Hidden Gems to Visit Across America

How can you make ordinary trips across America more unique and fun? Look for hidden gems scattered around each state! Though tourist spots like museums, bustling cities, landmarks, theme parks, or national monuments are often highlights of a destination, hidden gems like the ones listed below, can turn your traveling experience from memorable to unforgettable!

When you search for activities on your vacation, try to find hole-in-the-wall places, often times located in between attraction hotspots. You’ll find yourself learning something new while getting away from the crowds.

The easiest thing to do is Google search “unique places around me,” or “unusual things to do at ____” to look for interesting wonders to visit. You’ll also be inspired to go searching for secret spots to venture to in your own backyard. Here are some suggestions on where to get started…

California: Downtown Los Angeles Underground Tunnels 

Explore these hidden tunnels in Los Angeles
Image courtesy of Alissa Walker

What comes to mind when you think of California? Disneyland, the Hollywood sign, Santa Monica Pier – I bet you it’s not this! Most people don’t realize there are a network of tunnels underneath the city. As Los Angeles began to grow a century ago, underground tunnels were carved out for transportation needs. However, the 11-mile hidden passage became even more of a hotspot during the prohibition period. Such tunnels became the meeting place for basement speakeasies and a method for people to transport liquor. But now, they have been abandoned.

To explore this hidden gem, you can slip into an elevator behind the Hall of Records on Temple Street, or you can schedule a guided tour.

Louisiana: New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

This cultural gem is only a three-minute walk from the St. Louis Cathedral
Image courtesy of The Captain’s Ramblings

Connected to nature, spirits and ancestors, Voodoo is a historic religion in “Big Easy” city. With its mix of African, Haitian and Catholic spiritual practices, it became widespread among the slave population of New Orleans during the 18th century. Inspired by the Voodoo culture, local artist Charles Massicot Gandolfo founded the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum in 1972. This hidden gem offers interesting items for sale such as potions, books and fortune-telling. Also, you will find artifacts, antique dolls and recollections of the famous Voodoo Priestess Maria Laveau.

As the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Laveau was a black priestess who wielded tremendous power and magical abilities. Such beliefs continue today as visitors still visit her grave and make their wishes. If you want to spice up your usual trip to the French Quarter, check out this enriching culture spot.

Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

hidden gem
Capture these gorgeous colors in person on your next hiking trip
Image courtesy of El Paso County

After hiking the famous Rocky Mountains, journey on over to El Paso County, where beautiful, brightly colored rock formations will inspire you. Unlike other national parks, orange, purple and white clay bands decorate this geological formation. It’s said that ancient Native Americans collected sediments from this area 9,000 years ago to create colorful pottery and even war paint.

For anyone wanting a hiking spot that is more intimate and has a historical background, Paint Mines Interpretive Park is definitely a hidden gem to visit.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia’s Magic Garden

A maze of various art will blow your mind
Image courtesy of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Wanting to add a little magic to your vacation? Make some time to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Garden. Don’t let the name fool you. Instead of flowers, mosaic tiles, antique objects and other artistic knick-knacks entirely make up this garden.

Isaiah Zagar, a local artist in the 1960s, began tiling South Street and never stopped. In addition, a wide range of Latin-American to Chinese art fills the Magic Gardens encompassing half a city block. Also, don’t forget to check out the neighborhood of indoor galleries and an outdoor labyrinth. On your next trip to Philadelphia, let yourself get lost in this gorgeous work of art!

A great way to capture all your hidden gem moments in a unique way is with a Polaroid! Make sure to check out this item to save all of your travel memories!

~By Virtual Marketing & Communications Intern, Laura Vo. Laura’s a Public Relations Major at Kennesaw State University and has a passion for supporting great causes like Go Eat Give.

Philly’s International Vegan Nirvana

It was an unconventional find but I had to discover it for myself. When I heard of a new place in Philly taking the local food scene by storm, I was curious. Flora vegan restaurant is located in suburbs of Philadelphia, in the Jenkintown neighborhood. It’s not easy to get here if you are just visiting for the weekend and don’t have your own car. A cab ride from downtown is about 30 minutes and the train – walk – can would take an hour. Even so, dinner at Flora was the best meal I had in Philly.

The 16-seat enterprise was the vision of 4 friends who have known each other since high school, worked at family establishments, and decided to start a small neighborhood restaurant that caters to a niche clientele. None of them are trained culinary professionals but have learned basic techniques by working in the kitchen through school and college. They wanted something intimate, local, customizes and healthy. With limited seats the chefs able to present artfully created unique dishes to diners.

What distinguishes Flora from other vegan restaurants is originality and flavors. Unlike other places that substitute tofu and gluten to make imitation meats, Flora retains ingredients in their original form. The dishes are inspired from all around the world, and adapted to vegan personalities. They also try to source food from local areas, including their own gardens. In fact, many of the people who come here are not necessarily vegans, but hooked on Flora’s promise to deliver a healthy, nutritious and fresh meal in a romantic restaurant setting.

Menu changes with the season and offers 3 or 4 course options. We start off with couple of salads that are pleasing visually and to taste. Sliced carrots delicately spiced with Moroccan seasoning, puree of chickpeas and garnish of homemade pickled radishes and parsley leaves come together in a symphony of flavors. As expected, the dish is light, healthy and delicious!

moroccan spiced carrots

Thinly sliced roasted beet with grapefruits drizzled with a crunchy pistachio vinaigrette are a clear evidence that cheese is not always essential to a well rounded salad. This plate is too pretty to eat, but we managed to clean off every morsel.

beet salad

One of my favorite dishes was the roasted brussel sprouts with a tangy onion marmalade, and wafer thin crackers made out of rolled out and fried sushi rice. The brussels are cooked to perfection – soft with a crisp bite. It takes a creative genius to bring together such varied combinations!

roasted brussels

A vegetarian Thai coconut curry with peppers, eggplant, okra, potatoes, rice and peanuts, is fragrant with herbs and spices, as it should be when freshly prepared. It is the perfect comfort dish on a chilly March evening in Philly.

coconut curry flora restaurant

We continue this culinary journey around the world with a twist on Mexican tamales. This one is stuffed with mashed lentils and served with a salsa verde sauce. The chipotle kicks in at every bite making this the spiciest dish on the menu.

tamales

For dessert we head to New Orleans. I can never refuse fresh warm beignets with melted chocolate. I peek into the tiny kitchen to see if they are actually being made to order and yes, powdered sugar is drizzled on top as they make their way to my table. As soon as I finish the treat, I want to order another one.

beignets

It was a refreshing change to eat food that tastes fresh, original and true to its flavors. Add to that stunning presentations and we have the perfect vegan restaurant.

Flora Restaurant 307 Old York Road, Jenkintown, (215) 779-7945

Note: Bring cash or check and BYOB

A Philadelphia One Day Travel Itinerary

Philadelphia is a destination for history buffs. There are numerous museums, art galleries, parks and festivals to keep you busy for a week. It is also one of the upcoming foodie destinations offering ethnic, organic and vegetarian cuisines. But, if you have a day or weekend to spare in the nation’s oldest city, then here are some must do’s…

Morning

Start the day with a hearty breakfast at Sabrina’s Cafe (4 locations). Run by an enterprising couple Robert and Raquel DeAbreu, Sabrina’s is the most hip brunch place in Philadelphia. Everything is prepared using fresh ingredients and served in a casual setting. There are plenty of vegan, vegetarian, gluten and dairy-free options to choose from.

Bill of Rights philly

12 o’clock

After breakfast, walk a few blocks to the birthplace of American democracy, Historic Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park (INHP). The area comprises of must-see free attractions.

There, the Liberty Bell Center is a global symbol of freedom for Civil Rights advocates, immigrants, protestors and other groups. Alongside that, Independence Hall is where the Founding Fathers came together to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Furthermore, Congress Hall, the New Hall Military Museum, Franklin Court and the Bishop White House are other attractions you can visit.

independence plaza philly

If there’s enough time, stop by the National Museum of American Jewish History. The museum traces stories of Jewish immigrants to the US across 360 years.

Walk back through the bustling Chinatown district where a decorated Chinese gate leads you through Asian shops, restaurants and businesses. You’ll end up at the famous Reading Terminal Market for lunch.

Chinatown philadelphia
Reading Market Terminal philadelphia

Established in 1892, Reading Terminal Market is the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers’ market. There are over 80 merchants selling everything from fresh veggies and fruit, homemade candy, and seafood to self serve meals. Lunch options include Indian, Chinese, Trini, gourmet sandwiches, and the locally acclaimed Philly Cheesesteak. You could also try the Best Sandwich in America (according to Travel Channel) at DiNic’s.

For four days a week, Amish merchants from Lancaster County bring farm-fresh products and distinctive prepared dishes. Try Philadelphia’s famous soft pretzels. Also, look for spots to get a Philly Cheesesteak.

Afternoon

Take the afternoon to shop at King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall on the East Coast. Some stores include Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and Macy’s. There are more than 40 eateries, which include Morton’s and The Cheesecake Factory. Additionally, nearly 400 specialty shops, like Burberry, Apple, Louis Vutton and Sephora, are there too. The best part is there is no sales tax on clothes and shoes in Philadelphia.

Late afternoon is perfect to stroll along rows of impressive Renaissance, American, Impressionist and Modern art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The building itself looks like Greece’s Parthenon, and is the third-largest art museum in the country. After 5 pm on Fridays, there is live jazz or international music concerts and a cash bar in the Great Stair Hall.

Walk down South Street, Philadelphia’s famous street bustling with restaurants, shops and galleries. Step back into the 80’s for an American classic dinner at Juniper Commons. An extensive Gin menu features nostalgic cocktails that would make you chuckle and buzz. Try the Flying Caucasian – a take on the White Russian with coffee syrup, cream and gin.

Juniper Commons philadelphia

Evening

Filled with extraordinarily high-quality music experiences, Philadelphia has Classical, Jazz, Rock, Folk, World, Dance Club and Neo-Soul and Hip-Hop. To see the country’s most historic opera house, walk down Avenue of the Arts to find Opera Philadelphia. Also, you’ll see a 150-foot glass vaulted rooftop at the Kimmerl center and many local venues performing live music, comedy, dance and more.

End the night with late-night drinks and laughs at The Crazy Sofa. The new entertainment venue has become a popular gathering place for food, drinks, piano, jazz and dancing.