Fun Little Side Trips You Should Take Across the Country
Technology: making life great since the year it invented the calendar. But along with cataloguing time, technology has given us the means to make better use of it. It's not that modern life is overwhelming; it's just easy to say yes to the near-infinite diversions it offers. With seemingly every building, restaurant, and public park offering WiFi hotspots, taking a true break from technology is nearly impossible in our wired world.
But as we Instagram and SnapChat our every experience, we’re missing out on the simple joys that come with exploring the many offbeat and varied places our country has to offer. (It’s hard to remember, but there was a time when people found cool stuff to do without the help of Yelp and Google Maps.) So put your FOMO aside and join us below for a guide to relaxing and out-of-the-ordinary spots where you can put your phone on vibrate and have some unique experiences that need no check-in. After all, the best kind of technology is the one that gets you where you want to be, and doing what you want to do.
ChicagoBask in the divine beauty
St John Cantius Church
Considered to be one of the most beautiful churches in America, Chicago’s St. John Cantius is the perfect place to turn off your Facebook notifications for a while and marvel at some heavenly sights. Dating back to 1898, the church’s baroque architecture has been meticulously maintained and has changed very little over the past century plus. Stop by on a Sunday to catch the parish choir perform some Gregorian chants in the context of the Latin liturgy. Good luck finding that aural experience on Spotify.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Located near the former home of The Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, Oz Park is an enchanting tribute to Dorothy, The Tin Man, and other beloved characters. Marvel at the detailed statues of the fantastic characters, or read a book while smelling the flowers in the Emerald Garden. (Careful not to fall asleep among the poppies.) You can also play a game of tennis or soccer, or take your little munchkins to Dorothy’s Playground. After a relaxing afternoon, you’ll be clicking your heels and saying, “There’s no place like Oz Park!”
MiamiTake a dip in a Venetian public pool
While there are plenty of beaches in Miami, there’s one spot where you can be transported to a tropical paradise. Built in 1923 from a coral rock quarry, the facility boasts an 82,000-gallon pool complete with bridges, caves, and bubbling fountains. Fresh spring water flows into the pool (which is drained and filled daily during the busy seasons) via underground aquifers, making for one of the largest freshwater bodies in the country. It’s perfect for sunbathing, swimming, or strolling around the grounds pretending you’re in the canals of Venice.
Step back in time to a simpler existence
Seeking a peaceful and enriching experience? Skip Miami’s crowded beaches and overpriced clubs and journey back in time to an authentic Spanish monastery. Dismantled piece by piece and brought to Miami by onetime owner William Randolph Hearst, the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux was built in Northern Spain during the 1100s. Stroll through the grounds and marvel at the beautiful gardens, bas-relief sculptures, and peaceful courtyards. Turn off your phone and enjoy your short vow of silence.
Sail to a historic den of sin (run by the government)
Journey out to Biscayne Bay and you’ll find one of Miami’s oddest sights – floating houses that once served as dens of iniquities for the “in” crowd. Dating back to 1925, the first floating shack in what eventually became known as “Stiltsville” was thought to have been built by the appropriately-named gambler and seafood peddler, “Crawfish” Eddie Walker. Over time, multiple stilt houses popped up on the bay, rumored to have been used for wild parties by Miami’s elite. Seven shacks remain today -- now under the auspices of the National Park Service -- the last vestige of what was thought to have been a floating community free from the laws of boring ol’ landlubbers. Set sail, pour yourself a boat drink, and discover a lost floating Vegas. Whatever happens in Stiltsville, stays in Stiltsville.
BostonFrolic in the fountains
Rose Kennedy Greenway
If you think there’s nothing more relaxing than a bubbling fountain, a stroll through the waterworks of Boston’s vast Rose Kennedy Greenway is a must. As you walk, get misty with the Harbor Fog sculpture or run through the jets of the Rings Fountain like you’re in your own personal Italian movie. On your journey you’ll find every kind of fountain from a bamboo-lined pool to a mythical font at the center of a labyrinth. (No David Bowie Goblin King presiding over it, sadly.)
AustinTake a dip in natural history
You can thank erosion for this stunning natural body of water, which was created after an underground river collapsed thousands of years ago. Hike the surrounding area or take a dip in the clear water. Spot fish in the breathtaking caves or soak under the fountain stream. But be sure to make a reservation – the spot is popular in the summer.
Play retro games in their natural habitat
You might have a pinball app on your phone, but nothing beats the feeling of mashing the flippers on an old-school machine. Pinballz Arcade boasts a truly epic selection of retro video games, pinball machines, and other attractions to lose time and quarters in. But pinball heads are really in for a treat here, as the three locations of Pinballz offer every pop culture theme from modern machines like Transformers to dusty classics like Buck Rogers and Sorcerer. The sounds of paddles clicking and arcade games beeping will transport you back to the pre-digital ‘80s faster than you can say “Kajagoogoo.”
Worship the worthless
Cathedral of Junk
From the bat bridge to the Museum of the Weird, Austin is rife with offbeat experiences for the curious. But one of the strangest sites in the city is a communal work in progress. Started in 1989 by Vince Hannemann, the Cathedral of Junk is a massive sculpture composed of the detritus and oddities of everyday life. Visitors come to marvel at the size of it and get lost in the accumulated junk. It’s the one place where one man’s trash is everyone’s treasure.
SeattleRow, row, row someone else’s boat
The Center for Wooden Boats
Longing to return to a simpler time? Rent a wooden boat at one of the three locations of the appropriately-named Center for Wooden Boats and watch the sun set over the water. The Center has celebrated maritime history for decades, and provides sailing classes for the young and old. Turn off your GPS and let the sea breeze fill your sails (and soul) for a while.
Washington, D.C.Find your lack of faith disturbing
Darth Vader grotesque at Washington Cathedral
With its imposing Gothic architecture and breathtaking stained glass interior, the Washington Cathedral is a must-visit for tourists and locals alike. But to truly appreciate this DC landmark, you need to go gargoyle hunting. The many grotesques that adorn the cathedral have a practical purpose, protecting the structure from rain damage. But they’re also visual marvels, with amusing names like “The Birdwatcher,” “Hippie,” and “The Ugliest Monster.” Hidden among the over 100 gargoyles is the Darth Vader Grotesque, a sculpted head of the Star Wars villain that was suggested by a young contest winner in the 1980s. The Vader head can be found (appropriately) on a dark corner of the north side of the Cathedral. (If you need to bring balance to The Force, you can always sojourn to the statue of Yoda in San Francisco.)
Live an honest life
Lincoln’s summer cottage
Sure, you could muscle through the tourists for a selfie with Honest Abe at the Lincoln Memorial. But for a more relaxing one-on-one with the Great Emancipator, visit the summer home where Lincoln hung his stovepipe hat. Take a tour of the grounds and learn about the important decisions and historical moments that took place in this relaxing environment. Unlike Mar-a-Lago, it’s a presidential retreat you can visit without dropping a couple hundred grand.
Sit with someone special
Lovers Lane Pool at Dumbarton Oaks
The lush gardens of Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks is one of DC’s hidden gems. Strolling through the grounds is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. For a romantic moment with your sweetheart, visit the Lovers Lane Pool designed in the style of a Roman amphitheater. The columns and bamboo surrounding the pool provide privacy, while the sculpture of a flute-playing Pan serenades your rendezvous. On your way out, be sure to check out the museum to see some Byzantine artwork and more masterpieces from Dumbarton Oaks’ impressive collection.
AtlantaHave some strings-attached fun
The Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson fans young and old have made the trek to the Center for Puppetry Arts to check out Kermit, Elmo, and other beloved characters in the flesh... er, felt. In addition to favorites from The Muppets and Sesame Street, visitors can check out the Center’s collection of puppets from around the world, watch films like Where the Wild Things Are, take in live puppet theater, and get a hands-on experience in puppet-making classes. It’s the perfect place to make a “rainbow connection” with some old friends.
Crown yourself Emperor of the Monarchs
Spanning thousands of acres in the Pine Mountain area, Callaway Gardens offers a peaceful oasis for escaping city life. After a round of golf or a visit with the site’s many birds of prey, relax in the Butterfly Center where more than 1,000 colorful butterflies flitter about a wide variety of beautiful plants. Take a class to learn more about these amazing insects, or sit and watch as nature unfolds before you.