1. Take a Bite Out of Route 66
From Chicago to Los Angeles, the historic, scenic Route 66 is flanked by chow. Amazing chow. You can’t go wrong with any of the classic diners or barbecue joints along the drive, but don't miss these icons:
-- Ted Drewes is famous for its "concrete," a frozen custard treat so thick you can (and should!) turn your cup upside down -- you won't lose your spoon! (6726 Chippewa St., St. Louis, 314-481-2652)
-- Big Texan Steak Ranch is home of the "free" 72-ounce steak. If you can finish the whole thing, you don't pay for it. Indigestion is also on the house -- but worth it. (7701 I-40 East, Amarillo, TX, 806-372-6000)
-- Cozy Dog Drive In may or may not be the birthplace of the corn dog (rivals also claim the title), but the breaded beef here is so addictive, historical debate will be the last thing on your mind. (2935 S. Sixth St., Springfield, IL, 217-525-1992)
2. See Alaska's Northern Lights
You can only see it when the sky is dark enough!
3. Run All 72 Rocky Steps
And remember: It doesn't count if you don't throw your arms up and jump once you reach the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Bonus points for getting a photo of yourself next to the statue of Rocky Balboa.
4. Eat a Fish You've Caught Yourself
If you're not a cast-your-line type, catch one another way at Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market. The merchants have a fish-tossing routine -- they throw to customers and each other -- that's so fun and well-honed, it helps them reel in as many humans as they do salmon, crab and halibut.
5. Bobsled at an Olympic Park
Skip the years of punishing training. Here's how to be an instant Olympian: Head to Park City, UT (home of the 2002 Winter Olympics), or Lake Placid, NY (home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics), where any consenting, healthy adult can hop on a bobsled and slide 80 mph to newfound glory.
6. Get Oscar-Educated
Watch every Oscar-nominated best picture of the year...before awards night.
7. Get Wet at Niagara
Niagara Falls State Park -- the oldest state park in the United States -- offers endless misting opportunities by boat or bridge. (But not by barrel -- sorry, old-timey daredevils!) To get as close as possible to the action without jumping in, go on a Cave of Winds Tour: Take an elevator to the bottom of the American and Bridal Veil Falls and walk back up, stopping on the Hurricane Deck for an absolute drenching. The wooden staircases are so in the line of fire (or water, rather), they are taken down every winter and rebuilt in the spring.
8. Eat a Nathan's Famous Hot Dog
...Then ride the Coney Island Cyclone. No, wait! Reverse that! Brooklyn's legendary wooden roller coaster -- already an octogenarian -- still has some digestion-threatening kick. Go in June to see what happens when Mardi Gras meets Miss America at the Mermaid Parade.
9. See In-Sync Fireflies
Synchronized swimming? Snooze. Synchronized flashing? You've got to see it to believe it. The only American fireflies that go bright and dark in unison are the little buggers that roam the forested ridges of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Go to a Historic Music Venue
10. Rock out at Red Rocks. Ship Rock and Creation Rock, the stones that make Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO, one of the planet's few acoustically perfect natural concert venues, are also largely responsible for its gorgeousness. Each sandstone monolith is 300 feet tall and tinted with an ever-shifting palette of reds. And the musicians who play here -- over the years, everyone from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to U2 -- are having just as much of a bucket-list moment as the audience.
11. Applaud (or cringe) at The Apollo. The theater in NYC's Harlem. It's a rare building that's a neighborhood, municipal and national institution. You never know who'll turn up for Amateur Night on any random Wednesday. And given that everyone from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder got started there, you may well be witnessing the future of music.
12. Check Out Some Balloons
Crane your neck at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Look Up In the Sky
13. Watch a sunrise from above the clouds. Mark Twain called the sunrise at the summit of the Hawaiian volcano Haleakala "the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed," which should be the only nudge you need. But there's also this incentive: You can bike 23 miles down the volcano and into town once the sun's up.
14. Witness a Moonbow -- also known as a lunar rainbow. This phenomenon has a seriously sci-fi feel to it. When conditions are right -- there's a full moon and a clear sky -- at Kentucky's Cumberland Falls (the "Niagara of the South"), the falls' mist really does turn into a nighttime rainbow. Alas, flying unicorn not included.
15. Finish _______
[War and Peace; the scarf you started last year; the basement; those thank-you notes you've been meaning to write...]
16. Startle Fainting Goats
So bizarre they scored a spot on the Discovery Channel's MythBusters, these nervous nellies actually freeze up and keel over when scared or excited (a genetic muscle condition called myotonia congenita is to blame). Glimpse them in Calistoga, CA, near Old Faithful California, the local version of Yellowstone's geyser.
17. Have a Drink at a Hidden Bar
Some are just blank doors with buzzers. Others are the mullets of the drinking world: business up front, party in the back. A starter selection:
-- PDT is disguised as a hot-dog stand. But step into the phone booth, lift the receiver and a secret door will open. (113 St. Marks Place, New York City, 212-614-0386)
-- To enter Bourbon & Branch's Library bar, ring the buzzer and whisper "books" into the intercom. (501 Jones St., San Francisco, 415-346-1735)
-- The owners of Eamonn's run more than a fish-and-chips shop: Round the corner and you'll find an unmarked door that leads to the bar PX. (728 King St., Alexandria, VA, 703-299-8385)
18. Drive Through a Redwood
Trees you can walk through are awe-inspiring. But trees you can drive through have, like, a ninth-degree black belt in awesomeness. To see just how dwarfing nature can be, try this trio of redwoods off Highway 101 in Northern California.
-- Klamath Tour-Thru Tree: Take the Terwer Valley exit in the town of Klamath.
-- Shrine Drive-Thru Tree: Take the Avenue of the Giants exit near the town of Myers Flat.
-- Chandelier Tree in the Drive-Thru Tree Park: Follow signs off Highway 101 in the town of Leggett.
19. Do a Dumpling Crawl...
...through San Francisco's Chinatown. A total visual feast at every turn, this Chinatown also packs another kind of sensory delight: handmade dumplings of all sizes, shapes and flavors, from simple steamed shrimp dumplings to miraculous, broth-bearing soup dumplings. The offerings at these four famed dumpling houses will get you started:
-- Bund Shanghai (640 Jackson St., 415-982-0618)
-- City View Restaurant (662 Commercial St., 415-398-2838)
-- Great Eastern Restaurant (649 Jackson St., 415-986-2500)
-- New Asia Restaurant (772 Pacific Ave., 415-391-6666)
20. Swim with Manatees
Also known as sea cows, manatees are so ridiculously cute, they're more like aquatic teddy bears -- or overstuffed sausages with flippers and faces. The gentle giants are rarely spotted in the ocean, but you can snorkel with them in Florida's Crystal River Preserve State Park. Try to visit during winter months, when the manatee population swells into the hundreds.
21. Get Into Character
Wear a crazy hat and drink a mint julep at the Kentucky Derby.
22. Tube Down a River
With beer. Tubing's great. Beer's great. Combine the two, and it's like, Wonder Twin powers activate, in the form of the ultimate lazy day! Three places you'll never, um, tire of:
-- When conditions are ideal, the Guadalupe River in Texas turns into a floating party. And while you'll want to keep an eye on your cooler in the rapids, look up once in a while as you drift along to check out the huge pecan and cypress trees.
-- Missouri's transparent green Current River belongs to the country's first protected river system, an area so smooth-flowing and serene, the soothing effect of the beer may be magnified. So maybe just pack minis? Nah!
-- Tube Oregon's Willamette River and you can float right into downtown Eugene. Locals you may see en route: osprey, herons and, if you're lucky, the occasional nude sunbather on Glassbar Island.
23. Feast on Foods on a Stick at a State Fair
Four fave fairs that fit the bill, after which you will fit into nothing: Minnesota, Iowa, Texas and Wisconsin. A sampling of foods that stick out: spaghetti and meatballs on a stick; deep- fried butter on a stick; chocolate-covered deep-fried cheesecake on a stick; and -- for that shot of energy you need to keep on touring the grounds -- espresso on a stick.
24. Join a Flashmob
Join a group of strangers to sing, dance (whatever!) in public as a form of expression.
25. Get to the Bat Bridge
If you want to know what a million-bat flight looks like, find out at Austin, TX's Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, site of North America's largest urban bat colony, where as many as 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge en masse at sunset. July and August are the best months to go, but you can see 750,000-ish of them nightly anytime between March and early November.
26. Chase Six-Toed Cats
A pilgrimage to the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, FL, is worth making even if you never took a semester of American Lit. The nearly 50 six-toed cats that live there are just as attention- grabbing as their late master.
27. Straddle State Lines
The Four Corners Monument is the only place where you can stand in four U.S. states -- Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado -- at once. But there are plenty of sites where you can stand in three. If you want to straddle...
-- Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota: Head near the juncture of SD Highway 42 and Iowa Highway 9.
-- Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee: Walk the Cumberland Gap's Tri-State Peak trail.
-- New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania: Visit the Tri-States Monument at the I-84 Bridge.
28. Live It Up at a Hotel California
You can check in anytime you like -- but in the interest of your stay happening sooner rather than later, skip the Mexican hotel that's rumored to have inspired the 1977 song and book a room at a stateside Hotel California:
29. Get Retweeted by a Celebrity
It'll be your 15 minutes of fame!
30. Hit Roswell for the Annual UFO Weekend
In July 1947, the New Mexico media reported that a strange disk had fallen from the sky into government hands. The story changed the next day: The disk was a "weather balloon." Yeaaahh, riiiight. Conspiracy theorists and flying-saucer fans have been visiting Roswell ever since, where the UFO Festival every July is three days of all things alien.
31. Visit Graceland Wearing Blue Suede Shoes
Oh yeah, we've got the blues.
32. Pose with the Craziest Kitsch
We're a nation overflowing with monuments to our oversize imaginations, but these are the most wonderfully wacky:
-- The world's largest ball of twine in Cawker City, KS, is a crowdsourced sculpture to which anyone can add.
-- The world's largest thermometer looms 134 feet over Death Valley in Baker, CA, in case anyone wonders if it's that %^#%ing hot!
-- The world's largest corn palace would be Mitchell, SD's cool castle made entirely of corn and other grains.
-- The world's only Carhenge is Stonehenge rebuilt from cars. Why not? says Alliance, NE.
33. Be a Spectator on the Green Monster
Fenway Park isn't home just to the Boston Red Sox, but also to the most infamous wall in all of baseball: the Green Monster, whose 37-foot height has thwarted plenty of would-be home runs. Since 2002, almost 300 fans per game have been selected by lottery to watch from the bleacher seats on top of this wall in left field.
34. Learn to Eat a Mudbug
Crayfish (also known as crawfish, crawdads or mudbugs) might not look wildly appetizing. But if you're in Cajun country in Louisiana, where most American specimens hail from, you're pretty much contractually obligated to try at least one of the little lobster lookalikes. Here's how: Snap the head away from the tail, then peel the shell, tail first, until you get to the meat. Chew. Swallow. Silently self-congratulate. And if you're really looking to score brownie points, suck the juices from the head, where you'll find the really good stuff.
Indulge Yourself (And Others)!
35. Throw caution (and your hair) to the wind: rent a convertible.
36. Pick a special occasion -- and an even more special restaurant -- and blow an entire day's pay on a memorably lavish dinner.
37. Get a chocolate fondue body wrap at the Spa at Hotel Hershey in Hershey, PA.
38. Make one recipe from every single cookbook you own.
39. Be the person at Starbucks, the tollbooth or the turnstile who pays for the next three people behind you.
40. And indulge your kids: Drink a butterbeer at Hodsmeade in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
41. Visit Santa: The 2,200 or so residents of North Pole, AK, celebrate Christmas 364 days a year more than anyone else. Candy cane-colored lampposts light the streets, and on every day but one, you may spot the most legendary local.
42. Laze on the longest porch in the world: At 660 feet long, the front deck at the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI, is made for rocking -- on one of 150 chairs overlooking Lake Huron. And though getting out of your seat is tough, Mackinac is worth touring. A summer haven since the 1800s, it's still full of Victorian architecture and devoid of cars. Jump on a bike and pedal the 8.3-mile perimeter. There's sure to be a rocking chair with your name on it just in time for a sundowner back at the Grand.
43. Bunk Overnight at the Lightening Field
Though you're not guaranteed to see lightning, odds are pretty good: 400 stainless steel lightning rods are set 220 feet apart and laid out in a grid that stretches a mile in one direction and more than half a mile in the other -- all on a 7,200-foot-high New Mexican plateau. And when you do see lightning here, you're one of a lucky few. Only six guests per day (during only six months per year) are allowed into this land-art installation by artist Walter De Maria. Best to make friends: Everyone sleeps in a three-bedroom cabin near the field.
Get Active at an Altitude
44. Go skydiving!
45. For something on the ground, climb a fourteener! In hiking-speak, that’s a peak taller than 14,000 feet -- in other words, an astoundingly huge hunk of rock. And if you're looking for options, Colorado has, well, a mountain of them: 54 to 58, depending on whom you ask.
46. Or, run down a sand dune. The sensation is somewhere between downhill skiing and trampolining -- one leg at a time. Three great places to get action on the slide:
-- Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI Once you've done the Dune Climb, don't run right back down. First hike the 3.5 miles to Lake Michigan and back.
-- Jockey's Ridge State Park in North Carolina's Outer Banks You'll find the Atlantic coast's tallest dune -- and hardest- won sunset view --here.
-- Colorado's Sand Dunes National Park Running down North America's tallest dunes is just the start. You can sled, sandboard or ski down, too.
47. Head to a ghost town. Three to consider, should the spirit(s) move you:
-- Bodie, CA's 10,000 residents went away when the gold did -- and left only stark beauty behind.
-- Virginia City, MT, still has 190 locals (down from the mining boom's 10,000) to show you around the Victorian-accented outpost -- by lantern light, on request.
-- St. Elmo, CO, reportedly remains home to the ghost of a notorious 20th-century resident: Annabelle Stark, whose house -- and sanity -- descended into legendary disarray.
48. Or, take in a classic horror flick under the stars -- and above the buried ones -- in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Don't worry: You won't hear many screams out of the most famous audience members, who include Bugsy Siegel, Douglas Fairbanks and a couple of former Ramones.
49. Stay at a Frank Lloyd Wright house
Most are now museums with closing hours, but a few of the homes that Wright designed allow sleepovers:
-- The Polymath Park Resort in Acme, PA, features three of his houses. (from $299 per night, polymathpark.com)
-- The Schwartz House in Two Rivers, WI (from $295 per night, theschwartzhouse.com)
50. Gawk at Elephant Seals
Each winter, Año Nuevo State Park (55 miles south of San Francisco) becomes the largest mainland breeding ground for the elephant seal, whose male representatives have comically outsize schnozzes. Take a guided walk between December 15 and March 31, when thousands of these hulking shore potatoes call the beach home.
Share with Us
We want to hear your stories and see your photos! Visit our Facebook page to share your experiences, pictures and more!