Texas summers don’t mess around: it gets hot around these parts. Which is why swimming holes are so important to the state’s residents—and, luckily, its geography. Around the state, you’ll find natural springs, waterfalls, lakes, and even mermaids to welcome you into fresh waters. Whether you’re planning a swimming-themed road trip or need a spot to cool off the next time you’re in the panhandle, these are our favorite places to splash around in Texas.
Most people who think of traveling to Texas and taking a ride will probably imagine themselves on top of a horse. But in Corpus Christi, it’s all about kiteboarding. With 192 square miles of shoreline along the beautiful Corpus Christi Bay, a growing community of locals are making the sport a mainstay for beach visitors. The gentle winds along the coast create ideal conditions for beginners and experts alike, and getting out on a kite offers unbeatable views of this gorgeous, semitropical bay. A handful of schools, like Kite Academy, give lessons.
Oso Bay, Corpus Christi
If you’re looking for a stunningly picturesque swimming hole, look no further. Located in the Texas Hill Country west of Austin, Hamilton Pool is a natural pool created by the collapse of an underground river. The river’s dome—or ceiling—fell in due to erosion thousands of years ago, and left a grotto-like pool with overhanging walls and a waterfall. (It’s so striking that Terrence Malick used it in his 2011 film, The Tree of Life.) Legend has it an eight-year-old boy “discovered” it in the 1880s after his German immigrant parents bought the surrounding property, but the Tonkawa and Lipan Apaches lived in the area before the 19th century, and likely made use of this beautiful fresh water pool. Today it’s open to the public, and can be accessed by a short hike from a parking lot and trailhead.
Hamilton Pool Dripping Springs, Texas, 78620 United States
In San Marcos, a city northeast of San Antonio, mermaids aren’t just the stuff of children’s books and Disney movies—they’re real. Here, a squad of “aquamaids” formed in the 1950’s at Aquarena Springs theme park. These young women, outfitted like mermaids, used hoses to breathe underwater and performed synchronized swimming and underwater ballet for awe-struck visitors. While their performances stopped in the 1990s, their story still remained dear to local residents. In 2016, the Mermaid Society of Texas was created to “foster harmony between environmental sustainability, the arts, and economic growth.” Every year, San Marcos puts on The Mermaid Capital of Texas Fest, which features a parade and Mermaid Art Ball, which has allowed the mermaid to remain a local mascot. Once the mermaids have inspired you, head out on the San Marcos River on a kayak or floating tube, and practice your synchronized swimming moves.
San Marcos, Texas
On this barrier island off the coast of south Texas, you’ll find an unexpected surfing destination. While it might not boast the mega-waves of Hawaii or California, you can have a great time renting a surfboard or taking a lesson from the South Padre Surf Company, which offers one of the best ways to get to know the local waters: standing—or attempting to—on a board. They are Texas’ first surf school, and their teachers are surfing aficionados eager to share their passion. These easy waters are an ideal learning spot for beginners and kids. And when you’re done, South Padre Island offers plenty of resort-town amenities like hotels, restaurants, and parks
1 Bait Shop Rd, South Padre Island, Texas
This nature preserve is one of Texas’ hidden wonders. Along the Gulf Coast near the Louisiana border lay 4,141 acres of marshland and beach, which has long been a destination for bird watchers and sun worshippers alike. Here you can catch sight of the once-endangered and still-captivating roseate spoonbill, a shockingly pink bird that has found safe harbor in the state park’s waters. After going for a walk along one of the park’s many trails, hit its five miles of beaches for an afternoon near the water, far from the bustle of the city.
19335 TX-87, Sabine Pass, TX 77655
If you’re looking for a little more art and architecture with your aquatic activity, hitch a ride to Fort Worth’s modernist Water Gardens. Here, architect Philip Johnson’s system of pools creates a concrete archipelago. The park opened on its four-acre site in downtown Fort Worth in 1974, in an area once known as Hell’s Half-Acre thanks to its profusion of brothels and saloons. Today, you’ll find a meditative, calming area surrounded by trees, where you can take a break from the bustle and heat of downtown. There are a few pools to experience: the meditation pool, which is all peace and tranquility; the aeration pool, whose 40 nozzles are constantly spraying hundreds of gallons of water and creating a gentle mist; and the Active Pool, the gardens’ centerpiece, whose steps end at a vortex of water below. The latter was used in the 1976 film Logan’s Run, giving the site a bit of sci-fi credibility.
1502 Commerce St, Fort Worth, TX 76102
Just as you don’t need to fly to the pacific to learn to surf, you don’t need to abscond to a far-off island to learn to scuba: you can do it right here, in the waters of Terrell, Texas. Here on a 22-acre, spring-fed lake, you can learn to scuba dive in waters as deep as 65 feet. This family-owned operation has been teaching locals and tourists to scuba for over 20 years, and offering a rare opportunity for scuba aficionados to hit the waters without hitting the coast. Scuba Ranch offers Scuba certification, which you’ll need to get if you want to use their facilities; however, if you’re more of a snorkeler, they also offer snorkel rentals for those not certified. The surrounding park also includes outdoor space where you can grill and enjoy nature above-ground. If you’re on a scuba mission here, don’t miss Sisco the shark, the park mascot and 51-foot metal shark who hangs out 22 feet below water—his mouth is constantly open, but swimming through it is certified safe.
8131 Co Rd 346, Terrell, TX 75161
If you want to get off the beaten path, head to this beautiful 70-foot waterfall in the Colorado Bend State Park in the Texas Hill Country two hours northwest of Austin. The fall, which is fed by the Colorado River that gives the park its name, sits among beautiful moss-covered rocks. You can reach it by a three-mile round-trip hike, of moderate difficulty, with a bit of rough and rocky terrain. You can also camp and fish nearby, in and along the river.
Gorman Falls Trail, Lometa, TX 76853
Here you’ll find some of the clearest water that the state of Texas has to offer. Possum Kingdom Lake, situated in the rugged Brazos River Valley, was the first reservoir built in the Brazos River Basin. It’s a popular spot for boating, water skiing, fishing, and swimming—some even scuba here.
While the story of the lake’s name is debated, most believe it came from Ike Sablosky, a Russian Jewish immigrant who arrived in Mineral Wells, TX in 1905. His best hunters worked in the Brazos Valley, which Sablosky began calling the “possum kingdom.” Luckily, a day spent out on the lake is unlikely to put you face to face with any real-life possums.
3901 St Park Rd 33Caddo, TX 76429
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To soak in the soul of Kansas City, you can sink your teeth into succulent brisket burnt-ends, bask in the melodies of live jazz at one of the city’s legendary venues, or catch a thrilling Chiefs game– and that's just the beginning of uncovering its rich tapestry. But there’s another side to KC—under-the radar destinations that are packed with wonder and intrigue. Peel back a layer, and Kansas City reveals unexplored magic: from a holy finger housed in a world-class museum and a 70-year-old lunch counter that still keeps lines out the door, to the historic social epicenter of Black jazz and an original private-collection Winston Churchill work of art – and there’s even more waiting to be explored. Here are nine hidden wonders of Kansas City.
With its high peaks and verdant valleys, Vermont is meant for exploration. Go beyond its natural beauty and you’ll find the state’s creative side, in both historically notable institutions and the contemporary arts community quietly making wondrous work. This itinerary will take you from cherished museums to off-the-beaten-path cultural gems including a library and opera house that straddles the U.S.-Canada border, a collection of antiques that contains an 892-ton steamboat, and a Gothic church-turned-rock club. Through river towns and over mountaintops, you’ll see magnificent steel sculptures rise from rolling hayfields and expansive murals covering main streets. You’ll meet puppeteers and painters, dog lovers, and dreamers. So buckle up and wind your way to these 10 exciting art destinations that are sure to inspire your own creativity.
While lobsters, blueberries, and whoopie pies certainly come to mind when thinking about the edible wonders of Maine, they’re also just the tip of the iceberg. Stick to the headliners and you’ll miss out on some other uniquely Maine food and drink. Within the 3,500 miles of tidal coast, the quaint mountain towns, and nature-adjacent cities that make up the Pine Tree State, you’ll encounter off-the-beaten-path culinary settings including the only food truck park in New England, a Deer Isle sculpture park that sells jams and jellies, and a James Beard-nominated eatery operating out of a 100-year old dining car. You’ll meet one-of-a-kind food figures like the speech pathologist running a flour mill out of a former jailhouse, or an Amish deli run by a military-man-turned-chef out of a log cabin without electricity. And you’ll taste some of Maine’s lesser-lauded flavors, from seaweed jerky to maple syrup brandy and blueberry port. So do enjoy Maine’s revered blueberries, seafood, and baked goods. Just remember the myriad culinary curiosities also waiting in the wing for you.
Asheville might be the best food city you haven’t visited. This mountain town in Western North Carolina has long been a destination for foodies–a self-proclaimed Foodtopia®–and beer lovers: thanks to the region’s rich culinary history, and the town’s quirky, creative soul, it has become a hotbed of culinary experimentation, top-notch microbreweries, and community-focused, farm-to-table food. Even better – it comes with a breathtaking mountain backdrop. Here are 10 places to explore some of the best food and drink in the region.
A destination with thriving cultural cities, charming small towns, nature parks, and some of the top-ranked beaches in the country, St. Pete/Clearwater is the best of Florida all in one neat, welcoming peninsula. So welcoming, in fact, that the region is seeing a steady population growth that is fueling something of a cultural renaissance. The newcomers it’s attracting—in tandem with the locals who’ve been here all along—are building an eclectic community, with some unexpectedly tasty results. Out-of-towners arrive with creative business concepts like tropical Art Deco cafés or a pizzeria run by an acrobatic pizzaiolo. The local crowd reimagines long-standing structures, from a historic theater-turned-Roaring ‘20s nightclub to an ATM-turned-taco stand. And far-flung emigres weave strands of their home countries into the global tapestry that is St. Pete/Clearwater, from a British tea parlor to a French-Vietnamese restaurant serving two chefs’ childhood favorites. So by all means, come for the lively nightlife, the pristine beaches, and the wondrous museums. Just don’t forget to bring your appetite, too. Welcome to St. Pete/Clearwater.
Colorado is known for its towering mountains adorned with wildflowers, waterfalls, and endless hiking trails; however, some of its best kept secrets lie on the eastern half of the state. This adventure will take you to the furthest reaches of Colorado’s beautiful prairie and up into the pristine foothills of the Wet Mountains - all places seldom visited and teeming with intrigue. The locations below have been hand-picked for their uniqueness and ability to inspire you to journey through time via some of Colorado’s most obscure and interesting haunts found on the high plains.
Texas is a wide-ranging, diverse, and expansive state. Even the barbecue you’ll get from one county to another is never the same, and the music sounds a little different in the depths of West Texas than it does in the panhandle. Texas is huge—you’ve probably heard that—and it offers attractions to match its size. We’ve rounded up our favorite places to see the heights and depths of Texas—from its tallest peaks to its heftiest steaks. Put on your ten-gallon hat and your tallest boots, and set out on a road trip that’ll help you get a sense of just how big the state really is.
A surplus of space always means a surplus of creative possibility. Texas, with its never-ending skies, wide deserts, and even bigger imaginations, takes this idea to thrilling conclusions. If you’re interested in planning an art-focused road trip, you won’t find a better destination than Texas, where one day you’ll be browsing an obsessive collection of outsider art, and the next day you’ll be walking through a hidden alley covered in umbrellas or beneath a neon skyscape. Here are eight of the most exciting art destinations in the state to inspire your mind and thrill your eyes.
One of the most thrilling ways to explore a new place is to go underground. Spelunking, or cave exploration, offers a completely different view: instead of seeing what’s been built up, you see what hides beneath. Texas, with its rich and varied geological history, has a wide collection of subterranean attractions. Say goodbye to above-ground reality for a while, and plan a trip exploring below the surface. Here’s how.
Visit any honky tonk around the state and you’ll immediately know: Texans love their music. This is a state rich with musical history and musical culture, from the roots of country music to libraries dedicated to the preservation of historic gospel records. Below are some of the most interesting ways to experience music and sound in the state, whether you’re a country music lover or simply a traveler with curious ears.
As the largest state in the contiguous U.S., Texas also holds a vast amount of the country’s history. While we all remember the Alamo, there’s also a trove of geological, cultural, and even gastronomic history among Texas’ wide skies and vast deserts. Here are some of the most exciting spots to learn about the state’s past, while enjoying its present.
The Northern Territory is home to rich Aboriginal culture that spans back around 60,000 years. The history, culture, and stories of the dozens of Aboriginal nations that make up the area are an intrinsic part of every experience you will have here.Located in the central north of Australia, the Northern Territory is three times the size of California, but has a population of only 250,000. It’s a land with a deep and sacred connection to its history, colorful deserts, and lush tropical rainforests. Visit the Northern Territory to experience the ancient wisdom of Aboriginal astronomers, sample unique bush tucker, and see creatures found nowhere else in the world.
The U Street Corridor is an epicenter of art and African American heritage in Washington, DC. Once known as “Black Broadway,” U Street was the center of Black culture in America. (It’s where Duke Ellington was born!) Though the neighborhood struggled in the years following the 1968 riots, it’s as vibrant as ever today. Start your day on U Street at a mural honoring Black Americans from Harriet Tubman to Dave Chapelle, and end at a beloved Ethiopian restaurant where you might be lucky enough to catch some live music and dancing. Along the way you’ll grab a drink, uncover forgotten history, and stand inside theaters where everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Nirvana have performed.
The American South is a mecca of delectable, comforting, and enduring cuisines from an array of cultures. Ranging from Creole to soul, and from Appalachian to Zimbabwean, our multi-state guide offers a unique tasting adventure that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. This itinerary blends some of the most iconic, lesser-known food stops across Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and North Carolina into one unforgettably tasty road trip.
Delaware may not be the largest state in the country (in fact, it’s the second-smallest, and could squeeze into the next biggest state, Connecticut, two times comfortably). It’s not the most metropolitan, either (in fact, its capital city, Dover, is one of the least populated capital cities in the country). Delaware is, however, the oldest state in the country. The rich history therein, along with the natural beauty of the Blue Hen State and the unique characters who have called it home, make it a true hidden gem. From opulent family gardens to cannonball-riddled homes to fascinating defense structures, this itinerary will guide you through some of the state’s most extraordinary attractions. Beside outdoor activities like kayaking, horseback-riding, and fishing, there’s also historic homes, museums, and art installations of unthinkable scale. Sometimes, it’s true what they say—the best things do come in small packages. Welcome to Delaware.
At the heart of the south, Charlotte is a booming city full of new life. Cranes have dotted the skyline for more than a decade as it has become the most populous city in North Carolina. There is so much to see in Charlotte, from a rose garden hidden just outside the city center to a retro video rental store with over 30,000 titles. What many newcomers don’t know is Charlotte’s deep-rooted history that dates back to before the colonies became the United States. This list of 10 destinations will only scratch the surface of the many special places to visit in the Queen City.
Nestled in the imposing Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the gorgeous high-alpine valleys, the Historic Hot Springs Loop is a treasure trove of geothermal hot spring resorts and destinations, offering visitors a chance to unwind and recharge in pristine natural mineral waters. The loop, which stretches from Glenwood Springs to Ouray, is home to an array of distinctive hot spring resorts, each with their own unique history, atmosphere, and therapeutic properties. From the luxurious spa-like feel of Glenwood Hot Springs with the world’s largest geothermal pool, to the rustic charm of Ouray Hot Springs with soothing vapor caves, there's something for every type of hot spring enthusiast.
Arizona has some of the most beautiful and surprising landscapes the American West has to offer. The geography of this northeastern stretch of the Sonoran desert can be incredibly dramatic. And while we’ve all heard of—or seen—the majesty of the Grand Canyon, there are a number of lesser-known natural wonders that will take you off the beaten path in this gorgeous state.
In the desert of Arizona, a string of ghost towns have been preserved and refurbished to give visitors a glimpse into the history of miners and the businesses who served them during the boom times of the turn of the century. Whether you want to pan for gold, discover junk art, or stay a night in a mining engineer’s cabin, these ghost towns will transport you into Arizona’s Wild West past.
Just a short trip north of New York City, the Hudson Valley is great for both day trips and road trips. Atlas Obscura co-founder Dylan Thuras is a local resident, and loves the natural wonders, as well as the incredible culture and history found in the region. This itinerary combines his favorite spots into one stunning road trip. Start your adventure at a living antique aviation museum near the historic town of Red Hook, and end with dinner at a Victorian resort. Along the way, you’ll make pit stops at towering waterfalls, a giant kaleidoscope, and incredible views of the beautiful Hudson Valley.
When people think of Maine, it’s often the rugged beauty of the coast that comes to mind: sunsets over craggy shorelines, lighthouses surrounded by towering pines, and lobster boats dotting the bay. But whether you’re angling for a hike, paddle, or simply a long drive through the backcountry, there’s no shortage of spectacular natural features throughout all of Maine’s 16 counties. This itinerary will take you from secluded coves along Maine’s coastline to the highest peaks in the state, alongside thundering waterfalls, mystifying geology, and myriad wildlife. Welcome to Maine—act natural.
There’s already plenty to see and do in Maine with your feet firmly planted on the ground. But what if you could change your vantage point and get above it all? This itinerary will send you into the clouds, atop the state’s highest peaks, and through endless skies on planes, chairlifts, and hot air balloons where you’ll be able to take in Maine’s grandeur with nothing but crisp, clean, mountain air in the way.
Granbury, Texas is 70 miles southwest of Dallas but a world away from the Big D’s big-city vibe. Founded in 1860, Granbury started as a town square with a log cabin courthouse. Today, this charming town of around 10,000 is the seat of Hood County and home to the first town square in Texas to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A poster child for restoration projects all over America, Granbury boasts a lively arts and dining scene; plenty of green space; and a lake with a sandy beach used for splashing, sunning, and kayaking along the shore. Then there’s the lore and legend that the locals swear by, Texas tales which may be tall or true. The town’s history is one of its great advantages, and peering through that lens is the best way to truly see Granbury.
If you’re planning a trip to San Antonio, all signs will point you to the Riverwalk, the most-visited tourist destination in the whole state. And while the area offers countless bars, restaurants, and shops, the city is host to a wide array of cultural gems, waiting in plain sight. Whether it’s visiting gorgeous missions, touring sculpture gardens, or immersing yourself in African-American history, San Antonio contains fascinating excursions that will brighten up any trip.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt so enjoyed a ride through Virginia’s Skyline Drive that he wanted to make it go on longer—nearly 500 miles longer, to be exact. In the coming months, his administration kicked off a massive roadway project to connect Skyline with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway was born. Today, the Parkway remains one of the most beautiful drives in the country, connecting the Great Smoky Mountains to Shenandoah National Park. While its scenic overlooks get all the attention, the region’s restaurants offer a more intimate way to experience the landscape: through the very flavors of the berry bushes that line its trails, the trout that swim in its rivers, and the vegetation that gives its green mountains their striking hue. From elk burgers at a Native-owned diner to a foraged feast at an Afro-Appalachian restaurant, here’s a guide to the most incredible places to taste the flora and fauna of the Blue Ridge mountains.
Addison, Texas found acclaim in 1975 when residents pushed for alcohol to be served in public areas, when many nearby towns were dry. With an almost immediate surge in visitors, about five years later the Town launched an aggressive beautification program. Fast forward to present day, and every corner of this small town has a unique theme or landscape, and the city is teeming with public artworks. Conveniently, visitors can download the Otocast app, which offers guided audio and a full map of all the public artwork found throughout the town. The guided tours come complete with photos, descriptions, and audio of the artists discussing their work. Below is a list of places from which to start your journey.
Located just outside the skyscrapers and congestion of downtown Dallas, Mesquite has managed to hold onto its roots as an agrarian community while still keeping up with the times. Known as the Official Rodeo Capital of Texas, the city attracts hundreds of thousands of rodeo fans annually. But the rich town history is also a major draw for visitors wanting to get off the big city track, as exemplified by these six spots.
Plano, Texas may get its name from the flat local terrain—plano is the Spanish term for "flat"—but this Dallas suburb is anything but boring. The town makes up part of the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex, so it’s an easy day or overnight trip if you’re visiting the big city. Located in the Northeast region of the Lone Star State, Plano is a mid-sized city with big personality, offering plenty of history and culture, with dozens of restaurants, bars, and shops. It also has an impressive collection of sculptures and public art pieces, which make for an excellent way to see the city.
In a city as big and vibrant as Dallas, it’s possible to miss a few things—like a giant eyeball statue or an enormous, happy robot, for example. This Texas city has a wonderfully quirky side; here are the best ways to take in its wide-ranging and often surprising arts and culture scene.
Waxahachie is a small Texas town that’s rich with history. Over thirty motion pictures have been filmed here, including the revolutionary Bonnie and Clyde and the Oscar-winning films Tender Mercies and Places in the Heart. It’s also been designated as the Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas, a place where you can witness the flower’s glorious blooming—especially during the Crape Myrtle Festival and Driving Trail every July. Despite its size (population: 36,735), Waxahachie boasts a wide array of historical places to visit.
There is more to Austin than really, really, really good tacos and barbecue. The city is also home to a smorgasbord of natural wonders, many of which are free to enjoy. So burn off your breakfast tacos or brisket by swimming and strolling among Austin’s diverse wildlife and plants.
Between all the world-class kayaking, hiking, and biking available in Colorado, you’re bound to find adventure-lovers around every corner this summer. But sometimes, what you really want is wide-open spaces, quiet vistas, and your footprints as your only company. In short, you want adventure on the secluded side. Luckily, in Colorado, there’s no shortage of hidden wonder. This itinerary will take you to a pristine mountain-top lake, under a triple waterfall, through majestic peaks on a historic railway, and over an iconic mountain pass on the state’s oldest aerial tram. There’s solitude to be found on this trip, but there’s also the thrill of finding some of Colorado’s best kept secrets. If you’re headed into the backcountry, follow these tips to stay safe and Do Colorado Right.
Beneath Colorado’s majestic peaks, beside its roaring rivers, and nestled in the curves of its dramatic canyons, remnants of the prehistoric world have quietly waited for eons. Only over the past several centuries have people discovered these fossils, unlocking answers to the lives of ancient flora, the behavior of long-gone plants and animals, and the ever-changing landscape of this geologically dynamic state. Pieces of the prehistoric past that you can personally witness in Colorado include the continent’s longest dinosaur trackway, the remains of an ancient rainforest, the stumps of petrified redwood trees, and much more. A lot can happen over several hundred million years—but here in Colorado, none of it’s hiding.
Atlas Obscura has a tradition of exploring the stories of women who changed the world, from wildlife biologists and mountain climbers to Civil War spies and tattoo artists. To celebrate these daring women who struck out on their own, we’ve put together a cross-country road trip. Over 12 stops and more than 3,000 miles, this route will give you a front-row seat to women’s history in America.
Whatever hand the U.S. had in shaping world music, it had its feet planted firmly in the South. From New Orleans, where a confluence of West Africans laid the groundwork for the musical improvisation we call jazz; to Mississippi, where work-songs birthed the blues before the blues birthed rock ‘n’ roll; to Tennessee, where rock intersected with Appalachian folk songs to create country rock, this distinct artistic heritage was forged uphill, from the humblest of origins. Nonetheless, the musical legacy of unsung field hands, farmers, and blue collar workers coming up from the South would go on to change the world, and in no quiet way.
With all its tidal pools, mangrove islands, and estuaries, Florida’s Gulf Coast shoreline is one of the most dynamic in the country. Throw into the mix almost a thousand natural springs, and Florida truly is a place with as much to explore both above water as below. This ten-stop itinerary is by no means exhaustive. The mermaid shows, cave-diving, underwater museums, mangrove-kayaking, and wildlife-watching opportunities presented here still only scratch the surface – and the depths - of the myriad activities possible along this wondrous coastline.
With bustling food, music, and brewery scenes, Asheville has plenty of attractions—but stick to the downtown area alone, and you’re missing half the fun, at least. Surrounded by national forests, hideaway mountain towns, quirky arts centers, and more, some of Asheville's best spots lie beyond the downtown area. This itinerary will help you navigate America’s weirdest little mountain town like a local as you scale mountaintops, watch artisans at work, ride century-old trolley cars, and get fake-married at a real-live punk bar. Welcome to Asheville.
If ghost stories help us confront a harrowing past, it’s no surprise that Louisiana is filled to the brim. From the swamplands to the pine forests, the state reverberates with tales of fortunes won and lost, untimely demises, and some of the darkest chapters of early American history. Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, the stories below reveal the hidden histories behind this mystifying state—place by place, spirit by restless spirit.
Created in 1926, Route 66 was once the primary way drivers headed West, and a network of local economies sprouted up along its path. But after the Interstate Highway System replaced many portions of the “Mother Road,” most of its associated attractions faded away. Intrepid travelers, however, can still seek out the remnants of this artery through America and even find a few new gems along the way. Along with the towering Muffler Men and the sprawling, changing landscapes that speed past your car windows, the restaurants and bars along Route 66 offer an enchanting glimpse into American history and culture. From an Illinois watering hole once frequented by Al Capone to an Albuquerque restaurant specializing in pre-Columbian cuisine to a steakhouse born of Tulsa’s once-booming Lebanese community, these spots showcase the delicious diversity of America’s most iconic road.
Adventures filled with oversized characters, obstacles, and castles await—all you need to join is a putter and a ball. Yes, we're talking about miniature golf, the Lilliputian game with a big imagination. Since 2012, we—Tom Loftus and Robin Schwartzman—have been documenting the world of mini golf on our website A Couple of Putts. After putting our way through more than 300 courses, we’ve stumbled into becoming experts who design, build, and consult on all things miniature golf. With our keen eye for elements that make courses distinctive and magical destinations, we’ve created this world tour to showcase some of our personal favorites, as well as a few courses on our “must play” list. In keeping with the theme, here are 18 unique courses that span the globe. This wild assortment of putting places offer unique ways to interact with the past and present. Putt when ready!
You probably know that Florida is famous for its shorelines, from the shell-stacked beaches of Sanibel Island to the music-soaked swaths of Miami. But many of the Sunshine State’s coolest attractions rarely see the light of day—they’re fully underwater. Here are some of the state’s strangest and most spectacular sites, beyond the beach, and below the surface.
Students of American history will know that Delaware is noteworthy for being the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, earning it the nickname “The First State.” But look beyond Delaware’s American roots, and you’ll find other cultural influences, tucked away where only the most enterprising of explorers will find them. From a Versailles-inspired palace to an English poet casually lounging in a garden, here are six places to help you travel the world without ever leaving the state.
East Tennessee boasts some of the state’s most beautiful highways and byways. Rather than rushing from one destination to the next, this is the perfect road trip to meander and stop along the way. Follow this suggested itinerary between Knoxville and Nashville, and you’ll discover lesser-known historical gems, stunning natural landscapes, and some memorable treats, all bookended by two of Tennessee’s truly great cities.
It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say this route from Salt Lake City to Colorado Springs is paved by rogue trailblazers. Indeed, much of it remains unpaved, not so much out of disregard as in homage to the rugged landscape that has inspired so many to strike out against the banal, to write their own script. From pioneering artists to obsessive curators and bold builders, this route follows in the footsteps of a bold few—watch your step.
Celebration or desperation aside, these six spots in Missouri are proof that imbibing is only half the fun of bar culture. From a mountaintop drive-through golf-cart bar to the state's oldest waterhole hole—nestled more than 50 feet underground in a limestone cellar—the “Show-Me State” has no shortage of boozy fun to show you (as long as you're 21+, of course).
Artistic visionaries and the spirit of rogue ingenuity define this route that starts in Denver, winds through the plains of southeastern Wyoming, and finishes in Alliance, Nebraska. It takes you off the beaten path to discover quirky art installations, historic monuments, local flavors, and natural wonders. This route of 11 inspiring spots is certain to spark the autonomous flame for all who take it on.
Iowa is the pantry of America, giving over the vast majority of its land to agriculture and producing more corn and pork than any other state. But the state has also proven fertile ground for pop culture, as well. The landscape has inspired movies, films, songs, paintings, and novels while spawning movie royalty in the form of a certain Duke. Bask in the wonderful corniness of these four pop-culture touchstones in the Hawkeye State.
At the heart of every peach rests its stone center, or pit. So perhaps it’s fitting that Georgia, the Peach State, holds a wealth of stone-based treasures of a different sort. In Walker County, a labyrinth of limestone passages leads to the deepest cave drop in the continental United States. In Calhoun, a rock garden of spectacular sculptures hides behind a church. And in Savannah, two gravestones appear on an airport runway. Whether carved by hand or nature, these stone wonders truly rock.
It turns out that no one really knows how Idaho got its name. It's been thought that the name came from Shoshone, but in truth it may have just been made up by a somewhat shady politician. Regardless of what you call it, the Gem State is sparsely populated and unapologetically wild, and full of wonders—especially geological ones.
The Magnolia State is also famous, of course, for being one of the locales ribboned by the squiggly Mississippi River, which stretches more than 2,300 miles from Minnesota to Louisiana. Combined with the Missouri River, one of its tributaries, the Mississippi is the fourth-longest river in the world, trailing the Nile, Amazon, and Yangtze. The river is well worth a visit—and if you’re roaming the state that shares its name and want to hug fairly close to the shore, here are eight places to pop in along the way.
Once upon a time, the forests of Indiana were endless. Or that was how it seemed in the 19th century, when the state produced more lumber than anywhere else in the nation. The valuable trees went first, such as black walnut and white oak. The scrubby leftovers were often burned to create farmland. At the start of European settlement, 90 percent of what is now Indiana was forest. That number plummeted to a measly 6 percent by 1922. While the forests have significantly recovered, there are still only about 2,000 acres of old-growth forest left in the state. Yet trees hold a hallowed place here. One town has graciously allowed a tree to grow on its courthouse roof for more than a hundred years. In many graveyards, markers are fashioned to look like stumps and branches. Read on for five woody wonders of Indiana, all rooted deeply in their communities.
When the Grim Reaper visits, it doesn't discriminate. The cemeteries of the Bluegrass State are home to a cast of characters that includes famous folks, as well as others whose faces you know, but whose names you might not recognize. Visitors can pay their respects to a fast-food icon, a world-famous athlete, comedic actor, and a local magician, as well as a folk hero who may or may not be buried there at all.
Picture Wyoming during its Wild West days. Once your mind wanders across the epic landscapes and into town, the mythic scene you might imagine—the saloon, the general store, the bank—will likely consist of wooden structures, ones thrown hastily up as settlers headed west in search of mining wealth, land, and work on the expanding railways. As it became the stuff of legend, accounts of the Wild West turned into tall tales, often conveniently overlooking the scale of the violent displacement of Native Americans. But as the period’s impact on the West is very real, it’s no surprise that the most unusual structures in Wyoming are wooden buildings that date from the frontier era or hearken back to it.
In New Jersey, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. In 1909, newspapers published accounts of a monster known as the “Jersey Devil” said to be prowling the Pine Barrens. In 1938, a radio broadcast declared that aliens were invading the small community of Grover’s Mill. And today, streets and signs suggest ominous origins with names like Ghost Lake and Shades of Death Road. If you know where to look, the Garden State offers stories far stranger than any Springsteen song or scene from The Sopranos. Here are seven sites to explore the hauntings, horrors, and supernatural phenomena of New Jersey.
Nebraska is affectionately known as the Cornhusker State or the Wheat State, but this particular swath of Big Sky Country could also be called “The Land of Very Cool Collections.” From monuments to powdered beverages to love letters to roller skates, here are four exhibits worth a visit.
More than half of Utah’s population is Mormon, which translates to more than 1.5 million citizens who eschew coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes. Sugar, however, is not restricted. This may explain why the state’s candy-eating rate is twice the national average: Everyone needs a vice. Or perhaps it’s that Mormons’ proclivity for large families skews the demographics in favor of sweets and starches—more kids equals more unbridled sugar fiends.Couple the state's bounty of confectionary with its proximity to Idaho, and you've got a wealth of potato-based treats to contend with, as well. In some cases, potatoes and dessert become one. Our advice? Don't knock it until you try it.
Massachusetts is a lit-lover's paradise. From landscapes that have moved writers to wax poetic about beans to story-inspired sculpture parks and shops stacked with volumes new and old, the Bay State would also be aptly named the Book State. Here are 12 places to celebrate writers or the places that inspired them.
Two 20th-century musical figures tower over the state of Minnesota: Prince Rogers Nelson and Robert Allen Zimmerman. (That's Prince and Dylan to us mere mortals.) And while the Gopher State definitely celebrates its favorite musical sons, much of the state has a musical bent to it, from a singing beach to a room so devoid of sound is makes a musical madness all its own.
In the 1920s, a number of oil reservoirs were discovered in Oklahoma, and the promise of riches led to a population boom. Would-be oil barons moved in from the coasts, bringing with them the most popular style of the moment, Art Deco. Much of that architecture still stands today, alongside institutions that honor the state’s earlier history and its modern culture. Though many people know Oklahoma better for its oil fields and cattle ranches, the state also has a rich history of innovative art and architecture. From elaborate family estates to experimental art collectives, these are a few of the unique creative spaces that await in Oklahoma.
When you think about Illinois, what are the first things that come to mind? Maybe it's the environment, with its vast prairies and cold winters. Maybe it's someone from the state, like Abraham Lincoln, or something, like Chicago-style hot dogs or deep dish pizza. What you might not realize, though, is that there's a lot of fascinating science happening in Illinois. (There was even a settlement named Science along the Illinois River in the early 19th century.) From some of the world's most powerful computers and particle-smashers to horological oddities, these are a few of the laboratories and collections that the 21st state has to offer.
What is it with New Hampshire and the Devil? Since the time of European settlement, Satan seems to have lurked around every corner of the Granite State. In the era of witch hunts, terrified townspeople accused their elderly neighbors of speaking with the Devil, and local lore has it that the stones around a frothing waterfall in the woods once served as Satan's kitchen, where he cooked a pot of beans with the flames of Hell. Perhaps the Devil got his best turn in “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” a 1936 short story by Stephen Vincent Benét. The story features real-life lawyer and politician Daniel Webster fighting for the soul of a down-on-his-luck New Hampshire farmer who, in a moment of desperation, made a deal with the Devil. In the tale, the Devil uses every legal and supernatural means possible to outwit Webster, who battles to spare New Hampshire from further demonic meddling. “Any Hades we want to raise in this state, we can raise ourselves, without assistance from strangers,” Webster remarks. But for those who still do want to raise a little hell, New Hampshire has plenty of spots for devil-dealing.
Maryland has the distinction of being one of the first states to officially join the Union in 1788—and as such, it’s played both big and small roles in various battles across the nation's history. Here are eight nods to its military past, ranging from a furnace that produced George Washington’s cannonballs to an unusual museum dedicated to the U.S.'s cryptographic history.
The state of Colorado is a gold mine of natural beauty: It's famous for its picturesque deserts, dramatic canyons, and shimmering, snow-capped peaks. But the Centennial State also deserves some love for its many unnatural wonders. There's a psychedelic church, a 231-pound sticker ball, and a cryogenic mausoleum. And who can forget the blue horse with neon-red eyes that towers outside the Denver airport? If you're looking to skip the ski slopes and hiking trails in favor of Colorado's strangest sights and most curious creations, this is where to start.
For all of the images of Hollywood glamour, beach living, and beautiful people, Southern California has a lot of peculiarities that don’t get nearly as much attention. This route from Los Angeles to Twentynine Palms seeks out the strange and novel, providing a refreshing foil to SoCal clichés.
South Carolina is known for its picturesque coastal cities and Southern charm. Given its firm placement in the Bible Belt, the Palmetto State is home to many churches—but it also holds fascinating ruins of houses of worship, wondrous works of art inspired by African traditions, and historic holy grounds hiding in plain sight.
Vermont may be known for its maple syrup and homey coziness, but beneath that rustic veneer lies a solid history of mineral industry. Here's a history of the Green Mountain State from the ground up.
Knoxville, Tennessee, is a small city that’s made a big impact on the world. Founded by George Washington’s administration as the capital of the new Southwestern Territory, it was the 16th state’s capital — twice — for almost 20 years. Tucked in the heart of the valley along the Tennessee River, Knoxville is home to more than 120 parks and more than 160 miles of trails and greenways. It witnessed culmination of the women’s suffrage movement, played host to the 1982 World’s Fair and hosts the oldest symphony orchestra in the South. It’s also home to the University of Tennessee and its Volunteers, the fans of which bleed orange and white, the prominently displayed school colors. Need to give your feet a break as you explore the natural beauty, history, and culture of this thriving Southern city? Hop aboard the free Knoxville Trolley, the transit system operating since 1876. No matter how you choose to get around, there’s much to discover in Knoxville.
Glitz, glamour, guitars, honky-tonks, sequins, and neon are synonymous with Music City and its country music roots. While there’s perhaps no other city that embraces big hats, big hair and big personalities quite the way Nashville does, there’s much more to Tennessee’s capital than meets the eye. Its rich history of food, culture, and innovation makes it a haven for creatives of all stripes. Though the city shimmers with energy, it’s easy to commune with nature and enjoy the pristine beauty of East Tennessee, starting with the Cumberland River that runs right through the heart of downtown. Whether you’re looking for a brush with history, a chance to enjoy the great outdoors or an opportunity to hear some of music’s biggest stars, Nashville has it all. If your boots don’t feel like walking the entire route, Old Town Trolley offers hop-on-hop-off tours around the city, with a stop just outside Graduate Nashville.
Lush rainforests filled with ethereal shades of green; foggy beaches that stretch on for miles; towering mountains that dominate city skylines. It’s hard to think of a region with more diverse natural beauty than the Pacific Northwest. Take a journey from Seattle to Colton through the environments that have inspired artists, musicians, and storytellers for generations. From ancient mountains to reclaimed lands, these places are filled with excitement, intrigue, and maybe even a little off-road mystery.
Climate, globalization, trends, employment rates, lobbying—it all influences what we eat. As time marches ever-onward, recipes are forgotten, traditions fade into quiet obscurity, and institutions are abandoned. But some entities that seem slated for cultural demolition are kept alive in Arkansas. From brewing beer using the spring water of a once-infamous bathhouse to serving historic Appalachian home-cooking hot off of diner skillets, these seven Arkansan spots savor and celebrate relics of regional heritage.
Maybe you love your cat a lot—maybe even enough to commission a little painting of your furry companion. But the people of Alabama can do you one better. Here, you’ll find a whole cemetery devoted to hounds, a heartfelt memorial to a fish, even a statue of a pest that drove farmers batty before it also spurred them toward ingenuity. Alabama knows how to fete Fido, as well as his scuttling, swimming, and spacefaring compatriots.
The Rockies may be bigger, but there's something special—and sometimes spooky—about the Appalachians. With dense forest cover, long history, and the shadowy hollows ("hollers," locally), they seem at times to be full of secrets. In West Virginia, the mountains and hills hold tales and myths, and a lot of places that were used and then abandoned. If you get excited about the feel of a shiver down your spine, you'll find a lot to love.
Pick an object. It could be a bottle of mustard. Or a life-size troll sculpture. Or a metal sculpture with big Victorian-steampunk energy. It doesn't really matter, as long as you collect or create so many of them that your collection becomes a roadside attraction and a cherished local landmark. A remarkable number of Wisconsinites have chosen this life path, and the result is a truly remarkable collection of collections scattered across the state.
One of the great resources of the Mount Rushmore State is millions and millions of years old: fossils. The state has long had pride of place in the paleontology world for the dinosaurs and mammoths that have been excavated there. And that history seems to have provided inspiration for the state's menagerie of massive megafauna. Here are some of our favorite places that celebrate dinosaurs, huge animal art installations, mammoths, and ... a prairie dog?
In the 1700s and 1800s, Philadelphia was the center of medical scholarship in the United States. The city not only attracted the brightest minds, but also the most curious cases and characters. From the oldest quarantine facility in the country to a museum that memorializes a traveling dental circus, here are six places to marvel at the trials, errors, and triumphs of medical history in Pennsylvania.
They say that Virginia is for lovers. If you love a little mystery, then they’re definitely right. With its mountain ranges, deep forests, and proximity to the nation’s capital, the state is filled with unusual corners and overlapping histories. From a Cold War bunker turned recording archive to a Styrofoam Stonehenge, these places in Virginia are more than meets the eye.
Every state in the union has graves, and their share of unusual burials or cemeteries, but there's something about the Tarheel State's final resting places that carry a sense of history and mystery, from long-forgotten graveyards, to eternal resting places for conjoined twins, to a politician that had himself buried inside a giant boulder.
The Continental Divide runs through Montana, separating the mountains and glaciers on the west from rolling plains to the east. Much of the state is built on a bed of rock that dates back more than a billion years, to the Precambrian, or the earliest era in Earth’s history. The geology of Montana has shaped the state, from the mountain ranges to that draw hikers to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks to mineral deposits that drew prospectors during the Gold Rush to the vast plains that have long supported hunting and agriculture.
Along with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon has been shaped by volcanic activity. Active volcanoes, Mount Hood among them, dominate the skyline, and the city of Portland was built atop an extinct volcano. Over tens of thousands of years, these geological hotspots have left many holes in their wakes, including deep craters, narrow canyons, and subterranean lava tubes. Here are a few of the most intriguing voids that Oregon has to offer.
Sure, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, got headlines, but the Wright Brothers were Ohioans through and through. That's where they had their print and cycle shop, and established the world's first airplane factory. From Dayton's Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, to NASA's Glenn Research Center, to Congress officially declaring Ohio the “birthplace of aviation,” and much more, no other state takes to the skies and beyond like the home of the Buckeyes. Here are some of our favorite places to feel the wind beneath your wings.
The deep, moody forests of Washington state are filled with secrets and stories. From springy mosses to towering Douglas firs, rocky outcrops, and glacial deposits, it’s easy to see how the landscape helped set the tone for stories like David Lynch’s trippy TV series Twin Peaks and the teen vampire romance that is Twilight. Across the Evergreen State, human- and nature-made oddities are rarely far from reach.
Yes, we know, Hawaiʻi is surrounded by water—the state is a watery wonder in and of itself. But the ocean is only the beginning. The volcanic islands' dramatic topography, unpredictable coastlines, and high rainfall mean that water in and around the Paradise of the Pacific cavorts in all sorts of stunning ways: waterfalls, blowholes, pools, and more. (Plus rainbows. Lots and lots of rainbows.) And you can enjoy all of these natural showstoppers without having to get your feet wet.
For superb pizza, most people look to New York. Excellent burgers are available in every one of the 50 states. But where can you find hamburger recipes caught in the early 20th-century, cooked in steamers or served on toast with absolutely no ketchup allowed? Or, for that matter, fancy cheese made by trailblazing nuns who launched their dairying business at a time when Velveeta was still the norm? Connecticut may be an odd place to designate as a culinary cradle, but the state contains everything from the last of a generation of feminist vegetarian restaurants to what the Library of Congress dubs the very first place to have served up a hamburger. Unique culinary institutions cropped up in every corner of the state. Some have survived, while others have fallen by the wayside (R.I.P. to the Frisbie Pie Company). Here are six remarkable gastronomic institutions in a place that has proved to be fertile ground for unusual eats.
In the arid and remote expanses of New Mexico's landscape, booms and zooms abound. From the volatile effects of the Manhattan Project to the otherworldly possibilities of Roswell's UFO, the Land of Enchantment has never shied away from the controversial or far-reaching. Here are several places to encounter those legacies across this southwestern state.
The Sunflower State has a reputation for being flat—in fact, scientists have shown that it is objectively way flatter than a pancake. Far from being featureless, though, Kansas can be mind-bending in its own weird way. Maybe it all started with The Wizard of Oz. From a missile silo that once dominated the world's LSD supply to rock formations shaped like mushrooms, roadside art that will make you think you've been whisked away by a tornado, and a giant pile of sock monkeys, Kansas is full of treasures that are sure to make you do a double take.
New York has been described as a playground for the rich and powerful, but the state's history is full of ordinary people who have overcome extraordinary struggles. What if Seneca Falls, the village that launched the fight for women's suffrage, were as famous as Niagara Falls? What if Weeksville, the historic free Black community in Brooklyn, were as well-known as Williamsburg? From immigrant sanctuaries to the Survivor Tree, here are sites where New York has shown its resilience.
North Dakota is not quite the flattest state in the U.S., but it's pretty close. (In one analysis, it placed third, after Illinois and Florida.) During the last Ice Age, glaciers moving across the terrain had a planing effect on the land, dropping sediment that filled in any valleys, creating sprawling prairies and open, big skies. These large expanses are home to more than a few sky-high structures, both natural and human-made. From rocky peaks and multi-ton animal statues to one of the tallest buildings in the world, these are some of the most impressive structures that North Dakota has to offer.
For about half of any given year, much of Arizona is too hot to handle. But even in peak summer, the state is home to a stunning spread of geographic diversity and a mysterious magic that emanates from the landscape—and we don’t just mean the mirages. Locals and visitors alike flock to higher altitudes, recreation-friendly bodies of water, and indoor spaces that are so heavily air-conditioned they practically require a jacket. Here are eight sheltered spots to retreat from the heat, from natural formations to an immersive art exhibit that invites lingering. We've even added a couple cool places (220 feet underground or a mile above sea level) to dream about spending the night.
A run through New York City demands a delicate balance: Zoning out versus keeping your eyes peeled. On the one hand, there’s the clear-headed, in-the-zone mental state that any good sneaker-to-pavement exercise requires. At the same time, well, it is New York City. You can hardly walk two blocks without uncovering a hidden gem or noticing some new detail that’s actually been lurking in plain sight for decades. This 5.3-mile run takes you along a scenic route to discover some of these hidden gems. You can run the entire route, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’re bound to pick up on one of the million tiny, fascinating details along the way.
Originally named “Venice of America,” Venice, California, owes its existence to a wealthy developer’s dream of a canal-laden resort town west of Los Angeles. The dream didn’t last long: After opening in 1905, the city went broke before joining Los Angeles in 1926. The decades of neglect that followed earned Venice the nickname “the slum by the sea,” but its affordability also attracted artists, beginning with the Beats in the late ’50s. Venice’s identity as a rough-around-the-edges artist haven endures more than 60 years later, though its affordability less so. If you’re looking to plot a trek across Los Angeles pavement and beaches, zero in on Venice with a run that oscillates between fast-and-furious and slow-and-curious. Take on this 5.2-mile run in one go, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’ll be ready to navigate Venice’s storied past and its eternally eccentric personality.
Long before California was home to tech campuses, freeways, and palm trees, Native inhabitants etched huge designs into the landscape. Even before that, at roughly the same time that the Pyramids of Giza were under construction, a tree that still survives today began taking root. And even farther into the past, glaciers and mammoths created enduring monuments to antiquity. Across the state, the distant past is still within easy reach.
There’s a time-tested saying about things being large in Texas—and it certainly holds true for the state’s artworks, many of which are so huge or sprawling they could only reasonably live outdoors. Across the vast expanse of the Lone Star State are artistic testaments to some of the area’s oddest characters and stories.
The smallest state in America is often the butt of jokes. Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island, and it was once famously parodied in the now-defunct website “How Many Rhode Islands”—a simple tool that allowed you to see just how many Rhode Islands could squeeze inside a given country. The United States could contain 3,066 Rhode Islands, and Russia could hold 5,445. But the tiny state has a rather grand history. Rhode Island was founded on the principle of religious freedom, was the first of the Thirteen Colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown, and was one of only two states not to ratify the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Many of the state’s attractions still loom large, including a 58-foot-long blue fiberglass termite and an improbably large blue bear slumped under a lampshade.
Famous for country music and hot chicken, Tennessee is also filled with natural wonders. Across the state, caverns beckon. Venturing into some of Tennessee's strangest subterranean haunts is a great way to experience the depths of the state's spell-binding charm.
Louisiana has long had a complex relationship with the wet world. Chitimacha, Choctaw, and Atakapa peoples built communities among the knobby knees of bald cypress trees; French fur traders and pirates eventually made their own marks. Later still, modern engineers attempted to corral waters with levees and dams, or to reclaim land where there had been none. Across the 50,000-odd square miles that make up the state, troves of special places are becoming concealed by rising water. Here are seven places water has revealed or covered up.
Michigan is famous for its steep, sweeping sand dunes, freckling of lakes, and unique fossils—but across the state, you'll find slews of automated wonders, past and present. From old animatronic toys to the ruins of early assembly lines, here are seven places to be dazzled by industry.
Here at Atlas Obscura, we have a fondness for the forbidden, a hunger for the hidden, a gusto for the grim. (You get the point.) But it wouldn’t be so intrepid to simply highlight Nevada’s underbelly, would it? There’s more to the state than extraterrestrial-themed brothels and nuclear bomb test sites. Kids and grandparents might enjoy enormous Ferris wheels, unusual geysers, or pristine parklands. Even Nevada—home to Sin City—has a family-friendly side.
Maine is widely known for its mottled red crustaceans and stony-faced lighthouses, as well as bucolic towns and the top-notch hiking outside of them. But before all that, Maine was all about one thing: trains. As America industrialized in the 19th century, there was an insatiable demand to build and a hunger for lumber. Maine had plenty of it, and the state’s rivers became swollen with the fallen bodies of pine and spruce, much of which was hauled by rail. Trains did the heavy lifting to coastal hubs including Bangor and Ellsworth, and by 1924, there was enough railroad mileage in Maine to get from London’s King's Cross station to Mosul, Iraq. Over the years, some of the old cars were fashioned into eateries, but many were simply abandoned in the woods. Now, relics of Maine’s railroad history are scattered in museums, restaurants, and more.
Picture Alaska. You might see in your mind's eye the granite and stark white snowcaps of Denali National Park, or the dark seas that surround 6,000-plus miles of coastline, or the muted olive of its tundra in the summer. But as anyone who's been there knows, the country's largest, most sparsely populated state can absolutely burst with color, from the luminous green of the Northern Lights, to the deep aqua of its glaciers, to the flourish of wildflowers fed by its long summer days. Here are some places to see the full spectrum of The Last Frontier.
The District of Columbia is home to a number of places that you need to flash the right ID to access. From restricted rooftops to government storage facilities and underground tunnels, the city is filled with places that are off-limits to the average visitor. What’s more, many of them are hidden within popular tourist destinations and densely populated neighborhoods—so you might catch a glimpse of them, but never get any closer. These are a few of our favorite restricted spots in D.C., and the stories behind them.
If you thought Pensacola, Florida—with its powder-white sand beaches, near-perfect weather, and fresh seafood—was just a place to soak up the sun, think again. In fact, the city and beach of the same name is the site of the first European settlement in the continental United States. Established by Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna in 1559, it was christened Panzacola, a name of Native American origin and the precursor to the city’s modern name. The destination is also the birthplace of U.S. naval aviation and is still home to a naval air station and the thousands of service members stationed there, as well as the Blue Angels, the flight squadron famous for their death-defying fighter plane stunts. This delightful coastal city is an ideal, if somewhat quirky, blend of historical sites (on land and underwater) and activities to get your adrenaline flowing.
A deep blanket of snow often covers New England in the winter. But there’s adventure to be found in the frozen landscape, with its steep mountains and frozen ponds—and not just for skiers and snowboarders. This route blazes a unique path through Massachusetts and New Hampshire that is filled with bright colors, bold flavors, and the legacies of pioneering thinkers.
The people of Tucson have been eating off the land for 4,100 years. From grains to livestock to produce introduced by missionaries in the 1600s, this UNESCO City of Gastronomy is home to some of the oldest farmland in North America. What once was old is new again in The Old Pueblo where ancient flavors are found in nearly every dish — trendy to traditional.
Any travel enthusiast would be hard-pressed to open any social media channel and not see photos of Iceland, with its jaw-dropping peaks, natural hot springs, pure glaciers, northern lights and snow-covered landscapes. But the island nation’s appeal goes well beyond the well-worn paths of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the southern region's countryside. Travel to the untamed north along the Arctic Coast Way to discover otherworldly beauty—sans crowds—around every bend.
Crowds clog Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the main artery between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The road is dotted with stores selling Nessie trinkets and lined with bagpipers and street performers pulling off dazzling tricks. But look beyond the tartan tourist traps, and you’ll discover tucked-away gardens, remnants of the city’s medieval past, and much more.
In 1967, 100,000 artists, activists, and hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the Summer of Love. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix played free concerts for fields of college dropouts, and San Francisco established itself as a countercultural capital. More than 50 years later, in a city increasingly known for Twitter and tech rather than art and activism, travelers who come on a pilgrimage are often disappointed to find expensive, skin-deep psychedelia. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a walk down Haight Street to be wonderfully weird, full of historic links to hippiedom and modern takes on the vibe.
More than eight million diverse individuals call New York City home, and many of them share their heritage through food. Whether it’s a billiards hall that serves stellar Bhutanese fare or a mosque where Malian vendors sell snacks for just a few hours each Friday, the city offers a vast culinary landscape for those willing to explore it. Venture beyond the flashy hotspots with months-long waiting lists and you’ll find New York’s true flavor lies within the small restaurants and stands rooted in its thriving immigrant communities.
It may be famous for Mardi Gras, but New Orleans has subtle, surprising wonders on tap all year long—even in the touristy French Quarter. Around every cobblestoned corner, you’ll find historic ephemera, bits of Creole culture, environmentalism, and no shortage of spooky stories, whenever you happen to visit.
From the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hard to miss: The institution’s two-million-square-foot main building, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, spans four New York City blocks and stretches into Central Park. Inside the galleries, you’ll find thousands of objects spanning 5,000 years of world history. With so many treasures under one roof, it's inevitable that some fascinating pieces are tucked into the museum's lonelier nooks and crannies, hiding in plain sight. The next time you spend a day at the museum, keep an eye out for these overlooked wonders.
Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.
The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.
The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.
Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.
Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.
The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.
Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.
Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.
Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.
Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.
There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.
Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'
Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.
Find faded grandeur and vibrant street life in Argentina's largest city.
Just when you thought you knew the Windy City, it finds new ways to surprise you.
Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.
In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.
Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.
New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.
Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.
Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.