Is there any endeavour more classic to America than the road trip? The mythology of the US highway is as deep and long as the Grand Canyon and it’s not hard to see why.
After all, there is no better way to get under the country’s skin and soak in its natural majestic beauty than by hitting the open road, passing through long-forgotten towns, eating in tiny roadside diners, and driving miles out of your way to take a selfie in front of the world’s largest ball of string.
Roadside attractions have been a staple of American culture since long-distance road travel became popular in the 1920s. Fodder for postcards, novelty-seekers, and Instagram feeds, these various noteworthy stopping points are often totally bizarre - and the World’s Largest Ball of Twine (in Cawker City, Kansas, if you’re interested) is just the tip of the weird and wonderful iceberg.
From novelty architecture, supersize common objects, monuments and pseudo-scientific amusements, America’s bonkers roadside attractions can sometimes be well worth the detour, sometimes for the story behind them alone. A fruit-shaped planted maze, a shopping centre where you can buy unclaimed luggage, and let’s not forget dinosaurs - these, and many more, are the perfect excuse to get off the beaten path and see the USA’s peculiar underbelly.
Other attractions, however, are not worth your time. Sometimes, bad taste is high art, and sometimes, well, it’s just bad taste.
We’ve rounded up the most extravagant, most bizarre American roadside attractions from coast to coast, and listed a few that aren’t worth the bother. It's time to hit the open road…
25 25. California’s Roarsome Attraction: The Cabezon Dinosaurs
For the past 35 years, travellers driving west on Interstate 10 in Southern California have been greeted by the unusual view of two giant dinosaurs on an arid plain, surrounded by mountains.
Dinny the Dinosaur, a 150-foot-long recreation of an Apatosaurus, and his 65-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex counterpart, Mr. Rex, are part of a desert roadside attraction known as the Cabazon Dinosaurs. They were created by theme park artist and sand sculptor Claude Bell in the 1960s to attract customers to his business, the Wheel Inn Cafe.
Sadly, Bell has since passed away and his inn is no more, but the attraction is still going strong, and its current owners have co-oped Mr Rex and Dinny to spread their belief in creationism.
If the Cabazon Dinosaurs look familiar, you may recognise them from an old Coke commercial, various music videos, or the film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
24 24. Shopping With A Difference: The Unclaimed Baggage Centre, Alabama
This is a secondhand store with a unique supply chain - US airline companies - and it has the peculiar honour of being the only store in the country to sell lost luggage.
Born from the mind of a man named Doyle Owens in 1970, UCB has forged alliances with most major airlines, not only selling lost luggage but also random carry-on items which get left behind.
Based in Scottsboro, Alabama, the UCB has more than a million visitors per year, all keen to rummage through the left-behind belongings of strangers.
23 22. Like Stonehenge, But With Cars: Carhenge, Nebraska
Since its inception and construction in the 1980s, this truly American tribute to England’s famous Stonehenge has become one of the best-loved roadside attractions in the US.
It’s the brainchild of experimental artist Jim Reinders, who was so enthralled by the original, he decided to build his own tribute three miles north of Alliance. Thirty-eight automobiles were used to accurately mirror the real-life structure, including a handful of cars, a pick-up truck, an ambulance and a 1962 Cadillac.
22 21. Where Ice Creams Rest In Peace: The Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard, Vermont
Probably the sweetest graveyard in the world, this is where discontinued ice cream flavours get laid to rest.
The tongue-in-cheek attraction, located at the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, Vermont, first opened in 1997 as a company joke. Now filled with more than 35 mini-headstones dedicated to long-gone flavours such as Dublin Mudslide, it attracts visitors wanting to pay their respects to their favourite discontinued flavours, and even going so far as to leave flowers.
21 20. Fake Elephant, Amazing Story: Lucy The Elephant, New Jersey
America’s oldest example of zoomorphic architecture - yes, that is a thing - this 130-year-old, 65-foot pachyderm is six stories high and listed on the National Park Registry of Historical Landmarks.
Located along the beach in Josephine Harron Park, Margate, Lucy was built in 1881 to promote real estate sales and attract tourists and she is now the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in America,
Modelled after "Jumbo the Elephant", the famous elephant with Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth, Lucy was constructed at a cost of $25,000 - $38,000, and stands at 65 ft in height, 60 ft in length, 18 ft in width and weighs about 90 tons.
In her time, the monument has served as a restaurant, business office, a cottage and a tavern and is now a full-time attraction offering tours and a children’s play area.
20 13. A Dynamic Tribute To The Open Road: Cadillac Ranch, Texas
This outdoor sculpture installation in Amarillo is a must-see for art enthusiasts, classic car connoisseurs, and fans of oddball Americana.
Created in 1974 by a group of artists, this graffiti-spattered homage to American road travel breaks up the dusty Texas horizon with ten half-buried roadsters, nose first, slanted in a perfect row.
You know a roadside attraction has made it when it gets a shout out in popular culture, and Cadillac Ranch is not only the name of a Bruce Springsteen song, it was referenced in the Pixar animated film Cars, and featured in the video for James Brown’s “Living in America.”
19 12. Think Big: The Farnham Fantasy Farm, West Virginia
If you want to look dainty in your Instagram photos, there’s no better place to pose than The Farnham Fantasy Farm in Unger, West Virginia.
Located on the property of George and Pam Farnham, this project began when Pam found a 25-foot-tall, fibreglass Midas Muffler Man for sale on the cheap. She purchased it for George as a gift, and the rest is history.
The attraction is now home to a collection of massive statues of men, women and animals, from Santa Claus to surfers. What had started as one cool, kitschy gift, turned into a passionate hobby, and a fun pitstop for travellers on the road.
18 11. A Paranormal Pitstop: Oregon Vortex, Oregon
In the southern Oregon town of Gold Hill, a strange spot dubbed the Oregon Vortex House of Mystery has become a must-see for those passing through.
This place is famous for its supposed ability to cause items to roll uphill and odd perspectives that make people seem taller or shorter than their actual height. The gravity hill optical illusions are, according to the owners, the result of paranormal properties of the area - a magnetic vortex. Sceptics, however, are not so convinced. Pay a visit and make up your own mind.
17 23. The World’s Longest Plant Maze, Hawaii
The Pineapple Maze at the Dole pineapple plantation, on the North Shore of Oahu, is the current Guinness World Record holder for the largest plant maze in the world.
It stretches over an impressive three acres and includes nearly 2.5 miles of paths crafted from 14,000 native Hawaiian plants. But that’s not all - the whole structure was designed as a competitive game, which sounds like a whole lot of fun.
Visitors must discover eight secret stations that lead closer to the mystery at the heart of the labyrinth. The fastest times through the maze are posted on a sign at the entrance. For most visitors, it takes about an hour, but the record time to complete this record maze is just seven minutes.
16 19. If You Build It, They Will Come: The Enchanted Highway, North Dakota
There’s not an awful lot going on in western North Dakota, so in a bold and beautiful bid to keep his small hometown of Regent from fading into obscurity, retired teacher Gary Greff created the Enchanted Highway.
This collection of the world's largest scrap metal sculptures covers a 32-mile stretch of Highway 21, beginning near the town of Gladstone and terminating at Regent. What’s so remarkable about this endeavour is just how sensational the sculptures are, despite Greff previously having zero welding or artistic experience. The man had a dream and made it happen, and has succeeded in putting this little corner of the state well and truly on the map.
15 18. A Trippy, Painted Mound In The Desert: Salvation Mountain, California
This art exhibit slash "tribute to God" from artist Leonard Knight is located south of I-10, about five miles east of Hwy 111 at Niland, and about a 90-minute drive from Palm Springs.
Knight took up the endeavour after his hot air balloon failed in this bleak patch of desert, and he believed God then wanted him to spread a message of love in this hostile environment.
The mountain was created with old hay bales, paint, window putty, adobe and anything else its creator could get his hands on and has been covered in 100,000 gallons of paint. Knight worked on the project for the best part of 30 years before he passed away in 2014. Like all of the best roadside attractions, it was a true labour of love.
14 17. Beer Can Folk Art At Its Finest: Cano’s Castle, Colorado
This four-tower chateau, made almost entirely of suds cans and scrap metal, was built single-handedly by Donald “Cano” Espinoza, a Native and a Vietnam vet. In fact, despite the project having last 30 years, it’s an ongoing work-in-progress and Cano continues to add to its construction bit by bit.
The castle is actually four separate structures: “The king”, “the queen”, “the palace” and “the rook. ” The structure is Cano’s way of serving his thanks to God for having spared his life during the Vietnam war. If you’re passing near the city of Antonito, Cano’s Castle is well worth the detour.
13 16. The Hotel That Never Opened: Igloo City, Alaska
Located in Cantwell, Igloo City has become the town’s most perplexing attraction, in spite (or maybe because) of it never actually opening for business.
Constructed sometime in the 1970s, with the intention of being a hotel, it didn’t meet the building codes of the time. Several owners have tried to salvage the project, to no avail, so this four-story concrete structure has been left to fall into disrepair.
What makes Igloo City so bizarre is the sheer scale of its ambition - it’s so big it can be seen by airplanes at 30,000 ft.
12 15. A Desert Icon: Hole N’ The Rock, Utah
In the Moab Desert is one of Utah’s most curious attractions. Dubbed Hole N’ the Rock, this attraction is comprised of a 5,000-square foot home, with 14 furnished rooms, carved out of Utah sandstone. Plus there’s a zoo, art exhibits, general store, and a memorial to the home’s builders, Albert and Gladys Christensen.
Christensen began construction of his rock home in the 1940s, digging, carving, and blasting for 12 years before moving his family in and opening a unique diner for passersbys.
Today, Hole n’ the Rock remains a successful roadside attraction for travellers along US Highway 191 - and with signage like that, there’s no missing it.
11 14. Stop The Press: The Paper House, Massachusetts
This 80-year-old-house is built nearly entirely out of newspapers. Somewhat off the beaten path near Rockport, this house was created in 1922 by Ellis Stenman, who started out with one modest ambition - he wanted to see if he could insulate his summer house with newspaper. Somehow, the experiment turned into a full-fledged obsession, and he ended up using 100,000 newspapers to build walls, doors furniture - pretty much everything but the roof, floors, and frame.
Around 215 layers of paper were stuck together with a homemade glue of flour, water, and apple peels to make the one-inch-thick wall panels, and the furniture, including a clock, desk, and chair, is not only made from paper but is entirely functional. Totally worth the $2 admission fee.
10 10. Avoid: The World's Largest Ball of Twine, Kansas
There’s really not an awful lot to say - it’s literally just a giant ball of twine - and unless you just can’t get enough of thin, itchy rope, it’s probably not worth the pilgrimage to Cawker City.
Frank Stober started the ball of twine in 1953 and in just four years the ball weighed 5,000 lbs and stood eight feet tall. And it’s continually growing.
Every August, Cawker City holds an annual twine-a-thon, which is the general public’s chance to add their contribution to the ball, and it’s kind of a big deal. It does make us think that there might not be an awful lot to do in Cawker City.
9 9. Avoid: Jimmy Carter Smiling Peanut, Georgia
This statue of a toothy nut was erected by the Indiana Democratic Party to honour the peanut-farmer-turned-presidential hopeful as he campaigned around the Hoosier State during the 1976 campaign.
Standing at 13 feet tall and complete with a cheesy grin, the peanut stands in front of Davis E-Z Shop in Plains, and though it underwent repairs in 2000, it is once again in need of a little TLC. Plus, it’s just a bit creepy - no offence, sir.
8 8. Avoid: The World’s Largest Santa, Alaska
The tiny town of North Pole is not actually located at the North Pole, but this hasn’t stopped this town from capitalising on its name.
Standing 42 ft high and weighing in at 900 pounds, its statue of St. Nick is the largest in the world, but it’s little more than a giant advertisement for the Santa Claus House, a retailer which offers Christmas souvenirs and personalised letters from Santa - a place where Christmas never ends. Crimbo once a year is quite enough, thank you very much. Bah humbug.
7 7. Avoid: The Thing In Arizona
After passing more than 200 billboards advertising The Thing along Arizona's I-10 highway, it's nearly impossible to resist the urge to stop and find out what The Thing is. By the time you reach the tiny town of Texas Canyon, Arizona—home of The Thing—the question will have driven you mad. And even then, you won't be much closer to understanding what this whole attraction is all about.
In fact, it’s impossible to understand The Thing until you're staring right at it. While we won’t give the secret away, rest assured that the “Mystery of the Desert” should remain just that. Disappointing.
6 6. Avoid: The World’s Largest Ball of Stamps, Nebraska
If collecting stamps isn’t the kind of hobby that gets your blood pumping, then a giant ball of more than four million stamps is unlikely to pique your interest.
Located in Boys Town, this Nebraska attraction weighs a whopping 600lbs, has a diameter of 32 inches, and is positioned in front of a framed sunburst mural, also made of stamps because, well, that’s very much the theme.
The origins of this quirky anomaly date back to 1953, when a group known as the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club started to consolidate the less valuable stamps using a golf ball as a base. It’s a novel idea, we’ll give it that, but worth a stop on your road trip? Nah.