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!

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.

Colorado Gators Reptile Park: Great Sand Dunes National Park was cool, but what's cooler is a gator rescue center in the middle of rural Colorado. Pay $2 for some gator chow and toss it into the pens to see them go to town. Not just gators, but loads of other rescued reptiles and birds. Some of the gators are massive! It's a load of fun.

Will Rogers Shrine to the Sun: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is pretty fun, but the highlight requires you to actually drive into the zoo and up the mountain. Here you will drive along a winding road, ending up at the top, where you'll find the Shrine to the Sun. It's a lookout tower built in the 1930s and dedicated to Will Rogers, an American humorist. It's strange to see a lone turret looking out off the mountain, and the view over all of Colorado Springs is amazing. You can even see Garden of the Gods! This was the highlight of my visit to Colorado Springs.

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): It's an aquarium, but not like any of the ones you've been to. The majority of the exhibits are outside for the full Florida experience. There's a giant shark tank that looks like it was built out of a swimming pool, and a whole variety of smaller creatures. Coolest part, they have the carcass of a giant squid on display! Although not as big as many other aquariums, they invest heavily in marine research and do their best to share with the public. Was worth a visit!

Georgia

Georgia Aquarium: This aquarium has whale sharks and manta rays, the only place in the western hemisphere to have either fish. Go and plaster your face to the giant window and feel excited.

Idaho

Arco, Craters of the Moon NM: There's small towns all over the US, but there's something respectable about being the first town powered by atomic energy. You get to drive through the secretive Idaho National Laboratory on your way from Idaho Falls, and you have to pass Pickle Pete's, home of the Atomic Burger (and a great road sign). There's a couple small historic signs to explain the town's history, then another few minutes to Craters of the Moon, which honestly felt like being on another planet, even in wintertime. Who knows what else you can find in Idaho?

Illinois

Shedd Aquarium: I've been visiting Chicago since I was little, and I can't count the number of times I've been to this aquarium. I love the layout, the vast variety of animals, the underground shark caverns, everything! It may not be as flashy and famous as Georgia or Monterey Bay, but it's a solid place to get your fishy fix. One time during college we were waiting in a ridiculously long line, but a volunteer came along and said if I answered a question about jellyfish we'd get automatic free admission. Of course, I'd just finished my 3-week course on invertebrates... Guess who got free admission? This guyyyyy. Study hard kids, it pays off.

Wrigley Building: I love visiting this building along the Chicago River. It has bits and pieces of famous buildings, geologic sites, and even moon rocks embedded in the outside walls. I love wandering around the outside, looking at all the amazing places incorporated into a Chicago staple.

Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park: This is a park in East St Louis, on the Illinois side of the Missouri river. It contains a 3-4 story platform you can walk up to look across the river towards the Gateway Arch. Even better, it has a statue of Mr. Martin looking out onto the river. And there's a live webcam to wave hello to your friends!

Kansas

Rock City: Loads of rounded rocks in a privately owned but publicly open park. Tiny rocks, large rocks, buried rocks. It's minutes away from Salina. Had a great time enjoying the sunset after a long day.

Mushroom Rock State Park: Another tiny park, this one features a very prominent mushroom-shaped rock, hence the name. Had a great time here watching the sunrise over the hill. The main mushroom is on one side of the street, with a few more rocks on the other side to boot.

Monument Rocks: Super awesome limestone formations with a large arch being the main attraction. Loved watching the sunset here, as the rocks make a great backdrop. Castle rock is also nearby, which is much less famous but has a ton of rock formations you can climb all over and wander around.

St Jacobs Well: Went here on a cold, gray, windy morning, but it was amazing to feel so isolated from civilization. I was the only one in the park, and was able to explore the small peaks and valleys.

Sternberg Museum of Natural History: Right off I-70, it's 100% worth a stop. Housed in a giant dome-shaped building, it features both fossils and living animals that are descendants of said fossils. Enjoy the life-sized models of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. The highlight may be the "fish-within-a-fish," the Xiphactinus specimen with a prey fish inside the belly.

Cosmosphere: Don't ask what a space museum is doing in Kansas, but this is the space museum to end all space museums. We spent 3-4 hours here but could have easily stayed for double that. Each exhibit is full of information and delves deep into the minutae of the entire Space Age. There's information about the Cold War, about the personal lives of the astronauts, the technologic advancements. There's models and real items from both the USA and Russia (it's the largest joint collection in the world). My favorite exhibit was the one explaining how astronauts use the bathroom in space. Fascinating!

Massachusetts

Harvard Museum of Natural History: This is what an old-school classic natural history music should strive for. Lots of glass cases full of poorly taxidermized overly snarling animals from all across the world. Skeletons galore. There's an excellent collection of realistic glass flowers from the Blaschka collection (look it up!). Most importantly, this was the first place I ever saw a real Coelacanth specimen. The ridiculously huge Kronosaurus specimen is in the same room and also pretty freakin' awesome.

Mississippi

Mississippi Petrified Forest: So first off, it's a small forest 30 minutes north of Jackson with a bunch of petrified wood specimens hanging around a short nature trail. Pretty cool, right? Well the best part is when you get back to the visitor center. There's a small room full of display cases containing the most jam-packed variety of rocks, minerals, and fossils you've ever seen. Personally I think it's my favorite geology collection I've ever seen (no lie). They have pretty much one example of everything imaginable, including tons I've never seen before. I spent a couple hours photographing all my favorites. Do NOT miss this stop.

The Pig & Pint: Randomly tried this place while in Jackson, honestly some of the best barbecue I've ever eaten. It's a little pricy but I thought it was worth it. If you're ever in town, give it a shot.

Medgar Evers house: Okay, this is not exactly a happy place, but it's unforgettable. There's a house in Jackson where Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist, was murdered in his own driveway. It's now part of the National Parks system, and deserves to be remembered for all eternity as just another example of humanity's best and simultaneously its worst. I took a tour of the house and was moved to tears. I will never forget this visit.

Missouri

Gateway Arch National Park: Instantly recognizable as an enormous arch, the gateway to the west. I visited when I interviewed at WashU for medical school and rode to the top. Being able to look out (and down) is simply amazing. They completely overhauled the arch with new exhibits and technology recently, I'm looking forward to another visit someday.

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

Roswell Museum and Art Center: Maybe once (back when I was into aliens), the highlight of a trip to Roswell would be the UFO museum. Well it's stupid, and you should go only to see how completely ridiculous and insane it is. The sleeper hit of a Roswell visit is the art museum. Although it's small, I was impressed by the amount of amazing art contained within. They also have exhibits on Robert Goddard, father of rocketry, who was based out of Roswell for much of his work.

Very Large Array (VLA): It's a drive out to the middle of nowhere, but getting to see the array of radio telescopes used to study the stars was super cool. They actually don't look for alien signals but they do plenty of other important astronomical research, which they are more than happy to tell you about. If you time your visit just right, you'll be able to see (and hear) the radar dishes moving towards a new trajectory! Don't forget to stop in nearby Socorro to see a fragment of Jumbo, part of the steel capsule intended to contain the first atomic explosion (it was blown apart but not by the first A-bomb).

White Sands National Monument: Well, when I went it was a monument, but now it's a National Park! Come walk in some of the softest sand you've ever felt. Bring or "rent" (buy then return) a sled and go sledding on these sand dunes. They're less windy and a little more fun than Great Sand Dunes.

National Museum of Nuclear Science and History: When I was on my road trip, I hit up a bunch of science museums related to Nuclear Science. This was probably the most well organized and informative of the bunch. See loads of artifacts and learn about the history of both nuclear weaponry and nuclear power. There's an outdoor yard full of larger artifacts (aka aircraft) to check out. If you visit one place in Albuquerque, I'd recommend it.

Capulin Volcano National Monument: Drove like a madman because I thought it closed at 5 (it did not). I wasn't able to drive to the top so I wandered the trail at the foot of the volcano. There was no one else around and there was absolute quiet. It was an incomparably relaxing experience. There's nothing special about it, and that's why it's special. Just you, some shrubs, and an old extinct volcano.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge: It's a bridge over a big gorge, whatever. But you can wander along the edge of the gorge, take a seat on a bench at the edge, and just relax and enjoy the view. Plus it's super easy to park and walk up and down the bridge. It's a fun stop!

New York

Billy Wilson Park: "Back in my day..." this used to be Margaret Louise Park. It's a small park with a tiny hill and a small playground. But this is where we used to explore and play with milkweeds, sled in the winter, and play frisbee in high school. Nearby is a boardwalk through Great Baehre swamp.

Buffalo Naval Park: Even as someone who grew up in Buffalo, there's not a ton (besides mountains of snow) to show off that's truly unique. The museum are great, but my favorite thing to show people is the Naval Park. There's a destroyer and other naval vessels parked right at downtown Buffalo on the Niagara river. You can even take a tour! Recently they've rebuilt the surrounding area to have an ice skating rink and other winter/summer activities. And who can forget the infamous shark girl statue?

Anderson's Custard I do like chicken wings...but my Buffalo food highlight is beef on kimmelweck from Anderson's. No idea why this isn't a thing in other places.

Chautauqua Institution: Whenever someone says "think of your happy place," this is what I think of. I grew up going here every summer and it's a wonderful place on so many levels. A lot of it was just relaxing at the beach or on a boat, but also going windsurfing with my dad or helping my mom make dinner for friends and relatives. I of course spent way too much time at the bookstore and library, and even worked at the bookstore for two summers. It's beautiful no matter the season, and even in wintertime it's fun to wander around the empty streets and look at the houses covered in snow.

Guppy's and The Springs: Most of the time in Chautauqua, we cook in. A recent discovery is Guppy's, a restaurant with great food and good sized portions. It's great to visit in the winter and eat in their heated tent while trying to figure out who drove there on the snowmobiles parked out front. Nearby is The Springs, a smaller restaurant open in the summer that always has a great variety of delicious food.

Cornell University (and Ithaca): Yeah it's my alma mater. It's different than many of the campuses I've been to, both in size and layout. It's a surprisingly large school (13K undergrads) for a rural location. There's so much hidden history and amazing scenery. Go to the Dairy Bar for a milkshake, wander the buildings looking at art and science exhibits, or enjoy some of the highly rated cafeteria food! Of course Ithaca is the other side of the coin, with a tiny but jam-packed downtown, including a great used bookstore. Don't forget the Museum of the Earth, the local natural history museum. They have a coral reef exhibit, the descendants of the coral I used to take care of during college!

Hot Truck: Is it high-end cuisine? No, not even close. But there's something about showing up at 2AM and waiting way too long for a way too expensive sandwich that's literally just cheese, sauce, and a couple other ingredients.

The High Line: I'm not cut out for NYC. It's busy and feels overwhelming. But I really enjoyed visiting the High Line, wandering along and above the city streets, watching the cars pass by. In some areas, you forget you're in the city entirely. Very relaxing.

The Strand: When I found out I could ship books, it was bad. I spent way too much time wandering the aisles and picking out way too many books, but what a great selection! Check it out.

North Carolina

Guasaca: First place I ever had arepas, they set the bar high. It's like a taco meets pita concoction. Highly recommend.

Food World: The only place I've ever found "peanut drank" aka Jamaican Irish Moss Peanut Drink. It's like a melted peanut butter milkshake, the perfect match for spicy Mexican food! When I drove through last time, I bought a case.

Rise: My goal while at Duke was to try as many chicken biscuit locations as possible, and Rise wins. Suprisingly, Chik-Fil-A is big competition, but even they can't compete. Get a regular chicken biscuit or spice it up with some pimento cheese. You won't be disappointed.

Letters Bookshop: It's a small independent bookstore, but the reason I like it so much is I always find a ridiculously high number of books I want/need to buy, for having such a limited selection.

Duke Lemur Center: The Duke Lemur Center has the largest population of lemurs outside of Madagascar. No secret science experiments here, just lemurs roaming around, doing as lemurs do. Take a tour of the lemurs chillaxin' or pay extra and get to wander in their habitat! Everyone loves lemurs, so go today!

North Dakota

Nekoma Pyramid: I will start by saying I have no good reason why this is one of my favorite places in the entire world. But it is. I heard about this abandoned military complex in 2017, and decided to drive there in the middle of February. It was a gray day without snow, and I pulled up to this place all alone. There were no birds, no cars, no other humans around. Just me and this military-industrial complex pyramid, built in a shape like no other building I've ever seen. Just standing there was a moment of absolute serenity. This must be how people feel when they're compelled to go look at crop circles or something. Someday I hope to return, maybe when it's a little warmer.

KVLY-TV Mast The fourth-tallest structure in the world (and tallest structure in the western hemisphere)...is a TV mast in North Dakota in the middle of nowhere. I left at 5AM in the dark in February to show up before sunrise to see this piece of metal. No idea what's wrong with me. Made me feel short.

November 33 Launch Facility: The tour of the Ronald Reagan Minuteman facility is impressive. Picture being trapped in a bunker with the threat of starting nuclear war constantly looming. But for whatever reason, my favorite stop was the actual missile silo. I ran around here in 0 degree weather and almost incurred frostbite.

Ohio

Park-to-Shop: The place where I developed my love for the asian supermarket. Each time I'd bring someone new, I dragged them past the weird fruits, the strange fish market, and the wonderful fish sculpture near the front. I would try to buy something new every trip and try to cook different things. It didn't always work out well, but that's okay. Nearby is Li Wah, our go-to dim sum restaurant.

La Plaza Supermarket: Never really understood what real tacos were, until I went to La Plaza. Such delicious tacos, and loads of other foods that can't be found at other grocery stores. I've had lots of tacos, but La Plaza set the bar high.

Barrio: Not authentic by any means, but this became one of the Cleveland staples. Make your own tacos are pretty amazing, and combined with margaritas, who needs anything else?

Melt: Another Cleveland food staple, find any grilled cheese your heart desires. You'll leave full, but very happy.

Lake View Cemetery: Living next door to the cemetery for 4 years, this was the perfect place to go for a relaxing run. President Garfield, Eliot Ness, and Harvey Cushing are just a few of the cemetery's permanent residents. Plus it was a filming location for Captain America 2! With so much background, what's not to enjoy?

Cleveland Aquarium: A small aquarium, it can't compare to the more famous ones. But honestly I was impressed at the variety of animals here, including some I've never seen at any other aquarium! Everyone's favorite is the kissing gourami, which looks like it definitely had some plastic surgery.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Hands down my favorite place in Cleveland. I probably went 10+ times during my time, and I loved bringing other people with. The outdoor local animal exhibit is so much fun, and all the indoor exhibits are quirky in their own way. Don't miss the fluorescing rocks, the earthquake simulator, the tree of life, the Dunkleosteus diorama, the fossil fishes, or even Balto!

National Museum of US Air Force: What's better than a warehouse full of planes? Multiple warehouses full of planes! So many planes, you'll spend way more time here than expected, learning all sorts of things about the history of flight, both civilian and military. Such a fun place to practice my wide angle lens skills.

Progressive Field: I am by no means a baseball fan, but going to games and watching the Indians play was one of my favorite things to do with friends in Cleveland.

Winking Lizard Tavern: So many beers, and so many good burger choices! Sadly they closed the location I lived near, but it was still a good stop prior to an Indians game or other downtown event.

Oklahoma

Museum of Osteology (Oklahoma City): So many bones, so little time. There are legit hundreds of skeletons of all sorts of critters, human and otherwise. You'll be surprised at the number of weird animals out there. Plus, they have some medically-relevant specimens, including cat skulls with different diseases evident in the bone structure. Don't miss it!

Oregon

OHSU Health Campus (Portland): I'm glad I ended up in Dallas. But it would have been super cool to show up to work and take a gondola ride up, with a view of the foggy Pacific Northwest out the window. I can dream, right? One of two commuter trams in the US (the other being Roosevelt Island in NYC).

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): I loved the old school feel of the dinosaur exhibit here, the combination of fossils, dioramas, and painted backdrops.

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): For most people, thoughts of chemistry bring back bad high school memories. But this museum in downtown Philly contains some amazing artifacts from the history of chemistry. Some of the original models of machines are here, taking up a room when now they only take up the space of a copier (mass spectrometer, anyone)? I didn't spend nearly enough time here, and I'd like to go back someday.

Academy of Natural Sciences: A science museum housed at Drexel, it also has that awesome old-school science museum vibe. Loads of dinosaur fossils collected by the original dinosaur collectors. See history on multiple levels!

South Dakota

Badlands National Park: When I took my roadtrip in 2018, I'd been to a couple national parks (Yellowstone, Everglades, etc) but I didn't really understand anything about National Parks. I only stopped here because it was on the way. I had no idea what to expect, but visiting the Badlands in February was a mind-opening experience. Seeing landscapes like I'd never seen, like I couldn't even imagine, was unbelievable. I remember standing at the edge looking down into the ravines, wondering why I hadn't done this before. Definitely a life-changing experience. It was absolutely beautiful in February, and I hope to go back someday in the summer months.

Dinosaur Park: Somehow accidentally booked an AirBNB nearby so I decided to check this park out at sunset. What a beautiful view, watching the sun set on Rapid City. Had so much fun running around like a fool, laughing and taking selfies with the dilapidated depression-era derpy dinosaur sculptures (all while freezing in the snow). It was so great, I went back the next morning for sunrise. It's a tiny place and easily missed, but I had as much fun (if not more) than visiting Rushmore.

Museum of Geology: You can find this small museum in a building on the South Dakota School of Mines campus. It has that old-school museum vibe, with loads of specimens lined up in display cases with matter-of-fact labels. Tons of fossils, big and small, of every animal and plant group you can imagine. Tons of gems and minerals too! Spent so much time perusing each specimen. Almost didn't hear about it but I'm glad I did. I really like the vibe over the new, flashy museum exhibits.

Tennessee

Martin's BBQ: The best dry rub BBQ seasoning I've ever eaten, and some of the best BBQ all around.

Hattie B's Hot Chicken: Maybe I was just hungry from waiting in line, but some of the best hot chicken I've ever had.

Civil Rights Museum: This museum hit harder than I could have ever imagined. So much history, so much human evil, it's hard to conceptualize in just a couple hour visit. I had forgotten a lot from high school, and realized I never even learned that much to begin with. It was hard for me to even understand how people could treat other people so poorly in so many ways. If that's not enough, the museum exists in the hotel in which MLK was killed. I left the museum with more questions than answers and it left a powerful impression. I can't change the past, but I can take the lessons to be a better person for myself and others.

Central BBQ: After an intense visit to the Civil Rights Museum, stop by Central BBQ for some of the best BBQ I've ever eaten.

Point Park: Learn about the battle of Chattanooga during the Civil War, but more importantly check out an amazing view of Chattanooga and the surrounding area.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Sure, it's one of the busiest parks. The reason I liked it was how the weather completely changed during my day. It started out pouring rain, became extremely foggy, then finally sunny with a beautiful sunset. Loads of hiking, fields, mountains, and everything that makes the Appalachians great.

Sculpture Fields: Randomly found this sculpture park but it had some amazing sculptures in a random field. Taking pictures made for some great prog-rock album covers.

Rock City: Maybe you've seen the signs, "see Rock City" from hundreds of miles away. I thought this was going to be a stupid tourist trap, but it was actually a lot of fun! I went as a grown man alone but the area is really cool, with interesting rocks, sculptures, and viewing areas. I actually had an awesome time and genuinely recommend a visit! Check out the street signs nearby, all named after fairytale characters.

Texas

Velvet Taco: Not the most authentic or artisan of tacos, but I find this chain has the most gastrointestinally satisfying tacos of anywhere in Dallas. No matter what I order (always 3 tacos), I leave with a happy tummy. Good margaritas too. For more taco recommendations, check out the Dallas page.

Traveling Man: Such a cool sculpture, actually a combination of three sculptures located around Deep Ellum. The most famous of course is the largest, going for a walk. Very cool when seen from different perspectives!

Dallas World Aquarium: Not the biggest or most amazing aquarium I've been to, but it's fun in it's own right. They have a great use of space, with the path winding past the same exhibits multiple times but at different levels, to see the different fishes that hang out and different depths. There's tons of birds, and even a sloth, not exactly normal aquarium denizens. Definitely worth a visit.

Half Price Books: Yes it's a chain, but it's also a used bookstore, and the flagship store is located right in Dallas. I've spent way too much time (and money) finding some great reads here. I need to get out of Dallas before I go broke.

Enchanted Rock State Park: Sure there's lots of rocks to climb on, but this one is very large and very round. It's a small trek to the top and very windy, but makes for a beautiful view from the top. The sun reflects off tiny puddles in the rocks and the top offers a 360 view of miles around.

Mayfield Park: It's a nice park in Austin, but the highlight is the peacocks wandering around all over the place. How can you not find that cool?

Franklin's BBQ: I thought it was hype, but this is probably the most delicious BBQ I've ever eaten. We bought way too much food but had plenty for leftover brisket tacos for a few days.

Dallas Skyline: I've visited many cities and lived in a few. From the first days of moving to Dallas, something about the skyline captured my interest. It's colorful, showy, and powerful. There's nothing else around, and it's extremely photogenic. I've taken way too many pictures from so many angles, but it continues to be full of excitement which I can't fully describe. One of my favorite areas is the south edge of the Trinity River, where when the river floods it makes for a perfect reflection of the city. This, combined with the perfect sunsets visible on an almost daily basis, makes for a wonderful place to live and take photos.

Dallas Arboretum: I'm biased because I live in Dallas. The arboretum is a great place to enjoy nature, check out some excellent landscaping, and enjoy some flowers. Great spot to practice photography skills.

Fort Worth Trinity Trails: Fort Worth knows how to the make the most of its outdoor scenery. There are miles upon miles of trails along the branches of the trinity river, full of parks, bridges, and artwork, the perfect place to explore on a day off. I tried riding my bike on all the different trails, and it was a great way to get outside and enjoy the Texas weather even in the middle of wintertime.

Utah

Hovenweep National Monument: Had no plans to visit here, but I drove around rural Utah looking for Canyon of the Ancients and noticed signs leading me to Hovenweep. Was not disappointed. It protects pueblo ruins on the edge of a tiny canyon. Wander the ruins, learn the history, and enjoy being completely isolated from society and enjoy the nature around you.

Dinosaur National Monument: This area is beautiful, but that's not the highlight. Head to the main attraction, where a cliff of exposed dino fossils is perfectly preserved in a structure built to cover the wall. Wander the lower and upper areas, identifying fossils and learning about life back in the day. Most of the fossils are Camarasaurus, which is a dinosaur I hadn't seen much of before.

Vernal Dinosaurs: Driving from Vernal to Jensen on Route 40 on your way to Dinosaur National Monument, you will pass three dinosaur statues. First, a pink feminine dinosaur out of an old cartoon. Next, a super rundown cyborg turquoise T-rex. Last, an apatosaurus guarding the entrance to the monument, with a face like a caecilian (look it up).

Arches National Park: The first park I ever stayed at for sunset. Loved wandering around the different arches and rock formations, very accessible with the scenic drive. Never got a chance to hike to the Delicate Arch, one of the most recognizable landmarks (it's even on the Utah license plate). My favorite spot was Balance Rock.

Goblin Valley State Park: One of the most unique and amazing places I've ever been in my entire life. It's hours out of the way in the middle of Southern Utah. The landscape is dominated by a huge towering rock formation, but the highlight is closer to the ground. Go the main attraction, the goblins. These are human-sized rock formations of eroding stones, each one different than the others. The park has one of the darkest skies IN THE WORLD and is the perfect place for stargazing. We went during a full moon, and we were able to hike around without flashlights. Even better, there are yurts that you can stay in for the coolest "camping" experience ever.

Capitol Reef National Park: Underrated park! There's a huge rock cliff aka monocline (my new favorite word). There's a hike along the edge up to an arch that you can actual walk across, if you're not scared (like me). The majority of the park is only accessible by offroad vehicles, so plenty to explore on future trips.

State Highway 12: Possibly the best scenic drive I've taken. Each time you turn a corner, you're greeted with a brand new amazing landscape. The rock formations were like nothing else I'd ever seen. It takes you from Capitol Reef to Bryce and passes through Grand Staircase Escalante, with some great state parks (Lower Calf Creek Falls, Escalante Petrified Forest, Kodachrome Basin) along the way. With only 1-2 hours driving total, there's so much to do and see in such a small area.

Zion National Park: Everything here is BIG. Yosemite is big, but here is BIGGG. The rocks and cliffs are huge, just driving along through the winding roads or taking the shuttle into the park is plenty. Doing the hike up to Angel's Landing is strenuous (and scary) but the view (and bragging rights) are incomparable.

Vermont

Crow Bookshop: My trip to Burlington was short, but I did enjoy finding this bookstore. Although it's not huge, it had a pretty interesting and unique variety, with a selection of books I'd never seen before (and of course had to buy).

Ben & Jerry's: Even if you're not specifically a Ben & Jerry's fan, I'd recommend a visit just for the maple walnut ice cream. Plus it's quirky to go see the graveyard of retired flavors.

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

Olympic National Park: I'd say it's unfair to use this as one entry, because the best part about Olympic is the ridiculous variety of ecosystems within its boundaries. In one day, you can see tidepools at Rialto Beach, mossy trees at Hoh Rainforest, and foggy mountains at Hurricane Ridge. We spent 2-3 days exploring all the different locations, and only saw a fraction of what there is. I loved driving back and forth between locations, and nearby Port Angeles is fun to visit. It'll always be a special place, I proposed at low tide at Rialto Beach on 9/21/20.

San Juan Islands: The concept of driving and taking ferries is just so cool! The mainland is still technically islands, and it's full of small parks that are still worth checking out. Take the ferry to San Juan or one of the other islands for a day trip or longer stay. Our two highlights were Lime Kiln Point (where we saw dolphins) and the San Juan Island Sculpture Park, where you can spend hours wandering around enjoying the amazing artwork. Even with dreary weather it was still an unforgettable trip.

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: What's better than a warehouse in the middle of Wyoming that's now an amazing dinosaur museum? Nothing. Nothing is better. The museum walks you through the evolution of different groups of animals and plants with both common and rare fossils shown on display. And don't forget the dinosaurs! Sooooo many dinos. One of my favorite natural history museums, and definitely worth a trip to Wyoming!

Hot Springs State Park: Somehow discovered this right before visiting Thermopolis. It gets its name from the nearby hotsprings, which are free to access ($1-2 for a towel rental). Such a fun hot springs experience! You can drive into the park and see the roaming bison munching on grass. Just don't get too close!

Jackalope County Store: A jackalope-themed gas station? Yes please. So many jackalope items, including a huge jackalope both inside and outside the store. Get your jackalope head to hang on your wall (don't worry it's completely artificial, no bunnies harmed in its making).