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Lesser-Known Places That Define America

From natural wonders that boggle the mind to historic sites hidden in cities, America’s secret places have something for everyone. From a German Alpine village to a giant cannon that was used in Boardwalk Empire, these Hidden Gems will give you serious wanderlust.

Art galleries, history museums and world-class shows on Broadway keep culture vultures happy, while immense department stores tease shoppers. But there’s so much more to discover.

1. Meow Wolf in Santa Fe

The US is brimming with amazing places to see and explore, but some lesser-known spots are just as impressive as the more popular attractions. These hidden gems are a little off the beaten path and are sure to impress your friends back home when you return from your travels.

Located inside an inconspicuous bowling alley in the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico lies the House of Eternal Return by Meow Wolf art collective. Founded in 2008 by a melting pot of artists that include graphic designers, technologists, writers, fabricators, painters, and musicians, Meow Wolf is known for its immersive, maximalist art experiences.

What started as a small art collective has expanded into a company that produces a range of online content, curates museum exhibits, and organizes art and music festivals. It is also known for its large-scale, interactive art installations that are meant to inspire curiosity and wonder in visitors.

Meow Wolf is a B-Corporation that is dedicated to social impact. They believe that accomplished artists should be compensated on an equal basis with other skilled, in-demand professionals and that successful businesses must participate energetically in their communities. Their Denver installation, Convergence Station, is a testament to their commitment to pushing the boundaries of art and entertainment.

The House of Eternal Return is a multi-room, reality-bending art experience. It’s kind of like a choose your own adventure picture book crossed with a carnival funhouse maze and it is guaranteed to confuse and delight you. The only way to fully appreciate the experience is to go at your own pace. It’s easy to get lost and separated from your group so it’s a good idea to pick a meet up time and place, like the central tree or fireplace, so that you can find each other again at the end of your loop.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, you can’t bring bags or backpacks inside the house, but you can leave them in lockers at the front desk for a small fee. The house is a bit of a walk from the downtown area, so I would recommend taking a taxi or Uber from your hotel.

2. The Barthman Clock in New York City

Embedded in the sidewalk of a Lower Manhattan corner is one of New York City’s coolest hidden gems. Designed and installed by jeweler William Barthman in 1899, the novel clock served as both an advertising tool and a literal timepiece. During the height of NYC’s jewelry district, the clock was quite the attraction—it even lit up at night.

The design was so popular that other jewelers began emulating it. Indeed, Gothamist reports that Windsor, England jeweler Dyson & Sons once exchanged correspondence with Barthman over a similar-looking sidewalk clock it had installed in the town center. In the 1940s, Barthman replaced his original three-window jump hour clock with the circular version you see today on the corner of Maiden Lane and Broadway. This was the clock immortalized by photographer Ida Wyman in her 1947 photograph Sidewalk Clock, which reignited interest in the unique landmark.

Since then, the clock has continued to function reliably. It weathered the horrors of September 11, stayed ticking after Hurricane Sandy, and survived being rolled over by a delivery truck last summer. Barthman’s hasn’t been able to repair the clock itself, but it reached an agreement with the building owner to do so this fall. Workers will enter the basement of the former jewelry store and work just inches above the busy streetscape to repair this iconic NYC feature.

Whether you’re an art lover looking for a hidden gem in a Brooklyn museum or a history buff curious about the city’s oldest lamppost, it’s easy to find a surprise in New York City. From a secret room in a Soho loft to a miniature cannon in Fort Tryon Park, these unexpected spots will wow even the most jaded New Yorkers.

While Columbia University might be best known for its pomp and pageantry, it’s also home to an intriguing series of tunnels. If you have the right student as your guide, you can venture beneath campus and discover this hidden gem in a building that once housed the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. The spooky spot is perfect for a day of exploration or a great backdrop for a selfie.

3. The Oyster Pasty in New York City

New York City is full of hidden gems that are sure to delight visitors and locals alike. The famous Brooklyn Bridge draws travelers in droves, art galleries and history museums feed the minds of culture-vultures, world-class Broadway shows keep theater-goers enthralled, massive department stores tempt shopaholics, and cuisine from around the globe inspires foodies. But the true spirit of NYC is found in the nooks and crannies, including these lesser-known places that make the Big Apple a one-of-a-kind destination.

Many of these secret spots are easy to find, and others require a little elbow grease. Untapped Cities tour guide Justin Rivers says, “The most obvious hidden gem in the city is probably a piece of an ancient cannon that’s located in Battery Park.”

But there are so many other treasures to uncover here. For example, there’s the Ramble Cave in Central Park, which isn’t your ordinary cave. This natural wonder was once home to Native American tribes until a murder in the 1920s closed it permanently. The steps leading to the cave are now a hidden gem that only a few people know about.

Another cool hidden gem in NYC is the 109-year-old Renwick Hospital on Roosevelt Island. The hospital isn’t the typical steel-and-glass skyscraper, but it’s a Gothic Revival structure built in 1856 to treat smallpox patients.

The building also houses an amazing restaurant called the Oyster Pasty, which is home to one of the best oyster dishes in New York. The restaurant began as a tiny 22-seat bar, and it’s since grown to become a popular NYC destination. Its cozy, romantic atmosphere is perfect for date night, and it’s known for its fresh, sustainable seafood and delicious oysters.

If you want to try something out of the ordinary, visit Le Gamin on a weekday between 5-8pm when $13 gets you a glass of wine and three oysters. This hidden gem is as close to Paris as you’ll get in New York City.

You can also discover a number of other unique attractions in New York City, such as the Prospect Park LeFrak Center at Lakeside, which offers skating and roller skating in the winter, and the Floyd Bennett Field, a former airport that now serves as Gateway National Recreation Area for camping, sports, bird-watching, and more.

4. The Scrabble Street Sign in Queens

A love of words and a little friendly competition can bring people together, and in the case of the beloved board game Scrabble, the bond has lasted for generations. While Scrabble is known for requiring spelling skills, math and a bit of luck, it actually has a rich history that began right here in New York City. The story of how the classic word game came to be begins in Jackson Heights, Queens. As a nod to the board game’s humble beginnings, the neighborhood is now home to a creative street sign that commemorates where Scrabble was first played.

When Alfred Mosher Butts invented the game Criss-Cross Word in his apartment during Depression-era NYC, he took his creation to the social rooms at Community Methodist Church on 35th Avenue and 81st Street. From there, Butts’s creation was spread to the rest of the world, and it would eventually be dubbed Scrabble after he filed a patent for it in 1938. Today, the social room where Butts first hosted his games at the church is commemorated with a special Scrabble-style street sign that includes the points value of each letter on the sign, just like in the game itself.

The street sign was designed by renowned designer Massimo Vignelli, who also created a number of other landmarks in the city, including the Queensboro Bridge and the New York subway map. The sign was placed in 1995, but it mysteriously disappeared in 2008, prompting locals to organize a campaign to have the sign reinstated. It was finally put back up in 2011 at the request of community leaders and local councilman Daniel Dromm, who lobbied the Transportation Department to honor the word game’s roots.

While many of the USA’s most famous tourist attractions draw huge crowds, the country is also home to plenty of hidden gems worth visiting. To compile the list, Price4Limo analyzed Yelp reviews of natural wonders, accommodations, restaurants and other experiences in 2,679 cities across the nation. The resulting collection of lesser-known vacation spots can satisfy any traveler’s craving for adventure.

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