There are so many things to love about a good old-fashioned road trip. From the incredible vastness of the nation’s ever-changing landscapes to the simple thrill of cruising down a highway to your favorite tunes, there’s nothing quite like a classic road trip experience. Symbolizing the freedom of the open road and endless opportunities, this quintessential adventure is so much more than a long-haul joyride. It’s an American tradition, a rite of passage even, immortalized by countless novels, films, and songs. But oftentimes, the best part of putting the pedal to the metal are the pit stops and roadside attractions you make along the way.
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People love experiencing the weird and the wonderful. Luckily, America is chock-full of whacky pit stops just waiting to be discovered. From outlandish theme parks to larger-than-life attractions, here are a handful of roadside oddities that are well worth the detour. Consider checking them out the next time you get behind the wheel.
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Disclaimer: People planning travel of any kind should visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization for the most current COVID-19 alerts and updates. Be sure to review any travel advisories related to the destination(s) you’re planning to visit and keep yourself and others safe by wearing a face covering, practicing social distancing, and bringing the appropriate food, drinks, and other supplies when possible. Don’t forget to contact sites or attractions in advance to learn more about updated hours, procedures, and other regulations.
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Where: Cave City, Kentucky
We wouldn’t exactly call Dinosaur World Kentucky a Jurassic Park replica, but it still provides an epic excuse to pull over and stretch your legs. The theme parks sits along Interstate 65, just a 15-minute drive from the entrance of Mammoth Cave National Park. As the name suggests, this colossal attraction is home to more than 150 dino dupes. Tyrannosaurus rex, Brontosaurus, Triceratops—you’ll find all the classics. The pet-friendly park also boasts a museum complete with real-life dinosaur fossils, bones, eggs, and more. Plus, parking is free and guests are welcome to pack their own lunch, making it a budget-friendly option fit for the whole family.
Lucy the Elephant
Where: Margate City, New Jersey
Dumbo, Babar, and Horton are some of the world’s most famous elephants—but Lucy isn’t far behind. In fact, this six-story icon is America’s oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction. She stands tall along Atlantic Avenue, approximately five miles from Atlantic City, NJ. Over the decades, the structure has been used as a restaurant, cottage, real estate office, bar, and most recently as an Airbnb. She has been listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1976 and even ran for president, announced during her 135th birthday celebration in 2016. So the next time you find yourself passing through the Garden State, plan to pay Lucy a visit (just don’t forget the peanuts).
The Corn Palace
Where: Mitchell, South Dakota
The World’s Only Corn Palace is…exactly what it sounds like. The towering Moorish Revival building can be found tucked away in South Dakota, not far from I-90 (aka the longest Interstate Highway in the United States). The exterior is decorated top to bottom with “crop art,” including murals and designs made from corn and other common grains. The façade is updated each year with a new theme dreamt up by local artists to honor the region’s rich agricultural roots. The annual redesign costs an estimated $175,000, using upwards of 325,000 ears of corn and 1.5 million nails. The space serves as a multi-purpose venue, hosting concerts, sporting events, festivals, art exhibits, and is a massively popular tourist destination, attracting more than 500,000 visitors last year.
Uranus Fudge Factory
Where: St. Robert, Missouri
Located along legendary Route 66, Uranus Fudge Factory is the perfect pit stop for weary road trippers in need of a sugar rush (or a chuckle). The gift shop doesn’t take itself too seriously, but does take full advantage of its location in the Uranus Missouri Towne Center. Their slogan? “The Best Fudge Comes From Uranus.” They’re known for their namesake fudge, which is made fresh daily and hand-cut to order, but they also peddle every souvenir under the sun, including shot glasses, magnets, key chains, and more. Its neighboring tourist attractions include the Uranus Sideshow Museum (featuring an eclectic collection of circus memorabilia); the Uranus Axehole (offering indoor axe-throwing); and an escape room experience (predictably dubbed Escape Uranus).
Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum
Where: Sebastian, Florida
In search of a true hidden gem attraction? Look no further than Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum. It’s located along US-1 on the tranquil shores of the Treasure Coast; a region of South Florida spanning from Indian River County to Martin County. It earned its nickname after a fleet of Spanish ships carrying gold, silver, and precious gemstones sunk during a hurricane more than 300 years ago. World-famous treasure hunter Mel Fisher began his career here, uncovering the largest underwater treasure hunt in history. His daughter opened the permanent museum in 1992 to showcase his spectacular collection, which includes gem-encrusted jewelry, golden instruments, rare coins, and other priceless artifacts. Visitors can even hold a solid gold bar recovered from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
Top Secret Inc.
Where: Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
The small city of Wisconsin Dells in southern Wisconsin takes the concept of kitschy tourist traps and flips it on its head—literally. While there are a handful of scaled down White House replicas scattered across the globe, few are as head-scratching as Top Secret Inc. Visitors can embark on a self-guided tour through the upside-down reproduction, which supposedly houses the answers to our country’s most classified conspiracies and cover-ups. Think: evidence from Watergate, proof of extraterrestrial life, mysterious moon rocks, nuclear missiles access tunnels, robot presidents, and tons of other curiosities. It all makes for a baffling experience, but the photo ops alone are worth the $5 entrance fee.
Christ of the Ozarks
Where: Eureka Springs, Arkansas
You’re probably familiar with Brazil’s famed Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. But have you heard about Christ of the Ozarks? The 66-foot monument was completed in 1966 as part of the Great Passion Play religious theme park. The foundation used more than 340 tons of concrete and his holy head alone weighs over two million pounds, made from mortar and steel. Located off U.S. Route 62, the modern statue is known for its minimalist design and faces west with outstretched arms as a blessing to the town of Eureka Springs below. To this day, Jesus of the Ozarks attracts legions of religious pilgrims and devout Netflix fans alike.
Where: Scottsboro, Alabama
Have you ever wondered what happens to all the lost luggage from airports around the country? Well, a lot of it ends up in Scottsboro, AL. While more than 99 percent of checked bags are retrieved at the airport carousel, a small fraction (about 0.03 percent) gets left behind forever. The Unclaimed Baggage team buys the orphaned bags and sells, donates, or recycles their forgotten contents. The gigantic retail center spans an entire city block and welcomes hordes of curious pickers all year long looking to score a deal. Located right off U.S. Route 72, it’s undoubtedly worth a visit.
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