Atlas Obscura and All Things Considered have joined forces this summer for an epic road trip up America’s Pacific Coast. From the high desert of Southern California to the rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula, our mission is to seek out the hidden, the unusual, the wondrous experiences that can still be had along these iconic stretches of highway.
Our first stop, during a nighttime drive from the Los Angeles airport to the desert, is a classic roadside attraction, the Cabazon Dinosaurs—giant, hand-crafted dinos behind a fast-food restaurant. When we arrived, the attraction itself, a creationist museum (gulp) with dozens of metal-and-concrete dinosaurs, was closed. But the brontosaurus (Dinny) and tyrannosaurus (Mr. Rex) are outside the gates. There was something special about seeing Mr. Rex's eyes and mouth—glowing, 65 feet in the air—on a cool desert night.
Cabazon Dinosaurs, 50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, California, United States, 92230
The desert surrounding the California towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Landers exert a gravity that attracts artists, visionaries, and mystics. Tourists, too, and there’s a lot here to see and do. The first of our five segments on All Things Considered highlights two unusual stops, the World Famous Crochet Museum and Bob’s Crystal Cave.
Twentynine Palms Highway
Jeff Hafler, owner of the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum in downtown Joshua Tree, has been collecting beauty and hair-related items for decades, and now displays them in his shop. We popped in while Jeff had a customer in his chair, unfazed by an impromptu tour.
Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, 61855 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, California, United States
North of Los Angeles, we visited Oran Z, a hair-weave magnate and collector of black memorabilia who used to run his own private museum in Los Angeles. For our second All Things Considered segment, we visited with Oran as he struggles with his legacy.
W. Avenue J, Lancaster, CA 93536
Before we embarked on this road-trip, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to suggest places we should visit. One recommended the Channel Islands Maritime Museum, where director Peter Crabbe showed us an unusual collection of model ships—made of bone, by ship-bound prisoners.
3900 Bluefin Cir, Oxnard, CA 93035
Another reader recommendation came from the photographer and artist Rosamond Purcell, who directed us to an undistinguished office park in Camarillo, California. For our third All Things Considered segment, we visit the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, one of the largest egg collections in the world, and its inspiring collections manager, René Corado.
439 Calle San Pablo, Camarillo, CA 93012
You might have heard, in the first radio segment, mention of a unique hotel, the Madonna Inn, recommended to us by, well, several people. One of them specifically pointed out the men's urinal in the lobby, without saying why. It just so happens that we had use for one of those as we spotted the resort from the highway. Everything about this hotel in San Luis Obispo—from its individually themed and named rooms, to its bubble-gum-pink dining room, to the dinosaur fossil hidden in the stone of the massive fireplace—is a testament to the unusual vision of its husband-and-wife creators. The urinal? A stone grotto that turns into a waterfall as you approach.
Madonna Inn, 100 Madonna Rd., San Luis Obispo, California, United States, 93401
Some of the best moments on road-trips are when you spot something unexpected, like the mountain bike museum we spied while filling the tank. Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame founder Marc Vendetti guided us through the history of mountain biking—which he helped make.
1966 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Fairfax, CA 94930
This dark outcropping overlooking the Pacific Ocean seems to attract a lot of rock climbers. Thousands of years ago, it had the same effect on mammoths, who rubbed patches of it smooth as glass. We rubbed the rocks ourselves.
Mammoth Rubbing Rocks, Duncans Mills, California, United States, 95430
This nondenominational chapel was designed in 1984 by architect James T. Hubbell for the nearby community of Sea Ranch, in memory of a resident, Kirk Ditzler. It defies easy description. A flower that floated to the ground? A seashell? A cresting wave? Maybe Gandalf’s wizard hat after it magically transformed into a hobbit house. Inside is a peaceful refuge illuminated by panels of stained glass and almost abstract in its lines. There's a leafy chandelier and a single kneeler, good for appealing to a higher power for safe passage on curvy coastal roads.
Sea Ranch Chapel, 40033 CA-1, Sea Ranch, California, United States
For years, residents of Fort Bragg, California, threw trash onto Union Lumber Company land next to the ocean. There were eventually cleanup programs, and the Pacific took what was left and made a wonder out of it, covering the beach in shiny, pebble-smooth bits of glass. Now part of MacKerricher State Park, Glass Beach is a bustling attraction, as people hunt for interesting little bits to take home with them, despite the posted signs. Years of collecting have taken their toll, but when the sun hits wet pebbles, they still glimmer.
Glass Beach, Glass Beach Trail, Fort Bragg, California, United States, 95437
Let's get this straight—it is not cool to tunnel through a 276-foot coast redwood, like landowner Charlie Underwood did in the 1930s. But this giant, the Chandelier Tree, named for its branching crown, survived. There are only a couple of these relics of West Coast car culture left, and we found a thrill in wondering if a plus-size SUV was going to make it. It's clear from scuff marks on the inside of the tree that not all of them do. But watching road-trippers debate whether they should even try is great fun.
Chandelier Tree, Leggett, California, United States, 95585
In the 1960s, Roger Tofte saw a roadside amusement park and decided he could do better. For our fourth All Things Considered segment, we visit the Enchanted Forest, a vibrant, busy park now run by three generations of the Tofte family.
8462 Enchanted Way SE, Turner, OR 97392
In Oregon's Ecola State Park, a winding hike through old-growth forest brings you to peaceful, expansive Crescent Beach, a swath of sand hemmed in on three side by dark cliffs. But, as we found, nature asserts itself even when you’re waiting in line to park.
84318 Ecola Park Road, Seaside, Cannon Beach, OR 97110
The Hoh Valley rain forest in Washington state's Olympic National Park is one of the quietest places in the United States, at least when it comes to man-made noise. For our final All Things Considered segment, we hike into the park with audio engineer Matt Mikkelsen, and his head-shaped microphone Fritz, to record the sound of silence.
Forks, WA 98331
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.
Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.
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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.