Mia Tong

Whether you plan to travel to the United States with family, friends, or alone, you’ll probably explore some of the nation’s highlights by joining the standard tours that take you to some of the most famous spots in the country. There’s nothing like a visit to the National Mall or the Statue of Liberty, but in addition to the usual tourist hot-spots, there are also various tours offered across the nation that can be fascinating, unique, and sometimes even a little strange. These tours often provide an amazing glimpse of real American life because they more closely represent our diverse background and heritage. Here is a top 10 list (in reverse order) of some of the most interesting and unusual tours that will show you a side of America that you’ve never even imagined:

10. Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail (New Mexico)

The Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail brings you a taste of America with a southwestern twist. By incorporating the trademark of southwest cuisine – the green chile – inside the burger, New Mexico boasts one of the most delicious burgers in the entire country! The trail itself is a list of some of the best restaurants that serve green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico, all hand-picked by the experts – the people of New Mexico themselves. As you tour some of the most beautiful destinations in New Mexico, follow the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail to complete your Southwestern experience with a stomach full of tasty green chile cheeseburgers!

9. Civil War on the James Tour (Richmond, Virginia)

Come discover the fascinating history of the Civil War that gripped the U.S. in the 19th century, while on a boat! The two-hour boat tour on the James River in Virginia takes you to battle sites where the Union in the North and the Confederates in the South fought furiously against one another. The tour will take you to some of the exact locations of Civil War events that are captured in photos or paintings. Make sure you check the tour dates and times in advance because the tour is only offered on certain dates.

8. Grand Canyon Mule Rides (Grand Canyon, Arizona)

Not only can you visit the Grand Canyon to see its majestic view, but you can also ride a mule down the trails inside the Grand Canyon! Riding mules in the Grand Canyon is a century-old tradition, and depending on where the guided tour takes you, you might end up in a forest, by a river, or at a breath-taking overlook. Make sure you book months in advance because the mule tours are extremely popular. And don’t forget to take a camera with you to capture the stunning views!

A mule train winds its way down the Bright Angel trail at Grand Canyon National Park. (AP Photo/Jeff Robbins)

A mule train winds its way down the Bright Angel trail at Grand Canyon National Park. (AP Photo/Jeff Robbins)

7. San Antonio Walks (San Antonio, Texas)

You might know Texas as “that cowboy state down south,” but there is a long and fascinating history of wars and cultural interactions in Texas as well! The San Antonio History Walk will take you on a guided tour to the Alamo, San Fernando Cathedral, and other historical sites that tell the history of the harsh battles that raged between Texas and Mexico almost 200 years ago, with history experts telling the story in detail. Considered one of the best tours in Texas, the walk will give you a fresh outlook on American history!

6. Honey Island Swamp Tours (New Orleans, Louisiana)

Come have a true Cajun experience by taking a tour of a swamp! Just outside of New Orleans, you can ride a boat to the Honey Island Swamp to see alligators, raccoons, bald eagles, turtles, and snakes up close and personal! A great get-away from the bustling city life in New Orleans, the tour is led by the people of New Orleans and will give you a chance to see the intriguing swamp just next door. Just one caution: be careful not to get your hand bitten off by an alligator!

5. Chicago Pizza Tour (Chicago, Illinois)

For all the pizza lovers out there, there is no tour that can top the Chicago Pizza Tour! The tour guide will take you on an adventure to eat an assortment of different kinds of pizza in local pizzerias that are largely unknown to tourists. This tour will essentially teach you everything you need to know about pizza, from the crust to the sauce. Because of the tour’s popularity, make sure you book far in advance. Also, make sure you start the tour with an empty stomach because it will leave you full enough for the rest of the day!

4. Alcatraz Night Tour (San Francisco, California)

The infamous Alcatraz prison is one of the most frightening prisons in the country. On an island off San Francisco, Alcatraz housed some of the biggest criminals. It is unique both for its maximum security and fascinatingly morbid and unsuccessful escape stories. The night tour will take you by boat to the prison to hear stories about the inmates and the history of the prison, topping off the trip with one of the best night views in San Francisco. Since nights on the Bay can get very cold any day of the year, make sure to bundle up before you go!

Visitors view prison cells during an evening tour of Alcatraz. (AP Photo/Jakub Mosur)

Visitors view prison cells during an evening tour of Alcatraz. (AP Photo/Jakub Mosur)

3. 1692 Salem Witchcraft Walk (Salem, Massachusetts)

Salem, a 30-minute drive from Boston, is one of the oldest settlements in America and the site of the infamous witch trials that claimed the lives of many innocent women in the 17th century. In the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Walk, you will walk through some of the oldest buildings in the area and learn the history of the Salem Witch Trials along with the legends surrounding them. If you go, you may want to stay a while to participate in an evening ghost tour through one of the oldest and scariest cemeteries in the U.S!

2. Cave of the Winds Tours (Manitou Springs, Colorado)

All aspiring geologists will have the time of their lives in the Cave of the Winds. The underground cave has some of the most interesting rock formations in the country! There, you can see rock formations that took hundreds of thousands of years to materialize, and you can even experience total darkness that is not possible outside a cave. Come escape from the sunny outdoors and enter the chilly and dark depths of the natural underground world!

Cave of the Winds just outside of Colorado Springs (Photo by Matt Inden/Miles, courtesy of the Colorado Tourism Office)


1. Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour (Portland, Oregon)

A truly strange experience, the Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour will take you to the underground scene of Portland to hunt down and find ghosts that haunt the city. The night tours provide you with the equipment used by ghost hunters to find ghosts. While working in a team, you will search for ghosts yourself! Those who go on this tour claim that the tour is unlike any other and is the best way to experience true ghost-hunting. Don’t forget to bring a camera, because you just might catch some supernatural action on film!

You may not wholeheartedly agree with some of the choices I made on this list, in terms of the ranking, but each tour is fun in its own unique way and will truly give you a glimpse of what America is all about. These are not the only off-the-beaten-track tours in the country. The tours listed represent only a small sample of the diverse experiences that America has to offer. There are countless other exciting and engaging tours available across the nation that can be found with just a little research.

Discover America one unique tour at a time and get a sense of the true American experience!

Mia Tong was a Press Office Summer Hire at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in 2012, and is currently a college junior at the University of California in Berkeley, where she is an Anthropology major with an Arabic minor. She grew up with parents working in U.S. embassies and spent her childhood in Japan, China, South Korea, and the U.S.