Great American Roadside Attractions
We are huge lovers of all those fabulous roadside attractions you come across on road trips through the US. A staple of our Americana history. With the road trip being an annual ritual in America, we don’t think anything celebrates summer in a better way. In spite of some of their ugliness, there is a kitch charm and strange sweetness that makes great American roadside attractions appealing. The American road trip is a rite of passage in our country and ingrained in our national travel consciousness.
History of American Roadside Attractions
Roadside oddities have been around for more than a century when a man named Frank Redford had the idea that motorists would make a roadside stop any time something was visually stimulating. With that idea, Redford’s Wigwam Villages in San Bernardino, CA, Holbrooke, AZ, and Cave City, KY were all born of concrete teepees, each containing an individual motel room, encircling a larger teepee housing a restaurant, gift shop, and gas station. Really, when you think about it, this guy was a genius. Who doesn’t want to sleep in hotel room concrete teepees? We know we do!
Many other roadside businesses wanting to get in on the action, to sell their wares, created larger-than-life architectural follies to entice passersby to stop and lure them inside. Drive-thru trees, unusually large roadside art, vortexes, eateries shaped like food, and dinosaurs crammed between Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and hundreds of other destinations beckon you to stop and have a look around these marvelous, nostalgic, campy, and wonderfully kitch locations.
Through our road tripping adventures around the US, we have gone to see many Americana delights in Oregon, California, Washington and Nevada. We can’t wait to visit even more roadside attractions during the kick-off of our world travels with the Great American Road Trip. For now, we and fellow travel writers share a few we have already been to.
Between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, you can come face to foot with a 150-foot Apatosaurus. Or see a larger than life, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Purchase souvenirs or candy dinosaur eggs, like we did, at a gift shop located inside Ms. Dinny, a the 150-foot Apatosaurus, considered the largest concrete dinosaur in the world.
Daytona Beach claims to be the most famous beach in the world, and probably comes close – nearly 200,000 students descend on the area each year for Spring Break despite the city of Daytona trying to discourage them. Additionally, the 23 miles of Daytona Beach are some of the only in the world where cars are allowed on the sands – a tradition carried over from the days when motor enthusiasts would race on the beaches. Road tripping through Florida? Make sure to drive through Daytona Beach!
Bridal Veil Post Office
The original 1800s post office was relocated in the 1930s into a tiny 10×14 building that was once a tool shed for the Bridal Veil mill. At its size, it is the second smallest free-standing post office in the US. It’s also so happens to be where we mailed out our wedding invitation to have the special Bridal Veil postmark.
Jessica of Suitcases and Sippy Cups at Cadillac Ranch
It is the most recognized roadside attraction in the state, and perhaps the best example of kitchy Americana to lure road trippers to pull over and take a look. It’s Cadillac Ranch: a collection of ten Cadillacs built between 1949 and 1963 that chronicle the rise and fall of the recognizable tail fin. It would be an auto lovers’ dream stop, if it weren’t that the ten exquisite examples are embedded tail up in a dusty Texas field.
Adding artistic flare to the nod to automotive ingenuity is the tradition to “make your mark” on the cars with a blast of aerosol color. It’s unclear whether the work was intended to be a group project from the outset, or if visitors created this tradition later, but the cars are covered in spray paint scrawled names, messages and random doodles.
The appeal of the attraction is hard to pinpoint. It could be the interactive, yet temporal nature of the spray paint art, or perhaps it is just impossible to see ten cars with their tails thrust towards the heavens without stopping to take a closer look.
Sunset Park Moai
The last remaining moai of the famed Aku Aku at the Stardust in Las Vegas. Now housed at Sunset Park, the statue sits on an island in the middle of a pond. It is unknown to this time will become of its mate.
As we started our camper van trip from San Francisco to Seattle we were only in our first day when we came to this amazing US roadside attraction. Stumped on the sign we followed the way to a “drive-thru tree”. After paying a $5 entry fee we made our way down a small driveway to a row of cars waiting in front of a tree. Not just any tree. A strong, tall, 2400 year old tree with a hole cut out in the base for cars to pass through. Unfortunately our car didn’t fit, but that didn’t stop us from walking through the tree and admiring its beautiful patterns and touching its ancient bark. Nature and man working together, what a discovery!
Have you been to any American roadside attractions?
All photography by Kimmy Hayes © 2013, unless otherwise noted.