Kick things off with a light hike just a stone’s throw from Hollywood’s main drag. Head up Canyon Drive, park near the playground, and then turn right, on foot, when you see Smokey the Bear. You’re trekking to Bronson Cave, which is roughly 0.2 miles up a gentle slope. The tunnel, at the southwest edge of Griffith Park, dates back to the early 1900s, when it was dug as a quarry for city streets. Rugged and close to film studios, this landscape was too convenient for Hollywood to ignore. Soon, the cave was ready for its closeup: The Batmobile zooms out of the cave in the opening sequence of the 1960s-era Batman TV series.
It takes creative camera angles (or a dash of special-effects magic) to make the cave look deep and dark. In reality, you can walk from one opening to another in less than a minute. When you do, you’re unlikely to see any bats—but you may spot dozens of crows and ravens crouched on the rock walls, or prowling the sky in pursuit of a snack. The birds’ airborne athleticism is captivating, and so are the shadows they cast as they dip and soar. Linger in the rock labyrinth at the mouth of the cave, from which you’ll also have a clear view of the Hollywood Sign, absent any selfie-snapping crowds. Listen to the birds’ caws and the swishing sound of their wings, and forget that there’s a whole city just moments away.
What does a "Bat Cave" sound like offscreen? Listen to the audio postcard below to discover the sounds of Bronson Cave.
3200 Canyon Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068
When the artist and collector Robby Gordon moved into his home six-and-a-half years ago, there was little landscaping to speak of, just a few shrubby plants and a steep slope of naked dirt. Today, every inch of his property—inside and out—is a medley of paintings and sculptures in metal, plastic, and stone, by more than two-dozen artists. After a few tumbles, Gordon and his collaborators built a staircase and railings, and anyone can stroll the garden on a self-guided tour to appreciate the eclectic installations, which include a 1,000-pound dragon, a turtle made from a bent wok, and spindly, spiraling flowers fashioned from mesh screens and strips of air ducts. (Also: Don’t sleep on the killer view of downtown L.A.)
If Gordon is home—and he often is, scurrying around with artists who work in studios scattered throughout the house—visitors can ask to come indoors. Do it, because the whole place is a canvas. Gordon might hand you a pair of 3-D glasses; put them on and see layers of acrylic paint pop to life all around you, on remote-controlled window shades, on blazers and shirts and ties, on railings, and directly on the wall above the fireplace mantel, where Gordon applied eight gallons. For all its verve, the art’s not exactly slapdash: To make sparkly geological behemoths, Gordon glues gemstones together one at a time. Outside, it took two months to pour and decorate the intricate cement steps, which are inlaid with patterns made from smooth stones, bricks, and keys. The work is ever-evolving, so there’s always a new place for your eye to land. Wind your way back down the coiling streets until you’re at Bronson and Franklin.
2430 Vasanta Way, Los Angeles, CA 90068
The front half of this charmingly ad-hoc cafe is full of screenwriters whittling away at their prose. Eavesdrop if you must, but then grab an iced tea or cold-brew coffee and head to the back, where you’ll find a forest glen—dark and quiet, with groves of thick tree trunks and branches. Perch yourself on one of the low-slung couches or inside the cozy, two-seat treehouse and dim your phone or computer to keep your light pollution to yourself. Once your eyes adjust, watch for the owl roosting beneath the moon lamp and panels of flickering lights, looking every bit like zillions of trapped fireflies.
5931 Franklin Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90068
Give your feet and lungs a break with a quick bus ride over to your next stop. Board a DASH Hollywood bus at the Northeast corner of Franklin and Bronson. The short trip will only cost you $0.50, and you’ll get to savor some sights as you fly past. On the south side of the street, just before Argyle Avenue, you’ll get a great view of the Hollywood Tower apartments, the off-kilter building that was one of the inspirations for Disneyland’s Tower of Terror ride. And just beyond it, you’ll see the headquarters of Capitol Records. Let your eyes wander up to the spire, where a red light blinks out “Hollywood” in Morse code. Exit the bus at Highland and Franklin, and continue west on Franklin.
6200 Franklin Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028
As you approach Orchid Avenue, you’ll notice a mansion cordoned off from the sidewalk by thick hedges. Just in case the turrets didn’t give it away: This is the famous Magic Castle, L.A.’s most vaunted haunt for magicians. Scoring an invite requires a bit of contortion—and even if you are granted entry as a guest, fees are steep. Skip that spectacle for now, and stop in to a somewhat less-mysterious clubhouse across the street. The American Society of Cinematographers moved here in 1936—17 years after its founding—and renovated the home of the silent film star Conway Tearle as a den where male cinephiles played poker and puffed cigars when their workdays wrapped. Now, the clubhouse opens its doors to anyone who wants to take a look around; just call ahead to make sure there’s no members-only event going on.
All around the plush chairs and sofas in the organization’s main lounge, you’ll find a camera collection that traces the history of moving pictures—from a lantern-like projector that beamed a single image to the 1890s-era Edison Kinetoscope, in which a penny rolled 50 feet of film. (This one is mid-restoration.) Other highlights include early, 30-pound digital cameras and the Mitchell BNC 2 on which Gregg Toland captured Citizen Kane. The walls are sometimes lined with evocative still photographs, too.
1782 N Orange Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90028
To experience these architectural wonders on foot, you have to get a little winded. When you leave the ASC, turn right on Franklin, and then head straight up Hillcrest before jogging right on Glencoe. Your first destination is at the end of this winding residential block. Meet the Freeman House, a squat, textile-block building by Frank Lloyd Wright, and now in the custody of USC’s School of Architecture. Built in 1924 from square, concrete slabs made from hillside sand, it looks like a hybrid of a modernist shower stall and an Egyptian tomb. Many of the blocks are imprinted with distinctive shapes—though scholars haven’t agreed on exactly what they are. Work to repair old earthquake damage and insulate the structure against future rumbles has been somewhat fitful, and the home is currently closed to the public. Still, there’s plenty to appreciate from the outside. Look for the ways that the sandstone and the green call your attention to the surrounding landscape, like the cacti and the canyons, far below and also baked into the house’s very foundation.
You can get to the next stop on foot, or view it from a distance by driving to the intersection of Camrose Drive and High Tower Drive. If you're walking from the Freeman House, continue along Glencoe until it dead ends at a stone staircase on your left. Take it and veer right, and you’ll find yourself on a winding passageway shaded by palm fronds that dapple the light. When you reconnect with the asphalt, you’ll see the century-old High Tower Elevator off in the distance. This five-story machine—modeled after Italian campaniles, or bell towers—spares the residents of this hilly neighborhood from having to hoof and huff up hundreds of stairs each day. For a closer view, follow the bend until you can turn right on Yeager Place. Then, get ready to climb. You’ll have plenty to distract you as you navigate your way up: Darting lizards, bursts of bougainvillea, the serrated edges of aloe leaves the size of your arm. When you make it to the top, you might get to see it in motion if a resident is taking a ride—they're the only ones with access. Otherwise, enjoy the secluded retreat, glimpse the buildings far below, and then start your descent.
1962 Glencoe Way, Los Angeles, CA 90068
In the early 20th century, Hollywood was sleepy and pastoral, a patchwork of orchards and stables. The film industry was still centered in New York City, and West Coast auteurs were reluctant to spring for purpose-built construction. They made films wherever they could, and that’s how Cecil B. DeMille came to use a barn at the corner of Sunset and Vine as a set for The Squaw Man, a feature-length Western, and the first full-length motion picture made in Hollywood. The crew ponied up $250 per month, and, at first, the equine tenants weren’t evicted—the filmmakers just worked around them, shooting under natural light (eventually, they even ran the film over to an on-site lab for developing). But as the industry grew and DeMille’s operations expanded, the barn hit the road: Loaded up on a truck, it rolled to Melrose, and then Hollywood Boulevard, before landing on this site in 1985.
That’s why you’ll find it here, when you leave the High Tower Elevator, at the intersection of Vine and Camrose. These days, it’s the Hollywood Heritage Museum, whose exterior has been restored to highlight the barn’s various functions over the years—as a set, as an office, as a gym where would-be stars trimmed down and bulked up. If you catch it on the weekend, go inside and marvel at salvaged theater seats, menus and ashtrays from the Brown Derby, and a smattering of props (a spear from DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, from 1956, is still sharp). If the museum is closed, check out the interpretive plaques, and if you happen by on a day when there’s a show at the nearby Hollywood Bowl, you might just find an array of picnic tables on the lawn, inviting you to sit awhile.
2100 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
The Musso & Frank Grill claims to be Hollywood’s oldest restaurant, and it has some strong evidence in its corner. There’s the princely dinnerware and the attentive waiters, looking smart in crisp suit coats. There’s the martini, served with two plump olives and a sidecar chilling on crushed ice. There’s a pair of handsome phone booths where, even with the ringers dead, it’s easy to imagine someone taking a call about a big break. And then there’s the food, the likes of which are rarely seen this side of the 1960s. If you stop in for a late-afternoon tipple, you’ll beat the crowd and be able to hear ice cubes clinking alongside jazz tunes. Sidle up to the bar and tuck into jellied consommé, iceberg wedges with bleu cheese, a shrimp cocktail the size of a goblet, or celery stuffed with Roquefort and cream cheese and flecked with olives and paprika. Now you’re eating like a tastemaker of yore.
6667 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
When the movie impresario Sid Grauman prepared to open the Egyptian Theatre, in 1922, the theme was no accident: It capitalized on the frenzied race to find and open King Tut’s tomb. (Following years of combing the Valley of the Kings, the Egyptologist Howard Carter cracked open KV62 just a few weeks after the theater’s first screening.)
The courtyard featured tall palm trees, hulking busts of pharaohs, and enormous murals inspired by hieroglyphs—and today they’re holding up well, after a $500,000 restoration underwritten by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 2016. The work included repairing water damage that left the portico crumbling, patching up cracks that fractured the murals, and refreshing the paint (sponges helped imitate the patterns of sandstone). Even if you don’t go in to watch a special screening, the quiet courtyard is worth a visit. The bases around the palms are a great place to get your bearings, and—if you ignore the visible billboards and the the signs peddling soup and panini—the murals will transport you back in time.
6712 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
On a passably warm evening, you might see hundreds of people milling around the shopping center at Hollywood and Highland, popping in and out of Victoria’s Secret, Hot Topic, or Dave & Buster’s. The scene looks like something plucked from any slick suburban mall... until you notice that people are walking across a soaring gate flanked by massive pachyderms. This is Babylon Court, and it’s a replica of the set of D. W. Griffith’s 1916 film Intolerance, which filmed nearby on Sunset Boulevard. When the movie wrapped, the colossal set (its walls were nearly 100 feet tall) was left to fall into ruin. It was eventually torn down.
In a posthumous essay in the Paris Review, the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury took credit for the idea of reviving the design. When a planning group approached him about creative ways to freshen up the strip, he said he persuaded them that some version of the Intolerance set should be front and center. “People from all over the world come to visit, all because I told them to build it,” he wrote. “I hope at some time in the future, they will call it the Bradbury Pavilion.” For now, it’s a monument to the mammoth ambitions of early filmmaking.
6801 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
When this 1920s-era hotel renovated a few years ago, after periods of hard-partying shenanigans, the pool stayed intact. That’s because it’s a literal work of art: In 1988, the painter David Hockney, known for his highly saturated depictions of light rippling through water, went to town on the bottom of the pool, marking it with slews of blue squiggles. From the deck, they look like melted, mutated apostrophes, but to swimmers, the L.A. Times wrote, they seem to “come to life, weaving and dancing and shimmering.” You don’t have to be a hotel guest to hang out by the pool (though you are relegated to the deck, not the water or the loungers)—so follow the signs for “Tropicana Pool,” grab a drink, and decide for yourself.
7000 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
As you loop back from the pool, look for a building on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard, topped with two old radio transmitters. This is the former Warner Hollywood Theatre and onetime home of the radio station KFWB, and it has some fun architectural Easter eggs (along with an uncertain preservation future). Look closely at the letters marching down the towers, and you’ll see that one sides reads “Pacific” while the other says “Warner,” because it wasn’t changed when the building changed hands from Warner Bros. to Pacific Theaters in the late 1960s. When the original theater opened in 1928, it could seat 2,700 people, but it was badly bruised in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It has been largely vacant since, save for sporadic screenings and a stint as a church. For now, it’s in limbo.
6433 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
This Chase bank branch is worth a visit even if you don’t need to withdraw any cash. Long before it was a financial institution, it was the site of scenes in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Squaw Man, filmed in 1913. When it became a bank, in 1968, this movie and many others were immortalized in mosaics and stained glass panels, which you can see whether the tellers are open or closed.
1500 Vine St. Los Angeles, CA 90028
This 84-year-old bar might as well have assigned seats. On any given night, you may find regulars installing themselves on the red stool of their choice, buying packs of cigarettes from a neon vending machine, or ponying up for $4.50 beers and $2 popcorn freshly made in an old-school Dun-Hot machine. Legend has it that this watering hole was once a speakeasy for visitors entering from a secret entrance in the Pantages theater, next door. Now, anyone can enter through the front door, beneath a wild neon sign, and check out a mural by the caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who illustrated a cast of famous characters wailing on trumpets, puffing on cigars, or sipping on drinks. Look for Marilyn Monroe, mid-giggle, or Harpo and Groucho Marx, gawking at the action from behind a column. Introduce yourself to the bartenders, and you might get your drink with a splash of local lore.
6245 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
New York 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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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.
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.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.
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.
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.
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.
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Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.
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Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.