Robert Jackman

Could Stranger Things inspire your next American getaway?

  • From Spectator Life

Great TV shows have a knack for immortalising their locations. Think what Fargo did for the otherwise unloved Dakotas, or Vince Gilligan turning New Mexico into the heart of the 21st century’s greatest neo-Western with Breaking Bad. While the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things might have secured its place on the podium of brilliant box-sets, could it also inspire your next US getaway?

Admittedly, a show revolving around a terrifying alternate dimension might not seem a natural candidate for inspiring wanderlust. Yet Stranger Things’ captivating blend of retro Americana and inspired cinematography have helped give the show an irresistible aesthetic, turning heads towards its primary filming location – the southern US state of Georgia and, in particular, its capital of Atlanta.

Atlanta, Georgia (iStock)

Should Stranger Things fans end up inadvertently falling for the charms of the Peach State, they wouldn’t be the first. My first visit to Atlanta happened for a similarly specific reason: as it was the easiest US route to redeem a credit card flight upgrade. But rather than just a convenient starting point for a larger American venture, I found that Georgia held its own as a travel destination – and an excellent hub for good food.

First off, though, it’s worth stating the obvious: modern day Atlanta (the US’s most prosperous majority black city and a serious commercial hub) doesn’t look much like 1980s Hawkins. At all. Although it is home to some of the latter’s most recognisable locations. The city’s Emory University, which doubles up as the Hawkins Laboratory, for example, or the charming East Point neighbourhood – where you’ll find the homes of the Wheeler and Byers family amongst others.

Never one to miss an opportunity, the city is already home to numerous unofficial Stranger Things tours, as enterprising locals ferry fans from one location to the next. Though thanks to a quality metro system and savvy urban planning, the city isn’t exactly hard to get around. Just don’t expect to be walking too much in those humid summer months. The locals call it Hotlanta for a reason.

Emory university, Atlanta, Georgia (iStock)

What else does Atlanta have going for it? Amongst its bustling skylines sit the headquarters of two of America’s most globally-recognisable brands – namely Coca Cola and CNN. If a Guinness-style tour of the former sounds like your idea of fun, you’ll be in luck. Sadly, CNN chose not to reopen its studio tours after the great Covid shutdown of 2020. Though their HQ still attracts semi-regular protests of loopy Q-Anon types, if you’re looking for a Louis Theroux-style weird weekend.

Of course, Atlanta’s biggest tourist draw is its rich civil rights history – for which I’d recommend following one of the numerous established itineraries already out there. Though if you want an insight into the city’s modern black underground, I can recommend the Trap Museum – a celebration of the raw and politically-tinged rap music that has swept the Deep South. Go on Thursdays for free champagne at their ‘Sip and Trap’ events.

Like most American destinations, making the most of Georgia means getting out of the capital entirely. Running from the Blue Ridge mountains of Tennessee down to the Florida Panhandle, Georgia is an absolute delight to drive through, with lots of Stranger Things pit-stops along the way. Much of downtown Hawkins, for example, can be located in the tiny city of Jackson – around one hour’s drive from Atlanta. 

The Blue Ridge mountains, Tennessee

Other locations are further afield. The imposing looking Pennhurst mental hospital – which played a central role in the most recent season – is actually part of a picturesque southern college not far from the Alabama border. The Palace Arcade, meanwhile, can be found in Douglassville, to the north west of Atlanta. Arrive after dark if you want to ramp up the atmosphere.

To complete the Stranger Things experience, you’ll need to head west to a different state entirely: New Mexico. The former frontier state that has long sought to lure creatives with its dual offering of mountainous skylines and generous tax breaks for filmmakers. It’s in the fine city of Albuquerque – one of the most underrated stops on Route 66 – that you’ll find the deliciously retro Rink O Mania and the Lenora Hills High School. 

Of course, flying (or driving) some 1500 miles just to complete the tour might seem rather excessive. But at least you’ll be in (for my money) the most charming state in America – and one with a long and proud association with the supernatural. From the Roswell incident to the dimension-bending Meow Wolf indoor theme park, New Mexico has long been home to all things strange. So make sure you keep an eye on those rather hypnotic skies when you’re heading home at night.