Our Top Ten Intriguing Places


Our Top Ten Intriguing Places

Written by Carol E. Slider

I love to explore new places, for each place – each small town, each city, each state – has unique qualities. It’s impossible to discover that uniqueness on the service road of the interstate, where every turn-off from Houston, Texas, to Fargo, North Dakota, features almost identical service stations, fast food restaurants and motels. The real character of a place is evident off the beaten path, in a small farming town or on a winding two-lane road.

During the past several years, Darren and I have discovered many intriguing places in our travels. Of these, we have chosen our “Top Ten Intriguing Places.” Some are very well-known, others are well-kept secrets – but all of these are highly recommended and absolutely worth visiting. We have not included our favorite places from our own home towns of San Diego (Darren) and Oklahoma City (Carol), nor from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. (In the future, we may create pages specifically about these more familiar places.) The ten places on this list are ones that we visited as tourists, from a tourist’s perspective.

The Cincinnati Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a very large complex of several museums housed in an Art Deco railroad station near downtown Cincinnati. Plan to spend an entire day here. We visited only the history museum, and probably didn’t even see all of that, but what we saw was impressive enough! Defining Moment: Stepping into a huge room where the entire city of Cincinnati is laid out in miniature, showing how the city has developed and changed through the decades. Walkways thread through the room, allowing you to view the city from many different perspectives, while the lighting changes constantly to simulate different times of day.

The Galveston Island Railroad Museum in Galveston, Texas, lets the visitor walk through rooms which surround one with the different eras of Galveston’s unique history. Defining Moment: Standing in a room that surrounds you with the sights and sounds of the devastating hurricane of 1900.

The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, is perhaps the most well-known of the places on this list. Plan to spend a day an entire day exploring the museums, the manuscripts and the gardens, and then go away feeling frustrated that you actually saw so little of what the museum offered. Defining Moment: Seeing an actual illuminated medieval manuscript with my own eyes . . . not to mention a first folio of Shakespeare. Wow.

Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa (near Des Moines), recreates actual working farms of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Here you can experience what it was really like to live and work on a farm or in a small farming town in another century. Defining Moment: Listening to a “teacher” describe life as a schoolteacher in the early nineteenth century.

The Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is probably the best historical museum I’ve ever visited. It’s a comprehensive crash course in Manitoba history, as it recreates various eras in the history of that province on a grandiose scale. Defining Moment: Walking into a massive recreation of a harbor street, complete with full-sized ship.

Not every place is equally appealing to every person, and I must admit that Memphis, Tennessee, is not my favorite city. But Darren and I did enjoy visiting Mud Island River Park, which provides a very comprehensive history of life on the Mississippi River. Defining Moment: Traversing an exact scale reproduction of the Mississippi River, showing the locations of tributaries, towns, etc.

Old Fort William in Thunder Bay, Ontario, is an impressive reproduction of an eighteenth-century fur trading post. Though we visited just before winter, when many buildings and demonstrations were closed, we learned that Fort William offers many different recreations of historical events throughout the year. Defining Moment: Learning about the realities of living through harsh winters in a place that was completely cut off from all contact with the outside world for many months at a time.

Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, is the heart of an actual Shaker village where members of that sect lived and worked for many years. It has been a historical park since the sixties. The village is a truly beautiful place, with its simple but very well-constructed wooden buildings and its gorgeous location in the rolling hills of Kentucky. Defining Moment: Sitting in the round wooden meeting hall, listening to a singer in Shaker dress recreate the vibrant a cappella Shaker folk songs.

Imagine driving through the hills of Arkansas and suddenly finding yourself in Europe. That is how you feel as you come upon the Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Arkansas. It’s an impressive complex of buildings, and the church of St. Benedictine is very beautiful. Defining Moment: Experiencing an indefinable serenity while walking around the grounds. The abbey really feels like a world apart.

The West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden, Indiana, is astounding. It is truly off the beaten path – miles away from a city of any size – but it is worth driving out of your way to see the massive freestanding dome constructed in 1902 and referred to at the time as “the eighth wonder of the world.” Defining Moment: Walking into the atrium and gazing up at the dome for the first time. I dare you not to gasp.