Study Guide: Road Trip from Knoxville to Nashville: - Atlas Obscura


Study Guide: Road Trip from Knoxville to Nashville

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East Tennessee boasts some of the state’s most beautiful highways and byways. Rather than rushing from one destination to the next, this is the perfect road trip to meander and stop along the way. Follow this suggested itinerary between Knoxville and Nashville, and you’ll discover lesser-known historical gems, stunning natural landscapes, and some memorable treats, all bookended by two of Tennessee’s truly great cities.

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The western saloon-style space is outfitted with memorabilia from Manning’s personal collection, including a retro jukebox loaded with his favorite tunes. Courtesy of Graduate Hotels
VOLUNTEER FOR A GREAT TIME

1. Graduate Knoxville

Settle into your cozy guest room, complete with native wildflower pressings-turned-gallery walls and custom restroom wallpaper inspired by the bluetick coonhound Smokey, the beloved mascot of the University of Tennessee. Then, head down to Saloon 16, the on-site watering hole and restaurant, designed by the university’s famed former quarterback, Peyton Manning (often referred to as “The Sheriff”). Named for his jersey number, the western saloon-style space is outfitted with memorabilia from Manning’s personal collection. A closer look reveals a retro jukebox loaded with his favorite tunes, his original recruitment letters, sheriff’s badges honoring former teammates, jerseys, and much more. Manning himself designed the menu with some of his favorite dishes and drinks, so pick yours and enjoy a hearty meal before turning in for the night. The next morning, fuel up with a rich cup of coffee and a fresh-made pastry at Poindexter before hitting the road. 

1706 Cumberland Ave, Knoxville, TN 37916

While the entire property is worth investigating, three main buildings house more than 250,000 artifacts including furniture, tools, toys, folk art, musical instruments, and much more. Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development/Andrew Saucier
KEEP IT MOVING

2. Museum of Appalachia

Get a taste of regional history at this 65-acre recreation of an Appalachian community with 35 log cabins (including Mark Twain’s parent’s home), churches, schools, gardens, and farm animals. Founded by John Rice Irwin in 1969, the nonprofit museum is now a Smithsonian affiliate. While the entire property is worth investigating, three main buildings house more than 250,000 artifacts including furniture, tools, toys, folk art, musical instruments, and much more. One of the most interesting of the bunch is inventor Asa Jackson’s “perpetual motion machine,” housed in the museum’s Hall of Fame. Jackson began working on the contraption of wheels and gears in the mid-1800s, possibly to try to win a rumored $1 million reward by the U.S. government for an inventor who could defy the laws of physics. The machine stopped running ages ago, but it’s still a worthy example of Appalachian ingenuity.

2819 Andersonville Hwy, Clinton, TN 37716

Twelve life-sized bronze statues stand in front of the former Green McAdoo School, the place where the students attended elementary school.
DARING DOZEN

3. Green McAdoo Cultural Center

It’s hard to fathom the bravery it took for 12 Black high school students to walk to attend an all-White high school on August 25, 1956 when this small town in east Tennessee became the site of the first public school integration in the segregated South. That day Maurice Soles, Anna Theresser Caswell, Alfred Williams, Regina Turner Smith, William R. Latham, Gail Ann Epps Upton, Ronald Gordon "Poochie" Hayden, JoAnn Crozier Allen Boyce, Robert Thacker, Bobby Cain, Minnie Ann Dickey Jones, and Alvah McSwain earned a permanent spot in history. Now, visitors can see their stoic, life-sized bronze statues and tour the museum housed in the former Green McAdoo School, the place where the students attended elementary school. Highlights inside include a to-scale classroom, a poignant exhibit on the violence and a bombing motivated by the students’ presence, and archival photographs and artifacts, including heartwarming stories of how community members became allies for equality.

101 School St, Clinton, TN 37716

For a deep-dive into the community’s history, take a guided tour focused on one of the best-preserved blocks where you’ll explore the library, Hughes’ home, a schoolhouse, and a church.
UTOPIAN DREAM

4. Historic Rugby

The town of Rugby was founded by British author Thomas Hughes, who penned the classic novel “Tom Brown’s Schooldays,” as a utopian planned town in 1880. At its peak, some 300 people—many of them younger sons of English gentry, whose inheritance under the British primogeniture system was scant, and their families—lived in the class-free agrarian community. Though the utopian ideal didn’t last, many of the buildings in the Victorian town, situated on the picturesque Cumberland Plateau, are beautifully preserved. For a deep-dive into the community’s history, take a guided tour focused on one of the best-preserved blocks where you’ll explore the library, Hughes’ home, a schoolhouse, and a church. One favorite stop is the Rugby Printing Works, which showcases how The Rugbian newspaper was printed in the 19th century, complete with typesetting demonstrations.

1331 Rugby Pkwy, Rugby, TN 37733

Ozone Falls was used as a filming location for scenes for the 1994 live-action movie adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's “The Jungle Book.”
WHAT A RUSH

5. Ozone Falls State Natural Area

This rather ordinary-looking country road offers no clues to the spectacular sight you’ll see just a short hike away: the 110-foot waterfall that gave this 43-acre preserve its name. The rock amphitheater, formed by wind, water, and erosion, is ringed by dense trees. Beneath the falls is the remnant of an Appalachian mixed mesophytic forest (eastern hemlocks, white pines, magnolia, yellow birch, sugar maple, tulip poplar, and red oaks) that give the scene a primordial feel, so much that Ozone was used as a filming location for scenes for the 1994 live-action movie adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's “The Jungle Book.” While it’s possible to get a nice view of the falls from the top—just a few minute’s walk from the parking area—the real money shot is at the bottom. Unless you’re prepared to channel your inner Mowgli, bring your hiking boots and look ahead at the weather forecast. The steeply sloping rocks that lead to the base of the falls can be treacherous when they’re wet, though the reward of spectacular views is well worth the trek. Cool off with a plunge in the pristine pool at the bottom.

14563 TN-1, Rockwood, TN 37854

The artisan bakers make 40 kinds of donuts, but a must try are their delicious apple fritters. Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development
WINNER’S CIRCLE

6. Ralph’s Donut Shop

When World War II Army veteran Ralph Smith opened his hometown donut shop in 1962 in a former bus stop building, he probably couldn’t have imagined that it would be going strong more than half a century later. Now run by Smith’s daughter Cynthia and her husband Mark Pullum, the shop turns out more than 5,000 cake and yeast donuts per day (that’s about 1.5 million a year), all of them made by hand the old fashioned way, using the same family recipes that have been passed down through five generations. Each day—except Sundays when the staff takes a breather—the artisan bakers make 40 kinds of donuts, including butter twists, traditional glazed, chocolate glazed, and plenty more. Stop in for a pastry and a cup of coffee and you’re likely to find the counter filled with regulars, some of whom have been coming daily since the 1960s.

59 S Cedar Ave, Cookeville, TN 38501

The lodge at Cedars of Lebanon State Park nestled within 1,139-acres of eastern red cedar trees. Courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development
FOREST FROLIC

7. Cedars of Lebanon State Park

Get out and stretch your legs in this lush state park, named for the proliferation of eastern red cedar trees growing throughout its 1,139-acres. The trees reminded settlers of the cedar forests on Mount Lebanon, as mentioned in the Bible’s Old Testament. Though they’re called “eastern red cedars,” the irony is that the evergreens are actually junipers, a close cousin of cedars. The area, which officially became a state park in 1955, is full of unique natural ecosystems, including limestone glades that resemble rock gardens, and 19 rare or endangered species of plants grow here (keep an eye out for the Tennessee coneflower, limestone flame flower, and yellow sunnybell). While there are plenty of trails from which to choose, the Cedar Glades Trail is a perennial favorite. The gentle half-mile loop is generally accessible year-round and leads visitors through woodlands where moss and lichens cover the forest floor. While you wander, keep your eyes open for the deer, fox, wild turkeys, and rabbits that call the forest home.

328 Cedar Forest Rd, Lebanon, TN 37090

The 55-acre complex’s rolling hills are a riot of color, including giant blown glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly. Courtesy of Cheekwood Estates and Gardens
IN BLOOM

8. Cheekwood Estates and Gardens

When Leslie and Mabel Cheek built their sprawling estate in the American Country Place Era style in 1929, they likely didn't anticipate that it would become a destination for architecture buffs and anthophiles. Now, the 55-acre complex’s rolling hills are a riot of colorful blooms, trees, and shrubs, with different types of gardens. Explore what most interests you, choosing from among the Herb Study Garden, Japanese Garden, and much more, including native plants like azaleas, trilliums, trout-lilies, ferns, and a colony of paw-paw trees. Explore the 36-room house with its 11 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, a hidden staircase, and a library that houses a 2,000-book collection. Depending on when you visit you might get to see the spectacular blooming of 150,000 bulbs (spring), a full mile of holiday lights (winter), or any number of dynamic art installations, such as giant blown glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly positioned among the foliage.

1200 Forrest Park Dr, Nashville, TN 37205

The 12th-floor rooftop restaurant, White Limozeen, is named for country music luminary Dolly Parton’s 29th studio album. Courtesy of Graduate Hotels
MUSIC CITY MOMENTOS

9. Graduate Nashville

This Vanderbilt University-adjacent hotel is a feast for the eyes and a veritable wonderland, particularly for art and music lovers. Head straight up to the 12th-floor rooftop restaurant, White Limozeen, named for country music luminary Dolly Parton’s 29th studio album. It’s a glam fantasy of florals and shades of pink, with glittering chandeliers and plush seating inside and an outdoor plunge pool and lounge chairs that beg for a dip and a frozen Aperol Spritz. Don’t miss the must-capture shot of the 9-foot tall pink Dolly Parton sculpture, made of chicken wire, by Tennessee-based artist Ricky Pittman, set against the Midtown skyline. Can’t get enough of Graduate Nashville’s muse (who can?)? For a truly special stay, spring for the 9 to 5 suite, the over-the-top homage to the beloved singer. You’ll find a pink neon installation over the waterbed that proclaims “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap” (an oft-quoted Dolly-ism), custom wallpaper with nods to her most iconic songs, and ultra-glam dresses-turned-art hanging on the walls of the cozy sitting room. It’s the perfect comfortable, music-themed home base for your Music City explorations.

101 20th Ave N, Nashville, TN 37203

Graduate Hotels are a hand-crafted collection of hotels that reside in the most dynamic university-anchored towns across the country.

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Graduate Knoxville

Nestled along the Tennessee River and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains, Graduate Knoxville offers access to both the city’s rich cultural and outdoor offerings. Inside, a palette of orange, blue and white mixes with vintage touches and unique accents. In the lobby, follow the bright chevron stripes and say “ahoy” to our nautical front desk, inspired by the Volunteer Navy.

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Graduate Nashville

Surround yourself in history and legend at our funky, floral jewel box. Right in the heart of Midtown, Graduate Nashville features playful, luxe guest rooms that celebrate the town’s innate charm. Channel your inner Opry star at our animatronic karaoke bar or take in the Nashville skyline from our rooftop bar.

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Rogue Routes: The Road to Camp Colton

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The Enchanted Garden at Winterthur is full of magical spots—like an elf house.

6 Spots Where the World Comes to Delaware

Students of American history will know that Delaware is noteworthy for being the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States, earning it the nickname “The First State.” But look beyond Delaware’s American roots, and you’ll find other cultural influences, tucked away where only the most enterprising of explorers will find them. From a Versailles-inspired palace to an English poet casually lounging in a garden, here are six places to help you travel the world without ever leaving the 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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Rogue Routes: The Road to Pikes Peak

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6 Wondrous Places to Get Tipsy in Missouri

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Rogue Routes: The Road to Carhenge

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There's nothing corny about the Duke.

4 Pop-Culture Marvels in Iowa

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7 Stone Spectacles in Georgia

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The Black Cliffs near Boise are great for climbers.

6 Stone-Cold Stunners in Idaho

It turns out that no one really knows how Idaho got its name. It's been thought that the name came from Shoshone, but in truth it may have just been made up by a somewhat shady politician. Regardless of what you call it, the Gem State is sparsely populated and unapologetically wild, and full of wonders—especially geological ones. 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 Historic Spots to Stop Along Mississippi's Most Famous River

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Some Indiana trees have even been to the moon.

5 Incredible Trees You Can Find Only in Indiana

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Colonel Harland Sanders's Grave in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.

5 Famous and Delightfully Obscure Folks Buried in Kentucky

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Abandoned for years, Smith Mansion's fate is still being decided.

4 Wacky Wooden Buildings in Wyoming

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7 Spots to Explore New Jersey’s Horrors, Hauntings, and Hoaxes

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4 Out-There Exhibits Found Only in Nebraska

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6 Sweet and Savory Snacks Concocted in Utah

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12 Places in Massachusetts Where Literature Comes to Life

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Basshenge is a big homage to a big instrument.

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Two 20th-century musical figures tower over the state of Minnesota: Prince Rogers Nelson and Robert Allen Zimmerman. (That's Prince and Dylan to us mere mortals.) And while the Gopher State definitely celebrates its favorite musical sons, much of the state has a musical bent to it, from a singing beach to a room so devoid of sound is makes a musical madness all its own. 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 Boston Avenue United Methodist Church's dramatic entrance is one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the state.

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When you think about Illinois, what are the first things that come to mind? Maybe it's the environment, with its vast prairies and cold winters. Maybe it's someone from the state, like Abraham Lincoln, or something, like Chicago-style hot dogs or deep dish pizza. What you might not realize, though, is that there's a lot of fascinating science happening in Illinois. (There was even a settlement named Science along the Illinois River in the early 19th century.) From some of the world's most powerful computers and particle-smashers to horological oddities, these are a few of the laboratories and collections that the 21st state 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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5 Strange and Satanic Spots in New Hampshire

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These Civil War guns are located at Fort Washington in Maryland.

8 Historic Military Relics in Maryland

Maryland has the distinction of being one of the first states to officially join the Union in 1788—and as such, it’s played both big and small roles in various battles across the nation's history. Here are eight nods to its military past, ranging from a furnace that produced George Washington’s cannonballs to an unusual museum dedicated to the U.S.'s cryptographic history. 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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"Blucifer," in his gleaming glory.

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The state of Colorado is a gold mine of natural beauty: It's famous for its picturesque deserts, dramatic canyons, and shimmering, snow-capped peaks. But the Centennial State also deserves some love for its many unnatural wonders. There's a psychedelic church, a 231-pound sticker ball, and a cryogenic mausoleum. And who can forget the blue horse with neon-red eyes that towers outside the Denver airport? If you're looking to skip the ski slopes and hiking trails in favor of Colorado's strangest sights and most curious creations, this is where to start. 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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6 Hallowed Grounds in South Carolina

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The Rock of Ages Granite Quarry is the world's largest deep-hole dimension granite quarry.

9 Rocking Places in Vermont

Vermont may be known for its maple syrup and homey coziness, but beneath that rustic veneer lies a solid history of mineral industry. Here's a history of the Green Mountain State from the ground 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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Knoxville Study Guide

Knoxville, Tennessee, is a small city that’s made a big impact on the world. Founded by George Washington’s administration as the capital of the new Southwestern Territory, it was the 16th state’s capital — twice — for almost 20 years. Tucked in the heart of the valley along the Tennessee River, Knoxville is home to more than 120 parks and more than 160 miles of trails and greenways. It witnessed culmination of the women’s suffrage movement, played host to the 1982 World’s Fair and hosts the oldest symphony orchestra in the South. It’s also home to the University of Tennessee and its Volunteers, the fans of which bleed orange and white, the prominently displayed school colors. Need to give your feet a break as you explore the natural beauty, history, and culture of this thriving Southern city? Hop aboard the free Knoxville Trolley, the transit system operating since 1876. No matter how you choose to get around, there’s much to discover in Knoxville.

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Nashville Study Guide

Glitz, glamour, guitars, honky-tonks, sequins, and neon are synonymous with Music City and its country music roots. While there’s perhaps no other city that embraces big hats, big hair and big personalities quite the way Nashville does, there’s much more to Tennessee’s capital than meets the eye. Its rich history of food, culture, and innovation makes it a haven for creatives of all stripes. Though the city shimmers with energy, it’s easy to commune with nature and enjoy the pristine beauty of East Tennessee, starting with the Cumberland River that runs right through the heart of downtown. Whether you’re looking for a brush with history, a chance to enjoy the great outdoors or an opportunity to hear some of music’s biggest stars, Nashville has it all. If your boots don’t feel like walking the entire route, Old Town Trolley offers hop-on-hop-off tours around the city, with a stop just outside Graduate Nashville.

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Black Apples and 6 Other Southern Specialties Thriving in Arkansas

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The boll weevil monument is a grand celebration of a tiny critter.

4 Monuments to Alabama’s Beloved Animals

Maybe you love your cat a lot—maybe even enough to commission a little painting of your furry companion. But the people of Alabama can do you one better. Here, you’ll find a whole cemetery devoted to hounds, a heartfelt memorial to a fish, even a statue of a pest that drove farmers batty before it also spurred them toward ingenuity. Alabama knows how to fete Fido, as well as his scuttling, swimming, and spacefaring compatriots. 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 famous mountaineer.

The Dark History of West Virginia in 9 Sites

The Rockies may be bigger, but there's something special—and sometimes spooky—about the Appalachians. With dense forest cover, long history, and the shadowy hollows ("hollers," locally), they seem at times to be full of secrets. In West Virginia, the mountains and hills hold tales and myths, and a lot of places that were used and then abandoned. If you get excited about the feel of a shiver down your spine, you'll find a lot to love. 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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11 Zany Collections That Prove Wisconsin's Quirkiness

Pick an object. It could be a bottle of mustard. Or a life-size troll sculpture. Or a metal sculpture with big Victorian-steampunk energy. It doesn't really matter, as long as you collect or create so many of them that your collection becomes a roadside attraction and a cherished local landmark. A remarkable number of Wisconsinites have chosen this life path, and the result is a truly remarkable collection of collections scattered across the 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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There are lots of big creatures at the Porter Sculpture Park.

7 Inexplicably Huge Animals in South Dakota

One of the great resources of the Mount Rushmore State is millions and millions of years old: fossils. The state has long had pride of place in the paleontology world for the dinosaurs and mammoths that have been excavated there. And that history seems to have provided inspiration for the state's menagerie of massive megafauna. Here are some of our favorite places that celebrate dinosaurs, huge animal art installations, mammoths, and ... a prairie dog? 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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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: 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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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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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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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.

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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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