Summer is the season for exploring the country by road and luckily the U.S. is home to some considerably epic routes. As the automobile became a household staple and vacationing became a regular practice, roadside oddities began popping up along major interstates and in far-flung towns from coast to coast. These attractions aimed to beckon travelers or at least entertain them along the way. Today, they remain iconic examples of roadside Americana and are still worth the detour. From the world’s largest buffalo in North Dakota to the county’s oldest roadside attraction in New Jersey and many others in between, these are seven of our favorite roadside oddities. As the adage goes, life is a journey, not a destination. These attractions prove the same can be just as true for road trips.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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This colorful Texas roadside attraction is more art than oddity. Just off Route 66/Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Cadillac Ranch was created in 1974 by the art collective known as the Ant Farm and funded by local billionaire Stanley Marsh III. The public art installation and sculpture features old Cadillac automobiles from 1949 to 1963, which depict the evolution of the tail fin. All 10 are buried nose-down in the field they call home. Visitors are encouraged to leave their mark on the cars and as a result they are covered in an ever-changing array of brightly-colored graffiti.
Photo by George Thomas, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Just east of Palm Springs along California's Interstate 10 you'll find Dinny and Mr. Rex. Known as the Cabazon Dinosaurs, it's considered one of the most iconic roadside attractions in the country. These two larger-than-life dinosaurs were completed between 1975 and 1981 and gained nationwide fame after their cameos in movies like Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure, National Lampoon's Vacation and The Wizard. It was originally named Claude Bell's Dinosaurs after Claude K. Bell, a sculptor and portrait artist. He began construction on the first of the two dinosaurs in an attempt to attract visitors to the Wheel Inn Restaurant. Today the Cabazon Dinosaurs attraction has expanded to include 50 dinosaurs, gemstone and fossil panning, as well as a dinosaur dig. Housed inside the 65-foot-tall Dinny you'll also find a gift shop and creationist museum, which was added after Bell's death and the attraction came under new ownership.
Photo by Thomas Hawk, CC BY-NC 2.0
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Originally named the Elephant Bazaar, but now lovingly known as Lucy the Elephant, this roadside attraction stands at 65 feet tall and 60 feet long just a few miles outside Atlantic City, New Jersey. Like most works of novelty architecture, Lucy was built to attract tourists and potential developers to the area. The structure was constructed in 1881, making it the oldest surviving roadside tourist attraction in the country. It's also considered one of the largest, if not the largest elephant in the world. Lucy has taken on many roles over the years from restaurant to office, but today she remains open for touring and is a registered National Historic Landmark. Visitors can even step inside her howdah, which serves as an observation deck with views of the Atlantic City skyline and ocean.
Photo by Mike Rastiello, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Next time you're traveling through southern Illinois, make a detour for Collinsville. This St. Louis suburb is home to the world's largest catsup bottle. The 170-foot condiment container dates back to 1949 when it was built for the G.S. Suppiger catsup bottling plant, once the country's top-selling tangy catsup. Don't be fooled by its appearance, the bottle was originally a 100,000-gallon water tower, a necessity at the time for plant operations. Today it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains a local landmark.
Photo by John Shappell, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Head no further than Jamestown, North Dakota to see the world's largest buffalo. Home to Dakota Thunder, this massive sculpture of a male American bison measures in at 26 feet high and 46 feet long. When it was constructed in 1959 off Interstate 94 it was all that stood there. Today the statue is surrounded by Frontier Village, a replica Midwestern town from the 1800s. The area also includes a live buffalo herd and the National Buffalo Museum.
Photo by Jasperdo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Bemidji, Minnesota is among the cities proudly claiming to be the birthplace of American folk hero and lumberjack extraordinaire Paul Bunyan. To commemorate Bunyan and to help attract tourists to this once-bustling logging and lumbering area near the end of the Great Depression, the city built its now-famous Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statue in 1937. In honor of his larger-than-life status, Paul's statue measures in at 18 feet tall and Babe at 10 feet tall. The two are considered one of the most photographed statues in the county and have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988.
Photo by Jasperdo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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If Pisa's leaning tower is on your bucket list, you might not have to travel any farther than the suburbs of Chicago. Italy's infamous leaning tower has a little sister in Niles, Illinois. At 94 feet high, it measures around half the size of the original. The Niles version served as a utility tower and was built by Bob Ilg in 1934 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the one in Pisa. It sat in a recreation area used by his employees at Ilg Hot Air Electric Ventilating Company. In 1991, Niles and Pisa officially established sister city status.
Photo by Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0