Gulf Coast Road Trip: Atlas Obscura’s - Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura’s
Gulf Coast Road Trip

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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.

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One man's monument to his favorite fruit.
OUTSIDER ART

1. The Orange Show

A labyrinthine wonderland dedicated to the world’s most popular citrus fruit may seem a strange starting point for this trip. But the Gulf Coast’s mishmash of cultures, landscapes, and industries makes the region unclassifiable, and the Orange Show is, too.

Tucked into a sleepy neighborhood on the edge of Houston, the Orange Show is a one-of-a-kind art project created by the retired postal worker Jeff McKissack. McKissack bought this property in the 1950s and spent three decades building a junkyard masterpiece in honor of his favorite fruit. Among the Orange Show’s many delights are one-of-a-kind whirligigs (one of which depicts the stages of the moon) and mosaics inked with quotes from great thinkers (keep your eyes peeled for the occasional misspelling that McKissack didn’t bother to fix). Inside a one-room “museum,” mannequins and wooden plaques shed light on the creator’s own peculiar mind and philosophy.

2402 Munger St, Houston, TX 77023

The longest sidewalk in the world?
INCREDIBLE INFRASTRUCTURE

2. ‘The World’s Longest Sidewalk’

Before dipping down to the swamplands that span much of the coast, it’s worth a slight detour to enjoy the breaking waves of the actual Gulf. Galveston, which was an important port during Texas’s brief life as an independent republic, was devastated by a hurricane in 1900. In response, the state built a massive protective wall along the edge of this barrier island.

The city claims a few hard-to-verify records. At 10 unbroken miles, the seawall may constitute the world’s longest sidewalk. A 2.4-mile mural that stretches from 27th Street to 61st Street is also supposedly the longest in the globe. Today, it’s easy to forget that this popular promenade is the careful work of engineers. As you walk, you’ll see sunbathers lounging on the adjacent beach. Piers extend from the seawall, including the “Pleasure Pier,” a throwback amusement park with a picturesque ferris wheel that looks over the sea.

You're spoiled for beachside campground options on Galveston Islands. Spend a few days soaking up the sun before you head back inland. 

Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77550

You can't miss the entrance to Gator Country.
SWAMP THINGS

3. Up Close and Personal With Gators

Directions to Gator Country are simple: take I-10 East, and exit as soon as you see the giant, gator-shaped shack.

From Texas to Florida, the Gulf is ringed with wetlands that prehistoric beasts call home. But alligators don’t always fare well in the increasingly suburbanized landscape. The 450 animals at Gator Country are rescues, hauled in from swimming pools or other residential waterways. Two crusty old-timers, Big Tex and Big Al, are the stars of the show, both well over 13-feet-long. But the highlight, really, is getting to handle baby gators and feel the silky-soft skin on their bellies. (Any non-dangerous animal can be handled; just ask the staff.)

Feedings are held daily, when co-owner Gary Saurage puts on a charming show, weaving information about the gators’ cold-blooded biology with jokes about their surprisingly docile behavior. The big gators will even do tricks, though you won’t see them jumping through rings of fire. “Sit,” Saurage says, and the gator does.

21159 FM 365, Beaumont, TX 77705

The Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum transports visitors back in time.
OIL-RICH NOSTALGIA

4. Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum

In January of 1901, Croatian American speculator Anthony Lucas got more than he bargained for. Drilling on Spindletop Hill near the Texas coast (which he’d leased less than a year prior), he struck black gold. The eruption lasted nine days, gushing 100,000 gallons per day before it could be capped. The bonanza changed the nation’s economy and gave birth to the modern, petrochemical Gulf Coast.

The Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum, which sits a mile north of that hilltop, consists of a ring of buildings stocked with period furnishings, giving a feel for life in the pop-up city that emerged around the well. You’ll find a saloon, a barber shop (which doubled as a dentist’s office), and a general store. Inside a working forge, a blacksmith sometimes shapes iron using tools from the original boomtown. Rusted gear from the original pumpjacks is on display at the museum’s southeast corner.

If you’re lucky, the model well out front will erupt in a watery re-enactment of the first gusher. (Check Facebook for dates and times, which are posted at the beginning of each month.)

5550 Jimmy Simmons Blvd, Beaumont, TX 77705

A misplaced chimney is a reminder of the 1980 disaster.
HISTORIC MISHAP

5. A Serene Site With a Dramatic Past

Standing on the quiet banks of Lake Peigneur today, it’s hard to imagine it being a scene of chaos. But early one morning in late 1980, this lake ripped open into a roaring vortex. Barges and boats, a drilling rig, a house, and 65 acres of land were all swallowed. Today, a single, crumbling chimney rises from the water on the lake’s eastern edge, the only relic of that destructive day.

The specifics remain contested, but it seems that an oil rig accidentally punctured a salt mine near the lake, causing the lake water to drain into the mine’s caverns. A canal that connected the lake to the Gulf then began to run backwards, pouring into the sinkhole and creating a 150-foot waterfall in a landscape famous for its flatness. The once 10-foot deep freshwater lake has since settled into its new life as a shallow pool of brackish water.

Driving along Louisiana Highway 89, you’ll be able to catch brief glimpses of Lake Peigneur’s western edge. But since it’s entirely surrounded by private property, you’ll need to enter Rip Van Winkle Gardens for a closer look at the chimney. Take your time making your way through these manicured, semi-tropical environs, and watch out for peacocks: they roam freely on the grounds.

5505 Rip Van Winkle Rd, New Iberia, LA 70560

Visitors leave offerings at the museum for good luck.
RELIGIOUS RELICS

6. The Many Masks of Voodoo

Arrive in New Orleans and dive straight into its idiosyncratic culture. From enslaved laborers to French aristocrats, from river-rat houseboat squatters to free people of color, New Orleans has always been a jumble of people and ways of life. One of the most famous products of that mixture is New Orleans Voodoo, which combines African religious practices with Catholicism and Francophone (including Haitian) cultures.

The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, tucked into a quiet block of the French Quarter, consists of two rooms cluttered with shrines and taxidermy. Signage provides a lesson in history and mythology, explaining, for example, the difference between Voodoo, an organized religion with many incarnations rooted in West African tradition, and “Hoodoo,” a folk spirituality that arose from the blending of beliefs shared by enslaved Africans in the New World. In the museum, you’ll also see “gris-gris” (talismans worn to ward off evil spirits) and Voodoo dolls, both introduced to American parlance through New Orleans Voodoo.

Voodoo is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to NOLA culture, so you'll want to spend some time there. RV options couldn't be more convenient even in the heart of the city, at places like the French Quarter RV Resort. 

724 Dumaine St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Aboard the spacious Canal Street Ferry.
ON THE WATER

7. Experience the Mississippi Like a Local

Immerse yourself in the bustle of the Big Easy. But when it comes time for a break from Bourbon Street, skip the fancy steamboats and take the Canal Street Ferry, a humble, two-dollar cruise. It’s a quick ride, hardly more than five minutes, but that’s enough to ride the turbulent rush of America’s mightiest waterway. Catch glimpses of barges and freighters as they round the city’s crescent and pass beneath the downtown bridge. Stand on deck so you can feel the spray of water, and feel free to bring your bike, your stroller, or even your dog.

Once you reach Algiers Point, stick around to meander through the city’s second-oldest neighborhood. Founded in 1719, it’s a remarkably quiet and historic community of shotgun houses, homey pubs, and coffee shops.

New Orleans, LA 70130

Owner Ronald Lewis handcrafted this Mardi Gras Indian decorative piece in 1992.
BACKYARD MUSEUM

8. House of Dance & Feathers

Ronald Lewis is true New Orleans royalty: he has presided as the council chief of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe, as the king of one of the city’s most rambunctious parades, and as the president of the Big Nine Social Aid & Pleasure Club, one of the organizations responsible for administering the city’s famous second-line parades. Through it all, he’s accumulated many costumes and trinkets—so many that his frustrated wife eventually dumped them in their yard. Lewis picked up the heap and moved it into a backyard shed. The neighborhood kids dubbed it a museum, and the House of Dance & Feathers was born.

The single room is jam-packed with objects: flyers and throws from parades and balls, masks and boots and beadwork, books and pamphlets and newspaper clippings, all stacked haphazardly on tabletops and shelves. Notably, there is no interpretive material. That’s because Lewis is eager to talk. “Everything makes a story,” he says—though he readily admits that his museum is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The museum is open by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead.

1317 Tupelo St, New Orleans, LA 70117

Fishermen sell straight from boats like these during the summertime.
LOCAL FISHERMEN

9. Pick Up Some Just-Caught Seafood

Driving US-90 out of New Orleans, you’ll pass truly scenic views, from pine forests to swampy estuaries to—finally, after hundreds of miles of inland driving—views of open water. Despite the casinos that loom over the Mississippi beachside, the towns here still have their bucolic charm: you’ll find antique shops and juke joints, museums, and cafés. You’ll also see plenty of signs written in Vietnamese.

Vietnamese families began arriving on the coast en masse in the 1970s, fleeing war and seeking a place where they could use their skills as fishermen. Now, in Biloxi, Mississippi, around half of the local shrimping fleet is Vietnamese American. Most mornings you can find these ships in Small Craft Harbor, tucked behind the seven-level parking garage of a Hard Rock Casino. From June until late autumn they’ll sell the day’s catch straight off the boat. Come early, as the boats return from overnight trips near sunrise, and the day’s supplies often sell out. Pick up a bounty and cook up a seafood feast in your RV's kitchen–just make sure to leave the windows open. 

679 Beach Blvd, Biloxi, MS 39530

The Main Gallery Room of the museum showcases art and regalia.
HIDDEN HISTORY

10. Mardi Gras’ True Origins

When a band of drunken revelers weren’t ready to stop at midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1830, they wandered into a hardware store, bought rakes and hoes and cowbells, and took to the street to make some noise. Thus began the first Mardi Gras parade in North America. Later, those revelers formed a society to repeat their impromptu parade year after year. Eventually, it was moved to the final day before Lent, to cap the carnival season.

Sound like New Orleans? Think again. The Crescent City’s first organized Mardi Gras “krewe” was actually founded in 1857 by a few former Mobilians who had moved west, bringing their homegrown tradition with them.

Today, Mobile is known for a more family-friendly version of Mardi Gras, with parades and balls hosted by the city’s 70 active “mystic societies.” The Mobile Carnival Museum showcases the sumptuous gowns and regalia worn by some of the societies’ past royalty, displaying a level of decadence that only adds to the mysterious allure of the secretive, invitation-only societies.

Don’t overlook the abundance of ephemera: historic lithographs and photographs, exquisite renderings of bygone floats, and fashion illustrations of vintage costumes. And don’t leave without stepping inside a room devoted to the “Comic Cowboys,” a satirical society whose bawdy approach to parading adds a nice balance to the finery donned by the “aristocracy.”

355 Government St, Mobile, AL 36602

A beautiful-but-deadly pitcher plant.
CARNIVOROUS FLORA

11. Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park

Cross the border into Florida to enter a landscape of moss-draped pine and oak trees. The Tarkiln Bayou Preserve makes a compelling case that the Gulf Coast deserves far more acclaim for its natural wonders. But it’s not just beauty that you’re here to observe: some of the plants are also beasts. This park is one of the best spots to see blooming “pitcher plants,” so named for the deep pitchers formed by their leaves. Filled with digestive liquid, these appendages lure, trap, and eventually dissolve their insect prey.

One species, the white-topped pitcher plant, can only be found here on the Gulf Coast, between the Apalachicola and Mississippi rivers. You’ll find the pitcher plants blooming in mid-spring along the Tarkiln Bayou Trail, a half mile of raised boardwalk that runs alongside the park’s bogs.

There are no campgrounds in the Preserve, but there are about five miles south in Big Lagoon State Park. The gateway to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, the park is a bird-watcher's paradise. Climb the three-story wooden observation tower to watch for rare breeds, or simply take in the magnificent views. 

2401 Bauer Rd, Pensacola, FL 32506

Inside the main gallery of the fort.
VAULTED TUNNELS

12. Fort Barrancas

Once upon a time, imperial powers battled over who would own this sea. Pensacola Bay, deep and easily protected, made for a natural naval port, which is why the Spanish constructed a fort here in 1698, and why in the mid-19th century, American military engineers rebuilt and expanded the old structure. Fort Barrancas was part of a series of defenses that lined America’s coasts. The area remains important to the military, and is now a Naval Air Station base. That means all non-military visitors must enter through the base’s West Gate, on Blue Angel Parkway.

There are a number of structures worth exploring at Fort Barrancas. Wander the narrow passageways that wind through the fort, then descend the steps and pass through a tunnel into the Spanish Water Battery. This white-walled structure was built by the Spanish and later restored during the construction of the new fort in 1844. It wasn’t too long after that the fort was put back to use during the Civil War, halting construction of the nearby Advanced Redoubt. It's only accessible with a guide, so take a weekend tour to traverse the dilapidated tunnels that open into tall, arched rooms.

Once you’re done, emerge back into the Florida sunshine. Whether you head east or west, the beach awaits just minutes away. For all the gems hidden along this coastline, access to the water is still one of the best reasons to travel the Gulf.

3182 Taylor Rd, Pensacola, FL 32508

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Displays at the Weaver Dental Museum include a jumble of dentures.

6 Fascinating Medical Marvels in Pennsylvania

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. 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.

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The <em>Cementiscope</em> is a jumble of color and light—inside a cement mixer.

8 Places in Virginia That Aren’t What They Seem

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. 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.

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Some of the many historic stones on Graveyard Island.

7 Cool, Creepy, and Unusual Graves Found in North Carolina

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. 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.

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7 of Montana's Spellbinding Stone Structures

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. 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.

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Waves crash against the rocks near Thor's Well in Oregon.

9 of Oregon’s Most Fascinating Holes and Hollows

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. 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.

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The Avrocar hovered, but never really lifted off in a big way.

Take to the Skies With These 9 Gravity-Defying Sites in Ohio

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. 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.

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A foggy view from Washington's Mount Rainier, the most glaciated peak in the continental United States.

9 Strange and Surreal Spots in Washington State

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.

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8 Watery Wonders in Hawaiʻi, Without Setting Foot in the Ocean

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.

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Pizza, burgers, and a feminist restaurant: Connecticut has it all.

6 Unusual Eats Curiously Cooked Up in Connecticut

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.

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Telescopes open up a window to the stars.

11 Close Encounters With Aliens and Explosions in New Mexico

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.

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Jim Dickerman's sculptures are magical and a little brain-scrambling.

10 Places to Trip Way Out in Kansas

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.

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The Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue has a past full of stories and struggles.

The Resilience of New York in 10 Remarkable Sites

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. 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.

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Flat ground, big skies, huge cows.

7 Very Tall Things in Very Flat North Dakota

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.

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An architectural pilgrimage.

8 Blissfully Shady Spots to Escape the Arizona Sun

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.

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On the Run: Los Angeles

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.

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On the Run: NYC

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.

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The Blythe Intaglios are as mysterious as they are massive.

9 Surprisingly Ancient Marvels in Modern California

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.

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One of Houston's four giant concrete Beatles.

10 Art Installations That Prove Everything's Bigger in Texas

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.

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Honestly, the tallest building in the state is still a little dinky, compared to skyscrapers elsewhere.

6 Huge Things in Tiny Rhode Island

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.

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Forbidden Caverns, ready for its closeup.

7 Underground Thrills Only Found in Tennessee

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.

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Watch out for any chimp-gator hybrids lurking in the tea-colored water of Honey Island Swamp.

Sink Into 7 of Louisiana's Swampiest Secrets

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.

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Diego Rivera's mural sprawls across a light-flooded room in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

7 Mechanical Marvels in Michigan

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.

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Who doesn't love an old tree?

11 Wholesome Spots in Nevada

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.

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All aboard for a plate of pancakes.

7 Places to Glimpse Maine's Rich Railroad History

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.

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At Glacier Gardens, the tree canopies are flowers in bloom.

11 Places Where Alaska Bursts Into Color

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.

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Workers assess the exterior of the Washington Monument after an earthquake in 2011.

9 Places in D.C. That You're Probably Never Allowed to Go

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.

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2 Perfect Days in Pensacola

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.

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Taste of Tucson

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.

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North Iceland’s Untamed Coast

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.

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Look closely and wander widely: Parliament Square is full of charm.

Hidden Edinburgh

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.

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Hidden Haight-Ashbury

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.

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The Many Flavors of NYC’s Five Boroughs

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.

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Musical instruments in the courtyard of SecondLine Arts and Antiques in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Hidden French Quarter

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.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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.

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The RV/MH Hall of Fame.

Motown to Music City Road Trip

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 &amp; 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.

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Coachella Valley Preserve.

Hidden Coachella Valley

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.

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A view of L.A. from the top of Highland Park.

Highland Park

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.

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The heart of Venice.

Venice

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.

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Artist Colette Miller's tribute to the City of Angels.

L.A.’s Downtown Arts District

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.

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The Whitehall Banqueting House is full of topsy-turvy views.

Hidden Trafalgar Square

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.

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An elevator shaft in Tribeca opens to reveal a museum of small wonders.

Secrets of NYC’s Five Boroughs

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.

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Plenty of sweet treats are on offer at Pastelería Ideal

Mexico City's Centro Histórico

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.

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View of the Hollywood Sign from Babylon Court

Hidden Hollywood

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.

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A subway entrance in Times Square.

Hidden Times Square

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.

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Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, Oregon.

Summer Radio Road-Trip

Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'

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Amsterdam

Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.

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Buenos Aires

Find faded grandeur and vibrant street life in Argentina's largest city.

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Chicago

Just when you thought you knew the Windy City, it finds new ways to surprise you.

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Detroit

Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.

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The dome of Estrela Basilica in Lisbon.

Lisbon

In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.

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Miami

Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.

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Queens

New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.

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San Diego

Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.

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Savannah

Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.

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