My Favorite Places, Broken Down by State

In case you couldn't already figure out, I really like traveling the US of A (mainly by car). I find many of these places through online reviews and I try to do my part to review everywhere I visit. The problem is that I give most places 5 stars, because I had a good time and honestly anything lower means there was something wrong. But there's a difference between "I had a great time" and "I need to go back!" I created this list out of the places that I would drag a friend to, or honestly, that make me happy when I think about them. So go out, explore, and find your happy place! You can view these places on Google Maps HERE.

Alabama

Kelly Ingram Park (Birmingham): I first visited after visiting the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Brought back everything from high school history and then some. The statues are very powerful and evoke a lot of emotion. There are signs that explain each sculpture and how it relates to the events in Birmingham in 1963, culminating in the 16th St Church Bombing. The park is actually located across the street from the church, and my favorite sculpture is the one of the four girls killed in the bombing, with the statue of MLK watching from afar.

Arkansas

Hot Springs Mountain Tower (Hot Springs) Hot Springs is an interesting place, and unfortunately it's transitioning into a tourist trap like Niagara Falls or Gatlinburg. Going up the Mountain Tower was the highlight. I took a road through the woods to arrive, and it felt isolated from the tackiness of the town. I went to the top on a ridiculously windy day, but it was still a beautiful view of the surrounding forests. The view plus the wind was both calming and energizing, making me last for only a few minutes before escaping from the cold.

California

Point Reyes National Seashore (near SF): Went here with my girlfriend on a cloudy, drizzly day, and it's still one of my favorite California memories. It's insanely peaceful, especially when you make the drive 45 minutes out to the chimney rock hike. It's amazing to be standing on the edge of a hill looking out onto the expanse of the ocean. Plus there's seals everywhere! It was low maintenance happiness to the max.

Exploratorium (SF): It's like a science playground for kids and adults. There has to be way over one-hundred mini exhibits explaining different concepts of physics, chemistry, math, and so much more. Get a refresher from high school science class, learn a new concept, or just mess around with some awesome machines. Went on adult night, it was awesome to see adults acting like kids again (and I'm sure it's wayyyy busier when kids are there).

California Academy of Sciences (SF): One of those "more than a science museum" sorts of places, they have a huge aquarium exhibit in the basement to wander around in. Unique highlights were an albino alligator and lungfish (don't think I've seen one before). You can go up to the eco-friendly roof and take in some views of Golden Gate Park. The planetarium is also super neat and offers a practically immersive experience.

Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey): One of the best aquariums in the world (I don't pick favorites), I had an amazing time here. It might be the only aquarium I've been to on the west coast, which explains why there were things I'd never seen before (aka sand crabs). There was something unique about every exhibit, from the fishes to the birds. I loved that you could walk outside in the middle of the visit and enjoy looking out onto the ocean. It's expensive but worth it.

Pinnacles National Park (southeast of Monterey): A tiny national park randomly near Monterey, it offers two access points (I think the Western side is better). There's a nice trail that takes a few hours and shows some cool rock formations (I guess that's why it's called Pinnacles). It was fun to find a less frequented park with awesome views and great scenery. Watch out for the sketchy rock ledge you have to walk across!

Yosemite National Park (east CA): I mean, how can this not be on the list? I went in April when the waterfalls are at full force, it was cold but sunny - perfect. I didn't get a chance to hike, but there was still plenty to do for a full day. The lighting was perfect, and my picture from the Tunnel View is one of my favorite shots of all time, it's like something out of a fantasy book.

Griffith Observatory (LA): I learned more about space at this observatory than anywhere else, and they do it through demonstrations, models, and no entry fee! The view of LA sprawling for miles is super cool, and you can even get a nice view of the Hollywood sign. It's awesome to have a place that's invested in science education for the public.

Colorado

Snowmass: Probably my favorite ski resort, with Big Sky coming in second. There's such a variety of terrain, it's challenging but not so much to make the entire day difficult. I feel like it's never overly busy when I'm there. Plus if you get bored, you can go over to Aspen for a day or two. The town is pretty fun as well, and easy to get around.

Mesa Verde National Park Almost didn't go here, so glad I did! The park was practically empty, it was just me taking the winding 20ish mile road from the entrance all the way to the visitor center. It was a perfectly cloudy day, and I loved the views from the road, the semi-dead vegetation, and of course the amazing cliff dwellings. It's advertised for the dwellings, but I think it's worth the trip for the views. Definitely one of the more unique sunsets I've seen, it was so hard to capture with my camera to get the colors as close to what it was like in real life.

Connecticut

Peabody Museum of Natural History: Maybe you've seen the "Age of Reptiles" poster somewhere (I have a copy), this is the museum with the original mural on the walls. Went here during a hockey band trip to Brown/Yale, and I loved this museum. It had some amazing fossils and the history behind their discoveries and identification was fascinating. I think they also have an Archelon fossil with a missing foot, which is what I think of every time I see an Archelon elsewhere! I also picked up a book on Coelacanths here, they have a model of one.

Dinosaur State Park: I love the story of this park. They discovered dinosaur tracks in the rock during excavation, so they decided to save it for future generations by building a giant geodesic dome over it! It's pretty tiny, but the entry fee gets you in to learn about the local dinos, see some life-sized dioramas, and see the tracks up close (via a walkover bridge). There's a small room that looks like it's for kids activities, but it actually has a ton of cool fossil specimens from all over. There's a couple of tiny trails nearby, the swamp walk reminded me of the one near my home.

Florida

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center (Boca Raton): This is a little nature center near where my grandfather has a place. I've gone here a couple times, each time it gets better. There's a neat little boardwalk with a lookout tower to see the surrounding area. But the better area are the tanks, where they keep a variety of fishes from the nearby ocean. Most importantly, it's a turtle rehab center! They have tanks with a few turtles getting back to full strength, and loads of info about how to help the turtles. And who doesn't love turtles?

Kennedy Space Center (Titusville): Space is awesome and NASA is cool. But the space center is the best because you take a bus tour out to the launchpad and see the building where the shuttle was assembled and repaired. It's a building so large, it even has its own indoor weather. My absolute favorite part are the crawlers - monstrous tanks used for transporting the shuttle, they move barely a mile per hour. The amount of science and engineering that went into all these developments is unbelievable.

Elbo Room (Ft. Lauderdale): My dad used to tell a story about how he got tear-gassed here on New Year's in the eighties. I went by myself once, didn't get tear-gassed. I've been past a couple more times, and there's something about the place that just cracks me up. No tear gas though.

Mote Marine Lab (Sarasota):

Georgia

Idaho

Illinois

Kansas

Massachusetts

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Big Sky (near Bozeman): Less busy than ski resorts down south, it's been awesome to go ski in Montana, in the wide open expanses. The drive from the airport isn't too far and it's a nice drive. Plus the nights are usually clear, great for stargazing.

Nebraska

Henry Doorly Zoo Why does this zoo have to be in Nebraska, it's so far away! There's a giant dome which should be your first stop at the zoo. It doesn't seem like much from the outside (actually it's a giant geodesic dome so it's sweet), but you'll spend hours checking out each adorable animal in its up-close habitat. There's even an underground portion filled with bats and other noctural creatures. I was surprised by how much they were able to squeeze into such a small space. Too many cool animals to count, but definitely made my ranking as a favorite zoo.

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Mutter Museum (Philadelphia): Nowhere else like this in the world. I went here in high school, and it opened my eyes to how weird and amazing the world of medicine can be. Strange organs, babies in jars, everything a wannabe doctor wants to see to obsess about. I've been back a few times, and visiting with a medical background makes it even more enjoyable. As a sidenote, Dr. Mutter was more than just a collector, he was a pioneer in surgery medicine education, someone who I strive to be like someday. You can read about him in the book "Dr. Mutter's Marvels."

Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh):

Copabanana (Philadelphia) I lived down the street from here one summer, and I really liked the burgers. I also like the name for whatever reason. Plus they have good margaritas.

Science History Institute (Philadelphia):

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Skyline Drive (Shenandoah NP): Made this drive after a friend's wedding. It's my kind of place, a drive with lots of photogenic stops. It was a great day because it alternated between cloudy and sunny, giving great contrast to the landscape and all sorts of different shots. Even on a not-so-great day, you can literally see for miles, I can only describe it as vast.

Natural Bridge State Park (Natural Bridge): I came here expecting a "bridge" like a rock arch or something else. Nope, this thing is a monster of a rock bridge. It even had trees (REAL TREES) growing on top of it. Walking underneath it makes you feel really tiny. Thinking about how shocked I was when I saw how giant this "natural bridge" was makes me laugh.

Washington

Ballard Locks: Checking out these locks reminded me of school trips to the Erie Canal back in elementary school. I love the combination of the engineering of the locks with the Pacific northwest scenery. There's a tiny botanical garden with super cool flowers too, including a checkerboard tulip that I've never seen before! There was also a heron hiding under a ledge, waiting for delicious fishies.

Olympic Sculpture Park: It's a neat sculpture park to begin with, but being on the Puget Sound makes it a million times more awesome. Wander around and check out "The Eagle," or my personal favorite, a giant metal tree with tiny metal branches.

Wyoming

Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Hot Springs State Park

Jackalope County Store