An easy way to appreciate the Colorado Desert's varied ecosystems is to spend an afternoon tromping around this preserve, which boasts more than 25 miles of trails that wind through all sorts of landscapes. Stroll past the riparian forest—which recalls a marsh—and the desert wash, home to smoke trees with branches that look like ash-gray plumes. If you're lucky enough to walk the Moon Country Trail during a superbloom, you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of buttery yellow desert sunflowers.
But don’t miss the McCallum Trail. This two-mile loop takes you around a pond that's fed by water seeping up from a nearby fault line. Note the prevalence of California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera), a thirsty bunch that thrive in this unique landscape. (This oasis is also, unfortunately, ideal for red swamp crayfish, which have moved in and outcompeted the native desert pupfish, much to the dismay of the preserve’s naturalists.) The trails are well marked, but it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts here. Some of the paths have set hours, so check the website or visitors’ center for times so you don’t find yourself stranded.
29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Rd, Thousand Palms, CA 92276
The dry, warm climate makes the Coachella Valley an ideal place to grow date palms. That’s good news for you, because dates are the key ingredient in date shakes, and date shakes are delicious. This icy marriage of dates, milk (or vegan alternatives), and sometimes bananas and spices is especially refreshing on a day when you’re broiling beneath the desert sun, but it’s reliably tasty all year. Whenever you visit, there are tons of places to sip one. In downtown Palm Springs, Great Shakes evokes an old-school diner, and you'll find a tiny donut threaded on your straw. Thirsty visitors can also throw one back at Hadley Fruit Orchards and Shields Date Garden, where expansive grounds also feature ponds, fountains, and a few dozen Biblical sculptures.
160 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262
If the directions seem wrong, you’re going the right way. Turn in to a nondescript alley to get to the grounds of the Sky Village Swap Meet, the site of a former drive-in movie theater. When you arrive, you’ll be pleasantly disoriented. This swap, which is open on Saturdays and Sundays from morning to early afternoon, is a hybrid: part sculpture garden and part salvage wonderland. Stop in to pan for treasures, and be sure to arrive early if you want to grab a biscuit at the cafe.
Of all of Sky Village's interesting nooks, the most enchanting is Bob’s Crystal Cave. Decked out in gemstones, foam, tiny trees, a running stream, and plenty of paint, the cave evokes a big, fluorescent aquarium. It’s the handiwork of the late Bob Carr, along with Merete Vyff Slyngborg and Mette Woller, who helped Carr restore it to his original vision after he destroyed the first amid fears that the land would be seized by eminent domain. If the door is open, grab a seat on the bench. If it’s locked up, peek in through the porthole windows and marvel at Carr's labor of love.
7028 Theatre Rd, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
You might think you’ve reached this big boulder a couple of times before you really get there. Along the way, you’ll spend several minutes driving (slowly, please) down a rolling, sandy road. You’ll bounce past lots of fascinating geology, including piles of rocks that look like rough-cut geodes. Hey, that boulder looks pretty big! Or maybe it’s this one? Any confusion is understandable: This desert is freckled with big rocks. By the time you arrive at Giant Rock, though, there’s no more doubt. This particular boulder is absolutely enormous.
In fact, it's roughly seven stories tall—so big that humans nearly disappear next to it, and a man named Frank Critzer even once built a home underneath. Giant Rock is widely considered to be among the largest free-standing boulders in the world, and has captivated people for centuries. It was said to be significant to several Native American communities, and in the mid-20th century, UFO enthusiasts flocked to it. It’s powerful to be in the shadow of something so startlingly huge, and you may find yourself entranced, wanting to stay for as long as you can, without knowing exactly why.
Landers, CA 92285
Today, this white dome hosts sound bath spa treatments, but it has a storied past and a vaguely extraterrestrial bent. It was the brainchild of George Van Tassel, who claimed that a ship from Venus touched down at Giant Rock in 1953, carrying a 700-year-old being named Solganda, who let him in on a secret: The human body could be juiced up, like a battery, to stave off aging. Van Tassel spent years meditating beneath Giant Rock, in the warren that his friend Frank Critzer had excavated, and then got to work building a nearby structure that he claimed could generate electrostatic energy. The current owners of the Integratron make no promises of alien encounters or immortality, but visitors can make a reservation to spend an hour reclining on striped mats, listening to sound coaxed out of quartz crystal bowls as history echoes around them.
2477 Belfield Blvd, Landers, CA 92285
A trip to Joshua Tree National Park is worth it just for a glimpse of its famed Seussian yucca plants, stacked boulders, and cholla cacti—but in addition to its natural treasures, the park has archaeological ones, too. For proof, stop by Ryan Ranch. Though it’s in the shadow of the steep Ryan Mountain, this trail is one of the park’s easiest hikes. The surface is nearly flat, which is fine: You’re not here to get your heart pumping. Your goal is to soak up the history hiding in plain sight.
Your destination is a set of adobe ruins that aren’t easily visible from the start of the trail. Follow it, and you’ll come right up to them, the most obvious relics of an estate built here at the end of the 19th century by J. D. Ryan, who operated the nearby Lost Horse Mine. Much of the six-room main house burned down in the 1970s, in an act of suspected arson. It still warrants a visit, if only to see how the creamy beige remains evoke the hues and humps of the rocks beyond them. If you stand in the “doorways,” it’s easy to imagine the astonishing view that the family woke up to more than a century ago.
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
As you leave Joshua Tree through the West Entrance, off of Highway 62, you’ll be in prime position to pull over and check out the teeny-tiny World Famous Crochet Museum. Inside a lime-green photo processing hut, you’ll find a collection of plush poodles, melons, mermaids, and more—all adoringly arranged by Shari Elf, who has been acquiring them since the 1990s. If you’re itching to get your hands on your own cozy souvenir, pop into the nearby shop, brimming with hats, tunics, and more.
61855 CA-62, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
After the Crochet Museum, walk on over to this love letter to bouffants and the tools that make them soar. Painted bubblegum pink and various hues of blue and mint, the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum is crammed with curlers, old-school dryers, and much more. Stop in for a quick history of hair styling—or if your own ‘do needs a little freshening up, call ahead for an appointment.
61855 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
The Alabama-born artist Noah Purifoy, who died in 2004, spent the final 15 years of his life arranging more than 100 of his sculptures and installations across several acres of desert. He worked almost exclusively with found objects, including salvaged, charred debris from the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles. Here, plywood, white bricks, and rusting parts almost blend in with the sand and scrubby plants. Exposed to wind, rain, and the straight-on sun, the sculptures change over time. No matter: Purifoy embraced entropy, and visitors have to do the same. Arrive with a curious mind, and you’ll reap plenty of rewards.
63030 Blair Lane, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Come for the inland sea, stay for the wacky story about how it got there and the push to protect it. This mightily saline body of water—even saltier than the Pacific Ocean—was an engineering accident. In the rainy spring of 1905, the Colorado River rushed through the canal gates built to hold it back, flooding the Imperial Valley. This had happened several times in the past, but this time, it stuck. It took engineers roughly a year and a half to stem the flow, and in the meantime, water continued to pool at 227 feet below sea level. Today, the sea is fed by agricultural runoff. Some naturalists worry that if it continues getting saltier, many of the white pelicans and other birds that use it as a place to fuel up during migration may be out of luck.
Skip the eerie ruins of abandoned buildings chapped and flaking in the desert and check out the criminally underrated visitor center, where a pelican skull, with its long, sharp bill, is sure to leave you slack-jawed. If you’ve got a steel stomach, don't miss a slew of “Salton Sea Hush Puppies” near the window. (The charming name describes globs of waxy, insoluble fat formed when untold numbers of tilapia died at the same time in the briny water.) Then, make your way down to the beach. With each step, you’ll kick up sharp little backbones and barnacles that almost look tinted purple or dusty rose. Sit for awhile on the sun-battered picnic tables, surveying one of the prettiest infrastructure mishaps around.
100-255 State Park Rd, Mecca, CA 92254
Both San Andreas Springs and its neighbor, Dos Palmas, evoke secret gardens, filled with nothing but native California fan palms with fronds that fall down like shaggy skirts. When you arrive, park your car and wind your way down a tidy, sandy path. It will feel like you’re veering off in the wrong direction, but trust the twists and turns and you’ll land smack inside a grove of trees. There, you’ll be enveloped by fronds and the smell of damp dirt. In the precious, secluded solitude, it might feel like you’re breaking some rule—how could something so beautiful be so empty? It’s simply under the radar: This property is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, but open to visitors. Be sure to leave things as you found them, and don’t get in the way of the work.
Palmas Spring Rd, Mecca, CA 92254
Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.
The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.
Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.
Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.
The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.
Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.
Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.
Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.
Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.
There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.
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.
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.
In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.
Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.
New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.
Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.
Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.