In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.” If you’re a bookworm (we prefer book dragon), here are eight destinations well worth wandering to.
Key West, Florida
Key West has a lot going for it that has nothing to do with literature—fun in the sun, jet skis, snorkeling, sunset dolphin sailing, you get the idea—but Key West is world-famous because of one iconic American author: Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway lived in Key West in the 1930s, and you can now visit the Hemingway Home and Museum, where the six-toed descendents of Snowball, a cat given to Hemingway by a sea captain, still roam the grounds. Belly up to the bar at Sloppy Joes on Duval Street, where Hemingway held court, raised many a glass, and raised his fair share of hell. Have the tip bell rung in his honor.
Portland is known as an eminently livable city, with the Pacific Ocean just an hour’s drive west, and Mount Hood an hour to the east. It’s a city of microbreweries, coffeehouses, and great restaurants. So why is it a literary destination? Good question, and the answer is as simple as it is, well, huge—Portland is the home of Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. Just how big is Powell’s? It occupies an entire city block and holds more than one million new and used hardcovers and paperbacks. We’re talking ten rooms spread over three floors, with 3,500 different sections. And you’ll have plenty of time to get lost in the stacks, as Powell’s is open 365 days per year.
More than one city lays claim to Edgar Allan Poe, New York City and Baltimore in particular. But in reality Philadelphia owns that dark prize. It was there that Poe lived for six years while he wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Murders In the Rue Morgue”, and other literary classics. Visit the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, a museum based in a home Poe lived in, with an excellent collection of Poe memorabilia. Come to Philadelphia to pay homage to one of our greatest writers, and stay for the the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and everything else that makes Philly one of America’s most historically significant cities.
When you hear the name Mark Twain, what do you picture? A steamboat rolling down the Mississippi River? Surprisingly, one of the most appropriate answers may be Hartford, Connecticut. The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, which has been declared a National Historic Landmark, is where Twain wrote both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. National Geographic Magazine called this 25 room Victorian one of the ten best historic homes in the world. Hartford is also home to a host of other extraordinary museums, beautiful parks, and award-winning restaurants.
To Kill a Mockingbird exists in part for one simple reason: In 1956, Harper Lee’s friends gave her, as a Christmas gift, financial support for an entire year so that she could focus on writing. The result was one of America’s—in fact the world’s—best loved novels. And the inspiration for that novel was Monroeville, where Lee grew up just blocks from the old courthouse, which has been restored to its former glory. Visit the Monroe County Museum, where you can picture Atticus Finch striding back and forth in front of the jury box, orating in righteous anger. For further literary inspiration, the museum also features displays on the life of Lee’s good friend Truman Capote. Step back into history with a walking tour of Monroeville.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a world-renowned travel destination, with a staggering number of attractions, restaurants, bars, music venues, and unique accommodations to choose from. In fact, our focus here is on just one of those—the Hotel Monteleone. This almost mythical hotel in the heart of the French Quarter was once the playground of a literal literary who’s who. Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Truman Capote all slept in its opulent guest rooms and held court in the hotel’s famous revolving fairground carousel bar. But don’t just take our word for it. In 1999, the American Library Association declared it an official literary landmark.
De Smet, South Dakota
Close your eyes, and let the wind whistling across the grassy prairie transport you back to the 1880s. Welcome to the Ingalls Homestead, a fully immersive living museum based on and inspired by the Little House on the Prairie novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is a true hands-on experience, where you can step into the one room schoolhouse, learn to make a corn cob dill, hitch a ride in a horse-drawn covered wagon, even sleep in a bunkhouse cabin. Finish your journey at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, with a guided tour through the homes where the Ingalls family actually lived.
The belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson, lived, wrote poetry, and died in this picturesque New England town. Stroll the tree-lined streets on the way to the Emily Dickinson Museum, housed in the home where Emily Dickinson was born. Step into the bedroom where her trove of miraculous poems was discovered after her death. While in Amherst, there’s one more stop to make, particularly if you have children—The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. You may just find yourself face to face with a very hungry caterpillar.
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