If you’re planning your next road trip or getaway, you're in luck: you can now combine your nerdiest passions with your time off by taking a trip to the many geek vacation destinations around the world. From the sets for your favorite films to real-world counterparts of iconic video game maps, the following are the best vacation spots for geeks who want unique ways to celebrate their favorite franchises while getting out of the house. Plus, they’re perfect opportunities for cosplay photography!
If you've got a favorite geek destination that we missed, let us know in the comments below.
Frolic with the Ewoks in California
Unless you can afford to rough it out on Tatooine (Tunisia) or declare your disdain for sand on Naboo (Italy), the forest moon of Endor might be your best bet for a Star Wars vacation destination. The Ewok home is really in the beautiful Redwood National Park, though there are a few other regional state parks and areas that offer the same volume of redwood tree hiking. This is also within driving distance of Lucasfilm (not open to the public but you could certainly try a Jedi mind trick) and fan museum Rancho Obi-Wan, in addition to the numerous sights and sounds of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Not-Quite-the-Black-Lodge in the Pacific Northwest
Showtime has brought the world of Twin Peaks back to life but many fans have long known that a jaunt to the Pacific Northwest could be filled with visits to the show's filming locations. It's not quite as compact as the fictional town, and we still don't know of any portals to the Black Lodge in the woods, but numerous filming landmarks are easily accessible in the area. The Great Northern Hotel’s real-life counterpart is the Salish Lodge & Spa in Snoqualmie, The Double R Diner is a functional restaurant known as Twedes Cafe, and the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department is actually a dressed-up office building for the Weyerhaeuser Sawmill.
If you’re going for a full deep dive into Twin Peaks lore, try this guide to filming locations. And for extra fun, time your trip to coincide with the annual Twin Peaks Festival, which celebrates the show and David Lynch's work without the massive commercialism of modern fan conventions.
War Never Changes, But Nevada Tourism Does
Have you traversed the Capital Wasteland or the post-apocalyptic Mojave Desert? During the making of the modern Fallout games, real geography was adapted into the nuclear landscape. Die-hard series fans can take their own tours of pre-bombing life from Fallout 3 (Washington DC), Fallout: New Vegas (the Mojave Desert and lower Nevada), and Fallout 4 (New England) to see familiar game and real-life landmarks such as Nellis Air Force Base and the Washington Monument. Fans have crafted a handy Google Map with known locations from the series, so load this into your smartphone-enabled Pip-Boy and exit the vault.
Geek Theme Park Experiences
Looking to combine your geek passions with traditional vacation fun? As popular culture has assimilated more of geek culture (insert your own Borg joke here), the old theme park standbys have invested in attracting fans of licensed material. The biggest among these is, of course, Disneyland (California) and Disneyworld (Florida). While the Star Wars area of the park is still under construction, the Galaxy Far, Far Away is still very prominent at the main park, both in merchandise and exhibits. Like the Disney properties, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has locations in California and Florida in their respective Universal Studios theme parks. Six Flags has the DC license, so many of the individual parks around the country have some form of superhero-themed ride (though they’re essentially just roller coasters with character-appropriate colors).
For video game fans visiting the Bay Area, one surprise may be California's Great America theme park, which has a Mass Effect ride in the middle of its more traditional roller coasters and kid-friendly Snoopy zone. The Mass Effect ride is a theater-based simulator with appearances by fan favorite Garrus Vakarian—and for those who weren't thrilled with the series’ latest entry, there is no mention of the Andromeda Initiative.
RELATED: 8 Books for Fans of Mass Effect
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Space, Time, and Cardiff
Since Doctor Who’s revival began in 2005, its home base of operations has been Cardiff, Wales. Dedicated travelers of time and space should go there, to visit local filming locations (and, if you're going during production, an attempt to watch some of the night shoots and interact with the cast and crew). The Doctor Who Experience also had its home in Cardiff until September, 2017. Similar to the old Star Trek Experience that lived in Las Vegas in the 1990s/2000s, the Doctor Who Experience offered props and sets in a museum, along with an interactive adventure. Although the Experience has closed in Cardiff, rumor is it may eventually reopen in Manchester. Regardless, if you're a Doctor Who fan with plans to travel up and down the U.K., you can still get your timey-wimey fix by using Google Maps to find actual police boxes near your destination, including one in London that might really be bigger on the inside.
World-Class Quidditch across the United States
If you’ve already exhausted the numerous London locations of the Wizarding World and tried the theme park extravaganzas, go with something a little more fast-paced, like the Quidditch world championships. Real-life Quidditch is played with many of the same rules as those seen in Harry Potter’s world, though obviously without the magic (brooms are still required), and is a mainstay on college campuses around the globe. The US Quidditch Cup (formerly World Cup) is held annually each April across different locations and attracts 60-80 teams in what has become a glorious mix of athleticism, team-based sports, and geekery
A zombie-less Atlanta
Atlanta has become synonymous with The Walking Dead, not just because much of the show is set there, but because the series also shoots there. To fully immerse in the zombie apocalypse, try one of the few Walking Dead tours around the city or build your own survival journey by putting together a list of filming locations. The show itself is shot under a lot of secrecy, but Alexandria is an actual neighborhood that, for better or worse, has an agreement with filmmakers to be both a set and community. Just remember that people do live there, so be respectful when you visit. If you need a tangential trip during your time in Atlanta, try a different type of hellish future by visiting The Hunger Games exhibition at the Frazier History Museum (currently booked until September 2017).
Journey through Middle Earth
How extensive are the New Zealand locations from Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films? Well, considering that much of the films take place outdoors and feature significant screen time dedicated to simply walking across epic landscapes, you’ll find plenty to see and do if you want to experience the journey yourself. Multiple guides exist, both in print and digital format, and how you explore the real-life locations of Middle Earth depends on how you prefer to spend your vacation. If you’re into backpacking and want to feel like you’re on an actual trek to Mordor, various multi-day tour packages exist, or you can gather your Fellowship to plan your own adventure. If you’re planning on just visiting a few select locations, lists of key Lord of the Rings filming spots are available.
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Featured photo: Andres Iga / Unsplash. Additional images: Tom Hilton / Flickr (CC); Alexander Danling / Flickr (CC); Blake Lewis / Flickr (CC); Om / Flickr (CC); Tom Hall / Flickr (CC); Evan Moss / Flickr (CC).
This article was updated on September 12, 2017 to reflect the closing of Cardiff's Doctor Who experience.