While the world is full of wonders, some of the most meaningful exploration experiences can be found just outside your door. Appreciating local heritage, culture, history, and nature can bring you closer to your community and connect you to what makes the place you live in special. Here are a few tips to get started on adventures of discovery and curiosity in your own hometown.
Get Offbeat With Museums
Maybe your town has a big art, science, or history museum that you’ve visited countless times. If so, look around for the smaller museums you may have not noticed. Websites such as Roadside America can guide you to the closest exhibition of historic curiosities like weathervanes, neon signs, or banjos, while your chamber of commerce likely has tips on notable sites, art collections, and historic homes. The American Alliance of Museums listings includes cultural centers, museums, and historic locales across the country. There could be a fantastic university art museum with a stunning Impressionism display or a natural history museum with an impressive assembly of geological specimens you might never have encountered if you hadn’t gone hunting for it.
Create Your Own Art Crawl
Even in towns without major museums, you can often embark on your own vibrant art crawl with a little planning. Research the public sculptures and monuments that you may never have examined closely; discover when they were made, who designed them, how they got there. Look up galleries that have rotating exhibitions, artists who have open studios, or a coffee shop that uses its walls to showcase area artists. Art associations, art councils, and art coalitions can all connect you to local culture; SPACES Archives has a compendium of sculpture gardens and environments and the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios has listings of museums dedicated to artists. Whether a historic war memorial or a DIY art space supporting contemporary creators, every art experience will encourage you to see the world differently and perhaps inspire some art-making of your own.
Appreciate Your Natural Neighbors
Learn what plants and trees line your streets with an app like iNaturalist to better understand the local ecology. Identify the oldest or most historic nearby trees with resources such as the American Forests Champion Trees national register, which has rankings of the largest trees in the country, and the community-run Monumental Trees, which highlights arbors that are remarkable for their size, age, or beauty around the globe. You may meet a wizened American elm that witnessed your town’s founding or a magnificent ginkgo tree that drops a blanket of golden leaves every fall. Connect with birding groups to observe the birds great and small that perch on these branches; migration seasons are an ideal time to start when, depending on your region, flocks of warblers or sandhill cranes might swoop in each spring.
Change Your Perspective
How high can you go? Find the highest natural point in your area, whether it’s a mountain or a passable hill. The Highpointers Club has information on climbing the summits in each state, from the gentle slope of Florida’s Britton Hill (which has a summit at a pedestrian 345 feet) to the truly formidable Denali in Alaska, with a peak at 20,320 feet (maybe visit that one online). Then get creative. Is there a skyscraper, fire tower, or Ferris wheel you could ascend? Then look down. Are there caverns in your region? (Check out the National Caves Association for ideas.) Salt mines open to visitors? Subways? What’s the deepest station? Change your perspective and you’ll have a fresh view of a place you ordinarily see from ground level.
Take a Walk
Check in with your closest historical society for their calendar of walking tours or chart your own path. Choose a historic district and investigate the landmarked buildings; visit a cemetery and read the names and dates on the tombs — notice the symbols people chose to be remembered by. Stroll down a street and take the time to examine the utility covers; they can be more interesting than you think, whether because of their design or what they suggest about the infrastructure below. Or try walking somewhere you usually approach by car or other transportation, letting the slower pace reacquaint you with the neighborhood.
Spend a Day at a State Park
We’re not all lucky enough to live within driving distance of Yosemite, but national parks are only part of the natural landscapes accessible throughout the country. State parks, national heritage areas, national seashores, national historic trails, state preserves, national forests, state forests, and so much more abound. The Cultural Landscape Foundation can guide you to a designed landscape, whether it’s a park, sculpture garden, or estate. A towering waterfall, atmospheric woodland, otherworldly salt plain, or secluded beach could be just a day trip away.
Be a Tourist, Even if You’ve Lived There a Lifetime
What is a place you visit solely when you have guests? When was the last time you went just to have fun? Pretend you’re a tourist and hit up that hotspot. Sure, the parking at the diner that had its Food Network fame is always a hassle, and those double-decker buses that make the loop around the sights are overpriced; embrace it. Take selfies with those iconic monuments and splurge on a meal. If your budget allows, maybe even spend a night in a ritzy hotel. A staycation could be the perfect thing to shake the stagnation away and fall in love with your hometown all over again.