Travel Insights Blog
Travel Insights Blog
When you hear “pilgrimage”, you might think of religious travelers visiting holy sites, or the American pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower. But today, anyone can be a pilgrim.
In our pop culture-saturated world, the lines between tourism, entertainment and pilgrimage are more and more blurred. Who says that standing in the Harry Potter graveyard in Edinburgh can’t be a transformative, even religious experience? For many of us, places featured in our favorite shows, movies or books take on a special aura. When we visit locations we’ve only seen on-screen, we might feel a deeper connection with the work of art, like we get to dip our toe into its world. Depending on your level of fandom, you might go out of your way to swing by the Friends building when you’re in NYC — or travel all the way to Georgia to see where the Stranger Things crew got up to their supernatural shenanigans.
With Thanksgiving coming up, pilgrimages are in the air. (Sometimes literally — have you seen those flight prices?) As you make your holiday travel plans, consider putting a twist on the classic meaning of the word and plan your own pilgrimage. Whether you need some inspiration for a last-minute fall trip, or just a little daydreaming fuel to get you through the day, we’ve rounded up some pop culture pilgrimage spots in the US based on favorite fall classics, from cozy to spooky.
If you grew up in the 2000s, there’s a good chance you have core memories of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga “unconditionally and irrevocably” lodged in your brain. Team Edward or Team Jacob, the delightfully unrealistic vampire vs. werewolf romance plot has left a permanent (bite) mark on a generation. And, as every Twilight fan knows, Bella first lays eyes on sparkly Edward in the tiny town of Forks, Washington. But did you know that you can visit the real-life Forks?
The “rainiest town in the contiguous US,” Forks lies just 30 miles south of the Canadian border, surrounded by stunning coastline and misty rainforests, and with easy access to Olympic National Park. Each year, Forks welcomes visitors to discover the world’s largest permanent collection of Twilight costumes and props, and offers a self-guided tour map so you can visit all the Twilight hot spots around town, including Bella and Edward’s houses. Finally, die-hard fans can plan their visit around the annual Forever Twilight festival, held on the weekend closest to Bella’s birthday — September 13 — which features movie screenings, themed parties, and even a chance to hang out with the actors.
While you’re in the area, why not swing by another spooky throwback series, Twin Peaks? Created by acclaimed director David Lynch and Mark Frost, it ran for two seasons in 1990 and 1991 before returning for a highly anticipated third season in 2017. Between the original and the reboot, Twin Peaks has attracted a cult following for its uncanny plotlines, dreamlike style, and campy small-town Americana aesthetic.
While Twin Peaks is fictional, it was inspired by the real town of North Bend, Washington, where some of the iconic outdoor shots were filmed. Today, you can visit “the real Twin Peaks” and see Twede’s Cafe, aka the Double R Diner that serves Agent Cooper’s favorite coffee and cherry pie, Snoqualmie Falls, featured in the opening credits, the Salish Lodge, aka The Great Northern Hotel. If you’re coming from Seattle, there’s even a guided tour that takes you to all the Twin Peaks hotspots.
With Hollywood just around the block, the better question is, what isn’t filmed in LA? The list is endless, but we’ll keep it brief (and spooky) with some fall-themed favs.
First stop: the Rosenheim Mansion, a hundred-year-old house on LA’s Billionaire Row in Bel Air. With its macabre mystique, the house snagged cameos in everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Bones, but its most recent claim to fame is as the Murder House on Season 1 of American Horror Story. Ever since 2011, fans have been flocking to the property, much to the annoyance of the couple that bought the house in 2015. But during the pandemic, they decided to give the people what they want by live-streaming spooky events, like seances in the basement, in the days leading up to Halloween. A few lucky fans even got to spend the night in the basement. Today, the house is once again closed to the public, but you can catch a glimpse of its towering facade from the street. Just be sure to be respectful — there’s nothing creepier than having your privacy invaded.
Next up, stop by LA’s two major campuses, not for a classic college tour, but for a visit to hundreds of iconic movies. On the West Side, UCLA’s sprawling campus has been the backdrop of movies like Legally Blonde, Scream 2, and most recently, even Oppenheimer. In Gilmore Girls, UCLA masquerades as Harvard, Rory’s dream school. Then, visit the other Harvard across town at USC, at least as it appeared in Legally Blonde, transforming itself into Yale, Rory’s alma mater, for Gilmore Girls.
Stephen King fans have definitely heard of the Stanley Hotel, infamous for being the most haunted hotel in the US and the inspiration for The Shining. Built in the early 1900s, the Stanley Hotel was a peaceful, remote resort for rich East Coasters and a retreat for tuberculosis patients. But after Stephen King’s visit in 1974, and the famous book that came out of the trip, the hotel quickly took on its current reputation. In addition to inspiring the story, the Stanley Hotel also serves as filming location for the 1997 three-part miniseries that King wrote and produced for TV, although the famous 1980 Stanley Kubrick film was mainly shot on a set created at Elstree Studios in England.
Today, horror fans looking for the full Shining experience can book a room at the hotel for around $300 a night, or simply tour the gorgeous property, and maybe even take the Shining Tour, which includes the Shining Suite and one of the film’s axes.
The second most watched show on Netflix to date, Stranger Things has attracted quite the following since it premiered in 2016. Many of those fans want to see the place where the magic happens, which makes sense considering so much of the show’s appeal comes from its nostalgic 80s aesthetic. While the action mainly takes place in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, many filming locations are actually scattered in and around Atlanta, Georgia. While some, like Hawkins Laboratory and Starcourt Mall, are closed to the public, you can check out Bradley’s Big Buy Grocery Store, which made its first appearance in an iconic Eggo waffle stealing scene in the first season, 25 miles outside of Atlanta in Palmetto, Georgia. You can even take a dip in the Hawkins Community Pool, the real-life South Bend Pool in Atlanta.
Each time fall rolls around, Gilmore Girls fans know it’s time to bust out their favorite sweaters, cozy up on the couch with some sugary snacks, and pay a virtual visit to our favorite adorable small town: Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Unfortunately, there is no real Stars Hollow — most of the show was filmed at the Warner Bros studio in Burbank. But the idea of Stars Hollow is very real; without it, there would have been no Gilmore Girls as we know it. The creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, said the concept was inspired by her trip to Washington, Connecticut, where she got swept up by the nostalgic charm of the Mayflower Inn (the model for Lorelai’s inn), a diner where guests poured their own coffee (à la Luke’s), and the feeling of safety that comes from everyone knowing everyone.
Even though you can’t visit the real Stars Hollow, you can still have the Gilmore Girls experience by traveling through Washington and other small towns in the region that served as a model for the show. You can even catch the annual Gilmore Girls Fan Fest to commune with fellow fans, meet the actors, and drink lots and lots of coffee.
While you’re on the East Coast, you might as well stop by the appropriately named Big Apple for countless fall favs. While every season in the city has its unique charm, autumn in New York is special, making it a favorite backdrop for unforgettable fall classics like When Harry Met Sally, written by the rom-com queen Nora Ephron. Clad in their signature chunky sweaters, the characters traipse all around the city, including many spots you can visit today. First up, Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side, where Sally fakes her famous orgasm in front of a bewildered Harry — and a deli full of customers — on the first day of their very long friendship. Although you can’t have what Sally’s having, you can see the table where the magic happened, and NYC’s oldest deli will be happy to serve you the best pastrami you’ve ever had.
Round out your NYC pilgrimage with some iconic nineties and noughties sitcoms: Sex and the City, Friends, and Gossip Girl. Starting in the West Village, stop by Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment from Sex in the City at 66 Perry Street, then head to Greenwich Village for the Friends building at 90 Bedford Street (and a glimpse of Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment), following it up with the full Friends tour. Finally, round out your adventure uptown on the Met steps to channel your inner Blair and Serena, scheming world domination over many a lunch break.
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