88 Weird Tourist Attractions Across America
Millions of people have been to bucket list museums like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, and the Smithsonian. Far fewer have had the privilege of visiting an inn shaped like a giant beagle. The United States offers offbeat attractions, some amusing, some inspiring, and some disturbing. Here are 90 quirky places to keep in mind for your next family road trip.
The Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman is also known as "Jerusalem in Miniature." Handmade by a Benedictine monk, the grotto is home to 125 miniature replicas of historic buildings, events, and shrines from around the world. Many of the pieces were made with donated materials -- everything from colored glass and pieces of marble to bathroom tiles. Visitors marvel at the detail.
Dolls of all sizes and kinds populate the free Aunt Claudia's Doll Museum in Juneau, the state capital, a few doors from the Alaskan Hotel, the oldest operating hotel in the state.
At Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, about an hour's drive southeast of Phoenix, visitors can see the remains of one of the largest prehistoric structures in North America. The Casa Grande and surrounding buildings and walls date back to about 1350. Children 15 and under are free; adults must purchase a $5 ticket that's valid for seven days.
In Eureka Springs, a small theme park draws large crowds of Christians. The main feature is "The Great Passion Play," a nearly two-hour re-enactment of the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. Special effects and live animals complement the 150-person cast. There is also a 67-foot, 2 million-pound Christ of the Ozarks statue and, somewhat inexplicably, a section of the Berlin Wall.
Tiny Town and Railroad, outside Denver, isn't just a few miniature houses; it's a complete model town shrunk down. This stop is a hit with young children, who can enjoy riding the train, exploring the miniature buildings, and playing on the playground. Consider bringing a picnic lunch, as the food offerings are limited and overpriced, visitors say.
The nearly 500-foot Thread City Crossing spanning the Willimantic River would be unremarkable if not for its four 11-foot frog sculptures. The Frog Bridge commemorates a night in 1754 when everyone thought French troops were attacking the town -- but the horrible racket was drought-panicked frogs fighting to the death over pond water.
Maybe it's no Nashville, but Dover is where recorded music came to be: Eldridge Reeves Johnson created the Victrola here. The free Johnson Victrola Museum has some spectacular talking machines, along with an exhibit devoted to Nipper, the RCA mascot, and a recreated record shop circa 1910.
In Elbert County stand the Georgia Guidestones, five massive granite blocks that were erected in 1980. Sometimes referred to as the "American Stonehenge," the stones are inscribed with instructions that urge humanity to live in tune with nature. These "commandments" appear in multiple languages, including Sanskrit and Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Near the southern tip of the Big Island, another natural wonder, Papakolea Beach, stuns visitors with its blue waters and green sand. It takes about 90 minutes to drive to the beach from the Kahaluu-Keauhou area, followed by a lengthy trek. The sand takes its coloring from olivine sand eroded from the nearby volcanic cone.
Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood promises patrons a chance to stay in the belly of a beagle: Chainsaw artists built the inn to resemble the canine species. Media outlets have declared the structure one of the world's wackiest hotels. Although lodging costs about $132 a night, visits and gawking are free.
The Leaning Tower of Niles doesn't have the same cachet as its inspiration in the village's sister city of Pisa, but it certainly is an odd attraction to find outside Chicago. At half the size of the original, Niles' tower isn't overly impressive, according to reviews on TripAdvisor, but it's worth a quick stop and photo.
The Castle Post is a medieval-style inn on scenic grounds (in Versailles, of course) built in 1969 and used as a bed and breakfast with 10 luxury rooms and suites, a library, game room, music room, grand dining hall, ballroom, swimming pool, and more, starting at $295 a night.
At the Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden and Toyland visitors fondly remember their childhoods while perusing a museum chockablock with toys. Visual puns on the grounds (such as an outdoor living room for old tires -- a "retirement home") are groaning good fun. Although entrance to this Calvert City attraction is free, donations keep the place running.
DeRidder's historic buildings include a "Gothic Jail" immortalized in song as "The Hangman's Jail" for the two condemned men hanged there in 1928, leading to stories that the jail's old cells, spiral staircase (and hanging site), and tunnel are haunted. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children.
The actor Nicolas Cage may be alive and well, but a 9-foot stone pyramid holds his spot in New Orleans' famous St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. It is inscribed with "Omnia Ab Uno" (Latin for "Everything From One") and adorned with lipstick kisses from visitors. The cemetery is a stop on the Hop-On-Hop-Off tour bus route.
People don't usually expect to climb high while shopping for furniture, but Jordan's Furniture in Reading has a challenging ropes course that invites visitors to tackle zig-zag beams and spaghetti hand lines for $7 ($14 if they want to try the additional zip line) and even walk a plank 24 feet above ground.
Said to have been discovered in the 1950s by surveyors who became lightheaded and couldn't get equipment to operate there, the Mystery Spot in St. Ignace seems to mess with gravity, make tall people seem smaller, and cause plenty of other confusing phenomena. A maze, zip line, and other attractions have been added nearby.
Artist Tyree Guyton began decorating blighted houses on Heidelberg Street in Detroit in 1986. Today the Heidelberg Project is a nonprofit focused on arts, education, and community development, as well as an outdoor art project visited by hundreds of thousands each year.
Near Port Gibson and Alcorn State University, 23 barren columns mark the site of a mansion built in the mid-19th century and burned to the ground by a cigar-smoking guest. The Windsor Ruins are on the National Register of Historic Places and a favorite backdrop for local photographers.
Here's one fork that will never get lost. In fact, it's fit for a giant. A full 35 feet tall and weighing 11 tons, the world's largest fork is in Springfield, leaning toward a three-story ad agency building after being rescued from a failed restaurant, according to Roadside America.
Our Lady of the Rockies, the largest Virgin Mary statue in North America, is 90 feet tall, weighs 80 tons, and sits on a 425-ton base along the Continental Divide some 3,000 feet above Butte. Bus tours from the Butte Plaza Mall are $18 for adults and $10 to $14 for kids.
Stamp collectors still have a place to call their own at the Boys Town Visitor Center, home to the world's largest ball of stamps (free). The 4.6 million canceled stamps are 32 inches in diameter and weigh 600 pounds -- the same since 1955, when the ball appeared in "Ripley's Believe It or Not."
The National Museum of Organized Crime and Enforcement, better known as the Mob Museum, has three stories of exhibits, from Dick Tracy comics merchandise to a look-alike of an electric chair from Sing Sing. Buy tickets online for $27 for adults ($2 off) and $17 for kids (those 10 and under are free). Not planning to be in Vegas? Try an online nickname generator anytime.
Long before Pokemon Go there were Pac-Man, Frogger, and Donkey Kong. The American Classic Arcade Museum in Laconia has more than 300 classic arcade games to play across 10,000 square feet. It's located in the even vaster Funspot Family Fun Center, which is free to enter.
Lucy the Elephant, six stories of tin and wood, stands on the New Jersey coast in Josephine Harron Park in the town of Margate. On July 18, the town will celebrate the 137th birthday of the elephant, built in 1881 as a scheme to attract land buyers to the area. The structure has been used as a hotel, private mansion, and tavern. Guided tours are available.
In Chestnut Ridge Park in upstate New York, a natural eternal flame burns behind a waterfall, fueled by a stream of natural gas (although it does need to be relit occasionally). One reviewer who visited in winter described the experience on Roadtrippers and compares the setting to Narnia. The falls were frozen, he says, but the flame continued to burn.
"Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky," on the grounds of the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, has been likened to a hobbit's house. It's a camera obscura created by the artist Chris Drury. Visitors can sit inside and see the trees and sky outside projected onto the walls.
The 32-mile Enchanted Highway in western North Dakota offers travelers eight larger-than-life roadside sculptures. Located every few miles on a two-lane highway between Gladstone and Regent, Gary Greff's sculptures include giant grasshoppers, "The World's Largest Tin Family," and "Geese in Flight," named the world's largest metal sculpture by Guinness in 2000.
The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia ($18 for adults, $13 for kids) is a storehouse of 20,000 medical "wonders" -- abnormal body parts preserved in fluid or oak frames, an 1889 electrometer donated by Marie Curie, even the death cast of "Siamese Twins" Chang and Eng, whose autopsies were performed there.
Four stories high and weighing a tornado-proof 675,000 pounds, "Busted Plug Plaza" is billed as the world's largest fire hydrant. It's actually a sculpture, and formerly a fountain, in a parking lot in Columbia. Visitors can take snapshots with the same artist's trippy "Tunnelvision" mural in the background.
Many cities commission murals, and almost every major city has its fair share of graffiti. Rapid City takes this a step further, making Art Alley fair game for local artists, who cover the walls, stairs, and telephone pole with cartoons, quotes, portraits, and tags.
"The Mindfield" is an outdoor sculpture made of salvaged steel that stretches to cover about an acre and reaches more than 125 feet into the air. It's the work of Billy Tripp, a local Brownsville artist who began construction in 1989 and has said he will continue to add to the sculpture until he dies.
Cadillac Ranch was formed in 1974 when Stanley Marsh, an eccentric millionaire, planted 10 vintage Cadillacs, nose down, into a deserted stretch of dirt outside Amarillo. They sit off Interstate 40, between exits 60 and 62. Common practice is for visitors to bring spray paint, or use a can left there, and leave their mark on the cars.
Some of the puppets in the Bread and Puppet Museum in Glover -- a crammed storage barn for the Bread and Puppet Theater troupe -- are impressive, others creepy. The sign on the door says "Enter at Your Own Risk," and puppeteers ask off-season visitors to "turn out the lights when you are through." Donations are welcome.
Considered by some to be one of the ugliest buildings in the world, the Markel Building in Richmond was inspired by a baked potato. Commissioned in 1962, the round building looks a bit like New York's Guggenheim Museum wrapped in foil.
The Market Theater Gum Wall is a 15-by-50-foot wall in Post Alley covered with globs of chewing gum. The wall was given a thorough degumming and cleaning in November 2015, but visitors are back to work adding pieces to the mix. (Tip: Bring a bottle of hand sanitizer.)
Berkeley Springs State Park is a beautiful place to stroll, but one offbeat attraction sets it apart. On the west side of the park, a spring-fed stone tub has been dubbed George Washington's Bathtub, to recognize the way the first president likely bathed during his visits in the 1700s.
A statue of King Gambrinus, called "the patron saint of beer," stands watch over the former Pabst Brewing corporate offices in downtown Milwaukee, now home to Best Place Tavern. The statue is on permanent loan from Pabst.
Hayward has a giant muskie 4.5 stories tall and as long as a Boeing 757. Of course, it's not a real fish, but rather the fiberglass shell of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. ($8 for adults, $6 for kids). Visitors enter through the tail to see exhibits (including a real 69-pound muskie caught in 1949) and stop at an observation platform in the building's "jaw."
Westbound travelers on Interstate 80 will find an odd monument to Abraham Lincoln at the Summit Rest Area east of Laramie. A bust more than 13 feet tall towers over visitors from its perch atop a 30-foot granite pedestal. The bust is a nod to the fact Interstate 80 closely tracks the route of the old Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast road built for cars.
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