One of the first things many people do when traveling is hit up all the local tourist spots. Think of New York, there is the Statue of Liberty, Time’s Square, and the Empire State Building. Those are very well-known places, and no one needs a local to tell them about it to find it on a map. But there are those hidden attractions that only the locals know about, that aren’t listed in the best attractions of any city that are just as good to take in, if not even better, as there will be fewer crowds and a totally unique experience than the typical, cliché tourist traps.
That’s why when traveling, it’s worth talking to the locals and asking them when should be seen and what can be missed. They might have some inside knowledge on the city that a tourist would love to know. Something out of the way, or a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered. Don’t just get sucked into the same old tourist traps everyone else does. Make a vacation one where it’s all about finding the hidden surprised in major cities, something only a local would be able to point out on a map.
25 The Wave Organ
When you think of San Francisco, you probably think of the streetcars, Golden Gate Bridge and amazing housing, but something the locals know about is the Wave Organ, which was built in 1986. According to the online magazine Atlas Obscura, the Wave Organ is an acoustic sculpture that amplifies the sounds of the waves coming in from the bay. Waves crash against the ends of the pipes, creating a low, subtle ton. Just make sure you are high tide to hear the sound.
24 House Of Eternal Return
George R.R. Martin, the author of the Game of Thrones book series, bought a vacant bowling alley in Santa Fe, New Mexico and leased it to a 135-member group of artists. What did they do? Created an elaborate interactive art installation. According to Atlas Obscura, the 20,000 square foot space is fully explorable as visitor’s piece together a non-linear narrative on their own. It’s not your typical art museum where you just look and enjoy, you are part of the art. A total of 70 distinct interconnected spaces fill the house.
23 Underground Tunnels Of Los Angeles
Anyone heading to Los Angeles is thinking beaches and sun, not dark underground tunnels. But the Underground Tunnels of Los Angeles are full of history from prohibition days, as the party never stopped as the 11 miles of tunnel were what people used to move around without worrying about being caught. To get into the tunnels today, Atlas Obscura says you need to take an elevator down into a passageway, filled with street art and rusted machinery, while iron gates limit you to places that are earthquake safe.
New York has plenty of amazing museums to visit, but this one is definitely something only the locals know about. That’s because it’s located in a freight elevator. It’s down a long alley that doesn’t look like there is much to it, and if it’s not open, you can look through a small window to look inside to look at artifacts that have been overlooked, dismissed and ignored. According to Atlas Obscura, the shoe that was thrown at George Bush was on display here, so it’s definitely not what you’re expecting from a typical Mmuseumm.
21 The Last Bookstore
Even when on vacation in Los Angeles, there is time for a little light reading on the beach, so find The Last Bookstore, a unique bookshop that is housed inside an abandoned bank. According to Atlas Obscura, the grand atrium of an old bank was turned into this unique bookstore and offers low-cost books and vintage ones as well. Sculptures have been made from overstocked or damaged books, hardbacks arranged by color and every book in the upstairs section is just $1.
20 Thor’s Well
On the edge of the Oregon coast is a massive, bottomless sinkhole known as Thor’s Well. It’s not entirely bottomless, but it is a dangerous sinkhole that takes in a massive amount of seawater from the ocean. You may want to keep your distance, however, as according to Atlas Obscura, during high-tide storms, water creates a large funnel maelstrom that risks pulling anything around it in. The best time to visit is one-hour before high-tide where you can see it without any water and see how the formation gets filled in. It’s a different kind of natural wonder, unlike Old Faithful, that only locals really know about.
19 Hamilton Pool
You probably aren’t thinking of a beach trip when you head to Austin, Texas, but if you head to the Hamilton Pool, you’ll get a chance to see a naturally formed spring in the limestone bedrock. According to Atlas Obscura, the grotto and waterfall are part of a now protected preserve and visitors will be wowed by the overhanging dome that once hid the entire grotto until it collapsed. It’s safe now, but before you go, make reservations, as they are required to swim in this beautiful and refreshing water.
18 Fly Geyser
When we think of geysers, we think of Old Faithful, which isn’t something you need a local to tell you about. But if you’re in Nevada, let a local tell you about Fly Geyser, which is on the edge of Black Rock Desert. According to Atlas Obscura, the geyser is actually man-made by accident, as over 100 years ago a well was dug to try and make the land usable for farming. Boiling water was hit and the geyser was formed. The second geyser beside it was formed much the same when drilling a test well struct the same 200 degrees water pocket. It opened to the public in 2018.
17 Phantasma Gloria
In front of Echo Park, you’ll find this amazing piece of art, the sculptured web of Phantasma Gloria. It is hidden away in the residential community of Echo Park, and is made the artist, Randlett Lawrence, continues to add to it, creating it out of colorful glass bottles, wire, and colored water. According to Atlas Obscura, many different patterns have been sculpted, including dolphins, and the structure is 24 feet tall and 50 feet long. Tours, however, are by appointment only, and only at 10 am and 4 pm when the light hits the glass at the right time.
16 City Hall Station
The City Hall Station in New York City is unlike any subway station you have ever thought of before. It’s simply beautiful from top to bottom, with lavished fine architectural details, including glass tiles and large chandeliers. Today, the station is abandoned, but is open for tours, according to the New York Transit Museum, if you are a member of the museum. It would seem only locals would be members, but for tourists, it’s only $60 to join and get a behind the scenes view of a massive transit system.
15 Secret Tiled Staircase
In the Sunset District of San Francisco, only the locals know about the amazing tiled staircase that runs on 16th Avenue. According to Atlas Obscura, the staircase is 163 steps and made out of mosaic tiles, which start from sea level and head up. Designed after the Selaron staircase in Rio de Janeiro, the staircase doesn’t get many tourists, despite the fact that if you take a second and turn around, you get an amazing view of the entire city.
14 Mutter Museum
Mutter Museum, located in Philadelphia, is perhaps not a museum that is widely known outside of the city of Brotherly Love, but it’s home to some amazing things from the medical world. According to Atlas Obscura, it’s the home to Einstein’s brain, the skeleton of the world’s tallest known man, amongst many other medical oddities. It’s an easy to miss museum and may need a strong stomach to take it all in, but for some rare oddities in the medical world, this is a can’t miss.
13 The Wave
The Wave is one of the greatest geological formations in the world and according to Atlas Obscura, it was only found in the 1990s in the Coyote Buttes ravine. Massive sandstone structures have been shaped by rain, wind, and ice over millions of years, as these dunes have been calcified vertically and horizontally. It’s not the typical destination when heading to Arizona and they are very hard to see because only 20 visitors are allowed into the ravine to walk through on a daily basis, with permits being issued through lotteries.
12 Eastern State Penitentiary
No one thinks of going to jail while on vacation, but the locals will tell you in Philadelphia to stop in at the Eastern State Penitentiary for a look back at prison history. The inmates are long gone, as the prison was open between 1829 and 1971, housing people like Al Capone, according to Atlas Obscura. It looks like a castle, but the massive building was designed to be a new type of prison where inmates were always alone, and it is known for being cruel to prisoners for keeping them so isolated all the time, even while eating.
11 Griffith Observatory's Tesla Coil
One of the best exhibits at the Griffith Observatory is the high-powered Tesla Coil, which strikes every hour, on the hour. The newly designed alcove allows for great viewing of this power lightning generator, which was donated to the observatory. According to Atlas Obscura, to see the Tesla Coil is free during normal observatory hours, and it’s now one of the feature exhibits that locals will tell you is a must see. It has been on display since 1937 and is an interesting visit for those who want a little science lesson on vacation.
10 Museum Of Neon Art
For an art museum that truly glows in the dark, check out the Museum of Neon Art is Glendale, California. Designed in 1981, it houses some amazing displays using neon lights as the medium, as well as some permanent collections, including signs from the Brown Derby and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. According to Atlas Obscura, there are also bus tours to see historic neon signs in the area, giving tourists a different kind of tour through the city streets with a little more local history to it.
9 Firefly Show In The Smoky Mountains
If you’re someone that likes to see interesting things in nature, then the locals in Gatlinburg, Tennessee will tell you to look towards the Smokey Mountains for an interesting show. According to Atlas Obscura, for two weeks in June, fireflies put on a light show that will beat out most country concerts on any given night. And they are so in tune, that it is a synchronized one as well. A trolley will transport people to the site to take in this once a year show, and only 20,000 people can enter to see it, so it’s all done by lottery.
8 The Witch House Of Salem
You have probably heard of the story of the Salem Witch Trials in 1962, so if you’re in Massachusetts, you can take in this one of a kind house that was the home of one of the judges and is the only structure still standings, according to Atlas Obscura, in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials. Of course, the busiest time of year for the house is around Halloween, and today it is a museum focusing on 17th century living.
7 Fire Fall
The Horsetail Fall is a seasonal waterfall in Yosemite National Park that drops 1570 feet to steep slabs, before falling another 500 feet to the bottom of the mountain. What makes it really impressive is the two weeks of the year in February when it turns into the ‘Fire Fall’. It isn’t actually fire coming from an active volcano, but rather, according to Atlas Obscura, a reflection of the sun that when it is about to disappear, will hit the falling water and look like a flowing cascade of fluid fire.
6 Oz Park
If you’re a fan of the classic movie, the Wizard of Oz, you’ll want to check out Oz park in Chicago. The park was designed after the city decided to improve on the run down, Lincoln Park, and used the famous author who lived in the area. It includes every character, from the tinman to the lion, scarecrow, and Dorothy all made from metal. According to Atlas Obscura, locals have loved the park as it has brought plenty of attention back to the area
5 Audium Theatre
Want to take in some theatre while on a trip? Take in the Audium Theatre, which is unlike any theatre in the world, in that is constructed specifically for sound movement. According to Atlas Obscura, the theatre is a revolutionary idea that combined the ideas of equipment designers, composers and musicians to make a theatre that would be perfect for performing in so the audience gets the best sound possible. Shows are on every weekend and instead of a normal stage, you sit in a concentric circle that has speakers built all around the sloping walls and the floating floor and suspended ceiling, to help give an amazing quality of sound.
4 National Atomic Testing Museum
Normal visitors to Las Vegas are taking in the casinos and nightlife and aren’t thinking of national history or museums. But locals will tell you to take a look at the National Atomic Testing Museum for a look back at an important historic moment in the world. According to Atlas Obscura, the museum is just off the Las Vegas strip, and houses over 12,000 artifacts of the Nevada Testing Site, telling the story of the nation’s nuclear program. It is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, so if you can pull yourself away from the card tables, you’ll get an amazing look at some important history.
3 Mystery Spot
For some truly weird phenomenon, visit the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, which is one of many such gravitational anomalies found around the world. According to Atlas Obscura, some weird things happen in this spot, such as balls rolling uphill, instead of down, and gravity seems to work weird tricks. It was discovered in 1939, and may not be anything paranormal, but rather, your mind playing a trick on you, as your brain is disoriented in the spot. It can leave you a little sick, but it’s an interesting dive into your mind.
2 Venetian Pool
For a little piece of the Mediterranean style in the United States, visit the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Florida. It is the largest freshwater swimming pool, with a one-of-a-kind water feature. Due to the natural filtering system, the pool drains and refills itself every day during the summer, so the water is always clean, according to Atlas Obscura. The pool is connected to many different grottos and caves to explore and is the only swimming pool protected by the National Register of Historic Places.
1 Pier 54
No, this pier has no connection to Studio 54, but rather, a connection to one of the greatest disasters in sailing history. Pier 54 was to be the dock for the Titanic when it reached New York City, which got the Carpathia instead of the massive ship that sank after hitting an iceberg. According to Atlas Obscura, the old gate at the pier is still available to see today, and while a full museum isn’t available to see, it’s a look back at some history that never was.