American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Favorite Movie Locales from Coast to Coast, Part 1
Less than two weeks ago, Katie Sorene of Tripbase listed her top 10 greatest movie locations of all time, which ranged from New Zealand, as featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), to Scotland, as seen in Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning opus Braveheart (1995). While the 10 movies (and related landscapes) that Katie described certainly inspire a great deal of wanderlust, I must admit that I was a little dismayed to find no American locales on her list, especially considering the diversity of landscapes and landmarks in this country – and the fact that so many movies have taken advantage of such amazing places.
So, being Moon.com's self-proclaimed American Nomad, I figure it's my duty to offer another list of inspiring movie locations – all of which naturally lie in the United States. Now, having explored much of this wonderful country, I confess that choosing only 10 iconic movie locales was no easy task, which is why I've expanded the list to 15. After all, I could find at least 10 famous spots in Los Angeles alone, from upscale Rodeo Drive, the site of Julia Roberts' famous shopping spree in Pretty Woman (1990), to the fabled Hollywood Sign, which is dramatically decimated in The Day After Tomorrow (2004). Other regions are just as tempting to filmmakers – isolated Alaska, for example, has been featured prominently in movies like The Thing (1982) and Into the Wild (2007), while gorgeous Hawaii has served as the backdrop for everything from Pearl Harbor (2001) to Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Nonetheless, after much thought, I've selected 15 locales that not only conjure up memorable movie scenes but also recall some wonderful travel memories as well.
Here, in geographical order, are the first five locations:
The French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana: Given that I'm from the Crescent City – and partial to extolling its virtues in this blog – it's surely no surprise that the French Quarter, my hometown's most famous neighborhood, would be included in this list. But, honestly, how could I not highlight the Quarter when its unique architecture and atmosphere have long made it a popular choice among filmmakers? In fact, when I'm far away, I appreciate such films for their ability to transport me back to the historic structures and fabled thoroughfares of the Vieux Carré. Whether watching a traditional funeral procession in the James Bond flick Live and Let Die (1973), relishing the frivolity of Mardi Gras in Point of No Return (1993), or missing the 24-hour Cafe Du Monde as seen in Runaway Jury (2003), I find myself frequently drawn to movies shot in New Orleans – or in the rest of southern Louisiana, for that matter. One look at the old-fashioned Audubon Zoo cages in Cat People (1982), the aboveground mausoleums in Easy Rider (1969), the magnificent Oak Alley Plantation in Interview with the Vampire (1994), or the moss-draped cypress trees of Eve's Bayou (1997) and The Skeleton Key (2005), and I'm counting the days until my next visit home.
The Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada: Considering the plethora of movies that have featured Sin City over the years, the Las Vegas Strip is another place that's hard to omit from a list like this. From films such as Bugsy (1991), which showcases the inception of this world-famous boulevard, to comedies like Swingers (1996) and The Hangover (2009), which highlight the zanier aspects of living it up in Sin City, you'll find no shortage of movies that take place on the Vegas Strip, and as with films about New Orleans, it doesn't require much for me to conjure up memories of the bright lights, constant noises, and 24-hour vitality of this legendary place. When, for instance, the main characters of Ocean's Eleven (2001) congregate around the illuminated, choreographed fountain display at the Bellagio, I can't help but remember all the times that my husband and I have stood equally entranced by that lovely nighttime show.
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, California: As with New Orleans and Las Vegas, the City by the Bay has appeared in countless films, from gritty cop thrillers like Dirty Harry (1971) and The Presidio (1988) to sweet comedies like George of the Jungle (1997) and The Princess Diaries (2001). The Golden Gate Bridge, perhaps San Francisco's most famous icon, has indeed earned its place among favored movie locales, whether it's being utterly destroyed in disaster flicks like The Core (2003) or simply serving as the backdrop for a memorable moment, as when Lestat de Lioncourt turns yet another victim in Interview with the Vampire (1994). But, of course, three of the most well-known movies about San Francisco are Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), and The Rock (1996), all of which focus most of their time on Alcatraz Island, the isolated former prison that now beckons tourists (for $16-33 apiece) across the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.
Devil's Tower National Monument northwest of Sundance, Wyoming: While not as popular among filmmakers as the previous three selections, the bizarre formation known as Devil's Tower National Monument (or Bears Lodge) certainly belongs on this list, too. Surrounded by acres of remote pine forests and grasslands, this 1,267-foot “tower” has long been a sacred site for American Indians. It's no wonder, then, that President Theodore Roosevelt designated it a national monument – America's first – back in 1906. It's no wonder, too, that filmmaker Steven Spielberg raised it to even greater prominence in his science-fiction classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), in which the Devil's Tower appears in the form of children's drawings and spontaneous sculptures, ultimately becoming the historic meeting place between a select group of humans and some visiting aliens. So, if you ever find yourself in the great state of Wyoming, take my advice and opt for this incredible detour ($10 vehicles, $5 motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians) – whether or not you've seen the movie.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial southwest of Keystone, South Dakota: Heading east from Devil's Tower via I-90, you'll find yourself traversing an enchanting land, filled with some of the finest treasures in our National Park System, including Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, and Badlands National Park. Of course, perhaps the most famous monument in this desolate region is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, an impressive sculpture carved amid the Black Hills to commemorate four of America's most celebrated presidents. As sculptor Gutzon Borglum once explained, “The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.” If you've never seen this awe-inspiring monument for yourself, you might at least have spotted it in films like National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007), which finds patriotic treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates exploring its inner workings, or witnessed Cary Grant's death-defying escape along the stone faces in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). Still, as thrilling as such films might be, they are merely a substitute for seeing this American icon in person, something that every traveler should do at least once in his or her lifetime. Luckily, visiting the memorial requires no reservations or entrance fees – just an annual parking pass of $10 for motorcycles, cars, and recreational vehicles.
For even more popular movie locales in the United States, check out the next two posts of this three-part series – and of course, feel free to share your own favorite movie spots in the comments section. In the meantime, you can learn more about the above five locales by consulting the following Moon travel guides: Moon New Orleans, Moon Las Vegas, Moon Metro San Francisco, Moon Wyoming, and Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and my Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Cafe Du Monde / Text © 2010 Laura Martone