italian coffee experience is a treasure worth preserving and experiencing. But if you're desperate for that warm paper cup and plastic cover to take with you, now there's a place to find it. MORE ON ROME How to tip in 6 situations Neighborhood watch: Monti, Rome How to get tickets for Rome's film festival

Inspiration

San Francisco: The new Exploratorium breaks ground

San Francisco's innovative hands-on science museum the Exploratorium will get a new home in 2013. Construction has just started on nine acres of waterfront at Pier 15 and 17, on the Embarcadero between the Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf. The museum is known for its original educational programs and explore-for-yourself exhibits that explain science and technology. There's even a program where artists and scientists work together. The new building will offer gorgeous bay views, not to mention twice as much exhibition space, a new restaurant, a glass observatory building, and two acres of outdoor space. The construction itself is a feat, involving the repair, replacement, and installation of pilings that extend 160 feet into the sea floor. The sustainable design also includes green elements, like a heating and cooling system that uses bay water. In the meantime, you can still visit the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon Street. admission $15, but free on the first Wednesday of the month. MORE ON SAN FRANCISCO A Shorthand Guide to Burritos 12 Things You Didn't Know About San Francisco 8 Perspectives on the World's Most Beautiful Cities

Inspiration

A Train Lovers' Guide To Thailand

I was one of a dozen westerners waiting for the Chiang Mai midnight sleeper, along with 500 uniformed school kids noisily waiting for their train. Their frantic teachers invented amusements like group charades and spelling contests, but still most of the kids wandered around looking for trouble. A dozen 13-year-olds blocked my path. Their bold leader, a chubby pony-tailed girl, demanded to know where I come from. They all giggled and elbowed each other chattering hysterically in Thai after I told them I was from Canada. A fellow passenger, a British woman said (loudly over the din), "These kids were already here when I arrived at 7:30." She looked peevishly at her wristwatch. It was 10 p.m. I had been told Thai rail is usually reliable, so this was not a good sign. I went in search of the station master who spoke just enough English to tell me the entire system was backed-up due to a landslide in the highlands up north, but, "Not to worry all trains still arriving, just a little slow." Two hours later the kids' train to Pai came and went, leaving the platform strangely silent. The midnight train arrived at 1:45 a.m. with my bunk bed ready for me. The car's air conditioning was working—too well. After an attendant gave me a second blanket, I slept soundly, lulled by the swaying of the car and the clacking rhythm of the tracks. I awoke an hour before we reached Chiang Mai. At the end of the corridor several sinks were ready for the passengers' morning ablutions. When I returned to my bunk the rail company's slogan "Service Mind" was demonstrated as an attendant worked with remarkable speed, efficiently converting my bunk bed into a comfortable seat and table. For about $20 (600 baht), I had a Second Class sleeper ticket, but the service was First Class. My berth was aboard a reasonably modern car, pulled by a clean diesel/electric engine. My rail journey had begun at Ubon in Thailand's northeast. At Ayutthuya near Bangkok I had transferred to the night train to the last stop on the Northern Line. Thailand's rail system was launched in 1890, named the Royal State Railways of Siam. The first line was the 71-kilometer span from Bangkok to Ayutthuya. Today it's called State Railways of Thailand, has over 4,000-kilometers of track, and carries 50 million people annually. Here's what you need to know. TICKETSFirst Class tickets are available on most long distance routes. These compartments are air conditioned and include private two-passenger sleeper rooms complete with wash basins (but shared bathrooms). Second Class sleepers have convertible bunks in a dorm arrangement. Privacy is maintained with curtains for each bed. Third Class tickets sometimes have upholstered seats, though on most lines, only wooden benches. There are no sleeping accommodations in Third Class, and no air conditioning, though many trains have fans. POPULAR LINESThere are four principle lines of track in Thailand. The Eastern Line connects Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos, and a second train ends at Nai Mueang near the borders of Laos and Cambodia. The Northern Line starts in Bangkok and terminates in Chiang Mai, near the border of Burma. The North-Eastern Railway ends on the Laotian border at Nong Khai. The Southern Line links Bangkok to Malaysia. This route connects many towns near some of Thailand's most popular beach resorts and terminates at the Sungai Kolok Station on the border. In the past, this train went all to the way into Kuala Lumpur. The line now runs down the Malay Peninsula's eastern shore along the Gulf of Thailand. INTERESTING ROUTESTrue train aficionados shouldn't miss The Death Railway (Thailand-Burma Railway), built by Asian and Allied prisoners of war of the occupying Japanese forces during WWII. Thousands of prisoners died from the brutal forced labor. Along the route is the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, immortalized by the eponymous 1957 film starring Alec Guinness. The Death Railway originates at Thorburi Station in Bangkok and terminates at Lang Suan, no longer reaching Burma. For luxury rail fans, the Eastern and Oriental Express runs through Thailand into Malaysia ending in Singapore. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel. Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season, traveling the world looking for a story.

Inspiration

Deals to Escape Winter!

Despite all the fun we had last weekend sledding and sipping cocoa, I'm getting a little weary of winter. So, I was psyched to see some luxe-for-less deals come our way. They can drop you on a warm, sunny beach, pronto: PUERTO RICO. You don't need a passport to visit this U.S. territory, but in all other respects you’ll be a world away from home. Stroll the old-world streets of Old San Juan, kayak in the eerily beautiful Bioluminescent Bay, and taste local favorites like arepas and spicy Asian-fusion dishes that juxtapose noodles with Latin-flavored meat and vegetables. Copamarina Beach Resort &amp; Spa is located on a secluded beach with 20 acres of tropical gardens and nearby diving opportunities from $145/night. OAHU. From the iconic beachfront of Waikiki to dramatic Diamond Head and amazing beaches, authentic luaus, hula dances, and traditional art demonstration, the Hawaiian Island of Oahu is one of our very favorite winter escapes. Hilton Hawaiian Village is one of the island’s most famous hotels and they’re offering an incredible discount of 20 percent off, with rooms from $177/night. COSTA RICA. Want your winter escape to include beaches, rain forest, and a volcano? Budget Travel editors, readers, and even many of our friends and family have been raving about how Costa Rica is the ultimate getaway. TripMasters is offering flexible, customizable tours starting at 6 nights from under $1,000, including air and hotel.