Around these parts, we’re big fans of the spontaneous road trip. Throw a toothbrush and some clean underwear in a paper grocery sack and see where you end up by the time your eyelids start to droop. Skip the map and head for the hills or the desert or the coast. All you need is a vague idea of where to go. A little spark of inspiration. An interesting thread to follow, a food you long to try, or… oh, hell, you saw the title and know where this is headed: a beloved movie that captivates you.
For this round of road trip inspo, we focused on American movie locations. The Atlantic and Pacific coasts are represented, plus a national park, a handful of resorts, and a few big cities. Of course, going to the spots where they filmed your favorite scene and grabbing some pics while pretending to be an Ewok or evade a great white is a must on these trips. But these locales are all cool enough to entertain you for far longer than the thirty minutes it takes to snap fan photos for the ‘gram.
The Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah — 127 Hours
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Looking for something different to do in #ParkCity? One of Utah’s best kept secrets is just down the road. #HomesteadCrater is an incredibly underground hot spring only 30 minutes from Park City. Its geothermal waters are 95degrees year round offering skiers and hikers a therapeutic soak when they’re not on the mountain. It’s a truly unique experience.
Given that 127 Hours is the distressing true story of Aron Ralston’s experience of being trapped in a canyon with his arm stuck under a boulder, most viewers really focused on the fact that he has to sever a portion of his arm in order to escape certain death, rather than the whole “this place is lovely” aspect. But if you looked past the narrative tension and took in the settings, you probably already know why we picked this spot. Plus, the subterranean pool part comes really early and the arm thing isn’t even an issue at that point.
At the start of the film, Ralston (James Franco) meets two hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) and the three of them take a dive via a 55-foot drop into a pool. That pool is the natural hot spring known as the Homestead Crater, and it is located in the Homestead Resort. You have to make reservations to soak and dive in the crater, but as it’s the only warm scuba diving destination in the continental U.S. and it makes for absolutely awesome pics, it’s totally worth it.
Top Notch in Austin, Texas — Dazed and Confused
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Charcoal-Broiled #topnotchaustin #atx #rainyday #nikontop #Austin #justgoshoot #nikon #teamnikon #closeup #Texas #austintexas #D700 #shoot_2_kill #85mm #why_I_explore #rsa_main #way2ill_ #IGAustin #rsa_light #Nikkor #portrait #becauseAustin #vintageaustin #burgersandfries #DazedAndConfused #DriveIn
This Richard Linklater coming of age film follows a group of teenagers on their last day of school in 1976. It was filmed heavily in Austin, so you can broaden our destination advice to include the whole city if you want to. However, we think the Top Notch is easily the most recognizable filming location in the movie, and how many people really want to look for an Airbnb just because it’s near Mike Newhouse’s house?
Instead, find your own cool stuff to do in Austin (which is a bit of a cool stuff hub) and stop into the Top Notch for a charcoal-grilled burger, some fries, and a shake. The restaurant is still in business, and it’s really popular among both Austinites and fans of Dazed and Confused. They also host live music and hot rod shows, so you can indulge your inner gearhead. Plus, if you hang out long enough, maybe someone will invite you to a party at the Moontower.
Dinosaurs in Cabazon, California — Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
Clearly, The Alamo is the destination in this film that really stands out as a tourist stop, but as the interior shots used in the film were actually in Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana in Los Angeles, going to Texas wouldn’t really help you recreate Pee-wee magic. Also, these are really large dinosaur statues we’re talking about. They make for some of the best photos on Instagram simply because of their large size and rather desolate setting.
In the mid-1990s, new owners took over the dinos from the surviving family of the man who created them. It’s worth noting that the new owners are creationists, which is odd for a dinosaur attraction. But don’t worry, they cleared it up by adding tags to toy dinosaurs that let people know evolution is not supported by the fossil record. Seriously. Sadly, though it sat adjacent to the dinosaurs, the Wheel Inn Café beloved by Large Marge is no longer in business. It’s was literally demolished, so don’t hold out hope that a new owner will bring it back from the dead.
Hanapepe Valley in Kauai, Hawaii — Jurassic Park
Thanks to its massive swaths of largely untouched land, Hawaii served as a perfect filming location when Steven Spielberg was putting together Jurassic Park. He likely was pretty familiar with it, as Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed on the same island, though it was a stand-in for the Peruvian jungle and not for a dinosaur park. The director opted to use much of the Hanapepe Valley as well as the Valley House Plantation Estate on the northeast shore of the island, which people recognize from the scene with the sick triceratops that Alan and Ellie touch.
Keahua Arboretum, a nature preserve on Kauai served as a filming location for both Jurassic Park and for James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar. The lush rainforest works well in both films. If you opt to stay on Kauai, be sure to hike the Kuilau Ridge Trail, which starts at Keahua Arboretum; it begins as a very easy hike through some native shrubs, eucalyptus forest, and swinging vines. While you are walking about, be sure to take a ton of pictures of Mount Waialeale. It’s gorgeous.
Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts — Jaws
There are obviously some very specific filming locations for Jaws, but so much of it was done generally at Martha’s Vineyard that you might as well find lodgings you like on the island and take in the… Jawsness of it all without being tied to a single building or coastline. The beaches here are beautiful and whether you decide to hit up Joseph Sylvia State Beach where the Alex Kitner attack was filmed or South Beach where Chrissie Watkins was killed in the movie’s opening, you’re sure to enjoy yourself.
Well, you will if you can let go of the certainty that a shark is going to come and get you. That’s a hurdle with spots this recognizable.
Martha’s Vineyard is known for their brightly painted gingerbread houses, sailboats, lighthouses, and pristine beaches. It all sounds a little quaint. But summer really does require some amount of carefree beach-going, and this is one of the best places to do exactly that. One way to make things feel a little edgier is to visit the Jaws Bridge, the one Roy Scheider’s character Chief Brody runs along during an attack. Technically, you’re not supposed to jump off of the bridge, and yet when you visit, you’ll see dozens of people cannonballing off of it into the water. Feel free to do as the locals do.
Kennywood Amusement Park in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania — Adventureland
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Guess what I got to ride! Steel Curtain is great. It's fast, smooth, has good pacing, and there are nice moments of airtime. Kennywood has a real winner. #kennywood #rollercoaster #amusementpark #rollercoasters #steelcurtain #pittsburghsteelers #pennsylvania #westmifflin #teamcanon #canon #photographer
Filmed around the city of Pittsburgh, Adventureland tells the story of James Brennan — a young man forced to put his plans to travel abroad aside when he experiences financial trouble (the most Millennial story to ever take place in the past!). To earn money, he joins the staff at Adventureland, an amusement park that’s seen better days. Lots of them.
If you enjoyed the movie and want to spend the day riding roller coasters where it was filmed, then you need to make your way to Kennywood Amusement Park, which is about eight miles from downtown Pittsburgh. Unlike Adventureland, Kennywood is in great working order. While you’re in the area, you really should hang in Pittsburgh. As young creatives get priced out of cities like Portland and Seattle, scores of them are moving east to Pittsburgh — the city is full of interesting bars, shops, restaurants, and galleries to explore.
While you’re there, visit the car park under the southern end of the 16th Street Bridge. That’s where James kisses Em Lewin. If you can, bring someone you want to kiss and do some roleplaying.
The City of Southport, North Carolina — I Know What You Did Last Summer
We might tell you to kiss someone while you pretend to be movie characters, but we want to be clear that we would not tell you to hit anyone with your car, dump the body in the ocean, and stop washing your hair in college because of regret. So if that is what the inclusion of this teen slasher conjures, just say no. The film was predominantly filmed in Southport, which writer Kevin Williamson knew well because it was also where Dawson’s Creek, which he also wrote, was filmed. In fairness, this town with less than 4,000 residents has been the filming location for a ton of things, including Summer Catch, A Walk to Remember, Crimes of the Heart, and Safe Haven. We might want you to go there to relive the glory of the Croaker Festival, but you have a lot of options.
Situated on the coast in the southeastern portion of the state, Southport sits where Cape Fear meets the Atlantic. That means you get some great cooling breezes all summer long, and there’s plenty of beach on which to enjoy them. Plus, local restaurants are a great place to enjoy fresh-caught seafood. Be sure to take a lot of pics. This locale has been used in nearly 50 TV shows and films — clearly is has an appealing aesthetic that can be prime glow up for your feed.
Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia — Dirty Dancing
Located in Pembroke, Virginia, Mountain Lake Lodge served as The Kellerman Resort where Baby Houseman meets Johnny Castle and the pair fall in love. Filmmakers used the southern property primarily for exterior shots, but a few interiors were used as well. Current owners of Mountain Lake know that Dirty Dancing fans come to the property to dance down a large outdoor staircase like Baby, so they hold multiple Dirty Dancing themed weekends. There are a Dirty Dancing themed scavenger hunt, group dance lessons, a dance party in Mary’s Barn, a watermelon toss, and a screening of the film.
If you don’t want to go full theme weekend, you can simply reserve the Virginia Cottage where Baby and her family stayed and spend the rest of your time drinking locally-brewed craft beers on the front lawn; exploring the resort’s 22 miles of walking, biking, and hiking trails; getting out of the resort’s escape room; playing archery tag; running through a zipline course; or riding the Sky Slide, a five-story water slide.
All of that classic summer fun should help you cope with the fact that the lake where Johnny taught Baby the finale lift is all dried up.
Redwood National Park in California — Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
There’s a bit of a debate about whether or not Redwood National Park Tall Trees Grove or Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park served as the forest moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi. The trees featured are certainly giant redwoods, which can grow hundreds of feet tall and are found primarily in California. However, filming would require some leveling of land and clear-cutting of the forest. There’s no way a national or state park would be cool with that. However, there are tons of sources insisting that’s the case. Our position is that Redwood National Park may not be the filming location, but it is very close to it, and it is a fantastic destination for a summer vacay.
Firstly, the weather in northern California remains rather cool in the summer, especially under the tall, tall trees. That’s ideal when you’re going to be spending most of your time outside. Secondly, this destination is a great place to go camping. There are four campsites in the park and you can reserve one for your stay. Most of the sites were constructed before the 1940s, so large vehicles can’t get into them, which means you don’t have to deal with RVs and large trailers intruding on your campground. But you can count on hot showers, food lockers, and accessible restrooms and cabins.
The city of Astoria, Oregon — The Goonies
Astoria is a tiny city on the coast of the Pacific that sits on the northern Oregon border right before you cross over into Washington state. This is the kind of coastline that is perfect for long walks on the beach, surfing, and flying kites. It’s not exactly the tropical, white sand beaches that make for lounging under the sun in a swimsuit. (It is… but maybe like… four days a year.) More often than not, it’s a lovely, quaint summer vacation destination for people looking to spend some time with the ocean and wear jeans while they do it. Plus, as it’s Oregon, you get to enjoy a ton of craft beer and amazing food made with local ingredients during your time in Astoria.
This is also the perfect place to connect with a grip of popular movies filmed in Astoria like Short Circuit, Free Willy 1 and 2, The Ring and The Ring 2 and parts of Into the Wild. If you love The Goonies as much as we do, you can find the Walsh House, which the present owners discourage people from parking near for photographs. Also consider visiting the Clatsop County Jail, the building Jake Fratelli escapes. It is currently the Oregon Film Museum dedicated to movies made in the state. There you can see a lot of memorabilia from The Goonies, as well as Kindergarten Cop, Twilight, and National Lampoon’s Animal House.
If you want to see the rock that One-Eyed Willy’s ship sails out of at the end of the movie, travel south to Haystack Rock at nearby Cannon Beach.