Movies hold a certain kind of magic. Perhaps more so than any other medium, film possesses the distinct ability to transport us, immerse us in a new world, and allow us to escape. In that way, they’re not too different from travel itself.
While most Hollywood movies are filmed on sets and sound stages in Los Angeles, some directors choose to shoot on location, scouring the U.S. (and beyond) for wondrous sites and landscapes to include in their films. Whether you’re a hardcore movie buff or simply a casual fan of some of the country’s greatest films, here are some of the real sites from your favorite movies that can be added to your next road trip itinerary.
U.S. 163, Utah
Everyone knows the phrase, “Run, Forrest, Run!” But one of the most significant scenes in the beloved Tom Hanks film is actually when the titular protagonist stops running. Sporting a scraggly beard that falls down to his chest after crisscrossing the country several times on foot, Forrest stops suddenly along this scenic stretch of highway and says, “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.” Even if it wasn’t featured in the film, this visually spectacular spot around mile marker 13 outside Mexican Hat, Utah, offers a quintessential Southwest view of Monument Valley in the distance.
Bonus: Fans of the film can also check out Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde, Maine, the point at which Forrest tags the Atlantic Ocean and turns around.
Field of Dreams
“Is this heaven?”
“No, it’s Iowa.”
Perhaps one of the greatest tributes to the magic of America’s favorite pastime, “Field of Dreams” tells the story of an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field in his cornfield and attracts the ghosts of great players such as “Shoeless Joe” Jackson to come and play. What many don’t know is that the field actually exists on a family farm in Dyersville, Iowa; visitors can explore, learn about the filming, and even play a few innings on the diamond.
A Christmas Story
Even if you’ve never seen this holiday classic, you’re probably familiar with some of its famous lines and icons, such as the tongue stuck on the flag pole, the infamous leg lamp, and, of course, the endless repetition of “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
“A Christmas Story” tells the odyssey of Ralphie, a nine-year-old from 1940s Indiana who navigates the glories and perils of a Midwestern Christmas in pursuit of a Red Ryder BB-gun. Though set in the Hoosier State, the movie was largely filmed in Cleveland, Ohio, and today, fans can visit and tour the famous house, which has been restored to its old-timey splendor. In addition to the house, there is a gift shop across the street that features original props, memorabilia, and even rare behind-the-scenes photos.
Estes Park, Colorado, or Mount Hood, Oregon
Fans of “The Shining,” Stanley Kubrick’s stylistic adaptation of the Stephen King horror novel, have two options for hotels to visit. Kubrick shot the exteriors of the infamous Overlook Hotel, where Jack Torrance and his family spent a terrifying winter, at the Timberline Lodge on the southern side of Mount Hood in Clackamas County, Oregon. However, the real horror was born from the Stanley Hotel, a menacing Colonial Revival near Rocky Mountain National Park where King stayed and found the chilling inspiration for his novel’s setting. Though the book and movie are quite different (King famously despises the adaptation), both of these hotels provide scenic and frightening photo opportunities for fans of the story.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Defined as a “laccolithic butte,” Devil’s Tower somewhat resembles a massive top hat, rising dramatically over 1,200 feet (366 meters) from the relatively flat plain around it. The first official national monument plays a key role in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi film, featured as the spot where the UFO decides to land on Earth. The movie actually increased tourism to the monument, attracting film buffs and rock climbers alike, as the tower’s vertical cracks and columns make for spectacular traditional ascents.
Thelma and Louise
Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
The 1996 film, which stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as the eponymous duo who hit the road and eventually end up on the run from the law, is most famous for its final scene. Cornered by the authorities a hundred yards from the edge of the Grand Canyon, the two agree to “keep going” and drive their Ford Thunderbird over the rim, plummeting to their deaths below. The scene was actually shot well north of the canyon at Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah. The region is epically beautiful and perfect for panoramic shots. After exploring, make sure to check out nearby national parks — Arches and Canyonlands.
When Harry Met Sally…
Washington Square Park, New York City
While the genre often feels over-saturated, the 1989 Rob Reiner-Nora Ephron classic stands as one of the best romantic comedies of all time, a beautifully written, realistic love story about the titular duo who set out to explore whether or not men and women can just be friends. While plenty of iconic New York City settings are featured throughout, the arch at Washington Square Park seems the most appropriate for fans to visit, as this is where Sally drops Harry off after their disastrous initial road trip. They part ways, expecting to never see each other again — but oh, how wrong they were.
Medfield State Hospital, MA
Martin Scorsese’s 2010 thriller is disturbing to say the least — the former psychiatric hospital where it was filmed is equally terrifying. Located in Medfield, Massachusetts, a suburb just southwest of Boston, the hospital was the state’s first asylum for chronic mental patients. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the grounds are open to the public from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., although the buildings themselves are off-limits. As enticing as it may sound, don’t try to explore at night. The complex is heavily guarded by local police who keep an eye out for nocturnal thrill-seekers.
Mountain Lake Lodge, Pembroke, VA
This film may have been set at a resort in the Catskills of New York, but when Patrick Swayze uttered the famous line “Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” it was actually at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia. The rustic resort tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia served as the main filming location for the 1987 romance. Today, it offers a Dirty Dancing-themed weekend package, during which visitors can enjoy film tours, dance lessons, and even a Saturday night party.
The Hunger Games
Dupont State Forest, NC
The 2012 adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian YA novel was filmed entirely in North Carolina, with many of the scenes that were set in the Games’ Arena shot in Dupont State Forest. The 10,000-acre forest might be difficult to navigate for even the most hardened fans of Katniss and Peeta, but fear not — Hunger Games Unofficial Fan Tours offers walking tours that include a District 12-inspired lunch and an archery lesson. Even if the movies weren’t your cup of tea, this is a great way to explore the outdoor-lover’s paradise that is Dupont State Forest.
Tropic Thunder, King Kong, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jurassic Park, and many more
Na Pali Coast, Kauai, HI
From seasoned classics such as “South Pacific” and “Blue Hawaii” to modern favorites such as “Jurassic Park,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” and “The Descendants,” the unbelievably wondrous mountain ridges and serene beaches of Kauai have served as a true paradise for filmmakers in search of exotic settings. Most stunning is this 15-mile coastline on the northwest side of the island, marked by jagged cliffs, lush valleys, and cascading waterfalls. Film buffs can embark on a movie tour around the island’s various filming locations, but real adrenaline junkies might opt instead for a helicopter tour, which will take them on an unforgettable journey over the scenic Na Pali Coast.