Hidden Haight-Ashbury: An Explorer's Guide - Atlas Obscura

An Explorer's Guide to
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.

Taking in the full mural is a journey in itself. Celeste Noche
Massive Mural

1. A 400-Foot Ode to Urban Cycling

You don’t have to be cycling past to appreciate the Duboce Bikeway. Park yourself in front of the mural that depicts a bike journey through the entire city, from downtown by the Bay to the sand dunes of Ocean Beach. To celebrate the establishment of this pathway—the city’s first stretch of road to be transformed by removing car traffic—the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition worked from 1996 to 1998 to create the painted scene in front of you.

Keep your eyes peeled for an anthropomorphized Transamerica Pyramid, a home gardener in front of a bright-yellow Victorian, and a giant raccoon (a regular sight on late-night rides). On the wall, the real-world Wiggle—a zig-zagging route that allows cyclists to ascend the hilly mile to the Haight and Golden Gate Park while bypassing the steepest inclines—is represented by a curving stream, a nod to the vanished creek bed beneath it.

398 Church St & Duboce Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94117

Cars rumble right over the cistern every day. Celeste Noche
Secret Stash

2. San Francisco’s Underground Water Cisterns

From the mural, head west on Duboce Avenue. As you pass the Muni stop, pause to admire—or just plop down in—chairs that look like a living room set spray-painted gold. The nine chairs are made of bronze, and are a public art installation called Domestic Seating.

Next, continue another short block to the intersection of Sanchez Street and Duboce. Here, on the street in front of a lively cafe, a ring of bricks indicates the location of an underground cistern that, together with 171 similar sites, holds some 11 million gallons of water. Scattered throughout San Francisco, these cisterns provide a backup should the primary water supply systems be disrupted or destroyed by an earthquake, as happened in 1906, when fires demolished most of the city. While you can’t view the cistern itself, you can enter nearby Duboce Park Café, buy Mitchell’s ice cream (ask if they have the ube flavor, which is arguably the best of the local institution’s vaunted tropical offerings), and enjoy it while thinking about the invisible infrastructure that keeps the city safe. 

Sanchez St and Duboce Ave, San Francisco, CA 94114

This eye-catching artwork is the surest sign that you've arrived at the Center. Celeste Noche
Art That Rocks

3. A Museum Devoted Entirely to Concert Posters

Can you spot the giant, bronze bunny sculpture on the sidewalk? If so, you’ve found the entrance to the otherwise under-the-radar Haight Street Art Center. Ring the bell to be let in, and you’ll find dozens of historic rock-concert posters, their psychedelic colors and designs contrasting with the simple black-and-white interior. The collection rotates—and often closes between exhibitions—so depending on when you come, you may see artwork from Detroit’s historic Grande Ballroom music venue, or every official Pearl Jam concert poster. 

Staff describe the museum as both a work of preservation—fewer bands bother with concert posters now that promotion has moved online—and as an act of karmic justice: In the 1960s and ‘70s, poster artists were poorly paid and, since they received no copyright, earned nothing if rock bands made it big and used their work on album covers. Funding comes from, among others, a former business manager for the Grateful Dead, and the center displays and sells the work of modern artists, who can also use the upstairs print shop without paying San Francisco rents.

215 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94102

It's a wholly engrossing experience. Celeste Noche
Heavenly Skating

4. Disco at the Church of 8 Wheels

Arrive at the Church of 8 Wheels in the morning, and it will look like any other closed place of worship. Arrive on a Friday or Saturday evening, though, and the open doors will lead you into a shrine to ‘70s and ‘80s rollerskating culture. Fifteen dollars gets you inside and into a pair of rented skates. When you’re ready, join the crowd, bust a dance move, and admire how well disco lights complement stained glass. If a member of the staff sees you struggling, they’ll likely ask if you want a quick lesson, and then instruct you to “walk like a duck.” (Don’t worry, you’ll graduate to coasting soon.) If skating’s not your speed, grab a seat and watch. The experienced skaters gliding along are magical; the facial expressions of newbies are pure delight. 

Check the website for skating hours. If the stars don’t align during your visit, head next door to The Center SF. Yes, the yoga-and-meditation space and new age tea parlor, filled with laptop-toting young professionals in yoga pants, captures a widely mocked culture of modern San Francisco. But it’s also lovely and relaxing—especially while sipping the Pu’er tea or spicy cacao.

54 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Records are grouped into categories ranging from "Jazz" to "Sleazy Listening." Celeste Noche
Surreptitious Shop

5. A Record Store Only Open 5 Hours a Week

While vinyl collectors often flock to Haight Street, Jack’s Record Cellar is almost unknown, because 163 hours a week, it looks like an abandoned property. The store opens only on Saturdays, from 2 to 7 p.m.—and even those hours aren’t guaranteed.

Once you’re inside the store, though, it’s a welcoming place. It feels like a cross between an organized shop and a chaotic attic, with broken records piled in a basket, an old Eames chair hoisted atop shelves, scraps of yellowed newspaper taped to the walls, and a proprietor commenting that the music playing is “dusty.” He’s referring to the sound of aged records, but the dust in the corners of Jack’s has had time to accumulate, as its history dates back to a 1950s location on Haight Street. 

The shop specializes in 78s, a type of heavy but brittle record that plays a single song, and it’s easy to walk away with an armful of treasures. Plenty of records cost just a few dollars, and owner Wade Wright is happy to talk with enthusiastic novices and serious collectors. The store’s main business comes from eBay, but Wright opens up shop to interact with people and be part of the neighborhood. Even if you’ve never bought a record, after an hour of listening to Wright chat about the store’s early days, you might find yourself picking up the habit.

254 Scott St, San Francisco, CA 94117

This recycling project is a little macabre. Celeste Noche
Spooky Stones

6. Repurposed Graves in Buena Vista Park

On the way to your next stop, pause as you cross Divisadero Street. Without any fanfare, you’ve crossed the Fog Line—the invisible barrier that separates the foggy western side of San Francisco from its (relatively) sunnier eastern half. As you may have experienced by now, the fog defines the city’s weather, and is so omnipresent that it has a name and Twitter account, Karl the Fog.

Keep going until you reach Buena Vista Park, where, as you stroll one of the city’s last oak woodland groves, you’ll notice little bits of marble bordering many of the paths. These are old tombstones, which workers repurposed into building materials a century ago, when the land-scarce city relocated its cemeteries south. Most of the marble is nondescript, but a few pieces have dates and names that reveal their provenance. To find them, enter from Waller and Buena Vista West, and then take a right after the playground, and another right after the dog run, and look for fading inscriptions. If you're a Hitchcock fan, exit near the park's southeast border. At 355 Buena Vista East, you'll glimpse a former hospital you might recognize from Vertigo.

Buena Vista Ave W & Waller St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Anarchy reigns, but the shelves are organized. Celeste Noche
Badass Bookstore

7. The Anarchist Collective Bookstore

Since 1976, the radical Bound Together bookstore has ensured that the Bay Area never lacks anarchist literature. Three shelves devoted to prominent anarchists including Emma Goldman and William Godwin form the heart of the humble, one-room shop. Other intriguing sections include “unjustly forgotten memoirs” by hobos, criminals, and misfits; voluminous volumes on drugs; and a selection of more mainstream books, the sale of which supports the Prisoners Literature Project. 

Since Bound Together relies on volunteers, it can’t always stick to its listed hours, which are 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily. If you find it closed, you can admire its “Anarchists in the Americas” mural through the chain-link fence, and consider the chilling quote, “History remembers two kinds of people: those who murder and those who fight back.”

1369 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Every April 20 (4/20), this spot is packed. Courtesy of Christopher Michel/San Francisco Heritage
Heritage Home

8. A Hippie Museum in the Making

While Summer of Love hippies succeeded in spreading their message across the country, they did not leave many physical traces behind. The intersection of Haight and Ashbury is a lone spot where pilgrims can admire the clock on the northwest corner set permanently to 4:20, a reference to cannabis culture, and pose where the Grateful Dead once took iconic photos. 

Norm Larson, a neighborhood fixture who lived in the house above the 4:20 clock for more than 30 years, successfully applied for landmark status for the building and bequeathed it to the nonprofit SF Heritage before his death in 2018. That group is now working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Haight Street Art Center to turn it into a cultural destination. It’s still in the planning stage, and the team has yet to decide how to balance memorializing the neighborhood’s counterculture history with showcasing the house’s early-1900s architecture—and other proof of its long life, including plaster cracked by the 1906 earthquake. They’re also deciding how to treat Larson’s unique touch (the house is still furnished just as he left it). For now, SF Heritage is offering occasional tours. Check the organization’s website for details.

557 Ashbury St # B, San Francisco, CA 94117

For all your collectible needs. Celeste Noche
Creepy Curiosities

9. A Little Shop of Horrors

According to owner Audra Kunkle, people were afraid to enter her establishment, Loved to Death, when it opened in 2008. But such are the challenges of running a store whose aesthetic could be described as “beautifully morbid Halloween.” Now an established part of Haight-Ashbury, it’s full of memento mori and items with a goth or Victorian aesthetic, although, due to concerns about ethical sourcing, the shop has stopped selling taxidermy. If you’re not sure where to start, popular items include rings made with glass eyeballs, plus lucite specimens, such as preserved butterflies presented in glass. Kunkle prepares many of them in a small workshop upstairs. 

1681 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Work your way from Homer to Harry Potter. Celeste Noche
Biblio Bonanza

10. Books in Chronological Order

There are several ways to organize books—by the Dewey decimal system, for instance, or alphabetical order. But at the Bindery, the bookstore’s volumes are ordered by publication date. The effect is a tour through history—mainly Western—from religious texts and epics to postmodern novels and young-adult fantasy, with longer stops at World War II and the counterculture ‘60s and ‘70s. A bar serves cocktails and kombucha that can be enjoyed on a leather couch while flipping through a book from any century. Part of the appeal, too, is reading staff recommendations for classic works published centuries ago. (“Socrates is a slippery character,” writes one employee of Plato’s Republic. “Read carefully.”) The bookstore is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons and evenings, as well as for events throughout the week. If it’s closed, visit the Booksmith down the street.

1727 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Game on. Celeste Noche
A Hidden Arcade

11. Pinball in the Secret Juju Room

Waller is a quiet, residential street—with one exception. Turn into the print shop Free Gold Watch and you’ll be greeted by the bleeps, bloops, and whooshes of more than 50 pinball machines, along with an equally enchanting display of flashing lights, Christmas bulbs, and chandeliers. The shop’s primary business is printing custom t-shirts—but when, in 2011, the staff filled some empty space with pinball machines, surprising numbers of customers materialized. So they added more and more, until they ran afoul of arcane arcade laws, and worked with city officials on reforms to legally operate what is now the largest pinball arcade in the city. 

Proprietor Matt Henri suggests Monster Bash as the most fun pinball machine. A smattering of arcade games—think Pac Man or Big Buck Hunter—are also on offer, and if you ask nicely, you can play on the staff-only pool table. For a special treat, turn into the small side space, also known as the Secret Juju Room, which contains a rotating selection of historic games on loan from the Pacific Pinball Museum. If your first play goes poorly, don’t give up. Bend your knees, get into a good stance, and smash those paddles early and often.

1767 Waller St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Windmills by the sea. Celeste Noche
Waterfalls, Fairies, and Bison

12. Hidden Wonders of Golden Gate Park

If you wander into Golden Gate Park a dozen times, there’s a good chance you’ll see many more than 12 wonders. Its lush landscape, which extends three miles from the end of Haight Street to the sand dunes of Ocean Beach, contains two museums, playing fields, a tea garden, and a botanical garden. But the park is home to countless hidden treasures, too. To see them, rent a bike from Golden Gate Tours & Bike Rentals (on Haight Street) or Avenue Cyclery (on Stanyan Street), or take advantage of the free shuttle that runs Saturdays and Sundays on John F. Kennedy Drive.

Enter the park to the right of Haight Street and head down JFK Drive. Shortly after passing the Conservatory of Flowers, there will be an ovular patch of concrete on your right. This is the Skatin’ Place—a throwback to the ‘70s, when tens of thousands of San Franciscans roller skated on JFK each weekend. If you’re lucky, a group will be disco skating. And if you’re very lucky, they’ll be doing a synchronized “Thriller” dance. 

Your next stop is a fairy home, and, as is usually the case with fairies, it’s not easy to find. Continue on JFK until you pass the Rose Garden, then immediately turn left onto a concrete sidewalk. When the trail forks, look for a long log split in two. On its far end, you’ll find a tiny door with a wee nob—just the right size for small fairy hands. This is one of several “faery doors” installed by the local artist Tony Powell around the Bay Area. Inside, you may find presents left by other human visitors. You may also find snails and insects who have moved in.

Continue on the concrete path and take the stairs on your right up to Stowe Lake. Across the pond, you’ll see a pagoda, which you can visit in person via bridges in either direction. This Chinese Pavilion was a gift from San Francisco’s Taiwanese sister city, Taipei, in 1981, and just beyond its flowers and white walls, you’ll find a waterfall cascading with enough force to create a refreshing mist.

Return to JFK Drive and head west for a mile and a half until you spot the park’s bison paddock. A herd of the one-ton megafauna have called the park home since the 1890s, when park administrators acquired a breeding pair for a zoo-like attraction. Over time, this evolved into an effort to help save the endangered bovines. Today, all of the bison are female. 

Finish your tour by walking or biking to the very end of the park, where two Dutch windmills stand sentry by the ocean. Now decommissioned, the pair once pumped water to irrigate the park, which, like other portions of the western half of the city, was once sand dunes and marsh. Signs posted beside the southern windmill give you a sense of how their steampunk machinery terraformed the area.

Page St & Stanyan St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Be a party animal. Courtesy of Milan Bhatt/California Academy of Sciences
After-Hours Attraction

13. Night at the Museum

Any time you visit the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, you can be charmed by an African penguin colony, watch stingrays swimming serenely, and meet Claude, the albino alligator whose birthday is celebrated with musical numbers and grand soirees. But at Nightlife, the museum’s 21+ event on Thursday nights, you can do it all with a cocktail in hand.

First, head to the rainforest before the animals’ strict 7:45 p.m. bedtime. You’ll enter the humid landscape through double doors (to prevent butterfly escapes) and ascend a curving ramp from the forest floor to the understory to the canopy, then ride an elevator down below the waterline, where catfish and a paiche—one of the world’s largest freshwater fish—swim in a simulation of the Amazon’s seasonal flooding. Pass anacondas on your way to the tidepool, where you can pet starfish and sea urchins and hold a shark egg, and keep an eye out for Methuselah the Australian Lungfish, who has been placidly swimming on exhibit since 1938. (The Academy was founded in 1853, when the city of San Francisco barely existed, and specimens from a 1905-1906 Galápagos expedition form the foundation of its research collection.) As the night wears on, head up to the living roof, which looks a bit like a moon base with greenery, and stargaze with telescope-equipped staff.

55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

Special thanks to Sam Whiting of the San Francisco Chronicle and Jayson Wechter of SF Treasure Hunts.

Keep Exploring
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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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 & 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 East Texas Bayou.

Gulf Coast Road Trip

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.

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.

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.

The heart of 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.'



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


Buenos Aires

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



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



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

The dome of Estrela Basilica in Lisbon.


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.


San Diego

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.