USA culture holidays: The world's best destination for modern culture

What is culture?

Is culture an In-N-Out Burger, stuffed with two beef patties? Is it fries served "animal style", dripping with liquefied cheese and some other unidentifiable sauce?

Maybe not. Burger lovers might like to mount an argument for In-N-Out being a cultural icon, but it probably isn't – just the same as Shake Shack isn't, and Umami Burger isn't (although if you've been to Umami Burger and didn't like it, you and I need to have words).

Fast food might be a phenomenon all of its own, particularly in the USA, its spiritual home, but it's not one you'd want to boast about as culture. Just the same as you wouldn't want to tell too many people about your gun culture.

But does that mean the US is devoid of culture? Does that mean it's a place you'd travel to purely to shop, or to check out the natural landscapes and gawk at the tall buildings, and that's all?

Not even close.

There seems to be a misconception among some travellers I've met, a sort of snobbery that holds that the US is a cultural wasteland, that centuries-old churches and world famous art galleries matter more on the cultural scale than the modern stuff, the cultural icons that have been produced in the last hundred years of so. For me that's completely wrong. If you want modern culture – living, breathing culture – then, far from being a wasteland, the USA might just be the world's best destination.

Think about it. The USA has music, it has sport, it has film and TV, it has food, and it has art. Many of the cultural touchstones we think of as our own have originated in the US.

I've recently been watching the Foo Fighters' documentary series Sonic Highways, and it's made me realise what a ridiculous abundance of talent, history and culture there is in the US. And that's just the music scene.

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The series is a profile of eight different American cities' musical histories, ranging from punk to funk, blues to rock, R'n'B to jazz. Dave Grohl casually drops in names like Etta James, Muddy Waters, Kanye West, Buddy Guy, Billy Corgan, Rick Neilson… And that's just in Chicago. In the first episode. How many countries can compete with that?

This is not culture that travellers have to experience from afar, either. You don't need a guided tour through a musty museum in the US. You can get along to the music venues that hosted all of those big names – that still host those big names. You can see concerts in Austin, in Nashville, in San Francisco and in New Orleans. You can take in hundreds of music scenes and genres.

That, for me, is culture. And we haven't even started talking about the other aspects in the US. How about sport, in a country where you have the chance of seeing some of the biggest leagues in the world in the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL, ice hockey, or Major League Soccer?

They get more than 100,000 people turn up to watch high school kids play football in some parts of the country. Tens of millions tune in to watch college basketball. The Super Bowl is the most ridiculously overhyped, overblown spectacle in world sport. And it's all there in the US. And you can go along and see it while you're travelling there.

There's more to it, as well. I might have poked fun at fast food, but the US does have a legitimately great culinary scene, from creole food in the south to slabs of bison steak in the north. There's barbecue in Texas; Mexican food in California; every single cuisine on the planet in New York. This is a country of good eating.

And the beer? Anyone who disses American beer doesn't know what they're talking about. The micro-brewery scenes in Washington State, in Oregon, in Vermont, Colorado and California are the best in the world. Forget Bud Light – no one drinks it in those states any more.

But maybe you'd prefer art and design. Frank Gehry lives and works in the US. Andy Warhol was American. Jackson Pollock, too.

It might be something of an uncomfortable truth for some travellers, given how easy it can be to dislike the States' position in the world, but this is no cultural backwater. In fact the USA is a world leader, probably the best place on the globe to travel to if you're in search of living, breathing culture and a rich recent history.

And if all of that makes you too uncomfortable – just go "animal style" at In-N-Out Burger.

Do you think the USA lacks culture for travellers? Or is it a world leader?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also:

Twenty things that will shock you about the USA

A guide to tipping in the USA

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