Best of America

Travel Digest: America’s Best Kept Travel Secrets

Popular travel destinations and tourist attractions are fine, but leave time on your travels to seek out these memorable, special local favorites.


You’ve heard about Disney World, but you should really see: Paynes Prairie Reserve Tour.

That's 22,000 acres overrun with alligators, bison, horses, and more than 270 species of birds. Set out on one of eight trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking, or visit the 50-foot observation tower for a breathtaking panoramic view of the prairie.


You've heard about the Alamo, but you should really see: McDonald Observatory.

Do some serious stargazing atop a 7,000-foot-tall mountain near Fort Davis. More than 150 miles from the nearest major city, the secluded observatory features daytime tours, live solar monitoring events, and evening “star parties.” Held three times a week, these nighttime gatherings give visitors a chance to use the observatory’s larger telescopes for an even closer look at stars. Check the observatory schedule for special viewing nights, when you can enjoy a moonlit dinner, talk to a professional astronomer, and see the night sky through the observatory’s biggest telescope.

North Carolina

You’ve heard about the Biltmore mansion, but you should really see: Vollis Simpson’s Whirligigs.

See supersize spinning pinwheels, also called whirligigs, at Windmill Farm, an installation that features 30 revolving works of art created by former machinist Vollis Simpson.

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New Mexico

You’ve heard about the Aztec ruins, but you should really see: Blue Hole.

Visit the crystal-clear artesian spring and scuba-diving site located on old Route 66. The swimming spot offers a year-round water temperature of 64°F and visibility up to 80 feet in optimal conditions, and it houses various fish species within its colorful limestone walls.


You’ve heard about the Rocky Mountains, but you should really see: Bishop Castle.

Explore this 160-foot-tall Gothic castle nestled in the foothills of the San Isabel National Forest and feel as if you’ve stepped onto a set for Lord of the Rings. The medieval-looking masterpiece features intricate wrought-iron bridges, colorful stained glass windows, and a metallic dragon’s head that shoots fire from its maw and puffs smoke from its nostrils. Check out the towering platforms high in the rafters, and wind through the maze’s stone staircases. For nearly 40 years, Jim Bishop has gathered and set thousands of stones to create his castle, and he’s not finished yet.


You’ve heard about the Grand Canyon, but you should really see: Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Walk through this amazing underworld, and marvel at its glittery quartz formations. The caves are known for their prehistoric past, thanks to an impressive 80,000-year-old Shasta ground sloth fossil.

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You’ve heard about the Golden Gate Bridge, but you should really see: A San Francisco Art Crawl.

Explore modern masterpieces during the monthly Inner Sunset Art Crawl, and see a different side to the bustling city. Visit for an art-walk schedule, and print out a map of the 15 or so restaurants and shops sponsoring art on the route—maps are available the night before the walk takes place.


You’ve heard about Freeport Mall, but you should really see: Vintage Bargain Barns.

Big barns dotting the scenic coast don’t house just pigs anymore. Antique flea markets disguised as farmhouses offer vintage finds at great prices and are located off the main road that runs from Bar Harbor to Portland. For a list of barn shops, visit the Maine Antique Dealers website.


You’ve heard about the Penobscot Building, but you should really see: The Heidelberg Project.

Stop by the guerrilla-art installations in Detroit, where abandoned houses are covered in polka dots or lotto numbers or are completely decked out with stuffed animals.

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New York

You’ve heard about the Empire State Building, but you should really see: Hudson River Park.

To take a bite out of the Big Apple, visit the ports, piers, and parks along the Hudson River. Step onto World War II aircraft carrier Intrepid, and stick around for a sunset-lit outdoor movie next to the water.

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