A stylized vision of Baltimore. The colorful Land of the Dead. The ‘Midwest of California’. These are just a few of the places audiences were transported to in the films slated to be honored at the 90th Academy Awards.
Not satisfied with merely viewing these locales on the silver screen? Read on for our guide to the places that inspired these films, as well a few filming locations you can visit in-person.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro’s latest creature feature tells the story of a mute custodian, played by Sally Hawkins, who works at a Cold War-era government lab in Baltimore, Maryland. As you might expect from a del Toro flick featuring a secretive lab, something inhuman is lurking in the shadows, and Hawkins’ character discovers that scientists have captured a half-human/half-fish being (think Creature from the Black Lagoon). She finds she can communicate with the creature using sign language and the pair become close – ahem, very close – before trying to make an escape.
Where to explore – Toronto and Baltimore
While set in Baltimore, The Shape of Water was filmed in Toronto and the surrounding area. Probably the biggest highlight from the film you can actually explore is the Elgin Theatre. The film premiered here during the Toronto International Film Festival, which was fitting because Hawkins’ character is shown living above the theater in the movie. The Elgin is actually the lower portion of the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre, the world’s last operating Edwardian double-decker theater, and you can take a tour of this restored masterpiece.
Find yourself in Baltimore instead? Even though Charm City didn’t really appear in the movie, you can see real-life aquatic creatures (some 20,000 of ‘em) at the National Aquarium, one of America’s best.
Saoirse Ronan stars in this semi-autobiographical film from writer/director Greta Gerwig. Ronan portrays Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson, a senior at a Catholic high school looking to leave Sacramento, California (which she dubs ‘the Midwest of California’). The film, which winds up being a love letter to Gerwig’s hometown, was a hit with audiences and garnered a best picture nomination.
Where to explore - Sacramento, California
No Hollywood trickery here; Lady Bird was indeed filmed largely in and around Sacramento, with several local landmarks making cameos. We recommend you treat yourself to some ice cream at Gunther’s, a 1940s-era soda fountain. The ‘Jugglin Joe’ neon sign above Gunther’s makes a quick appearance in the movie.
After a sweet snack, most tourists might wander to the historic river port of Old Sacramento, but if you’re looking for a full meal, you’ll find more eclectic and affordable options on Broadway south of Midtown in the Tower District.
Pixar releases a new movie, it gets nominated for best animated feature. It used to happen like clockwork. Now, after a few less-heralded offerings, the studio appears to have another winner on its hands. Pixar's latest colorful feature centers on a boy named Miguel who idolizes fictional musician Ernesto de la Cruz despite his family’s ban on music. Miguel goes to Ernesto’s mausoleum and, through some Pixar magic, finds himself in the Land of the Dead, which is heavily visually inspired by Mexico’s Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration.
Where to explore – Guanajuato, Mexico
Coco’s animators traveled throughout Mexico for two years to nail the visual details in the film, and one of the more inspirational locales was the Unesco World Heritage city of Guanajuato. The real statue of Jorge Negrete in the Plaza del Ropero reportedly influenced the fictional statue of Ernesto, and the tunnels throughout Guanajuato are also reflected in the film.
We love Guanajuato (ranking it among the top cities in our 2018 Best in Travel list) and recommend visiting the magnificent Teatro Juárez to soak in the lavish details: plush red fabrics, gorgeous brass accents and stained glass. It’s open to tour when no performances are scheduled. For even more stunning views of the city that inspired Coco, take the funicular up the slope behind the Teatro Juárez to a terminal near the El Pípila monument
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards is a film about the frustration of searching for justice, centering on a mother, played by Frances McDormand, who is angry that the murder of her daughter remains unsolved. The title refers to a trio of billboards she rents near her home in order to call attention to the case and call out the local sheriff. This, as you can imagine, is not taken well by local authorities, and McDormand’s character endures harassment for the displays.
Where to explore – Western North Carolina
We don’t recommend you try and visit Ebbing, Missouri – mainly because it doesn’t exist. The film was actually shot in various locations around Western North Carolina, including the town of Sylva and our 2017 Best in the US top travel destination, Asheville. Luckily, those interested in touring the real-life locations featured in the movie can take advantage of a trip planner compiled by the state’s tourism board. The three-day guide takes you to Sylva to see the site of the courthouse and police department (which is in reality a home décor store) from Three Billboards, as well as the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, home to the ‘magical’ deer that appears before McDormand’s character.
Equal parts terrifying and hilarious, this best picture nominee is a satirical horror film that takes aim at the racism still facing African-Americans. The plot revolves around a black photographer, played by Daniel Kaluuya, who is making his first visit to the hometown of his white girlfriend, played by Allison Williams. The trip takes them to a town in Upstate New York where Kaluuya’s character quickly finds himself dealing with suspicion from local police and awkward small talk with his girlfriend’s father (who says he totally would’ve voted for Obama a third time if he could). Using the discomfort of microagressions the same way Rosemary’s Baby explored the isolation of pregnancy, things go from merely uncomfortable to downright creepy in a hurry.
Where to explore – Mobile, Alabama
If you judge the small town setting of Get Out as more quaint than creepy, you’ll have to head south to visit where it was shot. The town is never named in the film, and while it’s portrayed as a road trip away from New York City, Get Out was actually filmed in southern Alabama, in the cities of Mobile and also across the bay in Fairhope.
These coastal cities have several historic districts offering that picturesque charm, and a beautiful showing of azaleas in early spring. If you’re looking for a Mardi Gras alternative to New Orleans, Mobile has been celebrating for nearly 200 years (actually predating the big party in NOLA). We recommend a stop at the USS Alabama museum to see the battleship that survived nine major WWII battles. For a bite to eat, stop in for oysters at the classic chain of Wintzell’s restaurants, with locations in both Mobile and Fairhope.