10 of America’s Most Quirky Roadside Attractions
Pack your bags, buckle your seat belt and head out on the open road to see these weird, wild and wonderful roadside attractions.
Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination, as road trip-obsessed explorers across the U.S. can attest. And when the country’s winding roadways are littered with giant balls of twine, multicolored Cadillac ranches and a six-story elephant, suddenly those long sessions stuck in the backseat seem a lot more adventurous. (Traveling with kids? Check out these fun tips!) The blog Eccentric Roadside has been logging the wackiest and most wonderful roadside attractions the United States has to offer and sharing their favorite demented destinations along the way. A few of their must-sees are listed below, rounded out by some of the most confounding, quirky and downright hilarious pit stops that make for a truly unforgettable trip.
Built in 1987 by sculptor Jim Reinders and his family as a memorial to Jim’s father, Carhenge is a replica of Britain’s famous, mysterious Stonehenge monument—except it’s made entirely of vintage automobiles. Seemingly sprouting up from the ground are 39 station wagons, Cadillacs, pickup trucks and even a Gremlin, all painted gray to mimic the massive boulders that make up the original Stonehenge configuration. Just like its inspiration, the sculpture attracts many of its inquisitive visitors on the summer solstice each year.
Lucy the Elephant
Margate City, New Jersey
The oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in America, Lucy the Elephant is a six-story, elephant-shaped building made of wood and tin. Constructed in 1881, the structure was meant to attract real estate buyers to the area, but in passing years it has served as a restaurant, business office, tavern and cottage. Today, visitors can take tours through the enormous pachyderm’s interior and even climb up into the carriage at the top to take in a magnificent view of the surrounding city.
The Winchester Mystery House
San Jose, California
The sprawling, curious Winchester Mystery House was once the United States’ largest private residence. The puzzling mansion was built under the eye of Sarah Winchester after the death of her husband, gun magnate William Winchester. It began as an eight-room cottage, and—without any formal architectural plans—was continuously built upon, demolished and reconstructed from 1884 until Sarah’s death in 1922. The house has 160 rooms and features architectural curiosities such as a window built into the floor, stairs leading to ceilings and doors that open to blank walls. Said to be haunted by the ghosts of all those killed by Winchester rifles, this confounding house features ghost tours each Halloween in addition to its everyday mansion tour, which visitors can explore year-round.
Sprouting up from the ground of a cow pasture along Route 66 west of Amarillo, Texas, 10 vintage Cadillacs—varying models from the years 1949 through 1963—raise their tails to the sky, tilted at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Created in 1974 by an art collective known as Ant Farm, the installation has been painted, defaced and graffitied brilliant colors by some of the visitors who’ve stopped to marvel at the quirky construction. In fact, the artists behind Cadillac Ranch encourage people to add to the installation with their own graffiti art, so if you’re headed on a road trip along Route 66, be sure to pack an extra can of spray paint.
Nostalgic for the good ol’ days? Whip up one of these vintage treats!
Hole N” the Rock
Carved out of brilliant red sandstone outside of Moab, Utah, the Hole N” the Rock is a 5,000-square-foot home built in the 1940s by Albert and Gladys Christensen. The engineering marvel features 14 rooms, a fireplace with a 65-foot chimney, carved-out shelving and a concrete bathtub built into the rock. You can tour the excavated-rock home, which served as the family’s residence until the 1970s, and see all the original furnishings inside as well as the gift shop, General Store, sculpture garden, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and petting zoo.
The Farnham Colossi
Unger, West Virginia
While it’s not exactly a stop-off on a major highway, the Farnham Colossi (“Land of Giants”) is well worth a little trip through the back roads of West Virginia. Located on the property of George and Pam Farnham, this massive collection of oversized statues ranges from a giant Muffler Man (the first of the collection) to a colossal Santa Claus. The fiberglass “beach dude,” burger chef, supermarket bag boy, Paul Bunyan and entire Simpsons family perched on a kiddie roller coaster are also part of this larger-than-life lawn-ornament oddity.
The International Banana Museum
The world’s largest collection of banana-related toys, pipes, cookie jars, candles and much, much more can be found in the Coachella Valley of California. No monkeying around, the place has more than 20,000 items from around the world to admire, consume and enjoy. This includes actual bananas: The museum’s banana bar is stocked with banana ice cream floats, banana soda, banana shakes, frozen banana pops and more yellow-fruit concoctions that will make you go…well, you know.
The World’s Largest Ball of Twine
Cawker City, Kansas
In 1953, farmer Frank Stoeber started winding scraps of leftover sisal twine into a small ball in his barn. As years passed, he continued adding to the ball, and by 1961, it had grown to 11 feet in diameter, made up of 1.6 million feet of twine overall. That year, Stoeber donated the ball to the town of Cawker City, and residents and visitors have been adding their own twine to the ball ever since. As of 2014, the ball measured over 41 feet in diameter and consisted of more than 8 million feet of twine. Although there are discrepancies about which enormous ball of twine is actually the largest in the world, the fact that you can contribute to this one’s continued growth makes a stop in Cawker City, Kansas, a cross-country road trip essential.
The Desert of Maine
Thinking about Maine, you might envision lush forests, stunning coastlines and rugged mountains. (And maybe some delicious Lobster dishes, too.) Your mind may not initially summon 40 acres of largely barren land dotted with sand dunes. But, believe it or not, in the picturesque bayside town of Freeport, Maine, that’s exactly what you’ll find. Though not a true desert (it receives the same amount of rainfall as the pine forest surrounding it), the geological anomaly—formed after poor farming practices stripped the land of protective grasses—boasts a large swath of exposed glacial silt that mimics its sandy counterparts. Stop in at the gift shop, then take a narrated tour, sift through the desert on your own or plan an overnight camping excursion upon the dunes. You can even visit the desert’s Sand Museum, which exhibits small samples of sand collected from all over the world.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
Oro Grande, California
One of the newer must-stop attractions along historic Route 66 is the colorful, clustered, clinking forest of metal trees adorned with thousands of glass bottles for branches. Elmer Long began collecting glass bottles as a young boy, and in 2000, he decided to put them to use when he crafted his first bottle tree. Since then, Long has filled Bottle Tree Ranch with more than 200 man-made trees, each topped with a different found treasure, from old typewriters to vintage toys to old bells and beyond. It’s free to explore the forest, and you can even donate glass bottles of your own to help keep the collection growing. If you’re lucky, Elmer himself will be there to tell you about his majestic roadside forest that sprouts up from the desert like an oasis.
Whether you have an end point in mind or you just feel like hitting the open road, there are so many weird and wonderful pit stops across the nation that make the travel as fun as the destination itself. No matter where you’re headed, if you keep your eye out and explore this quirky country of ours, chances are you’ll stumble across something spectacular.
Can’t make the tip? Travel across the country with our state-by-state guide to American comfort food.