The Strangest Roadside Attractions In America

There are dozens of wacky roadside attractions in America, and we wouldn’t be surprised if you hopped in your car to see some of them after reading this roundup. Some of these attractions were created to lure visitors to areas that generally weren’t known as tourist destinations. Others are simply bizarre. 

Many of these attractions were constructed prior to 1980. They include giant sculptures of animals, unusual buildings made of strange materials, and intriguing art installations. If you haven’t seen any of these odd landmarks, it’s time to start planning a road trip.

Lucy The Elephant Is The Oldest Surviving Roadside Attraction In America

lucy the elephant

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Lucy, the Margate Elephant in Margate City, New Jersey, is built with nearly one million pieces of wood and covered with a tin skin. The six-story elephant was created in 1881 by James V. Lafferty and is located about five miles south of Atlantic City. The elephant was built to promote real estate sales and to serve as a tourist attraction. 

Lucy is the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in America and is a designated historical monument. In 2006, Lucy was struck by lightning, which blackened the tips of her tusks, and she was renovated not too long ago due to the work of the “Save Lucy Committee.”


The Shrine Of The Grotto Of The Redemption In Iowa Is Made Of Over $4 Million In Rocks & Minerals

grotto in iowa

Michael Lewis, contributor, Getty Images

The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption is located in West Bend, Iowa, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City. It actually contains nine grottos that depict the life of Jesus. It’s believed that the man-made grotto, which has a huge collection of minerals, is the largest in the world. 

Father Paul Dobberstein, a German immigrant, wanted to erect a shrine to the Virgin Mary after she “cured” him of pneumonia. Construction began in 1912 and lasted for another 40 years. The value of all the rocks and minerals that make up the Grotto is believed to be over $4 million. It sees over 100,000 tourists each year.


The Corn Palace In South Dakota Is A Popular Destination For School Proms & Other Functions

corn palace south dakota

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Around 500,000 tourists stop to look at Mitchell, South Dakota’s compelling corn murals each year. Known as the “agricultural show-place of the world,” the place is redecorated on an annual basis. Thirteen different shades of corn are used to create the mural, including red, brown, black, blue, and green. 

The corn is nailed to the Corn Palace, and the building is used to many organizations to hold events, including proms and graduations. The Corn Palace also hosts state basketball tournaments. 


Carhenge In Nebraska Was Built In Tribute To The Sculptor’s Father

sunset over carnhenge

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After a man named Jim Reinders examined Stonehenge in England, he decided he wanted to recreate the monument in the United States using automobiles. In 1987, he and about 35 family members used 39 vehicles to recreate Stonehenge using the same proportions. 

The circle is about 96 feet in diameter. Some cars are vertical, while others are horizontal to form the arches. All of the vehicles are spray painted gray. Known as Carhenge, the monument was built to honor Reinders’ late father. Around 60,000 tourists visit the area each year. 


Prada Marfa In Texas Is Not What You Think It Is

prada store in the middle of nowhere

Gadtan Rossier, contributor, Getty Images

Imagine driving through Valentine, Texas, and coming across this unusual “store.” It resembles a boutique, but you can’t actually make any Prada purchases there. The store is an art installation created by a pair of New York City-based artists who wanted to make a statement about consumerism and gentrification. 

The artists were inspired after seeing how SoHo turned from an artist neighborhood into a boutique collective. The installation is open 24/7 and is free for visitors. 


The Enchanted Highway In North Dakota Is Decorated With Numerous Metal Sculptures

north dakota's enchanted highway

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If you get off exit 72 on Highway 94 in Gladstone, North Dakota, you will be in for a treat. There are a variety of art installations along the highway in the western part of the state. The art trail culminates in a gift shop with souvenirs of all the sculptures. Pictured above is a sculpture called “Geese in Flight.” 

The Enchanted Highway features a variety of metal sculptures of local animals and other culturally-related designs, including the Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again installation, which features a horse-drawn carriage. You also don’t want to miss the World’s Largest Tin Family, which is made of empty oil drums. 


If You’re Afraid Of Germs, Avoid These Gummy Attractions

wall covered in used chewing gum

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The brick wall at the Market Theater is covered in chewing gum in downtown Seattle, Washington. It and its southern counterpart, Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California, is a landmark. Some parts of the gum wall are several inches thick, and it became a tourist attraction in 1999 after theater workers gave up trying to scrape away the gum. 

The gum wall is one of the world’s germiest tourist destinations, second only to Ireland’s Blarney Stone. The wall was cleaned for the first time in 20 years. Shortly afterward, gum was re-added to the wall. 


This Big Blue Whale On Route 66 In Oklahoma Was An Anniversary Gift

big blue whale

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A man named Hugh Davis built this blue whale in the early ’70s to surprise his wife on their anniversary (she loved whales). Locals and travelers to Catoosa, Oklahoma, on Route 66 liked swimming in the pond in which the whale resided. It became so popular, Davis turned the area into a tourist attraction. 

It was closed to the public in 1988 and deteriorated. Years later, residents of Catoosa raised some money to restore it. They were able to clean it up and paint it to its original color and fix up the picnic area. 


The Gemini Giant In Illinois Was Named After The Space Program

Gemini Giant

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The Gemini Giant is another popular roadside attraction on Route 66. It’s located in Wilmington, Illinois. The 30-foot-high statue stands outside the Launching Pad drive-in restaurant. It’s named for the Gemini space program. The Giant holds a silver rocket ship and is wearing a space helmet. 

The restaurant has changed hands several times and closed in 2010. It was purchased by Holly Barker and Tully Garrett, who aimed to restore it “to what it was in its glory days.” Of course, the Gemini Giant remains.


These Dinosaurs In California Were Built Over 40 Years Ago

giant dinosaurs at a tourist attraction

Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

You may be driving down the highway in California when all of a sudden you notice two giant dinosaurs on an arid plain surrounded by mountains. The Cabazon Dinosaurs were erected more than 40 years ago. Dinny the Apatosaurus hosts a fun and unique dinosaur gift shop. Then there’s T-Rex, known affectionately as Mr. Rex.

The Cabazon Dinosaurs have made appearances in commercials and music videos, as well as film and print ads, and are considered one of the country’s most iconic roadside attractions. Tickets to see the dinosaurs are $10-$13.


The World’s Largest Buffalo Is Located Alongside A Live Buffalo Herd

world's largest buffalo

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Built in 1959, the world’s largest buffalo in Jamestown, North Dakota, is 26-feet tall, 46-feet long and weighs 60 tons. Sculptor Elmer Petersen created the sculpture, which is dubbed Dakota Thunder, in 2010. The sculpture is located on the grounds of the National Buffalo Museum alongside a live herd of buffalo. 

We forgot to mention that Dakota Thunder is located specifically at the end of Louis L’Amour Lane. L’Amour was an American novelist and short-story writer who focused predominantly on western themes.


Coral Castle In Florida Was Inspired By A 16-Year-Old Runaway Bride

visitor at coral castle

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Latvian-American Edward Leedskalnin built Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida, over several years between the ’20s and early ’50s. The castle is made of numerous megalithic stones that are largely limestone formed from coral. Each weighs several tons. Leedskalnin said he built the castle for his “Sweet Sixteen,” who is believed to be a teen named Agnes Skuvst.

Agnes was his 16-year-old fiancee who left him just one day before the wedding. Legend has it that Leedskalnin used reverse magnetism or possessed some sort of supernatural abilities to move and carve the heavy stones. What do you think? 


The World’s Largest Chest Of Drawers Is A Whopping 36 Feet Tall

enormous chest of drawers

Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The world’s largest chest of drawers is located on North Hamilton Street in High Point, North Carolina. The sculpture was created in 1926 to draw attention to High Point as the home furnishings capital of the world. The piece is also known as the Bureau of Information and stands 36 feet high.

If you look closely, you will notice that the chest contains two large socks that hang from the drawers. This pays homage to the hosiery industry in the area. 


Salem Sue Is The World’s Largest Holstein Cow

large cow

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Salem Sue, a.k.a. The World’s Largest Holstein Cow, is a huge fiberglass Holstein cow sculpture that resides in New Salem, North Dakota. The New Salem Lions Club commissioned the cow for the local dairy farming industry in 1974. They paid $40,000 for the project, which was carried out by Sculpture Mfg. Co in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The cow is 38 feet tall and 50 feet long. It stands on School Hill near Interstate 94 and can be seen for several miles. If you drive up to see the cow, you can see for miles from the hill. 


A Family Lived In Hole N’ The Rock In Utah Before Mom Turned It Into A Gift Shop

hole in the rock gift shop

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If you happen to be on U.S. Highway 191 in Southwestern Utah, you may want to stop to see this 5,000-square-foot home that was started by the Christensen family nearly a century ago. It includes 14 rooms and a variety of furnishings, paintings, a doll collection, and tools that were used to create the home. 

It took Albert Christensen 12 years to excavate the area. He also painted Sermon on the Mount and sculpted Franklin D. Roosevelt on the face of the rock above his home. After his death in 1957, his wife Gladys opened a gift shop and gave tours of the home, which continue today. 


The Beer Can House In Texas Is Made Of 50,000 Beer Cans

house made of beer cans

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John Milkovisch of Houston, Texas, worked through the late ’60s to turn his home into the Beer Can House. It’s made of beer cans, bottles, and other types of beer products. It’s a folk art landmark in Houston and is made of an estimated 50,000 beer cans. Milkovisch began working on the house in 1968 and covered the yard in cement, claiming he was tired of mowing the grass. 

The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, a non-profit organization, currently owns and operates the house. The group preserves imaginative artworks that allow people to express themselves in unique ways.


Cadillac Ranch In Texas Was Sponsored By A Local Millionaire

visitors at cadillac ranch

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Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels were a part of the art group Ant Farm that built Cadillac Ranch in 1974. It’s an art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas. It features 10 half-buried Cadillacs that were both running and junked cars. Marquez was inspired by a book that documented the rise and fall of the tail fin. 

Cadillac Ranch was originally located in a wheat field but was moved two miles west to a cow pasture along Interstate 40 in 1997 to put it farther from the limits of the city. Local millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 owns the land and made the project possible.


The Fremont Troll Is Located Where Drug Dealers Used To Frequent

troll under a bridge

Donald Miralle/Getty Images for Rock’n’Roll Marathon

The Fremont Troll, a.k.a. The Troll or the Troll Under the Bridge, is located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. It was created by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. It was inspired by Scandinavian folklore.

The artists decided to put the troll at that location because the bridge area was being destroyed by drug users. It is 13,000 pounds and features the troll holding an actual VW Beetle. Images of the troll are copyrighted. The artists have sued businesses that have used the images without getting their permission. 


Salvation Mountain In California’s Desert Requires Constant Upkeep

michigan's salvation mountain


Outsider artist Leonard Knight created Salvation Mountain in the California Desert near Slab City starting in 1984. It’s made of adobe, straw, and lead-free paint. There are several murals on the mountain based on Bible verses and Christian sayings, but the main focus is on the Sinner’s Prayer.

One problem with the installation is it’s constantly exposed to environmental forces, so frequent maintenance is necessary. Visitors often donate paint, and volunteers take care of the upkeep. The charity Salvation Mountain, Inc., helps make sure it’s preserved.

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