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July 27, 2012

Four Fun Facts on U.S. Cities & How to Explore Deeper

By Lacy Morris

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Houston, Texas-86528269(Jupiterimages,Comstock,Getty,Thinkstock)
Houston, Texas (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty/Thinkstock)

Going to Houston: A Travel Guide

Fun Fact: The first word spoken on the surface of the moon was this city's name: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

Though the headquarters of NASA are located in Washington, D.C., Houston has gained quite a bit of popularity with the flightless public due to that line and the infamous problem whispered in countless Hollywood blockbusters. Get in on the trend with these city attractions.

Space Center Houston
One of Texas's top-ranked tourist attractions, it serves as the official visitor's center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, where the majority of American astronaut training takes place. Geared toward both children and adults, there are more than enough options for the space cadets. Watch movies on the five-story-tall Northrup Grumman Theater screen, or get a glimpse into what life is really like for astronauts in the Living in Space module. The Kids Space Place is a massive playground where tots can command their own space shuttle and make-believe orbit.

Professional Sports
Of the five professional sports teams based in Houston, there is only one that doesn't bear a NASA/space related moniker, the Houston Texans football team. The Houston Astros, changed from the Colt 45s in 1962, play ball at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston adjacent Union Station. A retractable roof and open-air seating allows for America's favorite pastime under the stars. The Rockets and the Aeros play at the Toyota Center, also a premier entertainment venue for concerts and shows. The luxury stadium has hosted everyone from Oprah and Beyoncé to Shaquille O'Neal and stretches four city blocks in downtown Houston.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-91401532(iStockphoto,Thinkstock)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Going to Philadelphia: A Travel Guide

Fun Fact: In 1859 a charter was signed to create the Zoological Society of Philadelphia, the nation's first zoo. Fifteen years later (after a lull in construction due to the Civil War), the Philadelphia Zoo opened its doors with 813 different animals to view, costing less than a quarter for visitors.

Though it isn't the largest zoo in the U.S. (that honor goes to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, for acreage and species count combined), it takes the award for being a trailblazer in it's genre. More than 1,300 animals call the 42-acre compound home and greet more than a million visitors per year. Delve deeper into Philly's animal instincts with these city attractions.

Adventure Aquarium
Philly's aquarium is the fifth largest in the United States (it's actually located directly across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey) and holds 8,500 animals in more than two million gallons of water. Those numbers are quite impressive, but none quite so as waddling with African Black-Footed Penguins, petting a porcupine, or donning a wetsuit and lowering yourself into Shark Realm. For a more virtual experience, catch a flick at the 4D theatre where the animal kingdom literally comes out to play.

Ride the Ducks
Explore Philly the way the ducks do, via land and water. These amphibious vehicles cruise the streets, past Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Ben Franklin's gravesite. And then they head straight to the water for spectacular views of the cityscape, plus the Battleship New Jersey and Penn's Landing. Based on the DUKW vehicle design from World War II, Ride the Ducks is the only company in the world to manufacture and operate its own amphibious vehicles, and they've been doing so for more than 30 years.

Denver, Colorado-86540089(Jupiterimages,Comstock,Getty,Thinkstock)
Denver, Colorado (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty/Thinkstock)

Going to Denver: A Travel Guide

Fun Fact: Denver is home to the world's largest single brewery, has the nation's largest brewpub, and boasts the highest number of home brewers in the United States.

The Mile High City loves to get its drink on, and with such high elevation, you're likely to feel the effects much quicker than you will in any other U.S. city. In fact, legend tells that the first permanent building constructed in Denver was a saloon. The city's mayor, John Hickenlooper, has even gotten in on the party. He's a cofounder of a popular downtown brewery, Wynkoop Brewery. Tap the Rockies with these city attractions.

Coors Brewery
Located just 12 miles from downtown Denver, Coors Brewery is the world's largest brewery, producing more than 17 million gallons of brewski a year. Even though Coors is the third-largest manufacturer overall, they still use the 44 natural springs that dot the brewery property to create the smooth finish they're known for. Touring the plant is free and self-guided, and you can learn the basics and see examples of malting, brewing, and packaging. And yes, there are free samples for those of age to sip at the end.

The Great American Beer Festival
Known as the Super Bowl of Beer, this festival takes place annually at the Colorado Convention Center, with many of the events and activities spilling into the streets of downtown Denver. The three-day festival is the oldest and largest of its kind, offering thousands of different varieties of beer for sampling. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Record, there is no other place on earth where one can find more beers on tap.

San Francisco, CA-141250267(iStockphoto,Thinsktock)
San Francisco, California (iStockphoto/Thinsktock)

Going to San Francisco: A Travel Guide

Fun Fact: Levi Strauss invented his famous jeans in San Francisco. In the age of the Gold Rush, he set off from New York City with a thick durable fabric intending to open a dry-goods store selling tents and wagon covers. When a prospector asked what he was selling, Strauss was told that he should have made pants because it was impossible to find a pair strong enough to last.

With history in such a staple of the fashion industry, it's no wonder that San Fran has more than a city's fair share of places to shop. From mega-malls to boutique-lined alleys, there is always a place to go for those who want to spend their tourist dime on something other than Ghirardelli chocolates and Alcatraz tours. Save your money for these city attractions.

Mission Street
San Francisco is famous for being eclectic and accepting of different cultures and ways-of-life. If you want to show your own style, a good start is Mission Street, with its unique boutiques and whimsical décor. This chromatic walkway provides a canvas for thousands of artists who come to etch their murals on the neighborhood's building's walls. You'll also find the funkiest of attire in the stores that line this stretch. Looking for a tie-dye wedding dress? It's here. A belt made solely of beer cans? Right around the corner.

Hayes Valley
Hayes Valley was once the epicenter for the seedier side of San Francisco, the eyesore of the city. Now-a-days it's a hot spot for artsy folk and is lined with contemporary art galleries, design studios, and outdoor wine bars and cafés. With a view of the San Francisco Symphony and Opera House, it's the perfect backdrop for shoppers to support the local talent, as chain stores of any kind aren't welcome here. Stop by RAG, Residents Apparel Gallery, to browse more than 20 local designer's goods, and afterwards, visit Blue Bottle Coffee Company for a taste of the organic, small-batch-roasted coffee that locals prize.

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