Jilly: Hits of Happy–Atlas Obscura

Do you have a favorite website or other go-to place that’s not strictly useful but makes your world a little bit better or richer?

Most of the newsletters I subscribe to are from favorite authors or are somehow related to writing and publishing—practical, useful subjects like aspects of craft, or marketing, or developments in the industry. The big exception is Atlas Obscura, which I find invaluable in a very different way. Their newsletter is the opposite of practical. It’s where I get my five-minute daily hit of wonder that transports me, stimulates my imagination and keeps me in the kind of mental space that inspires fantastic worldbuilding.

Atlas Obscura is an online magazine that showcases unusual and obscure places and objects around the globe. There are fabulous photographs, fascinating editorials on history, science, food, travel and exploration, and even experiences and guided trips.

Here are just a few of the many articles and images I’ve browsed lately:

  • Abandoned places in the United States
  • Secret apartments in New York City libraries
  • The U.S. Army’s extensive fossil collection, from trilobytes to dinosaurs
  • ATM machines in Singapore that dispense frozen salmon fillets
  • The typography of biscuit lettering
  • Winning cakes from an architectural baking contest in Melbourne, Australia
  • Elvis’s 1967 Lincoln Continental, Kurt Cobain’s uncashed royalty check and George Washington’s dentures

The above examples barely scratch the surface of the breadth and depth of the weird and the wondrous to be found on Atlas Obscura. The website is searchable, but for me that kind of defeats the purpose. I’m there to be surprised and inspired, though I’m delighted to enjoy the quality writing and solid information once something catches my attention.

They also have a Youtube channel, a calendar, a journal, and a couple of books—Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, and The Atlas Obscura Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid.

I really look forward to my bites of weird and wonderful. Whatever else my day holds, I know I’ll spend a few minutes indulging in brain candies of the most unexpected kind, and I never know where those treats will lead me or how they might inspire me later.

Atlas Obscura is a delightful way to fill the creative well. It also serves to remind me that there’s plenty of joy to be found in our world, if you take a moment to look for it.

Where do you find a hit of happy? Any recommendations?

12 thoughts on “Jilly: Hits of Happy–Atlas Obscura

  1. I get my hits of happy from browsing the “for sale” listings in England and Wales, mostly looking for very old, very expensive, estate homes, some in dire need of repair. I imagine what I’d do with a house like that if I ever won the lottery…probably restore it and create some sort of Austenland-type immersive experience. I actually think that’d be quite fun. 🙂

    I’ll have to look up Atlas Obscura, particularly the book for kids, as we travel a lot and it would be fun to try to find some of these obscure places on our trips. Thanks for the rec!

    • You can search the site by location, so I bet you’d find some interesting sites to visit on your trips. Sounds as though the book for kids would be perfect for your boys, too.

      I’d love you to win the lottery and restore some gorgeous stately home over here. You’re really good at that stuff, and I think you’d do an amazing job. You just reminded me of this article I read a couple of months ago, about a US actor/producer relocating from Hollywood to Manchester to restore his ancestral home. The place looks huge, and it’s a wreck. If he succeeds, it will be amazing. Here’s the link https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-47893453

      • Wow, he has a lot of work to do! I would love to see that hall come back to life…I’d even pay to do a retreat there! I hope he’s able to get it back in working order.

        Off to buy lottery tickets… 😉

    • There’s a program on PBS that’s running right now in the Bay Area about a couple who buys a wreck of a château in France and transforms it, turning it into their home as well as a wedding and party destination venue. The guy is extraordinarily handy, and the woman is a designer, so they have a leg up in the restoration process. But it’s fascinating what they have to do to make this place work. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the program.

      • I love those stories! We have English friends who did it on a smaller scale with a derelict farmhouse on a hilltop in Le Marche, Italy. They made it beautiful again and have spent the last decade or more running it as a holiday destination, but wow, the work. It truly was a labor of love.

  2. I picked up that book during one of my bookstore-browses a few months ago. It is where I read about the Garden of Cismic Speculation in Scotland. I did not know there was an associated site or newsletter. I will have to check them out.

    • I remember your post about the Garden of Cosmic Speculation! I really want to go there, and it’s only open one day per year. Though Jeanne and I did have a fabulous time at The Alnwick Garden in Northumberland, complete with Poison Garden and trick water features.

      That’s exactly the kind of thing Atlas Obscura does so well. Sorry (not sorry) to add another time sink to your list–both website and newsletter are strongly recommended.

  3. I keep running across that site! It often pops up in my Google searches. They do something weird that keeps me from spending too much time on the site (and for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was? Weird pop-ups?), but when I visit, it’s always fascinating!

    When I was actively researching 1899, there was a website called Click Americana which was chock-full of interesting articles about how people lived in different decades. Coney Island rides, how to throw a dinner party in Edwardian times, swimming pools in San Francisco — these all came up by clicking on 1900s. Really fun, but such a rabbit hole! https://clickamericana.com/category/eras/1900s

    I wonder if there is anything like that for Great Britain/United Kingdom? Longer history, more spread out, I suppose.

    • Wow, LOVE Click Americana. There’s a very deep and twisty rabbit hole! Thanks for that, Michaeline 🙂

      I wonder if there is something like that over here? We do love our history, so you’d think there should be. Must investigate and see if I can find anything.

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