Some of the best vacations are the ones close to home. Sure, an escape to the Ishinca mountain peak of Peru would be amazing. However, the good ol United States has several great destinations that will wow your senses without needing a TSA pat down.
While New York never sleeps, Disney is the Happiest Place on Earth and D.C. has enough history and science museums to increase your IQ by 7 percent, there are many places to visit that are a little less popular. They are located all over the country, so it's easy to find one close to you. Pack a lunch, grab your point and shoot camera and enjoy a fun and unique day trip that will be just as impressive as toasting locals in Morocco with unpasteurized camel's milk. Here are 10 lesser-known sites to check out and explore.
10. Cadillac Ranch Amarillo, TX
Located on a cattle ranch in the middle of Texas, the Cadillac Ranch is a commemorative art piece first created in 1974. Each Cadillac, made between 1949 and 1963, was planted nose first into the ground to show the evolution of the cars' defining tailfins. Although on private property, the Cadillac Ranch is open to the public. You are also welcome to bring along your spray paint and leave your colorful mark. It won't stay long, because so many people come through to see the Cadillac Ranch each day. This means you will have to make this a traditional stop on your way through Amarillo, Texas. Don t forget to snap a pic with your digital camera so you can see how the artwork changes each time you stop.
9. The Start of the Mississippi Bemidji, Minnesota
Mark Twain used Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to enshrine the Mississippi River as a mesmerizing U.S. tourist staple, making it synonymous with steamboats and river rafting. Most people meet up with the Mississippi River in the middle, in the states of Mississippi and Missouri. However, the start of the Mississippi is in the little town of Bemidji, Minnesota. Not only is the river crystal clear here, but Bemidji is also a great place to learn about Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. Both have a commemorative statue that has been on display in Bemidji since 1937. Paul Bunyan stands over 18 feet high, while Babe easily reaches his shoulder. It may take a moment to play with different angles, but you should be able to snap a pic of your kids with both statues in one shot.
8. Mystery Castle Phoenix, AZ
Knowing he only had a short time to live, Boyce Luther Gulley built the Mystery Castle in 1930 for his little girl. The Mystery Castle is made from recycled materials Gulley found in the town dump. Stone, automobile parts, rail tracks and telephone poles are held together with a mortar rumored to be made from cement, calcium and goat milk. The Castle has 18 bedrooms, 13 fireplaces, a chapel, a cantina and a dungeon. Plumbing and electricity weren't added until 1992. Gulley eventually died from tuberculosis in 1945. His daughter, Mary Lou, turned the Mystery Castle into a museum and lived there until her death in 2010. The Mystery Castle is still open for public tours and photography is allowed, so don t forget to bring along your digital camera.
7. Devil's Gulch Garretson, South Dakota
Jesse James is one of the most romanticized villain in U.S. history. He was notorious for getting out of tough situations, and the great escape in Garretson, South Dakota, is no exception. The story is told that James was being heavily pursued by a large posse after robbing a bank in Missouri. James came to a rock chasm with a rushing river far below. With the posse bearing down, James' only choice was to jump the gorge. Without much hesitation, Jesse James reared his horse and jumped, landing unscathed on the other side and safely riding to freedom. The infamous jumping place is now known as Devil's Gulch, and a bridge has been built for visitors to easily cross the West River. The easy-to-hike trails lead to beautiful scenic spots, perfect as natural backdrops to your photos. Commemorative plaques and a visitor center will give you more details about the heart-beating escape of James all those years ago.
6. Museum of American Speed Lincoln, Nebraska
This three-story museum is dedicated to everything in racing and automotive history. Founded by Speedy Bill Smith in 1992, the museum has engines, cars, toys, racing memorabilia and much more. You can see amazing, fully intact cars from a 1886 Benz Paten Motor-Wagon and a 1932 Boothill Express, to Kasey Kahne s #9 NASCAR Sprint Cup Car. Other collections include soap box derby cars, pedal cars, hood ornaments and every car engine imaginable. There is an admission fee in order to get in and daily tours are offered, though you are free to explore on your own, too.
5. Mt. Rushmore Celebrity Heads Branson, Missouri
The Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, Missouri, created a replica of Mount Rushmore outside its building as a way to attract potential tourists. Instead of presidents, this Rushmore dons the faces of four celebrities: John Wayne, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Oliver Hardy. Since the Mount is located outside, it doesn't cost anything to drive up and snap a photo. If you want to meet more celebrities, it doesn't cost much to go inside the museum and take even more impressive pictures standing next to you favorite Hollywood icon. A portion of your admissions proceeds will be donated to the local Generation Rescue chapter, a non-profit organization devoted to autism research.
4. Goblin Valley Green River, Utah
Hundreds of wind carved goblins cover the valley, making it look like something from Mars rather than the desert of Utah. In fact, several sci-fi movies, including Galaxy Quest, have filmed their Martian scenes in Goblin Valley. Open year-round and with camping facilities right inside the park, Goblin Valley is a beautiful place to explore and imagine. Even young tourists enjoy playing hide-and-go-seek among the sandstone figures and exploring nooks and crannies. Wildlife is abundant in the valley, and the weather is beautiful all year long. No two goblins are the same, so be sure to pack an extra battery for your digital camera, so you can keep exploring and capturing those images without having to stop.
3. Atlanta's Underground Atlanta, Georgia
Stepping into Atlanta s Underground is like stepping back in time with much of the original marble, decorative brickwork, and gas street lamps still visible. Atlanta s Underground City has been a popular retail and entertainment hub for over 50 years. Several of the storefronts were built following the Civil War, during the Reconstruction era. Over the years, shop keepers started moving higher up to be at the same level as Atlanta s railroad, and the original shops were buried and streets paved over them. In the 1960s, the shops were rediscovered and were converted into an underground shopping plaza. Today you can still see much of the old, original d cor from the 1800s while enjoying modern music, food and shopping.
2. Myles Standish Burial Ground Duxbury, Massachusetts
The Myles Standish Burial Ground is the oldest known cemetery in the United States. One of the signers of the Mayflower Compact, Myles Standish was hired to be the military leader of the Pilgrims after they landed in Plymouth. He devoted most of his life to protecting the new colonists from rogue and dangerous Native Americans before retiring in Duxbury, Massachusetts, a colony he helped found. Standish died at the age of 72 and was buried in the Duxbury cemetery. Along with Standish, there are 130 marked gravesites in the cemetery, including the well-known pilgrims Capt. Jonathan Alden and his wife Priscilla, as well as Revolutionary War soldiers and veterans of the War of 1812.
1. The Fremont Troll Seattle, Washington
The Fremont Troll was built under the Aurora Bridge in an attempt to make better use of the empty space. Encouraged by the local folklore of trolls that live under bridges and terrorize children and luminous women, the Fremont Arts Council held a national contest to find the most creative design for a troll monument. In 1990, the 18-foot monument was built using more than two tons of concrete, rebar and wire oh, and a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle. Over the last couple of decades, shops and local entertainment have developed around the Troll, including Troll-a-ween and the performance of Shakespeare at the Troll. At one time, the Elvis time capsule was imbedded inside. There is enough room under the bridge to pull over and snap a photo or two, so don t forget to bring along your camera.
There are hundreds more quaint places to visit and unusual sites to see all over the United States. Regardless of where your travels take you, make sure you take your digital camera along and capture the memories to relive over and over again in the years to come.
At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don t Have To.