Photo courtesy of iStock / michaelquirk
Mermaids, martians and mysterious lights
America’s highways and interstates are dotted with kitschy theme parks, bizarre curiosities, larger-than-life fiberglass animals and "world’s largest" objects. As the U.S. highways system expanded in the 1930s, so did competition to lure drivers to stop (and spend their money).
With the popularity of road tripping and RV travel on the rise, we’ve decided to take a closer look at the American institution that is roadside attractions by highlighting one in each state.
Photo courtesy of @chesleighmuch via Instagram
Alabama - Lady in the Lake
According to local lore, this giant fiberglass sculpture, created by Mark Cline, started off as an elaborate April Fools' joke on the owner of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham. George Barber loved the installation so much, he decided to keep it. These days, the Lady can be found in the public Barber Marina in Elberta.
Photo courtesy of JLS Photography - Alaska via Flickr
Alaska - Hammer Museum
This four-room museum claims to be the first in the world dedicated to preserving the history of the hammer, and we believe them. Visitors to this popular Haines attraction can see more than 2,000 hammer-related artifacts (including the world’s largest hammer collection) that tell the story of this humble tool.
Photo courtesy of @itinerant.life via Instagram
Arizona - The Thing
Drive between Phoenix and El Paso, and you’re sure to see billboards enticing you toward The Thing. But what is The Thing? You may or may not get an answer by visiting this roadside stop in Texas Canyon, an oddities museum covering all sorts of conspiracy theories (many aliens are involved).
Photo courtesy of @penguinbabe1992 via Instagram
Arkansas - Alma Popeye Fountain
Everyone’s favorite sailor stands tall in his very own fountain in the town of Alma, where the annual Spinach Festival is held each April (Alma has called itself the Spinach Capital of the World). Find the bronze statue in the aptly named Popeye Park.
Photo courtesy of @robbievegas via Instagram
California - Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch
A state as big as California has no shortage of roadside attractions to entertain road trippers, but this forest of glass bottle trees ranks among the most photogenic. When Elmer Long inherited a huge collection of colored glass bottles from his father, he went to work creating bottle trees. The outdoor gallery in Oro Grande now has some 200 installations.
Photo courtesy of @tannerkb via Instagram
Colorado - UFO Watchtower
Alamosa, Colorado enjoys some of the darkest skies in the nation. Maybe that’s why the area has become known for frequent UFO sightings. The UFO Watchtower, located just outside Great Sand Dunes National Park, makes it easier for extraterrestrial watchers to spot a UFO for themselves from a 10-foot-tall viewing platform.
Photo courtesy of iStock / vikif
Connecticut - PEZ Visitor Center
Stop at the PEZ Visitor Center in Orange to see the world’s largest collection of PEZ memorabilia in a 4,000-square-foot facility. Highlights include the world’s largest PEZ dispenser, a motorcycle from Orange County Choppers built entirely of PEZ and a viewing area where you can watch PEZ production in real time.
Photo courtesy of @lindatowe via Instagram
Delaware - Miles the Monster
Pull into the parking lot at the Dover International Speedway to snap a photo with Miles the Monster, a 46-foot fiberglass creature with red eyes, an angry expression and a race car he looks ready to crush. Miles has become the mascot of the track, nicknamed The Monster Mile.
Photo courtesy of Maurice Rivenbark / VISIT FLORIDA
Florida - Weeki Wachee mermaids
Florida might have the only state park in the world with its very own mermaid show. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park features a 400-seat auditorium with a submerged stage inside the natural spring where the park’s famous mermaids perform underwater feats. These shows have been a park staple since 1947.
Photo courtesy of @olive_cats via Instagram
Georgia - Doll's Head Trail
If you need to stretch your legs on your next road trip through Georgia, consider taking this rather strange hike just outside downtown Atlanta. Doll’s Head Trail, located on the grounds of a former brick factory, gets its name from the collection of found art lining the path.
Local carpenter Joel Slaton began the project as a way to use discarded doll parts and other trash, and he encouraged hikers to add to the ever-evolving installation.
Photo courtesy of @wanderwoman285 via Instagram
Hawaii - Pineapple Garden Maze
Many a road tripper driving around the island of Oahu has stopped at Dole Plantation to tackle one of the world’s largest mazes. The Pineapple Garden Maze occupies three acres with nearly 2.5 miles of paths, all made from 14,000 Hawaiian plants. It’s one of only a few permanent botanical mazes in the United States.
Photo courtesy of The Spud Drive In
Idaho - The Spud Drive In
If you’re driving through Eastern Idaho’s Teton Valley on Highway 33 on a Friday or Saturday, be sure to pull into the Spud Drive In for an evening double feature. The drive-in, built in 1953, also offers onsite accommodations for drivers who want to catch a movie and some ZZZs before hitting the road.
Photo courtesy of @loganczar via Instagram
Illinois - Kaskaskia Dragon
If you’ve ever wanted to make a dragon breathe fire, Illinois has you covered. The 35-foot-tall Kaskaskia Dragon stands guard over an RV park in the town of Vandalia; the town’s liquor and hardware stores sell "dragon tokens" that, when inserted, prompt flames to erupt from the dragon’s mouth for 10 seconds or so.
Photo courtesy of @madisonsego via Instagram
Indiana - World's Largest Ball of Paint
Mike and Glenda Carmichael have been watching over the World’s Largest Ball of Paint in Alexandria, Indiana for more than three decades. The ball weighs in at more than 4,000 pounds made from 23,400 or so layers of paint. Visitors are welcome to snap a picture with the World Record holder, or add a coat of paint themselves.
In case you were wondering, blue and yellow are the most popular colors, with more than 3,000 coats each.
Photo courtesy of Iowa Tourism Office
Iowa - Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk
In 2228 (or 2238 depending on what fan site you check), James Tiberius Kirk of "Star Trek" fame will be born in the town of Riverside, Iowa. A stone marker behind a hair salon commemorates the spot.
Photo courtesy of @boneclinks13 via Instagram
Kansas - World's Largest Ball of Twine
The World’s Largest Ball of Twine began in 1953. Frank Stoeber, the man behind the marvel, completed the 5,000-pound ball in four years and gave it to Cawker City. Each August, the town hosts a twine-a-thon, where residents and visitors add additional twine.
Photo courtesy of @the_eccentric_south via Instagram
Kentucky - The Chained Rock
Local legend will tell you that a giant boulder hangs above the town of Pineville, held in place atop Pine Mountain by a massive chain tethering it to its spot. In reality, the Chained Rock was created as a roadside tourist attraction in the 1930s, when locals attached a 101-foot-long chain to the boulder, which was firmly rooted in place.
Photo courtesy of @shivermykimbers via Instagram
Louisiana - Britney Spears Museum
The Kentwood Historical and Cultural Arts Museum, also known as the Britney Spears Museum, honors the pop star who put the tiny town of Kentwood (population 2,200) on the map, having been born there in 1981. The museum has four rooms filled with Britney memorabilia along with fan photos and awards.
Photo courtesy of @just.being.ian via Instagram
Maine - Desert of Maine
Outside of the coastal town of Freeport, you’ll find some 40 acres of sand dunes and silt, known as the Desert of Maine. This oddity was the result of poor crop rotation that made the land unfarmable. While not a true desert (the area gets too much rainfall to qualify), the reverse oasis brings in tends of thousands of visitors each year who come to walk in the sand and snap a photo with the fiberglass camel.
Photo courtesy of @nmemediaco via Instagram
Maryland - Spocott Windmill
An 1800s village just outside Cambridge is home to Maryland’s only post-style windmill, the Spocott Windmill. The entire structure can be rotated into the wind, and the mill still operates occasionally. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the grounds, which includes a single-room schoolhouse, country store and doctor’s office as well.
Photo courtesy of @jay_roofoh_photo via Instagram
Massachusetts - Ponyhenge
A pasture outside of Lincoln, Massachusetts is home to a growing herd of old rocking horses and plastic ponies. No one is sure when or why the first horse arrived, but it was sometime around 2010. One soon became two, then several. Today, Ponyhenge continues to grow and evolve, so it never looks the same way twice.
Photo courtesy of Santos Chronicles
Michigan - Town of Hell
If someone tells you to "go to Hell," they may be talking about Hell, Michigan. This town 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor has truly embraced the diabolical puns and has fun with its name. Take the Grave Digger challenge at the Creamatory ice cream shop, pick up a Damnation University college sweatshirt or send a scorched card to a friend (or enemy) from the town’s post office.
Photo courtesy of Explore Minnesota
Minnesota - Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox
According to local legend, the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota are in fact Paul Bunyan’s waterlogged footprints. Visitors can snap their photo with the iconic lumberjack and his giant blue ox (Babe) in Bemidji, where they’ve stood since 1937 and 1939 respectively. The nearby Visitor Center displays one of his giant-sized flannel shirts, among other personal effects.
Photo courtesy of iStock / karenfoleyphotography
Mississippi - Windsor Ruins
This series of 23 Corinthian columns are all that remain of the largest pre-Civil War Greek Revival home in Mississippi, just outside Port Gibson. The home, built in 1861, was eventually destroyed by fire from a cigar in 1890.
Photo courtesy of City of Independence Tourism
Missouri - Leila's Hair Museum
This museum in Independence, Missouri may just be the only one on the planet dedicated to works of art made from human hair. The collection includes hair jewelry and wreaths, some dating back to the Victorian period. Some pieces contain hair from Queen Victoria, several U.S. Presidents and numerous celebrities.
Photo courtesy of iStock / Sarah Klein
Montana - Garden of 1,000 Buddhas
Amid the mountain peaks of Montana’s scenic Jocko Valley, you’ll find the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, a public park and Buddhist center representing the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. The Buddha statues are arranged in the shape of an eight-spoked Dharma wheel that symbolizes the cycle of life and the eightfold path to enlightenment.
Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism
Nebraska - Carhenge
In 1987, the Reinders family constructed a replica of Stonehenge made from 38 junkyard cars in honor of their father. The landmark, just north of Alliance, has quickly become one of the state’s top attractions.
Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
Nevada - Goldwell Open Air Museum
This open air art museum outside the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada features seven colossal installations, including a 25-foot-tall naked cinderblock woman and a version of Da Vinci’s painting "The Last Supper" featuring ghostly figures. The nearly 8-acre museum is free and open to the public daily.
Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism
New Hampshire - Chutters Candy Store
Stock up on road trip treats at the World’s Longest Candy Counter in Littleton, New Hampshire. The Chutters candy counter features more than 500 types of sweet treats, from gummy bears and jelly beans to fudge and chocolate.
Photo courtesy of @highway_highlights via Instagram
New Jersey - Lucy the Elephant
Real estate developer James Lafferty built Lucy the Elephant in 1881 as a way to attract potential buyers to the Atlantic City coast. Lucy stands 65 feet tall, and she was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 due to her distinction as one of the oldest surviving zoomorphic buildings and roadside attractions in the country.
Photo courtesy of New Mexico TRUE
New Mexico - Roswell
The town of Roswell has become a bit of a pop culture phenomenon, thanks to the nearby alleged UFO crash site. Expect plenty of cheese, whether you’re visiting the exhibits at the International UFO Museum, grabbing a drink at The Alien Caffeine Espresso Bar or taking a VR journey through the galaxy at the Spaceport Roswell.
Photo courtesy of @aly_rose22 via Instagram
New York - Kaatskill Kaleidoscope
A former silo at Riseley Flats Farm in New York was transformed into a 60-foot-tall, 37.5-feet-in-diameter kaleidoscope, the largest in the world. Visitors can experience this colorful attraction during a Kaleidoshow, a visual and sound experience viewed through tapered mirrors inside the silo.
Photo courtesy of @carolinegilmore_1 via Instagram
North Carolina - Vollis Simpson's Whirligig Park
This art park in Downtown Wilson features kinetic sculptures by WWII veteran and resident Vollis Simpson. These "whirligigs" were made with a host of old moving pieces, some standing more than 50 feet tall.
Photo courtesy of @oj_pinklemonade via Instagram
North Dakota - Salem Sue
The town of New Salem, North Dakota is home to the "World’s Largest Holstein Cow," built to honor the region’s dairy farming industry. Salem Sue stands 38 feet tall and can be seen from up to five miles away.
Photo courtesy of @badwayz4life via Instagram
Ohio - Field of Concrete Corn
The "Field of Corn (with Osage Oranges Trees)" in Dublin, Ohio, a project of the Dublin Art Council, features 109 human-sized ears of corn in row patterns – a tribute to the community’s farming heritage. Malcolm Cochran, the man who designed the installation, is a professor of sculpture at Ohio State University. Each cob weighs about 1,500 pounds.
Photo courtesy of Lori Duckworth/Oklahoma Tourism
Oklahoma - POPS
A drive along Route 66 through Oklahoma wouldn’t be complete without a stop at POPS in Arcadia, marked by a 66-foot-tall soda pop bottle. This relatively new roadside attraction doubles as a modern gas station and convenience store selling nearly 500 different sodas. You can also grab a burger and fries at the cafe.
Photo courtesy of @einahpets_eb via Instagram
Oregon - Prehistoric Gardens
Instagram-worthy roadside attractions don’t get much better than the Prehistoric Gardens in the coastal rainforests of Oregon. This collection of life-sized dinosaur sculptures near Port Orford started as the art project of the late Ernest Nelson in 1953. Nelson would construct 23 dinosaurs in total over three decades, including an 86-foot-long Brachiosaurus.
Photo courtesy of @allenwrench89 via Instagram
Pennsylvania - Haines Shoe House
This shoe-shaped house was built in 1948 by Mahlon Haines, modeled after a high-topped work shoe. The structure was originally used as a guesthouse (it has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room), but today serves as an ice cream shop that also offers tours.
Photo courtesy of @georgiabluephoto via Instagram
Rhode Island - Big Blue Bug
In 1980, New England Pest Control moved into a new building in Providence along I-95 and decided to put a steel and fiberglass Eastern Subterranean Termite on their roof. This 58-foot-long, 4,000-pound Big Blue Bug (which the business was later named after) was originally painted purple, but sun exposure eventually faded it to blue.
Photo courtesy of iStock / Kruck20
South Carolina - The Peachoid
South Carolina is home to one of the most photographed water tanks in the United States, known as the Peachoid. The giant peach-shaped tower in Gaffney was painted with 20 colors and 50 gallons of paint to resemble the type of peaches grown throughout Cherokee County. You might recognize it from the Netflix series "House of Cards."
Photo courtesy of @lauragriertravel via Instagram
South Dakota - Porter Sculpture Park
The Porter Sculpture Park, located 30 miles west of Sioux Falls, features more than 50 larger-than-life sculptures, including a 60-foot bull’s head. Visitors are encouraged to touch the art and take photos, and the site is dog-friendly for those road tripping pooches as well.
Photo courtesy of @quirkysights via Instagram
Tennessee - The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Gatlinburg holds the honor of being home to the world’s only Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (as far as we know). The quirky collection comprises 20,000 sets of salt and pepper shakers from around the globe, as well as a sizable collection of pepper mills.
Photo courtesy of Travel Texas
Texas - Marfa Lights
Prada Marfa might be the most famous roadside attraction in West Texas, but the Marfa Lights win out as the most mysterious. Pull over to the viewing platform off Highway 90 in Presidio County at night to witness the phenomenon for yourself. Many have reported strange lights hovering on the horizon, sometimes darting back and forth.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Eugene Lee
Utah - Metaphor: The Tree of Utah
If you’re driving through the vast Great Salt Lake Desert along I-80, you might notice this 87-foot-tall sculpture rising from the landscape. "Metaphor: The Tree of Utah," designed by Swedish artist Karl Momen, features a trunk supporting six spheres, each covered in rocks and minerals native to Utah.
Photo courtesy of @mayfayre via Instagram
Vermont - Whale Dance
Artist Jim Sardonis designed and installed a pair of whale tails off Interstate 89 in 1989. The original pair were moved to South Burlington in 1999, and a new pair, called Whale Dance, were created to replace them in 2019. Fossils of ancient beluga whales have been found throughout Vermont, which was underwater during the Paleozoic Era.
Photo courtesy of Adam Jackson (@dayglo_rabies) via Instagram
Virginia - Dinosaur Kingdom II
Dinosaur Kingdom II in Natural Bridge, Virginia isn’t just another fiberglass dinosaur park. It transports guests back to the Civil War, with a Jurassic twist. Walk among the life-sized displays of dinosaurs duking it out with Union and Confederate troops in what might be the strangest alternate history.
Photo courtesy of @infinitykitty__ via Instagram
Washington - Nutty Narrows Bridge
Longview local Amos Peters built the Nutty Narrows Bridge in 1963 to give the town’s squirrel population a way to cross a busy street without getting run over by passing cars. The 60-foot bridge, built from aluminum and fire hose, cost about $1,000 to construct. Today, at least four additional squirrel bridges have been build throughout town.
Photo courtesy of Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress
West Virginia - Hillbilly Hot Dogs
This roadside hot dog stand in Lesage, West Virginia is a must-stop for hungry road trippers. The menu features a huge selection of hot dogs, including the Original HomeWrecker (a 15-inch, one-pound hot dog with two pounds of toppings) and the Original WidowMaker (a 30-inch, two-pound hot dog with four pounds of toppings).
Photo courtesy of @ianmtb via Instagram
Wisconsin - Pinkie the Pink Elephant
If you’re driving through Wisconsin, consider stopping to say hello to one of DeForest’s most famous residents, a giant pink elephant with thick black glasses by the name of Pinkie. Pinkie has stood beside a roadside gas station since the 1960s.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Eugene Lee
Wyoming - World's Largest Elkhorn Arch
The town of Afton, Wyoming is home to the state’s (and the world’s) largest elkhorn arch, made from some 3,000 antlers. The arch spans Main Street and measures 18 feet fall. A majority of the antlers came from the Wyoming Elk Preserve near Jackson Hole.