Optimizing US Travel: 6 Unique States to Visit

map Optimizing US Travel: 9 Unique States to Visit

Although the United States is one country, it has many significant regional differences. But what if you could see the essential diversity of the entire nation by visiting just six states? This article offers some suggestions for how to optimize travel around the United States to see interesting states that eloquently represent their unique regions.

The six states were chosen based on data from the State Similarity Index. The Index attempts to quantify how similar US states are to each other. The data shows that there are essentially six unique regions of the country:

  1. Alaska
  2. Northeast
  3. West
  4. South
  5. Midwest
  6. Hawaii

The statistics show that the following six states are not only relatively average in comparison to other states in their own region, but also quite unique when compared to the rest of the country.

1. Massachusetts

78.9 Northeast region average, 54.2 non-Northeast average

As one of the original 13 colonies, Massachusetts is vitally important to American history. Some of the oldest towns in the country are located in the state. From its charming small villages to the bustling city of Boston, this state embodies the legacy of the Northeast region with a blend of traditional American values and progressive thinking.

In fact, Plymouth, Massachusetts is the first permanent English colony in New England. It is also the birthplace of the American Revolution. Walking along the cobblestone streets of towns like Salem and Concord, visitors can immerse themselves in the echoes of the past, where pivotal events that shaped the nation took place.

Boston, a city of renowned universities and intellectual prowess, epitomizes the Northeast’s commitment to education and progressive thinking. The city’s prestigious institutions like Harvard and MIT have propelled innovation and shaped modern thought, solidifying the region’s reputation as an intellectual hub. In fact, Massachusetts is the most educated state in the country.

The state also has many world-class museums, theaters, and galleries offering a glimpse into the Northeast’s appreciation for the arts. The blend of historical preservation and forward-looking creativity encapsulates the region’s dynamic character.

Massachusetts’ landscape reflects the Northeast’s variety, from scenic coastline to lush countryside. The charming coastal towns of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard echo the area’s maritime heritage, while the rolling hills of the Berkshires showcase the pastoral beauty that inspired countless artists and writers.

Massachusetts’ fusion of history, education, and cultural enrichment makes it the embodiment of the Northeast region. A visit to Massachusetts allows travelers to explore firsthand how this captivating state’s blend of modern culture and unique history is to experience.

2. Iowa

78.3 Midwest region average, 60.7 non-Midwest average

Known as the picturesque embodiment of the Midwest’s heart and spirit, Iowa offers a glimpse into the essential traits that define the region’s values of community, resilience, and appreciation for the simple joys of life. This state’s sprawling landscapes and welcoming towns encapsulate the Midwest’s timeless charm and down-to-earth hospitality.

Iowa is full of vast fields of monotonous golden cornfields and expansive prairies. As you drive through its serene countryside, you’ll witness the Midwest’s dedication to hard work and the deep connection between its people and the land.

Small towns and close-knit communities are at the core of Iowa’s identity. The genuine warmth and neighborly camaraderie, reminiscent of the Midwest’s close community bonds, create an inviting atmosphere as you explore the quaint Main Streets and engage in conversations with locals who readily share stories of their lives and traditions.

Iowa’s history of resilience and self-reliance mirrors the Midwest’s enduring values. The state’s museums and historical sites shed light on its agricultural and industrial evolution, offering insights into the region’s journey from its humble beginnings to its present-day prosperity.

The Midwest’s appreciation for simple pleasures is evident in Iowa’s local fairs, festivals, and gatherings. These events showcase the region’s love for traditions, family, and the joy found in coming together to celebrate life’s small moments.

In essence, Iowa’s embrace of its agricultural roots, strong sense of community, and devotion to cherished traditions makes it the state in the Midwest that most captures the very essence of the region. A visit to Iowa is an exploration of the values and traditions that define the heartland of the United States.

3. Alaska

100.0 Alaska region average, 55.0 non-Alaska average

As a land of unparalleled wilderness and natural wonders, Alaska stands out as a unique state that offers an extraordinary blend of rugged beauty and untamed landscapes. From its towering glaciers to its abundant wildlife, Alaska’s allure lies in its ability to captivate and inspire those who venture into its vast expanse.

Alaska is the country’s coldest and most sparsely populated state. The state’s crown jewel, Denali National Park, is home to North America’s highest peak and showcases the sheer magnitude of nature’s grandeur. The untamed wilderness of Alaska provides a habitat for diverse wildlife, from grizzly bears to bald eagles to whales.

Alaska’s indigenous cultures, represented by native communities, such as the Yup’ik, Aleut, Inupiat, offer a glimpse into the state’s rich heritage. Traditional art, storytelling, and customs provide insight into the deep-rooted connection between the people and the land, showcasing Alaska’s commitment to preserving its cultural identity.

The unique phenomenon of the Midnight Sun during summer and the mesmerizing Northern Lights during winter add to Alaska’s mystique, offering visitors a chance to witness nature’s most breathtaking spectacles.

Whether you’re exploring a glacier’s icy expanse, witnessing the dance of the Aurora Borealis, or immersing yourself in the cultural traditions of native communities, Alaska’s ability to provide unparalleled experiences makes it a truly unique state to visit. It’s a place where the raw beauty of nature intertwines with human history and awe-inspiring landscapes.

4. Hawaii

100.0 Hawaii region average, 50.4 non-Hawaii average

Hawaii is the most unique state in the country for a multitude of reasons. Its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and isolated location in the Pacific Ocean create a one-of-a-kind destination that captivates visitors with its charm and allure.

The state’s lush tropical landscapes, with their volcanic craters, verdant rainforests, and pristine beaches, showcase the dramatic diversity of nature within a relatively small area. The islands’ unique geology, formed by volcanic activity over millions of years, has given rise to a truly unique environment that contrasts starkly with the mainland.

Furthermore, the state has by far the highest population of East Asian and Polynesian people in the country. Traditional luaus, festivals, and celebrations offer visitors a chance to immerse themselves in a culture that holds a deep respect for nature, family, and community. As a result, its people tend to be some of the most liberal in the United States.

The Aloha Spirit, a unique sense of warmth, hospitality, and mutual respect, pervades every corner of Hawaii. This welcoming atmosphere, combined with the islands’ breathtaking beauty, creates an environment that encourages relaxation, reflection, and a deep connection to both the natural world.

Hawaii’s unparalleled landscapes, rich culture, and isolated location in the Pacific make it a truly unique state to visit. Its ability to transport visitors to a world of tropical splendor and cultural authenticity sets it apart from other regions of the United States, offering an experience that is both enchanting and rejuvenating.

5. Nevada

71.7 West region average, 55.5 non-West average

Nevada offers a distinctive glimpse into the essential traits that define the Western region of the United States. With its iconic landscapes, sprawling cities, and a history deeply rooted in the frontier spirit, Nevada embodies the dynamic essence of the West like no other state.

Nevada’s vast deserts, rugged mountains, and expansive valleys epitomize the Western region’s breathtaking natural diversity. From the Mojave Desert to the majestic Sierra Nevada range, the state’s mountainous terrain reflects the untamed splendor that characterizes the American West.

The glimmering lights of Las Vegas, a beacon of gambling, entertainment, and modernity, contrast sharply with the serene beauty of Nevada’s wild landscapes. The city’s vibrant energy and world-famous casinos mirror the West’s independent spirit.

Nevada’s history is deeply intertwined with the American frontier, exemplifying a culture of exploration, resilience, and self-reliance. Historic mining towns, like Virginia City, echo the tales of prospectors and pioneers who sought fortune and opportunity in the untamed West.

The state’s vast outdoor playgrounds, from Lake Tahoe to Great Basin National Park, provide opportunities for recreational adventures that are synonymous with the Western lifestyle. Whether hiking among ancient pine forests or exploring the stark beauty of the desert, visitors can experience the rugged pursuits that define the region.

In essence, Nevada’s blend of natural wonders, vibrant city life, and historical resonance makes it a unique state that captures the very essence of the Western region of the United States. A visit to Nevada is an exploration allows travelers to witness firsthand how this captivating state has become.

6. Alabama

79.1 South region average, 55.8 non-South average

Alabama is steeped in history and charm, offers a captivating insight into the essential traits that define the Southern region of the United States. From its rich cultural heritage to its warm hospitality, Alabama embodies the spirit of the South with its unique blend of tradition, community, and resiliency.

The state’s historical significance is evident in its antebellum architecture, Civil Rights landmarks, and museums that pay tribute to its complex past. Sites like the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma provide a poignant reminder of Alabama’s role in shaping the nation’s struggle for equality.

Southern hospitality takes center stage in Alabama, with locals welcoming visitors with open arms and genuine warmth. The slow pace of life, the emphasis on family, and the tradition of gathering for meals and storytelling create an environment that encourages connection and camaraderie.

Alabama’s culinary traditions, from mouthwatering barbecue to soulful comfort food, reflect the South’s appreciation for good food and good company. Sharing a meal is a cherished Southern custom that brings people together to savor flavors and forge meaningful relationships.

Muscle Shoals, Alabama is well known for several successful recording studios that have played a significant role in shaping the history of rock, country, and R&B especially during the the 1960s to the 1980s.

The state’s natural beauty, from the Gulf Coast’s sandy beaches to the rolling hills of the Appalachian Mountains, mirrors the diversity of the Southern landscape. These varied settings provide opportunities for both relaxation and exploration, capturing the essence of the South’s idyllic charm.

In essence, Alabama’s blend of historical significance, conservative culture, and genuine hospitality makes it a unique state that captures the very essence of the Southern region of the United States. A visit to Alabama allows travelers to witness firsthand how this state embodies the heart and soul of the region.


  1. The Alabama section might need another factcheck. Generally it is New Orleans, Louisiana that is considered the “birthplace” of jazz, not Mobile.

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