Growing up in my family, the road trip was an annual ritual. My parents would load down the trunk with our luggage, pack a small cooler with snacks, fill the tank up, grab a map, throw my sister and I in the backseat, say a prayer and hit the road to discover America. Our road trips were memorable for sure and the reason I still love to travel today. But not everyday of every trip was wonderful - especially when my sister and I became teenagers - go figure. I remember demanding water in Pecos, TX, refusing to get out of the car in the Redwood Forest of California - because don't ya know if you've seen one tree you've seen them all, or complaining about how bad the seals smelled on the coast of Oregon. Yes, I admit, I was shameful. So what are parents to do with ungrateful children? Well, my parents broke up those long days of driving America's highways with stops at bizarre roadside attractions and every historical marker, from here to Kalamazoo, something every American should experience. Roadside attractions, those quirky, often over-sized icons, are entertaining places to stop, stretch your legs and take a photo. You’ll find them in every state, giant teapots, hot dog stands resembling hot dogs, Muffler Men holding mufflers…it all makes a weird kind of sense. Ordinary highway retailers creating giant oddities hoping to take motorist by surprise so they'll stop, take a closer look and maybe spend a little cash in their place of business. While most people will not drive long distances to see a giant lobster, they just might stop if they see it on the side of the highway. So what are the best roadside attractions America has to offer? Here are just a few of my favorites.
Cadillac Ranch - Amarillo, TX
Just west of Amarillo, Texas, 10 classic graffiti-covered Cadillac tail fins stand as a tribute to the American dream. The art installation, known as Cadillac Ranch, features the cars, half buried nose first. Although originally intended as a temporary display, the monument has been an iconic tourist attraction in the Lone Star State's panhandle since 1974. Located in a cow pasture not far from the I-40 and the historic Route 66, visitors are encouraged to visit and spray paint the cars.
The Blue Whale - Catoosa, OK
As you drive along Route 66 in Oklahoma you're bound to come across a bizarre sight: a famous beached whale. Built in the 1970s as an anniversary gift from one man to his wife, Oklahoma's grinning Blue Whale is 80 feet long, and rests in a pond outside of Catoosa. Big Blue has since become a favorite watering hole for locals and passing travelers. The toothy whale has been refurbished and tourists can stop and enjoy the park and picnic area before getting back on the road.
The World's Largest Ball Of Twine - Cawker City, KS
Frank Stoeber, of Cawker City, Kansas, started winding twine in his basement in 1953. Determined to outdo the mighty 12-foot-wide Johnson Twine Ball in Darwin, MN, he labored tirelessly until his death in 1974, finishing one foot short of his goal. Since then, residents and tourists visiting Cawker City have been adding to Stoeber’s ball in the annual Twineathon held every August. It now weighs a hefty nine tons and measures 40 feet in diameter and continues to grow.
Lucy The Elephant - Margate, NJ
An architect named James V. Lafferty built Lucy the Elephant in 1882 and was used to sell real estate. Lucy stands in Margate, New Jersey and is 65 feet tall, 60 feet long, and 18 feet wide. She is made out of wood and pieces of flat tin - over 1,000,000 pieces of wood! She's made to look like an Asian elephant, with tusks, causing many people to think Lucy is a boy, because only male elephants have tusks. Even so people still call Lucy a girl. Over the years, Lucy has served as a restaurant, office, summer house and a bar. She is a major tourist attraction in Jersey and you can still tour her today.
Walk The Dinosaur - Murdo, SD
Near Murdo, S.D., travelers can find this dinosaur skeleton sculpture, quite simply a sculpture of a dinosaur skeleton being walked on a leash. It is right near the 1880 town, basically a town right off the interstate made to look like it is in the late 19th century. Travelers and truck drivers alike will surely slow down for this, keeping everyone alert and attentive! I think it's awesome!
Coral Castle - Homestead, FL
This may well be America’s answer to the Taj Mahal. Located on U.S. 1, this home and monument was the work of Edward Leedskalnin over a period of 28 years (1923–1951) in honor of his young bride, Agnes Scuffs, who jilted him at the altar. While the Taj Mahal may be more beautiful, Coral Castle has its own - quirks. Using only basic tools, Leedskalnin worked alone carving and manipulating the 10-ton limestone blocks with all the stone masonry precision of the ancient Egyptians. To this day no one can figure out how he did it.
Shrine To The Anglers - Hayward, WI
The world's largest fiberglass sculpture is also the world's largest fish, a fearsome muskie, and the centerpiece of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. Located in Hayward, WI, the great muskie is over four stories tall and as long as a Boeing 757, it is the biggest thing in a very small town. A door in the tail of the muskie offers visitors entry to its innards. Inside is the Shrine to Anglers, whose walls are lined with the names of thousands of the Hall's charter members. In the head, up a flight of stairs, there is an observation platform offering up to 20 people at a time a view out over the whole complex. It's definitely a great place to stretch your legs after a long drive.
Longaberger Basket Headquarters, Newark, OH
For 500 lucky employees of Longaberger Basket Co., every day is a picnic! Between 1995 and 1997, the Ohio-based company spent $30 million to build a new home office modeled after one of its baskets. The structure is 160 times longer, wider and taller than its Medium Market Basket. The seven-story replica, which sits on 25 acres of land, even features 150-ton handles and two 725-lb. gold-leaf-painted tags. Not surprisingly, it is considered the world's largest basket. Recognizing the sightseeing appeal, Longaberger offers tour.
Giant Gorilla Holding A VW Bug - Leicester, VT
Meet Queen Connie, the enormous concrete gorilla stationed along Route 7 in Leicester, Vermont, where she proudly hoists a rusting Volkswagen Bug high above her head. Erected in 1987, Connie was the brainchild of sculptor T.J. Neil. He pitched the gorilla as an advertising ploy to attract attention to Pioneer Auto Sales, the used-car lot over which Connie presides. Neil promised “a sculpture that would get world recognition,” recalls Pioneer’s owner, Joan O’Neil-Gittens. The stunt worked: Over the next two and a half decades, Connie lured in visitors by the busload. She has served her purpose, Connie has put the dealership on the map.
Paul Bunyan Statue - Bemidji, MN
As the mythical hero of lumberjack camps nationwide, many Paul Bunyan statues dot roadsides across the U.S. But there is one that stands out among the pack. The boxy Bunyan in Bemidji, Minnesota is rumored to be the first in the nation. The 18-ft.-tall, 2.5-ton shrine, erected in 1937, honors the mythic man who became a symbol of strength and vitality from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to the Western frontier. And what Bunyan statue would be complete without his trusty sidekick Babe the Blue Ox? Babe joined Paul in Bemidji in 1939 after an illustrious career as a traveling carnival star.
What better way to celebrate Summer than by taking a road trip? Nestled between Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, Alcatraz Island and dozens of other destinations are these nostalgic, gaudy, run-down and kitschy locations. Roadside statues and monuments that have become landmarks drawing tourists from miles around to have their pictures taken standing next to them. It is all apart of the American Dream - come and join in the fun!
~THE DOMESTIC CURATOR~
This giant lobster sits roadside down in the Florida Keys. As we flew by, doing a double take, we couldn't resist - we stopped, took pictures and of course spent money. Just what the owners were counting on!