Top 10 weird and wonderful USA roadside attractions


There is a sense of humor around every corner when you’re driving in the USA. How else to explain those wacky, way-out-in-left-field roadside attractions you’ll stumble upon? Sculptures made of cars, energy vortexes and oversized household items are just the beginning. Here are our favorite offbeat stops.

Cadillac Ranch – Texas

In 1974, the late, local eccentric millionaire Stanley Marsh planted 10 Cadillacs (vintage 1949 to 1963) headlights down in a deserted stretch of dirt outside Amarillo – and then moved them further out in 1997 to escape town encroachment. The reason? He said he constructed what has come to be known as Cadillac Ranch (I-40 between exits 60 & 62) in a salute to Route 66, using cars he considered to represent the golden age of car travel.

The accepted practice today is to leave your own mark on the art by drawing on the cars. Bring spray paint in case other visitors haven’t left any around. Occasionally, the cars get a makeover, like when they were all painted pink in honor of breast cancer awareness. To get here, park along the south feeder road a couple of miles west of Loop 335, and walk the well-worn path. As cool as it sounds, there’s a sort of forlorn feel to the place.

World’s Largest Ball of Twine – Minnesota

There’s much ado about which ball of twine actually holds the record these days, but why not pay your respects to the original that started all the fuss? Behold the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Darwin, 62 miles west of Minneapolis on US 12. To be specific, it’s the “Largest Built by One Person” – Francis A Johnson wrapped the 17,400lb whopper on his farm over the course of 29 years. Gawk at it in the town gazebo. Better yet, visit the museum beside it and buy your own twine ball starter kit in the gift shop.

Unclaimed Baggage Center – Alabama

Head into downtown Scottsboro, Alabama, on Hwy 279 and follow the signs to the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Wait…is that your iPhone? The one you left in the seat pocket on that flight from Poughkeepsie? Probably. This Macy’s-sized retail space is the end of the line for the majority of unclaimed bags in the US. After 90 days, the airlines send your lost luggage here. It takes thrift shop-level patience, but there you’ll find Tumi luggage, Kate Spade bags, Bruno Magli loafers, cameras, laptops, golf clubs – you name it – all for a fraction of retail.

Wall Drug Store – South Dakota

A tourist trap par excellence, this drugstore in South Dakota is famous for its roadside billboards that start advertising “free ice water” several states away, but it’s a surprisingly worthy stop. They really do have 5¢ coffee, free ice water and enough diversions to warm the heart of schlock-lovers everywhere. Don’t miss the animatronic dinosaurs.

Coral Castle is a labor of love by an eccentric Latvian immigrant named Edward Leedskalnin from 1923 to 1951 © BorisVetshev / Shutterstock

Coral Castle – Florida

This favored stop in Homestead is one man’s kitschy do-it-yourself testament to lost love. Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin dug up over 2.2 million tons of coral rock to build this mock castle that took him nearly 30 years (1923-1951) to complete. Its engineering was once a bit of mystery, especially since the broken-hearted Romeo worked secretively at night without using any mortar. Some claim that the marvel has unusual electromagnetic properties.

Lucas – Kansas

“Outsider art,” meaning works created outside the bounds of traditional culture, has blossomed in tiny Lucas. Samuel Dinsmoor began it all in 1907 by filling his yard with enormous concrete sculptures espousing his eccentric philosophies. His Garden of Eden is visible from the sidewalk, but paid admission lets you hear some wonderful stories and see his remains in a glass-topped coffin.

Photo of the 65-foot tall Lucy the Elephant in Margate, New Jersey
Six-story Lucy the Elephant was built by James V. Lafferty in 1882 in an effort to sell real estate and attract tourism © Aneese / Getty Images

Lucy the Elephant – New Jersey

Drive around the beach communities just south of Atlantic City, and something massive, gray and kitsch will stop you in your tracks: Lucy the Elephant, a 65ft-high wooden pachyderm constructed in 1881 as a developer’s truly weird scheme to attract land buyers to the area. It was variously used as a hotel, beach cottage, private mansion and last, a tavern, but rowdy patrons almost destroyed her. Now recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, Lucy is a beloved part of the city.  

The Shoe Tree of Middlegate – Nevada 

Located on the “Loneliest Road in America,” the Shoe Tree of Middlegate is a testament to love. Story goes that to keep his girlfriend from leaving after an argument, a man threw the women’s shoes into a tree. After cooler heads prevailed, the two reconciled and went on to live a happy life. Since then, traveling sweethearts having been throwing their shoes into the tree. The original tree was chopped down by vandals in 2010, but a second tree was selected in 2017.  

A person wearing an alien costume in a flying saucer roller skates through traffic down Main Street during the UFO Festival on July 2, 2021 in Roswell, New Mexico
Roswell, New Mexico, is the epicenter of all things extraterrestrial in the US © PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP / Getty Images

Roswell – New Mexico

No list is complete without Roswell, New Mexico – if you believe that “The Truth is Out There,” then this is your spot. In 1947, a mysterious object crashed at a nearby ranch. No one would have skipped any sleep over it, but the military made a big to-do of hushing it up, and for a lot of folks, that sealed it: the aliens had landed!

International curiosity and local ingenuity have transformed the city into a quirky extraterrestrial-friendly zone. Bulbous white heads glow atop the downtown street lamps.

Believers and kitsch-seekers must check out the International UFO Museum & Research Center, displaying documents supporting the cover-up as well as lots of far-out art and exhibitions. The annual Roswell UFO Festival beams down over the July 4 weekend, with an otherworldly costume parade, guest speakers, workshops and concerts.

Meteor Crater – Arizona

The second most impressive hole in Arizona was formed by a fiery meteor that screamed into the atmosphere about 50,000 years ago, when giant sloths lived in these parts. Meteor Crater, 40 miles east of Flagstaff, is an out-of-this-world site for those with a thimbleful of imagination. Nearly a mile across and 600ft deep, there are lookout points around the crater’s edge but no hiking to the bottom. Check out the fun, informative visitor center.

Keep planning your USA road trip: 

Plot your route with the best road trips in the USA
Listen to the experts: I took my camper van across 48 US states. These are my 10 favorites
Hit the highlights with 11 amazing experiences in the USA

This article was first published Jun 16, 2010 and updated May 5, 2024.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top