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Because you can't spend all day every day journeying around IgoUgo, editors round up the highlights: members' notable trips, newest reviews, favorite destinations, contests, and more. Have a question or idea? Let us know!

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American Trip Lit: Novel Ideas for Literary Travel

Posted on May 20, 2008 in Trip Ideas

Contrary to popular belief, IgoUgo travelers don’t always have their noses in guidebooks. Sometimes they read other things, and many of them love literature enough to let their favorite authors dictate their destinations and trip activities. Here are three beloved literary circuits in the US; if they were books, they’d be highlighted and dog-eared.

Northeast US: Cooperstown to Philadelphia
“Cooperstown—named for James Fenimore Cooper. It was just a little fact that escaped a couple of 40-something English teachers. We were going there for the Baseball Hall of Fame and discovered a lesson plan. Literature + Baseball = Field of Dreams.” So began thewanderingpoet518’s visit to Cooperstown, New York; though he arrived on a sports pilgrimage, he embraced the town’s literary legacy with open arms. Cheryl likewise paid respect to The Last of the Mohicans author Cooper in his hometown, noting that “there is lots more to Cooperstown than just baseball.” More than books, too, she points out: nearby Oneonta is home to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

From Mr. Cooper’s town, it’s less than two hours to Saratoga Springs and Yaddo Gardens, an artists’ haven which Cheryl learned has welcomed visitors including James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, and Edgar Allen Poe. She also learned that “some believe the land itself at Yaddo is the source of mystical creative power.” If you’re at all inclined to join the ranks of such celebrated writers, it’s worth a visit—just in case.

New York City has provided hallowed stomping grounds for generations of writers, and perhaps none of its neighborhoods has seen more than Greenwich Village. The guided tour recommended by sboourns—“the best value-for-money tour” she’s ever taken—wound its way through the Village with stops at sites related to Edith Wharton, Emma Lazarus, and many more. There are ample stops on a literary itinerary in Brooklyn, too. One must-see is surely Henry Miller’s house; he was, after all, “a travel writer before travel writing was a genre,” as Stella puts it.

In literature and in baseball, Boston provides a formidable rival to New York. Bookworm kjlouden took the Boston History Collaborative’s first-ever Literary Trail bus tour and reports that “highlights include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's house in Cambridge; the Concord Museum with a guided tour by Henry David Thoreau himself (honest); and a guided tour of Bronson Alcott's home, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. No story of early Boston literary history is left untold.” If you find your own transportation to Concord, you can join the party at Walden Pond (“One wonders if Henry David Thoreau would have had the same epiphanies he wrote of in Walden if his long hours of quiet contemplation had been disrupted by the sounds of screaming children and bullish lifeguards,” laments afb) or spend a few quiet moments at Authors Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (“a pilgrimage worth taking,” according to zabelle). Thoreau and Alcott, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, all rest in the latter. Take a (much shorter) rest yourself at the Hawthorne Hotel in nearby Salem after visiting the House of the Seven Gables the author made famous.

Philadelphia earns a place on the northeastern literary circuit with such landmarks as the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site and the Walt Whitman House. For a wider array of literary memorabilia, there’s also the Rosenbach Museum & Library, home to rare books and manuscripts like a first edition The Pilgrim’s Progress. “If you’re a nerd like me,” says Saphira, "you’ll get a thrill just from seeing Lewis Carroll’s personal copy of Alice in Wonderland.” If it’s the Poe site that gives you your thrills, there’s also a Poe cottage in the Bronx and a Poe house in Baltimore; Idler found its neighborhood rough around the edges, something “Poe would have loved.”

Southern US: Savannah to Key West
Frequent literary adventurer barbara was reminded that Savannah was rife with lit lore long before John Berendt penned Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil when she “stumbled upon” Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home while on a Midnight book tour. For a self-guided Midnight tour, schedule stops at Bonaventure Cemetery and the Telfair Museum of Art.

Then follow barbara’s path down to New Orleans and check into the Hotel Monteleone, where she “got a small thrill knowing people like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty were once guests, too.” With any luck (or with the careful preparation befitting a true fan), your visit will coincide with Anne Rice’s annual Vampire Lestat Ball. While you’re in Louisiana, don’t miss the Kate Chopin Home and Bayou Folk Museum; local travelwithashley recommends it for “all history buffs and literature lovers.”

One of the most bucolic literary stops in the country has to be the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina. Floridian jpalm1124 says that between examining Carl’s 14,000 books and the descendents of his wife’s 200 championship goats and other animals, you could be here a while.

Finally, no author tour of the South would be complete without a trip to the tip: Key West. Here, you can visit the area’s most popular attraction, Ernest Hemingway’s house, and the bars in which he spent almost as much time. As it happens, Papa Hemingway and IgoUgo members share a favorite watering hole: Sloppy Joe’s on Duval St. Tombrew says, “You must pull up a chair and order a few cold ones. Try doing it at 9:30am to really play the role.” When you’re done—say, around 10:30am—hop an Old Town Trolley for a comprehensive rundown of famous residents, including Tennessee Williams, who wrote A Streetcar Named Desire while living in La Concha hotel.

Western US: St. Louis to Salinas
Conveniently, a Western book tour could begin at the Gateway to the West: St. Louis, Missouri. “From Zoe Akins to Tennessee Williams, St. Louis has impacted the literary world,” says resident julie ann. Stop, too, at Mansfield, Missouri, and Rocky Ridge, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s last home. (The Little House on the Prairie author’s more famous homestead is in South Dakota.)

John Lamb, who showcases his literary mettle with entire journals dedicated to Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck, provides a generous guide to Literary Colorado, with entries dedicated to sites associated with Stephen King, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, and James A. Michener. He also reveals a Denver secret: “the best place to hear living authors read their works.” And if you like his review of the bar “where Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac used to drink each other under the table,” there are plenty other Kerouac sites to see.

Further west, California is Steinbeck country—especially in Salinas, the town of his birth, and in Monterey, the town of Cannery Row’s birth. Pair a visit to the National Steinbeck Center with a walk down Salinas’ Main St., where “one can imagine a bustling city in the 1930s quite easily,” according to John Lamb. IgoUgo members rave about lunch at both the Steinbeck Center’s One Main Street Café and the nearby John Steinbeck House Restaurant. Not too far away, in Big Sur, rabbitgirl says the Henry Miller Library is “a must if you like good books and are looking to do something a little different and relaxing on the way through Big Sur. You might be able to find a great book that you can read on the rest of your vacation.” With any luck, your chosen book will help you determine just where you’re headed next.

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