A joke we overheard in a coffee shop in Italy:
Question: What’s the difference between yogurt and the United States of America?
Answer: Yogurt has culture.
Okay, maybe that’s a little funny. The problem is, it isn’t true. The United States is full of culture. It isn’t as gourmet as, say, Italy. Nor is it as old as China or as enveloping as India, or as snobby as France. But it most certainly is there. American culture is diverse, interesting, and, we’d argue, it’s one of the most fun national cultures on the planet.
Want proof? Below is our recommendation for five distinctly American cultural experiences that you are unlikely to find written up in any guidebook.
Note: For this post we only considered experiences that are available across the country. Anything that’s exclusive to a specific ethnic group or region — attending Burning Man in Nevada or eating gumbo in New Orleans or getting yelled at by a taxi driver in New York City, for instance — was disqualified. We also nixed holiday events, like the 4th of July American Independence Day.
While this post was written with non-American travelers in mind, those from the United States may also gain some travel tips by reading on . . .
A sandy floor, a full size tree trunk, a profusion of green plants and a posse of endangered species — in cuddly toy form. The WWF room at Scandic Vulkan hotel in Oslo is wild! The only thing missing are the calls of rainforest birds. Although, if you are after a good night’s sleep, that’s is probably for the best.
Designed in partnership with WWF Norway, to raise awareness of environmental issues among hotel guests, the room also features recycling bins (yes, you’ll have to sort out your paper from your plastic waste), second-hand furniture, organic toiletries and long-life bulbs, among other energy-saving devices.
The Big Baobab Bar has everything you'd find in a traditional British pub (except more ants).
Sometimes the name of a pub describes exactly what it is. So it is with the Big Baobab Bar in Limpopo Province, South Africa.
The “Baobab” in the moniker refers to a type of tree that’s native to Madagascar and found sprinkled throughout arid regions of southern Africa. The genus is colloquially referred to as “the upside down tree” — in the dry season, when baobabs sheds its leafs, the branches resemble underground roots.
Remember our post about the world’s first Cupcake dispensing ATM? It was located in Beverly Hills, California outside of a Sprinkles Cupcake store.
The Los Angeles suburb of Beverly Hills has long been known as the home of ritzy Rodeo Drive shopping, by-the-book police officers and the country’s most famous zip code. Yet the cupcake ATM managed to grab its own share of the spotlight. The machine made cameo television appearances, including on TMZ, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and The Today Show. And it proved a huge hit across the spectrum of Beverly Hills residents, from celebrities to soccer moms and stoners (and travel bloggers). It was even the location of a wedding proposal!
Swimming with penguins is adorable. Swimming with whale sharks is magnificent. But swimming with pigs?
In the Caribbean, there’s a bay of pigs where you can experience for yourself what that’s like. No, not the Bay of Pigs, as in the site of the CIA’s failed invasion of Cuba1. This (literal) bay of pigs is located in the Bahamas, on the uninhabited island of Big Major Cay — one of the 365 Exuma islands that stretch out in an arc south of Nassau. That’s where you’ll find beach Babes swimming in the clear waters and frolicking on the golden sand.
Okay, so you’ve already purchased your Paris Disneyland tickets online and are mentally preparing yourself for an overdose of le Mouse de Mickey. Chances are your kids begged you to take them, enchanted by attractions like Big Thunder Mountain, the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and what’s arguably the best castle of any of the Disney properties: Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant.
But chances, too, are that your kids haven’t heard of all the other cool theme parks in France. There are some great ones. And some of them have creative features that will delight parents every bit as much as their children.
Here’s a rundown of Spot Cool Stuff’s three favorites:
There are about two dozen medieval-themed restaurants in the world1. Of those, L’Auberge du Dragon Rouge is definitely not the most authentically medieval. But the Montreal restaurant is almost certainly the most fun.
You’ll find L’Auberge du Dragon Rouge well north of downtown on Rue Lajeunesse. It’s a surprisingly nondescript street for such an unusual restaurant. Walking past the ordinary-looking concrete and brick buildings, your first clue that you’ve come across somewhere special will be the giant gargoyle statue out front.
Is chocolate good for you? Researchers, conducting highly scientific studies, have found chocolate beneficial in preventing a plethora of ailments including cancer, stroke and heart disease. But Spot Cool Stuff has a more simple theory:
If it makes you smile, it’s health food.
In honor of National Smile Month—and to the dismay of dentists everywhere—here’s our look at 12 wonderful chocolate shops. We hesitate calling them the “best” chocolate shops given how there are easily 60 or more stores that we could have included on this list. All the shops we did include are superlative in some way.
Note that this overview is a companion piece to our equally dentist-horrifying review of the world’s best candy shops.