They’ve been celebrated in movies, books and songs, and their very names evoke strong images in the minds of most Americans. Think Wall Street, and you think bankers and traders making millions. Rodeo Drive means movie stars on a shopping spree. Bourbon Street = all-night party. Obviously, a list of the most famous streets in the United States is subjective. Factors we’ve considered include such intangibles as the street’s name recognition, historic significance, political and economic importance and status as a tourist destination. Apologies in advance to New York City’s Fifth and Park avenues, Biscayne Boulevard, the Sunset Strip and all the other roads that didn’t make the cut.
10. Michigan Avenue
This road scores low on name recognition. How many people can tell you where Michigan Avenue is? But mention its nickname, the “Magnificent Mile,” and many people know you’re talking about Chicago. The “Magnificent” part of Michigan Avenue stretches from the Chicago River north to Oak Street and features some of the most expensive retail space in the U.S., with hundreds of high-end retailers, almost 300 restaurants and tourist attractions such as the 100-story John Hancock Center and the historic Chicago Water Tower. If you plan on going, you’ll have plenty of company — according to ChicagoTraveler.com, the street draws 22 million annual visitors. Another Chicago road, Lakeshore Drive, didn’t make the cut on this list because it’s a freeway rather than a street, but if you’re looking for postcard-worthy photos of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan, it offers more picturesque views than Michigan Avenue.
9. Beale Street
The blues music that influenced almost every rock and roll singer from Elvis on traces its roots to the Mississippi delta region after the Civil War, where African-American farm workers would sing old African songs and improvise new tunes. The best of these early blues singers headed to Memphis in the early 20th century to record songs and perform live on Beale Street, making the street synonymous with the blues. The street exploded in popularity in the 1940s and 1950s as stars such as B.B. King, Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters performed there at bars and nightclubs. Once the heart of a vibrant African-American community, the 1.8-mile street fell into disrepair in the 1960s and was all but abandoned, but it’s been revitalized in recent years and is now a major tourist draw in Memphis.
8. Madison Avenue
Advertising executives on Madison Avenue in New York City have been turned into caricatures of political incorrectness in the popular TV series Mad Men, which follows the adventures of ad executives working in New York in the 1960s. For most of the 20th century, most of the mass advertising campaigns on TV, and in magazines, newspapers and other sources, originated on Madison Avenue. The very words “Madison Avenue” still bring to mind ad campaigns aimed at influencing the buying habits of Americans and the world beyond, but the influence of those mega ad firms has been declining for years. Some large advertising firms have moved, and the titans of new media, Google, Facebook, etc., are far removed from Madison Avenue.
7. Rodeo Drive
Got a few thousand bucks to drop on a business suit, party dress, or designer handbag? You’ll find all that and more on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California. It’s where Hollywood stars shop, and where the millions who idolize Hollywood stars go to watch the stars shop. Tourists are often surprised to find that the heart of Rodeo Drive is only three blocks long, but packed into that real estate and on surrounding streets are some of the biggest names in high-dollar fashion retail: Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Yves Saint-Laurent, Jimmy Choo and more. Of course, many visitors have no intention of dropping $2,000 on a designer handbag, but come for the stargazing opportunities.
6. Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood Boulevard boasts what may be the most famous sidewalks in the world. The Hollywood Walk of Fame features almost 2,500 stars inset into the pavement along a 1.3-mile stretch of the road (some stars are on a couple of adjacent streets). The first eight stars were officially installed in 1960, with Burt Lancaster being the name most recognizable to the current generation. Stars continue to be added, and visitors continue to flock to the walk in staggering numbers — according to one 2003 report, the Hollywood Walk of Fame draws some 10 million annual visitors.
Broadway is the only street on this list that is identifiable with just one word. Countless acting careers have been launched in the theaters on this New York street, and many people have struck it rich merely singing about it — almost two dozen recording artists have covered The Drifters’ 1963 hit On Broadway, most notably George Benson, who took home a Grammy Award for his version of the song. The street itself is the oldest north-south route through Manhattan, tracing its origins to the Native Americans who “sold” the island to the Dutch. Broadway’s history gives it the nod on this list over several other famous New York City streets whose names are familiar to most Americans, notably Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue.
4. Bourbon Street
The party never stops on Bourbon Street — even as Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans in 2005, reporters on the scene found hard-core partiers, beer in hand, waiting until the last minute to evacuate. Lined with buildings that showcase the city’s French and Spanish heritage, Bourbon Street’s biggest bash, the annual celebration of Mardi Gras, draws hundreds of thousands of people to the French Quarter, but there are many other festivals year-round that keep the bars, restaurants, strip clubs and other establishments busy.
3. Las Vegas Boulevard
Nothing says American excess quite like the bright lights and colossally garish buildings and other structures along the part of Las Vegas Boulevard known simply as the “Las Vegas Strip.” Here’s a great trick question that will stump your friends: “Where is the Las Vegas Strip located?” Answer: In Paradise and Winchester, Nevada. That’s right, the most famous part of Las Vegas Boulevard, the 4.2-mile stretch with the faux Eiffel Tower, faux New York skyline, a pyramid and other mega-hotel attractions, is actually located just south of the city limits of Las Vegas. Driving along Las Vegas Boulevard from north to south is like entering a time machine, moving from the older part of town into the maze of mega-resorts that began opening in the 1980s.
2. Wall Street
People around the world associate these two words with New York City, banks, stocks, capitalism, and the United States. Wall Street has been famous since America’s earliest days. George Washington was inaugurated to the presidency on Wall Street in 1789. Three years later, two dozen entrepreneurial stockbrokers gathered under a tree on Wall Street and hammered out the agreement forming the New York Stock Exchange. As for the street itself, it’s only about eight blocks long in Lower Manhattan. Of course, no trip to New York is complete without a photo of the bull statue standing guard on Wall Street.
1. Pennsylvania Avenue
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue might be the most famous address in the world, and that alone is enough to land this street atop this list. Ask the average tourist which building they’d rather have their picture taken in front of, the White House or the New York Stock Exchange, and the White House wins in a landslide. Pennsylvania Avenue as a whole runs almost 6 miles, and in addition to the White House features many other bastions of the United States government, including the U.S. Capitol, J. Edgar Hoover Building and the R.F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. Of course, this is also the one road on this list where you cannot drive past the featured attraction — the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House is closed to traffic out of concern of a terrorist attack.
One More: Lombard Street
With more twists than a Hollywood thriller, Lombard Street in San Francisco is world-famous for the quarter-mile section on Russian Hill, featuring an extreme 16 percent grade and eight hairpin turns. Often referred to as the “Crookedest Street in the World,” that section of Lombard was designed and built in the early 1920s. At the time, the 27-percent grade on the hill made it impassable for autos of that era. A century later, the street has been featured in several movies and is one of the Bay Area’s leading tourist draws.