Hidden Gems — An alternative travel guide

Join me on my tour of America’s most underrated sights

I love traveling. Of course I do. Who doesn’t? The world is bursting with art, culture, food, and must-see sights that top everyone’s bucket lists.

Everyone’s.

yep. everyone.

It’s impossible to live in the modern age and not be familiar with the biggest landmarks and tourist destinations around the world.

I’ve never seen the Statue of Liberty, but I could rattle off some trivia with the best of them. I could probably do a halfway decent sketch Mount Rushmore. I’ve seen so many documentaries about Egypt that even the Great Pyramids feel ho-hum.

Throw tomatoes if you must, but more often than not, I prefer side trips to the iconic landmarks.

It’s not that tourist traps are bad. They’re great! They’re popular for a reason! But we already know they’re there.

When I last visited Chicago, I went to Navy Pier because of course, but I barely remember it. My actual memories of Navy Pier blur with all the books and movies I’ve seen about Chicago.

But that Chicago trip was memorable because during my necessary visit to The Bean, the sky opened up. One minute it was sunny and hot, the next, we were all drenched. It came on so fast, there was no time to reach the nearby pavillion before the torrential rain drove us underneath the massive sculpture. We started counting the seconds between thunder and lightning, but nobody got past two.

Cloud Gate was right.

the best photo the author has ever taken

The Chicago police were smarter than the herd of camera-toting tourists hiding under The Windy City’s biggest piece of art, because they ousted us tout de suite. The Bean is made of stainless steel and, well, it probably wasn’t the wisest place to hang out.

So soaking wet, we all trudged toward the safety of downtown Chicago (lol, I know) where I took a really good picture and found the most interesting place of our entire four-day vacation: The Money Museum.

We had low expectations. We had never heard of The Money Museum, and anyway, how much fun could it possibly be to look at a bunch of money that wasn’t ours? Banks are boring. That’s a fact. We went for it anyway because it was free (lol, I know) and we had to ride out the storm somewhere.

The Money Pit

And it was awesome.

First of all, the exhibits are actually interesting. They’re stylized in such a way that anyone could have fun learning trivia about US currency. Trust me, it’s cooler than it counts sounds. You can even buy Fed Shreds: packets of shredded dollar bills that were taken out of circulation for one reason or another. No, the irony doesn’t escape me.

The author’s brother attempts to take off with a million smackers

But wait, there’s more! The floor is literally made of money. $50,000 worth of coins fill an old elevator shaft aptly named Money Pit. Gazing into the incalculably deep Pit makes you feel a little like Scrooge McDuck. When you’re done admiring the dragon’s hoard, you must stop by the million-dollar exhibit.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t often encounter silver suitcases full of banded hundos. And yes, apparently a million dollars really does fit in a suitcase and yes, it does make an amazing photo op.

A literal ton of money!

For a better visual, you can’t miss the million dollar cube made up of singles. Seriously. You can’t miss it. This thing is massive.

Would I have visited the Money Museum if it weren’t for that rainstorm? Not likely. Would I have snapped more pictures of my own reflection in The Bean. Yeah.

Since this excursion to a shockingly memorable off-track stop in Chi-town, I’ve made it a point to get off the beaten trail.

Depart from the big stops.

See something new.

Scroll to the second page of TripAdvisor.

And now I’m on a quest to dig up America’s hidden gems. You know the ones — those niche museums, those second-best landmarks, those can’t-see-them-anywhere-else roadside oddities.

Local color.

So join me on my tour of America’s lesser-known sights. From small spots like Alabama’s Tree That Owns Itself to South Dakota’s awe-inspiring gargantuan Crazy Horse monument, I seek the secrets. One state at a time, I scour Atlas Obscura for the strangest, most interesting, most worthwhile attractions to add to the second page of your bucket list.

Here’s where we’ve been so far!

Alabama — Rattlesnake Saloon

Alaska — Kennicott Ghost Town

Arizona — Biosphere 2 & Rainbow Forest

Your guide posing at the Hancock Building (Chicago’s SECOND-tallest tower)

Do you know any hidden gems in your state? Must-see sights off the beaten track? Let us know in the comments!

Sporadic but enthusiastic writer of travel, pets, humor, horror, and miscellany. Yarn addict, cheesecake lover, book reviewer, dog person.