I thought it would be cool to share some of the cool spots/hidden gems from all the countries I’ve visited. I try to select spots that are really unique, especially in their vibe, experience, or culture ‒ the farther it is from anything I’ve experienced before, the higher it’ll be on this list. I’ll also try to list the “best” versions of things I’ve tried, like food types or libraries. I usually care much less about historical significance or aesthetics, and there are plenty of lists for that already. The best adventures will always be the unplanned spontaneous outings you risk yourself, so definitely don’t lean too much on this list :)
These are surprisingly hard to surface ‒ Atlas Obscura is alright but seems more geared to places than experiences, and TikTok #hiddengems and Reddit are just alright, and unfortunately often prioritize instagrammable places (I assign very low weight to instagrammability in contrast). Personal recommendations seem to be the only way that really works for me – apps like Fever purport to systematize this (I haven’t tried it), but I think my brand of novelty is more open and idiosyncratic than most people’s tastes. For instance, I love bizarre rituals where you can participate, technical displays I have no idea how they pulled off, and counterculture that doesn’t exist anywhere else. There’s a useful repository of community living and transformational experiences at NuMundo that I reference before booking accommodation.
This alive document will be updated every time I travel.
Table of Contents
—New York City, NY
—Seoul, South Korea
No Longer Exist
- U:Don: Chipotle for udon ‒ build your own udon bowl. Incredibly tasty, best low-price meal I had in Seattle. Possibly ties with Yume for best udon I’ve ever had.
- Twice Sold Tales: This is a very tight space with cats, rare books, and a lot of really fun lore about all of the books and knicknacks.
- The Gorge: Rave style experiences in a naturally-formed amphitheatre in the rock.
- Impatient Optimist: Haven’t been yet. This Janet Echelman art piece is permanently on display in Microsoft’s campus, and I think her art is particularly interesting.
- Yume Wo Katare: This isn’t just a ramen shop ‒ they brand themselves as a shop of dreams. You say a dream you have for yourself before your meal with everyone else, in the intimate 15 person setting. Very affordable (maybe $15/person), but make sure to get there just before they open to avoid waiting in a long line.
- Yume Ga Agakura: Sister shop, the best udon in MA. They shout a rating for your meal at the end, based on the amount of the Udon you were able to finish. Also affordable ($15/per).
- Life Alive: The best vegetarian food I’ve ever eaten ‒ I hate vegetarian food and still really enjoy this place.
- Gene’s Flatbread Cafe: Incredible hand-pulled noodles in Boston. These are long, chewy, flavorful noodles with meat and vegetables, and probably my favorite food in all of Chinatown. This place is a hole in the wall.
- Next Haunt at MIT: An interactive, horror escape room with actors, built by students inside a dorm. If you have a friend going here able to get you a ticket, it’s definitely one of the most unique experiences I’ve had.
- Level99: This is my favorite arcade-style place in the world; only about a 30 minute drive from Boston. There are 40ish puzzle rooms, each with one minigame in it (walk the plank, the floor is lava, pvp games, etc) that rank you on completin from 0-3 stars. Your wristband tracks your total stars, and the place is super high tech. Everyone I’ve told about it has loved it. If you prefer a lower-tech version of this, I also love Boda Borg.
- Hacking at MIT: This is a secret, orally-passed down tradition where students take each other to hidden spots on campus, like a dusty vent with a videogame lounge in it. Ask any MIT student (or me) and we’ll be able to take you!
- Glass Flowers: The Harvard Museum of Natural History has an exhibit from a team of Czech glass artists who made incredibly detailed flower replicas that are indistinguishable from real ones, made entirely out of glass. The family died decades ago, and to this day no one knows how they made them.
- The Viz Lab at Harvard: I haven’t been, but apparently this lab has a set of goggles and projectors that let you see any image as a “hologram” in a room on a massive curved screen. I’m not sure how this is different than a 3d theatre, but I’d love to make a trip over and check it out.
- Mass MoCA: This museum is about a 3 hour drive from Boston, but it is absolutely worth it (and I wasn’t even that big a fan of museums in general). The light and space artist James Turrell has a massive collection of perception-breaking and mindbending installations that alone make this trip worth it, and I became obsessed with art and his style after going here (everyone else who went with me is obsessed too).
- Beginner DnD Night at Pandemonium: Was a wonderful, ultra-affordable introduction to the world of dungeons and dragons, plus you get to support an indie game store. The intro level dungeon master is very good and patient – definitely start with a beginner class to avoid annoying the experienced players (unless you are one yourself!).
- Contact Improv at the Central Square Church: This dance form is meant for people together without music, and in spontaneous improv-like fashion, you learn to yes-and movement with another. Feel beautiful and vulnerable and thrilled, and pay-what-you-want at this spot in Central Square. I’m sure contact improv exists in many places as well in different formats, but this was the one I personally tried as a beginner and liked. Thanks to Max for the rec.
- Alexander Technique with Tommy: Alexander Technique is predominantly learning to notice and release body tension you never knew you had, and embracing effortless non-doing to break out of bad habits. If this sounds like nonsense, here is a concrete data point: when I went, Tommy lightly tugged my feet and I felt an overwhelming sense of heaviness immediately in my neck – it felt almost magical. I felt completely different walking out, and it almost felt weird to crane my neck down and look at my phone. Tommy is one of the experts in AT, and he has been practicing here for decades. Thanks to Max for the rec.
- Garment District: On Saturday mornings, they restock; buy used clothes then the pound.
- Lilypad Inman: Haven’t been yet, but my friends have recommended their Wed night open mic.
- lxm.house: If you have a fun project you’d like to work on, our house would likely be down to host you for free! If you’ve gotten this far in this post, we’d probably get along – dm me to schedule.
New York City, NY
- Genki Omakase: It’s the most affordable omakase I’ve ever eaten at, for the same quality – $70-100/person. There’s a fun challenge where 5 social media likes gets you a free sushi too.
- Action Burger: I haven’t been here, but it looks interesting ‒- it has a sci-fi theme and a bunch of videogames setup for patrons.
- Ichiran Ramen: I haven’t been here, but it seems interesting – there’s only one dish available, and you eat in solo booths.
- Wonderville NYC: I don’t usually like bars or clubs too much, but this queer club had a fantastic live-coded algorave performance on the night I went. The dance floor is lined with locally-created bespoke arcade machines, and the bar had a hacking CTF going on at the same time – I couldn’t get enough.
- Sleep No More: Haven’t been yet, but I really want to go. It’s a play where you move around a space and see different parts of the play as characters act in real time in different nooks and crannies of a mansion. NYT article here.
- Book of Mormon: Haven’t seen yet. A good friend said this was one of the funniest shows they had ever watched. I’m hoping to catch their Broadway run!
- Union Square Cyphers: On Friday nights 8pm-midnight, a group assembles to do spontaneous rap battles on the Southeast corner. Really fun energy, and definitely a goal to one day be good enough to join in :)
- Nitehawk Cinema: This was a small indie theatre, where the fun part was that they served dinner to your seat and showed really quirky films. All theatres should have seat service like this, it was a lot of fun.
- Subway shows: On the longer segments (i.e. across the bridges), performers often do a little speech or rap or dance bit, and it’s usually strange enough to be entertaining. Hard to plan, but you’ll inevitably run into a few if you take the long subway segments often.
- Immersive Gamebox: Haven’t been, but this place claims full immersive tech-enabled rooms.
- Hyprov: Haven’t been yet, but hypnosis with improv sounds pretty interesting.
- Grand Central Terminal Whispering Gallery: Haven’t been yet. An oval room on the lower floor where standing on the foci of the room 30 ft apart means you can hear each other whispering to each other, even with multiple loud people in between.
- ARTECHOUSE, SuperReal, ZeroSpace: Haven’t been yet, but these are all large cutting edge art tech exhibits.
- Spyscape Museum: Haven’t been yet, but you pretend to be a spy?
- Index NYC: Happenings and creative workshops.
- Dia Art Museums: The organization that funded Turrell has a lot of open, free museums of pretty interesting artists.
- There is additionally an excellently curated set of comments that list very interesting places here.
- Ginto Express: $15 udon/curry bowls north of Mission, that taste just like they do in Japan.
- Dandelion Chocolate: My roommate recommends this place’s hot/drinking chocolate, and I thought the interior was pretty cute too.
- Campton Place Bar and Bistro: This place had super unique Indian-inspired food, and lunch was actually surprisingly affordable ($25ish?) and easy to reserve – cheapest two Michelin stars I’ve ever eaten.
- The Interval at Long Now: Haven’t been yet, but it’s a café, bar, museum, and the home of The Long Now Foundation, which fosters long-term thinking.
- Noisebridge: Haven’t been yet, an open hackerspace that seems interesting.
- SF Commons: A very cozy third space in San Francisco with beautiful decor, free weekly public hours, and individual work-focus vibe during the day.
- The Center: A tea house in SF, staffed by people from the group house above it! Meditative, focused vibes for coworking and fun events focused on meditation and communication. My roommate also recommends this place’s hot chocolate.
- Studio 45: Free daily coworking in the Mission in SF, the upstairs coworking area is littered with architecture drawings and has a maker/creative vibe.
- Topos House: Haven’t been yet. Intellectual, life-long learning style group house with interesting events like the Antidisciplinarathon.
- Monument/Dory: Haven’t been yet. A creative, art-tech group house out of a SoMa warehouse.
- City Lights Bookstore: Haven’t been yet. A friend recommended it to me.
- Black Box VR Gym: Haven’t been yet. A gym where you exercise in VR.
- James Turrell Skyspace Near Exploratorium: There’s a skyspace around here!
LA Area, California
- B Sweeet: Haven’t been yet. In LA, a bread pudding shop with 40 flavors.
- Mars College: Haven’t been yet. One of my close friends’ favorite alternative communes.
- Dream Catcher: Haven’t been yet. This Janet Echelman art piece is permanently on display in West Hollywood, and I think her art is particularly interesting.
- Secret Cinema: Haven’t tried yet. Immersive theatre where you become an actor as well!
- McKamey Manor in Summertown, Tennessee: I haven’t been, and wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a real-life torture haunted house, where you say a 40 page waiver document out loud and then the guy running it tortures you. It’s definitely toeing the line of sadistic and illegal (though reportedly there is a safe word that works most of the time), but it is novel nevertheless and thus makes the cut here.
- Akron Ohio Haunted Schoolhouse: I haven’t been, but this looks interesting ‒ much more benign than a real-life torture chamber, but the online reviews rave about the quality of scares and actors.
- Meow Wolf: Large scale immersive art and lighting experiences in Denver, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas.
- Sofar Sounds and Donttell Comedy: Singers and comedians respectively perform in people’s living rooms (you can volunteer your living room too!).
- Bodu Beru dancing: This is a traditional dance where the drum beat puts dancers into a psychadelic state. The hotels tone it down a decent bit -**I recommend trying to find a spontaneous one on the smaller islands, and jump in yourself! Mentioned in Impro.
- Undersea restaurant: Food isn’t worth the price, but being in a giant tube underwater while eating was pretty sick.
- Labyrinth: This chef takes you through a Michelin-starred whirlwind story of his childhood – including street food, candles made of lard that you eat with the meal, and a custom printed cereal box. Felt very personal in a way that no other meal ever has.
Seoul, South Korea
- Shin Migyeong Hongdae Dakgalbi: Dakgalbi is incredible, and ths was the place I happened to stumble upon: the best chicken I’ve ever eaten.
- Meerkat and Friends: Play with meerkats, racoons, wallabies, and foxes ‒ the only place I know where you can really get up close to them. Alternatively, Zoo in the City seems new and equally as good.
- Teacup Animals Store: A shop that breeds very miniscule pets, and ships them across the world. Absolutely adorable tiny cats and dogs that fit in your hand.
- 100 Mahaseth: Really incredible Thai-inspired meats, sauces, and dishes. Recommended by a local, only like $15/person.
- Theres a number of extremely tasty Soba places, noodle spots, and curry restaurants that were tasty and cheap – it’s hard to list them all here but any place with homemade noodles will probably be really good, even if it’s a chain.
- Dipping Ramen: I find noodles in ordinary ramen a bit too thin, but the noodles at Menya Ramen were thick and had body, and the black sauce was super tasty.
- Minatoya: This place in Ameyoko is known for its Takoyaki, but I actually preferred the $10 seafood bowls with small scallop, small shrimp, roe, echinoid (think lower quality Uni), and so on – it’s like $8 and very filling.
- Akau: This udon place north of Ueno has the criss cross pillows to sit on, and the homemade noodles come with quail egg and ume. Order an extra large, the portions are small.
- So Udon Shikokuya: Haven’t been yet. 85 year old grandma has a super tiny cluttered restaurant in Tokyo with tasty, homemade food.
- Space Nekoana: Haven’t been yet, but is my #1 want to go. This quirky izakaya is inside a chef’s messy home, and has mostly regulars. Found via this video about Kyoto.
- House of Light and Shadow: Haven’t been yet. 2-3 hours from Tokyo is a James Turrell house with tons of built in skyspaces and insane lighting. It’s the only Turrell piece that offers public overnight stays reservation, with booking required 4-5 months in advance.
- Ryokan/Akiya: Haven’t been yet, offers more authentic stays. A friend runs akiya.world which offers creative residencies in Akiyas that seem fun.
- Metal Gear Solid escape room: Haven’t been yet; there are physical guards you have to sneak around apparently, which sounds really cool.
- Studio Ghibli Museum: Haven’t been yet. Is booked out a month in advance – make sure to book on the 9th of the month for seeing spots during the next month.
- Kojima Studio tour: Haven’t been yet. The guy that made Death Stranding has a cool office.
- Shimokitazawa: Haven’t been yet, reportedly good thrift shopping district.
- Maid Cafe: Some of them (we went to maidreamin) have more unique gimmicks like dancing and singing too.
- Womb Shibuya: Haven’t been yet. I’m not usually a club or party sort of guy, but a friend said that this spot has the most insane club lighting setup he’s ever seen.
- Ueno Cat Van: Haven’t been yet. Apparently in Tokyo at night, outside the Monument to Kushibuchi Nobumoto around 9-11pm, there is a van labeled “The Cat Van” (in Japanese) that parks there, and a ton of cats just wander around the temple grounds.
- Replica Food Experience: I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m obsessed with how all the restaurants have realistic 3D plastic clones of their meals. Apparently you can make some of your own at places like this near Asakusa.
- Nara Deer Park: Haven’t been yet, apparently you can hang out with hundreds of deer here that bow back to you. Thanks to this random video for the rec.
- Zauo Fishing Restaurant: Haven’t been yet, apparently you fish your own fish and hand it to the server to cook.
- Muraya: Haven’t been yet. A quirky Kyoto bar chaotically decorated with scraps, with lots of cool lighting all over. Found via this video.
- Henn Na Hotel: Haven’t been yet, apparently animatronic dinos and robots check you in. They have branches all over Japan and in NY too.
- nokishita711 Liquid Cuisine: Haven’t been yet, but this gin and cocktail lab near Osaka comes with lots of unexpected experiments and was highly recommended.
- Moomin Cafe: Haven’t been yet; if there’s an empty seat at your cafe table, you fill it with a giant plushie. Honestly I don’t know why all cafes don’t do this.
- Red Tokyo Tower: Haven’t been yet. A Level 99 reminiscent place with games where you have to use your whole body to play everything.
- Yunessun Baths: Haven’t been yet. Red wine baths, sake baths, coffee baths, and dozens of others. Near Mt. Fuji.
- A local friend sent his recommendations blog post which looks really good.
- Curius to check out the street performers at Taksim Square/Galata Tower, the light show in the Cistern of Theodosius, or the roofs of the grand bazaar. There are small, hidden pockets of counterculture on the Asian side.
- Overall, my trip was pretty lacking: there wasn’t a ton of super fun or unique stuff beyond the Pyramids.
- This Specific Luxor Airbnb: This Airbnb I stayed in had incredible homemade food, the best food I had in Egypt. The Airbnb was designed from sandstone by a French designer as well, and came with a cat! With plugin mosquito repellent, it was a great local stay.
- Formal Dinner at Trinity/Cambridge: If you’re lucky enough to have a friend at a university, chances are they have dress-up formals where they serve you an incredible 5 course meal for $13 in a Harry Potter-style dinner hall. An old man even rings a gong and mumbles 20 seconds of unintelligible Latin!
- Camden Market: I love Smorgasburg markets like these – I ate here every day for like a week and never got sick of it.
- Secret Cinema: Haven’t tried yet. Immersive theatre where you become an actor as well! They seem to do them only sporadically as announced to their mailing list.
- Immersive Gatsby: I haven’t been, but it looks interesting. A real life great gatsby party, where you dress like it’s prohibition and actors act the play amongst you.
- St. Pauls Whispering Gallery: Haven’t been yet. Paul’s cathedral is a dome where two people stand at the two foci of the oval room and can hear each other whisper.
- Pagan Chaos Ceremony: Haven’t been yet. Every solstice (and on select holidays in between), a group of folks heads to an isolated park and participates in a structured yet spontaneous ritual.. There is primal screaming, flower burning, and ritualistic drumming as a door opens and chaos breaks loose. Not sure if the invite should be public, so dm me or the organizer Gabriella for the invite!
- Trust/Moving Castles: Coordination-based gaming collective who ran the game that we ran a cult in. Has some of the coolest games of all time in my opinion, like half earth.
- Moos: This collective near Treptower park has beautiful, cheap co-living for renegade anarchist types and artists – I stayed here for a month and loved it. There were always interesting things happening (climate cooperative negotiation board games, indie documentary screening about an alternative community, handpan soundbath sauna nights, etc).
- Kitkatclub: Famous kink club – we went on a psytrace night so it was less kinky (I hear foreplay night is also focused on vibes over kink). The place itself is this insane labyrinth with tons of little hidden rooms, and it is definitely worth going to at least once.
- Chaos Computer Club: Berlin’s anarchist computer meetup every Thursday night is open to the public, and c:base has frequent talks etc.
- Sisyphus: Famous 6 story themed club. I thought this was curious to explore for an hour and then got boring.
- Dark Matter: This a place with a number of light-tech installations. My favorite was this massive outdoors structure with hundreds of light bars just above you that lit up synced to music at night, just outside Sisyphus.
- About:Blank: Haven’t been. Well reputed club.
- Berghain: Most famous club, higher chance of getting in at odd midday times on non-Saturdays. Tried to dress all black to get past Sven and go at 4pm on a Sunday, but was immediately rejected.
- Phillipines: International Pyromusical Competition: Every year, there’s a massive series of musically choreographed fireworks shows here, where all the big companies come and show off.
- France: French Red Wine Slides: Somewhere in Paris they claim to have humans ride down these mid-party…
- Portugal: Waking Life: Burning Man style music festival in Portugal. No cameras, psychadelic vibe, near a lake.
- India: Bunkd Hostel Anjuna: Hippie hostel recommended to me by a friend.
- New Zealand: C1 Espresso: This cafe sends you food and drink through pneumatic tubes.
- Sensory Deprivation Tanks: Haven’t tried one yet, but looks fun as long as you have constant oversight/some type of safe word/short hair or very well tied long hair.
- Scuba Diving Certification: Make sure to bring your own GoPro (I use this $70 budget one with this $8 chest strap, charged batteries, and a microSD). You can get a provisional 90 day, 12 meter deep license by finishing 2 dives and 3 modules of the Open Water e-course on PADI. If you do the introductory Discover Scuba course that everyone offers instead, make sure to still buy the open water course, so you can get credit for your first dive.
- Homestay.com: Stay with a host family for a short time for a similar price to an Airbnb. Get a more authentic, hosted experience.
- James Turrell’s Art: This light and space pioneer was the inspiration for the Hotline Bling video – his exhibitions at Mass MoCA had one of the most personally artistic and technically awe-inspiring impacts on me, and there is an incomplete map of his exhibitions here.
- Janet Echelman’s Art: A past visiting artist at MIT, she has massive colored string installations in various cities including “Porto (Portugal), Gwanggyo (South Korea), Vancouver, San Francisco, West Hollywood, Phoenix, Eugene, Greensboro, Philadelphia, Seattle, and St. Petersburg (FL).”
No Longer Exist/Recommended
- A good reminder of why you should go to these places soon – nothing is promised forever.
- Jules’ Jamaican Pop Up: This secret tent used to appear on weekend afternoons in Central, and served huge and tasty portions of jerk chicken. May move to a larger location soon?
- Carpe Diem Finger Food: This fine dining-vibe place in Salzburg, serves each meal in a set of tiny cones. Was my trip highlight but is now closed.
- Pachinko Parlors in Japan: These still exist. I used to recommend this super intense gambling phenomenon in Japan. Unfortunately, I went briefly and frankly it was just mostly pretty depressing to see people addicted to these games. Would not recommend.