Travel: Blast off in Huntsville, land in a funky St. Louis museum — Part I of a guide to unique attractions in every U.S. state
As a travel writer, I’ve had the rare privilege of visiting all 50 states in this amazing (and I mean that in a good way) country of ours.
Though I won’t pick favorites, in this edition and next, I will offer suggestions for an interesting, unusual or just plain fun destination I’ve enjoyed in each state. This week, Alabama through Missouri!
— The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, has a huge exhibit of American spacecraft. Best of all, it’s home of U.S. Space Camp, where space geeks, big and small, can live out their astronaut dreams. (www.spacecamp.com)
— Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska, is a magnificent, and chilly, reminder of the power of nature. The glacier is just a short car or bus ride from downtown Juneau, itself a fun town with interesting stops such as the Red Dog Saloon and the Alaska State Museum. (www.fs.usda.gov/tongass/)
— The Scenic Ajo Mountain Drive at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona is a dusty and delightful way to take in the weird and wonderful sights of the Sonoran Desert. The 21-mile gravel road winds through the northern-most stands of the park’s namesake cactus. (www.nps.gov/orpi/)
— Whatever you might think of the 42nd U.S. president, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, offers an in-depth look at U.S. politics and culture of the 1990s. It’s sure to stir up memories — and perhaps partisan feelings — in most visitors. (www.clintonlibrary.gov)
— Anyone who loves art, old books or nature could fall in love with the Huntington, a library, gallery and botanical garden in San Marino, California, near Pasadena. Established in 1919, the library’s displays are filled with rare and beautiful tomes such as a First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays. (www.huntington.org)
— I learned to ski late in life, and I was fortunate enough to learn at Beaver Creek, Colorado, a vast, upscale resort near Vail. Sure, the resort has terrific terrain for experts, but even beginners can venture to the summit at 11,440 feet and still cruise (or tumble, as the case may be) down easy trails to one of three comfortable and pretty base areas. (www.beavercreek.com)
— Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, wrote his most important works during the years he lived at his home in Hartford, Connecticut. Today, the 1874 structure, which Samuel and his wife, Livy, adored, is the Mark Twain House and Museum, a National Historic Landmark. (marktwainhouse.org)
— Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is one of the prettiest Atlantic Coast beach towns, with a classic boardwalk, famous Dolles saltwater taffy and the Dogfish Head Brewing and Eats brewpub. (visitdelaware.com/beaches/rehoboth-beach)
— Weird and wonderful, Solomon’s Castle, built by hand with salvaged and discarded materials, was the dream of artist and punster Howard Solomon. It’s a museum, art studio and restaurant, a shiny silver vision in the middle of as much nowhere as south-central Florida can still provide. (solomonscastle.com)
— Alligators outnumber people in the Okefenokee swamp in Georgia, which is just as great as it sounds. Visitors can kayak, wilderness camp, take swamp-boat tours and watch wild-animal shows in or near the 350,000 acre Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. And those gators? They’re more afraid of you than you are of them. Probably. (www.fws.gov/refuge/okefenokee/)
— There’s no part of Hawaii that I don’t love, but the Big Island has some of my favorite sites, including the fascinating, funky town of Hilo and Volcano National Park’s Kilauea Volcano, which has been erupting gently (more or less) since 1983. (gohawaii.com/islands/hawaii-big-island)
— Tucked into the state’s northern panhandle, Sandpoint, Idaho, is blessed with unparalleled scenic beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities. Located between two rugged mountain ranges, the town sits on the state’s largest body of water, shimmering blue Lake Pend Oreille. A cute, historic downtown offers plenty of places for visitors to unwind after a day of hiking, biking or skiing. (visitsandpoint.com)
— The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, is an interactive, multimedia museum like no other. History-minded visitors of all interests and ages are bound to find something that delights, from original Lincoln memorabilia to a dramatic, high-tech presentation complete with holographic “ghosts.” (alplm.org)
— The Corydon Capitol State Historic Site preserves Indiana’s first state capitol building, a limestone, Federal-style 1816 gem, as well as other historic sites. The old capitol resembles Ohio’s first capitol building, which the Buckeye State didn’t have the foresight to preserve. (indianamuseum.org/corydon-capital-state-historic-site).
— Iowa City, Iowa, might be the quintessential Big Ten college town. The home of the University of Iowa, Iowa City is pretty, historic and friendly, and it boasts a literary history far surpassing most towns of its size. (thinkiowacity.com)
— Fact and fiction meet for a kind of Old West-style shootout in Dodge City, Kansas. The Wild West town, real-life site of the infamous Boot Hill Cemetery, also was the setting of the fictional and long-lived “Gunsmoke” television series. Both heritages are celebrated at the large, interactive Boot Hill Museum. (visitdodgecity.org)
— The Kentucky Bourbon Trail near Louisville takes visitors to some of the most legendary and historic distilleries in America. The distilleries all offer tastings and tours, and most have recently updated their facilities to accommodate the growing number of bourbon tourists visiting from all over the world. (kybourbontrail.com)
— Sure, it’s a travel cliché. But there’s no better way to rejuvenate a road-weary soul than to watch the early-morning sun light up Jackson Square, while enjoying a café-au-lait and famous beignet at Café Du Monde in New Orleans, Louisiana. (cafedumonde.com)
— Visitors to Portland, Maine, will find history, lighthouses and dramatic coastal scenery. And beer. Lots of beer. The state’s biggest city also has the most craft breweries and brew pubs per capita in the United States. (www.visitportland.com)
— Plying the waters of the Tred Avon River, the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry began giving rides back in 1683. The oldest privately operated ferry in the United States doesn’t save motorists a lot of time, but it’s an appropriately laid-back way to begin an exploration of Maryland’s lovely little Eastern Shore towns, such as Oxford and St. Michaels. (oxfordbellevueferry.com)
— If you’ve long loved Dr. Seuss it’s
time to go to Massachus-etts.
Visit Horton, Goo-Goose, Sneetches,
maybe see Ted Geisel’s breeches.
Springfield is the place to see ’em
at the Dr. Seuss Museum.
Hurry! Quickly! Carpe diem!
(Livelier than any morgue!)
— The Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City, Michigan, is a narrow strip of land sticking out into Lake Michigan. At the end is the beautiful Mission Point Lighthouse. On the way are scenic views, lush vineyards and orchards, and nine beautiful wineries. So maybe skip the lighthouse. (wineriesofomp.com)
— OK, so I haven’t visited Duluth, Minnesota, in the winter. But I can confidently report that, at least in warm weather, there are few Great Lakes towns prettier or with more to see or do than this port city on Lake Superior. (visitduluth.com)
— The Natchez Trace Parkway begins in Natchez, Mississippi, and runs the length of the state and north to Nashville, Tennessee. The 444-mile, limited-access National Park Service parkway follows the old pioneer Natchez Trace trail and links some of the most historic sites in the Magnolia State, including Elvis’ Tupelo birthplace. Thank you very much. (nps.gov/natr)
— The City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the quirkiest, craziest, coolest museums ever. Really an all-ages playhouse, City Museum is located in an old shoe factory and built of repurposed architectural and industrial salvage. (citymuseum.org)
— Steve Stephens can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveStephens.