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These are the best roadside attractions in each state

10Best logo 10Best 8/11/2020 Lydia Schrandt, Special to USA TODAY 10Best
a close up of a piece of paper: Roadside attractions © iStock / michaelquirk Roadside attractions

Mermaids, martians and mysterious lights

America’s highways and interstates are dotted with kitschy theme parks, bizarre curiosities, larger-than-life fiberglass animals and "world’s largest" objects. As the U.S. highways system expanded in the 1930s, so did competition to lure drivers to stop (and spend their money).

With the popularity of road tripping and RV travel on the rise, we’ve decided to take a closer look at the American institution that is roadside attractions by highlighting one in each state.

a large body of water: Lady in the Lake © @chesleighmuch via Instagram Lady in the Lake

Alabama - Lady in the Lake

According to local lore, this giant fiberglass sculpture, created by Mark Cline, started off as an elaborate April Fools' joke on the owner of Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham. George Barber loved the installation so much, he decided to keep it. These days, the Lady can be found in the public Barber Marina in Elberta.

a tree in front of a house: Hammer Museum © JLS Photography - Alaska via Flickr Hammer Museum

Alaska - Hammer Museum

This four-room museum claims to be the first in the world dedicated to preserving the history of the hammer, and we believe them. Visitors to this popular Haines attraction can see more than 2,000 hammer-related artifacts (including the world’s largest hammer collection) that tell the story of this humble tool.

a sign above a store: The Thing © via Instagram The Thing

Arizona - The Thing

Drive between Phoenix and El Paso, and you’re sure to see billboards enticing you toward The Thing. But what is The Thing? You may or may not get an answer by visiting this roadside stop in Texas Canyon, an oddities museum covering all sorts of conspiracy theories (many aliens are involved).

a person in a garden: Alma Popeye Fountain © @penguinbabe1992 via Instagram Alma Popeye Fountain

Arkansas - Alma Popeye Fountain

Everyone’s favorite sailor stands tall in his very own fountain in the town of Alma, where the annual Spinach Festival is held each April (Alma has called itself the Spinach Capital of the World). Find the bronze statue in the aptly named Popeye Park.

a tree in a store: Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch © @robbievegas via Instagram Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch

California - Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch

A state as big as California has no shortage of roadside attractions to entertain road trippers, but this forest of glass bottle trees ranks among the most photogenic. When Elmer Long inherited a huge collection of colored glass bottles from his father, he went to work creating bottle trees. The outdoor gallery in Oro Grande now has some 200 installations.

a group of people on a rocky beach: UFO Watchtower © @tannerkb via Instagram UFO Watchtower

Colorado - UFO Watchtower

Alamosa, Colorado enjoys some of the darkest skies in the nation. Maybe that’s why the area has become known for frequent UFO sightings. The UFO Watchtower, located just outside Great Sand Dunes National Park, makes it easier for extraterrestrial watchers to spot a UFO for themselves from a 10-foot-tall viewing platform.

a tray of food with a slice cut out: PEZ Visitor Center © iStock / vikif PEZ Visitor Center

Connecticut - PEZ Visitor Center

Stop at the PEZ Visitor Center in Orange to see the world’s largest collection of PEZ memorabilia in a 4,000-square-foot facility. Highlights include the world’s largest PEZ dispenser, a motorcycle from Orange County Choppers built entirely of PEZ and a viewing area where you can watch PEZ production in real time.

a statue of a person: Miles the Monster © @lindatowe via Instagram Miles the Monster

Delaware - Miles the Monster

Pull into the parking lot at the Dover International Speedway to snap a photo with Miles the Monster, a 46-foot fiberglass creature with red eyes, an angry expression and a race car he looks ready to crush. Miles has become the mascot of the track, nicknamed The Monster Mile.

a group of people in a pool of water: Weeki Wachee mermaids © Maurice Rivenbark / VISIT FLORIDA Weeki Wachee mermaids

Florida - Weeki Wachee mermaids

Florida might have the only state park in the world with its very own mermaid show. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park features a 400-seat auditorium with a submerged stage inside the natural spring where the park’s famous mermaids perform underwater feats. These shows have been a park staple since 1947.

a person standing next to a tree trunk: Doll’s Head Trail © @olive_cats via Instagram Doll’s Head Trail

Georgia - Doll’s Head Trail

If you need to stretch your legs on your next road trip through Georgia, consider taking this rather strange hike just outside downtown Atlanta. Doll’s Head Trail, located on the grounds of a former brick factory, gets its name from the collection of found art lining the path.

Local carpenter Joel Slaton began the project as a way to use discarded doll parts and other trash, and he encouraged hikers to add to the ever-evolving installation.

Pineapple Garden Maze © @wanderwoman285 via Instagram Pineapple Garden Maze

Hawaii - Pineapple Garden Maze

Many a road tripper driving around the island of Oahu has stopped at Dole Plantation to tackle one of the world’s largest mazes. The Pineapple Garden Maze occupies three acres with nearly 2.5 miles of paths, all made from 14,000 Hawaiian plants. It’s one of only a few permanent botanical mazes in the United States.

a truck is parked in front of a car: The Spud Drive In © The Spud Drive In The Spud Drive In

Idaho - The Spud Drive In

If you’re driving through Eastern Idaho’s Teton Valley on Highway 33 on a Friday or Saturday, be sure to pull into the Spud Drive In for an evening double feature. The drive-in, built in 1953, also offers onsite accommodations for drivers who want to catch a movie and some ZZZs before hitting the road.

Kaskaskia Dragon © @loganczar via Instagram Kaskaskia Dragon

Illinois - Kaskaskia Dragon

If you’ve ever wanted to make a dragon breathe fire, Illinois has you covered. The 35-foot-tall Kaskaskia Dragon stands guard over an RV park in the town of Vandalia; the town’s liquor and hardware stores sell "dragon tokens" that, when inserted, prompt flames to erupt from the dragon’s mouth for 10 seconds or so.

a man and a woman holding a sign posing for the camera: World’s Largest Ball of Paint © @madisonsego via Instagram World’s Largest Ball of Paint

Indiana - World’s Largest Ball of Paint

Mike and Glenda Carmichael have been watching over the World’s Largest Ball of Paint in Alexandria, Indiana for more than three decades. The ball weighs in at more than 4,000 pounds made from 23,400 or so layers of paint. Visitors are welcome to snap a picture with the World Record holder, or add a coat of paint themselves.

In case you were wondering, blue and yellow are the most popular colors, with more than 3,000 coats each.

a sign on the side of a dirt field: Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk © Iowa Tourism Office Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk

Iowa - Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk

In 2228 (or 2238 depending on what fan site you check), James Tiberius Kirk of "Star Trek" fame will be born in the town of Riverside, Iowa. A stone marker behind a hair salon commemorates the spot.

a group of people standing in front of a brick building: World's Largest Ball of Twine © @boneclinks13 via Instagram World's Largest Ball of Twine

Kansas - World's Largest Ball of Twine

The World’s Largest Ball of Twine began in 1953. Frank Stoeber, the man behind the marvel, completed the 5,000-pound ball in four years and gave it to Cawker City. Each August, the town hosts a twine-a-thon, where residents and visitors add additional twine.

a tree with a mountain in the background: The Chained Rock © @the_eccentric_south via Instagram The Chained Rock

Kentucky - The Chained Rock

Local legend will tell you that a giant boulder hangs above the town of Pineville, held in place atop Pine Mountain by a massive chain tethering it to its spot. In reality, the Chained Rock was created as a roadside tourist attraction in the 1930s, when locals attached a 101-foot-long chain to the boulder, which was firmly rooted in place.

a group of people in a room: Britney Spears Museum © @shivermykimbers via Instagram Britney Spears Museum

Louisiana - Britney Spears Museum

The Kentwood Historical and Cultural Arts Museum, also known as the Britney Spears Museum, honors the pop star who put the tiny town of Kentwood (population 2,200) on the map, having been born there in 1981. The museum has four rooms filled with Britney memorabilia along with fan photos and awards.

a person standing on top of a sandy beach: Desert of Maine © @just.being.ian via Instagram Desert of Maine

Maine - Desert of Maine

Outside of the coastal town of Freeport, you’ll find some 40 acres of sand dunes and silt, known as the Desert of Maine. This oddity was the result of poor crop rotation that made the land unfarmable. While not a true desert (the area gets too much rainfall to qualify), the reverse oasis brings in tends of thousands of visitors each year who come to walk in the sand and snap a photo with the fiberglass camel.

a large building in the background: Spocott Windmill © @nmemediaco via Instagram Spocott Windmill

Maryland - Spocott Windmill

An 1800s village just outside Cambridge is home to Maryland’s only post-style windmill, the Spocott Windmill. The entire structure can be rotated into the wind, and the mill still operates occasionally. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the grounds, which includes a single-room schoolhouse, country store and doctor’s office as well.

a group of people in a park: Ponyhenge © @jay_roofoh_photo via Instagram Ponyhenge

Massachusetts - Ponyhenge

A pasture outside of Lincoln, Massachusetts is home to a growing herd of old rocking horses and plastic ponies. No one is sure when or why the first horse arrived, but it was sometime around 2010. One soon became two, then several. Today, Ponyhenge continues to grow and evolve, so it never looks the same way twice.

a person standing on top of a grass covered field: Town of Hell © Santos Chronicles Town of Hell

Michigan - Town of Hell

If someone tells you to "go to Hell," they may be talking about Hell, Michigan. This town 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor has truly embraced the diabolical puns and has fun with its name. Take the Grave Digger challenge at the Creamatory ice cream shop, pick up a Damnation University college sweatshirt or send a scorched card to a friend (or enemy) from the town’s post office.

a person wearing a costume: Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox © Explore Minnesota Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox

Minnesota - Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox

According to local legend, the 10,000 lakes in Minnesota are in fact Paul Bunyan’s waterlogged footprints. Visitors can snap their photo with the iconic lumberjack and his giant blue ox (Babe) in Bemidji, where they’ve stood since 1937 and 1939 respectively. The nearby Visitor Center displays one of his giant-sized flannel shirts, among other personal effects.

a group of people around a tall building with Palaestra at Olympia in the background: Windsor Ruins © iStock / karenfoleyphotography Windsor Ruins

Mississippi - Windsor Ruins

This series of 23 Corinthian columns are all that remain of the largest pre-Civil War Greek Revival home in Mississippi, just outside Port Gibson. The home, built in 1861, was eventually destroyed by fire from a cigar in 1890.

a person posing for a photo: Leila's Hair Museum © City of Independence Tourism Leila's Hair Museum

Missouri - Leila's Hair Museum

This museum in Independence, Missouri may just be the only one on the planet dedicated to works of art made from human hair. The collection includes hair jewelry and wreaths, some dating back to the Victorian period. Some pieces contain hair from Queen Victoria, several U.S. Presidents and numerous celebrities.

a vase of flowers on a table: Garden of 1,000 Buddhas © iStock / Sarah Klein Garden of 1,000 Buddhas

Montana - Garden of 1,000 Buddhas

Amid the mountain peaks of Montana’s scenic Jocko Valley, you’ll find the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, a public park and Buddhist center representing the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. The Buddha statues are arranged in the shape of an eight-spoked Dharma wheel that symbolizes the cycle of life and the eightfold path to enlightenment.

a person standing on a dirt road: Carhenge © Nebraska Tourism Carhenge

Nebraska - Carhenge

In 1987, the Reinders family constructed a replica of Stonehenge made from 38 junkyard cars in honor of their father. The landmark, just north of Alliance, has quickly become one of the state’s top attractions.

a building with a mountain in the background: Goldwell Open Air Museum © Lydia Schrandt Goldwell Open Air Museum

Nevada - Goldwell Open Air Museum

This open air art museum outside the ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada features seven colossal installations, including a 25-foot-tall naked cinderblock woman and a version of Da Vinci’s painting "The Last Supper" featuring ghostly figures. The nearly 8-acre museum is free and open to the public daily.

a man and a woman standing in front of a store: Chutters Candy Store © New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism Chutters Candy Store

New Hampshire - Chutters Candy Store

Stock up on road trip treats at the World’s Longest Candy Counter in Littleton, New Hampshire. The Chutters candy counter features more than 500 types of sweet treats, from gummy bears and jelly beans to fudge and chocolate.

a statue of a person with Lucy the Elephant in the background © @highway_highlights via Instagram Lucy the Elephant

New Jersey - Lucy the Elephant

Real estate developer James Lafferty built Lucy the Elephant in 1881 as a way to attract potential buyers to the Atlantic City coast. Lucy stands 65 feet tall, and she was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 due to her distinction as one of the oldest surviving zoomorphic buildings and roadside attractions in the country.

a man cooking food on a table: Roswell © New Mexico TRUE Roswell

New Mexico - Roswell

The town of Roswell has become a bit of a pop culture phenomenon, thanks to the nearby alleged UFO crash site. Expect plenty of cheese, whether you’re visiting the exhibits at the International UFO Museum, grabbing a drink at The Alien Caffeine Espresso Bar or taking a VR journey through the galaxy at the Spaceport Roswell.

Kaatskill Kaleidoscope © @aly_rose22 via Instagram Kaatskill Kaleidoscope

New York - Kaatskill Kaleidoscope

A former silo at Riseley Flats Farm in New York was transformed into a 60-foot-tall, 37.5-feet-in-diameter kaleidoscope, the largest in the world. Visitors can experience this colorful attraction during a Kaleidoshow, a visual and sound experience viewed through tapered mirrors inside the silo.

a close up of a street: Vollis Simpson’s Whirligig Park © @carolinegilmore_1 via Instagram Vollis Simpson’s Whirligig Park

North Carolina - Vollis Simpson’s Whirligig Park

This art park in Downtown Wilson features kinetic sculptures by WWII veteran and resident Vollis Simpson. These "whirligigs" were made with a host of old moving pieces, some standing more than 50 feet tall.

a cow is standing in the sand: Salem Sue © @oj_pinklemonade via Instagram Salem Sue

North Dakota - Salem Sue

The town of New Salem, North Dakota is home to the "World’s Largest Holstein Cow," built to honor the region’s dairy farming industry. Salem Sue stands 38 feet tall and can be seen from up to five miles away.

Field of Concrete Corn © @badwayz4life via Instagram Field of Concrete Corn

Ohio - Field of Concrete Corn

The "Field of Corn (with Osage Oranges Trees)" in Dublin, Ohio, a project of the Dublin Art Council, features 109 human-sized ears of corn in row patterns – a tribute to the community’s farming heritage. Malcolm Cochran, the man who designed the installation, is a professor of sculpture at Ohio State University. Each cob weighs about 1,500 pounds.

a close up of a tower: POPS © Lori Duckworth/Oklahoma Tourism POPS

Oklahoma - POPS

A drive along Route 66 through Oklahoma wouldn’t be complete without a stop at POPS in Arcadia, marked by a 66-foot-tall soda pop bottle. This relatively new roadside attraction doubles as a modern gas station and convenience store selling nearly 500 different sodas. You can also grab a burger and fries at the cafe.

a close up of a reptile: Prehistoric Gardens © @einahpets_eb via Instagram Prehistoric Gardens

Oregon - Prehistoric Gardens

Instagram-worthy roadside attractions don’t get much better than the Prehistoric Gardens in the coastal rainforests of Oregon. This collection of life-sized dinosaur sculptures near Port Orford started as the art project of the late Ernest Nelson in 1953. Nelson would construct 23 dinosaurs in total over three decades, including an 86-foot-long Brachiosaurus.

a group of people standing in front of a house with Haines Shoe House in the background © @allenwrench89 via Instagram Haines Shoe House

Pennsylvania - Haines Shoe House

This shoe-shaped house was built in 1948 by Mahlon Haines, modeled after a high-topped work shoe. The structure was originally used as a guesthouse (it has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room), but today serves as an ice cream shop that also offers tours.

a blue and white airplane in the sky: Big Blue Bug © @georgiabluephoto via Instagram Big Blue Bug

Rhode Island - Big Blue Bug

In 1980, New England Pest Control moved into a new building in Providence along I-95 and decided to put a steel and fiberglass Eastern Subterranean Termite on their roof. This 58-foot-long, 4,000-pound Big Blue Bug (which the business was later named after) was originally painted purple, but sun exposure eventually faded it to blue.

a large balloon in the air: Field of Concrete Corn © iStock / Kruck20 Field of Concrete Corn

South Carolina - The Peachoid

South Carolina is home to one of the most photographed water tanks in the United States, known as the Peachoid. The giant peach-shaped tower in Gaffney was painted with 20 colors and 50 gallons of paint to resemble the type of peaches grown throughout Cherokee County. You might recognize it from the Netflix series "House of Cards."

Porter Sculpture Park © @lauragriertravel via Instagram Porter Sculpture Park

South Dakota - Porter Sculpture Park

The Porter Sculpture Park, located 30 miles west of Sioux Falls, features more than 50 larger-than-life sculptures, including a 60-foot bull’s head. Visitors are encouraged to touch the art and take photos, and the site is dog-friendly for those road tripping pooches as well.

a display in a store: The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum © @quirkysights via Instagram The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Tennessee - The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Gatlinburg holds the honor of being home to the world’s only Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (as far as we know). The quirky collection comprises 20,000 sets of salt and pepper shakers from around the globe, as well as a sizable collection of pepper mills.

a sign on the side of a building: Marfa Lights © Travel Texas Marfa Lights

Texas - Marfa Lights

Prada Marfa might be the most famous roadside attraction in West Texas, but the Marfa Lights win out as the most mysterious. Pull over to the viewing platform off Highway 90 in Presidio County at night to witness the phenomenon for yourself. Many have reported strange lights hovering on the horizon, sometimes darting back and forth.

a building next to a body of water: Metaphor: The Tree of Utah © Christopher Eugene Lee Metaphor: The Tree of Utah

Utah - Metaphor: The Tree of Utah

If you’re driving through the vast Great Salt Lake Desert along I-80, you might notice this 87-foot-tall sculpture rising from the landscape. "Metaphor: The Tree of Utah," designed by Swedish artist Karl Momen, features a trunk supporting six spheres, each covered in rocks and minerals native to Utah.

a bird with a mountain in the background: Whale Dance © @mayfayre via Instagram Whale Dance

Vermont - Whale Dance

Artist Jim Sardonis designed and installed a pair of whale tails off Interstate 89 in 1989. The original pair were moved to South Burlington in 1999, and a new pair, called Whale Dance, were created to replace them in 2019. Fossils of ancient beluga whales have been found throughout Vermont, which was underwater during the Paleozoic Era.

a statue of an animal: Dinosaur Kingdom II © Adam Jackson (@dayglo_rabies) via Instagram Dinosaur Kingdom II

Virginia - Dinosaur Kingdom II

Dinosaur Kingdom II in Natural Bridge, Virginia isn’t just another fiberglass dinosaur park. It transports guests back to the Civil War, with a Jurassic twist. Walk among the life-sized displays of dinosaurs duking it out with Union and Confederate troops in what might be the strangest alternate history.

a close up of a tree: Nutty Narrows Squirrel Bridge © @infinitykitty__ via Instagram Nutty Narrows Squirrel Bridge

Washington - Nutty Narrows Bridge

Longview local Amos Peters built the Nutty Narrows Bridge in 1963 to give the town’s squirrel population a way to cross a busy street without getting run over by passing cars. The 60-foot bridge, built from aluminum and fire hose, cost about $1,000 to construct. Today, at least four additional squirrel bridges have been build throughout town.

a group of people posing for the camera: Hillbilly Hot Dogs © Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress Hillbilly Hot Dogs

West Virginia - Hillbilly Hot Dogs

This roadside hot dog stand in Lesage, West Virginia is a must-stop for hungry road trippers. The menu features a huge selection of hot dogs, including the Original HomeWrecker (a 15-inch, one-pound hot dog with two pounds of toppings) and the Original WidowMaker (a 30-inch, two-pound hot dog with four pounds of toppings).

a person holding a giant elephant: Pinkie the Pink Elephant © @ianmtb via Instagram Pinkie the Pink Elephant

Wisconsin - Pinkie the Pink Elephant

If you’re driving through Wisconsin, consider stopping to say hello to one of DeForest’s most famous residents, a giant pink elephant with thick black glasses by the name of Pinkie. Pinkie has stood beside a roadside gas station since the 1960s.

a car driving down a street next to a building: World’s Largest Elkhorn Arch © Christopher Eugene Lee World’s Largest Elkhorn Arch

Wyoming - World’s Largest Elkhorn Arch

The town of Afton, Wyoming is home to the state’s (and the world’s) largest elkhorn arch, made from some 3,000 antlers. The arch spans Main Street and measures 18 feet fall. A majority of the antlers came from the Wyoming Elk Preserve near Jackson Hole.

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