See the USA in Your... Whatever You Want!
Remember as a kid those forced family road trips that seemed to last forever? But there were some good parts, too. One of the best parts of traveling cross-country via the nation's highways were the nutty roadside attractions. Well, there are plenty of these still alive and well in the USA. Get ready to see some of the country's most oddball sights to get you started, guaranteed to keep you and the kids fascinated, repulsed and/or in stitches.
Alabama - Boll Weevil Monument
Better skip this one if bugs make you squeamish. Claiming to be the only memorial dedicated to an insect, Enterprise, Alabama's Boll Weevil Monument is actually there to teach history. If you ever had the slightest bit of curiosity regarding the role the weevil had in shaping southern agriculture, this is a must-see. It's also cool if you really need to see a Greek-looking statue holding a giant boll weevil toward the heavens.
California - International Banana Museum
Billed as "the world's largest collection devoted to any one fruit," banana lovers can take in more than 20,000 banana-themed items in Mecca, California while sipping banana flavored soda (four different kinds!) or a banana shake. If you prefer to keep it even colder, there are banana splits and frozen bananas to enhance the dolls, pins, lotions, hangers, candles and so on. There may always be money in the banana stand, but the International Banana Museum has its own Banana Ambassador which, as far as we know, doesn't attend United Nations meetings - but you never know.
Colorado - UFO Watchtower
Little surprise that proprietor Judy Messoline of the UFO Watchtower is a huge X-Files fan. Hooper, Colorado is the place for hardcore alien lovers, with its long history of paranormal activity. Check out the website for a list of tower sightings and alleged cattle mutilations by extraterrestrials - these you might want to keep from the young ones. Visit the actual site for a plethora of UFO-related items in the museum and shop, then take a turn in the tower and hopefully add your own experience to the list. You can even camp there year round if one night just isn't enough.
Florida - Coral Castle
"Who's Ed?" you might ask. Ed is, in fact, Edward Leedskalnin; like many men before him, he wanted to create a monument to proclaim his love (even though the "love" in this case dumped him the day before their wedding). Miami, Florida may have a lot of beaches, but it also has the Coral Castle, built over the span of nearly three decades by just one man who supposedly carved and built the coral rock castle using only hand tools. If you ever wanted to channel your inner Flintstone and move a nine-ton gate with the touch of a finger, and who hasn't, this museum is a dream come true.
Georgia - Lunch Box Museum
Lunchboxes just aren't as interesting as they used to be. Sure, kids today can get a nifty bento box-type deal with compartments for each of their healthy foods. But those hungry for a blast from the past will adore Columbus, Georgia's Lunch Box Museum. With more than 1,000 lunch boxes, thermoses, coolers, and more, you might get a little misty when you come across a Dukes of Hazzard box; see, Mom - it was collectible! You might even find a duplicate of your favorite to purchase and make your own kids enjoy the same metallic experience you had in middle school.
Illinois - Gemini Giant
There are plenty of reasons to take a long drive along U.S. Route 66, and add to those reasons Wilmington, Illinois' Gemini Giant. Although he was allegedly used to shill mufflers back when he was built, the enduring story is that he was built in honor of the Gemini space program in the mid-1960s. If his 30-foot height doesn't turn your head, perhaps the menacing expression underneath his welder's mask-looking space helmet might invade your psyche for weeks to come.
Maine - International Cryptozoology Museum
Maine is a state full of incredible natural beauty. It also has some of the most bizarre attractions in the country. One that combines science with science fiction is Portland's International Cryptozoology Museum, which studies hidden and unknown "animals," including Bigfoot, Nessie, and other cryptids. The museum, which claims to be the only one in the world, proudly displays items such as hair from Abominable Snowmen, feces from a Yeti, and… a letter from actor James Stewart. Yes, George Bailey was a Yeti fan. Those Finding Bigfoot guys would be smart to pay this place a visit for some tips.
Michigan - Dinosaur Gardens
Another thing the U.S. seems to have in abundance? Dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs. If you prefer to have your dinosaurs in a more natural setting instead of just hanging out by the side of a highway, the Dinosaur Gardens Prehistoric Zoo in Ossineke, Michigan should be on your vacation short list. Wander through the park on your own or take a guided carriage tour; either way, it's hard to be surrounded by life-sized dino replicas without worrying they'll go all Jurassic Park on you and your loved ones. If you need a break from giant lizard statues, there's frozen yogurt, as well as a cute mini golf course designed by Frank McCourt (which may or may not be the same guy who wrote Angela's Ashes).
Minnesota - Largest Ball of Twine Rolled by One Man
There's actually more than one "Largest Ball of Twine" claim to fame within the U.S. - but only Darwin, Minnesota proudly claims that theirs was rolled by just one guy. Now here's a hobby to while away those long winter nights when Netflix just isn't cutting it. The gentleman in question was Francis A. Johnson, who began this endeavor in 1950, adding to the ball four hours a night for nearly six months. It might not be a coral castle, but it's still shows plenty of dedication.
Missouri - Community Bookshelf
You thought they only grew stuff big in Texas? Well, maybe a visit to the "Show Me" state is in order. Not only are there giant shuttlecocks, a giant fork, and a giant giant crawling from beneath the earth, but the giant Community Bookshelf near the Kansas City downtown library's parking garage will make every bibliophile think she's died and gone to heaven. This is a rare attraction where the citizens had a say in its construction: Locals got to choose which 42 titles would be on the spines of the books. Parking in a regular garage will never be as intellectually stimulating as sheltering a vehicle near this wonder.
Montana – Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
What do the Dalai Lama and Arlee, Montana have in common? They both have a mission to cultivate peace. If you're looking for an American attraction that looks incredibly out of place, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas will have you rubbing your eyes and wondering if you somehow transported from the Great Plains to the Far East. The 750-foot monument features statues arranged in the "wheel of dharma" and is still under construction, helped along by devoted followers. If your road trip requires a little bit of quiet contemplation before the next biggest whatever, stop by the central shrine and pay your respects to Yum Chenmo, the Great Mother.
New Hampshire - America's Stonehenge
If you always wanted to travel across the pond to visit the mysterious wonder that is Stonehenge but you just haven't gotten around to getting a passport, be of good cheer: We have our very own here in the U.S.! Like the English version, Salem, New Hampshire's aptly-named America's Stonehenge has unknown origins. Did Irish monks put it together? Or maybe Vikings? Perhaps Native Americans created the 4,000-year-old structure? Regardless, it's weird, a little creepy, and looks absolutely nothing like its UK namesake. Which is just fine, because theirs doesn't have adorable alpacas greeting guests like ours does.
New Jersey - Lucy the Elephant
Riding an elephant is fun. Climbing into a 65-foot-high elephant and exploring its insides? Well, that's another level of excitement completely. Margate City, New Jersey is the home to Lucy the Elephant, built in 1882 and modeled after Jumbo, the elephant owned by famous circus magnate P.T. Barnum. There are guided tours through Lucy every half hour, and don't be surprised if you run into a school field trip or two. This is a historic landmark which makes New Jersey proud - unlike some of those other "famous" residents of the Jersey Shore.
Oregon - The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and Museum
Possibly the best name of any attraction on this list, The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and Museum is, of course, located in Portland. Keeping Portland weird is easy, thanks to this fantastic collection of oddities and monstrosities. Definitely a place best left to the adults and kids with strong stomachs, anyone not prone to recurring nightmares will also enjoy this slice of bizarro heaven. Sadly, the Bug Eater's Delight sundae - complete with larvae and ant cookie - is no longer served, but you can still get chocolate-dipped insects and ant cookies from the gift shop to tempt your friends and family after your travels. Yum!
Pennsylvania - Haines Shoe House
An oversized building created by an eccentric millionaire? It's probably not what you think. This creation is the Haines Shoe House located in Yorklyn, Pennsylvania. "Colonel" Mahlon N. Haines (who sold shoes, go figure) built the gleaming white shoe/house in 1948 as a way to advertise his goods without saying a word. Travelers were drawn to this footwear-shaped beacon, and found some pretty good deals for their trouble. Today, the shoe is a seasonal attraction, open from the first day of spring though the end of October. Didn't you always want to eat ice cream in a gigantic shoe? Here you go.
South Carolina - Peachoid
There's just something about tooling along Interstate 85 in Gaffney, South Carolina and coming across what looks like a large pair of buttocks looming in the sky. But wait - that's not a butt, it's a peach! Gaffney's water tower, otherwise known as the Peachoid, was constructed in 1981; it's possibly the one roadside attraction that provides a vital service (as well as causing accidents - at least it did on House of Cards). The jaunty green leaf alone is 60 feet long, so those who like their fruit large are in for a treat. South Carolina also claims they produce more peaches than Georgia, so this may be a not-so-subtle thumbing of the nose at its neighbor.
South Dakota - Porter Sculpture Park
There are giant statues, and then there are the giant statues that pepper Montrose, South Dakota's Porter Sculpture Park. This dog-friendly attraction encourages visitors to touch all of the art - more than 50 pieces of it. Self-taught artist Wayne Porter bases his designs "on instinct" (and a pretty vivid imagination) vs. math or diagrams of any kind. This is one of Interstate 90's most popular attractions. Where else can you see not only huge bull's head, but dragons, a frog in mid-dissection, and a creepy jack-in-the-box with blood tears? Sorry, Mount Rushmore; you're so over.
Tennessee - The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Combine a love of condiments and kitsch and you get the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. Located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you can browse more than 20,000 shakers, some of which date all the way back to the 1500s. If you want to start a collection of your own, there are plenty of sets for purchase in the gift shop (a Tardis and Dalek existing in spicy harmony? Yes, please!). Just don't ask about the number of holes in the shakers if you want to be interesting: It's the most common question "shaker expert" and former archaeologist Andrea Rolf gets from visitors.
Vermont - Bread and Puppet Museum
Lest you think that the oddest thing about Vermont is a graveyard where now defunct Ben & Jerry's flavors have their final resting place, you need the Bread and Puppet Museum. Founded in the town of Glover in 1974 (after the Bread and Puppet Theater moved here), the museum now houses some of the most bizarre, chill-inducing (and life-sized) puppets you've ever seen. If you even once imagined yourself surrounded by giant heads that look as though they want to swallow you whole, this may just be your greatest place on earth (Tim Burton might get some fresh ideas here as well).
Wyoming – The Fossil Cabin
So maybe you checked out all of the fake dinosaurs scattered throughout the country, but long to get closer to the real thing. Well, you're in luck: About five miles east of Medicine Bow, Wyoming, you'll find what's called "The World's Oldest Building." The Fossil Cabin, named as such for the 5,796 dinosaur bones that were dug up nearby, was originally built as part of a gas station in 1932 by bone collector Thomas Boylan. The cabin eventually lost visitors as an interstate was built south of U.S. Route 30. Not just a roadside attraction, the cabin has been part of the National Register of Historic Places since 2008... believe it or not.
When you're ready to jump in the car and take a trip, you've got plenty to keep you and your little ones entertained. Throw in a few scenic drives and you'll have a vacation no one will ever forget.