When taking an extremely long road trip, choosing to live your life by your GPS navigation will make it seem even longer. This is because your GPS is set up to get you to your destination, no matter how close or far away it is, in the fastest way possible. Thus, if you can get to your destination by using an interstate highway, then you will be on said highway.
The problem is that interstate highways tend to be painfully boring. Sure, the occasional truck stop, travel plaza, or billboard may spruce things up a bit, but the true spirit of America doesn’t lie along a busy superhighway where most people are going to zoom past it at speeds of up to 8p MPH, barely paying it any mind.
While the interstate highway system was effective at decommissioning the famed “Route 66” (long hailed as “Main Street USA”), it didn’t fully wash into the past its kooky roadside attractions. Similarly, towns located just a short drive off of the major interstates have also kept their charm over the years, even if the nearby highways stole most their traffic.
If your drive takes you from sea to shining sea, here are 10 roadside attractions that you simply have to visit.
Roadside Attractions To Visit At Least Once
1. Lucy the Elephant (Margate, NJ)
Standing literally on the east coast of the U.S., this towering elephant gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean in southern New Jersey bills itself as “America’s oldest roadside attraction.” Once one of three similar giant elephants, Lucy is an orphan now, her brethren lost to time and the elements over the decades. In past lives, Lucy was everything from a business office to a tavern (yeah, a giant elephant is EXACTLY what you want to see when stumbling drunk out the door looking for your house); these days, she is a museum dedicated to the preservation of, well, herself as well as the Jersey shore in general.
2. Giant Coffee Pot (Bedford, PA)
Nestled in the valleys of western Pennsylvania below the busy Pennsylvania Turnpike is the small town of Bedford. While it may look like any other given small town out there, one thing that sets Bedford apart from other Pennsylvania—or even other U.S.—towns is a giant coffee pot. Once housing a legitimate business that served sandwiches and, well, coffee, the Big Coffee Pot fell into disrepair until preservationists thankfully rescued it from demolition. While it may be little more than a landmark these days, the Bedford Coffee Pot is still a neat reminder of how businesses of the past spruced up their buildings to stand out to travelers.
3. The Big Chicken (Marietta, GA)
You’d think that the KFC worthy of making this list would be located in, well, Kentucky, but the chain’s Marietta, Georgia location takes the cake due to its enormous and, frankly, terrifying structure. Originally built for former town business Johnny Reb’s Chick, Chuck and Shake, KFC took over the spot in the 1970s and has remained there ever sine. While the giant chicken head does not in any way resemble the KFC brand (or even chickens in general), it is nevertheless eye-catching due to the fact that its towering beak opens and closes whilst its gigantic eyeballs spin around.
4. The entire town of Casey, Illinois (Casey, IL)
In the state where the old Route 66 began (the route ran from Chicago to Los Angeles and “opened” in the late 1920s), you cannot miss the entire small town of Casey. While parts of it seem to be permanently run down, the tiny midwest community boasts several larger-than-life attractions, several of which are official Guinness World Record Holders. Thankfully, all of them are located within driving—and even walking—distance of each other. In the main area of Casey, feast your eyes upon the World’s Largest Rocking Chair and, across the street from it, the World’s Largest Set of Windchimes (which you can actually ring).
A few blocks down, you can gaze upon the World’s Largest Wooden Clogs, the World’s Largest Knitting Needles and Crochet Hook (fittingly nestled in a yarn store), and an oversized birdcage and Number 2 pencil. A short drive away from the downtown area, you can find the World’s Largest Pitchfork outside of a restaurant and the World’s Largest golf tee at the area’s country club.
5. The St. Louis Arch (St. Louis, MO)
This is perhaps the most obvious of the roadside attractions; you cannot possibly miss this, even if you’re asleep. Towering over Missouri’s largest city, the “Gateway to the West” allows visitors to ride a special elevator all the way to the top for stunning views of the city and the segment of the mighty Mississippi River that flows through it. You will also see the arch represented on almost anything having to do with St. Louis and, of course, purchase merchandise galore that is emblazoned with the structure.
6. Blue Whale (Catoosa, OK)
Oklahoma isn’t all endless cornfields and amber waves of grain (though it certainly feels that way as you make your way across). Hidden off of I-44 in the small town of Catoosa (just outside of Tulsa) is a large Blue Whale sitting atop a mucky pond. Yet another roadside attraction of the old Route 66, the Blue Whale is free to visit and walk around inside of; you can even climb a ladder to look out from the top of its massive tail. While the fins of the beast appear to be sliding boards down into the water, there are No Swimming signs everywhere; one look at the state of the water and you’ll see why. Nevertheless, the Blue Whale is a cute place to take a rest and maybe sample some treats from one of the few nearby food trucks.
7. Conoco Gas Station & U-Drop-Inn Cafe (Shamrock, TX)
The small town of Shamrock, Texas, which is another community whose reliance on Route 66 forced it into hard times once nearby I-40 took it out of commission, is home to a unique gas station and cafe roadside attraction. The exterior of the complex screams 1950s Americana, right down to the ancient gas pumps outside and towering Conoco tower that has actually been added to the National Register of Historic Places, thus preserving it. Inside, the establishment is an homage to the glory days of Route 66 and the community’s role in it. While the U-Drop-Inn is no longer a functioning cafe, its interior has been preserved to invoke its 1950s charm and patrons can enjoy complimentary coffee and tea at one of the padded booths.
8. Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo, TX)
Just a few miles away from the downtown area of Amarillo in northern Texas is the Cadillac Ranch. A (surprise!) art installation, it consists of ten Cadillac automobiles half-buried in the earth. Word is that the ranch was made to display the evolution of the automobile from the company’s first years right up to the art project’s 1974 installation (noticeably the inclusion—and eventual exclusion—of the vehicle’s signature tail fins).
Over the years, people have spray painted the cars a variety of colors so much that visitors are now encouraged to add their own unique take on them. The Ranch stands in the middle of a great field far off of the access road; it is free to visit and enjoy. Down the road a bit, a souvenir stand dedicated to the ranch sells all sorts of tacky Ranch souvenirs…and, of course, spray paint.
9. Wigwam Motel (Holbrook, AZ)
Why stay in a drab hotel room when you can stay in an actual wigwam? This is the line of thinking behind the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, another former Route 66 town that lies close to the border between Arizona and New Mexico. Once part of many Wigwam Motels, “Wigwam Village #6” as it is officially called is now one of only three such establishments left in the United States (other Wigwam Motels can be found in California and Kentucky).
Weary travelers can still check into one of the Wigwams on the property, all of which have classic cars parked outside of them to preserve the look and feel of the Mother Road’s heyday in the mid-20th century.
10. Cabazon Dinosaurs (Cabazon, CA)
Located off of I-10 just west of the town of Palm Springs, the Cabezon Dinosaurs are a welcome break from the sand-filled mountains and wind farms that surround this particular stretch of eastern California. “Dinny” (a Brontosaurus) and “Mr. Rex” (a Tyrannosaurus Rex) are the stars of the roadside attraction, which was initially created to promote the now-closed Wheel Inn Restaurant (which still sits abandoned on the property).
The property has gradually expanded to include an open-air museum filled with gift shops, a sandbox “dino dig,” and robotic dinosaurs all aimed at pushing the creationism point of view. If the dinosaurs look familiar to you, it’s for good reason; they have been immortalized in pop culture, most notably in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which set several scenes at the attraction during both daytime and nighttime hours. Additionally, the Cabezon Dinosaurs can be seen in the Pixar film Inside Out, the 1980s movies Paris, Texas and The Wizard, and even the Tears for Fears music video for their hit “Everybody Wants to Rule The World.”