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Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions

 
By Max. D Gray. Updated: October 5, 2017
Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions
Source: travelchannel.com

The great American road trip is a right of passage for many, not just its citizens, but for tourists from all over the world. The lure of open highway, having no responsibility to anything but the journey and feeling the sense of freedom on which the country was founded are tantalizing propositions, especially for those who work hard and daydream about adventure. This blank canvas of possibility has also attracted those who want to capitalize on this exploration of the American dream with an abundance of roadside attractions being created to either make those necessary pitstops for gas and snacks a little more interesting or to lure off the beaten track with their wondrous creations. In no particular order, read OneHowTo.com's Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions and start pricing rent rates for Cadillac convertibles now.

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Paul Bunyan and Blue

Paul Bunyan is indicative of one of the main reasons to have these roadside attractions in the first place: to celebrate national heritage and local folklore. Bunyan is a folkloric hero who comes from the oral tradition of American loggers, epitomizing the entrepreneurial spirit of those who set out to make their fortunes in what was once the great American wilderness. His tales have sometimes been recounted in print, but were initially told as yarns by the loggers to entertain each other in the often gruelling circumstances which came with the job. The story goes that he was a giant who chopped down trees like they were daisies and when growing up would cause earthquakes just by rolling over in his sleep. One day he rescued a baby ox who was so cold he turned blue, but stayed that color even after he was warmed back up. This ox would also grow to be a giant and they would go out into the frontiers together performing incredible (literally without credibility) feats such as adjusting winding roads by pulling them straight.

Statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox can be found in Bemidji, Minnesota where they have become the second most photographed statues in the USA after the famous cliff-face of past presidents at Mount Rushmore. They celebrate the town's eminence in the logging industry, but there are also versions of it in other states such as Maine where, according to legend, Paul was born and raised.

The World's Smallest Church

Not a sign of waning attendance figures, rather one man's attempt to provide his own "witness to God", the world's tiniest church is located in Oneida New York. You can't just call your kid sister's Wendy house the "The World's Smallest Church" and think that counts. It has to have been used officially and that's good because there is just about enough room for a bride, a groom and officiant in its claustrophobic 51" x 81" floor area. Located actually on a pond, you need to request a visit if you want to see it up close. If you are a Lutheran and wondering if you'll be shunned for your reformist views, have no fear! It's non-denominational and designed as a welcoming place mainly for meditative purposes.

While it was at one stage considered the World's Smallest Chapel, the Guinness book of records in a rare killjoy move decided to retire this as an official category. We still believe.

If you like checking out sites of religious importance, take a look at the ruins found in Cancun, Mexico.

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - The World's Smallest Church
Source: atlasobscura.com

The World's Largest Shoe House

From the world's smallest to the world's largest, this represents a category which is potentially the biggest of all roadside attractions: the world's largest. From mighty impressive creatures like the world's largest Kind Kong in Beaver, Arkansas to this nursery rhyme inspired creation in Hallam, Pennsylvania, people have been trying to outdo each other for years. This house was built by shoe magnate and philanthropist Mahlon Haines in 1948 and is actually a little misleading as it is technically in the shape of a boot (legend has it that Haines gave the architect one of his own boots instead of a blueprint and said, "Build this!").

Now owned privately, the living room is in the toe, the kitchen in the heel and for passing visitors, there is an ice cream shop in the in-step. I mean, where else would you put an ice cream shop in a shoe house? There seems to be little impetus behind its creation other than bringing a little fun and joy into the world, something which many visitors through the years must have felt when stopping by.

How might you decorate if you lived in a shoe?

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - The World's Largest Shoe House
Source: theofframp.wordpress.com

The World's Largest Catsup Bottle

This landmark falls into two of the main American roadside attraction sub-categories as it is both one of the world's largest as well as being one of the many town water towers which have been converted into some sort of spectacle. Like the Stanton Swedish Coffee Pot in Iowa or the Tipton 8 Ball in Missouri, this was a functioning water tower which was built with a little extra ingenuity. It was designed originally to supply water to the Brooks catsup plant near Collinsville Illinois, the company's president credited with suggesting it be made in the shape of one of their own catsup bottles. Catsup is just another name for ketchup, which makes us wonder, if they want to get every last drop of water out, do they turn it upside down and smack the base really hard? No one will ever know...

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - The World's Largest Catsup Bottle
Source: ontheroadwithmax.com

Lucy the Elephant

Despite being America's longest standing roadside attraction, Lucy looks as fresh faced as every standing in Margate City, New Jersey. Built in 1881 and well cared for since, Lucy was originally built to lure property developers into the area, but has since become a free standing tourist attraction of her own. As one of the many pieces of novelty architecture which make up America's roadside attractions, you can go into Lucy and climb the stairs to see an amazing view of the Atlantic ocean. She has been refurbished over the years, variably being used as a restaurant, cottage and tavern, but now a landmark in her own right.

There has been some debate over whether or not Lucy has an identity crisis. While her head-shape indicates that she is an Asian elephant, her tusks imply that she is male. Regardless, she is well loved by the local community and tourists alike who all refer to her as "she".

Elephants have meant a lot across the centuries and you can find out more here.

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - Lucy the Elephant
Source: grantaustin.org

Gatorland Zoo

Privately owned by the Godwin family since its creation in 1949, the Gatorland Zoo in Orlando, Florida has been a sanctuary for the native alligator population for almost 3/4 of a century. Alligators aren't the only wildlife to be found here as there is also an aviary, a whole host of other reptiles and even a petting zoo. While you're not allowed to pet the alligators, some of the zoo staff go one step further and are involved in alligator wrestling where they have been known to stick their heads into the animals jaws or wrangle them away from the water. While there is argument over whether or not this constitutes a fair fight, the zoo is dedicated to informing and educating children about the wildlife inhabiting the state's famous Everglades.

What makes this a roadside attraction as opposed to a regular zoo is the famous entrance where visitors must walk through the stone jaws of a replica gator. It's hard to miss and the jaws have become an attraction in and of themselves for many who only have time for a quick stop.

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - Gatorland Zoo
Source: studiohourglass.blogspot.com

Randy's Donuts

While many of these attractions are to be found in the hidden nooks and crannies across America's great sprawl, some are to be found right in the middle of the city. Randy's Donuts dates back to the 1950's when many companies tried to sell their wares with gimmicky signs in the shape of their product, care tyres being one particularly popular one (although the custom had been dwindling by this time). While hundreds of these have come and gone, Randy's has stood the test of time and can even be seen by visitors who aren't coming by car as it is visible from many flights landing in the nearby LAX airport.

Likely due to its location in the city home to Hollywood, Randy's donut sign has been featured in many big Hollywood movies across the years including Get Shorty, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles and even Iron Man 2. Beware imitators like the nearby Donut Hole, although this is worth checking out if you're in the area.

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - Randy's Donuts
Source: inglewoodpublicart.com

The World's Largest Santa Clause

Over the years many people have asked where does Santa Claus actually live? Greenland? Iceland? The North Pole? Some people don't even believe he is real. How wrong they are. He is alive and well and living in North Pole. Well, not THE North Pole, but North Pole, Alaska, and not exactly living, more standing motionless as an homage to the idea of festive generosity. Built originally for the 1962's World's Fair in Seattle, the world's largest Santa Claus was moved to somewhere a little more appropriate, a place which still receives thousands of letters every year from misguided children who not only don't know of the big man's nonexistence, but also fail to understand basic physical geography.

If they do decide to follow their mislead plans, they will still be rewarded with one of the most Christmassy places on earth. There are reindeer, a life-size nativity scene and great views of the 42ft giant fat man who resides on where else but St. Nicholas Drive.

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - The World's Largest Santa Clause
Source: alaska.org

The Cabazon Dinosaurs

To the north of Interstate 10 in a place called Cabazon you can find Claude Bell's Dinosaurs, also known as the Cabazon Dinosaurs. Named after one of the designers for the California theme park Knott's Berry Farm, Claude Bell, they were developed from the 1960's as a means to attract customers to one of his restaurants. Really more a labor of love than a savvy marketing ploy, the first dinosaur Dinny the Brontosaurus took 11 years to finish. Another example of novelty architecture, Dinny is also a building which can be entered from underneath. A second dinosaur, Mr. Rex the Tyrannosaurus was built in the 1980's.

Somewhat controversially, these paragons to the wonder of earth's ever changing fauna were bought over by a group of creationists after Bell's death. Dinny's insides are now home to a museum and gift shop designed to promote the "young earth" creationist view which claims that our globe has only existed for 6,000 years. Inside Dinny's belly, alongside their own artefacts purporting this view, are Bell's original artworks which depict his own evolutionary standpoint.

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - The Cabazon Dinosaurs
Source: wikimedia.org

The Enchanted Highway

Started in 1989 by local artist Gary Greff, this highway does what it says on the tin. Great sculptures have been erected which show dioramas of scenes indicative to the area. He wanted to ensure that the history of small towns like Regent, North Dakota where the sculptures are closest are not forgotten. He has been given generous leases by neighboring farmers and enlists artisans to help with construction. There are scenes depicting the local pheasant and geese populations as well as scenes of fish swimming and even one of Teddy Roosevelt on a bucking bronco.

Greff struggles for cash, but has recently opened up a motel so that visitors can stay nearby and make the most of the area. It really does look quite glorious and must brighten up even the most tiresome of long-haul journeys.

Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions - The Enchanted Highway
Source: sorabji.com

If you decide to take a similar trip yourself, you might find yourself camping out under the stars near one of these amazing sights. If so, find out more with these 10 important safety tips for camping and stay safe while you adventure.

If you want to read similar articles to Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions, we recommend you visit our Travel category.

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Top 10 Best American Roadside Attractions
Source: travelchannel.com
Source: atlasobscura.com
Source: theofframp.wordpress.com
Source: ontheroadwithmax.com
Source: grantaustin.org
Source: studiohourglass.blogspot.com
Source: inglewoodpublicart.com
Source: alaska.org
Source: wikimedia.org
Source: sorabji.com
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