Labor Day weekend is upon us (woot), which means road trip season’s starting to wind down (sigh). But before summer’s gone for good, why not head to some of the sights that make this country great?
We’re not talking about your typical tourist destinations. You know, Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful. No, to get a real slice of Americana, you need to map out the more unusual road trip destinations. And believe you me, there are plenty of unusual things to see in this great land of ours. Here are our top 8 favorites.
Road trip ideas (or at least stops along the way)
1. Corn Palace and Wall Drug – South Dakota
India has the Taj Mahal. The United States has the Corn Palace. Truly a wonder to behold, it’s a testament to what humans can do with an excess of corn. Full of murals made of naturally colored corn, grains, and native grasses, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, is “the agricultural showplace of the world.” Best of all, it’s open year round and it’s free. (If you’ve been before, it’s still a worthwhile destination, as each year the Corn Palace is redecorated with a new theme.)
Driving down the I-90 in South Dakota, you’ll also come across Wall Drug (along with about a billion signs for Wall Drug) — another free and completely surreal attraction. What started in the 1930s as a tiny drug store offering free ice water to road-weary travelers has turned into a tourist mecca offering everything from snacks to souvenirs to photo ops (you can even pan for gold!).
And hey, while you’re in South Dakota, you might as well check out Mt. Rushmore too.
2. World’s biggest ball of twine – Kansas
Yep, it’s a real thing. Not only that, it has competition (or at least had competition). Beginning in the 1950s, Francis A. Johnson of Darwin, Minnesota, began wrapping his ball of sisal twine. A man by the name of Frank Stoeber in Cawker, Kansas, had a similar dream, and both men continued wrapping until their deaths. Darwin now holds the record for the largest ball of twine built by one person, while Cawker holds the (more impressive?) title of biggest ball of twine in the world. Visitors can add to the 9-ton ball and view twine art along Main Street.
3. The Mystery Spot and Winchester Mystery House – California
Nestled among Northern California’s majestic redwoods (also worth a visit) is a 150-foot circular area that defies physics. Appropriately located in the hippie sanctuary of Santa Cruz, the Mystery Spot will cause you to question gravity itself (we hear you can roll a ball uphill). What causes it? Well, it’s called the Mystery Spot for a reason.
Less than an hour away, in San Jose, California, is another strange attraction: the Winchester Mystery House. With doors that lead to nowhere, steps that go down then up again, and secret passageways, the house once owned by rifle heir Sarah Winchester is certainly one of the strangest architectural designs out there. The story goes that after the deaths of her young daughter and husband, Mrs. Winchester became convinced that her family and their fortune were being haunted by spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. In order to confuse any ghosts wandering around her home, Sarah built a dizzying maze of secret stairs, hidden hallways, and disappearing rooms. Many claim the mansion is indeed haunted, but again … it remains mysterious for a reason.
4. Ava Maria Grotto – Alabama
Ever wonder what monks do with all that silent time? Perhaps they’re working out ways to build delightfully tiny reproductions of historical landmarks and religious shrines. At least that’s what Benedictine monk Brother Joseph Zoettl did. And Ava Maria Grotto, also known as “Jerusalem in Miniature,” is the result. What started as a hobby became an entire park of miniatures constructed out of donated materials like marble, costume jewelry, and even cold-cream jars. Even if religion’s not really your thing, it’s pretty awesome to behold this miniature city (and to feel like a giant).
Some other worthy roadside attractions
5. Carhenge – Nebraska
Not to be confused with Foam Henge in Virginia, Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, is an arrangement of 38 cars placed in a formation mimicking England’s Stonehenge.
6. Land of Giants – West Virginia
If you’re on your way to our nation’s capitol, take a detour to visit the Land of Giants in Unger, West Virginia. Also known as Farnham Collasi, this land of giant statues screams Americana.
7. Paper House – Massachusetts
Visiting Boston? Head an hour north to see Elis Stenman’s Paper House. What began as a source of insulation grew into a unique and slightly mind-boggling feat of construction. Not only is the house itself made of newspaper, so is the furniture (including the piano).
8. The Spud Drive-In – Idaho
Who says the drive-in movie is dead? It’s still alive and kicking at the Spud Drive-In in Driggs, Idaho. In business since 1953, the drive-in may be known more for Old Murphy — a 1946 Chevy truck that has a 2-ton potato on its back — than its double features.
Know of any other offbeat tourist destinations? Leave a comment and let us know!