Straying off the beaten path provides a unique travel experience you can’t get by following an itinerary. Whether your favorite travel destinations consist of a beach, the mountains or the most beautiful city in the world, looking beyond the obvious tourist attractions gets you up close and personal with the people and places that make your trip memorable.
Click through to find travel destinations you’ve never heard of that are worth checking out.
Alabama: The Alabama Booksmith, Birmingham
The Alabama Booksmith is an independent bookstore located in Birmingham with its claim to fame that every book is signed by its author. For readers, it could be a great place to spend your time and money. Founded over 25 years ago, the store originally carried only used books but now carries new books, fine limited editions, new and used signed first editions and classic titles The store also hosts a variety of literary events throughout the month. It’s free to visit, but a book will cost you.
Alaska: DogGoneIt Tours, Cantwell
DogGoneIt Tours is comparable in price to competing tours such as Husky Homestead, but it includes a visit to the hosts’ home, where you’re given an opportunity to find out what it’s like to live in Alaska. The tour teaches about the Iditarod and sled dogs using multimedia presentations and demonstrations. DogGoneIt provides transportation from Denali-area lodging. Tours are $56 for adults and $36 for children 12 and younger.
Arizona: Canyon King Pizzeria, Page
No trip to Lake Powell is complete without stopping for a bite to eat at this paddle-wheeler-turned-pizzeria located in Page, Ariz. Constructed from a hodge-podge of parts — like a 1908 surplus wheel and a World War II landing-craft diesel engine — and originally slated for the Colorado River, the Canyon King started lake service in 1979, according to the Arizona Daily Sun. After losing its coast guard certification 37 years later, local business people got together to help the owners bring the boat to Page, where it was converted into a restaurant.
A 12-inch cheese pizza will cost you $11, according to TripAdvisor.
Arkansas: 35th Annual Beanfest & Great Arkansas Championship Outhouse Races, Mountain View
Visit Mountain View, Ark., in late October to find out why the Fine Living Network named the Annual Beanfest & Great Ozark Championship Outhouse Races a “Freakiest Festival.” Locals dressed in crazy costumes cook up cauldrons of beans and race outhouses around Courthouse Square in Mountain View’s biggest and maybe oddest annual event. Craft vendors and music round out the celebration. Admission to the event is free.
California: The Museum of Death, Los Angeles
Satisfy your interest in the macabre at The Museum of Death, located on Hollywood Boulevard. Founded in 1995, the museum boasts stomach-churning exhibits such as morgue photos and pictures of famous crime scenes. It’s also home to serial murderers’ artwork, replicas of execution devices and all manner of gruesome death videos, according to the museum website. Admission is $17, and the museum is open daily.
Colorado: Madam Lou Bunch Day, Central City
Louisa Bunch, Central City’s most famous madam, ran a brothel serving local miners until 1914, when she converted the “sporting house” to a hospital to treat tuberculosis in those same miners, according to Atlas Obscura. In appreciation, the town commemorates Bunch with a yearly festival that makes light of her original venture. Bed races — literally, beds pushed and otherwise propelled down Main Street by costumed participants — highlight the event, which also includes live music, a parade and a Madam’s and Miner’s Ball. Madam Lou Bunch Day takes place the second Saturday in June.
Avoid These: Pricey Destinations That Are Seriously Overrated
Connecticut: Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Store, Middletown
Wild Bill’s Nostalgia store serves as a repository for anything collectible or nostalgic, according to the company’s website. As if items such as the world’s biggest jack-in-the-box and a collection of bobblehead doll boats “planted” on the grounds aren’t enough, the store also showcases taxidermied items, books, records and even an outdoor stage and movie theater. Be prepared to be entertained for an entire weekend. Items to purchase range in price with various books costing as little as $9 and as high as $130.
Delaware: Apple-Scrapple Festival, Bridgeville
Bridgeville, Del., a quaint little town located on the Delmarva Peninsula, hosts an Apple-Scrapple Festival each October to promote the area’s agriculture industry — and Scrapple processing plant. This family-friendly event features a full schedule of live entertainment, hundreds of craft and direct-sale vendors and a food court with a variety of offerings which, as you might expect, prominently feature apples and Scrapple.
Florida: Skunk Ape Headquarters, Ochopee
The Skunk Ape, the Florida Everglades’ version of Bigfoot, is alive and well in Ochopee, and Dave Shealy has devoted his life to studying the elusive humanoid creature. He and his brother, Jack, own the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, where you can buy Skunk Ape merchandise and educational materials. Dave claims to have seen Skunk Apes three time, and his tips might help you spot one too. Careful, though — males reportedly stand as tall as six feet and weigh up to 450 pounds.
If you’re looking for a souvenir, hats run around $16.
Georgia: Krog Street Tunnel, Atlanta
Urban art takes center stage at Atlanta’s Krog Street Tunnel. Linking Inman Park and Cabbagetown, the tunnel serves as a sprawling canvas for local — and visiting — artists. You’ll see the work of some outstanding graffiti artists as well as graphic art announcing local events. The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau recommends parking your car and walking or biking to the tunnel. Don’t forget to check out Inman Park, a planned garden suburb with a thriving downtown district.
Hawaii: Surfing Goat Dairy, Maui
Located within the Haleakala Crater, Surfing Goat Dairy makes award-winning goat cheese and has earned a top spot among Maui’s agricultural tourism attractions. You can learn all about the cheese-making process by booking one of several tours the dairy conducts throughout the year. While Maui is typically a high-priced destination, prices for this attraction range from $12 per adult and $8 per child for a casual, 20-minute tour to $28 per person for the two-hour grand tour, which includes hands-on interactions with the animals and a cheese tasting. For $17 for adults and $14 per child, you can help with evening chores and learn how to milk a goat.
Idaho: Black Magic Canyon, Shoshone Area
Throw on your hiking boots and make your way to Black Magic Canyon where you’ll find stunning lava formations — and perhaps a rattlesnake or two. It’s a tough hike, and the canyon holds water from around February through June. But things dry out in July and August, giving intrepid hikers a unique opportunity to traverse the twisting basalt formations.
Illinois: The Super Museum, Metropolis
The Super Museum showcases all things Superman, with over 20,000 items from superfan and collector Jim Hambrick, according to the museum’s website. Seventy-five years’ worth of memorabilia includes every Superman toy ever manufactured, as well as memorabilia from Superman movies and TV shows. The Super Museum is open every day except Christmas, and admission is $5 per person. Children ages 5 and under are admitted free.
Indiana: Sunken Gardens, Huntington
In 1924, the Huntington, Ind., Chamber of Commerce purchased an abandoned stone quarry and transformed it into a remarkable sunken garden — one of just two sunken gardens in the county. Located at Memorial Park, the Sunken Gardens showcase beautiful waterscapes, rock walls, a bridge and a gazebo. You can also visit the playground, play Frisbee golf and stroll through Memorial Park’s other gardens.
Take Everyone: 25 Coolest Family Vacation Spots in the US
Iowa: National Hobo Convention, Britt
Hobos played a vital role in the years following Civil War as they traveled by train to work wherever their services were needed. The National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, celebrates these workers with an annual festival featuring a full roster of events that range from hobo-inspired children’s activities to hobo and vagabond art and collectibles exhibits, contests, races and train-related displays. Round out the weekend with a visit to the National Hobo Museum, the National Hobo Cemetery and the Hobo Jungle train car exhibit. The festival takes place the second week in August.
Kansas: Strataca, Hutchinson
Strataca is an underground salt museum located in Hutchinson, Kan., where you can choose from two different shuttle tours through the subterranean mine, learn about the life of a salt miner and view the world’s oldest living organism. Halophile bacteria found its way into a pocket of salt water 250 million years ago and eventually grew into the salt crystal housed at the museum. A Salt Blast Pass that includes the shuttle tours costs $19 for adults and $12.50 for children. You can add a Safari Shuttle tour for $12.50, but riders must be at least 8 years old.
Kentucky: National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green
The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., has over 80 Corvettes exhibited in period settings, according to the museum website. The rotating collection includes prototypes and beautifully preserved classics. The museum lost eight cars to a sinkhole in 2014, and although the site has been cleaned up, you can view an ongoing exhibit describing the event.
The museum is open every day except major holidays. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 5 to 12. Children under 5 are free.
Louisiana: Angola Rodeo, St. Francisville
The Angola Prison Rodeo is the nation’s longest-running prison rodeo, according to the event’s website. Established in 1965 by inmates, the rodeo is professionally produced and features inmates participating in events like a six-chute Bust Out as well as bareback riding, wild horse races, barrel racing, bull-dogging, a chariot race, bull riding and convict poker. The event’s highlight is Guts & Glory, where inmates try to grab a poker chip tied to the event’s most intimidating Brahma bull. Rodeo tickets are $20 each.
Maine: Maine Wildlife Park, Gray
Once the season’s last snow melts away, look for the reopening of the Maine Wildlife Park, which cares for wild animals that have been wounded, orphaned or raised in captivity and can’t be released to their natural habitats. Entry is free for military personnel with ID. Otherwise, the fee is $7.50 for adults, $5.50 for seniors, military family accompanying the military personnel and children age 4 to 12. You can purchase food to feed the bears, deer and other animals for 25 cents.
Maryland: Annapolis Oyster Roast & Sock Burning, Annapolis
Celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of boating season at the Annapolis Oyster Roast & Sock Burning. Participants strip away their winter wear while reciting the “Ode to the Equinox” and then settle in for a March afternoon of live music and food prepared by local restaurants and caterers. An oyster-shucking contest and competition for the best oyster dish round out the day’s events. Advance tickets are $25. Buy early because the event sells out well in advance.
Massachusetts: Museum of Bad Art, Somerville
You don’t have to be an art expert to appreciate how awful the pieces on display at the Museum of Bad Art really are. The collection originally was housed in a private home before being moved to its permanent residence at the Somerville Theater. Whether these pieces merely leave you shaking your head or get you laughing out loud, one thing’s for sure — you’ll never look at art the same way. You can request a free pass for your entire party at the museum’s website.
Michigan: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Empire
Make the most of your visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore with a drive along the 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which winds through forest and sand dunes and affords spectacular views of Glen Lakes and Lake Michigan. Named for a local lumberman, the scenic drive requires a park pass, which costs $20 per vehicle.
Minnesota: RanHam Bowling Center, Saint Paul
Soak up the local color at The Nook, a quirky Saint Paul dive bar. It’s home to the RanHam bowling center, which is located in its basement and boasts an old train car with thousands of $1 bills tacked to the ceiling. Bowling is $4 per adult game, $3 for children and seniors and shoe rentals are $1.50.
Mississippi: Palestine Gardens, Lucedale
Get a taste of ancient Palestine without leaving the United States. The Palestine Gardens in rural Lucedale, Mississippi feature a scale model of the Holy Land, complete with the places and topography described in the Bible. Tours are free, but the hosts ask that groups call ahead.
Missouri: Wagon Wheel Motel, Cuba
Experience a fun part of Americana by spending a weekend at the oldest continuously operating motel on Route 66. This restored motor court still sports its original wagon wheel neon sign, which was built in 1947 by John Mathis, according to the motel’s website. Updates such as free WiFi and outdoor areas with fire pits make the Wagon Wheel the perfect base of operations for visiting area attractions. Single rooms cost $60 per night; doubles start at $66 and suites are $119.
Montana: The Berkeley Pit, Butte
Once a copper mine, the Berkeley Pit is now a 7,000 feet long, 5,600 feet wide, 1,600 feet deep pit where you can see toxic waste. The pit is filled with chemicals like copper, iron, arsenic, cadmium, zinc and sulfuric acid giving it a dark coloring.
But if you think this pit is just toxic, it’s actually so saturated with copper that copper is mined directly from the water.
And it doesn’t hurt that this is a cheap sight to see — the Berkeley Viewing Stand is open from March to November and costs $2.
Nebraska: Golden Spike Tower and Bailey’s Yard, North Platte
Train buffs will delight at Bailey Yard, the world’s largest train yard, which manages 10,000 railroad cars each day. Located in North Platte, Neb., which served as a railroad town during the transcontinental railroad’s construction, Bailey’s Yard invites visitors to climb to the top of the Golden Spike Tower for sweeping views of the train yard. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for children.
Nevada: International Car Forest of The Last Church, Goldfield
Believe it or not, the International Car Forest of The Last Church isn’t the only place in the United States where cars pierce the ground vertically like arrows, but it might be the only one that has religious significance. The two artists who created the forest are no longer involved, according to Atlas Obscura. One left after a falling out with his partner, who since has been imprisoned on gun charges. But their vision lives on and it’s free to see.
New Hampshire: American Classic Arcade Museum, Laconia
Anyone who grew up playing old-school arcade games like Asteroids and Space Invaders is in for a treat at the American Classic Arcade Museum. It curates coin-operated games originating as far back as the pre-electricity era, all of which visitors can play. It also collects documents, audio recordings and other media tracing the history of the games and their creators. There’s no charge, but you can support the museum by making a donation or playing bingo for a fee.
New Jersey: Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton
For a real off-the-beaten-path treat, head to Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre sculpture park located in Hamilton, N.J. You can use a GPS map to create your own self-guided tour or join a tour led by a docent. Docent-led tours include outdoor tours of the garden, indoor tours of onsite museums and HortiSculpture tours focusing on the relationship between the garden’s landscaping and artwork. Don’t forget to visit the arboretum while you’re there. Adult tickets are $16 and senior tickets are $13 — $10 if you buy either online — and children’s tickets are $10.
New Mexico: Tinkertown Museum, Sandia Park
The Tinkertown Museum is a labor of love from creator Ross Ward, who spent 40 years carving, collecting and creating the elements from which the museum is constructed and the items on display there, according to the website. A highlight of the enormous collection includes a vast series of miniatures on display in intricately themed vignettes. Tickets are $3.75 for adults, $3.25 for seniors and $1.25 for children.
New York: Tenement Museum, New York
Since the late 19th century, refugees, immigrants and migrants have descended on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to start their new lives. The Tenement Museum comprises two of the types of tenement buildings that housed these individuals. Tour the museum, chat with costumed interpreters and explore the surrounding neighborhood for a glimpse into immigrants’ lives and their impact on the Lower East Side community. The museum is open every day except major holidays. Ticket prices range from $20 for students to $25 for adults. Foods of the Lower East Side tour tickets are $20 extra.
North Carolina: Land of Oz, Beech Mountain
There’s something eerily intriguing about abandoned theme parks, and although Land of Oz doesn’t quite fit into that category, it’s likely to appeal to those who get a kick out of that type of experience. In operation from 1970 to 1980, the park property’s current owners open it once a year for what has turned into Autumn at Oz, a three-day festival of sorts that celebrates the park’s heyday, complete with characters, food offerings and souvenirs.
Land of Oz also offers Journey With Dorothy events where participants can don costumes in hopes that they’ll be selected to play a “Wizard of Oz” character. As of late March 2018, ticket prices for the upcoming season haven’t yet been announced.
North Dakota: Fort Totten State Historic Site, Fort Totten
Fort Totten was in service as a military post from 1867 until 1890, when it was converted for use as a boarding school for Native American children, some of whom attended while being treated for tuberculosis as part of a Tuberculosis Preventorium program. The fort was listed as a North Dakota State Historic Site in 1960, and it currently houses museum exhibits. Admission is $5 for adults and $1.50 for students.
For a full-immersion historic experience, stay at the Totten Trail Historic Inn, which offers bed & breakfast accommodations with period furnishings and gives guests free access to the Fort Totten State Historic Site. Rates range from $80 to $130 for double-occupancy rooms.
A Bit of History: How Much It Costs to Visit the Most Historic Sites in America
Ohio: Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield
The Ohio State Reformatory is a fun stop for movie buffs and paranormal enthusiasts. Perhaps best known as the location where “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed, the reformatory is open for self-guided tours, and it also hosts a variety of creepy events throughout the year, such as escape rooms, ghost-hunting classes and actual ghost hunts. Self-guided tours are $12 for adults and $10 for students, seniors and military personnel.
Oklahoma: The Center of the Universe, Tulsa
While visiting Tulsa, head over to Archer St. to experiment with an intriguing acoustic anomaly at the Center of the Universe. This brick-inlay spiral has a strange effect on sounds made within the circle at its center — any noise you make is amplified and echoes back to you, but onlookers outside the circle hear a distorted version.
Oregon: Summer Lake Hot Springs, Paisley
For a soothing excursion while visiting Bend or the Freemont, Modoc or Deschutes national forests, check out Summer Lake Hot Springs, a system of hot mineral springs fed by the alkali Summer Lake. Soak in an outdoor rock pool, or head inside to the bathhouse. This “Oregon Outback” retreat hosts events throughout the year and serves as a shortcut to the Burning Man festival. Day passes are $10 for individuals age 16 and up and $5 for children.
Onsite accommodations include cabins, guest-house rooms and a ranch house, as well as RV and tent sites. Cabins start at $100 per night. The guest house is $150.
Pennsylvania: Lehigh Valley Zoo, Schnecksville
The Lehigh Valley Zoo doesn’t get nearly the attention or the visitors its Philadelphia cousin attracts, but it’s near family-friendly attractions like the Crayola Experience in Eason. You can visit about 130 species of animals here, including some that are extinct in the wild, and participate in special events. The zoo is open year-round, and admission is $10.
Rhode Island: Providence Athenaeum, Providence
The Providence Athenaeum is a bibliophile’s dream — a private, nearly-200-year-old library that has hosted literary and intellectual giants like H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Rhode Island native Sarah Helen Whiteman. It houses contemporary and rare collections, and programs include a salon series, reading groups and a poetry series.
South Carolina: Oyotunji African Village, Seabrook
The Gullah Geechee Nation of South Carolina has roots in Africa. The Oyotunji African Village is an authentic Yoruba community where you can experience this rich culture through village tours, volunteer opportunities, educational events and festivals. Tours last 45 minutes to an hour and cost $10 per adult and $5 per child for groups of 10 or more.
Guests can stay onsite at the village’s Ile Afrique Guest Lodges. Rates start at $35 per person per night.
South Dakota: Cosmos Mystery Area, Rapid City
The Cosmos Mystery Area messes with your head in the best way possible. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, this family-friendly attraction demonstrates such forces of nature as magnetism, gravity and visual perception through immersive hands-on activities. Once you’ve explored mystery features, try your hand at mining geodes and cracking them open in the facility’s hydraulic press. Tour prices are $11 for visitors 12 and older and $6 for children 5 to 11. Geode mining is $6 with the tour and $8 without.
Tennessee: Goats, Music & More Festival, Lewisburg
Chances are you’ve seen fainting-goat videos on Facebook or YouTube. Now’s your chance to see them in person. The Goats, Music & More Festival celebrates the fainting goats with a weekend of music, food, arts and crafts and lots of family-friendly activities like a 5k Goat Gallop, three-legged goat triathlon and a cornhole tournament. Admission is free for this October event.
Texas: Marfa Lights, Marfa
There’s an ongoing debate over whether the Marfa lights are a paranormal phenomenon or a manmade one, but whichever you believe, these mystery lights are worth checking out. First reported during the 19th century, the lights randomly appear along the horizon. They might be stationary or moving, and their colors alternate between red, white and blue. An official Marfa Lights Viewing Area area is located on Highway 90, nine miles east of Marfa.
Utah: Heber Valley Railroad, Heber City
The Heber Valley Railroad offers a variety of scenic and themed excursions throughout the year. Scenic excursions take you along Deer Creek Reservoir, Decker Bay, Mt. Timpanogos and Provo Canyon. Many themed excursions, like the princess and pirate ride and Easter Bunny Train, are children’s events, but the railroad does have themed runs for adults. Ticket prices vary, but fares for an April 21, 2018, Deer Creek Express trip are $20 for general admission and $15 for children ages 3 to 12.
Vermont: Earthwise Farm & Forest, Randolph
Agricultural tourists will find plenty to do at the Earthwise Farm & Forest, a working farm located in Randolph, Vt. In addition to hosting farm tours, the owners hold workshops on topics ranging from cheese making to dowsing. The farm also has a shop where you can purchase organic goodies like raw milk, produce and meat, as well as handcrafted goods. Just make sure you make an appointment to visit as their tours require one.
Virginia: Flying Circus Airshow, Bealeton
The Flying Circus Airshow is literally part circus and part air show and is located at the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton, Va. Barnstormers, parachute jumpers and wing walkers are all part of the bi-plane show. The best time to visit is during the Balloon Festival in August. The Flying Circus Airshow is open from May through October, and tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for children for the air show. Bi-plane rides cost $80 for a standard ride and $150 for an aerobatic one.
Washington: Skyline Drive-In Theater, Shelton
This just might be your last chance to experience a drive-in movie, as the Skyline Drive-In Theater is one of just a handful remaining in Washington State. It’s open spring through fall, and tickets are $8 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 to 11 for a double feature. Movies play rain or shine.
West Virginia: Green Bank Observatory, Green Bank
Imagine being totally disconnected from your devices. Residents of Green Bank West Virginia don’t have to imagine it, because it’s how they live every day. This small rural town is a designated National Radio Quiet Zone because it’s home to the world’s largest directional telescope, which must operate free from radio interference. Individuals suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity have created their own community built around a connection-free lifestyle. Observatory tours are $6 for adults and $5 for seniors, but specialty tours like the SETI one cost up to $40 and require reservations. Admission to the onsite science center is free.
The Green Bank Observatory has limited overnight accommodations for visitors in its residence and apartment suites, and a bunkhouse can accommodate groups. Contact the observatory for details.
Wisconsin: Sputnikfest, Manitowoc
You’ve probably heard of alien-centric celebrations in places like Roswell, but… Wisconsin? Yes, thanks to the 1962 crash landing of a 20-pound piece of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite. Sputnikfest celebrates the landing with costume contests, an Aliens in the Alley party, a Miss Space Debris Pageant, music, food and family activities. The event is held in early September, and admission is free.
Wyoming: The Town of Bar Nunn
Bar Nunn visitors who think the town looks more like an airport than a municipality would be correct. The town is located on a former airfield, and original infrastructure was incorporated into the design. The town has two restaurants — The Hangar and Chatters — where you can stop after your drive through streets that once served as runways.
Click through to discover the best hidden gem destinations in every state.
Photos are for illustrative purposes only. As a result, some of the photos might not reflect the destinations listed in this article.