Like the first European settlers, we're starting our US coverage on the east coast, at its cultural, financial and fashionable heart: New York - the city which tops all others in every sense, including visitor numbers (nearly 50 million a year).
Maybe it’s the vicarious familiarity of its movie backdrops, the melting pot of cultures or the simplistic grid system that does away with the need for maps... but there’s something about arriving in New York (once you recover from the yellow-cab airport transfer) that makes you feel instantly at home.
This is a city that wants to be all things to all people, a place of unabashed extremes. Its climate runs from freezing winters to stifling summers; its late nights regularly run into mornings; its businesslike work ethic segues into wild play times. Customs officials might do their best to make you feel otherwise, but NYC owes its existence to the open-armed welcome of one and all, and it never forgets where it came from. New Yorkers genuinely want you to 'Have a nice day'.
It may throng with visitors, but for every tourist trap there’s a cheaper, more authentic alternative. Take sightseeing: you can pay to be bundled on a boatload of I Love New Yorkers to see the Statue of Liberty, or glide by gratis on the Staten Island ferry; whizz up the Hudson in a tourist water taxi, or paddle for free in a kayak. By all means, blow the meal budget in Grand Central Station; but you can sup oysters at sunset for half the cost at Marlows.
And if you think every New Yorker is sipping sickly cosmopolitans à la Sex and The City, it’s time to branch out - beyond the secretive speakeasy doors of Little Branch, Death+Company and Pegu - and mingle with mixologists who think vodka is for cleaning. If life is a cocktail, then it doesn't come any headier than here.