When vacation time rolls around, most people seem to visit the same handful of destinations. Sure, Orlando and San Francisco are great, but they're also crammed to the gills with tourists. Why not head somewhere unique on your next vacation? Here are six U.S. towns you never thought to visit, but should.
If you enjoy touring offbeat attractions, Alameda ought to be on your list of must-see places. This town on the east side of San Francisco Bay boasts a pinball museum, a haunted aircraft carrier, and a life-size statue of Amelia Earhart.
Only residents are granted access, but anyone who visits Alameda is welcome to take a peek through the gate at the Stonehenge Storybook cottages. Constructed in the 1920s, this private neighborhood is composed of unique houses that look like they came from a Disney movie, explains Roadside America. Once you've ogled aplenty, set a course for the most haunted military vessel afloat.
The USS Hornet is a storied ship. The eighth ship to bear the Hornet name, the mighty vessel was commissioned in 1943 and served in the Pacific during WWII as well as the Vietnam conflict. In the 1960s, the USS Hornet retrieved the first Apollo moon-walkers after splashdown. Today, she sits in the "mothball fleet" at Alameda where hundreds of visitors have reported seeing ghosts.
If you like pinball machines, you won't want to miss a trip to the Pacific Pinball Museum. Here, the price of admission will grant you access to nearly 100 vintage machines. If you want to marvel at the five-room collection without playing, admission is free. Find the Pacific Pinball Museum at 1510 Webster St. in Alameda.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
If your kids are clamoring for a trip to Disney World, take 'em to Pigeon Forge instead. Disney offers four theme parks in Florida, you say? Pigeon Forge has seventeen.
The land upon which Dollywood sits has been an amusement park for a long time. The first, Rebel Railroad, featured a small-scale, coal-fired steam train by the name of Klondike Katie. In the 1970s, ownership changed and the name became Goldrush Junction. The park expanded to include a campground, an outdoor theater, and a stream where visitors could pan for gold.
In 1980, country songstress Dolly Parton purchased and expanded the property that is now the most popular tourist destination in the Smoky Mountains. Don't worry. Dollywood is still not as crowded as the mouse-centric theme parks in Florida.
Dollywood's not the only attraction in town, however. TripAdvisor lists dozens of amusement parks, water parks, arcades, and roller coasters in Pigeon Forge. There's even a coaster park where live goats hang out on rooftops.
Napa's nice, but it sure is expensive. Instead of shelling out major dollars, you and your friends can recreate scenes from Sideways in oh-so-charming Buellton, California. Sample chardonnay at stunning Santa Ynez locations seen in the 2004 movie, including Foxen, Sanford, Kalyra, Fess Parker Winery, and the Sideways Lounge.
Of course, wine-tasting isn't the only amusing activity in Buellton. You can spend an afternoon marveling at hundreds of enormous birds at OstrichLand USA while working up an appetite for a brimming bowl at Pea Soup Andersen's.
Few people think of visiting Hayward, but to those who love sport fishing, it's a must-see destination. This is, after all, the only town in America where one can gaze out at the world from the jaws of a gigantic muskie. The 45-foot-tall fiberglass fish is as lengthy as a Boeing 757 and features an observation deck from which to view a six-acre garden replete with oversize bluegill, perch, and other freshwater fish.
If you admire angling, you won't want to miss a trip to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. Here, you can review the most astounding feats of freshwater fishery and explore room after room of unique exhibits. According to Roadside America, there are a couple of inexplicable Bigfoot dummies in the museum. So, be sure to look for those, too.
Joshua Tree, California
Trips to Discover magazine says that walking around Joshua Tree is like visiting another planet. Sitting in the Mojave Desert not quite halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, this sleepy desert town boasts a lively arts scene, stark beauty, and world-class rock climbing.
Joshua Tree's namesake plant grows wild in the Mojave Desert and nowhere else on earth. The largest of all yucca plants may exceed 40 feet in height and live for 200 years. View (but don't touch) these strange trees by day, then spread a blanket, kick back, and watch millions of stars pass overhead at night.
San Jose, California
If your answer to the musical question, "Do you know the way to San Jose?" is "no," what in the world are you waiting for? This town, around 30 miles south of San Francisco, is home to some pretty amazing things, and the sooner you see them, the better.
For instance, you can visit the Winchester Mystery House. Under construction for almost 40 years, this architectural marvel features 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, countless secret passages, and two basements. But that's not all that makes the Winchester mansion one of San Jose's most intriguing attractions.
The curious house at 525 S. Winchester Boulevard was built in 1886 at the behest of a widow named Sarah, and its hundreds of rooms are rumored to be inhabited by the ghosts of her late husband's rifle company. Some say the widow Winchester had doors and staircases leading to nowhere built into the house to confuse those aforementioned spirits.
The mystery house makes a trip to San Jose worthwhile, but there's more to see here than that. According to Atlas Obscura, San Jose also happens to be the best city in North America to view Egyptian antiquities and mummies. Housed in a building of Moorish design, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum offers weekend classes in things like how to make mummies along with an ever-changing display of fascinating exhibits.