Atlas Obscura and All Things Considered have joined forces this summer for an epic road trip up America’s Pacific Coast. From the high desert of Southern California to the rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula, our mission is to seek out the hidden, the unusual, the wondrous experiences that can still be had along these iconic stretches of highway.
Our first stop, during a nighttime drive from the Los Angeles airport to the desert, is a classic roadside attraction, the Cabazon Dinosaurs—giant, hand-crafted dinos behind a fast-food restaurant. When we arrived, the attraction itself, a creationist museum (gulp) with dozens of metal-and-concrete dinosaurs, was closed. But the brontosaurus (Dinny) and tyrannosaurus (Mr. Rex) are outside the gates. There was something special about seeing Mr. Rex's eyes and mouth—glowing, 65 feet in the air—on a cool desert night.
Cabazon Dinosaurs, 50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, California, United States, 92230
The desert surrounding the California towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Landers exert a gravity that attracts artists, visionaries, and mystics. Tourists, too, and there’s a lot here to see and do. The first of our five segments on All Things Considered highlights two unusual stops, the World Famous Crochet Museum and Bob’s Crystal Cave.
Twentynine Palms Highway
Jeff Hafler, owner of the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum in downtown Joshua Tree, has been collecting beauty and hair-related items for decades, and now displays them in his shop. We popped in while Jeff had a customer in his chair, unfazed by an impromptu tour.
Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, 61855 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, California, United States
North of Los Angeles, we visited Oran Z, a hair-weave magnate and collector of black memorabilia who used to run his own private museum in Los Angeles. For our second All Things Considered segment, we visited with Oran as he struggles with his legacy.
W. Avenue J, Lancaster, CA 93536
Before we embarked on this road-trip, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to suggest places we should visit. One recommended the Channel Islands Maritime Museum, where director Peter Crabbe showed us an unusual collection of model ships—made of bone, by ship-bound prisoners.
3900 Bluefin Cir, Oxnard, CA 93035
Another reader recommendation came from the photographer and artist Rosamond Purcell, who directed us to an undistinguished office park in Camarillo, California. For our third All Things Considered segment, we visit the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, one of the largest egg collections in the world, and its inspiring collections manager, René Corado.
439 Calle San Pablo, Camarillo, CA 93012
You might have heard, in the first radio segment, mention of a unique hotel, the Madonna Inn, recommended to us by, well, several people. One of them specifically pointed out the men's urinal in the lobby, without saying why. It just so happens that we had use for one of those as we spotted the resort from the highway. Everything about this hotel in San Luis Obispo—from its individually themed and named rooms, to its bubble-gum-pink dining room, to the dinosaur fossil hidden in the stone of the massive fireplace—is a testament to the unusual vision of its husband-and-wife creators. The urinal? A stone grotto that turns into a waterfall as you approach.
Madonna Inn, 100 Madonna Rd., San Luis Obispo, California, United States, 93401
Some of the best moments on road-trips are when you spot something unexpected, like the mountain bike museum we spied while filling the tank. Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame founder Marc Vendetti guided us through the history of mountain biking—which he helped make.
1966 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Fairfax, CA 94930
This dark outcropping overlooking the Pacific Ocean seems to attract a lot of rock climbers. Thousands of years ago, it had the same effect on mammoths, who rubbed patches of it smooth as glass. We rubbed the rocks ourselves.
Mammoth Rubbing Rocks, Duncans Mills, California, United States, 95430
This nondenominational chapel was designed in 1984 by architect James T. Hubbell for the nearby community of Sea Ranch, in memory of a resident, Kirk Ditzler. It defies easy description. A flower that floated to the ground? A seashell? A cresting wave? Maybe Gandalf’s wizard hat after it magically transformed into a hobbit house. Inside is a peaceful refuge illuminated by panels of stained glass and almost abstract in its lines. There's a leafy chandelier and a single kneeler, good for appealing to a higher power for safe passage on curvy coastal roads.
Sea Ranch Chapel, 40033 CA-1, Sea Ranch, California, United States
For years, residents of Fort Bragg, California, threw trash onto Union Lumber Company land next to the ocean. There were eventually cleanup programs, and the Pacific took what was left and made a wonder out of it, covering the beach in shiny, pebble-smooth bits of glass. Now part of MacKerricher State Park, Glass Beach is a bustling attraction, as people hunt for interesting little bits to take home with them, despite the posted signs. Years of collecting have taken their toll, but when the sun hits wet pebbles, they still glimmer.
Glass Beach, Glass Beach Trail, Fort Bragg, California, United States, 95437
Let's get this straight—it is not cool to tunnel through a 276-foot coast redwood, like landowner Charlie Underwood did in the 1930s. But this giant, the Chandelier Tree, named for its branching crown, survived. There are only a couple of these relics of West Coast car culture left, and we found a thrill in wondering if a plus-size SUV was going to make it. It's clear from scuff marks on the inside of the tree that not all of them do. But watching road-trippers debate whether they should even try is great fun.
Chandelier Tree, Leggett, California, United States, 95585
In the 1960s, Roger Tofte saw a roadside amusement park and decided he could do better. For our fourth All Things Considered segment, we visit the Enchanted Forest, a vibrant, busy park now run by three generations of the Tofte family.
8462 Enchanted Way SE, Turner, OR 97392
In Oregon's Ecola State Park, a winding hike through old-growth forest brings you to peaceful, expansive Crescent Beach, a swath of sand hemmed in on three side by dark cliffs. But, as we found, nature asserts itself even when you’re waiting in line to park.
84318 Ecola Park Road, Seaside, Cannon Beach, OR 97110
The Hoh Valley rain forest in Washington state's Olympic National Park is one of the quietest places in the United States, at least when it comes to man-made noise. For our final All Things Considered segment, we hike into the park with audio engineer Matt Mikkelsen, and his head-shaped microphone Fritz, to record the sound of silence.
Forks, WA 98331
Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.
Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.
Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.
Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.
There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.
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Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.