Uncovering San Francisco's Best Off the Beaten Path Gems

2023-10-18 01:00:19 - Drany Macley Drany Macley, the senior editor of Vytravels.com, brings extensive journalism background and over eight years of experience in travel writing and editing to the site, offering practical insights and first-hand knowledge through articles on innovative hotels, backed by a BA in Journalism from Ithaca College.
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Are you tired of visiting the same tourist traps everyone else goes to? Are you looking for a truly unique and unforgettable experience? Well, look no further! In this article, we will take you on a journey to discover the best off the beaten path gems in San Francisco and beyond. From secret views in the City by the Bay to hidden treasures in the remote corners of America, get ready to explore the most fascinating and lesser-known destinations that will leave you in awe. So, grab your sense of adventure and let's embark on a thrilling quest to uncover these hidden gems that few have been lucky enough to discover.

Lost Coast: A Hiker's Paradise

Source: Lauren Breedlove/Travel Leisure

California's Lost Coast, stretching from Shelter Cove to Mattole Beach for about 75 miles, is a remote and pristine destination that is perfect for experienced hikers. Located approximately five hours by car from San Francisco, the Lost Coast offers a unique and challenging experience unlike the popular coastal highways found in places like Big Sur. The rugged terrain of the Lost Coast cannot be tamed by asphalt, so adventurous hikers must tackle the coastline by trail. It typically takes three to four days to hike and camp the full length of the Lost Coast. However, if this seems too ambitious, an alternative option is to drive the Mattole Loop, which allows you to explore Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the charming town of Ferndale, known for its beautiful Victorian architecture.

Secret Views in San Francisco

1. Hamon Observation Deck at de Young Museum

One of the best hidden gems in San Francisco is the Hamon Observation Deck, located at the de Young Museum. What makes it even better is that admission is free! If you find yourself in Golden Gate Park, don't miss the opportunity to take in the panoramic 360° views of downtown San Francisco from this observation tower. The deck is open to everyone, even if you don't have a ticket to the art museum. Simply follow the signs upstairs from the entrance and prepare to be amazed by the breathtaking views of Golden Gate Park, the Richmond District, the ocean, and more. It's best to visit on a sunny day to fully appreciate the stunning vistas, although watching the fog roll in can also be a quintessentially San Francisco experience.

2. Hawk Hill and Battery Spencer

For the best views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cross the bridge into Marin County and head to Hawk Hill and Battery Spencer. These two hidden gems offer spectacular vantage points to admire the bridge. Battery Spencer provides a close view of the bridge, while Hawk Hill offers a slightly more distant but equally beautiful perspective. I highly recommend visiting these spots during sunset for an unforgettable experience. However, be prepared for windy and chilly conditions, so bring warm clothing to fully enjoy the breathtaking views.

3. Kirby Cove

Located just over the Golden Gate Bridge, Kirby Cove is another hidden gem that offers stunning views of the bridge. While technically not within the city limits, the views from Kirby Cove are too good to pass up. The beach here provides a picturesque backdrop for taking in the beauty of the bridge and the San Francisco skyline. If you're lucky, you may even find a swing overlooking the bridge and the city, although it tends to get removed frequently. Camping at Kirby Cove is a highly sought-after experience due to its incredible views, especially on a clear day.

4. Treasure Island

Treasure Island is a hidden gem that many people overlook when visiting San Francisco. Located just a few miles from downtown, this island offers stunning views of the city skyline and the Bay Bridge. One highlight of visiting Treasure Island is enjoying an alfresco lunch on the outdoor patio at Mersea, a restaurant with a great view of the water. You can also take a walk along the paved path that overlooks the bay and soak in the beauty of the surroundings. Despite its proximity to the city, Treasure Island offers a unique escape that makes you feel like you've left San Francisco behind.

5. Tank Hill

Tank Hill, hidden behind the popular attraction of Twin Peaks, is a local treasure that offers incredible views of San Francisco. This lesser-known spot provides one of the best views and sunsets in the city without the crowds of tourists. From the top of Tank Hill, you can see the ocean, Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and even the Saint Ignatius church. Many locals are unaware of this park, making it an even more special place to visit and appreciate the beauty of San Francisco.

6. California Street View

For a different perspective of San Francisco, head to California Street, one of the hilliest parts of the city. As you walk up the street, you'll be treated to stunning views of Chinatown pagodas, downtown skyscrapers, and a glimpse of the Bay Bridge peeking through the buildings. The section between Grant and Stockton, near The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, offers particularly photogenic views. I recommend taking a ride on the iconic California Street cable car, which not only offers transportation but also provides even more breathtaking views of the city.

7. Bernal Heights Park

Bernal Heights Park is a local jewel that offers breathtaking views of downtown San Francisco and the entire Mission District. Many people flock to this spot to capture photos on the coveted swing overlooking the city, but be prepared to wait in line as it is a popular attraction. While climbing the stairs to the top of the park, you'll witness the ever-expanding views of the city. For a more convenient option, you can drive almost to the top and park in the neighborhood to avoid most of the hike. Bernal Heights Park is also known as one of the best spots in San Francisco to watch the sunset.

8. Ina Coolbrith Park

Ina Coolbrith Park is a hidden oasis in the heart of a bustling city. Despite being easily overlooked by visitors and even locals, this park offers one of the most spectacular views of downtown San Francisco. It's an ideal spot to witness a beautiful sunset over the city. The close proximity of the buildings creates an illusion that the city is right in front of you. If you visit during spring, you'll also be greeted by an abundance of California poppies blooming throughout the park. Keep in mind that reaching the park requires walking up a steep hill, but the breathtaking views at the top are well worth the effort.

9. Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point National Historic Site is a must-visit destination for both history enthusiasts and those seeking incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Located directly underneath the bridge, Fort Point allows visitors to explore a significant historic site with over two centuries of history. It was built during the Civil War era and offers a glimpse into the military history of San Francisco. The fort features exhibits, guided tours, and even Civil War reenactments and cannon drills during limited hours. Level 1 of the fort showcases a collection of old cannons, while Level 2 provides panoramic views of the Bay and an up-close look at the Golden Gate Bridge.

Seasonal Secret Spots in San Francisco

39. Dutch Windmill and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden

If you find yourself in San Francisco during early Spring, a visit to the Dutch Windmill and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden is a must. Although you can visit this spot at any time of the year, it's particularly enchanting when the tulips are in full bloom. The surrounding area becomes a sea of vibrant colors as hundreds, if not thousands, of delicate tulips blanket the landscape. The sight is reminiscent of Amsterdam's famous Tulip Festival and is sure to leave you in awe.

40. Bougainvillea House

A hidden gem in the Marina district, the Bougainvillea House is a sight to behold. The entire house is covered in lush purple-pink bougainvillea flowers, creating a whimsical and enchanting atmosphere. To fully appreciate the beauty of the blooms, it's best to visit during the summer when the flowers are in full bloom. The house is located on Baker and Lyon in Cow Hollow and is a delightful surprise for those who stumble upon it.

41. Shakespeare Garden

For a romantic experience in Golden Gate Park, look no further than Shakespeare's Garden. This hidden gem is not only a favorite spot for visitors but also a popular venue for weddings in San Francisco. The garden features over 200 flowers and plants that are mentioned in Shakespeare's plays and poems, including poppies, mandrakes, daisies, violets, roses, and lilies. The spring and summer months are the best time to visit when the plants are in full bloom, creating a magical atmosphere with trees and flowers lining the walkway.

42. Purple Wisteria House

Escape to what feels like a romantic English garden right in San Francisco by visiting the Purple Wisteria House. This charming house on Mariposa Street is adorned with stunning and whimsical purple wisteria flowers. To witness this breathtaking sight, plan your visit to coincide with the blooming season of wisteria, which typically occurs in April and May. The house becomes a true floral paradise, with every inch covered in beautiful pink flowers. It's a hidden gem that deserves to be enjoyed by everyone.

43. Tom and Jerry's House

During the Christmas holiday season, don't miss the opportunity to visit Tom and Jerry's house in The Castro. Located at 3650 21st Street, this house is transformed into a festive wonderland that will leave you in awe. Decorated with an abundance of lights, stuffed animals, a 65-foot tree, and even mini theme park rides made of K'nex, Tom and Jerry's house is a magical sight to behold. It is a true testament to the holiday spirit, overflowing with Christmas cheer. Although Tom, one of the creators, passed away in 2020, the tradition of decorating the house continues, bringing joy to all who visit.

Super Off the Beaten Path in San Francisco

18. The Wave Organ

Experience a truly unique musical performance at the Wave Organ, an instrument played by the San Francisco Bay itself. Situated on the shores of the bay, the Wave Organ consists of metal pipes that produce sounds as waves roll in, creating a symphony that matches the rhythm of the tides. While some describe the music as resembling the sound of a flushing toilet or a gurgle, the concept behind it is undeniably cool. To hear the sounds, it's best to visit during high tide, although it can be a hit or miss depending on the tide. Regardless, a visit to the Wave Organ offers not only musical intrigue but also picturesque views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco skyline.

19. Albion Castle

Hidden within San Francisco itself is Albion Castle, a six-story stone castle with a fascinating history. Although it is now private property and no longer visible from the street, the castle remains a curious landmark that adds intrigue to the city. Despite its inaccessibility, the knowledge that such a historic structure exists within San Francisco is an intriguing fact. Albion Castle is conveniently located near the Flights of Fancy mosaic steps, another colorful and unique hidden gem in the city.

20. Jungle House

In the Noe Valley neighborhood, you'll stumble upon a house unlike any other. Known as the Jungle House, this property is adorned with wild animals and metal leaves sprouting from its rooftop, creating a vibrant and whimsical jungle theme. The intricate and colorful details of the house are truly remarkable, with even the garbage bins blending seamlessly into the scene. To find the Jungle House, head to Church Street between 22nd and 23rd, and prepare to be transported to an enchanting world.

21. Mt. Davidson

Mt. Davidson offers a diverse array of experiences and viewpoints in one location. This hidden gem is home to a Eucalyptus forest, a memorial cross, and unique perspectives of the city. For the highest point to watch the sunset in San Francisco, Mt. Davidson is the perfect spot. The sunrise views are equally stunning, although you may need to wake up early to catch them. Keep an eye out for the fog rolling in over the city, as it creates a remarkable visual spectacle. Mt. Davidson is a hidden sanctuary that showcases the natural beauty of San Francisco.

22. Macondray Lane

Take a stroll along the charming cobblestoned Macondray Lane, located on the southeastern side of Russian Hill. This small pedestrian street is adorned with flower gardens, fruit trees, and a tranquil zen fountain. The beauty and serenity of Macondray Lane have garnered recognition, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It's the perfect spot for a leisurely walk and offers a picturesque escape not too far from the famous Lombard Street.

23. Frame in Hunters Point

For a truly unique experience off the beaten path, visit the "frame" in Hunters Point. This massive walk-through picture frame is an enlarged version of an antique Rococo-style frame. It frames multiple views and perspectives of the shipyard's landscape, creating an artistic and interactive experience. Created by the renowned African-American artist Mildred Howard, this 20-foot-tall bronze sculpture is one of the most extraordinary hidden gems in San Francisco. Be sure to explore the entire area, as there are additional pieces of art to discover.

24. Musee Mecanique

Celebrate the history of gaming and entertainment at the Musee Mecanique, an old-fashioned museum filled with unique coin-operated instruments and vintage arcade games. This fascinating museum allows visitors to immerse themselves in the nostalgia of yesteryears, with some games dating back over 100 years. From Mrs. Pac-Man to Pirates of the Caribbean pinball, there is something for every gaming enthusiast. You can walk through the museum for free or play a variety of games with the change machines available inside. The Musee Mecanique is a true hidden gem located on Pier 45 in Fisherman's Wharf.

25. Spire by Andy Goldsworthy

When exploring the Presidio, don't miss the opportunity to visit Spire, an impressive outdoor sculpture by acclaimed artist Andy Goldsworthy. This tall sculpture symbolizes forest rejuvenation and is constructed entirely from natural materials found in the area. The piece consists of 38 Monterey cypress trees that had reached the end of their life cycle. Despite its captivating beauty, many people are unaware of its existence. Spire is a hidden gem nestled in the middle of the woods near the southern entrance of the Presidio on Arguello Blvd, near the golf course.

Super Quirky Hidden Gems in San Francisco

10. Yoda Fountain and Statue

Are you a fan of Star Wars? Well, I've found an amazing hidden gem in San Francisco just for you! Don't miss the Yoda Fountain outside the Lucasfilm HQ in the Presidio. It's a must-see for any Star Wars enthusiast. While you're there, make sure to visit the lobby headquarters for a glimpse of R2D2 and other iconic Star Wars props and memorabilia. And don't forget to check out the nearby Letterman Digital Arts Center Recycled Water Pond on a sunny day!

Hidden Gems in San Francisco: All My Favorite Secret Spots in SF!

10. Urban Putt

Did you know that San Francisco has its own mini-golf course? Urban Putt is not your typical mini-golf experience—it takes it to a whole other level of fun! With attractions like a blacklight submarine, a mini-golf pinball machine, and replicas of San Francisco icons, you're sure to have a blast. And the best part? They have a full bar inside, so you can enjoy a drink while you play. Whether you're an adult or a kid, Urban Putt is a must-visit spot in San Francisco.

11. Golden Gate Park Bison

Believe it or not, there are actual bison living in Golden Gate Park! These majestic creatures were brought to San Francisco in the 1890s to save them from extinction. Thanks to a successful breeding program, over 100 calves have been born here. It's truly a unique sight to see these incredible animals roaming freely in the park.

12. Seward Street Slides

Get ready to unleash your inner child at the Seward Street Slides. Tucked away in a mini neighborhood park, these concrete slides are a ton of fun. Just be careful—they're super steep! Bring a piece of cardboard to slide down on and avoid ripping your pants. Trust me, it's happened before! And if you want to go extra fast, throw some sand down the slide first!

Get off the beaten path in San Francisco: The best San Francisco Hidden Gems!

13. Vermont Street

Move over Lombard Street, because Vermont Street is the real curviest street in San Francisco. Although it may not be as well-known or scenic, it's still a fun experience to drive down this super crooked street in Potrero Hill. Be prepared for some sharp hairpin turns as you navigate through McKinley Square. And while you're there, check out the nearby park, which offers a fun playground for kids.

14. Dangling Legs at Piedmont Boutique

On Haight Street in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, there's a quirky sight that you might easily overlook. Above the Piedmont Boutique, you'll find a window display featuring mannequin legs in red high heels and fishnet stockings. It's a unique and eye-catching sight that adds to the charm of this neighborhood known for its outlandish fashion and vibrant atmosphere.

Get off the beaten path in San Francisco: The best San Francisco Hidden Gems!

15. Camera Obscura

Located behind the now-closed Cliff House, the Camera Obscura is a hidden gem in San Francisco that you don't want to miss. Step inside this giant pinhole camera and be amazed by the projections and holograms it creates. Even if you can't go inside, the views alone are worth the visit. Enjoy the picturesque scenery of Lands End and take in the beauty of nature.

Get off the beaten path in San Francisco: The best San Francisco Hidden Gems!

16. Sutro Baths

For history lovers, the Sutro Baths is a hidden gem that holds a fascinating story. Originally built in 1896 as a salt-water swimming pool complex, the baths were unfortunately destroyed by a fire. Today, you can explore the remnants of this structure and imagine what it must have been like in its heyday. And if you're up for an adventure, head down to the sea cave and witness the crashing waves below.

lands end hike san francisco sutro baths

17. Three Gems Skyspace by James Turrel

While I haven't personally been to the Three Gems Skyspace yet, it's definitely on my list of hidden gems in San Francisco. This permanent piece located in the deYoung Museum's Osher Sculpture Garden offers a unique spot to view the sky or stars through an oculus hole at the top. With LED lighting that changes based on the weather, it's sure to be a captivating experience.

Art and Culture

44. Goldsworthy Line & Lover's Lane

Don't miss the one-of-a-kind Andy Goldsworthy art installation called "Wood Line" in the lush eucalyptus forest. This unique display of fallen tree trunks arranged in zig-zags makes for incredible photo opportunities. As you wander through the forest, take in the beauty of nature and capture the magic of this hidden gem.

45. Murals at Coit Tower

A visit to Coit Tower is a must for its breathtaking views of San Francisco, but don't forget to explore the base of the tower where you'll find stunning murals by Diego Rivera. These murals depict life in California during the Great Depression and are a testament to the artistic and cultural history of the city. Best of all, it's free to admire these incredible works of art.

46 47. Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley

Embark on a colorful adventure through two alleyways filled with vibrant murals. Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley are hidden gems in the Mission District that showcase the creativity and cultural significance of the neighborhood. Each mural tells a story, addressing issues such as gentrification, politics, and the immigrant experience. Take your time to appreciate these thought-provoking artworks and don't miss the nearby Women's Building and Santana Mural.

San Francisco mission district

48. Welcome to San Francisco mural

San Francisco now has its own iconic welcome mural, similar to other cities. The mural is located in Umbrella Alley, a new art alleyway that features various paintings and murals. The welcome mural itself is a stunning piece of art, depicting the beauty and uniqueness of San Francisco. Don't miss out on this hidden gem and the other artworks in the alleyway.

49. Jack Kerouac Alley

Jack Kerouac Alley may be just an alleyway, but it has undergone a transformation that makes it worth a visit. Decorative streetlights, plaques with poetry and literature, and vibrant colors now characterize this once-seedy street. It serves as a connection between Chinatown and North Beach and is named after the famous Beat Generation writer, Jack Kerouac. Take a stroll down the alley and soak in the unique atmosphere.

50. Grace Cathedral Labyrinth

Discover the hidden labyrinths at Grace Cathedral. This beautiful church is home to both an indoor and outdoor labyrinth that offer a peaceful and meditative experience. The stained glass windows add to the ambiance of the cathedral, creating a truly awe-inspiring atmosphere. Whether you choose to walk the labyrinth or simply admire the architecture, a visit to Grace Cathedral is a must.

Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens

By Lisa Cericola

Located in West Palm Beach, Florida, directly across from Palm Beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens is a tropical paradise filled with rare palm trees, colorful orchids, and stunning monolithic sculptures created by the late artist Ann Weaver Norton. This hidden gem also hosts traveling exhibits, adding to its artistic charm. After exploring the peaceful and shady grounds, don't forget to visit Norton's 1920s home and studio, which showcase even more of her incredible works.

253 Barcelona Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33401, ansg.org


By Mary of BRB Mary

Sausalito is a unique neighborhood located on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. This floating neighborhood is often overlooked by tourists who only visit the bridge. However, Sausalito is a hidden gem that shouldn't be missed. The neighborhood consists of about 500 houseboats connected by a pontoon accessible by foot or bike. The atmosphere in Sausalito is laid-back and relaxed, offering a completely different experience from the bustling city. Each houseboat is decorated differently and the neighborhood has a hipster vibe. Take a walk among the houseboats and admire the creativity and effort put into making them feel like home. You might even witness the setup of a new houseboat. Sausalito offers beautiful views of different areas of San Francisco, making it a worthwile addition to your itinerary.


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Plaza Blanca, New Mexico

Made famous by artist Georgia O'Keefe, Plaza Blanca is a stunning destination with its ivory facades and breathtaking views, especially during a desert sunset. This hidden gem offers a serene and otherworldly experience, immersing visitors in the natural beauty of New Mexico.

Arcata, California

Located in Arcata, California, towering redwoods and a picturesque Pacific bay await. Arcata's trails lead you through the majestic redwood forests, showcasing nature's resilience after increased logging regulations. This hidden gem allows you to reconnect with the beauty and tranquility of the natural world.

Midway Geyser Basin, Wyoming

While Old Faithful often steals the spotlight, don't overlook Midway Geyser Basin, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Its hydro-thermal elements create stunning colors that cannot be captured in any photo. Witness the natural wonders of this hidden gem and be amazed by its breathtaking beauty.

Bay Bluffs Preserve

By Visit Pensacola

Nestled along Pensacola's Scenic Highway, Bay Bluffs Preserve is a hidden beach that you won't want to miss. The entrance may seem nondescript, but beyond the oaks lies a quiet and serene shoreline. Follow the boardwalk down the bluff and discover the tranquil beauty of this little-known spot. The railroad tracks along the shoreline add a touch of old-Florida nostalgia, inviting you to sit and savor the stunning views.

3400 Scenic Highway, Pensacola, FL 32503, cityofpensacola.com

Jack London State Park

By Tom of Travel Past 50

Discover the Immerse Experience of Jack London State Park in Sonoma, California

Reminisce about the captivating stories and novels of Jack London as you explore the enchanting Jack London State Park near Sonoma, California. This park is a testament to London's love for the American wilderness and wildlife.

At Jack London State Park, you'll find remnants of London's former home and ranch, where he resided in his final years. Marvel at the ruins of his house, witness the dam he constructed for water supply, and appreciate the trees he planted to restore the once-devastated landscape.

London was also a pioneer in planting vineyards in this region of California. Although his grand mansion, the Wolf House, tragically burned down in 1913, before London and his wife could inhabit it, it marked a turning point in his life. Struggling with significant debt, London tirelessly dedicated himself to writing to regain his financial stability. He and his wife eventually settled in a charming cottage on the property until his passing in 1916.

Following London's demise, his wife Charmian built the House of Happy Walls, a smaller version of the Wolf House. Today, this house stands as the museum and visitor center of the State Park. Adjacent to the ruins of the Wolf House, you'll find the peaceful gravesite of Jack London and Charmian.

Jack London State Park now encompasses not only the home/museum but also boasts over 29 miles of trails suitable for hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. If you prefer a more leisurely stroll, there is a delightful one-hour walk starting from the museum. This tranquil route takes you through London's rejuvenating woodlands, past the flourishing dam teeming with waterfowl, and traverses a restored meadow. Along the way, there are convenient picnic tables where you can pause for a shaded lunch break during your adventure.

jack london state park

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

By Shannon of Adventuring With Shannon

Uncover the Enchanting Secrets of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California

Nestled in the heart of California lies a hidden treasure known as the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest—an extraordinary sanctuary home to some of the world's oldest living trees, the Bristlecone Pines.

Due to their exclusive growth conditions at altitudes around 10,000 feet, these trees have remained remarkably undisturbed by human interference. Their slow growth and ability to withstand high winds have gifted them with extraordinary longevity. Among them stands the Methuselah Tree, estimated to be over 4000 years old—a true testament to the resilience and endurance of nature.

The Ancient Bristlecone Forest can be found in Inyo National Forest, situated between Death Valley, Mammoth Lakes, and the Eastern Sierras. While reaching the forest requires traversing well-marked hiking trails, the effort is rewarding. At the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Visitor's Center, you can engage with knowledgeable park rangers (during peak season) to learn about the conservation efforts in place to protect these ancient marvels. Notably, there are three main trails originating from the visitor's center, with the Methuselah Trail being the most popular choice.

The Methuselah Trail, a delightful 4.5-mile loop, leads you into the heart of the ancient grove. While the exact location of the Methuselah tree remains a well-guarded secret due to preservation concerns, the trail showcases numerous awe-inspiring and ancient trees to captivate your senses.

These remarkable trees have developed the extraordinary ability to withstand and overcome intense winds, resulting in their unique spiral shapes. If you choose to embark on this high-altitude hike, be sure to come prepared, bringing ample water as it is not available along the trail.

In contrast to many other California parks, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest offers an unspoiled and genuinely hidden gem for visitors to explore, allowing you to forge a deep connection with the ancient wonders of our natural world.

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve

By Katy of A Rambling Unicorn

Embark on an Extraordinary Journey to Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve

Deep within the boundless expanses of the Mojave National Preserve lies a captivating hidden treasure—the Kelso Sand Dunes. These majestic dunes, formed by the relentless winds over thousands of years, represent the largest windblown sand deposits in the Mojave Desert.

This unique destination offers visitors the rare opportunity to witness a fascinating phenomenon known as "singing sand" or "booming dunes," where the sand emits a deep rumbling or booming sound under specific conditions.

The journey towards these remarkable dunes begins with an adventurous drive along a rough, bumpy, and dirt path spanning approximately five miles through the barren desert. It is essential to be prepared with a suitable vehicle, as the road can be challenging to navigate.

Upon arriving, equip yourself with a headlamp and, if you're a photography enthusiast, your camera and tripod. Embark on a short trek to the dunes, covering a quarter-mile distance, until you reach a gaping hole in the ground leading to steep steps.

Descend into the abyss, and as your eyes adjust, seek out a glimmer of light. Journey towards this faint illumination, cautiously navigating through the cave's twists and turns. Before long, the cave will reveal its grandeur, opening up into a celestial cathedral.

In this otherworldly setting, you'll witness skylights pouring radiant sunshine into the cave—an extraordinary sight amidst the remnants of ancient molten lava. Kelso Dunes promises an experience that is bound to leave you in awe and remains one of the most remarkable destinations in California.

Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve

Lassen Volcanic National Park

By Anwar of Beyond My Door

Unveil the Extraordinary Wonders of Lassen Volcanic National Park

Surprisingly, one of the most overlooked parks in California boasts an awe-inspiring showcase of the world's various types of volcanoes—Lassen Volcanic National Park.

This region is brimming with hydrothermal wonders, featuring beguiling sites like Bumpass Hell: a sprawling geothermally active area boasting bubbling mud pots, fumaroles, and hot springs. Moreover, Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to all four types of volcanoes: plug domes, shield volcanoes, cinder cones, and stratovolcanoes. The coexistence of such diverse volcanic features makes Lassen a true rarity among global destinations.

Originally established as two separate national monuments, the park was merged and designated as Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1916. Despite its remarkable attributes, Lassen is often overshadowed by its more renowned counterpart, Yosemite National Park. Consequently, Lassen remains relatively untouched by the crowds, allowing you to savor a serene and immersive experience enveloped in its natural wonders.

While visiting, be sure to explore some of the park's top attractions. Bumpass Hell, Cinder Cone, Devil's Kitchen, Lassen Peak, Prospect Peak, and Sulphur Works all showcase the park's captivating beauty and geological phenomena. Each of these remarkable features tells a unique story, showcasing the raw power and splendor of natural forces.

For those captivated by the allure of volcanoes, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers an unparalleled playground to explore and indulge in the wonders that lie within the borders of the United States. To further inspire your journey, consider referring to the comprehensive 2-day itinerary for Lassen Volcanic National Park available for your convenience.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lake Arrowhead

By Jenifer of The Evolista

Escape to the Serene Beauty of Lake Arrowhead in California

Tucked away in the picturesque San Bernardino Mountains lies Lake Arrowhead—a hidden gem cherished by locals. Originally established as a logging town, this alpine retreat underwent transformation in the early 1900s when Los Angeles developers constructed a dam and reservoir, creating the idyllic recreational haven it is today. Unsurprisingly, Lake Arrowhead has even caught the attention of Hollywood, with numerous films like The American President, The Parent Trap, and Space Jam filmed amidst its scenic landscapes.

As you ascend into the mountains, you'll be enchanted by the rapid withdrawal of city life. Surrounded by towering pine trees, radiant blue skies, and ample fresh air, Lake Arrowhead invites you to immerse yourself in its tranquil ambiance.

Lake Arrowhead offers a myriad of delightful activities to indulge in. Embark on an Arrowhead Queen lake tour for a unique perspective and an opportunity to witness the exquisite properties gracing the lake's perimeter.

Outdoor enthusiasts can partake in thrilling water skiing adventures or explore the extensive network of trails encircling the lake. Make sure to visit Sky Park at Santa's Village, a family-oriented amusement park that promises endless fun with rock climbing, ziplining, mountain biking, and much more.

When it's time to replenish your energy, Lake Arrowhead village presents a plethora of options for dining and shopping. Don't miss the decadent waffles at the Belgian Waffle House! During summer weekends, you can revel in the delightful outdoor concert series.

One essential tip for making the most of your visit to Lake Arrowhead is to plan for an extended stay. This enchanting haven encourages you to slow down, unwind, and relish in a carefree atmosphere. Whether you seek a serene getaway or an action-packed adventure, Lake Arrowhead offers something for everyone to enjoy.

Lake Arrowhead

Channel Islands National Park

By Michelle of The Wandering Queen

Embark on an Unforgettable Adventure in Channel Islands National Park

One of California's most captivating and best-kept secrets awaits your discovery—Channel Islands National Park. Situated just a few hours from Los Angeles, this park remains one of the least visited national parks in the state. Accessible only by boat, the journey to this remarkable destination may present some challenges, but the rewards are unparalleled.

Comprised of five magnificent islands—Santa Cruz Island, Santa Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Barbara Island, and Anacapa Island—Channel Islands National Park showcases a breathtaking assortment of natural wonders. These islands emerged as cherished habitats for a diverse array of wildlife due to their pristine and unspoiled character. Notably, the Chumash people inhabited the national park for thousands of years.

Immerse yourself in an array of thrilling activities upon reaching the islands. Embark on invigorating hikes along captivating trails such as Potato Harbor and Smugglers Cove. Engage in awe-inspiring snorkeling adventures amidst the shimmering bay, marveling at the incredible marine life before your eyes. Another exhilarating option lies in cave kayaking, an experience that promises a wondrous exploration of the park's hidden treasures. Should you desire a guided experience, Santa Barbara Adventure Company offers comprehensive cave kayaking tours.

Channel Islands National Park may not be the first destination that comes to mind when considering California's natural marvels, but its allure remains undeniable and beckons visitors to experience its enchantment firsthand—a genuine hidden gem waiting to be uncovered.

Channel Islands National Park

The Sonoma Coast

By Erin of Super Simple Salty Life

Revel in the Breathtaking Beauty of the Sonoma Coast in California

Indulge your senses and uncover a wealth of unique experiences along the captivating Sonoma Coast—a true haven along California's stunning shoreline. Stretching across 17 miles along the majestic Pacific Ocean, this pristine coastline boasts picturesque beaches, rugged rock bluffs, and awe-inspiring headlands.

Begin your exploration with a visit to Goat Rock Beach, located at the northern end of the Sonoma Coast, just off of Highway 1. Here, various attractions await your delight—driftwood sculptures providing respite from the sun's rays, colossal boulders jutting out amidst crashing waves, and tide pools adorning the shoreline.

However, the true highlight of this area lies in the multitude of barking harbor seals basking on exposed rocks and gracefully maneuvering through the icy waters—an enthralling sight to cherish. To preserve the peaceful ambiance for these seals, please note that dogs are not permitted on the beach.

Make sure to pack a delightful picnic lunch to enjoy at Goat Rock Beach. Before reaching the coast, stock up on supplies at Duncans Mills General Store, an established convenience store since the 1800s. Indulge in freshly prepared and delicious sandwiches to savor during your leisurely afternoon excursion.

Further along the coast, the Sonoma Coast Vineyards tasting room overlooking Bodega Bay beckons. Absorb the tranquil ambience as you sip on a refreshing flight of wine, harmonizing with the soothing symphony of crashing waves and distant foghorns.

As you traverse the coast from north to south, revel in the captivating vistas unfolding before your eyes. Although the road presents several twists and turns, the majority adheres closely to the coastline. Be on the lookout for various beaches, overlooks, and viewpoints, offering splendid opportunities to pause, appreciate, and admire the natural wonders that grace the Sonoma Coast.

The Sonoma Coast

Mono Lake

Robert Alvarez / EyeEm / Getty Images

Experience the Mystical Beauty of Mono Lake in California's Eastern Edge

Transport yourself to a realm of otherworldly wonder on California's eastern edge with a visit to Mono Lake—an ancient saline lake of unparalleled enchantment. Unlike conventional lakes, Mono Lake is devoid of fish life, but it nurtures a thriving population of brine shrimp, which, in turn, attract countless species of migratory birds traversing the Pacific Flyway. Within the lake's ethereal surroundings, you'll also encounter distinctive limestone formations known as tufa, which stand as stark testaments—both literal and figurative—to the lake's allure.

To fully immerse yourself in the captivating essence of Mono Lake, embark on a guided canoe tour, granting you an up-close encounter with the majestic tufa formations. Alternatively, visit the Mono Lake South Tufa area, where you can stroll amidst the towering tufa towers, exposed due to the lake's recession. This remarkable hidden gem can be conveniently accessed via Reno, Nevada, with a leisurely three-hour drive.

Mojave Desert Lava Tube

By Nina of Where in the World is Nina

Unlock the Secrets of the Majestic Mojave Desert Lava Tube

Embark on an exhilarating adventure to the Mojave Desert Lava Tube—a treasure concealed within the depths of the Mojave Desert. To reach this hidden marvel on your California road trip, prepare to traverse a rough, bumpy, and dirt path spanning approximately five miles. While the journey may prove challenging for vehicles ill-suited to such terrain, a vehicle with high ground clearance will suffice.

Once you equip yourself with a headlamp and, for photography enthusiasts, your camera and tripod, make the short trek to the Lava Tube. A quarter-mile distance separates you from a captivating chasm in the ground, featuring steep steps leading downward.

As you descend into the abyss, remain attentive to a subtle glimmer of light. Safely navigate the twists and turns of the cave, guided by this delicate illumination. Soon, the cave will expand into a grand cathedral, unveiling sunlight pouring through overhead skylights, illuminating the ancient lava cave beneath your feet—an unparalleled spectacle truly deserving of admiration.

Ensure you plan your visit between 11 am and 2 pm for the optimal experience. During this time, the midday sun casts exquisite beams of light through the skylights, creating an enthralling phenomenon you won't want to miss.

Mojave Desert Lava Tube

The Alabama Hills

By Dhara of Roadtripping California

Embark on a Captivating Journey to the Alabama Hills in California

Located just west of Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills beckon as an unmissable destination nestled at the southern end of the Eastern Sierra in California. These hills acquired their name from the CSS Alabama, a Confederate warship utilized during the American Civil War.

Immerse yourself in the breathtaking wonders of the Alabama Hills, capturing the hearts of outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and landscape photographers alike. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a National Scenic Area, this captivating expanse offers both developed campgrounds and opportunities for dispersed camping.

Among the plethora of enchanting experiences available in the Alabama Hills, the Arch Loop hike stands as a cherished favorite among visitors. This easy and rewarding trail leads you to the mesmerizing Mobius Arch, a natural wonder that frames the magnificent Mount Whitney and other neighboring peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

Explore the abundance of natural arches dotting the Alabama Hills, adorning the landscapes with their beauty. The hills transform into a truly magical sight during sunrise, sunset, and even at night, providing an extraordinary canvas for photography enthusiasts. Famed for their captivating allure, the Alabama Hills have served as iconic backdrops for numerous Western movies, shows, and commercials. You can obtain a self-guided map to explore some of these famous locations.

Driving along the famed Movie Road, renowned for its Instagram-worthy vistas as it stretches toward the majestic Sierra mountains, promises a spectacular journey. Additionally, you can embark on exhilarating dirt road drives (in suitable vehicles), embark on horseback riding or mountain biking adventures, or even attempt rock climbing—a realm teeming with possibilities.

To make the most of your experience, we recommend visiting the Alabama Hills between fall and spring, as the high desert becomes scorching during the summer months. Delve deeper into the captivating beauty of fall by exploring the best fall foliage in the US guide.

alabama hills

Gulf State Park

Photo by Billy Pope via Flickr/Outdoor Alabama

Gulf Shores, Alabama

While Alabama may not boast any national parks, the state compensates with a wealth of exceptional state parks. Among these, Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores stands out as a truly unique destination. Spanning over 6,150 acres, this expansive park encompasses nine distinct ecosystems. Guests can bask in the blissful ambiance of the park's two miles of pristine white sand beaches, revel in the beauty of the butterfly garden, or embark on memorable adventures along the park's 28 miles of trails. Extend your stay by choosing accommodations in one of the park's eco-friendly cottages or The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

20115 State Park Road, Gulf Shores, AL 36542, alapark.com

Pascagoula River Audubon Center

Moss Point, Mississippi

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center, acting as the gateway to a 70,000-acre preserve along the majestic Pascagoula River, invites you to immerse yourself in the wonders of the great outdoors. This center serves as an ideal location to learn about landscaping with native plants and embark on fulfilling birding experiences. Begin your adventure by acquainting yourself with the myriad local critters residing within the center's tanks. Then, leisurely stroll along the splendid bayou walkways or indulge your little ones in the nature play garden. As this preserve encompasses the largest free-flowing river system in the lower 48 states, it offers a sanctuary for species exclusive to this region, enabling you to encounter unique wildlife in their natural habitat.

5107 Arthur Street, Moss Point, MS 39563, pascagoula.audubon.org

Glacier Chocolate

Glacier Confection

Tulsa, Oklahoma

If you happen to find yourself in Tulsa's Brady Arts District for a concert, make sure to take a detour to Glacier Chocolate. Trust us, it'll be worth it. Indulge in their delectable truffles, handmade artisan chocolates, and creamy caramels, all made with carefully sourced ingredients from around the globe. And before you leave, don't forget to grab a Tulsa Flag Caramel Box as a tasty souvenir.

1902 Utica Square, Tulsa, OK 74114, glacierchocolate.com

Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center

Courtesy Caroline Rogers

Pine Mountain, Georgia

Nestled within the breathtaking Callaway Gardens is the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, a stunning glass conservatory that houses over a thousand fluttering butterflies. As you wander through the center, take the time to visit the education stations, where you can learn all about the mesmerizing life cycle of butterflies. Witness the magical moment when they emerge from their chrysalides and take their first flight. After exploring the center, make sure to explore the surrounding walking paths, bike trails, and colorful wildflower gardens. Who knows, you might even spot some butterflies in their natural habitat!

17617 US-27, Pine Mountain, GA 31822, callawaygardens.com


Imagine Saturations/Getty Images

Boonville, a charming town in Mendocino County, offers a unique experience. Once home to its own language called Boontling, the town now attracts visitors with its breweries, cheese shops, art galleries, and antique stores. Enjoy a laid-back afternoon at Anderson Valley Brewing Company, a family-friendly brewery that operates sustainably on a scenic 30-acre property. Sip on their delicious beers while engaging in a game of disc golf or simply relaxing on their inviting lawn chairs.

Don't forget to make room in your schedule for a tasting at Pennyroyal Farm, a delightful farmstead that produces estate wines as well as sheep and goat cheese. And for nature lovers, Hendy Woods State Park is the perfect spot to take a leisurely walk among towering redwoods.

Shasta Lake

If you're in search of a unique waterfront experience, look no further than Shasta Lake. Consider renting a houseboat and embarking on an unforgettable adventure. As you cruise along the pristine waters, admire the regal Mount Shasta in the background. Indulge in a variety of exhilarating water sports, including swimming, waterskiing, fishing, and jet skiing. If you need a break from the water, explore the fascinating Lake Shasta Caverns or go hiking. Don't miss the Bailey Cove Loop Trail, a picturesque 2.6-mile path, or the stunning Chamise Peak, which offers breathtaking views of the lake from above.


Situated in the southeastern corner of Mendocino County, the lovely town of Hopland is the perfect starting point for an extraordinary wine tasting experience. Begin your visit at the charming Thatcher Hotel, a Victorian-style structure that dates back to 1890. This historic hotel offers not only comfortable accommodations but also a cozy bar, coffee shop, and stylish rooms.

Craft an itinerary that includes tastings at Saracina or Alta Orsa wineries, both of which showcase the region's finest wines. For a truly relaxing experience, visit Vichy Springs Resort and soak in their natural hot springs. And of course, don't miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve where towering redwoods await.

Point Reyes

Despite its proximity to bustling San Francisco, Point Reyes is a tranquil haven, especially along its picturesque coastal trails. Explore the Tomales Point Trail, a captivating path that stretches nearly 10 miles along the slender peninsula, offering breathtaking fog-shrouded views of the Pacific Ocean. Savor the local cheese at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, a must-visit for cheese enthusiasts. And if you're feeling adventurous, join the crowd at Hog Island Oyster Company's Marshall location and indulge in fresh and succulent oysters right on Tomales Bay.

Santa Lucia Range

Just inland from the popular Big Sur lies the Santa Lucia Range, a stunning mountain range that extends from Monterey and Carmel to San Luis Obispo. Embark on the Big Falls Trail, a scenic five-mile hike that showcases the region's natural beauty. While Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and Limekiln State Park are temporarily closed due to heavy rains, they are well worth visiting once they reopen. As you explore these magical mountains, keep an eye out for their reopening announcements.

Lost Coast

Lauren Breedlove/Travel Leisure

California's Lost Coast is a true paradise for experienced hikers. Stretching from Shelter Cove to Mattole Beach for approximately 75 miles, this remote coastline is a hidden gem. Unlike the well-known Big Sur, the Lost Coast lacks a meandering coastal highway, allowing nature to reign supreme. Adventurous souls embark on multi-day hiking and camping trips to fully appreciate this untouched wilderness. If such a journey seems daunting, opt for the scenic Mattole Loop drive instead. Along the way, make sure to explore Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home to the magnificent Avenue of the Giants, and the charming town of Ferndale with its picturesque Victorian architecture.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

A tour boat speeds past the Grand HotelKAREN BLEIER//Getty ImagesNestled in the deep, icy waters of Lake Huron, Mackinac Island offers a unique retreat for travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path destination. This car-free island invites you to immerse yourself in its old-world charm, where horse-drawn carriages replace automobiles. Explore the lush green landscapes and enjoy the tranquility of this stunning island getaway.

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Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Wynn Myers

Daufuskie Island often goes unnoticed due to its famous sister island, Hilton Head. However, a 30-minute ferry ride or 10-minute water taxi from Hilton Head will transport you to this tiny barrier island, spanning just five miles from end to end. Discover a nearly untouched paradise characterized by dense forests of giant live oaks, palmettos, and sun-drenched Spanish moss. Stroll along pristine coastlines adorned with driftwood and seashells. Rent a golf cart to effortlessly navigate the island's charming dirt roads, allowing you to explore attractions like Silver Dew Winery, the Daufuskie Blues indigo-dyeing studio, and the island's quaint history museum.

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Clara Haslam/Getty Images

Kiawah Island is renowned for its stunning beaches and top-notch golf courses. However, there's a hidden gem that awaits those who stay on the beach past sunset. As the umbrellas are packed away and the crowds disperse, an empty stretch of untouched shoreline awaits, offering a sense of serenity and solitude. You can even take your bike for a leisurely ride on the sand, accompanied only by the soothing sound of crashing waves.

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Robbie Caponetto

Dauphin Island may not be a posh vacation spot favored by celebrities, but its charm and character make it a marvelous destination. From east to west, Dauphin Island is bursting with vibrant beach houses perched on stilts, colorful trinkets at Ship & Shore, and classic snow cones at Island Rainbow. Despite its small size, there's plenty to see and do. Explore the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, visit the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to observe coastal creatures, or immerse yourself in history at the pre-Civil War Historic Fort Gaines ("Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"). Dauphin Island thrives as an authentic and beloved destination, cherished by those who appreciate its unique allure.

Kelleys Island, Ohio

Dave G Kelly//Getty ImagesLocated in the murky waters of Lake Erie, Kelleys Island offers a delightful beach town experience on just over four square miles of land. Despite its small size, this pint-sized isle boasts a rich history, serving as a military rendezvous point and undergoing multiple name changes. Today, Kelleys Island provides a charming getaway for those seeking Midwest hospitality.

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El Matador State Beach

By Alanna of Periodic Adventures

El Matador State Beach, located in Malibu, is a hidden gem among Los Angeles' beaches. While it may get a bit crowded during the summer, this beautiful beach is often overlooked by travelers, allowing for a more serene experience.

As part of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, El Matador is renowned for its striking rock formations and dramatic cliffside caves. These natural features create picturesque landscapes that are simply breathtaking.

To reach El Matador, travel along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and turn left onto El Matador Beach Rd. There is a small parking lot, but if it's full, you can park along the side of PCH. Follow the pathway down the cliffside to reach the beach.

In order to find the secluded cave, head towards the right (facing the ocean). Although you'll need to navigate through archways and around pillars of rock, your efforts will be rewarded as you discover the final enclosed cave. This hidden spot is perfect for taking memorable photos, enjoying a picnic, or simply escaping the hustle and bustle of the city. Before visiting, be sure to check the tide charts to ensure there are no obstructions.

If you're looking for nearby dining options, head south along PCH to the Point Dume area, where you'll find a variety of restaurants. Spruzzo Restaurant offers highly-rated Italian dishes, while The Sunset Restaurant specializes in fresh seafood.

El Matador State Beach is a must-visit destination on any California road trip, especially when exploring Los Angeles. Best of all, it's budget-friendly, as there is no entry fee, and street parking is also free!

El Matador State Beach

Bodega Bay

By Rasika of Bae Area and Beyond

Bodega Bay, a small coastal town in northern California, is renowned for its beautiful beaches and delectable seafood restaurants. Situated approximately 67 miles (108 kilometers) north of San Francisco, Bodega Bay offers a range of attractions and activities for visitors.

Located in Sonoma County along the famous Pacific Coast Highway 1, which stretches from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Bodega Bay is a treasure trove of natural beauty and cultural experiences.

You'll discover several stunning beaches along the coast, with sandy or rocky shores and crashing waves. Take advantage of the idyllic setting by going sailing or surfing in the pristine waters. There are also picturesque coves that provide excellent spots for fishing or clamming. For panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, hike to Bodega Head. Additionally, Bodega Bay features a golf course, two regional parks, and numerous nearby wineries where you can sample delightful local wines.

A trip to Fort Ross State Historic Park is highly recommended. This park was once a 19th-century Russian settlement and is home to the first Russian buildings constructed in California, which happened to be in Bodega Bay.

What sets Bodega Bay apart from other towns in California is its association with Alfred Hitchcock's horror film "The Birds." Released in 1963, the movie features several locations in Bodega Bay, including the Potter Schoolhouse and Saint Teresa of Avila Church.

Before visiting Bodega Bay, it's essential to pack for potentially windy weather. Coastal conditions can also be unpredictable, so it's wise to bring essentials for both sunny and rainy days.

bodega bay

Fossil Falls

By Catherine of Nomadicated

Standing atop Fossil Falls, it's hard to envision a time when a lush, watery landscape with an ancient waterfall existed in the now arid California desert. The volcanic lava flows cooled slowly along rivers and valleys in the Sierra Nevadas. Over time, with the help of Ice Age glaciers, Fossil Falls began to take shape. The wind and water then sculpted the remains of the lava flow into the smooth, stunning appearance it boasts today. As the ice caps melted and the last Ice Age gave way to desert, the lost river exposed the beautiful bedrock of Fossil Falls.

Situated just off Highway 395 in the Southern California desert, Fossil Falls welcomes visitors with natural cairns made of volcanic rock and colorful sands that lead to a short 0.2-mile hike to the falls. Prepare to be amazed as the flat landscape transforms abruptly into a dramatic cliffside of lava flow. Explore the rocks or walk along the edge of the chasm to fully appreciate the splendor of Fossil Falls.

While exploring the trail, keep an eye out for artifacts and ancient rock art left behind by the "paleo" people who lived along the rivers 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Fossil Falls is situated on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and offers a first-come, first-serve campground just a few minutes away from the trailhead.

fossil falls

The Salton Sea, California

ROBYN BECK//Getty ImagesThe Salton Sea, a shallow and saline rift lake located within the Coachella Valley, has recently experienced a resurgence in tourism. Eclectic artists have made the area their home, resulting in the creation of eccentric art installations that showcase the unique character of the region.

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Red Mountain Park


Birmingham, Alabama

Spanning 1,500 acres along the Red Mountain Ridge in central Alabama, Red Mountain Park offers breathtaking views that alone justify a visit. However, what truly sets this park apart is its rich history. Red Mountain was once a thriving iron-ore mining community, and remnants of this fascinating past can still be seen and explored along the park's trails. Don't miss the Redding Hoist House, a historical site that housed the gear used to transport loads and miners from below.

Southern Entrance: 2011 Frankfurt Drive, Birmingham, AL 35211, redmountainpark.org

Cumberland Caverns

Cumberland Caverns

McMinnville, Tennessee

Escape the heat by venturing into the cool depths of Cumberland Caverns, where the temperature remains at a refreshing 56 degrees year-round. Embark on their walking tour that takes you through stunningly beautiful rock formations and enchanting waterfalls. For a truly unique experience, attend a concert in the Volcano Room, a venue located 333 feet below the surface, known for its phenomenal acoustics.

1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville, TN 37110, cumberlandcaverns.com

Oak Mountain State Park

Nellah Bailey McGough

Pelham, Alabama

Just a short 25-minute drive from Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park encompasses nearly 10,000 acres, making it Alabama's largest state park. With 50 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, an 18-hole golf course, a bird rehabilitation center, and various other outdoor activities such as boat rentals and swimming areas, there's no shortage of things to do. Whether you choose to spend a full day in the park or split your time between Oak Mountain and exploring Birmingham, this park offers an incredible outdoor experience.

200 Terrace Drive, Pelham, AL 35124, alapark.com

Lake Maurepas

Andy Crawford Photography

Livingston Parish, Louisiana

You won't find large numbers of fishermen or bustling towns along the shores of Lake Maurepas. However, don't let its quiet demeanor fool you. Lake Maurepas is actually one of the largest lakes in Louisiana, located just west of its even bigger sibling, Lake Pontchartrain. With its beautiful cypress trees and swampy vegetation, it's a hidden oasis that can be whatever you want it to be - a serene spot for bass fishing or the perfect backdrop for a lively summer party.

Robert Is Here Fruit Stand

Robbie Caponetto

Homestead, Florida

Situated just east of the Everglades National Park and west of Florida City, you can't miss the large barn-like structure in Homestead that proudly proclaims "Robert Is Here". Whether you're passing through or making a special trip, be sure to stop at this fruit stand. In addition to the usual in-season ingredients like tomatoes, mangoes, and squash, you'll also find a variety of new and exotic fruits such as jackfruit, sugar apples, and guanabana. Don't forget to treat yourself to a delicious milkshake before hitting the road.

19200 SW 344th Street, Homestead, FL 33034, robertishere.com

Maine: Vintage Bargain Barns, Bar Harbor

Instead of visiting the popular Freeport Mall, take a trip to the Vintage Bargain Barns in Bar Harbor, Maine. These charming flea markets disguised as farmhouses are scattered along the coast and offer a wide range of treasures. From vintage finds to unique handmade items, you'll discover something special at each barn. Located just off the main road that runs from Bar Harbor to Portland, these markets are a must-visit for any antique lover.

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Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Courtesy of Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Jefferson Island, New Iberia, Louisiana

If your kids think a garden tour will be boring, show them a photo of Rip Van Winkle Gardens and watch their perspective change. With its towering 350-year-old live oaks, semi-tropical plants, and waterfront views, this place is truly otherworldly. It was originally built as a hunting lodge in the 1800s by Joseph Jefferson, a famous theater actor. After exploring the gardens, make sure to tour his mansion and rookery. If you're up for a unique overnight stay, book a room in the Cook's Cottage or Servant's Quarters.

5505 Rip Van Winkle Road, New Iberia, LA 70560, ripvanwinklegardens.com

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Courtesy of Jenna Sims

Spring Hill, Florida

Located just an hour north of Tampa, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is famous for its live mermaid shows. However, there's much more to see here than just the underwater performances. The real highlight is the breathtaking Weeki Wachee River. Kayaking along its crystal-clear waters surrounded by palm, cypress, and oak trees is a truly magical experience. Keep an eye out for manatees, turtles, and otters that often swim alongside kayakers. Whether you rent a kayak or paddleboard or bring your own, make sure to reserve in advance through Weeki Fresh Water Adventures.

6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606, floridastateparks.org

Cashiers, North Carolina

A short drive from the more well-known Highlands, the small town of Cashiers sits on a plateau at approximately 3,500 feet above sea level, surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest. During the summer, take a boat out on Lake Glenville, the highest elevation lake east of the Mississippi, or go for an early-morning hike on Whiteside Mountain. In town, enjoy lunch at Cornucopia, also known as "Cashier's Favorite Porch," have a beer at The Ugly Dog Pub, or visit the Farmer's Market for fresh flowers, homemade pies, and jam.

Fort Bragg, California

Stefan Nickel / EyeEm//Getty Images

The coastal city of Fort Bragg, California may remind you of the famous Laguna Beach coast, with its seafront marked by jagged rocks. This Northern California beach town is a peaceful cove that exudes charm, featuring an inn that has been a staple of the town since 1902.

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

By Shannon of Adventuring With Shannon

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California is a hidden gem that not many people know about. Home to some of the oldest living trees in the world, the Bristlecone Pines, this ancient forest is truly a sight to behold. These trees only grow at altitudes of around 10,000 feet, which has resulted in their relative isolation from human activity. Thanks to their remote habitat, slow growth, and ability to withstand high winds, these trees have incredibly long lifespans. The Methuselah Tree, one of the oldest living trees on Earth, is estimated to be over 4000 years old and can be found deep within the Ancient Bristlecone Forest. To visit the forest, head to the Inyo National Forest, located between Death Valley, Mammoth Lakes, and the Eastern Sierras. While there, be sure to stop by the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Visitor's Center and explore one of the main trails, such as the Methuselah Trail.

Grayson Highlands State Park

Getty Images

Mouth of Wilson, Virginia

Southwest Virginia is home to several beautiful routes along the Appalachian Trail, but the Grayson Highlands State Park stands out with its 5,000-foot peaks and stunning waterfalls. As you hike the park's 13 trails, keep an eye out for the wild horses that roam the area. Don't forget to take a moment to enjoy the views of Mount Rogers, the highest summit in the state. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the diverse habitats found within the park, from grazed pastures to mossy bogs. For those seeking adventure, the bouldering opportunities here are considered some of the best in the entire state of Virginia.

829 Grayson Highlands Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363, dcr.virginia.gov

Blood Mountain, Chattahoochee National Forest

SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

Blairsville, Georgia

Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, is shrouded in legend and mystery. Some believe its name hails from a bloody battle between Cherokee and Creek Indians, while others attribute it to the red lichen that covers the summit. Regardless of its origins, one thing is for certain: the sunsets from Blood Mountain are simply breathtaking. Witness the deep-orangey-red hues of the sun as it sets over the mountain's peak. For an extra splash of color, visit during the fall when the hardwood trees are ablaze with autumnal shades.

Byron Reece Trailhead, Blairsville GA 30512, atlantatrails.com

Nick's Original Filet House

Getty Images / anamejia18

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Nick's Original Filet House may not be fancy, but it's a beloved steakhouse located on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. Known as "Nick's in the Sticks," this small red-brick building is situated in the middle of nowhere, yet it always has a crowd of diners waiting outside. The trick is to bring a group of friends and take your time. While you wait for your table, order the restaurant's signature drink called Nicodemus - a mix of spirits, punch, and Gatorade powder. And don't miss out on their juicy bacon-wrapped filet, served with a side salad slathered in house blue cheese-ranch dressing. For a unique twist, mix the dressing into your baked potato too. And don't forget to try the fried chicken gizzards - they're a must.

4018 Culver Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401, nicks-in-the-sticks.com

Scott's Antique Market

Racehl Ellis

Atlanta, Georgia

Every month, for four days, you have the chance to explore 366,000 square feet of antiques, art, furniture, rugs, jewelry, and more at Scott's Antique Market in Atlanta. That's not even counting the outdoor space! Mark your calendar for the second weekend of each month and come prepared to fill your trunk with unique finds. As you peruse the market, you might even run into interior designers who appreciate the great prices and incredible selection. And don't forget to check out the veggie stand outside the North Building!

3650-3850 Jonesboro Road, Atlanta, GA 30354, scottsantiquemarket.com

Goldfield, Nevada

Thomas Roche//Getty Images

Originally established as a boomtown during the Gold Rush of the early 20th century, Goldfield has transformed into a unique desert frontier town. While it may not have the fame of the Grand Canyon, its charm and gold-like allure make it a hidden gem worth exploring.

Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens

Lisa Cericola

West Palm Beach, Florida

Nestled directly across from Palm Beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens offers a tranquil tropical escape. Immerse yourself in the beauty of rare palm trees, vibrant orchids, and magnificent monolithic sculptures created by the late artist Ann Weaver Norton. The gardens also host various traveling exhibits throughout the year. After a peaceful stroll through the shaded grounds, venture into the artist's 1920s home and studio, which are adorned with her captivating works.

253 Barcelona Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33401, ansg.org

Coosa River Adventures

Tara Massouleh McCay

Wetumpka, Alabama

Did you know that you can kayak over whitewater rapids in Wetumpka, Alabama? If you haven't heard of Wetumpka before, you're not alone. This small town gained attention after being featured on Ben and Erin Napier's Home Town Takeover on HGTV. However, the real attraction here is the Coosa River, which flows through Wetumpka, offering thrilling rapids for kayaking enthusiasts. If you're new to kayaking, don't worry - even beginners can enjoy a safe adventure on a seven-mile stretch of the river's Class II rapids. Take a cooler with a picnic lunch and make a pitstop at one of the scenic islands along the way.

415 Company Street, Wetumpka, AL 36092, coosariveradventures.com

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Wynn Myers

Daufuskie Island often gets overshadowed by its well-known neighbor, Hilton Head Island. To reach this small barrier island, you'll need to embark on a 30-minute ferry ride or a 10-minute water taxi from Hilton Head. But the journey is well worth it. Daufuskie Island offers a pristine paradise with dense forests of towering live oaks, palmettos, and sun-drenched Spanish moss. The coastline is adorned with driftwood and shells, creating an ethereal atmosphere. Renting a golf cart is the best way to explore the island's dirt roads and visit attractions such as Silver Dew Winery, the Daufuskie Blues indigo-dyeing studio, and the island's quaint history museum.

Biloxi Bay Bridge

Ryheen Brown

Biloxi, Mississippi

Take an unforgettable morning walk between Biloxi and Ocean Springs, two charming Gulf Coast towns. After Hurricane Katrina, the severely damaged Biloxi Bay Bridge was replaced with a pedestrian walkway engineered to withstand hurricane-force winds. As you stroll along, enjoy the breathtaking views of the water and sky, letting the beauty of the Gulf Coast envelop you.

158 Howard Avenue, Biloxi, MS 39530, biloxi.ms.us

Georgia Wine Country

Getty Images / chadscc

Dahlonega, Georgia

You don't have to travel all the way to Napa to experience beautiful vineyards. Just over an hour from Atlanta, you'll find yourself in the heart of Georgia's own wine country: Dahlonega. This picturesque town boasts 12 tasting rooms and eight wineries, with stunning views of the North Georgia mountains accompanying your wine sips. If you visit during the holiday season, take a walk through the decked-out downtown, a popular filming location for Hallmark movies.

Helena Parish Chapel of Ease Ruins

Discover South Carolina

Saint Helena Island, South Carolina

During colonial times, "chapels of ease" were built to provide a place of worship for planters who lived far from a parish church. One such Anglican chapel near Beaufort, South Carolina was constructed in the 1740s. Although it was largely destroyed by a forest fire in 1886, the ruins and cemetery still stand. These remnants showcase the durability of tabby, a coastal concrete made with oyster shells.

17 Lands End Road, Saint Helena Island, SC 29920, beaufortsc.org

Iowa: The Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque

This short and steep elevator provides stunning views of the historic Dubuque business district, the Mississippi River, and three states: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Dating back to 1882, this unique attraction offers round-trip rides for a nominal fee from April through November.

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Jekyll Island, Georgia

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Jekyll Island, located off the coast of Georgia, is a self-governing and self-sustaining island that offers a unique and captivating experience. Known for its driftwood beaches, the island exudes an eerie yet beautiful charm.

Block Island, Rhode Island

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Block Island in Rhode Island is home to a red brick lighthouse that overlooks rocky beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. The island's National Wildlife park attracts migratory birds, adding to its picturesque appeal as a fishing town.

Natchez, Mississippi

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Resting on the banks of the Mississippi River, Natchez is renowned for its collection of historic antebellum mansions, which transport visitors back to the 19th century.

Discovering the hidden gems of San Francisco and beyond is like embarking on a thrilling treasure hunt, where the reward is not just stunning landscapes, but an unrivaled sense of adventure. From the ethereal beauty of Plaza Blanca in New Mexico to the captivating solitude of Lost Coast, these off the beaten path destinations offer a chance to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in a world of natural wonders. Whether you're exploring the ancient wonders of Bristlecone Pine Forest or hiking the breathtaking trails of Grayson Highlands State Park, each destination holds its own special charm. So lace up your hiking boots and get ready to uncover the best kept secrets of these remarkable places, because sometimes the most extraordinary adventures can be found off the beaten path.

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