In between all of those iconic landmarks, like Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful and Niagara Falls, there are a ton of cool, sometimes nostalgic, even kitschy or run-down, roadside attractions that make for a perfect break on a road trip. These are some of the most unforgettable you’ll probably run across on your journeys through America.
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Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, Texas
Just west of Amarillo in 1974, three artists from San Francisco found themselves burying ten Cadillacs nose-first into a wheat field alongside Interstate 40, an art installation that would eventually come to be known as Cadillac Ranch. The hippies/artists called themselves The Ant Farm, and their silent partner was a billionaire from Amarillo, Stanley Marsh III who’d wanted a piece of public art that would baffle locals. The ten sets of graffiti-covered tail fins are buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid, standing as a tribute to the American Dream. The Cadillacs were buried in sequence from the oldest, 1949, to the newest, 1964. In 1997, they were unearthed from their original location and moved two miles, relocated in a cow pasture not far from historic Route 66 and Interstate 40. Visitors are encouraged to visit, with spray paint, to tag the vehicles.
Oldest Bob's Big Boy - Burbank, California
Just off the Ventura Freeway in Burbank, California, is the oldest Bob’s Big Boy restaurant in existence today. The chain began way back in 1936, when Bob Wilan began his small enterprise in Glendale, California. He sold his car for $350 to open the 10-seat diner called Bob’s Pantry. The Burbank eatery opened in 1949, nearly two decades before the Big Boy chain was sold to the Marriott Corporation. It was built in 1950s coffee shop architectural style, with curved windows and an oversized room.
Of course, as so many establishments did back then, Bob’s has a towering neon sign. Considered a State Historical Point of Interest, it even offers car hop service on Saturday and Sunday nights, as well as a classic car show on Friday nights in the parking lot. Beatles’ fans who visit might want to sit in “The Beatle Booth,” a booth with a plaque that commemorates a visit by the Fab Four while on tour in 1965.
Beer Can House - Houston, Texas
In 1968, John Milkovisch was just another retired employee of the Southern Pacific railroad. He lived in a traditional house that didn’t stand out from the rest of the houses in his suburban Houston neighborhood. He soon got bored in retirement so he started decorating his patio with all sorts of things like rocks, buttons and marbles, and he even replaced his lawn with those kinds of items. Then, he decided to turn to his house, flattening his thousands of beer cans into an aluminum siding. Over the next nearly two decades, he incorporated 39,000 of them throughout the house, including beer can garlands that hang like wind chimes.
In 1988, John died, and his wife Mary welcomed visitors until her death in 2002. The Orange Show Foundation and its army of folk art preservationists purchased the property, and in 2008, it was open once again to the public.
Wall Drug - Wall, South Dakota
Wall Drug has become one of the most popular roadside stops on the way to the beautiful Black Hills and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. The drugstore was purchased in 1931 by Ted and Dorothy Hustead, and initially it wasn’t all that successful, in part because there were just 231 residents who lived in the town referred to as “the geographical center of nowhere.” But then Dorothy came up with the idea to advertise that the store was giving away free ice water to travelers going to Mount Rushmore. Every other drug store did the same, but they didn’t promote it.
Dorothy’s idea worked better than she could have ever imagined. Soon, thirsty customers were lining up, and once Ted realized the signs were such a great help, they were posted proclaiming “Wall Drug Or Bust” in every state in the nation, and eventually well beyond. Metro riders in Paris have seen them, and so have London bus passengers and even visitors at the Taj Mahal.
Today, the modern store is a 76,000-square-foot emporium, offering everything from travel essentials and five-cent coffee to a western art museum, a restaurant and kids’ activities.
General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park, California
General Sherman is the world’s largest tree, located inside Sequoia National Park, renowned for its vast expanse of wilderness and, of course, giant trees. Other trees are taller or wider, but none have the combined weight and width of General Sherman. It measures 275 feet high, has a diameter of 30 feet and a circumference of 102 feet. One branch is so big, nearly 7 feet in diameter, that it alone is larger than most trees east of the Mississippi River. While you might think it would be the world’s oldest due to its size, giant sequoias like Sherman, which is believed to be around 2,200 years old, is only the second oldest living trees as ancient bristlecone pines are the oldest.
Oregon Vortex - Gold Hill, Oregon
This kitschy pit stop for travelers is a place where tennis balls roll uphill, brooms stand on end and people experience the phenomenon of “height change,” appearing to grow and shrink once inside. It’s also known to produce strong feelings of vertigo. Though it allegedly has been plagued by supernatural energies for years, it’s been open to the public since 1930 as the House of Mystery. It also features a novelty and souvenir shop.
Carhenge - Alliance, Nebraska
Carhenge is one of America’s own versions of Stonehenge in England. This one is made up of 39 vintage cars covered with gray spray paint. It was created by geologist Jim Reinders who spent time studying the structure of the real Stonehenge while living in the U.K. He says he didn’t intend it to be any kind of a social or economic statement, nor as a passionate work of art, but it’s simply just for fun. He built it as a memorial to his father who once lived on the farm where the site now stands in Alliance, Nebraska. It was dedicated on the June 1987 summer solstice. Due to its popularity, with more than 60,000 stopping by every year, more sculptures have been added since, along with a visitor center.
Galleta Meadows - Borrego Springs, California
Galleta Meadows is a wonderfully weird but cool attraction in Southern California in the desert town of Borrego Springs, about two hours east of San Diego. It features 130 incredible life-size sculptures of everything from historical characters to fanciful dinosaurs, prehistoric mammals and a 350-foot-long fanciful serpent. Visitors can pose with beings like Gompotheres, an elephant-like creature with four tucks, and a bird with a 17-foot wingspan that was based on the fossil remains of the extinct Aiorlornis incredibilis. The metallic menagerie also includes more modern beings like wild stallions, camels and elephants.
Hole N’ The Rock - Moab, Utah
In the 1940s, Albert Christensen hand-carved an incredible 5,000-square-foot, 14-room home out of a massive cliff face in southeastern Utah and called it Hole N’ The Rock. It took 12 years of blasting and drilling until he and his wife were finally able to move in back in 1952. Albert died in 1957, but Gladys lived for another 17 years, running a café and gift shop here. Today, the cliff serves as a roadside attraction, covered with giant painted white letters that scream out to travelers along Highway 191: “Hole N’ The Rock.”
If you stop in, you’ll see its 14 rooms arranged around massive pillars, and a deep bathtub built into the rock, as well as a fireplace with a 65-foot chimney. Original furnishings are still here, as are Albert’s paintings, many of his tools used to create the home and Gladys’ doll collection.
Dinosaur Park - Rapid City, South Dakota
This is definitely no Jurassic Park, though it is home to some gigantic concrete monsters that seem to rule over Rapid City in the Black Hills of South Dakota, mirroring the size of those creatures that once walked the earth. The iron-and-concrete figures at the nearly 80-year-old hillside park, were what dinosaurs were believed to look like back in 1936, and are a bit reminiscent of Gumby with an undeniably cartoony-style about them. The Depression-era project was an idea hatched by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce as a way to make jobs, get the government to pay for it, and capitalize on the throngs of visitors that head to nearby Mount Rushmore. After decades, the creatures look much the same as they did when they were placed up here, a testament to their ability to truly stand the test of time.
World's Largest Ball of Twine - Cawker City, Kansas
In 1953, Frank Stoeber aimed to outdo the massive 12-foot-wide Johnson Twine Ball in Darwin, Minnesota. He wound and wound twine in his basement, tirelessly laboring until he died in 1974 – just one foot short of his goal. Ever since, both tourists and locals who’ve been visiting the ball of twine in Cawker City have been adding to it during an annual Twineathon. It measures 40 feet, weighs nine tons, and the length has surpassed seven million feet.
The Heidelberg Project - Detroit, Michigan
The Heidelberg Project began when artist Tyree Guyton got fed up watching his impoverished, crime-ridden area deteriorate in the two decades following the 1967 race riots. Instead of letting his anger build up, he decided to pick up a paintbrush and paint pastel polka dots all over his grandfather’s house on Heidelberg Street. It was the first step in what would become the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor community art project aimed at bringing life back into the decaying district. With encouragement from his grandfather and the help of local kids, Guyton began decorating the abandoned homes nearby and installing art made using salvaged materials.
Today, the project fills a two-block area with color and symbolism that’s in its 29th year and recognized worldwide as a demonstration of the power of creativity to transform neighborhoods, and lives.
Paper House - Rockport, Massachusetts
Newspapers are enduring a long, drawn-out death, but one homeowner found a good use for them, back in 1922 anyway. Maybe now others can follow suit if they happen to have a few thousand lying around. Engineer Ellis F. Stenman first started to construct his summer home using newspapers as insulation. But over time, he thought it might be a good idea to make his entire house out of paper, held together with glue and protecting it from the elements by applying heavy layers of varnish. Well, not the entire house, the framework and floor are made out of wood and the roof is shingled. After it was finished, he decided to make paper furniture too. Today, his great-niece operates the house as a tourist attraction, though she says she never knew the reason Uncle Ellis chose to make it.
The Merman and the Arkansas Alligator Farm - Hot Springs, Arkansas
The mythology of a number of civilizations contains stories of mermaids and mermen, depicted in a variety of ways, magical, beneficent, or evil beings. Believed to bring good luck in Japan and in other countries across the Pacific Isles and Asia, Mermen were handmade to sell to European and American tourists as real sea creatures. And, yes, some believed they were authentic. The Arkansas Alligator Farm is home to one of these “mermen,” with the story behind it that it was dragged from the depths of the South China Sea.
The famous Merman has been a resident of the gator farm for more than a century, displayed in a glass-sided box in its wintering barn, among items like stuffed sea turtles, mounted deer heads and a dangling alligator named Jaws who died nearly 30 years ago.
The Lost Sea - Sweetwater, Tennessee
The Lost Sea is a unique natural wonder listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “America’s Largest Underground Lake.” Visitors can take a tour that includes a long walk through underground caverns followed by a trip aboard a glass-bottom boat. The visible surface of the lake is 800 feet long and 220 feet wide. Cave divers have explored several rooms that are completely filled with water, without reaching the end of the cave.
In addition to the lake, the caverns, known as Craighead Caverns contain a multitude of crystal clusters called stalagmites, anthodites and stalactites as well as a waterfall. Before or after the tour, visitors can head to Old Sweetwater Village that features a gem mine, ice cream parlor, general store, glassblower and a café.
Coral Castle - Homestead, Florida
Coral Castle may not look much like a castle, but it’s still a rather impressive sight, built by one man who hand-carved it from more than 2.2 million pounds of coral rock. Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin single-handedly somehow mysteriously excavated, carved and erected this massive place – and, he was just five feet tall and weighed only 100 pounds. Ed never told anyone how he managed to set into place the gates, monoliths, walls and moon crescents that make up much of the castle, though it took 30 years to build it. Some of the blocks weigh as much as 30 tons.
Some believe that he used a form of antigravity device to construct it. Numerous designs have been suggested for the device, some using “harmonic sound waves”, others using magnetism and multiple other proposals. Leedskalnin himself claimed that he knew the “secret” of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, and some say he used those secrets to assemble the castle. He was quoted as saying, “I have discovered the secrets of the pyramids, and have found out how the Egyptians and the ancient builders in Peru, Yucatan, and Asia, with only primitive tools, raised and set in place blocks of stone weighing many tons.”
Land of Giants - Unger, West Virginia
If you’re on your way to visit the nation’s capital, take a detour to visit the Land of Giants in Unger, West Virginia, also known as Farnham Collasi. When George Farnham, a former Washington lawyer, and his wife Pam, a city girl from New York, decided they wanted a change of pace, they moved to West Virginia. Apparently, George was a packrat. And, he had a dream. He says that he likes big things, and told his wife that what he really wanted more than anything else was a “huge, fiberglass dinosaur.” So, they started ordering collectible statues, and lots of them. Gigantic statues. Pam didn’t like the idea of the dinosaur as much, so she ordered a 25-foot-tall “Muffler Man.” Santa Claus and a surfer sipping a giant coke are just two of the others. Today, this “Land of Giants” screams Americana.
London Bridge - Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Just like the tune, London Bridge was falling down. The same London Bridge that was built in 1831, sitting astride the Thames River in England. As time passed, it began sinking at a rate of an inch every eight years, and by 1924, the east side of the bridge was three to four inches lower than the west side as it hadn’t been designed to withstand 20th-century auto traffic. So, it was auctioned off to an Arizona oil baron who spent nearly $2.5 million on it, and another $7 million to have it dismantled and reconstructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 1971.
Today, it’s the second-largest attraction in Arizona after the Grand Canyon. You can drive, or walk across, this 950-foot-long piece of history and it’ll feel like you’re in two places at once.
The Blue Whale - Catoosa, Oklahoma
A whale in Oklahoma? It’s definitely a little out of place, but when you’re driving along famous Route 66 through a pair of side-by-side bridges, you’ll see exactly that, and it’s bound to make you look twice. The beached whale was built some 40 years ago as an anniversary gift from a man to his wife. The smiling blue whale is 80 feet long and rests in a pond that’s become a favorite waterhole for locals as well as travelers who pass by. It was once part of a park that featured an animal reptile kingdom, but the original park was closed in 1988. Since then, the toothy whale was refurbished and makes a perfect stop on a road trip for enjoying a picnic and taking a few interesting selfies.