The road trip is a great American tradition, and for as long as road trips have been a part of the American experience, odd roadside attractions have existed to capitalize on curious tourists who happen to be passing by. From giant corporate mascots to unlikely collections, and from unusual houses to “mystery spots,” these attractions run the gamut, and have been providing travelers with something to stop and gawk at for decades. Here are a few of the weirdest ones you can see as you drive across the country…
World’s Largest Ball of Twine – Cawker City, KS
It wouldn’t be a list of weird roadside attractions without a big ball of string, and the one in Cawker City, KS is their pride and joy. In fact, every year in August, the locals hold a Twine-a-thon celebration, where they add additional twine to the 40-foot ball, which stands some 11 feet tall and growing.
Bishop Castle – Rye, CO
Since 1969, Jim Bishop has been engaged in one of the world’s largest one-man projects, painstakingly building a pseudo-medieval castle out of iron and local rock on a 9000-foot-high patch of land near Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest. The result is a one-of-a-kind piece of architecture that remains open to tourists year-round, weather permitting. The unique castle includes spiraling iron staircases, stained glass windows, and even a fire-breathing dragon.
Official Center of the World – Felicity, CA
Did you ever know someone who thought they were the center of the world? Well, Jacques-Andre Istel knows they’re wrong. He’s the mayor of Felicity, California, which is home to the actual, official Center of the World. How’d they figure that out? Turns out, he just decided it—then got the county to legally recognize it as such. They’re not the only ones, either. The Institut Geographique National of France recognizes the Official Center of the World, as well. The official center is designated by a plaque set into the ground inside a pyramid, and if you go, you can get a certificate signed by Istel saying that you’ve been to the center of the world.
The Thing – Dragoon, AZ
Drive around the Southwest, and you may see big, unmistakable billboards with startling messages like “The Thing: What is it?” Those who’ve stopped at this one-of-a-kind roadside attraction in Dragoon, Arizona already know, but for those who haven’t, we won’t spoil the surprise. Besides the Thing itself, there are plenty of other oddities to see in the place, which has been redone as of 2018 to feature a dinosaur and alien theme, complete with a wall of conspiracy theories.
Mystery Hole – Fayetteville, WV
It wouldn’t be a proper list of weird roadside attractions without at least one “mystery spot,” and the famous Mystery Hole in Fayetteville fits the bill. Open from May through October, as the website proclaims, “Once you take this ten minute journey you may not be able to contain yourself in the usual manner.” Billed as a “gravity defying wonder,” this short series of rooms feature scenarios where gravity appears to not work as it normally would, including balls seeming to roll uphill, people appearing to stand at odd angles, and even water that seems to flow the wrong way.
Hammer Museum – Haines, AK
There are unusual museums dedicated to all sorts of things located all over the country. Few are more prosaic—or specific—than the Hammer Museum in Haines, Alaska which, as the name suggests, is dedicated entirely to hammers from throughout history, some dating as far back as ancient Rome. And if you have trouble finding the place, not to worry. The museum’s website has you covered, advising you to “just look for the 20-foot hammer out front.”
Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo – Hot Springs, AR
As the name suggests, this is, among other things, an alligator farm, where you can watch them be fed. There’s also a petting zoo with baby goats and more. What makes it an oddity, though, is something that harkens back to the olden days of circus sideshows. They call it a “merman,” but it’s an example of an attraction that came to be known as a “Feejee mermaid,” a hoax in which mummified human or primate remains are connected via taxidermy to the remains of aquatic creatures. There are a few of these old-fashioned oddities left on display throughout the world, and this is one that’s worth a stop.
The Voyage Home Riverside History Center – Riverside, IA
An odd combination of local civic history and Star Trek memorabilia, the Voyage Home Riverside History Center is built around one simple idea: that Riverside, Iowa is the official future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, who will be born there on March 22, 2228. To wit, you can find a large model of the USS Enterprise—here the USS Riverside—out in the parking lot in front of this unassuming little roadside museum.
Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard – Waterbury, VT
We all hate it when a brand retires a favorite product or flavor. So, if there’s a flavor of Ben & Jerry’s that you would particularly like to mourn, you can stop by their “flavor graveyard,” where headstones pay tribute to their “dearly de-pinted” former flavors. You can see it as part of their larger factory tour, which also includes a look at the factory floor where the product is made, as well as “a cow joke or two.”
Titanic Museum – Pigeon Forge, TN
Sure, a museum devoted to the Titanic—quite probably the most famous ship in the world—doesn’t seem weird at all. What gets the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee onto this list is a combination of its location (a land-locked state doesn’t seem the most likely place for a museum devoted to an ill-fated ocean-going vessel) and its presentation. Visitors to the Titanic Museum will stroll through recreations of the ship’s rooms and look at artifacts taken from the wreck of the Titanic itself, and they will do so entirely within a massive recreation of the ship, which sits in “dry dock” just off Highway 441, not all that far from Dollywood. In fact, the success of the museum in Pigeon Forge has actually spawned a franchise location in another unlikely, land-locked state—Branson, Missouri.