I’m not above touristy photo opportunities and I’m not going to pretend that I am. When I first moved to New Orleans, I took pictures of anything and everything: Café du Monde, the St. Louis Cathedral, the Mississippi River, and even Bourbon Street (*cringes*)–not to mention my hundreds of photos from Mardi Gras freshman year. On my trip to Europe in high school, I got pictures of all of the most stereotypically touristy attractions of every city I went to, from the Eiffel Tower to La Sagrada Familia. Being a tourist can be a lot of fun and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
However, the most well-known places and landmarks aren’t necessarily going to be the ones you find the most interesting… Or the ones that your social media followers find the most interesting. My feed is full of Disney Worlds and Statues of Liberty. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be basic, but if you’re looking to step up your Instagram game, check out these lesser-known places that are just as photogenic. You’ll have your followers wondering, “Where the heck did she find that?” and there’s the added bonus of these places being less crowded than your major cities.
1. Meow Wolf Museum
This interactive story museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico has some pretty unconventional art and architecture. Its abstract and fluorescent vibe will make you feel like you’re in Wonderland or some kind of Sci-Fi novel. George R. R. Martin has invested in this museum, so you know it’s good.
2. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
This animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah is home to about 1,600 homeless furry friends. (Cue the sad animal commercial music.) If you visit, you’ll get an extraordinary view like the one above and you’ll get to spend time with dogs and cats. If you stay overnight, you can even “check out” a dog for a sleepover. Insta-worthy views, insta-worthy pups, count me in!
3. New Moon Café
If you’re into southern cities and showing the world pictures of your food, the New Moon Café in Aiken, South Carolina is the place to be. The ceiling has this cool moon on it complete with string lights, the walls are covered in paintings and drawings by local artists, and even the beverages are instagrammable; there’s some serious latte art and the different lemonade flavors come in vibrant colors.
4. Untermeyer Gardens Conservancy
If you’re looking for a quiet alternative to bustling New York City, this garden is absolutely gorgeous and it’s in Yonkers, New York–only half an hour by train from Grand Central. I love to picnic here during my summers in New York state because there are so many beautiful flowers, you can see the Hudson River in all its glory, and the architecture is superb. I’ve never seen it crowded and I welcome the serenity after working a long day in Manhattan.
5. Yankee Candle Village
If you’re a Christmas fanatic, this store in Massachusetts is freakin’ incredible. There are rooms that are decorated for Christmas year-round where you can look at the tree, experience fake snowflakes falling down every couple of minutes, and even write a letter to Santa. (I asked him to pay for my room and board at Tulane and have yet to hear a response.) It’s a little more crowded during the actual holiday season, so I’m glad I went in the summer. There are some bright, summery rooms as well and the outside has some beautiful flowers.
6. Renwick Ruins
The now-abandoned Renwick Smallpox Hospital is located on Roosevelt Island and you have to take a ferry to reach it. I guess they wanted to keep the patients far away from the general public to prevent the further spread of the disease. The gothic-style ruins are really cool (and a little creepy) so you might want to ditch your typical New York tourist attractions in favor of this place, at least for an afternoon.
7. Micheltorena Steps
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, these beloved stairs are a beautiful but lesser-known work of art that you can find in Los Angeles, California. It’s hidden on Micheltorena Street and Sunset Boulevard and actually leads up to Micheltorena Elementary School.
8. Bellevue Zip Tour
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, try out this awesome zip line course in Washington state. This is not for the faint of heart or anyone who’s afraid of heights, but if you’re up to the challenge, the views are fantastic. Plus your followers will think that you’re really brave. They can’t prove that you were screaming the whole time!
9. Enchanted Highway Sculptures
These wacky sculptures line a road in North Dakota, a state that is often overlooked. Seriously, I feel like during every college tour, the admissions person says “We have people from 18 countries and 49 states–we’re just missing North Dakota!” Here you go, though. It’s real and it’s pretty awesome.
This tiny Alaskan town is about an hour from Anchorage and in order to get there by car, you need to drive under a tunnel that goes through a mountain. And the tunnel is only open for a few hours a day, so you better make sure you get there on time. Although there’s a saying that things are “shittier in Whittier,” I think I’d have to disagree; the views of the mountains and glaciers are phenomenal and it’s a very peaceful place.